Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How it Should Feel

Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson is the producer/drummer in the Roots. He's also a hero of mine, full of a loving, inventive energy and interested in everything. I discovered his blog today and found this post that just kicked my ass. You know how when you have those moments where you're feeling correct, clean and complete in the face of the universe in yourself? When you're lit up with your own direction and temporarily honest about how much you do, truly, care and about what you do, truly, care about? This is ?uestlove having one of those moments after somebody posted a fragment (just 45 seconds!) of an old Stevie Wonder demo, of a song he had never heard and which just busted him up. He is wracked with the sense that black music went wrong and how bad he wants to make it right. (If anybody could do it, it's him...)

Below are my favorite parts of his beautiful, unhinged rant. The whole thing is immaculate and right-on (with more passion than grammatical precision) - and the part about his school teacher using a Stevie Wonder album to teach his class to love music will make you cry - but this has to be the finest thing he said: "When the goal is winning, and not changing lives, there is a mighty price to pay."


Yesterday on okayplayer a 45 second snippet of a 1974 Stevie Wonder throwaway was posted and prompted many of us to keep this shit on repeat for a good 7 hours… left me feeling elated and sad at the same time. and then it just left me crazy and mad….

i am mad as fuck yo.

1. this shit is under a minute (whoever has that track got the whole shit and need to share that shit not just some “let them eat cake” and give portions.)

2. but then im like listening to this shit as a real song like 4 hours in a row which then makes me a lil crazy.

3. driving to our show yesterday at ucla i put a friend on to this shit and now she listening to this shit hours and hours and hours in a row.

4. now everybody thinks we crazy for listening to a 45 second snippet tape but then the shit spreads like the plot to the video for Radiohead’s “Just”.

im in a corner all hypnotized on my “cant believe this shit” position–and then some nosey cat wanna know what im listening to…and i warn em “just walk away yo…cause you will just be more frustrated”–

and then seconds later they too are like “i cant stop listening to this”

—-im mad because this song had the potential to change my life. these damn chord changes. — like as a musician there are some stevie songs that are etched in my brain just like a tattoo. and it effects everything i do on a hidden level – "love having you around" effects the way i treat hi hats…."all day sucker" (along with bonzo from zepplin) effects the way i now use ride cymbals as crashes…journey though the secret life of plants for some young black folks their …maybe first or second experience with a “concept album”—i mean steve’s shit is life changing.

but damnit this song makes me wanna do some call to action shit to those involved in the music industry. like some malcolm x “i wanna bring charges to…..for being the…..of the industry”

i mean there was a point in life in which hip hop REALLY did this to me.

i call it “quincy jones’ goosebump moments” (he explained that the process of making albums with michael jackson was “does this give us goosebumps everytime we hit ‘playback’? good! its ready for the public”

why am i not getting this feeling no more? i know good and damn well why….but i want EVERYBODY to know why….

we can’t afford to no more. as in who is gonna make art records in the age of survival?

simply put….because the 96 model has taken over the entire music industry (the winners won…..the have nots were thrown away to rot and die)—and when the goal is winning. and not changing lives there is a mighty price to pay.

[there was a huge rant here about how the record industry fucked it all up]

goose bumps….

there was a time when music truly TRULY gave me goosebumps:

(goes into the wayback machine)

sept 1976.

lil 5 year old ahmir having anxiety issues with this new experience called “school”. his parents are dropping him off and leaving him with these other kids…the hell is this?!?! there are scary art structures and clay monsters and paint everywhere…..older kids abusing their instruments in some violent way ive never seen before (real talk on the first day of school….only to find out these kids where playing “Freebird” –the second part–….seeing students walking around with long sticks waving back and forward on the ground and wearing dark sunglasses, asking older students with heavy shaking syndromes if they bite…i mean how dare they! im 5 years old. i never heard a russian accent before, or seen a blind person, or anyone with cerebal palsy, or the scary clamation flims of bill plympton—or even knew of the existence of an orange album that looks like the sun and some donuts had a child together and put stevie wonder smack dap in the middle of it. some fancy cursive writing in the middle and now this is my very first homework assignment:

“have your mommy and daddy buy you a copy of “Songs In The Key Of Life”…..

that entire week ms Lewin explored all 4 sides of the record: started off with side four first.

“these are African traditional Zulu lyrics he is singing…..does anyone know what language this is?……that’s right Angel its called Spanish…..”

“does anyone know what this instrument is?……its called a Harp….has anyone seen this before?”

next day was side one

“does anyone here know what “harmony” means…this is an example of harmony when multi voices sing the same parts different ways.”

“this particular song is in 5/4 meter……but then switches to a different meter….who knows what meter is?”

“these are pictures of all the people that he mentions in this particular song….does anyone know what Jazz is?”

side three:

“hahahaha no crystal i don’t think your mom and dad can record the sounds of your new baby brother or sister coming into the world……that requires alot of technology…”

“this song’s main goal is to teach the cultural importance of the achievements of the world’s inventors and scientists and explorers…..—-i dont know why he did ask this class to be a part of the song’s end refrain ahmir…..”

—-i mean you get the point. this shit was eye opening! she was sharing this stuff with us like we were adults!!!—we all sat in front of the stereo mesmerized—and thus started the process and addiction that i have had for the last 32 years.

analyzing and dissecting music.

when you had night before vigils about some shit coming out (the last time was the last great day in hip hop for me….oct 93 the day Wu Tang and Tribe came out on same day)

and when you cut school to get some shit (fear of a black planet)

or when you quit your job to devote more time to an album (nation of millions)

or you commit a crime and steal an album (well…at the time i worked at sam goody) (3 feet high and rising)

or you starve yourself of lunch to save enough money to buy it (1999)

or you shovel an entire block of snow to earn it (parade)

or you get yo worst ass whupping for trying to impress a girl so you steal money for it (rick springfield’s Working Class Dog)

or you almost break your group up cause you know your partner done went in your bag and stole yours (Fantastic Vol 1)

or you buy 25 people within armslength a copy in the wrecka stow (The Listening)

or you purchase it on the day of the apocalypse (The Blueprint)

or you get into it so Onecca will slow drag with you at the halloween dance in the 8th grade (Debarge’s In A Special Way)

those were goosebump moments.

this 45 second reminder just tells me that in 2008?

our goose is cooked.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I really messed up this morning. I know this because of the way I was shouted at by my very disappointed 5-year-old daughter.

Ordinarily, part of Claire's pre-bedtime ritual involves picking and laying out the next day's outfit (which can go one of several ways depending on how contrary she's feeling), but last night the evening kind of got away from us all and she went to bed late without doing this. So when I woke her up this morning I said, "Are you cool with picking out your clothes and getting dressed on your own or should I help." She hadn't opened her eyes yet and just mumbled, "I'll do it" before rolling away from me onto her side and trying to delay waking.

A little bit later I was cleaning up around the house and trying to get ready to leave. I grabbed some things in the living room that needed to go into Claire's closet and when I walked through the open door to her room (she hasn't reached the stage of wanting it closed yet) she was instantly apoplectic. "Daddy!" she yelled-growled in a Exorcist voice. "You weren't supposed to come in yet! Ughhh!"

See, what happened was that I ruined the effect of the surprise. She's been dressing herself for a while, but it's still cute to me when she does and we share a "Ta-da" moment when she emerges from the bedroom fully outfitted and blinged out in toy jewelry. I guess in this instance, the stakes were even higher since she was not only dressing herself but selecting the outfit without any adult consultation - and I just had to go ruin the moment. Because I suck.

"I'm sorry!" I barked back. "I didn't know I wasn't supposed to come in." I scampered out of the room in a hurry and she slammed the door shut behind me.

After about 10 minutes I was ready to go and Claire had yet to emerge. Her door was still shut and I saw light under the door and heard bustling and singing inside. I knocked on her door and cracked it and said, "Claire, we really need to get g--"

"Daddy! I'm not ready yet!" She shouted, scaring me into hurriedly shut the door. In that instant between opening and closing the door I could see that she had completely changed outfits, which I guess was her way of getting some of her power back, as well as the element of surprise. Shit, I thought, now that I've seen her new outfit before the unveiling she's going to want to to have another wardrobe change again - I know it.

Yeah, she did.

"I'm not sure which outfit I like the best," I said as we drove to her daycare. "The first, second or third... it's a tough call."

"Guess which one I think is the best?" she asked, grinning.

"Gee, I don't know. Number three?" I answered.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Better Google

Google can be a lot better. I've thought this for some time and every time I do a search, I think: Google is great. But it could be so much better.

This is interesting.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hot Jobs

Recently, I've said to several of my closest friends: listen, let's be serious for a moment. If, in a few years, I'm still working shit jobs like this, please promise you'll do the decent thing. Please promise you'll have a hit taken out on me. Can you just promise me that?

And then they'll say something rational and irrefutable like: but what about Claire? What would she do without a father?

And then I'll make some guttural frustrated sound in concession and hang up the phone.

Monday, July 21, 2008


When people find out I subscribe to GQ and Esquire (and read them cover to cover) they react like it's Playboy and I've just said I'm "reading it for the articles." They assume the worst and that I'm lathering myself in a kind of cultural cologne. But I do read those magazines for their articles, and not for materialistic pointers. GQ, in particular, is the most consistently intelligent, frequently mindblowing, and occasionally soulful thing I can get my eyes on. And Esquire is often not very far behind.

Esquire does a section a few times a year called "What It's Like," where they publish first-hand accounts of random and rare experiences, like getting hit by a car, being mauled by a bear or scuba diving for gold. In this month's issue they ran an account of Coral Hull, who has multiple personalities.

My first impression was that it was beautifully out and had a kind of raw transcendence. I remember being intrigued to see the movie Brokeback Mountain, hoping that, if the film made its case for love, the story of closet gay cowboys in the '60s could be the closest a movie can come to looking at love in the abstract - as a thing disembodied and thriving in spite of human structures. Like a Romeo and Juliet, where their love had to exist outside of the societal pressures of a family feud and seemed more pure because of it. (As it is, I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came a lot closer to nailing this.)

The other thing that came to mind when reading Hull's account in "multiple" first person was a story I read a few years ago about people who were signing up for voluntary, unnecessary amputations. These people claimed to have had an obsession all their life with removing a particular one of their limbs - an arm, or a hand - and were finally doing something about it by having it surgically removed. To me it conjured an image from The Matrix of all of humanity existing in a higher, more primary tier of reality, asleep in a womb state, hooked up to a program for dreaming. I thought of these people with their "wrong" limbs as having truer bodies in a Matrix-like honeycomb that had somehow been maimed and, now dreaming, were experiencing a phantom sense that something wasn't right. That limb doesn't belong there. An idea like this, or anything like it involving higher versions of our physical selves, would explain a whole lot of other ways that people feel not at ease in their skin. From the gender confused to your average raging poet-dreamer.

(Thanks to Peter Artemas for the gift subscription to Esquire.) The piece:

What It's Like To Have Multiple Personalities.
By Coral Hull, et al., 42, writer, artist

The following was taken from interviews and e-mail exchanges with Hull and her other selves.

I am one self who is co-conscious with a multitude of other selves. As one person, my name is Dr. Coral Hull. As a system, we are the Crystal Voyager System.
We have discovered between forty and fifty others. They are of both sexes - adults, children, other kin, and fragments. A lot could be written just on Celeste, a mermaid.
Sometimes the shifts are dramatic, such as when a business-oriented human adult is overcome by a fairy child who prefers to observe humans from behind trees. We've learned how to handle this, particularly when dealing with the more unconventional selves, who may act in socially inappropriate ways. We can't sniff at plates in restaurants or bare our teeth at people when we feel threatened.
I first became aware of the personalities in 2004. I remember hearing someone say, "Oh, my God! There are other people living in my body!" Then I heard what sounded like several internal thought dialogues whispering, "She knows." I lost consciousness for a number of weeks while an android named Witt took responsibility for the body. Witt did funny things like call our mother and say, "Coral Hull no longer exists. My name is Witt."
Physical relationships are a challenge. Daniel is a male self in a female body. If Daniel happened to become conscious while one of us heterosexual women was involved with a male, he would panic. It probably seems like I'm complex, moody, and inconsistent, when the truth is that each one of us is simply being ourself. Raven is a shaman, whereas Jackie is wary of anything she considers to be new age and refers to people who believe in this as "a pack of crystal danglers." Some of us drink Scotch and others don't drink at all. Each of us has come into being as naturally as you did. It's just that we happen to share one body.

Hi, I'm Bonnie. I'm human, at least I was the last time I looked. My interest is psychology, particularly criminal psychology, which I've studied for many years. I'm agnostic. There is very little that surprises me. Anyone, mental-health workers included, who thinks that they can dictate or impose their idea of reality and consciousness onto others, as fact, is deluded.

The others call me Cynthia, but I prefer Amelia. Bonnie is helping me write this. I am coming through her mind. I came into the body in 2005, just after some terrible things had happened. I do not know where I came from. I was just thinking last night how I would be afraid to have my own body. There would be no one to look after me, and I don't really understand your world and its ways.

Hello, my name is Daniel. I have often felt like I've failed to be a man and that I would have done better inside my own body. Then again, I am blessed to have existed at all.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Claire's hooked on DVDs of The Littles. Do you remember The Littles? I remember The Littles. It was one of my favorite cartoons when I was a kid, the irresistible saga of a race of six-inch-tall humanoids with mouse-like features living in the ducts of suburban homes. They were tiny but they had huge hearts, as this soundbite will attest. In it, they're watching with concern the plight of big-person Angela, whose mother's pill popping has spiraled dangerously out of control. Claire and I were riveted.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Soulful Culture

I like other things besides music:

A good book: The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is the true story of Eustace Conway, a naturalist and authentic badass. When Conway was still in high school (in the '80s), he decided he liked living outside better than indoors and literally moved out. He graduated from his state college with honors, living in a teepee the entire time. A little while ago he rode across the U.S. on a horse. You'd have to read the book to get the full picture, but this guy is like some kind of philosopher wildman, building and skinning and taming things, but also advocating his ideals and falling in love and writing about it all. This was originally a piece that Gilbert published in GQ, which she later adapted into the full book, and it retains a magazine feature's energy and light tone but with the added depth a book can bring. It stokes all of my fantasies of living off the grid, but with none of the promise of ruined utopia through drugs or carelessness that usually accompanies those experiments. I'm nearly done with this and I'm going to be sad when it's over.

A good movie: WALL-E. I took my daughter to see this last week and I was more excited about it than she was. Pixar makes me happy. I love when really talented people are allowed to function in the mainstream and given unlimited resources and I imagine the people working for Pixar wake up happy every day to go to work - my ideal. I think someday we'll look back on the movies Pixar is making now as a kind of golden age - the way the early Disney classics like Snow White and Pinochio look now. Their craft is unstoppable. Pixar films aren't just eye candy or pandering pop culture, they're really well-told stories, and are drawn, paced and choreographed beautifully with an classiness that doesn't diminish their power. WALL-E is a strange mixture of nostalgia and the next-level. The first half is basically a silent film, the second a barrage of energy and visual information. While WALL-E is definitely the most visually advanced computer animated film made to date in terms of photorealism, it's also gorgeous in a sci-fi romantic kind of way and the story is really cute and surprisingly emotional. I'm not going to lie, I got goosebumps a few times.

A good television show: Mad Men. At first I thought this was just an impeccably made period piece set in the late '50s/early '60s about New York ad execs - lots of smoking, suits, sexism and hair oil. But a few episodes in it starts to take itself seriously and I realized that its about old-fashioned existentialism. Whenever I use that word I feel silly, mostly because for a long time I would ask the people who used it what it meant (sincerely wanting to know) and would get answers like "It's about freedom." I finally came up with my own existentialism soundbite: existence is a choose-your-own-adventure story; if you look too closely at it, it has no meaning - so make your own. Don Draper is a successful ad man who has created his own version of himself (complete with a name change), who believes that his profession is basically sophistry. And he's fine with that, until it starts to eat at him. He cheats on his wife with strong women - one a half-beatnik, the other a wealthy owner of a department store chain - and even though they're both soulful people, he's unable to find solace in those relationships, or to fully absorb the ways in which is dutiful wife is quietly both just as strong and unfulfilled. In showing how much has changed, Mad Men does a surprisingly good job at showing how little has changed and plays deeply with a couple of themes - gender power struggles and the futility of consumerism as a source of meaning. Plus it's really funny.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Not related

Yesterday I stopped at the burrito chain Chipotle on my lunch break. As I was leaving I thought I heard... yes... I heard Jamie Lidell's "The City" playing faintly on the Chipotle sound system. This is Lidell's angriest song: The City, it don't like you, and it never will. Won't stop, won't stop, till it's got you on your knees. The chord progression is black and his vocals are sharply distorted. Still, somebody at Chipotle HQ decided "The City" was palatable music for their fast food chain. This had the effect of a bad omen.

Later, around 10:30 p.m., I left the house for a jog. Before starting my run I always walk a block north to the 10 Mile Rd/696 service drive and then turn around and run a mile south to 9 Mile Road and back: the point of walking the block north is so that my jog can be in two one-mile increments. When I was almost to the top of the block, about to turn around and start my run, I suddenly heard a cracking and hissing sound behind me, like fireworks. It startled me not just because it was loud but because I hadn't noticed anybody being outside at the late hour when passing. A moment later I was running down the block but quickly stopped where a massive branch about the width of my house had broken off a tree and fallen on the sidewalk path I had just crossed. I would guess it missed me by about 15 seconds.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Monday, July 7, 2008


A friend of mine was just describing a vacation she was about to take, in all of its glories, and it was like she was talking in Aramaic to me. I knew, in theory, what a vacation was, but I couldn't actually remember what it was like. I tried thinking of the last time I spent any period of time longer than 24 hours doing nothing that I was supposed to be doing. The best I could come up with was the summer of '99, when I first moved to San Diego with some friends and we lived off our savings for the first month and didn't have jobs. (That was ridiculous. We'd stay up all night, wake up around noon and go to the beach and fall asleep for another three hours. I'm talking living.)

I realize that I am in serious need of decompression. I know that I have had brief periods of unemployment, but anybody who's been there knows that that is not relaxing. Too much is hanging over your head to even enjoy any of that free time. I think it's fair to say that you need to be employed in order to take a vacation. That the ability to let go that way can only happen within the context of feeling that your life is stable for the moment. It's sick, but true.

This past weekend though, I was able to crack the can on my compression. If I was a can of pop - and I'm nothing if not full of sugar - it's like I pulled the tab on myself and cracked open a bit just enough to release some air. Not quite open all the way - I need a week in Jamaica with a full-time masseuse for that - but a start. With Friday off for the holiday, Kirsten and I had a full two days of nothing to do, nowhere to be. I mean, there were probably things we could have been doing that would have been fun, like going to the movies, or going to see all the great bands playing CityFest. And there was most definitely a laundry list of things we should have been doing, like cleaning the house, or going to the bank, or getting groceries... but we did none of them. The closest we came to addressing our responsibilities was a conversation we had on Friday night as we were brushing our teeth before bed (around 4 a.m.), half sauced from the river of Vodka sodas we drank.

The conversation sounded like this, but filtered through the foamy sound of teeth scrubbing:

Me:...I guess I could have taken a shower today.... but I didn't.
Kirsten: Ha.
Me: I guess I could have fixed the toilet today, too.... didn't do that either.
Kirsten: Ha.
Me: I guess I could have put gas in my car, which is on empty... didn't do that also.
Kirsten: Ha.
Me: I guess I could have...

And on an on. There were like 40 things.

Now don't get me wrong. It's not like we actually did nothing, strictly speaking. I don't think I'm capable of that at this point in my life and while being at home. What I mean was, we only did what we wanted to do rather than what we "should have" been doing. And that made all the difference in the world. In Kirsten's case, this involved watching close to three seasons of Weeds straight, while knitting furiously. In my case, it meant hiding out in the dank basement drinking cold drinks and mixing my record. I got back to a place that I haven't been in years. That place where I am oily and smelly and probably hungry and need to use the bathroom, but I'm completely locked in to the music. When I decided to quit being in bands and take a break from making music, I forgot what it was that was so great about doing it in the first place: it takes me out of my head. I'm not saying I go into a trance, but I kind of do. I've never made any money off music, and the love of it has probably caused me to do a lot of stupid things. But when it's right, like it was all weekend, every cell in my body vibrates with happiness. That's some real hippy shit right there, I know. But so true.

There was this funny moment Saturday afternoon. I was in the zone, editing drums or something, ignoring my growling stomach and pinched bladder, when I heard a knock at the door upstairs. It was two sweet Jehova's Witness ladies. Normally, I never miss a chance to engage door-to-door Christians and try to talk them into coming to their senses. I feel it's my heavenly calling. But on this day I just invited them in to get out of the sun and let them practice their routine on me before giving them the real good news: two ice cold cans of LaCroix. LaCroix is this amazing carbonated lemon water that Kirsten turned me onto. It has zero calories, just pure refreshing goodness. We mix it with Vodka and call it LaCrunk. "It's made right here in Michigan!" I told them as I handed them two cold ones. Then I said that, even with the best intentions, Belief is what's dividing the world and that they should consider cutting that witnessing stuff out, and sent them on their way.

Sunday, Claire joined the stay-cation. I mean, her whole life is a vacation, so when she showed up and looked into our eyes and saw that we were under the same spell as her she was like "Word!" and got down to the business of summertime enjoyment. For her this involved lots of cat time, a few laps in the kiddie pool, going to see WALL-E (amazing!!!) and burning through about four boxes of sparklers with the neighbor kids. Yeah, her life sucks.

I'm reminded of the time that my roommate Tim stumbled out from his room early one morning to get ready for work. He was half awake, bleary with fatigue, and shuffling forward like a bear emerging from hibernation. I heard him mumble to himself: "mmmgggttttbecome independently wealthy." Damn straight, Tim. Damn straight.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Works of Faith

I would go to church every Sunday night if church was fireworks. I would go every night even, if church was fireworks. But fireworks are church and they break me down. I feel its my guts up there, exploding viscera ordinance, and that all things are bright and are one. We're all worms burrowing through the celestial soil and it's a kind of eruption.

The girls and I went to church last night.