Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Let Go

The title of this blog post refers to a couple of different ideas. One, it's the title of the song I'm featuring here...a beautiful ballad written and performed by Tyrone Wells, which I think serves as a moving tribute to any deceased person's memory. Two, it specifically speaks to what the folks of Newtown, CT will have to do as they move forward in the grieving process. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, it's a call to action for those among us who are holding steadfast to our political/ideological/social beliefs in the wake of a monumental's time to let go and at least consider that some form of change may be needed.

Please read...and listen.

Let Go by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

This is not a political diatribe. This is not a message from the left or the right. This is not a comment on ideals either Democrat or Republican. If you don't agree with what I say, that is fine...I could be wrong, and I freely admit that. This is simply the view from my small, insignificant hole in the world. We all see things through a tiny, narrow prism that defines our personal beliefs. None of those vantage points is exactly correct, nor exactly incorrect. We must corral all of those focused beliefs and re-evaluate how they add up. As an individual, each of us is practically powerless. As a society, we are not. We're smarter than this. We're stronger than this. And we are most definitely better than this. No ills of the world can ever be completely eradicated, but that doesn't mean that we should throw our hands up in the air and accept the status quo. That is a recipe for disaster. It should also be said that this editorial is not a specific response to the horrific violence that occurred in Connecticut last week. There are still various misconceptions about what happened, and many pieces of that puzzle still yet to be strung together. However, that incident should serve as a blaring wake-up call to all of us that change is needed. When 20 babies are snuffed out before their 7th and 8th birthdays, we must retroactively examine all the societal catastrophes that came before this.

So what should be done? I am not so self-involved as to believe that I alone have the definitive answers to that question. I do know that we can throw out the knee-jerk suggestions by both ideological sides:

"Ban all guns!"


"Arm everyone in America so they can defend themselves against those who would do them harm!"

These types of blanket solutions will accomplish nothing, and are completely unrealistic.

Some more reasonable suggestions are also floating out there:

Ban assault weapons

Enhance and enforce gun control policies

Pass more rigorous mental health legislation and provide more funding for related action

Enact more stringent guidelines for prohibiting violence in television, film, literature, and music

Furnish our schools with tighter security 

My personal opinions on each of these measures...

The main argument against banning assault weapons seems to be that it's been tried the mid-90's...and it failed to influence any decrease in violent crime, particularly deaths caused by those types of artillery. Apparently, our government is incapable of passing legislation without hundreds of associated loopholes. How about we examine WHY the ban failed, as opposed to just the fact that it did fail? How about our politicians start drafting legislation for the good of the people, as opposed to being for the purpose of furthering their own ideological and career-oriented agendas? If you're going to ban something, BAN it. Don't then say, "OK, except for this type of weapon, and that type, and that type...." There is no godly reason why an everyday civilian needs access to an assault rifle. If someone wants to keep a handgun locked safely away in their nightstand for personal protection, or a gun that's suitable for hunting game, then fine. There's not much we can do about that, and I think that's acceptable. Amassing a doomsday scenario-type high-powered arsenal is not.

With regards to other aspects of gun control...I'm sorry folks on the far right, but everyone in the country packing heat is not going to make us SAFER! I think some of these people are envisioning a scenario where someone like teacher, Victoria Soto, yanks her weapon from her desk, dives out into the school hallway like John McClane from Die Hard, and blows away Adam Lanza before he has a chance to take out any innocent bystanders. We simply cannot rely upon ordinary citizens to take the law into their own hands in these situations where a psychopath decides he's going to annihilate a public gathering of people. Even if that were a realistic expectation, in the meantime, the unintended consequences of us all having guns could end up being more dire than the isolated tragedies that mindset is ultimately designed to prevent. How many sons and daughters are going to accidentally find and fire their parents weapons? How many mentally unstable folks will continue to find access to high-capacity guns? How many of these well-intentioned citizens will fire and miss their desired target, injuring someone else instead? People point to the Constitution and the right to bear arms. Folks, I'm sorry, but this is a 230-year-old document. The founding fathers did not have our current society envisioned when they laid the foundation of this country. How could they have? Times have drastically changed, and we need to adapt accordingly.

Conversely, those on the far left are misguided if they think banning all guns is realistic. As we know from our past history, anytime we outlaw something completely - alcohol, abortion, etc. - the results are not what we had envisioned. There are always unintended consequences here as well. As many people have pointed out, those who want to do others harm will find a way to procure their weapons of choice, unless we focus on the specific aspects of our laws that allow this to happen.

So what's in between? We have made incredible advances in technology in almost every area of our lives. Why can't these advances be applied to weaponry? I work in the wireless industry, where everything is now focused on so-called  "smart" phones. The long-range vision in this field is that everything we touch in our daily lives is, sometime in the not too distant future, going to be wired into smart technology. Our shopping excursions, our household appliances, our cars, etc. will all be interconnected with our handheld devices and mobile apps. So, God damn it, why can't we make the guns smarter too? How about guns only being able to be activated via a registered fingerprint? How about the internal mechanisms being disabled when a perpetrator walks into a school, place of worship, airport, shopping mall, or anywhere else weapons don't belong? I mean, for the love of Christ, I need a f--king login name and password just to gain access to this BLOG...why on Earth don't you need one to operate a machine gun? If we can't prevent everyone from obtaining the weapons, maybe we can at least stop certain people from using them. I do think that there should be incredible lengths of red tape in place pertaining to the licensing and registration of guns. It should be difficult to legally obtain these items. Those of us who are stable and want to use them for innocuous purposes, will be somewhat inconvenienced, but in the end, they'll get what they want. Those who can't pass the rigorous background checks, age requirements (I think it should be 25+), mental health evaluations, etc., will be prevented from procuring weapons of any kind, and that's just the way it is (or should be). It may be a slippery slope in determining what the guidelines should be, but I'm sorry, this is an absolute necessity.

Regarding mental health, I personally can't envision what we can do in this arena, but again, I am no expert. However, I do think it's a debate that needs to be had so people more qualified than I CAN come up with some cogent solutions. How do we legislate better mental health? In many of these tragic incidents, there were not sufficient warning signs to suggest that the eventual perpetrators would become hysterically violent. But perhaps, in some instances, there will be ways to prevent the most hideous outcomes...for the good of the prospective victims, as well as the benefit of the disturbed individual.

Next, the debate on violent images and actions, as portrayed in pop culture, is one where my opinions probably diverge from those of many other people. This, again, is not to say that my way is the right way. I just don't see the correlation between listening to rap, or watching a Quentin Tarantino film, and someone walking into a school and shooting children. There's simply something else at work here. Why are 99.9% of us not so impressionable as to be driven to acts of unspeakable violence after having consumed these types of entertainment products? Is the "cause" in the cause and effect equation here the images of violence, or is it the lack of proper education, the broken homes, bad parenting, violence and abuse in the homes, inherent mental instability, and the like? Likewise, what would the actual benefits be from removing the aforementioned portrayals of violence? I am not convinced that there would be any measurable effect. That's not to say I am against having the discussion, but I think we need to keep our eyes open to the reality.

Lastly, school security. This is one area where I express my viewpoint with sincere regret. Unfortunately, I think it's come to the point where we need metal detectors, guards, etc. everywhere. This is not an ideal situation, but it's a necessity. The same way we hate being inconvenienced at the airport, in most instances (strip-searching Grandmas notwithstanding), this is done for our own safety. No, we don't want our kids to feel like they're going to school in a war zone, but if it keeps out the evildoers, so be it.

Just one more comment on something I briefly touched on I am generally not a political person, and I don't have many "pet" issues. But, if there is one thing I am incredulous about, it's the lack of attention we pay to the education crisis in this country. There is an associated lack of understanding (not just by politicians, but by the general public as well) of how education is the one segment of society that feeds into every single problem and nationwide concern. The economic struggles, political corruption, drugs and violence, mental health, even foreign policy issues...everything is affected by the quality of education. You cannot make an argument that it is not. So not only do we need to discuss issues like gun control (the symptom), we need to facilitate a revolution in the way we view our education structure (the disease). This needs to be done NOW. And I'm not talking about paying teachers more, or strengthening math and science curriculums (two misguided suggestions that are consistently floated around). Those are not solutions. I'm talking about a mass overhaul of the "one size fits all" and standardized testing approaches that we've been following for decades. Every child is different, and consequently has different educational needs.

In conclusion, I want to say that I am not a parent. I therefore don't have the same perspective that many of you have, following the devastation in Newtown. But I do have a baby nephew, and can't fathom him not being allowed to reach age 8. I can't fathom him not being able to go to high school and college, drive a car, get married, get a job, have kids of his own, etc. In providing service to one of my customers the other day, assisting her in adding a cell phone line to her account for her daughter, she lamented to me that she was 100% against giving her ten-year-old a cell phone. However, in her words, "...after this stupid shooting, I don't want to not have a way of staying connected with her throughout the day." As we spoke further about last week's events, I couldn't help but get a little emotional. Parents all over the world are now feeling that much more helpless in letting their young kids leave their side every day, and it shouldn't be this way. It can't be this way.

We need to be able to let go.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Top 15 Songs of 2012

I have to say that this has been the worst year ever in terms of my personal musical taste. Since I really started following pop/rock music in the mid-80's, 2012 would probably rank last in terms how many songs really struck my ear, and how many albums I would sit listening to beginning to end. With that having been said, it was relatively easy to come up with my Top 15 Songs of the Year...just sad that it was only 15. Here are the tracks that made this year in music somewhat listenable for me...

15. "45" by Gaslight Anthem - a good one to turn up loud while driving.

14. Domino by Jessie J - not a big fan of her other stuff...particularly the annoying "Party in the U.S.A.," which she penned for Miley Cyrus, but this was one of the catchier songs of the year

13. Silenced By the Night by Keane - these guys seem to have one or two great tracks on each album, and that's it. This is the one that stood out for me on their most recent effort.

12. This Moment Now by Tyrone Wells - discovered this amazing singer at the SXSW festival a few years back. He churned out two albums and an EP this year - and I must say, I don't think much of it stands up to his prior work, but this was one of the songs that captured my attention.

11. Days Go By by The Offspring - about 20 years in to their career, these guys are still churning out great rock songs. Not a bad feat.

10. I Miss the Misery by Halestorm - the one album of the year that blew me away, largely because Lzzy Hale is simply unrivaled as a singer in the world of hard rock right now...if there is still such a world. That's also why this is not their only appearance on my list.

9. Rise by Ed Kowalczyk - the former lead singer of the band LIVE continues to be one of the best songwriters out there. I was sad to see the band break up, and his solo stuff is not quite as good top to bottom as the group stuff was, but chances are, he'll end up on my year-end list every year he releases anything.

8. Burn it Down by Linkin Park - Linkin Park is what I would describe as a "Greatest Hits" act for me. I've pretty much liked every single they've ever released, but not much of the rest of their album material. And that's fine...a few great rock tunes on every album.

7. Love Bites (So Do I) by Halestorm - and here they are again. How appropriate that one of my favorite modern bands tips their caps to my favorite band of all-time, Def Leppard. This song has nothing to do with the Leps' only number one hit (that fact is unreal as it is), except that they are both awesome. By the way...I don't think I'd wanna mess with Lzzy.

6. Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - I only discovered this song a couple of weeks the most unpredictable place: on "The Voice"! I don't normally watch these banal TV "talent" contests, but I happened to flip to this when nothing was on, and caught contestant Amanda Brown singing the hell out of this, which of course led me to look up the original. I dare say that Brown practically outdid Grace Potter, but the original definitely stuck with me. I can't really get into Potter's other stuff, so this will have to do. Also, it should be said that the next time I accidentally came across a performance on "The Voice," the results were entirely different - one of those dreaded group performances (which are always horrific) - this time a certified mauling of Journey's "Any Way You Want It." Yikes.

5. I Won't Give Up by Jason Mraz - this one surprised me. Mraz is always trying to do that rhythmic lyrical gymnastic thing like he did on his original hit, "Remedy" years ago. This one is just a simple love song. No frills...just a great melody. I'm sold.

4. Headlights by Morning Parade - I suspect this is the only song I'll ever like from these guys. A real standout track on an otherwise forgettable album.

3. Everybody Talks by Neon Trees - as soon as this came out, I declared it the catchiest song of the year, and I think that has held up through the end of 2012. As with many of the songs on this list, it was the only track on their album that did anything for me. I guess the pressure on artists to put out a "hook"-y single is alive and well...and apparently it works in a lot of cases. 


Wait, did I forget number TWO?

For the first time in the celebrated history of my blog, I could not make a decision between my top two songs. Yes, there is, in fact, a TIE!! I know, I know. You're all jumping out of your seats in disbelief. But it has happened. What can I say...the ladies ruled this year. And two ladies with incredible voices at that. Not shocking, but one of these artists put out my favorite album of 2011, and the other released my favorite album of 2012. So it's only fitting that they share the crown this year. So read on to find out who they are, and sample almost all of the songs from the list in the widget below if you'd like to decide for yourselves just how crappy my taste in music is :-) Thanks for reading...

1. (TIE) Here's to Us by Halestorm/Dark Side by Kelly Clarkson 

"Here's to Us" is one of those songs that you could imagine singing along to with a bunch of strangers in a bar (think: "Closing Time" by Semisonic)...if you were a character in a cheesy movie. Yes, these are not the deepest lyrics in the history of rock music, but sometimes an amazing vocalist, great melody, and cheerful sentiment is all you need. And Lzzy actually makes the word "Fuck" sound not dirty. One other incredible thing to note about this song - the cover of it done by the cast of the show "Glee" marked the only instance I have ever heard where the FOX TV characters didn't completely destroy the track they chose to remake. It was actually a serviceable (yet nowhere near the original) version

The title track to Kelly Clarkson's fifth studio album, "Stronger," was, remarkably, the biggest hit of her career. Almost as remarkably, the next single, "Dark Side," fell with a thud, as it missed even making the Billboard Top 40. Following suit with my track record of going against the grain of popular opinion - even when involving a multi-million album selling artist - I had pegged this as my favorite track on the album as soon as I listened to it the first time. This is saying something, considering how much I like the entire CD. That's OK...I continue to like Kelly's dark side, and every other side of her as well. 

    Top 15 of 2012 by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark