Monday, May 26, 2014

Steve Perry sings live again -- and, as expected, it stirs up angst in the Journey/SP fan world

As a long-time fan who respects all eras of the band -- for me it's about the music -- it was gratifying to see former front man Steve Perry at the mic actually singing at length in public. It happened last night at an Eels concert in St. Paul, MN. He sang the band's song "It's a Motherf*cker", then went into a stepped-down version of Open Arms and Lovin', Touchin', Squeezing. It was wonderful to see him comfortable at the mic, and more important for the occasion --seeing an audience appreciating him.



That golden voice was completely pummeled by an insane touring schedule back in the day that would roast anyone's vocal cords. Fans that followed his vocal progression over the years can mark that around 1983 or so, his voice changed radically, the rasp that most fans of the Perry-Schon-Cain era know and love emerged. While it has character, that represented damage to his cords. He had an unreal, bell-clear countertenor back in the Infinity-Departure-Evolution era. That's not what we heard by the time he recorded Trial By Fire in 1996. His range was reduced, the rasp more pronounced, but he was still able to produced tracks that had emotional depth, soul, and amazing lyrical interpretation.

What I do hope this wonderful, heartfelt live performance will do is cease the ridiculous "reunite with Journey" mantra by some delusional fans that want him to hit the road again with the band. Steve Perry cannot sustain the trauma on those cords over a tour, nor would he satisfy the casual fans who want to hear the 80s hits as he performed them then. Just can the fantasy, folks.

I also hope this stops the incessant criticism that his voice is "gone" -- no, it isn't, it's what about I expected to hear. The grand thing is that he did it - getting over the fear of performing live, being judged unfairly about the "dirt" in his voice, the reduced range, etc. by people expecting SP pipes from 1978.

It didn't take long for comments on social media to get into all of that mess.

I am thankful that he is stepping out so he can see how most of us are content to hear him as is -- his vocal styling is completely intact - and shower him with the gratitude he deserves (and has feared wasn't out there). I feel sorry that for some he has to compete with the heights of his gift from decades ago.

***

And yes, I'm going to a Journey concert on Thursday in Raleigh -- with frontman Arnel Pineda singing those Perry-era hits and beyond (after all, he's now recorded two albums of original material with the band!). He's not in any competition with Steve Perry, nor should he be placed in that awful position by fans, nor should his fans find Steve Perry's recent appearance as some sort of threat to Arnel's existence with the band. I find these internecine wars juvenile, hurtful and unnecessary. Why can't folks enjoy the music, and come back to the real world.

I would be perfectly happy to see Steve Perry do a couple of "Evenings With" concerts, filmed with an audience (bucket list item - to be there!) in Storytellers style. He doesn't even have to sing any Journey tunes. He's apparently got plenty of original material written and in demo form. It would be fantastic for him to do some R&B, blues stuff - the one genre he excels at that the current iteration of Journey unfortunately steers clear of in favor of the Dirty Dozen + a couple of deeper cuts.

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UPDATE: additional thoughts that I shared in abbreviated form on Facebook after more surfing around to see more reactions.

I've been in -- and lurked in -- a variety of fan forums and comments sections of news articles about the band over the years. It's way too easy to get sucked into the vortex of insanity -- 1) "no SP/no Journey/bring him back to the group;" 2) SP's voice is shot; 3) AP is better than SP; 4) JRNY= SA/JSS/AP = Karaoke. Or other subset groups that will never meet the other half way, and worse, take it out on fellow fans on a personal level.

Musical tastes are a highly personal area, so I get the passion surrounding it, but I think some folks find it hard to engage without taking different opinions personally.

Coming from a political blogging (and moderating) background, I've developed a thick skin from that sparring (try fending off death threats, social condemnation, and threats to your day job; that will harden you fast), so it still surprises me how quickly that conversations about my favorite band get hot and seemingly personal, when the temperature doesn't seem hot enough to warrant it. But they can and do at times.

I'm not sure why these camps can spiral out of control, but moderating discussions where there are a range of firmly-held opinions, no matter the topic, is a challenge. Every word choice gets amplified, the _perceived_ power differential between commenters and the moderator is always an issue in trying to keep everyone feeling welcome.

For instance, the terms of service on PHB was several pages long, and we had pretty firm moderation that required a good deal of time by my admin contributors, but it was all in the name of 1) keeping conversations civil, and 2) making it possible to have an environment where it felt safe to navigate politically sensitive topics with one another.

Related:
* A Journey fan's dream deep cuts setlist -- that means no DSB, peeps
* Steve Perry back on stage, enjoying himself (but what a tease!)

Friday, May 23, 2014

The glory of a spa pedicure in advance of the weekend RA med grind

Post-pedi tootsies are happy!
Today was a real treat for the terrible neuropathy in my feet and from the knees down -- a spa pedicure. It came with lots of glorious leg/foot massage and a hot paraffin wrap on my feet!

I nearly fell asleep in the spa massage chair. I'm that burned out and it felt that good.

Of course "feeling" is qualified when it comes to my feet and legs. I cannot tell hot or cold because of the nerve damage at this point, so the hot paraffin wasn't hot to me at all. Kate said it was really hot. I can feel the massage, but it's hard to explain what sensation feels like with nerve damage of this type. It can be both hypersensitive and numb, but overall the pressure feels good, particularly in the muscles. The joints, not so much, but the overall feeling is one of relief.

Kate and I have had nothing but fabulous experiences at Lee Spa Nails in southern Durham (http://www.leespanailsdurham.com/).

Owner Monica Khov (in the pic with me below) and her staff take great care of us. We've been going here for several years, intermittently, and she recently expanded, adding more chairs, a full bar, and a man cave (quite a lot of guys come in to care of their feet there - how can you go wrong with a relaxing pedi). On our last trip for a pedi we had mimosas!

With Monica Khov, owner of Lee Spa Nails.
Of course this afternoon I have to take my weekly RA meds that make me sick over the weekend, so it's nice to feel good for part of the day! Have to stay positive. :)

***

New therapy (sort of)

This week I am trying out methotrexate (MTX) by injection, rather than oral pills, in order to reduce the increasing joint pain in my hands/wrists/shoulders/elbows. My rheumatologist said the injectible is more potent at the same dose, but may bypass the bad gastrointestinal side effects. The potential downside is that the other side effects -- chills, fever, fatigue very down mood swings -- may be amplified. So Kate and I will be mindful to see how I'm doing over the weekend. By Monday these side effects largely pass, but it's rough going dealing with the MTX plus the side effects of Orencia.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My own ableism and thoughts about assistive technologies and productivity

The reality of the need to rely on voice recognition software is setting in. My hands and wrists are going south fast from rheumatoid arthritis. I had a flare-up last week that caused me so much pain that by the end of the day I was literally crying at my desk. It was difficult to drive home because gripping the steering wheel was nearly impossible. I had to sleep in wrist and thumb wraps...when I could sleep at all.

Since I have a job that relies on using a computer and the vast majority of my essential job functions rely on keyboarding (and mousing) and computer multi-tasking, it's a necessity that is forcing me to evaluate just how reliant I am on my physical capabilities to accomplish essential job functions.

It's a good thing in many ways to be humbled by the challenges of losing the abilities that you take for granted in many ways, to embark on more than an intellectual exercise in this area to understand the world from a yet another point of view. So as I think these things out in this digital space, dear readers, I apologize in advance for inadvertent stepping on toes as I confront my own ableist biases "aloud."

Tip-toeing into Voice Recognition Software

Fortunately Chrome and the Android OS allow for easy implementation of it w/o the OS-resource sucking Dragon Naturally Speaking. Configuring my tablet/PC/phone took just a few setting changes. Aside from some web apps, most basic functions are accommodated.

Saying that it saves you from any keyboarding is ludicrous, unless numerous typos and lack of advanced formatting are acceptable in a business context. Correcting is tiresome and tedious.

That speed trade off is huge. It is no surprise that it unfortunately doesn't match up to being able to physically touch type 80 wpm on the fly. Dragon has better accuracy than built-in voice rec, but it has a steep teaching/learning curve. I'm just trying out the built-in functionality and I'm beginning to see the huge productivity hit that will result in real-world circumstances (for me).

Expectations

The more I fiddle with basic voice rec, the more I wonder how those who have limited ability to manually type (or lose it altogether) can use a computer without compromising a lot of former speed and accuracy.

[Of course, if you never had that physical capability to begin with, there isn't that that personal frame of reference to contend with, but there is the comparison to performance expectations in the abled world.]

Efforts that I depended on manual dexterity and speed for - such as moving between apps and windows, copying and pasting, text formatting, etc. are so far a no-go w/o Dragon. Of course my brain is quite biased by personal history. It has been well-trained over the years to execute such tasks effortlessly from thought to my hands to the keyboard to the computer. Now that this "communication chain" is broken, learning to do the same tasks using different tools is daunting.

It would good to see if there are studies/tests to evaluate one's voice rec performance to multi-task, multi-app keyboarding and navigation, not just the metric of straight dictation.

For instance, doing Facebook or Twitter updates using native voice recognition software (OS and Chrome; not Dragon) on my tablet or desktop is impossible to do without some keystroking or manual intervention. Most of my devices do best with straight dictation only. My Samsung phone is best at the latter.

I guess that my main focus now is figuring out how to think about voice recognition software and its place as an assistive technology. Is its primary purpose to simply make certain functions possible? Beyond the possible, what is the expectation regarding performance itself - is the assistive technology's purpose to help that person achieve the same performance levels that exist in the able-biased world as well?

The latter seems like a lofty goal, but being able to accomplish a function is not the same as accomplishing that same function at the same rate of speed as you did before. A logical question then is how expectation of rate of speed of performance falls into the category of essential functions of a job.

The ADA

There are plenty of practical considerations of course; take a read through the voluminous Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA ) site and the Job Accommodation Network (the Dept of Labor site). They are not really bedtime reading, but interesting resources to peruse if you have the time. You realize what a herculean accomplishment it was to pass such a landmark law (1990) given the amount of ableism that existed then and continues to exist today. For instance:
"Under the ADA, when an individual with a disability is qualified to perform the essential functions of a job except for functions that cannot be performed because of related limitations and existing job barriers, an employer must try to find a reasonable accommodation that would enable this person to perform these functions. The reasonable accommodation should reduce or eliminate unnecessary barriers between the individual's abilities and the requirements for performing the essential job functions."
There's a lot packed in the above that has been life-changing for those working with disabilities. The ADA has ensured that they can bring their considerable personal and professional skills to bear to contribute to the economy by giving them access to opportunity.

The wrinkle of course is unless the reasonable ADA accommodation causes an "undue hardship." What constitutes "undue hardship" for an employer in this matter? It has to be:
"Excessively costly, extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business."
Yeah, it's complicated and there's a lot of ink dedicated to unpacking that statement. Just do the bedtime reading, if you are so inclined...

Some history -- the ADA would not have passed without the advocacy of Senator Bob Dole (R-Kansas), whose presence on the Hill among colleagues made a crucial difference.
Senator Dole was a fitting advocate for people with disabilities. In an interview with ABILITY Magazine, Senator Dole described the effect of his war injury: 
"Experiencing a disability yourself, you could almost walk around with a blindfold and pick out the other people with disabilities…. Having a disability changes your whole life, not just your attitude." 
...On July 16, 1990, more than 3,000 people attended the signing ceremony on the White House lawn. As he signed the bill, President George H. W. Bush said: 
"Every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom… We will not tolerate discrimination in America." (Read President Bush’s Full Remarks at ADA Signing) 
Bob Dole added: "This historic civil rights legislation seeks to end the unjustified segregation and exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of American life… the ADA is fair and balanced legislation that carefully blends the rights of people with disabilities… with the legitimate needs of the American business community."
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BTW, this post took forever using voice rec. In the end I typed about half of it, and corrected a boatload of the input. And the formatting had to be done via keyboard. With that said, it could be done over time and at my own pace. That's certainly not the same as the pressure of composing something on a deadline for work.

Related:
* Life changes -- RA drives me onto the professional off-ramp