Sunday, March 12, 2017

Soft Landing

Hey there, it's been a little while. Ready for a brain-dump? These thoughts should probably all be their own post, but, well, I've given up coffee for nearly a year, and the cup I had this morning won't allow focused composition (either that, or my abilities have decomposed...).

  • Americans are increasingly xenophobic due to development decisions made in previous decades. Most folks drive solo to work, drive solo home, and then exist in their castle or bubble, only interacting with a few people of choice. If Americans had to ride transit or walk through public plazas on a regular basis, we wouldn't so easily "otherize" huge segments of the population – Muslims, Latinos, the poor. So not only is suburbanization economically unfeasible, a driver of poor public health outcomes, and a development Ponzi scheme, but suburbanization = increased xenophobia. In the same way that traveling to diverse places widens your perspectives & engenders cultural understanding, so too does coexisting with a wider body of people. And this is coming from a natural introvert...

    Oh, hey – Indianapolis passed increased transit funding! Miracles do happen. The one good that came out of the last election cycle.
  • Electronic music is more diverse and exciting than rock-and-roll. I've been burnt out on almost all current rock-and-roll (except for a small slate of standard bearers from the 90s; which may invalidate my whole point) for more than a minute. But studio-engineered rock records lack almost all draw when they come from less-than-outstanding songwriters – few instrumental oeuvres and/or sound-fingerprints gel into je ne sais quoi – or, very rarely does the sum of the parts become greater than the ingredients. And, let's face it, most songwriters ain't that special. Have you read the lyrics to a recent Flaming Lips record? It'll make you junior high notebook look deep (though let's leave mine out of the equation).

    Electronic music, meanwhile, is incredibly wide open. From the near-operatic melancholy classicism of the latest Arca, to the brutal soundscapes of PAN releases, to the jazz/beat-set spanning the gamut on a single label from the brainy pop/soul of Karriem Riggins to the rigidly avant compositions of Deantoni Parks (and maybe I shouldn't even be lumping them into the open-armed barrel of electronica). Point being – electronic music retains better the ability to surprise and is more reliant on ideas and execution and often times (though not always) less dependent on 'songcraft'...whatever that is. I'd rather listen to a new electronic record I'm pretty sure I'm going to hate than the latest vanilla release from *cough*...you know who.

    Or – maybe my tastes are just calcifying and I'm not open-minded enough to understand 21st-century rock records. (I mean, c'mon, I just made & released one. On cassette. Shit!) Or maybe I just had my mind blown last night by a Prins Thomas record (though earlier in the same day, I was totally psyched and into the latest Bardo Pond).

(Get it? "Poor". They're not poor! They have phones & refrigerators!
The lack of empathy in this country is disgusting.)
  • The Republican/evangelical white Christian (because, let's be honest – white folks, particularly Christian, are the only socio-ethnic group who voted majority for you-know-who) war-on-the-poor has crossed the line into absurd. Because you have a working refrigerator, you're no longer poor? Uhh...do you know any impoverished people? Work with them? All you need is a single (I know, anecdotal) interaction to know that being poor is far from a cakewalk. Just because we've sold our souls for cheap commercial goods doesn't mean that somehow the poor of 100 years ago were more noble, more hardworking, etc. Guess what? More of them also died in a gutter. Prayer is not a substitute for legislative action that drives and funds social safety nets. We're all a medical emergency away from bankruptcy...but, y'know, keep acting like 1950 is some kind of utopian fever (wet) dream.
Next time, let's keep the vibe more playful, okay? Here's a live boot for you to chew on. You can almost hear the snarl.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Opting Out? Count Me In

Admirable – how do you recognize an action as such? Personally, something's admirable when I can nod my head and say to myself, "Yeah...that's the right thing to do!" and get the soft buzz of moral respect. Admiration isn't quantifiable. It's not something I want, or have desire to measure. Admiration is values-based – I've got to align with it morally – and, it needs to set a standard. It's gotta make me dream big, think critically, exist on a higher plane, or at least think, "Man, I should do that!" Most of all, admirable actions shouldn't be a ploy, a cry for attention, or done me-first – they should be selfless. Done for the other, or for the greater good.

After hashing that out in my mind, I wasn't expecting the actions of a company to stick in my mind. It's easier for me to ascribe honest values to people – they are creatures of action that thought that, transparent or not, are easier to pin values on. But, REI's announcement this year to stay closed on the biggest shopping day of the year (do I even need to tell you when?) – doing the very thing that would seem to hurt their bottom line. Well, that just wouldn't leave my brain.

(If I worked retail like 5 million other folks in the U.S. – I might have missed
 my nephew eating pie for the first time in his life!)

Sure, some folks thought that they did it to somehow line their wallet. By refusing shoppers one day, they'd win more other days. From working retail, I can tell you that that mentality may work with online shoppers ("Oh, I heard about REI's cool initiative – I'm going to support them by shopping their online store.") – physical shoppers are a different beast. They want convenience, good prices, good customer service, experience, oh...and convenience. To get people to go out of their way to patronize your store is more than a moral victory – it's winning a mental battle.

Whether or not the press from the event drove additional shoppers to REI – it's clear that the main benefits of the decision went to the employees. Staying closed the day after Thanksgiving (hopefully) means that Thanksgiving is easier, too. It's not like all those products stage and tidy themselves before the masses beat down your automatic door. Opening for Black Friday (or earlier – I'm looking at you, jerks) means work before Black Friday. That's a whole lot of time to give back to employees and their families and friends that they wouldn't otherwise have. Did I mention that all employees also received paid time off for that Friday, as well?

Because what's more important? Honoring tradition, community, and family with a day that all people are equally able to enjoy? Or staying open an extra few hours to shill some deals on material goods that might not even ever get used? I'm betting on the former – and want to give my business to companies that do the same.

Okay, I'll step off my capitalist soapbox for now – who or what did you admire this year?

[This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox. Today's prompt: What achievement – from a person, a company, a nation – captures your attention? Who did something admirable this year?]

Friday, January 8, 2016

Warm That Sucker Up

Once a month, I gather in a plain room full of gentlemen in a circle of chairs. Hands in pockets or coats. Everyone with a bag, satchel, or case.

The rules are pretty simple – gather in someone's living room, basement, porch, or backyard, even. Hook up the stereo. [Note: this is the first thing I do when moving in. Even before unpacking boxes! Because how are you supposed to unpack boxes without jams?] Put a record on the platter – you gotta warm that sucker up. Yes, record.

This isn't CD club. It's record club.

(Jr. Bacon Record Club, October 2015, my humble abode.)

Next, put some bacon on the skillet. Probably a pound. Maybe three, depending on attendance. Write the attendees names on some scraps of paper, and put them in the hat of whoever has taken theirs off. Draw a name – that's who has to pick the first Perfect Side.

One record. One side. No pressure...just a perfect one is all.

There are different strategies for the side; some bring a single record, maybe something new scored at a thrift shop, a recent release, or an album recently listened to on repeat. Others prefer an improv approach; bring a few, feel out the flow of the evening, and pick a side that enhances the vibe ...or throws it for a loop. Give a quick introduction of your record: artist, title, year it was released, maybe a pressing detail or where you dug it out of a crate or who turned you on to it.

Put the record on. Cue it. Drop the needle.

Pass the album around – you gotta hold the art in your hands. Otherwise, you might as well be passing around an iPod. Cold metal is weaponry; ink and cardboard is art on canvas. The initial groove crackles and the music starts. Shoot the shit or put your head down and groove. Drink a beer or sit and stare.

Hear something you haven't heard before.

In the context of others it's fellowship; it's church with a cigarette break, communion with no priest. Someone's taking notes (maybe), but there's no boss. Everyone's on the level. Kanye to Kraftwerk, Penderecki to Purple Rain. Fifty sessions in without a repeat (...right?) – and then you've got another month to dig up your next gem.

[This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox. Today's prompt: What new circles have you formed? Any unexpected ones? Did you start a book club or hang out in a tea yurt? Maybe you re-upped with existing friends. Explore your kumbaya moment from 2015.]