Skanking To The Oldies

Specials

Memory and music travel hand in hand, popping up in strange places, creating feelings associated with a certain time period, song or band. One of the musical high points in my life came in 1979 with the arrival of punk, new wave and ska in my neighborhood. Bands like Devo, the B-52s and Talking Heads are now forever associated with the passion and joy generated during this explosion of musical creativity.

The three-headed monster of punk, new wave and ska (and there were many other exploding heads as well) came at me from many directions. Punk was simple, loud and fast, often political and associated with outlandish fashions. New wave was a bit broader in spectrum but often boiled down to synth-based poppy dance music, often with a quirk, and Flock of Seagulls hair (eyeliner optional). Ska was the least prolific of the three in the US, developing a small fan base of pork-pie-hat-with-black-and-white-houndstooth-clad enthusiasts. This music originated in Jamaica in the late 50s as reggae’s peppier cousin, re-exploding in the late 70s faster than ever (thanks to punk) with a strong emphasis on off-beats. Bands involved in this ska rebirth included The Specials, The English Beat, Madness and The Selecter.

ska fashion

Tastes change over time and 40 years later I no longer enjoy some of the music that made 17-year-old me twist and contort like an enraged emu (some called it dancing). However, certain bands still hit 54-year-old me as hard as they did those many years ago. The Specials are one of those bands. In fact, if I was forced to choose my favorite song ever, it might well be A Message to You Rudy off of The Specials self-titled first album. With the first few notes of the introduction I’m transported to the summer of 1979, a “new wave” dance party and an enchanting time of musical discovery. It’s still one of my go-to songs in gloomy times.

Musically, The Specials features the Caribbean influences characteristic of early ska (especially in the drums and walking bass lines) mixed with fast tempos, percussive guitar, cheesy keyboard, and a general miasma of happiness (even in the face of serious lyrics). Unemployment, poverty and racial tension affected many Brits in the seventies, and youth used music, particularly punk and ska, as a means of illuminating and combating these issues. The Specials were known for their stand against racism, and they actively tried to racially integrate their listeners. Their song lyrics reflected racial and other divisions.

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While racism is a topic in many of the album’s songs, clashes between other contentious groups are also addressed.

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For those who don’t speak British, teds, or teddy boys, are associated with rockabilly, natty dreads partake of reggae, mods listen to rock rooted in the early 60s, skinheads are militant punk rockers and the National Front is a far-right political movement. Tensions between groups simmered just below a boil. But, ideally, they could all come together in the world created by The Specials.

For me this music is happily nostalgic, but it’s also intoxicating, dance-inducing and highly listenable. Check this one out. Toe tapping is required, skanking is optional.

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Skanking

Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals

cookwithoutHmmm…. I wanted to write a review that isn’t a review for the cookbook Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals by Pam Anderson. But any comments I write would be reviewing the book, so that doesn’t work! The principle behind the book is to show you that once you master a cooking formula, you open up a world of variations to help you break free of “cooking BY the book.” The recipes in the book are actually just a suggestion for ingredients and amounts, and you can add or subtract ingredients to accommodate your own tastes. Learn the technique for the item, be it soup, frittata, hash or quiche (just to name a few!), and you can whip up any of these later without dragging out a cook book!

How Cycling Can Save the World

You may think Peter Walker, author of How Cycling Can Save the World, is engaging in hyperbole with the title of his book. But he actually makes a case for cycling curing everything that ails us and the world (and perhaps even washing the dishes when it’s done). Does this seem too much like ‘As Seen on TV?’ Wait, there’s more!

Think roads are too crowded and traffic is too heavy? Imagine if more of us were cycling how much volume in steel would be removed from the roads.

Worried about the environment? Fewer car trips equal less consumption of fossil fuel and improvement in air quality because of the reduction in emissions. Fewer cars need fewer asphalt parking spots leaving more green spaces.

Have you put on a few pounds and need some exercise but don’t feel you have the time? Cycling can use time you spend driving somewhere already, so you arrive at your destination and you’ve had a workout. No worries about going to the gym!

Feel unsafe on a bicycle? More bicycles on the road bring more awareness of cyclists, making the roads safer. Pedestrians become safer too. Walker compares death and accident statistics in countries including the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark. As you can guess, ours are not good. And I hate to tell you, but eating junk food and sitting in front of the tv (and, of course, zombies) are more likely to kill you than a bicycle accident.

Want to get to know your neighbors or build a sense of community? Cycling allows you to see and engage with your surroundings in a more intimate way than glimpsing them out your window as you speed by. You can make more friends, too.

Interested in cycling but maybe a little nervous or hesitant? There’s a group ride this weekend: Tour de EFD. You might enjoy it so much, you’ll be selling your car on Craigslist next weekend.

America Undone

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel….a little itchy and anxious to be honest.

It is possible that I enjoyed myself an inappropriate amount while reading Omar El Akkad’s American War. The title probably betrays this fact, but this is not exactly a delightful romp. Set in the late 21st Century during the second Civil War, this novel 32283423presents an upsetting and eerily plausible portrayal of our near future. Ostensibly this war is fought over a national ban on fossil fuels, but the roots of the conflict creep far deeper into the national psyche, playing on centuries old resentments and cultural differences (but good news – “proud, pacifist Cascadia” is far from the front lines).

American War follows the life of a young woman named Sarat, born into a chaotic South devastated by flooding, famine, war, and the worst elements of humanity. Sarat spends her formative years in a refugee camp, witnessing both the fanatical partisanship of the Southern rebels and the cruel indifference of the Northern war machine. As Sarat grows older, she finds herself drawn into the war that has defined her existence, becoming an agent of death that will help shape history and bring about grave and devastating consequences.

So, yeah, I realize that doesn’t sound terribly cheery, but El Akkad’s deft narrative style sucked me deep into this novel. By mixing Sarat’s story with government dispatches, oral reports, written records and other “source material,” American War had the feel of an upsetting historical account. At the same time I found myself without context, unsure of how events would unfold and where bias existed in the presentation, but still burdened by the full knowledge of these events terrible impact.

Station_Eleven_CoverPerhaps I have a morbid streak as I have always enjoyed dark and disastrous accounts of imagined futures. For me, the immediate comparison for American War is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Like American War, Station Eleven presents our future in stark and frightening terms – it follows a travelling Shakespearean troupe in the years after a viral pandemic devastates humanity, leaving only scattered pockets of survivors in its wake. It also shares American War’s storytelling technique, incorporating various source materials from before, during, and after the height of the catastrophe.

World_War_Z_book_coverI feel compelled to also mention World War Z, by Max Brooks. Please don’t judge this book because of the movie based on it. Designed to be read as an oral history, each section is narrated by a different survivor of a zombie apocalypse, describing responses and containment attempts by different groups across the globe. With this narrative Brooks crafts a book that is as much a consideration of international relations as it is a zombie novel. Rather than a work of horror, this is a novel of logistics and strategy in the face of terrible catastrophe. If you enjoy audiobooks, this title makes a particularly great listen as many talented and diverse voices were cast to portray the book’s narrators.

unwindNow, I’m a Youth Services Librarian and I just talked about three ADULT novels, so I have to plug some YA. The Unwind series by Neal Shusterman takes place after a second American civil war fought over reproductive rights. When partisan militias fight to a stalemate, a compromise is reached. Though abortion is outlawed, unwanted children between ages 13 and 18 can be “unwound,” a process through which they are physically dismantled and recycled for transplants. The justification for this macabre policy is that every part of the unwound teenagers is reused, and therefore the body lives on. I realize that this premise sounds as absurd as it is disgusting, but Shusterman is a masterful writer and takes the time to illustrate how this policy slowly developed at the hands of well-meaning policy makers. By the end of the series it feels a little too plausible for my comfort.

ashfallpb_hiresMike Mullin’s Ashfall also does a superb job portraying societal collapse. Ashfall follows a teen after the (very real) supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park erupts. Spoiler alert: things don’t go well unless you’re a fan of sunless days, endless winter, famine, and roving gangs of cannibals. Despite a whole lot of death and destruction, this is an enjoyable and ultimately hopeful series. Scientists confidently assert that this supervolcano won’t erupt anytime soon. Probably.

136471._SX1280_QL80_TTD_Finally, before I leave to ponder our impending ruin, I just want to mention one graphic novel. Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra follows a twenty something slacker named Yorick and his pet monkey after a mysterious virus leaves them the only two living males of any species. Chaos quickly ensues and it is awesome.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short walk from “great book” to “WE’RE ALL DOOMED.” If you need me, I’ll be taking deep breaths and either hiding under a desk or stockpiling canned goods.

The Book Jumper

Bibliophile: bib·lio·phile \ˈbi-blē-ə-ˌfī(-ə)l\: noun :a person who collects or has a great love of books. SEE ALSO: Carol.

Now that you know my soul, you’ll understand that I initially picked up The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser because I was captivated by the gorgeous cover. A teenage girl appears to pop out of the pages of an open book, where she finds a knight made out of story pages. There are swirls of magic, and bright stars pop in contrast against the blue background.

It’s gorgeous. And the story is even more so.

Amy Lennox and her mom have been living in Germany until they abruptly pack what they can and leave for the Scottish island of Stormsay. They’re going to stay with Amy’s maternal grandmother, Lady Mairead, who insists that Amy read while she stays with her at Lennox House. But it’s not just any sort of reading. Amy was born a book jumper and requires training to fulfill her potential–and she’s literally years behind other book jumpers her age.

Book jumpers can jump into the stories inside books and interact with the world contained within. Her training requires that she not interfere with the story, but her curiosity gets the better of her and soon she’s befriending characters and seeing the story from a different angle. However, it’s not all fun and games, as Amy soon learns that someone has been stealing from the books, essential pieces of important stories that will crumble unless everything is returned. To make matters worse, it seems as though Amy may be in danger herself.

Can she trust her fellow students? Has her grandmother gone batty? Or is someone else sneaking into the literary worlds they are sworn to protect at all costs?

I was absolutely delighted with the magic in this world. The training to hone Amy’s book jumper skills is detailed and consistent. I really love when an author can build a magic system that doesn’t contradict itself–that totally takes me out of the story. Between trying to solve the mystery of the literary thefts and wondering if Amy was going to hook up with fellow book jumper Will, I was skipping sleep in favor of turning the pages until there were no more left to turn.

If that wasn’t compelling enough, I started looking at the books around my house and imagining what it would be like to be thrust into the worlds contained inside the bindings. Danger, romance, magic, and adventure would await around every corner. And the same is true for those who read The Book Jumper.

Anyone who considers themselves a bibliophile is going to want to curl up with The Book Jumper. But you might want to keep a paperweight on your copy of Dracula.  You know. Just in case vampires can jump out of books now.

Hard to Hide Crazy

I’m crazy. I can say that. I’ve been tested and found insane. I mean, it wasn’t an inkblot test where I see a cloudy black splotch and say it’s obviously Charles Manson teaching a fish how to fold fitted sheets. The test was more like a doctor asking me “How long have you felt this way (this way being medical talk for “depressed)?” I answered “All my life. And whatever lives I’ve lived before if reincarnation is actually a thing.” I know people will frown on me for equating depression with the term ‘crazy’ because when people hear the word ‘crazy’ they think of toothless people who smell like urine yelling at a wall while addressing it as Mr. Stalin.

I call myself crazy because it’s oddly more acceptable than admitting I’m in a decades long battle with mental illness and all I’m armed with is a spork and a smart mouth. And for a VERY long time I hid my anxiety/depression from a lot of people, even some members of my family not only because I was (am?) ashamed of it, but because I didn’t want to get the ‘look.’ You know the one I’m talking about. A couple people, friends or co-workers, find out you struggle with a mental illness and they raise an eyebrow in a way that says “That explains A LOT.”

Along with the look is the way some people will treat you, like you’re fragile: stumbling on the edge of something horrible and the next thing they say will send you right over the edge so they speak to you like you’re a freaked out cat hiding under the bed with a rubber band wrapped around its tail. I’m not fragile. Not outwardly. I’m funny and an extrovert while I’m at work. Well, at least I think I’m funny. I can sometimes hear my boss sigh like ‘Oh my God, dial it down a notch, Jennifer.’ I’m not totally out of the depression closet but I don’t go up to strangers and say “I get sad for reasons I will probably never understand.” I don’t let my crazy show too soon. You gotta dole that stuff out bit by bit.

When I started reading Eric Lindstrom’s A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, I recognized and fell in love with Mel Hannigan, a 16-year-old girl with bipolar depression. I’m not bipolar but I empathized with everything Mel was going through. She had an older brother named Nolan who was also bipolar. She never comes out and says he died, but I don’t think me writing that fact is a spoiler alert. She and her mother have moved to a house left to them by Mel’s grandma shortly after Nolan’s death.

Mel’s Aunt Joan has moved in with them. Mel calls her HJ (Hurricane Joan) because she suffers from bipolar depression as well. I’m no expert but here’s the low-down on bipolar depression: not all people experience it in the same way. Some people get bitchin’ highs, the manic side of bipolar, and they’re so full of energy they don’t sleep for days. They have all of these ideas and plans and they’re going going going. And then they crash into a deep depression. Mel keeps track of her moods in a clever way (that I think I might steal): She refers to her moods by referring to them as animals:

Hamster is Active

Hummingbird is Hovering

Hammerhead is Cruising

Hanniganimal is UP!

The Hamster is her head, her pattern and speed of thinking. The Hummingbird is her heart, how fast it’s beating or ‘speeding.’ The Hammerhead is her physical health: “Cruising when I’m fine, slogging or thrashing if I’m sick.”

Mel works in a retirement home and has a special knack with older people. There’s Dr. Jordan, a retired psychiatrist who is the only person outside her family who knows about her mental illness. He checks in on her without pressuring her and she’s comfortable talking with him. There’s a new resident who just moved in, Ms. Li, who has a grandson named David who seems like a jerk at first. But there’s a definite attraction between him and Mel.

That’s another thing that worries her: relationships and her mental illness. It’s not an exaggeration to say that some people will head for the hills as soon as they find out you have depression/or are bipolar. Or even if a relationship is working out, the fear is very real that your significant other will get bored or fed up with your brain and will leave. Mel’s not even sure a relationship would work with anyone.

And friendships are also a problem. Someone you thought of as your best friend can call you a bummer and say adios. It’s a risk. A year ago Mel had a group of friends she was joined at the hip with. Annie, Connor, and Zumi. Annie was the alpha of the group and I’ll go ahead and say it: she was a real manipulative bitch. If something didn’t interest her or had nothing to do with her, she’d ignore it, even if it’s something that mattered to a friend. Mel’s not really fond of her but Zumi is in love with Annie even though her love is egged on by Annie but unrequited. Zumi is Mel’s best friend along with Connor who seems to play the role of the only dude in a trio of girls.

Mel never tells them that she had a brother named Nolan. She also doesn’t tell them about her bipolar depression because she is a little ashamed of it and she doesn’t know how they would react. Then something happens that ends the friendships, leaving Mel out in the cold. A year later Mel makes two new friends, Declan and Holly. She doesn’t tell them either. I get it. When you keep something that big from friends or family members, you feel like you’re protecting them. And at the same time, you feel like you’re protecting yourself.

But Mel’s past makes an unwanted appearance when she thinks she’s coping pretty well and doing everything she can to deal with her mental illness. She begins to amp up, the illness taking over her mind, to the point of no return for her.

Eric Lindstrom’s beautifully written book about mental illness is a must read for anyone struggling with depression and for loved ones who want to help and understand the illness better. Not only is it a good story in itself, but it’s also a way to help others open up and ask for help.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my medication.

My Raccoon is half asleep

Otter is swimming

Squirrel is snacking.

No seriously, there’s a damn squirrel in the bird feeder again.

Love Rock Revolution

Love Rock

Generally I assert that all change is bad. However, change within art forms is an exception to this iron-clad rule. The most fascinating moments in the music world happen when techniques change, when new ideas are introduced. In popular music one of those moments occurred in the late 70s when mainstream rock/pop became so bloated and corporate-driven that the unwashed masses started a grassroots movement that became known as punk.

The heart of the punk rock movement was not found in a particular sound or lyric but in an idea: Anyone can make music! Thus, the do-it-yourself revolution came about. Punk bands exploded in the UK, to a lesser extent in the US, and other DIY subgenres such as no wave also reared up their ugly heads. Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music by Mark Baumgarten is a charming book that looks at one branch of the anyones who made and continue to make music in the spirit of the punk revolution.

Led by leather-jacketed anarchists, teens ignited London in a burst of figurative flames. Meanwhile, in a small fishing village on the coast of Washington state… Well, actually in the capital city of Olympia, a different kind of musical revolution began, one that many of us are not so familiar with. ‘Round about 1982 Calvin Johnson began releasing cassettes on his label, K Records, out of Olympia. As a teenager, Calvin was transformed by punk rock, but as a music maker his tastes went in a slightly different direction.

When Johnson put together his band Beat Happening in 1982, none of the members were experienced musicians. This typifies the punk/DIY mindset. But the music that they created, while simple and non-technical, had little in common with punk sonically. Lo-fi recording techniques, the band’s lack of instrumental skills, Johnson’s deep voice – all these factors contributed to a new sound which has been called lo-fi, twee pop and indie pop. Often described as childlike or sweet, Beat Happening’s music is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it kind of a deal.

As time passed, Johnson recorded other bands, began selling vinyl, distributed for yet other bands, and slowly increased the traffic of K Records. Meanwhile, through national and international connections, he also significantly contributed to the development of independent music, an influence that continues to be strong 35 years later.

To name but a few of the accomplishments that came out of K Records:

  • The inclusion of women in rock music: The riot grrrl movement, which later became associated with the Kill Rock Stars label, originated at K Records. Concerts put on by the label were inclusive of female performers.
  • All-age performances all of the time: Johnson would not perform in venues unless they were open to all ages, and he continued this philosophy when booking concert events for K bands.
  • Artists receive 50% of profits made from record sales: This was an unheard of split when the label started, but Johnson considered it imperative. Also, business is done on a handshake rather than with a written contract.

Love Rock Revolution is highly entertaining and informative, an enjoyable read on one aspect of the PNW music scene. If you’re looking for other related materials, try The Punk Singer, a documentary about Kathleen Hanna and the riot grrrl movement, or The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge. And be sure to check out our selection of Local CDs. Enjoy!

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