Photo on the Radio

This morning at 10:30 AM I did my first ever live media appearance for WGN 720 AM on ChicagoNow Radio. It was a real pleasure and I was way more comfortable than I expected I would be. I think there are probably two clear reasons for this:

One of the hosts was a friend of mine: Amy Guth. Amy is stellar and that made it a lot easier than talking to a complete stranger.

The classes I’ve been taking at IO have really done the trick! It’s already made me more comfortable in a performance atmosphere. Specifically helping me maintain my composure and gaining an ability to think on my feet.

We talked about my new blog on ChicagoNow: Focal Points. As well as my experiences in Berlin, and last weekend’s Journey to the End of the Night event. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Listen here!

Always an Adventure – Thailand Part 9

Yesterday was relatively low key, Christine had some errands to run and I was desperately crazing cheese and gross American foods so we split up. I wound up hanging out at Pizza Hut eating mediocre pizza and drinking unlimited free refills of Pepsi and Christine wound up meeting me there. Word of Saturday’s violence in Bangkok started to trickle in and people started to be a bit concerned. The prime minister was on TV issuing a statement but people’s opinions are mixed. The situation actually seems to get more tense by the day, both sides want something without a compromise, it would appear the only way it’s going to end is with further bloodshed. Thankfully in Nakhon Sawan it was of little local concern.

After pizza Christine took me out to the park on her motorcycle. We relaxed for a bit and she taught me how to drive it, I found it to be surprisingly simple and very fun. I’m definitely going to look into it further when I return to the states. After that we went and relaxed by the pond, we bought a bag of rice balls and fed the GIANT fish who live in the pond, watching and laughing as the jumped and splashed over each other for each piece.

After that we went to a small bar simply named “Cups” to meet her friends Jon and Tom. It was Jon’s last night in town for a while so we kicked back and had a few beers. A few locals that the group knew joined us and we discussed the political situation in more depth and the general consensus seemed to be that both sides of the argument have a ton of merit but are equally wrong in their actions. Unfortunately there isn’t a third active side, the average Thai citizen would rather just ignore it and live their lives. Jon and Christine pumped me for information about the recently passed American health care reform bill, they both are deeply concerned that they may be expected to purchase American health care while living abroad or face steep fines. I admitted that I honestly don’t know how it will affect them if at all.

After hearing about my first drive of a cycle Jon offered to let me try out his. While Christine has a cute little Honda Wave, Jon has something a little more akin to a Harley. Christine had a good laugh when Jon made me get off the cycle when I asked what a “clutch” was and he refused to let me try again. Apparently I’m a freak because I never learned to drive a manual transmission car. How was I to know?

Anyway from there we called it an early night so I could wake early in the morning for Bangkok to fly to Kuala Lumpur and then Tokyo.

We got up the next morning, I showered, packed up and Christine gave me directions to get back to Bangkok, what to say to Taxi drivers etc. News reports on BBC International seemed to convey even more tension in Bangkok, making me glad I was heading down to the city early for my 4pm flight.

We said our goodbyes and soon from there I caught a motorbike to a bus station, only problem… Wrong one. The language barrier soon became unsurmountable as I tried over and over to explain to my driver where we were supposed to go, eventually I was forced to give up and call for Christine’s assistance, she came and met me at the station as she also had to head south, we luckily found one bus that was going to hit both of our stops and caught it together. It was a 3 hour ride down to Rangsit and traffic was heavy, as we got closer to Bangkok you could see military road blocks where they were randomly pulling people out of cars for interrogation. Not a pleasant sight. Christine got out at Ahuttaya to pick up her Kindle which she had left in the hostel a few days before and I had another 30 min until I arrived at Rangsit. From there I caught a Taxi and head back to Bangkok airport completely avoiding the downtown area and boarding my flight out of the country.

I had a great stay in Thailand but now I’m on to my next adventure: 27 hours in Tokyo! Dear readers my agenda is pretty open. Ever been to Tokyo? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know what I should do.

State of No Big Deal – Thailand Part 4

Kanchanaburi on Flickr

I recieved some emails of concern so I thought I’d address this head on:

Yesterday a state of emergency was declared in Bangkok due to the ongoing Red Shirt nonviolent political protests. The group is looking to dissolve the parliment and install their leader who had previously been deposed by the Yellow Shirts a few years back. That is pretty much all I know. While we were there Bangkok was hustling and bustling with people, among them were many of these “Red Shirts” who had set up tents with signs and loud blaring speakers. For the most part they kept to themselves at their worst they blocked up traffic on their motorbikes.

Either way we got out of there yesterday. Not because of this situation at all but because we wanted to do other things. I’ll be back in Bangkok on Tuesday briefly to fly out to Tokyo and neither Christine nor I are really worried. They primarilly do this stuff on the weekend to disrupt tourism to hurt the economy and put pressure on te government. We don’t expect it to impact Monday as well.

Anyway, we’re having breakfast and then off to see the elephants. More later!

Berlin Day 6 – A walk, a wall and Køpi

The Berlin Wall

I woke up at 1:30 today and realized I was supposed to meet Meli and Andres at 2 at Scharni. The plan was to visit abandoned buildings and a punk collective trailer park community for my photographic interests. That plan didn’t work out, Meli and Andres had to cancel last minute.

Instead I decided to venture out alone. I hopped a train to Alexanderplatz and then wandered around from there. I decided to go take some pictures of the Berlin wall and just kinda explored my way around. I walked around a big portion of Berlin using mostly the setting sun to guide me in my direction. Eventually I found “Checkpoint Charlie” the gate area from East to West Berlin run by US military. From there I walked along the wall.

Some time after that I decided to head back. I started hopping on random U-Bahn trains (subways) until I found a direction towards the Alexanderplatz from where I knew how to get “home.” On the way I stumbled into the museum district and a number of small parks eventually finding a gorgous fountain surrounded by grass where I decided to sit and relax. This was probably the most ideal way to end my stay. It was a beautiful sunny day, almost no humidity and not too hot.

When I finally made my return to 78 Mouse and Aki insisted that I needed to go out with them for a little bit. Mouse prepared a delicious dinner at Fischladen and from there they took me to Køpi.

Køpi is arguably the largest, most famous “punk” house in Europe, if not the world. It’s technically a squat but evicting it’s residents would be impossible. The place is built like a fort and surrounded by several other, smaller communities of the same type. It literally houses an army of punks and German leftists (not all of which are anarchist btw.) To clear out Køpi would literally require a military assault and I’m not sure it would be successfull. However the place isn’t harming anyone so there is no rational to remove it either as doing so would attract international press attention.

The place is amazing, the community that has been created here is astonishing. There was a punk/hardcore show going on in one part of the house. They had at least 4 different bars, a movie theater and way more. Mouse tells me they have in house plumbers, carpenters, electricians and more. It’s not a collective like 78 but everyone there has a role in life outside of the place and they contribute their skills towards making their home a better place.

We only stayed at Køpi a little while but I’m glad I got to go, the next time I head to Berlin I’m going to work to develop relationships there to allow me to photograph it, as it truely is something amazing that needs to be documented, but due to it’s legal status most would not have been comfortable with me doing so.

Unfortunately when we returned I still had to pack, and I had no time remaining to sleep. After packing up I head to the Airport and made my way to Paris for the next 26 hours…

More soon. For now: here are the day 6 photographs.

"Stop! Take some time to think…

…figure out what’s important to you.”

Those words are from the chorus of a track entitled ‘Stop’ from Floridian rock group Against Me!’s latest release ‘New Wave.’ The album and this line are significant because it’s not just the group’s newest, it’s their first on a “major label.” A big step for a band who is known for being outspoken against the government, big corporations and the music industry. Although ‘New Wave’ has received praise from industry critics, the major label signing has caused Against Me! to be the target of an intense amount of scrutiny from the scene it arouse from and it’s one time “fans.”

Akiva Gottlieb of the Nation, in an excellently composed and structured piece, delves into the band’s recent struggles. However, the writer’s opinion of the group and it’s front-man, Tom Gabel, show through quite clearly. With lines like “If you can’t stop a war, you might as well make money, right?” peppered throughout, it steers far from objectivity. Even flirting with becoming an attack piece itself near the end, as if the writer herself were personally offended by the band’s actions. Although she took the time to interview Gabel himself and include quotes from him they are not without snide remarks about his recent arrest or criticism. She reinforces her ideas with a quote from another critic of the band’s actions, Mike Conklin of The L Magazine:

“when you say the same things over and over again, as loudly as [Gabel] did, into a microphone no less, to countless impressionable teenagers, you’ve effectively lost your right to just decide one day that you didn’t mean any of it.”

Against Me!’s position is that they are misunderstood and the whole ‘sellout’ movement against them is a ridiculous waste of time and a case of hugely missing the point of their music. They push on and ‘New Wave’ is as harsh as ever on the industry with songs like ‘Up the Cuts’ and it’s title track. However many ex-fans critics feel differently. Some have even gone as far as to book protest shows against them and others have published guides to subverting the band’s concerts. The justification is often lacking however, just coming down to this whiney chorus from the peanut gallery of ‘They signed to a major label! How can they be critical! Hypocrites! Sellouts!” Ms. Gottlieb’s article for instance hinges on one sentence that the writer uses to justify much of her perspective on the band:

“Maybe the band’s subsequent jump to Sire Records–itself a subsidiary of Warner Bros., and thus a part of Time-Warner, the world’s largest media conglomerate–doesn’t pack the same epochal punch as Bob Dylan going electric, but the results again seem to justify the decision.”

However, it would seem this crucial line is horribly factually inaccurate.

Yes, Sire is in fact a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, however despite the name, they are not a part of Time Warner. WMG was sold off by Time Warner in late 2003 to an independent group of investors and is now completely independently owned an operated. These days, despite it’s ‘major label’ status, WMG targets it’s business much differently than it had in it’s past. In recent years WMG has focused on signing a lot of the bigger independent punk bands to get into more niche markets with less focus on the mainstream. Groups like Rancid and Less Than Jake have found homes where they previously wouldn’t have been considered “commercially viable.” Warner these days has become, apparently, a welcoming home to bands who want major label distribution and production without having to sacrifice their creative vision and values.

I think this often goes unknown or misunderstood by a lot of Against Me!’s fans and I imagine it has factored greatly in a lot of band’s signing to WMG labels.

The whole thing goes back to the age old ‘What makes someone a sellout?’ argument that any of us might have written about in out high school journalism classes. Unfortunately as trivial as that argument is, it still doesn’t have a clear answer. Personally, I tend to believe that the claims against Against Me! remain mostly unfounded and short sighted. I feel like it’s one more case of closed minded people who claim to be open. An unfortunate side effect often bred in punk culture. People who claim a “counter culture” but ultimately have a problem with anyone making a living selling their art or want to disrupt something other than a local basement show.

While I see some values in the criticism I think it’s unwarranted in this case. Certainly there is a moral difference between signing to a very large independent label that only makes music and signing to a global conglomerate media or electronics company that makes bombs for the government.

So in Against Me!’s own words:

“All the punks still singing the same song.
Is there anyone thinking what I am?
Is there any other alternative?

Are you restless like me?”

Sadly, I think “the punks” are missing the point.