Performing for Ghosts

There’s a little park tucked away on Main Street in Wilburton

Passing it at 6:30 may as well have been midnight as most of the shops had already closed for the day

I felt the need to stop in, explore, see what there was to see and so I did, slipping through the gates as if there was something to hide.

Little did I know that this had the potential to be something like a secret garden

Beneath an arch of trees was a stage and out of curiosity I got up on top of it, saw what it looked like from that perch

And from that stage I had a flash to the countless stages I’ve been on and I was overcome  by something. It had been too long.

I started one of my favorite pieces, a stolen verse from the poet Chancellor Bennett

“No weapon formed against me will prosper. My sword looks just like Michael’s”

With no one in the audience save for the plaques on every bench, memorials to someone who had come before, I went through the poem as if I was curating another Friday night set

Performing to open the space, for others to feel okay opening up their lives to strangers

When the piece finished I reached into my pocket as if by impulse, to grab my phone

My notes app, a trove of finished and unfinished work, about half of which I’m happy with, holds everything I’ve ever written

From long odes working through the loss of people I’ve held close to short bursts of creativity, springing forth from dimly lit corners of open mics as I scrambled to have something to perform

I did another piece for the ghosts of those that had come before

And all the while I wondered why I did it. Why I do any of this.

I am a poet because there are some stories I want to tell but can’t without first donning a performer’s mask

There are things I’d rather not deal with as myself but that character, that Jeff that stands on stage finally has the courage to face

I perform because there’s something powerful in that secret poetic language that amplifies the stories, that lets a raw nerve become a collective experience, that reminds me that I don’t do this life alone

I get on stage because sometimes I see something beautiful in this world and it would be a shame if I kept it to myself

And so tonight I shared my soul with the ghosts that are remembered in that small park off Main Street

I may never hear their stories, I may never know what lies beyond “Given in memory of.”

But as of tonight they know mine.



God With Us

One event changes a whole word

In a place named for the incarnation, of the coming of a savior, we now also have to think of it as a place in which the dirtiest part of humanity was made manifest


In Charleston as the state flies the flag of those who fought to keep black people as property, in a church that had been burned because its members dared to dream of freedom,

in a church to which Coretta Scott King led a march in support of striking hospital workers,

in a church where people have gathered for almost 200 years to celebrate Emanuel, God With Us

The unthinkable happened.

Or maybe it would be unthinkable if we didn’t keep watching it happen week after week in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, McKinney, New York

Maybe it would be unthinkable if the nine names that we now remember

Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Myra Thompson, Susie Jackson, Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance

weren’t nine more names added to the list of those who have been killed this year

We see people in the streets howling for justice, fighting against a tide that seems overwhelming

And yet they still move in a way we can’t deny as if to say that they won’t be beaten even though it keeps looking like the game is rigged against them

When will we stop just saying that this is unthinkable and fight against the reality that we see in our nation that says racism is alive and it’s more than just 21-year-old shooters pulling triggers in sacred spaces.

When we call our places of worship sanctuaries, I think we ought to mean it.

I think we should realize that the church is called to stand with those people in the streets, to harbor those that would do justice and seek mercy as we all march humbly with our God towards the kingdom.

Where are you, Church?

Did you think the sanctuary was just for you?

When we claim God With Us we claim God With ALL of us

May we never forget that God With Us came to bring release to captives, to let those oppressed go free

And so when we go into the world

And we’d better go because while we need that sanctuary to prepare us, to fill us, to remind us why we live the lives we claim, we should realize that the sanctuary wasn’t meant to be a panic room.

It wasn’t a place designed for us to lock ourselves away in when things got hard but rather a place from which to be sent out

We go ready to look into the eyes of all we encounter and see that divine spark staring back at us. We go ready to bend that long arc of the world towards justice, even if we have to stretch more than we’re ready to in order to reach it.


God With Us

It’s Still Real To Me

I never got to live in a world where wrestling was real.

It was the first prerequisite to be able to watch wrestling with my dad. Before I even saw one match, I was let in on the secret that most kids have to figure out on their own, or the thing that ruins their ability to love wrestling entirely. It was fake. The people in the ring knew how to do moves without hurting each other, everything was predetermined. The person with their hand raised didn’t get there by some triumph of the human spirit, by being the best in their craft, by having the most devastating finishing move, but rather because it was how the script went. I was in on the joke of wrestling and I loved it anyway.

None of my other friends were into wrestling, save for when we’d play WWF games on my Nintendo 64. I’d always chuckle to myself as they picked wrestlers that were clearly inferior to my favorites. They just didn’t know any better.  I took the advantage and smiled. I wasn’t the kid who ran around in branded merch talking about wrestling with anyone who would listen. It was something for just me and my dad

My dad and I spent every Monday night watching these larger-than-life characters throwing themselves at each other as if the fate of the world depended on it. We never ordered a single pay-per-view, but I’d wait with baited breath for my dad to come home the next day with a stack of printouts with the results from the show the previous night, trying to piece together what it must have looked like for one of my guys to win the title after working so hard.

My hero was Stone Cold Steve Austin, the surly redneck stand-in for every working man who hated his boss. When the bad guys would try to rig the story to go their way, I would almost shake with anticipation knowing that at any minute the sound of glass shattering would burst in through the sound system and Stone Cold would be on his way to the ring to dispense with some comeuppance. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to anyone and he never backed down from a fight. As a goody-goody, I was drawn to the way that Stone Cold Steve Austin was a BAD DUDE without being a bad guy. I may or may not have been grounded once or twice because I thought a friend needed a Stone Cold Stunner at a sleepover. I would get so mad when things didn’t go Austin’s way, even though I knew it was in the script. Even though I knew that everything would eventually end with my hero’s hand raised high and a title belt around his waist. Without fail, those moments came, and glass would shatter, and there he’d be. The winner and the champion. Dad and I would celebrate wildly. Well, mostly me, but Dad was never sad to see me enjoying myself. And in those moments, maybe wrestling had been real.

beat the champ

I write all of these old memories because one new song by my favorite band in the world just brought them all rushing back. The Mountain Goats just released “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” from their upcoming pro wrestling themed album Beat The Champ. John Darnielle tells the story of his childhood hero Chavo Classic, and most importantly, of himself watching Chavo bring justice into a world of uncertainty. Chavo, for Darnielle, was someone who would never let him down, even though others always did. In a triumphant 3 minutes that I’ve listened to probably 40 times since it was released this morning, Darnielle weaves a story of the importance of heroes, of hating everything that stands in their way, of the anticipation of triumph when you see someone you love ascend to the top rope, ready to win in spite of everything that says they shouldn’t.

Darnielle says that he wrote Beat the Champ  “…to re-immerse myself in the blood and fire of the visions that spoke to me as a child, and to see what more there might be in them now that I’m grown.” If this one song can take me back to jumping on my parents’ bed watching grown men in underwear pretend to beat the hell out of each other, I can’t wait to hear the rest of it. You can listen to “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” below and you can get Beat the Champ when it releases April 7th.

7 Reasons To Never Click On ‘Articles’ That Claim To Contain A Specific Number Of Facts About One Vapid Topic And Have Interminable Titles Full Of Ridiculous Capitalization That Are Indicative of Terrible Or Nonexistent Editing

Why did you click on it anyway? Come on! It’s hopeless! Thanks, Buzzfeed.

Cool Record, I Guess: Melvin Gordon, Samaje Perine, and the Art of Unenthusiastically Making History

Last week, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon rushed for 408 yards to break LaDainian Tomlinson’s 15-year-old FBS single-game rushing record. Gordon did this despite not playing in the fourth quarter of a blowout – the record was in hand, so why risk injury or upsetting internet commentators who would surely attack coach Gary Anderson for mercilessly featuring his star runner in a contest that had long been decided?

Many fans, though, were disappointed that Gordon didn’t get a chance to build on the record. Opportunities like the one Anderson and Gordon had last week don’t come along very often, and it’s not like Wisconsin is going to do anything more exciting this year. Wisconsin is a good team, but they won’t make the playoff.

But it’s all in the past, and Gordon didn’t play in the fourth quarter, and the record stood at 408 yards. For a week.

This week, Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine broke Gordon’s freshly-inked record, despite playing only a few minutes in the fourth quarter. Records like this matter more to fans than to players and coaches, but why wouldn’t Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops want to give Perine a chance to stay in the record book a little longer than Gordon? Perine reportedly didn’t care if he reentered the game during the fourth quarter for a chance to break Gordon’s record. Why wouldn’t Perine want to see what he and the offensive line were capable of? Wouldn’t it have been exciting to take a shot at 500 rushing yards? Does Anderson regret pulling Gordon out so early now that the record belongs to someone else?  Why is it not okay to get excited about breaking a really big record?

Oklahoma, like Wisconsin, is not going to make the four-team playoff for the national title. Breaking this record might be the high point of their season, and you’ve got to wonder what might have been. Perine finished with 427 (427!) rushing yards and five long touchdowns, which is still probably the greatest rushing performance ever by a college running back. But it feels very unsatisfying.

Generally, I don’t like the idea of running up the score – the “if you don’t like it, stop us” argument sounds too much like the philosophical musing of a teenage bully who’s slightly further into puberty than his victims. But in the cases of Gordon and Perine (and in many other personal-record situations), there’s nothing malicious about a couple of college kids figuring out how good they really are. What have Wisconsin and Oklahoma gained by sitting Gordon and Perine after the record was broken? The respect of opposing coaches and ESPN talking heads? In Wisconsin’s case, it certainly hasn’t gained them a lasting record.

It’s ridiculous that breaking a rushing record by more than ten yards is somehow uncool or unsportsmanlike. In 20 years, nobody is going to care that Gordon rushed for 408 yards in a single game. In all likelihood, nobody will care that Perine went for 427, because another running back will come along and rush for 430 before sitting out most of the fourth quarter. But if either of those two backs had played the whole game and pushed the record out of reach, one of their names might still pop up on occasional infographics 20 years from now. Yes, the internet would have been mad for a week that starters played in the fourth quarter of a lopsided game, but is that ridiculous consequence really worth not setting a record properly? Maybe records like this should receive asterisks that let future humans know that the record was set halfheartedly and that nobody seemed particularly happy about setting it.

Tuesday Two Step: Thomas Rakowitz


With all the hip-hop and indie coverage over here at Irrational Confidence, it may surprise you to learn that I consider myself a bit of a metalhead as well. Mastodon is probably in my top ten bands of all time and I’ve really enjoyed seeing what acts like Deafheaven and Pallbearer are doing for their various sub-genres.(I’ll scream about Deafheaven’s Sunbather for approximately forever. Shoegaze-ish instrumentals with blastbeats and black metal vocals. Tell me that’s not great.) So when I got my hands on Thomas Rakowitz’s Ghosts of Myself EP, I was excited to put it on expecting some shreddy goodness.

You might remember Rakowitz as one of my favorite parts of Brian Altano’s Misanthrope. His guitar work was a great added texture to the dystopian electro-hip-hop of the rest of Misanthrope. When I first pushed play on the EP, I was taken aback just a bit. What I knew of Rakowitz’s work was either from Misanthrope or his bombastic shred work from his YouTube channel, such as this awesome cover of the theme from the Black Knight 2000 pinball machine. I was prepared to get my teeth kicked in by the powers of rock, dang it! But what followed instead was the beginning of the title track, an almost proto-flamenco with an ethereal choir backing the guitar. It was, at the risk of being a little too on the nose given the title, haunting. I felt like this was the wide sweeping shot at the beginning of the horror movie, as the scene gets set for what’s about to happen.

And then we shred. Oh, do we shred! Immediately we’re joined by some breakbeats, some super crunchy chords and some riffs that come in with the desire to say that we’re getting straight to the point. Rakowitz even comes in with vocals, something I didn’t expect from him, and the rawness present in his voice as he swaps between clean and growled vocals adds to the emotion of the track. Rakowitz had made reference on Twitter about this EP being a personal, almost therapeutic project and in his vocals I could almost hear him screaming out his demons one by one.

There’s almost no time to rest in this short EP. There’s only five tracks plus the awesome bonus instrumental “Elements,” another departure from the rest of the EP and a soothing recovery from the rest of the project. From start to finish I get what I expected from Thomas Rakowitz: some technically impressive metal that feels like it wants to destroy me (The solo on “The Consuming Flame” is the best example to point to in this case) but the album really shines when it shows off the versatility of the artist. The introductions on both “Ghosts of Myself” and “Whispered Nightmares” are enough of a shift that I perked up and paid attention and when the metal kicked back up to 11, it felt like a release. I was ready for it again. These moments of tension, waiting for everything to blow up are what make the Ghosts of Myself EP special. You can pick up Ghosts of Myself for the low price of $2 over at Thomas Rakowitz’s Bandcamp page and hear a demo version of “The Consuming Flame” below.

Octave Minds Enlist Chance the Rapper to “Tap Dance” All Over Their Beats


I’ve been in a Chance the Rapper mood all day today. When I woke up, I saw an announcement that Chano was going to be playing a show at the school where I’m currently doing my Master’s work. This sent me running back to Acid Rap, Chance’s 2013 breakout mixtape and my personal album of the year. Just about the time I got to “Juice” I checked Twitter to see that, as if sent from the heavens, Octave Minds had released the new single off their self-titled debut featuring none other than Chance the Rapper. It’s been a good day.

While the feature may get the brunt of the attention on “Tap Dance,” it would be an absolute crime to leave out the work that Octave Minds have done on the production. With jazzy piano and warm horns, the collaboration of Chilly Gonzales and Boys Noize create a 6/8 groove that seems like it came straight out of a film score. This is a very different kind of hip-hop sound and Chance goes from being just a great get for the project to the perfect kind of weirdo to handle this project. Chance’s verse feels more like a waltz than a literal tap dance, but as he spins and glides over the beat painting a picture of a duo moving through life you realize that there are few partnerships that work as well as Chance and Octave Minds. There’s almost no one that could spin this kind of song out of this beautiful jazzy beat and yet here we are. I’m now really looking forward to hearing what comes next from Octave Minds and STILL super excited to finally see Chance live. You can listen to “Tap Dance” here and check out Octave Minds’ debut album when it drops September 15th.

Night School “Birthday”

7 Jacket (Glue Pocket - No Spine) [OB-GD17-001]

From the very beginning of their debut single, Night School proves that they’re not what you expected. The first three seconds of “Birthday” are a crunchy, repetitive guitar riff that I expected to kick off into a bombastic, aggressive song but what I got was something I didn’t know I wanted and it’s so much better. What happens at 0:04 is the track opening up and becoming some kind of combination of The Strokes and Phantogram. The garage-rock grit is still there, but it’s accompanied by a dreamy almost shoegaze vibe as well. The vocals from Alexandra Morte (Whirr, Camera Shy) are warm and comforting with faded harmonies adding to the full package as the song swirls around through your speakers. You can listen to “Birthday” below and be on the lookout for Night School’s debut EP Heart Beat releasing on October 7th.

People Keep Talking About That New Hoodie Allen


pkt coverIf there’s one thing I can always count on from Hoodie Allen it’s a clever visual to go along with an equally catchy song. Fresh off the Happy Gilmore-inspired video for “Show Me What You’re Made Of,” the New York rapper heads back to the cinema for “Movie,” the new single off his upcoming album People Keep Talking. In the video, Hoodie raps his way through a series of movie sets, ranging from a noir picture, a Michael Bay-esque action movie and a pretty pitch perfect Wes Anderson parody all in the pursuit of his leading lady. The production from longtime collaborator RJF is a stand-out here as well, with a thumping beat driving an almost surf-punk guitar line that helps set the track into a nice groove for Hoodie to direct as he sees fit. If this is a good look at the album, I’ll advise you to follow Terrell Owens’ advice and get your popcorn ready. You can check out the video for “Movie” below and get ready for Hoodie Allen’s full-length debut album People Keep Talking dropping on October 14th.

How to make shark week better

Shark Week, like bacon, is more popular for being popular than for being what it is. I’ve thought of a few tweaks to ensure that Shark Week lives up to the cultural fervor surrounding it.

  • When researchers/idiots are trying to use a new technique to capture or film a rare shark, Mark Cuban should show up and incredulously say, “This idea is bullshit. Do you even have a patent? What’s keeping me from recreating this deep sea camera lens in my garage tomorrow?”
  • Many of the programs are currently narrated by, I’m assuming, failed action-movie-trailer narrators who overly dramatize moments that don’t even directly precede commercial breaks. These hacks should be replaced by a) successful action-movie-trailer narrators, b) shark experts who can provide interesting science facts, or c) people who know nothing about sharks. The last option might be preferable, because they would either say very little and allow viewers to focus on the shark videos, or hilariously comment on peripheral aspects of the footage (a la Karl Pilkington).
  • Whenever a shark bites something on camera, a little image of a Finding Nemo character should appear in the bottom corner and chant, “SHARK BAIT, HOO HA HA.” There should be no cap on the number of times this can happen in a segment.
  • There should not be hashtagged facebook updates from viewers on my TV screen, ever. This should be a given for any show, unless the aforementioned viewers are Charles Barkley.
  • Discovery Channel should replay the exact same programming from Shark Week ten years ago and see if anyone notices, and when they don’t, replay the same lineup in nine years, and so on until all the annoying little tweets at the bottom of the screen say things like “Anyone else think these same shark shows were on during the shark week six months ago?”
  • The Mythbusters should tackle the myth that Shark Week only happens once a year.
  • Regarding the title, “Deadliest Catch” is a gigantic letdown. During Shark Week, there should be an episode of “Deadliest Catch” where the fishermen somehow haul up a shark in one of their crab traps and have to scramble to throw it back. If he’s available, it would also be good to have Ashton Kutcher come out at the end and reveal that Discovery Channel spent a ton of money orchestrating the prank. If Ashton Kutcher is busy, Kyle Korver will do.
  • The divers and people on the boats above should have radios that actually work. Being able to understand the dialogue is more important than injecting no-budget-horror-movie tension.
  • There should be commercials for shark care products and nutritionally superior shark foods.
  • Every time a diver expresses concern about going into sharky waters, an infographic should pop up to warn viewers about something that kills more people per year (adjusted for exposure, of course) than sharks do, like stairs or champagne corks.

These adjustments would catapult Shark Week from a pretty good concept to a fantastic cultural phenomenon worthy of all the fawning facebook updates it currently inspires. I give you, Discovery Channel, permission to use any and all of these ideas without further instruction from me. I look forward to next year’s Shark Week.