Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Diary of a Music Nerd: Mr. Money

Soooooooo it just dawned on me at 9:21 PM on post day that it's my turn. I'm not sure how that happened; most of the time I don't start writing until night of, but I usually at least know that it's my turn. Maybe it's because I just did our Happy Birthday post and my brain figured, "Hey, you just did a post, it's not your turn for a few weeks now." Maybe it's because I've been more busy while on vacation than I was during the semester and it just slipped my mind. Either way, I'm completely unprepared, so I'm going to fall back on something I can talk about for hours on end: music. Welcome to the second post in my Diary of a Music Nerd column! This time I'll give a glimpse into a couple of songs that have been dominating my daily soundtrack for the last few weeks.

There's a prog rock band from Sweden that I discovered when I found out they would be opening for Dream Theater on the Progressive Nation 2009 tour. I like to be familiar with a few songs from the opening bands before I go to the concert, so I sought out some of their more highly recommended tunes and began my research. Unfortunately, due to management and record label complications, they had to drop off the tour, so I never got to see them live, but that meant I did end up seeing Bigelf live (and met them afterwards), so that's okay with me. However, despite not getting the Pain of Salvation live experience, I liked what I heard from my song sampling so I, continued to investigate, and that's when I discovered their fifth studio album, "BE" (the quotes are part of the album title, so I'm not entirely sure how to punctuate that. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me).

The thing about Swedish prog bands is that they tend to get somewhat enigmatic when it comes to writing concept albums. Pain of Salvation generally follow this rule, and it's often difficult to decipher what exactly the overall message of the album is without the help of Wikipedia. However, "BE" is on an entirely different level; it's story-line is so convoluted it's pretty much unintelligible. Even Wikipedia is not entirely sure what Pain of Salvation are trying to get across, even with the linear notes and an entire website dedicated to the album set up by vocalist/guitarist/founder Daniel Gildenlow. So I don't really have a clue what the album overall is even about, and quite honestly it's not necessary to really "get it," so to speak, but there are two songs in particular that really stand out to me that between them create the only story-line I can decipher out of this 76 minute mass of impenetrable philosophy. It's a darn good story though.

The first song I want to mention, one that was the Song of the Day in the post from which this this column gets its title actually, is track 7, titled Dea Pecuniae. Roughly translated from Latin, it means Goddess of Money, and it is the longest song on the album, split into three parts. In the first, we're introduced to the wealthiest man in the world, known only as Mr. Money. He is a man who is obsessed with his namesake, and will bend and break all the rules in order to have financial power, or any kind of power for that matter. In the first verses and chorus, he flaunts that power by leading a woman on just to break her heart, and listing numerous material luxuries he has acquired, declaring things like "I could have bought a third-world country with the riches that I've spent," all while accompanied musically by what almost sounds like a showtune. He concludes with a toast to himself, but is then interrupted by Dea Pecuniae, who proceeds to lead him on in the same way that he lead on the woman in the first verse. The second part is about 45 seconds long, and in it Mr. Money has a silent, piano-driven moment to himself, admitting briefly that when he's by himself, he needs comforting because somewhere deep inside of him, he feels loss. Then, almost as abruptly as Part One ended, Part Three begins, in which Mr. Money symbolically affirms his life choices by shouting out that he's happy on top of the world, even if that means he's alone up there. The song concludes in a bombastic Broadway-esque salute to all those who do nothing while he steps all over them and exploits the system at their expense for his own personal gain.

The second song, track 13, is called Iter Impius, translated as Wicked Path. In this piano and orchestral ballad, Mr. Money wakes up one morning and realizes that he is old, alone, and has laid waste to the world in his path to its peak. He comes to a frightening conclusion that there is nothing now except the "relentless time" that is chasing him down and will eventually take him from this world. However, he refuses to leave the fortune he has amassed, and decides to preserve his body using cryogenics until he can be made immortal, declaring that he will "rule the ruins" of Earth by himself.

Obviously you can't understand how brilliant the characterization of Mr. Money is unless you've listened to the songs, so I've linked to them below and I highly suggest you listen to them before reading what I'm about to say, because this text will probably mean less than nothing if it is musically unaccompanied. That being said, the characterization of Mr. Money is freaking brilliant. In 16 minutes of music, Pain of Salvation have created a more compelling character arc for him than I've seen in most Hollywood movies. Here's a man who is a classic power addict; he amasses as much power as he can and thinks it makes him the king of the world, but in truth he is a slave to power itself. He has spent so much time convincing himself he is happy even though he has alienated everyone in his life that he can't even bear to face those feelings of loss for more than a few moments before resorting to his familiar facade of contentment. And you can't help but feel bad for him in the first few verses of Iter Impius, when he honestly confronts what he's done to himself and the world and realizes it's too late to fix it. Then he kicks into the first chorus and an even more profound pity is drawn from us because he can't even accept, at the end of all things, that the world is rust and ruins and it is all over. Instead, blinded by his greed or whatever it is, he insists that he will rule said ruins, presumably because he can't live in a world in which he is not the ruler of something. All of this comes from 16 minutes of music, about a third of which has no vocals!

It's impossible for me to convey exactly how amazing this is by just writing about it, so I think I'm going to stop here and let you guys listen to the songs and form your own impressions about them. I am fully aware that many of you won't appreciate the music or concept it in the way that I do and that's totally cool, but I still think you should listen to the songs anyways because, well you never know, do you? Besides, I think objectively you have to appreciate the way the music tells the story as much as the lyrics do, as well as the emotions that are drawn from us in response to the story being told, from admiration to disdain to heartfelt sadness. It's almost as if you can connect to Mr. Money as a character as if he were a real person. Anyways, that's what's been occupying my musical brainspace recently, so have fun with that :)

Hope you enjoy!

Songs of the Day: Dea Pecuniae & Iter Impius - Pain of Salvation

Ps. My good friend Dobes just tipped me off about this song, and it's really awesome and apropos to the time we're in now, so I figured I'd share. Thanks Dobes!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Arbitribe!!!

For those of you keeping score at home, today is the one year anniversary of the official launch of Arbitribe, which means: HAPPY BIRTHDAY US!!! It's a big deal for us to have started something like this on a whim and then be able watch it grow into what it is today, and we of course could not do it without you guys, our dedicated readers. So we'd like to thank you all for the 11,529 views we've amassed over the past 365 days. You rock!!

The annual awards are as follows:
The "Most Viewed Post" award goes to Aliza, for her amazing "A Greatly Exaggerated Explanation for Starbucks' Kosher Issues" with a solid 339 views.
The "Only Post in the Top 10 That Isn't Aliza's" award goes to Tzvi for "Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match."
The "Inventing The Term Arbitribe" award goes to Daniel. Coincidentally, he also won the award for Coolest Commute Method with " An Airplane."
The "Bringing the Word Burnoose Into The Vocabulary" award goes to Joanna, for maybe actually wearing a burnoose one day. She also gets the "Post Length to Number of Comments Ratio" Award, averaging a comment for every 22 words of "Doom?"
The "Guest Writer Who Could Look Like He's Literally On Fire If You Look At Him From the Right Angle" award goes to The Ginger Man. This is self-explanatory.
The "Best Reference" award goes to The Curious Jew, which was responsible for over 1,500 page views coming our way. Thanks!!!
The "Most Surprising Regular Readership" award goes to Malaysia. Whooda thunk?

Thanks for an awesome year guys, we couldn't have done it without you. Here's to many more!!!

Much Love,
The Arbitribe Gang

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How The Kvetch Got Over December

Everyone in New York liked December a lot
But the Kvetch of Washington Heights, she did not

She wasn’t a fan of the early winter season
And why, you may ask? Like you don’t know the reason…
It could be the Brooklyn commute was a wreck
It could be all those songs were annoying as heck

But most likely it was that New York’s most happy day
Was making her see her own Chag in that way

Think about it,
She’d been told her whole life that Chanukah was unique
With much more behind it than shopping price peak,
That the songs all the stores were incessantly playing
Were coincidental. It’s December, just sayin’!

In elementary school, the principal went so far as to say
The Holiday season should be shunned all the way:
“You’re acknowledging a day that’s long been remembered,
As the cause so many of us were dismembered
Through thousands of years, bearing the false guilt
Because well-meaning blood was (by Romans) spilt!”
And whatever the reason for what he did,
That speech was enough to scar any kid.

And on through the years, the Kvetch had it out
Arguing with anyone who came about
To claim that the Jews of New York needed no reason
To feel cheerful, just like everyone else at that season!

"So what if the songs are ignoring OUR day,
Do you really want Chanukah compared that way?
Do you really want people pairing them together,
Two occasions to get our minds off the bad winter weather?
You find so much meaning in the Hasmonaen victory
And what it means to your people’s history
And the oil to remind you, its okay to believe
In Miracles, such a great gift to receive!
Just enjoy your Chanukah, and don’t compare
To that other holiday enjoyed somewhere..."

But the Kvetch of the Heights found she had to confess
That the December season for her was a mess.
To enjoy the spirit wasn’t right, for it meant
Giving significance to dollars spent
And to songs, and to string lights, and red hat-edge furs
Signs of a day that simply weren’t hers.

So she shouted,
“Must you aid retailers raising their stocks,
‘Cause you just HAD to buy that pair of Dreidel Socks?
Can’t you block out the songs so you don’t have to hear it?
Why join the masses in December spirit?”

But then…
The Kvetch found herself enjoying the glow
Of those eight little candles lit up in a row
And so what if the lights along 181st
Were making her forget about cold winter’s worst?
It’s not like to her they meant Dec. 25th,
Just a warm little joy to fill in the rift.

And so what if the soundtrack Starbucks was employing
Could sometimes swell up and get really annoying?
And she had to admit, Chanukah songs also leeched
Into her subconscious while giving a speech:

(That really did happen to me one time
I did not make it up ‘cause I needed a rhyme).
And even her blogpost, this week so abstruse
Is based, with apologies, on one Dr. Seuss.

To heck with it,
Thought the exhaustible Kvetch,
Sit down at your laptop and make a cartoon sketch.
And try not to think about, or even remember
How Jewish TV characters are Christians in December,
And how Annie from Community took any cause
To dress up this year like sexy Santa Claus...
Instead, think of a good cause, and of dreidels spinnin’
Enjoy your eight days and feel like you’re winnin’
Sing Maoz Tzur, who cares what people say
They’ve got no right to take those good feelings away.
If you feel you must sing, then for G-d sake, let’s hear it
Me, I’d love to see some Chanukah spirit!

So to all of our readers, yes, this was cheap
And a sordid excuse to use holiday-speak
And yes, you can say that this post had no point
"From your usual writing, a total disjoint!"

But for your information, I’ve been low on caffeine
And it’s hard to write when you’re coughing up green
(And inventing rhymes in any inflection
Is harder when you’ve got a bacterial infection)

So excuse my horrible Chanukah post
And let me enjoy the eight nights I love most
Scarf down your latkes, on spiced-wine imbibe
And have a Happy Chanukah, from Arbitribe!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Latkes and Lucid Dreaming, a Symphony in Three Parts

Thing the first: Chanukah is a week away, as I'm sure you all know. While everyone is busy preparing to gorge themselves on greasy latkes and dive into a pile of gifts, I urge you to donate to a worthy cause. I promise it isn't painful, not in the least. A bit of cotton in one's gob never hurt anybody.


Thing the second: Once I'm permanently back from my self-imposed hiatus, I have a piece about Stern College's Anonymous Girl and my thoughts on the existence of a publication such as the YU Beacon brewing. But alas, they need to sit on the back burner for another eight days until my 43 pages worth of final papers are given to my evil overlords professors. In the meantime, check out The Groggers' fabulous take on the situation. Yes, I feel the need to advertise for them. They are that good.


Thing the third: Aliza recently wrote about feeling like she's constantly being tested. If she's being tested, then I'm not only being watched but someone has implanted a chip in my brain causing me to have nightmares depicting my deepest insecurities and fears in bright colors and pulsating sound effects.

Anyone know a good magic potion to make them stop? :\ I just want my brain to quiet down a bit without having to tranquilize myself before bedtime.

Short post. More coming soon. Good luck on final exams and in life!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life 101: How to Deal

Today is actually a pretty exciting day for me in relation to Arbitribe and my blogging career. December 7, 2010, was the first time I ever blogged, on this blog in fact, though the name and concept of Arbitribe was still a few weeks off. It’s interesting to think about how much has changed since then, blog-wise and in my own life, and I’ve been doing a lot of reflection, especially about this time last year. The months of September, October, November, and December are months of great import to me; it seems that some life-changing event happens to me during those months almost annually, an event that will then set the tone for the following year and beyond. However, in 2010 I had five such moments, all within those four months, not the least of which is the founding and official launch of Arbitribe. In the end, those paradigm-shifting incidents all turned out to be positive things, but like everything in this world, there’s the other end of the spectrum to consider: February and March have historically been awful months for me. Some of the most awful things to ever happen to me occurred then, the worst of which would have to be contracting my kidney disease.

This train of thought is starting to remind me of Sign Language and The Learning Curve, which is good because that’s kind of where I was going with this. In those posts and the discussions held in the comments under them, a lot was made over the complete lack of control we have in our lives on a metaphysical level, and so the best thing to do is to control your reaction to an incident and how you let it affect you and your life instead of seeking to control the situation itself. There’s some real wisdom in that and it’s a practice that everyone would do well to adopt, but there’s another side to all of this that I only briefly touched upon in response to a comment under Sign Language and I think that it’s time I devote an entire post to this subject. Today’s lesson: hishtadlut, or as I like to think of it, rigging the odds.

I know most of our readers are familiar with the concept of hishtadlut, but just in case, a little background. A core concept in Judaism is that we believe that God personally oversees all of our lives and has our best interest in mind. However, when confronted with a situation of whatever nature, we have to put in effort on our end to make it work and God will meet us halfway; we’re not allowed to simply sit back and hope God works it out for us. That effort is called hishtadlut.

Now, I know a few months ago I was going on about letting go and realizing that we don’t really control much in our lives and how that can make it easier to roll with life’s punches. That really only applies in a last resort situation or in certain other circumstances though. Hishtadlut is the step that comes before that. Jewish custom and common sense dictate that stuff isn’t just going to work out for you if you aren’t proactive about it, and we are actually discouraged from relying on a miracle. Getting out there and making things work out for you is an integral part of making things work out for you. Surprise! However, it is also true that you can rig the odds as much as you want and things still won't go your way, and that’s where Sign Language comes in.

I seem to be the resident storyteller, so I’ll tell a story to illustrate. I had a meeting with my career counselor at 11:00 AM on campus this morning, and given the ever present traffic that plagues the Van Wyck, I figured that if I wake up by 9:30 and get out of my house by 10:00, I’d be able to get there, park, and get to the building in time for my meeting even if the traffic were to be awful. Since it was an important meeting, I set two alarms and asked someone to wake me up at 9:45 if I had somehow managed to sleep through both. My trying to ensure that I would be awake and out of bed in time to leave by 10:00 was my hishtadlut. On a Jewish level, going to sleep at 2:00 AM and just assuming that God loves me and will have me woken up in one way or another in time to leave is not something we’re supposed to do. It also would have been terribly irresponsible of me from a rational standpoint to behave in that way.

In the end, unfortunately, I slept through both my alarms and the person who was supposed to wake me forgot to do so, so I gained full consciousness around 10:00. I threw myself out of bed, got dressed, wolfed down breakfast, and still managed to get out of the house by 10:15. I thought I was a total boss, but then I hit the Van Wyck in the rain and ended up taking an hour to make a 25 minute drive and I showed up to my 11:00 meeting at 11:20. It was at that point that I realized that I did everything I could to get myself there on time and I was still 20 minutes late, so it must be that on some cosmic level I was not meant to get to this meeting on time, no matter how good my odds were. That acceptance is what I was stressing in those two earlier posts.

The duality of active vs. passive in life is a very tricky thing because there is a subtle line between the two and it is often difficult to determine where exactly it is. The important thing is that there is a place in life for both, and leaning towards either one when it is not the time to tap into it is a dangerous thing. I spoke extensively a few months ago about how psychologically unhealthy activity is when it is time to be passive, and passivity during a time of action can have potentially disastrous life consequences as well.

There’s a famous Jewish joke in which there’s a terrible flood and everyone evacuates except this guy who decides that he has such faith in God that he knows He’s going to save him. When the flood gets so bad that it covers the first floor of his house, the guy moves upstairs to the second floor. A rowboat passes, and seeing him, the passengers shout out, “Hey! Come on in, we’re evacuating.” The man replies that he has faith and he’s going to wait for God to save him. The flood forces him to move up the top floor of his house, at which point another boat passes his window and the passengers call out to him to get in and flee. The man again replies that he has faith and he’s going to wait for God to save him. When the flood forces him onto the roof of his house, a Rescue Squad helicopter catches a glimpse of him and flies over. A crewmember announces over the megaphone that the squad is leaving and this is his last chance to get out before the flood drowns everything, and the man repeats his familiar refrain. The chopper flies away, and a short while later the man drowns. When he gets up to heaven and meets God, he cries out in sadness,” What happened down there? I had so much faith in you and you didn’t save me” to which God responds, “What are you talking about? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”

The joke has a certain humor to it, but it’s a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. That man was too passive in a situation that demanded action and he lost his life for it. Most situations we find are not super drastic like that, but are still important enough to warrant a little advanced preparation and maybe a plan B. People always try so hard to take a bad hand life deals them and turn it into a royal flush, but I don’t think they realize that in many situations you can just stack the deck so you get dealt a royal flush to begin with. And what happens if you get a bad hand anyways? Fold and try again next time. I’m a big proponent of balance of all things in the world, and this subject kind of plays into that concept very nicely. Being passive or active all the time will only get you halfway there.

So somehow this turned from a post about hishtadlut into a discussion of one of the many dualities of life, but that’s cool with me. Both points are important, relevant, and something I could go on for hours about. I kinda went all over the place there though, so I hope everyone followed my runaway train of thought. If you didn’t, that’s what the comments section is for. Really what all of this, Sign Language, and The Learning Curve come down to is knowing the approaches available for use in dealing with the situations life throws at you and when to use them, and on that note, I’m off to write my philosophy final paper. Let the good times roll.

Song of the Day: Reflections – Mutiny Within

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