Saturday, December 27, 2008
Although each Christmas since I turned 18 has wrought less and less presents, I was fortunate enough to receive "Welcome to the Welcome Wagon" by the Welcome Wagon as a gift this year. I will not review this album in depth as both Paste Magazine and Sufjan Stevens himself have written extensively on the Pastor and wife folk band based out of Williamsburg, but this beautiful album has inspired me to write a few words.
The album picks up where Sufjan's "Seven Swans" left off, which is not surprising considering the producer appears on almost every track. This first track is also my personal favorite, an Vito Aiuto original called "Up On a Mountain" (musicians check out the lead sheet here). Monique's Aiuto's lovely voice carries a sincerity that seems to authenticate the theological message of the song. By the time they reach the third verse it is impossible not to be moved:
"Up in the heaven's, our Lord prays for you. He sent His Spirit to carry us through. So it's true... that you are not alone. You are not alone."
For a generation who is not sure if genuine interaction is possible, this is a radical proposition.
The gentle harmonies of "American Legion" communicate a similar message. Speaking to a friend (or possibly a former lover), Vito declares,
"On the steps of the American Legion Hall you wait there alone. Nobody to call. No ones there again, spring, summer, winter, and fall- terrible day... If I'd been there I'd surely have prayed for you, I want you know."
What would be cliche in contemporary Christian music in this indie/folk context is bone-chilling. The singer speaks with earnestness, but it is grounded in a realism. The meaning and power behind these words are clearly in mind.
The Welcome Wagon is a beacon of hope in a music scene characterized by despair. A city on a hill for independent music.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Last night, after getting home to Heber-Overgaard, I curled up in my bedroom and started Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck as the snow was lightly falling outside. I didn't stop reading until I finished it two hours later.
Admittedly, I have been on a Steinbeck kick this break. It seems that it is impossible for this guy to write anything I don't like and this book is no exception.
It falls into emotionalism at times, but overall it is a gripping novella that explores such transcendent concepts as the importance of human relationships and man's inability to live without purpose. In that sense it reminded me of a beautiful Asian film I recently watched called Chungking Express, which explores similar themes, only in Hong Kong in the early nineties.
I find it interesting that writer John Steinbeck and director Kar Wai Wong, separated by more than half a century and on opposite ends of the earth, felt the same need and were inspired to create such beautiful art.
Today I finally completed Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I can honestly say that it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
To be quite honest, I found myself identifying a whole lot more with Mr. Collins, the bumbling clergyman who pursues the heroine to no avail, than Mr. Darcy, the fabulously wealthy love interest that **spoiler alert** Elizabeth ends up marrying.
I understand how important this book is in terms of woman's literature, and it is certainly well written, but ultimately a book about a bunch of sisters trying to get married can only deliver just that... which I found impossible to enjoy.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I opened for, among many other people, Rajiv Patel of Before Braille tonight at the Evergreen Show in downtown Phoenix. Three words: dance after party.
Earlier in the day my new friend Tyler and I went for a bike ride and found a coffee shop/ community co-op called Coffee Conspiracy. I met a couple of genuine Phoenician hipsters and after successfully passing myself off as a genuine east coast hipster I got the skinny on the local culture from them.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
River by Sumela Monastery from Michael Butterworth on Vimeo.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Istanbul on foot from Michael Butterworth on Vimeo.
Crossing the Bosporus from Michael Butterworth on Vimeo.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Taksim Dance Party from Michael Butterworth on Vimeo.
Friday, December 12, 2008
It took me longer to read than the previous four novels on my winter reading list, but I finally finished East of Eden be John Steinbeck. Simply put, the story is epic. It covers threes generations of the Trask family, who moves from the east coast to the Salinas Valley in California. The novel drawls heavily from the biblical story of Cain and Abel as well as Steinbeck's family history.
Prior to reading this book, if you had asked me what my favorite book was (non-theological) I would have answered, depending on the day, either Les Miserables by Victor Hugo or Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoevsky. I believe I have found a new possibility for my favorite novel.
While I find the work absolutely stunning, I could not possibly disagree more with Steinbeck's conclusions about life. Consider the following exert:
"Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man."
He concludes this narration with:
"And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take and direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one things that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost."
Make no mistake, there are some profound truths here. Biblical theology informs us that as humans we bear the Imago Dei, the image of God. As beings made after our creator, we are invited to join in his act of creation. However, this image was shattered (though not entirely lost), when man willfully fell into sin. Simply put, complete freedom of the mind will only result in continued depravity.
Steinbeck said the following during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1962:
"the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature."
The belief that man is capable of perfecting himself is a presupposition without any warrant. However it does point to the truth that deep down, every human knows that world is not as it should be. In the words of Aaron Weiss, "All creation groans.... listen to it. "
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
When Paul agreed to host a Jubalson concert at his apartment, he wasn't expecting 44 people to show up. Alexandra Sailor was a fantastic opener and the Turksih Tea proved to be a big hit.
I've played a lot of concerts, but never one with a dance after party. The Groce mansion was absolutely swarming with light-footed urbanites dancing the night away in celebration of a very enthusiastic (and sweaty) Lance Limatti's birthday. Toto showed off some dance moves he learned before they were ironic.
The horse may have fallen lame, but Brooks Ritter's debut album is proof that there is still life in the Louisville music scene. Heck, it may have just restored my confidence in acoustic singer/songwriters in general. Seriously, buy this album- if you can find a copy, it's going fast.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Although over a 1,000 miles of coastless pedal-pushing has left me no less enthralled with my bike than the first day I climb on its skinny velo saddle, I am often confronted by an abundance of naysayers. Criticisms of fixed riding may be abundant, but genuine concerns seem to fall into one of several, predictable categories. I will attempt to systematically address these major concerns. (Note: this post is not an apology for cycling as urban transportation, but merely a defense of riding fixed gear as a valid form of urban cycling. The legitimacy and practicality of bicycle commuting is presupposed. If necessary I will address this topic at a later date. )
1. It's dangerous
Well to be perfectly honest, it's true. Riding a track bike in urban traffic is dangerous, but, to quote Biblo Baggins, so is going outside your front door.
Simply put, any form of urban transportation is dangerous, albeit subway, TARC, motorcycles, or SUV. In fact, I recently saw a statistic in The Art of Urban Cycling that cycling actually is only slightly more dangerous than air travel.
So what quality of fixed gear bicycles makes it inherently more dangerous than it's carbon road bike, mountain, hybrid, tandem, or recumbent cousins? Because competent fixed gear riders are by definition in constant control of their speed (via pedal rpms), it intrinsically forces the riders to be more aware of his surroundings and how the bike directly responds to her movements. This is very similar to how my friends who drive manual transmissions claim that it forces them to be better drivers. Although driving an automatic is easier, it is also easier to be lazy when there is less to do to operate it. Experienced bike messenger will also testify to its superiority in wet conditions, because a fixed gear bike does not rely on slick brake pads to slow down.
Admittedly, it is all the rage in fixed-gear circles to forgo brakes entirely, like they do in the velodrome. Such riders rely solely on superfluous skid-stopping to slow their bicycles and often simply disregard any and all traffic laws. I will be the first to admit this is idiotic. Kentucky state law requires at least one operational brake, which in addition to being the law, is just a good, practical idea. My bike is fitted with a front brake for emergencies and really steep hills. Although I prefer not to use it, and rely instead on resisting the pedals to control my speed, it has gotten me out of some pretty tight spots. Better to have it and not use it than need it and not have it.
The one danger I have encountered that is especially indigenous to fixed gear riding is shoe laces or pant legs getting caught in the chain. As the cranks continue to turn and drag the loose article, something is going to give, usually resulting in a crash. However, these sorts of problems can be easily avoided through diligence on the part of the rider to cuff his pant legs or to tuck her shoe laces into her shoe.
2. What about hills?
Invariably, this is always the second question I get asked. People notice the lack of shifters and derailleurs on my bike an automatically assume that it is unusable anywhere outside of Kansas or Texas.
Believer or not I actually live in Crescent Hill (emphasis mine). I.E., I have to tackle some monster hills to get anywhere- coming or going.
Surprisingly, the solution to steeper climbs with a single gear is..... pedaling faster. Instead of reaching for the shifter when going up Lexington or Baxter, I just buckle down and push harder. It's good exercise and it's not that hard. In fact, one of the first things I noticed after going fixed was how many of the bigger hills in my commute were no longer as exhausting to climb. The perfectly straight chain line of a single-speed more effectively converts energy spent into movement and my inability to coast ensures that I carry my momentum into the climb.
Do I get passed by spandex-clad weekend warriors while cutting through Cherokee Park and its more intense hills? Sure, but I'm just trying to get to a coffee shop, not play Tour De France.
3. Coasting is fun. I enjoy it too much to ride fixed.
This is perhaps the easiest to dismantle. Coasting is not nearly as fun as the committed free-wheeler might expect. Although one may be inclined to think that easily breezing down hills or cruising across flats in the most enjoyable way to get from point A to point B, even the novice "fixster" will be amazed at how boring it is not to be pedaling. Every rider remembers the first time he or she took a fixie out for a test spin. Each sudden jerk was a jarring reminder of how dependent the average cyclist is on the free-wheel cog. Corners, hills, long flats. Opportunities to coast in urban commuting are numerous. Once deprived of this luxury, I cut over 2 minutes off of my commute- an eternity in cycling culture.
The ease of movement with no energy expenditure pales in comparison to the joy of being intimately connected to the propulsion process through continuous pedaling. Every subtle movement of the fixed-gear rider directly influences his or her machine. Put on a regular bike, the fixster will be immediately deprived of this joy of feeling "connected with the road". The loss of control alone is enough for urban track cyclist to swear off free wheels, let alone the bliss that comes from track standing for an entire traffic light or train crossing, or braking by doing a completely unnecessary skid-stop.
These are just a few responses to the most common criticisms of fixed gear bicycles. This post barely touched on the benefits, which, if necessary, I may write on at a later date.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
My buddy Ozgur was passing through town today with some friends from Columbia International University and wanted to do something cool in Louisville. So what does one do when a Turkish friend and his fellow seminarians are in town? Louisville Slugger Factory.
Added perk: free mini-bat for biking in rough neighborhoods.