Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of executions, Dvorak, and language

Hey Comrades,

Well, it's been quite a week since we've talked last.

With a name and news that requires no introduction, Troy Davis was executed late last night. I don't even know what to say.

Which brings me to the next topic.

I had the privilege of attending a concert of Dvorak's 9th symphony last weekend. If you haven't heard it, check out the first movement here:

I went with my dad and 85 year old grandma, and it was a superb show. The music literally moved me to tears.

It reached inside me and talked to me. The neat thing was - concrete ideas or words weren't expressed, just the feelings.

It seems as if, in the face of tremendous injustice or great pain, this wordless, abstract communication is what's needed to heal. I wonder if it's sort of like our bodies. We don't go to our cells and say "Hey! Start healing!" They operate on their own, and while ideas and concepts certainly make a difference, it's of a different plane.

With Troy, there's much to be done. After all, it appears that our justice system is broken - and I don't just mean about this particular case. Moreover, the need for mechanized killing is indicative of a larger problem with society as a whole. So while there's the tangible issues to be addressed, there's also the sadness of injustice, and loss for both families. Maybe it's time to sit quietly for a minute, and play and listen.

The symphony was held in the National Museum of the American Indian. It's a beautiful building, and actually very quite fitting for the piece of music. Dvorak was inspired by many native American elements.

However, the building is a sad place, too. Looking out the front doors, you stare at the United States Capitol building - the very same institution that created the need for a museum. I find it more of a memorial.

As I listened to conductor Murray Sidlin explain the Indian influences in the piece, I looked around, and wondered what it would be like if the tables were turned, and another culture obliterated us rock musicians. Would they write a symphony, and say "Now listen to the third part in the second movement, where you can clearly hear a tribute to "Back in Black" and an overriding sense of aggression conveyed through fifth chords."

Then, the music started speaking, and I listened as I looked around at the ghosts of the cultures.

It was a lot to take in. This whole week has been a lot to take in. Strike that, the whole world is a lot to take in.

I think I'll go do some listening and see what the music has to say.

- Josh

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Look at those dead bastards"

"Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards" says a crewman aboard a U.S. Army Apache attack helicopter that just left almost a dozen bodies littering the street, pierced by 30mm cannon fire.

They happened to be non-combatants.

I was about to go eat a sandwich today when my life changed course a bit.

I was talking to someone about the incident in Iraq, released to the general public about a year ago via Wikileaks. I was wondering if I had all my facts straight, so I went back to look. I saw this video, and read the story.

Warning: It's about as graphic as it gets. But I think it should be seen.

I lost my appetite. I got physically sick to my stomach. Ho-ly smokes. There was a photographer among the killed. He was carrying a telephoto lens. I though immediately of my brother, puttering around town with his camera and calm demeanor , ready to capture something cool...And that telephoto lens he usually uses.

There's all sorts of political implications of this post, this video, and Wikileaks itself. But my stomach doesn't realize that, and it is sick.

The point was made that it was like a real life video game. "Oops, I think I just ran over a body" says a guy driving a fighting vehicle on the ground. What does he think this is, Call of Duty?

I called my mom to ask her something else, and I started talking about this. Barely holding back the tears, I choked out the words "Mom, and my whole goal in life is to be a stupid entertainer. What's the point of that?"

I sat in the woods yesterday as quietly as I could, but my mind was racing with the thoughts of the day, and how people could slam jetliners full of people into towers full of other people. Again, there were my brothers in the picture. I imagined that their company had hit the big time, and they had an office on the 92nd floor of the North Tower...They were so proud of it. I snapped back to reality, and the woods gently moving in the fall breeze. Thank goodness that it was just imagination.

And all I wanted to be was an entertainer. How stupid is that.

So, I'm sort of lost. Those three circles I referenced in a previous post about finding the core of what we do - they sit empty again. I can't see them being filled with songs of peace and cooperation. I can't see them just filled with Comrade shirts and clever logos.

The world is broken, and I don't know how to put it back together. I'm old enough to realize that I can't, and young and strong enough to cut myself in the struggle against the shackles of reality. Somebody wise told me the other day that maybe it's about accepting the darkness as part of the light. I think I'll think on that.

And I think I'll try to figure out what in the world I should be doing as a musician - and a person. The circles are empty. I don't know what should fill them. But I plan to figure it out.

- Josh

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mystery Men

Hey Comrades!

Editor's note: The next few paragraphs, a blog complaining about a movie about a blog, do have a point. Anyone considering this hypocritical will be sent to musical Siberia.

I finally saw The Bourne Identity. WOW! A week later, my mom was watching Julie and Julia. I made the mistake of watching it too, and came down with a severe case of estrogen poisoning. Even mom thought it was a bit much. (For those of you who haven't seen it, it's basically a story of two very average women and a blog. To paraphrase an example of fine ciema, George of the Jungle, "Dude, if I wanted to see that, I would have stayed in a library!')

I so wanted an extra scene in the movie, sort of combining the action of the first one. It would go like so: The insufferably emotional blogger (Julie, not me) walks into a quiet kitchen with a frosted glass window...Looking around warily, she sees nothing wrong, until - a giant LOBSTER with a machine gun crashes through the glass, firing constantly. They have a big fight, where she takes the worst insult she can find, and verbally mortally wounds it and on it. The lobster runs off the balcony into a pot of boiling water.

Too bad that doesn't exist. That would be awesome.

In the meantime, I saw something almost as cool. Mystery Men was the name of the flick, and it was utterly stupid. I loved it. It was such a parody of a superhero movie, it was profound. Ben Stiller plays a wannabe superhero who's power is uncontrollable rage - except he's just pretending. His love interest, a waitress, thinks he's stupid. Man, I so relate to this guy. She finally starts to give him a chance, and asks him his name right before he's off on a dangerous mission. He makes up some silly sounding title, and she's just about to run off, when he says "Roy...It's Roy." She says "Just be Roy."

He goes back to his posse, and as they're riding into battle in an armored personnel carrier, he's just sitting there, with a silly grin on his face, and says "You know, I'm just not an angry guy!" His friends try to insult him to rile him up, to no avail.

In the end, when the bad guy is gonna kill his girl, he finds his inner rage, climbs up the wall with forks thrown by his friend, and saves the day.

I felt like that today. I realized I was groundless, with no belief of where I was going with music. I let it sit, and was terrified of the emptiness of not knowing what I stood for.

Then, later, when I half-threatened to rob the local bank of their way cool pens with magic wands attached, I realized my core and my belief of what motivates me to do what I do musically: Entertainment.

I guess it took a bit of floating in uncertainty to figure out the truly obvious. Now, per my previous blog post and that wonderful TED video (check it out if you haven't seen it!), I can operate from this core.

So, what's your core? Do you have any supposed superpowers that are an affectation, arbitrary, or a mask? It's hard to use your real powers, because if they're rejected, well, that means you are. Ouch.

But...No pain, no gain, comrade!

- Josh
PS. The best part about that movie: They went out to rescue the hero of the story, and accidentally killed him. The general reaction of the cast was "oops!" Refreshing!