Thursday, January 31, 2019

Band Review: DaQuashia

I am reviewing DaQuashia because her sister recommended her. I am not sure now how I saw it, but sisterly support warms my heart, and I am always looking for new music.

Of the available songs, I do think they sound a little overproduced, which seems pretty common with newer artists. Vocally I don't think she needs it.

There are some interesting texture choices - especially on "Change Up" - which I believe comes from the experimental mixing. It does have a value. Balancing the emotion and the achievement can take some time, but has great possibilities.

DaQuashia's music focuses more on setting a mood than on dance beats, at least for now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Hispanic Heritage Month 2018 odds and ends

I don't know if any of these would need a full blog post. Maybe "needs" is an exaggeration for anything I write. (I am still feeling pretty subdued.)

Anyway, I have three thoughts left:

First, in Searching for Sugarman, Sixto Rodriguez was a huge hit in South Africa (though royalties didn't make their way back to him), but did not do well in the United States. One factor that seemed to hurt sales here is that his name led people to expect "Mexican" music, and they weren't interested in that. It's not mariachi music or son or tejano or anything like that; Rodriguez sounds most like Bob Dylan, except with a better voice. If he had used a different name, who knows?

It is fascinating to me that it was South Africa that embraced him. They were not a country free from racial stereotypes or prejudice. The people drawn to his music apparently were often against the government, so probably against Apartheid, and I think there is an interesting story there, but still, it was different prejudices. A name that sounded Mexican would not mean the same things on the other side of the world.

Next up, in reading many books about Cuba, mostly by people from Cuba, there was a lot about Columbus. That was mainly about the beauty of Cuba and his instant recognition of how beautiful the island was. Often there was also mention about how that was not great for the original inhabitants of the island, often mentioning the Taino by name.

It is interesting to me that the richer people get, the more insistent they are that there were no Taino left; they were all eradicated.

There was some serious genocide, that's for sure, but there are still Taino people. Often they are not only Taino, having African and Spanish blood mixed in as well. If they are in Cuba, there are also reasonable chances of Jewish and Chinese ancestry, I have learned now. It was just fascinating how much some people refuse to entertain it. Is it guilt? They are acknowledging the past, but it is erasure in the present. The worst one had already lost any possessions he had in Cuba, so he shouldn't have been worried about reparations. Mainly it strikes me as an oddity now. I am in the middle of Native American Heritage Month 2018 reading, and I might have more thoughts as I finish that.

Finally, the next thought is from The Boys from Little Mexico: A Season Chasing the American Dream by Steve Wilson. He followed the players of Woodburn's soccer team in their last season before the leagues were revamped.

While the soccer team was highly skilled, with almost all of the players having Mexican heritage, the rest of the teams and the school size and other factors were likely to result in Woodburn playing in lower leagues. For the soccer team that would mean it would be easier to dominate their league, but harder to draw recruiters and scholarships.

There were many frustrating things about education and accessibility and racism, but my biggest takeaway is that no one should have to need it so much. It's a ridiculous thing that access to a college education should depend not just on being really good at a sport, but being good at the right sport, and being seen by the right person who is interested and has something to offer. Yes, we are doing everything possible to slash at the advantages that a college education brings, but that is not part of an overall positive flow.

There are really a lot of ways in which we need to do better.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


I was trying to finish my writing about my Hispanic Heritage Month reading this week, but other things are pressing on me. I think I will write about that tonight, and just throw all remnants from that month into tomorrow's post.

Most of my sadness seems to be centering around Chicago.

A big part is the attack against Jussie Smollett. Homophobia and racism and a reminder that there are MAGA supporters even in big cities - which I knew. I mean, we have been aware of the growing incidences of both, but it caught me off guard anyway.

There is also the Polar Vortex.

It's been a few years since we went to Chicago. We liked it a lot, but I remember noticing people who were clearly homeless but not panhandling, which led me to believe that they were not allowed to.

We had just had our first authentic Chicago pizza at Giordano's and were walking back. There were three of us, and the pizza was cut into eight slices. We each had two, and we had the two remaining slices in a box. I remember seeing a man on the sidewalk. I was going to ask Maria to give the pizza to him, but she did it on her own. He had such kind eyes.

If you are in a heated home, and can afford warm clothing and shelter, I am sure there is still inconvenience with this kind of severe weather, but it's survivable. There are others for whom survival is literally a question.

I keep thinking about that man, who honestly could already be dead. It's silly to focus on him; we saw other homeless people and I know that there are many we didn't see. It's just that it puts a human face on it for me.

The milder weather in Portland doesn't make homelessness here a picnic, but our weather is off too. That is global warming. I don't expect Trump to understand that any better than he understands anything else, or to care, but that doesn't make it less depressing.

Ultimately, all of that together is weighing on me tonight, and I cannot write about anything else until I write about that.

I know other people are thinking about it too. I know there are warming shelters set up. I know of at least one individual who has gone around checking in on vulnerable people today. But structurally there is so much suffering so some people can be rich, and it is supported by bigotry, and it all keeps circling around and around. Tonight it feels overwhelming.

And I have still done normal things today, like posted a selfie and a song. My big contribution to Jussie Smollett will be reviewing his music this week, because I don't know what else I have to offer. In general, I think that continuing to do those things is an important part of emotional survival, and of keeping me connected. I stick with it, but there are times when it feels worse, and I wonder how much worse things will get.

My physical survival is not threatened tonight. For other people it is. And I am upset about that and needed to get it out.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Focus on Margarita Engle

In a way, most of the mission creep of my National Hispanic Heritage Month 2018 goes back to Margarita Engle.

The School Library Journal article that gave me the reading list (assuming we are not blaming the We Need Diverse Books spreadsheet that gave me the article) focused on Engle, and the changes she has seen in her regular visits back to Cuba.

The recommended books included five by her. For grades 1-5 they recommended The Wild Book and Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, as well as Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music. Then under Memoir and Poetry they recommended Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir and The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba.

That was already quite a bit, I thought, but then when I went back to the article to check my progress, I noticed that there were two other books mentioned when they were giving her background: Newberry Honor winner The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle and The Poet Slave of Cuba:A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano.

Maybe I should blame Sean Qualls; The Poet Slave of Cuba was already on my reading list after I had liked some of his work and decided that I wanted to check out more.

When I keep going like that, a compulsive need for completion might be a factor. (This is one reason I now shun collectibles.) However, I really liked Engle's work.

Most of the book I read were told in verse. It was not rhymed verse, and it was strongly narrative, so it was not really like reading poetry, but it was more impressionistic than reading a novel.

(Because I read Drum Dream Girl for something else, I am thinking more of the other books.)

Enchanted Air is her own story, but the others are historical. There are often personal connections. The Wild Book is based on Engle's grandmother's struggle with dyslexia, and other books cover events to which her family was connected even if the main characters in the books are not related.

Most of the books switch the point of view, so you gain insight into multiple characters, coming from multiple countries of origin and social rungs. They cover the history of slavery, feminism, and war in Cuba, and they do it in a way that creates a feeling and sense of it. Notes at the end often give directions for more research if it is desired.

Putting them together I have to appreciate the rich tapestry that is Cuban history. The US point of view tends to focus on Castro, even considering our involvement in other events.

Also, I appreciate Engle's voice. It ultimately ends up being one of decency, hope, and growing courage. I would not hesitate to read any of her other works.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Concert Review: Cedars & Crows

In keeping with a sequence of musical shows with a greater than average feeling of connection, I have seen Cedars & Crows lead vocalist Chris Margolin before:

That was also on a night that felt really special. What was more interesting, however, was the change in demeanor. I remember being impressed with the smooth richness of Margolin's voice solo. With Cedars & Crows he sounded considerably more whiskey-soaked.

Of course, it has been about two years, and the band's various bios do mention whiskey a lot. I suspect, though, that the issue is not actually time and alcohol wreaking havoc on Margolin's vocal cords, but more an adaptation to a harder rocking sound, one that is appropriate to this band.

It should be different. At the other show, Margolin was solo, accompanying himself on guitar. Cedars & Crows rock the blessed configuration of two guitars for lead and rhythm, plus bass and drums. If you can't get louder and harder that way, when can you?

Song titles  have an emphasis on the gritty and unsatisfying side of life, but in the tradition of the blues, listening is satisfying. Maybe things aren't so bad as long as there are still guitars and amps around.

Much like Switchblade Romeo, all of the Cedars & Crows members have been in other bands, playing for a while, sometimes together. They know what they are doing, and they put on a good show.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Concert Review: Aaron Baca

Aaron Baca opened the show that I saw at the White Eagle Saloon on January 17th, our shared birthday.

There was not a lot of online information about either Baca himself or the musicians he tends to play with, but he seems to be the only constant.

I liked that night's line-up. Perhaps some of it was the different types of instruments and the playing techniques. Apparently you can blow on a banjo and that does something? I probably should have asked questions.

It was a good set, but also an interesting one in kind of eerie ways. I suddenly imagined I much more eldritch version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky". (That didn't happen; it just would have fit in.)

What information is available is listed below:

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


There were four books where I kept encountering machismo.

The basic definition is just "strong or aggressive masculine pride". It makes sense to use it here because I have always associated that particular word with the Spanish language. I do not necessarily want to call this toxic masculinity, though it does seem to exist on a spectrum. We will get into that more later, but for right now I just want to focus on the Latin American side of that.

From two novels, one novel that was historical fiction based on true characters, and one history, it came up a lot. The men with this trait - fictional and real - came from Cuba, Panama, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. There were some traces of how it could developing with younger characters in some of the other works, but it is enough to focus on the men.

I read the history - Queens of Havana - first, and that spanned a longer time period. As the Castro (not that Castro) sisters formed their band, part of that was due to the disruption of education and a lack of job opportunities for women, going from before Batista until well after the Revolution. The way it was most noticeable was in relationships.

It was common over time that married men would date without revealing that key information. A woman might not find out that her boyfriend was married until after he proposed and needed to get a divorce, though there would often then be no divorce nor new marriage.

Under those circumstances, it was very hard to form lasting and satisfying relationships. How could you trust?

As the history, that was probably the most accurate representation: independent women often end up missing out on marriage and children. I felt that loss for them.

In the historical fiction, In the Time of the Butterflies, deeply passionate relationships happened with a lot of sacrifice and trust, but somehow there were still other women. Is it so hard to conceive of a man who never has to cheat, for both men and the authors who write about them? I don't know; it was starting to feel that way.

Although that was something where I felt the loss for women more than for men, I have to believe that there is a loss for men too, both in terms of the depths of intimacy and communication available and in the loss of integrity.

In the last two novels, Memory of Silence and The Book of Unknown Americans, adultery is not a primary issue. Sexuality is still important, but there at least seems to be some fidelity. Gender roles harm the men and women in other ways.

It could be something so simple as refusing to let the wife work, because the man is supposed to be the breadwinner, even though it leaves them poorer and the wife bored and unsatisfied. It could mean going into a dangerous situation without knowledge and ending up dead. Always there is the need to be in control and fix things, despite some fixes being unnecessary and some impossible.

In Memory of Silence that pressure killed both husbands, but it broke them first. It did not matter how much love they'd had for wives, children, and friends, what connections they had to life, or what good they could have been capable of doing. The demands that they felt were on them as men became intractable. Something had to give, and their lives were the only real possibility.

(Also, during the process of their breaking, they were often not great husbands.)

Learning to accept, adapt, and heal is something women have to do, but it ultimately works for our good. It's not like refusing to accept when you are wrong makes you right.

It would have been easy to take the combined influence of those works as an indictment of Latin American masculinity, except that Gloria Anzaldúa had already covered that in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. She acknowledged the stereotypes, and then pointed out that they weren't that different from North American demands on masculinity. I had to admit that she was right.

Because of that, as I read each of these books and found the topic recurring, it became a universal theme, and a tragic one.

The Bossy Gallito and Medio Pollito

One of the picture books from the Viva Cuba! article was The Bossy Gallito. As I was reading, it sounded vaguely familiar.

When I was young, we had a Reader's Digest book of fairy tales that pulled from various sources (possibly condensing them). One of the stories was "The Half-Chick" from Andrew Lang's Green Fairy Book  

The half-chick, Medio Pollito, only has one leg and eye, but he is bold and adventurous and wants to meet the king. He sets off on a journey to Madrid. His mother tried to discourage him, but failing that she advises him to be polite and helpful. As water, fire, and wind ask for his assistance, he is neither helpful or polite.

In The Bossy Gallito a rooster is heading to a wedding, but shows poor self-control in not being able to resist some grains of corn in mud, dirtying his wedding finery. He asks the grass for help getting clean but is refused. The rest of the book is him asking various entities to punish his refused requests, going up the line in search of vengeance and coming up empty-clawed.

Add together those two tales and "The Little Red Hen", and it would seem that poultry tales must be about assistance getting requested and refused. I think I could make "Chicken Little" fit into that framework too, but I digress.

Medio Pollito ends up needing help from water, fire, and wind, and finds them to be a bit vindictive. While he does get out of the palace cooking pot, he ends up stuck on a weather vane, sadly overlooking the city.

While the rooster is initially asking for help and getting refused, his bossiness does not seem right. Then by being so vindictive, with all of his other requests being for revenge, he seems like an unsympathetic character. I was expecting there to be some comeuppance.

I was so wrong.

Finally he gets help from the sun, who will gladly punish for his friend (there is a special relationship between roosters and the sun). In the end the rooster gets exactly what he wants, despite being a jerk.

How did this happen?

In a way it is the same, where there is punishment for being unhelpful, but children's stories are often about encouraging behavior. Still, with the rooster as the protagonist, and his ultimate success, this seemed like a strange thing to encourage.

(In that way the story was very unsatisfying, though Lulu Delacre's illustrations of the avian wedding party were gorgeous.)

Based on other reading, I think it came down to machismo.

Tomorrow I want to spend some time on that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Found in translation

As I was deciding what to read for National Hispanic Heritage Month 2018, it occurred to me that I ought to read some Sandra Cisneros. In Spanish courses in college I learned a little about her and her influence, but I have really only read some short stories by her. I searched on her name for availability, and titles popped up in both English and Spanish.

It was really Woman hollering creek that got me. That is a short story, but it is in the title for a collection of short stories. In Spanish it came up as El Arroyo de la Llorona.

That's about La Llorona?

The story may not be, but that the title meant it could be changed my perception. I know who La Llorona is. I would be more likely to call her Weeping or Wailing Woman, instead of Hollering Woman, and I feel like the ghostly aspect is significant. Still, I was shocked that I missed that.

That started the idea that maybe I wanted to read multiple works by Cisneros in both Spanish and English. That made it a bigger deal, requiring more time, bumping it to September 2019. I still ended up getting three chances to read the same work in both languages.

The Memory of Silence by Uva de Aragón was not an auspicious beginning. I toyed with whether it was better to read the English or Spanish first, and whether to complete a work first or alternate by chapters. Starting with the preface and first chapter I discovered that I did not like this book enough to read it twice. At all. I still think I learned things from the attempt that will come in handy when I do get to Cisneros.

The most interesting point was probably that the Spanish parts took up fewer pages. Is Spanish more compact than English? However, my other chances to try that this year were poetry, and then the length and volume was the same. To maintain a rhythm, translations were chosen not just for meaning but for pattern. I don't know how much that changes the translation process. I gained a new appreciation for that.

There were two other things that stuck with me, language-wise.

One was from Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.

That book was fascinating and timely in many ways, and makes a good companion piece with Leslie Marmon Silko's Yellow Woman and a Beauty of Spirit (which I just finished). However, I think every Spanish student and possibly every language student would benefit from reading Chapter 5 - How to Tame a Wild Tongue.

The other was another title, and it was another translated title: Always Rebellious/Cimarroneando: Selected Poems by Georgina Herrera.

"Cimarron" is a common place name, but in this case it refers to African slaves escaped from the Spanish. It is generally thought to come from a Spanish word for "wild" or "untamed" that derives from an older Spanish word for "thicket"

I thought of "Maroons", a term used similarly, and with the a similar etymology. I had always thought it came from "marron", the French word for chestnut that gets used to mean brown.

I guess I had thought the term was more racially based than it was, though applying a word used for cattle that had escaped and gone feral to darker-skinned people might still be pretty racist. Of course, it could be hard to disentangle the relationship between racism and chattel slavery from the language.

Still, once the word was in my head, I kept coming back to the conjugation. Cimarroneando.

I think Herrera made up this word to suit her purpose. Google Translate says it means cramming, but translates cramming as "abarrotar". I'm sticking with my theory.

In Spanish, there can be some blurring between verbs and adjectives. That construction gives an impression of the rebellion being currently happening, and therefore constantly happening, but it also gives an impression of the subject being described as having been permanently transformed. It's not a contradiction; it's just interesting.

(That book was one of my favorites. I ended up recommending Herrera to two other people before I had even finished it.)

I have described myself as a word nerd before, and I do like word games and play, and sometimes enjoy language for the sheer beauty of it. That is all true, but language is much more important for me is as a way of exchanging knowledge and understanding things.

On that level, language remains amazing.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Concert Review: Switchblade Romeo

Since learning that Beasts of Burden artist Benjamin Dewey was in a band, I have wanted to review them, but there hadn't been any good opportunities. Watching Jesse Valenzuela last week, there was a flyer on the table for upcoming shows. That is how I ended up at the White Eagle Saloon two Thursdays in a row, and on my birthday.

I am so glad I made it.

The performance was a blast: fun and friendly and filling the venue with sound.

I think there are a few key factors that work in Switchblade Romeo's favor.

First, the band pulls from a wide variety of musical traditions. Dewey himself, on guitar, has previously played bluegrass and folk. Singer Jeremy Barlow and drummer Jason Lusk were in a punk band together. You don't necessarily hear those elements blended into a Switchblade Romeo set, which has a more traditional rock feel. However, every member of the band - rounded out by Lee Dawson on guitar and Gabe Fischer on bass - is skilled and ready to deliver for their part of a great show.

That great show also really appears to be a good time for them. There is an easy camaraderie and interplay within the band. Barlow took time last night to acknowledge which members had written which songs, indicating an equality in who gets to contribute to the overall sound. Some bands really capitalize on unhappiness and stress, but this (despite a seemingly boundless energy) felt relaxed. They are having a fun and they bring the audience along.

One very real reason they were free to so much fun is that each band member is working in the comics industry. That may make them the most Portland band in the area. (You could argue for that making them the most Milwaukie band too.)

In any case, that means music is not their main gig. Therefore I only have one link for them, and I don't know when they are playing next.

However, if you get a chance to see them, go for it. It should be a blast.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Band Review: You Jump, I Jump

You may remember that in July I reviewed Dustin Phillips, but there was a roundabout process there:

I had not been sure whether to review his solo project You Jump, I Jump, or The Ataris for whom he drums, and then I realized I could see The Ataris live and review the concert (which I did), but I only saw one song for the other, and so I just kind of reviewed him as a musician who does other things.

Except there were more songs, that I completely missed. Sometimes Bandcamp navigation is not great, and least for me.

I have listened again and I really like what he is doing. Having listened to him more as a drummer previously, suddenly there is a lot of synth. That seems like an opposite end of the music spectrum, but I know three keyboard players who started as drummers, and they are all really good. Perhaps it is natural for some of the best musicians to explore the opposites. That would make sense.

"Blank Space" may be the best example of how Phillips plays with tempo and patterns. My greater appreciation is for the emotion that comes through, and listening to the album Reckless gives the best idea of that. I do really like the texture of the guitar on the title track, and the energy of "Slip Away".

Here is the funny thing: I listened to Reckless before. I reviewed You Jump, I Jump back in 2014.

That review came from being followed by the YJIJ Twitter profile. When Dustin followed me himself four years later, it didn't ring a bell. I was looking at old posts and accidentally found the old review. So this is not my 602nd band reviewed, because he was already reviewed.

That's okay; this year is shaping up to be about reconnecting with old friends. I will still listen to a lot of new bands, but a lot of already seen bands are making their way back to Portland, and I am all for it.

That is part of what makes this so special. In the first review, I was a little jaded by how the Youtube channel had so many covers. That seemed like an odd choice to me (says the person who recently had to examine her thoughts on tribute bands).

I like You Jump, I Jump much better now than I did then. I am sure that some of it is my growth, listening to so many different styles and learning to appreciate new things. Some of it may be personal affection for Phillips after some Twitter exchanges and listening and seeing him live.

There is also his growth. I am listened to many people with Youtube channels full of covers; if that's as far as they go, that's okay, but that doesn't have to be the ending point. Dustin Phillips is a producer, and he has made his own tracks, and he has toured and I have seen him.

I have written before that it has felt like a privilege to have bands invite me to check out their hearts and talents and efforts. This is more. This is watching a continuing journey, that I couldn't predict. Watching Dustin specifically has become my second favorite story in my music blogging.

But that's not as important as that he makes good music. 

Protecting children

There was a scene in one of the books - I think Leaving Glorytown - where the adults are not in agreement about how much information to give the children. They end up being open because a lack of information can be very dangerous, and any attempts to hide things are getting more and more likely to fail.

It reminded me of some different entertainment issues.

One was an editorial from a woman with small children who was complaining about the darkness of children's movies, like Mufasa's death in The Lion King. Her idea of appropriate peril would be a witch threatening to cast a spell so that there were never cupcakes again.

It also reminded me of a forum discussion once marveling at how dark Little House on the Prairie was for a family TV show. You know, like with that illiterate preacher woman trying to turn the townspeople against Mary when she was substitute teaching for them, or when that guy from The Dirty Dozen put on a clown mask and raped Sylvia.

Going a little further down the rabbit hole, I remember people marveling over how My Neighbor Totoro had no villains. It didn't seem like such a big deal to me at first, but that is pretty unusual, and it is special.

Even with no villains, your mother can be sick, and you can miss her a lot, and you can get lost. There is danger there, even without villains.

This world has villains.

So in Cuba there were teachers who might not excuse a child to go to the bathroom until he soiled himself, and grade him down on tests even when he got the answers right, and allow other students to beat him up because his parents were worms who wanted to leave the country instead of joining the party. In Cambodia  there were children who were also called names while doing forced labor to the point of exhaustion, losing family members to illness and starvation and execution along the way.

In both countries there was often a lack of food and medicine.

In my country, homelessness happens, and violence and abuse and hunger happen, even to children.

Well, saying these things "happen" misses something, in that there are reasons they happens, and people behind those reasons. It's important to remember that.

Illness also happens, and though less obvious there are often human factors in that. There are some very human factors to the measles currently going around.

Here's the thing: is it more important to work on protecting children from entertainment, or to protect them from violence and lack of necessities?

It seems like a pretty obvious answer, but I think a lot of people find the larger problems intractable, while censorship is very doable. As dishonest as it is to portray a world where these bad things don't happen, many will settle for that if they think those things won't touch their children.

Obviously there is a need to consider the level of information that children are getting, and the manner in which they are getting it. I was scarred at a young age by The Dirty Dozen playing on television (along with several Clint Eastwood movies). My father probably could have been more responsible there.

(Also, I guess I have an issue with Richard Jaeckel.)

One more tangent: there was an article recently about adults missing the point of Mr. Rogers' advice to "look for the helpers". When children see the bad things in the world, one reasonable way of helping them deal with that is pointing out that we don't just let the bad things happen, we do things to make them better. That should be the job of adults.

A focus on the superficial will never work. Helpers need to be grounded in reality. Also, they need care more about that then the appearance. That is better for both adults and children.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Understanding and not understanding

There were four books from the Viva Cuba! article that I have to consider together:

My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood, by Rosemary Wells

90 Miles to Havana, by Enrique Flores-Galbis

Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire

Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro, by Eduardo F. Calcines

All of them have a young male protagonist who leaves. It was often via the Pedro Pan program where youth came alone, living in youth homes or foster homes with the expectation that parents would be able to come later. That did not always work out.

Usually before leaving there was a lot of abuse, with informers spying and bullies (including teachers) abusing, not to mention a lack of food. When I read those books - especially the books from Eire and Calcines - the anti-Castro hostility of the refugees transplanted to the United States makes sense. They hate him, his death has not changed that, I get it.

(90 Miles to Havana was the most even-handed.)

But then, on another level, I am not sure it makes sense.

The book from my May reading that relates the most is When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge, by Chanrithy Him. Her physical suffering was worse, the name-calling and dehumanization was similar, but there isn't that same bitterness. Having known many refugees from Southeast Asia with similar experiences, I notice that as well. They may not love the Communists, but there doesn't seem to be the same hate.

There are ways in which the Cuban revolution seems to have gone better. It had definite cruelty, corruption, and incompetence, but the medical and educational systems built seem far superior than those of countries who went through similar turmoil. Is it because Russia was a better helper than China? Is it because the country was so much smaller, and perhaps had a better climate? I don't know. Regardless, that does not seem to get much credit on this side of the Straits of Florida. They don't care about the literacy rate.

Economic factors could have played a role, with wealthier people being the most likely to flee and take a leadership role in the States (and write about their experience). However, often the refugees from Southeast Asia were at least somewhat better off financially, if not truly wealthy. The Cuban narrators all explained why they were actually poorer than the other people around them, but that's a thing rich kids do.

Some of it could be gender. One of the other books, The Memory of Silence by Uva de Aragon, has twin sisters separated as their husbands follow different paths. The sister in the States did not have that bitterness, but her husband did. At the same time, her brother-in-law both loved the revolution and was broken by it.

(We will spend some time on masculinity in a different post.)

Maybe it was just that Castro lived so much longer than Ho Chi Minh or the Khmer Rouge (though the communists are still in power in Laos, and that doesn't seem to have embittered Laotian refugees in the same way.)

I am glad I read books about people who stayed as well, and their various experiences. I am glad that I read In the Time of the Butterflies to get the Dominican view of Castro and Guevara as well. It's not even that I can defend Castro, but we lean toward the simplistic view, and that is not helpful.

One strong memory from high school is watching Univision to try and improve my Spanish. Game shows went too fast and frenetic for me, and I got really into one telenovela, Rubi, but the most important thing that I ever watched was probably the news. I remember that the way they talked about the Contras was not the way our news talked about the Contras. Communism - and the US horror of it - had a lot to do with that as well. That has not always made us act wisely.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How my September reading got so far out of hand

I have already written about how my National Hispanic Heritage Month listening did not feel extensive enough, though I ended up with plenty of future options:

I will have things to listen to for 2019, but for 2018 I had plenty to read. So much reading.

It was the diverse books spreadsheet. I mean, that wasn't the only issue, but it was the main issue.

As much as I want to go through all of them (at least those intended for children), things do not always align perfectly. The reading months are specific, but many awards for diversity are not. The Pura Belpré awards were the logical starting place for Hispanic heritage, but I had already gone through that list, albeit accidentally:

The next obvious choice was a School Library Journal article from 2016, focusing on Cuba, as the United States and Cuba were working on normalizing relations.

(Having recently read Drum Dream Girl and Lucky Broken Girl probably made me more interested in Cuba.)

Something that I had not thought about was that the embargo also affected the availability of books between the two countries. The SLJ article tried to provide a variety of age levels and fact and fiction, so it ended up suggesting 19 of the 27 books I read. It would have been more, but I had already read Drum Dream Girl and no one had the National Geographic book, though I was okay with that.

That was a lot of books, and also, while a lot of them were for younger readers they were not picture books. There were a lot of YA novels, and some of them were quite lengthy. I started incorporating Inter-Library Loan more, where previously I had only checked out books through the local library system. Things expanded.

It kind of works well that way. One memoir gives one point of view, but reading four from about the same time and place, but with different people, gives a broader picture. Not everything I read was about Cuba, but a lot of it was.

There will be other posts getting into more detail, but I will list out the other eight books here, and why they ended up being read for this "month". (From starting in September, I finished January 13th.)

Making the Mexican Diabetic by Michael Montoya: This was already on my reading list, but one of the papers in Diagnosing Folklore made me want to read it sooner rather than later.

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C Perez: This was on the Pura Belpré awards list, but at the time I was trying to stay committed to picture books. The "punk" reference still make me add it to the list.

Queens of Havana by Alicia Castro: Reading Drum Dream Girl made me want to know more about the full story of the band Anacaona.

The Boys From Little Mexico by Steve Wilson: This came up as a local book, following one season of the high school soccer team in Woodburn.

I also had two novels - In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez - as well as two books of poetry not including the many books of Margarita Engle from the SLJ article. I don't remember exactly how any of them ended up on my reading list, except for In the Time of the Butterflies possibly coming from Tough Mothers. This makes me think that perhaps I should start making notes when I add a book in Goodreads.

The poetry books were from Georgina Herrera and Gloria Anzaldúa.

As already mentioned, I also watched Searching for Sugarman and The Buena Vista Social Club.

That's why it took so long... plus having not finished a round of gardening reading and then having a narrow window of time for reading this Native American Heritage Month book, and some similar issues.

Anyway, books are good! I like them.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Concert Review: Jesse Valenzuela

As I was getting ready to write this concert review, I looked up my previous review, from shortly after Hotel Defeated came out. I had ended with saying that I could imagine a good solo show from that.

Yes, it was a very good show. It was also not completely solo, in that Valenzuela was accompanied by Darryl Icard on bass. As good as Valenzuela is, I am sure he would have been great as the only person on the stage, but I also heard that the music was richer and fuller with someone else there. This became especially clear on "Broken Hearted Kind".

The effect of the combination was impressive on its own. It would be easy to expect more of a lead guitar/rhythm guitar arrangement, but this was fantastic, and gave me a new appreciation for the capabilities of bass.

In addition, while it may be unfair to draw comparisons between the opening act and the headliner, the extra years of experience in performing and composing and traveling were all evident. Sitting down instead of standing, having someone to banter with, it all worked together to create something more compelling, more rich, and more fun. (I can't rule out there being some nerves - at least about having to deal with merch - but it wasn't evident.)

The White Eagle Saloon is a fairly intimate venue anyway, and it was filled with a few familiar faces, but there was more than that working together to make it such a comfortable place.

Of course, many of the attendees have been fans for a while. Jesse said it has been thirty years with the Gin Blossoms. As those hits were added to the mix, memories came back of college and young adulthood, and shows not that long ago, and there was a lot of good feeling in that. There were also songs from both of Valenzuela's earlier releases, and at least one from a new album due in the spring. The beat goes on, even if it adapts to go a little more slowly.

That was a reference from Valenzuela, referring to a composer who recommends playing everything as slowly as you can manage without it falling it apart, and then it's at a good tempo. (Plus there may have been some jokes about that being an old age thing.)

Although that did briefly remind me of that nightmare Dashboard Confessional show, that's not what this is. I'm not sure if it is even truly slower so much as it is mellower. Maybe we don't need to cram in quite as many words and angst as before, but we know what we mean. Being there for it was a total pleasure.

If we were looking for slower Gin Blossoms songs to add in, beyond the hits, I would think that "29" and "Until I Fall Away" would be reasonable starting places (personal prejudice on my part for loving those songs being an obvious factor). However, listening to Valenzuela and Icard play together, I can imagine them doing a great version of "Cajun Song", and that just belies everything about being old and slow.

I look forward to the new album.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Concert Review: Dave Wentz

I saw Dave Wentz last night at the White Eagle Saloon, opening for Jesse Valenzuela.

Wentz has another project, Tigers Of Youth, but that appears to only have one other member, a drummer. It seems likely, then, that Wentz solo is not too different from seeing Tigers of Youth, but it ends up being more expansive.

In addition to the Tigers of Youth material, Wentz also played some other original songs, as well as many covers similar to those found on his Youtube channel. Covering a variety of bands, they all end up sounding kind of the same, which ends up being a little boring.

Wentz comes off as a very nice kid - young and earnest - maybe a little more coffee shop than saloon. I don't doubt he loves music, but he might still be really nervous around her. That can be resolved.

For right now, I like the actual Tigers Of Youth arrangements better, probably because it helps him to have backup.

Lover and fighter

My social awkwardness may occasionally make it hard to get me talking, but ask the right question and it can be really hard to get me to shut up. Oh, I've been thinking about that! Off I go.

No matter how much what I say will be made up of things I have thought, things that I hadn't realized yet will still come out.

I was talking to my bishop not long ago about the situation with my mother. I talked about previously being more of a fighter, and having to change, because this cannot be fought.

The funny thing is that previously I have tended to say that I am a lover, not a fighter. Yes, that is a thing you say humorously, but it also seemed accurate for me.

(Of course, it is also not that long since I blogged about punching someone, so, you know...)

It seemed odd that I'd called myself a fighter, but I had really meant to fight the dementia. Those books that I read and notes I took were so I could fight it and beat it. She was going to improve.

That didn't work out.

Even back in the summer after her last assessment, I was dissecting the test and thinking that I could work with her on some of the test areas. It wasn't to game the test. There wouldn't really be any point in trying to cheat the test, but I thought maybe if we worked in those areas it would be good exercise for her brain. I thought that could slow down the deterioration.

That didn't work out either.

I suppose you could say my fighting methods were loving, or my motivation was loving. It's not exactly that I am no longer opposed to Alzheimer's disease; I am dealing with it on its terms. Maybe when I was a fighter, my chief weapon was denial.

When you break it all down, my life seems to have become sadly encapsulated by the serenity prayer. Sometimes wisdom is knowing that there's no point in this fight.

Sometimes you can find peace in that.

Sometimes the fight requires kindness rather than punching, or even trying to outwit.

I can accept all of that, and I do. It's not like reading all of the books and trying different things can't be part of the process of accumulating wisdom.

Just for the record, though, there is also some wisdom in knowing that sometimes when the bully is bigger and stronger and in the wrong, there is no shame in going for the balls.

Words to live by.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Unexpected, but going with it

A key reason for starting the Pets album - which does not in any way negate the heart-warming beauty of our pets - is that I was trying to update the photos for a Facebook fundraiser I created and that process was not very convenient.

Creating the fundraiser itself was pretty easy. My charity was in there and the steps are simple. They have suggested photos, and you can load your own photos, but I could not load photos from my hard drive - only from my Facebook wall or albums. That seemed odd, but okay. I am compiling an album and sorting through photos, and that is all fine.

I was not expecting to do a fundraiser at all. I have seen many birthday fundraisers, and my primary reaction is guilt. It has been a long time since I have had anything to contribute and I don't feel great about that. That doesn't even get into my complicated feelings about staying with Facebook, which is a story for another day.

Then I got the prompt to create a birthday fundraiser of my own, and Facebook automatically donates $2 when you do. Okay. I'll bite, and it will be worth at least $2.

Felines First was the obvious choice. We have gotten two cats from them, and I am probably going to start doing some volunteering for them.

That is actually a key part of this whole thing. I don't really have money to give, and I have some limitations on my time too. I certainly have limitations on being able to go places. However, I can do some writing, editing, and uploading of information from home, and it turns out that can be helpful. It was a nice reminder that I do still have something to give.

Then the donations started coming in. I wasn't expecting that. There is some apparent good happening here. Without doing much of anything, it has raised $178.

The other thing Facebook does is encourage you to invite people. That makes sense; it increases the odds of them seeing and contributing. That was not something I could do.

I have gotten better, but I still have a hard time asking for things. It's really hard asking for money. It does not help that the money is not going to me.

I can do better by offering something, though I tend to give things away a lot too.

Anyway, I created an Ask Me Anything event. People can donate and ask me things. By offering something, I can invite people to that:

I am not done inviting people yet, but I will keep at it.

And I have no idea how it will go. It still feels a little pushy. In addition, it's kind of a weird idea. Yes, I am I good source of information, but the people who know that best also know that they can ask me things for free. Therefore, I do not have the strongest selling points.

However, it's for the cats, and I'm trying something new.

Picking pictures

I'd worry that by admitting now that I have not switched computers yet you will all think I am disorganized, but I am pretty sure no one reading this has any illusions left about that.

Some of it is time issues, but the real concern is data loss. It may be worse because of the traumatic way in which I lost my previous data.

When I have changed computers before, yes the old one usually was quite old and not working well, but only once did it involve a real crash, and that time pulling out the drive and using an IDE to USB connection to transfer files worked fine.

Through great continuity, I had family history work going back to 1996, journals going back to 2000, and photos going back to 2007 when I first got a digital camera. Add in all my novels and screenplays, my blog logs, and my spreadsheets (I put so much data in spreadsheets!) -- it was just really hard. I still hope someday that I will be able to afford to have a professional try.

When my friend gave me her mother's old computer, I was reluctant to create new files. I no longer log my blog posts. I did end up with some files for a class, and I did give in and create a couple more spreadsheets. I now have an illogical amount of anxiety over transferring those, but the main issue is pictures.

There are many selfies of course, the majority of which were posted, except for that slew from Halloween to December 15th when I could not get any photos transferred. Selfies are ephemeral; I don't need to keep those.

You might also guess (correctly) that I have a lot of blurry concert photos that it should have been easy to delete when I was picking the clearer ones to post with the review. However, I did not. I am doing some of that now.

I am somewhat proud that if you do the right search combination on certain musicians, photos from this will come up:

I think those are really good pictures of Zach and Cory. I have better pictures of James from different shows. I did not get a picture of Billy that night, and he died last year. There are some emotions that come with doing this. There are some fears about loss that aren't really about any photo, but they still come with the photos.

There are photos of places that went up on the travel blog. Sometimes there are other photos that did not get posted but they are not bad; do I want them enough? Even scarier, there are some photos for travel blog posts that I have not written yet. What if I load them and something goes wrong? I just came across a photo I took of some artwork at the Fox Tower Theater. I had forgotten I took it, but seeing that reminded me; do I need to remember?

The biggest questions are with pet pictures. If anyone is wondering why I recently created a Pets album on Facebook and am adding to it, it's actually for for selecting a cover photo for a fundraiser, but it goes along with this as well. Synergy!

We take a lot of pet photos, because our pets are adorable and beautiful and quite photogenic. They also do the same poses in the same spots pretty frequently, I am now noticing. I probably do not need every photo of Mavis on the couch corner, but how many do I need? So trivial, really, but it doesn't feel that way. Maybe it's because I've been burned.

Sometimes I suffer from inertia when there is uncertainty, even when it is fairly minor, but I will press on.

In the meantime, here are some bonus selfies that stayed trapped in the camera for a long time. If you want the pet pictures, those are going on Facebook.

 (This was a "kiss the cook" one. I was making fajitas.)

Friday, January 04, 2019

Concert Review: Stone In Love

Yesterday's review of Grand Illusion was for the opening band. The main attraction was Journey tribute band Stone in Love.

I like Journey better than Styx, part of which may be the different focus. I referred to Styx as highbrow. There is nothing inherently wrong with concept albums and getting philosophical, but it is possible for that to get in the way of good music, possibly losing something in passion.

I don't want to spend too much time on that; there are great songs that are also intellectual, and a lower concept song isn't automatically dumb. I do think that a lot of the strength of music is in its ability to touch emotion. In that way, Journey is a better band - and especially a better concert band - than Styx.

That may not matter if you have a difference in band quality, but Stone In Love was fantastic. If it takes some guitar prowess to master Styx songs, it is not an easy feat to cover Steve Perry's vocals. A lot of credit needs to go to vocalist Kevin Hahn.

Instruments were also on point. I especially noticed that for drums which filled out the sound well in a way I don't specifically remember for the original band, and keyboards.

My earliest memory of Journey is the "Separate Ways" video (generally not considered a good video, but for 1983 it was pretty appropriate), which was co-written by Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain. The synthesizer on it is unforgettable, along with the overall interplay of rhythm and melody. Stone In Love delivered on all songs, but I especially noticed it there.

I have included some extra photos (even though none of them are great), because I wanted to give some idea of the effect on the crowd. Yes, people enjoyed both acts, but the dance area kept filling up more and more the longer Stone In Love played. I thought we'd hit the height of romance when a couple in front of me started dancing with each other instead of next to each other on "Lights", but that was just the prelude. Many more bodies came together on "Open Arms".

Good show! 

*Note to long-time readers: Stone In Love is now my 600th band reviewed. Making that work is why I reviewed three bands last week. I like it when the milestone numbers can be live shows, local bands, or have emotional significance. This show was all of the above, with Stone In Love keyboardist Mike Johnson being a friend from high school. Look for some more live music reviews next week.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Concert Review: Grand Illusion

Saturday night I saw Grand Illusion, the Northwest's premier Styx tribute act.

The first question that raised for me was how many Styx tribute bands are there, both in general and in the Northwest. I was able to find three others, but in different geographic locations.

The question I'd had going into the show was whether with a tribute band it is more important that they are true to the band or that they do a good show.

I don't think that one has an easy answer. For someone at the show, a good show in general is probably better, but if you are going to see a tribute band, most likely you are a fan of the original band and want to hear something like them.

Having now attended the concert, the bigger question is whether the source material can result in limitations.

I totally thought Grand Illusion sounded like Styx. I know that involves some pretty good technical prowess. I also don't like Styx that much.

I thought I liked them better. I remembered Styx as a little more highbrow, rather than fun or romantic (apparently forgetting "Babe"). I found this show kind of boring. I thought maybe I would have liked Grand Illusion more if they had played "Heavy Metal Poisoning", but then I looked up the video at home, and I had remembered it rocking more than it did. So really, my ambivalence is the fault of Styx, and not Grand Illusion.

However, if you like Styx, you should like Grand Illusion a lot.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

2019 - My year for music

Different music goals and intentions with varying levels of difficulty have been on my mind. I've decided this year is the year I go for broke and do them all.

One longstanding desire was to make my Band Reviews spreadsheet public, via Dropbox or something. Before doing that, I wanted to expand the Reviewed tab. What I had was the name and whether or not I had seen them live. I initially only did it to keep track of numbers, and to be able to scan for names when I was having trouble remembering something. I was always aware that there could be more useful information, like where they were from, their label or if they were unsigned, and maybe a brief description, plus URLs.

I never got around to doing that, and then my hard drive crashed and I lost everything. I was able to reconstruct a lot of the bands to be reviewed and that were recommended, probably with some misses that I don't know, but I have never tried reconstructing "Reviewed".

Obviously, it would be more work. At the time I think I had about 19 bands to be reviewed from Twitter follows, and there were probably just under forty recommended bands, but I had recently passed 500 bands reviewed.

At the same time, it would be easier because I could find them all by going through the blog posts. For those waiting for review, I had to go through my Twitter follows that had not been reviewed yet, and hope no one had un-followed me since (though it would kind of have served them right). Recommended bands was all from memory. I actually have a reliable chronological record of my reviewed bands until such time as Blogger irrevocably collapses.

But if I am going to do it, I should do it better: commit to which fields I want to fill in, and then do it. Also, the number has only gone up. I counted up from 500, and I can tell you that tomorrow's review will be for band number 599.

That will take a while, but it will also be full of good memories. Just thinking about the start, when I was suddenly getting the chance to see bands I had wanted to see for so long, and falling for new bands... there are a lot of great memories from that time period, and it led to some really good things too. I have actually been wanting to do that since May.

Recently I have been getting fewer new band followers, and my blogging has become somewhat more irregular (though still pretty impressive considering), and I have been thinking maybe I should wind things down. If that happens, and I only go to 700 instead of 1000, then I am going to go out with a feeling of completion. I will get everyone currently in the spreadsheet before I stop, for sure.

Since I am going for completion, here are some other things that need to be wrapped up. I still have a list of 24 bands from the Nothing Feels Good  listening that I mean to look into more. They are not all emo bands, but some of them are. I will be working on that soon.

I also have a list of 32 bands that some of my early young Twitter mutuals obsessed over. I want to at least listen to a sampling of them. I am working on that now.

Listening to Christmas music, I have been thinking lately of what songs have been popular in different time periods, and how the music has developed.

Yes, I am quite positive some of that is remembering how much more I liked listening to the radio on Christmas in the late 70s that the equivalent now; why do they use such a small subset of the available music out there, and so often the most inferior subset? (Yeah, I know the Telecom Act plays a part.)

I will be working on that later, probably starting in the fall.

Finally, this is really the year I am going to release a week of songs by me. I thought 2018 could be the year after doing some recordings for my Music for Wellness class, but I would not have been happy with the quality level I could have achieved then. If I start planning ahead, this year I can do it.

I am not yet committed to whether there will be videos.

Also, so far it looks like I can go to about one show a month this year, at least for the first quarter. I would like to keep that going.

Most of these shows are not so much for new bands, but are musicians I have already seen and connected with. That feels pretty good too.

It also feels good to be excited about things, and for this stuff, I am.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Resolved for me: My village

One humbling thing this last year has been the persistence of some friends in checking on me.

I am not the most fun ever now, my availability is not as flexible, and I may take super long times to get back to you, just because of the other things on my plate. Nonetheless many people have been kind, generous, and sometimes even a bit stubborn when needed.

I want to do better on my side for that.

First of all, I don't want to make everyone drag me along. I can be at least a little more on the ball. We are getting better at working out respite time, and as I am successfully getting more alone time, I should probably consider getting in more social time.

There are also friends that I am not connecting with now whom I still value. This group of friends tends to involve people not on Facebook, so they don't necessarily see updates. I remember sending e-mail to one friend. It had been a while, so she expressed surprise but she wrote back right away, and then I didn't get back to her. That's embarrassing, but it's me.

I just sorted my send folder to see, and that was three years ago. Checking on some other addresses, it looks like I really started dropping the ball in 2016. That makes total sense. I still hope I can do better.

Part of having that hope of doing better is that patience that has been extended to me by others. As I write, hey, I don't know how regular I will be, but I will accept your patience if you will offer it.

I have had to accept a lot of help in this part of my life. I preferred being on the other side of that, but maybe it made me cocky. Maybe life is just cyclical, and this is my turn.

There are also people who have knowledge and skills and access that may be helpful for me. I will try reaching out more.

The first time didn't work out. I messaged the daughter of a friend of my mother's to try and arrange a phone call, and she didn't reply. That could be discouraging, but she also has three other kids. That call could still happen, but it might not. There will be things that don't work out, but that might not make them failures.

I think of this as building my village. Someone else used that phrase as she started on a new phase of life. Well, this is a continuing phase of life, and the village is partially there, but I can strengthen it, and be more aware of it.

That's my hope for 2019.

Well, it's my more emotional, interpersonal hope. I have some additional and probably not as important things that I will write about tomorrow.