Long Distance Dedication

Dear Casey,

A couple of days ago, Barack Obama won his second term as President of the United States, bringing a welcome end to an interminable campaign season, allowing those of us who supported him to relax and breathe easy for a while.

I’m happy things turned out as they did, because overall Obama has been a good president. He might already be a great one had he not been constantly, stupidly obstructed by the most disloyal opposition in American history, had he aimed higher on the things he did manage like healthcare reform, and had he the spine and integrity to actually disavow the more fascistic tendencies of the Bush administration rather than embracing and exceeding them.

I hope now, with the need to worry about the next election out of the way, President Obama will step us his game and act boldly and decisively to make the changes we need as a country. I don’t doubt his ability to do so, only his resolve. He has greatness in him, now he must cultivate it.

After winning like this, it’s easy to gloat. Schadenfreude is a wickedly tasty treat, especially when the other side has relentlessly attacked your freedoms, your patriotism, even your value as a human being. I have literally seen some folks turn on a dime, going from “You are a stupid, ungodly, un-American, traitorous abomination” to “It’s not classy to gloat like that.” So if my relief at winning over people like that is a bit high-handed at times, I can forgive myself.

But my thoughts turn to my many friends, and even my enemies, on the right. I’m glad they lost, certainly, but it’s not entirely for my own benefit. I’m glad they lost for their benefit as well, though they won’t agree, and many of them won’t even be able to see through their grotty filters well enough to understand that I wish them well and hope for the best for all of us. I care about them. I respect them, or at least those who haven’t thrown away any right to respect (like any of them who calls Barack Obama a nigger, for example). And I, and most of us progressives, actually want to work with them towards the common good. Obama wants to, and last time they turned his sincere desire to reach across the aisle into a tactical failing. I hope, after the message they were  just sent by the American people, the conservatives in congress accept a working relationship with the president this time instead of holding their breath until, as it turns out, the country turns blue.

So, Casey, could you please play “Land of Hope and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for my friends on the right? I hope they’ll leave behind their sorrows, let this day be the last, tomorrow there’ll be sunshine, and all this darkness past…big wheels roll through fields, where sunlight streams, and we can all meet in a land of hope and dreams…

Sincerely,

Tim in Decatur

Tim, here’s your song. I hope your friends take this opportunity to reevaluate things, and that for the next four years and beyond, all of us can start actually working together toward solutions that help us all. And remember, we all need to keep our feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars…

We Take Care Of Our Own (Song of the Week, Election Day 2012)

There’s a sickness creeping up on us. Grab your brain, your heart, your soul, and help us beat it back.

Vote Obama. Vote Democrat. Give in to your higher angels, not your petty demons.

Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Bogeyman… (Song of the Week, Halloween 2012)

I love Halloween.

Reflecting that, our song of the week is  “Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Bogeyman” from 1932, by Henry Hall’s Orchestra with vocals by Val Rosing. Enjoy.

Childish Things

Hearing this week’s song of the week today brought to mind a discussion I had with another writer on Facebook a few weeks ago. The release of World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion was nigh and, as many of you know, it was introducing the pandaren as a playable race. The pandaren are basically kung-fu pandas, mystical shaolin-style monks, and their homeland is based heavily in eastern cultural tropes. (They also predate the Kung-Fu Panda movies by several years).

Now, I haven’t played WoW in many years, but my son still does occasionally, and I’d watched him play some of this content during its beta testing. It was fun stuff. the pandaren had a lot of charm and character, their abilities were clever and different than the stock WoW fare, and the world-building for their lands was gorgeous and epic in its scope.

Anyway, this writer snorted derisively at any grown-ups out there who were actually looking forward to playing panda warriors. Why? Because pandas are cute, naturally, and only children could conceivably want to play such cute creatures. I challenged him on it, because not only do I see the pandaren as neither more nor less intrinsically ridiculous than elves, dwarves, gnomes, or any of the other fantasy races you can play in WoW and similar games, but I think a fantasist attacking other people’s fantasies rather unbecoming. This writer makes his living writing face-to-face roleplaying games in which the players pretend to be monsters (as indeed I used to when I was a writer for White Wolf Games). Quite a few people would consider that sort of thing childish.

I wrote:

I just have an innate negative reaction to arguments that denigrate the tastes of others in ways like calling them “childish,” when as far as I’m concerned pretending to be a kung-fu panda is no more ridiculous or childish than pretending to be a stalwart shaman cow. Or a magical mystical mummy, for that matter.

He wrote:

I *completely* accept that the pandaren might be considered cool by players of a given age range, those of commensurately immature taste, and those who engage them as part of spending time with their kids, and I hope you’re right that those folks enjoy playing the hell out of it. But it’s not for me, play-wise, nor for the adults with whom I game on the regular…Pretending to be a bouncing anime panda-person may not be more ridiculous than pretending to be a shambling mummy, but it *is* more childish, and there’s just no way around that.

Note the pointless zealotry, the refusal to accept that any mature adult might be able to enjoy playing these fantasy creatures, while playing other fantasy creatures is presumably quite adult. Pandaren might be enjoyed by players “of a given age range” or “commensurately immature taste” or those playing alongside their children. He couldn’t just take a reasonable step back and think, “Maybe an adult might enjoy this simply because it’s fun and they get a kick out of it.” He had to insist that an adult who liked this sort of thing was not the proper sort of adult at all.

I replied:

To personalize it, I think the pandaren are cool, and were I still playing WoW I’d be looking forward to playing one. To therefore say that only people of a certain age range or “commensurately immature taste” can find them cool is insulting. I seriously doubt my tastes are any less mature than yours, and in fact the tendency to argue the “maturity” of such things seems to me an immature one.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

But, to be agreeable, I’ll cede your point that making believe you’re a scary monster is much more grown up than making believe that you’re a panda-esque warrior. Because what the hell.

Don’t try too hard to be a grown-up, folks. It’s something that happens naturally in its course, and it has nothing to do with whether you can still have fun or not.

Here’s James McMurty with our song of the week…

Teaching Myself How To Grow Old

It’s one of those weeks. People with serious depressions know them, they’re the ones when you get nothing done and don’t care because it really doesn’t matter anyway, does it? They’re the ones where you sleep way too much because if you get up, nothing’s worth doing. They’re the ones in which anger swims in your veins, disguised as anxiety and stress and frustration, ready to cut you when people do things that annoy. They’re the ones when you realize just how few friends you truly have, and how little you feel you can look to the ones you do. It’s mostly the depression talking, and a broken psyche in pain. Mostly.

Here’s our song of the week, from Ryan Adams…

License To Thrill (Song of the Week, 9/19/2012)

In the past few weeks, I renewed my long dead passport. Today, I visited the Brazilian Consulate, where I was granted a visa allowing me entry to the country for the next decade.

My status as International Man of Mystery has been restored. I have a license to thrill. If you notice the processing label the consulate used on my passport, you can see that even the Brazilians seem to recognize my status. Look out Most Interesting Man in the World…

Considering my last vacation wound up reminding me entirely too much of Stephen King’s Misery, I am really looking forward to a few weeks in a tropical paradise with a gorgeous hostess and no fear of potential sledge hammers. It’s going to be a few months before I go, but I AM READY. Except that I really need a hair cut.

Boa noite. My name is Byrd. Tim Byrd.

Raise Hell (Song of the Week, 9/14/2012)

If you’ve been with me a while, you know I’m a HUGE fan of singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile. She’s got a new album out called Bear Creek, and, because I am a nice guy, I am sharing one of the songs from it for you to thrill to.

Play it loud.

For A Muse… (Song of the Week, 9/5/2012)

O Divine Poesy, goddess, daughter of Zeus, sustain for me this song…Make the tale live for us in all its many bearings, O Muse…    –Homer, The Odyssey

Happy is he whom the Muses love…   –Hesiod, Theogony

The ancient lass pictured above is Calliope, daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory), and the Muse of epic poetry and writers. She was mother to the great lyre player and singer Orpheus, and creative inspiration to Homer.

Now, thanks to the loving craft of my sweet friend Nydia Macedo in Brazil, Calliope has come to live with me in the Byrdcave, to inspire me in my daily writing. Nydia, whose work you can see (and purchase!) on Facebook under the name “Carioca Witch,” specializes in handcrafting poppets and ornaments based in spiritual and mythological symbology. She researches her topics, finding appropriate colors and design elements to incorporate and herbs to use for scents, then brings her own artistry to the task of playfully evoking these ancient resonances through beautiful stitching. Each piece is a labor of love, and photos don’t capture just how cool they really are. I encourage you to visit the Facebook page linked to above and surf through her albums to see the variety of things she creates, from gods and goddesses to Christmas and Halloween ornaments to superheroes…

Yesterday, I received the poppet of Calliope that Nydia made for me:

She’s beautiful and will have a permanent place of honor in my home.

As tribute to sweet Calliope, and sweet Nydia, I offer this Song of the Week from Django Reinhardt, “La Mer (Beyond The Sea)”…

Cookie Monster Presents The Song Of The Week, 8/30/2012

It’s all about the cookies this week…

First, this isn’t a song, but it is the funniest damn thing I’ve seen in a couple or three weeks on the internet. I’ve probably watched it twenty or more times and I always laugh:

Our actual song this week I offer in honor of the Republican National Convention currently infesting Tampa, “God’s Away On Business” by Tom Waits, karaoked by Cookie Monster…

I’d sell your heart to the junkman baby
For a buck, for a buck…
If you’re looking for someone to pull you out of that ditch
You’re out of luck, you’re out of luck…

When I Leave Berlin (Song of the Week, 8/23/2012)

Bruce Springsteen recently played to a crowd of 55,000 in Berlin, which was his second biggest crowd there ever. The biggest was in 1998, with the largest crowd the band has ever played for, and it had historic import beyond its size:

Berlin, largely a working class city, has been a special place for Springsteen since his July 1988 concert behind the old Iron Curtain in East Berlin.

Watched by 160,000 people, or about 1 percent of then Communist East Germany’s population, it was the biggest rock show in East German history, and The Boss boldly spoke out against the ‘barriers’ keeping East Germans in their portion of the city.

Some historians have said the concert fed into a movement gaining moment at the time that contributed to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall 16 months later in November 1989.

‘Once in a while you play a place, a show that ends up staying inside of you, living with you for the rest of your life,’ he told the crowd on Wednesday after being handed a poster from a fan thanking him for the 1988 concert. ‘East Berlin in 1988 was certainly one of them.‘” (REUTERS)

As a special treat for the Berliners this time, Bruce and the E Streeters debuted a rousing cover of the song “When I Leave Berlin” by British folk musician Wizz Jones, and that is our song of the week. Enjoy.

Decatur, Town of Trees and Music… (SongS of the Week, 7/23/2012)

A special treat for song of the week this week: a bunch of songs.

My hometown, Decatur, Georgia, is not only an island of bright blue in a state of murky red (bright both in the sense of shining and in the sense of intellect), not only home to quite a few writers other than me (including our new Poet Laureate of the United States, Natasha Trethewey) and to the largest independent book festival in the country, but is a wellspring of incredible music. So this week, I figured I’d offer a selection of tunes from acts who either live here or launched from here (usually from Eddie’s Attic, one of the finest live music clubs in the country).

Some of these acts are known all over the world. Some are known only to specific audiences. A couple haven’t even hit their mid-teens yet and hopefully have great careers ahead of them. All of them are incredible talents.

I’ll probably add videos to this playlist over time, but there are 29 to start with, so come on in, Decatur’s fine.

Honeysuckle Homecoming (Song of the Week, 7/19/2012)

Back home in Georgia after a vacation, of sorts. There’s a lot wrong with my home state, particularly politically, but a lot to love as well, especially about my town, Decatur.

Anyway, I had this tune playing in my head as I rode an interminable bus back from elsewhere…

Introducing Sydney Rhame… (Song of the Week, 5/21/2012)

Before we get to the good stuff (and it is very good stuff), I wanted to let everyone know that my “Tim Byrd” account on Facebook has been disabled for some arbitrary, unexplained reason, possibly forever. Apparently they do this sometimes. I’ve sent in a request that they reconsider, but apparently they also take weeks to get back to you at all. So if you are (or were) my friend on Facebook, please feel free to befriend my “Doc Wilde” account which was established to promote my books, but which I’ve never really used. For the foreseeable future I’ll be interacting on there. I miss all my friends. (UPDATE: After nearly three weeks, and repeated requests for action from me, Facebook ultimately enabled my account again, all without having ever actually contacted me, in any way, to explain).

Now, on with the music.

There seems to be something in the water here in beautiful Decatur, GA. The town is a font of musical genius, and acts ranging from the Indigo Girls and Shawn Mullins to Sugarland and the Civil Wars have their roots here. Michelle Malone, who I’ve raved about a few times on the blog in the past, is another wonderful example.

On her way to greatness is Decatur’s Sydney Rhame, who is only thirteen and already a singing, songwriting sensation. This week’s song is her cover of Brett Dennen’s great “Sydney (I’ll Come Runnin’),” which I’m going to post two versions of. The first is a live performance, and I love its vitality and what Sydney does with her voice during the song. The second is a “studio” version, which Sydney made on a Mac using GarageBand, presented in a video she made using iMovie. This second video was shot around Decatur (or “the hood” as some unenlightened folk have called it), and you can see not just the charismatic young singer bouncing around but quite a few views of our great hometown.