Sunday, August 29, 2021

Where Do People Find The Energy To Do Anything? And Why Bother?

Some people worry about the moons of Saturn. Is that perturbation in the orbits due to gravometric interaction with the debris that makes up the rings? Some people worry about tiny bacteria that live in the mud of the deepest seabeds of the oceans of the world. They seem to live for hundreds of thousands of years. Is that even possible? How do their incredibly slow metabolisms affect their perception of time? If they have such a thing. They worry: do they have such a thing?

Other people just worry about everything, indiscriminately. That would be me.

Why do certain people, who may or may not have talent in some artistic field of endeavor, set out to make a living with whatever talent they have and perhaps become famous in the meantime? What gives them the courage to unleash their talents upon the world? I'm sure that they would prefer praise, but they may receive only obloquy or indifference. Some money would be nice. They must be very impressed with themselves, pleased with their work product. It may all be crap, but it may be sufficient to pay the bills and achieve that foothold on wealth and celebrity. It may even be good, or great, but how will it be received? What will happen? Who has the nerve to go down that road?

Sometimes they know that they have no talent, but they are somewhat good looking and they really want in on that music money. They gather some actually talented people around them, preferably people who are also good looking but not as ambitious as them, and set it up so that the money is channeled mostly to themselves. I don't want to name names, but in many famous groups, the name on the marque just hires the rest of the band, one at a time, to contracts that offer them a weekly salary and little more. They may get a small split on live gigs, like fifteen percent, to be divided among them. If they write a song, the leader's name must be included as a co-writer. In some bands, members write a song and it just becomes the leader's song.

Other musicians practice at home, for fun or distraction from life's many tribulations. They are often very talented individuals, but they lack the personality for business. I am not referring to myself here, by the way. As an amateur musician, I was enthusiastic but untalented.

These things also happen in the fine arts world. Lavishly talented academically trained painters paint in their spare time, unnoticed and uncompensated. I met a woman one time. She was about fifty-years-old, and quite attractive. She did not speak English. Her son was a client of mine for some small law job. Her paintings were leaning against every wall of their spacious apartment; some were on the walls. They were wonderful, and shockingly original. Something like Robt. Williams, but with apocalyptic religious themes. The paintings were a few feet by a few feet. I thought many of them were museum quality. Her tenuous mental state denied her access to the marketplace.

In every field, however, there are the ones that just push through to the front and wave their flag until someone throws them a bone to shut them up.

There was a visual artist that I got to know pretty well. A painter. He was very famous, nationwide, and his stuff was selling like hotcakes. Big, that's one of the secrets, his stuff was big. All oil on professionally stretched canvas, noble materials, mostly eight or ten feet by fourteen feet or so. I am not a connoisseur of art history, but I do have a bachelors' degree in the History of Art (with honors!), from a respectable institution that has a very good Art History Department. As a critic of the current art scene, I barely have a license to have an opinion. I found his work repetitive and pedestrian. There was a narrative in each piece, but nothing that you could put your finger on, nothing that you could point to and say with certainty, “that is a window,” or, “that is a doorway.” There was generally the vague echo of a figure, and it had all been represented with the lights out. Very dark.

This artist was amassing a fortune selling these things, and I found myself wondering, where does one find the nerve, call it courage if you wish to be kind, to devote all of this time and space, and invest all of this money in canvases and paints, and do all of that publicity, all of those gallery openings, talking all of that serious talk with high-status individuals, where does one find the gall to do all of that for crap like this? I guess that I mean the nerve to get started. And how, in the name of Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger, does one make such a grand career out of it?

School is my guess. He probably learned to hook up the materials at university. Many writers also use this excuse. If you have an MFA in writing, people say, sure, he can write. He can TEACH students how to write. Same for an MFA in fine arts. The guy can paint. Doesn't that make a lot of management types sound very gullible? The MFA should be ridiculed out of existence. An academic degree in any of the productive arts is a contradiction in terms. It's not science, it's emotion.

Other people just do it. They figure it out themselves and just do it. If you have the nerve, that's one way to go. If you do it enough, for long enough, people will think that you know what you're doing. Most people lack the critical faculties required to spot the phonies.

This self-promotional artist-by-declaration phenomenon was on full display in Laurel Canyon in the 1970s.

As Bob Dylan was hitting the big time, the genres of singer-songwriter and folk singer began to fill up alarmingly. I'm never 100% comfortable about holding “trying to make a living” against somebody, but there was a lot of awful music floating around. There was money being spent, and sure as you're born, the companies wanted some of it, and were willing to sign some contracts in that pursuit. Clouds of young people with clouds of hair and a guitar were smiling out from album covers. New York City and Los Angeles started to fill up with wannabes.

Los Angeles has better weather, so many of the wannabes were already there. There were only a few clubs, and a “scene” on Sunset Boulevard, so the wannabes all knew each other. Many of them gravitated by some kind of flocking instinct to Laurel Canyon Boulevard. That is one of the roads that will allow you to drive across the hills from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley, and there are a lot of smaller streets running off of it where geology permits the building of houses and roads. Many of the wannabes rented houses there, or just couch-surfed their way around. It was its own scene, and movies have been made to describe it.

Make no mistake, there were several supremely talented people among them. Joni Mitchell was up there, and she's as great as anyone who ever wore the singer-songwriter label. Jackson Browne was up there, and the world would be a poorer place without his catalog of excellence. Now here the nature of the problem takes a turn.

For people like Joni and Jackson, they seem to have known that they had a treasure to share. Joni moved heaven and Earth to get from the frozen wilderness to stardom, and she was doing us all a favor on the way. She gave up a healthy daughter, for Christ's sake. She made sacrifices. Did she do it only for herself? Or did she know that the world needed her gift? What if she had been a shy girl? Stayed home, settled down, became a librarian, raised her daughter. When personal drive is coupled with fabulous talent, we must be grateful. But what of the fabulous talents that stay at home in shit-holes like Wisconsin and remain unknown? I'm sure that the country is full of them.

Other wannabes just shoulder their way in with no real credentials to be there. Many of them achieve great financial success. They are trespassing on the fields of greatness, and they act like they belong there. It's like you came home and some guy is sitting on your couch watching Netflix. You say, “what the fuck are you doing here?” and he simply replies, “oh, suck my ass, and go get me a beer.”

I really liked the music of the Byrds. Roger McGuinn; Gene Clark; Chris Hillman. They were Laurel Canyon guys. Those first three or four LPs were just great. What a sound! I remember seeing photos and TV appearances of the band, and there was this one guy who didn't appear to be doing much of anything, kind of a goofy looking guy. When I see guys like that, I figure, “he must be somebody's brother-in-law.” Maybe the label told them, “we'll sign you if you carry my sister's kid along for the ride.” This individual got a few minor writing credits on forgettable songs for the Byrds, and in 1968 he got kicked out of the band.

All of a sudden, in 1969, he worms his way into a new group of Laurel Canyon denizens. Talks his way in and forces them to put his name first, because, “my band sold lots more records than either of your bands.” Crosby, Stills and Nash. Where do people get this kind of gall? It can only be pathological.

Okay, Buffalo Springfield didn't sell a lot of records, but they were an unqualified artistic success. And Stills is a fucking musical genius. Graham Nash is one of the greatest rock group singers of that or any other era. His band, the Hollies, had like fourteen Top-Ten hits, but in England. The Hollies were by far the best band that any of them had ever been in, and Nash was by far the best singer among the three of them, but his name goes last BASED ON SALES? Alas Babylon! We live in a corrupt world devoid of common sense or moral judgment.

To lift the veil here and be honest for a moment, I am only angry about all of this because I have spent my entire life avoiding doing anything and afraid of incurring any possible kind of criticism or rejection. Nothing at all is what I seek. I want only to smile my way through another day and get a good night's sleep. Ah! Sleep! That blessed time when people leave you the fuck alone. It's bliss. I don't even mind the nightmares, unless they are personal, and naturalistic.

The sad part is that I do possess, or did possess, talents in several areas that could have led to success, monetary success and career success. Not necessarily artistic, unless you consider language abilities or winning trials artistic. The unfortunate truth is that “self-sabotage” is my middle name. My parents even left a blank space on my birth certificate for “middle name,” to be filled in at a later date.

Sure, I'm sorry about the very talented among us who kept their lights hidden under a bushel. Their lives would have been easier with some proceeds to make a nest-egg. I love and appreciate the geniuses, and it pleases me if their great work has brought them wealth and comfort. Excuse me, however, if I resent the untalented assholes who parade around like they were hot stuff because they made some money peddling their second rate goods and have met many famous people. Pirates! Vampires! Thieves! I am not in any of these categories, so don't cry for me, Argentina. I'm fine.

God obviously extends his hand with assistance to fools like me. I've made it this far. I'm comfortable. And there's not much further to go.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Chuck Brown - Run Joe

I guess that the theme this month is DEAD. So yeah, Chuck is dead too. 

But ain't that Go-Go swing the most? 

Tight Rope

I am drawn to the singing of many artists that I put in the category of "non-singers." I am also wild about great singing, of course. The Jimmy Scotts and Leslie Odom Juniors of musical history. Singing is story telling, though, so great pipes are often not required. 

I love Leon Russell. He had a vast array of talent, and on many occasions he put some thought into it and sang much better than on other occasions. So he's a situational non-singer. He may throw the song around, as he does here, or he may gently carry the song along, like he does in "Baby Jane." 

Mr. Russell never needed my approval in the first place, and he has no use for it now. Fare thee well, Leon. 

Lothar Meid, Django, Single 1978

Lothar Meid remains alive at the time of this writing. He will turn seventy-nine years old in a couple of days. He has had a long and successful career, and I wish him the best of health and luck. 

I knew him first as the bass player for Amon Duul II, a very entertaining Kraut-Rock band back in the 1970s. He put out some solo LPs, worked a lot as a record producer, and was a founding member of the band, Passport. 

Happy Birthday, Brother Lothar! 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Call Me The Breeze

These guys are a guilty pleasure of mine. They have been since the beginning. This is a big outfit for a rock band, lots of guys playing instruments, and what I like most about them is that they've all got great clocks, they stay on those beats like their lives depended on it. They were TIGHT. 

Not that that is a prerequisite for greatness. The Rolling Stones, much in the news these days, had a different secret to the success of their sound. They were a bit spongy on the beat, but there was a logic to it. Bill Wyman described it in an interview long ago. "Keith sets the beat, he's the one keeping the time. Charlie is always a bit anxious, and he stays a bit ahead of Keith. I'm taking my cues from them, so I'm a bit behind. It gives us a slightly lopsided rhythm, but it's consistent. It makes us sound like the Rolling Stones." (I paraphrase, of course.) 

There are many roads to Rock and Roll paradise. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

They Are All Dead

David Bowie, from the LP "Hunky Dory." 

(Please note: Angie remains alive.) 

It is unseemly for anyone to complain about getting old. Unless, that is, you have been stricken with some terrible disease that is painful, embarrassing, and unrelenting. In that case, go ahead, complain to your heart's content, shake your fist at heaven and curse God. That is your privilege and no one will hold it against you.

It is a very different story for those of us who are not so afflicted. If you wake up at home every day, in your own bed, and nothing in particular hurts, and you can get around okay, and all of your internal systems are functioning at a reasonable level, you must only be very grateful. You are one of the lucky ones! Do not complain that you hate oatmeal. Put on a little sugar and cinnamon and shut the fuck up. Aw, how terrible, you bruise more easily now, and picking things up off of the floor is becoming a challenge, and running is out of the question, and you were once so handsome/ beautiful. Too bad, buckaroo. Shut the fuck up. You are one of the chosen few.

Considering the situation, one main point should become immediately apparent:

Almost everybody else is dead.

All of my grand-parents, all of my aunts and uncles, half of my cousins, and both of my parents, are dead. I actually miss a couple of them. Only a couple. Uncle Bob, thank you for teaching me that a husband and wife could be loving friends that help one another without an emphasis on finding fault. You carried the mail after an incomplete education, and along the way you and your wife built a wonderful life. You are a hero to me.

Aunt Mary, you have my everlasting love and gratitude for accepting me as the slightly off-center nephew that I was, and for always broadcasting unqualified love for me. Also for teaching me that a far less than optimal childhood need not condemn a person to a lifetime of suffering. You manufactured happiness like a Ford assembly line, and set an example that all the world should follow. You are a saint.

My paternal grand-parents were okay. They could see that I was a bit odd, but it never seemed to bother them. They were both a bit odd too, and maybe they knew it. Thank you for your kindness. You gave my father a happy childhood and a lot of emotional support, and it was not your fault if he failed to take the lesson in parenting and failed when it was his turn.

I never knew my maternal grand-father. He died about a year before penicillin came into use, bad timing, that. He got pneumonia while reading electric meters in the rain. He was a kindhearted man, from all accounts. Regarding his wife, my maternal grand-mother, all accounts agree: she was a terror. She forever warped the emotional lives of all of her three daughters. I knew her well, and she never hit me, I'll say that. Also, she made very good grilled cheese sandwiches, with real cheese. All we ever had in our own house was that awful Velveeta. She always had that look, however, that look of barely contained explosive violence. Like Sean Connery playing 007. She could frighten Dracula, that one, and with a half of a bottle of whiskey in her, she'd probably give him a good beating as well.

It's not just our families that have disappeared, returning to the darkness from which we all sprang, and to which we all return. If you live long enough, it starts to look like almost everybody is dead.

School friends, neighborhood friends, work friends, and quite a few best friends. Hilliary, we were certainly among the most cynical boys at our accursed high school. There are times when I wish it were me in the Austin-Healy with you that night you threw your life away for a thrill ride. Ray also died young. Died going back into a burning building to retrieve his Gibson Flying V. Drinking and bad luck caught up with Jimmy, and bad genetics caught up with Bob. Smoking was Norman's downfall. It comes at you from all directions. I have no idea how Tommy died, but I cried when I read the news. He'd been dead for a while before I got the memo. Freddie, the same. He did not die young, but he has predeceased me by a few years. Freddie was six-hundred milliliters of fun in a five-hundred milliliter bottle. Now, with Facebook, we're all up to date on the new deaths. Acquaintances, casual friends, tough boys that we were afraid of, guys that we rather liked, women that we recall fondly as cute girls, names without faces, we don't miss anything now. It's almost too much to bear.

There is a dark and degrading game that I play on the Internet: Is (insert name here) still alive?

Because they must be discoverable on Google, this game only works on sports figures, musicians, movie stars, and the like. Many times, the news is good. Willie Mays, Justine (“Baby”) Washington, and Sonny Rollins, all remain alive. The lists of the dead are long and growing. It often seems as though our entire culture has died. Jazz fans know exactly what I mean.

We may try to pay attention, but it's impossible to keep up with the pace of it. Not long ago, I discovered Richie “Alto Madness” Cole, a fabulous, old-school bop player. I looked him up after listening to a few YouTube videos, and . . . he had just died. He was only a few months older than me.

So many whose long careers filed us with delight are dead. David Bowie's death hit me especially hard. My then wife and I were young, like David and Angie, and we had a very young son about the same age as Zowie, and “Kooks,” from the LP Hunky Dory, really spoke to us.

Won't you stay in our lovers' story?

If you stay, you won't be sorry,

Cause we believe in you,

Soon you'll grow, so take a chance,

On a couple of kooks, hung up on romancing.”

That made a connection for me. Neither we nor the Bowies had any idea of how to be a parent. We all thought that it might be better to be friends with the children. That was followed by decades of great music from David, all in a voice and attitude that I was in tune with. Then suddenly, dead.

Whole singing groups and rock bands are dead. The Ramones, aren't they all dead? Sometimes it's poetic, like Gerry Marsden. Gerry has “crossed the river.” Get it? No ferry required, and no two coins either. It's the easiest thing you'll ever do. My generation is doing it at a frightening rate. ("My Generation" was a great song by the Who. Half of them are dead. Keith Moon was granted the wish expressed in the song. He died before he got old.) 

Entire cultures, gone. And all of us, soon enough. And maybe the entire Goddamned world, since no one seems to be motivated enough to take the necessary actions to avoid the destruction. 

Except that little Greta Thunberg! She's pissed off, and she has every right to be. I'll miss the show, myself, but she has another fifty or sixty years of life left in her. She's got a fighting heart beating furiously in her chest, and her “war face” is truly impressive. She's fighting for a future for my granddaughters, and I thank her for it. I dearly hope that she has better luck than that other young heroine of our shared culture, Anne Frank, who famously said, “isn't it a shame that in the end, all that you have done in your life comes to nothing.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Afghanistan: So Fast! How Could We Have Known?

 There's plenty of blame to go around here. No need to start with Joe Biden. He's a relatively minor player in this Blame-Fest currently sucking all of the air out of newsrooms everywhere.

How could we have known that the Afghan army would collapse so quickly?”

Well, as easy questions go, this one is way up on the list. Anyone who was interested could have read all about the Afghan army's prospects for putting up an actual fight. The facts have been on display for fifteen years. The Afghan army's chances were slim to none. I have a hunch that they looked like some dangerous, hard-fighting tough guys in reports written for use within the U.S. Government, because those reports were written by people who were justifying their own efforts, and their own never ending need for more money. Pallets of money; cash money. Money that disappeared faster than one of Siegfried and Roy's tigers.

All of the necessary information has been available in very serious and trustworthy articles in publications like the Atlantic; the New York Review of Books; Harper's Magazine; the New Yorker; Vanity Fair; and several others. If our intelligence agencies have chosen not to share this information with our government officials, or if our government officials have chosen to ignore those warnings, well, either way, we have a problem.

Oh, how I laughed whenever I read about the fabulous (think, “fable”) Afghan army! 300,000 soldiers! Highly trained, powerfully equipped, and well led! I laughed, only wishing that it were funny.

First of all, about half of those soldiers never existed. They were names added to the rolls of army units whose salaries were being paid by America. More names, more money. The money going to those “empty names” went directly into the pockets of some general, or more likely, to a cabal of generals and government officials who were all in on it.

Secondly, all of those non-existent soldiers needed to be fitted out with weapons and uniforms. They needed vehicles. All of the extra stuff was sold forward. A lot of it went to the Taliban, either for profit or as good will down payments. A lot was sold to Iran, with the ultimate destination being Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Thirdly, all of that training was mostly for show. Lots of time AWOL visiting mom; lots of time playing games on the free computers; lots of naps; and lots of photo-ops when CNN comes around. Lots of “training” requires lots of gasoline, and lots of bullets, etc., with the bills being sent to the benefactors, you and me.

A large number of the remaining soldiers had simply walked away in the meantime. Their salaries were added to the cash-flow of the generals.

Forgive me if I excuse myself from giving you all a close lesson in how sixty or seventy percent of the world collects and divides this kind of corruption money. The sources vary from the proceeds of street beggars to the vast amounts of foreign aid money that flow like rivers through the world. The recipients vary from flip-flop wearing deadender gangsters who live from day to day, smoking ice, all the way up to big-time gangsters masquerading as heads of state, getting off on champagne, cocaine, and hookers.

So only the very na├»ve among us will be surprised that the Afghan army simply said, “no thanks,” when the Taliban showed up. At least the ARVN put up some kind of a fight. These guys disappeared faster than the aforementioned Las Vegas tigers.

So no, there was no titanic struggle between the Afghan army and the “vastly outnumbered” Taliban, riding into town on their cute 125cc Honda motorcycles, two-up, with extra belts of machine gun ammo around their necks, and the passenger holding up an RPG. No armed struggle that would allow time for America to help their many loyal friends and employees to escape with their families. No orderly exit, except in the minds of deluded fools who believed intelligence reports.

All of the people now in high places, and most of those who have held high positions over the last ten years, are racing to the news shows to spread weird lies of exculpation and try desperately to shift the blame to someone else, preferably someone from the other party. It's shameful.

It shames all of us. We allow it to go on.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Sonny Sharrock - "My Song"

Space Ghost, Coast to Coast was a great show by any metric. A cartoon show, in the 1990s. It was also great exposure for Sonny Sharrock, who provided the music for the show. He had been around for a while already, but had never received enough attention. 

If you don't fit into one of the music industry's familiar categories, they don't know what to do with you. Jimi Hendrix spent a few years beating his head on that rock. Sonny was a niche artist. He had his fans, and he worked in America and Europe, but most people couldn't place the name. 

He's got a unique sonic approach, don't you think? 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

A message to Mayo today

I might try to share this to Facebook. Do you think I'll get away with it? 

The Target vs. The Subject Of A Joke

 I've seen Ricky Gervais make this point more than once in the last year. There is no offense given in making any person or group the subject of a joke. None should be taken. The offense comes in making some person or group the target of a joke. Making someone the target of a joke is at least unkind, probably vicious, and almost certainly in bad taste.

Unless, I might add, the target of the joke is aristocrats. Have at those bastards, they've been asking for it for thousands of years. Choose your targets with care, and err on the side of kindness.

To prove the point, Ricky told a couple of Holocaust jokes. Both jokes were rather funny, and in neither joke were the Jewish people held up to any ridicule or mockery. They weren't the target of either joke. Nobody needles an audience with as much devilish glee as Ricky does. “Too soon?”

Here is a joke that I read in the Christian Science Monitor about twenty-five years ago. Good or bad, it must have made quite an impression on me if I can remember it after all of that time.

The setting is Moscow in the 1970s. On a small side street, there is a sad looking shop, displaying no goods. The sign atop the front window says, “Cheese Shop.” No one pays attention, until a man inside the shop puts a sign in the window that says, “Cheese Today.”

A line immediately begins to form outside the door to the shop. People begin to gather in ones and twos. The man who put the sign in the window comes out and addresses the growing line. “Please maintain good order. We will be receiving cheese for sale today.” He goes back inside, but the people on the line are encouraged. The day is turning dark and cold, but they are happy. Imagine! Cheese!

After another hour, the man steps out again. There are almost four dozen people on the line by now. “Listen carefully! We will be getting cheese today, but not enough for everybody. We must make the line shorter.” He takes a deep breath, and speaking with great authority, he says, “will all of the Jews please leave the line.” Three or four people lower their heads in disappointment and dejectedly walk away from the shop.

The day continues in this way. Every hour or so, the man comes out and tries again to reduce the number of people on the line. “. . . anybody who is not a Soviet citizen, please leave the line,” then, “anyone who is not a member of the Communist Party,” then, “anybody who is not a veteran of the Great Patriotic War,” then, “anyone who does not have an official license to live in the city of Moscow,” then, “anyone who was not wounded in the Great Patriotic War,” and so forth. All day this pattern is repeated. Every time he steps out to address the line, the man assures the few that remain, “we will have cheese today, please be patient.”

The day has been very long, and very cold. It is almost winter, and the sun is setting, leaving only two old men on the line. One is using crutches to hold himself up on his one remaining leg. They are not Jews, they are members of the Communist Party, they proudly display the badge attesting to their grievous wounds from the war, they have all of the paperwork that they need to prove that they are entitled to make purchases in this shop. Finally, the man comes out to greet them. He seems crestfallen.

I am deeply ashamed to tell you, comrades, but we will not be getting any cheese today.” He turns, head hanging, and returns to the shop.

One of the old soldiers turns to the other and says, “see? Those fucking Jews always get the best of everything.”

Quiz time! Who or what is the target of this joke?

Big reveal: antisemitism!

And, I suppose, those awful Soviets, the worst vampire cult to ever sink its teeth into an entire group of countries.