Monday, June 27, 2011

Gays On Parade

Yesterday New York State passed landmark equal marriage rights for same sex couples legislation. Perhaps not coincidentally smack dab in the middle of Gay Pride Week. I've been watching the colorful and flamboyant festivities of Gay Pride Week each year on the tele since I can remember. The first few years that I saw the parade participants as a very young boy I found the images disturbing and almost frightening. I had never seen men dressed up as women before. And certainly not with full beards and mustaches. As I grew up and learned about the wide diversity of humankind on planet Earth, the purpose behind the flamboyant nature of the annual parade -- awareness to the cause --  began to interest and eventually impress me.

No, dressing up like a clown in drag was not going to get any laws changed and in fact it probably did more to set the movement back than it did to push the equal rights agenda forward. But like many, I appreciated the raw brute force of persistence and resilience that these brave warriors showed the world each year as they gayly paraded down the various Main Streets of the United States. I admired them even more for the courage behind their smiles in the face of a life threatening disease that seemed hell bent on single-handedly destroying them once we started hearing about the terrifying HIV and AIDS diseases when they kept marching. Even more when they continued to march and dance in our Mean Streets in spite of nationally publicized hate crimes such as murder and near fatal beatings began to bear down on them as seems to always happen to a minority group of humans just before the last of the ignorant among us give in to the greater good; and give way to their higher selves as we collectively evolve to a more loving and caring species.

As heinous as they were, the hate crimes were also a good sign. Though not many knew it at the time. Violent physical acts of bullying and oppression by close minded neanderthals on the weakest among us in number usually precipitate extreme legislative acts in order to protect those who are being oppressed. That trend is usually followed by outspoken calls for equal rights. Call it what you will. The martyrdom syndrome. Sometimes it takes a few hundred or a few thousand Harvey Milks or Matthew Shepards before the rest of us wake up long enough to shout "stop!" And so it is.

Although the United States is still vehemently and violently opposed to homosexuality in general -- especially those who want to get married and enjoy the rights of marriage (go figure) -- it will not be long before this too shall pass and we look back fondly on our bold struggle to rid the world of yet another crop of wicked short-sighted witch-hunters. Lest we ever find ourselves discouraged in this current fight for freedom, let us remember that "being gay" is all the rage now in our media and entertainment, just as "being black" was fifty years ago when we finally passed historic legislation to protect African Americans with the Civil Rights Act. At that time, it was common and accepted to see a black person be pushed, kicked, shoved, punched, hosed, beaten, bruised, or even murdered in plain view for all to see. It may have tugged at our heart strings, some of us that is, but seeing that I wasn't there myself, I just bet the feeling in the air was the usual "well sure it's sad, but we just can't do anything about it..." At the same time though, African American people from all walks of life were busy transforming the world quietly and steadfastly through a variety of art-forms and academic achievements. Unless you were just plain dumb as an ox and had your head half up the arse of one of your farmyard animals, you couldn't help but notice nor be impressed or awed.

So here we are again with yet another group that has come to eat at our American table. There aren't but a few left who are dumb enough to feel compelled to bitch and moan about it. Frankly I'm usually quite shocked when I hear someone who under normal circumstances I admire or think intelligent spit out some half-cocked rationale for why they believe same-sex couples shouldn't be allowed to get married or enjoy the same rights as anyone else. And yes I must admit I do lose more than a fair share of respect for that person. One just cannot help it. The rationale is usually religious based and therefore has no right in our governance as a country. Occasionally they instead opt to reason that their views are based purely on "the definition of marriage" in the dictionary. One assumes they just don't realize how moot a point that is considering that for thousands of years that same dictionary told us that the Earth was flat and was at the center of the universe. We even imprisoned people for believing otherwise. But dictionaries change; because humankind changes. So let's stop the dictionary rationale. It's old and tired and just doesn't apply.

I've toiled over this subject for years, and written far too many pages about it, attempting to understand the mind of the few among us who sincerely believe that it is somehow inherently wrong or "sinful" for a person to follow their natural instinct when it comes to which sex they are most attracted to. Their claim is not just stupefying, but also appears alarmingly dim-witted due to the fact that the basis of their belief is that we human beings deliberately choose which sex we are most attracted to at some point in our early childhood. A mind boggling concept because one would think that all they need do is sit back for a few seconds and reflect on the first time they ever felt "attraction" to another person and the argument would be over. I bet ten times out of ten any average gay hating heterosexual would tell you that from the day they were born they just liked the opposite sex. Probably can replay in their mind the first crush they ever had if asked. It wasn't anything they had to think about or decide on. It wasn't a choice for them. Or me. Or you. Or any of us. (there are of course exceptions to this... for all of us... deliberate deviation from "our norm" out of boredom trauma or curiosity, but that isn't the group that's being targeted)

So how can they stigmatize others with this irrational belief that they are choosing to be that way when they do not and cannot apply that same belief to themselves? Next time you meet one of these types ask them to reflect on their very first crush, when just looking at the opposite sex made their heart beat faster, and then ask them to explain to you how and why they decided to feel that way. That's when the fun begins. Watch the eyes. Listen for the stuttering to begin. They've got no clue how to answer. Because it is not something they can explain. It was a natural feeling inside that they just never even bothered to pay attention to because they had no reason to.

But alas before we venture too far down that slippery slope let us remind ourselves that in the end that argument isn't even relevant to the issue at hand. Even if it were a choice, just a flat out rebellious fuck you I'm sick of being like everyone else act of t/reason, what is the problem with someone choosing who they are attracted to and want to marry as long as they don't break any laws or hurt anyone? That's the real issue. There is no justifiable cause for us to ban ourselves from choosing which sex we want to mate with unless we are on the verge of extinction and to do so would mean the end of us all. OK fine. And yes I am sure they'd make the sacrifice and screw a few of the opposite sex if it meant keeping the human race alive and running rampant all over the world. But since we don't have that problem, and in fact many of these same haters are also population control proponents (which makes NO sense), there's just no argument there. The only reason they ARE breaking any laws is because the laws need to be changed; just as our dictionaries need to be.

If you listen carefully, every single cause reason or rationale that comes out of their mouth is fear based ignorance. And I remain as always completely surprised and just a wee bit pissed that there is still media that doesn't just erupt into laughter when they start ranting about the incredibly horrific things that are going to happen to "society" if same sex couples were allowed to marry. If it were me, and it has been a few times, I would just excuse myself so I didn't laugh directly in their face just out of respect for their right to free speech. God only knows what they're truly frightened of. Some of them claim that they don't want their kids to see Jim and John together instead of Jim and Jan. Why? Are their kids going to then become gay? Are they that close themselves to turning? Maybe. But chances are it's something much deeper. More akin to when they said that people of color were not fully human in order to enforce their bigotry laws and restrictions. Or when they said that women weren't intelligent enough or emotionally neutral enough to be able to vote in presidential elections. This was fear mongering out of a deep strong human urge to dominate; and a desire to keep separate that which is different from what we are familiar with. Plain and simple.
But of course as we now know from our struggles to create equal rights for women, labor, and African Americans, the tide will soon quickly shift towards the positive now that the worst is over. New York has stepped up. As Hawaii and Vermont and Massachusetts have already. More will follow. The Southern States will be last as always. Hey don't shoot the messenger. If the shoe fits, wear it or get different feet. But don't blame us for telling it like it is. In the meantime perhaps those who are still on the other side and just can't see their way through all their fire and brimstone fear and hatred sat down and reflected on what the true definition of "marriage" actually is... loyalty commitment partnership and fidelity to another person for the entirety of the rest of one's natural born life, then they'd begin to realize that "the sex" of that other person isn't nearly as important as meeting the challenge to stay true to these deeper core values of what a good marriage is really all about.

Can I get an amen?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Softening - What Makes Certain Songs So Special

June 5 at 8:02pm via iPhone 
StuGuru commented: "Dude I'm digging 'Softening' on iPod in my car. Nice, Til."
Thanks man. Sincerely one of my all time favs. As you well know, every new song we write is "awesome"... until a few days pass. Then reality sinks in and that new song gets put in its proper place amongst all the others. Some seem later a darn near total waste of time and energy they're so bad. But most fall into that 'fair to alright' category. Then there are those very rare super special ones that just won't stop being awesome no matter how much time passes or how many times we listen to them. 'Softening' is like that for me. So I'm glad to read you say that. It is quite incredible in a car. True that. Strangely enough, for whatever reason (i know the other guys tend to feel the same way), the Nothing Is Cohesive album seems to have more of those "special songs" on it than any of the others we released thus far. (I say "released" because we've still not released two others that have already been recorded, and I dare say that both of them might compete with NIC once they're released). Again, for me only, personally as a listener I tend to still like more songs on this particular album than any of our others. "Somebody kill the DJ' 'Caetano' 'All this is beginning to feel like an ending' 'Tomorrow' 'Softening' 'Bored' 'Cleopatra Ecstasy'... every single one of those falls into that "holy crap that's awesome" category for me. What was it? Just the song choice? We always have hundreds to choose from... and usually we do choose good ones. But i do think it was that Sir Basil; there's hardly a bad song on the album. (one might ask at this point "well why would anyone put a "bad" song on their album in the first place?" The answer to that is "they wouldn't. no one does. we just don't know it's a bad song when we are recording. We are fooled by the allure of the newness of the song into thinking it is good... only to discover later that it wasn't that great) But more than just good song choosing, i also think it was "the sound" and "the vibe of the band"... that made that album so seemingly chock full of great songs and tasty.

Nothing Is Cohesive was certainly our most critically acclaimed album to date. It was A+ and five stars across the board; it appeared on "short lists" and went out to "taste makers lists" -- something you work your whole career to attain. And that felt great. Both Rise and Shine, and the Sleep With You album had their fair share of poor reviews. NIC didn't receive one. Part of that was because we were so free recording that album. With Rise and Shine we had a definite agenda to "push the boundaries as far as we could, push the envelope as far as possible" in terms of what could be accepted as "popular music", adding all the different 'World Music' styles into it and throwing everything in but the kitchen sink. And with Sleep With You I personally as the singer and songwriter had a definite agenda of then trying to disprove all the critical hype that I was a "starry-eyed New Age optimist that had never lived the rock 'n' roll life style", that I "had just floated in on a cloud and a dream and saw the world through rose colored glasses." I didn't think that image fit the whole me. So looking back I think I missed the mark a bit by over-shooting on that one. But with Nothing Is Cohesive, we didn't have any agenda other than simply trying to create "the best damn album of the year" or "of all time." I mean, we really were just five guys in a band trying to do our absolute best to write and record great music. THAT vibe soaked through us, soaked through our instruments, and soaked into the beat up old computer that Vancouver used to run Pro-Tools while he primitively attempted to record what we were laying down in his rehearsal space in the garage of his mom's house. That's how primitive the surroundings were and I really think it helped.

The other thing WAS the SOUND. We did sound great. As a band. By that point we had been recording and performing and touring regularly for five straight years. So we had our shit together big time in terms of being a tight unit as a band. We could read each others' minds, musically speaking. I was still writing as vociferously as I always do. anywhere from five to ten songs a week is the norm. So the song choices were a combination between the newest of the new, such as "I wanna know ya" -- which was literally written while it was being recorded, to some older "classics" such as "Bored" -- which I had written almost ten years prior but had not yet recorded with a band. All we did was "listen" to me or one of the other guys play a song and almost immediately we knew if it was "in" or "out". It either fit or it didn't. Most did. So picking songs for the album was a no brainer. Another thing that helped was the other members of the band starting to introduce songs of their own, rather than it all just being about me and my songs. Vancouver contributed the music for "I wanna know ya" and the entire song "Andrea's Fault" (which got cut last minute and was later released on the City of Lost Children rarities album. Father Bloopy contributed the music and melody of what would eventually become "Cleopatra Ecstasy" -- a song he had laying around called "Crazy Paving." I just changed the lyrics to make them more relevant to my own personal life so when I sang the song it made more sense and had more meaning for me to sing passionately. Even our drummer #2 Young William contributed a poem entitled "All this is beginning to feel like an ending," which was so moving that it prompted me to sit down at the piano and write melody to it. That turned out to be one of our most popular songs ever. Thank God we opened that up, allowing everyone to contribute. It helped tremendously. Not just with the music, but also with the feelings and the morale of the group. It felt like a real group project.

"Softening" -- since that's what started all this reflection initially -- was a massively collaborative project. The title and concept of the song came from a suggestion by a girl I was communicating with often over long distance Skyping and video-phoning. This idea of "letting go" and becoming 'softer' as a person... that was the trip that we were on. Still are. I started composing the music to it and would play it for her over the computer through Skype and she would type lyrical ideas that I would then copy and paste and then print out and leave on my piano. A few weeks later, while singing the song through the loudspeakers in my rehearsal studio, my cousin Rosie Posie was visiting from the UK and she started singing the middle section "I'm letting go... I'm letting go"... out of the blue. It fit perfectly. And it was one of the few times that I let a song take on that many contributors. Not for any particular reason other than the fact that usually when I am writing a song I am alone and I get them done pretty fast. But this one I let marinate a lot before calling it "complete."

And re "the vibage"... all I can say is that, again, due to how long we had been together by that point, there was a really good vibe going within the group. And I think that translates to the finished product. Our morale was so high that it allowed us the rare opportunity to cover an old McCartney B-side, 'Tomorrow.' Normally, being an original band trying to forge new ground and territory and make a name for ourselves, we wouldn't have permitted ourselves to record a cover of somebody else's song. But we did it because we wanted to. Because it felt right.

It was also the first album we recorded outside of a major recording studio. No producers telling us what to do or how to play our instruments. No interns. No massive recording gear sitting all over the place. In fact, it was just the opposite. Instead we were surrounded by tons and tons of junk and garbage. Vancouver is a notorious slob. But the atmosphere worked. As far as creativity goes, because we weren't on the clock and therefore spending hundreds of dollars per hour, everyone felt free to experiment more and try new things. The 7/8 time of the middle-eight bridge of "Somebody kill the DJ" is a good example of that. The bird sounds and the outside street noise one can hear behind "If your baby could" came from the fact that Vancouver thought it would be a good idea if I recorded the whole song outside "in nature" so he just set up two microphones, placed them in front of me and told me "record" a hundred times until I got it just right. This environment also allowed Vancouver to go off with his recorded parts because there was no one there telling him "no." So he laid down tens of guitar lines, often harmonizing them with one another; and he even played cello parts -- simply because he happened to have a cello laying around the studio that week. Again, normally a producer would never let a guitarist "attempt to record cello parts even though you're not a cellist." That wouldn't have happened had we been in a "real" studio. But the results were sublime; as can be heard on "I wanna know ya" and "Caetano." A non-cello playing guitarist laid down some of the coolest and gorgeous albeit out of tune cello parts ever and no one was the wiser to it.

Writing about it makes me want to put it in and listen to it once more. And that's a good thing. I normally don't enjoy listening to our albums once the novelty of them passes and they are released. But I never tire of listening to the Nothing Is Cohesive album. It is always a very viscerally enjoyable experience for me. Truly transcendent. Each and every time. I hope to say that about future albums we record or release. And I hope that others feel the same way as we do about the album. It was more than any other a real labor of love and passion for music making.

Listen to Nothing Is Cohesive on SoundCloud here: Ed Hale and The Transcendence - Nothing Is Cohseive by Dying Van Gogh