Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Resurrection of My Optimism

Single Daffodil, II, originally uploaded by V'ron.

Well, just because I'm this (as John Fugelsang describes himself) recovering cynic who has a general distrust for organized religion doesn't mean I'm not prone to fits of spirituality from time to time, and Easter Sunday is as good a day as any to manifest this. Christmastime seems more of a time to celebrate peace and the hope of it, but most faiths, including the Roman Catholicism under which I was raised, really liturgically celebrate the spring holiday as the high holiday, because it's such a time of rebirth. Easter, Passover, the Spring Equinox, they all converge right about now, and I celebrate that every year not by going to mass, but with my annual Easter Sunday Shakedown bike cruise. I do this every year, no matter what the weather is, I get up on Sunday morning, hop on my bike, and ride at least 20 miles up and down the lakefront, on a route I do every year. Sometimes it's the first ride of the year, sometimes it's not. (This year it wasn't. Too many gorgeous weekends this year to pass up). So this year it really wansn't a shakedown cruise. But it's still highly spiritual to me: I feel most alive and reborn doing it: feeling the (usually chilly) air filling my lungs like it was my first breath, self-baptising with my own sweat.

I do the same route on Easter Sunday every year so that I can just take in the change (or lack of it in some respects) that the seasons and years. (I've even taken to snapping a reference shot of the halfway point of my ride just to compare-- and congratulate myself on a brutal uphill climb. It only occured to me four years ago to do this on a ride I've been doing for almost 20 years.) That to me is miraculous in and of itself: there's trees that have been there for years and never seem to change, there's the same old nesting spots that the geese and ducks congregate in, there's the same patches of daffodils and trillium that start to sprout up. And there's changes: the new patches of wild perennials that creep up along the south shore bike trail, the crapshoot as to whether or not the bubbler at Grant Park Golf will be open yet (so that I can refill my water bottle), the level of fitness I'm at when I take the ride, the erosion along some of the cliffs. And there's always the state at which Spring has manifested itself. Sometimes the geese are followed by those dirty little yellow puffballs of their young; this year I don't think they've even laid their eggs yet (though I saw one goose working on just that), sometimes the daffodils are in full bloom.

And this year, it was kind of weird and cool with the daffodils. I came upon several patches of daffodils where only 1 was in bloom, the early bird out of the bunch, and the rest were just barely budding. Or I'd see just a single solitary plant out in the middle of a field of unrelated plants. That was my Easter miracle this year, I think. Just this single voice yelling out there, that's soon to be followed by a whole patch of voices. It's a hopeful, metaphorical response to what's been going on lately. I've been really, really annoyed and cynical lately, and this year's rebirth is one of optimism, both personally and politically. I've lost weight, I've started a new job, (and just not being unemployed has lifted a huge albatross off my back), my kids are really blossoming, I'm seeing lots of exciting music again and people are FINALLY WAKING UP.

And so I've decided to quit being afraid of speaking my (political and spiritual) mind in the blog. I've spent too many years discussing everything I've been passionate about here except those two things. Part of it is because for some time now, I've been disillusioned, after spending a good part of my young adulthood as an activist, in the "movement." I mean, I knocked and knocked and knocked on doors and Reagan still got re-elected. Newt Gingrich still got power. Both Bushes still got elected. We still went to war for reasons I'm still not clear on. The religious right still successfully usrped anything about what Christ had to say and twisted it into justification for war, discrimination, and budget cuts. So why risk my job marketability (because I've worked in industries dominated by conservative folk) for a lifetime of banging my head against a brick wall? I'm tired of this fear of political retribution.

Well, guess what. I'm rarely political on this blog, but I'm pretty left wing on twitter. And my photography should pretty much tell you what I do in the voting booth. If somebody wasn't going to hire me this year because they're tea partiers, a simple google search would have put the kabosh on my landing a job. Didn't happen.

But when I took Stella to her first major demonstration this year, the one in Madison where over 125,000 showed up, I flashed back to that time I took her to midnight mass and explained to her that the whole point of Easter is to stop being afraid. I explained to her last month that this demonstration wasn't going to change Scott's (Walker OR Fitzgerald) mind. "They why are we here?" she asked "... besides it being fun." (Which it was, despite the chilly weather). That's exactly it. We were there for us. We were there to create our community. We were there to look around and realize that you and me aren't the only people who are just waking up, who are just being reborn, who are just realizing that we can be a part of effecting change if we just stop being afraid to speak up, to pick up a sign, to be counted. We have friends who slept on the floor of the capitol for a week. We have (formerly obscure) senators who were willing to risk their political life by leaving the state so that we could see exactly what was being hidden from us. (If only the Washington contingent had that kind of balls.) We weren't a bunch of slobs or goons (although, to my delight, there were a lot of artists and theatre and hippies!), no, we were part of a huge crowd who politely chanted "Thank You" to any person of note who took time to approach the podium and offer us words of encouragement. We were --and ARE-- part of a majority of good, compassionate people who have finally had enough, but who finally have some hope-- and faith, if you will -- at the same level of hope and optimism I had in my early 20s, to the point where I'm able to tune my cynicism and anger into something positive. Now that's a resurrection! Hallelujah!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Three flavors of Punk

Andre Williams
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Finally, finally, I finally got to see Aluminum Knot Eye -- a band I've been wanting to see for years -- last night. But first things first. AKE was one of two bands opening for the legendary Andre Williams, and that takes top priority.

Williams is billed as a soft of punk bluesman, a godfather of sorts. I've seen his act advertised as "porn blues" but really, the man is simply a classic, albeit dirty bluesman. He talks dirty (well, dirty for the 1960s where he first made his mark) and that's supposedly his claim to fame. But like all good people who work blue, if you take that away you're still left with a mound of talent and master showman.

After two totally different kinds of punk bands warmed up the crowd of hipsters who packed into the Cactus Club last night, Williams' band, all in black outfits, white shoes and touches of red trim here and there (perfectly tailored, mind you), take the state and play an intro tune, oldschool style and then to the delight of the crowd, Williams makes his way through. He's wearing a three-piece white suit (and the vest is double breasted, mofos) that screamed "Johnny Walkers", looking and strutting like he'd arrived in a 1976 Cadallac Eldorado with a Landau roof. (Nice touch with the spats, Andre). He proceeds to dive into songs that tell us all what a bad mutha he is, how much pussy stank is just like marijuana, and how he begs to just slip it in.

But if that was his entire act, he'd be a tired one-trick pony that would be fun for about two or three songs. That wasn't the case. Frankly, it was early in the set when he poured into a somber blues called "I Can Tell" that he showed his true (and considerable) vocal, stylistic and emotional range. This is a man who's been around, suffered a lot, lived to tell the tale and best of all, still finds the joy of a pretty chick and a twinkle in his eye. What a great fun show, and in his vernacular, an overall satisfying set.

Before his set, Riverwest's The White Faces treated us to some great driving garage rock. They looked liketypical sloppy 90s punks, but had a great driving sound and delivery that bought to mind some old Pebbles compilation. Friends of mine agreed with me that much of this was due to their terrific bass player, who wound his way all over his fretboard through tunes that seemed vaguely familiar, but still fresh. (One moment I was thinking to myself, "Hey, isn't this a Hey Joe ripoff"?) but they fact that the Seeds' version of "Hey Joe" was going in my head should give you an idea of their vibe.

Aluminum Knot Eye
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

The night started off with the aforementioned Aluminum Knot Eye, easily the most musically interesting (and difficult) band of the night. Their lead singer jumps off the stage, argues ironically (but friendly, not off-putting) with the jaded crowd, and keeps us interested by grabbing a chair and using it as a prop the entire set. But it's not all him. He's backed by a band that clearly has listened to a lot of 80s post-punk, no-wave, but not without melody. Think Richard Hell, Television, maybe even Wire (who were in Chicago last night). Grab a hooky little guitar riff, then play the living daylights out of it a bazillion different ways. the way their singer used the floor, I'm actually glad I saw them at the Cactus -- many of their previous gigs were at the Circle A and I think that place must be really confining to them both physically and musically. You can't make that much no-wave noise without a little breathing room, and the Cactus was the right place to experience them. Overall, a great way to drop a $10spot.

A week ago, I popped into Kochanski's to see the always wonderful Exotics who just get better every time. They get tighter and looser, simultaneously -- both good things. Their mix of surf standards and great instrumental originals are drawing me in further every time. I used to not be their biggest fan -- because I thought they were too tight but they've kept their professionalism, brought in a variety of influences, and loosened up to bring in the things I love (and wax poetic) about surf music. They've added fun schtick (choreographed stage moves, etc) and they're a delight to hear, watch and watch the fans.

Which is way more than I can say about the headliners that night, Chicago's Reluctant Aquanauts. I was led to believe they were amazing and would blow me away. Yes, they were precise. Yes, they played the Ventures' songbook. (I'm not sure they had any originals -- I knew their entire set.) Perfectly. But unlike the Exotics, they were massively stoic. Somebody told me that's part of their schtick -- that the surf bands of the 60s were equally stiff and stoic. I don't buy it. I've seen the Ventures, and stoic is not a term I'd use to describe them. And they were musically too perfect. They put me to sleep. Later I realized exactly what it was. When I hear surf music, I want to feel like I'm on the edge of the abyss. I want to feel like I'm going to get in trouble. I want to feel like I'm still a nice 17 year old Catholic girl who's about to lose her virginity to some boy whose last name she can't even remember. I felt perfectly safe and predictable with the Reluctant Aquanauts. Boo. Thankfully, the Exotics took the stage again in the round-robin style favored at Kochanski's -- so i could once again listen to music that made me feel like I was gonna get in trouble. Becasue that's how I wanted to leave that bar that night.