Music is Life, the Rest is Just Details

So, let’s talk about music. I was inspired by a bit of a meme going around my friends on Facebook — “10 Albums That Influenced You In Your Teens”. First off, I can’t believe that I had to stop at only 10. Regardless, here were my choices:

Billy Joel “An Innocent Man”
Rick Springfield “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet”
Duran Duran “Duran Duran”
Spoons “Arias & Symphonies”
Roxy Music “Flesh and Blood”
Def Leppard “Pyromania”
The Beatles “Rubber Soul”
Culture Club “Colour By Numbers”
Elvis Costello “Punch The Clock”
David Bowie “Let’s Dance”

This was an *incredibly* hard list to make. When I was a kid, I listened to a lot of country music (real country…not the crap that’s out there now). My very first concert was Ronnie Milsap. I remember him coming out in a purple sequined suit, there were fire spurts going off during it and I recall a time when he danced on his piano (Milsap is blind if you aren’t familiar with him). I was impressed as hell but then, I was 7 years old at the time. The next day I wrote him a letter and a few weeks later I got an autographed photo and a very nice letter in the mail, both of which I still have.  Disco was also incredibly popular when I was a kid. I listened to a lot of BeeGees and I had a huge crush on Andy Gibb and also on Shaun Cassidy. When Gibb died in 1988 when he was only 30, it was devastating. But those of us who came of age in the 80s saw a lot of talent die far too young. A topic for another time.

When it came to rock music around that time, The Beatles were a huge part of my pre-teen years as well. I was absolutely mad for their songs and for 60s music in general. And I don’t know anyone my age that wasn’t influence by Bowie for as long as they can remember.

I turned 10 at the beginning of the 80s and my teen years were dominated by the insane and incredibly experimental music of the time. Computers were just coming into music…and to all of our lives.  I got my first Commodore 64 right around then. I remember having Monopoly on a tape drive – it took an hour to load so you’d come home from school and boot it up before dinner. I also remember buying books on coding and spending hours typing in 20+ pages of “go to” codes to make a ball change colour or bounce around the screen. Back then, you had to actually connect a phone to the modem to connect to the internet to used the bulletin boards that we all hung out in.

In 1982 I fell in love with my first rock ‘n’ roll crush. Rick Springfield. He played Noah Drake on General Hospital but when I was 12, he released “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet”. He was …gorgeous. And hearing his raspy singing voice coupled with his slightly risque lyrics (hey, I was 12) and his guitar-centric music made ‘my heart skip a beat’ (and you’ll know what that’s from if you call yourself a fan). His were the first fan posters to make their ways to my bedroom walls, but they wouldn’t be alone for long. In 1983 a show called “Good Rockin’ Tonight” started and my musical world changed overnight.  Terry David Mulligan introduced us to some of the coolest music that wouldn’t make it’s way onto radio (and some that eventually would). Hearing songs for the first time like “Only You” by The Flying Pickets, “People Are People by Depeche Mode, “Dear God” by XTC or “Congo Toronto” by Robert Priest just grabbed me and never let go.  Toronto Rocks and Muchmusic hit the air in 1984 and we got introduced to a whole range of Canadian and international stars both via music video and interviews.

That’s when bands like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spoons and others entered the scene.  Bands like Spoons, Martha & the Muffins, Rough Trade and Leonard Cohen were part of the Cancon revolution in the 80s with a vibrant Toronto music scene but I was massively influence by British bands too. No one had seen anything like Duran Duran or Culture Club at the time – the focused on the look in addition to the music. And they took the music video to places it had never gone before. Man, the hours that we listened to HoJo, Wham!, Glass Tiger, A-ha, Tears For Fears, The Go-gos…so much great music that just made you want to dance (or bands like Yes that released incredible songs with videos that emotionally scarred you for life). And the scandals! Duran Duran making “long editions” of their videos cast with naked women that could only be shown after 11pm or Queen doing a video where they cross-dressed were our bit of salacious fun.

The bands that influence them also became the stuff we loved – Roxy Music, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Frank Black…that list could go on for ages. Our whole lives in the 80s revolved around the music and the crazy fashion that it brought on. I wish I still had my oversized pink neon sweatshirt, dammit. And no, I am NOT kidding.  🙂

If you aren’t familiar with a lot of these artists, you should check them out. It’s good to reflect on those songs that bring you back to moments that defined your life – we all have a soundtrack that runs through it.

 

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Always Look on the Bright Side…

So, a lot of 2016 sucked and I’m sure you have seen it hashed out in numerous places. I’m not going to talk about that because I have focused enough on the negatives already.  Instead I am going to blog about the positives that happened this year.

I’ve gotten to know great people online…working with people like Mario and Shikhar on our giant Wakelet educational project was an unexpected start to the year. That project has snowballed into a number of sites I run for my favourite scientists and science communicators among others. I think I’ve progressively gotten better at setting them up and balancing the “fluffy” stuff with the hard science.

In March, Neil deGrasse Tyson came to Toronto and I sprung for VIP tickets. There is nothing quite like listening to him speak in an auditorium. His voice fills a room and you can feel it right down to your toes. And when he put the photo of Saturn on the screen and read from Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” the entire place was silent. Afterwards I got to briefly meet him and was every bit as intimidated by him as I anticipated.

Shortly after that, I got to go and see Lawrence Krauss speak live for the first time.  Although he had to share the stage with an IDer and a creationist…hearing him talk (especially from front row center) was a great experience. And I made a new friend in Melissa while standing outside in the line! I had intended to go from the event to the bus depot to head home, but there was a meet & greet afterwards that he was going to. Naturally I could not pass it up!  Here was another person that intimidated me and before I could even approach him to say anything he smiled and said, “I saw you in the front row, thanks for coming” which made me incapable of speech.  I put on a great impersonation of a puppy just listening to him talk to people in the back room. I’d be perfectly happy just to tag around and listen to him talk all the time, frankly. But I eventually had to hop a cab at the latest possibly moment to make my bus. I launched his Wakelet page in time for his birthday that same month.

When June came around, I volunteered for the first time at the World Science Festival. Though I did not have the opportunity to meet Brian Greene I did get to sit in the VIP section (a reward for working Front of House) for a fascinating panel and also got to see him bring his Einstein show “Light Falls” to the stage.  But my favourite part by far was working as Production Assistant for World Science U For a Day. Being in the room and listening to both Barry Barish and Rai Weiss talk about gravitational waves and LIGO was amazing. And being the one in the room trusted to run the timer for the lecturers, helping the director and running the mic for the Q&A was incredibly cool.

I also loved hanging out in Washington Square Park – I could people watch there all day. Religious nuts, photo shoots, musicians of all sorts and I saw a guy in a wizard hat reading tarot cards.  🙂  Plus the added bonus of a Big Gay Ice Cream right at the Christopher Street Station. Also on this trip to NYC I was able to get to the Hayden Planetarium for the “Dark Universe” show narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I had never been to a planetarium of that size and scale before and the show was incredible.

I left the festival on the Saturday to head to DC for the Reason Rally. An entire day of being confronted by religious fanatics and having the chance to listen to speakers like Bill Nye, Lawrence Krauss, David Silverman and many others. I had the chance to meet David who is the President of American Atheists, get my copy of “Fighting God” signed and let him know that the reason I ‘came out’ as an atheist was because of him. And the reason I now consider myself a firebrand atheist and an activist is also because of him. He makes too much sense to deny…and he’ll be the first one to tell you that, lol. I went to the VIP party, got to break the ice with Professor Krauss while Bree got drunk and followed Cara Santa Maria around for a while. I got ditched after that and ended up at the after party solo for the entire night but I did get to see LK break out his dance moves. Who knew he was such a party animal? (For those not in the know…Richard Feynman taught him to dance!)

Before leaving DC, I wanted to pay a little tribute to Hitch. It seemed appropriate at an event dedicated to reason. I had thought about many things – going by the Wyoming, brunch at his favourite spot, finding one of his drinking holes…but the one thing I needed to do above all others was to visit the Jefferson Memorial. Anyone who is really familiar with Hitch knows the many reasons why this place is so important, both for who it honours and for why it was important to Christopher Hitchens.  The memorial is in a beautiful spot and is inspiring to stand in. It was quite an emotional experience to say the least on many levels. Bree and I took signs that we had a the rally to have some shots taken and we topped it off by being confronted by another religious fanatic from the day before. I was not in the mood for his BS and not only shot him down but called him on his bluffing and sent him away with his tail between his legs.

Over the summer, I made the aquaintance of a young YouTuber in Oxford named Alex O’Connor aka Cosmic Skeptic. Hemant Menta (The Friendly Atheist) pointed him out and I could see how talented he was. Extremely well spoken, intelligent and with a natural charisma in front of the camera…he reminded me a little bit of Hitch. I like to support talent when it appears and Alex definitely has it so I was right there to back his Patreon when he started it and to do what I could to help promote his channel. We have talked a lot since then and I’ve gotten to know his friends Gabriel and Mattie who have a YouTube channel of their own called Swish. I even managed to make my way into one of Alex’s videos on his 2nd channel when he filmed himself and Gabe filling my tea order at the shop they work at. I have autographed bags of tea to prove it.  🙂   I’ve got them safely tucked away for when they all become incredibly famous.

Over the course of the year, I started to become more acquainted with Lawrence Krauss.  It’s so strange that not that long ago he was just this person that I admired and whose books I read … and now we talk upon occasion. So odd, the twists that life takes sometimes. In September I went to see his TIFF movie premier in Werner Herzog’s “Salt & Fire” and he was so good in it! Shortly after that he delivered a TIFF talk to kick off the Star Trek celebrations and we finally got me really meet and say more than a couple of words to each other. I made him a gift of a scrapbook full of my photography and some quotes and poetry finished off with a thank you letter to him. I told him that it was a thank you gift for never telling me to shut up on his Twitter feed. He gave me a hug (!!!) and told me it was nice to know he had someone who would stand up for him.

So, even though there was a lot of loss in 2016, there was also a lot of gain. I feel quite lucky that I have made the acquaintance of so many wonderful people this year. Everyone of them has made an impact on my life this year. Here’s to 2017 and all the possibilities that lie ahead.

Awakenings…

I was talking with a friend on Twitter who mentioned she was doing some reading on Wicca and paganism. We’ve talked about religion a lot since we got to know each other and are both atheists now. It got me thinking back to my years following various faiths and I told her that this might now need to find it’s way into a blog post.

I live in a fairly “religious” city. Religious in a way where everyone pays lip service to it and attends church on Sunday but (with a few exceptions) I’m not that convinced that anyone truly believes it. And considering the amount of people at the bars and getting smashed every weekend, I’m reasonably sure I’m right about this. However, the amount of admitted atheists — ones who actually used the word — so far as I know is two. Me and someone I just encountered the other day on Facebook.

Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of people who admitted they don’t believe in a personal deity. But they’d never use the word atheist. Not that I can fault them as I’ve only been “out” as an atheist since the beginning of this year really. And we ALL know that’s David Silverman’s fault and that he’s extremely proud of that. He’ll be the first to tell you that too.  🙂

Christopher Hitchens made a comment once that you don’t suddenly become an atheist so much as you gradually discover you’ve been one all along. In reflection, that’s about right. I can look down along a path and realize many of the things that got me realizing there was nothing to support the existence of any sort of deity. I was part of the Baptist church as far back as I can recall. There was the normal Sunday school bit and when I was around ten I was part of Pioneer Girls, a church run organization kind of like Girl Guides. I can still start a fire with the best of them.  When I was a teenager, I volunteered at the Sunday school helping out with arts & crafts, little kids would want to the one who got to sit on my knee for “story time” (Bible reading), etc. I was part of a group that would go around and sing Christmas carols at the retirement homes and was part of a teen group at the church that studied the Bible. I had pretty much drunk the Kool-aid.

But I can’t say that I ever really believed it. It was the stuff you were *supposed* to do. I heard people talking about their ‘personal relationship with God’ but whatever that was, I did not have it. And I worked at it, did the whole ‘accepting God’ bit that Baptists do…I could at one point recite a fair bit of scripture at the drop of a hat. But whatever they expected me to feel or experience certainly was never there.

When I was nineteen and had my near-death experience, it made me re-examine my life up to that point. I had stopped going to church a year or so before entirely but after that moment, I never went back. But I still believed in something, I just wasn’t sure what. So, I started to read. I read a lot of Freud around that time, a lot on Buddhism, did a lot of meditating and then discovered paganism and Wicca. I read everything I could get my hands on and eventually became a solitary practitioner as an eclectic pagan — one who believes that all pagan traditions carry an element of truth.  I read tarot, followed the Wheel of the Year and crafted my grimoire. Though I have to admit, having close neighbours makes dancing skyclad under a full moon…a bit of an impracticality if one wants to stay out of jail.

Pagans don’t so much believe that deities are “real” but more like deity is an energy that surrounds us and infuses everything. That there’s a sort of web of energy that connects all living things, and Wiccans cast their spells or prayers into the “web”.  That energy is personified in whatever pantheon one chooses to follow and what name you choose to invoke. Most practitioners these days follow Greek, Roman or Egyptian gods, mostly because they are the ones most are familiar with. But they never really resonated for me.  My pantheon was Celtic and my patron Goddess was Brigit, Goddess of fire, poetry and inspiration. I still do pay her honour on February 2nd every year by reading poetry by candlelight. Not a bad way to spend an evening all told. Old habits die hard I suppose.

But what Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins started…crumbled away when Lawrence Krauss entered my life for the first time. What mythology could stand up against that trio? I finally did realize that what I had felt all my life was not a journey to find religion but one to realize that said religion is a crutch. Something that makes us feel better, to feel comfortable much like a fairy tale. But sooner or later we all must grow up and put those fairy tales behind us.

It cast a lovely light…

I’ve been struggling all day for the words for the impact that Christopher Hitchens had on my life. I honestly don’t recall the first time I read his work, it seems like he was always in the background of my life with some kind of reporting from somewhere in the world. Though I knew the name, when I was younger I was never politically minded so I never paid much attention. But to be honest, I’m not sure of the person I’d be today if Hitch had not been a part of my life.

I know that I’ve written about the near-death experience I had back in ’89 that was the main cause of my first leaving organized religion in the past. But I don’t recall ever hearing the word or even considering myself an atheist until I first read Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” and followed it up with Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great”. Hitch especially sent me down a path of self-examination that eventually led me to the realization that atheism was the only course of reason and putting the mythology of religion in my past. He was also my first real introduction to many topics in world politics. When I became more politically aware starting in my 20s, I started to pay more attention to what Christopher was writing about. Most of what I came to know about American politics started with what he taught me.

I still turn to his books, articles and videos on a regular basis, be it his views on American and international politics, British history, atheism or just some that he wrote on everyday life — like how to make a proper cup of tea. 🙂  No one could phrase an argument or articulate a particular thought quite the way that he could.

His superb oratory mixed with intelligence, a razor sharp wit and a voice that commanded your attention, made him so incredibly unique that the loss of him is still felt so keenly today. Anyone whose life he touched can’t help seeing things in the news or in politics without wondering what Hitch would have had to say about it. He taught us how to look at things in a different manner than everyone else and not to just accept what the mainstream media was telling us. And his example was that of a man who was willing to be unpopular for standing by his convictions.

Hitch left us too early. There was too much left to say and no one to say it. This huge gap in all of our lives has not yet seen his like to fill it. I can only comment on how much he affected my life…my words are a pale shadow compared to the ones that could be uttered in their place.

We miss you Hitch.

 

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Oh…Canada…

I have to admit that most of the time I am incredibly proud to be Canadian. It’s a fairly quiet country, we just go about our business and try not to bother anyone. We love our healthcare system (most of the time), our national broadcaster (when Tories aren’t trying to defund it), there’s little unrest compared to the rest of the world and we don’t tend to get a lot of extreme weather (outside of our normal extreme weather). Overall, we’re a fairly left-leaning country that tries to take care of it’s citizenry.

However….

We have way too many people here that believe way too much woo for me not to be constantly embarrassed by my fellow Canadians. Every day I am confronted by someone who believes whatever piece of scientific bunk is being reported on by someone who has no idea what they are talking about. Or a story about another child dying because their hippie parents decided that homeopathy was better than seeing a doctor.Seriously people, oil of oregano is not going to replace antibiotics when your child is sick. And how can there still be those who can look at what is going on in the world and still deny human-caused climate change?

When did people stop being able to be critical thinkers? It’s not just here…look at what is happening south of my country in America. When did people cease to have the ability to truly assess information with skepticism? There was a time when “news” that you’d see in the National Enquirer was laughed at but now it seems that most people take every conspiracy theory or every bit of “alternative medicine” as fact without requiring any actual evidence. This absence of reason makes me sad for the future. I truly think we are failing future generations. I can only hope that they will have the skills to fix the problems the current generations will cause.

I just fail to understand why everyone suddenly so afraid of medicine…or science in general.  It seems to me as though we’ve lost some level of trust not only in those who are experts in their fields, but also in each other. In this day where communication is easier than it’s ever been…we all seem to be talking, while have lost the ability to listen to each other.

So…this happened today..

I had intentions of doing a real blog after work tonight but work was *so* long and the holiday shoppers are out now. What a tiring day to top off a tiring week of covering the entire department myself at work since the full timer was out sick. So I came home, had dinner, watched some Once Upon a Time and then made a cup of tea and came upstairs.

Remember last blog where I talked about Alex aka Cosmic Skeptic and his buddies Gabriel and Mattie from Swish? Well, Alex did a “day in the life” video a few days ago and turns out he works for a tea and coffee merchant – Cardew’s of Oxford. I have heard the name from time to time but never thought much of it. However, after the video I thought I’d look at their website and I found out that they ship worldwide. Naturally, being the rather large tea addict that I am (have you ever seen my tea cupboard?!?)…I had to place an order. Ok, it might have been a relatively large order based on a certain person’s recommendations for the most part. Go big or go home. One might as well make the most out of international shipping charges after all. It could be a really long winter. That’s my excuse and I stand by it.

At any rate, Alex wanted me to have them let him know when I ordered. I figured he’d draw a little smiley face or a little note on it or something. I really should have known better than that.  🙂

Now that I have been ‘outed’ as the head of the cheering section, don’t forget to subscribe to the antics of Alex and his friends over at Swish. Highly entertaining regardless of whether or not they are mailing you things, lol. I am rather looking forward to getting my arts & crafts project in the post. I might have to frame the bag…

And don’t forget

Cosmic Skeptic – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7kIy8fZavEni8Gzl8NLjOQ

Casualex – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRZMGycre5l0pQMSc7oOA1Q

Swish – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_M00p2NurFJVCgPc_XTwSQ

And Alex could use your support for his Patreon as well.

https://www.patreon.com/CosmicSkeptic

 

 

New Dogs, Old Tricks

In the past I have always seen YouTube as this wonderful repository of lectures and whatnot by scientists and thinkers — people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss being among those whose wit and intelligence that I value. Also a great place for music – bands like Walk Off The Earth do fantastic stuff on YouTube. When I came out as an atheist, I found it a valuable research to hear people like David Silverman, Aron Ra and Hemant Mehta speaking on activism in the community.

It wasn’t really until someone at work turned me on to Joe Santagato that I started paying attention to vloggers and “personal” pages on the channel. And over the last few months I’ve become rather fond of this incredibly intelligent seventeen year old…and his friends. Ok, that might sound a little odd considering I’m old enough to be his…older sister (be quiet) but honestly Alex J. O’Connor aka Cosmic Skeptic is a really great up-and-coming voice in the atheist community with just a natural charm and wit in front of a camera. He’s got a little of that “something” that Hitch had.  Maybe it’s the British Oxford thing, lol.  He’s a rather big science geek too which I can totally get behind.  It was actually through Hemant that I discovered him and I was among the first on board his Patreon. I have a screen grab to prove it and one day when he’s a famous author or somesuch, that thing will be golden.  😉  His buddies over at Swish (Gabriel and Mattie) are fairly hilarious. I’ve called them kind of a meeting of Monty Python and Jackass.

If you aren’t familiar with either of them, you really should be. Check them out on their assorted channels. You won’t regret it as they are an entertaining lot and you just *might* learn something. (And you should really subscribe while you’re there. Trust me…do it.)

Cosmic Skeptic – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7kIy8fZavEni8Gzl8NLjOQ

Casualex – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRZMGycre5l0pQMSc7oOA1Q

Swish – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_M00p2NurFJVCgPc_XTwSQ

At any rate…Alex posted this video recently…

So today, I thought I’d build on that and pick a couple (or so) books to recommend out of my moderately out of control library. This might become a semi-regular thing, we’ll see. To start it off, one of Richard Dawkins’ books that Alex didn’t mention in his video, is one of my top picks and is highly underappreciated compared to his other works. Climbing Mount Improbable grew out of his Christmas Lectures and it’s a wonderful and concise book on topics in evolution.

Next (naturally) would need to be a book by Lawrence Krauss who happens to be my favourite physicist (and yes, I can name several thank you). If you aren’t familiar with him…what the hell is wrong with you? The book I’m going to put at the top though isn’t his wonderful A Universe From Nothing, because anyone who knows him has likely read his most recent book. I’m going to recommend another one that I love, Atom. A look at the origins and journey of a single atom of oxygen in the universe. It’s a very deep, but incredibly beautiful read by a brilliant scientific mind.

Last for this post, is Wade Davis’ book The Clouded Leopard: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire. If you are unfamiliar with Wade’s work, he’s an anthropologist, ethnobotanist and historian who right now teaches at UBC here in Canada. And….he has the coolest job title on earth. National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. His books are explorations of indigenous cultures, travelogues and glimpses into times and places that are disappearing from our world. His writing is lovely prose that transports you to these moments that he cares about so deeply while he tells you why you should care about what others see as obscure topics. He’s written about everything from hallucinogenic frogs to drugs that turn people to zombies to the climbing of Mount Everest. This book of short stories is a wonderful introduction to his work.

We’ll leave it there for now. I’m going to have to try harder to find some discipline as my new motivational guru is making me feel like I need to up my game. (You know who you are…)