HAIM released a new album yesterday.
I’ve always had a soft spot for these Valley sisters since we discovered them at SXSW in 2013.
What struck me about their sound – at the time – was it flowed somewhere between Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, and Wilson Phillips. They were packaged almost too succinctly for the Coachella era, the Snapchat filters, Lena Dunham’s GIRLS… The hair, the irreverence, the mysterious middle sister Danielle who abstains from Instagram. Upstairs, I ran into Pharrell who said he was also keeping an eye on the trio. All the record execs were there that afternoon, salivating. HAIM was going to be big. Like Taylor Swift big.
But, not really.
I’ll admit that it’s felt a bit awkward since – like, they were dragged by the world’s momentum instead of their own. Maybe they got ahead of themselves. There were just too many people watching – an unfair amount of anticipation. And in that room, people tend to imagine their own paths to what success and stardom look like. Everyone had an idea as to what HAIM should be and play. But there’s one piece that was missing – it couldn’t be bought or bestowed. It was Time.
I think the band just needed time. They needed distance – to outrun that first explosive record. And now it sounds like they’re beginning once more, this time full and complete and settled… At their own pace. There is no hurry or haste.
I am so happy that I love this album. It really helps right now.
(Here are some more photos I shot of HAIM later that year at The Glass House in Pomona).
“Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. ”
– George Orwell, 1984
Scary and unpredictable and unknown
is also how
I describe my favorite theme park rides.
Scary and unpredictable and unknown
is how the first paragraph of every coming-of-age story begins.
Scary and unpredictable and unknown
is another way of saying
Exciting, different, change
but best of all
Scary and unpredictable and unknown
means anything is possible
You are scary and unpredictable and unknown too.
Been thinking why Chappelle’s “8:46” special was so powerful. I loved the way he pins the cultural narrative around George Floyd’s murder back to his own personal life. It makes a nonsensical, far-out storyline feel up-close, human, and painfully intimate. This is why Chappelle’s style works. He cuts through the fourth wall, he brings you right into the room.
Also, it was a performance but not performative. It was raw and honest and I believe every word he says. Such a marked contrast from those ensemble celeb videos, where you can tell the actors’ sentiments are scripted and rehearsed like they don’t know where their make-believe profession ends and reality begins. You just know that deep in their phones, there are hundreds of throwaway takes alongside their second-rate selfies. No, this is very much non-fiction and it’s happening all around us now. Dave Chappelle can be problematic, but you can always count on him to give you his unbridled opinion. And that’s what we need more of now, because it’s all too real.
More truthfulness. Even if it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant. We’ve been living under darkness and self-deception for so long…
“I’d rather be a hypocrite than the same person forever.”
– Ad-rock, Beastie Boys Story
The Beastie Boys were my first exposure to pop music. I was 5 years old, digging through my older cousin Eddie’s bedroom. There were die-cast Voltrons and Transformer Dinobots. There were also stacks of Sports Illustrated magazines, including the lusty swimsuit issues. Not only was I exposed to Playboy centerfolds in that room, but cassette tapes. Eddie slid “Licensed to Ill” into his boombox and played “Girls.” The sophomoric jock chorus and bouncy beat were easy to fall in love with as a Kindergartener. “Girls to do the dishes / to clean the bathroom…” We played that misogynistic song over and over in the afternoons, then washed it down with “Brass Monkey.”
When I was a teenager in the ’90s, I was once again introduced to Beastie Boys during the West Coast period of their album efforts. I loved “Check Your Head” with the Haze art design-ed covers, but as native New Yorkers, the Beasties didn’t feel like they ever authentically fit into the Southern Californian skate/snow trends of the time. They’d wear the Arnet “Hotcakes” sunglasses with the bleached Jamie Lynn caesar haircut, but pair it with an extra medium T-shirt and bad sneakers. Aside from their XLarge affiliation, they were often associated with some random brands that weren’t as legit, but whatever. That’s neither here nor there now.
Regardless, I really did love them. How could I not, they produced friendly rap music for a white-washed Korean-American kid like me. They started off as a hardcore punk band (Egg raid on Mooojo!). And as MCA grew in political awareness and became more a socially conscious artist, I admired how he made “Free Tibet” a mainstream chant. The Beasties seemed like they were always having fun, enjoying the ride and creating. I wouldn’t say they made the most significant music in the hip-hop timeline, but it was never just about the raps. Their greatest contributions were their music videos, in my opinion. That’s what really set Beastie Boys apart.
I finally watched the Beastie Boys Story on Apple TV the other night. I was underwhelmed. Bummer. It was too self-aware, too produced. It felt like they were doing it because their fans wanted to see them together onstage again and this was a consolation prize since MCA is absent. That’s ok. They’ve earned the right to do whatever they want, however they want.
Years ago, the Beasties borrowed my DeLorean for their final music video together. It was a closed set because Adam Yauch was sick (he would soon afterwards succumb to his cancer). I got to spend a couple days onset with just them and some notable stars like Will Ferrell, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, and Elijah Wood. You can see how the entire production went down here.
Out of everything awesome and hilarious that ensued, what I’ll most remember from that video shoot was watching MCA work his directing magic, but taking moments to hang with his daughter between takes. That man saw the world, entertained and influenced generations of worldwide youth, and made a timeless body of work. That day, it was clear that his most cherished role was not as rapper, punk rocker, director or activist. It was being a father.
A few years ago, there was a popular podcast called S-Town. This was shortly after the success of Serial, which broke the mold for similarly formatted true-crime docuseries like Dirty John, Dr. Death, and Netflix’s Making a Murderer. S-Town was about a couple things, really. First, the protagonist: a colorful, idiosyncratic horologist named John B. McLemore. It was also a snapshot of Woodstock, Alabama, or as John B. McLemore liked to call it, “Shit Town.”
I dedicated an Instagram post to how much I enjoyed this series and one of my followers, “Ryan,” DM’d me. “Hey Bobby, glad you liked the show. You should come visit sometime. We have a really cool music scene down here, it’s not what you think!”
Turns out Ryan was not only a lifelong resident of S-Town, he was the sole neighbor who had access to the late John B. McLemore’s mysterious maze garden. As it goes in the story, before he died, our hero landscaped a hedge maze with 64 solutions. The current inhabitants of the McLemore estate were friendly with Ryan and allowed him to visit whenever he wished. I couldn’t believe it. Ryan laughed. About a half-hour later, he sent me a selfie of himself in the middle of the maze. “Told you!”
Speaking of the new homeowners, they were the Burt family, who – if you listened to the podcast – were also central figures to the storyline. For one, John B. McLemore suspected the son Kabram Burt of getting away with a murder (Ryan was friends with Kabram and even took his sister to prom). Secondly, Kabram’s father Kendall owned a lumber company called K3.
“Is it true?,” I asked Ryan, “K3 doesn’t stand for their family initials?”
With anyone else, I would’ve treaded lightly. Ryan and I had established a friendy banter, but I was perhaps too cavalier with how I dumped the next query on the table. “It’s KKK, right? Are they Klan?”
Ryan took a beat, then responded. “Look man, Los Angeles is a far cry from Woodstock, Alabama.” Even over text, I could feel the weight of that reply. The conversation was already getting long, so we traded a few more hopes for me to visit his town one day (I sincerely still plan on it). After that, I spoke with Ryan a couple more times before our exchange went where all tenuous online connections go. Frozen in time, somewhere deep in the inbox, to be excavated when life finds convenient and necessary.
The year was 2017 and Donald J. Trump had been in office for approximately a year at that point. Those first few months were as equally frightening as they were frustrating, and Americans were raw and exposed to a sensitive political climate. What I most remember was how exhausted I was. I wouldn’t say I’m a longtime activist, but I’d been engaged in left-leaning political causes since I could attend punk shows as a teenager. The brand I co-founded, The Hundreds, was a forum to express and fight for a lot of these opinions. We even co-produced a social justice festival around that time to raise awareness for issues we considered most dire and at risk. As the shock of Trump’s election transitioned to reluctant acceptance, I desperately sought solutions to heal a divided nation. My ego has always told me that there is a fix for every crisis, that justice prevails, to attack the problem from a different angle. Yet, no matter how I turned it, I couldn’t find a way out of this worsening nightmare.
Outside of marching in protests, donating to causes, and staying informed of daily disasters, we didn’t know much else we could do short of running for office. Many of us retreated to Twitter to establish solidarity, disseminate our truths, and change others’ minds. Much of that, however, came down to circulating Trump quotes and deriding the White House press secretary or unleashing our vitriol on the Covington boys. I did my best to stay away from Facebook, but once in a while, I’d find myself ensnared in a fight with some asshole I hadn’t seen since the third grade. In the first stage of Trump Era grief, I loathed and cried and complained. Then, I tried to understand the opposing view not just as a valiant gesture to reach across the aisle, but to make sense of this bizarre simulation we call Life. After a year of this, I was ashamed to admit that I had made no progress at all. I was no closer to empathizing with a devout Trump supporter as I was in getting them to exercise gender neutral pronouns. Debating politics with strangers on the Internet in non-sequitir paragraphs was inefficient, if not endless. Even if I did win an argument or humiliated someone online for their moronic beliefs, I rarely felt better. In fact, I felt much worse, not just about them and the state of the world, but about myself and the time wasted. And then there was the residual anger that lingered and polluted interactions with my loved ones for a time afterwards.
Los Angeles is a far cry from Woodstock, Alabama. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ryan’s statement. Yes, our neighborhoods are almost 2,000 miles apart. But, in some aspects, they might as well be 2,000 light years apart. Ryan’s reality is fixed in an entirely disparate set of cultural practices, social norms, and generational customs. How, over the course of an Instagram direct message, could I convince him to see things from my perspective? I’m a second-generation Korean-American, son of immigrants. I’m almost twice his age, have lived in Southern California my entire life, and get squeamish anytime I’m in a room with any racial majority. Of course, I still believe I am in the right to judge and abhor prejudice and hatred. But, was I really going to convince Ryan (someone whom I’ve never met or established a personal relationship with) to abandon his reality over a blind SMS thread? Of course not. That’d be like convincing a stranger to marry me by folding a marriage proposal in a bottle and hucking it into the ocean. If anything, our cursory exchange would cement him further to his beliefs.
I have a book club called Death Sentences and this month’s selection is “Why We’re Polarized” by Vox’s Ezra Klein. In it, Klein addresses why our differences are more pronounced and capitalized than ever: the changing demographics of the country, the social algorithms, the media business, partisandship over party, and politics as sport. One of the notes he finishes on is a suggestion, that if we are to concern ourselves with any sort of politics, it should be at the local level. There is very little we can change at the national level, with even less of a chance of accessing leadership. Meanwhile, our daily lives are most influenced by what happens in our city, county, and state. These are our people, our families, and homes. And that made me think about Woodstock, Alabama.
Our politics are very much dictated by geography. When it comes to worldview and philosophy, we are reflective – and a product – of our immediate communities and neighborhoods. I drove down to Huntington Beach this weekend to visit my parents. I drove through downtown HB, passed open restaurants and crowded beaches. It was a rarity to see a COVID mask on bros in American flag boardshorts and women guzzling hurricanes. As we exited the freeway back home in LA, joggers and bicyclists were covered and faceless. Just a mere forty minutes up the coast, and I entered a different reality with an entirely opposite set of rules and ethics. 2,000 miles away, Ryan was probably adhering to his own sense of right and wrong in the midst of a global pandemic. I doubt that I could go onto his profile and shame him into adopting my understanding of social distancing protocol, based on the news I’ve digested, the conversations I’ve shared, the education I’ve attained, in one of the largest cities in the world. And maybe I wasn’t meant to. The Internet, for all its awesomeness and effectiveness, is a hopeless place for meaningful discourse. They used to say to avoid politics and religion at the dinner table, and that’s in the confines of a warm home over a lovingly prepared meal, with people you’ve known and loved your entire life who share your experiences and culture. Now reduce that complex dialogue to comment slaps with strangers who live on the other side of the world. People whom you’ve never seen and never will, and all you’ll ever appreciate of their entirety as a human being is a square avatar.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t debate with people about politics. How are we to make progress if we don’t challenge people on their wrongs and convince them otherwise? But, we should be smart as to the proper venue to engage others (probably not social media), and realistic about end goals (it’s okay if we haven’t converted them, it should not deter our spirit). Which, is why my politics have taken a different trajectory over the last year – on a course that’s strategically personal, intimate, and offline. This isn’t far removed from how I invite people to discuss faith and religion as well as my life’s work. My business approach has always been to meet and make customers one at a time. I know how shallow and short-lived it can be to market to the masses. I’d rather plant the seeds deep with a patron, affording the time to listen and learn, even if it takes years. Having my mind changed before changing theirs. After 17 years, this is why we have such a thick and loyal base. It’s not that they agree with everything that we make and stand for. But, we share a respect and fellowship that’s come from accepting the other.
We are all such intrinsically different people with deeply entrenched belief systems. In fact, in most ways, this diversity is what makes our country so innovative and interesting and powerful. Of course, there are the uglier nuances that divide us on life and death matters. And yes, we now clutch these points as underpinnings of our core identity. But, it serves us to also brandish other facets of our identity that we share and love together – as workers, as students, as family people. As members of our community. As local citizens of our towns. Perhaps if we begin there, we’ll have better visibility on our collective standing as Americans.
We are only a couple months into the lockdown portion of the 2020 pandemic, but so much has already been profoundly affected, if not altered. I’m at once impressed by how quickly humankind adapted to drastically different and unnatural social norms. It’s a wonder that we have been so forgiving and malleable against an unbending storm. People are strong and beautiful in this way.
If anything, I’ve accepted that life now – more than ever – is about approaching and appreciating its fullness one day at a time. So, I treat my days not as paragraphs or even chapters, but full stories in themselves. I awaken painfully early, I lean into the mundane moments, I wrestle with sleep as it steals my last conscious moments in the evenings. I like to feel every corner of my emotions, I long to suffer and delight in their ephemeral residue. Speaking of longing, I have learned to befriend it. It’s the inertia that pulls me through.
I make the effort. I go to the beach when the window provides, I sift the grains of the sand through my fingers, I stay underwater a half-breath longer. If I have six seconds to spare, I offer it to a few sentences in a book I’m committed to. Yes, I will listen to your band. Yes, this is my new favorite song. I am clear and engaged and I don’t leave the days behind with many regrets anymore.
What is this pandemic if not a time to sit with ourselves? There is a drowning quiet and solitude. Even if we are living with others, this is a lonely time. I have confronted myself on more than one occasion. I’ve studied the mirror. Who is this man?
There are some nominal changes as I’ve entered a new decade. I’m finally starting to show my age after a lifetime of looking 12. My eyes, once puffy and swollen from the salt in the food or the tortured nights are now apparently cast this way forever and that’s okay. My skin is coarse and flecked. Not freckled, but spotted. I kiss my son’s smooth face, clear and pure of imperfections – the fountain of youth. When I smile, my crow’s feet branch halfway down my cheek and tug at my jowls (that part, I like).
Within. I am as impatient as ever, yet somehow oblivious to how long my stories unfurl. I have fewer friends now, but deeper conversations. I don’t chase as much anymore. I let the world come to me. I’ve accepted that I’ll never stop being passionate and zealous about the things and people I care about. I overstep those boundaries without apology. I love wastefully. I am less hopeful now, but more of a romantic. I believe that people can be better, no matter how much they betray me and break me time and again. This is what makes me weak and less than. I am ruled by betrayal.
These are the thoughts I carry with me as I walk back and forth and across. I have never heard myself so loudly. I am listening.
Meanwhile, locusts have been decimating the other side of the world. I’ve been quietly following this story the last couple months, just because it’s soooo Revelations. But, it’s actually turning out to be kind of a thing.
You can read about it here.
On another note, I was intrigued by this locust and the accompanying caption. Me, as an insect.
The desert locust undergoes physical changes as it transitions from its solitarious phase (left) to its gregarious phase (right).
“Was that life? Well then, once more!”
Lately, I’ve been deep-diving into scientific literature around entropy. In physics, entropy is defined as a “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.” Kinda like how there is a natural trend for your house to be messy and cluttered, versus clean and organized. I know I’m not the only one who believes that the universe, and life itself, are unraveling. In some ways, I feel like it’s speeding UP, like the thinning of toilet paper as you get nearer to the end of the roll.
There is a new theory emerging that – somewhere out there – exists a reality with low entropy. In fact, a parallel universe exists that is moving backwards in time. This means that while entropy propels us into our future, we are simultaneously hurtling towards someone else’s past.
Have I thoroughly confused you yet? I’m probably doing a terrible job of explaining it.
Read the article for yourself HERE.
This art and essay are regarding a 1-of-1 T-shirt I designed for Keyla Marquez, who has curated different artists to interpret white T-shirts for charity this week.
It’s called The White T-Shirt Project. You can learn more about it here.
I already have everything I need. More importantly, I already have everyone I need.
If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that my cup is full. It’s been full. And yet, I’ve spent my life – and my life’s work – scouring the earth for more friends and followers and customers. I am addicted to people. I collect them like baseball cards. But, this pursuit for more – it’s endless and insatiable. It can be exhausting. And two months of isolation have reminded me that what already sits before me is infinite – my loving people, my loved work. They are oceans in themselves and it would take a thousand lifetimes to reach the bottom. Why distract myself with other books when I’ve yet to finish these?
When Keyla told me about this project, I was struck by her boldness and ambition. Here we are, staring into the face of an opaque global virus, and yet she felt compelled to incite positive action amongst a circle of artists. The ripples echo wide. It took just one person to organize an effort that will affect thousands, millions.
Each one reach one. When I talk about my work, I say, “It’s not for everyone. It’s for someone.” Even I forget that sometimes. I was never interested in winning over the world. It was about speaking with one person at a time. It wasn’t about being popular amongst many. It was about diving deep into a curated few.
So, there are two things going on here.
One, the recognition of beautiful relationships existing, instead of being enchanted by the social frontier. From now on, may we pause to live in the castles we’ve already built.
Two, the power of the individual cry. We are each potent in our capacity to inspire, mentor, and create significant change. Like Keyla.
You can bid on my T-shirt for the next week here: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Bobby-Hundreds/402261145058