Original Vintage Soul


Musings on Things


Robert Ashker Kraft

“Robert Kraft makes smart music that's also irresistably danceable. Everything he touches becomes an instant classic.” - Brennen Leigh


Paige, TX 11/09/18 - On one of the first really cold, gray days of Autumn this year, I stumbled upon a hidden gem of a tune - Summer Madness, by Kool and the Gang, off of their 1974 Light of Worlds Album. It is a tasty little bit of a slow jam instrumental with  classic sweet minor and major 7th chords pedaled over grooving bass changes. I was driving along the back roads through the stunted brush of the burned zone out here East of Bastrop, and I was transported, as they say, by the simple spell of this song.

I was maybe 15 and I was standing in a small City Park  in my neighborhood in East Dallas. The summer sky was a hazy blue-white above a green hill that ran down to the railroad tracks. I don't know what song was playing then on my green Realistic Solid State transitor radio.  It wasn't this one, but it was similar, with the same soft sadness and sweet hope competing in the shifts from minor 7ths to 6ths that always seem to say to me that things might feel like shit right now, but there is something about letting yourself feel what you are feeling, staying with it until is softens into something richer and deeper that can come out in a song or a story or in strokes of indigo, blue-green and shadowy gray across a canvas.

Caught in the web of that song, that feel, I remember leaning back and closing my eyes, the touch of the sun on my face and the whisper of a breeze in the live oaks, and the stirring of an idea , inchoate and seminal,  in my mind - the idea that, yeah, this life is not what I want and not where i want to be but yeah, there is something else out there - there are beautiful people who make this song all day, and who know the language of sorrow and hope and loss and love, the way I do. So hang on. Hang on. Hang on.

So, anyway, check out the song. I linked it in the title above.

To Be a Woman In The World

Paige, TX 10/30/18 - I don’t have a #metoo story. I’ve never been sexually assaulted. But for several years, roughly between the ages of 8 and 15, I was, along with my mom, my dad’s favorite punching bag.

I don’t know if he also hit my younger brother and older sisters. We didn’t discuss these things in our family. And I never saw him go after my siblings the way he would go after me. I never saw the marks on anyone else but my Mom. I’m sure he had other tortures for them, though. I know my older brother had a rough time, but he moved out when I was pretty young. And we siblings did not look to each other for comfort or commiseration, anyway.

I never knew what was going to set him off. I spent most of those years walking on eggshells, worrying constantly that he would explode into one of his inexplicable rages, usually following secret pulls from a bottle of Wild Turkey he kept hidden in the garage. When he went off, he would use his hands, his fists, or whatever came to hand - a stick from the yard, an ax handle, a length of rope; his arms, to toss my small body around, his feet to kick me.

There were times when I was afraid to change clothes in the locker room for PE, for fear the welts and bruises on my back, ribs, and legs would reveal our secret. Not that anyone at my private Evangelical Christian school would have done anything about it. It was more about my shame and embarrassment. The fear that our small religious community would find out about my father’s violence was almost as strong our fear of him.

The particular incidents of violence were pretty bad, but not as bad as the constant dread and anxiety that hung over those years of my life. Or the deep depression that would come crashing down after a long, peaceful lull - and the growing hope that he had changed - would end with sudden shocking brutality against my mother or me. I also harbored a secret belief that I deserved this abuse, because I was a bad kid. This was exacerbated by the fact that my siblings did not seem to draw his rage and ire the way I did. But, they all had their secrets, too.

That programming is operating in me to this day. I never trust that things in general will continue to go well for me, despite all evidence to the contrary. I never fully enjoy peaceful, happy moments with friends or lovers without feeling the underlying dread that it is all an illusion, or a sense that I don’t deserve happiness, joy, love or friendship. At certain times of year, when the light has a particular quality in the afternoon, an anxious sadness still sometimes descends on me, and I have to consciously remind myself that I am not walking home from school, dreading leaving that safe environment full of friends and laughter behind, and heading towards the lion’s den that was my home life. These experiences live in my body in many ways still, like the childhood habit of hunching my shoulders forward over my heart that persists to this day.

It occurred to me early on that this is what the world must feel like to women and girls, all the time. Maybe not at the surface of consciousness, but always there, and underlying everything. The need to walk on eggshells around men - to be hyper-vigilant as they move through the world. To assess every interaction and circumstance for potential danger. To take constant precautions that their behavior doesn’t “provoke” a man into violence, despite the fact that such precautions are futile in the face of the random and arbitrary nature of irrational male hostility.

As a boy, I felt an alliance and kinship with women and girls. I felt closer and more connected to them in our roles as potential prey than I did to my male friends - most of whom knew nothing, or cared nothing, about my situation at home.

That changed as I grew larger, stronger, and more intimidating. I remember feeling a deep sadness one night as I watched a woman fearfully cross to the well-lit side of the street as I lumbered towards her in my bulky fifteen-year-old body. I realized that I would always be initially perceived as a threat by some women, now, and that there was no going back. I was one of “them”.

But, something else changed around that same time, as I grew bigger and stronger. After one final attempt to physically dominate me, my father learned that those days had passed. I fought back, and it didn’t end well for him. For me either, in an emotional or psychological sense. But he was never physically  violent towards me again, and my mother told me that after that incident, he became less violent towards her, and generally more quiet and sad.

I went on to walk through the world with very little fear of ever being dominated like that again. A violent childhood had trained me to react quickly when boys my age and older - and later, men - would try to bully me or take away my autonomy. It wasn’t a talent I was proud of, but it serve me well, for a while. In essence, I physically grew out of my particular victimhood.

This is not something that most women are allowed to do. Biology and culture discourage most women from developing their minds and bodies into defensive weapons adequate to the task of fending off or disincentivizing male aggression. So they work out thousands of strategies to navigate the dangers of a world populated by potential predators.

Women did not create this situation. And, while some women choose a strategy of allying with the threat in order to enjoy the proximal benefits and conditional safety of the relationship (for which I won’t judge them), most women would prefer that things were different. And right now some women are fighting for that change. Sometimes at tremendous risk to themselves, their careers, their relationships, and families.

The comparison to my own experience is ham-handed because women are not children, despite our culture’s attempts to infantilize and disempower them - but when I was a kid, I lived in constant hope that some adult would step in and speak up for me, and stand between me an my father’s violence. I wondered why no one ever held him to account, to shame or force him to stop his violence against women and children. But no one showed up.

So, men. Where are we in this current crisis? And where are we in general, while the women we know and care about (or don’t know, for that matter) are forced to swim carefully with sharks, tiptoe around sleeping ogres, struggling to flourish under the omnipresent shadow of potential assault, rape, and murder? Are we calling out our brothers on their casual misogyny? Are we calling them out on their overt acts of violence? Are we even trying to look at the world through the eyes of the more vulnerable among us? Are we adding our voices to theirs as they plead and shout for change? Or are we silent, for fear of loss of status or opportunity, loss of friendship, or fear of attracting ridicule, or similar violence towards ourselves?

What kind of men are we - what brand of human can we claim to be - if we stay silent right now, and allow our sisters to walk alone in dread and fear, while we stroll on, oblivious in our certainty that their peril is not our peril?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it is time to start discussing them.