Friday, September 28, 2012

A Glint: Finding Hope Amid the Story of Harsha Maddula

   The line between knowledge and ignorance is a dangerous one. After all, it is said that with knowledge comes power, and with great power, great responsibility comes as well. It is also said, on the reverse side of things, that ignorance is bliss.
   Everyone in attendance at Harsha Maddula’s vigil Thursday evening expected an event surrounding the message of “come home safely”. It would be a night to think optimistically, to come together, to hope. No one was ready.
   When the news was released of the discovery of the young man’s body in Wilmette Harbor, you could feel the shock travel through the crowd. For three seconds, you could see everyone processing, frozen. Then hugs, and sobs, and prayers, and reality. This time, knowledge was crippling, breaking. There was no power to be seen. Knowledge brought with it the real world, and the real world can be extraordinarily unfair. It suggests that all of the things we were taught before, about the idea of knowing, and wanting to know, maybe were not so true. Knowing does not always make things better. Sometimes, knowing something is really, really hard.
   It is strange, considering that one of the things most often heard on our Northwestern campus during the investigation had to do with the knowledge of what had happened. If we just knew if Harsha was alright. If we just knew where he went. What made the whole situation so difficult was being ignorant, and this was so because we all felt limited in what we could do to help. There are only so many hours in a day. There are only so many people in the world. There is only so far that you can look.
   We know now of what happened to Harsha. We do not know everything, but we know the important things. But do we feel any better? Is there consolation to be found amid such a horrible tragedy? Maybe. Maybe it is better to go through life knowing something was as you feared, rather than going through life being afraid of the worst-case scenario. At least this way, you know how to start moving past what you were afraid of in the first place.
   I will not pretend to have known Harsha—I did not. After the vigil, however, I had a sense of the kind of person he was. The stories told Thursday evening painted the picture of someone who was soft-spoken, selfless, and incredibly bright. Harsha seemed a young man who touched people’s lives in subtle ways. He gave without asking for anything in return. He always kept the well-being of his family and friends in the forefront of his mind. He was firm and solid in his values. He was someone who, whether we knew him or not, we can all learn from right now.
   At the vigil, one of the first people to speak was a young woman who had previously prepared a speech that, she told us, had centered around hope. The breaking news, of course, had forced her to make some changes to what she said. There was no hope to be seen, just pain. The final glimmer seemed extinguished.
   However, as people kept coming up and sharing their experiences about the young man, it became more and more obvious that Harsha was really all about the opposite of what we were feeling. He was optimistic, bright, positive. He would find something good in this. It is our turn now. We need to find something good.
   Through the sadness and loss, peeks a small glint. Small, yet telling to be sure. In the first week of student activity here at Northwestern, the community had still managed to unite. Hardly anyone knew anyone else, and yet we came together under the goal to bring Harsha home safely. Search parties ran around the clock. People made flyers and passed them out in Evanston. The sophomore was in constant thoughts, considerations, and prayers. As the vigil continued, I thought about this, and I was thankful that while Harsha was alive, he had this community around him. He had this community supporting him. He had this community doing everything it could for him. We can take that with us, because Harsha will undoubtedly take it with him.
   I believe that if you look hard enough, you can always find blessings in your life. So in the wake of this terrible time for our university, remember the important things. Smile. Call home. Go out of your way to help someone. Take that small glint we have and tear it open. To those who remember him well, Harsha was someone who bettered those around him simply by letting them know that he cared about them. It does not take much. We can do the same.
   We are faced with a choice. We can see this situation as a dead end: nothing ahead but road blocks and difficulty, or we can see it as a lesson. Harsha brought us together as one school, one university, One Northwestern. It is a message to us all that even in times when the world is dark, light and hope can be found. We can pick each other up. We can look out for each other. We can keep this sense of community going and going and going. We can be exactly like Harsha: encouraging, positive, and if we can manage it, maybe a little hopeful too.
   Maybe in this case, knowledge really is power after all.
   Rest in peace, Harsha.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Call Me a Witness: A Review of Chet Haze Rocking the Frosh at Deering Meadow

   To give the understatement of the year, there was some hype going in Wednesday about Chet Haze. There were some haters. There were some doubters. There was a lot of YouTube research to be had. I had none of it. I wanted my first impression of the famous Chet Haze to be an in-the-flesh experience, so of course I went out of my way to see him live at Deering.
   I think going into the show, I expected it to be something like wannabe-Eminem meets Vanilla Ice. So pretty much the equivalent of the crowd being pooped on. That is what I expected. Poop.
   Maybe it is because my expectations were so low, but I ended up thinking a little differently after the show. We are going to break this down piece-by-piece, point-by-point. What worked, and what did not work. By the end, we hopefully will have the real Chet Haze.  

1.       Style
   To someone who is new to the rap game (Is that even appropriate for me to say? Rap game? That just looks wrong, sitting there like a couple of poser-words. Who am I to say rap game? Ugh, we’re leaving it anyway), I think I pretty much found what I was expecting. Jeans, Kinetik shirt, chain necklace, and classic briefs (Is it weird for a guy to critique another guy’s underwear? . . . Nah). Simple, sure, but I feel like Chet Haze would rather we focus on his beats and rhymes than anything else, so it was not a big deal, and perhaps a relief, that he did not come out in huge shades or NYC cap. Thank God.
   Mr. Haze scores a 5/10. It would be a six, but honestly it would have been a huge kick if he was the spitting image of his father (Tom Hanks, to everyone who was unfortunate enough to not pick up on that), so I missed that. Admit it, you wondered it too the first time you saw him.

2.      Lyrics
   Standard club-style. Most of his tracks followed the same story of “Hey, you’re hot, so let me take you home, and after we intoxicate ourselves, I’ll show you a good time.” Nothing really profound coming from Chet Haze, but at the end of the day, it is all good. After all, what is he supposed to talk about up there? His tough, inner-city upbringing? His life on the streets? The time he capped some fool? No. Mr. Haze just wants to tell us about his good times. That is cool. I feel that (another crowd of poser-words right there). He does not need to be profound, he does not need to be raw and real, he just needs to be fun. Mission accomplished, Mr. Haze (spawn idea #1: spin-off web series in which Chet Haze becomes Agent Haze and beats the shit out of terrorists or something. I’d watch. You’d watch. It’s an instant smash).

3.      Entourage
   Everyone needs their bros or bro-ettes (coined that on the spot) to back them up when they are doing a live show. I guess that is just a rule. Maybe it is a security thing, in case he needs to be hustled off the stage and away from some crazed female fan. Maybe it is a status thing. Whatever. I liked the Kinetik entourage. The DJ (Mena Abebe) let him have his spotlight, and whoever the dude was in the white tee and the Redwings cap gave him a nice intro (I guess it is also a rule that at least one person in an entourage has to sport something Detroit-affiliated—it provides legitimacy). They were a good support group to the main event, and they deserve props.
   8/10—my one gripe with Kinetik is that they need a slogan. Spawn idea #2: a contest, put on by Kinetik to create this tagline. It is chosen by their fans, and the winner would receive a boatload of Kinetik swag—they already have all of those shirts and hats, why not have a giveaway? It would promote Chet Haze, it would promote the company, someone would get a bunch of free stuff, and if the apparel was re-released with the new slogan, more people might be interested in buying the product. Win win win win.

4.      The Crowd
   I wanted to distinguish this from the final section, because I think it is important to gauge the crowd as a standalone thing. I think that the cool thing about a Chet Haze concert (Is concert the right word? I’ll give it to him.) is that no matter what people think about his music, they support him anyway. People sang along to the songs they knew, especially “Hollywood”, which is a total fan-favorite, and Haze’s personal tribute to Northwestern, “White and Purple”. People were enthusiastic for his new tunes, and respectful of his old tunes. It was hilarious to see a confined fan base like this manage to be enthusiastic all the same. Chet Haze had to feel us for us to feel him, and I think he did that.
   Guys, we get a 9/10.

5.       The Overall Performance
   Here is what sold me on Chet Haze: he does not have the smartest lyrics, he does not have the most talent in the world, and he does not perform in the biggest venues, but goddammit if he does not make it a fun show. He is totally devoted to putting on a  performance for NU. He gets the crowd waving, he holds the girls’ hands (No joke, on the way back from the show, a pack of girls on the stairs asked me if I saw him just so they could tell me that they all touched him. They were gushing. They were all out of breath too, which was weird, but I guess that’s a side effect of making contact with Chet Haze), he has us sing along, he welcomes the freshman (Whataguy), he had the whole “Go U! NU!” going, he busted out an encore presentation and let loose with all of the fan-favorites, and he even had us give him the claw. He was fully invested in making sure everyone was having fun, and I think that is just about all we can ask from the guy.
   The concencus after the show was this: not the greatest music, but definitely entertaining, and if I were being honest, I have to agree. I said before that I expected him to be wannabe-Eminem meets Vanilla Ice. He (thankfully) missed that mark. Now, I see him more as a Mike Posner (singing/rapping combo) meets Jason Derulo (for the way he says his own name before his songs) meets Vanilla Ice (after his hit but before he started trying too hard). There. That seems accurate.
   At the end of it all though, Chet Haze is there for the crowd, and that is what we want from the guy. As a performer, he is a 9/10. That’s the real Chet Haze (plus, the dude’s pretty strong-looking, so a lower score might induce him to beat me up or something, does that happen in college?).

   Post-article spawn idea #3: a campaign to push for Chet Haze to appear onstage with Nas. One song, one showing. That is all.