Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya

Found a great rendition of “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya,” an old Irish Folk Song sung by British Opera Singer Benjamin Luxon and accompanied on Banjo by American Folk Singer Bill Crofut.  The piece plays out exactly how you would imagine a man of the theatre and a seasoned folk artist would sound together: dramatic, powerful, and heartfelt.  Here’s the video.

The way he articulates that one line, “Where is… the leg… in which you run…” gives me chills down my spine every time I hear it. It has a sense of despair that really depicts the horror that families have to experience when their loved ones are sent out to foreign lands to fight people they have no quarrel with, and then come back home.  As you hear the last reprise, as he ties it all together with one last solemn chorus, it leaves you with the impression that Johnny has changed for the worse.

This performance really gave me the feels because it deals directly with subjects that I hold dear to my heart.  It was one of my goals as a music major to study compositions like this, songs of protest. To study the anthems that the poor, disenfranchised, and the working class devised to comment on the times was my ambition. I do believe art is a reflection of the times, and good art is something that inspires people to make the world a better place. To document and analyze the music theory behind it would combine two passions of mine (Leftist politics and Music Theory). Here’s another example of a song that I would like to dissect. “Pie in the Sky,” an old labor tune 1st sung by the traveling man Joe Hill but performed by Utah Phillips.

 It’s ironic that “Johnny I Hardly I Knew Ya” was an Irish anti-war song (A late 18th century response to the British involvement in Sri Lanka) that soon became an American pro-war song (“When Johnny Comes Marching Home”), but many folk songs were the opposite and are essentially “parodies” of popular church hymns. “Pie in the Sky” carries the same tune as “In the Sweet By and By.” This was done for a few reasons, one being a popular tune that people can recognize so they can pay attention to the lyrics, and secondly the song itself was criticizing religion, and all the empty promises it makes for in the next world. So it is only appropriate to still have those Christian overtones as it help sells the parody.

My original inspiration to do this was just the fact that Politics and Music have such a conservative background together. Out of all the arts, Traditional Western Music, which I studied at UOG, is full of Patrons of Churches and Kings, music was a voice for the wealthy. Folk music was still important, but the Romantic ideas that fueled many visual and literary artists were less inspirational for the giants of music. There are a select few that stand out as more liberal in Music History, Beethoven, Mahler, Shostakovich, and Britten to name a few, but as a whole, they were definitely part of the establishment.  To help shed light on people who wanted to use music to improve the world, that is what I wanted to do. And all of these folk songs that these people wrote, their messages are so powerful and timely. They are incredibly important in the People’s History of Music. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Night's Tale

 *I was never much of a poem writer but I figured I'd give one a shot. Been so tired the last two days, physically and mentally. It's hard not getting much family help. Feeling so isolated here too.

A Night's Tale

All words to describe thee
But if what a Knight’s duty was in vein
To quote one fictional character
“Bravery is the kindest word for stupidy”
For all the gallant men that ride into battle
The only reward that they are guaranteed is blood
Whether it be their own or from the brothers around them
All the while the kings and lords sow the benefits
As families reap the dead

Is it better to be the guy that dies in the 1st charge of battle?
Or hide amongst the corpses to live another day

I don’t want to be a Flag Bearer
I want to be the one that survives the next battle
Because the battle of life is a test of patience
Not a race but a journey
Mark one chapter harder than the others
But not the last
Takes notes on the difficulties
And take pride on the successes
Keep on flipping the pages because it is never over
Even if you close the book
The story still lives on through the consciousness of thought
From Night to Day, and back to Night
rinse and repeat
Open it up again when you are ready
Because a good story always has time to be told

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tapas Thursdays

Yesterday, I had dinner at a restaurant that really achieved something that most establishments do not do well.

And that is creating an atmosphere that really feels like you are eating dinner in a place that does not feel like home.  As if you are literally stepping into another block of an entirely different city.

This new place in Agana, called Tapanade, really does give off that vibe. I have never been to New York City, but this Tapas and Sangria place is what I imagined some sort of middle-to moderately high class joint would look like in that city. It’s just that so much media takes place in New York City, and there is so much preconceived notions etched in our minds. Heck, one particular story I wrote, takes place in that very city. It’s the home of the Marvel Universe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,  60% of American movies, and you get the idea.

It’s like the place too you see people eat in Sitcoms. So clean, shiny, and new looking.

But some of its decor really did sell the set. In one side the place, there are three paintings crammed on the wall. The pieces, while not original, which I commented to my girlfriend that just substitute those copies for the originals and it be a high “class” restaurant in a big city, had that 20th century pop art style that hip and trendy restaurants tend to have. It even had a chandelier, which made it feel like a place that served only Champagne and the soundtrack of the room is the clicking of the wine glasses and the murmuring of humans. Which kind of happened, but not as loud because the limited capacity.  

Though what probably reminded me the most of a fancy diner in a big metropolitan area is the fact that it was a very compact and crunched place horizontally but vertically was very spacious (there’s a bottom part which is the bar/lounge area, and the top part which is purely the diner part). The tables were small, the seats were minimalistic, and the actual capacity of the whole joint was probably no more than 60-80 people.  

While those were my initial observations about the restaurant, the actual substance part was another story. The food and drinks were nice. I mean , they didn’t blow my socks off, but it was enjoyable. Their Pretzel Burger and fries hit the spot, but the sangria was way too sweet for me , I’m used to drinking just beer and straight liquor, I only know a handful of mixed drinks and their particular content, because I don’t mind the sting of alcohol. Better to face this particular poison head on, rather than hide it in some bearable way. I have some old fashioned tendencies (probably got from spending so much time with my grandparents) so simplicity, especially with food and beverages, is a solid philosophy to live by.

I enjoy drinking wine because it really attracts my Italian side, and the Trombone player in me as well. Numerous of composers have cited that no section can outdrink the Trombone players, where our Italian forerunners would drink red wine so heartily. I feel that very same connection.  

The food was good though, but my taste pallet is pretty easy going, I can feel the same satisfaction with healthy or simple budget home cooking. However, was it as good as the 20 dollars of food would get you for some appetizers (or tapas)? My wallet might not think so.  

Also the place definitely has that entitled and wealthy vibe, which I am not a big fan of because it is not me. However, I try to make the most of the situation, and just observe and learn to the best of my abilities.  The leftist in me really makes me aware of what kind of places I go into and ask, what social class is attracted to this particular place? This exercise I do also is what attracts me to become a novelist, imagining characters with depth.

It’s fun to try things out though, indulge in life, and get your mind off of things for a bit. I wonder if it will continue to stay open, or will it follow the unfortunate course of the so many restaurants before it. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Good Ideas

Had an engaging conversation last night, had a few of those lately, and in it, heard a phrase that gets thrown a lot in Political Theory, and that phrase is:

 “Communism is a good idea but bad in theory.”

The quote is as simple as it reads, Communism, in theory, is an ideology that abandons the age of enlightenment ideas that were becoming popular in the 1800s, and yearns for days before money, capital, private property, and other systems that superimposed different levels of class. Marx’s vision was of a world that you were able to give based on your abilities and receive based on your needs, an idea that would be almost universally agreed on as “good.”

The bad part though refers to times in history where it has been “applied.” Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, Pol Pot, to some extent Castro, are some of the figures in history that seized political power in their countries under a Marxist Ideology, and in their resume’s are the combined death toll of millions, some motivated politically and others due to famine. And instead of being an ideology of “community,” it becomes a totalitarian state that stamps out political dissent and economically is forever stagnated.

That is what we lead to believe, in school, in the media, and in our everyday life. I use life, because that is our way of life, Capitalism, we've embraced since our Founding Fathers were sick of paying taxes to the British. In the 1940s, it became us versus them, Capitalism versus Socialism.  A battle of Good versus evil, East versus West,  Empire vs Empire, the stories wrote themselves, and the average American ate it all up.

But it’s not that simple.

1st of all, the examples that we endlessly here about in this argument, the negatives have to have some context. Communism and the revolutions that are associated with it occurred in these countries because of the political instability of the times. Russia was going through a Civil War, the Tsars who ran the country were on their way out, and their involvement in World War I, a war that no one wanted to be a part of, helped sparked it. Food was scarce, and the times were desperate. The Bolsheviks did seize control of the provisional government after the October Reolution, but that was not the end of the battle. Different factions, from the fascists, the old conservatives, and even different leftist parties fought hard for control of their country.

People were going to die, Famine will occur in a country that goes through political change and instability, no matter what ideology will come through in the end. That is revolution, and Mao would agree 100% with, if you want change, well things are going to change permanently, and that will include body count.

In the United States, even during the early 1900s, the idea of revolution and drastic change is a downright scary concept because the culture is so different. Being an American, you can worry about where you are going to take your vacation, but that is a kind of a non-sequitur when you have to worry about where your next loaf of bread will come from (a la Russia). A man is more likely to kill somebody when life’s necessities are in jeopardy.

While I would never  advocate killing as something that should be proactively done, and I’m not making excuses for Stalin or Mao for shooting their guns, because their perspective was, if we aren't the ones shooting the guns, well the capitalists are.

But even Castro said once in an interview, when asked about the treatment of political prisoners in his country. He calmly said something along the lines of.

“When people want to destroy everything you have worked for, well it’s hard to let them run around.”

Again, it is not something that is ethically the right decision, but in the context of Cuba, where God only knows how many times the CIA have tried to assassinate Fidel Castro, how can they take their chances? Look at the amount of countries where the revolutions have failed, see:

France, Germany, Hungary, Germany again, Finland, Afghanistan, and much more . This doesn't count for the persecution that left wing groups and activists had to endure since latter half of the 19th century, in and out of wartime. 

How come we never hear about the people killed in those Atrocities? Because the people who control the world, are the ones doing the killing, as the old cliche saying goes.

“History is written by the winners.”

My 2nd point here is that the word Communism gets thrown around to describe North Korea, the former Soviet Union, and even contemporary China, but the one thing they do have in common is that none of them are/were communist states. The original idea was that Communism is the end game goal of society and Socialism is the bridge that will connect us to it. All of these countries are strong examples of State Socialism mixed with whatever cult of personality that was the dominant figure of their party. To say they are communistic is far from the truth, even if that was their intentions in the beginning. They all have been warped and twisted into something else, as just like any theory, it is always different when implemented.

This kind of segways into my 3rd point, because I would like to talk about our current master, or the status quo, Capitalism. If people are going to take the extreme examples of “communism,” and use that as evidence against its re-application in the current political climate, one can simply use the examples of “capitalism” in today's world as something that needs to be changed. Look at Latin America and Africa where fights for resources and the prospect of a developed economy set these poor countries further in debt that is still being felt today. The gap between the richest elite, and poor majority is growing so large that we are going back to discrepancies that could rival the Gilded Age. The over consumption of resources is leading to the end of our planet’s. Earth has a huge laundry list of problems, how come we cannot blame capitalism for it?

Capitalism has had its chance, and I think 99% of people in the world think that there may be something wrong with it. It is about time we should try an alternative.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday Blues

Today was an interesting day.

Right now I am looking at the “confessions,” which was a trend in the 1800s where families would survey each other their likes and dislikes, of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. I have just learned that Karl Marx’s idea of happiness is “to fight” and his idea of misery is “to submit,” while Frederick Engels favorite motto is “take it easy.” Man, makes me wish I can go back in time and smoke a joint with Mr. Engels, and talk how he and Mr. Marx were so accurate on  their predictions of how capitalism would continue to ruin if allowed to grow and prosper. I’d imagine he would laugh at 1st, and then get a bit sad, and then take a drink of the closest wine cup he could find (he was known for throwing parties for leftist thinkers that would  go to the wee hours of the morning). Also his response for favorite Hero, was “none,” and favorite Heroine was “too many to name one.” What a slick and smooth response, bet he was a ladies man.

This morning though, I was put into a bad mood by my Grandfather. I let his behavior, that I know and have dealt with countless times before, get to me. I was fortunate that my cousins and Auntie came over and kept him company, cooked him food, and helped him work out in the shop. I Got to do a few things for myself, but still, was unable to concentrate, just felt really trapped at home due to my Grandpa relying on me for most things still. But the day progressed, and I get a call from my Auntie to go pick up food from her friend in Agat. It is a common Chamorro practice for friends and friends of relatives to cook meals for the elderly, it is a sign of respect and overall just a good will gesture.  After a few failed turns, I call her for directions and finally get to her house.

I get there, and she ushers me inside to get the food dishes. I put them in the car while she comes outside and sits down on a porch chair. I take the time to enjoy the cool ocean breeze, the village resides alongside the beach, as she starts talking to me.

1) She talks about my Auntie, and how she and her are pretty close, they talk a lot.
2) She talks about how she knows my brother and appreciates his work with culture. 
3) She starts talking about food.
That is where it gets interesting.

The nice elderly lady starts talking about her family history. This exercise , when done by the older Chamorros, is a real treat to see in action, it’s something that has shaped me understand what culture is. It is what you learn from your family, parents, and the people around you. It is what you know and how you act amongst your peers.  Her passion for cooking was a trait passed from her mom, who always had food on the table for her dad who tended the crops. So she picked it up by osmosis. She told me that it was no problem for her to do this, and she offered to do on a later date. We spend 20-30 minutes talking (which felt like 5 minutes): during that time I learned what the “back kitchen” was, heard a sound argument on why Chamorros need to slow down on their sodium intake, and how to properly serve yourself at a fiesta party (Start at the end, not the beginning of the food table). It was so wise yet delivered in such a playful manner, a tone that many of our old folks here on Guam have. She really reminded me of why I enjoy listening to the elderly and learning about their experiences. The baked Salmon and Mongo Beans that she cooked too was really tasty. This was just one of many events that turned my less than stellar morning into a pretty good, intellectual stimulating, and inspiring Sunday. I started this entry talking about Karl Marx, so I’ll end with a Marx quote that I've always appreciated, and one that shows his true character.  “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Weak Criminal Heart

I will never understand criminals.

This past week on Guam, a series of thefts occurred at about twenty elementary schools. Some broke into offices and stole money out of desks, which were later reported to be fundraiser and pledge money from students, but all of them had their vending machines hit. Department of Education comments that they will now have to remove all their vending machines off of campuses, citing them as an easy target for criminals.

Well 1st off, I just would like to say that while I have never felt “poor” in my life, my mom was living under the poverty line when she was a single-working mother but she still worked hard enough to provide food every meal for me, so while I cannot say that I have been in a place where I have nothing, it has not been an extravagant or materialistic lifestyle.

But these guys/gals, who robbed from students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers, definitely were not devoid of any earthly possessions as they had cars to move between the jobs. What I just do not understand is the reasoning behind these acts; let me go through the potential planning phase.

“Let’s rob elementary schools.”

Ok, I hear this question, and the 1st thing I imagine is what is there at elementary schools that makes it a suitable target?

Books? Pink Slips? Pencil Sharpeners? Chairs and Desks? Chalk?

“No, the vending machines.”

Ok, the vending machines, the money inside of course. You mean the machines that kids put their nickels, dimes, and quarters. That seems highly inefficient, I know people who throw away coins nowadays. Also, isn’t always a big risk to break into these vending machines? I’ve seen Barbershop enough times to know that sometimes there is not always money in these things (ATM machines anyone), and then you end up with no money and a few criminal charges.

“ It’s an easy target, there’s no security at night.”

Ok, this is true. DOE has no money to pay their teachers and staff, nightwatch seems like a tall order…

That last statement triggers something in my brain, “DOE has no money.” The Department of Education, a public service that is supposed to be for all of Guahan, is something that has no bad in this world, sure they are bad teachers and administrators, but the cause for public education is something that is proven to be a successful model. See Europe and a few Latin American countries.

Why the hell would anyone want to vandalize, take, and plunder the schools that their cousins, friends, relatives, and relatives of friends go to?

Why do they want to hurt themselves, and the people who pay the majority of the taxload, the burden of more costs that it will take to fix up the schools and money in them?

Before I get on my high horse, I know that the fact that they are criminals is proof enough that they will not think about these things, such as class consciousness and the true cost of government ventures. But I think that is a huge problem, did they not watch Robin Hood when they were younger, or read it?

You take from the people who have things (Rich) and give it to the people who have nothing (Poor).

You don’t take it from the poor or kids, and give it to yourself, even if you have nothing as well. Whatever happened to Solidarity with the common man?

Or actions have consequences?

Adbuster’s mission for 2013 basically was drilling the idea that humans, as a race, do not know the consequences of our actions, the cost of human progress and economic advance and it might be too late to turn back. I hope people will start seeing that idea soon, or we should all hope and pray that there is a God to save us all.


Also the fact that they are no Vending Machines for the kids is just outrageous, they are some not-so bad teas and drinks there; it’s just not all straight up sugar sodas that they can enjoy. I loved buying drinks when I was kid from those machines, not because they were tasty to drink (they were of course), but it was fun to purchase something from the leftover change of money you used. It is like the 1st taste of personal finances when growing up.

Friday, January 31, 2014


Everyday I play a game I cannot win.

No, it’s not the lottery, there’s none of that here on Guam, or some sort masochistic process I go through for self-improvement, but it is something that hits near and dear to the heart.

The game is trying to please my 94-year old Grandfather.

 I use the word game not in the sense that it is not something to be taken seriously, because I am taking it very much so, but the “game” as in the sense Sherlock Holmes uses it, the “thrill of the hunt,” the journey.  Using past knowledge, the current mood of the situation and problems of the day, and the tools at my disposal, I try to do every caretaker’s job, especially one that is related to their patient, and make life bearable for an old and ailing individual (I do it to the best of my ability because I love him as well).

The task at hand is a bit harder than it initially sounds, and just like every good game, it looks simple at 1st but has incredibly depth. Out of the players to play this game, the game of dealing with my grandfather, the player who had the complete mastery and understanding of all the secrets and levels was my Grandmother, who passed away just about a month ago.

When my Grandfather talks about her, he often uses the word “cool… your grandmother was very cool….”

While hip for his age, he avoids that adjective a lot, and remains to only use it to describe people who he finds very agreeable to be around with. My Grandma gets associated with it the most.

Me? He says I am “cool” sometimes, but not all the time. I can certainly agree with that assessment, since being cool in his definition is being very quiet and go along with his conversations in which sometimes I am not always pleased to hear him complain, but that’s another essay though.   I am more patient than every other family member and friend in the family. If we had a veritable stat system for this I would get 95/100 in Patience, 2nd highest in the game, but my Grandma, with her higher overall experience (age in this case) and wisdom, would get a 99/100. Legendary status, an invaluable person in any “party,” and in this case, in my game, she was my support, or my number two. But with her gone, I have to fly solo.

And that makes the game harder.

At 1st this was a daunting task for me to think about, my rock so to speak was unearthed from the ground around me, what was I was going to do? Well I did the best thing that I could do, and remember the things that she would tell me. The advice that she gave me every day were tips and tricks that would help me succeed in my own gameplay later in life, and she was not shy about dishing them out. She would constantly tell me, “Jer, you need to do this!” and this “is go if you know how to do this too!” My grandmother would always look out for me, and like any good teammate, I looked out for her. I realized that I did not know at the time how invaluable her words were, hindsight is so 20/20, and wished I had the back note pages that you find in old video game manuals to write down her best advice, but I remember more than an enough to find my own path in this world.

With this knowledge though, comes also a very important revelation, and that is realizing what the game is. My Grandfather is a man who is insecure and unsure of what he wants, but is somebody who only wants it his way. He’s a like a character in a game who is your ultimate benefactor, but you need to follow protocol in handling his affairs, or like a math or philosophy riddle that takes four University Chalkboards to answer. In life though, there is no winning, there is no conveniently designed ending that rewards you after a certain amount of playtime, or content that marks the end of your journey/expansion pack.  You finish the days objective, and the next day you find yourself doing the same thing, maybe mixed with a few variables, or a lot, really depends on the day. The only winners here are not the ones who get up in the morning with Stamina, Hit Points, Gold coins (money) or some other character stat, but the ones who can get up with a smile. I think Curtis Mayfield would even agree.

Also competition sucks, especially when it deals with people’s well-being, Capitalism? Survival of the fittest? These are pretty cruel and fascist ideologies that do not foster good will towards fellow brothers and sisters, but rather perpetuate judgment.