Linkin Park and the Space of the Vulnerable Man — July 24, 2017

Linkin Park and the Space of the Vulnerable Man

Photo cred: Linkin Park official Twitter

As fans and former emo kids around the world know by now, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington committed suicide last week at the age of 41. Fans mourned the loss of the singer, describing him as one of the great rock vocalists of our generation and the leader of a band that progressed the alternative music genre. But in these posthumous tributes, Bennington was often described with words like “angst” and “victim.” Much of Linkin Park’s discography revolves around the lead singer’s emotional point of view. If Bennington was feeling a negative emotion, like sadness, anger, or even nihilism, he expressed that wholeheartedly and without reservation. As a man in this society, Bennington displayed a vulnerability and raw emotion that was unprecedented for rock frontmen that came before him. And even in his class of rock stars, with pop punk peers like Blink-182 and later Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park stood out. Their songs spoke to heavy themes of loss, trauma, and degradation that transcended the superficial pain of not getting a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

And that is, I believe, Chester Bennington’s most important legacy. He shattered the emotional glass ceiling that men have to live under in their everyday lives. His vulnerable masculinity told millions of teenage boys it was okay to feel things and sit in the sadness for a little while.

Bennington’s own personal struggles have been well documented and openly discussed by the singer. He was a victim of child sexual abuse and spoke about how that trauma informed the lyrical content of his band’s songs. In addition, he turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with the depression that his traumatic experience caused. He said these substances gave him a boost of “confidence” to face the world and control his surroundings. While Bennington overcame his addictions for the most part, pain and the journey to overcome it remained a consistent theme in Linkin Park’s music up until Bennington’s death.

But it is perhaps because of the depth of this pain, or in spite of it, that Bennington felt compelled to express himself so openly to his fans. And that action was groundbreaking. To the very end, Bennington used his music to grieve and work through his emotional turmoil. Society demands that boys and men stifle unpleasant or “feminine” emotions in favor of presenting “masculine” strength. They must not cry or express sadness, for fear of being perceived as weak. They must not linger on instances where they have been hurt, but instead “suck it up” and move on. They can be angry, but only with malicious intentions and not as a feeling of desperation. The fact that Chester Bennington did all of these things was an act of defiance to society’s norms of masculinity, despite Linkin Park’s sound being very masculine with intense vocals and at times aggressive, brooding melodies.

Bennington’s message could not have been lost on the male youth in America. This is the country where despite men having lower rates of depression than women, male suicide rates are exceptionally high. Suicide was the leading cause of death among men younger than 35 in 2014, and four out of five suicides involve men. Not only that, but while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to be successful in their attempts, due to the more lethal methods that men tend to use. Research has also shown that depression is harder to diagnose in men because they often downplay their own symptoms; this has led researchers to conclude that the percentage of men suffering with depression is likely higher than what is statistically reported, simply because men are less likely to seek help for or recognize symptoms. The behavior of men in terms of their mental well being is carried from adolescence, and teens who are not encouraged to speak out will grow into adults who repress their deepest feelings.

Linkin Park gave young boys an outlet to sit in the murkiness of feelings they couldn’t express. Chester Bennington as a sensitive and victimized man himself gave voice to emotionally stunted young men across the nation, letting them know they weren’t alone. He refused to suffer in silence, and because of his powerful music, his young male fans now know they don’t have to either. Linkin Park’s music maay not be the antidote to the toxins that poison young boys into believing they must hide behind a facade of cool stoicism. And society still has many questions to answer as far as methods to best support our boys in teaching them to understand and work through their experiences. But it may help alleviate some of the stress of pretending. If only for four minutes at a time.

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What Losing Prince Has Made Me Realize About Legacy — April 23, 2016

What Losing Prince Has Made Me Realize About Legacy

prince
Photo cred: Billboard (Billboard.com)

As everyone has heard by now, on Thursday, April 21, the world lost an icon, a music legend, and naturally gifted performer — The Purple One, Prince. A celebrity death that many will retell years from now with “Where were you when you found out?” stories. Hearing of his death was incredibly sad, especially considering that we lost another icon, David Bowie, only a couple of months ago.

I’m not going to lie — I was never a Prince “fan.” He was before my time, and while the internet and streaming services (before Prince yanked his music from them) make it easy to discover classic artists, I just never got around to it. But in a way, I didn’t really need to listen to his music to understand his unparalleled status in the music industry. I grew up listening to his music through my parents. I’ve seen him perform (on TV). I’ve heard him speak and accept awards. His omnipresence in my life was due to his omnipresence in music.

So when he died on Thursday and I joined the world in reflecting on his life and career, I came to realize just how important Prince was in a cornucopia of ways.

-He was a proud black man and openly criticized how record labels sought to exploit black musicians, himself included. He created songs that promoted messages of unity and criticized systems that keep power structures in place, particularly in terms of the oppression of black people (“Dear Mr. Man”). He used music as a form of activism against injustice.

-He was a sexual icon and presented genderfluidity to the mainstream before transness was part of the collective consciousness. He himself has said “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something you will never understand.” He regularly wore high heels onstage, rocked crop tops, and wore long, curly, and feminine hairstyles. The Love Symbol is a melding of the male and female symbols to represent his undefined gender expression. His fashion choices and unapologetic sensuality challenged traditional black masculinity. He proved you didn’t have to be strictly male or female, but you could be a little of everything to create something entirely unique.

-He was a pioneer in artistic freedom and intellectual property by raging against his own record label. He did not yield to their demands and instead told them to go fuck themselves. For his entire career, he fought to have complete artistic control over his look, sound, and creative vision, and wouldn’t settle for anything less than what he wanted.

-And of course, the man was a multi-talented musician.

After a couple of days reflecting on his life, I realized something. I want what Prince had. What he has, even in death.

I want a legacy.

Prince left an indelible mark on not just music, but popular culture in general. He made an impact so great that the world is a different, and some would argue better, place having had him in it to share his art with us.

I want that for myself. About a year ago, I had an epiphany. I got out of bed and wrote in my journal a simple statement: I want to inform. This is why I’m here. I believe that my art is writing, and through my writing I can maybe, just maybe, make the world a better place. I want to help people to see the world differently. I want to let people know they are not alone. I want to encourage people embrace their quirkiness. In a society that tells us to hate ourselves for who we are, I want to show people that loving yourself is not only a radical act, but a necessary one. I want to make people think, and I want to touch people in places they never thought they would be. Just like Prince did.

This was a second epiphany that builds on my first one. I don’t want to just exist here. I want to be remembered. I want my work to be passed around and read for years to come. I want my name to be spoken of with fondness and familiarity. My greatest hope is that when I leave this Earth, the people in my life and the people in the community I eventually become part of (whether writing, blogging, social justice, or otherwise) remember me as a person who wrote love, truth, and positivity into the world.

That is what Prince made me realize. I don’t just want to live. I want to leave a legacy.

White Noise: Some Thoughts on the Grammys — February 19, 2016

White Noise: Some Thoughts on the Grammys

kendrick grammys
Photo cred: NewYorker.com

Similar to the Golden Globes, I found myself wondering during the Grammys why I bother with awards season. The winners are predictable, the performances boring, the show generally forgettable. While there were a few notable standouts, I was overall disappointed with the awards show.

Here’s what I liked:
1) Little Big Town’s performance of “Girl Crush.” The arrangement of string instruments for the performance wasn’t too big of a risk, but it was interesting and differential enough from the original song that it was cool to listen to. It’s also a really great song.

2) Lady Gaga’s David Bowie tribute. Because it was one of two honest performances that took place. It was messy, abstract, and entertaining as only Gaga can do. No one else could have done a Bowie tribute but her.

3) “Uptown Funk” won both of the awards it was nominated for, including Record of the Year. Enough said.

4) Of course, Kendrick Lamar’s performance. it was the only truly notable takeaway from the show itself outside of the winners. It was what everyone was talking about in the days after it. It was in-your-face, theatrical, and powerful — a real callback to the roots of hip hop and rap culture. Although it is worth noting that his performance didn’t (and still hasn’t) caught as much flak as Beyonce’s “Formation” did just a week prior, Lamar’s performance proves that rap is genre that deserves to be taken seriously as an art form.

Which leads me to everything I didn’t like about the show: basically everything else.

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What I’m Digging Right Now: Ariana Grande’s “Focus” — January 15, 2016

What I’m Digging Right Now: Ariana Grande’s “Focus”

I recently listened to this song and watched the accompanying music video this week, and I have to say, this might be the turning point for me with Ariana Grande. I’ve never disliked her, and in fact I’ve liked the majority of her singles up until this point. However, I’ve always been a little unsure about her. In all of her songs, performances, and music videos, it seemed as if she was almost trying to be a pop star, trying to prove herself. Whether it was her sex appeal, her vocal abilities, or her dancing, it always seemed to me that Ariana Grande was trying to play the role of pop star rather than being the genuine article. To me, her music and style has been overall very forced.

But, with “Focus,” for the first time I feel that Ariana is truly letting go and allowing herself to be free. I see liberation in this music video. I see the confidence of a young woman who is finally realizing she doesn’t have to care what people have to say about how sexy she is or how petite her body is or how well she can dance. And for once, I don’t think this song will be a massive hit; it doesn’t have quite the banger quality of all of her previous songs. Even still, the song is different enough to be a standout in her singles chronology. I love the male voice yelping out the “Focus on me!” in the chorus, and the sexy breakdown of horns in the bridge. In the video, I really like the black and white dance breakdown with Ariana leading a chorus line of carefree women in leotards. The video sells the lighthearted attitude of the song with its pastel colors, but Ariana and her dancers sell the sexy, flirtatious undertones with their moves and knowing glances.

All in all, I believe “Focus” is Ariana Grande’s coming-of-age anthem that has wholly convinced me she is a singer to be taken seriously. So, do as she commands, and focus on her.

Throw Some Beats On That — How to Create a Piece of EDM Music — June 9, 2014

Throw Some Beats On That — How to Create a Piece of EDM Music

Derrick Williamson, Jr. sits down to the desk in his college dorm room. On the far right sits a midi-piano, about one third the size of a regular piano. It is silver with typical piano keys; notches and buttons sit above the keys. To the far left, sits an American Audio VMS 2, a brand of midi-controller. This midi-controller, or a portable DJ machine, has two black turntables, and an array of switches, notches, buttons, and crossfaders.

In the center of the desk lies a Mac computer with a program open. For Williamson, the program serves one creative purpose.

It’s where the music happens.
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