Monday, January 31, 2022

Music Is Not A Competition, But . . .

I'm sorry if your bad news dance card is full. I know mine is. We, however, must keep up with the new bad news that fills our actual and metaphoric in-boxes every morning. Especially if the bad news relates to the issues that most touch our hearts. Like Music, for so many of us.

Bad news? Don't forget to look for the silver lining!

In 2010, something like forty million people watched the Grammy Awards TV show. By 2020, the number of viewers had fallen to less than half of that, down to eighteen-point-seven million. It gets worse. For 2021, the number was eight-point-eight million. This year's show has been delayed indefinitely by COVID, and no one seems to care.

Unmentioned in coverage of this apparent disaster is the fact that fewer and fewer people have access to what was once quaintly called “television.” I receive no real-time television access, and I do not get cable-TV. I think that an ever growing number of people are in the same situation. I pay for Netflix, and watch Colbert and Kimmel on YouTube. Would the Grammy show be in there somewhere? I don't care. I wouldn't watch it anyway. I have so little interest in what passes for music these days that it wouldn't even move the needle off of the peg.

It turns out that I am not the only one that feels that way. The statistics are fascinating. It's not only Boomer Geezers like me that turn our noses up at all of this four-chords-from-an-app, plus a sound scheme from another app, plus a stolen beat from another app, overlaid with an auto-tuned voice, and meaningless lyrics about lust or braggadocio or money. No, now the overwhelming majority of music listeners are turning their noses up just like me.

Older songs, many much, much older, now account for 70% of the music market. “New Music” is defined as having been released (made available for the first time) within the last two years. Last year, the two hundred most popular new tracks represented only five percent of total streams.

I didn't miss the decimal point there. I mean five percent, as in ONE OUT OF EVERY TWENTY streams.

Listeners who are willing to pay are choosing to listen to songs by Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, or similarly famous bands from more recent decades, like Guns and Roses, or Soundgarden, or, one would hope, less well known bands like the Dandy Warhols, the Transplants, or even deeper, like the Gories, or Bantam Rooster.

I think that many youngsters today might be thrilled to discover singers like Jimmy Scott, or Patsy Cline, or Little Willie John. I'd be thrilled if they only discovered modern singers like Leslie Odom, Jr. (Try “Joey, Joey, Joey” on for size!)

Or even just the few genuine bands that are trying to make a living today, like the True Loves, or John Batiste and Stay Human, or the Roots. Guys that set up and play in real-time, playing analog musical instruments, and they make the magic old-school.

Has anyone noticed that classic jazz is all the rage on made-for-streaming TV shows now? Especially detective shows (Bosch) and sci-fi shows (the Expanse). Nice if that caught on. By “classic jazz,” I am referring roughly to the years between Lester Young and Ornette Coleman. With an emphasis on the years of Bop and Hard-Bop (Charlie Parker; Dizzy Gillespie), and the Golden Age of John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

Anyway, the point here is that we geezers were right. The music was infinitely better in our day. Do some reading, you youngsters, check around a bit. It's all available. You can listen to some of this new crap if you want to, but don't deny yourself the pleasure of discovering some of the fantastic treasure trove of music from all over the world that's just out there waiting. Pick a platform, go Deezer, go YouTube Premium, listen on your phone through Apple buds, or buy a nice tubed up hi-fi. Have some fun! I'm in a giving mood, so you can listen to those Goddamned Beatles if you have to.

Have some fun!

(Factoids from the Atlantic Magazine.) 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Lou Reed - Lisa Says (audio)

There have always been people who didn't like this LP. Myself, I have always loved it. 

I can see the other side, though. Big fans of the Velvet Underground, maybe particularly the White Light/ White Heat VU, might find this LP too commercial. Well, the market didn't find it commercial, that's for sure. I still think that the production is great, the choice of the studio musicians is inspired, and a lot of the songs, such as this one, came out just right. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Dream Of Peace

 I wish that all of this had never happened. I didn't ask for any of it. 

If only "never had been born" were one of the choices. 

I'm amazed at this point that I didn't kill myself as a teenager. I had been miserable already for a long time, and things were only getting worse. 

Nineteen would have been the perfect age! 1968. Who could blame anyone for pulling the plug in 1968? What a horrible year for everyone. Some more than others. 

No one would even have noticed then. I had no responsibilities. Everyone that I knew would have been better off without me. It would have made the barest ripple in the pool of life in 1968. 

Everything that has happened since then, and before then to be honest, has amounted to nothing. All of that wasted effort! I could have saved myself the trouble. Life, living, remaining alive, makes its own demands. Who cares what we think? What we go through? Nothing cares. Keep pushing forward, asshole! You owe us for every breath that you take. 

All it would have taken was a couple of yards of clothesline, a doorknob, and five minutes. How fucking hard would that have been? And then, peace. But no. I hated myself so much that I knew that I needed more punishment. 

How much can one man stand? 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Bessie Griffin - Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

The comments on the different versions of this song are often quite dramatic. I always have a good cry on Mothers' Day. Not because I miss my beloved mother, far from it. Mine was a violent alcoholic who took out all of her frustrations on me. She was nothing to me, and I was only relieved when she died, and that is a tragedy and a loss for a child. I now find my self an old man, but I still feel the absence, the loss, and the fear. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A World Gone Mad (Question of the Day)

But not to worry. Too many important people have their wealth in dollars to allow the dollar to evaporate in value. Russia and China are not going to start wars. They are bluffing. China can't afford it, lacks sufficient military power for it, and has too much to lose. Russia is a personal-interest oriented gangster nation, and wars are expensive and unpredictable. Besides, I've heard rumors that they lack the necessary trucks and gasoline. (Nice tanks; good footage; fuck you.)

Most unfortunately, the world has bigger fish to fry than the madness of the masses. If you are over forty, you will probably be fine. If you are under forty, bon chance, mon ami! Bet the “Big 6 and 8,” because the Seven and the Eleven are out of the question. If you are smart, you might avoid the Snake Eyes and the Box Cars.

I feel bad for the youngsters out there. Hitting your Point is probably out of the question by now.

Americans! My beloved countrymen! You poor, hypnotized Rubes! (Snaps fingers.) Awake! And remember nothing.

Statistics don't lie. Well, sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. Here's a good set, from Shilbey Telhami of the University of Maryland at College Park:

Thirty-seven percent more Republicans believe that Iran possesses nuclear weapons than believe that Israel possesses them. (The factor for Americans overall is seventeen percent more believing that Iran has them while Israel does not.)*

Wake up! Israel has had nukes for many decades. Famously! This is common knowledge among even slightly aware Americans. Iran is not yet in the nuclear club.

American politics has become such a shit-show that many American voters, including me, are tempted to move to a neutral corner, put our hands up, and say, “not my circus; not my monkeys.” But a lot of people still vote. Many of them still vote for Democrats, even though the once heroic Democratic party is no longer useful in service of the country's best interests. Many of them still vote for Republicans! I know that I am just shouting into a bucket, but I still wonder, “why?”

The great majority of Republican voters are a bunch of stiffs who either buy the “Freedom” crap, or sufficiently hate homosexuals to wish that the condition would be re-criminalized, or are white supremacists of some kind, or are Jesus-cult types who lack the intellectual commitment necessary for mainstream religion and simply go with the “Jesus is my personal savior” bullshit. (Send us your money! It will bring you good luck! Jesus loves you! Jesus wants us all to be rich! Be rich like me! Send me money!)

A rather small portion of Republican voters are very prosperous people who have a financial interest in Republican party goals. Lower taxes on the rich; eliminate the estate tax (which only affects people who die with millions of dollars in their estates); eliminate regulations on business (good for short-term profits, and increases dividends); weaken the Federal Government (more autonomy to corporations, which are, let's face it, people who own large stock investments).

My question today, my QUESTION OF THE DAY, is:

Is someone who votes their financial interest, with no regard for the overall interests of the United States, or the American people, you know, the hell with them, are those self-interested voters automatically corrupt bastards? Are they complicit in the damage done by their votes?

I'm afraid that the answers to both questions is, “yes.”

I don't like that result, because I know some of those people, and they do seem generally to be good men and women. I am sure that they have reasonable sounding justifications for their votes cast for Republicans. You can imagine it. They're considering their children; they want their money market funds to pay for elite colleges for their grandchildren; they have strong religious beliefs that give them pause at the thought of homosexuals having the same rights as anyone else. They can dress it all up so that voting Republican sounds reasonable.

They must be made to realize that voting Republican makes them personally complicit in all of the vomitous hatred and lies spread by the associated right-wing media, and all of the disgusting, outright lies spouted daily by various Republican politicians, and all of the racism and homophobia that filters down to low-functioning members of society, who are thereby driven to violence, many of whom are police, and in a position to dish out some truly shocking ultra-violence.

You might say, and you'd be right, that it's really all of us who are responsible. At this point, with ample evidence on this blog, I am on record as being thoroughly disenchanted with the Democrats. They are also complicit. But the Republicans, and all Republican voters, have definitely earned the clearest “guilty” verdict in this particular j'accuse!

*Harper's Index, November, 2021.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Get Vaccinated!

"Poison Ivy," sung by the Coasters, written by Lieber and Stoller. 

To the best of my knowledge, there is no vaccine for poison ivy.

But if there is any other vaccine that you know of that may help you in whatever situation you find yourself in right now or plan to find yourself in soon, GET THE VACCINE.

I like this old song, written by Lieber and Stoller. The original hit was from the Coasters, but it was a popular cover for the English Invasion bands.

Bee's will make you bumpy,

the mumps will make you lumpy,

and chicken pox will make you jump and twitch.

The common cold will fool you,

and whooping cough can cool you,

but brother Poison Ivy make you itch!”

It was funny to me that the English bands always blew the line, “whooping cough can cool you.” They didn't get the slang. Cool you; kill you. The whooping cough was a bad MF.

When the song came out, we all got those famous “childhood diseases.” The mumps, the chicken pox, and the measles. They could range from annoying to really terrible, depending on whether your system had been weakened by other things recently.

There were worse things, of course. Polio was worse. The whooping cough was worse. My sister got the whooping cough when she was a baby. It was fifty-fifty there for a while if we would lose her or not. Now, of course, these things have faded in the group-memory. Thanks to vaccines, no child has to fear any of those diseases any more.

I'm not up to date on scarlet fever, but you don't hear anything about it anymore. I have a hunch it's covered in one of those multi-vaccines that all children get now. That was also a bad one.

Among sensible people, there is no argument about becoming vaccinated as much as you can. I can tell you that the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Peace Corps, are big believers in vaccination. At boot camp, we got shots regularly. Sometimes we didn't even know what they were for. Just line up, stick out your arm, and shut the fuck up. They told us about the yellow fever shot, and they administered it to us at about one o'clock after an exhausting workout. Then, without giving us any lunch, they took us back to our barracks. We were all sick by the time we got there, and they sent us right to bed. They didn't wake us up at the usual frantic five o'clock wake up call the next morning either. We were feeling somewhat better by then, our fevers had broken and we were getting hungry, but there was no hurry.

The Peace Corps gave us a surprisingly wide array of vaccinations. Yellow fever, again. Denge fever, thanks for that, very common here and nasty. Thailand is still a rabies country, so just for luck they gave us all the full series of rabies shots. (They're all in the arm these days, so it's not the big deal that it once was.)

This being the case, since COVID is a bad thing to catch, and still regularly killing people, and there are vaccines around, GET THE GODDAMNED VACCINE ALREADY.

(I know that most of you have been vaccinated, and boosted too. Good choice on your part.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

How Bad Is It, Johnny?

It's been four years since I last visited the country of my birth, the Shining City on the Hill, the country on the cover of my passport, the United States of America. That was an interesting trip. Sure, there were things to be angry about, and other things, many other things, to be horrified by. There were also, however, many signs that were encouraging. There were opportunities to hope for a return to sanity. Slowly, surely, but to hope that some of the negative trends in American society could be turned around, to hope that it would be possible to return to a condition that was more conducive to enhanced security for the greatest number of American families, and for the increasing numbers of Americans who had given up on ever being able to afford to have a family.

It was hard to be optimistic though. It was hard enough to hope that the American economy could ever again reach a condition in which everyone could afford food and shelter simultaneously. So many people are bereft. It's food OR shelter for many people. Good people, educated people, people of all ages with no mental problems, no drug problems, people with jobs that they go to every day, people who once would have had a nice life, but who are now forced to live in their cars.

The most encouraging sign on my trip to California four years ago was the American people themselves. Almost everyone that I interacted with was reasonable, considerate, and friendly. The record of that visit was almost shocking. Amidst the ruins of American society, individual people were still decent, hard-working, and kind. (I'll get to the “ruins” part momentarily.)

There were the little things, like buying a burner phone and a one month hookup so that I could make and receive calls and text messages during the trip.

First, I went to Fry's, in Manhattan Beach. I had loved this place for years. They had everything; if it comes even vaguely under the heading of “electronics,” they had a good selection of it. That place was deep. I found, and bought, the only DVD copy of “Godzilla Raids Again” that I have ever seen. It's almost impossible to find that movie. Original cut, letter-boxed, full length, in Japanese! (With subtitles.) Heaven at once. I say, “had,” because they are gone now. The entire chain. My best guess is that Amazon put them under. People are buying everything from Amazon now, everything from TVs to computers to electronic components to hot sauce.

I found the burner phones with no trouble and examined the selection. The problem was that someone had decided that everyone in the market for a burner wanted a smart-burner. A cheap substitute for your Samsung back home. They were all about $100, or more, and I didn't need that much phone. Pardon me, I'm not a penny-pincher, but nor do I enjoy throwing money away. As I was standing there looking at least confused, perhaps a bit annoyed, an employee came over. A very young looking Hispanic man, probably still a teenager. He looked a bit confused and annoyed himself. I told him, “these are too much phone for what I need. All I want to do is make and receive calls, texting would be nice, I'm only here for ten days.” He explained that these were what everyone seemed to want these days. “We used to have the cheap burners, but they're gone.” I thanked him for his help, and gave the smart-burners the “oh, what the hell” look, and the kid, with no change of expression whatsoever, says, “you know, let me go and take a look. Maybe there's one back there.” He was back in about five minutes with a small box, smiling for the first time in our interaction. “This is the last one. Thirty bucks!” Some typical Chinese company name, “Lucky Princess” or something. Perfect! “Where do I get the hook up?” He knew that too. “T-Mobile is the cheapest for short-term.” Great! There's a T-Mobile in the shopping center that my bank is in. And my pizza connection. And my Fatburger. And my Von's Supermarket, where my phone number from twenty years ago still gets me the discount prices. It's down the block from my old house.

Things went well at the T-Mobile. There were two customers, one lookie-lou, and one guy working on forms. The nice young lady says to him, “do you mind if I help this gentleman while you fill out the forms?” He says that's fine. I was set up and out the door inside of ten minutes with a one month unlimited calls and texts for thirty-five dollars. That's sixty-five dollars all together, and the help was first class.

It's true in many countries, and America is no different. Nearer the bottom of the demographic, people tend to be nicer. My next project put me in a position where I was asking for assistance from people further up the ladder. Much further. I held my breath.

But they were great too! I cashed in two old whole-life insurance policies that my father took out on my life long ago. At that point I was the owner, the insured, and the beneficiary. I got nowhere calling the companies, just stuck in endless menus, “to buy a new policy, press one.” When I got a person on the phone, they were no help. “What is the agent's name?” Honey, I hate to break this to you, but that was three corporate mergers ago, and the policies are from fifty to sixty years old, and the fucking agents are dead. When you get all the way up to corporate in America, you get no consideration at all.

So I looked up offices currently serving as agents for the current corporate entities holding the policies. In both cases, I didn't even call first; I just showed up. I wore a suit and tried to look prosperous. In both offices, I was welcomed with open arms, and introduced to a high-powered agent within minutes. These were small policies, very small, and I was just cashing them in, but both agents were very generous with their time and energy. They made some calls, verified everything, I provided them with a current address that would work, and then they both took some time to chat. I had both checks in hand within a week, and was able to deposit them while I was still in town. One guy even validated my parking. (That's not a small deal. The one that I paid cost me $28 for about an hour and a half.)

The second check to arrive got stuck in the bear trap. I have no middle name. My father, the original owner and beneficiary of both policies, did have a middle name. The check was made out to him.

When I arrived at the bank to try to deposit the check, my regular guy was not there that day. It was my last day in California. I scanned the open-plan desk area and focused on a friendly Hispanic man with whom I had a nodding relationship, developed over my two previous visits to the bank. I went over, introduced myself, and explained the problem. Bear in mind that my name is very unusual in its spelling, and even the first name is on the rare side. So there are not a lot of guys with my name, middle name or not. He thought about it, smiled, and said, this should work. “Just sign your name like it appears on the account.” He walked it over to a teller, and in a few minutes he came back wearing a big smile and handing me a receipt for the deposit.

This was 2018, and now I am suspicious that America has slipped into mass insanity, mental instability, and financial chaos just over the last four years. Although the signs were there.

Only four years! So, on to the RUINS.

We are in our third year of SARS-Cov-2 (COVID 19).

Russia is officially a gangster state, and now seems poised to grab another slice of the Ukraine. Kazakhstan just invited Russian military “peace keepers.” Belarus is in the “forget about it” column, and the three viable Baltic states are all on high alert.

Mr. Xi, over in China, has clearly decided that the old Chinese preference for soft-power takeovers wasn't working for him.

I must mention Trump. Please forgive me for bringing it up.

The global climate is rushing to its tipping point, its point of no return. You would think that the matter is no longer suitable for debate, but you would be wrong. Even with the fires, the floods, the droughts, the funnel storms, the atmospheric rivers, the entire new catalog of climate horrors, a vast swath of the population maintains with a straight face, if red-cheeked and angry, that that whole thing is a hoax. Probably a Chinese hoax.

The list of failed states grows longer day by day. Many countries are poised to join the list. These places generate refugees at a frightening rate.

Many countries, including America, seem to be deciding that democracy isn't the way to go after all. This list includes a few countries in the European Union, and at least one that has been on the short-list to join the EU. England is on its second bottle of vodka, washing down the last of that hundred Seconals.

People everywhere are on edge. Suicide rates are up. The entire world financial system is a house of cards. All of the markets are in danger of simultaneous collapse. Bubbles! Artificial Intelligence is a creeping threat, through things like autonomous murder robots, ubiquitous surveillance drones (often armed), CCTV, license plate readers, facial recognition, block-chain, Facebook's Metaverse, and a host of other mechanisms. Police are more on edge than anybody, and trigger-happy.

The surveillance society has become so pervasive that it's ridiculous. I don't know how they do it. I woke up one day last month and had a fleeting though that I should look up a certain thing on the Internet. I didn't say anything out loud, and I made no reminder note. When I turned on my computer, I didn't look for it right away. And yet, within twenty minutes I saw two ads focused on that thing. This morning I was sitting and talking with my wife about language acquisition, a popular subject in a household where I am studying Thai, half-studying Spanish, and always have German in the back of my head, while my wife is working on a second BA for fun, in English this time. I said one sentence in German, to make a point. (“Heute geht den [der?] Plan nicht.”) There were no computers in the room, but her phone was on, although dormant. When I returned to my computer, the first ad that I saw was entirely in German. (“Willkommen zu Ihre neue Stelle!”) I could read it easily, but it is very unusual for me to get ads that are in anything but Thai or English. How do they do that? It gives me the creeps.

Over just the last four years, the entire character of human society seems to have shifted in a bad direction. Think of the BRIC countries. That's Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Ten years ago, they were the up-and-comers, the future of the world economy. Think for a moment about the current state of those countries, and their four presidents. I'm sorry that I even drew your attention to that horror.

I still have many friends in California. Friends and relatives. Several of them are anti-vaccine, and have lost very good jobs for their refusal to cooperate. Three, to be exact. One has gone “off grid,” living now in a cabin in the woods, Unabomber style. Couples are talking about moving to other states. Divorce is in the air. People's children can feel all of this tension and it's not doing them any good.

Permanent homelessness has become a permanent feature of life in many cities. The response of government, large and small, has been, of course, hostile. Homelessness, and even helping the homeless, has been criminalized. It's all being handled in the most unchristian way, the most inhumane way, the most cruel way possible. Many municipalities have put spikes on all of the warm, flat surfaces! Dividers on public benches to prevent homeless people from lying down! Laws against standing in one place too long! I find the whole thing quite embarrassing.

The chaos and dysfunction that settled into our Federal Government during the Trump presidency also seems to have become permanent. Half of our politicians seem to thrive on it, and the other half seem either complicit or diffident. The Federal agencies are sleepwalking, and suffer greatly from weak leadership. The Republicans have insured that the Federal Courts are a total train wreck. I am under doctor's orders never to think about our current Supreme Court, so I will refrain from comment.

The great divide in American politics has hardened into permanence. I'm afraid to go back. I have a long, shiny paper trail marking me as socialist, progressive, liberal scum. I might not even clear the airport. There are people who would love to shoot me. That's overstating the problem, but if I started shooting my mouth off it would not be out of the question.

This gives new meaning to that old book title, “You Can Never Go Home Again.” In the micro sense, your old neighborhood, it has always been thus. But that's gone macro by now. That whole world that we knew and loved is well and truly gone.

What comes next? God have mercy on our souls.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Nothing Takes the Place of You

The ska beat does take too much of the melancholy out of this song, but I still like it. It's a successful cover. 

Toussaint McCall had the original on this one, and he really nailed it. Nice, sparse production, 6/8 time, death-beat slow, it's the saddest fucking song of all time. Al Green did a nice version. You know I love these covers.