Thursday, January 25, 2007

The End of Consciousness

The funeral last weekend got me to ruminate on something I used to obsess about: death. When I was growing up, the thought that I'd cease to exist one day scared the hell out of me -- often to the point of paralysis. Of course, I first had to grasp the concept before I could be scared by it.

I remember with vivid clarity the moment I came to understand what it means to die. I was at a church camp in Huntsville during the summer between third and fourth grade. (When my family first got to the States, we went to church regularly. Being Buddhist didn't mesh with the fabric of our Americanized social circle. Let's put aside my current views on religion for another day.) At one of the morning Bible study sessions, the topic of discussion was the concept of heaven and what happens to your soul when you die. The whole thing just didn't make sense to me.

That night, I attended a mixer that was really intended for older kids. I felt out of place and went outside with one of my buddies -- a buddy whose family attended church not to fit in but because they were believers. (Or so it seemed to me anyway.) I figured he must've understood the Bible study session that morning better than I did, so I asked him to explain what happens to us when we die. I found his response unsatisfying, and I must've let it show, because he took off and went back inside.

As I stood there on my own, I stared up at the sky and saw the many stars staring back at me. Just then, it hit me. I'm not going to be able to remember any of this one day. I won't be able to think anymore one day. I'm going to lose consciousness forever one day. That realization scared me, but it also angered me, because it all seemed so senseless.

I don't remember so vividly what happened next. But I do remember lying in bed many a night afterwards praying to a God whose existence I doubted for his grace in not letting me die.

An even more devastating moment came a few years later, when I learned that the sun would one day cease to shine. Before that moment, I took some solace in the thought that, even when you die, your legacy stays behind -- whether in the memories of others, in the things that you've written or in the form of your children. When I learned that the sun would one day cease to shine, I understood that, one day, the world would cease to exist. That realization seemed even more senseless than the realization that I'd die some day.

I suppose it's little coincidence that I eventually discovered and grew to admire Camus. As he puts it: "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." I guess, even as a kid, I was already an existentialist.


This just came to me. I wish I had my heavily marked-up copy of The Stanger handy so that I could insert direct quotes, but paraphrasing will have to do. (I lent that copy to my sister, which essentially means that I sent it into a black hole.)

While Meursault was in prison, an official became annoyed with his godlessness and demanded to know what he wanted in the afterlife. Meursault's response?

To remember this one.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Tick Tock of Life

I had to go home to Houston to attend a funeral over the weekend. My mom called last week to tell me that my "uncle" from Kingsville died. He wasn't really my "uncle" in the blood relations sense, but that's beside the point.

I really don't know him very well, but I hold fond memories of him and his family. When I first got to the States, my sisters and I spent weeks each summer at their house in Kingsville. Those were the summers during which I was introduced to Americana. I ate meals with the family at the dining table. I swam in the backyard swimming pool. I splashed about in the waves at South Padre Island. I learned to play Uno. I bought a Nolan Ryan glove at the local Wal-Mart. In short, I became more American. For an FOB kid struggling to fit in at school, that meant a lot.

The funeral wasn't a somber occasion, which was refreshing. Most everyone was in good spirits -- a life-affirmation sort of mode. It was good to see all my "cousins" again. I hadn't seen most of them in years.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sirens in the Desert Beckon Again

The lineup for Coachella 2007 has been announced, and I'm concerned how we're gonna make this work.

I've known for a while that the festival would run for three days instead of two this year. When I got that news, I felt a sense of dread instead of excitement. Sure, an extra day means extra bands. But it also means that the talent pool each day will be even more diluted than it already was.

Aside from a concern about the talent, I was also concerned about getting everyone to show up for three days worth of sweating in the desert. It was hard enough last year as it was. I knew three days would be a near-impossible sell.

So the lineup comes out, and my sense of dread is affirmed. A couple of must-sees here and there sprinkled amongst a whole lot of "huh?" I mean, Willie Nelson? Makes even less sense than Madonna. I relented last year and dropped by the dance tent to catch a glimpse of Madonna. If I'm there for Day Three this year, you can bet that I won't be swinging by Willie's tent.

Of the bands on the roster this year, I'm most excited about seeing Interpol. I've been a huge fan for several years now, but I've somehow managed not to catch them live ... and they're from NYC.

I can still remember quite vividly the first time I heard about Interpol. It was March of 2003, and I was having brunch with someone who had just seen Interpol the night before. She raved and raved about them, but I had no idea what she was talking about. Part of the reason we were having brunch together was that I thought we had similar musical sensibilities. But her ebullient summation of the Interpol show made me realize that we weren't on the same page: she was living in the present whereas I was stuck in the 90's. I went home that afternoon and bought 10 new CDs. I think that was the beginning of the re-immersion process. Interesting how someone who drifts into your life for only a fleeting moment can have such a dramatic effect on the course of your development.

We'll see how Coachella 2007 shakes out.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

To Sell But Not Sell Out

Given my sensibilities, commercials have always been a good source for introductions to new bands. I think Volkswagen started the trend of featuring stylish, obscure music in its commercials back in 1997 or so. What was that tag line? "On the road of life, there are passengers, and there are drivers. Drivers wanted." If I remember correctly, there was one commercial each for the Golf, Jetta, Passat and Cabrio. One of the commercials featured "Sweetness and Light" by Lush. Another (I'm pretty sure it was the Cabrio) featured a catchy tune sung by a woman with a breathy voice. (Yeah. That was the "ethereal female vocals" era of my musical enlightenment.) The song was so catchy that I just had to know who sang it. One day, I decided to call 1-800-DRIVE-VW to try to find out. I didn't really expect to get anywhere. But, lo and behold, VW anticipated getting calls from wackos like me! Their operator was fully prepared to give the name of the artist and title for each track featured in their commercials. Of course, she also wanted my address so that she could send me a VW brochure. But that wasn't a big deal. I was so tickled by that point that she could've sold me a Passat over the phone. Anyhow ... that was how I discovered Ivy.

On occasion nowadays, I actually find myself a bit ahead of the curve, no doubt due to my recent re-immersion in music. When I saw the Honda Civic "Freedom" commercial, I was very excited to hear
The Go! Team's "Huddle Formation" in the background. I wasn't surprised to hear their music used in that context, given the peppiness of their songs. But the commercial itself isn't what prompted me to write this entry.
(That's Kevin Spacey doing the voiceover, by the way. More useless information for ya.)

I'd seen the Cadillac "Roll" commercial a few times, and each time I'd found the song in the background to be rather intriguing. Until a couple of days ago, I hadn't been intrigued enough to look up what it was. But I finally headed over to Adtunes to take a look. (Great site for figuring out the name of any song used in a commercial, TV show or movie.) Turns out the song is "Punkrocker" by Teddybears (featuring Iggy Pop). (So much for being ahead of the curve, huh?)

But let's get back to The Go! Team. Adtunes has a retrospective on its homepage called "Top Ad Music of 2006," and No. 4 on the list is an entry called "It Didn't Stop The Go! Team."

The Go! Team band founder Ian Parton claims he doesn't like licensing music for ads. "I think music should be kept special, and I don't think selling it for a commercial is a good way to do that." So why is The Go! Team song "Huddle Formation" in a Honda Civic "Freedom" commercial as part of the Honda "Reverse your thinking" campaign? The band offers an explanation in their official forum.

Here's the explanation.

This is a fair comment and I knew people would be disappointed (including me)

certainly no change of heart - I hate bands who do adverts. I've turned down lots in the past - forgoing potentially lots of money. It got to the point where the people who publish go team songs were getting so fucked off that being dropped was looking very likely - they weren't making any money. theres a limit to how many times people will take a No.

I'm not worried about fucking people off but the trouble is that for the second album we need a publishing company to clear the samples (which is what a publishing company does) before it gets released to avoid the mistake of the first album. It would be a serious handicap to have an album full of uncleared samples.

basically this ad was a concession so that there would be someone to clear the samples. Hypocritical i know but its a tricky thing to navigate through when you make sample based music. it's a minefield.

Quite refreshing to see a band respond to the concerns of its fans. I feel for bands like The Go! Team. Their fans (myself included) often subscribe to an overly romanticized indie ethos that entails an irrational scorn for commercial success. Why should The Go! Team have to justify their licensing of "Huddle Formation" to Honda?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Veritable Blizzard (Okay, Not Quite)

It finally snowed today! Sure, it only lasted for a minute. Maybe two. But when it came down, it came down hard. Okay. Perhaps it was just a light flurry. But it looked ominous. Or maybe my perspective was a bit skewed given the number of months I've gone without seeing the white stuff. I'm just glad I caught the fleeting scene. (Had I been at the office, I would've surely missed it. But I happened to be working from home this morning.)

Sunday, January 7, 2007

It's Still Home

I've really gotta be more timely with the postings. You know how sometimes you get a message from someone with whom you're not close and you don't respond right away, but the thought of responding lingers at the back of your mind? As more time passes, the inertia that needs to be overcome to respond becomes greater and greater until it seems almost insurmountable. (At least that's what you convince yourself.) After a couple of weeks, you surmise that you can't respond with a short, "Hey, nice to hear from you." With the passage of that much time, you really should have an essay ready, no? (Either that or a handy bout of pneumonia so that you'd at least have a halfway decent excuse for the delay in responding.) And then the thought of writing that essay overwhelms you, and you let things drift into oblivion. Well, that's what almost happened to this entry ... sort of.

I meant to write quite a few entries while I was back in Texas over Christmas and New Year's. (I'm always meaning to write, among other things.) But I got distracted. (And I'm always so easily distracted.) It seems odd to write about New Year's a full week after the fact, but ... well, why should it?

For the first time in a long while, I had an extremely enjoyable time back home. No irrational flare-ups from any family members. No persistent obligations to shuttle from house to house to yet another house. No incessant screaming from the kids. (Well, there was that trip to Toys 'R Us, but I brought that on myself. I took my niece and nephews there and told them that they could have whatever they wanted. Poor kids were so overwhelmed that they couldn't figure out what to get. They left annoyed and empty-handed.) Even stayed up one night until 3:00 having a thoughtful conversation with my parents.

And I had the occasion to experience a couple of long-delayed firsts. My oldest sister invited me out for drinks. After I got through the initial paranoia of being mistaken for a couple (it's happened a few times), I had fun. On Christmas night, my cousin visiting from L.A. invited me and a buddy of mine out for drinks with him and his friends. I didn't get home until 5:00. (Those crazy kids. Put us fogies to shame. And who knew such diversion is available in Houston on Christmas night?) So, what are the firsts? I'd never gone out for drinks with any of my sisters or cousins. That kind of thing happens when you go through the first 24 years of your life without drinking.

When Thursday rolled around, I drove up to Dallas with a couple of friends. (But not before my mom not-so-subtlely pointed out that I'd be spending more days in Dallas than Houston. Sometimes, there's just no pleasing her, I tell ya.) Spent the first night at a dingy, yet character-endowed, bar where I couldn't help but feel self-conscious holding a Stella while most everyone else was holding a Bud. Oh well. Whattaya gonna do? (On the bright side, each Stella only set me back $4. That's Texas for ya.)

The next night, we stayed in at a friend's place and played a round of Pop Cranium. (Not as fun as the original Cranium, I must say.) Girls versus boys, and the boys won handily. (Of course!) The night after was spent at an outdoor terrace bar that presented a soothing view of the skyline. (Who knew such places exist in Dallas?) That was followed by a trip to a rather stylish gay bar. (Didn't know that such places exist in Texas, did you?) Quite amusing.

And then New Year's Eve rolled around. Probably the best I've had. But that's not saying much, since I almost never go out for NYE. Before this NYE, the most entertaining one I had was from the year before -- spent at a spacious loft in the Village with a peculiar mix of people that included several who were decked out in latex bodysuits. But that wasn't so much entertaining as it was a unique opportunity to see the ultra-weird side of NYC that you usually only glimpse on late-night cable TV.

NYE in Dallas was entertaining in a more basic way. Photos will do a more efficient job than words in describing the mood.

From New Year's Eve Weekend in Dallas

(Hmm ... I think I may have just violated the spirit of my self-imposed rule against identifying anyone by name in this forum. Oh well. It was a an arbitrary rule anyway. Besides, I still haven't identified anyone by name.)

Before the main event, we stopped by a get-together at the three-story condo of an Internet entrepreneur. (Yeah. It's as fancy as it sounds.) Right before the somewhat large group dispersed, the host made everyone give a toast to what he or she was thankful for from the year that was coming to an end. At first, I thought it was a rather hokey exercise. But it turned out to be quite amusing and sincere. I was thankful for good friends who showed me how fun Dallas can be.

So that was the holidays in Texas.

Oh ... I almost forgot about the food, which is perhaps one of the most important aspects of any trip I take. Had the requisite Christmas Eve feast of turkey, stuffing, sushi and japchae. (We're Asian, after all.) And there were heaping helpings of mom-made beef noodles (her signature dish), dumplings, fried rice and fried chicken. Authentic Tex-Mex. Two visits to Taco Cabana. (Sure, it's fast food, but it's yummy! Usually.) Barbecue. And a big ol' blob of chicken fried steak. My arteries begged for mercy, but I had none to give.

The Climate God Must Be Drunk

What a strangely glorious day. 70+ degrees in January. I like incongruity.

After lunch, I looked out the window and realized that a bike ride was in order. Never thought that I'd be out for a ride in January. Plenty of others had the same idea. The promenade was more clogged today than many days during the summer.

Fun as it was, I still rather miss snow.