Roe’s Best Albums of 2014: #2 – PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by Pharoahe Monch

Artist: Pharoahe Monch

Album: PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Produced by: Pharoahe Monch, Guy Routte, Lee Stone, Marco Polo, The Stepkids, B.A.M., The Lion Share, Boogie Blind, Jesse West, Quelle Chris

Released: April 14, 2014

Pharoahe_Monch_PTSDAside from this record coming in as #2 on my list, this is no doubt the best hip-hop album of the year.

First hearing of Pharoahe Monch off a name drop in Talib Kweli song a few years ago, I checked him out. W.A.R. was out at the time. I liked it, but it didn’t grab me as much as PTSD has this year.

This album is a beautiful diamond in the rough – Inspired by true events in Pharoahe’s own life, PTSD is a work of art that must be listened to in its entirety to be truly appreciated. We start off at “The Recollection Facility”, a place where traumatic experiences can be extracted and then we immediately get catapulted into “Time2”.

The PTSD narrative emphasizes a very real issue that exists within the black community: The sentiment that mental health or to seek help for mental health is more aligned with white access and privilege, not something that is advertised or seen as accessible to anyone else on the outside of that community. There are also many lyrical parallels that no doubt speak to post-9/11 war veterans and the overall pharmaceutical abuse which is still rampant in everyday America, regardless of race or class.

Another reason why this album trumps all others is because it stands out from its contemporaries. I can’t help but notice that subjects of current hip-hop songs and albums are about smoking weed, being promiscuous, going to clubs, self-toasting to the point of redundancy. Not to say, that hip-hop shouldn’t have any of that – I believe it in fact should and it has since its inception. But anything in excess gets tiring real quick. In PTSD I feel like I’m learning something, becoming slightly enlightened. On this record Pharoahe talks about suicide, losing his grip on reality, nightmares, how his own mental state affects his relationships, even talks about the importance of eating organic in “The Jungle”.

As a privileged white female who grew up in the suburbs a few miles outside an inner city, I am nearly blind to everything Pharoahe is talking about. But by listening to this record and others like it, I can step in his shoes for a hour or so and get outside my own defined sense of reality. Hip-hop like this is my window inside – and I hope by saying that, that doesn’t make me seem ignorant or insensitive, but hopefully compassionate and caring. In fact I think hip-hop works this way for many others. Just because Pharoahe Monch is a lyrical wordsmith who utilizes killer beats and speaks in vibrant metaphors, does not make what he’s talking about less real than anything else that occurs outside our own empirical reality. It in fact brings it more to the forefront that the 6 o’clock news ever could.

I’ve seen Pharoahe talk about the record on MSNBC with Melissa Harris Perry and on NYC hip-hop radio programs. All videos are available on YouTube and I suggest checking them out if you wish to learn more from the creator’s mouth about this incredible record.

Production is dope, Pharoahe Monch is one of the greatest MCs of our time…If you have any love for hip-hop and/or socio-political commentary of anything, please bump this record ASAP.

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Day 3: What’s On Your Mind?

I should’ve done this post yesterday, but after an eventful day in the city and a visit from my uncle who recently moved to Florida I was quite exhausted at the end of the day. Needless to say, I’m making up for it now.

What’s On Your Mind? – Write the post that was on your mind when you first started a blog OR draft a post you’ve been holding back.

Well, I think I already wrote the former as I broke down my crisis in Post-Grad Psychotherapy. I started blogging a month after graduation and really just needed a place to spill my guts, a place that didn’t have to stay secret in my notebook so people could read and connect with my words. Since then I’ve written about other things, but I still keep a keen eye observing everything and everyone around me, trying to figure out how to live in the world, how to get started, how to make my mark.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been “holding back” a post, but I would like to recount and reflect on my first Saves The Day concert. It’s a story I don’t think I’ve fully told before.

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My first Saves The Day concert was Friday, October 24th, 2008 at Highline Ballroom in New York. I had just turned 18-years-old 20 days before and I was not a constant show-goer so this was a big deal for me. I would even go as far as to say it was probably my first concert in New York. (If any friends wish to correct me, please do!)

I had really gotten into Saves The Day about a year prior. It was probably around the peak of Frostwire, Limewire, Mediafire, and all other means of illegal downloading. I had a method every time I was searching for new music and back then I did it all the time. My iPod couldn’t even hold all the songs I had in my iTunes, and I eventally had so many songs I went as far as deleting applications off my computer so I could hold on to them all because I was always on the brink of running out of memory. But anyway, my method went a little like this: If I knew the name of a band but wasn’t familiar with their music, or if a festival’s lineup was announced regardless whether I was going to it or not I would go through the list, rack my brains for that name I had heard, and download everything I could find. (For the record, I don’t do this anymore. I stream now. Downloaded music is a thing in the past to me.) Saves The Day was one of these bands, but I discovered 100s of new bands this way and ended up seeing quite a few of them in concert, which led me to buying merch, tickets, and music legally. (The upsides to illegal downloading IMO, the record companies just don’t seem to see it that way. I may blog about this conundrum in the future.)

After downloading these songs, I’d put my iPod on shuffle and wait for one to grab me. (This method worked really great, by the way.) In 2007, I had downloaded a bunch of Saves The Day songs and was listening to my iPod on shuffle when suddenly one of them did grab me. That song was “Anywhere With You“. Little did I know that song was the first track off Saves’ arguably most controversial album, ‘In Reverie‘; Compared to their last three albums IR was awash with a kind of dream-pop feel, chord complexities, multi-part harmonies, and exquisite melody lines previously unheard in their punk/pop-punk/emo releases. Frontman Chris Conley’s voice had changed and his songwriting had reached a new level entirely – and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. From that one song I became ravenous, searching for their albums, making sure no audio file went unturned so I could complete my collection. I became aware of my friends who were listening to them, and I asked a million questions about their fluctuating lineup, voice changes, and their discography in general. Who was this band? When were they touring? Where could I find their guitar tabs so I can play their songs?

So in 2008 I found their tour schedule, begged a friend to come with me, begged my parents to go by ourselves, and embarked on my first of many Saves The Day shows. I drove us to the bus stop and we took the bus into Port Authority. We had dinner in Times Square and took a cab to Highline. I still remember the line out the door and the dark, dingy look of the buildings within the Meatpacking District. I would later learn not only was the show a part of a CMJ Showcase, but it was in fact sold out. We shuffled inside as the opening band, Moneen started to play. I remember striking up an awkward conversation with the merch guy. I think I asked him how long he’d been selling merch for or something really weird like that and proceeded to tell him I was thinking about studying the music business in college. He politely conversed with me before I put him out of his misery and bought a Saves The Day shirt and went inside. I remember feeling incredibly young and out of place in a 20-something crowd. Everyone was drinking beer in bottles and I tried to act tough, saying to my friend I’d pay someone to buy me one if I didn’t have the ACTs the next day. Oh yes, I felt like a total badass because I had be up at 8 AM the next day to take a silly standardized test and here I am in the city seeing my favorite band without a care in the world.

The crowd started to fill in as Kevin Devine took the stage. This show was a real treat because this was the first time I saw Kevin and he knocked my socks off, not knowning it was the first step in making me a fan for life. I distinctly remember him screaming his lungs out to “Brother’s Blood” and just staring transfixed at his outpouring emotion. All I remember of Saves The Day that night was a happy blur. Just being so excited and in disbelief that there they were right in front of me and Chris was singing right in front of me. Half-aware that the crowd had grown to a sea of people shouting lyrics back and forth as we swayed to the natural ebb and flow of the push and pull, typical of a Saves The Day crowd. I didn’t take any pictures or video but just watched, as I do today. I’d only been a fan for about a year and had only memorized the words to a handful of songs but my eyes were wide just taking in the lights and music. What I do specifically remember is Chris introducing a new song, which I realized later was “Daybreak“, no one knowing that song and album would not be released until about 3 years later due to frequent lineup changes. My friend and I might’ve left a little early to take our bus back. I don’t remember exactly. But it was a wonderful night that I will remember forever. I would not see them again until May 2010 at the Bamboozle Festival 2 years later, miraculously getting into meet and greet line without a pass before I saw their incredible set.

What’s so interesting about the whole ACT bit is that the score I ended up getting (24) ended up being two points shy of getting into my first choice school – Drexel University. I was refused acceptance to Drexel because of this sole reason. Ramapo College was my second choice and therefore bumped up to first to my then-dismay. I begrudgingly agreed to go to Ramapo and enroll in their Music Industry and Production programs. A year later, Saves The Day was announced as our fall concert and I somehow managed to be assigned Assistant Stage Manager with a friend of mine. (If you care to read my “fangirl” recollection written a day or two after the show, you may do so here…Don’t judge…) That night, that show, and that day went down in Roe history as I not only got some one-on-one time with the band but also got a birthday shoutout. Thinking life could not possibly get better, I later went on to be awarded a scholarship after writing about Chris Conley and how he was one of my main musical influences and why. A year later, I would play and sing “Here, There And Everywhere” with Chris in the Starland Ballroom parking lot after a show in December, the day before Christmas Eve. Two years after that, I would make a daydream come true by accompanying Chris and playing “The Way His Collar Falls” at a secret show at the Warehouse Motor Club in Middlesex, NJ bringing the B-Side song out of retirement from the usual Saves The Day setlist.

One could argue Saves The Day was the reason I got a 24 on my ACTs, the reason why I didn’t get into Drexel. But had I got in, would I be telling you the same story now? That Ramapo show was a springboard that led to so many wonderful things in my life. Saves The Day is the reason I am who I am today. Since 2008, I have seen Saves The Day 14 times and have no plans to stop. Each show is a transcendent experience that I cherish and can be equated with nothing else I know to be of this world. There is a magic that goes on in the crowd and on stage, energy and emotions always at peak levels. Saves The Day has been the soundtrack to my life for 7 years…and I couldn’t have asked for more fitting accompaniment. 

How I Got Into Into It. Over It.

It’s wild how an album can grow on you. When you first stream it on your laptop, you don’t really get it; It passes through you. Damn those shitty speakers. But then maybe you give it another try, with headphones, in another headspace, in different mood entirely, at the end of the day when your thoughts seem the loudest. and holy shit. That album can change you; It slowly starts to steep into the fibers of your being and you find riffs and choice selections of words caught up in your daily thoughts.  It starts to embed itself into the soundtrack of your life, you start relating to it in a ridiculous number of ways whether it’s musically, literally, and/or thematically.

This could be any album, for you or for me.  I’ve had these feelings towards albums before but I can’t remember the last time I legitimately felt this way.  Currently, I’m talking about Into It. Over It.‘s ‘Intersections’. The album is stellar. It takes a couple a listens but you finally reach nothing short of an epiphany that Evan Weiss’ is nothing less than a humble genius. He is a brilliant songwriter, musician, performer, and storyteller – So much so that if you don’t look at him with some sort of admiration, respect, and/or envy I’m not sure you’re fully human.

January 2011, I went to the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn with my dad to see another yearly installment of the ‘Where’s the Band?’ tour featuring Chris Conley, Anthony Raneri, Matt Pryor, Ace Enders, and Evan Weiss.  I knew of the former four but not the latter.  He was a mystery.  Watching him open was one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever witnessed in my life.  His singing and lyrics so sincere, that FINGERPICKING, and what tuning was he playing in? Surely that wasn’t Standard E…And it wasn’t.  I’d never seen anything like it. Evan is very well known for using many alternate tunings. And that factor is one of the reasons why I think he stands out so much – He goes beyond the norm. And I like that. He caught my ear and made me a fan for life.

I tell people this doesn’t happen to me often; I don’t usually get blown away by opening acts, in fact I usually come in with very low expectations for the openers as shitty as it sounds. But I think we’ve all been conditioned to feel that way because how many shows have we been to where we’re impatiently drinking our drinks, having run out of things to talk about in between because the opener is taking FOREVER and preventing us from seeing who we really came to see! But when that sort of thing happens – when I am wowed, goosebumped, easily attentive, and feel that static electricity inside my body sparking with excitement I don’t take it lightly.  It’s only happened to me three times before: Once with Evan, once with Kevin Devine, and the other time with Balance and Composure.

That first night in Brooklyn after his set, I awkwardly went up to him at the merch table and bought a CD of his then latest record, Proper.  I then proceeded to half-drunkenly ask him questions about his guitar and the like.  He was the sweetest and answered all my questions with a smile.  I saw him again at a Chuck E. Cheese-esque venue in Montclair three months later where he played to no more than 25 of us as we gathered around and listened to him play, some of us singing along. Six months later, I saw him headline and play full band for the first time at Santos Party House in Manhattan a week before Hurricane Sandy with Hostage Calm, Cheap Girls, and The Front Bottoms.

This past Thursday, I revisited the place where I first discovered him – the Music Hall of Williamsburg – to see him play full band again, this time better than ever. I went to the show by myself, which I’ve never done before…EVER. It was slightly nerve-wracking to travel all the way to Brooklyn via train and subway but I did it. I’m actually pretty proud that I did it. When I finally got on the 12:40 AM train to go home, I put in my headphones and queued up ‘Intersections’ for the ride back.  It was a completely different experience than when I had streamed it on my laptop a few days before.  Something was different. Something had changed.  And I realized, it was me that was different, me who had changed. Maybe it was my tired brain finally relaxing after an exhaustive afternoon of transportation and an evening of the finest rock n’ roll.  Maybe it was the vodka cranberry I had, combined with the comfort of sitting down for one of the first times that night.  Maybe it was the curtained sadness in my heart as I looked up admiringly at the bands I saw that night and reflecting on what I was doing with my life.  ‘Intersections’ quenched my thirst, it opened my eyes, it kept me awake, and my mind racing.  When I saw Evan again on Saturday, I bought the ‘Intersections’ vinyl.

Like anything I say, I can only tell you what I know to be true based off my experience.  If this sort of thing has never happened to you, you may not understand. But to those who this has happened to, you know what I mean.  It’s some sort of calling.  Some sort of affirmation of the life and energy that exists within you.  When a song resonates, you feel it in your soul; that central core in the center of your torso. And you feel the electric sparks spread throughout your body.

Evan is a huge vinyl junkie. And because of that, I think he understands what makes a good record. He doesn’t live in or even associate with the Top40 concept of “singles” or sticking with the mainstream “sound”. All of that’s irrelevant and I think he knows it. And I’m glad he’s a musician who stays true to himself and his talents. His music really reflects his authenticity and as a listener, that’s all I can ever hope to ask for.  Keep it up, Evan.  ‘Intersections’ has unexpectedly found a way into my heart. All your hard work was/is worth it and I will probably support you and your musical endeavors indefinitely.

‘Til next tour –

The 9/11 Syndrome

I live about 20 minutes from Newark, so give or take I’m about 30 minutes from Newark Airport. Everyday I hear planes fly over my neighborhood.  Everyday.  One’s flying over as I’m writing this now.  One flew over as I made the decision to write this, about less than 5 minutes ago.

I try not to watch much TV.  Most of it’s garbage anyway, I know.  But sometimes I get into these weird documentary obsessions. The retelling of history, a person, an era; It really gets to me, it really touches my soul, gets me to think about myself and the world around me.  I don’t know.  I love that stuff.  I think I always have.  Even in school I didn’t mind it.  I really enjoyed it when the teacher would put on a documentary.  But it’s when 9/11 documentaries come on, I get sucked into this black hole.

I got into a passionate discussion with my 14-year-old brother a few hours ago.  I had just started watching a documentary on the 9/11 Commission Report and was trying to explain to him how our government failed us that day; How the loss of innocent life is unacceptable in any situation and how it breaks my heart.  He asked me why I watch these documentaries, why I put myself through it.  I watched another one last night before I went to bed and my mom walked in and said, “Oh, I can’t watch those things.  I’ll always remember, I’ll never forget what happened.  It was a tragedy.  But I can’t put myself to sit down and watch those things.  It’s depressing.”  “Well, maybe we should get depressed about it,” I said.  Maybe we should feel something other than complacency.

I tried to explain to my brother the analysis that goes on in my head.  I was 10 years old when 9/11 happened and out of all the stories I’ve heard, my perspective still remains the clearer than anything. And that’s probably true with everyone because in times of crisis or mental trauma, that’s when our memory receptors kick in – That’s when the film starts rolling and everything your eyes touch and any stray emotion you feel become permanently ingrained in your memory banks.  But at 10 years old, you can’t process or even begin to fathom the actuality of the situation and what it means.  At that age, you’re still immature.  Hell, you haven’t even gone through puberty yet.  You’re a kid.  A kid who can’t see past recess, foursquare, and the 3:30 bell to go home.

Now I’m older, more matured, educated, analytical.  I watch these things and try to come to terms with where our country went wrong – The mythological idea of a country a typical 10 year old grows up believing is perfect and right and just and true and free.  I try to put myself into the shoes of an Al Qaeda soldier.  But the truth is, when I do that I can’t feel my feet.  Because I can’t fully invest myself in that temporary fantasy.  I do not understand the hatred and rage or the “death to America” sentimentality they feel towards us.  Maybe it’s because I’m still too young to understand and/or because my knowledge of American History starts to fade after the Kennedy years and I draw blanks about what comes after, what our country did, how the international community currently views us and why.  Maybe it’s because I know little to nothing about Al Qaeda, their cause, or their struggle.  In any case, it’s when watching these documentaries I am desperately trying to understand the viewpoints from all sides in order to come up with some logical explanation to what happened that day.  And it’s a struggle every time because I can’t do it; Logic fails.  Logic seems not to apply to tragedy and we are told to accept it as the transcendent horror that it is. Am I what Billie Joe Armstrong would brazenly call an “American Idiot“?  Maybe.  But maybe not as I am truly trying to understand.  Sometimes I feel my whole life is a Coming-of-Age story and it’s just one lesson after another.

See, I’m no stranger to trauma.  I was the first child born in my family – First daughter, first niece, first grandchild. I was showered with constant love and affection and got to know my entire family in a way that neither my four cousins nor my brother got to experience.  My grandfather emigrated to the US from Sicily in 1968.  He had bore three children with my grandmother – all girls. He had always wanted a boy, but as fate would have it – girls were in the cards.  I think he may have been hoping for a boy when my mom was pregnant with me but as fate would have it – another girl.  I have watercolor memories of spending time with him, laughing and playing with him.  Because both of my parents worked full time, I spent an majority of my childhood with my grandparents before I was able to be enrolled in school.  I especially used to love it when Poppy pushed me around in one of those red Little Tikes cars with the yellow roof.  Remember those? I think there’s pictures somewhere…

In the winter of 1993 my family was over Nonna’s house.  We were watching TV, talking intermittently.  I was sitting next to Poppy. And all of a sudden someone said something to him, and he didn’t respond.  It was at that time everyone looked at him and realized he was having a stroke.  At the early stages of my toddlerhood I still remember his wide open eyes as he sat next to me unable to speak, the panic that ensued immediately afterwards as the paramedics were called.  And right before my memory starts blurring, right before – I remember struggling with the little Italian I knew to ask him if he wanted a glass of water.  I didn’t understand what was happening, but at three years old, I could feel the tension and sense of panic in the room and was so desperately trying to communicate to ease his discomfort in the only way I knew how.  And it haunts me.  To this day it haunts me.  And everyday I think about it and every night before I go to sleep I try to erase it from my mind so I can sleep easy. And then I wake up again and it will cross my mind and I will it away before it enters again.  And sometimes I cry about it.  And sometimes I try not to cry about it.  I get tired blubbering to my mom, unable to speak because I’m so grief stricken over this toddler trauma I’m not sure anyone truly understands – I don’t even know if I understand it.  And I dream of him sometimes and I wake up crying; In the latest one about a month ago we actually spoke.  But the funny thing is, when we spoke it was just like that night – me trying to scrape together the little Italian to knew to ask him questions – stupid questions like, “How are you?”, “What’s your favorite color?” and “Do you like music?”.  He died soon after his stroke on a cold December day that year and I don’t think I’ll ever let it go because in my juvenile, naive state of mind  I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand why it happened or ever got the closure I needed – whatever the proper “closure” would’ve been to a three year old anyway.

In my heart, I connect this monumental, national trauma to my personal one.  There are parallels of paralysis – wanting to help but can’t, shattering of innocence, loss of innocent life; Vivid memories, crystal-clear emotions, each individual trauma a scar on my childhood, a mark on my youth that cannot be erased.  And maybe I’m obsessed with understanding.  In my entire 22 years of life that has been so dedicated to learning, maybe it is a habit I cannot break out of and every time I replay the events, I’m determined to find the answer; I’m determined to find out why it happened.  It’s the 9/11 Syndrome.  It happens every year, like the opposite of a holiday: We revisit the past in waking daydream states and unconscious dreams to try and fix the unfixable. 9 times out of 10 we believe with all our hearts that logic will lead to unbiased truth and when that truth comes, everything will be okay; It’s a flaw in the human mind.  It’s a cycle I feel I will never break out of.  My grandfather has been gone 20 years this December.  Windows on The World, where my dad proposed to my mom, is now only existent in memories.  And I will revisit these events in my head, listen to every heartbreaking story, and watch every heart-wrenching documentary because I am in a Catch 22.  For all the lives lost, I must remember; And if I can’t remember everything or everyone, I should at least try at my very best to see that I do.

In The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell says throughout human history, you can tell what’s most important within a society by looking at the tallest buildings.  Obviously, churches and other religious structures were the tallest buildings at one point in time and that emphasized the importance of religion. But then there was the rise of modern architecture and skyscrapers and colossal business buildings.  Those are the tallest buildings in our society today – The buildings dedicated to the ebb and flow of corporate capitalism and commerce.

Joseph Campbell also believed in religion as metaphor.  I take his belief and apply that to reality as well – I believe that our realities speak to us metaphorically (indiviudally and as a people) and that it is up to us to understand them, so that we may navigate this life to find our appropriate path. (For more on my personal experience reality as metaphor, please see my Dragonfly post).  When the Towers fell 12 years ago, I believe that was a universal metaphor for the demise of the corporate world as almost exactly seven years later, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, which began the avalanche of the most recent American recession which we have not fully recovered from.  As a nation, our trust in government and business was shattered.  And it is nowhere near being regained.  Once trust is broken, it is very hard to gain it back.  When you let someone down or a community down or a nation down, it takes a long time before they can look you in the eye again and take what you say at face value.   That goes for everyone, no matter their party designation, financial well-being, or societal stature.

On 9/11, I was very lucky.  I was not physically harmed and at the end of the day, my friends and entire family were unscathed, alive, and breathing. But as a human being where compassion is in my nature, is in all of our natures, I cannot help but relive the tragedy at least once a year.  It is a ritual I feel I must undergo in an attempt to comprehend what happened those people (and their families) who gave their lives that day less than 20 miles away from my elementary school, where at 10 years old, my world was suddenly changed forever. Emotions are a potent thing.  Sometimes they help more than harm and sometimes it’s the other way around.  But emotions can inspire us and lift us and propel us to make a better future for tomorrow.  We can aim our electrically charged dissatisfactions to accomplish something positive and great; There’s no need to be angry or hateful or complacent. We just need a positive attitude and clear head and the willingness to try.  Even if hurts, I will undergo the ritual annually. Eternity is always, future is everything.  It will all go on whether or not mankind is here to witness it.  And I prefer to stay until it is my time to go.