If everyone’s white, do you even realize the racism is there?

Sundown TownsI’ve probably mentioned here before that I grew up in Austin, Minnesota, a.k.a. Spamtown USA. Of course I noticed growing up that there were few if any African-Americans in town, but it had never occurred to me that there might once have been, and I was never told of any racial conflicts that had ever taken place.

In fact, race (at least the black/white divide) was almost a non-existent concept in my childhood. In the ’80s there were quite a few people in town of Asian descent, mostly refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, which was a source of its own kind of tension, but I’m sure I was at least 10 before I saw a black person in real life (although by then I knew Gordon, Susan, David and Olivia from Sesame Street quite well).

I’m not sure if I had ever even heard the term sundown town until today, when I happened to be searching online for something completely unrelated about Austin, and I was even more surprised to learn about a disturbing incident that took place in my hometown in 1922.

These days racial tension is going strong in Austin, due in large part to changes that have taken place in the economic environment of the city. So race is mixed up, along with economic class, immigration and labor union issues, into a complex and for the most part poorly-understood stew of thinly-veiled hatred, anger and frustration on every side.

I guess it just goes to show that the history of race relations in this country is far more complicated and troubled than many of us even know. In an election year where, for the first time, both a woman and an African-American have a real chance of becoming our next president, it’s important to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.

Call it “Rush for Neophytes”

If you’ve been following my recent blog entries (or if you just care to scroll down the list of articles right now!), you’ll know I’ve been going through a bit of a “Rush Renaissance” lately.

I first got into these guys back in high school (of course), almost 18 years ago. My interest in them waned after I moved on to more obscure progressive rock bands, but by the early part of this decade, after I had bored of most prog rock, I actually found myself drawn back to Rush, and I’ve listened to them more than any of the other bands in this nebulous genre over the past five years. But something clicked a month or so ago, and I’ve rekindled an obsession with the band that may in fact be even stronger than it was at its peak when I was a scrawny teenager with a learner’s permit.

On Sunday, much to my surprise, I actually heard “New World Man” on KQRS. While it’s certainly not that unusual for Rush to be on the radio, I don’t believe I’d ever heard this particular track on the airwaves.

Inspired by this radio surprise, I started to think about what might go onto a CD of the band that I could use to introduce new people to their music. Personally, my first exposure was listening to the live A Show of Hands album in its entirety. Even though most prog maniacs generally consider the band’s 1977 to 1981 period (from A Farewell to Kings through Moving Pictures) to be its best, I think the end of that period, overlapping into the next, say, from 1980’s Permanent Waves through 1985’s Power Windows, is best for an introduction. The early ’80s songs are a bit more accessible to an unindoctrinated ear than what preceded, yet they are of higher quality than the weaker material of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

With that in mind, I’ve prepared a track list for a 79-minute CD spanning from 1980 through 1985 (with a nod to the earlier era at the end), that I think would serve as a near-ideal introduction to the band for a new listener. Here we go:

  1. The Spirit of Radio (Permanent Waves, 1980)
  2. Limelight (Moving Pictures, 1981)
  3. Subdivisions (Signals, 1982)
  4. Tom Sawyer (Moving Pictures, 1981)
  5. Distant Early Warning (Grace Under Pressure, 1984)
  6. Marathon (Power Windows, 1985)
  7. New World Man (Signals, 1982)
  8. YYZ (Moving Pictures, 1981)
  9. Freewill (Permanent Waves, 1980)
  10. Natural Science (Permanent Waves, 1980)
  11. The Enemy Within (Part I of ‘Fear’) (Grace Under Pressure, 1984)
  12. The Weapon (Part II of ‘Fear’) (Signals, 1982)
  13. Witch Hunt (Part III of ‘Fear’) (Moving Pictures, 1981)
  14. La Villa Strangiato (Hemispheres, 1978)

We start off with some of the band’s most accessible (and, once upon a time, popular) tracks. I’ve heard all of the first four tracks with some regularity on classic rock radio. Next we move into a few of the great but probably less familiar mid-’80s tracks. After a couple more “fan favorites,” I move into longer pieces that hint at what a new listener will discover if they go back into the extended late ’70s tracks, including the “Fear” trilogy that is rarely heard together in sequence.

OK, Rush fan(s). Let’s hear what you think!

What’s all this then?

Yes, it’s yet another unnecessary room34.com overhaul. In part, I wanted to give blogging a try (again… but this time for real [maybe]). I am also trying out some blogging software for potential use at my company. But most of all… well… why not?

So here we go with WordPress. So far I am pretty impressed. It was extremely easy to install, and it doesn’t look like crap, unlike most of what’s out there (especially in the free/open source world). We’ll see how it goes as I start to get under the hood (but maybe not too much — part of the reason I’m doing this is that I just don’t have the free time anymore to build a full engine to run my personal sites on, as much as I like building PHP apps… it’s just that I need to stick to getting paid to do it!).

Right now I’m just using a stock template/theme/whathaveyou that I downloaded. I hate stock designs though, even the good ones. So I’ll be working on my own custom template soon. But I want to make sure this is the right way to go first.

So, there you have it. At the moment, this blog’s presence here means all of the links to my other sites are gone. (Don’t worry… the sites are still there. What do you mean you weren’t worried? Why not??? Ehh…) I’ll be sorting all of that out shortly.