Friday, September 30, 2011

Putting In Your $1.05

One thing people tend to forget is that Freedom of Speech also means that individuals have the Freedom Not To Speak. Perhaps we should all exercise that freedom just a little more often.

We're hearing more and more stories about anti-gay weirdoes spouting off their beliefs in unnecessary or unusual places. Some of those people, like this guy, are being punished for their inopportune and unwelcome comments. And some of those people, like that same guy, are being propped up as martyrs in the fundamentalist Christian community.

The thing is that, while he does have a right to speak his mind, he doesn't have a right to do so without repercussion. We all have rights and privileges in this country, but those come with responsibilities as well. The responsibility to speak about appropriate topics in appropriate ways and in appropriate settings strongly correlates with the right to free speech.

For example, I am free to discuss topics like my bedroom activities with whomever is around me. But that may come at a cost. If I choose to speak of these things with friends at a bar, that cost will be laughs or friendly jibing, but if I choose to do so in front of my boss, that cost may be the loss of my job, or if I choose to do so on Facebook, that cost may be the "unfriending" of family and friends who are not keen on participating in such discussions.

You see, I am free to discuss my bedroom antics, but I am also subject to the cost of that freedom. Conversely, I am free to simply not speak of such things, thereby avoiding any cost, and I am free to selectively share, thereby incurring only the costs I am willing and able to pay.

Clearly, there are people who are unaware of the costs of their Freedoms. Perhaps if people continue to lose focus of the societal costs of their freedoms, we should enact the $1.05 policy advocated by Team America: World Police.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dreading Another Chicago Winter

As the chill starts to settle in here in Chicago, my well-documented hatred of the cold and winter and snow is resurfacing. Chicago is not known for it's lovely and majestic winters. This city is pretty well plagued by piles upon piles of snow each year coupled with sub-zero temperatures and winds that are fond of knocking me off the sidewalk onto my ass in the middle of the street. Oh, and those winds have the magical ability to drop the temp another 10-20 degrees.

In short, I really hate the winters here.

By contrast, the summers in Chicago can't be beat. It could be a bit warmer for a bit longer, but I think the shortness of our warm season is what makes the summers here as amazing as they are. The city comes alive, people are out and about, street festivals are packed into every weekend, and the beaches are always full or sun-loving people soaking up every minute of warmth they can get. This city celebrates the warmer months like no other place I've lived.

Which just makes the winter months even more despondent. It's almost like we are forcing ourselves to have fun in the summers because we know that once December rolls around, we won't be going outside for anything less than absolute necessities for a good 5 months. Everyone shuts themselves in doors, socialization slows to a crawl and the memories of summer are all we have to keep us going.

OK, that last paragraph may be just a little melodramatic, but it does mostly convey my thoughts on the issue.

So each year around this time, the husband and I talk about moving. When we first met, he was steadfast in not wanting to leave Chicago, but over the years he's become more open to the idea. I want to live somewhere warm. Like no snow kind of warm. Where sunlight isn't a precious commodity and houses are only equipped with heaters for "just in case" moments. Where 90-degree weather isn't seen as the second sign of the apocalypse and being outside in January doesn’t involve 3 layers of clothing, 2 coats, a hat and a prayer that the wind gods won't take you as a sacrifice to their cruel sense of justice.

Of course, when he asks where I want to move, my only answer is "South." "Where South," he asks. And I say "I don't know, just not here."

Very helpful and direct.

Truth is I don’t know where I'd like to go. Atlanta has been mentioned several times, but I just have a bad impression of that city for some reason, and a strong opposition to Georgia in general. Austin and Dallas have been bandied about, but then there's the whole living in Texas thing to contend with. New Orleans sounds interesting, and we both really love that city, but that whole finding a job thing might prove difficult there.

Then there's the West Coast to consider. We're both open to pretty much any of the big West Coast cities: San Diego, San Francisco, L.A. We've even considered the northern ones like Portland and Seattle because we hear snow isn't a real issue there, although the lack of heat may still be an issue. But we've never been to any of those places, so right now they sound like these mythical places of wonder, but we have no clue what they'll really be like.

There's also this notion of starting over again socially. I have experience moving around, did it a lot as a kid and I uprooted myself to Chicago a few years back. But just because I've done it before doesn't mean it'll be easy and/or fun. I love the friends that we've made here in Chicago. It's taken a few years, but the friends we've cultivated here are really great people. We have to ask ourselves if we really want to start over again and forge new friendships.

All that said, it's just an idea. The logistics of moving all of our stuff, finding jobs and transferring schools, finances, and all the other stuff that comes with moving is a bit overwhelming. Yes, I'd love to move South and get out of these wretched winters, but I'd also like to be making 3 times my current salary and shopping for a summer home. I'm not sure how many more of these Chicago Winters I can take though. I'm guessing at some point the hatred I have for this season will finally out weigh our apprehensions about moving and we'll make it happen. But I don't think that's this year.

Meanwhile, I'll just come back here to bitch and whine about the cold.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Smells Like 30-Something Spirit

I can remember thinking in high school that at some point, much later in life, I'd look back at the music I was listening to at the time and reminisce about the "good old days" of music and how the "music" them there kids was listening to was just plain garbage. I'm thinking that the "much later in life" thing may have crept up on me sooner than I thought it would.

Slacker Radio is web music service like Pandora, and in any tangible sense that won't take paragraphs of tech blah-blah to explain, they are pretty much identical, although I generally prefer Slacker's iPhone app over Pandora's. Anyway, Slacker creates these special stations from time to time to celebrate whatever is going on in music at the time, like they had a VMA station a couple weeks back. Right now their featured station is "Grunge: 20 Years Later."

For those reading from my generation, I'll let that sink in for a moment. It's been 20 years since Nevermind and 10 came out, 20 years since the most significant cultural shift in the music industry of the 90's hit the scenes, 20 years since flannel shirts were not solely owned by lesbians and boys with long, ragged hair were the cool thing.

In other words, we are now old enough to say "remembered when" and for the music we grew up on to be considered "old school." I about cried when that dawned on me.

I still love grunge music though. I still listen to old STP and Live and Nirvana and Alice in Chains and Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins. And I may as well be waving my cane at kids screaming "get off my lawn!" while I listen.

I'm not too fond of this feeling, but I suppose it's just one of those feelings I'll have to learn to deal with. I'm only more likely to have these type of moments as life goes on. And hell, if Slacker having a station dedicated to Grunge helps a few young pups out there really understand why Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream was such a big f-in deal of an album, it can't be that bad.

In the meantime though, I need to go sit on my porch and rock in my wooden chair while I whistle Smells Like Teen Spirit through my dentures...

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's Like Crack

Buying musical equipment should come with a warning label. Perhaps something like what they put on cigarette packs in some places, but instead of cancerous lungs it should be empty wallets and weeping bank accounts. This shit is dangerous!

I've had a hankering to start writing and recording music again. I've barely touched my guitar in a few years, but I've been feeling really inspired lately and, perhaps more importantly, I've been missing the outlet that my music offered me. With amateur home recording becoming easier and offering better quality than in years past, I've also had the urge to start recording my music for posterity.

Not having much luck in the past getting even decent sounding tracks on to the hard drive, I decided I should probably defer to people that might know a little more about recording than I do. So off to Guitar Center we went.

The idea was really to get an idea of what basic equipment was needed to start recording and price it all out. After about an hour of questioning a very nice, very hipster kid about various gear and techniques and tools, we walked away with approximately $300 price tag in mind. Just to get started.

And I wanted to buy it all, right then and there.

I remember reading about The Smashing Pumpkins' recording process while making Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness. They used over 300 different guitars, at least as many effects pedals, and a sizable amount of different microphones just to record that one album. In essence, Billy Corgan is a perfectionist. I'm not saying I'm near that bad, but I am saying I understand where he's coming from…

So we didn't buy anything. We didn't because it was $300 we weren't planning on spending. We didn’t because I'm not quite ready to start recording stuff just yet. Most importantly, we didn't because we knew that once I started buying stuff, I wouldn't want to stop. I'd get the first batch of gear, but then I'd just need another cable. Oh, then there's a new stand that might work well. And I can't forget about that other thingamajig that will surely make this one song just perfect… and on, and on…

But at least I know what to plan for now. I know what the entry level will be and I can spend some time learning a bit more about the equipment and the whats and hows of it all. Now I have to try and invoke some semblance of will power and hold off on rushing out to buy it all!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Orleans Is A Blast Even In A Tropical Storm

Rain makes for an interesting companion during vacations. It seems that during pretty much all of our travels over the past couple years, rain has decided to come along with us. Mexico, Vancouver, Provincetown… all had some rainfall. Now we can add New Orleans to that list.

While the rain during the other vacations was more of a nuisance, like a harmless cousin that shows up at your door with luggage in hand looking for a free room to stay for the night, the NOLA rain was more like overbearing grandparents showing up just when you're about to have that hot date over for the night.

Lee Rises In The South

If you were watching the news, I'm sure you heard about Tropical Storm Lee and how it was headed straight for New Orleans. Given that it waited till Friday to start in force and was pretty much over by Monday afternoon, I might have even thought that this storm was sent just so that it could put a damper on our vacation, but if that was Lee's intention, I'm sure he forgot that us gays are more likely to have spontaneous wet T-shirt contest in the street than to run for cover when the sky just happens to turn in to an outdoor showerhead.

Friday night was a bit rough and even a tiny bit scary. Having been through a few hurricanes in my life, I started to get a little antsy, but when I realized that we were witnessing the worst of it and it wasn't likely to get much worse, I calmed down a bit. We made it back to our condo before the worst of it fell, but our condo-mate was still out around 2:30 am when the rain had turned the streets into little rivers or empty cups and cigarette butts.

The rest of the weekend was as nice as we could have hoped for given the weather reports prior to heading down there. There was a little rain here and there, we got soaked through a couple times, but overall it was fine. Like I said, we gays know how to make a fun party out of any situation, even if our hair was getting ruined. If nothing else, it provided for an endless supply of Flashdance impersonations.

A Decadent Time

Southern Decadence was everything we had hoped for this time around as well. As I mentioned, this year we knew quite a few more people than we had last year, and it was nice to see them all, but we also made time to make some new friends. One thing I love about events like this is that whenever we leave, we've made a few more new friends across the country, which gives us even more of a reason to go visit places like San Diego, Houston, or D.C.

Again, the charm of New Orleans really swept me away. There's just something magical about that city. Sure, there's the hokey factor, but more than anything the old-world feel of the French Quarter and the genuiness of the city's residents is just something you have to experience. I fall in love with it again every time I visit.

A Few New Eats

We tried a few new restaurants this year that I would be remiss not to mention, one upscale and one completely not-so-much, but both delicious. First, the higher-end place: Restaurant August. This is John Besh's place in New Orleans and features "modern French" dishes mixed with Cajun and Creole stylings. We popped in for lunch and everything from was just amazing. Our server was knowledgeable, patient, fun, and professional, the drinks were delicious and hand-crafted and the beer offered was from the best of the local breweries, and the food was perfectly prepared and unique. A friend of ours shared this recommendation with us last time we went, but it took us this second time in NOLA to make the effort to go and I'm very glad we did.

The more authentic and down-home place that I think everyone should try is a place the cleaning staff at the condo recommended: Coops Place. A few things to mention right up front, the restaurant is small, the wait staff are rude, and the bathrooms are in the scariest bowels of the building possible. That said, this could have been the best, most true-to-memory Louisiana cooking I've had in all my trips to NOLA. The fried chicken was perfectly spiced, the red beans and rice had just the right amount of pork sprinkled throughout, and the gumbo was piping hot and full up on the ingredients. Do yourself a favor, check your tourist ego at the door, and get the waiter to laugh and you'll be in for a real, authentic New Orleans meal.

We'll Be Back

Even though our second annual (hopefully more to come) Labor Day excursion to New Orleans was just a bit rain-soaked, I have to say that we probably had a better time this year compared to last. Of course, that's like saying last year was an 8.5/10 and this year was a 9/10, but still. We made some promising new friends, had some excellent food (something that was lacking last year), and even made the best of the rain and still had a blast!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

All I Ever Wanted Was A Little Airborne Toxicity

I don't often obsess over a song. I'm more of an album kind of guy. Albums can be great or miserable, and so can individual songs on those albums, but usually the strength or weakness of a single track just weighs in to my overall estimation of an album.

Of course, for every rule there is an exception. A few weeks ago I went on a new music binge. I opened Slacker Radio on my iPhone, fired up their Alternative channel and listened until I found five songs I really liked, then went and grabbed the albums those songs were on, hoping that the albums would be good enough to break me out of my music funk.

One of the albums I downloaded was All At Once from Airborne Toxic Event. This is one of those times that I realize I'm behind on finding this artist, but honestly I just couldn't care. The album is good and I'm just glad to have found it! I love the instrumentation the artists use, the range of sounds they are able to command, and, probably most inspiring to me, their lyrics.

But one songs on the album, All I Ever Wanted, has really stuck out to me. I'm not even sure if the track has been or will be released as a single, but it certainly needs to be! Take a listen:

I can't define what I appreciate most from the song, the lyrics or the arrangement, but I don't think it matters because it's purely amazing. The lyrics take you on a journey of fear and hope and realization and self-doubt and love… you know, all the things us neurotics think about pretty much daily! And the strings came through with such simplicity and the intensity of their delivery is perfect.

It's a song that I know I can relate to, and one that I think so many others can too. I've read the explanations across the interwebs of what people think the song means, and from a literal stand point I'm sure the abandonment idea makes sense, but the beauty of a song like this (as with any good art) is that there is still room for interpretation from the viewer/listener.

When I hear these lyrics, I don't hear a man saying that the relationship is over. I hear a man that knows that shit just got real, as the kids say. He knows the honeymoon-period is over. It's a flash-point perspective on the moment that it dawned on him that he's with someone and that he's not sure he can be everything to them like he always wanted to be. And that leads to his fear that maybe this won't work out, that maybe the person he's with isn't exactly who he thought either and maybe that'll end badly. But in the end, I feel like he comes back and says that he's in love anyway, despite the fears and the insecurities and the short-comings. He's going to defy his self-doubt because he knows that nobody is perfect.

I've been listening to this song a lot. I mean, like on repeat. I've been learning to play a version of it so that I can play it in the short windows of time that I'm not listening to it. I've been reading (*shudder*) fan-site message boards to get other opinions on the song. I'm quite obsessed. And I think you should be too.