Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

Ariana Grande — September 4, 2019

Ariana Grande

A looooooong time ago in what only feels like a distant galaxy, MTV played music videos. The Buggles and their beautiful warning, “Video Killed The Radio Star,” was the first of many, a doorway to a surprising new world of possibility. “Thriller,” “Take On Me,” and “Buddy Holly” were the best high concept short films, and shone brightly among the mindless concert footage and tour clips. Now, there are no videos. There is Catfish, Ridiculousness, Challenge, Teen Mom, and the unholy sequels of the Hills and Jersey Shore. Maybe there’s more, who knows? The only music is the 8 seconds in and out of break and to soundtrack long pensive drives.

I loved music videos and I’m really sorry they’re nearly extinct. Only nearly, because I can still see an hour of them every day on the Planet Fitness corporate channel on the informational (time, temperature, local advertisements, promotions, etc) tv’s.

Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” though fairly old, is still on a pretty tight rotation, which means I see it 3 or 4 times a week. The song isn’t great but it’s not terrible – better now that I know most of the words and can sing along.

“Yeah, breakfast at Tiffany’s and bottles of bubbles. Girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble. Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines. Buy myself all of my favorite things (yeah)…My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossin’. Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin’. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah). I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah)”

I recognize that there’s something absurd about a man like me singing these words, but just because I have no idea what it means to have a neck that is flossin’ or a gloss that is ‘poppin’ doesn’t mean mine isn’t, right?

Anyway. (What’s next isn’t new or earth-shattering, but it is worthy of our attention and lament.)

MTV was invented as a vehicle to move product – like a big, shiny bulletin board of advertisements. The difference (and I can’t pinpoint when it happened…probably Madonna, I suppose) is that the product was the music: albums, singles, t-shirts, concert tickets, posters. Now, Ariana Grande’s songs (we can’t even talk about albums, NOBODY but me buys albums anymore) are not the point at all. As far as I can tell, the video for “7 Rings” is an ad for an internet porn site. It’s not a commercial for a song, it’s a commercial for only 1 aspect of Ariana Grande, her sexuality.

I’m not here to say what she’s doing is wrong, or why she’s doing them is wrong (or even if there’s even such a thing as right & wrong in pop superstardom.) She’s an adult. What I am here to say is that I believe that Ariana Grande is a smart, strong, funny, unbelievably talented woman, a daughter, sister, who has opinions on politics and spirituality, who loves her parents, grandparents, is loyal and generous to the friends she had before she was famous, still mourns the breakup of her marriage, laughs too loudly sometimes  and in places she might not talk about openly is insecure and feels totally inadequate. I believe these things about her because I believe these things about everyone.

When she is reduced (as she is in the video) to only the 1 part of herself that is deemed important to people like me and you, it minimizes her AND it minimizes us – as if we are only capable of the most obvious, least nuanced understanding of another human being. No one is just one thing. We are each the most wonderful mosaics. When we categorize another based on just one part of their humanity – whether it is race, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, occupation, whether they are left-handed, or whether or not they are ‘hot’  – it wrongly implies that that isolated superficial label is all we are. As I watched “7 Rings,” I wondered if/when she is no longer what music executives brand ‘sexy,’ will her talent still be valuable? Would she still be beautiful?

I mostly like to listen to songwriters and read magazines and bios and liner notes because I’ve always care about who is making the music; who they are, where they come from and what they are all about. They are more than pictures, more than notes, more than songs and certainly more than genitalia.

I know, it’s probably an old-fashioned notion and there probably isn’t much room to bring this up without being branded something or other. And maybe I am that something or other. Maybe. But I am absolutely, positively much more.

 

 

 

 

Steven Patrick Morrissey — June 26, 2019

Steven Patrick Morrissey

Late last week, my sister tagged me in a Facebook post that advertised a Morrissey concert near Philadelphia, roughly an hour from my house.

She tagged me because her my brother-in-law would never go, he can’t stand Morrissey, hates his voice like fingernails on a chalkboard. He’s wrong, and it calls into question every other opinion he holds. She also tagged me because Morrissey has been my favorite singer since I was 13. You know how, when people are asked what they listen to, they usually think for a minute and say, “oh, well, everything really?” Or pause when they’re asked what they’re favorite song is? I never pause, because I don’t have to think. I say, “Morrissey/the Smiths” (the Smiths are the Very Important Band Morrissey fronted for a time in the ‘80’s) or “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” as if I’ve been waiting for someone to ask. Then they either nod, impressed, or confess that they have no idea who Morrissey is. 

It is no exaggeration to say that he changed my life. I’ve had a 30 year relationship with him and the songs/albums that have provided the soundtrack for EVERY SINGLE significant moment of my life; celebrations, heartbreaks, joy, pain, times when I was broken and times when I was whole. I listened to Louder Than Bombs (‘Unloveable’ on repeat) on my way home from an ex-girlfriend’s apartment after we had separated. I listened to Bona Drag on my way to and from my high school graduation. I knocked off school every time a new album was released – in fact, when World Peace Is None Of Your Business was released in 2014, I woke up at 3am to download it so I could have it for the gym at 4 and work later that day. If CDs and New Release days were still a thing, I imagine I would’ve knocked off of work that day, too. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” was my wedding song, played right in the middle of the ceremony, for all of us to hear about “double-decker bus” crashes and the pleasure and privilege of dying “by your side.” 

In the book High Fidelity, Rob asks if we find the music or if the music finds us – if the songs change us or we are the kind of people who can be changed by the songs. It probably doesn’t matter if I was hypersensitive and dramatic and that’s why Morrissey appealed to me so deeply, or if his lyrics/voice led me to be hypersensitive and dramatic. I am hypersensitive and dramatic and I love him like he’s a member of my family, and if I were to ever meet him, I would thank him for being who he was to me.

I almost met him once. He was playing a show at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia and I got there at 8am to stand in line so I could press myself against the stage for the show. Around 5-ish, I think, there was rumor that he was there, but there had been many such rumors during that day, and the line was looong by then and I couldn’t trust its validity. Of course, he was there and signed everything as he spoke with the fans who found him… 

I saw him twice in concert. The first was the Electric Factory show when I was 18 and the second was with my special lady (and first son, who was safely tucked inside her stomach, listening and I imagine thoroughly enjoying himself and judging us to be The Coolest Parents in America.)     

We use the word love for everything. I love my car, these shorts, pizza, my sister, and my nephew Nathan who just graduated from high school (who incidentally, sadly agrees with his dad about Morrissey), but I don’t love them all the same. If I were to list the things I love, Morrissey would be above ALL things that aren’t people. I love him more than pizza and baseball (both in the top 10) combined, no matter how many regrettable things he says or how many shameless cash-grab greatest hit/b-side collections/deluxe editions he releases. I don’t like the new album, but at this point, it’s irrelevant. He’s family, and I don’t like or agree with everything every person I love does or says. That’s part of growing up. In college, too many relationships ended because they didn’t like Morrissey enough. I’m different now.

I don’t care anymore if you like ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,’ though I suspect if you don’t understand why I do, you may not like me that much. 

I’m not going to the Morrissey show with my sister, even if he was playing in the high school in my town, because I don’t go to shows anymore period. It is no longer my scene. (Well, maybe I would go if it was in the high school in my town…) And I’m not buying the new California Son album – bad covers albums aren’t my scene anymore, either. 

The music found me when I was 13 through a family I worked with at the PA Renaissance Faire from the Philippines (one was named Mark, another named Jay and another was a gorgeous girl who had what looked like a stencil of a leaf on her tongue), and I’m a different person now. I’ve seen so many things come and go, graduated high school and college (twice), fell in love with Jesus, got married, buried my dad, had 2 children. So, so many changes, but one thing that never changes is Morrissey. 

I have no idea why I wrote this. There’s really no point, but I guess love letters don’t really have to have a point. The love IS the point. 

So Trish, thanks for asking, but I think I’ll pass.       

Slippery When Wet — February 16, 2019

Slippery When Wet

My favorite Christmas present this year, and maybe ever, is a poster my wife bought for me called 100 Albums Scratch Off Bucket List. The poster has 100 squares, covered in silver like convenience store lottery tickets, for 100 great albums, and as you listen to them, you scratch the silver away to reveal a clever cartoony depiction of the spirit of the cover art.

Today I’m listening to Slippery When Wet, by Bon Jovi (but surely you already knew who recorded the classic Slippery When Wet.) Right now, it’s track 3 – ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ (and probably you already knew what track 3 was, too.) It’s my 21st favorite song of all time. (‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,’ by the Smiths, is #1, ‘I Can’t Help Myself,’ by Gene, is 2, ‘Half A Person,’ also by the Smiths, is 3, and ‘Good Enough,’ by Sarah McLachlan is 4. Incidentally, ‘I Remember You,’ by Skid Row, is #7.) You probably don’t remember how good ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ is, maybe you’re unfairly judging it by the lack of the ‘g’ in Livin’ or the hairstyles & tight pants, now that you’re older and Bon Jovi stopped being considered awesome after the New Jersey album. You’re wrong, though. But it’s ok, we all bought that then. It’s time to move past that, now, make our own paths, write our own stories. This is as good a place as any to start.

(Wanted Dead Or Alive is on now. So much better than you remember. I promise.)

I’ve heard so many of these albums, but I’m listening to them all again before I can scratch them off. I started with the Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. I missed it the first time around, disregarding them as just one of a million poor copies of the Strokes. I was wrong, it’s a terrific record.

Jon sings, in ‘Without Love,’ “I see my life, some things I took for granted.” I wonder what else I missed, what else I took for granted because of my misguided convictions. Because of my snobby elitist judgmentalism. Because of my blindness. I guess I’m not talking about Slippery When Wet or the Arctic Monkeys anymore (well, maybe just a little.) It’s the kisses, hands, conversations, moments I may not have given the attention they deserved that can haunt me. Wrapped up in busy-ness, anxious about what had been or what would be, worried about what I looked like or the image I was projecting. Do you know I used to wear a shirt to the beach, too self-conscious of a few extra pounds to exhale? Can you imagine?

(I just discovered that it’s impossible to type while ‘Never Say Goodbye’ plays.)

I don’t want to miss anything, but I know I will, because I’ll forget. And when I do, it’s nice to have someone walking with me to point things out, to tell me to breathe and sing out loud and dig in the sand with my shirt off. And sometimes, she will buy THE COOLEST POSTER EVER to remind me.

 

Storied Life — January 23, 2019

Storied Life

I have this very good friend, who may or may not be named Laura Chickson, who buys me books every Christmas. They’re books I’ve never heard of and when I open them, I ask, “Do I love it?” And she, who is peaceful and easy, just sweetly nods.

Last year, my gift was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, and I am halfway through and I am already dreading the moment it will end. (Yes, of course, I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me so long to read it.) It’s about this guy who owns a bookstore and finds a small child left in his shop, and the back cover says, “an unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over – and see everything anew.” This sort of phrase is catnip to me. The idea that our yesterday doesn’t define us and that today can be different is inspiring and hopeful, keeps me looking up and moving forward. And turning pages.

I love turning pages, books and the simple act of reading. I miss book stores. Like everyone else, buying books online is easy and quick and I appreciate the “people who bought this also bought…” but something has been lost. I miss record stores more than I can express. Tuesdays used to be the day for new releases, and I played hooky more Tuesdays than I’d care to admit. And I’d trade “people who bought this” for Joe at Record Connection, who said, “since you love Morrissey so much, you really need to have this Smoking Popes disc.” The album was Born To Quit, and he was so right. He had a band called the Neverminds and they were just as good as you’d hope they would be.

So. I miss record stores. I miss small grocery stores named after the owner. Not WalMart named after Sam Walton, more like Phares’s in Adamstown, named after Phares Harting. I miss real people talking and knowing what you like and what you are like. About 10 years ago, a co-worker invited me to a men’s group at a local mega-church, and I told him that I had already been invited by another co-worker (they must’ve thought I needed it badly, which I did), and neither had any idea they attended the same church.

But we live in a place where many small fish are being swallowed up by few gigantic sharks. And that’s ok, I guess, but only sometimes. The day I realized I had to quit my job at the Wall (an extinct local record store), a customer came in and asked me, “what do I want?” and I told him, in the snobby judgmental way I loved, “no question. Norah Jones, man.” And I showed it to him – debut Come Away With Me – then said, “but you’ll want to but it at the WalMart.” It was 18.99 at the Wall, and 9.99 down the street. I like record stores, but I like paying less, too. Maybe if I knew it meant we’d have no more Joe’s at Record Connection, I’d have paid a bit more. Sigh.

Anyway. This book is amazing, perfectly paced and each word in the right place. (As I write that, the same could be said about my friend Laura.) I’ll be sure and tell you how it ends.

 

 

Memento — January 20, 2019

Memento

There was a great (GREAT) movie in 2000 called Memento, in which the protagonist Leonard searches to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. Standard thriller plot, except he has no memory at all, leaving notes all over his body, all over everything.

Now. There is a very interesting discussion to be had on the philosophical idea the film’s title is taken, Memento Mori, a Latin phrase that means ‘remember death,’ or ‘remember that you will die.’ We’re not going to have that discussion.

Instead, the discussion we’re going to have is about Lady Gaga. I have been a pretty serious fan since ‘Paparazzi,’ a song so good it forced me to re-evaluate the 2 earlier singles. The problem I have with Lady Gaga is that I am afflicted with much the same issue as Leonard. Every Gaga song is without question THE BEST LADY GAGA SONG!! If ‘Hair’ is playing, it’s the Gaga masterpiece, until ‘Bad Kids’ or ‘Alejandro’ or ‘Monster’ or ‘John Wayne’ or ‘Angel Down’ or ‘Summerboy’ is playing. The truth is that her finest moment is ‘Bad Romance,’ but I just don’t remember just how fine a moment it is until it’s on.

I read the Bible, and one of the narratives is how the people of Israel get themselves in a mess, God rescues them, and they celebrate, promise to follow Him, and forget, thus beginning the circle anew. It’s terribly frustrating and impossible to read without the thought of, “seriously, again?” It’s like Mr. Incredible’s quote on saving the world, “Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know?! For a little bit. I feel like the maid: “I just cleaned up this mess ! Can we keep it clean for, for 10 minutes?! Please?!” Why don’t they just pay attention?!!? Do we really have to keep running the same story on a continuous loop forever?

To which the answer is, apparently, yes.

I sigh, shake my head and mumble about ‘these people,’ while I make the same mistakes over and over, step into the same traps, fall into the same holes, continue to think ‘Manicure’ is better than ‘Bad Romance.’

We all have a little bit (or a lot) of this Leonard, forgetting really important details of our lives.  I know Lady Gaga songs aren’t the ‘really important details of our lives,’ but you get the point. We certainly aren’t bound by our pasts, but there is value in where we’ve come from, who we were, how we have grown, overcome, transcended, value in celebrating the times we were rescued. All of it provides the context for living and where we will go and who we will be. I suppose we all need more notes and tattoos as reminders.

My boy just walked into this room where I am writing, sat on the edge of the couch and expressed some remarkably insightful thoughts about Marvel characters. I hope I don’t forget this moment – it’s just perfect. (What’s not is how he’s going to get himself into trouble in 15 minutes, but for now…perfect)

There’s no special, clever ending here, just the same thing. I want to be present to every second. That’s mostly what the idea of Memento Mori is about – we are going to die, so we should enjoy each moment as if it’s the last, and then, we will really live. (Maybe we are going to talk about this now.) This is from a site called The Daily Stoic: “Meditating on your mortality is only depressing if you miss the point. It is in fact a tool to create priority and meaning. It’s a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful. And fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this. A simple reminder can bring us closer to living the life we want. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many things you have left to be done, a car can hit you in an intersection and drive your teeth back into your skull. That’s it. It could all be over. Today, tomorrow, someday soon.”

This purpose, priority, meaning, urgency, all of it is so overwhelming in its beauty. It’s called presence, right? Being present to my life, and never taking any of it (the what, where, why, how and especially the who) for granted. And remember, because I don’t want to have to keep relearning it every day.

 

 

A New Thing — December 29, 2018

A New Thing

Well, good morning! This is a new thing – I think I know what it is, I guess we’ll see.

It’s interesting to think that you have something new to offer the world, something of value. The impulse can appear vain and self-aggrandizing, and that’ll be something I work through (probably here… out loud), because it is also an expression of a gift. We are all gifted in certain ways – being created in the image of a wildly creative God makes us wildly creative. Only, so many of us have decided that, though this may be true for others, it is not for us. We say things like, “I’m just (whatever)” or “I’m not the creative type,” and we are wrong.

Because we are gifted, it is vital for our growth and development that we use these gifts before they atrophy and we forget that we have the image of God on us. Namaste, right?

So.

I write for the faith community I pastor, and recently published a book. This space is different. I mean, it’s virtually impossible that I see the world any type of way other than through a spiritual lens, through a prism of love, but those avenues have a structure this one will not have. I love music and movies and culture, opinions on religion and politics and art – this is where I will explore those things any way I choose.

It’s pretty exciting to see where we go, right?