Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Into the Belly of the Beast

In an unusual turn of events, Indiana’s primary mattered this year. Ours happens so late in the season that the candidates on either side usually have the nomination in the bag by now. This was a lot of fun for me because it meant that candidates actually made a stop in our state and in our city. I went to a Ted Cruz rally and left feeling really uncomfortable and vaguely horrified. I skipped the Sanders rally on Sunday because I just didn’t feel like going anywhere that day or dealing with people. I actually had tickets to attend the Trump rally the following day, but after Ken and I saw how many people were expected, we decided to avoid it. If Hillary had had an open event, I would have made sure to be there, though!

I’m glad I skipped the Trump rally because I can only handle so much idiocy right up in my face. I was able to live stream his speech and it helped to be somewhat removed from it. I told Ken that it was a good thing we didn’t go because there were several times when I laughed out loud at some of Trump’s statements, and I’m guessing that his supporters wouldn’t take kindly to someone laughing at their candidate. Even though he deserves every bit of derisive laughter he gets.

Anyway, Indiana had the dubious honor of going strongly for Trump and knocking Cruz and Kasich out of the fight for the nomination. As much as I loathe the oleaginous Cruz and the deceptively mild-mannered Kasich (bullshit policies delivered in a kind, reasonable voice are still bullshit policies), it is horrifying that the Vulgar Talking Yam (thank you, Charlie Pierce!) is the presumptive nominee of the Republican party.

I have voted Republican in the past. I think Richard Lugar was a fine Senator and I was happy to cast my vote for him more than once. Trump is about as far removed from someone like Richard Lugar as I am from an astronaut.

It looks more than likely that the Republican party is going to nominate a bigoted bully who seems to think that “political correctness” is an egregious concept that prevents him from saying whatever the hell he wants to without any consequences. And what he wants to say is misogynistic, racist, Islamophobic, and generally vile. I’m not sure when PC became a bad thing...I’m a big fan of treating others with respect and understanding that just because someone doesn’t share my views or beliefs or race or preference for peach pie over cherry doesn’t mean that they should be vilified.

Everything that comes out of his mouth is laughably absurd, including his economic plans for paying less on our debt, which virtually every economist is saying would be disastrous to the world economy. He changes his tune on issues in a matter of hours, not days. One of Trump's chosen delegates in California is a white supremacist.

It is beyond my comprehension that a significant portion of our populace is supporting this Cheesy Dorito (thanks, Holly!). He is not just ignorant and ill-informed on policy, he’s a fucking asshole. I am to the point where I honestly question the intelligence and competency of anyone who is supporting this nincompoop. I have friends and family who do, and while I continue to love them, I find that I simply cannot understand why they don’t see this demagogue for what he is: a power-hungry narcissist who won’t hesitate to burn the whole thing down.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Beth’s Music Moment: The Dandy Warhols’ “Distortland”

You are killing me
And everything you love about me

~~ “You Are Killing Me” by the Dandy Warhols

I’m taking a break from thinking too hard about politics today so I’ll do an album review.

For a while now, my playlist has been old Duran Duran, middle Duran Duran, John Taylor of Duran Duran, and new Duran Duran. I hear other songs on satellite radio and places like that, but when I take the time to listen to a whole album, it’s been the Birmingham lads.

I changed that this week because I got the new release from Portland’s Dandy Warhols, Distortland. It’s a...well, it’s a dandy!

I can’t remember how I came across the Dandys several years ago. Maybe I heard “Bohemian Like You,” or maybe I just saw their name and thought it was clever and cool. The first album I got into was the one with that song, 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia, and I played it a lot. Of course, then I had to get all their previous albums. You know how that goes.

So although I didn’t discover them when they first started, I’ve liked them for a while now. They are on my short list of bands I want to see live.

The new album has that unmistakable Dandys sound, with Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s breathy baritone and Zia McCabe’s sweet harmonizing and keyboards. Peter Holmström adds crunchy guitar and Brent DeBoer adds the backbeat on drums. This is classic Dandys, atmospheric and almost kind of droning, but in the best possible way. Many of the songs totally rock, with catchy hooks and singable choruses, but there is also a calmness and a meditative quality that makes you just want to kick back with the headphones on and zone out. (If you are so inclined, a little herb would make this an enjoyable listening experience indeed. Hey, they are from Portland, Oregon, after all!)

As for CTT and Zia’s harmonies, it struck me as I was listening to this maybe the third or fourth time that they remind me so much of one of my ‘80s favorites, X! Their voices together remind me a lot of John Doe and Exene Cervenka. No wonder I like them so much! (Check out some great John and Exene harmonies on “Blue Spark.”)

My favorites on the album are “Semper Fidelis,” which has a driving, crunchy guitar; “Pope Reverend Jim” with its fun chorus (“Everybody loves Pope Reverend Jim!”) and a bit of a '50s style to it; “STYGGO,” which has a bunch of nice, singable “do do do’s”; and “You Are Killing Me,” which is just a great pop song with an infectious chorus and the aforementioned pretty harmonies of CTT and Zia.

If I have any complaint about the album it’s that it isn’t longer! I would have enjoyed three or four more songs on it and I’m sure I would love them as much as I love the songs actually on the album. But hey, I’m really happy that one of my favorites is still making great music and still touring! I highly recommend this and I think you’ll enjoy it if you give it a listen.

Here is the video for “You Are Killing Me,” which has an interesting twist at the end. In watching it again, I picked up on a few photos that I didn’t think much about when I first watched it. But with the name at the end, it all made sense. It is an interesting connection to the Dandy Warhols.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's off with her head

~~ “White Rabbit,” Jefferson Airplane

Today my friend Dan said to me, “I never thought I’d see you at a Cruz rally!”

Neither did I, Dan. Neither did I.

In an unusual and unlikely turn of events, Indiana is surprisingly important in this year’s primary race, at least the Republican one (Hillary’s got it wrapped up on the Democratic side...it’s all over but the shoutin’). With our late primary date, we usually don’t get a whole lot of attention, either from the media or from the candidates. Getting all this attention is a mixed bag. We have to deal with phone calls (yay for caller ID!) and lots of political ads, but we also get candidates actually stumping in our state. That doesn’t happen very often, and for a political junkie like me, it’s total catnip.

So when my friend Cassie posted that she got a ticket for the Cruz rally here in our town, I thought, “You know what? I’m going, too!” (Neither of us are Cruz supporters or Republicans, by the way.) I got my free ticket and headed up late this afternoon.

It was quite an experience. The first thing I saw when I walked in was that line of posters up there. It was truly a WTF moment. (I snagged one of the double-sided posters on the way out. How could I not?) It was a good-sized crowd, although not a particularly large place, and although Hoosier Nice isn’t quite at the level of Minnesota Nice, it’s pretty damn close. Everyone was polite and nice. And very pale. Seriously, I think I saw maybe two people of color at the most. Not a diverse crowd at all, although Cassie and I were surprised at the number of younger people.

I was happy to find Cassie right away and meet a long-time Facebook friend in real life! Thanks for saving me a seat, Cassie! I also found Dan pretty quickly, as he was part of the press cadre and was busy talking to people and getting some pictures. We didn’t get to talk for long, but agreed that we need to make some time to do that! He snapped a couple of pictures of me and Cassie.

The rally began with a prayer—ahem—and the pledge of allegiance. Cassie and I stood but remained silent. I find the reciting of the pledge of allegiance kind of odd, although I know it’s common in both Republican and Democratic rallies. I’m not sure why we are supposed to do that. It’s a grade school thing that I don’t really feel the need to do. I’m an American, for Pete’s sake. Why do I have to pledge my allegiance?

Anyway, it was an awkward start to a rally that grew increasingly uncomfortable. First was Carly Fiorina. She is actually a very good speaker, if you ignore her content. She is very much the “attack dog” for Cruz. I won’t make any judgments about why he chose a running mate when he is obviously losing this nomination race. Wait, I think I will! Seriously, what the fuck, man? You don’t choose a running mate until you’re the actual nominee! As the media is saying, it is very much an act of desperation.

Then it was the main attraction, if you can call Ted Cruz an “attraction.” It was basically the stump speech I’ve seen him giving as I’ve watched coverage of these primaries. Some of the same lame jokes and one-liners that I’ve already heard. Hillary’s going to jail, the Washington establishment, blah blah blah. The crowd didn’t seem that into it at first, but as the rally went on, people started getting a little more agitated. Some of the biggest applause lines were that he would “repeal Obamacare” (can’t do that on your own, man) and that on Day One, he would “tear up” the Iran nuclear deal (can’t do that, either). Probably the biggest “boo-getter” was a mention of Planned Parenthood. That just made me sad.

Cassie stuck around and got her picture with Cruz and Fiorina—she told Cruz that she likes Planned Parenthood...way to go, Cassie!—but I really needed to get out of there. It’s hard to describe what I was feeling by the end of this rally. I felt very alone, but was happy to be sitting next to Cassie for the moral support. I felt a bit of despair that so many people were eating all this up. And oh, the irony of Carly Fiorina talking about losing jobs to Mexico! She said, “I know where the jobs are going.” Yeah, so do those 30,000 people you laid off! The hatred for the Affordable Care Act, the hatred for Planned Parenthood, the hatred for Hillary Clinton...it was just a big fat Hate Fest. I felt like a Stranger in a Strange Land, and I definitely did NOT grok this.

I’m glad I went but it was a little damaging to my psyche. I’ll bounce back! I guess I’d better, because I got tickets to go see the Vulgar Talking Yam (hat tip to Charlie Pierce) himself on Monday. I feel reassured that Ken is planning on going with me. A while after I got those tickets, I found out that Bernie Sanders is also going to stop here, on Sunday. I just can’t do it, though. I need my quiet Sunday and I will spend the afternoon girding my loins for Monday. I honestly don’t know if we’ll be able to get in and I am not standing in line for hours.

We have a backup plan, though. Food and beers at Brew Werks! Victory with a capital V!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Life is Just a Party

...and parties weren’t meant to last

~~ “1999”, Prince

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve heard by now that we have lost another musician, the great Prince.

I’m not going to write about his life. There have been numerous stories about that, and numerous tributes to his kind, gentle, and caring nature. By all accounts, he was a genuinely decent human being who tried to do good things in this world.

I’m not going to write about his death. There has been a lot of speculation but nothing concrete yet. It is an ongoing investigation, so I’ll refrain from doing any speculation of my own. Besides, it’s still a little too hard for me to think about in any detail.

I’m also not going to write about the outpouring of love throughout the world for the man and his contribution to music. You’ve seen the pictures from all over the world of buildings and other things glowing purple: the Eiffel Tower, Niagara Falls...heck, our own South Bend River Lights were lit up in his honor.

What I’m going to write about is the personal response I’ve seen from some. Maybe it’s because I feel genuine anguish at his death (not quite as bad as what I felt when Bowie died, but pretty damn close) and it makes me want to lash out. I don’t know, but I feel that I need to defend myself and everyone around the world for our depth of feeling at his loss. I want to defend him, too, and explain why we are mourning him.

Because there are always the people who feel the need to say, “So? Big deal. He’s a musician and no one important. Why should I care?”

First of all, why don’t you just shut the fuck up and let us go about our grieving? No one asked you and no one cares that you don’t care.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll expound a little further. It’s fine if you aren’t a fan. It’s fine if you don’t listen to music at all. But some of us are and some of us do. In fact, for some of us, music is a defining part of our life. It is what we turn to when we are sad or happy; triumphant or in despair; celebrating or commiserating. There are certain songs and certain artists who are part of the soundtrack of our lives (I know that’s a trite phrase, but it’s apt). Music can bring us to tears and it can make us dance with joy.

For those of us a certain age, Prince was very much a part of that soundtrack. His music reminds us of good times and bad, loves found and loves lost, or just going out clubbing with friends and dancing till we were dripping with sweat and loving every moment of it. (I may or may not have danced in a cage once or twice to a Prince song. No photos so it didn’t happen.)

What I’m trying to say is that just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean that the rest of us are not feeling true anguish over his loss. I’ve seen people who weren’t fans of his music still acknowledge that he was an amazing musician, a phenomenal talent, and an incredibly charismatic performer. To make a point of saying that you really couldn’t care less is not only disrespectful to one of the great talents of our time, it is negating and ridiculing what so many of us are feeling.

I suppose I should be used to people who completely lack the ability to feel empathy for what others are feeling, but I guess I’m not quite that jaded. It still surprises me. For anyone who doesn’t get the power of music, no matter the genre, I feel sorry for you. The best artists can generate a communal energy that is incredible and powerful and dare I say...life-affirming? It certainly is for me!

For anyone who just doesn’t get why anyone would feel genuine sorrow over someone they’ve never met, I’m reminded of the wise person who answered that question after Bowie’s death by saying that we don’t mourn them because we knew them. We mourn them because they helped us know ourselves.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Look out for that volcano!

 We are off for Hawaii soon!

I have everything laid out and Ken is doing the packing tonight. Although he has been there once before, it will be my first time to our 50th state, and I’m quite excited about it.

We have some fun things we want to do, like a visit to Volcanoes National Park, a sunset boat ride, and checking out the big manta rays. There is a tiki bar in Kona that we must hit, and Ken will golf at least one day (I hope to go along and drive the cart). We will definitely do a luau. But mostly we’re just going to take it easy and see what adventures we can scare up. I’m sure we’ll hang out poolside and on the beach, and I got a couple of retro swimsuits (one with skulls!) that will be fun to wear. I’m taking my good binoculars so that I can do a little birding and maybe add a few to my Life List.

I’m sure we’ll eat fresh seafood until it’s coming out our ears. We probably have to eat some Spam at some point, too, don’t we?

I think I’m most excited about seeing the volcanoes. I have never seen one and I think it will be awe-inspiring. I told my sister that I will do my best not to fall into one, but wouldn’t that be a pretty awesome way to go? Talk about going out in a blaze of glory!

On the way out, we’ll get to have dinner with our friend Todd in San Francisco, and on the way back, we’ll spend a couple of days in San Diego to visit with our nieces Heather and Jen, Heather’s husband Rey and their son Liam, as well as Ken’s brother (Mike) and nephew (Adam), and Adam’s wife Kendra and their new baby. It’s going to be a busy but fun trip!

I will miss Sheeba, but Uncle Shane and Uncle Matt will take good care of him, as always.

I don’t know how much I’ll update here, but I’ll post photos on Facebook and update as I can.

It’s supposed to get down to 29° tonight, so I’m looking forward to plenty of warmth and sunshine.

Happy trails to us!

Photos from the resort website.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Beth’s Music Moment: John Taylor’s “Techno For Two”

For the past year or so, I’ve been listening to Duran Duran pretty much exclusively. I occasionally make exceptions, like playing John Taylor’s three solo albums! (I’m exaggerating, but not much. DD/JT is on heavy rotation in my head, and I keep finding new things to love.)

These albums weren’t easy to come by. I think the second two were only released in Japan, so I had to order them from there. (Thank you, third party Amazon sellers!) This was his third solo album, released in 2001, and it has become my favorite. It has been interesting to see his evolution as a solo artist on these albums.

1995’s “Feelings Are Good And Other Lies” shows his punk roots—Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols even played guitar on that one. It’s very raw, in the DIY punk style, and he sounds like a man with many demons. I don’t know exactly what year he went to rehab, but it was probably around this time.

His second album, eponymously titled and released in 1999, seems much calmer and more introspective. Maybe I’m just putting my own notions onto it, but he seems more at peace.

In “Techno For Two,” he seems to have found a nice balance between all of these elements, including his love for a killer bass groove. It is not a techno album, but there are definitely some danceable tracks on this one. As part of Duran Duran’s rhythm section, his bass sets the tone for so many of their songs. It is fascinating to me to see not just his evolution as a solo artist (he doesn’t have the vocal chops of Simon Le Bon, but you can clearly hear his improvement as a vocalist over the three albums, and there are moments where he sounds very much like David Bowie) but to also recognize the part he plays in the band. I never paid that much attention to the bass in various songs but JT has changed that for me. Listening to his solo albums made me realize exactly what he brings to the band and how they all work together to make such fantastic music.

The other thing that strikes me about his album is how personal it is. A casual listener probably wouldn’t pick up on it, but knowing some of his story and reading his autobiography makes me think that certain songs are about certain people, and his lyrics seem to touch on many things in his personal life. Whether it’s about finding a lasting love with his wife Gela or his struggles with addiction, he truly seems to write songs from his heart. (Is the song “Mansman” about Simon? “You’re the king of the band.” Hmm, maybe!) Again, because I’ve never read anything about what inspired him to write these songs, this is only speculation on my part. But “You’re gonna fuck your life away” in the song “Mister J” certainly sounds autobiographical, as does “He was a child of the eighties...he flew too close to the sun” in the song “Nagel Baby.” (JT’s full name is Nigel John Taylor.)

I think this is a really solid album with plenty of well-crafted pop songs and some tasty bass grooves. It has given me a deeper appreciation of his talent and of what he brings to the band. Here are a few of my favorite tracks. Sadly, I couldn’t find “Mister J” anywhere, and it is one of my favorites on the album!

Turn it up!

The opening track is “Love Is Bondage.” I love how it builds slowly with the keyboards and a quiet riff, then kicks in with the riff louder and some great guitar.

“Tight” is another favorite. This one has a definite techno vibe and it’s got sexyfuntimes written all over it.

“The Other Side of the Sun” has one of those killer bass grooves that he does so well. Play that fuckin’ bass, John!

“Gabe” is a little more mellow, just a real pleasant vibe to it. It also has one of the most infectious choruses I’ve ever heard. I could sing “Gabe you’ll see a side of me” all damn day. I love when everything but the drums stop and we get to hear all the harmonies in the chorus.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Why so serious?

After Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tuesday night (she had won 4 of 5 contests that night, and apparently has also narrowly won Missouri, completing her sweep), a few pundit fellas took to the Twitters and told her that she won, she should smile. And that she was shouting. And that she seemed angry.


It dismays me that women are still held to some weird standard that dictates that we can’t get angry, or if we do, we should put on a happy face and not project our anger.

Well, fuck that.

Plenty of us are angry at the erosion of our hard-earned rights to reproductive freedom and we are angry about STILL not getting equal pay for equal work, and we are angry about sometimes being treated as less than competent as workers and as leaders. In Clinton’s speech, she was talking about many of these things, as well as things like gun violence and Governor Rick Snyder’s incompetence and complicity in the Flint water crisis (who cares if the browns get a little brain damage from lead poisoning, right Rick?).

But come on, Hillary. Give us a smile!

This is so offensive to me as a woman. What is it about having a uterus that makes men think they can tell us how to comport ourselves? That we aren’t agreeable enough, or that our passion and outrage is somehow unseemly or unfeminine? Look pretty and smile a little! That’s a good girl.

It is incredibly condescending and it pisses me off. Next time you get into an argument with a woman who is fired up about something, tell her to calm down or tell her to smile. Let me know how that works out for you.

It resulted in a discussion between me and Ken, but because we are both rational people, we managed to understand where each other was coming from. He maintained that sometimes she does sound like she is shouting, and I said, “What wrong with that at a rally?” He said sure, that’s fair. I said that I think she did get the message about toning it down a bit in debates and she has handled herself well lately. If it ends up being her vs Trump in a debate, that ability will serve her well. If she can keep her cool when subjected to the personal attacks that he is bound to bring, she will only prove that she can handle anything thrown at her.

Women can and do get angry about things, and we get passionate about things. I object to the ridiculous standard that we shouldn’t show our anger or our passion. I am honestly more committed to rational discussion and reasonable discourse, but if I get pissed off about something, you’ll know it.