Monday, September 28, 2009

Pygmalion Music Festival


College prepares a person for life in the real world. It’s that magical time that urges kids to forget about cliques and “popularity” in exchange for individuality and maturity. It’s an exciting transitional stage. But it’s not just about preparation for a full-time job. College should prepare the groundwork for a person’s musical world-view in addition to the professional. Remember the music you listened to in college? Of course you do. And more than likely, it’s the music you still listen to.

Horizons are expanded, minds are opened, new experiences abound; all those cliches. They all come true in college. The concept of “higher learning” isn’t just about gaining book-smarts. In addition to the intellectual, we usually increase our visceral knowledge during those four years after high school. And from there, become more attuned to higher art. This hints at the reason we have so many strong indie scenes in college towns.

Cities like Chicago, LA and Brooklyn are base stations for the country’s most creative outputs, but they don’t plant the creative seeds in young artists the way college towns do. Oftentimes, the artist who moves to a major city received artistic first-fruits in smaller scenes. Denton, Boulder, Bloomington, Chapel Hill and Champaign-Urbana are all big college towns that account for some of the best indie bands and labels in America. They’re regularly overlooked in art circles for the larger cities, but college towns deserve more praise than what they usually accrue.

This is why a festival like Pygmalion is so special. For four days, Champaign-Urbana gathers some of the best indie bands in the country along with their favorite local acts for a celebration of community art. Big names like Iron & Wine, The Books, Ra Ra Riot and RJD2 catch the sponsors’ attention, but hidden secrets like BLK JKS, The 1900s, Jookabox and Lymbyc Systym make the festival a little bit homier.

Nobody really goes to a college town in hopes of making a splash in their music scene, it’s always more organic than that. Whereas an artist takes his work to Chicago, LA and Brooklyn in hopes of making it big, an artist of Champaign-Urbana simply emerges out of a natural reaction to the environment. If the artist has the right mix of talent and sincerity, the community will support him. They’ll even place him on the same level as Iron and Wine, The Books, Ra Ra Riot and RJD2. Because great music isn’t about popularity.

In a college town, education is priority number one. This is not true of large cities. Culture is usually primary in the major metropolis. But where education is primary, culture is desired. As much as some parents may hope, there really is no such thing as immersible education. And the stronger the attempt at immersion, the greater the resistance will be. Apparently, the natural reaction to too much studying is rock and roll.

At Pygmalion, all the music venues in town open their doors to out-of-towners and locals alike. It doesn’t matter which venue you’ve decided to go to or when. Good music is everywhere.

It’s not just one style either. Denison Witmer allows listeners to sit on the floor as he quietly sings and strums his acoustic guitar. Japandroids actually get the people up front moshing (even though the singer reminds them, “A word of advice guys, when you mosh the girls all go that way” as he points outward with his arms). Skream provides UK-approved dubstep and the Hood Internet prove the mashup isn’t dead. There’s so much to choose from, just like college.

This was the fifth year of Pygmalion Festival, and each year it has increased in size and sponsors. This was the first year it actually sold out, and it probably won’t be any smaller in 2010. It’s a music festival for people who love music. It’s not uptight, and it’s not boring. It’s about fun. And this is the foundation for all music-lovers. To keep music tastes rich, the offerings must be diverse and unique. Don’t come to Pygmalion if you’re looking for scene points. You’ll be lost in a sea of music lovers, unwittingly preparing themselves for the rest of their musical lives.

originally published by Burnside Writers Collective: http://burnsidewriters.com/2009/09/28/pygmalion-music-festival/

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Best Dude: Mike Judge


I was going to just write a review of Extract, but I am such a huge admirer of Mike Judge that I might as well continue this "Best Dude" series. To which you might react, "the creator of Beavis and Butthead in the same ranks as the creator of Tom and Huck? Are you insane?" Oh dear reader, Mike Judge belongs there. Because, not unlike Twain, he draws us into mirrors only to show us our most unattractive selves. He is a satirist of the highest caliber, unmatched in our culture today.

His latest film, Extract, is not what anyone expects. It's not Office Space 2. Sure, there are plenty of stabs at the blue-collar hick demographic, but these are actually peripheries in Extract. The workplace stuff is really just there for a setting. What Judge is really getting at in the film is something much more delicate and personal.

But really, this shouldn't be surprising. Mike Judge's work is NEVER understood upon initial release. Critics and audiences alike are always looking for something that's not there. And when they don't find it, they try to write it off. Thus the nature of the beast that is satire. It will be misinterpreted, unappreciated and ignored.

What is satire though? Here's what our dictionary tells us:

sat·ire

1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

You'd think at this point, audiences and critics would be able to sit down for a Mike Judge movie with some preparation. He is a satirist! He has never been anything else. He is a writer, who holds human vices up for us to see, and he ridicules them. He is also a moralist (he discredits human vices). Some of his favorite vices have been ignorance (Idiocracy), laziness (Office Space), obstinateness (King of the Hill), and now with Extract he holds up for ridicule: infidelity.

A satirical examination of lust does not happen very often, because lust is often confused with "sexiness" in our culture. We try to forget that it's a vice. (I try to forget that it's a vice) Until Mike Judge comes along and says, "maybe you should hire a gigolo for your wife to have sex with so you won't feel guilty if you cheat on her".

Here's the other thing that great satire does, it goes for extreme exaggeration while always keeping one foot grounded in realism. Oh, if you didn't realize, that invented quote from Mike Judge is actually the plot device of Extract. And if you didn't realize, it's totally ridiculous.

But it's not too ridiculous, because husbands cheat on their wives every day. And, honestly, there's not a reason that isn't ridiculous when it comes down to it. Infidelity is a horrible vice, one that can never be understated. But Mike Judge exaggerates in Extract so that we might actually see how disgustingly familiar infidelity is for many Americans. If the film was about "work," it wasn't about the work you do at 9 to 5 jobs, it was about the work you do to in order to maintain a healthy marriage.

I don't think I've ever felt so convicted by a Mike Judge project before. As I gazed into a mirror with an aspect ratio of 16 : 9, Extract pointed out my folly.

I doubt Extract will join the cult-hit-club that Office Space and Idiocracy are members of, simply because of the state of our society. As long as our marriages have a 50/50 chance of survival, people won't want to look in the mirror that is Extract.

I have this negative feeling because it seems like a lot of people are trying to shut Mike Judge off. Two of his shows were canceled in the past year, the long lived masterpiece of television that was King of the Hill, and the short lived genius-work that was The Goode Family. Americans don't want to be shown what they're doing wrong anymore. We're not even open to the possibility of our misguidedness. We're not wrong, the government is. Or the media. Or somebody. But not me, I'm right.

The last episode of King of the Hill aired just a couple weeks ago. It was a very silly episode about Bobby's surprise hidden talent for meat inspection. Hank, being a proud propane (and propane accessories) salesman, was thrilled. Ever since the first episode, Hank would look at Bobby in shame and say, "the boy aint right". But in the last moment of the show, it didn't matter what father-son discrepancies may have developed over the course of the series. Hank and Bobby stood together, father and son, two men separated by a cultural gap that may never be bridged. But still they stood together.

It was a beautiful moment of the virtue of family. It wrapped the show up so perfectly, the satire not quite giving us the ideal ending, but leaving possibility for future follies. But at least momentarily, we saw what looked like open-mindedness and love. But it's now up to us. Because, really, if we don't demolish our vices, the government, media or church won't do it for us.

Mike Judge will not give us what we want. Because what we want is shallow, sexy, cheap, etc. etc. etc... But he does give us what we need. He gives us satire. And this is why he is the best dude.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Non-Controversial Regards to Controversy

I didn't write this, but it's about me. Kind of.

It was published today by the Burnside Writers Collective:

(original here: http://burnsidewriters.com/2009/09/25/watch-your-mother-mouth)

Watching Our Fucking Mouths
by Jordan Green

Some weeks ago, Dylan Peterson published a post on our old blog entitled “The Cost of Blasphemy (Priceless)”.

Dylan was new to our site. He is a talented writer who’s work has appeared in Killing the Buddha, Relevant, and his blog, which also features a piece on the “Top 10 Basketball Moves“. Dylan is the sort of writer we love, with courage and skill.

The writers invited to write for our blog have a high level of freedom. They were able to post whenever they liked (this is not the case any more, but solely because we want to be able to schedule our content, and edit more heavily for formatting and typos). I saw Dylan’s post a few hours after it had gone up, scanning it quickly. I flipped out a bit. I pulled the post as quickly as I could, and called John Pattison to discuss it.

The post was a comedic piece regarding Google Ads. Dylan was frustrated by the cheesy nature of the ads Google was assigning to his blog, and wondered how he could avoid links to sites offering Bible degrees. He figured posting a number of offensive phrases would do the trick, and listed them in order. After I read it more in depth, I better understood its point. It was a very funny post.

However, the post contained a number of words and jokes not usually associated with Christianity, as well as an image of a sculpture featuring a chorus line of naked Christs (from the film Clockwork Orange). If you are not easily offended, you can view that post here. Do not go there if you are bothered by such things.

Before I pulled the post, it received a considerable amount of feedback through comments and emails Dylan received directly. Here’s a sampling (all quotes sic’d):

“…a couple days ago, maybe a week, you wrote a post about adsense on your blog. and you said some other things. im just curious, whyd you say the things you did? out of comedy? or just because? or out of anger? venting? you post got deleted as well. why did it get deleted? its not something i would expect to be on bwc either. but what do i know.”

“I was just reading your blog post on Burnside Writers blog entitled Blasphemy and I thought it was hilarious. Did they take it off the side because it was too vulgar? I don’t think there was anything wrong with it because it was hilarious.”

“Umm . . . yeah. I think we need someone to start editing the blog. But maybe that’s just me.”
“This is the funniest blog I’ve read on Burnside for a while… and that’s saying something. I envy your humorous blog writing skills.”

And, from Dylan’s former pastor: Dylan, what’s going on with you, my old friend? These words don’t seem appropriate to who I know you to be. And they disturb the heart of a friend who feels attacked by their vitriole and passion.”
My guess is, we’d get these similar responses across the board: some who love it, others who are hesitant, and the rest who are flat offended.
I asked Dylan what he thought, and I think this summed it up nicely:
“I guess what’s really shocking is hearing a Christian reiterate stuff like that. When you become a Christian, you’re taught that you’re supposed to suppress those things that don’t attribute to your most holy appearance. I just don’t buy that. I think it sometimes takes the vile and discomforting powers of immorality to make the clearest point about real morality.

But more than anything, yes, it was trying to make people laugh.”
This post and its feedback raised a number of questions about Burnside and how we censor articles.

My guess is our editing is on the permissive end of the Christian media spectrum. In the past, we’ve freely allowed words like “damn,” “hell,” and “ass,” (though, to my knowledge, we’ve never allowed “hole” as a suffix). We’ve allowed the word “shit” on occasion. We have even, once or twice, published the contextual use of the f- and c-word when it was a direct quote and we felt its use was warranted. The latter two were never permitted in any comedic sense.

I doubt it’s surprising to say I, personally, have a liberal view of profanity. The Bible has a number of verses pertaining to language (many of which you can read about here). To me, though, these verses address what is being said as a whole, not individual words. The closest analogy might be sex. Sex is not a sin, but there are circumstances under which sex is a sin. Another might be the word “God,” which is beautiful and powerful, but becomes sin when not used for His glory.

–~~~~~~~~~~~~–

Some words (the f-word, for instance) are extremely difficult to contextualize.

A few years ago, a close friend was killed in Iraq. Many of his family and close friends attended Imago Dei with me. That same week, Rick McKinley, our pastor, had a friend who was shot and killed by his own son. On Sunday, he saw me in the foyer.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“Not so good. You?”

“Same.”

“The world is fucked up,” I said.

“Yeah, it is,” he replied.

It’s possible this was sin, but I didn’t feel convicted, even in church. Maybe my heart is hard, but it felt an appropriately strong word, a time where “messed up” and “fallen” did not convey the sadness I felt.

Many words, like “shit” and “ass” are far less innocuous, especially for post-Boomers.

For many of our readers, discussions of profanity preach to the choir. I’ll admit my own language can, on occasion, fall certainly on the wrong side of the line. The boundaries between my close friends, or old Army buddies, have been blurred over the years. I’ve made jokes in my private life I’d never post here. Partly, this is because Burnside is public: anyone from family to potential employers can look back through our archives…my gestating daughter will likely have access to what I’ve written decades from now. Mostly, though, it’s because there are things I’ve said I’m not proud of.

My guess is, I’m not alone. Especially when it comes to the readers of this site.

Further, when deciding Burnside’s policy on censorship and profanity, we have to remember potential advertisers. We have to remember we’ll be linked to from any number of more conservative sites. We have to remember children might stumble across our pages. Regardless of our personal beliefs on profanity, it’s simply considerate to remember these things, as well. At the same time, this is still our site, and we want to be honest about ourselves and our communication. We like pushing the boundaries of typical Christian media, of being able to say things and address topics other sites can’t.

I think that’s what the readers who supported Dylan’s post are hoping for: a different voice in Christian writing. They feel, as we often do, bound by legalism. On the other hand, if we don’t write wisely and with our faith at the forefront, we also run the risk of being bound by sin.

Beyond profanity, there will be writing on this site readers don’t agree with (Dan’s review of Mark Driscoll’s book sparked some of that). There will be times we are unwise, and rash, and hypocritical. There will be times we err on the side of permissiveness, and times we err on the side of legalism. We want to be as thoughtful and as measured and as wise as we can be in our writing, but I think we, as a site, would rather err on the side of unwise honesty than hold our tongues from fear of judgment.

This is the tightrope each of us toe on our Christian walk. It’s refreshing to remember we’re ultimately safe whether we fall one way or the other.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Best Dude: Mark Twain


There haven't been many great Americans. I certainly am not one. Chances are, you're even less of one (dear reader). But Mark Twain, as much as he would try to deny it, is one of the few Americans who actually got it right. He was great. The Best Dude.

It's easy to think, "oh yeah, Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer guy, humorist. Whatever." We learned about him when we were kids, and even then we were taught that he was a "great American". What most of our teachers get wrong though is why he is indeed a great American. It's not because he spoke out against racism in Huckleberry Finn or because he is now deemed the "father of American literature." Twain was great because he knew how full of shit both he and his country was. And he didn't shy away from that truth. He dealt with it regularly and hilariously.

I hate quotes. Whether it's a single Bible verse or the last line of a presidential speech, I can't stand seeing those little double-hooks at the front and back of the sentence. Of course, nobody satirized the wise quote-bearer better than Kirsten Dunst's awful character in Eternal Sunshine, but I'm going to try my best to outdo her here.

A quote may be found on a bumper sticker, a facebook or twitter update, on the lips of a self-righteous Christian hoping to embellish himself by passing the name "C. S. Lewis" through his teeth, and the crafty journalist looking for that on-the-record little bit of gold that will get his story on the cover. Quotes are like hefty shots of Jack Daniels. You get a big buzz right away, but you never experience all the flavor that comes in the patient, slow sips of Blue Label.

Quotes are horrible. But, there are two instances in which you'll hear me making use of them. First is The Big Lebowski. And again, this is not as simple as it sounds. It's not just because Lebowski is "quotable" that I quote it. Ignorantly quoting things without an appropriate context is what the film is about. The Dude is often taking others' words and using them for his own (attempted) self-aggrandizement.

"In the parlance of our times"

"This will not stand, man"

"I got a rash, man"

"Sometimes you eat the bar, and uh..."

Every time The Dude quotes, he has no idea what he is talking about. But he knows that it sounds a little bit smarter when he does. The Coen Brothers are making commentary about the intellect of the common man in their film. It's not just a stoner comedy. They're showing us something about ourselves, and we're oftentimes too stupid to realize how much they're making fun of us.

So when we quote Lebowski, it should be realized how we're bringing ourselves all the way down to the idiocy of The Dude and Walter. But I quote from the film because I support the Coens' satire. I'm going to play their game. (But I've read the rules beforehand.)

The only other time I'll quote is when it came from the pen or mouth of Mark Twain. Twain did what the Coens pulled off so brilliantly in The Big Lebowski, only he did it first, and even better. What it required of him was an astute awareness of his own arrogance and insecurity. He was well aware of the immediate power of the quote, and so often used it for his own humor. This quote sums it up better than what I could ever write myself:

"It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with confidence, stands a good chance to deceive."

Right there, Twain shows us that you can never be sure of a quote. It's a brilliant idea about the battles between truth and fact, mystery and fiction. He has the ability to take topics that philosophers and professors have written hundreds of pages about and boil them down into single sentences.

And that leads me to my next point as to why Mark Twain is the best dude: his writing is incomparable.

We all learn from English teachers and The Elements of Style that we must cut out all the fat. Avoid flowery language. But nobody makes or breaks this rule better than Twain. Twain is so good, so smart, he's able to take theological and political issues that have plagued the world for all of history and make an inspired, funny, thoughtful statement in less than a hundred words.

And yet, he can get unsavorably flowery in his writing. But always with complete awareness of his own bullshit.

Sometimes, the man who is heralded the "Father of ..." anything, has earned that title. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if Mark Twain has any living children in American literature today.

But his life lasted longer than it should have. The pain and suffering that the man endured cruised well past existential dread and depression. He endured a life so miserable that we haven't yet given it medical definitions. And yet he endured. This, dear friends, is why I believe Mark Twain is the best dude.

And he didn't just grin and bear life. That would have been weak. Twain didn't grin when he woke up the next day. He looked around at his country, the Christians, his own self, and frowned a great mustached frown. And then took up his pen.

His weapon was humor. And it kept him alive for 75 years. What he maintained was cynicism. He didn't buy into that idea that cynicism was a youthful endeavor. He held onto it until the end. Cynicism led to satire and humor, and the most enjoyable adventures ever encountered in any work of fiction (American or otherwise).

He didn't take things lightly, but he brought a sort of light into the hearts of many troubled souls. A common hero even to this day, it would be a perfect time for Americans to open up some of their dusty, old Mark Twain books again for a little communal wisdom. After all...

"The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession."

"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."

"We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess, than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess."

"The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them."

"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read."

-Mark Twain

Best Dude.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Christian Pumpkins

Some Christian parents do not believe that Halloween is an appropriate holiday for their kids to participate in. Instead of celebrating "Halloween," many Christian families opt for "Fall Festivals" (which usually include reinterpretations of typical Halloween activities). If you want to avoid every appearance of evil during the month of October, but still want your kids to have fun with pumpkins, it's totally possible.

    Jesus-O-Lanterns

  1. The scary and sinister look of a jack-o-lantern does not usually admonish the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, if you get an appropriate stencil you can create a Jesus-O-Lantern. This craft will require the help of adults, but the end result will be much more God-honoring than a gruesome face would be. The Son of Man on a pumpkin should not beckon any demonic forces onto your front porch.
  2. Pumpkin Soteriology

  3. If you can't find a stencil of Jesus, you can still put a holy spin on pumpkin carving. First off, make the face smiley. What will really make this craft Christian-themed is the story that will go along with the carving process.
    Talk about the pumpkin as a metaphor for a human being. Explain that there are all sorts of yucky things on the inside (just like sin). As you pull out the innards, talk about how Jesus does the same thing for our soul when he is accepted as Lord and Savior (washing the soul clean of sin). Now put a candle into the pumpkin, this represents the light of Jesus that resides within every Christian. Of course, the pumpkin should be smiling now!
  4. Pumpkin Patch Fun

  5. Pumpkin patches are fun for families, but are also perfect date spots for Christian teens. The end result of a trip to a pumpkin patch does not have to be a satanic looking jack-o-lantern. The simple fun of a hayride and picking out a pretty pumpkin will be an adequate way to celebrate the fall season. When you come home with your new pumpkin, you can either use it to make pumpkin pie or you can paint it (just be sensitive to the Spirit's leading as to how you should decorate the pumpkin).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport


Release Date: October 12, 2009

I don't use the word "fuck" very often. My mouth is very clean. It's a good practice for radio men to watch their language regardless of the situation they're in. You never want to accidentally slip a "fuck" into the middle of a live broadcast. You'd get fired. So I have a habit of using FCC-approved words at all times (I enjoy the occasional "son-of-a-bitch" and "damn it" after hours though). But on account of me not really being a radio man anymore, and after hearing this incredible new leak, Tarot Sport, you're probably going to start hearing the word "fuck" come out of my mouth a lot more often.

The first album by Fuck Buttons, Street Horrrsing, was, if nothing more, an appealing piece of work. It was typical experimental noise rock, but with a refreshingly accessible twist. The noise broke into bouts of unassuming melody, and even kept some of its rhythms relatively straightforward. But it was an album that we could only give a curious look towards. There wasn't much to do with the music.

Seeing Fuck Buttons live brought them down a few notches even. Two guys twisting knobs, distorting themselves screaming into toy microphones. The only thing an audience could really do is stare at them like they were a temporary exhibit in a modern art museum. Fingers tapping chins, occasionally turning to the friend at the side to say something like, "the deconstruction of contemporary pop music has pushed artists to lengths such as these, but much of the joy that was essential to the rock and roll of the 50s' feels lost in these concepts" or some goofy art school kid thing like that.

It's a whole new game with Tarot Sport. The distorted voices are completely gone, there's more rhythm than ever and the melodies shimmer up front. This time, we know exactly what to do with Fuck Buttons:

Dance.

The album will bring other great 2009 albums to mind, Dan Deacon's Bromst and Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion specifically. It is heavily electronic, with a mood that is primal and humanistic.

At just under an hour, seven tracks make up what may be the best album released this fall. And yeah, I'm gonna go there. This is totally a fall album. It doesn't sound like the fun and sun of summertime, it's more ominous and tense. It's playing around with the gloom that is yet to come. After all, isn't that what you do when you play a tarot sport?

But fall is the most beautiful season of the year, so likewise, this album parallels that sentiment. This album is for red and orange leaves, falling before your eyes on an afternoon walk. It's lovely and happy. It's not poppy, but it goes right for your emotions.

As for what this music will do in a live setting, I can't imagine anybody being able to ground their feet in a single spot for too long by the time Flight of the Feathered Serpent comes on. Instead of putting on an awkward art rock show, these guys are going to make the party jump the fuck up. Fuck Buttons, fuck yeah.

"Fuck."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Sufjan Stevens - The BQE


Release Date: October 20, 2009

The best part of Sufjan Stevens isn't his concepts, nor is it his remarkable ability to craft rich melodies with awkward instrumentation and odd rhythms (and it's definitely not his Christianity). What really makes this guy great is his integrity. I know, what a horrible word. Wielded by self-righteous taskmasters for centuries, the concept of integrity has been beaten down so far from its base that its strength is all but lost in the present age. But Sufjan ignores that. It's easy to ignore cynicism when you're a man or woman of integrity.

Sufjan Stevens is still the poster-boy for indie rock, and for all of the right reasons. He's still working when he wants, how he wants. Don't be surprised if we never get another state album ever again. Sufjan's inspiration seems to come in massive waves. His ambitions are so enormous, that even when all of the editing and overtime put in results in a failure, it's the best sounding failure imaginable.

The BQE is yet another project overrun with indie ambition. It's far from his best work, and it's not even his best instrumental album (that belongs to Enjoy Your Rabbit). But The BQE is a marvelous stab at modern classical music. Sufjan hinted at it on the Dark Was the Night compilation with a cover of Castenets' You Are the Blood. His fingers ran across the keys like Franz Liszt, and the fuzz and crackle that was heard on Enjoy Your Rabbit returned to Sufjan's arsenal for a massively ambitious single track.

There are times that The BQE sounds like its ripping off George Gershwin (not saying that's a bad thing), and other moments that are only tolerable in the realm of indie rock (Movement IV: Traffic Shock). By the end, the music doesn't quite satisfy the way his previous albums did. Perhaps this is why Sufjan has visual accompaniments in his live performance of The BQE.

But I'm okay with it. If Sufjan Stevens wants to try his hand at modern classical, he should. He was always too big for the world of indie rock anyway. He was a god in indie rock, whereas his reputation in the classical world is dwarfed by the likes of John Adams, Philip Glass and Glenn Branca. He's no longer a big fish in a little pond with The BQE, and it sounds like it.

It's wonderful to hear Sufjan Stevens in the context of classical music, because he suddenly doesn't sound so over-ambitious. The ocean of classical music is huge. It is the history of music that Sufjan is entering with The BQE. Whether or not he'll drown will be determined over the next few years. But what a great step, to leave the snark and pretentious slums of indie rock for black tuxedos and opera houses. When it comes down to it, he's still ridiculously talented, and will only grow from here.

The BQE is cinematic. It needs images to accompany it. So my hope for the next Sufjan project? A film score. He can easily pull off a Carter Burwell/Randy Newman combo if he wanted to.

But we'll never know what's next. That's what it really means when a person has integrity. To be incorruptible, honest; integrity refuses slavery. And Sufjan is a free artist. If he makes another state album, great. But don't count on it. All we can count on from Sufjan Stevens is an inspired work of art. And that's always something to look forward to.

I Love Kanye West


"I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased."
-Notes from Underground

As America's hate continues to simmer for our one last hope for rock and roll, I have to take a moment to express the great privilege it is to have a man like Kanye West at the helm of our popular music culture. He just might be the only true rock star alive today, and our reality-TV saturated media can never understand why. But we need Kanye. We've needed men like him for all times.

First off, let's gather a few of Kanye's finest moments:

"George Bush doesn't care about black people."

"Jesus walks with me"

“Fuck dis! (My video) cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it, I was jumping across canyons and shit.”

"I'm definitely in the history books already."

"I don't want to hear all of that politically correct stuff."

And most recently, Kanye dissed Taylor Swift on the stage of the VMAs directly to her face.

Ok, now that's just a morsel of the nonsense that has come out of Kanye West over the years. He's as arrogant as they come, and nobody should feel good about those things that he says. But our culture needs this man not because he's a role model, but because he is a rebel. He does his own thing, and doesn't care if somebody doesn't like it.

Kanye West must be appreciated in the context of rock and roll history. This art form was NEVER supposed to be about politeness and "class." It was ALWAYS about rebellion and controversy. And Kanye might be the only artist keeping it alive today.

But here's the other great thing about Kanye: he is honest. And that's it. So honest, in fact, that he will admit that he cares about status and fashion more than humility.

Isn't it easy to sound humble though? Seriously, anybody can sound humble. We all know what humility is. Kanye knows what humility is, but he also knows what art and hip hop is... NOT HUMBLE!

Granted, we should not try to be like Kanye. Society does not function when it is composed entirely of rock stars. But it always needs a few rebels to keep the pots stirred.

Possibly the greatest writer of all time, Fyodor Dostoevsky, regularly created characters who were despicable. He would even make them his protagonists. These anti-heroes were thoroughly relatable characters though. With every disgusting word or action, deep down we're nodding in agreement. Kanye is not unlike one of Dostoevsky's anti-heroes. As we experience the things he does and says, we think he's crazy and awful. But, there's something inside of us that kind of wants him to do it again...

Kanye is like Charles Barkley in the 90s ("I am not a role model."). Or Michael Jordan or Lebron James in 2009. The reason we should appreciate Kanye West is because he is bold enough to be a real-life existential hero. He is not a pleasant man, nor should he be. He is our shadow, our dark side that we never show to the world. I don't know about him personally, but a society needs that psychological release on occasion. Don't crucify him for the service he is providing you.

"Nor is there any embarrassment in the fact that we're ridiculous, isn't it true? For it's actually so, we are ridiculous, light-minded, with bad habits, we're bored, we don't know how to look, how to understand, we're all like that, all, you, and I, and they! Now, you're not offended when I tell you to your face that you're ridiculous? And if so, aren't you material? You know, in my opinion it's sometimes even good to be ridiculous, if not better: we can the sooner forgive each other, the sooner humble ourselves; we can't understand everything at once, we cant start right out with perfection! To acheive perfection, one must first begin by not understanding many things! And if we understand too quickly, we may not understand well. This I tell you, you, who have already been able to understand... and not understand... so much. I'm not afraid for you now."
-The Idiot

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Lie!

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." Yeah, but sometimes I think it might be nice to knock a few walls out and create a duplex out of this shit-hole ranchhouse.

Let's have a look at our country, shall we?

Politics/entertainment.

Or.

Entertainment/politics.

Republicans hate abortion and homosexual marriage. Liberals hate George W Bush. But they all love American Idol, America's Got Talent, and reality television. Thesis: this country doesn't know the difference between entertainment and politics. It's all just a big popularity contest in America. This is why we exist, to be the best and to be right.

Right now in America, Obama is popular. So is 'So You Think You Can Dance'. But I believe that more people follow the latter than they do our President.

Every now and then, somebody tries to talk to me about health care or something. I instantly throw my hands over my face and wail like a banshee. Because here comes some contemporary American trying to tell me that they care about an "issue."

Bull.

Shit.

I don't know ANYBODY in this country who cares about an "issue". Myself included. All people really care about is being accepted and safe. That's it. That's the herd mentality and that's why we are the way we are. We only care about an "issue" insomuch as our support of it will indicate a relation to a larger group of self-congratulaters and choir preachers. We're Christians because we then have the church. We're political because we can then associate with a political party. We like the music and movies we like because our friends like it too.

And now even you, dear reader, are trying to tell yourself that you do care about "issues". You're getting ready to scroll down to the bottom of this post to comment and tell me just how naive and ignorant I am. You're working the words out in your head already. Oh boy are you going to tell me what's up!

Save your time. We both know all too well what a sham this country is. I don't care if you're patriotic or anarchistic, if you honestly think that politics are anything more than popularity contests, you're deranged. Politicians are not looking out for you and me, they're looking out for themselves. They're humans! They have the herd mentality too. So don't give me that. Don't even try.

So let's have a look at health care again. A man screams out at our president, disrespectfully! Oh for shame!

......

Oh wait, I thought I was about to talk about health care...

Nope. We don't care about health care. We care about sensation. That's why that outburst was the top story on the news today. That's why the guy shouted it. We're a culture in need of sensational media. If it's not sensational, we won't feel it. We don't want a kiss on the back of the hand, we want a dirty sanchez from a retarded midget.

If I want to understand things I have to view them in contrast. If I'm in a dark room, I search for a light. If a light is blinding me, I shield my eyes. So here's the question we have to ask right now: why are we bent on sensationalism?

I think the answer is obvious. I think we're numb. That is the pendulum swing. The only reason one would need a sensational force is because he is completely lacking a healthy sense of touch. One shouldn't need to resort to heroin, pornography or drunkenness in order to simply feel something. But that's basically America today (not literally, but the culture is all about BIG stories and WOW factors). We're out of touch with reality and ourselves. Our Christians think they're saved because they repeat phrases verbatim. Our politicians think they represent the common people and go on late night talk shows to say so. Our artists are paid millions of dollars to give people what they think they want, but never what they need.

Short answer: There isn't anything good about the history of this country. It was founded on ignorance, murder and racism. America is currently like a psychologically repressed person who won't admit that he killed his little sister's cat when they were in grade school. "Oh, that cat would be dead by now anyway, you're 40 for christsake! Stop crying!"

But I know what you're thinking, and you're right, we have come a long way. We have a black president. The Indians have casinos. Mexicans have carts. We're getting better as time goes on.

But still, we're numb. We need sensation in order to feel anything. Honestly, we wouldn't even talk about the health care speech if that guy hadn't made the sensational outburst.

(And you thought you cared about issues...)

Obama does lie. So do I. So does every single person in this world. If you don't lie, you're not a human being.

Here's what has to happen:

We need to stop arguing. Leave that stuff at the playground.

We need to lower our voices. Let children handle the random outbursts, they do a great job.

We need to have a glass of wine instead of getting wasted on beer.

I need to stop preaching.

And.

I need to move out of this country someday. It's a ridiculous place. But don't worry, it'll always be home (ugh). And I don't think anything will dethrone Chicago as the greatest city in the world (at least not in my mind).

The irony, of course, is that I'm on the internet right now. Because when I ask myself why we're numb, I don't have to turn my head or leave my seat. Here it is. This is the problem folks, just what you're doing at this very moment. You're on the internet, living in the digital age. This is the country's Novocaine. There is information to be had here, but the sources are never trustworthy. It's not a book, you see. But you're getting your answers here anyway.

(counted to ten... breathe...)

Sorry for the rant. This whole post was a *forehead smack*. Then again, so is this country. (forehead smack)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

As For Film: Inglourious Basterds


Next month, I'll probably be at the theater at least once a week. With Autumn comes the best movies of the year, and it's about damn time because this year has sucked so far. But it hasn't been all bad. In fact, there were some really good movies that were released over the course of the first 8 months of 2009. And even one great film.

Quentin Tarantino has a knack for making movies so stylish that you want to puke after ingesting half an hour of all-too-clever dialogue and bad-ass caricatures. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction put him in a genre unto himself, and he's already achieved legendary status as a modern filmmaker. But when you actually took his previous films for face value, there wasn't much there. It's hard to get past the stylishness. He always seemed to be more concerned with making something look cool than actually saying something of substance. And it only got worse with each film.

Kill Bill's revenge theme was barely satisfying for the bloodlusters, and Death Proof a little less so. But Inglorious Basterds does something Tarantino hasn't pulled off before. It makes you think. It challenges your morals and asks you to hate. It's not just a tale of revenge, it's outright human vice. You felt good at the end of Kill Bill and Death Proof, but that's because those films were about revenge. Inglourious Basterds isn't merely about revenge, so the ending doesn't make you want to cheer. This time around, he pulled off something a little more ambiguous.

Okay, I know all of this sounds like gushing. But I am not a QT fanboy. I've never really liked his movies that much actually. But his formula has finally clicked this time around. It's not just Mtv generation homage to exploitation films anymore, his patented style and talent has finally created an entirely unique thumbprint on the film world.

I saw Inglourious Basterds a few weeks ago, but I've been digesting it ever since. In the theater, it was one of the funnest movie-watching experiences I've ever had. The tension is built so masterfully through Tarantino's dialogue (the bar scene in particular is absolute genius). But the real thrill of Inglourious Basterds isn't the renegade troupe that the film takes its title from, but our sinister antagonist. Christoph Waltz deserves an Oscar nomination for his role as Col. Hans Landa. He speaks four different languages, each with a pensive charisma. The character may be Tarantino's best; complex isn't a strong of word to describe Landa's domineering performance. He receives the most screen time, and for good reason. This villain is hated, but undoubtedly respected. He's awesome.

I saw District 9 a few days later, because I heard that it was the best action movie of the summer. It was good. But it really didn't come close to Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino is able to do this funny thing: even if you really have to go to the bathroom and you've already been holding it for an hour and a half, you gladly sacrifice the health of your bladder for however long it will take for the suspense level to drop. The only break I got was a few seconds at five different points of the film, when it showed the name of the chapter. Everything else had me on the edge of my seat (and it wasn't just because I had to go to the bathroom either). It was so much fun to watch, I had no idea how deep in thought I'd be afterwards.

First, think about the role reversals. Vicious murderous Jews, killing Nazis. I guess that's the obvious one, but it's an interesting ethics story nevetheless. But what's most interesting about Inglourious Basterds is its self-awareness. It knows that it's a movie. Tarantino couldn't get away with the film's distressing statements if it wasn't, in fact, a movie.

Inglourious Basterds is about the power of film. And this is where Tarantino gets meta. For it is film that draws the Nazis into the theater to be massacred, and film is what makes it possible for us (the real audience) to see Adolf Hitler's face get loaded with bullets. It's a propaganda film for film itself.

The violence isn't as bad as you'd expect, and Brad Pitt is awesome (it should now be clear that if he's not doing a comedic role, he just shouldn't act). I'm happy to report that this is Tarantino's best work yet. If you're not generally a fan, this one might change your mind. Forget the ahistoric fantasies and controversial themes, this is a film for film-lovers. Tarantino really loves film, and his latest is definitive proof.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

31st Annual Chicago Jazz Festival


The Chicago Jazz Festival still has two more days to go, but I must talk now about a set I caught this afternoon. They call it The Trio. Cutting edge, experimental free jazz multi-instrumentalists Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell soundly blew my mind only a few hours ago.

I know I'm showing my age here, but their music sort of reminded me of Animal Collective. I'm sorry, I'm such an ignorant prick when it comes to jazz. Sure I dig Miles, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, but I'm primarily an indie rock guy. So when I say that a live show even comes close to Animal Collective, it's high praise.

Abrams stuck to the keys. Mitchell squealed, squeaked and squawked on the saxophone. Lewis rocked the trombone and laptop. Oh, yes, you heard that last part correctly. These old jazz men incorporated digital samples into their music. Discomforting crunches, whirling fuzz and tweeting birds occasionally joined the disarray of tinny plinks and breathy horns. It was magnificently unique.

The best part is that I can't find this music anywhere online. Oh, this is surely the joy of jazz music! The improvisational experience these men gave us today was one-time-only. I'll never hear it again.

See why I have to write about this now? I was affected by jazz music, dear readers. Jazz.

Jaclyn and I brought a bottle of wine and a blanket last year for Ornette, it was our first trip to the Jazz Fest. It is absolutely the most enjoyable music fest that Grant Park hosts all year. Nobody is stumbling around drunk. It's just a bunch of music lovers, loving music. It's like heaven.

There are three types of people at the Jazz Fest: really cool old black dudes who wear sharp suits just because they're listening to jazz, elderly white people who probably keep NPR alive with their social security, and if anyone is younger than 60, they're just plain dorks. Unfortunately (and I really do mean unfortunately), I cannot fit within either of the first two demographics. By default, I am a dork.

But when music can be so daring, so interesting and so different, I don't care how dorky I look when I'm bobbing my head to a synthesized, reverb-drenched trombone solo. I mean, Lewis was using devices up there that I had never seen before. They made their instruments sound like computers, and their computers sounded like natural found objects.

I'll probably go back tomorrow. I don't know if I'll have the sort of experience that I had tonight, but maybe I can find an album by The Trio and put a few tracks into my lala player.

Listen to jazz, dear readers. It'll do your mind some good.

EDIT:

I hadn't looked very hard... Bonus for the blog followers I guess! I found some music by The Trio on lala. An eleven minute track called Bound is currently at the top of my player on the right. It's from the album Streaming. It's a quiet one, but it's excellent.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Uniqueness: A Lie and That Which is Undeniable

I know I just said that I was going to start writing every day in this blog, and here I am a week and a half later with a new post. Any rebuke you wish to offer is warranted, but I hope you can still listen to my story. Dear readers, you haven't seen a new post from me because I have been on a Vision Quest.

Now I know that I'm a little old for such an activity. I went through puberty over a decade ago. But I never found out what my Guardian animal is. How can I attain good medicine if I never learn how to deflect bad medicine? So last week, I left the city and rode my bicycle to Wisconsin. I brought nothing with me but the clothes I was wearing, a pencil and a notepad.

I rode through the night before I pulled over to rest. The road I was on was lightly traveled, so I was able to get a few hours of sleep in before the sun called me back to my quest. I was not yet in thick forest, and hadn't yet seen a real animal, let alone a spirit animal.

The first thing I learned on this trip was to obliterate my anxiousness. As I pedaled, I imagined what my Guardian animal might be. My first hope was for a dinosaur. I used to pretend that I was a Tyrannosaurus all the time when I was a little boy. I snarled and lunged around like a terrifying carnivore. Surely it would make sense if my Guardian animal was that very same spirit that inhabited me as a child. But it would not be the case.

I imagined many vicious beasts as I pedaled. Wildcats, bears, wolves, monstrous reptiles and birds of prey. I wanted my Guardian animal to be a killer.

If not a killer, I hoped for something unique. A giraffe, or shark. A mythical beast like a griffin or dragon. I hoped that my own uniqueness might imply a unique Guardian animal. How cool would it be to tell the medicine man that you saw a creature with seven heads and feathers of colors unseen to the human eye? I wanted my animal to be special.

As I entered into what would be the thickest forest in the universe, these self-centered desires began to reveal themselves to me. By the end of the second day, I had left my bike and set to foot. I saw many birds and squirrels, animals I regularly see in the city. But after a few hours, a beautiful deer crossed my path. I stopped and stared at the doe. It was not scared of me. It gently grazed and went about its business. I began to imagine that it wasn't scared of me because I was becoming more in touch with the spirit world. I couldn't get out of myself. I was so deep in my own existence that I missed the spirit of the deer. All I saw was a physical creature, something that didn't understand my selfishness nor my desires. I was pretending to be holy.

And as soon as it passed, I began to feel disappointed. Nothing special had actually happened just then. I simply saw a deer in the forest, it was nothing special at all. I wondered why I was in the forest, without food, so far from home. This adventure had suddenly struck me as dangerous. But I had no cell phone, and I couldn't find help from another human anywhere in this forest.

It was getting dark, and I was getting scared. What was I doing here? I'm not a Native American. I don't even believe in this stuff. I just appreciate the cultural significance of the Vision Quest, I shouldn't actually embark on one myself. Who was I kidding?

And yet, there I was. I had brought myself all the way out into the wilderness, a modern man with dyed hair and New Balances . What a sham. If there was a spirit world, I was its laughing stock.

That night, I slept against a tree. I had never been more uncomfortable in my life. There were bugs flying in my face and crawling on my skin. For the first few hours I swatted at them. My mind was still in the city. And I wanted to go back there.

But at some point I fell asleep. For all I know, insects probably crawled in and out of me all night. But they didn't wake me.

When I awoke, I felt a painful hunger. Realizing that I had nothing to eat, I decided to go back to my bicycle and find the nearest human residence. Sure, it would be embarrassing, but I would die if I didn't eat. There was a problem though. I couldn't remember where I came from. It was a cloudy day, and I had no idea where the sun was. All I could see was trees. I was dirty, hungry and pathetic. I saw that my childish game had turned into suicide, and I began to punch myself repeatedly in the face. I hated myself.

As I pummeled myself, I saw drops of blood splatter against the green leaves below. The pain felt so pointless, so I continued to hit myself harder and harder, hoping that one of these blows might make sense. But eventually I just got tired. I fell to my hands and knees, groaning and gasping. I thought of the people who love me, and how upset they will be when they find out that I've killed myself. I cried alone in the forest. I bled onto the ground that would be my bed for the rest of my short life.

And this is when I started to abandon my anxiousness. I don't mean purposely, but in hindsight I see this as my turning point. My mind no longer cared about adventure, nor about the unique animal I would see in a hallucination. I didn't even care about telling anyone this story. I was simply a part of the earth. My mind was not blank, but it had rid itself of useless knowledge.

I sat in the forest, in that one spot, for the entire day. The sun never came out. Occasionally animals would walk past me, and I never thought that they might want to communicate with me on some mystical level. I simply saw them. They were beautiful. Ants crawled on me, tickling every part of my body. I didn't swat them.

By the time night fell, I wasn't sad or angry. I looked around at the forest and felt thankful for it. I took my shoes and clothes and put them next to the tree that I had slept on. I don't know why I did this. But it's just what happened.

Now naked, I wandered around in the dark forest. At first I feared for my genitals. They were exposed, and vulnerable. But the longer I walked, the less I thought about my body parts. Eventually, I lost all sense of my limbs. I moved forward, but my physical body wasn't what moved me.

Each tree passed by my eyes like pedestrians on the sidewalk. Each one unique, offering height and strength and support. The sun was completely gone, but the clouds remained. There were no stars, nor moon. It was inexplicably dark. At this point, I don't know if I continued to move forward or drifted into a dream, but I never lost consciousness.

Moving through darkness eventually became less scary. I would move forward, despite whatever lurked in front of me. It must have remained nighttime for days, because this forest would not end. It was almost like death, an eternal darkness that could only be experienced outside of physical forms. But I never had this thought as I experienced the darkness. My thoughts were on moving forward. My mind was set on experiencing the forest's magnitude. If I was hungry, I didn't know it.

When I saw the buffalo, it was just as dark as the blackness around me. It looked at me from a distance, and began to speak as I approached.

"There will be snowflakes all around your neck, and you will hear."

I did not respond.

"You are not supposed to be here. You will die if you stay."

I knew what the buffalo meant. It wasn't a threat.

"There is nothing to do now. Climb trees and eat repeatedly. If you were my father I could bring you into my fold, but we are not shepherds in the forest."

I was overcome with sadness. Weeping uncontrollably, I apologized to my guardian animal.

He stared back at me. I knew he would leave soon, so I forced myself to stop crying. I looked directly at the buffalo, stood up straight, and felt the wet twigs and leaves beneath my feet. It started to rain, and I looked up at the sky to see stars. They were shining so brightly that I could tell exactly at which point in the universe I was standing.

When I brought my head back down, the buffalo was gone. I smiled as the moon emerged to show me the way back to the tree I had slept on.

When I woke up, the sun was warming my bruised face. The pain was throbbing. My clothes were damp from dew, but I put them on.

Before I walked back to my bicycle, I took my pencil and notepad and spent the next two hours drawing my guardian animal. It was a creature so typical to the Vision Quest tale, so very far from what my definition of "unique" was. Nor was it a carnivore. And I was not upset.

I found my bicycle on the edge of the forest. I walked it back onto the road. I began to ride back home, where I had no medicine man to talk to, where I had no tribe to welcome me back. But I knew that I was a modern man. I knew that I wasn't a Native American.

There was a patriotism that seeped into my heart as I pedaled, but not for the country I live in.

The strength I have will remain for now. But not all of my stories will end so agreeably.