when the status quo frustrates.

Old Folks

Friday, July 16th, 2010

The other day I did a volunteer show at a local old person’s day center. A guitarist I know works there, and that was handy, because he knew all the songs they would like. He warned me not to get too jazzy with my piano stylings — so I stayed pretty bland and inoffensive (at first, anyway). The staff put the lyrics up on a big board, and everyone sang along. They really sang, these old folks! Music gives us life.

Most of the audience were in their 80s and 90s, with a sprinkling of younger tykes in their fresh faced 70s or even younger. We played for one hour, then I talked a little bit with the audience. I was a bit of a novelty for them. One of the very oldest wanted me to come over and shake her hand, so I did. Pretty soon I was shaking the hands of everyone in the room. Men and women all wanted me. I was like Santa Claus. Some of their eyes teared up as I held their hands. One woman gripped my hand like a vice– surprising strength– and shook it back and forth as she sang me an up-tempo song I couldn’t understand (my Japanese isn’t quite there yet), then blew me a kiss. One pulled me over, then gestured for a female nurse I didn’t know to come over, and pointed at her belly, and proudly said “She’s pregnant.”

I don’t think there is any special magic to me that got these kind of strong and sometimes childlike reactions. It’s nice to think I am particularly good or virtuous, but that’s just not it. I bet it’s the same anytime anyone from outside comes in and does a similar kind of activity with them. I think it’s just that some of these old folks are starving. The only thing I can think of that would make me cry from a handshake with a complete stranger is if I just didn’t get enough handshakes.

I’m not sure whose fault it is, exactly. It’s easy to blame it on the culture which worships youth, but then again, “culture” is a gestalt, not really decided by anyone in particular. In a way, if there’s a youth culture which ignores old people, the old people are the ones who helped to put it in place. Few of us like to think about getting old, and surely they were no exception back before suddenly they were.

My grandfather died about five years ago. A couple of years before he died, due to problems with mobility and internal juiciness (I think that’s the technical term, anyhow), he had to start wearing a diaper again. He had an “accident” once while I was visiting with family. He was a very taciturn man, so what he said to me in the aftermath got branded into my memory. “It sucks getting old,” he said.

He was right, of course. And let’s not also forget that age needn’t even come into play for life to suck and then you die. But then again, if you spin it right, this fact can be a genuine source of strength.

(EDIT: That last link should have been this one. However, the one I put by mistake is also excellent.)

Here’s the great Ben Webster and Teddy Wilson playing the jazz standard “Old Folks”. Ben Webster is crying as he plays because he had just learned that his mentor Johnny Hodges was dead. It’s an extraordinary moment to have actually ended up on film.

Best of SXSW 2009: Punkass MP3 Edition

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Work for trade — that’s how I got into South By Southwest this year. I shot a full day for them with my video type stuff and in return they gave me a badge. So, for the first time in a decade, it was fully on for me at SXSW.

drunk dude
No, that’s not me. But it kinda looks like me. Unfortunately.

Three things I took away from a week of hanging out with the cool kids from your town and mine:

1) Dance pop rules all.
As public acknowledgment of the developed world’s impending demise grows, one might predict the music scene would turn dour and coat itself in funereal flannel. Instead, it appears we’ll be bootyshaking our way down the 6-lane highway to hell.

2) Indifference is dead.
As a corollary to #1, bands seem to have eschewed ennui and affected boredom for pure enthusiasm. Everyone I saw (except possibly the Vivian Girls, who also wore flannel now that I think about it), was incredibly positive and gracious to the audience. I was thanked at least 9465 times last week for my attendance.

3) You need no official gear to have a blast at SXSW.
All you need to do is get here. There is so much free music, and free food+booze, it’s astounding. Nobody I know without a badge or wristband had any less of a glorious week than I did, though the ability to get into DEVO alone made it worth the ugly neck garb/lame status symbol of the badge. Anyway, point is, just come. It’s awesome.

I’d been feeling my mp3 collection getting stale lately, but the haze of 20+ shows in 4 days certainly cured that. In the interests of sharing, I thought I would present an mp3 sampling of the bands that blew me away. I hope a few of these rock your world, too. If any band wants their song taken down, just say the word…


I have done evil things to children…

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

…by feeding them the Big Lie: the false promise of the Happy Ending.

Makiko, who heads my theatre company, just finished directing a local elementary school play in English, an adaptation of four tales from “The Brothers Grimm” for third graders that she’s been putting on there for the past three years. Once upon a time, she finagled me into writing a song for the big finale, wherein Sleeping Beauty’s curse is lifted, and her castle (portrayed by all 75 children in the cast) wakes up. I show up for the last couple of rehearsals each year to play the underscoring and accompinament on a live piano. This year, I must say the show was in fact a stunning success. We may have ruined a few more young lives, tempting them with the siren call of the theatre.

So, for your appreciation, here is the rehearsal version of the big finale, “Fairy Tales Do Come True”. It features cameos by the Brementown Musicians and the witch from Hansel and Gretel. (For the record, I wrote and recorded this well before my recent foray into Muppetophilia. Though of course like most people my age, as a child I certainly was a Muppetophile.)

(Download link)

Creative Commons License

Fairy Tales Do Come True by Quin Arbeitman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Unrelated personal thoughts about blogging that nobody actually wants to read but probably will anyway though I don’t know why you’re inflicting it on yourself when I gave you fair warning, after the jump.


Random Shuffle

Monday, January 19th, 2009

…Because, why the hell not?

This is the drill: take your music player of choice, hit random, and post the first 10 songs.

1. Blue Danube by Johann Strauss
2. I Bet That You Look Good on the Dance Floor by Artic Monkeys
3. Fallen by Bree Sharp
4. Run Like Hell by Pink Floyd
5. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor from Fantasia
6. Lighthouse by The Hush Sound
7. Jealous of the Moon by Nickel Creek
8. Killer Queen by Queen
9. Survivalism by Nine Inch Nails
10. Enemy by Jesca Hoop

Our Moms Think We’re Talented, So Surely You Will Too

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

We’ve got a fairly large percentage of our writers who actually create things in various media on a fairly regular basis. From what I’ve been able to glean, at the very least Marc makes movies, Violet is a designer, Sabotabby is a cartoonist, and I do theater and music. I’m sure most of us have other mad skillz we’ve been keeping secret– and that goes for you commenters too.

But at the moment, this here friendly little blog doesn’t appear to have an audience very hungry for our creative works. I dream of a day when an appearance by The Patriarchy gathers a hundred comments, and a brilliant bit of comedy writing can draw in referral links from a dozen other blogs.

Not that I’m seriously expecting that to ever happen, but part of it is that we don’t share often enough. In other words, if people don’t ever start to expect it, they’re not going to come here looking for it. So what the hell, I’ve decided I’m going to try to help us grow an audience that likes us for our creative stuff too, by posting some of my own stuff on a regular basis. If you don’t want to check it out, just don’t click on these posts!


The Freedom Bandits ride again

Monday, November 3rd, 2008
Beware my freedom licks

Exactly four years ago to the day (it’s already November 4th in my time zone), the Freedom Bandits made their world premiere.

I was spending a few months back in Austin, Texas, in an interlude between my time in London and my move to Japan. While I was there, theater director friend Joanna Garfinkel got me involved with a political theater festival set to open on Election Day, 2004. If I wrote something, she promised, she would direct. So I wrote a one-act play, a dark slapstick political satire rock musical called “Freedom Bandits”.

It was about a mild-mannered emo rock band from Canada (portrayed by Jay McElfresh, the charismatic frontman for the Awesome Cool Dudes; Nick Travis, an old school rock’n'roller whose day job was as Guy Forsyth’s bass player; Punkass Marc; and myself) who are on tour in the American south during the run-up to the 2004 US national elections. The band members get branded as international terrorists by overzealous local police, and soon enough they are on a cross-country run for the Canadian border, Homeland Security in hot pursuit.

To aid their escape, they adopt the disguise of the “Freedom Bandits”, an All-American hard rock band, and posing as such they win a talent contest for the “most patriotic song”– and inadvertantly record what goes on to be a megahit single in the process, If They All Were American. Through an unlikely sequence of events, our plucky band of Canadians are soon faced with a choice between safely returning to Canada… or risking their lives to play a special concert which could very well decide the fate of the US Presidency, and the world.

We premiered it while the results were literally still coming in on the Kerry-Bush race. The play had two endings, and so, in its first performance– since Kerry appeared to be in the lead at the time– we performed the “Kerry wins” ending for what turned out to be the first and only time. (Alas, it made for a much more dramatically satisfying ending to the play than the “Bush wins” ending we had to do for the other performances.)

The best part? I later discovered that I had actually, through my psychic powers, based the play on a true story.

The whole thing was really a blast. We all decided afterwards to make a music video of If They All Were American, as kind of a going-away project just before I left for Asia. Joanna, Marc and I amassed a cast of fifty in what promised to be a joyfully ironic display of over-the-top These-Colors-Don’t-Run Americana. Unfortunately, less than a week before we were set to shoot, Jay suddenly learned his dad had terminal cancer, and he dropped out of the filming to go be with family. Without our lead singer, it just didn’t feel right going on. So we scrapped the project, and during my last three days in America, Marc and I made a short film instead.

All that remains of this once-promising music video is a lone recording of the song. It, unfortunately, has only a temp track on top with me singing, which was meant to be replaced by Jay at a later date. But it’s better than nothing, and to this day I’m still proud of the song itself.

So, without further ado, I present the only song ever recorded by the late, great Freedom Bandits. An anthem for a superpower’s battered soul. Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure:



Ann and Nancy Wilson: Still Too Cool For Words

Monday, September 8th, 2008

In a statement posted today on the EW.com Web site, the Wilsons wrote:

“Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women. We ask that our song ‘Barracuda’ no longer be used to promote her image. The song ‘Barracuda’ was written in the late ’70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. (The ‘barracuda’ represented the business.) While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there’s irony in Republican strategists’ choice to make use of it there.”

I’m hungry for meaning… anything in the fridge?

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Did you know that Punkass Marc used to play bass in a rock band with me? “Who’s Punkass Marc?” most of you are probably thinking. But that’s a tale for another time.

I live in the largest megacity on the planet. World-class art of any kind is there to be had just about any day of the week… if you can afford it. It’s my birthday this week, so I’ve been treating myself to live music that would normally be out of my price range. Tonight I went and saw SMV, a strange but wonderful little band consisting of Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten, plus a drummer and a keyboardist. In case you haven’t heard of them, they’re quite possibly the three best electric bassists in the world. And they decided to get together and go on tour.

Wonderful. Sublime. They’re not musicians, they’re wizards. I felt so much tonight. Chills. Trance states. Even, and this is almost impossibly rare for me, an honest-to-goodness tear of joy dripping down my cheek.

As a result, I am about to subject you to the ramblings of a recently ecstatic mind. I’m not stoned, but I’m not sure I recommend reading further unless you are.

Rita MacNeil, Communist menace

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

How quaint! Too bad he’s spying on you.

I’m no fan of the RCMP, one of our glorious national symbols. They had a historical role in abducting indigenous children from their families so that they could be tortured, brainwashed, and frequently killed in residential schools. More recently, they’ve been responsible for an out-of-control taser epidemic that has included the violent sexual assault of a young girl.

Occasionally, though, their role has been laughable as well as simply evil. Yesterday, for example, it came out that they spied on the Canadian feminist movement in the 1970s, apparently on the lookout for commie infiltrators.

Instead, they found Canadian musical icon Rita MacNeil.

Rita MacNeil
Communist menace Rita MacNeil

This is particularly funny if your knowledge of MacNeil comes primarily from catching the odd Rita and Friends on CBC when you were a kid, but apparently she wrote a lot of “women’s lib songs” back in the day.

The article is a scream. Some choice quotes:

While the Mounties recognized the groups were out to “stop so-called exploitation of women,” as one officer put it, the force was much more concerned about the apparent infiltration of the movement by avowed Communist interests.


The memo on the Winnipeg conference describes one session as “consisting of about 100 sweating, uncombed women standing around in the middle of the floor with their arms around each other crying sisterhood and dancing.”

I am really glad it wasn’t my tax dollars paying for Mounties to go see Rita MacNeil in concert.

The Mounties, used to keeping tabs on organizations run by men, didn’t know quite what to make of the long-haired women in scruffy blue jeans.

“They were at a loss to understand their strategies, their goals, their tactics,” said Sethna, who teaches at the University of Ottawa.

Blue jeans, as we know, are a feminist and lesbian uniform.

Anyway, my country is apparently laughing its collective ass off today, but I hope some people will pause in their well-earned giggles and see the reflection of this absurd “intelligence gathering” in the present day War on Terror.

Michfest, and why you shouldn’t go

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is, strictly speaking, not really any of my business. It’s been a few years since any artist I particularly like performed there, and I have an allergy to alternative spellings of “women.” This said, as a feminist, I do feel it’s my right to criticize gender essentialism and transphobia and take issue with people who attempt to use feminist language to exclude already marginalized people.

As you know, Bob, MWMF has always called itself a women-only space. That’s cool; the world being what it is, there’s a place for women-only spaces, and POC-only spaces, and so on. But the organizer and many attendees get squicked when it comes to transgendered women. (Transgendered men, for some reason, are welcome to attend.) So they’ve set up a “NO TRANSWOMEN ALLOWED” fort and used the academically problematic term “womyn-born-womyn” to exclude certain undesirable sorts of women from the event. (I always wonder how they check these things, but anyway.)

Here’s a great post detailing why MWMF is problematic, and what you can do to fight transphobia there, and in your own life.

In the age of analyzing oppression and owning up to our own privilege, MWMF is an anomaly time-warped from the 70s. Defining a women’s space that excludes trans women in effect defines them as other than women. Denying their common experiences, challenges, struggles and triumphs as women serves to further limit their access to community, health, well-being and dignity. It creates a class of disposable women.

Go read the whole thing.

Lisa’s Friday War Protest Video

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Happy Fourth of July! I’ll be on the National Mall in DC watchin’ the fireworks against the glorious backdrop of the Washington Phallus. Don’t even pretend like you’re not jealous.

“Dick is a Killer” by DJ RX. Gotta love it.

Lisa’s Friday War Protest Video

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Metallica’s first video ever!

I post this in recognition of the 900-plus soldiers who have had to have at least one major amputation in the last five years as a direct result of serving in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.