Local Christmas, Local Joy

It’s Black Friday, and the season of consumerism will be upon us, and the race to Christmas Day will dominate our lives. The holidays are a time of giving, a time of faith and tradition, a time of family and togetherness and celebration. But with the mad shopping dash to buy Christmas gifts, it’ll also be a season of stress, financial anxiety, and even debt. It’ll be the most significant contribution of the year to the coffers of huge retail conglomerates who hoard wealth, monopolize markets, and prey on consumers and their workers.

This line of thinking is nothing novel or new, but it’s especially on my mind with my involvement with the Occupy Movement. And whether you’re bothered by billionaires or not, I hope there’s something we can all more or less agree on, which is:

It’s a really wonderful thing to shop local.

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The Protomen are my religion now.

No, really.

I saw The Protomen live for the first time at Lola’s Room last week. The Protomen are a band that sings dystopian agit-prop tributes to the classic video game Mega Man. Every album (there are two so far) is an Act in a dark, epic rock opera that grows more and more agonizingly tense as straights get more and more dire for a futuristic city under fascist robot domination, and for their would-be saviors. They played back-to-back shows, each one featuring a different Act.

I could only attend one, so I chose the second, which is the one that resonates more strongly with me, though both are amazing. Act I is about Doctor Light’s robot son Mega Man defying his creator’s will and standing up to Doctor Wily and his robot thugs, only to be disillusioned by the fickle public he fights for. Act II is a prequel, chronicling how Light and Wily created the robots together, how Wily seized control of them and of the entire city, and how Dr. Light’s first attempt at ending his rule met with disaster.

Continue reading The Protomen are my religion now.

The Superstar Connection

This one’s extremely personal, folks.

For Holy Week (the week in the Christian cycle leading up to Easter Sunday), I posted songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar on Facebook, one video a day. It started as a whim, but it quickly became a kind of religious practice.

I first saw Superstar about 5 years ago, a local production in which a dear friend played Mary Magdalene. I was moved, in an indescribable way. I  engaged with all my body and soul with the messy, human struggle between Jesus, Judas and Pharisees.  By the end I was bawling like a baby. After the show, the actor playing Jesus found me and hugged me. I didn’t know what it “meant”, but I knew I’d been given a gift, and I felt utterly grateful to Molly, my friend, and her fellow players.

Every now and then I listen to the soundtrack, or play the 1973 film version. I mainly do it to remember the sense memory of that night with Molly and crew, which will always be the “real” Superstar for me.

This time, though, I resolved to pay closer attention to what Superstar was saying to me. Just like past times when “Reading the Signs” has been enlightening, I learned something vital about myself.

The message that Superstar screamed at me through all the songs I posted: human connection is tragically, excruciatingly hard. Our broken, separate-ness sometimes alienates us in spite of every intention to connect, to trust, to love.

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Punk Rock is for the kids!

I’m thoroughly stunned that I somehow missed out on the childhood experience of the late 70s-early 80s TV show, “Kids Are People Too.” Through the retroactive magic of Youtube, I’m experiencing a taste of the show, and I’m impressed with its refreshing respect for its audience, not pandering or patronizing or ghettoizing the experience of childhood, but giving them a variety/talk show with the same entertainers and interviewees that an adult show might host. If I’d had the chance to see stars like KISS or Ron Howard talking straight with kids about who they are, I might have—well, forget about that, this post isn’t about regretting the childhood that never was.

Instead I want to talk about an amazing thing that happened when Patti Smith appeared on the show. When host Michael Young asked Patti what Punk Rock was all about, she answered: “The whole thing of Punk Rock is—newspapers and media have thrown it out of proportion—but the main thing of it was that Rock ‘n Roll’s getting back in the hands of the people. It belongs to the kids again, not the big business guys.”

That, right there, is the most beautiful and direct definition of Punk I’ve ever seen. Punk isn’t studded leather and mohawks; it isn’t three chords and vocals screamed in a British accent. In fact musicians who adopt those trappings or styles can sometimes be little more than pre-packaged record-label assets who shill for Doritos. Continue reading Punk Rock is for the kids!

Unflattering Imitation

I participated in a fundraiser for my special education job the other night. It was a talent competition called “[Education District] Idol”, and consisted of volunteers singing popular songs with a live band or karaoke track, and attendees buying votes to raise money for our programs. I sang “In the Ghetto” and had a good time.

There was something odd that kept coming up, though. First, at rehearsal, the organizers (and fellow performers) who were listening asked me if I was going to “dress up as Elvis.” They suggested that I go to a thriftstore for a “costume” or maybe “slick my hair back.” Then after I sang on performance night, one of the judges declared, “folks, Elvis is alive and well!” Later that evening the district superintendent complemented me and told me I was “channeling the spirit of Elvis.” Continue reading Unflattering Imitation