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The Thomas Jefferson Starship Existentialist Dilemma

– The Thomas Jefferson Starship Existentialist Dilemma

I don’t like politics. I think it’s a messy, horrible enterprise. I know, however, that it is a necessary evil. That’s why I keep up with the scary, messy, ugly, occasionally corrupt dealings that are the inner workings of this country very closely. Because of this somewhat masochistic desire, I often wonder if it wouldn’t be best to go into a career in politics, or at least some field that could affect the outcome of this country. Y’know, do some public service or government work or something. It would be more productive than running an entertainment magazine, at least.

That thought runs through my head more often than I would like – I mean, who wants to think that what they’re doing is useless? But I worry about it a great deal. Because when it comes down to it, I am not even entertainment; I am an organization that survives off the covering of entertainment. I’m a second-hand luxury. In the grand scheme of things, Independent Clauses could disappear and not much would change. Is that something I want to dedicate my life to?

Are other people more integral to the world? Is there really a job that is integral to the life of the nation/the world? Would being a politician really do anything? I am just being existential?

I think that politics does matter – it keeps the country running. But if one politician died (even the President), the government doesn’t stop working. The government rolls on, bigger than any individual. But if the government as a whole were to fold, then we’d be in dire straits.

So maybe my goal can be to create something so big that my leaving doesn’t affect its death; To make something for the sake of making it – to build something for the sake of saying “I made that.” Maybe ignore the fact that it’s a second-hand luxury that I’m creating and just focus on the fact that the IC is (will be?) a business, contributing to the economy, which is in itself a vital action that makes me part of the living and dying of this country. I will create jobs – that’s good. That’s meaningful to the economy.

I occasionally feel guilty as well – the whole “to whom much is given, much is expected” thing. I know I’ve been gifted with intelligence and absolutely zero debt. I know that I have the ability to do things. It just so happens that the thing I’m doing right now doesn’t seem like something that people who gave me scholarships would be thrilled about.

But I am thrilled about it. I really am. I love what I do, I love what we stand for, I love all of it. I want it to make money so bad so that this can be what I do for a living. Because if I can’t be doing art, then at least I can be around artists. I always wanted to be in a band; I always wanted to be driving around the country in a van, broke and tired and happy. To me, that’s a necessity; people need entertainment.

Even in the Great Depression there were movies, books and music – even when we as a collective entity had the least amount of money to be spending on luxuries, we were spending on luxuries. Why would we do that? We would because life is hard. We need to be entertained sometimes. Living in entertainment and not dealing with the world is bad for you, but even politicians have favorite movies and music. We need to get out of the violent and painful world sometimes.

And that is what music does for me – transport me out of the violent and painful world. Even if it is the world they are singing about, even if it’s as gritty as real life in the lyrical candor, there’s the fact that other people feel it. And that you can sing along and agree with them, sing together, come together over me and know that you will be okay is a mystery greater than I can understand. I don’t know why we are blessed with this gift, the human voice.

But we are, and it is the thing that keeps me sane sometimes. It keeps me sane now, as I hear John Darnielle (otherwise known as The Mountain Goats) howling “And I am coming back to you! With my own blood in my mouth! I am coming home to you! If it’s the last thing that I do!” That’s “Sax Rohmer #1,” from his new and incredible album Heretic Pride, incidentally. I don’t know who John Darnielle is coming home to. But I do know that I feel the same way right now. I’m coming home to the way I felt before all this got complicated – life, politics, the economy, God, women, friends, responsibility, family, everything.

That’s what’s incredible about music, and all good entertainment. It resonates with us on an emotional level. We all have break-up songs that we keep for if we ever have a break-up (mine: the entirety of Letting Go of a Dream by Josh Caress). We have a favorite crying movie (Little Miss Sunshine), we have a favorite laughing movie (Thank You for Smoking), we have a favorite album to play in the car when you just feel good (There Should Be More Dancing by Free Diamonds). Entertainment is more than just distraction – it helps us feel. It allows us to cry when we wouldn’t otherwise, or helps us to laugh when we otherwise can’t. It’s vital to the survival of our mental states.

We’re only eight years removed from the release of the movie High Fidelity, but when it comes to its ten-year (and 25-year) anniversary editions, I want to be there writing an essay for inclusion in that box set. It sums up the relationship of music and emotions better than any other movie I’ve seen. Rob Gordon is a mess and he knows it. He keeps up with himself by immersing himself in music and his record store. When he gets broken up with, he reorganizes his ridiculously large collection of records. Music is his hitching rack. Music is how he keeps himself together. This should also be where I interject the importance of Christianity in my life, but that’s not the point of this essay. In short, High Fidelity notes that music has so much more pull in our lives than we often admit. It is intricately tied to us, and whoever brings the music into our lives is just as important, in my opinion, as those who affect the other, “more important” areas of our lives.

And being the one who helps bring music is as important, I think, as being in politics. Because whatever politics ends up doing, we need entertainment to cope with it. We need to take action, as well – and I am not advocating reclusive, escapist tendencies. I’m saying that you’re gonna need to cry. I’m saying that as you’re going to protest, you listen to something. Art is vital.

I bring art into people’s lives. I believe what I am doing is important because it facilitates the connection of people with their art. I bring good music. What is good? Good is music that can resonate with people. The better it can connect to people the more it’s important. Does today’s radio music resonate the way radio music in the 70’s did? No, it doesn’t. There’s no protest. There’s no introspection, no self-examination, nothing but sex and gratification.

It’s not like music has to be lofty and huge idealistically to be good – Electric Light Orchestra’s “Hold on Tight” has a goofy verse in what I think is either Japanese or French. The rest of the lyrics don’t stray far from repeating “hold on tight to your dreams.” But it’s still a much deeper and more powerful song musically and lyrically than we have on the radio today.

So yes, I hate politics, because it makes me feel that what I’m doing isn’t important. But I listen to “Hold on Tight,” or Bleach’s hugely underappreciated Again, for the First Time, or the unfairly obscure The Felix Culpa, and I know why I do what I do. I see why it’s important. I feel good about life. …thanks for putting up with it.

Stephen Carradini

Singles from Election Day

1. “This Land is Your Land” – Kris Orlowski. Seattle-based singer-songwriter Kris Orlowski connects to Woody Guthrie’s historic anthem, weaving tapestries of American diversity.  In addition to the version’s light Pacific Northwest vibe, Abby Gundersen’s violin creates a lighter-than-air essence to the track. (All performances of this iconic tune add to the subtle sonic palette’s reimagining.) Orlowski’s quest to make this land our land comes with a call for fans to provide images of America to be used in a video for the song. Orlowski’s video for “This Land is Your Land” captures the ‘essence of America’ as seen through the collection of photographs submitted to the artist. —Lisa Whealy

Lisa and I have never both written about a song before, but this song in this moment calls for it. Lisa is spot-on with the musical analysis: it’s gentle Pacific NW folk and Gunderson’s violin is beautiful. I’m thinking about something else. I’m writing this on November 3, Election Day. This blog has only rarely been overtly political, although we have supported politically-oriented work for many years. In this troubled year, we have been supporting politically-oriented work much more frequently than we usually do. I sat down to this song to cover it as I would any other politically-oriented song, but it struck a deep chord with me.

See, I have a pretty even split of friends from both sides of the aisle. I have lived in conservative-leaning states all my life–but I’ve worked in media, arts, and academia in those states. I know the conservative folk of those states through my church and religious organizations, and I know the liberal folk of those states from my professional life. I am the most conservative person in most liberal rooms, and the most liberal person in most conservative rooms. In this election, I know people voting for at least four (yes, four) different parties. Like everyone else, I have experienced the difficult polarization of the last few years ramp up to seemingly-absurd levels this year. I experience that polarization primarily as a deep sadness: my life is split in two. People who I talk to in one area of my life do not trust people from another area of my life, and vice versa. No matter who wins this election, roughly half of my friends will be disheartened.

It’s into this deep sadness that Orlowski’s tune speaks. I long for a country that feels like the way this video feels: peaceful, unified, harmonious, and hopeful, while not ignoring the difficulties of our time. (Catch that multi-layered juxtaposition of protestors being threatened with guns vs a shot of a patriotic monument.) What more kindness can we grant to each other than to say “This land is your land, this land is my land”? What more kindness can we summon than to put other people in front of ourselves and yet to include ourselves in the gift (and the work) of this country? Both sides feel that the other doesn’t understand the country, doesn’t respect the people of this country, doesn’t know what is best. Yet, I want a country where we can work together to be the country. Hear that hope in these words from a fellow Okie-who-left: “When the sun comes shining / and I was strolling / the wheat fields waving / a voice come chanting / and the fog was lifting / this land was made / this land was made for you / this land was made for you and me.” I cried when I heard Orlowski’s performance. It speaks to the country I want. It has always been the country I want. I hope it makes you cry too. Happy Election Day.

2. “Yes Electronic” – Be a Bear. A slick, polished house techno cut that rides a smooth beat, blaring synths, cyberpunk melodies, and occasional vocal interjections. The song is fully club-ready. (Bonus: apparently the whole thing was constructed on an iPhone.)

3. “Swell” – Trevor Ransom. Ransom’s last single featured downright punchy electronic/techno bits. This one returns to a more ambient flavor, although there are still plenty of stacked pad synths and big swells going on. The thrumming heart of the piece is an arpeggiator-esque bass thump, so it’s more a matter of how things are used this time. It’s icy, glacial, and yet somehow triumphant. A compelling piece.

4. “Tokyo Solo 2002 Encores” – Keith Jarrett. Jarrett’s music soared from his fingers, dancing across grand ivory pianos around the world. In this 2002 solo concert encore in Tokyo, he reminded us that music’s language is universal. His 2017 Carnegie Hall appearance turned into his final public performance. A few days ago, the 75-year-old classical and jazz pianist revealed he has experienced debilitating strokes and announced his retirement via the New York Times.  The support of his  Budapest Concert (Live) via ECM is not surprising, given Jarrett’s iconic artistry, in addition to his outspoken voice for social change that resonates across generations. —Lisa Whealy

5. “Spa” – Icona Pop and Sofi Tukker. Two of my favorite producers of electro-pop club bangers get together to announce “I’m done with the club / just take me to the spa” via some of the most club-ready beats, vibes, and vocals of 2020. The club’s loss is the spa’s gain.

6. “Tokyo” / “Maggie” – Jeremiah Fraites. Fraites is known for being part of the Lumineers, and the folk-pop outfit’s infectious melodicism is fully present in these peaceful piano ruminations. These piano compositions have the sort of light touch and subtle melodies that fans of piano will love, but also has some of the heft and pop that keeps his other band’s folk songs so snappy (see in particular the thundering toms of “Maggie” for a big dose of heft and pop, while “Tokyo” is the lighter end.) Both tunes are powerful compositions without going overboard on high drama. Highly recommended.

7. “remix by madam data” – Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes. International Anthem puts out lots of skittering, chaotic, cutting-edge electronic-meets-jazz work. Some of it is too much for me; I’m new to both genres, and as such I’m not really ready to blend the far edge of techno and the far edge of jazz yet. Navarro and Holmes do have some skittering, thick-beat, wub-heavy electro punch underlying this piece, but the jazzy processed horn work smooths out some of the tough edges here. That process creates a productive tension that is exciting and edgy without losing those of us who love melodies.

8. “Another One for Slug” – Dougie Stu. As a bass player, I have found myself attracted to jazz written by bassists (even when I didn’t know it was written by bassists). Such is the case with Dougie Stu’s work here, which is a funky, jazzy, deep-groove piece. The song is not obviously led by the bass (as with composers like Joshua Crumbly), but the bass is prominent, meshing with the complex percussion to create the driving force of the tune. The keys and guitars add flavor on the groove, but this one is about that tight groove. The horns that come in mid-way through give a huge lift to the piece and shift the vibe from downtempo soul to an easygoing Sunday morning vibe. Solid.

9. “Västernorrland” – Tobias Svensson. Led by a bouncy, pizzicato string line, this delicate composition has a light, airy feel that contrasts with a melancholy streak. The staccato strings and the gently cascading piano runs offer a unique contrast that fuses into a clever, engaging piece. The arpeggiator that phases in over time joins the two ideas perfectly, creating a strong conclusion. 

10. “Dodola” – EYOT. This nine-minute journey rides on enthusiastic bass work, rolling piano, and insistent percussion. Reminiscent of the piano-led epics of GoGoPenguin, this outfit leans heavily on keys to create wide, sweeping landscapes with sound. The framework provided by the bass and drums lets those soundscapes grow and flourish. It’s a great piece of work.

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