Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011: Lessons Learned

Another year is about to join the great calendar in the sky. It's been a pretty wild year for me, fraught with joy, tribulation, and introspection. I've grown quite a lot since this time of the year in 2010; life has dealt me experiences that have molded me into a wiser person, though still very far from wise. Allow me to share what I've learned in the year 2011:

  • Our trials do not define us.

    No doubt everyone has some issues with life; I would even be so bold as to say that having a "worry-free" life is an issue in itself. It's inescapable, just like some of our personal attributes. But I was taught this year that the two are very, very different. A personal problem is not part of one's personality. This life is meant to help us bring out our true character, and difficulties serve only as a catalyst. They help the process, but they stay very much separate from the parts of the reaction.
    So what's the point of this lesson? For me, it means that when I wage war against the problems in my life, I'm not fighting myself. I'm fighting for myself. Identity is a very priceless thing, something that should not be disfigured by trials that attempt to clamp onto us and pose as appendages to our very soul. In short, by rising above your problems, you will find yourself, most assuredly.

  • Life is best lived without self-interest.

    Ah yes, one of the greatest counter-intuitive facts of life. We are born with a natural sense of self-preservation, and so we seek to improve our position in this world. But what happens when we let our mind fill with those thoughts of "what's in it for me?" I'm not saying that people who strive for personal gain do not find it on occasion, but there will be times when we simply do not get what we want. In our blindness, we revile our benefactors and complain that life is unjust.
    To avoid becoming such whiners, we can instead devote our time to looking out for others. From personal experience, when I am worried for the sake of others, I manage to take care of myself subconsciously. And whenever I don't get something I was hoping for, it doesn't matter, since I still have the chance to fulfill the hope of someone else.
    Then what happens when I can't help someone I truly care for? God willing, I'll have all of 2012 to learn that lesson.

  • Communication is the greatest tool at our disposal.

    I've been gifted with linguistic ability. I can be eloquent with my words, or I can be concise, but I can do very much with words. However, it does little to help others unless I use it to communicate. Despite my talents with language, I am also a pretty quiet fellow in real life. Nonetheless, I can communicate when I really need to, so it's not really a lesson saying, "Wow, I need to learn how to talk with people." It's more like, "Wow, I need to learn to talk with people."
    For example, what I'm doing right now. Life has taught me many important things this year, but I haven't done much to share my ideas with others. So I'm using a blog to get the message out. I have many fantastic ideas on how to help others, and I have the means to share those ideas. It's only a matter of doing it, for the benefit of others (You'll see that many of these ideas overlap, but that's just a sign of linguistic genius).

  • People are worth getting to know.

    On the flip side of my brilliant ideas, other people have great experiences and insights to share with me. Communication is two-way, which means that listening is just as important as knowing what to say. And it's not just hearing what you want to hear. It's worth making the effort to acquaint yourself with the people you talk to. Everyone has their own identity, which I happen to think is their most valuable possession. And so it's about time I start acting like it when I converse with others.
    The ironic thing is that I learned this lesson when someone showed me that I was worth getting to know. It's a marvelous feeling to know that my personal quirks and ideologies are actually interesting, and everyone deserves to feel it.

  • Love is much simpler than we think.

    I am an idealist, make no mistake. I am also a deep thinker. As such, my personal philosophies end up being very ornate. Even when they don't need to be. I'll have my own ideas, and then as soon as I hear someone else's opinion that sounds good, I'll mull it over until I can incorporate it into my worldview.
    As for love, wow. For a long time, my thoughts on it were that it was something so pure it was chimerical. Virtually unattainable. It doesn't help that love is a hilariously vague word. You just look at all the Greek roots that mean different aspects of love (eros, philia, storge, agape...), but we just get the one word. Thanks, English language.
    But really, does it have to be complex? When you say, "I love you," does it have to mean volumes? The core of love is unselfishness, that the other is worth your time, attention, and affection. If that's there, then sure, it can be called love. And despite the simplicity of the definition I give it, there is a lot of power behind knowing that it is indeed love.

  • We are meant to learn from everything that happens to us.

    This one has hit me on various occasions this year. The thing worth remembering about this little axiom is that before we learn, we are ignorant. Thus, there will be a ton of things that happen to us that we simply don't understand why. Nonetheless, each one of us has the incalculable blessing of learning, of taking what happens around us and using it to develop ourselves. And when we knock off our experiences as coincidences, we waste valuable opportunities to grow.
    Is it hard to think this way? I will be the very first to admit it. But hey, I learned this lesson from something that happened to me, so it might as well apply to everything else that happens.

    Wow, meta. Even I'm getting confused. Moving on...

  • Laughter resolves our deepest problems.

    I'm going on a limb saying this, since this is something quite outrageous to say. Sure, laughing makes you feel good, but I'm saying that laughter doesn't take your mind off your gets rid of them.
    Now why would I say something so stupid? Because laughter reminds us of what's most important. It's a wake-up call that life is good, in spite of every little thing that messes us up. When we laugh, our problems are diminished by the idea that there is something much bigger than our trials, and it is freaking hilarious. And when our demons don't seem so big, they end up becoming quite manageable. So to quote one of those funny little wood carvings that I saw at a Barnes and Noble the other day, "Laugh. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath. Shared laughter creates a bond of friendship."

  • There is always room for hope.

    Hope is a great way to conclude. Mainly because of how dang important it is; it's becoming a scarce commodity. From what I've seen, the world has enough people who are frustrated with life, enough people who have barricaded themselves from everything with cynicism, enough people who don't see the point in putting forth the effort, enough people who will not stop whining. On the other hand, there is always room for hope.

    "And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise" (Moroni 7:41).

    We can hope in things less important that the big one, as defined above, and it may keep us afloat for a while, but we can't forget what's most important: that this life is not all that there is, yet it makes an incredible impact on what's to come. And our attitude is the greatest determining factor, so why be anything other than hopeful? Because it's not easy? Whatever. Just hope. You'll thank me later.

    But right now the clouds don't appeal to me / I feel like going home

Friday, November 18, 2011

Toxic Lampshade

Soul spilling, unwilling, out on a limb...

This Halloween, David and I released a music project we started back in freshman year, titled Toxic Lampshade. We had already formed our band Shoot the Runner (which was only a tentative name back then), but we felt the need to express some, shall we say, bizarre ideas. As Shoot the Runner, we were very aware of how facetiously we treated love. Toxic Lampshade started out as another satire on emotion, specifically narcissistic gloom. However, it ended up becoming something quite different.

It all started when we were hanging out at David's sister's apartment. We were talking music, and two of her roommates brought up the name Toxic Lampshade as an especially good band name. Over the years, I wouldn't be surprised if I've come up with more than a hundred band names, some pretty crumby, some so good I would start up a band just so those names could fill their potential. But Toxic Lampshade...exudes something dark, maybe a little playful? It'd be an interesting offshoot of the typically upbeat Shoot the Runner. David and I decided to give it a shot. One arpeggiated guitar part, one recycled chord progression, and we were in business.

My head is crumbling, I don't want what I need

We'd written a good portion of the album before we left for our missions. Once we returned, most of our musical efforts went into Shoot the Runner. But no one is perfectly gleeful. Toxic Lampshade drew us in, and we were back at it, the lyrics stayed morbidly ridiculous--more than once we stared at the lyrics we'd just written and asked, "Did I really write that?"--but we did take it a little more seriously. That is, until David turned to me one day and said, "So you're going to sing all the songs."

I had not sung anything in Shoot the Runner besides some backup and some oh-oh-oh's. I'm not all that comfortable with my singing voice, but I decided to belt it, channeling some Bravery, some Rapture, some Moros Eros, some Morrissey. I can't really say how serious I was in singing, but I did my best. So...of course David had to do some pitch modulation in the end.

The final result was pretty impressive. Seven tracks, none of them three minutes long, dripping with hatred, despair, and a hint of solemnity. All for any willing, listening ear. Download using this link:

Don't complain / It's all in your brain / We all will be slain

Saturday, October 29, 2011


It would seem that I'm trapped in a system of writing about either music or my inner thoughts. I promise that there's more to my life than that, but I won't back that up today. Today, I'm talkin' 'bout Caribou.

I ran into Caribou when I was getting into other related bands, like Deerhoof, Deerhunter (well, related by name, anyways). Of course, it's blatantly silly to judge bands just by their name, but why the heck not? I gave 'em a listen.

My first introduction to Caribou was Andorra, released in 2007. It remains to this day one of my favorite albums. It's hard to say if the album is electronic; the elements of the genre are there, but it's so organic. The album cover, as you can see, is very rustic, and whenever I listen to music, the cover always pops up in my head; I can't help but feel like this album is filled with very human electronica. Several of the songs' names are people's names. The lyrics are full of love, and Dan Snaith's voice is an airy tenor/falsetto that can easily match the warmth of the lyrics. And, of course, the ridiculous drum samples are always welcome.

After that, I jumped to Swim, the newest release. Now, I have no doubt that this is an electronic album. The drums and whimsical synths of Andorra were mechanized and darkened. The song-naming scheme sticks, and the lyrics stay focused on people ("Sun" is an exception, but I don't care, because that song is amazing). It's also a marvelous album that I recommend whole-heartedly.

At this point, I want to note something interesting about the band. It really helps to do research, sometimes. Caribou is Dan Snaith of Manitoba, Ontario. The guy's got a PhD in Mathematics. He spent years working in one of the most abstract fields of study there is, and now he's doing DJ jobs and cutting records. It makes me wonder if he inserts little things into his music. For example, I read a story once that someone took the BPM of a bunch of U2 songs and compared it to the delay effect of The Edge's guitar. They came up with a number very close to the golden ratio, possibly the most aesthetically pleasing number known to man. Snaith has to be a clever guy, and he probably throws in all kinds of crazy stuff.

I love Caribou because his music is close to the heart, and it's very competent electronica. Sometimes I want to jam with Daft Punk and pretend like I'm a robot; other times it's more appealing to kick back and enjoy the beats. Caribou, congratulations. You are this week's Band of the Century.

My picks
Melody Day
Kid You'll Move Mountains

Saving up for the day when she goes /The day that she stands up for everything that she chose

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Purpose

I'm going to try something new. This is something that's been on my mind, and I'm going to work it through by writing out my thoughts as they come out. I've always been of the opinion that editing often removes some of the most important parts of writing, so you won't see much of that here.

A few weeks back I was asked to give a spiritual thought from Chapter 1 of Preach My Gospel. As I am no longer a missionary, and I wasn't addressing missionaries, and I didn't prepare as much as I should have, I had to prepare on the fly. The chapter is titled, "What Is My Purpose as a Missionary?" which I felt prompted to change, for my presentation, "What Is My Purpose as a Child of God?" And it sort of fit. I also brought up Matthew 5:13, which reads,

"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men."

I took it to mean that we are meant to live up to something, and varying from our potential leads to a pitiful unfulfillment. Since questions can be good teaching aids at times, I asked, "What is our purpose, do you think?" I really should've expected the first response, but I didn't; someone responded, "To get married!" Not the course I wanted to take, even to the point that I said later on, "You can get married, but if you're not rooted in the Gospel, that marriage will waste away, and you won't live up to the potential that God sees in you." Harsh, maybe, but I had to think things through while giving that spiritual thought, and marriage wasn't on my mind at the time.

After the activity, I had someone ask me if I intended to say that everyone had one identical purpose. Yeah, it kind of sounded that way. "I believe everyone has a unique purpose in this life and in the eternities," I answered. That's more along my line of thinking. But another friend came along and brought up marriage again. And I felt something in me that taught me something: once we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost upon confirmation, that Spirit will teach us what we must do to achieve our potential. And when the time is right, the Holy Ghost will prompt us to get married and do all the steps that lead up to it.

So that's where I am now. Sometimes I can stay up late pondering my purpose, what good I can--and am meant to--achieve in this life. And it's the Holy Ghost that can tell you. God knows our hearts; He is not bound by time or the petty biases that plague our simple minds. It's just a matter of listening and acting. Agency takes a big role at this point. Isn't that fascinating, that each of us are created for unlimited greatness, yet we can choose to live up to that or live for something else? That scripture I quoted says that we can either be full of savor, or else we are good for nothing. Jesus doesn't lie; there are things I do which are the equivalent of throwing away something that will end up bringing me great joy.

Then what does it all mean? Is happiness worth the obedience? As surely as we were created for boundless opportunities to grow, we were created to know joy. It seems a little circular now, right? We were created to achieve something, we achieve that something to reach a potential, that potential will make us happy, which is why we were created. So is happiness even the end gift of the Plan of Salvation? Maybe not. It sure feels good, though. Well, our purpose then is to continue in this pattern of becoming what we were meant to become. We are happier, and we continue to grow.

I sort of feel like I've deconstructed this to absurdity, but I have to remember how God feels when He sees His children fulfill their potential. That's got to be a happiness much greater than when I keep a commandment for myself. Something's missing from my little circle, which is progeny. It transforms the circle into an upward, exponential spiral. And happiness is no longer a selfish thing, some extra step in the process that we can glut in. And for me to find progeny...

...I need to get married.

What the heck? This isn't quite what I was expecting to conclude with, but the irony is too great for me not to end right now. Irony is a wonderful balm.

Inside you've got the light to guide / Your faith decides, the world's your gold to find

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I figure I should post my experiences of this concert before they escape me permanently. I got into the Flaming Lips my freshman year of college, when my roommate David introduced me to their 1999 album, The Soft Bulletin. My taste in music was still somewhat raw, but I recognized that songs like "Race for the Prize" and "The Spiderbite Song" were pretty dang entertaining. From there, I picked up the follow-up album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which stood out a little more to me. I like robots, you see. Before I left for my mission, I got two of their other albums, and after my mission, I snagged every used album of theirs I could find at Graywhale.

I love their music because they've reinvented themselves just about every album, but there's a glorified weirdness to it all. It's quirky, catchy, and very pensive at times. The Flaming Lips' music speaks to me, and it says some tripped-out things. So when I heard that the Lips scheduled a concert in Salt Lake for September 17, I had to be there. Two tickets purchased, immediately. It wasn't till later that I realized that this was the night of the BYU/Utah football game, which I had already bought a ticket for, but I decided, "BYU football is entertaining, but music is closer to my heart." I gave away my football ticket, called up David and told him I had a ticket for him to one of the craziest nights of his life (in retrospect, that was a brilliant move, as that game was hardly entertaining from a Cougar's perspective).

Now, I'd heard from the Internet some ridiculous things about Flaming Lips shows, things so crazy the Lips earned the title "One of the 50 Bands You Must See Live Before You Die." The infamous space ball comes to mind. But the Saltair didn't seem to be able to support such a show. It's a pretty big venue, but nothing compared to the arenas the Flaming Lips played on all those YouTube videos. Anyways, before the music starts, the lead singer Wayne Coyne comes to the stage. Cheering erupts. He warns the front row that their light show is extremely bright and strobe-oriented, so if anyone should feel a migraine or epilectic reaction coming on, that they look away or find a safer place to enjoy the concert. Also, Wayne confirmed that the space ball would make its appearance (yes!!) and that he would wander around the whole audience so that no one would feel inclined to stampede to the ball and cause any undue injury. So before anything, the lead singer of the band wanted us to know how to enjoy the concert to its fullest. Impressive.

[We didn't get to feel the touch of Coyne, but he did get pretty close to us. Also, I'm pretty sure my phone glitched from being so close to so much awesome.]

The Lips opened with "Worm Mountain," my favorite track from their newest album, Embryonic. The severely distorted bass riff, the chaotic synth work, the overuse of crash cymbals, the psychedelic lyrics, the hyperbolic light show. All of it at once was jaw-dropping.David turned to me and whispered (he probably shouted it, but my ears were still ringing),

"Sensory overload." To which I responded,

"That was the first song."

And so it continued. They had plenty of variety in their setlist, balancing the rock-out songs with the breather tracks. I'll dig into my brain to recall what they played (songs that I wasn't expecting them to play but was really, really glad they did will be in bold):

Worm Mountain
She Don't Use Jelly
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
Vein of Stars
See the Leaves
Is David Bowie Dying?
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1
Pompeii am Götterdämmerung
What Is the Light?

The Observer

Race for the Prize
Do You Realize??

What made the concert so enjoyable was that the band put their all into making sure we, as an audience, had the time of our lives. They played some of their most uplifting songs, and their theatrics did not disappoint in the slightest. That was definitely one of the top five concerts I've ever attended. And I've already said it more than once, the Flaming Lips may well be the band of the century. But only because I love hyperbole. Photos below.

[The band entered the stage through a door hidden in the video screen.]

[During an extended outro of "See the Leaves," Wayne puts on a pair of huge hands that shot lasers everywhere. The sinister synth line at the end of the song is really what made it so amazing.]

[An audience member dressed up as a rabbit and hopped on stage to give Wayne a hug. Seriously, what is there not to expect at a concert like this?]

[So much confetti. You see that apparatus at the side of the stage? Confetti cannon. Those balloons floating around the crowd? Full of confetti.]

[I dare you to look at this photo and not wish that you were there.]

When you run, you will hear / Through the mist, a bell rings clear / But the ring is just a sound / Of your starburn burning out

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Dire Importance

Okay, enough slacking off/writing depressing stuff. This is of dire importance.

Provo has a local band called Fictionist. They are not only one of Utah's greatest bands but, in my eyes, the world's greatest bands. And they're in the running in a contest to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. Of the five people I most want to appear on that cover, all five of them are in this band. They are sincere, nice, super-hard-working, and write some of the best music there is on the face of this earth. But don't take my word for it. Listen to the two tracks below. Go to, or maybe to download and hear their stuff. They absolutely deserve the publicity they'd get for winning. What you need to do is 1) Like them on Facebook using the little widget below, and 2) Rank them five stars. Five of them. Spread the news. I am not usually an activist, but I know a worthy cause when I see one. I don't know who reads my blog, but whoever does must take my request very seriously. Thanks, Internet. Love, Darren