Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The White Rose, Zines, and Freedom of Speech

Members of the White Rose, L to R:  Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst
I had never heard of the White Rose until yesterday, when something ran across my facebook page.  The White Rose (Der weissen Rose) was a German resistance group during World War II, composed primarily of students at the University of Munich.  Kids.  They were just kids.  But they were wise enough and brave enough to see the evil being wrought in their name, to the world and to their own people.  They covertly printed and distributed a series of leaflets urging their nation to rise up, by passive resistance, to wake up and attempt to collapse the Third Reich from the inside.  Most Germans were afraid, some were not, some were overtly complicit, or full of misguided loyalty.  But these young people still did whatever they could to try to stoke whatever embers of resistance might still have been smoldering.

Reading their leaflets and hearing their story was, for me, a stark reminder of the pricelessness of a free and independent press.  Being a former zine publisher and current blogger (who writes about things mostly inconsequential, occasionally less so), I know this first hand.  I have always felt that music was one of the most free forms of expression allowed in what has become a fairly homogenous, if not controlled, media.  This is one of the reasons I originally began publishing a zine.  Another was that our college radio station (where I had hosted the local show for years) had become co-opted by "commercial alternative".  A key voice in my community had been silenced.   I was PISSED!  (like a 25-year-old Patton Oswalt; jump to 0:45)

Others from the world I had joined were more interested, better really, at using the zine format as a voice of political protest (MYLXINE, Smell of Dead Fish, Trailer Trash, Cometbus).  But I still felt a part of this community.  I saw the need to contribute in my own small way.  Hell, if I had been in a position to keep zine'ing in the early 2000s, I would have dove headlong, keyboard blazing, into the Bush regime!  Lord knows I was obsessed with chads, Florida election law, and the misinformation presented in the lead up to the Iraq War.  But others did so in my stead, and that's the point (unfortunately not enough in the mainstream media... another story).  Someone should always be there to pick up the torch.  That's what keeps us free and, in some cases, even alive.  But if we're silent, no matter how many outlets for speech we may have at our disposal, there is still no free speech.

The White Rose had no internet.  No cell phones.  They had neither blogs, nor Instagram, nor Facebook.  They had one clunky, hand-cranked printing press.  It had to be hidden for fear of their lives, as did any handwritten drafts they were working on.  They were publishing, basically, a high-stakes zine.  The highest of stakes.  And yet they still exercised their human right to free speech... in the end, at the cost of their very lives.  Kinda puts midnight trips to Kinko's into perspective.

Today, I'm encouraged by internet blogs, sites, and posts which (believe it or not!) ARE actually sometimes used for the expression of coherent thoughts and debate.  I'm encouraged by events like Zine Machine, recently held locally here in Durham, NC, and what I see as a resurgence in young people's desire to have their voices be heard.  I'm encouraged by protests around the nation over killings of unarmed suspects by police. I'm encouraged by the Moral Monday protests here in Raleigh.  Hell, I'm even encouraged by Tea Party and Pro-Life protests!  Although I may be on the opposite ends of the political spectrum from those last two, it's still encouraging.  You see, as long as ALL sides are allowed to (and do) voice their opinions -- protest, write, blog, yell, whatever -- then we should never get to the dark place from which the White Rose had to try to shine their light.  

PLEASE read the leaflets at the link.  As you read their words, the courageousness of these young people becomes almost tangible.  Simply astonishing.

P.S.:  Also read the introduction to the leaflets, by whomever has transcribed them (apparently for a presentation on the White Rose).  It gives some context to what are somewhat jarring statements about atheists and Jewish people.  As for atheism, they seem to conflate it with the Third Reich.  As for the Jews in Europe, they are speaking to their audience -- the German public -- in an attempt to get them to pull back from what had probably (insanely) become and actual point of legitimate debate in wartime Germany.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

See Gulls, Midnight Plus One, & Daddy Issues - Tir Na Nog (Raleigh, 2/5/15)

WKNC's Local Beer Local Band Thursday Nights has been a mainstay of the Triangle live music scene for a long time (it was my first introduction when I relocated here).  I haven't been in a while, but they've been on a bit of an upswing.  I picked a great night to reconnect.

Thursday was headlined by one of the Triangle's best new-ish bands, See Gulls.  Openers Daddy Issues (from Greensboro) aren't far behind.  While I've seen Gulls a slew o'times, I'd only seen Daddy Issues once, so a sequel was long overdue.  But a good night of local music is never complete unless you get surprised by someone you've never seen before... which, on this night, was Carrboro's Midnight Plus One.

It didn't take Daddy Issues long to make me remember why I liked them so much the first time. Sure, front-woman Lo Davy sings suggestive lyrics in a disarming way; but rock music has always pushed the envelope of what's considered too risque.  What really makes Daddy Issues stand out is that they create sweet, surfy melodies, and then counter-punch with a rhythm section that's... well, that's just damn punk rock (courtesy Madeline Putney on bass and Amethyst White on drums).  Lindsey Sprague provides most of the surf-edge and backing/occasional lead vocals.  Their first EP comes out on, appropriately (maybe inappropriately?), Valentine's Day.  It's on Negative Fun Records, also home of locals GHOSTT BLLONDE.  
Dat rhythm section, doe!
Between the two courses of unquestionably more melodic, poppy (but great) music, Midnight Plus One provided a palate cleanser of sorts.  Correction:  a mutha fuckin' palate cleanser.  Does the water in Carrboro breed weird, impossible-to-categorize bands?  Just wondering.

The show took a dark turn with Midnight Plus One.  Lights went down, a background of flickering flames went up, and this three (!?!) piece stormed the stage.  I still can't believe they only had a guitar and drums, and somewhat of a force of nature in singer Casey Cook.  Closest thing I can compare these guys to is the experimental, angular, hard sound of 1980s Georgia band Pylon... though probably less angular and more... harder.  Go see them.
Then See Gulls, they never fail to please.  Sarah Fuller is becoming very comfortable fronting the Gulls, and relative newbies (to this band, anyway) Duncan Webster and Leah Gibson are now fully fledged.  Like Daddy Issues, See Gulls occasionally veer from the edgy indie-pop interstate onto a '50-'60s dirt road, but they don't spend as much time there.  They definitely have a more ascerbic edge to their sweetness.  Punky, as opposed to punk... does that make sense?

Oh... WHEN'S THE ALBUM COMING OUT, SARAH?!?  Whenever it does, it promises to be good.  It was recorded with the great Mitch Easter at his Fidelitorium Studio (you know, I bet Easter is getting tired of reading about "the great Mitch Easter").
 Inter-band luv:  Daddy Issues soakin' up see Gulls.
Keep an eye out... more photos of this show to come soon on the facebook page here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Life Is, Indeed, Strange

When I started this blog, it was purportedly to be about a variety of subjects:  big ones like art, science, nature, and music, as well as issues closer to my heart like photography, New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, autism, and local music in particular.  Over the years, it’s turned into primarily that last one because… well, because that’s what I’ve always written about.  But as Jeff Magnum sang, it IS strange to be anything at all.  It is a wonderful fluke that we small beings, warts and all, have become one of the most amazing parts of a universe that is full or amazing and wonderful things.

Recent life events have made my visits to clubs to catch the rock (or the roll, or whatever) more infrequent… I really regret having to miss this week’s WKNC Local Beer Local Band show at Tir Na Nog (See Gulls, DaddyIssues, and Midnight Plus One!).  I seldom feel more alive than when I’m standing in front of a stage absorbing every decibel of a great, original local band… though my battered cochleae might disagree.  But in a not-quite-so-pleasant (though every bit as real) way, I also seldom feel more alive than when I’m waiting for days in the psychiatric ER for my son to get admitted to a hospital for treatment.
So I’m gonna try to write more about feeling alive.

If you were to follow my personal facebook page, you might notice that I occasionally post about my wonderful son Colin’s travails with autism.  They have, of late, become more challenging.  I don’t do this for personal attention, or to fish for the inevitable “you’re such a great father” compliments.  Although I appreciate the sentiments, and especially the support proffered, I post such things as my way of educating and informing people about autism and mental health issues.  I want people to fully understand that autism, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, and any other condition that affects the brain and behavior is every bit as much a medical issue as diabetes, influenza, cancer, or a broken bone.  But while stigma and preconceptions do not get in the way of mending a shattered femur, they can be as dangerous to a patient as not treating terminal cancer.

I have always told my son that he simply has a medical condition requiring treatment, just like anyone with any health issue.  Nevertheless, this stigma has already settled into his young mind.  Case in point, he was taken by me to the hospital two days ago.  There had been one too many physical attacks resulting from meltdowns that he has been unable to prevent -- as much as he would like to, and as bad as he feels about them afterwards.  While sitting in the ER waiting to be seen, he noticed the EKG setup, the blood pressure machine, and various other pieces of general medical equipment.  He asked me “Why are these things here?  This looks more like a ‘physical hospital’.”  I knew what he meant.  I explained to him that he has a health issue just like that guy in the next cubicle that has chest pains, or the kid with the broken bone across the way, etc.  It’s all the same.  We need to check how he’s doing from top to bottom, inside and out.

Now, he’s staying in the Behavior Health Emergency Department awaiting placement.  We are surrounded by constant, somewhat scary reminders of the situation:  buzzing in and out, curved/soft surfaces everywhere, no forks or knives, camera surveillance, etc.  But those metal-reinforced, mag-locked doors are every bit as much a medical device as an insulin pump is for a diabetic.  If their blood sugar gets out of whack, they can slip into a coma.  His brain chemistry goes haywire, he can hurt someone (or himself). 

Yesterday, I was trying to explain to him that we were leaning towards inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital.  He was nervous and a little choked up.  But he was also very coherent and approached the situation with incredible intelligence.  He laid out a stunningly eloquent argument -- right out of a legal drama -- in an attempt to convince me he could safely go home.  His “defense” was two-pronged:  1) Between him now seeing the extent of the possible consequences, combined with intensive in-home therapy (which we have been trying to arrange), he was confident that he would be able to control his meltdowns and prevent them from escalating, and 2) In the 18th century, we used to lock up "crazy" people in asylums and throw away the key, which we now rightly consider barbaric.  He argued that, in the future, we will consider what he is going through to be barbaric as well.  As medical science improves and we get a better handle on how to treat behavioral & mental issues, he may very well be right.  

But I firmly believe, and explained to him, that we can only go with what the best science has to offer today.  Science, modern medicine included, isn’t perfect (particularly when it comes to behavioral issues).  But the scientific method allows it to adapt to new information, change, and self-correct.  We have evolved a long way from the days of the horrific asylums of a century or even fifty years ago.  Of course, Colin countered that “the evolution isn’t complete”.  No, it isn’t.  But we’re doing our best.   

I have seldom been as proud of my son or impressed by his formidable intellect. 

Different brains work differently.  Neurodiversity should be embraced.  While the neurologically atypical brain may present its owner with many challenges not experienced by the neurotypical, it may also present us all with wonders and solutions which we could never imagine.  We only need to work to help those possessing such brains, and to keep a diligent watch so that we don’t miss what surprises they have to offer.