Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fight For Your Right (& Righting The Fight)

The cover from the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill album.  From Wikipedia, fair use claimed.

Greetings All:

"Be-CAUSE mutiny on the Bounty's what we're all about..."

With those opening lyrics to "Rhymin' and Stealin,'" the world (outside of the rap scene of New York City) was introduced to the sound that was the Beastie Boys.  This is the first song off of their insanely successful album, Licensed to Ill

It was 30 years ago this month (November 15, 1986 to be precise) that their album dropped.  To the music world, it was a the equivalent of a mega-ton bomb detonating.  It brought hip-hop into the mainstream and the single "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)," became a mainstay video on MTV for months.  Sirius XM offered these comments on this anniversary.

The Beastie Boys were outrageous.  Three white, Jewish guys from (more or less) privileged backgrounds made their own path in the world of hip hop.  They had a bit of exposure in the movie Krush Groove.  However, I doubted anyone could have expected how this album would absolutely dominate both the hip hop and pop charts as it did.

Oh, and they were sexist assholes.  They were misogynist, unapologetic boozing frat boys without a pledge pin.

Speaking of fraternities, Back in 1987, Steve "Junior" Anderson, Dave Bettis and I admirably performed "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)" this song during the Kappa Kappa Gamma's lip sync charity event at The Field House bar in Iowa City.  Ah college. 

I suppose it is only appropriate a magazine like Maxim did a compilation of their three decades of work.  Here's the link featuring some of their videos.

Then, like most people, they grew up, both musically and emotionally.  Eight years after Licensed To Ill, they released "Sure Shot," off of the Ill Communication CD.  Adam Yauch, a/k/a "MCA" rapped the following lines:

"I want to say a little something that's long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through/ To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end."

He, more than the other two members, Mike Diamond, a/k/a Mike D and Adam Horowitz, a/k/a King Ad Rock, went thru the most significant transition, embracing Buddhism.  Here's a link to a Rolling Stone article on his thoughts on his spiritual journey.

However, he was not the only Beastie to reject their (dare I say it) "ill-spent" youth.  Horowitz is married to Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of a number of feminist punk bands, including Bikini Kill and a feminist activist.  She's an interesting artist in her own right. (As I type this, my oldest daughter is checking out Bikini Kill's song, "Rebel Grrrl.")  Mike D has been married to Tamra Davis since 1993, a video producer and a vegetarian cooking show host.

I'd submit the following:  The boys made the transaction to men quite nicely.

Yet that did not cause their music creativity to suffer.  I'd argue it made them more creative and more effective musicians.  As Exhibit A to my argument, I'll admit into evidence "Sabotage."  At the Iowa game on Friday (a glorious victory, BTW) I was thrilled to hear this song blast out of the sound system every time Nebraska faced third down.  I suppose one could view this as a sign of "selling out" to the man.  I will yell from the top of the Old Capital building that the song stands on its own and can be appropriately applied in any number of settings.

This was the flagship song off of Ill Communication.  Directed by the legendary director, Spike Jonze, it's a video that plays homage to a motif of 1970's cop shows.  It earned heavy rotation on MTV. (Yes, dear readers, there was a time in the dark, pre-internet age when as Bowling For Soup sang, "...there was music still on MTV...)

The single release for "Sabotage," from Wikipedia, fair use claimed, full link here.

In fact, let's watch it again, shall we?  The song gained a bunch of traction and also showed the true musical chops of the guys.  Case in point, there's this little gem from Saturday Night Live of Elvis Costello with the Beastie Boys.  You may recall that Costello was told not to play a certain song a few years back.  Those of you who are music and pop culture fans will recall the story.  I don't want to give away the video, so please check it out if you would like.  I'll simply say this:  Sometimes history repeats itself in quite a cool way.

It is pretty amazing, at least to me, that a group who had "one hit wonder" written all over them developed this longevity.  Rolling Stone provided some perspective on the Beastie Boys' generational significance with this article.  

Thirty years is a long time and none of us are immortal.  Sadly, this fact was reinforced with the 2012 death of Yauch.  He passed on after a valiant battle with cancer.  Here's a story about his final years.  Years ago, I used to read Rolling Stone religiously.  Aside from reading a military-related themed article, I had not paid much attention to it in years.  Then, in the spring of 2012, I happened to be in a checkout line when I saw MCA on the cover.  This was shortly after his passing and bought it on instinct.  I was glad I did.

About a year later, The City of New York did a wonderful thing.  They named a park after him.  Here's a photo of the dedication with Yauch's family, Horowitz and I presume Hanna.  It's a moving photo.

The dedication of "Adam Yauch Park," Brooklyn,  May 3, 2013, fair use claimed, photo credit Daniel Zuchnik/Getty/via JTA

So it was upsetting to learn that a few weeks' back, this park was vandalized by Nazi symbols and a "Go Trump" message.  Here is the link to the story with a picture of the vandalism.

I should point out that it's more, much more, likely than not that the perpetrators of this hate crime were not true Trump supporters.  I have been heartened to have heard Bryan Lanza, Mr. Trump's spokesman issue the following statement:  "President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American." 

Still, the damage was done.  It prompted understandably outrage from many and a rally was held shortly after the incident.  One of the speakers was Horowitz.  You can hear his comments here.

I cannot help but see some sad irony in the vandalism at the park named for Yauch.  He began his career as a hell-raiser and then evolved into a student of Buddhism, of peace and non-violence.  I have no doubt his spirit has forgiven those who did this act.  He'd likely say to the perpetrators, "Put down the spray paint can friend, there's another path."

As I watched the video of Horowitz, his gray hair blowing in the wind, speaking at the anti-hate rally, he sounded like a thoughtful person.  The fact he was reading from prepared remarks stood in stark contrast to the kid on the mic, full of bravado.  It did not diminish from his message.  If anything, it enhanced it.  It was as if he wanted to get the message across correctly, to get it right.  As far as I am concerned, he did.

Thirty years ago, the Beastie Boys were about fighting for the right to get drunk and chase women.  Now, their message is one of tolerance and respect.  They have "righted" their fight.

And that's something we can all "rap" along to.


Be well my friends,

A note on the stories hyperlinked in this blog post.  It is presumed that as these stories were available on the web, sharing is authorized for the purpose of this blog.  I respectfully claim fair use for this limited purpose.  Thank you.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Miles Standish Proud

Portrait of Myles Standish, circa 1625, public domain, link to source here.

Greetings All:  

Probably my favorite R.E.M. song is "Begin The Begin."  The lyrics are almost non-nonsensical but it's got a good beat and is a trip down memory land, or in my case, lands me at the corner of Summit and College Avenue in Iowa City.

As it is Thanksgiving, I was thinking about the opening lines of this song:

"Birdie in the hand for life's rich demand
The insurgency began and you missed it
I looked for it and I found it
Miles Standish proud congratulate me"

Myles Standish is synonymous with the Thanksgiving story.  He's an interesting guy.  Here is the Wikipedia link to his story.  I know, I know, I'm linking to Wikipedia, but the parade is starting soon and I want to get this blog post done, so please don't judge...:)) 

He was the military adviser who helped the Pilgrims get settled and survive their first few years in "The New World."  It's likely that his involvement with the Pilgrims was critical, if not indispensable to the colony's survival.  Here's a bit more information about him.

As I think about him, I come back to this thought:  He's America's first Soldier.  I also think that there are plenty of Native Americans who were none too fond of him and the fire sticks (muskets) he deployed against him.  He began about a 250 year tradition of European advancement across the continent at the expense of the original residents.  (And I'm a "remote descendant" beneficiary of these circumstances.)

However, at the time Standish was around, he was not thinking about "Manifest Destiny," he was thinking about survival.  His mission was to keep the colony going and he accomplished that mission.  (Again, I'm a "remote descendant" beneficiary of this colony's survival.)

That's the thing about history, or at least how I look at it:  People did things in the past that for good or ill benefit us today.  We don't have to feel "guilty" about what happened centuries ago.  However, I do feel it is appropriate to recall history as it truly happened.

Speaking of recalling history, it is worth recalling that the Pilgrims had the good sense to put down on paper some governing principles in "The Mayflower Compact."  

Here's an excerpt from The History Channel that discusses the Compact.

"William Bradford, the Pilgrim leader, was alarmed to learn that some of the others felt no obligation to respect the rules of the Pilgrims. In his words, they wanted towanted to 'use their owne libertie.' The male heads of Pilgrim and non-Pilgrim families therefore drew up a compact that bound all signers to accept whatever form of government was established after landing. The compact created a 'Civil Body Politic' to enact 'just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices.' Every adult male had to sign the agreement before going ashore. The compact remained in effect until Plymouth was incorporated into the short-lived Dominion of New England in 1686 and subsequently absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691."

Standish was one of the signors.  I wonder if that is him in the helmet in the below painting?

Painting of the signing of "The Mayflower Compact," Fair use/public domain claimed,
He also had his "15 minutes" of pop culture fame when he was celebrated in verse by Longfellow in his famous poem,  "The Courtship of Myles Standish."

 Standish is an important historic figure.  He was a Soldier who did his duty as he saw it.  I have no doubt he died with a clear conscious, with the certainty he had contributed to the establishment of a noble cause. 

Perhaps the best way to honor him and the other Pilgrims is to both celebrate their good deeds and recall their not-so-great ones.  We can endeavor to pursue a more inclusive and effective "civil body politic."

That would be be something that would warrant "Miles Standish Proud" indeed.

Be well my friends & Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 14, 2016

(No Longer) The Smartest Kid In Class

The Trump sign that someone placed in my yard in April.

Greetings All:

I woke up early the day after the election. I had not slept well that night and suspect many of you did not either. I checked my phone to confirm what I already knew in my heart: Donald J. Trump had won the presidential election.

Wow. My next Commander-in-Chief is this guy. “WTF, over?”

I did not support Mr. Trump in either the primary process or the general election. My main gripes with him was my belief of his simple unfitness to serve as Commander-in-Chief. However, I had plenty of criticism for him on other issues. As for his moral bearing to be President, I had written that off a long time ago. I viewed him as a distraction and quite frankly the death of the Republican Party in its current form. It is why I laughed when I saw someone had put a Trump sign in my yard this spring. I posted a picture on Facebook and immediately secured it safely in my garage. This was an artifact that needed to be saved. After all, “Trump’s flaming out,” or so I thought.

My fellow citizens disagreed.

I won’t bore you with a bunch of citations to facts, figures, charts, as I suspect you’ve seen plenty of hand-wringing analysis as to why Trump won. I do want to share with you Dr. Kathy Cramer’s interview with Jeff Guo of The Washington Post. Dr. Cramer’s book, “The Politics of Resentment” is her work on helping to explain why there is so much anger by working-class people in rural Wisconsin. Here’s a link to Mr. Guo’s story:

Here’s a quote from the article from Dr. Cramer that sums up, at least for me, one of main reasons Trump won:

“Part of where that comes from is just the overarching story that we tell ourselves in the U.S. One of the key stories in our political culture has been the American Dream — the sense that if you work hard, you will get ahead.

Well, holy cow, the people I encountered seem to me to be working extremely hard. I’m with them when they’re getting their coffee before they start their workday at 5:30 a.m. I can see the fatigue in their eyes. And I think the notion that they are not getting what they deserve, it comes from them feeling like they’re struggling. They feel like they’re doing what they were told they needed to do to get ahead. And somehow it’s not enough.”

Oh, and by the way, this story was published on Election Day. If that’s not a procrastinator of things to come…

I live in Iowa, yet no where near a farm. If you were to drive around my area, you would think you were in any other suburb of America. I am doing just fine economically and the things that I fret about are clearly “First World” problems. True, I like to think my wife and I work hard, contribute and are good citizens. Yet for me to claim I have some “economic kinship” with the people Dr. Cramer has profiled would be laughable. And I will be the first to tell you my standing in my community and in this country, economic and otherwise, is attributable to many, many people who helped me along the way.

So as I have been thinking about this election, I think it is only fair I acknowledge one simple fact: I was wrong, flat-out wrong.
I was certain Clinton was going to win. I had already worked out some of the things I would say to my Republican/conservative friends (and I consider myself fortunate to have) about the election. I’d listen patiently and with sincerity to their lamentations of how terrible a Clinton Administration would be, that America would be forever scarred by her. And, of course, at some point, I’d say, 

“Well, I told you so.” 

I would be the smartest kid in class.

I don’t feel that way today. And I suppose if I want to be really honest with myself, that might be one of the biggest reasons I am upset about the election.

And if any of you reading this feel the same way, that is OK. I think people can do things for many different reasons. I do so everyday. What is not OK is to claim some moral high ground without at least giving nod to ego and the internal need to be right, to be the smartest kid in class. After all, isn’t acknowledging you’ve got an issue/problem the first step to a cure?

So I’m not the smartest kid in class. I got this one way wrong. I got too comfortable with The New York Times’ election predictions. I was so sure enough people would see the election the way I saw it that there was NO WAY Trump could win. Then the rest of America weighed in….

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time reading up on Stoic philosophy. Ryan Holiday has done some terrific work in this area. His book, The Daily Stoic was what I listened to during my walk Wednesday morning. The great thing for me about Stoicism is the road map it provides for living life in the world as it is. For me, it boils down to this: Don’t worry about the stuff you cannot control. Focus on what you can control, your thoughts and actions. I’d encourage you to visit Ryan’s site at The Daily Stoic here and check it out for yourself.

Rosie and I walking on the Wednesday after Election Day. She could have cared less who won.

As I walked with my dog Rosie last Wednesday morning and listened to Ryan’s book, recalling the wisdom of the great Stoic thinkers I realized that I had no control over the election results. I did my part and voted. I expressed my opinions and contributed as I thought best. Could I have done more? Sure. Would it have mattered? Nope. As we came back home, I saw the sunlight stream out from behind the trees. It was pretty. Everything was going to be just fine.

So for those of you still reeling from last week’s loss, I invite you to let it go. Go volunteer for a charity, go read some Stoic works, watch the winning field goal in Iowa’s epic triumph over Michigan from Saturday night, or whatever you feel will make you feel better.

And speaking of feeling better, maybe it is because I am half-Irish, but I endeavor to be an optimist. I do see something positive from this election, here it is:

All the experts and self-proclaimed smart guys like me did not count on folks voting who did. These people participated in the process, they had their voice heard. I can question their judgment and still celebrate their involvement. That is the beauty of our system.

There is much to learn from this election. Once the dust settles, I intend to review what happened and figure out why so many people voted for President-Elect Trump. 

It is clear I still have a LOT to learn. So much for me being the smartest kid in class.

I congratulate President-Elect Donald J. Trump.

Be well my friends,

Monday, November 7, 2016

Looking Over The Abyss

Apollyon (top) battling Christian in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, from Wikipedia, Public Domain, full link here.

Greetings All:

The election is tomorrow.  I am writing this Monday evening.  I am guessimating that in about 24 to 27 hours, we will know who the next POTUS will be.  For some, that will be euphoria.  For others, rage.  If the current Nate Silver/New York Times polling/prediction holds up, then a majority of folks, however slim, will feel relief.

I feel confident in saying that we will all be glad when this election is over.  This year makes me long for the "good ole days"of hanging chads and Supreme Court intervention.  Yup, this one has been brutal.

Some have viewed this election in apocalyptic terms, end of the world and so on.  I was putzing around the internet and found the above image and information on Apollyon.  He's a featured character in the Book of Revelations in the Bible, 9:11 to be precise.  Here's what is written:

"They had a king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer)."

Pretty heavy stuff, "Destroyer" and all.  Oh, and in this ugly election year where polls are the car wreck we curse and still stare it, just remember, you can't spell Apollyon without "poll."

There's been a lot of talk and musing and speculation and blah, blah, blah about the dire consequences if he or she wins.  Here's my two-cents:  

We'll be fine either way.  For all of Trump's grand boasting and Clinton's four-inch thick briefing books, it's doubtful much will truly change.  And for all our cursing and hand-wringing about government, the Framers wanted it that way.  It is as if they recognized that if the public really, really wanted change, they would need more than one election to do so.

So be of good cheer.  While it may seem like we're looking over the abyss with this election, we're really just looking out the window of our body politic that is in need of a roll of paper towels and some Windex.

And maybe when we get done cleaning, we might just find we're not staring into through a window, but instead a mirror.

Now that could be frightening indeed.

Be well my friends,

Post script.  This is the 250th blog post I have published.  I appreciate everyone who has read my blog over these past several years, thank you.