Music

Lady Day’s blues: Billie Holiday remembers…

Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away.

“I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, it ain’t music, it’s close order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.” – Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Lady Sings the Blues is, I suppose, one of the first autobiographies by a popular music star. This, the first book from the 2017 reading list, is an “as told to.” One of the things the ghost writer (to resurrect an old term), William Dufty, a reporter for the New York Post and a personal friend of Holiday, does beautifully is avoid much revision of Holiday’s words. As best as I have been able to discover, Dufty did a series of extended interviews with Holiday without the benefit of tape recording. That Lady Sings the Blues reads like a transcribed conversation with Lady Day is a tribute to Dufty’s careful rendering of Holiday’s words in her voice.

Dufty’s success in allowing Holiday to speak for herself is both charming and haunting, both illuminating and (unintentionally, perhaps) misleading. What one realizes as one reads this autobiography is that Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away. Let me put that more accurately: what Billie Holiday tries to do in Lady Sings the Blues is not give her self away even as she reveals herself. Continue reading

From Lydon Johnson's "Daisy" ad (image credit: Smithsonian Magazine)

One parent’s worries about raising children in Donald’s first 12 days in office

My very own Daisy moment, courtesy of Donald Trump’s first 12 days in office

From Lydon Johnson's "Daisy" ad (image credit: Smithsonian Magazine)

From Lydon Johnson’s “Daisy” ad (image credit: Smithsonian Magazine)

Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2017. Today is February 1. In that period, I’ve fallen asleep twice wondering if I’d wake up to a bright flash followed by a shock wave that turned my home to burning splinters around me and my sleeping family.

I’ve started wondering if this is what it was like for my parents, learning as children to “duck and cover” under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack. Whether this level of daily stress was normal during the Cuban Missile Crisis and other low points of the Cold War. They’re still alive – maybe I should ask them. Perhaps their perspective could help allay some of my fears. Then again, do I really want to know that they think “it’s worse now than it was then,” if in fact that’s what they think? Continue reading

Trump voters

Dear Liberals: you don’t vote in your economic best interests, either

trump-votersBottom line: almost ALL Americans vote against their best interests.

For years progressives have been hammering conservatives – specifically social conservatives – who “vote against their own interests.” As in, poor working people who vote for the wealthy GOP interests that are the reason they’re poor, and whose policies insure they will remain that way. I have certainly been among this crowd – I remember wondering back in the 1992 election what the fuck could be wrong with Arkansas Bush I voters, for instance. They concluded that Dubya’s Daddy was the sort of guy “they’d like to have a beer with.” Somehow a Northeastern blueblood Skull & Boneser who’d been born with a silver spoon up his ass was more “one of them” than, you know, the guy who was actually born in the trailer park down the road.

It was irrational, it was self-defeating, and it was stupid beyond all imagining. Continue reading

women's march denver

Give the world a lever long enough and it will move even introverts into action

women's march denverThis morning I had some spam hit my email that I very nearly didn’t delete. I stopped, read it, nearly pulled it out of my spam trap, but ultimately deleted it. It belonged in my spam because I didn’t ask for it. But it was about something that I’m interested in, and I was surprised by the fact that I was actually interested in it.

It was a call to an Affordable Care Act support march in Denver. And the fact that I paused to consider marching myself is what surprised me. Continue reading

I’ve been keeping my powder dry

Donald TrumpThere’s an old phrase that comes from the 1800s – “keep your powder dry.” It harks back to a time when firearms were fired with black gunpowder, and wet gunpowder wouldn’t fire. The idea was that you wouldn’t be able to use your gun when you really needed it if you let the powder get wet.

Since the election of Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States, I’ve been very busy with work and family, and I’ve been largely focused on what amounts to self-care for my mental and physical health. After all, I’m no good to my family, friends, or coworkers if I’m always fried, mentally and/or physically. And I haven’t been writing much.

What I have been doing is keeping my powder dry.

Today is Inauguration Day. Continue reading

Dinosaur child

With the short arms but hardly any roar…

While an orderly transported my wife from the ER to her private hospital room, a dinosaur child came calling in the hallway…

(Kaiser Permanente, South San Francisco, California 2017. See my other work here.)

ignorance-is-power

Rural elites: I’ve had it with the arrogance of ignorance (and its promoters)

ignorance-is-powerThe only thing worse than the willfully ignorant is the legion of apologists enabling them.

Since the election – before, really – we’ve heard a lot of talk about how all those urban liberal elites need to stop being so arrogant and start listening to very real concerns of real Americans in rural flyover values America.

We have more recently begun to see some informed pushback against this silliness self-serving rhetorical engineering masquerading as good-faith socio-political analysis. Now we’ve hit the daily double, though.

First, our friend Otherwise passed along a righteous rant from a very frustrated Melinda Byerley, CMO of TimeShare. Have a quick look. Continue reading

new-years-resolutions

The most common New Years resolutions and me in 2017

Some yes, some probably not, a little bitch please….

new-years-resolutionsPart 3 of a series

I posted my two big resolutions for 2017 already: aim high and shoot straight and insist that support be mutual. But what will I do about all the standard resolutions? You know, the ones everybody makes and breaks every year?

Here are 15 top New Years resolutions. And what I plan to do about them.

Lose Weight and Get Fit

Well, I’m already doing that. In terms of strength I’m in the best shape of my life already. So this is more like I resolve to keep doing what I’ve been doing, only moreso.

Quit Smoking

Never have, never will, so it doesn’t matter. Continue reading

support_independent_artists_invitation-r6303469af3264b2a811939c475b2c50f_zk9yi_324

New Years Resolutions, pt 2: support is a two-way street

I have always supported independent artists, but that support has not often been reciprocated. This bothers me.

Part 2 of a series

support_independent_artists_invitation-r6303469af3264b2a811939c475b2c50f_zk9yi_324[Caveat: I’ll apologize in advance if this one sounds a little bitchy. That isn’t my intent, but I know people don’t always hear what I think I’m saying.]

Ever since we started this blog in 2007, and really for a good number of years before that via different media, I have done all I could to support the efforts of artists I found worthy, especially the seemingly numberless independent artists out there who are being all kinds of brilliant without much help from mainstream media or the industry institutions that dominate the areas in which they work. Music, visual arts, photography, literature, you name it – if you’re like me you run across a lot of fantastic creative work, and if you’re like me you want everyone else to appreciate it as much as you do. Continue reading

Donald Trump

Rohg Skoler summons the demon Trumplestiltskin

First, I saw this article. Just the kind of thing to get a bleedin’ heart like me right in the feels.

Trump’s Treasury pick Steve Mnuchin oversaw 50,000 foreclosures against the vulnerable

President-elect Donald Trump’s treasury nomination oversaw the aggressive foreclosure of homes belonging to vulnerable populations — particularly the elderly — when he was chairman of OneWest Bank, Propublica reported.

Now, it doesn’t take much for me to go off on a tangent, so this easily did the trick. How very typical of Trump, while not even remotely draining the swamp, to add a predator like this to his mix of obscenely wealthy hooligans. There is no part of looking out for the working class in this, not even a part of looking out for the moderately well-to-do middle and upper-middle classes. This isn’t even just predation on the poor. This is just predation on anyone with a bank account that’s not part of The Club, and caveat emptor to them, too. Continue reading

new-years-resolutions

New Year Resolutions, pt 1: aim high and shoot straight

new-years-resolutionsI resolve to be more honest and direct in confronting ignorance and hatred.

Part 1 of a series

When I was a little boy, my grandparents read me the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30). They had a particularly Southern Baptist working class interpretation of what it meant. If you had a gift, the Lord intended you to use it to make the world a better place. If you didn’t, it was a sin and the gift might be taken from you.

“You’re smart,” they said to me. “God means you to use your brain to help others.”

Whether because my ego liked the idea of being smart or because I was innately concerned about other people’s well being, the lesson never left me.

When I got older and started my career, I developed a reputation among those I worked with as a guy who was honest. Continue reading

Earthrise from Apollo 8, December 24, 1968 (image credit: NASA)

When reaching out to better understand my fellow Americans, facts are non-negotiable

Reality has facts, however poorly we see them sometimes. Reaching out to understand someone else’s experience requires common ground, and for me, that common ground must be based upon a shared understanding of objective facts.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about how I was living in a bubble that distorted my perspective on America. The point was that, while I’m living in a bubble, I’m hardly the only one, and I gave an example of a grandfather from Vigo County, Indiana, who felt that his America was populated by “real people,” as opposed to the presumably fake or inauthentic people in New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. But after reading several excellent comments on that article that provided suggestions how to reach people – listen, talk with instead of at, stop dismissing, denigrating, and demonizing – I realized that there is a limit to my ability, even to my willingness, to reach out and have a meaningful discussion.

Facts. They exist. And they’re a non-negotiable entry point for any bubble-piercing attempts I’m going to be involved in.

Let me give a few examples of what I mean. Continue reading

christmas

A dark holiday playlist – and one man’s melancholy war with childhood

There is beauty in the darkness. This is all I have ever known.

Beauty doesn’t work the same for me as it does for most people. I first started realizing this in Mr. Booth’s (excuse me, Dr. Booth’s) English V class at Ledford High School in 1978 and 1979. I remember two moments distinctly. First, we read “The Eve of St. Agnes,” by Keats. I recall being overwhelmed by a) its darkness, and b) its beauty. This was not a traditional sunny pastoral. It’s a poem of the night, one of mystery and compelling seductive splendor.

Later we read Tennyson’s equally marvelous “The Lady of Shalott.” Again, I was struck by the way in which beauty was interwoven with dark, even sinister themes.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of my reactions to these masterworks, but something was afoot, and when I started writing poetry on my own (as long as we’re on the subject of darkness and doom) it began with a piece called “Octoberfaust,” which I tried to infuse with as much mystery and passionate nocturne as I could muster.

Of course, looking back, my melancholy aesthetic didn’t begin in high school. Continue reading

CATEGORY: American Culture

woMAN; Woe, man; Whoa! Man.

By Tamara Enz

CATEGORY: American CultureWhen I was in third grade, the elementary school principal came into our class to speak with the students. I don’t now remember what the primary reason was for his visit; what I remember is only a fragment of his lecture.

He stood at the chalkboard and wrote in large letters:

M A N

Stepping to the side so everyone in the class could see the letters, he said, “Without man,” he stepped back to the board and wrote “wo” before completing his sentence, “you cannot have woman.”

On the board was the word:

wo MAN

Almost 50 years later, I can still see this man saying these words, spewing ignorance and sexism across a new generation of children. Continue reading

CATEGORY: UnitedStates

A letter to my nieces, November 2016

By Amber Healy

CATEGORY: UnitedStatesIn the early afternoon of Election Day 2016, I traded messages with a good friend, heart swelling with hope.

“To think … maybe, just maybe, the kiddos we love who are little right now …they’ll never know a world where a person of color or a woman couldn’t be president.”

Within hours, I watched the country turn a deeper red, crimson spreading from coast to coast, revealing the true colors of the United States.

Despite winning two million fewer votes from the American people than his opponent, Donald Trump secured more than the required 270 Electoral College votes to secure the presidency, effective January 2017.

It was not supposed to be this way. Continue reading

Ronan MacScottie

#HopeTuesday: the sun is rising

#breathe #takebackourfuture

Six years ago today – this is Ronan MacScottie hoping to make friends with a squirrel in Benedict Fountain Park.

I was a few months into being single again, and was hoping to find some happiness after years in the darkness. The upper side of the park was frequented by homeless people, who I suppose were hoping for anything at all – food, shelter. Life on the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Ronan never met that squirrel. I don’t know what became of the homeless people. And I didn’t know it then, but the darkness was about to get even blacker, and it would stay that way for another four years or so. But it was different this time – it was the darkness just before light breaks.

On Thursday I move in with my girlfriend, whom I love immensely. Who knows how things go, but maybe my perseverance has been rewarded. Continue reading

africa-5016

Learning from the silence of elephants

by Tamara Enz

africa-5016

Our lives are full of noise. Endless beeps, twitters, and rings. Traffic, jets, refrigerators, air conditioners. Ubiquitous cell phones, microwaves, TVs, and tablets. Each pinging, humming, and demanding attention. Gratuitous noise, the TV or radio turned on and then ignored, or worse, talked over loudly, has long been a pet peeve. Car keys left in the ignition, leaf blowers (^%*^%$#$ leaf blowers), car alarms (see leaf blowers), and every cell phone/ATM/POS card reader with keyboards that indicate, by sound, every letter entered.

Every. Letter. Entered.

For some, like me, it’s exhausting. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

James Hilton, WP Kinsella and The Bettys: writing to remember, writing being forgotten…

There are two motivations for writing – one pure and one not so much.

“There’s only one thing more important… and that is, after you’ve done what you set out to do, to feel that it’s been worth doing.” – James Hilton

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

This is about being a writer.

The motives for someone wanting to do more than write, to become that person that others refer to as a writer, may be so individual as to be specific to very single person who aspires to that moniker. But I doubt it.

My suspicion is that there are two motives that drive writers, one fairly – shall we say pure? One, not so much. The first, purer, motive is that writers are blessed (or cursed, I can never decide) with the desire to preserve that which they have known or known about or would have liked to know. That act of preservation is part of the title of this essay: one might call it writing to remember. When done really, really, really well, it gives us lines like this:

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Then there’s that other motive, the – less than pure one, shall we say. That’s the desire for recognition: fame, money, respect in one form or another, either because of critical success or financial reward (I have met famous writers who were humble and I have met famous writers who were smug enough to deserve a boot up their asses). It may be of interest only to me that the humble famous ones were far less rich than the smug famous ones. Maybe Ms. Lauper pegged it when she intoned, “…money changes everything….” Continue reading

Me, Albee and the Butterfly Effect: Scholars & Rogues Honors

An icon of the American theatre, Edward Albee, died this week. Scholars & Rogues honors him and notes the small ways that the influence of great artists can affect our lives for years to come.

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, New Theatre Company, The Factory Theatre, Boston, 2/23/12-3/4/12

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, New Theatre Company, The Factory Theatre, Boston, 2/23/12-3/4/12

We read The Zoo Story in one of my classes at Wake Forest – maybe freshman or sophomore year. I absolutely loved it. I think Jerry spoke to my teenage sense of who I was and what I didn’t want to be, and this dynamic was reinforced by the culture of the university. Wake was conservative and elite. I was conservative, but working class. Many of my fellow students were preparing themselves for sensible, practical, conventional lives. I wanted to be a poet. So while I don’t believe I necessarily understood that tension then the way I do now, I felt an immediacy in Peter and Jerry’s confrontation that, truth be told, still resonates for me today.  Continue reading

Never forget…what, exactly?

Yesterday, Big Think posted an interesting collection of Gallup Poll results, along with some commentary: Obama Actually Made America Great Again. Here’s the Data. To hear the rabidly irrational Obama opposition on today, of all days, I can only say that these are funny numbers to describe how Obama has ruined America in eight years.

What’s truly deplorable is that, of all the ways Bush (with a boost from Dems) ruined America Continue reading