Ring of Red

As you may know, I’m working on a book about Chicano/Latino communities and America’s war in Vietnam. Most of my research comes from oral histories with veteranos and their families, work I’ve been lucky enough to do for the last seven years.

The book is still a bit off but, in the meantime, I’ve been trying to find creative ways to share this history with people, especially people in my own community. Well, thanks to support from the Whiting Foundation, I had a sabbatical this spring to do exactly that by using these oral histories to write a play.

We’re performing a “stage reading” of the play this Saturday, May 26 at a theater in downtown LA. This is a very informal kind of performance (no costumes or things like that) but it’s a chance to hear the play in draft form. After the reading we’re hosting an audience discussion, too, to hear what you think and to share more about the project.

Even better, it’s a completely FREE event!

This is a great way to commemorate the Memorial Day weekend and a fantastic way to learn more about our history. I hope to see you there.

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Friday Five: Favorites

I’m participating in the “impact albums” meme on Facebook and I struggled while selecting my ten albums (that’s the number in the version I was tagged in).

From the top, I decided to eliminate “greatest hits” or compilations of any sort (including soundtracks). That took away quite a bit, because in my twenties my musical explorations often happened through those kinds of albums. They might not have been the best compilations for those artists either, but they meant a lot to me because they’re the ones I bought.

Then there were the albums that had a few songs that were big in my rotation at a certain point in my life, but had a lot of other songs I didn’t listen to all that much. These were the hard eliminations because while the albums might have been super important to me, not enough of it was in terms of total percentage of content when compared to others. Even if the songs they carried meant more to me than most, I eliminated them based on that percentage, rather than the degree of love I had for them.

That means there are many songs that didn’t make the final cut for me. So here’s a list of five of those:

5. “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by Colin Hay (1998)
I first heard this song on the soundtrack to the movie Garden State (2004). Colin Hay is the former front man for the 80s Australian band Men at Work.

4. “The Joker” by The Steve Miller Band (1973)
In all honesty, I doubt there’s an album I know better than the second volume of Steve Miller’s hits collection, “Greatest Hits 1974-78.” In the 80s and 90s it was not uncommon for the album to pop into the top 100 in terms of sales, probably based solely on college kids buying it through their Columbia House or BMG memberships. In short, he was the drinking music of many a college keg party.

3. “That Feel” by Tom Waits (1992)
This song (a duet with Keith Richards) is the last song on Waits’ 1992 album Bone Machine. The only reason that the album didn’t make my cut was because one of his other albums was more revolutionary for me. Bone Machine was a close second. This was the stand out for me, a song that sounds like two drunk alley cats singing late at night.

2. “What It Takes” by Aerosmith (1989)
My cassette tape of Aerosmith’s 1989 blockbuster album was as well played as any I ever owned, but almost entirely for side 1. Songs like “Janie’s Got a Gun” and “Love in an Elevator” were the hits that made it such a solid seller. My favorite song, however, was the last on side 2. I nearly wore the cassette out just to play it again and again…

1. “Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison (1968)
My first Van Morrison album was his The Best of Van Morrison. I bought it in college and a good chunk of the songs (except for the Christian ones, late in the 21 song collection) were in heavy rotation with me and friends during college. I have a fondness for so many, but “Sweet Thing” (originally from the legendary Astral Weeks) moved me like no other. The slow build up and gradual orchestral feel were among my favorite aspects.

46

Today is my 46th birthday. Last year I wrote the following:

On the personal side of life, things couldn’t be better. I feel like I need to focus more on reflecting on that, but when I do I’m just massively appreciative. My kids are healthy, loving, and brilliant. My wife and I are frequently overwhelmed but we make a great team. We were lucky enough to move last summer, enjoy some special trips, and watch three amazing people grow up a little more.

I would say the same thing today. I’m a luck person.

Work wise it’s all good–even better than it was last year. My spring sabbatical has meant a respite from the usual mayhem of the year. What’s better, with some of my work commitments coming to end there is a possibility that some of that busyness won’t return. Well, at least not exactly.

The best part of work has been the time to write a play, the drafts of three articles, and more of the book-in-progress. This fall will see the production of the play I’ve written, which is something I’m looking forward to. I’m sure there’ll be another one or two things to celebrate before I hit 47.

What can I say? I’m getting older but I’m also living a life where I have nothing to complain about and a whole lot to be grateful for (among them family, friends, health, and stability). It’s strange to be on the “back end” of this journey but I’m happy enough to not want to waste any time worrying about what’s in the past so I can just enjoy the present and the future.

So thanks for reading, and for being a witness to the adventure.

Friday Five: Random

5. “Melody” by The Rolling Stones (1976)
I suppose the album Black and Blue is best known for Ronnie Wood, who became an official member of the band with its release (though they auditioned several potential replacements for Mick Taylor during the album’s recording). What stands out to me are the album’s eclectic sounds. It’s very bluesy at times, but also has nods to reggae and funk and, in this instance, jazz.

4. “What Am I Living For?” by Chuck Willis (1958)
I knew Chuck Willis for his version of “C.C. Rider,” which Elvis used to play in the 70s. When I heard this song I was struck by its sound. It’s got country tips with a soft back rhythm that swings so nice. Turns out it was his last (and biggest) hit, the B-side to the single “Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes,” released shortly before his death at the age of 32.

3. “Fade to Black” by Metallica (1984)
This song is from Metallica’s second album, the legendary Ride the Lightning. It’s one of my favorite songs by the band, although I didn’t hear it until the late 80s when I was in high school. It’s a fan favorite in their live shows. It took on another level of legendary on August 8, 1992, when James Hetfield caught on fire while singing it. It was also the last played song when the Long Beach station KNAC (which played heavy metal for LA listeners for a decade) went off the air.

2. “Nobody Told Me” by Vintage Trouble (2011)
I first saw Vintage Trouble when they were on Austin City Limits, back in 2016. I’ve been a fan ever since. There’s not a thing they do that I don’t like, and when you listen that’s not a surprise. They intentionally draw on some of the best in 50s and 60s R&B, mixed with so much more. Here’s a live version of the above, which showcases some of their talents better than the studio version can.

1. Zombie by the Cranberries (1994)
The best thing about this last week was when the Bad Wolves cover of this song came on the radio. The kids knew the song, which led to us talking about the Cranberries, the early death of Dolores O’Riordan, and the glories of the 90s. I made a little playlist of the greatest hits of Dolores and Crew, and the kids couldn’t get enough of her Irish brogue and vocal honesty. Here’s a live version of the song from 1994.

Friday Five: Happy

5. “Happy Idiot” by TV on the Radio (2014)

4. “Happy Together” by the The Turtles (1967)

3. “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage (1995)

2. “Happy” by The Rolling Stones (1972)

2. “Happy Everafter in Your Eyes” by Ben Harper (2006)

Daddy Reads: 3.18 and 4.18

I’m a little behind in my posts on what me and my littlest have been reading. March was a busy month with our spring break trip to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, and April always has the typical busyness of the season, so here’s a two-for-one.

The Tower of the Elf King; The Quest for the Queen; The Hawk Bandit of Tarkoom; Under the Serpent Sea; The Mask of Maliban (The Secrets of Droon #9-13) by Tony Abbott
We continued to work through The Secrets of Droon series, although at a slower rate than in the past. Some of that reduced speed was due to my efforts to move us on to something more interesting, and some of it was just due to our trip and a few other things, that reduced our reading. In any case, we continue! We completed five more books in the series in these past two months.

We’ve reached the end of the books we own and so it’s the library from here on out. I suppose it’s a wonderfully good thing that she likes something as much as she does this series, and that it motivates her to check out more books from the library (even if neither one of those has been a problem for us to begin with). In any case, I’ll remind myself to be glad about it while I bemoan the content of what it is we read.

For those who are interested, the books took a slightly more interesting turn with the temporary defeat of the book’s main evil doer Lord Spar. It had to be done, in order to shake up what had become a rather repetitious story format. We’ve now moved on to a series of other ne’er-do-wells, the introduction of each offering new (and convoluted) information expanding what we know of the land of Droon. This is becoming it’s own repetitious format, which was further interrupted by bringing some closure to one of the overarching stories, the quest to free Queen Relna from an evil spell and reunite her with her magical daughter Keeah. Spoiler alert: evil Lord Spar has returned in the thirteen book. Alas, it was only a matter of time.

Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley
In an effort to connect my little to something of a higher quality, we also read Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley. This is a real deal chapter book. It’s got lots of characters; it is written and high level (probably suited to late elementary/early middle school kids); and it has 43 chapters. This is the first time we’ve read a book of this length and complexity.

I love this book. It’s odd, funny, and deeply intentional when it comes to the messages. My favorite part is the way she develops girl/women characters; they are central to everything in the book, and they are diverse and interesting and exceedingly human. This is the best young people’s book breaking the traditional gender bias of young people’s literature that I have ever read.

You want proof of my love and admiration for Remarkable? This is my third time reading the book. I read it to my son and, later, to my second daughter. Each of them has also read it once or twice on their own afterwards, too. It’s a testament to the quality and creativity of the book.

It looks like Remarkable has been a game changer for my little one. She was reluctant to read it because it was taking us away from Droon. We started mixing in a chapter a night while we read a reduced load of our latest Droon book. In time, we started skipping Droon now and again to read more Remarkable. She got hooked pretty early, and it started to become something she looked forward to doing. Once we finished, she took pride in the fact that this is the longest book she’s ever “read.” She also had that satisfaction that comes with reading something that you just know is meant for kids older than you.

Today we will begin reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I’m so excited to do so, in part because I’ve never read it myself.

Friday Five: I got the funk

Let’s take a journey through some of the funky sounds of the 60s and 70s. The dynamism of African American politics, the consciousness shaped by the Black Freedom Struggle and a heightened awareness of the injustices the movement targeted, all fed an equally dynamic culture.

Let’s visit some expansive jams that captured the times, and served as the roots for so many more times to come.

5. “Darkest Light” by Lafayette Afro Rock Band (1975)
They were from Long Island but they came together as a band in France. This song is from their third album, 1975’s Malik, and features saxophonist Leon Gomez. It’s a famously and frequently sampled piece of music, ranging from Public Enemy to Jay-Z.

4. “Apache” by The Incredible Bongo Band (1974)
This is a cover, but it’s really so much more than the original. The band is a makeshift rhythm band put together to score a B-movie in the 70s. What they produce here has been called the national anthem of hip hop.

3. “Let A Woman Be A Woman – Let A Man Be A Man” by Dyke and the Blazers (1969)
A short-lived band that ended with the 1971 murder of founder and leader Arlester Christian.

2. “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin (1971)
From one of my favorite albums by the First Lady of Soul (Young, Gifted and Black), this is a funk masterpiece. While I’m only projecting (since I wasn’t born until the year after), I’ve always felt like it was one of those songs that captured the feeling of the times.

1. “Funky Drummer” by James Brown (1970)
It don’t get much more funky than this, James Brown directing the great Clyde Stubblefield on the drums as he produces a back beat that is the groove of so much later hip hop.