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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Old School Rap From An Old Friend

Hank B usually covers the music beat here on the Suburbanite's Guide to Somewhere, but I'm making a rare guest appearance.
I was looking to expand my horizons a bit, and conferred with a childhood friend of mine, Mike M., for his suggestions on "essential" rap songs.

Mike and I grew up just outside of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, where cornfields surrounded our unlocked-door neighborhood and you could smell manure in the summer. The gritty street tales of early rap might as well have been Japanese kabuki theater.

Regardless, Mike's great sense of humor, as well as his open-minded and generous spirit enabled him to see the originality, creativity and raw appeal of rap music when I was still combing my mullet with a Goody plastic comb to the tune of Def Leppard.  Mike was the one who first introduced me to rap, and decades later was the first person I thought to ask for recommendations.

Below are Mike's comments and perspective, and thanks to him my musical tastes have opened up a wee bit, and a new playlist was born on my iPhone:

13 Essential Old School Rap Songs - by Mike M.

1. Ain't No Half Steppin'- Big Daddy Kane---This is my favorite song of all time and he is my favorite rapper. He is widely recognized as one of the top 5 lyricists of all time and was known for his metaphors, similes and wordplay. He is from Brooklyn, where many of the greatest rappers have come from. I have seen him perform twice, and met him last year in NYC before his show with my oldest son.

2. My Melody- Rakim---Also recognized as one of the top rappers of all time, and his lyrics were second to none. He's been referred to as "rapper's favorite rapper". Great lyrics.

3. They Reminisce Over You- Pete Rock and CL Smooth---A classic tune that uses a crazy sample that I don't know how Pete found and a tribute to a fallen dancer from another group (T-Roy, from Heavy D & the Boyz). A great song with a story about growing up, family, etc.

4. My Mind's Playing Tricks On Me- Ghetto Boys---A tale of paranoia and one of if not the most "visual" rap song I've ever heard. The story telling places you in the rhymes, in the hood with them; you can see what they are saying. Also significant because it was a hit not from NYC but from Houston, not a hot bed for rap at that time.

5. Straight Outta Compton- NWA---This song put Los Angeles on the map and the first verse by Ice Cube is as raw and hard as any verse you'll hear. To see Ice Cube now doing Coors Light commercials and family movies is comical once you hear this song. It is vulgar and violent but an important song in the history of rap because most of the country had no idea what the scene was like in LA (pre-Rodney King, riots, etc).

6. The Show- Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick---A fun song, using a sample from Inspector Gadget! Doug was one the first and finest beat boxers who also rhymed and Rick was rap's greatest storyteller. The two had several hits, and this was a classic.

7. Friends-Whodini---Another cool song, much more about the lyrics than the beat or the producer. A story we can all relate too. I'm actually Facebook friends with the lead rapper Jalil and we have had several Facebook "conversations". Pretty cool for a big kid like me!

8. I Go To Work- Kool Moe Dee---The pure lyrics and rhyming in this song is incredible. Moe Dee was a great battle rapper and his intelligent rap style was different than most. He was one of the real old school guys, starting in the early 80's.

9. Rockbox- Run DMC---One of my first favorite tunes. This song was one that made me fall in love with rap music.

10. I'm Bad-LL Cool J--- A great song, full of braggadocio and cockiness but clear rhymes too. A good listen.

11. OPP-Naughty By Nature---NBN was known as the "anthem" group of the early 90's; they had several hits that were adult in content yet clever enough in their lyrics and had great beats so the message was not too "street". Undeniably a classic party song from the early 90's.

12. Can't Truss It- Public Enemy---Public Enemy was as influential as any group in the history of rap, along with Run DMC. Chuck D was an intelligent, forceful lyricist and Flava Flav was the rap industry's most famous hype man. They were very "pro-black", if you will, and had some hard rhymes. They'd get a little political and turned off a few people along the way. This song and Fight The Power are two of their biggest hits and all time classics.

13. The Message-Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five---This was the first true tale of life in the ghetto. There have been many since but this was the first and arguably the best.
Thanks again to Mike M.!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Left-Wing Conservative- Leap Off The Fiscal Cliff!

I'm certainly not the first to observe that the so-called "Fiscal Cliff" is a false crisis, an artificial cage match set up between the GOP and the Democrats over a year ago to see who would blink first over taxing and spending.

As far as I can tell, going over the cliff means about 88% of taxpayers will see an increase in taxes, and about 8 to 9 % of the federal budget will be cut over the next decade.

And I'm not the first to notice that we are all 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 centralized 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 maybe we all need to stop paying admission to the cage match, join hands, and jump off the fiscal cliff together.

Experience, they say, is the best teacher. Maybe having to confront taxes and spending cuts will clarify our, and our representatives' thinking.

For reference, let's take a quick look at the US Constitution.

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.

Also, maybe it is time to think about whether being fiscally yoked to every other state, beyond the three purposes of national defense, a national market, or civil rights, makes sense.

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 let's appreciate the richness and complexity of other viewpoints. 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....

And perhaps the massive centralization of taxing and spending with the Federal Government is a place to start.

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.

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.

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 aggressive "debt collection".


Note-This is based on an earlier 2012 post "Thoughts on Politics".

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Left-Wing Conservative - Is Gun Control Slavery?

Wayne LaPierre, the chief lobbyist of the NRA, has proposed that the solution to the string of mass killings in public schools is, not to put any new restrictions on the ability to purchase semi-automatic weapons, or limits on the size of ammunition clips, but rather to provision and train an armed team to defend against any attack.

That this is the recommendation of the largest sportsman's and gun enthusiast's organization in the United States (and that so many endorsed his view) highlights that the issue of gun control is very much akin to another "peculiar institution" in our history  --- slavery.

Of course, owning a gun is not owning a human being. Rather, I think the issues suffer from the same defect of moral reasoning in that they involve taking an entrenched cultural practice and the conflation of property rights with human rights.

Slavery was deeply entwined within our culture because it served the twin goals of providing cheap replaceable labor and endorsing a caste system which even the non-slave holders benefited from, as even the lowest white sharecropper could hold himself over a slave, and it was a "fundamental right" for whites to rule over blacks.

Much of the rhetoric in support of slavery considered it a "sacred institution" and its abolition was considered a violation of constitutionally protected "property rights". So powerful was the property rights rationale that many who supported abolition (including Abraham Lincoln) believed that, absent a constitutional amendment, a just solution was for the federal government to purchase the slaves from their owners, a "just compensation" to the owners.

Gun ownership, like the issue of slavery, is intertwined into our cultural DNA. For generations, Americans have privately owned firearms. It is estimated that today there are between 250 and 300 million weapons in private hands in the US. Generations have used them for hunting, protection, and sport. Many before and today have grown up around guns, and learned how to handle and store them safely.

The Supreme Court recognized this long tradition, having ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess firearms for traditionally recognized purposes such as "defense of the home". However, the Court also specified that this right did not invalidate laws regulating who can own a gun ("felons or the mentally ill") where they may be carried ("schools and government buildings") or laws "imposing conditions or qualifications on the commercial sale of arms".

I would argue that the Court acknowledged only selective aspects of American tradition, and there are other interpretations that suggest the Second Amendment is more about states and communities being able to provide for their own internal security. That aside, the Court's decisions, in my view, are not unreasonable. And I think the Court clearly, and wisely, left the details of gun control to be fleshed out by the democratic process.

Rights mean nothing if they are not underwritten by moral values that encourage human flourishing in a democratic community. They mean nothing if they are simply a shorthand for our own preferences or desires. In short, they have to be brought back to earth.

But still we hear that the right to a semi-automatic weapon, the right to carry a concealed weapon, and the right to own high capacity magazines, are such central 'fundamental rights' that they are beyond discussion, and the only permissible solution is to "fight fire with fire" and have more, and more heavily armed, people to shoot back at mass killers.

Like the slavery issue, we are using the rhetoric of property rights, but not in terms of ownership of assets, but in terms of a consumer's demand for goods and services. Like the slaveholders, the NRA's position, and the position of its fellow travelers, is one that puts their own desires above the well-being of their community, and relies on abstract " property rights" to glorify same.

Today, the discussion around gun ownership needs to be about values that lead to a flourishing culture, or the participation of an engaged citizenry, not those of a well-trained consumer.

To refer back to the Supreme Court's decision, the consumer ignores the citizen's obligation to responsibly define what weapon is necessary for self-defense, or defense of the home, versus what is simply a dangerous toy for selfish amusement.

The burden is on the gun owner to justify the need, not on their neighbors to argue where the limits are. Are we to believe that we can pass laws against excessive noise so our neighbors can sleep, but not excessive firepower so we make our public spaces safer?

It is a consumer, not a citizen, who says "I want what I want, when I want it, and as much as I want". It is a consumer, not a citizen, who says "I should be able to own whatever gun I want, when I want, and fire as many rounds as I want, as fast as I want."

A consumer's values are not those of  a citizen, capable of moral reasoning, aware of their interdependence with others, and trusted to self-government and democratic selection of leaders.

Rather, they are the values of a child.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Best of 2012, Part 2 (Notable Bands, Albums and Live Acts)

Sometimes a song tells only part of the story.  For instance, Alabama Shakes had a huge song this year with their  breakout  "Hold On".  It is a terrific song on a solid debut record.  The story goes beyond that.  Last year at this time Alabama Shakes was, in reality, unknown.  Within a year they are now Grammy nominated stars selling out concerts in minutes.  Will they have staying power?  How do you follow the success up when you start so high?  Every generation has its One-Hit Wonders.  Who is 2012's?

With that in mind here is some new talent that appear to have potential for more.  Apologies to Gary Clark Jr and Imagine Dragons, Passion Pit to name a few.  There is only so much time in a day and I failed to see those acts live or give their records an intent listen.  Some respected peers have said good things if it means anything.

Grouplove:  "Tongue Tied" blew up this summer and with good reason.  It is pure, pop magic.  It's that one of a kind song that brings us all together.  Never mind they used it to sell Apple products.  This group of hippies have the classic back story too.  They met at an artist colony in Greece.  Hannah Hooper wasn't even a musician.  She paints (see the groups cover art.)  The boys thought she might be able to sing.  Good call.  In March they opened for Young the Giant at Terminal 5 and destroyed it.  The headliners paled in comparison.  A few months later they sold the place out with top billing.  the band has such a positive energy you can't help root for them.  And expect bigger things!

Gotye:  Psy's "Gangham Style" notwithstanding, this lanky Aussie had the song, and video, of the year (and decade so far.)  Many parodied, often covered, Gotye lays out the blue print for a break up song.  You listening Taylor Swift?  March was a good month in the otherwise mundane life of Terminal 5.  Gotye and his band of merry makers showed precision and care in their flawless show there.  With other gems like "Easy Way Out" and "Eyes Wide Open", Gotye is anything but a flash in the pan.  He's so darn likable too!

Naked and The Famous:  Until recently New Zealand's finest musical export was the comedy duo The Flight of The Conchords.  Granted, this duo's debut is a few years old.  However 2012 saw them find mainstream success headlining larger venues and fine tuning their live act.  This was one of the more refreshing and exciting live shows I was witness to this year.  Sometimes going to an event with no expectations and/or limited knowledge can be a real treat.  Naked and The Famous "Girls Like You""Young Blood" and "The Sun" are but a few highlights from their debut record.  They are recording the sophomore effort another World away.

M83:  Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez has been performing and recording under the name M83 for over a decade.  His tremendous LP Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is, like Naked and The Famous, hardly new by alternative standards.  But the album kept building steam and I was fortunate enough to catch them/him live this year too.  It was an absolute blast.  Like Gotye, Gonzalez has an eye (and more importantly an ear) for detail.  You have heard several of his tracks in commercials, tv shows, and films.  Here them in their entirety here:  "Midnight City"  "Steve McQueen"  and "Intro"

Walk the Moon:  Oh the power of a hook, and a charismatic lead singer sure helps too.  "Anna Sun" propelled these Ohio rockers into the mainstream from obscurity.  Their self titled album proves they are capable of more than one hit.  Anyone else think they were the Foster the People of 2012?  OK, maybe not that big, but quite similar.  For instance:  "Jenny" or "Next In Line"

Chappo:  They played Mercury Lounge the other night in what was to date their biggest show (supporting their debut record Moonwater.)  They played a show in Brooklyn that defied explanation during the summer and a riveting record release party last winter.  The songs are as fresh and original as the band odd and irreverent.  Unsure what kind of future, if any, they might have.  But you could do a lot worse getting on board with them.  "Come Home"  "Hell No"

Grimes:  It is fashionable to put Clare Boucher, stage name Grimes, on a best of list.  Her album, Visions, is on plenty of them.  Her October NYC shows were all packed with young hipsters dying to dance, do drugs, and let loose.  It is part dance, part theatre, and a whole bunch of fun.  Open your mind and imagination because this is not for everyone.  After all I only managed about 5 songs at the show I saw.  It's ok to dig it from afar though.  No one is watching you, trust me.  "Oblivion" and "Vanessa"

Jack White:  Thanks to the wonderful people at Webster Hall (you know who you are) I was able to see Mr White in this intimate setting.  There are few working musicians today who can blend so many genres seamlessly.  Fewer still who can play guitar like White.  He played a set with an all girl band and then an all guy band.  2 + hours of rock and roll fantasy.  Here is the video, directed by Gary Oldman: Jack White @ Webster Hall, AMEX Unstaged

Brandi Carlile:  This little firecracker can flat out perform.  Her voice is angelic and powerful.  Her personality is infectious and endearing.  And her songs, a rich tapestry of love, life and everything in between, are well written and beyond worthy.  Unsure why she doesn't have the success say, Melissa Etheridge had many years ago.  But this much is certain, she should.  "Raise Hell" live from Craig Ferguson and "The Story" from Austin 2010.  For the record, if "The Story" does not send chills up your spine please check your pulse.

White Rabbits:  Another in a long line of Brooklyn bands that is on the precipice.  There records are good, if not a touch inconsistent.  There live shows however are quite entertaining.  It is a free-wheeling percussion show with a touch of piano and guitar.  Oh, the vocals are solid too.  Just a hard working rock band more than capable of putting together solid music.  "Heavy Metal" or "Percussion Gun"

Enjoy, debate, share and provide feedback.   Part 2 of Best of 2012 can be subscribed to via Spotify here:  2012 Best of Part 2

Concert reviews and/or more detailed info for each act can be found here:

Naked and The Famous
Walk the Moon
Jack White
Brandi Carlile
White Rabbits

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Notes from a Left-Wing Conservative

Over the last year of blogging I have talked a lot about a News Fast.

The result?  I will give myself credit for not being a knee-jerk  "liberal" anymore.

I have a new sensitivity with why so many people struggle with the annoyance over the rhetorical excesses and ideological rigidity of both left and right.

I am done trying to cultivate ironic detachment from politics and current events. It was great for a clarifying intellectual exercise, but its time to come back to earth.

So I'm adopting the term for myself, and it will be the masthead for my future posts on politics.

I call myself  a “Left-Wing Conservative”.

Contrary to my initial belief, I am not the first to think of the term. Norman Mailer referred to himself as a “Left Conservative” in his book “Armies of the Night”, and a few other folks who have used it from time to time.
Anyway, for my purposes its it meaningful for me to describe my political views as Left-Wing Conservative, based on the following understanding:

Left-Wing – This is a provocative term, to be sure, what with its association with Karl Marx and communism. But all left-wing political persuasions, from liberal to socialist to communist, have something in common – the idea of equality. By equality, I mean the idea that all people are created equal- (as per the Declaration of Independence), and just by being human have a worth, a dignity, and a value that cannot be quantified (even in our great age of putting a numerical value on everything). But it adds to that the idea that there is some point at which the differences in the conditions of our lives, differences in race, religion, wealth, and health and status become so extreme that they become unjust, and in being unjust, they demand remedy. For me personally, and perhaps for others, this value of fundamental human equality is grounded in my religious tradition, but it need not be so, and can be justified by any secular view of self-evident human dignity and value.

Conservative – by this, I don’t mean “free market, small government, strong military, fundamentalist religion” as co-opted by the Republican Party. It is also not a “restorationist” approach, in which we seek to recreate a bygone era  (the 1950s, the 1890's or even The Garden of Eden) in the present day. Rather, conservatism, as per Edmund Burke, is highly skeptical of “top down” ideologies, recognizing them as abstract constructs  that tend to demand that reality must be this or that, and rejects those facts that don’t fit its principles . Instead, conservatism places a primary value on customs, traditions, habits, and relationships --  the result of the experiences of many prior generations. It is, in its way, scientific because it assumes that people are capable of learning over time, and learn best within actual day to day living.  As a result, these customs, traditions and habits reflect certain timeless values: prudence, loyalty, honor, personal duty and obligation to others, compassion, the dignity of work. It is also pluralistic, with its emphasis on families and communities, voluntary clubs and associations, ethnic pride, and the plurality of living arrangements and values (every culture needs rebels, bohemians and a “wrong side of the tracks”).  In short, much respect given to what came before, and a commitment to hold in trust those things that demand keeping around. Conservatism also is skeptical about innovation, and expects change to arise based on facts and experience, not revolutionary vanguards.

So, in working through these two broad perspectives and views, I hope to offer some thoughts on politics and public life that appeal to those struggling with disenchantment with the narrow spectrum of “liberal-moderate/centrist-conservative”, and want to hear your thoughts on the discussion.

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Untimely Movie Review: "Pulp Fiction"

There are two events in my cinematic life where I walked out of a movie feeling transformed; as if my brain and spirit had been stretched into shapes they had never been in before, and never quite snapped back to being the same afterward.

The first was when I saw George Lucas's Star Wars when I was eight years old, and the second was when I saw Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

I saw Pulp Fiction for the second time on the big screen recently, presented as a one-night engagement as a run-up to Tarantino's highly anticipated (by me, at least) spaghetti "Southern" Django Unchained, to be released on Christmas Day.

Why is Pulp Fiction such a great movie to me? I love movies, but I don't spend much time studying the art of film, so for discussion on camera angles, intricate tracking shots, mise en scene, bold color choices, non-linear storytelling, and other such artsy analysis, look elsewhere. And while Pulp Fiction' s  influence on the movies that followed can be favorably compared, I think, to that of Citizen Kane , such an analysis has been done (and overdone) by others.

In the 18 years since I first saw it in the theater (and the approximately 20 times I have watched it beginning to end since, and the countless times I was stopped in my tracks by catching it on cable and having to watch it until the end) I have come to realize that what draws me to a movie and impacts me are not the flash and technique, but the traditional, if not ancient and perhaps timeless elements of story and character. For all of my intellectual pretentions, my love of movies is a visceral, emotional one.

Conversations - Listening to the  conversations in this movie --- funny, profane, and philosophical ---I want to step into the screen and join them. So much movie dialog is nothing but exposition to explain the plot ( e.g.  "Well, don't get snippy with me. You're the one who decided to quit being a high powered patent attorney to adopt a Vietnamese orphan and open your own organic-paleo bakery"). Instead, we are dropped into conversations and relationships already in progress. As in real life, the audience is expected to sort it out by how the characters speak to each other. We learn everything about the comrades-in-arms relationship and affection between Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield just by joining their conversation about foot massages and the nature of intimacy, as well as through Vincent's acceptance of Jules' spiritual awakening and decision to give up the criminal life at the movie's "end".

Silence - For all of the well deserved praise for Tarantino's skill with dialogue ( he has an unsung second career as a Hollywood script doctor typically hired to improve dialogue scenes) his use of silence is ofter overlooked. During the movie's centerpiece, the "date" between Vincent and Mia Wallace at the surreal "wax museum with a pulse" Jack Rabbit Slim's, a full minute (I timed it) of silence passes between the heroin-addled hitman and his boss's pampered but bored and despondent trophy wife. Just with their eyes and body language, the pair entertain the natural and possibly fatal sexual tension bubbling between them. The audience is again asked to bring their own life into the scene, and feel the same uncomfortable silence, so jarring after the movie's previous electrifying dialogue. This silence is filled later in the scene not by more chatter, but the now classic dance contest. To the tune of Fats Domino's  "You Never Can Tell", Vincent and Mia use a "safe" ritual (public dancing) to grow even closer.

Honor- Within Pulp Fiction's  amoral subculture of crime, murder, and drug dealing, the characters act with loyalty and honor toward each other. Vincent remains loyal to his boss and does not sleep with Mia. Although Butch betrays Marcellus by not throwing the fight, he cuts short his own escape to rescue Marcellus. Note also that the characters who are killed are those who, in this world, violated honor or otherwise had it coming - Thieving preppy Brad and his callow friends;  Vincent, but only in pre-emptive self defense by Butch, the vile rapist Zed and his sweaty hillbilly accomplice,; even tragic palooka Floyd, killed off screen in the ring by Butch,  "knew the risks." Among this picaresque crew, honor is preserved and exalted.

So for me, Pulp Fiction, like all great movies, is great because it treats the audience as real human being, capable of empathy and imagination, and allows the audience to participate as the story unfolds.

I'll be following this up with other Untimely Reviews. Let me know what you think!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Best of 2012, Part 1

The Rolling Stones played Newark, NJ last night.  Most of the legends of Rock and Roll were at MSG supporting Sandy victims a few nights ago.  God Bless Them All!!!

I am a NJ guy.  "Born to Run" and "Livin on Prayer" are hallmarks of my childhood, and in some sense my life as a whole.  And if you like music as I do, The Stones, The Who, McCartney, Eddie Vedder, Michael Stipe, et al (ok maybe not Kanye-him I don't get.) are all woven into the fabric that is my musical quilt.

The thing is, that very quilt is infinite.  Thankfully, the spectrum of music is rich and abundant these days.  And if we are going to live in one of the most expensive areas in America we are going down with a fight.  From Jack White at Webster Hall to Gotye at Terminal 5, 2012 will be fondly remembered.

Alt music continues to find itself on the pop dial and lots of those artists are talked about here.  Gotye, Dawes, Fun, Of Monsters and Men, are a few acts that started left of the dial.  Good songs are good songs.  Today's artists are scratching and clawing to be heard.  They are on your VW or Expedia ads.  They are on opening title sequences.  And they are most certainly in concert halls, eager to please and ready to rock.

If you cannot make it to shows check back here regularly.  The following list comprises of notable songs and the artists that perform them.  No particular order and no meaning at all, other than leaving a lasting impression.  You can subscribe and/or share the list on Spotify here:  Best of 2012 Part 1

Diiv "Doused"  The debut record is great and their live act is something of a departure from what you hear here.  Good, no nonsense rock and roll (and I like it)

Django Django "Default"  The first, but not the last of the 80s inspired Synth songs that will define my 2012.  Simple and effective beats with a infectious vocal.  "Take One For The Team/You're a Cog in the Machine/It's Like a Default."  Indeed.

Matt and Kim "Let's Go"  Another Brooklyn act (Diiv) on the list and with good reason.  For years now they have gone about their business making people smile and kicking a little ass.  It's high school house music for the Ipad set.  Cue the montage scene now.  Better yet, watch this hysterical video (also one of 2012's best.)

Haim "Forever"  California sisters who clearly had some Go-Go's for breakfast.  Just about the happiest tune of the year, that's all.  That is, if you are not listening for the lyrics.

Grizzly Bear "Yet Again"  1) Another Brooklyn band.  Ugh, that is annoying right??!!!  2) The video is awful and overrated.  3)  The song dominates.

Passion Pit "Take A Walk"  A synth anthem about the American Dream or lack thereof.  More happy go lucky beats and grooves here.

Grimes "Oblivion"  Maybe the story of Alt Music 2012.  Clare Boucher is Grimes.  Grimes is a Canadian techno project who blew up this year.  This is her calling card.

Japandroids "House That Heaven Built"  Another Canadian act but there is not a keyboard anywhere to be found.  Hard charging guitar and drums from their brilliant sophomore album Celebration Rock.  Celebrate indeed!

Chappo "Come Home"  Sears used this track for their mindless commercial featuring folks running into appliances.  One of the better live acts I was lucky to witness this year.  Unsure why this album has not caught on like I expected.  Let's call them this years Caveman.  I am rooting for them!

The Head and The Heart "Down in The Valley"  The Lumineers will get all the love, but these mountain hipsters put out a great record and this is the highlight!

Part 2 next week.

Happy listening and enjoy the weekend.  Please share your favorites!!!!  We love to hear from you.

The Left-Wing Conservative -Another Absurd Gun Discussion...

There are a lot of arguments around the issue of the Second Amendment and its implications for the private ownership of firearms in the US.  And I think reasonable arguments can be made all around this issue. However, in the wake of the latest shooting conducted with legally obtained firearms, there is already a refrain heard from some folks that goes like this:

“Banning guns will not prevent violence or people from being killed. If some psycho or evil person is intent on harming people, if they can’t get an semi-automatic pistol, they will use a revolver. If they can’t get a 30 round magazine, they will use three 10 round magazines. And if they can’t get a gun, they will use a knife, and if they can’t get a knife, they will use a baseball bat.”

This argument is ordinarily summarized into the pithy phrase, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Far be it from me to challenge the determination or ingenuity of those with murderous intent, or the opinion of those who claim to be intimately knowledgeable about same.

However, there are a few facts, upon which, I think we can all agree:

-A gun or firearm is a device capable of projecting a small piece of metal (“Bullets”) at a velocity across a certain distance and with the force sufficient to penetrate flesh and bone.

-The faster the firearm can fire (its firing rate), the more bullets can be fired within a certain period of time. For example, an automatic weapon will fire so long as the trigger is depressed, until the bullets run out.

-The more bullets the firearm can fire without being reloaded (its ammunition capacity), in addition to its firing rate, also increases the amount of bullets that can be fired within a certain period of time

-The above ability of some firearms to fire more bullets faster than others is colloquially referred to as “firepower”.

-The greater the firepower, the more things you can hit (like people) with more bullets in a shorter period of time.

-The more bullets someone is hit with (remember, they can go through flesh and bone) the more likely it is they will die.

However, according to the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” folks, the above facts are completely irrelevant. Because if you are intent on harming someone, you will be able to accomplish the same result, regardless of the tools used.

So instead of murderous psychos, let’s look at a positive example of folks who intend to use deadly force – Soldiers.

Soldiers are trained to use deadly force against our country’s enemies. They are motivated to do so, via training, their professionalism, and bravery. However, based on the above, I guess we have been showing a distinct lack of faith in their commitment to duty, since we have, throughout history, made great effort and expense to supply them with firearms with greater and greater firepower. How insulting.

So perhaps a starting point for discussion is that, while we can agree that "people kill people", we can perhaps also agree that you can kill a lot more people, alot faster, based on how much firepower you have.

If not, and a gun is the same as a baseball bat, we should go head and replace “Lock and Load” with “Batter up!”

When All Else Seems Trivial

This was going to be a music post.  Best of 2012!  What you have may have missed and what you should know.

But now, how can it be?

Yeah, the Band of Horses show the other night was epic.  Those guys sure know how to put a smile on your face.

But what of the parents who dropped their kids off to school today and will be identifying them in a morgue?  When will they smile again?

The reports are still coming in but what we do know is someone was intent on destroying lives.  And he did it.  Dozens dead and millions, myself included, heart broken.

I let our only child sleep in this morning.  The school concert was last night and it has been a taxing few weeks.  I calmly walked her inside he school and signed her in.  I actually thought that this place might be the calmest, safest place she could be right now.

Bet they thought that in Connecticut this morning too.  And in Columbine.  And in Virginia Tech too.

They do it in movie theatres.  They do it in shopping malls.  They do it at the workplace.

And we watch in horror during the 24 hour news cycle and say all the right things.

"Oh my God." "Heartbreaking."  "My thoughts and prayers go out to the families."

But are we doing anything to remedy the situation?

I mean, I think I understand the 2nd Amendment.  And many of my friends and family are responsible gun owners.  They hunt, and practice shoot, and are beyond safe and responsible with their firearms.

No one is suggesting we take their guns.

The question is, how are we addressing the elephant in the room?  Unstable people are getting guns far too easily and doing bad things with them.

No, that is not a statement against the 2nd Amendment.  "Unstable" people is the subject of that sentence.  Look around.  Things are tough out there.  It is only going to get tougher.  Throw in the most stressful time of year and the recipe for disaster grows.   Desperation and profound sadness leads people to desperate, hopeless measures.

The problem is we are incapable of detecting the mental anguish when it arises and perhaps worse in treating known cases.

Then there are the guns.  Readily available and manufactured to rapidly and efficiently eliminate many targets, and fast.  When someone even mentions gun control (see Bob Costas) it pushes us farther apart.  A simple dialogue is impossible to achieve.  There are no gray areas.  One side suggests they have the law on their side and the other is quick to blame the gun, not the assailant.

Black v White.

It is gray though, isn't it?  We all agree those kids should be alive today, don't we?

So how do we compromise?  Are metal detectors required everywhere?  Should we take all the drug war money and use it to sweep up guns?  We are pitting a police state versus total anarchy.  The answers are somewhere in the middle.

Can we agree we need to do a better job talking to one another and helping out all those suffering?

Can we also agree that you should expect, with extreme confidence, that your child is safe at school from being murdered?

In a little while I will be picking up my daughter in this idyllic little town.

I will squeeze her tight and remember how fortunate I am.  Moments later I will find sadness knowing this World is full of demons and ill will, that may one day interfere with her life.

There will be comfort knowing I, er, we can make a difference in her life.

It starts now.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Japandroids/Diiv Webster Hall, 12.4.12


Maybe the loudest bass heard all year.  Is he compensating for something??  This thing would make Gene Simmons blush.

Sold Out Webster Hall.  The kids were hungry for the rock and roll.


The end of year stuff is upon us.  After last nights Grammy Award Concert nonsense we can pretty much put a bow on the year in music, 2012.  And it was another good one.  Plenty of top 50 lists were released this week and this blog will probably be doing one in before years end  You can take a look at Rolling Stone and Stereogum lists here.

Tuesday a few of my personal favorites from 2012, Brooklyn's Diiv and Vancouver's Japandroids, shared Webster Hall's stage.  It was the first of a two night stay and one of the last stops on a marathon tour for Japandroids.  They played NYC earlier in the year supporting their marvelous sophomore LP, Celebration Rock.  They are following today's rock and roll blue print for success.  Put out an amazing record, sell it to whoever is buying (tv shows, commercials, itunes downloads), then tour the living hell out of it.  In June these kids (Brian King-guitar/vocal and David Prowse drums/vocals) played the much smaller Bowery Ballroom.   Less than half a year later they played to a sold out Webster Hall.  The second date was added as a result of this records success (and the deserved reputation of a Japandroids live show.)

Granted, King's voice was admittedly weaker due to the rigors of touring.  He was quick to point this out early on in the show.  "Can you guys help with this one?  It requires a lot of high c's?"  The notes folks, not the drink.  But when I compare Japandroids to another duo that played Webster Hall days earlier (Tanlines review 11.30.12) it is like comparing apples to monkeys.  It's the live drums I tell ya!   And the energy!  What an incredible energy!  Two Canadian kids, a drummer who won't quit, guitars and screaming vocals and rowdy white kids drinking it up like so many draft beers at a frat party.  This is testosterone rock.  No frills, aggressive, sing along and smile rock.  And the drums, the drums, the drums...  Watching Prowse play is jaw dropping.  Then he sings?  Ugh.  How on Earth do people possess this talent?  His light gray shirt was drenched and black within a few songs.  They opened with two crowd pleasers/radio hits from Celebration RockAdrenaline Nightshift and Fires Highway live from 2012 Pitchfork Festival.  It was a strong beginning to a whirlwind hour long set.  No ballads here folks.

The artists were most grateful for the crowds attention and admiration.  More than once King told them "You are keeping us alive."  He even ignored their absurd "Let's Go Rangers" chants imploring them to 'Stop antagonizing him."  He wanted only good vibes.  But he did sneak in a "Rangers Suck, Canucks Rule!" line mid-set.

They breezed through most of Celebration Rock and hit some numbers from their debut record too.  It was a hard charging and enjoyable effort.  Best of 2012?  You bet.  Expect more big things from these boys in the years to come.  Think Black Keys from Canada, eh?  Is MSG in their future?  It is not as far fetched as you might think.

Brooklyn's Diiv opened the evening with a brief set that highlighted their brilliant debut LP, Oshin.  The LP plays like a moody, haunting soundtrack piece not unlike a Real Estate, Caveman, Grizzly Bear, and the rest of that laid back, new So-Cal rock records of the past few years.

The live vibe is decidedly different.  The bass line is heavy and LOUD.  The guitars and jams are faster and more improvisational.  At times it seemed like they were trying to play as fast as they can.  It was as if someone was holding a gun to them from back stage.  Must.  Play.  Notes.  Quickly.

All that said, they were still very much in control.  The crowd that arrived for their set was older and very reserved.  My thought is this time next year they are headlining here and more young kids will be  on board.  Diiv consists of Zachary Cole Smith (guitars/vocals/clearly influence by Kurt Cobain), Devin Ruben Perez (bass), Andrew Bailey (guitar), and Colby Hewitt (drums.)

Works Cited:

BrooklynVegan review and pics here
Japandroids official site
Like Diiv here

Other tracks you should be aware of:

Diiv "Doused"

Diiv Full Concert from KEXP  Note, Cole Smith loves him so very baggy, very comfy t-shirts.  It is the uniform I strive to wear in my everyday life, much to the chagrin of my wife.

Japandroids "House That Heaven Built"  Their final song of the evening.  A screaming, cheering rock anthem akin to a Hooters and Dropkick Murphys.

Japandroids "Days of Wine And Roses"

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Untimely Thoughts On Politics

As the 2012 election season fades into memory, and our elected officials are involved in yet another round of "Fiscal Cliff Chicken", I wanted to offer up a few of my political solutions which, be you leftie, rightie, or ambidextrous , you may find refreshing.

I try to apply two principles that I learned in that great under appreciated school, the corporate world -- "Root Cause Analysis" and "Skin In The Game". Root cause analysis is cutting through the finger pointing and blame shifting and looking at what actually incentivizes people to behave as they do. Having skin in the game moves someone from being an armchair quarterback to someone who has to take their own medicine.

So here goes!

1. Hooray for the One Percent!

I like rich people. We need rich people. Not because they are better than the rest of us. Not because they are "job creators" and not because they are role  models. Whether they have pile of money due to hard work, intelligence, or dumb luck, we need them because.... well, they have most of the money that, like it or not, forms the capital investment infrastructure of our society. So, much of our politics should not be about how to impoverish them, but  how  to get them to keep buying into the system, to continue to have "skin in the game".

My Solution - a one hundred percent estate tax.

You can't take it with you, and you can't leave it to your pinhead kids so they can become well-heeled Euro trash. And you can't make people, foundations, or charities kiss your gold-plated tush to get you to leave it to them in your will.  And no tricky trusts either! Instead, spend it! Buy more houses and yachts, invest in businesses, or even give it away outright. I want it burning a hole in your pocket! Oh, and how to take care of your kids? Try life insurance - its cheaper and, by purchasing same you will be helping stimulate the economy.

2. Sex is the Cure For Everything!

Well, it cures most things, such as loneliness, boredom, muscle tension headaches, and may even clear up your acne. And, if I may be so bold, its a not unpleasant way to pass the time. For eons, various clerics, whether of the religious or scientific variety, have tried to prohibit, regulate, analyze, codify, measure, and ration the making of love.

My Solution - take the money spent on every anti-poverty program, from welfare, food stamps, and housing subsidies to job training, Americorp and government cheese, and replace it with free, readily accessible, and safe contraceptives.

Social ills such as the fracturing of the family unit, juvenile delinquency, divorce, and abortion (listen up pro-lifers!) can all be tied to one common factor -- unwanted pregnancy. Since the greatest psychology experiment ever devised (also known as "human history") has proven that, when the mood strikes, odds are we end up rolling in the hay and deal with the remorse later, why not take our very fallible human judgment and impulse control out of the mix?

3. Send the Illegal Immigrants Packing!

Boy, this one just won't go away. We just can't seem to keep people out of this country! Border patrols, guard dogs, proposed trenches, drones... we seem willing to turn the entire country into a seedy "papers, please" culture to keep folks from running across the border. And why to they come here? So they can listen to talk radio castigate them as parasites? No, they come here for jobs.

My Solution - Require the owner, or CEO, of every business to certify that 1) their company does not employ undocumented workers, and 2) none of their suppliers employ undocumented workers.  If it turns out this has been violated, its ten years in the federal pen.

I guarantee the flow over the border would be a trickle in less than a year. Let's think about this like business people. If you want to destroy a market, you cut off the demand. Rather than rounding up poor, desperate people trying to improve their condition, and shred our own constitutional rights in the process, let's get to the root cause -- the desire to pay below market rates for labor.

Let me know what you think,...more to come soon!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Not Throwing in the Towel

The truth is this should be a positive post.  I am a mere 48 hours removed from a juvenile and wondrous birthday celebration that saw about 20 friends join me in Brooklyn to watch Men Without Hats.  We bowled, we ate, we drank, we Safety Danced, and we laughed. Boy did we laugh.

But that now seems so long ago.  Funny how life has a way of knocking you right back on your ass, isn't it?

I could also mention being a mere 7 hours removed from watching my lovely daughter give everything she had on the basketball floor in a hard fought 26-20 win over our neighboring rival.  She is the smallest on court but has the biggest heart.  It was all I could do to hold back tears as she left it all on the floor.  A prouder father you will be hard pressed to find.

Right now, it is hard to remember the finer details.

Because now I am alone in a home I desperately want to sell.

Everyone knows about Hurricane Sandy and the torment it caused New Jersey and much of the East Coast.  While our house was not directly affected, a problem was uncovered.   But that is jumping ahead a bit.

It is important to know, after 8 years in this home, we were looking to move up a bit.  It was time to sell and further pursue the "American Dream."  Our house has its charms, but we would like a little more land, another bathroom and a nice play room/lounge that can act as a gathering place for our daughter and her friends as she enters adolescence.

Easy, right?  We are in a great town.  We work pretty hard and make a decent living (note: the Mrs does the heavy lifting and deserves far more than she has put up with over the past several years.)  If she wants a pool, she should be able to get a pool.

Well, our first open house was scheduled for the day Sandy hit land.  As soon as the sign went up I was putting it in the garage so it did not blow away.

A few days after that an October snow storm wreaked havoc on the area, postponing Halloween (and our first scheduled brokers open.)

Like many things that have followed us on our move to NJ, the timing was off.  Black outs/Recessions/9.11/Wars have defined the past decade.  As there is no family money and not much of a middle class in town we find ourselves in limbo.

Do we belong here?  Do we fit in?  Is the sacrifice we make for our daughter worth it?  Do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages?

Oh, throw in some outright disrespectful/abhorrent/ behavior by yours truly a few years back while you are keeping score.  The hard working Mrs mentioned earlier has a healthy distaste for this humble protagonist and I can't say as I blame her.  That said, sometimes it takes a giant misstep to awake one to what is really important.  Sometimes the truth is right in front of you begging to be noticed.  If you take the time to get your head out of your ass it can be quite enlightening.

But anyway... back to this friggin house.  So after the initial storm and general malaise that was our home sale it occurred to us that we had water in our basement.  Now, we had some water during Sandy, but we thought it was because the sump pump failed.  Why were we getting water when the rains had stopped?

A call to our plumber yielded terrible news.  Years ago, one of the homeowners decided to install a clay pipe within the basement walls and tie it into our main sewer line.  "Common practice" we were told.  And illegal and/or not in code it turns it.  Once the clay falls apart (as it did) and the main becomes clogged (as it has) the result is some raw sewage unearthed and unleashed in a visible area.

Can you name me a homeowner who wants to see/smell something like that?

We put a band aid on it and called in the insurance folks.  "It should hold for a while" we were told, but it needed to be fixed.  Should we be culpable of adding a new sump pump when we had no idea this condition existed?

The adjuster came about a week ago and we were hopeful we could remedy the whole thing before we went into contract with someone.  Clearly we could not sell in the condition it is in.

After the poor start the traffic had picked up a bit.  We had become quite adept at cleaning the house in record time when a broker called asking to set up a visit.  Yesterday afternoon we received such a call.  We stayed out for a good half hour.  Since we own a dog we like to get him out of the house.  As we walked back we noticed the agent and a young woman heading to the car.  They realized we were the homeowners and made sure to mention how charming the place was, and how impressed they were.

We were encouraged.  Imagine then our encouragement when the same broker called today and said the woman was on board and wanted to show it to her husband today.

"Great" we said!  "This is it!!"

We took this as beyond positive and made an appointment to see another house in town.  We had  a contract on another house in town, but naturally that fell through.  We may sell this thing and have nowhere to live.  That is another story altogether.

Imagine our surprise when our broker called saying he had a "very disturbing message" from the other agent.

"Yeah, turns out they will not be making an offer" he said.  "Apparently when they were there your basement was taking water and the sump pump was pouring water into your yard."

"Huh?" was my response.  But I headed downstairs to see how the basement looked.  We had been home a lot during the day and used water without issue.

As I made my way down the steps a small amount of water was visible.  I moved closer to the furnace/boiler area and it was more wet.  Then I went to the source.  And there it was.  The same shit storm that caused such a headache weeks ago was alive and well.  Raw sewage on their second showing.  Brilliant.

Deal breaker?  You better freaking believe it.

Had they come at 3:30 they might not have seen it?  Had they come tomorrow, or next weekend it might have been fixed forever?

Nope.  Back to the beginning.  Back to the Hurricane.  Back to calling plumbers, and adjusters, and psychologists on off hours.  Back to wondering why owning a home is so important.  Back to my wife wandering if she made the right decision staying with me.  Or trusting me.  Back to her thinking she has to fight for everything and get little in return.

Daughter and child driving off in the rain was not the Sunday I had asked for on an otherwise epic and joyous weekend.

This is not a fate I gleefully accept.  This is not the outcome determined for me, for us.  We are good people who can make an impact, make a difference, persevere.

If you think a pile of shit sending would be buyers running away is going to knock me down you got another thing coming.

I have been dealing with piles of shit my whole life.  Tomorrow I wake up alone, but chasing the smell and taste of success.