the recently published CRYING IN H MART (KNOPF, 2021) by MICHELLE ZAUNER of INDIE ROCK band JAPANESE BREAKFAST fame, is one of the most heartbreaking memoirs i have read in recent memory. it deals primarily with the loss of her mother from cancer and the primal toll that trauma took on her sense of identity, especially given their tumultuous relationship and ZAUNER's status of being biracial. it is that sense of bifurcation that makes her personal narrative so compelling, being caught between two communities, two cultures and ultimately two identities. with her death there is a sense of finality that is all too cruel and just plain brutal.
as a quick aside, i used to teach at an international school in JAPAN that was primarily setup by the TURKISH community to service students that were normally socially ostracized in JAPANESE schools, i.e. students who had only one parent that was JAPANESE. i had students that were half-KOREAN, half-TURKISH, half-CANADIAN, half-UZBEK, half-MONGOLIAN and so on. the suicide rate for students such as these in private and state JAPANESE schools is shockingly high due to constant unceasing bullying (especially online) and a broader cultural sense that they didnt belong. id tell them about my own family's multiple origins (IRELAND, UKRAINE, ENGLAND) and how they weren't half anything, they were 100% both. they were special because they belonged to two communities. anyway, thats my spiel on that.
ultimately for ZAUNER it is presented that food and the customs, sustenance, preparation, appreciation, and coded messages therein, are what bridged that emotional and psychic gap with her mother. both in life and in death. food is the weapon her mom used against her as a means of control as a child and rowdy teenager and it is food that paradoxically served as a form of therapy for ZAUNER in holding on to the memory of her mother after her death. in many ways this memoir is an intensely creative examination for food as a language, a means of communicating love, hope, fear, insecurity, passion, sorrow and defiance in the face of life's triumphs and tribulations. for ZAUNER specifically it is provides a sense of rootedness and identity, which is pretty profound. when returning to KOREA for the first time after the death of her mother, it is food that communicates her identity as KOREAN by her relatives where word cant, given the language barrier.
its hard to even unpack the complicated relationship between parents and children, notwithstanding that of the special subset of mothers with their daughters. but the relationship of ZAUNER with her mother comes across as especially intimate despite their estrangement and cultural gap that separated them. and the manner in which food is presented as that bridge is especially touching. it makes what would be a sad story about death and displacement into a heartfelt celebration of a woman who showed her love and commitment to her daughter, however arduous, heavy-handed and miscommunicated at times, through the medium of food.
easily one of the best memoirs i've come across since starting this blog. well worth investigation to self-described foodies and non-foodies alike. a remarkable achievement.
in the aftermath of the his departure from NEW ORDER, legendary bassist PETER HOOK wrote three books: THE HACIENDA: HOW NOT TO RUN A CLUB (IT BOOKS, 2009), UNKOWN PLEASURES: INSIDE JOY DIVISION (IT BOOKS, 2013) and SUBSTANCE: INSIDE NEW ORDER (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2017). each tackling a different era of his career, the first tackling the failure of the era-defining MANCHESTER club and by extension FACTORY RECORDS, the second his time in the iconic POST PUNK band JOY DIVISION and his relationship with troubled frontman IAN CURTIS (reviewed HERE).
SUBSTANCE: INSIDE NEW ORDER recounts his time in NEW ORDER, which in terms of years, material output, miles traveled and tours completed, was the focus of the better part of half his life to that point. i won't compare NEW ORDER to JOY DIVISION, in my mind they are separate entities each distinct in their own sound and legacy. like UNKOWN PLEASURES: INSIDE JOY DIVISION, the format HOOK provides includes a narrative based on his experience plus a timeline complete with gigs, product releases, technology utilized and noteworthy events, all annotated and provided promptly at the end of each chapter. it is lovingly done with a knowing nod towards the fanatical, completist nature of his fanbase. much respect to him for that.
what struck me most about this book is the combative relationship between BERNARD SUMNER and PETER HOOK. in JOY DIVISION, both were competitive to a fault but largely acquiesced to the artistic will of IAN CURTIS and producer MARTIN HANNETT. with both of those creative forces now out of the picture early in the NEW ORDER story, there is a brief formative period where new roles are tried on and experimented with, only to calcify later and lead to pugilistic internal dynamic that led to much strife and self-sabotaging. in essence this book is about dysfunction and power.
perhaps it was a toxic masculinity rooted in their upbringing in an economically depressed MANCHESTER during a particularly bleak period where in typical ENGLISH fashion men were expected to just "get on with it" and not express themselves. again and again during crucial fulcrum moments in the narrative when they should have communicated, they just "got on with it" and trudged along blindly, oblivious to the pain inflicted on each other with an almost sadistic delight. for such an iconic group that had a singular sound and reputation for innovation (twice!), they really were individuals at the end of the day worried about their own self interests. to an extent, because even as they were jockeying for power internally, externally they were aware of being ripped off by the greater apparatus, FACTORY RECORDS and their doomed investment in the HACIENDA nightclub. on one hand they had a common mission in the record label and all of the independent ethics that they supposedly stood for, yet at the end of the day this group constantly stabbed each other in the back. or in some cases in the face.
a subplot throughout is HOOK's alcoholism and abuse with hard drugs and eventual recovery with the same tenacity and gusto that got him into them. his departure from NEW ORDER is very much seen as a shedding of his old public persona and identity for a newer one that was sober and awake to what was happening around him. his work in PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT is representative of that new positive focus, away from the codependency and dictatorial whims of SUMNER. and on SUMNER, he comes off looking really bad in this book. repeatedly described as a dark cloud who poisoned the atmosphere among the crew and support staff as well as suffering mightily from LSD (lead singer's disease). i'm looking forward to reading his account to see how he describes HOOK.
in the end like all fans, HOOK's melodic bass-lines is a defining feature of NEW ORDER, as well as JOY DIVISION. its hard to swallow the idea that his participation in albums were not prominent and often sidelined, especially on post-REPUBLIC. its mind-boggling to entertain the idea that his bass-lines weren't viewed as an asset or even necessary internally in their camp. just unbelievable. to me its his bass, SUMNER's voice and the ingenious use of synths that distinguish them from their peers.
in summation, this is a long book (over 700 pages) but it went quickly thanks to HOOK's strong narrative voice and wicked sense of humor. very dry. very ENGLISH. the sardonic tone was similar to that of the ERIC IDLE memoir ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE (BROADWAY BOOKS, 2018) i reviewed recently (linked HERE) and definitely had me laughing at several times throughout, usually at his own expense. in a way, that self-effacing humor only makes you trust his perspective that much more, although again im waiting to read the SUMNER book in all fairness.
great informative, invigorating read on one of the most interesting bands in modern music history. a must-read for anyone interested in PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK, NEW WAVE, ELECTRONIC MUSIC or technology in music as well.
OCTOPUSES are cool. and yes, i said OCTOPUSES, not OCTOPI which is incorrect (as you can't add latin suffixes to greek-derived words for all you grammar nerds out there).
years ago when i was working in VENEZUELA i had the great privilege of scuba diving in the LOS ROQUES archipelago. not once but twice. saw lots of fish, sharks, eels, crabs and other sea-life, but sadly not one OCTOPUS. which was a bummer no doubt. been fascinated with them since childhood.
naturalist SY MONTGOMERY in her book THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS: A SURPRISING EXPLORATION IN THE WONDER OF CONSCIOUSNESS (ATRIA, 2016) goes about exploring the inner world of several captive OCTOPUSES at the NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM in BOSTON. while the book does give insight into the almost alien capabilities of these amazing cephalopods (i.e. tasting through skin, having appendages that are semi-autonomous from the brain, intelligence derived in evolutionary terms not from group relations but in isolation), what make MONTGOMERY's book compelling is her exploration of the emotional and spiritual ramifications of these abilities. what can an OCTOPUS discern about us via tasting our complex chemical signatures via its touch? what hidden knowledge do they possess about CONSCIOUSNESS and the nature of reality
this book questions the very idea of what constitutes intelligence. even the very nature of CONSCIOUSNESS. it feels that our own tools of discerning reality are limited in comparison. some might mock such consideration as merely uniformed conjecture at best and ANTHROPOMORPHISM at worst, but increasingly science is becoming more open to the possibility that the nature of CONSCIOUSNESS is more complex and less understood than we have defined such in the past. its incredibly interesting stuff.
and what is particularly mystifying about the evolution of said intelligence in OCTOPUSES is that 1) such came from an INVERTEBRATES unlike all other similar organisms (such as VERTEBRATES like horses, dogs, apes, dolphins and humans) and 2) such capacities were not promote and rewarded within a group context (as in all other cases) as OCTOPUSES are defiantly solitary creatures. MONTGOMERY gets into the THEORY OF MIND capacity of being able to mirror empathy an thought processes of other animals in nature and how the OCTOPUS developed such as a defense mechanism, unlike VERTEBRATES who do such to coordinate attacks and develop social relationships with their kin. OCTOPUSES are singular creatures of great intelligence with an entirely unique evolutionary path to the cognitive abilities. they are the closest thing we have to an alien species. just incredible and stimulating to consider.
i thoroughly enjoyed this book, not only for its informative deep dive into anatomy, behavior and rituals of these mysterious solitary, shapeshifting creatures, but for its deeper consideration of our own connection to the natural world. not just as stewards of nature, but as partners since it seems we have much to learn from these secretive and seemingly mystical invertebrates.
a RHODES SCHOLAR and noted host of her own eponymous show on MSNBC, RACHEL MADDOW in her first book DRIFT: THE UNMOORING OF AMERICAN MILITARY POWER (CROWN, 2012) presents an extended examination of the evolved relationship between the decision matrix regarding foreign military excursions by the executive branch and the public.
in essence the relationship between the power to go to war and the cost of it (in terms of CAPITAL, both HUMAN and FINANCIAL) was an imminent concern going back to our founding fathers, who saw our federal system with distinct powers given to each of our three branches of government, as a means of safeguarding that decision and making sure that such was never made without an engaged citizenry. they feared a standing army during peacetime as gateway to potential demagoguery as the political power of war, or the threat of such, cuts through society like few other forces can. by dividing up responsibilities, mostly between the executive and legislative branches, war was ideally only supposed to take place after an appeal to congress and the public was made explicit and duly supported on the merits.
in essence DRIFT is focused on the consequences of the deliberate untethering of our foreign military excursions from said public debate/consciousness and congressional scrutiny by the executive branch over time.
the short of it was that up until the VIETNAM CONFLICT, all wars saw a drastic reduction in our standing army post-conflict. the NATIONAL GUARD and the ARMY RESERVE swelled during times of conflict (CIVIL WAR, SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR, WORLD WAR I, WORLD WAR II and the KOREAN WAR) only to see them drop dramatically down as people moved on with their lives and spread out throughout the economy. LYNDON B. JOHNSON wasn't sold on calling up the NATIONAL GUARD and the ARMY RESERVE during VIETNAM, as he thought (correctly) that such wouldnt garner public support because those institutions were filled with more connected, career-driven sons and daughters of the establishment. utilizing such forces would inevitably invite criticism, so instead instituted a draft that swelled the ranks of the army with the less connected and less fortunate of society. in pursuing this unpopular war through the utilization of the draft, he effectively disentangled the military from the population. by skirting criticism and not seeking shared consensus and commitment from all AMERICANS, he badly damaged the relationship of each to the other.
essentially after that break in society, every president has sought to minimize the political costs of war without exception. RONALD REAGAN dramatically increased the budget to astronomical heights utilizing fear PLAN B-generated fear tactics during the COLD WAR. it has never decreased in any meaningful manner since. REAGAN also famously attempted to privatize foreign policy with his failed efforts to illegally arm the CONTRAS in NICARAGUA through profits from selling arms vis-a-vis the ISRAELIS to IRAN. this mistake nearly cost him his presidency, but subsequent presidents beginning with GEORGE H. W. BUSH made the privatization of the military into an immensely profitable cottage industry that effectively rendered the BOSNIAN and KOSOVAN efforts under BILL CLINTON and drone attacks in WAZIRISTAN under BARACK OBAMA viable.
basically if you divorce our foreign excursions from any real economic or visible costs or consequences to most AMERICANS, then you can have never-ending conflict ad infinitum. which is basically where we stand now. past efforts to reign in control over financing by CONGRESS (WAR POWERS ACT OF 1973) or military brass policy (THE ABRAMS DOCTRINE) are essentially mute at this point in time.
its a quite a petrifying scenario that is likely to continue unabated, since no executive is likely to agree to limit their own power. it is a circumstance our founding fathers feared come to fruition. this was a thoughtful, well-constructed book that made it harder to sleep at night.
regarding her writing style:
i always thought it was interesting how she structured her cable show in that she utilized a storytelling technique in which she introduced the subject of her narrative, usually in the second act of a three act plot. for television this is curious since it presumes that the audience has the patience to stay with you long enough to learn that key piece of information. cable news is notorious for satiating ever shortening public attention spans, which makes such a decision interesting. of course, i think the reason she chose this was to emphasize the specific details of her tale and the broader implications of such without being weighed down by our conditioned reactions to names and faces. again, its a technique she has honed since her show began in 2008. on television it is a bit cumbersome and longwinded but within an extended format such as a book it is perfectly suited for maximum effect, especially since she covers such entrenched topics as NATIONAL SECURITY, FOREIGN POLICY and evolving procedures regarding decisions the legal authorization of MILITARY FORCE. this technique allows her to go after the evolution of said topics without getting bogged down in the inherited hazardous debris of past official propaganda, cultural divides and controversial figures. she is able to see the forest and not the trees, which benefits the reader in understanding scope and context immensely.
the standalone graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS (ABRAMS COMICARTS, 2015) authored and illustrated by FUMIO OBATA is an interesting examination of how one's sense of identity and rootedness is transformed when navigating two cultures. in this case the main protagonist is a young JAPANESE woman named YUMIKO who works for a LONDON design firm and is engage to a ENGLISHMAN when she returns to JAPAN for the funerary rights of her recently deceased father. being the daughter of divorced parents and a stridently independent mother who left to pursue her educational goals and a career as an literary intellectual, YUMIKO is caught between traditional JAPANESE cultural prescriptions of passive femininity and the empowered WESTERN model of the self-sufficient woman.
in a sense she sees the benefits of both. this appreciation is seen through the visual metaphor of classical NOH THEATER, which finds a masked actor following her in her dreams. this deeply traditional style of drama, much like other JAPANESE pursuits, is intensely formal to the point that all GESTURES, POSTURES and MOVEMENTS have been passed down for generations upon generations. in fact, the formal elements of these performances are so entrenched that they subsume any sense of ego or expression on behalf of the actor.
going through the motions of participating in the traditional JAPANESE BUDDHIST funerary rites regarding her father, there is an implied connection to this sense of extinguishing the ego. these rituals are not about satiating the needs of the living. they are about continuing a pattern, fulfilling an expectation. FUMIKO seems to learn that there is comfort in the formal procedures and rituals not only associated with death, but with life as well.
having worked in YOKOHAMA myself for a year teaching LITERATURE at a private secondary school, i think it is quite impressive how OBATA is able to identify and explore this point of tension between EASTERN and WESTERN culture. i remember how seemingly difficult it was to navigate a culture where everyone was so impeccably polite. they werent being INAUTHENTIC, but there always seemed to be this distance. that is until there wasnt. i got the sense that once my JAPANESE peers realized that i was respectful of their culture and embraced the formal elements of their behavior (which is an adjustment for a WESTERNER), it was only then that i found myself joking with people. it was an interesting experience and something i often think about.
growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, you are perennially stuck between multiple worlds, multiple modes of being and understanding life. i'm still navigating it even when on "home" soil. its still an adjustment much like it is for YUMIKO when bridging ENGLISH and JAPANESE culture.
i thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel and recommend it immensely.
adolescence sucks for just about everyone. its an awkward time where you are experimenting and essentially defining an identity that will carry over into adult life.
i can't even imagine the difficulty in negotiating those same issues while coming out, especially in the 1990s when this memoir takes place. in my opinion HIGH SCHOOL (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2019) by CANADIAN INDIE ROCK duo TEGAN + SARA poignantly explores this emotionally-wrought minefield in an honest manner that makes this memoir a must-read for anyone gong through the same situation or seeks to empathize with such a journey.
i personally never went through this experience, but i have friends who did. especially when i attended high school in KUWAIT where anything HOMOSEXUAL-adjacent was literally a crime. in public there was always this front my friends had to uphold that seemed exhausting to me, CODED LANGUAGE and BEHAVIORAL TICKS manufactured in order to conceal their actual identity. this type of polari always fascinated and utterly horrified me despite the fact that it didnt directly affect me.
in the case of the TEGAN + SARA, their story is one of SELF-DISCOVERY and any concealing behavior they exhibited was largely to protect family, friends and the reputations of their partners. the word SHAME is never brought up once in the memoir (which is structured with alternating chapters by each sister that serve as insightful vignettes), and yet it seems to be a central theme. SARA especially is an advocate to the community, calling out her FAMILY, TEACHERS and such for their HYPOCRISY; yet she is closeted for most of high school.
it is through music that the sisters find a sense of agency and control over their own narrative. a sense of solace in that they can express themselves while still concealing in plan site their identity as members of the LGBTQ community.
given the potency of their frustrations, confusion and heartbreaks in not being able to be open about themselves (or even having a definition yet for their own sexual preferences) makes this the perfect book for teenagers be familiar with, irrespective of their own SEXUAL ORIENTATION. if anything it promotes empathy, compassion and understanding for the hidden experiences of others and makes you think twice when allowing someone to utilize hurtful language regarding a minority group because they dont appreciate PC culture (im looking right at you STATEN ISLAND, SACRAMENTO, NIGERIA, KUWAIT, MYANMAR, JAPAN, ALBANIA, VENEZUELA and all the other HOMOPHOBIC communities i've called home at one point or another).
HIGH SCHOOL should be read by everyone. can't recommend it enough. it is the rare memoir that seems entirely current to issues at stake globally right now regarding human rights and the common dignity we all deserve. all identities should be celebrate and cherished and this memoir provides an insight into that personal journey of accepting yourself at a point of emotional and physical transition we all go through as adolescents.
RAKIM is a wordsmith of the first order, a rapper's rapper.
its definitely not a coincidence that EMINEM makes a direct reference to being a "product of RAKIM" in a verse in his ode to lyrical dexterity, "RAP GOD." being a fan of his work with ERIC B, i was game to explore his memoir SWEAT THE TECHNIQUE (AMISTAD, 2019) which finds him explaining his writing process. obviously as a former ENGLISH teacher this is a subject i am doubly always interested in.
essentially he describes some pretty boilerplate techniques in expanding your options as a lyricist. such as: BE OBSERVANT, READ EVERYTHING, WRITE ALL THE TIME, etc. what was more impactful was how he came to appreciate these ideas in a cultural landscape where such was not immediately encouraged, the exception being his parents and especially his father. when he put in the work he saw results, whether that be in football or on the mic at informal parties in his neighborhood in LONG ISLAND. its my argument that his work ethic and ability to appreciate and take advantage of opportunities around him, as well as a fair amount of bravado and natural charm, that led him to where he is today, considered by fans and peers alike as one of the preeminent lyricists of his generation, if not the top MC outright.
where he loses me is in the second half of the book where he begins to go on about his involvement with the FIVE PERCENT NATION and the NATION OF ISLAM. on one hand i get it. these groups espouse an ideology of self-empowerment and community in what is essentially a vacuum created by AMERICA's inability to address the needs of minority communities for generations. the need to take care of your own is understandable and arguably inevitable. its just that when he goes on about his beliefs it just comes off like pseudo-intellectual gibberish. i dont need to go over LOUIS FARRAKAN's anti-semitism, but i'll link to what the SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER says about him.
its just disappointing to see that such a supremely gifted wordsmith who has honed his craft over decades at heart is involved with figures that espouse anti-white ideologies. my hope is that he would be more empathetic and use his gifs to uplift, but maybe i misjudged him. i also found it hard to comprehend his argument that in order to be humble, one needs to accept the idea of a higher power. that seems bogus to me, and not just because i dont share his belief system. i just thought it showed a lack of understanding of religions outside the judeo-christian and islamic constructs he appears trapped in. you can be atheist and agnostic and be empathetic and a good servant to your neighbors, just like you can be a devoutly religious person and be a horrible human being. its not a prerequisite.
so in summation i found this book deeply fascinating, but not how i expected. i found myself deeply troubled by the implications of his worldview. the anti-WHITE stuff i still dont get, even in retrospect. my hope would be that the values of HARD WORK and EMPATHY that he attributes to his father's influence would have carried over into his belief system, but that appears to not be the case. its disappointing, especially with someone so profoundly gifted.
SING BACKWARDS AND WEEP (HATCHETTE, 2020) is probably one of the more harrowing memoirs i have ever come across. its author MARK LANEGAN, gifted singer/songwriter and former frontman of SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons SCREAMING TREES, recounts an drug-addled existence that ranged from the 1980s through his final successful rehab stint in the early 2000s. and that addiction literally cost him everything he valued: relationships, collaborations, touring opportunities, friends, love, money. the list goes on and it is brutal.
there is no doubt that many who investigate this book are interested in the PACIFIC NORTHWEST INDIE/PUNK music scene that exploded in the early 1990s, of which LANEGAN was a central figure within. there is some ink here dedicated to his relationships with other participants such as KURT COBAIN (NIRVANA) and LAYNE STALEY (ALICE IN CHAINS), but the real dominant actor here is DRUGS. and by that i mean literally every make and stripe. COBAIN, STALEY as well as numerous other victims such as KRISTEN PFAFF (HOLE) and JEFFREY LEE PIERCE (THE GUN CLUB) are integral to his narrative in that they exemplify the cost of participation in this downward spiral of needless suffering.
LANEGAN is unflinching in his account and i have no doubt that writing this must have been cathartic. it also no doubt took courage to look at himself and unshrinkingly scrutinize his life's decisions and make them public without being patronizing or worse glorifying said behavior. he seems to be a reliable narrator as he relates how the ever-present threat of dope-sickness and withdrawal effectively corrupted his moral compass and led to a never ending search for a fix to maintain his equilibrium and all its attendant decisions that resulted in the suffering of others.
in HUBERT SELBY JR novels there is often an inverse character arc at play whereby as the individual descends into MADNESS, it is their affliction (FAME, POWER, DRUGS, etc.) that prevails in equivalent fashion. for me that is the feeling i get when considering the SEATTLE drug scene and its effect on several key participants in this book, COBAIN and STALEY being the prime examples.
there is a light and that is the MUSICIANS' ASSISTANCE PROGRAM that effectively saved LANEGAN's life. that and his ability to forgive himself and the capacity for other addicts to enable each other in recovery, here COURTNEY LOVE (HOLE) and DUFF MCKAGAN (GUNS N' ROSES) being such examples. you get the sense that despite the absolute depths of DEPRAVITY that drug addicts wade through, that there is an opportunity for RESTORATION. that we can always be REHABILITATED, RECONSTRUCTED and REINVIGORATED by our choices and actions moving forward.
contrary to what others may read into this memoir, i found it inspiring, compassionate and intensely optimistic. maybe this book is his way of paying it forward.
written between the 1965-66 season after having won eight of his eleven total championships with the BOSTON CELTICS (whom i despise more than you can possibly imagine), GO UP FOR GLORY (PENGUIN, 1966) is a memoir by BASKETBALL legend and CIVIL RIGHTS icon BILL RUSSELL that is as much about the fight for human dignity as it is about professional competition at an elite level.
i found this book to be fascinating in how RUSSELL presents the reader with an isnide perspective on the beginnings of the NBA as a business and how race played a part right from the start. i had no idea that ABE SAPERSTEIN, founder and owner of the HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS effectively strong-armed the league into limiting integration for years. he did this through threatening team owners with boycotting their stadiums (all the original teams were created by owners of arenas, the league much like professional hockey was an excuse for attendance). RUSSELL was the second BLACK player to ever play for the CELTICS and there was very much an unpublicized but very hard quota on the number of BLACK players on each team throughout the late 50s and early 60s.
RUSSELL fought this injustice by being outspoken about the quota.
due to my time in high school in MASSACHUSETTS, i will always hate all professional teams from that region, especially the CELTICS and RED SOX. but RUSSELL is beyond reproach even in my knee-jerk insane fandom. not to lionize him too much, but like that of MUHAMMED ALI, JIM BROWN, JACKIE ROBINSON, KAREEM ABDUL-JABAR, ROBERTO CLEMENTE and COLIN KAEPERNICK, he is a the embodiment of a deeper humanity we should all aspire to and very much took took risks when others didnt for the sake of everyone.
for me this book is very compelling since RUSSELL showcases a period when the CIVIL RIGHTS movement was very much in its nascent stages from the perspective of a national sports figure. the striking thing is how such a platform rendered him nothing outside the confines of the basketball court. in the arena he was unstoppable, outside he was just another target of dehumanization by a racist backward society bent on its own destruction.
i could go on about this, but even during the height of his playing career (he still had another three championships to go!) he somehow had the perspective to recognize the importance of the moment and the courage to share his unique perspective as a prominent professional athlete in a nation that dehumanized him. i cant even begin to imagine the courage. its like LEBRON JAMES staring down FOX NEWS expanded exponentially.
deeply impressive memoir by an AMERICAN icon. should be read in schools. end stop. or at least i should have been given the option to back in the day instead of the recycled meaningless dribble they force down your throat.
i first became aware of AMY POEHLER via her short-lived cable show UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE (COMEDY CENTRAL, 1998-2000). in essence i was such a big fan of MR. SHOW (HBO, 1995-1998) after the fact that i went back in search anything similar from that period which led me to shows like THE STATE (MTV, 1993-1995) and KIDS IN THE HALL (CBC, 1989-1995). i was made aware of her again when i discovered the UCB THEATER in NYC when a friend from graduate school and his improv group did a show there in the late 2000s.
her memoir YES PLEASE (HARPERCOLLINS, 2018) is a playfully sarcastic take on being a woman in COMEDY. she tackles everything from WRITING, DIVORCE, MOTHERHOOD, CHILDHOOD, THE ART OF IMPROVISATION, CREATIVITY, DOUBLE STANDARDS, WRITING ROOMS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, SECOND CITY, TOXIC MASCULINITY, FORGIVENESS, OWNING YOUR MISTAKES, WHITE PRIVILEGE and the like with poise, dignity and more than a little self-flagellation. she comes across as someone cognizant of greater forces that affect her psychological and emotional well-being and seems somewhat on top of combating such with humor and grace.
for me the most interesting aspects of this book revolve less around her career and more around her personal and professional relationships. reading about how she interacts with COLLABORATORS, FAMILY and even her EX-HUSBAND really gives you a sense of the impossible complexity of maintaining the balance of a career and family life. you also get the sense that while she seeks outside affirmation and the "pudding" of winning awards, she similarly gets equal gratification from devising up some group hijinks among the nominees to combat the misogynistic trope and bad optics of woman battling each other. awards are dumb and ultimately meaningless compared to the work itself and the collaboration between partners and ultimately the shared communication with an audience. that interaction seems to be the heart of this book, POEHLER's efforts to communicate the COMMON HUMANITY of her characters, whether on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC, cast member, 2001-2008) or PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC, 2009-2015) among her previously mentioned projects.
my only gripe with this book is how she seems to routinely quote and lionize LOUIS C.K. as some sort of zen master who has a pithy quote for every difficult life situation. obviously that didn't age so well and is a little awkward to read, yet entirely understandable given their past collaborations pre-scandal.
what did age well is everything related to frequent collaborator and "wifey" TINA FEY, who as a writer and producer seems to utilize her platform(s) to promote women (and men) that she feels deserving of the opportunity. i think ultimately that is the model that POEHLER wants for her legacy as evidenced by her grassroots involvement with IMPROVISATIONAL COMEDY and the UCB THEATERS in both NYC and LOS ANGELES (along with their associated training centers). IMPROVISATION by definition is the giving of oneself to the premise of an absurd collective identity that only works with total commitment. seems as fitting a metaphor as any other for her efforts.
its funny how that concept of "paying it forward" never gets brought up with all the biographies i've read concerning male artists and musicians. must be a guy thing, i guess?
BOOK REVIEW | "A MULTITUDE OF SINS: GOLDEN BROWN, THE STRANGLERS AND STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS" BY HUGH CORNWELL
so full disclosure, i was basically raised on THE STRANGLERS. been told my whole life that my first concert was seeing them play in SPAIN. well sort of, i wasn't born yet. but in a sense i was there.
as i mentioned in my radio show dedicated to THE STRANGLERS back in OCTOBER 2019, my earliest music memories are being driven by my father listening to some mixture of THE SMITHS, THE KINKS, THE BEATLES, THE ANIMALS and, of course, THE STRANGLERS. im completely indoctrinated so take that for what you will.
A MULTITUDE OF SINS: GOLDEN BROWN, THE STRANGLERS and STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS (HARPER COLLINS, 2011) by former frontman, songwriter and ringleader HUGH CORNWELL delivers what on what the title promises: tales of about sex, drugs and rock and roll. not that this book is a complete cliche for CORNWELL is a gifted writer and storyteller, which should come as a surprise to no one familiar with his song lyrics. his writing style is very conversational and stream-of-conscious and often sifts back and forth from one anecdote to the next that span both geography and time. you'd think that would make it hard to follow but everything flows remarkably well and is intensely engaging. the result is a very personal narrative that almost feels like you are hearing it from a gifted orator a few stools down at a local pub.
chapters are organized according to subject and CORNWELL at the outset invites the reader to get out of it what they want. if voyeuristic anecdotes about drugs and sex is what you are after, then he points you in the direction of those chapters right at the introduction.
for me personally i always viewed THE STRANGLERS as a bunch of misfits that didnt fit the time that well yet ironically were the perfect band for that time. as CORNWELL explains, the band was too young and not musical enough to be part of the ENGLISH PUB ROCK scene in of the mid-1970s yet too old and musically accomplished to be a part of the original PUNK scene that followed shortly thereafter. their sound is identified with POST PUNK (hell, i even categorized them as such on my show and in the DEER GOD RADIO list of shows) but they were chronologically concurrent peers of JOE STRUMMER and the like. their sound is massively influential converting acolytes in ENGLAND everyone from NEW ORDER to WIRE to ELASTICA. but all that music critic bullshit doesnt really matter, to me their music is both complex and deliberate, their lyrics sarcastic and literary yet entirely sincere and soberly brutal.
the section of the book i found most compelling was the inclusion of writings he produced shortly after his time in prison for a trumped-up drug charge in ENGLAND. they are based on interviews he did apparently. they showcase an individual with a strong sense of moral clarity and fairness, even for his captors, in a situation that is meant to browbeat and strip individuality. his empathy for those working at the prison, whose position dehumanizes them as well, is pretty remarkable. for me, understanding his capacity to put himself outside himself, even during a moment of great stress, seems to share something about voyeuristic nature of songwriting itself. his songs seem to be about the emotional backage that come with decisions, relationships and situations, not the actual things themselves. that emotional intelligence and ability to empathize with others seems to be a cornerstone of his prowess as a gifted writer and songwriter.
makes perfect sense after learning of his ordeal in prison. interesting stuff.
i sought out and first read COMANDANTE: HUGO CHAVEZ'S VENEZUELA (PENGUIN, 2013) by GUARDIAN journalist RORY CARROLL shortly after learning i would be teaching in VENEZUELA while still a PEACE CORPS volunteer stationed in ALBANIA. it was an intriguing historical moment because by the time i arrived in august of 2013, former president HUGO CHAVEZ had only been dead for a least 6 months. over the next two years i bore witness to a country in sharp economic decline.
more like free fall.
i lived in MATURIN in the east where most of the oil fields are. as an oil brat that grew up in NIGERIA an KUWAIT, i have some familiarity with the sometimes complicated nature of AMERICAN industry in foreign countries. CHAVEZ of course famously nationalized their oil industry and largely banished most oil companies from their reserves. this was seen domestically as a powerful move but crippled their prospects longterm as outside advice regarding technical expertise was now abandoned. when the price of oil dipped during my tenure out there, the effects were quick and painful and VENEZUELA has yet to rebound. in fact they are still in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that is largely the result of such shortsighted policies.
but how did he come to rule? the book presents CHAVEZ as a figure whose power was seen in his braggadocious, confident demeanor, his military background and especially the fact that he was the very physical embodiment of the underclass of VENEZUELAN society, having originated in the rural LLANOS region. VENZUELA, much like the rest of SOUTH AMERICA, has a population that has its origins in EUROPEAN, NATIVE and AFRICAN bloodlines. this being the result of SPANISH conquest in the new world (PORTUGUESE with obvious respect to BRASIL). cultural, religious and linguistic traditions of the continent are profoundly influenced by centuries of EUROPEAN colonization, so unfortunately one carryover is preference for all things EUROPEAN. the experience of watching television in VENEZUELA is where you would be hard pressed to identify people of non-EUROPEAN descent shown in beauty pageants, soap operas, game shows or even news broadcasts. like many others in the region (COLOMBIA, BRASIL, etc.), the media is effectively white-washed. much like BARACK OBAMA (although diametrically dissimilar in terms of their politics), the power of CHAVEZ is in part inseparable from his being the physical embodiment of the unprivileged and underrepresented classes in society.
reading this book i became aware of the narrative of his rise to power, which includes his imprisonment, election, attempted coup and reinstatement. i also grew to be aware of how he structured his public persona and cult of personality that still survives today. in essence he hitched his own to that of a tailored fiction surrounding that of SIMON BOLIVAR, by promoting one he promoted the other. CHAVEZ also create a new layer of bureaucracy between himself and powerful regional governors, whom he could scold and fire at will on his own television show ALO PRESIDENTE ("HELLO, MR. PRESIDENT"). in many ways he was like TRUMP before TRUMP. in essence this added layer of bureaucracy (more democracy!) allowed him to secure a buffer from any and all political fallout that resulted from his disastrous policies.
luckily, i made friends that allowed me to stay in CARACAS and visit many of the landmarks mentioned in this book. in this sense it was infinitely helpful in giving me an understanding of the political climate and recent history i was now entering. where i thought it lacked was in how uncritical CARROLL presents the regime at times. maybe that is an unfair critique, but after living there and witnessing the toll bore on the people of VENEZUELA (whom i found generous, vivacious, energetic, resourceful, selfless and beautiful) in the wake of his death makes me most likely not the most objective observer in that respect.
when my father was in middle school he was tasked with completing a book report. my grandmother suggested THE GOOD EARTH (JOHN DAY COMPANY, 1931) by PEARL S. BUCK. a short time after submitting his paper, the nun who taught his class made a startling announcement to the class, "somebody in this room has read a damned book." all the children looked around at each other. my dad's name was called and he explained that it was his mother's suggestion. in true catholic school fashion they werent hearing any of it.
makes me wonder how people dont see the combination of the words "catholic" and "school" together as both oxymoronic. but that is a discussion for another time.
the reason the church had a problem with THE GOOD EARTH was its depiction of concubines and extramarital relations which was a part of traditional CHINESE culture, especially with regards to those men who were succesful in gaining economic and political power. and the root of said power was the earth.
when i read this book the first time years ago i was taken by its presentation of rural agrarian life in pre-revolution CHINA and how it was the women that who provided the uncelebrated labor and silent toil of the land that undergirded all claims to ascendent regional influence. it was them that provided value. the book showed how they were used as a resource, much like the land itself. in fact, it is the work of a woman, O-LAN, that provides the resources for the master of her house to purchase a concubine, LOTUS FLOWER. to western sensibilities it is highly reprehensible but this was commonplace in traditional CHINESE life.
the book also presents an idea of femininity that is problematic. O-LAN is considered undesirable due to her rough features and unbound feet, which contrasts directly with LOTUS FLOWER's delicate features and bound feet. to be feminine is to be submissive and vulnerable in this context. it is interesting that they are both trapped, just at opposite ends of a rigid structure of oppression.
reminds me of my time in ALBANIA when you would see these gorgeous women from the villages surrounding major cities making their way into the city center via public transportation. i learned during my time there that these women were undesirable because of a key feature: their hands. because they worked the fields and did manual labor their hands had developed callouses and the skin in their hands was rough, evidence of their hard work. every single time this was pointed out to me by an ALBANIAN colleague i would tell that they were insane. but that was the culture. men grew long nails on their pinky finger to signal the fact that they did not do manual labor as a status symbol.
reminds me of THE GOOD EARTH in the sense that those who provide actual value by harnessing a connection to the earth, are in turn less valued themselves. having a sense of distance from the land is in this model a desired outcome, a false claim of a supposed supremacy over nature.
that is not just the world of traditional CHINESE agrarian life, that is our modern world today. considering this book makes me thing of where our value really lies as a society. is it defined by our relationship with nature or our separation from such?
just a thought.
BOOK REVIEW | "LET MY PEOPLE GO SURFING: THE EDUCATION OF A RELUCTANT BUSINESSMAN" BY YVON CHOUINARD
so im taking a course at the moment on SUPPLY CHAIN management and recently there was a focus in the text about how corporations have a decision matrix that includes shareholders, specifically the wider societal and environmental impact of their operations. LET MY PEOPLE GO SURFING: THE EDUCATION OF RELUCTANT BUSINESSMAN (PENGUIN, 2005) written by PATAGONIA founder YVON CHOUNINARD basically calls bullshit on that whole notion. he makes his position very clear that corporations were originally created and continually maintained to limit the liability of their actions on a finite global ecosystem. by definition their objective and reason for being is to create efficiencies within the SUPPLY CHAIN, PRODUCTION and DISTRIBUTION of products and maximize profit. full stop.
anything else is just marketing and corporate propaganda.
which brings me to this interesting book about the history, philosophy and multi-pronged environmental efforts of the privately-owned benefit corporation PATAGONIA, INC and its multi-pronged in-house subsidiaries that produce everything from food, clothing to even surf boards. a cynic could argue that this book is a clever piece of propaganda aimed at convincing customers of the moral superiority of the PATAGONIA brand and its environmental efforts, which could justify the relatively high price of their products. for the record when i was a PEACE CORPS volunteer stationed in the bitterly cold northern mountainous region of ALBANIA bordering KOSOVO, i brought with me both shell jacket and a micro-puff jacket by the company that kept me warm. so if i have a bias, there it is. thats all i own by them and i still have both years later.
but as company propaganda goes, this book is really less a hagiography of the founder and his company and more a manual about how to go about innovating a business in a way that makes business sense. to me that is the core of this book and its intent. if anything, CHOUNINARD is attempting to proselytize future entrepreneur's to consider the real cost of their company and consider how to make them more environmentally sustainable. the example provided repeatedly throughout this book (which comprehensively goes over everything from their company philosophy on PRODUCT DESIGN and PRODUCTION to DISTRIBUTION, MARKETING, HUMAN RESOURCING and MANAGEMENT among other topics) is the risky switch the company made to organic content in the mid 1990s. sourcing this material was more costly to the company and required more intensive labor on behalf of the farmers, but those initial costs proved profitable long term and exerted less strain on the environment (turns out not using all those industrial chemicals and pesticides makes the soil more healthy and more productive, who knew?). CHOUNINARD claims that the cost of innovating his SUPPLY CHAIN in the short term was immense but was a sound business decision long term, even if the consumer 1) didn't notice the switch and 2) according to marketing research didn't care.
my takeaway from this book is that there is a hidden cost to SUPPLY CHAIN decisions that most companies, especially corporations working at scale, dont consider in part because they are not forced to. their goal is to be profitable. everything else is a externality. unfortunately this cycle of production and mindless consumerism as a means of insuring perpetual economic growth is a fantasy.
worse yet it is suicide.
CHOUNINARD doesnt claim to have all the answers. his company pollutes and creates waste, but the culture he created is fighting the good fight from the inside. it is attempting to setup the infrastructure to reduce waste by sourcing materials responsibly, seeking better work environments (including on-site child care), creating empowering specialized programs for workers of foreign mills and factories and instituting policies such as allowing customers to return long-worn products for repair. the list goes on.
probably most celebrated is their 1% FOR THE PLANET commitment whereby they pledged 1% of total sales to preservation and restoration of the environment. this is done through contributions to small local advocacy groups, not institutionalized groups and foundations which large overhead. they have committed nearly $90 million over the course of the company's history.
even if you are a cynic, that type of putting your money where your mouth is makes you take notice and they are encouraging others to make a stand and joing the effort. so in essence this book is not CHOUNINARD celebrating his efforts, it is him providing context and concrete strategies for his competitors to do the same. which is innately honorable. so kudos for him
i just dont think corporate AMERICA is going to change. ever. the efforts and contents of this book is outside their mindset. outside their interest. we are a planet of finite resources and they will suck it dry like the vampires they are. we are all doomed.
for all its posturing, METAL is a pretty conservative genre. i remember going to OZZFEST more than 20 years ago in 1999 and first witnessing not just live METAL bands, but the crowds they drew. im not gonna lie, it was all pretty intimidating as a teenager. there was this bullshit macho culture that informed nearly every aspect of the concert experience from how the bands reacted with the crowd and the crowd to one another. to date my least favorite aspect of METAL in general is the whole misogynist "show us your tits" culture that thankfully is starting to die out. i remember when walking around the venue how uninviting this event must have felt towards 1) women 2) gay men and 3) all rational humans.
obviously the almighty ROB HALFORD of BRITISH NWOBHM legends JUDAS PRIEST is the most famous homosexual in METAL history (that we know of). his memoir CONFESS (HACHETTE, 2020) is his recounting of his journey from the ENGLISH BLACK COUNTRY to becoming the preeminent METAL GOD that he has been for more than five decades. arguably only BLACK SABBATH and METALLICA have been as institutionally well-regarded and celebrated in METAL as JUDAS PRIEST. which makes his coming out as a HOMOSEXUAL that much more courageous, especially given the widespread conservatism elements within the METAL community.
that journey is described in detail and centers around HALFORD feeling entrapped by his SEXUALITY for a good portion of his adult life. for me it is that sense of repression, claustrophobia and inability to fully express oneself for fear of retribution, both against oneself and those he cares about (i.e. family and his band), that serves as the crux of this memoir and makes it very unique. what is interesting is how once he outed himself during an MTV interview, his family and fans (for the most part) all stood by and accepted him. JUDAS PRIEST had known for years and were always a steadfast in their support of one another. perhaps my initial reservations about the METAL community back in 1999 were wrong, maybe not.
another aspect i really appreciated about this memoir was HALFORD's personal touch as a wrier, routinely utilizing BRUMMIE dialect and turns-of-phrase which gave the language a decidedly BLACK COUNTRY flavor. it is obvious 1) that he wrote this memoir and 2) his pride in his background as someone from the WEST MIDLANDS in ENGLAND, much like predecessors in BLACK SABBATH. oftentimes when artists utilize ghost writers the writing takes on a more formal tone that often doesn't gel with the public persona of the artist. the fact that HALFORD unapologetically gushes about decidedly un-METAL subjects like CILLA BLACK, MADONNA, QUEEN ELIZABETH II or even LADY GAGA makes this book feel all the more personal, which i enjoyed. the only downside to such was that certain episodes in his life were brought up and then summarily passed over quickly, as if there was a checklist of events to get through.
i understand that as a gay man, HALFORD wanted to stay away from wading too deep in cliches such as the misery and depth of pain associated with the gay community during the 1980s when conservative governments lead by RONALD REAGAN and MARGARET THATCHER largely ignored the AIDS epidemic. this topic of self-hatred brought on by an unempathetic culture surrounding LGBTQIA issues has been fodder for plays, films and tv shows for decades now. i also understand he didn't want to delve into politics, consistently mentioning that he wasnt political by nature. unfortunately his identity as a gay man made him political and not by choice. for me that was a missed opportunity. i would have loved to learn his feelings about such but i understand and respect his decision not to delve into that topic.
all in all this was a very enjoyable memoir from a singular artist with a unique background that hopefully moving forward will become less so. one can only hope that the METAL community, like all aspects of society, progresses towards a more inclusive and empathetic ideal. one where people dont care about one's ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity and so on.
honestly, when i hear ROB HALFORD sing, i just think of how brutal JUDAS PRIEST are and how badass they sound, like freight train of unadulterated METAL. in JUDAS PRIEST i hear the twin guitar onslaughts of SLAYER, LAMB OF GOD and early METALLICA as well as the gymnastic vocals of DEVIN TOWNSEND and PERRY FARRELL. his sexuality never really comes into view, although now undoubtedly i'll never hear "JAWBREAKER" the same way again. cant believe i didnt see that one in retrospect, ive definitely got another thing coming.
photo by nacrowe
LOVE IN VAIN: ROBERT JOHNSON 1911-1938 (FABER & FABER, 2016) is lovingly constructed graphic novel depicting the basic narrative of doomed legendary DELTA BLUES artist ROBERT JOHNSON from the perspective of the DEVIL.
in terms of narrative there seems to be a heavy focus on the sheer physicality of the era, especially with evocative visual depictions of the thankless task of laboring in the cotton fields and carousing in the juke joints. you get a sense of how far outside of society JOHNSON was for pursuing a career in music that was unsanctioned by the BLACK BAPTIST CHURCH. you also get a feel for how all modes of escapism, whether they were musical, sexual or chemical in nature, where all just diversions from the harsh draconian reality that was being an AFRICAN AMERICAN in the JIM CROW, post-reconstruction deep south.
as with all types of narrative telling, choices are made regarding the subject that reflect more on the author/artist than the subject perhaps. this is true in the case of LOVE IN VAIN which was created by R. CRUMB acolyte MEZZO and finds interest in the extremity of the subject matter. in my mind, what i find more interesting about JOHNSON and his art are the ways that his upbringing and background informed his art. how they contextualized his lyrics. how those lyrics and that sound connected with generations of artists.
the devil at the crossroads gimmick is overblown in my opinion. it also is highly misrepresented as conversing with god in order to gain insight or wisdom is a hallmark of the WEST AFRICAN storytelling and oral history tradition than anything else. what gets perpetuated in well-meaning texts like this is the idea of a man who deserved to die for his talent, which is bullshit. the man was poisoned by a jilted husband of woman he was pursuing. shit happens. he messed with the wrong guy and due to his status as a societal outside, JOHNSON was left for dead without a doctor. his death was inevitable or a sign of anything.
i was a little let down that the narrator was the devil, even if he questioned the motives of several characters in the process (which is a bit of a head-scratcher when the lord of darkness finds you a bit duplicitous). seemed exploring WEST AFRICAN culture of HOODOO beliefs would have been more interesting, but hey the pictures are amazing.
for all the earned notoriety of its infamous film adaptation, CHUCK PALAHNIUK's novel FIGHT CLUB (WW NORTON, 1996) compellingly deconstructs MASCULINITY in a pre-internet consumer culture society. its an interesting thing that this narrative (and this author) gets a bad rap for glamorizing bro culture, because in my mind this novel and of all its savage pugilism (and the MASOCHISM that follows suit) is a primal scream against the confines of masculinity that is defined by how much money you can produce and how much bullshit you can consume. underground boxing and secret societies (and DOMESTIC TERRORISM) are almost team building exercises in this novel for a masculine identity devoid of an essence separate from commerce.
given the rise of the national TRUMP cult and the craven behavior of REPUBLICAN leaders beholden to a fiendishly loyal MAGA crowd, who themselves are, by and large, uneducated white men effectively rendered impotent in today's economy, the echoes of the themes presented in this book arguably more salient now then they ever were before.
so fighting in this novel is not really about fighting. my understanding is that it is paradoxically about connection. it is about establishing a sense of agency, control over your surroundings. even the physical damage taken in these brawls is a choice, an outcome decided by the individual alone. not a corporation or manipulative marketing or even an editorial board. fighting in this sense is used as a means of establishing one's INTRINSIC VALUE in a consumer culture that dismisses such. IMMANUEL KANT introduced the world to the idea of the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, in which leaders have a moral obligation to recognize the INTRINSIC VALUE of their subjects and not treat them as a means to an end. obviously the plot of this book (which i wont recount as it is common knowledge at this point given the film) is a NIHILISTIC fantasy about a reaction to the our new corporate overlords in a pre-internet world.
its interesting to think how 1) close our current world is to that presented here and 2) how further along we are in terms of the current SURVEILLANCE CAPITALIST state that has enabled our ability to be individually manipulated at scale beyond what PALAHNIUK could have imagined back during the 1990s.
MASCULINITY here is badly, damaged and rendered impotent. it makes sense that MASOCHISM and SELF-DESTRUCTION serve as a pathetic response that ironically asserts the agency of the individual. nothing bro about that.
no doubt there was a healthy bit of mischief involved when NBA coaching legend PHIL JACKSON (or the publisher) decided to entitle his book regarding leadership philosophy ELEVEN RINGS: THE SOUL OF SUCCESS (PENGUIN, 2014). its funny because ironically the championship hardware was never the point of his process, more just the fortunate outcome of a successful realigning of egos within his massively talented set of rosters over the years.
and i think that point is missed in the greater discussion of JACKSON. sure, he had transcendent stars like MICHAEL JORDAN and KOBE BRYANT along with supreme talents such as SCOTTIE PIPPEN, SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, DENNIS RODMAN, PAU GASOL and others. but BASKETBALL is a team sport and the focus of this book is how JACKSON went about creating a team that played like a cohesive tribe and not an assemblage of players. his unique gift was the ability to model and communicate an authentic sense of compassion and empathy upon his players, who in turn doted such on their fellow teammates. this provided a foundational mindset that helped establish in both CHICAGO and LOS ANGELES dynasties built upon a shared sense of common purpose and interdependence.
raised in a strict pentecostal household in NORTH DAKOTA by two parents who were fervent ministers, JACKSON shed the religiosity aspects of his upbringing but not the curiosity to explore alternative spiritual practices, rituals and ideas including that of BUDDHIST and NATIVE AMERICAN traditions. this would prove instrumental in his leadership approach.
the culture around the NBA is pretty good analogue for AMERICAN culture in general in that there is an intense, out-of-proportion celebration of the individual with lip-service allocated to more essential notions of group collaboration or teamwork. you can see this in the insatiable appetite for gossip and clickbait within our digital culture and a total utter dearth of basic understanding of notions of civic duty and responsibility. maybe it is a generational thing, but the emphasis in the NBA, much like in the broader culture since the 1980s has been squarely on me as opposed to we. i would argue that this focus on group dynamics seems very in keeping with the mission of his parents, albeit to secular ends.
his method is less about the techniques and more about the mindset he was trying to engender in his players. that mindset was transforming them into a selfless, ego-less whole who used the fluidity of the TRIANGLE OFFENSE to suss out weaknesses in the their opponents defense and exploit it as a single entity. he was attempting to get them to play as a single unit, not a collection of players seeking to increase their stats (and thus future paydays). it is an approach that is antithetical to the marketing and popular influence of the NBA. JORDAN is celebrated for his individual achievements and records, as seen in his ubiquitous endorsement deals, movies, apparel, documentaries that still hold a firm grip on the AMERICAN psyche nearly two decades later, but his real achievement was one of self-sacrifice to the team concept. not just him, all his teammates tirelessly focused on improving weaknesses in their team identity at the expense of satiating those of the sycophants (agents, fans, partners, family, etc) that no doubt had their ear at the time. the fact that JORDAN recognized the structural benefit of self-sacrifice and playing with intention not ego is a testament to his greatness as a competitor, ironically.
by submitting the wants of their individual egos to the collective needs of the team, the CHICAGO BULLS as well as the LAKERS succeeded in winning multiple titles under JACKSON. this success, again, is not the focus of the book. instead the very BUDDHIST notion of being present and controlling your thoughts and actions now in this moment is the key to success. winning is just an outcome, but being able to appreciate the fluidity of life and not being caught up in the disappointments of the past or anticipatory anxiety about the future frees one to be present and be truly awake and able to tackle problems as they arise in the present. and BASKETBALL is nothing but a set of problems arising that need to be settled within a group construct. a group synchronized with a sense of intention to adapt effectively as a cohesive unit. compelling stuff.
what is also interesting is how this book ends. JACKSON accepts a job with the NEW YORK KNICKS as president of BASKETBALL operations with the goal of transforming the culture along the precepts outlined in this book. of course with hindsight this endeavor was destined to be a failure as owner JAMES DOLAN has no appetite for a cultural shift and his entire operation is the very embodiment of futility, nepotism and everything that is wrong with AMERICAN culture and capitalism writ large. but it was worth a shot. if anyone could pull it off it was JACKSON.
CLIMATE CRISIS AND THE GLOBAL GREEN NEW DEAL (VERSO, 2020) finds noted progressive economist ROBERT POLLIN of UMASS AMHERST and legendary linguist and originator of modern cognitive science NOAM CHOMSKY of MIT tackling the complex and heady question of pursuing how to go about pressing for an international agreement regarding the ongoing CLIMATE CRISIS.
the essential problem is that inherently capitalist objectives are not aligned with the survival of the environment and its life systems. capitalism is about generating profit and providing value to their shareholders. end stop.
in the UNITED STATES the entire political structure, including both parties, adhere to a religion of NEOLIBERALISM that advocates unadulterated faith in the markets and the flawed idea that markets should replace government as the rule setter of economic activity. this is beyond problematic as the markets are not unbiased agents. all problems, or externalities in business parlance, that result formtheir flawed profit-seeking logic will be dealt, as believed by NEOLIBERALS, with the gusto, ingenuity and innovation. the concern now is that a market correction is not on the radar for most companies, who have a profit incentive to downplay and promote a culture of CLIMATE DENIALISM. it gets worse.
this culture is most obviously seen in the REPUBLICAN PARTY post-NEWT GINGRICH who have advocated for obstructionist policies regarding policies that would limit the economies ability to continue exploiting nature unabated and diminishing life in the process. it may sound like an alarmist fever dream, but consensus regarding CLIMATE SCIENCE by the scientific community is nearly unanimous. even among right-wing political parties worldwide, the REPUBLICAN PARTY is an outlier, with their domestic policies largely being shaped by private energy interests like the KOCH BROTHERS since their infiltration in the 1980s. the power of this constituency is bearing fruit currently and is the reason for AMERICAN intransigence in global attempts at addressing this issue.
in the UNITED STATES there is this concept that until recently has not been challenged of the enduring moral superiority of CAPITALISM over other systems, forgetting entirely that our economy has been driven over the course of our history by SLAVERY, COAL and OIL. all three are ethically problematic and have set into motion what is likely to be a world environment degraded and desecrated for future inhabitants. and the base reason for such is the profit principle.
it all seems so sad and pathetic really.
this book is rather wonky and a bit dense. it very much feels like reading a lecture chaired by two knowledge academics who are not dumbing down the conversation. this is very much how the book is structured, with moderator C.J. POLYCHRONIOU asking questions and each taking turns expounding on such. for me this book helps solidify my knowledge of current efforts to combat the CLIMATE CRISIS through advocating new power structures through renewed commitments to organized labor and other grassroots advocacy organizations worldwide aimed at being a voice for sanity in this discussion, which is essentially being sidelined by AMERICAN objectives, both political and economic. for the sake of the world these groups need to flourish and gain influence for further negotiations. otherwise the prognosis is toxic.
much like THE SIXTH EXTINCTION (review linked HERE) by ELIZABETH KOLBERT, this conversation regarding the CLIMATE CRISIS and human attempts at addressing such are dizzyingly complex and soul crushingly depressing given its scale. but it is a necessary conversation worth having.
this calamity just feels inevitable. to me personally at least.
great book that presents a discussion that i by no means did justice to. this is a book most definitely worth reading.
as the de facto face of BUDDHISM in the west's modern imagination, it is quite remarkable how little is known about TENZIN GYATSO himself (i.e. HIS HOLINESS THE 14TH DALAI LAMA) as well as the religious institution he represents, not to mention the history of his home country of TIBET, from which he has been in exiled from in INDIA since 1959. BRITISH author and former newspaper journalist ALEXANDER NORMAN makes a significant contribution with his recent biography THE DALAI LAMA: AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE (HMH BOOKS, 2020) to address these three gaps in the current popular understanding of this seemingly ubiquitous yet mercurial global public figure.
i just want to say first off that the breadth and depth of this book was really compelling. it is quite the accomplishment to relay the complex and oftentimes esoteric of TIBETAN BUDDHISM in a manner that makes sense to a layperson, never-mind connecting such religious understandings in framework that gives context and clarity to the spiritual underpinnings that affected his political decisions in the temporal realm.
given that TIBET was relatively isolated given its geography, yet ironically ideally located along the SILK ROAD trading routes that connected EURASIA, there developed an evolution of MAHAYANA BUDDHISM that was relatively cloistered from outside influence. for centuries this was of little concern, but TENZIN GYATSO's previous incarnation in THUBEN GYATSO, the THIRTEEN DALAI LAMA, who correctly surmised that modern industrialization of surrounding nations posed an existential threat to the continuation of their government for which he led. in may ways this was the circumstance that marked the era of HIS HOLINESS THE 14TH DALAI LAMA with the rise of COMMUNIST CHINA. NORMAN eloquently explains that:
"here was a man who, faced with almost unbearable responsibility from a young age and forced to confront a world for which he had been completely unprepared, nevertheless remained faithful to the spiritual tradition in which he had been raised."
dealing with the CHINESE invasion and subsequent eradication of all signs of TIBETAN culture within its borders was his greatest political challenge, from which he largely failed. it also transformed the TIBETAN identity in the process. previous divisions regarding differing schools and sects within TIBETAN BUDDHISM where largely consolidated under his leadership in exile in INDIA, where he is still currently living. the transmission and scholarly analysis of TIBETAN culture and the attendant BUDDHIST DOCTRINES of TIBETAN BUDDHISM is a priority now for further generations. as is the promotion of democracy, for which he stepped down and relinquished all claims to political leadership in 2011.
HIS HOLINESS THE 14TH DALAI LAMA is one of those few religious leaders that seems fully engaged with the outside world, fully willing to integrated a complex ethics system within a modern framework centered around modern scientific principles. As NORMAN explains, "the Dalai Lama is fully committed to introducing the natural sciences not only into the ordinary school curriculum but into the monastic curriculum as well." this is a revolution in their way of life, but in his estimation, as well as that of his predecessor, it is long overdue.
the value of this book is that it really gives a full scope to his achievements and follies, in other words for s man that is routined praised and even deified in the press (of which he actually is given that he is a manifestation of the BODHISATTVA of compassion, AVALOKITESVARA), NORMAN presents him as a humble servant, living a mendicant existence promoting compassion and empathy to a global audience.
NORMAN writes with clarity and eloquence and this book was thoroughly enjoyable to read, even when it dealt with the complex minutiae of TIBETAN BUDDHIST doctrine. i recommend it to anyone interested in modern ASIAN history or the evolution of MAHAYANA BUDDHISM. there is so much to talk about with this book that I could press on and attempt to address, but bottom line: this is a must-read.