Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Portland Soul

Recently I took one of those personality tests that swarm all over Facebook.  This one was do you have a Hippie, Punk or Goth soul.  Generally I have considered myself somewhat Hippie-ish.  I am a Neo-Pagan, I believe in Peace, Love and Understanding (yes, I got that from Elvis Costello).  I believe in conservation and ecology, and I believe the more natural things are better for us.  When I took the test, I came up with a Punk soul.  At first, I was thinking what the hell.  Then I realized that I also follow the Punk ethos.  I believe in creating something for the love of it not to make money.  I am for those who do it themselves and keep Big Corporations out, for example: self publishing authors, self releasing musicians with out a big recording contract, artists that give and/or show their art on the internet for all to see, and podcasters that do it themselves without sponsors other than fans. Punk was known for its do it yourself attitude.

When I was a kid I would not have believed that computers with help the Punk ethos in the next century.  It has, the internet, home computers, tablets and smart phones have made it easy to exchange ideas and art.  It has given those in creative pursuits a way to directly connect to possible audiences.  This has scared the living hell out of the traditional media gatekeepers (Music Corporations, Film and Television Conglomerates, Printed Media Concerns, and the Mega Publishers).  Now to re-gain control they are threatening the Net Neutrality using our government against us. 

Back to the point, the Ethos of the Punk Movements I agree with.  When I was a teenager, the Punk I was exposed to was a Suburban Punk more about aggression and less about a movement.  The two original Punk Movements, the New /York 1970’s Movement and the subsequent British Punk Movement of the 1970’s were are about art and expression (New York) and political rebellion against an eroding political and economic climate (Britain).  When I discovered those roots in University, I feel in love with Punk.  I never have identified myself as a Punk or Punker. 

In my old age I tend to shy away from many labels.  I feel kinship to the Hippie Movements and various Punk Movements, but I rarely consider myself either.  When I took the test of the three types, I knew I was not one, Goth.  The Goth Movement and its connection to death and dying never appealed to me.  As someone who has skirted death multiple times, never by design, it never appealed to me.  I tried to get involved with various Goth type groups.  My Optimism always made me slightly out of place with the people I encountered.  I am not saying they were indicative of the Goth Movement; just I rubbed many of them wrong and vice versa.   I have some dear friends, who I suspect are Gothic types, they accept me for who I am and I do the same with them. 

Here is the wonderful thing about discovering my connection to both Hippie and Punk Cultures and Movements, it is so wonderfully PortlandPortland, Oregon seems to be one of the places in the U.S. where you see the two philosophies collide and create something new.  At this time I do not know of any label for it.  Does really need one?  In the 1970’s the Punk Movement poked fun of the failed Revolution of the Hippie Movement.  Now you see the two begin to merge.  The two had some serious similarities, both pushed people to be wildly independent of the consentual reality and society in general.  They both were serious non-conformist cultures.  Both are anti-establishment and anti-status quo.  In retrospect they are more complementary than you would think.  There are sections of both cultures that would never play nice with each other.  That is part of being human.

Portland also has a Goth community too.  It is murky and dusky for most of the year.  The otherworldliness of Portland is why the producers of Grimm chose it as a setting.  The reason why Hippie and Punk work so well here is because of the nature of this city.  It has a very do-it-yourself and damn the haters mentality.  It is about finding your bliss and making it your life.   It is a city of iconoclasts.  It is a city where nothing is sacred, but anything can be sacred.  It is the weird melting pot of Nerds, Geeks, Punks, Hippies, Goths, Weirdos, Intellectuals and anything goes. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What the Heck is Normal?

In The Mythic Café, with Charles de Lint & Company on Facebook, a picture had the following quote, “The day I broke up with Normal was the First day of my magical life.”  To this I commented the subsequent line, “Never broke up with Normal because Normal avoided me my whole Life.”  Some back and forth proceeded including a quote that stated that normal pays the bills.  I then said this: 

“I am going to put my two cents in. I was born with a birth defect and did everything in my power to be normal. Any time my exceptional-ness showed I tried to hide it. For example I repeated a grade because I was given a chance to skip a grade. I skipped 8th grade, but did ninth grade twice, because I desperately wanted to be normal. In my early twenties I realized I was exceptional and would never be normal or average. Due to the way I was born I would always be different. I have been doing my best since I revel in that fact.”

Here is the point.  I struggled many times with trying to be like everyone else.  The catch is, for me it is unattainable.  I am different.  No matter how much I try that will never change.  I honestly do not feel I am better, I feel I am interesting and exceptional.  As a kid being different seemed like a curse.  I had to hide it or deny it.  I mentioned a missed opportunity in the piece I wrote in the comments for the picture.  When I was in fifth grade I was in a school that was not up to the rest of the country in scholastic standards.  I moved to Adak, Alaska that year.  I was so behind in my grade level.  For the next three school years I moved three more times.  Each time I was trying to get caught up.  In seventh grade I was in a private school.  Their Junior High program was not by grade but groups.  Group One was essentially Seventh Grade, Group Two was Eighth, and Group Three was Ninth Grade.  I skipped Group Two in my second year there.  Not only did I pass, I passed with mostly A’s.  I then transferred to Oxnard High.  I was given the opportunity to go into the Tenth Grade.  I decided not to I wanted to fit in not stand out, so I repeated Ninth Grade. 

The problem is I stood out anyway, 5’9” braces, glasses and awkward as hell, socially and physically.  I have since learned that normality is overrated.  High School for me was tough.  I came back from summer every year between the ages of 13 to 16 recuperating from some kind of surgical procedure. I was swollen and sore still in September and caught every illness.  What I failed to see was I am very smart, and though that may make me different I should never have hid it or been ashamed.  In my succeeding years since my teenaged years, I learned that normality is an illusion.  The closest thing to normality is being average.  Who wants to be that?  You want to exceed expectations.

What is normal?  Everyone is different.  Even Identical twins are not identical.  Physically maybe, but since they are each individuals they cannot be exactly the same.  The Nineties movie Angus tackled the attempt to be normal.  It showed that even those who seem normal, average or ordinary may not be.  Appearances can be and many times are deceiving.  For me it is unattainable, because I will always be different.  I wanted to change that for years.  My life got a great deal better when I realized that being different gave me more opportunities in seeing the world in new and exciting ways.

I used to get some interesting reactions over the years.  There were people who met me and realized I was someone unique and extraordinary.  I was always very hesitant to accept this praise.  Since my recent life changes, I am working on accepting this kind of praise.  I did not see the potential others saw in me.  I was involved in DeMolay, a Masonic sponsored youth group for young men.  I was groomed for leadership.  I did not see it.  I became it and I exceeded all my expectations and those of people who knew me.  Many of my friends, family and advisors were not surprised with what I accomplished.   

Normalcy is an illusion made by the average to discourage people from exceeding one’s station.  It is a herd or flock mentality.  Why be normal?  It is a form of mediocrity.  We should strive to be our best and accept no limits.  The weirdos, the strange, and the unique are our innovators, iconoclasts, our pioneers, and our legends. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rush & Me Part II

I know I already did a Rush and me article.  This one is going to be slightly different.  It is going to be my impressions of each Studio album that Rush has released in chronological order. I am also writing each write-up while listening to the album.  I thought this would help on the albums I am less familiar with.  Some I am less familiar with due to it having been a while since I heard them, others because I never listened to them that often.  My history with the band until the last album has been sporadic since Counterparts in 1993. I am also going to split this into two articles.  The first ten albums will be written up here, the last ten in another article.

Rush (1974)

This is their first album, but it is not the most familiar line-up.  This is the pre-Neil Peart version of the band.  The lyrics and drumming are not quite what Rush fans are used to.  This is not to say it is bad, it is not what we think of when listening to this band.  The stand out songs are: Finding My Way, Need Some Love, and Working Man.  It sounds more like a typical Hard Rock band from the late sixties and early seventies. It is not what would later become their hallmark sound.  It is solid and well played.

Fly By Night (1975)

This is the first album with Peart.  It starts with Anthem which throws the listener in to what would become their signature style, a tight rhythm section with melodic guitar work.  This also has Rivendell and By-Tor & the Snow Dog, both examples of the story songs involving fantasy element known in their earlier work.  It was also the first album that Neil Peart took on the lyric writing responsibilities.  By-Tor and the Snow Dog was the first long form musical piece with movements that the band did.  It is only over eight and a half minutes. That is smaller than future pieces with the same format.  So many firsts on this album that would become part of the band signature style even to this day.  The Notable Songs on this album are: Anthem; Beneath, Between & Behind; By-Tor & the Snow Dog; Fly by Night; and Rivendell. 

Caress of Steel (1975)

This album includes the first single album side long form musical piece.  In the days of vinyl albums, sides were around twenty plus minutes.  This also translated over to cassette tapes as well, although those could be made longer.  It is also the second album with the most famous line-up of the band.  Commercially this album was a disappointment.  It only had five songs, two of which were the long form.  The Necromancer, which clocked in at twelve and a half minutes, was the return of By-Tor and a tribute to Lord of the Rings.  The Fountain of Lamneth was the first of the side long, over twenty minutes, musical pieces by the band.  They only did this three times.  The Notable songs here are Bastille Day, Lakeside Park, The Necromancer, and The Fountain of Lamneth.

2112 (1976)

This is one of two albums many fans consider as Rush’s Masterpieces.  It has the most famous single side long form piece, 2112.  Basically these pieces are like a half concept albums.  This piece was about a future where religion rules and joy is lost.  A young man finds a guitar to try to help the masses and get rebuffed by the priests.  This piece is considered the best of these long form pieces.  The rest of the album is fun.  The notable songs are everything one of their flawless albums.  After the commercial failure of Caress of Steel, many would think the band would have acquiesced to the demands of their record label.  Instead they did 2112 as their last hurrah.  It turned out to be commercially successful.  Critically Rush has always had problems with Rock Critics.  The critics never understood them or their fans.  Because the musical piece, 2112, was loosely based on Ayn Rand’s Anthem, the band was labeled by the critics as right winger extremists.  To this day it is one of the two most popular albums by Rush.

A Farewell to Kings (1977)

As I am writing this I have been going back to listen to each album to reacquaint myself with Rush’s work.  This and Hemispheres were two I was sure did not have a many songs I enjoyed.  I was utterly wrong.  It has two long musical pieces both between ten and eleven minutes.  One is Xanadu which is inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem Kubla Khan.  The other is Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage, this is part of a two part musical piece the second part is found on the album Hemispheres which was released a year later. Book I is about an explorer entering Cygnus X-1, a black hole.  The big hit on this album is Closer to the Heart.  Closer is the first Rush song to included a lyrical co-writer from outside the band, Peter Talbot.  The other songs are A Farewell to Kings, Madrigal, and Cinderella Man.  It is a solid album.

Hemispheres (1978) 

This album starts with their third and last to date single side musical piece Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres.  The explorer from the first part finds himself in Olympus dealing with a struggle between Apollo and Dionysus over Mind over Heart.  It is a classical struggle of logic and emotion.  This album has the fewest number of songs, four.  Two of which are long form pieces.  Circumstance, is an autobiographical piece lyrically about Neil Peart’s time while living in England.  Then it is followed by The Trees, about Maples and Oaks in an argument as to who gets the best sunlight.  The final piece for the album is their first completely instrumental song La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence).  The song clocks in at just over nine and a half minutes.  Over all it is another solid album.

Permanent Waves (1980)

This is their first album released in the eighties.  It also is their walking away from long epic musical pieces.  This move lends to a more radio friendly and single laden album.  The album opens up with Spirit of the Radio, which includes some experimenting with reggae sounds and style.  The song is about the dichotomy between the commercialism and art with music and the music industry.  The next song is Freewill discussing the subject of Freewill and the downfalls of blind faith.  This album and their next, Moving Pictures, are a bridge between their older sound of the seventies and their later synthesizer heavy sound.  This also includes the last long form musical piece that is divided in movements, Natural Science.  After this the band kept most of their songs under seven minutes, until Clockwork Angels.  It is another solid album.

Moving Pictures (1981)

Many consider this the companion piece to 2112, in that it is one of Rush’s two Masterpiece albums.  Many of the album’s songs received serious radio play on Album Oriented Rock Radio Stations.  Moving Pictures began the trend of the progressively increasing use of Synthesizers.  The album opens with their timeless anthem, Tom Sawyer.  The song is about reconciling the various incarnations of ourselves, specifically the childhood and adulthood selves.  Red Barchetta is an exciting song about a dystopian future where some kinds of cars are illegal.  It is about a joy ride in one such vehicle.  The music gives you the sense of driving and accelerating.   The next song is an instrumental, YYZ.  Canadians pronounce it, YYZed.   The title is the airport code for Toronto’s major airport; the beginning rhythm is the Morse code for YYZ.  Limelight is about the disadvantages of fame.  Over all this is one of their flawless albums.  Warning this is also the album that started me on the Rush rabbit hole, so I have a huge soft spot for this album. 

Signals (1982)

This album is the beginning of the band’s foray into a synthesizer heavy sound that progressed for three more albums.  The album begins with Subdivisions speaking of the highly socially stratified life of being a high school kid in the 1980’s, especially in the suburban areas of North America.   This is an album I did not get till years after its release and it has only four songs that speak to me: Subdivisions, Analog Kid, Digital Man, and New World Man.  Analog Kid is about remembering the idyllic days of youth and being open to the wonders of life.  New World Man was about the various views of the world from an economic point of view. I am not saying this is a bad album, the songs are well written.  It just does not resonate with me like other albums.  It also is the last album the band did with producer, Terry Brown.  There was some conflict with the direction musically of the album. 

Grace Under Pressure (1984)

This was the third Rush album I owned, Moving Pictures being the first and 2112 the second.  This album is dark and moody with a rich amount of subject matter.  Distant Early Warning is about the fears and aftermath of a nuclear exchange.  In the mid 1980’s this was still a fear.  Afterimage is about being haunted by memories after the loss of a loved one.  Red Sector A gives allusions of the Holocaust and the horrors that entailed.    The Enemy Within discusses the inner sources of fear and darkness.  Body Electric is about robots and artificial intelligence.  This album has a lot of synthesizer work.  During this period the guitar work was mostly rhythm guitar.  Not as melodic as pervious albums, but included quite a bit of harmonic accents.  I enjoy this album, even though I prefer the less electronic sounds of the band.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Boys can be Idiots

The whole misogynistic attitude of a percentage of male comic book fans irritates me.  This all started with the recent incident involving Janelle Asselin and a T-shirt sold at Wondercon 2014.  Janelle Asselin, a comic book industry professional, wrote an article about her opinions of a cover of a comic book.  She gets rape threats, someone attempted to hack her bank account, and a site hosting an article about this whole mess was down for over three hours.

What in the name of the creator are people thinking?  Just because someone disagrees with you does not give you the right to assault them with words, threaten physical harm to them or their family, hack their bank accounts, or squelch their thoughts by hacking a site that contributes an article about their ordeal you created.  This all started because some fanboys got upset that a WOMAN threatened the possibility of them seeing underage drawn over-sized plastic breasts.  That was one of the points to Ms. Asselin’s critique of Teen Titans #1’s cover.  They questioned her qualifications and her history in the industry.  They accused her of having an Agenda and being a Feminist or Feminazi.  These trolls, ogres and troglodytes want to see drawn breasts of someone they are too old to look at in that way for it to be appropriate. 

The T-shirt sold at Wondercon that caused a stir, had printed on it, “I like my fangirls like I like my Coffee….I HATE Coffee!”  This spurred a debate about censorship, because one Pop Culture commentator asked Conventions to police this kind of garbage.  Someone misunderstood the meaning of censorship.  Censorship is when a governmental agency restricts speech not when private citizens, organizations of society at large.  The problem is we have people who think Free Speech includes freedom from consequences of what they say.

Let’s look at this situation; comic books were traditionally a male pursuit in the U.S.  In the late 1980’s to early 1990’s during the second Independent comics boom that started to change.  Back between 1999 and 2002, I was on the Warren Ellis Forums.  He was welcoming to ladies in comics both as fans and creators. He thought that the fanbase and what was published needed some serious widening. Through him, I and countless others were introduced to many female creators and a wonderful site from the female perspective called Sequential Tart. It has been almost 12 years since the forum closed. The audience has widened, but there is this misogynistic backlash towards the female fans and creators.

Most male comic books fans are portrayed as intimidated by females.  There is truth to some of it.  There is still a part of the comic book fan community that needs to mature emotionally.  Their reaction seems infantile to me.  This recent behavior is a continuation of a horrible trend, female Cosplayers being sexually harassed, female comics professionals getting rape threats by disgruntled fans, and then these incidents.  I do not care for the terms Fanboy or Fangirl when referring to grown men and women.  I wonder if this label makes some men think it is okay to behave like an utter idiot.  I do not know.  I do not want to brush this under the rug as boys will be boys.  That is due to the fact many of these morons are grown men.  They need to act like it. 

Now there are females that like the same thing as you.  Do not act like it is some private club that you have a right to say who belongs.  You do not.  This whole fake geek thing is utter garbage.  Who are we to judge others?  Comic book fandom has been judged by the mainstream harshly.  This only feeds into those stereotypes. It also does what others have done to the comic book fans.   Without this widened fanbase the comic book movies would not have been economically viable.

I personally do not care for coffee, but I love having Female fans around.  I prefer tea.  I like women and I have many as friends.  Many of them have geeky and nerdy interests.  I want them to have a great time at events without dealing with trolls, ogres or troglodytes.  Women broaden our perspective.  I want the comic books community to have a diverse perspective.  The perspective that is at the center of this problem is seriously myopic.

Women bring a voice that we have been missing, but this behavior discourages many of them from engaging with the Comic Book community.  Calling their Geek/ Nerd credentials into question does not help either.  If you would not behave that way with a male then do not with a female.  We need to show respect and civility in this Pop Culture arena, we all love.  If we did not love it, male and female, would not be inspired by it.  Also behave like these women are your mother, aunts, sisters, daughters, and other female family members.  

It is toxic, this attitude.  Toxicity like this does not help anyone. The only two Pop culture areas I see this kind of mentality are Comics and Video Games. I could be wrong. It saddens, irritates, angers, and frustrates me to no end this kind of small mindedness. I, myself, am not perfect. When I realize I am out of line, I stop rethink things, and then do my best to resolve the problem. Those of us who do not agree with these attitudes need to speak up and out. We need to make ourselves heard to the industry, the event organizers and other fans. I want to make our passion a safe place for ALL.  This has been My Not So Humble Opinion.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Weird Al & Me

I first encountered Weird Al Yankovic in 1981.  My family and I returned to Oxnard, California after a few years on family accompanied orders to Alaska and the Silicon Valley.  When returned I discover KMET, a rock station out of Los Angeles.  On Sundays they had the Dr. Demento Show.  That is when I first encountered Weird Al, with My Bologna and Another One rides the Bus.  I followed from the first album, released in 1983 on radio and with Dr. Demento.

Then as a 15 year old, I had a Mentor who had and played the second album In 3D constantly.  It was not till 1985 did I buy my first Weird Al album, Dare to be Stupid.  Soon after that I bought the other two as well.  This was all in cassette format.  I discovered the usual parodies, but also the style parodies.  These are original songs Al writes in the style of other acts.  The title track to Dare to be Stupid was one these.  It took various clichéd turns of phrase into a Devo styled song.  In Vh1’s Behind the Music about Al, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo was quoted saying the following about the song, "I was in shock. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. He sort of re-sculpted that song into something else and, umm ... I hate him for it, basically."  Al’s subject matter was all over the place in the terms of popular culture.

I was in University when he released Polka Party!  In many ways it was disappointing as was the following Even Worse.  Each had at least a few songs I enjoyed, over all I did not see the same spark as I saw in previous works.  I enjoyed Polka Party!  Its Polka medley and style parodies were more my speed.  Many of the parodies themselves did not seem to hit a chord for me.   Part of why I was disappointed with Even Worse all of the parodies were cover songs except for Fat.  The UHF soundtrack, I felt he was back in form.  It also had some commercial, film and television show parodies and spoofs.  In 1992 he followed that with Off the Deep End which also I thought was a home run.  The next year he put out Alapalooza, I felt it was solid, but nothing that really wowed me.  I felt the same way with Bad Hair Day.

1999’s Running with Scissors once again shocked me with its brilliance.  It’s All about the Pentiums, Pretty Fly for a Rabbi, Jerry Springer, The Saga Begins and Albuquerque were hitting it on all cylinders for me.  I missed out on Poodle Hat in 2003.  The only song I caught was Angry White Boy Polka which I loved.  That was also during a very hectic time in my life.  Straight Outta Lynwood and Alpocalypse again made me happy.  Even though I was getting to a point, where I had no clue about over half of the songs he was parodying. I was at that point pushing or over forty.  He still is able to capture the pulse of popular culture.

He put out Mandatory Fun in 2014.  Only one song was a parody of a song I was not familiar with. Only a third of the songs on the Polka medley were songs I had never heard. For a guy who does not have his finger on the pulse of today's Pop music, I thought it was good I knew more songs parodied than last album's parodies. Last album I only knew the original of one of the parodies. I only knew three songs on the Polka medley from Alpocalypse. Overall it is a well written and produced album. For all of my grammatically and linguistically proper friends, the parody of Blurred Lines called Word Crimes is an anthem for you.  His style parodies on this are also right on the money.

Overall I have fond memories about Weird Al and his music.  I love his artistry and sense of humor.  I still want to see him live.  I blew the chance in 2013.  I hope he will release another album in the near future and tour again.  Even if he doesn't, I have the memories he gave me from his recorded work.  This Has Been My Not So Humble Opinion.