Monday, May 24, 2010

Not Lost anymore

WARNING: if you still haven't seen the series finale of Lost, this post will spoil it for you. Read on at your own risk.

The writers of Lost have my respect. They’ve done what I routinely struggle to do: weave a story that satisfies only enough to get folks riled up about how unsatisfactory the end of the story is.

I had that same knee-jerk reaction so many viewers – and some of my own friends – had when, by the end, they were all dead. All we were left with was some sugar-coated allegory based around a theme of “letting go” and “moving on,” while it was never clear what really happened. And the idea of bringing polar bears to the island, while already explained, kind of, is still a big WTF.

But then, that really seems to be one of the points of the entire series I’m seeing. The human imagination itself is something to marvel at, and whether we like the explanations behind the visions, the visions themselves really were enough, weren't they?

Working further down the theme ladder from the highest level – the idea that no matter how lonely, flawed or hopeless one might be, there are kindred spirits all around with whom you can bond and learn to prop each other up – it seems that the island and its opposing forces, Jacob and his miserable nameless brother (you’d be miserable too if the only names you ever answered to were “brother,” “The Man in Black,” “the smoke monster” or the name of whatever dead person you decided to make yourself look like) were using regular human beings as pawns in their power play. Kind of a typical good vs. evil plot line that we grew up watching as kids on cartoons, but this time, we were never really sure which side was the good side until the last season. And even at that, few of us were ready to forgive all the questionable tactics of the “good guys.” Kind of like the real world.

I’ll probably buy the complete 6-season DVD set when it comes out, and then I’ll dig deeper into the little details. But for now, since I’ve cooled down over the surface bits that disappointed me – i.e. seeing Sawyer reunited with Juliet (what a mismatch!); never really finding out what the “real” timeline (assuming there ever was one) looked like upon the return of Kate, Sawyer, Lupitas, Miles and Claire; never knowing whether Desmond did get to leave the island, and if so, how it would have happened – I realize that this was a genius way to end Lost. Just like any other storyline, it could have gone on forever. But leaving it the way it did just reminded me of all the times I’ve felt the same way upon the conclusion of a movie with multiple unresolved plot lines. At some point, you have to call it quits. And when you do, a great measure of success is how pissed off the audience is over their pet plot line not being resolved. In that regard, it appears that Lost was a huge success. We cared that much to actually get pissed off.

From a personal standpoint, however, I’m a bit shook up.

I saw a lot of myself in Jack Shepard. And it hit a little too close to home when, of all the main characters, he was the very last one to “get it.” The man of science finally understood the importance of “letting go” and “moving on” at the end of that controversial “purgatory” scene, the culmination of all the “flash sideways” scenes. And at that moment, in death, he achieved what he struggled to do in life.

It shook me up because there are some things in life for which I struggle in much the same way, and often fear that I will not overcome. But then, intellectually I've always known the answer is to “let go.” That’s why I’m reading Larry Winget. That’s why I started taking swing dance lessons. That’s why I’ve latched on so hard to the music of Ash Reiter, not to mention the vibe and friendship of her entire band, this year. And that’s why, not even knowing how this whole saga would finally end, I bought Lara De Garie’s painting “About Patterns” (pictured above) and hung it on my living room wall just 12 days before the Lost finale aired.

I think I get it now, too.

Thanks to my friend Victoria for steering me over to Screen Rant's take, my fuzzy impressions of the conclusion of Lost have been cleared up even further. This is the best take I've seen so far. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Online privacy is NOT news

When I start feeling annoyed at reading the same tired rants over and over, that’s usually a sign that it’s time to speak up – either to say “shut up!” or something a little more intelligent. I’d like to think I’m hitting the mark of the latter here.

There have been, and will continue to be, loads and loads of articles about privacy concerns on Facebook. You can find them with little to no effort by entering the words “Facebook” and “privacy” in the search field of Google’s news site. Or you can just click here, since that’s what you really want to do, isn’t it?

The latest, and potentially most explosive, entry in this “news cycle” is the release of an alleged IM conversation between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and an unnamed friend. The conversation supposedly took place when Zuckerberg was 19, and given his age at the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the epithet he supposedly gave to his users at the time was true. Kids at that age can be an impulsive, impolitic bunch.

Though Facebook has since issued a statement to clarify its official stance on user privacy, there’s another issue here that few people seem to be acknowledging: online privacy is NOT news!

After over a decade and a half of mainstream news reports of the havoc wreaked by hackers and spammers, have we not gotten the message that no matter what online service we use, we are all at risk for an invasion of privacy when we submit our personal information to an online service?

No matter how secure an online service is, you are *always* at risk for a privacy invasion. If the company isn’t willing to sell the information to third parties, a hacker may still find a way to steal it. It’s the same reality we deal with when we walk the city streets – no matter who is watching out for us, whether it’s the police or privately-hired security officers, we’re always at risk to be mugged or roughed up in some way. It’s a fact of life.

Not to take away from Facebook’s responsibilities towards its users – the company’s users have every right to keep Facebook in a position to prove itself, and if the company wants to be successful, it will find a way to go above and beyond what’s expected, both in terms of satisfying its user base and its bottom line.

But when it comes down to basics, it’s very simple. The best protector of your online privacy is you. If you don’t feel comfortable having your age determine what products are marketed to you on Facebook, don’t share your year of birth. If you don’t want the world to see those pictures of you getting drunk with transvestite hookers, then don’t upload them! Even if Facebook prevents them from coming up in Google searches, who’s to say that one of your “friends” won’t download the photos and then share them somewhere else that *will* allow Google to index them in searches? There’s only so much Facebook can do. The rest is up to you.

If you ever run into a jam trying to figure out whether you should share something online, there’s a really simple test you can apply. I learned this non-technical exercise from a particularly tech-savvy ex-girlfriend of mine. Ask yourself, “would I want my mother to see this?”

There you go. Now stop worrying and enjoy the web. It’s really fun when you realize just how much control of the experience you really do have.

Friday, March 26, 2010

SXSW Adventures 2010 (part 3)

The home stretch for SXSW began on Friday with another tip from Pigeon O’Brien – this time, it was Jimmy LaFave, another local singer/songwriter/guitarist and a favorite of Pigeon’s, performing at the Red House Records showcase at Mother Egan’s Irish Pub. Josh stayed behind till the evening, but Levi was free so we started the day without him. Jimmy’s set was low key, subdued, and very twangy. His sound made for some really interesting and original Dylan covers (“Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”), and worked especially well on his set closing rendition of John Waite’s big ‘80s hit “Missing You.”

It was the middle of the day, and after a set like Jimmy’s, it only seemed appropriate to kick it up a notch with a quick stop at Hoek’s for some Death Metal Pizza. Actual toppings on my slice were cheese, olives, sausage and sliced jalapeƱos, and true to the place’s theme, I was welcomed by a sweet blast of Slayer’s “Hate Worldwide” as I placed my order. I had one guy on my left enthusiastically talking up his death metal band, due to play inside that evening, and the guy who was about to give me window service rudely proclaiming “I’ll get to you when I get a chance!” when I asked if it would be better for me to wait in the line that was leading inside. I laughed it off, since the ‘tude was in perfect sync with the music, and he did stay true to his word and actually didn’t make me wait long at all. And the pizza was good. Can’t go wrong with jalapeƱos.

From there, Levi showed me the pedestrian paths that took us from the edge of downtown by the riverside over to Auditorium Shores. It was a roundabout route, and perfect in length for taking in the natural elements of Austin that you won’t find anywhere on 6th Street. There were folks canoing in the river, bicyclists all around, colorful plants and mounds of large turtles – more than I’ve ever seen clustered together outside of a pet store. I grew up near a pond that had some tiny little snappers, but they were very elusive and didn’t care to be seen much. These big guys in Austin were practically showing off.

By the time we made it to the bicycle valet at Auditorium Shores, the gates were just opening – perfect timing. We found a good spot at the edge of the general admission area, passed on the selection of Stetson hats, and invited gawkers with some huge 2-foot tall “margaritas” – if there was alcohol in there, it wasn’t evident.

The Ray Johnston Band, from Dallas, opened with some really cheesy songs about cougars and texting. At least the sax player sounded good. The less said about everything else in the set, the better.

Next up was Cracker – looking and sounding a little haggard these days, but no worse for wear and tear. The new songs sounded just as solid as the old ones, and leave it to those wise asses to open their set with their best known hit (“Low”) rather than saving it for last. Nice one. Glad to know they're still kickin’ around.

I had heard of the BoDeans, but their set at Auditorium Shores was actually the first time I had paid any attention to them. One song in their set sounded vaguely familiar, but other than that, their mix of rock, Tex Mex, country and folk left me thinking that maybe the guys in Los Lonely Boys were fans. It wasn’t totally my cup of tea, but they gave off a good vibe and they did exactly what a good opening band should do – they got the crowd riled up for the big headliners.

And those big headliners were the biggest draw for me at SXSW – Cheap Trick. I hadn’t seen them perform live since 2004, and lamented every year I missed them. Even with Bun E. Carlos ceding his drum duties to Rick Nielson’s son Dax (who’s far from a slouch and does Bun E. proud), this set more than made up for CT’s refusal to play in San Francisco since the day I moved there. From spotlighting half of their new album, The Latest (Rick reminded us that it's "the number one 8-track in the world!" and he's right - nobody else bothered to release an album in the 8-track format in 2009), to playing exactly half of my favorite CT album (their 1977 debut, Cheap Trick), the band showed more vigor than I remembered they had. They made Auditorium Shores feel like Glastonbury or Coachella, only far more laid back and comfortable than I imagine either of those two places would have been.

Rick also made a point of acknowledging Alex Chilton, who had died unexpectedly two days earlier. Cheap Trick’s cover of Big Star’s Alex Chilton-penned “In The Street” was used as the theme for "That ‘70s Show" and not only raised both band’s profiles, but also became another Cheap Trick concert favorite in the process. So Rick, who by the sound of his voice was clearly moved by the loss of Alex, dedicated “Sleep Forever,” “Heaven Tonight,” and of course “In The Street” to Alex. By the end of the set though, they were in classic Cheap Trick party mode, ending with an encore that included “He’s a Whore,” “Dream Police” and “Gonna Raise Hell.” I’d say it was the best Cheap Trick show I’ve seen since 1998, and I’ve seen them about 15 or 16 times at this point.

But it didn’t stop there. Levi, Josh and I headed straight towards yet another event after Cheap Trick’s set ended around 9:45 or so. We ended up at a party celebrating the birthday and the CD release of a beatboxing electronica artist by the name of Maestro over at a co-op near the UT campus. It was a slow-building event filled with beer, dancing, and people putting things into their bodies that made them act a bit shady. But it was a load of fun, enough to keep us awake till an hour I hadn’t witnessed with my eyes open probably since that night I didn’t sleep while waiting for the Super Shuttle to cart me off to my European flight last August.

Had the temperature in Austin not dipped down into the 30s on Saturday, I would have returned to Auditorium Shores to catch She & Him. It was freezing, and nobody wanted to venture outside in that weather, not even me. By Sunday, it was comfortable enough for a stroll outside again, but most out-of-towners were at the airport or hitting the road to return home, leaving Austin a little quieter and less lively, or as Levi put it, “more like how it really is.”

Cheap Trick's set list - Auditorium Shores, Austin, TX, 3/19/10

Hello There
Elo Kiddies
Welcome To The World
I Want You To Want Me
These Days
Wrong All Along
Sleep Forever
Heaven Tonight
In The Street
Taxman, Mr. Thief
The Ballad of TV Violence (I'm Not The Only Boy)
Oh Candy
Miss Tomorrow
Sick Man of Europe
Closer, The Ballad of Burt and Linda

The Flame
Dream Police
He's a Whore
Gonna Raise Hell
Goodnight Now

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

SXSW Adventures 2010 (part 2)

My third day in Austin turned out to be the busiest day of the week, and the first in which Josh joined me for some shows.

Thanks to Pigeon O’Brien, a passionate Austin-based publicist who is not only a friend of Popdose but also one of the funniest people on Twitter, I was tipped to an event she organized at the West 6th Street location of Opal Divine's. She assembled a lineup of local roots and Americana musicians she represents, for the brief period I was there, I got to hear short sets by Betty Soo and Dustin Welch. I also finally met Pigeon in person for the first time. She was so happy to have one of her tweeps in attendance that she even gave me an on-stage shout out, which brought a big smile to my face. Those kinds of things never get old. She was just as cool in person as her online persona led me to believe, and hearing the artists she represents perform live gave me a more vivid feel for what local Americana artists in Texas are all about.

While my heartstrings weren’t being tugged particularly hard by the music at Opal Divine's, the music was well presented and made me feel at home. Basically, there are a couple more artists I feel compelled to check out now, namely the two in the showcase I missed that I wanted to see most – Steve Poltz and Walt Wilkins. That was probably the biggest impact the show had on me, though the proverbial bouncy ball alternately led me and followed me to a couple other places, as you’ll see in a bit.

When Josh and I left Opal Divine's, our intention was to catch a set by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the Mohawk. Unfortunately, they had already finished their set before we got there. On the upside though, we caught an intense, raucous, loud and droney headlining set by an Austin band called the Black Angels. Josh really took to them, and I’m ready to hear how their studio recordings compare to their live sound. They had me transfixed. Always a good sign.

After some roadside pizza and some time to relax, I headed back downtown, this time alone. I hadn’t purchased a badge or a wristband, having missed my early bird opportunities and then ultimately deciding that I’d rather just wing it anyway. Not having that special fancy pass was ultimately what doomed my attempt to check out Damien Marley and Nas at Emo’s at the last minute. But no matter, Louisville’s Wax Fang sounded pretty tight when I saw them instead over at Valhalla. The song I heard outside the venue that drew me in wasn’t topped by what I heard inside, so I’m not sure what happened there. But I wouldn’t be upset if I saw them again opening for a band like the Twilight Singers or Queens of the Stone Age. I’d have to hear more to get a better sense of what I was really witnessing.

Heading back outside again, I grabbed a BBQ brisket sandwich and witnessed a one-man band (bass drum, hi hat, guitar and vocals) covering John Lee Hooker and Buddy Holly tunes, among others in that old time blues and ‘50s rock n’ roll genre, albeit with some punk-ish energy. Dude was pretty damned entertaining, though I unfortunately didn’t catch his name.

After heading back to Josh’s, I managed to drag him out again to catch the final act playing at the Continental Club, a guy by the name of Ian Moore who appears to call both Seattle and Austin home. He had what seemed like a pretty balanced mix of rock, blues and country that sounded perfectly at home after 1am in Texas bar – nothing earth shattering, but perfect for the occasion and I’m pretty certain everyone in attendance was happy with what they heard. The best part for me was when the evening coincidentally came full circle when Dustin Welch, who I had seen earlier in the day at Opal Divine’s, took the stage as a guest towards the end of Ian’s set. And then, outside the venue, Josh and I ended up talking with a local who casually informed us that Frosty would be playing the next night. I asked him, "do you mean the Frosty, the one who drummed for Lee Michaels in the late '60s?" Yup, that Frosty. Unfortunately, his set clashed with the one show I wanted to see most while in Austin, but at least now I know where to look for him when I'm ready to catch up on all things Lee Michaels, something I've been meaning to do ever since I moved to California.

Actually, what was even better than all of this was being able to grab some pizza at Home Slice well after Ian Moore’s set had concluded. It was probably some amount of time after 2 in the morning, and the Home Slice parking lot on South Congress was abuzz as if it was New York City on any given night. After several beers and many miles walked to catch all sorts of music I had never heard before, a slice of margherita really hit the spot. This could have easily been the peak of the week, but that would actually happen the next night.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SXSW Adventures 2010 (part 1)

It seems absurd on the surface, but I actually made the trip to SXSW as a means of relaxation. Looking at the various schedules of conferences, films and live music events was anything but relaxing, and figuring out exactly how I was going to navigate this behemoth of a festival ended up stressing me out all over again.

I had planned on spending the day before my flight assembling a matrix of events I’d like to see so I’d have an easy to reference road map of what interested me, thus narrowing down the infinite options to a manageable handful or three.

Yeah, right.

My focus was on anything but filtering all the information I had stumbled upon, so in the end I simply marked up a printout of a spreadsheet of unofficial events, referred back to the official SXSW web site when I could, and winged all the rest. Though I missed a few shows I would have liked to have attended (not to mention any and all films that looked interesting to me – maybe next time), approaching SXSW with a loose idea of what I’d like to see and an “anything goes” attitude for everything in between seemed to be exactly what the week called for. And being that I was staying with my friend Josh the whole week, keeping things loose made sense in that regard too. It allowed us a balance between going out and chilling out that might not have been as easy to get into had I ended up sharing a hotel with hardcore festival goers.

I considered the hotel option, but that only would have worked if this was a work trip. I made no plans to cover this festival in any way, and even though this post kind of does that, it kind of doesn’t either. As you’re about to see, my view from the ground is pretty modest in terms of following the pulse of the festival compared to other accounts you’ll read.

Tuesday the 16th was the day I arrived, and rather than head straight into the action, I started off the week away from the fray, with a guitar in my hand. After Josh and I rendezvoused with our friends Nate and Levi for some dinner, we headed back to Levi’s place for a little jamming. We mostly stuck to simple two chord progressions, with Nate setting the tone on an electric keyboard, Levi fleshing out the sound on piano, and Josh switching between another electric keyboard and sharing the piano with Levi. I stuck to acoustic guitar, picking out melodies, scales and progressions to complement the hypnotic minor chords flowing all around me. This went on for a good long while, though I couldn’t really say how long. Time stood still I suppose. Suffice to say, it was a great little session that left me feeling higher than any recreational substance might have achieved. I really couldn’t have imagined a better start to the week.

While Josh took care of some business during the day on Wednesday, I got my first taste of the many completely free daytime shows that were happening all week. First stop was at the Red Eyed Fly, where I ran into all three of the Happy Hollows during and after an awesome set by The Henry Clay People on the Red Eyed Fly’s outside stage. The Henry Clay People are an L.A. band whose name has been dropped around me numerous times, and it's funny that it took a trip to Austin for me to finally see them. They had that fire in their belly, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeing them again on the west coast.

Of course I knew the Happy Hollows would be at the Red Eyed Fly (it was the first of eight shows they played in Austin that week), so I made a point of being there to show some support and congratulate them on all the success they’ve had so far (most recently, they had a brief cameo appearance the previous night on ABC’s Parenthood). But before their set (which was typically awesome, no need for me to gush any more than I already do), the Austin band Brazos played a short but impressive set on the inside stage. They’re a trio, like many of the indie rock bands playing the festival, and though I don’t remember many specifics about their set, I can say that for a trio, they had an intriguing mix of subdued vibes and semi-confident energy. I’d see them again for sure.

Not taking notes didn’t serve me well for the last band I saw at the Red Eyed Fly before meeting back up with Josh, but I was moved in a very positive direction by the lead singer’s pronouncement of death to that terrible old feeling called fear. His invective encouraged me to stab that invisible beast a few more times in the heart, and as you’d imagine, a good rest would be needed after such a purging. And that’s just what the rest of the night had in store – chilling out, talking, resting and relaxing. There would be a ton more to come.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A quick Parlour to Parlour alumni update

With the annual SXSW extravaganza about to let loose down in Austin, Texas, I'm slowly but surely learning of various appearances that several Parlour to Parlour alumni will be making next week. Among them are:

  • Leopold and his Fiction (March 16 at Art Disaster No. 10 and March 18 at the Beauty Bar.)
  • The Happy Hollows (EIGHT different appearances, check their MySpace. No excuse to miss them if you plan on attending SXSW this year.)
  • Correatown (She's got four different dates, check her MySpace.)
  • The New Up (Playing at the Texas Rock Fest on March 20, which is not part of SXSW, but it's the same city and same week, so I'm counting it.)

And in upcoming album release news, it appears that two Parlour to Parlour alumni have worked on their third albums with the help of a common reputable producer/mixer. Leopold and his Fiction are releasing an advance single from their forthcoming third album, and The Brother Kite (who have played SXSW in the past, but will not be there this year) have finished and titled their third album (which they are calling Isolation) and are streaming a few tracks on their web site. Who produced the Leopold record? Who mixed the Brother Kite's record? It's also the same guy who has worked with two artists I've listened to quite a bit over the last 12 months, Vetiver and Devendra Banhart. His name is Thom Monahan.

Finally, I've heard the Brother Kite's Isolation, and I can confidently say it's a subtle yet stunning evolution in their sound, one I've been hoping would happen for the past four years. Not only that, Patrick Boutwell's songs keep getting better, and I've already got a couple of favorites that are earning plenty of repeat play on my iPod. Only problem is the band doesn't have a label to distribute the record. They've been free agents since leaving Clairecords, so until someone picks them up, y'all are going to have to wait to hear this 12-song masterpiece. Any takers?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

One Word Makes All the Difference

Back in 2008, Brian Wilson released his brilliant follow-up to SMiLE, a song cycle he called That Lucky Old Sun. In the last verse of the last song on the album, "Southern California," there's a lyric that continues to jog the "sick humor" area in my brain to this day:

Surfers in the West
The sun ran into the sea
As we headed home
We drove into a movie

Our brains have this habit of filling in the blanks, anticipating what logic tells us could or should come next. In the case of this particular lyric, my brain, for whatever strange reason, believed when I first listened to this song that the last word in this lyric wasn't going to be "movie." No, not at all. Had Brian's vocal suddenly cut out after the indefinite article and left me to sing the rest, not knowing how he was going to finish the lyric, this is how it would have come out of my mouth:

Surfers in the West
The sun ran into the sea
As we headed home
We drove into a tree

Suddenly, the entire song has a different tone.

Here's Brian performing "Southern California" live at Abbey Road in 2008. It's an abridged performance (he skipped the second verse and the bridge), but the important verse is still there. Somehow I doubt he'd ever adopt my version.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Welcome to the Dance

Writing letters back and forth to friends - not just simple functional emails - sometimes will jog my brain into realizations or, at the very least, finding a way to articulate realizations I've felt but not yet verbalized. This bit from a letter-via-email I sent today, stemming from a friend's advice to take two months to stop analyzing things that have gone awry for me, is one that I thought would be worth sharing.

When I went to my swing dance lesson on Tuesday, I kept fretting over not getting my foot movements right. I mouthed "shit!" to myself, and the female instructor saw me do it. She was looking at my feet from across the room the entire time, and so she looked back up at me and mouthed "you're OK" and gave the thumbs up.

Later in the lesson, after being corrected a few times by the male instructor while I was dancing with my partner, he came back to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Mike, forget everything I just told you. Just dance how you feel. You've already got it all up in your head, so just go for it." It was a timely echo of what you had said, and it does make sense in a way – it's hard to allow yourself to gradually ease what you've learned into practice if you don't stop studying for a little while. Even my mother had told me that, back when she was working on her master's – "studying too much can be just as bad as not studying enough." I just hadn't yet encountered a situation in real life where I felt it held true for me. Now I have.

...and I was going to end with a profoundly related music video right about now, but the song I was looking for isn't represented anywhere on the 'net as an embeddable video (at least that I could find). Paul McCartney's "Dance Tonight" isn't related to anything I just wrote, other than having the word "dance" in the title and lyrics, but what the hell. This is a damn cool video, one I hadn't seen till today, that totally enhances the song. It's what a good video should do. Dig those ghosts and the nerve-wracked postman as Paul keeps his cool throughout. The ending is the payoff - it's a party I would have loved to attend.

Monday, February 15, 2010

From Leonardo on Perspective, to the Wilsonian Monument

A valuable quote by Leonardo da Vinci that was spotlighted in my current studies:

"Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen."

This is especially important for those who, like myself, believe that "harmony is a monument." Dissonance is beautiful in its own way, and I love it in some of its forms as well. But if I had to choose an abundance of one over the other, it would be harmony, all the way.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

John Mayer is not as much of a douche as you think he is

I'm not what you'd call a John Mayer "fan." I only own and enjoy one album of his, the solid live album Try! - it's the one where he plays in a blues rock trio setting with drummer Steve Jordan (Keith Richards & The X-Pensive Winos) and bassist Pino Palladino (The Who).

I've heard parts of Continuum and thought it was pretty good. But his earlier stuff never did much for me other than cause me to feel annoyed. So I was happy when he ditched his breathy acoustic pop schtick for a little while to open up his throat and belt out some soulful, rockin' blues. Everyone deserves a reevaluation when they really "try" and step outside their usual patterns.

Likewise, in spite of the uproar that emerged across Twitter and everywhere else that harbors a distaste for the 'n' word, I think John deserves another reevaluation from the haters.

First though, John was stupid to even bother to say that one offending two-syllable word in his Playboy interview (I've yet to read the full piece, but first heard of the whole affair at Billboard).

Second, John knows he was stupid to say what he said, in spite of his good intentions, and wisely issued a public apology very quickly.

Third, and most important of all, is what I see when looking past his clunky style of expressing himself lately. I did read the full Rolling Stone interview (highlights are available at the RS website) in the February 4 issue, the one where he says he's looking for "The Joshua Tree of vaginas." Eric Clapton, when commenting on John's music, says, "I think he becomes too caught up in being clever." Well, the exact same thing can be said about the way he represents himself to the press.

John understands that "being clever" is a sure way to get attention, and if he's ever going to "close out this life-partner thing," which he really wants to do just like a whole bunch of the rest of us, well, putting himself out there and getting attention is still a whole lot more effective than sitting alone in his room practicing scales all day.

As men, we're constantly thrown mixed signals. "Be nice." "Be yourself." We try to be nice, we try to be ourselves, and then we get nowhere. "Be original." "Be strong." We pull out clever, original words and make strong statements, and then get skewered for it. We can't win.

Looking past his style, I see John as just a regular dude who got really lucky in the music business and is now trying to come to terms with his unluckiness in the love department by stepping up his attention-getting game. And he's stumbled very publicly. Most of us have the luxury of being able to stumble without millions of people around the world knowing about it. But that was a risk he took, and admit it - it took some balls. Now the whole world knows that he doesn't completely have his game together with the ladies. On the flip side, however, he might start attracting sound advice now on how to get this part of his life figured out. If he's wise enough to listen, he might have inadvertently stumbled upon a solution to his problems.

I think deep down, John's a good guy. I bet he'd be fun to hang out with and have a few beers. And I'd welcome the opportunity to interview him, if only to try throwing in some encouragement to do another record like Try! He's got a gift, and has the blessing of masters like Clapton, B.B. King and Herbie Hancock. We gotta fight the good fight to keep great music alive, and knowing that he has it in him to do just that, he needs to know from as many of us as possible that this could be his life mission. Sticking to it and not wavering from it for a second will not only ensure that his career has lasting power beyond first-week sales, it will also very likely help him to "close out this life-partner thing." It doesn't seem like an intuitive thought, but it's one that men much wiser than myself have been saying. It's one to take on faith if it can't be understood right away.

John, dude, hang in there. And yes, do filter yourself a little more, but not so much that you stop being interesting and funny. Just, you know, don't say the 'n' word anymore. OK? Cool.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Two Heads and a Bad Case of the Hives

One of the greatest gifts my mother gave to me was enrolling me in swimming lessons. Since I lived by water, the line of reasoning went, it was important to know how to swim - not just for survival purposes, but also so I could have fun with all the other kids who would be playing around in the water too.

I'm fuzzy on the specific time period, but let's say roughly kindergarten through maybe second grade was when I took lessons at an indoor pool one town over, starting at a very basic "beginner" level, advancing on to intermediate, and so on. Starting at that beginner level, I would look fearfully at the deep end of the pool - ten feet! It was still a mystery to me at that point how I would ever be able to keep myself from sinking down to the bottom. If my feet couldn't feel the bottom of the pool without my head being above water, the feeling of "danger" took over.

Of course, in time, some of that fear began to erode as I slowly learned to dog paddle, tread water and so on. Still, advancing in my swim lessons was not coming to me quite as easily as my school studies. I still remember the swim instructor at one particular level I was at telling me that I wasn't ready for the next level, and yet, he decided he would advance me anyway. I wasn't sure how to take it - was this instructor being irresponsible by pushing me forward when I wasn't ready because he didn't want to deal with the embarrassment of having one kid who didn't quite pass? Was he trying to build me up by showing confidence that I'd be able to figure out what to do in the next level? Was he afraid of incurring my mother's wrath if he held me back?

Whatever the case, I was advancing. And before that moment came, the kids in my group got to do something we had all been working towards - to swim for just a little bit in the deep end. This mystery was beginning to unravel, and being able to conquer it would be a great source of pride for me if I could do it.

I started off dog paddling, doing the safe thing. Lo and behold, I was making it! I wasn't sinking! But then, I did start sinking. I panicked. Treading water simply did not cross my mind, and I began flailing. My heart was beating fast, my breaths were increasing, and then, my head submerged. I was so close to the edge of the pool, I thought I could grab it. But I wasn't close enough. I sank further. I thought, this is it. I'm drowning.

Just at that moment, a strong hand reached down and grabbed my arm. I was quickly raised out of the water. Saved. It was over.

And I was terrified.

So terrified, in fact, that I never did find out who it was that saved me. I'm not even sure if my mother knew, and I doubt she'd remember now since it was so long ago. But when the dust settled, I was grateful to be breathing air instead of water, and to be walking on the ground instead of sleeping beneath it.

Maybe it was courage, maybe it was stupidity. Whatever it was, I kept going. In time, I became so comfortable with deep water that I routinely sought it out so I could swim down to the bottom of the pool, look around and hang out for a little while, and then come back up when I was running out of air. I loved being able to do that. I still do.

- - -

Last year was, in some ways, like that moment when my swim instructor advanced me before I was ready. Only now, as an adult, I am my own instructor, my own parent, my own coach, and my own savior - I outsource consultation when I feel I need it, but in the end, all the decisions are mine. And in 2009, I dove head first into video blogging with Parlour to Parlour. While holding down a full time job. While freelance writing for another web site too. And testing the limits of my capacity for developing and maintaining new interpersonal relationships of varying degrees of intensity.

I set a bunch of goals, and many of them were met. But the ones I did not achieve - namely, finishing a financial accounting of my video activities and compiling a report of the traffic the series generated for Popdose - are still hanging over my head.

Essentially, this time I *did* drown. I could feel it when I began juggling the filming of new episodes while still editing old ones that I had bitten off more than I could chew. But at that point, it was too late. I had already committed - in a public forum, no less - to complete 26 episodes before the end of 2009. To complete less than that would be the equivalent of telling the world that I was a liar and that I couldn't be trusted to keep my word.

To my credit, I did complete all 26 episodes, and the personal connections I made during that process are still felt now. I've even helped connect others as a result, and hopefully those new connections will be helpful and successful for those who made them. That's really what I wanted to do, in the end - bring people together so they could help each other achieve their goals and realize their dreams. It's a lifelong process, and if I can do anything to help it along, I will.

Unfortunately, my energy got sapped by the end of 2009. The loose plans I had in mind for putting together a scaled back, higher quality second season for 2010 are temporarily on hold as I tackle a whole new challenge.

My father told me recently, as I recounted the year's events to him and how I was feeling about it all, something that was hard for me to accept. "You're not Superman," he said. Not that I ever had delusions of being an all-powerful super human who could fly and save the world, but still, the point was that I took on quite a lot, and I couldn't expect myself to move on to the next phase right away without a rest. And I really do need a rest.

What suffered the most during my intensely paced year was my ability to connect with people on a level deeper than the pleasant, functional, politically correct level that has become my mode of auto pilot, the one where everyone understands we're working towards a goal, and that personal feelings are put aside in favor of the goal. It's the world I've lived in for far too long, to the detriment of all of my personal relationships, from family members, to old friends, and especially women. Occasionally the version of me with all the empathy and understanding and deep personal insight came out, the version of me that has nurtured and maintained my longest-lasting friendships. But it didn't come out nearly enough. And the biggest problem was that I was blind to this most of the time, and with a few exceptions, I'd be in denial when it was pointed out to me.

When all of this finally hit me, that's when the drowning feeling took over. I'm out of the water now, but I'm still pumping liquid out of my lungs, so to speak. And as they free up, new friends are providing me with new insights they probably aren't even aware of, and in turn I'm trying a little harder to reassure them that, yes, I am listening, and no, you are not boring me to tears. Yes, I am enjoying your company. No, you're not making a complete ass of yourself, but maybe just enough so that I might feel comfortable making an ass of *myself* for our entertainment.

Things like that. You know, not allowing the focus on a goal to take away from the joy of the *process*. Simple basic stuff that most people get so well that if you ask them to explain it, they'll look at you like you have two heads and a bad case of the hives.

- - -

In this pursuit, I'm currently reading "Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say" by Warren Farrell, PhD. Next on the list is Farrell's "Why Men Are the Way They Are."

- - -

And currently soundtracking this moment:

Keith Richards singing "Slipping Away" with the Rolling Stones. This is easily my favorite song off Steel Wheels, and one of Keef's most affecting performances ever. "First the sun and then the moon, one of them will be 'round soon." That line always makes me smile.

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood performing "Had to Cry Today" at the Crossroads Festival in 2007. I finally picked up their Live from Madison Square Garden live album, and was inspired to learn the riff to this tune immediately after. I almost put the Blind Faith performance from Hyde Park in '69 here, but as it turned out, Clapton and Winwood just sounded so much better 38 years later. Search it out for yourself and hear the difference, but this here is the real deal (thanks to Matt Wardlaw for the tip).

The Smashing Pumpkins' "Thirty Three" just might be one of Billy Corgan's best songs. I haven't listened to the Pumpkins much over the past couple of years, but for some reason, I've found myself drawn back to Adore and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. "Thirty Three" resonates much more now than it did in '95. When Corgan sings "in the same old haunts I still find my friends," I recognize it as a source of comfort in the present. Because, indeed, I know exactly where I can find my friends, and though those "haunts" may be old, they are comfortable and inviting.