“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”

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Today is Easter, so Happy Easter to all those who celebrate.  I like candy and dying eggs, so that’s what I celebrate about this holiday (plus, bunnies are super cute).  But I am not a Christian, so the religious connotations of the day do not matter to me.

In fact, the religious aspect of Easter have confused me for a number of years.  Not the honoring and celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  I totally get that, and I respect my Christian brothers and sisters in their observance.  And I don’t want to anger any Jukebox listeners who may be of that particular persuasion, but there’s something just the tiniest bit. . . off about how Easter is celebrated.

Okay, stick with me for a second here.  A Thing happens on a particular date.  If that Thing is of some kind of historical or cultural consequence, that Thing gets enshrined in a holiday of some sort.  Generally, that holiday falls on the same date as the Thing That Happened, or as near to it as everyone can agree on.  If said holiday is not in commemoration of a particular event or birth but in honor of a special group, it usually has a rule about when it is observed (i.e., a particular Sunday in a particular month).  Still with me?  Awesome.  A good example of a holiday for a Thing That Happened is the Fourth of July, which celebrates our declaration of independence from England (roughly coinciding with the publication of the document).  A good example of a holiday honoring a group would be Mother’s Day, which is held on the second Sunday of May every year (it’s the 8th this year; don’t forget your mom).  The one exception to both of these rules seems to be Easter.

See, every year Easter is on a different date, as are the holy days preceding it beginning with Ash Wednesday.  Now since this holiday is generally considered to honor a particular Thing That Happened, you would think it would occur on the same day every year.  It would also seem to follow that the holy days preceding Easter would also always occur on the same dates as well.  But each year, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the northern hemisphere’s Spring (thanks, Google!).  The day of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection did not change.  (While we can’t be 100% certain which days those things happened thanks to numerous calendar changes over the centuries, we could probably find a generally agreed upon date if we were pressed.  Kind of like we did for Christ’s birth.)  So why does the date of Easter range from the end of March to the end of April, generally speaking?  Why does what is generally agreed to be one of the absolute holiest days on the Christian calendar move around with the changes of the moon like some kind of Pagan holiday?

Think about it.

Phife Dawg

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His mother named him Malik.  He named himself Phife Dawg.  I was remiss in not noting his passing here this week, and for that I am sorry.  I was just so stunned that this still-young man, this man who was a year younger than me, had died.

I had also forgotten how truly great A Tribe Called Quest was.  They were a genre-bending Hip-Hop group who refused to buy into the stereotypes that the music industry insisted on imposing on black artists.  But listening to this music for the first time in many, many years, it sounds like it was made today.  Like Wiz Khalifa just stepped up to the mic.  Like some wicked Jazz combo decided to have Mos Def and Talib Kweli front their band.  Like no time has passed.  A Tribe Called Quest not only made some of the best Hip-Hop out there, they made the rest of the really good stuff possible.  They were pioneers in every sense of the word, and Phife Dawg’s influence will be felt for years to come.  Timeless.

 

 

Garry Shandling

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I really enjoyed It’s Garry Shandling’s Show back in the 80s.  (It was on Showtime the same night as Brothers, which was also really funny and had a great theme song.)  It was kind of odd and subversive and had a great deal of fun with subverting the sitcom genre.  I even remember the words to the theme.

I never watched his other show, but I know it was much more popular and much more bitter and sarcastic.  I’d like to remember him best as a good-natured goof who made me smile.  Thanks for the laughs, Garry.  I hope you join Robin and all the other great comics during the stand-up interludes at the Great Concert of Eternity.  (Hey, the musicians need breaks once in a while.)

“Within You Without You”

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I’ve got to admit that this post is probably going to ramble a bit.  I’ve had quite a bit of wine tonight, and I got out of bed to post because I feel like I have to say what’s going on in my head and heart before I forget it.

But I can’t really forget it, can I? The news is filled with it.  The terrorist attacks in Brussels are everywhere right now, and Facebook is covered in the colors of the Belgian flag.  But why wasn’t it covered in the Turkish flag over the last couple of weeks?  Why was the coverage of the several terrorist attacks in Istanbul and Ankara so muted in the United States?  Why are the lives and deaths of our Turkish brothers and sisters less important than the lives and deaths of our Belgian family?  Is it perhaps because they are Muslim?  Could we really value the lives of people in Belgium more because they are more “European” (read: white and Christian)?

I don’t think one bombing is more significant than the other simply because it occurred in a geographical location further west than the others.  “[A]ny man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.”  That’s John Donne, and he was right.  He was, to me, more right than even he realized.  Because it is not just that all men and women are equal, but that all men and women are part of my life.  Their deaths, no matter where they occur or why, are important and have an effect on my life.  Period.  There isn’t any room for any other conclusion in my world.  All the lives in the world that have lived, are living, or will live, are a part of me.  And I am a part of them.

As Buddhist, I believe that I am one with the Universe.  But that doesn’t just mean I feel like I am an important part of the Universe, or that I can reach the same enlightenment the Buddha himself achieved if I walk the path (although I can. . . it just might take a few more lifetimes).  I AM the Universe.  And the Universe is me.  It is all of us.  Within you and without you.

Now this is the really radical part, the part I’m still trying to wrap my own head around.  The part the will probably piss off anyone who doesn’t feel the way I do.  The part that will anger and confuse anyone who has not had the same epiphany I have had about the Universe.  I am also those terrorists that bombed all those places.  I am the bombs.  I am the anger and hate that created them.  I am the smoke and the shrapnel and the rubble and the blood on the ground.  These are not parts of myself that I like or am proud of, but I must acknowledge them.  I must acknowledge how my own anger and ego have contributed to a version of the world where this kind of violence is possible.  If I am the Universe, then I am the parts of it that hurt me as well as the parts that heal me.  I don’t get to cherry pick.  I have to accept it all.

Thich Nhat Hanh said that we are trying to awaken from the illusion of our separateness (or something like that; I can’t find the exact quote right now).  Of course, realizing all of this, our separation in this plane of existence, is an illusion doesn’t mean the illusion suddenly disappears.  You still have to live life.  Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  The illusion continues, and we still have to go on within it.  We still have to eat and sleep.  We still have to care for our loved ones and clean the house and do the laundry, and all that other stuff that piles up.  (No, being one with the Universe will not get me out of completing my assignment for school this week.)  But we must also realize that nothing is apart from us.  Nothing that happens in the world happens to someone else.  It ALWAYS happens to us.

And the Universe will continue without us after we have left this plane of existence.  That, too is a difficult concept to swallow.  But nothing is permanent and everything is transitory.  The only thing we can do while we are here is to help ease the suffering of ourselves and others.  Just one more quoted thought that I actually picked up from the Welcome to Night Vale podcast: Death is only the end if you think the story is about you.  The story isn’t really about you.  It’s the Universe.  And, remember, you are the Universe.  You are the brightest star in the furthest galaxy, as you are the tiniest grain of sand on the Earth, as you are everything and everyone in between.  Don’t pretend otherwise.

I’m done rambling now.  I need to get some sleep.  My heart goes out to everyone, victim and terrorist alike.

“Life is a Highway”

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The President’s in Cuba, we’ve got the moral equivalent of Adolph Hitler running for the GOP nomination, and there’s baby bald eagles hatching in D.C.  I’ve got plans this week with BFF and one of our dearest friends from high school (who’s in town from Arizona).  I’m so far behind on my blog reading I can’t see the top of my email inbox list anymore, and I’ve got an assignment due by Friday.  What am I obsessing about?  This song.

This is an undeniably great song.  I don’t know what makes it great, but my current theory is that is has something to do with Tom Cochrane himself.  He was a one-hit wonder with “Life is a Highway” (two hits, if you count his cult classic “Lunatic Fringe” that he recorded with Red Rider in the 80s).  It’s hard to pin down, though.  He’s not a great looking or especially charismatic dude.  The performance is terrific, but I’ve heard performances just as good or better.  The song is catchy, albeit kind of illogical (most songs are, of course).  Two and two should be four, but really, it’s adding up to something like a hundred and twelve.  And because this song is so good, you would think it would be utterly impossible to ruin it.

Hence my obsession.  I was at the mall last Friday–time for my regular appointment with my hairstylist, Frank–and “Life is a Highway” came on over the PA system.  Normally, this would be cause for celebration in my little world.  Well it would have been, if not for the Disney movie Cars and the country group Rascal Flatts.  See, they covered this song for the soundtrack to the movie.  And they killed it.  Not in the sense that they did a really good job covering it.  In the sense that they took a great song and made a really, really, really bad version of it.

I won’t directly include it here; I can’t even bear to listen to it.  (Here’s the link if you want to subject yourself to the torture.)  But like whatever it is that makes the original so great, I cannot for the life of me pin down what’s wrong with the Rascal Flatts version.  (I feel it’s necessary to note here that I have nothing against Rascal Flatts; I really like a couple of their songs, and the rest I am indifferent to.)  It is almost note for note exactly the same as Tom Cochrane’s version.  What many people would call a perfect cover.  But it’s just wrong somehow.  It’s like they went into the studio, played the song to everyone, and then the producer said, “Okay, let’s do exactly the same thing, except be sure to suck all the life, heart, and soul out of it.”  It’s just dead.

I’m sure there are many out there that have a different opinion.  Most of these people were probably exposed to the Rascal Flatts version due to repeated viewings of Cars at the behest of their small children.  A few are probably just ignorant rubes who wouldn’t know good music if it came up and bit them on the ass.  Either way, I pity them.

“Let the Good Times Roll”

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I’ve had this song popping in and out of my head for a couple days now.  I don’t really know why, but as I’ve previously stated, I don’t know why half the things that pop into my head are there.  I just kind of roll with it.

Well, okay.  I don’t really “roll” with anything.  I am a bundle of anxiety and worry most of the time.  Between my hypochondria, what I’m pretty sure is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and a really excellent imagination, it’s a wonder I can get any sleep at night.  One of my goals in life is to stop the hamster wheel inside my head and get some freakin’ peace.  It’s not as simple as relaxing or just not worrying about stuff until something happens, like many people have advised.  (It’s good advice; it just doesn’t apply to me.)  I often can’t turn off the thoughts that are bothering me so much.  I have to find a way to distract myself.  It’s one reason why I play dumb games on the Internet so much.  Music helps sometimes, but not always, since music is so tied to my emotions and memories.  Sometimes that’s exactly what I’m trying to escape.

Songs like this are good for me, though.  Catchy, fun, not associated with anything else in my life.  I remember hearing this in Animal House; I think Stephen Bishop may have even covered it for the soundtrack (or not. . . I’d look it up, but I don’t really care that much).  Yes, it’s a metaphor for sex.  A significant portion of popular music is a metaphor for sex.  It’s one of those primal things that virtually anyone can connect with on some level.  This is distraction.  Just what I need when my brain gets kind of funny.

Keith Emerson

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To use an old DJ phrase from way back when. . . And the hits just keep on coming.

Of course, the hits in this case aren’t Top Forty singles, but Rock & Roll deaths.  The latest is Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Keith Emerson.  While the word is not definitive yet, it is probable that he committed suicide with a gunshot to the head (reinforcing my call to Ban All Guns Now).

While I am about as far from an ELP fan as you can get and still be inhabiting the same universe, all three were talented and technically proficient musicians.  Emerson notably played Moog synthesizers (among other keyboard instruments) with a skill that not many could beat.  But their proficiency did not translate to efficiency, and their extended-soloing Prog Rock always left me a little cold.  My feelings about the music are irrelevant, however; the man’s death is still tragic and sad.  I hope his family and friends can find some comfort in the music he left behind.