More Gershwin   (2015Apr30)


Thursday, April 30, 2015                                        7:43 PM

I’m still feeling off-balance today. When I’m happy the beautiful things in life make me want to sing but when I’m sad the beautiful things in life make me want to cry. There’s a little of both in today’s piano videos.

 

RIP, Dear Teacher (2015Apr29)


Wednesday, April 29, 2015                                              2:03 PM

I am saddened and upset to hear of the sudden accidental death of our friend and teacher, Gilbert J. Freeman. He touched a lot of peoples’ lives in the course of his long tenure as music and drama teacher at John Jay High School in Lewisboro, NY. We had reconnected, as so many have, with the dawn of Facebook and we had recently begun to trade little piano-playing clips of old standards, just for fun.

My sense of shock and loss is compounded somewhat by the fact that I had posted a video to his Facebook wall, after hearing of his accident—by way of saying, “Here’s something to listen to while you’re laid up in hospital.” Counting my old friend and neighbor, the late Paul Taggart, this was the second time this year that I posted a Facebook message to a dead man. Another ghoulish coincidence is that Gil passed away in the same Flagstaff trauma center where my brother Russell (also a musician) succumbed to a brain aneurism a few years ago.

I can’t help resenting Facebook for bringing me so close to people I would otherwise never have heard from again. That is senseless, of course, because of all the pleasure I’ve gotten from reconnecting with all the Facebook people I would have otherwise never heard from again. But I’m not feeling very sensible right now. Life was a lot simpler, and emptier, before the Internet.

When I think about it, it seems to me that people’s homes used to be outposts. The centers of society were in public, at the stores, churches, libraries, and theaters of the towns and cities. We went out in public to stock up on supplies for our homes, to make contact with others, and to work and to be entertained. Then we went and huddled in our solitary homes, dependent on our families and neighbors for social interaction. When we felt the need to go out and ‘live’, we literal had to go out.

We had absolutely no contact with people outside of a reasonable driving distance—everyone we worked or played with, everyone we courted or competed with, lived within a ten block radius. When we needed information, we went to the library—but back then, even with a degree in library science; information was less accessible than it is now.

Libraries were (and still are) very serious storehouses of knowledge—let’s face it, a lot of the accessible information we have now wasn’t considered serious or meaningful enough to be archived in libraries—they specialize more in ‘school subject’ types of information. There was no iMDB section, for instance—though there were printed movie catalogs with multiple indices, for the hardcore movie researcher. Finding old news stories involved card catalogs and fiche-reading machines which, when added to the original trip to the library, was a whole lot more work than a Google search.

Now, we don’t need to leave our homes to get information, or to talk with friends, or to work or be entertained. Our homes are now headquarters for our lives, instead of mere resting places where we eat, sleep, and prepare to go out again. And with the new phones, even being at home is unnecessary to these needs. On the flip side, we can no longer give up our old haunts and start over again—our social lives have a permanence that society never had before.

All through history, and for most of my earlier life, our social lives were a sequence of acquaintanceships—school days, college days, working adult, relocated working adult, retirement home, etc. Whenever a group or neighborhood we were a part of dispersed, those friends faded from our lives, and from our memories. Every move to a new area demanded the loss of old friends and the making of new ones. Yes, we could write letters, or even phone people—but the common interest would erode with distance, and the topics of conversation would dry up. What has changed?

Well, for one thing, Facebook and its ilk allow us to talk about ourselves freely, rather than have an intimate conversation, like a phone call. We don’t have to worry about how we look, how our voices sound, or whether we’re dressed up enough. Sincerity is not required, nor honesty even. It has none of the stress of an actual physical meeting—no eye contact, no self-consciousness, no invasion of personal space—it’s easy. But you get what you pay for. A Facebook friendship will never be a real friendship.

We old-timers, however, are a special case. To us, it is something of a miracle to be reconnected to people we once cared deeply about, people we didn’t want to lose touch with. Most of my Facebook friends are people I once knew, then virtually forgot about, then rediscovered on Facebook (or, before that, MySpace or Classmates).

How wonderful it was to reconnect with Gil Freeman, of all people—the music teacher who played such a big part in my adult-formative years, but whom I had barely thought of for decades afterward. What a blessing it was to be able to thank him and let him know how much his mentorship had meant to me—and to see so many others expressing the same feelings. Yet how horrible it is now, with his Facebook page still sitting there, with my stupid post right there, the last message he got—or rather, didn’t.

Gershwin is Sweeping the Country (2015Apr28)


Tuesday, April 28, 2015                                          2:35 PM

I’ve just learned that Gilbert Freeman has been injured at the Grand Canyon. He is presently in the Trauma Hospital in Flagstaff, AZ—I wish him a speedy and complete recovery. Gil is a retired music teacher responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of music-lovers, many professional musicians, and even a few virtuosi. We all have fond memories of our days in his choir and in his theatrical productions. I do hope he’ll be okay.

—**—

My George Gershwin songbook has always been difficult for me to play. Those Tin-Pan Alley harmonies make absolutely no sense, if like me you’re used to Bach, Mozart, or even Contemporary Pop—until I play them—then they make perfect sense. Gershwin’s music reminds me of Mozart in the way that he seems to find the perfect sound, right on the knife-edge of dissonance, or even just plain noise, but in its narrow escape from that, sublime in its perfect fitness.

This makes it all the more frustrating that, as sheet music, it is an obstacle course of illogical and unexpected twists and turns. I know, if I could only play it properly, how gorgeous it would sound, as I flub and fluff my improper way through it. And it’s fairly gymnastic playing, too, by my standards—physically on the edge of possibility, for me. So I was surprised yesterday when everything seemed to conform fairly easily to my hands—so ‘doable’ as to make singing along a possibility.

Today, I resolved to do a Gershwin Covers recital—I figured if yesterday’s sudden windfall ran true, I’d better take advantage while the advantage-taking was good. I decided it would be called “Gershwin is Sweeping the Country”, since “Love Is Sweeping The Country” is one of his peppiest, happiest tunes and I really like it.

I played four or five songs with semi-decent results (they comprise the video below) but when I got to “Love Is Sweeping The Country” my luck and/or energy had run out. There’s this damnable chromatic sweeping up and down in the course of the song—beautiful stuff, but murder on my brain and eyesight—so that recording went into the trash-pile, and all that’s left is the play-on-words of my title. I’ll work on it for later. It’s a really cool song.

Prior to playing, just to get the blood flowing, I took a walk. I meant to go all the way around the block, but when our driveway appeared, midway, I took the easy way out. Hence the title of today’s little piano improv “Short Walk”. I brought my camera along on the walk, though, so short or not, I got some striking photos of the local color. I hope they make a more picturesque background video than my ugly mug—once again, I’m relegating the video of me to the corners of the screen.

There are plenty more in my Gershwin songbook, but I didn’t want to press my luck today. I look forward to a second or third Gershwin Covers video, sometime soon.

 

 

 

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Four for Sunday (2015Apr26)


 

 

 

 

Oh, and here’s one from yesterday…

Failure at CNN and The New York Times (2015Apr24)


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Friday, April 24, 2015                                              5:59 PM

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What with FOX News, Court TV, Network TV news, and MSNBC all out there working their angles, I use to tell myself not to worry—after all, there was always the ‘Gray Lady’ and CNN. They both have respectable histories and both seemed to display a real dedication to journalism. But I’ve been noticing the mob mentality of mass media inveigling its way into the thinking of even the ‘respectable’ news-editors lately. I’m even starting to wonder about Gwen Ifill!

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Let me give two examples from today that raised my blood-pressure and totaled my peace of mind. The first was the headline of the New York Times issue on the kitchen table: “Obama Apologizes For Drone Strike that Kills American and Italian Hostage” What the hell is that? We didn’t take those people hostage. We don’t use human shields as SOP military strategy. And Obama wasn’t at the controls of the drone that hit the innocent victims. It’s ISIS who should apologize (if those fuckers had consciences, like human beings). These fucking savages terrorize the planet for years, and we focus on the rare mistakes where one or two of the deaths can be laid at our doorstep (if you ignore the source of the exigent circumstances).

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When are we going to cut this poor bastard a break? But Obama is nearing the end of his last term—for my second example, let’s turn to Hillary Clinton. I wouldn’t be Hillary Clinton for all the tea in China—this poor lady is America’s favorite target. I hope she doesn’t get elected—you fuckers don’t deserve her. And she certainly doesn’t deserve the treatment she gets at the hands of all the hacks pretending to be journalists.

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I saw three assholes talking on CNN. The left-wing-view guy makes a simple declarative statement—that ‘no evidence has been produced to support any charges of wrongdoing in the case of the Clinton Foundation vis-à-vis contributors getting special favors’. End of story, right? I mean, they’re journalists, right? Wrong. The moderator asshole responds, “Well, isn’t that just daring people to go and find proof?” In what bizzaro universe is an avowal of innocence the same as a dare to find wrongdoing? Only a total asshole would twist a simple sentence to mean its opposite—and only in the name of high ratings, truth be damned. A professional journalist wouldn’t even be talking about malfeasance without proof in the first place, never mind insisting on speculating on the whispers of her self-professed haters.

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These people are lucky they live in a modern world where they can say these things in print or on a TV screen. If they said this shit in public, I’d fucking attack them—what a bunch of scum. You’ll notice I mentioned glancing at a newspaper headline on the table and seeing three assholes on CNN. I did not read the paper and I didn’t watch CNN—these were just snippets that I noticed in passing—and wished I hadn’t. I’ll pay actual attention to the details of these jerks when journalism comes back in style—and that’ll happen as soon as the major media corporations go bust, not before. So, I’m not holding my breath—or watching the news. Fuck’em all.

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Cheez-it! More Cops… (2015Apr23)


Thursday, April 23, 2015                                        9:12 AM

CA152CAI saw a video of cops confusing a spinal injury with reluctance, manhandling a disabled suspect into a van—the suspect later died of a severed spinal cord. I saw a video of a US Marshal taking some lady’s camera-phone and smashing it on the ground in an excess of self-consciousness that may have had something to do with his not wanting to be filmed breaking the law. Too bad there was more than one camera-phone on the scene. I saw a video of a cop shooting a man in the back eight times and then running around, rearranging the evidence.

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I see these videos and I try to tell myself, “There are good cops. There are good cops.” Maybe we don’t see videos of them because the news won’t show them—too boring. Whatever. All the good cops in the world don’t undo what these video-stars are doing to their reputations. But just like Neo-Cons and their homophobic fringe, or like Muslims and their violent-extremist fringe—good cops may not be responsible for bad cops, but they are very close by, and their actions don’t display any great disfavor of such unprofessionalism.

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I’m also reminded of the dismaying frequency of rape in our armed services. Isn’t there some training where recruits hear it explained how bad an idea it is to rape someone, when you might need them to watch your back in a fight? Aren’t there officers who disapprove of rapists? Aren’t there some men in the service who have it together enough to reprimand their buddies for mistreating soldiers who happen to be female? Or is it all just accepted as part of making a killing-machine out of a human being?

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There is something sick about the military culture—and there is sickness in police culture, in political culture, and in our business culture. All of them try to combine a ‘dog-eat-dog’ approach with humanism—and they all fail miserably. Police can’t handle the complexity of a job where they have authority, but that authority only extends to maintaining everyone’s rights equally. Instead, they invariably choose a ‘side’, and operate as if the other ‘side’ deserves only the appearance of civil rights.

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We aren’t comfortable unless we can simplify our difficulties, distilling them down to a fight between us-and-them. We all agree loudly that the real answer is not to create divisions of us-and-them—but in practice, we always ignore that and go for the conflict—it’s just easier. And, according to tradition, you can’t ask a person to go in harm’s way and to think about what they’re doing—that’s just too much to ask.

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Bullies run the world—and whenever someone rises up to change things, they find that they must become bullies themselves to conquer the existing bullies. It’s a paradox. We all want good people to be our leaders—but cruelty is so much more powerful that any who refute cruelty make themselves too weak to win. Thus we have the myth of the leader who is both cruel and kind. Our presidents are an example—drone-strikes and jailing privacy-advocates are both forgotten while our president reads a story to kids on the White House lawn. He’s not really a killer—he’s just the Commander-in-Chief—his hands are clean.

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So we are left with a conundrum. Are all these videos of police criminality indicative of a broken police system, or are they simply examples of human nature? How many of us could be trusted to wander the neighborhood with a gun and a beat-stick—and how long could we do it without deciding that we need to use those ‘tools’? And is it even possible to become familiar with a neighborhood’s people and not let the job become personal rather than professional? Of course, racism doesn’t help—I don’t think it’s the cause of police violence, but with an ‘us-and-them’ mindset, it certainly makes the decision of who ‘them’ is a lot easier.

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Yester- You, Too! (2015Apr21)


Tuesday, April 21, 2015                                          6:56 PM

It’s been kind of a scatter-shot day. Didn’t rain much, but the sun didn’t shine much either. We’re all up in the air, living off take-out, waiting for the clock to run out on the big game. Shouldn’t be long now.

The new movies came out on VOD—or, I think they did—I didn’t see anything that really pleased me. Lotta stuff coming out recently in genres I don’t go for—horror, suspense—anything that raises my stress level, basically. I’ll go for a straight Action flick, but anything where the director’s goal is to manipulate the audience’s fear, or to go for shock-value—like those scenes where a truck comes out of nowhere and hits the car the people are in—I can’t take a rollercoaster ride anymore, not even a vicarious one. Shocking scenes crop up often enough in other movies these days—I don’t care for a movie that focuses on just that aspect of cinema.

It makes sense—I can’t expect Hollywood to crank out a new sci-fi or superhero film every day. Besides, if they dumped eight of them onto the VOD menu in one day, my head would explode and I wouldn’t enjoy the movies because of all the hurry. So, ‘every once in a while’ will have to do.

Here’s a couple of videos and some pictures from the yard:

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