musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: September 2018

Inside Brody Thomas’s Perceptive Stream of Consciousness

Think of Brody Thomas as a 21st century beat poet. He’s thoughtful, vulnerable, eternally on-edge and a little paranoid. As he moves through our world, he picks up today’s fears and phobias, echoing them back to us like a reinforcing mantra.

Everything good that happens to me, is because of me
Everything bad that happens to me, is because of me
Because of these facts, I know that I have what I have
Because I’m supposed to have that
Nothing happens just to happen.

Have you ever thought that we create what we see?
And we see and we dream like deja vu,
except that the place you’ve been before only exists
because of you. – Wanted

This spoken word contemplation floats the idea that our thoughts create our reality. If that’s true, at the very least, we’d better be damn careful of the thoughts inside our heads. The idea of self-creation, if you stop to think about it a bit, can be either empowering or terrifying.

Brody Thomas, a Boston-based musician, has been at it for just five years. Everything is potent metaphor, including the title song of this EP, “Jellyfish Stings & Sunburns.” It’s just life, really — those things that bite hard and other things that stay with you, permanently coloring your world view. The minimalist instrumentation points out the stark beauty and truth of Thomas’s lyrics, which are like religiously chanted meditations. Little snippets bubble up like crystal gems.

I wish that I was small enough to fit under your breath,
’cause then I’d hear all of the whispers
and I’d know just what you meant
when you said you’re fine.
..
I’m realizing now that if I’m begging for metal
then I’ve got to love the rust.

“Hoodie” is about learning to wait, accepting imperfection, embracing change, one’s thoughts versus one’s projected self, crippling insecurity and self-loathing, all expressed through the poignant metaphor of a beloved blue hoodie that doesn’t fit quite right.

In “Bugs,” our fearless protagonist steps outside of himself to wonder about the personal life of that insignificant little bug we just mindlessly squashed.

“Rain” contemplates the loss of one of our senses (the sense of taste, for example), and through this mental exercise, another observation pops up –

Everything I want, wants something in return
Do we forget one thing for every new thing that we learn?

“Cancelled” likens a life to a television show that’s had “a few good seasons and cameos,” but is now possibly past its prime. The title song, “Jellyfish Stings & Sunburns” metaphorically speaks of being transparent and vulnerable like the sea creature, with the sun as a source of (spiritual?) nourishment —

When the sun stops giving you light, the darkness starts to feel alright.

This deceptively simple 7-song collection of contemplations poses many intriquing questions — the kinds of questions that can keep you up at night. Thanks, man. It also feels like the tip of a much larger iceberg.

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Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys Get Cozy Under Your Covers

Having been released at the start of this fast-moving year, this one nearly got by me. I’d glad it didn’t. Boston’s own Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys has always been a personal favorite. This charming collection of cover tunes, appropriately (and somewhat menacingly) titled Under Your Covers, is a loving tribute to a diverse selection of fan favorites — from Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” to Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” to “The Toys Go Winding Down” by Primus. The choices were specially requested by the band’s Come Black Magic Kickstarter backers.

Having pulled up some of the originals to hear how the Broken Toys’ re-imagingings compare, I can happily report that these songs are performed with due reverence, yet with the Toys’ trademark Gothic elegance and ominous magnificence. It’s “all hands on deck,” with Mr. Sickert on vocals, piano, guitar, effects and programming; Edrie playing with her ‘broken toys’: Rachel Jayson wielding viola and melodica; jojo the Burlesque Poetess making magic on uke and flute; Matt Zappa on percussion; Brother Bones on guitar; Mike Leggio with both stand-up and electric bass; and the legendary Mary Widow lending her vocals and mandolin. It’s a potent witches’ brew.

The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is given a harsher modern industrial makeover, with male and female warrior vocals making this 47-year-old song seem starkly relevant. Powerful vocals and strings plus driving percussion adds immense tension to the disturbing lyrics of “Chaos & Confusion.” In “Bills, Bills, Bills,” the Army conjures a completely different song and mood, threatening serious damage and retribution. One can hardly expect to improve on Iggy Pop’s masterpiece, “The Passenger,” and in fact, I would normally cringe at the very thought of a cover of one of my Top 10 songs EVER. However, Mr. Sickert and Company do this song justice and are very faithful to the original and respectful of the Master. Rachel’s mournful gypsy viola is a gorgeous addition that I’m sure Jim would highly approve of.

At the risk of insulting hardcore fans, I won’t say which cover versions are, in my humble opinion, far superior in style and depth to the original. Several of them are. Run, don’t walk, to their Bandcamp page, name your price and download this eye-opening yet nostalgic and loving tribute. And be sure to click into each song’s page, so you can enjoy Walter’s mind-melting original art. They’re the perfect visuals for this magical mystery tour through our musical past.

Track Listing

Who We Are, from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Original Motion Picture – Imagine Dragons (2013)

The Toys Go Winding Down, from Frizzle Fry – Primus (1990)

The New Zero, from How We Quit the Forest – Rasputina (1998)

Baba O’Riley, from The Kids Are Alright – The Who (1971)

10538 Overture, from The Electric Light Orchestra – Electric Light Orchestra (1971)

Chaos & Confusion, from Space Age Senior Prom – Zerobot

Bills, Bills, Bills, from The Writing’s on the Wall – Destiny’s Child (1999)

The Passenger, from Lust for Life – Iggy Pop (1977)

Trip, from Wake No More – Porcelain

Don’t Come Around Here No More, from Southern Accents – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1985)

Kingdoms & Castles, from The Triples – Abbie Barrett

Freaks, from Secret Samadhi – Live (1997)

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But for the grace of god

Dear Diary,

I had a ‘but for the grace of god goes I’ moment today.

For many months, I’ve been absorbed in my life, my self-doubts, my madness. And then I was forced off my little island, away from the comfort of my lair and into the big, bad world.

Julie, the spoiled; Julie, the privileged; Julie, she with her head up her ass
with her first world problems and neuroses.

I was in the Lynn Economic Opportunity office. I had no business being there, among the truly needy — single moms struggling with multiple jobs to keep their kids fed, clothed and relatively healthy; older folks trying to get by with meager, monthly social security payments.

Why was I there? I was trying to get income verified for a Barrier Mitigation Grant, a program administered by Mass Save and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources for middle-income homeowners so they could grab a chunk of money from the state to get rid of asbestos containing materials during a home improvement project.

As I sat down to wait my turn, it occured to me that many of those who came into this office were likely homeless or living in section 8 housing. There were WIC brochures and information about Head Start and fuel assistance programs in kiosks on the wall.

And here I was, with my canvas bag full of mortgage papers, account statements from my brokerage, a passport, a list of estate debts and an inheritance.

Julie, the non-hispanic white caucasion; Julie, the fortunate;
Julie, the loathsome.

When it came time, I took a seat at the woman’s desk and prefaced my financial story with a lame apology, something to the effect of “I’m a bit embarrassed to be here, as I’m much better off than many,” followed quickly by, “I just want to say, you’re doing very important work here. Thank you.”

It sounded ridiculous, and I felt like the pathetic, self-righteous, holier than thou white girl that she was no doubt sizing me up as. But she handled my awkwardness graciously and seemed pleased with the compliment.

I wonder now how those in the Lynn Economic Opportunities office feel about acting as a clearinghouse for what’s certainly a stream of middle-class folks trying to get those elusive cash grants. She was polite enough not to let on.

What was more embarrassing was that, taking just my income into consideration, she said it looked like I was in their low-income range. Surely not! I have substantial stock and IRA portfolios, my own house, and last year, before mom and dad passed away, they supplemented my income whenever I had trouble paying the bills. But because I was a freelance worker, they immediately knocked 40% off my wages for their calculations. That’s the rules. It seemed wrong somehow.

Dad would say, jokingly, “We never should have raised you to be so honest. That will be your undoing.” Perhaps. But they also raised me to be compassionate towards others, and to recognize injustices, however slight.

They both worked in the medical field, helping people in large and small ways. Mom was a registered nurse. Dad was a medical equipment researcher, with patents for light and sound scanning devices that could detect breast and prostate cancers. They both served in the Navy during World War II. After retirement, Mom volunteered at the local blood bank and cared for an elderly neighbor whose own family had abandoned. She became my adopted grandmother. When I was young, Mom brought me along to collect old clothing for the Revitalization Corp, a charity group in Hartford. Me? I’m a wannabe writer with a few clients and a half-baked notion to write novels “someday.”

Julie — the underachiever, the anxious, the unwashed.

Helping people afford asbestos abatement, whether they’re low income or middle income isn’t really a big deal. It’s expensive work, and many people earning even $45,000 a year, especially in the Boston area, won’t have $10,000 available for a home improvement project, even for one that could have health ramifications. Truth be told, a $7,000 abatement grant is nothing compared to the special treatment in place for the wealthy, from tax loopholes to offshore bank accounts, so that they can hold onto more of their money.

Do the wealthy also ponder the unfairness of it all?

Maybe I’ll get some assistance. Maybe I won’t. But one thing I do realize now is that I must find a way to give back, somehow, to those not as fortunate as I. This is the real reason I was in that office this morning.

Julie, the awakened; Julie, the humbled; Julie, the grateful.

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Seattle’s Becoming Bristol addresses suicide and promises brighter days

BecomingBristol_2018

Becoming Bristol gives us upbeat alternative pop songs that contain important messages. Their latest single, “Brighter Days,” was written by their singer/frontman Britt Espinosa, and is about an experience he had with a friend who was contemplating suicide (fortunately, they’re still with us). September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and the band will be donating 100% of all sales and streaming proceeds during the month to Anthem of Hope, a non-profit that’s “dedicated to illuminating hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide and addiction.”

“Brighter Days” is available for streaming and purchase. The song has a snappy beat that’s definitely danceable, and even more importantly, its lyrics are comforting and hopeful in times of great difficulty.

We all know what the poets say
Pain only ends when your dead
I don’t think it’s got to be that way
I think there’s brighter days ahead
I know life’s not okay
It aches beyond any words
But my friend this will only make it worse

It’s easy to throw away
A life riddled with cuts and scars
There’s something still left to save
It’s at the core of who you are
So push on to the brighter days
You don’t know what you’re worth
Oh my friend, you don’t know what you’re worth
– “Brighter Days”

The single was produced and mixed by Brooks Paschal at Mockingbird Studios.

Formerly known as The Exchange, Becoming Bristol is a pair of brothers (Britt and Jack), along with Tyler Mays and Manny Gounder. They began touring when Britt was 16, and the band is completely self-booked and self-managed. They’ve performed at more than 500 shows, with 8+ national tours.

Previous singles include “Sort Myself Out” (with producer AKA Wolves, released in June) and “Liars and Thieves” (released in July). The former is about taking responsibility for where you end up in life, rather than blaming someone or something else, and the latter addresses the idea that good and evil exists within all of us, and the need for empathy.Important messages for these perilous times.

The line between right and wrong cuts through all of us… the face of god is hiding inside

For the rest of 2018, the band will be releasing a new song each month.

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