Saturday, February 20, 2016

PIZZICATO FIVE It's a Beautiful Day PV

Twenty years ago!!! Ain't it funny, how time slips right on away?

I could go on and on about how great this P5 stuff is, how great their videos are, but there's a law of diminishing returns involved, you know? At some point we must realize that the world just does not value what we value. The world has it's own things to do. And finally, tragically, we must accept that the world would rather listen to Taylor Swift or some shit. The world has moved from post-modern, up through post-ironic, and all the fucking way to post-talent. Sad, isn't it?

We who have been paying attention since the Korean War must accept that in today's post-everything world Shaun Combs is a fashion designer, Kim Kardashian is a celebrity, Miley Cyrus is attractive, Donald Trump is a politician, James Franco is a renaissance man, and Kanye West is intelligent. It was always true that money talked, and bullshit walked, but it was never as ridiculously true as it is today.

Free Advice (and worth every penny): Keep your heads down and don't do anything to piss off the powers that be. Seek and enjoy as many of these cultural treasures as you can, but don't go shooting your mouths off about them. (Liking things and listening to them free has probably been written into the criminal code by now.) Maybe we should all be using an anonymous browser like Tor so it's harder to follow our transgressions.

Otherwise I'll just see you up at the concentration camp. Cultural misfits; atheists; race-traitors; socialists; homosexuals (and their apologists). Let's make the best of it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What Is Art? Discuss.

One of my Art History professors defined art this way: anything that is not in its natural form is art. This, to me, was an extreme effort to reconcile art and craft. The separation of art and craft is still an active debate in the art community. By his definition, a stick that had been whittled to a point would be art. It can’t be that simple.

It’s the old argument about High Art and Low Art. Art and craft may share several characteristics, but they are very different things, aren’t they? A craftsman manipulates manner to create narrative and symbolism, it’s true, but an artist does the same thing while adding meaning.

Does that put me on the High Art side? Not really.

I have come to think of art as the creation and resolution of tensions. This definition works well for music, literature and the visual arts (painting; sculpture; film; architecture and others). It works on almost any level of sophistication.

In music, the tension is created by the building blocks of melody, harmony and rhythm. Melodies become disordered and are then resolved. Harmonies become dissonant and are then returned to order. Rhythms may become chaotic and then be returned to simplicity. The musical idea is first stated, then manipulated, then often tortured, and then finally returned to order. The listener is gratified.

It is often said of literature that something needs to happen. The writer cannot merely tell a story. The events described must affect the characters, they must change the characters. Most often the tension is between the person that the character has been and the person that the character is becoming after the changes induced by the events.

In the art of painting, the building blocks are line, form and color. The artist must create tensions both on the picture plane (composition up, down, left and right) and through the picture plane (perspective and the illusion of distance). Sometimes the resolution of the tension is not naturalistic. Reality is twisted to accomplish a narrative or symbolic purpose. (Go take a look at The Polish Rider by Rembrandt. The perspective falls off precipitously in the right corner, indicating movement.)

All great art shares one experiential fact: repeated listenings, readings or viewings yield different meanings or emotions. You can look at a great painting every day for years and it will retain the ability to surprise you.

This live version of Aneurysm, by the band Nirvana, is a fine example of music that rises to the level of great art. (This is the live version from the album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishka.) It is an ambitious piece by a small group of talented musicians who took the enterprise very seriously. The tension in the musical element is palpable, rising to levels that are almost uncomfortable. Tension is created and released in this way throughout the song. The tension in the lyrics comes not only from the observable context, which is vague and disjointed, but also from the incomprehensibility of some of the lyrics. The listener can imagine that the singer is saying quite different things.

The line between art and craft (often condescended to as “mere craft”) can be very hard to find. The High Art crowd set the bar very high. The craftsman side is often considered to include graphic artists, technical illustrators, comic artists and poster artists, among many others. But even a brief examination of those fields will display many works of noble intention and great artistic expression. 

Low art no doubt exists, but what would it be? What things could safely be ascribed to the craft side?

Maybe sign painters are craftsmen. Their narratives are straightforward and generally devoid of meaning beyond simple information. Maybe newspaper writers are craftsmen. The who, what, when, where and how of things usually doesn’t include a “why?”

But in either of those examples, when you see or read a great one, you know it. This is true for any endeavor that is usually consigned to the Low Art side, from hot rods, to pornography, to tattooing, and beyond. Something is elevating the piece, something artistic. Really, it’s easy to find an artistic component in almost any craft. I worked for a time scheduling jobs in a machine shop. We had fifteen or twenty machinists, working on mills and lathes, turning out camera parts. Most of the parts that had been made from the same blueprints were virtually identical, but there was one man that we all recognized as an artist. Every part that he made was beautiful; they were like living works of art. In a tray of ten parts, they all were perfect, mechanically, but they all shone with an individual light. The wave patterns left by his cutting tools were fantastic, and they had not come about by accident. The man’s aesthetic personality came through in every piece. The other men’s parts fit equally well in the cameras, but his stuff was art.

It’s best not to worry about it too much. Let’s give the proper credit to artists and craftsmen alike, based on their merits and not on some artificial definition of their function. That professor, by the way, had really surprised me with his definition of art. He was generally quite pretentious, and I would have thought that he’d come down on the high art side. But his definition of art was the most inclusive one that I’ve ever heard. He’s still teaching, by the way; he’s been very successful. Ivy League! I still don’t exactly agree with him, but he has caused me to think a great deal about the matter over the years.

That’s what great teachers do, I suppose. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Spencer Davis Group - Somebody Help Me (Beat Beat Beat - 1966)

And speaking of the Spencer Davis Group, they were pretty darn good, weren't they? I guess you can't miss by much with Steve Winwood in the group.

And that Spencer! Sogar kann er ganz gut Deutsch sprechen! Ausgezeichnet, Spencer!

Spencer Davis Group Looking Back

This cut, or another version by them, was on the soundtrack of the film "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush," an English production from 1966 or so. It's a good one.

Now this is rock and roll, and the question is: is it art? Is it high art, or low art? Where does rock fit into the art spectrum? How about jazz? Is "Chasin' the 'Trane" art? High art? I think we'd all agree that Beethoven's Ninth is high art. Where do we draw the line?

I don't feel like typing today, but I'll be expounding on this idea soon.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

His Name Is John, By The Way

Politics, oye vey ist mir, it's enough already!

But still the current Bush is all up on the JEB thing. Not Jeb, mind you, because it's not a name like yours or mine. It's his INITIALS, for Christ's sake, it's "JEB," as though that were a name.

The man's name is John Ellis Bush, and yet the name never surfaces. In the new TV ads from South Carolina, George W. Bush shows up and praises "JEB" to the rafters. It's all sickening.

George must know his real name, but how many Americans could tell you what his name was? Show his mug to one hundred Americans and ask them, "who is this?" Thirty of them, of course, wouldn't have a clue anyway, because that many Americans are totally clueless these days. Most of the rest would say, "JEB Bush." Would even one of them say, "John Bush?"

It's enough to make a grown man cry.

The Death List

Yesterday I was sitting around the crib reading, and reminiscing. I was congratulating myself on having become quite mellow in my old age. Mellow for me, anyway. I was pretty abrasive in my youth and my young adulthood. I had quite a temper, too, and I lost it frequently. None of that is true anymore.

I held grudges in my youth as well, and I kept up-to-date lists. I even had a “Death List,” people of whom I jokingly said that they would have three or four months to live after a doctor told me that I had six months to live. It was a joke, of course, the world is full of people that have long survived a doctor’s premature message of doom.

I was very happy, and a little bit self-satisfied, that I no longer had such a list. I no longer considered it to be amusing. Then I realized that there was still one person in the world whose death I would greet with a smile and an “about time!” One person whose death would give me joy. Only one! I thought that that was progress.

Well, I woke up this morning (February 14, 2016, in Bangkok) and CNN informed me that he had died, “in his sleep,” “of natural causes.” My six a.m. is about five p.m. on the east coast right now, and he died in his sleep period, so it seems that he died right around the time that I was thinking about him, thinking about how great it would be for America and the world if he would only die already. That’s pretty amazing. It’s enough to make you wonder if there’s an invisible web of electrical energy in the world that connects us all and that may serve as a conduit for information.

Justice of the Supreme Court Nino Scalia was hated by many people. That’s safe to say. You could hate him for the mischief that he brought to American jurisprudence. You could hate him for being such a pompous, obnoxious fool. You could hate him for being a condescending know-it-all. You could hate him for his anti-social decisions on matters that you had a stake in. Or you could hate him for some, or all, of those reasons. Now he’s gone, and you may forgive me if I find some solace in that. My Death List is officially down to zero.

Coming slowly to life this morning, before coffee, I realized that Nino was dead and I did smile, and I did say, out loud, “about fucking time!” But within a minute or two I became apprehensive about the aftermath. The thoroughly obstructionist Republican party has been blocking President Obama’s appointments for years already, and there’s no reason to expect them to suddenly become reasonable. On the contrary, they’re more likely to dig in their heels on this one, because so much more is at stake.

2016 could become known as “The Year of Eight Justices,” or “The Year of the Four v. Four Ties.” When there is a four to four tie in an understaffed Supreme Court, it goes down as an affirmation of the lower court ruling, thus removing the Supreme Court from the equation.

Mr. Obama will be the President of the United States, duly elected, until January 20, 2017. That’s another year, folks. He has the constitutional duty to appoint a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy, whatever all of the lunatic fringe of politics is now telling us. There’s no “Lame Duck” rule. The shit-storm has started; the Clown-Car has started to scream. Let’s turn on the crystal ball . . .

1.   Republicans in the current Senate are likely to do everything that they can to block this nomination for as long as possible, if not all year;

2.   It seems likely that Hillary will be elected president in November. If that happens, the Republican obstructionism will continue. For that matter, if Bernie Sanders gets elected it will also continue. I don’t foresee much chance of any of these Republicans getting elected. Some people have been fooled, but the fools are outnumbered;

3.   It’s very possible that even if a Democrat is elected president, the Senate will go Republican. That’s because they’ve got the system rigged in their favor by this point. Gerrymandering only helps them in the House, but between fear mongering, social pandering and the new voter laws (“Anti-Voter Laws”), they end up with many more senators than the actual numbers of their voters would suggest as well.

So thanks, Nino, you bastard. Even dead, you find ways to gum up the works. See you in hell. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Leaving Here - The Who (live at the BBC)

Not that there weren't a lot of really great British bands to take the credit. The pre-Tommy Who rocked as hard as anybody who ever picked up the tools.

This is the live on the BBC version of a song that the Who recorded a few times. That's LIVE on the radio. People younger than me who are mostly familiar with Who's Next and what came after really don't understand the Who at all. From 1964 to 1968 they were the hardest working band in show business, working all the time, barely breaking even money wise, young, broke and angry. Tommy put them on the map, but if anything, it ruined them.

Well, I just came close to saying something unkind about people who don't love the early Who. So I'll sign off, while the signing off is good.

Pretty Things- Rosalyn(1964)

On the underrated side, I'd say. These guys never got any traction at all.

Music is the toughest business of all. Talent means little. It's all about the management, personalities, and timing. Tough.Business.

The World Has Abandoned Reason

What’s wrong with cooperation? Remember compromise? Were you, or are you still, a fan of consideration? How about reasonableness in general? These things are out of fashion now, and I, for one, think that the world is poorer for it. These are the tools of order in the world, generally to be preferred over the tools of chaos.

Everyday people have discovered numerous excuses to abandon reason. They include guns; religion; immigration; sexual orientation; politics; and race, among others. All of these subjects are in a state of chaos these days, and it is a mischief.

World governments have become just as unreasonable as the people that they control. Our leaders, the world over, have also comprehensively abandoned the tools of order. Given the history of life on earth, it often appears that chaos has always been favored by our rulers. That is simply a shame. The resulting waste has kept us all in a less than perfect state throughout recorded history, and unfortunately seems likely to continue to do so.

The South China Sea

China is currently engaged in competition with several of its South East Asian neighbors for military and economic domination of the South China Sea. (I’m being polite to describe it so.) China has set itself in conflict with the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam over maritime trade routes and resources. So far, China is acting unilaterally and aggressively. The position of the South East Asian countries is hopeless. Why not co-operate and share the resources and enhance mutual security? Why, indeed.

Isn’t it all about money, security, honor, tradition and the rule of law? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to respect the rights of all of the countries involved in each of those categories? Wouldn’t it be to everyone’s advantage to manage the area together? It’s amazing to me that no one seems even to be considering a reasonable approach to security and economic advantage in the area.


These are the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the Trade in Services Agreement. I am not an expert in these treaties; I am more of a semi-casual observer. I’m suspicious, though, like many similarly situated observers, that they share the intention to strengthen the positions of large corporations, and the investor classes, in both the United States and the European Union, with the goal of preserving and enhancing economic hegemony over the entire world. That would specifically be to the disadvantage of similar entities in China, Russia, India and Brazil (and any other up-and-comers). 

As time goes on, these treaties may begin to seem more and more like some kind of economic World War III. Developments are hard to follow, because of the secrecy of the “negotiations.” Even the junior partners to the negotiations are kept in the dark. Secrecy, directed aggression, and unshared advantage are tools of chaos.

The Presidential Primary Election System (!!!)

This is the process by which American political parties choose their candidates for the presidency. It sometimes comes one state at a time, and sometimes several states on the same day. Most importantly, it takes a long time, something like six months. It is unreasonable because it gives greater weight to the choices of early primary states. Iowa and New Hampshire are lovely places, but neither is particularly important in the scheme of things, except at primary time. It is a totally unreasonable system.

This system knocks out candidates that may be more popular with the general population than the early winners. Early losers are gone, and early winners may not go far. Remember President Santorum? Neither do I. He won Iowa.

It often leads to the nomination of candidates of dubious electability. I will spare them the embarrassment of mentioning their names.

The importance of the choices of large, important states is seriously discounted if their primaries come late in the process. This is the chaos component.

A more orderly process is easy to imagine. Wouldn’t it make much more sense if the primaries came much closer to together at least, or even, if possible, on the same day? Maybe in the same week? I can hear the complaining from some candidates now. It’s too expensive to campaign in fifty states simultaneously! We need to meet and talk to these voters! It takes time! Where there is reason, there are solutions.

We could arrange for a more useful schedule of national events to allow the candidates to get out their message and show the flag so voters could get to know them. This would result in every voter’s choice taking on equal importance.

I would go on to suggest that the way actual elections are accomplished now is equally unfair to some states, particularly to states on the west coast. Their polls are still open, but winners have been declared. This is a disincentive to vote at all. It hurts the pride of west coast voters, and it keeps down voter turnout that might affect local elections.

I would suggest that 1) election day be made a national holiday; 2) people should be further incentivized to vote; and 3) all polls nationwide be open for the same five hour period (in other words, all polls open and close at the same moment, with clock readings staggered across the time zones).  Add a prohibition on exit polling and the reporting of trends before all polls are closed. That would make everyone’s vote count equally.


Seeking reason in the world marks one as a huge Pollyanna, and I suppose that I am one. Expecting our leaders to favor reasonable policies seems equally foolish. But is it too much to ask that the world be moved, slowly perhaps, in that direction? We have arrived at a time in history where there is a sufficiency of money, food and production capacity to provide jobs and prosperity for every single person on the earth. Must we accept that greed, war and blind chauvinism must always control our path? I hope not. I sincerely hope not. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Frenzy

People are discovering good music on TV and in movies, and that's a good thing.

The comments to this YouTube song often mention the X-Files, and me, I just heard it in the end titles for a True Blood episode. It's nice that producers and their minions are choosing good cuts for their products. I'm pretty sure that it's a good thing. Isn't it?

I've heard some good stuff in other media, and it's always a treat. I'm always on the look out. I knew Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich from the old days, but I'd never heard "Hold Tight" until I saw "Death Proof." "Everyday of the Week" by the Students was a revelation to me when I heard in in the end credits to a Sopranos episode. I was sure that it was a Frankie Lymon cut, it sure is a sincere copy, so it was hard to find. By the Students, it was, an F.L. and the T.s copy group from the near-mid-west.

There's so much great old-time stuff out there that it's hard to find the road map to finding it. If TV and movies can help, I think it's great. (Even if it's just a bunch of wannabe hipsters trying to find ways to look cool.)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Spin Easy Time!: Thai-Light Zone: The Presence of Women

I no longer consider this odd, although it still is quite odd.

Spin Easy Time!: Thai-Light Zone: The Presence of Women: No, not the presence of women in general, nothing new about that, women make up half of the population wherever you go. I’m talking about t...

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Job Undone

Please allow me to take a moment here and pat myself on the back. I think that I have been doing a great job of not writing about politics, if I do say so myself.

And bear in mind that that whole army of idiots has been twisting my nipples with reckless insouciance for the entire time, almost without interruption. And yet, I resist.

It's been great. I'm writing about things that are much more interesting to me, things that are not half as annoying as politics. The hit count is even up, so maybe the avoidance of politics is even popular.

Thanks for that, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Music For Winners: Eddie Floyd - Knock On Wood

Marco Rubio (!) got way too much credit today for coming in third in the Iowa caucuses. Only impressive because there's what, a dozen of them in that race? Oooooh! He beat Kasich! He even beat that hopeless schlemiel John Bush! The CNN reporter then asked him, so, you're a music fan, what are you listening to today? I forget what he said, something dull and predictable. What should people listen to, if they want to win?

I always say that law school was kind of fun, but I would never say that it was not stressful. First semester tests were the worst, because none of us was sure that we could even get it together. Myself, I got a terrible rash waiting for the results. It cleared up immediately when the grades were posted, because I did fine. Thereafter I had a secret weapon for tests. A cassette labeled "Victory Music."  I'd play it in the car on the way to school on test day. It was all Stax/Volt/Enterprise, plus Wilson Picket, James Brown and Aretha Franklin. Stuff like this cut by Eddie Floyd.

Man, that cassette put me in the mood to kick ass and take names. "Watch out, motherfuckers," I'd be thinking, "they mark this shit on a curve and I'm here to eat your lunch." It worked for three years. I played it before every day of the bar exam, too. Kicked . . . Ass.

Eddie Floyd is not an famous man, that's for sure. But this cut buys him a ticket on the express train to immortality. A classic.