This could probably use one more round of editing and/or formatting, but fuck it, I'm just lettin' it fly. Some of it came out earlier today while some of it's been sitting for months & months and it takes me so freaking long to do anything that if I stop myself now, it might sit for another year.
Two years ago, December 28 2019 was night two of The MIghty Mighty Bosstones' Hometown Throwdown. A few extra friends joined me, in celebration of my turning 50 earlier that month. Some of them had seen the Bosstones but hadn't in a while or hadn't been to a Throwdown, and some had never seen them live. But they all knew how much it meant to me. I wanted a memorable celebration but didn't quite have the spoons, space, or shit together to host a party. So I invited them to the best time I've ever had. They all had a blast and determined they would very much want to attend future Throwdowns with me.
And here we are, 2nd year in a row without a Throwdown, thanks to COVID-19. Trying hard not to dwell heavily upon it, and taking comfort in the amazing new album the Bosstones released several months ago that is still amazing each and every time I listen to it, and that some of those friends and I did get to see the Bosstones at the Worcester Punk in Drublic back in September.
So today i'm committing to finally finishing my thoughts about the album. I thought I would get it done back in the Summer, when I got to take it to the beach and give it a few listens in the sun and at actual leisure. A few more thoughts did get put down then, but the push to finish got delayed once again by life and its overwhelms. More thoughts came along after Punk in Drublic, where they played a hell of a set that included four of my favorite shiny new songs from WGWG but, well. Same thing. I don't know if it's just what the new brain norm is post-accident, or pandemic adding to already plenty of anxiety & depression, or the new norm post-menopause, or something else, or some combination of 2 or more, but I can't concentrate worth a damn, and almost all of the 'get it done willpower' gets thoroughly used up in doing a decent enough job at the job (which was jobS plural for a while there, because once I got a better job it was harder than expected to hours reduced to a do-able point at the first job). I'm working on it all, the concentration & depression & anxiety, that's all I can say. And I'll nip that line of thought in the bud, lest this post go completely off the rails.
So here we go. The Mighty Mighty BossToneS: When God Was Great (released May 2021).
Front to back, this thing rocks. Or slaps, as I'm told the kids say these days. I don't know if I'm using it exactly as they do. Here I mean it leaves a fresh, stinging, and invigorating sensation across the face of your brain's listening parts. It slaps.
In terms of sounds, lyrics, and perceivable intent, the album is on one hand extremely relevant to current times and then skews nostalgic as fuck on the other.
Some songs hit heavily on the frustrations of the past few years, offering some catharsis, context, and/or camaraderie. In the songs that look back and reminisce, they don't just do so with subjects and stories from a distant past; they're assembled in part from audio lexicons of another age. This band has always mixed and matched sounds from far and wide, and here they've added even more ingredients to their unmatched, not-quite definable signature 'stew.'
Sounds, styles and even bits of riffs from a bygone buffet show up on this music platter and take me back more years than I care to assign a number to. It hints in ways that leave me feeling like I just need one more note to name that distant tune echoed by a cluster of notes, or a fragment of melody, or within a particular guitar sound.
Hey, how's that for getting a little mileage from those arts degrees? :D Is it any wonder it takes me months to get any gods-damned thing done?
Ok, how about some details:
Right out of the gate, it's clearly the Bosstones in their element. Solid, fun, groovin. Bouncy upstroke ska-punk guitar? Check. ✅ Swaggering bass? Check! ✅ Dicky's raspy voice and artful wordsmithing… Check! ✅
The horns sound off 30 seconds in (CHECK!! ✅), and I'm holding my breath, waiting for the hook that makes it worthy of the "first track" spot on the album.
Crunchy guitar skids into the first chorus, and yeah, there it is. The chorus hits like a homerun over the Green Monster and cements Decide as one of my favorites of WGWG.
As the second verse wraps up and heads towards the chorus, Dicky closes it with an intense growl that deserves a moment to process — which the horns deliver by carrying the chorus for a round while the vocals maintain a respectful distance before jumping back in.
It's fucking magic. Songcraft at its best. This track would make a stellar show-opener, with the greatest fucking horn section in the world greeting the audience bright & blaring right at that point.
Aptly named, this song moves. The back & forth call & response of the chorus shines and grooves here.
We’ve gotta move —— That’s true
Do you approve? —— We do
We gotta move out of the city
How ‘bout the groove? —— That’s new
Do you approve? —— We do
It is so good to know that you’re with me
Listen for the wonderful countermelody trumpet meandering above everything through the bridge.
I DON'T BELIEVE IN ANYTHING
I don't know where to begin. All the pieces, all the emphases and embellishments, every little detail of this song, it's put together so brilliantly. The primal drums. The different places the bass goes. The lyrics, FFS. THE LYRICS. I've listened to it over and over, taking turns with which instrument or element I would focus on and follow. I listen to it the way I could stare at an amazing painting for hours, over and over again. I just can't get enough of it.
It's a fucking Ska-Core opera. Is that nuts to say? I don't give a fuck. This is some seriously masterful songcraft here.
This is one of the songs that isn't fighting for the spot of my favorite off the album.
Don't get me wrong. It's amazing. It's extremely unlike the Bosstones sound and yet still very Bosstones and extremely well done. It's one of the songs that left me with a "What year is it? Who am I listening to?" kind of feeling. Pedal steel guitar? The Bosstones don't just mimic and borrow from other musical styles in some half-ass pastiche imitation. They own it and make their particular flavor out of it. That style isn't just stamped on the surface or spread over like frosting.
Maybe I need to let it process for a while longer before I fully get it. It's good. Damned good. But doesn't quite hit the spot of what I need.
Here's probably a good point to note/ remind that I had a bit of a head-start on isolation & extra depression & anxiety for a few years before COVID-19 became a thing, with audio processing & light sensitivity issues & other miscellaneous brain problems from the car accident brain injury, which also hit the brainzone where a lot of emotional regulation and executive function get sorted. I was just starting to work on really getting back to life & the world again when the world closed down. I still need a LOT of UPBEAT. I have only recently been able to start listening to the more maudlin artists in my music collection again, and only occasionally because it's still just too too easy for me to get bummed out and then spiral downwards into much worse than bummed out. The Bosstones have not been among the music I had to set aside – even when a song's about something dark or sad, the music still has a strong, GET MOVING or SING WITH US kind of energy. They top of the list of things that help avoid a complete mood crash or mitigate some of the worst most hopeless days. So I fully admit that I may not yet be in the right head space to fully appreciate Certain Things.
"I hope it all turns out ok."
Holy fucksticks, I love this one. It might be my favorite from WGWG. The theme of bruised but not broken, "black and blue!…" makes for one hell of an anthem for the past several years, on both a personal level and world-wise.
For the record, I'm not sure I'm NOT broken, but I'm not out of scotch tape, glue, and staples yet, so. Pass the paper clips, please, and where are the elastic bands?
This one plays unbidden in the back of my head very very frequently, and perhaps is the one I sing the loudest to when it comes up. One of my favorite bits is the rakish way blaring trombone trades off with brazen guitar through the bridge.
They played it live at the Punk in Drublic festival in Worcester, MA and I very seriously hope it becomes a frequent contender for the playlist when regular concerts resume.
I fell in love at first listen with this song. Absolutely among my favorites. I could follow that extra deep fog-horn-like baritone sax into the ocean and never come back. My full experience of this song was not complete until I finally got to enjoy it at the beach. It's perfect.
THE KILLING OF GEORGIE (PART III)
I've already said a lot about this song, on the heels of some idiocy over on Twitter that eventually resulted in the pulling of the video from YouTube. I'm not going to expand on those issues, but if you want to read it, here's the links to part one and part two. I still have more to say about this long, like…
The fucking piano is on fucking fire in this fucking song. And this fucking song is a fucking raging banger of a fire, y'all. Not a lot of bands can have such energy and intensity come through on a studio album. These guys have always been able to, and still do, to unparalleled results.
The song begins with a morning-show-like sound and asks "what is on your mind?" — To me it comes off like a critique of the superficial sound-bite TV news show style: They might bring up heavy topics, but there's a distance from meaningful dialog or action.
It wraps up with a magnificent wall of sound that is one of my favorite things about this band. All the things they can have going on at the same time and somehow make it work. All those voices. The layered choruses. Every damned instrument. All that noise. All that intensity. The piano parts, holy fuck, are the fire on top of the fire on top of the fire here - burning like the sun. When the thing finally winds down rapidly at the end, parking the guitar perfectly, every music receptor in my brain is dancing, jumping, and screaming.
Shake down the mountains
The hills can be removed
But love and faith won't be replaced
It's a raging banger I hope at least parts of it get to be played live someday, because I want to hear it. I'm not holding my breath, but I will keep my fingers crossed.
The fact that the brilliance of this song got eclipsed by social media I don't even know what is kinda tragic.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE
A solid, fun, nostalgic song, a Bosstones celebration of past days featuring horn riffs & other sounds that carry me away to my own memories of long-ago past.
WHEN GOD WAS GREAT
Cards on the table: I'm an atheist most days and occasionally a particular sort of agnostic on the other days. So sometimes the word "god" can cause an allergic reaction or induce a pang of caution until I get a sense of the context.
When God was good It was understood
There was no better place to be than in our neighborhood
When God was great We just couldn’t wait
To get as far away from there we didn’t hesitate
A song overflowing with nostalgia, one of the first bells it rings for me is the short-and-sweet (and always irksome because it didn't rhyme) grace my family would, with varying degrees of consistency through the years, say before meals:
"God is great, god is good, and we thank him for this food."
That's a wave of nostalgia that washes over me, initially about knee-height. Hey, look at that.
Here we can recall the capriciousness of youth's perspective — The neighborhood was the best place to be, but also a place to be left far behind as soon as possible. WGWG calls back to the days when life was good, being kids and not knowing much about the bigger world, being full of hope and potential. Great fondness for the physical and temporal realm of childhood and greater hope for what comes after and beyond.
Contrast with the Awful Grace of God reference in The Killing of Georgie (Part III):
In our own despair and against our will
Comes wisdom through the awful grace of god
(Aeschylus, Greek tragedian
quoted by Robert Kennedy when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated)
Perhaps the notion of god's grace doesn't hold up so great or good into adulthood, as one realizes more of reality. That's my take, at least.
Those nostalgia waves are bringing the tide in, by the way, and getting to chest-height.
The song goes on to prompt further reflection via sounds and words. Waves build and build higher and higher until the bridge ends with a hypnotic wall of sound sustained for longer than it has any conventional business being sustained for, swelling until nostalgia-inducing waves are well over your head.
It's pretty fucking magical. A magical musical spell, for sure. Tho' with the way I've been feeling, sometimes a little more wistful than I can handle.
WHAT IT TAKES
This is a thoroughly and ridiculously fun song that could easily double as an 80s sitcom theme. And I am absolutely 100% here for it. I take it as a gift to get through the despair of the pandemic.
Y'know, a sort of 'Fuck it, let's dance and forget the fucking world for a few minutes.'
"Turn up the vol-yuuUUUUUME—" while you're at it.
They must have had so much fun recording this one. Full of joy to hear and to sing along with. But I also hear a deeper meaning in some of the lyrics, so give it a listen, and see if you do, too.
Long As I Can See the Light
A really lovely really solid cover. I'm a bit neutral regarding the song choice, but once, long ago, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a contender for a position among my top 5 favorite bands. Nicely done. But it's also an entry on the "more introspective than I can manage lately, I will probably and hopefully appreciate more at some point down the line" side of this album.
The Truth Hurts
I don't know that I have anything specific to say about this, except it's another good, solid song. Combines "nostalgic sounds" with the more "singable up-beat" aspects that my brain still needs in plentitude. Not quite a contender for my favorite, but gets a lot of mileage singing in the car.
It Went Well
I love this one. Love the tune. Love the lyrics. Loved hearing it at Punk in Drublic in Worcester. I feel every piece of its relevancy. This frequently plays itself in the back of my head unbidden.
I Don't Want to be You
As an atheist, I also have a bit of a reaction to the notion of hell, particularly if it's used in telling someone that's where they're going.
That said, there are some who bring me to the verge of wishing there was a hell, because there would in fact be a special place there for them, if there were any kind of balance for justice in this universe. I'm pretty sure this song is at least partly directed at one of those people.
So I'm down with it.
Musically it walks on the reflection-inducing side of the line, so weighs a little heavier than my favorites of WGWG.
The Final Parade
I should love this song. I really really want to love this song. I really should love it. I actually kinda feel like a jerk because I don't love it. It's chock full of my favorite ingredients. It's a celebration of ska-punk with guest appearances from far and wide, fresh and classic, originators and groundbreakers and next-generationers. And it's eight freaking minutes of it. But for some reason it just doesn't click with me.
That lack of click strikes a little hard with me particularly as the song tops off the album. So many BossToneS albums end with a jaw-droppingly amazing blazing album closer, a song that is often my favorite thing on the album, or very close, or at least solidly in the top few.
Devil's Night Out --> A Little Bit Ugly
More Noise & Other Disturbances --> They Came to Boston
Don't Know How to Party --> Seven Thirty Seven / Shoe Glue
Question the Answers --> Jump Through the Hoops
Let's Face It --> 1-2-8
Pin Point & Gin Joints --> A Pretty Sad Excuse
Magic of Youth --> Open & Honest
While We're At It --> After the Music is Over
So The Final Parade leaves me a little unsatisfied.
And, for the record, I feel completely ridiculous saying that, because I'm so fucking grateful for this album.
Knowing it was coming got me through a lot of 2020, and listening to it got me through a lot of 2021 (and will continue to do so in 2022). All the songs are so strong, pushed and produced to 115%, I can hear it even in the ones that don't quite sync with me while my headspace is so out of whack and extra sensitive.
Maybe this should also be chalked up to there being something wrong with me. :D
For the record, if I should ever get to hear them play The Final Parade live, that not-quite-clicking will NOT, not for one moment, stop me from sloppily dancing and shouting out the lyrics while smooshed against the rail surrounded by a bunch of other people also sloppily dancing and shouting the lyrics.
I may be broken, but I'm not a monster. Fun is fun, after all.
And we could all use some more fun these days, eh?
Go give this thing a listen or ten or twelve. You'll be glad you did.
… and sometimes, you don't even have that. Because some times, or some places, or some head spaces, just aren't right or ready for dancing.
So. Ska + Hard Core Punk = Ska-Core
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have a long, established career of slapping a bunch of different things together and coming up with something brilliant. Something that works. Something that inspires others and endures. Really, for me, nobody ever made ska-core quite the way they do. A few bands come close, for sure, here and there. But in the end, aside from, say, Rancid, they tend to leave me wanting to reach for another Bosstones album instead.
With The Killing of Georgie Part III, they pulled from a '70s Rod Stewart song on the tragic murder of a gay friend, a sampling of current attitudes & vibes across this country, Aeschylus, a ~500 BC Greek poet – attributed by some as the father of tragedy – quoted by RFK on the assassination of MLK, MLK himself, current events specifically the brutal killing of George Floyd, and a sincere desire for togetherness, hope, and justice in the face of EVERYTHING .
They made something that – for those of us who "get" them – worked. More or less. It's not my favorite song on the album, but it's one of the ones that catches my ear. I don't think it among the best of their bestest work, but I like it quite a bit, and think it is pretty damned good, – the build up at the end is intensely good. I had, with some background worry in my gut, hoped people would "get it." It's hard to say how much background worry, because I have a long list of weighty worries both old and new that tend to reside in my gut most of the time.
I spent my previous post getting into some details. Feel free to take a moment and get acclimated through that.
Regardless of the song or whether the video was appropriate for the material, my pandemic life really needed four and a half minutes of Ben Carr dancing through a mostly-empty Boston, with bonus appearances toward the end from members of the Doped-Up-Dollies. He could have danced to anything, even a song I hate from a band I can't stand, and I would have happily watched it repeatedly (tho' probably with some other song-of-choice playing over it), and it would have made my heart sing every time.
But the world is very very very complicated, and nothing gets the luxury of being viewed only exactly as intended.
Particularly these days.
Enter some who, at a glance, may have been little more than pot-stirrers with perhaps not fully honorable motives, add the general tendencies of the internet, and you get… some heavy misunderstanding and unnecessarily crude escalation. It's impossible to measure how much or little any of them actually know of the band, nor how much or little the desire to "trend" spurred them on.
Regardless of whether the intentions of the internets were legitimately noble, I can't say they didn't have a point about a certain angle of view.
On the surface, a white guy dancing to an up-beat sounding song that, among other things, references the brutal murder of a Black man by police … it's not great optics. Pretty dissonant, from a particular angle.
But most or even all of this combination of critics and trolls also – willfully – ignored the Bosstones' decades of genuine, hard, anti-racist work – both inside and outside their music – and the actual multi-racial composition of the band. I wonder if they bothered to check some details, like the credited co-authors of this song in particular, before dishing out the disingenuous half-baked hot-takes for all to see.
But The Inertnet cares not about those things, once it's been encouraged or directed to think about a particular thing in a particular way. As time goes on and "likes" mount and threads lengthen, it becomes much easier to keep the shoddy bandwagon rolling forward, informed poorly or well, right or a little right or kinda wrong or really wrong. And who cares about the extraneous little facts that might make their 'clever' tweet less relevant or consider shifting their position even a little?
Their music, dancing, ska, the Bosstones themselves… it's about bringing hope. Since ± February 2020, capital-h Hope has had a really really rough, falling-apart during an earthquake roller-coaster ride on fire, at the very least. And it had already had a really rough few years leading up to it.
Again, the band has a history of musically stapling, gluing, and duct-taping all sorts of things together to outstanding effect. On their last album, one single song "After the Music" starts out like a jazz-club jam, marches into an all-out rock anthem, then flips into a Bosstones ska-riffic celebration before dancing out the door and slamming it behind them. I fucking love it.
So, with The Killing of Georgie Part III, it feels odd, like slipping into another universe, to see them put something together to have it trip so hard over its own shoelaces in how it's received outside of its more-narrow-than-previously-thought context.
Some flavors go really well together, some require a little culinary talent to get it to work, and some things should never be on the same plate together. Perhaps the recipe drew from related but ultimately mismatched incompatible resources, and they separated like oil and water when left alone without further stirring.
Once, at a party with my friend Mur, we discovered that gin and eggnog, as awesome as they are individually, do not go well together. Note: They also did not completely suck together either. It was not undrinkable. The two beverages somehow managed to negate the best qualities of each other without quite being something that had to be poured down the sink. We did vow never to do that again. This is a little tangental gift of wisdom I give to you.
So, this ambitious new recipe the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were trying to develop turned out to be the dish that blows up on the stove top, ruins pans, and gets someone booted off one of those Iron Chef type shows. Maybe, like a cake baked at high altitude, not enough consideration was given for the environmental pressure.
The whole thing makes me heartsick.
As a creative person, I know it can take a lot of courage to put something out into the world. Just imagining having nothing but the best of intentions, being proud of something and having it fall flat. It sits in the stomach like a cinder block. And I’ve never been in a position to have more than, say, a few dozen people not get something. And I certainly never tried putting together something with so many unusual ingredients.
The band knows that creations can take on a different meaning, a different life, once released into the world. Dicky has gone on record many times stating they do not want to take away anyone's personal interpretation of their songs. There's countless people who believe The Impression That I Get is about HIV or an STD test or a pregnancy scare. But if you want to dig a little, that's not where its inspiration originated.
I won't presume or guess what reasonings got the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to the decision, but they pulled the video quickly, without fanfare and, so far, without comment.
And, honestly, I think it was the right decision.
Interpreting a song differently from its initial conception is one thing. Without context, this music video had the potential to bring more pain rather than help bring hope. And its contexts are too numerous, varied, and / or obscure to expect a clear reception of its intended message. The alternate interpretations summoned by the internet are too opposite its intention, and too potentially painful for communities and people already hurting.
This country has shambled and is still shambling through some truly escalated challenges, facing yet again moments-of-truth that have very long been there but never been fully acknowledged. Black communities in particular are angry, hurting, and sick & tired of it. Beyond that, the pandemic and the early handing of it has strained sooo many to the breaking point. The election and months leading up to the January 6 insurrection were inconceivably mind-boggling.
People need hope, waaaaaay more than usual.
The Bosstones aim to bring messages of hope and togetherness in difficult times. Music can bring hope. And dance can bring hope. Dancing can be a form of protest, even. "Sometimes, dancing is all you've got," particularly if you're the band member who dances in a band who's stated "Our Only Weapon Is This Song." But, apparently and unsurprisingly, the country is far from the head-space where it's ok to staple all these worrying ingredients together into one song & music video, Bosstones style.
Please, for fuck's sake, go listen to the rest of the album. It's stunning. So much of it is perfectly made for summer-weather windows-down car-listening. Skip that song if you need to. Or try to unhook it from what others have said to think about it, and decide its meaning for yourself. Because that intense build-up to the end, wowz. Seriously good music.
I do hope to review When God Was Great in full sometime soon. I don't love love every single piece of it, but even the parts that don't quite gel for me are full of genius and style. And that stuff still might gel - some of their songs had to grow on me, and I look back and wonder what took me so long to "get it." I love so much about this album already, and I hope these guys keep stapling, gluing, taping, and nailing stuff together for many mighty years to come.
Make of it what you will, and go in peace with it. Love one another. We're all we've got, when we get to a point where we don't even have dancing.
Please enjoy this, one of my favorite fun, fast, & clever Mighty Mighty Bosstones tunes, 1-2-8:
They made something, they played something
Brand new a baby blue machine
Brass tacks, duct tape for the great escape
Packed in there like sardines
Back and forth, East, South, West, North
Shred the atlas, burn the map
Often lost and paths criss-crossed, wake me up I need a nap
1, 2 what's in the stew?
3, 4 no one's really sure
5, 6 what's in the mix?
7, 8 this stuff tastes
They did something, which meant something and that got them some attention
A roller coaster ride, great pride in this invention
I think they're selling snake oil at the dog and pony show
And in the garden gee, would you pardon me?
And by the way how does it grow?
1, 2 what's in the stew?
3, 4 no one's really sure
5, 6 what's in the mix?
7, 8 this stuff tastes
The explanation's unexplainable, holding onto something once dreamt unattainable
The course was never charted so don't look into the books
The secret's not the recipe, it's got to be the cooks
They made something, they played something
Blood, sweat, and elbow grease
Well, if you can't stand the heat in the kitchen
Get out it will increase
Last train to where? Hey get out of here
Nothing's measured and nothing's weighed
A dash of honesty in the recipe and that's the first mistake you've made
1, 2 what's in the stew?
3, 4 no one's really sure
5, 6 what's in the mix?
7, 8 hey this stuff tastes
1, 2 what's in the stew?
3, 4 (3, 4) no one's really sure
5, 6 (5, 6) what's in the mix?
7, 8 this stuff tastes
(1-2-8 by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones)
So instead of thinking about a post and getting it mostly squared in my head then never getting around to it, or having it all go stale or irrelevant by the time I can sit down to it, or letting enough time pass that I can't recall all the inspired blurts that I wanted to write in the first place…
… here goes.
I have been wanting to write up a review or individual song reviews of the new Mighty Mighty Bosstones release, When God Was Great. Hell, I still want to do that for their 2018 release, While We're At It, and still might. I wasn't sure if I would really get around to either, because all the reasons, but then Internet Stuff Happened and brought me here.
Twitter and I have been in a sort of trial separation, so I was hesitant to even go look when I caught wind of some strong opinions being tweeted about one of their songs/ videos – The Killing of Georgie (Part III), on the heels of a magazine article. But I did.
I tend to listen/ watch things a few times before I can figure out what I might think of something, and more than a few before I might commit some words to it. Some of that is the Fine Arts Bachelor's & Master's degrees, all the Art Theory & Art Criticism classes (If only I could give you some idea of how many times we devolved into passionate discussions of whether or not Thomas Kincaid qualified as an Artist…). Some of it is the brain since it got hit. Context is harder, holding all the factors in mind at once, connecting dots, seeing the whole picture, all that – I'm still a computer with wonky RAM. MUCH less wonky than the worst of it, but still work to be done if I can ever get to pre-accident brain. There's more to it than those factors, but in the interest of brevity and relevance, moving on…
When I first saw the video & listened to the song, my gut suspected some people might react this way, to how it appears on the surface. I gave it a few more views & listens (and many more since). I didn't know at first but learned early on that the title referred to a Rod Stewart song about a gay friend of his back who was murdered in the 70s. It was clear among the tweets that most had no idea of that detail, and when given the information (a few others brought it up) didn't care to explore or weigh it further for context relevance.
It was also pretty clear that many reactionaries had little or no knowledge of the band and their background. And I wonder how much knowledge of ska history weighed in on the "snappy" limited-character digs and take-downs? Ska takes peppy & upbeat, and, historically & often, mixes it up with the political. And, hey, didja know dancing can be a form of protest?
Context. Has it become optional? Hm. There have been situations where "context" and "nuance" have been all but weaponized. So even discussions of context are subject to context.
Maybe full context wouldn't help enough anyway, not for some.
How about metaphor? How many still consider complex notions like hyperbole, metaphor, symbolism, artists' other works, potential intent & all the angles, etc… when evaluating a work of art — whether it be a movie, a painting, or a 4.5-minute music video? Let's go out on a limb here: Could "the nicest man in the world," as I've heard Ben Carr called by those who know him, dancing through empty streets actually symbolize something? Like the attitudes of many people in the face of the challenges of this country and world? Or maybe it's a declaration of "sometimes, dancing is all you've got."
Or perhaps both?
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have made plenty of songs with unclear or double meanings. "The Impression That I Get" was not written about an HIV test or a pregnancy scare, but Dicky lets people make of it what they will. ((Great Chris DeMakes podcast interview with Dicky Barrett & Joe Gittleman about how "that knock on wood" song did come together, at iheart.com, or through iTunes))
They've also made plenty of songs that make a very clear stance: Mighty Mighty Bosstones on ‘Let’s Face It’ becoming an anti-racism anthem 20 years after its release.
The Bosstones have always stood for humanity, community, friendship, respect.
The thing about some online magazine "thinkpieces" is sometimes they don't do as much of the thinking as they think they do, or as much as they appear or pretend to do. And then some others read it & think the writer's taken in all the factors, done all the thinking, and then take those words as informed analysis, the full gospel.
Context. Metaphor. Subtlety. Symbolism. Dual meanings. Something created specifically to make people think about it. Dance can be a form of protest, and sometimes — like in a pandemic — dancing is all you've got. The Bosstones said it 28 years ago: "Our Only Weapon is This Song." Given that, what is the guy who dances supposed to do?
Those factors & considerations may still not make a difference for some to rethink the song and/or the video. And that's ok. Sometimes great creatives put things together that the intent gets lost, or some people just don't get, or just don't like. We don't have to all come to the same conclusions about things. I can't make anyone "get" anything in the way it fits together for me. From the other side, I also try not to 'yuck' anyone else's 'yum' (assuming that 'yum' respects humanity, rights, boundaries, etc…).
Could be I've thought too much on it. Could be I'm wrong all around. Wouldn't be the first time on either possibility. "The stars were not aligned." We could all use more wisdom, and could use less of it coming "through the awful grace of god."
So make of it what you will, & go in peace with whatever that is. Love one another.
I'm done & gonna go put "When God Was Great" on for another play (I can't write while listening to wordsy music). Because even with a few debatedly wobbly spots (hey, even I don't fall head-over-heels love-at-first-listen with every single word they sing), this album blows my fucking mind. This band, after more than three decades, still rocks. Hard. Knowing it was coming played a significant role in me getting through the past year. If this song / video keeps anyone from checking the rest of it out, then it's a damned shame.
I'll leave you with my last live view of the Bosstones: The close of the third night of the Hometown Throwdown, December 2019.
So this one's a little late. I actually had it written a few weeks ago, before the end of March, but didn't have any images and thought I might doodle a few. Well, that hasn't happened, and my hand is twitching to doodle things not-relevant to this. So here it is as is:
Among the things that getting hit on the head gave me is an appreciation for brain skills most take for granted, and just learning what qualifies as a skill.
Another one of the really important and helpful and useful things I learned from my speech therapist is this:
Aside from being a speech therapist, she was also a professor at a college with a concentrated communication disorders department. When we'd reached the limits of what she could do and how much the insurance company would cover, she invited me to the school to take some tests – to see if I might qualify for some studies. If I didn't qualify, I could at least be a subject for grad students to practice on.
While I did not qualify for any of the studies, the testing did help reveal a few things.
So, as I mentioned above, filtering out background sound is a skill. It was a skill I used to rock, without ever realizing it. And for me, it's one of the things that got knocked around pretty damned bad with that head injury.
When I explain this in person, it goes a little like this:
There were actual percentages involved, but I forgot the numbers and would need to dig up the paperwork. But the visual makes the point well enough. (Yeah, that's some of the stuff I was going to doodle).
My ears were ok, and the language center of my brain was ok. But the signal in between the two was having a particularly rough ride.
When they delivered this news, they made a point to mention that the signal from the left ear travels to the right side of the brain before it gets delivered to the language center.
At this point, my face probably went all scrunchy with thought, which then came out as, "I got hit on the right side of the brain…"
With something like a "mild" TBI and post-concussion syndrome and most of the 'proof' of various issues being a patient's say-so and nothing more, I cannot tell you how helpful it was to have some measurable results in hand that said it wasn't the metaphorical 'just all in my head.". A problem did exist within my head. For reals.
What did that really mean? Well, let's talk a bit about my pre-accident brain and way of life:
I liked noise. I liked having music on, and different kinds of playlists for different kinds of tasks.
My painting session playlists would often have chunks of audiobook or podcasts, broken up by a few songs every 50-60 minutes to help remind me to take a break.
The sound helped me concentrate. Without it, I would think about other stuff, think too hard about the painting, overwork details, get bored, and be prone to all-too-frequent snacking.
Soundtracks and mostly wordless music made up my writing playlists. It helped me focus on what I was doing, and get in "the mood" for the story. I'd often use more dramatic soundtracks for more dramatic scenes. Some of my favorites include Heroes, Constantine, Battlestar Galactica, HALO, Tron: Legacy, Blade Runner, Danny Elfman's Batman Score, Akira, Titanic… you get the picture, right?
Beyond music, the sounds of activity in the background also helped. I enjoyed writing in coffee shops, and even downloaded an app – Coffitivity – for use while writing at home. I had an approximate optimal volume setting for the music to balance against the Coffitivity sounds.
A good punk rock playlist was a great way to motivate me and keep my mind from thinking about how hard it would rather be doing something else.
Music while driving – at moderate volumes – helped me concentrate on the road better. Without it, my mind was prone to getting bored and wanting to drift to other things, and impatience for getting to wherever I was going…. VROOOM VROOOM.
After the accident, all that went out the window.
Just listening to music by itself was hard, my favorite music in particular. I remember having a really cruddy super depressing day and swearing I was going to listen to the entire Rancid album "…and Out Come the Wolves" (favorite song off that = Ruby Soho - and the video even features a kitty!) no matter what, even if it had to be really quiet, just to try to feel normal or something. TRY to alleviate the depression. And I did, but … it hurt to listen to it.
I feel like I should say something about my "migraines" during this time. I call them migraines because they came with severe sensitivities primarily to light & sound, but also often scent.
But they were NOT anything like the 2-3 migraines I'd had previously, many years before the accident and a distant memory. I would take those long lost migraines over the mTBI / PCS brain overloads without hesitation. It wasn't just that they hurt, a lot. Holy cats, did they hurt like I still don't quite have words for. It was that my brain felt like a computer logic board short-circuiting in the rain, relentlessly assaulted by signals that it couldn't make sense of and just wouldn't let up. Sharp and stabby bits and pieces of information.
Sounds shitty, right? Well, imagine when your favorite music has that effect, and it has nothing to do with the volume.
I still listened to it, sometimes, and even went to a few concerts (with heavy-duty near pro-grade earplugs) because damnit if I didn't have to have some reminders of why it was worth it to try to hang in there to see if things would ever get better.
It's been a few years, and some of that has come back. Not all of it, but a lot of it, and some of it I haven't yet put to the test. Around the time I thought I might try writing in a coffee shop again, all the coffee shops, restaurants, and effectively everything closed because the COVID-19 virus was traveling too far & wide. It's occurred to me to give the Coffitivity app a try again, but I would need to spend some thought on the set-up, as I've shuffled computers and speakers around and don't have a dedicated writing spot in my current residence.
But I do have background music on a lot more often. I had to build that tolerance slowly, with some seriously simple stuff. A series of ambient meditative sounds (some from Moby) were all I could handle for a while if I expected to be doing anything other than absolutely nothing, and with my eyes closed. I've worked my way up to and through things like Brian Eno Atmospherics, Siguros & the like. Now I'm able to listen to my 9-member ska-core favorite-of-favorites Mighty Mighty Bosstones most of the time. My writing session soundtracks are less dramatic but getting there, and I often have to choose smoother, less dramatic soundtracks & instrumentals. Sometimes I just can't quite do an audiobook or podcast while painting a trickier part of a painting, not without something suffering for it, be it my comprehension or the painting. So I pause for a bit, and sometimes even remember to un-pause when I've resolved the trickier bits and can get back into 'the zone."
So, slowly working my way back to the noise-ful life I love.
I keep starting this post and stopping. I can't seem to figure out how to get it going. Even though I've improved a lot, one significant observable lasting change is my focus sucks really bad these days. One of my newer meds is ADHD oriented (non-stimulant), and that has helped. But an attempt to increase the dosage to see if I could get more benefit resulted in an uncool level of side effects. So for now, I'm working with what I got. I'm starting to lean towards finding a new doc for this sort of stuff and starting over, once COVID-19 is more under control.
So, in the interest of posting SOMEthing, here's a glimpse at just a few of the tools involved in my vision therapy. I started it maybe 6-9 months after the accident. My neurologist referred me earlier than that, but it wasn't covered by insurance, so my friends had to raise the funds to get going.
That scattering includes a plastic plate with marble, 2 small grids with letters and different colors, red/blue lens glasses, a long string with 3 different color beads on it, a ball, prisms on sticks, small pieces of paper in different shapes (squares, triangles, and diamonds), an eyepatch.
All sorts of fun things to get my eyes aligned right & working together muscle-wise, working the way I needed, plus get my brain better at working with the signals received through my eyes.
This is just the stuff that fit in a pencil-box type plastic container. There's also a folder full of many many many more things, and there was stuff all over the wall, letters and numbers on sheets of paper and scattered post-its. Plus there was additional work for things like balance & periphery that doesn't fit in either a box or a folder.
And it helped, a lot. It was work, and it was really hard work sometimes. More than once they'd start me on a specific exercise in a session and my brain would instantly flip the f*ck out and start hurting.
Brains are weird, and how they work with our eyes is super super weird.
Aside from the alignment / muscle issues, and the signal issues, I also developed astigmatism in each eye that haven't completely gone away and have changed a bit, which has made updates to my prescription an extra pain in the ass.
That's all I got for now!
What I was told, and how and when, still really ticks me off when I think about it. The ER doctor that night told me to take it easy (undefined) for a "couple" of days. I should be fine in a "few" days. The neurologist >2 months later told me "try not to think." Neither provided any further guidance, context, or definition.
I mean, some things are obvious. No football. No jumping or dancing. Don't do anything that will make the brain jiggle around in your head.
But what about framing art? I had a bunch of art to frame, and was lucky to get an extra few days to get it done before delivering. Driving to another state to shop for framing materials? Cleaning stuff out of my totaled car? Hanging out with too many writers in a noisy restaurant?
The accident happened on a Wednesday. The driving & shopping & writerly networking happened on the following Saturday. The framing, on Sunday. Technically I'd taken a 'couple' of days off, though they'd been stressful, filled with talking to insurance, trying to get the bank to which I owed money on the car on the phone, rescheduling appointments, worrying about framing a bunch of art in time.
It would be 4 weeks before I'd see another doctor – since that "few days" had stretched into weeks – and get a neurologist referral, and another month before I'd see that neurologist, and a year before that neurologist would refer me to the speech therapist who would tell me the things I should have been heard from the get-go.
She drew something that finally made it click, drove home what was going on. I've fancied up on that concept with a stock art image and some fun in Photoshop.
So, you've got your brain (left). And your brain has resources (right). She just drew a single circle for the brain resources here, but I'm trying to make this a little fun. Plus, artist. Expectations.
When you do things, particularly multi-tasking, it takes up some of those resources.
In dealing with mTBI, your brain has fewer resources… AND tasks take up MORE resources than they did previously. Like a car with an 80% smaller gas tank now getting 5 miles to the gallon instead of 40. Don't want to do a cross-country road trip in that! So, trying to act like normal is a double or triple whammy.
Combine that with the knowledge that even blocking out background noise is a skill, well. Maybe going to a restaurant with writers doesn't count as "rest."
For a long time after the accident, I couldn't listen to music while driving. While there's an argument to be made that nobody should do this, I must emphasize that music kept me engaged with driving (as it did with many other tasks – Normal me really had a hard time with silence). Prior to the accident, I would get severely bored and actually have a harder time paying attention to driving in silence. I'll get into this more at some point – one of the posts I have planned gets into the auditory processing issues I had.
One of my analogies is that it's like a computer's directory of its hard drive. The data may still be there, and the hard drive may spin and read just fine, but it's not sure where anything is. The search function is useless.
Imagine searching your house for your keys, where those keys could be ANYWHERE. An underwear drawer, an ice cube tray in the freezer, inside your pillow, in the toilet fill-tank, the bottom of an unopened bag of cat kibble. That's what my brain felt like, a LOT. Like it was searching everywhere for everything.
It's exhausting, and that's the most frustrating thing. It wasn't that I couldn't do things at all. It was that EVERYTHING was so much harder. It all felt like taking the GREs after applying for a mortgage after spending the day in line at the DMV only to discover you still don't have all the right forms and having a bad headache the entire time.
So you get a brain with limited resources using a bunch of them up just trying to find its shit. And it knows that shit is in there somewhere, so it keeps looking, and the frustration starts taking up resources, too. Something like this, but probably a whole lot worse.
I have felt this, in my head.
"Too bad we can't image that," I said to this awesome speech therapist who with a few scribbles finally gave me answers and things I could understand.
Well, turns out there is. Diffuse Tensor Imaging. But, at least at the time, it was only used for research because it was so GDMF expensive. I think it's become accessible for some patients with a lot of money in a small handful of places across the country now.
I think it would have been really helpful for me, and would help so many other brain injury folks (plus folks who are non-neurotypical for other reasons!) I took a bunch of neuro-psych and related tests, in trying to figure out what would help me, as well as apply for disability / state assistance. And not a single one of those tests came anywhere near real-life circumstances or revealing the reality of what was going on in my head.
Diffuse tensor imaging is fascinating and lovely, by the way. It might influence some paintings someday. I couldn't find any wikimedia or stock photos to share here, so I strongly encourage you to go google it.
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor and this is based on my rudimentary understanding of things plus apparent relevance to my experience. Brains & brain injury have a long way to go before we fully understand them, and there are many medical professionals who don't like to let on to that.
author / artist rambles on about painting, writing, cats, punk rock, vampires, ska-core, mTBI, comics, and life in general.