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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Mad Hatter: FEEL the music!

Concert Review

Where: The Knitting Factory in Williamsburg (Brooklyn NYC)

What: Dana Buoy with Field Mouse and Wild International

When: Wednesday March 28 2012 9pm-12am


The Knitting Factory venue is pretty cool, though I assumed it to be a hipster mecca, of sorts (which it was/is). I ended up getting on the guest list and got in for free (you have to know people). The one disappointment, however, is that when I entered, I was the ONLY person there. The doors were set to open at 8pm and the show was supposed to start at 9pm. I got there around 8:30, so I was surprised that the place was a ghost town. Luckily, a girl (who seemed to be around my age) entered and we began chatting. Turns out that she was visiting from Paris (where she lives) and so we spoke French. I also discovered that she has the same name as my cousin, Veronique. Pretty cool coincidence considering that Paris is like MY favorite European city; so we talked about Paris and French culture at length. If there's one thing I love more than Anglo culture it's French culture; I'm a total Francophile. I speak the language and I totally understand the people and context of the culture. I decided to give Veronique a shout out here, since I told her to read my blog. I might be a dork for describing this new friendship, but I do love French people. I have family and friends who live in Paris/France and whenever I visit, I pretend I'm French. If only!

So, the show eventually started and the first band was a good opening.

FIELD MOUSE: A four person band made up of two gals and two guys: vocalist/guitarist (Rachel Browne), guitarist (Andrew Futral), bassist (Danielle DePalma), and drummer (Geoff Lewit). I laughed to myself because, though the lead singer's vocals kicked ass, she was totally donned in the hipster uniform: black stockings, jean shorts, pointy brown ankle boots, and a baggy flannel shirt. She had a blonde skunk stripe in her black/dark brown hair. However, this didn't mean that she was aloof and 'too cool for school'. Quite the opposite. The lead singer was totally friendly and flirty with the audience. She had great stage presence and knew how to interact with the crowd. At one point she even joked about going on a blind date with an audience member (even though he said he was gay). And she told the audience that the band would 'love to make new friends', inviting everyone to chat with them after the set. I was definitely amused. I always like an interesting front man/woman. It gives the band persona; if your lead singer is shit, the whole band is too. So the sound of Field Mouse was late 80's/early 90's. I got a Breeders, PJ Harvey, Sundays vibe. Very 1992/1993. There was also a good blend of Cranberries (earlier stuff) with Siouxie Sioux actually. The vocals were soft yet hard at the same time. They were dreamy and reminded me of soft-core grunge, kind of like the Sunday's song 'Wild Horses' (a remake of the Rolling Stones' classic). The band is proclaimed as 'dream pop', so that is probably fitting. It was a pudding mix of softer grunge and industrial New Wave synth. The only critique I have is that the levels were off. I couldn't hear the vocals well enough; this is a shame since the lead singer had a really sweet voice, like a light bulb coated in marshmallow spread and feathers. The drums were a little too loud, and I also couldn't hear the bass guitar enough. Also, the pre-recorded synthesizer was way too loud. By the way, the bassist was cool too, as she had a mop of curls that she bobbed up and down. She reminded me of a cool, hipster dressed all in black version of Velma from Scooby Doo. I think I just like seeing kick-ass female vocalists/bassists since a) I do both and b) it's not so common to find awesome female vocalists/bassists. Field Mouse was kind of like a Sonic Youth if Kim Gordon had been band leader instead of Thurston Moore.

Further resources:
-Official Field Mouse site
-Field Mouse on Band Camp

WILD INTERNATIONAL: This band haling, from Long Island was also very different yet reminiscent of things I have heard; a good mesh of sounds. To me, it was a Beach Boys, Grateful Dead, Black Lips, Black Flag, Bedouin Soundclash, Dead Milkmen cocktail. It was three guys, Ryan Camenzuli, Greg Coffey and Bryan Daly (who all looked to be barely 20) on bass, guitar, and drums. I call it beachy 60's psychedelic 80's punk surf music. What I was impressed with was how this band was able to shift between tempos/rhythm. They had a nice variety and fluid shift between beats, tempo, and rhythm style. They were able to move seamlessly between psychedelic jam to upbeat surf style punk. Their rhythm section was definitely solid. Their drummer reminded me of the talent of drummer Bill Kreutzmann, from the Grateful Dead. The hard hitting, tribal beat reminded me of that Dead vibe. Also, the vocals were solid. The harmonies were brilliant and melodious. The chanting was ethereal. Plus, the vocals were able to shift in-between grunge/punk screams and mellow Beach Boy tones. Even though the vocals were great, they weren't even necessary in my opinion. You could just listen to the instrumental jam by itself. These guys were THAT talented. I also liked that they used unconventional instruments like the kazoo, sleigh bells, a feedback loop, and a theremin. They made cool sound effects from the crashing of waves to the croaking of frogs. They did the hard and mellow thing so well that it was like I was listening to two CD's at once: head banging Black Flag with mellow upbeat stylings of Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. They did an Animal Collectives cover (and quite well), so THEY are probably a direct influence (though I felt some Pixies too). I really loved the pulsing rhythm, like a vibrating electric orb. It was ugly pretty, like a Picasso. I seriously could have listened to Wild International all night.

Further Resources:
Bestnewbands.com review of Wild International
My Space page for Wild International

DANA BUOY: This is the solo project of Dana Buoy (aka Dana Janssen), the drummer from the jam band Akron/Family (AKRON/FAMILY site)). What I found very cool and unique was that Dana came out on stage barefoot; he had no shoes OR socks. Also, he was totally into his music; his whole body was into it. It was like he felt every note and beat as it escaped his mouth and guitar. He was dancing/writhing/pulsating the whole entire set. The sound reminded me of Rusted Root and String Cheese Incident mixed with a little Placebo and MGMT. I like that there is an added synthesizer in the background to mellow out the two man guitar/bass. Sometimes it was just guitar/bass, sometimes guitar/vocals, or guitar/synth. I love that both of these guys got their whole spirit and being into the music. Suddenly, I looked around and every hipster in the place was rocking and dancing. Even the bearded guy in the corner with folded arms, who refused to move up until now, started getting into it. I felt like this set was totally experiential. You felt the music pulse through you. You HAD to be there to get the full effect of the music. In this case, the fact that the songs DO NOT sound the same live as recorded is a good thing. Live, Dana Buoy is alive and fills you with a sense of hope and happiness. The only other time I have felt so inspired listening to live music is when I saw The Polyphonic Spree live. Dana Buoy totally imbibes the spirit of Tim DeLaughter (front man of P-Spree) well. Actually, I think Dana Buoy would be a PERFECT opening act for The Polyphonic Spree. They have the same energy to their music. Listening to Dana Buoy, you feel like you're on the beach or mountains. It is very nature inspired music; you can totally tell that this music was created in Thailand (which it was). To find out more about Dana Buoy's project and soon to be released album, check out the following post on jambands.com: Jambands.com on Dana Buoy

Summer Bodies, the debut album by Dana Buoy will is set to be released May 8

'Call to Be' off of the soon to be released debut album, Summer Bodies:


These three pictures are what I captured of Dana Buoy on my Android Blur phone (pretty good for a phone):





Feel the music,

~R~

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The March Hare: SEE the music!

Magical March Music Manic Madness

Yep, you have fallen down the rabbit hole and now you're at an epic tea party. The music is everywhere; you cannot escape. I will take you on a journey that will leave you feeling numb and dumb; wait did I say numb and dumb, I meant sublime. For the next three consecutive posts, I will be blogging about music. In celebration of March ending and spring beginning; call it Magical March Music Manic Madness! The next three posts are all about music! And, just so you know, good things come in threes, so I will now introduce three new(ish) artists!!!

FILTHY DUKES

Not surprisingly, this band is from London; we all know I have an affinity for all things British. Filthy Dukes is comprised of: Olly Dixon, Tim Lawton, and Mark Ralph. Polydor Records describes them as: "electroacidhousenuravetwisteddiscopunkfunk"! Their only album is Nonsense in the Dark (2009). I describe them as 80's synth-pop indie electronic vintage dance-o-teria disco-teque on lithium/zoloft. I mean that sincerely though. This music is so catchy and hip that you cannot help dancing or bobbing along. It is urban, hip and when I walk the streets of NYC, this IS my soundtrack. It is edgy and tough but also quirky, fun and flirty music. It doesn't take itself too seriously, really. Plus, if 2011/2012 has a soundtrack, this is it. Our times are raw, scary but at the same time we all want to forget ourselves and unravel in a good club/scenester dive. Do what the Israelis do to unwind; turn off your thoughts and DANCE! DANCE, damnit, DANCE!


PS: I will only analyze one song from each artist and leave it up to my readers to leave comments on/hypothesize about the rest.


'This Rhythm':

This song and video for 'This Rhythm' seem to reflect a bit of the idea that we CAN lose ourselves in the music from time to time. Sometimes that's what we need. Honestly, at seeing the video, I want to go out to a club and just dance the night away with strobe and neon lights blurring out the people around me. You know, have some sort of existential experience with strangers in an unfamiliar atmosphere, yet feel like you've been there before. Then you realize all the strangers are people you know and you're at your favorite club. A total out of body experience! Let's look at the video for this song. The woman in the video turns into some sort of creature with alien eyes. She appears zombie-like and vampiric. She looks at everything as if noticing it for the first time. Then, she walks around a hallway, seeing others 'like her' with large black pupils dilated to cartoonish size. I don't really know what to make of it, as she ends up levitating by some water and then transports back inside her 'club persona'. What I take away is the idea that music has the power to make us see things differently and can give us all a transformative experience. Music can heal, uplift, and provide a catharsis (fyi- one of my favorite words in the English language)!

'Nonsense in the Dark':

'Messages':

BIRDY

This new artist, whose real name is Jasmine van den Bogaerde, is a sure soon-to-be rising star. Her vocals are so crisp and melodic. It reminds me of a mixture of Leona Lewis, Norah Jones, and Adele. It isn't surprising that she channels some of these other female artists, as she is also British (only Norah Jones is American). Her debut album, Birdy (2011) was just released at the end of last year. Oh, and did I mention she is ONLY 15 years old?! Birdy's first known track/hit was with 'Skinny Love' a Bon Iver track on their album For Emma, Forever Ago (2007). Bon Iver is like THE indie/hipster band right now, and have fallen into the mainstream; this is especially true after the band, just recently, won two Grammy's. Birdy will also be well-known for her singer-songwriter talent and piano skills. She is on the 'Hunger Games' soundtrack and has a recent performance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Birdy was also signed onto a label with Christian Tattersfield (a chairman of Warner Brothers UK), who also manages the singer-songwriter, David Gray. If you don't know who she is now, you will soon!

'Without a Word':

This song opens up with a haunting piano melody. It's either a break-up or a starting over song. The lyrics start "You can tell the world that you're leaving...spread your wings...and you can tell them all that it's over. While you wave goodbye, I'll be getting closer." It is definitely a sweet ode to starting a new chapter in one's life, literally shutting the door on one's past and pain. As the song progresses,I pick up, however, Birdy's request at asking whether she should stay or go. I realize it IS indeed a break-up/starting over song. Breaking up/moving on is a painful decision for any relationship. You cannot help but kind of tear up a little at the beautiful melody and lyrics. Birdy sings: "You can tell the world that you're tired. Your excuses they won't work 'cuz I know that you're lyin'. Every time I see your face, I notice all the suffering." However, she relays that comfort and solice will be 'in her embrace', in her love and trust. Birdy doesn't come off as a suffocating, obsessive female though. She will loosen her grip if that's what the other person wants. Fate is left up in the air. She's really only 15? This song seems so wise and sagaciously poignant. She belts out, 'without a word' and you're left not knowing whether these two lovers will be together or not. The decision is left up to the pursued, not the pursuer. 'The answer my friend is blowing in the wind'.

'Skinny Love':

'People Help the People':


TANLINES

This band is not only American, they are from Brooklyn! Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm make up this band; it is hard to believe that only two guys make all of these sounds. It fuses world music with synth indie/pop. It fuses high energy dance music with 80's pop/New Wave and background world music beats. You can tap your foot to it and let the music surge your whole body into motion like an 'electric Jesus' (remember that, Colleen?) Their debut album, Mixed Emotions was LITERALLY just released this month (on March 20th). They are as 'hot out of the studio' and 'shiny plastic new' as you can get! Listen and let your face melt right off!

'Brothers':

More synth-pop but with a world music twist. The song opens, and you imagine an ocean. You are near the beach; you can see and hear the waves. That's what I envision at least. Then, as the beat and melody start in, you want to start dancing, slowly at first, one body part at a time until your whole person is into the song. (whisper) Electric Jesus! The upbeat, fast tempo of the song counteracts the lyrics: Minimal big mistakes, and the last one: "In the car or the store, you didn't ask for it. Take your time, take the place, and react." We are bombarded by decisions on a daily basis. What looks better: red or beige? Should I get whole milk or skim? Oreos or Chips Ahoy? Venti or Grande? Bus or walk? Paper or plastic? Eat at home or out? You could go crazy with all the constant quick thinking that a person must do! The camera motion literally backs up that notion. In the video, the camera literally slowly spins around and around giving us a bird's eye view of an apartment. What should you do? What choice should you make? The lyrics say: "Indecision overload is only chance figures. Change my mind, make mistakes.." Okay, so it's okay to make mistakes and fall down. Hindsight is only 20/20. Take risks; take the leap. The song seems to be about changes and gives us comfort that close relationships can resist the transient nature of time. I get this, as the song is titled 'Brothers' and think on how I've had many friends and acquaintances come and go in my life. There are many friends who you do not see literally for years, and then when you do talk or see them, the relationship picks up where it left off. There are years of time between you but your kindred connection hasn't melted away.

'Newflowers':

'Reinfo':

'All of Me':
This is my favorite video by Tanlines. I LOVE that all of these bored, zombie looking business men/women slowly get up to dance while watching a video of a band (Tanlines) playing the song. They look like whack-a-moles and bounce in beat to the song. HILARIOUS! They dance like robots, like their humanity is only reanimated at hearing this song. Creepy and awesome at the same time!

I hope you have enjoyed these new music recommendations. Download on Itunes/Bandcamp and plug in your Ipod. A world is waiting out there. And music will help you (re)connect and tune in to something new and unusual.

Music is therapy. Long live rock n' roll!

Muse-ically inspired,

~R~

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dear Mr. President (abridged)




Dear President Obama,

I am sure you get boatloads of mail daily, but I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you a little about myself and why I have made a commitment to vote for you in November 2012.

I have respected your declaration to the American people in being able to get what they want by their own wits and merits. Of course, we should help one another and become involved in community service and grassroots activism. However, it is also true that currently too many American citizens are dependent on blaming others instead of looking at their own role when the job does not get done. If more people on being self-sufficient and selfless at the same time, then maybe our society would be much better off.

I have great respect for your strategies, especially in terms of health care. The current situation is not working, and what many Republicans and GOP candidates have in mind will not work either. We cannot afford to let insurance companies call the shots and make decisions instead of doctors. I cannot tell you about the amount of times that I have gone to the pharmacy in need of a refill, but having to wait until a certain period of time has transpired because that’s what my insurance allows.

I believe that so-called “Obamacare” will eliminate all of the clowning around that occurs such as in my case and thousands of others. Socializing health care will make benefits available to everyone, regardless of economic status. Health care is a basic human right and need. There is no reason that individuals should not be able to receive medical care or important medication because of not having insurance.

I also want to relay to you about the fact that I am unemployed, and have been since last summer. I have been a teacher for six years; I have a master’s in Education. So, I have joined the ranks of the overeducated who sit waiting for jobs to open up. No one is hiring people in my category since, from their end, there must be something wrong with me if I don’t have a job. However, I have done nothing except excel in my field and hold an outstanding set of credentials. It makes me sad to hear that the field of education needs people like me, yet, I cannot find a job with my teaching experience and expertise. I believe that your goals in tackling both education and unemployment will help people like myself.

You and the First Lady believe in allowing children of all backgrounds to receive an outstanding education, with top-notch educators. I not only respect this, but I vehemently agree. The current state of teaching to a test has weeded out many talented teachers. Not only this, but it makes education rote and mundane. Education should be inspirational and teachers should go above and beyond their call of duty. However, because of low salary/benefits and our society’s low appreciation of teachers, many people either leave teaching or are dissuaded away from it. Not anyone can be a teacher; only special individuals who have a passion to lead positively can become teachers. My hope is that the current education crisis becomes a major topic of debate, and that we ask educators to take part in the conversation, not just bureaucrats and businessmen.

I also have faith that under your leadership that our economy will improve. I hope we can build infrastructure domestically and recall many of the jobs we have sent overseas. Outsourcing jobs has caused a litany of issues, and now we live in an employment nightmare. There are so many professionals and educated individuals without jobs. People are not unemployed because they didn’t go to school. It is just the opposite.

President Obama, I thank you for your time in reading this. I tell you these things, not in the hope that you can just fix them. But I do want you to be aware of my story, and know why I will be one of millions voting for you in the fall. I am just another American citizen. However, I wanted you to put a face to your campaign and know that I will contribute however little or however much I can to help you get re-elected. I would hand out fliers and wear placards to voice why people should support you in the oncoming election. I even try to convince all of my fellow Jewish friends to give their support, as I do believe that you are a true friend of Israel (despite many critiques).


We cannot afford to have a GOP candidate leading our country, especially in our current set of crises both domestically and abroad. I consider myself to be an independent in that I vote for the candidate who will lead our country well for the precise moment and exact present time. Mr. Obama, you are that man for the next four years. I support and salute you, President Obama.

Sincerely,

~R~

Saturday, March 24, 2012

God Save the Queen



Sorry, America, but your British cousin is much better at sexual innuendo and puns than we are. The first clip below is from the show, 'Loose Women' a UK equivalent of 'The Talk' or 'The View' that has been running since 1999; but it is MUCH better in my opinion. I haven't ever seen a full episode, but I have to say that the Brits are way more raunchy and overtly sexual (even in seemingly conservative shows). I even have a feeling that Whoppi Goldberg would fly on over to be on that show rather than 'The View' so she could share her uncensored opinion and get away from Elisabeth Hasselbeck.




The British are masters at being raucous and vulgar (but in a classy way..I think it's the accents). It is just way funnier to hear sexual jokes coming out of the mouth of someone British. It's like watching the Fred Armisen skit, where he is a foul-mouthed cockney improper Queen Elizabeth (the clip is embedded below for your viewing pleasure). Hilarious! Is it the fact that we can see the Queen's knickers or that she rocks out on the drums? The accent, the uppity mannerisms, and tongue in cheeky attitude makes the humor work. That and the raunch works antithesis of the image of Brits drinking tea, wearing tweed, and generally being foppish. Underneath all those powdered wigs, Earl Grey, and Buckingham royalty lies a thick layer of immature schoolboy perversion, trickery, crudeness, mayhem, and lasciviousness! and Though none of this innuendo is surprising when you think of England's history.




William Shakespeare basically invented the sexual pun. Think of his sonnets, specifically 130:

"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare"
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

The first time I read this, I cracked up. First of all, Shakespeare makes fun of lovey dovey sonnets. He says his love's eyes are NOT the sun, her lips are NOT red like coral, her breasts are grayish-brown, and her breath stinks; this girl is nasty. At first, you think, he is dissing his true love. Music sounds better than her grating voice and she walks like any mere mortal, not a heavenly Greek goddess. Yet, at the end, he tries to redeem his point by saying that his love is much more real than a cheesy sonnet. He could say lines that have been said before; he wrote that famous scene between Romeo and Juliet. Yet, Shakespeare knows that emotion is far more real than a dumbass poem, than language itself. This sonnet is funny and overtly sexual, as Shakespeare doesn't pretend that the person he talks about is some image from a painting by Botticelli, Rubens, or Michelangelo. That shit ain't real!

RSC: Shakespeare's sexual innuendo

Analysis of Sonnet 130

My love of things British stems from the fact that the humor and writing is so much more crass. It is real! They don't pussyfoot around, as the saying goes. Take many of the British television shows. There are tamer classics like: 'Keeping Up Appearances', 'Are You Being Served?', 'As Time Goes By' 'Mr. Bean', or 'Fawlty Towers'. Then there's my all time favorite 'The Vicar of Dibley' with Dawn French playing the vicar. Now, this is a show supposedly about a little quaint village in Northern England. No but's about it, this is not for church going folk. The humor is just as bawdy as late night television in the states.

Here is a mix of clips of bawdy jokes played at the end of each episode where the Vicar Geraldine Granger, aka Dawn French tells dirty jokes to Alice Tinker, aka Emma Chambers:



This goes onto my next point; the Brits are better writers and actors. Yes, I'm a traitor. The British acting method makes so much more sense. I spent my college abroad experience doing a program at the Globe Theater in London. I just love the British acting method so much more thoroughly than what we have here. If you're a British actor, first of all, you give monologues pretending that other people are there. You paint a scene, even if you're the only one on stage. There is none of this horseshit standing on stage looking around blankly as if you're constipated. Every moment of stage time is real and authentic. When I saw plays at Shakespeare's Globe, they perform them as Shakespeare would have, as moving breathing entities. The lines, blocking, and movement can change; it's fluid. There is none of this, once we block everything and finish dress rehearsal, you have to commit to what you've done with your character like a damn robot with a yardstick up it's ass. With British acting, you can change shit up all the time (well, within reason). That keeps it bloody alive!

Maybe it has to do with the food, as you have clever things like bubble n' squeak, spotted dick, haggis, peas n' mash, and Shepard's pie. Believe me, they sound better than they are (except the spotted dick). Oh, and don't forget fish n' chips (especially with vinegar and salt). Then there's the junk food: Lilt, Flake, Yorkie, Maltesers, Twirl, Aero, Walkers, McCoys. Even the Pringles taste better; there's a curry flavor. CURRY! The last time I went to England, I went into a corner convenience store and convinced my friends to buy a boat load of British chocolate/candy bars. That shit will send you straight to Cockfosters and back (that's the name of an actual place). I love Britishisms (yes, it's English, but it sometimes sounds like another language altogether).

Another thing too. The language is so much more nuanced. Yes, we both speak English, but I'm sorry, the Brits sound so much smarter and smarmier. With words/phrases like: 'bloody hell', 'knickers', 'bollocks', 'fanny', 'tart', 'oinker', 'trollop', 'arse', 'dodgy', 'wanker', 'twat', 'nancy boy', 'twee', 'snog', 'bloke', 'smoking fags', and 'crisps'. The slang/vocabulary is wicked cool! So, in television shows, with the slight differences in vocab, things sound a lot smarter than 'getter done', 'retard', and 'whore'. I mean, leave something to the imagination, huh?

British slang

I also have to say I'm a big fan of UK Skins. I LOVE THAT SHOW! I started watching it because of the hype when Skins US started and I would see ads all over the subway. I still haven't watched the US version, by the way. It would taint my love for UK Skins. And, based on what I said above about British writing/acting, the show is brilliant. You cannot avert your eyes. From episode one, you realize that the show is art; it is real and imitates life. I feel like I'm watching real people sort out their problems. None of this reality tv scripted reality made to look like real life bullshit. Plus, as you watch each season of Skins, the characters and writing get even more brilliant. I want to meet these characters(yes, the actors too); I watch and believe these characters are real. That takes acting/writing genius.

A clip predicting what will happen in UK Skins Series 6:


Here is a clip of Freya Mavor (Mini McGuinness) discussing Skins UK:


Here is a clip of Dakota Blue Richards (Franky Fitzgerald) discussing Skins:


I mean where else do you have a show that deals with: pregnancy, death, drugs/alcohol, absentee parents, divorce, gay/lesbian issues, gender and sexuality, addiction, perfection, body image, psychological trauma/issues, adultery, teenage angst, and SEX! Plus, it's not preachy or out of touch with reality. You get into the story lines of the characters and the writing tears at your emotional heart strings. I hand it to all of the cast and crew of UK Skins for making a show that speaks to teens and adults while also having a show that applies to a global society! It is diverse without being so; it is clever without taking itself too seriously.

Another show I love is 'Misfits'. Honestly, when I first saw previews for this show, I thought it was bonkers. I mean, who would watch a show about a bunch of juvenile delinquents who get super powers. Stupid, right? Well, I love this show almost as much or even more than 'Skins'. Again, the acting and writing are brilliant. I have watched every episode and walked away going 'f-in brilliant'. What's more is that both shows use Aristotelian technique of using objective, discovery, and reversal. Maybe that's why these shows work so well. They are raunchy, funny, real, and stick to the rules of writing good plot lines. Good tv/film HAS to use Aristotle.

Aristotle may be Greek, but the Brits are shy of using him as a muse. Though Aristotelian theory is much more structural (if you have no clue what I'm talking about, read a damn book..Aristotle 'Poetics' to be exact). However, using Aristotle at the base of every screenplay and piece of theater makes it much more authentic because actors understand their characters as well as everyone else's. It makes the actor become the playwright, in a sense (since the key in Aristotelian theory is to understand the entire play in context to your character).

I will leave you on a less academic note, here. Two clips from the Sex Pistols, 'God Save the Queen' and 'Anarchy in the UK', two great songs from one of my favorite bands. They are totally British in that they are raw and in your face:





The bloody show must well go on,

~R~

Thursday, March 22, 2012

That's SO Jewish!



I LOVE being Jewish. Really, I do. I love the culture, religion, and I am totally in love with Israel. On a Jewish scale of 1 to 10, I'm an 11 when it comes to saying loud and proud 'I'm a Jew'. I love bagels and lox, Purim and Sukkot, kugel and latkes. I love putting spicy mustard and hot pastrami on rye bread. I don't mix meat and milk. I DO NOT eat treif (ie. shellfish, pork, gelatin). I go to schul most Saturdays (weather permitting). I make sure to attend synagogue services on every holiday. I have teffilin and tzit-tzit. However, on the religion scale, I'm either 'too Jewish' or 'not Jewish enough' (depending on who you ask). I'm 'Conservadox' (somewhere inbetween Orthodox and Conservative). I don't really buy into the whole labels within Judaism, though. I'm Jewish, and I live my life the best way I can according to what the Torah teaches; I do believe, by the way, that the Torah is a living, breathing organism.

However, the point is that I believe a Jew is a Jew. We are all 'Hashem's chosen people, right?' Some of my friends have issues with the whole 'chosen' thing because it means that other religions aren't 'chosen' and that we're 'right'. However, I also believe that every religion is right to be wrong (or vise versa). A wise friend of mine once said that 'there are many ways/paths up to the mountain top, but when you reach the top, it's the same view for everyone'. I don't believe in proselytizing or telling others how to follow their religion. I only know that Judaism is true for me (though I do enjoy talking about religion, especially mine with others). I follow what I believe to be G-d's light, the plan as it lays out for myself. I try to be the best human being I can be every day, realizing that I am not perfect; I make mistakes. We all do. So, I take issue with religious fanatics who feel they can 'do no wrong' and live above the rest of us on a pedestal.

This whole religious fanaticism and extremism that has become a trend scares me. Muslims, Jews, and Christians have been swept up in the fervor. The way they practice their religion is within a very specific context, and it is seen as the 'Right' way and 'Only' way to do it (notice I put right and only in caps; it was purposeful). Even within religions, there is dissension and squabbling. Take Judaism, for example (since that's the theme of this post already.) Within Judaism, you have: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox. I need to explain that Orthodoxy, in American terms, is 'reactionary'. It is a kind of counter-Enlightenment that was a backlash against assimilationism and secularization of American Jews. Orthodox literally means, 'strict' or 'traditionalist' views (in this case it denotes the Torah). So, there is very little bending for very traditional Jews; the Torah is followed word for word. Orthodoxy, even breaks down even further into: Modern Orthodox and Hasidic (in Hasidim there is Lubavitch, Satmar, Bobov, Breslev etc..the list goes on). Note, by the way, that A Bobov Hasidic Jew does not agree with how a Satmar practices (and vise versa).

I won't try to explain all the nuances about Hasidic Jews. Instead, I will encourage you to do some research:

Basic Definition of Hasidim
PBS info on Hasidic Jews
info on Orthodoxy and Hasidim

Also, a good source for outsiders to Judaism is Oprah's visit/look inside the Orthodox/Hasidic world of Judaism:
Oprah and Hasidic Jews

Look, I'm not trying to blast my own religion here. I love being Jewish, and I LOVE JEWS (even the ones who hate Israel and tell me I'm not a real Jew). My view is that we (Jews) have enough enemies in the world to be fighting like this. I get the whole view that one's way of practicing seems more 'authentic' than another. However, I feel that we should be elevating each other, as Jews, to gravitate a more holistic and fulfilled way of practice (whatever that means to each of us), rather than pointing fingers and saying 'you're not Jewish enough.' All the attitude does is create schisms between Jews and prevents us from doing what the Torah tells us is a golden mitzvah, staying together as ONE people.

It literally hurts my heart that Jews fight so much. I mean, I'm not going to yell at a Jewish friend for eating bacon. I used to eat it too, until I decided to not eat it anymore. And that was a personal choice; I was on a personal journey (and still am) to be more spiritual and feed my Jewish soul, so to speak. I wouldn't tell someone who doesn't keep kosher that they are wrong or bad. That isn't my job as a Jew, as a human being. G-d is the only judge; I really believe that. So who am I to tell someone else that they can't eat a cheeseburger and then have ice cream? We all make personal choices, and we're all on our own personal spiritual journeys. We should help one another to do our best as Jews, as humans.

I know this sounds a little wishy-washy, but I really do believe that Jews have a chance to come together. This stranglehold on Israeli culture/politics and soon American Judaism by the religious right will not last forever. One day I hope that some of my fellow Jews realize that just because a woman doesn't wear a sheitel (wig) or a man wear a black hat that those people are STILL Jewish. In fact, I will stick my neck out there and say that it is very ironic that the Jews who point fingers at other Jews saying they desecrate Torah from not observing Shabbat or adhering to all mitzvot and Jewish law that they, in fact, are also desecrating Torah. The Torah forbids Jews to admonish, embarrass, or judge other Jews.

Not only that, but in the act of making another Jew feel bad and isolating him/her, you are separating that person from Judaism (which is a no-no when it comes to the Torah). I know what people of the religious right would say. They would say that non-observant Jews bring it on themselves, and that if they were to be invited in that a whole exalted way of living would be in jeopardy. However, the Jewish religion is already in jeopardy, in my eyes. All of this internal fighting gives excuses for anti-Semites to lash out against Jews.

I just wish that more Hasidic sects would practice more like the Lubovitch Jews, who believe that every Jew has a fire within ready to be lit. They invite Jews from all aspects of life into their folds and teach them about the laws and practice of Judaism. I have actually been told before that I have some a little Chabad mixed with Chovevei Torah, Carlebach, and Tzvat; basically a new age crunchy musical/artsy hippie kind of Jew who is into practice but doesn't get too carried away.

Below is a clip that explains my point of view pretty well. It was made by Andrew Lustig, a Jew living in Jerusalem (who I believe is studying at Pardes where I also studied):

"I Am Jewish" You Tube video

I want to explain, though, why I am writing a whole post about being proud of my Jewishness. Well, last night I attended a Jewish book panel entitled: 'The New Yiderati: Redefining the Jewish Experience in Literature'. The authors on the panel were Sharon Pomerantz (Rich Boy), Michelle Haimoff (These Days Are Ours), Jeff Oliver (Failure to Thrive), Joanna Smith Rakoff (A Fortunate Age), and Adam Wilson (Flatscreen). Many interesting ideas/questions came up. There was a discussion about how a Jewish writer feels a burden to represent the entire Jewish religion. If done wrong, one has the possibility of misrepresenting the religion and angering many. This happened to Sharon Pomerantz, as she related a story being in Harrisburg and being yelled at by a woman who didn't think her book had 'enough Jewish values'. If you have read about Deborah Feldman and her book Unorthodox, you would know that she has received death threats (from her OWN family).

Further reading on the Housing Works' Jewish author event:
Prosen People Blog

There is now a boom in contemporary Jewish literature. On the panel, it was discussed how the writers of Jewish literature used to be Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel (whose name didn't come up but I'm adding it), and Saul Bellow. For women, it was Gertrud Kolar, Cynthia Ozick, or Grace Pailey for a long while. Now, however, there is suddenly a plethora of Jewish female voices as well as Orthodox/Hasidic views. Both Shalom Auslander and Deborah Feldman grew up within the walls of Hasidic Judaism and now write about it. The panel brought it up, and I agree, that amongst Jews, we have a fascination and fetish for Orthodoxy. For some, it's the draw of its mystery and seclusion. For others, they find the laws and structure fascinating. I would add that, among non-Jews, there is too a fetish/obsession with Judaism that always teeters the line between bigotry and hatred.

So, Jewish writers risk hitting a nerve with both the Jewish and 'goy' world (btw, for the record I hate the word 'goy', a derogatory term for non-Jew). It is much riskier, however to write for a Jewish audience, as Jews have something to say about just about everything (Haven't you ever watched Seinfeld?)

Jews, as a whole are very well-read and opinionated. Also, there's the joke that if you have three Jews together in a room, you will have four different opinions. Another joke is about two Jews trapped on an island who build three synagogues/schuls. The punchline is to ask about the three schuls if there are only two men. There need to be three synagogues so, there's the one I go to, you go to, and the one where you say 'Uch, oy gevalt, I'm not going there'. In summary, the burden for a Jewish writer is great.

The authors talked about what makes a writer 'too Jewish' or a book 'too Jewy'. Adam Wilson determined that if you are 'more Jewish than Larry David' than you're probably 'too Jewish'. The authors also discussed if a Jewish author automatically writes a Jewish novel even if the book has nothing to do with Judaism. The answer was yes. Jews get each other and we like to talk about our experience being Jewish in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian. Do you celebrate Christmas (for the spirit of it) and have a Hanukkah bush? Do you eat ham or bacon at a friends' dinner party just 'to be polite'? Or, do you try to make your kids as 'waspy' as possible and try to fit in by not 'being too Jewish'?

I say say it loud and proud: I'm JEWISH! Wear that yarmulke, eat that brisket, be a bar/bat mitzvah, learn fluent Hebrew, go to Israel on Birthright, keep milk and meat separate, light the menorah, dance the Hora. However you choose to do it, if you're Jewish, you're Jewish; that's all.



Before I leave you, I will give a list of 25 books that fall (mostly) under the category of contemporary Jewish literature whose authors are all/mostly Jewish:

(*- denotes that me or my wife have read them and you can ask me or her for a review)

~Lipshitz 6 (Two Angry Blondes) by T. Cooper*
~Almost Dead by Assaf Gavron*
~A Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs*
~Rage Against the Meshugenah by Danny Evans*
~A Seat at the Table by Joshua Halberstam*
~Book of the Unknown by Jonathan Keats*
~Rich Boy by Sharon Pomerantz*
~Sotah by Naomi Ragen*
~God Bless America by Steve Almond*
~Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman*
~Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander
~Flatscreen by Adam Wilson
~Failure to Thrive by Jeff Oliver
~The Believers by Zoe Heller*
~Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig*
~Matzo Ball Heiress by Laurie Gwen Shapiro*
~All Other Nights by Dara Horn*
~These Days are Ours- Michelle Haimoff
~A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff
~Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex
~Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safron Foer
~The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
~Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
~The Plot Against America by Philip Roth*
~Night/Dawn/The Accident (trilogy)- Elie Wiesel*

I will also give a link to Israeli keffiyehs and other Judaica paraphernalia made by Baruch Chertok, who I have met. He has reclaimed what has become a symbol for Palestinian solidarity to remake it as a symbol of Jewish/Israeli pride/solidarity!
Israeli Keffiyeh

L'Chaim,

  ~R~

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Passion for Fashion



I'm not a fashionista OR a metrosexual, the term for men into fashion. In fact, my wife thinks I'm one of the least fashionable men around. Mostly because I don't give a crap about how I look most of the time. I don't remember the last time I combed my hair, and sometimes I skip taking a shower (depends on my mood). As for clothes, I do have some stylish pieces and looks, but in general, I'm not that into fashion! However, since being in NYC, I cannot help but be drawn to the fashion movement and have an ear to the ground for what's hot and cool.

I have learned major designers names and now coo at hearing about designers making exclusive lines for particular stores like Gap or J. Crew. Before moving to the big city, however, I couldn't tell you who Diane von Furstenburg, Alexander McQueen, or Isaac Mizrahi, or Marc Jacobs were. Now, I'm HOOKED on the show, Project Runway (thanks Kim) its spin-off Project Accessory as well as 24-hour Catwalk and the Fashion Fund mini-episodes (on Hulu). I still sometimes say to myself, 'Who is that?' and my wife goes, 'WHAT! you don't know (fill in the name of some really famous designer)? Then, I look up what the designer does on the computer and google about biography, background, style, etc. I was clueless about this world before living in Brooklyn.

In fact, just yesterday, I hung out with an old friend (she's not old..I've known her for a while). I actually consider her a 'phantom high school' friend. I just created that myself. We didn't go to high school together (in the same generation or at the same school). However, I KNOW that if we had gone to school together, that we would have been really good friends. She used to dress in vintage styles from different decades; she shopped at thrift shops. I wore snapping cowboy shirts and Dickies work pants. We both dressed in kooky styles put together from other decades, and didn't care about brand names or labels.

So yesterday, as we're walking around Manhattan, she tells me that being in NYC, you cannot escape being somewhat inspired/intrigued by the fashion world. She was saying that every single magazine in her hotel room had to do with fashion. Not only this, but her son (who is more brand conscious, as are most teenagers nowadays) bought some green Nike shoes. He needed new shoes, and he wanted Nike shoes, so I recommended they check out Nike Town (surprisingly, the shoes weren't astronomical as expected). I have to say that the shoes are wicked cool, and my friend's 13-year-old will be the toast of his middle school upon returning.

Other people walking around noticed the shoes and remarked how cool they were. In fact, my friend and her son were directing people to Nike Town. They were a walking advertisement. I, thereby, challenge anyone to come to New York and not be enchanted by fashion and trends. You see ads and fashion references on billboards, in the subway, on passing buses, even in any newspaper or news broadcast. And don't say, 'I don't have a lot of money!' There are cheap-o brand name shoe and clothing stores in Brooklyn and even Manhattan has deals. Heck, go to Chinatown and buy some knock-off purses (although I've been told that the city has cracked down).

My own history with fashion isn't completely null and void. I started getting into J. Crew and Brooks Brothers back in college. Actually, I had three personal shopper: my best friend Sarah T.; my sister, Margaret; and my wife Clair. They got me into wearing pink shirts and pin stripe trousers. My wife and I, back when we were JUST friends used to go to Easton (a posh outdoor mall in Columbus) and go to Abercrombie and J. Crew. Back then, Hollister and American Eagle was considered 'fancy' for me. Though, now I'm more of a Brooks Brothers/J. Crew sort. My first wool trousers were purchased at J. Crew, as was my first cashmere sweater. At the advice of the women mentioned above, I began to embrace color and style. I took advice on what 'looked good' on me and what didn't. In fact, I still have some of these recommended purchases in my closet!

Since living here, in New York City, I find myself actually caring about how I look before I go out (especially if I'm going to Manhattan). There is a poster I always see in the subway, and advertisement for Manhattan Storage: "New Yorkers don't dress better than everyone else, we just act like it." That pretty much sums up the persona.

Below, you will find shots I took of mannequins/store displays around Manhattan and Brooklyn:







Even from the shop windows and mannequins, you can see that fashion is art in NYC. And, there is a style for EVERYONE under the sun! Plus, here you don't have to look very far to see inspiration and unique ideas. On the subway, bus, and in the streets, you are bombarded by different styles and ways of wearing clothes. I have noticed that the 80's has come back in full style here: big shoulders, big hair, clunky jewelry. However, I often see other decades too. I've seen dapper looking men with wax in their moustache (to style in circa 1900's) wearing suspenders, a bow-tie, and then mixing it up with a 70's style polyester suit. I've seen women with punk hairstyles and tattoos wearing a 50's dress silhouette/style. People here are all about fashion, and it crosses cultures, religions, ages, genders, sexualities, nationalities. Often different groups get inspiration from each other.

I would have never in a million years thought that I'd admit that the first thing I'd do at becoming famous and/or wealthy is to get myself a personal shopper/stylist at Bloomingdale's mens' department. Seriously, you walk into the basement where the menswear is, and you are bombarded by classic suits and hip urban chic men's clothing. It is NOT some middle America Macy's or commercialized mall department store. You see items at Bloomingdale's that are unlike anything you've ever seen. They have top designers and signature brands (like Ralph Lauren Polo, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger). But, there are also designers you've never heard of, or at least ones that I haven't heard of. The mens' department at Bloomingdale's is amazing! If you are male, go there, and try not to be hypnotized by cool fashion styles and trends. I include the website below, BUT be warned that for the full effect of male fashion obsession to take place, you have to go in person for the ambiance and effect. The prices will make you cringe, but then you'll wish you had that amount of cash so you could look so cool!

(below): pics of Bloomingdale's menswear department:





~Bloomingdale's Mens'Department

I think it's great that straight men are embracing a once man taboo. Of course men can be into fashion and this hobby have no bearing on one's sexuality. After all, the days of 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' are over. Men are learning how to dress themselves and embrace v-necks, Italian suits, and bright colors. It is cool to be fashionable if you're a guy. Guys of the world, know that you are not a 'sissy' for being interested in brands, designers, and fashion. The trend is growing, and sooon...

Below are some pics of NYC street fashion (the last three are my own pictures):







You will become a FASHUN-MISTA (or a Man-shion-ista)! That's my new term for guys who are into fashion (I like the former better). And just so you know, guys of all stripes are fashionable these days. That includes men in both the gay and straight worlds. There are plenty of straight, macho men who are into fashion (especially in NYC). In fact, men are blogging about it and it is consuming the mans' world. Nascar, football, baseball, and golf are pastimes of yesteryear. The new 'guy' thing to do is to be a fashun-mista!

~NY Observer article on Men and Fashion

Fashionably yours,

~R~

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Night of the Living Hipsters!


Brooklyn (and NYC in general) is becoming so hipster, I cannot stand it. The neighborhood I live in is primarily working class West Indian with a sprinkling of yuppies and other cultures/ethnicities. However, within the last couple of years, the hipsters have been flocking to the area southeast of Prospect Park. Now, when I first started coming to this neighborhood, there were no hipsters in sight. In fact, I was literally the only white person on the bus or subway. Now, when I get off the B/Q at Prospect Park, it is like hipster paradise. All of a sudden the neighborhood is becoming trendy and chic.

A lot of it has to do with the low prices in rent. A lot of the buildings around where I live are pre-war. At least twice a month you can count on spotting a U-Haul with packed with bicycles, vinyl or DJ equipment, Crate and Barrel furniture, and maybe something offbeat like some mannequins or bee keeping equipment. I now walk down the street and see hipsters riding bikes or hipsters walking home with groceries. It seems like my area is now the backyard of Park Slope. Soon, my Lefferts Gardens' section of Bedford will look just like Bedford in Williamsburg. But, it's not too late. We can stop this hipster invasion! There are ways to contain a hipster outbreak prevent a hipster epidemic.

You can tell if your neighborhood is being invaded by hipsters. Here are some tell-tale signs:
-corner grocery sells micro-bear and vegan/organic options
-the frequency of biking forces bike lanes to be installed
-the nearest American Apparel is always sold out of skinny jeans and jeggings.
-the nearby Duane Reade has no more bright red lipstick in stock
-Indian, vegetarian, and Thai restaurants start popping up
-The music blasting on passing cars is obscure rock/pop you've never heard before
-little coffee shops start popping up and put Dunkin' Donuts out of business

You can spot a hipster from a mile away. Make sure you can spot them, before they spot you. You don't want to be caught being called a 'poseur' or worse, have one pull down his/her Ray-Ban sunglasses and give you a hipster sneer. Hipsters are not very nice or kind. They invade your neighborhood without paying attention to local customs or habits. They walk down the street with an air of 'I'm better than everyone else on this damn block'.

You can tell male hipsters apart from non-hipsters because they wear oversized button-down sweaters, often with eccentric patterns. Skinny jeans (black) or jeggings are a MUST! They wear cowboy boots or lace up soft leather work boots (that probably cost $500 but they pass them off like they got 'em at Goodwill). They wear v-neck t-shirts or t-shirts with ironic jokes that only a hipster would laugh at. Examples are: kitten with a moustache and ski cap, a picture of an upside down tree, a cowboy with lipstick and high heels, or a large open mouth saying 'bust a moby'. I don't get the joke, and neither does any non-hipster. Also, if you want to be a male hipster, you gotta grow a beard. The bigger and bushier, the better!



Female hipsters are always, ALWAYS wearing bright red lipstick and dark eyeliner. They are known to wear black or neon (purple, pink, yellow) tights under cut-off jean shorts. Or, tights also go with an ugly floral print or polka dot dress. A granny sweater is definitely in. Ratty, uncombed hair with gel is often in vogue. Also, some rogue hipster women like to shave one side of their head or get assymetrical bangs. Bangs, bangs, bangs are necessary to be a female hipster. Ankle boots or Mary Janes are also in (cowboy boots are not).





Frumpy, disheveled, and scruffy are the key adjectives for any hipster (both male and female). Also, the more obscure the music/band you listen to, the better. Bon Iver is way too hyped now. I mean, I've known about them for years, but they won a Grammy so I cannot like a band that everyone knows about. Also, the worse the band sounds, the better. Hipsters don't really have a good ear for talent. They just like anything that makes noise. It could be two guys who hit pots and pans with rulers or a girl playing a saw and tap dancing at the same time. The weirder and less it sounds like music, the more hipster it is.

If you want to be a hipster, though, you should shop at either American Apparel or Urban Outfitters. Buy some Tom's shoes and a keffiyeh/scarf. Also, get thick, chunky tortoise shell thick framed glasses (it doesn't matter if they're real or not). An oversized coat/sport coat is definitely cool. And remember neon/bright colors. Pink, red, yellow, jeans/leggings are cool. Also, men and women, though they have definite styles of their own also interchange a lot of their gender identity. Hipster guys can be sensitive and meek while hipster girls can be tough and edgy. It doesn't matter. Gender conformity is not hipster!




For other sources on how to be a hipster, check these out:
~WikiHow-How to be a Hipster
~Hipster glossary
~Hipster's Dictionary
~Paste Hipster History
~Cracked Hipster Guide

If you want to put an end to the hipster madness, please send all ideas and requests to stopthehipster@gmail.com (don't e-mail this address..I don't even know if it's a real e-mail).

Beware of the hipster. If one bites you and you wake up donning Ray Bans and look a little pasty, check your neck or wrist for star tattoos. That is the mark of the hipster!

Beware,

~R~


Addendum: My wife had two very interesting run-ins with hipster culture within the past couple days that add flavor to this post. She told me that today she realized that hipsterdom has fully permeated and saturated every inch of American culture, as she saw a hipster guy with Down Syndrome walking out of Barnes and Noble. He was wearing fitted black pants and an orange and black striped long sleeve shirt. It stuck out because it was unexpected and the guy was with another hipster styled friend. Also, the other day she saw a French hipster guy with pants so tight she couldn't look also with tzit-tzit hanging out and a velvet yarmulke. He had very pointy black cowboy boots. He had a flannel shirt and had tight charcoal colored nearly shiny pants (not black). I just think these are interesting observations, that's all.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Joseph Kony doesn't rhyme with PHONY!

Before reading this post, please watch this 27 minute video FIRST (close all other windows; don't text or email; No multi-tasking...JUST WATCH IT!)



DISCLAIMER: Invisible Children is real! It is not a phony nor a selfish, greedy organization. No, I cannot prove how they use their funds. One thing I do know, however, is that Jospeh Kony HAS NOT BEEN CAPTURED. He is still at large and therefore, the lives of children, in Central Africa, are still in very REAL danger. For the haters: get a life, get a clue! Don't participate, fine (also don't send me bogus links to denial and lies..denial ain't just a river in Egypt). But don't hate on a viscerally altruistic organization with ambitious goals and positive energy/morals! Together, we can change tomorrow; we can change the world!

I don't really understand the haters out there. IC and their mission is real and they are making positive changes. Some people don't think Joseph Kony is still at large. Some are trying to accuse Invisible Children of hoarding their donations for salaries and frivolous expenses. Others are disgusted at white privelage coming to the aid of victimized Africans. The bigger picture here is helping to protect the children growing up in Central Africa. I CANNOT imagine (and it tears me up to do so) my 2 year old son being kidnapped in the middle of the night and trained/brainwashed into being a merciless killing machine.

Now, I don't know who started the trending attack against IC. It could have been a disgruntled employee who was fired or someone who actually is threatened by this work. Whatever the case is, now many people are doubtful and critical of this amazing organization. How many college students travel abroad? How many come home to the US and actually take action on what they learned? Many college aged students go abroad and vomit all over foreign streets with their binge drinking and partying escapades. This organization started when a group of friends went to Uganda and met children like Tony and Jacob; they were forever changed at hearing stories from child soldiers.

Invisible Children encourages everyone (no matter how young or old) to gain knowledge, act on that knowledge, and not ONLY give money but call and write to government officials and educate others on this issue. It is a true grassroots organizaton that espouses global leadership and positive ideals. Together we make better fighters against the evils and negativity of the world!

I do not work for or represent Invisible Children in any way shape or form. I am someone who got into doing work for and supporting Invisible Children purely by accident. Though, as you may know, in life, THERE ARE NO ACCIDENTS!

Here is the story of how I got involved:
Last year, during my work at Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, LREI, I taught eighth grade Core (English and Social Studies) in an integrated curriculum that espoused social justice as a main component. I was lucky to teach this precocious and amazingly dynamic group of 40 students. Starting in October, these students began a journey on their annual Social Justice Project, a capstone of the eighth grade experience at LREI. The students worked with many organizations and causes. What is impressive is that they chose their own topic based on their passions and interests. Some choice malaria, others chose gun violence. They built websites, visited organizations, and led workshops during a teach-in for the entire middle school.

However, it was my work with four students (Gisele, Andrew, Marcelo, and Sage) through Invisible Children that meant the most to me and changed my life FOREVER. In January 2011, we visited the United Nations, as child soldiers is apart of the UN Millennium Goals, eight goals including gender equality and environmental stability. All of the goals have a vision to be met by the year 2015 and all are an effort to bring peace to the world and make it a better place to live for EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE! UN Millennium Goals 2015

In April, the students brought the road crew of Invisible Children to LREI, at the high school, to show a video and spread the word about child soldiers and the organization's cause. The road crew, or 'roadies' of IC are made up of teams of young American (usually) twenty-somethings and a two or three people from Uganda or Congo. The teams travel acoss different areas of the US and talk about the history and personal stories regarding Kony and the LRA.

This is how I met Babra, a courageous young woman who shared her story about her experiences growing up in Uganda having the evil influence of Joseph Kony always under foot. Following this event at LREI, we took part in the 25 campaign, where we were quiet for 25 hours to represent the 25 years of violence and terror in Central Africa. For 25 hours, starting April 24th to the 25th, me and the students and teachers, who participated in this event, did not talk. It was somewhat humorous to watch the three eighth grade teachers talk to each other on notebook paper. Monday night, on the 24th, me and the students went to a local event in Brooklyn, where we wrote letters expressing our concern on this issue and then broke our silence with a live musical performance by the band, Spirit Family Reunion. It was a hootenanny, truly! At this event, I met Babra again, and gave her one of my 'famous' hemp necklaces.

Some pics of the 25 event in Brooklyn:






Here is a picture of Spirit Family Reunion gettin' down:


Here is a picture of Babra speaking at the event:


I must explain about my hemp necklaces. For almost ten years, I have been making hemp jewelry. My wife, Clair, taught me how to make them in college during a power outage. Funny, I know. At first, I made them for friends. Soon, I started selling them at music festivals (ie. Bonnaroo) and giving them to heroes of mine (mainly musicians). Examples of such people are: Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Tim DeLaughter (of Polyphonic Spree), Matisyahu. Then, I thought to sell my hemp wares on ArtFire. Not many people buy, but each year for the past three years, I have donated my proceeds toward a charity. In 2009, it was for the Breast Cancer Coalition. In 2010, it was for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Then, in 2011 it was for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This year, in 2012, proceeds will be raised for Invisible Children. Back when I was teaching at a boarding school, I made red hemp necklaces and raised several hundred dollars for AIDS research. Art for a purpose is very crucial!
lovelight09 - ArtFire Seller Shop

Back to the start of this story. Why did I give a necklace to Babra? I barely knew her! Also, what is the connection? Well, I was inspired by her story. I cannot requote it here because this event was over a year ago and I did not plan to write a blog on this topic. However, she discussed her experiences living under the thumb of Kony and the LRA. She had family members killed and knew many people who became child soldiers, victims at the evil hands of Kony and his crones. I like to think of my necklaces as a way to espouse my views on activism and people being united around the world.


I believe that my hemp necklaces connect people all over the world, whether they know it or not. I've given out necklaces to friends all over the world. My hope is that two of these people meet, have the hemp necklace in common, and then form a bridge, a commonality. I also like the idea that my hemp artistry inspires positivity. Whenever I hand out a necklace, I tell the wearer that they must go out and do their best and inspire others to also do so. When I give a necklace to one of my students, the deal is always that they make me art (of any kind) so that we are exchanging art to art, hence the name on my business card 'Art to Heart'. So, I gave a necklace to Barbara because: I will always remain connected to her, her work inspires positivity in the world, and her work reminds me that nothing is ever in vain.

I got sidetracked.

So, after the 25 event, two of the students, Andrew and Marcelo, signed up for the opportunity to fly to San Diego for the first ever leadership summit with Invisible Children. They were accepted to attend this conference/summit (in August), The Fourth Estate, in San Diego (becoming the youngest members to attend). Back in September of 2011, Marcelo, e-mailed me asking for help in the most recent fundraising campaign, to raise over a million dollars. The fact that the students, as freshmen, continue their work, is inspiring. They didn't just get involved for the sake of a grade and then move on. So, I am not quitting or moving on either! These students INSPIRE me to keep on being an activist for this cause and the organization, Invisible Children. Thank you Marcelo, Andrew, Sage, and Gisele. You ARE the reason I teach, and with students like you, I can rest assured that the future is in safe hands.

You might ask, why this is so important? What can donating money do? I can't really do much as one person? Can we really stop Joseph Kony when we're so far away? Why is this issue all of a suddenly the 'topic du jour'? Why now if it has been going on for over 20 years?

A short history on the conflict:
It started as a resistance movement in Uganda led by Alice Lakwema, who felt that higher powers of a Godly nature were telling her to overthrow the Ugandan government. She, however, felt that the government was being unjust to the Acholi people, and her Holy Spirit Movement gained a foothold. However, she was soon exiled, and Joseph Kony stepped into her shoes. He did not receive the support of Lakwema's followers. Kony then began kidnapping children to recruit them in his army, the LRA. It is thought that at least 90% of the LRA have been made up by child soldiers largely from The Central Republic of Congo and Uganda.*

*http://www.invisiblechildren.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/history.html

It is in 1987, that Joseph Kony stepped into power. He wanted Uganda to become a Christian country, so he formed the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in an effort to usurp and revolt against the Ugandan government. Joseph Kony has made a promise that under his rule, the government would become a theocracy (where basically church is the state). He would make laws based on the Ten Commandments, or so he says. So how can a 'Christian' man be so evil? I don't see the connection either. Joseph Kony has kidnapped over 20,000 children in Central Africa and uses the boys as soldiers and girls as sexual concubines/slaves. It is disgusting! These children are kidnapped in the middle of the night. The boys are given guns and trained to shoot on command; sometimes they are forced to kill their own parents. They are sent to the front lines when the LRA fights with official state military forces of Uganda. The child soldiers also carry heavy loads (arms and supplies). If they collapse, the child is often left for dead or shot on the spot. Does this sound familiar? It reminds me of history from the time of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. Joseph Kony is an EVIL man, and he needs to be stopped!

*http://www.nndb.com/people/398/000022332/

Today was a big launch day for the 2012 project to bring Joseph Kony to justice. There is a lot of negativity being flung out around the blogosphere, so I am here to stand by Invisible Children and defend the work they do! A lot of people out there are saying this whole thing is a 'scam' and that Joseph Kony has already been captured. WHAT? Not true!
Read more on Invisible Children and how they tactfully, loquaciously speak out to the false accusations and criticism:
Invisible Children- answering criticism

Invisible Children IS the reason I decided to become an activist. Back in the fall of 2001, as a Sophomore at Kenyon College, I remember listening to Patricia Ireland, former head of NOW speak about her experiences with the organization. I also heard speakers like Bobby Seal, former leader of the Black Panthers, and Wade Davis, whose photography has become prolific in connecting us as a global society. I have always been passionate about issues, and if you ask my friends, I have always had an opinion on various political and social issues.

However, I am focusing most of my activist energies on Invisible Children. Why? They walk the walk and talk the talk. They are being criticized for being phony or not giving enough/any proceeds to what they talk about. That is all bulls#$@! It makes me angry to hear people criticize this organization. I don't think anyone would disagree that the topic is one that CANNOT and SHOULD NOT be ignored.

I think a lot of people mistrust this organization from San Diego. My answer, however, to the negativity is that every courageous leader for the greater good faces obstacles. Revered Martin Luther King Jr. was put in jail. So was Rosa Parks and many other Civil Rights leaders. Some leaders face execution or assassination for their work. Others are called names and have their names dragged through the media sludge. Why? Being a leader for the greater good of humanity isn't easy. The very nature of being a leader for positive change makes you succeptable to negative criticism and jeers.



I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS VIEW IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM! What I want to know is where this a-hole gets his stats. How does he know what he knows? Oh, suddenly REDDIT is a valid source? HA! You try to make a shoddy argument, and by the way IC doesn't NEED your money! IC is NOT a cult! This guy had negative experiences, fine. He's one person out of millions, and so am I!

Also, like any other organization, we don't see the money go to use. So if you critique IC, then you need to critique EVERY single charity and non-profit. Unless you work for them, you NEVER see where your money goes. Most people would say (in accordance with Invisible Children), well I am not going to Uganda to see any radio towers or rehabilitation centers being built. Although, IC does give away trips to Uganda to its participants and fundraisers. In fact, talking about money: 50% of the IC programming budget is used to help spread awareness about the situation in Central Africa and promote international support for a global peace talk initiative. The remaining 50% of the budget provides first-rate programming for affected and victimized children and their families. The money goes toward building radio towers to provide early warning of LRA activity, broadcasting and handing out fliers encouraging children to return home, and establishing rehabilitation center that help council children after being traumatized under the LRA.

Here is an interview with Ben Keesey (the CEO of Invisible Children) addressing the critique:
Yahoo interview with Ben Keesey

I can only say that I completely trust Invisible Children and their goals. I know my money and time is being put to worthwhile use. I am helping to build radio towers so that villages in Central Africa can be warned about Joseph Kony and the LRA whereabouts and help protect the children who are at risk. The money also helps to build schools and rehabilitation centers so that victims can try to move on with their lives and help contribute something positive to society.

I cannot express how enamored I am of Invisible Children, IC. They invite EVERYONE to participate. It isn't just the young or college-aged. I am well beyond being college aged, yet I don't feel too old to add my voice. That's the point. We all can get involved. And, it isn't just giving money. They call for days of action, where you write to and call government officials: mayors, congressmen/women, Senators, etc. There are days encouraging people to not speak or to wear bracelets or t-shirts to advocate the cause of IC.

This year, Invisible Children is dedicated all of its efforts to finally capturing Joseph Kony and putting an end to his evil madness once and for all! You can order action kits that include buttons, stickers, and other paraphernalia that helps to spread the word and answer the question: Who is Joseph Kony? Well, for starters, he is still at large. Yes, really!

IC has a point; if people do not know about him and what he is doing, then the cause dies. By making him 'in-famous', we will make everyone around the US, around the world catch on and know who he is. His name will be synonymous with Stalin and Hitler. His atrocities will be known by all; he will not be able to hide anymore. We, as a collective whole, will uncover his identity and pull him kicking and screaming out of hiding. The coward will be forced to see the light of day and have the entire eyes of the world watch and judge him and his atrocities.

I think Invisible Children is incredible in that they use Social Media to encourage all of us to use our voice. They are espousing the idea to reject shallow consumerist and materialist ideals. We reverse how we use Twitter, Facebook, advertising, television, etc. They ARE making waves in history. I get goosebumps watching the video at the top of this post. I was crying and getting angry. You cannot help emote! We have the power and the voice, and WE MUST USE IT NOW! I am inspired. I hope you are too!

I will leave you with a video just made by Invisible Children to address the critique. In it, you will see a woman from Northern Uganda talking about her victimization as a child soldier and sex slave. She fully supports IC and their mission.


Addendum: Nicholas Kristof a champion for human rights, who wrote 'Half the Sky' (a book on sexual trafficking in India) and who does an annual 'win a trip' contest to less traveled areas of the world, addresses the critique of Invisible Children within his column in the NY Times: Nicholas Kristof on Invisible Children

Follow-up video for Kony 2012:
Follow-up for Kony 2012


VOICE UP, ACT UP, RISE UP

  ~R~

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Age of Aquarius



I know that I wrote an entire post about the 1980's, but my REAL obsession is the 1960's. I really wish that I could go back in time and live within the time frame of 1958 to 1972 (I'd want to experience the overlap of decades too).

The biggest reason I say this is because of the music. However, the fashion, pop and sub culture along with the politics and current events from that period are also really far out. Well, more like tumultuous and revolutionary. I'm not trying to make them sound trite. Far from it. And I'm not trying to romanticize that decade either. I have read a TON about the sixties and I have heard first-hand accounts from friends, relatives (including my parents) about what America in the sixties was like.

I know it wasn't all peace and love, hugs and drugs, music and sex. There were a lot of complicated happenings going on, and I so wish I could have witnessed the major changes first-hand.

We had the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, and the counter-culture revolution. These were all followed by the Women's Movement, Gay and Lesbian Movement, American Indian Movement, and Environmental Movement. The sixties spawned a dawn of self-activation and self-awareness. Collective activism was the new wave. The teenagers didn't want to go to the soda shop and hang out by the jukebox or go to a sock hop to have their fun. There was more than the conventional box that the fifties presented, and the youth of America were interested in changing the very framework of society. The fabric was unravelling and being re-sewn.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez (1963) at the March on Washington:


Music had a ton to do with the politics and social unrest going on. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were known for starting the whole political music scene with their meaningful yet charged lyrics. The unrest of the youth started with the music. It wasn't just about cars, girls/boys, surfing, and breaking-up. The music was much more meaningful and became poetry.

Disclaimer: For the following, clips, I recommend providing your own music. The first has none, and the second has such bad music that I'd turn the sound off (the song is an unfortunate remake of the Grass Roots song 'Let's Live for Today'). Just turn on Danny and the Juniors 'Let's Go to the Hop' and the Grass Roots 'Let's Live for Today' and watch both of the following videos of footage.

1950's teenagers:


1960's teenagers:


Now that you've watched those clips, it is a very stark difference between the life of a teen in the fifties and sixties (especially if you compare say 1958 to 1968). Especially if you look at the dancing; it's like constipated stiff robots versus liquid electric creatures of the sea. What I find so fascinating about the sixties is probably the fact that after 1963, America lost its so-called 'innocence'. After President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, the country lost that good-ole fifties'/early sixties' nostalgia and naivety. By the summer of 1964, Ken Kesey and his Magic Bus of Merry Pranksters drove across America, flying high on LSD and THC (lots of other magical things too). Then, by 1966/67 the whole sub-culture was changing. As LSD seeped its way into the life of an American teen, all hell broke loose.

Everyone was 'turning on, tuning in and dropping out', or in other words heeding the words of Dr. Timothy Leary and experimenting with psychedelics. The Warlocks, later known as the Grateful Dead were the soundtrack to this whirlwind time.



There were the 'acid tests' led by Ken Kesey on his farm and Timothy Leary was giving people diplomas in mock-graduation ceremonies where they took acid and learned to 'really see the world'. San Francisco was the MECCA for all of this to go down. Bands/musicians like Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Jimmy Hendrix, The Mamas and the Papas, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and many others played in the clubs, dens, and bars in the Haight-Ashbury district. If you watch movies like 'The Trip' (1967) with Peter Fonda, 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' (1970), 'Easy Rider' (1969), 'Psych-Out' (1968) with Jack Nicholson (when he had hair), 'Alice's Restaurant' (1969) and of course the musical/movie 'Hair' (1967-68) displayed the hippie drug sub-culture of the sixties well.

1966 acid test clip:


1967 Timothy Leary 'Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out' album:


'The Trip' (1967) clip:


By 1967-68, the hippie sub-culture movement had gone from coast to coast. I don't blame the youth of that era for experimenting with drugs. We had young men dying every single day from a war that many Americans increasingly wanted to cut ALL participation in, Vietnam. Then there was the unrest and injustice for African Americans. Then, boom, in 1968 both Robert Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated within months of one another. This at the HEIGHT of the bloodshed over in Vietnam; the Mai-Lee massacre happened around the same time. If you read 'The Things They Carried' by Tim O'Brien, he talks about his military service from 1969-1970; only one year, but as he recalls, one of the most nightmarish and gruesome of the whole entire war. It was like a burst of nightmarish fireworks colored with despair coupled with injections of melancholia and horror! Major downer, folks!

By the summer of 1968, riots were causing many big cities like Detroit, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Newark to go up in flames. There was lots of anger, unrest, and restless energy. 1968 also saw the Democratic Convention end in riots and violence. So I don't ask why so many people were taking drugs and dropping out of society. Many joined cults and communes. Some people turned to Eastern religion. It makes sense from a 20/20 vision standpoint why so many people seemed lost and confused. Control was something that the American government certainly didn't have, and the American people were taking into their own hands.

Sure, we had the whole peace and love Woodstock Festival in August of 1969 though that was preceded by the Monterrey Pop Festival of 1967. The whole summer ushered in a counter to the riots and violence from the previous summer. However, sadly the 'summer of love' and its good karma did not stick around. Later in 1969, Charles Manson made his name 'infamous' with the murder of Sharon Tate, (the then pregnant wife of film director, Roman Polanski) and her friends at her mansion. There was also Altamont, where during a Rolling Stones set, some bikers known as the 'Hell's Angels' knifed someone. Though the violence and riots that ensued were most likely the result of alcohol and heavy drugs.

I know I write a lot about the negative side of the 1960's, or at least the less romantic side, but I want to show that I know what the sixties is all about. I know that it wasn't a cup of peaches n' cream. It was tumultuous, confusing, and panicked along with being groovy and far out.

I just really love how the music coupled with politics and current events made for a crazy time that I would have loved to witness first hand. When a time machine is invented, that's the period I'm going back to. I'd gladly stay there too. Like, live in the late 50's/entire 60's/early 70's on a loop. That would be really groovy, man!

Peace n' chicken grease ,

   ~R~