Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When Your Vision Gets Blurry.

I was blessed with some pretty good genes.  I have Strait teeth, a decent head of hair and family on both sides who stay pretty healthy till late in life.  But my eyesight has always been abnormally good and the last time it was tested it was 20/12.  My vision in the natural world is clear and defined but what I am talking about is the other kind of vision.  That metaphorical vision of how we see ourselves and our passions, the things we see ourselves accomplishing and the path to get there.

If you have not guessed by now, I like metaphors.  Complicated things seem clearer to me when I turn them into something else and so you will just have to come along for the ride if you want to find out where we are going.  Speaking of life, metaphors and rides…

If there was a chart on the wall at the DMV of life I am pretty sure my “life driving license” would come with some restrictions.  There are times when the vision for where I am going and who I am is crystal clear but most of us come to a point where our vision gets blurry. How do we move forward when we can’t see where we are going? This becomes an all-consuming question for most everyone at some point in their journey.  

Most people just pull the car over on the side of the road and wait for the things to get clearer.  Letting my mind imagine people as cars I see a vision that haunts me.   Post apocalyptic freeways littered with the stalled out lives of people who just pulled over to the side and decided not move forward. Some of them are covered in rust and look like they will never move again. Others are idling with engines revving and looking for a moment to merge.  They all lost their vision, they all came to a stop and most will never start moving again.  

Maybe the best advice I ever heard on loosing your direction in life was “Its almost impossible to turn a parked car. Keep moving, even if it is the wrong direction, you can turn around once you get going.”

Then there are the brave and the stupid, with pedal pushing floorboard.  A few lucky souls will bull their way through life like this, but most of them end up in a fireball that causes lots of casualties.

There is only one smart thing to do when you lose your vision for life. Get right on the bumper of someone who knows where the hell they are going.

This metaphor is on empty but the idea has a lot of tread.

Helping someone else achieve their vision is a worthy endeavor at any time.  But working towards a passion, even someone else’s is a great way to remember what having a focused vision feels like. There is also the benefit of being around people who are excited about something.  The positives to just being in the room with people who are passionate about something are amazing.

 Give everything you have to someone else’s dream and sooner or later that vague idea of yours will crystalize into a vision and you will have a network of people excited about seeing it with you.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Daft Punk. Album Review


I have always wanted to do a review of highly a anticipated record. I am now old enough that I remember when the people who reviewed music actually had some influence and words like "Album"  "Record" or "CD" did not sound so antiquated to my own ears.

So tonight when I got the text from my long time brother in tunes "Daft Punk's Ram leaked tonight, lets take a ride" I got a feeling I have not had in a long time. The feeling of anticipation from hearing new music from a great artist.

It was midway through the third track that I wished I could review this music that was blaring out of my car stereo and two high hats later I realized that I have a blog and can write whatever I want. The fact that nobody will read it does not mean it cannot be just as insightful as the review some hipster with a wax mustachio over at Pitchfork is scribbling out with ink and quill; (Really, HUGE generalization.  I have no idea what the reviewer at Pitchfork looks like. But I am pretty sure they do use ink and quill to write all reviews which are then transcribed on a steampunk keyboard into a handcrafted turn of the century font.)

I am sure some of you are dubious as to my musical credibility and rightfully so but I assure you that I have far more taste than talent. I know I am in my late thirties, married with children and not exactly rocking the club scene, but I do suffer from insomnia and I have spent a decades worth of wee hours scouring the internet for something great to listen to, and with that much information to cover you learn to get pretty picky. Plus I have a picture of me in a cool Daft Punk t shirt at a appropriately unrelated Smashing Pumpkins show with my sister last week.

Some of you are also probably thinking that I sound like a huge Daft Punk fan and therefore I am going to gush over just about anything the robot headed Frenchmen put out but I promise you, if it sucks I will tell you.  I am going to go ahead and save you the suspense. It does not suck.

I was taking an easy potshot at hipster mentality earlier but I find myself caught in the classic hipster quandary. I was a huge fan of Daft Punk and Electronic music before most people in America and especially in the south eastern United States. So I am a little pissy when some kid who just realized last week that Linkin Park is not awesome wants to debate me on what sub genre Daft Punk should be classified under. Nobody likes to hear I told you so or really gives a crap that you knew something before they did so you just keep your mouth shut and be happy that more people are listening to better music. The massive American surge toward EDM over the last three years, along with absolutely zero, technical, talent or cost barrier to get someone's music to the masses has made for a lot of weak sauce lately.

Enter Daft Punk and Random Access Memories.


First and foremost please do not listen to this album with shitty speakers at low volume or on horrible headphones with a bad bootleg copy of the MP3 files. Half the beauty of anything from Daft Punk is the production and if you do not listen to it at a pretty high volume with half way decent equipment then you are not hearing the same music that I am talking about.

Random Access Memories. It's good. No, it is more than just good, I just cant say how much more just yet. For those of us who had to wait on a leaked copy and have had less than twenty four hours to digest a fairly complex album it is hard to say what level of good we are talking about. There is a cohesion about the record that will take time to sort out and for me that is always the real fun, figuring out what message a great artist is trying to send.

The first message from The Robots is pretty clear. "Nice job learning to press the play button kids. Now put away your laptop and pick up an instrument." The entire album was recorded using analog and you can feel it. The layers rest on each other differently and there is something more intimate about the sound that digital has yet to provide.

Another theme that comes through is that disco can convey more emotions than just the urge to shake your ass. There are a lot of tender and melancholy songs on Random Access Memories. "The game of love,""Within" and "Instant Crush" are three songs that explore some kind of pensive robot slow jam.

The other main message on the album would have to be,  Don't forget to shake your ass.
"Lose yourself to dance" and "Get Lucky" are the radio ready hits. "Lose yourself to dance" is especially infectious and it will have dance floors stomping for a long time. The Robots could have easily made eleven songs just like these two and made most people ecstatic but it is obvious they were trying for more and I think they achieved it.

If I wanted to sound like a seasoned and unbiased reviewer I might say that this record plays like another sequel soundtrack. This one for "WALL-E 2." Self aware robots can't dance all the time. I would love to see that movie actually so for me its not a detraction.

Most people are going to be scratching their heads over "Touch." The record comes to a awkward halt right in the center of the album with this slow moving broadway score sung by an unlikely front man. I have a feeling that this song might grow on me but as of right now its the only song I want to skip.

There are a couple of songs on the record where it takes a minute for the song to come alive. Admittedly  if it was another artist I might not give them that long.  Lebron James gets four steps on a break away and Daft Punk gets more than thirty seconds to hook me on a song and they usually succeed.

My favorite segment of the album is around the five minute mark in "Giorgio." The song starts out as a interview with Giorgia and slowly progresses into a fantastic jam. At the end of the song Thomas Bangalter  on base and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo on drums play like they have something to prove. A furious crescendo of drums, base, scratching and synthesizers clash and crash into something powerful and leaves you with your hair blown back.

Daft Punk hit the mark they were looking for with Random Access Memory, but I am afraid a majority of the people are looking at the targets behind them, the ones they have already shot down. This record is fun and beautiful but it is also a gauntlet thrown down as a challenge and a bread crumb. Its time to start pushing limits again in electronic music without just pushing buttons.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Connectivity. Making it Social.

If you are reading this you probably also read my post on Socially Awkward at Media. If not….well…you missed some serious blogging blather.  My Hollywood elevator pitch about it would be, it’s a blog post about a boy who doesn’t like Facebook and is bad at Tweets. Fade to black. Actually it is about trying to help myself understand what is lacking for me in Social Media. 
What is it we are looking for when someone says they want to connect?
It’s a question that to date I had not answered but one that would pop up fairly often on the minds big wheel of stupid questions. 
As with most things of relevance in modern life Forrest Gump seems to have had the answer. I will not give Forest all the credit, some will have to go to American Beauty and some will  go to authors, directors, priests and poets that were able to express what being truly connected feels like.  That feeling has a name and it seems to me that such an illusive emotion could not be labeled with such a modern sounding name as Connectivity.  We experience it in different ways but the symptoms are usually a rising joy in the chest, a lump in the throat, smiling and crying at the same time, and an expanding sensation of joy, peace and euphoria. 
I told you. That is a lot of good stuff for a name that is also used regularly by your cable guy.
Making people sad is like telling a narcoleptic to take a nap. Sadness and discontent is easy to convey and I do not respond to it very often in movies. 
Dead dog: Tragic.
Ten year olds mother has terminal cancer: Horrible.
Lovers torn apart by war: So sad, could you please pass the Twizzlers.
But conveying the sensation of connectivity is a challenge and a triumph. Show me a feather floating above a pensive looking Tom Hanks, and Dear Lord please help me keep the weeping to a respectable few drops.  If we are watching Shawshank Redemption and I step out of the room to get a drink every time Morgan Freeman starts a monologue its because I respect you and do not want you to see me cry. 
The term connect is a verbal crutch for social media but in truth it does not connect with all that much.  Snickering at snide comments on Twitter, Stalking old flames on Facebook and “CONNECTING” to the guy who sold me insurance on LInkedin actually feels more like getting to choose who you get stuck in a elevator with.  It can connect people but for the most part it only grazes them in passing because Social Media is designed for people to only have a one sided conversation.
This is all the stuff about me. Have some pictures of me. Look at what I just ate. Look at who I just met. Talking about ourselves feels good for a bit and having a constant platform to immediately express our feelings is comforting I guess but this self based model does little to actually improve a person or the world in general.  
If you want to grab my attention then connect me to something or someone on a huge level or a very intimate one. If you think you deserve to profit from me, market to me and have the privilege of knowing my search history then I think it fair that you actually connect me to more than just my ego.  Make me passionate about something and make me feel a part of it and I will be your biggest disciple. 
Sounds like a great business plan nobody has put into action yet. I don’t blame them, its hard to accomplish.
Truly connecting people to an idea, person, or thing takes more than most have the capacity for or others have the diligence for. It requires empathy, and clarity. It requires truth,  and who has the means to offer that up on a consistent basis?
 But make my chest expand with possibilities. Make my heart rise in my throat with realization and I will be your connection. I will be your customer. I will sell your product.  Tell me something significant and I will be your friend online and off.  Show me how I fit into something bigger than just my life and I will fill whatever role you need.
Feeling truly connected to something or someone is what most of us live for. Is anybody working on actually connecting us? Or is everyone fine with their single serving friend.  “Single serving friend.” Chuck Palahniuk gave us that gem in Fight Club. Chuck’s gift is making us feel that void in the gut when everything we are connected to is smaller than us. The effect is no less powerful in its opposition to the lifting joy of being a part of something bigger and the conclusion should be the same.
We all need to be connected and most of us will take anything we can get but we are all looking for so much more.  To the daring Start Ups who are looking to break open that next threshold to connect Man to Media to Man,  or the grass roots organizer who is looking to start a movement. Instead of rehashing the single serving friend model, I would implore you.  Give us a medium to be ourselves. Then show us how ourselves reaching out to others expands everything.
Falling feathers framed perfectly can show us the world.