I haven’t been on a plane to Florida in years. And why would I? My father’s railroad hands have allowed us to take the AutoTrain from Virginia to the greater Orlando area every time we’ve wanted to since 2000. Though it’s several times as long, the ride has provided me with two meals and the opportunity to watch the country pass by while I sit in contemplation. But here I am in seat 19C, gum in my mouth and seatbelt fastened. Jill is bringing me down to Walt Disney World with her mom and sister for her cousin’s 40th birthday celebration. It’s not a very long trip, but even a taste of Disney is worth the journey.
We land at the Orlando International Airport and take a monorail to the main terminal. I remember this from my youth, from the first time we visited Mickey Mouse. It was the first indication that I was entering a very special world, a place unlike anything that I had seen in my Delaware hometown. To me, that’s what Disney World is. It’s the wonderment of the world around you, a world that’s a combination of reality and imagination. Some people say that Disney World isn’t real. Well, what is real? Just because those buildings aren’t castles built by long-dead kings and queens or actual homes long since abandoned to ghosts doesn’t mean that they’re not real.
Since I’ve gotten back from Disney World, I’ve been diving deep into the history and criticism of this place and the man who thought of it. There are many blogs run by people who love the parks, especially WDW, and celebrate what makes it great while lamenting what sullies that greatness. One thing that’s great about the parks is the central beacon from which everything else flows. In Magic Kingdom, it’s Cinderella’s Castle. In EPCOT, it’s Spaceship Earth. In Animal Kingdom, it’s the Tree of Life. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it used to be a replica of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. But now it’s a giant version of Mickey’s hat from his performance as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in Fantasia. It’s repugnant – not because Fantasia isn’t a great film, or because it doesn’t deserve recognition in that park. That giant blue hat is repugnant because it immediately draws you out of the intricate, immersive world of 1930s Hollywood. You realize you’re in a theme park, forking over $20s left and right for food and plush toys. The sense of wonder is gone.
Still, I can understand that we can’t spend all of our time in the world of nostalgia. The past wasn’t perfect, and it’s important to remember that. For that reason, I’ve always loved EPCOT and Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom. These are the places that celebrate the possibilities of tomorrow, the chance we have to make the future a better place than today. To recognize what the mistakes we’re making with our interactions with the earth and each other.
But now those places are being overrun by cartoon characters and low-brow entertainment. And it’s not that those things have no place in Disney World, or that it means certain doom for the parks or guests. But it reflects a distrust of the future that didn’t always exist. When the parks were first built, people were excited about the future. Sure, there was the threat of nuclear annihilation – but there was also the hope that we would come together and create new and better worlds. Colonies in space, lands underwater. Healthier interactions with the earth and the people on it. Today, I don’t see that. I see venom spat by politicians at one another. I see distrust of the system, a cynicism that assumes the worst in others. We don’t listen to the points of view of others – we call them bigots or elitists or declare that they’re ruining the country. It seems like we don’t realize that we’re all connected, that we’re all a part of making the future, whatever it is.
I want to have big dreams of the future. I want to imagine technology that helps us get closer instead of isolating us. With our voices and faces being able to travel miles in seconds, there’s so much possibility of collaboration and connection. I want to imagine that diversity is celebrated not for points in the game of public relations, but because it leads to richer discussions and deeper insight into the challenges we face as human beings.
I have a new album out. It’s called E Pluribus Album, and it would not exist if it were not for the many friends and family members I have in my life. Starting in February, I began reaching out to as many people as I could to create an album celebrating connections and community. The album is being sold to benefit City Year New Hampshire, an organization that I served with for two years. Many City Year alumni are on the album in various forms: vocals, words, drums, guitars. The Compass’ own Tim designed the artwork for the album, as he has done for my previous three releases. This is my best collection of songs yet, and I hope that you listen to it and consider buying it.
We are not islands. We need each other. I enjoyed seeing a new post on here a few weeks ago and I hope it’s not the last. The world needs visionaries. The world needs people showing the power of teamwork. I hope we can be some of those people.
So it’s been awhile for everyone, but meanwhile in the real world there was a physical manifestation of some Compass work. Luke was tasked with publishing a chapbook and chose one of Patrick’s stories from an old Compass post to publish. I was lucky enough to be asked to provide a cover for the book and happily obliged.
It was a great project and one I hope we will continue if we can pull away from the internet for long enough. Reception has been very positive on all fronts and it was incredibly interesting to see something tangible emerge from this blog we put together years ago.
If you’re interested in purchasing one of the books, contact Luke ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Hey all. It’s pretty quiet around these parts. I hope you’re out there banging some pots and pans together yourself, because we all certainly are pretty busy. The Compass is, to be honest, not what it once was. But it still matters and will still serve as a space for our creations, your creations, for whatever we want it to be.
This is the latest episode of Soundtrack Stories. Can you believe that it’s up within a month of the previous video? I can’t. I rushed to upload it before the end of January because I will begin my work on FAWM in less than 20 minutes. I hope that you enjoy it.
An incredible thank you to James for his Soundtrack Stories acting debut. Let me know what you think of the acting - is it an element worth exploring for future episodes?
Thanks for watching. Take care of yourselves.
1) You may have seen previous posts about Carey Murdock. He’s a young musician with a wonderful voice and in “Shot In The Dark,” a powerful song. I’ve posted a video of a live performance of the song before. Below is the studio version that he recorded as part of his 45 Project. Every four months starting this January, Carey will release two tracks - a digital 45, with an A and a B side. “Shot In The Dark” is the first A-side and man, it’s outstanding. I know that it may not be your cup of tea, but it’s a song that is kicking me into gear as I write this to do something with my night.
“Shot In The Dark” - Carey Murdock
2) I must preface this next item with the acknowledgement that this is a developing story and all of the facts aren’t in. But if you are interested in hearing about how people working on Glee may have taken a musician’s song without asking, check out this piece from The AV Club. Jonathan Coulton, famed internet singer-songwriter and TMBG opener, originally recorded a cover of “Baby Got Back” with a radically different arrangement back in the mid-2000s. It looks like the song was directly copied with no notice to Coulton. You’re big kids and can form your own opinions, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
Have a great weekend, friends.
This is part one of a two part story:
The movers were strong and fast. They were all men and bigger than Tim’s father. Some of them knew how to speak Spanish. They had tattoos. Mother directed them around the house. She told them what went where. The beds upstairs. The table in the great room. The men moved as if moved as if mother was unnecessary, as if mother didn’t need to say a word except for “careful.” Mother said careful a lot.
I’ve been registered on ReverbNation for a few years now. I don’t use it as much as I could, I guess. I’ve never been really good with the self-promotion aspects of life as a musician. I don’t have that driving force to get out there and find gigs, and I’m not sure how to describe what I do. So when the time came to write an Artist Bio, I avoided it. Until now.
Below is my attempt to create an artistic biography. I know that it doesn’t include the cool things I’ve done like other bios do - noteworthy performances, words of praise from those of positive repute. Mostly that’s because such details don’t yet exist. So instead I focused on where I’ve come from, musically, and where I intend to go. With this new year upon us, with its infinite possibilities, I think it’s an appropriate time to share my declaration of self.
Saturday morning. Any one. It’s cleaning day at the Riley house. His mom is dusting to the sounds of the artists that will shape his music for years: a man who sang of desolation and redemption, another who recorded scenes from a piano bench. Melodies created by pals too powerful to remain united, genius that drove a man to a sandbox. Paul Riley is eleven years old, and he knows this is his future.
Music has the power to change lives. To comfort you while sobbing alone after devastation. To guide you through the best day of your life. To keep you going when everything else wants to freeze you in your tracks. Paul Riley writes words to serve as a catalyst, like the great lines before him. “This machine kills fascists.” “How many years can a man exist before you call him a man?” “I was born in the U.S.A.” He makes sounds to bring joy to lives, to lift others upon ebullient gusts of acoustic guitar strumming and electric melody.
He’s aiming to take what he sees in the world - the injustices and the righteousness, the sadness and the beauty - and put it on the page and on his strings. To be an American folk singer for the digital age, informed by the world but not ordered by it. Paul Riley is an idealist with a voice to be heard.
P.S. Remember when I did FAWM last year? Well, I’m doing it again this year. But this time, I’m looking to collaborate with as many people as possible - even people who are not musical at all. If you’re interested in helping out in any way, or just want to keep in the loop, follow this Tumblr. Looking forward to seeing you over there.
“The Mother We Share” - Chvrches
I’ll post another essay or piece on Monday, and I’m working on another episode of Soundtrack Stories for this month.
So a few days ago, there was a little Hebrew boy’s birthday. Maybe you noticed it. I myself practically missed it. For all the kvetching about the awful commercialism of Christmas (something I don’t feel nearly as offended by as the consumerism of just after Christmas. In my mind buying gifts is better than returning them.) this year just didn’t feel right. Maybe Toby Keith was right.
But seriously, all the hoopla about being a bright and shiny human being didn’t hit me this year. Maybe it is the government foolery. Maybe it was the shooting at Sandy Hook. Maybe it is a number of things. What it definitely was was that I did not see A Muppet Christmas Carol this year. 2012 didn’t deserve it. But being that December 25 was the traditional celebration of the birth of the closest thing we have had to a truly good human being, the spectrum of human behavior is on my mind.
No matter your religious beliefs, you would most likely place Jesus at one end of the spectrum of human behavior. And more than likely you would place someone like Adolf Hitler at the other. Two men at opposite ends of a rather large room with all of us in-between them. A convenient practice to justify our behavior; I am not quite Hitler and not quite Jesus. Two men that are such wonderful one-dimensional touchstones. Two men, who I am convinced, that would love each other as fully as anyone can if they were given the opportunity. But I must stress the word opportunity as distinct from chance. Everyone has the chance to be a NBA basketball player. I, for example, could try out for the New York Knicks and, by chance, make it. The fact that I have just as much chance for the empty spaces in my body to line up with the empty spaces in the floor so that I slip completely through it while trying to make a layup is completely irrelevant. I have the chance to make the team, but I highly doubt I would ever have the opportunity. Opportunity, even the great opportunity to love, requires tools, training and timing. As the great poet M. M. Shady said “Opportunity knocks once in a lifetime, But the postman always rings twice.” I digress.
Given that people could more easily imagine Jesus loving Hitler than the other way around, it is odd that people who seem the keenest on Jesus want to focus on the Hitler-like aspects of God. According to the Christian faith, God and Jesus are the same, except when Jesus is a dick, when he commits genocide, when he burns human beings in fire, he is called God the Father. We seldom consider ways in which Hitler is like the son aspect of God. Even right now it sounds like I am setting up a joke or like I am a lunatic. Rest assured that I don’t believe that Hitler did anything even remotely good with his political career or has any personal parallels to Jesus, save for the fact that they both were failures at their original careers and were marginally more successful at their second.
But my point involves a set of seemingly unconnected foils: Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx. As Chaplin died on Christmas, the pair is not as randomly chosen as you might have though. Plus, you know, the mustaches.
While Chaplin was a movie start long before Marx, they were contemporaries, being born just one year apart. They also happen to be a great archetypes of what Stephan Fry is talking about in this video:
To put it less articulately, Americans love loses that win and the English love losers that lose. Americans love slackers, smart alecks, and fools that outwit or outluck other. Bugs Bunny, Bill Murray, or any other American comic hero. Well hell there it is! Comic Hero.
Here is the thing, the most popular comic out there right now, at least in the comic’s world, is Louis C.K. In his show, he is most certainly a loser that loses. Similarly, shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia feature losers that lose, though in a distinct way from Louie. The thing that connects them is that they are American losers. They live and lose in a distinctly American way. Right now what seems to resonate with our funnybones is the person who makes mistakes and doesn’t learn anything from the disastrous fallout. In the case of the crew from It’s Always Sunny, they are horrible people while Louie is much less so. But in the case of both life does not work out well for the losers, sure they make it through but that is all they can hope for: Making it through. Is that what we are responding to? Do we see ourselves in these people? Is that the joke of the modern age? And what the hell does this got to do with Hitler and Jesus?
Well simply this, we might be on the verge of a ideological shift. When what we laugh at changes, it is a pretty good indication that we are changing the way we think. But I object to my own argument. What about Parks and Recreation, you love that show!
It is true, I do. Well let’s look at that. Leslie Knope is not a loser who loses. And she is not a loser that wins. But here is the biggest thing, she is not an individualist. American Comic heroes are leaders or loners, but Leslie is not truly either. She is technically the boss but really Parks and Rec is about the community. Leslie is earnest and capable, caring and smart and she fails and succeeds. She grows. There are other shows that feature this kind of community and individual growth. Right now I can’t think of the name. 30 Rock? Oh well. You get the point.
And here is the truth, Even in Louie or It is Always Sunny, the characters don’t always lose, sometimes they win. Sometimes they catch a break. And so I am left without a formula or rubric for what we and I laugh at.
Ultimately, though, I think that the breakdown of comic formulas, while retaining a great deal of familiar forms, show that what we find funny is the complications of life. You don’t win and you aren’t above life. Life is not something that is dumped on you and it is not something you can get over. Just dealing with it, that is funny. And if we think that that stuff is funny, it is only a matter of time before we start taking the complications of life seriously and start taking the complications of others seriously. To start dealing with other humans humanely.
Or maybe not. How should I know? My New Year’s resolution is to not make any sense. So Far so good.
Did you know that there’s an Adventures of Pete and Pete zine? Well, there is. And while you will not be able to order a copy for your favorite little viking before Christmas (both because it’s three days until Santa arrives and they are delaying their third run of printing), there’s no reason you can’t keep Christmas going through January or February. Just remember that you’ve got to keep your tree inside. -Paul
Everyone knows there’s one person in Wellsville who knows how to do anything: Monica the Kreb Scout. She’s got merit badges in everything from ethnic dance to ninjitsu—so we asked Scoutmaster Shaenon K. Garrity to draw up a set for the zine (where they’ll be laid out so you can cut ‘em out and affix them to your official Kreb Scout sash without damaging the rest of the book).
For now, though, here’s a preview of nine of our favorites:
- Astronomy - Scout can accurately identify at least six constellations.
- Bowling - Scout has demonstrated mastery over the ball.
- Cephalopods - Scout has demonstrated proficiency in the care and feeding of our tentacled friends.
- Chemistry - Scout can use science to pinpoint the source of urine in a public swimming pool.
- Funeral Arts - Scout has successfully completed courses in embalming, interment, and monument design and construction.
- Lunar Ballet - Scout has demonstrated proficiency at Lunar ballet (Earth-gravity variants acceptable).
- Nightcrawler - Scout has successfully stayed awake for a minimum of 24 consecutive hours.
- Survival (Indoor) - Scout can survive for up to three days on the bounty of the classroom.
- Time Travel - Scout has successfully traveled in time and can identify at least three sources of riboflavin.
(For Ethnic Dance, Extraterrestrial Life, Food Service, Halloweenie, Orienteering, Rooftop Gardening, Survival (Outdoor), Word Problems, Wrestling, Little Viking, Waiting for October, and the world-famous Bus Driver Service Award, you’ll have to wait for the zine itself.)