Thursday, January 01, 2015

2014 - Loss and Gratitude

2013 was a tough act to follow, and I knew that going into it.   I had just hoped it would be a good year, having to follow 2013, which was the best year.   Taking a look back, it's hard to really just call it a good year, or a bad year.   It was definitely a year of challenges and hard losses.   A constant barrage of grim news stories and tragic headlines made a lot of us worry about the future of this country and the world.  And, 2014 might be remembered as the year that too many funny people left us, just when we need them most:  Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Sid Caeser, David Brenner, John Pinette, and Jan Hooks.  And I lost a remarkable number of role models and favorites from my era:  Frankie Knuckles, Ann B. Davis, Alexander Shulgin, Rik Mayall, and Mark Bell from LFO.  I also lost two every day heroes, my father-in-law, and a mentor from my lost youth days. 

Still, with all of the challenges and heartbreaking losses, I leave this year with a thankful heart; thankful for every minute I got to spend and every smile I shared with the love of my life, Tony.   And, I'm so thankful for every giggle, squeal, and snuggle from our little guy.  And I'm thankful for long walks among the trees.   These are the only things that could possibly make the rest bearable.   

In the first week of the year, a polar vortex brought the coldest temperatures in over 50 years; down to 5 degrees here in "Hotlanta."   Of course, mid-month took me to toasty warm Chicago in January for my annual work conference.  And, when I got back home, we got a forecast for an inch of snow across metro Atlanta, which led to an amazingly uncoordinated effort to close all schools and businesses at the same time, which led to a million car traffic jam across three counties, which led to thousands of drivers stranded in frozen gridlock, which led to me sitting in my car in traffic for NINETEEN mother f*&#ing HOURS.   So, yeah, January wasn't my favorite month ever. 

February started off with a great show at The Fox, "Book of Mormon," and a beautifully foggy morning hike up Stone Mountain.   And, then Atlanta was hit with another polar vortex, a shards of ice storm, and then an earthquake in Augusta.   Certainly it was the end times coming, so Tony and I made a quick work-sponsored trip to Chattanooga and Knoxville.   Miraculously, spring did start to prepare its entrance around mid-month, and a few beautiful Stone Mountain hikes made everything okay.  

Spring marched on and brought some normalcy and a quick work trip to Memphis and a beautiful sunset over the Mississippi River.   The month began with the passing of hatemonger Fred Phelps and ended with the passing of a man who spread love all around the world, Frankie Knuckles.   Tony and I hiked up Kennesaw Mountain for the first time, you know, because we're unpredictable, and the little guy made his first hike up Stone Mountain.   And, we were warned to beware the ides of March, as we might fall victim to a Cuteness Attack.


April was packed full of fun stuff:  a Saturday night comedy night at The Village Theatre, "Tennessee Queer" at the Plaza Theatre, a work trip to Nashville, a quick visit from my former work wife, and a much, much needed family trip to Savannah and Tybee Island. 

May brought some big work changes for me with a new role, because apparently I made the mistake of telling the Universe that I wanted a new challenge.   May also brought marriage equality to my home state of Pennsylvania, and, on a completely opposite note, brought Tony and I to Blue Ridge for a weekend getaway in the North Georgia mountains.  

I survived another June.  I have this "thing" of having tumultuous Junes.   So much so, that Stimpy and I have been joking about the terrors of June for nearly 14 years now.   This June started off with the little guy's first birthday party and it was perfect, and no personal tragedies befell me.   But I did watch icons of my personal era slip into history with the passings of Ann B. Davis, Rik Mayall, Alexander Shulgin, Casey Kasim, and Lucky.  

I spent way too much of July in bed with back muscle spasms, but some awesome hikes with my guy at Raven Cliff Falls and Cloudland Canyon cured me.  

August came quietly, and on the 9th of August, my Tony lost his dad.  And everyone who knew him lost some magic in their lives.  In his 97 years on this planet he became the king of invention, the master of joke-telling, and the captain of charm. He showed us all how this life was meant to be lived, and the was the best father, grandfather, and father-in-law I've ever known. I will miss that smile, always.

I look forward to every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, mainly because of House In The Park, and this year, we brought the whole family, including little Boo Boo, which was, of course, one of the highlights of my life.  

After a long summer of work stress and career anxiety, I had my first good month, work wise, in September, along with some particularly beautiful Stone Mountain hikes, some outdoor yoga with Molly, and a nice visit from my most favorite mother-in-law.  


October brought a visit from Brian, which included a nice hike in Cloudland Canyon and a bone-chilling ride on the new monster Ferris wheel downtown.     An extended family visit to a local corn maze and pumpkin farm was a perfect way to spend a beautifully chilly fall evening.  

November was kinda awesome.   Tony and I had a fantastic weekend in St. Augustine with a couple of spectacular walks on the beach and a nice sidetrack visit to the Okefenokee on the way back home.   We celebrated our nine year anniversary at Mali and a few days later we marked my 44th big day with a hike up Stone Mountain.  And, the little guy sang "Happy Birthday" to me, which was the best birthday gift I've ever had.   

December was a whirlwind of work, holiday parties, and, of course, some good hikes.   One of the real highlights for me was a night of deep house music and DJ Pierre at The Music Room.   We took Boo Boo to see Santa, which was hilarious (for us, not him), and we spent Christmas Eve together, as a modern modern family.   Tony and I had a downtown day on the last day of the year, with a visit to the new Center for Civil and Human Rights, then brought in the New Year with the extended modern modern family.   

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 2014 Okapi Sampler!

"The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." - Madeleine L'Engle. 

I was born in 1970, exactly in the middle of Generation X, the life era of those of us defined by "The Breakfast Club," new wave, and Atari.   We remember public payphones, the fall of the wall, and when MTV played music videos.   We knew Madonna when she was provocative and the New Kids on the Block when they were kids.   Our youth was spent at the mall.   And it was spent living in the shadow of the Baby Boomer generation.  We were labelled, dismissed, and marketed to as the generation of angst loving slackers, while nearly all of America's cultural space continued to be occupied by the Baby Boomers' reminiscences of their youth.  They reminded us through just about every possible cultural medium how they fought segregation and war and blind allegiance to tradition, and how we wouldn't even fight for the right to party.   They told us we were just a "filler" generation, between them and the wizards of tech.   And, to quite an extent, we believed them, despite our generational accomplishments and our contributions to culture and history.

But, we're all older now.  And with age comes new understandings of past experiences.  And the current generation of music creators is helping all of us to re-understand the music of my era so we can all move forward again.  Certainly some of the interest in 80s and 90s music is due to a desire to escape the current headlines, bu they aren't just imitating my generation's new wave, acid house, grunge, and rave music by churning out rehashed "retro" sounds...they are picking up where we left off when we gave in to the labels placed upon us.  Much of the best of 2014 reached back to take us forward.  

So, here's a very biased look at the top 10 of the year....

 # 10  Eskuche & Nu Sky - "Acid Jump"

Acid house.  It's the perfect music history legend...a few kids with some homemade music exploded out of Chicago in the late '80s and created a global movement.  This year, a few kids, who weren't even born when the genre was invented, took a fresh look at squelchy acid trax.   Eskuche & Nu Sky from New York City's underground released "Acid Jump" over the summer and used the tools of today to take us back to summers ago with Jack and Fierce Ruling Diva.   If you gotta believe in something, why not believe in acid?   

 # 9 Ariel Pink - "Lipstick"

Ariel Pink has been piquing my interest for a few years now, and this track is the perfect example of why.   It's one part mid-'80s Echo & The Bunnymen, one part Animal Collective, and one part original Scooby-Doo mystery.   It's reaches into a few decades for eccentricities and still perfectly captures 2014's most hipster of sounds.

# 8 TV On The Radio - "Happy Idiot"

TVOTR = indie rock bliss.   They've been making really solid indie rock since 2001, and this year they released their fifth album, Seeds; the first since the 2011 death of their bassist, Gerard Smith.  It's hard not to hear the early '80s REM and early 90s Sonic Youth influences (and they really remind me of Wire at their best), but it's perfectly relevant today.   With "Happy Idiot" they do what they do best...walk that beautiful line at the intersection of painfully urgent and indulgently atmospheric.   

 #7 Hercules and Love Affair feat. John Grant - " I Try To Talk To You"

Yes, Hercules and Love Affair made it to my year end top ten, again.   Well, it's my top ten, so I can include whatever I please.   Besides, this track featuring alt-folk singer John Grant, is fucking amazing.   Hercules and Love Affair came to be out of a need to take another look at early '90s heyday House.   That's the House that saved lives on the dance floor in the midst of a terrifying plague.   John Grant's almost goth voice sharing the experience of finding out he'd become HIV positive laid down over a life-saving House beat allows us to re-understand that time from the relative safety of 2014.   

 # 6 Jamie xx - "All Under One Roof Raving" 

Jamie xx, from the English group The xx, gave us this tribute to the UK rave scene of a couple of decades ago by overlaying a story of rave day conversations on top of a very current post-dubstep track.  Oh, did I mention the steel drum?   Yes, please. 

# 5 Kiesza - "Hideaway"

Around the same time that Kiesza was learning to walk, Robin S and Ce Ce Peniston were filling dancefloors around the world with deep house infused dance pop.   Those of us who remember the days of "Finally" thought there'd never be that kind of synth bass catchy hook again.   We were wrong.   "Hideaway" gives Rick Astley's biggest hits a run for their money on catchiness...but let's be's all kinds of good.  

#4 Kim Ann Foxman - "Steal My Secrets"

Kim Ann Foxman knows House.  She knows where it came from and why.   As a Hercules and Love Affair affiliate that's not too surprising.   What is surprising is the degree to which "Steal My Secrets" sounds like a long lost record from a San Francisco full moon rave in 1992.   It isn't influenced by that special place and time.  It is that place and time.  And that was a damned good era 

# 3 Neneh Cherry - "Blank Project"

Neneh Cherry's 1988 smash, "Buffalo Stance" made it to # 50 on VH1's top 100 one hit wonders.   And, while there's nothing wrong with being a one hit wonder (the vast majority of us are NO hit wonders), Neneh Cherry is much, much more than that.   She left New York City when when she 16 to join the just emerging punk scene and played in The Slits.   She's created punk, rap, house, and more recently, experimental jazz.   And this year she released this intensely personal piece as an expression of her coping with the death of her mother.   This is what art sounds like.  

# 2 Caribou - "Our Love"

Beautiful.   Provocative.   Straddling the sacred line between joy and yearning.   This track is, to me, perfection.   With flourishes of strings, oddly placed bleeps, and a chunky 1991 techno rhythm line, well just damn.  

  # 1  Shamir - "Sometimes A Man"

The Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles, passed away in March of this year.   It was hard to understand how a man who invented and created a music movement so based on the energies of youth could have left us and passed into history.   It's such a cliche, but it's also true that his music will live and influence and inspire for generations to come.  Shamir, born in the suburbs of Las Vegas in 1994, has no first hand experience of what happened in Chicago in the 1980s, but his House is directly from Frankie, and his talent is startling.  His EP, Northtown, is downright exciting in scope, from Chicago house, to R&B influenced electronica, to an authentic bluegrass ballad.   Sometimes a man is more than he says he is. 

So, there it is.   The Lair of the Okapi's Top 10 Songs of 2014!   It was a hard one this year, and here are some more excellent tracks that I just couldn't fit in to the top 10...

Foster The People - "Best Friend"
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - "Stranger To My Happiness"
Sam Smith feat. Mary J. Blige - "Stay With Me"
Sinkane - "New Name"
Basement Jaxx - "Power To The People"
Craft Spells - "Breaking The Angle Against The Tide"
Hozier - "Take Me To Church"
and, of course, Pharrel - "Happy"




Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The 2013 Okapi Sampler!

Soul music.   Music from the soul, from the very core of being.   Soul music came to us from the joy and pain and love and yearning of African-Americans who used the tools given to them by jazz, blues, and gospel music to create a heavenly sound for us here on Earth.   Of course, the music has adapted and evolved over the years from Southern soul, to the Motown sound, to early '70s Philly soul.  It seemed for a long while that soul music had been picked apart and watered down so much by disco, and hip hop, and house, that it became just another historical genre with little relevance today. 

But, 2013 showed us that our souls still yearn to connect and understand and share.   While technology has put the world in our phones, soul music has re-emerged as a real way to connect to the most human aspects of existence, beyond what social media can provide.   Today's soul makers are using technology to reacquaint us with our core selves.   The best music of 2012 seemed to reach out to the world, while this past year, it seems we reached within.  

And, here are the Lair of the Okapi's favorite songs of 2013....

 #10 - The Juan Maclean - "You Are My Destiny"

#9 - Sophie - "Bipp"

#8 - Burial - "Hiders"

#7 - Justin Timberlake (feat. Jay-Z) - "Suit & Tie

#6 - James Blake - "Retrograde"

# 5 - Laura Mvula - "Green Garden"

# 4 - Disclosure (feat. Sam Smith) - "Latch"

# 3 - FKA Twigs - "Water Me"

# 2 - Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell) - "Get Lucky"

#1 - Rhye - "Open" 

There was a lot of good music this year, and it was tough to narrow it down to just ten.   Here are some more great tracks that touched my soul this year. 

Classixx (feat. Nancy Whang) - "All You're Waiting For"
Lorde - "Royals"
Forest Swords - "Thor's Stone"
Holy Ghost! - "Dumb Disco Ideas"
James Blake - "Voyeur"
Janelle Monae (feat. Erykah Badu) - "Q.U.E.E.N."
!!! - "Slyd" 
Jesse Rose - "Dance With Me"
Arrested Development - "Living"

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - The Circle Is Now Complete

For most of my adult life, I've referred to 1992 as the best year of my life.  And it was.   And I thought it always would be.    I've had more than my fair share of fun and wonder since then, but 1992 was just so pivotal and so, well,  hyperreal.   It was a year defined by a feeling of being in the exact right place at the exact right time...a feeling of the Universe lining up to define my life. 1992 saved me, gave me hope, and put me on a beautiful life journey.

And 2013 came and gave me the most beautiful gifts the Universe has to offer - purpose, meaning, wholeness, and love.   The circle is now complete. 

Tony and I started off the year in Tybee Island.   The Tybee Island New Year's crowd was a little rowdy for what we were hoping for, but a morning beach walk was the perfect way to start a wonderful year.

In February, we hiked up Stone Mountain (a lot).   We enjoyed some sketch comedy at Sketchworks, and saw "Bike America" at the Hertz Theatre, both of which were pretty groovy and reminded us of reason # 467 that we LOVE living in Atlanta - so much awesome local theatre.  The end of the month gave us a quick work-sponsored trip to Nashville, where we got to see the Nashville family (reason # 6 that we LOVE living in Atlanta...close proximity to the Nashville family).  

In March, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding DOMA, and a sense of hope spread across the country and a sea of red equality signs spread across Facebook.   The end of the month gave us a wonderful visit from Jenny and Sean and a beautiful view from the Sun Dial. 

April was just swell!   We took a nice long Atlanta Beltline walk on a remarkably beautiful day.   We had another work-sponsored trip - this time to St. Augustine and Jacksonville, and on the drive back we decided to take a "short detour" through the Okefenokee Swamp, and it was spectacular!    Alligators, herons, big was very much like the Everglades, but close to home.   Really one of my highlights for the year.    A couple of weekends later, we decided to check out the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, and stumbled across the setting of "Fried Green Tomatoes" in Juliette, GA.   A few more Stone Mountain hikes, and a quick work trip to Huntsville rounded out a great month.  

And, on May 18th, I proved that sometimes stories about little boys with really rough starts have beautiful happy endings.   After over 7 years together, Tony and I were legally married in Syracuse, New York in front of nearly all of our most beloved family and friends.   And, I came to understand that this man, this moment, all of this, is the meaning of life. 

After our wedding, we spend a night in Niagara Falls, four days in Toronto, and along and wonderful road trip across Ontario, down through Detroit, Cincinnati, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee.   

When we got back home, we had just two weeks to wait before I was able to hold the most beautiful thing I've ever laid my eyes and heart upon.

After the life shifting events of May and June, the rest of the year sort of pales, but there was still lots of fun to be had and lots of quieter moments of savoring the new roles of "husband" and "papa," and the unexpected joys of creating our new modern, modern family.   And, of course, there were still lots of hikes to be taken, like the one Tony and I took at Sweetwater Creek.  

All I can really remember about August is rain.   Like monsoon-style rains.   In fact, it rained for weeks on end all through the summer, but by August I just couldn't take it anymore.   Buckets and buckets of rain.   Oh, and bugs.   Lots of bugs.   Luckily, Michelle and Mark were getting married in Syracuse, so that called for another road trip.   We picked up Mike and Margie in Nashville, spent a night in Pittsburgh, and showed them the view from Mt. Washington.   

We were still in Syracuse for the first of September, and I got a taste of what "camp" is all about.  

When we got back to Atlanta, I got to see Depeche Mode for the first time since the "Violator" tour in 1990, and Tony was able to sing along to several of the songs.   My heart was filled with pride.  

For Tony's birthday, I took him to see Barry Manilow's new musical, "Harmony," which was phenomenal.   I couldn't sing along with any songs, but I think Tony is a little proud of my new-found appreciation for musical theater.   

October was full of fun stuff.  A visit from bestie-in-law, Lauren.   The Pine Lake Festival, a visit to ART Station.  And an amazing Blue Ridge Mountains getaway with our new Brady Bunch family.    Blue Ridge Parkway, Gatlinburg, Cherokee.  Such an awesome time. 

We made a first time visit to the Horizon Theatre in L5P, and saw "Third Country," a play based on the refugee experience in Clarkston, and we were blown away.   Just wonderful.

In November, I returned to the scene of the Panama City Beach, which is where my first memories were made.   I don't miss living in Florida, but I still love a nice walk on the beach.  

After a few days next to the ocean, we returned just in time for peak autumn (which means soul-crushing piles and piles and piles of leaves).   On the 18th, we celebrated our 8 year anniversary, and then headed to Franklin, Tennessee for some Thanksgiving family time and our annual walk around the old Carnton Plantation.   

December started with nice dinner with Gwen, an old-time friend from Pittsburgh, and a weekend visit from my sister and family (which ended with a stray cat in our garage).  And, we were able to catch John Waters' one-man Christmas show at the Variety. 

We ended the month and the year with an overly ambitious "Holiday Magic Tour" driving from Atlanta to Pittsburgh for a few days, then to Syracuse, for Christmas.   From Syracuse, we headed to Richmond via an ill-planned lunch "detour" through Philadelphia.   After Richmond, we took advantage of a drive through Raleigh to say hello to some wonderful, wonderful friends (and their soon-to-be-here baby!).   All in all, we our road trip allowed visits with 28.8% of my Facebook friends.

After our 2,000 mile road trip, we decided to saw goodbye to the best year of my life (so far) by cozying up on the sofa watching "Hairspray."   And the circle is now complete.