Rich Wilhelm

Archive for November, 2016|Monthly archive page

Denounce Hate. Begin with Your Own.

In Philosophy/Creativity on November 22, 2016 at 2:49 pm


President-Elect Donald Trump is being called on to denounce hate crimes and threats made in his name, and to some extent he has done this. Some people might argue that these actions are not Trump’s responsibility, but when your name is being spray painted next to a swastika or along side any sort of slur or brought up in this kind of meeting, there’s a fairly good chance that it’s been your rhetoric that has inspired that activity.

So, I think we need to keep Trump’s feet to the fire on this thing. If hateful events continue, we need to keep reminding him that these people are doing these things in his name and that it is just plain wrong. Period.

At the same time, maybe we should all use this opportunity to reevaluate our own relationship with the word “hate.” It is a strong, powerful word, and I think it ought to be reserved for people and activities that truly embody evil. To that end, I have three suggestions:

  1. The use of “haters” as a synonym for “someone who does not explicitly agree with all of my actions and statements, with my lifestyle, and with my own general way of me being me” needs to be retired. People ought to be able to express disagreement without being proclaimed a “hater.” I blame Taylor Swift, though I know she didn’t originate this particular use of “hater.” But, I still like you OK anyway, Taylor.
  2. No matter how much we might harbor a visceral dislike for a certain song, movie, book, person, etc., maybe we ought to not extravagantly proclaim how much we “hate” the thing in question. Yes, indeed, there are things that I truly dislike, but going on about how much I “hate” this thing just seems silly and petty these days.
  3. Find the things you love and just pour all your focus into those things. Life is too short to waste on stuff you hate.

Case in point: for two decades, I have ranted and raved to anyone who would listen about how much I hated the song at the top of this entry. I hate the music. I hate the lyrics. I hate the song title. I hate the band’s name. I hate that goofy hat. Etc.

No more. I am formally denouncing my hatred of “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. To 4 Non Blondes, I say, don’t look for “What’s Up” on my playlists anytime soon. But sorry for all the hate!

Retiring my “What’s Up” hate might seem silly, but given the amount of real, actual hatred going in this country, and around the world, I will no longer expend the energy necessary to “hate” a silly pop song. More importantly, now that I’ve struck down my hatred of this song, I’m going to try to move forward, and figure out where else hatred might be making me less of a human being than I could be. And, hopefully, I’ll continue to denounce the real, hardcore hatred that infects us all.

That’s what’s up with me.

MonkDay 002: Listening to Monk, Thinking About Devo

In MonkDays, Thelonious Monk on November 22, 2016 at 6:40 am



MonkDay 002  11/22/16

It is now just past midnight, Tuesday morning. The whole point of MonkDay is to listen to Thelonious Monk on Mondays and I did not do that yesterday. But I’m listening to Monk now and maybe his Thelonious Monk Trio and Monk albums, both originally released in 1954, will help explain two oddly thrilling existential moments I had yesterday. It’s worth a shot.


Oddly Thrilling Existential Moment #1: Driving around Phoenixville yesterday morning, I heard a story on the radio about 26 Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film, a new book written by Alexandra Zapruder, the granddaughter of Abraham Zapruder, who filmed the shattering 26-second home movie of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Alexandra was asked a question about how she would summarize the importance of the film and her answer went beyond the historical and shocking aspects of the scrap of film to touch on the larger issue of existence itself. A man is riding in a car with his wife on a beautiful day. Seconds later, the man is essentially gone and the moment of this cataclysmic disappearance is captured to be viewed and experienced in perpetuity. And that’s it. “That’s life,” as Frank Sinatra noted. And death. All at once.

Of course that’s what the Zapruder film is about, but I guess I’d never considered it in such stark, unyielding terms before. I went on about my business, tending to the minutia of my life, even as I contemplated the yawning existential black hole that is the Abraham Zapruder film.

Oddly Thrilling Existential Moment #2. Hours later, I’m driving along a dark road on the outskirts of West Chester. Meeting J and J, two of my oldest friends, for dinner. We’ve known each other for 36 years, though J and J’s friendship stretches even further back.

J and J and I had agreed to meet at a restaurant equidistant from us. I was well on my way when I left Route 202 and headed down the road where I thought the restaurant was. As it happened, I was wrong about this, which is how I came to be driving on that dark road.

I was listening to Devo, specifically their song, “Gut Feeling,” as I drove along, trying to figure out where I was headed. If you only know Devo from its one big hit, “Whip It” and from its distinctive flower pot-shaped “energy dome” hats, what I am about to say may not make sense but trust me on this.

“Gut Feeling” is about as far removed from “Whip It” as you can imagine. I’ve noticed before what a dark song it is, with a long instrumental introduction that leads to vaguely paranoid lyrics culminating in a chorus of “I got a gut feeling,” wailed over and over to chilling effect.

Last evening, that effect was absolutely devastating to me. As the instrumental built up, I could feel a sense of dread building up in me. It is not an unfamiliar dread, as I sometimes have anxiety attacks. But this time, it was coupled with that very specific sense of disorientation that I, and seemingly many others, have felt since the presidential election. That feeling of “what the actual hell is going to happen next” that seems to crop up with each new tale of the transition-in-progress.

In the midst of this, I suddenly remembered exactly where the restaurant at which I was meeting J and J was, and that knowledge helped erase the sense of dislocation I was feeling. But what was truly amazing to me was that, along with the dread, I began to feel the visceral thrill of simply being alive and present in that moment driving on the dark and unfamiliar road, feeling the intensity of Devo’s music, and suddenly realizing that I knew how to get to my destination. This all came together in a matter of seconds and jolted me into a moment of hyper-reality that I can’t even come close to adequately explaining. But what was great about it was that that core black hole of dread was so thoroughly accompanied in that moment with the hope and thrill of simply being alive that there was no room for the crippling ennui that lives so often with the dread.

Soon after that moment, I met up with J and J. After engaging in relative small talk, we launched into a wide-ranging, open-minded, open-ended dissection of the election. Without getting into who voted for whom, I can say it not a conversation in which we were nodding in placid agreement with each other the entire time, but one in which each of us was deeply engaged, and attempting to listen to the others, as well as get our points across to the others. In short, it felt like a way, for me at least, to begin to deal with all of this.

It was also the kind of conversation in which I think it became clear to each of us why we still choose to try to make some kind of time for each other, at least now and then, so many years after we met.

And so, here we are. I will leave you below with Devo and Monk. Devo’s “Gut Feeling,” of course, but Monk’s “Little Rootie Tootie.” Listen for the three discordant notes that repeat throughout this otherwise pleasant jazz tune. Those three notes seem more than a little oddly existential to me. But what do I know?

Finally, remember this: if you have read this, you are currently experiencing the thrill of being alive. What are you going to do about it?






MonkDay 001

In MonkDays, Thelonious Monk on November 15, 2016 at 12:34 am

MonkDay 001, 11/14/16

I am a fan of the brilliant jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. There is something about his music that gets deep into my soul, as great music will do. Oddly though, Monk’s work burrows deep into my brain as well. It’s hard to explain, but I can practically feel the neurons firing up when I listen to Monk.

I often listen to Monk albums on Mondays, or as I like to call them, MonkDays. Again, I don’t quite understand the logic or science behind this, if there is any, but Monk’s languid ballads and twisty-turny upbeat numbers are the perfect soundtrack for me to reset my brain for the week ahead.

After all the tumult of last week–and I will not be naming names and events here–a solid blast of Thelonious seemed to be exactly what I needed to move forward. In fact, I’m thinking that a weekly Monday evening “MonkDay” blog entry might be just what I need, for at least the next four years. But again, I don’t necessarily plan to get all political here. Philosophical, yeah. Political, probably not. At least not directly.

One unusual result of the Event from Last Week, is that many people seem to be doing some soul-searching. I’m thinking my MonkDays will be a vehicle for my soul searching. You’re welcome to join me if you like.

On that note, I will close for now, but not before noting the Thelonious albums I listened to today:

Genius of Modern Music Vol 1, Blue Note, 1956

Genius of Modern Music Vol 2, Blue Note, 1956

Monk’s Dream, Columbia, 1963

And, finally, here’s “Epistrophy,” from Genius of Modern Music Vol 1:




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