Monday, April 30, 2012

"When the Roses Bloom Again:" Revisiting Old Favorites

Editorial Note:

Before I get into my post for the night, I'd like to talk a little about last week's post from Heather on N.C.'s Amendment One.  Both Heather and I always welcome whatever comments people leave.  At the same time, it's a little tough to see so many comments from someone who, in many ways, reminds us of our own Fundamentalist upbringing.  Thankfully, both of us had parents who were very open-minded and taught us to respect everyone for their opinions and beliefs, regardless of how different they might be from our own.  When you write about controversial issues you expect to field lots of controversial comments.  It's foolish to think that you can change people's minds, and ultimately, that's not the goal.  The goal is to speak openly about how people are going to be affected by a given situation, and Heather did a great job on that front.  Lots of people speak with emotion, but fewer speak with a conviction borne of intelligence and experience.  When you're dealing with such a topic, there are going to be plenty of those who live within a sheltered, deep-rooted Fundamentalist bubble who won't have the willingness, proficiency or wherewithal to adequately conceive of how to justly deal with people or situations who exist outside of that bubble.  It's times like this that I'm very thankful for my parents, the experiences good and bad that I've knowingly or unknowingly stumbled into, and the complete, simple logic of accepting that everyone deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect, even when their opinions or lifestyles are vastly different than my own.  Now, on to tonight's music post.

     Every few years you get the chance to go back and revisit art that impacted you in the past.  Sometimes the works don't age well with you, and lose some of their initial luster, but sometimes they seem to only increase their relevance within yourself.  Case in point with the things I'll talk about in this particular post.

     I'll start with the Allman Brothers Band, a group who impacted me greatly in my formative years of guitar playing.  What sparked my return to listening to this group was a video of them accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys.  One Friday night after that I found myself listening to some of their old records, and it was almost like I was hearing them for the first time.  Most people with some knowledge of rock (and Southern rock) history know the significance of their Allman Brothers at Fillmore East live masterpiece, but I think many people write them off as being a simple Southern Rock band, which diminishes their importance.  Unlike a group like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allmans weren't always about crafting simple blues based songs, though they are widely seen as a glorified blues band.  While songs like It's Not My Cross to Bear and Whipping Post draw heavily on blues themes (musically and lyrically), other songs like In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and Dreams suggest that this band was also focused on learning about and adding jazz elements to their sound.  Those jazz elements have only increased in recent years, particularly with the addition of able jazz playing in the form of newer members Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge.  It's also worth mentioning the Allmans role in breaking down social and racial norms.  Unlike just about every other Southern band of the sixties and seventies, the Allmans were to first to include non-white members.  Since their inception they've only added to that fact, which makes them a band of both musical and cultural importance.

     Last week music lost one of its most unique voices when Levon Helm passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.  I use the word 'voices' here not only in relation to his singing voice, but also his overall musicianship.  Most of you probably know Levon best as the lead vocalist on songs like The Weight, Up On Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, but his drumming on songs he didn't sing was as relevant to the overall sound of The Band as any of the songs he featured on as a vocalist.  Be it the R&B of King Harvest, the New Orleans back line of Time to Kill, or the syncopation of The Shape I'm In, Levon always played to fit the song, and always exhibited adept skill at knowing when less could be more, when space was needed, and when to let loose on the ride cymbal.  Levon was always one of my favorite drummers, always one of my favorite singers, and when it was clear he was approaching his end, I relished the chance to celebrate his music by listening closely to his records.  He's one of those guys I knew I'd regret seeing live, and I'm very thankful I had a chance to see him a few years ago.  Thin and weak-voiced, he still commanded the full attention of everyone in that venue.  If you haven't listened to any of The Band's records, they are among the finest you'll find in the history of rock and roll, and are a veritable master's course on the history of rock, and how country, blues, bluegrass, jazz and R&B all melted together to create it.  It's worth checking out his later solo efforts, too.  There's an earnestness in albums like Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt that only comes with living a life in music. 

     It's nice to know that even when being bombarded with reminders that the world is still full of people who use religion and dogma as ways of justifying bigotry and prejudice, that things like soul and art and beauty are always equally present.  The Allmans broke down so many barriers for musicians in the South to start looking beyond skin color and start seeing that soul exists equally no matter what you look like.  And Levon Helm, may he rest in peace.  Nobody sang or played with such purity of conviction, and I'm positive that if Heaven exists he's up there playing in some angel band.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Along the Trembling Wire:" Joe Henry's Reverie

It's a funny thing to live with both hunger and satisfaction - fear and consolation - bouncing within your bones in equal measure, like the opposite ends of a tightrope walker's long pole: you can sight along one end to the other and sense its curved but strong line the truth of both impulses, bobbing and working to keep you upright along the trembling wire. Joe Henry in his liner notes to his album Reverie.

     On occasion you stumble upon the work of a musician that feels eerily familiar to you.  Exactly how I came to the music of Joe Henry the artist is still a little foggy to me.  I've been familiar with Henry's work as a record producer for the past few years.  He produced several of my favorite records of the recent past, including the Carolina Chocolate Drops' Genuine Negro Jig, Mary Gautier's Between Light and Dark, Allen Toussaint's The Bright Mississippi, and Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint's The River in Reverse.  All of these albums were ones I found with little initial appreciation for the production.  Aside from being impressed with the way Henry the Producer allowed the voices and instruments to breathe and move unencumbered by excessive production and effects, only recently did I really connect that the same guy was behind the boards on all these albums. 

      It's easy enough to find common threads between these specific albums.  Costello's appreciation for the past, Toussaint's New Orleans jazz, Gautier's naked folk, and CCD's reactionary revolutionaries are all examples of deeply rooted appreciation for direct songwriting.  No frills, fly on the wall, dust on the broom kind of song craft and instrumentation.  It could be that once I realized that Henry was the fulcrum for the interconnectedness of these artists, I grew very curious about what his own songs might sound like.  Not surprisingly, when I found myself hearing Henry's most recent album Reverie, I was struck with a feeling that Henry the artist is one who is very cognizant of words, melodies, and how they can bend to the point of breaking while still coalescing to create stories.  Rooted and rusty, self aware and self deprecating, shingled and hinged, the songs of Reverie live and breathe in the contradictions they struggle with in themselves.

     Over repeated listens to Reverie, one wonders if such contradictions are always present in the consciousness of the characters in the songs.  Is the viewer of the movie shown on the side of the bank in the song Heaven's Escape aware that his declaration of love in following line ("I'm in love with all creation") might be related to the novel projection of the film?  Later in the song there is an observation that "all that leaks through where we've driven the nail" reflects as a weakness back on the one who drove the nail in the first place.  It might be this painful realization that finds its mirror in the seemingly unrelated juxtaposition of the film on the bank's wall, and the subsequent realization of creation's beauty.  If there is a seemingly unrelated quality to the imagery of this particular song, it is through that veil of discordance that Henry slowly illustrates the growing self awareness of the speaker.

     Elsewhere in songs like Grand Street we see a character who unabashedly admits his self-masking when he "smoked like it was something I did."  Here one who is acting out of character might have some degree of envy for the song's night butcher, who "spoke to himself out loud."  For a character who is knowingly presenting an unauthentic aspect of himself to the world, maybe the openness of brashly talking out loud to oneself holds some degree of worth.  It is the weakness of some of the album's characters that gradually bleed toward one of the album's high points, Piano Furnace.

     This oddly titled piece might be about some kind of rebirth, or maybe a raw reformation of oneself through the primal pain of music. Whether it's in the titular fire in the piano, or in the beating of the guitar for the sake of it being heard, or even the confession that is pulled out of said actions, it is this character who comes to "stand naked in smoke," and see the value of encouraging all to "let us stoke the fires of the world."  It is significant that it isn't the one standing in the fire itself, but the one standing in smoke who sees the worth in allowing the fire to arrive. 

     Reverie is the first of Henry's albums that I've found, but it led me to several others.  Each album does seem to have a musical theme, as well as some interconnectedness between the lyrical themes.  This is indicative of Henry's skill as a musician and composer.  The songs congeal around him, and he assembles musicians who might best interpret the loose, foggy set of sounds around him.  These are songs of self awareness and self-deprication.  Some might hear a pompous voice, but a closer listen will hear one who actively engages in listening to the progression of words and ideas, and how they dance within melodies.  He is unafraid of writing for the intelligent, and unashamed to let the music breathe on its own, without being trampled by verbosity.  Reverie is not an everyday album, but on days when it begs to be heard, it is revelatory.  


Friday, April 27, 2012

NC Amendment One: Thoughts and Feelings

In this year's primary, North Carolina has a proposed Amendment on the ballot.  Amendment One reads as follows: 

"Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts."

North Carolina has a current law on the books defining who the state recognizes as having a valid marriage when it comes to gender that reads as follows:
§ 51‑1.2.  Marriages between persons of the same gender not valid. Marriages, whether created by common law, contracted, or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina. 

Based on the above statute, the only marriage recognized in the state of North Carolina is between one man and one woman.  It goes further than just not allowing a gay couple to get married in North Carolina and does not recognize a legal marriage of a gay couple in another state or country.  This is contrary to the state's position on other types of marriage not recognized in this state.  For example, North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage.  However, if you have a common law marriage in another state and meet all of that state's requirements, then North Carolina will recognize that marriage (provided that you are a straight couple, of course). 

The fact that gay marriage is already not valid in the state might cause you to wonder why we need an amendment to our state constitution.  I wondered that myself and last night decided to read what the pro-Amendment people were saying via one of their sites.  The statement that struck me the most was that this May, North Carolina voters would be able "to forever preserve the definition of marriage in our state by voting YES on the Marriage Protection Amendment."  I added the bold and underline to the word forever because I'm not sure where the reasoning is that an amendment is permanent.  Yes, an amendment is harder to overturn, but it's not impossible.  Remember a little something from history class called Prohibition? The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution banned alcohol for over a decade.  That amendment was eventually repealed with the 21st Amendment.  

In addition to the ability to repeal an amendment, North Carolina's Constitution is not the ultimate law of this land, the United States Constitution is.  The Supreme Court of the United States has the potential to be the decider of whether North Carolina's Amendment as well as all the other states' amendment stand.  While this is far from a speedy process, it is nowhere close to being "forever".  It seems misleading to advocate for this position based on a false premise.  

Another main argument of the proponents of this Amendment seems to be "it's for the protection of children".  "It's for the children" can be a popular argument for all kinds of actions because who wants to be against children? But what does this amendment really do to help children? When your argument is the only real and healthy family for a child is the married, biological parents, you need to take a step back to see what's truly happening around you.  You only need to step into a courtroom in North Carolina to see that being a straight, married, biological parent doesn't make you a good parent.  The best parents are not defined by their sexual orientation, their marital status, or their biological connection.  They are defined by their actions as a parent.  

Amendment One also holds the potential in application to be harmful to the very group the proponents claim to want to protect.  The way Amendment One is written it can be used to prevent children of unmarried parents (gay and straight) from receiving health care benefits.  It may also change the way domestic violence is treated in this state.  You don't have to take my word for it: medical and legal professionals have been very outspoken about the harm this Amendment can cause.  One the reasons they're speaking out is because this has happened in other states with similar amendments.  There are judges on the bench in this state that already have a tenuous understanding on domestic violence.  They do not need this Amendment to muddy their understanding further.  

I've been posting short bursts of my feelings about this Amendment on facebook and twitter, but this morning I felt like the space allotted in those platforms just wasn't enough.  The need to explain myself further was sparked by both an ad for the Amendment last night and a facebook posting I read this morning.  The ad claimed that the anti-Amendment ads were trying to scare people with misstatements about domestic violence and health benefits.  I found the tone of the ad revolting as it flashed photos of families and the Bible while denying that any harm could from this Amendment.  The thing is that neither side can definitely say what's going to happen with the application of this Amendment because if it passes that's ultimately going to be placed in the hands of judges and plan administrators to decide.  But the chance it could for even one family is enough for me.  

The facebook post was a young woman's reaction to the ads against Amendment One.  Her take was that the objections to the Amendment is that it would "make things monetarily harder on people who have had children out of wedlock."  I have been biting my internet tongue not to respond to her directly as she's rather young and sheltered, but it makes me sad to think that people believe that having your health insurance taken away or your ability to seek domestic violence protections removed makes life "monetarily harder".*  It goes beyond that when considering this Amendment for me.  I feel fortunate that at this moment in time, I can define the relationship I have with the person I love the way I want to.  The government isn't trying to tell me that my relationship isn't valid or that any children I might have are disadvantaged because of a mere biological connection.  My objections to his Amendment aren't about being straight or gay, but about recognizing we all deserve love and the freedom to express that love. 

*In the interest of fairness, while I won't disclose the name of the poster, I will include the full post here: "I see a lot of objections to Amendment 1 on TV - most of them seem to be related to the fact it might make things monetarily harder on people who have had children out of wedlock. I'm not saying we should be mean or rude to people who have done so, because I believe in forgiving people for sinning. However, I don't agree with the way it's often portrayed as if having children out of wedlock was something that couldn't be helped. Commiting adultery IS A CHOICE; by no strech of the imagination does one have to have sexual relations out of wedlock, even though society encourages it. Once you have decided to disobey one of God's commandments, you should accept your consequences and humble yourself and ask forgiveness of him; you can't complain that you did nothing wrong, and that you ought to get special consideration as if you were physically disabled or something, just because your own sin has made your life difficult. CONSEQUENCES HAPPEN, people; maybe this new amendment will finally strike a blow against the ridiculously obscene and adulterous attitude that's common in society right now. We can still indvidually forgive those who have sinned, and try to lead them back to the Saviour's waiting arms; however, we should not CONDONE the sin as a whole, or treat it as if it wasn't a problem at all. Vote to keep marriage the way God intended it, Christians; don't let society talk you out of it!"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Upcoming Event: Free Comic Book Day at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find!

Saturday, May 5, you'll find us at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find for Free Comic Book Day!
Books to be excited about:
  • Peanuts/Adventure Time Flip-Book from Boom! Studios:This looks to be a super fun kids book.  The art in Adventure Time always looks adorable and who doesn't enjoy Charlie Brown and friends.
  • Star Wars/Serenity Flip-Book from Dark Horse Comics: Two great tastes that taste great together!
  •  Buffy the Vampire Slayer/The Guild Flip-Book from Dark Horse Comics: It's great to see Dark Horse putting such fun female driven comics together in one book.  I've been a BVS fan since the beginning and even though I am not an on-line gamer, I love The Guild. 
  • Walt Disney's Donald Duck's Family Comics from Fantagraphics: Two words-Donald Duck.  Enough said.
  • Top Shelf Kids Club by Top Shelf Comics: This book looks so awesome.  Of course, I am going to love a cover by Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken's Ray Friesen.  I want wallpaper made out of that cover.  Inside is full of Top Shelf's great all ages books: Owly, Johnny Boo, Korgi, Okie Dokie Donuts, Upside Down and last, but certainly not least, Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken.  How does Top Shelf fit that much awesome into one free book?

Artists scheduled to be sketching away:
  • CHRIS BRUNNERCo-creator and artist on Loose Ends, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Covers for Static Shock, Boondock Saints, & NOLA
  • SHAWN CRYSTALArtist on Deadpool, Deadpool Max, & Deadpool Team-Up
  • FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA – Creator of The Black Beetle, Artist on Captain America & Bucky, Detective Comics, Black Panther, & cover artist for pretty much every other comic book
  • SANFORD GREENECreator of Rotten Apple, Artist on Deadpool, Wonder Girl, Methodman GN
  • CULLY HAMNERCo-creator of Red, Artist on The Question, Detective Comics, Black Lightning, Blue Beetle
  • JASON LATOURCo-creator of Loose Ends, Artist on BPRD: Pickens County Horror, Noche Roja, Scalped, Daredevil: Black & White
  • JACKIE LEWISArtist on Play Ball
  • KEVIN MELLONArtist on Heart, Lovestruck, S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • JAY POTTSCreator of World of Hurt
  • BUDD ROOTCreator of Cavewoman
  • BRIDGIT SCHEIDECreator of Brother Nash
  • BRIAN STELFREEZE –  Artist on Wednesday Comics, The Ride, Gun Candy, & a ton of Batman: Shadow of the Bat covers
  • SKETCH CHARLOTTE - Several artists from this local sketch group will be on hand! Sketch Charlotte meets every Thursday at 6:30pm at Showmars on 7th and Pecan.
Remember free sketches are at the discretion of the artist and to respect the time limits set.  The artists work super hard and do their best to get to as many people as they can.

I also had the opportunity to chat with the newest Heroes staff member, Karla Marsh, about FCBD and joining the Heroes Family:

How does it feel to be starting with Free Comic Book Day as your first event as the newest member of the Heroes staff, the Events Coordinator?
Well, I'm no stranger to Free Comic Book Day. For the past 10 years I've either been helping out at the store on FCBD, or attending it. Taking this on as my first real "event" since becoming Event Coordinator is exciting!! FCBD has always been the sample platter for HeroesCon in my opinion, since it's always fallen just a few weeks before the convention. It's an opportunity to meet some amazing artist, maybe get a sketch or two, and really just enjoy being a comics fan. Setting up for it this year has been my pleasure, and is a nice way to get my feet wet before the big show in June.
What's it been like joining the staff?

It's like coming home to hang out with my family! I've spend my entire life with Heroes in some way or fashion. At first I was a regular customer of the store and a faithful patron of the convention every year, then, as time went on, I became a dedicated volunteer at the convention, doing whatever was needed and helping out wherever and whenever I could. Heroes has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it seems only fitting that I should now call it home...the place I pour my heart and soul into. I can't think of a better place to hang my hat. It also doesn't hurt that my fellow co-workers are all amazing, creative, and dedicated individuals who have accepted me into their family with open arms. Because when you break it down, working for Heroes is really all about family, and I feel incredibly lucky to be included.

What are you excited about for FCBD?
Are you kidding?! The FREE COMICS of course!! Who doesn't LOVE a FREE COMIC?! I used to get SO excited about FCBD when I was younger. It was like going to a restaurant and they ask you if you'd like a free dessert! Of course you do! Free comics are my equivalent to a free hot fudge sundae! It also doesn't hurt that we have some truly amazing artists joining us this year! They'll be doing sketches and chatting with the fans. We have such an impressive  list of artists this year that I can't begin to name them all! You can check them out for yourself on the Heroes website at: Free Comic Book Day: Artists 
This year we will also have Radio Disney on site, playing music and giving away prizes. That just adds to the fun of all of the free comics we will have to give away that day! I think the kids will really enjoy it, and parents will too!
What events are you looking forward to after FCBD?
Well, there's this little convention, I don't know if you've heard about it, it's called HeroesCon and it starts on June 22nd and runs through the 24th. That will be what I spend every waking moment on between FCBD and June 25th. I'm currently setting up exhibitors and helping with Small Press, making sure that everyone has the best possible location for this year's show. I'm also doing a lot of "behind the scenes" work as well. There is never a shortage of things that need to be done when you're running a convention like Heroes. We want everyone who comes to HeroesCon to leave talking about it for the next 30 years. It's our job to make sure that each HeroesCon is the absolute best it can be, and that's not an easy task. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of sleepless hours, but I can't wait! HeroesCon is like second Christmas to me, and for anyone who knows me...I take Christmas very seriously!! If I loved Christmas anymore than I already do, I would marry Santa Claus! And that's how much I love HeroesCon. I would marry it, if I could!

We hope you'll join us in welcoming Karla to the Heroes Family (officially) and at FCBD!

Free Comic Book Day us May 5, 2012.  Heroes Aren't Hard to Find is located at 1957 E. 7th Street, Charlotte, NC 28204  Store opens at 10am and artists will be sketching at 1pm-5pm.