Sunday, June 27, 2010

Law Rocks at the 100 Club

OK, so Thursday was the day after my 43rd birthday and it was also Rhys's band's big competition in Soho. Law Rocks is a London law firm battle of the bands. The competition is held at the 100 Club - a legendary basement venue in Soho that accommodates - standing -- about 400 people. Legendary of course meaning that I had to shrug off the disgusting toilets and floors and lack of ice or Champagne because it was gritty and real. Sigh. Whatever.

Rhys only had four tickets for the gig and we thought long and hard about who would we invited. We needed Penny Lanes of the highest order. We got them.

So I go from bicycling my children back from school to trying to find a vaguely sluttly outfit and applying a, well, bipolar amount of eyeliner and jumping on a train to London.

The first band was really good. Really good. Billy Jean was the opener and this mysterious Eastern European model- type sang in this sultry, rich voice. Like so rich you could almost hear the harmonics. And they pulled off a Police song even with the fiendishly difficult drumming. I thought Rhys had very stiff competition. And that was before they did Sweet Child of Mine. The singer almost pulled it off and the guitarist pulled it off perfectly. I am not saying the singer wasn't good, she was great. But you have to be a very special type of unhinged to perform Sweet Child of Mine. All of that ad libbing? You have to be feeling the crazy. She wasn't. That is probably better for her.

The second band the judges seemed to love. There was a three judge panel who commented after every band - two lawyer-types and one former band member. (Please note that there are so many one hit wonders in the UK and that there is such a small population that most people you meet are former band members of a band that had a hit song you kind of know). The judges said the second band had the sluttier chicks (my words). So wrong. The thing about that band was that it was a Glee band. They did Whole Lot of Love exactly how the Glee Choir would do it. So I didn't think sluttier and didn't get the judges' comments at all.

All six bands made very smart choices for their sets. Each had only twenty minutes and they picked some great, great songs. In fact, the only misstep was when the Glee band did Live and Let Die. Really? Live and Let Die? I heard the opening chords and I shook my head in solemn disbelief. McCartney barely pulled it off as one of the greatest musicians of his age. And Axl, well, you know, Axl was unhinged to exactly the right degree, he had a great orchestra and resources at his disposal and HE barely pulled it off. What hubris in the choice, oh, second band. What hubris.

Although I tried to adhere to a scrupulous one-warm-vodka-and-tonic-an-hour rule in order to be sober enough to follow the competition, I must admit that the next couple bands went by in a blur. Elaborate trips to the surface for Marlboro lights needed to be planned and executed. I remember an absolutely delightful I'm Feeling Good by Nina Simone sang with a woman with an honest and rich voice.

I remember next some older guys doing some punk numbers with an impressive energy. I don't know. When you are a lawyer in your fifties it's a little silly to be railing against the man in a punk song. Dispatch: Dear Band Members: You ARE the man. Love, Rachel

The previous year's champions were unbelievably slick and put on a great show. The lead singer in the tie was especially rock and roll in a great old school way and their entire sound was tight. They worried me.

Last came Birds of Prey - the unfortunately-named entry from Bird & Bird. They came on to a chant - "BIRDS OF PREY > > > BIRDS OF PREY > > > " -- thanks to our phenomenally resonantly voiced friend Fester and the birds took off immediately. Are You Going to Go My Way?, Lenny Kravitz was phenomenal.

(What was great about the whole evening was that it really brought out the spirit of rock and roll - connecting with the audience in a primal way. That quality was more important than even the musicianship - although the musicianship was ridiculously good -- the connection between the audience and the lead singer was what set one band above another.)

Then my favourite part of the night - their second number, Johnny B. Good. Rhys got to play the absolutely iconic riff and then have the time of his life playing a great solo. Fantastic. Then Basket Case by Green Day, then Mr Brightside by the Killers. The lead singer is this guy named Chris Holder and he just let himself connect with as many people in the room as he could by singing his heart out and it worked.

The judges liked them. One judge commented that with such a good saxophone player, she wished Birds of Prey had played Brown Sugar.

Then after some waffling and more opportunities to buy very warm vodka tonics, the judges decided that they needed a playoff between Birds of Prey and the previous year's winner because they just couldn't decide.

The previous year's winner repeated their best song, then Birds of Prey came on. And as easily as anything, they launched into a version of Brown Sugar that anyone could be proud of. Especially the sax solo. That guy played the sax like his life depended on it. What I loved was the the depth of musicianship shown by being able to pull a fairly unrehearsed song like that together in an inspired instant.

More time for warm vodka tonics, a trip to the restroom/creative writing outlet and time to rue the fact that no cigarette outings were planned from when Birds of Prey came on until the end of the competition.

Then they announced that Bird of Prey won. Rhys was in the happiest of dazes. We wandered the streets of London in search of the afterparty drunk with good feelings and warm vodka tonics. We danced at the afterparty then bought horrifically bad Tesco's sushi to eat in our ApartHotel with Fester.

It was one of the greatest nights since I have known Rhys and I was so happy and proud of him.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good and Bad

I think these words are not useful and generally should not be relied upon. I am not saying that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, I am saying that they are, as a collective shorthand, inhibiting human development. I offer my parenting experience to support this proposition, coin the phrase "bad blindness" and then project - probably speciously - my conclusion to the whole world.

I feel my obligation as a parent is to help my children understand the world and also to give them a real shot at happiness. This requires me to attempt to understand the world and give myself a real shot at happiness. Because the awful truth of parenting is this: my children absorb who I truly am. No matter what I tell them, or how many violin practices I take them to. They are absorbing my joy and pain, my food and drink, the way I look at things, how I treat the earth. My reactions cue their reactions. Not totally, of course, and not forever, but for now this is true.

So my parental obligation is to be my best self and help them be their best selves. The words good and bad are a truly terrible impediment to this goal.

First, there is simple thing that it's a lazy shorthand. Playing ball is good, playing ball in the house breaking something is bad, the only distinction is the location. So teach them location. Interrupting an adult conversation is bad when it is annoying and good when Johnny has fallen down the well. Distinction: priority of message. So teach them priority of message. Equip them. Chocolate cake, ice cream, asparagus . . . give them ideas about fresh vegetables and health and fat. You get it.


Second, and I realize this is not true for everyone, the adjectives good and bad create in me a terrible heightened false consciousness. It comes from my Christian upbringing. I have a vivid imagination and going to church gave me a lot of downtime to use it. (I remember some absolutely riveting and imaginative descriptions of hell when I attended the Christian Missionary & Alliance Church in Corning in the 70's - these guys had a gift and should immediately all become writers on Dr. Who) Telling little children that the consequences of sin is death is to create in them a terror of being in sin. Fear (of any description) is not useful in understanding the world and it certainly is an enormous deterrent to being happy. It inhibits my clear thinking. Here is an example. Christian doctrine requires Jesus First, Yourself last, Others in between. (A chilling denial of what some humans need). This blueprint on my consciousness means that whenever I do anything fun for myself, I think of that as sinful selfishness and I feel afraid. I use the level of consciousness here with too much laxity. I never actually think about it, it is in my muscles, I only figured out it was even happening over the course of the last few years. It took a long time. It is embedded irrevocably in my nervous system so it's hard to see. But I was able eventually to identify symptoms: pounding heart, restricted blood flow, hollow feeling at the base of the ribs, the vastly unpleasant experience of being terrified. It all comes back, again, not in a conscious way, it is just there. I can't regulate the cortisol that floods out.

So this is not something I want to pass on to my children. (Incidentally, my son is in a Christian school now and it is an incredibly serene, joyful and virtuous community - not all Christians engage in such destructive neural programming). So my task again, truly being myself, requires that I minimize the destructive capacity of the words good and bad.

In my quest for my highest self, I have had to unpack all the bad things. When I do "bad" things, I suffer for them, I punish myself. I have internalized the message so completely that I unconsciously make it bad for myself, usually by feeling intense shame after I have fun.

And I also have "bad blindness".
The words bad and good can impede people really thinking about what they are doing. When I do something that is "bad" and risk the terror/shame cycle, I can't bear to think about it, so I just put it out of my mind. Once I figured this out about myself, I see people doing this ALL THE TIME. I was recently speaking to some long-time Cambridge residents who asked how I liked living in Cambridge and I said that I found the natives incredibly difficult and felt like a permanent outsider in the local culture. THREE PEOPLE politely told me that I was simply mistaken. That I was wrong and I was in fact having a wonderful time. In that case, I have criticized the culture rather than the individual, but the blindness ensued.

The cloud of bad blindness is no way to go through life. I fogged a lot of the 1990s because as a single woman who loves Champagne I had more than my share of traditional vices. Sex was bad, and it was bad to have sex outside of marriage. I did it anyway, but in a way that was sometimes just as furtive as a repressed gay senator in a men's bathroom. With exquisite shame to follow. I don't know if shame is ever an appropriate thing for a human to feel.

Humans have a powerful post-subsistence need to be classified as "good" in order to make the other "bad". This leads to a considerable amount of violence when in fact many of us know better. Americans have it to a pathological degree, which is why they have bad blindness.


British children are forever playing "goodies" and "baddies" on their ubiquitous parks. There is never any discernible difference in the behavior.