Month: June 2013

Stickbug!

Did a little bit of camping this weekend at one of our surprisingly good county parks.  And this guy showed up in our tent

stick bug

This is after we took him out, obviously.  But I got to have a really good look at him.  What’s crazy is that there is no way to tell this is not a stick until it moves.  Only the even arrangement of its limbs gave it away.  It was in our tent and completely refused to move, but it has nothing that looks like eyes, pincers, a mouth, anything.  We even had it backwards- what turned out to be antennae we thought was its tail.

One of the friends that came along had spent a lot of time in Florida and was talking about all the fauna you’d see there.  We go camping in the mountains here, miles from any city but wildlife is rare.  I just don’t think our mountains can support that much.  I’ve seen a bear, once, on the road in Yosemite.  I’ve seen marmots and squirrels in the Sierra Nevada.  Raccoons and possums in the city.  And one coyote outside my apartment.  I saw a deer once on the side of the road (and almost hit it) near Mt Laguna, and a toad hopped onto our campsite there once too.  We also saw some baby snakes at Mt Laguna.  I saw a kangaroo rat at Red Rock Canyon (the California one) and some bighorn sheep at Anza Borrego.  And this stickbug.  The only one I’ve ever seen outside of an exhibit.  Weird right?  That’s all the notable animals I’ve ever seen in California.

And I guess you could count otters, sea lions and stingrays.  Still not much.  And this is over YEARS of going camping several times a year.  I’d say we see a notable animal every 5th or 6th time we go.  That’s a pretty low ratio.

I’ve never seen a bobcat.  Never seen a mountain lion (and I hope I never encounter one!).  Never seen a tarantula or a rattlesnake.  Or a gila monster (one of the animals I would most like to see).  If I lived in Florida would I have seen an alligator already?  Or one of those giant land snails?  Sounds pretty damn exciting.

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No people, you don’t get an easy guidebook to race relations

The Paula Deen deal is another sad episode in certain people’s attempts to dumb down our conversation on race.  The usual suspects are trying to narrow the argument down to when and where (and why) she said the word nigger, as if the use of that word is the only way we can tell if someone is truly racist.  I agree with a good deal of Charlie Cooke’s post here, especially this:

I have little time for those who can’t see the difference between Kanye West’s using the N-word and a racist’s hurling it at an African American in anger.

This question of “why do black people get to say it?” has been asked and answered so many times that anyone still asking it is being deliberately obtuse.

But this is kind of silly:

In the meantime, is it wise for us to pull her and her brand down because of something she may or may not have said privately in the 1980s?

In the 80’s?  That wasn’t that long ago.  Does it matter that is was said privately?  Doesn’t that offer that window into her heart that people are always harping on?  Paula offered her own defense:

“The day I used that word it was a world ago, years ago,” she said. “I had had a gun put to my head, a shaking gun because the man that had the gun to my head, unbeknowning [sic] to me was my customer at the main [bank] office.”

Did this man put a gun to her head and tell her to call him that?  What kind of a shitty excuse is this?

But I’m not really interested in why or when Paula Deen said what she said and I’m getting off topic.

Here’s the thing, I grew up around rednecks (their name for themselves), many of who didn’t know that I’m only half white, at least half, non-hispanic white.  So their filter wasn’t on and I’d hear this kind of talk all the time.  I got used to it.  I learned to deal with it.  What’s fucked is that I had to learn to control my anger at people making jokes and derogatory about people I am related to.   Because getting mad and yelling at rednecks for telling racial jokes was not socially acceptable where I grew up.  I had to learn to navigate that world.  I didn’t whine about it because no one would have given a shit.  The response would have been “get over it.”  I don’t really think less of most of those people, that’s just how things were back home.

But the world is changing.  It’s not acceptable to make those jokes so much anymore.  And certainly not if you’re a public figure.  Deen fucked up.  I got one thing to say about that- borrowing from George Lopez-

THAT’S HOW YOU LEARN

Paula Deen’s lesson is going to cost her a lot more than mine ever did.  But that’s life.  The fact is there is no guidebook for these things, just like there’s no real guidebook for picking up members of the opposite sex.  You have to learn.  Some of us the hard way.  I know I have.  Like Brad Paisley’s awkward accidental racist song (which, to get really meta, was widely regarded as an example of accidental racism), we’ve all fucked up.  It happens.

And there’s no way I’m taking that away.  Because when someone fucks up, their reaction to being called out tells you everything you need to know about that person.  I don’t really give a shit about Paula Deen and if she gets her sponsors or her job back it won’t make a difference to me one way or the other.  If, as Charlie Cooke points out, she’s guilty of what she is accused of in the civil case against her, then she should be.  If not, then maybe not.  But calls for one set of rules for everyone (why can rappers say it? it’s hypocrisy)  are premature.  We’re all just going to have to figure this stuff out on our own.

White Lady Pop Rappers inexplicably still in style

I’m over the white lady rapper thing.  It was groan-inducing, but somewhat cute when Gwen Stefani did Hollaback Girl, I will even admit to liking the BEP’s My HumpsPoker Face wasn’t bad, and Tik Tok was pretty cool.  I even liked Dev’s Booty Bounce.

But the novelty has worn off.  The first part of this song is really good.  It’s a really neat melody.  I like Ke$ha’s yelp-y country voice.

But then the song abruptly cuts to her rapping.  ABOUT THE SAME OLD SHIT.

I see ya in the club showin’ Ke$ha love
Ain’t trippin’ on them bitches that be hatin’
Catch a dub, chuckin’ deuces
Ya’ll hatin’s useless
It’s such a nuisance

Whatever.  Seriously, this is just boring.  And it doesn’t fit.  And then someone thought it was a good idea to add will.i.am to the mix.

Jezebel had an interesting post about Miley Cyrus (awkwardly) appropriating black culture for her new video.

Miley seems to delight in dancing much like these strippers do: Twerking, popping the ass, bending at the waist and shaking her rump in the air. Fun. But basically, she, as a rich white woman, is “playing” at being a minority specifically from a lower socio-economic level. Along with the gold grill and some hand gestures, Miley straight-up appropriates the accoutrements associated with certain black people on the fringes of society.

I’m not sure I entirely agree.  I get that putting black people who probably aren’t your real friends in your video as props is pretty lame.  But the best pop artists have always been cultural appropriators, and some of the them have even been lauded for it.  The Clash could get away with making Sandinista! because they were a leftist band and could argue that they were borrowing to show solidarity.  Or Paul Simon got away with it on Graceland because it showcased artists from South Africa, bringing them to a wider audience.  I guess that makes it OK?  I don’t know.

Or maybe I agree, but this isn’t what bothers me the most about the white lady pretend rapper thing.  What bothers me is that none of these people have anything interesting to say with their raps.  And I suspect it’s because a good rapper spends years on their craft, while none of these ladies have.  These ladies learned just enough tricks to do it convincingly for a few songs, if that.

Years of practice leads to interesting wordplay.  It leads to the need to try new things.  It leads to a bigger vocabulary, and sharper rhymes.  It leads to interesting life stories.  I like Rick Ross, so I’m not saying it all has to have a basis in reality, but it should at least sound like you had some interesting things happen to you.

Just like Miley Cyrus’ stiff moves really don’t contribute to anything to twerking (something I admit I only barely understand, but whatever it is, I’m pretty sure she’s not doing it right), Ke$ha’s yapping about haters really doesn’t add anything to hip hop.

Mount Signal

Mount Signal always held a special fascination for me because it’s not connected to any nearby mountain, just standing alone at the far west end of the valley.  Any prominent mountain produces a strong urge in me to climb it.  Though I rarely do.

One day I decided to drive out there to check it out.  I was in high school and was driving a very old and beat up Volvo.  I broke almost every rule in the How to Not Get Yourself Killed in the Desert rulebook.

  • I didn’t tell anyone where I was going, and there were no cell phones back then
  • I didn’t bring any extra water
  • My car was not really in great working order
  • I drove off road, in a car that wasn’t mean to be driven off road.

Not that I meant to drive off road, but the road ended at one point and I had to keep driving.  Because at one point I realized the gravel I was driving on became sand.  And everyone knows, you don’t do U-Turns on sand.  But I broke another rule and made a U-Turn and thankfully didn’t get stuck.

At least at that point in the year it wasn’t too hot yet, and I could have probably walked to the freeway or to Camacho’s- at least I think Camacho’s was near there.  Or I might have just ended up vulture food.

There’s no particular point to this story, I can’t even think of why I remembered this particular episode.  When I look back on it now, growing up in the desert was so strange.

What’s in my belly button? Analyzing my own lyrics

This is a song I wrote around 8 years ago.  I used to have it up on the web somewhere but now I can’t find it.  But let’s talk about lyrics.  Here it is:

Roller Coaster gonna make you scream

And then the

Sun will sting you like a killer bee

Hold on, tight to me

It’s a dream

This year I’m gonna make you mine

Because you seem so perfect in the summertime

Til it’s time to let you go, but you know

Out here anything could go wrong

Maybe we were just too high to hold on

I know I had to let you go

But I didn’t think it’d be like this

Baby I just want, one more kiss

Rollercoaster screaming down the tracks

And once it’s gone

you can’t take it back

It all seemed to happen so fast

Gonna hold you up to the sun

Til you’re

Til you’re sticky like bubble gum

Til it’s time to let you go, but you know

The middle part is the chorus.  It’s played with a fairly standard 50’s pop chord structure.  My mom said it sounded like Ricki Nelson.  But again, let’s talk about lyrics.

I wrote this thinking about Belmont Park in San Diego and about a girl who got thrown from a ride at the fair when I was in high school and died.  I wanted the lyrics to be as California and as pop-standardy as I could make them.  I was also missing my wife when I wrote this.

Roller Coaster gonna make you scream

And then the

So far, pretty typical.  The next line is kind of dumb

Sun will sting you like a killer bee

I was trying to convey how bright the sun feels in San Diego after having lived in humid Japan for several years.  But killer bee was a lame comparison.

These next lines caused confusion, some people thought I was trying to say the whole song is a dream.

Hold on, tight to me

It’s a dream

It’s not supposed to be.  It’s supposed to be more or less a straight up story of meeting a girl, falling in love and then having her get thrown to her death off a rollercoaster.  Sweet stuff.  I’m laying it out here:

This year I’m gonna make you mine

Because you seem so perfect in the summertime

Til it’s time to let you go, but you know

Then it goes to the chorus.  What sounds like a sweet song is suddenly tragic.

Out here anything could go wrong

And it does.  I used the word high on purpose.  People can think it’s because we were high on drugs or just at a high point in the rollercoaster.  Whatever people want to think.

Maybe we were just too high to hold on

And then the sadness.  The second half of the chorus is pretty cliche.  I mean the words when I sing them, but yeah.

I know I had to let you go

This is kind of a pun

But I didn’t think it would be like this

Get it?

Baby I just want, one more kiss

Yeah, those aren’t my favorite.

Then we have the second (and last) verse.  I consider two verses the bare minimum for an actual song, and so I normally write two verses.

This again starts with pretty standard scene setting:

Rollercoaster screaming down the tracks

I don’t know what I was trying to say with this line:

And once it’s gone you can’t take it back

What is gone?  Take what back?  Hell if I know.  I must have just been trying to rhyme.  The problem with writing songs is that it’s so much easier to be catchy if you rhyme, so I try to rhyme.  But sometimes you end up with dubious lines.  The next line is pretty conventional.

It all seemed to happen so fast

The next two lines are the last two that don’t repeat.  They don’t really make sense, but sometimes I don’t beat myself up if I feel like lines convey an atmosphere I want to convey.

gonna hold you up to the sun

Til you’re

Til you’re sticky like bubble gum

This isn’t my most serious song, but it does paint a picture in a way that I’m fairly proud of.  It was also one of the first that I wrote that does something I like to go back to a lot- sounding happy on the surface, but conveying some hidden tragedy.  I feel like all great bubblegum pop should have either a tragic edge or a dangerous edge wrapped in sunshiney lyrics.

Book Review: Abbadon’s Gate

By James Corey

Pre-ordered this book because the last two- Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War kicked so much ass.  I couldn’t put this one down either.  I don’t know how they keep managing to top themselves, but they do- more human drama, more action, more suspense.  Not really a ton of new science fiction ideas- these are more like space actions books.  But wow, this was a fun read.

Newest entrant in the genre parody sweepstakes

Are you serious?

Bubble butt, bubble bubble bubble butt

Bubble butt, bubble bubble bubble butt

I’ve said many times before that I don’t buy the idea that music today is any dumber than it has been in the past.  Yeah, this song is dumb.  So is half the crap my parents made me listen to.  This is just a new entry into a long line of songs that, no matter how much they pretend to be tongue-in-cheek (in cheek, get it?), are just blatant, lame pandering.

Or they are just so lame and cliche they threaten to be extinction level events for a genre.  Like this:

I know.  Rock and roll can be dumb, but this:

Woman
You know you’re a woman
You got to be a woman
I got the feeling of love

Do this guy have no more precise way of figuring out if the subject of his song is a woman besides, I got the feeling of love?  I imagine this monologue taking place:

Well, I met this person, and based on appearance, I guessed that she might be a woman, so I talked to her and I thought, well it sounds like a woman’s voice, but I still wasn’t sure.  Then it hit me, the feeling of love.  Then I was certain of her gender.

When I heard that song I thought, oh shit this song is so dumb it’s going to fuck up our whole genre.  It might have.  Bubble Butt might do that to rap.