27 July, 2010

Free Fallin' - Like The Rain That Night...

I just read a review of the Tom Petty concert in the paper, and I couldn't resist making some comments about it. Apologies to the author - nothing personal, it's the general phenomenon of Tom Petty that I'm critiquing.

The review opens with a lame but unavoidable joke, and a reference to the rain, which the author mentions three times throughout the review.

"Though heavy rain demolished chances of the ... concert ... being a comfortable experience, fans wouldn't back down." (groan)

"Aside from a small run [how depressing] of new songs, Mr. Petty's Saturday night set was a hits-only affair, and the audience ate up [like a good audience] every familiar guitar riff, every radio chorus."

Familiar guitar riffs? Radio choruses (chori?)? Sounds like a formula for excitement. Considering the state of radio today. Was this really the same musician who recorded The Last DJ? "And that music that had freed us became a tired routine." Then again, I have no reason to believe that Petty's ever played a song from that album in concert. I guess the live arena is a whole different animal from the music studio, where mediocrity reigns supreme, in the name of subduing the masses (with the gentle sounds of corporate rock radio). Oh yeah, and there's money involved, I'm sure.

Continuing, the reviewer claims the opening act are "worthy heirs to Mr. Petty's straightforward rock approach." Well, in their defense, they were pretty bland (tongue set firmly in cheek). Mention of the song You Don't Know How It Feels opens us up to reference number two to the rain:

"But we did know how it felt - damp." (groan)

According to this reviewer, Petty then launched "a string of his most classic sing-alongs." Oh boy, sing-alongs. The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell...

"The appeal of Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers [have you ever before seen anyone refer to them as, not Tom, but Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers??] ... has forever been their normalcy [wow, normalcy - that is awesome; definitely a quality worth admiring]. These guys look like your uncle [true], and they play without the pretension of many bands just as legendary."

Alright, I can understand the appeal of "simple" music. Or better yet, straightforward music, as it was described previously. I listen to a lot of "simple" music - blues has a pretty simple form. But I would never hold "pretension" against a band if their music was good. For example, Yes was a good band - ivory towers and unicorns and all. And maybe Led Zeppelin's pretension got the better of them on a track like Carouselambra, but who would say that Led Zeppelin is "pretentious" when they played great, epic tracks like Dazed & Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Achilles Last Stand, etc.? Oh, that's right, the punks.

The reviewer gets it right when he says that the band "showed off most during a five-song 'little mini-set of mojo'" - where in this case showing off means playing good solid music, as opposed to fan-favorite sing-alongs.

"Instead of spreading new jams throughout the set, thereby forcing people to listen, Mr. Petty all but gave uninterested fans a long bathroom break. Their loss."

Their loss, indeed. I liked the mini-set, I thought it worked well sticking those Mojo songs together. Although I still would have liked to hear some more throughout the show. But the notion that people would use that opportunity to take a bathroom break - so readily believable as it is - sends a shudder down my spine. As if their hooping and hollering for the sing-alongs wasn't bad enough, they'd actually spitefully turn their noses away from the stage for the best part of the performance? It's a scary thought, indeed.

"Mojo may not include a future rock radio classic, but these songs twisted and grooved with the best of them..."

And therein lies the tragedy of the system. The songs on Mojo really are that good. I would be ecstatic to hear them on the radio alongside Petty's tried and true (and retried and retrue) classics, but you think we will? There may be one exception - I Should Have Known It (probably because its riff has been described - in this review and elsewhere - as being "Led Zeppelin-heavy"), which I have heard on the radio - but what are the chances that it gets forgotten after Mojo is no longer Petty's "newest release!" - like Saving Grace before it? And, before that - oh wait, The Last DJ never had a radio hit...

Time for mention three of the rain:

"An acoustic rendition of 'Learning To Fly' evoked the night's biggest crowd chorus, even if everyone's wings were soaked..." (groan)

You know, I think I've lost my appreciation for Learning To Fly. The whole crowd chorus thing is just kinda...lame. Breakdown has a far more interesting "crowd chorus" section, and besides, it's a far more interesting song to begin with.

Wrapping up the review:

"It may be subdued, even subtle, but Petty's mojo was in full throttle Saturday night."

That sounds almost like doublethink. I'll leave you with this question: what does it say about Petty's mojo that, even in full throttle, it is subtle and subdued? Hm? Well, I guess the answer was in the musician's name right from the start. So at least you knew what you were getting. ;)

Again, no disrespect to the reviewer himself - I felt it was an entertaining read, and a good review for the newspaper, that accomplished its objective (just like the Petty concert did). And though I playfully rib Tom Petty, he knows I still love him. The fact that I do it just shows that I really do care. :p

26 July, 2010

A Petty Party

I just saw Tom Petty (& The Heartbreakers) in concert for the fourth time in six years. Despite my brother's curious insistence, I do not hate Tom Petty. In fact, I like him. I have a lot of respect for him as a musician, and he has a lot of songs that I think are really good. But though he does have a great guitarist in the form of [Heartbreaker] Mike Campbell, the bulk of Tom Petty's legacy hangs on Petty's songwriting ability (for which he undoubtedly has a talent), and his vocal delivery (on record, or his showmanship on stage). Thus, you get a lot of songs like Free Fallin', that make the crowd go crazy, but from a guitarist's perspective, are largely uninteresting. (I'm not saying that Free Fallin' is a bad song, just that it's dull and boring).

But that just explains why he's not one of my personal favorite musical artists, that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the show (I did); however, my tolerance for concerts of this sort may be waning. That may partially be a result of my growing interest in playing music - I'd rather get on stage and perform than sit quietly and hear someone else perform - but it has a lot to do with the concert atmosphere, which hinges on not the musical act but the audience that attends. It seems more like an excuse to party, with the live music being a side show. It fuels the party certainly, but the emphasis is on getting drunk and having a good time, more than really appreciating the music. Which is encouraged when these big-name acts play all the boring hit songs you hear fifty times a day on the radio instead of the more musically interesting tracks that are less profitable.

If I sound bitter, it's only because I'm trying to find an explanation for why I don't feel comfortable amidst a claustrophobic throng of people pumped with alcohol. Alcohol. Alcohol inspires rowdiness, loudness, impairment of motor functions, and obnoxiousness under the guise of friendliness. It doesn't help that the venue serves drinks in cups filled to the brim - it is statistically impossible for a drunkard to carry such a drink across a sloped lawn without spilling quite a bit of it on the people he's stepping between, over, through, on, and into. Although that's probably calculated - the vendors count on a significant portion of their product being wasted, because that inspires the customer to purchase more. At least, that's the only explanation I could think of for why they insist on taking the bottle caps off of drinks. We're not [inappropriate expletive deleted] two-year-olds, we're not going to swallow them.

So anyway, add messiness to the list of qualities the concert crowd possesses, and that I do not especially like. Listening to live music on the lawn on a summer evening sounds like bliss - it really does - but there are conditions. Let's move on.

The first thing I noticed, pulling into our parking spot among the tailgaters, was that the men were baring more skin than the women, by a wide margin. You may offer your own homespun theories as to why this is below in the comments. Regardless of the why, I was kind of disappointed.

While standing in line to get inside the venue, the lines were forcibly separated by gender, before beginning to move through the gates. I was kind of offended by this. I imagine it was because of the frisking that is done - the gate guards were matched to the lines by gender. Naturally, women would get all up in arms about "sexual harrassment" if they had to be frisked by men to get into the concert, right? How about my preference for being frisked by a woman? Nobody took that into account, did they? And then there's the overprotective security (oh that's right, I forgot, the terrorists won), and selfish consumerist principles (the less we let you bring in, the more you'll have to buy from us on the inside).

I think we'd best skip right to the music. (If I fail to mention the opening act, it's because they really aren't worth mentioning). I was disappointed by the opening few tracks, being the predictable hits they were. I really think I Should Have Known It would have made a great opener, as had been suggested, but even if not that one, you can open a concert better than with Listen To Her Heart (which has been the opener three out of the four times I've seen Petty). I like the song, but you gotta open with something that really kicks the audience in the balls. Not just a chorusy pop song, but something that rocks hard. I forgot, this is a Tom Petty concert.

A few songs in, they finally started playing some good stuff. Mary Jane's Last Dance still sounds good, no matter how many times I've heard it. It was great to hear Oh Well again, it being a Peter Green song and all. Ditto for Honey Bee. Both of those songs I'd heard once before at a Tom Petty concert (though different ones), but they're good enough songs that I wouldn't mind hearing them more often.

I was pleased with the Mojo set that was played. I thought maybe they'd scatter the songs a bit more throughout the night rather than all in a go, and that they'd play more of them (would have been more interesting that way, but you gotta please the crowd, right?), but they did do a good solid five. And all five sounded great in the live context. There isn't one of them I wouldn't enjoy hearing again in concert. Even Jefferson Jericho Blues, which I didn't like so much on the album - it sounded better live. Running Man's Bible was a good one, and I Should Have Known It sounded great live, just as I had expected it would. The other two were the advance tracks - First Flash of Freedom and Good Enough, and were probably the highlights of the evening.

The rest of the usual songs you hear at a Tom Petty concert that they played kinda flowed through me. Except for Breakdown. I was disappointed at not hearing that one at previous concerts - I had assumed it was too virile for an aging band to tackle, but they proved me wrong. I liked hearing it, but at that point in the concert I might have been too distracted by other things.

The moon rose nice and prettily over the pavilion before the show started, but it drizzled off and on during the show. I don't like wearing wet clothes, but I was even more concerned about my hair, only because it's kind of inconvenient (and messy) to let it get wet. Well I solved both problems by taking my shirt off and using it to keep my head [relatively] dry.

I remember hearing Refugee, which is one that I like, and then soon enough we were at the end of the show. Funny thing is, for the last six years, with Petty's set list being pretty predictable, three songs that always show up at the end of the show (or in the encore) in some combination, are Refugee, Runnin' Down A Dream (which has a killer guitar part), and American Girl. The band encored with the latter two. There was no third song in the encore, unlike in previous years, although perhaps that was for the better, as it started pouring just as soon as the show ended. I'm pretty much convinced that the weather was set up by the venue, as a plot to get people out of the pavilion as fast as possible after the show was over. Well, it more or less worked.

Already shirtless, I was basically soaked by the time I got back to the car, so I took the rest of my clothes off for the drive home (including the half hour plus of sitting in line inching out of the parking lot). For some reason I feel in my gut that stormy weather - rain in particular - is a good excuse to shed my clothes. Perhaps it's because the excuse "I don't like wearing wet clothes" is more understandable (and thus accommodatable) to the average person than simply "I don't like wearing clothes". Even so, I didn't see a single person more than shirtless (and only male, of course), probably on account of the uber strict cultural taboo against exposing one's genitals in public. All I'm saying is, if this were Woodstock... It's not some dark villainous perverted activity, it's just frollicking naked in the rain! Just one more example of how I don't relate to the populace.

Anyway, in conclusion, if I were God, I could conjure up a much better summer experience, but because we live in a democracy, I have to make do with what customs the common folk have in regards to entertaining themselves. But I guess it's still better than doing nothing.

15 July, 2010

Video Games Are Comforting

When life gets filled up with all sorts of worries and requirements, I find that video games can be a comforting distraction from all of that. In a video game (even as they continue becoming more and more complex), all of existence is based on a relatively simple set of parameters. In most games you don't have to worry about eating or going to the bathroom or other niggling concerns like that. Your goal is usually very clear (in general if not the specifics), and anyhow there is a pretty straightforward path towards accomplishing it. Even when you have options, they aren't as plentiful as in real life. Deciding that you're going to kill the Great Evil Sorceror and save the Kingdom isn't accompanied by the kind of doubts you get with wondering whether you should switch jobs, or go back to school, or anything like that. There's no question of what the "right" path is. There is just a path, and you follow it. And you usually have a lot of fun along the way.

Another thing I intended to mention is that when you get hurt, healing is as simple as stepping on a medpack. And there are always extra lives in store (or barring that, continues, and barring that, retries) if you seriously mess things up.

I was playing Shadow of the Colossus (again), which is a really great game. Every time I play that or Ico (also a really great game), I get the impulse to play the other one, too. They're both awesome, and I really don't know which one I like better. They both have a great adventure element, and where Shadow of the Colossus has an amazing action element (which is practically adventure and puzzle solving all-in-one - climbing over the Colossi and trying to figure out their weaknesses and how to exploit them), Ico involves guiding and protecting a helpless girl of light - and I can't help but melt at the idea of having to guide and protect a helpless girl of light.

I was exploring one of the forests in Shadow of the Colossus, and if there's one downside to the adventure aspect of that game, it's that there's not a whole lot of interactivity with the environment. It's beautiful, and there are a few things you can do - like hunt for lizard tails and eat fruit from the trees to boost your stats - but it seems more like pretty scenery to pass the time on your way to the next huge arena which hosts the next Colossus on your checklist, than an aspect of the game to *do* something with. Also, it's pretty empty, so it's kind of lonely. But I'll say it again, it's stunningly gorgeous. Ok, I was gonna say "it's beautiful" again but at the last moment chose to use different words...

So...getting back to what I was about to say...I strolled into a beautiful forest, and the light dimmed under the canopy of trees, and I saw the sunbeams shining through periodic openings in the forest ceiling, and I thought how beautiful it all was, and I felt like there should be some elves there, or something similar. Pretty girls to complement the pretty scenery. You know, there's a girl in that game, but all she does throughout the entire game is lie unconscious on the altar, in her robe of light. Even though she never does anything, she's still beautiful, and I catch myself staring at her frequently. There should be more pretty girls in games, especially games with beautiful natural scenery. But then I feel like if anybody tried to do that, they'd be accused of having a perverted motive (a feeling that would likely prevent them from doing it in the first place).

But what if we went all the way and actually introduced sex into a game like this. Is it really so bad? To have naked elves frollicking in the forest, and you could interact with them in naughty ways? What's wrong with that? You say it's not art, it's smut - but that's only because when people make things like this, they make it smutty and not arty. If you applied the same standards this game was made under to the sex parts, you wouldn't have smut, you'd have high class artistic interactive pornography. Yet people would still look down on it because it's "preoccupied" with sex. Sex negativity much?

It's really cliche to bring this comparison up, but it comes up so often because it's really a good comparison. We have violent games that are made with very high standards, but sex games are trash. If you want to go indulge your impulse to murder, maim, and torture, you have plenty of glossy options to choose from. So how come you can't do the same when you're feeling like expelling some pent up sexual desire? And don't say "sex" is better than "sex games", because games introduce an element of fantasy - eliminating the negative sides of real sex (just like fantasy violence versus real violence) while introducing all sorts of imaginative flourishes that wouldn't even be possible in reality.

That's one of the reasons I like Second Life so much - there's so much sex. But the graphics aren't exactly top-of-the-line, and the "game" is so open-ended that you end up standing around a lot, wondering what to do (imagine if you had a "fuck quota" or something, at least it'd give you some direction, and a sense of accomplishment), and since it's a massively multiplayer environment, lag's a bitch. So, it's got the sex, but it's missing a lot of what other games have. I want the best of both worlds.

[So yeah, even in a geeky writeup about video games I end up discussing sex...]

12 July, 2010

Back To The Garden

Soooo...I visited a real live nudist resort this past Saturday, which is something I've been wanting to do ever since I discovered the subculture of nudism three years ago. I hadn't had the guts to do it on my own, but my newest friend is quite open to my eccentricities (even to the point of being enthusiastic about many of them), and so she happily accompanied me and made what could have been a stressful experience for me into a relaxing day trip. Instead of writing an account of the visit, which I already tried to do and wasn't satisfied with (I tend to feel like I'm walking on eggshells when I write about nudism), I think it would be more interesting if you asked me the questions that are on your mind, so I can tell you exactly what you want to know. Leave a comment if you're curious about anything.

09 July, 2010

Life or Death: A Pragmatic Approach

I once had a conversation with my brother about whether it's nicer to be sick and in bed, or be healthy and have to go to work (or school). He chose the former, I chose the latter. Obviously, I'd rather be in bed than at work, but in my experience, sickness just isn't worth it. I was wondering today about the difference in our perspectives, and knowing his philosophies on life and death, I figured it must be because I have a natural fear of mortality, whereas he probably feels that any reminder of the fragility of life is a positive feeling. (Feel free to correct/nuance my interpretation.)

And I thought to myself, I hate being sick because it makes me feel vulnerable. It makes me feel closer to death and it reminds me just how fragile my existence is. I won't argue that life is pain and that death is a release, but I'm still too attached to life (as I have always been) to let go of it just yet. The way I see it, my approach is a pragmatic one.

I will state first that, obviously, the following conclusion hinges on the data (whether proven or assumed) I have at my disposal. As far as I can tell, death is permanent. There's no undo, and I have yet to see any evidence for reincarnation (and if you're reincarnated without any possible knowledge of that reincarnation, then it's, in a practical sense, no different than eternal death). As far as anything that comes after death, beyond this world - there's no evidence of that either. Maybe it's so much better that noone's ever thought to come back. Maybe the powers that be knew people would abuse death if they knew what came after it, and so forbade the passing of that knowledge to living mortals. Or maybe there is something after death, but it's still a strictly one-way door (due to physics principles or whatever else).

The point is - as far as I can tell - death is a one-way door. Once you die, there's no returning to life. Now, on the other hand, there is no point in life where the door to death closes, and you lose that opportunity to die (barring the phenomenon of immortality, which is also unproven). As long as I live, death remains an option to me. Once I die, life has been sealed off for good. So, it only makes sense that I should continue to live as long as possible (and as long as the pain doesn't exceed the pleasure and the promise of living), and take on death only after life has nothing at all left to offer me.

Of course, if life really is that painful to you, or if you have different beliefs about death, you may come to a contrary conclusion. And I respect that. But for me, I think I'll hold on as long as it continues to make sense for me to do so.

02 July, 2010

Legend of the Guardian Fae

As you may know, the faerie race of lore, inhabitants of the lost kingdom of the elves, were a magickal folk who lived very close to nature - indeed, so close as to be inextricably linked up with it. Their unique ability was a sort of harmony with the elemental forces of nature, which they could conjure up in the form of humanoid sprites, and control with their pure will. Different elves had differing affinities to the various elements, and though most could perform small tricks with each, few were masters of more than one element. Of the five elements the most revered was life, for obvious reasons, even though it was more defensive than the others. But the elves were a peaceful race, who used their power of manipulation to aid and protect nature and themselves from those who would seek the power of dominion - the chief threat being that of the ruthless tribe of man.

Many tales have been spun about the old kingdom, the way of the elves, and their conflict with man, but rare even among the elves' mythology was tell of a special tribe of faerie folk who had fused the natural elements and gained the power of spirit. Whether this tribe ever really existed is up for debate - and it certainly requires a strong faith in the magickal realm to believe it - but regardless, their intriguing ability is worth considering, if for nothing more than to serve as a moral fable.

This tribe was referred to as the Guardian Fae, which described the power they were able to wield. By welding the natural elements together, they created spirit, a form of ethereal barrier protecting the bearer, which could manifest in the form of a sprite not unlike a guardian angel. Like the other elements, this power could be activated by sheer force of will - but, even more so than life, it was purely a defensive power. It was like a shield, and had the ability not just to stop material things from injuring the bearer, but it could also isolate the bearer in an egg-like pocket beyond space and time, removing him from the stressful consequences of life for a period of restful peace.

The power was so strong as to protect the Guardian Fae from the effects of aging - already diminished among the faerie folk - so as to make them practically immortal. Once the power was unlocked, its quantity was fixed, and by its very nature, it could only be given, and not taken. Membership among the Guardian Fae was eternal, and new members could be admitted only by the sacrifice of old members. But their society was a grand one, if the tales are to be believed.

Imagine, how it would be to live like one of the Guardian Fae. You could live with no fear, knowing that you possess the power of ultimate protection. Nothing could ever hurt you. Nothing could stop you from pursuing your dreams. The only restriction would be harming others among the Guardian Fae. Of course, their ultimate defenses would prevent you from doing any harm to them against their will - though it was within the Guardian Fae's powers to willfully drop their defenses. Thus, they could be harmed or otherwise trespassed against, but only with their explicit consent. There was no concept of "force", as force could not be exercised within the society - everyone did exactly as they pleased, living in peaceful harmony with one another.

The best evidence against the Guardian Fae is the fact that they do not continue to exist, as far as we can tell. They would not need to hide; they would have nothing to fear. Theirs would be an indestructible utopia. But I have heard rumors about the origin of the power of spirit - that its synthesis requires the destruction of living elves, in order to harness their control of the elements. If this is true, it could be possible that the Guardian Fae, with their insight and empathy, saw that the very existence of their power was a threat to the faerie kingdom. Those who are greedy, with lust for power, would want to seize it, at the cost of others' lives. This was the very antithesis of the spirit brought on by the power's usage, but it was an inevitable product of its manner of creation. Do the few deserve to live in a utopia at the cost of the lives of many?

So then, perhaps the Guardian Fae sacrificed themselves, for the good of all; or perhaps they took this all as a very good reason to hide - not to protect themselves, but to protect us from ourselves - and left this world a long time ago. They surely would have the power to do that. Is it true, or is it not? Who knows, and I don't think it much matters. But the question remains, if living in such a manner as the Guardian Fae did resulted in a life of blissful peace, can we not at least approximate that, without the power, by molding our behavior to imitate theirs? Or is it simply a fact of nature that we will continue harming one another, and then taking our frustration out on others, preventing them from obtaining the bliss that's been taken from us? Do we have no choice in the matter?