Monday, June 15, 2009

An Infinite Moment

I'm getting a little burned out on hating on the neoconservatives and the FOX news voting bloc and defending global warming, so I'm taking a break this time and writing about what I'd describe as the holiest 90 minutes of my life. It happened this weekend at Bonnaroo; a magical land of tranquility and peace.

Every year in Manchester, Tennessee, Bonnaroo is the largest music festival in north America, and is home to 850 acres of endless fields of tents filled with 100,000 people who come all the way from Alaska to Connecticut, each one as open, warm, and friendly as the next. Amidst the oppressive summer heat and the odor of thousands of food vendors, and sweat-drenched hippies, indie kids and hipsters are dozens of the hottest musical and comedic acts in the world.

(There were entirely too many great bands playing to see all of them, but I'll list a few of the bands I saw. Keep in mind, most of these concerts had at least 10,000 people in the audience. You're lucky to even get inside the tent or in the vicinity of the stage, as getting a good spot requires one to get to the stage 45 minutes early and slip through the teeming masses until the crowd becomes too thick to move. You'll notice that I saw 11 bands the first day, 7 bands the next, and then finally took my time on the last day and only saw 4 bands. The less bands you see, the better concert experience you'll get.)

Kaki King
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Al Green
Beastie Boys
David Byrne
Public Enemy
Femi Kuti & the Positive Force
Crystal Castles
Girl Talk

Booker T and the Drive-By Truckers
Jenny Lewis
The Mars Volta
The Decemberists

Citizen Cope
Andrew Bird
Snoop Dogg

Centeroo, where all the action happens, features hundreds of displays of art, political activism, music and dance workshops, dance clubs, drum circles, and a carnival complete with a ferris wheel and circus. The average Bonnaroo day ends around 6 AM, when the last band has left the stage, when your feet finally ache and your ears ring too much from the rave party, and you make the long trek back to the campsite in flip flops as the sun rises. The day begins again after around three hours of sleep, when your tent becomes an oven from the morning sun. Rinse and repeat daily Thursday thru Sunday, immersed constantly in infinite moments. That's Bonnaroo in a nutshell; a weekend of infinity.

In high school, I and others my age read a book called "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky; a sort of modern-day Catcher in the Rye for my generation. It was about a kid named Charlie who came of age in the mid to late eighties, and astutely observed the people around him and the adventures they all had.

He described certain moments as "infinite," when he felt completely engaged and alive; in tune with the ultimate joy he was experiencing, while lucidly aware of having the moment. Charlie would always subconsciously step back in his mind, and remind himself that he was having an infinite moment. A moment that he always carries with him.

I've had a treasure trove of these moments, especially in recent months. I had the ultimate infinite moment while watching Andrew Bird at Bonnaroo.

Andrew Bird
I can't really classify Andrew Bird's music, and anyone who can doesn't understand Andrew Bird. He's a classically-trained violin player from Illinois, who also plays guitar and glockenspiel. More than that, he whistles eerily beautiful and haunting melodies. His signature is picking his violin like a guitar, recording that melody, then playing a complimentary melody on top of that. When that's finished, he has a harmonic string quartet playing over him, where he then produces a bow and plays his violin over the top of the melodies he creates and that his band supports.

Andrew Bird travels with a drummer/keyboardist, a bassist/saxophone/clarinet player, and a rhythm guitarist. When the full musical picture has been painted and detailed, Bird croons eclectic lyrics over multiple-layered string harmonies. His live performances are a must-see, because one can witness exactly how Andrew Bird creates his magic one piece at a time, live on stage. I saw him for the first time in 2007 in Columbus, when he was a little lesser-known before the release of his two newer albums.

I was seven people back from the front of the stage for this show, with about 30,000 people in the field behind me. Sadly, I had to miss Erykah Badu's 3:30 PM concert to get a good spot for Andrew Bird at 4:15. With about 45 minutes on my side, I started walking forward to the Which Stage until I could no longer push forward. I stepped around and over festivalgoers sprawled out on beach towels and in the grass, through groups of frat dudes, mods, punks, hippies, hipsters, Deadheads, Rastas, and skaters, all the way to the front. My shirt clung to my skin, buttoned only twice at the bottom and soaked in a combination of my own perspiration, several gallons of water that flowed from a giant mushroom, and red paint left over from Friday, when my entire torso was painted crimson from a parade of painted people in thong bikinis carrying tribal drums.

The sun mercilessly broke through the clouds around 4 PM, in direct defiance of the pleasantly overcast and temperate morning's cool temperatures. My mind was in a delirious yet hyper-aware state, exacerbated by the jungle-like humidity and a voluntary lack of sleep and not much food, in addition to being constantly assaulted by high decibels and blown away by raw musical force. Here, at the last day of the festival, my skin had taken on a darker tone. This was partially due to the abundant sunshine and scarcity of shade- also to the 3 days of filth that bodies accumulate when not showering with soap and shampoo. My body was laminated in a sheet of dirt, encased in another layer of sweat, with more dirt on top to really seal in the color. But this was only my first Bonnaroo; the true pros were much filthier than I.

Finally at the front of the crowd, I took a swig of lukewarm water out of my trusty gallon jug I had been using all weekend. The crowd meshed closer around me, and I got to know all of the people who surrounded me, where they were from, and heard a little bit of their story and told a little bit of my own. The sense of brotherhood one will find at Bonnaroo is dependent on which band you're seeing, but everyone is generally very warm, open, and giving with everything they have. There's a unique sense of community to be found at Bonnaroo unlike anywhere I've ever been.

An infinite moment
(I'll do my best here to take you right where I was, and describe to you what I saw, heard, and felt. I can honestly say that the time between 4:15 and 5:45 on Sunday, June 14th, 2009 at the Which Stage at Bonnaroo, was the greatest time and place for any human being to be alive in history; past, present, and future.)

The crowd gathered in tighter as our numbers grew, and sound crews started bringing equipment on stage for Andrew Bird's show. I recognized, along with the other Andrew Bird fans who rallied to the front of the stage, the fantastical props and set pieces Bird always travels with. The spinning double gramophone, sock monkey, and the life-size gramophones on either side of the stage add to the eclectic and esoteric tone of Andrew Bird's music. The collective anticipation from all of us in the front in combination with the heat and lack of room to move is almost too much to bear.

Finally, a tall, shy, thin, 35 year-old man walks on stage with his band and waves at the crowd. He is immediately received with cheers, praise, and song requests. Andrew Bird picks up his violin, closes his eyes, and picks the first part of a multitracked violin melody. His band joins in as the sound progresses. Now, as the first verse starts, the entire field in front of the stage is alive with a pulsing sub bass harmonizing with the hundreds of notes now singing together on a palette of musical colors personally picked out by Bird. Bird now starts crooning eerily to a peacefully intense piece of music, and the guy next to me shivers with pleasure.

A few songs from now, and the music is now transforming into something more energetic, driving, and powerful, chiefed by Andrew Bird's whistling and drummer Doss's double-timed beat. Bird steps on a switch, and the double gramophone behind him starts spinning faster and faster. He runs over and compliments the main melody on his glockenspiel, whistling along with the notes he is striking.

Looking around, the massive crowd is hypnotized by Andrew Bird's unfair amount of talent, now fully on display as he blissfully plays his violin to a vast soundscape of beautiful music. We all shout and cheer as the song ends. I notice a tear has collected in my right eye, and I'm wearing a ear-to-ear grin, much like the one worn by the rest of those around me. I find that my hands have been raised in victory and happiness for quite a long time.

I look at the guy to my left and say, "This is the greatest time to be alive." He nods, and voices his agreement. At this moment, I'm convinced that no music can sound any prettier than the song I just heard, and no moment can be richer than the one I had just lived. And right after the next song, Bird outdoes that moment, and I'm in just as much disbelief. One song later, and he's done it all over again. Andrew Bird's concert was a eternal hour and a half of glorious harmony and joy.

Now, the last song is playing. Bird began by playing his violin in long, sweeping, one-time strokes. He harmonizes with a different stroke. Once this has been layered, the strings filter in and out of the speakers, left and right. My body unconsciously shivers, and my head jitters involuntarily with each swoop of the bow across the strings. Now, Bird is giving his all to this one cosmically beautiful melody.

The crowd around me is now fully engaged in the performance, beaming with glee at each awesome thing Bird does to compliment his song with his whistling, his guitar playing, his violin, the drums, the keys, the bassist's saxophone playing, and Bird's voice. Everything in the universe seems at peace, nothing wrong can happen here; this is a holy place filled with angelic music, and thousands of brotherly people from all different backgrounds are united by this one performance, and their love of music and of each other.

By the end of the song, I'm silently weeping to the sheer, raw power and energy and of the music. My feet are exhausted from dancing. My knees are locking, my water jug is completely empty, my bladder has painfully full for the past hour, and sweat is pouring from my brow and dripping from my chin. I'm left entranced, with the rest of the crowd, as Bird says his thank you, and walks off the stage. As he does, he leaves the double gramophone spinning, and the layered string harmony playing angelically over the giant speakers. I'm satiated from the music and the crowd's energy, I'm sweating, famished, and parched, but I helplessly walk forward, toward the stage, looking around, unsure of what to do next. Like those around me, my mind is reeling from being blown away by what seems to be everything that is right in the universe. I serenely float on my own little cloud for the next few hours, slowly regaining my sense of reality in the afterglow of the most mind-numbingly amazing experience of my life.

At this point in the afternoon, I hadn't eaten since 1:30 or so, and it was past six. I had just refilled my gallon jug halfway, and was wandering around in a daze, looking for the nearest food stand so I could refill my body with nutrients of which it had been deprived. I walked past a vendor selling hand drums, and a small drum circle had gathered in front. I excitedly picked up a dumbek, listened for the right rhythm to play, and my hands began slapping a rhythm against the fiberglass head. I then started playing with more force and vigor, energized by the tautness of the drum and the tone of the slaps against the rim, singing their high notes and low tones to the meandering masses slowly gathering around us.

I felt the music and the happiness inside of me stored up from the concert suddenly pour out uncontrollably through my arms, through my hands, through my fingers, all the way to the fingertips and palms hitting the drum. Sweat flew from my face, and I felt my head bob up and down, left and right. My rhythms became faster and harder and I began to grin. The drum circle watches and listens to each other, and grows in size as cameras come out in the crowd and official Bonnaroo photographers stick telephoto lenses in our faces. It felt as if I was no longer consciously present in the drum circle, but lost in my own private dimension, where all that existed was rhythm and fingers. I pounded out all of the ecstatic shivers and energy my body and mind absorbed from the concert into the drum until I can no longer lift my arms. Looking down at my shaking, red, filthy hands, I saw that two blood blisters had formed. It wasn't until I walked away from that drumming session that I felt I had returned from reality after Andrew Bird's life-changing performance.

Looking back now, these two moments- the concert, and the drumming- both stand out as the most infinite of my life. I now believe life isn't measured by years, success, accumulation of wealth, or even knowledge. It's about the infinite moments you have, and how much you realized and enjoyed them.

Infinite moments are the meaning of life.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A wake-up call for America's conservatives/10 minutes of truth

The more I challenge arch-conservative ideology with arch-conservatives, the more faith I lose in the human species. The fact that some people can be so closed-minded, so willfully ignorant of the facts when those facts are staring them in the face, is disheartening. After four years of college, I've only just begun to tap into the wealth of knowledge the world has to offer. And for some reason, people still choose to believe that a college education fills people's heads with "liberal lies like socialism, evolution and global warming."

Now, I'm fully aware not all conservatives think this way. Just like all sane people know that Muslims are not all ruthless terrorists. But what I'm going to say here to conservatives is what I say to all of my Muslim friends- Speak out!

If arch-conservative far-right ideology doesn't represent you, then speak out against the outspoken fringe minorities who give the rest of you a bad name! Now more than ever is when we need to finally overcome extremism; both political and religious in nature. The less you speak out, the more the fringe conservatives believe their ideology is correct and infallible.

We've seen how Republicans convinced themselves, with the help of Sarah Palin, that the way to unite the Republican party was to sequester the rest of civilization in an us vs. them mentality, with fierce, brutish social conservatism leading the way. and they failed miserably, as Republican ideology got collectively slapped down by the fists of the sensible, the reasonable, the logical, and the intelligent, who finally chose to take to the polls for once. Right-wing zealotry suffered a stinging defeat that night, and the party was left in shambles, unsure of how to collect itself.

They chose to do so through the "Tea Party" movement, a pseudo-grassroots effort organized and publicized entirely by the right-wing media, owned by the special interests who contribute to the most arch-conservative politicians. These organizers have, in reality, too much eduction and sensibility to believe any of the outlandish things they say, but they make their money convince the people who can't think for themselves that what they say is gospel. And in doing so, they have effectively divided the country. The country is divided between the outspoken fringe conservatives who represent the most extreme ideologies, and everyone else who doesn't think the way they do.

So this is where I'm making a call for America's moderate conservatives to please, please, stand up and fight against this pestilence of closed-minded anti-intellectualism and religious zealotry. The national dialogue right now is so divided because of this loud minority. In the sake of everything logical and reasonable, it is the responsibility of this nation's moderates to take back the airwaves and let all of us know that these right-wing nutjobs speak on the behalf of a very small, small segment of the right-wing base.

Ten Minutes of Truth
A man who said it better than I ever could is ironically not a journalist or a policy maker. He's a wrestler named James E. Cornette. On one wrestling talk show, Cornett went into a Santelli-style rant where he condemned arch-conservatives on all of their outdated ideology and divisive nature. I'll give you the link so you can listen for yourself. The first ten minutes is some of the most truth I've ever heard condensed into so small a segment. It moved me so much that I'll post the transcript here.
...Joey Stiles is also apparently one of these apparent right-wing conservative wackjobs that just can't accept the fact that we had this little deal last November we had something called an ELECTION, where the republican ideology was slapped down, and we've finally a president who knows that it's 2009 and not 1909, and I guess he's pissed off about it.

Now I can understand four groups who aren't liking the fact that Barack Obama is president; rich white-collar criminals, white christian evangelists, members of the KKK, and maybe white people from West Virginia and Mississippi.

And I don't know which group Stiles belong to, but maybe he just doesn't believe that women should have the right not to ruin their lives with unwanted, unplanned children that they can't afford to take care of, so that they grow up to become criminals because they had no home life, they had no proper parenting.

Or maybe Joey Stiles doesn't believe that gay people should have the right to get married and be happy like everybody else. Or handicapped people should have the right to support stem cell research so one of these days through SCIENCE, science, something the republicans don't recognize, handicapped people or people like them might be able to live a normal life.

Children, shouldn't have the right, I guess, to learn science and evolution and astronomy, or things like that in school that allows them to get good jobs and earn decent money, and not that the earth is 6,000 years old, was created in one day, and human beings popped up one day out of the ground and had no trouble at all, until a talking snake screwed the whole thing up.

Or maybe Joey Stiles doesn't believe that the rest of us in the richest, most advanced country on the PLANET, should have healthcare that doesn't cost as much as a new car every year, or the right not to go bankrupt if we get sick with no insurance.

Or maybe Stiles is related to one of the heads of these big, pharmaceutical companies or oil companies that rape us every time we take a pill or fill up our tanks.

Or maybe Joey Stiles is a multi-billionaire who is paying all of these alleged "sky-high" taxes that Barack Obama is gonna level on us, that are gonna cost him way more than the 50 PERCENT that we lost on our retirements or our stockmarket funds under his good buddies, President Dick Cheney and Vice President George W. Bush (because we all know who was running things).

Maybe Stiles never went to school and didn't learn the lesson of the first Great Depression, when FDR did the same thing that Obama's doing; stimulating the economy by making massive investments in rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure, planning to take the country into the future and putting people back to work to do it.

Maybe Stiles overlooks the fact, or maybe he's just not bright enough to know, that the only reason it took so long, or that it got worse before it got better back THEN was because the obstructionist REPUBLICANS, who haven't changed their TUNE since the Great Depression, badgered and blocked everything that he did, and caused him (FDR, I'm talking about) to back off before the job was done, and we had to get the biggest world war ever waged before they'd get out of his way, and I'm just sick and fed up-I listen to the news every day, I listen to this conservative talk radio in the car because I wanna get MAD, because I'm driving a long way, I want something to keep me awake.

The republicans drove the country in a ditch and they're complaining about the cost of the tow truck.

The republicans scream about the loss of all of these freedoms and liberties and constitutional rights, after 8 years of an administration that subverted and circumvented, outright IGNORED more of the constitution than any other in history; refused to grant all of those groups that I mentioned and MORE of them their civil rights, because it conflicts with what they get told in church on Sunday. (and that the whole church and state thing is covered in the constitution too, by the way)

But maybe Joey Stiles likes the idea that his previous administration responded to the worst attack on the US EVER, (worse than the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for fuck's sake) by going to war with the WRONG country, never getting close to catching and bombing the shit out of the guy that really did it, and spending almost as much money to do that over the past 8 years as Obama wants to spend to save the whole freakin' country's economy!

But maybe Joey Stiles likes the idea that in the republican ideology, that after 2,000 years of this shit, the christians and the muslims are still playing a game of "My god can whip your god," only instead of rocks and spears we're using nuclear weapons and all the rest of us, who have sanity, reason, and logic going for us are gonna be fucked up too when this Dark Ages shit hits the 21st-century fan.

Maybe Joey Stiles doesn't really believe any of this shit...Maybe Stiles is like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or all these people I listen to that, that are, you KNOW they're too smart to really believe any of the shit they say...they're doing it for the mullets who ARE dumb enough, and they get paid big money to do it, but in the process, they're convincing these other mullets that what they're saying is true and they're DIVIDING the country! Just like Cheney, who can't stop talking about "We were right, we were right," and go the fuck home like Bush had the common sense to do and get out of the fuckin' way that they're dividing the fuckin' COUNTRY.

I don't care about Joey Stiles either way...I'm just sick of these assholes who have been squealing like a pig under a gate about everything this guy has been trying to do being "un-American," it's gonna affect their church service, their secret offshore bank account, or just piss 'em off because he's right and they're not.

And what's more un-American than anything is publicly hoping that the president of the United States FAILS! That's like hoping the pilot on the plane fails because you don't like his opinion on global warming! We're all in this together, you fuckin' morons! You hope he fails? If he fails, we're FUCKED! Jesus!

There's enough poor, white, un-educated christians in this country that could be rabble-roused to do something screwy by these nutjob politicians and commentators say these things on national radio and television, and the best thing they can come up with is "Obama uses a teleprompter!" Obama uses a teleprompter because he's got something of SUBSTANCE to say, and wants to convey the message! Bush didn't use one because he probably couldn't READ English much better than he could SPEAK it, and all he had to say was trust me and God Bless America!...The republicans don't like people who take it up the ass, but they've had no problem givin' it to us for the last 8 years!

And one LAST thing! Is there ANYBODY out there, I mean does ANYBODY honestly think that if there was any REAL evidence of scandal or dishonesty or malfeasance in Barack Obama's personal or political life; did he cheat on his wife? Did he take a payoff? Was he really not born in the United States of America? They went there. Do you not think that somebody would have proven it by now before a black guy named BARACK OBAMA got elected in the first place? More people were trying to keep him from being elected than there were people who tried to prosecute Charles Manson for the Sharon Tate murders!

You fuckin' morons! You knuckle-draggin', mouth-breathin' idiots! We have finally got a fuckin' guy that's CLEAN, that they don't like, and they can't stand it, and maybe Joey Stiles and all of the rest of the people who believe that this brilliant, analytical, sensible, reasonable guy who's like a professor we've hired to solve all of our problems, all of you people who believe he's a Socialist or a Marxist, or a radical or whatever, shut the FUCK up, get the FUCK out of his way, and let him try to FIX our shit before it's too late, and in four years you get ANOTHER chance to knock us back into the 19th century!

...This guy is actually talking to us instead of at us, and they won't fucken listen! He's got every brilliant mind that he can gather, that has a vision for the future standing behind him. Every time he does anything, he's assembled an all-star team for every problem. He's trying to fix everything at the same time, and they say he's not doing too much. But if he didn't do anything about something, they'd say he's doing too little!

You can't fuckin' please 'em because they can't stand the fact that this guy is smarter than all of 'em and doesn't agree with any of 'em! FUCK 'em! Stay the fuck outta MY country, you fucking morons!

I'd like to make my fuckin' money back I lost the last two years! I'd like to have bridges that don't fuckin' fall down when I drive over 'em. I'd like to have civil rights for everybody, and not just people who fuckin' buy 'em. I'd like to not have to pay a FORTUNE for my fuckin' healthcare on the theory that one of these days, I'm gonna have a heart attack because of some of the shit they've put me through!

...Now let's talk about some wrestling!