context, music, Nirvana

Don’t Be Too Lazy to Put Things in the Context of History

On Wednesday I wrote about Nirvana and how, to music fans today, they might seem like just another band. However, at the time they came out, they had a massive impact on the music industry. What was once considered “alternative” was suddenly mainstream, thus rendering that adjective obsolete. (To be honest, it never meant much to me anyway. It certainly wasn’t a “genre.” I mean, how can you say alternative was a genre, which means it was one particular kind of music, when you had a band like the Catherine Wheel and a musician like Bjork lumped under that moniker? They are clearly NOT the same kind of music; therefore, your “alternative” label didn’t mean a damn thing.)

However, it isn’t easy for most people to look at a phenomenon like Nirvana within the context of when they came out. Most people just look through their “today” glasses, and that is all they see.

Of course, this isn’t limited to just music. The passage of time can make the significance of anything fade. Take the movie Psycho as another example. Not many people would know this, because we’ve been bludgeoned over the head with a lot worse, but that movie was the first one to show a toilet being flushed on screen. Now in this day and age, where you have gross-out teen comedy movies that show you what is IN the toilet, that might not seem like a big deal. However, that is only if you think about watching the movie TODAY.

The material of stand-up comic Dick Gregory also suffers a reduction in significance with the passage of time. This was the first black comic to go on stage in a suit, looking handsome and speaking intelligently about the racial issues of the day. Now we think about comedians like Kevin Hart and Chris Rock, and what Mr. Gregory said doesn’t seem very controversial or groundbreaking, but again, you need to go back and look at how the rest of the world was. You might listen to his routines in 2019, but you have to imagine how they would have made you feel if you’d heard them when they first came out.

So much of the power and importance can be lost if you don’t exercise your mind a little. Imagine what the rest of the world was like back then; don’t just examine it with your modern-day view. Like the title of this blog says: “Don’t be too lazy to put things in the context of history.”

memories, music, Nirvana, reminiscing, Smashing Pumpkins

Thinking About Kurt Cobain

Why am I thinking about Kurt today? It’s not like it is the anniversary of his death; he died in April. I can’t say for sure, other than I was driving around in my car yesterday and decided to put on some Nirvana tunes.

All these years later, it’s easy to forget the impact Nirvana had on music. Music listeners these days look at them as just another band, but in 1991 they caused a seismic shift. Before them, the airwaves were cluttered with songs like Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.”

Then Nirvana came along, and we heard things like this:

“Just because you’re paranoid

don’t mean they’re not after you.”

~~~Nirvana, “Territorial Pissings”

Man, what great lyrics. They have the ability to evoke dread and a laugh at the same time. A lot of Kurt’s lyrics can do that.

For example, there are these lines from “Smells Like Teen Spirit:”

“And I forget just why I taste.

Oh yeah…I guess it makes me smile.”

While the obliviousness/cluelessness of the narrator is humorous, it also has a dark side to it. Think about it: this is a person who might be running the world someday. Do you really want it left in their hands? Sure, we could maybe attribute his “duh-ness” to being young, something they might outgrow, but we can’t be sure.

Imagine if someone like Bill S. Preston Esquire (Keanu Reeves’ character from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) was the guy in charge of pressing “the button.” I can just see him looking at it and going, “Dude, what does THIS do?” That is the fear Kurt’s lyrics evoke in me because I grew up with the generation listening to his music. I knew those people, and most of them were fucking idiots!

I can’t say for certain Kurt was writing about the upcoming so-called “Generation X” when he composed those lines. According to Dave Grohl, the lyrics were cobbled together only minutes before they were recorded, so he finds it hard to believe they were “about” anything. However, even if that is true, that makes it even scarier how on target he was about the attitude most youth had at that time.

Kurt wasn’t just a lyricist. He was a poet, which is another class of artist entirely. (It’s kind of like the difference between a singer and a vocalist, but that’s for another blog.) In a way, he was like the “Gen X” version of one of his heroes (and mine): Leonard Cohen. By that I mean they discarded the usual topics that most musicians favor (girls, cars, and any other shiny happy topics) and went for something deeper. They used their words to explore their souls…and, whether it was an accident or not, they explored ours as well.

From interviews with him and about him, I feel like I knew the type of person Kurt was. For example, there was an interview with Billy Corgan (from MY favorite band, the Smashing Pumpkins) who said that Kurt was a better guitar player than the albums might lead you to believe. According to Billy, Kurt could play a mean lead guitar, but on record he always played the “I can’t play the guitar solo” type of solo.

What do I mean by that? Well, listen to most Nirvana guitar solos. “Teen Spirit” would be a great one to check out. You will notice that the solo basically copies the notes that he sings in the verse. That is how MOST Nirvana solos go. The only exception that comes to mind is the solo on “In Bloom,” which is one of my favorites, not just from Kurt, but from any guitar player ever. It’s proof that he could play a REAL solo instead of just mimicking his vocal line.

So why did he do that? My guess: Kurt was uncomfortable with praise. If he let out his inner guitar god and played wicked solos on their albums, then he’d get people saying, “Wow, man, you are awesome!” To avoid that, he just played the vocal line as his guitar solo. Then, instead of hearing praise, he got to hear people say, “That dude sucks. He can’t even play a real lead part! Lazy bastard just plays the notes he sang!” I believe he was more comfortable with insults than with praise.

Sadly, there are many people like him. I’m one of them. (After all, one of my previous posts was about not being able to take certain compliments.) This is just based on interviews with him, but I feel like Kurt was a gentle, humble soul. He strikes me as someone who didn’t want to be perceived as arrogant; he didn’t want to let the praise he received go to his head, so he sought to reject it.

Of course, he went too far in the opposite direction. Not only did Kurt not become arrogant, but he also never felt like he was worth much of anything. His actions on April 5, 1994 prove that much.

The impression I get of him is that, in terms of personality and demeanor, he was a lot like me. If we had met, we would have been close friends. I wish that had been so, because I know one thing I definitely would have done: I would have tried to do something to make sure he was still here.

Make no mistake about it, folks. Even if he DID only play the vocal line for his guitar solos, we lost a talented, sweet, gentle soul when he went away. He had the ability to do whatever he wanted with his music, but for whatever reason, Kurt felt like it had reached the end of the line.

RIP, dear Mr. Cobain.

intelligence, life, misunderstanding, peace, quotes

When Good Quotes Get Horribly Misinterpreted

A few months ago, I posted the following comment in a social group on Facebook:

I thought it was a beautiful, powerful quote, something that we desperately need to hear, understand, and implement. Sadly, the reaction I got to this quote shows that many people have accomplished only Step 1 of 3.

Why do I say that? Well, consider these two responses:

  • #1: “Yeah, okay, well…I’m not going to like someone who treats me like shit!”
  • #2: “I disagree. If everyone liked everyone, the world would be a boring place.”

***sigh***

Okay, let’s start from the very beginning.

#1: My dear, you completely missed the mark here. If everyone liked everyone, then NO ONE would treat you like shit. It’s not advocating that you should be friendly toward those who do you harm. It’s saying that those who do you harm SHOULDN’T.

#2: I think you were thinking of something else when you read the quote, buddy. It doesn’t say, “Everyone SHOULD BE LIKE everyone.” It says, “Everyone SHOULD LIKE…” The word “be” is not in there. Yes, I agree that if everyone was the same, then the world would be boring. However, if we had a world where everyone was kind to one another, where there was no mockery over silly things like the kind of clothes a person wears, how they look, how they talk, what gender/sexuality/religion they were, and so on, then that would be a world full of light and positivity. Compare that to the way the world is. If a world with less violence would be “boring,” then please…sign me up to live in THAT world!

It’s a sad thing when good quotes go misunderstood. For my part, I try to educate when these things happen, but if the windows of perception aren’t open, then people can’t see things for what they are.

(PS: You get crazy cool bonus points if you recognize what I am paraphrasing there.)

~~~Steve

 

 

 

 

abuse, everyone, lesson, life, mental health

Emotional Wounds Don’t Automatically Heal Just Because the “Hitting” Stops

Is this rather long for a blog title? Maybe, but I couldn’t think of a shorter way to sum up today’s topic.

This is somewhat of an extension of Wednesday’s blog, because it relates to my inability to take a compliment about myself. Compliment me on my guitar playing or my writing or martial art skill, and I’m okay. Say I’m a good person, and I freak out. The last blog concluded with me wondering, “Why is that? Is it because I’m afraid someone will come along to knock me off my throne, or am I worried about letting it go to my head and turn me into an arrogant jerk?”

I shared that blog with my cousin Robin, and she said, “You’er too level-headed to let that happen. I wouldn’t worry about that.” That was reassuring, but it still didn’t give me an answer.

Then we got talking about the past and how, after a long time of someone making you feel worthless, you are bound to reject any attempts people make to tell you otherwise. In my case, the “someone” who did this was my stepfather Don. He was in my life from ages seven to seventeen. He was never physically abusive, but what he lacked there was made up in emotional abuse.

Shortly after my Mom kicked him out for good, I tried talking to her about things he had said to me, how it made me feel, etc. All she said was, “Well, he’s gone now.” I’m sure her dismissiveness stemmed from guilt. After all, her decision to marry him was what exposed me to his behavior. However, it didn’t help me to heal.

Imagine breaking your arm and never going to the doctor to get it in a cast. The bone won’t set right, and you’ll have trouble with that arm for the rest of your life. Well, that was me, except it was my mind and self-esteem that were broken. And what is the equivalent of it not setting right? The fact that, while he was gone, I still had this low self-esteem to live with. Over the years, it kept me from achieving a lot of things that, when I look back now, I KNOW I could have accomplished.

Another analogy (and believe me, I know this is an extreme one): think about any city or country that has had the crap bombed out of it during a war. Now imagine the war is over. The city is decimated. Thousands dead. Instead of working on a clean-up and reconstruction effort, the country’s leaders get on TV and say, “Okay, folks…back to business as usual.”

No. It doesn’t work like that. You need to rebuild. To reconstruct. To come to grips with what happened. To HEAL.

Sadly, Mom is not alone in her attitude of, “The abuser is gone, so get over it.” Far too many people believe this. They think just because they came through it and the abuse has ended that they can now move forward, but I’ve found it isn’t so. I had to talk through it with a therapist, had to get that third party opinion that yes, what I went through was very dysfunctional and toxic, that I wasn’t wrong to say I was left holding the emotional baggage.

Think about the movie Good Will Hunting. Will was abused by his father when he was a little kid. Then he is a young man in Sean Maguire’s office, and Sean keeps saying to him, “Will, it wasn’t your fault.” Eventually, Will breaks down in tears and hugs Sean. (Oddly enough, this is the kind of comfort Will SHOULD have received from his father.) All these years after the abuse, Will needed to hear that from someone to help him let the pain go. You’d be hard pressed to find a scene in any movie with more emotional power, and both Matt Damon and Robin Williams act this scene beautifully. However, I have to be honest here: while Matt Damon has shown he has his share of acting chops, you really have to hand this one to Robin Williams. After years of being that crazy, kooky, all over the place, manic, cocaine-fueled type of standup comic, he plays this part with wonderful restraint. We lost a great treasure in that man.

I won’t go down that route right now, because that could be turned into an entire SERIES of blog posts. For now, I will stick to the topic at hand. Simply put, the wounds don’t go away just because the abuse ends. To think otherwise is ignorant.

compliments, everyone, intelligence, lesson, life

Being Able to Take a Compliment

Consider this a bookend of sorts to my last blog about taking criticism. Like I said, I can take criticism…when it is intelligent and has some validity to it. However, there are times when I find it just as difficult to take a compliment.

This isn’t true 100% of the time. For example, if I’m at my martial arts class and I execute a move well, I have no problem taking a compliment if the other people in class express admiration for my technique. Having said that, this wasn’t always true. I used to react with a shrug of the shoulders, a lowering of the eyes to the ground, a blush rising in the cheeks, and a response like, “It was all right, I guess.”

The same holds true of someone complimenting my writing and guitar playing. What I always thought was weird about not being able to accept a compliment about these things is that, whenever I wrote something or played guitar, I would think that it was good IN MY HEAD, but then if someone complimented me, I’d start feeling awkward and shy about it.

These days, I’m okay with accepting compliments about writing, guitar playing, and martial arts. As you may notice, these are compliments about things I can do. However, what I still struggle with are compliments about ME. This could be remarks about my physical OR mental being, or any kind of statement that expresses admiration of me.

EXAMPLE OF THE PHYSICAL: My girlfriend will ask me, “Do you know how cute you are?” My automatic response is, “No.” By that I’m not saying, “No, I don’t know how cute I am to her.” I’m saying, “I don’t think I am.” In my eyes, I’m just plain.

EXAMPLE OF THE MENTAL: Someone tells me how smart they think I am. I can’t handle it, even though I HAVE had my IQ tested by a professional and know for a fact I am no slouch in that department.

EXAMPLE OF ADMIRATION: My son’s school had an open house where we got to meet the teachers. When his homeroom teacher was done with her presentation, we got to walk around the room for a few minutes. They had schoolwork on the wall, which was a questionnaire where the kids had to fill in the blanks. For example, it would say, “On summer breaks, my favorite thing to do is: __________.” One of these fill-ins started out by saying, “My biggest hero is: __________.”

And what was on the line on my son’s sheet?

“My Dad.”

I got choked up. My eyes watered. It felt like I was going to have a full-blown panic attack. The only remedy was to leave the room in a manner that was both quick and yet discreet. On the ride home, I kept thinking back about what I read. I thought to myself, “How can I be his hero? I’m no one to look up to.” That was two school years ago, and I still can’t shake the feeling that sentence gave me. Hell, I’m getting it again even as I write this!

What I can’t understand is WHY I can’t accept it. Why do I react the way I do? What fear do I have of admitting that I am a good person? Am I worried that, if I come off a little too proud, someone might come along and say something to knock me off my throne, so I want to make sure I’m not too high up there to begin with?

In previous blogs, I will start by writing about a problem where I don’t have an answer. However, by the end of it, I come up with a solution. That will not be the case today though, folks.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

criticism, lesson, life, music, universal, writing

Taking Criticism…When It Makes Sense

For some reason, this morning I woke up thinking about criticism and how I have gotten better at taking it. (Higher self-esteem can give you this ability.) However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized something: I have never really been BAD at taking it, but it has to mean something or else I can’t take it seriously.

This can make it seem like I can’t handle criticism. I remember telling a young woman I knew about a criticism a friend had of one of my stories, and she said, “Have you ever thought about taking people’s remarks as ways to make your story better instead of just being like, ‘Haha they’re so ignorant?'” To which I said, “Yes, I can…if it’s logical criticism.”

Let me explain the story in question, and you will see what I mean.

In this instance, I had asked a friend to read a script I’d written for a martial arts movie. (For the record, I called it Shaolin Secrets.) The story was about a half-American, half-Chinese martial arts star named Raymond Liu who gets drawn into some mysterious plot. I’m not going to explain the whole movie here; I gave you the very basics so that I could get to the part that drew criticism from my friend.

Raymond’s mother died when he was very young, which left him to be raised alone by his father. (His name: Jian.) Now some of you reading this might not know the history, but there was something that happened in Chinese history called the Sino-Japanese War. During this conflict, the Japanese committed many horrific war crimes; some people even refer to it as the “Asian Holocaust.” Jian lived through that and, as a result, developed a racist attitude toward the Japanese, which he passed on to Raymond.

You see, in most stories, the main character experiences some kind of growth by the end of the story. In this case, my intention was that Raymond would shed his racist attitude, and I had a way to do it that didn’t seem preachy/heavy-handed.

Then my friend got back to me with what he thought of the story. He liked the action sequences, liked the plot, liked the dialogue, liked the characters, but there was one thing he didn’t like.

What was that?

You guessed it.

The fact that Raymond was racist.

I asked why not, and he expressed a view about martial artists that has to be one of the most common myths out there. He said, “Well, it’s because he’s a serious martial artist, and most martial artists are enlightened, and they can rise above petty things like that.”

I said, “Really? So what about those martial artists that confronted Bruce Lee about teaching kung fu to whites and blacks? Or what about the Chinese guy who runs a school in Albany, who I’ve heard say disparaging things about the Japanese because he grew up through the Sino-Japanese War, just like Ray’s father?” (SIDE NOTE: I based Raymond’s racism on this real-life example.)

So when I passed my friend’s remark on to this other person, that is when she said I couldn’t take criticism. Incidentally, this same young lady was the source of another critique that I never took seriously because, again, it didn’t make sense.

At the time, I was in a band. This young lady and her boyfriend came to see one of my shows. When I saw her at work, I asked what they thought of our performance. She said the songs, lyrics, and my guitar playing were all good, but the singing fell short because I sang monotone. I asked what she meant by that, but she never explained it.

This is why I couldn’t take it seriously: I doubt she knew what the word meant. That sounds like I am mocking her, but think about it. If you went and saw a band where the lead vocalist sang “monotone,” then it would sound something like this:

I know for a fact I don’t sing like that. Near as I can tell, what she REALLY meant was that I didn’t sing with enough guts/passion, that I didn’t sound like I “meant” it, which is a criticism I’ve had of myself over the years. Still, that wasn’t the way it was communicated to me, so therefore the “criticism” was brushed aside.

In summary, I have no problem with criticism, but I don’t believe it should be taken blindly. Sometimes you might have knowledge of the subject being critiqued that the source of the remark doesn’t have that renders it meaningless. That doesn’t mean you can’t TAKE it; it just means it doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.

Maybe most people reading this post are not writers or musicians. That’s fine because this idea of analyzing criticism can be applied to any part of life. Think about it: let’s say you buy some shoes that you think are the most stylish shoes ever made. You ask a friend what they think, and all they say is, “They’re ugly because they’re gray.”

Okay, well..maybe YOU like gray, so that is why, to you, they were awesome shoes. In my opinion, that would be a form of criticism that could be dismissed because it doesn’t hold up to close examination.

I always write my blogs with the intention of making what I say applicable to everyone, not just writers, musicians, and other artists. I bet you thought I was going to leave you folks out this time, huh? No, I’m going to always do my best to NEVER do that.

Until next time,

~~~Steve

birthday, inspiration, life

Birthdays Are Meaningless

Yes, another one of my eye-catching titles! That might seem like I am some mope with a gun pressed to his temple, but have no fear: nothing could be further from the truth. There is a reason why I say this, and I am going to explain myself.

This thought occurred to me a long time ago, to be honest. Probably my 25th birthday. I remember it entering my head as if it were yesterday. I was watching TV, and I asked myself, “After you turn 21, what do birthdays mean anymore?” 21 is the last age where there is a new development: you can legally drink and enter bars and hit on women unsuccessfully. Well, maybe that last part is what happened to me (oh, how many nights and dollars were wasted in the pursuit of trying to be someone I wasn’t!), but the other two items are true for anyone…unless of course you live in a country where you could do those things BEFORE the age of 21.

But seriously, beyond 21, what is the significance in birthdays anymore? I guess they can be used as channel markers, a day you can pick to look back at the last year and see what you accomplished. If you accomplished nothing, that is okay, depending on your goals. (No goals? No accomplishments? No problem!) It also depends on the adversity you faced.

To be honest, that is a thought I just had: using birthdays as a starting AND ending point for goals. Pick this day to say, “Okay, by the time I am 44, I want to have done A, B, and C.”

Up until this moment, I always thought that, after 21, the only birthdays worth celebrating were the ones that marked your entrance into a new decade (30 years old, 40, 50, etc.) I’m glad I had this idea because I’m the type of person who always needs a method of tracking progress and success. I need a timeline that helps me aim for achieving a goal.

You see? Writing this blog is just as much for me as it is for sharing my occasional nuggets of wisdom with you folks.

Happy birthday to me!

~~~Steve