About Miranda Culp

Mom, Author, Marketing Blogger, Poet, Yoga Teacher, Zealous Sacramento Resident

Go Go Penguin Made My Summer

Alright, growing up in Los Angeles made me a sucker for hiphop, underground hiphop specifically, that nursed from the veins of truly great jazz.  It’s phenomenal to me that the tech has fed the human capacity for sound, Rob Turner manages to mimic the crisp drum tracks only previously capable on Logic.

It’s not just the precision that these dudes execute, it’s also the inviting melodies, the easy phrasing that feels so effortless and free. It all works just as well with Autumn, I recommend:

 

 

 

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Diamonds & Gold: Neil Diamond at the Golden 1 Center

Yesterday started out great: I quit my job and almost like the universe was rewarding me, my friend Mike sent me a text asking if I wanted to see Neil Diamond at the Golden 1 Arena in downtown Sacramento.

A quick side note: After much reasonable protesting, Sacramento now has its very own, taxpayer funded, shiny new arena. I was ambivalent for many reasons, but I have to say that unlike other arenas, the acoustics are actually quite decent.  The only other show I’ve been to at the Golden 1 Center was Electric Christmas, a hipster rock, millennials-only affair put on every winter by local radio station 94.7.

So the first thing we noticed last night was that every section in the stadium was open and the place was packed to the nosebleeds with avid fans.

When the band took the stage and the lights dropped, a giant 3D Diamond appeared, spinning and refracting images of Neil from the past.  The diamond screen remained throughout the performance, lighting up and bouncing images that supported the songs.

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The bandstand split with a walk down the center and when Neil emerged and started to come down front and center, Mike couldn’t resist saying, “Oh that’s nice, they gave him the old people ramp”.

Neil is 76, but he sings with the same voice as he did in 1976: his pipes are undiminished by time, his rich, sultry tone and phrasing as swoon-worthy as ever.  

He launched into Solitary Man and this crowd that easily had 20-30 years on the previous show I’d seen, erupted with such glee, it was hard to believe.

Diamond had a bit of Elvis in him in the younger days, he borrowed some showmanship from the King for sure.  But his brand of flash seems positively tame compared with younger, more modern performers.  His charisma is so powerful that all he had to do was lift a hand beatifically and the audience would rise to their feet as though they were at a megachurch.

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A couple songs in, he strolled to the side of the stage and the far right section cheered so vehemently, Neil said, “these folks are the most lively in the building, so I’m going to stay over here for this one.”  Then he sang the opening lines of Love on the Rocks. He continued to tease the other sections

His easy banter and playfulness cut up the often wistful themes of his ballads and he undulated between up tempo goodies like I’m a Believer and lonely  I am, I Said.  He is still songwriting and he managed to tuck some newer tunes into the set, one called Dry Your Eyes about the Manchester bombing.

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One of my favorite moments was Brooklyn Roads, accompanied by diamond-shaped, grainy Super8 footage of his family.  A line I deeply related to:

Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, “He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it”
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else

I built me a castle
With dragons and kings
And I’d ride off with them
As I stood by my window
And looked out on those
Brooklyn Roads1

Diamond also did something I hadn’t seen a rock star of his caliber do before: to introduce the band, he let each one of his musicians play a short, solo song of their own choosing.  His two back up singers are sisters, and his guitarist of 40 years, Richard Bennett, who helped write Forever in Blue Jeans, was on stage with his son, Nick, also on guitar.  These little showcases gave him a chance to encourage and publically thank the folks that support him.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the entire auditorium stood and danced for Sweet Caroline, except maybe those in wheelchairs. If there was some way to gauge the energy in the room, this crown far exceeded the hipster extravaganza I mentioned.  By a long shot.

The finale was, of course, Coming to America, a tune I used to see as a bit nationalistic, but again, he managed to strike the perfect tone; the diamond screen shone old black and white images of immigrants boarding boats, waving happily from the deck, hoping for a new life.  As the son of  Jewish immigrants from Poland, it was a loving gesture, and a reminder of what actually makes America great.

Neil Diamond performed for over two hours, with such obvious relish, such candor and very little of the bravado that made him so famous.  His voice was eclipsed only by the sheer poetic vulnerability of his lyrics and that spaghetti western style that has become his signature.

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I had my doubts about the Golden 1 arena, but last night, I was so grateful for this massive, shiny venue because it was filled to the brim with eager fans who spent far less time on their phones and far more time cheering and dancing: daughters and dads, grandparents and grandchildren.  And after 50 years of writing and performing, Neil Diamond deserves a golden arena.

 

  1. Written by Neil Diamond • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

Sacramento Trees: Greatest Hits

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This blog has been on ice for a bit, but I’ve been ruminating on refashioning it.  I’d like to create a resource and a laugh for other single moms like me in the Sacramento area.

But first, let’s look at some trees.  Even people who live here don’t realize that Sacramento has one of the densest tree populations in the US per capita, a fact that has recently been confirmed by a study at MIT.

I will intermittently be posting some beauties for no other reason than, you know, beauty.

You’re welcome.

 

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Trigger Warning: Trump is Your President

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When the map went red, it bled.  That uniform block of frustration and alienation is as visible as an open wound.  

For me, this election is personal.  I haven’t spoken publicly about it until now, but last summer, I was ensnared by a romantic sociopath and when I discovered the depth of this person’s lies, I had a mental health crisis complete with panic, anxiety/depression, PTSD, insomnia, the whole shebang.

At the time, I was working at a mental health facility teaching yoga to acute patients.  These vulnerable people had often sustained ongoing childhood abuse.  I could not teach anymore because I was now a patient and I couldn’t separate myself from my students; I was lost in empathy, my own pain mixing with their’s.

When the map went that red last night, it was like watching a dear friend willingly return to the home of her abusive husband. Our nation voted for a sociopath because it has Stockholm Syndrome.  Our red states feel powerless and so they reach for and identify with power, even if that power is their oppressor.

We have to wonder about free will in this moment and how much we are actually exercising it if we put the tax-evading bully in the driver’s seat.

I’m grieving a future that is not fraught with draconian repeals and abusive cycles that grind up our best and brightest.

I’m in the second phase of grief: denial.

Followed closely by bargaining: your mind just keeps trying to peel back time and rewrite the event, bending it another way. It happens repeatedly throughout your day, your mind doing impossible gymnastics to make that one moment of shock disappear. I’m going to let myself feel it, so I can move onto guilty, anger and eventually hope.
I am already tired from the work that must be done.  I see with fresh awareness that my privilege has afforded me the ability to opt out of activism.  The Obama years were a piece of cake I ate daily without realizing it.  But none of us, not one American, will have that luxury anymore.
I have one perspective I learned through my experience with the sociopath that is both disheartening and hopeful as it applies to Trump: sociopaths usually self-destruct.  because they are not conscience-bound at all, they do not apply loyalty to their interactions.  His loose cannon antics will continue once he gets into the White House and while we can count on him disposing of Obamacare, overturning Roe v. Wade, and setting up shop for his billionaire friends, he will also be bored, cruel, and destructive with the wrong people.
Malcolm Gladwell predicts Trump will be hip-deep in a lawyer huddle, if not in jail within the first year. I sort of hope he is right; I’d be really surprised if Trump makes it through a first term.
In the meantime, we need to bind together tighter, we need to reach back out to the middle, and bravely carry the torch of love, inclusion, forgiveness.  We need to see this as it is, a wound that needs healing.
Let’s be ready, friends, neighbors, families, communities, cities and allies.  Let’s start to build a model of what we do want so when this thing comes crashing down, we can create again.
May we eradicate hate.  One world, one people, one love.

No Handshake at the Last Debate: A Tactical Decision to Abandon Manners

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I have always watched these debates and marveled at the politician’s strange ability to cut someone down in front of millions and then smile and shake hands afterward.  I think of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, how that nicety is sort of creepy but entirely necessary, a shred of good sportsmanship.

According to the news outlets, Trump stacked his entourage with the women who have accused Bill Clinton of misconduct; that would force Bill to shake hands with them. The Clinton camp negotiated at the last minute for no greeting and no handshake at the beginning or end of the debate.

I can’t say I blame HRC for not wanting to touch that dastardly paw, but then again, she’s shaken hands with Trump hundreds of times.  There are plenty of photos of all of them bouging it up at some gala or another.

When those racism jackasses shouted at President Obama during his State of the Union Address, it had similar implications.  There is no place now, not even the formal stronghold of the presidency, that hatred cannot invade.

We’ve really let this discourse descend into the Sub Abyssal Zone.  I’ll be really grateful when this nightmarish election is over.

 

Give Those Nymphs Some Hooters: Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders and What it Means to Art

When his blustery, mean-spirited dismissive, caustic pinched, nasal voice started coming back out through the public airwaves, I had to draw back and remember, when was I first aware of Donald Trump?

It was the late 80s, when everyday I found the funny pages of the LA Times (well almost everyday, after my Dad had done the crossword) and I read Doonsbury, a decades long satire by Gary Trudeau .  I was transfixed by the romance happening between Mike and J.J.  Mike’s long-suffering commercial career as an illustrator was punctuated by campaigns that would come to life like Mr. Butts, the Cigarette Lobby Spokesman, and J.J. was a performance artist who donned a bucket on her head and dashed the wedding china on the floor to make a comment about the fragile artifice of American marriage.  Now this was real love.

At some point, despite their rocky and often bewildering relationship, Mike and J.J have a child, Alex.  This is when (momentarily)  J.J sobers up and realizes, shit, I have to get a job.  J.J’s first commission?  To paint a replica of the Cistine Chapel inside Donald Trump’s yacht.  The Don was married to Ivana and had just purchased the Trump Princess (I guess he  didn’t care that renaming a boat is bad luck).  He was a fixture on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. “Give Those Nymphs Some Hooters” is the feedback J.J receives from her new boss as she clambers back up the scaffold, chanting to herself “I have a family, I have a family…” In the end of the sequence, she makes Adam look a little more Donaldy.

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What Gary Trudeau points out here with his usual wry humor, is that Trump is the distillation of the crass disregard for real beauty that comes with profound excess and a lack of profound feeling. Despite the way the rich toss their blue chips onto the table to obtain a Picasso or more recently, a Banksy, they are the same people who have no idea what Picasso or Banksy are attempting to do with their work, why great art is ownerless. It’s not the painting; it’s the invisible magic that takes place between the viewer and the painting.

It’s this ability, to envision, to imagine, to play, that has sustained us and pushed us forward as a species. In this way, The Donald is The Opposite of Civilization. He is closed, you are fired. There isn’t a single original thought happening. He is the ultimate reduction to lowest common denominator. All things are objects to him, even his own daughter.

I’ve read all the articles that talk about how strategic he’s being, using simple fourth grade words, shredding right through the GOP operating manual, and in some ways, yes, this is clever salesmanship.  But no matter what the talking heads say, he is not a rebel.  Trump is allied with another far less morally bound party that play by their own set of rules: the Robber Barons.  It would not surprise me if he lit his cigars with $100 bills.

Even if we try to make the businessman pitch to The Donald: art’s central role in the latest science about brain development, sociological studies on happiness, mental illness, and general quality of life. The Donald isn’t interested in abstractions.  He’s not interested in the enlightenment project. He’s interested in power and he has no plan. Trump is a nihilist sociopath.  He’s artless.

When I was in college at a tiny, now defunct liberal arts school, I attended an event held every summer called Bread and Puppet.  It started in the 60s as guerrilla street theatre in New York City, where young people made puppets and costumes out of garbage and found items, acting out local or national politics on the street.  Over time, the show got so big that it moved to Glover, VT where the production has several barn-sized workshops and a big amphitheater.

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The main event began with what looked like an old timey carnival taking the big outdoor stage, complete with clowns, stilt walkers, and an old school bus painted in rainbows.  The actors put on a series of skits, becoming teachers, politicians, farmers, school kids, using mostly body language and simple props. The audience cheered and booed accordingly as if they already knew what to do.  At one point, a clown who had been present since the beginning stepped forward and with a dramatic gesture, tore off his mask.  You guessed: Senator Bernie Sanders. The audience went mad.  That was 1998.

Art is as various and sundry as anything else humans do, but no matter the shape of the expression, creating comes from an essential urge toward truth, beauty and love.  Even the most savage sentiment expressed creatively opens up a conversational space for catharsis. I make the argument that art on some level is activism.

When asked about his religion, Bernie states that his idea of God is everyone together.  I don’t want to get too Vermont hippy here, but in his way, Bernie is an artist because he sees the systemic failures clearly and he calls it like he sees it . He demands that we question the vicious nature of our system and in doing so, he envisions a radical alternative.  And in 1998, he was willing to put on a costume and express that idealism.

Trump is a buyer, a seller, a bored patron in the box seat.  He doesn’t speak the language of idealism.

 

I watched a bit of Democratic National Convention, and when Bernie spoke, exhausted, hoarse, finally painting HRC as the only alternative to Trump, the camera caught lots of young anguished faces on film.  Yes, the movement is bigger than Bernie, but it’s hard to see this as anything other than big money winning once again.  And when big money wins, real creative change loses.

Alma de Bretteville Spreckels (1881 – 1968)

I love stories about women who tell the establishment to get bent.

The Daily Crud

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The buxom, hourglass figured and 6ft tall “Big Alma” was a chain smoker, swam bare naked in her gigantic indoor pool in front of guests, guzzled martinis by the gallon and cared not what people thought of her.

At 14, she resisted her family’s push to wash other people’s clothes for a living and began to pose nude for up and coming artists in S.F. – she was the model for the Union Square statue of “Victoria: The Goddess of Victory” by Robert Aitken and for many risque paintings that hung in saloons all over town. With the money earned as a model, she enrolled herself in the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art to study painting and the rest she spend on her stylish attire, blossoming into a proper belle of San Francisco.

Her stunning looks, insatiable libido and booming voice would take her far. She first attracted the…

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