Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hunger Games Mania (Ode to the young)

"It is what we think we know that keeps us from learning," 
-Chester Barnard

I confess: I had a week of nightmares about The Hunger Games.

If you haven’t actually seen The Hunger Games, or you’re living under a rock, I should warn you that some spoiler alerts may be hiding out in the writing below. I give you permission to stop reading now.

For everyone else, let me start here: I saw the movie without reading the books on a wednesday morning with a good friend; at 11:00 in the morning, mind you, when two other humans sat in the massive theatre and the sound was far too loud without the din of breathing from the empty chairs. Afterwords, captivated by the story, I dived into all three novels, which I was done with in five days.

So naturally, it was Wednesday night when the dreams started. Real horror filled stories where I am characters in the story, or I am myself, and it is my own group of friends who are playing against me, or I am watching my own friends play the games. I had them for a full week before they subsided back to my regularly scheduled nightmare.

When I confessed this to the group of teenagers I sometimes teach on Saturday’s, they were not sympathetic. One fourteen year old rolled her eyes and informed me that she has been waiting for these movies for years. The rest of them looked at me with pitiful glances before moving on to other topics.They did not see the story line as anything to settle on, and they did not understand why I was dwelling on it. 

I did, however, find sympathy in one of my closest friends, who experienced The Hunger games in the same way I did. Nightmares, less then a week of reading, and the same emotional obsession had overcome her life. We ended up praying together for a break in the hold that the story was having over us. And yes, eventually things turned back to normal. 

But I’m still impressed by how much Suzanne Collins was able to break into my life. 

And I’m also mystified by the reaction that I had to these books which young girls and boys are reading with no issues. They love the story lines, the characters, and the sacrifices that Katniss makes for those she cares about. They love the romance element, and the craftiness that some of the characters use in order to win. I wondered for a while if today’s kids were somehow more blood thirsty then when I was younger, but came to the realization that though these stories revolve around a game where everyone is meant to kill one another, the deaths are only a focal point in the fact that they get you one step closer to the main characters surviving. Maybe kids just want a character to root for. The good guy to win. The sacrifices that are made to mean something- all things that I would have jumped on when I was fifteen. 

I remember my favorite character from that time in my life- his name was Luke, and he was a teen that the family took in on the TV show “Growing Pains.” He got into a lot of trouble and made a lot of big messes, but underneath his rough exterior, it was impossible to believe that he wasn’t amazing and good hearted. I loved him because I saw good in him that wasn’t at the surface yet, but that I believed would one day over take the bad-boy exterior, and make him the kind of future man that I dreamed of. I loved Shawn Hunter from Boy Meets World for the same reason. I wanted so badly to believe that these people were going to turn out okay (which in their respective television shows, they pretty much did). 

But now, re-watching those old shows, I know better. I recognize that in real life, at least for the most part, those boys turn into the kind of men who I avoid- jerks who think they can get away with anything and are invincible. I have seen the real life repercussions of the past, and I know more now.

I attribute my reaction to the hunger games to this “knowing better.” I understand the effect of the tragedies that befall Katniss. I know what it feels like to lose important things, important people. My friend, the one who shared my obsession, says that Collins must have experienced and extreme loss in a sudden way, because of how she describes how Katniss behaves after some of the events- she recognizes the symptoms, because she went through them in her own sudden, extreme tragedy. We, the newly recognized adults, are feeling the pain of this story in our own lives, because we understand what they really mean. But our teenage counter parts didn’t know- didn’t fear these things because they had yet to experience them. 

I understand now what it means to go back to being a child- to believe like one, to love like one, to wonder like one. I wonder if it’s ever attainable again, or if we just have to move on with the knowledge under our belt that we can’t live in the past, and hope that one day we can achieve it. I wonder if I’m destined to be attracted to the Abed’s of the world now (community reference- look it up)- the emotionally unattainable kind, who is safe, sweet, and the kind of person you never fall fully in love with, which means you never fully lose. 

In a Hootie and the Blowfish song called innocence, the words ring true- “I’m stuck up here with you/ I never thought we’d get this high/ I used to be afraid of falling/ Now I’ll spread my wings and I will fly.” Maybe one day I will fly again, or at least try, ignoring the things that I think I know. Because knowing more does not equal knowing better. It just means having been through more that I am afraid will repeat. 

In the meantime, maybe I’ll stop reading teenager books for a while. Or at least wait until I can afford to stay awake for a long time afterwards.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Getting to know Brother K

On a sunny Tuesday in March, I find myself sitting in an Astoria apartment across from two guys in their 20’s, who are trying to describe a book to me that I have never heard of.

This is the just the beginning of what turns out to be one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever conducted- and the topic is the musical stylings of Brother K.

Brother K, made up primarily of Lucas Kwong and Garrett Fiddler, is a New York based music project that’s been up and running since August of last year (although the musical chemistry started last May, when Garrett jumped in to filming on Lucas’s music video, Payroll. The two musicians met through the church they both were a part of while during their separate terms attending Yale for BAs in english literature. After the filming, and a few experimental open mic performances, both could see working together as a plausible musical future.

So after Garrett spent the summer in Africa, he came to New York to join Lucas, who is working on his doctorate at Columbia University. It was the beginning of some intense music.

“He was like “Yeah, I’d still like to come back to the city and make merry... So make merry we did,” Lucas says.

And so started a tour of the under cover scenes that New York, and other major cities on the west coast are famous for.

If you've never heard Brother K perform, it's hard to classify the sound that they've created in a few words. Somewhere between a passion for poetic lyrics and intense chord progressions, their music aims to create a sense of captivation on both the emotions and the mind, inducing a desire to listen and to act at the same time.

"We want to sound like a revival tent meeting breaking out in the middle of a bar, or a bar fight breaking out in the middle of a revival meeting,” Lucas tells me.

Garrett jumps in and explains what kind of advantage having literary based degrees gives them on expressing themselves through well placed lyrics.

“You’ve seen a lot of different people writing poetry. You’ve studied a lot of it, and you’ve been around it a lot too,” he says.

Of course, a big part of what Brother K projects comes out of it’s band members.

Lucas describes himself as being raised in “a socialist paradise, where he developed an early addiction to playing guitar, and reading books with no pictures.” To the average viewer, he’s a bit of a goofball with a vocabulary that allows him to articulate what he’s thinking at any given moment. But put a guitar in his hand, and he transforms into a new person, trying to change the world with his songs. Raised on the Beatles, who he calls the “Alpha and Omega of rock,” and influenced by Radiohead, Johnny Cash, and Duke Ellington, his creative ideas about music have lead him through his fair share of bands and solo projects. But in all the things he’s been part of, he hasn’t lost sight of what he’d like to see music do.

“My vision is to revisit that moment when rock music had the element of folks concerned with imagery and that kind of thing,” he says.

Which makes Garrett, a fellow jokester (the band he performed with before meeting Lucas was called The Flying Burning Sharks), with a matching amount of passion for music, a good fit. Garrett, who was influenced by Switchfoot, The White Strips, Mumford and Sons, and the early work of both Skillet and Audio Adrenaline, calls himself the one with “a higher tolerance for sappiness.” He’s recently started working on a few pieces to contribute to Brother K’s already developed selection, mostly comprised of songs Lucas wrote before the two started working together, and has been bringing his own spin to that which is already written.

Watching the two of them together, trying to explain why they would name a musical group after a book called the Brother’s Karamazov (although Lucas admits that the K could also stand for Kwong, his last name) is more than enough to illustrate the chemistry that is taking the band big places.

But no group is without it’s issues, and for Brother K, holding a drummer is a big issue. Throughout their time together, they have yet to find a drummer who hangs around for more than a few sets (although they have some great fill-in drummers when they are in a pinch). Though they haven’t found “that special someone” yet to to fill the void, Lucas praises the different guys who have played with them for their talent and dedication to their art.

Even so, Brother K has been stirring up some big discussion with their recent shows. With their collaborative efforts, they are starting to see great results and reviews from the people who listen to their work. They’ve played enough shows to start earning requests for favorites from the audience. And they’ve started to develop their own favorites as well.
Garrett’s eyes light up as he says that his favorite is “Only Child”, a heavy song with chilling vocals about the love of God. He talks about some of the fun things he gets to do in the song, including using a piece of equipment called a whammy pedal. “It’s our closing number for performances, and it’s got this great range of dynamics, where it’s got a feel of suppressed strength in the first two verses and chorus’s, and then it really opens up and just comes out big, and hits hard towards the bridge and the ending.”

“It’s the climax of our show,” Lucas adds.

And despite the christian overtones of “Only Child” and some of the other songs that Brother K is known for, such as “Hem of Your Robe”, which is a crowd favorite (and my personal one as well), both Lucas and Garrett take their music to be universal, not written for any one people group, but instead written from the emotions and insights that occur in a persons life.  Lucas explains that while he wouldn’t classify his music by other things that are part of him, they have an influence on what he writes, because they are part of who he is.

Brother K embodies the kind of things new bands dream of- both on a musical rarity that combines passion and melody, and on the stories told by two New York musicians, invested in making music hat reaches out to the masses. Music is not rare in New York City, but a love for the stage like the one Lucas and Garrett portray is, and it sets them apart.

I finish the interview by asking the guys what inspires them to keep writing and performing. Garrett tells me that when everything is stripped back and it’s just lyrics, he gets caught up in the moment and the music.

For Lucas, it’s when the audience is engaged.

“When that happens,” he says, “well that’s inspiring, because you know... something is happening.”

Find out more about Brother K at their website brotherk.bandcamp.com. Or see them live on April 28th at Sidewalk Cafe in NYC.