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Monday, March 31, 2014

Moment to impress

It's been expressed in song and literature numerous times with slight variation, but the message is clear and profound when considered; our entire existence is nothing more than a moment in time.  Even for those who are blessed with good health that carries us into our 90's, or even 100 years of age, when examined against the timeline of everything we know our opportunity to leave a mark is a grain of sand in an hourglass, metaphorically speaking.  Meanwhile, in the dating world it's said that we get one chance to make a first impression.  If you merge the two concepts it creates the standard we should all be measured do you make the right impression to represent your microscopic moment?

While considering how minuscule our window of time is, especially within the context of an era such as the 20th century (arguably the most significant period of time in terms of progress), we should be more focused on what constitutes a worthwhile mark to leave behind.  In today's society, with most of America's attention focused on Popular Culture rather than current events, the honor associated with being recognized as an icon has been greatly, and sadly, compromised.  Fame and fortune, or in some cases nothing more than undeserved media attention alone, has become the fast lane to making a name for yourself and even being dubbed an "icon", but is such a title always deserved?  After all, the icons of history like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and more recently Steve Jobs, will eventually share their place in time with so-called icons like Miley Cyrus, or even Justin Bieber who has used fame and fortune to break the law and become a public nuisance, but will someone like Felix Baumgartner* be remembered?

*For those who had to look that name up, my comment about America's poorly focused attention was just confirmed.  Felix did not sell a million records or tour the world or make millions of dollars, but he did create his own moment in time in a single feat that lasted less than 5 minutes, earning his rightful place in history.

Gene Simmons, co-founder of the rock band KISS, will soon be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is also considered an icon, having achieved monumental success as well as fame and fortune far beyond the wildest dreams of many.  Meanwhile, he's spent several years attempting to discredit the contributions of his former bandmates, even calling them a "Cancer", making the wrong kind of impression to represent his moment.

John Lennon, arguably among the biggest icons of all time, asked us all to "Imagine" a different world, and perhaps his vision consisted of people who put more thought into the kind of mark they want to leave in their moment, regardless of fortune and fame.  I don't find it hard to imagine that kind of world, especially if more people were focused on making the best impression they can and striving to be their own icon in their moment so that word can mean something again.

In closing, I'd like to share a phrase penned by a 19th century British Prime Minister most people have never heard of, who I feel is far more deserving of the title "icon" than some of today's entertainment headliners, as he made a much better impression to represent his moment.

"We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace." - William Gladstone (1809-1898)

Now, what impression will you make with what's left of your moment?

If I Were President...

Let's face it; no matter how divided we are as a nation, whether in times of economic prosperity or doom, regardless of our own level of success or failure, most of us have at least one thing in common; we've all begun a sentence with "If I were President" at some point in our lives. 

This declaration of blind, unwarranted confidence is most popular during an election period, naturally. To take that even further, the same people who claim to have it all figured out get an even bigger boost of confidence if the newly elected leader hasn't remedied all of our nation's problems within the first year (or term) in office.  Although I'm not aiming this directly at President Obama, there are obvious parallels between my premise and his highly criticized administration.  Many feel he did not live up to his promises and has pursued his own agenda in defiance of the American people.  Of course, there are also many people, myself included, who feel that he inherited a severely weakened economy and a Congress filled with self-righteous, self-serving people who are far more interested in protecting backdoor arrangements than doing their job to serve the people who voted them into office.

The recent government shutdown stands as proof that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes to stand in the way of an effective government than many have thought, and the principles our country was founded on have been swept away beneath a layer of greed and self-interest.  Jesse Ventura, the former Governor of Minnesota, has stated that if a grassroots movement began that showed enough support, and if he felt that he had a substantial chance to win the election, he would run for president in the next election.  This may not seem significant, but it should, as he would become the first elected president not belonging to a political party since the founder of our country, George Washington.  Jesse is a bit of a controversial figure these days, mostly for his tendency to question everything we're told by our government.  Having been in office himself, he's definitely seen and heard more than the average person, and has never been shy about expressing his skepticism of the efficiency and credibility of our government.  Some may view Jesse as an extremist, a conspiracy theorist, or a bit of a radical for many of his ideas, but if there is one thing above all that I feel Jesse stands for it's the truth.  He doesn't accept what he's told when he knows better and that is the kind of person we need in office to get to the root cause of why our country has strayed so far from its foundation.  To question authority is something we're taught during our early years is not appropriate, for different reasons.  Children are taught to respect authority, as they should, especially from parents and school figures, and obviously law enforcement.  However, I see nothing wrong with a healthy interest in questioning why once in a while, if done respectfully.  Once you're an adult, that all changes and when it comes to questioning authority, many are faced with being labeled as as radicals and whistleblowers.  The real question isn't "why question it", it should be "why not?".  I think many of our nation's greatest mysteries exist due to a lack of evidence either proving or disproving what we know and anytime the truth is not being disclosed it's only natural to wonder why.  I think our nation has been plagued with generations of people who have taken office for the wrong reasons and who have remained in office because nobody has questioned why they are there in the first place and how they are serving the people who put them in office.  It seems you have to have years of experience holding office before anyone can be taken seriously as a viable candidate, and history has proven that seeking the truth or getting involved in certain affairs can get you killed, which serves as all the more reason to trust that there are many who do not want the truth to be told and as long as that goes on our nation will never be as strong as our founders envisioned.

Now, back to the original topic...
I would never assume to know what it takes to make anything happen in office, but I definitely have an agenda (several actually) in mind.  My first order of business would be to seek out any individual in our government who serves their own interests before that of the American people and take appropriate action against them because I think the word corruption doesn't even begin to describe what goes on and why no real change has happened for decades now.  Once internal conflicts had been taken care of, and I felt confident that we had a government that was no longer inhibited by self-interest among its members, I would move to a very specific and strategic agenda.  My primary focus would be a nationwide overhaul of how we handle the sentencing of all crimes, as well as a complete re-investment of our education system.  There are so many concurrent problems with the way our country is functioning, but what I find most inexcusable is that we have children who don't have enough to eat and teachers being laid off from work while the convicted felons in our prison system are allowed amenities that working, law-abiding citizens can't even afford for themselves or their families.

I could be politically correct here, but since Mr. Ventura doesn't bite his tongue, neither will I when I say that our entire justice system is an antiquated joke, plagued by inconsistency and leniency that should not be afforded to those who fail to adhere to the laws of the country.  When people will commit crimes to enter the prison system because they receive better health care as a criminal, it should be obvious that change must be made.  Real change, that provides significant and visual progress, is something this nation has not seen for far too long.  I've been called naive and foolish, and received far worse criticism when presenting my formal ideas for the kind of reforms I've mentioned, but until an attempt is made and proven wrong, any improvement is a step in the right direction.  Actions have consequences, and for some crimes or offenses those consequences need to be made so drastically life-altering that crimes of opportunity no longer exist, meaning there is enough of a deterrent to make someone actually think twice about committing a crime considering the punishment it carries.

Am I technically "qualified" to be president?  According to the American people absolutely not, but how long has it been since the qualifications and experience of the elected president equated to results accordingly?  Perhaps choosing someone with a clear and effective plan that can bring the kind of changes we actually need and want for our country, and the determination to see that plan to fruition, is more important than what's on his (or her) birth certificate or years of experience or "qualification".

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

KISS my Axl!

Considering the number of posts I've done about the world of Rock music, I was shocked after taking a quick glance through my back catalog to see that I've never discussed LSD before.  I'm not referring to the hallucinogenic drug, but rather the egotistically-charged plague known as Lead Singer Disease, the result of a singer/frontman becoming so consumed by success as to believe he is the most vital member of the band in most or all regards.  Some of Rock's most famous and well-regarded frontmen are self-aware (albeit unapologetic) of it, such as Robert Plant and Steven Tyler.

In more recent years, there are two iconic figures who have proven to be the walking embodiment of LSD, displaying more and more of an air of self-importance, and they are Gene Simmons of KISS and Axl Rose, formerly of Guns N' Roses.  In regards to Axl, I say formerly because he is the only original member remaining yet insists on keeping the name as though he was the only member responsible for their success.  The plethora of videos on YouTube of live performances from the current lineup provide a radically different opinion, and in fact highlights his band as nothing more than a painfully lackluster self-tribute at this stage in his career.  Axl did not attend the band's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, while original members Slash, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler and 2nd generation members Gilby Clarke and Matt Sorum performed with singer Myles Kennedy and graciously accepted the honor.

On the heels of the announcement that KISS is among this year's Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductees, early reports came out that the original lineup would be performing at the ceremony.  Original guitarist Ace Frehley initially expressed high confidence and enthusiasm until singer Paul Stanley and singer/bassist Gene Simmons quickly shot down the reports and announced that no lineup of KISS will perform.  I first assumed it to be in protest for the exclusion of current members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer; their late interim drummer Eric Carr also will not be inducted.  However, Gene stated even before KISS was nominated for induction that Peter and Ace would not perform.  The process for choosing which members are inducted has been remarkably inconsistent over the years, and the explanation provided for ignoring current members of KISS is no exception.  

The Rock Hall Foundation CEO has defended the decision with the following statement:

"Sometimes there's an entire body of work up until (the artists) are inducted, other times it's a specific period of time that established the band as who they are. With Kiss there wasn't one person here who didn't agree that the reason Kiss was nominated and is being inducted was because of what was established in the 70s with Ace (Frehley), with Peter (Criss), with Paul and Gene (Simmons). That's what put them on that map."

Without knowing much of the history behind the induction process (in relation to which band members have been included), that statement is perfectly legitimate and logical.  However, the induction of some band members who were included as current members (at the time of induction), regardless of having little or no credit for the iconic body of work represented, highlights the inconsistent application of rules by the selection committee.  Current Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo had only performed on two albums when inducted, far removed from the band's iconic body of work.  Current Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer had only appeared on one album with the band, similarly irrelevant to their catalog, upon inclusion.  Rush's co-founding member and drummer John Rutsey, having only having played on their debut, was however excluded from the band's induction at last year's ceremony.

Gene has been very vocal for many years about why the original lineup is not together, going as far as claiming that the band couldn't survive today with founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, dwelling on their history of substance abuse (from which both members are more than a decade removed).  Gene and Axl have formed a parallel in which both believe their former bandmates and founding members are no longer competent or at least as relevant to the history of the band, both going as far as calling their former bandmates a "cancer".

Personally, as someone who never followed KISS closely, I couldn't care less who does or doesn't perform at the Hall of Fame induction, but it's disgraceful that Gene (and Paul) will deny the fans what would likely be the final performance from the original lineup, especially considering his claims of how important their fanbase is.  Similarly, Axl  claimed that the induction of Guns N' Roses was "your victory", referring to the fans, yet declined to even attend.  If Gene and Axl are so confident that their role in their respective groups is so vastly superior to those around them, the release of a solo album would surely prove otherwise.  That's the funny thing about egos as large and unjustified as theirs, they'd never dare to test how legitimate their importance really is.