Y Spy: Meklit Hadero

Meklit Hadero sounds like a lot of things: a full-throated jazz pixie, a guitar folk whisperer, a cool and self-collected slinger of R&B.  One thing she never sounds is boring, and I’d also throw in complacent into that mess of things Hadero is not.  A lifelong traveler, the Ethiopian-born singer has collected a vast swath of styles, mixing them together into “On a Day like This,” an album released last year in which Hadero sings of setting roots in San Francisco.

            But in talking with Meklit Hadero, one gets the strong impression that her musical ambitions – goals which are blatantly larger than sound – don’t begin and end with the recording of songs.  Having formed an artistic group of fellow Ethiopians known as the Arba Minch Collective, Hadero has explored and challenged her roots with an intensity that is hard to match.

 

Y Spy:  Let’s start with the basics.  Who are you, and what is your musical background?

 

Meklit Hadero:  I’m a vocalist and a songwriter originally from Ethiopia.  I was born there and grew up all over the States: in Brooklyn and in Florida and in Seattle.  I’ve been in San Francisco the past seven years.  The music kind of sits at the crossroads of three different traditions: the American songwriters, jazz, as well as bringing in some Ethiopian music and influence.  I primarily play with jazz instruments, plus I bring a lot of improvisation into the live shows.

 

Y Spy:  How has traveling around internationally as well as within the United States affected your musical perspective?

 

Hadero:  When people ask me what my influences are, I tend to think less about who are the artists that I model myself after and more about what the sounds are that I’ve absorbed growing up.  For example, living in Brooklyn for six years, the place I grew up in my childhood years, jazz was everywhere.  It was in the subways and in the streets.  So was early hip-hop.  That sort of soundscape, the streetscape, of New York felt like it was an important sonic ingredient.  Then, of course, growing up and having my parents play old Ethiopian cassettes.

There was a constancy of sound as a presence in one’s life, and how those sounds then get interpreted as songs, and where they come out, is something of a mystery.  But it does happen, and that was a big part of how I developed this particular approach to making music.

In terms of influences, though, I’d say that my biggest influences have been my voice teachers, people who taught me what the voice is and what its expressive power as an instrument is.

 

Y Spy:  How did you put together On a Day like This?

 

Hadero:  I wanted to make it as a tribute to my first five years in San Francisco, because at the time I wasn’t sure I was going to stay.  I had just done a residency at the De Young Museum and was about to go to Oxford for a few weeks to do the TED Global Fellowship, and then I was going to travel for three months.  I called it my cliff; I had no idea what was going to happen after this particular period of time.

It was just about two months before I left when I said: I have to make an album before I leave.  I realized that I wanted to capture the period of time that had happened.  So it was really about who I had been playing with for those five years of developing those songs, bringing together all these jazz musicians who I had played with and who were a big part of my musical community, but also bringing together a lot of musicians from a collective of classical artists called Classical Revolution that are all about changing the way classical is played, making it more accessible.  They have chapters in ten or twelve cities, but they started in San Francisco a few blocks from my creative home at the Red Poppy Art House.  That’s how I brought people together.

 

Y Spy:  As you’ve said, On a Day like This mixes together a lot of styles.  Was it difficult, considering this, to constrain all of these different directions to something as finite as an album?

 

Hadero:  I have real faith in multiplicity.  I feel like people have a lot of capacity for bringing together complexity than is offered in a lot of marketing.  Nobody’s really one genre.  It’s really hard to label anyone’s music.  The best descriptions of music are poetic.

I never thought of it as limiting; I thought of it as a window.

 

Y Spy:  Were there any styles that you do wish you had explored more on this album, or that you would like to explore more on a future release?

 

Hadero:  I have a few releases coming out.  I’m actually in the middle of two albums right now.  Gabriel Teodros is a Seattle-based MC who, with Burntface and I, went to Ethiopia in May as part of this collective that travels there annually to connect with artists, traditional and contemporary.  We just finished recording an album which we call our Ethiopian hip-hop space opera.  So I’m working with two MCs, and it’s all with beats, and in it Gabriel is a half-alien, half-human coming to Earth for the first time.  It’s a really theatrical, big production, and that will be out in January.

Also in January is a simultaneous release with an Oakland-based soul singer called Quinn Deveaux.  We’re doing soul interpretations of indie rock and art rock songs, with a few originals on there too.  Some David Byrne and Patti Smith, but really bringing the soul roots of that music to light through this collaboration.

I’ll continue to make the music that is interesting and inspiring to me, but I really don’t feel limited by style.  Collaboration lets you grow in that way.

 

Y Spy:  It seemed that in the old top-down musical model, musicians would release work every two years or so, but there wasn’t a whole lot of recording or outside activity inbetween.  Do you feel like people are becoming more open to collaboration now, being that the terms aren’t so dictated from the top?

 

Hadero:  That’s exactly what it is: the terms aren’t dictated from the top.  We’re also in a place where nobody knows what works, so there are no rules.  You might get pressures from all sorts of sides to be more defined and hyper-focused in your scope, but now nobody knows.  So try something!

Part of what makes me empowered is my relationship with Porto Franco Records, the label I work with.  They’re based in San Francisco, a father-son team, and they are ridiculously supportive.  They’ve helped me make these records, and they really believe in their artists – and I think they believe in artists in general.  That’s been a relationship that has made a lot of this possible.

 

Y Spy:  What do your recent touring plans look like?

 

Hadero:  As I mentioned, we were in Ethiopia and Kenya in May.  I’ve been doing some summer touring; this particular tour starts in the Bay Area and winds all the way up the West Coast.  I’m doing an East Coast tour in October, hopefully heading to Europe in November.  But right now, aside from these short tours, I’m trying to finish up these albums and gear up for January.  2012 is going to be really tour intensive.

 

Y Spy:  How did you go about gathering fellow Ethiopian musicians to form the Arba Minch Collective?  Were these people you already knew or people you sought out?

 

Hadero:  Kind of both.  There was a website called habesha.com that came out in 2001.  It started as a website to bring together Ethiopian-American and Eritrean-American artists.  It was at the height of the tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  What they ended up doing was bringing together and finding Ethiopian-Americans, Ethiopian-Canadians, Eritreans, and artists in diaspora.  They started writing about them, they started compiling lists, and suddenly there was a place where you could find out what all these people were doing all over the world.  It kind of underlined this emerging generation.  On Myspace you started finding out about people, and then there started being conferences where people would get together.

This network of artists who were doing work that I really loved, that I had been paying attention to for quite a while, I started meeting them when I started performing a lot.  There was an awareness, you would say.  What happened was that I found out about something called the 1,000 Stars Festival that brought together 56 ethnic groups from the south of Ethiopia to play their music together.  They’re distinct ethnic groups with different cultures, different music, different food even, and they came together in this festival and danced and sang for three days, for 50,000 people from Ethiopia.  I thought: I had to go, but how much more powerful would it be if it wasn’t just me that goes, but a whole generation that’s in this process of defining itself and could really benefit and learn from going to this?  So the group started for a particular experience.  The festival was cancelled, and we went anyway and had an amazing time traveling throughout the country and connecting with a burgeoning artistic movement.  Our first trip was in December 2009, and our second trip was this past May, and we will continue to make annual trips.

 

Y Spy:  In America, culture seems relatively formless and changing, taking connections for granted.  What is the importance to you of having these connections with artists from your homeland?

 

Hadero:  In a way, it’s about reality.  What I realized is that, growing up in the States, my whole experience of Ethiopian culture was filtered through my family lens.  There were the stories that I would hear, experiences that particular people would have, but that’s such a small part of this grand picture of culture.  What I realized is that things are changing there, fast.  They’re changing extremely fast.  Every time I go to Ethiopia, it looks different.  Infrastructure is growing so fast, and I think it’s also in a process where there are huge pressures happening, too.  If I really wanted to understand what was happening, I couldn’t rely on these filters.  I’d have to go, but I had to go again, and again, and again, in order to have an accurate picture.  If I ask myself why, my tendency is to answer with almost intuition – because I have to know, because I have to learn.

 

Y Spy:  How does that compare with the artistic connections and your perspectives about and with America?

 

Hadero:  I read in the New York Times, ten years ago, that 70 percent of New Yorkers are foreign born.  That blew my mind!  For me growing up there, that was the norm.  Diaspora was the norm.  I know it’s not like that all over, and borders are real, and contested, and challenging.  But we also live in a place of multiplicity, and we can’t deny that.  That’s what the world is like, and if we want to prepare ourselves for interacting with the whole world, we kind of have to be a little bit curious.  And music reflects your times.

 

 

Meklit Hadero will play the EMP Level 3 Stage at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival at 9 pm on Saturday, September 3rd.  Her album, “On a Day like This,” is available now.

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Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Undead or Alive

Film: Undead or Alive (2007)

Director: Glasgow Phillips

Starring: Chris Kattan, James Denton, Navi Rawat

Written by: Glasgow Phillips, Scott Pourroy

 

 

Chris Kattan is the best cowboy/zombie hunter ever.  Let’s cut the crap: Undead or Alive is little more than Corky Romano jittering around the Wild West like some zombie apocalypse grandson of Don Knotts.  But is that in any way a bad thing?  NO!

So there’s some badass cowboy guy with a troubled past, and he finds himself teaming up with Chris Kattan once the dude zombies get out of hand.  He’s clearly not pleased about the prospect of kicking ass with Corky, which makes him a bit of an entitled dick.  Eventually in the course of their undead-murdering spree they cross paths with a magical Indian chick who threatens to further divide their manly bond, but Kattan holds tightly to his code of bros before mystic hos, and all is well.

And that’s about it.  Agent Adair from Upright Citizens Brigade shows up as a blustery, almost Snidely Whiplash-like villain who caught the undead plague and is slyly spreading it to the townsfolk.  (Of course, despite the fact that he’s now a cannibal, most of Mr. Villain’s victims survive to join his evil posse.  Zombies don’t really eat much, do they?)  I’d have liked to see more interaction between Kattan and Matt Besser (the true identity of Agent Adair), as both of these guys have the same type of keyed-up nervousness that would explode brilliantly if smashed together.  Unfortunately, this is more of the manhunt sort of Western, so even though they rule separately, Kattan and Besser don’t get much time together.

Really, it’s just Kattan’s show anyway, and everyone else is just filling a role.  But that’s more than okay.  I actually like what little I’ve seen of Chris Kattan in horror films; his sullenly doomed caretaker was one of the only good characters in the remake of House on Haunted Hill (alongside Geoffrey Rush’s spectacular doppelganging on Vincent Price).  Yeah, Kattan isn’t exactly playing with the same sort of gravity here, but I’m pretty okay with that.  Corky Romano wasting zombies in the old West is just fine with me.

 

The Designer’s Drugs: The Gaming Rampage Rorschach

No Fuckin' Around.

Medium: Game – Portable Systems

Stimulus: The Gaming Rampage Rorschach

Anno: Various

 

Following my recent return to the world of disposable income, I went on a small spending spree and collected a few new games for my PSP and Nintendo DS.  As there’s not really much in the way of music or books that I feel like talking about this week, I decided to get a little mileage out of my video game consumption.  Presented here are my takes on my recent acquisitions.

WWE All Stars is a horrible game, at least for the PSP.  It may be better on consoles.  I had a lot of fun actually playing the street fighting/wrestling hybrid, once the game finally got around to being a game.  To get there, however, one had to sit through literally minutes of crap, every single time: loading screen, match introduction, loading screen, first wrestler’s introduction, second wrestler’s introduction, loading screen, and finally the game!  No way.

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is another bad PSP port that may have played better in its original form on the Wii.  In any event, it completely eliminated all the traditional Tenchu fun of running around on rooftops and leaping down to ninja-slaughter one’s prey.  Instead, this game’s assassins sulk around in whatever shadows there are, attempting to manipulate one’s way into the kills.  Not as fun.  Not even close.

The 3rd Birthday is a serviceable, action-oriented sequel to the classic horror RPG, Parasite Eve.  I generally think that the PSP sucks at action games, but this was a nice challenge against that prejudice.  Here, a sexy blonde goes back in time on missions designed to soften a Cthulu Apocalypse, and one possesses soldiers, Agent Smith style, in the conflict against the tentacle beasts.  Neat.  I do wish that what little coherent plot that existed wasn’t written by a fifteen year old with a boner, however.

My two favorite games of the recent times were on the Nintendo DS, both of the old school 2D variety.  Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is one more awesome DS game in the series, this one a heavily magic-based expedition in the vein of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.  Instead of simply bumming around Dracula’s stately abode, one gets to travel the countryside and interact with villagers while getting in all that trademark Metroidvania exploration.  It’s a lot of fun.

But the best game of my recent rampage had no pretense at all.  Contra 4 is simple, aggressive, wonderful action.  You run around.  You get weapons.  You shoot aliens.  You die – a lot.  And you have a blast doing all of this.

Sometimes all a game needs to be great is to simply be a game.

Y Marks the Spot: The Big, Terrible Silence

A whole lot of awesome nothing.

I don’t adapt quickly, but I do adapt brilliantly.  I act with the speed of an ice age.  My process of learning involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of intellectual probing and catastrophic screwing up before I figure out the scheme, and then, poof, I’m a half-assed expert.  I come into the game with everyone around me convinced that I’m the dumbest creature to ever evolve thumbs, but when I’ve hit my stride I suddenly become a sullen, sarcastic, shambling shade of gold.

So it’s not surprising to me that, one month to the day since I traded in extreme social claustrophobia for wonderful, titanic freedom, I still haven’t adjusted.

The night that I moved into my new place and joined Clarence Clemons’ band, I was too overwhelmed to think.  I paced around the planks of my big, beautiful, empty rooms, amazed that things had worked out so wonderfully.  But I couldn’t sit down.  I couldn’t stop thinking about things I wanted to get for the place and how I wanted to arrange the furniture.  The past year of living in paranoia without any sort of permanent, sealable sanctuary had wound me up to the point where, once a place of silence finally swooped in and presented itself, I reacted with something resembling horror, becoming a poster boy for antisocial shell shock.

The plan on that first night was that my girlfriend and I would eat pizza and get drunk on screwdrivers – a luxury that I now, in all my total heavenly glory, can once more afford.  Only the food happened, and then we sat, both stunned by the new, scary quiet.  Sleep – another luxury that I can once again afford – happened, eventually, but we did not ride in triumph to it like Wagnerian Valkyries.  Instead, we slithered into it like sluggish mud men.  Anticipation, as usual, disappointed.

A month later, I still feel like I’m living in a state of shock.  The big spaces are being filled out; the place feels less like a void and more like a nouveau riche dwelling of some insipid Ikea socialite or Wal-Martian dignitary.  I live like a normal person.  I have the den I’ve always wanted, my folding card table desk and lawn chair recliner ready to accommodate my every bargain basement philosopher-king whim.  Yet I feel like I’m still waiting for some big fireworks display to happen before I crank the bolt off the fire hydrant in my brain and let the brain-kids dance around in its street corner flood.  There’s still terror, and indecision, and intimidation, and solitary agoraphobia.  I’m still waiting, and the time for waiting has passed.

In the meantime, I’ve been junkie-devouring all the meager distractions that I’ve brought into this Spartan villa.  There’s no more cable TV.  No internet.  No friends.  We watch cartoons on my girlfriend’s computer and, on a future day when we’re not too burned out from and/or pissed off about our respective jobs, we have a mountain of board games to fulfill our senses of communal distraction.  But, in the meantime, I’ve used some of my new disposable income to acquire and consume – in my usual hyper-obsessive style – a few video games for my portable systems.  They’re games consciously chosen, instead of like back when I used to have one night stands with any random stimuli with 16 bits and a boner, but it still adds up to time that could be better spent.  It still adds up to more waiting.

Yet I also feel like there are cracks in the old wall.  Evidence?  Well, this, kind of.  In my last place, and even back when I lived alone in La Crosse’s Stately Y Manor, I’d get so freaked out – in my usual hyper-obsessive style – over the minutiae of every sentence of even the most inconsequential things I’d ever written that it would take me a day to creak out something that could have taken an hour’s time.  Which is how long this has taken, thus far.  Thanks, improv.

But this column is something structured, something needed from me, requested from an external source, an editor needing material to fill a newspaper.  The true test of success in my new, voided ecosystem is whether I start writing things unasked for, works that nobody but me has any vested interest in the completion of.  I have a bizarrely reliable work ethic, despite my tendencies to despise the expectations of others.  I do what’s needed.  The problem is that, for all my narcissism and megalomania, I haven’t yet adapted to the idea that it’s even more important for me to be brilliant when I’m the person who needs something from me.  Instead, my earth-shattering ambitions remain optional.  That is bullshit.  That must change.

We’ll see how that goes.  I did buy a lamp for my den tonight.  Perhaps it will illuminate something.

The Designer’s Drugs: Andrew Potter – The Authenticity Hoax

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Andrew Potter – The Authenticity Hoax

Anno: 2010

 

It took me a while to figure out the precise slant of this criticism of the modern personal vision quest, but once its pieces came together, The Authenticity Hoax became a book close to my heart.  The message gets a bit crass at times, and the professionally offended will no doubt get their time clocks punched at Andrew Potter’s criticism of minority cultures.  Yet the main thrust of the book, that the modern crusade for authenticity is just another phony pop culture product, is examined as well as a pop culture sociology book could hope to do.

Other points made in the book that I really agree with: we’re all bullshitting ourselves by thinking that everyone else is a mindless drone while we’re the only beautiful and unique snowflake in the world, if something or someone is said to be authentic it usually isn’t, and being “real” has become just another form of exclusionary status-seeking.

One thing I didn’t quite get was Potter’s defense of the free market.  With all of his points about how the world does in fact suck, I suppose he assumes capitalism is the least of all economic evils, but that hardly merits his stating that it does more good than harm (being that this is a very subjective question).  There’s something in Potter’s tone whenever he mentions the free market that makes him come off as a bit of an acolyte, and I’m not sure what capitalism has to do with his general subject.

He does spend the book’s conclusion discussing the rise of Soviet nostalgia in former Soviet countries, raising the question that I always love seeing raised: why one genocidal regime of the 20th Century is condemned to be the century’s boogeyman while another equally monstrous regime is softened to rose-colored nostalgia and adorable kitsch.  Potter describes his adventures in the thriving Soviet tourism business as well as the bizarre longing from some former Reds to go back to the good old days, when men were men and secret police were secret police.  Because, you know, gulags and police states sucked and all, but at least you really knew where you stood!

The Retro USSR is the most extreme example of a type of romanticized delusion that Potter takes to task for being silly and, well, inauthentic.  Phoniness, as he explains, pervades all aspects of our societies, but that’s no reason to abandon all possessions and live in the woods.  He doesn’t really offer any suggestions as an alternative, save this: stop trying to be real and just be real.  Which is actually the right answer, I think.

Y Marks the Spot: The Staged Chaos

I can’t say that in the past year I’ve spent nigh-homeless – sleeping on an air mattress in a flea-ridden house on the verge of collapse, getting rejected for jobs I’m grossly overqualified for, and counting my comatose life by the week instead of by the day – I’ve never considered moving back to La Crosse.  Sure, I would have been really unhappy and felt really defeated, but every so often it felt like defeat, at the very least, would bring a little stability and familiarity.  As much as I find a great deal of fault with it, La Crosse is my home.

Yet there was one point which I reminded myself of every time these regressive thoughts crept into my depressed brain.  It pretty much became the last line of defense that kept me out here in Washington even in my most frustrated lows.

La Crosse doesn’t have improv.  So I can’t go back.

I found improv on the day after I arrived in Bellingham, though it would be a month before its importance to me took shape.  On the second day, my new roommates showed me around my new city’s fantastic downtown, where I wandered around a bit wide-eyed.  We drifted into a small coffee shop, and everyone else in my group ordered things.  Since I don’t drink coffee and don’t care about measly café food, I lingered off near the wall, thumbs in pockets, and I stared at the giant block of fliers upon it.

There was one poster which I gravitated toward, a mockery of Pulp Fiction’s cover art in which Uma Thurman’s hip sneer replaced by another girl’s silly smirk.  Clearly the show it was hyping seemed like something that I’d be into (especially if they brought out the Gimp), but as I was still overwhelmed from crossing half the country it flew over my head.  We left the café and wandered across the street to a record store, where I found a Wesley Willis album for sale – a clear and time-honored indication that good things were in store for me.

A few weeks later, the poster and I would again cross paths.  One thing I’ve long wanted to start doing is performing stand-up comedy, but I hadn’t been able to find a consistent open mic in La Crosse to work on it.  One of my goals in coming to Washington was to find a comedy venue and start performing, and a quick Google search in this pursuit brought me to the place advertised by Fake Uma.  This would turn out to be the best Google search I’ve ever done.

Discovering improv at the Upfront Theatre was the same sort of lightning bolt to the brain that happened to me when I started writing these sorts of things and seeing them in print in the Second Supper.  Like, Jesus, I didn’t have my entire life and the rest of the world figured out after college, and there were still plenty of amazing things about myself and said world to find.  I found one such game changer during the Upfront show on the Thursday before my improv education began.  The hour and a half of people on stage, just making shit up, was both hilarious and a serious revelation.

I’ve described the way I felt watching that show the same way to a few people, and a year into improv hasn’t dulled the feeling at all.  It felt as though I had found my tribe.

I’m big into chaos and goofing off and making things and the eastern religion stripes of nihilism, and improv satisfies all of these sensibilities.  It’s something that I both knew from the start I’d be great at, and it’s a process which has made me get over myself and work really hard to get better.  Improv has made me proud of failure.  It makes me less paranoid and insular and frustrated.  It makes me a far better writer (when I stop being lazy or depressed and actually write).  It taught me to get over my own agendas.  It has made me far more brilliant.

Improv has been the one consistently good thing I’ve had going in the past year.  Sometimes, it was the only good thing.

After a year of classes, I now perform about once every other week in the Upfront’s student portion of its Thursday shows.  A group of six of us will go out, get about a half hour of time, and go berserk making shit up.  Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we’ll say horrible things that derail the scenes, but mostly we destroy the crowd.  After just about every show I leave feeling as though I’ve helped to accomplish something amazing.  I feel like an architect who makes skyscrapers out of the sky.

This is something I want to keep doing.  I don’t care how, or where, or with whom.  The Staged Chaos is in my blood and in my future, and that alone has made my adventure worth it.

The Designer’s Drugs: George R. R. Martin – A Dance with Dragons

 

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: George R. R. Martin – A Dance with Dragons

Anno: 2011

 

It’s a strange idea that a book can be a thousand pages long and still feel like it isn’t explaining everything.  As I read through this monstrous – in size and often in content – book, I kept noticing plot threads that were briefly brought up and then dropped, characters who would show up for a chapter or two and then fade out of the book completely, and some chapters told through the perspectives of characters that didn’t really gel with the rest of the story.  There’s also a severe inclination toward variations of the statement “He was not wrong.”

The overall feeling of A Dance with Dragons is that it’s a series of cliffhangers.  It’s very exciting, but it also feels the most intermediate and least self-sufficient book in George R. R. Martin’s massive Song of Fire and Ice series.

All of this illustrates what I feel is the awkward point in Fire and Ice – the fourth and this, the fifth book in the series which divided the narrative in two.  The previous book, A Feast for Crows, fixated on how the evil queen in the capitol was a huge bitch, whereas A Dance with Dragons is more concerned with what’s going on in the rest of the world.  Eventually the split gets more or less mended in Dragons and everyone goes forth into the terrible winter together, but most of this tale is completely divorced from its predecessor.

Despite my issues with the book’s technical aspects, I think Dragons is a far more satisfying book than Crows.  Focusing on Queen Bitch was an easy way to draw heat in the preceding book, but it kind of drowned out the rest of the characters.  Here, the points of view are a little more balanced between a trio of story arcs: a dwarf on the run, a watchman getting ready for a monster war, and the Abe Lincoln Dragon Queen getting bogged down in cultural relativism.

Most of the supporting characters do a good job in fleshing out the rest of the outside world, but there was one character in particular who I thought became amazing.  A few books back saw a ward of the Starks (i.e. the “good guys”) sent as an envoy to his homeland, where he is degraded into switching sides and seizing Stately Stark Manor.  He gets out-bastarded by a psycho killer, and for a long time nothing more is said of him.

Since then, our insecure pseudo-traitor has festered in Psycho’s dungeons, tortured into the faintest shell of his former self.  He’s crippled, stinking, nameless Stockholm Syndrome in skin – and he’s losing a lot of that, too.  His entire story in Dragons is this terrible and softly triumphant journey back to being able to call himself by his old name – and damn if it doesn’t make the whole book.

A Dance with Dragons is mostly setup and little solution, but the War and Peace-sized setup is largely brilliant.  The awkwardness is over.  Let the stride resume.