Archive for May, 2016

May 30, 2016

#112) How not to complain #5: Condescension and condiments (an open letter to Sara Benincasa)

Note: the original article this post references was updated in October, 2016 to be more Trump specific. The previous version of the article focused more on the Republican party in general than Trump.

Dear Ms. Benincasa,

First, the good stuff: your recent article wouldn’t have struck a nerve with me if you hadn’t done something right. Like the other previous four subjects of my How Not To Complain series, you show potential in this timeless art form. Sometimes the boat needs to be rocked; sometimes we need to be douchebags, especially in the current political climate. When all of the douchecockery has been meted out however, has the opinion of your mark changed? For your incisive and witty deconstruction of voters who are motivated by “ego and need to talk about stuff at your organic locally grown dinner parties for the next four years”, come November, my vote will still be cast for one Gary E. Johnson, unless a porn star comes out of the woodwork an announces her candidacy.

Why did you fail to convince me? The C-word. Not that C-word; it’s condescension. Sometimes condescension is not only necessary; it can be highly entertaining. I’ve watched the video of Baylor basketball player Taurean Prince’s explanation of how his team got out-rebounded by Yale almost as much as Miss Teen South Carolina and “Asians in the Library” combined. Condescension resembles another C-word: condiments. Condiments can make a burger, hot dog or Amish-made soft pretzel taste great – but 1) they can’t mask lack of quality in the burger/dog/pretzel itself and 2) when they are used in excess, the main course itself is lost.

You start off with a promising main course: a new slant on a line we’ve heard before. “Don’t throw your vote away because [of] your ego and ‘personal brand'”, you say. “I get it if it makes you feel really good personally and like a great liberal with super awesome true blue standards to vote for Bernie and support Bernie. But when Hillary gets the nomination, and she will, it is imperative to vote for the Democrat because the DNC platform is vastly superior to the GOP values.”

Indeed, the villain of your piece isn’t so much Trump, whose name is mentioned only a few times in passing (and has shown himself to be just as much of an enemy of the Republican establishment as of the Dems), as it is the GOP itself. I’ll grant you that Republicans have not exactly distinguished itself over the last dec..quar..half centu…well, it’s been a while. I don’t, however, believe that the difference between the two parties is so big that “people… would suffer terribly under a GOP presidency and the Supreme Court for the next 10 to 40 years.”

The protein of your main course, your argument against Republican policy, consists of two examples: “No Child Left Behind” and abstinence-only education. We’re on the same page here: those were both turds. Rip Torn has a good phrase to describe abstinence only education; it also applies to NCLB. However, laughable as it is, has abstinence-only education truly “made people suffer?” Are Race to the Top and Common Core a drastic improvement over NCLB? Was American education the envy of the world during the Bill Clinton presidency?

Once those two examples are given, the rest of the dish is filled out by lines that are quotable and likely to get those who already agree with your arguments to nod vigorously but not likely to convert anyone to your point of view. “You’d consign us to 4 years of Trump and two or three decades of a disgusting, vile Supreme Court because you have a sad feelz in your tum-tum?” you ask. Fair enough, but your claim that my not voting for Clinton would be “an insult to me and women and queer folks and all the people who benefit and even have a chance to thrive under Democratic policies” just isn’t enough of a deterrent to stop me from pulling the lever for Johnson/Weld. The sad feelz I have in my tum-tum is hunger. The condiments, while tasty and original, weren’t enough to carry the dish.

 

 

May 23, 2016

#111) Autopsy of an unfollow #3: Cover Band Central

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The challenge that social media platforms present to businesses is providing enough content to stay visible without over-saturating. The victim of my latest unfollow, the Facebook page “Cover Band Central” is guilty of the latter.

Indeed, it’s a tough balance and finding that happy medium can be like finding the exact right spot on the shower handle. Unlike the subject of my previous two unfollows, Sci-Babe and The Sound, Cover Band Central usually stays on point with their posts (no puppies or Founding Fathers quotes here) while managing a variety of subject matters: articles from other music business outlets; humorous memes, inspirational quotes and more. The problem: most of it’s just not that great.

As of the moment of my unfollowing, the five most recent posts on the page were:

1) “Top Ten Reasons Why Your Cover Band Is Not Successful” (article from Spinditty) (I take such lists, especially those titled up-style, with a grain of salt; where does someone who’s supposedly gigging enough to justify telling me that I’m not doing more shows find the time to write such an article?)

2) A picture from Musicians Unite reading, “I simply love playing people’s favorite songs for them. I’m playing music and it feels great. That’s what it’s all about.” (Yes, it’s inspirational and peppy, but my mortgage broker doesn’t accept inspiration or pep as forms of payment. Additionally, as someone who’s often been saddened by seeing people go gaga over music that I personally find rather superficial and talking over music that speaks deeply to me, I sometimes have trouble relating to this mentality.)

3) A picture of an enthusiastic conductor (Gustavo Dudamel?) conducting a symphony with the caption, “Most orchestras are just 1800s cover bands.” (Cute and witty but forgettable. I should note though that one of the user comments is on the mark: “I am sick and tired of people crying about cover bands….If they spent the time and effort that they spend on crying and hating them on their own material they would be farther along.” Well said, Jim Crise.)

4) An article by Steve Witschel for Musicians Unite: “What Is So Wrong With Playing Covers?” (Steve, if you love playing covers so much, why not just play them instead of writing about how much you love playing them?)

5) A picture with a Carlos Santana quote: “When you play from your heart, all of a sudden there’s no gravity. You don’t feel the weight of the world, that’s why people love it. Insurmountable problems disappear and instead of problems you get possibilities.” (Sure, everyone loves a good aphorism, but it’s easy to dole them out when you’re as successful and famous as Santana. A quote from him or any other legend about their early struggles and how they didn’t give up would be more interesting to me.)

Cover Band Central’s tepid oeuvre of shared content is a result of the page’s lack of a clear mission. As the self-described “#1 Page on Facebook for cover bands and musicians” they are “Designed to educate, motivate, entertain, and inspire.” I have found virtually none of the posts to be educational. When it comes to motivating and inspiring, more “show, don’t tell” would help the site and yes, I did pick up a few entertaining memes before the page ran its course, but most of them are available elsewhere online (if you’re reading this, ten bucks says one of your non musician friends has sent you “He told me he’s a musician, but he’s a ___ player” thinking they’re the first one to do it).

I have no ill will toward CBC and leave them with the suggestion of encouraging more user interaction, thus increasing the variety of perspectives and content while still staying true to the page’s expressed mission.

May 18, 2016

#110) Book review: “All Souls” by Michael Patrick MacDonald

I used to hate people like Michael MacDonald. Growing up, it always seemed as if I was intimidated or bullied by South Bostonians whenever I came into contact with them; they lived in a kill-or-be-killed world and despite my attempts to pass myself off as a bad-ass, every move I made screamed “sheltered kid from the ‘burbs.” Later, when I started playing music in bars, my genius went unappreciated by the drunken Southie masses. If you’d asked me when I moved to California in the summer of 1999 (which, unbeknownst to me then was when “All Souls” was published), I’d have said that I was as glad to leave the throngs of boorish, working class Bostonians behind as I was the cold Massachusetts winters. Time and distance changed my view toward Boston and Southie in particular. I learned to appreciate the opportunities I’d had that were denied to many, not the least of which was the chance to leave Boston when I’d had enough.

Michael MacDonald is the ninth of eleven children. On the first page of “All Souls” he says, “[W]e sometimes get confused about who’s dead and who’s alive in my family.” Indeed, the inside cover has a list of the names of MacDonald’s siblings, including the dates of their births and in four cases their deaths. The backbone of the family is Helen, better known as Ma, who leaves her abusive husband and raises the entire family on her own. Other characters include the often discussed but rarely seen gangster Whitey Bulger, charismatic but divisive politician “Dapper” O’Neill and South Boston itself, a place which one never truly leaves. “No matter how far I ran, Southie was always on my mind,” MacDonald says of the neighborhood which is by turns “the greatest place to grow up” and where he often found himself “sitting at the window, noticing…kids gathering…for the three-block journey up Dorchester Street to the funeral parlor.”

Attitudes that seem contradictory at first run through South Boston and “All Souls” but as we get to know MacDonald’s family, friends and enemies, the motivations become clearer. Those who wonder why poor whites often vote Republican can find answers in MacDonald’s Southie. Like Appalachia, Southie is largely populated by socially conservative and religious residents. Poverty has led to alcohol, drugs and crime. There is a strong distrust of outsiders and liberals are seen as meddlers who want to control, not help. “Liberals…never seemed to be able to fit urban poor whites into their world view, which tended to see blacks as the persistent dependent,” MacDonald notes. “After our violent response to court-ordered busing in the 1970s, Southie was labeled as the white racist oppressor….that label worked to take the blame away from those able to leave the city and drive back to all-white suburban towns at the end of the day.” MacDonald’s family “hated Ted Kennedy; he’d sided with the busing too and was seen as the biggest traitor of all.” Yet even as the Southie teenagers fought with the black students bused in from neighborhoods such as Roxbury, they found common ground in music such as “Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers. “[N]o one called it black music…we couldn’t see what color anyone was from the radio…what mattered was that the Isley Brothers were singing about everything we were watching…” Besides, “Rock’n’roll was for rich suburban people with long hair and dirty clothes.”

In the end, a mix of ideologies saved what was left of the MacDonald family. Long dependent on welfare and public housing, the MacDonalds left South Boston when they realized that no politicians from either party had any serious interest in improving their neighborhood or fighting the influence of Whitey Bulger’s boys. Ma moved to Colorado with the youngest kids; MacDonald’s older siblings moved to different parts of New England.

For Michael, redemption didn’t come from “getting out” of Southie; it came from going back to Southie and reaching out of Southie. When crime victims in other impoverished Boston neighborhoods such as Roxbury, Charlestown and “Eastie” started speaking up both to outsiders and amongst themselves, it inspired MacDonald to get Southie residents to break their “code of silence.” “All Souls” starts and ends at a vigil for the victims on November 2, 1996 – All Souls day.

One could argue that the message of “All Souls” boils down to “Can’t we all just get along?” If so, the messenger is one who has seen the consequences of not getting along. The legacy of Michael MacDonald’s Southie upbringing is a man who is tough enough to not fight back and one who is strong enough to ask for help for himself and his community.