Video Fridays: Mountaineering, Monty Python & My Son The Rock Climber

jclimbing2It’s been WAY too long since I wrote about My Son The Rock Climber!

That’s him six years ago, age 12, in the lede photo here, climbing on the wall we built for him in his bedroom. By the time this photo was taken, he’d been climbing for about six years, he’d joined a local youth climbing team six months earlier, and a year later he qualified for the national championships!

Well, while My Son The Rock Climber, now age 18, no longer competes, he still climbs and is AMAZING!!!, he works as a route setter at a local climbing gym, and when he climbs he looks like this:


In some ways, not much has changed. In other ways, EVERYTHING seems to have changed.

Anyway, last night he and I went together to the 10th Annual Reel Rock Film Festival, a collection of short films about rock climbing and mountaineering. It was inspiring for him, but it was terrifying for me.

See, while I’ve been super supportive of My Son The Rock Climber’s climbing for years, and while I know that the vast majority of climbers are hyper-safety-conscious, the Reel Rock films are chock full of some of the most intense, dangerous climbing you can imagine, and the thought of My Son The Rock Climber somewhere like, let’s say, 2,000 feet up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, fills me with anxiety and dread.

For now, he’s solely interested in the relatively safe form of climbing known as bouldering, consisting of difficult, technical routes typically no more than 20 feet high.

But last night he expressed an interest in ice climbing, a component of mountaineering, and the film that focused on mountaineering, A Line Across The Sky, the most terrifying of the evening, was about two climbers who climbed this:


That’s Fitz Roy in Patagonia, Argentina, and the two climbers were and thankfully still are Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold.

For Video Fridays, then, I thought I’d spread the terror around a bit by posting the trailer for A Line Across The Sky, encouraging you to seek out and see the whole film, which, beside being terrifying, is absolutely gorgeous to look at and an inspiring story of human dedication, perseverance, and achievement.

Following that, I’ll share what I turned to for relief from the anxiety at the thought of My Son The Climber ever doing anything remotely that dangerous.

At least one of the members of Monty Python had to have been a mountaineering enthusiast, because mountain climbing featured prominently in three different skits from their Flying Circus days, and the technical terms peppered throughout make it clear that they knew what they were talking about.

Here now, then, the serious and not-so-serious side of a very dangerous activity.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Dead & Company

mayer-weirI haven’t written about one of my favorite bands of all time, the Grateful Dead, in a while, having published my last post on the topic back in July, but today it’s definitely time.

When I heard in August that three of the “core four” remaining members of the Dead — Bob Weir, Billy Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart — were going to do some shows under the name of ‘Dead & Company’, with the ‘company’ consisting of Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Chimenti, from Weir’s band Ratdog, on keyboards, and John Mayer on lead guitar, I was not surprised, but I was skeptical.

Not surprised, because earlier in the year, in February, Bob Weir was a guest on CBS’a The Late Late Show, guest-hosted by John Mayer, and they performed two very nicely done Dead tunes (see below), and during the interview segment Mayer professed his love of the Grateful Dead.

Skeptical for two reasons:

1. While I very much enjoyed Mayer’s work on the two songs I saw him play, and though I don’t believe that any guitar player stepping into Jerry Garcia’s vacant shoes needs to imitate Jerry’s tone and technique, Mayer did not at all emulate Jerry, which is fine when it’s Weir sitting in with Mayer’s band, but it won’t work for most Deadheads when Mayer sits in with the Dead.

2. In the Rolling Stone article announcing the Dead & Company shows, John Mayer said this (my emphasis added in bold):

“They take their time, sometimes too much. This free expressive sort of spirit – I listen and I want to find a mix of that openness. I kind of want to go to that show, if it still existed. But I wish that there were tunes that I was more familiar with. I wish that I could be the singer. I wish I could have harmonies. And I wish that I could make it seven minutes instead of 13 minutes. Now I’ll get the opportunity to kind of try that.”

I read that and thought, “Um, John, you wouldn’t actually dream of messing with one of the quintessentials of the Grateful Dead, would you? Really?! I mean, you do know that taking 13 minutes to play a 7-minute song was pretty much the whole point of the Grateful Dead, right?”

Well, what a difference a few months make!

According to Relix, Mayer has spent the time since then working 4-5 hours a day, learning the songs and rehearsing with the band in what he refers to as ‘Grateful Dead University’. In several articles I’ve read about his preparations, he sounded incredibly sincere and respectful, deeply invested in honoring the Dead’s and Jerry Garcia’s immense legacies.

And, last night was the first Dead & Company show, and right out of the gate they opened with a wonderful 15-minute version of Playing In The Band, one of the tunes that the Dead was most noted for stretching out on, sometimes as long as a half-hour, and Mayer not only nailed Jerry’s tone and technique, without sounding like a simple copycat, but he relaxed into the extended jam and fit in beautifully with the band.

For this week’s Video Fridays installment, then, let’s look at his transformation, first with Mayer being Mayer and decidedly not Jerry on The Late Late Show back in February, followed by Mayer channeling Jerry last night in Albany, New York.

Well done, John, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Democracy Waking Up: Black Lives Matter & Insurgent Candidates

schuffmanRemember this quote from Bernie Sanders, from my post back in May?

“One of the greatest tragedies that we face today politically is that most people have given up on the political process. They understand the political process is stacked against them. They think there is no particular reason for them to come out and vote — and they don’t.”

Well, there have been several signs lately that people haven’t fully given up, and I’d like to highlight two promising examples here.

Black Lives Matter
On August 8th, three Black Lives Matter activists disrupted a Bernie Sanders campaign event in Seattle.

It was courageous and brilliant.

Anyone who thinks the activists were rude or barking up the wrong tree — because Bernie has an excellent record on civil rights for people of color — simply doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand the depths of the problem, the ugly persistence of institutional racism, the daily struggles of Black Americans, the daily degradations, the enduring discrimination and the lack of opportunity.

The Black Lives Matter movement clearly has not given up, and we should celebrate that they were successful in getting Bernie to meet with and listen to them, to strengthen his support for their work, such that when he was initially asked if black lives matter he gave a qualified answer — “black lives matter, white lives matter, Hispanic lives matter” — and when he was asked in the first Democratic Presidential Debate this past Tuesday he included no such qualifier:

Black lives matter. And the reason those words matter is the African American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail, or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China. And, I intended to tackle that issue. To make sure that our people have education and jobs rather than jail cells.

THAT is getting it!

Insurgent Candidates
I don’t know the origin of the term “insurgent candidate”, it certainly predates its current use, but I absolutely love it. And yes, even when it’s referring to candidates I vehemently oppose, because a true Democracy should provide a real opportunity to anyone who wants to participate in government by running for office, and no one should be deterred by a lack of money, by a political party that favors establishment players, or by a rigid 2-party system that breeds polarization and gridlock.

Getting more specific, I see as a very good thing insurgent candidates who do not fit, and defiantly refuse to fit, the media-perpetuated definition of “presidential”. I and millions of other Americans are sick to death of highly polished, highly coached, highly focus-grouped, politicians. They are the reason why so many of us had given up.

If insurgency allows for a loudmouthed, racist poster boy for capitalist greed like Donald Trump to reach Republican front-runner status, it’s worth it if at the same time it allows plainspoken, SuperPac-less, unapologetically Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, to be a serious challenger to Wall Street darling Hillary Clinton.

Mark Hertsgaard nails this and calls it Bernie’s “secret weapon” in The Nation.

Anyway, I’m running out of time, it’s Friday, that means a Video Fridays installment is due, and so here’s the brief story of another insurgent candidate, Stuart Schuffman, who is running for Mayor of San Francisco, and whose campaign website is refreshingly called: Broke-Ass Mayor.

I LOVE this guy, I love his “I don’t give a shit. I don’t care if I don’t win, I’m doing this to make some fucking noise.” attitude. Being polite and asking the government nicely to help the homeless, to address income and wealthy inequality, to battle climate change, etc., will NOT cut it.

Go Stu! And, Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Happy Birthday, John Lennon!

lennonSo, John Lennon would have turned 75-years old today if some lunatic with a gun hadn’t taken him down nearly 35 years ago.

Don’t get me started again on guns.

Lennon was a polarizing figure for sure, a flawed human being like everyone else, but there’s no question that his is one of the greatest stories in music history, and I’ve got to say that he’s been a huge influence on me, musically and otherwise.

John Lennon, the Beatle, seemed to have everything: superstardom, adoring fans, a critically acclaimed body of work, a loving wife, and a beautiful son. He could have coasted the rest of his life on that wave, but he chose to evolve as a musician and a human being, gradually drifting from the relatively clean-cut guy who wrote Please Please Me, to psychedelic poster child, to hippie activist, and beyond, never looking back.

He alienated his fans, he alienated his songwriting partner, he left his wife and son, and he left the greatest band the world has ever seen.

Like I said, one helluva story.

I’ve never been one to argue who the best Beatle was, as is common amongst fans, and I never disliked any of them, though I’ve not always liked all over their post-Beatles material.

And yet, there’s no doubt that John was my favorite. I’ve always, on the whole, loved his music more than the work of the others, ever so slightly more in some cases, and yet it was his emergence as a peacenik activist in the late 1960s that won me over completely. That he was willing grow out his hair and beard in the face of stifling and oppressive conservatism, that he was willing to leverage his massive celebrity to promote love and peace at a particularly volatile period of history, moved and influenced me deeply.

Yes, you were not and still are not the only dreamer, John.

But like I said, he was no angel. He was part hippie and part raunchy Rock&Roller, kinda like me!

And so, for this Video Fridays installment, I thought I’d show both sides of John Lennon, starting with his first overtly peacenik song, All You Need Is Love, a song that, in it’s message, however naive some may call it, still makes my eyes drip; and followed by one of my all-time favorite live performances, the White Album track Yer Blues, performed with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell at the 1968 Rolling Stone’s Rock & Roll Circus.

Happy Birthday, John, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Happy 50th Birthday, Highway 61 Revisited!

highway61This is quite the week for masterpiece Rock & Roll album anniversaries!

Tuesday, as I mentioned in that day’s post, was the 40th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run.

And this coming Sunday, August 30th, is the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan‘s Highway 61 Revisited.

Both albums blew me away when I first heard them, and both remain deeply embedded in my psyche and soul. It could be said that Born To Run propelled me out of New Jersey, even while I was still living there, and Highway 61 Revisited provided a route along which I’d eventually encounter the many mysteries and contradictions, the grandeur and grotesquerie, the heroes and villains of America.

As with my Born To Run post on Tuesday, I could go on and on about how much I love Bob Dylan, and Highway 61 Revisited in particular; how every time I hear that snare drum crack kickoff to Like A Rolling Stone I get chills, seriously, I do; or how Dylan’s voice on this record, no matter how cryptic the lyrics might seem, sounds to me like the purest, most honest, uncompromising, risk-taking voice in music history; or how, to me, Dylan’s choice to, with this album, fully commit to electric Rock & Roll music, despite the backlash from folk music purists, was one of the bravest artistic commitments in music history; but I don’t think I could really do Highway 61 Revisited justice anywhere near as well as Rob Sheffield does in an article at today.

It’s an inspired piece of writing, a true homage, laced with deftly placed lyric references, fully capturing the depth and majesty of Dylan’s masterpiece.

I mean, check out this small sample:

It’s an album that begins with a warning to pawn your diamond ring and save your dimes and keep track of all the people you fucked over yesterday, because they’re the same people you’ll be begging for hand-outs tomorrow. But it’s also an album that ends with a man signing off a letter telling you that he’s seen too much depravity in the city to read any more of your letters from home. (“When you asked how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?”) The album begins by laughing at a stuck-up young kid who never thought she’d wind up on Desolation Row; it ends with a no-longer-young kid who’s given up hope he’ll ever get out. The album begins by mourning all the two-bit friends you met in the big city who ripped you off for drugs and sex and money, the “beautiful strangers” who turned out to be Not Your Friends; the album ends by cheerfully promising that you can’t go back home to your old friends or family either.


Of course, a post about a classic Rock & Roll album wouldn’t be complete without some actual music, so here’s a precious jewel of a video clip, the Highway 61 Revisited title track performed with The Band, four years and a day after the album’s release, at the legendary 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, and in classic Dylan fashion, with a totally different arrangement than the original, and a gloriously gritty and raucous arrangement it is.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Patti Smith

pattiI’m on a real women-in-music kick these days.

Last week’s Video Fridays installment was on the late-great Nina Simone, inspired by having watched the wonderful documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?.

This week, I’m inspired to feature Patti Smith after having read her amazing autobiography Just Kids.

If you go into reading the book having only heard of Patti the musician, you will either experience disappointment or revelation; disappointment, because music, while woven throughout the story, is by no means the primary focus; revelation, because Patti the poet, Patti the visual artist, Patti the muse of her longtime companion-then-friend, the groundbreaking artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, comes to vivid life in the reading, along with the explosive New York City art scene of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Patti, being a poet and musician, writes her autobiography with such lyricism, such raw emotional presence, and there were many times when I’d re-read lines, and sometimes whole paragraphs, because they were rendered so beautifully, so movingly. She has an incredible eye and ear for small details that add so much depth to the story, peppering her narrative with mention of items collected or exchanged, often cheap trinkets or handmade gestures, brief interactions with legends like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, things that, out of context, would be seemingly trivial, and yet in the very mentioning and describing of these things you learn how meaningful these smallest of details were to Patti.

I was particularly touched by her relationship with Mapplethorpe, a relationship that weathered the extreme poverty and struggle of their early years together, the emerging awareness of his homosexuality, the transition to a radically accepting, loving, loyal friendship, and through it all the powerful support they gave each other in the pursuit of their art. A relationship Patti describes thusly:

We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together.

It wasn’t easy choosing a video to include with this post, because, as Patti has endured, losing none of her potency as an artist and performer over the years, I could have selected some of her more recent work, such as the amazing 2005 Live at Montreux concert, available, at least for now, in it’s entirety on YouTube, rather than what I have here for you now, a precious document from her 1976 European tour, featuring songs from her classic debut, Horses, as well as cuts that would soon appear on her sophomore album, Radio Ethiopia.

Observe her total, unapologetic commitment, as she bravely claims her place in Rock&Roll, despite how male-dominated it has always been. Observe and enjoy and check out Just Kids when you have a chance. You won’t regret it.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Nina Simone

nina simoneIf you, dear readers, have not yet seen the wonderful documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, available on Netflix, I encourage you to check it out.

You must be prepared, however, as Nina Simone‘s story is a very, very sad tale. Even if you already know her story, the film will still be gut wrenching.

And yet, it’s the least we can do, to be witness to how racism and sexism pounded Nina, for despite those horrendous forces, she blessed us with the gift of her music, generations to come get to enjoy her music, all thanks to her monumental courage and perseverance.

Nina was not a perfect person, she was not a perfect mother, but she was a phenomenally talented musician and she pushed the boundaries of music and of what it means to be a musician, what it means to be a female musician, what it means to be a black female musician, and pushing the boundaries is rarely easy.

For today’s installment of Video Fridays, then, here’s a performance I’d not seen until I saw What Happened, Miss Simone?, and it completely blew me away. Nina’s Ain’t Got No, I Got Life, a medley of two songs from the musical Hair, is a powerful expression of the adversity Nina faced and the longing for freedom from that adversity.

Happy Weekend, everyone!