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Leaving

This is the second video I’ve posted to YouTube. Like the first, it is a music video I made using public domain footage. I use public domain footage because I do not have access to video recording equipment and like the idea of pairing my music with a visual expression. I chose WWII footage because it seems to convey the message of the song in a way that I had not originally intended. When I first wrote the song it was out of emotional anger, a response to a personal relationship. However, as I listen to the song now and watch the WWII footage I get the impression that it could communicate the complicated emotions of a soldier dying in battle, thinking back on his life regretfully.

Perhaps you will interpret it differently.

“Leaving” by Stephen Joseph

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Tempting Fate

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30 Years and 30 Books of Influence

I turned 30 recently, which prompted much life reflection, introspection and despair. Really, it’s not so bad. My childhood years were filled with wonder and play. My teenage years were riddled with angst, questioning and sarcasm. My twenties were a time for debauchery, wandering adventures and self discovery. I expect my thirties to build on the wisdom I’ve gained as a young adult and give me the opportunity to contribute to a community in a positive way. Whatever happens in the future, I’d like to take the time now to reflect on a life of books. 30 years and 30 books of influence. The following list occurs in the order they affected me, from youngest to present time.

1. Happy Birthday, Moon By Frank Asch

As a child I found this book enchanting. The illustrations seemed to illuminate from the page. I read this book repeatedly transfixed by the powers of imagination.

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2. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

This comic strip’s mischievous playfulness delighted my sense of adventure when I was a kid. As an adult I appreciate its philosophical and ethical commentary on the human condition.

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3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

This is such a deranged novel. Set in the near future where society is shaped by an extremely violent youth culture, it is narrated by a teenage anti-hero. It is completely inappropriate reading material for a middle school student. My teachers were probably worried.

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4. The Republic by Plato

The foundation for any serious discussion on justice.

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5. The Stranger by Albert Camus

Camus never accepted the label “existentialist.” But because he preferred being called an “absurdist,” it is only fitting that his most famous work is almost always associated with existentialism. Such is the struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world.

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6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

A deeply profound and disturbing Russian masterpiece. A text to be reckoned with.

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7. On The Road by Jack Kerouac

A book that never yawns or says a commonplace thing, but burns, burns, burns.

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8. Howl by Allen Ginsberg

Poetry that rattled my bones and opened my mind. The beauty and anguish captured in this rambling verse is remarkable.

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9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

The bizarre descriptions of demented hallucinatory confusion and the honest perverseness of this book made me laugh out loud. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

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10. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

A simple book with a simple question: do you want to save the world? Telepathic gorilla aside, there are some heavy topics about the evolution of civilization brought to light in this meditative novel.

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11. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

American history 101. I graduated high school a semester early and spent my time working and reading. This book made up for the shortcomings of my high school history education. 

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12. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since WWII by William Blum

I was and still am a big fan of the band Rage Against the Machine. In the liner notes to their album Evil Empire this book appears among a sprawl of other counter-cultural books. I considered the liner notes my curriculum for radical thinking. This book blew my mind and still serves to frame the way I look at the world today.

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13. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda

I was fortunate to have an avid reader for a father who grew up during the ‘60s. He introduced me to this book and many others. This book is as much of a spiritual journey as it is an intellectual exercise. Serendipitously, I met the love of my life in Boulder, CO who happened to be reading this same book at the time (at 18 years of age, my only peers who had heard of it were ones I told). 

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14. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

Sex, drugs and rock and roll embodied the Merry Prankster attitude. This book is about a bunch of free thinking hippies, led by Ken Kesey – fresh from the success of One Flew Over the Cu Coo’s Nest. They painted a bus in psychedelic day-glo colors and crisscrossed America pontificating the gospel of LSD. At times tragic and hilarious, the book is a portrait of a culture with infinite optimism.

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15. Hamlet William Shakespeare

Classic philosophical tragedy. Shakespeare set the bar high.

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16. Bound For Glory by Woody Guthrie

This is Guthrie’s hyperbolic autobiography that reads at the speed the man lived. Great stories and endearing characters open the reader up to the charisma Guthrie was known for.

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17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

When I read that this book was the result of a bet between Mary Shelley, her husband and other literary figures to see who could write the scariest story, I thought, yea, that is kind of cool. She won the bet of course. You can’t grow up in an environment of pop culture without being familiar with this story. However, it took a college course to force me to actually read the book. I am happy I did. It is an affecting book about the dangerous possibilities of science and the ethical implications inventors must wrestle with.

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18. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

This is a fictional account of Vietnam by a Vietnam veteran. Quizzically, the book is dedicated to its fictional characters. Throughout the narrative O’Brien discusses the blurred line between truth and fiction. Disjointed stories echo into one another. Nightmarish episodes explore the human heart and weigh the torment of those things people carry throughout their lives.

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19. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Chabon writes with such creative flare. His use of figurative language, character development and pacing is expert. Reading this book is like stepping into another world, which of course is what all good fiction strives to do.

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20. White Noise by Don DeLillo

This is an amazing commentary on the social and emotional state of America in the 20th century. I wonder what changes DeLillo would have to make if he rewrote it for the 21st century? In the book families are disconnected, dysfunctional and afraid of non/imaginary threats. Right, he wouldn’t have to change a thing.

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21. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

If I had to pick a favorite book I would say that I don’t have a favorite book. But if I were pressed to name a book that could be my favorite I would say that it would depend on my mood and what book I was reading at the time. Then, eventually, by default I’d name “Grapes of Wrath.” I had a friend that wanted to name his band Rosasharn’s Milk. His band mates declined. They must have been illiterate.

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22. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Simple, profound and worth reading annually.

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23. 1984 by George Orwell

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Orwell was a brilliant writer. He envisioned the dystopian world that to some extent, we now live in. Beyond the big ideas, the love story at the center of this book is devastating.

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24. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Kundera opened my mind to the poetic power of the vignette. He weaves brief philosophical musings, erotic encounters and intimate secrets together, which form a brutally honest portrait of the human condition.

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25. A Joseph Campbell Companion by Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell is known for his academic writings about myth and the power of metaphor. This book highlights his collective insights, dispensing nuggets of wisdom.

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26. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s sparse prose in this epic vision of a post-apocalyptic world is absolutely haunting. Its realism is tragic. Its thematic symbolism is spectacular. This is the story of a nameless father and son who makes their way to the coast after an unspecified catastrophic event has set the world back to year zero. A parable of the 21st century.

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27. The Watchmen by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore

Who watches the watchmen? This graphic novel is the stuff of mythic proportions.

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28. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Words to live by – “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.”

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29. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Hemingway said it best – “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that.”

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30. Beloved by Toni Morrison

This novel pushes the boundaries of the art form. It opened me to the possibilities of brutality and beauty. Reading it is like staring into the abyss of slavery and having the abyss stare back.

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Two Guys Drinking Beer

This is a comic I drew. Maybe it’s funny.

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Watching it Broadcast

Watching it all get flushed down the toilet.  Overwhelmed by apathy, buying useless gadgets like a pocket size TV.  Living life vicariously.

Beating brains out with sacrificial, traditional alcohol. Repeated the same ceremony last night and the one before and the one before and the soar whore stumbled upon an American dream of wanting more and more.  And what a horrible scene that makes, of robbery and dishonesty and puking cause of too much, too much.

And when will it be enough?

Shaking from the confusion of power.  Believing in truth but knowing lies.  Spreading hatred in the name of god.  Playing a game with no rules and the bet has already been maximized and triple sized and you’ve got to call their bluff, because at this point you can’t give up.

When your only goal is getting ahead you don’t look behind, you’re afraid of what you might find.  The tormented souls disregarded, the freedom that never got started.  The carpet-bombing of big cities, the radiation deformities. 

And you’ve got time to forget it all, you’ve got gadgets to keep you occupied, you’ve got art to keep you happy. 

And on the other hand, you’ve got time to learn as much as you can, you’ve got gadgets to help you,

You’ve got art to keep you,

You’ve got art to keep you however you want to be kept.

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Extra Door and Airy

Summer is over and I find myself looking back. I met a lot of interesting characters, saw a lot of beautiful places and experienced a lot of wonderful adventures. In some regards it was the best summer ever. In other regards, it was like any other summer. Isn’t it strange how something extraordinary can become ordinary when over indulged?

I lived and worked at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, a vacation destination on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, one of the most beautiful, ecologically diverse places in the country, a paradise for nature enthusiasts. When I first arrived there, after living in the stagnant mid-west, I was awestruck by the beauty of the peninsula, totally enamored. Yet, after living in a dorm and working there on a regular basis, its appeal began to wane. The extraordinary became ordinary.

Don’t get me wrong, my summer at Olympic was a blast. I had experiences there that I will remember for a lifetime. I look back on my summer there with great adoration. Yet, at times, the drudge of habitual life eclipsed the grandeur of the peninsula.

Think about all of your daily activities that would appear astonishing to those raised under different circumstances. Checking your email, listening to your ipod, using running water to wash your hands are all examples of privileged habits, in the eyes of the underprivileged. I’m not trying to preach about being grateful or persuade anyone to be philanthropic. I’m just saying think about it.

Here is a less dramatic example. A mature Midwesterner, seasoned by harsh winters, moves to Florida, where people complain that 50-degree weather is freezing. He can’t believe it. To the Midwesterner, 50 degrees feels like spring. Well, after a year or two of life in the sunshine state, the Midwesterner’s body adjusts and when the temp dips below 60, he’s wearing a scarf and gloves.

People acclimate, they reconcile and assimilate. They settle in their ways, form habits and become ordinary as they age. A new love grows comfortable. A dream job becomes boring.

To a child, everything is extraordinary. Everything is new and brimming with life. Children look at the world with questions and wonder imaginatively about possibilities. As an adult, nothing is a surprise. Not even the 9 O’clock news.

Granted, for something to be extraordinary, it must be rare. When we age, we accumulate knowledge. And the more we experience, the more habituated we become to the unusual. We slowly loose the ability to be amazed as we sink firmly into a routine.

While living on the Olympic peninsula, there were moments when I sank into a routine. In those moments I lost the sense of awesomeness that the beauty of the peninsula inspires. Despite those lapses into routine, it quite possibly was the best summer ever. In ways that I cannot fully explain, it was a summer of recreational splendor and personal growth. But I am looking back with eyes tinted by nostalgia. And as I look back, I think about the present. I don’t want to sink into a routine or to loose my ability to be amazed. I want to look at each day with fresh eyes. I want to look at each day as an extra door and airy.

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Blood of Man Review

Mason Jennings new album, Blood of Man, sounds like an amateur indie rocker trying to sound like Mason Jennings. The record is ambitious and slightly expansive to Jennings canon, but lacking the pure, honest sound of his previous work.

The title track stands out. The song is representative of the album as a whole. It begins as a typical Jennings tune with a homespun feel and then builds into a romping finish of noisy instruments and Jennings singing, “Ocean mother, ocean child/Are you mine or are you wild/Are you calling for the blood of man.” It appears to be about a ghost contemplating death and what it meant to be alive. But with such cryptic, poetic lyrics, it is best to let the song speak for itself.

The album is cohesive with a garage rock feel throughout. The scratchy recording and sloppy musicianship creates an atmosphere of static fuzz. And Jennings is able to make that static fuzz sparkle. As always, he constructs some beautiful melodies.

Hands down, the highlight track is “Tourist,” a heartfelt acoustic song with an existential slant. It is a song about questioning how one really knows who one wants to be. The line, “That tourist in every heart sees what it wants to see,” sums the song up perfectly.

Jennings gets points for going beyond his traditional sound. Although the album does have heart, it falls short. At times, Jennings seems uninspired, like he is writing music just to write music. There are some great songs here, but in between those great songs lies mediocrity livened only by hints of melody. I give the album three out of five stars.

Stand out tracks: Tourist, Black Wind Blowing, Blood of Man

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