Monday, April 29, 2013

brothas dig the lyrics

How important are lyrics in music? I'm still developing an opinion on this. I consider language an important and powerful tool, that has been increasingly undervalued and ignored in favor of saying anything at all. This is something I struggle with personally: using imprecise language or being content with weak statements that don't adequately convey my meaning. Poetry counters this in me completely, because it is the act of playing with language, bending it to one's will and surprising the reader with spice, bite and nuance.

In the last couple of days, I've been listening to a couple of my favorite albums by the band dredg. A friend introduced them to me in high school, and I've followed them since, listening to their albums and enjoying their sound as it twists, wiggles and ultimately retains a consistent voice over the years. The band has written several concept albums, with themes of questioning belief and religion, a Dali painting and a man seeking to cure his moral disease.

I listened to them for a long time, into college years even, without thinking seriously about the lyrics and simply enjoying the music (which is exquisite and vibrant and different than anything else I had heard--calling it art-rock seems appropriate to me). Looking back, this is kind of ironic, considering the themes of the albums. I've been content to experience and appreciate the music solely for its aural quality, to bask in the sound washing over me, purposely ignoring the worldview of the artists.

It turns out that the way the members of dredg see the world is very different than how I see it. I identify with their sense of questioning belief and religion, but we've come to different conclusions. At first I considered this and came to the conclusion that it wasn't appropriate for me to listen to music that was advocating a position in opposition to my beliefs. Looking back on that initial thought though, it seems hasty.

I have plenty of friends with whom I disagree on many things. We're still friends though. We enjoy each other's company and discussion and spending time. I've come to this realization about music as well. It's a friend that I enjoy being around. I respect her opinion, though I don't necessarily have to agree.

In fact, I've learned something from this friend and seen things in a different light.

I was trying to decipher the meaning of the lyrics from one of dredg's songs recently: I Don't Know (live) [music video]. At first blush it seems to be a strong statement of agnosticism, but I don't know if the message is inherently anti-religion or if the writer is merely frustrated and is giving up on searching for meaning apart from himself. There were a lot of interesting takes on the lyrics, but one from Qohelet caught my eye:
Flowing, powerful song; the vocals almost force you to pay attention to the lyrics.

Concerning the anosticism [sic]:
Well I don't know what to believe anymore
But every now and then I feel a moment of awakening
But then it's gone, then it's gone, then it's gone
I'm blanketed by the warmth of ignorance

Apparently, the moments of awakening have enough value to create frustration that they don't pan out to more. It seems like the writer is embittered that the awakening is fleeting because although his blanket is warm, he calls it ignorance.

I totally agree with:
Cause there's no guarantee
Of a god or longevity
Admit you don't know anything
And give it up

although the "it" may mean more than one thing. It is interesting that we communicate as if a possible-god is obligated to guarantee us anything, as if such a being is on trial by us instead of vice versa. Speaking agnostically, if there really was some ultimate, all-knowing being able to guarantee us longevity, a special place, etc., would it be more realistic to suppose that he must prove himself to us or that we must prove ourselves to him? If the latter, then we may well be in a state without all the answers so that this possible-god can assess what we are really interested in finding out / becoming.
Qohelet takes a stab at what makes agnosticism frustrating...the moments of "awakening" and not only being unsure of the existence of a god, but unsure of how we might be supposed to interact. I don't know if this is exactly what dredg meant or not, but the song engaged me and provoked a deeper thought.

Maybe that's the story to hear from this song, an agnostic's view of agnosticism, and how they understand/struggle with/define it. Words like these are enough for me to keep listening. Enough for me to wonder at the meaning behind carefully crafted verses.

The point, via drawn out case study, is that lyrics in music do matter. At least they should. They matter to me even if we're not in accord.
Title inspiration

Friday, April 26, 2013

Animosity, made ya speak but ya spoke

Rap isn't poetry. Poetry is poetry. Rap is rap.
Rap is musical performance. The emcee, as Rakim, one of the best rappers ever put it, is the microphone soloist.
A poem might be sonorous, lovely to the ear, but it--it's still a completely different form. It's not a song.
But just as some of the best poetry has great musicality, some of the best rapping is as densely, tightly packed with figurative language and surprising meaning as a poem.
Often the layers of allusion and secondary meanings are hidden, intentionally so in fact--a marginalized culture is incentivized to speak a language its oppressor doesn't speak.
--Jesse Thorn
Jesse is the host of some my favorite podcasts. He's a thoughtful culture critic as well, and I've gotten many good recommendations from him in the last few years.

He develops the statement above by using as an example, a verse in Jay-Z's song "Threat". The lyrics are explicit, and I won't quote them here, but the way Jay-Z incorporates symbolism and meaning into his verses is pretty incredible. I don't understand many of the references (thank goodness for, but I do understand a well crafted verse. I understand the desire to be lyrically dominating and to use words fiercely. I'm not looking to "build The Sands on you", but "y'all [will] wish I was frontin'" with my pen...

In the latest Bullseye episode (23 April 2013), Jesse works through some of the lyrics of Threat by Jay-Z in his outshot (9th Wonder on the production). If you have any interest in rap or lyricism, I would suggest a listen below.

Some lyrics may seem prosaic at first blush, but read deeper and appreciate meaning and thought (even if it's about how someone might be threatening violence explicitly).
I'm not going to try and downplay the violence and sexism that exists, much less condone it, but remember: Nickelback makes rock music.
If you don't appreciate rap music, that's fine. But be aware that you're missing out on some delightful word play and electric rhythm.

I stand by Jesse's thesis:
"Rap's not poetry, but that doesn't means it's not worth a close listen."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nice to meet you, I'm me

I really needed to read this post today.

Things at work haven't been going particularly well, and I feel in danger of my fellow classmates outpublishing, outworking and succeeding in ways that I'm not ( all still true :D ), but I know that doesn't really matter. Not to say I've given up, but I know in my head that I don't need to worry. My heart will catch up eventually, by God's grace.

This morning I got a "thanks", after sending a file to someone who hasn't shown me a lot of patience lately. It felt like a weight had been lifted even though it was just one word in an email. I need to dispense that person some thanks as well. Because I mean it, and because it feels good to reciprocate feelings that are, even in a small way, mutual. It reminded me that even small progresses are good. I underrate progress in small packages, when really, those progresses make a Ph.D. eventually (I hope).

Today, I'm Steve. There is no one else that I have/want to be.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

nothing rhymes

I've been eating oranges a lot lately because they're absolutely, incredibly delicious. The formatting was kind of an afterthought, but I like how it turned out. I initially useD capitals at the end of verbs to distinguisH them, but it waS too confusing and didn't differentiatE them clearly. In other news...I'm glad I learned HTML once upon a time.
The formatting is still kind of meh...and I feel like my ad/verb usage is weak, but for a first runthrough I liked the result.

rubbery and pliant, almost waxy in Texture--it slides smoothly, rolls easily, in my Hand.
Thumbnail pierces Skin, releasing a pungent, aromatic Spray, transforming the Room.
Flesh trapped in a protective webby Prison releases pleasant, fierce limonin counter Attacks.

the Orange sits on the Desk taunting me, daring me to open it up and taste its sweetly-bitter Juices.
it promises that my Beard will be wet and sticky by the end.
the Beauty of an Orange lies as much in the Anticipation of those saccharine wet Bites as in Consumption.
my Teeth poke fiercely through the Membrane and my Brain conducts the sensory Orchestra.
notice first the crisp Notes that the Nose picks up, proclaiming, "we have Purchase!"
the Tongue enters boldly like the bombastic Tones of a trombone Section blaring loudly and brightly!
dribbling out the Corners of my Mouth, Nectar is snatched up by eager Fingers, a suspended Cymbal resounding.
i notice the Mess i've made of my Surroundings. it dries quickly, leaving sticky Steps for Mice to meander o'er.
quarter-at-a-time the Carpels are consumed with abandon.
over before it started, Hands lay limply at my Side, drenched and drying.

Makin me ta wanna rite

My friend is an English professor who reminds me of John Keating from the Dead Poets Society. She is a prolific writer and blogger too. Her love of Jesus and of those around her oozes out of her writing and conversation.

It seems to take friends like this to reignite my love of writing. We were talking a few weeks ago, and she suggested a short writing idea. It felt so good to write again--to write about a memory, to write about anything.

I like to have ideas and drafts waiting for me to poke at, to prod, to contribute to and prune.

This afternoon, I decided to eat an orange outside in the sun for a few moments, and I thought about the verbs and nouns around me. I felt the sun beating down on me and the black bench outside my lab. Heat radiates to me directly from our star, and from beneath me through the energy contained in the metal bench, warming and washing me from head to toe. Somehow today brings the cleanest warmth imagined, so I sit, and I munch. The plump navel orange peels easily, leaving me with sticky sweet hands while I eat.

My lightly freckled, blonde haired hands soak it in, pale and white after the bitter, refreshing winter. They bring each plump bit of pale citrus from its place on my juice dotted lap to my lips, waiting with breath abated.

With each bite I'm tenuously satisfied, yet have the desire for more, to jump into a pit of pulpy orange juice and let it saturate my pores, inhale it deeply and breathe it.

The moment is brief, but delicious. Busyness will squeeze the enjoyment of a moment like this from our lives, so I enjoy it while I can.

I'm determined not to be squeezed out like my snack, unless it be into the maw of the worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Friends, Redditors, summonermen, stack me your tears;

Friends, Redditors, summonermen, stack me your tears;
I come to bury Bronze, not to be n00b.
The games that summoners throw live after them;
The wins are oft interred with their bone-tooth-necklaces;
So let it be with Bronze. The noble Silver
Hath told you Bronze were feeders:
If it were so, it was a grievous wound,
And grievously hath Bronze QSS'd it.
Here, under leave of Silver and the rest -
For Silver is an honourable tier;
So are they all, all honourable tiers -
Come I to speak in Bronze's promotional series.
It was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Silver says they were feeders;
And Silver is an honourable tier.
He hath brought many n00bl0rds home to Jesse Perring
Whose firstbloods did IE's from the shopkeeper buy:
Did this in Bronze seem feeder?
When that the n00bz have cried, Bronze hath wept:
Lucker-dogs should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Silver says they were feeders;
And Silver is an honourable tier.
You all did see that on the Rift
I thrice presented him Trondomodere's crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this the promo-series?
Yet Silver says they were feeders;
And, sure, he is an honourable tier.
I speak not to disprove what Silver spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did feed there once, not without rage quitting afkers:
What cause withholds you then, to rage with them?
O judgment! thou art fled to Dunning-Kruger,
And men have lost their reason. Volibear with me;
My heart-of-gold is in the coffin there with Bronze,
And I must pause ere I come back to feed.

I made it from Bronze I to Silver V last night, in my favorite game (League of Legends), so Shakespeare seemed appropriate. This means I passed from a lower rating into one with better players, which is hopefully where I belong if I continue to win games, for the uninitiated.

Monday, April 01, 2013

That's Mr. Prosaic Confabulation to you...

A good friend told me about how excited she was to teach college students the next unit in her writing course: memoir. Her students write about their favorite memory in as much detail and nuance as they can. Their stories pop with detail, bubble over with spicy particulars and sizzle with meaning when she's through.
It got me thinking about some of my favorite memories, one of which is completely fabricated. I'm not delusional about this memory--I know it never happened, but it feels as real as if it had. In fact, it seems more real than some memories which actually happened. Brains are so funny sometimes.

This memory is about time with my grandfather at my grandparents house, bordered by a small crick in the back yard. There's an old, rusting, wrought iron and cement bridge which crumbles at the edges in places and spans a very shallow sandy bed no more than 10 feet wide. Neighborhood kids have taken a dirt path to the bridge and crossed to school for generations. It's very unassuming, with simple chain links running along its profile, room enough for two children to pass, perhaps. Growing up, the boy cousins made boats from sticks and leaves to drop from the bridge and race until the end of the property, a mere 50 feet downstream.

One day when my little brother and I stay with my grandparents for the day, while our mum is at work, we decide to make boats with Grandpa. It means we get to go downstairs and work with him in his shop. Grandpa's shop had nearly everything in it. This is by virtue of the fact that a good dutchman throws away nothing if it can be of some use later, real or imagined. Waste not, want not, he always says. The dark side of this is his pickle "juice" drinking habit, balanced by the beautiful grandfather clocks my aunts and uncles all sport in their houses, which he constructed from kits he saved from dumpsters over the years. Grandpa's shop also has Werther's candies.

The boats we make are simple and flat, made in a boat-shape of course, with little keels on the bottom. We sand them down together and Grandpa helps us glue the keels to them. With the keels attached, we're faced with a decision, sail the boats now in the sofly burbling crick, or paint them and wait for them to be christened. Funnily enough, in the part of the memory that transpired in real life, I don't remember who made the decision, but we paint them. Mine is painted red and black; the little bro chooses blue with red. He writes our initials on them of course. That way they match every other item in our toy chest back home.

The painting was the point at which events passed from fact into the realm of fiction, constructed from desires in a child's mind. I don't know at which point the following became entrenched in my memory, vivid as the sun on the dull red brick outside my window, but my tangled mess of neurons holds onto it tenaciously and naïvely.

In my memory, we take our painted boats to the back yard instead of piling into our old and worn, red minivan. We drop the boats in the crick with Grandpa and walk along the bank through neighbors' backyards as the boats slowly drift along the current. The sun shines through the pine trees leaving dappled patterns on the brown, soggy leaves that are left in the spring after the snows finally melt. The afternoon feels golden, lit like the artificial set of a movie. My little brother isn't even part of the memory at this point, poor fellow. In fact, no boats float in the stream, we just walk. It ends there--my Grandpa and me, strolling along the bank. A simple pleasant memory.

The detail about the lighting is probably what tipped me off initially about the falsity of the memory. That and the speed of the crick. In the spring, the crick becomes a creek, moving swiftly and bone-chillingly from the snows dripping in; wade after boats at the peril of your warm tootsies.
Though it's fraught with errors and inconsistencies, I treasure this memory of my Grandpa. This is the memory I wanted to have with him. I wanted it so much that in my mind, it happened.

I shelve it in my brain along with the real memories of my Grandpa. It sits next to us fishing for catfish with my cousins on the side of a channel (We ate those terrible, bottom-feeding fish later. Boiled. I didn't have fish for years because of this.), sits next to camping trips with him listening to Rush on a picnic table with kids cavorting loudly around him, next to uncles and aunts skiing behind us in his ancient, rickety, underpowered fishing boat, next to Sunday afternoons eating pot roast, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes, and hearing him pray for the "lost and sorr'ing (sorrowing) ones".

I don't know why I fabricated this memory, or even if it was on purpose. I'm going to leave it there though, because if I had asked him to, Grandpa would have walked that crick for miles with me.