Saturday, November 23, 2013
Music like this has a few basic requirements. It has to want to be played loud. It needs to be busy - every beat needs to be filled up with percussion, guitar, blips, samples, background singing, handclaps, something. It should be relentless. Vocals should not be subtle. Quiet is fine, but it should be intense quiet that builds to something larger and more explosive.
This is a short list I turn to when I need to be obliterated by sound. These are my songs. I want to hear about yours. Let me know in the comments.
"The National Anthem"
Radiohead - The National Anthem(live SNL) from amnesiac440 on Vimeo.
Temple of the Dog - "Reach Down"
(Note: this song deserves its own blog post, but I'll write that another day.)
The The - "Boiling Point"
Michael Jackson - "Don't Stop ('til You Get Enough)"
Gang of Four - "Anthrax"
Bob Mould - "Black Sheets of Rain"
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I figured he'd be miserable. It was election night and his guy lost.
I came to the election night party late. After the results had come in. I knew. We all knew. It was one of the races that was decided early. I arrived around ten, bought a drink, gave my friend a hug and asked him how he was doing. And he surprised me. He said he was doing great.
My friend, B__, he's been doing political work for a long time. He's run a lot of campaigns. Some great, some disappointing. You win some, you lose some. It's a job. Even though he's young (younger than me), sometimes I see him as a grizzled old veteran of the political wars. He just does the job for whoever hires him. And that's where I was wrong.
B__ told me how proud he was to have worked on this campaign. He told me about the thousands of hours of volunteer service that the campaign had gotten. How he was the only paid staffer on a citywide campaign (!) and yet, he was never the first person in the office. There was always some bright-eyed volunteer who got into the office before him because they just couldn't wait to get started.
And B__ told me about his candidate. Told me how proud he was to have worked for the candidate. He wasn't perfect, but he was dedicated to public service. He made decisions and he stuck with them, damn the consequences. And he was sincere. Too sincere, in fact, to make it as a politician.
But he had made an impression. Even in losing, he had made B__ proud to know him and work for him. And I think that this campaign, this losing quixotic campaign, renewed his faith in politics.
I believe in politics because I believe in people. I started in politics as a community organizer, and you have to believe in people to organize. You need to have a hard-wired belief that people are essentially good and that they will, given the choice, decide to do the best thing for the most people. That's politics, at its essence. That's what it's all about.
Politicians don't get into the job because they want to destroy people, or wield unrelenting power. They do it because they care - about their communities, about their neighbors, the kids on their block, the homeless people in their alleys. And political campaigners like B__ are seduced into the job. They fall in love with a candidate, and they devote themselves to a candidate. And win or lose, it's that love for the first candidate that they always hold onto. Sometimes it can just turn into a job. But at its heart, politics - and even political campaigns - come down to love.
I was proud that night to see that my friend wasn't mourning. There was fire in his eyes. He had rekindled his love for a public servant, someone who would rather be wrong than be victorious. He saw the goodness in his candidate and in the pursuit of victory for him. And he saw, for a brief few weeks, that that was the reason he'd gotten into politics in the field place.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
I've talked about my brother before. But I don't know if I've ever talked about what happened during his trial.
It had been several years since he died. We sorta gave up on the idea that his killers would ever be found. We knew who had done it, but they had fled the state and New Orleans' police was overwhelmed. This was before Katrina, and they were overwhelmed then. Too many outstanding warrants, too few cops.
And then my dad got a phone call. They had caught one of the suspects. The killers. And they wanted to fly us down for his trial. So my dad and I went down.
It was an odd time for me. I was going through bankruptcy, had had a relationship fall apart, and was rebuilding myself. My life was in complete flux.
So we flew down. I saw the guy who did it, sitting in the front row with his lawyer. He looked at me and did a double-take, like he'd seen a ghost. I look a lot like my brother, and maybe he thought he was being haunted. I hope he did.
I stayed for as long during the trial as I could, and then, when they started showing evidence, I left. I took some time in the city to think, and as I left the room, I saw the family of the suspect. They were upset. Not because of what their son had done. They were in denial. They couldn't believe he had been accused of such a thing.
While I waited for the trial to end, I thought about the penalty phase. He was in Louisiana, which still had the death penalty. Would I accept someone being killed on my behalf? After all, that's what it was all about. The state was enacting justice - killing him - on behalf of the victims. Me, my brother, and my dad.
I had thought about execution before, and I went back and forth and back and forth. Was it right? Was the death penalty ever justified? What about when it was my own family member? Was it different when it was my own family, the brother I had known for nearly 30 years, who was the victim? Where would I fall? It was a deep and wrenching struggle inside my heart.
I had talked to people who thought the purest form of the death penalty would be to allow the victim's family to carry it out personally against the killer. I thought was a bit brutal. Still, there was truth in that.
When he was convicted, I looked over at his parents again. They were crushed. The reality of what he had actually done - it devastated them.
I made a decision.
I went over to them and introduced myself. They had seen me of course, but they didn't know who I was, not by name. I was just "the victim's brother." I introduced myself. And I said that I didn't want the state to ask for the death penalty. And I said that if they did push for the death penalty, I would do anything in my power to help them fight it.
That was it. It was as simple as that.
I didn't feel conflicted. You think that when you make huge decisions like that, it's going to feel like you're still struggling. It doesn't. It felt like a cloudy day had suddenly turned to blue sky. Once I knew what I would do, I stopped caring if it was the best decision, the most reasonable decision. I stopped worrying what people would think. People like my dad. Or the prosecutor. It didn't matter. Because I was doing the right thing.
The prosecutor was a little stunned. He came up to me afterward and said that if I felt that way, I should have just told him. I didn't really know how to respond. I hadn't felt that way when the trial started. I didn't know until I knew.
These pure moments of clarity don't happen very often in one's life, but they're intensely powerful. It was the closest I've ever felt to following my heart. It was an incredibly serene feeling. You don't know it's going to happen until you know. And once you know, you look back and wonder why it was so hard to see.
I started going to church after that happened. Not because of it, but because I felt like church was a thing I needed in my life. I realized that that moment was something that the church describes as grace. A feeling of giving that is unmotivated by reward. The act of giving compassionately and generously. I let go of my anger and my desire for vengeance, and I accepted that my humanity and the killer's humanity were both valuable. I let go. I accepted that I could let it go.
Sometimes, you won't know the right thing to do until it's staring right at you. And when those moments come, don't worry about what you should do, or what the best argument would be, or what intellectually would be the best course of action. Listen to your heart. If you're right, then your heart will tell you. And if you listen to your heart, it is always the right thing to do.
Monday, October 14, 2013
I told him that a 1000x eagle would be about the size of an airport. I think he liked that image.
He told me that for the trip, he'd need a safety harness, 10 seat belts, and a book. Probably a few books, he corrected himself.
Also, apparently he's going to have a lab that's bigger than the desert.
Gotta have somewhere to create your giant eagles, you know.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
I remember watching the 5th season of Buffy and being absolutely gobsmacked. Who was this Dawn person? Why was everybody acting like she had always been part of Buffy's life? What the hell was going on here?
It took weeks before it became clear what was happening.
The waiting was delicious. That feeling of "what the hell is happening here?" Remember that? That was before the days of the internet, the real 21st century 24/7/365 internet. Before Twitter and Facebook. Before every surprise was revealed days before it happened.
I saw Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Monday. And I loved it - it was fun and exciting and hilarious and everything I wanted.
But Cobie Smulders was right there at the opening scene, and I knew he was coming. Ron Glass was coming, and I knew he was coming.
I just sorta miss being surprised by something happening. Of course, I didn't know everything that was going to happen in the episode. (I stayed off Twitter for a while to avoid spoilers.) I just miss that feeling when tv shows would take a completely unexpected turn, and you had not the slightest inkling it was coming.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
It doesn't matter if the story on the 5:00 news is big or small. It doesn't matter if I'm being fired or if the boss just growls at me a little. It's like I have a trapdoor inside my heart, and if I step the wrong way, down I go.
Depression is something that I live with. I don't think about it very often, but my mother was bipolar. My brother was almost certainly bipolar. Manic depressive, that's what it used to be. Manic highs and lows. You go up hard, you come crashing down like a plane that's run out of fuel.
I have had my bouts, when it was hard to focus or concentrate on anything except the sadness. After 9/11, I crashed hard for a few months. I was in a funk. I couldn't stop listening to the news, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't concentrate. I would cry unexpectedly, unpredictably. I went to therapy. I got better. But it never goes away. The dark hand never stops reaching for you. It's just that, for a while, it can't reach you. That doesn't mean it's not still clutching.
Anyway, sometimes I don't even know what causes my funks of depression. Sometimes it's just a collection of small things, inconsequential in themselves, but the combination of them just seems to set me reeling. And I'm in the cloud. The dark cloud, the cloud that follows me around like Pigpen's cloud of gloom. And nothing can snap me out of it.
When I'm depressed, it's like a horribly sick game of chess. I see how one thing can lead to another, can lead to another, and pretty soon I'm imagining how easily I could end up sleeping in my car. Or declaring bankruptcy again. Or maybe I'll lose this job, too. I can see everything going completely, awfully, catastrophically wrong. Every blue sky looks like a looming monsoon.
There are days when all I want to do is sleep, when anything else just seems to be too much effort. There are days when I don't think I can stand the effort of doing my job, talking to other people, being part of the world. And I just want to pull the covers over my head and go away. When I was younger, that was a solution to the petty aches and pains of teenager-hood. I slept a lot. I'd come home from school at 3 in the afternoon, go into my room, and nap until dinnertime. It's easier than feeling.
I could be an alcoholic very easily, I think. I can see that the cloud of alcohol haziness would be a comfort in times like this. The blur of not seeing straight, of not quite being able to hold your thoughts together. The comfort of not holding onto things. Like time. Like memory. Like feelings. I can see the appeal of that. But I don't drink. Not really. I don't let myself. We keep only a small amount of liquor in the house, and I only drink one or two drinks when I'm out. I don't drink at home. Maybe a beer. That's it.
Mostly, it's being aware that I have this tendency. I can get depressed. I can sink hard into despair and sorrow and sometimes I don't even know it's happening. So I try to check myself. I try to evaluate where I am and whether or not I'm sinking. When I am, sometimes the best thing is to tell my wife what's happening. It's not her fault. Depression isn't anyone's fault, anymore than you can blame cancer on your obnoxious neighbor or your sister who never calls anymore. Depression is a condition that exists in my body. It's a biochemical defect, an error in the coding, and sometimes it flares up. If I know it's there, I can watch for the signs. And if I watch for the signs, I can pull myself up out of the nosedive before I fall too far.
You, dear readers. Thank you for listening when I just need to talk things out. This blog, after all, is mostly so that I can say things out loud. This - this depression thing - is a thing that I need to talk about sometimes.
If you experience this too - if the dark hand reaches out for you sometimes, talk about it. Let your loved ones know that it's a part of your life. Because it's a part of theirs, too. And they care about you, and they can't know how to help you and how to be there for you if they don't know what's going on. So talk to your friends. Let people know. Educate yourself and take care of yourself. Start a blog, hell, it's still legal. Don't hide. We don't need to be ashamed. We didn't do anything wrong. Don't be ashamed that you suffer. It's hard enough just suffering, without feeling like we're somehow failures too.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
I seem to be watching a show now that is immersed in the "serial killer" genre, and that has me thinking.
Now, first, the show is brilliant. Luther is the show. I'm a little late to the bandwagon - it came out in 2010 and hit our side of the pond in 2011. I'm watching it now on Netflix, and I'm riveted. It stars Idris Elba, who is one of the most compelling actors I've ever seen. Luther is driven and ruthless and unpredictable, a pitbull in the clothes of a homicide detective. He's haunted by what he does for a living. But his chief tendency is tenacity. He will not let go of a crime until he has tracked down the perpetrator and either brought them to justice or otherwise stopped them.
I love the show. I love the depth of each character, the fact that characters never seem to do what you expect them to do. I love that the writers inflict real consequences on their characters. Like Joss Whedon, the writers of this show know that to care about the main characters, you have to see them in genuine danger. Luther might lose his job. He might be killed. He might lose people about whom he cares dearly.
And I love his foil, Alice Morgan. She is an adversary for him, a foil, his dark conscience that whispers the worst things into his ears. When Luther wants to bring someone to justice, Alice wants to stab him to death and leave him in the street. There is a scene in the fourth episode - if you've seen it, you know the one I mean. The scene places Alice and John Luther at opposite ends of a phone line, and they both end the scene screaming, broken apart at the seams. Alice does something unspeakable and when Luther tries to chastise her for it, she screams at him, "I did it for you, pig! Filth! I did it for you!" It explodes off the screen. I've rewatched the scene at least five tiimes, and I may do it again tonight before I go to sleep.
And it's about killing. Bodies fall. People are killed, serial killers track their victims mercilessly and dispatch them brutally. It's a very bloody show. But ... and maybe this is because I don't watch a lot of these shows... the murders have consequences. They are bloody and messy and they leave holes in people's lives. The detectives are upset - traumatized sometimes - by what they see. This is as it should be.
I can watch a show like this. They care about the lives of people and they pursue killers, not as puzzles to be solved, but as menaces to be removed from society.
When my brother was murdered, I thought we would never find the killers. My brother was one of a thousand victims in New Orleans, a city that was facing thousands of outstanding warrants before Katrina even happened. The city was overrun by crime and its police force was drowning. They wouldn't find the killers. They didn't have the time or the manpower to find them.
Four years later, one of the killers was found. And arrested. And I attended his murder trial, along with my father. And he was sentenced to life in prison (the most severe penalty I could accept - I refused to go along with the prosecutor if they pursued a death sentence.)
John Luther is a superhero of sorts. He's brave and true, ruthless and relentless, and he does things that most of us would never imagine. He puts himself in danger, time and again, to catch the bad guys. I like the idea that detectives are like that. When the most horrible thing happens to a loved one, I am comforted by the idea that those detectives, those police officers, are as haunted as we are. That they are staying up at night, trying to figure out how to solve the case. That they would do anything in their power to find the perpetrators. John Luther is a rampaging bull, but speaking as someone who has had to rely on the dedication of police detectives and inspectors and prosecutors, I'd always want someone like him on my side.