A Broadway Hit (plus one of my own concoctions)


XperDunn plays Piano
September 29th, 2013

“On A Clear Day You Can See Forever”

 

 

XperDunn plays Piano
September 29th, 2013

Improv – Sweden

 

Islands in the Sky


Joan’s latest missive–I share it with you here:

Ultraphyte

In the rainforest of Venezuela and Brazil rise high mesas called “tepui,” where many unique creatures are found. These creatures were thought to evolve in isolation, perhaps including many “ancient” forms. They are found atop the unique table-like tepuis that rise above the clouds.

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The tepui ecosystems may have influenced Avatar as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. It’s hard to get up there and find out–the only way is to climb.

But the tepui ecology is in fact more complex than was thought. Unique creatures, such as the pebble toad, may be more recent arrivals that evolved in a recent new direction, more like the arrivals in the Galapagos islands. Like islands, each tepui may host unique species found nowhere else.

Sometimes we think that only “native” evolved species are worth study. But every native species had to get there from somewhere. We are all travelers…

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Bachmann’s Reich


I saw Michelle Bachmann interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN this morning. She didn’t answer any of his questions. He pressed and pressed for a simple yes or no on any of his several reasonable questions. She talked around him, over him, under him, throwing out Tea-Party talking points as she evaded the subject Wolf was trying to talk about. She contradicted him with a bunch of spurious poll numbers and misinformation to which Wolf could only respond, “Where are you getting this information?” (Which she claimed she had ‘back at her office’).

We have seen Bachmann and other Tea-Party stalwarts take their cues from Palin’s VP-run playbook whenever they are faced with serious disagreement. It is transparently the behavior of someone trying to evade the plain truth by becoming hysterical over left-field distractions and quoting patently imaginary facts and figures—they even rewrite history to push their ignorant (and obviously paid-for) agenda.

In the old days we described this behavior as ‘squirming’ and ‘bold-faced lying’. But today it is viewed by many people as ‘Tea-Party politics’—as if, when red-necks get up on their haunches and shout their frustration at a complicated and pluralist world, they are permitted to be completely nonsensical and wildly untruthful. I think it has something to do with their response to this, which is to charge that everyone else is lying. They even pose as martyrs to ‘gotcha’-journalism (translation: any reasonable questions posed in front of a camera).

But I’m not mad at these poor souls—they are deluded, misguided, and given far more attention and legitimacy than is healthy for the uneducated. I’m mad at us—how did we allow stupidity to become a valid political platform? When did we drop any minimum intelligence limit for people who have a national microphone before them?

President Obama made an address later on this afternoon, in which he pointed out that the House of Representatives has a solemn duty—political kamikaze tactics may be all the House GOP members are interested in, but they have actual responsibilities as well. That they ignore those responsibilities is just another maddening symptom of this new class of politician, the ‘stubborn simpleton’ (Yes, I’m referring to Ted Cruz). The fact that experienced, older GOP members are nearly as dismayed as the Democrats at the irrational and irresponsible behavior of the Tea-Partyers says a great deal about just how far from sanity these people have gone (and taken the rest of us with them).

I’m glad Obama has put his foot down—negotiating with such cretins does nothing to appease them—and nothing anyone else can say can convince them that they are in the wrong—about anything. That’s the surest sign of their mental imbalance—their refusal to face reality.

The only thing worse? That these troublemakers are expected to be re-elected by their constituencies! When seniors don’t get their Social Security allowance, when soldiers in the field don’t get a paycheck to send to their families, when no one can get a loan for the foreseeable future—will those people really re-affirm their faith in this group?  I would do more than merely vote for a Democrat—I’d have them charged with high treason.

They are threatening to break the world, to destroy the United States of America, to ruin everyone’s day for years to come—how can anyone see them as responsible office-holders and elected officials?

The Bitch


Thursday, September 26, 2013            1:58 PM

Everybody loves a bitch. The Stones had a big hit in “Bitch” (Sticky Fingers 1971) I think, in large part, because we kids loved to sing along. And it’s just a fun word to say—“bitch, bitch, bitch.” We love them. We go crazy over them—especially the mega-bitch. A mega-bitch is a completely evil, incredibly hot woman, such as Shannon Doherty’s role as Brenda Walsh in the series “Beverly Hills, 90210” (1990). Women are drawn to a bitchy character because she is self-determined and adversarial; men are fascinated by a bitchy character because no matter how evil her mind, heart, or voice—she’s still a woman, and men, by and large, want women.

I’d venture a guess that the proliferation of old witches and crones in our folk stories were a product of male story-tellers who were more comfortable with a bitchy character bereft of any hint of fecundity—but I’m no archeological psychologist, I just know myself.

I’ve just had a rather embarrassing email exchange with a writer friend, whose first serialized on-line novel I’d found instantly engaging and compelling. Some poor schlub’s horror-of-a-girlfriend character was a constant spur to my interest. But when she debuted her new novel’s first chapter, set in a sort of antebellum Edwardian atmosphere, I instantly attacked her for it, saying the whole thing was worthless, a pile of junk. (Jumping the gun is a favorite hobby of mine.)

But when, at her urging, I went back and re-read the chapter, I suddenly found, by focusing on it better, that it was a well-paced, tightly written piece of fiction—so, feeling like a jackass, I sent her my apologies. I was confused—it was well written, yet it repelled me at first—and even having found that it was good, I still lacked any inclination to read more.

But this morning it came to me. There was no bitch. Moreover, there wasn’t a bad-guy or an evil influence in sight. When I had my health, and was a terrible bookworm, I would casually allow myself (and the author) the first 150 pages as a ‘gimme’. I’d had plenty of experience with writers with a slow burn—and they were often the best, if I could ride out the slow start.

Now I have a more modern sensibility—I need a quick fix. I need coercion, I need conflict, I need me a bitch. I truly miss those good old days when I could re-read Robin Hood in that wonderfully drowsy ‘dear reader’ kind of style; I could re-read the Iliad and be charmed by the interplay of human drama and Jovian fate and the symbolism and the repeated phrases that made it as much a chant as a story. I read everything and anything—and fast—I averaged 1.3 books a day—unless they were little things of 300 pages or less. Before I lost my health, I got to where I preferred only 700+ page-books, like King, Follett, Clancy, and Ian Banks. Anything less than that frustrated me—I would hardly get comfortable in the writer’s world when I would find myself reading the exit sign: “The End”.

But today, I mostly do TV. When I do commit to a book, I start reading like I always used to—but then I quickly find my neck aching, or my eyesight blurring, or just a mental inability to follow along as I read. I put it down, wait an hour, try again. In the last half of the book I will become transfixed, and I’ll wonder why I don’t still do this all the time. But the next day, after I finish the book, I’ll have blurry vision most of the day, and little aches and pains and spasms from holding open the heavy book and from focusing my eyesight (through magnifying glasses) on the page for hours at a time.

So, long story short, I don’t read much anymore. When I do, I get impatient of any settling-in type beginnings and intolerant of any slack in a storyline. I prefer to be left wondering to being given more than I need. I’m become the same audience as the illiterate—just show me eye-candy with music, please.

And the end result is a media with a narrow range, stories that introduce conflict from the first sentence and keep it hot right until the big car crash (with explosion) at the end. All the best told stories are the opposite, they build and build a world around you, inserting conflicts at strategic points, adding detail and suspense and character development with the tidal flow of their story’s pace—only with such subtle storytelling can an artist ever build up to a tidal wave far more awesome than a mere car crash—but without the leeway to do this, merely good writers can outperform the great writers, making wam-bam-thank you-ma’am plotlines the industry’s default quality.

Fortunately, the treasure house of the past is still easily accessible to anyone with a library card. But be careful to read the book before you see the movie. I had read “The Lord Of The Rings” three times before Peter Jackson got his green light—so the freeze-dried husk of the CGI version will never mar my memories of the happiness I felt marching along with the Fellowship through Tolkien’s worlds. Or stalking Clancy’s cold-war villains from one end of the Earth to another. Or shivering from my immersion in the horror of King’s nightmare town, Kerry, Maine. How I wish I could still spend whole days there, day after day.

But this isn’t about me. My writer friend has brought into focus a dilemma that all modern writers face—subtle writing is to small audiences as simple writing is to big audiences (and big money). And I’m not suggesting that today’s writer has to ‘dumb-down’ their writing to be popular—I’m saying that the leeway enjoyed by earlier writers has contracted to a fine point—a tightrope that must be walked. Mass audiences actually require intelligence in their entertainment—but it must be a carefully monitored dose, administered with precise timing and dosage, from moment to moment in their favorite tales.

Stephen Spielberg cracked this code, creating movies that blew us away, while not insulting our intelligence. The use of levity is essential is his formula, but he also kept the mayhem and the fear going at all times.

And perhaps most restrictive of all, today’s popular stories must start with high drama—either dread, rage, sublime ecstasy, or just plain explosions. My writer friend, in beginning with a busy, happy family scene, had failed to grasp me by the throat—but was that her failing, or mine?

New Changes


Two (2) Piano Covers (2013Sep22)


"Green Leaves Of Summer" and "Happy Heart"

“Green Leaves Of Summer”
and “Happy Heart”

 

“Green Leaves Of Summer”
(From the Batjac Production “The Alamo”. A United Artists Release.)

Music: Dmitri Tiomkin
© 1960 Leo Feist Inc.,
Batjac Productions, (NOTE: this was John Wayne’s own Prod. Co.)
and Erosa Music Publishing Corp.

Lyrics: Paul Francis Webster
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group,
GUY WEBSTER/WEBSTER MUSIC

——————————————

“Happy Heart”

by James Last and Jackie Rae
© 1969 Panorama Song, GmbH, Hamburg, Germany (West Germany, at the time)
USA & Canada Rights – Miller Music Corporation

——————————————

{From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia}

“Happy Heart” is a song written by James Last and Jackie Rae.

The song was recorded by both Petula Clark and Andy Williams and released as a single for each at the same time in 1969. “Happy Heart” reached #12 on the Easy Listening chart and #62 in the UK for Clark, while Williams went to #22 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100, #19 in the UK, and spent two weeks at #1 on the Easy Listening chart.

Clark was reportedly dismayed when Williams was a guest star on her second TV special, with the plan to perform the song they were both launching as a single. In Australia both Clark’s and Williams versions charted both peaking at #22.

It was notably used on the soundtrack accompanying the British film Shallow Grave (1994), starring Ewan MacGregor and Christopher Eccleston, and directed by Danny Boyle. The female impersonator Holly Woodlawn lip-synced to the Clark version in the 1998 Tommy O’Haver film Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss.

*****

PLEASE NOTE: for the Graphic Background on the Titles and Credits:

Proletariërs aller landen verenigt U
(Factory workers stand strong united.)

by Jan de Waardt, (1900)

courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Netherlands

…And the Competition Is Over!


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The great engine behind capitalism and the free market is supposed to be competition. But I wonder what competition is still happening just now as we head towards the winter of 2013-2014. Small towns from coast to coast have lost their competitions with Wal-Mart and its ilk—towns where people once supported each other saw themselves put out of business as they put their neighbor out of business, both of them saving money by shopping at a big store chain, and both eventually left bankrupt, homeless, and worse.

Perhaps there is some friendly competition going on between the CEOs of those few giant corporations—not as interesting as a game of golf, perhaps, but something that keeps their egos pumping. But outside that, all the competing is over. Multi-billion-dollar, multi-national corporations—petroleum giants, pharmaceutical giants, entertainment media giants, etc.—may see themselves in competition with each other, at least in the minds of the top management and board-members. But today’s major players in our global marketplace are so beribboned with both vertical and horizontal diversification, so invested in the overall stability of the global economy, and required to have such cold-blooded, implacable ambition—those people expend their energies on office politics, influence peddling, and investment poaching to an extent that leaves most of the ‘competition’ in their own heads—and, more importantly, without any effect on the regular people.

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The regular people, the lower-income-to-high-middle-class income, the hoi polloi, the little people—call them what you will—they be us. We no longer compete in meaningful ways. Our children can study until they’re blue in the brain—there’s still a chance we won’t be able to foot the bill for Harvard or Princeton—and that our children may not be among the select few who win the scholarships that may or may not make an ivy-league degree affordable. So we no longer have any significant competition in scholarship—excepting those rare scholarships and grants. The vast majority, however, see college costs recede further and further from reality—and that’s only to get a bachelor’s degree—the post-graduate world is a maze of student loans, part-time jobs, and constant struggle to achieve what comes to the families-of-wealth’s kids as a gift.

mam015

Want to start a coffee shop? Starbucks has you beat. A book store? Amazon’s already there. A hardware store? –Home Depot is already there. A restaurant? Well, they were never great investments to begin with—and all but the hoity-toity-est can’t compete with the prices at Outback, Red Lobster, or Appleby’s. Drug store chains make the town pharmacists redundant. And at this point, if any kind of small business isn’t doing business inside a mall or some other high-foot-traffic area, they will shrivel on the vine.

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Can boutique, community-conscious shops get by? Yes, but there had better be at least one necessity being sold there, or their solvency will fade with the novelty of their existence. And this is all beside the point that, if you were to come up with some tremendous new thing that drew crowds of shoppers, it would be imitated, mass-produced, and available at the mall within a single fiscal period.

When Europeans first began emigrating to the New World, competition was everywhere, businesses were fighting right and left in a world of disparate, mom-and-pop farms, shops, transport, communication and services. This rising of the dough of Capitalism had plenty of yeast, and the chaos of the free market made commerce an almost Brownian-motion pattern of new, starting, growing, dying, and expanding ventures. The passage of centuries has brought all that to a stagnant precipitate of big corporations and huge personal fortunes—the reaction has reached equilibrium.

Thought

Obama says there are not enough ladders to prosperity anymore—and I agree with that—but I see it as the obvious end result of free-for-all capitalism, as it went from land invasion (or pioneering, as some call it) to industrial revolution, to urban-centric economies and the world of modern business. The land has been parceled out, competition in industry ended in one or two giants controlling the field or product, and chain stores and the internet have destroyed entrepreneurship as we once understood it.

Now that those currents of history and development and growth and consolidation have slowed to a molasses-like oozing that allows new business only sparingly—and with few of those making the grade. Even the once famously individualistic business of digital software has become a two-sided struggle between two giants which become less distinct from each other the longer they compete for the bigger half of the pie.

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Even businesses that have just been created, such as private space-based technology companies and genome-research firms are so complex and expensive that they hardly lend themselves to small business start-ups—they all come as off-shoots of one or more already-large-and-successful multinational corporations.

In short, ‘competition’ is disappearing just as quickly as our environmental stability. Even pro sports—the very embodiment of competition—have become as much businesses as teams-in-competition. And with the loss of that beating heart, the tension of competition, the thrill of the contest, Capitalism becomes just another word for Oligarchy—a set-in-stone society of the super-wealthy and their seven billion servants.

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America’s growth into the greatest super-power in history was possible partly due to the fact that we could start from a tabula-rasa continent. Our government wasn’t an amalgam of centuries of war and despotism—it was something we could design with an 18th century understanding of ourselves. Our societies didn’t have millennia of embedded classes, castes, lordship and slavery—we could invent a new society that had a more modern populism as its defining characteristic. And with the industrial revolution coming fast on the heels of our wars for independence and unity, we found it much easier to embrace the quickening tempo of a civilization on the cusp of modernity.

But now America’s arcane, baroque-filigreed legislation, our corporate culture become more a thing of inertia than healthy growth, and our fairly complete distribution over every square inch of habitable real estate—have all brought us to a situation wherein we see ourselves as we used to be, while the truth eludes us. America’s culture is still younger than Europe’s, but it is no longer ‘young’.

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Our best years may still lie ahead, as a nation, but our easy-going, whimsical days are over—from here on out, we must (like all the other nations) approach change slowly and with more forethought than Americans are generally comfortable with. And most importantly, we must reexamine Capitalism in the era of Corporate Consolidation, a Capitalism without significant Competition as its driving force.

We do have stress, of course. There is plenty of stress, everywhere you go. But stress is just fear of being fired, it isn’t true competition. Instead of struggling and working harder, we hunch into our cubicles and try not to think about being downsized, or being rendered obsolete by technology. Indeed, the worst symptom of our present culture’s dysfunction is the fact that working harder, working faster, making an effort of any kind, no longer has any relevance to our incomes, or to our success in the business world.

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