Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bob The Sound Guy: Listen and Learn

Bob "Bob The Sound Guy" Ranalli is a man to whom I owe a large amount of my musical beginnings. He ran sound for the majority of my gigs with The Jackalopes and when Bob ran the boards, we knew we were going to sound good. He apprenticed under his father who started Ranalli's Music Service in Philadelphia in 1959 which would eventually become Noteworthy Music in Gettysburg, PA. The majority of my musical instrument repairs have come from the "master instrument repairman" himself or his many talented employees, some of whom taught me some of my first guitar lessons. His store is the definitive epicenter for Gettysburg musicians.

Anyways, I highly recommend following his website, His knowledge of everything from live sound to instrument repair to recording equipment will be a valued asset to any musician attempting to find their way to their musical objectives.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Up Is Down

I first found this video this summer when I was up way too late in Belgium with my family. It's a protest movie made in 1969 and dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. after his assassination that year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Boxcar Children House Holiday Concert Videos

The Boxcar Children had a house concert this weekend before the Temple holiday break. Here's video to let you know how the festivities went.
You know the deal by now... more videos on YouTube.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Beats: Buddha Monks With The Ale or Deluded Drunks Bound to Fail?

Jack Kerouac, the reluctant founder of the Beat Generation, explains that the repressive values of the previous generation have caused his generation to be "beaten down." The Beatnik interpretation of Buddhist teachings highlights the difficulties of interpreting religions from other cultures without the context of one's own culture creating conflict. The Beats use arguments within Buddhism to rationalize their place within American society. Though they recognize the reality of Siddhartha Gautama's Four Noble Truths, they fail to follow the Eightfold Path by breaking the fifth precept of Buddhism, which forbids drinking intoxicating liquors.

Bob Marley may think that alcohol does not make you meditate but does he have any right to say anything about deluding oneself when he smokes a pound of pot a week?

Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg discovered Buddhism in the libraries of Columbia University. Kerouac wrote as the character, Ray Smith in The Dharma Bums that he “didn't give a goddamn about the mythology and all the names and national flavors of Buddhism, but [he] was just interested in the first of Sakyamuni's four noble truths, 'All life is suffering.'”

The Four Noble Truths

Life means suffering.
The origin of suffering is attachment.
The cessation of suffering is attainable.
The path to the cessation of suffering.

Kerouac, through Smith, admits that he was unsure whether the cessation of suffering was possible in an American society that is so attached to such “meaningless, arbitrary, and unreal” ideals. A visit to Columbia University from Japanese scholar D. T. Suzuki, who wrote an essay entitled “Buddhism and Drugs.” 

In the essay, Suzuki acknowledges that “Zen people cannot simply ignore” individuals “with the intention of forming an intentional society of those who seek 'internal freedom.'” On The Road, Kerouac's most popular novel, represents the Beats' attempt to emulate the spontaneity of the “masters of Zen who seemed to make their everyday lives into an improvised performance.” The story follows Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, the pseudonyms of Kerouac and Neal Cassady respectively, as they chase their pleasures on the American road at jazz clubs, poetry readings, and drunken parties.

After the success of On The Road, Kerouac still find himself disillusioned with the American Dream as his new found fame brings him more annoyances than enlightenment. Dean Moriarty's real life counterpart, Neal Cassady, is set up and arrested for selling marijuana (a violation of the Buddhist 'right livelihood' as one of the few forbidden professions). Kerouac finds himself getting ambushed and beaten up by people disagreed with him. His publishers had edited large portions of his novel for the sake of avoiding lawsuits and general moral outrage. Kerouac feels the need to escape the traditional morality of America. He escapes to the mountains outside San Francisco and by the demands of his publishers, wrote a sequel called The Dharma Bums.

Were the Beats trying to live with just the "bare necessities?" Did going out into the woods actually connect them to nature or was it just a delusion their desire to escape the pitfalls of modern society?

While writing The Dharma Bums, Kerouac finds a new energy in Gary Snyder, who Kerouac gives the pseudonym of Japhy Ryder in the book. Kerouac's character Ray Smith says that during this time he realized that there is “nothing in the world but the mind itself, and therefore all's possible including the suppression of suffering.” Kerouac believes that the cycle of suffering could be escape by pursuing his freedom within his mind. However, Kerouac's approach to the suppression of suffering is a hot topic of debate in the Buddhist community.

The Eightfold Path
Right View
Right Intentions
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

The fifth precept of Buddhism holds that one must “abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.” In the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha says that breaking the fifth precept leads to six dangers, including the "present waste of money, increased quarrelling, liability to sickness, loss of good name, indecent exposure of one's person, and weakening of one's wisdom." In An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Peter Harvey writes that the fifth precept is not an issue of “right action” or “right speech” but rather an issue of “right mindfulness.” Intoxicating oneself creates “no mental clarity or calm.” Harvey explains a story in Thailand about “an exemplary man” who was challenged to break just one precept. The man can only bring himself to break the fifth precept. However, upon breaking the fifth precept he proceeds to break the other four.

While the breaking the fifth precept may lead to wrongful action, some do not agree that breaking the fifth precept is “naturally reprehensible.” The Mahayana commentator Jinaputra held that drinking alcohol is wrong “when done with a defiled thought” but when it can be done with clear thought “it is what the Lord has prescribed.” Therefore if one can drink without “desire-attachment,” it is not reprehensible by nature. Harvey says that some Buddhists treat precepts like vows and they do not promise promise to adhere to them if they think they will fail to uphold it (Harvey 84). Many Buddhists would disagree with this interpretation, arguing that it is a manipulation of the doctrine which is intended to protect against the breaking the others. Others would see it as wrong for a Buddhist who does not drink to look down on others for drinking, one should simply enjoy a drunkard's merriment with him without having to resort to drinking.

Suzuki suggests that “enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind.” He claims one can meditate through actions rather than through the traditional idea of non-action. In Suzuki's view to mediate “is to be ourselves.” The Beats took this idea to mean that each person should be free to live their life the way they wanted. They decided not to judge each other for their chosen delusions. At one of the parties in the mountains, Ray Smith asks a Buddhist wearing a necktie and suit, “what is Buddhism?” The man replies “Buddhism is getting to know as many people as possible.” (Kerouac 77).

Kerouac saw others' perspectives as valuable in alleviating the samsara illusion of life. In The Dharma Bums, Japhy and Ray have an argument about a “big fat woman” preacher who Ray thinks speaks to him but Japhy complains he does not like “all that Jesus stuff she's talking about.” Smith argues, “What's wrong with Jesus? Isn't Heaven Buddha's nirvana?”
"According to your own interpretation, Smith."
"Japhy, there were things I wanted to tell Rosie and I felt suppressed by this schism we have about separating Buddhism from Christianity, East from West, what the hell difference does it make? We're all in Heaven now, ain't we?"
"Who said so?"
"Is this nirvana we're in now or ain't it?"
         "It's both nirvana and samsara we're in now” (Kerouac 45).
Kerouac recognizes that his desires can create delusion. Smith tells himself not to “run after liquor and excitement of women and talk, stay in your shack and enjoy natural relationship of things as they are." He describes that when he “was really drunk and high and sitting cross legged in the midst of the mad parties” he saw “visions of holy empty snow in my eyelids” and none of his friends would think it was strange. He listened to others for wisdom while not worrying what others thought of him.

At the same time, Smith's character recognizes that performing duties properly is a necessary process in life. Japhy would exclaim, "You've got to learn!" he'd say. "Dammit, if there's anything I can't stand is when things ain't done right."
Japhy said "Why do you sit on your ass all day?"
"I practice do-nothing."
"What's the difference? Burn it, my Buddhism is activity." (Kerouac 69).
Ray Smith is constantly concerned with the semantics of right and wrong while Japhy tells him to stop worrying about “words you made up all winter, man I want to be enlightened by actions” (67). Smith and Ryder's discussions about Buddhism brought the Buddhist values of freedom and asceticism into conflict. The discuss the boundaries of what their obligations to themselves and others. They are mindful of their towards others. Japhy says "when a mule weeps, I feel like praying for all sentient beings"(66). When critics of the Beat Generation said they were immoral, Kerouac retorted “who wouldn't help a dying man?”

The question the Beats posed to American society using Buddhism was what the reality of death means for a person's obligation to the rest of the world. While people should eliminate their desires that lead them to death and delusion, does this mean they are obligated to stop others? Does someone own their body and soul or are we obligated to live for the sake of others? How do we judge what is acceptable or unacceptable for an individual to consume when anything in excess leads to either spiritual or physical death? Should we celebrate life by preserving its very delusion or should we drink to our death's knowing that we enjoyed it to the very last drop?

Kerouac's writing is fascinated with whether or not we can disassociate our desire-attachment from our real lives. As Japhy begins to get naked with girls at their party, Ray compares his situation to a past life where he and his friend Bud are “old monks who weren't interested in sex any more” watching “young monks...full of the fire of evil” and having girls dance for them while resisting the need to lust (70). 

Ray does not always succeed to disassociate himself from his desire-attachment. His desire to drink causes a fight between him and Japhy. Ray decides to skip a lecture at a Buddhist center to drink in the alleys. Ray argues that he drinks for joy. He argues that “there's wisdom in wine” and that Japhy would not have written some of his poems without it (75). Japhy replies that he would have written the poems either way but that he did think Ray would “gain enlightenment” through drinking when he will “always be coming down the hill spending your bean money on wine” and he will “end up lying in the street in the rain, dead drunk, and then they'll take you away and you'll have to be reborn a tee-totalin bartender to atone for your karma” (77). However, Japhy returns to the cottage “drunk as a hoot owl” yelling to Smith about how he drank raw saki at the Buddhist lecture. After the the experience at the lecture he and Japhy “never had an argument again” (78).

Later that night, Japhy Ryder describes an ideal existence where everyone is free to practice Buddhism their own way.
I see a vision of thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy, and old girls happier, all of 'em Zen lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason, and also by being kind, and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody... We'll have a floating zendo, a series of monasteries for people to go and monastate and meditate in... wild gangs of pure holy men getting together to drink and talk and pray.
Japhy argues that everyone should find their own through the world, that instead of judging each other we should accept that everyone has their own version of Buddhism. During a climb up a mountain Ray says that a Hershey bar is the one thing he wants most and Japhy replies, “there's your Buddhism, a Hershey bar” (84).

While Kerouac could qualify an ideal world in his literary work, he found that attempting to achieve his ideals in real life lead to delusion. As the Beats try to create a harmonious existence in the real world, the conflict between reality and their dream created suffering in their lives. On October 21, 1969, Jack Kerouac dies at the age of 47 in hospital after “vomiting much of his vitality” into the toilet of his mother's home. In a 1974 interview, Gary Snyder comments that “along with other casualties that most people have never heard of...Kerouac was a casualty” (Barnett). The late Kerouac distanced himself from his former ideals, saying “I'm not a beatnik. I'm a Catholic” (Lelyveld).

Kerouac may have become a victim of his own desires and delusions but he paid no mind to critics who thought that “the Beat Generation means crime, delinquency, immorality, amorality.” He knew that they were just as deluded as he was and that they “don't understand history and the yearning of human souls.” He learned not to hold on to his anger against those who did not understand him and learned to live with them. In the end, he knew that the karmic cycle of the world tends to bring justice, saying “woe unto those who spit on the Beat Generation, the wind'll blow it back” (Coupe 143).

"The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way--a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word 'beat' spoken on streetcorners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America--beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction--We'd even heard old 1910 Daddy Hipsters of the streets speak the word that way, with a melancholy sneer--It never meant juvenile delinquents, it meant characters of a special spirituality who didn't gang up but were solitary Bartlebies staring out the dead wall window of our civilization--the subterraneans heroes who'd finally turned from the 'freedom' machine of the West and were taking drugs, digging bop, having flashes of insight, experiencing the 'derangement of the senses,' talking strange, being poor and glad, prophesying a new style for American culture, a new style (we thought), a new incantation--The same thing was almost going on in the postwar France of Sartre and Genet and what's more we knew about it--But as to the actual existence of a Beat Generation, chances are it was really just an idea in our minds.”
-Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Works Cited
Barnett, David. “Misremembering Kerouac.” <> October 23, 2009. December 7, 2009.

Berrigan, Ted. "The Art of Fiction No. 43: Jack Kerouac." The Paris Review. 1968. December 7, 2009. <>
Coupe, Laurence. Beat Sound, Beat Vision. Manchester University Press, 2007. 143. Print.
Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 77-84. Print.
Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. Penguin Classics, 2008. 4, 45, 60-65, 70-79. Digital.
Kerouac, Jack. On The Road. Penguin Classics, 2008. Print.
Lelyveld, Joseph. "Jack Kerouac, Novelist, Dead; Father of the Beat Generation." The New York Times. 22 Oct 1969. Print.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Separation of Music and State- The What, The Why, and The Way

Before this even starts, I want to apologize to all the religious people I'm about to offend.

The nature of religion is to explain and rationalize the improbable nature of the universe and palliate the conflict between self and this nature. Certain facets of humanity are consistently recognized as the root of said conflict. Music, on the same note, is an individual's attempt to reconcile the self with reality, and has followers that use lyrics to determine moral codes. Given their similar functions and mollifying effects, as well as the rights outlined in the First Amendment, music ought to be exempt from censorship the same way religion is in the United States.

Special Thanks to Richard Libowitz

Friday, December 4, 2009

Today's Temple Bell Tower Cipher

That's proof the cipher went until the street lights turned on today.

Here's a video for your enjoyment. The healthiest portion of all of this is yet to be loaded, I need to cut up some sections to make them fit on YouTube. I wish I had Final Cut on my computer.

There was also a flash mob that showed up at the beginning of the cipher...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mic Stew: The Melting Pot of Musical Minds

Michael James Stewart, the MC more commonly known as Mic Stew, never seems more centered than when he finds himself in the middle of a cipher on Temple University's campus.

No verse is ever the same for most MCs that attend the weekly cipher but Stewart remains one of the undisputed favorites at the event called Freestyle Fridays.

"Watching Mic Stew rap is like watching dominoes fall,” fellow cipher participant Gary “Verbatum” Jones said. “You know it's gonna be cool to watch, but every time you're amazed at how they're arranged. He was the one who encouraged me to rap and I'm forever grateful for that."
Stewart's stream of consciousness is constantly tuned to his immediate environment and his audience. He projects his voice confidently while uniting the attention of a cipher. His hands fly with smooth exaggeration as he responds to immediate happenings while maintaining a narrative that reflects careful mediation and meditation.

“Sometimes when Mic's rapping he'll close his eyes and start to wave his hand around like he's writing a verse,” Matt “EMC Karma” Berman said. “He's pulling words out from past thoughts and refocusing them into his surroundings.”
Photo Credit: Rashid Zakat
“It sounds a little dramatic but I don't think I ever wanted to be a rapper. I think I was a rapper.” Stewart said. “I used to talk to myself a lot but in my head I'd be like—normally you'd run through how your day might go or how a conversation with someone you're about to talk to might go but when I was like fourteen or fifteen, I started freestyling instead of that. For about three years I did that, just freestyling in my head at all times. I started freestyling over hip hop songs that I liked. So it kinda chose me, I don't think that I chose it.”
While hip hop may have found Stewart, he chose to take the initiative to develop his abilities through self diligence. Stewart says being an MC is a matter of hard work and patience. He tries to write a verse every day. He began to practice his craft over the beats of other more well known rappers.
“The first beats I started rapping over were from Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter I. I would listen to what he was doing and I'd rap like him but make up my own words.”
Stewart eventually felt that Lil' Wayne's music did not speak to his experiences the same way other forms of hip hop did.
“A year later I got tired of that style of music I started listening to a lot of Black Star, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli are tight.” Stewart said. “It appealed to me more consciously. It got me thinking more. It was thought provoking. I feel like any human can get down with this. You don't have to live a certain way to get what they're saying.”
Growing up in Royersford, Pennsylvania, Stewart had a different experience growing up than his rapping idols. Stewart started out rapping at local coffee shops like Steel City in Phoenixville, PA.

“I was like the only one rapping, everyone else was pretty much playing folk music.” Stewart said. “Not to toot my own horn but they loved me because I was different. They didn't expect me to do what I did, let alone as well as I did.”

Stewart contends that life is a matter of balance. He said he stumbled across the concept as he constructed his first mixtape, The Equilibrium.

“When I was in high school I was writing The Equilibrium, I didn't know it was called the Equilibrium and I didn't know I was writing an album but I was,” he said. “All my writtens from high school carrying over into my freshman year of college went into my first project. I wrote most of that when I was 17.”

Stewart understands the act of balance best from dealing with differing viewpoints amidst his parents divorce.

“They divorced when I was very young. So they were single, I saw them each alone, never doing anything together.”

Stewart learned not to favor one parent to the other, understanding both parents points of view.
“My dad is a Christian. He's a Christian of great conviction. He tries to do what's right. He's a stand up guy,” Stewart said. “I'm not a gospel rapper, I am not a Christian. I know Christianity very well, I've read a large portion of the Bible. I understand very well a lot of the moral principles of the Bible but I'm not a Christian. I don't go to church. I don't know that I've been saved. I've formed my own spiritual understanding.”

Stewart says as an artist and as a person he has “general goodwill towards people” but he is not afraid to speak his mind on an issue. While Stewart respects his father's religious beliefs, he finds validity in his mother's perspective. He describes his mother as “hard-working.”

Stewart credits his mother with his willingness speak his mind without caring what someone else thinks of him. “I want to set an example for people but I'm not afraid to tell it like it is and call people out.”

“I guess my mom, she's pretty much just plain speech, she'll tell you like it is, sometimes she's got a dirty mouth.” Stewart said.“That kind of melted with my dad always trying to be a stand up dude in front of me. Overall they're very good people and that's where a lot of my conscious content will come from.”

Through balance Stewart has learned to appreciate the viewpoints of others. encouraging others to learn to express themselves like he has.

“There's different world religions all over the place and often times we kill each other in the name of God more than the name of the devil. Any good person who practices religion will tell you that this isn't God's work, that's the devil.”

After finding his voice in The Equilibrium, Mic Stew sought out the voices of others. He listens “Sometimes you'll listen to me and it's like it's a different person.” The result was The Equilibrium II: Ugly.

“The whole thing was that I felt I was coming into myself as an MC. I felt like there was nothing I couldn't do but it wasn't channeled energy, it was sporadic energy. So one song to the next, I sound like a different person. On a lot of them, in the delivery I'm just screaming, some of the rhyme schemes are deeply intricate, five syllable rhyme schemes, fast as shit,” Stewart said. “I was just spaz-ing out I felt like the ugly duckling. That's why it's called ugly. I felt like I was a basketball player who just found out that he could dunk so he goes to the court and just crosses people, jamming on everyone. It's just a little reckless, a place for me to dump all that unadulterated Mic Stew.”

Here's a link to a video of Rashid Zakat's that's a classic Mic Stew spaz-out.

The "unadulterated Mic Stew" is not the stereotypical 8-Mile battle rapper ready to cut down opponents by exploiting their weaknesses. He embraces the goodness in others while asking them to question themselves. He speaks in language his audience can understand to explain his perspective while staying true to himself.

“When I explain things, I explain them in terms that I think all people can understand rather than leaning on the Gospel or the Quran or something like that. No matter what religion you practice there is a moral to be gained and you can translate it into your own moral fabric. It helps me stay centered when telling my story.”

He understands that his story is not the only one that matters. Just as much as he tries to teach others lessons through his verses, he listens to other's words intently while they speak, searching as if he's a chef learning the ingredients to his next recipe.

“I'd rather just appreciate them all for the wisdom that they hold and appreciate every person for the soul that they are inherently given.” Stewart said. “I don't really concern myself with semantics or which god I pray to. The one god, the universe, the soul is what governs us all. The way that manifests itself in the music is I think of a universal appeal.”
Universal appeal is a necessary thing in a world where everyone has their music on the internet. Stewart recognizes the advantages and disadvantages of the reality of the self-promoting musician.

“I think it's good and bad at the same time. What you're getting with the accessibility of production, is you're getting a constant flow of artists so it's almost cheapening the material,” Stewart said. “I could be horrible at what I do and create an album on my own and go and hand it out. So when you give people a CD now, they laugh rather than being intrigued because everybody's got a CD. Everybody's a rapper. There are thousands of us and there are probably only hundreds that are worth listening to. So that kind of thing has almost taken the potency out of doing it for yourself.”

Stewart understands he is one voice in a group of many equals. His approach to master his craft rather than expanding his ego.

“I don't advertise the fact that I rap, so by the time they know they've heard me do it and most people show love,” Stewart said. “It's wonderful that I can just sit in a room with a microphone. I think good music or good art will always find its audience, it'll always find its fire. So I keep making it, keep pushing it.”

Stewart's ultimate goal with music is as an expression of his soul, rather than the pursuit of fame, fortune, and fabricated persona. His music seeks to share common experiences with his friends, family, and audience. He does not deny that he wishes for acceptance for his peers.

“When I die or when I'm gone, be it an untimely death or at a ripe old age, I want people to say that I 'never didn't bring it.' If you go to a Mic Stew show, you saw a Mic Stew show every time at every place, whether I was sick, whether I was pissed off, I brought it.”

Though Mic Stew is still bringing in material for his next mixtape, his efforts towards the Mic Stew show may take a backseat to recording with his band, Guerilla Funk, founded with guitarist Jules “Faze Two” Roldan and bassist Adam Willeta. Stewart does not mind committing himself the communal cause.

“We were just writing it so fast, we were all so driven. It was like 'this band's gonna actually do something,'” Stewart recalls. “We're all working, we're all hungry and we get along well. [Guerilla Funk] is coming together better than anything I've ever been a part of.”
Stewart wants to bring his audience together. He asks them to forget their pride and their sense of self, hoping that they dare to share the truth.

“I want my experiences to come out purely because I feel if I share purely and truly my experiences then you'll be able to relate to them. Don't necessarily bias it with your own personal experience.”

Stewart thinks they will push Guerilla Funk into breaking barriers, which he continues to do by participating with his audience rather than at them. He is the product of the modern music era, where the line between fan and friend have become blurred.

“I have stuff you can dance to, I have stuff you can just nod your head to, I have stuff that's kind of boring but just take off that shell and try to get into what I'm doing. What I want to bring to people when I do that is all of the facets of my life. Don't just come to my show to get hype or to listen to an intelligent lecture on gentrification-- come to my show to break down your walls,” Stewart said. “Take off your skin, your shell and have a genuine good time listening to music that I want to share.”