where I belong(?)

I was in line, walking past a sea of families, distant relatives, and close friends with the shuffling of cameras, flashes, and catcalling splicing every ounce of excitement hanging in the gym’s atmosphere. I handed my card over to the provost and walked across stage with the gargantuan Winona State symbol to my left, the dean of the college of liberal arts and president of the university in front of me. For a moment as my name was called and my family cheered, everything mentally went blank as I accepted my diploma and sat back down in my row after a regimen of handshakes. Graduation had finally shined down on myself and 369 others on a balmy December morning after years of dedication. After the ceremony, meeting professors, congratulating friends, and lunch, I went home thinking about how those few seconds were going to feel for months before. I pictured it, put everyone there in the scene I knew would be present, and tried to preemptively capture the feeling of it all ending. It didn’t work. Because for me, there was nothing like it. Four and a half years of capital built up in academic audits, friends made, things learned, and capital lost in sickness and the sacrifices made in pursuit of the former amalgamated into a few hours of something I hadn’t really felt before. I crawled across the finish line of an academic ultra marathon of final exams, papers, and projects with the course behind me stained with cheap coffee, clothes that hadn’t been washed in a dog’s age, and Slim Jims bought at Kiwk Trip across from campus. By far the most stressful finals week I ever had in my academic career (thus far). In fact, I remember the line from an old song by Lazlo Bane replaying in my head after the dust settled where Chad Fischer sings…

“You’ve crossed the finish line, won the race but lost your mind… was it worth it after all?”

I’ve been through a lot of transitions in nearly 23 years between moving homes, friends coming and leaving, changing schools, moving to another city for college, jobs, and family leaving Minnesota. Being the introspective person I am, I’ve spent time thinking back to all of those things and sifting through costs counted from relationships and time wasted at the feet of addiction and among other things. Part of reaching the finish line came with costs that amounted to mistakes made in leadership positions, with friends, and roommates. I’d normally say that the latter is a collection of minority reports in the shadow of the bigger picture that I’d rather forget about . The truth is that there may be some regret in decisions made within those contexts, but would I have really lived if I hadn’t experienced those? No. It made my journey through college feel more organic and worth telling about. Graduating is the first time that I’ve been able to look back on a period of life without regretting anything, good or bad. Everything caught in the nooks and crannies of every triumph and defeat was worth every cent spent in tuition, victory Chipotle runs, coffee from Mugby Junction, late night conversations, study groups, and toil. So yeah, there were points where I lost my mind, but the grace of God led me back to sanity through a system of social support and family. It was worth it after all. Then I asked myself a question that simultaneously terrified, excited, and bewildered me…

 

What now?

 

When I was a sophomore in college, I came up with this plan that would get me out of my hometown after 20 years. Working part time at a fifties restaurant and keeping up with the Jones’ of my life in the Twin Cities was getting me nowhere – especially because it fueled the growing fire of an addiction that burned my personal life and galvanized my issues with severe anxiety. I guess you could say I was planning an escape route down highway 52. I had a rough outline of what would happen in Winona. Take my classes, find a group of friends, get involved in a ministry, and maybe meet a girl. Whatever else happened was “up to God.” I left my hometown in search of healing, meaning, and belonging and I found those here. The blueprints never went into the tenor of what happens when it’s all over. But it is. I had done what I set out to do.

Anyone reading this who has gone to college and tried to go back to your hometown probably understands what Thomas Wolfe wrote when he penned, “You can’t go home again.” Being in the Twin Cities for a time of rest and relaxation never proved that phrase to ring more true. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and have amazing friends back home… but a lot has changed. Hardly any of it seems familiar to me now. I go back to church and don’t recognize many people there anymore outside of my good friends and acquaintances that I’ve known for years. Some of my family has moved across the country. Friends of mine are now engaged, married, having children, beginning careers, getting jobs, traveling for internships, getting involved in full time ministries and embarking on their own journeys that take us away from what we once had. Though those friendships continue to be strong, there’s still a sense of loss after nearly three years of intermittent separation. Maybe, I expected the good parts of my life to be on pause ‘til I came home. It’s like I was watching a DVD, pressed the remote and walked out of the room, figuring I could sit down, and pick it up where I left off when I transferred. I’m figuring out that I can’t. As I have been told by so many before me whom have gone through something similar, there is no escaping the changes in the tides of friendships (or family for that matter) after college. Despite the mystique of sorting through the changes back home, I find myself in a unique position of staying in the city I went to college in post graduation. I’m surrounded by so many good people that I have known throughout my time here so far and will have the chance to maintain some of them, begin knew ones, and root myself further into the church that I have called home for two and a half years. It means that I don’t have to scrap every blueprint I originally drew, start from scratch, and try to cobble something together in a new city or job environment. This time, I’m deciding to let God be the architect, take the pencil, and sketch out a new plan. The layout may seem unfamiliar to me at points, I may become puzzled or even frustrated about what I begin to see on paper, but I know in time that what the Lord has for me in the next year of life will be memorable, worthwhile, and better than anything that I could imagine on paper.

While I was home, my buddy Andrew and I came to the conclusion that there’s a Relient K song/playlist for every emotion and situation. I wish I could have found one for this post, but I found more resonance through Switchfoot in this case. In their live performances during the previous two album cycles, they have ended with the ending track from 2011’s Vice Verses, Where I Belong. Inspired by the writings of C.S. Lewis, lead singer, John Foreman, wrote this song about arriving in heaven after a life of meaning lived on Earth. The song bids an emotionally tailored farewell at the bridge when Jon Foreman sings, “On the final day I die, I want to hold my head up high, and tell you that I tried to live it like a song. And when I reach the other side, I want to look you in the eye and know that I’ve arrived in a world where I belong.” I find that part to be poignant, especially when he sings, “I tried to live it like a song.” In the context of a guy like Foreman, music is his form of worship, his way of grappling with the tribulations of life, ask the difficult questions, and express the emotional spectrum in whole. In essence, the line brings the deepest sense of meaning to Foreman. I’m beginning a new chapter of life that will be a few pages in the book that (hopefully) God writes the epilogue of when I reach the other side. Though eternity holds what is promised as paradise, I’m still finding where I belong in a time of transition and change. Right now, that’s Winona.

So, am I where I belong? I’d like to think so, and I’m sure that answer will change in the years to come, but for the time being, it will do.

 

And I’m quite content with that.

Little Richie – Being As An Ocean: Music Review

Bio

Harnessing the whimsicalities of spoken word and melodic grit, California-native Being As An Ocean, have fit comfortably in the niche of the new wave of American hardcore since releasing, Dear G-d, in 2011. Their polished sound and lyrical prowess give this band an edge that is ultimately an emotional gamut.

Background

I’ve said something similar on previous posts, but I believe friends, peers, and family are critical pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of musical tastes. The range of your buddies listen to in the car all the way to what you were raised on are pieces that help put the puzzle together. The reason I say this is because BAAO are a band that I got into because of friends who had roots in different tastes than I do… but that’s starting to change for me. I found them on Spotify (chalk three in this blog thanks to that site) as a band related to Capsize – another hardcore band hailing from the east coast.

Band shot. Photo credit: Rock Transmission
Band shot. Photo credit: Rock Transmission

I don’t normally review singles, but I think this will provide a good opportunity to further dissect song structure, lyricism, instrumentation, and give a more comprehensive picture of where this band has come from and gone in the last 4 years.

Little Richie is the single that was released a couple weeks ago for their upcoming self-titled album, scheduled to drop late next month.

I remember watching the music video for Salute e’ Vida and seeing a Youtube comment that read, “I’ve never seen a band who’s Youtube comments are filled purely with love rather than random sprays of hate. These guys must be pretty special.” While there is some satire laced that response, I thought to myself, “Yeah, I can see why.”

This band came out of left field. I’ve never been too big a fan of hardcore music because I wasn’t enamored with the vocal style, lack of brutality, and messier production quality that most modern metal makes up for. With that said and as aforementioned, that’s beginning to change for me. My friends who enjoy heavy music are much more into hardcore, emo, and punk rock. To be honest, I liked metal’s calculated anger channeled into this maelstrom of sonic ferocity. Metal was and still is (to a certain degree) an outlet for anger and frustration, but now that I’ve gotten a chance to work out frustrations and unpack baggage from my life, I don’t have such a strong of an itch for that kind of musical therapy to drown myself in. With that said, I’ve always enjoyed the edgier side of music and find that my tastes are evolving. I’m beginning to latch on to this kind of hardcore my friends are into for what it holistically offers, but I’ll get to that later.

Instrumentation/Songwriting

Little Richie starts with a short somber sounding echoing piano section that takes off into a familiar formula of hardcore instrumentals and vocals that build on each other throughout the verse. Throughout this song, you hear the instrumentals build up in the verse, return to this sonic homeostasis, and then take off again. In that time, the drums and bass continue to lay down the groove and back Joe Quartuccio’s bellowing vocals. The chorus introduces clean singing from rhythm guitarist, Tyler Ross, along with increasingly more emotional instrumentals in this song. On that note, the guitar riffs are catchy and have this really clean tone that I wasn’t expecting to hear.

Joe Quartuccioo. Photo credit: Wikipedia
Joe Quartuccioo. Photo credit: Wikipedia

I’m used to more grimy tones in this genre of music, but it actually works really well for what the band is trying to capture. The second verse transitions into a softer passage, much like the first pre-chorus that showcase drums, bass, and intermittent guitar work. Quartuccio’s vocals evolve into a spoken word slam that narrates a story of physical abuse towards witnessed by one of the children. As the song ends, the instrumentals explode into one last chorus that takes the song to its most cathartic passage and conclusion. Quartuccio’s vocals are well executed in this song, and in my opinion it’s because they’re controlled. I don’t mean that to take away from the intensity his screams/yells, but they’re harnessed and fit well. Each syllable and enunciation is placed where it should be and you can still hear what he’s saying.

I gathered from looking at lyrical themes on previous releases that there are spiritual underpinnings. Listening to interviews with the band, Quartuccio’s devotion to God is painted throughout their discography, yet it doesn’t reach a level of “preachy” that you might otherwise hear. These songs are much more parabolic and anecdotal. They tell stories of mourning, the necessity for love, and leaning on God to navigate through doubt. Little Richie illustrates an emotional depiction of a mother enduring physical abuse while having to reassure her son that “God has a much bigger plan…” At the end of the song, the story outlines how this young child found life in God and reminds the congregation, “This is what’s promised, he works all things for good. It’s love that wins.” Contrasted with the workings of such a dysfunctional family in this song, this is striking lyricism that packs even more punch when you listen to how this is all done as slam poetry and traditional hardcore screams. This is one of the reasons that I am beginning to warm up to hardcore. The emotionally laden lyricism combined with such raw intensity makes it all feel more organic and believable.

Lyricism

I gathered from looking at lyrical themes on previous releases that there are spiritual underpinnings. Listening to interviews with the band, Quartuccio’s devotion to God is painted throughout their discography, yet it doesn’t reach a level of “preachy” that you might otherwise hear. These songs are much more parabolic and anecdotal. They tell stories of mourning, the necessity for love, and leaning on God to navigate through doubt. Little Richie illustrates an emotional depiction of a mother enduring physical abuse while having to reassure her son that “God has a much bigger plan…” At the end of the song, the story outlines how this young child found life in God and reminds the congregation, “This is what’s promised, he works all things for good. It’s love that wins.” Contrasted with the workings of such a dysfunctional family in this song, this is striking lyricism that packs even more punch when you listen to how this is all done as slam poetry and traditional hardcore screams. This is one of the reasons that I am beginning to warm up to hardcore. The emotionally laden lyricism combined with such raw intensity makes it all feel more organic and believable.

Photo credit: Alt Press
Photo credit: Alt Press

Production

As I discussed earlier, hardcore has more grit in its presentation and a lot of that comes down to how records are recorded and mixed. As I began to journey through this type of heavy music, listening to groups like Underoath, Capsize, Counterparts, LaDispute, Defeater, even August Burns Red, there’s a common denominator. These groups, including BAAO, are able to serve something polished that still retains its frenetic nature. With that said, this song does do something different. It’s very heavy in the drums and bass when they are in the spotlight. Guitars vary. In the beginning, they take somewhat of a back seat, are fronted in the chorus, and then take off at the end. The vocals are in your face and dominate for a good reason. Little Richie’s production is clean, but still captures the controlled chaos.

Conclusion

This song, and furthermore, this band captures why I’m beginning to enjoy hardcore. The dynamic song compositions, edgy vocals with meaningfully potent lyricism, and emotionally charged, forward songwriting make me enjoy songs like this in ways I never thought possible. I’m pumped for this new album to be released and would highly recommend this song!

 Score: 96/100

Father, Son, and (un)Holy Ghost (burger)

The title may seem odd, but stay with me on this one. This summer, I was in an online intercultural communication class for my major at Winona State. Every week we wrote artifact critiques. Its purpose was take a contemporary cultural phenomenon, observe it, analyze and dissect it, and give our opinions on the matter. As inferred by the last post, I enjoy heavy metal. I also work as a cook. Burgers and metal are a good combo in my book. My first critique was about a restaurant in Chicago that cooked up controversy with a specialty burger in homage to a Swedish metal band that invoked a firey religious debate on social media and national news sites. The main concepts I had to cover in this paper were the bases of values, beliefs, morals, and what is called ethnocentrism – the assumption that one’s culture is superior to another. The issue really got me thinking about those things from a Christian perspective and wanted to share my thoughts with you all.

In the heart of Chicago’s northwest Avondale neighborhood lies Kuma’s Corner – a burger joint that boasts a reputation for creative gourmet burgers, local brew, and an avid love for heavy metal. There you will find menu items named after iconic heavy metal bands such as Pantera, Metallica, and Plague Bringer. If you look closer at the menu, these items are modeled after particular elements of these bands that represent their image, style, and message. In October of 2013, Kuma’s pulled a particular stunt with one such burger. It setup a cultural discussion about superiority, freedom of expression, and a clashing of cultures.

Kuma’s Corner

Notorious Swedish metal band, Ghost, came to the United States on a North American tour last fall promoting their new record Infestessumam. Considered a throwback to metal’s origins in lineage of bands like Black Sabbath, Ghost has been considered a breath of fresh air in the scene, but has a much darker element that compromises for their lack of sonic tenacity. Throughout the band’s career, they have garnered both a strong following of loyal fans and have drawn controversy from their explicitly lyrical and physical satanic undertones. As fans of the band, the owners of Kuma’s concocted a burger of the month special in their honor. The item was a goat shoulder in a red wine reduction between two buns, topped with an unconsecrated communion wafer.

Ghost B.C.

The end result was mixed. The burger won over the customer base and metal fans alike, but angered Christians – primarily Catholics, many of whom were calling it unapologetically tasteless and offensive. Through the businesses Facebook and Twitter there was a lot of heated conversation, it caught local and national headlines, and was the catalyst for a conversation about who is in the right and wrong here.

Like I said, Catholics found this to be a shot below the belt. Communion wafers are something sacred in Christianity as a whole, because the practice of communion itself is an act of remembrance to the body and blood of Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. Specifically, in Catholicism, a wafer goes through the process of consecration when a priest blesses it. It certainly does not beat around the bush and when you consider what/who the owners of Kuma’s were paying homage to with this burger. Christians in general would cringe at the idea, however, there is a Biblical teaching that says to turn the other cheek, take your licks, and press on (Matthew 5:39). That whole passage is a reminder to Christians that the world is not going to agree with you and that’s okay. Consequently, when you look at the dialogue that exists between these two groups, it’s curious why there’s so much heated discussion.

Looking at this from Kuma’s perspective, it can be said that they are a private business serving a particular customer base that is exclusive and Christians are not a part of that. The owner of Kuma’s said in an interview that this was not meant to offend anyone. It was all in good fun. He specifically said that if his customers see the purpose in it, then he has basically done his job. It does however speak volumes about business ethics. It can be said that these are two owners who are exercising a basic right to conduct their business the way that they want to – without the dictation of an institution (or in this case) a church. If that’s so, then it begs the question, where is the line drawn between provocative and offensive?

The freedom of expression is part of a foundation our ancestors built in blood. Our country was founded on the principles of individual freedoms as such in order to suppress government tyranny and promote sincerity. Part of that definition of expression is a deliberate diversity of values and ethics among people. You will find those who agree and disagree with you from everything such as your musical tastes, favorite foods, to your political beliefs, and religious convictions. Conceptually, this whole debate puts the definitions of ideologies and values under the microscope.

The influence that the first amendment has had in legislative policy, social expectations, and even family dynamics has profoundly affected the trajectory of culture and the formation of sub cultures. An example would be the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 where a biology professor was arrested in Tennessee for violating a state law banning the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Eventually, Professor Scopes was acquitted. Additionally in 1949, the Supreme Court upheld a Jehovah’s Witnesses right to publicly solicit religious material, and then you even look at the influence that the Nation of Islam had with prominent members like Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali.

Pope Francis

That kind of influence has a cascade effect on what kind of counter cultures rise out of it. In fact, this whole situation is in of itself a debate between two cultures. By all virtue, their core beliefs are antithetical of each other. They’re almost symbiotic, because in tradition, metal was built on the bases of anti-establishment, anti-authority, and anti-religion (particularly anti- Christianity) in the name of rebellion, whereas religion is supposed to teach adherence to a kind of authority and experience transformation. These are two different groups with their own sets of values, their own beliefs about what they see as right and wrong, and look at the world from two very different lenses. I think something else to note, more specifically in the Scopes trial is ethnocentrism – the assumption that one’s culture is superior to another. I’m not making any accusations of religious people being ethnocentric, but if there has been a track record of it in this country’s history of religion (institutionally) being oppressive, then that is an impression that people will stick to and run with, no matter what good intentions are made.

Here is my opinion on the matter. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who is a Christian and likes heavy music. With everything that I’ve said about these groups’ specific values and historic roots, it’s not surprising that there is tension between the two. There are few points of reconciliation, and I’m not trying to make these two agree with each other. I think that under the first amendment, Kuma’s has the constitutional right to run their business the way that they want it to. It is American free enterprise, and they are trying to reach an exclusive customer base with a particular set of values. Perhaps they feel as if being religiously provocative is their explicit expression of their feelings about religion’s influence in America. However, I think that Kuma’s should be more upfront. I honestly think that the owner saying that this is in the name of good fun and business is a way to save face. If you’re going to do something offensive, then own it. Now, as a Christian, Does it offend me? No. Do I think the act itself is offensive? Yes. Will I support the business? No. There’s the point I want to drive home. I think that Christians (myself included) need to disengage from this. I see a lot of comments underneath the businesses Facebook that just feel unnecessary. If you don’t agree with it, don’t support the business. Plain and simple. It’s an unwinnable battle.

Here’s what I want you all to take away from this. People are going to disagree with each other over trivial things as well as the bigger ones which have more gravity. Ultimately, it’s a matter of how we handle those differences. I think that if we can learn to coexist with each other and see past those differences, cultures can converge and begin to understand each other better. Will it always happen? No. But it’s the act that matters. Additionally, I want you to think about freedom of expression. Is it something that gives us permission to say what we want at the potential expense of someone else’s toes being stepped on, or is there a line of propriety that needs to be adhered to?

An Introduction.

Hello, and in the words of Axl Rose, Welcome to the jungle. I cannot sing, I cannot act (Rocky reference, anyone?); I’m a bit of an idealist; a little rough around the edges; a Communications major at Winona State University; a friend; son; brother; and Christ follower. This digital jungle is an experiment. My entire life has been defined by overcoming the next obstacle, learning from it, and moving forward – then pervasively repeating the cycle. In your visit here, you’ll find everything from pick-me-ups, journalistic anecdotes, music reviews, poltical critiques, and almost everything in between. Through the posts that are to come, I hope to entertain, provoke, and challenge my audience.