Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The occasional idiot

I ran across a story on the BBC about BrewDog's newest concoction: it's called Tokyo*, and it's just shy of 20% alcohol (by volume). Intrigued (given that BrewDog brews a beer called The Physics, how could I resist?), I read the article.
I was disappointed to find that several 'watchdog' groups and governmental entities were condemning the beer, complaining that "it is utterly irresponsible to bring out a beer which is so strong at a time when Scotland is facing unprecedented levels of alcohol-related health and social harm." In her own words, a spokeswoman for the British Liver Trust argued:
"The notion of binge-drinking is to get drunk quick, so surely this beer will help people on their way?"
Are you serious?
Has any one of these detractors ever tasted beer? Do they not understand that you drink cheap, watery beer (Coors, Bud, Pabst, Tennents, Carlyle, etc) to get drunk, but a good beer is like a good wine or a good loaf of bread - it is to be savored, enjoyed, understood in all its complexity? Who among you, I charge, would by a bottle of beer that was almost $20 and "chug" it?
BrewDog's response - that brewing high-quality, intricately flavored beers (this particular brew includes jasmine and cranberries) couldn't contribute to Scotland's binge-drinking problem - is completely reasonable. No drunk at a bar on a Friday night is going to choose the most expensive alcohol to "help [him] on [his] way" to further drunkeness. Anyone who purchases a beer from a brewery like BrewDog is doing so because they enjoy beer, not because they enjoy getting drunk. There is a difference, and it's really not so subtle.
The real problem here is not BrewDog's 18.2% a.b.v. beer. The real problem is the occasional idiot in government, the one who only reads the headline without finishing the rest of the article, the one who can see no farther than "more alcohol equals more bad." Soon, I suppose, they will turn on the whiskey distilleries with the same argument - surely, since distilled liquors are so high in alcohol content, their only purpose is to get people drunk quickly? Surely all alcoholic beverages have precisely the same taste because, as we all know, it's not the taste which the drinkers are after?
The real problem is the clash between people who believe that alcohol is intrinsically bad, the teetotallers and prohibitionists, and those who wish to do nothing but drink to get drunk. That dichotomy creates all of the tension, all of the strife, and all of the problems inherent to the system. Those of use in between - who know moderation is good, who enjoy the intricacies of the brewing process, who understand the difference between "drink" and "drunk" - we are caught in the crossfire, our liberties trampled by the one side, and our sensibilities trampled by the other.

UPDATE, July 30th:
Just a couple days, and already the BBC has waffled: "Confusion fuels alcohol misuse." Oh, right.

UPDATE, September 28th:
In response to the anger over BrewDog's "heavy" brew, a new one has been released. Take that, Scotland!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hold your applause

So it's time once again for the Proms - the extended classical concert series held every year in London - something I've long wanted to attend but have not yet had the chance. I did, however, stumble across an article on the BBC website which speaks to a pet peeve of mine: inappropriate applause (and noise in general) during classical concerts.

Why do people insist on clapping so soon? I can guarantee that the piece you've just heard was not written to be one of those trite, commercial rock anthems wherein every major US city is named to the delight of the crowd (well, ok, unless it was one of Mozart's later works). I can hear Debussy's La Mer, or Elgar's Enigma Variations, or even Stravinsky or Shostakovich or Beethoven; I can picture in my head the moving, pained triumph of The Firebird or the sweet lyricism of the Pastoral Symphony; I can remember being on stage and throwing my heart and soul into the Russian Easter Overture and Carmina Burana. These are some of my happiest memories, but it is the music - and solely the music - which I perceive. I do not remember how people applauded at the end, whether there was a standing ovation, or if anyone shouted. In fact, the concert hall could have been empty.
But I also remember the few times I was unfortunate enough to hear inappropriate noise. These memories stick with me, and in them I do not hear the music, though I wish to. Instead of the Boston Pops performance, I hear incessantly rustling pants; I hear whispers about whether or not the theater staff intend to move the piano off the stage after the concert; and I hear those few, loud claps, that start out forceful and then grow hushed in embarrassment until the sound of them is overpowered by the uncomfortable creaking of the performers shifting in their chairs, the clapping that begins before the musicians had even lowered their instruments, between the first, rollicking movement and the second, sorrowful one. I hate those memories. The entire performance was ruined by someone who didn't know any better. Even being aware of this naivete does not improve my mood on the subject.
Perhaps I am too selfish. I could stand to be more gracious, I'm certain of that. But, both as a performer and as an observer, noise at an inappropriate time during a concert is not only jarring, it is completely disrupting, and not just for those who are trying to enjoy the music, but for my memory formation as well. I will forever be left with one memory of the performance, and it is either a beautiful memory of the music itself, or an ugly memory of noise.
Personally, I prefer the music.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ever West

I took advantage of my last day here in Colorado (I do not know when I will return next); in my car, the soundtrack to Spirit at full volume, I drove, free, ever west, chasing down the sunset. The music would crescendo as I crested a hill, sweeping and propelling me onward. Just as the last color of the disappearing circle of the sun dropped behind the purple mountains, the theme slowed, right on cue. The lyrics pull at my heartstrings as I turn and drive east, the sky on fire with the remaining light. The rush of cool, crisp air whipped in my open window and tousled my hair, carrying with it the scent of grasses and dry earth. You will be sorely missed, Colorado, have no doubt. The last song played as I returned to my parents' home, wistful and hopeful, speaking my inner desires both to stay and to go. There is something strong that calls to me from across the ocean, but the pull of home is relentless. I cannot fully describe how I feel. All I know is that I do feel, something powerful and fierce and alive.
I hear the wind call my name
A sound that leads me home again
It sparks up the fire, a flame that still burns
To you I will always return

Under the starry sky
Where eagles have flown
This place is paradise
It's the place I call home

I know the road is long
But where you are is home
Wherever you stay
I'll find a way
I'll run like the river, I'll follow the sun
I'll fly like an eagle to where I belong

Can't stand the distance
I can't dream alone
I can't wait to see you
Yes, I'm on my way home

Now I know it's true
My every road leads to you
And in the hour of darkness
Your light gets me through

You run like the river, you shine like the sun
You fly like an eagle, yeah
You are the one
I've seen every sunset
And with all that I've learned
It's to you
I will always

Sunday, July 5, 2009


It has been a picture-perfect early summer day. The air is fresh and smells of newly cut grass and two-stroke engine fuel, and a cool breeze tickles the leaves on the neighborhood cottonwoods. Airbrushed cumulus soften the unending blue of the sky. It is the kind of day to let the cats outside so they can chase bugs across the lawn; the kind of day a blanket on the grass and a good book sounds most appealing; the kind of day that begs for a picnic by the lake.
And so I wonder why I am sitting inside, when the world calls.