Saturday, December 31, 2011

Look Up at the Mountain.

Now, I'd thought my father had a copy of Tea for the Tillerman. I poked through his records last week, hurriedly, when I should have been getting ready to go to the next relative's house to sit on a sofa and eat more and different cheesy dips, but instead I remembered at the computer or mirror that I needed to find that record and then pack it in my suitcase for my not-yet-bought but oh-so-anticipated turntable.


He has Teaser and the Firecat. I misremembered--for years. For, like, thirty years. I haven't done a record-shelf dig in his collection in a few years, and before I was amused, enthralled and then somewhat addicted to the series Extras, I didn't really need either album.

I like "Moonshadow" and "Peace Train" pff of Teaser and the Firecat, but the album doesn't--and how do I say this--ask the right questions that its predecessor does.

This means that I get the pleasure of searching for and finding an excellent copy of Tea for the Tillerman for my own collection. I cherish my handed-down records, but this excursion will...I'll make a nice excursion of it, no quick dashes up and down aisles, scanning A-B, F-G, trying, trying to remember what those two things I wanted to look for in a record shop the next time I was in a record shop. Maybe it will be at the Milwaukee Antique Center the next time I visit. Or maybe I'll walk a few blocks in my neighborhood, or a neighborhood that I like, in another part of the city. Get some tea.

I like making plans when time feels like it's starting, not ending. The Gregorian calendar is obviously arbitrary, but we, all of us, like it or not, hide and try to plug your ears but hear the fireworks and the drunken yells anyway, or the exhale of wind in a tree outside, are hours away from another line to cross, and beyond it--another mountain to climb.

Friday, December 30, 2011

On Repeat: You're Too Strong Not to Keep On Keepin' On

I discovered this during my recent (and likely to rouse itself again soon) obsession with Soul Train line dances.

It's been stuck in my head for about the last month, with plans to pay January rent.

Two observations to tap out with its syncopation and grit. Okay, three. First: I love how it builds. Masterful.

First-point-five: this particular line dance pulls the ain't-nowhere-to-go-but-up joy out of the song and makes its butt shake. In bellbottoms.

I've been trying to figure out a way to recreate it on a stage with just myself. I need the technology behind those commercials in which Fred Astaire is lifted from Royal Wedding and dances with a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. I suppose more recent technology would serve me better--whatever made Tom Cruise "climb" the Burj Dubai in that new Mission Impossible movie I saw last week.

Second, I haven't really been familiar with Gladys Knight beyond "Midnight Train to Georgia" (which, by the way, was originally "Midnight Plane to Houston." I always thought LA to Georgia was a long way to go on a train.) and other slow burners that I probably heard on the radio with my wee ears while in the back seat of the car. I was never that attracted to Gladys, or, rather, Gladys through those tracks, because the mournful my-man-done-me-wrong, the party's over isn't much my cup of tea. But at the risk of making a no-shit parallel, I'd say Sharon Jones owes as much to Gladys (or at least this performance) in her recordings as she does to James Brown and Tina Turner for her live show. She just doesn't have some Pips; she has Dap-Kings that don't sing. To wit: "If You Call." Gladys eventually lost that grit you hear in "Imagination;" she moved onto 80s drum-machine soul, the kind of stuff that you'd skate to at the roller rink in the middle of that decade, and dropped the Pips. She even made a James Bond theme, a forgettable Timothy Dalton one at that.

And third--what was third? Oh yes. I wish that whenever I sing (which is not often enough any more), I could have three guys smoothly backing me, subtly hyping me, and reminding me that I'm too strong not to--you know.

Monday, December 26, 2011

I Do the Best That I Can Do

Every week, even if--especially if--it isn't a holiday week, should start with JB. Anything to get one to pause and grin and twirl in your high-water pants.

Thanks to Questlove for the clip tips.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's Alright

220 minutes of sun in the last ten days - less than four hours.

Ready to welcome it back--although there hasn't been any ice to melt yet, really. What a strange not-December it has been.

And Sleeps in the Capsule

Christmas came early. And covered in thirty-nine year-old glitter!

We've all taped over something when in a pinch, but come on, BBC! I, for one, am thankful for prescient cameramen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Repeat: If You Got Time to Give, I Got Time to Think

This will play as I celebrate a very merry un-Christmas.

Collect all nine tracks!

Too Much Information Running through My Head

NOTE: File under Look What I Found Sitting in DRAFTS.

"The vast majority of the world's books, music, films, television and art, you will never see."

The author of this post that I read in, uh, April (!) posits that the world's books, music, films, television, and art do not have to be navigated like a collective black hole, but rather as a gorgeous but terrifyingly tall mountain range. (This is my metaphor. But you should read her essay anyway).

You have a choice. Cull it. Or surrender.

Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It's the sorting of what's worth your time and what's not worth your time. It's saying, "I deem Keeping Up With The Kardashians a poor use of my time, and therefore, I choose not to watch it."

Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn't have to threaten your sense that you are well-read.

And I agree with her: it's a sad and beautiful fact that you can't do it all. Sad and Beautiful, even--like a film or book or song title. Or like this, which I just found because I wanted to know if a film or book or song actually was titled "Sad and Beautiful."

But, really, I don't have time for Sparklehorse. I know ought to. But locating, downloading, and digesting this album from 2006 also means I'll have to find the old old stuff, and the recent new stuff. Or does it?

I like to claim that I surrender. I know it's the only way to true peace. It's the mindful way. It's the way you want to be when you are in line and the grocery is packed like ants swarming a dropped potato chip or when you are replaying a conversation from 7.5 months ago for the 415.5th time in your head.

But I know that what I do most of the time is cull. Because that's the easy way, while surrendering is not the easy way. Here, I'll do it now. I don't pay attention to
  • Any video games that aren't in a console built before 1982
  • Vampire stuff
  • Contemporary country music
  • Candy
  • That "Friday" girl
  • Steampunk
  • Bukowski
  • Cake (the band)
  • Kardashians, Housewives, and Jens (Aniston, Garner, -lo, etc.)
  • Philip Glass
  • Plays by Sarah Ruhl 
  • DIY crafting 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Shoes with heels over 3" high
  • Belle and Sebastian
  • Charles Dickens
  • Comic books
  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Superhero movies made from comic books
  • Reality television competitions
  • Cooking shows
  • Cooking
Do I patently dislike any of the above? Probably only the country music and Belle and Sebastian (I've been forced to give both a listen in years past and, uck). Am I just being shoo, fly dismissive of the rest? Yep. I am. Do I really secretly want to read Charles Dickens' oeuvre? Yes. That's where I surrender, I guess.

But then...I remember when I discovered Ghost in the Machine. Was it one of those Saturday afternoon trips to Madison from Milwaukee in order to be someplace else for at least a few hours when you are too in your twenties to afford a real vacation? Skulk around State Street, go to Urban Outfitters and feel poor, go to the Plaza and drink a couple of beers and feel rich? I think it was. My friend popped in Ghost in the Machine on the way. "Spirits in the Material World," duh, "Everything She Does is Magic," yes, okay. Then..."Demolition Man"..."J'Aurais Toujour Faim de Toi"..."Too Much Information..." what the WHAT? Why didn't I have this music coursing through my cells before now?

Well, then I did. And it was good.

I think the world puts in front of your eyes/brain/ face what it is you need to see. And, often, when you need to see it--whether engineered by friends, a DJ, Facebook, or the karma of 'pod Shuffle.

But there's a third action here, consume. When you're not surrendering, or culling, you're consuming. Chomp chomp chomp. I could greedily eat up music, theatre, more music, and good television and movies all day long, but I think eventually I'd feel the mileage. I'd want to look at tree, or see something in a cloud and maybe write a sentence about that. OH! Maybe I'd see a woman in the cloud, and I'd make a character from the woman, and some dialogue from the character, and a sketch from the dialogue...

How can I hear anything amid the noise and haste, like that Desiderata poem says, of others' creative factory output? I need to put something out on my own pallet on my own loading dock.

It's all choice, a choice to leave something in, turn away, or do. Seriously, every moment is about what you choose--or, more often, what you choose to be surrender to, whether it's Requiem for a Dream, cooking bœuf bourguignon, Ghost in the Machine, opening a fresh document to allow your thoughts to repose. Choosing, actually, your thoughts themselves.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm Aware of This Now

I guess I should thank the ubiquitous Carrie Brownstein for this next discovery. I've pirated Carrie's playlist in the last hour as much as I enviously ogled her really cute shirts the two times I saw Wild Flag this year. (and where in the name of Levon can I get a Last Waltz t-shirt?!).

Playlists are good. In the spirit of the season, I guess, perhaps this little enterprise does the same for the bots and 1.2 humans that probably read this blog.

Bettye Swann's story is that of the artist who has the singular magic to create but not the masochistic drive to endure the ignominy of the road, the lack of control over the output, the glad-handing and worse in order to succeed in the business. On the surface, another singer relegated to one-hit obscurity--but, with the benefit of hindsight, a seemingly minor character who played a pivotal role in the evolution of soul music in the South, where it rubbed all up over country music, especially around the Chitlin' Circuit that Swann relentlessly toured in the late 60s. Now, Swann lives in Las Vegas and is a devout Jehovah's Witness. One wonders if, since she's faded into the desert West, she is even still alive.

Bonus discovery! This may be the best version of this song I've heard. Aaron Neville starts to sound a bit strained after you listen to Bettye. And, while I'd kill to have been there/seen this, it certainly surpasses my girls.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just Don't Give Up On Me

The Interrupters is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Perhaps because I live in the city where the story of a group of violence interrupters--members of the Ceasefire organization that intervene in conflicts in bullet-riddled, anguished neighborhoods--takes place, the film really punched me in the gut. All of this is going on less than ten miles away. I could drive down Damen and see the memorials: the posters, bedraggled stuffed animals, empty Hennessy bottles. Ostensibly, I could.

A couple of summers ago, I returned to the north side from a hip-hop/multicultural festival in Marquette Park on the 63 bus, which bisects Englewood--taking it precisely because it crosses the heart of Englewood. What did I see? More wheelchairs than I ever have seen on a city bus. People offering seats, helping the wheelchair-bound locate a space. People on phones, listening to music, looking out the window, chatting. Boarded up buildings, fast food restaurants, laundromats, hair salons.We were the only white people on the bus, and no seemed to give the first shit about that.

It was four or five in the afternoon on hot, lazy Saturday. People were just living life and I, from this self-fashioned Disney World tram creeping through GhettoLand (complete with "Pastime Paradise" playing in my head, had anticipated seeing--what? A shooting? Police vans rolling up on sidewalks, deals done? Deals gone bad?

No, people were just living life.

But tonight, I'm thinking about how there aren't words, even guttural syllables, to describe how I can never, never understand what life is like nine-and-a-half miles down Damen. Most certainly not because I have a story for a party about how "oh, yeah, I rode the bus through Englewood." Or the insignificance of my helplessness while watching the film as compared to the anguish endured by those living with the epidemic of violence on the streets that radiate from 63rd, east and west of Ashland, and in Little Village, Auburn-Gresham, Austin, and just blocks away from here, in Humboldt Park. Living life where, daily, you half-expect to die. Or lose someone close to you.

I felt helpless nonetheless, because--what can I do? What can you do? What can we do when the system (the "System") can't do anything? When what works is one-on-one, empathetic intervention that's, godammitall, funded by a chronically corrupt and more-than-broke state government?

In an impromptu Q-and-A after the film, Interrupter Cobe Williams answered this question simply. "Be there...listen...mentor a child. Give a child the support he or she cannot get at home."

In the next two weeks, a lot of people will set intentions and craft self-improvement proposals for 2012. Still, we know--and deep down, we know--that during the year we will lose. We will grieve...something. But what can we give?

Empathy and understanding is a start. It's the start. Peering into the radically, embarrassingly different world that abuts yours, through a movie screen, or through the bus window, acknowledging that that world is there--that's a start.

This song closed the film. I might have let an Oprah "ugly cry" cross my face.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm Takin' Over

You know what? I can die happy having seen somma this shit live.

Pure joy -- and direction.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Down By the San Francisco Bay

We didn't get to hear this in Wrigley, for obvious reasons.

The next time I am on the Embarcadero or in the Presidio, this will be in my head, just like when I'm in LA and there is a continuous broadcast of Missing Persons in my brain.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Your Guilty Pleasure: I'm Only Off To Wander Across a Moonlit Mile

Even though it takes extra effort to not hear this as peppy aural wallpaper for the trailer of a Kate Hudson urban romantic comedy, I've always liked this little overplayed gem.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Coloring in the Sky

A song for sunset.

Addendum: five minutes after publishing this post, this happened:

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Maybe We Should All Be Praying for Time

Gone, Gone, Gone

I continue my untouchable record of discovering a band literally the day after they play nearby.

No matter. Experiencing this as afternoon-night falls behind me is beautiful, just as it is.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Only Thing To Live For Is Today

I must have bought The Bone Machine around the time it came out. Aside from Sixteen Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six playing just about every time I set foot in the Y-Not II, was the first Tom Waits I'd really dug or dug into.

"Well I fell in love/With your sailor's mouth/And your wounded eyes," chords from seemingly crumbling upright pianos, pipe clanks and sideshow melodies -- these were splendid juxtapositions to my ears. This music made me feel like I did when I watched the kind of theatre or read the kind of plays that were making an impression on me at that time -- Theatre X, Mac Wellman, Len Jenkin, and the kinds of things I heard were going on in the basement at Cafe Voltiare in Chicago but could never scoot down 94 to see.

Worlds were opening. I'd been exposed to weird stuff already, but mostly in the realm of ear-bleedingly-loud guitars and, in theatre, the crisp absurdity of Pinter or the louche grime of Shepard. This stuff--it was now. New-now. It was happening now.

Man, there was something powerful about that. I can still conjure that feeling, a little bit.

This song, though -- this petulant playground rhyme merges past and present. It sticks out on the album, decidedly less...sophisticated sophistication.

I thought of it today because I sat in a business meeting where adults behaved like children, predictably, and I wanted to fly out of the window, over the grey lake to its thin, persistent line, where there might be some sunshine both on my cheeks and in people's hearts, to someplace where new things are happening now.

Turn Up the Future/Turn Off the Past

I have to investigate this lady. As usual, I discovered this the very day after she played in my town.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Take These Broken Wings and Learn to Fly

The inimitable synchronicity of Shuffle.

Morning commute, December 1, 2011:

George Harrison - Behind that Locked Door

Matthew Sweet - Looking at the Sun 

Michael Jackson - Girlfriend 

Thievery Corporation - Amerimacka

Sloan - G Turns to D

Vicki Sue Robinson - Turn the Beat Around

E.L.O. - Hold On Tight

Neil Young - Expecting to Fly

Neil Young: Expecting To Fly from Annemieke Knowles on Vimeo.

David Bowie - Moonage Daydream

Beatles - Blackbird

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Time Has Told Me Not To Ask For More

You do the same things now as you did before, just with somebody different.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Me Me, Me-me-me, Me Me

When I get stage fright--or its far-worse precursor, writer's block--is what I worry will happen.

Friday, November 25, 2011

In Two or Three Editions

Lyrically, the metaphor here is not apt. Titularly, it is.

I just want to write. If that can include making up words, even better.

Will did it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

She's Just A --

No, don't ground Questlove over this! Brilliant.

Give It Time

Twenty-five years ago, I'd never have imagined that I'd see this performance.

Twenty-five years ago, I would have either had to be in Germany, or acquire access to videotape of this performance, or, more likely, I would be able to view photos of the performance. I would have had to purchase an imported magazine in a plastic sleeve, with the price tag in pounds still affixed, delivered to Turfland Mall Record Bar by truck from a warehouse from a jet misty from Atlantic rainclouds. Then, twenty-five years later, maybe the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I would have had to hold that magazine in my hands as I squatted in front of a tub filled with scribbled notes and mimeographed play programs and Happy Meal toys that once meant something and decide if I needed to keep it and transfer it to another, more decorative receptacle, or just throw it away.

Today, I am staggered by alpine heights of cultural detritus available to me. I can touch that mountain of ephemera in keystrokes, in seconds.

Today, the matter doesn't even have to be something that held meaning for me. It can be a song by a band that some of my friends might have liked that I'd considered buying recordings by but never got around to it because back then, when the mountain was real and unassailable, you had to set priorities, at least fiscal ones.

Now I can queue whatever that mountain yields to my keyword combination and look at it while I send emails to people, many of whom I have never spoken a single word to in person.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One More Night.

You've Got to Learn to Grit Your Teeth and Smile

God, I love a tuba in a rock song*. Those sonorous, farty notes are so...unexpected. Swollen. Emphatic. Merry. And mournful. Like you musically captured the character of Falstaff.

A tuba brays, "For-get. For-get. For-or-get."

Kidz, if you really want to replace the bass, try a tuba. You get someone playing that big brass tulip and squatting and pitching on your stage, you got a show!

I'm reminded suddenly of whatever band or other--or stray members of a band--I encountered one night at the Uptowner bar in Milwaukee years ago. It was one of those moments when you walk into something that's in full monkey-swing. We opened the door and the bar, typically full, was chattering, but its din was muted by the duo in at the back of the room. One played a drum, standing up, or maybe guitar, and the other was just singing into the mike, I think, wearing an industrial barrel that he'd cut open at either end and that had the words C*NT LUBE scrawled in paint across its broadest part.

When I first recall that, whatever that was, I think they were playing a tuba. Only they weren't.

*see also: Chewing Gum by Elvis Costello on Grooveshark

Friday, November 11, 2011

Must Play Loud: I Ain't Waiting

The last five minutes of this song whip me into a meringue of subversion and escape. I can't stop listening to it. I want to kick out the office windows. Or, more likely, stand on a sticky concrete floor with a beer perched on my leg and feel this. Even without the contextual layer of Television's quote-unquote importance and their trailblazing mix of this and that, this is jaw-dropping awing. Since I'm typically late to the party when it comes to Television, I did read about them first. At that time, five, seven years ago, I was busy getting into contemporary things--things that I find myself today, while endlessly streaming (I had typed "spinning") "Marquee Moon," thinking, huh, I was already hearing this. Kind of. (Though I'm not keen at all about this version; live this track gets a bit too tweety [har] and anthem-y and makes me remember all the yo-bros at the later concerts I attended, raising their fists above their baseball caps in joy during particularly "sweet" crescendos...).

It's Friday night. Symmetrical, angular grooves, then the unexpected bright coda. LOUD.

There's a crow haw-hawing outside the office window right now. It might be poetic fancy, but do I hear guitar in his rasp?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wondering Where to Begin

This explains where I am lately.

Not the soulless commuting or harlequin antics. I do think tomorrow is going to be better.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Every Day I Look at the World from My Window

Oh, my goodness. There's not much better than this song, which I've been listening to daily since I heard it two weeks ago.

But does anyone else think the primary guitar chords and melody sound like the verse in "Laughter in the Rain" by Neil Sedaka? I mean, I admit it: that is the first thing I thought when I first heard "Waterloo Sunset"--which was, I admit, two weeks ago. Although maybe it grazed my ears before when I wasn't paying attention. To me, the Kinks were always the smart old guys playing New Wave with "Back Where You Started" or "Come Dancing," which I also connected somehow with Tracey Ullman. Her "They Don't Know" was a bouffant-haired throwback in a similar way that "Come Dancing" echoed a gentler, poppy era, but Ray Davies' nostalgic return to his childhood is actually a bittersweet ode: the sister, eighteen years his senior, who "always did" come dancing at the local Palais suffered at the hands of an abusive husband and collapsed and died--no shit--while dancing.

Where was I? Oh, and "Lola."

Anyway: I really need to pay more attention to what I am hearing. That's where the good stuff is -- whether it's a seminal Kinks record I didn't know about and that I'm now also playing non-stop, or a transcendent song's similarity to subsequent schmaltz. Or, in other words, a boundlessly pleasurable discovery versus an ironic footnote to my parents' stereo turntable circa 1975. 

And by the way, it seems like when I find a heretofore unknown or long-ago gem of a song lately, I also stumble across a cover of it by Elliott Smith.

More on that later. I don't want to wander...

Look Straight Ahead

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Take A Sad Song and Make It Better

The skies were gaping and gushing when I closed and locked the door to my house today. As I walked north to the corner, my legs were soaked. It was only a block. Then the bus roared past, just twenty feet from my feet.

I cursed for two minutes. A quick navigation on my device showed that the bus wouldn't arrive for another ten minutes. My shins were getting wetter. Four minutes later I hailed a taxi. We sped southeast down Milwaukee, and the rain did not let up.

The radio was off inside the cab, so I heard the sound of the rain drumming in cascades on its roof. I watched people dash and hop, dash and hop, or trot under umbrellas, or huddle in late 19th-century doorways, too tall and shallow, really, to provide shelter. The rain came straight down.

By the time I re-opened my umbrella and stepped outside the cab, twenty feet from work's front door, my legs had dried.

I just now remembered it's not Monday, but Tuesday.

Monday, November 07, 2011

So Why Should It Stop Me?

I'll conquer and stay free.

ps. I never realized until four minutes ago that his album's name was taken from this song. 

I love this man even more, if that is possible.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Reach Your Hands Inside This Dream


made me think of this.

If I was putting these out into the world for wider public consumption, I would pair them.

The water's clear. There's water all around me today, beating insistently on my shoulders, at my windows.

What's it trying to tell me?

I am not in the mood today to align themes and analyze British musical provenances. This is about simply listening to what I hear.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

...I Wish I Was

You're Going to Wind Up Where You Started From

I don't know how someone can sing the way I feel, not merely enunciating words and announcing ideas, but appealing with the soul. He can. Whoever he was/is.

I feel the power growing in my hair.

I just visited his website and listened to some of his more recent work, including his 2009 album Roadsinger. His voice seems amazingly untouched, plangent and insistent as ever. The music didn't necessarily grab me. He had already returned to performing live, worldwide in the early/mid 2000s. He had, as he described in a press release that officially announced his hitherto gradual re-emergence, come full circle. 
After I embraced Islam, many people told me to carry on composing and recording, but at the time I was hesitant, for fear that it might be for the wrong reasons. I felt unsure what the right course of action was. I guess it is only now, after all these years, that I've come to fully understand and appreciate what everyone has been asking of me. It's as if I've come full circle; however, I have gathered a lot of knowledge on the subject in the meantime.

I often remind myself--and I don't recall from whence this directive sprang--that when I don't know what yet to do, do nothing yet. When you are uncertain of the course of action, wait. It always, eventually, becomes clear. .

In the case of Yusef Islam, I'll probably remain guilty of my usual musical m.o.: indulge in the old stuff at the expense of exploring the new. I can't be blamed entirely since the new is often a shadow of what came before. In this case, though, I think it's a continuation of the journey, one that continued and continues whether we listen, or get to hear it, or not.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Must Play Loud: Put Dat in Ya Don't Know What I Said Book

I'm not here to add to the Jobsian postmortem orgy, but only a genius could invent a device, such as my iPod, with a function, Shuffle, that knows exactly when I am wondering, "What the hell am I doing here. What the hell am I. Doing here?" and then queue up some Public Enemy at the precise time I step off the elevator into the hallowed halls of academia-cum-corporate-spiderhole so that I can stroll down the corridor thinking I KICK DA FLYEST DOPE MANEUVER TECHNICALITY, and thereby make everything right here, right now, alright.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pink, pink, pink, pink

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Your Guilty Pleasure: Drop Your Glasses, Shake Your Asses

"I just do me."

Best four words in a song I needed to hear at the right place/right time. I'll explain in a minute.

Eve seems to always have just done herself. Philly-born, she came up as an MC out in Los Angeles through the Ruff Ryders posse, whom she joined after auditioning via a rap battle. Right now, I'm giving tracks off of her Ruff Ryders-produced/released first album Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders' First Lady a cursory listen; you can tell why the singles were singles. On the whole, not my cup of tea -- but that's not the point of this mini-essay or highly personal, unauthoratative-authoritative review, or navel-gazing nostalgia--or whatever it is.

Her first album shows Eve is a tough woman -- tough-on-the-inside, sure-of-herself tough. Toughness that was buffed to a fine sheen by the time she emerged from the ubiquitous chrysalis of the early 00s known as Dr. Dre, as--and I love this handle--Eve of Destruction. Yes. She lives up to that brash moniker --and this is why Dre nurtured her in the first place: she's an f-ing hot MC. Allegedly, she turned her first networked meeting with Dre into an audition. And nailed it. Not surprisingly, after her second album, Scorpion, plowed up the charts and out the radio in 2001, kicking up catchy, huge hits, "Who's That Girl" (nanana na-nanana-na-nanana) and today's Guilty Pleasure, "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," Eve quite tidily became a triple-threat (music-acting-fashion).

I totally forgot she had a sitcom, an eponymous one that ran for three years. Not that I ever saw it, except while skipping across channels. And every time I did see her onscreen, I thought about how the really good (and good-looking, but very sweet) trainer/instructor at 3-W gym (Women's Workout World), the one who'd actually push us instead of just watching us execute moves, who had us doing those planks with feet on a ball and then scrunch your legs in kind of ab work, had moved to Los Angeles to be Eve's trainer because he'd hooked the same gig in Chicago while she was in town filming Barbershop. My abs' loss was Eve's biceps' gain.

What's happened to Eve? Any recent recordings have gotten stuck in the ass-in-head revolving door at the top level of her record label, apparently. And she's been kind of supplanted by Ciara and, God, I hate to say it, the likes of Ke$ha--who is a reminder that we need more Eves in popular music. Stat.

But she's doing alright. She's guested twice on Glee apparently. And, since that's not like guesting on, uh, trying to think of a sinker TV show in a multi-billion channel, whatever is on Fridays at 9:00 pm on CBS, she'll be fine.

Oh wait. She guested on that, too.

This was the sound of the summer of 2001, at least for me. I listened to the radio a lot; it was one of those times when you have to exile yourself from a lot of familiar music, due to memories, or the thoughts that can spring from the shape of a verse or the name of the track or just that it's part of the 20 frikin percent of your personal collection that you have to just put aside (okay, avoid) until you can reclaim it as your own once enough healing time has passed.

Frequently, my radio dial would land on 103.5 FM. This was a brief, strange period when that station's format was Top 40, and Top 40 during the summer of 2001 was weirdly tolerable--at least during, or because I was engaged in, a music embargo. Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson, Eve, Pink, Destiny's Child -- a rare surfeit of really rather good female singers/rappers making solid pop music, and, because Autotune was a production tool and not a requisite style, really singing it themselves. You couldn't get away with a lot back then. Only Britney did, really.

So this song was welcome in my earbuds. It felt like feeling the hard edges of  myself where I'd previously felt bled out, soft, weak. It made me feel, not think.

With each hesitation-BEAT, hesitation-BEAT, I felt stronger, somehow. My chin would rise and head nod during the sassy playground rhyme chorus.  

And if I had to give you more
It's only been a year
Now I got my foot through the door
And I aint goin nowhere
It took a while to get me in
And I'm gonna take my time
Don't fight that bull shit in your ear
Now let me blow ya mind

Taking in my surroundings. "Beware, cuz I crush anything I land on," she winds up at the end. I can pin this experience with this song very specifically to walking to the old Kozy's location in the South Loop to pick up my bike -- the same bike I have now. I rode away a lot of stuff on that bike that summer. I became tough. Like Eve.

How Can You Win Some?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Come Closer and See

It's a family secret --between my sister and I, actually -- that I love deep house music. Or chillout. Or nu jazz. Or--well, I don't really know what the hell to call it. But I know what  I like when I hear it. I like this:

A Forest from Ping Trace on Vimeo.

Deep house is my go-to background music. It's perfect for running and creating spreadsheet formulas or Powerpoint notes (or deploying any friggin Office product, really). As atmosphere rather than focus, the sounds flows through part of my mind not occupied with-making-feet-go or dropping in a text box. I learn about it by listening to the internet radio stations -- and not that Live365 crap. I take time to find commercial-free goodness. I support indie! (...thanks to corporate behemoth Apple and its iTunes radio capability.) These stations aren't hard to find; today, faced with a big cut-and-paste job at work, I located Chilltrax

Sometimes, a familiar strain will emerge from clicky beats and hushed vocals. That's what happened in this case. I heard her voice sing "I hear her voice...into the trees..." and realized what it was:

Not long ago, during a visit at my sister's, our dad got a listen to our chillout music. He was all, "Oh yeah, I was listening to this twenty years ago, when the instrumental station would play 'future music' on Sunday nights." Now I grew up in a house where, despite the Stevie and Isaac Hayes and Simon and Garfunkel and Miles Davis in Dad's record cabinet, we listened to "Beautiful Music" during dinnertime. There was an actual radio station that played what I guess is Muzak and it was called The Beautiful Music station. We're talking "Three Coins in the Fountain" and a mystifying instrumental version of "Take It to the Limit" while we ate pot roast and beans and squash from the garden. Gradually, as the format shifted from the soothing sounds of yesteryear to the splashy, new (but equally relaxing) Smooth Jazz format, dad's stereo with the big silver dial stayed on the same place on the radio dial.

Maybe Deep House is the Easy Listening (now Smooth Jazz) of today. Maybe I am taking to it in middle-ish age as my father in his middle years turned from the relentless sax squawks of real jazz and plaintive harmonies of 70s folk to the soothing swirls of Kenny G. Maybe that's why I don't really share with anyone (besides my sister) about how much I like it, and like it irony-free. Maybe I don't share my interest with anyone because, really, no one else I know likes Micatone and Kaskade and St. Germain. (Do they?)

Does it square with everything else I listen to? Not much. This music is occasional and functional, both for me and inherently. It is made to play over VIP martini-shaking at on the Vegas strip and for, I don't know, people to hear as they come down from whatever hallucinogenics they take in Ibiza these days. It lacks the sublime artistry and transportability of music that I am passionate about. It's not what I wear on my sleeve, yet it's not a guilty pleasure. It says something about who I am, the (ha) depth of who I am, but it's not me.

Deep House doesn't move me. It creates context.

I guess Dad is right in that it's shut-off-your-brain music. It doesn't require me to do anything besides like how it feels to be surrounded by it. Context.

Speaking of context: I discovered in writing this that everything discussed here can be an article in academic journal, complete with French Structuralist references (Lefebvre, for those keeping track).

This is germane if only for this reason: this random article (apparently up for a patent?) reinforces how culture today is ultra-fractured. If a guy can extract meaning from the intersection of Coen brothers films, and classic rock can be played by session instrumentalists, then Ping Trace can cover "A Forest," I can like Wild Flag and Ping Trace. Can't I?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

I Want to Ride It Where I Like

After reading this in the Sun-Times (and I never read the S-T anymore, so -- this is a Big Deal) yesterday, several simmering thoughts about bicycling in our city came to a boil. How many cyclists have you actually seen texting while biking? Talking, yes. Talking while 1. wearing no helmet; 2. in heels and a dress 3. on a rickety Schwinn with bald tires 4. on North Avenue (or Ashland) and biking, yes.Texting? Maybe messengers and those folks who commute all the way down Elston, but really, no.

Maybe the law and City Council can treat cyclists like operators of motorized vehicles on the roadway, but until those on Schwinns, fixies, and Gary Fishers start behaving like they are operating a vehible on the roadway as part of traffic, then we’re all f—ked. To wit, only in the last 72 hours I’ve witnessed some dumbassed and downright repugnant bike behavior. First it was the trendily shorn-headed (no helmet, of course), plaid-shirted girl blasting through a red light on North Avenue at Leavitt who bellowed at my very own mother the ugliest “HEY” (as in, HEY, ASSHOLE, GET OUT OF THE ROAD) I’ve heard since I saw that bleeding drunk guy fight off the poh-leece in front of Lincoln Hall during some surreal anger fit that did not originate in LH. This was WHILE SHE (not my mother) WAS RUNNING A RED LIGHT. I hollered a retort I can’t remember but the gist was, WHY ARE YOU IN THE F-ING INTERSECTION IN THE FIRST PLACE? (all-caps apologies; but it went down this way).

A month ago, I purchased a bell for my bike, after a decade of riding in Chicago and another six or so years during my days in Milwaukee. I appreciate the bell because it accomplishes in an immediate, even pleasant, way what a strangled screech like that of Lay-Rubber Lana of Logan Square who almost impaled my mother on her ten-speed does in a screechy, rude way. And I've done what L-B L did: I've had to shout at various human and mechanical obstacles that appear in my path, and yes, even at the pie-eyed and clueless when I was sailing against the light. Now, I don't holler, I give a clear, innocent "ching-CHING!" (And an angel gets its wings.)

And I don't coast through junctions anymore, either. Two years ago, I almost got mowed down by a green SUV (I remember what it looks like since the whole event happened in Matrixy slow motion) in an intersection that I was crossing without stopping, I now stop at intersections with stoplights. I even slow to the point of being able to safely brake at four-way stops on completely deserted streets. As I did the same this morning, I almost got mowed down by an a.m. Pannier Hero who clearly had not stopped his Tour-level commute since Lincoln dumped into Wells. Maybe even since Ravenswood or wherever the hell he suited up.

So don’t tell me, Ald. Margaret Laurino of the 39th (which seems made up primarily of the north end of Elston and four cemeteries), that it’s important to “level the playing field.” How about y'all start by enforcing the existing rules of the road that cyclists, as much as drivers, are supposed to follow?

Yeah, perhaps I’ve become a full-blown blowhard on this, a preachy prig. And maybe I'll start a series of Bad Bike Behavior posts on this blog to safely vent my spleen. Or I'll swallow the bile and breathe and just bike the way I like: safely.

But until the City Council bans biking while your head is up your ass, we’re all in danger -- unless you'd enjoy a delightful nude spin around Wimbledon Stadium.

What News Would You Bring?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Your Guilty Pleasure: Ain't No Doubt, We Are Here to Party

This is happening because this song, while I've enjoyed it as basic four-on-the-four schlock that I recall from the back of the Toyota Corolla as a kid, hides more under its sunny, multitracked surface. Too late to be trailblazing and too transparent to be influential, Heatwave emerged from London, that hotbed of disco excess, and landed squarely in Donna Summer's lap during the spring of 1977 with their first album, Too Hot To Handle (the heat theme continues with all of their albums--Central Heating, Hot Property--until they kinda gave up and just called their 1980 effort Candles). Johnnie Wilder was an American serviceman landed in the UK after discharge and hooked up with Englishman Rod Temperton via the usual "band looking for..." ad in Melody Maker. And if the name Rod Temperton sounds familiar to you just sit with it. ...Sit with it...sit with it... think back to the record you opened up time after time, gazing at the flawless skin and Saturday Night Fever suit and the baby tiger dangling (foreshadowing!) over his knee...sometimes you glanced at the credits, maybe watched them spin on the turntable, and the name turned there, "Thriller" (R. Temperton) (5:57)...yeah. He wrote "Thriller." And "Boogie Nights."

If you can endure the lion's mane polyester jumpsuits and male headscarves, you can pick out Rod, he's the white dude on keys with the visage, to borrow a phrase from The Simpsons that I always borrow, straight out of the Big Book of British Smiles. Rod wrote one of my all-time favorite songs of all time, "Rock With You," having been recruited by Quincy Jones, who was impressed with all of Rod's heat-related recordings, to collaborate on Off the Wall.

"Boogie Nights" has a real funk foundation. You can hear the infamous "the One" in it; I'll just let the man who learned it the hard way explain what that is. And I'd like to say extremely unauthoritatively that Rod and crew brought real funk cred to the erotic whispers and flimsy Giorgio Moroder beats that skittered across the dancefloor in '76 and '77.

And this song provided the title of one of my all-time favorite movies of all time -- the one with the amazing, one-shot opening sequence that uses the disco song that is another of my all-time favorite songs of all time. The one that does not include "Boogie Nights" (R. Templeton) (3:56).

If there is an unnecessary (and unrequested, I know) lesson here, it's that there's more to everything than your eye sees and transmits to your brain parts. Sometimes, you have to let your ass parts move to the four-on-the-floor and the One, give your brain parts a rest, and just enjoy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Promise You We Won't Hurt the Horse

Seriously, though, I probably would not have absorbed or appreciated the music that I've absorbed and appreciated all these years if it weren't for Athens' finest (whom I came to because, of course, a boy). Duran Duran would have been the sole musical wellspring of my teen years--and that means I'd be all about the Killers now.

Your Guilty Pleasure: I Was Such A Clown (By Request)

Oh, my friend Jenna picked a good one (and rightly so, she is moving on to new, away-from-Chicago adventure very soon!). From the spaceship-taking-flight synth intro to the big, rubbery bassline anchoring the pleading heart of darkness, this is beer-stinkin' angst in red leather pants and (most importantly) a headband.

Lyrically, um... the story is less dramatic. Good thing "down" rhymes with "clown." Sometimes it's all about the atmosphere the song creates, kids, whether it hits you in the solar plexus or the groin or the head. So, yeah. This song is about it kicking you (and getting kicked in) the nuts.

And it's a far better tune than the ubiquitous "Working for the Weekend," now the intro music for FM-radio Retro Weekends and Weekend Rewinds from coast to coast. Do they still do those? Regardless, Jenna can request this gem from KABG Big 98.5 Classic Hits in Los Alamos. I'm sure Big 98.5 weekday DJ and hometown boy Chaz Malibu will want to spin a lil' Loverboy for you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Jump In My Ride/It's Friday Night

No truer words have been spoken.

Plus, these guys contributed to an unforgettable film from my childhood. I enjoyed the comedy of Harry Shearer early on, and didn't even know it!

What? We got a group of girls together to see this for my 9th birthday at Turfland Mall Cinemas. This was a big deal.

And now I need to listen to this track again because everything I mentioned above has been consigned to oblivion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Your Guilty Pleasure: So Put Me on A Highway (By Request)

This wistful ballad from One of These Nights is the epitome of The Eagles' Southern Californiafied country rock. I did not know that the band essentially formed out of Linda Ronstadt's backing band; Glenn Frye, Don Henley, and Randy Meisner were session musicians for one of her early 70s albums. Meisner takes the lead on "Take It To The Limit," one of the few times either Henley or Frye don't sing on an Eagles hit single. And this one was pretty huge at the end of 1975, and I'm sure continues to be a before-set-break slow burner for umpteen bearded cover bands from Southern Cali to South Carolina.

Here's some god, not another spreadsheet, 2:00 pm reading for you. Meisner quit the Eagles after the Hotel California tour (he checked out and he could leave. Sorry.), and became a session player from here to Dan Fogelberg, returning to relative obscurity. Except that for the better part of the 90s, he contended with a personal outlaw, a rogue impersonator who traveled between Nevada and California, trading on the name of the Eagle that everybody sorta-kinda knew, and bilking dozens of women out of money, dignity, and their pants. Here was a charismatic shyster who probably told some tales about "Take It To The Limit," spun yarns about upcoming record deals and tours, but who was well-known in Vegas casino pits and rode the Greyhound. According to this gambling world update from 2006, the impersonator, Peter Lewis Morgan, was caught, convicted and served barely a year before returning to Vegas and his Meisnerdom, as if nothing had happened.

It's a bizarre tale, but what it's got me thinking of primarily is how one can toil at one's art in obscurity, then not (dude toured for Hotel California. Come on.), then toil again while likely enjoying the largesse of that moment in the sun. And that there's a D-level throughout the entire entertainment socio-industrial complex, and how astonishingly easy it is trade on the amount of power associated with D-level fame, and how it feels for anonymous, everyday souls to interact with D-level fame, even in the grasping bronze age of reality TV.

Ugh. Let's put that lurid dialectic aside and get some solace in ol' Waylon's drawl and Willie's reedy simplicity. What I didn't know (for shame) is that everyone's favorite Outlaws covered "Take It To The Limit" and even named the album after that track.

Get in the truck get on the road. It'll be cooler with the wind in your hair.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Your Guilty Pleasure: The Hero Would Be Me

Here's one that pierces with the sad arrow every time. The song has such a...delicate and contained rawness that I stop what I am doing when this plays, and "the hero would be me," perhaps its most hopeful thought, just slays. This is no "Time In a Bottle." There's something about the way it lands sonically, but also the fact that he's talking about sweeping in and saving her from the sadness of a broken relationship when in fact he is also in the sad, broken relationship and he just can't do it.

Heroes often fail.


(And the gliding kayak-everywhere idea actually works.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Float.

I don't remember if she played this song, but I was among the shell-shocked and grateful at her 9/13/01 concert at the Riviera. This song is an indelible memory of that entire time in September.

Above Us Only Sky

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Your Guilty Pleasure: You Can't Control an Independent Heart

This is the first installment of your guilty pleasure, in which I give you a song that you didn't know you liked, liked but didn't want anyone else to know, or that you find is making your mind or butt involuntarily move. It's okay. Enjoy. I won't tell anyone.

Let's start this nice and easy. If you went to high school and/or college circa 1984 - 1993, it's likely this is lying around in your cassette collection. Or if you are not like me, long ago donated to Salvation Army. The Dream of the Blue Turtles was Sting's hotly anticipated, ultimately ubiquitous first solo effort. Recorded in the cushy confines of Quebec and Montserrat (documented in the film Bring On the Night) and slickly produced, the album still managed to feel spontaneous -- likely due to the colossal talent of his backing band, composed of jazz journeymen Omar Hakim, Kenny Kirkland, Darryl Jones, and the only thing that made me ever watch the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, saxophonist Branford Marsalis. (With whom I also shared a crazy dinner--with Kenny Kirkland as well, I believe--near Rue Pigalle in Paris years and years and years [and years] ago. Not to sound like a name-dropping asshole, but that is a story for another time). Anyway, this is a solid, pop-jazz record with just enough mid-Eighties social consciousness ("I hope the Russians love their children, too," he broods) to seem relevant rather than a relic, so just plug your ears the next time you hear "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" blaring out in TJ Maxx. This is the Sting album that matters. And the Zenful call-to-end-co-dependency first single, well, it makes my heart feel pretty free.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Let Your Arrow Go

File under: Found out about it because something sad happened. It's a fitting remembrance. For me, anyway.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pony Up.

It's like I've been waiting for a dozen years for this and I didn't even know it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm a Heart in Cold Ground

Falling off a giant bird that's been carrying me.

This is what my insides sound like right now. Separator-ing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You Always Said You Were The Compassionate One

I haven't listened to Tears For Fears' Elemental in months. I primarily hear it on my bike-riding playlist. So, today, Day 2 of bike commuting, it seemed fitting to queue it up.

This was the album Roland made after a reportedly bitter falling-out with Curt Smith, with whom he started TFF when they were teenagers. I say bitter because, well, listen to the lyrics. The album, and this song particularly, is known as the anti-Curt material, and I think you can hear it without too much cagey connecting of dots.

You ain't a clue who or what you are
You're dreaming your life away
Fish out of water

The first thing I wondered was, what happened to Curt? He did well for himself, more or less, continuing to make music from his new base in the U.S. You can't ask for more as an artist, the ability to continue your work in new forms and collaborations when others end, whether they collapse in pain or burn down to embers naturally.

For being the self-professedly rabid TFF fan I am, it's weird that I didn't know that Curt and Roland actually reconnected, forgave, and reunited over a decade after their early 90s split -- and made a new album together.

It's called Everybody Loves a Happy Ending.

While I won't use Google to excavate the past (for once) to find out if they toured to Chicago and try to remember how/why I missed that show and didn't go (likely culprits: money or theatre, or both), I'm gonna download this baby and see what it's about.

I need to put together this year's biking playlist anyway, and while I'm listening to it, it might be good to think about connection and compassion. I do love a happy ending, and I know it's out there, someplace.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Open Up, This Is A Raid

It finally got through to me what the tenth and final of this behind time top-ish ten/2010 should be.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Friday, April 01, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

But I'm Not

Seven's the one from 2010 that put roots down into my heart while I tromped around in the 2011 snow.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Better Things To Do

Third on a no-particular-order Best Of/Sort of.

Did I say ten? That may not happen--I got better things to do, like soak up this mama's experience. Mmm. Hmm.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Here, There, And Everywhere

This is wisdom and logic I wish to remember in the coming year. I want to preserve it somehow from the ephemeral din and rude wit of Facebook, so I'll save it here, too.

Countering Stress and Depression

by Dalai Lama on Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 4:25am

At a fundamental level, as human beings, we are all the same; each one of us aspires to happiness and each one of us does not wish to suffer. This is why, whenever I have the opportunity, I try to draw people's attention to what as members of the human family we have in common and the deeply interconnected nature of our existence and welfare.

Today, there is increasing recognition, as well as a growing body of scientific evidence, that confirms the close connection between our own states of mind and our happiness. On the one hand, many of us live in societies that are very developed materially, yet among us are many people who are not very happy. Just underneath the beautiful surface of affluence there is a kind of mental unrest, leading to frustration, unnecessary quarrels, reliance on drugs or alcohol, and in the worst case, suicide. There is no guarantee that wealth alone can give you the joy or fulfilment that you seek. The same can be said of your friends too. When you are in an intense state of anger or hatred, even a very close friend appears to you as somehow frosty, or cold, distant, and annoying.

However, as human beings we are gifted with this wonderful human intelligence. Besides that, all human beings have the capacity to be very determined and to direct that strong sense of determination in whatever direction they like. So long as we remember that we have this marvellous gift of human intelligence and a capacity to develop determination and use it in positive ways, we will preserve our underlying mental health. Realizing we have this great human potential gives us a fundamental strength. This recognition can act as a mechanism that enables us to deal with any difficulty, no matter what situation we are facing, without losing hope or sinking into feelings of low self-esteem.

I write this as someone who lost his freedom at the age of 16, then lost his country at the age of 24. Consequently, I have lived in exile for more than 50 years during which we Tibetans have dedicated ourselves to keeping the Tibetan identity alive and preserving our culture and values. On most days the news from Tibet is heartbreaking, and yet none of these challenges gives grounds for giving up. One of the approaches that I personally find useful is to cultivate the thought: If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. In other words, if there is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, you do not need to be overwhelmed by it. The appropriate action is to seek its solution. Then it is clearly more sensible to spend your energy focussing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you cannot do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you. This formula, of course, implies directly confronting the problem and taking a realistic view. Otherwise you will be unable to find out whether or not there is a resolution to the problem

Taking a realistic view and cultivating a proper motivation can also shield you against feelings of fear and anxiety. If you develop a pure and sincere motivation, if you are motivated by a wish to help on the basis of kindness, compassion, and respect, then you can carry on any kind of work, in any field, and function more effectively with less fear or worry, not being afraid of what others think or whether you ultimately will be successful in reaching your goal. Even if you fail to achieve your goal, you can feel good about having made the effort. But with a bad motivation, people can praise you or you can achieve goals, but you still will not be happy.

Again, we may sometimes feel that our whole lives are unsatisfactory, we feel on the point of being overwhelmed by the difficulties that confront us. This happens to us all in varying degrees from time to time. When this occurs, it is vital that we make every effort to find a way of lifting our spirits. We can do this by recollecting our good fortune. We may, for example, be loved by someone; we may have certain talents; we may have received a good education; we may have our basic needs provided for - food to eat, clothes to wear, somewhere to live - we may have performed certain altruistic deeds in the past. We must take into consideration even the slightest positive aspect of our lives. For if we fail to find some way of uplifting ourselves, there is every danger of sinking further into our sense of powerlessness. This can lead us to believe that we have no capacity for doing good whatsoever. Thus we create the conditions of despair itself.

As a Buddhist monk I have learned that what principally upsets our inner peace is what we call disturbing emotions. All those thoughts, emotions, and mental events which reflect a negative or uncompassionate state of mind inevitably undermine our experience of inner peace. All our negative thoughts and emotions - such as hatred, anger, pride, lust, greed, envy, and so on - are considered to be sources of difficulty, to be disturbing. Negative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic aspiration - to be happy and to avoid suffering. When we act under their influence, we become oblivious to the impact our actions have on others: they are thus the cause of our destructive behaviour both toward others and to ourselves. Murder, scandal, and deceit all have their origin in disturbing emotions.

This inevitably gives rise to the question - can we train the mind? There are many methods by which to do this. Among these, in the Buddhist tradition, is a special instruction called mind training, which focuses on cultivating concern for others and turning adversity to advantage. It is this pattern of thought, transforming problems into happiness that has enabled the Tibetan people to maintain their dignity and spirit in the face of great difficulties. Indeed I have found this advice of great practical benefit in my own life.

A great Tibetan teacher of mind training once remarked that one of the mind’s most marvellous qualities is that it can be transformed. I have no doubt that those who attempt to transform their minds, overcome their disturbing emotions and achieve a sense of inner peace, will, over a period of time, notice a change in their mental attitudes and responses to people and events. Their minds will become more disciplined and positive. And I am sure they will find their own sense of happiness grow as they contribute to the greater happiness of others. I offer my prayers that everyone who makes this their goal will be blessed with success.

The Dalai Lama

December 31, 2010

Published in the Hindustan Times, India, on January 3rd, 2011