Saturday, October 1, 2016

If You Are Not Listening To Sturgill Simpson, What Are You Doing With Your Life?

It took me awhile, but I've finally caught on. I've lauded the work of Shooter Jennings on this blog quite a bit. His brand of music is authentic, catchy, and has staying power. There is another artist that has caught my attention lately and he shares a lot of traits with Shooter that I find appealing in a musician. His name is Sturgill Simpson. He's a Kentuckian and is best defined as a country artist, if you want to lay a genre on him. He's more than that though. From song to song, he can wiggle free of genre and bring a wide spectrum of influence into his work. 

Simpson has become very popular despite not getting radio play or support from the Nashville establishment, which he clearly doesn't want or need. In 2014 he won big at the Americana Music Awards grabbing the top prize for "Emerging Artist", "Artist of the Year" and "Song of the Year". In 2015 he was nominated for a Grammy for his album "Metamodern Sounds In Country Music". He plays to sold out shows all over the country and his latest album "A Sailors Guide To Earth" hit number one on the country charts despite getting very little mainstream radio play.

The guy isn't afraid to ruffle any feathers either. He took ACM to task for bumping Merle Haggard from the magazine just before his (Haggard's) death. 

Sturgill Simpson & Merle Haggard

Simpson is a different kind of artist. He draws on the influences of his youth and teenage years, like most artists, but he isn't afraid of his own eclecticism. He openly talks about the influence that Merle Haggard, Keith Whitley, and Willie Nelson have had on his music, but in the same breath, he'll include Pink Floyd, Nirvana or any number of artists that you may not immediately catch in his music. In other words, he doesn't like to be pinned down as a musician that is falling back on his influences from a boxed in genre, but he expands his music by letting the variety shine through in a blatantly unapologetic manner. I've found his music to have such depth that I can listen to it over and over without growing weary of it or doing song skipping. There always seems to be something there that I didn't catch on a previous listen. His music speaks to me in a way that The Beatles, The Replacements, and Shooter Jennings have. I hold his artistry in that high esteem. 

Simpson has a draw for both country and rock fans. He drifts into the area of psychedelia at times, both lyrically and musically, and his interest in Buddhism is weaved in and out of quite a bit of his music. He doesn't preach it, but he just lays it out it there to let you know who he is. He is probably the first country artist to ever sing about ego death and the benefits of taking DMT and mushrooms to get a look at the world that steps outside of our day to day perceptions. 

This guy is the real deal and I wouldn't be taking time out of my Saturday if I didn't want to try to turn a couple more people on to him, in hopes his music has the same impact on them as it has me. 

If you want to get a really good look and listen, I'll start you out right here with his performance at Farm Aid on September 17th. A rousing performance with the Dap Kings backing him up on horns and featuring some passionate guitar work from Sturgill. Just a kick ass performance....

I'd recommend anyone that is interested in finding out more about Sturgill's music to start with songs from the "Metamodern Soungs In Country Music" album and if it strikes you right, move on from there. His first album "High Top Mountain" is solid, but not quite as polished or immediately satisfying as a genre busting piece of music like "Metamodern..." and "Sailors Guide To Earth" are. That's certainly not a knock on it at all. It has its' own charm and merit and is probably the most overtly country of his three albums. On each album he moves effortlessly between country, folk, psychedelia, and pop and does so without taking huge leaps. I hope someone finds out about the greatness of Sturgill Simpson from this blog, but if not, at least I got to spend an hour writing about an artist I believe is very important to modern music and is sure to continue making music that will stand the test of time. 

"Turtles All The Way Down"
This is probably his most accessible song musically, but lyrically it captured the attention of a lot of music lovers that see modern country music as shallow and devoid of any lyrical depth. Simpson defies that in a refreshing manner with the subject matter he speaks to here. 

"Life Of Sin"
This is a fun romp of a song that easily appeals to country sensibilities but has the backbone of a rockabilly tune. 

"Oh Sarah"
This tune kind of plods along on the initial listen. Very pretty and not flashy, but it takes a turn that many of his songs take and the second half just sucks you in. The band starts picking up the tempo and Sturgill gets to show off his amazing voice and passion. 

Joe Rogan and Marc Maron have featured him on their podcasts. You can check those out at the links below! 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Hillary or The Donald: Getting Just What We Deserve

Have we ever had two worse candidates for the presidency running at the same time? Sometimes, I feel like this is some sort of nightmare or a cosmic joke and I'm going to wake up from it and see two half-way normal people running (ie, Jim Webb, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, John Kasich, or hell....even Jeb Bush). The votes are almost in and for better and probably worse Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are going to be fighting it out for the title of "most powerful person on the planet". Yeah, exactly....let that shit sink in for a few minutes. 

The political climate is such that it has given rise to a quasi-fascist like Trump. I understand the allure and I outlined it in my last entry, entitled "The Trump Thing". We gave rise to this man. It's largely our fault. We have given over the reigns of our republic to the political and financial elite and they have shaped a country where the difference between the have and have nots is increasing by the year. The power has been taken from the people and given to the corporation, which our bought and sold Supreme Court backed up with their decision that says corporations are people and can make huge political donations to PAC's, basically buying power within our government. That power is used to  help elect politicians that will create favorable legislation to the wealthiest among us. Hillary is a glowing example of this sort of Main Street vs Wall Street disconnect rank and file voters display. We have allowed our country to be taken from us because we have been duped into becoming a narcissistic and distracted population. Social media, wedge issues, reality TV, opinion programming disguised as hard news, and the death of investigative journalism have crippled the average American and in concert, the United States as we formerly knew it. We fight for or over the wrong shit and we fight with each other as though we are enemies. We are manufactured enemies, but again, we did this. We kept voting for these two parties and fought tooth and nail to defend them against our own best interests and against the best interest of a nation we all say we love. We let it happen. We watched it happen with glee and pride! All of this distraction has finally led us to two candidates that should have most of us horrified, if not very concerned.

Donald Trump is a billionaire. He is also a political fraud and chameleon. He's already backing down from some of the blustering promises he has been making over the past year. He has suddenly "evolved" on issues like immigration just in the past few weeks. He has had many success' in business and he has had some failures. Anyone that puts themselves on the line in the business world is bound to slip now and again. Part of his rallying cry is how the mainstream, establishment politicians have sold out the American worker and you know, that's true. What he doesn't seem as anxious to scream from the roof tops is that he has taken advantage of the sell out. He has donated large sums of money to both parties over the years (including to the Clintons) because it was to his advantage. That's the way our system works. If you want something done, you go buy it. Our vote only allows us to choose which party or person we want to benefit the most from the purchasing power. Trump should be a lot of things that rank and file Republicans hate. They hated Bill Clinton for a myriad of reasons, including his womanizing. Remember, he cheated on his wife and therefore his character couldn't be trusted. Trump has done the same thing. Remember, Bill Clinton was involved in shady insider business deals that had huge financial windfalls for him personally and politically. Trump has taken advantage of his fathers fortune and political connections to get deals worked with huge tax breaks that not just anyone would be privy to. Remember when Donald Trump was a "left wing plant" that was running so the presidency would be given to Hillary? What happened to that bit of paranoid thinking? The same people that hated what Clinton was about are now willing to let those things go or even worse, make excuses for them in regards to Trump. They are slaves to the party. It's their identity. It's their team. Country be gotta win, right? Throw personal integrity and character out the door. Just win baby. 

Trump exhibits fascist tendencies and at best he can be considered a quasi-fascist. He is now capitalizing politically on what he has been capitalizing on financially. Demonizing trade deals and companies that have shifted jobs out of country, even though, again, after taking advantage of them himself. He is openly isolationist and nationalistic which taps into the distrust/dislike of foreigners that so many on the right grumble about, but have now been given the green light to scream about out in the open. He doesn't do anything to temper the anger, resentment and hatred that is being poured out. American policy means more than human rights to Trump and his supporters. He has gone so far as to say he would order the military to break the law by using torture to procure information and to kill the families of known terrorists. Both are illegal, but he said the military will do it because he will order it. All you have to do is use Google and you can find much more on the views he holds that are consistent with authoritarianism and/or fascism. He has also been inconsistent on abortion, on conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as on other issues. He demonizes his perceived rivals and fellow Americans, based on appearance or stereotypes. This isn't an honorable man in any sense of the word. I get it, we all want a strong leader and we know we have problems with jobs, illegal immigration, terrorism, etc....but do we really want to overreact and go to the far right to fix those things? It's a road to less personal liberty, not more. It certainly isn't a road to greatness. I don't compare Trump to Hitler as a person or leader, but the nationalism and authoritarianism in a comparison of their rhetoric can't be ignored. "Make America Great Again" may be a slogan, but perhaps we can settle for "Make America Admirable Again"? 

That moves me on to Hillary Clinton. I believe this woman to be a fraud and a charlatan of the highest order that is basically using entitlement to bully her way to the nomination. She is purely a political animal and can probably be trusted less than Donald Trump when her words are taken into consideration. Trump doesn't hide what he is, Hillary has, does, and will. She wants the presidency and will say and do anything to get it. Her career is built off of her husbands rise to power in both Arkansas and in Washington DC. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that, but looking the other way in the face of humiliation, excuse making, and outright deception when it comes to some of the more unseemly pieces of her husbands political and personal life makes her out to be merely and opportunist and an enabler. She likely didn't stick with Bill because of any obligation to the sanctity of marriage or for Chelsea, but to keep her own political career intact.

Hillary is weak on her position that she knows how to get Americans back to work. She supported NAFTA, which her husband signed into law (and was supported by people like Rush Limbaugh for crying out loud, so as you can see, the elites knew the advantage of this "deal"),  and she has rattled off rhetoric about putting people out of work who are employed by the fossil fuel industry and then took it back a week later when confronted by a voter. She obviously doesn't even understand the people that she believes to be her constituency. She and her husband have been huge proponents of Wall Street. She is status quo on banking and in fact her husband pushed the banking industry to be more resourceful in giving horrible loans to people so they could buy houses, which eventually caused the great mortgage collapse and sent our economy into a depression/recession that we will NEVER recover from. She benefits from current campaign finance laws more than any other candidate and may well receive more money from PAC's than any candidate ever. How can she protect us from the predators on Wall Street if she is taking money from them? They are not giving her money to reverse the current trends. She has stated that she has voted for "barriers" to keep illegals out, but now is using Trump's rhetoric on the subject against him. She has been against same sex marriage and now she's for it. She is as much of a neocon as Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney when it comes to our use of the military. The Huffington Post (a noted liberal website) has called her "the candidate of Wall Street. Even more dangerous though, is that she is the candidate of the military industrial complex" and went on to say that her foreign policy experience basically stems from supporting every war demanded by the CIA and military. 

I am obviously of the opinion that neither of these people are fit to be president. We are supposed to be a beacon of light to the rest of the world. We are becoming a laughing stock. This democratic republic was designed to be a great experiment and we, the people, should maintain control over its affairs and leadership. We have ceded that control to the political and financial elite. We have no one to blame but ourselves. During the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, the crowds were chanting "the whole world is watching" when the police and national guard were brutally dispersing protesters, basically interrupting the people's right to assemble and use free speech. My fear is that in August of 2016, the chants will be "the whole world is laughing". This is far from a laughing matter, but we have finally gotten what we deserve. Our leadership is finally reflecting who we are as a people and a culture. The will of the people is speaking and of course I accept it. Just don't expect me to get along and go along like a trained monkey. I will vote FOR a candidate that doesn't have a record of lying. That doesn't have a record of manipulating the system for personal gain. I will vote for a person of some character and integrity or I will not vote at all. If there is nothing else I have as an American, I have my vote. I won't bend over and give it up like a whore on spring break nickel night in Tijuana. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The "Trump" Thing.....

It's past time to believe that Trump doesn't have a chance to be the Republican nominee for president. In fact, it's MUCH more likely than not that he will win the delegates to become face of the GOP in November. How do I feel about that? A little bit "weirded" out by it, but mostly, I'm on board with his being the nominee. The GOP and frankly, the country has it coming. It's what we want. It's what we deserve. 

Look, we can't have a hateful, angry, and deceiptful political climate that is allowed to flourish in Washington DC and act like we (the voters, the American people) are not the biggest part of the problem. We refuse to wake up. Well, some of us have. You can read back about 5 years through this blog and know that I've been preaching on how much trouble we are in for awhile. It's our fault. How? Because we have treated our political parties like they are teams we root for. The country is just a big game and the Republicans and Democrats are the teams. We love our team so much we become apologists. We hate the other team so much that we demonize the people in it, regardless if its' supporters, candidates, or "leaders" seem to want to do things that may be in the nations best interest. We punish those that may want to help, by demonizing them simply because they don't wear the same color we do. To be able to hold our people in office to a standard, we should be that standard. Instead, we watched Honey Boo Boo, the Dumb Fuck Dynasty, Real Housewives, and Survivor until we ruined any sense of decency, dignity, or respectability. People have absolutely no respect for anyone else (especially those that disagree with us) when it comes to listening to an opinion. We have killed off debate. We have killed off being open to new ideas.

The only way I could be happier with what is happening with the political climate this year is if Sanders becomes the Democrat nominee. These two parties need an enema, and we need to take a look at who we are and what we expect our leaders to be going forward. What we have right now, is what we want. A loud mouthed, alpha male bully and a two-faced, elitist criminal. An enema for the parties? Hell, what we really need is total collapse. 

Trump has risen because there is a growing segment of our population that is tired of the people they vote for not doing what they say they are going to do or at best, not even trying. Any Republican that cares or votes regularly should be angry about the lies they have been told by their candidates for the last 20 years. Ideally, conservatives should support the individual liberties of the citizens. They should not support our military being used for nation building. They should not be OK with healthcare, war, and education being insanely "for profit" enterprises for major corporations. A real conservative would demand that the leadership attack the size of government, including the role government can play in controlling our everyday lives. A real conservative would demand that federal programs (and even a non-federal entity like the Federal Reserve) be audited and investigated  from time to time to eliminate fraud, waste, and the misuse of tax payer money. Not to mention the Fed controlling our money, but not being accountable for it. Stop trying to get involved in everyone's bedrooms and personal lives. Stop stifling civil rights. Stop trying to push the nation towards theocracy and using a 2,000 year old book as a template for foreign policy. Those are the things that conservatives should be thinking about. The so-called conservative leaders that people keep voting for are definitely NOT conservative. They are social fascists that spend more time trying to retain power and strip rights from others than they do dealing with the collapse of our healthcare, economy, and educational system.  

The hate heaped on Bill Clinton, and I remember it well, pale's in comparison to what happened to George W Bush and Barack Obama. The outright hatefulness of our nation has been on display for 24 years and we are now paying the price. We believe it's our duty to shout down the opposition. We now believe it's our right to take away the rights of others if we disagree. The mealy mouthed politician that says one thing and does another is the norm, not the exception. The weak way congress has approached problems, by tacking on lines to bills that have nothing to do with the subject so they can make some fat cat somewhere happy, has caused delay in action and most of the time it causes inaction or at the very least a weak stab at working out a problem. 

Which, now leads me to "The Donald". He is everything that the hard core GOP voter wants, but for some reason, they hate him. They say he's not a conservative. Well, as I outlined above, there are not many conservatives left, or at least they now call themselves libertarian (as this writer is prone to do) and the people who THINK they are conservatives are going ape shit crazy hating Donald Trump. Why? He is offering everything they want and he's doing it in a way that should be right up their alley, yet they back the establishment. The very people, like Cruz, Romney, McCain, Graham, Bush, and Rubio, who have paid lip service to conservatism are the ones they will support to the death. They are the haters of Obama who will pull out all the stops to tell you how socialist Obama is or how he is coming after their guns....or how his wife is really a man, or how he is really a Muslim. The same kind of shit they vomit on Obama is in essence the same kind of stuff they are spewing at Trump. THEY are the hateful ones. THEY are the ones that want to stifle freedom. It's team politics, the nation be damned.

Who is Trump and how do his views line up with the modern conservatives? 

Trump has a strong view on Mexican immigration and wants to fund the building of a wall by imposing a tax on imported goods from Mexico.  Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

Trump is firmly and without apology a supporter of no changes to the 2nd amendment (gun ownership). Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

Trump wants to pour more money into the military and says he will destroy ISIS. Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

He wants to defund Planned Parenthood and is anti-abortion. Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

He wants a firm debt limit. Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

He wants to destroy the trade deficit (which has been overseen and brought on by both parties for decades, killing middle class manufacturing jobs) and make it smart economically for manufacturers to being jobs back to the US. Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

He wants to teach citizenship to school children and encourage competition between schools to gain students. Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

He wants to either cut into the EPA's budget or eliminate it. Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

He wants to kill Obamacare and allow health care savings accounts. Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want?

He says he is a Christian and by the accounts of his family and friends, he doesn't drink or smoke. Or do cocaine. Isn't that what the so called conservatives SAY they want out of a leader?

Do you get the picture? Now, you can say "Well, some of the issues he has changed on and I don't trust that he's a real conservative." OK, so what in the past 20 or 24 years have you seen that leads you to believe that any of those things have been worked towards by the status quo politicians you keep voting for that are bought and sold by major multi-national corporations and special interests? Basically, people want to keep rooting for their team and even though Trump says all the things they should be wanting to hear, they can't let go of the status quo. They can't stop hating the opposition or being apologists for their own team long enough to see they are really being duped and taken for granted.

Do not take ANY of this as some sort of endorsement of Donald Trump. My reasons for wanting him to win are not that I necessarily believe what he says (although I have agreements in areas like trade and the scope of government), but it's about repairing our system. I am a supporter of Gary Johnson and will remain a voter for the Libertarian Party until I have a reason to move in another direction. The only mainstream candidate I would truly consider would be John Kasich, although I have a soft spot for what Bernie is trying to do. He is trying to open a dialogue about our damaged educational and healthcare systems. A dialogue that we need to be adults about and need to start considering if the richest nation in the world should be sliding into the teens and twenties when talking about rankings world-wide in those two areas. It's a disgrace and he will talk about it on a wildly different level, even if his grandest plans are not attainable at this point in time. 

If someone was serious about helping this country, they would want Trump to win and for the GOP to unravel. The Dems need it too, but the topic front and center right now, is the GOP. Trumps voters are attracted to him for what is probably a myriad of reasons, but one of the chief components, in my opinion, is his alpha male leadership quality. He's not spitting out a bunch of mealy mouthed rhetoric, designed to protect his words from being parsed by voters or the media. He is stating things plainly and directly. He's not asking the "tribe" to pitch in and help, he's telling you his going to take care of the problems. He is direct, assertive and without apology and that makes him seem like a very strong man that can be relied upon. Our country is at a crossroads. Many of our citizens are concerned about the future. They are scared of what is happening and uncertain about the future or about what can be done. Trump has tapped into that. In some ways, much like Ross Perot did in 1992. Many Republicans were fed up with George Bush and Perot gave them a simple speaking, direct alternative. Perot spoke like a man that would take charge and lead the nation and many Republican voters left him and some left the party for good, helping Bill Clinton win a 2nd term and turning the nation 50/50 on presidential politics. Trump is running that same game, but it's at a volume of 11. 

The GOP needs to burn. It needs to splinter. The established leadership has gotten too comfortable, just like the Democrats have and it's ruined our nation, divided us as a people, and aided in making us a large group of narcissistic "me" monkeys that have little regard for anything other than their own instant satisfaction. Our ego, as a nation, is out of control. We no longer want to "Walk softly, but carry a big stick" as Theodore Roosevelt viewed our role in the world. We want a big cannon and we want to dare someone to look at us wrong so we can flex our nuts and impose our will. The past two weeks have been epic. I love seeing the party I once voted for and supported coming unhinged. They left me and many others behind. They are showing out to be who the Democrats said they were; cheating, manipulating, do nothings. All of this open talk of changing the rules before the convention (which is perfectly legal, up to one day before it begins, due to the rules drawn up by party establishment), actual collusion between the other candidates, and the mocking of his voters are only going to strengthen the resolve of those supporters and I believe it's going to bring him new supporters. He is making some heads explode and for better or worse, that's not a bad thing. The GOP establishment has been exposed, not by Trump, but by themselves. They have come out of the shadows to pull their monkeyshines and there is no way that the more astute and honest GOP voter can feel good about it. These are people that are going to punish status quo politicians and there are actually new people coming out to vote. The GOP turnout and registration rates are sky rocketing above the Democrats and it's largely due to Trump.  

We need a new system. The two party thing is broken and it may have corrupted and damaged our nation to the point of no return. We need political revolution and I hope it's close for the sake of future generations on this planet. I believe Ross Perot was conception. The Tea Party/Occupy Wall Street movements were the heartbeat and now Trump is the kicking baby. Let the party splinter and hopefully the establishment can go their own way and the true conservative party will be born that is motivated by moving the nation and the citizens forward will embrace libertarians and Republocrats. 

A vote for anyone but Trump is a vote for the status quo. It may hurt, but it's past time to break this thing and then allow for some real leadership to emerge. The wolves on the right have shown themselves. Run them off and then hopefully we can get to work on the Democrats! The worst thing that happens is that Trump gets stone walled by both parties and is a lame duck right after he is sworn in. You have to believe the two parties, if not the GOP only, would have to evaluate what is expected of them from the voters going forward to the next election cycle. Wouldn't it be nice to have 3, 4, or even 5 parties? Wouldn't it be great to be able to find a group that aligns to your beliefs and has to stay beholden to the voter instead of big money interests? Currently, each party knows it has a monopoly on big money contributors and that they are only one election cycle from power. There is little reason to do anything that works against the interests of those that fund their campaigns or to do anything that would limit their time in office. The status quo isn't working. It's time for change. Real, tangible change. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

American Values: They Ain't What They Used To Be

I think it's time we start evaluating our country (USA) a little differently. Our values are changing, yet we seem to hear, almost daily, about how we need to protect traditional American values or family values. 

Values and "family" values are big for Republicans. They are talking points and have been issues that the GOP could rely on to almost always take the starch out of liberal Democrats on. What are traditional family or American values anyhow? We don't really have anything concrete on this, but generally we are talking social issues that have seen most Americans having a conservative viewpoint on. Gun rights. Abortion. Recreational drug use. Gay marriage. Those sorts of things.

A new set of values are being forged. It's been an evolution and it won't be long until the prevailing wisdom will pretty much be on the side of progressives. It's just working out that way as we move forward as a people.

Abortion isn't a topic I like to get into much. I find it to be a terrible procedure and I wish there never had to be another one done. Not because of any high and mighty moral standard or religious belief, but because it's just not the best way for us to show that we value life. With that said, I'm not anti-abortion. I just don't like it. In fact, I'm 2/3 pro-choice. I get squeamish about that last trimester where a cared for baby would likely survive outside the womb and live a life in this day and time. Regardless of what I think, the country as a whole is about 50/50 on it. So, we can't really say anymore that abortion is some rogue undertaking that only the far left champions.

Recreational drug use is another social issue that has been at the forefront of the "culture war" for decades. We love our war and Nixon's war on drugs and the super charged "Just Say No" Reagan campaign were crusades to spread misinformation about recreational drugs and to imprison both the user and dealer. In the information age, the truth should win out and it is. I'd never recommend anyone become a habitual user of any substance that wasn't necessary, but then, it's not my place to tell any grown adult what to do or not to do with their body. I'm not an advocate of hard drugs, but anyone that reads my blog regularly knows I am a staunch advocate of responsible marijuana use and I have a soft spot for consciousness expanding psychedelics. Those things have been a positive for me, but I know they wouldn't be for everyone. We have turned the corner. Legal pot is coming. Almost 60% of Americans are now for legalization of herb. I'd say that ship has sailed, as just 46 years ago only 12% favored legalization. Another value that the right wing has lost the edge on.

The last of the "big" values I will address is gay marriage.  It's been validated by the Supreme Court and as a civil rights issue, this was THE biggie. When I hear someone say "leave it to the states" I want to cringe. Leave pot legalization to the states if you want to (although nothing says civil rights like the ability to put what you want to in your own body), but there is no way that marriage isn't a civil right. It wasn't too long ago that mixed marriages were illegal in many states. Try pulling that shit today. You can't have protection and benefit for some and not others based solely on sexual preference.  60% of Americans agree that gay folks should be able to marry. It should probably be 100%, but some people can't escape the trappings of their religious beliefs long enough to think it through. A big "family value" that has shifted sides.

I don't want to make this out to be an anti-Republican or anti-conservative thing. I don't have much use for "sides" anymore. I don't know how much longer our nation can abide this concept that there are two teams playing against each other. When will we bring "we" back into fashion? And by "we" I mean American citizens. It's OK to's American to disagree, but at the end of the day, we don't need to fight these paper "wars" over ideas and concepts. In our democratic republic we evolve and change through majority while still giving a voice to those in the minority. The wars on drugs, gay marriage, and abortion are over. The progressive side won out. It is now part of who we are. I have no problem with someone not wanting those things, but you fight these battles through public opinion, which then gives rise to political reality. That's what happened for us to change our perceptions and laws on the subjects and if they are to be reversed, then it should be through the same means.

In my humble opinion, American values means being on the side of individual liberty, while maintaining social standards that give everyone an equal opportunity of success, well being, and happiness. It doesn't come in the form of individual wedge issues. It's a sense of what gives the most people a chance to live a life that they want for themselves. We've changed as a country and it's time to move on from fighting lost wars to building a culture we can pass on to our children without apology. A good start would be for us to start worrying about what the thieves and charlatans in the two major political parties are doing to this country. If we put as much effort into holding our elected officials to a higher standard as we do trying to fight progress, we'd really  have something going here, wouldn't we? We have to get over the "us vs them" thing first.

Geez, I know this was a rather dull and preachy post, but I just felt like writing something. Maybe I will tackled the Trump phenomenon next for some fun?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (SPOILERS....MAJOR SPOILERS)

I'm going to discuss one of my favorite film subjects in this post; Star Wars. If you have not seen the latest installment "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", then you may want to step away from this one. In fact, I insist. If you haven't seen this movie and plan too.....beat it. Scram. Get lost. I will be discussing what I thought of the film and what the future may hold for the next film and there is no surprise left after you read what I have written below. 

You have been warned!


First off, I really enjoyed it. As it's own film, I'd say a 7 or 7.5 out of 10. It's hard to get a 10 with me. That's Godfather, 2001, The Dark Knight, and Jaws territory. As a Star Wars film, I think it's a 9. Maybe the third best film of the seven as far as I'm concerned, with the top two being Empire and the original. 

From here I'm going to discuss some of the criticism it's been getting today (12/19) on the 'net and what I think may be in store for future films, as well as digging into the characters and plot on a surface level. I honestly believe that most fans of Star Wars are going to love it and the ones that are disappointed or ragging on it hard are people that don't really care much about the franchise or are just trolling everyone's good feeling about The Force Awakens. 

I'm going to get this one out of the way first; Han dying was inevitable. He probably should have gone in Empire, but he's an iconic character for the series and would have been a huge let bummer in a film (ESB) that was already full of darkness. In this one, he comes face to face with his and Leia's son (Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren) who has taken a dark path. I don't think Han really wanted to confront his son but he needed to do the right thing for Leia. One of the complaints I have with the movie is it was a bit hard to get too worked up about Ren (again, Han's son) killing him. There wasn't any emotional development leading into it at all. It almost feels like there is a movie missing in regards to this plot line. Anyhow, the emotional impact from Han dying came from his stature in the franchise and not so much as it happening at the hands of his son. It felt wrong seeing him die, but again, it was probably the right thing to do for the story. I also was puzzled at the lack of emotional impact it had on the other characters. There was just so much story to tell, it got lost in the shuffle and overall, the movie suffered a little for it.

Rey, the heroine, is an excellent character and likely the offspring of Luke Skywalker (or at least someone else that was very strong with the Force). I really thought it would be Han/Leia as her parents and she would be the sister of Kylo Ren (Ben Solo). I think in the books Luke had a son named Ben, so perhaps it got reversed for the film so Abrams could say he wasn't sticking with "cannon" in the expanded universe. She had also been to that island in the middle of an ocean (where she finds Luke at the film's conclusion) before and Ren suggested it when he was mind probing her. That sort of leads me towards the relation to Luke also, as well as R2D2 "waking up" when she came to the planet with the Resistance. People are already bitching about her quick use of the force and the saber fight. Easily explained in my opinion (and I realize my opinion may be wrong). She is stronger in the force than Ren or at least his equal....and he is REALLY strong. She got a jolt when she touched the light saber that belonged to Anakin and Luke. It was full of memory, pain, and foresight for her, but we would eventually find out it was her destiny to pick it up.  She was able to utilize his (Kylo Ren's) skills and gain an understanding of the force because Ren tried to get in her head. Ren had no idea what he was doing and opened himself up to creating a foe that was his equal or maybe even superior to him. He awoke the force in her and that was a crucial mistake. I think it will be seen as such in the next film. General Hux even said so to Snokes near the end of the film. Snokes almost seemed calm at the failure, as if he had anticipated the possibility. The movies title is related to Rey in my opinion. The Force Awakens is about her, just as A New Hope was Luke. There is always talk of "balance" in the Force and with Luke missing and Leia not taking up the Jedi mantle, the darkness emerged without a counter element. She may well be the "Chosen One" that was spoken of in the prequel trilogy and was presumed to be Anakin. 

The Fin character is very easy to like as a hero, but just as with the Han/Ren situation, his moving from being a storm trooper in the First Order to being a part of the Resistance was very hurried. There was little turmoil. His turn was fast. Again, it felt like we missed out on a few scenes that moved him towards his conversion. We were sort of dropped into the Star Wars universe 30 years after the Empire went down, so we are missing quite a bit of information. This is one of the areas of the film that I feel was a bit weak, but it's not very hard to fill in for yourself. 

I think Snokes is Darth Plaguis that Palpatine said he killed in Revenge of the Sith. If he learned to cheat death, perhaps he transcended his apparent murder or it's quite possible that Palpatine was lying about killing him to impress and seduce Anakin. I like the mystery that surrounds the character. Like the Emperor in previous films, he is pulling the strings from the darkness. Perhaps he is the ageless Sith lord (my friend Tanner brought this up to me), as he has transcended death. His patience has no limit as he is just moving chess pieces and manipulating different followers into doing his will. 

Kylo Ren, the figure head villain, is the son of Han and Leia and is actually just a bully. He takes no responsibility for his actions, as he feels like it's part of his birthright. He's a spoiled brat that can't control his emotions and he has no discipline. He is trying to be Darth Vader and the use of a mask he doesn't need really makes that obvious. His tantrums when things don't go his way seems to indicate there can be real depth in developing this character in future films. Rey took Ren's want to be a power like Darth Vader and threw it in his face when he was trying to probe her mind. I also believe she mimed his skills, even as unrefined as they are, and was able to use those to defeat him and escape. Again, a lot of internet naysayers are complaining that she couldn't have picked up how to use the Force or the light saber so quickly, but I disagree. She simply allowed the force to do its will through her, so she didn't just suddenly know how to fight, she let the force do its thing and she also pulled knowledge from Ren. She submitted to the Force and didn't try to control it. Luke did the same thing in A New Hope with the saber training on the Falcon and as he shut down his scope when he blew up the Death Star. The Force used him as its tool and the same thing happened with Rey against Ren. Also, the complaining about him taking his mask off is so weak. That's an obvious attempt to clue you in on who he is. He doesn't need the mask. It's his "put on". It's him imitating his grandfather and what he thought he was. All of his actions are an imitation, but he doesn't have the mental toughness or stability to harness his power. The power he has is actually using him as its tool. Think of Snokes as the puppet master. Again, he's reckless and has no discipline. It makes him an interesting character. 

Luke will obviously be prominent in Episode 8 and that's part of the outright charm of his only being revealed at the end. Anticipation! I am already anxious to see where this thing goes. I'm OK with this being a rehash of A New Hope. I've read a lot of complaining about how much is taken from the original film in its' plot. I think it's intentional though. It's the Star Wars universe. Every movie series takes place in its own time and place doesn't it? Terminator. Jurassic Park. Avengers. Batman. Hunger Games. Harry Potter. All examples of a movie "universe" that goes to the well again and again and mines its own past for plot lines and character situations. There is cannon to hold on to and the circumstances are of that "universe". It only makes sense that it would borrow what made it successful to begin with. It's a reward for the fans. Maybe a bit TOO much stealing from ANH and Empire? Sure, but it was still effective as a film. Make no mistake, this was for the fans. Newcomers can get on board, but this was a movie made by a fan (JJ Abrams) and he did right by it. I believe he made the movie he wanted to see. Abrams is a master at giving an audience what they want, but still retaining mystery and anticipation. He did it with Star Trek and did it with LOST. There was also enough humor to give you a sense that this should be fun to watch, but never silly or dumbed down (like the prequels and Jedi). Abrams walked a tight rope and successfully navigated it.

To close, I loved....LOVED the way it was shot. It felt "real". The use of real people in those storm trooper suits made a huge difference. The lack of CGI and the use of real sets meant everything to how I saw the movie. Again, it felt "real" if there was substance to what I was seeing. The prequels had pretty shots, but it was so clean and almost too polished. Some of the background in the prequels looked like a cartoon. This film, was dirty. It was lived in. It felt right. It felt like Star Wars.

Oh, and lest I forget....the new droid, BB-8 was pretty awesome. It wasn't used as just eye candy or a prop, it was a prominent part of the film, much like R2-D2 and C-3PO in previous films. A very cool character that helped to drive the plot and never got in the way of what was happening. 

OK, so there is that. My spoiler filled response to my first viewing. I'm smitten with it and am anxious to see it again. Any shortcomings it has (and it has a few) are easily masked by all it did right. I'll reiterate that I feel like there is a movie missing. 30 years just don't guy by without a story to be told. That was truly the biggest weakness of the film, but it's not very consequential in the grand scheme, as we can expect the franchise to move forward from here and start to carve out its own story. By Episode 9 I expect we will have very little reference to the past films in any sort of "tip of the cap" or nostalgic way. This film gave you the nostalgia and I think it put the franchise back on the right path. In my's the real deal. Star Wars is back and episode 7 came out swinging. We got the film we needed. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is satisfying on quite a few levels. Bring on Episode 8 and some Luke Skywalker action! 

I'm interested in responses from Star Wars fans if you are so inclined, so feel free to comment.