Math Tests

I have been in a high speed wobble between parent teacher conferences, kids in crisis, new animals and a pretty important test this Saturday. This time, I think I got it because it’s English, but it is three hours so I’ve been trying to fit in studying whenever I have free time which has been rare. So enjoy this one from last summer and expect some serious posts coming from me soon!

More White Stripes brother….they truly do rock and I hope they get back together because I missed them last time they were in Maine

I am getting closer to getting a real job in my field and one thing I have to do is pass a test early Saturday morning to become highly qualified in middle school mathematics. I have never taken a math course at the college level, majored in History and got my Masters in Teaching Social Studies to grades seven through twelve. Thus, on paper, I am inept at math and this becomes reality as I slog through the Cliff’s Notes study guide I broke down and bought.

I mean, I’ve tutored in this subject for years and thought I knew it well because I‘m often telling other teachers little tips on math stuff. I may be able to teach remedial math to students and adults alike, but my actual grasp of formulas, tangents and so on is weak. I’m freaking out.

Hopefully this isn’t me at the test.

I am supposed to be also finishing up my Female Artists part 2 right now which I’m also not doing because I keep starting to write then going back to studying math and realizing more that I don’t know. It’s my own fault for waiting so long to study. See, my whole academic life, I really did not do a bunch of studying. Sure, for big history finals and the like, I’d copy my notes over once and read them a bunch of times. Most of the time, it worked.

In grad school, I never took tests and have a pretty good track record with projects/papers because I like to write and to see a final product that took a lot of organization and time to complete. Math is not like this, at least math the middle school level. It’s knowing what all of the formulas are, how to identify curves in graphs and what discrete math mathematics actually means. It’s discrete goddammit, aren’t we not supposed to know what it means?

Now if this song was just about adding 46 and 2, I could certainly handle that. However, it’s actually about a theory Carl Jung had about the human genome chain. It is currently at 44 autosomes and  2 sex chromosomes with our evolution, by Jung’s ideas, moving to 46 and 2 to get out of what he perceived as humans disharmonious state. The cool part of this song for me is how the unbelievable drummer Danny Carey will be playing in a 7/8 beat while the rest of the band is in 4/4 and then bringing it back all together on the downbeat. This is math I can get into.  The song also talks about Jung’s “shadow” theory, the “shadow” being the part of ourselves we fear and hate. Can my “shadow” take my test for me?

Best case scenario, I pass this test and become highly qualified in a subject I’m probably not standard qualified in as of right now. Worst case, I fail miserably and have to take the test again. Of further significance would be the realization that I do need to study for subjects that I am not so familiar with and am a moron for again procrastinating. I could tell how the extreme heat and working outside has sapped me of my strength and required literal hours of watering my vegetables, how I am very close to getting a new job through networking, how my band played two gigs last weekend after weeks of a show every week, and on and on.

It’s all bullshit because the Elder J is busier than I am and way better at time management. I have what he always loves to call “hubris” or tragic pride in thinking I can get everything done I need to and well. I can’t and I just may end up feeling like this song. Wish me luck!

I can just take it again and put hours of time in and really learn this stuff so it will probably be a good life lesson if I do fail. I prefer lessons I choose to take but who doesn’t?

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On the Radio (Flashback): Time Bomb

In the mid 1990s I used to work about 45 minutes away from home at a gas station–much to the chagrin of my parents who couldn’t understand why the hell I had to drive 45 minutes to pump gas when there were perfectly good places to pump gas in our home town.  The long and the short of it was: (1) I didn’t want to be caught pumping gas by someone I actually knew and (2) there was a girl involved (the place was owned by her father).

As with most things, the law of unintended consequences had a powerful showing here.This was the glorious year of the Ford LTD Stationwagon.  First of all, since I was young and driving a lot not only did I get into my first fender-bender, run out of gas during a snowstorm and receive my first, second and third traffic citations, but I also got to listen to the radio constantly at a time when alt-rock was king. During many of my long drives into the cold, I heard songs by the band Rancid.

I can’t listen to this song without getting happy now. What the living hell was wrong with me?

As I mentioned a few months back when I was going through my obsessive phase with Palma Violets, I was dismissive of almost everything in second-wave punk for no good reason. Although I grudgingly acknowledged the quality of Green Day (and who didn’t? the radio played us all into submission), Rancid–with its snarling vocals and stripped down sound–seemed easy to mock and easier to dismiss. And yet, when I listen to it now, it seems so much more transgressive, immediate, and authentic (again, whatever that means) than a lot of the other schmaltz I thought was good. (“Wonderwall? What the fuck?)

I think that a good deal of my suspicion of punk’s second sailing has to do with poorly held and even more poorly defined ideas of authenticity and originality. At 16, I thought that such words had meaning and had no concept of things like appropriation, homage, and metamorphosis. Even worse, when it came to a band like Rancid, I was too fucking ignorant to know that two of the members were old-timers from Operation Ivy who had enough cache and real DIY punk character to make the members of Green Day blush. Hell, Rancid never even signed with a mainstream label.

So, I guess the lesson here is that if you’re worried that someone else is a poseur, you should probably check into their bona fides and, even before that, do the whole monkey in the mirror thing and make sure you’re not a complete fake. I’m trying to make amends for this and many other asshole moments in my youth.  Just today I downloaded the album.  My kids are going to be rocking out with safety pins this afternoon.

And what do you think of all this, my brother?

Addicted to Flapper Birds and the breakdown of human communication

 I discovered I could play the iPhone  game Flappy Bird on my laptop at the precise time I heard this song on the Palladia channel from that awesome show Live from Daryl’s House. I have always loved this song and honestly had no idea who Todd Rundgren was, but now I do and this version kills it. I would also like to not work and bang on my drum all day, just switch the drums with picking on the bass. The steel guitar flourishes and multiple forms of percussion turn an 80’s pop song into a Hawaiian camp fire tune and it’s even cooler because the steel guitar actually originated on those same islands. Thank you Daryl Hall, the culture of Hawaii and the polar vortex for giving me a day off from school today. 

I don’t have an iPhone and I’m addicted to an iPhone app. I don’t even own an iPod because the one I had cracked and was on it’s last legs anyway. My brother has referred to my lack of new technology as evidence of me being a “Luddite”,  but I seriously think the obsession society has with phones/instant access to unlimited information is destroying person to person to communication as well as the art of conversation. I defend my non-conforming ways by saying I don’t want to be one of these people in public places with their nose persistently two inches from a phone with nary a look around to real people. That and the fact that the NSA uses all of these devices to build individual profiles and companies buy our stolen data so they can target specific ads to our perceived tastes, but I digress.

If I didn’t go to dive bars more often than not, I’d lose it with all the people standing around staring at their phones and not each other. It can’t be good for you and I don’t only mean the lack of human contact.  Watch, in twenty years, all of these heavy iPhone users will have cross eyes or something. 

I played the game on a bus ride to a field trip of outdoor winter team-building activities with my class. It’s been a rough week for everyone and this trip was meant to bring us together, as well as to build our community and team ethic. Although our group has suffered a few losses, we are definitely coming together. One of them was talking about this new game everyone was playing and I asked to take a try. I have a pretty easy relationship with my students so they handed it over and I kept it for a solid twenty five minutes, the whole length of the bus ride! I was hooked, this game is incredibly amusing and everyone, including my co-teacher who is my opposite in every way, thought it was a riot that I was so transfixed by such a mindless game.

I’m not a huge Punk rock fan.  But when I was trying to break it down for myself why I like this stupid game so much,  it occurred to me that it was mostly that I’m pretty stressed right now and like hip hop music, it takes my mind of what I’m stressing about. Hip Hop has substance and a beat though. This game is just straight dumb dumb and clearly some type of digital sedative to me.

I was hooked on this game bad for a short time. I competed against the kids at the beginning and end of the day, briefly holding the highest score in the classroom.  The background animation reminds me of Super Mario Brothers on the NES and SNES which is basically the core of video games I’ve ever played. I don’t play any video games play often and barring the occasional Call of Duty zombie mode foray with an old friend from high school, it is only Sega Genesis or one of the aforementioned consoles. Video games can be a welcome distraction and this is why I’m so enamored with this game. Life is not always easy and you can’t be on point all the time so why not take five to ten minutes to keep a bird afloat betwixt two green sewer pipes at various heights?

Grouplove is kind of like this game for me  but with quite a bit more going on here. The music is very simple and unrefined yet cool and very catchy, kind of like a less morose version of the Pixies. Their drummer Ryan Rabin is the son of one of the drummers from Yes which gives him major points with me. Lastly, I find the flannel plus leather pants look on the female singer pretty hot.

I guess it’s not a real addiction because I just now found out I can do it on my laptop and I run about five minute intervals in between doing school work, shoveling in this storm and other household tasks. I do think our modern population is too dependent on SmartPhones and you can see the effects in the teenagers now.  They don’t express themselves verbally or in writing well most of the time, they’d rather text than call someone and are completely lost if their state issued laptops are un-available for whatever reason. Even teachers prefer to email even when your classroom is twenty steps away.  I think that if things continue as they are, the next generation will be on the road to completely losing the art of person to person conversation. I like teaching because my only real skill is communication so I’m not even sure I’d want to teach in that context. This isn’t Flappy Birds fault, but it isn’t helping either.

I think the breakdown of real human communication is far more dangerous than a stepping razor. Reggae has never been the same without Peter Tosh, my personal favorite reggae artist, but more on that in the very near future.

I get the most joy in life from communication in the real world. My only real skills are of the people variety, barring any minor knowledge of landscaping or bar tending.  Whether it’s teaching youngsters, playing out with my band, or even just shooting the shit with my friends, this is what makes life fun for me. If that ends, I don’t think I want to be around to see it. I do love Flappy birds but my enthusiasm is waning with it as these things do. There is hope I think, but it’s going to take an electromagnetic pulse to temporarily end all telecommunications for us to realize it.

On The Radio (Flashback): Big Head Todd and the Monsters

Mmmmm. Music.

Mmmmm. Music.

So, the other day I was walking from my office past one of our departmental secretaries when I reached into the candy bowl on her desk and withdrew a little dark chocolate. As I walked away and the cacao-infused treat melted in my mouth, I looked at the wrapper, read the word “bittersweet” and, BOOM, I was suddenly not walking but in some time shift driving the Ford LTD to a band rehearsal with a twelve-string, a fender Blues DeVille amp, and a telecaster in the trunk. The radio was tuned to the local rock station and a track hauntingly hung in the air.

For a moment, I didn’t smell the chocolate I was infusing with saliva, but I felt the cold bite of a Maine winter combined with the slightly acrid, styrofoam character of an old engine burning oil mixed in with the sweet synthetic syrup of antifreeze. Even as I was walking in 95 degree heat, 35 years old, and a college professor smelling more of coffee than smoke, I was also 16 and late to be nowhere.

At first, I thought this song was by Matthew Sweet. Maybe it was the bitterSweet thing or that both bands were minor players on the early alt-rock stage.

My brother and I have both written before about the tactile, olfactory and auditory nature of memory–and especially the way that music can invoke those other aspects of the past as well. I have been especially inspired of late by the similar work of the blog Mixed Tape Masterpiece, but even I was surprised by the sequence of memories that ensued from that one word which transformed from taste, to idea, to song and again to smells of a different type.

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Blissfully ignorant: Enjoying Music You Don’t Understand

I like music I can't understand better?

I like music I can’t understand better?

Over the past few years I have found myself, at first against my will, listening to music in languages I did not understand, mostly Spanish. Over time I started to understand the different sounds, for example Salsa vs. Bachata vs. Merengue and my wife would always translate the lyrics, whether I asked or not. Then a strange thing happened, I would listen to music in Spanish or Portuguese alone, without my spouse and translator around. In fact, when she is present now I am resistant to hearing what the lyrics mean, at least at first.

The reason for this is because not understanding the words allows me to listen differently. It allows me to listen to vocals as if they are instruments and turn off the analytic side of listening. It makes me to listen more actively and abstractly. I become more acutely aware of tone and subtle things I would have missed otherwise.

Here is a fairly new song that I like by Enrique Iglesias. It is Bachata, a dance a struggle with but a genre I really like, and I enjoy the mixture of vocals. My wife has told me what the song is about already, but I will not spoil the fun for y’all.

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Wu Tang’s “Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers” is 20!

Something we missed over the weekend, the seminal album Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers was released on November 9th, 1993. This not only means that this album has been influencing artists and fans for more than half my life, but it also means that I am getting old, fast. I wasn’t listening to the Wu Tang Clan in 1993, but I should have been. My brother might have been ( but we all know he’s the cooler one).

Here’s a clip from Grantland.com where Method Man talks about it:

(Here’s a link where the Grantland staff talks about their favorite Wu Tang members. Who does one root for? RZA is a genius; Method Man is so very telegenic; Ghostface Killah is hysterical. Personally, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard always cracked me up.)

My brother and I both got wicked stirred up about Wu Tang earlier this year. He wrote a great review of the first album and its influence on his life and I tried to match him by talking about my late conversion to hip-hop and love of this album. Yeah, it may be a bit of a stereotype, but today I’ll be the one with two toddlers in the back of a blue Toyota Prius letting the bass rumble when I listen to this song:

Written Elsewhere: An interview with Sigur Ros’ drummer ahead of the band’s first Miami show

Check out this interview with a drummer from one of the most unique bands in music today (Sigur Ros). I haven’t talked enough about how much I like this band, but maybe now I’ll get around to it. (And I owe the band a debt of gratitude, along with The Dirty Three they provided the soundtrack that made my dissertation possible…)

Independent Ethos

One of the concerts of this year we’re most looking forward to is Sigur Rós’ overdue visit to Miami. It’s scheduled to cap the Icelandic band’s current U.S. tour, which kicked off on Sept. 14 in Detroit. Last Friday, I suddenly learned I had the chance to chat for 10 minutes with the band’s longtime drummer/percussionist Orri Páll Dýrason, thanks to Live Nation and the “Miami New Times” pushing their agent for an interview.

The group was in Philadelphia and Dýrason was about to head in to rehearsal. I had many questions, but could only go superficial with such limited time— a bit sacrilegious for a band I have been following from the start, but it was a nice opportunity, so pardon if this post jumps from one topic to another. There is a link to a more cohesive piece at the bottom of this post, which gets into much…

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