Thursday, December 24, 2020

Closing Out 2020 With Thankfulness

Hello, it's Christmas Eve morning and I felt like jotting down a few things. The past year has been wild and seemingly without a lot to celebrate. Alas, I am here to cheer you up (or at least try to make your thoughts a little less grim)! The things to celebrate, are probably closer to "real" than the things we usually point to. They are a bit deeper and more in touch with our humanity. I'm not going to tell you there haven't been a lot of downs and reasons to be out of sorts, but so often the negative dominates the positive. We dislike and fear that feeling, so when it permeates our routines, we forget to see the positives that are still around us.

If you are reading this, you are still here and "survived". For 95% of the people on earth, I'm sure still breathing is decent enough, seeing how the alternative holds far as we know. I am thankful to still be here and able to enjoy every day, even if it's in a small way. Enjoying a laugh. Sharing a hug. Listening to someone tell you how excited they are about something or another. Having a good slice of pizza or a two finger pour of a favorite bourbon. I like to be able to sit and clear my mind every day, which is a luxury all of us can give ourselves, even if only for a few minutes.

Take the time to put the negative aside and think on those things we often overlook and take for granted. I have much more to be happy about or thankful for than I realize and some of those things should loom large in my life and this is a reminder to myself to allow it. 

I am thankful for my family and the time we have spent in the past year together, even when we may have picked at each other or been frustrated at the circumstances. Having extra time and really, just being in proximity of my children as they grow up is a blessing in itself. More than I deserve! The love I have for my wife is immeasurable and she definitely makes my life "work". My love is best expressed to and through my "girls". I'm thankful that my mom has apparently kept the cancer away and is doing well and that my wife's mother and father, while having some health issues, are still doing well enough to keep on keeping on! 

I am thankful that I work for a company that didn't gut itself by laying off employees to take advantage of the down turn of the pandemic. I am very thankful for the handful of friends that are as much family to me as anyone I share blood with. I love 'em. I got to continue to see one of my oldest and closest friends fairly regularly during the year. We helped each other through commiseration and laughter. I have also seen my other friends, not as frequently, but enough to know our bonds are strong. We used technology to get together and when we felt we could, we spent time in each others presence. We continued "Director Day", doing so over Zoom for one of our dates. We "gifted" each other throughout the year, knowing we are still on each others minds. 

My life is going about as well as can be expected, given my age and health. I don't have much of a quarrel with how things are personally. I know there are a lot of people out there hurting, some worse than others. Those are people I feel for. My family tries to be charitable within our means and I know a lot of people do the same. That makes the world a little know that we can rely on each other and if we put our egos aside and take into consideration that no matter what hardship we may face, the person we don't know, that we encounter on a daily basis, may have it even tougher. Showing kindness and patience is a great gift to give everyone we run into day in and day out. Don't give it because they "deserve" or "earn" it....but give it because of who you are. That's a gift you can give for free.

Since I don't post as often as I used to, I don't suppose I'll have anything to say before the New Year rings in. I hope that anyone reading this is doing OK and the people on planet Earth get a little better shake moving forward. 

As a man, much wiser than myself once said; 

"....but remember brothers and sisters, you can still stand tall. 

Just be thankful, for what you got."

--William DeVaughn--

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

We Are Breaking Down As A Nation.....

Welcome to 2020! A helluva party right? We are breaking down socially and politically. Our country is coming unglued right before our eyes....we are in the midst of a change, there can be no doubting that. We have children watching their parents and the people they are supposed to be learning life lessons from shooting each other, beating each other, and destroying property and business. They see liars and charlatans all around. Respect and taking pause before action are no longer things to be valued or taught. We have political leaders calling portions of Americans "enemies". We have leaders calling a portion of Americans terrorists. We have a president and a former presidential candidate saying they won't accept the results of the election.

We have people with their lives being destroyed over things they have written or said at much younger ages. We are getting dangerously close to compelled speech as we are told what we can and can't say. Our social media platforms, which should be awesome tools for conversation and working through differences used for making duck faces and piling hate and anger on to one another. People are starting to lose their homes. Bills are piling up. Small business' closing forever. We are on the brink of lawlessness. Our police have lost the respect and trust of a large number of people by being too heavy handed over the years and showing the inability to have empathy or to exhibit self-control in high pressure situations. We have citizens with no regard for law and order. Healthcare bills causing people's lives to be ruined, their savings to be depleted many go into depression and become suicidal. Some people want to actually protest in a peaceful manner to highlight injustice. Some people want to take advantage of that and loot and destroy our cities. Some people see that their leadership isn't reacting, so they feel the need to do so by protecting the streets. Our leadership sits on their hands and won't work together because they are scared of the mob or how many votes it may cost them. We are reflecting that in so many ways. We have a media that won't show us the truth, gaslights, and editorializes hard news to manufacture consent in the pursuit of political power and clicks. There is little hope....there is much hate.

Polls show we, as American citizens, want the following;

Campaign Finance Reform: the two parties don't

End the costly wars in the Middle East and northern Africa: the two parties don't

Stop subsidies for the fossil fuel industry; the two parties don't

Marijuana legalization/descheduling/decriminalization; the two parties don't

Universal healthcare; the two parties don't

Ending corporate welfare/bailouts: the two parties don't

Congressional term limits: the two parties don't

Our wants are not being addressed. We are at each others throats mainly due to our leadership, or lack thereof and the unwillingness to see through the long con. We have been played. We have been duped into this uber-tribal way of thinking as if our lives are ran by two sports teams. We reject compromise and talking to each other in a way that can lead to common ground and progress. We demonize each other to the contentment of the elite. The better for them to get away with pillaging our hard work, the planets resources, our liberties, and our humanity. We no longer even value our "sacred" vote. How will we ever get what we want if we don't demand it and use our votes to bring about substantial change? Aside from politics or voting, can we even put our egos aside for any sort of time that will allow us to hear and consider another opinion? Will our upheaval end up as a winner take all or will we be able to compromise into some sort of acceptable climate that we can build into a stable framework to move our country forward with? I don't know.....

Monday, June 22, 2020

Pandemics, 4/20, & Everything Else.....

NOTE: I wrote this in April...for some reason it didn't post when I scheduled it. I don't think the world missed it.

Here we are, another 4/20 is upon us. Where does the time go? This year's holiday is marred by a national lock down due to the COVID-19 virus, but since marijuana stores are deemed as "essential" business most people should be OK to celebrate, unless you are dry in a dry state. At that point, shame on you for not having an emergency stash. Smoke up Johnny! 

I've been working from home for over a month now and I can't say that I hate it. I'm not a real people person, so I tend to be able to get my work done and do it with a little less stress at home. No drive time. No burning up my gasoline. I still get up and do my normal routine, so the only difference for me is not driving to an office. I can walk 8 feet from my couch to my "office". I love it! 

Other than work, I've been enjoying the time I have been able to spend with my family. It's a second chance to connect with the kids. We have never been a family that sits down to dinner every night, but during the "lock down", we have been doing so at least 4 or 5 nights a week. It's been wonderful for me. Having my oldest home from college is nice, though I'm sure she would prefer to split her time between home and her college friends. This thing has kind of stalled out her "life development" and what she had gotten used to. 

I've also been watching some TV and listening to music more than I usually do. I have some shows I have gotten into and my friends have also been sending me suggestions. I've started texting my dad and brother a little bit and we exchange music. I don't often connect with them, so it's funny that we would be doing so while we are locked down, but I guess it's not something that I should take as unlikely, since all of us are at home with more down time than usual. 

My wife probably had the virus back in March. I don't think I've ever had a more physically and mentally wrecked week. Seeing someone in bed for nine days (that usually won't even spend a day of downtime for an illness) and not getting better was taxing, but we made it through.  I've started tuning out on the news a little, I'm just tired of the politics involved and seeing the shit show that is emerging from our leadership and from the reactions of the public in general. The information is conflicting from week to week and sometimes day to day. All I can do is stay as locked down as practical and try to wait things out. I like to control my life and this has taken that away, but I've adapted. 

During this time, I've also started cooking more than I ever have. Firing the grill up a few times a week, making BBQ and cheesy potato soup....mmm, mmm good! 

I don't really have anything else to say and this may be the most uninteresting stuff I've ever written, but I felt the need to just put some thoughts down for posterity. Hopefully anyone that reads this is doing OK and has come through the pandemic with their family and health intact. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

I Like The Sound & Love The Fury: Sturgill Simpson's "Sound & Fury"


Sturgill Simpson has managed to do what I wasn't sure anyone could do for me anymore; introduce me to something unique musically. I need to start this off by admitting my bias. I'm a fan of Sturgill Simpson. I've poured over his lyrics, made the connections and admired the concepts of each record he has made. I suppose "man crush" could be a proper term.....I crush on the man's music. It's changed my life, much like The Beatles, The Beastie Boys, The Replacements, and Waylon Jennings have done after I absorbed their music. So, yeah, this album I'm about to talk about was going to be a tough record for me to NOT like. So, with that out of the way, I'll continue. One doesn't usually associate psychedelia, meditation, and rebellion with what most would consider a "country" artist. I am not a fan of genre, but for the sake of conversation, I do realize categorization is necessary. With the release of "Sound & Fury" I think it's safe to say that Simpson is a genre-bender on an all-time great scale. With the release of the Grammy Award winning album "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" you could feel it coming on as he started the transition away from a traditional sound to a style that was willing to dip its' toes into a lot of different musical pools, metaphorically speaking of course. 

"Sound & Fury" may not sound like the prototypical "outlaw" album, but I feel it's the most outlaw thing he's done since giving a good woman a ring. You would never describe this as honky tonk or country music, but it does have those elements soaked in that you can vaguely feel bubbling below the surface. Lyrically, Sturgill isn't too coy, but most of his fans are going to understand that he is singing to Nashville, the corporate music world, and the fame machine and there isn't much sweetness in his words. He gets his digs in. He "love(s) to say no to all the yes men, just to see the looks on their face" and announces that it's "fuck y'all season". To go along with that, the music is also a thunderous message to the establishment. He is telling them he won't be boxed in and he is separating the wheat from the chaff. This is a man letting the world know that he is going to make his art and shape his life in a way that he sees fit. There isn't much room for compromise and you can either stick with him and his art, or you can get off the bus. There is also a Japanese style anime movie released as the video track for the album. You can find that on Netflix. There are plenty of visual clues in the film that coincide directly with the message he is putting out there in the music. 

Yeah, anyone that knows me, is going to understand all of the aforementioned is in my wheelhouse. I love musicians and filmmakers that don't lock themselves into an idea of themselves, or what others see them to be. You can't move forward running in place. Sturgill keeps forging ahead and with each album release, you can feel that he is stretching his talents and challenging himself. "Sound & Fury" is a collection of music that I've heard thousands of times, yet feels fresh and special. All the boxes are checked; The Cars, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, James Brown, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kool and the Gang, Led Zeppelin, Giorgio Moroder among many other influences. No, you don't see Merle, Hank, or Waylon on that list. Their spirit remains, but the music is rooted in 70's hard rock, funk, New Wave, and southern style rock n roll. The guitar work is vicious and in your face at times and rarely feels restrained. Sturgill continues to impress me with his guitar work. The astute listener will hear Jimmy Page, David Gilmour and other rock gods permeating from the strings. It's a lot of fun to watch him go to work when seeing him live, but he manages to convey his energy and skill on wax as well. I'm not sure if it was any part intentional, but there is NOTHING on this record that can be played on your local Top 40 country radio station. Nashville will not be able to even try to get a hand on his coattails He has black balled them from his success. He didn't need them to become who he is. The CMA and money machine has stripped most mainstream music from Nashville of its' authenticity. To borrow the title of one of the albums strongest tracks, Sturgill is going to "Make Art, Not Friends". 

The album has been a revelation. I've never heard anything quite like it. It was like hearing "Dark Side of the Moon" or "Paul's Boutique" and being truly overcome with the feeling that what you are hearing is special. It hadn't been done THAT way before. It demands to be listened to loud. The mix pulls the vocals back into the music, so if you want to find them, you gotta crank the volume to 11. You gotta work for it. The album sleeve says it all; "Fuck Your Speakers". He is meaning to kick your ass and grab you by your metaphoric balls. "Sound & Fury" is a great headphone album. The synth grooves, vicious guitar, and relentless rhythm section give it an "ear candy" quality without being soft or immediately soothing. After a few listens, the subtlety started to emerge for me. I got comfortable with the music and the funk groove and beats started to show through and just totally hooked me. 

This is a true concept album. With each album it has felt like an evolution was taking place in the way Simpson structured song sequences and weaved a bit of a narrative from start to finish. This record sees all of that come to a head. You are hearing the collection of songs as one piece of art. The listener is along for the ride as the radio switches stations suddenly and we get a blast of something different than what we were just immersed in. On The Joe Rogan Experience, Simpson made it clear that he saw the album as one piece of music. There aren't many musicians that make albums quite like that anymore. How many artists will release and album these days with only 9 or 10 tracks? Usually you will get 13 to 15. It's all thrown at you, hoping a song or two sticks. Sturgill is about creating an experience and in my opinion, he has made his best album to date. The total package is there. The lyrics, the music, the concept, the passion, the visuals are at a peak (or are they?). Some of his fans are going to treat this like Bob Dylan going electric. That's OK, because Sturgill isn't stuck in the past. He is moving on. The anime video is moving him towards a potential new group of fans. He has a graphic novel based on the "Sound & Fury" film in the works and the musical direction is putting his sound into the ears of millennial types who may not have otherwise wanted to listen to "country" music. It's shrewd and potentially risky, although I'm not sure Sturgill would even acknowledge either. He doesn't seem like a guy that doesn't have a plan though. He is the anti-sell out. The easy move would have been to do a sequel to "A Sailors Guide...". To stay accessible for his audience and new fans, but not really challenging himself or them. With "Sound & Fury", Sturgill Simpson has set the bar high. It has quickly catapulted into one of my favorite records ever. It feels wrong to wrap this up without having mentioned Sturgill's band. They are a trio of fantastic musicians that give Sturgill the excellence that he strives for. He allows them to be a part of the process and they reward him with steady, clever, and on point craftsmanship. Drummer Miles Miller, bassist Chuck Bartels, and keyboardist Bobby Emmett are all Sturgill needs to burn a house down. Those guys can rock, they can slow it down, they can be whatever they are needed to be. 

There are a ton of reviews out there, if you like that sort of thing and I urge anyone that isn't really into sitting down and listening to an album, to perhaps turn on Netflix and check out the anime film which coincides with the album. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a visual doorway into the music and that music is worth hearing. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

10 Year Anniversary of Freddy's Open Mind

It's hard to believe that I started this blog ten years ago. A lot has changed. I've passed through my 40's, I am at a different job, and the friends I see the most of have changed. Neighbors have come and gone. I've watched my kids grow up and I've seen myself change as a person.  

Being able to put things I've thought or opined on into a type of "journal" just sitting out there for anyone to read has been a bit of a blessing and a curse. I can look back and see where I have changed. World view, politics, passions, hobbies.....I have had ups and downs with those things and I'd like to believe I have evolved into a better version of myself for the most people possible. I started writing so I could entertain myself and a few others and it eventually grew into a place for me to express my ideas and to organize thoughts and beliefs. I went on record with myself. I have really slowed down on the writing since my job now demands me be in front of a computer monitor all day long. I'm not as interested in coming home and hitting the keyboard again, after doing it for the past eight hours. 

I'm not implying that I really have anything to say these days and I'm missing out on getting stuff down. Just the opposite actually. My life has become very run of the mill and I will hesitate to use the word "boring", but I will say that life has become fairly predictable for me. So much so, that I wonder if this is how it's going to be from now on. What will I respond to about this particular piece ten years from now? Will I be into something else as a hobby? Will I even still manage to care about writing once in awhile? Of course I have no way of knowing that, but my strongest suspicion leads me to think that life will be as different at 60 as it was from 40 to 50. 

I'll admit that I miss some things from ten years ago. Oddly enough, I miss the kids being dependent. I'm very happy of course that they are growing into interesting young people, but I know that's going to eventually trend towards them leaving home. It's already partially happened with my oldest daughter living at college more than at the house. My youngest is an independent thinker and while I always enjoy engaging her in conversation, she is much more guarded with her time as she gets older. My immediate family is the most important aspect of my life. I care about how they are progressing and have worked on me so I don't impede them. 

I miss the friends that I don't get to hang out with anymore. Everyone moves on. Families start, people find new jobs and interests. It happens. When we are in the moment, it seems like what we are used to and probably content with, will roll on indefinitely. There is always that "last time" though, that we do something we enjoy and don't realize it's over. I also believe it works the other way. Sometimes things we don't enjoy end. Again, we just move on and something new fills the void in our time and relationships. 

That's about it I suppose, as I didn't want to let the date pass without acknowledging a decade of writing and sharing. I do sort of  hope that this blog will be a tool for my kids to use to learn a little more about me than they may have ever wanted to know. If I croak out tomorrow, anyone could start at the beginning and work through enough of my posts to figure out who I was. My motivations for writing changed from time to time and all in all, I have enjoyed just getting to write on stuff I loved, hated, laughed at, or cared about. If my children or friends want to learn about how I felt about a topic or what I was interested in or pissed off about or what I thought about politics, culture, etc....well, it's here.