Author Archives: Michael Brown

About Michael Brown

I am a public school teacher in the state of Washington. I enjoy writing, bird-watching, working in the garden, photography, and spending time with my family.

End of the GOP?

I really want to believe this is true, but I’m not convinced. I believe that this GOP will do absolutely anything to stay in power. It is the last bastion of the Angry White Male trying to hang on to his privilege. Any party members outside that demographic are only there because they don’t get that white male privilege is real, and party leaders want them so that they are appear to be open to diversity.

There’s a Bigger Prize Than Impeachment


Release It

The Mueller Report needs to be released. Whether there is evidence of prosecutable activity or not, the American people must see what was found. Barr was appointed by Trump and I don’t trust him because of that. We have seen lying and obfuscation from members of this administration since day 1. They agree to work for this President only because he is a means to an end. There is little honor left in the Republican party. There might be a few individuals who will stand up against this slide towards authoritarianism, but only a few. The rest of the party would embrace it.


Good News?

All I want is some really good news. Something like, “Trump’s Bone Spurs Malignant: 1 Week to Live” or “AOC Wipes Smirk Off McConnell’s Face Before He Retreats Into Shell.”


My Heart Breaks Again

In reading about the suicides of two survivors from Stoneman Douglas High School and the father of a Newtown victim I am really hurting. And to then hear that a certain right-wing conspiracy pusher has crawled to the surface again to smear the memory of that father enrages me.

Is it okay to feel such anger? Probably not good for my heart or mental health I guess. But damn! The fascist trolls continue to obfuscate the reality of the issues which cloud our national future. We must fight back.


Review: Not Changing, by Jim Basnight

In recent years I have tried to focus some of my money spent on music on local artists, or up and coming artists from anywhere. A good example is Pushing Chain, a “folky tonk” duo from Minnesota. As far as local artists in the past number of years I’ve purchased music by Carl Funk, Brad, The Halyards, and Vanilla. I am also looking forward to an upcoming release by Tom Kell, a Puget Sound area guy who has spent the past several decades in Southern California rubbing elbows with the royalty of the “California Sound.” On top of that, I want to write reviews of the music and encourage others to buy it. With streaming becoming ubiquitous these days it’s tough for musicians to make a living unless they are superstars.

But today my topic is Jim Basnight. For about four decades Jim has been a prolific producer of original songs. His band The Moberlys was a popular and influential part of the pre-Grunge Seattle music scene. He has continued to make music both as a solo artist and with bands such as The Rockinghams and a re-formed version of The Moberlys. Along the way, he has spent time living and making music in both New York and L.A. but always returning to his native Puget Sound region.

Recently, Jim released “Not Changing”, a collection of 14 new songs. The album opens with “Code to Live By.” The opening bars remind me a bit of the jazzy opening riffs from “Blue Collar” by BTO so many years ago. I am not the greatest at interpreting lyrics, because I know songwriters have something in mind as they write. It helps if I can have the lyrics in front of me too. But as I listen to this song I get the feeling it’s about a person of privilege who has no moral compass, “Crawling through your life, waiting for a code to live by.” Hopefully, Jim will set me straight if I’m off on this one. But I think it’s a great song.

This release falls into the category of Power Pop. The title track proves it by picking up the tempo and adding a harder edge. It has a short spoken intro before it begins to rock in earnest. The next track, “Big Bang” isn’t about a situation comedy about nerds, but is a hard rocking love song about a “supernova of love.” The song, “Suicide Evening” appears to be about someone contemplating ending their life and features a perfect guitar solo for the mood. It starts beautifully with a sustained note played in unison with Jim’s vocal. Hard to tell where the guitar starts and the vocal ends. On “Kurt Cobain,” it sounds as though Cobain has been resurrected on guitar, and perfectly recreates that Grunge vibe. Recently, Jim wrote that “Never Get Lost” was intended to sound like “Badfinger with Hendrix on guitar.” That helps explain why it may be my favorite track, as I am a huge fan of Badfinger. Other great tracks on this recording include, oh, never mind. They are all great. Buy it here.

The CD is co-produced by longtime local producer Garey Shelton who also plays bass. Drums are by Dave Warburton, who seems to be in pretty high demand right now. On guitar is Bruce Hazen. Steve Aliment does backing vocals. DJ Jay Phillips does a spoken, top-40 radio style intro on “Living the Way I Want.”


Review: Sorrows Always Swim, by Pushing Chain

A year ago a Kick Starter campaign showed up in my Facebook news feed. It was shared by one of my favorite singer-songwriter-musician-humans, Bill Kirchen. Bill was a member of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen back in the 70s, and since then has continued to crank out great songs, recordings, and performances. But this Kick Starter was for a duo who call themselves Pushing Chain. Bill would be producing.

Pushing Chain are Boyd Blomberg and Adam Moe, who have played music together since 1997. Blomberg plays guitar and Moe plays fiddle. Both sing and write, although the bulk of songs on this CD are Blomberg’s.

photo from Pushing Chain press materials

Pushing Chain describe their music as Folky-Tonk, and include the following statement in their press materials:

Pushing Chain believes in strong harmonies, kazoos, and sad songs. We believe in performing songs we’ve never played together, and jamming with people we’ve just met. That a guitarist and a fiddler can cover Hendrix if they want to. That music can cause tears and laughter, sometimes in the course of one song, and that there are still important songs to be written. That a good band will make strangers share a table.

Word.

So, based on Bill’s involvement alone, I made a pledge. I didn’t know their music at all.

A number of months back, I received my autographed copy of the CD and have been listening, mostly in the car. This is heavier on the Tonk than the Folky. That’s not a problem at all. Bill Kirchen’s musical DNA is all over this recording. He is credited third among the musicians behind only Blomberg and Moe, and shares producing credit with Mark Hallman. His guitar will be immediately recognizable to his fans. The recording is rounded out with Hallman on piano and organ, David Carroll on bass, Rick Richards on drums, and Redd Volkaert on guitar on the final track, “Rondo Up!”

Like most of the songs here, the lead track, “Lucky You, Lucky Him” is about love. In this case, as is the case with so many country and honky tonk songs, it’s about love lost, and seeing the happiness of the one you lost.

The title track is a highlight. Great lyrics with a hook. Bill Kirchen’s solo is among his best, not too long, mostly on the fat strings, emotive, just right.

Other favorites on the disc are “Breadbox”, “My Baby’s Kisses”, “Truckstop Rose”, and “A Cowboy’s Ride”.

I won’t go on longer than necessary. If you like country, honky tonk, Americana, and the like, I unreservedly recommend this CD.

And if you’re reading this Pushing Chain, please come to western Washington!


Boredom?

I don’t remember ever sitting in a class and thinking, “This is boring.” I certainly wouldn’t have said it out loud. I do remember classmates saying it. Just thinking about why.

Why?


Redundant Much?

Venting time. This morning I got a phone call from the school office. “I need you to go in to TAC and enter your grades! It was supposed to be done two days ago!” Okay. I made a few clicks and it was done. The problem is that I had to do it.

What’s going on is that we have two computer systems for grades, an old one and a new one. Eschool is the old, Schoology is the new. We enter our grades in Schoology, but Eschool is used for grade reporting. Ultimately, I believe Schoology is supposed to be used for both, but in the meantime, teachers must intervene in order to allow the two systems to talk to each other. When it is time for interim progress reports, we have a window of time to make the aforementioned clicks. If you miss the window, people get anxious.

The thing that bugs me the most is that with Schoology, parents have real time, 24/7 access to their child’s grades, assignments, missing work, etc. Can’t figure out why we bother with the progress reports at all. I do understand that not everyone has home Internet access, but that doesn’t mean no Internet access anywhere. Even my poorest kids seem to have better smart phones than I do.


Stress and Sadness

I just learned of the suicide of a second teacher in our district in under three months. I had actually worked with this individual my first two years in the district.

Supposedly, teachers in general have a low rate of suicide. I know this is anecdotal, and not a trend, yet. But the stress of the job is very real. My workplace situation remains much better than at my previous school. Still, there is stress dealing with specific situations.

I am sad for those who took their lives, but we don’t know for sure what motivated them to do so.


Race

I’m white.

This does not include “Low Confidence Regions.”

Don’t get much whiter. That “Europe West” includes a lot of German.

I’m not a white-supremacist however. I consider myself a no-supremacist. Everyone should be treated as equals. No, I’m not saying I always live up to that principle. My life has been a long evolution to this point, and I hope to continue to evolve to the day I die.

As a teacher I am acutely aware of race. I cannot consciously treat any student differently due to race, gender, gender/sexual identity, religion, political views, or any other diverse quality. But that hasn’t stopped people from thinking that I have done so, and that really hurts.

Every year there are students whose behavior is challenging. Many are white like me. Some aren’t. I always have a lot of students who cause me no trouble whatsoever. Many are white like me. Some aren’t.

When I’m dealing with disruptive behavior in class, it always feels different if the student is African-American. I can feel my anxiety level rising, my chest tightening, or queasiness. It’s because I’ve had trouble once before. While there was no direct accusation, the insinuation that I was treating a student differently because of who he was, was very real. The fact was, the student and his white buddies were very disruptive and disrespectful, and I treated them no differently.

More than a decade ago, our district was sued by some African-American families. The accusation was systemic racism. As a result of the settlement, all staff had annual diversity training, and the district hired a person to head up an office to work on equity.

I hadn’t known of the lawsuit until after it was settled. But some time later I learned that I had had at least one student from a family involved in the suit. I had gone to one of his pee wee football games. He was in my class the year I had Olympic Gold Medalist “Sugar” Ray Seales visit my class. I think I still have a picture of the student holding the gold medal somewhere.

I was not one of the teachers who had to testify in the lawsuit. Nobody ever talked to me or interviewed me about it. I had a good relationship with the family. I have good relationships with most families. But I still feel anxious when dealing with negative behavior of students who are African-American.