Late March 2017 Updates

It’s spring and the world seems to be waking up all around me.  We’ve had a couple of false starts, complete with a couple of days where the ground turned white, but it appears to be now definitely started.  Fortunately it doesn’t seem like the false starts impeded the return of the spring flowers as the neighborhood’s crocuses are in full bloom, the daffodils have started, snow drops have presented themselves and the forsythia are now doing their things as well.  It shouldn’t be too long until the redbuds bloom.  I’m hoping that the one my wife and daughter bought for me several father’s days ago will finally bloom for its first time.  We shall see as it’s a little early for it to hit its stride yet.  Musically the stride is being struck, however as things are finally moving forward with the bookings.

I have three gigs lined up in the next month or so with the blues rock band I play bass for, have two folkish guitar gigs on the books with Cedes Buck, a local singer/songwriter, an opening gig with the classic rock band, have a web site near launch ready for the trio, and have been added to an original band, The Hurtin’ Kind, as their lead guitarist.  It looks like my first gig with them will be in June.  I’ve also invested in some fingerstyle guitar music to add to my solo bag of tricks so it’s easy to say things have really started moving along.  Next week I’ve got seven rehearsals slated then a gig.  Still looking for that balance between gigs and rehearsals, which I will be attaining one way or another.

My writing has been on hiatus mostly because of the political nightmare I’ve found my country mired in.  It was occupying entirely too much of my working memory to the point where every time I sat down to write essentially the same tirade would start emerging from my keyboard and wriggling itself across the page.  So, I decided to step back from the writing and focus on music and teaching for the time being.  Sometimes when I find myself faced with this type of rutted thought process I find the best thing to do is simply stop, take several steps back, and attempt to get my perspectives under control.  I’m still really upset with what is going on, but stepping back has allowed me to start refocusing myself on the things that I need to do for my music and the other aspects of my life that need attention.

That being said, I do find that I’ve committed myself to quite a few projects, all of which require varying levels of attention.  I’m going to have to make some decisions regarding them eventually in terms of ultimately where I want to be, which definitely leans toward the original line of things.  I do like being busy as it keeps me moving and doesn’t give me time for inertia to set in, but the shotgun approach can only go on so long.  We’ll see what shakes out of the next few months and where it takes me.  I’ve been in contact with a friend in San Francisco whom I’d lost contact with some 20 odd years ago.  He’s experienced some success with the direction he’s taken, kind of a gypsy jazz/Americana mix that keeps him working steadily in San Francisco, and gigging in various other locations as well, such as New York.  Ultimately, I’d like the situation he’s built, but not necessarily in the same genre.  It’s starting to become clearer though, which is good.

So this is my version of an update on things in the world of Christopher Hopper.  The balls are all in the air, and it would appear that more are being added as the days pass.  I’m hoping that I can keep them all up there, and if any are dropped the results aren’t too damaging.  Here’s to spring!

 

Struggling with Dystopian Fiction in the Trump Era

Lately I’ve been finding that reality has been impacting my reading. I’ve been reading a decently written book, Trackers: A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller by Nicholas Sansbury Smith, that takes place in the US after a North Korean EMP attack that wipes out the entire US electrical grid. The nukes which trigger the EMP bursts are delivered by aircraft, which are flown in at about 50,000 feet where the nukes are detonated for maximum EMP effect. A container ship that was formerly outside the EMP zone sails up the Potomac and detonates a nuke that wipes out much of DC. The end result is a nation brought to its knees from the total power outage and North Korea being reduced to a crater from the retaliation strike. The book is a reasonably well-crafted piece of fiction that was obviously decently researched. After I was part way into the book I did some research and discovered that it would take at least three years to partially restore power to limited areas in the US if this actually occurred.

A few years ago I would have had no difficulty dealing with the material in the book. We’re technically still at war with North Korea; an uneasy cease-fire from 1952 or so is what stopped overt action but a peace treaty was never negotiated. The current regime is less than stable and a substantial threat, but diplomatic solutions have still been actionable. With our current administration, however, diplomacy is not really an option, neither is anything remotely in the range of a reasonable response to anything. In the book the aircraft transponders are rigged to give an IL 28 bomber the signature of a Chinese airliner, which is how they penetrated into our airspace. I’m not certain whether or not this is indeed possible, however, the end result, however, I’m finding to be entirely too plausible particularly when taking into account the current occupier of the White House.

The EMP situation, resulting radioactive fallout, and corresponding challenges on the local and national level are a large part of the story, but there is a secondary plot, which brings a murder/mystery/thriller aspect in as well. I would like to see where it is all leading, as well as how it is resolved, but I have found the over-arcing premise to be entirely too plausible. Something that I thought only a year ago would be a sufficiently far stretch from the possible has become entirely too much of a plausibility for me to enjoy the book. Given our current administration I can’t help but find myself running through the scenario and taking it seriously both as a former infantry officer and as a middle-aged father with a 12 year old daughter. I find myself looking at how badly out of shape I am, how ill-equipped my household is to deal with this potentiality, the reality that we live in one of the largest cities in the country (Chicago, a potential target), and the poor potential for food foraging, and hunting opportunities afforded to such a place, not to mention the masses of potentially dangerous clumps of humanity competing for the same limited resources. The end result is not one that bodes well in this type of scenario.

I’ve never been the paranoid doomsday prepper type. I do love dystopian science fiction novels but most of the ones I’ve read were improbable to say the least. When the potential for the fiction to become reality starts to encounter a blurry line my enjoyment level drops significantly. I’ve stopped reading the book because I’m finding myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the premise. This is the first time I’ve encountered this type of a reaction to a work of fiction. I have quit reading things before that were disturbing either from the levels of graphic violence present or predation upon children, which I simply can’t stomach. But the reality being presented in this book is a nightmare that seems entirely too plausible in today’s environment.

I must say that I do want to finish the book, because the writer was definitely doing his job. The book is interesting, holds the reader’s attention and the characters are definitely believable. The issue I’m having has nothing to do with the writer, indeed the writer has provided a premise where the willing suspension of disbelief is all too easily acquired given our current political scenario. My issue is that it is all too possible that this type of an event could happen in the near future, and it almost seems like the current administration is openly courting bringing it to fruition. This administration has created international turmoil through its actions and statements, both with our allies and regimes we’ve historically stood against, not to mention cozying up to the current ruler of Russia who is using the opportunity to be more openly aggressive in the European regions, and fielding missiles that were developed despite treaties established with us to prevent further escalation.

The United States of Dystopia?

It has been a while since my last post. I decided to take a break from writing; I had been hard at it for just under 90 days and the well had pretty much run dry. Additionally, with all of the political turmoil here in the US, most of what I was finding in my brain was simply screams of outrage, which wasn’t translating well to the page. I needed a break, and I needed it badly. So I took one and while I did things continued to go down hill quickly here in the good old United States of America. Our democracy has been downgraded to flawed, and I’m thinking that pretty soon it will no longer be recognized as a democracy at all given the actions of the orange fiend in chief. If he has his way, he’ll have the American people goose-stepping their way to hell. However, the protests are continuing and people are making their voices heard.

I am having extraordinary difficulties dealing with what is going on here, and anyone who can’t see the parallels here to Hitler’s rise to power is delusional. The man has been working from Hitler’s playbook all the way through the election and now is acting upon it in office. He just put a neo-nazi, tear-down-the-government-like-Lenin propagandist in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a civilian who hates the federal government and wants to destroy it. The cabinet he’s put together seems to be geared towards the same concept in each field. He’s gone past any element of reasonableness into the realm of a clear and present danger to our nation of the highest order, and today is only the tenth day he’s been in office.

His targeted ban of Muslims from entering the US, effective with the stroke of a pen, including those with green cards, violates everything this country stands for, and has been cited as being unconstitutional by many. Once again, the parallel is to Hitler cannot be dismissed, nor can the fact that the only Muslim countries exempted are where he has personal business dealings. It is also notable that the ones exempted are also where the terrorists responsible for 9/11 came from. Then he stated that maybe there should be an exemption made for Syrian Christians, which makes the singling out of Muslims even a clearer cut act of bigotry, hatred and unconstitutionality.

Every day that he has been in office thus far has been a potential mega disaster in the making. The wall between the US and Mexico, a 15 billion dollar waste of money that only serves to divide this country and make enemies to the south, could lead to a 20% tax on Mexican goods sold in this country. The bulk of us recognize the wall for what it is, another racist agenda that does nothing for anyone. If anything it makes matters worse, and now Mexico is justifiably angry with the US. The orange fiend has also escalated hostilities with China to the point where they are moving their missiles into better range, preparing for war with the US. He’s threatened the stability of NATO, as well as starting to ramp up nuclear weapons stockpiles and recreating the arms race. He wants more battleships, despite a lack of need for them, and an increase in military strength across the board, which I must say causes me great concern. Let’s face it, he has no impulse control, seeks vengeance for every perceived slight, has no conscience or empathy for anyone, and wants a bigger military. Anyone else unnerved about where this is headed? This doesn’t even include what he’s doing to strip health care away from people who desperately need it.

We only have one world and the doomsday clock is really ticking away in the background. Meanwhile the administration is attempting to silence anyone who disagrees or might provide information that is contrary to what is being provided by the administration. It is threatening the press and its Constitutionally guaranteed freedom, overtly not giving one red hot damn about the Constitution, and has done its best to silence governmental offices that can provide information that challenges the administration’s doctrine of ignorance. It has sent gag orders to the FDA, the National Parks Services, the EPA and all of the other Administrative arms of the government, instituted hiring freezes and is essentially attempting to assume total control over everything. These are not actions of a government for the people and by the people. These are the moves of a group of people who is attempting to hijack a democracy and create a totalitarian regime.

I love dystopian fiction and while I really enjoy reading it I have absolutely no desire to live in a dystopian reality. Unfortunately the bridge between fiction and reality is weakening and it’s looking more and more as if that is the road we are actually heading down with the current administration. Our reality is becoming skewed into an Orwellian nightmare of huge proportions with horrendous implications for the very near future. Every day is bringing a new revelation of the depths to which we have fallen and it has given no indication of slowing down. There are people standing up, huge numbers of them, and some decent men and women in our political system who are standing up for justice and what this country truly stands for. We simply must do what is right, otherwise dystopia wins and the world ends as we know it.

They’re Marching Everywhere!

The sun is shining today, of all days, and has been since I hauled myself out of bed. It is well past dawn and on into the mid-afternoon now, and I’ve seen hope today take form in massive protests taking place all over the country. Here in Chicago almost 250,000 people joined the Women’s March today, while numbers came in around 500,000 in Washington, DC. And those were the two largest of many across our nation, and elsewhere as well. Today’s march in DC dwarfed yesterday’s inauguration attendance, and sends a clear message that the people of this nation are not content. They are sending the orange man a clear message that they are uniting to stand up for their rights, and their way of life. They will not cower under his glares and misogynistic behavior.

I’ve been watching the images scroll in from across the country on my computer, and as they have my feelings of pride in my country have been being restored. More precisely, my feelings of pride in my fellow Americans have been as I have watched this movement gain momentum, and the numbers continued to grow. Here in Chicago the organizers had to adapt and then readapt as the people continued to arrive. They were expecting around 22,000 initially, from what I’ve seen, which quickly morphed to 50,000 and some changes in rallying points. By 10:30 this morning the numbers hit 150,000 strong, then, two hours later close to 250,000 people were marching, chanting and showing their solidarity against an incoming administration that seems hell bent on destroying years of social progress, denying people of their civil rights and turning our planet into an ecological disaster zone.

This in and of itself is such a ray of sunshine at this point. Seeing that there are so many folks out there that aren’t blind to what is at stake in our country gives me a sense of hope that somehow we just might make it through this somehow. I’m not naïve; I know that it is going to be a long haul, but these are truly significant numbers of people openly aligning themselves in pushing back against the darkness that is threatening us. It gives me hope that our country isn’t up for sale to the highest bidder, and that we’re not going to go quietly into a lockstep goose-stepping future.

I’ve seen so many photos shared by my friends of the marches in their areas across the country. Smiling faces as they held their signs with their friends at the staging areas and along the march routes, hand made signs that some had obviously spent some time creating. These were people DOING something about the situation we are faces, people who care about the direction of our nation, and its policies both at home and abroad. Women from all walks of life, many there with their families, came together and made a massive statement for everyone in the world to see. Smiling faces filled with determination to do the right thing and stand for justice and all that is good here.

I’m thankful to all of them. And I’m thankful for the folks who, while they might not march, contribute to the cause in their own ways, whether it is writing letters to their representatives, volunteering in their communities or whatever they can do to help move this forward and keep hope alive in this country, particularly hope that we can continue to move forward as a diverse country, filled with a rich cultural heritage that welcomes difference while guaranteeing equality for all. I don’t want to see that wealth squandered by despots, nor do I want the principles that this country was founded upon to be lost. There is too much at stake for us to let that happen.

I’m hoping that this is a sign of things to come and that the American people will continue to stand up against corruption. We should be that shining light of freedom, equality and justice that we have dreamed to be and so many have come here to find. We are capable of so much good, so much more than the incoming administration represents. We have the ability, the strength, and the knowledge. Now, with the advent of these marches, I’m also seeing that we have the motivation to take the steps to make ourselves heard and to keep driving forward, not set the clocks back fifty or sixty years to the halcyon days of the straight white male. We are ALL Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious creed, gender or orientation, and every single one of us will be heard. After all, in this country the government is SUPPOSED TO WORK FOR US.

20 January 2017

I’ve been under the weather pretty much all week, between the onset of a cold over last weekend followed immediately by a stomach virus that is a bit on the painful side.  This was my first week back in the saddle in an academic setting, so I taught through it, but fortunately only had to push through two days at work.  It has also been pretty much a solid gray week, with one morning where the sun poked out for about an hour, and rain off and on for at least the last three days.  It’s starting to blur.  Today was a sad day all around what with the orange man taking office and immediately removing the climate change, LGBTQ and civil rights pages from the White House web site.  I’ve been trying to stay away from the book of face, but that has been difficult.  All and all, it has been a pretty dark week and the stomach virus has pretty much eliminated seeking succor in food.  Tomorrow there’s a women’s protest march in Chicago that my wife wants us to take part in as a family.  My daughter wants to make signs, but doesn’t want to be in a crowd of 50,000 people, which I understand.  I’m not a crowd person in the slightest and I have some safety concerns, but the cause is just.  I’m also concerned about whether I’m going to feel well enough to do it.

I am having difficulties with mood management this week due to all of this.  First, it has been so dark around here for the past seven to ten days that it is taking its toll despite the morning use of the “happy light.”   It is our breakfast companion.  It has been positively dreary outside between the constant overcast skies and the constant damp wetness of everything.  Even turning the lights on inside only helps a bit.  I could pull the drapes and drop the blinds on it, but then I’d really feel like I was living in a cave, something I don’t think would help.  Then there’s the whole being sick thing, and while I am thankful that the cold aspect is over, this stomach ailment is a major drag that is also affecting my intestinal tract, which probably isn’t helping my serotonin levels either.  I’ve been able to eat very little over the past three days, haven’t been able to stomach coffee, but have managed to keep up with my meds.  I’ve stopped taking the fish oil though until this passes.  It’s too unpleasant.  So the lack of sunlight combined with physical malaise has been making things rocky on the emotional front.

The advent of the orange man’s reign is also a major emotional drain that I haven’t come to grips with as of yet.  I’m not saying that I’m going to be okay with it, because that is not something I can foresee by any stretch of the imagination.  I simply cannot come to grips with how this travesty occurred, and it is plaguing me to no end.  This is a waking nightmare for me largely because I can find no evidence of a shred of decency in the man.  We’ve gone from supreme class, intelligence, and a dedicated civil servant to this narcissistic sociopath.  I’m grieving heavily for my country, and for all those people who will be harmed by this administration that has been dubbed the least qualified cabinet in our history (one of the nicer things that has been said about it).  I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up any moment and it’ll have simply been a really preposterously horrific nightmare.  Unfortunately I’m not sleeping.

One of the benchmarks of character is how we handle adversity.  Do we cave in, assume the fetal position and wait for things to pass?  Sometimes it feels like the thing to do, and I’m sure that all of us have wanted to at some point.  Right now I’m tired, and I don’t feel well both physically and emotionally.  What I really want to do is crawl off to bed, pull up the covers and go to sleep for a really long time, at least until the sun decides to shine again.  But I can’t.  I have to do, not check out until things get better.  I’ve got performances to give, lectures to teach, a family to care for, and an innate desire to resist tyranny, injustice and bigotry.  Even if I’m depressed, sick, or tired, it’s my duty as a decent human being.  So I’m resisting.

 

What Have I done Today to Get Closer to my Goals?

One of the new things I’m doing this year is every day I try to do at least one thing that gets me closer to one of my professional goals.  Granted, every day that I write, I’m getting closer to one of my professional goals, that of a daily writing practice.  However, what I am really looking at is something aside from the things that I already do on a somewhat ritualistic basis.  Today I’m kind of crammed because it was the first day of classes, so I’m a bit behind the power curve when it comes to getting my regular things done, like this writing bit.  I also have a rehearsal tonight in Addison, Illinois with one of the bands that is actually working.  This rehearsal also includes auditioning a keyboard player, so I’ve got to set up my book to put the songs we’re working for the audition up front.  This week I’m trying to get in an hour a day working on jazz standards with one of my guitars.  This is the daily thing that is aimed forward.

I am tenuously forming a goal for a direction to pursue musically that provides me with both personal satisfaction and an element of regular challenge.  I’m still trying to flesh out the concept but it’s related to jazz, so that’s why I’m working the hour a day on standards drill.  I’ll continue with it until the concept crystallizes further and gains more clarity, at which point I’ll sharpen the focus in what I’m doing with the guitar during that time frame.  I am drawn to improvisational music and using pieces for the jumping off point, but I’m interested in finding something that speaks to me as an individual more than the jazz standards do.  I’m not certain at this point if it’s going to come to me writing material, or finding a niche of existing tunes that gives me a better sense of it all.  It could be a combination thereof for that matter.

I’m also open to the possibility of using some classical pieces as jumping off points.  There are many pieces that are theme and variation sets that essentially are the end result of the composer playing or working around the original concept in what could be thought of in terms of a documented improvisation session.  Bach’s Art of Fugue runs through quite a few variations based upon an original concept, and while he used the fugue as the form, and the variations as an example of what could be done, it is quite a remarkable piece of music in its entirety.  When it comes down to it, Bach was known during his lifetime primarily for his prowess on the organ and his improvisational abilities as well.  Today we know him most for the massive amount of extremely high-caliber compositional work he left behind.  It is interesting that there wasn’t much of a divide between performers and composers at his time.

Whichever the form, or even a mixture thereof, I have my glimmerings of where I want to head next in my musical pursuits.  I don’t want to spend the next forty years of my time on the planet chasing my musical tail doing the same things I have in the past, as that wouldn’t be productive in a manner that supports forward movement.  Additionally that’s too much like treading water for my tastes.  I want to move toward something that I feel reflects more of my take on music, and gives me a clearer avenue to shaping what is being presented in live performance and on recordings as well.  I’d also like it to be my project that I take the lead on as opposed to another sideman gig.  This would be another welcome change as well since the bulk of my musical career thus far has been as a dedicated sideman in other folks’ projects.

It has taken quite a while for me to get this far, to the point where I have at least glimmerings of where I want to go from here.  About ten years ago I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do.  I was ready to take the leap, put myself on the line and take the chance.  What I was shooting for didn’t happen, in fact the opportunity to leap passed by in a blink.  It took the wind and everything else out of my sails, mostly because I had my sights so firmly locked on it that I hadn’t allowed myself to come up with alternative scenarios, as in if I don’t do this, then what else is the next best viable alternative.  Here it is ten years later and I’m just now starting to get an idea of what next.  I guess that’s just the way it works sometimes.  So, I’m going to do that one thing today that gets me closer.

 

Off Topic: The Social Media Mire

Social Media has become quite a pervasive entity in people’s lives.  We open accounts with the goal of finding and keeping up with friends that we’ve lost track of, to make new friends with shared interests, or to promote our businesses.  The bands I’m in use Facebook to promote their shows, as do thousands of other groups, artists, writers, dancers, and anyone who wants to be someone.  As people spend more and more time on these outlets, their lives and beliefs are being influenced whether they believe it or not.  Over the past few years I’ve watched the information that is being passed along, and have observed the willingness of folks to believe almost anything they see there, as long as it fits their preconceptions, and reinforces their personal beliefs.  Better yet, if it plays to their fears it becomes even more believable.  Combining this with the alt. right’s destruction of the public’s faith in the “main stream media” has created a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true, an open audience that will entertain accepting something as factual, that has absolutely no connection to truth, let alone correlation to it.

I used to view social media as a place where I could virtually hang with the peeps, and it still is to a certain extent.  Through Facebook, for instance, I’m in contact with many people from my past that I had lost touch with over the years and many over many moves from one part of the country to another.  Despite being a writer, I’ve never been much of a letter writer and although I’ve done better with email.   Facebook brings an element of immediacy to the connection that isn’t there with email.  You also can compartmentalize your interactions, without having to commit to full conversations.  This gives me a feeling of connection with these folks that I value, but in reality I don’t have to invest much effort to maintain the connection and neither do they.  In this aspect the entire connection is somewhat misleading in that it too, is virtual.  I’m not really interacting with these folks on any concretely meaningful level aside from maybe allowing myself and the people I’m following an opportunity to not feel isolated, even if in reality we are.

From my perspective this is one of the major negative issues with social media, the blurring of reality and fantasy, which extends to the quality of information that is being presented to its users.  People post meme after meme, attaching meaning to what is mostly a bumper sticker approach to communication.  Some of them are funny, which is fine because that is what they are meant to be, but all too frequently they’ve become rallying points for solidarity with some political or politico-religious statements where no-one bothers to check the veracity of the posts.  I’ve seen statements accepted as fact that any high school English student should be able to discern to be based on false premises through very light research and when presented with the factual information the response was, “well, it sounds like something he/she would have done. . .”  And that was the tenor; the person didn’t care about the facts.

Repetition is one of the ways that people convince others to believe things that aren’t factual, and social media is one of the largest purveyors of this type of communication.  There are laws about truth in advertising, and in advertising subliminal messaging is illegal in the US.  Repetition of misinformation, however, with the purpose to mislead the public isn’t ethically right, but it’s also not illegal and essentially that is one of the grand loopholes in the entire social media experience.  People are being misled on social media everyday by the millions.  People see the same thing over and over and eventually it starts to influence their beliefs.  They trust their friends who are reposting things that they have seen posted by other folks who’ve seen it somewhere on their feed and reposted it, so they accept it as fact without bothering to check the veracity of the so called information being presented.  Much of this type of information’s sources are not listed or made available, or is listed but the source is questionable at best due to either bias or shoddy reporting.  The more often it is seen and repeated, the more it worms into the beliefs of the folks reading or seeing it regardless of it’s actual credibility.

Yes, we are being manipulated every time we log onto social media, and it’s not by our actual friends or contacts, although they may unknowingly be contributing to the issue through reposting things.  We now know that Russia influenced our most recent election in the US in part through using social media to manipulate the American people’s beliefs about the candidates.  They ran a misinformation campaign on social media to support the individual they wanted to run the US for the next four years, someone who is a committed social media user himself, launching destructive twitter post after twitter post despite not even being in office yet.  If you choose not to believe that this is the case, just think about how a lie about you, or someone you know, was spread and ended up damaging that person on a personal level, or that person’s reputation because enough people believed it to make it accepted as fact among the majority of people around that person.  The remarkable thing about this is how easy it is to convince people to believe a lie, and then once they’ve bought into it, how difficult it is to make them believe the truth.