Thursday, December 29, 2011

JOHN CALVIN AND ZOMBIES


I've kicked around ideas as to why zombies are a center-stage topic of interest for my children. My wife and I don't talk about zombies (ha, like that would make a difference), we don't watch zombie movies at home (haha, like that would make a difference), and we don't condone the subject of zombies (hahaha, like that would make a freaking difference). Zombies for us have been an inconceivably non-issue... kind of like the intermarriage of a Democrat and Republican. Who produce purple offspring (I heard that happened once up North).


I recently went birthday shopping with my son at Barnes & Nobles when in the checkout line I came across these little, pet zombies. Complete with instructions on how to care for them. Care for them? How? By giving them peroxide and band aids? I was sure that were pet zombies to exist, the best way to care for one would be to let it bleed. 


No, I had to end this crap right now before it got way out of hand. My kids needed to know that I didn't "believe in" zombies so zombies wouldn't exist for them either. I had to let them know that the freak trend would soon be over, then we could go back to the good old days when we worried about more plausible creatures. Like aliens. And people who believed in them. 


But. Then. I was blindsided one afternoon as I contemplated working out (that gave me a nice burn). In considering the oxymoron of the living dead, what idea planted the seed of rebellion (aka, democracy) in our historical American mind in the first place? Yes, like you I saw the direction my mind was headed: John Calvin.


OK, not solely John Calvin (it's never "solely" anybody who gets a thing done). A combination of European "reformers", spanning a few hundred years, began thinking differently about things. Like how humans should be depicted in art: 


For example, do humans all really stand on tippy-toe? Regularly? (Humans are most honestly depicted within their environment, so environment has to be important).




Or, in true foreshortening shouldn't objects in the foreground be proportionately larger than objects in the background? (The relationship of things to each other within an environment is important).



And, where are the people of color? (Oops, that wasn't much of a concern for several more hundred years.)




It wasn't just art, but art was a portal into the many matters of humanity that were being rethought. The name for the high point of this period was called "Reformation." But I see it less as a reformation and more as a rebellion (Anyways, that's what it looks like here).



But the mother-thought of the Reformation surrounded the interpretation of freedom. What is freedom? Who is free? How free? 




John Calvin, blamed for the Calvinist interpretation of freedom, was first known as the father of constitutional government before he was ever a Calvinist (hahaha).




His interpretation of freedom shattered the exclusive monarchical rule, because not only did subjects now have legitimate obligations to the monarchy, but the monarchy also had legitimate duties to its subjects. And if either chose not to fulfill said duties, then the other was free from the tyrannical insistence that he alone obey but not be obeyed. That's where European countries originally got the idea of the constitution (I'm sure Henry wasn't too fond of Calvin. Initially).




But to what extent is God free? Infinitely. To what extent is man free? Finitely. BUT TO WHAT FREAKING EXTENT?


Zombies are the living dead, a conundrum, I think, to describe a fundamental confusion debated long before the Reformation and currently debated by the proliferation of commercial zombie goods. To what extent is dead dead? To what extent is alive alive? To what extent is free free?




Zombies, I am convinced, are less about the zombie and more about the extent. Do you push "it" to the extreme or do you pull it back so that it is a non-issue and, in effect, inert? Of course, these are good questions my children should be asking, and discussing, and even toying with. To what extent is standing on tippy toe no longer a proper artistic depiction of human stance? To what extent is foreshortening no longer foreshortening?


And where are the Black people?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

PAUL DENGLER & FORREST GUMP: PRAYING FOR SHRIMP


What do faux painting, the blues, and shrimp all have in common? Paul Dengler, of course, but you probably wouldn't know that because Paul Dengler is so modest. You might have a better chance finding him in the foyer of a mansion in Greater Nashville, immaculately rag-rolling and glazing twenty-foot-high walls with the patience and care of a disciplined brain surgeon than you would to see him in public. Even though he is one of two well-known, national Forrest Gump impersonators (the better one, I think), 


I wasn't aware of Paul's talent until six years ago. He wasn't even aware of it until a few years before that, haha. I finally invited him over for pizza this past spring. He gave such a powerfully convincing performance around the dinner table that I lost interest in eating, sitting in awe. Forrest Gump, after all, embodies the America spirit, fictional though he may be. In fact, had I the opportunity to meet George Washington or the real Forrest Gump, I would choose (forgive me ...) Forrest. I mean, can you think of anyone as selfless and ignorant of his proximity to greatness than Forrest Gump? 


It's obvious when talking to Paul that he absolutely loves the seasonal work the national chain of Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants give him. BUT his first love, hands down, is music. An accomplished blues musician, the sound that comes out of this man throws you for a curve. Listen:


Hearing Paul sing is like invoking the spirit of New Orleans. You would have been blown away like I was when I had him visit my school. Aside from the simon & garfunkelesque spell he put over his audience, I was more intrigued to see the number of songs he had written on the reams of paper he carries with him at the bottom of his guitar case. All in impeccable musical notation (He wouldn't say so).

But what do you do when talents like painting, music, and impersonation reach such a high level of proficiency that they fight for your attention and professional direction becomes impossible to determine without gut-wrenching angst? That has been a topic of several conversations we have had. "Pray for shrimp", says Paul, a prayer with which he has intimately become familiar these last few years. 




No one wants to miss out on opportunities, especially if he or she gains to do more good by taking them. But when life and time and resources don't allow any more time for juggling talents and gigs, you have to make a decision by cutting losses, watching some dreams drift, and praying that when the tide comes in, it brings in more shrimp than you've ever dreamed.

Take a listen to Paul's catalog of 35 songs. 35 different "prayers for shrimp", if you will.


Also, look up Paul on Facebook and "drop him a line!"


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

ROYAL RUCKUS: RUMORS OF OUR DEMISE HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED



It's only half the story, but I've ferreted out details about rap duo Royal Ruckus' decade-long hibernation into the belly of Middle-Earth finally to emerge this past March with their latest: Rumors of Our Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated. While Michael Walker has been unavailable for comment, I've gotten the other half of the band, Jamey Bennett, to sing like a lark. Or rap like one. 


The classic Royal Ruckus experience is like falling through a portal of whimsy. You are Alice. They are Wonderland. Or maybe they are Alice, and you are Wonderland. From appearance to verbiage, you can't help but not to do a double-take when you lay eyes on these California boys or hear the eclectic vibe of their Old-School-Hip-Hop-inspired tracks. I mean, nothing about Jamey or Michael is hood. 


Except maybe neighborhood.




Maybe not.



But how do I describe this album? Hmm. OK, take Kern County's suburban Bakersfield. Lace with rural Tennessee's landscape. Intersperse with witty, life-stylized picture-parodies of middle-class America. Toss in any flavor of  Hawaiian and Cowboy musical influences. And periodically  punctuate with an Anglican reverence. Now, you have an idea of the ruckus these tracks make of your mind.


In the same whimsical and thought-provoking spirit of their music, I want to give four, little-known insights into this album.


1. Rumors of Our Demise is about rumors. So what have these guys been up to this past decade? The dirty truth is that Jamey has been teaching. Yes, teaching. Flicker Records might have brought Royal Ruckus to Nashville, but it didn't pay the bills. In the long run, that is. In the interim Jamey earned a BA in education and taught at a classical school. Not only did Jamey teach, but he actually wrote curriculum, eventually publishing several books. Here is a link. 


http://holytrinityclassical.ecrater.com/


2. Rumors of Our Demise is about of. I actually got to know Jamey pretty well as an educator (my line of business). One of the first members of an educational forum I founded in 2004, Jamey not only met me on Monday nights, but we also met several times outside those hours to talk about ideas. Jamey is one of the few "idea" people I've met who actually churns out a finished project. He has a pretty good track record of making art. Even when the music wasn't flowing, the beer was. And the beard. Jamey developed an insatiable interest in beer and beards. 


Especially the beards. 




Well, the beer, too.




 What does that have to do with of, and specifically Jamey's ofness? Nothing, even though I tried to make a connection.


3. Rumors of Our Demise is about our. These rumors aren't only about Jamey. They are about Michael, too. Other than the fact that Michael married a beautiful gal who, months before they met, was a dinner guest at my house. Other than the fact that I've seen him dozens of times at the Square in Downtown Franklin with his firstborn son. Other than the fact that I was disappointed when Michael had his son visit the barber for the first time to have his beautiful, blonde locks trimmed. Other than the fact that we've exchanged numbers only to not talk, I have little to report. Let me go do some good old facebook stalking.


Here is Mike's facebook page. Snoop on it yourself to find out what he's up to (I have a reputation I have to keep).


http://www.facebook.com/mpwalker 


Oh, snap, I just found Mike's blog page. It looks like he's been working on his own solo album!


http://mpwalker.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/dim-christmas/


4. Rumors of Our Demise is about demise. A lot can happen in eight years and has. The dissolution of Jamey's first marriage wasn't planned. Subsequent depression wasn't planned either. A job change in education and relational overhauls found Jamey all over a map that was hidden to most of us. 


Aside from a chat by my fireplace a year ago, the last I saw of Jamey for a couple of years was when he officially left Franklin, Tennessee. He packed up his stuff (I took several bags and boxes to Goodwill), took his dog, and set off for a short trip to visit family and friends on the West Coast before relocating to Hawaii. Then he took off for Europe, writing at pubs, investigating cathedrals, making the ever-witty comment now and then on Facebook. Then he was back in Hawaii. Then I ran into him at a local pub. Then he was at my fireplace, reminiscing about the whirlwind in both our lives. 


The reminiscing was painful for myself as well as for him. Certain projections in life just didn't reach their targets, and for Jamey that sense of being derailed infused his experience with a sobriety that lyric writing, beer brewing, and beard-growing alone were incapable of producing. Demise is the right word, but rumor is even better. The lyrical wit and hippity-hoppity fun of Rumors of Our Demise is rumor. A big one. That long, entangled process has been one of rising from the dead. 


Now, that's a rap.


Listen to this awesome album at:
http://royalruckus.bandcamp.com/album/rumors-of-our-demise-have-been-greatly-exaggerated



Saturday, December 17, 2011

TAYLOR CARROLL: THE DAMAGE (EP) RELEASE


Memphis-raised Taylor Carroll releases his four-song EP, The Damage, each song, each instrument, and each vocal performed by the artist himself. Drumming for years, Taylor rounded off stints with Pillar, The Letter Black, Our Hearts Hero, Grammy & CMA award-winning Peasall Sisters, with production of a song for vocal training coach extraordinaire, Brett Manning’s Love Justice album.

Having lost almost a decade in deficits of attention, time, and money, Taylor took the plunge this past summer and disappeared. Four weeks later he emerged with four, stunning songs. Each “Taylor-made” ballad combines rich, musical legacy, keen production detail, and intolerable enthusiasm. Case in point, “Someone Else’s Dream” was written the night before it was recorded.

Though this EP is the culmination of his experience in musically supporting the projects of others, the overarching theme of Taylor’s EP is his signature commitment to a strong, personal significance. He sings that it is not possible to facelift your personal history by rearranging the unlovely facts that have made you you. You need to move on. The damage has already been done.

Here is a clip.

 

Preview the full songs on youtube ;)

Friday, December 2, 2011

P90X & THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA


Any compelling proof I need for the science of P90X is in the Great Wall of China. I cajoled Gordon Laurie, British jujitsu enthusiast and Washington-Lee High School's Assistant Principal in Arlington, Virginia to take the difficult route along the Wall in the hour or two we had to engage this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 


553 steps. That is how many steps I lasted. Taking off at a brisk climb, I began to slow down within 100 steps, taking generous breaks every fifteen or twenty thereafter. By the time I had scaled the first two levels, my triceps (of all muscles) were given over to involuntary spasms, and the innermost part of my vital organs felt like I had been wrestling 10 minutes past the 3-minute limit. 


I sat down by a tower on the second tier to catch my breath. But my breath never came. It wasn't my breath. It was my life. I felt dried inside. My muscles had rebelled and were doing silly jigs that would have made me laugh had laughter even been a recollection of my human experience at that point.

Gordon Laurie, empathized with me for a few minutes, recovered, and proceeded to the next tier. Watching him climb, getting smaller and smaller, almost made me retch. I had been a gymnast for well over 25 years, lifted weights, yada yada. So what was my problem? 

As best as I can understand, controlled, organized workouts in air-conditioned gyms isn't a value system that works on the Great Wall of China. My pommel horse routine just didn't come in handy for the duration of my climb. I might have somewhat been prepared were I to have worked out on a pommel horse that constantly and randomly changed angles as I executed circles and scissors. Or I might have been prepared were I to have run laps on a track that randomly changed shape, inclining and declining unpredictably. 


I noticed that the creators of the Great Wall used series of uneven steps. Sometime they were steep. Then they would be cut in half. Then they would only be a few inches high but long. Whatever the case, the rhythm was uneven and disallowed your body to strike a projected stride. That didn't include the non steps that still sloped upwards at a deceptively steep incline. I have 17 steps in my house from the first to the second floor. What I climbed was almost 33 stories of uneven, muscle-punishing steps.  

So if anyone wants to criticize P90X, I suggest you consider the angle. Literally.