Mental Health: A Relatively Overlooked Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Emily Shen (V)

March 6th, 2020: the last day that Pingry students, faculty, and staff were on campus before the implementation of masks and social distancing measures, and the last day of school as we knew it. As students shared their plans for spring break and discussed the possibility of the break being extended, no one could have predicted that COVID-19 would affect their lives as much as it did. The pandemic has disrupted the globe both economically and socially, drastically altering how people interact and how corporations operate. We watched as an event found more often in history textbooks than real life unfolded right before our eyes.

Millions of Americans have been infected with COVID-19 since last spring, and as of January 24th, more than 417,000 people have died in the U.S alone. The pandemic’s social and economic consequences — such as the loss of precious lives, the spiking unemployment rate, and necessary adjustments and sacrifices made to stop the virus’s spread — continue to heavily impact every individual and every family. Emotional consequences, therefore, tend to seem trivial in comparison and are often overlooked.

During the pandemic, many people with mental illnesses have been significantly affected and require more support. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, before COVID-19, nearly one in every five U.S. adults reported having a mental illness, with eleven million of those adults having or previously having a serious mental illness that impaired their life in some way. In these unprecedented times, the number of those needing mental health services has only increased. As a result of the social, economic, and personal stress induced by the pandemic, more than one in three adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic, compared to the one in ten reported in 2019 prior to COVID-19. Substance abuse has also become a bigger problem during the pandemic, and without external interference, the problem has only been exacerbated over time.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S.’s mental health care system was failing to meet people’s needs, especially for people of color and of marginalized gender identities. Systematically oppressed people are arguably more in need of mental health services as they statistically face disproportionately higher rates of poverty, criminalization, employment discrimination, and homelessness. As the U.S. and many other countries reallocated funding to focus on doing damage control for the pandemic itself, the issue of already-insufficient funding for mental health services only worsened. According to the World Health Organization, over 60% of countries worldwide reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people. Some of the most notable groups that experienced disruptions include children and adolescents (reported at 72%), older adults (reported at 70%), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (reported at 61%). Although WHO has recommended that countries increase their funding to cover mental health services, the cost of resolving other pandemic-related medical issues cannot be neglected. National leaders are in a challenging position as they try to balance the effects of the pandemic as a whole.

On a positive note, national and international health organizations recognize the growing significance of people’s mental and emotional health and are taking actions to ensure that individuals can take care of themselves during this time of uncertainty. For example, the Centers for Disease Control has shared information and recommendations regarding stress coping mechanisms on their online resources page. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has also provided resources to address the pressing issue of mental and emotional wellbeing during the pandemic. More accessible mental health care via telemedicine and teletherapy — where individuals can seek help from professionals over the phone or remotely — alleviates the stress caused by social isolation and provides patients with hope for a better tomorrow.  Members of the Pingry community have been working together over the past year and supporting each other through difficult times. If you are struggling with your emotional and mental health, please seek help from your family, friends, or a trusted adult. Visit “Wellness and Support” on the Pingry website where you can find counselors and resources to address your needs. We are here for each other, and nothing is more important than staying safe and connected!

The James Harden Trade

The James Harden Trade

By Vared Shmuler (IV) and Cayden Barrison (IV)

On January 13th, the NBA community was shocked by one of the most remarkable trades in recent basketball history. The disgruntled James Harden was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets in a historic four-team trade. The Houston Rockets received four first-round picks, four pick swaps, Victor Oladipo, and two role players. The Indiana Pacers received the solid 26-year-old Caris Levert and a second-round selection. The Cleveland Cavaliers were able to obtain the 4th year center Jarrett Allen and forward Taurean Prince. However, this trade’s main focus was the 8x All-Star, 3x Scoring Champion, and former MVP James Harden. He reunites with former teammate and MVP Kevin Durant and 6x All-Star Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn to possibly create one of the best NBA trios in basketball history.

For a while, it had become apparent that James Harden was not satisfied with the Houston Rockets after years of playoff disappointment. In a recent attempt to satisfy the superstar, the Rockets’ general manager traded for the point guard and former All-Star, John Wall, but it was to no avail. Harden went as far as failing to attend practice and continuously criticizing the rest of the team for the Rockets’ misfortune. He made it very apparent that he had no intentions of continuing his career with the Houston organization. Nets general manager Sean Marks ultimately made the trade happen despite the massive haul in talent and draft capital required.

While this trade seems excellent on paper, it has caused some problems that the Nets will now have to deal with soon. With their newly acquired player, the Nets will now have three ball-dominant superstars in Brooklyn, which will end up granting fewer shots to each player. Having come from an offense built entirely around him for over eight years, Harden will now have to transition into a more balanced offense, which leaves the NBA followers to ask: will the three superstars be able to adapt to their new positions? The uncertainty around this question will heavily depend on Kyrie Irving, the point guard of the Brooklyn Nets. Irving is known for creating messy situations when he does not get his way, which is reflected in his short stint with the Boston Celtics. Not only is he known for creating controversy, but Irving reportedly does not have a great relationship with the head coach, Steve Nash, and often makes odd comments and controversial decisions off the court. Irving’s rash choices pose a huge problem that needs to be addressed for the Nets to make a championship run this season. Another primary concern for the team is defense. The Nets, while being offensively stacked, may have a tough team keeping opposing teams from scoring at will. The Nets may have to also address this to solidify their playoff contention.

So, how will this trade affect the Nets franchise as well as the rest of the NBA? Although the Nets acquired James Harden, they will have difficulties adding some younger talent to their roster in years to come. By trading away several picks and Caris Levert and Jarrett Allen, the Nets relinquished an abundance of young talent. With their starting lineup at an average age of about 30, the Nets will struggle to play on par with the younger generation of basketball players in the coming years. Not only will the team face problems within their team, but they will also have other teams such as the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers standing in their path to the NBA Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference could also thwart Brooklyn’s chance for their first championship in over 40 years. For now, NBA fans can only sit back and watch greatness unfold.

Pros and Cons of Pandemic Fashion

By Grace Fernicola (III)

Let me take you to a simpler time. Your alarm clock rings, you drag yourself out of bed, and the daily ritual of getting dressed commences. Students might have designed their outfit for that day around an event at Pingry, plans after school, or even something as cavalier as their mood that particular morning. But now, after almost a year of living with COVID-19, morning routines have dwindled down to throwing a sweatshirt over a pajama top, sliding our feet into the fluffy slippers next to the bed, and, if there is time, a quick comb through the hair—comfort we never could have imagined before the dress code was relaxed.

This style is neither limited to Pingry students or 2020. For years, American fashion has been trending towards more comfortable, casual clothes. Pre-pandemic sales of “leisure wear” had already been increasing due to people of all ages becoming more interested in comfortable workout clothes, rather than stuffy business clothes. As such, with the onset of the pandemic, sales of “leisure wear” at companies like Lululemon and Nike have skyrocketed.

Fashion forecasters are now saying that comfortable clothes may be here to stay post-pandemic. So don’t fret. We will most likely not have to throw our sweats to the back of our closets as the world slowly returns to normal. Pingry may even make the current relaxed dress code permanent, so we can all enjoy our day in pajama pants and hoodies for school years to come. Great news, right? Well, maybe not.  

Despite the benefits of our current quick and low-maintenance dress routines, wearing sweats all day might have some unforeseen negative consequences. Psychologist Carolyn Mair stresses that wearing certain clothes can affect people’s moods and confidence. Mair stated that “clothing is fundamental in how we are perceived. In turn, this affects our sense of self-worth and ultimately, how we see ourselves compared with others, our self-esteem.” A prime example of this is the effect of wearing baggy clothes. Baggy clothes are often associated with sadness or depression, and dressing the same way every day for months on end can make you feel bored and unmotivated. By continuously making the same dreary, drab clothing choices, the days become indistinguishable, especially in the already blurred time of remote learning. 

As we start to move forward this year, I would suggest getting out of bed and dressing in something different than what you wore the day before, as even doing something this small and simple can actually help break the monotonous routine of our days, even going so far as to make us feel more put-together and productive. Psychologist De’Von Patterson said, “Some people may have an easier time being productive if they recreate the cues associated with their productivity. If they’re getting dressed, that puts them in the mindset to work or study.” Brightly colored clothes or a pre-pandemic outfit choice once in a while might lift our moods and help us focus as we sit down and prepare ourselves for online classes.

How we dress is a form of self-expression, and it is a way to present ourselves to the world in our own unique way. Many people think of clothing as an important part of their individuality, especially with there being multiple style variations in society today. “We live in a very visual world,” says Susan Swimmer, Creative Director of Evie Marques jewelry and a former fashion editor and TV commentator. “Clothes are your instant messaging system. They reflect how you feel and how you project that to the world.” The common leisure-wear outfits we now see so often in our school halls have become an unofficial uniform, leaving little room for individuality. Some students may be missing the opportunity for the creativity that we had each morning before the pandemic. The loss of the opportunity to control the way we present ourselves to others at a time when we cannot control so much of what is happening in the world around us can cause more stress and sadness, whether we realize it or not.

When you wake up tomorrow morning, do not be afraid to switch up your clothing choices for the day. Small steps like these might be the first steps in returning to the normalcy that we all crave, even behind your mask and plexiglass.

GME to the Moon: How Redditors Upstaged Wall Street

GME to the Moon: How Redditors Upstaged Wall Street

Andrew Wong (V)

The Wall Street Bets Reddit Community, affectionately referred to as r/WallStreetBets, proudly describes itself as “like 4Chan found a Bloomberg Terminal.” So-called YOLO (“You Only Live Once”) trades are the order of the day on this subreddit, with users dumping thousands of dollars into high-risk, high-volatility trades that essentially treat the stock market like a massive casino. Upon visiting the board for the first time, users are greeted with posts on dozens of these potential YOLO trades that have the potential to either make you a millionaire, or absolutely rob you––usually the latter. Yet even as these YOLO trades go bust, many of the Redditors take pride in their massive losses, posting pictures of hundreds of thousands of dollars lost on high-risk options and trades. 

However, when these trades do go right, one can become a millionaire practically overnight. This was the case with Gamestop (GME), a YOLO trade started by a user u/DeepF——Value, a 34-year-old financial educator from Massachusetts named Keith Gill, who mostly posts cat memes on Twitter and Reddit. Gill originally placed $54,000 on GME in September of 2020, when GME traded at roughly $8.50 a share. The bet soon gained momentum on r/WallStreetBets when Gill posted an update on January 11, 2021. Users started buying the stock en masse, sending the price to about $65 a share by January 22. 

Wall Street hedge funds soon took notice of this sudden uptick in GME’s stock price, and immediately saw an opportunity to make some quick money. GME’s stock price was indeed heavily overvalued: the company itself was not expected to turn a profit until 2024, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was in severe financial distress. Expecting the stock to nosedive owing to Gamestop’s precarious financial situation and poor fundamentals, investors short sold the stock. By January 22, 140% of GME’s public float had been shorted, making it the most shorted stock on the market.

Seeing how GME had been extremely shorted by Wall Street hedge funds, members of r/WallStreetBets soon found themselves with a golden opportunity. If they could get users on the board to buy more shares of GME (which would increase the stock price), hedge funds would have to buy back the stock to cover, which would further increase the stock price and cause a short squeeze, thus sending the stock price soaring.

On January 25, the plan was put into motion. Swathes of users bought GME (nearly 175 million shares were traded that day), pledging to send “Gamestop to the Moon!” The internet soon took notice and “GME to the Moon” was trending on multiple social media platforms that day. Influencers hoping to make a quick buck posted screenshots of their positions and asked their followers to buy into the stock. Millennial college students looking to pay off their college debts hopped on the trend, dumping their stimulus checks and whatever savings they could scrape together into GME. Gen-Zers, many of whom had never even touched the stock market before, started accounts on free trading platforms such as Robinhood to hop on the GME rocket and become part of history. Never before in stock market history had so many people been united together in a singular goal to buy a stock.

 This sudden influx of people buying GME caused the stock’s price to rise sharply, as expected. A gamma squeeze was also triggered by traders scrambling to buy options in order to hedge their short positions and protect themselves from further risk, which further increased the stock price. By the time the market closed on January 26, GME had risen 92.71% to a price of $147.98 per share. During after-hours trading, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter and posted a link to the r/WallStreetBets subreddit with the caption “Gamestonk!”, sending the price of the stock to $200. By the time the market closed the next day on the 27, GME was trading at $483 a share, an increase of almost 750% from its stock price just a week prior, and an increase of more than 1000% for the entire year.

In the span of two days, Redditors and YOLO investors who had placed thousands of dollars into GME found themselves with millions of dollars in newly acquired wealth. Meanwhile, hedge funds who had dumped billions of dollars into short positions on GME found themselves losing their entire position to the short squeeze. Morgan Stanley reported that it had seen some of the largest de-grossing actions in nearly 10 years, meaning hedge funds worked to cover their short positions and to sell stock in other companies in order to limit their volatility exposure as GME’s stock price took off. Other funds, who had bet big on the GME short, simply couldn’t cover their losses. Among the biggest of these losers would be Melvin Capital, a $12 billion hedge fund who had staked out a multibillion dollar short position on GME. In the wake of the short squeeze, Melvin found itself losing nearly 30% of its value on its failed GME short, necessitating a $2.75 billion buyout from Citadel and Point72 Asset Management in order to prevent the fund from going under.

As of the time of writing, GME is now trading at roughly $58, thanks to a combination of brokerages restricting trading of GME, short ladders by hedge funds in order to force a selloff, and a loss of interest from retail traders. Wall Street itself has been reminded that retail traders, ordinary people, are still very much a force on the market, and they too, have as much of a right and ability as do those working in multi-billion dollar hedge funds. This event, when a group of retail investors, redditors, millennials and Gen-Zers all came together and managed to upset Wall Street, will certainly go down as an event to remember, an event that will help to define the Millennial and Gen-Z generations. 

“Facts Don’t Lie”: FYISci’s Guide to Checking Your Sources

By Kristin Osika (V)

In almost every aspect of our lives, data plays a central role in decision-making. Categorical rankings determine our college lists, polls sway our political leanings, and the latest COVID-19 case statistics determine whether or not we deem it safe to venture outside of the house. With modern technology facilitating the collection and communication of data, facts are at our fingertips: social media, news networks, and search engines provide easy, efficient access to necessary information, and, as a result, we have the opportunity to learn and know more about the world and each other than ever before. 

While this superabundance of data has innumerable benefits, it can also blind us from the truth. In favor of convenience, we sometimes fail to question the integrity of the source we gather our information from. Accordingly, with the rise of our data-focused culture, there has been an increase in misinformation, which, given the ongoing pandemic, is arguably the most topical in science. Because authentic scientific research papers can be exceedingly difficult for the average person to comprehend, we rely almost solely on secondary sources for coherent interpretations, especially for information about COVID-19. Think about the most recent statistic you’ve heard about the pandemic. Do you know the source of that statistic? Chances are, you heard it on the news, read it in an infographic on social media, or heard it from a murmur in the hallways. These are the places almost all of us receive our information. When we are inundated with graphs, tables, percentages, comparisons, and daunting figures, we turn to the most coherent, visually-appealing interpretation, in order to make sense of the “information overload.” It’s only natural.

Unfortunately, the data presented to us may not always be accurate; both the creator and consumer of research-based sources can perpetuate misinformation. In a time of widespread uncertainty and unease, the validated, scientific truth can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, and creators are aware of this. Even unconsciously, some creators on platforms, such as Instagram or Facebook, might misrepresent data to conform to a specific political agenda, incite or quell fears about current events, or promote or degrade a product or lifestyle. It is surprisingly easy to portray accurate, scientific data out of context and thus push forward an idea that may not be based in fact.

Given the increasing amount of misinformation circulating in the media, how do we know what to believe? To answer this question, we need to return to science. When viewed with a critical eye, authentic research provides an infallible information source.

While primary sources provide the most direct information, specific secondary sources can also be helpful and significantly more efficient to read. Several indicators can determine how reliable a secondary source is: 

Source Citations. The inclusion of proper citations is critical to a secondary source’s integrity, as long as the references accurately support the ideas espoused in the source’s body. 

Author credentials. Ask yourself: who is the person communicating this information? Do they have expertise? Are they educated on the subject matter? Authors who have spent significant time researching and studying a topic are much more likely to convey accurate information to the reader than those without such expertise, who may instead be providing an opinionated narrative.

Mode of publication. Well-established journals, news networks, and websites are more likely to be reliable than random blog sites or social media posts; often, the former have thorough review processes that vet articles for clarity and accuracy before releasing them to the public. 

Bias, specific agendas, and convenience saturate our media and can impede our understanding of the truth; however, not all publications perpetuate misinformation. Like FYI Sci, several evidence-based information sources can provide you with current, accurate, and easy-to-understand reviews of primary literature, as long as they meet each of the indicators above. Though our world may be apt for the spread of misinformation, if we continuously question our sources and maintain a healthy degree of skepticism, we can discern fact from fallacy to arrive at the truth. 

Happy New Year! Let’s dive into the latest tech news for 2021!

By Aneesh Karuppur (VI)

First, an update from the Pingry Student Technology Committee (STC) and its subsidiary projects. Starting this February, the Code Team, in which students program solutions to Pingry issues, is running a weekly workshop on different fundamental tools, from GitHub version control to Python-Flask web design. Moreover, the Apple Certified Mac Technician (ACMT) training group has started their comprehensive regimen on laptop repairs. After the ACMTs pass their final exams from Apple, they will be able to diagnose and repair Apple computers owned by the School and members of the Pingry community. STC team meetings have lately been occupied with weekly presentations from different project groups, including the 3D Printing Team, the Communications Team, and the Tech-Ed Team. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, STC Help Desk has been open for some time now! Now that we have a regular schedule of in-person school, the friendly, qualified STC Team Members who staff each flex and CP Helpdesk shift are here to assist you with any of your tech needs. Whether it’s a new application, like Zoom, or an old “friend” like the printer or Google Docs, STC Help Desk in the Tech Office is the place to go to receive quick tips and pointers. Be sure to stop by if you need anything tech-related!

From January 11 to 14, the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was in full swing. Traditionally an in-person event, CES pivoted to a fully virtual setup this year to accommodate for the pandemic. LG hinted at the impending launch of their rollable phone. Unlike folding phones (which are on the market if you’re willing to pay the princely price tags), LG’s device would not suffer from the durability and practical difficulties of opening and closing a massive phone like a book. Instead, according to patent information, it could simply extend one edge of the device and unfurl a wider display in the process. As usual, several PC makers including HP and Acer revealed new updates to their laptop lineups. Finally there were a few one-off products, like the tech-enabled N95 masks from gaming hardware-maker Razer. These clear masks feature active ventilation. LED lights, and self-sanitization functionality. Adding on to products that nobody asked for but seem pretty cool, Cadillac hinted at an electric air taxi drone-car mashup, Samsung invented a robot butler, and the Infinity Game Table converted classic board games into a tabletop touchscreen.

Finally, let’s turn to the issue of social media. There has been renewed scrutiny into social media networks as a result of misinformation and plans for violence in recent months. Platforms have been banning and suspending the accounts of individuals with dangerous or objectionable content. In an age where seemingly everything happens on social media, lawmakers have been grappling with whether privately-owned social media platforms can be defined as public fora with free speech protections. Furthermore, laws that provide digital platforms with immunity from hosted content, such as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, have come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons. Interestingly, print media publications do not afford those same protections. More important than the individual details is the glaring need for tech literacy in American society and policy. Congressional lawmakers have oftentimes demonstrated a woefully limited understanding of the internet and its platforms, so it’s important that the public involvement of the next generation of Americans is well-informed. 

Thanks for dropping by on this Tech Column! Hopefully the weather will be a tad warmer when we return for the next issue.

Ending The Uncivil War: What Joe Biden Needs to Do to Unite America

By Andrew Wong (V)

On January 20, in a deserted Washington D.C. guarded by more than 25,000 National Guard soldiers, Joe Biden took the Oath of Office to become the 46th President of the United States. 

President Biden takes the reins of the nation in an extremely tumultuous time. Never before in American history has the population been so polarized. According to Pew Research Center, both Democrats and Republicans now lean further to the political left and right, respectively, than at any other point in American history. The reasoning behind this shift may not even be grounded in changing ideals over policy, but rather, in hatred for the other side. A recent study conducted by a group of political scientists from Northwestern, NYU, Stanford, and Harvard which looked at political sectarianism in America concluded that a majority of Republican and Democrat voters today are united not by their love of their own party’s policy, but rather by a hatred of the opposition. As a result, both parties end up moving towards their political extremes as they seek to counter everything the other party stands for––a self-fulfilling prophecy that only widens the gap between Democrat and Republican. 

Perhaps the best example of this great disunity in our nation comes in the form of the violence on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, when a group of right-wing extremists and anarchist agitators broke into the Capitol Building to try and stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. This tragedy shows us that American society faces two major issues:

  1. Americans are losing faith in the democratic system.
  2. Some Americans unfortunately believe that the outlets for them to express their grievances with the government have failed to the point where violence becomes acceptable

The loss of faith in our democratic system can be found directly in the fallout surrounding the 2020 election and the general anger towards a gridlocked Congress. Polls show that more than 74 percent of Republicans and over 42 percent of Independents believed Joe Biden was elected by illegitimate means: a dangerous proposition in a country built on the democratic process. The refusal of election authorities to even listen to this bloc of voters and seriously look into irregularities surrounding the election only exacerbated this situation and only served to assuage fears that something was afoot. 

One can argue about what right these voters had to challenge the results of the election and the validity of their evidence, but nonetheless, the lack of an independent investigation into these election concerns, even if they were built upon shaky evidence, only further damaged voters’ faith in the democratic process. Such an investigation would not have been unusual. Keep in mind, after the 2016 Presidential Election, Democrats pursued a two-year-long investigation into “Russian collusion with the Trump campaign” under the Mueller probe, which was eventually shown to be built on its own mound of shoddy evidence. An independent investigation to debunk theories surrounding fraud in the 2020 election would have gone a long way in preventing what had happened at the Capitol. Even if the investigation were as fruitless and frivolous as the Mueller probe, it would have at least let the people know they were being listened to. 

The second ingredient in creating the explosion at the Capitol was extreme distrust of the government. Americans are tired of seeing the constant gridlock of Congress and the inability of Republican and Democratic caucuses to even compromise on basic legislation. Perhaps the most glaring example of this incompetence and deadlock has been the general failure of Congress to pass meaningful coronavirus relief legislation, even after months of debate. When these two factors of mistrust in the electoral process and anger at the government were combined, it created a ticking time bomb.

Political scientists define pressure release valves in a democracy as means for the public to voice their discontent with the government. Such valves include elections for representatives, a media that values free speech, and civil disobedience and protest. However, with a sizable portion of the American electorate believing the election was rigged, in conjunction with a gridlocked Congress, and months-long COVID-related lockdowns brought down on the people by the government, many of the pressure release valves in American society failed. It was only a matter of time before all the pressure and anger over a questionable election, ineffective legislative branch, and crippling lockdowns exploded and ordinary citizens took matters into their own hands. Let me be clear: violence is inexcusable in all forms, and I wholly condemn the actions of these extremists at the Capitol. Nonetheless, history clearly shows us that when the government fails to fix the pressure release valves, shuts down opinions and ignores requests for change, people will resort to extreme means to make a point. We saw it last spring in Minneapolis and Portland in the context of racial unrest, and we saw it happen again on January 6.

In his inaugural address, President Biden promised to be a “President for all Americans” and “end the uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” As America picks up the pieces and looks towards the future, President Biden must accomplish two things if he wishes to unite this nation. One, he must win back Americans’ trust in the federal government and Congress. The second task is to fix the pressure release systems of the nation, and make it clear to citizens that their government can hear them, and cares about them. While there is no cut-and-dry method to accomplish this, certain tasks, such as passing stronger coronavirus relief bills and safely reopening the economy, would go a long way in helping heal a wounded nation. Biden’s ability to be a successful president is contingent upon him figuring out how to solve these two problems in a way that is beneficial for all Americans. If these problems are allowed to persist, they will only continue to strain the bonds between us.

Jack Kerouac’s Influence on Music and Kapur’s Songs for the Road

By Rhea Kapur (VI)

I recently finished reading the book On the Road by Jack Kerouac. You might have heard of it—the novel is an American classic, a roman à clef, an autobiographical chronicle of Kerouac’s (in the text, Sal Paradise’s) adventures hitchhiking across the country with his writerly friends: Neal Cassady (the infamous Dean Moriarty), Allen Ginsburg (Carlo Marx), and William S. Burroughs (Old Bull Lee), to name a few. Rife with casual sex, drugs, alcohol, poetry, jazz, and endless exploration, On the Road paints a comprehensive portrait of 1950s America, and it has come to define the Beat Generation: postwar nonconformists, disillusioned bohemians… those who championed spontaneity, psychedelics, and the journey, not the destination. On the Road is an anthem, the Beatnik ode to freedom, to wanderlust, to the quest for “it,” whatever “it” is—authenticity, purpose, the American ideal. The novel’s influence on literature and writing has been widely studied, but I’d like to explore how On the Road has shaped music and individual musicians as well as introduce a playlist that, to me, matches the novel’s message.

There’s no better place to start than the 10,000 Maniacs classic, “Hey Jack Kerouac.” Natalie Merchant, the band’s lead singer and main songwriter, penned the folksy tune, infusing her own opinions and frustrations with Kerouac and other Beatniks—like Ginsburg and Burroughs—into her work. She sings directly to Kerouac, who is at once the “brightest star” (after On the Road caught fire) and broken “little boy lost in our world that hated;” she recognizes the “tear-stained shock of the world” that hit when he “[went] away without saying goodbye.” Perhaps this line is a reference to Kerouac’s early death (caused by his excessive drinking), but I think it also speaks to the departure of the greater Beat Generation. Their call to pack and drive—to hit the road and see where it travels, to stand by the emptiness of the harsh red horizon they chased—faded almost entirely as the counterculture and civil rights movements of the 1960s and ‘70s took root. And what about where it stands now, in the progressive, fractured 2021? The wanderlust is relatable, and the lifestyle alluring, as Merchant sings, but in today’s context, On the Road reads like an anachronism—a privileged, misogynistic, old boy’s travelogue that offers no place of worth for women and people of color. 

Nevertheless, many other artists revered Kerouac and the Beat Generation, or were at least considerably influenced by their message at its prime. There’s John Lennon (“Beatles” derives from “Beat!”), a huge fan of the writings of both Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg. There’s Bob Dylan, the regular Dean Moriarty himself! On the Road “blew his mind… and changed his life,” an influence particularly clear in Dylan’s songs “On the Road Again” and “Desolation Row” (inspired by another Kerouac work, Desolation Angels, along with Allen Ginsburg’s city poetry). There’s Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead… and the list goes on. Kerouac’s anthem of freedom, transcendance, and exploration lends beautifully to music, an art that itself strains to be free, to embody being free, to provide subconscious escape. Aspects of his subject matter may now read as out of touch, but it is because of this paralleled identity that Kerouac’s influence will always remain in tune.

I leave you with a playlist of my own, entitled “There was nowhere to go but everywhere.” The title is derived from one of my favorite passages in On the Road: “…because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars, generally the Western stars.” I’ve filled it with all of the songs and artists mentioned above, along with others that embody Kerouac’s resigned, inexplicably consuming wanderlust. You’ll hear the AC/DC classic, “Highway to Hell”; Train’s “Drive By” and “California 37;” “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers Band; Green Day’s “Stray Heart;” and many more. It’s a playlist for the open road – Kerouac’s road, yes, but also the Beatnik road, my road, and maybe even yours, too. Give it a listen, and keep faith; music will take you everywhere. 

Can’t Help but to “McLove” it: Superbad

Can’t Help but to “McLove” it: Superbad

By Emma Drzala (V)

With limited access to movie theatres over the past year, one must rely on the one thing nothing can seem to beat: streaming services. Netflix, Hulu, and HBOMax have all gained immense popularity this year; so, maybe it’s a sign to go back and rewatch an old classic. My movie of choice: Superbad. Directed by Greg Mottola and written by comedic geniuses Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, Superbad is a raunchy comedy that keeps you laughing for 1 hour and 59 minutes. The movie follows two inseparable best friends, Seth and Evan, who are hoping to get in one last “hurrah” before the conclusion of their senior year. The two friends, however, are only to be considered “super” unpopular. With two weeks to go in high school, the odd pairing, along with their sidekick Fogell, are finally invited to a high school party by the prettiest and most popular girl in school – but there is a catch. They must find a way to supply alcohol for the party. The three boys hope to impress the girls and eventually become their “headaches” of boyfriends. Fogell attains a fake ID under the name “McLovin,” but his attempt to buy alcohol quickly goes south. He becomes buddies with two lackluster cops and engages in some not-so-legal activities with them. Meanwhile, Seth and Evan are still trying to find ways to procure alcohol before the party begins. Superbad captures the awkwardness of the high school experience and dives deep into Seth and Evan’s comedic friendship. It is not just a movie that lands some random jokes, but the whole concept behind this masterpiece is where all the comedy lies. With stars like Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Seth Rogan (Officer Michael), and Christopher Mintz (Fogell), a Rotten Tomatoes score of 88%, and a spot on Empire’s 500 best movies of all time, Superbad is not a movie you will want to miss. The crude and inappropriate jokes make this movie what it is, and I must say that Superbad was nothing less than comedic perfection.

Kapur on Rock Music and Friendship

By Rhea Kapur (VI)

I have a friend who loves rock music. Floyd, The Who, The Byrds, Rolling Stones, The Doors, Guns N’ Roses…you name it, Sanjana knows it. I don’t just mean their greatest hits, either; she is no poser. Sanjana highlights the forgotten gems, the underrated masterpieces: Cream’s “Badge,” The Beatles’ “It’s All Too Much.” And she has the exceptional ability to detail every step of a rock musician’s life and loves by memory, whether it’s the history of Bon Jovi’s Sanctuary Sound recording studio (built in the basement of his New Jersey ranch home!) or George Harrison’s spiritual beliefs (he embraced Hinduism and transcendental meditation). I knew next to nothing about the genre before I met her, so the fact that I can recall all of this now—thinking alone, off the top of my head—I’d say that only further confirms how vibrant, how infectious, how real her love for rock music is. Sanjana taught me that rock has a beat, a rhythm, a personality and character like no other. It’s an anthem that pulses in stride with your heartbeat, she’d say—one that pushes you to float and strain free and live in the moment, the literal embodiment of carpe diem. There’s something brilliant and creative in rock music: where else can you find a haven where soul, extraordinary lyrics, and every metal instrument imaginable meet in the heat of intensity, charisma, insanity, thrill? To consider a genre powerful enough to define a generation, and to journey back in time while listening now and still feel that indelible, mythic mark…it’s an extraordinary thing. Difficult for me to articulate, but Sanjana—she understands it, she really does. I don’t think I see rock music at her level—what I described is a mere taste of how she feels about it—but honestly? I prefer it that way. Rock reminds me of how different we both are, and of how we’ve grown together to find comfort and our own special place in that difference. That is, without a doubt, what I love most about our friendship. This holiday season, friends, I encourage you to embrace the eccentric music tastes of those you hold dear. Who knows? You might find a couple hidden gems of your own.