musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Ruminations (Page 1 of 3)

Amanda Palmer Takes a Powerful Stand for Motherhood and Compassion

Amanda Palmer - Mother video

Let’s face it, compassion is hard. Mirriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” One naturally feels compassion for obvious victims — a child who is killed by an assassin’s bullet, sporting event participants being indiscriminately mowed down by an angry foreigner or poor people who are marginalized by greedy corporate interests. But what about the perpetrators? Do you ever feel any sympathy for them? If you’re like most people, probably not. After all, they’re hateful, depraved individuals who carry out horrible acts of violence and injustice. It takes an objective, godlike view from way above to begin to have compassion for those who do harm to others. Or, at the very least, it takes an insatiable curiosity about what drove them to their behavior, and a desire to do something that stops hate and violence at its source.

Amanda Palmer is no stranger to controversy. She obviously has no interest in living a safe, non-confrontational life. In my opinion, that’s the very definition of an artist. From early on in her career, she engaged in what might be considered risky behavior, such as standing on a box in the middle of Harvard Square in a bride’s dress, handing out flowers. Years later, she wrote “A Poem for Dzhokhar,” a contemplation about one of the Boston marathon bombers. She was hacked. She was threatened. It didn’t go well. And why? Because she had a highly unpopular take on those tragic events in 2013. Amidst all of the grief and anger, Amanda wondered what might have caused Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to do what he did.

In her latest artistic offering, a beautiful cover of Pink Floyd’s song “Mother” (from their epic album The Wall), Amanda is joined with a cast of gifted musicians and actors. The video is powerful and poignant, with her eagle eye focused like a laser on our current president and his administration.

Watch the video first, to the very end (that’s important; you’ll see why), and then read her ‘straight up, no bullshit’ Newsweek interview.

Tyrants and murderers aren’t born that way. Something happens to them in their lives to turn them from innocent young children into people whom most of us feel aren’t deserving of our love and compassion. I strongly believe, as does Amanda Palmer, that until you get to the source of an illness, you will never truly rid yourself of the symptoms. Depravity is a disease that is fast overtaking the world we live in. At its core, no doubt, is a lack of proper nurturing, which all plants, animals and especially humans require to live healthy, productive and loving lives. It’s something that a mother innately understands.

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Rock Chick: Sexism and Exploitation in the Music Business

The current pop wasteland. Clockwise from upper left: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, the reinvented Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV VMAs and Taylor Swift, before and after.

The current pop wasteland. Clockwise from upper left: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, the reinvented Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV VMAs and Taylor Swift, before and after.

I was inspired by a recent Facebook post by Anna Bulbrook, who plays viola, keyboards and is a vocalist with The Airborne Toxic Event. She posted a link to an article about the rude and demeaning things said to female musicians, and voiced her own frustration with the music industry’s rampant sexism. I’d like to dedicate this to all working musicians out there (and music professionals who support and nurture them) who happen to be women.

Wow, You Actually Know How To Play That?

The object that raised Ms. Bulbrook’s wrath (and started me on my investigative journey) was titled “Infuriating Things People Say to Women Musicians”. It was written by Steph Guthrie, who performs with Toronto-based band Patti Cake. The cringe-worthy comments from male musical instrument store employees, sound engineers, managers and others “in the biz” read like something out of the 1950s, but sadly they’re not. They’re comments that were made in the present day to seasoned and experienced female musicians. Sexism, of course, exists everywhere. Men in the music business still can’t get their heads around the fact that there are plenty of serious women musicians who are proficient with a wide variety of instruments, music composition and recording technology — and this includes the sacred lead guitar, historically the machismo status symbol of the (male) rock god. “Take Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Only two women, Joni Mitchell and Joan Jett, were honored. In a Washington Post article written in response to Rolling Stone’s list, the writer suggests that as interest in electric guitar was revving up in the ’60s, women weren’t encouraged to step out of their ladylike gender roles, leaving them with an impossible game of catch-up to Jimi Hendrix and Page.” (from The 12 Greatest Female Electric Guitarists – Elle, 2009). I can only assume that this disrespect stems from an inferiority complex, leading men to feel threatened by strong women. Regardless of how far we may think we’ve come in gender equality, clearly we haven’t actually progressed beyond The Flintstones.

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Lost and Found (IV of XII)

A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts

Manhattan Murder Mystery, at the Echoplex

Manhattan Murder Mystery, at the Echoplex

Part IV: Echo Part Rising, Saturday Afternoon

I woke up on a floor in Echo Park to discover it was Charles Bukowski’s birthday. The public radio station KCRW, broadcasting from Santa Monica, was airing a special in honor of the legendary author, short story writer, novelist and poet. As I listened to his friend Harry Dean Stanton’s beautiful reading of the stark and gorgeous Bluebird, I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to prepare for the Echo Park Rising Festival than with streetwise and poignant words from this prolific Angeleno.

In the aftermath of the reading, I thought of my first few days in Los Angeles. There was the massive decompression at Echo Park Lake from so many layers of stress, and just wandering around the streets of Echo Park and Silver Lake in contemplation and what I’ll call “life evaluation.” My friend’s barrage of stories of his current state of mind and recent miseries, his supporting characters of the kind that Bukowski might like to write about, if he were still here. There was the young and naive female sub-letter he found on Craigslist, who put his belongings in bags and tossed them out into the yard, crashed his car and ran back to Pennsylvania after just a few days in the big city. The crack addict and “crack whore” hooker, who stole the car and took it on a joyride. The police. The disorientation. The restless days, locked out and temporarily among the lost and the homeless, out on the streets. The crack addict’s ex-wife and her ominous warnings, and other sordid and sundry characters who had come in and out of his life, wearing him down, taking, not giving, and leaving just a hollow shell in their wake. And through his and my sleepless nights, mysterious packs of barking dogs, like roving canine gangs. Interwoven with the dogs were the ubiquitous ghetto birds. It was horrible and yet gloriously romantic grit.

Besides just the joy of being there (and not being on the East Coast), there was that which strengthened and sustained me: a neighborhood that was relaxed, easy-going and filled with working-class Latino families. Bright, never-ending sunshine. The Tribal Cafe a short walk down the street, with their vegetarian Mexican dishes, amazing kale salads and powerful energy drinks. All of it dirt cheap and in a casual, bohemian setting. Tired as hell but strangely energized, I grabbed my things and headed out for an afternoon and evening of fine music with some old and new friends. It was time for Echo Park Rising.

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Lost and Found (III of XII)

A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts

Echo Park Lake, Los Angeles

Echo Park Lake, Los Angeles

Part III: Echo Park

While on this trip, I started thinking about predilection and perception; on the power of preconceived thoughts in creating your own reality. I thought about the internal rhythms of people and of places, of being “in sync” as opposed to “out of sync,” and wondered if a particular person might be better suited to one part of the world rather than another. I thought of being closed and of being open, and maybe being a little too open. I contemplated the line that separates hyper-perception and madness — and wondered if maybe they were the same thing, and there wasn’t a line at all.

All of this was churning in my head as I sat in standstill traffic on the 405 in a rented Hyundai, on my way to Echo Park.

My plan was, for two weeks, to live a slice of Los Angeles city life, as a resident and not as a tourist, and see if it suited me. There are a lot of misconceptions about L.A. Contrary to the opinions of many Bostonians, it’s not just about the superficial glitz of Hollywood. Nor is it NCIS or a West Coast version of The Wire. In the Echo Park neighborhood where I was staying, there are working class families with kids playing in the street, and musicians lugging around equipment and playing shows in all sorts of small clubs, bars, coffee houses, performance art spaces, record stores and occasionally people’s homes. Despite being a stone’s throw from downtown L.A., it has a very livable, cozy and artsy neighborhood feel, much like New York’s Lower East Side or the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Nearby Silver Lake and Los Feliz are a tad more upscale and comparable to Greenwich Village; that is, if you can imagine those areas with almost constant sunshine and substantial stretches of woods and greenery.

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Lost and Found (II of XII)

A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts

Part II: The Arrival

I had not slept well, nor for very long, the night before. A heady mix of anticipation and trepidation, I suppose. There was a list of about a dozen people I meant to connect or reconnect with in the two weeks I would be there — and a good deal of anxiety over one in particular. He was a friend, not terribly close; more of an acquaintence really, who I planned to stay with in what he referred to as a “one room house” in Echo Park. The east side of Los Angeles. Mecca. My imagined shangri-la where that low-level constant of dread would magically disappear and where impossibly good bands worked, played and called home.

I had visited twice before, with a mutual friend, and we stayed at his old place in Silver Lake. But this time was different. I was traveling alone save for my personal demons, who nearly strangled me to death back in Boston. I hoped to set them free in that expansive Western sky. The acquaintance-friend had just been in Boston for the summer, and while there, I could see the edges of his sanity already frayed. I reasoned that I would offer a small amount of emotional support in return for a centrally-located and free place to stay. Nothing is ever truly free, but you learn in time that everything is worth experiencing. Certain events, however painful, are like those people movers at airports that race uneasily along but let you cover a lot of ground in a short span of time.

The first of several miscalculations on this trip, I struggled to complete a work assignment between mistimed connecting flights and poor internet service. Robbed of my work-obsessed escapism and given no other options, I was left with no choice but to surrender to the emotions and experience.

Flying now over the alien landscape of Colorado and Utah, I fantasize about an unfamiliar planet where one can rediscover oneself amidst startling new surroundings. That wide open space, the endless possibility, and I could see it so clearly. In the nearly cloudless sky, the mind becomes free of distracting thoughts.

Landed in L.A. and feeling like a stranger in a familiar land, it takes a little while to remember and I mistakenly ask a homeless man for directions. He asks for spare change, but doesn’t provide any direction (“If I give you some money, will you tell me where I am?”). Later on, I sleepwalk through a warm summer’s evening humming with people, swaying palms and city lights. I no longer feel lost.




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Lost and Found (I of XII)

A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts

Elysian Park, Echo Park in Los Angeles

Elysian Park, Echo Park in Los Angeles

Part I: An Introduction

Every city has a soul. It might be the accumulation of individual experiences filtered through architecture and landscape. There are the natural forms that are the foundations handed down from ancient times, with the hopes, dreams and fears of those people as faint imprints on every surface and in the ether. There is every generation that followed, each one leaving its mark, taking from and then giving back ashes and essence.

The concept of people traveling West to seek their fortune and destiny dates back to early pioneer days. Besides the trappings and currency of what they seek, nothing much has changed. Whether it’s the promise of gold, the lure of celebrity or just a place to make a fresh start, that shared yearning, and at the end of so many dreams disillusionment and realization, continues to bind them. The human experience of searching for something more.

My trip to Los Angeles was not so much a vacation as it was a reconnaissance mission. A vision quest, if you will. I wanted to meet some of the people I had been writing to and writing about from across this great expanse, but even more than that, I wanted a sense of the place — and a sense of myself. The walls had been pushing in, deep within a cavern from where there seemed to be no escape and no clear sense of direction. I needed to understand why. The feeling was that of being pulled from a stagnant swamp and dropped into something vital and brimming with possibilities, madly churning and metamorphosing, with occasional flashes of great beauty.


Still to come: sacred spaces at 30,000 feet; magic, madness and great places to walk and eat in Silver Lake and Echo Park; the musical mecca of the east side of Los Angeles, centering around the Echo Park Rising Festival; Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach; Solstice Canyon in Malibu; catching up with old friends and famous family; and did I mention music?

Bands to come: Black Hi-Lighter, Young Hunting, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Olin & the Moon, Haunted Summer, Moses Campbell, Kan Wakan, The Happy Hollows (electric and acoustic), The Henry Clay People, Spencer Livingston, Holes & Hearts, The Wild Reeds, Fort King, Helene Renaut, Sun Rai, Warships, George Glass, 123Death, Midnight Cities, Pretty Flowers, Delta Spirit, The Airborne Toxic Event, Infantree, The Diamond Light and whomever that was who played at Tribal Cafe on 8/15…

30 minutes before landing in Los Angeles

30 minutes before landing in Los Angeles

Echo Park Lake

Echo Park Lake

Andy and Joey Siara of The Henry Clay People, at their final show

Andy and Joey Siara of The Henry Clay People, at their final show


The Happy Hollows on a backyard deck for Echo Park Rising

The Happy Hollows on a backyard deck for Echo Park Rising

Malcolm Sosa's new band 123Death at Los Globos

Malcolm Sosa's new band 123Death at Los Globos

Fort King at Echo Country Outpost

Fort King at Echo Country Outpost


The Airborne Toxic Event with the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa

The Airborne Toxic Event with the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa

Solstice Canyon, Malibu

Solstice Canyon, Malibu

Elysian Park, Echo Park, Los Angeles

Elysian Park, Echo Park, Los Angeles


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The Henry Clay People ~ End of an Empire

Some sad news today, as I continue work on my final Eastside L.A. Roundup, and realize that there are now at least a dozen truly wonderful Los Angeles bands I enjoyed so much who are no longer with us since I first started these little band updates back in 2009. The Henry Clay People, one of my “top ten,” announced today that they would be playing one final show (at the Echo Park Rising Festival) and then going their separate ways. This is a band that has so much heart; for me, they’re what rock ‘n’ roll is all about. Fortunately everyone is leaving on good terms and with some exciting future plans, but I’m still going to miss them. I can’t help thinking that the HCP are one more fine band that the music industry shit-show has chewed up and spit out. The music biz just plain sucks on every level, whether you’re playing little bars and setting up your own gear, or with a manager, booking agent and publicity people, trying to get to the next level and not lose what you worked so hard for and thought you had.

Lots of fine memories though, even as a relatively new fan of theirs. I’ll wish them all the best, and include today’s announcement below. Plus a couple of videos. First up, something from their last wonderful release, Twenty-Five for the Rest of our Lives. And then one of my fondest memories, from a very special gathering back in 2009 of a handful of awesome L.A. bands, at a little Clifton Park, NY dive called Northern Lights. Bands break up, bars change names, but we’ll always have our YouTube videos. Thanks so much for all the wonderful music, guys. See you one last time in Echo Park!

Status Update
By The Henry Clay People
Hello friendos-

The Henry Clays play August 17th at Echo Park Rising music fest. It’s free. We’ll be playing in the early evening…

In the past, we have been sort of doomsdayish with our “this could be it for the band” insinuations. Yet here we are.

This one may be different. This may actually be “it” for the following exciting reasons:

Eric is now a proud papa bear and one test away from being a legit architect.

Andy is going back to school.
Joey is moving to the east coast to go back to school.
Harris is currently touring the country/world with other rock and roll bands.
Noah has a rad new band called The Pretty Flowers.

If the August 17th show sucks, then we will probably have to do another to redeem ourselves, but it might not be until 2020: Thirty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives.

It’s been fun. We miss you. We miss playing. It’s kinda sad and happy at same time. Let’s make this one special.

Love,
The Henry Clay People

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Understanding a Tragedy

Now that all of the innocent victims have been sadly laid to rest, it’s time for me to weigh in on the Newtown shooting.

Before I launch into what may be an unpopular perspective on this tragedy, I say a quiet prayer for those whose lives were cut short, especially all the young children who weren’t even old enough to experience hostility, or to hold a grudge, or to feel the need to seek revenge for some perceived wrong. And I say a quiet prayer for all their innocent counterparts in other parts of the world, far removed from the suburbs of Connecticut. The children of Syria, caught up in a civil war; the Palestinian and Israeli children, the children of Mali, of Kenya and Darfur, of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq, caught in the crossfire of conflicts not of their making. The children in the inner cities of Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles… caught in the crossfire of gang violence, living in the parallel life of the ghetto in America’s third world. For in my heart, there is no distinction between American children and Muslim children and Israeli children and Palestinian children and African children. They are all children. Our children. The future of our species. All of them.

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How will you spend your Last Day On Earth?

It seems like only yesterday I was wandering around Copley Square wearing my 2012 glasses, taking in a spontaneous Hare Krishna First Night celebration and eating strange little packaged treats handed out by devotees. At that time, the long-anticipated, mysterious Mayan Prophesy was this curious notion still comfortably off in the distance. I decided on that heady evening that I would spend 2012 as if the prophesy were in fact true—that everything would end on December 21. We’re often told that we should always live our lives as if each day were to be our last. So, facing what may have been the final year of my life, or at least the last stretch before some sort of cataclysmic event, did I spend each waking moment in the most meaningful way possible? Did I push myself to the outer limits? Did I reach for the stars in terms of productivity and my search for enlightenment? No, not exactly.

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Happy Birthday, David Bowie

Yeah, I didn’t quite make it in time; sorry about that. A very happy 65th birthday to Mr. David Bowie, and a little nostalgia below for the old folks. It all seems so long ago… it WAS so long ago! First time I saw Bowie: July 15, 1983, at the Hartford Civic Center. Number of times I’ve seen Bowie: a lot. This very cool video is from his 50th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, and it features Robert Smith on co-vocals on one of my favorite Bowie songs. Very best wishes, David.

'Lovers' rice paper serigraph, from his Tarot Card series, circa 1975

'Lovers' rice paper serigraph, from his Tarot Card series, circa 1975

'Heroes' Self Portrait print

'Heroes' Self Portrait print

'A Child In Berlin' print, circa 1976

'A Child In Berlin' print, circa 1976


'Save the Children' Self Portrait, for Rykodisc, circa 1990

'Save the Children' Self Portrait, for Rykodisc, circa 1990

The legendary Sound & Vision Newsletter, circa 1990

The legendary Sound & Vision Newsletter, circa 1990


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