Food, Beer and a Music Podium

So I started thinking about food.

No, not like that!

Err, okay…pretty much exactly like that, but I plead hunger and impatience for my lunch to come.

Well, it’s a bit more than that, actually.  I started thinking about food a few days ago, mainly because I was cooking…and because I love to cook.  I love the process of taking a pile of disparate ingredients and turning them into something greater than the sum of the parts.  It is actually one of the more satisfying things to me, to be honest.  Strangely — for a guy as given to impulse, randomness and flights of fancy as me — that process of turning chaos into order is pretty damned relaxing.

But just as much as the process do I enjoy what food means.  Look, when I get together with friends, we inevitably end up in the kitchen.  We inevitably end up sharing booze and food and good times.  Even at “work”, when I get together with others involved in the beer world, we inevitably end up back in the brewhouse, still sharing booze and food and good times.

So where am I going with this?  No, that’s not me projecting your response to the opening above, it is me legitimately asking myself that question…

When it comes to food, I love it.  No, really, there is nothing I won’t try.  I love it all. I’ve had some of the most refined, perfect food you can imagine, from Kyoto to New York to Nice.  I’ve also had street food.  In the back alleys of Mexico City; in the streets of Marrakech; in those neighborhoods in Naples you aren’t supposed to go…

And in every bite there has lived that one thing so impossible to define, but so crucial to life: culture.  The culture and life and heartbeat of those who gave birth to that food, both the individuals and their people as a whole.  The food that sticks with me — and the food I like most to eat — is, by the way, the street food.  The peasant food.  The food that make families brag about still using great-grandma’s recipe.

I once spent several hundred dollars on a formal 30-course kaiseki dinner in Kyoto.  I loved the meal, but if you pressed me, I could only really describe one or two dishes.  Do you know what I remember more from that trip?  The grilled chicken cartilage* I had at a tiny Shinjuku izikaya.

*Yes, it really is a thing.  I won’t explain in the interests of saving space and word-count, but buy me a beer sometime and ask about it.  I can go on for hours about some of the weird shit I’ve had in my life.  Just don’t ask about the sheep’s eyeball — I didn’t enjoy that one.

I thought about this as I was cooking dirty rice, by the way.  More peasant food.  Food that started as a way to extract all the flavor possible from leftovers and off-cuts and what was left after the rich had their pick.  It was James Michener who introduced me to this reality.  I don’t know if you have ever read any Michener, but one of the things he excelled at was connecting his readers to the cultures he was trying to explore.  One of the ways he did that was through their food; more importantly, through the historical nexus between food and culture.

In the US that nexus is one of class, yes, but also of race.  Steaks and roasts we all know.  They were — and still are, to an extent — the food of the wealthy.  Then you have the foods for the rest of us, for those at the bottom.  The fish stews and pies for the New England fishermen.  Gumbo and jumbalaya for the French Acadians (yup, that’s where “cajun” comes from) transplanted to far off Louisiana.  For the slaves and former slaves there were wild greens (collard, mustard, etc…), catfish and leftover/unwanted cuts of pork and beef…all those things that lie now at the very heart of American barbecue.  As a matter of fact, I just paid $25 for a meal that once was given to slaves because the master couldn’t be bothered to supply anything better.  Hell, lobster was once so despised that is was used only to feed prisoners…

That is how food both reflects and embodies culture.  That is how food defines who we are as a people…and, just as much, who we once were.  That is a key part of the magic of it all.

As a writer, I sometimes get chastised for using food and booze too much.  I use them, however, to reflect my characters.  To reflect who they are, and who they aren’t.  I use them, often, to create situations where the food — and the atmosphere around it — defines the cultures and backgrounds of the characters in ways that would otherwise take hundreds and hundreds of words.

I am, at heart, a peasant.  I would rather have real coq au vin in a tiny country village than the best dishes from the fine dining places in Paris.  I would rather, as a writer, use a hundred words of my characters’ thoughts and reactions about food and everything surrounding it as a mirror for the real world than five thousand words of exposition.

One of my disappointments with George RR Martin, by the way, wasn’t that he talked too much about food, it was that he didn’t use food enough to truly comment on the lives and circumstances of the different strata of the society he created in GOT…

{Musical Notes — this started as something very different.  It started as a desire to find a good, old school song to use.  That desire morphed into finding those anthems that are truly evocative of an era.  Then, me being me (and beer being beer), everything morphed again into finding those songs that we don’t even have to actually hear anymore; into those songs from which we need only an exposure of a second or two to remember, and to feel.  I had to limit things to the last fifty-ish years, if only to keep the number of songs manageable.  As a further note, these are all songs I love…and all songs that bring their own memories for me.

Gold Medal: perhaps the most instantly evocative of these songs, for far more than one generation.  Don’t cheat, don’t look ahead.  Just listen.  It won’t take more than one second if you are anything at all like me…

Silver Medal: a better song than the first, it does not have the instant cross-generational impact of the “winner”.  It is to me one of the best songs ever recorded…

Bronze Medal:  This song is my generation.  It should probably take the Silver, to be honest, but the second place song is just a better song by a better creator…

Honorable Mention: I couldn’t help myself, this song had to make the list.  It had to make the list because, not long ago, I was walking to my own locker room at a hockey tournament, only to hear a bunch of middle school players belting out this song in the next room.  That is cross-generational appeal…and a song you will instantly recognize…

Lambs Beat Bungles in Superb Owl!

Okay, if you’re not a fan of American football, this post’s title very likely means nothing to you.  Even if you are a fan, if you don’t take part in the time-honored fan traditions of snark and sarcasm towards other teams — not to mention the internet slang/jokes the title is pulled from — it still likely means nothing.  Bear with me, all will (hopefully) make sense as I try to work a whole bunch of random, unrelated thoughts into a coherent post.

Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday here in the US.  Now, the Super Bowl is one of the biggest events in the American media universe.  Whether you love or hate it, the Super Bowl dominates the landscape in a way almost nothing else can touch.  Hell, we’ve had twenty years of the freaking Puppy Bowl solely as an anti-Super Bowl for those who hate football…and if that ain’t impact on culture and life, I don’t know what is!

Okay, but…

Yes, there’s always a but!  But the media landscape is changing.  It is changing as surely as is the socio-cultural landscape.  That is no bad thing, by the way.  Nor is it a new thing.  Things change.  Things have to change.  Life and love and progress are built on dynamism, on imbalances in the system and the alterations those imbalances drive.  Think of it as a physics problem, if you will; unchanging stasis is an utter impossibility.

At present, the change to the landscape is a splintering, and a devolution.  Oh, not devolution in a bad way, but devolution in the sense of de-centralization.  No longer do we all watch the same TV.  No longer do we all experience the same programs and thoughts and cultures.  We, for the most part, are far more active in our viewing today; we pick through Netflix and Prime for the best movies and TV.  We follow Youtube and Twitch and TikTok creators who are the definition of niche — our niche.  We actively choose our viewing, rather than the simple passivity of absorbing what someone else chooses for us.

Individuality is the order of the day, and that is a change very much for the better.  For the most part.  It has its negatives, too.  The splintering of the media landscape also reflects a splintering in the socio-cultural fabric of our lives.*  This is why I mentioned the Super Bowl above; its power is on the wane.  It still is a media behemoth, and an arguably over-powered presence in the American media landscape, but no longer is it an absolute, automatic dominator.

*Or is it a cause?  You can argue that one from both sides and make a good case either way.

I don’t do “regular” TV in any way, I only stream.  Over the last couple of years the Super Bowl has been far more of an afterthought than it a must-watch.  For anyone with similar viewing circumstances — a large and growing percentage of us — to watch and get overwhelmed by the Super Bowl requires actively seeking it out, rather than having it thrust upon us.  Now, that is no bad thing since American football is not for everyone.  Nor does it, in and of itself, say much of anything about our culture.  But…

But, the Super Bowl used to be one of those touchstone, shared-experience things.  We all saw it because we couldn’t escape it.  We all talked about it the next day because there was nothing else to talk about.  That no longer applies.  One of our shared experiences — one of those things that unifies a culture — is no longer filling that role.  Another crack appears, another splintering of our shared experiences.

The question of the day, of course, is what comes out of those cracks and fractures?  What culture emerges?  History is, in this, not much of a guide as “today” really is unique (a concept I am usually loathe to assert).  In the past, the slow pace of communications meant culture was essentially a local thing.  There could be no real splintering as, try as they might, folks living next to each other experienced the same things everyday.

Today?  Today I doubt my neighbors watch the same things I do.  Yeah, a whole lot of folks have experienced The Book of Boba Fett on Disney+ right alongside me, but how many followed that up by watching the Millenial Farmer on Youtube?

Yeah, the Lambs beat the Bungles on Sunday, but I didn’t watch it.  I didn’t care.  Instead I binge-watched Apple’s attempt to turn Asimov’s Foundation into a show (hoo boy, is that a post for another day!).  Thanks, Mr Yeats, for touching on this:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Wait…was that another crack I heard beneath my feet?

Okay, so this part of the post started as a mere Musical Note appended to end, but it grew a bit from there.  It grew into an explanation and an exploration that I think merits inclusion into the main body.  Music exerts tremendous power and influence over me.  I say it all the time, but it bears repeating: music has power.  I don’t do a terribly good job of explaining the particular how’s and why’s of that power, so I thought I would take a stab at it again by using an explanation from this particular song’s writer/singer as a way to illustrate:

I write quite a few songs where the sort of issue is faith – having faith, keeping faith. And this song in particular is about the difficulty in having faith in things, and finding things to have faith in. In yourself, in God, in like he said, a woman. Faith is a weird thing, it in a sense it is all about waiting. It’s not actually about getting anything, you know, faith is about the wait, because once you get something there is no need anymore. So a lot about faith is just the willingness to sort of throw yourself on a fence and hang there for a while. That’s a very difficult and bitter thing, you know. In this song, I keep saying the main character, *I*. I said, “All my sins, I would pay for them if I could come back to you.” It’s not just about finding things to believe in, it’s about wanting to be able to believe in anything too. And it’s about all the voices that get inside your head and whisper for you to do it or not to do it as well.”

Hiding Away

Just how many times can I start and stop a blog post?

Just how many times can I highlight everything I just typed and hit the Delete key?

Just how aimless and mindless and focusless* can I possibly be?  I very much have the “kinda, sorta” disease this morning, by the way.  I kinda, sorta know what I want to say…but I just can’t get the thoughts and words into any kind of order.  I kinda, sorta have the want to write, but not the right mindset.  I kinda, sorta have the right music playing, but its not right enough to immerse me in creativity…

*I’m pretty sure that one is not even a real word, but I’m going to use it anyway…

Hell, not even the coffee is helping.

This piece might end up being one of those posts that just sits there, a quarter written, until focus and momentum builds again.  Or it might be one I have to bin entirely.  It’s that, or I make it one of those where I just sit here with my fingers on the keys and force the words into existence.  I’ve certainly done that a time or two…and always regretted the results.

Well, shit.  This is no way to start a day.

***

Okay, so it’s a few days later.

Err…

Actually, it’s six fucking weeks later.

It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about writing.  Nor is it that I haven’t wanted to write.  The truth is…

Well, the truth is that I have been hiding.

Look, let’s be honest here: until you have heard that black dog howl, you have no idea just how seductive is the drive to hide away from the world.  For all the booze and drugs that I have experienced in my life, nothing compares to that particular impulse.

If I was a kid still, I would have built the biggest, strongest blanket fort in the universe and dived beneath the covers.  Unfortunately, I think my parents would have objected to me taking a fifth of scotch down into that fort, so I guess I’ll have to throw away the idea of being a kid again…

Ahem.

So what got the dog to howling? I hear you ask.  Fear.  More accurately, the fear of things spinning out of control.

I think we know each other well enough by now for everyone to acknowledge that I do not surrender control easily.  Umm, I don’t surrender control at all, as a matter of fact — just why the fuck do you think I’m single?!

Okay…so…can we skip that particular bugbear please?

This loss of control is more real and less emotional, anyway.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to open a brewhouse.  Well, a bit more than “trying” actually…

And I’m terrified.

I’m terrified not because of the business itself, but because the numbers and concepts behind the business have become far larger and more urgent than my original plans.  Oh, where things currently is better…but better is as frightening as it is exciting.

I have faced danger in my life.  I have faced danger in every sense of the word, to be honest.  I have stood there and faced as stoically as I could all kinds of danger and loss; the loss of success, the loss of ease, the loss of freedom.  I have faced, even, the loss of life.*  And none of that danger and loss has been half so bad as what I currently face.

*I still write thank you notes to the very, very large mama bear who didn’t eat me when I unintentionally came between her and her two cubs…

And that fear…well, that fear bought a drink for the isolation of being in a new place  with no real friends and they hit off it off.  Those two got together and had a little baby that looks and sounds a whole lot like the black dog with whom I am so familiar…

I heard that dog howl and I hid away.  Yes, that is an excuse of sorts.  But, well…

I don’t do nostalgia.  I don’t do memory.  But this past Christmas…

This past Christmas I stood outside and tried to look at the stars.  I saw only light reflected from the towns and cities around me.

I stood outside and tried to listen.  I tried to listen to my heart.  I tried, to be honest, to listen to the wolf packs howling in the night.

I tried, but I heard only cars.  Cars and the howling of the black dog….

{Musical Note — you have to listen to the words. All of the words. This song works. Like all good songs, it builds. Oh, and by the way, I love live music. I will always choose live music if I can — especially if that live bit is recorded in someone’s back-freaking-yard!}

Now Comes the Black Horse

There’s a cream cheese shortage.  No, I’m not kidding, there is an actual, honest-to-God cream cheese crisis happening in the US at this very moment!

For the love of all that’s holy, how have we not mobilized FEMA?  How have we not started a milk-based Apollo Program to get out of this misery?  God forbid we have to take truly severe steps; when the rationing starts, so do the riots!

Does Washington not understand just how strategically vital is that crucial spread?  The only thing that would be worse of course is a coffee shortage, and not even in the depths of my embittered, cynical soul do I care to examine the consequences of something that horrifying…

I knew we were in trouble when I couldn’t find the real stuff on the store shelves.  I knew it, but I managed to lie well enough to myself to ignore the problem.  I’m good at lying to myself, by the way.  I’m good at pretending disaster is not impending, and that the world can and will keep going just the same as it ever has.

So, no real stuff.  No big tubs of the dense, smooth wonder with a recognized, trusted label.  Just small containers from some generic manufacturer.  Just insignificant containers of some strange, clearly artificial paste described as “whipped”….

Whipped?!

Whipped, you say?!?!

What is this nonsense?  Is this how you fool the shortsighted and placate the desperate?  Is this how you keep the world from ending?  Is there even so much as one real cow anywhere in the supply chain for this?  If I were French, I would spit on your “whipped” nonsense.

Err…actually…if I were French, there almost certainly would be very real riots happening over a such a travesty as this.  You can say what you want about the French, but Gallic pride and intransigence would never allow their world to descend into the misery of a cream-goddamned-cheese crisis!

Why do I write of such things, I hear you ask.  Why remind others of the miseries and pain to come?  Why focus on the naked bagel that so ruined your morning?  Because, well…

Because the Broncos suck, and I don’t want to write about that.  Because 2021, which once promised so much, has delivered so little.  Because there are still masks and vaccines and viruses exacerbating the differences between that need no more exacerbation.  Because everything else is falling apart, so why not the goddamned food chain, too?

And, no, I was neither kidding nor lying about the cream cheese shortage, nor about the travesty of finding only the generic “whipped” version.  All of that is the all-too-painful truth.

*sigh*

It really is a sign of the coming apocalypse.  Remember, while Death rides the pale horse, and War the red, Famine himself rides the black…

Crap, if I can turn cream cheese into freaking Armageddon, just what will I do if — or, sadly, when — coffee starts to become short, too!  I’m adopted, so I have no idea if I have French blood or not, but I know the language and the history and the culture — when the coffee runs out, it definitely will be time to go all Gallic and take to the streets.  I wouldn’t go and riot over much, but my daily pot of dark roast Ethiopian is worth fighting for!

{Musical Note — okay, so obviously not a terribly serious day. Let’s go with something that evokes, well, something else. Let’s just go with youth, and days of thoughts and worries very different, shall we?}