T for Tom

Halfway Thru 2018 in Music

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 10, 2018

This year is shaping up to be a weird, if a mostly disappointing one – two years into the dystopian future and no one has really emerged as a guiding light to take music into the protest era it deserves. There have strangely been a number of follow-ups by major artists who released LPs just last year, but nothing was really new or unique (more Gorillaz, Father John Misty, Drake, etc., but just repetitions of previous).

Anyway, I’ve listened to a lot of good music, but most of it remains unremarkable and I couldn’t even remember most of this list while trying to make it. Nothing jumped out at me except for Camp Cope and Pusha T, and Franz Ferdinand and Shame are kinda funky and fresh. Everything else has just been music, some good some great some bad. Whatever. Here’s to hoping for a better second half.

 

Albums, in no order:

Pusha T – DAYTONA is raw, explicit, and on point. I’ve never really listened to Pusha before, but my immediate returns are that the guiding hand of Kanye West have put his lyrics in an audio package where it finally belongs.

Franz Ferdinand – FF set out to make an album with all the energy of their first and still most recognized debut. They have succeeded, and then some.

Camp Cope – No one is making music as important as Camp Cope right now.

Shame – look past the Pet Sounds cover homage and find the most unclean punk in years.

Favela – Sonically unique, listening to Favela is like traveling on a piano through space.

 

Songs – there have been some dope tracks though:

the 1975 – “Give Yourself a Try”

Dega – “Don’t Call It”

Shame – “Concrete”

Franz Ferdinand – “Lazy Boy”

Black Thought – “Twofifteen”

Amber Mark – “Conexao”

Favela – “Patience”

Pusha T – “What Would Meek Do”

“People talkin’ shit, Push’ how do you respond?”

“I’m top 5 and all of them Dy-lan.”

Nas – “Cops Shot The Kid”

Oscar Key Sung – “Cobras & Roses”

MO & Diplo – “Get It Right”

 

 

Everything I’ve put into consideration:

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Casino & Hotel – it’s better than the worst opinion, but I listened to it for twenty minutes before realizing I had already heard six songs.

Beach House – 7

Black Thought – Streams of Thought vol. I – one of the best rappers all time

Leon Bridges – Good Thing – good follow-up

Camp Cope – How to Socialize & Make Friends – **** will idolize

The Carters (Beyonce and Jay-Z) – Everything is Love

Beyonce: “we should rap together.”

Jay-Z: “Okay.”

the end.

Neko Case – Hell-On

Dega – Dega

Dr. Dog – Critical Equation – not their best, but never bad.

Drake – Scorpion – there is 25 fucking songs on this thing. too many.

Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer – unnecessary.

Favela – Community

Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending – love it

Geowulf – Great Big Blue – “Saltwater” is a banger.

Get Up Kids – Kicker

Gorillaz – The Now Now – it’s like The Fall pt. II.

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy In This Land – really good

Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off Dog

Ben Howard – Noonday Dream

J. Cole – KOD – whatever

Jim James – Uniform Distortion

Kids See Ghosts – KIDS SEE GHOSTS – fucking dope

Lord Huron – Vide Noir – nice

Lykke Li – so sad so sexy

Middle Kids – Lost Friends

M.I.L.K. – Maybe I Love Kokomo

Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer – why do people like her? It’s just knock off Madonna.

Nas – NASIR

Petal – Magic Gone

Pusha T – DAYTONA

Rhye – Blood – isnt great but seems great in a terrible year. Easy listening anyway.

Shakey Graves – Can’t Wake Up – got some bangers, got some nonsense.

Shame – Songs of Praise – TURN IT UP TO 11

SG Lewis – Dusk

Snow Patrol – Wildness – actually a good return

Oscar Key Sung – No Disguise

Twin Shadow – Caer – what is this shit

Kanye West – YE – bold and daring for all the wrong reasons, but sonically gifted as always

Wilderado – Favors

Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs

Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On – great music, but doesn’t live up to the album title at all.

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On Hopelessness

Posted in america, Europe, Prose, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on June 28, 2018

Snow drifted softly to the ground as I walked the streets of St. Petersburg, covered in white everywhere except for a few recent footsteps in the snow by the people walking in every direction up and down under the dim light of a lamppost in the winter night. I was at the mercy of the guide to my side, but also to the whims of this frozen nation and its people, its principled foray into modernity based squarely on its resistance to change – I couldn’t speak Russian and hardly knew the alphabet, and so couldn’t learn much to help myself during this week long voyage into a great northern Christmas. Were it not for the few people with me at different times, I wouldn’t have eaten well or even much, and certainly would have been left to my own silence and thoughts there in the cold.

Though for the sake of speaking, I learned, there was much helplessness to go around. On just the first night of five, I had been taken to dinner by a young woman my age who was lucky enough to own a vehicle and who drove me across the bridge into the city and to a warm, deep red colored restaurant where we shared borsht and a beer. Her name was Tanya, and you wouldn’t know her from a European or an American if you passed her on the street, and especially if you heard her speak. She had large, open eyes set under a head of dark, almost black hair, and could have easily been the girl next door. I asked her why she was here in St. Petersburg and how she learned English so well, and she told me that she had lived in Germany for a couple years while studying but had to return to work. I asked her if it was her choice, but she said it wasn’t. “It’s hard to stay away, and since my studies were paid for, I had to come back and work for the company that provided it.” I asked her when she might expect to be able to travel again, and she said she didn’t know. “It doesn’t really work that way.” Getting any more of an answer was the first time I had been stonewalled. I would learn over the week that her impenetrable spirit was less the will of the people and more the will of the state, and it found its way into everyone there.

My second guide was a few years younger than myself or my guest the previous night. Her name was Anna, fittingly, and she had bright, almost red, brown hair that seemed to sparkle. We met in the afternoon at a coffee shop down Nevsky Prospekt, and I couldn’t help but think that the shine was from her infectious smile or the sunshine outside that lit the snow-covered ground and turned it into an upward facing mirror. Like Tanya the night before, her English was easily understood, though she carried a more typically-Russian way of affecting her words. As a sign to her age, she was dressed head to toe in a full-length purple parka, accented with purple gloves. She took me to the Christmas fair in the middle of the promenade that occurred in the daytime during this January week, the time of Russian Orthodox Christmas. We talked about traditions and watched the skaters in the ice rink, before she mentioned that her brother had been in the Russian army. As I was in the American army now, I wanted to know what she thought. “The Russian Army is mandatory for most men.” I didn’t know what she meant by most men. “Well, there are those that are can pay their way out of it, though they’re not supposed to,” she said. “But that’s just the way a lot of things go.” She jumped back into talking about Christmas as if nothing had happened, and before long offered to enter a bar mid-afternoon to take a shot of vodka, simply as a means of warming up. It was truly just the way things had gone, and appeared to continue.

Eventually I asked her to see something different, to get into the thick of St. Petersburg. I’m not sure if it was naiveté or youth or both, but she had a tour guide’s knowledge of two art museums just off the prospect – she knew of their existence, but seemed uninterested in the reasons why. She did make sure to remark on St. Petersburg’s first Starbucks that had just opened and which we passed on the way. Shortly we arrived at an unremarkable building and turned into the center hallway. “This is the John Lennon museum,” she said. “We have to go into the building to maybe enter.” The halls were painted with graffiti and on the doors of one entrance was a plaque to John Lennon himself – “In the name of John Lennon – the Temple of Love, Peace, and Music.” We walked up a staircase to an empty hallway where a printed sheet of paper was taped to a bell – “ring to enter.” But no one answered. “It’s often closed, and there are no times,” said Anna. “We can go to a different museum across the street.” And just as quickly we left. It was just the way of things.

The next gallery was a modern art institute of sorts that was more clearly marked with neon signs and that operated a bar inside, which was a nice evening greeting. It still had the feeling of being a bit ramshackle, and I was getting the feeling that these two museums, in their disparate and near-hidden existences, persisted only so far as the state allowed them. The second museum featured pieces on the city’s subways and architecture, and was likely much less a threat. The John Lennon Museum, which I later learned was referred to by its address, Pushkinskaya 10, was much more in disguise – I never found out what was behind the doors, and steps had clearly been taken to keep it that way. There was a spirit of protest somewhere in the halls of that building, but it was under cloak and mask. But in spite of the cloak and deceit, I couldn’t help but note that I had come there and found it with a little help – we didn’t have to try that hard – and that the state, like with everything else, somehow allowed this to continue. I had the feeling that the museum itself was somehow purposefully hopeless. It evoked the sense of freedom in name and image, but could do nothing to obtain it. I believe that it was allowed to exist exactly in such that way, as a symbol to the people of St. Petersburg. We were supposed to rejoice that the freedom expressed in our dreams was allowed to exist, somewhere anyway, even if we could never have it ourselves.

I stayed with Anna all through the evening until just after dinner, where we found ourselves walking back toward the Nevsky Prospect where I’d depart on my way to meeting other students for a night of drinking. We passed church, among the many we saw along the way, but less remarkable. I had already seen the Kazan Cathedral and the Church on the Savior of Spilled Blood, the only orthodox church in St. Petersburg. With Anna now, we had passed what would be unremarkable in any Midwestern American town, a small chapel with greek architecture in the front, and a single steeple on top that didn’t rise above two floors. It may well have been a government building. But it was the year of Pussy Riot and I wanted to know what the feeling on the street was, and so I asked. “How do you feel about Pussy Riot?”

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“How do you feel about the girls being held in prison?”

“You cannot protest in a church,” she answered.

It was my turn to be confused and so I asked her what she meant this time.

“No can protest in a church, even if you disagree with Putin,” she said. “It didn’t have to be in a church.” And as if for emphasis, she added, “That’s the law.”

That’s the part that always stuck with me. The immutable law. I felt like Anna couldn’t see the possibility of absurdity in the law, much in the way that we couldn’t see into the John Lennon Museum. She came up to and in front of the point – that Pussy Riot, or just people anywhere, should be able to protest when and where they please, which is a protest – but couldn’t cross a fundamental barrier that had been erected by years of social education otherwise. Where Tanya may have some cynical grasp that she is lost to hopelessness in spite of knowing better, Anna is hopeless against the modes and methods that make her life possible. Both are reverent to the cogs that spin the wheels, but there is a difference for their place in it – hopeless to change it, or hopeless to believe it should be any different.

In Bloom’s essential, though now forgotten, incision on our own American education in Closing of the American Mind, he discusses the philosophical theory that persisted throughout the duality of the sixties, and foremost by those who opposed the rise of liberality in social education: “the [social] contract theorists all taught that the law must never be broken, that the strength of the law is the only thing that keeps us away from the state of nature, therefore that risks and dangers must be accepted for the sake of law.” And in this way, Anna accepts that things won’t get better, because she also accepts that they cannot get worse. But this is merely perception, ingrained through years of reinforcement by the state and the education she received.

In America, those who uphold the law do not want to see the way things are met with change. As described before, any change in the law indicates a move toward lawlessness, or the state of nature. In the state of nature, all things are equal, in measure to their worthiness (but, crucially, not their ability) to claim their livelihood. And for so many now, for the weak and the minorities and the poor and the sick and the ill and the mistreated and the abused, for the vast majority of the United States of America, enforcing the law will uphold a way of life that we cannot survive. It is within this system that we feel hopeless, and only by changing it can we gain hope for a better future.

It takes a long time for this idea to gain a plurality – that our best hope is working beyond the system, and not by incrementally using the same system for the purpose of great change. Over two hundred years of this system has only kept the same minority in power, and from their seats of power now they continue to call for upholding the system, above all else. Above all misuses, above all misdeeds, above all errors and grafts and abuses of and by the system, we are told that our best hope for a better future remains within the system. This is merely the social education of the American people speaking, as it always does. That our best hope is within this democracy. But have we not seen the failures of voting, in multiple elections in this lifetime alone? Have we not seen the imperiling of our existence by the officials elected to representative us? We must be reminded that they are the same ones asking now for us to remain rooted in our belief in the system, on the belief that the system works. But our education, like the system that teaches it, only serves the purposes of those giving the lessons.

It takes looking at an Anna or a Tanya to see ourselves in other places. It takes seeing these young men and women in hopeless situations. The new way forward, if we find one, will be in the understanding that we can only go ahead by removing the things in our way, if even they be the laws themselves. Some nobility within directs us to break certain laws for sake of other higher laws, but I’ll leave the defining of those higher laws to the future tense.

The last question I posed to Anna before we parted was how she could not see the virtue in Pussy Riot breaking the law. Her answer was dismissive, if not correct: “what am I going to do about it?”

What are we going to do about it? Things can either stay the same or they can change. In the short term I knew there was nothing I could do about it, and parted ways with Anna to meet another Tanya, a blond. I knew it was hopeless in my five days to try and get to the bottom of the Russian existence, and so to get to the bottom of my own. I spent the rest of my time existing there in the spaces around me. If their Russian tragedies had led them to this moment, they were at least still alive. They were alive in the few art museums I had already seen, and they were still alive in Dostoevsky’s adult home, and they were still alive crossing the Neva by foot, and they were still alive in spite of it all, in spite of the system that keeps them there in that winter snow globe.

It would be hopeless to try and change that, and so we all just float on, hopeless.

2017 Music In Review

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on December 7, 2017

The below five albums are not only the top seven this year, but also the seven without major flaw; they have their individual merits, but when I was looking to expand the list of top albums, I couldn’t think of what would be number eight. Every other record, even though there are good ones, has some major flaws. And maybe that then is the takeaway for these included below: they are far and away that much better, and I hope you give them each a listen. [sidenote: for all the new wave disco and dance music I listen to, the winners are always just rock and fucking roll]

 

1. Beach Fossils – Somersault – when we saw the election end, we knew a new political could rise for popular and underground music, but I didn’t expect it to arrive so suddenly and with such aplomb. Somersault possesses style, cool, and je ne sais quoi, without being effete. It is somehow the best of the Clash during the Cold War, translated to the New York underclass of youth who’ve never been given a chance. It’s general breadth of focus in fact makes it more pointed: these things we want to sing about aren’t new or sudden – the struggle to survive is persistent and affects us all.

 

2. Slowdive – Slowdive – This feels like all the emotions of a protest album filtered through space and time. Layers and layers of intricate detail open the album in reverie before descending into the face-smacking anthem of “Star Roving” and eventually descending into the eulogy of “Falling Ashes.” It moves along like time, our own and the infinite’s, equally and in motion together.

 

3. Sylvan Esso – What Now – Sylvan Esso found their calling and are all the better for it. By embracing Pop, real true pop, Sylvan Esso have charged hard into the next step for underground music: out into the light.

 

4. Ryan Adams – Prisoner – I’ve been doing this now for over ten years, and I’ve been hesitate the last couple to include a Ryan Adams record because it seems like every year when I got started he was at the top of the list. For Prisoner, I can no longer ignore it. He’s still writing some of the best American music available and Prisoner is, quite possibly, his finest achievement, seventeen years on.

 

5. War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding – War on Drugs found a way to take an award-winning formula and perfect it. While there are no major steps away from the success of 2014’s “Lost In a Dream,” the positive changes have paid major dividends. A Deeper Understanding is tighter, more controlled, and delivers a strongly-wound collection of rock and roll.

 

6. Joey Bada$$ – All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ – I’ve never heard something both so gentle and violent at the same time. I wish more people would say the things that need to be said. On that alone, Joey Bada$$ tops all lists: “Start a Civil War within the USA amongst black and white and those alike / They are simply pushin’ us to our limit so that we can all get together and get with it / They want us to rebel, so that it makes easier for them to kill us and put us in jails / Alton Sterlings are happenin’ every day in this country and around the world.”

 

7. SOHN – Rennen – It’s a bit more experimental in production, though notably drastically less in one area: without dubbing his own voice into an instrument, the onus is more on the actual musical instruments and the layering that provides substance for his other-worldly singing talents. While the writing is sometimes limp in comparison to 2013’s monumental Tremors, Rennen is a thorough triumph that at times surprises with nuance while still bristling with energy.

 

Songs:

We should really listen to the words our artists are writing for us, here in these times.

1. “Thinking of a Place” – The War on Drugs – “And I’m thinking of a place and it feels so very real, just moving through the dark.”

2. “Star Roving” – Slowdive

3. “Down The Line” – Beach Fossils – “I don’t want your Wall Street, don’t got no degree. Written on the concrete, A-C-A-B.”

4. “Please” – Rhye

5. “The Glow” – Sylvan Esso

6. “Standing In the Middle of the Field” – Cut Copy – “You’ve got to give up the things you love to make it better.”

7. “Call It Dreaming” – Iron + Wine – “Where we drift and call it dreaming, we can weep and call it singing.”

8. “Prisoner” – Ryan Adams

9. “Land of the Free” – Joey Bada$$ – “The land of the free is for the free loaders, leave us dead in the street to be your organ donors. They disorganized my people, made us all loners. Still got the last names of our slave owners.”

10. “Ascension” – Gorillaz – “I’m just playing, baby, this the land of the free, Where you can get a Glock and a gram for the cheap, Where you can live your dreams long as you don’t look like me: Be a puppet on a string, hanging from a fucking tree.”

11. “What Once Was” – Her’s

12. “English Letters” – Favela

13. “Chinatown” – Liam Gallagher – “Well, the cops are taking over while everyone’s in yoga ‘cause happiness is still a warm gun. What’s it to be free, man?”

14. “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” – Spoon

15. “Conrad” – SOHN

16. “Nobody Else Will Be There” – The National

17. “Head for Supplies” – elbow

18. “Outcome” – Anoraak

19. “Your Love” – Middle Kids

20. “In Between” – Surf Rock Is Dead

 

Albums:

Ryan Adams – Prisoner – **** – Truly challenges as his best record ever.

All We Are – Sunny Hills – ***

Alt-J – Relaxer – * – Eight tracks so empty you’ll fall asleep.

Angus & Julia Stone – Snow – ***

Anna of the North – Lovers – ***

Arcade Fire – Everything Now **

At the Drive-In – Interalia – * – It’s not 2000 anymore.

Beach Fossils – Somersault – ****

Michelle Branch – Hopeless Romantic – **

Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder – **

Brothertiger – Songs From The Big Chair – **** – Yes, this is a full cover of Tears For Fears and it fucking owns. By virtue of it being a cover, I didn’t rank it in albums or songs but it would be near the top of both.

Molly Burch – Please Be Mine – **

Cold War Kids – LA Divine – **

William Patrick (Billy) Corgan – Ogilala – *** – Sure, why not.

Cut Copy – Haiku From Zero – *** 

Day Wave – The Days We Had – ***

Drake – More Life – ***

Bob Dylan – Triplicate – ***

Justine Townes Earle – Kids in the Street – **** – He’s at his best when he’s cheerful.

The Early November – Fifteen Years – ***

Elbow – Little Fictions – ***

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy – **** – Modern satire, he’s perfected his formula.

Favela – English Letters EP – **** – Another superb set.

Feist – Pleasure – **** – Upon follow-up, a fucking great album.

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up – *** – Actually exceeds all expectations (expectations were pretty low)

Liam Gallagher – As You Were – *** – not Oasis, but damn fine.

Benjamin Gibbard – Bandwagonesque – ***

Giant Dog – Toy

Gorillaz – Humanz – *** – Everything about this album is great except for Damon Alborn’s own contributions.

Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins – ***

Aldous Harding – Party – ***

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. I

Heavenly Beat – John – ** – Better orchestration but with none of the energy of previous efforts.

Her – Her EP I – ***

Her’s – Songs of Her’s – ****

Hiss Golden Messenger – Hallelujah Anyhow – ***

Iron + Wine – Beast Epic – ****

Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life – **

Joey Bada$$ – All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ – **** – a true protest isn’t hidden in metaphors.

Jack Johnson – All the Light Above It Too – ***

The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful – ***

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. – *** – It’s safe, and that’s not what Kendrick should be.

Langhorne Slim – Lost at Last, Vol. I – ***

LANY – LANY – ***

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream – *** – It’s as good as it should be, but it feels mostly tempered and cautious.

Leisure – Leisure – ***

The Lulls in Traffic – Rabbit in the Snare – **

Majid Jordan – The Space Between – **

John Mayer – The Search for Everything – *** – it’s fine, but it’s missing that forward leap he usually takes.

James Vincent McMorrow – True Care – ***

Methyl Ethel – Everything is Forgotten – ***

Middle Kids – Middle Kids EP – **** – Total love.

Midnight Mystery Club – Reason or Rhyme – ***

M.I.L.K. – A Memory of a Memory of a Photograph – ***

MuteMath – Play Dead – **

The National – Sleep Well Beast – **** – I was worried they would get old, but nope.

Kele Okereke – Fatherland – ** – Bossanova by Bloc Party

PJ Morton – Gumbo – ***

Passion Pit – Tremendous Sea of Love – ** – Exceeds expectations, still lingers too long.

Phoenix – Ti Amo – *** – So fun, like always.

Queens of the Stone Age – Villains **

Rainer Maria – S/T – **** – Baller.

Real Estate – In Mind – **

Sampha – Process – ***

The Shins – Heartworms – ***

Slowdive – Slowdive – ****

SOHN – Rennen – **** – What a voice.

Spoon – Hot Thoughts – **** – Somehow they get better every time.

Sufjan Stevens et al – Planetarium – *** – This is actually, really an opera.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live – **** – A wholly different way to hear this great album.

Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Pt I – ***

Sylvan Esso – What Now – ****

The Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly – ***

Toro Y Moi – Boo Boo – ***

Jeff Tweedy – Together at Last – ***

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding ****

Way Yes – Tuna Hair – ***

The XX – I See You – **** – Their best record, and one that finally soars.

Neil Young – Hitchhiker – **** – That good.

An Open Letter

Posted in Prose, Trying To Get Published, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 26, 2017

An open letter to my parents, their friends, and strangers like them:

Did all your dreams come true? Do you have everything you’ve ever imagined and more? I imagine you must be sitting there in a broad, window-lined living room, a small dog at the foot of your lounging sofa, the room dimly lit with ornate lamps, the spaces filling with the sound of Sinatra and a crackling fire while you or your spouse finish cooking in the kitchen where all the countertops are marble and the stove is electric. Somewhere in the garage are two SUVs and a stable of camping equipment for the many vacations you’ve taken and the many more you plan, miles of American highway that never stand in your way from the time away with your family. You return, you always do, because of the obligations of work and family, and spend the days in between your weeks alternately going to work and walking into church. The pension is growing, and there’s no need to worry when the boy and girl both need football equipment for their summer teams (soccer for the little girl, of course) because you’re on track for your third promotion and should have yourself set up quite nicely by the age of 55. No, nothing else could be needed.

Is that why you won’t let us have anything? Are you sitting there in that living room right now thinking, no, there’s nothing else the world could have or do, and so I will do everything I can to keep it just this way? Because I can’t think of any other reason to support the ideas, policies, and moral politics of a corrupt body that willfully, purposefully, and cruelly works to malign, injure, and put to death millions of people swiftly and at once.

If you are sitting there comfortably on your way to a rich retirement (and I don’t think you are), how did you get there? I believe you had opportunities, plural, rich opportunities in a world with less competition – when an entire race (or many entire races), gender, and age group are not allowed to gain employment in the only few sectors that pay salaries commensurate with a single family’s needs, do you feel that you fairly competed for the things you enjoy? Do you think that you got to that home, the two vehicles, and the recreational time by being treated equitably? If you think it’s been fair, you should look around. It hasn’t been, has never been fair, but the world is not ready to quit changing.

I have a strange fear, a real deep fear, that I’m wrong – you aren’t sitting there with a book in hand, staring out the windows at the light snowfall, dreaming of your upcoming beach vacation. You’re standing over the work desk, driving a truck cross-country, tossing boxes into the delivery truck, loading fish from the dock, or chopping trees. When you’re done you head home to a two-bedroom house with a five-member family, a kitchen without a stove, and only one car to drive the family. Worse, no car. Your marriage is tense because the bills are paid paycheck-to-paycheck while the children beg for more. Worse, no bills are paid and the children are still begging. And to top it all off, you remember sitting there in your parents living room – that same one I imagined for you – where the Christmas tree is lit, the presents stocked underneath, and you wonder why you don’t have the same. And worse, in your wondering, you believe the best way to get it is by getting back to that world where it seemed so possible – the world where everyone else (those weirdos with their dark skin and gay lovers and young punk hair) are stifled, put back in their place.

I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish you had the open-ceiling sunroom, afternoon sky gently illuminating your cocktail hour. I wish you had the trim garden outside with the veranda where you entertain your guests, telling jokes about the 18th hole. I wish you had the dreams of your fathers fulfilled just as they imagined for you. Because it would mean that these things were possible, in spite of the immigrants and the homosexuals and the millennials.

Because the immigrants and the homosexuals and the millennials aren’t going anywhere. This is their world to inherit. You and your friends have held on longer than usual, the benefit of growing medical science. There is reason for grievance – at the age now where you’ve either secured the healthcare you need through riches, or by simply living long enough to own state-funded Medicare, your choices and decisions and feelings about others (everyone else) is that they don’t deserve it. It might be even worse. Maybe you know they deserve it, too, but because you can’t think of a way for both of you to have it, you’ll selfishly deny them to keep your own. I can think of a few ways, but me and my generation, haven’t been allowed the clout of decision. I just wish it didn’t have to be that way.

I wish I didn’t grow up knowing I’d never have full garage or a mantel trimmed with Christmas stockings. I wish I didn’t grow up making plans to own very little, not even home to call my home, for fear of debt and the subsequent inability to move about. I wish I didn’t have to show up at work worried that my hair might make me seem out of place, or that I’ll never get promoted in time to cover my expenses because the supervisory jobs are held by boomers who never got their retirement. I wish I didn’t have to consciously, deliberately deny myself children because this world can’t sustain any more, or worse, the consequences of war and climate change would keep them from even living a full life. I wish I could sit there, like you wanted for yourself, without a worry in the world.

I am thankful, however, that you raised us in this world. Without the heartache, the unending the debt, the racism, the age discrimination, the wars on your behalf, the political manipulation of women’s bodies, the general diaspora of hate and filth, I wouldn’t be here today wishing you well. I might be just like you, in that living room telling the world to stop growing, stop changing, I like it just the way it was. I am thankful that I am eyes-open to the starving, the slaving, the shaming, the stealing, the warring, and the killing. Because I don’t want that for anyone. And that’s more important than what I do want for even just myself.

There isn’t enough for everyone to have large homes and multiple gas-fueled cars. There isn’t enough for everyone to have retirement funds or closets full of clothes or food for baby or books on the shelf or luxuries upon luxuries. There’s barely enough water on the planet as it is. We’re all just trying to survive. Those of us who suffer are catching on that the good life is an oasis, if not a myth outright. Don’t be so ignorant as to suffer and not yet be aware.

Because whether you have it now or never got it and still dream of having it before you die, I’m tired of you taking it from me before I ever even get it.

Signed,

T

It’s 2017

Posted in poem, Prose, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 26, 2017

I was raised in a world that believed in better.

Fresh out of war,

hope and virtues lapping up like waves on the shore,

Bright-eyed, starry youthful dreams because we landed on the moon

Before I was even born.

But

Right back to war and now

It’s 2017 and people are starving.

It’s 2017 and men carry guns in the street.

It’s 2017 and black people die everyday.

It’s 2017 and seeing a doctor, wanting to live, costs money, at all.

It’s 2017 and people walk through the streets,

Into shopping malls,

Into church,

Listening to Hells Bells,

Talking of Reagan,

Afraid of changing,

But changing can’t come soon enough.

Get with it.

It’s fucking 2017 and y’all out there shooting, hating, killing,

Watching people die.

How far we’ve come to have gotten nowhere at all.

It’s 2017 and the shores are rising from the ice that’s melting

And

One day if we’re lucky

The waves will wash over the shore and cleanse the earth of all and sundry.

2016 Midyear In Music

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 17, 2016

It’s been a fantastic year for music so far, with great, major releases from some of the biggest musicians and artists of my generation, and ever.

Here are the albums:

  1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool – pretty sure this won’t be unseated at the end of the year. Radiohead always defies expectations, but in older age and wisdom, they’ve surprised us by being as sparse, delicate, and hollow as ever. The best review I read called it a “middle-aged sigh of relief” and I’ll be damned if that isn’t exactly right.
  2. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake – had never heard of it, but I’ll be damned if isn’t the greatest collection of throwback indie music. For the first time in awhile, it doesn’t take overproduction to make a warm, uplifting album.
  3. David Bowie – Blackstar – if you haven’t heard it, you’re missing out.
  4. Bloc Party – Hymns – out of left field but still in play, Hymns is Bloc Party’s version of Moon Shaped Pool: soft, wise, aged, but a bit funky.
  5. DIIV – Is The Is Are – somehow shoegaze punk has never been so arena-ready. There won’t be a record with more energy and purpose all year.

Songs:

  1. Radiohead – “The Numbers” – I’ve never heard something more climactic and beautiful, and the haunting and jarring 30-second introduction of sleigh bells and nonsense just seals it.
  2. The 1975 – “Somebody Else” – This band just keeps getting better and better: this is a house funk disco slow-jam that sings “I don’t want your body but I need to think about you with somebody else.” Goddamn.
  3. Guy Garvey – “Angela’s Eyes” – What a fucking amazing and psychedelic song.
  4. DIIV – “Take Your Time” – it’s like floating in space, and repetitive two-minute bridge is the bridge in time.
  5. Bloc Party – “Different Drugs” – Somehow disco, somehow nightmare, all fantastic: “Trying to broach the distance… like we’re on different drugs.”

 

Everything I’ve gotten so far:

The 1975 – i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

Atlas Bound – Lullaby EP

Band of Horses – Why Are You OK

Bat for Lashes – The Bride

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Call It What It Is

Blink 182 – California

Bloc Party – Hymns

Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

David Bowie – Blackstar

Dr. Dog – Psychedelic Swamp

Chairlift – The Moth

Deftones – Gore

DIIV – Is The Is Are

Drake – Views

Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness

Gallant – Ology

Guy Garvey – Courting The Squall

Honne – Gone Are The Days [Shimokita Import]

The Jezabels – Synthia

Lapsley – Long Way Home

Lily & Madeleine – Keep It Together

Little Green Cars – Ephemera

M83 – Junk

Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Rüfüs – Bloom

St. Lucia – Matter

Travis – Everything at Once

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Whitney – Light Upon The Lake

Nico Yaryan – What a Tease

 

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Day 23 – Shot of Love – 1981

Posted in A Dylan A Day, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 15, 2016

 

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It’s a great cover, though.

There’s a spirit of music here, but it’s void. The same vibe and feeling that personifies the emphasis of Saved is null on Shot of Love. It just seems faked. And while the music isn’t overly or inherently bad, it’s just not genuine.

And I think that’s the culmination of a period gone wrong. A man, known so long for being so good, got away with doing something outrageous on the strength of the music for two albums. But by the third it left a stale taste. Overdone and old to a point.

Again, taken on its own, Shot of Love has its hits – “Shot of Love” the track is a banger and even “Property of Jesus” rolls to a high lull. But in spite of its greatest achievements, it comes off as more of the same. This is after all a man who spent his whole career shifting paradigms with every record, and to get something redundant seems strange and bizarre.

It should seem equally strange and bizarre that the first time we get redundancy with Bob Dylan is with his Christian trilogy. That he lasted this long should seem like something of a trophy, but here we are 23 albums on.

And that’s the most I have to say for this record. It’s just a complete repeat of something I’ve heard before.

Not bad, but not what I go to. Probably the reason he moves on as quickly also.


Song: “Property of Jesus”

By now it would make sense that his greatest song would be his most overt. But let’s not discredit him for trying. It is a great, great song.

Day 22 – Saved – 1980

Posted in A Dylan A Day, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 13, 2016

 

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Original Cover.

In a word, magnanimous. Saved is the middle record of the Christian trilogy, and it comes off as a shot in the night. I said before that “Forever Young” was a tent revival, but in metaphor. This is actually that.

From the opening refrain of “Satisfied Mind” to the last pleas of “Are You Ready?,” Saved is Dylan’s richest attempt at converting the masses, a true collection of stadium-ready, evangelical rock’n’roll so big that it was rightly called “too big for the genre” upon its release. And man it’s a banger.

The inverse of what I said about Slow Train Coming is true of Saved – the music is so good that the words come off as seamless. I couldn’t hear this music and think of anything less than spirituality. By the time it crescendos with “Pressing On” I know that answer is in fact, yes, I’m ready.

I started listening to this record in college after seeing I’m Not There, the fragmented and slightly fictionalized retelling of Bob Dylan’s life directed by Todd Haynes. When I saw Christian Bale trying to evangelize a crowd of middle-somethings in a dark basement, I just knew I had to listen to this record. It became and remains a favorite, for its power and glory.

Throughout is the arena sounds of a plucked and banged Stratocaster, filling the space with screams and cries. The organ wails with the heaviest of burdens, and it all makes Dylan’s voice seem like the least important of the bargains. The dragging, train-like roller “Solid Rock” continues the revival started by the title-track’s frantic and frenetic pace, supplemented by the wiliest piano solo you’ve ever heard. Whoever these players are behind Dylan are surely some of the best he’s ever had.

And all the while I don’t mind the prayers and sermons. Somehow it would be less perfect if it weren’t so strange.

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Re-release cover, after fears of it being too religious.


Song: “Solid Rock”

It’s supposed to mean that the lord is his solid rock, but really it’s cause this song is Solid Rock’n’Roll.

Day 21 – Slow Train Coming – 1979

Posted in A Dylan A Day, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 12, 2016

 

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On first listen there was something about Slow Train Coming that stood out to me, beyond the obvious Christian themes of the music. And after a quick cursory history reading just now, I know: Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits plays lead guitar throughout Bob Dylan’s revival record.

And what a strange and grand thing to stumble on – I’ve been shielding myself for days and weeks now, in loathe anticipation of reaching the gospel phase. I’m very familiar with Saved, which is yet to come but one I listened to many times over in college because it’s somehow funky, but I hadn’t ever spent much time in Slow Train Coming territory. This is however, the album with that song “Gotta Serve Somebody” that inspired John Lennon to write “Serve Yourself” just before passing, and for obvious reasons. But then Dylan was also awarded a Grammy for that very same song.

So many contradictions.

The only thing that’s leftover from anything previous would be the “essentially iconoclastic temperament” of the man, coined by Stephen Holden of the New York Times, as he continued to defy expectations for better or for worse.

Robert Christgau, the oft tumultuous critic of Dylan’s home New York paper The Village Voice, called it the best record since Blood On The Tracks. And while I don’t think that’s the case, it is remarkably good in spite of its lyrical and thematical flaws. Knopfler is rich throughout, and the entire record carries the Muscle Shoals sound from Alabama that Dire Straits continued to ride all the way into the 1980s. It’s brooding, dark, and eloquent, but never too spacious or atmospheric to lose its musical way. If you don’t listen to the words, and really even if you do, it is again another testament to the man who comes in way ahead of everyone else with his music.

They maybe wouldn’t follow his testimonies, but then again have we ever?

I know I’ve learned a lot about Bob Dylan during this, and I’ll continue to learn more. He’s growing into a life-sized icon for me personally, beyond even the tattoo of him I’ve had for five years now. But while I will keep looking for reasons that made him tick, and reasons that maybe I can move by, I know I won’t get stuck on these passages. Not everything a prophet says is gold.


Song: “Gotta Serve Somebody”

It’s a great opening track for a record of such biblical proportions.

Day 8 – John Wesley Harding – 1967

Posted in A Dylan A Day, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on June 30, 2016

 

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I’ve never listened to John Welsey Harding in full. It’s the first along this journey I can say that for, and won’t be the last. But I’m already learning why this is an important turning point – goddamn, what a good record.

It is from the beginning, at the last note of the opening and eponymous track on into the hanging but equal opening note of “As I Went Out Into The Morning,” a piece of work unequal. For the first time, Dylan’s music seems in sync – it isn’t his best or strongest by a single tune, but the whole achieves something beyond ornamental. We’re 18 months on from his rock’n’roll years and even though it’s a return to form, outdated as it was at the time, the act of returning itself is an act of forward progression. When Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and His Satanic Majesties Request were the top albums ruling with psychedelia and things unexpected, Dylan did something bold – he gave the people something they’ve already known for years, but in its best form. Recorded at the same time as the now legendary and vaunted Basement Tapes that would surface 10 years later (and upcoming in my retrospective), it’s no wonder that it sounds so good.

The content isn’t as much important. We are listening to a man whose life was changed by a motorcycle accident. For as folkloric as the event has become, its possible that the mere fact of living was inspiration enough.

And if so, it would make sense that his first effort since – his first attempt at making his living again – would be safe, close, at home, and sophomoric. But it was the 60s, and the violent, protestant, changing 60s. Dylan knew this, and creating an album of relatable, passionate frontier music would be the boldest move.

For a man who made an impression so quickly for always changing the game and there forward seeing the game always becoming one of change, he would be the first to strongly step outward by changing not at all.

And I’ll be damned if it isn’t his most enjoyable work to date.


Song: The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

It’s at times sweet, friendly, funny, and prophetic. For all the times he tried to be Homeric, this was his best attempt, and the tune is so delightful.