Friday, April 30, 2010

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Menomena - Mines


Release Date: July 27, 2010

Usually I wait at least until the album art is released to write a 'Hasn't Come Out Yet' post, but this one has got me too excited. The hype must come early for Menomena. I've been listening to Mines non-stop for the past couple days, more than Ratatat LP4, Tobacco, The National and Crystal Castles combined (and those are all damn good albums too).

I must refrain from posting lyrics, I promised Barsuk's publicist I wouldn't, but I so badly want to share them with you dear readers. The three boys in Menomena always seem to write about issues that I coincidentally also happen to be plunging deep into thought over. But they do so with so much more creative wit and metaphorical brilliance than I could even attempt. There's a clear disgust with spiritual hypocrisy, a battle with artistic insecurity, and philosophical games with ambiguity on Mines. I shouldn't be surprised I guess, but these lyrics really hit home with me.

But, as usual, the best thing about Menomena certainly isn't their lyrics. It's their bat-shit awesome music. I can officially put this band in my small group of "trusteds." These guys search for sound combinations that that haven't been heard before, be they subtle and quiet or loud and fearsome. And they just play so damn hard. Anyone who's seen their live show knows how hard Danny can attack his drums. Oh God. It's like the best kind of garage rock that could ever exist (except Menomena is so much more daring and than the boldest garage rock).

There's more sax than ever before. More piano. More sounds all-around actually. I have no idea how they're going to play these songs live. There's often a pile of instruments so large it's as if a music store went out of business and threw all of their stuff into one dumpster in the back alley. Little did they know Menomena would be hiding in that dumpster, ready and able to play every instrument they threw in.

You can't hear any of the tracks yet, and I don't think I'm even allowed to give the tracklist either. But check out the band's myspace to hear a cool b-side called Pilgrim's Progress.

And, yes, Mines is definitely one of the best albums I've heard this year. Be excited. Mines is an album worth buying with your actual money. Believe my hype.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

2010 Music Midterm

The first half of 2010 has been pretty remarkable. I've found some early contenders for album of the year, and wouldn't be surprised if they held their positions come December (but we'll see what Menomena and The Books have to say about that). If you become a fan of ("like") Total Darkness vs. Blinding Light on Facebook, you'll receive a download link for a mix of 20 songs that represent the artists who released the best music between January and June. Some of the tracks are just that, great tracks, and are one of only two or three good songs on an album (Yeasayer, Album Leaf, Blitzen Trapper). I've decided to write about my personal top five. Represented by the first five tracks on the mix, these are the best releases of 2010 so far:

Here We Go Magic - Pigeons

My favorite album of the year so far. But if you haven't yet learned musical patience, don't bother with Pigeons. But, if you have achieved this virtue, you will be deeply satisfied by Here We Go Magic's other-worldly trip-prog.

Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

Folk albums like this keep me grounded. The Tallest Man on Earth doesn't do anything too impressive, but that's what makes his songs so impressive. There's an audible restrain in The Wild Hunt, one that proves how less can certainly be more.

Beach House - Teen Dream

I can't believe this came out in 2010. It feels like I've been listening to it for years already. And I wasn't on the Beach House bandwagon before either, this album is just too good to argue. They decided to put some meat on their bones with Teen Dream, accomplished through the miracle of melody.

Jonsi - Go

Just when I thought lo-fi was about to recapture the indie rock world, this insanely dense and crowded album storms in like it's 2004 all over again. I feel like I haven't said the word "multi-instrumental" in years, and I'm delighted that Jonsi has made it possible in 2010.

Laura Veirs - July Flame

This Portlander continues to make great records, year after year, and still hasn't received the success she deserves. Laura Veirs is a profuse songwriter. Maybe the best comparison I can make is the Beatles. Veirs just doesn't write many bad songs, July Flame is just further proof.

tracklist:

1. Here We Go Magic - Moon
2. Tallest Man on Earth - Burdens of Tomorrow
3. Beach House - Walk in the Park
4. Jonsi - Around Us
5. Laura Veirs - Life is Good Blues
6. The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio
7. Yeasayer - ONE
8. Four Tet - She Just Likes to Fight
9. LCD Soundsystem - Home
10. Album Leaf - Blank Pages
11. Phantogram - Mouthful of Diamonds
12. Delorean - Simple Graces
13. Rocky Votolato - Sparklers
14. Horse Feathers - Starving Robins
15. Blitzen Trapper - Man Who Would Speak True
16. Toro y Moi - Blessa
17. Broken Bells - Ghost Inside
18. Joanna Newsom - Good Intentions Paving Company
19. Dosh - Country Road X
20. Gayngs - The Last Prom

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shame On Shame On Shame


"I said not to think about it. Think about something else." -Hank Hill

America has sex issues. If we didn't, there wouldn't be such a loud gay community. Don't misinterpret that now. I'm glad they're loud. Very glad. Even though I'm not gay, I believe that the pride parades are an essential part of loosening this country up. They're fighting for homosexual freedoms, but in a much larger sense the gay movement represents our desire for the overall sexual freedom of the entire U.S..

There's still a lot of repression leftover from our Puritan days, and it's separating us from the rest of the modern world. Evangelicals come together to vote down bills that could make homosexual marriage legal. But why? They would answer that it's because homosexuality has been the destruction of every great nation in history. If our government allows homosexual freedom, our mighty nation will crumble (y'know, like Sodom and Gomorrah). This is the belief. I grew up with this belief. And I said the word "faggot" without sarcasm. Of course, this was all before I saw King of the Hill.

In the second episode of the very first season, "Square Peg" satirizes the deep fear of sexual openness in America. Called to substitute teach a sex education class at the local junior high, Peggy Hill must learn "the vocabulary" for the first time in her life: Penis. Uterus. Vagina. But the problem is that she can't say any of these words out loud. She stutters until she quits. And her husband doesn't even want her to try. "You're dealing with body parts that people just don't wanna know about!" Hank yells. The episode strikes at the issue with such exaggeration, even the most stalwart conservative will have to laugh out loud at the tightwad Texans.

Once Peggy is finally able to trick herself into saying the word ("happiness." "hap-piness." "ha...penis" "...penis!"), she becomes excited. With her own son signed up to take the sex ed class, Peggy assures Hank that it will be a good idea to teach him the basics of the human reproductive system. "We don't want Bobby growing up as repressed as we were," she argues. "Sure we do!" screams Hank.

And herein lies our deep, sad problem. Christian America DOES want to remain repressed. It's a painful irony, the very thing that's killing us is the thing we believe is our salvation. We don't want education, we just want to feign abstinence. And so, politicians and sports stars cheat on their wives, sex sells White Castle sliders, priests touch altar boys, and Fred Phelps, Fred Phelps, Fred Phelps. All of these problems are a result of America's withheld repression. We've got a death-grip on it. We'd rather "don't ask, don't tell" than deal with our own sexual nature. Just because a couple Bible verses are taken out of context, America has officially made homosexuals out to be the most oppressed people in the nation.

There isn't only a fear of homosexuality (Hank on Bobby: "the boy ain't right."), but a fear of sexuality altogether. Mike Judge found a brilliant metaphor for America's sexual narrow-mindedness--Hank's narrow urethra. It's one of the most recurring jokes on King of the Hill, but not until tonight did I realize what exactly Mike Judge meant by it. Hank is almost impotent. He is obsessed with stereotypical manhood (football, power tools, stoicism, etc.), but cannot even talk to his own son about safe sex. He wants to be a man, but he doesn't want his sexuality to have anything to do with it. This cruel joke works so well, it lasts 13 seasons. If Hank ever discovered that sexuality was a normal, healthy part of human life, his character would cease to be.

As much as I've laughed at Mike Judge's satire of sexual idiocy (also see: Extract), I think it's about time we stop the nonsense. It starts with the kids, just as the "Square Peg" episode indicates. Humans must be educated to embrace their sexuality. Otherwise, it'll just be another generation of sexual creatures pretending that they're not. The more we insist that sex is evil, the more we'll see abortion, pornography, rape and infidelity persist in America. Can we please make an effort to differentiate between "privacy" and "dirty secrets"? Just because we enjoy something behind closed doors with our lover doesn't mean we should be ashamed of it. Let's take pride in our sexual freedom. We don't have to become amateur porn stars, we just have to do what we're inclined to do. There's nothing wrong with that. A tree grows branches naturally, but humans can cut them off until the trunk is bare. I'm done cutting. I want America to branch out healthily and happily.

Enough with the sexual narrow-mindedness. Let's widen that urethra.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Animals From Africa

A brain peeled like an onion as
Cups of chai in smoke
Eyes can't see black boxes for
Black-covered pigment scratched
In blue, liquor tin cans
With rusty holes filled up
By bow-ties, untied, unused
Stolen from a dad

Animals from Africa
Came here through a hand
Lawns in Texas, green as mercy
Cartoons joke laugh react

Patience, rapist. She'll come to you
A certain warmth and pinch
Remain alive without a breath
Some bread from matches lit
Falls asleep on metal corners
Rides bikes on airplane wings
The woman's naked neck is sweating
Pulsing with grit teeth

Animals from Africa
Came here through a hand
Lawns in Texas, green as mercy
Cartoons joke laugh react

Right side hide and seek tonight
Shames murmur to the shy
A lid made to fit not anything
Keeps rolling down the Nile
Bleeding legs and dripping cars
"One burrow" he remarked
Lines of dialogue and petty
Tuxedo-wearing sharks

Animals from Africa
Came here through a hand
Lawns in Texas, green as mercy
Cartoons joke laugh react

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Writers are Drinkers


There are two writers: the one who drinks, and the one who is still in search of a drink. The reason one hasn't yet taken a drink is stubbornness. He may also be cheap. But when he weighs his options, he barely breaks even. One drink will help him through a few hours, but it might not be worth the price of liquor. And if he stays dry, the dread of writing overwhelms him. He stares at the first line for hours, like the oncoming tree at the farthest edge in a thousand acres of unexplored forest. He hasn't the strength, he hasn't the will to walk past it.

This is not even a matter of writers' block either. It's pride which prevents one from fulfilling responsibilities. Even when it is clear that he will only gain something positive, he holds a pistol against his head. He would rather accept an artist's poverty than the financial comfort of a commercial character. That's right. It's not depression, or a lack of creativity. It's outright stubbornness.

Like a shy boy on a dance floor, he's stiff when without alcohol. Sip a bit, and he's bendy and swaying. Then all of the embarrassing work can take place. There's no need to fear philistinism. The alcohol has made it possible.

But since he's still aware of this, he remains in the latter category. He doesn't want to drink. He doesn't even like the taste of it. Money isn't even his desire. He just wants to create art. But who would support such an endeavor? Are there grants that allow him to write without drinking? Or is this impossible, and does he simply want to live in a dream? Is there anyone who will gently lift his balls with a metal spoon?

It's time to read. The tank is empty, but alcohol shouldn't be what refuels. There is a sense of dread at the end of every sentence for which he doesn't get paid for. Is the next sentence one he must write for an employer? Keep that sentence away. Keep it away from the artist. The sentence he wants to write is one that comes from him, and creates its own audience, rather than appeasing the hunger of one already paid.

He writes not to tell others what is so, but to explore that which he cannot yet...

Tax Return My Liberty!


            (lights up on man holding sign that reads, “WHATS MINE IS MINE”)

            HOWARD

The government works for us! We don’t work for them!

PETER

Dad, there you are!

HOWARD

Not now Pete. I need to tell these sorry saps the TRUTH about our government. No more handouts! God bless America!

PETER

What are you talking about Dad? Why are you standing out here in front of the post office?

HOWARD

Because it’s tax day! And taxes are the reason Americans are enslaved by their government! Axe! The! Tax!. Axe! The! Tax!

PETER

…Are you trying to tell people that they shouldn’t pay their taxes? I don’t think that’s a very good idea Dad.

HOWARD

Don’t tread on me! Tread somewhere else!

PETER

Come on Dad, we need to get you back to the nursing home.

HOWARD

No! I’m not leaving this street corner until my voice is heard!

PETER

Everyone can hear you. You’re screaming your head off out here.

HOWARD

Then why the hell do these people keep going into the post office?! Why won’t they hear the truth!?

PETER

Well maybe they have some mail they need to send.

HOWARD

Don’t I know it! And that’s what’s wrong with this country!

PETER

Mail… is what’s wrong with America?

HOWARD

Well, who pays for it? You and me! That’s right, our hard-earned money supports programs we don’t even want!

PETER

Dad, there’s nothing wrong with our taxes going to systems like the U.S. postal service. Besides, they’ve been semi-independent for years now.

HOWARD

Fuck the postal service! Who needs it!

PETER

Alright Dad. I gotta pick up Emma from school in half an hour, let’s get you home so I’m not late.

HOWARD

School! You’ve got my grandchild going to a school!

PETER

Dad…

HOWARD

School is the government’s hypnotism machine! If these people would just stop paying their taxes we could destroy it!

PETER

Dad, education is a good thing. It’s not something you should be angry about.

HOWARD

Fuck school! Who needs it!

(Officer John approaches)

OFFICER JOHN

Excuse me sir, I received a call that you’re disturbing the peace out here.

HOWARD

Damn right I’m disturbing the peace! Freedom isn’t free!

OFFICER JOHN

Well if you don’t calm down I’m going to have to arrest you.

PETER

Officer, please. This is my dad, and he got out of his nursing home somehow. I’m taking him back now. …let’s go Dad.

HOWARD

No! This cop wouldn’t even be here bothering me if these people would just listen to me! Listen to me! Taxes are evil!

PETER

Damn it Dad! You’re acting like a crazy person and the officer here is just doing his job. Personally, I’m glad he’s here because I just might let him take you away.

HOWARD

Fuck the police!

OFFICER JOHN

Sir, I take offense to that remark.

HOWARD

Who needs ya!

PETER

Dad, you have to pay your taxes. Taxes are the reason we can have things like the postal service, public schools, and law enforcement. I don’t like filling out the forms either, but come on, taxes aren’t as bad as you’re making them out to be.

HOWARD

…No taxation without representation!

PETER

Ugh! Dad, you don’t even know what that means.

HOWARD

No taxation! …I know what that means.

PETER

Fine. You want to take him away officer? Might as well put our tax dollars to use.

OFFICER JOHN

Oh! Uhhh. Right.

HOWARD

Obama is commander in thief! I have a right to free speech!

OFFICER JOHN

Hm. Y’know. I never thought about these things before. Your dad makes some pretty good points. I mean, we’re not a monarchy; this is the land of the free! Why do we have to pay taxes?

PETER

…Is this a joke? You wouldn’t have a job if people didn’t pay their taxes.

OFFICER JOHN

Don’t talk down to me citizen! I’m an authority of the law, and I can break you in a second!

PETER

I… uh… I’m sorry officer, I…

OFFICER JOHN

By the looks of you, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were one of them liberal yuppies. I hate liberal yuppies!

HOWARD

He is a liberal yuppie! No amnesty!

OFFICER JOHN

I thought so. A part of the machine, eh? Well let’s take a ride downtown and see how supportive of the system you are after you’ve met our “interrogator.”

PETER

Wha—…but.

OFFICER JOHN

(putting Peter’s hands behind his back)

No buts, you’re under arrest.

(they walk off stage, leaving Howard)

HOWARD

…America is the land of the free! We have freedom of speech! We’re the greatest country in the world! …Fuck taxes! Who needs ‘em! …

          (Blackout.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

You Missed Out: Welcome Wagon


I was forced to say goodbye to my wife and leave the music mecca of Chicago this weekend so I could see a band play in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is special, because not just any college town can host a band before they ever play Chicago. For their annual Festival of Faith and [fill in the blank] ("Writing," this year), Calvin's Director of Student Programs brought the Welcome Wagon in for a rare concert event.

Vito and Monique Aiuto, the cutest husband and wife duo I've ever seen play music together, are a Christian band. But not in the way Tooth & Nail or Relevant Magazine would define it. They aren't so hip that they have to be a "band of Christians, not a Christian band." The lyrical content is as blatant as Danielson or MercyMe. But their music is definitely more aligned in style with the former. They even covered a Danielson song (Sold! To the Nice Rich Man). There isn't any evangelical subtext in Welcome Wagon songs, their faith unapologetically stands above the surface of the music.

Welcome Wagon's 2008 release for Asthmatic Kitty, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was a collection of songs that Vito and Monique recorded over the span of a few years, almost as a sort of hobby. When their friend Sufjan Stevens decided to come along and produce their album, it provided the Aiutos with an immediate jolt into the indie rock spotlight.

The spotlight was still shining brightly last night at the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, where a packed house of college kids filled the venue to capacity. At the front of the stage, the husband and wife performed their soft folk tunes with their profiles to the audience. They looked directly at each other as they sang. The space between them was full of an invisible love field. As sappy as it sounds, it really made me miss my wife. Their show reminded me of how beautiful marriage is. And I don't mean the concept of marriage. I'm talking about the thing that actually happens between two married people who live their lives out of devotion to each other.

Vito and Monique sang lyrics about Jesus. While the songs may have been about a spiritual Savior, in a more emotional sense they were simply about the love that the Aiuto's share with each other. The reason they make music in the first place is because they love doing it as a family. If they were in their Brooklyn home instead of on a stage in Grand Rapids, the only difference would've been a three-year-old son banging on a tambourine.

My dad always told me, "your testimony starts at home." Currently, my home consists of me and my wife. If I have any sort of Christian testimony, it should be apparent in the way I love my wife. The kindness we show to each other, the fun games we play, the housework I do (without first being told)--this is the first sign of my faith. When I looked at the Aiuto family (minus child) up on stage, smiling at each other as they sang, I felt their joy. Their music was about God, but not just on a lyrical level.

As blatant as Danielson, but as delicate as Sufjan, the Welcome Wagon's obvious faith was too earnest to put anybody off. At the end of the show when Vito thanked the audience and said, "God loves you," it didn't come off cheesy. This was because we got to feel that sincere love between him and his wife for the hour-long show.

At a seminar the day after the concert, Vito told attendees at the Festival of Faith and Writing why he does the Welcome Wagon: "I want to sing with my family."

Throughout their concert, the Welcome Wagon gave away Polish bread (from their neighborhood Brooklyn bakery) to various members of the audience. They encouraged clapping and stomping from the crowd. And played with a choir from the local area. It was a community event, one that occurs quite often in the Aiuto's living room, but only a couple times a year with a watching audience.

Vito is a full-time pastor who tends to a church in Williamsburg, New York. Between his duties there and a family as his top priority, the Welcome Wagon is little more than a product of "family fun night." Their testimony extends to larger audiences only because it starts at home. If the Aiutos hadn't made music out of love for each other, it never would have been able to bless the students at Calvin College this weekend. I'm glad I left the mecca for a few days. When I return, I will kiss my wife.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Festival of Faith and Writing


Since I've been passing out business cards, I feel compelled to update this blog so that the top article isn't about Derrick Rose. Here at the Festival of Faith and Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I'm surrounded by Christian writers. Publishers, editors and aspiring literary types of all kinds trying to sell themselves. The funny thing is that most of them are so apprehensive, they may never actually get that book to a printer. Calvin College attracts the Christians who hate materialism, love art, and aren't sure how to reconcile the two.

I'm sitting behind the vendors table for the Burnside Writers Collective, telling visitors that it costs nothing to submit, but pays nothing either. Still they take pamphlets, maybe because they've heard of Donald Miller. Most of them are seasoned with gray hair and deep crow's feet. They're poets. And even though Burnside doesn't publish much poetry, I encourage them to submit anyway.

But another man has written a book. He meets an agnostic and Catholic in a hotel hot tub, and they become friends to the death. He has the same thin, blue jacket with the plaid lining as my granddad and a voice like a radio broadcaster from the 50s'. He grew up in Gurnee, where his family once owned the farmland that Six Flags Great America now incorporates, but moved to the Seattle suburbs to become a pastor, and now lives right here in Michigan. He has been trying to get his book published for years, and I can't help but doubt if God will answer his prayer before taking him up to heaven.

The information I do and do not need. I can't tell which is which at this festival. As a young writer, should I be pitching ideas to editors and publishers? Do I have any ideas? Maybe I should just stay behind the table, listen to the old man with the Masters in English tell me the story of his failure to get a book published by a Christian company. Do I have more to learn from that observation than an employee of Zondervan?

What place does a heretic have at this festival? I don't want to read any of these Christian books, I just want to tell people about Burnside because it's a place where writers can share ideas without having to fear mean remarks in the comments section. I don't want to sell myself, or my blog. I don't want anyone here to beat out another guy for a book deal, I just want us to listen to each other.

While I certainly don't fit in at a Christian festival, I think something about this trip is... right. There is a domino effect, and I don't know what stage I'm currently at. On the last day at Relevant, I talked on the phone with Burnside editor John Pattison about having him contribute to that for-profit Christian magazine. If I had gotten fired a day earlier, I may never talked to him, and may never have heard of Burnside. Had I not gotten involved with Burnside, I never would have gone to this festival. But I think what I had previously thought to be the last day, was actually my first. I'm looking at the fallen dominoes behind me, halfway between one falling, not yet struck. The chain reaction began with that phone conversation, and it's twisting down a table from Florida to Chicago to Michigan.

Dear reader, did you come to this blog because I gave you a card? Thanks. It was nice to meet you. Let's write for Burnside together.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Top 5 Ballers

As the season comes to an end, I look at this playoff race between the Bulls and Raptors and ask myself this question: which team is more fun to watch? Of course I'm biased. I'm a Bulls fan, always have been and always will be. But if I can put the two teams side by side and evaluate who puts on a better show against the Cavs, it's the Bulls by a Madhouse on Madison mile.

Especially in these past two weeks, the Raptors have just been dreadful. As great a player as Chris Bosh is, he wouldn't add much in the excitement column. He's a fundamental player and I'd love to see him in a Bulls jersey next year, but he's not the kind of superstar that you have to watch intently on every play. Derrick Rose, on the other hand, is. I forget which sportscaster said it, but the day he was named an all star Rose was described as "still pulling things out of his ass." Meaning, Rose does amazing things on the court that we've never seen before. Things that even Derrick has never seen before! He does stuff that makes fans cheer, sportscasters bug out their eyes, and other players say "wow."

Who are the other players in the NBA that do this? Honestly, there aren't many. I picked five (six actually, slotted to 'honorable mention') ballers who I just love to watch. When they play basketball, I'm reminded of why I still love the game.

Honorable Mention:

Josh Smith


Whenever I look at this guy I feel like I'm right there in the dirty south. I don't know if anybody has made a YouTube mix of Josh Smith moves with Young Buck and T.I. doing Stomp, but I think I might have to throw the Ratatat mix behind some of those last second game-winner put-backs. This guy is just so Atlanta it's ridiculous. He's got those long arms that nobody can block, and an attitude that I usually hate but can't help but love when this thug gets to the rim.

PROOF

5. Brandon Roy


The leader of the Portland Trail Blazers. If the Blazers didn't have so many injuries this year, they'd be the most feared team in the league. They have absolutely everything a team needs to be a championship contender, and if they can stay healthy next year, everybody forget about your predictions, this is the team to beat. And a really, really big reason is their best player. Brandon Roy is stealth. He's not very flashy, but not because he can't be; he just does everything right. If you want to be reminded of what fundamental basketball looks like, watch a Blazers game. Brandon Roy gets it done.

PROOF

4. Derrick Rose


See, I'm not THAT biased. I know that Derrick Rose isn't the best player in the league, but he's definitely one of the most fun. For everything I said above, and more. That dunk on Dragic. The number of defenders' ankles he breaks on a nightly basis. The speed that just can't be defended at all. D Rose is the sole reason I care about basketball again. I've never seen a player quite like him. A point guard doesn't usually do what he does, especially not after just two years in the NBA. And it just keeps getting better too.

PROOF

3. Deron Williams


He might be the only University of Illinois player in the NBA. But good Lord, he does us proud. This is the best point guard in the NBA. No disrespect to Chris Paul, but seriously. Deron Williams makes fundamentals look so good. He's a little bit Pistol Pete, John Stockton, Rajon Rondo, D Rose, CP and his own unique sort of artist blended into a player who simply cannot be dealt with properly by any defender in the league. Pass, shoot, dunk, whatever. Deron Williams does whatever he wants.

PROOF

2. LeBron James


Obviously he had to be on this list. He's the best player in the NBA, but not just because he scores points. He makes basketball more than just a game. He turns it into an experience. Kinda (just kinda) how MJ did back in the day. As a player, he's almost inhuman. I don't feel like I even have to prove it to anyone. You've seen how he swats the ball away on fast breaks. King James, obviously.

PROOF

1. Dwyane Wade


Wade is it. When Lebron makes a great play, it still feels like a playground move. But when Wade does it, it's like a grown man move. I don't think there's a more balanced basketball player in the world today. Whereas Lebron is a sort of beast, Wade is just a perfect example of human athleticism. He's that guy who makes the crowd go "OHHHH" at away games. Seriously, just check the PROOF.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Objective Creationism


DAN

Well, another experiment failed.

BOB

I don’t get it Dan, we’re scientists! Why can’t we ever formulate a hypothesis that works?

DAN

I don’t know. Shall we pray?

BOB

Yes of course.

DAN

Dear Lord, we’re still trying to prove your existence but just aren’t having any luck. Please provide us with what we need to submit positive results to a science journal…

(They wait silently for a moment)

BOB

Bah! Nothing again!

DAN

I just don’t get it Bob! What more do we have to do?

BOB

Alright, I’ll try this time… Dear Lord, please help us prove you’re—

RICHARD

(Richard enters)

Okay, that’s quite enough.

DAN

Who are you?

RICHARD

I’m God. You’ve been praying to me for years. Incessantly.

DAN

Great! This is fantastic! The breakthrough we’ve been looking for! Our prayers are finally answered.

BOB

Oh, God! I was ready to give up!

RICHARD

No you weren’t. That’s why I had to come down to put a stop to all this.

DAN

We need to get this to American Journal of Science right away.

RICHARD

No, no, no. You must stop trying to prove that I exist. Belief in God is a matter of individual faith, not objective factuality. So please, move on to some other experiment.

BOB

Well, why would we do that now? I mean, you’re here as proof.

RICHARD

(sigh) How do you know I exist?

DAN

Because… you’re here.

RICHARD

How do you know I’m really God?

BOB

Because you said so.

RICHARD

So what are you going to do, write an article that says “God exists, because he said so”?

BOB

Well, if that’s the proof… Is it?

RICHARD

No! That’s circular logic! (sigh) How did you people even become scientists?!

DAN

Well, the Discovery Institute only hires creationists.

RICHARD

You know what, I’m wasting my time. I didn’t need to do this.

BOB

Oh God, please. We’ve been experimenting for years—

RICHARD

You mean praying out loud while wearing white lab coats.

BOB

Well, yeah. That’s what an experiment is, God.

RICHARD

Jesus Christ… I’m not God, okay? I’m Richard Dawkins, and I came here to try and get you to stop with this nonsense. It’s an embarrassment to the science world. AND to religious circles.

DAN

Richard Dawkins!

BOB

I thought you were just a myth!

DAN

This is amazing!

RICHARD

Okay then. Goodbye gentlemen.

DAN

No no, wait! You’re a famous scientist, we can learn a lot from you. Tell us how to prove God’s existence.

RICHARD

God doesn’t exist.

DAN and BOB

What?

RICHARD

You can’t prove that God exists, because he doesn’t.

DAN

…Um. Are you sure?

(Richard Nods)

BOB

Joke’s on you, asshole! Turn around and see!

JESUS

(bearded Jesus jumps out)

Surpriiiise, Richaaaard!

RICHARD

Huh. You tricked me, eh? Jesus is God… And alive…

DAN

Hah! Ohhh Richard. We found him years ago, we’ve just been trying to get on your nerves.

RICHARD

Well, I still don’t believe. So I’ll be off now.

JESUS

What? What more proof do you need! Look at me!

RICHARD

You’re not Jesus, or God. You’re a sketch comedy actor wearing a fake beard.

JESUS

Uhh… No! I’m the Son of God!

RICHARD

No you’re not. And I’m not Richard Dawkins either.

BOB

Well okay, but… come on.

RICHARD

Nope, nope. I’ve really had enough of this now. Goodbye.

(walks off stage)

BOB

…huh. …well, that was weird. Was that Richard Dawkins or not?

DAN

I don’t know… Should we pray for the answer?

JESUS

I’m gonna grab a coffee from downstairs. You guys need anything?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

As For Film: Inherit the Wind


I received a lousy education when it came to science. I can't remember anything my teachers taught me in high school, and then I went to the Moody Bible Institute for college (where science isn't much of a priority). So I am constantly talking to my wife about evolution, biology and animals. She's the manager of Education Programs at the Lincoln Park Zoo, and so we often discuss scientific matters. It's usually quite one-sided. I ask a question, and she offers answers.

"What's the difference between evolutionary adaptation and environmental adaptation?"

"If earth first formed as mostly molten rock, where did all of the watery ocean come from?"

"Are all evolutions due to genetic mutations, or are some of them intentional by a given species?"

Who knows why I didn't get the answers for these questions in high school, but I have a feeling it might have had something to do with Christianity. My entire family believed in Creationism, and taught me to believe in it as well. There's a good chance that my high school teachers taught me all of this science stuff, but my instructed presuppositions insisted I not believe whatever imposing "fact" they presented. Now, I hold nothing against my family. They believe what they believe, and I can catch up intellectually in due time. But others are not so lucky. Some remain in the snares of ignorance for as long as they live. Generations beget generations that continue to believe their fathers' nonsense.

Christianity has quite a knack for perpetuating ignorance. The whole fight between evolution and creationism is one of the most embarrassing debates of all time. It's cosmic food fight with apples and oranges. One side argues for "all spiritual" while the other argues "all physical." And there is no compromise (intelligent design doesn't count, of course. It's a philosophical idea, not a science or faith).

But most depressing is the length of time this stupid fight has gone on for. In 1960, Stanley Kramer made a movie about this stupid fight: Inherit the Wind. 50 years ago, can you believe it? But actually, the movie was parabolic of McCarthyism, by way of an actual trial that took place in 1925 (85 years ago!). The Scopes "Monkey" Trial convicted a Tennessee school teacher of breaking a local law: not teaching Bible-centric science in the classroom. With this trial came all sorts of press and national attention, for the media viewed it as a "science vs. religion" showdown in the American justice system.

The film highlights all of the insanities of the fundamentalist creationist wack-jobs, with ugly housewives picketing against "scientism" in the streets like the great-grandmothers of the tea party movement, and pompous preachers calling hellfire down upon those who believe in evolution. Mobs march and shout "he's a sinner!" or "we'll ride him out on a rail!" in reference to those who are not Christians, of course.

The mob sings a song that goes, "Give me that old time religion, it's good enough for me... It was good for old Jonah, and it's good enough for me." If you know the story of Jonah, maybe you can sense the irony of this lyric. Jonah was so afraid of change, that he tried to hitch a ride to another part of the country. When God came and told him to tell the people of Nineveh to repent, Jonah said to himself, "I don't want them to change. I want them to remain as they are." Even when progress is imminent, the "old time religion of Jonah" tries like hell to keep things stagnant.

The residents of this town of southern morons don't need to hear anything different from what they've always thought. They're happy as they are, so happy that they'll scream and yell and picket to defend their habitual way of life. They do and say the same thing over and over and over, until they don't even know why anymore. All they know is that this is what they've lived by, so why wouldn't they?

I would like all of my family members to see this movie, because it is one that forces the viewer to think. Those on one side or another will be riled up either by lines about a literal 7-day creation week, or the necessity of giving up faith for the sake of progress. Ideas are pitted against beliefs, personified through a prosecutor and defendant, played theatrically by Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. The film insists viewers ask themselves, "What is right?", "What is truth?" and "What's the difference?"

"It is one of the peculiar imbecilities of our time, when we place a grid of morality upon human behavior--so that the action of every man must be measured against an arbitrary latitude of right and a longitude of wrong, in exact minutes, degrees and seconds" Henry Drummond tells a bewildered jury. He spoke of problems of right vs. wrong in a trial about teaching evolution in school. If a law deems evolution wrong, but objective science deems evolution truth, who wins? Right, or truth? Truth, or right? The result is a fight no one can win. Both are losers. Pain and strife are the only outcome in such a battle. Those who fight for truth are frustrated to tears by the mass of public ignorance, while the believers are personally devastated by the direct attacks on their faith.

"Religion is supposed to comfort people, not frighten them to death!" yells Bertram Cates, the man accused of the crime.

What a thing to shout. The Christians are so scared of opening their minds that it may kill them. For them, Hell is the result of not adhering to every aspect of the Bible. But Inherit the Wind argues against this. The film was fueled by the insanity of McCarthyism, something that came somewhere in between the creationism vs evolution argument, but through the same notion: the intimidative powers of authority (be they spiritual or political) prevent free thinking of individuals. Even worse, it makes "free thinking" out to be sinful, to the point that partakers do not even want to be free. For these Christians want their power in numbers. They don't want to decide things for themselves. They want to be a wolf pack.

"GODLINESS NOT GORILLAS!"

"ATHEISTS, GO BACK TO YOUR APES!"

"I LOVE THE LORD!"

The same ridiculous signs are still being scribbled today. Visit any tea party demonstration and it's clear to see how a generation can beget a generation. People don't want change. They want to be right. I was "right" through my high school science education, but (due to close-mindedness) I never took away any truth. It's not until after my youth has passed that my mind has been so gloriously corrupted. But let's try to pay attention to the next generation, because "corrupting the youth" is all too often an indication of progress. Or perhaps it's more suitable to say, evolution.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Don't Miss Out: Downtown Sound


Chicagoans, the time has come for free music in the park. Millennium Park's Downtown Sound concert series last year kicked so much ass (Dirty Projectors, Sea and Cake, The Feelies, Icy Demons, Black Moth Super Rainbow, St. Vincent), and this year looks just as good. Maybe even a little better. Here are the shows I'll be at, and I hope you will be too:

Monday, May 24 - The Besnard Lakes

One of the many great bands on Jagjaguwar, The Besnard Lakes latest album (The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night) has a thick, cloudy aura like a recently doused forest fire. Plus, a song called Chicago Train, which they will surely play for us when they kick off Downtown Sound's New Music Mondays.

Monday, June 7 - She and Him

I still haven't heard the whole album of Volume 2 yet, but Zooey and Matthew Ward are worth a trip downtown the day after my birthday. I'm sure there will be hundreds of high schoolers at this one, but real music fans will be there to support M Ward. But when it comes down to it, this will be the summeriest show of the season. Bright colors and brighter melodies will abound.

Monday, June 14 - Great Lake Swimmers

Get there early for this one, because Great Lake Swimmers are opening. This may be the perfect show for the lawn. Wine, cheese, friends, sunglasses and digital cameras are in order. Indie folk without the quirk makes for the best background music in the summer you know.

Monday, June 21 - The Books

Absolutely the can't-miss, get-there-early-so-you-can-see-the-projections, free concert of the year. The Books always put on one of the best shows, and with a new album slated for this year, it's gonna be a crowded Millennium Park on June 21st. If you've never seen The Books before, even if you don't know who they are, go to this show. This is some of my favorite music being made today, period.

Monday, July 12 - Caribou

I forget which year exactly, but Caribou played early in the day one year at the Pitchfork fest. They were the best show over the whole festival. Unpredictable percussion, surprisingly sharp outdoor sound engineering, and dancy melodies turned everybody into a Caribou fan instantaneously. If you missed that one, no worries. They're playing for free this summer.

Monday, July 19 - Konono No. 1

They're opening for Chicago's Kid Sister, but world music fans cannot miss Konono No. 1. Actually, I might be most excited for this show, because it's the one group on the list I haven't seen yet. I only thought they played in Africa actually... But raise your hand if you don't like the mbira. That's right. Everybody likes the mbira. Especially when it's amplified electronically, DIY style.

**All shows start at 6:30 p.m., and take place at the Pritzker Pavilion

You may also want to check out Hum (May 31) or The Thermals (July 5)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Heretical Thoughts for Easter


Most of us went to church today. We heard a familiar story, one we've been hearing for our entire lives. Of course, there might have been one guy there who was saying, "Who is this Jesus? I've never heard of Jesus." (Evangelicalism taught me that this is always a possibility. Even though every person I've ever met throughout my entire life has heard of Jesus, I'll let the evangelicals believe what they want)

The story of Easter is that a man came back to life. This man was also God. Jesus was a man, and he was God. Get it? Of course you don't. But it doesn't matter. This is Christianity. We believe that the "son of God" died and came back to life, and this was the key to the forgiveness of our sins. Hallelujah, or something.

If you grew up in a Christian home, you accepted Jesus into your heart when you were very young. I was about five years old, and I asked out loud: "Jesus, come into my heart." I decided that I didn't want to go to hell, and that I believed in Jesus. He died, but came back to life on the third day. He was born of this world, but he was God. I believed this. I also believed in Santa Claus. And the Tooth Fairy. And that I could become a dinosaur when I pressed an invisible button on my chest.

But even back then, after about a week I couldn't help but to ask myself, "Why would God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden anyway?" If Christianity today is all about glorifying God and praying his kingdom come, are humans really bound by a spiritual requirement? By that I mean, if an omniscient God made the rules, how can we expect our minds to comprehend them?

For a few hundred years, we've had a canon. We've had "holy scriptures" that were written by and compiled by religious authorities. For some reason, we have deemed the Bible the "word of God." While trying our damnedest to forget about Constantine.

Now, I don't know what holiness is. But I would rather think than decide. I can now see how silly my immature question was. When I was five, I believed that Adam and Eve were real people. I didn't know what symbolism was. I thought the Garden of Eden was an actual place. Christianity is a lot different when you're an adult. It's not really something you believe, it's just something you do.

Some Christians like to say they're not religious, but spiritual. But this is what cowards do. Christianity should be all about works. Any asshole can believe in Jesus on Easter. Who gives a shit if Jesus forgave us of our sins? Should we feel guilty? Come on, Christians. Get real.

Sin is just something humans do. We do bad things. We're assholes, and, God forgives us. That's why he put the tree in the garden, so he could have something to forgive us for.

So when I hear all this bullshit about doing "kingdom work," I do one of those laugh/choke routines. People ask me if I need a drink of water while they pat me on the back. When Christians believe that "harmony" means the Garden of Eden, they're sucking on eggs. If Adam's occupation was a gardener, that means he helped plants grow. If plants were growing, it meant something was dying. Life only works if violence precedes it. Lions need protein, they don't eat hay. Gardens need manure, excrement of a biological creature.

Harmony is not perfection. Perfection is all one note. One, perfect note. Harmony is a combination. And in this universe, the universe that humans live in, harmony requires death. There must be contrast. There must be night and day. Subjective and objective. Good and evil.

People lose their faith due to the problem of evil, but only because they let it be a problem. Evil is not a problem. God created it. We think it's bad, but it's not. He placed the tree in the Garden. Or, if we must go further, God created Satan. Evil is all a part of God's plan. Christians act like evil is something that did not always exist, or that when Christ returns to redeem and "set all things right," that evil will no longer exist. But if evil didn't exist, the universe would no longer exist. There cannot be balance (harmony) without evil. There cannot be ALL good. For any good to exist, there must be some evil. Neither coming first or second, they are mutual.

So on this Easter Sunday, remember the men who decided which four gospels would be a part of the canon. Remember the imaginative beliefs you held as a child. Realize that forgiveness is an attribute that God can't help, and that you can be as bad as possible because it's a part of your nature. Remember when you thought "religion" was a dirty word. And if you have time, maybe try helping others. Know this: heretics would rather think further than remain dogmatic. Remember that the etymology of heresy is haireisthai, "to choose." And we are all heretics, just as Adam was. He chose to eat the fruit from the tree. God doesn't choose, but we can't hold that against Him.