Movie Friday – Gravity

Those of you who read my intro post, or who have been reading for a while, or who know me personally, know that I play in a band called CROWN. If I could go to the band store and pick out the components of my perfect band, I would end up with something that very closely resembles CROWN. It’s a rare pleasure to get to work with 3 other creative people with no egos or private agendas – all our decisions are consensus-based, and even a big chunk of our song-writing is fully collaborative. I also get to hop around to many different instruments and enjoy both the spotlight and supporting roles.

This past Friday a friend of the band’s* shot some videos and stills at our regular live performance at the King’s Head, which is a restaurant in Kitsilano. She compiled them into a pretty impressive video:

The song playing over the video is one of our original tunes, called “Gravity”**. It’s available on iTunes for download, or you could just come to the King’s Head tonight and buy a CD from me in person. Hope you enjoy the video!

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*Who is a great photographer should you be trying to memorialize some upcoming event
** Yes, that’s me singing lead vocals. Line up single file please, ladies…

Classic Crommunist: Being creative without a Creator

Still in blah-mode. Will have something new up at noon PST once more. Until then, please enjoy this post that originally went up in August of last year, about a non-supernatural source for artistic creativity.

A friend sent me a link to a 20-minute talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the novel Eat, Pray, Love. I’m not a big fan of the book (I got through about 25 eye-rolling pages before giving up and reaching for the remote), but I am a big fan of (my friend) Claire, so I gave it a chance. I was right with her up until 8:30 when she started in on “creative mystery” and an external, supernatural source for creativity, and then the rest was invocations of magic and self-indulgent privileged pap, the likes to which Jim Carrey would be a fervent subscriber.

I do not know if Claire’s intent was to murder my neurons; I doubt that she was trying to lobotomize me through the intarwebz. She did ask me to write about some of my thoughts on the creative process from the perspective of an atheist. I suppose I have some claims to qualifications in this regard, given that I do spend the non-science half of my life playing and creating music. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on this subject, but first I want to address some of the themes that came up in Ms. Gilbert’s talk, which is available below: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Keep it Clean

For new readers: every Friday, in honour of it being the weekend, I put up a movie instead of a long post. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious, sometimes they’re weird. It’s whatever crosses my desk as I wander around the internet, and it’s all for you on a Friday!

As you may know, I am a musician in addition to being a scientist. I began playing violin when I was 6, began singing lessons at 8, picked up the guitar at 14, and have kind of been going strong ever since. My long stretches of 9-5 at a desk are punctuated by weekends full of rawking out. I like to call it my Clark Kent/Superman life – I even take my glasses off.

One of my favourite musicians of all time has to be Dave Grohl. The first time I heard In Your Honor, I nearly lost my mind. I played it on endless repeat, transfixed by the skill and care that clearly went into each song. Sometimes you hear a song that seems like it’s speaking directly to you – every cut on that album (and it’s a double album) did that for me. One By One was also top-notch, and Echoes, Patience, Silence, Grace is a goddamn masterpiece.

This, however, is my favourite thing he’s ever done:

Dave Grohl: epic troll.

I often hear people ask what the best way to deal with the Westboro Baptist Church is. Should we slash their tires? Should we beat them up? Should we counter-protest? Should we point out the errors in their theology? Should we stand up against their hate?

Folks like the loonies in the WBC are like Bobo dolls – no matter how hard you smack ’em, they keep coming back smiling. They are a machine that is fueled by controversy, and the more agitated we get, the more they think they’re winning.

The only sane response to an insane opponent is open, unashamed, joyful and unrestrained mockery. The WBC are a joke. They are self-parody, and the only strength they have is in the anger they can stir up in us. They should be mocked – not because it would piss them off, but because they’re silly! It’s a backwater basement church full of lunatics with weird signs and comically offensive messages. If you put Fred Phelps up on a stage opening for Don Rickles, he’d have the audience rolling in the aisles.

Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters have shown us the truth: once we realize how monumentally silly the Westboro Baptist Church is, all that remains is a bunch of sad, lonely people following a confused and deluded old man in his vain attempt to return to the 16th century.

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Movie Friday: Thank You…

It’s my birthday today, and I usually take this time to reflect on the things that have happened over the last year. One of the things I’m most proud of is the way this blog has established itself. Obviously I will take the appropriate amount of credit for the success, but I’m not shy about saying that you readers are a major source of inspiration and motivation. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do this without you, your comments and feedback, your e-mails, and the fact that there’s more of you every month.

But there’s someone even more important that I have to thank…

Fun fact: the guy who sings this song also sings the theme from Pokemon:

Obviously this is a joke (well, I hope it’s obvious but with some people you never know). I don’t believe in Satan, or any kind of supernatural force of evil. I leave such fantasizing and personification of human folly to theists. I’m not even really a big believer in the Satan of the LaVey church – the worship of the human spirit and individuality as supreme. But it is fun to see someone take the piss out of the cheesy gospel music that gives credit to a different deity for all the good things, without putting the corresponding blame on that entity for the bad stuff. Consistency is clearly not a virtue.

If there is a pro-Satan song that I like on its own merits, it would be this one by one of my all-time favourite bands. I’ll leave you with it for the weekend, and proceed to get my party on.

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Movie Friday: What God Said

I don’t really understand why it is that people can say the most evil things imaginable and have it excused as long as they claim divine warrant. You can call for genocide, rape, murder, mutilation, and condemn people as freely as you like, provided you are a man or woman “of God”.

The problem is that God is simply a reflection of what is inside us. When someone says “God hates fags”, they are saying “I hate fags”. When they say “the word of God says that a woman is the property of a man”, they mean “I don’t see women as human beings.” When they say “God wants us to have sex through a sheet with special underwear”, they’re saying… well actually I have no clue where that one comes from.

The remarkable thing isn’t that people will project their inner hatreds and mental problems onto a fictitious third party. That’s actually a fairly normal human quirk. The remarkable thing is that people actually listen to these clowns who claim to speak for the Almighty. If He really was almighty (assuming He even exists, which He doesn’t), he could speak unequivocally for himself; He wouldn’t need to go through puny, fallible, easily-duped humans.

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Movie Friday: Fear of Numbers

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Here’s why:

When Carl Sagan died, there was a hole left for a science educator that could engage with average people and get them excited by new scientific concepts. I feel like that role has gone to Dr. Tyson, though I’m sure he would forswear the comparison. I had a conversation with a couple of friends and raised the point that like basic math skills and basic language skills (although still not in many cases), it should be a prerequisite of having a career as a scientist that you can communicate your research with ordinary people (i.e., non-scientists). If the scientific community can’t manage to bring the fire of the gods to the people (I am making a Prometheus allusion), then what are they (we) doing this for?

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Movie Friday: Happy Canada Day!

Hello everyone! Happy Canada Day!

For my non-Canadian readers, I should explain. Canada Day celebrates the decisive battle at Confederation Hill where the upstart Canadian army fought nobly against the occupying Spanish forces to secure a Christian nation based on Jesus, maple syrup, and politeness.

Yeah, actually all of that is crap. It’s the day the British North America Act was signed in 1867, creating an independent nation known as Canada. It’s a much less violent version of Independence Day in the States (plus, fewer aliens).

Not only is it a holiday today, but my band is releasing our debut EP record tonight. I am very excited about this, since I’ve never cut a real CD before. It’ll be up on iTunes soon (possibly even today, in which case this sentence here will become a link to the album), and we are having a CD release party at our bar. So, rather than our usual fare of funny and/or provocative looks at religion or racism, I thought I would shamelessly self-promote by posting some of our own videos!

Here’s us doing a new original tune:

Here’s us doing Tiny Dancer by Elton John:

And here’s one where I’m singing:

You can find more videos here.

So yeah, looking forward to a fun day!

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Movie Friday: Ain’t No New Thing

Last Friday, a great American poet and musician died. Gil Scott Heron was a significant mouthpiece for the black community in the United States, exposing black and white audiences alike to the social and political issues happening with urban black people in the 1960s and 1970s. Part of a great tradition of blues musicians, Scott Heron blended their ability to evoke the pain and suffering of the working-class and poor black man and woman with the emerging scene of spoken-word poetry to pioneer a contemporary method of articulating the struggles of his own community.

Scott Heron’s musical style laid the foundation for the next generation of musicians and artists to perform the same function – funk and soul in the 1970s, followed by hip-hop in the 1980s and 1990s. While he is often credited with the appellation, Scott Heron eschewed being thought of as the forefather of hip-hop music:

Shame on every writer who reported Gil Scott-Heron’s death with the blurb, “Godfather of Rap,” writers who have—per Angela Davis’ observations—totally missed the point of the man’s career. It was a term that Gil Scott-Heron was not ambivalent about: “There seems to be a need within our community to have what the griot provided supplied in terms of chronology; a way to identify and classify events in black culture that were both historically influential and still relevant (Now and Then: The Poems of Gil Scott Hereon, xiv).

This is less Scott-Heron distancing himself from Hip-hop (though he would do so from time to time), but more a recognition that what he did, sat at the feet of traditions that came before him. He writes, “there were poets before me who had great influence on the language and the way it was performed and recorded: Oscar Brown, Jr., Melvin Van Peebles, and Amiri Baraka were all published and well respected for their poetry, plays, songs and range of other artistic achievements when the only thing I was taping were my ankles before basketball practice.” (xiv)

Scott was perhaps best known for his immortal work The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

But I think my favourite work of his is a poem called simply Brother:

We deal in too many externals, brother
Always afros, handshakes and dashikis
Never can a man build a working structure for black capitalism
Always does the man read Mao or Fanon
I think I know you would-be black revolutionaries too well
Standing on a box on the corner,
Talking about blowing the white man away
That’s now where it’s at yet, brother
Calling this man an Uncle Tom and telling this woman to get an afro
But you won’t speak to her if she looks like hell, now will you brother
Some of us been checking your act out kinda close
And by now its looking kinda shaky the way you been rushin’ people with your super black bag
Jumping down on some black men with both feet cause they’re after their BA
But you’re never around when your BA is in danger…I mean your black ass
I think it was a little too easy for you to forget that you were a negro before Malcolm
You drove your white girl through the village every Friday night while the grassroots stared in envy and drank wine,
Do you remember?
You need to get your memory banks organized brother.
Show that man you call an Uncle Tom just where he’s wrong
Show that woman that you’re a sincere black man
All we need to do is see you shut up and be black
Help that woman
Help that man
That’s what brothers are for, brother

As a musician, I recognize the importance of history. We all build our lives on the shoulders of those that have come before us, and we hope to add a little piece to their legacy. If we can’t do that, we can at least try and bring the work of those others to a new audience. What we cannot do, what we must not do, is pass off the works of others as original material, and divorce it from its origins. To sever that link to history is to lose all meaning, all context, all life from art, rendering it meaningless.

We’re used to having white people try to rob us
Ain’t no new thing, we have dug his game
Charlie Parker will live on
John Coltrane will live on
Eric Dolphy will live on
Billie Holiday will live on
Jimi Hendrix and Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan will live on
And on in the sunshine of their accomplishments
The glory of the dimensions that they added to our lives [emphasis mine]

Gil Scott Heron is dead. A tireless voice for the American black community has fallen silent, but has left a long legacy that lives on in those that carry that voice forward to a new generation.

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Today’s word boner…

Is brought to you by guitar legend Carlos Santana:

“This law is not correct. It’s a cruel law, actually, This is about fear. Stop shucking and jiving. People are afraid we’re going to steal your job. No we aren’t. You’re not going to change sheets and clean toilets. I would invite all Latin people to do nothing for about two weeks so you can see who really, really is running the economy. Who cleans the sheets? Who cleans the toilets? Who babysits? I am here to give voice to the invisible.”

It’s not so much what he said, it’s more where he said it – at an Atlanta Braves baseball game commemorating the civil rights movement. In front of a crowd of thousands, Mr. Santana had the courage and poise to call out not only Major League Baseball, but the fans sitting in the bleachers, for turning a blind eye toward racism happening right now and choosing instead to pat themselves on the back for how tolerant they’ve been.

He had more:

“Most people at this point they are either afraid to really say what needs to be said, this is the United States the land of the free. If people want the immigration law to keep passing in every state then everybody should get out and just leave the American Indians here. This is about Civil Rights.”

He then proceeded to shred the guitar so hard that all the women in the audience became pregnant [citation needed].

While I don’t usually care about the political positions of celebrities, I am impressed with what it takes to stand up in front of thousands of people and point out their complicit hypocrisy. It helps that he’s right, too.

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