Saturday, December 08, 2018

Mike Shinoda, Writer

I just wanted to give a shoutout real quick to Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, because I think his writing on grief in the last few years has been really fresh.

Just take the song "One More Light," the title track from Linkin Park's final album. In 2015, an executive for Warner Brothers Records who had helped Linkin Park out in the early days died. As a tribute to her, Shinoda co-wrote "One More Light." However, in the song he doesn't blather on about how amazing this woman was or how much she is missed; instead, he talks about the sense of defiance he feels at the hackneyed things people often say about death.

Specifically, Shinoda says that it drives him nuts when people say things like, "Who cares if one more light goes out in the sky of a million stars": Who cares if just one person dies when there are so many billions of people and so much to see and experience in this world, and "Who cares if someone's time runs out if a moment is all we are": Should we really spend time worrying about this one person's death when, after all, a human being's lifespan is just a flash in the pan? 

We know that such beliefs really don't resonate with Shinoda because he answers that central question, "Who cares if one more light goes out," in the song: "I do," he says.

Wow. What a fresh take on grieving and what a way to give concrete form to a deeply personal idea.

The next song of Shinoda’s that I think shows the freshness of his writing on grief is “Over Again.” This tune, of course, is about Chester Bennington. But what makes it great is, just like with “One More Light,” Shinoda manages to attack the matter from a completely new angle.

Mike Shinoda at the Reading Festival in 2018

To great effect, Shinoda zeroes in on the idea that when someone dies, that person is often still so present, and we still need them so dearly, that we keep remembering them, reliving them and, of course, saying goodbye to them. It’s almost like when that wave of grief hits, we are right there again at the graveside.

The message Shinoda is trying to convey is driven home even more with the repetition of the word “over" at the end of the last verse: “And all I wanted was to get a little bit of closure/And every step I took, I looked and wasn’t any closer/Cause sometimes when you say goodbye/Yeah, you say it over and over and over and over...”

So, yes, in each song Shinoda is talking about a specific person, but the tracks, I think, have found such a wide audience because they discuss the complex nature of grief and the ideas ultimately expressed in the music are, God knows, universal.

Thursday, December 06, 2018


I love this WhatsApp message I sent to one of my students today. Good times.

12/6/18, 12:55 PM - Chad: Ok, one last thing on Eminem. Here is what is thought to be Eminem's very best song. It's called "Stan" and it's about an obsessed fan who takes Eminem's songs too literally.

This song is very special because unlike "The Way I Am," there's not one superfluous word in it; each word, more or less, tells something, is integral. Also the song is written in the style of a letter. So, the first three fourths of the song is written by an obsessed fan named Stan writing to Eminem -- even though it's just Eminem himself singing -- and the last verse is Eminem replying to this "obsessed fan."

Just for technical purposes, in case you're interested, "Stan" is what's known as an "epistolary" song -- meaning, it uses a series of letters rather than narration to tell a story.

This is actually very sophisticated stuff, Marina, right up there, in my opinion, with the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," another very literary minded song.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Comma Or No Comma

Here's a dope correspondence my mom and I had over email today. I hope you like it.


Hi Ma,

It's time to play that game, "Comma or No Comma?"

Now, the old Chad, who thought he was Hemingway, would not have put a comma after the word "email" in the second sentence (below).

But after having read Warriner's and its authors' rationale, I'm starting to insert commas in such places.

Would you go for the comma there, like I did?



Dear Ms. x

You are a lifesaver. I will have my gf arrange all the paperwork. Do you want the documents via post or email, or should I bring them to you?

All my best,



P.S. Just for kicks, here is an excerpt from "The Old Man and the Sea." The lack of commas in this one sentence must be a stylistic thing, because I think grammar books definitely would call for commas:

"But tonight the smell of the land breeze came very early and he knew it was too early in his dream and went on dreaming to see the white peaks of the Islands rising from the sea and then he dreamed of the different harbours and roadsteads of the Canary Islands."


Hi Chad,

According to "The Harper Handbook," a comma belongs there.  You're separating two independent clauses joined by a simple coordinating conjunction.


Sunday, November 25, 2018


Here's a poem I wrote while on a walk today. I figured I'd reproduce it here; let it see the light of day. Enjoy.

When I look at ravens, I'm at peace with death.
When I look at ravens, the end is not grim.
Something about their endless black and mysterious ways
Makes me feel it'll be OK.

The world just is, it is, it is; it was and it will be.
The world is just a tiny flake
On the blackness of eternity.

So when I look at this raven here, hopping on the lawn,
A dirge is not a dirge instead
A dirge is a beautiful song.

Song Lyrics

When I was younger, every now and then my mom would hear a song that I was listening to and say of a particular lyric, "I like that. What is that?"

Here are two of the lines that she had said she liked (in such a manner):

"With the birds I'll share this lonely view" from the song "Scar Tissue" by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers" and "I know the pieces fit 'cause I watched them fall away" from the song "Schism" by Tool.

Just thought this remembrance was a bit interesting, that's it...nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Seeing Between the Lines

Anyone who knows me knows I love John Lennon; I know a ton about him.

But I have come to learn that you should never get too comfortable with your “knowledge” because even when you think you have everything understood and you feel you simply can’t be surprised or shocked, life comes along and just knocks you off your butt.

Such was the case the other day when I was listening to the very last interview that John Lennon did. It was in his apartment in the Dakota on the day of his death, December 8, 1980, and it was with RKO Radio.

I had been very familiar with this interview.  I was also very familiar with the very last photo shoot that John Lennon did. It was on the same day of the interview, it was with Annie Leibowitz, and it was where we got that iconic photo of Lennon, naked and clinging to Yoko.

Another photo of Lennon that came out of a separate photo session with Leibowitz that day, a session that excluded Yoko, is a photo that is a little less known. It shows Lennon in the Dakota, sitting on a windowsill looking cool, wearing casual clothing and this nice black leather jacket.

As far as I had always thought, the RKO interview and that picture of Lennon at the windowsill were just two separate things that related to, or were a part of,  Lennon’s last day.

But then just recently, I had been again listening to the RKO interview and I picked up on something very interesting.

You see, for the interview, Lennon arrived late. In fact, if you listen to the recording, RKO spends a good amount of time initially just chatting with Yoko, because John is MIA.

But when listening again to the interview the other day, I heard for the first time what Lennon actually says when he does finally show up.

He makes an apology.

He says he is sorry that he is tardy, he hadn't meant to be, but “I’d just put on me jacket to leave, and she said, ‘Ooh, can I have one with the jacket?’ So we took one with the jacket.”

Lennon, it seems, had been downstairs in the Dakota with Annie Leibowitz doing that photo shoot, the one that yielded that shot with the leather jacket.

So, I was able to gather that the only thing that had separated the last interview Lennon ever did from that photo shoot was, perhaps, an elevator ride.

And for a moment, things became a little clearer. I was able to imagine Lennon’s last day a little better. It wasn’t just something in a book; it wasn’t just an idea. Here we had a person, a real person, who was in his home apologizing to a room full of people because the photographer who had been taking pictures of him had held him up.

It might be crazy to say it, but by learning more about those two events and how the one affected the other, I was able to go behind the scenes for a moment, to see a little bit between the lines -- not "read" but  "see"  -- and being able to do so both exhilarated and scared me.

Sunday, November 04, 2018


One Saturday night in February of 2007, I went out on a final date with a girl I had been seeing. I say "final" because, by that point, I knew that this girl's and my days were numbered, as I had met someone else in whom I was more interested.

Nevertheless, on this particular Saturday night, this girl and I decided to see a movie. At the time, I was often in Manhattan, as was this girl, so we settled on a movie theater near Lincoln Center.

The movie we saw that night was "Pan’s Labyrinth," a beautiful, sad and affecting tale about a little girl who lives in a highly oppressive environment, but escapes to a fantasy world, of which she may or may not be the ruler.

In addition to the great plot and the overall magical mood of the movie, another memorable aspect of it was its soundtrack.

One song on the soundtrack that stands out in particular is called "Long, Long Time Ago," and anyone who saw "Pan's Labyrinth" will recognise the song. It's a dramatic, spooky, heart-tugging little piece, and these days whenever I hear it, I almost think of it as a requiem for that relationship I told you about.

Here's the song.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Life is Poetry

Sometimes life is poetry. That's all I really have to say. It's something I've always believed. In fact, I think that some of the best art is just reality, a little dolled up. The best art is reality, or truth, whatever you want to call it, just made a little more beautiful, a little more glossy...edited a little more.

Below is an example, in a way, of what I'm talking about. It's an email I sent to my mom today. I'm not going to explain what the background to this email was; I'm simply not in the mood. Just have a read, and I think you'll easily get what's going on and what might have gone on. I hope you like what I wrote. Really, it's just reality, only a little more polished.

Chad Smith

1:11 PM (9 hours ago)
to mom
Now that it's had some time to good is that song "One More Light" by Linkin Park!  I mean, wow, talk about substance. And the words match the melody so well, don't you think!

I also think it's really clever and pretty awesome how, when you first read the title of the song, "One More Light," you're sort of inclined to think "one more light" as in, "Hey, let's just have one more party" or "Give me one more light" or "There's just one more light that's on." I think we, as in the audience, tend to think, initially at least, that the words "one more" are being used to convey "an additional." 

But then, when we learn in the song that something is actually being taken away -- "Who cares if one more light goes out?" -- and that the words "one more" are really being used to convey "any ordinary"...  well, I think all of that is just all really poetic and beautiful. Again, what do you think?

P.S. In case you're wondering (and I'm pretty sure you are) if I put a lot of effort into this email, I did. It took me a while to write. lol.