Tuesday, January 19, 2016

THE BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS PROBLEM



There are two types of noteworthy actors; the ones that truly disappear into a role. Your Michael Fassbenders. Your Christian Bales. Then there are the actors that are reliable and dependable in the art of acting, but ultimately, there isn't a discernible core difference from movie to movie. Your Matt Damons. Your Samuel L. Jacksons. Both serve a greater purpose, the former provides the audience with unpredictable entertainment. The latter is analogous to comfort food.

Brian Michael Bendis is one of the greatest comic book writers alive today. Undoubtedly. When he is on, he is awn. And after an impactful and influential streak of published work, I am finding myself frustrated and disappointed by his recent output. This is because Bendis, while exceptionally capable, is comfort food.

I want to make two clarifications first:
1. I am not insulting or belittling his work. Comfort food carries with it a negative connotation that is not intended. I mean it simply as a qualifier for how his work always tastes good.
2. Bendis, like comfort food, has perfected his recipe in a way that, comparatively to his early work, feels lazy but also dependable. Tasty, but not adventurous. Palpable but lacking in provocation. Like sweatpants.

I've thought about this a great deal because I value his contributions. His work on Alias (or Jessica Jones), Goldfish, Torso, Ultimate Spider Man, Daredevil, amongst a few others were, for the most part, revelatory. However, his run on the Avengers, X-Men and especially Guardians of the Galaxy all read as non-essential contributions. Especially Guardians which has the potential to be a flagship title for Marvel in light of the titular movie's success, but instead it reads as a mish-mash of afterthoughts. And I truly care for this title. I want it to work so badly because it has crazy potential for depth and emotion and significance.

Because I genuinely care, more than a middle-aged father of three should, I've thought about why this is happening. Why is it that a marquee name like Bendis that was once synonymous with quality storytelling has reverted into a churning quip factory? What has happened to this once uncontested superstar of the comic world?

[Full disclosure: I once had an idea for a limited edition series starring the Israeli mutant Sabra. I think in light of Marvel's progressive initiative, it would be interesting to see how they would handle a superhero from Israel. But instead of relegating this thought to daydreaming, I wrote a draft of the first issue, and upon completion, I sent the draft to Bendis who still has his email address inexplicably posted on his personal website. I never heard back, which is understood.]

After having analyzed recent issues, I've come to a very simply conclusion for why Bendis hasn't been "killing it" of late. I'm almost disappointed by how simple it is.

Bendis excels when he's focused on one singular character. His tonality and voice is wholly distinct in a way that when it comes from one focal point, it's always entertaining. It's his distinctive mix of jaunty humor, the dark undertones, the humanity of the characters, which is a significant achievement when you'll consider that for nearly half a century comic books ostensibly served as escapism from humanity.  You could almost say that Bendis is the Tarantino of comic book writers; a perfect amalgamation of sharp storytelling and winking self-awareness.

The problem is that when it comes to an ensemble cast, the characters all share one singular voice, and reading a comic in which a talking rodent sounds exactly as a half-Terran isn't much fun. There's too much dialogue. Too much "character." Everyone has a line. Everyone needs to banter. There's very little development, and even when there is, you don't care much about said development because as a reader, you don't feel connected to the characters.  The connection is lacking because when nothing is distinctive, everything is a mess of affected blather. Generic is the enemy of empathy.

Or it could be the workload which has relegated Bendis into a story arc generator who feels like he has to provide on schedule with less and less opportunity to live with these characters in his mind. My proof for this is that the current Iron Man series, while not quite quality, is still an improvement over the disappointing Guardians.

One need only look at the year end lists which compile the great titles of the previous year. New Marvel series like Vision, Squirrel Girl or Dr. Strange make it. Even Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman is getting a tempered yet respectable nod. But nowhere have I found mention or hosannas for Bendis' 2015 contributions.

In order to restore his legacy, as far as I can tell, there are two solutions. Bendis needs to focus on a series that features a starring character. This is when he really shines. He also needs to soften the Disney touch on his current series and instill more of the noir element he was once known for. Guardians doesn't need to get darker necessarily, but it has to feel less non-essential. As it stands, it's a disposable space fantasy which features all the right ingredients but when it's cooked together, it's comfort food. Which, when you think about all the quality storytelling hitting newsstands now week after week, doesn't feel as enticing as it once did.

It's a great time to be a comic fan, but it's amazing to consider how much greater it could be with some quality Bendis work.



Monday, January 11, 2016

THE MAN WHO HAD NO FEAR


Shana has been challenging me recently about the notion of legacy. Especially after Steven came home from school one day and summarized me as a guy who "buys a lot of collectibles."
And in light of the news today that David Bowie has passed away, I have been thinking about legacy more so than I would normally. The notion that you can contribute to the world so impactfully in such a meaningful way, and to do so on your terms without any blaring compromises. Nothing Bowie did was normal or expected--you could never have said at any point what his next album would sound like because you would have no idea what genre was inspiring him or turning him on at any given time. 

It was obvious to me that Bowie did things for himself, but not in a selfish way. But in an honest way. And sometimes that honesty backfired. Not everything he did was commercially viable, or critically acclaimed. There were some truly and unsettlingly weird moments in his career, even those that posthumously in retrospect still seem questionable. But again, they were so honest. 

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today that she was not the aspirational quote kind, but there was something that David Bowie once said that she found so wholly inspiring that she asserts to have thought about it every single day since she heard it."I forced myself to become a good songwriter," Bowie said. "And I became a good songwriter. But I had no natural talents whatsoever. I made a job of working at getting good. I wasn't one of those guys who danced out of the womb."

I think this is why his loss resonates so strongly with so many people I know. It's also a good reason for why he has inspired me today to further consider what my own legacy will be. He did things, a great many things, but it was not effortless. No, none of it was easy for him. Nor was it natural. Yet he was true to himself throughout the whole process. It would be impossible to argue that--how could you contest the authenticity of his career when he never did anything at any point that reeked of compromised commercialism? 

Thinking about all the things that I myself wish to accomplish, I can't help but analyze his life and what it was that pushed him to live his as a shining example of pure creative expression. And I think the one singular factor that made Bowie what he was to so many was his unabashed lack of fear.

He wasn't a calculating man. That would have resulted in a very different kind of career, one that most of us would not spend the time admiring. It also wasn't the hard work because a lot of people work hard and don't ever come close to achieving this weirdly amorphous achievement of equal parts admiration, credibility and influence. Bowie wasn't afraid. 
He wasn't afraid of looking weird. Because he did. 
He wasn't afraid of failing. Because he did.
He wasn't afraid of flying in the face of complacency. Because oh hell yes he did. 

If I had to admit anything to myself, it would be that I am afraid. Of failure. Of complacency. I embrace it. Sometimes I even retreat to it. I worry about how life would be if it wasn't exactly how it is. And today, on the day of David Bowie's passing, I lament. I mourn. I am saddened by his untimely loss. But most of all, I am jealous. 

I am jealous of his lack of fear. I wish I could embrace the Great Whatever and embark on the legacy I've been ruminating on for so long. 

"My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter,” Bowie told The Associated Press in a 2002 interview. “The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety — all of the high points of one’s life.”



Monday, January 04, 2016

HERE WE GO AGAIN














It's silly and naive.
Yet here I am again, with another fresh start, looking toward another 365 days wondering how and if this one will be any different. I'd like to be idealistic and consider all the things that this year will be for me in all the ways last year wasn't, but I wonder if, in some way, that's counterproductive.

I put too much pressure on myself to discover something profound and revelatory, eager to check things off my two ton to-do list like "find meaning," "discovery the thing you really want to do in life" and "write every day," but these are things I say to myself year after year.

This morning, I thought about how to do things differently. This morning, I sat on a crowded commuter bus and wondered how I could somehow figure out a way to not take that commuter bus. But I know the answers. They're simple answers.

It's not laziness. It's restlessness. It's fear of failure. It's not wanting to disappoint myself above disappointing all others. After all, only I know all the ideas I've had left unfulfilled. Only I know about this overwhelming mental storage closet of stories, concepts, projects, what have. There are so many. So, so many.

But all those things are so cliche. I feel even weird admitting to myself that my lack of motivation or the inability to find creative fulfillment is because of these things that are so asinine. These are the sort of things you explain to people and they laugh at your ridiculousness, respond with encouragement. They always say something nice.

There's a mental block so palpable, it almost feels literal. That there's a concrete slab in my brain so formidable that it won't allow ideas to travel through. Like a border without possibility of entry. I hear what people say and appreciate their faith and their kind words and their want to be helpful, but the effort in a phase of my life when effort is in short supply. The physical and metal demand to make an effort may seem small to some, but the demand of life is...and this is how it works.

Excuses. Aren't the contributions I can potentially make more powerful that the fears holding me back from making them? I don't know the answers yet. But I do know that this morning, I am writing here in my space after not having done so for a long while. But the thing that prevents me from continuing is that I don't necessarily have the time to belabor on thoughts and musings as I once did. I have to tell myself that that's acceptable.

Isn't it?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

AN UNORTHODOX RESPONSE

My father passed away nearly thirteen years ago, and while I think about him on a daily basis, there are moments every so often when I miss his presence to a heightened degree. This resonant pang is fresh in my mind only because it happened yesterday.
While perusing my Facebook feed, I belatedly came across the Rabbinical Council of America's June 26th press release in which the Orthodox organization weighed in on the Supreme Court's ruling on same sex marriage. You don't have to be intimately familiar with the RCA to know that this press release included the word "protest." As if this were an issue--a secular issue--in which religious institutions--Orthodox jewry, in this instance--needed to issue press releases about.
But the reason why this pronouncement made me miss my father so was that my father was not only a respected rabbi, but also the EVP of the Rabbinical Council of America, and up until his passing in 2003, my dad held a position that impacted and influenced the overall day-to-day of Modern Orthodox jewry. This is not an exaggeration nor is it hyperbole. Even twelve years later, I meet rabbis all over the world who are still pining for his insight, humor and diplomacy within the clergy profession. He was a man with a King Solomon- like wisdom equal only to his genuine open-heartedness.
And so last night, lying in bed, I imagined what kind of press release my father would have drafted in light of the gay marriage equality ruling, or if he would have done so at all. And in truth, I couldn't tell you definitively one way or the other. I'd like to think that he would said nothing about it because my father, a ba'al teshuvah, had great respect and admiration for the many levels of observances particularly in an age when just about every single Jew observes in his or her distinctive way.
But let's say hypothetically, he was pressured into doing so, I considered. Even though we were very close and spoke daily, I couldn't resolve on what he would say. One of my greatest issues with contemporary Judaism is the way we create false narratives. The way we presume to know how the deceased would think or feel. And even though my relationship with dad was incomparably close, I still couldn't conjecture on this behalf. I'm sure, however, there are many who still attempt to do so.
Still my imagination got the best of me and I found myself envisioning a conversation in which he and I would discuss the truly historic ruling from last Friday. I would sense his conflict because his care for the individual was true, and he would sense my urge to advocate for--let's be frank here--an oppressed group that collectively yearns to be culturally accepted.
This isn't a religious issue, I would tell him. This is a secular one. This country was founded on the basis of separation of church and state, which means as practicing Jews, we should have nothing to say about this. Besides the First Amendment isn't necessarily an amendment with the sole purpose of protecting religion. It serves as a panacea against the religious fanatics, which means it protects your right to live an absence of faith and belief. Let's tend to our own garden, I add. Not landscape the whole block.
Interesting, he would say back. Or at least, I hope he would. I wouldn't know either way; When my father died, I had still not fully developed my intellectualism and most conversations between us weren't so heady. But I imagine he continues, But what about gay marriage being a threat to our traditional way of life? If we acknowledge this legal binding union, how will it not affect the Orthodox community?
Well, Dad, are we really so concerned about threats to our institution of marriage? If so, why isn't the RCA issuing press releases about divorce and it's drastically increasing numbers? Why aren't we troubled about infidelity ? Or the premarital sex crisis impacting our youth and young professionals? Why do we perceive the homosexual community as a threat when that community isn't even welcome into ours? Are we so weak in our faith that a perceived threat--your words, not mine--unifying outside of our fortressed walls is a cause we must speak out against?
And lets say that for the sake of argument that, and I quote, "marriage is an institution defined by the Bible and subsequent religious codes and it is upon the foundation of traditional family life that our society has been built for millennia," I think it's problematic in more ways that one. The Bible also speaks about polygamy, so really our contemporary model of matrimony is not exactly based on the Old Testament. Also, what of concubines? Or women captured in war? To not acknowledge that things have changed over the years would be wrongful. To say that whatever we call marriage now is exactly as it has been since the beginning of time would be like saying since Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, we have always been wearing clothes. Let us all don fig leaves.
My father is thinking. He is torn. He can empathize with the dilemma because unlike so many years ago, the homosexual constituency is not hiding in the closet. They are even sometimes sitting in our pews. We've witnessed the pain associated with the denial of rights firsthand. We've seen the impact of homophobic vitriol as its slung about by our leaders. We've heard the cries from conflicted and torn men and women as they look ahead to a pained life alone.
And so I ask the question for him. How do "we" deal with gay marriage? How can the Orthodox community, of which I am still proudly a part of, respond to the court ruling from June 26th? Do we say things like "no court can change God's immutable law," or "We stand committed not to lose faith in faith itself, and hope that others who cherish God's teaching will join us" as the RCA has?
It hurt me to read that last night. It hurt me that the organization that allegedly represents my leaders and clergymen is presumptuous enough to be on the wrong side of history. It saddens me that an issue of this great complexity is met with a broad stroke, a superimposed black and white filter.
But most of all, it pained me that my father wasn't here to address this issue, or as I suspect, possibly by means of revisionism, to not address it all. Which I would have respected him greatly for. Sometimes silence is more powerful than the loudest proclamation.

Monday, March 09, 2015

THE MYTH OF NINE-TO-FIVE














Last year, the New York Times ran an editorial titled "Why You Hate Work." I must have missed it when it first ran, but I had seen it posted on Facebook recently and clicked on the link. After all, the title alone resonated strongly with me.

Since then, I have re-read the first paragraph alone at least a dozen time. Because it speaks to the sensation I feel in my stomach, like a festering, bubbling pit of bile. "The way we’re working isn’t working," authors Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath wrote. "Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep."

I often think about my intended purpose and what it is I am ultimately meant to do. I also consider my family and demands that must be met like eventual tuition for three, food on the table, clothes in the closet, and the extra things like toys and comic books. I then try to convince myself that I'm entitled and that the very notion of liking your job is as fantastical as unicorns and fairies. Who truly likes their job? How many of us say that we're happy doing what we're doing? That we enjoy being subjected the cruel whims of our superiors without their regard for our personal lives? 

Over the last five years, while I have been employed at the same job, I have struggled with finding creative fulfillment while also fulfilling my obligations as a family man. This has been a tricky intersection between idealism and practicality. Compromise and even greater compromise. The days pass even faster than before, and with each passing twenty-four hours, the responsibilities increase. What can I do, I ask myself? Sometimes I look in the mirror attempting to penetrate my soul in an effort to find the hidden answer. I'll interview myself as if I were the subject for a freelance assignment. I still haven't reached resolution. 

But the thing I find most offensive is the way we harass and bully one another into perpetuating the stereotype of "working hard," as if the hours spent in the office somehow reflected on your passions, your talents, your worthiness. But ironically, I find the opposite to be true. I'm often able to provide quality work in the typical hours provided. And if I'm not, I am fully capable of doing that from home. I have never not been able to deliver.

Yet right now, I am dealing with a "superior" who feels as if you have to sacrifice your family life and "be here" whether it's necessary or not. It's facetime on steroids. And while I could stop resisting and give in to it, I refuse to do so. I am intent on not sacrificing. I have prioritized my family, my personal life, I am holding on to the one thing that makes me happy in this world. Because they are what I can take great pride in. That's the thing I am excited about, and I feel appreciated there. I believe that what I'm doing does in fact make a difference.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

FANTASY COMEBACKS

Nothing can be as it was, which is why nostalgia is so palpable and potent. There's something impossibly unique about events in the past but we still try too hard to replicate how we felt, or rather how it made us feel.

Our attempt to recreate magic is definitely a huge motivational factor in pop culture. This explains Hollywood's fixation on sequels, or our ever-present reboot efforts. The music industry, too, is guilty of this strategy but it's not as blatant. Take Weezer's recent re-teaming with producer Ric Ocasek--this was bandleader River Cuomo's effort to placate the old school fans.

This morning, I got wondering about comebacks, recreating the magic that once was, but still finding room to innovate and progress. In my mind, I paired up some of my favorite musicians with producers who could probably inspire greatness after years of inconsistency. It's a geeky mental exercise, granted, but I'll share my results regardless.

Peter Gabriel produced by Nigel Godrich
Imagine pairing up one of the most soulful and artful songwriters of the last few decades, and a producer known for engendering celestial beauty.  Gabriel's work has been weirdly spotty full of non-committal electro-misfires ever since he released 1992's US. A producer like Godrich could pull Gabriel back into the zone of evocative warmth and potentially encourage him to try incorporating more woundedness into his quirkiness.

Beck produced by Ariel Rechtshaid
Beck hasn't been much fun since, say, Midnite Vultures. Sure, there was The Information and Guerro, but both albums sounded less like where it's at, and more like where it's been. Retreads of Beck's presumed idea outtakes. Nothing special, nothing offensive.
But a few sessions with do-no-wrong'r Ariel Rechtshaid could result in wondrous funtimes. Look what Rechtshaid did for Haim and Vampire Weekend--he made them both sound sophisticated and accessible, but also limber and bold. Sure, he's played the trendy producer card before with Danger Mouse on Modern Guilt, Brian Burton doesn't necessarily produce--he makes a Danger Mouse record which features the same guest vocalist on all songs. Rechtshaid is more reverent. He has a signature (wet, shiny, smooth) but doesn't impose too much of himself. Make this pairing happen.

David Bowie produced by James Murphy
This one is a no-brainer--nearly a year back, Murphy produced Bowie's best song in two decades. "Love Is Lost" was a one-off, but was also a fair indicator of how magical this collaboration could be.  Besides anything Bowie has done of very recent has been both weird and depressing. I know he's getting old and he's feeling introspective, but seriously..."Sue?"  That track is a mess.
Bowie needs to go out with a bang, a real party reminiscent of "Let's Dance" and "Dream Genie." And the only person who could bring that out of him is definitely Murph.

U2 produced by Rick Rubin
The last U2 album is flaccid and limp. This is because Bono and crew worked with the young'uns, and the young'uns like Paul Epworth, Danger Mouse (guilty again) and Ryan Tedder are all too reverent to tell this legendary band what to do. Instead they probably patronized bad decisions and sat outside the recording booth giving the thumb's up when the only exposed digit should have been a very strong thumb's down.
Rubin and U2 have worked together beforehand during the recording session of 2008's No Line On The Horizon. None of those tracks have made to the light of day. Yet if the band is sincere and true about its desire to sound like it did back in the day, only one man can accomplish that. It's the proverbial time traveler Rick Rubin. Set those old tracks free so we can properly gauge whether this union was meant to be.

Lady Gaga produced by Roy Thomas Baker w/ Jack Antonoff
Gaga needs help. If she's going to come back and be reclaim her throne as the reigning queen of P-O-P, she better bring it. Which is why I give you Roy Thomas Baker, the man responsible for the first half of Queen's catalog, the Cars, and the Darkness should be able to GLAM IT UP THE ARSE. But admittedly, Baker is old and potentially out of touch which is why I'm suggesting that maybe we have Antonoff on deck for support and rejuvenation. Antonoff is a great songwriter and supplier of hooks. He can also bring heart to a project and perhaps with all of Gaga's thick shtick, she's in some need of sincerity. It's a bizarre team up, but it could result in capital "f" fun.

Any suggestions of your own?




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ON THE SPECTRUM


The thing about moving to a new community is that you start thinking about friends. Old ones, new ones. Close ones, the ones you thought you were close to, the friends who stick with you irregard of location. There are the friends who disappear completely, and there are friends who will always feel close no matter how long the gap between catch-up sessions. 

I have spent many contemplative hours on the notion of friendship. What it means. Questioning whether its real, or if it's simply a brand name given to people of convenience. And in truth, I vacillate between the two alternatives. There are times when I feel extremely fortunate for having so many friends, but then there are time when I wonder whether I'm deluding myself. I'll sometimes wonder, what are my friends thinking? What do they say about me when I'm not around?

The other day, Jerry Seinfeld conducted an interview in which he revealed that he believes himself to be somewhere on the autism spectrum because "basic social engagement is really a struggle." There was somewhat of a backlash coming from the the autism advocacy community, but while they say controversial appropriation, it comforted me to hear this from someone so successful. 

While basic social engagement has never truly been a struggle for me, I do suffer from a deep-rooted and well hidden insecurity which makes me question just about every relationship I have ever had. It's an exhausting especially when it happens in real time, during those very moments of engagement. My hyper-analytical mind is not only devoting resources to the conversation in progress, but it is also wondering over the organic nature and potency of the connection.

Being in a new place, in new surroundings, will truly fray the nerves of this already fragile structure, throwing this dizzying centrifuge of self-doubt into a chaotic vortex. I would be lying if I did not admit that it's a weird time akin to the way you felt when you were a high school freshman, and I decided that as awkward as it is to articulate this vulnerability, I would still do so in an effort to understand it better. And perhaps even conquer it.  


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

WHO'S YOUR TERRORIST DADDY?


CARRIE MATHISON: Hi, you're my daughter. Unusually, I don't know your name because we rarely use it on the television show Homeland.

DAUGHTER: How is it possible that you don't know my name when I'm already fifteen years old?

CARRIE: Look, I don't write the show. All I know is that you're the daughter I had with a guy you don't know who he is yet, and that you brood a lot. Because on this TV show Homeland--that you and I are both on--teens tend to brood. A lot. 

DAUGHTER: Cool [sarcastically]. So great that I don't have a name. You're a great mom. [Broods]

CARRIE: I wanted to have this talk with you...

DAUGHTER: The first conversation we've had in like, a million years?

CARRIE: OH MY GOSH. Whatever do you want from me? You think it's easy taking out terrorists all the time AND raise a daughter? What is this? A sitcom? By day, she battles Al Qaeda. At night, she battles diapers. Actually [takes out tape recorder] note to self: pitch mom/ CIA sitcom. 

DAUGHTER: Mom, be real. For like once. 

CARRIE: Anyway, here's the scoop. I want to tell you who your dad was. 

DAUGHTER: Oh, cool. Like, tell me. [Broods]

CARRIE: This may sound crazy because it is, but your dad was a US soldier who was captured by Islamic fundamentalists and turned into a terrorist but then became a US double agent who was then killed by the Islamic fundamentalists.

DAUGHTER: Wait....WHAT?

CARRIE: Yeah, and here's the crazy part. I kept you. Despite the fact that I am unstable and make terrible decisions and am incredibly unfit as a mother. But I guess that makes this more interesting...? Like plot-wise?

DAUGHTER: W. T. F. Moooooom, this is like my life? You had a baby with a whatever terrorist and I'm it. That's like, bananas. 

CARRIE: Yeah. That's kind of it. Oh, and whatever you do, don't Google search him. It's ultra depressing. There's this video of him being hanged and it's a major bummer. Hey, are we done here? I feel like I've told you enough. 

DAUGHTER: Ugh, I can't believe my dad was a terrorist. That's like a huge deal. 

CARRIE: Yeah, but like I said, it moves the plot along. Now, I'm bored. Is this the part when you go back to your room and slam the door and brood some more? I've got to make questionable decisions concerning the security of United States which, no matter how many I've made, I still have a job. 

DAUGHTER: And I still don't have a name. Can we resolve that?

CARRIE: [snaps fingers] Oh. Wait a second. I think it's Frannie.

DAUGHTER: "FRANNIE?" I waited fifteen years to find out I'm a "Frannie?" Are you on crack? I go to school tomorrow and tell my friends not only was my dead a convicted terrorist/ double agent, but I'm also a Frannie? 

CARRIE: Just wait until you find out that in the second episode of season four I considered drowning you in a bathtub.

DAUGHTER: Oh jeez. You're the worst. 


Monday, October 06, 2014

"Hey, did someone just fart during my jam?"

Yesterday, I heard a Dave Matthews song on the radio. It was a live version of "Ants Marching." The strange thing is that I did not turn the dial. I let the song play out until the end.

Now I do not have a background in jam. I can neither stand the Dead, or any act associated with it, nor will I tolerate Phish for a patchouli soaked microsecond. If there's a banjo involved, you can probably count me out. This goes quadruple for unironic saxophone. But for some strange reason, I have a weird and inexplicable tolerance for DMB. This confuses me, and so I thought that I would try to figure this out. 

This is not to say that I would qualify myself as a "fan." I don't know the deep cuts, and am more of a greatest hits tourist, but I would be lying if I did not admit to loving "Two Step" at one point, finding vulnerable sweetness in "Crash Into Me" and even qualifying "The Space Between" as poignant. Despite the fact that Matthews' voice occasionally sounds like an Adam Sandler parody character, I like the guy. Is it because he just looks so laid back with his perpetually opened two top buttons and his rolled up sleeves, like he's a co-worker who's really determined to meet client expectations? Or is that goofy smirk like he's about to pull a prank on you, and it's George Clooney-worthy? These two aspects certainly add to his appeal, but I'm not hanging out with the guy any time soon, so it has to be more than that. 

I think the appeal lies in the fact that I admire the casual nature of the songs, like they're not belabored over to the point of obsessiveness. I bet most of the recorded takes are first cuts. I bet Dave says "yeah, that works" a lot followed by his signature giggle. There's an unpretentiousness in Matthews' songwriting like he's--I wouldn't qualify it as "jamming" necessarily--having actual fun. It's loose, frayed, and limber. 

But there's also an underdog nature to the DMB oeuvre, like I can imagine the guys in Radiohead making fun of them. Like I imagine Thom being offended by Dave and his troop of uncool dudes even sharing the bill with him on a festival line-up. But whatever, Dave says. I get it, man. You make art. I make music people want to smoke weed to and maybe if they're up for it, they'll run outside and get a bag of Doritos. I personally would never choose to actively listen to this kind of music, but if I heard it on the radio, nostalgia along with my inability to resist the laid backed nature of DMB would probably render me helpless to changing the station. 



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BUILD A ROCKET


After I became a dad, my hearing changed. Rather, I should say my listening changed. I wanted less noise, less aggression, and less demand. This isn't to say I'm totally against feedback or angst--it's just that sappiness resonates with me more than it ever has.

I've always sensed a resistance to that change, as if becoming more empathetic made you weaker or uncool. And I would be lying if I said I didn't judge the safe choices of fathers from the distance of childlessness, but I now see the mistake in that.

My shift in cultural taste is simply a shifting of priorities. I'm looking to invest more time into the things that inspire me to connect with other people, as opposed to spending time on those things inspired by alienation and confusion. One of my favorite songs since Steven was born has been Elbow's "Lippy Kids" (this is the live version posted above), and at times, at the right moment, it's really moved me in a profound way. It's stark in its beauty, humble in its heroism, and mountainous in its motivation. It's the sort of song I want Steven listening to and feeling inspired by, as if he could in fact "build a rocket" and fly anywhere in it. It's the sort of song that makes me want to hug someone.

The self-aware me knows the eye rolling these sentiments inspire, but the self-aware me also reminds me of the childless me. The concentrated comfort of having a child and starting a family is that there's much less need to impress others, and more of a want to embrace what feels most comfortable. Detractors would call that "settling" but settling can also be about resolve and reconciliation. And I've reconciled with myself to not be so cool. At least as far as my listening goes. Everything else though...? Still pretty cool.