Thursday, September 03, 2015

Concert Review: Josh Berwanger Band

The Josh Berwanger Band was fantastic.

It can be hard opening a show. Not everyone is there yet, the people who are there probably aren't there for you, and chances are they are fresh off work, at least on a Wednesday. None of that mattered; they just came onto the stage and brought it alive.

It was a short and energetic set. Having only done a little pre-listening, I thought they sounded pretty different from their online material. It may just be that there is a different vibe to a live show, but they just signed with a new label, so hoping for new recordings does not seem completely unreasonable.

Another possible difference is that previous materials list four band members, but there were five men on stage. With three guitars, plus bass and drums, that gave a full rock sound, and they demonstrated a good level of comfort and compatibility between them.

I hope that stresses enough that they were excellent. Otherwise, I do have some random observations.

Josh Berwanger introduced the band as being from Nilbog, Kansas, which appears to be a running joke for them. I wondered for a moment if there was a real place with that name, but it seems to be only a Troll 2 reference as I originally thought. They are from Kansas, but some other city. That movie was terrible.

Also Berwanger had one of the most beautiful guitars I had ever seen. It was very sleek and narrow, kind of like Dan K. Brown's bass, but not quite as minimalist. Absolutely gorgeous.

Of course those are merely details, and the important thing is the music, but they had that covered. This is a good band, catch them live if you can.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Radical happiness

If you thought yesterday's post was winding and disorganized, today will be even worse.

Most recently it started with this article:

Someone posted it in an online group I am in, assuming it was snake oil, but there were group members who were familiar with the company and people who used it and they said it seemed pretty legitimate.

I have been interested in natural remedies for a while (though I rule out homeopathy, fair or not), and I was fascinated by this other article:

I do have some skepticism, but some openness too. Mental illness seems to be spreading, and while hardened hearts might be a part of that, there are neurological components as well. I can't rule out that pollutants in the environment or chemicals in the food are an issue. I know people whose children react badly to Red Dye #5, but I also know that a potassium deficiency can have symptoms that appear psychological.

That's why I can't rule out that the father with his supplement is onto something. Maybe it won't work for everyone, but if there are people it helps, that's great. Even if it's a placebo effect, but one they didn't get with conventional medicine, that's worth something.

That leads to the next way in which gardening can be revolutionary. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is better nutrition. If there are nutrients missing from the processed diet, gardening could get them onto the plate. That is a way to contribute to your health and happiness.

That leads me to the earlier start. I don't remember what had led to it, but it could have been related to my very long reading list. I know I was on Twitter, and what occurred to me, and I tried to express it in a tweet, is that one of the most radical things I do is liking myself.

That shouldn't be radical, but there is a multi-million dollar advertising industry working to convince you that you and your happiness are incomplete without their products.

Those products may contain additives that affect your brain like addictive chemicals, they may rot your teeth or encourage the buildup of dangerous visceral fat, or clog your arteries. The companies that make them may hit a plateau for how much people will eat, so try and get behind super-sizing and fourth meal. They do not have your best interests at heart.

(They will also remind you that the common weight gain that results from their foods is hideous, and they have lots of products for that.)

Rejecting that is revolutionary. It is also increasingly difficult for people who are overworked and overstressed and underpaid. Gardening can still help, and so it remains a revolutionary move to me.

And happiness and self-acceptance are revolutionary. I had been writing about my own healing, and then I took a step toward the more socio-political. Now the pendulum is swinging back to the personal. The truth is, they are never that far apart. The world affects me, but the person I bring to the world can have an effect too.

That's where we're heading. I am of course leaving on vacation Saturday, so I may post some writing updates first, or some creative writing. I might even have some blank days. I still remain less organized, and with less time than I would like.

The schedule remains uncertain, but the next round of tasks I have for myself will be completed, and I will write about them. Watch and see.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Recently I had to keep my mouth shut about something political. It was the bridal shower of a co-worker, thrown by her manager, and it felt like it would be wildly inappropriate to make waves, no matter how stupid a thing her coworker said.

(I am very political, but also courteous.)

It happened while Greenpeace was trying to keep the ice breaker from getting through. The one guest started saying how their kayaks and supplies were completely petroleum free, which initially sounded like she was being admiring but then it shifted into being really sarcastic about how hypocritical, "and they didn't use any petroleum to get here."

It turns out she stole that from Lars Larson, which explains a lot. Aside from the rather obvious point that you can support some use of petroleum while still objecting to various extraction areas and methods, I bring this story up because it would in fact be very difficult to completely get petroleum out of your life. There can still be plenty of positives in working toward divestment.

Therefore, when I say one really big way to make the world a better place is shaking off corporate shackles, I say that knowing that it will not be completely possible.

Boycotting the Koch brothers is hard; they make multiple brands of commonly used products. They don't make every brand though, so that's a start. They also have so much money that even if everyone stopped using all of their products now, it would take them a while to run out. There is an election coming up, so they will be spending at a higher rate now, so it is still worth looking at; it just may not be as effective as you would hope.

If you look at which brands are connected, getting away from corporate hegemony in general can seem even harder:

Still, there are things we can do. I know Wal-Mart gluts itself on corporate welfare while mistreating its workers and not paying a living wage. I know people who feel they need to shop there because of the low prices, and in fact, the last time I bought pants I ordered from there because I couldn't afford anything better. However, my weekly shopping is at Fred Meyer, which has an employee union. Winco and Costco are known for treating their employees well, and they still have good prices. Some better choices can be made and still be affordable.

I can support local businesses that are not franchises or parts of chains. I can go to farmers' markets or participate in community-supported agriculture. That gives me more environmentally friendly options, as well as economically friendly options. It's not always a money saver, but you make choices, and thinking about the choices can help you make more meaningful ones.

This is one way gardening can be revolutionary. Gardening can help you reject the overly processed, corporate subsidy foods and get something better for you on multiple levels.

This is not available to everyone, and I know that. Not everyone has land, and several areas have poisoned soil and water, which again is often a corporate thing. We should be working on that. Safe soil and water, and access to it, will save lives.

I have been thinking about that, and about how bad processed foods can be, and food deserts, and if there are ways to get around that. I had this image of an apartment building where one person shops and makes everyone's dinner, like a take-out service but healthier. Maybe there is someone else in the building who provides day care. There is a coming together to get around the things that society makes so hard.

It would be hard for my vision to happen. For people to give up part of their food budget to another person, and trust that the meals will be ready, and that the person can do a good job, and getting all of that coordinated, would be hard. Business licenses and commercial kitchen requirements would make it harder. Those are laws that frequently work to protect, but they could get in the way here.

Then that reminded me of a special I watched. I think it was The House I Live In, and David Simon speaking:

If I remember correctly, they were talking about when you marginalize a people, and push them to the edges, and one of the phases is that a black market springs up. They drew comparisons between how Germany treated the Jews before the Holocaust, and how the US treats black people now.

(And much of what you will see affects poor people of multiple races, so this is not strictly racial, but race is a factor.)

It's an area where ACORN probably could have been helpful. Too bad they were sabotaged. But of course, community organizing is more likely to go against corporate power than support it.

Even though corporations don't operate as a complete monolith, they have so much power it can feel impossible to break free. Simply trading corporations is probably not much of a goal either. Still, diminishing their power will be very valuable.

It will take creativity. It can involve some boycotting, some active supporting, some letter writing and protesting, and yes, it might even involve going around normal channels instead of through them.

It can even start with something as simple as gardening.

Just planting a garden can be an act of revolution.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Green revolution

Back in July I had a strange dream.

There were many segments and cameos, but the part that seemed to matter the most was the time I was spending with Marky Ramone. We were listening to My Chemical Romance and looking over our tomato plants, and they weren't doing well - turning soft before ripening fully.

I had in fact been worried about my waking life tomato plants, and some plants in my garden may or may not have been named after My Chemical Romance members. Marky Ramone is of course strongly associated with punk, and while there are certainly punk bands that are more associated with the Do It Yourself ethos than the Ramones, gardening with a punk rock icon is kind of appropriate.

Those are just details. The part that stuck with me is that while we were worrying about the tomatoes I looked at Marky and said "Just planting a garden can be an act of revolution!" And he smiled at me because he knew I was right.

It sounds more earnest and naive than I generally feel, but there are going to be some ways in which we think of revolution differently before we are done with this, and sometimes the steps are small.

I garden because fresh fruits and vegetables are important. They are also expensive. I garden because the breeds that you can grow at home can be bred for flavor instead of durability in shipping. I garden because there is an excitement to seeing food come out of the earth.

Sometimes it's a gamble. I have had bad luck with pumpkins and only one of my tomato plants is being really productive this year, but then I learn things and get better at it and expand.

That may not be Ramones-grade revolutionary, but it is starting to feel more so all the time.

There are two different angles from which I am looking at gardening as a revolutionary activity, and those will be the Tuesday and Wednesday posts, but the other lesson I will take from my dream self is that unsuccessful attempts are still attempts.

We can try to make changes that are very important and fail. Because the cause is so important, the failure hurts. It's still better than not trying. There are probably still lessons in the attempt that will make the next attempt better.

I know things that I will do differently for the garden next year. I am sure the next year will have even more mistakes. Onward anyway.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Band Review Catchup: Christopher Serafini and Dan Green

These both represent cases where a traditional review did not really fit, but I wanted to do something.

Dan Green/Dan Tanglewood

Dan Green did follow me on Twitter, and he still has a great Soundcloud page. However, as it got close to the time to review him, his profile was changing. I asked, and he was sort of leaving the business, at least for a while.

Dan referred me to Lock Up Laura, because he had once played with one of the musicians in there, so I did write them up, but I have left Dan on the list because I always hoped he would come back. That was May 2014.

Right now the Soundcloud page is still up, and it is really good. Most of the songs are instrumental, and if you love guitar you should love them. He puts me in mind of the listening I did based on the Greatest Guitar Songs list and comments. The music is so alive, and so complete without any vocal accompaniment. It is amazing.

And it is all that is left. Dan deactivated his Twitter and Facebook profiles.

A music career can be really hard, no matter how talented you are. I don't know what he's doing now, but his music matters. It should be checked out.

I still hope he comes back.

Christopher Serafini

Technically Christopher should have been on the recommended list instead of the review list, because he never followed me on Twitter. I just became aware of him because the Gin Blossoms like him - which is not a bad recommendation.

Still, this happened when I had just started tracking the bands I was going to check out, before I was even sure that I would be writing about them.

The first music link I found was a MySpace page. No one who is currently working too hard on self-promotion uses MySpace. These are mainly songs from Let Go, which is an older project. When I say "mainly" it looks like everything is from Let Go, but not everything is a song, exactly. There is also a recording of someone narrating a Star Trek video game where Ferengi are defending against Borg, which is interesting but it goes on too long.

Other projects have followed, with Serafini at least touring if not actually being a member of Pollen, Black Sunshine, and The Stereo. Then it became kind of hard to know which project would make the most sense to review. I lean toward The Stereo, because it seems more current, and he plays guitar and sings there, which seems like more of an active role, but his profile and biographies seem to focus more on bass. Generally when I listen to something where he is playing bass, I like it.

Again, the ambiguity there may indicate that he is not focused on self-promotion, but if he is getting the work he wants anyway, it probably doesn't matter. There are a lot of advantages to having a good reputation.

That makes my review boil down to "If you listen to music where Christopher Serafini is playing you will probably hear good stuff." That seems so tepid, but it's not faint praise. You can't say that about a lot of professional musician out there.

And I like the mix on the MySpace page.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Band Review Catchup: Into Colour, Second Nature, Daniel Ray, Antonio S Galica

I suspect it comes through sometimes that I can be kind of neurotic about the music reviews. I agonize over giving a bad review, and whether my reviews are helpful in matching bands up with prospective fans. I also worry about how long a band has been waiting for coverage, even if the reasons for putting off the review are well-intended.

Just for the record, I am also leaving on vacation next Saturday, and Wednesday I am going to a concert where I don't know if I will be ready to start reviewing them on Thursday, and certainly listening will be disrupted while I am gone. That probably doesn't require this much stress, but here we are.

So today and tomorrow will be going over some names that have been in the spreadsheet for a while, but where there are factors preventing a standard review. I believe this will be soothing, and I can at least move them over to the Song of the Day waiting list if applicable.

Bands without very much material

A band with a huge catalog is its own type of stress, but it gives you a chance to see what they are doing. While it is less to work with, a 4 or 5 track EP can still give a great impression of a band and their direction.

These bands didn't give me a lot to go on. I waited for more to come, but it's been a while.

Into Colour

This is actually pretty interesting in that the song, "Half A Battle", starts out sounding very ambient, then turns harder, but is done in such a way that it sounds like a completely natural progression. I can appreciate that, even though neither ambient nor hard rock are really my thing.

Second Nature

It has been almost a year since their one minute demo went up. When it is outside of my preferred genres, it is even more important for me to have multiple tracks to listen to. This is metalcore, and not my strong suit. I don't think they are doing badly at all, and I will always give bands from New Jersey a chance, but it's just not enough for me to go on.

The weirdest thing for me is that apparently both of those bands have merch available. I am guessing that maybe they play live dates, and just haven't put a lot of material online, but I feel like getting tracks recorded is really important.

I also have a strong preference for original material. That leads us to...

Bands that only show covers

Daniel Ray

I saw that he was working on an album, and I have been waiting for that. It still says that will happen, but it's been a long time.

There is enough material here to at least have an idea of Daniel's range. He should be great for people who like Bruce Springsteen but would prefer him more mellow and acoustic. There is a really nice team-up with another band, The Aroostercrats, on "Two Hearts".


Sometimes people follow me that appear to be musicians, but maybe there's not a link to music, or they are promoting something else instead.

Antonio S Galica

When there is a link to Soundclould you are usually safe, but in this case, while some of the tracks do have musical accompaniment it is primarily spoken word. I do sometimes like spoken word, if it's vibrant and funny, and possibly live, but this is not working for me. It may work for you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

About that hopeless one

Sam Simon (television producer, among other things) died in March, but even before he was gone there was quite a bit written about his philanthropy. One thing that made me sad was reading that he had pulled back from some of his environmental support because it didn't have any results.

That may have been somewhat misconstrued. I have read other quotes about how with animal charities you can often see immediate results unlike some other good causes. However, the real reason that it made me sad was that he seemed to be right.

We keep doing worse things to the environment and we do it for worse reasons. It doesn't matter that the fire seasons keep getting worse, or that hurricane seasons get worse, or that currents shift and sea life dies, we don't change anything.

I have said that Black Lives Matter is my priority this year because of the immediate threat to life. The environment would be the one thing that could compare. It affects more people, but the death toll isn't always obvious, plus said death toll is not nearly as high now as it will be. Of course, waiting until the death toll gets too big to ignore will mean that it will be much harder to do anything.

For something unrelated, one of my Twitter friends was complaining about how people only care about the protests here, and they are ignoring the ones in Lebanon. (She is half-Lebanese.)

I actually had seen those protests, and I do care. I am not focusing on it. That is partly because I believe I can have a bigger impact on the issues in my own country. It is also because a lot more black people have died at the hands of police than anyone has died because of the trash not getting picked up in Lebanon. Obviously it is a more complex issue than that, and it certainly could get bloodier, but for now it is not going to be my main issue.

If we had everyone putting energy into making the world a better place, we could accomplish a lot. Since that is not the case, we have to pick and choose. I don't turn off my caring, but I don't take on everything. Sometimes the extent of my involvement is signing a petition. It's almost never giving money since I never have money. I am finding places to give my time, but there's a limit to how much of that I have too.

I don't have much hope for us reversing global warming. I wish I did. It's still not a reason to give up.

Maybe you can't reverse all of the trends, but if you can keep fracking from happening in your area, that is beneficial to the health of your area. Maybe the hole in Detroit can be cleaned up, or maybe all that can happen is that the residents still there can be relocated, but for them it would matter. Cleaning up the output from coal plants would matter to the people who live around there.

It's important to look at the big picture, and often things connect. The racial makeup of Detroit was something that made it easier to get such heavy pollution in the area. That is a thing that happens. Having that background knowledge can be useful when you are taking on the local issue. It can be okay to specialize, and it is often kind of necessary.

My family recycles. When we vacation, we find places that we can take our bottles and papers as much as we can, and often we cart things home with us. Recycling is good, but reusing and reducing are better. I try to do that. I hope at some point to be able to afford solar cells.

Those are minor things, and they will not help much. I don't like that, but I'm not despairing over it either.

However, one thing that is quite clear is that the reason we collectively keep making bad choices is that some people are making high profits on them, and we have gotten too used to thinking it is necessary because of high cost, when if we calculated the real cost, we would be making big changes.

So let's keep corporate greed in mind for next week.

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