Top 15 of 2011: #15

The blog always veers dangerously close to inactivity in December.  It’s the end of the semester, grading picks up, and after several months of grinding away, my lazy arse gets immeasurably lazier.  My previous blog bit the dust last December, and my threes of faithful readers probably noticed that things have been a little quiet around here lately.  I’m rallying, though, and it always seems like the best way for me to do that is to start writing about music.

I’m starting a week later than I intended, but roughly every other day between now and the end of the month I’ll be sharing my top 15 albums of 2011.  One caveat: I don’t make any claim that these are the best albums of the year.  I don’t even know what that means.  Hundreds of albums are released each year, and while I listen to a lot of them (a quick inventory of my hard drive shows me that I have roughly 300 albums released in 2011), I don’t listen to most of them, and there are certain artists and genres I avoid altogether.

So I don’t have the slightest idea what the best albums were in 2011.  All I can attest to is the albums that meant something to me.  These are my favorites, the ones that set my toes tapping or slugged me firmly in the ear-holes.  I present them in no particular order.  The numerical listing at the top of each post is file-keeping more than anything else.  I suppose #1 (when I get around to it) is my absolute favorite, but any of these are, in my opinion, worth a listen.

And away we go.

*****

Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!

I’m starting with the album that will be the least surprising to those who know me, or who have followed either of my blogs in the last couple of years.

Elbow’s Build a Rocket Boys! doesn’t scale the same heights as its gorgeous cloudburst of a predecessor (2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid), but it takes that album’s strengths and stretches them in exciting directions.  From the syncopated groove of “With Love” to the mariachi horns of “High Ideals,” Rocket Boys sees the band trying new things without sacrificing any of the emotional honesty that has always been its trademark.  Some of frontman Guy Garvey’s lyrics are more impressionistic than usual, but there’s a trio of songs in the middle of the album (“Jesus Is a Rochdale Girl,” “The Night Will Always Win,” “The River”) that are as affecting as anything he’s ever done.

The two standouts, though, are below.  The first more or less speaks for itself.  “Open Arms” is an anthem in the classic Elbow mold: a soaring, skyscraping chorus holding aloft Garvey’s poignant lyrics.  No one else does this thing like they do.

To try to describe this second song is a folly, but I’ll give it a shot.  “Lippy Kids” reaches right into my chest and gives it a squeeze, every single time I listen to it.  Full disclosure: Build a Rocket Boys! was released the day before my mom died, and while the entire album soundtracked that time and helped me come to grips with my grief, for weeks I couldn’t listen to this song without sobbing.  It is, for me, a song about getting older and about the peril of losing touch with who we were as children.  “Do they know those days are golden?” Garvey sings, and that captures it for me.  We rush through life with an eye on the future without taking the time to savor where we are.  I don’t have regrets, but I’d be lying if I said there aren’t times I wish I could relive, just to experience them, enjoy them, be in them.  “Lippy Kids” is a sepia-tinted lament, a burnished plea to remember who we are and where we come from.  It’s a deceptively subtle stunner, and if you asked me for my single favorite song of the year, this would be it.

Enemies Like This

Illness and the end of the semester have completely monopolized my time in the last week, but this article serves as a nice  little addendum to my previous post.  Here’s some more evidence that the toolboxes over at Fox News will cry about anything.  Those Republicans sure are sensitive when they’re not accusing Democrats of being too sensitive.

Fox News Business: The Muppets Are “Brainwashing” Young People to Hate the Oil Industry

I Never Learnt to Share

I have a serious question: Are we to the point where we can finally concede that Fox News doesn’t just speak for a reactionary wing of the Republican party, but is actually the voice of the modern GOP?  I’d argue that there’s a lot of evidence buttressing that particular view.  Exhibit A is this year’s current Republican presidential field, all of whom (save Huntsman and Paul) parrot the standard GOP talking points at every opportunity (allow me to summarize: rich people good; poor people bad).  The fact that they don’t even really try to hide their partisan bias anymore certainly doesn’t help their cause whenever some poor sucker (like my dad) tries to convince me that they’re actually a moderate voice.

I ask this because, if Fox News really is the voice of the Republican party, we can also conclude that its members are the whiniest bunch of crybabies on the planet.  Everything is an inconvenience to these people. Or else it’s a conspiracy or an assault on their apparently God-given right to live life as selfishly and solipsistically as possible.  Say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?  How dare you!  Ensure that everyone has access to affordable health care?  Socialism!  Don’t like the way you’re being portrayed in the press?  It’s that spooky old standby, liberal media bias!  Their default position is that everyone is out to get them, presumably because we’re jealous of how rich they are.

Here’s the latest example of Fox News’ (and, by extension, the GOP’s) victim complex.  I’m at the gym, plodding along on the treadmill, simultaneously listening to music and reading the subtitles on the TV screen hanging above me, which was tuned to Fox’s “The Five.”  As far as I could tell, “The Five” might as well have been populated by a group of outpatients from the local psych ward who have particularly strong political opinions.  There’s Dana Perino (former George W. Bush lackey and token hot blonde), Greg Gutfeld (perpetually constipated by the look of him), Bob Beckel (token useless Democrat), Eric Bolling (resident yapping ratdog), and some other woman (the token vaguely ethnic-looking one) whose dial was set permanently to snark (implied by the subtitles and confirmed by a brief look at a video on Fox’s site).

Anyway.

It was miserable stuff.  Occupy Wall Street hates capitalism, Barney Frank is a Democratic tool, unions want nothing more than to see this country suckling at Satan’s teat, etc., etc.  But the best story came at the end, as they reported on the fact that the Federal Aviation Administration recently admitted that they don’t know if cell phones are actually dangerous during takeoff and landing.  They don’t have evidence that they are, but they also don’t have evidence that they aren’t.  This set off the panel’s four Republicans in a frenzy of snarling, self-righteous persnicketiness.

“This is so annoying!” one of them (Gutfeld, I think, although it could have been any of them) fumed.  You would have thought they were being made to smash their phone to smithereens with the heel of their shoe as a general precaution prior to boarding.  We saw the same kind of thing with the advent of full-body scanners at the airport.  “You mean some anonymous TSA agent I’ll never see again will be able to view a distorted, barely recognizable representation of my junk?  Call my lawyer!”  It’s taking a minor inconvenience – hanging up your fucking phone for ten minutes and just sitting – and blowing it up into a catastrophe the likes of which we haven’t seen since Krakatoa erupted.  Someone helpfully coined the term “first-world problems” to describe situations like this one.  I’d like to drop Greg Gutfeld naked and hungry into the middle of some impoverished African nation and then see how much he cares about his stupid cell phone.

To be honest, I’m picking on Fox News and the Republicans a little unfairly.  I know this isn’t just them.  As a country we’ve gotten so entitled, so selfish, that anything contradicting our narrow little view of how the world is supposed to work is seen as a personal assault.  And it’s kind of tiresome, to be honest.  I actually sort of agreed with the people who complained about the full-body scanners, but my belief in the right to privacy couldn’t help but be tempered by my belief that sometimes people just need to stop whining.

Is it really that big a deal to be out of touch with the rest of the world for ten minutes?  Are you really so inconvenienced?  We would all do well to remember a line from Fight Club that I happen to be partial to.  At one point the narrator describes Tyler Durden in this way: “[He had] the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”  In instances like these – the cell phone, the scanner, the holiday greeting – a little perspective would be nice.  Stop trafficking in indignation and just relax.

Louis CK, of course, can always say it better than I can: “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.”

*****

Current listening:

Battles – Gloss Drop (2011)

Cinema Sunday (11/27/11)

Of all my beliefs, my across-the-board opposition to the death penalty is the one I not only have difficulty explaining to others, it’s the one I often have trouble justifying to myself.  In his new documentary, Werner Herzog turns his shrewd and perceptive eye toward one particular case in Texas (which, as we all know, is the McDonald’s of capital punishment), that of Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, who were convicted of the murder of three people in 2001: Sandra Stotler, her son Adam, and his friend, Jeremy Richardson.  Perry received the death penalty; Burkett, a life sentence.  The movie weaves together interviews with Perry (conducted eight days before his execution) and Burkett, as well as family members, police, and citizens of Conroe, Texas.  It’s a horrifying, fascinating look at the human cost of capital punishment that is effective precisely for what Herzog chooses not to say.

The movie has been branded (not by Herzog) as a documentary ostensibly about the death penalty, but as I watched it, all I could think is that it’s really a movie about loss.  Every last person in the movie has been indelibly and profoundly touched by  it.  There’s the policeman who walks Herzog through the crime, and the victims’ daughter and sister  who acknowledges that the death penalty isn’t very Christian, but, hey, “some people just don’t deserve to live.”  There’s the woman at a local bar who was very nearly Perry and Burkett’s victim and the former Texas death house guard who walked away from his job and gave up his pension because he was finally sickened by what he was asked to do on a regular basis.  And, yes, there are the murderers themselves, both of whom had the deck stacked against them from a very early age.  You see this loss in their eyes – how they can never quite meet the camera’s gaze head-on – and in their voices, which often tremble with emotion, ten years after the fact.  Herzog himself has said that Into the Abyss isn’t a movie about capital punishment, and I think he’s right.  It’s a movie about the many permutations of loss, and how this one particular case refracts its different facets like light bouncing off a diamond.

One of the most remarkable things about Into the Abyss is how even-handed it is.  Herzog is always a powerful presence in his documentaries – paradoxically so, given his unassuming demeanor and soft-spoken, heavily-accented voice – but even though he says early on that he opposes the death penalty, we never get the feeling that he’s pushing an agenda here.  The most direct he ever gets with a subject is when he suggests to the Stotlers’ daughter and sister that capital punishment doesn’t seem very Christian.  In fact, by showing us grisly crime scene video from 2001, Herzog doesn’t shy away from the brutality of Perry and Burkett’s crime, so, in a way, we’re even less predisposed to feel sympathy for the two men.  But, as with all of Herzog’s documentaries, the interviews tell the real story.  And the most powerful story they tell – to me, at least – is that capital punishment is staggeringly wrong.

Here’s how it works for me, in the context of the movie.  There can be no doubt that in a vast majority of death penalty cases (let’s say 99%) the perpetrator had a clear and distinct choice not to commit the crime.  We see that in Perry and Burkett’s case.  The murder of Sandra Stotler was the very definition of a senseless crime: she was killed for her car.  And the murders of Adam Stotler and Jeremy Richardson were perhaps even more senseless, occurring after Perry and Burkett had disposed of Sandra’s body.  These two men very clearly had the choice not to what they did, but they did it anyway.  Their guilt, even though both men protest their innocence, isn’t an issue for me, and I don’t think it is for Herzog either.  Based on the facts the movie presents us with, I don’t think there’s any question that Perry and Burkett murdered Sandra and Adam Stotler and Jeremy Richardson, and they very definitely had the choice not to commit the murder.

But the question then becomes, do they deserve to die for it?  And here’s where the movie helped me clarify my own thinking on the issue.  What the proponents of the death penalty fail to realize is that none of these crimes happen in a vacuum.  It’s not as though Perry and Burkett were college-bound, straight A students who just one day decided to kill a woman for her car.  I would argue that their pasts significantly contributed to the crime they would eventually commit.  The most compelling evidence of this comes from Burkett’s father, himself a multiple felon who was in jail serving a thirty-year sentence at the time of his interview.  He admits that he was a horrible father who was never around for Jason because he was in and out of jail during his son’s childhood, and he also says that he feels a tremendous amount of guilt for Jason ending up where he did.  We don’t learn much about Perry prior to the murders, but we do know he was a homeless 17-year-old at the time he met Burkett.  How can we not look at this information as a mitigating factor in their crimes?

I’m not in any way attempting to absolve them of their guilt or trying to make the case that they didn’t deserve punishment.  I’m simply trying to make sense of why it’s acceptable to execute two men who very likely had their decision-making facilities diminished by their poor childhoods.  How, after learning all we do about Burkett’s childhood, can we in any way believe he was capable of making intelligent – even moral – choices?  But maybe that’s the point.  Burkett’s father was allowed to come to court, explain his son’s childhood, and plead for Jason’s life.  Burkett didn’t receive the death penalty; Perry did.  But was Perry, a homeless juvenile, any less damaged?  His own father died in prison days before Perry’s interview with Herzog.  Are we to believe that because Perry was executed he was capable of making a choice Burkett was not?

It feels to me that when someone’s life is on the line – even the life of a convicted felon – we shouldn’t be haggling over inconsistencies.  We shouldn’t allow someone to die because he couldn’t afford the right lawyer.  We shouldn’t be willing to accept the statistics that say minorities are more likely to receive the death penalty than white convicts.  We shouldn’t buy into the fallacious argument that capital punishment somehow acts as a deterrent to future crime.  How is a life sentence without the possibility of parole somehow less satisfying as a punishment than the death penalty?  In both cases, the convict’s life has been taken from him, except in the case of the life sentence we’re not condoning state-sanctioned murder.

And, finally, that’s what I I keep coming back to: the death house guard who quit his job rather than assist in the taking of another life.  Either murder is right, or it isn’t.  This equivocation we’re doing as a society – deciding that some people deserve to live and others don’t – strikes me as both dangerous and at odds with the values this country is supposed to (but often fails to) represent.

I often wonder, though, how my view of capital punishment would change if someone I loved were taken from me.  Would I be as steadfast in my belief that it’s wrong, or would I, like Sandra Stotler’s daughter, be consumed with a desire for revenge?  The most honest answer I can give is that I hope I never have to find out.

*****

Current listening:

Caithlin de Marrais – Red Coats (2011)

Current reading:

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – The Strain (2009)

Last movie seen:

The Muppets (2011; James Bobin, dir.)

Intermission

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  In honor of this special day where people really should be spending time with friends and family instead of trolling the Internet, I’m proud to present you with a photo of crayons and a couple videos of my favorite songs that feature brass instruments.  Enjoy, and I’ll see you back here tomorrow.

 

Farewell to the Former World

It makes me uncomfortable to claim that this year has been a series of firsts.  After all, every new day is, in a sense, original and unlike any that has preceded it.  So to get all pretentious and somberly pontificate about my Year of Firsts™ seems to automatically (and unfairly) discount the fact that we’re all living a Year of Firsts™, and we do this simply as a matter of being alive.

But it can’t be denied that since March 9 of this year I’ve had certain firsts that are more important than others.

April 30.  June 30.  August 6.  September 7.

My birthday.  My mom’s birthday.  My wedding.  My parents’ anniversary.

All especially notable because, of course, my mom died on March 9.

It’s been a weird year, celebrating these things – or at least remembering them – without her.  I was never the most conscientious of sons when it came to cards and presents; I always remembered to send them, but usually not until the last minute.  This year, though, I was hyper-sensitive of her birthday and my parents’ anniversary, watching those dates reel ever closer on the calendar.  But this year, instead of buying gifts, I was calling my dad to see how he was doing (which was, for this hater of telephones, still a gift of sorts).

As for the other dates, it wasn’t too much of an adjustment getting a box of presents in the mail from just my dad on my birthday, but it was certainly bittersweet to not have her present on the day of my wedding.  My brother’s speech acknowledged this – how could it not? – and while it was a happy day, there was also something undoubtedly missing.

And now we’re gearing up for a couple more firsts in the next month as the holidays roll around.  As I write this, WOM is driving us north on I-75 through the beautiful Tennessee mountains (and soon we’ll pass that faithful landmark, the Adult Superstore at exit 141, with the extra-large cross erected next to it by some overzealous Christians apparently hoping to ward off the danger of rampant libidos).  My dad waits in his empty condo for us to arrive, and I don’t know what to expect.  Thanksgiving – and especially Christmas – were always my mom’s holidays.  She was a snowman fanatic, and it was always a given that the house would be festooned with snowman paraphernalia on or about December 1.  I’m not sure what the condo will look like this year, or what the mood will be.  This will be a first all of its own.

In the eight months since she’s died, the grief hasn’t passed, not entirely.  I’m still struck with it from time to time, often when I least expect it, and there were times in the first month or two where it felt as though I were trying to breathe underwater.  But the grief has mainly given way to the kind of thing I’ve heard others talk about, which is the welcome embrace of old memories.  There are lots of those at this time of year, and it will be interesting to see how the remaining family deals with their arrival.

I want to talk about one of those memories here.  The really funny thing is that it’s not a memory I actually have of my mom, but a memory of something that happened at her memorial.

Even though I followed my parents into education, I never really knew what kind of teacher my mom was.  Like a lot of kids (I think; maybe I’m actually in the minority here), I was never too curious about my parents’ careers, probably because I knew what school was like.  If they’d been, say, a firefighter and a chef, I might’ve been more interested because those things were more glamorous and outside my sphere of experience.  I knew she taught 3rd grade, and I always sort of assumed she was good at it (after all, what kid imagines that his parents are shit at their jobs?), but I never asked what she was teaching or how she approached classroom management, or what her philosophy of teaching writing was.  It just never occurred to me.

At her memorial in March, I spoke, and my brother spoke, and then my mom’s former principal, JB, spoke.  She worked with him for a lot of years, and he eventually became a close friend of the family.  He probably knew more about my mom as a teacher than anyone, even my dad.  And he told this story about her.

JB liked to drop in on teachers to watch them at work.  Good principals do this.  They don’t do it to evaluate or pass judgment; they just like the energy of a well-taught lesson, and they don’t get that while pushing papers in the office.  My dad, a former biology teacher, did this, too, when he was a principal.  Anyway.  JB had dropped in on my mom’s class, and she was doing a lesson on art history.  Michelangelo, specifically the Sistine Chapel.  She did the usual spiel – who Michelangelo was, what he painted, how he approached painting the Sistine Chapel, etc., etc.

And then, JB said, he got to see one of those moments of great teaching.  At the end of her talk, Mom asked her students to get under their desks.  Before school started that day, she had gotten under every student’s desk and taped a piece of drawing paper to its underside.  Once all her students had crawled under their desks and were ensconced there, flat on their backs, she told them to take their drawing materials and create their own Sistine Chapel.  As JB related it, this simple idea became a lesson in perspective and tenacity, as the students struggled to express their vision from this unexpected angle.  Their energy was infectious as they wrestled with the task, and JB said it was one of the most exciting lessons he’d ever seen.

This is the one glimpse – the one memory – I have of my mom’s teaching, and even though I received it in secondhand fashion, it’s a good one to have.  It shows me a dimension of her that I never knew.  Neither she nor my dad have ever been hungry for recognition, choosing just to do their jobs well and get on with things.  I don’t think I’ve quite managed to adopt a similar level of humility (hello, blog), but it’s a good lesson for me to remember.

I wanted to share this on the day before Thanksgiving because, even in this unfortunate Year of Firsts™, I realize there are still things for which I can be grateful.  Thanks especially to JB for sharing his memory of Mom with all of us.  Even though she can’t be here, memories like this one allow her friends and family to appreciate the person she was.  And I can admire the passion she had for teaching, which she undoubtedly passed on to me.

*****

Current listening:

Wye Oak – Civilian (2011)

Leave Me in the Dark

This just in, from the “No Shit, Sherlock” file:

Fox News Viewers Know Less Than People Who Don’t Watch Any News: Study

Still, it’s always fun to see the things I’ve known all along be validated in print.

Unfortunately, the people who watch Fox News are so desperate to stay in their insular little right-wing bubble that studies like these are irrelevant.  They’ll view them as just more evidence of that old-fashioned bogeyman, Mainstream Liberal Media Bias™, and go back to watching Sean Hannity cry about socialism.  You can’t talk to them about facts, because any facts that contradict their limited worldview are just seen as proof of a conspiracy.  It’s not just ignorant; it’s dangerous.

Listening Post (11/22/11)

Every year when Thanksgiving rolls around I start compiling my list of favorite albums from the last eleven months.  That means the last month of the year around these parts will feature a lot of music.  I don’t have any specific criteria for this list.  I love stuff that hits me on an emotional level, but I also have a soft spot for music that doesn’t do any more than just set my feet tapping.  I do ask, though, that the albums work as a cohesive collection of songs.  It can’t just be one or two hits and then ten tracks of filler.

What that means, of course, is that every year there’s always a handful of songs I love, but whose parent albums don’t quite make the cut.

Say hi, then, to The Wombats.  Their first album, 2007’s A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation, was a punchy, scrappy set of danceable rock.  They had a goofy sense of humor and played high-octane songs about dancing to Joy Division and partying in a forest.  Their second album, this year’s This Modern Glitch, is kind of a drag.  It’s not a musical abomination – not at all – but it’s missing a lot of the stuff that made their first album so much fun.  It’s a little too polished, a little too calculated.  Where their debut had a sense of youthful abandon, This Modern Glitch too often feels like the work of cynical pros.

But there’s at least one redeeming point.  I’m kicking off my year-end music celebration with one of the year’s best songs from one of the year’s most disappointing albums.  Here’s This Modern Glitch‘s lead single, “Jump Into the Fog.”

*****

Last movie seen:

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011; Sean Durkin, dir.)

Anything for Progress

As much as I mouth off about politics – and I realize that I do a fair amount of mouthing off – I’m woefully apathetic when it comes to doing anything of consequence about it.  I’m one of the worst kinds of liberals – the slogan and bumper sticker kind, the blog kind – who talk a good game and are rarely shy about sharing an opinion, but who aren’t too keen on putting their money where their criticism is.  Let’s not forget that I’m the guy who didn’t even vote until 2008 (although I should add that a guilty conscience prompted me to mail in an absentee ballot for Clinton, but not until the day after the election), so I can’t even claim to have exercised my opinion in our most fundamental of ways.

One of the main problems I have with taking visible action is self-consciousness.  As I told a friend recently, I get so anxious in social situations that I don’t even sing along at concerts when I’m effectively camouflaged by the crowd (unless, in an unlikely scenario, Guy Garvey from Elbow or Ira Kaplan from Yo la Tengo would pluck me out of the audience, Bruce Springsteen/Courtney Cox-style, and ask me to dance along), so the likelihood of me attending a rally where I’d be expected to display some emotion other than stolidity is slim to none.

Also at issue is the fact that not only do I find myself incapable of getting visibly passionate in public, I get actively annoyed by those who do possess that particular gene.  Remember this video?

I agree with these protesters with every fiber of my commie pinko tree-hugging soul.  I think the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling gives corporations a dangerous amount of influence over politics, and, more importantly, I’m staunchly in favor of gay rights, including their right to marry.  And, as I’ve described elsewhere on here, I’m an ardent advocate of the right to free speech.  Despite all this, though, my first reaction upon watching that video was this: “Gah.  Why do people who care about things annoy me so much?”  I know this is just me and my belief in suffering in silence (or at least suffering in thinly-veiled passive-aggression), but I usually find rallies and protests and marches to be insufferable, regardless of the cause.  And this is one reason why I haven’t written much about Occupy Wall Street on here.

Despite my silence, I absolutely agree with and identify with the cause.  I find the income inequality in this country to be disgusting and detestable, and the fact that no bankers have taken the fall for what happened to this country’s economy in 2008 is one of the Obama administration’s great shames.  And even though I didn’t have any firsthand knowledge of the protests, I found the media’s coverage of them (from NBC all the way down through the various circles of hell to Fox News) to be risibly one-sided.  Where the Tea Party was largely presented as a bunch of honorable (if aging) patriots, the Occupy Wall Street folks were often portrayed (even in the mainstream media, with its supposed – but ridiculous – leftwing bias) as holdouts from the 60’s, or twentysomething ne’er do wells who’d rather complain than get a job.  And of course most of the right-wing politicians have been quick to condemn the Occupy movement, including professional shitbag Newt Gingrich, who recently said the protesters should “go get a job after you take a bath.”  It’s a disgusting misrepresentation of an extremely important cause, and the fact that the Republicans have pretty much gone all-in with their contempt for the occupiers further demonstrates their incestuous little tryst with the super-wealthy in this country.

Anyway.

The purpose of this particular missive isn’t just for me to state my position re: Occupy Wall Street.  Instead, it’s to detail a moment where, if I didn’t exactly get off my self-conscious arse and actually take action, I came close.  Faithful readers will know I spent this past weekend in Chicago.  My flight arrived late afternoon; I took the train to my hotel, quickly checked in, and wandered down the street to sign in at the conference I was attending.  On my way back to the hotel (with a planned detour to grab a bite to eat) I saw a large crowd of people carrying signs, ringed by police and a whole lot of folks with cameras.  As I got closer I saw a lot of the familiar signs I’d been seeing on the news in association with the Occupy movement.

It soon became clear that what I had stumbled upon was an Occupy Chicago march down Michigan Avenue.  I was torn.  I had my camera with me.  But I was tired.  I believed fervently in the cause.  But Panera sure sounded good.  But those people.  So many of them, of different ages and ethnicities, and varying levels of education and financial success, marching in common cause.  How could I not march along?

I didn’t chant.  I just don’t get caught up like that.  But I marched.  And I took a lot of photos. And I talked to some amazing people – people who were passionate and dedicated and absolutely, completely level-headed about their beliefs regarding the state of our economy and the discomfiting level of influence possessed by big business. Yes, there were definitely people who smelled like they had just rolled out of a patchouli patch with their bongos, but those people were the minority – 1% of the 99%, if you will.  Even a casual observer would have seen that this march was populated by a cross-section of the city.  And, in stark contrast to what Fox News would have you believe, this wasn’t a violent mob.  They were angry, yes, and frustrated, yes, but they were respectful not just of each other, but of the police  and onlookers who lined the route.  And – again, in stark opposition to what Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter constantly tell us – the marchers weren’t just a bunch of slackers who were pissed that they had to put down the Xbox controller and get a job.  I talked to people who have jobs who are angry at the level of privilege possessed by Big Business and people who had jobs who are angry that the government isn’t doing more to create new jobs and students who are angry at how those in charge  have collectively squandered their future.  These weren’t people who don’t want to work; these were people who are furious that the working class isn’t being taken seriously.

And, in the end, it was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever encountered.  As I walked and watched and listened, I suddenly found the arc sodium lights prisming and kaleidoscoping as my eyes welled up.  But these weren’t tears of sadness.  Anything but.  Finally, after years of feeling isolated – defective somehow for disagreeing with what the media was telling me about the state of the country – I had met my tribe.  They were more demonstrative than me, to be sure, but despite any of our other differences (age or education or skin color or religion or sexual orientation), there was an ideological core around which we revolved: personal wealth does not determine personal worth, and by deifying those in our country with the most money, our government is disenfranchising the very people who put them in office.

It’s an exciting, frightening time to be of this mindset, and to be willing to take this stand.  Even if it was just for one night, I was honored to be there.

*****

Current listening:

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (2011)

Current reading:

Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)

Roland Smith – Peak (2007)

Intermission

Tomorrow I head to Chicago for the National Council of Teachers of English conference.  It will be, as it usually is, largely uneventful.  But Chicago being Chicago, I can’t promise I’ll be posting much for the next few days.  I know this will come as a horrible shock for both of my readers, but hang tight – I’ll be back.

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