Thursday, July 22, 2010

Daily Update #22: A Dream Come True

I have dreamed of this for years, but never quite thought it would be an actual scenario that would play out in real life. My girlfriend's dad is celebrating his birthday today.

What, pray tell, did I get him? I burned him a CD of Zappa. Not because I'm one of those lunatics who goes "YOU HAVEN'T HEARD FRANK ZAPPA WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU I WILL BURN YOU SIX CD'S OF HIS MOST ESSENTIAL SONGS NO WAIT MAYBE I'LL JUST BURN YOU SEVEN TO MAKE SURE I DON'T MISS ANYTHING!" - though I might have been at one point.

No, no, it's because he's a Zappa fan. Not a die-hard or anything, but he apparently has some records. So I made him a CD - just the one! - of my favorite Zappa tunes.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daily Update #21: "Another Girl"

Well...the first date I talked about in the last entry, an "unknown unknown" that just sort of popped up, is now officially my girlfriend. And I'm her boyfriend. (Got to reciprocate.)

She's very vivacious, constantly smiling, we make each other laugh...things are good.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Daily Update #20: "I've Just Seen A Face"

...but then I have a night like tonight, and suddenly everything just seems right with the world.

It was just a first date, but it was just what I needed. Someone with a big, contagious smile, laughs a lot, similar interests, and interested in me as I am her.

This is nice.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Daily Update #19: "A Rock And A Hard Place"

You know what is both a blessing and a curse? Morally ambiguous situations. I'm glad things are never just black or white, but at the same time - at least for an indecisive boob like me - weighing one's options is torture.

Damn that free will, huh?


PS - Happy birthday Ray Davies!

Daily Update #18: "Old Man"

This song still haunts me - in a good way - no matter how many times I hear it.

I talked to Dad for over an hour tonight, wishing him a Happy Father's Day, updating on some things going on in my life before a really nice chat about religion. We don't believe in the exact same things, but we're on the same page.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Daily Update #17: "C'mon And Take It Easy..."

...on the other hand, what's the rush?


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Daily Update #16: "Lollipop"

Enjoy the new color scheme.

Me, I'm waiting so make a subtle Stones reference...hoping for a sign of where to go and what to do. Not that I'm afraid of taking risks, it's just I took a big one getting back with Shelley. Two and a half years later and we're on opposite sides of the country; save for maybe a polite visit because one or the other of us happens to be in the same town, we won't see much of one another ever again. I miss her as a friend and I miss the idea of her as a partner, if that makes sense. Sometimes I still think of where things went wrong, and even though (or maybe even because) we're better off now I occasionally wonder if it was even worth pursuing. The $849 hole in my pocket for that engagement ring, plus the meager $65 I got pawning it, seem to say no...while all the good times we did have seem to say yes and that I'm a damn fool for asking.

Okay, maybe I'm a little afraid of taking risks.

There is a safe option. A guaranteed winner, without much difficulty. But it's average. Decidedly average. The less certain option is a definite - now to cite Donald Rumsfeld - a "known unknown." But I like what I've seen. Easily more of a risk, maybe even a little dangerous. Then there's all the "unknown unknowns" out there, ones yet to be encountered. All I know is that each is enticing, but I really can't see myself pursuing the safe bet. Not to come across as haughty, but I feel like I need to hold out. See what lies ahead.

I wish I could just look five years into the future and ask myself what's going on, who I'm with (and if I'm married), and how I'm doing.

Sorry. This means nothing to you.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Daily Update #15: "Australia"

I had a wild and crazy dream last night that involved me hitchhiking in San Francisco; the people who picked me up (which included my ex) said they were eventually going to hit my hotel. But then, like in the movies, there was one of those scenes of a map with the tiny plane going from one place to another. The plane went from San Francisco to Tokyo to Manila to Australia. The song "Australia" by The Kinks played and there was this goofy montage of me, my ex, and some strangers having fun in Australia, which included me exclaiming "I don't even have a passport!"

Weird, right?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Daily Update #14: "Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace"

(Not going to lie, for a band that didn't specialize in covers, Cheap Trick knocked it out of the park anytime they DID do a cover. This is no exception. This feels like a demo.)

Is it wrong that, in spite of the fact that I don't intend on getting married anytime soon, I still get upset and maybe just a little bummed when I see someone I know (especially if they're younger than me) has taken the plunge?


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Daily Update #13: "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night"

I'd love to know what's causing me to have such weird dreams. It has to be the heat. First of all, my school was more like a high school than a college. I had to retake part of my final for Style Criticism by writing about one of Chopin's Mazurkas - which I had no problem with - and then I was with a study group of students who all matched the characters from Community, except it was people I knew from Brooklyn College.

And apparently I was the Jeff Winger character. The smart-ass. I guess that works.

Anyway, I woke up thinking it was real. But it wasn't.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Daily Update #12: "Lightning Strikes"

I had a fantastic date the other night. We went to Staten Island, talked about bodily functions, ate Sri Lankan food, wandered around some more, headed back to Manhattan, and then brown-bagged vodka and orange-pineapple-banana juice on a stoop in the Financial District until 5AM, occasionally shooing away rats and cockroaches. We only ended things because the sun was coming up, otherwise we could have stayed there for quite some time.

It was awesome. Hopefully I'll see her again soon.

And how was Staten Island? This deliciously weird hybrid of Bloomington, Brooklyn, and Louisville.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Daily Update #11: "In Dreams"

In my dream last night, I was stuck in a car with Shelley and her dad, waiting for the right moment to break up with her and to tell him off. Oh, and I was also apparently still in high school?

So, in other words, I had a nightmare.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Daily Update #10: 'Rubber Soul'

I talked with my friend Andrew for about two and a half hours. We had a lot to catch up on. Among the highlights were that he'd gone on a date and my recent exploits. Our conversation ended with us comparing mix CD's we'd made for girls in our respective lives. I went into "serious Alex" mode and offered some encouragement, the kind of stuff I've ruminated on here on this blog. Stuff like how he should just take things easy, and understand (as I'm trying to) that failure, striking out, and things ending up differently than one expected are all a part of life. Plain and simple.

"Learn to enjoy losing."
- Hunter S. Thompson

Anyway, he mentioned "If I Needed Someone" being on his list, which got me listening to Rubber Soul at this late hour. "Nowhere Man" is on now...and in spite of everything going on in my life, I'd be lying if I said this song hasn't put a lump in my throat. It's not that I am a nowhere man anymore - I certainly have a point of view and know where I'm going to, thank you very much - but I look back at the point in my life where I referred to this song as my anthem.

It was never really that bad. I was just being dramatic. Then again, Shelley did help give me a sense of purpose. Before I met her I'd had a series of one-night stands, a fairly abusive (and thankfully short) relationship with an arrogant, anorexic, man-hating, and bi-curious feminist. I'd really thought I was shit. But then came someone who told me I wasn't. It was the right person, at the right place, at the right time.

Say what you/I/they will about Shelley, that's one indisputable fact that can't be ignored.

I need to stop thinking girls are "out of my league." I'm learning more and more that I may be surprised. I need to stop thinking I'm boring. I mean, shit, at this point I've been green-lit to do a thesis on Frank Zappa's music. That's not boring. Plus, I do have a sense of humor...and people seem to like that. At least, the people who actually get my jokes. I don't have time for the ones who don't.

That last paragraph is because I let someone know that I had a straight-up crush on them, but that I'd assumed she was "out of my league."

My Facebook status right now:
"Listening to 'Rubber Soul' in the dark after a two and a half hour conversation with [...]. This moment would be considerable if there was some incense, a bottle of (decent) wine, and maybe someone else."

Three things:
I definitely would like to emphasize that last part. I'm not perpetually lonely, at all. It's nice sleeping alone. It's nice to talk to myself in my just have space to myself. But right now, it's the middle of the night on the tail-end of what was a three day weekend for the working world...and I could use some company.

Second, there's a specific person I had in mind. Don't worry, if you're reading this, it isn't you. It's the girl I've gone out with on a few dates. I really like her a lot. We could just kick back on the floor, stare at the ceiling, and just enjoy a moment.

Third, there's something else in that equation I voluntarily omitted thanks to my Mom being on Facebook. Grass. There. I said it. On my bucket list, among other things, is to get high and listen to Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver back-to-back. I'm sure it will just be 90 minutes of laughter as opposed to some sort of deep, meaningful experience...but why not?

In Andrew, I see a version of myself. He's closer overall to who I am on the inside. I'm a huge nerd, and I'm pretty shameless about that, I just happen to be pretty good at hiding it with aviator sunglasses, stubble, and long hair. But he's got a contagious passion for the things that interest him, he's got a big heart, and he's shy when it comes to girls. He's working on it.

And so am I.

Now "In My Life" is on. Love songs are weird to listen to when you have no one to dedicate them to. Still, a song like this, meditating on past friends, lovers, and places certainly brings all of the above to mind. I wonder how they're doing. I wonder what it will be like to see Bloomington again. My great fear is that things will just feel...different. And not in a good way, like one of those poignant episodes of a decent show or in a movie or something where the hero goes back to revisit his past and finds nothing worth staying for.

God, never mind there are two girls in Bloomington that, if they moved to New York, I would ask out in a heartbeat. I'd be a damn fool if I didn't look them up when I visited, right? Or would that be foolish, selfish, and inevitably bittersweet?

...and I'm saying all of this right in time for "If I Needed Someone."

"If I needed someone to love
You're the one that I'd be thinking of
If I needed someone

If I had some more time to spend
Then I guess I'd be with you, my friend
If I needed someone

Had you come some other day, then
It would not have been like this
But you see, now I'm too much in love"

Chills down the spine, mate. Chills down the spine. I'd hate to actually be in a situation where these lyrics applied. It will happen eventually, right?

Thank God that I don't have any old flames. I put those out a long time ago.

Before I start boiling tea for this pity-party, I should do the right thing and put myself to bed. I've got some growing to do. Not growing up...that will come naturally. Just growing.

What do I want? That's a good question.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Daily Update #9: "Dedicated Follower[s] Of Fashion"

I can't stand hipsters. Most of them, anyway. If they're nice, unpretentious people who have a flair for dressing/drinking/living kitschy, okay, fine. But the worst of the worst, the ones who swear by vinyl, the ones who will preach to you about why you need to ride a bicycle (even though they had to take a plane for their inevitable semester abroad - usually Paris), the ones who will try to guilt you for eating meat, the ones whose knowledge of a band is verbatim from the Pitchfork website...and they exist, I met quite a few of them as an undergrad...those are the ones I can't stand.

One time at a Halloween party, I went as Zappa. Some hipster chick cornered me and tried to outshine me with her knowledge. I won the first round when I asked her if she'd heard Thing-Fish. She had not. Things escalated when Captain Beefheart was brought up...yeah, yeah, she'd heard Trout Mask Replica, and that's great. More people should. She told me how much she loved Beefheart and his whole aesthetic...then I asked if she'd heard Safe As Milk, his first album.

Her response? "No, are they new?"

I won.

Look, I'm not a music snob. At all. I will admit that, when challenged, I might grow fangs, but I don't like when people are "ashamed" to tell me what sort of stuff they're into, as if my taste is superior or something. It isn't. I've tried to make this my manifesto over at my review blog. You like what you like, and sometimes you can explain it - "I think Zappa is funny and he writes good melodies" - and sometimes you can't - "Captain Beefheart...just needs to be heard to be believed."

I'm especially not going to let someone whose knowledge of music is spoon-fed to them by various media outlets get away with such pretentious posturing.

What I find most maddening, and I'm paraphrasing what I thought was a poignant, if a bit acrid, statement from the show Community, is how many of them have been able to see the world but still don't get it. I'm not an incredibly serious man, although my friend Luke pointed out that when I start talking history I go into "serious Alex" mode, and I'm sure as Hell not about to tell people how to live their lives.

But I'm certainly allowed to see how much it clashes with my own value system and subsequently bitch about it. And they're entitled to the same.

Having spent more time than normal this past weekend on the subway - specifically the L train - I got to see plenty of hipsters. And since I was out quite late, most of them were calling it a night.

It wouldn't be entirely honest to say I didn't have some sense of schadenfreude, knowing that some of the people I saw stumbling around the subway stations would go home and feel like shit in the morning. But there was a tugging sense of pathos. I wondered if they were so deluded that they would wake up, reflect on what they can remember from the previous night, and say that they had a great time.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,

Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
Who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
Cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities, contemplating jazz..."
--- Allen Ginsberg, "Howl" (1956)

He said it better than I ever could.

Anyway, I took a quiz. I'm not a hipster.


You're not trying to be hip and you don't give a shit what hipsters think about you.

Personality Quiz: Are you a hipster?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Daily Update #8: "Here Comes Summer"

I promise I'll eventually stop dwelling on how stoked I am that school is out until September.

Anyway, tonight was a good night. That's all I feel like saying.

We went to a goodbye party for a friend of mine from IU who's going back home for a litany of reasons, including maybe going back to grad school out in - of all places - San Francisco. Of course, home for her is New Orleans, which is nothing to sneeze at either. I'd love to go back there again. It was a really enchanting place, and that's just based on wandering around the French Quarter with Dad. I'd love to see the rest of the city, good, bad, and ugly.

It's a little sad to see one of my few connections to Bloomington (and until my friend got here for her summer internship, my only connection) going, but that's just how it goes. It's not like I'm without friends from school.

On a related note, my friend Luke was approved for a Fulbright grant in Egypt. He and his wife Caity will be going in September. I have to say, they really were the first true friends we made here. It's going to be a real bummer to see them off, they're very kind and generous people.

Also, go see City Island. It's a great farcical comedy...really good. I laughed a lot.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Daily Update #7: "The Door Into Summer"

Hello, summer, my old friend,
Should be nice to hang again.

Man, oh, man, have I been anticipating the end of the semester for some time! The thought of summer in New York just seemed so remote, so far off, the light at the end of the tunnel...

...okay, my semester wasn't that bad, but I was ready for it to end. I also hated the little teases of warmth we got in March and April, only to have it 35 degrees and rainy the next week. At least the weather here is simply bipolar, unlike Indiana weather, which has full-on schizophrenia.

The transition from student-during-finals-mode to holy-shit-it's-summer mode was an easy one. Over the course of this week, I...

+ Got to party on a yacht
+ Drank on a weekday during business hours twice
+ Used my insomniac skills in a non-academic setting
+ Replaced the Kenneth Anger DVD's that I lost in my could-have-been-a-divorce
+ Realized I now have a network of friends within the Conservatory, not just mere acquaintances
+ Left the house Thursday at 7PM and got back Friday at 10AM.
+ I might or might not have fallen asleep on the train and missed my stop, waking up at the West 8th Street/NY Aquarium stop. (Okay, I did.)

And that's just the stuff I can talk about. (I can say no more.)

I don't think I did anything close to this as an undergrad. Don't worry, I will not be making this a regular pattern of behavior; the fact is that I needed this. It was a means of releasing tension.

Anyway, I've got my fourth date with a certain lady tomorrow. Things are just looking really good right now...and they have been for a while.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Daily Update #6: "I'm Not What I Appear To Be"

(Note: this is not a reflection of my current or recent mental state. I just like having music to go with my writing.)

Someone said to me last week, "It's really cool you can get away with maybe doing your thesis on Zappa," and that kind of pissed me off...granted, I was polite about it, assuming this person had the best of intentions, but still. I don't think I'm "getting away" with anything in doing this. The guy was a clever songwriter and composer, and coverage of his works in writing have been plentiful...just not that good.

There's the token "journalist with some sort of axe to grind" type of biographical sketch, and those are no fun. The worst is Barry Miles' book; he starts off painting a fairly good portrait of the man before getting downright mean in putting down anything Zappa did post-1972. In discussing the 1988 tour, where the entire band wanted Frank to fire bassist Scott Thunes because of his abrasive demeanor during rehearsals, Miles writes that Zappa wouldn't have thought twice about firing Thunes if he'd been doing drugs on the road. Shit like that just comes across as the author trying to get back at Zappa for some reason or another.

And then there's the books written by fans. Some of it is borderline samizdat-type publications, with at least two of my books rather mercilessly copying and pasting (with citations, mind you) from assorted Zappa sites.

THEN there's the academic approaches. Ben Watson's The Negative Dialectics Of Poodle Play comes really close in offering a great discourse on the material. However, there's also some head-scratching parallels that he suggests, such as "Dinah-Moe Humm" being inspired by one of John Ruskin's letters, or "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" having something to do with King Lear. Sometimes he needlessly overextends his analysis. Watson also falls into one of the great traps with die-hard fans of any artist: no other artist or musical group comes close. For no real reason at all, Watson trashes Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as a way of building up how We're Only In It For The Money is a vastly superior record. He fails to acknowledge the latter would not have existed without the former, opting to make a sweeping generalization about the culture that embraced Pepper rather than giving the album itself a fair assessment.

It came out fairly recently, but Kelly Fisher Lowe's The Words And Music Of Frank Zappa comes really close to being the best. It doesn't quite make it. I'm not saying one absolutely HAS to be a musician to successfully write about music, but Lowe's attempts at describing the music he's analyzing gets pretty amateurish. He also has little to say about Zappa's instrumental works, glazing over a substantial chunk of Zappa's output as a result. I don't like playing the "Oh, well, he clearly just doesn't get it" card, but his lack of appreciation for Burnt Weeny Sandwich seems to stem more out of not appreciating the music, wondering instead where all the political or scatological lyrics are.

And that's another problem: Lowe is too politically correct. Any time he discusses one of Zappa's potentially controversial songs, he distracts himself by justifying the content against contemporary mores. It gets in the way of his enjoyment of the music at times, denouncing "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy" as something that is sick and "not at all funny." I personally think he could have had a simple disclaimer in his foreword about how Zappa approached satire with a sense of carnivalesque humor. Making it as offensive as possible challenged the values of his listeners, causing them to wonder what makes it offensive to their ears.

Then there's his foreword, where he bitches about how much of his book he had to amend because he committed the cardinal sin of letting Zappa's widow know about his book. There's a lot of dog-shit about "fair use" and "composer's intent," and even though Watson was able to quote screeds of lyrics throughout Zappa's canon, Lowe could at most cite three lines from a single song. I understand that most academic texts aren't exactly million-sellers. The book wasn't going to be in the display window at Barnes & Noble, so Lowe should have just had the book published.

A tinge of melancholy hovers over the book, as Lowe passed away a year after its publication; first of all, he died young. Second, this means there won't be a revised edition, no chance for an intellectual discourse between the two of us, not even a chance for me to say, "Hey, I really did enjoy your book." It sucks.

I haven't had a chance to give Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World Of Zappa a serious read, but I remain optimistic.

How did this turn into a literature review?

Anyway, I don't think I'm "getting away" with anything in writing about rock and roll music, thank you very much. It's still not getting the proper treatment by academia, with a bunch of Rolling Stone-minded goons on one side acting like rock and roll was theological text and that nothing by today's standards will ever beat the music that came out in [insert best year of said critic or scholar's life HERE], but then (and even worse) are the writers who denounce anyone who puts rock music on a higher shelf than pop music as a "rockist," implying that their tastes are racist and sexist simply because a majority of the rock genre was made by white middle-class males.

It's like the assholes behind such rubbish as The Gospel According To The Beatles (don't get me started) have already tilted the playing field, resulting in the other batch turning out such deliberately provocatively-titled books as How the Beatles Destroyed Rock n Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music, which - go figure - even has five-star reviews on Amazon saying it's a good book with a deceptive and sensationalistic title.

Not quite sure where I was going with this, but I think a middle ground exists. Frankly, I like acknowledging that Zappa, Lennon, and Hendrix were in fact mere mortals who had bad days and had their own dark sides. They weren't messiahs, they weren't anything more than men of extraordinary talent. Of course, I wouldn't spend my whole time focusing on that, it's just a point worth making. I like that pragmatic approach: The Beatles weren't the be-all, end-all for popular music. I recognize that.

But it's material meritorious of studying. We can even incorporate post-modernism, tonal theory, and all that fun shit to make it legitimate.


Daily Update #5: "Everybody needs an education"

Well it's come to this: my ethnomusicology paper on The Plastic People Of The Universe. I about danced in the street when I checked the syllabus and saw the page requirement was 9 to 11 pages, not the 20 I had originally thought. This takes some of the pressure off.

Speaking of pressure...

Boy howdy, I've got it. I'm not one to ever complain about any sort of ailment, but all this work has given me headaches and heartburn. I'm counteracting it with Maalox (which tastes like pool water) and Excedrin, which contains caffeine.

Oh, and coffee. Lots of coffee.

"Thanks to all the mathematicians
And the inventors with their high IQ's
And the professors in their colleges
Tryin' to feed me knowledge that I know I'll never use!"

A pretty almighty fuck-you to the educational system, no?

I can't even pretend to be all that defiant. I love school and I love learning. However, I also think this paper topic would be better as a dissertation.



Saturday, May 22, 2010

Just Checking In

Just so you all know, The Beatles are bigger than Jesus.

I do like this song, too:


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Daily Update #4: "Sleepwalker"

It appears Dave Davies had mastered the whole blazer/t-shirt/jeans combination some ten years before I was even born. I shouldn't even try to think how much he'd already seen of the world by the time he was 23.

Since I brought it up, though, by the time he was 23 he'd seen a lot of the world. He single-handedly invented metal by slashing the speaker cone of his amp with a razor, he'd enjoyed a #4 hit single in Europe as a solo artist ("Death Of A Clown"), The Kinks had gotten to tour all over Europe, Australia, North America, and (duh.) the UK, and he had just written "Strangers" and "Rats," two terrific songs from a terrific album.

Of course, he also dropped out of high school, lived in a society where one could get a break in the music business without getting sodomized (literally or metaphorically) by Lou Pearlman or moonlighting as a Mouseketeer in exchange for a shot at the top, and (along with his bandmates) was banned from the US from 1965-1969. He was also smack-dab in a depressed period of his life, which involved consuming mass quantities of wine and hallucinogens, when he was my age.

I'd say he and I are about even.

Monday and Tuesday, due to my lack of sleep, morphed into a hybrid 38-hour day. We'll call it Muesday. (The considerably less creative, yet considerably more theologically tilted, bastardization of Sunday and Monday is Sonday.)

Anyway, how are you?

Today again, my friend Amy and I hit the books for our final. What was once a daunting "HOLYFUCKSHIT HOLYFUCKSHIT" task has simply been reduced to, "Dammit! I knew I was right the first time when I said it was one of Haydn's LATER pieces!" One more group study session to go - on Sunday - and then we'll be all systems go to say adios to a semester that has been, to say the least, eventful.

But let's concentrate a bit more on recent history, shall we?

Let's go back to Muesday. I was too pissed-off at the truly awful blast of gray/rain/wind that gone thrown at me...

Once Amy left after our study session on Monday, I stayed up so late it got early finishing my paper, printing it off (and its appendices, of which there were eight), and burning CD's of listening material for my professor. Printing my papers involved a late-night hike to the campus computer lab. As I was coming back, it was all I could do to look around me and once again (happily) soak in my surroundings.

Part of me misses those Endymion jaunts to the Herman B. Wells Library, whether it was the seven-minute walk from mine and Graham's place, the fifteen-minute walk from Shelley's place, or even the twelve-minute walk from Eric's house on the East side of campus that I took just about nightly during the hot muggy summer of 2007.

I rested for a couple of hours, dealt with everything I mentioned in my previous entry, then went to class. It went well; I wonder if I can choose who is on my thesis committee, because the instructor I had for Philosophy of Music was a great guy. Knew his stuff, and always provided good comments on my exams. I told him to stay in touch, because I was eager to hear what he thought of my paper as well as the music I provided.

Remember that girl I mentioned, the one whose grandparents are friends with my parents? Well, we met up for Indian food on the Upper East Side. She brought her roommate with her, an Indiana native. We both knew where the other was from, which after 9 months now of introducing myself to people and saying, "I'm from a small town in Indiana called Seymour. It's where John Mellencamp is from? No? Haven't heard of it...that's okay, you're not missing anything!" was a bit refreshing.

Look, I need to stop getting so hung up over things I might not even need to get hung up over. Mom heralded this girl's arrival (for ease of reference, let's just call her Genevieve - a Kinks reference) so much that I couldn't help but be nervous. And have some preconceived notion about who she was before we even sat down and ate together.

I don't even think she and I had so much as bumped into each other as undergrads; in fact, I only recall us meeting once, and we were in 9th grade. For whatever reason, I thought she'd be fairly it would turn out I'm now wondering why I didn't actively pursue even a friendship with her while we were both at Indiana University.

Oh, right. I was engaged.

Anyway, I wish I could provide some sort of scenario that left me knowing full well how she felt about me...and, yes, how I feel about her (besides as a really great potential friend.) She's cute, she's smart, and she's interesting...but I have no idea if we'd click, or if she's even interested. Plus, she's here for the summer. We've both got another year of school, too. I couldn't do long-distance unless I knew it would be worth it.

And not that I'm ready to pledge my undying love for her, but the girl I've gone on some dates with - to make another Kinks reference, let's call her Victoria - is cute, smart, and interesting. The only difference is, I know she's interested. I got a random Facebook message from her saying she was thinking about me. It made me smile. When I texted her during my class that we got to listen to Neil Young and how suddenly my day was sucking less, she texted back "Nerd! :)"

For all of the love songs out there, it's pretty hard to think of any like songs. Yes, there's "Bohemian Like You," which has a terrific chorus and a great riff...but the lyrics are stupid. It anticipated the rise of the hipster by about five years, all the shit about vegan food, one's ex crashing on the couch...throw in an extra verse about snorting coke off of a toilet seat in Williamsburg and/or something about both parties having spent a semester abroad and you'd be set.

I wish I had a song for my situation with Victoria. Because I like her a lot. There is a dramatic shortage of songs that are about just liking someone. It's all about love, sex, or the end of a relationship.

Around 1AM Wednesday morning as I was reading in bed, one of my colleagues sent me a text asking if I was still up. Since I was, I told him I was and asked what was up. His response: "Friendship." So I got up out of bed, put on what I'd worn that day, and waited for him. I needed the interaction as much as he did.

I told him about this thing with the two girls. He told me about some things going on in his life. We walked to the 7-11 on Avenue M for late-night beverages. And he left around 5:30.

What do you know? That was 23 and a half hours ago.

Oddly enough, I'm no closer to any sort of conclusion than I was the last time I talked about this. Can I really complain too much about this whole thing?

I'm starting to bore myself with all this drivel! Let's call it a night.

*It is a pretentious name, isn't it? She doesn't even look like a Genevieve...but "Sweet Lady Genevieve is such a great song. In fact, how about I play you out with it?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Daily Update #3: "Fuck You (An Ode To No One)"

You know, some days you just wake up and have a slightly moody disposition. Could be that you just didn't get a good night's sleep. Could be that you had an unnerving dream. Not that this happens to me (and no, I'm not being sarcastic), but it could even be from a hangover.

Or, some days you wake up from two hours' sleep to find gray skies, constant rain, and a text from your supervisor saying "Mandatory meeting @ 12.", and once you get there (and are consequently ignored for ten minutes) you're told you yourself didn't need to come in.

In short, I'll state my grievances in an open letter.

"Dear world,
Fuck you. I was cooped up in my apartment all weekend writing a 20-page essay while it was nice and sunny, not a cloud in sight. Then today I have to walk to the McDonald's - which, by the way, I had to go to McDonald's for this meeting - in the wind and the rain, only to be told I didn't need to show up.

Couldn't have made it nice and sunny today? Couldn't have had it be shitty outside all weekend instead, when I didn't set foot outside of the house?

You're a jerk, world. This is why you don't have any friends. Neptune isn't really busy with the wife and kids every time you call, he just sees it's you on the Caller ID and ignores you. You know why? Because you're a bringdown.

Oh, and I wasn't supposed to tell you this, but Venus has been seeing both Mars and Jupiter. At the same time, in fact. It's a pretty sick little threesome thing they have going on.

Dictated, but not read,

Hopefully these bad vibes are something that can be corrected with coffee, a donut, and maybe even (let's face it, I've probably earned it) some ice cream.

Don't judge me. I rarely eat junk food. The worst thing I regularly consume is Wheat Thins. Oh, the horror!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Daily Update #2: "Can You Dig It?"

"Can you dig it?
Do you know?
Would you care to let it show?"

I'm not too big on Taoism, but this is a cool little song. I listen to The Monkees while editing an academic paper I wrote on Zappa, so what? Big whoop, wanna fight about it?

I'm still getting all my citations together. The wireless here has had a pretty nasty case of hiccups this weekend. This isn't fun when a majority of your research is online. If it does this tomorrow, I'm doing my Ethnomusicology paper at the computer lab. That is almost completely dependent on materials online. I have a (VERY OVERDUE) book from the BC library called Rock Around The Bloc, which I could get off of Amazon for the low price of $79. (When did this happen, by the way? Weren't books cheap at some point?!) The other book is a bunch of letters written by Vaclav Havel.

Actually, I'll save that for tomorrow. Otherwise I might run out of things to talk about.

Anyway, I had a hard time getting started today, so I watched some of the Daria DVD box. I rarely purchase things like CD's or DVD's anymore - one thing I learned from Shelley was financial responsibility - but when I saw pre-orders were slashed from being about as expensive as Rock Around The Bloc to just under $40, I couldn't pass it up. Such a great show...I always wished I could be like Trent. Not personality-wise, I clearly have more ambition...but he just looks cool. Pierced and tattooed. I can only wish. Tattoos are stupid expensive.

Besides, what would I get? Tribal ink is out, mainly because I'm not a douchebag. I wouldn't get a picture of anyone...too much detail (thus more expensive), but what about some sort of symbol? The downside to this is what if the symbol loses meaning for me? If I'd had the extra money, two months ago I would have gotten the khanda - the symbol of the Sikh faith - on my left forearm. Now I think, "Well, maybe." My only problem is that when I tell people I'm interested in Sikhism I have to field questions about beards, turbans, and if all Sikhs wear white...and why I'm not doing any of those things

A couple of weekends ago at the Sikh Day Parade, I saw plenty of Sikh men who shaved and weren't wearing turbans.

Bottom line: I believe in a God. I believe in reincarnation. And I don't think breaking the cycle of rebirth has anything to do with one's diet, how many times a day you pray (quality over quantity, I say), or how you wear your hair.

What was I talking about? Tattoos, right?

Anyway, I made a lot of apologies to Shelley through email last night. It was just going to be a quick little "Hey - how are you? I need your address so I can send you the stuff you left here. Take care, Alex."

But I just felt this nagging feeling to let her know that I'd had time to myself to think about how things went wrong. I owned up to a lot of mistakes, and spared no detail apologizing for everything I did. Told her I was growing up, acknowledging my own flaws and working on them.

She has found a job and enrolled in classes at the City College, AND found a place with roommates (who have a cat). I'm glad we're both better off, not just me and not just her. I have this nagging feeling that she thinks she won't find anyone...I mean, come on, if you can't find your future spouse in 5 weeks' time in a new city while job/apartment/school-hunting, you'll never find true love. (Sarcasm.)

Part of me thinks, "Who knows, maybe I've already met my future wife..." and another part of me thinks, "What if I haven't even met her yet?" I also wish I could look ahead five years, find myself, and just ask. Who is she? How will I meet her?

Of course, I'm in no rush. I'll just keep doing my thing, all I really know how to do is write, make music, and be myself. Never mind that I've got at least one more year of school in my immediate future.

Anyway, I've procrastinated enough. Time to get productive once more.


PS - If this seems trite, incoherent, or stupid, that's probably because it is. It's good for me to just sit and write stream-of-consciousness, paying no mind to syntax and including proper citations. In other words, it's a nice balance to hours spent on my ass in academic mode.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Daily Update #1: "Stone Free"

Perhaps in order to remind myself that I...
1.) Have a blog.
2.) Need to update it periodically with medium-length posts rather than two borderline hypergraphic posts once every four weeks...
...I should start writing daily. Nothing too grand, just treating it the way I've been treating my little black book.

No, not that kind of little black book; I'm no Casanova, nor would I want to be. Trust me. What I'm talking about is my planner.

After Shelley and I broke up, for the sake of my own sanity and to make my days feel less empty, I would write what I did that day, each day and every day. I even write a short summary of my week at the top of the page, mainly characterizing it by the weather and whether (shit, homophone NOT intended) or not my week was hectic/busy or fun and easy.

Kind of like Twitter, except not incredibly stupid and limited to 160 characters. I'll also try to give some sort of song/album title as an indication of my mood. "Stone Free" is a Hendrix tune, the flip-side of "Hey Joe."

Right now, I'm listening to Roxy And Elsewhere while I work on my Philosophy of Music paper. The focus is "Sensory and Intellectual Beauty in the Works of Frank Zappa." Since the first two-thirds of the class centered around a book by a close-minded curmudgeon named Peter Kivy, discussing only "pure" or "absolute music," that is, music without words or a programmed story...for him, it doesn't get much better than Beethoven...I did dedicate half of my paper to Zappa's prowess as a composer of instrumentals.

I've gone on to discuss songs that he released in versions both with and without lyrics - "Strictly Genteel," "The Duke Of Prunes," "Outside Now," and "Inca Roads" - which were all first heard with lyrics, and "Holiday In Berlin, Full-Blown" and "Amnerika," which both came out initially as instrumentals. Of course, I cheated a bit with "Amnerika," because the lyrical version hasn't been officially released. Either way, it would have been part of Thing-Fish. I still think he could/should have made time for it on that album...90 minutes for a triple-LP set is a bit short. One of those platters actually runs only 27 minutes - what the Hell is that, an American Beatles or Stones hack-job? Shit...

Anyway, the second half is about Zappa's sensory "beauty" (using that term loosely - he wasn't exactly a cheery lyricist) and intellectual beauty. The former covers songs like "Dinah-Moe Humm" and "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy," which is such an overlooked but wonderful piece of music. Great harmonies, and Bozzio rocks the SHIT out of it. (I phrase my aesthetic assessment of the song a bit more delicately in my paper.) I use these as examples of "sensory beauty" because they're essentially expository pieces, with a lot - and I mean a LOT - of detail.

There's also a quick detour to "Village Of The Sun," where Zappa shows his sentimental/nostalgic side. Imagine if I wrote a song about a Friday night in Seymour, Indiana, back when I was in high school. It's THAT incongruous, and yet it's magnificent and heartfelt.

Another big point I make regarding all these songs with words is that Zappa, ever the grump, went so far as to say in his autobiography that "aside from the snide political stuff," most of his lyrics were written simply because the records wouldn't have sold otherwise. A statement like that is bullshit...first of all, it trivializes the songs in question; second, he's actually a really clever lyricist. I mention how those above-listed songs follow the basic construction of popular song - verse/chorus/bridge, etc. - and that if they were ever done sans lyrics, they would prove redundant without the primary melody.

On the other end of the instrumental spectrum is this "snide political stuff," songs like "Trouble Every Day" and "Dumb All Over" (one of the greatest verses ever written, and I mean ever!), wherein the music is actually quite static and riff-based. Both songs feature vocals up-front and center in the mix. An instrumental version of either of these would be almost uninteresting, and due to Frank's vocals being more spoken than sung, a melodic replication of his intonations would be monotonous.

I'll end with "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk," a song that is both musically and lyrically interesting.

Now that I've bored you all to sleep with this clap-trap about a musician whose fan-base is generally a bunch of obsessive musical dorks, I can slip this out under the radar...

I've actually gone on a few dates. There's a girl I'm really hitting it off with, but I'm going to wait before I think about getting serious with anyone. Assuming no one I know is reading this - and that this will just be one of many entries that is little more than me marking time and procrastinating - there is someone I'm holding out for. Don't know how she feels about me, but her grandparents are friends with my parents...and I've been told that she talks about me to her grandmother.

Look, when it comes to women, I can be really stupid. (An understatement - have I told you about some of the monsters I associated myself with before I met someone decent and almost married? I know we weren't meant to be, but Shelley was sane and doesn't have a malicious atom in her body! Maybe sometime I'll write about Katrina...Jesus God, was she fucked in the head.) When my mom told me all this, I blew it off as, "Oh, she's probably just mentioning me because it's a person they have in common." I also added that she would think I was weird.

But then I told all of this to a friend of mine - a woman, ten years my senior whom I met at the St. Louis conference - and she told me this:

"I read that as a definite "she digs you" sign. Why? Cause when you dig someone, no matter how well you know them, you always find ways to mention them in conversation."

So, yeah, nothing gets past me! My older brother might be dead-on when he says I'm the "dumbest smart person" he knows. Anyway, I've messaged her that we should get lunch or coffee sometime. I'll see where it goes and try my damndest to pick up on any signals. Stuff like that gets me borderline neurotic. Mainly because I don't like to waste my time or that of others, I really think that whole "will they/won't they" dynamic only works on television. If it hadn't made for such great entertainment, I would've been bothered that Jim and Pam didn't get together the moment he came back to Scranton.

And now I'm talking about The Office. Wow. Anyway...we'll see. Frankly, I still remain skeptical. If I just wind up making a really good friend out of this situation, that's fine, too.

"The suspense is killing me! I hope it lasts!"
- Willy Wonka

Weird, a year ago I actively despised having such uncertainty in my life. All I really know for sure is that I don't plan on moving anywhere anytime soon. Everything else - going straight into a PhD. program, finding Miss Right and whether or not I've even met her yet, whether or not I'll be working at three different schools in the city as an adjunct - remains to be seen.

I kind of like this. Never thought I'd say that, but hey, I guess people's attitudes can change.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Almost A Month Has Gone By? Shit.

How does this happen? I really don't mean to disappear from my blogs for so damn long, it's just that I've been busy with school, music, and friends. I especially didn't want it to seem like I wrote my last entry and said, "Okay, that's it, I'll be all but shutting this thing down soon." Far from it. Think more of my accidental hiatuses as a sign that things are going well.

Who am I talking to? Who still reads this?

*Camera pans out to reveal our hero, a lit match in hand, surrounded by nothing but darkness*

Ever since I changed the URL unannounced (let's face it, is a pretty stupid web address for someone who'd love nothing more than for his parents to never read this blog) the only comments I've gotten have been from Andrew, Jordan, and Shelley. I'm sure she won't be back here anytime soon...though I'd love to know what she thought of my last entry.

Frankly, I hope the next time I hear from her it's after she's found someone. I'm sure it will be her on some level doing the whole "look at me NOW" bit, but I really think there's someone out there for her who is infinitely more patient than I am, who actually likes television (the entertainment, not the band - I love the band Television), and doesn't give a shit about her parents. I guess I have a little more of a traditionalist streak in me than I'd like to own up to. Maybe it's because on some level I've had a largely positive relationship with my parents and my brothers; it also has something to do with my hatred of drama. Okay, be has everything to do with my hatred of drama!

That said, people are mixed when I tell them I wish Shelley nothing but the best.

Earlier this month I spent about an hour making this big playlist of psychedelic tunes mainly from the 60's and 70' makes for a nice little jukebox-type assortment of songs to have on while I'm doing things. "Blue Jay Way" came on; it's one of my favorite Beatles tunes...although it's bright and sunny out, making the juxtaposition an incongruous one.

Anyway, lots of stuff has gone on, good and bad. I'll do the bad first.

I have two papers and two finals, yet I'm only in three classes. My last final is going to be the toughest. The papers should pretty much write themselves.

My mom's sister-in-law was found dead in her home earlier this month; another of her sisters-in-law has been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I'm not terribly close with a lot of my extended family, but this isn't easy on my mom. At all.

That's the bad stuff.

On with the good stuff:
+ I met with the program director to talk about my next year of study. Everything seems to be going pretty well. She was on the brink of bouncing in her chair when I expressed my interest in a Zappa thesis, suggesting topics and potential sponsors.
+ I have a job with the Census Bureau now. It's fun work and the hours go fast.
+ In researching my ethnomusicology paper on The Plastic People Of The Universe, I've realized that this is not just a topic I need to revisit...this could turn into my PhD. dissertation.
+ This week, after talking about it since October, I finally decorated my apartment. Lot of stuff now up on the walls.
+ I've interviewed with a babysitting service that said I can work as soon as I take a CPR class and get my fingerprints entered into the NYPD's database should I ever decide to moonlight as a kidnapper. That will be my first order of business upon completing this semester. Babysitting, not kidnapping!
+ Over the past few weeks, I'm finding myself regularly calling my friends (Graham, Bray, Andrew) and talking with them for extended periods of much for me saying I hate talking on the telephone, I guess.

Things are going really well here, don't worry about that. Hopefully as the semester ends I'll be able to regularly write here.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen In Love With?

"Go away from my window
Leave at your own chosen speed
I’m not the one you want, babe
I’m not the one you need
You say you’re looking for someone
Never weak but always strong
To protect you an’ defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door
But it ain’t me, babe
No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe
It ain’t me you’re looking for, babe"

That's just perfect, don't you think?

The night we got back from the conference, I broke off my engagement with Shelley. Long story short, there was a lot of weight on our backs and I just couldn't do it anymore. In the time since our break-up she has moved to live with her cousin in San Francisco. It sounds like we're both getting the fresh starts we've needed since graduation. I'm so glad she didn't go back to Dallas.

A lot of my friends here have graduated to close/dear friend status in reaching out to me. I know some people can be weird about having their name mentioned on the Internet due to privacy or whatever, so I won't rattle off a list. Many of my (known) readers have been there for me, whether we actually hung out (and made a 7/11 run) or if they just listened to me talk and shared their own experiences with me.

For that, I'm eternally grateful.

This year was the first year I actually followed through and bought myself a little black book of a planner. Periodically I use it to remind myself of important events I have coming up, but it's quickly turning into a log of my days. I spent most of the immediate period following our break-up listening to "Ever Fallen In Love?" by The Buzzcocks and "It Ain't Me Babe" by Bob Dylan, calling friends and family, letting them know I was okay, but that I had been better.

Anyway, at the top of the page for the week of our break-up, I scribbled these notes:

" 'buy the ticket.....
take the ride.'
What a ride it was, four and a half years.
Goodbye, Shelley...and God Bless You."

How could there be any animosity? She was my best friend, and that's what I was more afraid of losing. Spending all of this time alone has been good for me. I thought about what I truly wanted. Not just in a woman, but in life, in my friendships, all that fun stuff.

There are a few casual acquaintances who aren't Facebook users and thus haven't seen the changed relationship status, which makes for an awkward moment when I'm asked, "So, how's Shelley doing?"

It's really hard to tell someone you've broken up with your significant other and then utter in the same breath, "But I really am fine. I'm ready to at least meet other girls now," without sounding like a man on the brink of a long period of waking up with a hangover next to a different woman every night until the sobering reality comes at age 30 that I've lived a shallow existence.

It isn't easy to explain without sounding like a callous jackass, but I had to keep telling myself "Shelley is worth it! Things will work out in the end, just hang in there!" off and on for most of the past 11 months. That's how and why I'm able to say, after shedding some tears since the break-up, that I'm ready to move on with my life. There's no point in dwelling on all the negative, though. It's in the past and what's done is done. I'm glad we stayed together as long as we did, I don't regret a single day, and yes, I do think she's quite a catch...but it ain't me, babe, indeed.

Where does this leave me? Right back where I started with that lonesome scribble, now just under two weeks old. It's taken on new meaning for me, as a benediction for an entire chapter - who am I kidding, it's an entire volume - of my life has drawn to a close.

So once again...
Goodbye, Shelley, and God Bless You.


This is just as much for me as it is for her:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why The Delay?

Sorry, kids, I'm wrapped up this week with homework, an exam, and prepping a conference presentation for next week.

Also, and once I eventually get to it I'll expand upon this more, I'm not really looking forward to this second installment of my religious story. Like many trilogies - Back To The Future, Star Wars, Look Who's Talking - this second part will end on a bad, uncertain note. A lot of it are memories I don't particularly enjoy revisiting.

Once I have some downtime, though, I'll do it. I promise. It will be good for me, and good for you as far as learning why I walked away from Christianity.

Until then, consider me on sabbatical.

As much as I wish I could just sit around reading and writing all day on subjects I gave two shits about (as opposed to, say, this 400-word biography of Haydn I have to write), I'm pleased to say that the conference presentation I'm working on is Zappa-related, dealing with his 1984 album Thing-Fish. That I am looking forward to.

Until then, peace.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ask Me Anything

Why am I doing this?

(For those of you interested, I will be submitting Part Two of my religious saga in the next 36 hours.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Religious History, Part One: The Good Christian Boy

I'm tentatively entitling this entry with the suffix "Part One," as I'm going into this thinking there's a lot of ground to cover. There might not be. We'll see.

I would also like to preface my story with a big fat warning that my experiences are just that: experiential. They are subjective, and they are incredibly personal. Any reference I make to Christianity applies to the Methodist-Baptist upbringing I encountered, not Christianity as a whole. We'll get more into specifics when I reach that point in my story.

Let's begin at the beginning.

I was born into a Methodist family, which meant I was baptized before I could even form a word. My maternal grandfather had been a Methodist minister, retiring before I came into the picture. From all the recollections I hear from my mom it sounds like she was raised in some bizarro version of The Andy Griffith Show and The Waltons. Her parents were traditional, but not overly strict fanatics. Then again, my mom was also a fairly well-behaved preacher's kid, a status as intrinsic to the culture of Protestantism as ushers, deacons, trustees, and organists.

I don't remember too, too much about the Methodist church we attended in my hometown of Seymour, Indiana, other than the distinct sound of the pipe organ, the hospital-green paint job, and the overabundance of old farts in the congregation.

When I was four, one of the pivotal moments in my early life came upon my parents purchasing the Encyclopedia Britannica. I'd fallen in love with reading early, and this only boosted reading from mere hobby to obsession. At five, I knew the names of the Presidents, Prime Ministers of Canada, and could tell you a pretty good amount of information about the Second World War. Later on, I would try reading passages from the Bible, but by and large I thought it was boring, although using the index to find passages discussing sex made for some interesting reads.

(Not that it contributes to this discussion all that much - or maybe it does - but I didn't learn until 2nd grade what the actual sex act was, and it wasn't until a year later that I learned sex was where babies came from. No shit.)

A new pastor came when I was in 2nd grade, and he has some pretty backwards ideas. Long story short, he told my mom that she "couldn't serve two Gods" because of her visiting another church...the other church being the Baptist church.

Whatever, it didn't involve me all that much, though I can't help but wonder how differently I might have turned out growing up Methodist rather than Baptist. Who knows, maybe I would have grown up with a version of Christianity I found acceptable.

Anyway, we became Baptists shortly thereafter. The idea of immersion baptism bothered me. I don't quite know why, it just did. Maybe it was the resemblance it bore to the bullying practice of "dunking" at the swimming pool...I'm not entirely sure. Mom, Dad, and my older brother Eric were all baptized during the same service. For my parents, who (I'd like to at least hope) had acknowledged Jesus of Nazareth as their savior many years prior, this was their admission of membership to the church. For Eric, this was a significant step in his religious growth.

The procedure was one I didn't understand until Eric did it. At the end of the pastor's sermon, he would have a call for anyone wishing to accept Christ, during which time the final hymn would be sung and Bruce (the pastor) stood in front of the pulpit. Eric went forward, talked to Bruce for a bit, and then he, my dad, and a deacon and deaconess went off into one of the Sunday School rooms where they talked and prayed.

Eric was given this tract from Chick Publications, and it scared me just a little. (By the way, readers, do take the time to click through when I provide links.) The guy didn't seem to do anything all that wrong, but he wound up in a lake of fire.

The summer of 1995, a bunch of my friends who had gone to church camp accepted Christ and were baptized. Oh, church camp...again, a topic we'll return to at greater length shortly. I remember our counselor asked us to pick our favorite Bible passage. Mine was Revelation, chapter 16, which describes seven angels pouring "Bowls of God's wrath" onto the Earth.

What did I get out of it? That God isn't messing around, and that Jesus was coming back. I remember coming home crying because one of the kids in the neighborhood said Jesus was "an asshole." A student at my elementary school said he didn't believe in God and I told him that he should, otherwise he would go to Hell. (That kid actually became one of my best friends in high school...again, this will come full-circle later.)

In short, I was a parrot. A parrot who had had the fear of God put into him. I had developed a fascination with Revelation. The thought of all the vivid imagery, of catastrophic events, beasts, dragons, God's wrath, and people being sent to Hell simultaneously captivated and terrified me.

Start 'em young, I guess.

No one put any pressure on me to do it, I put the pressure on me all by myself, but I finally decided to overcome my fear of an immersion-based baptism and accept that Jesus of Nazareth suffered, died, forgave all the sins of mankind, and then rose from the dead. I made this decision at the ever-so-informed age of eight.

Look, I enjoy looking back on my early years with the sort of tongue-in-cheek good-natured humor that permeates so many good cartoons, memoirs, and stand-up routines...but I can't even pretend to joke about this. It was totally okay with my parents, my pastor, and an entire congregation that an eight-year-old boy was committing himself to a belief system that he had little knowledge of, centered around a big (boring) book that most of them hadn't even read.

Eight year olds can't vote, can't drive, they eat soap if they swear (or at least I did...), can't work, and they aren't expected to fulfill many obligations other than to complete their homework, get along with their classmates, and wipe their own asses. And yet this, choosing a philosophy you were expected to follow for life at age EIGHT, was totally okay?

I've been around the block enough now to know that all across the board religion is something handed down from parent to child, assuming - not hoping - that it will take. My fiance Shelley was raised Jewish, and her apostasy has driven her father to self-loathing induced alcoholism, thinking he's somehow failed as a human being and a father. That's not even a worst-case scenario. Shelley follows a blog about a girl who was raised Orthodox Jew and is now shunned by her family for leaving the faith. One of my newer readers told me he is a "skeptical Sikh." Another reader, a dear friend of mine since 8th grade who I always knew to be a Pentecostal Christian, told me he and his wife are at a stage in their life where they're seeking out their own answers.

On one end of the spectrum are Muslims calling for death to all apostates. On the other end is my friend Nick, born and raised Baha'i. When he came of a certain age, he said, "Well, I guess I'm a Baha'i." His mother said, "No, you will find religion on your own!" He's still a Baha'i, but not before he did some independent investigation himself.

In short, it's good to know I'm not alone and bad to know that this is fairly common in any organized religion.

One thing my Christian upbringing taught - and NEVER sat well with me - was that non-Christians went to Hell. My parents have the Universalist sentiment that "those who haven't known Jesus" are saved, putting my youthful query of whether or not bushmen in the Kalahari desert were going to go to Hell when they died. (Yes, I asked that.)

Then came another pivotal point in my upbringing, and that was having two fire-and-brimstone lunatics for Sunday School teachers, named Kim and Craig. They were a married couple, with a son a year older than me and a daughter my younger brother Nick's age. And every single week, our lessons had less to do with Moses, Noah, Jesus, or John the Baptist and more to do with the events of Revelation, the Anti-Christ, the Final Judgment, and tales of Satanist rituals involving child abduction/sacrifice.

One night I told my younger brother a distilled (and probably slightly embellished) version of all the crap I'd been told in Sunday School, causing him to freak out and tell my parents. They asked me where I heard it, so I told them the truth. The next week, I was in the 6th-grade Sunday School class my dad taught. He almost minored in religious studies when he was in college, so we would read stories from the Bible and discuss what the moral of the story was, all with a good smattering of my dad's goofy sense of humor (which, along with his innate hatred for talking on the telephone, I've inherited from him).

I was still plagued by the apocalyptic Christianity I'd been exposed to. Matters were made worse when my church's youth group trekked to Kentucky for a Christian music festival called Ichthus. It wasn't the music - in fact, a pre-fame Sixpence None The Richer played a new song of theirs called "Kiss Me" at the Friday night show. It was that I encountered more of those damned tracts.

One dealt with an otherwise good girl having sex, getting gonorrhea and AIDS, but then finding Jesus thanks to her doctor. Another featured an exceptionally Semitic-looking Ebenezer Scrooge accepting Jesus. Another explained that evolution is a lie before expounding upon original sin.

There were two others that had the most profound impact on me, though the "Earthman" tract embodies one of the central tenets I was taught. The first one is called "The Curse Of Baphomet." Never mind all the crap about the Masons - though until sometime in middle school I really thought they were some evil organization - it suggested that there really were forces of evil out there, perverting men's minds, deceiving them, and sometimes winning.

It also triggered my fascination with the occult and its symbology. I don't believe in the occult, I think it's all horse-shit, but it is intriguing in the same sense that I was fascinated reading about the religions of Ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece as a kid.

The other one, the real behemoth, was "The Last Generation." I can't emphasize enough how much this tract frightened, mortified, and haunted me. It scared me to think there could someday be a reality as depicted in the tract, a world where religion is outlawed and men are tortured to death for their beliefs. The thought of a Rapture frightened me, mostly because I had some behavioral problems at school and at home - it had me convinced that I wasn't a good person, and that someday the angels would blow their trumpets, as I had been told by Kim and Craig, ushering in the soul harvest and the Rapture...and that I would miss it.

(Better get some eye-soap ready. Remember, you can't really un-see things.)

The picture of Jesus near the end of the tract...

...with its vacant stare and all the accompanying tales of judgment, Hell-fire, and all-around bad things that I'd been hearing for the last few years, kept me awake at night. I slept with my door open, and could see down the hallway in my house, which could get very dark. Laying on my right side, I would see that face, hovering in the darkness. Even now, at age 23, I find it to be a very unsettling image. It's the eyes.

I would wrap myself up in my blankets like a cocoon/burrito, lay on my left side, and get as close to the wall as possible. Sometimes at night I would hear the nearby whistling of a train and think the trumpets had been sounded and that I'd missed the Rapture. This happened several times, and I would panic in the middle of the night, grabbing the flashlight I kept in my bedside table and one of my books on The Beatles I'd gotten from my grandparents and simply read until the sun came up. Sometimes I'd listen to The Who's Tommy on my Walkman. Eventually in 6th grade it went away.

The next few years were pretty uneventful until 8th grade, with one exception. At junior high church camp, in my "fat" phase (where I briefly had tits, sensitive nipples and all, before starting puberty - it's like my body was briefly considering being a woman), on the last night after campfire and all that there was a "special program." There was a long path in an open field lit with coffee cans filled with kerosene. At the end of the path was a massive cross...except there was a body on it.

For a brief, stupid 12-year old moment, I thought it might have really been HIM. I then thought, 'Oh, probably just one of the counselors.' Nope. It was a paper-mache likeness of Jesus, with baby blue construction paper on a string forming his teardrops and red construction paper on strings all over to represent blood. The camp leader then spoke to us, telling us in fairly gruesome language what all Jesus endured during the crucifixion and everything leading up to it.

Everyone else around me was at the very least sullen, their arm around someone else and at the most bawling. I just stood there, hands in pockets, wondering why everyone was so upset over an incredibly fake scene. I was unmoved.

This whole concept of me being unmoved while others around me were crying their eyes red was something new for me. I'd overcome my fears (for the most part, though that fucking picture still creeps me out), and I'd read many times the story of his execution. I was past the point of it making me cry...and yet that seemed to be the purpose.

I walked away from everything that night realizing how it worked. They tell you the story, which involves a man being persecuted by the state, sold out by his peers, tried, and subsequently brutally beaten and then crucified. During those three days, he was in Hell, in spite (allegedly) never doing anything wrong while on Earth. The details of this are played out for dramatic effect, eliciting feelings of guilt and sadness - "He did this for YOU!" - and then it's like a forced confession during an interrogation. You're supposed to crack.

In many ways, that humid June night in 1999 was the beginning of the end for me with Christianity, though I didn't know it then.

Stay tuned for Part Two, though until then let me end with a song. No, not one of mine. Those all involve two chords and generally crappy lyrics. This song I first heard in Kenneth Anger's 1979 re-edit of his film Rabbit's Moon. It ties in with me having the ultimate bout of nyctophobia for most of 1998. Click here if the embedded video isn't working.


PS - A lot of the information here I'm disclosing for the first time. There's stuff here I don't even think I've told Shelley. Not fishing for compliments or anything, but writing this - for what I thought was of interest to you, the reader - has actually helped me learn more about myself.

PPS - Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

This Is Protesting?

I found out last night from both a CNN report and an email from my editor at the Kingsman that there were to be mass protests at colleges all across the country today.

This immediately planted seeds in my mind of picketing, chants of "Hell, no, we won't go!", tear gas, and maybe even a storming of the vice provost's office. The notion of the power being forcefully clutched from the oppressive fingers of the plutocrats currently running our country's educational system and returned to the people, the students isn't some bullshit romantic ideal. It needs to be reality, especially since Obama's proposal of freezing spending in almost all departments (including education) to fund our nation-crippling wars.

We should be pissed.

Instead, lectures were hosted (on campus, no less) for students who were essentially skipping class. What was solved? Nothing. What impact will this have? A mention in the school papers, maybe a soundbite for the local news, and that will be it. This was publicized on CNN the night before it happened. If the cops had wanted to bust some heads, they would have known where it was going to happen.

Last night I attended a lecture about a group of Native Americans who visited Palestine. They talked about the mediocre healthcare in their own communities in the United States, sometimes having to sacrifice a whole day waiting without seeing a doctor. I leaned over to Shelley and said, "And yet that fucking healthcare bill is dead in the water!"

Maybe the bad guys really have won. Harry Reid doesn't care about whether or not I have access to decent healthcare. He cares about getting this bill passed so his name will go down in the history books, while ensuring his re-election bid this November. The people running the universities don't give, to use one of my favorite phrases from Steve Albini, "two splats of an old Negro junkie's vomit" about your education. They want your money. They want you to buy football tickets. They want you to spend $40 on a textbook you can buy at an independent store for $25, which is still too much for what is little more than pulp, ink, and ideas.

They want it to cost so much that you're swallowed in debt payments for the next twenty years, just in time for you to send your own offspring to school so the process can start again.

At Brooklyn College, I see students from East Asia, the Caribbean, and East Europe who are either first-generation immigrants or immigrants themselves; in them, in the stories I've heard, I'm constantly reminded that there still is an American Dream, and it sure as Hell isn't one of picket fences and 2.3 children. It's about upward social mobility, it's about not living and dying as a busboy or mindless menial work.

If there really is going to be a tuition hike as a direct result of spending freezes in our national education budget, some portion of this contingency of people - in many cases, the first in their families to pursue higher education - will suddenly find themselves unable to afford college. Learning really does come with a price tag. This should not be the case. This is criminal.

Americans balk at the notion of the caste system in India, yet we turn a blind eye to a capitalistic parallel on our own soil. If you're born poor in this country, unless you put your nose to the grindstone (and amass some student loan debt along the way), you're going to die poor.

Meanwhile, if you're born rich, you're going to die rich, even if you fuck up and blow your daddy's inheritance money on feeding your drug and alcohol addiction and shady business deals. Hell, you can even become the most powerful man in the world and make things even worse for those groveling ants you have cutting your grass.

This has to change. Where is the Barack Obama we fell in love with on the campaign trail? Where is the Barack Obama who promised an end to Reaganist plutocracy? Where is the Barack Obama that Dr. Cornel West proclaimed in February 2009 when he visited IU was ushering in a new era, "an age where you don't measure success by the money you earn, but rather by your own greatness!"?

Guantanamo Bay is still very much open. Our war in Afghanistan is escalating, not coming to an end. Iraq - still happening, still a daily hell for its citizens, not that we'd be hearing about it in the press. The USA Patriot Act? Oh, yeah, that thing...yep, still in effect. Health Care is turning into a series of compromises and surprisingly slimy behavior from the Democrats in the Congress that we thought would turn the tide after the midterm elections in 2006.

And now this. Education, something that should be as fundamental as healthcare, a chance for breaking the barriers of one's class and making something of yourself, is about to be taken away from a good chunk of this nation's students.

Students, don't just assemble and exchange ideas. Get angry. Get vocal. We voted this guy in based on what was supposed to be more than same-old, same-old campaign rhetoric. It's in our hands.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Rather Formless Rant About Religion - Yet Again.

Well, I gave it some thought, and after some conferring online with Guruka Singh Khalsa, who has a bunch of great and informative videos on YouTube, I now consider myself a sahajdhari Sikh.

It's a work-in-progress, naturally. Slowly I'll phase tobacco and alcohol out of my diet, and maybe someday if I feel so led I'll no longer cut my hair or trim my facial hair. This week I'm going to try meditation, and I do not expect for it to simply click after my first few goes at it. Even non-believers say that meditation offers benefits like stress relief, which at this point in the semester I am in desperate need of.

I have a teacher's audition this Tuesday at the Kaplan Center on Kings Highway, near where Shelley lives. Although her landlady said she would charge more for a couple, perhaps (once there's enough money stashed away under both of our names) once we get married I'll move into her place. It's right by the Q line, which runs infinitely faster than the 2.

This week I have to present in my class tomorrow on madrigal music, which I really enjoy. Gesualdo is my favorite of the two we've got on our listening list. I love his tinkering with harmonies...the note intervals he uses may not be "holy" intervals like the guys who wrote songs for the Pope, but they sound amazing. The piece of his we're discussing, "Moro Lasso," is on the YouTube. You don't need to know a damn thing about music to appreciate how beautiful and haunting this piece is.

I guess that's one thing I'm realizing about music - in spite of McCartney's assertion that if he learned how to read music at this point in life it would take the magic out of it - all the neat little tricks you can do with intervals to create these majestic, otherworldly harmonies. Once I flush the punk out of my system and finally record something, I might have to take some serious stabs at composition.

Holy shit, I'm learning things I didn't think I needed to know! Isn't that strange how things work out like that...and at a SCHOOL, no less?! (I hope my sarcasm is easily detected.)

My brother celebrated his 26th birthday last week, and since I have no money, I instead wrote a short story about the time we went to the Madison State Hospital to visit an inmate who had become pen pals with him. Wonder what he thought of it.

Yesterday, thinking aloud to Shelley, I toyed with the idea of writing about the various religious cultures of New York City. Since we are living in a Post-Postmodern world, a quick search reveals two other scholars have beat me to this. On the one hand, this has me thinking - especially since each source is from NYU and Columbia, both pretty big names in academia - maybe it was a hare-brained notion. But then I also think of how many books on Shakespeare get published in the course of a year. Each scholar, provide they are of sound ethics (and trust me, I am; I'm the king of citations), would theoretically bring an entirely different experience to the table.

A quick skim through Huston Smith's book on world religions, considered to be THE text on comparative religion, and one will see he limits Sikhism to two and a half measly pages. It gets worse. These two and a half pages are at the end of a 70-page chapter on Hinduism. The passage on Sikhism is an appendix, beginning by stating how many Hindus consider Sikhs to be a sect of their own faith. He continues by suggesting there is a degree of synthesis between Hinduism and Islam, going so far as to say it may have been a subconscious notion in the mind of Guru Nanak to reap the "best" of each tradition while injecting little unique on his end.

That is an insult, implying that Guru Nanak was attempting to reconcile two disparate beliefs. He had been born Hindu, but was against the caste system, against rituals, and the notion that women could not read the Vedas. The Islamic leadership meant the presence of a religion that did (and in many parts of the world still does) separate women from men in terms of practice, held to many ritualistic practices, and professed the idea of a corporeal God.

What I won't deny is that yes, this culture fostered Guru Nanak's writing. He walked away from his Hindu caste and after a three-day period of prayer and meditation, emerged with what would become the basis of the Sikh faith. What Smith seems to ignore is that perhaps God indeed did speak to Nanak; indeed, he writes that all paths lead to God, the way of the Sikh is but one. It is permissible to be a Muslim or a Hindu, just difficult and more prone to falling into blind rituals.

Nanak championed equality, regardless of gender or class, in the late 15th and early 16th Century, at a time where feudalism and slavery was in practice throughout Europe and the Orient. Even if you don't believe in God, you can at least give that much to Nanak.

Smith's attitude reminds me of a condescending ethnographer from a more backwards time, and yet he is reverent and insightful in his discussions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Should it be any surprise that he studied and practiced these two faiths? I don't want to put the guy down too much, as he is the granddaddy of comparative religion, but Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world. This was a status obtained without waging holy wars, invading neighboring territories, or actively proselytizing to non-believers.

Smith also completely (!) ignores Zoroastrianism, the seminal religion that brought us the notions of monotheism, good versus evil, and free will, while the Baha'i Faith gets a solitary mention:

"...[the Baha'i Faith] originated in the hope of rallying the major religions around the beliefs they held in common, [but] has settled into being another religion among many."

Again, it's an almost condescending perspective. We have friends who are members of the Baha'i Faith, and they are among the nicest, happiest, and deep-thinking people in our age bracket that we've ever met. I don't agree with the notion that Baha'u'llah wrote of all religions uniting under the Baha'i banner someday, but since I can safely wager that this will never happen. Hell, I even agree with the allegory Smith depicts:

"There are people who want to have their own followers. They would prefer to head their own flock, however small, than be second-in-command in the largest congregation. This suggests that if we were to find ourselves with a single religion tomorrow, it is likely that there would be two the day after."

We've gone to many devotionals with our Baha'i friends, and it is a moving experience to hear similar verses from faiths all across the globe touching on the same themes. Since our friends are interested in the Middle East, a majority comes from the mystic poet Rumi, Sufism, and the Qu'ran, although there's been material from the Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, quotes from the Tao, Confucius (who, in spite of all the latent racist "proverbs" jokingly attributed to him featuring minced English - or "Engrish" - actually had some damn good things to say), and the Buddha, an occasional verse from Zoroaster, and even secular poetry. I don't think we've had much of anything from the Old Testament / Tanakh and nothing from some of the more problematic religions like Scientology, Mormonism, or Paganism.

What draws me to Sikhism, though, is that it recognizes that all right-minded paths lead to God. No faith is more right than the other, including Sikhism. It encourages mysticism through meditation and prayer, worship consists of hearing the sacred texts put to music, and from the very get-go followers are urged to steer away from ritual practices and superstitious beliefs.

It has no syncretic agenda, and the underlying message is a beautiful one: recognize God's presence in others, do good deeds, live honestly, pray and meditate, and the cycle of birth/death/rebirth will be broken.

In my investigation of both Liberal Quakerism and the Unitarian Universalists, I was bugged to learn that while you might go to a UU service and hear a non-Christian discussion of Bible as philosophy, you could also go to a UU service and hear a Neo-Paganist read some half-baked poem about Mother Earth and tree worship. I also don't like the Universalist half of the UU church. That's the notion that Christ's mercy will save all nonbelievers.

The Unitarians I like, with their rejection of the Trinity. Try talking to a Christian about the Trinity, and it will get confusing - they don't even get it. In fact, they attribute the nebulous idea of God in three persons, yet these three make up a whole, as something we aren't meant to understand. To them, the fact we can't "get" this concept is proof of the complex nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

It reminds me of Roger in American Dad when he says Christianity sounds like "the diary of a madman." I should stop before I start stomping on toes.

Anyway, whether my idea falls through or not about documenting the cultures of various religions in the city (there's even a center for Tenrikyo in Manhattan; I'm not saying it would be easy work, but what an experience it would be!), it's becoming obvious that I'm not just a music writer, a film critic, journalist, a cultural analyst, or a sociocultural polemicist. I'm all those things and more, with both seeker of truth and mystic being added to the laundry list. I don't mean to sound arrogant; in fact, I don't really like talking about myself in a positive manner. Like, ever. But I don't know if I could manage to be bound by any one field.

The remedy is obvious: I need to write, and I need to get published. And not only that, I need to get published in at least two different milieus so as not to be pigeon-holed. Rock critics are only known as rock critics. Huston Smith's work has solely been on faith. There's got to be some way to get my name out there under several different umbrellas.

Until then, I'll just keep on keeping on. I always do.

PS - I don't know how many of you actively use Blogger, but when you are adding tags to your post, make sure not to press enter unless you are finished, otherwise it will publish your unfinished entry.

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