Tuesday, February 27, 2018
I haven't heard many Beatles tracks with Pete Best in the band. I've looked, but I've never made a science of it. This cut is from the Decca auditions, and I think it's a very successful track. It shows what I've said all along: the Beatles were a damn good bar-band at this time.
But of course, at least three of them had big ambitions, and John had huge pretensions. Being big-time in the bar-band business brought in small crowds and little money. The real money was in big selling records, with band members holding the publishing rights, and big venue shows. So that's where the Beatles steered their course. I usually say that they "sold out," but in my kinder moments I don't think that's exactly fair. Maybe they were just confident. They were, after all, very good for a bar-band. They looked for people who could help them, and got rid of someone who they thought would hold them back. A little on the cold side, but if the Beatles were not a cold-hearted, self-interested bunch of guys, they'd have stayed together until death overtook them. That would have been the smart thing to do.
"Money," a perfect song choice for this lot.
Pete Best here is unspectacular but inoffensive. He's not as bad as a lot of people make him out to be. He just wasn't in the mold of what the Beatles wanted to become. Which was a very polished Moon-Spoon-June, Tin Pan Alley, Brill Building act that appealed to all age groups. Pete probably had more fun with his own band after he left, excuse me, was kicked out.
Monday, February 26, 2018
There was a time when almost all of the adults smoked cigarettes. “Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em,” was more than just a catchy saying. It was a way of life. That was the World War II generation, and you could say that during that nerve-jangling episode in world history there were more reasons to smoke than there are usually. The young adults of the time were self-medicating to an extent. The depression was just ending, and between that and the war there were tons of good reasons to be nervous and worried. Not just at the tip of the spear, either, not just the combat troops, but all throughout the rest of the military and into the population of most of the world. They developed the habits of drinking at every opportunity and smoking as close to constantly as they could manage. After the war, it was tough to stop, and most of them didn’t see any good reason to even try stoping anyway.
Many of us had family doctors who had served in the wartime military. My own doctor was one of the unlucky few who had actually treated combat casualties and been relatively close to the front. He was a steady kind of fellow that no one would say was the nervous type. He had picked up the smoking and drinking habits, though. He had a big ash tray on the desk in his office and he didn’t mind smoking while he was treating patients. He had a bottle of scotch in the drawer, too, and in between office appointments he would take a little nip. He left the rocks glass on his desk. I’m sure that he’d occasionally pull out another glass and share a drink with a patient if the situation called for it. He knew which of his patients had been in the shit during the war. Give ‘em a drink, let’s smoke a butt, reminisce a little. He was a good doctor, not like some of them who couldn’t handle their liquor. I still have a mark on my shoulder that looks like a small tattoo of the islands of Japan, left by a botched tetanus shot from another doctor who had been taking a few too many nips that day. He jammed the needle straight into the bone. He’d been in the war himself.
Camels sold their product with the pitch, “not a cough in a carload!” See, now I wouldn’t have recommended that saying to them. As the Romans used to say, “the guilty flee, when no man pursueth.” Why bring up coughing yourself? I’m pretty sure that was a mistake.
Lots of the members of that generation paid the price for all of that self-medication. My old doctor included. He suffered a fatal heart attack at a relatively young age. Several of my uncles paid that price, too, or got the cancer or something. They were certainly a bad influence on us Baby Boomers, that “Greatest Generation.”
The first cigarettes that I smoked as a boy were rush jobs, and I don’t really remember them. They were Pell Mells that a cousin and I had stolen from my uncle. Whether I enjoyed them or not, I do not recall, but I was not discouraged, that much is certain.
The first cigarettes that I do remember smoking were non-filter Chesterfield Kings that my friend Jackie and I stole from his mom. She smoked those things by the carton, more than a pack a day, so she’d never realize it if four of them went missing. We took a book of matches and the four cigarettes and went to the big park on the river in our town. There was a hill rising above a nice path along the river that was covered in dense, old bushes. We knew a spot where you could climb the hill with some difficulty and come to a “fort,” as we called such things. It was an open space covered by the bushes with enough hard packed dirt for two or three boys to sit comfortably. Facing the river there was a gap in the foliage that provided a nice view of La Guardia Airport, right across Flushing Bay. We were twelve years old at the time, still in grammar school.
It was probably the first time that I inhaled, so it would have been the first time that I got the full effect. And the effect of a Chesterfield (filterless) King was considerable. We smoked our two cigarettes apiece and we compared notes. I remember thinking, wow, no wonder the adults smoke these things. I thought they were great.
In the fullness of time, I tried a lot of other things as well. I must confess that I liked almost everything that I tried, and that I added a few things to the list of my, what? Habits? Sure, habits, why not. For want of a better word, although not, certainly, in the medical sense. Only those devices that one uses to comfort oneself through the difficult passages in life, which for many of us came pretty much every day.
Speaking now, in February, 2018, it’s been about a year and a half since I smoked a cigarette. It’s not like I was a dedicated cigarette smoker all of my life, I wasn’t. I went strong through my late teens, but after that I was an on again, off again cigarette smoker, and always more like a few, nothing like a pack per day. During my fifties, I literally smoked three cigarettes per day. That was hard for people to believe, but it worked for me. I enjoyed those three cigarettes, one in the morning; one upon returning home from work; and one after dinner.
During my sixties, and owing to stresses that would crush coal into diamonds, my intake went up to six or seven cigarettes per day. If you are still young, dear reader, God bless you, but please believe me that there comes a time in our lives when the handwriting on the wall is not only clearly visible, but it is also bursting into flames and can be read from space. So, I quit. It was not that the stress in my life was reduced, quite the opposite was true. It was just that I came to realize that the well-being of others was involved, not just my own wants and needs. I was not worried about second-hand smoke, because I only smoked on my balcony, and with the doors closed. No, I realized that every year that I could add to my life would make someone else’s life easier. There was someone who would miss me after I was gone, and who’s life I could make easier by my assistance and companionship. In other words, I selfishly sought to extend my life, because I enjoy this feeling of being important to someone.
I can honestly say that I never crave a cigarette. I never look longingly at the cigarette display in the convenience stores. I do kind of miss them, though, because I did always enjoy smoking them. Okay, add them to the list of things that I miss. The list is as long as my arm by now, and the cigarettes are the least of it.
Friday, February 23, 2018
Monday, February 19, 2018
Speaking of Gil Scott-Heron.
This cut was originally part of an early LP by The Last Poets, but I think this version came later on as part of a Gil Scott-Heron solo release.
Not being close to my records is probably no excuse. I could do some research on this here 'Net and figure it out for sure. But you know that I don't like research. Unless I'm getting paid, anyway.
This is a nice cut from the early 1970s. I enjoyed songs like this one well enough, but I didn’t buy the records. I always run things like that through a racism-alert filter, but this one passes that test. I was buying plenty of records by black artists, Graham Central Station, Muscle Shoals records, Fatback Band, Stax/Volt/Enterprise, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Hi Records, lots of Reggae, Fela and other African acts, and more, but just not any of this smooth, almost Doo-Wopie northern, urban Soul.
I did listen to it on the radio. That would have been “The Big RL,” WWRL, in New York City. I liked it, but I felt like groups like the Chi-Lites, with their matching outfits and smooth vocals, were out of date. Now of course that’s not a problem. All of it, and me included, we’re all out of date by now.
It’s a good cut, though. Great song; great production; entertaining premise. A couple of nice plays on words. And a great performance, the Chi-Lites were very good.
I can’t listen to this music without thinking of the clothing styles at the time. The clothing worn by young black hipsters, specifically. Not the platform shoes and multi-color everything, not what you might call Pimp Style. The young guys didn’t wear that stuff. It took money to dress like that. The young black men were clothes-conscious, but they preferred a simpler fashion of dress.
Low-top sneakers in many colors came out in the early 1970s. Purple; red; green. They were bright, too. They were popular with young black men, so I’m thinking that they must have been Converse. The black guys always preferred Converse to Keds. But then again, the first non-black or white sneakers that I ever remember were Keds. They were out already in the early 1960s. Not bright colors, just like olive green, earth tones, very subtle. Hard to look that up, probably.
They wore those bright sneakers with t-shirts that more or less matched. Very often, silk t-shirts that were sold in up-scale clothing stores that catered to the black population in Flushing, Queens. White t-shirts were very popular, and went with everything. They’d wear these with chinos, maybe black chinos as well and the kaki. Starched and pressed, if I recall.
Those fellows were the customers at a record store that I worked at around that time. We got along fine. Why shouldn’t we have? I know, I know. But recall the times. It’s worth pointing out.
In the Puerto Rican community of the early 1970s, the real style-leaders were hard core gangsters, and you had to go to Brooklyn or Manhattan to find them. I remember them, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever even seen photographs of the styles that they pioneered. They wore denim jackets, but they would steal furs from women on the subway, cut them up, and sew fur collars onto the denim jackets. That was a good look. They also were among the first to shop the vintage clothing stores for nice old pleated dress pants, very dressy. These guys were mostly thin, and the tight denim jacket with those baggy-ass pants was a great look. I copied that look myself before I moved to Los Angeles, and I made quite a splash when I got there. I never had a fur collar on my denims, though. What I did do was stitch small highlights of color into the collars and cuffs, so little that it was hard to see. Subtle, but killer. I liked that look.
I’m pretty sure that the PRs liked the colored sneakers, too. But they also liked to wear expensive, very conservative Oxfords. (Better in a fight!) I copped that look, too. Mine were Florsheim’s Oxford Weaves (brown).
See? This is what happens when you get to my age. Listen to a nice song on the YouTube, and all of a sudden, it’s taking you on a tour of memories in files that have not been reviewed in decades. I’ve seen a lot, and done a lot, and it’s nice to be reminded that I wasn’t always the quiet, rather dull man that you see before you. I was never cool, but I was hip there for a while.
I had a strange moment at the mall today. There was an item that I needed to return. Not like a pair of gloves or something, it was a licensed copy of Microsoft Office in the original box with the receipt. I will uncharacteristically refrain from telling you all of the details, but take my word for it, it had been rendered useless and uninstallable through no fault of my own. It turned into a big deal, unsurprisingly, and it ended up taking two almost two hours.
(To cut the suspense, they did eventually give me the money, about $100 in cash. They had clearly caused the problem, but even that is usually not enough in these cases. It was a testament to my powers as a near-hysteric who refuses to be pushed around.)
I have largely outgrown the frequently abrasive behavior of my younger days, but there are times when I can make very hard eyes and be very, very direct. It happens when I make a polite request for something that every system of honor and justice in the world would agree that I should be granted, but it is not granted. I find it disrespectful to be stonewalled and denied what is so clearly my due. Honestly, in any situations where the justice of it could go either way, I just smile and walk away. When my good nature is clearly being abused, however, I can be difficult.
The odd experience came late in this exchange, which by then was me vs. four mall people and one guy from Microsoft on the phone. I had exceeded my bullshit tolerance quota about half an hour previously. I was speaking across a desk to a mall woman who spoke remarkably good English, and I was explaining to her my theory of how the problem came about in the first place, a theory in which the mall looked particularly bad and had obviously broken the law. I was touching a nerve, because I could tell that she knew that I was right. In mid-accusation I glanced briefly to my left, and I saw something.
It was a Farang dwarf (Farang, a white European or American, or anyone who looks white). She was an adult woman, and although I was seated I was looking directly into her eyes at close range. She was wearing a traditional Bavarian dress like the ones worn by Octoberfest waitresses, rather colorful and ornate. She was very pretty, and her eyes were huge, like one of those big-eye paintings, and very sad. Her dark hair was in pig-tails.
I don’t think that there is a chance in the world that there was actually such a woman standing there looking at me in that way, at that time. Leaving the mall later on, I wondered if such a transient disconnection from reality was something that I should worry about, quickly deciding that it was not. That’s small potatoes in my scheme of things. Then I wondered about the symbolism of it, why would my vision take the form of a melancholy Bavarian dwarf waitress? This second question was as difficult as the first one was easy. I eventually gave up.
I’m chalking it up to just another day in the unsupervised disintegration of a slightly defective personality. Let the record show that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a danger to myself or others! I am just a curiously imperfect stich in the human tapestry, impossible to detect from afar, and not even easy to see from close up.
I should apologize for bothering you with such trivial matters.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Friday, February 16, 2018
There are many cities around the world that were founded centuries ago and have, over the years, super-sized themselves. You can still stand in the spot, perhaps the neighborhood, where people first settled and gave the city a name. In the beginning, you could stand anywhere and throw a rock out of town, but walking to one of the edges would be a challenge at this point.
Some of them are very old, and have grown truly huge over time. There’s Karachi, Pakistan (thirty-one million people); Mexico City (twenty-four million); Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (a stunning thirty-five million); and many others. The one that I know best is kind of a junior-super-city. That would be my home of more than ten years, Bangkok, which started as a settled area over two hundred years ago and has grown to be the home of between ten and twelve million people. The entire phenomenon is very interesting.
If you look at Bangkok from a distance, what you will notice first are the newer additions to the city. There are a lot of very tall buildings spread over most of the total area, and several areas of the city seem to consist entirely of very tall buildings. There are now motorways and elevated trains laced around the city, not to mention one large airport surrounded by urban sprawl. There are, however, many reminders of the various stages of the city’s development. They are everywhere, and they are easy to find. You can turn a corner and see nothing but buildings of modest height that were built about one hundred years ago. There are entire neighborhoods that look almost exactly like they did sixty or seventy years ago. And spread out all over the city, from end to end, are small, cluttered areas where many ramshackle dwellings in the ancient Thai style are placed close together in no discernable pattern. These areas are difficult to place in time. The whole thing may have been built twenty, fifty, eighty, or a hundred years ago, or even more. Many of these consist of stilt-homes, often built along the older canals, and the floors and galleries can sag alarmingly. There will be newly washed clothes hanging on a line, though, and if you come across them in the evening, the light of a TV will shine out of the portals, otherwise unencumbered by either doors or windows. These families have nothing worth stealing, and Thailand is hot, so the home is as open to the circulation of air as possible.
One of my Bangkok hospitals is a case in point. That would be King Chulalongkorn Hospital, founded by the King himself in about the year 1910. The original two-story buildings are still there, connected by walkways that are covered to provide protection from the tropical rains. They are all still in use, and many contain very expensive, new high-tech medical equipment. They were built to occupy a large area featuring a lot of open space, either for gardens or just to encourage the circulation of air. Every available space is now occupied by buildings of all descriptions that have been built continuously over the course of the hospital’s history. The newest buildings are large and modern. It’s a jumble of styles and periods that is familiar to anyone that is familiar with Bangkok in general.
They say that large, old cities grow in this way according to unwritten rules that govern how people will move about and interact. I’ve read that cities themselves, as though they were living things, act to ensure that the resulting jumble will be livable. Perhaps it would be fair to say that cities are living things. They certainly seem to breathe, and life’s blood does seem to flow in them.
So, that’s the part about cities.
How about Windows 10? Is Windows 10 a living thing? Is it nourished by breath and blood? Ah, no. I think that would be giving it too much credit. But the history of its development does have a lot in common with the growth of a super-city.
Opening a Windows 10 machine today, we are presented with the most modern face of Microsoft’s premier product, the Windows operating system. The product called “Windows 10” has only been available for a couple of years, but its foundations, like those of Bangkok, were laid long ago. It almost seems like forever ago by now. The foundations of Windows 10 were laid in a world where FAX machines, the cordless home telephone, and pagers were the height of personal technology; a world devoid of mobile phones or the Internet; a world where computers were as big as Volkswagens and ran on punch-cards or big reels of magnetic tape; an analog world where music was still sold on grooved plastic disks that were played by a diamond needle that rested on them and vibrated with the sound, which was then amplified. The foundation of Windows 10 was the first version of DOS, which enabled regular people to guide primitive IBM licensed computers through simple tasks like word processing. DOS was the vehicle that brought computers into our homes. This would be what, the mid-1980s?
Microsoft occupied the home computer field early, but they were not alone. There was another company with something that was ready to market. That would be Apple, and Apple’s big selling point was the mouse. Controlling everything from the keyboard is still possible, but it was always unwieldy. The mouse enabled the user to point to icons and click, greatly simplifying the computer experience. Apple correctly recognized the marketing potential of the mouse driven computer, but they badly overestimated the public’s willingness to pay for Apple products. They threw away their market advantage in favor of limited sales at high prices, and, as so often happens, someone stole their good idea and undercut their prices, achieving market domination. That was Microsoft, which released their mouse driven computer as Windows. Just point and click! What could be easier. The Apple product was always more advanced, and the user experience was always more comfortable, but Windows would do most things just fine and it was a lot cheaper. The Windows machines sold like hotcakes, while Apple almost went broke.
It was all Windows, but DOS hadn’t gone anywhere. Windows was built on top of DOS. And then newer versions of Windows were just added to the stack. So, it was all the way up through Windows 95, Windows 97, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, and now Windows 10, and all of the other Windows in between, either released or stifled at birth.
The problem by now is that the foundation of Windows 10 is rotten. It is staggering along on life-support under the weight of all of that cut-and-paste coding.
Disclaimer: I could be wrong, of course. I’m not a tech writer, nor am I some kind of hacker. I’m just an average Joe who has used computers extensively since the mid-1980s, and I’m a guy who reads extensively about many subjects that interest me, and computers is one of those subjects.
My first real computer was an IBM clone with an 8088 processor and less then 20 MB of storage. I used it for word processing only, while I was in law school. Working as a lawyer, I moved on to newer machines on a regular basis. I often worked as a one-man office, and I did everything myself, including all document preparation. I became proficient in Word and Word Perfect, and I purchased, installed, and ran various programs for specialized document preparation. I am in no way an expert, you could not even say that I was particularly good at it. But I am experienced.
And what I can see about Windows 10 is that it does less than older versions of Windows, and it does most things more slowly. My new Windows 10 machine will not recognize my Samsung phone to import photos. “No files available for import.” I tried to copy Word files to CD, and even something as simple as that was time consuming and counterintuitive. The machine simply will not import songs from CDs. Not only that, it also seems to get worse every time it updates itself, which is two or three times per week at great expense of time and attention.
Each new version of Windows 10 brings new problems. The touch-screen feature seems to have driven the entire Windows jalopy off of a cliff. The ancient code at the core of the operating system seems to have risen in rebellion against the demands that are being placed on it.
I think that part of the problem is that people use computers to play games these days, and the games require lots of computing power and sophisticated video drivers, which all make great demands on the machines. I play no games on the computer, except for the odd chess problem, so I don’t need all of that extra RAM and shear power. I’m pretty sure that I’d be happier, and my computing experience would be enhanced, by a return to Windows XP and Word 97. Every single up-grade since that period has been nothing but trouble.
My point is that Windows 10 is a patchwork of the new, the not-so-new, the old, and the ancient. Bangkok is exactly the same mix of ingredients. It works fairly well for a city, all things considered, but even with cities it brings problems. The streets were laid out for traffic that consisted of pedestrians and vehicles drawn by horses or human beings, so moving around the city is very slow and inefficient. The main difference between Windows 10 and Bangkok is: entirely replacing Bangkok from the ground up would be impossible, while the need to replace Windows 10 with an entirely new operating system is something that should be obvious to everyone.
Will Microsoft write an entirely new operating system? I’m not holding my breath for that one. Will someone else? Google, perhaps? Android? Amazon? A better question is: does anyone have a financial incentive to come up with one? Here, there are people much better qualified to answer that question. But we can consider it. Microsoft already has a monopoly on home computer operating systems. They’ve got us over a barrel, and so why would they want to invest the time and money? They don’t want to, that’s the obvious answer. Apple has chosen the high-end/ high-art niche, and the Google Chrome Book has its niche, but Microsoft equips most of the home computers in the world by far. A separate problem is that none of these big companies plays well with the others. Apple has always insured that other software will not run on its products, and now Microsoft is following Apple’s lead.
Consumers are getting the short end of the stick. We make those companies and their owners rich, and what do we get for our money and our trouble? “Here, pal,” they say, “take this, because this is all you’re gonna get.”
Well, I’ve got that out of my system. I should feel better, but I don’t.
I mentioned this song in the post below this one. I posted this song as covered by the Persuasions back in 2015. It's a great song, either way. Tony Joe and the Persuasions are both under-appreciated acts.
Mr. White is still alive as of this writing. The Persuasions haven't been together as a singing group for years. I wish them all well. Thanks, everybody, for the music.
This is a song from a bygone era in black music, and probably pretty bygone in white music, too. This song came out in 1969, and, not to put too fine a point on it, the song's point of view is that of the hardscrabble life out in the countryside. Black Americans lived that life for a long portion of their history in the New World. It was forced on them, but that aspect of it has no bearing here. They lived it, for better or worse, and in 1969, it was a recent enough memory to embed itself unbidden into the narrative of songs like this.
"Songs like this;" that would include, at least, "Patches," by Clarence Carter.
This phenomenon is not limited to black artists. As a demonstration, I offer Tony Joe White's "Willie and Laura Mae Jones," a lovely and sincere appreciation of the friendship between two families of sharecroppers, one white and the other black, who had been neighbors on somebody else's property, working their asses off in the identical way for next to no money. That's the south in a nutshell. Most southerners, of whatever race or creed, lived that hardscrabble life, more or less.
I was a city boy, myself. I, my father, and his father before him, grew up in New York City. While my father, at the age of ten, thought nothing of running the six or seven miles from Flushing down to Woodside to visit his friends in the old neighborhood, neither he, nor my grandfather, would even have considered, as adults, walking twenty-five miles to anywhere at all, no matter what awaited them there. But it would, not too long ago, occur to a countryside person, not surrounded by public transportation opportunities. It would occur especially to a black country person, who was accustomed to keeping his head down, more or less out of sight, for fear of being overtaken by the whole "Strange Fruit" thing.
So Edwin Starr walks twenty five miles, and sings a fine song about it. It is well that we wonder: why would he do such a thing? It's a window onto a period in our history that is quickly being forgotten by some, revised by others, and ignored by almost everybody. It's nice to take a moment to think about it.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Another day, another shooting.
There is nothing to be said for all of these shootings, except maybe, “oh shit, we are so fucked.”
The mall shootings; the workplace shootings; the neighborhood shootings; that recent concert shooting; and, God help us, the school shootings, especially the ones where some random adult, who has no particular association with the school, invades the campus and lets fly at kindergarteners; these are all events that are beyond redemption. Beyond redemption in themselves, and perhaps pushing our society beyond redemption as well.
The aftermaths of these shootings bring multiple reactions and responses that are in themselves evil, or at least embarrassing. Many other deranged individuals get the idea that their own egos would be flattered by an adventure of this kind. I say, “deranged,” but this type of derangement has obviously grown within the definition of “normal” in our society. We must acknowledge that a mass shooting every day and a half is the very definition of “normal.”
And then there is the sickening outpouring of totally insincere prayer by politicians. “Our thoughts and prayers,” and asking God to “grant peace to the families,” have become the defining clichés of our times. The prayers of the politicians are the worst, but let’s face it, the prayers of local community groups aren’t much better.
Assuming that there is a God is already a giant leap of faith, because there is not one shred of evidence in 10,000 years to suggest that there is such a being. Assuming that there is a God that answers prayer is a further leap into the dark void of supernaturalism. This outpouring of senseless prayer is the height of foolishness, but therein may lie a spark of positive energy at the center of the awful blackness of these mass shootings.
All prayers are "Hail Mary passes." They all grasp at straws that will not support any weight. They all fail to achieve results.
All prayers are "Hail Mary passes." They all grasp at straws that will not support any weight. They all fail to achieve results.
It has been a long time now that we have been suffering these terrible shooting incidents on a regular basis, and we have all the while been listening to all of these demonstrations of prayers, and seen all of the moments of silence, all of the politicians’ heads hung in mournful contemplation of the money that they receive from the NRA. And perhaps some people will begin to notice that no one has been listening to those prayers. This massive outpouring of prayer, the volume of which must be almost record setting, has obviously fallen on deaf ears, or non-existent ears. There has only been an acceleration in the number of mass shootings. Even such a tremendous volume of prayer, rising from such multitudinous sources, in all voices, languages and accents, has done nothing. I hope, I wish, I pray! that more people, more Americans in particular, will take this wonderful opportunity to question the entire idea that there is a supernatural being who “watches over us,” who supposedly “cares for us,” or even “loves us.”
Only “we” are responsible for “us.” Only “we” can bring about the changes that are required. Society must take responsibility for its own shortcomings, and begin to take emergency measures to correct its own excesses and mistakes.
The societal “we” that is empowered to take action has been defined in America to consist of the elected officials in our representative government. It is also obvious by now that that experiment has failed. A new “we” must arise to take its place. A “we” that actively seeks the comfort and security of all of “us.” Our elected political rulers do not care for us, or our families, or our children, in the least. That much is clear; it is as plain as the nose on your face.
What form that new political entity might take is beyond my limited powers of imagination. I only hope that greater minds than mine are devoting some time to the problem even as we read, and write, here and now.
Monday, February 12, 2018
When one artist does a version of a song that has been written and performed by another artist, you can really learn a lot about both parties to the transaction. A great song travels well from one artist to another; a great artist can take someone else's song and breath a different life into it.
This version of one of the most popular songs of the last thirty years is transformational. Willie takes it to another universe altogether. This cover version flatters Willie, the song, and Nirvana, all at the same time. The first time that I heard it, I'll admit to a certain confusion. By now, after five or ten listenings, it's one of my favorite songs.
Small town America, you may have noticed, is filled up with churches like the oceans are filled with salt water. My sister lived for twenty years in a small desert town in New Mexico. The whole town hardly had two nickels to rub together, but one thing they had was churches. More like fifty things that they had were churches. It's pretty much that way most places that I've been.
Just about all of these churches are money making enterprises, and they do very well at it. Check out that Joel Osteen's house sometime, it's a pip. I doubt if most of them do anyone any good at all. Homeless people? Hell no! We just got new carpets up in here. The odds, though, are that some of those little churches do some good in communities where less than prosperous people predominate.
I like this Bishop Bullwinkle fellow. At least he's got a good band, and I'll bet that services at his church are as entertaining as all get out. The man has charisma, and the bicycle is a nice touch, don't you think? With that giant coffee cup on the handlebars, is that a coffee cup? Maybe it's for donations. Oooops! There goes my cynical streak again. I can hardly keep that thing down.
At least the good bishop is giving value for dollar. An hour or so interspersed with some good tunes would be worth a couple of bucks in the basket. Say Amen, somebody! Visit that Osteen guy's church, which looks like Madison Square Garden, and all you get is shitty music and religion that is a fake as his smile. Old Bishop Bullwinkle's heart might actually be within hailing distance of the right place. Stranger things have happened.
Friday, February 9, 2018
In May, 1954, people were not accustomed to so much gain in the guitar sound. Not by a long shot. Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones showed the world how it was done.
It must have been a real "eureka!" moment. "Let's turn this thing all the way up and see what happens." I'll bet that some other guys had tried it, but backed off right away. Eddie, and a couple of other trailblazers, played that way for five or ten minutes and decided that it sounded pretty damn good.
And the rest is history.
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Lothar and the Hand People: The Fate of Off-Beat Bands
The record business completely changed somewhere along the line. In the 1980s, was it? It started in there somewhere. There was a giant shake-out of record companies, and the total number was sharply reduced by mergers and acquisitions. The companies controlled the radio business by then, through corporate mergers, and what can people buy but what they hear. The new breed of executives created a world where there were no longer millions of fans of hundreds or thousands of acts buying millions of records. The new model was tens of millions of Michael Jackson fans all buying his newest record, or CD at that point. It was so much more efficient! Along the way, those guys ruined the record business and degraded music itself, not just the music business. It’s still pretty awful.
It’s hard to imagine by now, but there was a time when there were many, many record companies, and they all kept big catalogs, featuring a great number of acts that offered a great variety of musical styles. Of course, the big companies already loved the big acts, like the Beatles, that were loved by huge fan bases and sold millions of records, but they kept a lot of bands in the catalog, producing records, for a lot of reasons that now sound sentimental or foolish. Maybe they were waiting for the band to finally produce a hit; maybe they had great faith in the band and felt like their high quality would eventually be realized. They kept these bands alive with small salaries and support services, buying equipment, organizing tours, and providing studio time, producers and engineers. It all seems quaint now, doesn’t it? A band like Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods had only one hit, but they could make a small living touring college towns and fans could still buy, or at least order up, their back-catalog of several mediocre LPs.
Our modern record business is not like that. Small time, dubiously commercial bands now are on their own. They must produce and manufacture their own product (CDs, t-shirts, etc), which fortunately is much easier to do now. They must buy their own equipment, buy and drive their own van, for crying out loud, find their own gigs, and sell their own products at their shows. That would be the modern fate of a band like Lothar and the Hand People.
I saw this band one time, warming up the crowd for whom, I do not remember, at the Café au Go Go, on Bleeker Street in lower Manhattan. 1968, it would have been, they had one LP out, but they were not on the radio yet. They were very good, I thought, not the usual fare, but not so odd as to be inaccessible. Their set consisted of more or less conventional songs, in recognizable keys, performed with very novel instrumentation and presented in a lighthearted manner. My friends and I enjoyed their set, and I bought the LP the following week.
They were too far outside the mainstream to make it in 1968, ’69, and they passed unnoticed from the scene. Listen to this song, though, and you’ll here hints of things to come. Silver Apples at almost the same time, Kraftwerk in the early 1970s, Devo in the mid-1970s. Those are bands who themselves influenced a lot of acts that followed. Listening to “Machines” today, it still sounds fresh and it reminds me of a lot that has happened since.
A band like this could make it through two or three years of almost zero sales and very little radio play because it was possible to find a record company that would support them in their quest to find an audience. Today, that would be impossible. Today, they would be what I call “KXLU” music, because that Los Angeles area college radio station plays a lot of music that is self-produced and obscure. People say that there is no good music today, not like the old days. It’s not that simple. It’s just harder today to find the great, new music. And people are such sheep that they continue to support the few crappy acts that the few giant companies push down our throats.
Thus endeth the lesson.
Sunday, February 4, 2018
Some people think that they are lucky, and I’m sure that it’s because they tend to remember the good things that have happened to them, while tending to forget the lousy things. That’s a good habit, and anyone who thinks like that really is lucky.
Other people think that they are very unlucky, and I’m sure that something like the reverse is happening in these cases. They are remembering very clearly every single terrible thing that has ever happened to them, and discounting every time that fate delivered a fortuitous result. This latter is often the way of people who suffer from depression, although which came first, the depression or the bad attitude, is open to discussion.
I may be an interesting case study on this subject. I am certainly depressed, and I have been for six decades now, but I fall into the favored category described in paragraph one, at the head of this post. I remember every time it stopped raining fifteen minutes before I had to leave a building and stand at a bus stop, and so on down the line. I couldn’t guarantee it, but this tendency in me could be due to a conscious decision on my part. I question that conclusion because it flatters me, and it is not my nature to be flattered, but I do think that I have tried over the years to believe that I was a lucky person. I’d recommend that exercise of mind to everyone, because people who believe themselves to be lucky often create good luck for themselves.
Then comes another component to the mathematics of luck: when good ideas, or bits of luck, appear in front of your eyes, you must be able to spot them and realize their importance. Unfortunately, I lack this particular skill. I have, rather, a great talent for allowing great ideas to sail straight over my head.
Here’s an example. I recently taught a class at a remote campus where I had taught classes many times previously. It's a class in legalese, "English for Lawyers." Every time I had taught at this campus, and in fact virtually every time that I have taught classes at remote campuses, my class was scheduled for one p.m. to five p.m. on either a Saturday or a Sunday. There is a reason for this consistency. For the students, it is an eight-hour day studying the same subject. Two of them in fact, Saturday and Sunday. There is a regular Thai professor for the class, and I am sent in for one four-hour session every term to give them a listen to a native English speaker. My lesson is substantive, and it's part of the class material, but it's a chance for them to hear what the words really sound like. The regular professor takes the morning session on those days, because he can then either go to another city to teach the next day or return to Bangkok before the evening. On this occasion, I was scheduled for eight a.m. to noon.
As is my custom, I asked the students for a volunteer to drive me back to town after class, and as usual, a student quickly stepped forward. I was planning to return to my hotel, as always, awaiting my flight the next morning. We got into his car and he turned to me and said, “so, to the airport, then?” It had completely escaped me that since this class was ending at noon, I could proceed directly to the airport and return to Bangkok on the 2:00 p.m. flight. I would have been home by 4:00 p.m. that day, instead of late the next morning.
Here’s my excuse: teaching classes that end at 5:00 p.m. leaves me a bit fatigued, and I don’t feel like running straight to the airport and getting home at nine or ten at night. Without thinking about it, I bought my return ticket for the following day. I had missed a perfectly good chance to spot a good idea.
Here’s another bit of luck, though: I no longer get angry with my self for such oversights. I’m much more accepting of my imperfection these days.
To sum it all up, my advice is as follows:
1. Be sure to remember the times when all of the chips fall your way. Every piece of good luck is precious, and its memory should be nurtured;
2. Be sure to remain alert for any situations that call for a readily accessible good idea. Keep your wits about you, and keep your eyes open for ways to make your life easier; and
3. Don’t spoil your equilibrium by getting angry every time it starts to rain fifteen minutes BEFORE you must leave a building and stand at a bus stop, or every time that you fail to realize a good idea until it’s too late.
Remember that good luck and bad luck are only states of mind. Our lives are almost certainly like a game of poker in which seven people sit around a table and play serious poker games* for many hours. In a game like that, everyone will take turns being dealt lucky hands of cards. Yes, everyone. Being dealt hands that are good, bad, or indifferent will fall into some kind of a bell curve, and the curve will be the same for all players. Unless one or more dealers is cheating, no one will consistently be dealt great hands while someone else is consistently being dealt crapola.
In our lives, like in the poker game, we will all experience good luck and bad luck to more or less the same degree. To be lucky, you must know good luck when you see it! There are guys who could lose a poker game after getting three eights in the deal, probably because they got bluffed out of the game by someone with a pair of tens. Sometimes we make our own bad luck, too.
*”Serious Poker Games,” like five or seven card stud, or five card draw. There are other good ones. These are games of skill. Avoid poker games that rely too much on bluffing, like Texas Hold ‘Em, or games that feature elaborate rules or gimmicks, like wild cards or pools of shared cards. Skill has flown straight out the window if you can lose with a full house. And never let a dealer call a game that you have never played before. Sit that one out. Oh, and never play poker with anyone who can do card tricks. Or at least, don’t let him deal, ever. Maybe I need to write a post exclusively about poker.