Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mississippi John Hurt - The Ballad Of Stagger Lee

I love this song. There're a lot of versions, and the story changes quite a bit, but the song is really about a scene that was reality for a lot of people in a certain time and place.

Take a look at those two fellows at around the two minute mark of this video. They're probably not the best guitar players around, or the best singers, they might not know a lot of songs or how to play in every key, their clothes probably aren't the cleanest, and I'll bet that their shoes are more hole than sole, but they are the straightest, strongest young black men on the block, and those are the two coolest hats that I've ever seen, worn well, whether those hats smell too good or not.

Black, white, or Puerto Rican, when a strong, proud young man has nothing but a name, a dick, and a really cool hat, you will be messing with the hat at your peril. And be careful, too! You might just get what you asked for. That was the scene.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

One Thing That I'm Not Is A Gambler

I’ve been guilty of one thing or another from time to time in my life, and guilty of some things almost constantly. If you ask the right people, they’ll spin you quite a tale, oh yeah, and they’ll give you quite a list of my transgressions. But in my defense I can at least offer the fact that I have not touched all of the bases that have presented themselves. There are some temptations that I have resisted successfully.

Take gambling, please!

Gambling has never appealed to me. I have been exposed to it, and in fact I have had a certain amount of luck at it, but I have walked away. Believe me, even I was surprised.

Take the California Lottery, for instance. They started that in the 1980s, if I recall. The first week that tickets were on sale, I bought one scratcher for one dollar. It was a winner! Two dollars! Double your money! So on day one I was ahead. It only made me suspicious.

How about Las Vegas? I was in the U.S. Navy for a while, and I was posted to a base just outside of Vegas. We went to town all the time. There was a bus we could take down, the only trick being that we had to walk from the main gate of the base down to the main road, which was a matter of almost four miles.* Going was easy, because it was light out. Coming back was harder, because night in the desert is a dark and strange thing. Looking up, it almost hurt your eyes. You could clearly see all hundred million stars. Looking down, though, you couldn’t see your own chest, much less your feet, much less the road. Not to worry, though. The vermin that were laying on the road for the warmth and comfort of it could see and hear you coming, and they got out of your way. You could plainly hear them clearing off, the scratching of the scorpions and tarantulas and the slithering of the snakes, and I often softly thanked them for that.

None of us were twenty-one-years-old, but they let us drink anyway in most places. Smaller places downtown, and anywhere at all out on the Strip, were wide open. The mobsters were in charge in those days, and as long as you looked like you’d spend some money and not make trouble you were okay. We’d have a few drinks, watch people gamble, and get something to eat in one of the coffee shops. All of the coffee shops had slot machines; the coffee shops in casinos had them right outside where you had to pass close to them. Those were the only slots that I played. They were all nickel and dime, and they were set to pay over one hundred percent of the money played. They were “loss leaders,” they were there to give you a taste for winning. I’d just put the ten or twelve dimes in my pocket and say, “thanks!” In this way, I was ahead in Vegas, too.

Poker? Never in Las Vegas, certainly, but yes, I’ve been in one or two regular poker games over the years. I don’t consider poker to be gambling, though, not really. It’s a game of skill, and that is proven by the fact that the best players almost always come away winners. I played a very conservative game, and I was most often close to the break-even point at the end of the night.

Was I ever tempted to pursue any of these outlets? Not really. Over the years I purchased a certain number of tickets for the California Lottery, putting at risk something like fifty dollars all together. Of those, I had two winners: one for about twenty dollars and one for a little over seventy dollars. So I’m still way ahead in the California Lottery.

In Vegas, too, I’m still ahead. When my ex-wife and I were young, we liked to go to Vegas once every year, just the two of us, for two nights. The specials in those days were amazing, two nights and some coupons for less than fifty bucks. We never gambled at all, just fooled around in the room and ordered room service. Maybe a few nickels and dimes in the coffee house slots, which were still "big" winners. (i.e., fifteen nickels.) 

So whenever the opportunity arises for my detractors to complain about my shortcomings, I quietly think, but do not say out loud, “but at least I was never a gambler!” There are other behaviors that I am proud of never exhibiting, but you don’t get much credit for never beating your wife or your children.

*The things that jump into your mind while you are busy remembering something else can be quite remarkable! That long road from the main gate to the public road could be an exciting place. We were right next to Nellis Air Force Base, the headquarters and main training base of the Tactical Air Command. Those are the flyboys who practice the art of ground attack, and we were right in the middle of the Vietnam War at the time, so there was an awful lot of practicing going on. The planes took off over our access road. 

My job on the base was “outside storekeeper,” which meant that every weekday I got a list of things to pick up in town, some money to pay for it all, and a panel truck to use doing it. One day I was driving down to the public road, with Nellis to my left, just past my elbow hanging out the window, so to speak. Here comes an F-105 Thunderchief, low and fast, gear already up, and to my surprise, and the pilot’s as well, no doubt, he let go of a bomb. It was probably the typical load, a five-hundred pounder, and it did look big. Improperly attached! It arched down in the direction of the road in front of me, and before I could decide one way or the other, both I and the bomb had converged at just about the same point. It crashed into the desert close to the left edge of the road at almost the same time that I passed the spot, and thank Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger it was a practice bomb, five hundred pounds or so of concrete. 

I can see it now! No tumbling across the road, either, it buried its pointy nose neatly in the desert throwing only a smallish puff of sand. That, dear readers, was even better luck than not gambling.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Spin Easy Time!: On Christianity and Liberalism

It appears that I was a bit more abrasive back in the early days of this blog (2008). This post, however, seems to be even more important today than it was back in those times of simple nostalgia. Religion is an evil in the world in general, and as it is practiced by conservative American politicians it is absolutely Satanic. Read this, please, and weep.

Spin Easy Time!: On Christianity and Liberalism: Controversy generates better comments, so, for my own amusement, I offer you controversy. We should all be concerned about the absurd postu...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Idiots And Idiocracy

I try not to, but I fail. I desperately try not to, because it does not place me in an attractive light, but I still find myself mumbling under my breath often in the course of the day the simple word, “idiot!” or “idiots!” I apologize to those of you who should be offended by this habit, and believe me, my fellow Americans, there are a lot of you.

It is no longer a joke to say that our country has come to resemble that fictional, future America depicted in the movie, “Idiocracy,” more than it resembles any past iteration of itself. More fool us, for allowing that to happen. 

By now, students no longer seem to be learning anything besides some obscure modern job skills (and those only at university), no one seems to value knowledge or learning anymore, and most people cheerfully go through life unburdened by knowledge or understanding of any kind, beyond what is necessary to use Mapquest or operate a Facebook page. The average American’s meager store of historical knowledge is shallow and fifth-hand; it comes from TV shows written by people who have seen TV shows and movies about history that were based on magazine articles that may have been, in their turn, based on someone’s limited understanding of a couple of basic books on the subject. Thomas Jefferson evidently enjoyed horseback riding and exploiting his slave population for sex. Wow! Mission to be historically informed: accomplished!

This is a recipe for political disaster, and in fact, we are already in Act II of that play. Sad!

I do not exempt myself from the charges of idiocy that I throw around so freely. Far from it, I am as guilty as anyone, although the form of my idiocy is not typical. My amazing storehouse of unimportant, unmarketable, almost useless information notwithstanding, I perform idiotic acts of commission and omission on a daily basis, and I am capable of exhibiting idiotic behaviors for years and decades on end. (Would anyone like to know how many rounds-per-gun were carried by the Grumman Hellcat in 1944? Or the dimensions of the .50 caliber cartridge that they carried? I didn’t think so.)

Lord, give us the strength to abide in these preposterous times in which we find ourselves, and please, in your infinite mercy, allow us to understand that no one in the history of our race has ever been completely comfortable with what their world had become after they had outlived the world of their youth. Amen! 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Those Were The Days- Cream- 1968

To be read together with the below post of Young Man Blues.

Ginger Baker was a serious drummer. He was a bit busier than most classically trained kit-drummers, but that comes with being the drummer in a three-piece Rock and Roll outfit. His performance here is tightly controlled, well considered, and technically conventional. Not at all like Keith Moon’s approach to Young Man Blues. Moonie was a wild man.

Mr. Baker has always been famously impatient with interview questions about Keith Moon. He was known to say that Keith Moon was “not a real drummer,” or words to that effect. It’s easy to understand how he feels. He has never felt that the two of them were in the same musical category at all, and he’s right, in a way. They are as different as night and day.

For Mr. Baker, drumming is a skill and a science. For Mr. Moon, it was closer to assault and aggravated battery. Moonie only aimed his instruments at the song, locked the throttles full open, swung the drumsticks and hoped for the best. The guy never knew if he’d be sleeping at home that night, or at the hospital.

The drum part in Those Were the Days sounds like it is being played just as it was composed, and that is probably the case. He could be playing it from charts. At the very least, a chart could easily be created that would enable another talented professional to duplicate the performance.

In Young Man Blues, as is usually the case, it is inconceivable to imagine that Mr. Moon is playing from a chart. It is almost inconceivable to think that a chart of a typical Keith Moon performance could be created at all, or that anyone else could play it the same way, or would want to.

I suppose that I am in substantial agreement with Mr. Baker when I say that he is a great drummer, and Keith Moon is, well, Keith Moon. Actually, I think that they are both great, and I enjoy their work enormously. I was lucky enough to see them both on many occasions, and I can tell you, neither one ever disappointed an audience that I was part of.

(And did I mention that I had lunch one time with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in March, 1967, on Clapton’s birthday, no less? I’m sure that I’ve bragged about that already, hereon.)

Please forgive me for being somewhat obsessed with the music of my youth, but if you will only consider the matter for a moment I’m sure that you will understand it. You may realize that you are similarly obsessed with Guns and Roses, or Soundgarden, or De La Soul, or the Wu Tang Clan, or, who knows, the Dandy Warhols. I have managed to add to the canon in all of the decades following my Golden Period, continually finding new artists and genres to become obsessed with, in a more adult fashion, it’s true, but obsessed none the less. I hope, dear reader, that you have been as lucky as me in this endeavor. 

The Who - Young Man Blues, Isle of Wight 1970

Disclaimer: This is the music in my head. It happens to all of us, it’s a scientific fact: the music that hits us when we are young becomes our music forever. There were bands in later years that were arguably as “good” as the Who and Cream, but that will never matter much to those of us who lived our teens and early twenties in the 1960s. Those bands are our bands.

This 1970 Isle of Wight show is the Who at the height of their power. They are still playing with the ferocious Banzai Charge attitude of their earlier shows, but by this time they are presenting their songs with a slightly greater acknowledgment of the niceties of technical proficiency.

“Slightly greater . . .” For Keith Moon, the acknowledgment is the slightest of them all. Here, as always, technique and timekeeping take a back seat to fun, excitement, and propelling the music forward at maximum volume. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Trump Is Just The Headache

Don’t focus too much on The Donald. He’s just one aspect of our doom. And it’s a bad doom, is what it is.

Why, it’s enough to make one nostalgic for the days when all we had to worry about was slowly losing our constitutional rights, our freedoms, and most of our prosperity to the machinations of a cabal consisting of the national security state, big industrialists and billionaires, compliant politicians from both parties, miscellaneous financial mischief makers, and our newly militarized police forces. That was a slow descent into mediocrity that we got used to over the last thirty years, the way that a frog in slowly boiling water gets used to the temperature change.

At least that outfit left us some table scraps. At least they believed that we had the power to generate wealth for them, bless their hearts, even if they wanted almost all of that wealth for themselves.

Now we should be begging that good old cabal to save us from an Orwellian nightmare that is already well underway. The new bunch consists of the worst among the above mentioned actors, along with militant Christian reconstructionists and undiluted fascists. The middle has been scooped out and discarded, and the left is down to platoon strength against an army of many divisions. All that’s left is the right, so to speak. All of the poisons that dwell in the earth have hatched out, as Claudius said in another, similar context. They are all thriving in our current milieu of profound ignorance and rampant greed.

See what I mean? Herr-President-Would-Be-Fuerer-Drumpf is just a side-show. In four years, or, God forbid, eight years, we can forget about him. The entire universe of grief in all of this exists quite equally well with or without The Donald. He’s not the dangerous psychopath, he’s just the enabler. If it were not him, someone else would fill the role.

So, that’s choice one (the old cabal), and choice two (the new bunch). Will it be Scylla or Charybdis? The rocks or the whirlpool? The devil or the deep blue sea? In between the eyes or in the teeth? Name your poison! Our only hope is the best of this bad, bad choice. Choice number one offers only slightly more hope and a bit more prosperity, based on a somewhat greater understanding that our prosperity contributes to that of the bosses. Choice number two, to be honest, they seem content to sacrifice some measure of their own mega-prosperity for the supreme pleasure of reducing the rest of us to penury and debt-slavery. 

They seem downright cruel, don’t they? Whether they grind us down for religious reasons or out of shear viciousness will make little difference to us when we are begging our more fortunate brothers and sisters for food and shelter.

The only other possible fates waiting in the wings are even worse. Nuclear war is back on the threat horizon after a welcome absence of a couple of decades. Total environmental collapse is an up and coming possibility. Name your poison! Gosh, these are exciting times. And there are no White Knights out there on the horizon that I can see.

Death Watch

We live in the age of the death of dreams:

The Greeks’ dream of democracy;

The Romans’ dream of a republic;

The Renaissance dream of dignity and prosperity;

The Enlightenment dream of the rule of reason;

The American dream of freedom;

The dream of every family in the world to be treated with respect and allowed to live in peace.

We have been watching the assault on these dreams for decades now, and the forces of this evil are so close to their goals that I may live to see the day of their victory myself.

The entire world is in a plenty big mess, just look around, and America is now like a man who is bleeding out from a severed femoral artery and unable to breathe due to an obstruction in the windpipe but who seems most concerned with getting rid of his goddamned annoying headache.

Trump is the headache.


The big question is: are we already there?

As with environmental collapse, the triumph of totalitarianism has a tipping point beyond which a return to the status quo ante becomes impossible. Nor will there be any “Fortress of Democracy” to save the day this time. I don’t see anyone out there. Who would that be? Canada? Denmark? What about France? They’ll be lucky if they can avoid the worst of it themselves. I’m not expecting any cavalry to ride over this horizon to save us. Flip us over, boss, we’re done on this side.

It’s almost too terrible to consider, but the entire world could be reduced to the level of the old-fashioned Soviet Man. Dependent on handouts and subsidies; desperate to seize onto any small advantage; and only pretending to work, because they only pretend to pay us.

Trump’s Legacy

President DJT is too mediocre and lazy minded to actually exploit the chink in democracy’s armor that he has discovered. His lasting legacy will only be that he pointed it out to other, more talented would-be dictators.

All such unspeakable snakes in the future will follow Trump’s model:

Shout loudly and crudely how much you hate the things that most low-information voters hate;  

Make the lowest and most numerous groups in society think that you are one of them;

Condemn and demonize anyone and any group of individuals who know or understand pretty much anything at all;

Use a very simple vocabulary of mostly repeat slogans over and over again; and

Promise everyone exactly what they want, quickly, easily, and simultaneously.

You can’t lose! Go for it! And if you do your homework, not like this sleepwalking Bozo, your picture will hang in all of the temples forever. Your name will be the last name that we are required to learn.

Good luck, boss, and please be gentle with us.