What Does Elvis Presley Mean?

Elvis Presely playing guitarMost Americans and music lovers worldwide acknowledge Elvis Presley as “The King” of rock and roll. But some people have no idea who Elvis Presley is or what it means to be “The King” to millions of loyal fans.

This is what I learned from Cindy, the foreign exchange student from China that I hung out with for a few weeks.

I was taking a class on multi-cultural competency as part of the process towards my master’s degree in counseling. Our instructor, Vince Noble asked for volunteers to escort foreign exchange students and ease their transition into the USA. He may have even offered extra credit, I can’t remember. But I volunteered and was paired up with Cindy from China.

One day, Cindy and I went an art show at Cal State Long Beach. There were many paintings and several rooms filled with original art pieces created by students. We came upon a portrait of Elvis Presley. I admired the creativity of the piece. Cindy pointed at it and asked, “who is that?”

I was stunned. It was as if my life was flashing before me. I could not imagine how to describe who Elvis was. He is so many things to so many people and I couldn’t imagine what the world, or at least my world, would be like without him.

I managed to mumble out some answer about how Elvis was a rock legend and I hummed a few bars of Blue Suede Shoes and Jailhouse Rock to see if it would ring a bell.

Nothing.

I was speechless.

I had been slapped aside the head once again and reminded that just because I have an experience or a social construct built up around a certain object or person, doesn’t mean everyone else does. Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this, assuming the person you’re talking to knows something when really they don’t; assuming that everyone knows all the same things you do?

Story is Editable

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Positive Hip Hop Podcast Delivered on MP3 and in iTunes

Positive Hip-Hop PodcastThe Positive Hip Hop podcast is a series of shows that feature Hip-Hop with a message.

One of my favorites is Episode 6: “Social & Political Change”. This episode is jam-packed with socially aware hip hop with a great beat. Tracks include: KRS-One – “Illegal Business”, Head-Roc – “America!” and Ozomatli ft Common – “Embrace The Chaos”.

To get all 8 episodes of the Positive Hip-Hop Podcast, visit http://www.theskybeneath.com/podcast/

Toastmasters: What Can It Do For You?

Cynthia Lamb, spiritual counselor delivered a powerful speech at Agape Toastmasters describing some of the benefits she’s enjoyed as a result of her 2 years of membership.

Cynthia started her speaking experience with lots of “ahs” and “ums” in a manner she describes as “all filler, no content”. After using the manuals provided by Toastmasters she learned to be a competent leader and communicator. Toastmasters gave her the courage to pursue her larger goal which is to share a message of spiritual healing through forgiveness with an International audience.

She recently appeared on a panel of experts lead by Blog Talk Radio host, Michelle Ann Johnson titled “Conscious Kickstart” and did a very powerful presentation which included a guided process for forgiveness. She is kind enough to make this available to the world via this YouTube Video. If you need to heal a broken heart for any reason, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

Cynthia Lamb recently earned the highest award Toastmasters offers: Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) and to do it in 2 years is an exceptional feat.

Agape Toastmasters is that kind of place. I joined 2 years ago and I was shaky and hesitant in my first few speeches. I would get so nervous that sometimes I was practically incapacitated for an entire day. But with practice and support, I became stronger and stronger.

I have used the supportive, creative environment to work out some ideas for a character, (my alter ego) Gal Vanized. When I started Toastmasters I had 7 years of experience as a college instructor under my belt. Somehow I had convinced myself or been pressured to believe that I had to “tone it down” and “be professional”. Which meant that pink wigs and punk rock gigs were out of the question.

To that I say, Why?

And this semester I’ve used music videos in my Introduction to Victimology class to highlight some of the songs that describe the abuse of power and control in our society that leads to crime and therefore victims.

I got bold enough one night to put on the pink wig in my Introduction to Domestic Violence class and tell my story of running away from an abuse filled home to find a better life. What Toastmasters did for me is give me the courage to say what I want to say, how I want to say it.

What will Toastmasters do for you?  You’ll never know unless you check it out for yourself.  Toastmasters is an International, non-profit organization. “The mission of a Toastmasters club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every individual member has the opportunity to develop oral communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.”

Click here to find a club near you.

Consequences of a Music-Less Life

I’m still curious and confused about the seeming lack of availability and interest in new, emerging, underground music. Maybe I’m a rare case. Maybe music means more to me than most but here’s my story of how a lack of music almost killed me.

In the 80’s I was a teen and a punk rocker. I was basically on my own after the age of 16 so I went to every gig I could, some times going to live shows 2-3 times in one week. Little did I know, this constant barrage of punk and alternative music was shaping my opinions, passions and politics on a deep level. Punk rock actually gave me wings. I admired the dedication and bravery of the musicians I went to see. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who noticed that some things are not right in the world.

I don’t have to tell you, no one wanted to hear what the punkers had to say in the 80’s. Most of the shows I went to had less than 100 people in attendance. When things got too big or too crazy, the cops were always there to break it up and take people off to jail. In some cases the riot squad greeted you as you entered the concert hall, just to let you know who’s in charge. Now, here we are, 25-30 years later seeing the teens of today listening to the music of the 80’s as if its something new and revolutionary.

May I interject here that the punk artists kids are listening to today aren’t just entertainers, some aren’t even technically musicians. Many punkers had no idea how to play their instruments when they first started. Many of them created hand-made fliers and had them photocopied free of charge on someone else’s photocopy machine. Most punks didn’t have contracts or agents. It was sheer grit, determination and persistence that kept the bands that you know about today alive. There are many, many other punk bands, some just as good or better than the ones you know about. The main difference is that some gave up and some didn’t. Punk legends like Mike Ness of Social Distortion exist solely due to determination.

Heres my beef: if the kids of today are listening to the music of 20 years ago, where are they getting the lesson of sheer grit, determination and persistence? Who is going to carry the torch and speak about today’s issues, most of which are the same as the issues of the 80’s, only worse. Why are the youth of today listening to anti-Reagan songs and not anti-Bush songs?

But I digress. I still haven’t explained how lack of music almost killed me. You see, when I was about 18 it was clear that my drug addiction was serious and I needed to do something about it. By the age of 21, I had been in several recovery programs and was beginning a process of wanting to change my life. For me, that meant I had to stay away from the old people and the old places. Gradually I began to slip away from my punk past and tried to be more “socially acceptable.”

The compelling need to “fit in” accelerated drastically when I entered college and eventually University. I found myself completely forgetting all about punk rock and gradually went to fewer and fewer live shows and even stopped listening to most of my records and tapes. I was proud of myself for a while, maybe too proud. I was reaching my goals and moving up in the world. I got a degree, then another degree, then another. In the process, I completely disconnected with my punk past.

I tried to fit in, get the jobs and connections I wanted. I was not connected with punk in anyway. I never had the opportunity to talk to anyone about seeing GBH at the Olympic Auditorium two times in one week or seeing the Ramones every year at the Paladium. I couldn’t listen to punk rock on the job and frankly, I found punk rock to be distracting to me and my goals.

Eventually music even began to annoy me. I was mad at the neighbors when they played it too loud. I saw myself turning into the cranky old drag that I encountered in most adults I met. I began running on auto-pilot. I listened to rap and hip-hop, maybe just because it was there and everyone else was listening. I was becoming noticeably depressed. I was training to be a therapist and sitting in meetings talking about “clients” who have “problems”. All the clients and problems were familiar to me, a part of my past.

I believed that each client I saw had potential to overcome whatever they wanted. I believed they could be whoever they wanted to be. Yet none of the ‘professionals’ agreed. I was shunned, not taken seriously and basically told “you’re just an intern, what do you know?”

On the one hand I was offended by the callous and careless way professionals talked about the people we were supposed to be helping but often I kept my mouth shut. When I did open my mouth, there was always a consequence. I was dismissed from more than one position for having an opinion. I tried to keep my mouth shut. I became more and more depressed. I chastised myself and thought to myself “why cant you just be like everyone else? Why can’t you just fit in and shut up?”

So, there I was, training to be a therapist and for the first time in my life, I found it completely necessary to take anti-depressants. I literally felt like I was going crazy and that was especially disturbing in light of the fact that I was supposed to be helping people!

Ironically, it was when I was “cleansing” my negative past that I found my soul mate and reconnected with music in a new and positive way. My husband, former owner of Zed Records in Long Beach was in the store when I brought in a stack of vinyl to sell. In the process of sorting, scanning and observing my records for their suitable re-sale potential, I sparked up a conversation with the man who would become my husband within about a year. He liked hockey, I liked hockey. He liked punk, I liked punk. We enjoyed each others company. But it would be almost 10 years before I began to realize the significance of our match and the importance of music in drawing us together.

In 1998 I experienced small reminders and nudges of who I was and who I could be but I wrote most of them off as the “idealistic, unrealistic, drug-induced fantasies” of the past. I would hear the nudging call to action in songs by Black Eyed Peas and A Tribe Called Quest but I mostly hid my love of hip-hop because fears like “what will people think, I should grow out of this, I’m just some old person trying to be cool.” Hip Hop and Punk were like guilty indulgences I hid from the ‘professional’ people in my life.

Once I got an iPod, things really began to change. Once I was able to easily carry the soundtrack of my life in my purse, able to listen to the Buzzcocks followed by Snoop Dogg and chased by Social Distortion anytime, anywhere; I began to transform. My dreams re-awakened. Lyrics of power, being yourself and letting go of concern for what others think lifted my soul.

I began to tell people, “I used to be a punk rocker.” I described my spiky blue hair and my shaved head. Some people laughed, some people said “cool”, others were entirely speechless, still others said “no way” as they stood there with their eyes bugged out.

The familiar lyrics and sounds of the underground began to stir something within my soul. I began to remember who I really was. I stopped caring about what everyone thought. I started to think about what I want for my life rather than what society wants for my life. I began to realize the traps I build around myself and how the mainstream society reinforced the validity and ‘rightness’ of those traps. Sometimes I was pissed off. Other times I was shocked. Sometimes I was sad but mostly I was determined. I was determined to revive the 16-year-old punker in me. I was determined to take her out of the closet and say look world, here I am so $*& you!

I could go on and on but mainly I have a deep, nagging fear and this is why I’m writing this long post. If the youth of today have no role models to show them how to be independent, to start their own businesses, to live free of corporate oppression, what on earth does the future hold in store for us? Will it be a rehash and reinforcement of the same old, same old? Will George Orwell’s 1984 be a reality?

Remember, most of the popular anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications on the market didn’t even exist in the 1980’s and now they are being passed out like candy to many people as a cure-all for the ‘problem of depression’. Rates of depression increase in society and pharmecuetical companies become more powerful. What if the depression is from oppression? If so, all the pills in the world aren’t gonna help.

Listening to music that’s 10, 20 or 30 years old makes about as much sense as reading newspaper articles from 30 years ago and claiming that you are informed and educated. The time is now, with the advent of instant information for all of us to step out of our boxes a bit and look at what’s new while continuing to enjoy what’s old. I think we need to listen to the message under the message.

Punk is more than just a bunch of rebellious, belligerent youth with a lack of classical music training. Punk is a movement and a statement about deciding to be who YOU are not what society determines you should be. Right this moment new music is being created by new people. Some of them will be huge one day, others will fade away but if you’re sitting at home listening to the same stuff your parents listened to, you’re missing out on the real-time experience of history in the making.

(Me and the Black Eyed Peas in 1998. They played at a record store inside Universal Studio Walk, about 30 people were there to see them….if that. Truthfully, most people were there to see Kobe, a well-known soccer player, BEP just happened to be the “opening act.” If you were paying attention to alternative radio (KCRW.com/Chocolate City) you could have been there. I will tell you this: NOBODY except me asked for their autograph and to take a picture with them. I have the Behind the Front album signed by the entire band.)

I’m so grateful that I had all the experiences I had in life and Im grateful for the opportunity to experience first-hand how plain, ordinary (and sometimes downright untalented) people say “I don’t care” and go for it anyway. And guess what, it ends up that it doesn’t matter if someone is good or not. As long as you are clear about who you are and don’t give up, you will make it. That’s the message under the message. Do you hear it?

(This article was originally written in 2006)

Toastmaster Persuades New School Power to Stand Up

Today I delivered my tenth speech at Agape Toastmasters and completed the requirements for a Competent Communication award. The speech is titled, “Stand In Your New School Power and Dare to Make a Difference” (if you don’t see a video above, click here to watch it on YouTube). I joined Toastmasters just over a year ago because I’ve always enjoyed public speaking and wanted to improve my skills and break out of my comfort zone.

I’ve been speaking to groups of people for about 16 years. However, most of my speaking has been somewhat informal, (i.e. leading small, intimate groups), or it’s been structured but based on a cirruculm (i.e. instructing classes at Long Beach City College). Although teaching, leading and speaking have always been rewarding to me, I felt like I was holding back on presenting passionately and daring to create my own presentations.

In my past year or so at Agape Toastmasters I feel like I’ve really broken out of the mold I was in and this presentation in particular was one of the most exhilarating, honest and enjoyable pieces of work I’ve ever had the privledge of delivering to a live audience.

In my mind, this is the beginning of my speaking career and I hope to have the opportunity to deliver this presentation and others like it to groups of leaders in various locations. Specifically I would like to speak to teachers, therapists, social workers, ministers and organizations who provide service to the community. My hope is to get paid as a presenter and to have the opportunity to sell my book, From Sabotage to Success.

Over the past 16 years I’ve worked at numerous non-profit agencies and I’ve met many educated, dedicated and warm-hearted people who yearn to make a difference in the world yet seem to be confined and stifled, not to mention overwhelmed. My hope is that I can help these leaders feel strong and powerful so they can do the work they’ve always dreamed of. In so doing, I will be fulfilling a dream of my own: to use my skills to make a positive difference in the world for those who need it most.

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From Sabotage to Success by Sheri ZampelliIf you have a saboteur like Puleza who’s stealing your power, purchase my book From Sabotage to Success and learn how to take your power back.

If you would like to book me to speak at your next event, please contact me at sherizampelli [at] gmail.com.