Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before* (Revisited)

Let me tell you a story.

It involves a white male born in a steadily prospering town to a slowly prospering family. His father, the first in his Irish family to attend college, like his wife, was raised Catholic.

This young boy played soccer, listened to music, read any book he could get his eyes on and went to a public school amongst kids whose names he could not always pronounce.

He served, faithfully, as an altar boy and developed a profound appreciation—and respect—for tradition and ritual, a lingering humility regarding forces and impulses larger and not entirely conceivable.

He was, and remains, comfortable with how much he does not know, as a visitor on a planet that expands outward each second, into infinity.

He was encouraged by parents who, more than once, reassured him that his curiosity would never dissipate so long as his capacity for learning did not abate.

He talked, listened and learned.

Looking back, the habits and routines inculcated inside his impressionable mind served as a foundation for who he’d become: flawed, tolerant, empathetic, insatiable, in love with the gift of life.

The pursuit of higher education, even as it necessarily exposed him to classes, books and teachers that ardently challenged—and often contradicted—many of the precepts he was once instructed to emulate, was a priority. It was the gradual, not always painless process of understanding the ways he could not, and should not share his parents’ perspectives in every matter that secured the respect for them he solidified as an increasingly independent adult.

The exposure to religion and the example set by his mother and father ingrained an acute solidarity with underdogs and the dispossessed. The charities he has supported (HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE) reflect the causes and crises he endorses and decries.

He appraised the often enigmatic, occasionally debilitating specter of depression that stalked relatives on either side like a demented daemon; this condition a wind-whipped and sun-scorched flag planted deep alongside his family tree, a genetic calling card he has had, at times, a more than casual acquaintance with, obliging him to check himself lest he wreck himself.

Too much eyewitness to illness drove him to learn more than he might have cared to know about cancer, leukemia, and the various, run-of-the-mill maladies that all the doctors and dollars in the world can’t completely shield us from. This cognizance, coupled with an ineradicable conscience forged on altars and inside confessionals, further amplified an appreciation of how fortunate anyone is to be born in a first world country. To be born a healthy white male a blessing, just as being alive at all is an obligation—at once sacred and secular—to interrogate, expand, live: to abhor the self-indulgence of ennui and cultivate antidotes to quiet desperation—by any means necessary. To explore the creative impulse he could never fully fathom or explain, and expedite that dialogue (with himself, with others) by writing down those thoughts, images, feelings and fears; sharing them, so that as soon as they escape their frail human vessel they are free, without any power to scare or sabotage. To express emotions, allowing the heart to breathe and the mind to swim, the body a humble temple unto itself: a self-portrait of a work perpetually in progress. To encourage these sensations inside oneself so that they might awaken feelings in someone else, some not yet born and others alive but no longer living.

*So here’s the part where I address you, gentle reader.

First off, thanks for reading this blog. I resisted the blog thing for years because so many of the ones I read were either uninspired or a public airing of dirty (or worse, boring) personal laundry. Diaries and journals are kept in bedside drawers for a reason: they are an act of catharsis, celebration or introspection –or, at least, interrogation– that is best kept private. Remember when they used to actually come with locks on them? Do they still do that? Do they still make diaries anymore? Maybe I’m just old school. Here’s how I put it back in 2009 when I first considered the fact that I had, in fact, become one of those people who could use the word blog as a verb. Over five years later (this blog commenced in November, 2008) I think the sentiment still applies:

Blogs are, or can be, like diaries.

Except that diaries, by nature, are private. Which begs the question: do people who blog censor or soften the observations, complaints or critiques that in other times would exist inside a document designed to remain unread by others? (Or more to the point, should they?) To be certain, only a few years ago, thoughts like the ones I’m about to express would have been safely ensconced inside a journal, not read by anyone else, even including myself (I don’t often return to old journals, hopefully because I’m too busy living in the here and now). And for whatever it’s worth, I am humble enough to know that modest numbers of people visit this blog, and I have enough sense (or self-respect) to instinctively acknowledge that nobody is well served by overly earnest airing of personal trivia.

Put another way, I don’t begrudge anyone else documenting every last detail of their existences (no matter how mundane or mawkish); I simply remain uninterested in reading about it. In that regard, blogs are self-regulating: if you don’t write things that others will find interesting, you won’t have an audience. And who cares anyway? In that regard, blogs are like diaries: people post on them because they want to, or need to, and the concept of friends or strangers reading their innermost thoughts won’t necessarily hamper their willingness to compose. Still, only the sensation-seekers looking for notoriety (usually the already famous, and even those folks have a shelf-life of about six months) go out of their way to wax solipsistic in a public forum.

All that being said, I was already publishing regular thoughts on music, movies and literature (alongside the occasional sociopolitical soap-boxery) at PopMatters –a site I encourage you to check out– so keeping a blog was not unlike working out: it was a way to keep in shape, mentally, and push myself to put thoughts in a semi-coherent form for a public forum. This is an endeavor that obliges you to edit with extreme prejudice: once you’ve written something that goes into the electronic universe, it stays written. I’m mostly delighted to consider that I’ve written a great deal of material that otherwise would have been lost to e-mails, conversations or that creative impulse killer, apathy. We should all do our best to remain allergic to apathy, because we owe it to ourselves and the world. Obviously.

Anyway, I was eventually humbled to acknowledge that the next formal project I’d been preparing to tackle, as a novel, could –and should– be a non-fiction piece. Indeed, once I realized this (after several years of false starts, frustration and best intentions), I wished it had occurred to me sooner. And it was then that it dawned on me that I likely would not have been able to conceive of writing a memoir if I had not been blogging. Non-fiction and personal essays were not foreign territory, but a sustained examination of life and how it’s lived (including death and how to live through it when it rocks your world) turns out to be the best real-time training for getting one’s mind –and pen– around a full-length, unfettered attempt to make sense out of deeply, if not profoundly personal things. And then you realize (you are always realizing as you write, or think, or talk) that a great many of these matters are universal: we all wonder who we are, where we’re going and where our loved ones may or may not go when they are no longer here. It not only seems possible, but oddly appropriate to embrace the audacity of putting it out there, so to speak. Best intentions clash against execution and at a certain point it’s out of your hands: other people will determine if the work in question works. It is at once intimidating and liberating, the way it should be for anyone who puts words on paper.

Just about three years later that memoir regular readers of this blog were already familiar with: Please Talk About Me When I’m Gone, has gone from idea to execution. The continued plan for 2014 is to see this sucker reach an audience beyond the vital Friends & Family network. I will continue to give a healthy portion of profits –and all profits from all public events– to a handful of awesome cancer-oriented charities. (More on that, here: http://seanmurphy.net/please-talk-about-me-when-im-gone/about-memoir/.)

Social networking and word-of-mouth will, naturally, play a hopefully-prominent role in disseminating the project and then who knows what might happen. If you’ve read it, please consider leaving a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads.com –it helps! If you have opinions, advice, connections or cautionary tales, I welcome your thoughts anytime (contact me privately or feel free to put comments below). Simply put, this thing is not going to design, market or endorse itself; if you’ve gleaned anything positive from my writing thus far, you can do me the biggest service by helping my mission become something I could never accomplish on my own. And in the final analysis, that is the secret not only of writing, but of living. Right?

To be continued…

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Innovation vs. Information Overload (Revisited)

information_overload_by_sculmully1-300x225

Louis CK’s eloquent rant on smartphones quickly went viral and is already considered an instant classic.

We should appreciate the opportunity to engage in this debate: are our electronic devices, so miraculous on so many levels, doing more harm than good?

I recently had lunch with a former professor and he commented that his students have, in recent years, had a difficult time paying attention. He has taught for over three decades, so his perspective is at once informed and somewhat alarming. He wondered how the “plugged-in” generation will adapt to the workforce. Would young adults in, say, the service industry, find it liberating or torturous to be forbidden access to their mobile devices?

There are no easy answers here, of course. Over the last century, we’ve heard pessimistic voices of experience predict the ways phonographs, then televisions, then video games, and then smartphones would impair our ability to concentrate, or even connect on a basic human level. To be sure, it is always a complicated equation: for every technological advancement there are obvious, even legitimate concerns.

Personally, I don’t think the primary issue here involves devices so much as ubiquity of content, a very 21st Century development. Whether intended—or dismissed—as forms of enlightenment or distraction, there is no doubt that we have quick, easy access to data that would have been inconceivable only a decade ago. Information overload may seem an archaic concept, but it is a very real, mounting concern.

The idea of us doing more things with less time, particularly in the workplace, is not a new phenomenon. Our proclivity for compulsive behavior, be it on the job or at play, is skewered to excellent effect in this old skit.

This had to be made in the early ‘90s because it nails the last vestiges of the old world order: the phones, the fax machine, the suspenders and especially the rolodex. This skit could not be set up the same way today for the simple reason that no office looks like that today. And while it’s amusing to see this harried office manager acting like the proverbial mouse on the wheel, it is disconcerting to consider we are, arguably, operating at a more frenetic pace today, and we scarcely need to move a muscle. All that activity occurs in one centralized place: the monitor of whatever device we are using. The activities this agitated worker bee is engaging in (still called multi-tasking, one presumes) are all occurring now; they merely appear more innocuous because they are trapped in electronic ether, a direct line between our devices and our brains.

Suddenly it’s slightly more unnerving to consider that if, like myself, it’s not uncommon for you to have more than ten windows open at any given time, along with Outlook, a spreadsheet and one or two documents, perhaps music playing, you are doing more than we are accustomed, or capable of doing. This is all happening, all day, inside our heads, and is this not a more intense—and damaging—type of information overload? It’s no wonder if, like myself, at least once a day you open a new window to look something up, get momentarily sidetracked (say, you see the window you’d previously opened and remember you need to finish that task or knock out that email) and then, when you turn back to the welcome screen for a fresh window, have no earthly idea what is was you meant to look for.

Perhaps we should be concerned less about gadgets and the ways we have managed, in these interesting and uncertain times, to outsmart ourselves into being busier every single day. Is this a trend we can slow down? Should we? Or are we advancing our evolution, fast-tracking an ability to connect, communicate and yes, commiserate, in a fashion previously unimagined? Most likely, it need (or should) not be an either/or; what we should try to avoid is blaming innovation and technology for symptoms and problems we’ve created all by ourselves.

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Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before*

mini-murph-224x300

Let me tell you a story.

It involves a white male born in a steadily prospering town to a slowly prospering family. His father, the first in his Irish family to attend college, like his wife, was raised Catholic.

This young boy played soccer, listened to music, read any book he could get his eyes on and went to a public school amongst kids whose names he could not always pronounce.

He served, faithfully, as an altar boy and developed a profound appreciation—and respect—for tradition and ritual, a lingering humility regarding forces and impulses larger and not entirely conceivable.

He was, and remains, comfortable with how much he does not know, as a visitor on a planet that expands outward each second, into infinity.

He was encouraged by parents who, more than once, reassured him that his curiosity would never dissipate so long as his capacity for learning did not abate.

He talked, listened and learned.

Looking back, the habits and routines inculcated inside his impressionable mind served as a foundation for who he’d become: flawed, tolerant, empathetic, insatiable, in love with the gift of life.

The pursuit of higher education, even as it necessarily exposed him to classes, books and teachers that ardently challenged—and often contradicted—many of the precepts he was once instructed to emulate, was a priority. It was the gradual, not always painless process of understanding the ways he could not, and should not share his parents’ perspectives in every matter that secured the respect for them he solidified as an increasingly independent adult.

The exposure to religion and the example set by his mother and father ingrained an acute solidarity with underdogs and the dispossessed. The charities he has supported (HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE) reflect the causes and crises he endorses and decries.

He appraised the often enigmatic, occasionally debilitating specter of depression that stalked relatives on either side like a demented daemon; this condition a wind-whipped and sun-scorched flag planted deep alongside his family tree, a genetic calling card he has had, at times, a more than casual acquaintance with, obliging him to check himself lest he wreck himself.

Too much eyewitness to illness drove him to learn more than he might have cared to know about cancer, leukemia, and the various, run-of-the-mill maladies that all the doctors and dollars in the world can’t completely shield us from. This cognizance, coupled with an ineradicable conscience forged on altars and inside confessionals, further amplified an appreciation of how fortunate anyone is to be born in a first world country. To be born a healthy white male a blessing, just as being alive at all is an obligation—at once sacred and secular—to interrogate, expand, live: to abhor the self-indulgence of ennui and cultivate antidotes to quiet desperation—by any means necessary. To explore the creative impulse he could never fully fathom or explain, and expedite that dialogue (with himself, with others) by writing down those thoughts, images, feelings and fears; sharing them, so that as soon as they escape their frail human vessel they are free, without any power to scare or sabotage. To express emotions, allowing the heart to breathe and the mind to swim, the body a humble temple unto itself: a self-portrait of a work perpetually in progress. To encourage these sensations inside oneself so that they might awaken feelings in someone else, some not yet born and others alive but no longer living.

*So here’s the part where I address you, gentle reader.

First off, thanks for reading this blog. I resisted the blog thing for years because so many of the ones I read were either uninspired or a public airing of dirty (or worse, boring) personal laundry. Diaries and journals are kept in bedside drawers for a reason: they are an act of catharsis, celebration or introspection –or, at least, interrogation– that is best kept private. Remember when they used to actually come with locks on them? Do they still do that? Do they still make diaries anymore? Maybe I’m just old school. Here’s how I put it back in 2009 when I first considered the fact that I had, in fact, become one of those people who could use the word blog as a verb. Over five years later (this blog commenced in November, 2008) I think the sentiment still applies:

Blogs are, or can be, like diaries.

Except that diaries, by nature, are private. Which begs the question: do people who blog censor or soften the observations, complaints or critiques that in other times would exist inside a document designed to remain unread by others? (Or more to the point, should they?) To be certain, only a few years ago, thoughts like the ones I’m about to express would have been safely ensconced inside a journal, not read by anyone else, even including myself (I don’t often return to old journals, hopefully because I’m too busy living in the here and now). And for whatever it’s worth, I am humble enough to know that modest numbers of people visit this blog, and I have enough sense (or self-respect) to instinctively acknowledge that nobody is well served by overly earnest airing of personal trivia.

Put another way, I don’t begrudge anyone else documenting every last detail of their existences (no matter how mundane or mawkish); I simply remain uninterested in reading about it. In that regard, blogs are self-regulating: if you don’t write things that others will find interesting, you won’t have an audience. And who cares anyway? In that regard, blogs are like diaries: people post on them because they want to, or need to, and the concept of friends or strangers reading their innermost thoughts won’t necessarily hamper their willingness to compose. Still, only the sensation-seekers looking for notoriety (usually the already famous, and even those folks have a shelf-life of about six months) go out of their way to wax solipsistic in a public forum.

All that being said, I was already publishing regular thoughts on music, movies and literature (alongside the occasional sociopolitical soap-boxery) at PopMatters –a site I encourage you to check out– so keeping a blog was not unlike working out: it was a way to keep in shape, mentally, and push myself to put thoughts in a semi-coherent form for a public forum. This is an endeavor that obliges you to edit with extreme prejudice: once you’ve written something that goes into the electronic universe, it stays written. I’m mostly delighted to consider that I’ve written a great deal of material that otherwise would have been lost to e-mails, conversations or that creative impulse killer, apathy. We should all do our best to remain allergic to apathy, because we owe it to ourselves and the world. Obviously.

Anyway, I was eventually humbled to acknowledge that the next formal project I’d been preparing to tackle, as a novel, could –and should– be a non-fiction piece. Indeed, once I realized this (after several years of false starts, frustration and best intentions), I wished it had occurred to me sooner. And it was then that it dawned on me that I likely would not have been able to conceive of writing a memoir if I had not been blogging. Non-fiction and personal essays were not foreign territory, but a sustained examination of life and how it’s lived (including death and how to live through it when it rocks your world) turns out to be the best real-time training for getting one’s mind –and pen– around a full-length, unfettered attempt to make sense out of deeply, if not profoundly personal things. And then you realize (you are always realizing as you write, or think, or talk) that a great many of these matters are universal: we all wonder who we are, where we’re going and where our loved ones may or may not go when they are no longer here. It not only seems possible, but oddly appropriate to embrace the audacity of putting it out there, so to speak. Best intentions clash against execution and at a certain point it’s out of your hands: other people will determine if the work in question works. It is at once intimidating and liberating, the way it should be for anyone who puts words on paper.

Just about three years later that memoir regular readers of this blog were already familiar with: Please Talk About Me When I’m Gone, has gone from idea to execution. The continued plan for 2014 is to see this sucker reach an audience beyond the vital Friends & Family network. I will continue to give a healthy portion of profits –and all profits from all public events– to a handful of awesome cancer-oriented charities. (More on that, here: http://seanmurphy.net/please-talk-about-me-when-im-gone/about-memoir/.)

Social networking and word-of-mouth will, naturally, play a hopefully-prominent role in disseminating the project and then who knows what might happen. If you’ve read it, please consider leaving a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads.com –it helps! If you have opinions, advice, connections or cautionary tales, I welcome your thoughts anytime (contact me privately or feel free to put comments below). Simply put, this thing is not going to design, market or endorse itself; if you’ve gleaned anything positive from my writing thus far, you can do me the biggest service by helping my mission become something I could never accomplish on my own. And in the final analysis, that is the secret not only of writing, but of living. Right?

To be continued…

Share

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before*

Let me tell you a story.

It involves a white male born in a steadily prospering town to a slowly prospering family. His father, the first in his Irish family to attend college, like his wife, was raised Catholic.

This young boy played soccer, listened to music, read any book he could get his eyes on and went to a public school amongst kids whose names he could not always pronounce.

He served, faithfully, as an altar boy and developed a profound appreciation—and respect—for tradition and ritual, a lingering humility regarding forces and impulses larger and not entirely conceivable.

He was, and remains, comfortable with how much he does not know, as a visitor on a planet that expands outward each second, into infinity.

He was encouraged by parents who, more than once, reassured him that his curiosity would never dissipate so long as his capacity for learning did not abate.

He talked, listened and learned.

Looking back, the habits and routines inculcated inside his impressionable mind served as a foundation for who he’d become: flawed, tolerant, empathetic, insatiable, in love with the gift of life.

The pursuit of higher education, even as it necessarily exposed him to classes, books and teachers that ardently challenged—and often contradicted—many of the precepts he was once instructed to emulate, was a priority. It was the gradual, not always painless process of understanding the ways he could not, and should not share his parents’ perspectives in every matter that secured the respect for them he solidified as an increasingly independent adult.

The exposure to religion and the example set by his mother and father ingrained an acute solidarity with underdogs and the dispossessed. The charities he has supported (HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE) reflect the causes and crises he endorses and decries.

He appraised the often enigmatic, occasionally debilitating specter of depression that stalked relatives on either side like a demented daemon; this condition a wind-whipped and sun-scorched flag planted deep alongside his family tree, a genetic calling card he has had, at times, a more than casual acquaintance with, obliging him to check himself lest he wreck himself.

Too much eyewitness to illness drove him to learn more than he might have cared to know about cancer, leukemia, and the various, run-of-the-mill maladies that all the doctors and dollars in the world can’t completely shield us from. This cognizance, coupled with an ineradicable conscience forged on altars and inside confessionals, further amplified an appreciation of how fortunate anyone is to be born in a first world country. To be born a healthy white male a blessing, just as being alive at all is an obligation—at once sacred and secular—to interrogate, expand, live: to abhor the self-indulgence of ennui and cultivate antidotes to quiet desperation—by any means necessary. To explore the creative impulse he could never fully fathom or explain, and expedite that dialogue (with himself, with others) by writing down those thoughts, images, feelings and fears; sharing them, so that as soon as they escape their frail human vessel they are free, without any power to scare or sabotage. To express emotions, allowing the heart to breathe and the mind to swim, the body a humble temple unto itself: a self-portrait of a work perpetually in progress. To encourage these sensations inside oneself so that they might awaken feelings in someone else, some not yet born and others alive but no longer living.

*So here’s the part where I address you, gentle reader.

First off, thanks for reading this blog. I resisted the blog thing for years because so many of the ones I read were either uninspired or a public airing of dirty (or worse, boring) personal laundry. Diaries and journals are kept in bedside drawers for a reason: they are an act of catharsis, celebration or introspection –or, at least, interrogation– that is best kept private. Remember when they used to actually come with locks on them? Do they still do that? Do they still make diaries anymore? Maybe I’m just old school. Here’s how I put it back in 2009 when I first considered the fact that I had, in fact, become one of those people who could use the word blog as a verb. Over five years later (this blog commenced in November, 2008) I think the sentiment still applies:

Blogs are, or can be, like diaries.

Except that diaries, by nature, are private. Which begs the question: do people who blog censor or soften the observations, complaints or critiques that in other times would exist inside a document designed to remain unread by others? (Or more to the point, should they?) To be certain, only a few years ago, thoughts like the ones I’m about to express would have been safely ensconced inside a journal, not read by anyone else, even including myself (I don’t often return to old journals, hopefully because I’m too busy living in the here and now). And for whatever it’s worth, I am humble enough to know that modest numbers of people visit this blog, and I have enough sense (or self-respect) to instinctively acknowledge that nobody is well served by overly earnest airing of personal trivia.

Put another way, I don’t begrudge anyone else documenting every last detail of their existences (no matter how mundane or mawkish); I simply remain uninterested in reading about it. In that regard, blogs are self-regulating: if you don’t write things that others will find interesting, you won’t have an audience. And who cares anyway? In that regard, blogs are like diaries: people post on them because they want to, or need to, and the concept of friends or strangers reading their innermost thoughts won’t necessarily hamper their willingness to compose. Still, only the sensation-seekers looking for notoriety (usually the already famous, and even those folks have a shelf-life of about six months) go out of their way to wax solipsistic in a public forum.

All that being said, I was already publishing regular thoughts on music, movies and literature (alongside the occasional sociopolitical soap-boxery) at PopMatters –a site I encourage you to check out– so keeping a blog was not unlike working out: it was a way to keep in shape, mentally, and push myself to put thoughts in a semi-coherent form for a public forum. This is an endeavor that obliges you to edit with extreme prejudice: once you’ve written something that goes into the electronic universe, it stays written. I’m mostly delighted to consider that I’ve written a great deal of material that otherwise would have been lost to e-mails, conversations or that creative impulse killer, apathy. We should all do our best to remain allergic to apathy, because we owe it to ourselves and the world. Obviously.

Anyway, I was eventually humbled to acknowledge that the next formal project I’d been preparing to tackle, as a novel, could –and should– be a non-fiction piece. Indeed, once I realized this (after several years of false starts, frustration and best intentions), I wished it had occurred to me sooner. And it was then that it dawned on me that I likely would not have been able to conceive of writing a memoir if I had not been blogging. Non-fiction and personal essays were not foreign territory, but a sustained examination of life and how it’s lived (including death and how to live through it when it rocks your world) turns out to be the best real-time training for getting one’s mind –and pen– around a full-length, unfettered attempt to make sense out of deeply, if not profoundly personal things. And then you realize (you are always realizing as you write, or think, or talk) that a great many of these matters are universal: we all wonder who we are, where we’re going and where our loved ones may or may not go when they are no longer here. It not only seems possible, but oddly appropriate to embrace the audacity of putting it out there, so to speak. Best intentions clash against execution and at a certain point it’s out of your hands: other people will determine if the work in question works. It is at once intimidating and liberating, the way it should be for anyone who puts words on paper.

Just about three years later that memoir regular readers of this blog were already familiar with: Please Talk About Me When I’m Gone, has gone from idea to execution. The continued plan for 2014 is to see this sucker reach an audience beyond the vital Friends & Family network. I will continue to give a healthy portion of profits –and all profits from all public events– to a handful of awesome cancer-oriented charities. (More on that, here: http://seanmurphy.net/please-talk-about-me-when-im-gone/about-memoir/.)

Social networking and word-of-mouth will, naturally, play a hopefully-prominent role in disseminating the project and then who knows what might happen. If you’ve read it, please consider leaving a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads.com –it helps! If you have opinions, advice, connections or cautionary tales, I welcome your thoughts anytime (contact me privately or feel free to put comments below). Simply put, this thing is not going to design, market or endorse itself; if you’ve gleaned anything positive from my writing thus far, you can do me the biggest service by helping my mission become something I could never accomplish on my own. And in the final analysis, that is the secret not only of writing, but of living. Right?

To be continued…

Share

Innovation vs. Information Overload

Louis CK’s eloquent rant on smartphones quickly went viral and is already considered an instant classic.

We should appreciate the opportunity to engage in this debate: are our electronic devices, so miraculous on so many levels, doing more harm than good?

I recently had lunch with a former professor and he commented that his students have, in recent years, had a difficult time paying attention. He has taught for over three decades, so his perspective is at once informed and somewhat alarming. He wondered how the “plugged-in” generation will adapt to the workforce. Would young adults in, say, the service industry, find it liberating or torturous to be forbidden access to their mobile devices?

There are no easy answers here, of course. Over the last century, we’ve heard pessimistic voices of experience predict the ways phonographs, then televisions, then video games, and then smartphones would impair our ability to concentrate, or even connect on a basic human level. To be sure, it is always a complicated equation: for every technological advancement there are obvious, even legitimate concerns.

Personally, I don’t think the primary issue here involves devices so much as ubiquity of content, a very 21st Century development. Whether intended—or dismissed—as forms of enlightenment or distraction, there is no doubt that we have quick, easy access to data that would have been inconceivable only a decade ago. Information overload may seem an archaic concept, but it is a very real, mounting concern.

The idea of us doing more things with less time, particularly in the workplace, is not a new phenomenon. Our proclivity for compulsive behavior, be it on the job or at play, is skewered to excellent effect in this old skit.

This had to be made in the early ‘90s because it nails the last vestiges of the old world order: the phones, the fax machine, the suspenders and especially the rolodex. This skit could not be set up the same way today for the simple reason that no office looks like that today. And while it’s amusing to see this harried office manager acting like the proverbial mouse on the wheel, it is disconcerting to consider we are, arguably, operating at a more frenetic pace today, and we scarcely need to move a muscle. All that activity occurs in one centralized place: the monitor of whatever device we are using. The activities this agitated worker bee is engaging in (still called multi-tasking, one presumes) are all occurring now; they merely appear more innocuous because they are trapped in electronic ether, a direct line between our devices and our brains.

Suddenly it’s slightly more unnerving to consider that if, like myself, it’s not uncommon for you to have more than ten windows open at any given time, along with Outlook, a spreadsheet and one or two documents, perhaps music playing, you are doing more than we are accustomed, or capable of doing. This is all happening, all day, inside our heads, and is this not a more intense—and damaging—type of information overload? It’s no wonder if, like myself, at least once a day you open a new window to look something up, get momentarily sidetracked (say, you see the window you’d previously opened and remember you need to finish that task or knock out that email) and then, when you turn back to the welcome screen for a fresh window, have no earthly idea what is was you meant to look for.

Perhaps we should be concerned less about gadgets and the ways we have managed, in these interesting and uncertain times, to outsmart ourselves into being busier every single day. Is this a trend we can slow down? Should we? Or are we advancing our evolution, fast-tracking an ability to connect, communicate and yes, commiserate, in a fashion previously unimagined? Most likely, it need (or should) not be an either/or; what we should try to avoid is blaming innovation and technology for symptoms and problems we’ve created all by ourselves.

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Full Circle, and Then Some

That’s my first fiction writing professor, the novelist and all around great guy Steve Goodwin. More on him and an extended interview can be found HERE.

He was generous enough to provide the following blurb, which I’m honored to have on the back cover of my book: In some moments of profound experience, we see and feel in extraordinary ways. That is what happened to Sean Murphy after his mother’s death. He has had the courage to look honestly at death, and the talent to express his love and grief in a way that will comfort and sustain his readers.

That should give you a sense of what a generous and erudite dude he is.

He was nice enough to ask me to visit his class last night and speak about my experience: before, during and after publication.

What happens in a classroom stays in the classroom (thank God), but I can say that it was a total pleasure to experience from the vantage point: standing, not seated, speaking, not listening. It’s a vantage point I was preparing myself for, way back in the early ’90s, as a grad student with one foot in a PhD program and the other retreating to a quiet place to write the “pretty good” American novel. Ultimately a number of factors convinced me that I should spend the next two decades working, refining, erasing, restarting and recreating the various visions –initially fiction, eventually non-fiction as well– that filled the sometimes inspired space between my ears.

It is both presumptuous and inaccurate to describe last night as full circle. It wasn’t, in the sense that I don’t believe I’ve “arrived” anywhere, if I ever will. Also, having a former professor ask you to talk to his class can’t approximate what it feels like to teach and interact with grad students year after year. On the other hand, it was something different, at once more and better, than simply “full circle”. To say being there, having my professor (a very well-respected writer, by the way) hold up my book and pass it around, was a surreal honor is obviously an understatement. But it also felt real and inevitable, the way a dream does when you wake up abruptly in the dark, not sure where or who you are.

sean-frontcover-hires

That’s what the last couple of weeks have felt like, in some regards. Is this really happening? And the answer: of course it is. More, why shouldn’t it be happening? When you work toward a goal for so long, perhaps you can be forgiven if you don’t fall to the floor in a flood of tears and relief, in awe of what you’ve achieved. It’s just another day, another piece of the puzzle, another brick in the wall. And if the goal is, or was, just to get a manuscript from here to there, from PC to paperback, that’s one thing. If the goal is to reach an audience, start a conversation (or hundreds of them), and use that as a springboard to the next step, holding your book and getting props from a beloved professor is just part of the bigger picture. All of which is not to say I’m at once bewildered and humbled that I did what I’ve done, or that anyone outside my family and network of close friends might be remotely interested. But when I made the decision, back in those uncertain but unwavering years during the early-to-mid ’90s, to do whatever I could to make my life into art and vice-versa, I envisioned it as a mission for life.

In this regard that journey is not completed. It’s neither at the beginning nor, hopefully, near the end. I am where I tried to be; where I willed myself to be. I am, by any reasonable assessment, where I’m lucky enough to be. It’s not what I imagined it might be. It is at once more and better. And it’s still happening, which is exactly as it should be.

Right?

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50 Years Later: His Dream is Our Dream

In 1963, 200,000 people participated in a peaceful civil rights rally in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Living Colour:

Curtis Mayfield:

Burning Spear:

Rahsaan Roland Kirk:

Albert Ayler:

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Elvis Is (Still) Dead: Long Live The King (Revisited)

Poor Elvis.

The one-time king is now more often the (big) butt of jokes (see?).

But his musical and cultural imprint remains huge and will forever be impossible to escape from. This is, for the most part, a good thing. Just consider the number of musicians who have covered, copied and imitated the Great White Hype. In part because hype and purloined material aside, the man was, well, kind of a big deal.

In honor of the day he absconded his throne (while on the throne…see? One can’t help oneself), here are ten artistic invocations of Elvis, ranging from the good to the bad to the very ugly.

1. In one of the great scenes from one of the all-time great comedies, here is Spinal Tap saluting The King. It really puts perspective on things though, doesn’t it? (Bonus points for Harry Shearer busting out laughing at the improvised line at the end. Bliss.)

2. The immortal Bill Hicks keeping it (un)real:

3. A more reverential tribute from the guitar god Danny Gatton:

4. Speaking of “Mystery Train”, here’s some love for (and from) Jim Jarmusch:

5. You think that’s weird? Ever seen Wild at Heart? (Nic Cage when he was only pretending to be crazy…mostly):

6. No list would be complete without Public Enemy’s eviscerating ‘dis. “Motherfuck him and John Wayne” is one of the great slams in rap history. I’ve never heard a song that could hurt and heal all at once quite like this one:

7. Okay. Some comic relief, STAT. Enter personal hero, Tortelvis. If you are not down with Dread Zeppelin, you should be. If you have never heard them, listen to what your life has been lacking all these years (from the enthusiastically recommended –no, really– album 5,000,000):

8. From Dread to Led. Recently discussed (HERE) from the all-time album that supposedly sucks (but does not), “Hot Dog” is the hilarious and genuinely reverential and rocking Elvis tribute from Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door:

(Here’s my take:

And then there’s “Hot Dog”. More than a few people would likely agree that this is the single-worst song Zeppelin recorded. Those people need to be reminded that Zeppelin did not make any bad songs and that, in any event, “Hot Dog” is a better song on every level than well-loved tunes like “Ramble On” and “The Immigrant Song”. On their early work Zep did not exhibit much, if any, sense of humor; certainly nothing self-deprecating. “Hot Dog” reveals the band (or more specifically, Robert Plant) at its most unguarded, and it is at once a hilarious and deeply respectful send up of older school rock. To understand—and appreciate—“Hot Dog” one needs to understand, and appreciate, Plant’s worship of Elvis. Importantly, Elvis had passed away only two years before, making this less a tongue-in-cheek tribute and than a genuine moment of worship. Also worth noting is that Page turns in one of his most truncated, but delectable solos: the mood is light, but the music is serious, and sensational.)

9. And another Elvis-inspired number, this one from the magnificent Freddie Mercury. Rockabilly plus Elvis plus Brian May = epic:

10. Last and far from least, a song that sort of ties it all together, courtesy of Living Colour: guest vocalist Little Richard (!) gets the definitive last word, as well he should. Great vid (attention to detail always making the nice little differences: note the peanut butter and bananas in the shopping cart: RESPECT!):

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Ten Albums That Supposedly Suck (But Do Not): #8 & #7 (Revisited)

8. Fantômas, Fantômas (1999)

This one is a bit of a stretch; it may even be cheating a little bit to include it since it’s not (necessarily) dismissed. On the other hand, it’s primarily recognized by Mike Patton aficionados. That’s fine, but it should have broader appeal for anyone looking for staggeringly original music and may be just what the doctor should have ordered for anyone bored with convention and cynicism. This is challenging music to listen to, and it’s definitely challenging to write about—but that only seems fair since it was quite obviously challenging to conceive and execute.

People who seem disinclined to check this out may be understandably intimidated by the notion of an album without lyrics, particularly when it features one of the eminent vocalists of his generation. More, when that singer is (ostensibly) utilizing an entire album without an intelligible sound other than shrieks, screams and imitations of violent acts, it’s…well, a tough sell. On the other hand, what part of a Melvins, Mr. Bungle and Slayer mash-up could you possibly be unexcited about? (Fantomas, for anyone not in the know, features former Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn, Melvins guitarist and mad genius Buzz Osborne and Slayer drum god Dave Lombardo.)

Once again, it’s challenging to relate what this uber-supergroup’s debut sounds like, in part because it incorporates so many different styles of music. It is decidedly avant-garde work, with the hardcore flourishes one would expect from Osborne and Lombardo. It is also refreshingly, unabashedly out there, which one would expect from Patton—who does not sing so much as employ his seemingly limitless vocal range as a fourth instrument. Impenetrable and abrasive at first listen (Patton sounds like a trapped animal, a human chainsaw and a motorboat engine out of water, sometimes all in a span of ten seconds), this material obliges its audience to surrender expectations and meet Patton on his own anomalous terms.

A great deal of time and effort could be dedicated to debating what it all means, or how he did it (as ostensibly free-wheeling as the material may seem, Patton actually choreographed every second of it before the band ever got involved), and where this recording properly fits in an assessment of Patton’s evolution. In hindsight, Fantômas is very obviously a direction—wayward or ingenious, depending upon the listener—Patton wanted to head in, and he’s never backtracked, for better or for worse. To this listener, it represents the first day of the rest of Patton’s artistic life. Fantômas let him break with what he must have felt were the straightjacket-like conventions and expectations of the traditional rock route, and it’s almost like he had to invent his own language to give free expression to what was boiling around inside his mind.

7. Living Colour, Stain (1993)

Even though Living Colour is still making excellent music today, they are mostly remembered as the band who did “Cult of Personality” two decades and change ago. Some people remember that their second album, Time’s Up was an improvement on the (outstanding) debut, and for a minute Living Colour was one of the biggest bands in the world. Then they made a third album and…that was that—at least for another ten long years. That third album was many degrees harder, darker and more difficult than their first two albums, which might explain why it did not go over. But how to reconcile the lack of love with the fact that in some regards Stain was their best album yet?

Losing the brilliant bassist Muzz Skillings, who bolted after the second album, could have been a crippling blow (he was that good) but when ancient school session wizard Doug Wimbish stepped into the mix the band did not miss a beat—literally. WImbish brought a funky, in your face dynamic and he and drummer Will Calhoun formed an unbreakable rhythm section: deep, elastic and loud. The star of the show, as always, is Vernon Reid, who is a human encyclopedia of sound. From the hat-tip to grunge stylings in “Go Away” to the typically ear-burning pyrotechnics of “Leave It Alone” to the Robert Fripp-esque atmospherics in “Nothingness”, Reid covers all the bases while refining his own idiosyncratic style.

So what’s not to love? Well, for one thing, this is definitely not a flawless record. A handful of songs, like “Ignorance is Bliss” and “This Little Pig” are rather paint-by-number—not to mention lyrically clichéd. Some of the songs, like “Postman” and “Never Satisfied” may have just been too severe for the delicate ears of alternative rock fans, circa ’93. Some of the songs may have been a bit too much, like the disorienting “Hemp” or the mirthfully provocative “Bi”. And none of the remaining songs were destined to be radio hits, and little on this album is as user-friendly as most of the material on the first two albums. Take it or leave it: no other band on the planet could ever make a song like “Wall”, which is capable of shaking you, making you smile and seeing the world with new ears.

All of which may explain why this one did not help Living Colour become the most popular and influential band of the ‘90s, which they would/could/should have been. Even for fans who got it, then, and endorse it now, Stain is a grueling, confrontational album, and one that leaves the listener more than a little exhausted. These are the types of albums that are considered uncompromising, courageous, even ahead of their time. They are also the types of albums that don’t sell a ton of copies or necessarily convert new fans. “WTFF”, indeed.

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Living Colour & Friends: The Power of Music (and Memory…)

I don’t need to say a single thing, so I won’t.

Enjoy!

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