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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Time Trippin to Music

We all have that one song that we immediately associate with the favorite times of our lives.  Or two songs.  Or better yet, that one year where we remember all the music we heard.

It was 1995 for me.  My family had FINALLY gotten cable six months before, and the wonders of MTV were finally made available to me.  I developed a weird habit of watching music videos on this channel.  All you young kids out there, that's what MTV used to be for.  And as much as it was about Biggie and Tupac, Wu-Tang, Nice -n- Smooth, Smif -n- Wessun, and L.O.N.S. , I developed a love for rock acts at the time: Hootie and the Blowfish, Blues Traveler, Green Day, Seven Mary Three, REM.

This week I got nostalgic and youtubed some older music. The videos are quite dated, and we look at some of it in the "I can't believe people wore that stuff on purpose" way, but I can't help but be brought back to my senior year of high school -- Edward R. Murrow in Brooklyn, where grunge, alternative and hip-hop kids somehow all got along.  I remember the clothes, the friends, the smells, even the bagel shop on Avenue M, right outside the train station.  I remember the security guards, the hangouts, and the countless hours lost to spades and dominoes.

And as the memories wash over me I realize one inescapable fact: I'm not 16 anymore.  Sigh.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lost In Expectation

Two years ago, one of the boldest, oddest, trippiest shows ever to grace a TV screen aired its final episode.  and as with the series itself, that episode was in and of itself one of the most polarizing events on television.  I'm talking, of course, about Lost.  There are people who get it, and many, many more people who don't.  My personal belief is that the show was a very bold social experiment about faith.

Lost, over six years, asks of its viewers an escalating suspension of disbelief.  48 people survive a plane crash on a desert island.  Sure.  But this island isn't quite so deserted.  Okay.  And the island is the home of some peculiar science experiments, including a doomsday EMP button. And the Other people on this island have a particular interest in a young boy.  Hmm, okay...  This Other group also don't want these people
to leave the Island, for fear of worse people coming to the Island, which has special healing properties if you are "worthy." So they move the Island.  And then there's time traveling.  And a visit to the afterlife.

Trying to explain the events of Lost is impossible without sounding like a blithering idiot.  It's kind of like trying to explain religion, ANY religion, to someone listening to only the words you say empirically.  Try, for instance, to listen to Catholic dogma with no emotional investment, just as words and as stories, and you'll get what I mean.  It's faith, attachment, that gives all of these events context and meaning, and the producers of the show very smartly presented the mystery and wonder of the Island and the castaways and asked us to do with it as we pleased.  Over time, faith was lost as some people I knew simply couldn't wrap their heads around it, or could no longer suspend disbelief.  Someone close to me referred to the show as an overly dramatic "Gilligan's Island."  But over time, people were rewarded with... whatever they were rewarded with as the show and its resolution meant something different to and touched something unique in everyone who watched it.  To me, it felt like a 118 hour movie, and by the middle of it, I realized that the movie wasn't about the Island, or the Others, or any of the insane and madcap stuff happening on it, but it was about the people.  These amazing adventurers that the show focused on, these wonderfully, ordinarily complex and flawed people that were placed in an over-the-top series of scenarios, and simply tried to cope.  These characters were people who were unable to be in the moment, to fully appreciate the mirales going on around them, the danger that they were in, and one the person who did, who could, seemed crazy for half
the show's run.  The more we found out about these people the more we rooted for them, rooted against them, believed in them.  Felt sadness when they died.  Felt joy in their successes.  One of my favorite moments in the show was when Jack revived Charlie after he was strung up from a tree.  I honestly pumped my fist and cheered.

Two years later I re-watched the show, beginning to end.  All the episodes I loved and hated.   I walked away, knowing from the beginning how it would end, with a sense that the creators of the show -- JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, et al -- crafted this brilliant, moving, wondrous exploration of faith and hope and wonder, of good and evil, of forgiveness and regret, and of destiny.  All of these are relatable themes as we all struggle to find our place in this world, regardless of age, race, ability, or situation.

To date, Lost is my favorite show of all time.  The only thing I found to be unbelievable was that there were THAT many impossibly attractive people on one flight.  I fly.  Regularly.  I've never been on a flight with one hot woman, much less with a hot fugitive chick, a hot pregnant chick, a hot rich chick and a hot Korean chick.  And what WAS the deal with that island...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

RIP Donna Summer

Yet another piece of my early childhood musical education has passed on.

Legendary disco queen Donna Summer has passed away, losing her battle with cancer.  She was 63.

Much of my family were young in the mid to late 70's, when disco was in its heyday, so it was far from uncommon to hear some of that stuff in the mid 80's in my house as my older siblings were "digging in the crates" for older records.  For all you younger folk, records are three generations before mp3s.  "Hot Stuff" and "Let's Dance" are two of my older brother's favorite songs... and I have his disco mix CD to prove it.

Ms. Summer was the picture of class, and the world is lesser for her loss.  Rest in Peace.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Writing Process

I very rarely ever talk about my process for writing.  It's a whole list of idiosyncrasies, superstition, learned habits (both good and bad), and copied habits from other, more effective writers I know.

Chief among them is the Playlist.  Everything I write since The Fab 5 (cheap plug) has had a soundtrack accompanying it.  And of course, by soundtrack, I mean collection of my favorite songs that are appropriate for the project.  The Fab 5 had a very heavy Notorious B.I.G. influence to it, to the point where the characters break into song on the bus.  The song they sing?  Juicy.

Punch-Drunk Bastards has a hip-hop/classic rock soundtrack with a few ballads for good measure.  For the fight portion of the story, songs that go along with it are by Busta Rhymes ("We Could Take It Outside"), Bamboleo ("El Bueno Soy Yo"), Jay-Z (Face/Off, several others), plus James Taylor ("Fire and Rain") and Tracy Chapman ("Give Me One Reason").  Certain songs fit certain parts of the book, almost like scoring a movie, and help me get through a scene and process it.

My new project-in-progress, Open, has a few more "love songs" in it, even though the book is darkly sexual.  Artists include the Beatles, Sade, Bill Withers, and Aretha Franklin.  Eclectic I know, but once you read it, it almost makes sense (Imagine "Come Together" at the kitchen scene, once you get to read it).  Anyway, from the Playlist comes the tone of the project, as well as the motivation to keep going, kind of like a workout.

I've also been notorious for going through notebooks like tissue paper.  Everything I've ever started to write, plus the original drafts of my first two novels, was written in a Marble Composition notebook.  Over the years I've accumulated quite a collection of those things.  Part of the reason NaNoWriMo was such a challenge for me is that it completely took me out of my normal routine for writing.  I loved it.

Anyhoo, that's enough ranting about my process for now.  Any writers out there with tips to share?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Is the Civil Rights Movement over? (short post)

Today, the state of North Carolina will pass a constitutional amendment strictly defining marriage as between a man and a woman, thereby banning gay marriage, and becoming the 30th state to do so.  I'm not gay, and I can  still see how this affects me directly.

We are regressing as a nation, folks.  We have gotten to the point where we are selectively disallowing certain American citizens certain rights.  We've been down this road before, in the Jim Crow-era South, and it didn't work out so well.  The law banning the practice of Islam, as short-sighted and asinine as it would be, is just around the corner should this come to pass.  After all, one of the reasons this is even a conversation is that "we're a Christian nation."

The collective xenophobia (fear of the unknown) of the powers-that-be are going to descend this nation into a very dark time.  The turbulent 60's, the movements of Dr. King and Malcolm X may have been in the short term about black Americans, but the bigger picture of what they fought for is that legislated injustice should not be allowed to stand.  The differences between us should not empower one individual over another, should not entitle one to basic human rights over another.

So I posit this thought; is the Civil Rights Movement over?  I mean, we got what we wanted out of it, and we even have a President in office to show for it.  Is this as far as it goes?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Role Model (repost)

Found this digging through some of my old writing.  It is surprisingly still relevant.

Who do you celebrate; the man or the athlete? 

Men (and women) are flawed, make mistakes and poor decisions, have to validate their choices, their very existence to themselves and loved ones. Athletes are these impossibly heroic superbeings, perfect in form and physique, whose talents and feats elevate them to a place of near godhood. 

Who do you celebrate? 

Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer the world has ever known. He is the elite athlete in a sport that traditionally shunned men and women like him. He is the most marketable name in the pantheon of marketable names. He is the epitome of what can happen if you work long and hard at a particular skill, of the success that can be attained through perseverance. He is a hero. 

Tiger Woods is a wealthy and powerful individual with a family, who, it has been revealed, acted as wealthy and powerful men do. He had mistresses. Several mistresses. Who acted like the mistresses of wealthy and powerful men do. They kept the secret until the secret came out. Tiger Woods betrayed his wife and children. He is the villain. 

Alex Rodriguez may go down as the greatest baseball player since George Herman Ruth. He admitted to cheating, to artificially enhancing his body for three years to boost his stats and make the people love him more. He is the ultimate douchebag. 

Alex Rodriguez is a father/was a husband. He admitted to cheating, many women on many road trips. He was divorced, taken to the cleaners, lost. He has found love again. He is the ultimate reclamation project. 

Derek Jeter is the face of the most popular and successful franchise in sports. He has numerous personal accolades, several world championships. Plays the game "the right way," and his peers have gone on record to say they would lose faith in the game, in sports, if it ever came out he was cheating the game. He is the ultimate idol. 

Derek Jeter is a wealthy young guy living in New York City. He has a vast multitude of women at his disposal, from entertainers to beauty queens. He is the ultimate player. 

The question is, who do we want our children to be like? The athlete or the man? Here's the kicker, the answer is none of the above. We wnt our children to be OUR heroes, live the lives we never could, be all that we could not be. Succeed where we failed. All in the name of wanting the best. 

So here's to all the children, our role models. And all the parents, our devoted fans.