Monthly Archives: July 2011

Calming the Fuck Down

I have come to realize the importance of calming the fuck down.

For far too long I have pushed myself way too hard, putting too much responsibility on my shoulders in an effort to avoid any kind of failure or hardship. I have been successful because of this never-ending drive, but it is also making my life one giant task. And I don’t want my death to represent a big check mark on a to-do list.

So I realized yesterday that I got to take more breathers. I don’t have to rush myself. Not everything needs to get done today, and if there’s too much to get done right now, then something is going to have to wait or be dropped.

So no more juggling 30 things at once. No more running around like a chicken with its head cut off. It’s not that important. It’s time to simplify my life and to calm the fuck down.

End personal message of empowerment/rant.



Spotify Review

So I recently became a premium subscriber to the U.K. streaming music provider Spotify. Having used it for nearly a week, I thought I’d write my own little Spotify review to help you make a decision whether this is the right service for you.

I was skeptical when I heard Spotify was launching in the U.S. I was unclear on exactly how the service works, and I doubted that streaming music could stream efficiently. I also didn’t understand how streaming songs could be played offline, and I was doubtful there’d be a robust song selection. Well, this Doubting Thomas has become a convert. I LOVE SPOTIFY!

Spotify allows users to stream musical tracks directly to your computer and mobile device. With a premium subscription, you can also listen to tracks offline. There is also a social networking component that allows you to see what your friends have in their public playlists (though this feature seems to have quite a few bugs with it still).

First, the streaming works really well. I have very occasionally run into some issues with a delay in playback or a complete drop. But that is very rare. And it usually only happens when I’m importing songs for offline mode, which puts a strain on my bandwidth. Other than that, it is completely seamless.

The sound quality is very decent. It’s not perfect, and I really wish Spotify would provide an equalizer. Some tracks are a little off-balance, especially those with heavier bass. But these are minor issues, and the average music listener wouldn’t even notice. Overall, I’d give the sound quality an 8 on a scale of 10.

The song selection is outstanding. I have run into a few albums/artists that are not offered on Spotify (Frank Zappa, Smog, Adele’s newest album). But overall, it has everything you could want from 1930s jazz to 1970s soul to contemporary pop and rock. It’s a tremendously better selection than eMusic, which I had to stop using due to its extraordinarily limited catalogue.

The offline mode works wonderfully. I can listen to any track that I’ve synced up to listen to offline with no issues whatsoever. Whether I’m walking down the street or in a train tunnel, it works great.

The price is absolutely amazing. $10 a month. I already have streamed more than 500 songs in a week to listen to in offline mode from Stevie Wonder to Wild Beasts to Ween. I honestly don’t see how the iTunes store can compete.

I think the days of actually owning your music may be over. Netflix paved the way with its all-you-can-watch streaming movie/t.v. service. Spotify is like that but for music and with a much better selection.

So, in conclusion, I have listened to the future. And it sounds a lot like the hundreds of songs I am streaming from Spotify.

Play Review: The Homosexuals

I normally write reviews for the Chicago Theater Beat (formerly the Chicago Theater Blog). Because I can’t see a play without deconstructing it, I felt compelled to write my own review of  Philip Dawkins’ new play The Homosexuals, which I saw last night.

I had heard all the glowing reviews. My friends had all said, “You got to see this play!” Everyone sold it to me as The Boys in the Band but without all that self-loathing. They lied. This is exactly like The Boys in the Band, except the self-loathing (and more accurately self-sabotage) rarely gets called out into the open. Instead, the pain that underlies each character’s action is masked by a strangely homogenous catty humor that is quirky, Oscar Wildeish and disingenuous.

I’m not saying this is a bad play. It’s just incredibly depressing. And judging the audience’s reaction and many of the reviews by the critics, I’m one of the only people that sees this play that way. So maybe I’m a stick in the mud. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of that. Or maybe sometimes when the critical mirror is held up to society, society is like a cat and fails to recognize its own reflection.

The play is told in reverse chronology over a span of a decade. We follow a young man named Evan as he tears through his friend group, often confusing sex for companionship. Through two-person vignettes, we are introduced to the zany and motley-to-the-point-of-unbelievable group of messy friends. There’s the musical theater queen, the sexy POZ Brit, the nebbish nerd, the wine-crazed fag hag, the tortured artist and the first love.

Scenes tend to drag on too long, and often they follow a fairly stagnant pattern. Evan and the character  reference some things that help tie the larger  arc of the play together, rooting it in the chronology (which can sometimes make for some clunky exposition). They then explore their relationship through witty repartee. Then usually a character will go off on some long drawn out tangent that does a lot to build the character but adds little to the relationship between him and Evan (e.g., Michael’s naked story and the fag hag’s talk about inner-city school children). And then we loop back around and bring it back to the relationship to close out the scene.

Dawkins is a talented writer. I’d recommend cutting down some of these scenes, especially the tangents. The script just gives too much one-sided focus to the supporting characters without really fleshing Evan out. Often I felt like Evan was just there so that the supporting character wasn’t left to talk to an empty room. I also think the wittiness, although often clever, causes the characters to become too transparent. They all eerily have the same “voice.” After a while, it’s a little bit like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and you wonder if some exceptionally quick-minded catty alien didn’t inhabit each friend. The one character that stood out from this was Michael, who is by far the strongest and most grounded character in the play. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most other reviews give high praise to this character as well.)

What I think upsets me about this play is that it’s incredibly tragic, yet it’s sold as a feel-good YaYa Sisterhood thing for gay men. The play’s men (and one woman) are all damaged goods. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. In a way, we all are damaged goods. But it is their failure to recognize it that is so much of a damn downer. I’ve never seen a play better illustrate that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. Evan is constantly making the same mistake, which is looking for love (and more accurately acceptance and companionship) in all the wrong places. Meanwhile, the fag hag stuffs herself with Oreos and aches for requited love, Michael is ignored when being vulnerable, Brit Marcus has sex with his best friend’s ex.  Each scene is a tragedy masked in comedy where we laugh because we see ourselves in these people but fail to recognize that these people are also miserable.

The acting is compelling. The man who plays Michael is outstanding, and Patrick as Evan is a good everyman. The scene changes were my favorite part, as each flashback is punctuated with a song from that year and some nice in-time stage setting.

The Homosexuals is a tragic comedy of the highest degree. It’s about a bunch of lonely people that seem destined to be terminally lonely. And yet, rather than really confronting the cause of their loneliness, they are more apt to just make jokes to laugh the pain away. It’s human. So it’s relatable. I just wish less people could relate to it.

Compromise: Innovative Solutions to the Boystown Issue

As some may know from reading my writings, I am a big advocate for communication and compromise. I believe the problems that affect Boystown, from violent stabbings to homelessness to youth prostitution, will only be alleviated through joint action by the residents, the bar patrons and the queer youth. I feel groups like the most fervent of the Take Back Boystown posters and Gender Just serve to move us further from achieving actual positive social change. It is always much easier to dismiss the perspective of your adversary than it is to actually listen. And it is in listening that we achieve understanding, which is the foundation of any progress toward community and equality.

So here are some actual solutions that I think can help reduce what the Take Back Boystown people refer to as violent crime (stabbings and muggings) while also empowering queer youth by involving them more in the community and thereby reducing what they define as violent crime (abuse, prostitution, etc.).

  • Pink Angels and Angels In Training – Let’s bring back the Pink Angels, if only for a temporary basis. All Pink Angels should undergo proper training in order to be considered qualified. Pink Angels must be at least 21 in case they need to access the interior of a bar for patrol purposes. However, each squad of Pink Angels should include an “Angel in Training.” An Angel in Training will be a representative from the queer youth community who is under 21. They will assist with patrolling and undergo some form of training as well. The hope is that in addition to patrolling the streets, these groups will develop a certain camaraderie and mutual understanding, thereby helping to bridge the racial/age/class gap within the community. It will also give youth something positive and empowering to do at night.
  • A Monthly COH Dance – Granted the COH will open its doors once a month for this purpose (and if not, perhaps another entity will step up to the plate), I propose a monthly late-night dance for queer youth that is staffed by Boystown residents and bar patrons. The youth of course via representatives will lead the charge to develop the dance, but the residents and bar patrons will serve as chaperones and general helpers. Perhaps a local business can sponsor and donate food and non-alcoholic beverages. This will give the youth something actually fun to do at least once a month (I’d like it to be more frequent, but it’s good to start realistically), while also serving as a sign that the residential and bar community do care about these often overlooked members of the greater GLBT community.
  • A Community Hotline for Those Who Feel Wronged by Police – Yes, I know there is already a police-led service for citizens to file complaints against the police. But as it has been established, cops don’t necessarily treat the GLBT (youth and adults) fairly. So solely relying on a broken system to audit a broken system doesn’t instill a lot of confidence. I say we establish a volunteer network of community members who can field calls from GLBT citizens who have felt they have been mistreated by the police. These concerns can be made public via the Web, which may put the heat on the cops to actually investigate the alleged incident. We as a community can then, in essence, audit their auditors. This will allow residents to get the increased policing they request while also providing a system of checks and balances for the greater GLBT community who may be wary of police prejudice.

The Hungry Eyes Blog

In order to better separate my personal content from my business content, I have launched a blog specifically for Hungry Eyes Marketing. I’ll be updating it regularly with writing and marketing advice. It will serve as the agency’s main online presence until our Sept. 1 launch.

If you want to find out what’s going on in the life of Keith Ecker, keep reading this blog. And if you want to find out more about my reading series Essay Fiesta, read that blog.


Community Inaction: Thoughts on the CAPS Meeting

I was going to write a more detailed summary of the CAPS meeting today. But I’m just too mentally drained from the past couple days to write about it. I think the bullet points below that I wrote out last night stand. I just hope there is more listening and less emotional vitriol from both sides going forward.

  • If you think you’re right, you’re probably wrong.
  • How you present yourself at a public forum factors into the effectiveness of your message
  • Emotions trump communication
  • No one’s experience is without merit. Whether you’re homeless or middle class. Your experience has value.
  • Ed Negron is awesome.
  • I like air conditioning.
  • Booing and cheering are not productive. Listening is.
  • We need facilitated forums to clear up some of the misconceptions about race and class from both sides. A lot of white people don’t understand black people, a lot of black people don’t understand white people, a lot of middle-class people don’t understand poor people and a lot of poor people don’t understand middle-class people.
  • I believe in the power of storytelling and want to find ways to bring the principals of Essay Fiesta to this situation.
  • I need to stop eating dinner at midnight.

Regarding the Boystown Is Burning Article

If you’re a first-time reader of my blog, then you probably landed here because of my recent article in the Windy City Times. For those who are late to the table, Boystown has experienced an increase in violent crimes over the past month or so. The community (which includes residents and bar patrons) are scared for their safety, and rightfully so.

Many young Black GLBT citizens hang out on Halsted at night because they have no other safe space to go to. Some have accused these youths of being linked to the crime. Others care little to incorporate these young adults into the safety discussion. Other just want to see these Black GLBT youths go away.

Is there overlap between the young Black GLBT community and crime in Boystown? Maybe. It’s just as likely that there is overlap between crime in the neighborhood and bar patrons. Based on information from the authorities, some of these crimes were perpetuated by gang members who have no involvement with the Black GLBT youths whatsoever. So to say that the GLBT youth of color are largely responsible for the increase in crime has no factual basis.

What concerns me most is the fact that so many of the Boystown residents and bar patrons consistently overlook the Black GLBT youth. Some have even advocated an under-21 curfew, a completely unfeasible plan. Others have protested to close the Center on Halsted, which has been blamed as a source of problems. Rather than thinking about how to kick out or disacknowledge members of our community (and that is what they are), why don’t we find ways to incorporate them? Why not empower them and ourselves with a broader sense of community?

I want to expand on my Windy City Times articles and offer up some real solutions to address the community-building that must be done with regards to young GLBT minority groups. Others are working in coordinating with police and developing community-led anti-crime initiatives, which I applaud.

  • A late-night community center specifically for GLBT youth. It would not just be a social hang out. It could host nightly entertainment events including live music and performance. I have a lot of connections with the poetry community (which has a reputation for being multicultural), and I know they would be all over this. Many in the arts community would love to donate their time as well.
  • A mentorship program that pairs young GLBT members with older, responsible community members. Everyone needs role models. But sometimes it’s hard to find one, especially when you feel so neglected by society and the gay community at large. That’s why I think a program should be established (possibly through the COH) to pair young GLBT people with older GLBT citizens. Think of it as a Big Brother/Big Sister program for gays and transgendered people.
  • Community-building forums. I think someone (COH perhaps) should host open forums where all members of the GLBT community are encouraged to attend and talk openly, in a respectful manner, about their viewpoints on a number of issues, from crime to race to Boystown’s identity. I think what deters many from working together is a lack of understanding. By bridging gaps, we can reduce the prejudice and fear, emboldening ourselves as one.