and DENNIS RODMAN has been my favorite basketball player since childhood.
i know now in this "anything goes" TRUMP-era people, rightly so, criticize him for his naive efforts at international diplomacy and "friendship" with north korean dictator KIM JONG UN, but my reasons are wholly based on his performance on the court. at least mostly.
i'd be lying if i didn't say that one of the sports highlights of my childhood was watching him curse out MORMONS in an interview on live tv during the 1998 NBA FINALS. and he did it in the arena in SALT LAKE CITY. that was classic. and don't get it twisted, thats not me condoning hate speech. MORMONS have a complicated history with their racist beliefs regarding AFRICANS and NATIVE AMERICANS and their "missionary" efforts in AFRICA. so sue me.
what impresses me most about RODMAN was his work ethic and ability to make a career out of doing the unglamorous things that win games: rebounding and playing defense. raised in DALLAS by a single-mother, growing up he was anything but an athletic standout and often battled depression. he did not know his father (they wouldn't meet until his 30s) and he was even homeless at one point during his late teens, so battled sever issues regarding identity and attachment during a key developmental stage. in a league that was and still is star-driven, RODMAN was picked in the second round by the DETROIT PISTONS after attending a backwater, no-name NCAA DIVISION II school SOUTHEASTERN OKLAHOMA STATE. the fact that he willed himself to be a dominant player in the league is a testament to his drive and work ethic. in my mind his play, garnering him accolades (5x champion, 7x rebounding champion, 7x all-defensive first team, 2x defensive player of the year, 13.12 rebounds game/career average, hall of fame induction, no. 10 retired by DETROIT PISTONS) , spoke louder than his wedding dresses, dyed hair, tattoos and publicity stunts which in mind were his misguided way of seeking the love and affection he so desperately sought as a child.
he is a flawed, but so are the rest of us. and again, i respect that hell of out the guy. a HALL OF FAME career doing the unglamorous hard work on the floor that others don't want to do.
can't help but admire that.
when i was in graduate school at TEACHERS COLLEGE we were asked to come up with a metaphor for how we ran our classroom. my response: my classroom was like an ORNETTE COLEMAN record in that from the outside it sounded unstructured and chaotic, but underneath it all there was an effective classroom with purpose and communication.
COLEMAN was the foremost purveyor of what became known as FREE JAZZ. much like in FREE VERSE poetry (WALT WHITMAN, T.S. ELIOT, WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS) words are left untethered by expectations regarding rhyme, meter and structure, FREE JAZZ was unshackled by notions of key, mode, pace, rhythmic structure, etc.. in essence participants were forced to listen to each other which with intent since there was no road map or safety net to rely upon. in my opinion this is the very defining characteristic that makes jazz JAZZ: improvisation.
its basically chaos theory in practice: out of chaos comes order.
that was one of my organizing principles regarding lesson plans in my english classes. make things messy. i always felt that learning should be about discovery. give them the tools and let them learn to apply. supplemental instruction only after being forced to work with peers through a problem first. in my opinion this reflects REAL LIFE.
unfortunately at the moment in american education it is more about memorization or far worse, the attempted deduction of the most appropriate answer based on reverse-engineering the intent of a test writer. everyone i know that still teaches does test prep consistently in class a matter of not committing career suicide. we are developing a generation of test takers and not practical problem solvers. breaks my heart but i loss that war.
but i still look to COLEMAN as a beacon of that beautiful chaotic noise of discovery.
its been years but im still pissed ADULT SWIM took this show off the air.
the long-defunct animated show METALOCALYPSE, which aired on CARTOON NETWORK from 2006-2013 was the brainchild of one BRENDON SMALLS and followed the banal and vapid musings of the most successful METAL band of all-time, DETHKLOK. how big? world economies hang on their every release. so big that an ILLUMINATI-esque secretive council of military, business, political and religious leaders are constantly convening to decide their fate unbeknownst.
METALOCALYPSE was easily the most cutting satire of the truly ridiculous aspects of all things METAL since THIS IS SPINAL TAP (EMBASSY PICTURES1984). it really milks for comedic effect the megalomania, paranoia, pettiness and extended childhood impetuousness that comes with being a musician. it doesn't hurt that musically no METAL genre goes unscathed, including BLACK METAL, DEATH METAL and GLAM METAL which really is a testament to the multiple talents of SMALLS who wrote and directed the series as well as constructed and played most of the music with the help of legitimate members of the metal community. and that involvement is what separates this show from SPINAL TAP in spirit, as the latter was created by a group of comedians lampooning the genre outside outside the community. METALOCALYPSE has had numerous guests, choosing adroitly to hide most of their collaborative efforts, including KING DIAMOND, ACE FREHLEY of KISS, MIKE PATTON of FAITH NO MORE / MR. BUNGLE, ISAHN of EMPEROR, KIM THAYIL of SOUNDGARDEN, STEVE VAI, GRUTLE KJELLSON of ENSLAVED, KIRK HAMMETT & JAMES HETFIELD of METALLICA, DEVIN TOWNSEND, MATT PIKE of HIGH ON FIRE & SLEEP, CORPSEGRINDER of CANNIBAL CORPSE, SCOTT IAN of ANTHRAX, BILLY GIBBONS of ZZ TOP, MARTY FRIEDMAN of MEGADETH, BRENT HINDS, BRANN DAILOR & TROY SANDERS of MASTODON, MICHAEL AMOTT of CARCASS, RICHARD CHRISTY of DEATH / HOWARD STERN SHOW, DAVE GROHL of FOO FIGHTERS / NIRVANA, JACK BLACK of TENACIOUS D and DWEEZIL ZAPPA among numerous others.
rather than ramble on i'd rather instead invite you to seek out the world of NATHAN EXPLOSION, PICKLES, MURDERFACE, SKWISGAAR SKWIGELF and TOKI WAROOTH. asbolute required viewing for any fan of METAL.
full disclosure: i'm a diehard LOS ANGELES LAKERS fan.
my youth in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA was spent in the strange im-between doldrum years that marked the post-MAGIC JOHNSON era and the pre-KOBE BRYANT era. i grew up idolizing players like NICK VAN EXEL and TERRY TEAGLE, although i always disliked ELDEN CAMPBELL. that last bit is probably due to the fact that as a 3rd grader at a charity auction i asked him for an autograph and he asked me for $50. wasn't worth it then and its still not worth it. BYRON SCOTT, CHICK HEARN (R.I.P.) and all the previously mentioned players were cool and signed willingly which totally made my year.
so that's just some context. back in the mid 90s i played in a league called NJB that was geographically covered (i believe) HAWAI'I, CALIFORNIA (southern and the central valley), NORTHERN ARIZONA and parts of NEVADA. needless to say i was pretty good and was an all-star center and prospect going into middle school. now spoiler alert: i ended up moving to NIGERIA for middle school and never returned, basically abandoning any chance of playing southern california basketball, a decision i am still very comfortable with.
i was at an NJB conference with my dad when i ran into KURT RAMBIS and spoke with him for a few minutes. first off, totally nice guy and i knew who he was immediately by his thick horned-rim glasses, plus he played with my man MAGIC a few years earlier. basically i talked to him about the fact that i loved basketball but that i wasn't digging all the parents living through their kids, that basically that outside pressure (not from my family) was making it not fun anymore. essentially i was describing LAVAR BALL before he was a thing. for me i had a hard time with the idea that my identity was wrapped around my being an athlete and that teammates had parents that would make them cry after games we lost. the whole thing had an air of desperation and was pathetic looking back on it.
RAMBIS said he totally understood. funny thing was that he was there to address a roomful of THOSE PARENTS shortly thereafter. being a former teacher i still cringe at the way parents take over their kid's games. this AAU circuit that has taken over competitive youth sports is next-level exploitation and make me depressed to consider how much they are crushing kids love of the game. it all just strikes me of ego, hubris and misplaced love of self. coaches and parents need to get over themselves.
then again i don't have kids so what do i know.
when i listen to the music of THE POGUES and read the lyrics of SHANE MACGOWAN i hear longing. there is something achingly irish about this body of work.
in my teenage years i was lucky enough to have visited IRELAND, but i have to say growing up a kid who was thrown from school to school, literally continent to continent was more of an education into what it means to be irish than any book i read or place i visited. there is something to be said about the complicated long-distance relationship between the irish and their beloved ireland. i think it can be boiled down to the experience of an immigrant.
full disclosure: my paternal grandfather's side of the family is of irish-descent having left the small village of CAPPAWHITE in COUNTY TIPPERARY just over a century ago for NYC.
a national identity surrounding displacement is something i've seen again and again overseas. when i was in KOSOVO there were grandmothers i interviewed that longed to meet their sisters and cousins in ALBANIA that some hadn't seen since childhood. songs from their childhood were passed down to ensure a sense of identity even though their circumstances, (political, financial and otherwise) prevented such. it was heartbreaking to hear.
family of albanian descent i interviewed in kosovo. photo by nacrowe
when i listen to the work of SHANE MACGOWAN i hear that subtext. to me it is synonymous with the unique, often pitchy but unequivocally authentic tone of his voice. he may be singing about romantic love, but in my mind he is channeling his collected experiences of growing up irish in england as a first generation immigrant. there is a pride in that resilience which is all over his lionizing of the immigrant experience in songs like "thousands are sailing" and "fairytale of new york."
what i find truly heartbreaking is the inevitable miscue that happens when the public confuses pride in one's community and their resilience through trouble times as something unique to them. in my mind descendants of irish immigrants should be the first ones to welcome and support newcomers since they should the one's most aware of their sacrifice in leaving home. they should have empathy.
but i have the music of THE POGUES. sometimes i wish people could just harness and embody the ideals of their message and celebrate our collective community, because last time i checked when i was in ireland, to the irish EVERYONE IS FROM IRELAND.
photo by nacrowe
gonna just state the obvious. im a huge DEVO fan.
this photo was taken at MUTATO MUZIKA in los angeles by my god mother who works in the music and film industries. at the time MARK MOTHERSBAUGH was working on the score to WES ANDERSON's then in post production film LIFE AQUATIC.
thing i always appreciated about DEVO, much like other bands i adore like THE SMITHS or THE CURE, is their ability to lyrically and sonically represent a comprehensive vision. there is a whole lexicon of internal references and a cohesive worldview regarding consumer culture, masculinity and sexual politics that is embedded in their music.
as outsiders from akron, ohio, in the wake of the 60s protest movements, DEVO have developed a mistrust and skepticism towards nexuses of power (financial, political, commercial, social, etc.) which they often parody in their music and visual content. i would argue that the locus of their ire is not necessarily structures themselves but rather the empty sentiments and thought processes that make such things possible. by this i mean they are continually going after jingoist patriotism and toxic masculinity.
now its one thing to have a strident political or cultural bent in your music, but often-times the music is not the equivalent of the lyrical content (cough, cough, THE CLASH). when i think of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, their aggressive reinvention of the electric guitar more than enhances their revolutionary lyrics. same with DEVO.
albeit their electronic-based experiments were initiated by the likes of KRAUTROCK bands like KRAFTWERK or NEU!, who i love and respect, their music is by design devoid of personality. DEVO was a bit of a sonic hybrid that used its unique sonic vantage point to draw attention and mock american society.
the most ingenious aspect of DEVO was their utter infiltration of american consumer society as their music has been licensed repeatedly for consumer product promotions and frontman MARK MOTHERSBAUGH has made a career writing theme songs for TV (PEE-WEE's PLAYHOUSE, RUGRATS) and scoring feature films (RUSHMORE, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, BOTTLE ROCKET). in essence they went from critiquing american consumer culture to becoming it.
it's funny. there's a lot about writer ERNEST HEMINGWAY that i don't like or identify with; his killing of animals for sport, macho sense of white privilege, womanizing, etc. that being said he was of his time for better or worse.
but for my money for a 30 period from the 1920s through to the 1950s he was one of the most adventurous both in terms of his wanderlust and his editing. yes i said it. when i think of what i like about HEMINGWAY, its his ability to showcase complex psychology using concise declarative sentences with minimal superfluous decorations like fancy adjectives and obscure references. in essence, the opposite of my writing style.
i am aware that this style came about from his time as a journalist both stateside and abroad as a war correspondent for the KANSAS CITY STAR during the spanish civil war of the 1930s. he is a case study in economy. to say the most with the least. its not minimal in the sense of a WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS poem where he is playing with the form itself, for HEMINGWAY i believe he was more interested in the conveying a thought like a straight line to the heart. in a way its kind of a similar ethos to punk rock, three chords and the truth except with him its a subject, verb, object and a typewriter.
i've read and taught HERMAN MELVILLE's MOBY DICK (1851) in my prior life as a secondary english teacher. what's intellectually stimulating about it is its breadth of knowledge about nearly every aspect of whaling in northeast america in the late 18th century. it's encyclopedic. the exercise in reading that book, beside its volume, is trying to surmise which religious, cultural, economic, political allusion to attach to a given part of the narrative. several times the actual plot works on several of these levels simultaneously, which gives the book depth. so basically MOBY DICK is both massive in terms of its breadth and depth.
HEMINGWAY isn't interested in that with THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1952). to me the plot is more of a rorschach test where you can enjoy it for whatever you want it to be. the biblical story of job, sure. a treatise on the hardships related to aging, absolutely. an expression of HEMINGWAY'S depleted vitality and interest in life, maybe. to me HEMINGWAY presents something to project onto, as apart to MELVILLE where it feels more like an endurance test, like a marathon. love them both, but i feel the superior trick is to view the reader as an equal partner in the creation of meaning through the written word.
this was HEMINGWAY's calling card and gift as a writer. respecting his reader.
man i still miss CHRIS FARLEY. watching his stuff still makes me laugh.
its between him and NORM MACDONALD for my favorite comedians of all-time. i can't choose.
this might come off as tone deaf or unsympathetic, but normally when a celebrity passes on i am not that affected by it on a personal level. don't get me wrong, i have compassion for the family of the deceased and the suffering they must be going through. but i don't usually take the next step and feel personally affected. i didn't know them personally. i can't think of another celebrity i had such a strong reaction to upon learning of their demise. not even KURT COBAIN or later PHIL HARTMAN and OL' DIRTY BASTARD. FARLEY still stands out to me as uniquely american tragedy, as our culture promotes narcissism through empty capitalism, but never checks the dark underbelly of consumer culture that defines our self-image.
to me FARLEY's passing was different. his death from a speedball overdose in 1997 happened during my middle school years and it bummed me out. sounds selfish, i felt like something was taken from me when he died. like we were all deprived of his brilliance. dude was so vivacious and full of life, he just seemed like a force of nature in his performances which were so intense it had an almost kinetic energy that just sucked you in from its sheer force of will.
it is so tragic to know now that his performances were fueled by pain and insecurity. being overweight and seeing his father ridiculed growing up for his weight issues in rural WISCONSIN just breaks my heart. what really gets me is the idea that the gift for which he was celebrated for, his humor and larger-than-life personality, was born out of a desperation for feeling like a social outcast due to his stature. his acting out a way of gaining attention and notoriety and at its base, love and adoration. the feeling that his frame made him unlovable.
that idea still makes me sad. that his gift was his curse. being celebrated for your sublimated creative expression of deep unbridled pain and social anxiety.
i love the guy 20+ years later and i still miss him even though i never knew him. dude was a legend.
R.I.P. CHRIS FARLEY.