Showing posts from August, 2017

Religion, Poems for Kids, and Choices

I really like this poem by Shel Silverstein. Sure, it is a children's poem, but Shel dives into some deep water here. In reading it, I am reminded of Rabbi Harold Kushner's insight into the Biblical Adam and Eve story.

According to the Christian narrative I had long heard, the story went something like this: Adam and Eve were created by God. They were perfect, without sin, and enjoyed life in the garden of Eden. Then, one day, a snake (Satan in disguise) came along and tempted Adam to eat an apple from the tree of "knowledge". God didn't want them to eat from this tree, however, Adam and Eve did so anyway. Humans had sinned, and everyone born on earth after that point was born into "sin", and thus needed saving from it  in the form of atonement (first in the form of sacrifices and later in the form of Jesus).

However, after reading some more about the Jewish tradition and it's take on the creation narrative, a few things became clear: 1) that the Je…

A Note on Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse is weird. This blue collar, rag tag tribe from the logging lands of the Pacific Northwest have manged to move from obscurity in the early 1990's to mainstream rock fame early in the 21st century.

The band is built steadily around two big pine trees: lead singer Issac Brock and bass player Jeremiah Green. Together, they explore sonic territory that few others have. Something about their sound is completely original. Immediately, you could tell is a song was penned by these guys in less than 10 seconds. It's hard to put a finger on what that uniqueness really is- is it a strung out guitar, a jumpy bass that seems unchained to the guitar chords? There's always something out of tune. Lots of space. Loud and quiet.

These songs are trying to climb to the stars, only to get up there to look below and document the human struggles on the ground. They meditate on the green, rainy,  hungover days. Brock's abstract lyrics often come to the forefront in these moments o…

Random Acts of Kindness, Higher Ground, and Stevie Wonder

I posted this in my room this year. I'm encouraging each student (I'm fortunate to have no more than 4 at a time) to "pick one" for the week. Why not? The longer I've been working in education, the more and more I've felt that building positivity and community is the 1st priority. Of course, I should adjust/made a modified version of this list for my life outside of school. I just haven't gotten to it yet.

I'll fully admit that I have a tendency towards cynicism and pessimism. However, it is little positive actions like those listed above that help push me out of those shells and out into the world of engagement, a world that stands on a higher ground. What's  happening on the higher ground? Everything is clearer. The regrets of the past and the anxieties of the future aren't weighing you down enough to drown out the present. Sounds good to me!

In Praise of Boxer Steve Cunningham

Although all eyes were turned to Connor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather late saturday night, one boxer from the evening made a particularly strong impression on me. And it wasn't either of the headliners. Instead, it was a Philidelphia, PA boxer who participated in one of the undercard matches. His name is Steve Cunningham.

Mr. Cunningham impressed me in the ring, even before I knew anything about his life. There was just something about the way this guy carried himself. Before I knew Cunningham is comic book nerd and artist. Before I knew he's boxed to raise money for his daughter, who needed a heart transplant in 2015. Before I knew he was a navy veteran who salutes each of the four corners of the ring after every match.

In watching his fight against TMT boxer Andrew Tabiti, I was impressed by his footwork, grace, agility, and dignity in the ring. Cunningham loves boxing, he says, and he's waiting for boxing to love him back. He's giving all he can.

In learning more abo…

Pod Dylan # 48: Things Have Changed

I was lucky enough to talk to the Freewheeling Rob Kelly on his podcast concerning all things Bob Dylan. The podcast is aptly named "Pod Dylan". Here, in episode 48, we discuss the song "Things Have Changed.

To listen to the episode, subscribe on iTunes or listen here.

You can check out my praise for Pod Dylan and some of my other favorite podcasts here.

Meanwhile, also feel free to check out my previous posts regarding "Things Have Changed" here and here.

Tender Mercies

Tender Mercies is a 1982 film that chronicles the redemption of a strung out country singer in Texas. There's an awkwardness that slowly is revealed as a quiet dignity in this film, as the landscape, a love story, and the past lives on the characters all collide. It's worth a watch if you don't mind something that slows down the world and zooms its lens in on a few lives that seek wholeness. 

This Train is Bound For Glory: Blood on the Tracks

Summer is fading, school is starting.

A change in the weather just might be extreme.

I think it's time to write about Blood on the Tracks.

We all know the drill: released in 1975, it's a breakup album, a largely acoustic affair with simple instrumentation, as the songs seek to paint stories from multiple perspectives (Bob was inspired by painting lessons and Russian short stories).

Apparently Bob was writing down these songs in a little red notebook, and first cut them in New York City. There, it was just Bobby and his guitar. This "version" of the album is worth seeking out, and sounds a bit more raw and unpolished than the so-called "second" version of the album that featured overdubs from Minnesota musicians.

That being said, you can toss out all the history here to the angry sea. No matter how you slice it, no matter which way the winds do blow, Blood on the Tracks represents the best collection of 10 songs Bob Dylan has ever released to the world. And…

On Guilty Pleasures

What is a guilty pleasure, exactly, and who gets to define what that is? I've long thought there is a certain degree of cultural snobbery involved in labeling, for the rest of us dummies, what constitutes a guilty pleasure. Case in point: Kid Rock.

I work with someone (who won't read this blog) who loves Kid Rock. This person elects to spend their time listening to, and enjoying the hell out of, Kid Rock. Kid Rock combined rap and metal and never stopped. Kid Rock is a rust belt icon. Kid Rock speaks to a certain segment of the culture that others choose not to engage. And his shows are affordable and so is the beer

Despite his attributes, Kid Rock is also an idiot who wants to run for U.S. Senate in Michigan. And his music leaves much to be desired, perhaps because of he represents the worst of rap, rock, modern southern/heartland rock, and the like. 
But who am I to decide what the best music is? And if I liked Kid Rock, would I consider it a "guilty pleasure"? I…

Heart & Soul, Failures and Ambition: Solange's A Seat at the Table

Let's get it out of the way. Solange is Beyonce's sister. But she ain't making the same music. Case in point: her 2016 album A Seat at the Table, which put the world on notice, and for good reason.

In A Seat at the Table Solange managed to convey truth in every song, line by line, with extended, booming bass lines drawing out her art to the far reaches of space.  She penned these songs with a eye for detail. Profound poetry is paired with layered, modern, and fresh sounding soul to create an album that occupies its own artistic space. While the keyboards, imaginative guitars, sharp drums, and deep layered bass punctuate the poetry to the max, it is Solange's voice that makes your soul feel like it's been soaking in a restorative hot spring. The album is an emotional trip, like a therapy session. It details mistakes, concerns, heartache, ambitions, future hopes-all of it. None of the songs are drawn out, either, but instead its a album that demands you listen to a s…

Shuffle: Reviewing 5 Random Songs

"Hello in There" by John Prine
John Prine: he's everybody's uncle who writes as mind bending, imaginative songs as anyone on the planet.  Prine is so easy going and conversational, even with his acoustic guitar, that the heaviness and depth of his lyrics creep up on you to powerful effect. His songs are like long drama films that finish in three minutes, and say plenty. Here, let his trusty, midwestern voice sit right next to you for a minute. His tales will stick with you even longer.

"Crawling Back to You" Tom Petty
Petty is solid, the PB&J of rock. He won't disappoint. He seems to get weird for a second with a flute in the beginning of this one, but eventually he settles into a tight, minor key groove that deals with emotional landscapes from California to Tuscon. For Petty, this song is a bit more sprawl that grit, and that is a-ok.

"Wild Ones" Flo Rida
Ah, the forgotten pop tunes from the summer of 2012. Obama and Romney were shaping up…

"Standin' on the Water, Castin' Your Bread"

What's considered to be Bob Dylan's best music video? The snowy, coffee fueled late-night short film that is the video for"Things Have Changed" is often cited as Bob's best. I can't seem to think of another Dylan music video that features two movie stars and a grade A film producer.

But my favorite? Nah.

I'll take "Jokerman" any day.

The video for 1983's mysterious, reggae inspired tune will send you to another world. It feels like a art student's senior thesis from the 80's. On multiple occasions, the camera oddly zooms in on faces of statues. At other points, primitive animations bring dull images and paintings to life. Like the song, the video is utterly alive, full of life and energy. Images of the historical giants of the 21st century- Muhammed Ali, JFK-flash across the screen and are scattered fairly evenly throughout the entire experience. 
"Jokerman" is a dream, a trick, a firm belief that reality is shallow and sl…

Jimmy Carter, Mavin Gaye, the 1970's & Today?

In the past, I reviewed my favorite songs of the 1970's. In fact, they weren't even my favorite. I just thought they were emblematic of the decade. While I did include a Marvin Gaye song in that mix, I really should've just talked about his 1971 album What's Going On.

What's Going On is a perfect, free flowing, jazz inspired and soul delivered document on the 1970's. Notice the lack of punctuation in the tile-Marvin is not asking what is happening, he is singing it to us. Much like the movie Taxi Driver, nothing really captures the hungover spirit of the 1970's more than this album. The idealism of the 1960's had faded, Vietnam veterans began to flock home, the world was first becoming aware of environmental problems, and the zeal for civil rights had faded into a mere exhausted breath.

The 1970's was a decade of moral stagnation and over indulgence. I think Jimmy Carter was absolutely right when he declared in 1976, to much public outcry, that the n…

Lookin' For That Soaring, Acoustic Chorus?

I'd never really listened to Josh Ritter much,but I've seen the guy live. While he didn't make a huge impression at the time, as I was anticipating the headline act Jason Isbell's performance, it seemed like Ritter had a few good songs in his back pocket. After a few listens, it's clear that "Girl in the War" is one of 'em. It's a steadily building tune that soars underneath a veneer of piano, xylophone, and a steadily plucked acoustic guitar. Lyrically, "Girl in the War" contains multiple Biblical references, and ultimately stresses a belief in the need for spiritual and moral flexibility when encountering those who are suffering. When there's a "girl in the war", even the religious (Peter and Paul) know that the "rules are the first to go". Ritter's hands sound tied here, but the power of the music and verse nearly bust everything loose thanks to the muscle of sheer moral determination. The soaring, uplifti…

The Best Bob Dylan Video on YouTube

It's still this one. . . the energy, the conviction, the fire that burns within. . .

Another Great One from John Moreland: "Gospel"

Johnny Moreland keeps out cranking out fantastic songs. He's got the rare combination of a class one voice, sharp songwriting skills, and a knack for melody. It all comes together beautifully in "Gospel", a song that details wishes and desires for the future, using the past as a template for exploration. 

If Street Legal was the Question, Bob Hopped on the Slow Train for the Answer

From the opening fade in at at the beginning Street Legal, a hazy and humid, hungover morning emerges. America's ragged hero meets us out in the fields, amidst flag banners and ancient pageantry. Bob Dylan is here, declaring that it's been "sixteen years. . . sixteen years".

Indeed, it had been a long sixteen years. Sixteen years since a young Robert Zimmerman put out his first self titled album out in 1962. By the late 1970's, Bob appeared worn, was divorced, and had been spit up and thrown around by the press and the public. He was looking for answers. They'd arrive a year later. However, the questions always come first.

The questions and turmoil that lie at the heart of 1978's Street Legal make their faces clearly shown on three important tracks: "Changing of the Guards", "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)", and "Where are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)".

The first track off of Street Legal, "Changing of the Gua…

With No End or Beginning: By Abe Orabi

Great music is like good conversation, it begins without beginning—as if you’ve been dropped smack-dab in the middle of an ongoing dialogue, having skipped all the boring niceties of “How are yous” and “Where ya’ froms.” It’s organic and fluid. When done properly, both music and conversation provide refuge from the dangers of normalcy. Fulfillment through sound, if you will.

Let’s briefly explore the uniqueness of songs that seemingly begin at their musical zenith and lack a finite ending; or what we’ll call, “Escher Songs,” in tribute to the artist M.C. Escher whose work explored notions of infinity and illusion. One of the best examples is Bob Dylan’s “Changing of the Guard,” a song which opens as if it began yesterday. When you first push play on Street Legal the rational assumption is that you’ve had the volume turned off. The second assumption is that there’s been a horrible production error and the first 20 seconds have been accidentally spliced out. Instead of introducing the …