Today I’m back to my ongoing project of ranking horror franchises, sub-genres and directors. I’m exhausted with the news and have nothing of worth to say about it today. I’m also taking a quick break on heavier writing I’m doing professionally and creatively so it seemed like a perfect time to hack out the next list in this series. Today’s topic–the “Halloween” franchise. If you’d like to read my “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Friday the 13th” lists please do so by clicking the embedded hyperlinks.

Today’s list will rank every “Halloween” movie—that’s right, both timelines of the original franchise (Halloween-Halloween II-H20-HResurection as well as Halloween-HII, H4, H5, H6) as well as the remakes and the standalone “Season of the Witch”. So both versions of Michael–the Shape and the overgrown redneck! Here we go!

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10. Halloween: Resurrection

To be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to slog through the Big Brother meets Scream via who knows what crap fest of Resurrection. Most Halloween fans pretend this one didn’t happen. It does feature kung-fu fighting between Bustah Rhymes and Michael Myers if that sounds appealing to you.

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9. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

What a crap-fest. What makes it a crap fest is it’s “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. This film undoes everything that was worthwhile in its predecessor and sets up an absurd side-plot that overtakes the film, ends it, and is never followed up on in successors. It’s disjointed, confusing, boring, repetitive…It may be the worst installment of any 1980s horror franchise and if you watch behind the scenes features on it you’ll hear the obvious confirmed in that it was just an attempt to quickly cash in on the unexpected financial success of its predecessor.

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8. Halloween II (2009)

Maybe Zombie’s worst film, definitely his most boring. Largely forgettable.

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7. Halloween (6): The Curse of Michael Myers

Most fans hate the thorn cult aspect of “Curse”, the 6th installment of the original franchise. I actually like it though I find its details and much of its execution lacking. I have no problem with an occult grounding for the Shape but this is the only film that tries to do it so it involved a fair amount of retconning. There are some genuinely creepy moments, it’s well shot and well acted, and I particularly liked the introduction of Tommy Doyle as an adult (Paul Rudd in his film debut) nemesis to the Shape. However as it is, nothing in 6 is grounded to what came before or followed up with in what came after so it stands as its own island (or hiccup).  Still, this is the first entertaining film mentioned thus far in the rankings so everything gets better from here onward!

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6. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

“Scream”, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and a slew of other 90s bubblegum horror flicks ushered in a very lucrative, commercial, and ultimately forgettable era of mainstream teen horror films. What made “Scream” terrific wasn’t ported over to H20 but what every other knock-off at the time did pretty much was. However, H20 was solid and enjoyable with a fresh-faced popular cast. H20 completely jettisons the “Halloween” timeline by pretending installments 4-6 never happened. Thus it follows as a direct sequel to II albeit “20 years later”. It’s worth it for the Laurie Strode-Michael Myers stand off though and it put the exclamation mark on this particular timeline of the series.

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5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

This is peak-’80s horror franchise film-making. The censors were watching so you have a rather bloodless affair that is shot a bit glammier and acted passably but clearly aimed at the mall crowd. However, “Return” is enjoyable and seemed on the verge of actually surprising and prepped to give an exciting new direction to the series with the narrative (and twist) on Myers’ niece Jamie. However, everything that could have been great about 4 for the franchise was quickly undone in a truly atrocious follow-up.

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4. Halloween (2007)

Here’s another one many didn’t like—but I actually really enjoy Rob Zombie’s re-interpretation of “Halloween”. I think Zombie is a creative (if often derivative) director who has made some terrifying work. “Halloween” (2007) is second only to “The Devil’s Rejects” in his cannon. Many fans of the original series disliked this version because it explained too much—we get a grounding in “reality” for everything that was left mysterious in the first film. We get psychological exploration of Michael Myers, an origin story and an extensive background that “humanizes” the Shape. However, if it had been a shot for shot remake (e.g. the “Psycho” remake) it would have been pointless. Instead we get an original film that is disturbing, fast-paced, scary, and visually stunning.

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3. Halloween II (1981)

Taking place in the immediate wake of the first film (the same night!), Halloween II upped the body count and gore and followed through the Myers-Strode storyline for the night “he came back” to it’s culmination. Everything that worked in part one works in part two and though it’s not as original the second time around it does serve as a satisfying horror film and is worth a double-feature most Halloweens.

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2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch

A lot of people initially didn’t care for the third installment of Halloween—and many probably still don’t. “Season of the Witch” isn’t a Michael Myers film at all despite bearing the franchise moniker. After all had (thought to have) been said on Myers as a character by the end of the second film the idea was to use the franchise banner to present a new tale of terror each year in an annual anthology. “Season of the Witch” was the one and only such installment before the hard detour back to Michael in the following installment. However, just judging films by their own merits there’s no denying the quality of this one. This tale of technology, Halloween (the holiday) and “haunted” masks is a winner. It’s the best film in the series after the first. The soundtrack is great, the setting is creative, the story is cool. It’s an under-rated ’80s horror classic with a genuinely creepy ending.

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1. Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” is one of the greatest horror films of all time and set the template for every American slasher film that would follow. Carpenter makes unique movies that evoke a definite style and feel that is wholly his own—yes “Halloween” borrowed from predecessors especially Italian horror films but what makes it his own is the soundtrack he composed and the vision he provides with every camera choice he makes. He also got a terrific cast for this film. This movie was terrifying for what it didn’t show as much as it was for what it did show and even more for what it did not explain (or need to). If you came to Halloween late after years of more gorier derivative fair it likely didn’t have the impact on you that it did for previous generations. It also is certainly not without fault—Loomis’ doomy declarations of danger are certainly hokey if you don’t give yourself over to the film and appreciate the greatness of Donald Pleasance. But if you’re a fan of horror this one is a must-see at least once a year and it retains a sense of fright, fun, excitement and nostalgia (it was nostalgic even when it first came out in the purposeful tranquility and design of the town’s sidewalks and atmosphere) that are unmatched elsewhere.

 

 

It took two days for the President to denounce white supremacists after initially condemning the “hatred on many sides”. I am sure he ultimately caved in and named the main culprits after much pressure. But that “on many sides” aside is what stuck with most and is embedded in the interpretations far too many have of Saturday’s tragedy.

In an unsurprising continuation of willful ignorance and warped propaganda that passes as “fact”, a lot of white folks out there today judge what happened Saturday as a violent confrontation between two equally bad groups. I’ve seen far too much castigation of those who stood against the Nazis and even something akin to sympathy for the nazis themselves. For many conservative people today what happened Saturday was that “terrorist” Black Lives Matter protestors instigated violence during what would have otherwise been a “peaceful” demonstration by a perhaps fringe deluded extremist group.

When Trump refused to lay the blame on American neo-nazis, the alt-right and all other cults of racists that turned out in a march for white supremacy in Charlottesville on Saturday he made a dangerous, demeaning but much-desired (by his base) false equivalency. David Duke told Trump to remember what put him in the White House and Duke, former Klan “Grand” Wizard was certainly in attendance in Charlottesville.

This isn’t to say that there wasn’t blame for the violence on parties other than the white power cretins. The BBC is one of the few sources to instantly get the big picture and you can read their report here if you so desire. The blame is first and foremost on the Nazis but of course antifa should bear some fault as well—and it seems that Saturday was the largest exposure those folks have gotten in the mainstream in a long time. Antifa, if you aren’t aware (short for “antifascist”) have a complex history going back to Germany but the modern US branch of antifa is mainly known for showing up looking for violence anywhere far-right ideology is (or is perceived) to be present. In the past that has led to bomb threats, tear gas hurling and fists to the head at not only right-wing events but also concerts, movies, and bars when a member of antifa believes an artist, event or crowd consists of at least one “fascist” (labeled so by the antifa). So in addition to occasionally getting that wrong and performing terrorist acts on peaceful folks even when they get their target right (as on Saturday) they come ready to hurt as many of the other side as they physically can. As a friend of mine said, while punching a nazi may feel cathartic for you (and those pressing the replay button on youtube) it likely doesn’t accomplish the goals you want it to.

As the BBC (and other reputable sources) reported, the initial counter-protestors consisted of Black Lives Matter activists, pastors, clergy and church-goers, and UVA students, all of whom peacefully protested the white nationalists storming through campus with torches shouting garbage and attempting intimidation. Soon, however, the counter-protestors were infiltrated and inundated with antifa members ready for a fight. Everything then quickly escalated.

So today, the common conservative takeway is that “BLM are terrorists!” equally bad to the KKK. This is a dangerous and delusional interpretation but if we allow BLM (and the mainline churches and student activists) to be conflated with antifa in the coverage of Saturday’s tragedy we will allow not only damage to groups like BLM themselves but to also their very important, urgent cause.

Trump’s base—even those not consciously and purposefully racist—want to believe BLM is a terrorist group and that both sides are “equally bad.” They don’t want to question the role “Make America Great Again” and their support of Trump played in fomenting and recruiting more openly right-wing supremacists than ever before in recent history.

As I write this I just received a news alert that Trump has once again defended the rightwing protestors from Saturday (“not all of them were Nazis”). With Bannon in the White House and Trump’s base convinced the neo-nazis share nothing in common with their own political beliefs we have a long way to go in addressing this country’s race problems. Antifa isn’t helping, particularly as they go after the ACLU openly. We can’t allow the nazis to cause us to relinquish our own highest values and identities in our battle to discredit and overcome them otherwise they score a huge win in this war.

Any Republican in the age of Trump from the Senate all the way down to the local dogcatcher that isn’t publicly denouncing Trump’s character, actions, and staff choices, who isn’t distancing themselves from him and who isn’t working to reform and update their party so that Trump and his evils are in no way indicative of the GOP doesn’t deserve to be elected to any single position anywhere in this country. If I meet you in a business capacity and you wax on about your love of the GOP in this day and age I am instantly considering doing business with someone else instead of you.

Another valid prefacing point—I have always (at least since I began to understand politics and engage politically) identified as “progressive” in the sense that I believe the goal of good governance is to grow, enhance and “better” (“progress”) society, to do more, be better, serve more folks more efficiently in the service of reducing poverty, social injustice, etc. I believe there are certain basic “rights” that citizens of countries wealthy enough to provide them are due—these are the benefits of living in a society, of paying taxes, of being a part of a country rather than a solitary tribe. In my opinion these rights include not only the constitutional rights and civil liberties we have enshrined in our constitution in America but also basic things that people need to survive—food, clothes, housing and healthcare. Every citizen of a wealthy country deserves a safe place to sleep, enough healthy food to survive, and medical treatment that won’t bankrupt them when they are sick.

However, in the wake of Trump and the resulting political environment I have sometimes found myself loathe for the first time in my life to self-identify as “progressive”. “Liberal” yes and I believe that entails the original sense of progressive but I’ve seen and heard such things lately that I can only believe the terms we’ve used previously are now dying due to bad associations and new connotations. I admit I once rolled my eyes at some of the old-guard liberals now so often derided as conservatives who warned of a “PC” left that was veering off the rails. But the only term I at the moment can muster for a certain segment of my fellow liberals is “Reactionary Left”. Like the Republicans of old and the conservatives of history the new Reactionary Left does not present new ideas, does not lead the way and instead reacts constantly to the other side…and increasingly not just to the other side but to those within its own ranks, attacking and purifying the inner circle to determine who is “really” a liberal—who uses the right phrases, holds the right positions, denounces all of the right (or “wrong”) things.

I don’t think all liberals are like this—nor will I commit a false equivalency by asserting that both political sides are equally bad today. What is happening on the modern right is wreaking irreversible harm on the environment, our standing in and relationship with the rest of the world, the dignity of the poor and the rights of minority groups. Making transgender persons scapegoats to score political points with a section of their base causes far more harm than us arguing over whether a person is “whitesplaining” or not. BUT—a sizeable and growing segment of the modern left is taking its eye off the ball and losing focus on the big picture while simultaneously culling the ranks and almost intentionally deterring those outside of the circle from getting on board.

A few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • A group of folks were discussing police brutality, specifically black folks slain by police with video evidence they were doing no wrong while the juries who found the officers not guilty anyway. Important issue, worth getting angry about, worth discussing and acting on to change the culture of why this occurs. A man the group knows made a comment that basically asserted generalizations occur across all lines and that ultimately he hoped we could grow to see everyone as part of a human family. Make what you will of that statement—it may certainly miss the point, it may certainly be loftier than statements seeking to fix right here right now the problems people of color are experiencing with police—but instantly this man was accused by the entire group of racism. Every—steadfastly non-aggressive, calm—word he said in his defense of not being a racist was met with accusations that he was “mansplaining” and “whitesplaining”. Does levelling these accusations solve anything? Does it convert the man to their point of view or advance the dialogue at all? No it likely just pushes him further in the opposite direction.
  • I know several vegans and vegetarians and while some are pretty chill on their choices the majority takes every opportunity to accuse every meat-eater they know of murder. To eat meat or not on philosophical, ethical, scientific, or nutritional merits is a complex debate but one sure way of not advancing your cause is to instantly insult, denigrate, or annoy the other side while simultaneously asserting your own moral superiority. If the goal is to reduce animal suffering, address the climate impact of the growing cow population, or to make people healthier there are hundreds of ways to advance each of these goals with footsteps that not only make sense and work but that come easier and more naturally to the majority of people.
  • Prior to the Oscars this past spring I heard from one person that if “La La Land” won the Academy Award it would prove once and for all the Oscars were irredeemably racist. This was after the Academy made efforts to double its female and people of color members and nominations of said categories was larger than it had been in years, possibly ever. The same person was in discussion with agreeing friends, all of whom declared they’d never even seen the movie and had no interest in it. When “Moonlight” ended up winning the same person proclaimed “of course Moonlight won” because it “depicted angry drug-addicted black women” and was about gay characters yet it didn’t “show gay sex”. This despite the fact that it was based on the author’s own life and was widely acclaimed for its depiction of masculinity and gender. This same person is a constant fount of examples of finding fault with every situation regardless of the outcome.
  • One last example though I could go on—let’s look at the recent McCain vote that killed healthcare repeal. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were both steadfastly against the repeal from the beginning and have rightfully been receiving credit for that. Yet since it was known they were voting “No”, McCain’s last minute reveal that he too was voting know broke the tie and sunk the bill. So reporting that McCain broke the tie and ultimately “did the right thing” was a news story worth reporting. The instant backlash to these stories across my social media showed that rather than be happy repeal was at least temporarily dead, much of the left was angry McCain was getting credit for the work of women (Collins & Murkowski).

The Reactionary Left cares more about getting the terms right than getting the results right. I’ve read story after story about those on the fence who (shudder) became Trump supporters just because they got sick of the self-righteous posturing of their liberal friends. While I don’t see how you can suddenly support a selfish, lying, hateful, ignorant buffoon who is making the country and the world a worse place every day I do get why you can suddenly become apolitical or distance yourself from the modern left. Who wants to be surrounded by those who only complain about past could-have-beens (as most Democratic party meetings I’ve been to in recent time turn out to be) rather than what could-be-next’s. Furthermore, who wants to contribute to a conversation when they have to mentally check every word they may utter in fear of inadvertently offending the crowd and being cast out puritanically from the inner circle of trve liberals?

I can speak for no one but myself but the following points are what I feel, mean, and believe when I say I am “liberal”.

  • Free Speech is paramount. A person can say, write, or sing anything they wish or believe whether right or wrong. However, said person should not be able to report said speech as news if unchecked and said person is not immune to the free speech response to their original comment. If a person says some heinous shit they may as well expect the protests to come and that is part of the free speech circle. The right is trying to co-opt free speech by saying they don’t PC police your conversation. In case you have a short memory, the right was the party that got aghast at everything from the Metropolitan Museum of Art display of piss-Christ to gangsta rap and Marilyn Manson in the ‘90s. The only speech the right cares about is protecting lies reported as news (not a free speech issue) and the right to use racial, religious and sexist slurs (which can be used but which can also be called out and pushed out of polite public professional conversation).
  • Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual identity or country of national origin must be attacked and dismantled at every turn. Every person deserves access to the same opportunities and protections. This goes for employment, housing, education, and incarceration. We live in a country where every generation forgets they come from immigrants and so discriminate against every incoming demographic. We jail people of color at astronomically larger rates than white due to racially-motivated drug policies and policing tactics. We get angry that stores say “Happy Holidays” instead of exclusively “Merry Christmas” and those who believe differently—especially if they believe in “nothing” religiously—are looked down upon almost unanimously. Hell, we maintain “legacy” preferential status for universities bestowing the grandchildren of wealthy graduates preference over first-generation college students in contrast to every other industrialized country. Yet instead of focusing with laser-like specificity on these bigger issues (and so many more), the Reactionary Left worries more about pushing out voices from the past (“who cares what dead white guys had to contribute” (e.g. Jefferson, Einstein) or present (quit whitesplaining) from the conversation.
  • Our environmental world is in danger and it is our duty to protect and repair it. No one’s jumping down from the sky to heal the earth nor is it our destiny to strip and destroy our planet on our way out. Global warming is real and we are running out of time to do something about it. Big changes are necessary from national and global standpoints. We can do what we can to cut our carbon footprint but policing the micro-actions of our every neighbor may not only not make a difference but may also make many other things worse.

I could go on with issues of war, poverty, policing, gender relations, etc. but I’m not writing a manifesto regardless of how it might sound, I just wanted to list a few key examples. These are just a few key things I mean when I proclaim myself as a liberal. Despite the fact most of us grow more conservative with age I don’t foresee that for myself in most areas, though I’m not immune to the fact that with even slightly better income and more security almost all of us lose the visceral response to many progressive impulses. I am liberal in a traditional sense and I have huge sympathy for the modern left in terms of addressing some of these other issues and growing awareness of problems previously overlooked. I believe in a more equitable world for all. I don’t scoff at the issue of language and label either—I know misusing the wrong label can hurt be it a pronoun or racial slur. My wife is a strong Ms. (never a Mrs.) with her own last name, every transwoman I know is a she, and by god I’m never calling a black person the n word (even with an a ending) no matter how close we are. I get the importance of all such issues. My issue with the focus on language is more on the pedantic, academic sense—I spent a lot of time in colleges and universities and within that context it is very important to get the nomenclature right. But it is not our duty as liberals and/or academics to take those textbook sociological and philosophical terms out into the “real” world and bludgeon folks with them—accusing them of –isms they’ve never heard of, condemning them for not invoking the right indigenous native writer’s preferred adjective at the right time. I fear that the campus experience will drift to implosion if we allow our fear of getting it right and our fear of offense push out all fruitful debate and exclude all troubling writing. I fear we will lose a generation of progressive action by culling the herd of all but the most linguistically and philosophically pure and there is simply too much at stake to let that happen.

This is the second of these installments. If you’d like to read my rankings of the Friday the 13th franchise click here and if for some reason you want to read my long-winded prologue as to why/when I started doing these feel free to click here.

I googled “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to check the date on the remake and saw a slew of “Nightmares ranked” posts from Buzzfeed to Nerdist and everything in between. I didn’t read any of them and as far as I know I’ve never read one before but I’ll check some of them out after I post this to see how my picks compare with others. As with Friday, if you disagree with my order that’s cool. I’ll be doing these lists with other horror franchises over the next few months as well as horror directors and certain adaptations, notes, etc.

Re-watching the Elm Street franchise after the Friday films revealed a few things. Though I loved Freddy as a kid/teen (“Freddy’s Dead” was one of the first R-rated horror films I ever saw and I loved it) the series has aged a bit worse than Friday particularly with the effects but also in some of the installments with the villain. Wes Craven came up with one of the most terrifying villain concepts ever—a child-killer with home-made knife gloves who worked as a school janitor that was burnt alive by the town parents only to come back as a dream demon who can kill you in your sleep—good lord, that is the stuff of nightmares)—but the character got more accessible and caricaturist with every installment. That said, there are still some good films in the batch and horror fans who came of age in the 1980s and ’90s will always be Krueger fans (or “ [his] children now”).

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9) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

I would say it was pointless but I do in fact see the point of trying to update and remake Elm Street for a new generation with modern effects and solid acting. The Friday remake was actually pretty good (in my opinion). However, this one was terrible. It’s possibly the worst horror remake of the last 20 years. What a wasted opportunity.

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8) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (part 6)

So this introduced me to Freddy and in some ways horror films…but my recent revisit of the film revealed that this did not age particularly wel at all. I find it especially funny that it was set in the future but everything in that future was concretely rooted in early 1990s technology and culture…for example the power-glove super Freddy? You do get some early Goo Goo Dolls on the soundtrack to remind you they were a hard rock act once. The timeless past of the dream demons prior to Freddy are played with a bit but the effects don’t do the concept justice. There are some solid scenes and it’s not a complete waste of a watch as I’ll likely give it additional views in the future, it’s just not the best of the series and Freddy is at his most ridiculous here (“wicked witch of the west”ing it?).

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7) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
This one is hilarious and unique. You have an over the top male as the final girl and a metric ton of gay-subtext which the writer and director admitted as intentional later. You have some truly weird dream sequences. You have a lot of odd character choices and horrible (yet funny) dialogue. Then there’s the idea of Freddy needing to possess the protagonist and use him to come back, an idea not quite revisited later. You have an ending that just ends without being resolved in the follow-up. But you also have some dark, scary Freddy appearances—scarier than he would be in any of the follow ups other than “New Nightmare”. It is actually a solid movie and I can see how this one has garnered a cult following.

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6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

Alice is perhaps a better protagonist than Nancy and here she makes her second appearance—and she’s tough. She fights back and fights hard. There are some of the best dream sequence effects of the series in this one and it may be the most under-rated film of the series.
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5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Alice makes her first appearance and the story propels nicely forward from the extremely successful (and fan favorite) “Dream Warriors” predecessor. Dream Master and Dream Child fill in some Krueger history and chronology, feature a great protagonist and decent supporting cast and work very well as a double-bill. Solid 1980s horror installments done right.

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4) Freddy vs. Jason

Fans waited so long for this movie. For the most part it always seemed like a pipe dream that wouldn’t ever really come to fruition until it actually did. So after that infamous Freddy glove made its appearance in “Jason Goes to Hell” speculation about what the movie might entail went on for years—as such, nothing would live up to that anticipation. What did come out though was thoroughly entertaining. I didn’t include Freddy vs. Jason in my Friday list because as I said there, it seems much more like a Nightmare movie featuring Jason which it does. This movie basically picks up where “Freddy’s Dead” left off and now that Freddy is “dead” he’s looking to make his entry back into the world via Jason—using Jason to kill and raise the body count and fear on Elm Street so that kids think Freddy is back enough that he can actually come back. The more modern special effects and make-up did wonders for the ultimate battle between these two horror icons and the movie had its share of thrills, laughs, and fun. I still like the idea that at one point they planned two endings to air in different theaters each with a different victor.

 

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3) Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare”

Craven played around with meta-narratives quite a bit, most strongly here and later in Scream. New Nightmare is a blast—audiences get to see most of their favorites from the first film back playing themselves (including/introducing director Craven). Let’s face it, Heather Lagenkamp wasn’t the world’s strongest actress back in the day or later in this one playing herself but it’s still nice to see her back. The visuals were the best they had yet been when this one showed Freddy and he was certainly more frightening than he’d been in almost a decade. Good story through and through.

 

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2) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Probably the best cast (Laurence Fishburne), best lines (“Welcome to prime time…”), and some of the best visuals (Freddy the puppeteer) the series had. The soundtrack was solid as well, so there’s little wonder why this is many fans favorite of them all. Freddy also made a definite move to wiseass mischief maker who dished out comic relief and one-liners though which set the tone for every appearance he made afterwards (until New Nightmare). But this one works by pretty much every count: bringing back Nancy for a bit, expanding on the mythology, and squaring Freddy off against a group of quality adversaries.

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1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In this instance (contrary to Friday) the original is by far the best of the batch. Wes Craven came up with a truly terrifying concept that was original and provided a twist on the slasher genre much different than what anyone else was doing. He assembled a mostly top-notch cast, shot it with the best effects he could muster (and there are really only 1-2 instances where said effects are overly dated), and gave horror fans a creative, unique, and original experience. The bath tub scene, the ceiling drag, the blurring of waking and dreaming life, this one is a true horror classic was truly unmatched by every successive film regardless of how fun those sequels were.

Last week one of those viral Facebook status games went around. You know the ones—“I’ve been to X states how many have you?” with shaded areas or a Q&A of which sibling or spouse in your family is considered the more Y than the others, etc. This one going around was “I’ve been to 9 of the following 10 concerts—which is fake?” I’m usually not one for these games or copy-paste status shares but this caught my eye because I love music and frequent concerts. I love ranking, debating, and sharing music information as well. It was fun to learn what friends had seen what shows—that a Jehovah’s Witness mother of two friend of mine I’d never heard so much as cuss had seen Master P as a teen or that I had friends who’d caught both Kurt Cobain and Eliot Smith live before their suicides was interesting to me.

I realized when receiving notifications of comments on either mine or a friend’s status that I’d guessed at that for the first time in months (or longer) I actually enjoyed something on Facebook. I’ve been as guilty as others in the news-shares that only preach to the choir or piss off the other side but never change minds and rarely inspire actual action and I do like that news stories I trust and find worth my time populate in my feed on the regular but since the build up to the 2016 election and the fallout afterward I’ve felt little joy in reading or interacting with anything on Facebook. This was different and small as it was I enjoyed it.

Then almost instantly I began seeing backlash and realized just like I’ve always suspected, there can be no joy on most of the internet least of all Facebook. “Ugh I hate concerts who cares?” status updates or “thanks for reminding me I’ve never seen anything” or ultimately worst of all, comments that “these updates just showcase how privileged some people are that they can waste their time and money on such trivialities”—I’m paraphrasing and combining several comments and conversations into one with that but it’s a pretty apt summary of what I saw in one corner of the newsfeed. That’s just indicative of the need to –ism and box every activity and action, to privilege check all that shouldn’t be privilege checked and ultimately to force us all to realize: there.can.be.no.joy.

I love live music. I love music in general and love albums but I especially love the live concert experience. It’s all encompassing and it purges my mind of the clouds and cobwebs and self-doubt and cynicism. I went to a couple of shows a year from my late teens through my early twenties then a buddy and I spent two years of college hitting the road every time anywhere in a 6 hour radius a band either of us loved was playing. After graduation I caught shows sporadically but three years ago my wife and I moved to the Nashville area. While I’m no real (mainstream) country music fan, I quickly realized Nashville was beginning to draw more and more diverse acts. As someone who loves metal as well I was pleasantly surprised to see death, black, doom, trad and other metal acts from acclaimed upstart acts to historical legacy acts coming to the area. Though I’m approaching my mid-thirties at this point since I came to my full love of extreme metal rather later in life I took advantage of a somewhat flexible work schedule to hit as many of these shows, most of which could be enjoyed for less than $30, as possible—well, at least one a month.

I have no children. My wife and I trust each other to do things without the other when we want. We’ve slowly dug our way of debt (still a way to go) but the last 3 years are the first time in our lives one or both of us hasn’t been in some sort of school or degree program and it’s the first time we’ve both had something at least approximating a real career. So if I want to spend $30 or less on a show—then throw $50 if I feel like it on drinks and merch to support the hard-touring acts—on a Tuesday night in a warehouse or damp basement show or heck $75 occasionally for a legacy act in an arena then I don’t know whose business it is but my own. As for privilege? I have waited in so many lines for concerts and I see hard-working 20-50 year old folks, some obviously there straight from work with a schedule on deck for the next AM waiting in line to hear a song they love by a band they admire. I see folks who maybe want to have a drink and wait for the lights to go down and the spectacle to begin. To forget whoever is in office and whatever is owed, whatever has not worked out for them and just breathe for a few hours.

I remember those maps of “I’ve been to X states” and remember feeling bummed that I’d been nowhere outside of the southern geographic radius of states right into my 30s. I am only now at a point at which I can afford to really travel at least once a year. Sporting events? Outside of an occasional minor league baseball game I have no interest in spending my money and time at one. So do what you like in life when you have the opportunity because experiences are almost always worth it. I have fond memories of every show I’ve been to and they always yield stories to tell to like-minded fans. This year two of my best memories so far are a 4-act metal tour where I bounced around (often flying through the air) in a sweaty mosh pit for 5 hours and a small dark club where a gothic folk singer sang the words of songs I’d played on repeat for months to chilling effect. I’m not really a religious person (though I once was) but the right live show functions in the way the best religious service can—it builds an instant community, involves the whole body, and overwhelms all of the senses. It clears the mind.

So yeah, if you like live music just make the effort. There’s probably a city or town within an hour of you that will have at least 1 good show a month—catch one some time and if you like it, let the band know by buying a shirt or two. If you don’t like live music? Find something else to do with your time but don’t be annoying.

Lastly, I was thinking about how at least Yelp and Goodreads, as far as social media goes, function optimally by keeping the focus on the subject(s) at hand. Then I received a random message on Yelp yesterday from a stranger calling me names because I mentioned in a review I preferred omelets to scrambled eggs: No.Joy.

 

 

My Top Comics of 2016

December 29, 2016

 

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10) Saga

Okay so one one hand I’ve been tempted to call Saga the most over-rated comic in conversation today but..here I am placing it on my list of best 2016 comics. There were a lot of other worthy titles shipping monthly this year that could have slotted here but ultimately Saga takes the spot because of that wide reach and enthusiastic embrace. It’s comics little ambassador, a book to prove to someone on the fence that comics are a viable and exciting medium today (though be careful because some of those gross out closeups are adults only). Brian K. Vaughn’s best work IMO remains Y the Last Man but Saga may become a close second depending on how it all wraps up.

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9) Wonder Woman

Will DC finally make a good movie post-Nolan? Maybe. Maybe. The previews for Wonder Woman look terrific and after losing her job as a global ambassador IRL (don’t get me started), we at least need a good WW comic. Azarello’s run a couple years ago started great and really played up the mythology but then seemed to derail. No one in recent years has really gotten Princess Diana so DC just went back to one of the last scribes to do so and now we have new Greg Rucka Wonder Woman issues, alternating the latest version of her origin story with a new tale month to month. Of the “trinity” this title is by far the best DC is currently doing though King’s take on Batman is not bad.

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8) Stray Bullets

Stray Bullets was one of indie comics most frustrating (and unintentional) cliffhangers in history. 40 issues or so of masterful storytelling and art self-produced by David Lapham and then…who’s in the trunk? Radio silence for a decade or more. Lapham did a few other things (including the also excellent Young Liars for Vertigo which faced the axe too soon and had a rushed ending) and then finally…Stray Bullets came back! He not only wrapped up that original arc and then released the whole series in a giant omnibus but he launched a series of continued stories featuring our favorite doomed miscreants. Each issue stands on it’s own, hits like a fist to the gut, but also ties together for the overall story.

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7) Nailbiter

Joshua Williamson continued his horror-fan homage with 11 or so more issues of Nailbiter this year. We’re still not sure what all lurks in and behind the town where so many serial killers are born but we may be getting closer. Along with a dozen or more siblings Nailbiter cemented Image Comics as the torchbearers of classic Vertigo storytelling.

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6) Archie

Though I read my fair share of Archie digests as a kid, I would never have thought in a million years past the age of 10 that Archie would be a worthy consideration in any “best of” list. Yet somehow the entire Archie line has managed to not only survive the digital age but thrive and evolve without losing the essence of why they worked in the first place. We got not only the almost adults-only zombie action of Afterlife With Archie and the Lovecraftian horror of Sabrina we also got the primary all-ages in-universe Archie line updated for a new generation in a non-pandering way. Mark Waid knows what makes these simple stories work and every issue this year was a blast to read.

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5) Paper Girls

If you watched Stranger Things and enjoyed it you should really check out Paper Girls as it touches the same spots in the nostalgic brain in different ways. Sci-fi, kids on bikes, a big mystery–what’s not to love? Oh and yeah, this is another BKV title and one that, at least this year, I liked better than Saga.

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4) Bitch Planet

In addition to being a great sci-fi story, an excellent commentary on society. a wholly new way of introducing gender studies and feminism, Bitch Planet is also a masterclass in the monthly comic. With the back-matter pieces, the letter column, and the overall presentation of each issue, Bitch Planet is a cover-to-cover joy every time an issue ships. Much like Orange is the New Black these are characters that once never got a fully-developed narrative arc and eye. Yet, in my opinion, Bitch Planet far out-ranks that Netflix original.

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3) Mockingbird

For a newcomer to the medium, writer Chelsea Cain seems to have an uncanny touch for maximizing the art of panel storytelling. Her bread and butter are thriller novels and Mockingbird, her modern take on Bobbi Morse (much more than Hawkeye’s girlfriend) was her first comics project. And it was awesome. Sadly, gamergate style knuckledraggers harassed the hell out of her on Twitter for things like the above cover and ultimately this project either didn’t sell or whatever because a year in and we’re done folks. But both arcs, especially the first, were awesome (5 issues that can be reread in any order to reveal new layers to a comic caper complete with multiple sight gags and Easter eggs!) Light-hearted and fun yet puzzle-box intricate Mockingbird was what comics are all about.

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2) The Vision

Part American Beauty part Watchmen, this doomed crime and family take on suburbia featuring the Avengers’ Vision and his self-fashioned synthetic family was the most outside of the box take on an established superhero of 2016. Tom King is a writer who comes to the field after leaving a career with the CIA (!) and the medium is lucky to have him. The Vision is his strongest work yet.

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1)  Southern Bastards

Jason Aaron gives us a gritty warts and all Gothic take on life in the south, specifically Alabama. His Alabama may be over the top but as a native who spent his formative years there he gets the uniqueness and love-hate ratio right for a gripping take on homecoming. Southern Bastards is never really the story you think it is and I’m not sure where things will end up though I doubt they end up happy this being a true and through noir and all. Latour’s pencils are original and provide a great aesthetic for this story.

 

My Top Albums of 2016

December 10, 2016

 

 

 

 

634934910) Jayhawks: Paging Mr. Proust

The Jayhawks have long since moved on from the bulk of the original twang present in their alt-country beginnings to a more 1970s radio aesthetic which really kind of suits them even better. Rainy Day Music was one of the downright prettiest albums of the ’00s and Paging Mr. Proust almost matched that this year. Mark Olsen’s vocals are just so gorgeous and the soft (but not weak) rock that supports those vocals is full of melody and melancholy. Put on “Isabel’s Daughter” or “Pretty Roses in Your Hair” and you’ll think you’re living in an alternate ideal version of 40 years ago.

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9) Cobalt: Slow Forever

I know the fans loved Gin and with the loss of the two-piece’s original singer most probably didn’t hold much hope for a follow-up album. Yet as raw and talented a vocalist as Wunder was, Cobalt is really drummer Phil McSorley’s band and project. This may be one of the only bands this side of jazz this truly drumcentric. The drums create the thunder and rhythm that propels this warbeast forward, intense and at times overwhelming. However, new vocalist Charlie Fell of Lord Mantis fame perfectly fits right in with an intensity fans of his previous work knew he could match. They work together excellently here (and live). Slow Forever adds swaths of blues, bayou, goth and folk to the black metal stew and in that finds a hauntingly unique sound. The ghost of Ernest Hemingway is present once more as he’s the spiritual father of Cobalt in the “Iconoclast” intro to the title track near the end of the record. Cobalt toured with excellent German upstart two-piece Mantar (whose Ode to the Flame this year was also fantastic) showcasing the power of the drum.

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8) Leonard Cohen: You Wanted Darker

Did we Leonard? Did we want darker? If so you certainly delivered. The opening title track might contain Cohen’s darkest imagery to date and that’s quite a feat for a cynic (or an optimist masked as a cynic) like Mr. Cohen. “Treaty” follows up without dialing it back. While listening to this record when it first came out I (like most others) had no idea we would soon lose Cohen. This album seems to be his making peace with death but as always he finds beauty in the darkness and hope in the hopelessness. Recorded minimally in his own home as he was dying he nevertheless sounds strong and timeless. The only other album to come close to this in stark desperation is Nick Cave‘s Skeleton Tree which somehow managed to find great music in the artist’s struggle to deal with the death of his teen son.

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7) Lydia Loveless: Real

They may market her as “Americana” which really nowadays just means “country that doesn’t suck” as mainstream Nashville continues to disintegrate culturally and musically (a long slow death that bro-country just put the cherry on) but Lydia Loveless is really just great damn country music, to me so good that she reminds you the genre is worthy of attention. Real is a perfect title for this album because that’s what she gives you-realness. Real stories, real emotions, real hope, real desperation, real feelings produced by honest lyrics, honest vocals and warm welcoming music.”Out on Love” was easily one of my most played songs this year.

 

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6) Subrosa: For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

Subrosa have been making captivating and unique music for years now and their latest record is their most creative yet. Musically they continue to mix doom metal, classic rock, classical, chamber, and indie to create complex, layered long-form songs (or movements). Lyrically this time around they use a (to most American readers) rather obscure Russian dystopian sci-fi novel from the 1920s as a jumping off point for songs of a near and all to close future of state suppression and loss of identity. Rebecca Vernon’s vocals sound stronger and more emotional than ever and violinists Sarah Pendelton and Kim Pack give listeners chills. Some of the best lyrics committed to music of any genre this year were on this record, phrases and codas that simply demand to be heard and felt.

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5) Anthrax: For All Kings

2016 was a year in which veterans of Thrash Metal decided to do their best work since their prime. Megadeth has been notoriously incapable of making a great record in a long time yet in February they released, to the surprise of everyone, their strongest work in more than two decades with Dystopia. Though it doesn’t reach the peaks of their classic 80s work (Rust in Peace) it was arguably as fun as their last great record (Countdown to Extinction).  Then near the end of the year, Metallica went and released their strongest record in more than 20 years as well with Hard Wired to Self-Destruct. Testament, though never considered in the “big 4” has actually been more consistent than any of them and kept their train rolling with Brotherhood of the Snake. Yet none of the above matched up to Anthrax’s For All Kings. which may very well be their best record EVER not just since their prime. The songs, riffs, vocals, drums, production and everything here is better consistently than anything they’ve ever committed to record. Anthrax has always been better live than on record (and if you got to see them on tour for this record you saw they haven’t lost it) but this time they matched the quality of those live performances on record. Anthrax in many ways are unique among their thrash peers and descendants in that (with vocalist Joey Belladonna) their vocals are closer to older pure “heavy metal” with soaring highs and melodic lows (no growls, barks or grunts to be found) and their lyrics are generally upbeat, positive and fun…heck even that “pentagram” on the cover and their merch is actually and “A” for “Anthrax” logo. Though a tad on the long side this record is a blast front to back with a fun joyful energy that is welcome even to the dourest of metalheads particularly in the pit. Who else can make calling out religious extremism and terrorism sound fun?

 

 

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4) A Tribe Called Quest: We Got it from Here Thank You 4 Your Service:

Wow we had De La Soul return this year AND a final album from Tribe? Other than those two it was a rather sparse year for hip hop (IMO) other than a few solid entries from DJ Khaled, Common and maybe Drake (though a last minute drop from J.Cole I’ve yet to digest is likely worth some time too).  Anyway, Tribe was far in the lead of the pack for Hip Hop and “We Got It From Here” works as a tribute to their fallen Phife Dog and a state of the nation address. Even with the politics and the weight of their fallen member there is an unmitigated joy to be found on here reminding us how much fun hip hop can be. The production on these tracks showcases the best use of samples, original beats and instrumentation combinations to be found in classic or modern rap music.

 

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3) Khemmis: Hunted

Doom Metal is often inaccessible to casual listeners–what with the extra long songs, repetitive riffs and often harsh vocals most of the modern classics of the subgenre are loved only by diehards. Pallbearer broke that mold a little bit over the past few years by finding a way to inject heavy doses of melody and outright beauty into the formula without sacrificing the heavy and Khemmis traverses that same path. Khemmis’ debut album Antediluvian just dropped last year and it was more than solid–yet here they are to immediately follow it up with an even stronger work. Hunted has fewer but longer songs than its predecessor and even more melody (clean vocals make up 85% or so of the singing) but the riffs are heavier, more intricate and catchier than ever. The lyrics are great too, and even the longest of songs here never meanders or even feels its length, nary a wasted or superfluous note to be found and that’s saying something for work this weighty. If you like what you hear on Spotify or whatnot, head over to 20BuckSpin and order this one on vinyl or CD as the packaging and booklet, artwork, etc. seems to add another level.

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2) Drive By Truckers: American Band

If not for Beyonce this would have been my pick of the year. I mean, DBT have long been my favorite modern band and this is the best album they’ve made in a decade. This is their most timely, topical, and mature work yet and each song catalogues the state of the world today in assured but often subtle and complex ways. Not to mention that it rocks, the band sounds tighter and more focused than ever. DBT mixes the classic sounds of Exile era Stones, original (and hippy) line-up Skynard, bar band era Springsteen and witty, turn of phrase lyrics that evoke classic Dylan and nineties college rock. “Ramon Casiano” is an excellent opener and one of Cooley’s best ever, Hood’s “What It Means” eulogy for Trevon Martin and other black victims of gun violence, the sly repudiation of those who defend the confederate flag “Surrender Under Protest” and the immigrant history of “Ever South” stretch the focus of DBT’s keen eye for detail to the entire nation. A truly great and new statement across the board from one of America’s finest touring and recording bands working right now.

 

beyonce_-_lemonade_official_album_cover1) Beyonce: Lemonade

I know I sound like a copycat to say it but Lemonade was my favorite record of 2016 by far. So many others are saying the same thing so one would be forgiven for thinking it’s some sort of critical contagion, an opinion spreading that takes over or whatever. All I know is that I’ve been a Beyonce fan her entire career and while she’s had many great songs she’s never had a great full album…until now. I knew from the first time I heard these tracks last summer this would be my pick of the year barring an unforeseen upset and here we are at the end of the year and only one other album has even come close (see above). I’ll also disclose this–I haven’t seen the videos. I know this is a video album and I’m sure that adds an entire other level to the experience but I simply haven’t yet. I’ll likely purchase a 2 disc copy at some point to get those but just judging the songs as they are I’m confident in declaring this my winner. Each song works on its own and as part of a stellar overall whole. The crossover layers of genre, nods to outside art, the detailed inner journey of the artist–the production, the guest spots, the lyrics, everything works completely. There’s not a wasted or skippable moment to be found and declaring THE best moment is even difficult as I found “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, “Daddy Lessons” and “Freedom” to each be equally fantastic…but then again everything surrounding those few highlights is top-notch as well. Who’d have thought it? A true album-lovers album delivered in 2016 by a world-famous popstar released initially through a niche streaming service and accompanied by HBO videos.

Honorable Mentions:

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AMSG-Hostis Universi Generis/Gevurah-Hallelujah/Myrkur-Masoleum/Inquisition-Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith

Black Metal has always been the most controversial, least accessible and most aggressive subgenre of them all and while it moves into its third decade or so of existence many may argue (as they did with punk) it is no longer “really” black metal if it’s being made today particularly in North America. Whatever. It is true that it has moved away from it’s original birthplace and pretensions in many ways. The last few years have found black metal to be experimental, complex and diverse in a multitude of ways from the identities of its performers to their philosophical leanings and instruments. This year Chilean to US transplants Inquisition made their best record yet; female multi-instrumentalist Myrkur stripped songs from last year’s great M. album and added a few covers–recording them live in a mausoleum backed by a girl’s choir. Her hauntingly beautiful vocals sing the songs in her native Danish language and showcase black metal as high art. Two of the year’s best BM records came from Canada–Gevurah‘s esoteric and challenging Hallelujah and best of all AMSG’s disturbing, terrifying and captivating Hostis Universi Generis.

Other Notable Mentions: Experimental post-metal artists Neurosis made their most accessible yet uncompromising work yet with  Fire Within Fires, Veteran sludge metal band showcase riffs galore with Crowbar: The Serpent Only Lies, Meshuggah perfected their formula decades in with The Violent Sleep of Reason, Neko Case and pals Laura Veir and K.D. Lang showed everyone how to actually do a “supergroup” with Case/Lang/Veir, American R&B proved more exciting than hip hop for the year with, in addition to Beyonce, great new albums from Maxwell, Alicia Keys, and Frank Ocean and speaking of hip hop–I almost forgot Common’s Black America Again. I’m leaving a lot out as it was one of metal’s strongest underground years ever and there was even great new jazz to be found.

 

For many liberals, this has been the year of wrestling with the white working-class middle-aged man. From “Hillbilly Elegy” to “Strangers in Their Own Land” and a mounting Everest of think-pieces from the New York Times, Mother Jones, The Atlantic (and on and on) following the surprise election of Donnie Drumpf, suddenly educated upper middle class whites are wondering what they’ve misread in a huge swath of the country. Further complicating the waters are the 53% of white women who also helped usher Donnie into the White House. Certainly the rust belt and coal country are desperate, scared, angry and feeling marginalized. That’s been building for years–seeking to understand why and what can actually be done to better things there (and not just false promises like those they gambled on in this election) is long overdue (more on that later).

It’s been barely a week since the election and most of the things I’ve heard since–after initial shock, sadness and anger from one side (still lingering) and joyful celebration from the other (already waning to some degree) have been urges from most to “come together” “show empathy” and “be one country”: that is, from most white folks who are not from at-risk or marginalized communities. For every “get over it” or “look forward” I hear from white folks I hear “How can we?” from black, Muslim, LGBT, and Latino voices. People are rightfully scared and the recent elevation of Steve Bannon, alt-right mouthpiece and agitator, has done nothing to give them reason to not be afraid.

#ThisIsNotNormal: As John Oliver stressed on his last show of the year, this is not normal and we should not acclimate to it so if you have to , put a post-it up on your bathroom mirror so you don’t blank out and accept Trump’s America if you’re of a privileged class that can. We have just elevated the least-experienced and most ill-suited candidate in modern American history to the office of President. A man who has failed at everything he has ever done (marriage, business, humanity) and who has callously stoked hate against every non-white community in the country on the campaign trail and who is filling his cabinet with dreadful people. A reality TV personality who bragged of sexual assault and smiled as his daughter was called a “piece of ass” by Howard Stern. This is not normal.

While those who voted for Drumpf and many who didn’t but who want to let bygones by bygones urge us to let it go as just a “political” difference there are many who simply can’t yet–at least not until they find out what Drumpf really has planned for stop and frisk and an increasingly militarized police force, what he has planned for the wall and deportation, his proposed database of Muslims, if he will really repeal environmental protection laws, if he will seek to use the Supreme Court to repeal Roe v. Wade and eliminate health care access for millions of poor women and children, if Mike Pence will have any way of legitimizing “gay conversion” therapy, if Drumpf will be able to quell the violence and bullying done in his name, if he can call out the KKK and neo-nazi groups celebrating in his name…

See, when Bush (W.) won his second race I was an under-grad college student and I got pretty bummed. But I didn’t feel the pain in my bones and the shock to my system that made me seriously question the future of our country that I have now and I can only imagine what some other people are feeling. No, I was bummed but able to chat politely with Republican friends and teachers and talk about how we felt, the issues themselves, the perceived direction of our country. What some on the right are failing to acknowledge at the local level is just how different things are this time around. Things that are about to happen may seriously (and negatively) impact the very existence and livelihood of this country and the world as a whole. Maybe I’m naive– I’m sure my more liberal friends would say so in this regard–but I actually like Hillary Clinton as a person. I think she is a good person and would have made a good President. I may not have agreed with her on everything and I would have had serious concerns on some of her foreign policy positions in particular but my hope was that with a Democratic House and Senate, particularly with folks like Sanders and Warren taking on greater leadership roles we would have been able to hold her to issues and advance on Obama’s progress, curbing some of the negative possibilities. I think we could have certainly made great strides on climate change, secured social policy issues for a generation (and thus indefinitely) and so much more. Some of my most politically liberal friends think this laughable as they promote #DemExit and the like now, partly welcoming a Trump presidency if only because it will shock us all awake. But the cost I fear may be far too large.

I believe in the bedrocks of democracy–of liberalism–of progressivism. I believe in empathy checked by responsibility and strength, what George Lakoff describes as the nexus of liberal thought (in “The Political Mind”): empathy to feel the pain and share the concerns of others, responsibility to feel the need to act to address those concerns and the strength to do so. And I most certainly do not think it would be fair to accuse me of “living in a bubble” as seems to be the heart of most “empathy to the working class” pieces I read lately (you can take a pretty spot on quiz to see if you live in a left/urban/secular bubble here)–no, I’ve lived more than 75% of my life in working class (usually rural) areas, I’ve worked many service sector and labor intensive jobs in my life, my Facebook feed is regularly filled with arguments from both sides and much more. I know there are a lot of reasons below the surface affecting how we behave and act politically (I highly recommend “Our Political Nature”) from birth order to parenting style to early childhood experiences and education but I also know we have the choice to learn, to grow and to celebrate truth. I was punched in the face more than once from 12-16 years of age as I ran my mouth at bullies slurring the n word and guffawing, at racism every time I encountered it as it always made me angry to the bone. I know it when I see it “cleaned up” in Drumpf and I won’t be silent now either. You are free to have your opinion and I may even like many people who are guilty of unconscious and casual racism even though I disagree with them. But your desperation does not excuse you allowing these forces into legitimate power, blessing those opinions by elevating them far beyond workplace or popular culture. Data shows quite a few wealthy and upper middle-class voters embraced Trumpism. Though desperate rust belt and coal belt men and the women who wanted them to excel again may have tipped one of the scales that ushered Donnie in, they were not the only bloc. But empathize with them I can to that extent that I agree poverty sucks, back-breaking labor sucks and feeling like the world is leaving you behind can indeed suck. It shouldn’t make you cling to empty promises when the evidence to the contrary is clear and easily accessible though. The fact is liberal policies can and have been able to address those very real needs but too often the white working class in forgotten industries actively work against themselves. When you’re told climate change and advancing technology will end your field for 40 years and you actively avoid it instead of helping to be at the forefront of what comes next, when you fight against stimulus packages that can elevate your community, when you decry unions for “right to work” policies instead, when you oppose a raise in the minimum wage and universal health care access to all, when you keep voting in tea-party representatives who could care less about you instead of those who can work to get progressive policies through then you are digging your own hole.

All this to say–when you say “we voted different we can still be friends”–sure. Yeah. But that’s a lot easier if we’re both white and middle class. Your choices have an impact. The very minute the results started rolling in Trump supporters flipped the table to assign themselves victim status. They decried being labelled as racist, sexist or xenophobic. They did everything they could to instantly be the “winners” who would have supported the other candidate had things been reversed, they suddenly became the biggest fans ever of the electoral college despite previous opinions, they decried protestors as “sore losers” and they held themselves as martyrs unfairly labelled prejudiced. I mean, didn’t Drumpf win areas in the rust belt Obama also won? Can’t be racism can it (ignoring the fact that maybe many of Obama’s supporters were too disgusted to turn out or that voting one time for one black man like having one black friend doesn’t preclude one from loving and benefiting from institutional racism)? No, not everyone who voted Drumpf was racist–they did make a decision that was racist however, like it or not. The nationalism, racism, Islamophobia, etc. were all part of the Donnie package and white folks decided those -isms weren’t deal breakers. They decided a man who plays on hate and fear deserved a shot at the White House despite having what may be the highest record of lying on the campaign trail ever recorded by fact checkers, despite the warnings from every expert in every field, despite the rift their decision was bound to cause for generations to come. So when you ask me or any other white liberal to get over it maybe we can. We can just ignore the subjects we don’t want to talk about if rational reasoned debate is out of the question (which it clearly is due to the repudiation of the “media” and “fact checking” and “liberal education” by the Drumpf package) but I can’t offer you forgiveness for your decision as I am not one most wronged by your choice. Don’t want to be seen as racist? Then apologize to those who feel like second class citizens due to your choice, who are scared for their future and their children right now. Forgiveness can only be given by one directly wronged. I may “feel” wronged–I feel bad that expertise, education, knowledge and basic liberal principles of democracy are being jettisoned and ridiculed, that debate using legitimate journalism and research as sources will become increasingly difficult and I especially worry that climate change will wreak irreversible damage in my lifetime–but I have not been shouted at to “go back” to any country, I have not been harassed or threatened due to religious belief, sexual orientation or anything of the sort. But there are millions in our country who have, will or fear they may be and it is they who you if you are a Trump voter owe your apology to. Tell them you are not a racist or xenophobe but that you desperately believed Drumpf’s impossible promises so much (or hated Hillary so much) that you overlooked all of the vitriol and cast your vote his way any way.

Seriously–how much leeway do we give each other for bad choices? It’s a free country and I respect your choice to do anything so long as it does not negatively affect me or others. We can agree not to hate each other while still holding each other accountable for bad choices. I am sure many people would consider me a hypocrite or an asshole in many ways. But I knew what was at stake in this election and did what I could to prevent it. We’ll see how history views all of this in time but there are clear parallels in our past that provide a pretty clear indication.

“Ramon Casiano” is the song that opens the Drive By Trucker’s “American Band” album, one of this year’s greatest and most timely albums (second only to Beyonce’s “Lemonade”). In an infinitely catchy and masterfully played southern rock song DBT’s Mike Cooley sings the story of how Harlon Carter shot 15 year-old Ramon Casiano in Laredo Texas in 1931. The full details of who Carter is are not explicitly spelled out as the bulk of the song shifts to a focus on border issues, prejudice and struggle. You know while listening that everything is tied together and given an overarching theme but you’d be well rewarded by digging into the history here as it produces an even deeper level to the song and it sheds light on a few major issues facing us today. It’s a smart song in an album full of them that showcases a critique of people and places from within that is biting and necessary. It also rocks.

So who was Harlon Carter? Carter is a former NRA Executive Vice President and the person responsible for the “Cincinnati Revolution” in 1977 in which new leadership took over the NRA, ousting the old guard to transform the organization from a group that taught youth shooting safety, advocated hunting and sportsmanship, and worked to increased safety and accuracy in sports shooting into one that took a radical hard-line  “individual rights” interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and became a political advocacy group for repealing all existing gun laws and prohibiting any others from passing. Carter and his partners changed the nature of the entire organization, moved it from being a responsible sportsman group to a lobbyist for the gun manufacturing industry. Before Carter was an NRA executive he was a teen himself involved in the malicious shooting of 15 year old Hispanic teen Ramon Casiano:

“After returning home from school that day, Carter was told by his mother that there were three Hispanic youths loitering near their family’s property. Carter left his house, shotgun in tow, to confront the alleged loiterers. After finding Casiano and his two companions, Carter pointed his shotgun at them and ordered them to come with him. Casiano refused and pulled out a knife and asked Carter if he would like to fight. Carter then pointed the shotgun at Casiano’s chest. Casiano pushed the gun aside and asked Carter not to shoot while taking a step back. He was then shot and killed. Carter claimed self-defense, but the presiding judge instructed the jury, “There is no evidence that defendant had any lawful authority to require deceased to go to his house for questioning, and if defendant was trying to make deceased go there for that purpose at the time of the killing, he was acting without authority of law, and the law of self-defense does not apply.”*

*http://nraontherecord.org/harlon-carter/

Carter would end up not serving any time and years later when this story resurfaced tied to his new job he denied and dismissed it.

harloncarter1

Cooley and the trucker’s tie Carter and his perverted NRA to many of the struggles our nation has faced ever since and explain how such figures became “leaders of a certain kind of men who need to feel the world’s against them, like in mind and like in skin.”

We could tie Carter and his bastard version of the NRA to a lot of evil in this world as they bear some responsibility for everything from Columbine to the Pulse Night Club by way of Sandy Hook and so many others too numerous to count. They are responsible because they’ve spread their vitriol and arrogance across the country by shutting down logical debate and warping minds, by refusing to consider any and all regulations labeling all such attempts as nefarious efforts of the Federal Government to control the population–yet all the while shouting that such a thing may be possible and in such yielding greater donations and increasing arms sales for their partners. Carter’s legacy is the laughs that guffaw from Republicans who watched the last presidential debate when Hillary defended her efforts to pass legislation that would curb the number of toddler related shootings (!) in our country each year due to unsecured guns from irresponsible parents.  Carter’s legacy is the stockpile of military grade weapons the Sandy Hook shooter’s mother had amassed out of fear of Obama that was used by her son to murder elementary school children and their teachers. Harlon Carter’s legacy is the sea of bloodshed in poor neighborhoods where shooting deaths rival those in Iraq.

But I don’t just blame Carter and the NRA. I blame those too blinded to recognize the lies they are being sold. Here’s the 2nd Amendment, verbatim:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

As it reads, the 2nd Amendment is tied to “a well regulated militia.” Well regulated clearly leaves room for restrictions and regulations especially as they may relate to public health and safety in a much closer together larger country with advanced technology such as ours today. Furthermore, “militia” refers to citizen-soldiers, persons not in full time service of the army. Such a group today would be our National Guard. So, the 2nd Amendment only grants full access to firearms to a group of citizen soldiers who may need to assemble for security.

Now, I am not an originalist in that I do not read the constitution as a fundamentalist reads a scripture, as unchanging, set in stone and closed for reinterpretation in each era. For me it is the principles behind each amendment as they relate to our core principles as Americans that matters. But the 2nd Amendment clearly lies at odds with a personal rights interpretation for those who do define as originalists– yet originalists themselves sometime now follow Carter’s lead and interpret the 2nd amendment to mean free and unfettered rights of gun ownership to any and all private citizens without any measure of restriction. I am not of the mind that there should be no privately owned guns in our country–just that we can have a rational discussion in light of what has worked in other countries and pass common-sense laws that mitigate the number of guns in the hands of terrorists, criminals and the mentally ill. Also that we can restrict the power and velocity of privately owned guns and reduce the number of guns in circulation that are stolen from honest owners and used for crimes every day.

Ironically, those who have swallowed the extremist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and kept to it no matter how many dead children arise as a result more often than not identify as “pro life”. In this case we would laugh at the absurdity were it not so sad. Life for this group as it becomes clearer each day we advance into Trump’s America only matters if it is wealthy and white or completely potential–fertilized eggs that may become a cute baby. For the “pro life” all that matters is life in the abstract and the concept of motherhood—something they find unfathomable that someone may not want or be able to possess. But life–toddlers shot down in Newtown, innocent bystanders wiped out in gang shootings, drone-struck life on the borders around the world, life snuffed out as it desperately strives to reach safety by way of refugee, that life most assuredly does not matter.

Blood is on the hands of Carter and those who defend his legacy like today’s disgrace Wayne Lapierre.Blood is also on the hands of those who refuse to have a productive conversation on how we can halt the shed of blood and the loss of safety. And the hypocrisy of those who will shut down such a line of thought while clinging to their own prejudices will be the hypocrisy that eventually ends the modern Christian church in America. If this election has shown us anything it’s that rational, reasoned debate falls on the deaf ears of those who refuse to consider facts and who consider education itself as an ill. Perhaps we need more assholes to willfully stand as thorns in the side of Trump and those who enable him and who refuse to bow down or remain silent about that which destroys us.

 

 

Autopsy of an Election

November 10, 2016

I spent several hours yesterday calling and messaging friends to see how they were doing and to let them know how much they mean to me. Those closest to me are in shock right now; scared, angry and disgusted. Many of my closest friends work as teachers, with nonprofits or in ministry and as such most of them are spread out across the states often in towns where the local response to Trump’s election is quite different than their own. My mother may be one of the last Democrats in her small KY town and is in shock herself, made all the more difficult by a gleeful praising of Trump everywhere she goes. This presidential race and especially its result have left a lot of people I care about feeling very isolated. Many of us are seeing how fragile rights and privileges we’ve taken for granted actually are. I’ve spoken with teachers whose classes are comprised primarily of minorities and their hearts are broken for these students who are legitimately terrified of what might happen to them—or simply at how they feel the world around them actually sees them. I have LGBT friends worried that coming down the pipeline could be a decision that would invalidate the legality of their marriages. People who work with refugees are now worried about the future of refugee services in this country. Looming over all of this is also the strong possibility of environmental devastation, the specter of war(s) and so many other ills.

Many friendships and families are strained now as well. I don’t think those on the right are willing to admit this election is different than any that has come before. Those who have spent the most time working in or studying government, politics and history have incessantly warned voters of the dangers of Trump while those with the least familiarity with or knowledge of those things were the backbone that swept him into office. An acquaintance of mine summed that up inadvertently—“Your candidate lost, get over it. This is the first time my candidate has ever won and you’ll survive just like I did. Besides, just do like I do and focus on sports and ignore world events and news if it bothers you.” And therein lies the problem—ignore it all you want but it still has repercussions, it still has effects. If you don’t know or care for any people of color, immigrants, refugees, folks from at-risk communities or members of the LGBT community you haven’t had to think about how a Trump presidency and the movement that allowed him to be will affect any of those people. You haven’t given much thought to the black church burned and spray painted “Trump,” the KKK marches in the south, the joyful exclamations of former grand wizard David Duke praising Trump. You don’t know (or know that you know) any women who cried themselves to sleep upon Trump’s election because they recognize the threat Trump poses to women’s healthcare and rights; you don’t know or care that many of these women feel that our country just labeled them as second class citizens again. You certainly don’t put much stock in climate science or fear that we may easily reach the point of no return if Trump, a climate science denier, does what he says he’s going to do to environmental regulations. This is not a vague or far-off concern, this is a clear and present danger and we are in precarious times due to it, far more at risk as a nation and a world because of it than we ever will be over the national debt.

So yes, this election was different. Policies aside which we can debate rationally in Trump we have now elected someone who has consistently and thoroughly lied and denied easily fact-checked previous statements, who has threatened the press and the first amendment, who has admitted to sexual assault, who has openly denigrated entire populations of at risk communities. A reality TV star. A man who still hasn’t released his tax returns or paid taxes. Who will dismantle the progress we were tentatively making in almost every area of society. The only plausible positive prediction I can make regarding Trump’s plans are that, pending other developments, he may actually improve the economy at least in the short-term. I imagine that realistically stocks could continue to rally especially as arms manufacturers pump out supply predicting future wars, as health care industry stocks get a boost from the repeal of Obamacare and the promise of free-market price-gouging tactics and the denial of service to folks who are already sick, as dirty energy stocks jolt alive at the expense of a healthy planet and hopes for cheaper clean energy are squashed. The rich will get richer at the expense of the poor in a slash and burn campaign that will shorten the lifespan of humans on this planet.

And why has this happened? Because some voters were able to master the dark art of false equivalency and parrot Fox News talking points all while steadily shutting out facts from “crooked” mainstream media? Because of a deep hatred for “liberalism” or a subconscious prejudice against women leaders? Or is this just the dying spasms of the old order as the religious right sold out all of its principles and in doing so lost an entire incoming generation of millennials?

This election result may very well be ranked as one of the largest tragedies in national history some day and it was completely self-inflicted.