To Saunter (Mindful Habits & the Writerly Life)

For a few months now I’ve been involved in a Facebook group called ‘Writers Who Write’ with my mother, older brother, and some close friends. A very original group name conjured up by yours truly. Why complicate it? I wanted to have a casual space with people I know that identify as writers and with those for whom the craft is a vital part of their life’s pursuits. We share articles and personal insights regarding the development and polishing of writerly skills. We also discuss our own experiences with writing–successes and challenges–as we post the work we occasionally publish online. The active members of the group all have hopes of, and current projects, writing a book.

In December, we undertook a 21-day challenge where we committed to always carry a notebook.. I had done this myself for months, jotting down inspiration and ideas, keeping myself organized with reminders and lists of daily to-do’s. It helped so much I felt that challenging my writing mates could be a sly way of getting them to have similar revelations about ‘the notebook doctrine’. Slightly narcissistic of me, and no doubt looking for validation of my own efforts.  We checked in daily and shared various insights on how carrying the notebook was helpful for our creativity and writing practices.

I’ve learned from my choice to identify as a writer that habits are essential not only for consistency, but for keeping the mind fresh, whereby inspiration can occur with greater frequency. The notebook challenge was a lot of fun for all of us, so I searched for other subtle ways for keeping the idea muscles in shape, charged, and healthy. Writing often, with vitality and with confidence, is as much about the lifestyle built around being a writer as it is about the act of writing itself.

When February rolled around, I proposed the 21-day ‘go for walks’ challenge. One where devices would be a ‘no no’. The point was not to be strict, but was to be in the spirit of sauntering, as described in Hendry David Thoreau’s small book Walking. With this activity, we’d be getting out of our routine, allowing the mind to roam and wander outside the confines of what we considered a normal day.

When on these walks, I take special note of the felt experience in both mind and body. I try to be mindful of my gait, pace and breath; and also the things my eyes are drawn to or become focused on. The ‘presence’ I’ve experienced while walking, and the feeling I have afterward is akin to what I’ve found in my practice of seated meditation. I see the world again with curious eyes. My mind ceases from anxiously churning over thoughts. I am reminded that the here and now, the subtle and simple qualities of life, hold the key to contentment. I wonder how I ever manage to forget this essential truth.

Towards the end of Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walking’, he states “methinks we might elevate ourselves a little more. We might climb a tree, at least.” This after observing how often as human beings we “hug the earth”. This I interpreted as people’s tendency to play it safe. The spontaneity and image of someone randomly climbing a tree is perfect. Consider the act of climbing a tree yourself, at this moment. Do you know any adults who’d climb a tree while being publicly observed? Silliness right? And that’s exactly the problem with the cultural self-seriousness of adulthood. Not to say that being an adult–refining our manners towards others and considering our place in the world less selfishly–or that participating in the experiment of civilization is wrong, but it does rob us unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally, of our playfulness and curiosity.

When I go walking it is most often along a road. I am lucky enough to be living on a hillside a fair distance from the nearby town. Here the roads are accessible but never busy. Out here, overlooking the valley below, a saunterer can treat the road as though it were a footpath, and there’s no one who’d object.
When I dropped my concern for what a passerby might think, or whether someone might be gazing at me from out of their window (like that is something people normally do), I allowed myself to wander and take time with the smallest of observations. I will take quite a few pictures, but also make a concerted effort at soaking up the vistas and random happenings before acting on the impulse to capture it on the screen of my phone. This used to be very difficult for me.

I even spoke to a herd of cattle one day. They themselves having sauntered up to the cattle grid at a hilltop rise along Shalerock Road. Off to the side I spotted lone horses grazing. They were curious about me, the hairless creature on two legs. The cows, however, were more reticent, backing off a few yards, but did not flee. I slowly approached the grid and asked, “whaddup?”

There is much to see when observing the seemingly mundane from a fresher, even childlike perspective. The things we are more often prone to consider superfluous. Playfulness is what this is, curiosity towards anything and in any place. Walking is not the only way to engage this mindset. Walking is just very simple and instantly available to almost any of us, truly an untapped resource for insight.

I fidget a lot when trying to settle during seated meditation. 5-10 minutes can easily pass before I can consistently focus and re-engage with my breath. I’m committed to improving, training my mind and body to be more “okaywith stillness. When I actually get to “okay”, it’s a genuinely rewarding experience for the very reason that it is challenging. A quick note: “okay” does not mean calm or relaxed necessarily, but more so reaching a presence where mindfully taking note of thoughts, feelings, and sensations is able to occur without so much narrative and egoic background noise.

Thankfully, walking helps get me to a similar state. One of calmness, clarity, curiosity, and at the very least a less judgmental and more open exploration of conscious experience as it unfolds. To be in motion, for me, feels more natural. Paradoxically, movement serves as an anchor for my mind. When I move, it would seem, I can finally be still.

Step outside, get out of your narratives and routines. The simplicity and subtle effectiveness of something like walking often causes such a habit to be overlooked and underappreciated. I have a tendency to intellectualize just about everything, so I hesitate trying to break down any sort of science behind why simple habits work. It’s almost better, for me, that a few of these basics work without me thinking too hard about the ‘why’ of it.  Call it faith, call it fatigue with my normal display of skepticism towards about everything else in life. Sauntering is now vital for keeping me sane, for sparking creative insight, and for maintaining my exploratory spirit. The world can be seen with fresh eyes every day, I know this. The challenge is to remember, and gently bring yourself back to the things that work. Walking is one of those things.


Who’s the GOAT?! (Philosophical Ideas Argued Using Hip-Hop and Basketball)

The VO Review (of life and... whatever)


It’s probably one of the most tiring and old debates in a variety of areas.  Music, literature, sports, art, history.  We are always asking who the greatest of all time is (Who is the GOAT?).  Where I land on the debate is that really there is no greatest ever at anything.  There are far too many subjective elements involved in deciding and bestowing such a title.  Where I can say I am rather opinionated though is in the area of people overemphasizing cultural/historical impact and not actually considering the actual quality of a certain individuals body of work as much as they should.  I believe there are certain talents or great minds that came along with a perfect storm of cultural events that lend to an inflated and distorted view of how great they actually were.  I could drop a few names and I’m almost positive people would think me…

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Super-Charismatic-Large-Personality (…too much cleverness?)

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could somehow quantify the amount of influence that one super-charismatic-large-personality (SCLP) possesses? These sort of people don’t have to be explicitly defined as genius, but nevertheless they have an unmistakable gravitas about them. The examples stretch from the admirable and brilliant to the base and absurd. Jesus (if he was one dude), Churchill, and Oprah to Snooki, Rodman, and Daft Punk (despite the helmets, that’s impressive).

Those names immediately make what I’m talking about seem rather broad. But for the sake of discussion let’s examine the abstract idea that the amount of fame/notoriety/influence a person gathers can be quantified into a number. Every person, given the right circumstances, certainly has potential for being noticed and furthermore having an impact. But what is different about those who possess the ability to make their “15 minutes” into something more sustainable? And why/how is it that every now and again we get an uber SCLP. A nuclear bomb of personality that has the capacity to move society into new phases (both for good and ill and everything in between).

These types have been a focus of our fascination for centuries. That has in many ways been the goal of history, to learn the psychology and the biology and to zone in on the genius and freakish gravitas that key figures had; to understand and learn from it. Cleopatras, Hitlers, Washingtons, Mandelas, Jobs, Bezos, etc. Where do they lie on the SCLP scale? Does this attempt to measure the concept very loosely just do a disservice to the complicated creature that is a human being? Probably.

It seems clear that there have always been people whose genius, charisma, and otherwise difficult to term “social pull” has astronomic potential. Whose words that, regardless of being true, bring others to follow them. A demeanor that garners irrational trust, regardless of whether their intentions are pure. Stirring up a devotion so intense, that many times these personalities are lifted up to a level of sainthood. Some will be very much deserving of admiration, even if just for the skill and technique they possess, but hopefully more so for the fact that they make the world a better place.

And here is where a significant problem exists. How often is that gravitas used to pull humanity down a darker path? Has that not been our tendency? Even in the name of doing “good”? Has the net benefit of this SCLP resulted in a better world for most? Is uber SCLP a gift or a curse to society? Or should we, as Gautama says to Siddhartha “beware of too much cleverness.”


A Cascade of Self Awareness (Reveling in a Recent Torrent of Understanding)


There are so many things I’ve been wanting to write about! This inspiration overload, coupled with a general level of procrastination, has been the impetus (or lack thereof) behind why I haven’t posted on my personal blog in some time. I’ve also started a new blog ( with a great friend, and the collaborative element has been very encouraging. Much growth comes in the free exchange and the unrepentant, rigorous challenging of ideas. I’d like to talk about some of the growth I’ve been experiencing since right around January.

I once wrote about the concept of ‘lunar moon landing’ moments. I now like to call those ‘red pill’ things (books, movies, conversations, epiphanies, etc). These are moments where we are taken out of the self-created narrative about our lives and realize that things aren’t what we thought they were. It’s the moment where you “CAN handle the truth.”, despite the discomfort and dissonance.  I have a sick fascination with trying to induce these moments, but the bottom line is I can’t just will these experience into happening. However, I do believe there is a certain kind of mindset that comes along with those who try to challenge themselves constantly. This mindset is designed to guard against ideology and dogma. This is called critical thinking.

Now, let it be known that skepticism and critical thinking, appealing to reason, can be it’s own form of ideology. There are people in this movement who just like to be right and enjoy crapping on other peoples beliefs or misinformed opinions. I will say, if you’re going to be an asshole, it’s at least good to be right with regards to whatever you’re being an asshole about. However, this smugness and contrarianism is more often just counterproductive. There is a lot of tit for tat going on when it comes to social media and the internet. Our dialogues mostly stink. I believe the best attitudes that should motivate a person who sees themselves as a truth speaker and a delusion dispeller are compassion and concern. And if you fancy yourself a speaker of the truth, make sure it’s the truth you’re actually speaking.

I’ve been more open and direct with my ideas lately, at least I think I’ve been. And this is because I am genuinely and deeply concerned with the latest trends of anti-intellectualism and fallacious logic out there posing as ironclad reasoning. Since 9/11, and furthermore, since the economic crisis, people have grown increasingly more confused about things that they seemed assured of. This fear and being unable to trust institutions we’d placed so much faith in has led people to adopt outrageous ideologies. They’re pretty sneaky as well because they come at us with a message of “skepticism” and having an “open-mind”. Conspiracy theories have gone mainstream. It is completely normal for very intelligent well meaning people nowadays, at least in some areas of their intellectual pursuits, to all but dawn tinfoil hats.

I don’t mean to be disparaging or ridiculing. This phenomenon scares me. My fervor I think comes from a place of knowing how utterly wrong I’ve been in the past. I know what it’s like to have completely erroneous information and state it as fact. I once spouted political party rhetoric like I was the only person with common sense. I think I’ve always been naturally skeptical and tried to find the flaws in systems and the way people think. I haven’t always done it with the right assumptions about reality, but I was young and I was pretty impressed with myself sometimes. That just happens.

Since January I feel like it’s been one leap after another. I’ve rediscovered my values which I’d lost track of for some time. I had to overcome callousness and unfeeling disposition towards the world. For some time I thought that this just might be how I am. Some kind of mental illness that manifested mostly as anhedonic dispassion towards nearly everything. But, for whatever reason, my mind has begun to clear. I’m reading books, going for walks, taking photos, writing, discussing and debating because they feel like the things I want to do and should be doing. Its been quite odd to be in this state of mind, it’s still kind of foreign. So, if I’m a little off the handle, baring too much of my soul, or sounding a little self serious here or on social media, it’s because I’m reveling in all of this. I am keenly aware of what is important to me, and it just feels like the right thing to do. And it happens to be that some of these topics and issues of which I have interest are of a very serious nature.

But I’m not angry, the disdain or cynicism I often had before is giving way to a goodness I think I actually might possess. Something I wasn’t so sure of about myself before. I feel that this post is getting or has been rather solipsistic, but that’s just how I write sometimes. I hope that somebody connects with these thoughts, these ideas, and similarly understands the beautiful feeling of cascading amounts of self awareness.

If there is anyone who personally remains in a malaise of existential blahness, I know all too well this sensation. Depression has once been described as an inability to construct any kind of future in your mind. None of it seems to matter. All I can say is, be patient, learn self compassion, and people need to find their passions. You are not your job or your possessions. Those aren’t inherently bad, but they don’t mean a whole lot without a sense of fulfillment. I don’t know exactly how or when it happened, but a big part of what needed to happen for me was learning self respect. That I am worth it, a talent with potential if I choose to cultivate it. This is something I think we all struggle with deeply. But we have to believe it. If there is ONE thing I would tell people to just believe, it would be “you are worth it!”

Call it self-helpish, trite, and oversimplified. But not a whole lot can happen, or it doesn’t mean very much, if we don’t even like who we are. Alright then, I’m out. PEACE!!

Why I Call Myself a Skeptic (Who Watches the Watchers?…and who watches those watchers? Watchers all the way down!)

I’ve bounced around the political landscape, often alone and to myself.  Depending on who I discuss or debate with, I can be seen as a radical or one of the sheeple.  Of late, I find that ‘skeptic’ is the best term for describing my life philosophy.  I’ve traveled around from faith and conservatism to political apathy; from trendy anarcho-capitalism to concerned but confused by just about everything.  I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of political and philosophical believers and I’ve generally discovered that people have real reasons for why they believe as they do.  In most instances people are not evil, bigoted, hateful, even if they do hold some opinions I find detestable.  I remain the kind of skeptic that is concerned but can only be confused (a healthy dose of “I know that I very well can be and will be wrong”).

I read a book titled ‘The Watchman’s Rattle’ that outlines some sobering issues that our society faces.  Things some people completely deny.  Things which other people have completely ridiculous solutions towards solving.  But it’s hard to blame anyone.  Mostly people just want to help.  Most of us DO want the world to be a better place, even if we disagree on how to go about DOING that.  The dilemmas we face, for me, are apparent and stark.  The main take away I got from the book is this idea of the cognitive threshold.

The cognitive threshold is where things become too complex for human understanding.  If we think we’ve pinned down a solution or found a causal relationship, we may very likely have missed or consciously ignored a host of other variables that make our conclusions completely misguided.  I believe many of our problems are past the cognitive threshold.  Which is why I may be coming around to the pluralistic and democratic process.  But not the so called democracy we claim to have here in the States.

When I think of this democratic/pluralistic approach, I think of the free exchange and open challenging of all ideas, beliefs, and systems.  Put them to the test, call them into question.  And even when something appears to be working, be willing to acknowledge when it’s deeply flawed or in need of dismissal.  Reject dogma in all its forms.  Avoid hero worship. Everyone is fallible.  Respect actions and ideas.  Generally, it’s good not to revere people because they will let you down…and that’s okay, we are all freakin’ human.  It’s better to know that our leaders make mistakes like anyone else and holding them up as exceptional is dangerous, as history has shown time and time again.

One thing that has been frustrating about the skeptic community as I’ve explored it is that many people have embraced this label of skepticism that I wouldn’t strictly term skeptics.  It is important to distinguish between skeptical inquiry and naked cynicism.  Many who take on the skeptic tag are skeptical of only certain organizations which they have an obvious and apparent disdain for. The government, religion, western medicine, alternative medicine, psychiatry, etc.  It’s easy enough to have an out there belief and call yourself a free thinking skeptic because it’s in denial of the mainstream.  This is a trendy thing to do.  This is not skepticism.

Skepticism is not a faith, it is an approach to ascertaining the truth with a clear understanding that getting at the truth is messy and sometimes you can never fully have it.  Many people will spout stuff as if it is a priori self evident truth, and it simply isn’t.  A theory is something that has at least some justified reasoning for the possibility of it’s truth…a belief is not a theory, and a theory is not big T truth.  Many people who felt they were getting at the big T truth have become exactly the things they set out to denounce.  Julian Assange eventually had people signing non-disclosure agreements…say WHAT!!!  I really enjoy listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, but even they at times get emotional and outright dismiss people with snide remarks.  People who may very well be kooks.  But there has been enough of choosing sides where loyalty trumps responsibility, us against them, I’m right and they are wrong, we are good and they are evil.

We don’t live in the Star Wars universe.  There are no Jedi or Sith Lords.  If an Empire exists, they aren’t sinister lizard people taking blood oaths in secret rooms.  They’re part of the same collective delusions, prone to the same incompetence.  If a noble cause isn’t so noble anymore, they’ve fallen victim to power and done what people normally do when revered and not questioned.  I suppose my point is, if you feel you are a part of some truth movement, you have to guard against those things which can easily make you the very thing that you detest in the first place.

I think some radical thinking is required if we want to get to the places that so many people are trying to work towards.  But I think where a radical shift hasn’t come is in the area of understanding.  Jesus had something going and I wish he’d expounded more on this idea of “loving our enemies”; if indeed it was Jesus who said that (regardless, the concept is intriguing).  I’m not so sure about love, but accept and understand that there was something that lead people down a path of becoming an oppressor or a bigot or a racist.  If we understand that, we can guard against it.  We can keep others from going that route.  We can radically accept our fundamentally flawed human nature instead of playing right into it as we have predictably done throughout history.  And, for goodness sake, stop calling people “enemies”.  That’s extremification, that’s similar to reverence, just on the other end of the spectrum.

I’ve ran on for some time, I hope this sparked some deep thought.  I hope this is challenging and that it clarifies how I see the world to some degree.  We need to better understand how people come to the beliefs, ideas, and opinions that they hold.  Withhold judgement, and if we go about refuting or challenging one another, it’s not about crushing your competition or destroying your enemies.  It should always come from a place of compassion.   Because right now I see a whole lot of team picking and tribal touting with the irony being that no one is winning.

-Watch the watchers and watch those watchers, watch everybody.  Skeptical, not cynical.

-Free minds does not mean acid addled brains opening the third eye going to the 5th plateau and believing that I can partake in multi-dimensional travel through quantum thought bridges.

-Don’t create grand conspiracies where a lot of incompetence is clearly to blame

-Addressing the many collective delusions that exist starts with self awareness and compassion

-Recent media I’ve partaken in (Bioshock Infinite, True Detective, 2nd viewing of House of Cards, Parks and Rec, Louie)

Goals: take walks, write more, read more, filter and limit my internet browsing

The 5 Most Unforgettable and Undeniably Great Albums of 2013

I commiserated greatly over this year end list of albums.  It’s rather ridiculous, but I feel this need to make sure I leave nothing out when it comes to putting together lists like this.  Garden variety perfectionism.  On top of this tendency that I possess, 2013 was a loaded year in music.  There was a lot of unforgettable music.  Eventually I determined that a top 10 list was too difficult, that somebody I didn’t want to leave out was going to be left out.  However, 5 albums stick out to me amidst all the others that I know I couldn’t deny giving the proper recognition.  They will be on heavy rotation from now and into the distant future, I believe.  So here are my 5 most unforgettable and undeniably great albums of 2013.  These are in order, so number 1 is my top pick.

Quick Honorable Mentions:
Portugal. the Man ‘Evil Friends’, Kanye West ‘Yeezus’, Eminem ‘Marshall Mathers LP2’, STRFKR ‘Miracle Mile’, Arctic Monkeys ‘AM’, Drake ‘Nothing was the Same’, Darkside ‘Psychic’, James Blake ‘Overgrown’, Nine Inch Nails ‘Hesitation Marks’, Chelsea Wolfe ‘Pain is Beauty’, Alter Bridge ‘Fortress’, Atoms for Peace ‘AMOK’, Deafheaven ‘Sunbather’, forgive me of my sins for those I forget.

Now on to the LIST!!! (forgive quirks in the formatting, using images made it a real pain with wordpress)

5. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clorkwork


It certainly did not feel like 6 or so years since the last QOTSA album.  Josh Homme has his fingers in so many pies that it never really feels like he’s gone away for very long.  But it has indeed been over 6 years since the last official QOTSA project ‘Era Vulgaris’.  For me, the Queens of the Stone Age are one of the true and consistent rock & roll groups still in existence.  I don’t mind experimental sounds and the cross genre dabbling that seem to be the artistic norm in music nowadays, but sometimes you want that band you can come back to and know what you are going to get.  Not that they are a one note affair, but they have a reliable sound that is distinct and scratches that itch that very few others can.  There are a handful of bands or artists who over the years often lead me to ask “why can’t I find more people that sound like this?…this is what I need” (Tool, El-P, Radiohead, Mastodon, QOTSA, among a few others).  When I really think about it though, it’s probably best that only a select few are capable of giving me that special and unique listening experience.  The latest Queens album ‘…Like Clockwork’ makes a case for being their best and it definitely feels like their most focused.  Guitar, drums, vocals, all present in an aggressive simplicity.  I hadn’t realized that I’d been starving for new QOTSA music but I’m sure glad it came along and it was more than sufficiently satiating.

4. Arcade Fire – Reflektor


This is going to be a rant, I forewarn thee.  Often the complaint levied against Arcade Fire is that they are pretentious.  Let’s examine that definition “attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc, than is actually possessed.”  So are people trying to say that Arcade does not actually possess the importance, talent, and culture…that they aren’t one of the most acclaimed rock bands in recent memory???  Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up.  With Reflektor’s release it seemed destined to be something people just wanted to figure out a way to delegitimize.  I may have just made that word up, I’m not sure.  Even people giving the album pretty high marks felt the need to call it disjointed, bloated, or some kind of mixed bag.  Certainly, there were more experimental aspects to this album than any of their previous output.  New sounds were toyed with, a dancier feel is present, songs are longer, and Supersymmetry may have been unnecessary.  But that track comes at the end of the album, so I’m not going to allow that to overshadow the many transcendent moments that Reflektor presents.  And make no mistake, this is still a very Arcade Fire album in all the ways that I’ve come to love and enjoy listening to them.  Arena filling sound, self aware lyrics and themes, call it snobbish if you’d like, but it’s all backed up with pure artistry.  I can’t believe that being a hater and the negative tenor of the internet has gotten so popular that I’m having to be an Arcade Fire apologist…5 years ago the concept of this would have been ridiculous.  ‘Normal Person’ one of the best straight guitar rock songs I’ve heard in quite some time also provides the simplest of profound lyrics: “is any one as strange as a normal person…I can’t tell if I’m a normal person, it’s true.  I think I’m cool enough but am I cruel enough….if that’s what’s normal now, I don’t want to know.”  Many bands/artists in the past have been applauded for not sticking only to what made them popular, but in the age of social media and the internet, the outrage of fans not getting exactly what they expect seems to crowd out the more reasonable consideration of whether it’s still good music.  The same reaction has come from many of the hip hop purists in relation to Kanye West’s polarizing album ‘Yeezus’.  In his case, at least he’s not likable.  The derision that’s building up for Arcade Fire is just nonsensical, warranted success turns people off I guess.  Reflektor isn’t good, it’s freaking great.

3.  El-P & Killer Mike are ‘Run the Jewels’


Something beyond fortuitous happened when Jamie Meline (the rapper/producer known as EL-P) and Michael Render (known as rapper Killer Mike) met to record a song for Killer Mike’s 2012 project in progress, ‘R.A.P. Music’.  If I was a proponent of something like destiny, that might be how I’d describe what resulted form this gathering.  It was a clashing of rap worlds that in many ways were diametrically different from one another.  Killer Mike with southern hip hop, El-P with dense, left field, sci fi themed, underground rap.  It all worked though, resulting in a fully El produced and critically lauded album.  From there El-P did his own project ‘Cancer 4 Cure’ and they hit the road touring together.  A ridiculous fire had started from teaming up and it was apparent that they had redeveloped a deep connection with the essence of hip hop music.  I was able to see them live in Portland, summer 2012, and this energy was readily apparent.

They moved straight into a 2013 collaborative effort with ‘Run the Jewels’.  On both Cancer 4 Cure and with this latest project, something seems to have kicked El-P out of the dark cynical tone he had stuck to for so long and turned him towards straight biting, sarcastic, wit filled braggadocio.  Killer Mike met him halfway, still being able to lay down some razor sharp social commentary but knowing that he couldn’t complain much while they were having this much fun.  Wanting this passion to be on full display, they released the album for free.  The production on ‘Run the Jewels’ still has El’s experimental flare and darkness, but a black humor and a wry smile underscore it all.  The exception being the epic closing track ‘A Christmas F****** Miracle’, and regardless of its seriousness it may be the best track.  However, the track ’36 Chain’, along with the music video, perfectly demonstrate just how much these dudes have started living again in their post-40s.  El spits:

We could double dutch in a minefieldhell gets
Just the right temperature,
 break beat minister
Riverdance cleats on your face for the finisher

He also states “you don’t wanna look inside my big crystal ball” but that seems to be exactly what we’ve been permitted to do.  ‘Run the Jewel’s brings back the concept of a powerful rap duo and made it loud and clear that these veterans more than hold their own.  For me, they make a curious but convincing case for being on top of the crowded heap of talented rappers in the game right now.  

2.  Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City


I’ve never had a problem with Vampire Weekend, I could even say I had a fair amount of respect for how utterly different and interesting they were.  But on their first 2 albums, I could only give a passing listen to maybe a handful of tracks, and even then they’d never get any kind of heavy rotation.  This was more an issue of taste than anything else, they just weren’t my thing.  Although, I’ve always felt the range of what I could enjoy was wide.  So, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what wasn’t doing it for me when it came to Vampire Weekend.  They just felt…too cute.  With ‘Modern Vampires of the City’, I feel like the talent and unique aesthetic are honed much more maturely.  That probably sounds a bit condescending, especially since its always been clear this band is intelligent.  But I come back to that “too cute” thought, I think I just don’t like having as much fun as Vampire Weekend seemed to be trying to make its listeners have on their earlier efforts.  MVOTC still has its occasional bubbly sentiment and feel, but this time around they added a layer of melancholy and seriousness that makes it all work.  Instead of being annoyed, I could appreciate the unmistakable sound they’ve created for themselves while still being rewarded with some emotional depth.  There is a wealth of beauty present on MVOTC, complemented by a most awesome album cover.  “Don’t Lie” showcases this yin and yang blend I speak of (bubbly+melancholy) and it’s pretty fabulous stuff.  I knew the first time I listened through that VW had finally made me a believer, but I was even more surprised and impressed at the staying power the music had over the course of the year.  Stellar stuff.

1.  Danny Brown – Old


There are probably people who would read this and think “who the what?”  When I saw Danny Brown’s 2011 mixtape (basically a legitimate album) ‘XXX’ atop many year end lists in rap music, I also uttered “who the what?”  But, yes, a wild haired, gap-toothed, seemingly crass rapper made my favorite album this year.  He may have become more well known to the mainstream when he and A$ap Rocky waxed philosophical on a Noisey interview about wanting to sleep with Kathy Griffin (she immediately had them on her show, hilarity ensued) but his flamboyance is just one dimension of his artistry.  At first I wasn’t sure ‘Old’ would land here at #1 as much of what Danny Brown lays down can take time before its evil genius sinks in.  One form of his delivery can be high pitched and nasally and if someone only lent a passing ear, it might seem he was just humor music like Lonely Island.  The humor and the punch lines are in rich supply, but so is the depth.  Two of my favorite tracks this year, “Clean Up” and “Float On”, are layered with street philosophy and melancholy.  There are attempts at glamorizing the life, yet Danny knows as much as the rap music naysayers that he’s not always doing what’s best for him.  But he is making great music.

And to beat your enemy, you gotta think like them

So I was up late breaking day with the gremlins

Music in my heart but my thoughts wouldn’t listen

Often he discusses the paradoxes and dissonance that street and music life creates.  The temptation to sell drugs in order to make money to buy Wonder Bread ultimately leading to misery, or turning to drugs to help write better rhymes ending in the cycle of addiction.  This isn’t necessarily a new concept in rap but Danny Brown somehow makes it feel fresh, sad, fun, triumphant, ignorant, ridiculous, awesome, and brilliant all at the same time.  He catches lightning in a bottle with ‘Old’ in a similar fashion to Eminem on the MMLP or Lil’ Wayne on the Carter III.  What feels refreshing about Danny Brown, however, is that his success still remains somewhat underground.  This has given him some leeway to shirk some genre cliches and blend different sounds together.  He’s a festival hit and at times he’s been labeled a hipster and a novelty act for some of his genre blending and strange fashion.  As a fan though, I can deal with him being misrepresented or misunderstood if that means he gets to continue doing things on his own terms.  The more I listen the more sure I am that ‘Old’ is the most creative and unforgettable musical effort I heard throughout 2013.

Diagnosable as Myself (Contemplations on Doubt)


I have a dream to one day author a brilliant book.  I am still unsure what the genre or subject matter of this book could be, but I have a hope that the talent necessary to reach this achievement exists within me.  That word dream is used for a precise reason, that reason being a doubt in the possibility of this ever being reality.  It is a dream, and dreams are never reality.  My random musings and thoughts concerning this project have a similar effect that a vivid or powerful dream can have.  Intense ideas and profundity crop up in my mind and I try to cling to these and make them a part of a greater whole.  We all know what happens on waking, however.  Like any dream narrative, time and daily distraction cause any cogency to deteriorate swiftly, or you realize that what seemed so clear was actually completely absurd.  This often becomes apparent when trying to relate the dream/thoughts back to another person   What’s left are scraps of my intrigue and a memory that the dream/thoughts I felt were really cool, but I can’t recreate the moment with any confidence.  This results in a considerable amount of disappointment and I become complacent, letting these dreams and deep thoughts drift into my minds eye and then float away.  I wave hello and toy with them briefly but never get too excited because the dejection of being unable to bring it all into sharp focus so many times has left me without the resolve or motivation.  I doubt and come to believe falsely that I just do not have what it takes.

Over the years I have self diagnosed myself with a handful of psychological disorders or conditions to make sense of why I struggle with making something out of what I perceive to be an extraordinary skill at thinking outside of the box.  A cliche, I know, and not very specific.  But I truly feel as though I have a unique ability that allows me to shift and see topics from varying angles.  Of course I bounce around with frenetic urgency from topic to topic, argument to counter argument.  Yes, that’s it, I must have adult ADD (attention deficit disorder).  Disorder being a terrible word that’s been tagged onto these perfectly useful ways of thinking differently.  Or is it depression creating an unusual self obsession with my existential angst.  I have all the ideas I need but it must just be this depressive state that is sapping me of any sort of push to channel my creativity.  Wait, no, it could be bipolar.  But if that’s the case why do I not get this shot of manic intensity that for periods of time could allow me to imagine and succeed.  Ahh, I see, I’m one of those bipolar’s, the kind who tends towards low grade ever pervasive depression and any hint of mania is the problematic kind.  What if I am just completely deluded and really am nothing special? Just an average person with an irrational complex that causes me to think I’m bright.  None or all of this could be true, and with time I’ve come to understand the ridiculousness of psychological hypochondriasis, a truly modern epidemic.  I know one thing is for sure, I’m diagnosable as a complicated and colorful human being.  And that’s the best I can do.  All these possible disorders of the mind lie on a spectrum, in reality, and like almost everything in life the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  It’s a conglomeration and collision of all the theories I’ve considered.  The stock tri-fold “biopsychosocial” phenomenon.  Something that we all happen to be.  I am diagnosable with Michael V Unusualness, bound to eventually be in the DSM-LVII which will have 7 billion “disorders” of the mind so as to encompass every single permutation of human being.

I’ve written about genius and insanity, the blurred lines between them.  I believe I am preoccupied with this thought of being something great.  Leaving the world in some way changed because I existed.  Wow, is that sentence as self absorbed as I think it sounds?  I’ve entertained this “dream” and have hardly allowed it to become an actual aspiration, self sabotaging and running away from it at the same time wanting it so badly.  Really this is nothing unique, most of us have a dissonance between solipsistic contemplation and rational consideration of our actual place in the world.  Because fear lies at the heart of avoiding success and avoiding being good at something, I often convince myself that I am wired for eternal ambivalence.  Does the word paradox apply?  I sure hope so because I freakin’ love that word.

I want to write a brilliant book and maybe I will some day.  It could just end up being a compilation of these absurd ramblings.  Never solving anything, but brimming with delight at trying to figure myself, other people, and the universe out.  Maybe I’ll catch lightning in a bottle, have a lunar moon landing moment where it seems inexplicable but nevertheless there they were, not on Earth but staring back at it from over two-hundred thousand miles away.  Do you think they thought to themselves “How the hell did we get here?  This shouldn’t have been possible.”  How is this preoccupation with my own self importance aspirations of any interest to people who may read this?  I could try to give an answer to that but I’d be full of it by suggesting that I actually knew.  I will simply leave off with a quote by John Gray, who wrote a brilliant book himself in the form of ‘Straw Dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals’

“Anyone who truly wants to escape human solipsism should not seek out empty places. Instead of fleeing to desert, where they will be thrown back into their own thoughts, they will do better to seek out the company of other animals.”

John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

-Favorite albums of 2013, in consideration for #1 (Arcade Fire ‘Reflektor’, STRFKR ‘Miracle Mile, Danny Brown ‘Old’, Vampire Weekend ‘Modern Vampires of the City’)

-TV show I think we are all tortured to be ambivalent about as we wait and see if it can become the great show it think it is:   The Walking Dead

-TV show pleasant surprise: Masters of Sex

-TV show I’m part way through that is already in the category of sublime: Six Feet Under

-Issues I’m waffling on

1.  Foreign films being remade for American audiences

2.  Films dramatizing reality and saying they are based on a true story (while the phrase doesn’t suggest it’s completely true, the use of real names, places and events, seems to prime an audience to believe that what they are seeing actually occurred, often times without question)


Television Drama and the Sublime (6 moments that demonstrate how TV can be as good as or better than the movies)


Recently I dove into watching The Walking Dead after having been unnecessarily stubborn about doing so.  I watched the pilot of this ambitious AMC television drama when it first aired.  I was impressed with the production value and the acting overall and looked forward to the story unfolding.  For whatever reason I didn’t keep up after season 1 and while I was removed this show became a ratings giant for AMC.  The buzz surrounding each episode and season became a serious pop culture phenomenon, almost annoyingly so.  My feed was always blowin’ up with Walking Dead stuff.  I had stepped in on a few episode over season 2 and 3 and things seemed somewhat slow to me.  I invented silly reasons not to take the time with it.  In the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t giving it a fair shake.  But I had this troubling suspicion that the show wasn’t going to be as good as the hype.  Yet, I could not make this assertion without really sitting down and giving WD the proper attention.  I wanted to be informed in my criticism and so I am now 4 episodes into the 3rd season and can fully admit that the show is top notch in the drama department and, for the most part, the characters are worth investing in.

There was a moment in season 2 that powerfully reminded me how television has in the last 10-15 years been able to achieve what was once only possible through the cinematic experience.  Production value plays a huge factor in that; the more believable things are in look and feel the more we are experiencing the emotional ambiance that is desired rather than being removed by what feels cheap or just not quite real.  High definition and seeing television drama in the widescreen format to me was the main turning point.  Also, as television gradually improved better writers, actors, and overall talent were being drawn to the “small screen” medium.  The season 2 moment I spoke of on The Walking Dead is when Shane pries open the barn full of walkers and lets them spill out; forcing the small community of survivors to face a stark reality of life in the zombie apocalypse that they had been unwilling to fully do up til’ that point.  As a viewer, in that moment, I experienced something that can only be provided by the elongated storytelling process of television drama.  Through that concentrated intensity, you feel the emotional impact of what was built over two seasons and you feel it for almost every single character in a different way.

I could speak to the finer plot details, however, this moment highlights more broadly a viewing experience that I have started calling “sublime”.  A particular definition describes it as such: Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth.  Moments like this still exist in film, but the emotional investment that television requires has created something very unique to the format.  I’ve decided, with that in mind, to present a list of 6 moments from television dramas in the last decade or so that highlight distinctly this kind of epic and heightened artistry.  If you haven’t seen one of the shows feel free to skip the example or read if you think you’ll never watch the show.  I will attempt to detail them in such a way that doesn’t completely give away any big plot spoilers.  These are in no particular order and there could very well be TV moments I have forgotten or never seen that equally qualify as “sublime”.  Also, some of these shows may have flamed out in tremendous fashion, this is not a list of greatest shows just times where I believe sublimity (word of the day) was achieved.

1.Dexter Season 5 Episode 1: “My Bad”  Warning, Dexter clip not for the feint of heart

I can hear some people saying “dude this should totally be a trinity killer moment” and essentially it is.  For those who will understand what goes down in this scene, it follows the season 4 finale that we weren’t sure we would ever recover from.  I was SUPER skeptical that the writers could figure out a way to have the death of you know who not completely derail the show.  The move was incredibly bold and it could be argued that it did, in fact, derail the show but it took a season for that derailment to become gut punchingly apparent.  Season 5 was still pretty damn good and in episode 1 we see Dexter, still to this point being masterfully played by Michael C Hall, finally absorb the reality of what has occurred.  He got his kill from Season 4, but not without a devastating cost.  This is where we the viewers finally clue into the reality that it’s not okay to root for this “serial killer with a code” anymore and it never really was.  His drive to not only kill but explore the nature of his “dark passenger” was always completely selfish, we just hadn’t seen it impact anything drastically enough for us to say “no bueno”.  The bathroom scene is all of Season 4 coming down to bare on Dexter, and the only way he knows how to cope is to kill.  This, for me, might be the ultimate demonstration of why Michael C Hall garnered endless praise for his depiction of this complicated and dark character.  It wasn’t easy to watch, but it was, in terms of art, sublime.

2.  Lost Season 1 Episode 4 “Walkabout”


The first few episodes of Lost were riveting but perplexing.  Not perplexing in a bad way, but as the viewer you are wondering what the hell you are actually watching.  What does this show want to be?  I remember I didn’t touch this show for awhile and saw my parents watching some season 2 episodes and my mom described to me nonsense about a hatch, these numbers they had to punch in for some reason but didn’t know why, polar bears mozying around, the list goes on.  Prior to that I had been away for 14 months and hadn’t kept up on any television shows.  Lost for me was one of the first times I saw how effecting and epic TV shows were starting to become.  While the mysteries of Lost ended up being its eventual undoing, the first 2 seasons let the weirdness simmer in our minds while causing us to fall in love with the characters.  The moment that this show smacked me upside the head with a big dose of “awwww I get it now, but not really, but still I think I’m starting to get it” was the 4th episode “Walkabout”.  Up to that point John Locke, the most intriguing character by far that totally fizzled out most disappointingly in Season 5ish 6ish, hardly had any dialogue when then the famous flashbacks gave us a focus on his past life.  We discover in a jaw dropping reveal that John was paralyzed prior to the island and he now has his ability to walk back.  The emotional weight I felt with that revelation is the kind of stuff that makes you watch a show despite it slowly declining into metaphysical pseudo spiritual wannabe sci-fi stupidity.  If writers can achieve just that kind of sublime once, you can keep your hooks in people for, hmmm, 6 seasons maybe.  And they sure did.

3. Game of Thrones Season 3 Episode 5 “Kissed By Fire”

It’s truly difficult to choose one moment from Game of Thrones to represent the sublime experience, but I’ve chosen a less obvious one.  Honorable mentions to the beheading at the Sept of Baelor, Littlefingers “Chaos is a Ladder” speech, and, well of course, the Red Wedding.  The scene I chose that’s in the video above is probably one of the more impressive feats I’ve read in fiction that has with equal impressiveness been translated to screen on HBO’s GOT.  This is Jaime Lannister detailing to Brienne of Tarth what happened that led to him being titled as “the Kingslayer”.  We always liked Jaime for being an awesomely foul mouthed, unapologetic, snarky jerk wad but George RR, and the writers of GOT the tv show turn the tables on us and have us starting to sympathize with an incestuous, spoiled, unashamed killer.  Why?  How?  The viewer begins to understand the emotional scars that he has buried deep down from his years being known as the man who would betray his oath and kill a king.  “By what right does the wolf judge the lion?”  The show, and book, build up medieval and fantasy tropes only to tear them down or show how gray things actually are, taking a fantastical setting and presenting it as a metaphor for reality.  Was Ned really noble or just a fool?  Has Jaime played the villain for years simply because people wouldn’t believe anything else of him?  Who’s good, who’s evil?  Go watch Star Wars if you want that kind of parable.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how GOT will turn genre cliche’s and moral tales completely upside down.

4.  Mad Men Season 6 Episode 13 “In Care of”


I probably chose this moment from Mad Men because it gave us a little sprinkling of hope for Don Draper in the sea of despair that this show usually is.  I don’t feel all that great when I watch Mad Men.  I ask myself often why I enjoy watching such miserable people.  Enjoy would be the wrong word in describing what it’s like to sit through episode after episode of people in the midst of having an existential crisis.  Everything is so well done though.  The sets, the acting, the subtlety and the slow boil.  But, I won’t lie, there often feels like little payoff for the pain.  This hasn’t been a very happy tale.  The ‘Hershey Pitch’ however, was awesome.  The beauty of this scene comes in seeing the contrast between full of shit Don and honest Don.  And in reality, the honest heartbreaking story he describes of growing up in a whorehouse is actually the better pitch.  But you can’t talk about whorehouses in your advertisement, can you?  This moment really captures the dissonance that the advertising world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (or whatever it’s named now) deals with.  Everyone sits there feeling uncomfortable for having heard the truth, it really is a powerful sell for a Hershey bar, but you can’t sell them that way right?  The greatness of it is Don finally not giving a crap whether that’s the best way to sell the candy bar, it’s that he bared his soul and was completely authentic.  This was the slight glimmer of possible redemption for Don Draper that was getting farther and farther away as this show progressed.  This was a moment the viewers deserved and earned.

5.  Battlestar Galactica Season 3 Episode 20 “Crossroads (Part 2)

The more I reminisce on the 4 season run of Battlestar Galactica the more I begin to think “this show shouldn’t have been this good, this show in a lot of ways was a crap storm of too many ideas”.  It’s very comparable to Lost in that way.  But it’s mysteries were accompanied by truly powerful character moments from beginning to end.  The season 3 finale if I were to hear the many details of it without any context would seem rather silly.  The writers had to explain why only 7 Cylon models had been seen for the first 3 seasons of the show when we knew there was supposed to be 12.  I felt this was rather clumsily handled and became obvious as a big reveal plot point to string us along.  Somehow they made this work rather well.  But there it is, we have: mysterious tune that turns out to be “All Along the Watchtower” that switches on the awareness of the final Cylon models, they are characters we know and love, a main character comes back from the dead, and a fairly ho hum verdict being passed on Gaius Baltar that was rather weak courtroom drama in retrospect.  What was building to be a let down of a finale ended up being actually pretty freaking awesome.  Bear McCreary created a ballsy remake of the Jimi Hendrix classic song and somehow the writers made that a compelling, even if silly, part of what led to the series finale.  Honorable Mention to James Callis who played Gaius Baltar who’s sublime acting led to one of the most intriguing characters in TV drama history.  Above is the Bear McCreary version of “All Along the Watchtower”.

6.   Breaking Bad Season 3 Episode 10 “Fly”

How could this list not have a Breaking Bad moment?  Truth be told, Breaking Bad from start to finish is sublimity personified.  Those who haven’t seen the show are probably sick of this gushing, and I don’t like to gush, but there is just no avoiding it here.  I have trouble really saying any other show I’ve ever watched meets this level of consistency.  The Wire is very respectable but for me never achieves the same poetry in motion that Breaking Bad feels like almost all the time.  And I will have to admit my ignorance when it comes to the holy grail that is The Sopranos.  So, I openly admit there may be shows on par, I just haven’t witnessed them for myself just yet.  The scene I pasted above is one among hundreds that could demonstrate the near dramatic perfection that was presented in BB.  The dialogue exchanged between Jesse and Walt in “Fly” takes place in a fairly low drama scenario but encapsulates the chemistry that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul created with these most unique of characters.  The episode starts out light enough and showcases some of the wit and humor that stuck out amidst the darker decay we witnessed throughout the shows 5 seasons.  Here the writers step back, having written a simple bottle episode premise, and simply let the actors act, and its hard to believe these people don’t actually occupy reality.

And these are just 6 moments, many more exist that show how television drama has truly reached the artistic sublime.  Some only have glimpses of this quality, others are able to demonstrate it on a more consistent basis.  I was inspired to discuss a few instances here as a tribute to how television drama has become one of if not the most impressive storytelling forms.

Mood while writing-  Intense

Others shows considered for the list- Sons of Anarchy, The Wire, Firefly, Justified, Six Feet Under amongst many others

Currently Reading- ‘Notes From the Underground’ by Fyodor Dosoevsky and ‘The Mote In God’s Eye’ by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Movie to see- Gravity (preferably IMAX 3D)

Recently heard super solid albums- ‘Psychic’ by Darkside and ‘A Color Map of the Sun’ by Pretty Lights

Remaining Sane While Consuming Live Music

A small bout of self doubt has delayed me from getting on top of a new blog post.  Considering it’s not even been 2 weeks I don’t think that’s all that shabby seeing as I’ve let writing funks go for over a year before.  It’s never an issue of feeling as though I don’t have something to say, with me that has never been a problem.  I suppose it always comes back to that self consciousness factor with a pinch of perfectionism that makes me feel relatively unsatisfied with a lot of my creative pursuits.  I can understand the evolutionary purpose for delusional confidence but I still scratch my head at how feelings of inadequacy are of much use.  I suppose it’s all some kind of balancing act, and for me there is no question that craving the feeling of invincibility can easily get me in trouble.  Maybe I’m just not mentally stable :P.

Anyhow, what’s going on in the world of me.  I recently survived the experience of attending 2 days of the Bumbershoot Festival in downtown Seattle.  Music, arts, food and stuff.  Earlier this year I recall reading a variety of things about the Coachella Music Festival and thinking “why would I ever want to be a part of that?”  Yes, I know some very good acts come through and that seems to be the draw, but so many others aspects of it seemed straight animalistic.  While I know Bumbershoot is not really comparable to Coachella in scope, I think there are indeed some similarities.  However, the fact that it took place in the city and is considerably smaller may be the things that allowed me to feel that attending was a worthwhile endeavor.  I got to see Nacho Picasso (a deliciously dark underground rapper) Kendrick Lamar (riding high off of a critically lauded debut album and an epic verse calling out his rivals) Crystal Castles (which took the cake for the weekend easily) Alt-J and MGMT (both intensely respectable in their performances).  Oh, and not to forget Gary Numan, a dude I had never heard of but apparently has been around and is some kind of pioneer in electronic music.  His Nine Inch Nails-like set was quite the sonic punch to the face.  It was nice to participate without having to go primal in order to feel like I was soaking in the music and talent sufficiently.

But there is certainly a yin and yang aspect to the whole thing.  I mean, I’m only 28, but being there definitely made me feel old.  I know others might roll there eyes at such a statement, but this appeared to be the place for the youth that weekend.  At this point in my existence, I think I’ve gotten over the need for clamoring about while snaking my way towards the front of the crowds.  I attempted during Kendrick Lamar and it literally turned into human sardines before his set started so I peaced out.  Furthermore, while not hating on peoples desire to experience music through a chemically induced haze, I certainly get the feeling some people are there for the drugs first, the grinding bodies second, and somewhere on their list falls the music.   When it comes to the lines and waiting, common courtesy generally goes out the window.  One couple was rather insistent during the Deerhunter set on doing a little reversal and trying to get the boyfriend on the girlfriends shoulders….so he could get a better view I guess.  I can understand how it sounds fun after a few beers, but there are people around and if you fail miserably it might not just be his head that takes the brunt of this hubris.

Having said some of that, I still don’t consider myself the type for pooping on the party.  Mostly it was all good.  There is truly something to say about hearing the music at insanely high volumes, my intellect tickled by the technical aspects of the music while my body is viscerally assaulted by sound and bass.  The back to back experience of Gary Numan and Crystal Castles had a definite transcendent element to it.  In the right setting, with light, sound, people, and performance mixing together in the proper way, something occurs that can only be described as spiritual.  It isn’t otherwordly or supernatural, but it invokes that sort of sensation, the kind I would get much more frequently as a child.  I couldn’t properly describe the experience of seeing/feeling/hearing the light mix with the swirls from the foggers as the music poured over the crowd, the same crowd Alice Glass fearlessly surfed on top of while belting her vocals.  That’s when whatever might deter me from these surroundings becomes irrelevant because I know this is a place where the mundane is forgotten, where worry, tomorrow, and future can be set aside for a moment without having to accept nihilism as a life philosophy.

So I think shows are still something I can do.  I don’t have to become a wild man to enjoy and I still think a very worthy memory can be gained so long as I stick to seeing the artists I truly admire and want to see.  Worthwhile to consume with no wicked comedown.

Music listened to during writing:  How to Destroy Angels

Last Movie Watched: Dr. Strangelove

Great album just discovered: Mondo by Electric Guest

Nagging gripe that seems to be increasing in how utterly annoying it is:  Totally craptastic iPhone battery life (it’s borderline criminal)

An observation: Sometimes there is shirking the conventions of music with brilliant results and sometimes there is just making noise

Recommendation:  Werner Herzog’s ‘Encounters at the End of the World’ and Eugene Jarecki’s ‘This House I Live In’…both on Netflix, check em out.

Who’s the GOAT?! (Philosophical Ideas Argued Using Hip-Hop and Basketball)


It’s probably one of the most tiring and old debates in a variety of areas.  Music, literature, sports, art, history.  We are always asking who the greatest of all time is (Who is the GOAT?).  Where I land on the debate is that really there is no greatest ever at anything.  There are far too many subjective elements involved in deciding and bestowing such a title.  Where I can say I am rather opinionated though is in the area of people overemphasizing cultural/historical impact and not actually considering the actual quality of a certain individuals body of work as much as they should.  I believe there are certain talents or great minds that came along with a perfect storm of cultural events that lend to an inflated and distorted view of how great they actually were.  I could drop a few names and I’m almost positive people would think me blasphemous.  And that’s probably why the debate is so frustrating and ultimately not that interesting, because people are somewhat delusional or biased when it comes to the formation of their opinion.  An opinion which they will often give as fact.

We get in a frenzy when a decade comes to an end, or even a century, and major publications create lists of “most influential”, “greatest album of…”, “best athletes”, and so forth.  Unfortunately people take certain media entities so seriously that these lists often shape the discourse going into the future and if you make your own list or someone else does further down the line, you almost feel like you have to reference or use a Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, or New York Times something or other to be sure you don’t leave anything out.  But in that case, the debate seems a bit tainted.  I myself have used these references to refresh my memory on things I may have forgotten, but to what degree are we missing something and just piggy backing off of what we were told to consider great. And I believe as time goes on this becomes more and more problematic, particularly when looking back at pre-internet culture where almost certainly our perceptions are shaped by a considerable amount of revisionist history.

This could lead me into discussing our obsession with creating heroes and the need to place them on pedestals, but this is a much heavier issue.  To keep it a tad lighter, I think a good microcosm of the human obsession for bestowing greatness to individuals can be seen in Hip Hop and Basketball.  I don’t think there is anywhere else that the debate is rehashed more.  Ego plays such a huge part in the culture and it’s rare to go a month, let alone a year, before some new kind of argument is being raised about who the best rappers and basketball players are.  It can be a lot of fun but the rhetoric and bloviation is often outrageous and fallacious.

Certain purists are so wrapped up in memories of a golden age that existed in their youth they will often ignore a new golden age happening right in front of them.  There is a desire to downplay the new and remember the “good old days”.  As basketball and rap personalities have become more mainstream, people complain how it’s just not “street” enough anymore. People complain about hip hop being emasculated and hoop stars are now softy prima donnas that travel to much and the bad boy Pistons could teach them a real good lesson.

But ask some of these people who the GOAT is in these respective areas and often the names given are the reason the art forms have been completely altered.  The heroes of a culture are often the destroyers. Dr Dre gave you Eminem…rap was never the same.  Jay-Z, once a street king and many peoples GOAT, is the harbinger of corporatized hip hop music and his protege Kanye West has created the link to things purists likely abhor (high fashion, visual arts, Kardashians, consumerism, sensitivity and self consciousness).  Michael Jordan is largely the reason basketball has become a global phenomenon and is why big personalities are what is marketed heavily in the NBA.  But people complain ad nauseum about cocky Kobe, disloyal Lebron, etc.  We are in a such an incessant search for who the new greats are that we prematurely crown an Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas, and a Vince Carter only to see them sputter out; in terms of rap we have Lil’ Wayne, The Game, and 50 Cent, among others. So some of us contemplate who the new greats are but are easily not impressed because it always seems like they can never live up to how awesome someone or something was when we were younger.

I think a few lessons can be learned from acknowledging humans love of lionization.  First, when we see it present in areas such as art and sport in a less contentious manner we can, discuss the delusional elements of declaring greats.  Then we can guard against it in arenas where it might be more problematic (politics, media, science, academia).  Secondly, we can reexamine history.  Not that I think we should destroy our idols, but maybe we should destroy our idols.  I think we would be better off with an appropriately humanized perception of the people who changed the world.  A disparaging term like “overrated” can be changed to “they were human like everyone else”.  And lastly, by knowing better who these people were, we can be more willing to acknowledge greatness in ourselves and other people living today instead of overemphasizing the past.

Music listened to while writing this:  Bjork

Last Movie Watched:  Oblivion….definitely a pass

People on GOAT watch:  Kendrick Lamar, Steph Curry (barring injury issues), Ryan Gosling, Louis C.K., George R.R. Martin, Kathryn Bigelow, Tina Fey, Arcade Fire, Mastodon

Prematurely being or been called GOAT’s/Misplaced GOAT worship:  Lena Dunham, M. Night Shyamalan, Stefan Molyneux, Malcolm Gladwell, Glenn Beck

GOAT’s we don’t like to call GOAT’s:  James Cameron, Richard Dawkins, Mark Zuckerberg

GOAT meltdowns: Alex Rodriguez, George Lucas, Johnny Depp

Names I’m purposefully ignoring for GOAT categories:  Political figures/World leaders

Note: there are certainly more names that could go in these GOAT categories, if I’ve made egregious oversights please mention them in the comments

Overdue Music Discovery: Spoon (Divine Fits is to thank for that)

Current Gripes: Edited rap music on Spotify, articles that begin with “in defense of” and go on defending unpopular/indefensible things because that’s the trendy to do, or articles that say “why you should be doing this NOW!”, and moral outrage that oversimplifies the complicated and affords too much significance to trivial things.