XperDunn plays Piano
April 30th, 2013
The History Of Popular Songs – Episode Three
For Your Love, Love Is All Around, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, He Ain’t Heavy, and more!
XperDunn plays Piano
April 30th, 2013
The History Of Popular Songs – Episode Three
For Your Love, Love Is All Around, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, He Ain’t Heavy, and more!
XperDunn plays Piano
April 23rd, 2013
The History Of Popular Songs – Episode Two
Well, well, well, I see the brain is functioning–one part resentment, one part despair, one part desperation, one part loneliness—and a jigger of optimism. The morning is bright (partly due to its being 2:16 PM) and the air is fresh and warm—my office (i.e. front) door is open and there’s a fresh-rolled, filtered cigarette smoldering in the ashtray.
I am aware that such an opening becomes increasingly unlikely—the number of people who are ‘stupid’ enough to smoke tobacco dwindles—or so goes the cant. I can’t help noting that one will always see a knot of nurses and medical staff outside of a hospital, day or night, caging that furtive fix of nicotine and cancer.
I understand them–and I feel for the senior staff, some of whom must gum or patch their way through to dinner time, whose respectability would be damaged, given current societal mores, by showing such a debased weakness as tobacco-addiction. And right here at the start I’d like to say that all those old commercials and movie scenes wherein the entire troupe luxuriates in a cigarette break—these were not the feint of Oscar-worthy actors, but the actual enjoyment the public once derived from this formerly welcome part of the ‘good life’.
Back then, the Big Tobacco concerns were stuck in a vicious circle–firstly, their corporate goals were to increase profits, which included the necessity for investments in advertising and scientific research and development, and secondly, that same scientific research gave them both good and bad news. On the one hand, their manufacturers learned about nicotine-addiction as it applied to consumer motivation–and on the other hand, the legal department learned about tobacco smoking and nicotine addiction as health hazards and as increased occurrences of heart disease and lung cancer.
So the ‘makers’ start controlling the dosage, so to speak, doping and dosing the ‘tobacco’ (which became more of a ‘processed food’ type of filler for the tubes). And then they messed with those paper tubes as well (they couldn’t just leave it as merely paper–profits, gentlemen, profits!). They encircled them with little gunpowder-charge-like spacers that kept the cigarette butt burning like a multi-stage booster rocket! They fixed upon a perfect ‘dosage’ which kept the craving going at maximum—and they fixed the tubes so you wouldn’t have any lit cigarettes going out, even when the smoker was distracted by something else that required one’s mouth—or both hands.
I smoked those from the age of eighteen until about forty, when I became a totally different person. I went from being stuck with a disgusting habit—to being stuck with a forgivable habit. There were many steps along the way—I’m sure most of you think I should be ashamed of myself because of the whole second-hand smoke thing and raising a family in the same house. I won’t deny it—there’s some guilt there—but nobody’s died yet, so I’m off the hook about that, for now.
But I didn’t like smoking myself, back then—I was using. It wasn’t the pleasure principle in action, it was the behavior of a lab rat. The second-hand smoke smelled like horse urine and the preponderance of additives made smoking less of an encounter with tobacco and more of a junkie’s fix. At some point, I discovered Rothmans, which were (still are, maybe) manufactured in Canada. They had a sweetness I had never tasted before—it was nearly unprocessed tobacco I tasted, and for the first time. But it wasn’t pure tobacco—and the paper was the same self-perpetuating stuff (when Americans want something a certain way, the whole world gets them that way).
So I was living on a tightrope—imported Canadian cigarettes were premium priced and hard to find, outside of New York City. Once I began to work in Westchester, I was forced to depend solely on one stationary store/tobacconist’s shop in Katonah—I would buy them two cartons at a time—I was cavalier back then. There seemed little to worry about—I could still get them at Smoker’s Harbor, in Mt. Kisco, too—and that was no great ride. And the City still had everything in the world for sale, as the Big Apple is expected to do, including hundreds, maybe thousands of cigarette stands, tobacco shops… why, certainly nothing could change the universe so drastically as to drop the landmarks Dunhills, and Nat Shermans from Fifth Avenue itself? I didn’t buy a few humidors and start buying the Rothmans four cartons at a time until Rothmans were outlawed in NY State, and thereafter, only available from a tobacconist in Danbury, CT.
This was at the time when frangible cigarette-paper was barred by NY State Legislation—the first toll of the Requiem bells for Smoking—a practice that deserved to be stopped both for what it did to people—and, while of little consequence compared to human life, what it did to tobacco. As I would learn, there is a distinct difference between smoking cigarettes and smoking tobacco, and this difference would give me a great surprise, eventually.
While I mostly drink coffee. Wait. First I’d like to point out that coffee, a delicious miracle of a beverage, is a far greater luxury than we think. It’s a drug, it’s a hot cup, and it’s a taste sensation, served in a variety of ways (as if just plain coffee wasn’t wonder enough) and, to hear tell, sold on every street corner. If I’m not mistaken, it has even crumbled the great tradition of tea, for a sizable percentage of Britons. That’s nothing against English Tea (which I love), I’m just saying. And the French? The French act like they invented the stuff, as usual—or at least invented the only proper way to make it, as they did with food, and wine.
But the growing of the beans is difficult, in difficult conditions; the roasting and whatever they do to raw beans. And the brewing of coffee itself, a complex task that no one shuns, simply because it is the only way to get a cup of coffee. What would life be without coffee? (And, once again, nothing against English Tea.) A hell on Earth—that’s what life without coffee would be.
So, to start again–While I mostly drink coffee, I still enjoy the occasional cup of tea—if one is nuking a mugful of water, late at night, it hardly matters what one throws into the hot water. And tea has a rich history and an aeon’s-worth of traditions—it is an indulgence. All orthodoxies that prevent caffeine make a cup of tea just as forbidden as drinking a Vente-double-shot-something-or-other from Starbucks. But are there not hundreds of millions of old ladies drinking tea, right this minute, around the world, right now? How can one defame such a genteel pleasure? Only by a tunnel-vision-ed focus upon the chemical caffeine contained in coffee and tea—and ignoring every other consideration that tea, or coffee, may be due.
When it comes to life and death, matters of degree, of relativity, cease to be unimportant caveats and become the difference between the aforementioned pair. So please don’t think I plan to draw analogs of kind and type between caffeinated beverages and tobacco use. The only thing I wish to demonstrate is that, in trashing our pleasures for health reasons, there is a universe of peripheral cultural resonance that goes completely unconsidered, shouted down by the ‘life or death’-ers. But, where the threat is seemingly insignificant, by comparison, the opposite is true—the wealth of the habit’s ties to daily lives, to personal histories, and to individuals who, for one reason or another, will refuse to accept the health ban placed upon the one thing that makes their lives comfortable, once in a while—all these things will tip the scales of justice to find in favor of the habit, and grant us liberty to indulge.
Let’s take Prohibition—it is the only experience that paints an unvarnished illustration of human nature with regard to bad habits. Prior to Prohibition, no head of a family, no husband, no man of any kind, was held to account for their lapses when drunk. It was waved away—he’s just got a drinkin’ problem, don’t worry—hey, let’s us go have a drink, huh?
And that was wrong on many levels, and all the hurt women and children unlucky enough to be dependent upon alcoholics, have a historical backlog going back to centuries of persecution and suffering. And it still happens today (which I’ll come back to). My point now is that Prohibition twisted society too far in one direction, which created an underworld outside of government—and that’s no good for nobody. So they Repealed the Prohibition Amendment and legal liquor boosted the society’s spirits, and left little for bootleggers to do except find new businesses (don’t worry, they found some).
And, finally, after ‘both sides now’, the 1980s & 1990s saw a shift in perception—drunk driving was not a laughing matter—at least, not when one was sober again. And legal protections for victims of domestic abuse began to be enacted. And Alcoholism itself lost its luster and became an Addiction. Like all addictions, it brought its victims to a bad end. But there were treatments now, and restraining orders, and rehab. We came at alcoholism from the point of view that we had already tried Prohibition and we knew that wouldn’t work. ‘So let’s think a little bit about how to deal with this problem, and come at it in a more effective way’.
Which is pretty funny, when compared to our country’s drug problem. The media changed that bit of language—it started out drug ‘abuse’, a more individual perspective based on people who used drugs without caring about the consequences. There were others, people who enjoyed it but escaped being swallowed up by it. Many of them, or I should say us, didn’t know about long-term effects and potential damage from the stronger drugs, or about the phenomenon of addiction. But we nevertheless enjoyed trying drugs, managed not to kill ourselves, and have never used intoxication as an excuse to do bad things. Still, each and every one of us were, technically, outlaws before we even came of age. We didn’t want to be outlaws—we would have rather heard about sensible guidelines, or anything that wasn’t just a steel door snapped shut upon our curiosity and eagerness, and young peoples’ rapt attention upon the forbidden.
Meanwhile, no one cares if there are carcinogens in the birth control pills (back then, I’m still talking about)—and I mean that literally—no one cared. That controversy was wholly based on the issue of morality. It became an excommunicable crime to the Roman Catholic Pope-dom—just like abortion. And if I know the Catholic Church (which I unfortunately know well) it still, technically, is banishment-to-the-outer-darkness-worthy.
On LSD, people were talking to God like there was a shortage about to set in. We know now that there is a special spot in the brain that is our center of charismatic/spirituality sense. What we didn’t know then was that the psychotropic qualities of LSD, Peyote, Mescaline, and other hallucinogens had a profound effect upon that part of the brain—hence the many personal conversations with the almighty creator. We didn’t know that. There was a serious question as to whether the LSD mind-frame might bring one closer to (or farther away from) God. Nobody ignited any controversy over the spiritual qualities of ‘tripping’. All they saw was lack of contact with the communal consciousness, awe-filled eyes, and stupid grins—and some very irresponsible behavior. That is why it is classed as the same risk to public safety as opioids and prescription painkillers—because it pisses off the cops and the suits and, of course, The Man.
Since LSD mimics some mental-disease symptoms, it has often been accused of taking someone on a trip they never returned from. But a certain percentage of any early-adulthood population always sees actual mental-disorders present themselves, because adolescence triggers some of these disorders. It seems to me that many of those never-returned were probably straddling the border before they dropped acid at a party. And I don’t know anything about how LSD overdosing could affect someone, so there’s that possibility as well. The truth, for 99% of kids surveyed, is that they returned from their acid trip, and quickly became tired of LSD, and left it behind. So, don’t let anyone tell you different—there will always be drug experimentation wherever there are adolescents—and I don’t mean just coffee, beer, pot and cigarettes. It’s all in how society treats that situation—teenagers certainly can’t be expected to change themselves, especially when they are so busy being changed into adults, and without any say in it.
And it would be base hypocrisy, after the over-use of the ‘protecting-our children’ meme employed to win today’s legislative restrictions on drugs, pot, and tobacco, to even suggest that adolescents could be trusted to look after themselves. Nevertheless, every parent eventually discovers that the last phase of raising children is to let go of the bicycle seat and let them pedal off into their own life, on their own. Would it be possible to find a compromise? Are we stuck with the fact that toddlers and teens are considered equally in need of oversight? We may wonder over the billions of dollars spent on the DEA, while the best place to acquire illegal drugs remains either a high-school hallway or a college campus. We may wonder if all this legislation over chemical compounds isn’t an anchor around our culture’s neck.
So, it’s all very simple for people who are happy with just food and drink—that other stuff is dangerous, probably bad, and certainly irresponsible. But we are not all so happy with the ‘raw feed’ of life. Some of us prefer an occasional ‘filter’, a pair of rose-coloured’s, if you will, to add zest to our lives. Do we have the right to be greedy of life’s pleasures? Can we be trusted with adult responsibilities in spite of our indulgences? Perhaps not. Not all of us, certainly, so it’s the same difference.
But, getting back to me—in time, I was bereft of Rothmans—I had nowhere to turn. And then online tobacco sales dawned. Before I knew it, I was rolling my own cigarettes—well, not rolling them, really—there’s this contraption that injects the tobacco into a prepared paper tube with built-in filter. And, at first, it was too good to be true—making my own was no biggy—and the taste of these fresh, handmade cigarettes was beyond belief.
Then I happened upon Three Castles—a brand of cigarette tobacco from the Daughters & Ryan Company—made of pure Virginia Gold Leaf—so fresh it was still moist. I was in smoker’s heaven—and I was paying a third the price of those horrible American cartons. Almost as soon as that paradise came, it vanished. New York became one of the states to outlaw online cigarettes, and all my little universe of tobacconist shops around the globe were cut off from me. So I ordered via UPS, from out-of-state suppliers (no tax). Then the tax law was changed to charge anyone with a NY State delivery address the full NYS sales tax on all tobacco, even pipe tobacco.
So, I won’t tell you what I’m doing now—I can’t afford the security risk. Although it costs me way more than it should (NYS Sales Tax on Tobacco is about 80%) I can still get my paper tubes and tobacco shipped to the front door—and I’m a past master at fixing the injector gadget—so my life of luxury, including both coffee and cigarettes, goes on.
I enjoy making cigarettes—it’s no big chore and there’s little enough activity in my life that a little ‘arts-and-crafts therapy’ doesn’t hurt the situation. And I still enjoy smoking them. The only shadow on my enjoyment is public opinion and the lack of comrades to share it with. I understand when European settlers first came to know of tobacco they would gather in an ale-house or a smoking-house and become intoxicated by tobacco, which they smoked from clay pipes. I assume they were following the lead of native Americans, who packed their pipes somewhat differently. The newcomers were only interested in the tobacco part—they loved it. And who doesn’t, unless scared away be fearmongers? And even way back then, men’s wives and pious preachers grumbled about this disgustingly satanic form of amusement.
And I think I know why those medical personnel, huddled together outside every hospital, completely dismiss the warnings against smoking cigarettes. They know that life is a crap shoot. They know that there are a million ways to die—and lung cancer kills non-smokers all the time—same with heart disease… But the pleasures in life are the best part—get’em while you can, you know? Cigarettes are also a tremendous reward for a tough job—the only one you can give to yourself.
While I have no beef with the molly-coddling, self-defeating attitude towards bad habits in today’s society, it is only because their victory is not yet complete. I dread the day, but at the same time, I know it will happen—and a tragical day it’ll be—someday I’ll go looking for a cup of joe and a smoke—and they won’t be there.
Here’s hoping I kick the bucket first.
XperDunn plays Piano
April 22, 2013 (Earth Day)
The History of Popular Songs – Episode One
“Marching Along Together”
American Lyric by Mort Dixon
Words and Music by Ed Pola & Franz Steininger
(c) 1932 The Peter Maurice Music Co. Ltd.
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster
Music by John Jacob Loeb
(c) 1932 Leo Feist Inc.
By Alan Flynn
& Frank Madden
(c) 1935 Robbins Music Corp.
“More Than You Know”
Lyrics by William Rose & Edward Eliscu
Music by Vincent Youmans
(c) 1929 by Miller Music Corp.
(Melody based on Claude Debussy’s ‘Reverie’
French Lyrics by Yvette Baruch)
by Larry Clinton (c) 1938 Robbins Music Corp.
“No! No! A Thousand Times No!”
by Al Sherman, Al Lewis and Abner Silver
(c) 1934 LEO Feist Inc.
“Lara’s Theme” from
MGM Presents David Lean’s ‘Doctor Zhivago’
Lyrics by Maurice Jarre
(c) 1965 MGM, Inc.
“Just You, Just Me”
Lyrics by Raymond Klages
Music by Jesse Greer (c) 1929 MGM, Inc.
“The Last Waltz”
Words and Music by
Les Reed and Barry Mason
(c) 1967 Donna Music Ltd.
“My Little Grass Shack In Kealakekua, Hawaii”
Words and Music by
Bill Cogswell, Tommy Harrison,
and Johnny Noble
(c) 1933 Miller Music Corp.
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster
Music by Andre Previn
(c) 1958 Robbins Music Corp.
Monday, April 22, 2013 1:13 PM
Perhaps our imaginations are Mandelbrot equations that have evolved in our brain matter to follow the line of analog rather than that of awareness—we cease to see the thing and imagine a something that is like the thing, but only in a way—in another way, it is quite different—and the biochemical equation fills in the blank. Do you know how a thing is just beyond your mind’s awareness? When you can feel it there, lurking under the scrim of conscious memory, and it isn’t that you need more time—it’s just that you have to re-orient your mind to finally grab ahold of the thing, the word, the idea, the, the,..
“ That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.”
– EAST COKER
(No. 2 of ‘Four Quartets’)
I see all these fantasy-based series on Syfy and HBO—and the recent spate of fairytale-themed movies, ‘Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Jack the Giant Killer”, etc. and then just now I’m watching the made-for-TV TNT Movie of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s classic, ‘The Mists of Avalon’. And I realize that we have to embrace magical thinking.
I’m not saying it is the truth, I’m just saying we have to embrace it—as much as we need to simulate our animal-selves’ existence (exercise and diet) to keep our bodies healthy, we also need to recognize the importance that mystery played in our earlier civilizations—with regard to our mental and emotional well-being.
Prior to the Enlightenment, there was primitivism and religious devotion—no third option. No one ‘knew’ anything, the way we think of ‘knowing’ something, today. Everything was up for grabs—a demon might chase you; a witch might enchant you; you could fall asleep for forty years and return to a home that has nearly forgotten even the memory of you; you might be imprisoned within a stone—or there might be a magic sword in there, instead. God could stop the Sun in the sky—and no one dared question it. That one little problem was actually what began our descent into businesspersons—astrologers had been observing the sky’s signposts for millennia—even the Old Testament was young compared to Astrology. Then came telescopes, and before you know it—well, now it’s out there.
You can persecute stubborn-minded astronomers for a few centuries but, in the end, with planetary observations that stretched back to the earliest records of civilization, supported by magically-enhanced vision via the telescope, the truth was in the math for anyone to see—and then a bunch of other things, and then the Enlightenment happens. People begin to see that there is a certainty in the world that even the most terrible magician can’t refute—basically, they accepted arithmetic as more axiomatic than faith. One cannot make measurements of magic, and one cannot allow magic in mathematics.
But even this would not have been a problem if we hadn’t reached a point where literacy and public discourse could root out the smoke and mirrors of magical belief, and shine a light on, —well, on bullshit, to put it bluntly. And in many ways, particularly in terms of human rights and democracy, the routing of magical thinking from our daily lives is a great blessing. However.
Religion is part of the old, magical-thinking-type way—and there are lots of people who would get angry at that statement for two reasons: one, their religion isn’t some hocus-pocus Las Vegas magician’s act!—and two, their religion transcends mathematics. So, we find ourselves very prettily stuck in a barrel—we can either drop the barrel to stand in the naked truth, or we can tote that barrel around while we try to lead a sensible life. I’m for dropping it, but then I’ve never been much of a stickler for form. And form is nothing to sneeze at.
T.S. Eliot was known to be very attracted to rites and rituals—his conversion to Anglican was as much to regain some magic in his life as it was a shunning of agnosticism. He called it ‘meaning’, but I call it ‘magic’. As a lifelong atheist, I can attest to the emotional toll it takes to turn ones back on fairy tales. If I could make the slightest pretense of faith, I would work its last nerve—let me tell you—‘magic’?—much better way to go through life—illusory, vestigial, irrational?—of course. But, still, the way our minds are designed to work. Social interaction loses its coherence in a fully rationalized society—everything is a field of study but nothing is mysterious, unknown, or inconclusive. I know there are sub-atomic physics theories and cosmological theorems that will always glimmer in the distance—for that small group of people who can climb to the ridge of that mental mountain range. But for the rest of us there’s little more than electricity, clean water, medical insurance, and job security. There is no cathedral being built; there’s no crusade to fight against an exotically unfamiliar foe; there are no barren deserts for mad monks to wander in.
There is only the endless struggle against the brute animal that lives behind our eyes and the craven junky in our guts that’s willing to walk into traffic for something just out of reach and the hysterical, traumatized self-hater that’s always trying to break into our hearts.
We need charismatic diversions, periods of wandering and wondering and being in awe. We need secrets—secrets kept from us and secrets we keep to ourselves. Any good therapist will tell you that is no way towards a healthy emotional life—that is the sort of thing that allows you to be manipulated, repressed, and overwrought. Which is true. The fact that we may need it to satisfy some other lack still remains, healthy or not, true or not, scientific or not.
Truth is truth and science is science—but that doesn’t make us happy, by itself. We need some blissful ignorance, perhaps a daily ride on a big roller-coaster—anything that will bring us to the face of eternity, even for a moment. Somewhere we can laugh in the teeth of a fiery dragon or soar on a magic carpet. Our species has spent all but the last few centuries feeling fear, hunger, lust, wonder, and curiosity—do we really think we can be okay with a desk job and a cable TV?
Saturday, April 20, 2013 3:48 PM
So? It’s my music, so you don’t have anything to say about it.
If you don’t like my music, don’t listen.
Feel free to ignore me–believe me, if you’re giving off negatory vibes, man–I’m ignoring the hell out of you.
This is my song.
Here I am singing it.
Like it or not.
Hey, I’ve got th’palsy, man–it’s not like this is easy to do.
It’s not like I’ve had training or anything helpful like that–All my mistakes are my own.
Whatever I could’ve gotten out of training is moot now anyhow.
And it sure ain’t like I’m some kind of prodigy–I was born with a predilection for my right hand, and ‘ambidextrous’, to me, always sounded like magic.
And I don’t keep a steady rhythm–I was never a drummer.
So? Hey, it’s my music!
It’s not like I have the option to go jogging or curling or making stone walls.
It’s not as if I could just walk down the street, asking for a job.
“So, what are your qualifications? I mean, outside of being really old and unable to remember my name–after I told you three times…”
Of course, I could stay here at the keyboard all day–but after that first sixty minutes,
my mind will wander and
the next seven hours will just be
bad for my back
—nobody pays me to play Freecell.
Hey, this is my song. Get your own, man.
Well, there it is—my poem for the day. Can’t post it, naturally. Maybe if I sang it, I could post that to YouTube—but even then there’s a very strong sense of ‘poor me’ about this lyric—and I think only an entitled, egocentric rock star could pull it off. I guess I’ll have to be a rock-god for awhile…
There is a longer, un-edited version:
Which lasts about 17 & ½ mins.
-compared to the very first, original, Improv – So? (2013Apr20) , which clocks in at a respectable 12 mins., even.