Wednesday, September 28, 2005

ARE YOU STILL OUT THERE? It's been awhile but I make no excuses. I simply come back to you with a head tilted down by the shameful weight of neglect. It's only been a week-plus but I feel like I've been away from you forever. I can only hope the feeling is mutual.

Here we go. We embark. You may call it a comeback.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Two reviews for you. One that's a lot of fun and one that's kinda not. Bummer.

Rogue Wave
Descended Like Vultures
(Sub Pop)

A few years back, Zach Schwartz probably decided that Schwartz Wave didn’t make the best band name, so he changed his surname to “Rogue” and recorded one of the best, overlooked albums of 2004. Out of the Shadow (Sub Pop) was rife with melodies so effortless and sublime that it played like a kick to the Shins, the likeminded Albuquerque labelmates who were successfully changing Natalie Portman’s life. Descended Like Vultures, Rogue Wave’s second release, is another warped carnival ride into the school of more power, less pop. First song, “Bird on a Wire,” makes the unconventional songwriting apparent by sprinkling it with a demonic merry-go-round organ, but, like the rest of Vultures, the chorus eventually and mercilessly swoops in and grabs hold. While this unpretentious album won’t boldly claim to change your life, it will sure make it a lot more pleasant.

Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene
(Arts & Crafts)

The Broken Social Scene’s second album, You Forgot it in People was embraced by the indie rock community like it was Jesus’ debut album but the Canadian collaborative’s critical hit was actually nothing more than a happy accident. With a rotating cast of 15-plus musicians, band members came in and out of the studio and contributed to the Scene’s gay-marrying, weed-smoking, French-speaking free spirit. And while it worked supremely and exceedingly well on the last record, this time their art rock sounds a bit disjointed, sonically murky, and overall, too arty. Granted expectations are high for the new release but some of the recycled ideas found throughout the self-titled indicate that key members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning weren’t feeling truly compelled to live up to them. Yes, it takes some time to acquaintance oneself with a new Social Scene but just prepare yourself to start looking for another one.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Dear MTV and Adam Carolla,

It's rare when I take the high road when it comes to television. I spend a good portion of my viewing time on sheer idiocy, albeit hysterical idiocy, like the programming on Adult Swim. There is no shortage of brainless entertainment available to houses across America but a large portion of that programming is not considered offensive and bereft of any redeeming qualities. Thankfully, we can count on you, MTV and Adam Carolla, to provide us with a healthy dose of morally-bankrupt stew.

It's no surprise that I am not a fan of My Super Sweet 16. In fact, I may have complained about it before but perhaps my perspective has changed in recent weeks. It's my belief, after watching Jazmine, the star of last night's episode, expose the ugliest side of America, that MTV could not be further away from our country's reality. My Super Sweet 16 is a horrific, bitter display of wealth and the epitome of the failure of parental discipline. MTV is essentially providing an unfortunate example for teenage girls to strive towards (which many, if not all, will never achieve). When I was young, I remember that a girl's fantasies were based on sleeping beauties, Snow Whites, or "fabulous" tales of under-privileged girls being swept away by handsome and charming young men. Now, shows like My Super Sweet 16 and Laguna Beach distort many into thinking boys should be vapid, distant and fratty. Essentially, a mass brainwashing transforming our youth into an Abercrombie wasteland. Girls, on the hand, should be superficial, unhealthy looking, bratty, confrontational, jealous, selfish, and most unfortunate, subject to the whims of their Ken counterparts. One could argue that you, MTV, are merely documenting the breakdown of white suburbia, objectively reporting the social and moral decline of Jazmine and so many others but it would be hard for me to attribute that much credit to you because of your general warped version of America.

Laguna Beach, another reality show-cum-soap opera featuring more bratty, spoiled American kids is significantly more popular than My Super Sweet Sixteen but also more damaging. The show toted as the "real Orange County" features the same cast throughout the entire season making it more demanding: you need to provide us with an interesting story line for a whole entire season. This creates a pressure for the "actors" to live up to the expectations providing us with the necessary drama to hold us captive audience. But ultimately, the characters, so boringly bland, toil over trips to the mall, the slightest miscommunications from boys ("did he say "goodbye"? Or just "bye"?"), and again, the ever-important return trip to the mall. While I wouldn't expect these kids to volunteer for non-profits projects or even pick up a New York Times, it would be nice to see a well-rounded representation of our country especially in light of the revelation that our country is still very much filled with latent racists and extreme examples of poverty. In a post 9-11 world, a post-Katrina world, shouldn't we, as a people, try and develop a deeper sense of self? Wouldn't it be nicer if that representation wasn't misshaped into the distorted message that the less-fortunate are freaks.

Trailer Fabulous, another half-hour program of mobile home makeovers, was an offensive, shameful idea. After one season, Fabulous was righteously cancelled therein making this decision the only good judgement call in MTV's recent programming choices. The show essentially mocked the poor for their living conditions; their meager, modest existence. The "Music" Television channel turned a potentially gracious gesture into a gross idea of a "hysterical" hipster joke. The essence of the show, to reduce the contestants to a punchline felt cheap and mean. An unrelenting nastiness consistently permeates in all your programming, a nastiness found in "characters" like Jazmine and Kristen, from Laguna Beach, who is described by the MTV website as such:

A party girl, Kristin is a junior who rules the popular clique of her class and holds her own with the seniors. She's confident and sexy and always gets what she wants, especially when it comes to her turbulent relationship with Stephen. Having moved from Chicago to live with her dad in Laguna, Kristin is the newest addition to this power clique. Strong-willed and assertive, wherever Kristin goes, drama follows.

"Clique" (used twice) connotes exclusivity and snobbish behavior. "Sexy" is not the word I would want my daughter to use in describing herself when she's in the 11th grade. "Drama," "turbulent," "power"--all the buzz words that a reputable psychologist would tell anyone to avoid, never mind a young girl developing her identity. These girls are not role models but that's what they've become. And while a like-minded show like The O.C. brinks on implausibility and complete unbelievability, Laguna and Sweet 16 attempt to adhere to the confines of reality, therefore blurring the line between "art" (using the term loosely) and "life."

I don't exactly blame you, MTV, for creating these characteristics. I do blame you for procreating them in the minds of youth. In classic television and cinema, there was a time when the bratty, obnoxious rich kid was portrayed as the enemy as seen in movies like Animal House, Bachelor Party and classic movies of that ilk. And while it's never fair to create a broad and general stereotype, it felt less dangerous then. Worse came to worse, people would know, in the eventuality that they became wealthy, they should avoid throwing a sense of entitlement around with reckless abandon.

Although, really, the personalities haven't changed since then. It's just the way you portray them now. You've taken them from the role of enemy to the power of example. Well done.

Arye Dworken

PS Adam Carolla, you are the unfunniest man in America. Seriously. Horrible, awful stuff. Stop.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I have no idea where I am. Actually, that's not true-I do know where I am but I could have never imagined that such a place existed in New York City. While it sounds incredibly naive and sheltered (both of which I probably am), my new surroundings are so unfamiliar to me even though I've lived in this city for close to a decade. I feel like I am on a set of an old John Singleton movie, or I am living within a lyric of a Tupac song. I stick out like...well, like a Jewish white man in East Harlem (really, is there even a more vivid analogy than that?). I am told that I'm currently in the capitol of meth addicts, not exactly the sort of claim you proudly announce on bumper stickers to attract tourists. In my eight years of living almost thirty blocks away from here, I was completely oblivious and unaware of these conditions. I understood that bad neighborhoods existed but in my mind's eye, I visualized something from the movies or TV, where there was indeed poverty and anarchy but both were controlled. Around the corner is an honest-to-God slaughterhouse, ostensibly a garage that people can enter and pick a chicken, or a rabbit--yes, a rabbit--to take home for dinner that night. While walking by this makeshift take-out spot (take-out, in more ways than one), I may as well have been in a third world country. There are some homeless people walking up and down the streets pushing stolen shopping carts as if these streets were their aisles and the refuge strewn curbside were items on sale. Not too far away, there is a recycling center, which has a line like one of Manhattan's hottest club. It's not that the residents of East Harlem are environmentally conscious, although that may be an after-thought. The cans that they've collected are their paychecks, their credit cards, their wages. If cans were truly a invaluable commodity, some of these people would live thirty blocks south.

On my first day of field practice, I escort a 34-year old client who I will refer to as "Phil" to a methadone clinic where they are trying to wean him off heroin. Phil has been addicted to heroin since he was eleven. When I was buying comic books and drinking strawberry milkshakes, Phil was smoking crack. He's trying to break his habit but at this point it's too difficult. There is a warrant out for his arrest and he's trying to lay low and to the best of his ability, stay clean. But there is little hope for Phil. He knows it and so does everyone around him. He's just buying his time until the cycle of addiction starts again. I try to make small talk with Phil but I am a bit awkward about it. I've never had a hard time before but how do you talk about the weather when you're heading over to a meth clinic. But I do the best I can and therein learn that Phil thinks it's too hot outside and that he likes to walk instead of talking the bus. Phil walks side-to-side like he has a slight case of hernia (he doesn't) and he has the verbal skills of a down-syndrome child. I'm told that twenty years of heroin can fry a significant amount of brain cells. I would say "fry" is a subtle word. "Annihilate" is more appropriate.

After we drop Phil off for his appointment, I head back to the office to catch up on some reading. I quickly absorbed the paper work of the future clients I will be working with [we now call them "consumers" or "clients." Never "patients"]. Cases range from psychosis to schizophrenia to some other symptoms I couldn't possibly even spell. These are not the sort of people I hang out with on a regular basis. At thirty years old, I am entering a new world. Strange that it exists only minutes away.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Under Pressure
Queen w/David Bowie

At first, Vanilla Ice thought he would get away with it. When To The Extreme was released "Under Pressure" was a hit but not a mammoth hit by any means. In fact, before Wayne's World's appropriation of "Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen was not nearly as popular here in the US as they were in England. So Ice took the notorious hook for his song without permission assuming it would slip under the radar. It did no such thing--"Ice, Ice Baby” became one of the best selling debut singles of all time and Queen would file a claim eventually granting them the profits from the one-hit wonder's hit (Ice, or Robert Van Winkle, to this day still claims the sample is distinctively different from the one found in the Queen/Bowie collaboration).

"Under Pressure" evolved from a jam session the band had with Bowie at Montreux, Switzerland, therefore it was credited as co-written by the five musicians. Nevertheless, according to what Queen bassist John Deacon said in a French Magazine in 1984, the (main) musical songwriter was pianist/singer Freddie Mercury, although they all contributed in the arrangement. It reached number 29 on the American charts but hit number 1 on the UK pop charts. While it may be difficult to detach the baggy glitter pants and the shaved eyebrow imagery from the song within the first ten seconds of the song, after the cool handclap-snap combination and rubbery bass Brian May's sinewy and echoed guitar part melts away the Vanilla Ice affiliations.

Freddie Mercury gently enters the song,"Do-do-dah-day, do-do-dah-deh-dah" creating a segue for Bowie's desperate yelp. "Pressure! Pushing down on me, pushing down on me!" The Thin White Duke's voice is at its most distinctive here. Immediately, you sense that the musicians can relate with the turmoil of pressure and desperation. Within the first verse, this collaboration already succeeds in exemplifying its title.

I remember the first time I head this song. I was thirteen-years old in Israel with my family celebrating my Bar Mitzvah. "Under Pressure" was playing on the radio (yes, they still played this song in Israel. In fact, "Under Pressure" reached number 1 in the Czech Republic in 1999. Talk about longevity) and it absolutely blew my mind. Ever since then, it's been one of my favorite karaoke songs. While Freddie Mercury's falsetto is hard to reach, it always gets a good reaction when you do indeed reach it.

"The pressure...splits a family in two, puts people in streets."

This coming week, I am starting my field practice work. Three days a week, I am interning for a non-profit utilizing the skills I learn in social work school. My assigned location is Pathways to Housing, a very worthwhile cause. PTH finds housing for homeless, mentally challenged people (some were previously drug-addicts) so they can feel a sense of pride and try finding a job. This is the first time I will be dealing with this sort of person and to be honest, I'm pretty nervous. I understand that any time we step out of our comfort zone, it's jarring. But this is nowhere remotely near my comfort zone, so I anxiously anticipate the upcoming year where I spend time with six specific clients. I remind myself that I could have easily continued in my self-serving path by, as Mercury sings, "turn[ing] away from it all like a blind man." But as I'm finding out "it don't work."

Essentially, "Under Pressure" could easily be a song about social work. While "there's a terror in knowing what this world is about," and again, while there is a warm security in living within the bubble, the end of the song preaches that "love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night, and loves dares you to change our ways of caring about ourselves."

The song was always one of my favorites but in the coming year, I assume it will take on a more significant depth when I myself am dared into changing my ways.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Tomorrow, I wake up a student.

Friday, September 02, 2005


When men break up as friends.

I just received a book in the mail entitled The Friend Who Got Away, Twenty Women's True-Life Tales of Friendships That Blew Up, Burned Up, or Faded Up. I got the book for free from its publisher Doubleday, who for some odd reason sends me a great deal of Chick Lit-centric books (The J.A.P. Chronicles anyone?). When Shana saw the fluorescent orange cover, she picked it up immediately and said, I totally know what that's like. And immediately began leafing through it, fascinated, almost salivating at the prospect of commiserating with other friendship dumpers.

It turns out that women have break-ups all the time. Not the sort of break-up that ends with a hopeful but insincere let's be friends or the almost-jokish it's not you, it's me excuse. Oh, no. These sort of break-ups are always passionate, are never taken lightly and almost never, ever happen without fireworks. Women usually break-up because they simply have no other choice. They must. I'm sure you understand. And if you dont, well then, you can go to hell too.

It's assumed that only women go through a friendship break-up. In fact, I have spent a reasonable amount of time researching this on the web and have yet to find anything about men breaking up with men as friends. It almost seems as the collapse of the Dude Bond (there is no stronger) has and will not ever happen in the real world. Sure, a girl can tell her girlfriend off but could a guy eliminate one of his boyfriends...err, ahem, uhh, dudes from his social circle? It didn't seem that we did such a thing. Is it possible that no one clearly acknowledges the circumcision of the male friendship, or rather, the broke up? If so, that makes me feel pretty alone because I'm pretty sure I'm going through one now.

We used to speak a few times a day, casual conversations sharing the minutiae of the every day. I spoke with my male best friend probably more often than I spoke to my mother. There was a general impression that we could share anything with each other and never risk our masculinity. We could talk about clothing sales, movies, a new record, the most recent New Yorker, stuff, and things. We hardly ran out of things to say. It was a blessed friendship because we both brought our distinct talents to the table. But over the past couple of years, there have been problems and complications involving our communication, more his fault that mine (although, he repeatedly and wrongfully spread the blame). Suddenly, he had more on his plate to deal with and our daily, multiple conversations became every few days, then a couple of times a week, and then twice, maybe three times a month. All the while, our bond deteriorated into a shaky foundation of a fading friendship that resembled a pen-pal correspondence with a child from a third world country, hearing something along the lines of "sorry you have not heard from me sooner. Mail leaves my country so rarely." I grew progressively frustrated with all of this. He was frustrated with my frustrations. I resented myself for feeling needy. He resented my being needy. I felt neglected and manipulated into thinking I was being needy when all I asked for was a basic and sincere friendship. He wanted me to "just stop it." Eventually, I found that I needed out. My maintanence didn't seem that high. But two weeks ago, he yelled at me on the phone for something that was, ultimately, completely silly. I held the phone to my ear listening to him go on and on, barely uttering a response, all the while, thinking, maybe this is all over. Maybe I don't want to be in this anymore.

I asked a few friends of mine (all male) if they shared a similar predicament. Every one said "yes." So much for the unrelatable experience. Noah revealed that it happened to him twice. He got dumped but also on another occasion, he did the dumping.
"I just came to the realization that this guy was an a**hole," Noah said about an ex-close friend. Or rather, an ex-bud.
"I sent him an email saying that I cared about him as a friend and that there were certain things I felt he was unaware of and I wanted to shed light on them.
"He wrote back "thanks,"" Noah continued, "and that was the end of it."

Nick had his own break-up who would eventually refuse to speak to Nick ever again (something about playing music too loud). In fact, Nick just passed the estranged friend in the street for the first time in over a year and apparently he's not over being dumped. The ex-friend pretended to not even notice Nick as they walked right past each other. "Being someone's friend shouldn't be work," Nick said, "and it got to be work to keep it up."

Another friend, John, is the one who I least expected a break-up story from but surprisingly, he had one. "I was hanging out with this guy for an extended period of time," John told me. John is a man's-man. Lest you think the male friendship break-up is more inclined to happen to the sensitive guy, John loves women and takes every opportunity to announce this fact. Moreover, he is built like a club bouncer. "I decided the guy was an immature bully and a prick so I'm minimizing my interactions with him."
So, you're not dumping him outright, I asked.
"Well, if he doesn't get the hint, I'm going to have to pull out some line about seeing other people. But in the meantime, I'm phasing him out."

Breaking up is hard to do but breaking up with a guy who had been a close friend for a long time is even harder. A few guys I spoke with told me they avoid the conversation all together and would prefer to have the friendship peter out like a tank of gas. But if there's one thing I've learned from all of this is that friendship is always a give-and-take (not a profound assesment). As long as there is an equal distribution of high-fives by both parties all should be well. But as soon as that becomes unequal leaning to one side, there needs to be a resolution.

"I spent so much time and energy trying to make my friendship work," Adam told me. He grew up with this best friend, spent years with him, and even their families were best friends. This made his scenario even more complex. "But after a year or two, it was like knocking my head against the wall. Enough was enough. So I dropped the axe."

My axe hasn't dropped yet, but I'll put it this way; It's being sharpened just in case.