Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Exposure Therapy

I dont remember what got me into Buddhism exactly.

Maybe it was the taekwon-do, which I had recently taken up because I thought one of my co-workers at the Pizza Hut I was working at the time were going to get into a fight.

In any case, there were a few things I remember from my first foray into Buddhism: One was a book I had picked up on the way home from Pizza Hut, still in my uniform as I passed through the mall bookstore. It was a book of quotes called The Little Book of Zen.

The second was a TV show called Northern Exposure.

I dont recall Northern Exposure ever explicitly referencing Buddhism. But it was the first show I ever saw where the conflicts were mostly internal. Other shows were about murders and car chases. Or conflicts between characters., but compared to the alien murderer and conspiracies of the X-Files, Nothern Exposure had low stakes: Maggies fear of bugs. Chris lack of inspiration.  Eds vocation. Even the romance between Joel and Maggie seemed less about the romance and more a for exploring the Jewish doctor and the pilots psychologies.

I was hooked. It was a show that seemed calming and energizing all at once. I couldnt find a word to describe it other thanquiet. It was the same feeling I felt in the mornings, crossing the footbridge to the mall parking lot at six thirty in the morning on my way to the Pizza Hut, feeling the vibrations of my own footsteps on the path. Below me, the Sturgeon river, clogged with stray shopping carts. Beyond me, the sky, streaked with clouds and the colors of sunrise.

I loved those clouds. I loved that sky. Different every single morning. But always beautiful.

There was conflict in Northern Exposure, but there was no yelling or door slamming. No passionate break-ups and make-ups. Even the characters who didnt got along, still got along--they lived in the same town and had to interact with each other, so they did. Adam, the most unlikable character was invited to parties.

There was a sense of acceptance

 Even the character Maurice Wiinnefield--a guy who was basically everything about the Tea Party before the Tea Party existed had a certain decency and dignity. Similarly, the neurotic Jewish New York Doctor was neurotic and out of place without ever being a buffoon or an over-the-top cartoon character.

A number of spiritual traditions have the theory that we are not who we are. The things that we think of as making up our identity--our physical forms, our jobs, our social roles, our personalities--are insubstantial and unimportant, waves on the surface of a deeper ocean.  We are part of something greater and all of us are connected to that something, and thus, to each other.

We can be bloody-red as a sunset, grim as grey clouds, or bright, blue and endless. We are differentdifferent from each other and different from day to day. But for all our differences, we are all the same sky. We cradle the earth and everything on it from horizon to horizon, from the trees to the malls to the teenage bass player in the Pizza Hut uniform crossing a footbridge over the Sturgeon River over twenty-years ago.

Listen. You can hear his footfalls in every word in this post.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Huns & Rodents

The guitar riff is the brick that built the house of 80s heavy metal.

Metallicas layered Bay-area thrash. Poisons simplistic trash. Joe Satrianis flash and Guns N Roses Slash. AC/DCs unforgettable You Shook Me and Babylon ADs forgotten Bang Goes The Bells. All shaped by the same musical DNA: a rhythmic, repeated guitar phrase.

Listen to the German band Scorpions for examples: Rock You Like A Hurricane and No One Like You are probably the best known, but there are more: Big City Nights.” “Im Leaving You.” “The Zoo.” “Blackout. No One Like You. Bad Boys Running Wild(Not to be confused with Bad Boy by Haywire, Bad Boys by Great White, Bad Boys by Whitesnake, or Bad Boys by Wham) and No One Like You with the way they have the rhythm guitar start and the lead come bursting in over top. The Zoo.  Blackout.” “Im Leaving You.

Or consider Ratt, In terms of consistency, Ratt were the best of their generation. Most 80s LA bands were lucky to even release five albums, let alone five good ones. From Out of the Cellar to Detonator,  Ratt had the best five album run of any of the Sunset Strip metal bands (with the possible exception of Motley Crue depending on how big a fan you are of Theatre of Pain).

And every song beginning with  Out of the Cellars Wanted Man and ending with Top Secret from Detonator  is built around one or two guitar riffs.

Grunge killed 80s metal. But it didnt kill the riff. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots used them.  Kurt Cobain might have disdained metal, but the riff was as close to Nirvana as it was to Heavens Edge.  The opening of Smells Like Teen Spirit--grunges signature song--is unmistakeable, and that opening--all guitar followed by the drums crashing entrance, is all riff, baby.

Guitar-based music doesnt have the same prominence today and hasnt for awhile. Thats why I like Nickelback.

Many people dont. There was even a time when not only did people hate Nickelback, they also didnt like people who liked them. My liking Nickelback is the reason one woman refused to sleep with me.

I get it. I felt the same way about Creed. And before that, Milli Vanilli.

I like Nickelback because they use the riff. You can hear examples in Animals,” “Something In Your Mouth, and that Pants-Around-Your-Feet song.

They continue to riff, and for that, I salute them.