In Rainbows came out 10 years ago today. 10 years.
Years ago, on 1101 S. State Street in the South Loop of Chicago, I had people over for a late-night-night-cap. It was probably 2008 or 2009. At one point, a group of us were sitting with our legs crossed on the floor of my bedroom, passing around a mini-bong that was not mine but eventually became mine, filled with half water-half Jameson. Megan Tucker was thumbing through my CD collection, because cell phones were not everything yet. She pulled out this album, decorated in its recycled-paper, darkly colorful and unconventionally folded case, looked at me, and asked, "who ACTUALLY owns this CD?" I responded, "Me. It's my favorite." That statement is still true. It's the one that means the most to me.
Many die-hard Radiohead fans who are the butt of ironic internet satire when it comes to pretentious Generation-X douchebags have said that it's the "most accessible." It probably is. It doesn't mean that other albums aren't- and in a way, I guess they are literally correct. The way this album was consumed was the most accessible- before the Beyonce's and the Chance's and the other big-time record releases with no record store release dates became the thing, there was In Rainbows. But these die-hard fans usually aren't talking about method of listening as much as they are about aesthetic. Singable melodies, un-confusing lyrics, danceable rhythms, a molotov cocktail of emotion, so meticulously balanced as to not cross the land mines of utterly depressive, completely obvious, and corny-ass sadness: it was track after track of perfection for someone who was questioning what "perfect" even meant.
The catalytic flavors of these songs contain sharp hints of the most important memories of my life, the ones that I go back to, time and time again, the ones that represent my first renaissance, clinging onto an identity that was never the same. Me, quite actually, In Rainbows, with colors representing the different layers of my life, wondering if there could be a sort of Keep in inevitable Growth- at the time, I couldn't separate the light enough to realize the inevitability of growth meant change, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. But as I sit here, in the house I "grew up" in, writing this explanation that won't ever fully be able to scope exactly how much this record means to me, I wonder if I ever really understood... and if my growth, inevitably, will separate me from what home is, like ripples on a blank shore. As I get sink deeper, the more I expand, until it's too big to see each individual ripple- they become part of the shore, the water, reflecting the person I have chosen to be.
Hopefully, and I mean that- full of hope, I continue to strive for that whole-hearted esoteric understanding- like the "secret rhythm" of "Videotape," like the downbeat of each measure of "Reckoner," like Jigsaws slowly but surely falling into place. But the difference now is that I control the tempo of their fall. I'm the one who calls tetris- and I'm the one who determines how it affects my life, how my big ideas can actually happen. I think that's okay for now.
Here's to the next 10 years of 10-track perfections.
I listened to Caspian all day, but didn't feel inspired until I learned that Jay-Z declined a Superbowl performance this year. As I low-key boycott the NFL this season, which brings much sadness but ultimately balances out my soul, I feel okay about this decision. I can't keep preaching "living your truth" if I don't do it myself. It's caused some breaks and separation with people close to my heart, but they'll always have a rock in my heart pond. Just can't keep giving energy to those who don't share the same definitions of love.
Which brings me to this famous interview with Jigga's Mom, revealing her true self in a conversation that inspired the song, "Smile," the third track from his 2017 release, 4:44. While people compare and contrast it to Lemonade and A Seat At the Table, I choose to separate it from the elevator with glass ceilings. Also, it doesn't deserve to be there- not his best flows, not the most profound lyrics, though they may be the most true to his life- which I can respect I guess.
Gloria Carter talks about the dangers of "living in the shadows," a concept that hits home a little too hard for me. She wrote the poem on an airplane with Jay, and he sampled it as a transition between tracks. I'm glad he kept the integrity of her words and cadence. There's something so wise and so inspiring about her tone and message. I can probably talk about the implications of this grande reveal, the manner in which Sean Carter uses it to enhance his album and shed light on a topic he's never dealt face-on, the rise of black excellence and the entrepreneurship of legacy, how it's nice to have a rap album come out in 2017 that didn't have one trap track, Tidal.
But I am exhausted from teaching seven classes and reading about the four dimensions and possible pathways of influence that cause mental disorders in abnormal psychology. So I'll leave with this:
"Love who you love, because life isn't guaranteed. Smile."
It's baffling to me that I started this blog eight years ago as a way to balance being a leader in a grassroots activist LGBTQ organization in Chicago and not losing sight of myself or my passions, as my steady introduction to "being woke" left me confused, depressed, angry, and tired. Since then, it's been a chronicle of the times I almost didn't think I was going to make it- through heartbreak, depression, substance abuse, shame, and self-loathing- as well as a transformation of, dare I say, maturation, of my ideals, self-systems, and lazy analysis of my favorite songs. In this way, music has literally saved my life.
While I'm fortunate nowadays to be working a job that not only requires the skills I learned and ignored in Keyboard Harmony II in undergrad (yikes!), but challenges me to directly transfer my musical knowledge and humanity to another person every time I'm in a classroom, I realize that life never stopped being about balance. That we are complex humans with many masks, but I mean, in words of Future, fuck it. Mask off. My writing has gotten less metaphorical and romantic and more succinct and to the point- I think it's because I know the answers to the questions I've posed in musical form for many, many years- and for the first time probably ever, I'm confident, not only in my understanding, but my ability to succeed in the goals I set for myself.
But it didn't come without sacrifice. I don't do the things I used to do that made me happy, though perhaps that happiness was not real in the first place. It was a band-aid covering up these deep wounds I didn't even know were there because I was too scared to look at my body. At my own self. And while I write for myself, I also write in this blog for an audience. Yeah, you, reading this right now, you keep me on the top of my game and you keep me honest... and you keep me brave. Despite the stigmas of oversharing, the need for validation, and the temporary here-today-gone-in-a-few-minutes design of social media, the act of opening up not only your thoughts, but your heart, your true, true love, your passion, your essence, and part of your soul for other people to see and critique, is part of the chemical... arrangement... of what makes an artist at large.
Never did I think that in August, 2017, I would be finding ways to fight neo-Nazis of the so-called "alt-right" with my gifts and my influence. But hey, this is the nature of how this blog originated: from conflict. We don't stop creating, we don't stop writing, we don't stop sharing, and we don't stop being examples of the real struggle- the inner, the outer, the micro, the macro- until the oppression stops.
So. Shall we continue?
Some music ages well; it's the kind that addresses issues concerning the intricacies of human psyche that are rooted in what is widely considered basic truth, correct? Love, heartache, struggle, success, loss, friendship, relationships, body movements, etc. Perhaps its function is educational: to teach younger generations the 26 letters of the alphabet, or how to tie their shoes, or a method of improving language skills so prevalent in the early years of human development and then locked up in the back of your brain with easy access. Based on your unique experiences, some songs may be memorable, but not relatable to your life (I don't think I would necessarily be surfin' like Californ-i-a if I had an ocean across the USA, no matter how much I respect Brian Wilson). Some may bring nostalgia and take you back to those angsty teenage dark moments in the past, but don't hold the same weight in your present (Max Bemis, you are no longer my hero). But in my opinion, the best songs are the ones that come back to you when you least expect them and somehow still apply to the reality of life outside of yourself.
Last week I tweeted that Beggars is still a solid album in 2017, in which my long-time mixtape-making buddy Rob agreed after giving it another listen for the first time in a number of years. With songs that address the madness of the world, human greed, suffering, the power of love, the redemption in faith, and lyrics that bring to light: "All you great men of power, you who boast of your feats / politicians and entrepreneurs / can you safeguard your breath in the night while you sleep / keep your heart beating steady and sure?" It's hard to listen to the title track and NOT think of the demise of the United States after Trump, though it was released in 2009. Perhaps theology and philosophy go a longer way than we think. This song cycle flows so smoothly, "thematically cohesive," in Rob's words, and is timeless because of, well, the times. Because of conflict. Because in a way, good music is good when its creators critique the world at large while conveying the harsh reality that if shit doesn't change, we're all fucked.
Someone once told me that artists are always talking to each other. It may have been my 12th grade AP English teacher, Brother Tom. Yeah, I went to Catholic school. It was fucking awful. Coincidentally, A Crow Left of the Murder and all its proverbial plays on words came out the last semester of my senior year of high school. It was the soundtrack of my short walk into the town square today to get sushi. Immediately, a sharp wind of nostalgia swept through me- Incubus was that band I had posted on my bedroom walls before moving out of the suburbs, and though I didn't follow them much after this album, I still know every lyric, vocal nuance, jazzy guitar solo, drum break. In a way, I guess the timelessness of "Talk Shows on Mute" is twofold: one, originating from the ideas of Orwell and Philip K Dick, so literally... channelled... in the animal farm that is this music video; the other, in Brandon Boyd's exposition of how the entertainment industry is ruining society and its inability to decipher reality from reality television. And as Number 45 continues this long-ass four-year episode of the Apprentice, the prophecies layered in this song have followed the exact course of events edging us toward the flame.
Why have I chosen bands with cis-white front men to illustrate the timelessness of the systemic demise of humanity? Because frankly, it has to be them who are speaking up now. Now. Today. Tomorrow. In this CIVIL WAR. It has to be those who live on the upper shelves of social construct to stand up and battle the psychopathic, entitled lunatics who have no sense of empathy beyond themselves. De-colonizing the standard is part of it, yes, but come on son, there are straight up racist rallies being supported by the government disguised as freedom of speech protests, and truth be told, it is not the minorities who are justifying their cause. I can sit here and make you a playlist of one-hundred songs that will spread the message of beauty in diversity; it will not stop white supremacists from marching through educational establishments holding fuckin tiki torches and driving cars into crowds of people with the intention of killing them. I can alter the goals of my lesson plans to include more songs of resistance; I can hope to empower and guide my students to owning their creativity; I can continue to tweet throwback alternative rock songs that have aged well throughout the years... but timelessness is not the goal. I don't want to be living in a life where "we are beggars all." I don't want human actualization to be "electric sheep dreaming up our fate." Let's write our own lyrics, accented with accents. Let's preserve integrity by composing melodies of social and human justice won. Let's be models of fierce warriors, citizens of the world, so our future generations can listen to Thrice and Incubus and think, "damn, that was a fucked up era in history." It's time to stop swinging in the hammocks of oppression misconstrued as "how things are" and stand up.
It was Saturday night in Brooklyn, at a karaoke bar where I only knew 67% of the songs cuz they were by bands like Pearl Jam, when someone picked this song and I grabbed your hand and danced with you in the middle of the floor. I've never done that before- partner danced in public as an adult, hell, partner danced at all, a little tipsy from local beers I promised myself I wouldn't use as a crutch for anxiety. But there I was, confidently not leading nor following, rather, semi-twirling 'round the punch-drunk happy strangers, smiling into you like an old-fashioned photograph. I felt you near, though I knew we were drifting. I don't expect anyone to follow me when I lead, and it's always a pleasing surprise that holds more weight especially when I have no idea what I'm doing. All I knew was that at that moment, way passed my regular New England bed time, I didn't care about anything else but the crash of brassy ebbs and flows in Bobby's melodies, the waves of our bodies, the impending excitement laced with a seaweed of dread, the innocent lust, the drowning desire. And for a second there, I thought I felt our pulses match up like they used to, and I felt smitten. There were so many ace musical moments that weekend in New York City, most of them lasting longer than this song. But this one. This is the one I'll keep in that special oxygen tank of memories, the ones triggered by a classy song and a classy gal, sailing in perfect unison, a harmonious continuum that leads me beyond the sea, beyond the depth of the unknown, back to Love.
Got back from my short summer vacation in NYC yesterday. It was my second time in New York in all of 2017. It was alright. I got the privilege of seeing Aviva in three different musical settings within three hours. Once, solo in Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan. The second time in Raia Was at this weird seafare/Korean themed venue called Baby's Allright in Williamsburg. The third in Arthur Moon at the same venue. Those moments were the best part. The worst part was probably my anxiety.
The newest Vic Mensa makes me miss Chicago a lot, but in very spastic ways. This is because I've only heard the album in short ADD-like listens. I don't think he and Chance have anything in common musically, at all, other than they can rap and don't choose to all the time. Aesthetically, I dig Vic more than Chance 3. I'm in this thing, I think, where I can't reconcile my life decisions with my every day breathing. I get nostalgia a lot. It transcends into my artistic choices, including what I'm putting into my ears and brain.
Everything Now is not as bad as everyone is saying it is, but it's pretty bad. I honestly never LOVED Arcade Fire, not like the way I love Radiohead or Lauryn Hill or Stay Down by the Smoking Popes or Kendrick Lamar or cellos. I think they lack subtlety and I don't like that.
I don't go to many shows anymore, despite my show-filled Sunday in New York City last weekend. Perhaps that is one effect of my feeling of un-inspiration. I'm also not impressed by much these days. I don't know if it's just a consequence of growing up with my kind of imagination or if it's a dry spell, in all its denotations.
I am forcing myself to write this so I don't fall deeper into this rude depression.
Fourth track of his third album, Sonderlust, came out in 2016, probably listened to it once since 2016 ended and 2017 began. I say, some artists need to bend the purpose of the art, or why it was formed, you know, the real story behind the making of a really great song, in order to let it truly seep under their skin, into their bones, bloodstream, body, brain, until it truly becomes a part of them. Is that not, at least, the partial reason of why art is made in the first place, as we seemingly random souls wander the dirt of this earth, trapped in empathic mazes of sonder? Less the music finds us before we find it. But the complexity of life oftentimes lacks serendipity, stripping it of all romance, all deterministic promises of hope, perhaps. K.Ishibashi went through some shit on this album, a far departure of that magnetic "prehistory" of lustful tenderness. The production- namely, arrangements, namely, use of synth melodies- echoes this departure of wistful majesty, probing around traditional form and classical, repeating motives, driven by a buzzing rhythm instead of the soaring violin lines that have defined his gorgeous sound paintings in the past.
Though the past is the past, it gathers and scatters and never really leaves. What an ironic color of the blues, sonderlust, the angst of choosing the ignorance of still being alone.
Grey clouds hovered over me the entire heavy rainy drive home. It was the hardest drive so far.
I forgot about this performance. Super young Jesse, don't really know why he has a slight British accent, makes sense though. We've grown together. We're at the landing. I'll never forget seeing them at Riot Fest and who i was with. Jesse was terrible that day, screaming parts that should be sung, losing his voice halfway while the muddy post-emo kids close to the stage moshed in the biting rain. I'm older now, and so is he. I keep forgetting that in 2016 they put out an official release of some of the Devil and God demos. Perhaps it was some kind of closure for Jesse. I'm hoping so.