Thoughts about Bruce on Broadway

(I guess I never posted this … it’s been in my bin for some time. New Bruce music coming out had me thinking of this viewing again. — Kevin)

I have a friend who has long been a diehard Bruce Springsteen fan, who watched the Netflix special “Bruce on Broadway” (and even tried to score tickets during Bruce’s run in New York City) who dislikes the Springsteen he sees up on that stage. My friend thinks Springsteen comes across as too pompous and unapproachable and, well, fake.

Which I find interesting, since Bruce begins the show by telling us, his audience, that he is indeed a fake, a magician who invented his hard-scrabble persona for the stage of rock and roll by emulating his father, the one who showed little love during Bruce’s childhood but whose country-wide unexpected travel to see Bruce in California before his first child was born is one of the emotional touchstones of this concert. He never worked in a factory. He never worked as a car mechanic. His sole job has been making music.

I appreciate Springsteen as a songwriter (although I find the Born in the USA album years of over-produced pop a terrible turn for him, even though I know it was made him into a star) and I was impressed with how well he commands the stage when I saw him and the E Street Band years ago. He had us at the first power chord.

I find it sadly ironic that while he uses his stage to advocate for racial tolerance and economic equity, and weaves those messages into his songwriting, his longtime core audience of blue-collar listeners is likely the same ones who voted Trump into office. You can tell he thinks about this, too.

Unlike my friend, I watched this special, knowing what it was: a performance on the stage and not just another acoustic concert.  Bruce spent a year or so working on these stories, the flow and the pacing, night after night. He framed his songs as stories of his life, and as a songwriter, I am always fascinated to hear a musician peel the paint back on where songs come from. Bruce does that, although sometimes he reaches a bit too much for a grandiose approach (this is what bothers my friend).

A few things that stood out for me after watching Bruce on Broadway (you can stream/listen to the whole album on YouTube if you have 2 1/2 hours to kill):

  • The ghost of Clarence Clemons looms large in the show, and the section where Bruce remembers meeting the saxophonist and his huge personality, and the way the E Street Band coalesced around the two of them — characters in a story on the stage — is pretty fascinating. Bruce nearly tears up on the memories, and then launches into Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, about Clarence and the band during the New York blackout.
  • Bruce is a fine piano player. I guess I didn’t quite know that. He has a soft touch and I was pretty impressed with how he finds his way around the keys, as he alternates with acoustic guitars on songs.
  • The story of his father underlies everything, and the aforementioned tale of the day before Bruce’s child is born, when his dad arrives unannounced to tell Bruce that he wishes he had been a better father, is riveting. It’s not an act of forgiveness as much as an act of understanding. The song about his father he then plays is like a call to the past.
  • Bruce uses his position on the lighted stage to push back against anti-immigration policies, and for cultural awareness and understanding, before playing The Ghost of Tom Joad, and I wondered how this audience — paying top dollar on Broadway — differs from his other audience, the one that saw themselves in The River and other songs.
  • A revamping of Born in the USA as a swamp blues song shoutout was good, and necessary, pulling the song back from political hoorah of America to the story of how America has long left its war veterans with marginal support.
  • Bruce has a lot of guitars. Jealous.

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Book Review: The Writer’s Map (An Atlas of Imaginary Lands)

Can I fall in love with a book? My wife is a librarian, so she will understand. I am smitten with The Writer’s Map, an oversized book edited by Huw Lewis-Jones that does what it says: it explores the world of writing and reading through sharing of stories by writers, readers, and cartographers of maps with literary landscapes. It’s subtitle, too, is perfect: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands.

This book is just beautiful to hold and to read (no digital version, please), and the wide assortment of maps will make your head spin with wonder.  The sections span from Make Believe, to Writing Maps, to Creating Maps and more, and in each section, novelists and poets and more share stories of how maps informed their work and sparked their imagination.

There are replicas of ancient maps and newer ones, and the oversized nature of the book itself allows the maps to be large for viewing (as is often necessary, for many maps have small print).

If this book doesn’t take you on your own journey of wondering what is just beyond your own maps, I don’t know what will. The Writer’s Map is a powerful argument of how wondering about the world — real and imagined — help us create and appreciate art.

I have this book on loan from the library and intend to keep it right to the last day, if I can.

Peace (mapped beyond what we see),
Kevin

Slice of Life: My Other March Madness

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

Yes, I did my NCAA bracket (actually, I did two this year — one where I went with my gut on a few possible upsets and the other, I used a computer model to set the grids, just to see what happens). But yesterday, I was deep into another kind of charting system for another event that takes place this time of year, at least for us at my school.

Quidditch.

I won’t go into all our rules of our game (which differ quite a bit from the college game, as we play inside the gym — here is a video, if you are curious) but my role as coach is both to cheer and encourage team play AND determine who plays what position for each squad in a balanced and fair way. We don’t let our athletes get all the playing time and we don’t let our wallflowers watch from the sidelines. Everyone plays, equal amounts of time.

Coordinating positions and playing time is tricky business, and this is what my dining room table looked like last night as I worked on three different tournament games, each with seven squads, and each squad with six main positions and four supporting positions.

Quidditch March Madness (making squads)

I think I finally got something approaching successful. We’ll see. Tomorrow is our all-day Quidditch Tournament. This is the 20th year of our tournament for sixth graders, a unique (and loud) experience that they will long remember, no matter who wins the Quidditch Cup tomorrow.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

 

A Week Away …

Places in London, visitedWe spent a whirlwind week in London, where my eldest son is at school this semester, and we took advantage of the time (and the beautiful weather) to see as much of the city and beyond as we could. We did tons of walking, wandering through old buildings (like the church prison tower in Oxford that was built in 1040) and new buildings (like the Shard, which gives you panoramic views of all of London) and more. We headed out of the city on two different days (Oxford, one day; and Kew and Windsor, another). We rode the Underground all over the place.

I kept a travel journal, as I often do for special visits, and notice how I resort to doodling in the margins, too, as a way to remember the visuals of the experiences. No one else can read much of my handwriting and the sketches need context for anyone else, but this is for me, anyway. I’ll remember.

Travel Journal page excerpt

Peace (back home),
Kevin

 

Ralph Broke the Internet; You Should, Too

I took my youngest son to see the movie Ralph Breaks the Internet yesterday and it was enjoyable entertainment with an Internet theme. Not as good as Wreck-It Ralph, the original that surprised with its knowing insider’s look at video game culture, but still, the new movie is plenty of fun with lots of inside cultural jokes.

I was struck by one particular poignant scene, where Ralph is trying to save his friend, Venelope, by making stupid/dumb/viral videos for a YouTube clone in order to generate “likes” that become “money” he can use to replace something broken on Venelope’s racing game  (the movie conveniently skirts the issue of how this connection is made — through targeted advertising of viewers). Ralph wanders into a corporate back room, where a global video comment feed is scrolling.

As he reads the feeds, Ralph slowly realizes just how terrible and how awful and how mean these people are being to each other through veiled usernames. The vitriol and the anger and the meanness of the comments deflates our hero, who thought the Internet was for the good of its users. The algorithm character in charge of the video system comes in, sees what Ralph is seeing, and sort of shakes her head, and then suggests to Ralph that he just “never read the comments.” She turns her head to the problem, just like YouTube and others have consistently done.

In the movie, Ralph “breaks” the Internet by letting loose a virus that seeks out vulnerabilities as a way to protect a friendship, and the results are haywire craziness. I won’t give the story away.

But listen, our real Internet is broken, too, and maybe we need to get a little Ralph on it. Not with malware and viruses, which are part of the problem, but with a new vision for what the Internet might be.

This topic of where we are and where we might need to go has been on my mind a lot lately, with inquiry through E-learning 3.0 and Equity Unbound courses, both of which have examined the weaknesses of our current Internet and Web systems through the lens of identity, data, algorithms, and more.

Here’s a sort of ‘wish list’ of how we might fix this broken system:

  • Stronger filters for hate speech and trolls and bots and more
  • More accountability for corporations setting up shop on the Web and its various connected places
  • A reporting system that actually works, and not just via algorithms and keywords, either
  • More tools in the hands of users to create on the Internet, like building smaller networks within the larger ones (the notion behind the Distributed Web)
  • Stronger privacy controls and fewer Facebooks
  • Less advertising through creepy data collection
  • Better access for all (including rural users often left out)

It may be that the way we “break” the Internet is by leaving it completely and starting over somewhere else. Or maybe we realize it’s a big ship, this Internet, but perhaps, working together, we can still turn it around. There’s a lot of good out there. We can build off that.

Peace (on the screen),
Kevin

PS — So, I noticed a ton of named Internet companies mentioned in this movie and what I could not help wonder as I was watching the movie was this: Did all of these companies pay for product placement? I did some cursory searching this morning but found nothing much about this topic (this article mentions the movie but doesn’t answer my question). Given the push into paid placements of products in movies and television, it’s a valid question, right? To wonder if eBay, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and others paid to gain access to our eyeballs in the theater? I am particularly alarmed for the young viewers that this movie is aiming at. And if these companies did not pay for access, why didn’t the movie makers change the names to spoof and poke fun at the giants?

So add another bullet to my list:

  • No paid Internet products in movies aimed at kids/future users

To Friends in Many Spaces: Thankful, Appreciative, Optimistic

Book Turkey(My wife brought home this book turkey she made with an old textbook and I love the way a book was remixed into art.)

Dear friends in many spaces,

Thank you. Thank you for, first, for even being here at my blog at all. I know fewer and fewer people read blogs, preferring sound bite analysis and catchy headlines on social media. I do that, too, at times. As such, I am always appreciative when anyone takes the time to jump from a tweet or a shared link or maybe even RSS reader to come and spend a few minutes with my writing or my songs, and maybe even write a comment. Thank you for your conversations in the comment bin, when you have time and inclination to do so.

I am also deeply appreciative of the fact that while I read about and know about the thorny, messy elements of the Web — the way trolls play out on Twitter, the way algorithmic bots target us on Facebook (well, not me, but maybe you), the way we are the product for marketing, the way dark corners of the Net are home to anger and conspiracy and such — I have mostly avoided those elements.  I know others have not been so lucky, targeted because they speak out and have strong views.

I think my positive bubble — which is not the kind of bubble that walls me off from the world and not the kind that stops me from expressing my own strong opinions nor engaging in debates — has been mostly due to you.

You have helped me stay positive and engaged in thinking forward. I ask you questions, and you answer. I remix your resources, and honor your work. You do the same, with mine. I write in your margins, to better understand. I write my way forward. Sometimes, I read what you share and let it sink in, letting time follow me until I realize that what you shared with me is now the thing I need right now. You knew that all along.

This is not, alas, unbridled optimism without worry, of course, worries about the many obstacles still there when it comes to learning and teaching and writing and sharing and connecting, and the myriad of troubles that come with this digital world. For sure, there are unsettling problems, made worse by our digital connections with the world. I find myself agreeing with the analysis by many that the promise of the Web, as we know it today, is not what we thought it might be.

Still, it might yet still become something else altogether, something better.

We collectively push forward by pushing forward, we do by doing, we make by making, and we can do this together. No one person can be on this journey alone. We make this path, together.

Whenever I think, this is a perfect opportunity for a collaboration and let’s get an invite out into the networks, that impulse to work with others in technology and writing and making is based on hope in the possible. It’s why I remain part of CLMOOC, and why offshoots of connected communities intrigue me. It’s why others in the National Writing Project seem like friends, even when we only just meet. It’s why I found a new-ish home on Mastodon, settling into small stories and small poems and small sharing. This is why regular activities like Slice of Life remain a draw for me. It’s why I don’t worry too much about leaving one place to go to another, to meet new people, to learn from others. I dip my toes, for a reason. There are more people out there who want the same than we realize. It’s sometimes just a matter of finding us.

I am thankful there are such opportunities. Thank you.

Peace (a few words and such),
Kevin

 

August Rest: A Poem Unfolds 31

All month, as part of my break from blogging and other technology, I have been releasing a poem, one word a day starting on August 1 and ending yesterday, August 30. If you have been a casual visitor at all during that time, you no doubt thought something had gone haywire here. Mostly, I suspect, no one stayed long enough to care about what I was doing. Here, though, is the whole poem in its entirety. — Kevin

Some
things
take
time
to
wander;

they
unfold
by
dawn
and
huddle
by
night.

A
reader
showing
patience –
refraining
from
running —
might
yet
rediscover
words
strung
together
into
a
poem.