Of HIV and UNO

I was 20 when they told me I was going to die.

This was not an existential revelation about the transitory nature of human existence. It was much more immediate and personal than that. They told me that my death was imminent.   In this instance, the ‘they’ were doctors, one of whom was the president of the Frankfurt, Germany mission in which I was living at the time. How did this come about? According to my diary for September 3, 1993, it started like this:

“I was in an accident. I was biking down the street (sidewalk) in Laemmerspiel when a car pulled out of basically nowhere and thumped me. I flipped over the car and landed on my head. I bled quite a bit and by the time the ambulance arrived I needed an I.V. (cool!)”

Well, like any dumb kid writing in a journal, I didn’t really take the time to preserve accurate details for posterity. I was hit by a car (an Italian man driving a Citroen, actually), and I did fly over the vehicle; I hit my head and lost consciousness for a brief time, having only vague awareness of the blood transfusion I received. Fast forward a couple of months and you find me, at Christmas time, battling pneumonia yet feeling no small excitement as I call home for the holidays, speaking with my family for the first time in a year.

“Did you hear about the German Red Cross?” My mother asked.

“I don’t get the news these days, Mom.”

“Apparently they accidentally distributed blood that was contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C to German hospitals in your area a couple of months ago – when you were in the hospital. Merry Christmas!”

Okay, that’s not verbatim, but it’s closer to it than you might think…

According to this website, http://chealth.canoe.com/condition_info_details.asp?channel_id=0&disease_id=291&page_no=2, the odds of getting HIV from a blood transfusion are approximately 1 in 4,000,000. Apparently, the odds go up significantly if the hospital you are admitted to was mistakenly given HIV contaminated blood. Apparently they go even higher if the blood you receive came from the contaminated blood batch. I don’t really mind the 1 in 4,000,000 odds so much. The, “you have AIDS” odds that I was given, were less encouraging.

Thus I found myself a few thousand miles away from home, with pneumonia, and apparently AIDS (how do people with AIDS die, I asked rhetorically, PNEUMONIA!). The cherry on this particular sundae was the Dear John letter I received from a certain young lady, which I will discuss at greater length another time. It would be fair to say that I was a little ‘down’ at this point in time.

Fortunately, it was in this dark moment that I found the spiritual guru who provided me with a change in perspective that completely changed my life. His name was Shaun Frost, and he was a hockey enthusiast from Arizona with a prominent nose and already slightly receding hairline. He was the one who came shuffling through my apartment door, bearing Coca Cola and UNO cards, and uttering the phrase that changed everything: “Let’s play.”

Despite the ridiculous simplicity of this statement, this was a transformative moment for me. Dark nights of the soul still come, and I find myself often tempted to surrender to self-pity, cynicism, or even nihilism. But then I remember the dopey dude from Arizona and his UNO cards.

As the story ends, apparently they were wrong.  After months and months of more tests than I care to remember, it was determined that I was not HIV positive, either I had never been, or I ‘got better’ (they were never clear on that – doctors and Germans neither one liking to admit error).  But, while my life continues on 20+ years later, I hope to never forget the lesson: life goes on for a few more days, or a few more years, we cannot know.  So let’s wring the last drop of living out of that life.  Let’s laugh, love and learn.  Let’s sing in public to embarrass our children.  Let’s be open and honest with one another, but never cruel.

Let’s play.

Gays and Mormon Musings

I’m Mormon. I feel no reluctance or shame in making this statement. I’ve been Mormon my entire life, and for the most part it has seen me in good stead.

I’m a raving liberal. I feel no reluctance or shame in making this statement. I can’t say I’ve been liberal about everything my entire life, but I certainly am about most things, and it too sees me in good stead.

Having ‘liberal’ and ‘Mormon’ as identifiers means that since last Friday the 26th of June, my Facebook feed has looked like the Salt Lake Temple is belching rainbows and is searching for a very powerful antacid. I’m pretty selective in whom I follow on my newsfeed, and so I am pleased to state that most of the posts I’ve seen have been predominantly respectful, even in disagreement. I have been much sadder as I have observed in spaces where I don’t control the feed an unpleasant mixture of alarmist fear-mongering (no, Jesus is not so upset about gay marriage that he’s letting it dictate the date of his return – if the Holocaust and its attendant world war didn’t move the meter, gay marriage isn’t either) and arrogant gloating.

The volume on both types of negative reaction has been turned up in the wake of the news(?) that the LDS Church has sent out a letter to bishops and stake presidents to read to members, that for the umpteenth time, states the church’s position regarding same sex marriage. I don’t understand why this was felt to be necessary, and given the text of the letter itself, I don’t see how much good could come of it (unless continued marginalization of certain groups is seen as a good).

All the discussion that I have seen has led me to attempt to identify my own thoughts on the issue of homosexuality – not on gay marriage, I’m unabashedly in favor of it, but that’s because I view it as a ‘people’ issue more than a ‘gay people’ issue. Homosexuality, for me, is a difficult nut to crack. I’m not homosexual and cannot understand it. To be frank and completely honest, I find the notion rather off-putting. As far as how homosexuality fits from a God’s-eye view, I think I have found a pretty solid answer: I don’t know.  I’m finding this answer to be surprisingly satisfying.  In fact, I have a whole list of questions to which I can respond with great conviction, “I don’t know.” This list includes:

Is homosexuality is experienced by others the same way heterosexuality is experienced by myself?
Is homosexuality nature or nurture or some mixture?
Is homosexuality just a metaphorical cross to bear?
Is homosexuality a choice a person makes that isn’t particularly loaded with moral implication?
Is homosexuality something that will exist post mortem, assuming some form of after-life?

In a way, I’m very relieved that I have a comfortable uncertainty about these issues. It relieves me of the burden of judging others. I am (in the words of an insightful friend) freed to love others unconditionally. Awareness of my uncertainty allows to me to love others as I love myself and I can put myself in another’s shoes and ask ‘How would I want to be treated?’

This then leads to another question, where my answer is far less uncertain:

Is homosexuality in any way part of the calculus in determining whether or not I will offer someone love, friendship and understanding?

Of course not.

Dear God

Dear God, is there somebody out there?

Is there someone to hear my prayer?

I don’t really like praying. I find it difficult to not be contrived, and too often it feels like simply muttering things into the immediate space about me. When I try to think about times in my life that prayer had a lasting positive impact on my life, I can ever think of only one instance.

I’m a simple man with simple words to say.

I don’t sleep well at night. I never have. When I was a child, my parents let me have a small black-and-white television with me in my room so that I would be occupied and let them sleep, despite my own resistance to Morpheus’ beckoning. What I watched most often was the 10:00 news. I would watch and then discuss the events depicted therein with my parents in the morning as they got me ready for whatever it is pre-kindergarten age children do with their days. It wasn’t long, though, until I became troubled in my young mind about what was going on in the world. There was so much suffering in the world: wars, poverty, ecosystems being destroyed, children losing parents, parents losing children … I began to feel both deep sorrow and a vague fear in my heart, I felt as though the world were perilously close to collapse.

So, walking home from kindergarten, I asked God about it all. Why was there suffering? Why do people do terrible things? What could be done to make it right? Would the world last long enough for me to grow old?

Is there some point in asking?

Asking for more only got us where we are today-

Lost and alone and afraid.

Funny thing was – He answered.   I could almost hear an audible voice speak peace to my little heart. Whatever it was, it was powerful enough that I still remember it today.   I spoke to God, and He answered. As I question everything in my life pertaining to faith and religion, I am unable to bring myself to disbelieve that moment was anything but a two-way conversation – and I’ve tried.

Dear God, can you hear me crying?

A whole world crying-

Looking for something to say.

We had it all and we threw it all away.

But ever since that time, I have failed to find anything that has approached that moment. I’ve had some positive experiences/feelings involving prayer and faith and religion, but nothing that has been able to leave an indelible mark upon my psyche. I weep, but I don’t feel the same comfort. I rage, and I find no lasting peace. I feel as though perhaps there is so much noise inside me that the signal gets lost.

Is there somebody watching

Somebody watching over the mess that we’ve made?

We’re lost and alone and afraid.

Everyone Is Wrong

Everyone is Wrong

I have observed with more than passing interest the saga of Kate Kelly’s church discipline. When I first heard that she was to have a disciplinary council, I took the news rather personally. I empathize greatly with Sister Kelly, and am a moderately active participant in both the bloggernacle and jabbernacle (the written and spoken portions of online LDS activity). In addition, I think that Kate raises issues that are both valid and important. I think that it is quite clear that women are marginalized in the LDS religion. It’s deeply ingrained in our culture as can be seen from the fact that women have only just started being allowed to pray in General Conference, women have traditionally not been the final speaker in sacrament meeting, ward budgets regularly are imbalanced against girls and women, and the list goes on, including some troubling moments in the LDS church’s most sacred sphere, and of particular interest here, the fact that a council of three men determined Kate’s religious fate, whereas if she were a priesthood holder, it would be a council of 15. In no circumstance would a woman be part of the panel of judges.

For myself, let me be clear: It is my personal belief that the LDS church’s founder, Joseph Smith, was well on his way to giving women the priesthood. Mormon theology is wonderfully progressive in its treatment of woman: We believe in a female deity, we believe that Eve didn’t sin and screw everything up for everyone. We have apostles saying things like this (in 1914, for Pete’s sake):

“Woman shall yet come to her own, exercising her rights and her privileges as a sanctified investiture which none shall dare profane… When the frailities and imperfections of mortality are left behind, in the glorified state of the blessed hereafter, husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and co-operating to the full in the government of their family kingdom. Then shall woman be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God. Mortal eye cannot see nor mind comprehend the beauty, glory, and majesty of a righteous woman made perfect in the celestial kingdom of God.” –James E. Talmage, Young Woman’s Journal 25 (October 1914): 600-604

Yet, in applying that doctrine, I believe we have fallen far short of the mark. I personally support female ordination to the priesthood, but I do not pretend to know God’s will on the matter. To be completely honest, I haven’t even asked Him. But I do think we have failed in the church to create a space where difficult questions, such as those posed by Sister Kelly, can be adequately and safely addressed.

In the wake of Sister Kelly’s excommunication, there have been primarily two reactions: 1) Anger, coupled with fear and name-calling; and 2) Smugness, coupled with arrogance and name-calling. I believe that both of these positions come primarily from that heady combination of ignorance and fear that seems to be as prevalent during the ‘information age’ as it was during the ‘dark age’.

What then is the sequence of events that led us to where we are today? I will attempt to lay it out based upon what evidence I can gather, and taking all parties at their word to the extent that there is no direct conflict. On June 8, 2014, Kate Kelly received an email from Mark Harrison, the bishop of the Virginia ward in which she had, until recently, been living. This email informed her that she was facing potential excommunication on the grounds of apostasy.[1] Subsequent to the June 22 hearing, a letter was emailed and mailed to Kate informing her that they had decided to excommunicate her[2]. The letter outlines a number of communications that had taken place prior to the disciplinary hearing:

  1. 12/13/13 meeting with Stake President and Bishop, where Kate was ‘urged … to dissociate yourself from Ordain Women’.
  2. March and April 2014, Stake President informally confirmed prior urging.
  3. March 17th, Church Spokeswoman Jessica Moody sent a letter to Kate and OW, asking them not to come to General Conference seeking admission to the priesthood session.[3]
  4. On May 5, 2014, Kate was put on probation (which limited some aspects of her participation in the church) with the intent that she would discontinue her involvement with OW.

The Letter also points out a few other relevant facts: Kate was offered an opportunity to appear at her hearing via video, or could have rescheduled the council to a date when she could have attended in person.

In setting out the basis for the decision, the letter from Brother Harrison states that the issue was not Sister Kelly’s belief that women should be ordained, but rather that she has “persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others.”

While the letter of excommunication doesn’t use the word ‘apostasy’, it seems clear that is the basis for the action. ‘Apostasy’ is defined by the church as: “1. Repeatedly act in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders; 2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop of a higher authority…” It seems fairly plain that Kate did act in clear, open and deliberate opposition to the Church by her repeated appearances at General Conference Priesthood Meeting, particularly after having been asked not to. The Six Discussions (essentially missionary discussions arguing in favor of female ordination) also may have been in violation of both #1 and #2, particularly if the timeline above is accurate.

Kate’s critics suggest that she didn’t really want a dialogue but rather had drawn a line in the sand, as evidenced by this statement, “The ordination of women would put us on completely equal spiritual footing with our brethren, and nothing less will suffice.”[4] Whether the ‘nothing less’ she is referring to is ordination, or ‘equal spiritual footing’ is an important ambiguity to this statement.

 

For her part, Kate has stated that her agitation on the issue is based upon self-respect and her personal beliefs: “I respect and value the church and myself too much to be silent on this question. I truly believe that God wants us all to equally share the burdens and blessings of the priesthood.”[5]

She also seems to take issue with the suggestion that she had conversations as described in her letter of excommunication: “It’s just not true. Point out the emails. I have all my phone records. There aren’t any [communications].”[6] However, the letter, as I read it doesn’t say there were telephone calls or email, but merely that Stake President Wheatley ‘again reminded you of the counsel given in December.’ This sounds more like an informal statement made perhaps merely in passing.

Ordain women also has repeatedly stated that they have tried to have some sort of meeting with LDS church leaders[7], but have never been responded to.[8]

 

The excommunication of one member of the church has no precedential value for me. In this case, a bishopric in Virginia thinks that Kate crossed a line. While I understand that there is some indication that the act against Sister Kelly was at least influenced from higher up the totem pole[9], ultimately I don’t think the ‘Church’ has spoken through this action, and I will not change how I act based upon it.

In order to deal with my own emotional reaction: I have asked myself two questions: First, what if Sister Kelly, instead of advocating a position with which I agree, advocated something else, such as plural marriage? What if she had put forth compelling historical and scriptural arguments in favor of polygamy and had managed to get a sizeable number of people to agree with her, or had found a group of like-minded people and organized themselves and perhaps stood outside of temples politely asking to be allowed in to be sealed to their spouses? Would I feel the same upset about her excommunication? Probably not.

Second, and perhaps more importantly for me, what if Kate Kelly really received spiritual confirmation that women should be ordained to the priesthood and that she should work toward that end? What if her bishop ALSO received spiritual confirmation that she should be excommunicated? Is such a thing possible? To me, it is. In Daoist philosophy, the concepts of yin and yang are seemingly opposite forces that are, in fact, complementary. Everything has aspects of both within itself. In Mormon Scripture, echoes of this concept are found in 2 Nep 2:11 “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things…Wherefore all things must needs be a compound in one”. Note that the opposition is in all things, not an opposition to all things. Without the opposing forces of good and evil within ourselves, we do not learn, progress, or even live. Could it also be that in order for life and progress to occur that the seeming contradiction of Sister Kelly’s witness to promote female ordination and Brother Harrison’s witness to excommunicate Sister Kelly are both true? Both real? Both necessary?

Then there are other questions: Could Sister Kelly have ‘agitated’ differently? Was she less than completely open about the discussions she’s had with local church leaders? Could Brother Harrison have chosen a different sanction? Could he have forwarded Sister Kelly’s records to her new ward to that she could appear in person without having to travel across the country? Was he less than completely open about some pressure to act against Sister Kelly coming from above?

Maybe. I don’t know, and that’s the ultimate point: I don’t know whether Kate Kelly is a modern day Joan of Arc, or a sophisticated apostate who is seeking a personal agenda without caring what she may damage along the way. I don’t know if Brother Harrison is a modern day Solomon (before the bad part), or a savage misogynist. What I do know is that she is my sister, and I am to love her, even if she’s wrong. He is also my brother, and I am to love him, even if he’s wrong.

That is why everyone is wrong. We presume to know the hearts and minds of the players in this modern Mormon drama, and take upon ourselves the mantle of judge, and in so doing we tend to overlook the possible culpability of the side we support. Perhaps we should overlook everyone’s culpability and just do what we know we are supposed to do.[10]

 

[1] http://www.scribd.com/doc/229281605/Letter-threatening-excommunication-to-Kate-Kelly

[2] http://www.nearingkolob.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Notice-of-Decision.pdf

[3] http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/church-asks-ordain-women-group-to-not-protest-at-general/pdf_a098d600-ae1b-11e3-bde4-0019bb2963f4.html

[4] http://thestudentreview.org/exclusive-interview-with-kate-kelly-from-ordain-women/

[5] http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865586996/LDS-Church-responds-to-priesthood-meeting-request-by-activists.html?pg=all

[6] http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58104587-78/church-kelly-women-ordain.html.csp?page=2

[7] Perhaps of the sort Mormon Women Stand had: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/57968474-80/women-church-mormon-lds.html.csp

[8] http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/58095510-82/church-women-ordain-lds.html.csp

[9] http://kutv.com/news/top-stories/stories/discipline-ordain-women-came-high-level-lds-leaders-12001.shtml

[10] http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2014/06/we-are-better-than-this/

Album Review: Lacuna Coil, Broken Crown Halo

Another genre of music I really like is the female-fronted goth-metal/symphonic metal genre.  Bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation, Evanescence and Delain are all very enjoyable to me.  Another band in this genre is Italy’s Lacuna Coil.  They are less symphonic metal than many of the others, relying instead on heavy use of synths to supplement their tuned-down guitar/bass approach.  As with many of the bands in this genre, Lacuna Coil employs two main singers, the Woman: Cristina Scabbia, who can sing; and the Man, Andrea Ferro, who can’t.  While Ferro does not typically employ the ‘death growls’ that many gothic bands have borrowed from death and black metal, his voice is rough and singularly unmelodious.  In fact, it took me quite some time to ‘get past’ Ferro’s vocals and come to enjoy the songs, time I would not have taken but for Cristina Scabbia.  Whom I find a very enjoyable singer, and a more than passably attractive woman.

Why, yes.  I am an improbably hot goth chick.  Why do you ask?

Why, yes. I am an improbably hot goth chick. Why do you ask?

ON TO THE ALBUM!

Broken Crown Halo is the seventh full-length album by LC, and is one of their heaviest to date.

Track 1. Nothing Stands in Our Way – Starts out in the very typical LC style of several synths looped together leading into the sudden explosion of sound that brings the rest of the band in.    The song stays at a consistent volume from that point on.  The verses are sung by Scabbia, with Ferro joining in unison on the choruses.    Ferro is mixed forward in the first section part of the chorus, with Scabbia taking the second.  At the 2:25 mark, Ferro’s vocals adopt a distinctly ‘death growl’ approach, which as I mentioned above, is unusual for him and he doesn’t spend much time there as it appears to primarily be used for effect.  Ultimately, it’s a decent track, but does not stand out as anything particularly special.

Track 2.  Zombies – This song starts with guitars layered on synths playing an aggressive, chunky riff.  Initial vocals are by Ferro who approaches the song in a Rob Zombie-esque manner (hence the title?).    Scabbia takes the next section, which is still interspersed with Ferro’s screams.    Ferro has made some attempts at actual singing on recent albums.  That seems to be less the approach here.  The song is a straightforward heavy rocker, I like the track fine, but would not want it to be any longer that it is.

Track 3.  Hostage to the Light – Back to the familiar synth intro followed by blast of guitars drums and bass.  After the initial burst, the track backs off a little as Scabbia begins the song.  This track is sung entirely by Scabbia, which is certainly a bonus, but the song itself doesn’t jump out and grab this listener.  The problem is really with the chorus, which actually is less catchy than the really decent verses.   

Track 4. Victims – This song follows what is, to me, the quintessential LC pattern.  It is largely sung by Scabbia over synths and down-tuned guitars that move from undistorted arpeggios to a chunky downs-stroked rhythm building to a short chorus with the distortion turned up and with Ferro ‘singing’.    The one section that doesn’t follow the typical pattern is a brief  section of quasi-rapped/yelled vocals that doesn’t quite work. 

Track 5.  Die and Rise – Perhaps continuing the Zombie theme from earlier, we now have “Die and Rise”  This song starts out with the first truly excellent riff of the album.    Ferro takes the primary vocals on this song, and he does a passable job on this one.  The chorus, has cheesy lyrics, but it’s kind of fun if you don’t take it too seriously, “Die and rise; and take a bite of life”.    Silly. 

Track 6.  I Forgive (But I Won’t Forget Your Name) – This track is the type that LC does very well.  Heavy, but strongly melodic, thanks to Scabbia’s vocals.  She’s an excellent rock vocalist.  Ferro’s part is much smaller and he even almost sings before getting out of Scabbia’s way. 

Track 7.  Cybersleep – This track is still certainly within LC’s wheelhouse, with some minor variance.  The vocal melody is a little atypical for them, and they do a nice job of pulling back in the final third of the song as it builds to the final chorus.  It is also the second song on the album with nary a peep from Ferro.  I’m not complaining. 

Track 8. Infection – Decent song, using the familiar LC call and response between Scabbia and Ferro.  The track lacks any dynamic changes and the main riff, while good, isn’t remarkable. 

Track 9.  I Burn in You – This song is a slower and softer number with less distortion and taking a slower tempo.  Well, until about the 2:30 mark when Ferro starts yelling at you for about 30 seconds.  They are quite unfortunate seconds as the rest of the song is just fine.

Track 10.  In the End I Feel Alive – Another song directly from the LC wheelhouse.  The approach is similar to Track 6, with the roles slightly reversed.  Ferro takes the verses with Scabbia coming in for the chorus.  As I’ve made clear, I’m not a fan of Ferro’s vocals, but this is the type of song and style that works reasonably well for me, even though I still find myself anticipating the chorus, just because I know that Scabbia is going to kill it.    Somewhat unusually, the track’s final 1:30 isinstrumental.

Track 11.  One Cold Day – This track features Scabbia singing in a much ‘sweeter’ style than is her wont through the first section.    Musically, the song starts with a piano (really a keyboard, but whatever) that matches her vocals and fits nicely with the lyrics which are the best on the album.  This is the third time on the album that the vocal duties are entrusted completely to Scabbia, and I would say that they managed to save the best for last.  The final section of the song incorporates some synthesized strings that carry it nicely to the close of the song which ends with only the second guitar solo on the album.

CONCLUSION

I like Lacuna Coil and I like this album.  I don’t know that it is one of their best, however.  There are some definitely strong moments, but there are also sections that either don’t stand out enough or that lack something.  Still, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to fans of the band or genre.  Total: 6/10 RockBones.

Album Review: RPWL – Wanted

Ah, Spring.  When a young prog-fan’s mind turns to thoughts of new releases, which seem to come in droves during this time of the year.  I’ve been recently listening to a bunch of music that has come out by several bands, some new and some familiar.  Today I’ll be looking at the unfortunately-named RPWL’s newest release, Wanted.  RPWL started life out as a Pink Floyd tribute band, and that influence has been both a blessing and a curse to their output.  A blessing, because Pink Floyd is awesome, but a curse because they sometimes seem so indebted to Floyd that they struggle to distinguish their own identity (if David Gilmour had a German accent, he’d be Yogi Lang).  In Wanted, the Floydian slips are still there, but the band has done a better job of presenting their own sound.  As a result, Wanted may be RPWL’s best effort to date.

Track 1.  Revelation (Instrumental) – starts out with a percussive synth loop which gradually builds, adding guitar, bass and keyboard eventually cranking it up to a degree that is atypical of this often mellow band.  After that, the song comes back down to a smoother portion before ‘Floyding’ out.   All in all, a nice, if not earth-shattering track.

Track 2.  Swords and Guns – The first (and last?) single of this album starts with the sound of marching feet, to which bass is added before the full band comes in along with vocals droning what will become the song’s refrain.  The song is about fighting and killing in the name of religion, a fairly ubiquitous rock music theme to which this album will return.  After proceeding through a verse and chorus, the song comes down to a bridge wherein we get to enjoy Yogi Lang’s -David Gilmour with an accent – vocal style.  The song ends after a nice keyboard solo by returning to the marching refrain.  A good track, but maybe a little long (8:30+) for what it is.

Track 3.  A Clear Cut Line – A nice little ambient instrumental.  I like it, but probably would have moved it further into the album.

Track 4.  Wanted – This is actually a more obvious single to my mind than is Swords and Guns.  It’s a slick, mid-tempo pop/rock tune with a strong hook in the chorus and driving, steady beat.  There is enough going on with the keyboards to keep it interesting.  I quite like it. 

Track 5. Hide and Seek – A track that alternates between sweetly-sung acoustic passages and heavier rock moments.  While a commonly used effect in music; it is nevertheless well done here as the more helter-skelter bits do a nice job of creating a musical landscape that creates a real desire for something sweeter and more relaxing.  Of course, the soft passages belie the lyrical content of those moments, which truly enhances the atmosphere of the song.  

Track 6.  Disbelief – I don’t like rap.  I don’t like it ever.  I don’t like it over a cool guitar riff and leading up to a nice chorus.  Which is too bad, because this part of the song is very nice:   But the first part of the song sounds like this:

Track 7.  Misguided Thought – This is, to me, the most overtly Floydian track.  Very smooth, almost meandering along with a nice verse and chorus, the lyrics more biting than the music would suggest. 

Track 8.  Perfect Day – Another mid-tempo rock song based upon a keyboard loop and complimentary guitar lick.  The song doesn’t vary much throughout its course, but it also doesn’t over stay its welcome.

Track 9. Still Asleep (bonus track) – Starts with just voice and acoustic guitar with the lyrics accusing religion of holding mankind back from its full potential.  It’s far more melodic vocally than Roger Waters ever managed, but it’s definitely his type of song.  This is a good thing. 

Track 10.  The Attack – The best and longest track on the album.  Starts with the kind of dirty guitar/bass line for which I am a complete sucker and which is used as the basis for this somewhat heavier track.  The track keeps itself fairly spartan for the first 3:00 minutes, either featuring guitar/bass drum (largely without riding the crash cymbal, or keyboards but not the whole band until the instrumental break at the 3:05 mark.  This segues to the chorus.    From here the song has a slow space-rock section which gradually builds to a nice mid-tempo section which serves as the emotional highpoint of the song.    Then to the best guitar solo on the album and I nice fade that recaps the intro.  Nicely done.

Track 11.  A New Dawn.  – This is the “Imagine” of the album.  A very pretty and stripped-down number filled with over-simplified visions of a utopian future that actually sounds kind of scary if one thinks about it.  Still, a very nice listen. 

 

CONCLUSION

I think that RPWL is an upper-mid tier contemporary progressive rock band with strong melodic sensibilities, but borrowing a little to heavily from their primary influence, Pink Floyd.  This album moves them forward from that a step, bringing some new identity to their sound.  Lyrically, the album is supposedly a concept album about a group of people who find the key to societal happiness and then have to retreat underground when organized religions persecute them.  Really, it’s just a polemic against religion, which is fine and well, but layered on a little thickly.  Still, even with some flaws, the album is a good listen and functions decently as background music, but is also interesting enough for more active listening.  I give it 7/10 ProgBones ™.

Dancing

ballerina

I was never much of one for dancing.

Too long, too lanky, too much like a baby giraffe on his sister’s roller skates. I don’t like dance music. I don’t like dance competitions. I don’t like movies about dance. In high school, I didn’t ask girls to dances. Unfortunately, I lived in an ‘enlightened’ era with increased opportunities for those most uncomfortable of adolescent rites of passage, the ‘girls choice’ dance. When I was asked, I always accepted, because that’s what a nice boy did. The evening of the dance, I would dress up in a suit and buy a corsage for the girl. She would drive up and I would come out to meet her without her needing to come up and knock on the front door. I would open her door, whether she were driver or passenger. All of this I did, because it was gentlemanly, because it was nice. But once the date properly began, I sought with concentrated effort to divert the night away from dancing, coaxing my would-be Ginger Rogers to engage in other activities, whether they were activities befitting a nice boy or not. No, I was never much of one for dancing.

For her, dancing was an imperative. It didn’t matter if she were engaged in something exciting or pushing through one of the more mundane demands of life. She had been dancing for as long as she had been standing. As though she were a marionette compelled by some unseen hand, her body was wired such that when the music played – she moved. Sometimes she would simply tap her foot. Other times her arms would move, conducting the unseen orchestra. And in those rarified moments when she felt nobody was watching, or if she felt confident and safe, her inhibitions fell by the wayside, and her entire body would bounce, sway and turn in time with the pulse of the music around her. Her eyes would gloss, her head would fall back, and she would dance. Oh, how she would dance! It was plain from the rapture on her face that she did not need to look for her heaven; her pilgrimage was at an end.

I will not forget the evening when our eyes met from across the room. The music was playing, and we were doing what we both did best. She was responding to the compulsion of the beat in full fever of movement while I was – with equal fervor – not dancing. Despite myself, I was unable to keep my gaze off of her. There was a grace and purity in her movement that left me ensorcelled, caught entirely within her spell. I saw her move, at first haltingly, but then with ever greater confidence. She swayed, leapt, pirouetted her way across the floor. Then, as she swiftly spun herself about, her eyes tripped over mine, and for a moment we both stopped short. She paused in her dance long enough to take a few halting steps in my direction as though she were being pulled by some unseen force towards me. She smiled. I was similarly drawn to the dancing beauty whose eyes sparkled under my gaze.

No words were spoken, there was no need. The siren’s call of the music and the strange, invisible connection we felt, predetermined our actions. I strode across the floor to her with much greater confidence than I truly felt and I took her in my arms.

I danced.

We danced.

I spun her around, held her close, dipped her low to the floor then lifted her high into the air. She was light as air in my arms, and her gift to me was the grace for which I had longed, but despaired of ever attaining.

The music stopped. With rapid breath and racing heart, I reluctantly set her down again, an angel returning to earth. Barely suppressed emotion welled behind my eyes as she smiled, and turned away from me. Looking about, she spotted her next dance partner: the stuffed bear she had just received for her third birthday.

I was never much of one for dancing… until I danced with her.

The Reluctant Narcissist?

I’ve always thought that there was a certain amount of narcissism involved in many internet activities, including blogging.  That’s one of the reasons that I’ve long been reluctant to engage in the practice, despite the fact that I enjoy writing. 

So why start?  I don’t know.  Perhaps I am a narcissist.  Perhaps it’s just another avenue by which I am attempting to keep a journal, because the more traditional way never seems to work.  Perhaps it’s because I want to have a place to collect my favorite thoughts that I come across as well as a place to put notes about the thing which I love the best, music.  (Notice I said THING I love the best, Theresa.  Wives aren’t things, they’re ‘appendages’…)