Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Oh Death

Lately the issue of death has been poking its head into my conversations with my three year old twins and I'm not sure how to handle it. Last week our nanny's mother died, and I told the children they needed to be extra nice to her and give her a big hug. Then I let it slip that her mother had died. They immediately picked up on that word, and started using it in their games, saying things like "I'm gonna crush this truck and then it will died!" They have no idea what it means and they know it's a strong word. I regret having said that, and I let it pass and they seemed to forget it. i know they are too young to understand it.
Then a week later, I was reading the kids the story of Madeline, in which the little girl gets her appendix removed, is rushed to the hospital, and makes all the other girls jealous because of her scar. The twins asked me what a scar is, so I showed them a scar on my hand that I got when I was playing around a table where my mother was ironing. I had tripped on the cord and the iron fell on my hand, burning it and leaving a scar. The kids were awestruck and asked me a million questions about the scar, ironing, what my mother was doing, what I was doing, etc. Then out of the blue, Jules asked me "Where is your mommy?" I just said "She's not here" and changed the subject. I put the kids to bed, and I just wanted to cry the whole time, I felt my mother's missing presence so strongly it was an ache in my chest. I wish so badly that she could know these beautiful kids and they could know her. But I just hid my pain and acted upbeat till I could put them to sleep. The kids are not there to comfort me from the pain and loss that I felt as a child and still feel. I'm there to be strong for them and shield them from things like death and sadness for as long as possible. But it's not always easy.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Camembert Trappers

video videoI played a show at Hometown BBQ in Red Hook, on February 15, 2015. I decided to put together a set of my favorite songs from my songbook going back to the days of Melomane, Sea Foxx, and The Snow. My brother-in-law Gerald Menke thought it would be cool to play a set of my songs and add an element of twanginess to it, so I called the band The Camembert Trappers because I wanted it to sound French, and country at the same time.  Gerald Menke was on pedal steel and guitar, Konrad Meisner on drums, and Jay Foote on bass. Thanks to Roman Elsener for the videos!

All the World is a Green Jockey Full of Bourbon

videoI played a Tom Waits tribute show organized by Robin Aigner at Freddy's Bar in Park Slope on March 22. I was joined on stage by three amazing musicians, two of which (Gavin and Bob) I had only met moments before. Here's Jockey Full of Bourbon, featuring Gavin Smith on bass clarinet, Bob van Pelt on Bass, and Andrew Sovine on guitar. These guys just crushed it! This was the first Tom Waits song I ever heard, when it was in the opening scene of the Jarmusch film Down by Law. It completely blew my head off then and introduced me to the weird and wonderful world of Tom Waits.

Here's All the World is Green from the album Blood Money. This time Gavin is on clarinet. This song just breaks my heart into a million pieces. The arrangement, the vocal delivery, the mix of the cryptic, poetic romance, and emotional directness add up to pure songwriting perfection.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Joan Dark

I just watched "La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc", the original 1928 version by Carl Th. Dreyer, with an astonishing performance by Renee Falconetti. The lead actress is in tears the entire time, in stark close-up, with no make-up on her beautiful, lightly freckeld face. She is on trial for a few different things but cross-dressing seems to be the main one. The Catholic priests who are trying her are pissed that a young girl cut her hair short and put on a man's military uniform. They are also mainly pissed that she helped the faction of French royals who were loyalists to France  kick some English ass. (They belong to the faction loyal to the English.) So after a long and bogus trial, she decides to confess to save her life. Then she changes her mind and decides to remain the girlfriend of Jesus and be burned at the stake, knowing that she will join him that night for some sexy reconciliation in heaven. (She is a 19 year old virgin after all.) Jesus is her Justin Bieber, her Nash Grier ( I don't know who that actually is, I just googled "teen idols.") He drives her to commit all these outrageous acts of bravery, patriotism, and rebelliousness. He channels her sweaty, frantic, pent up sexual energy.
As I have asserted many times before and stand no chance of denying, all acts of violence, patriotism, religious fervor, violent stupidity, and foolhardy self-destructiveness are usually derived from misguided sexual frustration. I love the character of Joan of Arc. Or Joan d'Arc. She was so Goth. She was a very bold and passionate young lady who heard Jesus whispering to her to go talk to the King, join the army, fight the British, preserve the French throne, etc. In my mind she is absolutely no different from the American kids who play video games that make them want to go fight evil Muslims in Iraq or the kids in Syria who watch youtube videos made by Isis exhorting them to go kill the American infidels. It's all just disconnected sexual tension. Any kid who gets really well laid a couple of weeks before he's set to go off to war, and who gets told that he can keep having some of that good loving if he changes his mind and stays home, will stay home. The promises of war are the same as the promises of summer camp or going on tour with a band; you will have some good times with your buddies and you might get laid. The killing part is an unnatural by-product that has to be re-taught.
I say "re-taught" because I believe that we all start out as murderous, self-serving psychopaths. I see this in my three-year old twins. They are in a stage where they are pure selfish ego, they only want what they want, and they will fight anyone who gets in the way of their desires. Especially the boy. (The girl seems more developed and empathic.) I think we all start out that way, then we realize that it is in our best interest to be compassionate, to get along, to curb our animal instincts.  I think killing and fighting are very natural for 4 and 5 year olds. but for anyone over 6 or 7, it has to be taught. The only reason there are militaries in any culture is that we continue to successfully teach people how to regress to the point of infants. Is it any wonder that one of the branches of the military is called the "infantry?" Look it up, it's based on the tradition of child soldiers. Killing is completely childish.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happiness is Nice

I am the luckiest man in the world, my life is brimming with beauty and love and richness, I have all a man could want and then more. I truly do feel blessed beyond compare.
I also believe that any sane human being who sees the world as it truly is has to acknowledge the darkness. For some reason, I need to write all the shitty stuff down, like mental vomit, so I can move on and enjoy the good. I also need to catalog the sad and horrible truths of this world so I can continue to fight to improve the way this world is moving, in my own little way.
So here is a catalog of all that is wonderful in my life and all that is horrible in the world. I think any person faced with so much overwhelming advantage and privilege has to want to level the playing field, even the scales, and share the wealth. Any other response can only be called greed, avarice, or insanity.
Here's what I have going for me:
Beautiful, amazing children
A gorgeous and loving wife
A new dream house in the forest
A job that pays well and that I enjoy
Some really nice friends
An extended family that is involved in my life
A community of interesting and engaged fellow parents
A recording studio in Dumbo, filled with all kinds of great instruments
A pretty cool music career and some great musical collaborators
A Vespa GTS 300
A VW Passat wagon
And on and on and on…


Here are the shitty parts of life that keep me up at night. The darkness makes the light worth seeing. The darkness gives hue and heft to the light.

War in Africa
War in the middle east
War in Ukraine
Ongoing slavery all over the world
Famine and starvation
The mistreatment of children
The unneeded abuse of animals
Factory farming
Crappy drivers
People who litter
People who turn on the air conditioner at the same time as the heat (believe me, this happens every day in the event space I work in)
Guns and hunting
People who waste food

War is waged by kids

Right now our world seems to be infected by a critical mass of violent and destructive conflict. All of these conflicts seem to me to boil down to one problem; sexually repressed young people needing to find an outlet for their desire and being easily coerced to act violently. I truly believe that all wars on this beautiful and fucked up planet are caused by this problem. I'm reading a book called "All the Light We Can Not See" about the rise of Hitler and the occupation of France, and it just highlights the same pattern. The rise of a strong, compelling leader who channels the violent tendencies of disaffected youth. Cambodia, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, The USA, it;s all the same. Violence is a natural out spring of the sexually frustrated. Give people other tools of expression: music, art, dance, poetry, literature, and of course, good old sex.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Humanity without religion

This article was in the Times Op Ed section Sunday August 31 and it perfectly explains the struggle of non God believers in our heavily religious modern society. I am posting the whole article and some of the articulate and well thought out discussion following it. It's a relief to me that there are others like me out there seeking a post-religious existence. 

"ALMOST midway through Sam Harris’s new book, “Waking Up,” he paints a scene that will shock many of his fans, who know him as one of the country’s most prominent and articulate atheists.
He describes a walk in Jesus’ footsteps, and the way he was touched by it. 
This happened on “an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon,” Harris writes. “As I gazed at the surrounding hills, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self — an ‘I’ or a ‘me’ — vanished.”
Had Harris at last found God? And is “Waking Up” a stop-the-presses admission — an epiphany — that he slumbered and lumbered through the darkness for too long?
Hardly. Harris is actually up to something more complicated and interesting than that. He’s asking a chicken-or-egg question too seldom broached publicly in America, where religion is such sacred and protected turf, where God is on our currency and at our inaugurals and in our pledge and sometimes written into legislation as a way to exempt the worshipful from dictates that apply to everyone else.
The question is this: Which comes first, the faith or the feeling of transcendence? Is 

Mightn’t religion be piggybacking on the pre-existing condition of spirituality, a lexicon grafted onto it, a narrative constructed to explain states of consciousness that have nothing to do with any covenant or creed?
Reflecting on the high that he felt by the Sea of Galilee, Harris writes: “If I were a Christian, I would undoubtedly have interpreted this experience in Christian terms. I might believe that I had glimpsed the oneness of God or been touched by the Holy Spirit.”
But that conclusion, in his view, would have been a prejudiced, willed one, because he had felt similar exaltation and rapture “at my desk, or while having my teeth cleaned,” or in other circumstances where he had slowed down, tuned out distractions and focused on the moment at hand. In other words, there are many engines of flight from quotidian worries, many routes of escape from gravity and the flesh. They include prayer, but they also include meditation, exercise, communion with music, immersion in nature.
Harris’s book, which will be published by Simon and Schuster in early September, caught my eye because it’s so entirely of this moment, so keenly in touch with the growing number of Americans who are willing to say that they do not find the succor they crave, or a truth that makes sense to them, in organized religion.
According to a 2012 Pew poll that drew considerable attention, nearly 20 percent of adults in this country fell into that category. Less than a third of those people labeled themselves atheists or agnostics. Seemingly more of them had a belief in some kind of higher power, but that conviction was unmoored, unclassifiable and maybe tenuous. These nomads aren’t looking for a church, but may want some of the virtues — emotional grounding, psychic grace — that are associated and sometimes conflated with one. The subtitle of “Waking Up” can be read as a summons to them: “A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.”
Harris made his name with his acclaimed 2004 best seller, “The End of Faith,” which took a buzz saw to Christianity, Islam and the rest of it. He was strenuously edgy and perhaps gratuitously insulting: While he’s right that it’s dangerous to play down all the cruelty done in the name of religion, it’s also a mistake to give short shrift to the goodness.
But the man has guts. Just read a blog post that he wrote in late July about the fighting in Israel and Gaza. By traveling down byways of the debate about Israel’s actions that most politicians and pundits avoid, it rightly caused a stir, along with a surge in traffic to his website that temporarily crashed it. 
IN books and lectures since “The End of Faith,” Harris has increasingly redirected his energies from indicting organized religion — “I’ve ridden that hobbyhorse,” he told me — to examining the reasons that people are drawn to it and arguing that much of what they seek from it they can get without it. There is the church of Burning Man, he noted. There is the repetition of mantras. There are the catharsis and clarity of unsullied concentration.
“You can have spiritual experience and understand the most thrilling changes in human consciousness in a context that’s secular and universal and not freighted with dogma,” he said when we spoke on the telephone last week. It was a kind of discussion that I wish I heard more of, and that people should be able to have with less fear of being looked upon as heathens.
I’m not casting a vote for godlessness at large or in my own spiritual life, which is muddled with unanswered and unanswerable questions. I’m advocating unfettered discussion, ample room for doubt and a respect for science commensurate with the fealty to any supposedly divine word. We hear the highest-ranking politicians mention God at every turn and with little or no fear of negative repercussion. When’s the last time you heard one of them wrestle publicly with agnosticism?
During my conversation with Harris, he observed that President Obama had recently ended his public remarks about the beheading of James Foley by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which wraps itself in religion, with a religious invocation: “May God bless and keep Jim’s memory, and may God bless the United States of America.” That struck Harris as odd and yet predictable, because in America, he said, God is the default vocabulary.
“There’s truly no secular or rational alternative for talking about questions of meaning and existential hopes and fears,” he said.
There should be. There’s a hunger for it, suggested by the fact that after Harris recently published the first chapter of “Waking Up” online as a way of announcing the entire volume’s imminent release, readers placed enough preorders for the book that it shot up briefly to No. 22 on Amazon’s list of best sellers.
Some of those buyers, as well as many other Americans, are looking for a different kind of scripture, for prophets purged of doctrine, for guides across the vast landscape between faithlessness and piety, for recognition of this fecund terrain. In a country with freedom of worship, they deserve it.