Friday, August 22, 2014

"My Name Is My Name," by Pusha T (HHES Album Review)

Here's my review of the Pusha T album "My Name Is My Name," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

"King Push" is a solid song and starts the album off well. The lyrics are really dense and it definitely helps to bust out the Rap Genius annotations here. Pusha's delivery in this song is menacing and always compelling.

"Numbers on the Board" is one of the outstanding tracks on this album and of the year. The production is sparse, purposefully putting the focus on lyrics and delivery. That's a good idea. The beat is good, but the words are superb. The song barely has a hook, but it comes in at just the right time to tie things together and cement what's being said in the rest of the song.

I originally didn't pay much attention to "Street Serenade," mainly because I don't particularly like the hook. But after hearing it live, I really got into Push's verses, particularly the repeated Rick Flair "woo!" in verse 2, which kills live and seems to really stand out upon further listen on the album, too.

"Hold On" is one of the more introspective songs on the album and it benefits from some backing vocals from Kanye and, surprisingly, a Rick Ross verse I don't hate. If Ross was always like this, I might like him.

"Suicide" has another simple but powerful beat and some great wordplay from Push, but guest Ab-Liva just isn't on Push's level, bringing the song down a bit.

"40 Acres" shows that when it comes to lyrics, Push doesn't play and he is kind of light years ahead of most other rappers in the game. More sparse production leaves the power of the song all in the hands of Push (and the hook by The Dream) and he delivers.

"No Regrets" shows the one weakness this album has--vocalists other than Pusha T. Every time Push gets going good on a verse, a subpar hook comes in or a guest (in this case Jeezy) comes in and the contrast is strong enough that you're like "alright, let's get past this so we can get back to Push." This is far from the only song that happens on. In this song, when Push does return, he leads in with a triple metaphor "Presidential I came back," which refers to Obama's re-election, Push's return to recording after the end of his Clipse days, and the fact that he's back on the track after Jeezy's weaker (my word) verse. More of that would be better than more of the guests.

"Let Me Love You" contains the first great sung hook, this one by Kelly Rowland. The song is more upbeat, less gangsta, and more Clipse-like than any other track here. Those are compliments. The rest of the album is so hardcore this is a nice break that helps add weight to the other tracks. Push also varies his flow more here than in other songs and it works very well.

"Who I Am" takes it right back to the hardcore and brings back both Pusha rapping the short hook and the Rick Flair "woo" sound that appears on several earlier songs to very good effect. The 2 Chains comes in and puts me to sleep. He has 14 bars and 4 of them include "I got a bad bitch in my swimming pool." Big Sean is a bit better on his verse, but still doesn't hold rise to the level of Push.

"Nosetalgia" is not only the best song on the album, it's one of the two best songs released in 2013 (along with Schoolboy Q & Kendrick Lamar's "Collard Greens"). Here's why: 1. Push hits harder than anywhere else in his career. 2. Kendrick destroys the guest verse. 3. Awesome KRS-One samples. 4. Vivid storytelling and imagery. 5. Diverse flows. 6. A spare but perfect beat that, as with the rest of the album, gives the vocalists the spotlight and enhances what they do. 7. Probably the best wordplay on the album. If you don't know this song, you aren't listening to the best rap coming out these days.

"Pain" can't possibly follow "Nosetalgia" that well, no song could, but it tries by providing a more interesting and layered beat that might be the best on the album. One of the better (but still not great) sung hooks follows and then Pusha comes in with more top-notch rhyming that both provides some new references we haven't heard yet and ties the song to other tracks on the album.

"S.N.I.T.C.H." features Pharrell, but not at his best. The production is pretty simple for a Pharrell track, in trying to keep with the mood of the rest of the album, but Pharrell just isn't as good at it as Kanye. Pharrell's hook is worse, going down to the level of the album's other hooks by the likes of Future. Push delivers here much like he does on the rest of the album, but seems like he might have run out of things to say by this point.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. Pusha has a great flow. He rarely fails to deliver fully.

Lyrics: 9. The lyrics here are a bit heavily focused on the same few subjects, but they are very dense, interesting, and entertaining.

Message: 8. Most of the messages here are personal and historical, but you definitely get a pretty good insight into who Pusha T is or was.

Technical: 8. Pusha doesn't go in for too much speed rapping, but his flows always sound melodic and powerful.

Production: 9. Kanye knocks every track out of the park, the other producers don't suck either.

Versatility: 8. For the most part, Push stays in his lane, but when he ventures outside of it, it works well.

Collaborators: 6. There are a few really great collabs here (Kanye, Kendrick, Kelly) a few that are solid (Ross, Pharrell) and a bunch that are wek.

History: 10. This album is steeped in both gangsta rap history and broader history.

References: 10. You can't fully understand this album without Rap Genius, it's so packed with references.

Originality: 9. It goes down some well-worn content and lyrical paths, but it does it in ways that few others have done, making it a very strong take on an old genre.

Total Score: 87. This is one of the best hip hop albums of 2013 no question. This one made me a full-on Pusha T fan. Seeing him perform these songs live makes them even better.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"My Band Should Be Your Life" (With Footnotes)

Here is the latest in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my albums, EPs, and mixtapes. As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the album "My Band Should Be Your Life." The album is very short and the lyrics aren't super plentiful, so I figured I could take on this whole album in one post. It's 17 songs and 13 minutes long and has several very strong influences. The first and most obvious is the book "Our Band Could Be Your Life," by Michael Azzerad. The book chronicles a variety of underground bands from the late 70s through the early 90s. I was reading the book when the idea for this album came to me (the title of the album is a direct reference). And, in particular several of the profiles in the book inspired what I was doing: Black Flag, Minor Threat, the Minutemen, and Big Black in particular. These influences are seen in three specific ways: 1. The songs are short and don't generally follow typical pop song structures. 2. The sounds are often jarring and harsh, at times purposely offensive to the ear of most listeners. 3. The lyrics are, generally speaking, very straight forward, simple and made to be sung along with. They're meant to inspire emotion in the moment and not necessarily meant to be thought about in-depth. Some other influences seep in, and they are mostly NOT in the lyrics as originally written, but were either part of the process of composing the beats (EDM, Moby) or recording the vocals (hip hop and, in one case, 60s garage rock).

In total, the whole album from idea to lyrics to beats to recording took about six hours. The idea was not to spend too much time on it, but to capture the ideas as quickly as possible and with as little overthinking as possible. Take the words, couple them with a beat and don't mess around with them too much. About half of the songs are first takes and all of them are single takes. Unlike previous songs and albums, on much of this album, the focus isn't just on the lyrics. The specific sounds used have meanings too, which hasn't always been the case with previous songwriting from me. Something else you might notice is that many of these beats are very, very fast, with quite a few of them topping 170 bmp and maybe only one below 100 bpm. The process of creating the album began with me basically thinking of a list of about 20 titles for punk-sounding songs and then picking the best 16 ideas (Downer is a cover that was already recorded). Then I sat and wrote all the lyrics in one day. The composing was split up between two different days, but took about two hours. I lost my microphone during the process and while I recorded two songs in Tallahassee, Florida, the rest were recorded with my laptop's internal mic in Alexandria, Virginia, in one session that took about two hours.

Now it's time to take a specific look at each song.

"Fuck Yeah"

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, fuck yeah
Time to blow up, fuck yeah
Shut this shit down, fuck yeah
Go home no way, fuck yeah
Rock me rock you, fuck yeah
Rock everywhere, fuck yeah
Fast times fast days, fuck yeah
Come on come on, fuck yeah
Now now now now, fuck yeah
Live fast die old, fuck yeah
Fuck that stay bold, fuck yeah
Don't sleep not dead, fuck yeah
Win win win win, fuck yeah
Go go go go, fuck yeah
Never grow up, fuck yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, fuck yeah

So a lot of the punk songs that influenced this album are very straight forward lyrically. They aren't exactly simplistic, but they aren't deep thoughts either. They're more meant to be chanted along with and danced to. That's what I was going for here. "Fuck yeah" is a kind of universal underground positive exclamation and I thought it worked well as an exclamation point at the end of each line in the song.

"Executive Action"

We're gonna rock the world
We're gonna rock the world
Executive action, executive action
Gonna take what we want
Gonna take what we want
Executive action, executive action
Get the fuck out our way
Get the fuck out our way
Executive action, executive action
Gonna change the world
Gonna change the world
Executive action, executive action
Gonna fuck shit up
Gonna fuck shit up
Executive action, executive action
You can't stop us now
You can't stop us now
Executive action, executive action
We can't be denied
We can't be denied
Executive action, executive action
Gonna rock the world
Gonna rock the world
Executive action, executive action

"Executive Action" was also meant to evoke a punk song. There is this strain of punk songs that have random ass titles that you sing along with and they don't exactly make that much sense independently and this was an allusion to that type of song. Executive action has no real meaning here, but it sounded really good with this beat.

"Didactic"

You can call me didactic
My style high spastic
My lyrics fly caustic
Punk rap shit I cracked it
While you slept I acted
Sound gets you ecstatic
This music be frantic
I came and I rocked it
You'd better not jack it
My heroes intergalactic
Never quit my antics
Words that will be classic
Ideas keep you captive
The changes will be drastic
Leave your life of plastic
Or your doom will be tragic

So a year or so ago, someone told me they didn't like reading my writing because I was too "didactic." To be honest, I didn't even know what the word meant and had to look it up. I came up with "intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive" and I was like "fuck yeah I do that on purpose." I was a professor for 11 years and the whole reason I write, both music and nonmusic, is to pass along information and moral instruction. So while she meant it in a negative light, I took it as a badge of honor. That led to the first line of the song and I wanted to make the song a little more complex than the rest of the album and I tried to include as many multisyllable and multi-word rhymes that fit the initial rhyme scheme. They don't all fit that pattern, but a lot do.

"Bombs Over Gaza"

The dead kid lying in the rubble
Covered in blood
No more school
No more laughter
No more birthdays
No more songs
His family, if they survived, which is far from certain, never to see him again
That dead kid, he doesn't care that you blew him up because you thought his uncle was a terrorist
Even if he was a terrorist
That kid doesn't care about your re-election campaign
He doesn't care about AIPAC
He doesn't care how Fox News is going to spin his death
He doesn't care how much you can fundraise off of his death
He doesn't care about any thing
Any more

I've been really torn on the latest conflict in the Middle East. I respect the right to exist of both Israel and of Palestine and other disputed territories. And I recognize that there are good and bad people on both sides of the conflict and some, on both sides, have done horrible things for what they think are good reasons. This song was meant as a specific rant against collateral damage and the idea that war is always a bad thing, no matter how honorable or correct your reasons for it are. And it was a direct attack on right-wing reactions to the conflict, all of which are basically immoral. The sound on this one is particularly unique for me. The samples used for the song are all bomb sounds. When I recorded the vocal, I didn't want it to sound like my straight up voice, so I hit the "vocoder" effect button, but it accidentally transformed both the vocals and the instrumental and the new sound was so awesome that I decided to leave it that way. The instrumental goes on well beyond the vocal, unlike the rest of the album, and that was on purpose to express that people still keep dying even after Americans quit talking about the topic. The sounds here were also purposefully jarring and meant to annoy the listener's ear, because dead kids should cause you some discomfort. I will note that my roommate's dog found the sound so offensive it barked and growled at the song when I played it. That is a perfect reaction.

"PMRC"

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck
Jizz, jizz, jizz, jizz
Clit, clit, clit, clit
Cum, cum, cum, cum
Twat, twat, twat, twat
Cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt
Piss, piss, piss, piss
Prick, prick, prick, prick
Tits, tits, tits, tits
Dick, dick, dick, dick
Cock, cock, cock, cock
Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts
Shit, shit, shit, shit
Ass, ass, ass, ass
Balls, balls, balls, balls
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck

Punk and rap music both share a fascination with profanity and this touches on that. But the title is PMRC, or the Parents Music Resource Council, with this being a specific rejection of that group's ridiculous worries about bad words as opposed to real problems. This isn't an original concept for a song, as performers as varied as Jello Biafra and Warrant have approached it on albums before, but it's still a problem that people get punished for words like "fuck" and not for things like fucking over entire demographic groups.

"Taxachusetts"

The things you say are dumb
You don't know shit
You lie, lie, lie
And others die, die, die
Your motives are suspect
Your life is a train wreck
Your ideas defective
You will be rejected
You can't win with truth
You brainwash the youth
You lie, lie, lie
And mothers cry, cry, cry
You select your own facts
Your values are cracked
You are fucking whack
You need to get smacked
Your theories are stupid
You don't act human
You lie, lie, lie
Our rights say bye, bye, bye
It sucks when we do it
It's okay when you do it
You suck and you know it
You suck and we know it
The postmodern man
You need to be banned
You lie, lie, lie
And kids fry, fry, fry
You don't wanna help us
You're so fucking selfish
Damn your whole clan
Fuck your game plan
Lie, lie, lie
Lie, lie, lie
Lie, lie, lie
Bye, bye, bye

The first step in this song was the title, which is a common political phrase used by right-wing trolls. It's nonsensical in several ways (including the simple fact that Massachusetts doesn't have particularly high taxes and that it's one of the more successful states in terms of serving its citizens). In effect, it's a lie used by right wingers, but a simple "catchy" lie that is easy to remember and repeat. Then it became a simple matter of calling out the people who use the lie. The other interesting aspect of this one is that while it has no chorus, there is a hook that comes in the triple rhymes in the second couplet of each 8-bar verse, which I really liked conceptually.

"Madame President"

Don't want no corporate shill
Of that shit I've had my fill
Don't want another white man
Don't want a Limbaugh fan
Tired of the same old same old
Want someone brash, someone bold
Time for a new approach
With values above reproach
I want my leader to have no cock
To come from a different stock
We can have men again some day
After we've tried another way
A woman's place is in the White House
Don't report on the color of her blouse
Let's talk some substance
Not about her fucking pants
It's time to say goodbye
We don't see eye to eye
With you we have discontent
It's time for Madame President

This may be the most straightforward rap song and Professor Rex track on the album. No real metaphor or deeper message, straight to the point. The lyrics are a bit challenging, but mild for my political songs.

"God Hates Flags"

Love
Marriage
Rights
Nights
Parades
Sex
Fashion
Passion
Family
Art
Needs
Freedom
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
Conformity
Fake unity
Jingoism
Xenophobia
The poor
A war
Bombs
Guns
Death
Hatred
Death
Corpses
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
God hates flags!

This one has maybe the punkiest chorus in terms of both lyrics and delivery. A lot of punk songs use challenging words, often with irony or subtext that many listeners don't get. I wanted to do that here with the use of the word "fag" in a celebratory sense. There is the obvious reference to the Fred Phelps clan which protests funerals and other things with signs that say "God hates fags." The first verse is a series of things that are popularly associated with gay people, while the second verse is things associated with nationalism and imperialism. The message is simple, gay people are good, nationalism and imperialism are bad.

"Who You Wanna"

Who you wanna be
Who you wanna fuck
Where you wanna go
What you wanna know

Quite a few punk songs have very sparse lyrics that are repeated and don't have particularly deep meanings, despite being profound in their simplicity. That was what I was going for here. The triple-layered vocals were meant to make it more of a crowd-led chant feel and one of the takes had a few mistakes in it and I left those in on purpose to give it variety and a little bit of humor.

"Losing My Head"

Don't know what I'm gonna do
Don't know what I'm supposed to say
Don't know what I'm gonna do
Don't know what to do today
Walls are closing in on me
Doors are always closed to me
Migraines are crushing me
Society is failing me
Why won't someone help me
Why can't I meet my needs
Why am I such a creep
Why am I so fucking weak
I'm losing my head
I'm losing my head
I'm losing my head
I'm losing my head

Self-loathing and anger at society are frequently topics for punk songs, so that was the idea here. There is also a direct reference to Minor Threat's "Straight Edge" in the delivery of the hook. There is some truth to the lyrics here, even if they're a bit melodramatic.

"True American"

1, 2, 3, 4. JFK! FDR!
So it's 50% drinking game, 50% life size Candy Land
By the way, the floor is molten lava
These are the pawns, they're the soldiers of the Secret Order
Remember everything that you hear in True American is a lie
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself
All trash belongs...in the junk yard!
Howard Dean scream! Yea
When in the course of human events, you must surrender your shirt
Your butt just violated the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act
Welcome to Ellis Island folks
My name is Eli Whitney and I created the cotton gin
King of the Castle, baby
He's got the plague, scatter!

This one is one I really like. So it takes really hardcore-sounding, grating sounds and couples them with silly lines from an imaginary game from an often somewhat surreal sitcom, "New Girl" and it throws in a devil laugh. It should literally make no sense on the surface. But beneath that, it's a commentary on popular culture that is meant to be a bit muddled. I leave the deeper meaning to the listener to figure out.

"Can't Get Into Heaven"

I thought I'd died
And gone to Heaven
Not early, fucking late
Walked up to the Pearly Gates
What the fuck
A gated community
What the fuck
You trying to do to me
Can't get in your heaven
They don't want me there
And I don't care
And I don't care
Who are you trying
To keep out
If we're all dying
Got my fucking doubts
Your false paradise
What is it worth
Same fucking shit
As your Earth
Can't get in your heaven
They don't want me there
And I don't care
And I don't care
Take your exclusive
Life after death
Keep your sermons
Save your breath
I'd rather be
With common people
Than at your church
Or at your steeple
Can't get in your heaven
They don't want me there
And I don't care
And I don't care

Religion and religious dogma are often topics of punk songs and that's what this alludes to. This one has the most references in it, starting with the title and hook, which are a direct reference to the Opiate for the Masses song "Heaven." The first couplet in the song is an ironic reference to Bryan Adams "Thought I'd Died And Gone to Heaven," which is a sappy pop ballad that I try to turn on its head here. Next the "gated community" reference is an allusion to Jim Gaffigan's stand-up album "Beyond the Pale" where he asks: "Am I the only one that finds it odd heaven has gates? What kind of neighborhood is heaven in?" There's also a Pulp reference ("common people") towards the end. I love the hook on this one and it grew directly out of the beat, although I'm still not fully happy with the verses, which are a little choppier than I'd like.

"You Are Not What You Wear"

You are not your ironic t-shirt
You are not your facial hair
You are not your expensive shoes
You are not your 3-piece suit
You are not your hipster glasses
You are not your lapel flag pin
You are not your trucker hat
You are not your fucking wool cap
You are not your 6-inch heels
You are not your puffy down vest
You are not your barbwire tattoo
You are not your shirt from J Crew
You are not your rubber wrist band
You are not your skinny jeans
You are not the celebrity trend
You are not some fucking dead end
You are not some fucking dead end
You are not some fucking dead end
You are not some fucking dead end
You are not some fucking dead end

This song has one of my favorite beats on the album. If I heard these sounds come on in a club, I would rush to the dance floor, even if it's not a supremely danceable beat. I love to hear this sound over a loud speaker. It makes me happy. This was also one of my favorite ones to write and perform. I long wanted to do a song along the lines of "Take It Off" by De La Soul, but I didn't want it to be just a copy with different fashion choices. This one is different in that it's got a much harder edge and none of the De La Soul playfulness, despite being a silly subject. I like that contrast, particularly with the aggressive sounds in the background.

"Spin Cycle"

We're born
We grow
We learn
We know
We think
We eat
We drink
We meet
We wonder
We talk
We ponder
We walk
We go
We quit
We grow
We shit
We fight
We sleep
We spite
We reap
We need
We want
We bleed
We flaunt
We give
We take
We live
We hate
We laugh
We cry
We live
We die

My other favorite beat on the album, this one has a menacing aliveness to it, like an insect. But not a regular insect--a giant, scary, scaly insect with many legs. That the lyrics are about the "circle of life" ties into that sound in a really interesting contrast and connection for me.

"No"

No no no no

The idea here was to just do a call and response where the only words in the song were "no." Then I had the idea to expand that to various combinations of how I said "no," which were ad-libbed, some from memory (such as the initial one, which is derivative of "Nobody But Me," by the Human Beinz. I was in Tallahassee with the kids and had the idea to have them do the response. I had to record each of them separately and I decided to leave mistakes in, to make it more like it was a live show where drunken audience members wouldn't get them all correct.

"No Means No"

No means no
If she doesn't wanna go
No means no
That's all you need to know
No means no
It's not a TV show
No means no
American status quo
No means no
She's not your fucking hoe
No means no
Not a quid pro quo
No means no
What's your problem, I don't know
No means no
You're juvenile, gotta grow
No means no
Misogyny must go
No means no
You've gotta let it go
No means no
There is nothing you are owed
No means no
You seem kind of slow
No means no
You gotta go, go, go
No means no
Meet my taekwondo
No means no
We hate you head to toe
No means no
If she doesn't wanna go

The first idea here was that I wanted the track listing of the album to include a song called "No," later followed by a song that reiterated the point with "No Means No." I like to add more subtle messages like that to things I do. The specific track is dealing with an issue that is harsh, so I started with a nice sounding drum track and threw a discordant bass over it that overwhelmed what the original track was trying to say. That sonic metaphor works on two levels. The first is on the individual level, with the drum being the woman saying "no" and the bass being the rapist drowning out what she is saying. Then, on a higher level, the drum is the voices of women (and men) who have been raped and the bass is the societal chorus that drowns out the voices of women who have been assaulted and their allies. The vocal is supposed to sound more and more frantic over the course of the short song to alternately represent fear and/or frustration with the inadequacy of the common responses to someone reporting that they have been raped.

"Downer"

Portray sincerity act out of loyalty
Defend your free country wish away pain
Hand out lobotomys to save little familys
Surrealistic fantasy bland boring plain
Holy now in restitution
Living out our date with fusion
In our whole fleece, shun in bastard
Don't feel guilty master writing
Somebody says that their not much like I am
I know I can
Make up the words as you go along
I sing then some
Sickening pesimist hypocrite master
Conservative Communist apocalyptic bastard
Thank you dear God for putting me on this Earth
I feel very priviledged in debt for my thirst

While this beat is mine, the lyrics are Kurt Cobain. The lyrics are transcribed in the form they appeared in his diary. The idea to do the song as a chant came spontaneously, as did the decision to use all of the percussion beats on one note per bar and only ride the bass line for the rest of the song. I loved the way that sounded and I think it fits very well with the chant.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On the Importance of Robin Williams

I could write a book about how Robin Williams influenced me. I was an obsessive fan from the Mork & Mindy days--it was my first favorite television show that I can remember--and his stand-up comedy. My "A Night at the Met" cassette got so many plays that I could probably do the whole thing from memory. I could easily go movie-by-movie and bit-by-bit explaining how each thing influenced my thinking. I won't do that, though, because I'm likely the only one that would find it particularly interesting. I will instead focus on a few of the most important things he did that affected me and talk about the overall connection I had with him, NOT including "The Survivors," which to this day remains the only movie I know of where a character shares my last name.

"Good Morning, Vietnam" wasn't the first of Robin's movies I saw, but it was the first one to change my life (but not the last). I didn't know you could make movies like this. I didn't know you could make movies that made you nearly piss yourself with laughter (and it's impossible to not think about Robert Wuhl and Forrest Whittaker, very talented and funny men, who were in the movie, laughing along like audience members). I had seen Robin do stand-up by this point, so I knew what he did here could be done, I just didn't have a clue he could create so many historical stand-up comedy bits. This is what he would've sounded like if he had been a comic during the Vietnam War. This movie made me want to entertain people. It made me want to make people laugh. It also made me want to make them think and cry, too. I wanted to be the one to make people feel that range of emotions. It was also a big influence on my politics, particularly when it came to war and foreign policy. I grew up in a time when playing with toy guns and pretending to be soldiers was not only widely acceptable, it was encouraged. And this movie, in very stark terms that I hadn't seen at that age, made it clear that war was not only hell, that it meant that people, and kids, died. Frequently for no good reason. Or worse, for bad reasons. When I protested the Iraq War in 2003, I can trace that opposition to this movie.

"Dead Poets Society" was an even bigger influence. It would take an entire separate essay to talk about everything in this movie that influenced me. I will say that I was part of a group of young boys at the time who were very, very similar to the boys in the movie. To the point where we watched it over and over and we adopted "carpe diem" as a life motto and whoever was our leader at the time got a group "O Captain, My Captain." The rebelliousness, questioning of authority and dogma, fascination with language and its power, and the basic premise that even though fighting misplaced authority might be a quixotic battle, it's a battle that has to be fought because, dammit, it's the right thing to do. Even if it kills us.

I could go on and on about the movie, but instead I'll just throw in a few quotes here that have been part of my personal philosophy since the first time I saw the movie. These things are still part of my life. Every day.

  • No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.
  • That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
  • There's a time for daring and there's a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.
  • Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.
  • I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.
  • I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself.

Or, my favorite then (and probably now):

"Dead Poets Society" made me want to be a teacher. And I became one. And I taught students how to use words just as much as I taught them politics. And while I never told them to rip out the pages of their textbooks (no buyback, I didn't want to steal their money), I absolutely told them never to bring those dusty tomes to class, we weren't going to need them. We weren't going to be reading, we were going to be thinking.

There are few movies and characters I've ever identified with more than Robin's portrayal of Parry in Terry Gilliam's "The Fisher King." Like the previous two movies, it made me laugh, think, and cry every time I watched it. It still does. The way to talk about this one is to show it:

That scene is so powerful to me, not only in the context of the movie, but even by itself. Don't we all know what it's like to love someone not despite their weirdness and eccentricities, but because of them? Don't we all know what it's like to want to do anything to impress that one person that we think will make us happy just by knowing them and getting to talk to them and spend time with them? Don't we all have times where we made fools of ourselves for love? That scene is so packed with a full range of human emotion it's the most romantic scene I've ever scene and it still punches me in the gut every time I see it. When Robin begins to sing at the end, I always lose it. No one but one of our greatest actors ever could have pulled that scene off. And, of course, the movie is directly related to Williams' passing. It's almost as if the mental illness and vulnerability and desire for happiness that defines the character of Parry was continued in Robin's real life as if Williams was Parry and while the movie ended at a happy point, the demons that haunted Parry came back and won in the end.

As alluded to above, I have many of the same types of mental struggles that Robin had, the struggles that no one seems to understand. One of the most common reactions was "he's rich and famous and has a great family, how could he kill himself." I didn't ask that question. I know the answer. People despair that if someone as universally loved as Robin couldn't find happiness, there's nothing that could lead to happiness for the depressed, since none of us will ever accomplish what Robin did. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what happened. If Robin Williams hadn't been "Robin Williams," he would have been dead a long time ago, instead of at 63 after a long and distinguished career. Depression isn't a single battle that can be won. It's a series of small battles that can be daily or hourly or weeks can go by between incidents. And winning each of those battles is hard as fuck. It's hard to describe to people who haven't dealt with it. You can go from being completely happy to being suicidal in minutes or seconds, based on the tiniest of things. And while success and the adoration of fans and critics and wealth can help you win some of those battles, what happens when they start to go away? What happens when you no longer get the plum movie roles? What happens when you have to take jobs that you hate and that compromise your artistic integrity because no one else will hire you? What happens when money problems start to rise up as your bank account dips? What happens when your kids grow up and leave the home? What happens when the fans leave you for younger and fresher stars?

As much is everybody is talking about how much they love Robin Williams in the past few days, how much were we talking about him in the days, weeks, months, years before that? And while the previous adoration and success and money he earned might last many people a lifetime, that's not how the depressed mind works. There's a telling moment in this interview with Marc Maron from 2010, where Williams describes his Oscar victory for "Good Will Hunting." If you saw him win the Oscar, it's pretty clear that it was one of the happiest moments of his life. He told Maron that the elation of winning the award lasted about 10 minutes. Then it was back to the battle.

And I'm not just speculating from my own personal experience and observation about what happened to Robin. It was something that he talked about a lot.

And I didn't even begin to go into so many other of his movies that either heavily entertained me or heavily affected me emotionally. From critically acclaimed stuff like "Good Will Hunting," "The World According to Garp," "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar," "The Birdcage," "Awakenings," and "One Hour Photo," to popular family movies of high quality like "Hook," "Aladdin," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Jumanji," "Robots," and "Night at the Museum," to the string of movies that critics hated, but I, and many other fans watched over and over, like "Popeye," "Moscow on the Hudson," "The Best of Times," "Cadillac Man," "Toys," "What Dreams May Come," "Bicentennial Man," "Jakob the Liar," "Death to Smoochy," "Patch Adams," and "Man of the Year." Not to mention the many other things he did, hilarious stand-up, Comic Relief and other hosting duties, and his well-deserved status as best talk show guest ever. Man, I got so many hours of entertainment and thinking and laughing and crying out of these movies (and others).

So the only thing I can say at this point is that I totally understand, Robin. I get it and I wish there were more people around you that got it and could've given you the love and acceptance you needed. I know there were some and this is not disrespect aimed at them in any way, this is just to say that when you suffer like Robin did, you can never get too much support, too much love, too much acceptance. It's a need that rivals sleep and water and air.

I lied, I'll say one more thing: Thanks, Robin. You might not have made it to the finish line, but a lot of us are still running because of you. We'll do what we can to make our lives worthy of what you gave to us.