A word on the UCSB shooting from a former “nice guy”

Thoughts go out this morning to all of Elliot Rodger’s victims this morning.

There are just no words to describe the sense of despair and hopelessness I feel after a mass shooting.  Because for all the talk that we will engage in- some good, some bad- our national politics are so paralyzed that it seems impossible that we will get the sort of measures that we need to reduce the number of guns in our society or increase the number of mental health facilities that all our people need and could use. Our leaders should respect the words of someone like Richard Martinez, and it’s just painful that so many of them won’t.

Still, the story of Elliot Rodger merits discussion and a difficult one at that. We’ve learned a lot about Elliot Rodger, more than we ever knew about the Newtown shooter. And we’ve seen that he has a more coherent world view than the Colorado shooter or the Phoenix shooter. His videos and 140 page manifesto reveal that this man had a lot of hate in his heart, geared mostly toward women who would not pay attention to him. We’ve learned that Rodger was, if nothing else, a very extreme version of someone we all know: the “nice guy.”

A quick note: I was once a “nice guy” myself. You all know “nice guys.” “Nice guys” are, well, nice to women. Not like all those mean guys who abuse them, neglect them, then break their hearts. A “nice guy” will hold the door open for a woman, be friends with her, support her when she’s hurting. If “nice guys” dated those women, they would be so good to them. But of course, because women don’t actually like “nice guys”, they will never date them. So runs the personal narrative of the “nice guy.”

I am by no means the first person to talk about “nice guys.” I’ve been hearing about them since at least high school. I remember earlier than that hearing about the “friend zone” courtesy of… well… Friends. Basically the “friend zone”, it appears is bad. You don’t want to be in the “friend zone” with a lady you’re attracted to. You want to be sleeping with that lady.

I am also not the first person to criticize the “nice guy.” Some of you may remember the Tumblir “Nice Guys of OkCupid.” It was shut down by OKC itself, but these Nice Guys live on courtesy of posts from sites such as Buzzfeed. The blog had this handy chart explaining what is so wrong with this breed of man.

I still maintain that they were a little harsh on fedoras, but otherwise on point.

To sum up, here’s the basic problem with the “Nice guy” mentality: If you’re expecting sex in exchange for being nice, then well…  you’re probably not that nice. If you’re only friends with someone because you want that friendship to lead to sex, then you’re probably not a great friend.

Hang out with “nice guys” enough, by the way, and you’ll notice a seeming contradiction in their logic. At the height of my “nice guy-ism” I found myself judging a lot of women around me for being sexually promiscuous, wearing tight jeans or short skirts, or whatever else, all while convinced I was still fundamentally a decent guy who loved women. Looking back now, I realized that women’s clothing or behaviors wasn’t the problem. I wasn’t mad at the way women dressed or the amount of sex women had, I was mad that they weren’t with me. “Nice guy-ism”, you see, is a fundamentally selfish worldview. It’s not about valuing other people, but about valuing what worth they have for you, how they fit your personal wants and desires. It’s about valuing what their attention means for you, how their attention raises your status over those mean guys that are not you. And here’s where this turns into dark and twisted thoughts and behaviors: when other people don’t fit your wants and desires, that makes them worthy of your judgment, resentment, and hate. Carry that logic far enough, and you get to Elliot Roger and thousands of other men who commit violence against women.

Just to be clear, Elliot Rodger is clearly more than just a nice guy. He has already been described by those who knew him as someone with a whole host of issues. Also, most “nice guys” will never be violent towards women or anyone else. Most of us will never send out messages like this one from a white man to an Asian woman, which to me demonstrates perfectly what can cause “nice guys” to become not so nice:

It’s going to be easy to say “I’m not Elliot Rodger, I’m not violent, I’m not mean” in the next few weeks, but the truth we all need to watch out for the “nice guys” in our midst and even at times in ourselves. Because violence aside giving in to “niceguy-ism” is a recipe for a sad, lonely, and bitter life. It’s a worldview that virtually guarantees depression, bad relationships, and bad friendships. And the scary part is as miserable as that disposition can be, it can also be comforting. Being a “nice guy” means that when people don’t want to be around you, it’s their fault, not yours. You don’t have to change or evolve or reflect in any way. You get to be the hero of your own story, which in this case is a tragedy. Sometimes, that can be easier than admitting that maybe some things about you just suck and you need to change.

Personally, I’d like to think I grew out of my “nice guy” phase. Partially I just got older and more self reflective. I learned that friendships built around something other than the future possibility of sex as a goal were pretty neat, and I wanted to have more of them. I also had some relationships and friendships of my own that I screwed up, and figured out that I wasn’t as “nice” as I thought I was. That I could at times be passive-aggressive, neglectful, or rude, and that I needed to change those things about myself. With each passing year and every new experience, I see that “nice guy” I knew when I was 17 disappear further in the rear view mirror. Not everyone leaves that person behind, though, and our society and culture does not make it easy to do so.

Once again, thoughts and prayers should go out to the victims last night, and victims of “nice guys” everywhere. Some thoughts should go to the “nice guys” as well who have yet to grow out of their misery and sadness. They deserve better, and we all deserve better.

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They’re back! My Bloody Valentine!

Our song of the day: Could it really be anything else? My Bloody Valentine basically picks up where they left off 23 years ago on M B V. The songs are clearer and less ambient, but beyond that, it’s the same band that you knew once upon a time. Welcome back, lady and gents, and here’s hoping the comeback is a long and productive one.


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Song of the Day: Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East-> Featuring Allman Brothers and Peter Green!

So I’m a big lover of great jams, but I’ve honestly never been a huge fan of the jams of the Grateful Dead. I think American Beauty is one of the great albums ever- and particularly love some of Jerry Garcia’s solo work with David Grisman’s- but I’ve found their extended workouts to be meandering and dull.

So what could change that? Why add members of the Allman Brothers and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and put them in the Fillmore East, of course!

Take a listen to Turn On Your Lovelight and enjoy one of the great guitar jams in history: Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman, and Peter Green are three of the great guitarists in American history and playing with each other pushes these men to dazzling new heights. (And leads me to wonder what might happen if Garcia had someone at that level in his own band pushing him in the way that Danny Kirwan pushed Green and Dickey Betts pushed Allman.) These guitarists play and compete and collaborate without ever stepping on each other’s toes, and effectively mix the laid back earthy style of Garcia with the fiery blues of Allman and the (by this point) otherworldly heavy rock of Green. (One of the forgotten greats who suffered a Syd Barrett-style fall from grace and should get his own Song of the Day sometime soon.)

The rest of the concert has some major highlights (Including another Allman cameo on the Dead standard, Dark Star), but that finale with everyone on stage is the real highlight.

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Song of the Day: Trombone Shorty’s Do to Me (Feat. Jeff Beck!)

Whoo that flu really does knock you out. Been out of commission the last few days, though it’s given me a chance to catch up on new music listening, including the latest from jazz phenom Trombone Shorty, who’s putting jazz together with hip-hop and R&B in exciting ways. This latest track shows off his talents as player, arranger, and producer, while also showing that everything is wonderful when accompanied by Jeff Beck.

But the real winner here is Ledisi’s soulful turn on “Then There Was You.”


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Song of the Day: The Continued Life of “John the Revelator”

Very few musicians have attempted to combine the holy and the sinful by trying to play the gospel and the blues together. Perhaps the most prolific gospel blues musician was the somewhat filthily named Blind Willie Johnson. Johnson started life as a street performer and corner preacher; why he decided to try to play the devil’s music, we’ll never be quite sure, but he nonetheless played it better than most. There are many great slide guitar players, but few who capture the raw and mournful potential of the style like Willie.  His most famous song, though, emphasizes that gritty and guttural voice that Tom Waits seems to have made his career trying to emulate. The song, popularized by Harry Smith on “Anthology of American Folk Music, is “John the Revelator.”

Maybe it’s the rhythm, maybe it’s his voice, maybe it’s the basic story, but this song has become a surprising standard in the blues and rock worlds. It has been covered by Son House, Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave with the Blues Brothers backing), Gov’t Mule, Dave Matthews, R.E.M., Beck, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, to name a few. Each band has brought their own spin to it.

Perhaps the most surprising version I’ve heard is by Steve Vai. Vai has veered between being Frank Zappa’s sidekick, David Lee Roth’s Van Halen replacement, and finally a gifted composer with a knack for futuristic and creative compositions. (For the skeptical, see his collaborations with the Metropole Orchestra on Sound Theories.) All of which is to say I never imagined that he’d visit this gospel blues classic. Yet here he is at his Hendrix-fueled best, supported by the fiery  Beverly McClellan, a hammond B-3 organ, and a full gospel choir. It’s a version that pays homage to gospel and hard blues, while never losing sight of everything that Vai has built his career on. If you’re an old blues listener whose open to change, you just might appreciate this.



Happy 45th Anniversary to “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”

So I missed the song yesterday, so let me leave you with a classic. Otis Redding was gone far too early, but he closed his career with one of the most passionate and sensual catalogues in music history. His final and most famous single came out 45 years ago yesterday, back in 1968.

Here’s a particularly warm and sexy version courtesy of Sara Bareilles.

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Song of the Day- Diablo Swing Orchestra “Kevlar Sweethearts”

Wow! So apparently when you take a metal band that recruits few bandmates from the local college orchestra, you get this concoction, a band that’s got all the changing time signatures of a Dream Theater, the horns of your local ska band, and a slight operatic touch for good measure. Naturally they are from Sweden.

This is the sort of experiment that could easily make for a real life Spinal Tap. Luckily, this 8 piece lineup is far too skilled to let this become cheesy schlock; they’re also just having too much fun, and you are as a result. A true blast for fans of symphonic metal.

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Song of the Day: Flogging Molly’s What’s Left of the Flag

Oh man we’re going back for this one. No, Flogging Molly is not that old, but they are one of the bands that, for me, fit a very specific time and mood in my own life. I remember finding this album at the most boring of places: a Borders in suburban Connecticut after spending months wondering what they were when I would see their shirts in Hot Topic. Yep I was one of those kids, though without the dog collars. You were cool in my high school if you knew who these guys were. Sure, most of these guys were from L.A. and some of their most famous songs were lifted from the Pogues. Still, Dublin-born veteran singer Dave King has one of the great world weary voices in rock, and his sincerity and passion never lets the band become a cheap schtick.

Happy Sunday everone!

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Skunk Anansie- I Will Break You

The heavy metal world has relatively few women, and even fewer black women, which makes lead singer Skin a welcome outlier in the genre, and a welcome one at that.

Skin’s band, Skunk Anansie has been around for quite some time, and has been for a long time putting together a sound that is equal parts Iron Maiden and Sleater-Kinney. It’s distinctly British and often political. After a 9 year break, Skunk Anansie reunited in 2009, and released their latest album, Black Traffic, this past September.

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Song of the Day- John Fullbright “I Only Pray at Night”

Happy Friday everyone! Mr. Universe, yours truly, will be staying in tonight after a long week to enjoy Back to the Future and a good book. I’ve already talked up Norman, Oklahoma’s own John Fullbright a little bit, and urge you all to check him out. Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Steve Earle all fused their DNA together to create this dude, and I have nothing but high hopes for where his career is going. Here’s hoping he comes back to the east coast soon, wins the Grammy for Best Americana Album for his studio debut From the Ground Up, and has a good, long run.

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Song of the Day: Jamming with Miles on “Right Off”

Personal note: I just started my level 2 improvisational theater class, and I’m very excited about building my skills for it. In the spirit of improvisation, I thought I’d make the song of the day a tribute to great musical improv. This is “‘Right Off”, a 26 minute masterpiece from Miles Davis’ A Tribute to Jack Johnson.

So the story goes, this song got its start when John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham (who would later join forces in the Mahavishnu Orchestra), and Michael Henderson started a pretty simple blues jam waiting for Miles to show up. Producer Teo Macero, when he realized what he was hearing, had the good sense to let the tapes roll. Miles eventually jumped in with one of the great and most fiery trumpet solos of his distinguished career, and the track kicks into high gear from there. Later in the session, Miles found Herbie Hancock in the studio and, being the type of guy who can demand such things, insisted that he start playing.

The result is perhaps the most natural and bluesiest album of Miles Davis’ fusion period. If you like jazz crossed with blues anchored by a killer electric guitar, this is your record.

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