The Sept. 2020 Guitar Pull

Because you are reading this on the internet, it’s a safe assumption that you are not living under some deserted rock and are aware that the world is super weird and all pandemic-y right now, but alas, good people! I bring you a glimmer of hope!

OK, for real, since COVID showed up, the Cloverdale Playhouse has still been trying to make the Guitar Pull happen as best and safely as possible. The last couple or so have been livestreamed from each individual artist’s home. Of course, livestreaming has it’s own set of difficulties with quality, internet speeds, lag, etc.

So… for the event tomorrow night, it will be on their website, but it was pre-recorded yesterday in the Playhouse courtyard area. We wore masks during setup, kept our distance, and had a great time. It felt good to be back, even with the different format and our audience being the crew and a camera.

Photo by Cloverdale Playhouse Artistic Director Sarah Thornton.

Click here to visit the September 2020 Guitar Pull page. The event will be shown at 7pm tomorrow. Oh, also, I debut a new song and talk about playing a serial killer in a film (again… I know, I know – why am I so scary and murder-y and stuff?)

Anyway, as you can see in the promo image above, I got to share the stage with the talents of Cameron DuBois and Adam Powell. It was fun, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

If you are unfamiliar with this event, my first feature documentary chronicles the event’s history. Commit to the Song: The Joe Thomas Jr. Guitar Pull is available on Amazon and the trailer is below:

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy the event tomorrow night. Much love!

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The stories we tell ourselves

For anyone familiar with The Four Agreements, you probably know they sound easy, but are not necessarily easy to put into practice.

For me, because I place a high value on honesty and clear communication, the first – “be impeccable with your word” – and the fourth – “always do your best” – are a bit easier than the two in the middle.

Don’t take anything personally.” “Don’t make assumptions.” Yeah… so how do those even work? 

I mean, it sounds easy, but is it?

It’s in the stories we tell ourselves about the motives we assign to people for decisions they made and how they treated us.

For me, it also ties into the frustration of the unknown and the sadness and anger that many times tie into that. When you feel betrayed, but you have no way of really knowing what was going through the other person’s head. When you feel hurt, but have no way of knowing whether it was intentional or not.

“Oh, but it must’ve been!” Maybe. Maybe not. Only one person can know for sure, right?

I can’t say that I really know where I’m going with this. I started writing this earlier this week, but my mind is all over the place, and I’m trying to remind myself of these things, and I figured maybe I should try to write it out in case it helps someone else in some way.

A number of people I know seem to be struggling right now, and in order to be accountable and authentic, I admit that I haven’t been mentally top notch recently either. There has been a pattern of things over the years in which actions of others left me with a feeling of worthlessness. Luckily, it’s nothing like where I was early last year (thanks, therapy!) but it still rears its ugly head periodically.

But if I can figure out a way to not take it personally and not assume that I know what others’ thoughts or motives are, maybe I can try to narrow my focus on just trying to be the best version of me that I can be.

And if any of my mental ramblings here happen to help you, I’m glad. If not, thanks for reading this far anyway. Feel free to check out some music or film stuff while you’re here.

Check on your friends. Spread some love. Be well.

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Towering Above – Live!

Back in July, Towering Above performed live at the Sanctuary in Montgomery, AL, for a livestream concert with our friends in the Abusements. Sound was provided by Technical Earth Recorders, and our friend Jeff McKinney shot some footage for us as well.

I took Jeff’s footage and the livestream footage (props to Chris Eckels from Abusements for the livestream footage) and added some stuff to create some live videos. I hope you enjoy!

If you want to hear more, be sure to check out our Bandcamp page. Our debut album “<content>obsolete” (under the band name Barrens) and our new acoustic EP “Repeating the Moment” are also on most streaming platforms – Spotify, YouTube, etc. so you can enjoy them there as well.

Thanks for listening!

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New music! Towering Above ‘Repeating the Moment’!

Late last month I posted about an upcoming acoustic EP by Towering Above (formerly known as Barrens.) Well… we released it on Aug. 7, and I was going to announce it being available then, buuuuuuuuuut… we had some delays in getting it on other digital platforms. It happens.

But now that all that is squared away, and it’s currently en route to places like Spotify, Apple Music, etc., I figured it was time for this post. While it’s being delivered to those stores, you can already take a listen on Bandcamp and YouTube.

Track listing:

  1. The Armageddon Gospel Revival
  2. #dadhats (acoustic)
  3. Ab Aeterno
  4. Jumper (acoustic)
  5. All Those Lights (acoustic)
  6. Out of Sight (acoustic)

As I mentioned last month, four of the tracks are acoustic versions of songs from our “<content>obsolete” debut album that was released last year. I’ll embed that one as well…

And hey, why not hit the subscribe button on the band’s YouTube channel while you’re perusing ye olde internwebs: click here. (And while you’re at it, do the same for my channel and for Terrible Master Films. We appreciate it.)

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy the music. Much love.

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Towering Above acoustic EP coming soon

Towering Above, the band formerly known as Barrens, has a new acoustic EP coming out soon called “Repeating the Moment.”

Above (towering, one might say [rimshot] [groan] [eye roll] [I’m so sorry; please keep reading anyway]) is the cover art for it.

The image comes from a photo I took back in late December in northwest Alabama. It’s an old drive-in movie theater that I have passed many times. Normally, I’m in a hurry when going through that area, but last year, I had more time to make a few stops and take some pics on the way to my destination.

I thought the image was fitting to the name of the EP. As a filmmaker, I follow some film festivals on social media, and during the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve all been dealing with this year, some festivals have gone online, and others have also started doing drive-in showings. It’s history. Nostalgia. Repeating the moment.

Also, most of the songs on the new EP are acoustic renditions of songs that appear on our debut release “<content>obsolete” (released under the name Barrens.) So again, repeating the moment.

For “Repeating the Moment,” we tracked our parts individually, recording at our respective houses during the quarantine period in March and April. We would send each other tracks to build more parts on, and then I mixed it. Once mixed, we sent it over to Chris Lantrip at Headless Dinosaur Recording in Montgomery, AL for mastering. (He tracked and mixed “<content>obsolete” as well as the first Hail the Titans album “Hymns of Mare Nostrum” and some stuff for Breaking Aim and the Rhythm, which Towering Above guitarist J. Slickwood was in.)

Anyway, a release date and track listing will be released soon, so make sure you’re following the band on Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks for reading, listening, watching, and supporting. Much love.

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‘Four Thousand Wings’

I originally had planned to post this last month, but with everything else going on in the world, it didn’t seem appropriate at the time. My reasoning for a June post on this was because June 5 marked five years since filming began on the short film Four Thousand Wings.

The trailer has been up since Feb. 3, 2016, and the short has been available on Amazon Prime since late April 2017. But now it’s on YouTube, so you don’t even need an Amazon account to view it.

The film is just shy of 10 minutes. I hope you enjoy it.

A little bit of background:

This was the first time I was the director of a film. (On the Foolish Henry Films short City Federal, I shared directing duties with my friend Rick Gardner, but I wasn’t the sole director.)

It was also the first time I had to handle editing, color correction/grading, sound design/foley, score… basically all post-production. You can probably tell it was my first time doing all of that stuff, but hey, you gotta start somewhere, right? It was definitely a learning experience, but it was fun.

Other than the very last scene, the whole production was handled by four people: Adam Davila, Nick Patterson (RIP), Eric Hoehn, and myself.

We filmed it over the weekend at the historic St. James Hotel in Selma. Here’s a blog post I wrote after that weekend with our schedule and some behind-the-scenes pics.

The story is based on a dream I had. It’s also the first official Terrible Master Films production.

Thanks for watching/reading.

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Ignorance or hatred?

Photo credit: Kyle Sampson and I Am More Than. See the Montgomery Advertiser story that this appears in (and more photos) here.

In a blog post back in May, I asked, “Have you ever thought about how there is so much in the world that you don’t know?” And I’ve been thinking about that more lately, in a couple of ways.

In one instance, I think about how that applies to personal growth. I haven’t always been the person I am now, and I hope to be a better person tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, and on and on.

I have offered apologies for past actions or words of which I’m not proud. I think those regrets come with an evolution in thinking, along with introspection, and really, basic human empathy.

In another instance, I think about how that growth and change applies to knowledge and my views on various issues. If we have a desire to continually learn about things and actually care about truth, we will evolve in our thinking. It’s OK if new information makes you rethink a position or change your mind about something.

Going back to the beginning of this: there is so much in the world that I don’t know or didn’t previously know. For example:

Today is Juneteenth. I don’t remember learning anything about that growing up. I don’t remember being taught about it in school. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was at least in college or older before I even knew the word, much less anything about it.

It was this just this week that I had even heard of Seneca Village.

I was an adult before I realized the “Lost Cause” narrative was both wrong and a deliberate attempt to rewrite history.

It was only this month that I finally took the time to actually sit down and make it a point to learn about Malcolm X.

It’s been very recently that I have tried to educate myself more about the history of policing in this country and what the calls to defund or abolish police actually mean. (Hint: It’s a lot deeper than a hashtag.)

I didn’t know about the Tulsa massacre or Black Wall Street until recently.

I literally just learned about the Rosewood massacre today.

Until working on the documentary Remembering Anarcha, I knew very little about J. Marion Sims and the “mothers of gynecology” – Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey.

And even with the level of knowledge that I have gained at this point, I’m still not an expert because there is still so much to learn and so much I don’t know.

So… taking all of that into account, I got to thinking about many of the comments and arguments I’ve seen recently.

I’ve seen some people (mostly people who look like me, honestly) who have expressed how tired they are of everything going on in the world right now, or at least tired of hearing about it (i.e. the Black Lives Matter movement, the removal of Confederate monuments, rebranding Aunt Jemima syrup, etc.) And I think, if they’re tired of hearing about it, how tired are the people living it? I can’t imagine the exhaustion that people of color must be feeling right now.

(And really, the fact that so many people who look like me can go for years – sometimes entire lifetimes – completely unaffected by these racial and policing issues that are prominent in the news is an example of privilege. Yes, white privilege.)

And regarding these conversations I’ve seen recently, I think about motives, and how I attempt to decipher if someone is speaking out of ignorance or hatred, because I think those things are different.

Some people are just hateful, and I don’t think much can be done to help them see any other perspective. I don’t know how to make someone empathize if they don’t have the faintest desire to do so. I’d love to be wrong here, and if you’ve got the patience to try to reach them, by all means, give it a shot; I wish you luck and much success.

In others, however, I think maybe they have a good heart, but haven’t taken the time to actually listen and learn. Maybe they don’t have the experiences that come with a diverse friends group, or maybe they haven’t yet tried to ask questions or learn new things. I hold out hope for those people. I don’t know exactly what it takes to get through, but I do hope that something clicks within them.

And my reasoning for that goes back to what I started out talking about – I wasn’t always the person I am now with the level of knowledge I have at this moment. And hell, again, there’s so much I still don’t know, and I think personal growth is never done.

So maybe I can help someone else understand things that I’ve learned, or at least maybe help them to pause long enough to think about another perspective.

And in the meantime, I can listen to others and try to learn more myself.

Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep reading. Keep listening. Keep working for positive change.

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‘Memorials are not history’

SimsMask

Even ol’ J. Marion Sims is worried about the ‘rona.

Recently, protesters took down the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the high school that bears his name in Montgomery, AL. The U.S. Navy banned all public displays of the Confederate flag, as did NASCAR (yes, I was shocked, too.) And I’ve seen some social media posts describe the removal of these monuments as “erasing history.”

Well… let’s do a little dive into these things.

I’m the director of a documentary film called Remembering Anarcha, and in the film, one of our interviewees – former Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders – says, “Memorials are not history.”

He explains that history is what happened, whereas memorials are symbols that don’t tell the whole story. And personally, as I state in an email that I’ll share below, I think it is important for us, as a society, to carefully examine the parts of history we honor versus the parts of history that we learn from in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

On to the email…

After the Lee statue was removed, a petition was started on Change.org to convince the school board to not return the statue to its pedestal.

A Facebook event was created for people to attend the next Montgomery Public Schools (MPS) board meeting, which then became a Facebook live event (COVID-19, y’all.) The point was to contact and petition the board to keep the Lee statue down, but to also try to rename at least three of the high schools around Montgomery that had been named for Confederates – Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Sidney Lanier.

Below is the email I sent to the MPS board member that serves my district:

Dear [MPS board member]

As a resident of your school board district and an alum of Jefferson Davis High School, I am writing to you to ask that the board not return the statue of Robert E. Lee to its pedestal. In fact, I am requesting that the board go a step further and submit a waiver to the Alabama Memorial Preservation Committee to immediately change the names of the high schools named for Lee, Sidney Lanier, and my alma mater, J.D.

I think it is important for us, as a society, to carefully examine the parts of history we honor versus the parts of history that we learn from in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past.Also, when it comes specifically to Confederate monuments, the time period that most of those were put up is telling, along with them being used to promote the fictional “Lost Cause” narrative. If you have not already seen it, I highly recommend taking seven minutes to watch this short documentary that Vox produced on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOkFXPblLpU

I think that MPS should resolve to be inclusive and forward-thinking, and to use this opportunity to teach, not just students but the larger Montgomery community, the real history behind these monuments and the reasons that removing them and changing the names of these schools is the right and honorable thing to do.

Sincerely,

Josh Carples

First of all, for real, take the seven minutes to watch that Vox video. It’s very interesting. Pay special attention to the time period that most statues were put up. It’s telling. It really is.

And this brings another issue. In 2017, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act that protects statues and monuments that have been in place for 40 years or longer.

That act comes up in Remembering Anarcha as well. The statue of J. Marion Sims at the Alabama Capitol (seen at the top of this post) was erected in 1939 by the Alabama Medical Association, then called the “Medical Association of the State of Alabama,” which author J.C. Hallman (who appears in the film) says in a recent Montgomery Advertiser article, “which is cursed — though one wonders if this was once by design — by the acronym, MASA.”

So anywaaaaaay…

The bottom line is: the Civil War was about slavery.

“No! It was about states’ rights!” (um… states’ rights to own slaves.)

“But it was about economics!” (yeah, the economics of slavery.)

Here’s some reading material:

Five Myths about why the South seceded

And I encourage you to read some of the “Declarations of Immediate Causes” that the Southern state legislatures drew up and voted on. They list clearly their reasons for leaving the Union, and guess what they mention as a big ol’ primary reason – slavery.

Here’s Mississippi’s. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery –  the greatest material interest of the world.”

Here’s South Carolina’s. “But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.” 

(The word “slavery” comes up in other places as well in that one… oh, and South Carolina also has a statue of Sims on their statehouse grounds.)

But seriously, read them. Find the other states’ reasons for leaving. It’s their words, from their time period. It was about slavery.

Let’s stop – finally – promoting the “Lost Cause” bullshit that’s been fed to most of us Southerners from the time we were born. Let’s learn. Let’s evolve. Let’s stop with the Confederate monument participation trophies that glorify people who wanted to keep human beings enslaved.

Let’s learn from history and stop trying to rewrite it like we’ve seen done since the end of the Civil War.

‘The Time Is Now’

On Saturday, May 30, my buddy Jeff and I headed to downtown Montgomery, AL, for a protest – one of many around the nation (and world) in support of Black Lives Matter and ending police brutality. Of course, this was after the tragic death – more specifically, murder – of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

I brought my camera to capture footage in hopes of putting together a short documentary (similar to the short in·dig·e·nous that I did last year.)

The two-hour event was completely peaceful, with passionate speakers talking about a host of issues. The Montgomery Police Department was there, observing, in their regular uniforms. I point this out because of the stark contrast between how Montgomery PD has handled events like this compared to other cities – Huntsville, AL, for example. Last week, Huntsville PD showed up in riot gear and ended up using tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters. A friend of mine – a photographer documenting the event – was arrested; another friend got tear-gassed. Read more on their use of force here. And here’s a first-hand account of the incident by a Huntsville-area physician.

In contrast, here is a tweet from Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed:

So, back to Montgomery.

I took the footage I shot and put together a short documentary called The Time Is Now. Many thanks to my friend Pro Status for the use of his song “Do Dat,” to my friends Irby Pace and Stephen Poff for the use of their photos, and to my friend Jeff for being my 1st AD on this.

Thanks for watching.

#BlackLivesMatter

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6-3-2020

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The government doesn’t want you to see this blog post!

You know, in all honesty, I have no idea whether anyone in the government gives a shit whether you read this post or not, but it felt like an accurate title for this blog post – along with a nice helping of click-bait. So, welcome.

I’ll start with this:

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

-Socrates

That quote, attributed to Socrates, is one I really like, and I think it’s important for today (and… well… every day, really… but especially right now because I’m writing about it.)

Have you ever thought about how there is so much in the world that you don’t know? It’s a bit overwhelming. Think of all the various things in which you are most likely not an expert – quantum physics, psychology, educational policy, black holes, the chemical makeup of the earth’s core, why some people embrace the mullet haircut, or… drum roll, please… the intricacies of viruses.

Let me lose my smart-ass-ed-ness (had to sound that one out…) for just a moment. Things are a bit crazy right now with the whole coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19 pandemic going on. Things are uncertain. Things are scary. Things are closed in some places, kinda-sorta closed in others, and wide “come on down and get you some COVID-19” open in others.

And it’s still going on weeks after Kenneth Copeland blew on the virus to make it go away! Astonishing!

In our ultra-tribalistic times, it seems that people fall into two main camps: 1. Close it all down, or 2. Open it all up.

Here’s the thing: I have empathy for some on both sides of it.

I can understand people that want to keep things closed. They don’t want more people to die. They care about their safety and the safety of others. They care about friends and family, and also about total strangers, front line workers, medical professionals, etc.

I can also understand a small business owner who just wants to get back to work and thinks it can be done safely. I can understand people who are scared of losing the roof over their heads because they have no income (or dramatically less than before) and in some cases, that government help hasn’t arrived. Some people didn’t know where their next meal was coming from before all this hit, and now that number has grown.

And in all of this chaos, and in all of these areas between the two extreme ends of the spectrum, there is so much disinformation going around, especially conspiracy theories – like this very blog post that the government totally doesn’t want you to read!

I find interest in conspiracy theories in a similar way that I find interest in religion and belief systems (ooh, and cults!) I don’t adhere to or believe the stuff myself, but I find it interesting to learn about the motivations and mindsets that go into someone believing them.

Now, of course, I’m not an expert in this stuff. To pull from Socrates, I know that I don’t know. So I’ll just share a couple of things I’ve found in some articles that have caught my attention.

Mark Manson, per his website, describes himself as an author, thinker, and life enthusiast. He tends to write about psychology and human behavior a lot, in easy-to-understand language with profanity (which, apparently bothers some people, but I’m not one of them.) In his May 4, 2020, “Mindf*ck Monday” newsletter, he discussed “why people believe crazy things.” He says:

“As with most human behavior, conspiracy theorizing doesn’t appeal to us on an intellectual level, it appeals to us on an emotional level.”

He then explains that conspiracy theories originate from three things:

  1. A desperate need for certainty
  2. Feelings of moral and intellectual superiority
  3. Lack of critical thinking

He goes into more detail on all of those in the email, but I’m not going to put too much here since I’m not trying to plagiarize or get sued or something. (Please don’t sue me, Mark, although if you actually see this… uh… hi.)

On that first point – the desperate need for certainty – I read another article, this time a first-person account on Vox by Dannagal G. Young, an associate professor of communication and political science at the University of Delaware. The title: “I was a conspiracy theorist, too.”

In the article, she says:

“Under conditions of uncertainty, information that helps direct our negative emotions toward a target is psychologically comforting. When we feel powerless in a situation that is both complex and overwhelming, the identification of people and institutions to ‘blame’ feels good to us.

Uncertainty. Complex. Overwhelming. All the various emotions we’re all feeling these days have led to normally reasonable, well-meaning people getting sucked into sharing all kinds of crazy things.

Young goes on to say:

“These feelings of collective uncertainty, powerlessness, and negativity likely account for the popularity of Covid-related conspiracy theories circulating online. Perhaps you’ve seen folks on social media claiming that Bill Gates is responsible for the coronavirus (he is not), or that 5G towers are somehow amplifying the virus (they are not), or maybe your friends or family have shared pieces of the propagandistic ‘Plandemic’ documentary in which discredited biologist Dr. Judy Mikovits advances several false claims — including the notion that wearing a mask “literally activates your own virus” (it does not).”

Of course, there’s a lot of information out there on this – much more than the two articles I’ve quoted from above. I think the psychology of it is interesting.

And hey, I’ll even admit that conspiracy theories can be entertaining sometimes (I’ve seen things like Zeitgeist and JFK and some 9/11 conspiracy movie that I can’t remember the name of… ooh, and Ancient Aliens! That show is fun.) But I’m not going to stake my name on defending them or go around calling people “sheeple” because they are “blind to the truth” or whatever nonsense gets thrown around these days. (That kind of falls under Manson’s 2nd point above: Feelings of moral and intellectual superiority, if you think about it. And if you think critically about it, it hits on his 3rd point.)

So with all the insanity going on and being shared and spread – like a virus [rimshot] – maybe we should all take a step back and think of ol’ Socrates and remember that we know nothing. Or, we can remember the wisdom of Ruth Langmore from the show Ozark:

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Let’s all try to be kind to each other as this 2020 shit-show rolls on, yeah?

Much love. Thanks for reading. Ooh, and subscribe below:

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