Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Bells of Richmond


The War for the Union, 1862 - A Bayonet Charge (July 12th, 1862 from "Harper's Weekly" Vol. VII) by Winslow Homer

My eyes they stiffly opened

In the morning hour's light

And horror flooded memory

Of the moon from yesternight

Men bled in fields of amber

Bayonets charged with shaking hand

Please lord tell me what has happened

To this green and promised land?

It was brother fighting brother

A poor man's fight a rich man's war

Shall we feel these implications

For centuries or more?

As I wait to heed my orders

I feel a wrench upon my soul

This war is just beginning

As the bells of Richmond toll

- ZB James

February 19th, 2021

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Horrible and Wonderful: A Nobody's Take on Cancel Culture


Over the holidays I had a conversation with a relative where we talked about how society should view the Harry Potter film franchise now that JK Rowling has been publicly declared a transphobe. That conversation, while fruitful and engaging, left my mind racing about the overarching and grand question that permeates art history, and specifically the cancel culture phenomenon of the day. And that question is: How should we treat art that is created by ostensibly horrible people?

This is a hard question for me to pin an answer down to, because every case is unique. Personally I try to separate the artist from the art, because if you start to play the game of “xyz” artist is “bad” therefore all their art should be forgotten and/or dismissed, then you’re opening a giant wormhole that would be never-ending. And if you’re looking to be ideologically consistent, good luck. Also - what’s the end point in that game? Whittling away every ”bad” artist until you’re only paying attention to ones that check your own “good vs. bad” checkboxes? Shouldn’t we care more about the message within a work and not about the messenger themselves? Every artist in one way shape or form has skeletons in their closet. They’re human beings, and all humans have varying degrees of flaws. Hell, even the art we make is filled with those same flaws.

Ultimately I think individuals should be able to decide, on their own, what their perception of each artist vs. art relationship is. For me I still cherish Michael Jackson’s music, still hold the lessons I learned from The Bill Cosby Show near and dear to my heart, and will forever love the brilliance of Harry Potter. But at the same time I recognize that some people might not have that same ability to separate the two. For some the lessons and love are forever tainted, and that’s okay. 

But I will say this to those that have a tough time reconciling with these ostensibly horrible artists: If you let these artists and their shitty actions and behavior get to you to the point where you can’t enjoy or even acknowledge their art anymore - art that may have profoundly affected your life - then haven’t they sort of won in a way? You’re letting a presumed stranger's personal actions dictate your own thoughts and conclusions. It’s your own perception. You are the one that gets to choose what you take away from art. The artist grabs an idea from the ether and then puts it out into the world. Once it’s out there then it’s up to you to decide how you think about it and what you do with it. That’s the magic of art. I try not to let the makers of this magic determine my relationship with the magic itself. There is a world where someone can love Cliff Huxtable and simultaneously hope Bill Cosby dies a slow and painful death lol. They’re not mutually exclusive ideas, and I think humans have the mental capacity to be able to distinguish the two. *

* I don’t know. I read that last paragraph back to myself and see that my argument can apply just as well to the counter-argument. Like I say, it’s your own perception. And if an artist's actions offend you to the point where you just want to dispel their work from your mind, that’s your prerogative. Whatever helps you sleep at night. There is no right answer. I am just trying to articulate my mindset as best as I can. That’s all we can really do at the end of the day.

The art we produce can be complex, filled with contradiction and cruel irony and tortuous heartbreak. Can’t the narratives we pass on about the artists who produced these stories mirror that same message? Sure Walt Disney was an anti-Semite Nazi sympathizer - but isn’t what he created and the legacy he’s secured bigger than him at this point? Fuck Walt Disney, I’d be willing to bet he was a douchebag of the highest order. But at the same time the fact remains that Mickey Mouse has brought joy to millions of kids across generations.

As for artists that are currently producing content, I will say that their shitty actions do affect my perception of their present and future projects. Especially if they’ve shown no growth and certainly when what they’ve done is truly horrendous. There is without question a distinction between art already made by yet-to-be-exposed retched artists versus their upcoming endeavors after being exposed. Knowing what I know now about JK Rowling does make me think twice about buying one of her new books, or going to see one of her new movies. But I’m not going to let her bigotry rob me of the immeasurable impact Harry Potter had on my life growing up. Those were precious childhood moments that were real and unforgettable. And the lessons learned from that series - the power of love and friendship, being courageous in the face of danger, sacrificing yourself for the betterment of others - are virtuous lessons that ring true no matter what Ms. Rowling’s outside opinions are on sexuality, or feminism, or whatever she may think. I feel the same way about Dr. Huxtable. Sure I can’t bring myself to watch the The Cosby Show anymore, but I cherished many moments on that program growing up. And for thousands upon thousands of kids Dr. Huxtable was a father figure they looked up to. That is a cultural moment that happened, it is undeniable. And in a court of law Bill Cosby was convicted of aggravated sexual assault - another undeniable fact. These two things exist in the same world. One is horrible. The other wonderful.

If I’ve learned anything in my time on this earth it’s this: Fucked up people teach us invaluable life lessons. Because all people, in some way shape or form and to varying degrees, are fucked up. People teach us what to do and what not to do, it’s a never-ending cycle of living and learning. And so I try to apply that same mindset to art and the creators of it. We shouldn’t pretend an artistic legacy never happened because the artist was or is awful. There is no growth and no learning in that. Context is everything, and there is no way to contextualize something that we banish from society and pretend never existed.

- ZB James

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Outlaw and the Bronco

Bucking Bronco, 1903 (Oil on Canvas), by Newell Convers Wyeth

In the desert

The outlaw walked

With an aimless determination

Looking to escape the hellish sand

Thirsty and on the cusp

Of death

And in the distance

The bronco galloped

With a burning will

And a dangerous freedom

That was carefully toiled

By the hands

Of Mother Earth

The outlaw turned his eye

And approached

With caution and with stride

Rope in hand

Lassoed and twirling

Ready to strike

This was not the first time

The outlaw and the bronco

Had met

It had been a long winded dance

And the bronco remained untamed

Taunting the outlaw

Across the wasteland plains

In a cursed and

Torturous mock

Yet it felt different this time

The outlaw told himself

As he crept closer to the beast

He was grizzled now

Scruff of neck

Battle scarred and


From previous attempts

At ill-fated domestication

The outlaw understood now

That the bronco could not be conquered

With force

But instead accepted

For the wild that it was

With a cosmic understanding

And a symbiotic love

Only found

In the astral

So with newfound mentality

The outlaw whipped his rope

Over the bronco's chestnut neck

And wrestled his way

On top once more

The bronco bucked and neighed

With anger and fear

And a righteous power

Conjured by the souls

Of a thousand generations

But the outlaw's touch

Felt different this time

To the bronco

As their pulses interwove

And their spirits intertwined

And the bronco could tell

There was a battered peace

In the outlaw now

A celestial perception


Until that very moment

And so the bronco steadied

Muting its breath and kick

And the outlaw pet the bronco's mane

Easing both their minds

If only for a moment

And all at once

- ZB James

Sunday, December 12, 2021

ZB's YouTube Cavern #13: A December Tradition of Virtual Warmth


Happy Holidays everybody! Nothing quite like December and all the festivities that come with it.

In New England one thing that comes with the holidays is the cold - for better or worse. Winter starts to creep in and cozy nights with the heat cranking become more and more commonplace. And for the last five years or so, I've turned to The Tube for one of my favorite new age traditions: the virtual fireplace. 

There are a bunch to choose from, and undoubtedly you can find one that tickles your specific fancy. But for me this video above is the best of the best. Nothing quite like some easy-going jazz with crackling fire sounds. Sure there is no physical warmth provided lol, but the brightness of the video can really light up a room.

Hope you enjoy this festive little cavern! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and God Bless!

- ZB James

Sunday, December 5, 2021

ZB's YouTube Cavern #12: Courtney B aka Australia's Finest


This is an awesome live show from one of Australia's finest modern rock musicians Courtney Barnett. She has insane swag and is a true alt indie legend. Hope you enjoy.

- ZB James