Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tender Warriors strive to...

Tenders Warriors
find the courage to be sensitive
 be emotionally vulnerable
be comfortable with & embrace solitude
never compromise their integrity
 be true 
be kind
practice self-acceptance & self-love
give an honest effort
be present
be patient 
be transparent
- Tender Warriors Club manifesto (by Lady Lamb aka Aly Spaltro)

I had a very busy concertgoing end of the week as I saw three shows in two nights. Lady Lamb, touring in support of her new Tender Warriors Club EP, was the second of the three. I think all three shows are worth writing about.

First, on Thursday night, I saw local indie rock band Cloud Nothings play to a sold-out Beachland Ballroom. Going to see Cloud Nothings play at the Beachland was something that had a sort of eerie significance for me. The last time I did that, also on a Thursday night, was on August 22, 2013. That was the night before the day that Cara was admitted to the hospital, leading to her being diagnosed with lung cancer. As I wrote in a blog entry on the three year anniversary of that occasion, "I had a really great time at that Cloud Nothings show, which some of my friends also attended. Looking back, that was the last time that my life was anything resembling normal." So that was certainly on my mind.

As usual, I had great fun seeing Cloud Nothings. Something I've realized at their shows is that I really enjoy a good mosh pit. Moshing, however, is something that almost never occurs at shows by any other band I see regularly, so it's something to look forward to when going to see Cloud Nothings. It's funny, because I remember the first time I encountered a real mosh pit at a show, which was the Ozma reunion show at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood in March 2006. It was too rough for me and I quickly retreated to a less wild part of the crowd. Now I'm 33 years old and may even have been the oldest person in the pit on Thursday, but there's just something really exhilarating about bouncing around and off of other bodies in a mass of unpredictably moving human beings, in time to loud rock music! One of my friends remarked on how I had been in the pit for almost the entire show while he had only joined in for the last song (the always amazingly intense extended version of "Wasted Days" that Cloud Nothings usually close their shows with), and I replied, "It makes me feel alive!" I was going for a laugh but there was a lot of truth in my statement.

Friday night brought two shows, both by supremely talented female singer-songwriters. First was Lady Lamb (formerly known as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) on her "Living Room Tour," a series of intimate, solo acoustic performances. The show was not actually in someone's living room but rather in a back room at the Canopy Collective art gallery, a cool setting nonetheless. This was my third time seeing Lady Lamb and each show has been a very memorable occasion.

The first time, March 29, 2014, I braved a heavy snowstorm to head out to the Beachland Ballroom and see a really spectacular show at which Lady Lamb opened for Typhoon, easily one of the best combinations of two artists at one show that I've ever experienced. In fact, Typhoon's White Lighter and Lady Lamb's Ripely Pine are my top two favorite albums of the year 2013. Also very significant in retrospect was the fact that the first opening artist was the band Wild Ones, a fact that would lead me at another Wild Ones show to having a great conversation about Typhoon and about Cara with Wild Ones' lead singer Danielle Sullivan, who unbeknownst to me at the time was engaged (now married) to Typhoon's lead singer Kyle Morton!

The second time I saw Lady Lamb was at the Grog Shop on July 26, 2015. This was the day after Cara's grandmother Margie passed away, which itself was three months and one day after Cara passed away. Margie was also one of my very favorite people, and in a way her death kind of felt like "Cara's death, part two," so naturally both their losses were heavy on my mind that night as Lady Lamb put on a really amazing performance. Her song "Ten" beautifully concludes with the line, "There's a sweetness in us that lives long past the dust on our eyes once our eyes finally close." And wow, did that hit me in the feels that night.

The show on Friday was a big departure from my previous Lady Lamb concert experiences, because her music normally rocks a lot harder than you'd expect for someone described as a "singer-songwriter." It was great to hear these new takes on some of her songs, and the stripped-down acoustic performances really allowed one to take in her lyrics, which I think are some of the best out there today. She also brings an incredibly expressive voice to the table, one that can quickly go from delicate to full of raw emotion. Aly had two acoustic guitars and a banjo with her, which she switched between and repeatedly tuned in between songs. She said that the change in weather was bad for the instruments and blamed a visit to Florida earlier in the tour. She had a lot of great interaction with the crowd amidst a fantastic selection of songs that included a number of requests.

Before playing the final song of the night (the haunting "We Are Nobody Else" from her new EP), Aly gave a little speech in which she explained how Tender Warriors Club was more than an album to her. She explained how one day she had been talking to a friend on the phone, a friend who was going through a really difficult time and who had spontaneously decided to take a trip to Paris, and she had told her friend that her friend was a "tender warrior." At the time she said it, the phrase didn't have any special significance to Aly, but then it stayed in her head and she started to think about it more and more and it become a sort of life philosophy that is summarized by the "manifesto" (from her website) quoted at the beginning of this post. She said that this had become especially important to her in light of all the scary things going on in the world right now. I was very moved by her words. I thought about all the struggles in my own life, and I thought about Cara and Margie, and when Aly said that she would be at the merch table right after the show and would love to talk to people, I decided I wanted to tell her the story about seeing her the day after Margie died.

After she concluded her speech and before she started playing the last song, I glanced at my phone to check the time, and naturally (because both Margie and Cara, aka Margie's "favorite birthday present", were born on September 22) it was 9:22 pm.

At the conclusion of the show a long line of people formed at the merch table. Fortunately, I had been near the back of the audience and was able to get a spot early in line. When it was my turn to talk to Aly I complimented her on the great performance and then I told her that what she had said about "tender warriors" was very beautiful. I then said that I would like to tell her a little story, and I told her that my wife had died of lung cancer in April 2015, and three months later my wife's grandmother had died, and the day after that was the previous most recent time I had seen Aly perform. And that the line about "There's a sweetness in us that lives long past the dust..." had made me think of my wife and her grandmother.

As is usually true when I tell a musician something like this, she seemed very genuinely appreciative. As I've said before, if an artist (or anyone else) does something that has a real and meaningful impact on your life, and you get an opportunity to tell them, you should take that opportunity! (And now that I think about it, I suppose that's part of being a "tender warrior.")

I went on to tell Aly that music was one of the things that helped me get through hard times in my life. She replied, "Music is one of the only things that helps me."

After I'd finished talking to Aly (as well as buying a record and t-shirt), it was off to the CODA music venue in Tremont for the second show of my Friday evening. There I went to see a local band that has become one of my favorites, Noon. Noon started out as a solo project of Erin Kapferer, who plays the piano and sings. She has since added guitarist Patrick Stefan and cellist Shelby Sangdahl (who is quite a busy performer, contributing to a number of projects including the wonderful Shawn and Shelby and who also played with opening artist Sol Fox on Friday).

I first encountered Noon at the Heights Music Hop in October 2015, a little less than half a year after Cara's death. The music of Noon has also been good to turn to in difficult times. For the combination of being both very sad and very beautiful, it's hard to beat. Noon's first album, 9 Years, was just Erin and her voice and piano. It's a wonderful album. The addition of cello and guitar rounds out Erin's sound really nicely, and most of the songs performed on Friday were from a new album the trio are working on now. I'm looking forward to it a lot. After the show, I went up to Erin to tell her it had been a great show as usual. I guess she's noticed I go to see her a lot because she said I was her "super-fan." (Aww!)

There is a lot of scary news right now. So hooray for great music, and hooray for tender warriors!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Make America Great

As we all know, Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to "Make America Great Again."

Exactly what was meant by the phrase was left fairly vague, but clearly the slogan implies this: at some point in the past America was a great nation, but today that is no longer true.

This, I think, would be news to all the members of the LGBT community who have, under President Obama, finally received the basic human rights they had previously been denied. Or to the countless citizens of this country with debilitating health conditions who are finally able to get the care they need thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Or to all the women and minorities who have been, at best, second-class citizens for most of this country's history. Okay, let's be honest - for all of this country's history, but to a significantly lesser extent in recent years than for the previous two-plus centuries.

There's an argument that, in actuality, America was never great. It's based on the undeniably true premise that our nation was built on a foundation of slavery and genocide. And the argument goes that, for the whole history of the USA up through the present, forces of discrimination and oppression have been so integral to this country that it could never truly be called a great nation.

Of course, all nations have checkered pasts, and presents. One could argue that there is no such thing as a great nation. There are, though, a lot of genuinely very good things about the United States of America. Among them, this nation has long been considered the leader of the free world, and there are legitimate reasons to call it that.

Sadly, with the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency, that claim must be (temporarily, one hopes) abandoned. No nation whose chief executive kowtows to the brutal dictator of Russia can be called "leader of the free world."

For a long time, the right wing in this country has liked to bandy about accusations of Democrats being un-American, for reasons such as opposition to President Bush's disastrous Iraq war. These accusations have almost always been unfounded. In perhaps the most ironic example yet, Bill O'Reilly said that efforts to delegitimize Trump's presidency "border on sedition."

Donald Trump rose to prominence in the modern Republican Party thanks to a completely baseless and shamelessly racist attack on the legitimacy of Barack Obama's presidency.

Today, for the first time in living memory, accusations of one's political opponents being un-American are perfectly justified: Donald Trump, as evidenced by (among other things) his sucking up to Vladimir Putin and his attitude toward the First Amendment, is un-American, and so are other elected officials too spineless to stand up against Trump.

Although it feels like beating a dead horse, I'd like to list a few of the other more egregious examples of why it's a national disgrace that Donald Trump is our president:

Trump broke from a decades long bipartisan tradition by refusing to release his tax returns. We already know that Trump has massive conflicts of interest (a fact that should set off alarm bells by itself), but without his tax returns, we have no way of knowing the full extent of those conflicts. Furthermore, Trump's only real claim to being qualified for the presidency was that he is supposedly a successful businessman - but without records of his finances, it's impossible to know whether Trump, who came into wealth via his father, can even be legitimately described as a successful businessman.

Trump has a long history of unabashed racism. One of the most obvious examples is when he said that American-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel was not qualified to rule on the Trump University fraud trial because of Curiel's Mexican heritage. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan even had to admit what Trump said was the "textbook example of a racist comment."

Trump is almost undoubtedly a serial sexual assaulter. He was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault, and then over a dozen women came forward to corroborate what Trump had said, with some of the women having their claims corroborated by still other people. So there's basically no reason to doubt Trump is guilty of this heinous crime. By electing him in spite of this, our country essentially re-victimized millions upon millions of sexual assault survivors who have to live with that trauma every day, and also sent the message loud and clear to potential future perpetrators of sexual assault that they'll be able to get away with it. This is absolutely horrific and disgusting.

Any one of those things alone should by itself be reason enough to disqualify Trump from the presidency. I doubt that any die-hard Trump supporters are reading this, but I'd love to hear an argument why these are not utterly shameful behaviors and why it is okay to support someone who has done these things for the presidency. (I did get into a little Facebook argument shortly before the election with someone who said that the timing of the sexual assault accusations was suspicious and therefore the women should not be believed, oh and also that because in the tape Trump said women let him do it, that meant what Trump described was not sexual assault. Also, that the women's claims would have been believable if they had gone to the police immediately after the incidents. Vomit. Please educate yourself on how society and the legal system treat sexual assault victims, and stop putting forth arguments that perpetuate rape culture.)

Now that Trump has taken office, the depressing news seems to arrive by the minute. One of the most disturbing items is the Trump administration's putting forth the idea of "alternative facts."  First over something as trivial as inauguration crowd sizes, but it's undoubtedly a sign of things to come, and it's a classic tactic of fascist governments straight out of 1984.

The one thing giving me hope is the knowledge that Trump and his supporters are clearly a minority in the country. The massive turnout for the Women's March on Saturday was a striking statement of this. Unfortunately, we have a broken political system that has allowed a party with support from a minority of voters to take complete control of our government. Trump lost by millions of votes nationwide but is now our president. At the same time, gerrymandering of House districts and the vastly disproportionate power given to residents of small states in the Senate have massively stacked the deck against the Democratic Party in Congress. Add to this Republican voter suppression efforts, which are only going to get worse in the years to come (Trump's repeated and blatant lie about millions of illegal votes being cast in the election is a clear signal of this), and the idea that we live in a representative democracy is becoming more and more of a fantasy. This should be disturbing to anyone regardless of their political views.

Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress are a rogue political force taking advantage of a broken system to push forward a deeply unpopular agenda that will harm almost everyone in this country other than the very wealthy. The way I see it, there are two potential outcomes to this situation that are both quite plausible. One potential outcome is that Trump will serve as a wake up call to the populace, spurring a new era of political activism and a massive resistance movement that will do the best it can to mitigate the damage over the next four years, and then seize the reins and start moving things toward a brighter future. Another potential outcome is that Trump and the Republicans in Congress will largely get their way and America will go into a sad decline from which we won't truly recover for decades, if ever.

The fight to make America great is on, and whether you believe we'd be making America great again, or making America great for the first time, it's a fight that can only be won if we all stand up and do our parts to resist Donald Trump and his cronies. And that includes those of you who have normally voted Republican in the past and are now ashamed and disgusted by what Donald Trump is doing to your party and to our country. You have to hold your Republican elected officials' feet to the fire, and if those officials don't stand up against Trump's abuses, as much as it might pain you you have to turn out for Democratic candidates in 2018 and 2020. (I myself find much to complain about with the Democratic Party, but we have a two-party system and that's not something that's going to change in the immediate future.)

This isn't a right vs. left partisan battle. It's a battle between fascism and anti-fascism. One of the great things America has done in the past is resisting the forces of fascism. And now we have to do it again.