Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Best Albums of 2016

To put it mildly, this has been a weird year. That'll be for another blog post. The music year, though, has followed suit. There were some good things to be sure, but, unlike last year when great music was falling form the sky, 2016 was pretty uneven. And we'll get into some of that. Let's go...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sounds of the Season 2016 - Indie Christmas & Holiday Songs You Can Live WIth

In 2007, I had just about had enough. North Carolina (which still fancied itself as the progressive spot of the South before it went and got crazy and Nashville and Austin were all "about that..." BUT I DIGRESS... where was I? Oh yes, North Carolina) local radio had stations switching to all-day Christmas music on November 1. Also, it was a year or two before that that awful flipping "Christmas Shoes" song was big. I wanted something better. Maybe something irreverent.

And I succeeded!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post mortem

Focus is coming in spurts this morning. I'm finding myself typing, then suddenly just staring, overwhelmed by thoughts. I've been something of a fatalist the past few years and have been bolstered by the occasional affirmations that, at their core, most people are good.

I don't have that feeling this morning. If I leave my west coast and/or social media bubbles, what I read and hear is anger... and a desire to punish. That punishment ranges from (in a "best" case, if it can be called that) enacting policies that one side sees as retribution for policies they've felt imposed upon them to (at worst) smearing entire demographic groups.

This rightward swing is a global trend and, I'm not going to lecture about how the rise of nationalism has never ended in anything good. It's all in the history books.

I can only look at how the results affect me. Primarily, I now have to worry about what it will mean to have any federal funding stripped away from my wife's place of employment. With Republicans holding congressional majorities and a president who won't be vetoing their legislation, that's more of a "when it happens" discussion than an "if." The ship has sailed.

I'm fortunate in that I don't have the exposure to stock and housing markets others do, nor do I have children that must be cared for. Oddly, my cynicism has positioned my household reasonably well to endure whatever storm comes.

The same cannot be said for a lot of friends and family. It has been heartbreaking to read and hear the feelings from gay friends. From friends of any other ethnicity. Even from traditionally-conservative friends who didn't love the candidates in this election, but strongly believed in the goodness of people to reject the tacit and overt racism, sexism and xenophobia... and who are, this morning wondering how so many - fellow humans - could not share those views.

We'll have to sort that out with ourselves and those we hold close. It's very pretty and lovely of me to call myself an "ally" to each of them and to stand up for what I believe is right. I fear it does little to truly help people who openly talking about how they're not sure they have a place in this country right now. I have no idea what it must be like to feel that way and how it affects the way they will make decisions in coming months. My life must look easy to them... and I would probably do well to remember that before I start trying to talk about all this in some sort of macro "what this means about America" way.

At some point, I may find some solace, but with so many shoes yet to drop, it's not happening now. I can look at my home state and see the seeds of where we could be: a measure to restrict gun sales to certain people at risk of violence was passed with strong bipartisan support in Washington. A measure to increase the state minimum wage to over $13 has also received that support. A major transit levy appears to be on its way to reality. I have to hope the federal government stays out of my state's lucrative marijuana business. I shudder to think about LGBTQ and women's rights under a new Supreme Court. At the least, I can strive to try and show how the progressive community and state I live in can be a model for others. After all: if we can pass a common sense gun law and minimum wage law together, maybe there is hope.

I haven't seen times like these... these nationalistic, xenophobic times. I've studied enough history to know you don't treat these times like business as usual, though. We all may be living moment-to-moment for a time. The best I can do is be there in those moments to listen and support what I believe to be right.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

That Tuesday in September

I'm not as good as I used to be at keeping this blog up. Part of that is social media. Some of my rants don't even warrant the full 140-character allotment Twitter affords us. Perhaps it's because of the microblog tools like Twitter, or the picture/caption ability of (my personal favorite channel) Instagram, that I tend to only use the blog for longer bits.

It's interesting, though: over the course of the past 10 years, our online lives have shifted. Some people are basically live-tweeting their lives. Others use social channels purely to troll, getting a rise out of getting a rise in others.

None of the social media channels we use regularly even existed on 9/11. I'm not even sure I had a texting plan on 9/11. Imagine that. That said, it also means while there is a large media archive of events from the day, we lack a passive archive of individual accounts of the day. If something happens today, there's a hashtag to search and you're suddenly at ground level of any event, anywhere in the world. Even the eventual raid on bin Laden's Abbotabad compound was live-tweeted.

Not the case with 9/11. Unfortunately, the email I sent to friends and family after finally making it home that day has been lost to the ether. It detailed my entire day and, if you;re reading this and you happen to have it tucked away in the bowels of your email, please do forward it to me (if I sent it to you, you most certainly have the ability to get in touch with me on a variety of social channels to get my email address).

Anyhow, I have written on this blog about my thoughts on the politics of the day and about the need to not memorialize quite the way we do. But, I've never written down the details of my day. And I probably should while I'm on the young side of 40. So, come back with me to the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hiking/Backpacking the Meander Meadow-Dishpan Gap-Cady Ridge Loop

It looks and sounds perfect. For a novice-backpacker-yet-seasoned-hiker like me, it seemed like the perfect place to not only stretch my own abilities, but also take a first time backpacker who wanted to touch the Pacific Crest Trail.

Then, I started to read the trip reports: overgrown trails, a bad road in... all with the spectre of mountain thunderstorms. What was I getting into here?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why the music still matters

In June 1994, my teenybopper self headed on down to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia to see Pink Floyd. It was a last-minute thing. The show was sold out, but a late cancellation meant three tickets ended up in the hands of a friend's mother who was a fan. Friend's mom obviously took her daughter and, as luck would have it, daughter called me to take ticket #3. I don't need to expound on the experience of seeing Pink Floyd live as any number of superlatives you could use apply.

What I will note is walking out of the stadium, when I overheard a few fans go "now, we just have to wait five years to see them again."

We're on year 22 now. From the sound of it, David Gilmour has plenty of money and no desire to cash in by doing some manner of abbreviated tour reuniting with Roger Waters.

The point is, I had the chance to go and I did. If I hadn't, plain and simple: Pink Floyd would be in the "wish I had seen" category. This fact seems particularly relevant as I got my old butt moving the past two nights to see shows by bands that people much younger than me champion. And then today, we had the news about Prince (never got to see him).

Music has been a part of my life since about age five and has been a top hobby of mine since about age 14. This week has reminded me so much of why this is the case:

  • Still discovering new music - I had heard Wolf Alice at some point on KEXP here in Seattle, but hadn't really listened to a lot of their stuff. It's impossible to hear every band out there. But, when I saw they were opening for Chvrches this week, I figured they were worth checking out. This was a good decision. One of the best opening acts I've ever seen. I was stoked to see their album is available on Amazon Prime Music. Couldn't download it fast enough. All these years later, hearing something fresh is still a great feeling. In fact, the two headliners I saw this week - Chvrches and Grimes - are hardly old hat. I don't care if I'm the oldest guy at the show (I wasn't); new music has something to offer all ages.
  • Seeing bands at their best - Chvrches and Grimes are in a moment right now. They're not the biggest bands in the world, but you could make an argument that they're each hitting their strides as musical acts. It's very hard to maintain exceptional levels of creativity for years on end. I mean, no one is going to say the Rolling Stones are a bad band, but is someone going to contend their albums since the 1990s are the best of their career? Radiohead is the most recent example of a band that just seems to keep delivering. Seeing Chvrches now, compared to two years ago, is a revelation (you can take someone else's word for it here). Grimes is in a similar spot, coming into her own as one of the top acts in music (she headlines Coachella, after all). I'm never going to get to see Prince, but the people I envy are the ones who saw him in the 1980s.
  • A retreat - Counting watching opening acts, there were 2.5 hours this week where reality just stopped. In a fractured society, suddenly, I was in a room with ~2,000 people who were all there for the same reason. You can talk to strangers and know you have something in common. The lights go down and you can dance your face off without worrying how someone thinks you look. The stress of work and life is forgotten. And when the lights come up and you head back into reality, it's almost always with a smile. I've never talked to someone who has felt that time with music has been time wasted.
Anyhow, this week has reinforced why music is and hopefully always will be central to my life. I'm lucky to live in a city (and to travel to places) that let me indulge in all sorts of sounds.

Seeing the reactions from folks about Prince's death drove it home for me: music isn't for the kids. Music isn't anyone's but your own. But music is something that does reward us for letting it physically occupy the space in our lives that many of us have for it sentimentally.

Hope to see you at a show soon. I'll be the oldest guy close to the front.