Jabba Be Thy Name

If you’re brave enough to return for a third week of this bullshit, I’m moving onto religion and the ongoing battle between absolutes and relatives in Star Wars. God (pun intended) I’m gonna be rambling on for a long ass time. Though I do think I finally figured out why I was always so afraid of Jabba The Hutt. And the reasoning is simpler than I thought; there is both good and evil in the world, and sometimes, you can swing from one direction to the other and back. At least, in our world and the world of the force, you can spiral up or down and choose your fate. I mean, even Satan wasn’t always a bad guy, and yes, once upon a time, Hulk Hogan and Darth Vader were good.

But there’s another outlying element that needs to be addressed in an absolute, behind-the-scenes light: the criminals. Beings like Jabba The Hutt, whom were never good, never aspired to be good and existed outside the boundaries of the fight between traditional moral good and moral evil, solely for the betterment of themselves. Jabba commits moral evil, lives in a depraved, decadent manner, and never really wanted to make himself a better, well, hutt. And I guess if we’re going to take into account the symbolism of Jabba, his appearance, his actions and his court really don’t fit neatly into the whole good vs. evil argument. He existed outside the realm of relative religious definitions, because he symbolically carried himself as his own god. And I swear, I just stumbled onto that concept at home reading about philosophy by myself on a Saturday night (but hey, it’s 21 degrees out.) Jabba The Hutt was Rasputin in appearance, David Koresh in theology, and though I hate to bludgeon my own NJ heritage, Tony Soprano in methodology. He didn’t need a god because he believed himself to be a god, and for 600 years, he was pretty fucking good at it.

There was good reason to be afraid of Jabba The Hutt when one existed in or around the “world” of Jabba The God; he decided whether you lived or died. And the symbolism just gets deeper, because Jabba goes to lengths to create falsified, monotheistic deities in his own home. Let’s say you’re a Jew or a Christian on this Earth, you might have a mezuzah nailed to your door frame if you’re a Jew, or a crucifix on the wall if you’re a Christian. Now let’s say you’re Han Solo, and you “sacrifice” Jabba’s cargo so that you’re not caught by the Empire. In Jabba’s world, regardless of the circumstance, this is a moral evil perpetrated by Han Solo against god. The ultimate payback from Jabba is to suspend Han Solo’s body, in a state of not life and not death (much like the crucified Jesus) on his wall, so that himself and his court can basically scoff at it. I don’t know about you, but every time I hear Jabba laugh at Han Solo’s lifeless body hanging on the wall, I imagine him thinking, “You will have no god before me.” So as to say, “You should’ve been worrying about me before you worried about yourself, jettisoned your cargo and escaped from an Imperial blockade.” (And in retrospect, I’m amazed that Christianity wasn’t more outraged at Star Wars…)

No one stood a chance against Jabba The Hutt. He even attested to not being affected by Jedi mind tricks; it was below him. And the symbolism of his assumed status goes even further. Jabba’s palace wasn’t his own. He stole it from monks. But the monks didn’t leave the palace. They simply moved their operations underneath him and let whatever was going to happen above them happen, essentially taking a position as a symbolic hell in the world of Jabba, alongside the rancor and Jabba’s prisoners. Jabba took the only inherent good in that palace and symbolically “turned” it bad, a key component of religious influence. And if that’s not enough, Jabba wasn’t male or female; he was asexual, which is sometimes attributed to deities throughout the all-encompassing world of religion.

We all should know what happens from here. Ultimately, the pantheism of the Force descends upon Jabba’s palace, leveling Jabba’s contrived omniscience, displacing his worshippers and eventually returning the palace to the rightful owners. I don’t think it was meant to be a religious battle, though it does seem to become a sort of Jonestown in the Star Wars universe. Pantheism (jedi) descends upon Jabba’s palace, distort/destroys the Jabba-enforced theism of the court, which in turn pushes Han away from atheism, whereby they come to join forces with the polytheism of the Ewoks, in order to destroy the evil anti-pantheism of the Empire and Sith.

It sounds so poetic in the cinema, though I don’t think we’re up to it in real life were a true anti- ever to arise…

Altering Scopes of Forgiveness According to Lando Calrissian

Sorry in advance, this is just what happens when it’s too cold to leave the house and I end up watching Star Wars. I’ve always been interested in the role that forgiveness played throughout Star Wars, and how the scope of its very nature was played out. In some instances, no big deal, get back on this spaceship and let’s kick some ass. In other cases, it doesn’t exist at all.

To begin with, I gotta point my finger at Lando Calrissian. Yes, Lando was forced to help the Empire capture Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca as bait for Luke Skywalker, which he immediately went along with. And yes, Lando sat idly by and watched as Han was frozen in Carbonite. But he revolted as soon as he realized that his deal wasn’t going to be as copacetic as expected, freeing Chewbacca and Leia and trying to apprehend Han’s frozen body back from Boba Fett and the Empire. Forgiveness, in this case, is swift. Chewbacca puts a chokehold on Lando, he gasps for air and struggles to tell them that they can still save Han, and all is forgiven in an instant. I realize that time was of the essence, and that Leia and Chewbacca were already out of options, but the trust they immediately placed into Lando’s hand always seems off-setting to me. After all was said and done, and Luke is ultimately rescued by the crew as they escape Cloud City, what was the atmosphere like on the Millennium Falcon? Lando knows he fucked up pretty good though, but he seems to want to right the wrongs he helped to institute, which is only possible if a whole lot of forgiveness and trust is bestowed on him on behalf of Leia, Chewbacca and Luke.

It brings to mind Plato’s Cave Allegory. So there’s this cave, and people live inside of it and only see shadows of what they think the real world is like. Then something happens to one of the cave dwellers and they’re rescued, and able to leave the cave. But along the way, the cave dweller realizes that his former reality is not what it seemed. It’s changing, becoming more defined, and since he’s now come into the light, he must confront a new reality. The light hurts his eyes, but he advances still, ultimately embracing a new reality, leaving ignorance behind. Not many people want to do this in their lives. I don’t even think Lando wanted to, but through a series of twists and turns, he’s forced to leave his cave (Cloud City), embrace a new reality (fighting the good fight) and change his ways (going from smuggler/pirate/greasy politician to General in the Rebel Alliance.) And in looking back on the events that transpired, Lando realizes his weaknesses and ultimately changes for the better. The cave rescuers in this case, Leia and Chewie, actually aid Lando’s transformation by being so benevolent with their forgiveness and trust. It’s a common theme in Star Wars. I think it’s a common theme in mythology actually. If only regular life could be so simple.

But there’s another form of forgiveness to address. Actually, the lack thereof. From both Darth Vader and the Emperor. There is no forgiveness in their moral universe. When someone fucks up, they might get another chance not to fuck up, but it’s also one step closer to their imminent death. It’s a weird paradox though (and I’m gonna stop after this) because if you think about the word ‘forgiveness’ and what it implies, then you automatically account for the existence of evil. The lack of forgiveness on the part of the dark side is a proponent of their evil, which could not exist if not for the principle of forgiveness. And so on and so forth.

Basically, it’s a balance created by the existence of both good and evil in the Star Wars universe. There’s this one group of people, trying to become better people, rescuing themselves and others from the cave of shadows, practicing noble acts such as forgiveness; and there’s this other group of people that are devolving away from humanity, destroying everything in their path, disavowing forgiveness, sucking whatever they can into the cave of shadows. Lando went down that dark cave, but came back out, and changed for the better, ultimately helping to destroy a major component of the Empire’s evil in the end. And if I wanna be really literal about it, I could also say that Lando pilots the Millennium Falcon into a “cave” in the Death Star, destroys the core, or “evil” of the cave, and pilots the ship out of the “cave” in just the nick of time, helping good to triumph in the universe.

Man, it’s amazing what Billy Dee Williams, a guy that once did ads for Colt 45 malt liquor, can teach you about the world of philosophy….

My Idiot, Bumbling Stormtrooper

stormtrooper.jpgI’ve always had a problem with the first words Princess Leia speaks in person from Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope.

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” she says, directed at Luke Skywalker, who’s dressed in a stormtrooper disguise and trying to rescue her.

Why is this a problem for me? It’s not because I’m an advocate for the rights of short people, and it’s not because she’s about to be terminated and should’ve been thinking more, well, deeper thoughts about the galaxy and the afterlife. I simply think she got the adjective wrong (even if Luke Skywalker was a bit shorter than the average stormtrooper. Six inches to be exact it turns out: Stormtrooper Height: 1.83m tall, 6ft., Luke Skywalker Height: 1.72m, 5ft 6in)

I just always thought, “Aren’t you a little smart for a stormtrooper?” sounded better.

I say this for a variety of reasons, most of which reflect upon the dumbing down of Imperial troops between Episodes Three and Four. But also giving a nod to Princess Leia’s obvious wise-assed mouth. Throughout the second (read better) half of the series, Princess Leia aptly proves that she can talk shit with the best of them, enduring ridicule from Han Solo, slimy come-ons from Jabba The Hutt and straight up psychological abuse from the likes of Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. But she holds it down as well as any intergalactic fallen senator’s adopted daughter could be expected, and then some.

So in her infinite wisdom on the war of words a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, she should’ve known better than to think that calling a befuddled clone “short” might hurt one’s feelings. It’s alright to be short. The force doesn’t have an age or height restriction. And call me optimistic about the culture of clones, but I don’t really think an entire legion of people that look and act identically are going to be picking on each other’s height. Who knows though? Maybe some of the clones were copies of other copies, and maybe the odd clone did come out a little f’d up.

But there’s another tier to my theory on Princess Leia’s misplaced insult. Stormtroopers were dumb, incredibly weak-minded undividuals that never ever accomplished what was set out in front of them. I’ve compiled a small list of examples to illustrate this fact.

1) Find two droids on a desolate desert planet with a “No Droids” rule in the bars: FAIL

2) Discover those same two droids, interrogate their owners on a busy Mos Eisley street and let them landspeed away free: CHECK

3) Guard the Millennium Falcon in your OWN space station, make sure no one hijacks it: FAIL

4) Stand by and watch your commander Darth Vader battle his age-old enemy Obi-Wan Kenobi but idly do nothing about it: CHECK

5) Make sure a ragged band of under-financed farmers does not destroy your ultra-modern, intergalactic space station: FAIL

And that’s just Episode Four alone. I’m not even gonna mention the many times they were taken out by bipedal teddy bears with wooden spears in Episode Six. My point is simple: Stormtroopers never accomplished anything. They were the Empire’s utterly useless, pot-smoking older son that couldn’t hold down a job, hated school and wore a denim jacket to school. And owing more credence to the copy of a copy theory, they were getting dumber by the day, or parsec, however you wanna measure it. So Princess Leia must’ve known this, or must’ve at least suspected it, or must’ve wanted to call someone “stupid” at one point or another in her short life thus far. Especially if she was on the Imperial chopping block. The time was now.

Fortunately, Luke Skywalker was in a rush to rescue her, and maybe just a little hard-skinned too. And fortunately, his aspirations were to become a jedi, not a basketball player.

I still think my line works better though.

A Post-Hardcore Band From Philly Named Franklin

selftitled_cover250.jpgThe Internet search plight of Franklin is simple. The band known as Franklin, a post-hardcore act from Philadelphia, existed way before Google, forming in the mid ’90s and calling it quits before the dawn of the new millennium. The sound they crafted burned its way into the hearts of some that still might wanna listen, but if you Google the words “Franklin” and “Philadelphia,” or “Franklin” and “Music,” it’s next to impossible to find any links to the band. You’ll find plenty of links to the more well known Franklin named Ben in the Philadelphia area along with the more well know Franklin named Aretha, but nothing about the mid ’90s post-hardcore band that produced a handful of singles and two full-length albums. And that’s why I’m writing this.

Franklin’s 1999 self-titled album, on the now-defunct Tree Records, was at least ten years ahead of its time, combining experimental elements of dub and reggae into its brand of DC post-hardcore. It was rhythmic, technical, loud and daring at a time when every other band in the world wanted to cry about ex-girlfriends and lost childhoods. And when the label died, the album went out of print. So I’m doing something I don’t normally do. I’m sharing it online. Not in the hopes of ripping off a defunct label or a defunct band, but to share an album that I believe is truly groundbreaking. That is if you can somehow find your way to this entry in a Google search.

As a live band, I don’t remember much about Franklin. I saw them a few times in basements, but was probably too worried about what other people thought about me to truly enjoy the music. I think some of the members of the band (which consisted of members Ralph Darden, Brian Sokel, Greg Giuliano and Joshua Mills) also helped out Atom and His Package from time to time. And I know that members of Franklin later went on to play in Chicago via Philly band The Jai-Alai-Savant, and that Darden also DJ’s under the moniker DJ Major Taylor (a nod to the song of the same name from Franklin I assume…) But for a brief time in Philadelphia in the mid to late ’90s, the band known as Franklin produced a groundbreaking body of work. Something that sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did ten years ago.

So what did we learn today? If you plan to form a band that’s going to release some obscure genre-breaking music in your short career, make sure to name your band something that’s easy to find on the Internet. Even the Ralph Darden Experience would’ve been easier to find in today’s big world of the Internet. I can’t blame Franklin though. They were around before Google, and if there’s any justice in the world, their music will be around to see its end.

Download the S/T album here.

Antimony

antimony.jpgA long time, there was a band from the DC area called Circus Lupus, who put out two full-lengths along with a Joan Jett produced single on Dischord Records. The band played a spastic, sometimes messy mix of math rock/punk, and became most notable for vocalist Chris Thomson’s snarled voice. I think I saw them once when I was very young and impressionable and thought, “That music was crazy, but people with hair dyed orange is even crazier.” (Yes, times have changed.) Anyways, like all things DC and Dischord with the exception of Lungfish, Circus Lupus broke up. I don’t know why, but it seems to have been a split between Thomson and the remaining three quarters of the band (Chris Hamley-guitar, Seth Lorinczi-bass, Arika Casebolt-drums), who went on to form Antimony. It was, essentially, the music of Circus Lupus without Thomson’s vocals, which were replaced by a muffled, borderline spoken word soundtrack provided by guitarist Chris Hamley. I got to see the new band once, in a record store in Arlington, VA I think, and was definitely into it. The band eventually headed back to the studio and recorded a full-length produced by J. Robbins of Jawbox and mixed by Ian MacKaye. And then the inevitable happened again; Antimony broke up. I had Phantom Itch once upon a time, but lost it many moons ago. Luckily, I found a link to download it here, and I was very glad to find it again. The music is 14 years old, but it’s stood the test of time very well. I think I actually appreciate it more than Circus Lupus since the very math-driven music isn’t overshadowed by the vocals. But wow, what a terrible album cover…

Top Nine Records

It’s been a while and I almost don’t even feel like coming back, but the night is cold and my writing time has been sparse at best lately, so I guess I should get back to it. The past few days have been really, really nice though. No computer, no Internet, no iPod, not too much talking, seasons 1-4 of The Office thanks to On Demand and not much else. I don’t know about most of you out there, but if you spend as much time on the computer as me, once a year 10-day breaks from the computer and the Internet are kinda awesome. I should actually put this on hold till later in the week when I have to be on the computer doing other things, but oh well.

Anyway, since everyone else and their mother is doing year-end best of 2008 record lists, I figured I’d do the same. I only have nine from 2008 though. They are as follows, with links when applicable, and some words where it’s not.

Joan of Arc Boo Human (Polyvinyl Records) According to iTunes, I played this record 55 times in 2008. It arrived in early spring, and its emotionally bare, surrendered content animated the arrival of more sunlight, warmer days and greener trees. It’s a bit of a juxtaposition to the content of the record (depicting the linear break down of a relationship, from betrayal to acceptance to finally moving on), but this record continues to keep me pretty warm on cold days. And it demonstrates that contradictions aren’t always a bad thing. That’s all I’ll say. www.myspace.com/joanfrc for some songs.

These Arms Are Snakes Tail Swallower and Dove (Suicide Squeeze Records) TAAS don’t just espouse upon a topic or offer commentary; they jump headfirst into the rigors of life and anthropologize from the inside out. To the listener, it could be either cathartic or therapeutic. And I think that’s the great strength of These Arms Are Snakes. They might not realize it, but they’ve got some of life’s real answers cryptically hidden in their music. This is their third and possibly best album to date. www.myspace.com/thesearmsaresnakes for the goods

Make Believe Going To The Bone Church (Flameshovel Records)- This album almost didn’t happen due to the band almost breaking up. And the emotional ride that encompassed the band’s hiatus becomes evidenced through the band’s new willingness to take turns, step out of the way and compliment each other. In simpler terms, the almost break-up of the band has allowed for the collective members to appreciate each other’s artistic input. And however eclectic each member’s input might be, Make Believe finds a technically dense, abstract and challenging way to make it work. It’s not that much unlike a functional relationship. Problems arise and people figure out a way to move past them. In the end, the problem is solved and everyone learns a little more understanding about each other. www.myspace.com/makebelieve

Paint It Black New Lexicon (Jade Tree)- Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, it’s a thunderous and confrontational expedition through the grips of faith; questioning authority in all of its subtle forms, cast over a painstaking array of bass and drum heavy hardcore thrash. But this isn’t your everyday hardcore record. New Lexicon takes to task the very subculture it arose from, examining ritual, meaning and tradition. And through this process, Paint It Black has created a document of music that defies the abstract and challenges the absolute. www.myspace.com/paintitblack

Young Widows Old Wounds (Temporary Residence Ltd.)- Combining the darkest moments of Nirvana’s In Utero, PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, Fugazi’s Red Medicine and The Jesus Lizard’s Goat, Young Widows has created a menacing blend of hypnotic, pummeling rock. Now I know that combination sounds as unlikely as one could imagine, but Young Widows makes it work while also laying claim to loudest release of 2008. Actually, loud would be an understatement; Young Widows instead destroys. With rhythms that could wake the dead, the Albini-esque brand of sludge created within might just be the chaotic stepchild of Big Black’s Atomizer. www.myspace.com/youngwidows

Capillary Action So Embarrassing (Pangaea Recordings)- The most, fucked up, frantically weird but awesome record I’ve heard all year. Crazy time signatures, screaming plus harmonizing, unexpected turns at every false corner, total chaos in an off Broadway meets Daughters kinda way. And of the places this music could come from, it’s Philadelphia, which is the only thing that makes sense about Capillary Action. www.myspace.com/capillaryaction

Russian Circles Station (Suicide Squeeze Records)- Russian Circles has learned to balance tension with ease, ushering their songs in and out of an unknown instrumental middle ground between haunting beauty and crushing metal. They’re not Explosions in the Sky. And they’re not Pelican either. But they’re ALSO not a hybrid of the two. Station, at times, is angry, cathartic without being formulaic, beguiling and serene. I guess the best thing I could say about Russian Circles is that they aren’t going to be making the jump into soundtrack land anytime soon. They’re too busy challenging conjecture to ever get stuck on one emotion (or note) for too long. www.myspace.com/russiancircles

Titles Up With The Sun (Welcome Home Records)- Up With The Sun almost starts on an upbeat note, but through the right amount of depressive themes and pedal steel, quickly gets down to the heart of the matter in a Centro-Matic meets Westerberg kinda way. Lead guitarist/vocalist Brad Amorosino’s simple but shuddered delivery pulls the listener in, baring the humble and honest skeleton of a life that’s been let down more than a few times, strengthened only by the band’s innate ability to balance a jangly melody with both uncertain discord and promising endnotes. More simply put, Up With The Sun animates an honest human experience. www.myspace.com/titles

Dianogah Qhnnnl (Southern Records)- I actually just got this in December and it’s a late arrival to the list, but it’s awesome. I actually rode to Dianogah covering a Big Black song in an old Props flatland video, and hadn’t heard much of them in a long time. But they’re still at it, still with two bass players and no guitar (well, maybe a little thrown in there.) I’m a slow listener and I still need time with this record to write more in depth about it, but I love what I know of it so far. www.myspace.com/dianogahband

And that about does it. I listened to a lot more than just these nine records in 2008. I guess that’s a given though. There were some Psychedelic Furs days, there were some old Cave In days, and there was even one Pink Floyd day. Anyways, happy new year and all that…