Jun 29, 2011

Eat. Pray. Louvre

dear aap - It is almost Summer and, luck me, I'll be spending it abroad doing an exchange program in France. If it goes well I might be able to stay through the Fall semester. For me, this is the trip of a lifetime and part of the reason I picked my particular college in the first place was because of their "study abroad" programs for Upperclassmen. The problem isn't my boyfriend - well the problem isn't JUST him. He is a bit put out by the whole thing, but he knew it was a non-negotiable. He made some noises about "joining me" and I wouldn't have been totally against it, but he didn't bother planning his life - academic or otherwise - to include this trip, this opportunity. So I don't feel like that is my fault. I AM going to miss him and I am going to miss my family, friends my cat and especially my band. I think THEY are the ones I feel most badly about. If my boyfriend gets bored or stupid, he can always go out with someone else, but the band, we're just a three piece, really only works with the three of us and most of the songs and stuff are mine - so with me gone they really can't do much without me and I feel bad leaving them in the lurch, but not so bad that I would cancel my trip. Am I being selfish here? - Passport in Hand.

Dear PiH -
Easiest answer in a long time: No, you're not being selfish. GO !

...heck, if I could I would even offer you a ride to the airport. I hate to sound like the old fossil I'm becoming but here goes: Unless you're a trust fund kid, or a (very) successful Web entrepreneur, once you're out of college and neck-deep in the "real world," you don't get (m)any opportunities to spend three, or possibly even six months in Europe for any reason.

I know your world seems full of possibilities, opportunities and calls to adventure now, and that's because it IS... and those sorts of possibilities etc do NOT come around later in life... sure OTHER yet unimaginable opportunities will present themselves at later stages in life (and you should seize those too) but when it comes to the sort of thing you're describing, the term "once-in-a-lifetime" was coined for a reason.

You're level-headed about your boyfriend issue. That tells me you're a person who knows her own mind and is at least trying to live life on her own terms... hold on to that. Kiss him good-bye and mean it. As far as the band goes - You didn't make it sound like you three were on the verge of breaking BIG this Summer, so what does a 3-6 month hiatus really matter? Your band mates can work on their long-simmering "solo projects" or at the very least practice their chops, while you, you get to fill your head with new sights, sounds, smells, beats & rhythms that will probably be a strong influence on your songwriting for years (perhaps decades) to come.

...so it isn't just an "opportunity" you're almost obligated, in the name of all of us with mostly-empty passports, to go forth and explore the continent and yourself.

Safe Travels.

Jun 22, 2011

Love is in the Hair

Greetings everyone. I paired up two questions with one answer this week...

Dear ask a punk: I'm a guy and I'm only 28 and this year my hair started falling out in big clumps. For all the obvious reasons this has me totally bummed out. I've always been in bands and let's face it, no matter how pure you are about your punk rock and roll, everyone has given some thought to their hair, and most have given a lot of thought to it. I like having hair that hangs in my face when I want it to. I can still pull it off, but I know that time is running out. I'm not sure what my question is, I mean I can google for baldness cures or start taking the medicine but I don't have health insurance and probably can't afford any of that anyway. Maybe my question is, how lame am I for being so worried about this and will it affect my future as a band guy? - Thinning

Dear AAP-
The Summer is coming and I'm going to be working a hot and sweaty day job all summer and at night I'll be going out to humid, sweaty clubs to see bands and hang out with my friends. What I want to do is cut most of my hair off, more for heat reasons than fashion ones, I've always kept my hair long but I'm sure I could still pull off a cute short cut. I'm in my mid-twenties and pretty good looking. OF COURSE it seems like everyone in my life is acting like I've gone crazy. My boyfriend is all flipped and HE has had mohawks? Most of our friends male and female have all kinds of weird stuff going on with their hair, I just want to cut mine off and it is a big deal? What is with guys especially and long hair on girls? - pixie cutter

Dear Thinning & Pixie-
Hair... ahh hair. Smart people in all sorts of scientific and academic disciplines have spent whole careers trying to figure out just what it IS about hair & hair styles that makes them such a big deal to us humans. The scope of the societal (and sexual) ramifications of hair choices for both men and women are really pretty astounding when you stop to think about it... considering the fact that the hair really serves no physical or survival purpose. It is more comparable to the decorative 'plumage' on birds than it is to, say, their pin or flight feathers. So what is the big deal?

Damned if I know... but I am pretty certain about a few things, and one of them is, if you build your self-confidence and/or self-image on a foundation of hair, you're going to be in trouble sooner or later, no matter which sex you are.

Thinning - Your problem is as old as time itself, when a man's hair starts falling out it is taken (in almost every human society) as a loss of youth and virility... Having your hair go grey isn't much better, but I'm sure every bald guy would gladly swap his fate for a head full of thick grey hair. Maybe you can still pull-off the "hair in the face thing" but if you're already seeing clumps of hair in the drain then that means you're probably developing a bald spot in the back of your head where you can't see it - but everyone else can. Even if you had the cash or health insurance to cover the cost of prescription hair pills, have you read the possible SIDE EFFECTS on those things? (which include 'erectile dysfunction' by the way.) ...a clear case of the cure being worse than the ailment. You could wear a skull cap everywhere, like the Edge, or you could just start cutting your hair shorter like the vast majority of men of a certain age. A comb-over is out of the question - unless you have a supernatural amount of inherent irony. Your best bet is to just get over it. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes DON'T notice that a guy is bald? ...at least not at first? That usually has something to do with how that particular guy views himself. As cliche' as it sounds, it IS a confidence thing.

I know I definitely have a semi-advanced case of "male pattern baldness" as well as a good bit of grey hair (although I started finding grey hair at the ripe old age of 19, which I guess has something to do with my predominantly Irish genetics.) So what do I do? or rather what DID I do? ... I went with it. several years ago I bought my own pair of barber trimmers and just keep my head buzzed fairly short. It is a low-hassle, low-maintenance, no-nonsense look, and I've saved myself a ton of money that would have been spent on haircuts (and shampoo.) Heck, even when I had hair, I never liked mine much. I had a bunch of cowlicks and so, long or short, my hair never looked all that great and it certainly was never my "most appealing feature" so screw it. Truth be told, I was 100 times more devastated when I discovered (a few years ago) that I needed reading glasses. Being the ONLY member of my ENTIRE family who never needed glasses was a huge point of vanity for me... but I had to get over that too.

PIXIE's situation is at least a little bit similar... It is more about self-image than it is about "what people will think." Sure I could rant on for a few hundred words about societie's overall feelings about how long a woman's hair "should" be, but those are generalities after all. I remember dating girls with crewcuts, mohawks, and weird multi-colored home cut-and-dyes as well as girls with long 'normal' hair. Some styles just look 'right' on some people while others don't... but the bottom line with hair, as it is with fashion is: "Is the person wearing the 'look'? ...or is the 'look' wearing her/him?"

I mean, what could be LESS punk rock than giving a fu#k what someone ELSE thinks about your hair? If you really wanted to cut it short for the convenience-based reasons you mentioned, why didn't you just go ahead and DO it? ...and then, if anyone gave you any lip about it you could tell 'em to go to hell? Taking a poll of your family and friends before pulling the trigger sounds (to me) like what you're mostly seeking is attention from all these people. Seriously, it sounds like you're using the "Should I cut my hair?" question more as an excuse to create some drama than anything else. Are you trying to come up with some excuse to break up with your boyfriend if he hassles you about your shorn locks? Are you hoping he'll break up with you because if it, so you don't have to break up with him? I mean it is JUST FREAKIN' HAIR and in your case (unlike in 'Thinning's case) you can always grow it back in a few months if you don't like it. Aren't there bigger things to worry about? Or at the very least more interesting things for you and your family/friends to talk about? What is your TRUE motivation behind all this?

Yeesh people. Come on.

Jun 15, 2011

Say Yes to the Stress

dear ask a punk - Your letter last week hit on something I think a lot of us are going through, but I think it was a bit simplistic. The paycheck was only one of the things I lost when I lost my job. I lost a part of my identity, my status in the community and a certain amount of status in my own home. I don't see a lot of that coming back any time soon either. So this time around people aren't just forced to find new jobs, they're forced to redefine themselves and also, in most cases, set the bar a little lower for their hopes and dreams. I think our citizens needed a reality check and now we've gotten it, the question is: What's next? - Simplified

Dear Simplified

What's next? If I really had the answer to that, I would be doing much better myself. I don't disagree with you though, one of the problems with our previously mentioned 'consumer culture' is that all those credit cards and 'easy money' allowed a lot of people to avoid the reality of their economic situation by spending more than they had and/or being able to get a home loan that any reasonably sane person could see was a bad idea.

What's next could be an awakening bordering on a new Renaissance or it could be a complete collapse of the current system complete with blood in the streets and neighborhood gun battles over clean water... I think it is likely that what's really next will fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, at least I hope so... but I am doing a bit of stockpiling of water purification tablets, solar rechargers, ...and bullets.

As far as your situation goes, I can understand how that loss of 'status' can affect people, myself included. But the truth is, estimations of our self-worth should be based on something deeper than how big a stack of green pieces of paper we can accumulate. It gets back to basic needs. We Americans feel like $100/month cable TV is a basic need, but tell that to the 1 billion+ people on the planet who have to spend 70% of their day just finding and hauling that day's drinking water.

We need to wake up, and once we do, we need to do something more than complain about being woken up from our unsustainable dream(s.) I'm not saying all this uncertainty and change isn't scary (let me tell you about my currently monumental insomnia problem) but it is better to embrace the new, weird future than complain about the lost golden mirage of a past.

I have been ranting on this a lot lately, haven't I ??

Jun 8, 2011

Lack is Beautiful

Dear Ask A Punk- So far 2011 hasn't been any better than 2010. Like everyone else trying to make their way in a medium-sized but surprisingly expensive city after lay-offs and stuff, I find I can still "get by" but that is about it. In fact it is getting harder to get by in spite of all the personal cutting back I have done. There isn't much more that can be cut back. While this is a scary situation to be in, a part of me also feels like it was time for this to happen... and I don't mean just to me, I mean it feels like the shit has finally hit the fan for the wasteful lifestyle we were all living, me included. I'm not a hippie or anything, I just think it might be a lesson we needed to learn. I used to go out drinking and spending money and seeing shows, stay home where drinking is cheaper, invite over some friends and play music or videogames or something. We're written tons of songs and stuff for no reason other than it is fun. So IS this the upside to all the crap we're going through? - USA-

Dear USA -

You might be on to something. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but poverty is the mother of free time, that is for sure. The trick is to SEE that (as you have) and use that downtime constructively. Of course, "constructively" can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I might suggest that some of your copious downtime be used to help other people somehow, through volunteering for a cause you hold dear, creating a space for more people to use their downtime constructively or even just teaching one kid how to make a 'D' chord. Know what I mean?

You're right that, as a culture (a 'consumer culture') we've collectively spent a lot of time chasing happiness and trying to spend our way into fulfillment only to discover that these things are easier to 'catch' if we just sit still, breathe deep and sort of trap them when they come to us. Regular readers will know that I have been "under-employed" for longer than I care to admit, and it is really starting to wear on me, however: a part of me has never been happier, I have more time for my friends, my significant other and my own creative pursuits, including night-times where, if I was working more I would feel the urge/need to go out and spend cash and do more 'external' things... none of which would be nearly as fulfilling as reading a good book, writing a bad book, jamming with friends or taking a long-ass walk. ... of course I've never been a spendthrift, but if I was to suddenly land a big-dollar job tomorrow, I have trouble imaging that I would forget these lessons overnight. I think (or perhaps hope) that my fellow countrymen are feeling the same... I mean, SHOULD an economy be based on a model that says, basically - in order for the country to function, everyone has to almost immediately spend most of their hard-earned $$ on things they don't really need?

The sad part is that, of course the rich are still getting richer and the previously-not-quite-poor are getting poorer, but that is a rant for another day. Keep doing your best, keep an eye on your budget and when things start looking up for you, me, and everyone else, try not to forget this stuff.

Jun 1, 2011

The Sound and the Furry

dear aap:
My band is starting to play out-of-town gigs so you know what that means, getting in the van or in our case a mini-van and loading up the gear and going out for a few days or weeks at a time. Eventually going out for months at a time, we hope. The problem is one of our band members has insisted on packing his 'furry' costume and looking for other furries wherever we're doing a show. We all knew he was kind of weird because we've all known each other for years, but this is more than any of expected, so do you let it go on or do you throw someone out of the band for something like this? - SD&R&R

Dear SD&R&R

While I'm 85% sure this question is a put-on, I think it touches on a basic truth and raises a common issue that anyone at that stage in their band's lifecycle is likely to run into.

On more than one occasion I've described the experience of putting together and/or being in a band as being very similar to dating & establishing a relationship, only more difficult because you're not just dealing with 2 humans and their personalities/issues/desires... but with three or five, (or seven?) other people. When you start out you just want to link up with people who share your views/opinions/tastes in music and hopefully want to accomplish the same things that you want to with this 'band' entity you're conjuring into existence. If you clear THAT hurdle then you've got a band that can stand practicing with each other and can get along well enough with each other to play gigs around town... Which means showing up on time, spending an evening together rocking out and then everyone goes home to their neutral corners.

But if you're all determined and ambitious enough there comes a point where you're going to have to take your show on the road, for days, weeks or possibly even months at a time. This is a lot like finally moving in with a girl/boyfriend in that, you now all have to co-exist on a whole new level... including during what would normally be down, or personal time. You're going to learn things about each other that weren't even part of the equation in the earlier stages of the relationship/band. The kind of things that have nothing to do with music and everything to do with personalities & personal habits. Hygiene, sleep patterns, drug and lifestyle choices ... all of these things are potential landmines for any band (of individuals) who is taking that next step together.

That transition from 'playing gigs around town' to being a 'road band' is one of the many places that aspiring bands discover, to their dismay, that they can't go any further together... Clashes over the previously mentioned issues might be insurmountable if the people involved are selfish, inflexible or a danger to themselves (or others.) In your particular (and possibly imaginary) case, I would say this: I don't think your bandmate's "lifestyle choices" are a good reason, by themselves, to throw him/her out of the band. That said, IF those choices (and again, they could be lifestyle choices, hygienic choices or drug choices etc) have a direct impact on their performance/abilities as a musician and bandmate THEN you have every right to toss that person out of the group. ...but, I'm sure you're saying, what if you're just weirded out by a bandmate's behavior? ...it isn't directly affecting the band, but indirectly it is putting you, or someone else in the band, off... In that case you have to examine your own hang-ups. Are YOU the problem? How does everyone else feel about this? Are you (or they) REALLY personally wigged out by this person's choices, or are you just worried that you'll look bad as a band, if your friends/fans/supporters find out about this one guy's particular kink? ...and if so, aren't we beyond that? I mean at least by now MOST folks of our ilk have gotten over their homophobia and all of THAT nonsense, so do the Furries now have to stay in the closet?

Hope that answers your question.