Poetic Feet and Mayor Pete

If you’re at all like me, at one point or another in your education, you had to learn poetic meter — all that stuff about iambic pentameter and whatnot. I think I had to memorize all of the different types of “feet” in seventh grade: iambs, troches, dactyls, and so on.

At the time I thought that learning all of the different types of feet — the technical name for which is prosody — was completely useless. It turns out, however, that understanding prosody has one fairly specific use: explaining the difficulty that many have when it comes to pronouncing the last name of Presidential hopeful “Mayor” Pete Buttigieg.

Needless to say, the spelling of Buttigieg itself raises issues with respect to pronunciation; it’s certainly not as straightforward as “Warren” or “Sanders.” To address this problem early in his political career, my understanding is that the politician’s campaign issued a fairly straightforward pronunciation guide: Buttigieg sounds like Buddha Judge.

If they had left it that, all would have been relatively well–at least insofar as getting comfortable with pronouncing Mayor Pete’s last name is concerned. After all, we can all say “Buddha,” and we can all say “Judge,” and, perhaps most importantly, we can say the two words in rapid succession without tripping over either of them.

The problem, however, is that Buddha Judge wasn’t quite right. The “uh” sounds needed to be “eh” sounds. Thus, a subsequent note went out to the press. To wit (and in my own words): Instead of Buddha Judge, it’s actually Boot Edge Edge.

While this new pronunciation guide solved one problem, it caused another. This is where understanding prosody comes in handy — at least insofar as it gives us some terminology we can use to describe the problem.

While the original guide to pronouncing Buttigieg may have gotten the vowel sounds wrong (giving us “uh” when “eh” would have been more appropriate), what it got right was the type of “poetic foot” we should use when pronouncing Mayor Pete’s last name; it’s what’s known as a dactyl, which is to say that the three syllables in his name follow an accented-unaccented-unaccented pattern. Other dactylic words include battleship, endocrine, and fallacy.

By way of contrast, what Mayor Pete’s campaign gained in correcting for the pronunciation of the vowel sounds, they lost in (for lack of a better term) poetic footage. Boot Edge Edge consists of three accented syllables and does not roll off the tongue easily.

Yes, we can say “Boot,” and we can say “Edge,” and we can also say “Edge” again, but three accented syllables rarely follow each other in nature. Perhaps this is why my seventh-grade teacher never gave us a word for the phenomenon. But it does have a name. It’s a molossus.

Not only does lack of practice make it, perhaps, somewhat difficult for some people (myself included) to pronounce a molossus like Boot Edge Edge but, more to the point, that pronunciation is prosodically incorrect. As noted earlier, just as Buttigieg should be pronounced with “eh” sounds instead of “uh” sounds, it should also be pronounced as a dactyl and not a molossus.

Unfortunately, there’s no combination of words in the English language that will give us both the correct vowel sounds and the correct prosody as a reference point for pronouncing Buttigieg. I’m slightly tempted to say that it starts with “booty” and ends with “jedge,” but the long “e” sound in booty is still not quite right and “jedge” is not a word.

On the other hand, my purpose here in all of this wasn’t so much to provide a solution as to explain the problem in the kind of excruciating detail that only my seventh-grade English teacher would truly appreciate. As far as solutions go, I’ll leave that to Mayor Pete’s campaign team.

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There’s a reason the banner says “Pete” and not “Buttigieg.”


Track-by-Track “Tell Me a Story”

This track gets a tiny bit political — or at least takes a look at some concerns I have about the way we, as a culture, discuss weighty issues. Essentially, “Tell Me a Story” is about the vapid nature of the infotainment that passes for news in our world.

“We play this game, you and I: We hit the gas and close our eyes” is meant to suggest that, on the whole, we tend to act before we think and without regard to consequence. The next lines, “We roll through fire, we roll through flood, we roll past sad men gunning for blood” is, sadly, a line I wrote a few years ago but which continues to be increasingly relevant.

The first part of the chorus, “Tell me a story, sing me a song, tell me it’s okay, tell me I’m wrong,” is directed at two groups: the media and politicians. I feel like both of these groups are, to some extent, responsible for selling us a comfortable myth. Essentially, their job is to tell us that everything is fine when our senses tell us that it’s not.

The second half of the chorus builds on that theme and gives way to the suspicions many of us have even as the evening news assures us that the next day will be bigger and brighter: “Tell me a story, sing me to sleep, I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.”

The second verse builds on the imagery of driving, but this time around “we” aren’t in the driver’s seat any more. Rather, “We go along for the ride. We barely blink when our worlds collide.” These lines speak to our relationship with news media in particular. While there are certainly some news stories that can bring a tear to my eye, I see so many tragedies on the news so often that I’ve begun to become desensitized to them.

Watching the news feels like being shuttled somewhere in a limousine and passing scenes of destruction everywhere we turn. And there’s nothing we can do about it beyond shaking our heads, shuddering and heaving, while other people who don’t have the option of watching all of these events unfold from a safe distance literally struggle to breathe.

Lest anyone think that I’m pinning the blame for the sorry state of the world solely on the media, the last verse turns the situation around and puts some of the responsibility for the way things are on our shoulders as well — i.e., the audience who keeps the 24-hour news industry in business: “We built this world, you and I. We saw it coming and let it slide.”

In the last two lines, I’m thinking specifically of Alec Baldwin’s depiction of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, but also more generally about how we engage in many of our discussions about politics from a cynical distance, as if everything is a joke: “We went for punchlines. We took the bait. We laughed as mad-men turned up the hate.”

I’m definitely speaking from my own perspective here, but my own tendency is always to poke fun at things. If my recollection of a certain MASH episode is accurate, Sigmund Freud once said that anger turned sideways is humor, so this instinct is only natural, but is it productive? Are there better ways to address the ills of society?

Clearly there are, and a lot of people are engaging these ills in productive ways. For the rest of us, though, (by which I mean people like me) this song is meant as a call to question our collective media diet and think about new ways to engage with the world.

In terms of music, I tried to make the serious message of the song a little more palatable by couching it in an arrangement reminiscent of Burt Bacharach. I also think of this track as fitting into the larger premise of the album in that it explains, to some extent, where all of the people went — and why the world is not only populated by answering machines. And the last flourish of trumpets is meant to sound like a circus. Or, if you prefer, a media circus.

Tell Me a Story

We play this game, you and I.
We hit the gas and close our eyes.
We roll through fire. We roll through flood.
We roll past sad men gunning for blood.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.

We go along for the ride
We barely blink when our worlds collide.
We shake our heads, shudder and heave
While other people struggle to breathe.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.

We built this world, you and I
We saw it coming and let it slide
We went for punchlines. We took the bait.
We laughed as madmen turned up the hate.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.

Beyond the Maze: An Interview with Astronauts of Antiquity

Listening to Astronauts of Antiquity is like stepping into a potential not-too-distant future right out of Black Mirror or a darker episode of Doctor Who.

Take their hip-hop flavored 2016 single “Paradise” featuring rapper Deploi, for example. Strong beats and catchy hooks give way to a vision of a dystopian paradise where profits take precedence over everything else—a conceit made all the more sinister by a creepy robotic voice intoning “We know what’s best for you” as the song reaches its climax.

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 6.05.04 PMOr take a look at their video for “Future Back.” Propelled by a percolating disco beat, the track is reminiscent of the most recent Stars album, No One Is Lost, with a lead vocal that calls to mind Amy Winehouse at her best. And, of course, it’s impossible to watch the video without thinking of “Robots” by Flight of the Conchords, though AOA (as the hip kids call them) certainly up the ante with much slicker production value than the Conchords’ manager Murry Hewitt ever managed with his flip phone.

Despite the band’s hectic schedule of popping back and forth between various futures and our tenuous present, I had a chance to catch up with Astronauts of Antiquity’s guitarist B. Rhyan to find out what they’ve been up to lately and where they think the world is heading…

The first thing visitors see when they arrive on your webpage is a message that reads BEYOND THE MAZE. What do you see as the “maze,” and how does your music take your fans beyond it?

Great question! The maze represents the predicament we currently find ourselves bound to in this material realm. There’s an overload of information and distraction of a seemingly infinite degree. We try to make sense of it all often times becoming implicated in the depths of the complexities, be it social, political, financial, relationships etc. The sense of peace, clarity and freedom sometimes seems hopelessly conspicuous by its absence.

The maze is a labyrinth of endless choices but the way out is obscured or seemingly hidden. We go down this path and it feels like we’re getting somewhere only to feel baffled by disappointment or confusion. We listen to leaders in this or that field hoping it will lead us to freedom. We see this playing out acutely in the political arena.

We are inherently free spirits within the encasing of a temporal mind/body system. We seek the full experience of ceaseless pleasure with a vehicle that is limited. So beyond the maze is a directive to look beyond the mundane and go deeper to mysteries of the unlimited — our spiritual nature, which is a completely different energy than that of mind/body which are composed of matter, gross and subtle. That’s where the juice is. That’s where clarity and freedom live. That’s where the potential to experience the deepest love resides. It’s where the wisdom teachings of all ages direct us.

Along similar lines, you’ve also described Astronauts of Antiquity as “great music with a cause.” Is there a single cause you’re dedicated to or, given the state of the world today, is it more complicated than that?

Not necessarily a single cause. We are each individuals in the group and come at it from different perspectives. India [the band’s vocalist] views material problems as the flip side of spiritual wisdom. You cannot have a balanced life unless you are cultivating a strong inner presence. Ivica [the band’s resident sonic wizard and programmer] is a strong believer in social justice and systems to support that. I realize there can never be that type of consistent compassionate decision making from individuals or leaders when the worldview is based on matter.

If we are mere chemicals and there is nothing beyond this life then there is fundamental justification to exploit the resources of nature as well as exploit each other and other life forms such as innocent animals. Violence breeds violence. If we talk about social equality yet callously sit back while billions of animals are tortured yearly so we can have a juicy steak or fried chicken, then there is something fundamentally wrong with that equation. How we do one thing is how we do everything. Everything is interconnected energetically – quantum physics reveals that. So within the real of human action the after effects.

So, though we speak of the poisonous effects of GMO’s, chemtrails, mind control, animal slaughter or the looming threat of a nuclear holocaust at the hands of the hubris of modern leaders, there is a deeper root cause. In our robot video for “Future Back,” there is a schematic that Frank leaves Rosie to build their time machine to go back before the nuclear devastation. In that schematic there is the compassion component and enlightened consciousness elemental key. When the consciousness of humankind is elevated to a the perspective of seeing the indwelling spiritual essence of all life forms (including the earth) and honoring that with profound respect, only then do we have a chance to make it as a race.

It seems that politics are, to some extent, at the core of the band’s identity.Was this a conscious decision from the beginning? Or, to put it another way, which came first, the cause or the band?

The old chicken or the egg, eh? Well, it seems they are intricately intertwined. We live our lives as we know best, trying to find meaning. We bring that to the music. So in one sense who we are and what we feel strongly about – the causes, so to speak, define the music. We write about who we are and what we’ve learned within the context our life experience. But I wouldn’t say that we started out by saying, “Yeah, let’s be a political band.” Those things just come organically.

Without a strong sense of inner presence with our leaders politics ends up being the blind leading the blind. It’s imperative that humanity as a whole cultivates our inner life to balance the outer. So we are not per se a political band. But it’s kind of hard not to notice what’s going on in our world right now. Yikes!

Yikes, indeed. Moving on to your music, your songs offer a rich blend of musical influences. There’s the hip-hop of “Paradise” and the disco of “Future Back,” and there’s also a distinctly jazzy, psychedelic sound to tracks like “God Is A Musician.” Yet it all sounds of a piece. Do you see yourselves as fitting into a particular genre?

We draw from a plethora of influences over the course of our individual careers. Our vision is writing compelling songs with distinctive productions (we produce the tracks) that effortlessly merge genres into a modern pop-ish format. If we had to label it, we’d say electro-urban-pop with conscious element.

I like that! Who are some of your influences?

Let’s see… Daft Punk, Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Little Dragon, Peter Gabriel, Prince, Eminem, Nile Rodgers, Digable Planets. Skrillex and Diplo, the Beatles, Amy Winehouse….

I thought I heard her influence in the mix! What is your writing and recording process like?

India and I usually have the body of the song written, then Ivica brings his magic to the table and we shape it in the studio. Sometimes we’ll write in the studio with a guitar or keyboard pattern. We identify the vibe we’re going for and lay down an appropriate groove. Sometimes we’ll bring in others to embellish our drum track ideas and take them beyond what we may have done. That’s always a fun collaboration.

We’ll experiment with the arrangement in many ways til it feels right. We let the song or track dictate to us. We simply try to pay attention. If something doesn’t feel catchy enough or get the point across we’ll change it up with the musically or lyrically. We’re kind of anal-retentive perfectionists in this regard. Even if we’ve spent months on something, there often comes a point where we all go, “you know what, we can do better.”

You guys also have a big sound, by which I mean there’s a lot going on. How do you translate that to playing live?

We’re just finishing up the last couple tracks of our full-length record. As soon as that’s done, we jump into live show mode. We have a group of musicians here in LA, many from an awesome collective called House of Vibe – superlative sensitive players that really know how to groove with a lot of soul. We’ll also trigger some samples, both Ivica (keys) and myself (guitars) if it’s appropriate.

Do you have any plans to tour in the near future?

We’ll be going out in the mid summer.

There’s a really cool bar in Brooklyn called The Way Station that would be the perfect venue for Astronauts of Antiquity. The décor is very steampunk, and there’s a distinct Doctor Who vibe to the place that’s enhanced by the fact that the restroom looks like a police box. Do you have any favorite venues along these lines? Places you love playing? Bars that might be a little small but that attract the perfect audience for your message and your music?

We are down for anyplace that’s open to the music and vibe. We’re talking to some festival people now, but we’ll see what happens. It’s taken us quite a bit of time to finish this record because India and I live in New York and Ivica is in LA. But we’re going full force once the album is done so watch out!

And, just for selfish reasons, I need to ask if you ever think you’ll swing through Philadelphia. That’s more or less where I live.

Dude, we love Philly! Great funky vegan pizza place there — Broadbeard Pizza I think. Plus we dig the Trocadero. Def we’ll be there sometime upcoming.

One more thing: If God is, indeed, a musician, what instrument does he play?

Haha — cool. Well, according the ancient Vedic texts, the oldest written body of knowledge, God appears in multifarious incarnations according to the time, place and mentality of the people on this and other planetary systems. He appears as Buddha, Christ etc. (an empowered incarnation). The cream of Vedic literature is the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the summary study of all the Vedas. It itself has over 18,000 verses. These authorities state that the original source of all being is known as Krishna, the embodiment of divine love – and this supreme dude plays a magical flute, plus he has a divine girlfriend whose name is Radha who is equally or more powerful than him. Can you dig that?


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Astronauts of Antiquity