Wednesday, January 31, 2018

We Are Filthy Animals: State Of The Uniom (sic) Edition

There’s a wonderful scene running through the opening credits of the David Lynch movie, “Blue Velvet.” It’s a long, continuous shot, which begins by displaying an attractive suburban neighborhood to its best advantage. The day is sunny and pleasant, birds are singing in the trees, and the protagonist’s father is mowing his beautiful front lawn, cheerfully greeting neighbors along the way. Suddenly, the man clenches his chest and collapses on the ground. The shot closes in on him as he experiences a heart attack that kills him. The shot doesn’t end there.

The camera continues its zoom and closes in on the spot where he is lying. Switching to macro, the scene moves into the grass itself, down to the very soil of the earth, showing now the ants at constant war with each other, and the rotting foliage, and the worms, all of the corruption and murder that form the foundation of our daily lives, the one universal truth of our earthly existence. It’s a lovely scene, and Mr. Lynch is one of our finest directors.

The scene serves to introduce the theme of the movie that follows, which will examine the dark corners of human society, where corruption and murder take place far from the lives of most people. The scene is also an apt metaphor for the true nature of life on earth.

We flatter ourselves with the belief that we are somehow special among the creatures of the earth, but we are not. We simply run our instinctive program, we play the roles into which we have been cast by evolution and fate. We believe ourselves to be more valuable than our fellow creatures, only because we have brains capable of mathematics and self-delusion. Discovering that we can differentiate between marble statues of David by Bernini and Michelangelo, we leap to the conclusion that we are a race apart, unique in all the world, going so far as to provide the narrative with a supernatural being, one powerful enough to have created us in the first place, whom we call God. It’s all so sad and squalid.

We believe our world to be beautiful, against all evidence. How should we decide whether it is beautiful or not? It’s the only world of its type with which we are familiar. Isn’t that like a world in which there is only one woman? Of course, the woman would be the most beautiful woman in that world, even if she were not beautiful at all.

No, we are not so special.

We are, in fact, filthy animals, snarling at each other and fighting over bones that have not yet been split for their marrow. We inhabit a world that is only attractive from a distance. The greater the distance, the more beautiful the world becomes. If you get too close, it’s foul enough to make you vomit.

In case you are wondering, “did he just call me a filthy animal?” Rest assured that that is exactly what I called you, and each of us. Regarding our mutual external surfaces, turning an electron microscope on any square centimeter of our skin reveals a menagerie of tiny creatures that are too horrible even for a Toho Studios special effects squad to display on any screen. Even smaller are the bacteria that infest all of us. Take a swab anywhere and send it to the lab. The result comes back: multiple organisms. Proceeding to our interiors, by any of the available routes, the infestation becomes even worse, and it’s a good thing that it does! By now, we couldn’t live without our little bacterial buddies. We’d die within hours! Each of us carries a couple of kilograms of bacteria, all the time. Good and bad; the good ones help us with everything from digestion to mood control, and the bad ones are along for the ride, waiting for any opportunity to take hold and grow out of control. You are lathered in staph right now, and only a healthy immune system and buckets of good bacterial allies keeps it at bay.

Don’t be thinking that you can wash any of this off. For one thing, you can’t do it, and besides, you wouldn’t want to try. All of that scraping and scrubbing would only create a fertile new virgin growth medium for all of the airborne microbes that surround us. We are stuck with these zoological companions for the duration.

It is also worth noting that it may not be our world in the first place. Measured by total species biomass, the earth clearly belongs to the ants. I mean the total weight of them all around the world, not only the astronomical numbers of them. Substitute “insects” for “ants,” and we humans are surpassed by an even larger factor. Ants have no need of telling apart the two statues of David, and mathematics is alien to them, but they are the geniuses of the earth at creating and managing ant societies. They can do it anywhere, with admirable energy and ingenuity, anywhere from the high ledge of a skyscraper to a patch of frozen earth under the ice of Antarctica.

Oh, you say, but we are aware! Not like the ants, who take no notice of us stepping on them, humans are aware! How aware are humans, Johnny? Not very aware, it turns out. Of all of the people who will read this blog post, and there will be fifteen at least, how many are aware that as they sit pleasantly reading away on their laptop, they are simultaneously moving through space at something approaching one thousand miles per hour? I’m pretty sure that the closer one is to the equator, the faster one is moving, to the east, I believe. That’s in addition to the entire earth tear-assing around the solar system in its yearly orbit of our personal star, the sun. How many people are aware of all of that hair-raising activity, which never stops for a moment? You sleep, you and everyone else, in one spot for eight hours, and yet you wake up at least eight thousand miles from where you first laid your head, plus whatever the directional movement would add, I’m no scientist. This comes as a surprise to most people. Does that sound very aware?

Humans are simply one of the myriad species of filthy animals that inhabit this filthy speck of dust in the middle of nowhere.

It is no coincidence that I write this impolite, ultra-cynical tirade on the day when the news cycle is dominated by our Fabulous Prezzy D-John’s first “State of the Uniom” (sic) message. As could be expected, it contained about as much common sense and human dignity as the sound of a coffee can containing one bolt being vigorously shaken.

But what’s the difference? We have learned a lot about human history up to now, and we have charted many of the arcs of good and bad societal phenomena, coming and going, and we have attempted to find therein hope for some kind of positive future for our kind. We can put “paid” to all of that now. The arc of “liberalism” began its ascent many hundreds of years ago. It really started to pick up steam in the late Eighteenth Century, during the Enlightenment. The United States of America was founded by a group of imperfect intellectuals on the basis of liberal Enlightenment principles. Liberalism had its great moments in the Twentieth Century, when it curb-stomped fascism and easily outlasted communism. The mid-century flourishing of the liberal welfare state was the best thing to happen to the working man since the Black Plague.* But that’s all over now.

The fat lady has sung. The curtain has fallen. Elvis has left the building. Welcome to the New Dark Ages. This fate befalls us at a particularly bad time, because two violent accelerants will shortly be added to the fire: the collapse of our planetary climate system and the technological singularity that will alter, well, every single aspect of our lives, and not for the better. This New Dark Age will be worse than the first, because there will be no escaping the effects. The first Dark Age, at the end of the first millennium, AD, was a time of little technology and poor communications. The mountains were high, and the oppressors were far away. This time the oppressors will be in your living room at all times; they will watch you while you sleep, and when you make love to your spouse; they will be in your pocket and on your wrist at all times, monitoring your heartbeat and hearing your very thoughts, or guessing them.

I could conceivably surprise medical science and my own expectations by living for another fifteen years, and in that case, I’d be in the thick of it right there with you. That’s a chilling thought, and I am not pleased that it came to me at all. I will probably be gone before that, however, and as the world spins ever more rapidly into chaos, that fate is no longer the terrible thing that it could have been.

*The Black Plague was a bit of “left-handed luck” for the working man, because the sudden disappearance of more than half of the work force of Europe added greatly to the value of work. It gave working people some leverage, and their situation improved rapidly. It also relaxed the tight control that had been exercised in the Medieval period by the aristocrats and the church, allowing advances in science, encouraging exploration, and providing an avenue for clever working people to move up into a new merchant class. Calling it a positive isn’t such a stretch.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Beginning To See The Light - Velvet Underground

There's so much happening in these songs. Lou Reed is underappreciated as a songwriter, and a guitar player, and a band front-man, and maybe in general, who knows? Was he a nice guy? Probably not, but who are we to throw stones? I'm faking it, for my part. And how many of us can offer the defense that we were subjected to electro-shock therapy for bullshit reasons by reactionary parents and government officials? A few that I've known, unfortunately. (It forgives a lot, as excuses go.) 

These songs, this one among a few in particular, create remarkable little worlds. The narrative seems to start out playfully, almost flippantly, but then other narratives arise as though out of fog, or as seen through dark glass that may or may not become more clear as the song goes on. 

Playing the fool, acting hard, and then back to playfulness! And then a challenge: here comes two of you, which one do you choose? 

I thought that you were my friend? And then the big finish, the reveal. The curtain is pulled away, and we are faced with the artistic dilemma at the heart of the song: how does it feel to be loved? 

This is serious stuff, folks. It deserves your utmost consideration. 

Beginning to See the Light

Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Some people work very hard,
But still they never get it right.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Now I'm beginning to see the light.

Wine in the morning
And some breakfast at night.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Here we go again
Playing the fool again.
Here we go again
Acting hard again.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Now I'm beginning to see the light.

Well I'm beginning to see the light.
I'm beginning to see the light.
I wore my teeth in my hands
So I could mess the hair of the night
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Hey I'm beginning to see the light.
I met myself in a dream
And I just wanna tell you - everything is alright
I'm beginning to see the light.
Here comes two of you,
Which one will you chose?
One is black, one is blue.
Don't know just what to do.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Now I'm beginning to see the light.

Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
Some people work very hard
But still they never get it right
Well I'm beginning to see the light.
There are problems in these times
But none of them are mine
Baby, I'm beginning to see the light.
Here we go again,
I thought that you were my friend.
Here we go again,
I thought that you were my friend.
How does it feel to be loved?

How does it feel to be loved?

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Strypes - Late Show With David Letterman

The Strypes only came to my notice a couple of months ago. Good band, I'd say.

Letterman was such a cynical old curmudgeon, he hardly seemed to be liking anything towards the end of his run. Even here, he finds in necessary to needle the band about their youth. "Their folks are picking them up after the show." Well, this was 2014, and they do look very young.

But by the end of the song, even Letterman is wildly enthusiastic. He's almost doing the pogo, with a giant smile on his face, and going on about how great they were.

It really is a very successful TV appearance by a very special young band from Ireland. I wish them all the best. It's the toughest business in the world, the music business. They'll need all the luck they can get.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Adventures In Thai Health Care

Why do I love Thailand? Let me count the reasons . . .

For one thing, you can get this very nice private room in the cardiac ICU unit of a highly rated "international" hospital for only $370 per day. If you'd like a relative to stay with you and keep you company, they're happy to move a cot into the room. Your comfort is important to them!

Only one day for me, after a procedure that went without a hint of trouble, performed by two highly qualified specialists. (Both Thai, one about forty years old who did the actual work, and another with an MD from America, age about fifty-five, who supervised, made decisions about the procedure, and explained everything to me.) They both spoke English, one very well, and the other fluently with a good American accent. There's always at least one nurse around who can speak English pretty well. I can talk to Thai people, but in the medical setting it is often necessary to communicate in English. At a hospital like this, there's always someone around who speaks English.

It always annoys me that Medicare does not pay for work done overseas, but really, the way things are going, it doesn't matter. My total bill for this procedure was right about where my Medicare co-pay would have been. The hospital bill came in right at the estimate, no over-runs or add-ons at all. The hospital office got with my insurance carrier and split the bill to their satisfaction so that I was finally presented with a bill for only my share, which was about two-thirds.

The entire experience was almost pleasant. Almost. But all's well that ends well, and I'm fine.

The Clever Little Fisherman: Another Favorite Folk Tale

A “favorite of mine,” I mean, because, after all, blogs are all about the blogger.

I first heard this one told at some kind of meeting, or seminar, by a professional story-teller. I don’t recall just where, or when. It’s a good one. It’s got a few strong messages in it, and it delivers a real kick at the end. I hope that somebody out there enjoys it.

The Clever Little Fisherman

Once upon a time, there was a very nice fishing village that was close to some good places to catch fish. Many fine fishermen lived there, and most of them were big men with strong hands and hired men to help them with their large boats. There was, however, one fisherman who was a bit on the small side. He had his own boat, and he worked it alone, and the boat was a bit on the small side, too. The little fisherman was clever, though, and he did a good job of catching fish. The other fishermen said that he was just lucky, but really, he caught a lot of fish because he was full of good ideas. He made a living, and he was happy.

One day, the little fisherman sailed out and went to the best place to catch fish. There were already a few other boats there, and after a while he noticed that no one was catching any fish. He decided to try another popular fishing spot, and he set off in that direction. There, he was the only fishing boat that he could see, but still there were no fish. He worked at it for a while, but his net was always empty.   By now, the day was half gone, and he had not caught any fish at all. It happened sometimes. None of them knew everything that there was to know about fish. Sometimes there were just no fish where you expected them to be.

The little fisherman pulled in his nets and gear, and he sat down to think about some way to save the day’s work. He remembered a place where he had caught some fish one time, a place where he had never seen another fishing boat. “It’s worth a chance,” he said, “maybe I’ll get lucky.” At the new place, sure enough, there were no other boats. The little fisherman stood in his boat with his hands on his hips, and he looked at the sea, and the sun, and the birds, and he decided on a good spot to cast his net.  

He cast his net as far as he could, and he slowly pulled it back towards his boat. It felt very light, and sure enough, when he got it back to the boat, it was empty. Undiscouraged, he cast his net again. As he was pulling it back, he could feel some weight in the net. Okay! He thought, that’s better! At last I’ve caught a fish! But when the net reached the ship, all that he could find in it was one old boot. He said a silent prayer, and threw the boot back into the sea. He was still determined to catch fish, so he cast his net again in the same spot. This time, he could again feel something in the net. “Probably the other boot,” he said. But no, it wasn’t a boot. It wasn’t a fish, either.

It was a lamp. It was an oil lamp of a very old design. It was very fancy, and he began to wonder if it was worth some money, maybe a lot of money. Maybe it wasn’t a wasted day at all! The other fishermen would laugh at that. None of them caught any fish today, or almost no fish, but the clever little fisherman pulled in a lamp that was worth more than fish! He was trying to figure out what the lamp was made of, and he wanted to see more of the design on the sides, so he took the sleeve of his shirt and rubbed the side of the lamp as hard as he could. Something happened immediately.

The stopper in the neck fell out, and the lamp began to vibrate, and it made a small humming sound, and from the neck there came a growing cloud of gray smoke that looked very heavy. And then, in the smoke, there appeared a genie, dressed in clothes of a style that no one had seen anywhere in the world for a very, very long time. The genie was very big.

“At last!” said the genie, who seemed to be stretching a little bit, rolling his shoulders gently, with his eyes closed. Then the genie opened his eyes and looked straight at the fisherman. He seemed neither happy, nor sad. The genie was not at all excited, and he certainly was not afraid. The fisherman was trying to decide if the genie was angry, but while he was wondering what to do, the genie spoke to him.

“When I was first imprisoned in this lamp, I thought little of it. I was confident that I could use my strength and my powers to escape. But alas, I could not.

“At first, I believed that someone would find the lamp and free me before too long, and I began to wait as comfortably as I could. I thought, when someone frees me from this lamp, I will be grateful. I will grant them three wishes and send them on their way. But no one came.

“As time when on, and after hundreds of years had passed, I reasoned that someday, and that day must come, someone will find the lamp and free me from this prison. I had grown beyond emotions such as gratitude by that time, so I decided that the wishes were out of the question. I would simply allow them to go on their way.

“But no one came, and the years became thousands, and in that time my heart became the hardest stone in the world. My fury became the coldest anger in the world. I have lived with only one thought. I cannot escape, but I cannot die, so in the fullness of time it only stands to reason that someone will eventually free me from this lamp. When that happens, I will seize that person in my hands and tear them apart with my teeth.”

The little fisherman, as you can imagine, had been listening to this story with growing concern. He knew that he needed a clever idea, and he needed it quickly. He thought of something that was worth giving a try.

“Oh, mighty genie! You are so powerful! I’ll bet there’s almost nothing that you can’t do!”

“I am mightier than you know! There’s nothing that I cannot do!”

“Well, honestly, you are so big, and you look so solid, I can’t imagine that you are strong enough to fit yourself into such a small lamp.”

“That’s nothing!” said the genie. “Here, I’ll show you.”

At that, the genie turned back into the cloud of heavy smoke and disappeared back into the neck of the lamp. The clever little fisherman snatched up the stopper and put it in place as firmly as he could.

The fisherman placed the lamp in the bottom of the boat, being careful to hold in with his fingertips. No rubbing! Please! He sat down and looked around at the sky and the sea, to make sure that it was once again the calm, quiet day that he remembered from a few minutes previously. All appeared well, and to make sure that it stayed that way, the fisherman picked up the lamp, again with his fingertips, and carefully dropped it over the side of the boat.

Sailing back to the village, the fisherman knew that he would never again go fishing in that spot. He wondered if he should warn the other men about that spot, but he quickly realized that most of the men wouldn’t believe him, and some of the more foolish men might want to go and start looking for the lamp. Better to remain silent about the entire thing. “How terrible!” he thought. “The cleverest thing that I’ve ever done, by far, and I can’t even tell my friends!”

The Moral

There are a few. First of all, don’t give up when things are not coming easy. The fisherman looks for better spots to fish, and he casts his net repeatedly to try to catch fish.

I suppose there’s a moral in the genie’s behavior. If the genie had been more reasonable, and treated the fisherman with magnanimity, the genie could have returned to his perfect life as the powerful being that he was, and as free as a bird, too. By being meanspirited and temperamental, he forced the fisherman’s hand and ended up back in the lamp.

I think that there’s another lesson here. I don’t know how Bruno Bettleheim would handle this one, but I see it this way. Don’t piss people off in the first place, and if you do, cease and desist as soon as possible, and apologize if that will help. If you leave people in a state of anger for too long, it only hardens their hearts. This unfortunate genie was prepared to be reasonable for quite a long time. The story does not provide any of the details surrounding his incarceration, so we don’t know much about his transgressions or his culpability. We are told in detail, however, how his anger grew over time, beginning as hardly any anger at all and finally becoming a murderous rage at the world. If you will think about it for only a moment, you will probably think of examples of this phenomenon that you have witnessed in your own lives.

I know that I can easily find examples from my own life and the lives of others that have been known to me. And you, at least you must remember this kind of thing happening in soap-operas. The soap-opera is the longest form of drama known to man, hundreds of hours per year and going on for decades. There’s plenty of time for the hardening of hearts. It happens in real life too, though, and probably it happens to all of us, whichever side of the thing we are on.

Problems and disagreements begin, and for the first year, let’s say, all it would take to solve them would be for somebody to say, come on, I’m sorry, this is silly, we’re friends for Christ’s sake! All is forgiven. Add another year, and it all gets more difficult. Add a few years, and someone is going to have to come up with a more abject apology to straighten out the mess. Go five years or more, it’s a done deal. One party’s heart will have become “the hardest stone in the world” by that time.

Take the lesson, dear readers. If you have a disagreement with a loved one, get over it and apologize, whether you think that you were right or wrong or whatever. Just do it. It’s a loved one. Eat a little crow, you’ll get over it. If you have a problem with anyone at all, friend, neighbor, relative, co-worker, anyone, you’ll feel better if you can make it all go away while such a thing is possible. At some point it becomes a done-deal and you’re stuck with the result forever.

In the words of the immortal Rodney King: why can’t we all just get along?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Everything Is More Fun In Thailand

Bangkok taxis are most often unadorned Toyotas, the Altis model, but you will often come across one that is, let's say, "personalized." This example is pretty wild, but it by no means the wildest one that I've ever seen. At least he can still see out of (most of) the windshield. 

Very nice man, the owner/driver. We were having a friendly conversation already, so I asked him if I could take a picture. He laughed and said, sure! I asked him mostly because of all of the amulets. Many of these religious amulets are sold for protection against specific misfortune, and they can be very expensive. Take the "bullet proof" amulet, for instance. Protection like that doesn't come cheap! The amulets come with rules, and if you violate the rules the amulet may lose its power. I wanted to make sure that "do not photograph" wasn't one of the rules for the amulets. 

I think that he was happy that I was recording the car for posterity. This is his work of art, and it is his home-away-from-home for between twelve and fourteen hours every day, probably seven days every week. Thais are very hard-working people. 

At the end of the ride I gave him a good tip. He laughed again at that, perhaps in gratitude, and perhaps out of amazement that anyone could be so stupid as to throw away good money like that. (Thailand is not a tipping country, unless I'm around.)  I thanked him for the help, in the form of the ride, and I mentioned the pictures. He gave me his best smile. I'm still doing the work of my old outfit, the Peace Corps. Spreading good will around the world on behalf of my country. This work is even more important now in the age of Trump. 

Incidentally, the driver does not need to worry about getting a ticket for "blocking his view." You can hardly hang sun-glasses on the mirror of your car in California without drawing police attention. No, no, this is Thailand, "The land of the free." (The word Thai actually means "free," or "freedom.") It's his car, and he can do whatever he wants with it. This goes for blacked-out windows as well. Many of the cars that you see on Bangkok's streets have windows that are totally black, or totally mirrored out. Windshield included. Those are illegal in California, too. Here? It's your car, baby. Go for it. 

Ryuka Motorcycle Spotted In Bangkok

I see a lot of old Hondas, and when I spotted this motorcycle from across the street I assumed that it was one of those. But no! 

The Ryuka brand was new to me, so out came the camera-phone. Ryuka on the engine, too. God knows what the "RKIIOC" stands for. I headed for Google upon returning home. (The bike was parked outside of my dentist's office.) 

It looks like a copy of a Honda fifty cc from at least thirty years ago, probably more like forty. I see a fair number of those, lovingly kept in mint condition, or carefully restored. it's a lot more recent than that, though. The "Ryuka" brand is used by the Zongshen Motorcycle Company, based in Chongqing, China. The company was founded by Zuo Zongshen in 1992. They make about a million motorcycles per year, at least thirty percent of which go to export. 

They have a full line of newer designs with larger displacement engines, and the company is experiencing a growth spurt, if flattering articles are to be believed. It's a tough market, but that never stopped a Chinese company before. My friend has a Huawei phone, and it takes better pictures than my Samsung. I wish them luck. They need the jobs, too, and I for one don't grudge them. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Weather Woman - Keiko's song

Japan is a fascinating place. Mixed in with all of that ponderous seriousness is a long-standing tradition of nonsense humor. My local video rental place in the 1990s had a very good "cult" section that included a couple of good ones. 

Like Weather Woman, for instance! I don't think that the entire movie is posted on YouTube right now, but here's a little snippet. It's a funny movie. Watch it if you can find it. 

English Can Be Tricky

Very little about the English language is straightforward. Here is the sample question that appears on the front of the final exam for the class, English 2002:

It _________ very cold today.

1.   Was
2.   Has been
3.   Is
4.   Will be

The teacher who made up this test is Thai, and I’m sure that he thinks that it’s an easy question. For a native English speaker, however, the first thing that comes to mind is that any of these four answers makes a perfectly good sentence, depending on the circumstances.

1.   If it is nine p.m. and you have had dinner after skiing all day, and you are sitting in front of a nice fire drinking a brandy, “it was very cold today!”
2.   If you are out hunting ducks, and you have been in the blind for hours, planning to stay for another couple of hours, “it has been cold today.”
3.   If you are on the phone with your friend, who lives in another city, and she asks you how’s the weather there, “it is very cold today.”
4.   If you are having breakfast in your hotel, and planning a walking tour of the city today, “it will be very cold today.”

The preferred answer is number 3, “is.” That is the teacher’s guidance on the matter. This, no doubt, is because “is” is the present tense of the verb, and “today” is your time-reference.

If only life were that simple!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hugh Masekela-Grazing In The Grass

Counting a song like this almost makes me dizzy, because none of the beats are exactly where they belong. It's a wonderful example of off-beat syncopation. 

Oh, and Mr. Masekela has died. RIP, Hugh. Only seventy-eight, too. But I guess I'll be satisfied if I make it that far. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

UB40 - Red Red Wine

The dictionary was one of my favorite toys as a child. I still own a big one, an Oxford Concise, and I still have fun poking around in it. You never know what you'll find. 

For instance: 

UB40- (formerly in the UK) a card issued to a person who is registered as unemployed. 

Wrapping Up My Tav Falco Jag

“Tav Falco’s Panther Burns on Marge Thrasher 1979” is the title of this video on YouTube. The lads play a song, and then Tav is interviewed by the host, who is not only chagrined and shocked, but also a bit disgusted.

It’s great, though, because Tav really sheds a light on the nature of the exercise. I’d be the first to admit that it’s not immediately clear just what the act is all about.

This appearance was not long after the band was formed. Tav, given name Gustavo Antonio Falco, calls the band’s product “anti-music,” telling the host that “[we] are the live orchestra to accompany this video feed.”

Marge Thrasher was way less than impressed. “Was any Federal grant money spent on this?” she demands to know. In her critical opinion, “we’ve hit an all-time low this morning on ‘Straight Talk’.” She called the music, “possibly the worst sound that I’ve ever heard come out on TV.”

Mr. Falco keeps his cool, and responds to her questions with admirable clarity and artistic integrity. “I don’t think anyone else is playing music like this, in Memphis or anywhere else in the world.”

“(This music is) not part of the establishment, not part of our everyday environment.”

“We create an anti-environment to make real musicians more visible.” The idea being that otherwise, the real rockabilly and blues artists are “invisible.”

“We create contrast.”

Marge is highly indignant at being tricked into providing a forum for this kind of artistic hijinks. “Do people pay you to play?” she asks, as though that will prove something. “Occasionally,” answers Tav, “but we’re not in it for the money.” The very definition of gentlemanly dedication to no-commercial-potential.

“Is it art?” demands Marge.  “I don’t know if it’s art,” says Tav, “it’s Art Damage.”

There’s a lot about this fascinating man on the ‘Net. He’s got an interesting Wiki page, and a web-site of his own. He was born on the East Coast in 1945, to an Italian-American family, and he was raised in Kick Stump, Mississippi Valley, American Deep South, ending up in Memphis, where he made his mark in the multimedia art community.  

The Wiki page quotes him as saying that his artistic purpose is, “to stir up the dark waters of the unconscious.”

The band here includes Alex Chilton, famous for his lead singing with the Box Tops, including the giant 1968 hit, “The Letter.” Also famous, or infamous, for his high-level involvement with Big Star, the greatest Southern Power-Pop band ever to record two LPs that went nowhere. Alex became disillusioned with glossy pop music and returned to Memphis in 1978, meeting Tav and co-forming Panther Burns in early 1979. He is introduced here as “Axel Chitlins.”

Tav Falco’s Panther Burns is like an onion: there are many layers to peel back, and after you do, you still don’t really know too much.  

Deleting The Stress

The other day a doctor told me that I had to eliminate the stress from my life. Aren’t doctors great? Just like that, “you need to have no stress.” I gave him my sincerest “I’m listening” look and let it go. Like there was a switch or something, he tells me this.

I know that he’s right, so I’m going to give it a try. I, probably we all, need to take in the daily deluge of horrifying and dangerous information and somehow not let it find a home in us. Let it hit our receptors and bounce; receive it and catalog it, but don’t warehouse it all. The alternative being death, I’m ready to make a run at learning the bounce.

“Serenity now!” As they said on Seinfeld.

It’s high time that I let go of a few of the personal stressors that have been damaging me big time for the last few years. I know that, and I can feel it happening on its own. Time heals, etc. What about the tsunami of bullshit that reaches us on a daily basis in the news? Trying to avoid all word of happenings in America and the world just would not work for me; that’s a non-starter. I’ll be looking for a new way of accepting the information instead. Trying to find a way to read it all with objectivity, like an alien studying the earth from space. Looking for a way to become aware of it without resorting to constant worrying. It’s not going to be easy.

Because the news is terrible! Here’s a sample of the more-or-less new terrible news just from today:

1.   The American government wants 28,000 new nuclear weapons of all types, including new classes of small nukes that would be small enough not to make much of a mess. Almost as small as the two that we dropped on Japan. The world hardly noticed those! They also want to change the protocols to make it easier to use nuclear weapons;
2.   There is now a person in America named Chicago West. Named after a sign on I-80 I guess;
3.   Our president paid $130,000 for the silence of a hooker/porn-star after a sexual liaison. This payment was made through a shell-corporation by the then candidate’s lawyer, a few weeks before the election;
4.   American TV is now full of people making “shithole” jokes;
5.   Fox News is pushing an ISIS connection to the Las Vegas shooting that took the lives of something like fifty people;
6.   The American government is now shut down because our elected officials cannot agree on anything at all or work together in any way, shape, or form. This has happened even though one political party controls the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives (shut down on the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, BTW);
7.   The new stated goal of the Environmental Protection Agency is to eliminate regulations designed to protect our environment in order to insure greater profits for our corporations. In its public pronouncements, the “profits of our corporations” is referred to as “the good of the American people;”
8.   There is growing evidence from analysis of traffic before the 2016 election on Facebook and Twitter that 50,000 or so Russian “bots” were driving the dialog on those media for the benefit of Donald Trump. Trump, for his part, only repeats “no collusion” over and over again, as if that makes it all okay. If it was happening, it’s disgusting and dangerous whether he was in on it or not. And the worst part is that no one before the election or since seems to particularly care; and
9.   The State Department has been standing almost empty all year, and is continuing to lose many of its most experienced negotiators, country experts, and sanctions experts. Better to say that career diplomats in every category are getting tired of their assignments working with interns in the mailroom and are moving on to new jobs. They have marketable skill sets, so why not? With essentially no State Department, we have no way of influencing events in the world, except perhaps with new nukes and a stronger military, which is evidently the plan.

Serenity now! Let it all bounce off of you, like so many Pensie Pinkies! We must learn to live in our new, phantasmagorical H.P. Lovecraft universe!  We must become like millions of Dali Lamas!  Aware, but not concerned, that’s the idea! It’s worth the effort, dear readers, because worrying yourself to death is no laughing matter. I’ll be taking my doctor’s advice, and I’d advise you to take it, too.   

Friday, January 19, 2018

One Remarkable Mashup Of The Banal And The Phantasmagorical

(I guess you'll need to copy and paste the link, because I'm too lazy to figure out how to make it appear as a clickable link. Sorry!)

Some sonic genius out there realized that H.P. Lovecraft's poem, "Nemesis," fit directly into the rhythm and rhyme scheme of Billy Joel's song, "Piano Man." By what process, in what order, and what drugs were involved, I have no idea.

There are a couple of versions around. I listened to the ones that were in the post that I read on the H.P. Lovecraft appreciation Facebook page. This one is by far the most musical and listenable.

The poem features the overheated doom imagery that is typical for Lovecraft's poetry, and to hear it casually, almost cheerfully, draped into the "Piano Man" is cognitively dissonant, to put it mildly.

Another anti-hit brought to you by Mr. Fred! My life is service.

Tav Falco's Panther Burns - Bourgeois Blues

Another hit from Tav Falco! A little spongy in spots, but it's all in fun. And how about that tone? With a little "Howl" thrown in there at the end for you Beat Poetry fans!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Dandy Warhols - Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth

Another droll hit from the coolest name in the band business, The Dandy Warhols! I'm so far behind the times that it's ridiculous, but there's so much around to keep me busy that I don't miss the new stuff much.

Let the record show that I am aware that there are a ton of great new bands out there. When I'm in L.A. I listen to KXLU, and at least one fabulous newish song makes the air every twenty minutes or so. I listen to them with enthusiasm, driving around mostly, but I don't make notes or anything. I'm happy to allow the Millennials to make note of the wonders of this age. It's their age, after all.

Supreme Jubilees - It 'll All Be Over 1979 Soul Gospel

Not the most positive message that I've ever heard in a song, but one of the truest. Being of the "so much time, so little to do" persuasion*, I embraced the message in this song some time in my early thirties.

*Apologies to Oscar Levant. Although he might have said, "so little time, and so little to do." That wouldn't work for me, though. Much too positive.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Ramones - Tomorrow Never Comes [RARE]

An unreleased demo, so the story goes. I love the Ramones, and I'm a big lo-fi fan, so this cut is right up my alley.

My Depression, Part II

The Symptoms, Continued

Note: I have deleted 500 words that only rehashed the events culminating in the death of my father in April, 2016. We’ve been over that ground. I just went over too much of it in Part I of this epic. My, but I can talk. Especially when it’s about my favorite subject: me. Mea culpa.

My purpose here was supposed to be describing my depression symptoms in the one-year period between May, 2016 and May, 2017, as an illustration of the phenomenon that may be helpful to the non-sufferer. It is obvious to me that the un-depressed have no idea what is going on in the head of a depressed person. This can be tragic if the depressed person is their wife, or child, or their aging parent.

Note also that the covered period has been over for some time. Things are much better now, thanks.

Only one bit of information is necessary to complete the sob story at the end of Part I. My father died late in April, 2016, and for reasons that he took with him to the grave he excluded me from his will. I had thought that we were on very good terms. My father’s death put the last puzzle piece in its place, but it left one important question: was it the rejection and neglect of my parents that caused my depression in the first place? or was my depression only an outward sign of a failure of some kind in my own makeup. (Is that two questions? I think that it’s one “either/or” question.)

To get back on topic, wondering about things like this is one of the symptoms of depression.

Waking Symptoms

Do you want to know what it feels like to be depressed? Have you got someone in your life that you would like to “just get over it?” Maybe this will give you some idea of what they are going through. (Plus a couple of helpful hints for readers who may already know a lot about it.)

General Negativity: This is manifest in simple reactions to day to day events, or events in the news. All estimations are knocked towards the negative end of the scale. The tendency to worry about everything is increased. Worrying about loved ones, the future, money, the state of American democracy, health, security issues, just everything, you become more susceptible to morbid worrying about everything.

Specific negative ideation: For me, there is an increased tendency to spontaneously generate negative memories at random. At any point in the day, unless I am actively engaged in speaking with someone or reading something, specific painful memories enter my train of thought. These can be memories of events that were embarrassing to me, specific failures, missed opportunities, incidents of self-sabotage, anything in which I find fault in myself.

Not only memories, but the awareness of the current source of the depression. I would shout (silently, to myself), “why didn’t they love me?” Or, “I was a good boy!” Or, “what the hell was he thinking?” Or, “how could he hate me so?”
I spent most of the year trying to avoid these ambushes, as you may imagine. I would try to remain positive, and think happy thoughts, even forcing a smile onto my face to trick myself into lightening the mood. Quickly, though, a terrible memory would strike me. The immediate result was a full-body clench, a general tightening of all of my muscles, a brief pause in my breathing, a tight closing of the eyes. It was a moment of severe self-condemnation. I could usually calm myself down before long, and get back onto the good thoughts bandwagon, but those clenches do their harm, and such a vast number of them in a day adds up to some real damage.

This is all much worse when one’s eyes are closed, so laying down to sleep was a difficult time. Also, the time after waking but before rising.

Helpful Hints: I have two techniques for controlling my thinking during these times of special danger.

One is to go through a song in my mind. It’s not just singing the song, it’s more like performing the song and analyzing it at the same time. I’m registering the form of the song, the chords, their fingering on a guitar, their changes, their place in musical theory, and if there are harmonies, I’m trying to identify the interval between the parts, and I’m counting the song, the rhythm, the measures and the bars, and of course I’m going through all of the words to the song. This is not happening in real time, in fact it is all rather slowed down by the close examination.  This takes a lot of concentration, and it works pretty well as a block to negative thinking when your eyes are closed.

Another technique that works for me in many situations is to imagine myself flying a single-engine fighter plane from the World War II era. The piston-engine, tail-dragging variety, the Mustangs, the Hellcats, and the Thunderbolts, or for that matter the Focke-Wolfs, the Yaks, or the wonderful Japanese Franks. I am never engaged in actually firing the guns at another plane, it’s more about the focus that flying requires. Once the engine is running, and the plane is ready to take off, it all requires 100% concentration to put the plane into the flight envelope and keep it there. In the air, I focus on the sound of the engine, the vibration, and the need to adjust the trim of the aircraft, and scanning the sky for threats. Usually I imagine myself to be flying in a three-dimensional area, a cube, about five miles on a side. That tops out at about 25,000 feet. Spotting opponents off in the distance somewhere, a pilot must first maneuver the plane into firing position, preferably without alerting the other planes to his presence. The planes are at different altitudes, going in different directions, and moving at different speeds. This is a huge three-dimensional puzzle, and maintaining the illusion requires focus that borders on self-hypnosis. Both of these techniques are often successful for me.

Suicidal Ideation: I was very lucky in this one-year period to avoid any immediate danger of committing suicide. I was spared the longing for death that often appears with a solid episode of depression. We all live lives that are controlled by a calculus that is determined by our temperaments and personalities, as filtered through conditions of which depression is only one. Suicide occurs when the sufferer decides, “not one more day, no way,” decides that there is no possible way that one more day can be faced in this condition.

That has never happened to me; luckily, I’ve never even been particularly close to that condition. I’ve been close enough, though, on only a couple of occasions, to see what the process would feel like. But I am here today to tell you that planning and committing an actual suicide is only one manifestation of the suicidal ideation that can accompany depression.

What the sufferer may carefully consider instead is the concept and utility of suicide as part of a reasonable human life. Not necessarily suicide today, but an idea that suicide may be become normalized, more acceptable. The acceptance of the idea that there might be situations or problems that may arise in the future to which suicide could be a reasonable solution.

I have engaged in this kind of thinking, and I can tell you that it can make today more bearable to know that there is a way out that may someday become feasible. I think that this kind of thinking helps to give the sufferer more of a feeling of being in control of his life, even today.

Physical Manifestations: Depression is a condition that arises from, and causes, stress. Those of us who suffer from depression know that, from time to time, in one part of our bodies or another, our stress will manifest itself as a physical pain. The every-changing cycle of the manner and the intensity of it becomes an annoying part of our lives. We are not confused about it, however, we know what is happening. But boy, if you want to make a doctor laugh, try telling him that the pain that you are experiencing in your hips is stress related sciatica. They smile and give you that look that says, “and where did you go to medical school?” School of life, pal, and it’s happened before, and it always appears in response to a specific stressor, and it always resolves when the stressor is no longer present.

In the year under examination, I experienced physical stress manifestations almost immediately upon hearing about my father’s will.

My shoulder, for instance. At first the condition was bilateral, but the right shoulder resolved quickly. The left shoulder began to hurt more or less constantly, and the mobility of my left arm was severely curtailed. It was impossible for me to lie on my left side, which unfortunately is where I’ve always spent most of my sleeping time. I tried to ride it out, exercising the shoulder gently, but finally I went to see an orthopedist. “Frozen shoulder,” was his diagnosis, and after some reading I agree with him. He suggested a few exercises for physical therapy, and wished me luck. I did more reading, and it got very interesting very quickly.

The frozen shoulder is a condition with no recommended treatment which occurs for reasons that the doctors do not understand. It has a life cycle of between two and three years, and at some point, it resolves on its own. The docs are suspicious about correlations to diabetes and heart disease, but these are only to be seen in statistics. No biological or chemical relationship has been identified. Note that a diagnosis of either diabetes or heart disease is a very stressful event for most people. So, I’m thinking that the whole frozen shoulder thing is stress related. I am happy to report that the “two to three years” prognosis could be happening, as we speak. We’re closing in on two years, and the condition is moderating week by week. I’m never sure where to direct my thanks in these situations, but in case anyone is listening, thank you!

It could be worse! But wait, it is worse. Much worse.

My blood pressure has been high for some time. Never high enough for a doctor to recommend medication, but up in the elevated region of the guidelines for “normal.”

After the bit with the will, my BP started to go up. Nothing else had changed, but by the end of the calendar year I was getting situational spikes that were alarmingly high. Finally, I sought the advice of a cardiologist, and we got me started on some medication to lower the blood pressure. I cooperated by cutting down my drinking to two ounces per day, two drinks of one ounce each. I was trying to be good. By the way, I had stopped smoking my five or six cigarettes per day about five months after my father died, which was five months before I started the BP meds. Then something happened.

The blood pressure came down, but every evening it sailed right back up above the guidelines. One night at about nine o’clock, I got chest pains, something that had never happened before in any way. I took my BP and it was very high. I seriously considered going to the hospital on the spot, but I figured that it would be better to give it twenty minutes or so and see what would happen. After about a half of an hour, it was all back in the normal range and I felt fine. That is, however, a major scare. Also, it’s the last thing that I ever expected in my life. To my knowledge, no one on either side of my family has ever died of a heart attack. I don’t know if anyone has even been treated for heart disease. Mostly cancer, it’s been, with a few strokes thrown in, and almost always in advanced old age. My father’s stroke came at the age of ninety-five. My mother, who drank like a fish and had blood pressure almost as high as FDR’s, simply died of “old age” in her bed at the age of eighty-five. I was very, very surprised by the chest pains.

That was my cue to jump all of the way onto the deprivation bandwagon, so I gave up drinking altogether, and coffee too, for good measure. I never went back on BP meds, and my pressure now is always low-normal, all by itself. By now, I’ve had the entire battery of tests up to and including the CT scan. The news is neither alarming, nor completely threat free. I’ll just say that I do not now require an operation, and the odds are very good that I will not be requiring one any time soon. (Note that I may require a mere procedure. Ah! The precision of the trained lawyer!)

I’m blaming this one on the stress and depression as well, and let the docs get as snarky as they want to. There are numerous studies by now that have found correlations between stress, depression, and many diseases, including heart disease. I’ll probably be fine, at least the evidence of the many tests seems to indicate that result. But it will be a continuing worry, and a considerable expense from time to time.

Sleep Symptoms

Here, two problems present themselves. Sleeplessness, and nightmares. Wait, there is also the possibility of the sufferer sleeping too much. It frequently happens that depressed people find it hard to get out of bed at all. I have avoided that symptom, and I am grateful. Those first two, I’ve had those over the years, and they were very noticeable during the year under examination.

Sleeplessness: Mine came in the middle of the sleep period. At one or more points during the overnight, I would find myself unable to return to sleep. When this happened, I would employ one of the above-mentioned two techniques for settling the mind, to avoid an onrush of negative thoughts or general worrying. It wasn’t so hard to deal with.

Helpful Hint: The secret of dealing with sleeplessness is to pretend that you are asleep. Get as comfortable as possible and then do not move. Not even to scratch your nose! You must mimic the sleep-paralysis. Never look to see what time it is. When you do this, you will probably be in first stage sleep without even realizing it. I know that this is true, because many times I would hear a bird outside and feel myself “waking up,” whereas I had been sure that I was not asleep. The mistake that people make is moving. A certain person that I had many opportunities to observe compounded this by not only moving almost constantly, but also getting angry about being awake. Only do that if you wish to stay awake all night.

Nightmares: Regarding nightmares, I am something of an expert. I have suffered them, more or less, all of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of nightmares. This could turn into a long story in a hurry, so let’s stay focused on this specific year. My depression and anger about my father’s rejection resulted in a bumper crop of nightmares with a very particular character. They were vivid and naturalistic, in color and with great detail regarding surroundings and clothing. They were long dreams that could start and stop over the course of many hours of sleep. They featured real people from my family, speaking very realistic dialog in their own voices, in fully lit rooms. There was almost none of either Freudian substitution or Jungian symbolism. It was people from my own life, giving me shit about my shortcomings, and often blaming everything on me. Often, my father would be there, hurling recriminations with his usual sarcasm; other times he would be a dead presence, and we, his family, dead and alive, would be discussing one thing or another. Waking up from some of those dreams, I would be in a bad mood for a day or two, recalling only too clearly something spoken in the dream, or some dirty look.

This depression thing is no party.


There are many lesser symptoms. There is the inability to comfort oneself; the sufferer takes less pleasure, or no pleasure, in the things that they usually enjoy. Depressed people tend to blame themselves for any negative events around them. I never give up trying to figure out how I could be responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened to me. Sufferers, when the depression is in flood tide, are less inclined to do anything at all that is remotely social. There’ll be more reading and less interaction in general. There will be an avoidance of all things that can possibly be put off until a future day. Sometimes all that I can manage is to do the things that are absolutely necessary, like my job, and paying bills, and the dishes. Dishes don’t wash themselves.

We, the people who suffer from depression, hate what we put our families through. We hate what we are putting ourselves through. We hate being depressed. It is, however, a disturbing fact of life that the only cards that you can play are the cards that you have been dealt. I know, I used this same metaphor very recently, but it’s mine, so I’m using it again. You cannot wish that you had gotten that last club in the draw. You cannot bet a wish. It’s too late. It’s time to bluff or fold. “Bluff” may be an apt metaphor for the mask that we all wear in our public lives, and “fold,” please excuse me for leaving this part in. “Fold” may take on a particularly dark meaning in this context. The entire metaphor is apt for depression sufferers.

So please, dear readers, do what you can to try to understand why your depressed family member is acting in that strange, annoying way. We certainly do not do it intentionally, and we would change in a second if we could. Maybe after reading this you can begin to understand that as annoying as their behavior may be for you to deal with, depression is a much bigger burden for those who must bear it.