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Saturday, April 28, 2012

On Making a Short Film (by Kevin T McCarthy)

A few years ago, my friend, Amy Honey, and I made a short film. Both of us quickly decided that we wanted to do something light and funny. The majority of our jobs and auditions were usually dramas. So comedy it was. At least our version of it anyway. The Return of Laura Peters.

To begin with, neither of us had ever made a short film before. We were both stage actors. I can build a set, hang lights, paint scenery, all the things one needs to do in theatre. But making a film? That was a different beast. However, Amy’s boyfriend (now husband and my good friend Ryan Honey) had produced films before. He had a great understanding of what needed to be done for our endeavor. Of course he’d do it.

The phone calls quickly went out. We needed a DP? Yes a DP. What’s a DP? Director of Photography. Of course. Is he available? Not that weekend. Ok how about this one? And on and on it went. We needed to gather a large team of people with very unique skills. Oh, and there was one huge caveat. Our low budget film was just that: LOW BUDGET. So basically we were trying to convince working professionals to give up their hard-earned weekend by coming and making a short film with us for no money. Tough sell.

So we gathered our film team for what turned out to be the start of a very long and hot weekend. Principle photography began. It was exhilarating to say the least. The vision in our heads was coming to life. After months of working the concept and writing the script, pre-production, it was really happening. We were officially filming.

We had two days to shoot everything we needed. The schedule was grueling. During the morning of day 1, we began having trouble with our camera. We were shooting on actual film. So this was going to be a problem. However, one of our grips stepped up saying he had the same camera at his house, but it would take about 2 1/2 hours for him to get there and come back. We decided to do it, even though it would slow us down for a while. But having two cameras running would allow us to pick up coverage faster down the road. We were really fortunate not to have to run around town on a Saturday morning trying to rent a Super 16. Besides, it really wasn’t in the budget anyway.

We ended up running rather late on the first night of shooting due to our camera issues. But I’ve always found a simple rule to keeping people happy while making a movie. Food. Feed your people well. Always have snacks. As an actor, I’ve worked on a few very low budget films. Many times there was no pay. Some feed us well, others not so much. So feed your peeps, and feed them well. Everyone will be more pleasant not matter how late it gets.

The film ran in the festival circuit. No, not Sundance or any of those you’ve probably heard of. Amy and I just wanted to get the film out there for people to see and enjoy. When we received nominations at a few festivals, we both found it highly amusing. It was never our goal, but I’m glad it happened. It helped validate all the hard work and time people dedicating to it.

Amy and I were so grateful (and still are) to everyone who worked tirelessly to make our vision come to life. It still is one of my proudest pieces. And not just because of film itself, but because of how lucky I am to know so many wonderful people.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Shameless Promotion

A good friend sent me this the other day:  The Truth

It's been about a year since this blog has become an attempt to reach a mass audience rather than mere catharsis.  The results have been mixed, at best.   But the mission remains the same.  And there are no signs of letting up.

This space is designed for many voices.  We encourage your participation and feedback.  Although primarily written from a suburban father/husbands perspective, that does not, er, should not, prevent those of all ages, demographics, etc...  to chime in.

After all, the suburbanite has a lot to learn.  Like, how does a Baby Boomer expect their kin to support there ever living, yet increasingly expensive asses over the next decade?  Stop playing golf and figure out how to support yourselves!!  We are barely able to support ourselves!!  What do you want us to do about Social Security?  Why do you continue to wear black socks with white sneakers?

And you over there, the 20 something recent college graduate.  What on Earth are you doing with yourself?  Can their be that many tech jobs out there to sustain a generation?  Will baristas ever make 100k a year?  How do you plan to solve the energy crisis?  Global warming?  The continuing success of the Kardashian's?

Us 40 somethings are very much in the middle.  Our best creative days seem to be behind us.  Should the economy rally it might provide some added security.  But if you are among the true middle class isn't it assumed you will be working until the day you die?  Does anyone rely on a pension anymore?

That's the point, isn't it?   If we are going to dig ourselves from the massive hole we find ourselves in shouldn't we ALL be communicating?

To that end we would love to hear from any and all of you.

How do you make your living?  Where do you live?  What are the biggest challenges you face day in/day out?  How do you tell your child to stand up for him or herself?  How do you correctly ask for a raise?  What is the best way to leave a job?  What are the best TV shows?  Movies?  Downloaded songs?

What can you/we/I do to make this place a better one?

Some might think it starts at the top.  Maybe we need to go all Egypt on our Government??  Let's start a revolution!  Let's demand fair trade, an emphasis on math and science in our schools, the abolishment of the two party political system (and Newt Gingrich once and for all!)

Others want bigger government.  More spending.  Healthcare provided by your friendly bureaucrat and then served with a smile.

Ok.  Have that opinion.  No telling who is right these days?  But these, and many other conversations, NEED to be had as we head into another Presidential Election.

For this columnist the journey is maybe (maybe) a little more trivial.

Work hard.  Play a little harder.

Art, film, and in particular music, will be prominently displayed here.

That is but part of the overall landscape that is 2012 America.  But what a part it is.  If not for art and culture what are we?  What am I?

That is beyond hypothetical.  Cause it will never happen.  As long as there are things like this, I'm gonna keep writing:


Ben Folds

Joe Jackson





Jack White

The National


To name but a few...

Join us?  What say you?

Kindly become a fan on Facebook:  The Guide on Facebook
Follow on Twitter: Guide on Twitter

Spread the Word and continue the dialogue.  Reach out should you want to contribute.

As always thanks for the support and let's all destroy this weekend!!!

Oh, and if you have 3 Devils tickets for next Thursday be in touch ;-)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Some Diversions

Monday from hell...  when aren't they??...  and 5 minutes of solace before homework...  dinner...  accounts payable (is there such a thing as receivable???)

Music?  Are you out there??  Take me away...

The Band "Don't Do it"  A good friend mentioned how the passing of Levon Helm was one that "cut a little deeper than most."  Nothing more to add in this space.  RIP Mr Helm.  You are already missed.

Snow Patrol "This Isn't Everything You Are"  They fact that Gary Lightbody wrote the lyric "Don't keel over" is one thing.  That he gets away with it, with such flair and conviction, is another thing entirely.  Hard to call them underrated since they have enjoyed a long and successful career.  But what a talented band they are.

Silversun Pickups "Bloody Mary"  This track, from their forthcoming LP, has a Snow Patrol intro feel.  Once Brian Aubert's vocals enter the song has a left coast Silversun feel to it.  Sure they are Smashing Pumpkins lite, but there are worse acts to emulate.  Looking forward to hearing the rest of it.

First Aid Kit "The Lion's Roar"  Hard to fathom these Swedish sisters are so polished.  They have the proper admiration for the past and a clear vision of the future.  Their debut record is worth listening to and some tracks, like this one, are plain fabulous.

Beirut "Santa Fe"  This song has appeared here previously.  But it continues to resonate.  It continues to play in my head.  Then it disappears for a while.  Then my daughter plays it on Spotify, or views the hysterical and clever video, and again it is unescapable.  Loving a lead singer/trumpet player.  Central Park for them later this summer and I can't see how I miss it.

White Rabbits "Danny Come Inside"  Live cut from Fordham's venerable WFUV.  Good old fashioned rock and roll right here from NYC.  Another track that has entered the bloodstream...  and did not know of it until I heard it live.

Naked and the Famous "Girls Like You"  Digging the trend of female/male singers all over the charts these days.  This band, Givers, Grouplove, Lady Antebellum, what, you don't like "Need You Now" and sing at the top of your lungs in the shower?  Just me??  "It's a quarter after 1/I'm a little lonely..."
Whatever, this track got some legs in the promo spot for the promising HBO show "Girls."  Great tempo and melody.  Clean and efficient fun.  And let's be honest, we can all relate to the lyric "Don't you know people write songs/About Girls like you!!"

Chappo "Come Home"  Along the lines of Naked and The Famous...  dance pop/synth/goofiness.  New surf or something along that line.  Or, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.  You, not me.

Santigold "Disparate Youth"  Philly is blowing up the past few years.  Dr Dog, War on Drugs and Santogold to name a few.  And this will be our ode to Dick Clark (who started Bandstand in the City of Brotherly Love.)  RIP Mr Clark.  You were called the World's oldest teenager right?  Let's all remember our youth...  and hopefully remember it fondly.

The Band "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Isn't Tupac Dead?

Did you hear the news?  The annual Coachella Music and Arts fest in California has risen the dead.   Previously known for its varied artists and performers who gather at the hip festival, Coachella is now synonymous with "miracle worker. "

The big news from this past weekends event was not sets from an extraordinary lineup...  like Dr Dre, Snoop, Dawes, Gary Clark Jr, Bon Iver, Fitz and The Tantrums, AWOL Nation, The Shins, Hives, Beirut, The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, and Radiohead among them.  

The headline that still permeates was about the hologram set by, long deceased,  Tupac Shakur.  That's right, West Coast was in the house via Star Trek-esque technology.

This is not a recent phenomenon, save for the advances made by the effects themselves.  Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra have had "virtual reality" shows in the past.  Some performers have such an impact their art is timeless, immortal.  Folks will line up forever to see their efforts recreated.  Take a look at the weekend performers playing locally near you.  Any Beatles tribute bands or lounge lizards?   It's cool.  Nostalgia is great and without the songs of the past where would we be today?

But we should be stopping short of shelling out money to see a "virtual" performance.  Isn't the purpose of live music about the visceral connection between artist and performer?  An opportunity to see the flaws and imperfections of a human performance.  The bond and trust that comes with the shared vision of the artist on stage.  They may make a mistake.  They may make eye contact with you.   Maybe the guitarist will throw a guitar pick your way.  What if you want to throw your bra?  Is a virtual Tupac gonna catch it??  Hells no.   He ain't connecting with you.  And let's not forget,  he ain't making a 50 cent either.

Isn't it bad enough we like our television to be void of content these days?  Reality shows and karaoke contests rule the day.  Have we also become so lazy that we crave "virtual" entertainment to "real?" in our live acts.   Does this also discount the countless bands who take stage, most vulnerable, and hone their craft?  What of their efforts to win fans?  Or their efforts to establish crowd rapport and gain notoriety?  Now they have to compete with Tron?

Let's establish the technology is amazing.  There is no argument there.  But this is moviemaking, not concert going.

It is hard enough making a career out of popular music these days.  Hell, it has always been hard.

Tupac should be playing in your local multi-plex, not crowded venues filled with naive and impressionable youngsters.  And this isn't anti-rap thing either.  Some acts, like Beastie Boys, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Jay-Z,...  are quite good live.  The operative word is "live," as in ALIVE.

Alive, or among the living.  The one necessary component for any concert.  Otherwise you might as well be in front of your big screen eating Bon Bons.  

But we are probably now past the point of no return.  Somewhere in Palo Alto, Bruce Springsteen, or Zeppelin, or any of the rock cannon, are being programmed digitally.

When they die countless baby boomers and their annoying offspring will head to their local concert hall to see them perform "virtually."

And another up and coming band, reaching for the sky, will go unheard.

We, as replicants, can do a better job.   We haven't even spoken about the lip synchers either.  Next time.

In the meantime take a look at some highlights from ACTUAL performances last weekend here: Coachella Live Highlights!!!

And go see/support live music...  from your local bar to Madison Square Garden!!! 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Snow Patrol: Terminal 5 is Humbled.

Terminal 5 on Manhattan's Upper West Side is a big venue.  Aside from Madison Square Garden and the Beacon Theatre it has become the premier spot, in both scale and prestige, for established rock acts and those on the rise.  The Naked and The Famous opened there last year and headlined last month.  The Shins will be playing 3 nights there next month.  For any fan of music (within the Tri State area), cutting edge or firmly established acts, the venue has become unavoidable.

Often times an act can get lost in the room.  And that is not to say the room cannot accommodate them.  It might be the talent is not ready for the scale of the joint.  It could be as simple as an engineer having an off night.  You get it, right?  It's a big place so you best bring it.

Last night playing the last of a two night sold out stint at the aforementioned Term 5, Snow Patrol (Gary Lightbody vocals/guitar, Jonny Quinn/drums, Nathan Connolly/lead guitar, Paul Wilson/bass, Tom Simpson keyboards/samples, Johhny McDaid piano/guitar/vocals) did the incredible.  They made the place feel smaller.  They made it intimate.  They made it easy to see how they fill arenas overseas.  Snow Patrol, and in particular their leader/showman/master of ceremonies Gary Lightbody, are true professionals.  If tightly constructed songs played with skillful precision is the bands task, they succeed.

They tour is called "Fallen Empires," like their 2011 album of the same name.  It, like their 5 previous studio releases, mixes soft and sweet with raucous and rock.  Their single, "Called Out in the Dark" is an up tempo pop song with a disco hook.  "This Isn't Everything You Are," one of last nights highlights, is a power ballad that hits all the right notes.  It is the new records "Run" or "Chasing Cars," but with more maturity.  Lightbody howls "There's Joy Not Far From Here/I Know There Is/This Isn't Everything You Are!!"

The feeling of hope expressed with tact by a voice and presence worthy of a bigger stage.  When Lightbody runs the stage and sings, with a voice every beat the equal of any male singer working today, you can't look away...  let alone not hear his art.

He makes it easy to overlook, rather ignore, missing entire lyrics as he did during "Crack the Shutters."  After that stumble he mentioned the story of Mick Jagger replying to a reporter asking "How is it you never forget lyrics."  Jagger's response went something like "Well I wrote them didn't it I?"

Lightbody was humbled he dropped some words.   After all he too wrote his songs (he kidded about how many fewer than Jagger for that matter.)  His thick Irish accent and slim figure might explain his charms too.  The women in attendance were surely smitten.

Snow Patrol might have a smaller catalog than the Stones.  But that catalog is strong.  Quality far surpasses quantity.  And for every notable track, "Shut Your Eyes" or "Take Back the City" for instance, the new material slid right in.

Fallen Empires is not on Spotify yet so the album was somewhat foreign to me.  But a sampling from last night has me itching to find and listen to it all.  "In the End" was a triumphant piece of stroytelling that, like many of their songs, starts slow but delivers a powerful final punch.  Funny hearing "In The End/There Is Nothing More Than Love is There?" sung over three screaming guitars.  The lyrics are all soft and romantic.  But somehow Lightbody paints it with a rock edge.  With all the club/synth/techno acts that have flooded Term 5 recently it was refreshing to hear slow builds end with guitars rather than pounding doosh, doosh, doosh beats.

"The Weight of Love" and the sentimental crowd favorite "New York" were both handled with care and craftsmanship.

A real life rock and roll show on full display.  Add in the effective use of lighting and visuals played on the enormous movie screen behind them and score one for the good guys.  These guys are more than the soundtrack to McDreamy or McSteamy.  Much, much more.

Snow Patrol Setlist 4.14. Terminal 5

Note on Concert Etiquette (or lack thereof):

As mentioned earlier Terminal 5 is a big place.  There are 4 levels of seating including an open roof deck smokers or erstwhile disinterested.  Point is, if seeing/hearing the show is NOT foremost on your agenda there are SEVERAL other things for you to do.  Merch tent?  Check.  Countless bars?  Check.  Lounge seating?  Check.

So why is it every show over the past few weeks has been an exercise in shutting obnoxious drunkards up so we can enjoy the show on stage?

And that does not speak to the bad sing-a-long singers.  That is all good and those folks get a pass.  Sing if you want to sing.  Show your love and do your thing.

No, I speak of the loud, more often than not innocuous conversations between frat boys and/or Jersey girls out for a night of revelry (NOT music.)  Go elsewhere if you want to talk about your new phone.  Don't come at all if all you want to do is take pictures of yourself doing shots.

The show is on stage folks and NO ONE wants to hear you.  We certainly did not pay to hear you!!  Keep quiet or move on.  The audience deserves that at the very least.  The way you can show your apathy and dissatisfaction with the artist is by not paying, not showing up.

This way we all win.

 Notable Tracks:

"This Isn't Everything You Are"

"Hands Open"  Their rousing opening track last night.

"In the End"

"Run"  The song that started it all for these lads.  Hard to believe folks out there might not like this.  A pop rock masterpiece.

A Few Thoughts on Politics, Part 2 - Viva El Presidente!

Someone I know who has actually had "skin in the game" in politics -- worked in campaigns, negotiated political disputes, knocked on doors---  once made a comment about US presidential elections that has stuck with me.

"Two hundred some years ago, we had a war because we didn't want to live under a king. And we've been trying to elect a new one ever since."

I think this view is how many of us look at the presidential elections. It is not the view of educated, informed citizens of a vigorous democratic republic. It is the fearful, ignorant, childishness of peasants in a banana republic who want, or need, a kingly leader in which to invest their hopes. 

And if I am honest with myself, its pretty much how I have looked at politics most of my life.

So I went back to basics, to the US Constitution. As we all recall from grade school, the power of the US government is split up among three branches (Legislative, Executive, and Judicial), with each branch has some power to approve or disapprove what the other branch does, commonly called "the system of checks and balances".

But each of the three branches has some "unchecked" powers, including the president.

I thought it made sense to look at what power the president has all by their lonesome -- meaning what can they do that is not subject to any "checks and balances" by the other two branches, and therefore, which neither of the other two branches can limit. - Here's what I found:

1. "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States" (in other words, send troops into battle)

2. "Require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices" (or, manage the executive branch)

3. "Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except for cases of impeachment" (issue "get out of jail free" cards)
4. "Fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session" (a.k.a Recess Appointments)

5.  "On extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them..." ( make requests for action by either or both houses of Congress. The President cannot propose or introduce legislation -- this is why presidents say "I have asked Congress to do XYZ". They can only ask, they cannot command.)

6. "Receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers" ( act as the government's representative to foreign countries)

7. "Take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" (the chief  law enforcement officer for federal laws)

8. Sign, or veto, laws passed by Congress. (the final set of eyeballs on a law before it goes into effect)

This job posting for a chief executive, someone who is a combination of a general, diplomat, police chief, and lawmaker, to carry out the practical day to day actions of governing, certainly makes us second guess that old childhood adage that "anyone can grow up to be president".

On the other hand, there is nothing in the US Constitution about fixing the economy, guaranteeing prosperity, saving our souls, healing the sick, feeling our pain, inspiring our youth, upholding the American Dream, standing up for traditional values, being a Real American, or any of the other magical powers we expect presidents to have.

But in the past, I have looked more at these magical powers, than the actual ones, in deciding who I vote for.

Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer, his study of why people are drawn to mass political movements, says that "Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for a lost faith in ourselves".  

Hoffer says elsewhere that "The ability to get along without an exceptional leader is the mark of social vigor."

Maybe this is why, in times of war or economic downturn, even in a democracy, we look for an "exceptional leader" to assume the kingly role of restoring our faith in ourselves, and our country.

And maybe in this next election, I, and perhaps all of us, need to grow up.

US Constitution Text

Friday, April 13, 2012

White Rabbits, Webster Hall, NYC.

You cannot discount the element of luck when speaking of a bands success, or lack thereof.  And that is speaking commercially, not critically.  All bands crave critical acclaim, and in most cases that praise can lead to record/concert sales.   New York(via Missouri) rockers White Rabbits (Stephen Patterson-vocals/piano, Alexander Even-guitars/vocals, Matthew Clark-drums/percussion, Jamie Levinson-drums, Gregory Roberts-vocals/guitar, Rustine Bragaw-bass) have their fair share of positive press.  But fresh off their third albums release, Milk Famous, can this be the year they break through?  

Hell, Arcade Fire won a Best Everything Grammy a mere two years ago.  How did that happen if not for some luck.  An aggressive PR agent maybe?  A and R man who wouldn't quit.  

What do the Black Keys have White Rabbits don't?  More humor?  Confidence?  Better representation?  


It is not a bigger sound.  It is not a bolder and more confident stage presence.  It is not a more concise and polished set.  No sir, White Rabbits have an aggressive, energetic and down-right fun hour plus set that was in full display last night at their native city's Webster Hall.  It need not apologize for lacking the record sales or larger venues those other bands can boast.  

Let's call it right place, wrong time.  If last night was any indicator these fellas are on the brink of stardom.  

They leaned heavily on Milk Famous and the results were seamless and successful.  The moody "Heavy Metal" opened the set.  For their first release it is a nice way to start, but far from the best work on this record,  A few songs later the piano heavy "I'm Not Me" showcased strong melody and sheer exhuberance.  There is an ELO thing going on here and it sure can bring a smile to your face.  And let's not forget the toe tapping...  or here, clapping.  

They dipped into their debut record, 2007's Fort Nightly, and blitzed through "While We Go Dancing."  

"There's Something That You Want to Say/I'm Not Asking/Just Sleep You're Nights Away/While We Go Dancing" are not just lyrics, but commands.  Six pieces working on all cylinders.  Vocals, guitar, bass, piano, and the drums...  the drums...  the drums.

Never are those drums more on display than with their hit, Percussion Gun,  from 2009's It's Frightening.  Beautiful tribal beats fill the air as the band slowly kicks in...  then out...  then in again.  

Immediately after a spirited version of "The Plot" they sequed into their gothic "Lionesse."  It played like a mix of Danny Elfman and The Band, circa 1975.  More toe tapping goodness.

The boys were confident enough to incorporate new material into their encores too, leading off with "Danny Come Inside."  Their long guitar-heavy intro popped and would surely make Bradford Cox smile.  Someone in Hollywood needs to add this song to a chase scene and fast.  If "Percussion Gun" is their drum calling card "Danny Come Inside" is their electric bass/guitar signature.  

Finally they slowed down "Kid on My Shoulders" to the point of unrecognizable.  A groovy bass line and hints of a Brian DePalma score gave new freshness to an already fresh song.  All good.  All confident.  All in. 

 No wasted moments.  Little, to any banter with the reserved, but admiring crowd.  A quality rock and roll outfit who should be playing larger arenas, and fast.

Meatloaf at Wellmont?  Sinead?  

If those folks can get three thousand there is no reason White Rabbits can't.   

The luck has got to change.  With their talent that is the only logical explanation.  Take heed Alt World, and beyond.

White Rabbits Setlist, Webster Hall, NYC 4.12.12

"I'm Not Me"

"While We Go Dancing"

"Temporary" from Letterman 4.1.12

"The Plot"

"Danny Come Inside" from Kimmel  Sometimes you just need to hear a song live before you get it.  Case in point.  Earth shaking bass and pitch perfect harmony and groove.  Rock and Roll Exhibit A.  Note:  Jimmy Kimmel may have the lamest crowd for this song.  Wake up kids!!??!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Prelude to Mean Girls

My better half has suggested she might write a piece on modern day bullying, or as women might call it, "mean girl syndrome."  Every school has them and maybe you were one of them.  Perhaps it was the cheerleading captain and her posse?  The punk rocker and all her Joan Jett looking besties.  Maybe even the stage star, soprano and valedictorian.   The do-it-all girl who had offers from Princeton when she was in grade school.  Oh, and she was a 3 sport athlete for good measure.  Hey, if that girl exists maybe she is allowed to bully.

The thing is, like everything else today, the "mean girls" aren't waiting for middle or high school.  Kids keep score at age 8 and 9 anymore.   "Their family vacations in Florida every break" they say.  

"Don't talk to her she isn't playing lacrosse this season."  

"She plays soccer, but only rec."  

"Did you see what she wore the other day?"  

"How about that hair?"  "

She only has a first generation Ipad."  

What, you think that is an exaggeration?  That stuff doesn't happen in the Heartland?  Or in urban places like Philly or New York?

Think again.  And if it isn't yet, it will be, and soon.   Let's say Minnesota is Beta to New Jersey's VHS.  It gets there, but it takes a little while to make that trip.

You could argue 9 year olds shouldn't have phones yet.  But in 2012 it is merely the equivalent of kids owning Colecovision or the Atari 2600 back in the 80s.  Kids, and more to the point their parents, NEED to keep up with their peers.  And if they are not doing it themselves you better believe they will do all they can to make sure their kids are.

And so the cycle begins, because mainly there will still be folks who either cannot afford to, or better, ignore these superficial trappings and opt to keep their kids socially behind (see: this author.)  That assumes that to fit in socially you have to show economic upward mobility (even if it is a lie- appearance is everything.)

Sleepovers at age 9 should be easy going expressions of friendship without the slightest bit of pretense and angst.

Why then do they challenge the very essence of the 4th grade system of mores?  Why is it girls cannot have more than 1 go to friend?  Why can they not root for each other when faced with adversity?  Why is every decision so critical?  When do they have time to just be children???  

Do we do enough to nurture their imaginations?  Is everything too literal??  When we take them to an inappropriate movie about children killing children should they be able to tell it is fantasy?  Is it fantasy?

Wait, now I'm confused.  Because more than anything the grossly overrated "The Hunger Games" is, at  best, a nice metaphor for today's youth.

They are paraded around for all the world to see.  They are expected to achieve greatness, so much so that they will rescue our sorry asses from the mess we find ourselves in.  Then, supposing they fail to meet our lofty expectations, we turn the channel as they die and wait for the next hero to come through the door.

Not quite.  We need to engage our children more and make them understand treating others poorly is not how things get done.  Rather, it continues a trend that we have all seen happen far too often.  

There new film Bully, reviewed last week: Bully Film Review @ GTS, fails to demonstrate how we can reverse this disturbing human tendency.  

It's so easy it hurts.  Lead by example.  Golden Rule s*&% folks.  

And listen (and/or make an attempt) to listen to what your kid is saying.  Cause at 9 it is far more complicated and nuanced than you could have ever imagined.

This guide needs a freaking guide.  What on Earth can adolescence bring??? 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Politics...

After my News Fast (see prior posts), I've had to draw upon my own experiences, and conversations with others, forcing me to step outside of my former, hard won political prejudices.

As a result,  I'm not sure that my views have changed all that much, but I think I have become a better listener.

I'm certainly not the first to observe that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are essentially pissed off about the same thing: the creeping feeling that, in our national politics, we are becoming less of a representative democracy, and more of a Third World banana republic, where imperious elites (of the Big Government and/or the Big Business variety, depending who you ask) are intent on chipping away at our rights and our wallets.

So if these two groups can have some overlap, maybe there is some "common ground" for political discussion.

Much debate about our national politics centers around the US Constitution, so I am starting my inquiry there.

Drawing upon conversations with other people, a bit of my legal training, my past study of history,  pop culture (by watching the John Adams miniseries on HBO, and Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and The Layover) and some common sense, I've come up with a few ideas:

The US Constitution is not holy writ sent down from a fiery mountaintop.

The US Constitution is a treaty among several different independent states (In fact, it was typical in the Founders time for folks like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to refer to Virginia and Massachusetts, respective, as their "country").  Each state agrees to give up some of their own sovereign powers to a central federal government for roughly three general purposes:

1. Common national defense and security

2. Remove trade barriers among the states, and set some national standards, to create a national market for goods and services.

3. Establish a national baseline of individual civil rights for US citizens by guaranteeing equal protection of the law (people get treated the same under the law regardless of race, religion, national origin, etc) and due process of law (the government cannot deprive you of your life, liberty, or property unless they give you notice, a hearing, right to counsel, etc. Also, it considers whether there are some areas of our lives that the government cannot interfere with, regardless of notice, a hearing, right to counsel, etc.)

Beyond these three general purposes, it was expected that public health, morality, and welfare would be taken care of by the individual states, the theory being that these standards vary based on culture, geography, and region, and therefore the states are in a better position to pass laws on these topics.

I'm sure we could argue about the details of the above three principles. In fact, I think we are supposed to -- these were all left very broadly cast, and our forefather's assumption was that citizens would be competent to use free speech, reason, and debate to sort out the details on how to fulfill these goals.

However, I think we have been laboring mightily against the reality that, aside from these common principles of mutual benefit, we really are, in many ways, still a collection of different countries, each with its own culture, priorities, and morals. This diversity is, overall, a good thing, I think. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously referred to each state being a "laboratory of democracy", in which various ways of living can be explored.

I have lived in New Jersey almost my entire life, and while I have not traveled extensively, when I do and I am asked where I am from, my first thought is "New Jersey". And plenty of other people feel the same way about their own state.

So maybe the constant attempt to turn everyone into a "Real American" (as various parties and groups define it) is causing too much strife.

Anthony Bourdain, the travel and food writer, speaks often of how his experiences in various countries have opened his mind and broken him of his Manhattanite superiority complex toward his fellow Americans. Now, when he visits places and meets folks in the US that he used to dismiss as "hicks" in "flyover country", he says he now views them as he would citizens of a foreign country, and now sees the richness and complexity of their culture, even if he would not want to live in that culture.

So I am trying to do the same, and appreciate the richness and complexity of other viewpoints. So perhaps if states want to pass laws I don't agree with regarding same sex marriage, abortion, contraception, medical marijuana, unions, creationism versus evolution,  and sex education, while I don't have to like it, perhaps I can view it as another "laboratory of democracy" working through  a few experiments....

On the other hand,  I am not made of stone.

As a citizen of New Jersey, I am fortunate to live in, like California and New York, an affluent state. However, by most estimates New Jersey also has the worst return on investment on tax dollars (about 62 cents on the dollar) sent to the Feds v. Federal largess returned to New Jersey.

And I note that the states that have the culture, values and morals that I most disagree with, seem to have the best return, upwards of $1.50 back to their state for every federal tax dollar they pay.

While liberals will say its only right that the more affluent help out the less affluent, conservatives will point out that we should not subsidize bad choices. And I can't help but suspect that some of the troubles these states have requiring more federal dollars are a result of many of that state's policy choices, and are not directly tied to national defense, a national market, or civil rights.

Perhaps, instead of financing other states' bad policy choices via federal taxes, states like New Jersey could provide loans directly to these states. Even with the low, low interest rates prevailing, we could certainly make back a few percentage points, a "vig" if you will.

And if any of the borrowers welch,  New Jersey has many, many folks with experience in "debt collection".

Often cited, but rarely actually read - Links to US Constitution text is below:

Info from Tax Foundation on States "Return on Investment" on federal taxes 1981-2005:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bully-Film Review

In recent weeks the movie maverick Harvey Weinstein has gone on a PR blitz fighting the powers that be (here, the MPAA) over the R rating the documentary Bully was saddled with.  He argued, and correctly, that kids of all ages should see this film.  Buses continue to be places of angst and torture for the weak.  School lots are often the stage for hazing and mental stresses.  Kids curse, in many cases with F bombs and other foul words.  Lockers are meant as much for throwing kids into as they are storing supplies.

It really is the same old story.  As long as Darwinism has existed so too has Social Darwinism.

Bully, the documentary made by Weinstein Company by fillmmaker Lee Hirsch, examines some modern cases of the tormented and their tormentors.  And lest we think the bullies are solely other kids in the playground, think again.

School officials, administrators, police and parents themselves share in the epidemic.  Add to that the pervasive social media that inundates a childs life these days and its clear the stakes are higher.

It is noted (on the films website, not film itself) that 13 million school kids will be bullied this year.  Hirsch and his camera follow Alex from Sioux City, Iowa.  He is a gangly kid who is referred to as "fish face" by his peers.  He stays quiet about his abuse.  He desperately wants to fit in.  He has a long road ahead of him.

There is Kelby, the 16 year old lesbian from Tuttle, Oklahoma.  Since she came out her tiny bible belt community has shunned her.  She wants to stay and prove them all wrong.  "We can co-exist, right?" she asks to deaf ears.  She quickly realizes she can not do it alone.

Hirch also features David and Tina Long from Murray County, Georgia.  Their son Justin hung himself in 2009 (at age 17) due to relentless bullying.  Kirk and Laura Smalley had a similar experience with their 11 (!) year old son Tyler.  They live in Oklahoma too.

Finally there is 14 year old Ja'Meya from Mississippi.  She brought a gun on her bus in an effort to stop the madness.  The bullied becoming the bully as it were.

These are all families from rural parts of America, or at best small mid western cities.  All of the kids profiled are in the public school system.  All without wealth and prestige.  And every cliched story fails to educate or enlighten the viewer as to the potential of thing getting better.  There is more pessimism than optimism, although that cannot be the filmmakers intent.

Candlelight vigils will not stop it.  Petitions won't either.

And by the way, this is not a rural and/or poor man's problem.

Are we to believe this type of bullying doesn't exist in prep schools?  In LA and NYC?  Does Weinstein and/or Hirsch view this Nation of ours as blue versus red?

Seems that way judging by their slanted and one dimensional film that's for sure.

A camera is covertly mounted on a bus and it captures physical and emotional abuses.   Out of touch Assistant Principals are ever so eager to pass the buck or ignore situations altogether.  Town Hall meetings are either poorly attended or ill conceived.  Parents of kids who are bullied can be heard loud and clear.

What of the parents of the bullies?  They never seem to show up.  Aren't they themselves bullies?  Are they the ones passing bills to not raise taxes or mandate women's reproductive health?  Or warning us of imminent global change and pending race wars?

Probably yes to all of that.  And citing case studies of bullying will not solve the problem.

Teaching your kids (and enforcing it at home) right versus wrong is the logical start.  Trusting in your educators and other parental figures to lead by example will certainly help too.  Acknowledging it happens in urban areas and places of wealth might be worthwhile too.

Kids should be able to see the film for sure.  But they should also see Larry Clark's Kids, and a few episodes of Degrassi, and remember the golden rule.

Somewhere in Bully is good intention and the makings of a good movie.

The finished product, unfortunately, fails to deliver it.

For more:

LA Times piece on the Ratings controversy

Editors Note:

To date the film was only playing in NYC and LA.  As Easter/Passover and wide release beckon the MPAA has just announced a reversal and will give the film a PG-13:  MSNBC report

Terminal 5 Comes Alive... thanks to the Naked and the Famous.

Over the course of a year New Zealanders The Naked and the Famous have gone from opening act at Terminal 5,  NYC's Upper West Side venue, to selling it out as headliners.  They have a few more dates on what has been years long tour supporting their debut record Passive Me, Aggressive You, Without burying the headline let's just say they rocked the house.

For the layperson it might seem trivial to list all the band members.  After all, if you are not playing arenas are you worth learning about?  Isn't The Voice or Idol on anyway??

That might be the easy way out, but it short changes Aaron Short (electronics/producer), Alisa Xayalith (vocals/keys), David Beadle (bass), Jesse Wood (drums), and Thom Powers (vocals/guitar.)  They may not be the most flashy at each position.  But as a team you will be hard pressed to find a more polished unit.  And at their age???  Impressed.

Two things were abundantly clear during their blistering, high energy 70 minute set.  One, it is easy to tell they have been on the road for a while, and playing/crafting these songs night in, night out.  Each track, from the opening Go- Go's esque dance number "All of This" to their encore "Young Blood", was played with confidence and without a wasted note.  No chit chat between songs either!  There were some aww shucks moments of thanks toward the end which was sweet and sincere.  Then it was quickly back to the music.

Which brings us to point # 2.  This ain't  no beeps and boops act.  Make no mistake, synths and keys are present.  But not omnipresent.  The only produced number was their light show, which was captivating.  Whatever pre-conceived ideas regarding a rave, or glow stick vibe were erased quickly with a full on rock show.  Drums drumming.  Bass pounding.  And the flawless pairing of Powers and Xayalith's voices brought it all together.  

"The Sun", a slow and brooding number, showed off the bands full range.  Each singer talking over one another with perfect harmony.  Short provided a Trent Reznor groove behind them.  The rhythm section kept the pace.    

The curmudgeon might suggest they move some tracks (notably two of their two encores "Dadada and Serenade") to earlier in the set.  They were slower pieces that were ill-fitting after the raucous show stopper "Girls Like You."  But that is nit picking.  And they deserve better.  

Oh and this just in.  Terminal 5 can sound pretty good too!!  After the Naked and the Famous, and Gotye and Grouplove in the weeks prior, the venue once again contained the sound and made it pop.  Do we now take a harder look at sound engineers as the prime culprits for echoes and reverbs that have haunted others.  Eels and Portugal the Man, two strong acts, were less than stellar here.  So too, many others.  A friend of mine has called it "The Place where Great Bands sound like sh%$."  

Not so fast.  Once again an act with a careful ear and well crafted set came into one of NYC's largest venues and delivered the goods.

Does this bode well for upcoming gigs from The Shins?  Snow Patrol?  Maybe.  For full listing  head here:

But this much is certain.  These crazy kids from New Zealand are a first rate act.  Even if live music isn't your thing do give a listen to their excellent LP.  This is a band with huge promise.

Further Research:
"The Sun"  Any wonder CW shows and Madison Ave love this track.  A most worthy track for dancing, selling cars, emotional climax or montage scene, cruising with the top down...

"Punching in a Dream"  Good use of visuals during this one.  Note the hockey mask photo above...  it was the display when "Breathing life into the nightmare" was sung.  Silly but strangely cool.

"Young Blood"  It may borrow Men Without Hats, and quite liberally for that matter, but boy what a fun song.  A nice way to end the proceedings and their certain calling card.  

"Girls Like You" If you watch 1 of these videos make it this one.  Live version from The Lab.  Exhibit A thru Z on their live set.  It can not be overstated how the 80s have come back with a vengeance.  

And further knowledge can be found here: