You Are What You Post


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Photo credit: http://www.destinationmainstreets.com

I grew up in Solvang, a small Danish-themed tourist town in California, and like many Americans, there was a soundtrack to my childhood.

It started out with a hodgepodge of what my older brothers and parents listened to: The Beatles and The Velvet Underground (artist-musician brother), Blue Oyster Cult and Rush (football star party-animal brother), Andy Williams, Sinatra and Beethoven (definitely the parental units). That was accompanied by the soundtrack of greater society: what you hear in the mall, on the radio, at your friend’s houses. Initially, I mistook my family’s tastes for my own, gravitating the most toward artist-brother’s selections. I knew the lyrics to many Beatles songs by heart, and with each new album he purchased–the Red album, the Blue album, the White album, Abbey Road–my song repertoire expanded.

By the time I was in junior high school, I started my very own collection of tapes. I would save up my allowance, beefed up by the occasional pilfering of shiny quarter wishes from the bottom of the town fountains and head to Santa Barbara to expand my music collection. I believed my tastes to be in the ilk of  Van Halen and Guns ‘n Roses, but when it came to parting with my quarters and actually purchasing albums, artist-brother’s British tastes had infiltrated my own selections. Although I had quite a few Billy Joel, Huey Lewis & The News and Bruce Springsteen albums, The Police, Dire Straits and Duran Duran were in the mix.

I knew that American bands were known abroad, but I somehow imagined this was mainly the case in England and other English-speaking countries. My first trip to Europe in the late 1990s seemed to confirm my assumption; I spent three weeks in Italy, where I only heard Italian music on the radio and in the shops and restaurants.

Without any other European experience, my expectation was that The Netherlands would be a land filled with Dutch music and that the soundtrack of my life up until I moved abroad would be a nostalgic compilation left on the other side of the Atlantic.

Oh. So. Wrong. Maybe Americans and Brits are no longer “everywhere” but our music sure is. It’s on Dutch radio, in the gym, in the restaurants, in the clubs. I should have been clued in when I started dating a Dutch guy who knew most of the music I listened to. Now that Dutch guy is my Dutch husband.

We have a running joke about music in public spaces: When we walk into a pub or restaurant, we affect the median age of customers on the premises and the music on the radio adjusts accordingly to our musically formative years i.e. high school and university years.

In other words, I can hear Guns & Roses, Bruce Springsteen, The Police and just about anything else from my youth by just walking into an establishment. Or maybe we just had some kick-ass music during our youth that has stood the test of time.

According to a large number of articles over the past five years, you are no longer what you eat; you are what you post! Does this small representation of the thousands of songs I was exposed to in my youth now become a shortlist of how I am represented? Am I simply a summation of a few lines of text? No Husker Du or Black Flag, The Carpenters or Carole King, no Antara & Delilah, Ben Howard or Jim Bianco?

I am an American shaped by American and British music. But to think that this music was somehow an exclusively American or British experience is just not the case. While we were Rock’n in the Free World (Neil Young or Bon Jovi cover style), so were high school and university students in The Netherlands and presumably countless numbers of others throughout the world.

What most likely remains rather exclusive is the local music, the indie bands that are amazing, but never make it to a national or global level. But this is no reason to keep it to yourself. Support these bands; honor their contribution to the rather niche soundtrack of your life and spread the joy of their music.

 

 

 

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Nadja Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot visits The Hague


Last week my British friend invited me to see Nadja Tolokonnikova speak at Border Kitchen. Nadja reached international fame in 2012 when she and her feminist Pussy Riot bandmates were arrested on charges of “hooliganism” when they gave a spontaneous performance at a Moscow cathedral.

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Image from Border Kitchen website

She served two years in a Russian prison for her act of hooliganism. During her sentence, she worked 17-hour days sewing uniforms. But that’s not what she wanted to talk about with the interviewer and audience at Paard van Troje. She wanted to talk about starting a revolution. I could almost hear  a punk version of Tracy Chapman’s famous song playing in the background. Yet at the same time, Nadja’s approach to starting a revolution is much more in your face.

When she first started speaking, I was put off. She dropped the F bomb like a rapper, she didn’t always answer the interviewers questions and she made a lot of generalizations. It didn’t seem to be a matter of stage fright. On the contrary, she seemed quite relaxed and content to digress from the topic if she so desired. I thought I was in for a long, awkward evening at the hands of an anarchist.

I soon realized it wasn’t her who was undergoing a bout of awkwardness; it was me. I was in an adjustment period. Nadja’s presence and her way of thinking were foreign to me. As I let go of whatever preconceived notions I might have had, she emerged before me as a true revolutionista, or in this case a  революционер.

She wasn’t interested in being in the spotlight for the spotlight’s sake. She didn’t care about fame. She knew that she was risking her life just about every time she partook in acts of rebellion in Russia. But she just chose not to think about it. No point. We all die. And better to live your life fully engaged and stand up for what you believe in, then living in fear. Not exactly her words, but that was the sentiment she conveyed.

The more she talked, the more I realized that Nadja is a unique brand of brilliant. She is strong, optimistic, driven, detached. When she talked about celebrities and politicians she’s met from Madonna to Obama, I didn’t get the idea she was name dropping. It was more like telling it as it is.

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Here is my attempt to summarize some of the best insights I received from her talk. These are not her exact words, and could very well misrepresent what she said. But they are my attempt to recall from memory what she said over a week ago.

  1. On Trump. Yes he’s an ugly fascist pig, but it’s a good thing to have that ugliness out in the open where we can all see it. He’s in your face and you can’t ignore him and his ugly attacks on women, the environment, muslims and immigrants. These policies are not hidden and happening behind doors. You are fully confronted with what he’s doing right out in the open. The question remains, what are you going to do about it? (Start a revolution, perhaps?) We can all do something, no matter who we are. We can all take action and stand up for what we believe in. You can see Pussy Riot’s Make America Great Again Trump video here (not for those under 18, or with delicate temperaments).
  2. On communicating with ‘the other.’ When she spent time in prison, she met people with whom she would have never come into contact in her life outside bars: pro-Putin Russians and other people who had completely different opinions than her on almost everything. But they all became friends. How? Surprisingly, she referenced  Acts Chapter 2 of The Bible, to explain her approach to communicating with those who don’t agree with you.
    Acts discusses people speaking in tongues during Pentecost and suddenly being able to understand each other. I don’t think it was about all of these people suddenly speaking Polish and French and all of these different languages. I think it was about people actually being open to ‘the other’ and listening with their heart to one another, being willing to step inside their shoes and see the world from their perspective. That’s what I tried to do in prison. I walked in their shoes. And from there, we could communicate and understand one another. Damn. Nadja has a good point.
  3. On humor: I was one of a half dozen Americans in the audience who raised my hand to ask a question. I notice that I often seek out humor as a way of dealing with the disaster that is Trump. (Think Borowitz report from The New Yorker, or most Late Night shows). Afterwards, I feel a release of pressure, but also a release of the desire to take action. Does humor make us passive?
    Nadja’s answer to my question was also a relief. Here’s my summary of her response. I have activist friends who think humor detracts from activism. But I believe that we do need humor. In fact, humor makes life better, both in and out of prison. It’s hard to listen to people who are serious all of the time. Humor is a way of connecting and taking a serious problem and making it approachable. In other words, humor is a valid tool in starting a conversation and a platform for taking action.

I should probably also mention that Nadja Tolokonnikova wasn’t just there to talk. She has authored a book called: How to Make a Revolution. She’s also started a prison reform project and a media website, Mediazona, with the idea of keeping the world informed about human rights abuses in Russian prisons and calling for prison reform.

“I’m just a damned Russian peasant,” she said as she finished up her presentation to thunderous applause. She might very well be a damned Russian peasant, but she’s a damned impressive Russian peasant, fueling the fires of a revolution in her wake.

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You Rock Luther Richmond!


I’m getting a little tired of awesome people I know passing away. And I’m even bummed when even not-so-awesome people die. I know death is part of life, but what I find strange is the gush of regret-laden feelings that comes to the surface at funerals; “I wish I’d told her how much she meant to me,” or “I wonder if he knew what an inspiration he was to those around him.”

Why wait to tell people post-mortem? Now is the time! So on that note, I am starting what I hope to make a ritual–celebrating and sharing now. Even if the person I write about doesn’t read my post, at least I’ve put my thanks out into the universe.

So here goes!

You ROCK Luther Richmond!

Many of my friends know me as a musician. I played saxophone for years in bands throughout the U.S.: Reggae, folk and rock in Santa Barbara, classical and jazz in Hawaii, ska in Boston, punk jazz in Bend, Country Rock in Santa Ynez, and even an international stint of busking on the streets of Amsterdam, earning more per hour for my jazzy notes than any hourly rate in my professional career. But where did this all start? I could herald back to the days of piano lessons as an 8-year-old, or flute in Solvang Elementary School under the direction of Bob Raliegh, or saxophone in high school jazz band under the direction of Dan Neece. But what took me to the next level was Luther Richmond, the lead singer of  Jah-B-One, or Jah-Bone, a talented reggae band from Santa Barbara.

So to understand why Luther gets the honor of the first write-up, I’ll have to start with the rather embarrassing story of our very first encounter. When I was eighteen going on nineteen, I played sax in the Santa Barbara City College jazz band and via friends, learned of a reggae band looking for a sax player. Even though I was not versed in reggae, I went to the tryout anyway. Afterall, I was an invincible, I-can-do-anything young adult.

When we pulled up to the house, my friend led me to a little shack in back. Upon opening the door, I entered a smoke-filled room sardined with musicians, all male, of varying ethnicities and ages. As a caucasian female, I seemed to be the missing link needed to complete the diversity snapshot. Luther, the lead singer, sat behind the drum set. No one needed to tell me he was the leader of the band. His cool cat presence conveyed it immediately. He was all eloquence and tact as he called out the charts, cut it off when something wasn’t jiving, or gave a compliment when it was.

They played a song that made me feel like I had no worries in the world. It had a steady beat that made me want to dance, simple lyrics about rocking a boat, and a sweet horn section throughout the song that sent positive vibes down my white girl spine. When we finished playing, I asked if was a cover or an original. “A cover,” Luther said without cracking a smile. “It’s by Bob Marley.” And with that moment of utter humiliation, a friendship was born.

After a few more tryouts, Luther Richmond and his band of friends welcomed me to their tribe. I not only learned about reggae music, but that friendships were not limited to people your own age, color or background. We played everything from Caribbean restaurants to frat parties, festivals and upscale bars. We had a following. During this period I learned that educated college students, i.e. my peeps, were sometimes among the dumbest people on earth.  I learned that reggae music has a depth to it that you need to learn through exposure, practice and listening; that one man’s drinking song can be another man’s anthem of living a life of integrity.

I was also exposed to great talent; Luther’s voice was one I could listen to for hours. He had this smooth, natural voice that could make men close their eyes and listen intently, swaying to the rhythms. He spoiled many mainstream musicians for me, as their voices couldn’t compare to his.  And despite this, he always remained humble.

Luther taught me through music, but also through his parenting style. His kids were little when I first started playing with his band, but he talked to them like they were adults. At first I found this strange. Most people I knew who had kids this age would  lilt their voices upward into sing-songy notes of affection when they spoke to their children. Not Luther. He listened to their needs, encouraged them to use reason, and used a firm yet gentle tone. And his children always listened to him. They were always polite, yet not afraid to share their thoughts and opinions.

Is it at all surprising that his children grew into successful, confident yet considerate adults? And what resonates in me when I think of Luther is how happy he is as a human being; not happy in the sense of someone who’s always smiling and kidding around, but of someone who’s simply satisfied with the choices they’ve made in life, rolls with the punches and keeps on going. In other words, a man of integrity.

Luther also stood up for what he believed in. One time I told him I wished I could find an office job for him so he wouldn’t have to work so hard. His response surprised me. He never wanted an office job. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something like, Why would I want to be shackled to a desk?

Although I did use that sing-songy voice with my child when he was younger, I’ve held many an office job and my saxophone is a bit neglected, his positive impact on my life has shown itself in unexpected ways. Ways that speak of integrity. And more importantly, he’s still out there, vibrant and cool, gigging in Santa Barbara with Shades of Soul. You rock Luther Richmond!

Once


Have you ever talked to a kid who has never heard of  The Red Hot Chili Peppers or The Beatles for that matter? You look at the kid as if maybe all is not right between those little ears and wonder how their exposure could be so incredibly narrow. Last week I had to look in the mirror at the space between my own ears to ask myself a similar question; how on earth did I miss out on the 2006 film Once? Or the lead actors/musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglorva for that matter?

Although Once was produced in 2006 on a meager budget of $160,000, and didn’t really hit the streets running until 2007, it is far from a hidden Indy treasure. It won a 2008 Oscar for best original song, for God’s sake!

Once is the type of film that slowly opens your heart to the character’s struggles and leads you to a renewed sense of hope. Set in Dublin, the film is about an Irish busker who meets a Czech immigrant.  Although he plays great covers, she notices and appreciates his original songs. She is also a musician, and as a friendship and potential romance grows between them, they set out to record his works.

As a musician who has been enmeshed in the beauty of creating music with others, I was completely drawn to both Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglorva’s musical performances. Although the Oscar award winning track “Falling Slowly” was fantastic, I found myself on youtube more than once listening to “When Your Mind’s Made up.” Even though the lyrics are repetitive, the song drives me into a frenzy of creative energy. I find myself turning up the volume, my own energy surging as the song builds into a crescendo of the main chorus. A day later, I heard the same song down the hall emanating from my husband’s office. Clearly I wasn’t the only one taken with the music in our household.

You know you are doing something you love when you lose all sense of time. Jamming with other musicians is such a world and Once captures the essence of this experience on more than one occasion.

After watching the movie, I wanted to know if these two characters had lives outside the film and boy was I surprised to learn that Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglorva had a band together called The Swell Season. And on top of that, they were indeed a couple after making the film.

Upon reading this, I felt some great sense of victory, as if a heart warming fictional story had spilled over into reality. But I did not get to cherish this real love story for long, as further reading divulged that the relationship ended a few years later. Yet the friendship remained, as they continued to play music together.

And of course Glen Hansard isn’t just some unknown musician who was hired to do a movie. He is the founder of a famous Irish Rock Band called The Frames. He’s played all over the world, as a matter of fact.

If you feel like receiving bittersweet inspiration, then check out this film and the musicians!

9 out of 10.