Music and Death (2016Feb28)


Sunday, February 28, 2016                                               1:34 PM

I’ve just been listening to a bootleg CD, a gift from my friend, Chris, of a live concert of Peter Blegved at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn. It filled me with the sense of music being both powerful and personal—you pick your own words, you tell your own story, you make up your own tune. What could be more empowering? What could be more intimate?

I appreciate all that from a distance, though. You won’t catch me onstage in Brooklyn singing to a crowd of people (like they’d have me). There has to be a motive force to get a person onstage—I have nothing I wish to share that urgently with other people—typical of someone who’s always had trouble communicating. To me, it’s a struggle. It’s so easy to be misunderstood—and that’s when people are paying attention to begin with. All it would take is one heckler and I’d be outta there. I think of entertainment as show business, emphasis on the ‘business’—music, itself, is another thing entirely.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to say by posting thousands of piano videos on YouTube—I love music, but I’m no entertainer. I don’t really invite people to listen to my playing—more that I’m asking people to share my love for the music I’m struggling to recreate (in the case of the classical and other sheet music covers). I put the improvs out there because I don’t mind people listening to them, not because I think I’m the second coming of Tchaikovsky or something. Perhaps an illustration would help clarify—sometimes I listen to one of my better improvs and I think to myself, “Hey! That almost sounds like real music.”

It might help my self-esteem if I didn’t have such a deep appreciation of music—I’ve always been a fan of classical music, first and foremost. I like all the other kinds, but if I had to pick just one—classical. I like rag, swing, jazz, rock, blues, funk, folk, and show-tunes, too. Between the great composers and the great performers, the virtuosi and the rock-stars, Glenn Gould to Jimi Hendrix to the Bulgarian Soviet Female Vocal Choir, my mind is awash in the glory and the diversity and the ecstasy of centuries of great music. So when I plonk away on my Mason-Hamlin baby grand, it’s unlikely that I’ll get a swelled head.

Conversely, I never have to worry that I’ll run out of things to do—there’s always more music to learn, there’s always more music to invent, there’s always room for improvement in my technique—it’s an infinite hobby that offers nothing like an endgame—perfect for someone who’s feeling his years.

My illness has been serious enough to offer ample opportunities to contemplate death. I consider it unhealthy to dwell upon, but only when it remains in some distant sometime—when you hear it knocking, it’s only natural to give it some thought. Funny that my one great fear, it turns out, is the embarrassment—‘He was right in the middle of something—he actually thought he was going to keep on living—what a schmuck!’  I imagine the dirty clothes I hadn’t got around to putting in the hamper—all the loose ends that a person assumes they’ll ‘get to’ eventually. I could almost spend the rest of my life making sure I leave a neat room behind me, with no unfinished projects lying around. How sad for my family to have to tidy up after what I presumed would be the rest of my life—you know?

I don’t think anyone fears the actual dying itself—it’s the absence of the life that’s impossible to get my head around. What good’s a universe without me in it, right? At some point, I will no longer have a vote on what constitutes reality—I’ll be completely non-participating. That just doesn’t seem right—it’s eerie.

And it is unhealthy to dwell on—I’ve found that being sick enough to feel compelled to face death is a horrible curse—we’re not meant to face the infinite. Our lives are meant to be lived as if they are open-ended—admitting death’s inevitability spoils that. So I really shouldn’t even be writing about it—it’s not fair to you, dear reader. Forget I said anything.

Drunks Tussling   (2016Feb27)


Saturday, February 27, 2016                                             4:33 PM

In a reasonable world, Hillary Clinton would win the presidential race in a walk—and if I’m living in an unreasonable world, I’d just as soon not have my face rubbed in it. If, god forbid, a Republican did win, that would be a tragic-enough disaster, without making me listen to these people—as I have already for more than a year—for the rest of this year. I’ve listened to them ad nauseam—and in their case, that’s about three minutes in—do I really have to bear the sound of Trump’s voice until November? Hasn’t he said enough idiotic things?

I remember our last Republican president—do you? He was an idiot—he got us in a war by mistake—he destroyed our economy—he didn’t speak in complete sentences—and what sentences he managed to get out had made-up words in them. Cruz or Rubio would be just as bad—maybe worse—and the nightmare scenario of a Trump presidency conjures up the movie-title-to-be: “The Return Of Fascism” or maybe “The Rise Of American Fascism”.

We are all aware that there is a contest between these three Republicans—it’s all the news, all the time—but to me it resembles a bunch of drunks tussling on the sidewalk just outside a bar-room—my concern for who wins is nothing compared to my concern that a cop will come along and get them off the street before a passer-by gets hurt. But there are no cops on CNN, or in journalism generally. News shows can keep airing this stuff—but I’ve got better ways to spend my time than watching a stupidest-man contest.

Likewise, while I appreciate Bernie forcing Hillary to add a focus on income inequality to her platform—I don’t want to hear any more about how he’s going to make college, health-care, and whatever else, free for everyone—yes that’s the way it should be—there are a lot of things that aren’t the way they should be in this country—but nothing happens on inauguration day—and Hillary is better prepared for the day after inauguration—both domestically and internationally. I don’t think Bernie supporters understand what a president actually does—I think they think he or she’s a wizard who makes a decree, and changes things all by himself or herself.

So that’s it between me and the news—I’ll wait to hear from other people about anything important. Hillary should win—and even if she doesn’t—that’s just more reason not to spend until November listening to all of this back-and-forth BS. Seeing as how our government is already broken, I think it’s a pretty sweet gig—getting a free pass on all the work our government should be doing while we all have a two-year long conversation about the Donald. I’m sure the folks in Flint, MI or Hoosick Falls, NY are glued to their sets. If I ran CNN, I’m pretty sure I could find more interesting stuff to report on—but fans of ‘The Apprentice’ might tune out the news—and that’s a huge demographic. I can hear it now: “Mr. Dunn, you’re fired.”

Ah, America—I hardly knew ye.

Enough. Here’s today’s improv:

Disruptive Presence   (2016Feb26)


Friday, February 26, 2016                                       11:34 AM

It’s a wistful day—thoughts of long ago, dreams of the future, a strange contentment with the familiar troubles of the present—a day when happiness asserts itself, without any need for reasons. The specter of bad news is forgotten, still possible, but unlikely on such a day.

I played my electronic piano yesterday. I’ve been trying for years to figure out how to hook up the Yamaha and my PC—for many reasons—a MIDI recording has no ambient background noise—and a MIDI recording can be digitally transcribed into sheet music—and it would be easier to do multi-track recordings. Yesterday I attempted to hook up my latest effort—the M-Audio MIDI-to-USB converter—but whatever I did, I still couldn’t get it to record to my PC—so frustrating!

So, as a reaction to my frustration, I made one of my usual recordings, with my camera on a tripod. I did not name it ‘Disruptive Presence’ because my family takes turns walking through the room while I’m playing—I actually like it when someone walks by as I’m playing. The phrase just came to me—I’ve been described as a ‘disruptive presence’ myself in the past, and looking back, I’m proud of most of those incidents. Most people who might call you or me a ‘disruptive presence’ are pompous assholes who need to be disrupted—bad teachers, entitled middle managers, and other smug bullies. Thus I think of it as a badge of honor.

Another excuse for the title could be the sound-selections—this recording comes to over 15 minutes long—because for each instrument (piano, organ, strings, etc.) I played a little improv that suits the timbre of the sound I’m playing with. I play at least a little something using every voicing the Yamaha DP-95 has to offer. So it’s really ten improvs, ‘disrupted’ by changing sounds.

Anyway—enough excuses—here’s the video:

 

please enjoy.

Missed For Awhile (2016Feb25)


Thursday, February 25, 2016                                           8:52 AM

A transformer exploded down the street last night. It was right in the middle of a ‘dark and stormy’—with gusts so strong they made the house-frame groan, and a steady downpour punctuated with slaps of torrents—as if drops had become buckets for a second—and the wind howling in the trees all night. It was quite dramatic—had we not lost power, I’d have enjoyed it immensely. Even without the electricity, it was a lovely night.

Even after we lost power, the transformer took its time dying—it resembled a just-landed UFO for a while—glowing and snapping and humming, dying down for a second, then surging back again—until the ultimate detonation. Then, for hours afterward, that explosion was echoed by fusillades from a tremendous thunderstorm—I slept like a baby full of adrenaline.

The power came back on promptly at eight am this morning—previous winter storm outages have lasted days, and we fully expected that Claire’s major ice cream purchase was gonna be money down the drain (Why do we always stock up on ice cream before a power outage?) but without drifts of snow and patches of ice, work-crews made a ten-hour project out of the repair. We’d just got our toilet flushing again—and here was my son, walking down to the lake with a bucket to get a by-hand flush-full of water. He was happily surprised to be sitting on the throne again, contemplating another trip to the lake, when the power returned—talk about good timing.

So here I am, awakened early by the lights and TV coming back on, enjoying coffee from a working Mr. Coffee machine, reveling in the power and luxury of power and plumbing. After the fact, it occurred to me that I had watched the weather channel warnings, I’d anticipated a power outage (high winds in heavily-wooded Westchester virtually guarantees it) yet I hadn’t thought to fill the bathtub in anticipation. Apparently, reaching my sixtieth birthday doesn’t make me infallible at all.

This winter has got me thinking about global warming—the warmest winter ever recorded has a lot of good things to offer. It makes it hard to think of it as a bad thing. But I figure it’s like credit cards—they seem to make everything so easy, until your balance due gets so big you can’t pay it off and spend the rest of your life in debt. Warm winters are wonderful—until the consequences show up. Still, my easily-chilled bones have trouble not loving the hell out of a warm winter.

So now the power’s back, the plumbing works, the weather is positively balmy, for February, and I’ve just had a wonderful night’s sleep, instead of staying up late watching TV. I highly recommend trouble as the best way to appreciate the good things in life—you can’t appreciate what you never lose. We so rarely have the opportunity to be cold, or hungry, or exhausted—but everything is so delicious after it’s been missed for awhile.

Conflict In The News (2016Feb24)


Wednesday, February 24, 2016                                       2:19 PM

I often bemoan the lack of a filter on today’s media—but the filters media once had were based on avoiding criticism of the establishment, silencing cries of injustice, and a priggish abhorrence of prurience. I should be more precise in criticizing media—first of all, I should take the trouble to specify mass media, since by definition, my own blog—and that of many other individuals without malice or agenda—is part of modern media as a whole.

Neither is mass media truly without filter—there are all kinds of filters on mass media, Money being one—and Conflict (actual or goosed-up by obsessive coverage) being another. During the recent Oscars ‘white-out’ controversy, several filmmakers pointed the finger at backers who won’t take risks on their investments—and while that may display a lack of enterprise and independence among filmmakers, they still have a point—all mass media gets financed up front, so none of it gets through without a green light from some financier. And, if I understand correctly, the money-peoples’ influence doesn’t end with the initial approval—far from it.

News-reporting has an even more evil monkey on its back—the need for constant attention—but instead of throwing tantrums, the media manufactures tantrums for us to throw. It is hard to hear what any interviewee is actually saying when they’re constantly being cross-examined by reporters who echo the lies and suspicions of the ‘other side’ of the story. And here’s where there is a filter missing—there is no filter on how jack-assed the ‘other side’ can be—no matter how asinine, any controversial opinion is welcome. And often as not, in their desperation to find a counter-point, the media’s talking heads often overlook the actual forces in conflict—particularly when those differences are nuanced, or require some thought.

Trump, for instance, is just a bully—that’s plain to see. But the media flock to conflict, shining a spotlight of respectability on this wanna-be prater. On the comedic news-parody programs, they ridicule Trump mercilessly—it’s like shooting fish in a barrel—but if the real news did that, they’d have to admit that a real-estate hustler doesn’t deserve our respect—or our attention, whenever he says whatever crazy shit comes flying out of his mouth. Those golden pronouncements make lots of money for the news divisions in ad revenue—but they are still the mouthings of a monkey.

This ‘nobody is wrong’ attitude seems like pluralism—but it is simple lack of judgment—some things are open to question in a real sense, but other ideas and alternatives are either willful blindness or simple delusion. And this is where I feel obligated to debunk religion—the original alternative to what’s clearly right in front of our noses. I think of freedom of religion as being limited to faith itself—you can believe whatever you want—religion, in the stricter sense, is the aspect of faith that you insert into reality—even try to impose on the reality of others—and there’s nothing free about that. But I could spend all day trying to explain why it’s okay for us to believe differently, as long as your religion doesn’t impose any limits on my understanding—if you don’t understand the spirit of ‘freedom of religion’, it’s probably because you have one. The unfortunate fact is that the idea of ‘freedom of religion’ is really an ass-backwards way of admitting it’s all bullshit, without actually saying so—but I don’t want to get bogged down in that morass, either.

We should be avoiding conflict—not whipping it up at every opportunity. In truth, the solution to most of civilization’s problems could be solved if we threw money at it. We don’t want to make life fair or easy or comfortable for the least of us—we want them to suffer. Instead of figuring out the minimum amount of money that local governments have to spend to keep corpses from rotting in the street, we should be investing lavishly in public services, throwing money at every aspect of inequality. It seems counterintuitive, but everywhere it’s done, the effects are always remarkable, always hailed as a ‘miracle’ of success—when it’s only the right way to do things. Americans love conflict—but there are aspects of civilization that patently should not be competitive—that’s a simple fact. That may be why we’ve recently let Socialism out of the dirty-word closet.

The trouble with Socialism, at this point in time, is that it’s become Bernie Sanders’ brand-name, when the entire Democratic party have been ‘socialist’-leaning all along, Hillary included—but chose to couch it as intelligent governance, due to the unpopularity of words like Socialism in recent decades. America is inherently socialist—justice and equality are very much the people’s values—which is why the conservatives go to such pains to convince us that ‘the business of America is business’—it helps them justify their greed and subversion. But I can promise you that voting for Trump is the hardest way for us to learn that lesson. Voting for Bernie will only teach you the futility of electing a socialist to lead a GOP legislature and a polarized nation. I’m still voting for Hillary—she’s not perfect, she’s not superwoman—but she is better than all the alternatives by a long shot.

The trouble with Socialism is that it was initially offered as an alternative to monarchies and other autocracies—and Capitalism managed to present itself as an alternative to Socialism, when it was really just a burgeoning new form of autocracy, infesting the democratic process with special exemptions and entitlements for the rich and powerful. And Socialism, when described, can often sound suspiciously like Christianity, in its means, if not its motives—not the faux Christianity of Capitalists, with its Xmas shopping, judgmentalism and sexism—but the hard, pure Christianity of Christ, with charity, mercy, and love one’s neighbor as oneself. Hey—I’m an atheist, but I know a good idea when I hear one.

Ode To Delirium (2016Feb22)


Monday, February 22, 2016                                    1:11 PM

 

Ode To Delirium

Shoo-bob-she-bop. Fini-finito.

Don’t finish up before you had a good start.

Ram-a-lama-bam-a-lama.

Don’t act stupid when you’re trying to be smart.

Hipster-flipster. Bang-a-flippin-gong.

You can’t start weak if you wanna finish strong.

Hi-dee-hi-dee-ho. Gimme-gooey-glow.

You can’t get there if you don’t know where to go.

La-la-la-la. Shimmy-shimmy-bang-bang.

Gimme a light and I’ll give her goose the gun.

There’s yer ‘periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion’.

Wangey-langey-blangey-stangey-stick-stop-stah-doodle.

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016                                       1:09 AM

That was a poem (if you can call it that) I wrote yesterday—don’t ask me to explain it—I think the title does that, if anything can.

Had some strange recordings today—well, it’s yesterday now—and the day before was pretty awesome also. That day I played a slow but nearly accurate ‘Arabesque’ by Debussy—and then, after listening to Sibelius’s Second Symphony in e minor, I tried to pick out the finale theme on the piano—and that one I call ‘Playing with Sibelius’—I really shouldn’t use his name, since I made quite a mess of his music (which is really beautiful—check out the YouTube of Leonard Bernstein conducting it) but I couldn’t pretend that his theme, even as jacked-up as I played it, was my own creation.

 

 

Then today, or yesterday rather, our good neighbor, Harlan, came over to repair our plumbing—you can hear some handiwork clunking about and such—while I was making a video of the snow falling outside our window—and I played some song covers that came out good enough to post. The camera was pointed towards Harlan’s house (even though you can’t see it in the video) and you can hear Harlan, at the end of the recording, asking why we’re filming his house (ha ha).

 

The two improvs I played after everyone else left, so they have no interesting stories to them—but I kinda like the way they turned out anyhow. February has been a big recording month for me—this makes twenty-six recordings for February and it’s not even over yet…. But the biggest thrill for today is—the toilet flushes again! Yayyy. (You never appreciate stuff until it goes away, do you?)

 

farewell until next time…

Don’t Be Like Me (2016Feb20)


20151026XD-Pastels_02_Collage

Saturday, February 20, 2016                                             12:07 PM

Okay, so maybe I’ve been a little crabby in my recent posts—maybe humanity is not the ‘lost cause of the damned’ that I tend to describe it as being. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood. And maybe there’s a lesson in that:

Don’t be like me. Get outside; get some fresh air; get a little exercise. Don’t talk about things—do things. Make things; create things; imagine things. Or go surprise somebody—do them a favor; lend them a hand; buy them a present; offer to babysit. Or surprise yourself—do something you never do; do something you’re afraid to do; do that thing you always say you’re gonna do, but never get around to.

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One thing to avoid, though—don’t wait for ‘enough time’ to pass, and then let go of your anger at someone who has mistreated you, and just wait around for them to do it again. That’s not forgiveness—that’s being a rug—take it from a past master of the art. Don’t accept manipulation just because you don’t want the inconvenience of having to face down the people who think they can use you. Trash your bad relationships—yes, it makes a mess at first, but you come out the other side much better off.

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And one thing you shouldn’t avoid—unpleasant facts—look’em in the eye—let them stab you in the heart—but don’t leave blind-spots in your life just because it’s easier than facing the truth. Don’t make it easier for other people to know how you react to things than you know yourself—you just make a fool of yourself, and everyone else can see it plain as day. And don’t worry about overdoing being honest with yourself—no matter how far you go, your ego will always be whispering lovely lies in your ear. You’ll always be tempted to excuse your own failings—you’ll never stop looking to put the blame on someone else.

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You see—even when I’m trying to be positive, I turn to the dark side. I’m just not a pleasant person—I’m a pain in the ass. But don’t be too hard on me—I’m much more critical of myself than I could ever be of someone else. I’ll never stop finding fault with myself—so I’ve saved you that trouble. You can use that time for something more positive.

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Oh, and here’s an improv I overlooked until now:

hope you liked it.