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Objection:  If philosophy is about finding truth, and truth is an actual objective thing in the world, then why do all the wisest philosophers through history disagree with each other?

Response:  Many wise people argue about whether the Beatles really were the greatest rock band of all time, and some even argue that the Beatles are overrated.  But the Beatles are objectively the greatest and most awesome rock band of all time.  If wise people can disagree on that fact, we should not lose hope that there is an objectively true philosophy in the world.

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Lorne_Michaels_David_Shankbone_2010When I was a young kid in the late 1900s, I used to think that Saturday Night Live was the most grown-up thing imaginable. It was cool. It was on the cutting-edge of show business. It was risqué. It was late at night. I thought I was the coolest kid around when my parents would let me stay up and watch. Ever since then, SNL has been one of my favorite shows, and I have always admired its smart comedy and featured talent, from Wayne’s World to Norm MacDonald to Tina Fey.

Then, when I got a little older and started writing and performing music, in my wildest dreams I would envision myself one day getting famous enough to play as the musical guest on SNL.

However, life caught up with me and I found my calling not as a songwriter, but as a father and a student of psychology. So I abandoned my dream of ever being on that stage, and now I’m just raising my family and working hard at my master’s thesis.

Then again, I have been reading some of the history of Saturday Night Live, and once again came across the fact that way back in Season 3, a few years before I was born, you had a contest called “Anyone Can Host,” in which Miskel Spillman, aged 80 years old, won and was given the opportunity of a lifetime. Based on what was likely the rousing success of that show, you never had a contest like that again.

I’m writing this blog post to help you revisit that idea. Let me host your show.

I know what you’re thinking, and I understand. Maybe I don’t have any “qualifications” or “acting talent.” Maybe I actually know very little about how shows are “filmed” and “produced.” It’s possible that I would be a kind of ratings “wild card,” and maybe it’s likely that I would just “embarrass myself.” And who knows, maybe I haven’t really been “watching” the show since I got Netflix and can’t afford cable. Perhaps I’m actually not willing to put any “work” into this or “follow this through.”

And you know, it’s possible that I “freeze up” around anyone remotely famous, and feel like I want to “vomit.” Maybe I turned into a “babbling idiot” the day I met Michael Wilton‘s wife (yes, the Michael Wilton’s wife) at their kid’s soccer game in Seattle. Maybe the one time I met Alan Sparhawk, the lead singer and guitarist of the underground indie band Low, I “made my wife talk for me.” Maybe when I saw King’s X play at a festival in Cincinnati a few years ago, and got the band to sign my guitar, I saw them play again a few months later and Doug Pinnick pointed out that he “didn’t remember me” (yes, the Doug Pinnick didn’t remember me).

Maybe my religious upbringing would cause me to feel “uncomfortable” saying bad words, discussing adult topics, or drinking or smoking on the air, causing me to be somewhat “limited” in what skits I would feel comfortable being in. Maybe the only two “outcomes” out of this would be 1) I completely fail and do so in front of millions of people, or 2) do moderately well and become “Joe the Plumber” famous, causing me to forfeit my hard work in graduate school only to sink into obscurity empty-handed a year later with only a short Wikipedia stub to comfort me.

And so what if my only “acting experience” was a play in high school, where I “forgot my lines” and quit theater because I kept “forgetting my lines.” Maybe I have very little “comedic timing” or the ability to “empathize” with characters.  Maybe I have no “room” in my “schedule” for the time off to be on SNL. Maybe I haven’t really “thought this out entirely,” or I’m just writing this open letter because I’m “avoiding” doing work on my master’s thesis, which is only halfway done.

And hey – it’s possible that the reason I quit performing music and never landed anything remotely like a record deal, is that I was only “local musician” good and not “actually” good. Maybe my voice is, as my close friends say, “pitchy.” Maybe during the few moments in my career when I actually got somewhat close to what I thought could be a break, I “lost my grip on reality” so to speak. And perhaps being on television would send me “plummeting over the edge” and “wishing I could have my innocence back.” And maybe I’m stretching the already-thin premise of this blog post tissue-paper thin because, as I said before, I really need to be working on my master’s thesis and this is helping to distract me from writing my master’s thesis.

But let’s face it – this is the new face of celebrity, right here. We both know that this is how it works these days: someone without qualifications or talent does something derivative but mildly funny (not LMAO funny, but sort of heh funny)  on the Internet, on a blog nobody reads (check), and then suddenly a bunch of people share it on social networks and Twitter and what not, and it goes viral and then Reddit does something and then the networks take notice, and finally I do whatever I want. That’s how it works. I don’t need talent, I just need a bunch of robotic minions to take five seconds out of their busy schedules full of internet pornography and petitions for their state to secede from the US, and arbitrarily click share. I don’t even have to be funny or talented – I just have to be so deluded that I really think I deserve this.

Because I do. I do deserve this.

For many Chroma Key and OSI fans all over the world, “Space-Dye Vest” was our first taste of the real Kevin Moore. I say the real Kevin Moore because it’s clear (based on interviews, music, and general circumstances surrounding his departure from Dream Theater) that Kevin was not particularly interested in playing prog metal by the time Dream Theater was producing Awake. In fact, you can tell from his lyrics on “6:00″ that he found touring to be drudgery akin to (gasp!) office work. Instead, Kevin was already formulating the ideas for what would become Chroma Key: doing sound samples of spoken word interviews, recording sequenced and atmospheric layered keyboard demos, and learning how to sing.

But the magic of “Space-Dye Vest” is just how different it is than anything else on the album, or indeed, anything else that Dream Theater produced. I have often thought that it really doesn’t feel like it belongs in Dream Theater’s catalog at all – it should have been the first Chroma Key single – but then again, nobody would know about it if it were. The lyrics are introspective and passionate, but with an incredible intimacy that Dream Theater has since been unable to reproduce (I tend to find Portnoy’s “introspective” lyrics to be as graceful as an elephant falling down a flight of stairs). The lyrics of “Space-Dye Vest” aren’t perfect, but they really show a window into Kevin’s mind at the time and are therefore priceless. Even more personal is the revelation (from an extemporaneous comment from James LaBrie on stage with Jordan Rudess) that Kevin actually laid down his own vocals underneath James. It blends so well that it’s almost impossible to discern, but it’s there.

The lyrics you’ll just have to hear for yourself. Kevin falls in love with a wardrobe model in a fashion catalog, and realizes that the only way their relationship can be perfect is if he never sees her or meets her. “Found a new girl, I think we can make it/As long as she stays on the page.” You just have to hear it.

I learned the main riff on the guitar and sought to teach myself how to play it on piano. It’s deceptively tricky. Of course, I am in no way a pianist, but the way he phrases and inverts chords made it impossible for me to reproduce in any way. Kevin’s piano playing skills are just like everything else he does – brilliant, difficult, and completely understated. That’s one of the main things I love about Kevin – he is so true to himself and is able to do such high-quality work without ever having to compromise, and he doesn’t care who knows about it.

After hearing “Space-Dye Vest” I became addicted to Kevin’s solo work, participating heavily on his (now defunct) official message boards and getting every recording I could get my hands on. While I feel that I’ve pretty much outgrown Dream Theater almost completely, I still listen to Dead Air for Radios and You Go Now on a regular basis. And by regular, I mean that I don’t usually go a week without listening to at least one track from either of those albums. Throw in OSI (which, you might predict by now, was for me one of the most perfect mixtures of styles I’ve ever heard) and you have about 30% of my total listening repertoire.

There is no official Kevin Moore message board now, and Kevin is a far more elusive and enigmatic figure than ever. His online fan community lives primarily on an unofficial site called The Mooreatorium, and he never participates on that board. He’s just a very private person, and does not seem to be very keen on the things that musicians have to do to be famous (touring heavily, making appearances, kissing up to fans, etc.). I can’t tell if I admire that tendency or if it annoys me. On the one hand, after a little experience getting to know people who have been on the road, I can totally see why he’s not interested in getting caught up in that life. But on the other hand, I do feel a little entitled. I don’t want to oversell this, but even at my most objective I am guessing I am one of about 10 of his biggest fans on the planet. And that’s not bragging – I know most of the other fans. It’s a small circle.

But “Space-Dye Vest” started it all. One of my favorite memories was sitting in a church parking lot, late for Sunday services, while my Mom insisted on playing “Space-Dye Vest” a second time. I believe it was the first time she’d heard the song, and she was so entranced that she had to play it again, despite making us all late for church. You should have seen the smiles on all our faces (my brother is also a fan of Kevin, though not on my level).

Here is the original version of the song, from Dream Theater’s album Awake:

Here is Kevin’s demo version from around that time. Note that Dream Theater (to their credit) did not alter it very much for the Awake version, commenting that they believed it was pretty near perfect already (I agree):

Garmarna_VengeanceOne band that I have consistently listened to since I found out about them (probably in 1999 or 2000) is Garmarna.  If you haven’t heard of them, that’s understandable.  They are a Swedish band that does (or rather did, since they’ve kind of been off the grid for about a decade now) traditional Swedish folk music with a more modern flair.  Specifically, I think their music fits in very well with the industrial and trip-hop genres that were really maturing around that time.

I feel that if Garmarna had marketed themselves a little differently, they really could have broken ground in the United States and been a significant force in American music at the time.  This may or may not be true – it is not often the case that non-English-speaking bands break through in the American market.  But their music was so entrancing, different, dark, moody, ground-breaking, and well-written that I can’t help but think they might have succeeded more than they did.

Perhaps they could have toured with some more well-known trip-hop or industrial groups like Massive Attack or Nine Inch Nails, or some of the more experimental proggy bands such as Tool, Peter Gabriel, or King Crimson.  Instead, in the United States they mostly stuck to Nordic Roots Festivals and similar events for Swedish bands.  Maybe they just weren’t interested in the American market – it might be egotistical to even think that concerned them at all.  I do think there was some kind of missed opportunity there, though.  However, if any members of Garmarna are reading this, there’s still time!  I would love to see a Garmarna show in the United States!

In fact, when I was a teenager I loved Garmarna so much that I wrote a couple emails to various members of the group.  The one who wrote me back was Emma Härdelin (the lead vocalist).  I don’t have a copy of the email now, but it was just a very sweet little note that really touched me at the time.  Fans don’t often receive responses to fan letters (I know I didn’t from basically anyone else).

I believe their best, most complete artistic statement was Vedergällningen (in English, Vengeance). That album is just solid from beginning to end.  Like I said, it was moody and dark, but also the combination of Swedish folk music and industrial/trip-hop actually worked amazingly together.  I am usually skeptical of many genre-fusing bands but these guys were just on.

For those of you who know me but have not yet given Garmarna a listen, please, do me a favor and check them out.  Here are some of my favorites.

Herr Holkin (no official music video, but by far my favorite)

Gamen (official video)

Euchari (official video, words by Hildegaard von Bingen)

This is a question I’ve always had, since I was a child.  I have always thought that if a new song I’ve written is not sufficiently new or different from a song that’s already been written, I shouldn’t write it or record it.  It doesn’t mean my songs aren’t derivative sometimes, but it keeps me from really just wasting everybody’s time.  Great video.

More sad news from Jerry Gaskill, the solid, amazing drummer from King’s X.  I previously posted about Jerry’s heart attack that took him off the stage for months, though he has recovered.  However, Jerry has now lost all his possessions due to the destruction of Hurricane Sandy.  There is a fundraiser going on now to help him get back on his feet.  I hope it’s successful in some way.  Hang in there, Jerry!

Whoa, you can totally tell I’m inspired by this view!

A good friend of mine challenged me to create a list of songs that I felt were particularly inspiring.  As a long-time lover of both music and opinionated lists I accepted that challenge.  Here were the basic stipulations we worked out:

  • They must be inspiring in a spiritual and/or emotional way.  I take this in a very broad sense, since I see spirituality in a wide variety of kinds of music.  However, this means a lot of my favorite bands won’t be on the list (I listen to them for other reasons).
  • The inspirational nature of the songs must be such that it can be obtained without previous background knowledge of the context in which the song was written, the personal history of the songwriter, historical details, etc.  I will comment on why I like it, however, it will not be in-depth about the meanings behind the songs.
  • No points are awarded for “sonic textures,” musicianship, technical ability, etc.  This is all about pure inspiration.

So here we go, a tentative “Most Inspiring Playlist” of songs that inspire me personally.  The format will be song, artist, and album, with comments if necessary.

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