Friday, June 27, 2014

Bobby Womack Has Left The Building

"Lookin' For A Love," by the Valentinos.

We lost Bobby Womack the other day, crossed the river, he did. 

These guys, working here as the Valentinos, were very important in the first formulation of "Soul Music."  They had started out as a gospel act, as did Sam Cooke, and worked with Sam at his SAR Records out in Los Angeles.  Soul was a confluence of black church musical conventions and pop sensibilities, with the goal of producing hits for the widest audience possible. 

Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, many of those early/mid-Sixties Soul hits were secular remakes of black Christian hymns. 

That's the five Womack Brothers in the picture, that was a very handsome, talented family.  RIP, Bobby, and my condolences to the remaining family.  And  only seventy years old.  Boy, do I hate it when that happens. 

The Who - Run Run Run

Recorded in October, 1966.  Not sure of the release date in America, but I'd say that my friends and I were listening to this album by January or February of '67.  It's a good one, too.  (If I'd have guessed before reading the recording date, I'd have thought the LP came out in mid-'66. Maybe I should check it.) 

Around this time the Who became the hardest working band in show business.  They came to New York for the Murray the K Show, March, '67.  They were in New York for much of '67 and '68, and they'd plug in and play any chance they got.  Sometimes they got paid; sometimes it was a freebie.  Good times. 

The Who pre-Tommy were just about the best band ever.  I think that bands tend to be better before they make any money.  Money ruins everything. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ballad of a Thin Man - Bob Dylan/Grateful Dead - Autzen Stadium - Eugene...

Can you even imagine that back in the Sixties it was suspected that many people didn't really understand what was happening?  Isn't that quaint? 

The Sixties were an open book compared to what we're facing now. 

What Happened?

Something happens to all of us, but exactly what happens usually remains a mystery.  Joseph Heller wrote a novel on the subject, “Something Happened.”  Famously, not much happens in the novel at all, until the end. 

Even if we achieve some understanding of what has happened to us, it usually remains impossible for us to explain it to others.  Few such enlightened individuals even attempt to speak of it.  This is a recurring theme in the novels of Haruki Murakami, notably in “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.” 

There is the great “what happened?” and the small “what happened?”  The great question is: how did our particular combination of personality, temperament and experience make us the people that we turned out to be?  That’s a whopper, I get dizzy even to consider tackling it. 

The small questions relate to the life-altering situations that we encounter along the way.  Considering those things is somewhat less of a challenge, at least in the attempt. 

For example, I was married for forty-four years; technically I am still married, but the matter is before the court as we speak.  The first ten years were dodgy, and the success of the enterprise was often in doubt.  The next fifteen were generally very good, with two wonderful children, a good relationship and moderate prosperity.  After that it was all downhill relationship wise, with the slippery slope achieving victory in the end.

By what mechanism did this tragedy unfold?  It would be something of a comfort to know.  Several major problems appear immediately.  They are:

1.  The self-serving lie (the “Rashomon” issue);

2.  The avoidance issue; and

3.   Mere misapprehension.

Ignoring for now the full scope of the Rashomon problem, I may be selective in my analysis of the evidence.  I may prefer explanations that make me appear blameless. 

I could even embrace a version of events that is actually delusional.  Some cheerful fairy tale that eschews reality altogether and allows me to keep my pride and my peace of mind.  I would chose this one if the choice were mine, but it is denied me by the little clarity that I have achieved in life.

An even greater problem for me is that of avoidance.  I don’t really want to think about it too much.  Even if I did wish to consider it, I wouldn’t want to share the result in writing.  It is better for some things to remain mysterious, even to ourselves. 

I may have been encouraged in this attitude by my ten years in Thailand.  Thais have wonderfully flexible minds, they are fully capable of knowing something and not knowing it at the same time.  They can also stop a thought process short of its inevitable conclusion, in order to spare themselves actual knowledge.  These are useful skills. 

The Big Picture

These mysteries play themselves out on the larger stage too.  Should it be any easier to understand what is happening to a country, or a society?  All of these effects are manifest in America these days.  Certainly things are happening, on both the great and small scales described above.  And in response we see the self-delusion, the knowing and not knowing, and the same misapprehension that we see in our own lives, played out on a national scale. 

“Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”  (Apologies to Bob Dylan.)

I’ll spare you a reading of the charges, but a lot has happened to America in the last fifty years, and little of it could by any stretch of the imagination be labeled “progress.”  America is not well these days.  The economy is in taters; politics has become a shouting match between two right-wing cliques who share a belief in the supremacy of cost-benefit analysis; the social contract has been breached; and prospects for the future are dimmer than they’ve been since about 1805. 

(Historical footnote: in 1805, America had a deeply divided and poverty stricken government, a struggling economy and no armed forces to speak of, a tiny, ill-equipped army and a small navy confined almost entirely to rivers and lakes.  Things have gotten better since then, in fits and starts.)

People are certainly anxious, but the leap to understanding the reasons for their anxiety, and the leap to an appropriate fear for the future, are as obscure on the national level as they are on the personal level.

Most people much prefer to believe the old myths.  America is the fountainhead of democracy in the world; America is somehow exceptional, somehow more beloved of God than other countries; America is the best country to live in; America has the best health care system in the world; there’s no freedom in the world like American freedom.  It’s all about the freedom!  Not so much, if you’ve been paying attention.

The typical attitude is to focus on the distractions posed by the media and politicians.  The dog-and-pony show that takes up so much of people’s precious Internet time.  Certain demonized groups, or even some ideas, are imagined to be destroying America, whether it be immigrants; homosexuals; socialism; college professors; activist (Liberal) judges; unions (especially public employees’ unions); abortion; gun rights; minorities; or the Federal Government itself.  If only we could restore America!  Take back our country!  Constitutional values!  Family values! 

Delusional beliefs are rampant.  Some believe that there is a Homosexual Agenda and "they" want to take over the country. Others are certain that President Obama and his “Wookie” wife want to a) take our guns; b) declare martial law and remain in the White House forever; c) use Homeland Security to stage a coup and put us all in FEMA camps; d) make slaves of all the white folks; etc.  If we could only eliminate corporate taxes and Federal regulations, the free market could raise us up to new heights of prosperity.  (Guess whose idea that last one is.) 

Oh yeah, something is happening in America, and the psychological situation mirrors the one that we face as individuals.  It’s all very difficult and uncomfortable, so we misread the signs, we force the analysis that we most desire, and all the while we cannot really grasp, or do not wish to grasp, the mystery of it all.  So we substitute talking points for evidence and seek simple solutions.  Please God, anything would be preferable to weighing the easily discoverable evidence and facing the obvious problems head on.  “Sleep!” most people say, “please, God, grant us the blessing of sleep!” 

Well, friends and neighbors, that’s not going to work.  We’re going to have to do better than that.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

99 Years in Jail for a Marijuana Bake Sale? (Video) - Truthdig

99 Years in Jail for a Marijuana Bake Sale? (Video) - Truthdig

We're the ones who're baked.  Stick in a toothpick, comes out clean.  Seven more minutes and we're burned beyond recovery.

The American media teaches Americans to sweat the small stuff, and almost everybody buys it hook, line and sinker, or, to use a gun metaphor that Americans may prefer, lock, stock and barrel.

This guy is not some kind of fluke either, the prisons are full of people serving terminal sentences for non-violent, often insignificant drug crimes.

You can look it up!  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Isn't That Ironic?

The true nature of irony often escapes me, it's not an easy concept.  But I'm pretty sure that I achieved a good example of irony this morning. 

I was reading an article called "Citizen Bezos," by Steve Coll, which appears in the New York Review of Books.  It's up on the web site now, it's a good read, you can check it out.  I got a lot of background about Mr. Bezos, I hadn't known much about him personally before reading the article, just a little bit about his business activities and his management style.  The author provided a lot of detail about Amazon's founding, its growth over the years, and it's now preeminent place in the virtual retailing of books, both real and virtual.  None of this material received a treatment that was, let's say, flattering. 

I read the article on my Kindle.  I often transfer long-form non-fiction from the web to my Kindle for the convenience of it.  I do still prefer paper to the Kindle, but I also much prefer reading on the Kindle to reading on the computer itself.  You can't read from the computer while reclining comfortably on your bed.  Is it ironic, I wondered, reading on a Kindle about Mr. Bezos's dubious achievements in digital retail? 

I will say this without reservation:  I love my Kindle. 

I will also say, with only slight reservations, that I rather like Amazon.  I find the consumer experience very comfortable, and I'm happy with the products and the retail experience of it. 

Much of what I read is free Amazon content.  I enjoy many writers who are far beyond copyright protection and even further from mass readership.  Amazon is very clever about using the free content to steer you towards purchases.  For instance, I recently reread, free on Kindle, the first novel in "Doc" Smith's Lensmen series; subsequent installments require purchasing.  They're inexpensive, but still. 

I also appreciate the many omnibus editions of the works of rather antique authors, Kindle is full of them and they are very inexpensive, lots of good reading for ninety-nice cents or so. 

And then, of course, I am not loathe to purchase the occasional full price Kindle edition of a book that I wish to read.  I have purchased some new non-fiction books ("Bloodlands," "The Guns at Last Light"), and a couple of novels ("The Twelve," the sequel to "The Passage.").  Those were a little on the expensive side, but still cheaper than the paper copies.  Besides, if I'd wanted the paper copies I'd have had to order them from Amazon anyway, because they're not generally available in Thailand. 

Not every book is so expensive though.  I'm going to order something today, in fact, that is a remarkable bargain.  An all in one, Kindle edition of the first four books in a series of five autobiographical novels by the English author, Edward St. Aubyn.  All four, for only $7.99.  Should I feel guilty about that purchase?  After all, the publisher will be lucky to get a total of a dollar for all four books, and Mr. St. Aubyn probably rather less.  Mr. Bezos already has a fortune of about thirty billion dollars.  But guilty?  No.  I take the world as I find it. 

It's all very modern, and it's very hard for us to make value judgments about individual aspects of it.  I do worry about old warnings from Science Fiction stories coming only too true.  Like the digital "library" in the first screen iteration of "Roller Ball."  Claiming to have everything, they really had very little, and what they did have was was heavily censored by the authoritarian regime.  We're getting dangerously close to that.  Books are disappearing faster than amphibians, and that does not bode well for our future. 

But I'm such a Casandra, don't listen to me.  The future will probably turn out just fine.  Probably. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Night Is Still Young - Pizzicato Five (+playlist)

I really miss Pizzicato Five.  They were prolific for the twelve or so years that they were active, and it was all great, great, great. 

This might be my favorite cut.  "Tokyo wa yoru no shichigi . . ." or something like that, it means, "it's four a.m. in Tokyo . . ." or something like that.  Nice video too. 

I managed to see them perform one time, at the El Rey theater on Hollywood Boulevard, in the 1990's.  Can you guess?  Yes, they were great.  I was hardly going out at all by then, but I made an exception. 

Yeah, I miss these guys.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Our Heroes

This fellow Bowe Bergdahl is in the news after his release from captivity in Afghanistan.  There seems to be some confusion as to whether he qualifies as a hero or not. 

This whole "heroes" thing has gotten way out of hand.  Somewhere around the turn of the century the qualifications for hero status came down dramatically.  After 9/11, all of the responders became heroes, and over the course of the several wars that followed virtually every single man and woman in uniform has become a hero.  "Our Heroes," we call them, all of them, indiscriminately. 

This has always bothered me, because there are always a few in the military who actually are heroes.  By virtue of their actions, and according to a set of criteria that has developed over the centuries.  Ordinary courage under fire does not qualify one as a hero.  It takes selfless devotion to a goal, a reckless disregard of one's own safety, supernatural effort and superb results. 

For a good example, look up the exploits of John Basilone in the Pacific. 

Officers can be heroic, but it's harder to tell with them.  Medals are given to officers as freely as appetizers are passed out at cocktail parties.  You want to find a real hero?  Try any enlisted man who received at least a Bronze Star, and lived.  Recipients who died in the act are often awarded Bronze Stars for political reasons.  Any enlisted man who lived to receive it must have done something really remarkable.  Something heroic, almost certainly. 

We need to stop throwing around the term "hero." It's not fair to the real heroes.  

I'm not suggesting any particular status for Bowe Bergdahl, but I don't think that we have any reason so far to condemn him.  He is one of our soldiers, and he deserves to be treated with the respect that we should give to any of them.  If they are all heroes, then he's a hero too.  Some people thrive under military discipline; others do not.  Some people perform well, perhaps even heroically; others less well.  All of them deserve our understanding and appreciation in full measure. 

So whatever you hear about Mr. Bergdahl, do not judge him harshly.  He's our boy, and the odds are that he did his best.  

Adventure In Hat Yai

I'll be traveling again this weekend, way down south to Hat Yai in the province of Songkla.  Hat Yai is always an adventure. 

Songkla is not one of the "three southern provinces" in which political problems have been a feature for many years now.  It's close though, and as the biggest city in the area it draws some of the negativity.  Bombs go off, including one a couple of years ago at the hotel that we use.  I've been there three times over the last ten years, and soldiers are always in evidence. 

No real worries though, it's a big city and life is proceeding apace.  Lots of tourists, mostly from Malaysia, mostly men.  It's a lively place.  People down there walk very fast, and they talk fast too.  The food is great, as usual in Thailand.  It'll be fun. 

Have a great weekend! 

1970 Honda CB550 Cafe Racer by Raccia Motorcycles

Vehicle alert! 

Just saying.

FRANKIE LEE SIMS walkin' with frankie

It's been a while, and I'm sure in any case that I may be forgiven for sharing this cut every few years. 

This is a new "video" too.  I like it when guys put these great old cuts together with period appropriate cheesecake photos. 

And how about that Frankie Lee?  Way too much, with that mighty oh! Lord, you better hurry up and knew that. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Chris Hedges: We All Must Become Zapatistas - Chris Hedges - Truthdig

Chris Hedges: We All Must Become Zapatistas - Chris Hedges - Truthdig

I love Mexicans.  They are great neighbors, and great friends, who will help you with anything without being asked.  They are great co-workers.  They are great workers in general, showing great dedication to the source of their incomes, and deeply appreciating any kindness that they are afforded along the way.

That they make great criminals should not be held against them.  It is just another manifestation of their good qualities.  

Mexicans make great revolutionaries too.  We could all learn a lot from the guys spoken of in this article.