Don Pietro del Cianflone has returned from summer hiatus—sing laude and strike the tambor! Here, we have the Buds-Up Semi-Ensemble wreaking havoc with the laws of both rhythm and harmony in a spectacular display of bongo-osity and piano-tivity. If you spot this duo—notify the musical authorities at once. If you hear something—you’ve heard too much!
The rest of this is just me—nothing to see here, just move it along…
That’s that, for now. A big thanks to Peter Cianflone for the jam session!
Billie Holiday’s discography includes some beautiful old standards—one of my favorites is “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” written by Jimmy McHugh & Clarence Gaskill in 1926. I find the sheet music demanding and if I can’t play the thing properly, I certainly can’t give you the slightest idea of how exquisitely simply beautiful it is on the Billie Holiday recording. Those early recordings of Billy Holiday with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra are, in many ways, the apotheosis of musicality—so weirdly perfect and so perfectly weird. (Apotheosis means “the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax.”—I looked it up to make sure I wasn’t being stupid.) Here’s another favorite Holiday recording:
And that’s the context in which I first heard performed “Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me)” written by Jack Palmer & Spencer Williams in 1924. Again, I struggle too much with getting this sheet music played to give it the easy bounce that it should have.
The middle piece from today’s video is by Vincent Youmans—a real class act—influenced in later years by Jerome Kern—but this early song is more of a jazz take on a revival-tent choir—“Hallelujah” written by Vincent Youmans, with words by Clifford Grey & Leo Robin in 1927. Here’s another from 1927, “I Know That You Know”:
I like this new business of ‘clarifying’ things—walking things back, revisiting ones comments, non-apologies for things that may or may not have been said (hey, they’re on videotape). When I went to school, if you said something stupid that tail was pinned on your donkey for life—no take-backs. I guess grown-ups get to come at it two or three times (or over the course of a weekly cycle, as with Jeb’s recent multiple-choice answer to a simple question).
This plays right into Trump’s hands, since he wants to make questionable statements—keeping the media coming back, keeping him at the top of every news-hour recap—campaigning for free, courtesy of the 24-hour infotainment cycle. God help us if he ever gets to that part of a stand-up schtick when the performer says, “But, seriously, folks…”—even a glimmer of intelligence will seem to us the wisdom of Jove.
But fuck Trump.
I join all of you in dreading the end of summer—I could use another three months of this weather, but we’ll probably only get another three weeks. Yet, with global warming, we won’t have any snow until February. I liked it better the old way—four seasons, all distinct, all on schedule.
Hooray! My driving test is scheduled for October. Re-licensing, here I come. It’s a two-edged sword, though—I’m pretty confident I know how to drive, but how embarrassed will I be if I flunk my driver’s test at the tender age of fifty-nine?
The quest for Brahms-ian competency trudges on—I’m playing the Opus 117 every day—all three Intermezzos. I get better and better—I keep thinking: soon, I’ll be able to post a video of me playing the Brahms Opus 117! But it’s a moving target. Once I reach one level of familiarity, it only accentuates how poorly I’m handling the rhythm, or the dynamics, or the voicing, or the fingering, or the phrasing—there’s no end to the damned thing. I figure I’ll just keep going. This will be the first time I’ll have practiced a piece before posting a video of it, and I don’t want it to be a waste of effort—I want to sound like I can play the thing—yet that remains to be seen.
My drawing continues to defy me—I know I can do it. Not as well as when my hands didn’t shake, but I can still get something out of it. No, the hardest part is getting myself to start. I have to find the pad and the pen and put on my glasses. (Who’d have thought you need to see what you’re drawing? You’d think you’d know, like you’d feel it or something, but no—not that easy.) Once I get going, I forget the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray—it’s always been that way—I look up a half-hour later and see this long ash that I could swear I just lit a second ago. It’s the starting that stops me.
My poetry had a good summer—must have been four or five poems. They’re good for my drawing, too, since I have a “Graphic Poetry” blog and I get impatient, once I’ve written a decent poem, to have some artwork to make the new post with. It gets me drawing.
So with all the recent activity, I daydream about releasing a twelfth digital album on CD Baby (See my eleventh here). It would only be my second digital album, really. The first ten were privately burned to CD and distributed as Xmas cards to my friends and family somewhere between five and ten years ago. It’s just as well—I feel like my recent efforts are another level above my old stuff—not necessarily ‘great’, but certainly much better than my earlier recordings. Still, like the work on the Brahms, I’m inclined to wait and see just how much better I can get over the next few months or years.
I’m also toying with the idea of printing out my poems. The beauty part about creating each poem as a graphic, like a small poster—is that I don’t need to do anything but print them out on good presentation paper with a fresh ink cartridge and a ‘highest quality’ print setting. I could even print them on both sides of the heavy paper, just like a real book. But while I’ve always meant to learn some DIY binding craft, I never got around to it—so I’d still be stuck with a loose pile of papers. I don’t know, just junk I think about…
Yesterday, after I’d upgraded to Windows 10, I restarted my PC. Upon re-booting, it asked my for my MS account login. Had I not been able to, miraculously, dredge my password up from my foggy memory, my computer would have become a worthless chunk of chips and wires right then and there. Then the router started acting up—my son fixed it by plugging my PC directly into the cable modem, but now he and my wife have no WyFy access! Is it a coincidence that our router failed right when I upgraded to Windows 10? I’ll let you know after he’s bought and installed a new router. [Note from the following Saturday: Booboo installed the new router and all’s well.]
Operating System upgrades for Windows actually go back to DOS versions—before Windows, we had several versions of DOS. Sometimes a new OS would re-format the hard drive, erasing all the files. It always required changes to the software and the hardware-drivers—meaning that the new OS was useless until all the upgraded versions of the programs were installed. And OS upgrades had their share of bugs, too. After forty years of this, I am understandably leery of OS upgrades.
In the earlier days, a new OS would give noticeably faster response time, notably better user-friendliness, and noticeably more-reliable overall performance. As we’ve become more sophisticated, the changes are harder to pin down. And as OSes became more concerned with online connectivity, the changes have become blurred by differences in bandwidth, signal strength, and traffic density.
We see OS changes that benefit the computer industry more than the individual users—like adding the ‘Store’ option to our media-player apps. And we see an unhealthy focus on phones—as if having a desk to sit at is a bad idea—not that I’m against i-phones, PDAs, etc., but all that curries to the trend in making computing a superficial, convenience-based behavior, rather than an activity we use for specific purposes. It is glamour (and distraction) over substance.
But I’m mostly just grouchy because I’m having an off day—I suppose it’s to be expected after my recent run of very active, mostly successful days. Nothing is as reliable in life as ups and downs. I used to marvel at how the blackest prospects could turn around in a day, or how giddy climbing could suddenly come crashing down—now I just take it for granted. The miracle would be if change ceased and all days were uniform.
Today, I couldn’t play the piano worth a damn—relatively speaking. And I can’t get settled. And I can’t eat. And I went for my walk but I didn’t like it. Fuck this.
Saturday, August 08, 2015 11:53 AM
Stupid by Crazy (2015Aug08)
Stupid by itself is not a problem. Ignorance is nothing but a blank space where information might be, but isn’t. Kitties are stupid—puppies are stupid—babies are stupid—ain’t nothing wrong with stupid. Crazy by itself I have no problem with. I’m a little crazy myself—there’s nothing wrong with a little crazy—sometimes it even helps. But when you take Stupid and lead it around by Crazy—then you’ve got trouble.
That’s why we need to get a handle on religion. That’s why we need to get together on the history of religion. Anyone can know about it—Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” gives a dense (and somewhat boring) outline of how beliefs and rituals evolved over time—how no religion sprang from nowhere, how they’re all related and they all evolved over the ages as a continuum of human nature.
Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library at Nag Hammadi give us insight into the early days of Christianity—when many different people had many different ideas about who Christ was, how He lived and died (and lived?) and what His message was. We have the record of the four Councils of Nîmes from the early first millennium, delineating the church rules that men ultimately formed based on their understanding at the time. And we have the history of the Papal Wars, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to further show that religion is not set in stone—and never has been.
Then there’s the cognitive dissonances of religion. Ancient texts show none of the knowledge of astrophysics or astronomy that one would expect in a creator of the universe—they indicate only the ignorance of pre-science humans. Religions have differences based on geographical limits—where one might expect a supreme being to speak to all humans as one, all over the world. I could go on, but religion itself is a process of having faith without proof—it’s as hard to argue with that kind of idea as it is to argue with an idiot.
Yet I believe religion has a place in our lives. It enhances community, it provides purpose and meaning in a world that lacks both, and it is especially important for children to have some framework to overlay the cold-blooded chaos of the godless universe. But we must forever relegate religion to a ‘Santa Claus’-like status, wherein it is given no domain over the decisions of adults, particularly our leaders. It is used now to promote and perpetuate fear, conflict, and abnormal psychology—we must remove that absolutism from our society if we are ever to stop bigotry, misogyny, and charismatic megalomania.
We in America see the rise of wireless communication begin to transform our leaders into followers—the instantaneous response of large numbers of the electorate leads to knee-jerk reactions on the part of our politicians. They no longer sit and contemplate the future well-being of their constituencies—they’re too busy responding to tweets about what happened two minutes ago. I’d like to see a politician or two stand up to a podium and say that they are atheists—that they don’t represent modern mythology any more than they represent the ancient Greek pantheon of gods.
What I’d really like to see is all the big businesses lose the support of all that evangelical hogwash they use to befog issues that should be determined purely on human rights, without any hocus-pocus. I’d like to see leaders with the guts to stand up to the universe without imagining a ‘Blue Fairy’ god at their backs, protecting them with magic, promising them an afterlife in heaven (or hell) or giving them permission to judge harshly those who are different.
“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.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”
—from T. S. Eliot’s “East Coker” (The second of his “Four Quartets”)
Whenever I write poems, I always reach a point where I want to put in that quote from T.S. Eliot, just the first part: “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.” I don’t know why—it’s just the perfect segue from being poetical to being self-referential.
It’s sad, really. I admire Eliot’s poetry so much that usually I’d just as soon stop thinking up my own stuff and just quote him. And even when I write my own stuff I often throw in a phrase or an expression that Eliot-lovers will readily recognize—but that is partly because I have ‘absorbed’ his poetry into my speech, quoting him frequently enough that I sometimes forget it’s not ‘original’, or ‘common speech’. I’m a walking pile of plagiarism—but, never having been published, it’s not that big a problem.
Another Eliot quote I can never get out of my head is:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.”
—from T. S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton” (The first of his “Four Quartets”)
I guess I love it because Eliot does what few people do—he stares directly into the weakness, the fault, the nothingness. He recognizes that we fool ourselves when we assume that speaking is a precise communication—a fact that most poets are loath to even think upon, never mind address as a part of their poetry.
I’ve experienced many kinds of misunderstanding. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from incomprehension—then there’s the willful sort of obliqueness that comes from those who don’t want to be convinced. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from inexperience—as when the old try to speak to the young. Differing preferences, different cultures and backgrounds, and especially different beliefs can all cause misunderstandings.
But as often as not, it’s the words themselves—sounding the same but meaning different things, sounding different but meaning the same thing, meaning too many things, or used as similes in ways that mean a potential infinity of things, such as ‘life is an onion’, etc.
This morning I had the pleasure of reading “They Saw A Game: A Case Study” -by Albert H. Hastorf & Hadley Cantril (originally published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1954). It concerns itself with a 1951 football game where Dartmouth played Princeton. On this particular day, the rivalry between the two schools engendered a violent, penalty-laden game with multiple injuries to players on both sides. For the study, spectators were given questionnaires asking their reactions to various points of play. The main upshot of the study was that Dartmouth boosters saw a different game than Princeton boosters—more than their interpretation of events, even their perception of the events was controlled by their preconceptions, their prior knowledge, and their preference for their own team’s welfare.
Princeton fans not only didn’t judge their players for hits against Dartmouth players—they didn’t even see them—and the same, in reverse, was true for the Dartmouth fans. And if we only see what we want to see during a simple football game, how can we expect to agree on what is happening during a complex conversation?
In my mind, it all boils down to entertainment—we talk to each other as much to pass the time as through any belief that we are actually sharing knowledge. Points of agreement are as often as not points on which two people already share a common thought—the words exchanged, rather than creating that bond, only reveal what is already there. Points of disagreement are reliably irreconcilable through anything as sloppy as verbal discussion or argument. (When was the last time you won one?)
We often see in dramas the ‘courtroom scene’ where a canny attorney uses the ‘yes or no answer’ limitation on a witness to force one into saying what the attorney wants to hear, rather than what the witness truly wishes to impart. We can look at language itself as a larger example of this kind of hobbling—words will often say only part of what we wish to impart to others. The clumsiness of language is most apparent when a speaker uses a chart or some other visual aid to add precision to their speech—the chart represents that which can be better communicated in ways other than words.
Words, rather than being the scientifically precise instruments we wish them to be, are merely sounds by which we reassure each other that we agree on our shared context—arguments are only the recognition of the void where shared context does not exist. We’d like to fill all those voids—‘the brotherhood of man’—but, like dark matter or dark energy (those necessary compliments to the substance of our observable universe) —these empty places surround and support the points on which we all agree, giving substance and character to society. We fear a tyrant who would force us all to think and speak the same—but how much more horrible that would be if it happened by itself!
Here’s a new video–and it’s pronounced ‘Swirly-Cue’ BTW–in which I’ve put pictures of myself. I don’t care for egotism, but who’s else’s pictures am I gonna put in there, huh? I was so busy putting in the pictures I forgot to add any weird visual effects. Next time….
The first time I got a true sense of history was when I asked my parents about World War II. My parents were children of the thirties, so WWII was their childhood, for the most part. But WWII as history—as it was presented to me in school, on TV, and in books and movies, was a historical event. When I asked them about it, it seemed to be something they heard on the radio news—no more a part of their everyday lives than I found the reports of Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which was a big part of my youth but which I found to be nothing but an annoying part of every day’s newscast and paper headline.
Most grown-ups of the early seventies were relieved when Nixon’s administration went to jail and he finally resigned—I was simply relieved that everyone could stop talking about it. My parents felt much the same about the last World War—it was something horrible that the grown-ups got upset about. There were things I learned about the Second World War that my parents didn’t know about—and didn’t have any interest in knowing about. I consider myself lucky that none of my kids ever took an interest in the Nixon era—I’d be just like my folks.
Similarly, we here at home knew far more about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than the soldiers who were doing the fighting. They probably don’t get CNN in action zones—and they’re probably too busy to watch it, even if they did. It’s always about perspective—if you can climb a tall tree in the middle of Kansas, you can see more than everyone else—but the people on the ground are the only ones who matter, the ones who get things done. On the news we see what’s happening everywhere—a soldier under fire has strictly local interests.
History, despite its importance, has already happened. We can talk about it, we can learn from it, but we can’t change it. Our interests in history tend to focus on whatever means something to us on its face. Everyone likes the Revolutionary War because it was a war for freedom—and freedom is a popular thing. The history of science has fewer fans—science is a forbidding enough topic without the addition of dry old history. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has remarkable success at it—yet he has to leaven it with plenty of the new, the latest things, the wildest new theories, the bleeding-est-edged tech. My point is that you don’t have to stray far from the beaten path of military events and inventions to find areas of history that have no writers, never mind no readers.
It makes sense. History, in a sense, is a playback of the past—put too much detail into it and you end up without enough of a present to do anything but study the past. Plus, history is the history of all—we have enough trouble keeping track of all the details in our own solitary lives. To tell the story of everyone mandates that we speak in mostly general terms—else we reduce history to a series of actuarial tables.
I was equally nonplussed by my parents lack of interest in the classic movies that I watched incessantly on old late-night TV, and later, at the dawn of cable, on American Movie Classics, followed, finally, by Turner Classic Movies. But those movies were seen by my parents as they were meant to be seen—in a big old movie palace with close-up faces ten feet high. Those stars weren’t legendary to my parents in the same way—they were contemporaries, even if my parents had never left Bayside Heights to mingle with the Hollywood elite.
More importantly, I have contemporaries of my own, many of whom have no interest in old movies. A taste for cinema isn’t all that common, no matter what generation you’re a part of. There are lots of people who go to the movies—that’s not quite the same thing—in the same way that lots of people listen to and dance to popular music, but have no interest in music in its broader sense.
One piece of music history that has relatively few fans is swing music. It gets by—no genre is completely ignored in this age of media. But being so distinctively antique while lacking the gravitas of classical music—plus being confined to such a tiny slice of the historical timeline—it has a specificity that limits its mass appeal to the occasional cameo in popular culture. I count myself among its adherents, though I don’t pretend to any great learning on the subject—I just like to play it. Don’t get me wrong—I listen to early Sinatra, Billy Holiday, Glenn Miller, Arte Shaw, and lots of others. There’s a sense of power to the percussion in swing music that isn’t exceeded (perhaps couldn’t be exceeded) until the advent of electric instruments and amplifiers.
I admire that—I’m always trying to get the maximum effect from my baby grand’s acoustic sound alone. I feel like whatever extra fanciness I could get from a synthesizer or a beat box would be frosting rather than cake—not that I don’t like frosting. And I recognize that there’s a power to amplification and synth that nothing I can do will match—maybe a great pianist could take that challenge, but I’m still shooting for ‘good’.
The jingoism of the post-war forties and fifties was out of favor by the time I ran across “They Call It America (But I Call It Home)” by Freddy Grant (1953). Singing such unabashed patriotic mush was frowned upon by my Flower Power generation (see this wonderful essay on Patriotism in Music).
Nevertheless I can’t deny the thrill of such crowing. It feels good to celebrate the greatness of America, even if we are far from the perfect picture being painted in the verse.
The “Our Love Affair” cover is not the famous “An Affair To Remember (Our Love Affair)”—a romantic song composed by Harry Warren for the 1957 film “An Affair to Remember”, but the lesser-known song from “Strike Up the Band” (MGM, 1940) in which it was sung by Judy Garland.
I used a bunch of my classical art graphics to create the video backgrounds today—they give a sense of history, though I didn’t put them into any chronological order or anything. I’m kinda pushing the copyright envelope today—song covers with screen-grabbed art-works. Hey, I can’t do everything myself—and my amateur status makes it all fair use, since nobody really watches my videos anyway.
The following songs are performed in “Six (6) Swing Songs That Start With ‘S’ “:
Okay, this time I’m giving credit where credit is due–Sherryls’ got the green thumb. Harlan, however, makes an appearance towards the end of the video (see yesterday’s blog about the Big Tree across the street).
[“Fighting Peasants”] “Vechtende boeren” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, 1600 – 1662
Wednesday, June 17, 2015 10:12 PM
Things are calm and peaceful—nothing’s wrong—and that’s excellent news. The past three days I’d been feeling pretty homely at the piano, but I couldn’t post it until now because I did a special background movie for the three improvs—”Winter (Amusement on the Ice)” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, (1625) and “A Musical Party” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, (c. 1635 – c. 1645) –source graphics downloaded courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website and converted using “Photo to Movie 5.0” (software from LQ Graphics, Inc.).
First off—to be honest, it’s Sherryl’s garden more than it is Harlan’s—I’m pretty sure he confines himself to lawn-mowing, landscaping, and home-repair—Sherryl does the gardening. I only used Harlan’s Gardens because it sounds so nice as a title. Ergo, my humble apologies to Sherryl—but, as she knows, ‘that’s Hollywood’.
I went next door yesterday right after a big June shower—I wanted to get the droplets on the flower petals (which I did) but I also got a lot of wash-out in the whiter flowers—and I hate to lose that delicate detail and end up with a white blotch in its place—but what are you gonna do, right? There’s still a riot of color in these photos—almost like a party in your eyeballs.
Also, there are just a few shots of our own flowers and vegetable boxes towards the end of the clip, so today’s video should not be considered an official ‘documentary’ of Sherryl’s garden—more like a celebration. One of the very last photos is interesting because it is lettuce from a previous year’s box garden that decided to start growing wild in the cracks of our driveway’s asphalt. Nothing stops Life, I guess.
Every one of the 162 photographs were retouched in Corel Photo-Shop, whether it needed it or not (they all needed it)—so I hope you all appreciate how much eye-strain and mouse-clicking I go through trying to make these videos interesting to watch. And here I run into a paradox—when I do these photo-journal, slide-showy videos of pretty pictures, I always make the insert frame of the ‘me performing’ video very small. I do this because I want the photos to be as visible as possible. But then when I’m making the ‘me performing’ video I add all kinds of video effects—because I figure it’s going to be too small to see. That’s the paradox—I like adding video effects gadgets so much that I’m happier when no one is going to see exactly how loopy the video turns out.
As always, however, I put the lion’s share of my efforts into the music itself—and today, as you will hear, I even got some help from a flock of birds. This improv is a little different from my usual, but I was trying something new—I hope you enjoy it.
On a whinier note (and yes I will have some fine cheese with that) my back is killing me, my shoulder is stiff from all the repetitive photoshop-mousing, a headache is just starting that tiny silver hammer-tapping, and I’m awful tired. I sure hope this video lives up to all the effort.
What to call this mess-terpiece, huh? Anyhow, I’ve been watching movies on TV. I saw “Larry Gaye—Renegade Male Flight Attendant” starring the guy from ‘Royal Pains’. I also saw “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water”. They are both extremely silly movies—which means two thumbs up in my book. “Larry Gaye” seems like someone who loved “Airplane!” decided to write an updated script for the new millennium—it’s always just a hair’s breadth from a real movie, but always veers into nonsense before it quite gets there.
“Sponge Out Of Water” tries real hard and Antonio Banderas is just as engaged in silliness as he was in “Puss in Boots”—but I’m afraid nothing in the sequel compares to the scene in the original Spongebob Squarepants movie where David Hasselhoff transforms into a jet-propelled hydroplane. Nothing could follow that.
After the movie, I was inspired by the calypso-style music played over the end-credits scroll. I played the following improv, but I never actually got any Caribbean rhythm into it. Still, it came out okay.
Oh–and just for laughs–I wrote a song lyric today, in honor of the season:
When the Spring is really greening
And the dog-flowers start to bloom
I can’t stand this crampy house.
I got to leave this musty room.
Outside, breezes float the pollen
And my nose begins to run
But it’s worth it for the freedom
And the warming of the sun.
Give me a Kleenex, baby
My nose in on the flow
Throw me a Kleenex, baby
I really got to blow.
I’d use my sleeve or spew it out but runny noses make me shout
Give me a Kleenex, baby
My nose in on the flow
Throw me a Kleenex, baby
I really got to blow.
Some days ago I threw a bag of birdseed onto the lawn outside the front door. It may not be for everyone, but I enjoy the racket every sunrise and sunset when the birds come to feed—and sing. The squirrels don’t sing much, but they do appreciate a bag of bird seed—boy, do they get chubby when I do this.
Bear suggested I place the video-camera outside the door for awhile and see what I got. That was a great idea—although I had to edit out a terrible amount of passing cars and idling or beeping trucks to get my final, idyllic background-footage. The remaining background sounds are mostly the breeze, the squirrels arguing, and the birds tweeting—I almost posted it all sans music.
Plus, I nearly didn’t post these two ‘cover songs’ videos—they’re terrible. But the squirrel is fun to watch. And the two ‘improvs’ videos are pretty good, for me—so I’m listing them first, in case any of you want to click on a video.
My old friend, Randy Bell, dropped by yesterday for a brief recording session. It had been three years since his last ascension from his Georgia home to visit his old stomping grounds and we had a lot of catching up to do. Inevitably, we turned to music—Randy, a one-time fervent ‘Dead-head’, has a very different musical perspective from mine, and our collaborations, while challenging, produce some very interesting results (for me, anyway).
It was a confusing afternoon in one sense—I have a tendency to improvise on basic chord progressions, and those chord progressions, being in some sense basic building blocks in a variety of tunes, can go in and out of the ‘cover’ domain. For instance, my favorite a-minor chord progression led Randy to start singing along, revealing those chords to be the basis of a Chris Issak hit, “Blue Spanish Sky”. However, as I said, some chords progressions are basic components to many pieces, of both classical and popular music. So if I have to credit Chris Issak, then Chris Issak has to credit basic music theory, as do the Beatles and the Turtles, who use the same chord progression in hit songs of theirs, and Vivaldi, who uses it in his “Four Seasons”.
Having crossed that line, I showed Randy how I had derived my favorite G-Major chord progression from Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. It was weird—after a good half hour of ‘improvisation’, we had recorded two ‘covers’!
But my favorite part was Randy teaching me to play a cover of a song written by someone we both knew—“Hard Road Blues”, written by Randy’s lifelong friend and one-time collaborator, Burrie Jenkins. Burrie is a Massachusetts composer and guitarist best known for his “Dharma of the Leaves” . I hope he doesn’t mind too much that Randy and I ‘roughed up’ his tune—it was hella fun to play…
My eldest brother, Greg, treated me to lunch this afternoon at The Fish and Farmer Restaurant (which used to be The Box Tree) in Purdys. I had the clam chowder and the soft-shelled crabs with shrimp roulade—impeccably delicious! We had a great afternoon, catching up and shooting the shit. I haven’t been to a fancy restaurant in a dog’s age—I forgot how much fun it is.
Today’s improv was actually played prior to Greg’s arrival, but it needs a name, and that’s what happened today, so that’s that. Hope you like it…
Overcast, sprinkly day—our neighbor hurt his hand on a power tool, but Bear had just bought some first aid supplies—now his fingers look like gauzy sausages. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. But my day went alright—up until now, when I’m finally posting the videos—the Stevie Wonder Covers video is like eighteen minutes long—and I’ve got a splitting headache from all this video editing. Not that my performance wouldn’t make Mr. Wonder cringe to hear it, but he’s on his level, and I’m down here on mine. With some more practice, I may be able to post better attempts in future videos—I love his music. I hope that, at least, can be heard.
The improv is silly—on purpose. I felt it was high time I did something silly and this improv qualifies.
The Artworks for both videos, by Caspar Luyken and Carel Allard, are, once again, provided (for non-commercial use only) by the wonderful Rejksmuseum (State Museum) in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
“Verzamelen van het manna in de woestijn”, Caspar Luyken, 1712
(“Gathering Manna in the Desert”)
Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website
“Sterrenkaart van de noordelijke sterrenhemel”, Carel Allard,
Johannes Covens en Cornelis Mortier, Anonymous, c. 1722 – c. 1750
(“Star-Chart of the Northern Hemisphere”)
Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website
It’s been a banner day for music here. First, I got off one decent improv this morning; then Pete arrived, and we knocked out two covers and two improvs—a decent day’s work for my YouTube channel and some decent music, if I do say so.
I’ve been practicing the “Brown-Eyed Girl” cover in anticipation of being accompanied by my professional drummer buddy—but the “My Guy” cover was just easy enough for me to get through without prep. The improvs made me very happy—if there’s a bit of paisley and patchouli in there, there’s a reason—‘nuf said. I’ve never been exactly ‘hard rock’, per se—which is why I appreciate the support from Pete, who definitely is. He always add so much energy, he almost makes me sound healthy!
Here we go…
I really needed today. Lately, I’ve been very down about the piano-playing—I’ve frustrated myself by working on difficult pieces and I’ve been even more frustrated by how hard it is to keep improvising without ‘going backwards’—if that makes any sense. But today was fun—and I’m truly pleased to share the results. Thanks, Pete!
Yesterday’s videos are weird — the cover video is of “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, and “Do It Again” by Brian Wilson and Mike Love –I play both songs in the morning and then again in the evening. I had hoped for one to be better than the other, but they are both imperfect in their own way. I’ve been sight-reading out of my weight-class lately, and these recent videos are evidence of that, but there it is, anyhow.
The improv is weird too, though I can’t say exactly why.
The graphic images used are downloaded from the new Metropolitan Museum of Art online collection:
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.
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.
Last evening was the fourth annual Students Concert that Sherryl Marshall hosts for her voice students—and she is kind enough to include me every year. This year I sang “The Way You Look Tonight” and got through it without any serious harm done. I didn’t have my trusty videocorder, so I’ve reproduced the effort today. Also, I threw in “Can’t Help Singing” because, unlike Sherryl’s stage last night, no one was watching this time. Both songs are by Jerome Kern.
“The Way You Look Tonight” has lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936. The lyrics for “Can’t Help Singing” are by E. Y. “Yip” Harburg. Kern and ‘Yip’ earned an Academy Award for Best Original Song for it in 1945. At the 1946 Academy Awards, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II won for Best Original Song for “All Through the Day”—the award was posthumous in Kern’s case as he had died on November 11th, 1945.
I’m not like ‘Baby’ from “Dirty Dancing”—I went ahead and stuck myself in the corner—of today’s two videos. I wanted to show off my photos of all the life springing up out of the ground ‘round here. I used them ‘straight’ in the Kern-Covers video, but I went for a more psychedelic version on my longer-than-usual Improv to Spring. Hope you like both of today’s videos—especially as I don’t think I get any better than this.
Herman Hupfeld , in his beautiful lyric to “As Time Goes By”, wrote:
“This day and age we’re living in / Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention / And things like fourth dimension.
Yet we get a trifle weary / With Mr. Einstein’s theory.
So we must get down to earth at times / Relax relieve the tension
And no matter what the progress / Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such / They cannot be removed.
You must remember this….”
We’re pretty familiar with the rest—there are few people who have neither heard this song nor watched the movie, “Casablanca”. But like the vast majority of standards, the ‘intro’ is usually overlooked—if not left out altogether. In the case of many songs, the ‘intro’ is no great loss. Some are outright drivel, or the worst sort of doggerel, and the fame of such songs indicates that some smart performer realized he or she had better get right to the ‘burthen’, without any preamble, or they’d lose their audience. And, surely, this also accounts for the fact that most classic songs are considered as having been properly performed whether they include the official ‘intro’ verses or not.
However, in some cases lyricists positively shine so much in their wit and wordplay that it’s a shame to leave the ‘intro’ unrecognized—particularly with the great lyricists. Nothing upsets me more than a songbook that decides not to print the ‘intro’—taking the choice out of my hands for the sake of volume, I suppose.
“As Time Goes By” has a fascinating introductive verse, as seen above. Hupfeld bewails the hectic pace of modern life, it’s constant changes and new information. He gets “a trifle weary of Mr. Einstein’s theory” and wants to get away from all that. He seeks out bedrock principles on which to rest, safe from the shifting sands of cultural distraction. And, of course, he finds them in Love, that favorite of all bedrock principles.
How surprised Mr. Hupfeld would be to learn that his theory of days-gone-by would see eternal popularity in spite of such enormous changes in women’s roles and in relationships generally. A kiss is still a kiss—except when it’s a workplace harassment lawsuit or a charge of improper touching of a minor or the gift of herpes. And in a way, a kiss is now more than a kiss, assuming that Hupfeld wasn’t imagining two men or two women kissing.
Worse yet, we are no longer allowed to ‘weary of Einstein’s theory’—we have to remember our PIN numbers, our passwords, the usual computer Control-codes, game-controller button-sequences, et. al. We have to worry about our AC’s BTUs, our car’s MPG, separating our recyclables, our FICA, our prescriptions deductible, and whether we have time to find out what ‘streaming’ is, or should we just keep trying to program our VCRs. Neither Hepfeld nor Bogie could have envisioned a culture where everyone had to learn to type—and only with their thumbs.
Still, the most luxuriously nostalgic aspect of these lyrics is that they still hung on to the dismissive subtext of that word ‘theory’. Today, when we mention Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, whether Special or General, we hear the word ‘theory’ in its historical sense, not in the sense that no one yet accepts the truth of it—much like the ‘theory of evolution’. Only the fringe-dwellers in today’s society place any emphasis on the word ‘theory’ in these phrases. Back in the early nineteen-forties, though, Einstein’s theories could still be confined to cocktail-party gabbing—Hiroshima and Nagasaki were yet to come, as were nuclear power plants, nuclear subs, nuclear aircraft carriers, or nuclear-powered space probes.
Today we take Relativity for granted, just as we accept quantum physics, or the big-bang theory. Now string theory, dark matter, black holes, and the Higgs-Boson particle have come to be commonplace concepts among physicists and cosmologists—even discussed on popular science programs for the layperson. On top of that, we are in the midst a digital-technology revolution, an upheaval so great that it threatens the stability of global civilization with its sheer speed, while we try to adapt from the ‘generational’ pace-of-change enjoyed for all prior history, to change that now happens on a monthly basis.
What wouldn’t we give to ‘sit under the apple tree’ of the 1940’s whenever we got weary of all that? Oh, for the days when the ‘facts of life’ were not only simple, but they couldn’t be removed! Here’s me taking a stab at the old classic, followed by two more piano covers from my piano songbook, “AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Songs”. (I also recorded “Evergreen” but left it out in the end—I’m sure I can do it better some day soon.) I left out all the video effects today—sometimes less is more….
This video of six song covers is seventeen minutes long—but it isn’t what I really wanted. I thought I’d dig up any John Denver songs I had the sheet music for, and do a recital of just that. But I couldn’t find “Rocky Mountain High” or “Annie’s Song”, his biggest hits—all I could find today was “Follow Me” (1970), “My Sweet Lady” (1971), and “Leaving On A Jet Plane” (1966).
Like many of my favorites from my high school years, “Follow Me” is one of those songs that has a great rhythm and spirit, but vaguely misogynist lyrics. In this one he actually sings, “..make it part of you to be a part of me..” (as if “Follow me, up and down…” weren’t enough).
It always freaked me out a little that song-writers of such a politically active and ‘enlightened’ era would shill for the barefoot-and-pregnant mind-set in lyrics to their otherwise-modern rock tunes. John Denver, Paul Anka, and Bobby Vinton were some of the worst offenders in this arena, but it was fairly widespread through the sixties and seventies. By the eighties I guess feminists were calling people out on some of this stuff to the point where other people started to hear what I’d been hearing, and things got a bit more ‘aware’ from that point on.
The only real trouble is, I like“Follow Me”—I enjoy singing it, even though I kind of gag on the lyrics. “My Sweet Lady” is likewise a bit much on the saccharine-macho side, but I still enjoy his recording of it. It is included here, however, only because I was desperate for John Denver songs—it’s not really in my wheelhouse, as it were. And “Leaving On A Jet Plane” always feels weird to sing because it was the song all the girls on the school-bus sang on the road during class outings—the most popular version was released by Peter, Paul & Mary, and Mary Travers’ vocals predominate on their recording, so it became a ‘girl’s’ song.
The other, non-John Denver songs are of the same ilk—popular music of the sixties and early seventies that managed to not be rock-and-roll—Tom Paxton, (“The Last Thing On My Mind” ) like Denver, was more of a folk singer/songwriter. The Bacharach/David team (“Look Of Love”) and David Webb (“Wichita Lineman”) were both of the sophisticated, atmospheric school—almost Jazz, but with enough Pop to hit the charts.
I regret that these covers aren’t my best work—but, as always, they’re the best I can do. However, I was very pleased with the piano improvisation “Spring Earth”. I feel like I got a real “Le Sacre du printemps”-vibe going on this one, in my own goofy way.
And I end with a few more photos of the spring bulbs popping up out of our yard….
Here are three more Cole Porter piano covers—true piano covers, this time. I tend to sound like a dog howling when you get these long-held notes. Besides, the playing is tricky enough on its own. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the improv(s) yet—they are two short quips, one from this morning, one from this evening. That’s true of the Porter, too—“Begin the Beguine” was played earlier, the other two this evening. Hope you like’em. And I hope you had a fine day, as well.
In the first recording, I do my best with ‘Melody in F’ arranged for piano, [from “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” (Memory of a Cherished Place) for violin and piano, Op. 42 (Meditation, Scherzo and Melody) (1878)] by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893). The original piece is just beautiful. I’ll provide the YouTube link here, if you’d like to hear Janine Jansen perform an Encore broadcast on April 19th, 2013, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Alte Oper Frankfurt. (You’d better listen to mine first–I can’t follow a real virtuoso, no matter what instrument they play!)
The second recording, the improvisation, is one where I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve just played the Tchaikovsky piece, but maybe that’s just in my head. It’s hard to tell–you can steal a lot from another composer without it showing, unless you’re taking the actual melody….
I’m getting lazy about my videos. Today, I played two little piano covers but they only last for a coupla minutes, so I just left them tacked on to the improv instead of making a separate movie—so sue me. I’m still going to add “cover” to my YouTube tags, which is their criterion for posting something that’s copyrighted. I’m just excluding the song titles from the video’s Title and putting them in the Description instead. No big deal. I always include song titles in my cover-video Tags, and that’s how people find stuff nowadays anyhow.
Immediately following my improvisation there are two piano covers of classic popular songs,“I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine” and “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town“, which I am reading from arrangements in the “Lawrence Welk Favorites” song book. Though hits in their day, they are rather obscure in the present-day popular memory, so I’m including these brief historical references from Wikipedia.
“I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine”[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]: a popular song, written by Mack David.
The most popular version was done by Patti Page in 1950. The Page recording was issued by Mercury Records as catalog number 5396, and first reached the Billboard chart on May 20, 1950, lasting 9 weeks and peaking at #8. It was her first Top 10 hit. The song was also one of the first recordings by Elvis Presley.
A Dean Martin version of the song was featured in the 1953 film “Scared Stiff” starring Martin and Jerry Lewis. The Patti Page recording is featured in the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. Actor Guy Pearce also briefly sings excerpts of this song in the film, as does Terence Stamp. The first Spanish-language version was recorded by Marco Tulio Sanchez, the precursor of rockabilly in his country Colombia during the 1980s. It was originally intended for Disney’s Cinderella, but not used.
“In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town” [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]: a popular song written by Ira Schuster and Jack Little with lyrics by Joe Young in 1932.
Ted Lewis and His Band performed it in the film “The Crooner” in 1932. His version was released as a single and it went to #1, where it remained for 10 weeks.
Johnny Long and His Orchestra had a million seller of the song in 1946–a slight revision of their 1940 version. The ’46 version reached #13. Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version in the winter of 1958/1959. Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads re-charted the song in 1956 where it reached #27.
The graphics are from our garden last May—which is only two months away—something to look forward to.
My rendition isn’t quite up to Paul’s standards, but I do my best with the fingers I have. I plan to record the other dances of the partita in the near future—they too have a bouncy delight to them—except for the Sarabande, which is one of the sweetest slow pieces in baroque music. I shall have to feel extra-on-my-game when I attempt that one.
The improv came out very novelette-ish and made me think of waves and wind and open water, thus the title and the ‘cover art’ (pictures, once again, courtesy of the Rijksmuseum web-site). Enjoy—
The snowing-est winter of recent memory sure had its excitements—and while most of them had to do with cold, discomfort, inconvenience, and cancelled work, school, outings, etc., it nevertheless feels a bit boring on this above-freezing, ice-melting day—even for a Sunday. The forecast is to reach into the forties every day this week—no blizzards, no storms—just melting snow and plenty of it. Early spring is like an early pregnancy (from the guy’s POV)—there’s little sign of it other than the knowledge that it’s on its way. In the meantime we just deal with the mess left behind by all of winter’s meteorological excitement.
I saw a Facebook post about someplace in California that’s closing down its oil pumps to save water during their historic drought. It sounds like symbolism, a bit, but it’s really just the whole world in microcosm—it’s too real to be symbolic. People in the future will no doubt wonder what we did in the years leading up to and immediately following that recent announcement by scientists that we’ve reached the point-of-no-return on greenhouse gasses warming the globe. I’m starting to wonder a little myself. Should I already be long dead from a gun-battle with industrialists? Should I have long since emigrated out of the first-world, just to stop being a part of it all? I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be typing away in my oil-heated home on a machine that requires mining rare-earth elements to manufacture.
The people that know (scientist-type people) have already determined that we’ve crossed a serious line in our altering of the atmosphere and the oceans. The people that live in fear (leaders and wealthy people) are still furiously insisting that the problem doesn’t exist. They point to the fact that it still snows in winter—case closed. I resent the problem being discussed primarily by old farts—my age or older—who’ll be dead by the time they’re proved wrong.
Oddly enough, our impending self-destruct is just one of the symptoms of a larger problem. By accepting technology into our lives, we’ve put ourselves in the hands of the technicians. When they say, ‘don’t stick your finger in the light-socket’, we should listen. And we do—when it’s as straight-forward as a zapping from a light-socket. But when it concerns something more complex or subtle, like an atom-bomb, people just say, “Thanks, scientists.”, and take it away to do with it whatever they wish.
A technician discovered how to build factories and power stations and cars—and we started making stuff, manufacturing stuff, marketing stuff—we know all there is to know about these inventions because we use them all the time. We don’t need the technicians any more, do we?—especially not if they have some crazy idea that their very convenient inventions have innate problems when used in large numbers. We don’t need to listen to technicians unless they have good news. Our grandchildren will have no such luxury. They’re going to have to listen to the technicians that tell them how to build sea-walls, how to electrify formerly combustion-driven machines, and how to keep breathing in a toxic atmosphere.
There’s a lot of talk about money being free-speech, about corporations being legal persons—and that’s a problem. But the bigger problem is that capitalism causes us to give money more than free-speech—we give it judgment. People have known since the late sixties that our planet was endangered by technology—but we’ve wrung our hands for fifty years over the fact that ending our pollution would damage our economy. We’ve allowed money to convince us that pollution isn’t important, because the alternative is too expensive, or too inconvenient. Well, take a look at this place in twenty years and then come tell me about expensive and inconvenient.
Do I sound crabby? I know I do—I don’t know why I asked. I’m in a lot of pain today—and I’m not really sure why. I overdid it a bit yesterday, walking through deep snow until I was gasping for air, my limbs burning from the effort. I was just returning from the house next door—it’s just a few yards—but the snow was up to my waist and there’s an ice layer on top that collapsed only when I stood up on it. It was like climbing giant stairs. It took forever for my breathing to get back to normal—I was exhausted. So maybe that’s it—after all, I haven’t been able to exert myself like that for twenty years—and that sort of thing took a day or two to recover from, even back when I was healthy.
I’m also tired and a bit let down by my gargantuan post from last week—I spent two days playing piano and four days editing and posting all of it (ten complete videos—1 hour, 20 minutes total listening time). It’s going to be a long time before I record myself at the piano again—it’s a lot of work to post videos, but I don’t notice when I only do one or two of them every other day. If I was Horowitz, I’d gladly embrace the effort, but my little ditties make me wonder why I’m killing myself to share them. I’m starting to hate music as much as it hates me.
I almost had it on the twenty-seventh, last week—blogging and/or posting an original poem, an original drawing, and an original piano music video—but I had trouble trying to scan my drawing with the three-way printer/scan/faxer, which led to me destroying the internet connection to the router, which led to me crawling back into bed and watching TV for hours. By the time I’d created an illustrated-poem graphic, I just didn’t have the juice to sit down at the piano. So, just a poem and a drawing—though I shouldn’t complain—they were both well-received.
Today, I made sure I sat down for a quick keyboard recital, before I started working on all the technical stuff. Typing up a poem; sketching out a picture; tickling the ivories a bit—not that big a deal. But then try scanning, photo-shopping, text formatting, file-transferring, audio-editing, video-editing, and uploading it all—there’s where the hard work comes in.
Anyway, to content—to call today’s offering a mixed-bag is an understatement. Firstly—I was lying in bed last night and looked over at the t-shirt that I’d used to block the power-LED on the TV (otherwise the bright blue light is right in my eyes as I try to go to sleep). It looked just like the head of a cow or a moose—some sort of beast’s head. So I grabbed my trusty sketch-pad and drew what I saw. As you can see from the side-by-side comparison of a photo of the t-shirt and my drawing, the t-shirt still looks more like an animal’s head than my drawing does. (Hey, I never said I was Rembrandt).
Secondly, I was hand-rolling my cigarettes this morning when the phrase ‘there’s nothing to it but to do it’ came into my head and started re-arranging itself. Pretty soon I had a whole stanza in my head and I had to rush through my tobacco-rolling to get to the keyboard—by which time my head had come up with a second stanza but was in danger of dumping the whole thing out of short-term memory. When I think of a poem, I literally have to run to the keyboard to type it in before it fades away—that’s how leaky my short-term memory is. Most of my essays, half-written in my head before I get to the computer, and my better improvs, singing in my head while I rush to set up the camera by the piano, are all the same story.
Interesting ideas come and go out of memory like flitting shadows—the trick is to get to a working medium in time for the good ones, while not exhausting myself by trying to capture every stray idea that blows through town. As you may have noticed, I’m not one of those planner-type artists—I don’t write voluminous novels, room-filling frescoes, or complete musical compositions. I just try to chase after the scraps of ideas that stumble into my broken brain, and catch them with my shaky fingers. The large-scale mind-palace that allows long-term project-planning (and once made me a sick programmer) is now just a memory. And, like all my memories, a vague one.
Back to content—so the poem happened to end with “I think I hit a fairy with my car.” Dramatic? Yes, but unsatisfying. So I wrote some more verse in front of the first-draft, some more verse after, and ended up with a politically themed poem, which was not my intention. Still, when writing, especially poetry, sometimes you tell it, sometimes it tells you. It’s hard enough to write a poem without trying to make it walk a straight line, too.
And, thirdly, I have a brief musical interlude for today—a cover of the old classic, “That’s My Desire”, in which I do my best Vic Damone impression, and a squirrelly, little improv, for your delectation, dear reader/listener/viewer. I hope at least one of these hot messes provides someone with a moment’s pleasure today.
Finally, I’m adding my recent drawings to look at, which I finally got scans of, thanks to sneaker-net (my son repaired the internet connection, but the printer still isn’t ‘sharing’ like it’s supposed to). Here they are (click on the images to see them full-sized):
Not for the first time, I’m using graphics from the Rijksmuseum website in my videos. One of them, “Whaling Grounds in the Arctic Ocean”, painted by a fellow named Storck in 1699, shows men not only whaling, but prowling about on the ice floes, attacking some poor polar bears! I guess they were attracted by the smell of the blubber being rendered aboardship? Anyway, it’s a fantastic painting—it even has some walruses hanging about in the foreground.
It being rather cold and savage, I used it as a frontispiece for the video “Improv – February Finally Dies”, which was the nicest title I could think of for the last day of this horrible month. All of the pictures are cool—you can see how I’ve crowded out my credits just to enlarge the pics and give you a better look at them.
For the end-credit page of the Piano Covers video, I used a sheet-music-cover illustration done by none other than Toulouse Lautrec (for the song, “Oceano Nox”) showing a sailor leaning over the prow of his ship, contemplating the night. I knew Lautrec did posters and commercial art, but sheet-music covers surprised me. For the title card, I used the wonderfully evocative “Egyptian Dancer in Tent” by de Famars Testas (1863).
For the improv “Spring is Possible” I used two different images of the sea-god, Oceanus—one engraved by Goltzius (1590) and the other by Galle (1586). I really enjoyed these paintings, so I’m going to add them to this post, following the YouTube Videos—check’em out.
Well, I was apparently ‘feeling my oats’ today—it didn’t help the piano covers any, but it sure came out in my improvs. I hope they sound half as good as they felt to play…
These are two familiar pieces of Tchaikovsky for those who listen to my videos, but here is today’s run at them, for your listening pleasure. I’ve just finished watching “Whiplash”, a wonderful film about a horrible music teacher and the demands placed on exceptional musicians, and while the film gave me a great deal of food for thought it certainly left me in no doubt as to my unfitness to join the ranks of professional musicians—I just love Tchaikovsky, that’s all.
Today’s improv came in three separate themes, so I have marked them in the video—just trying to add flavor. I’m looking forward to listening to them—I hope they came out good…
O, and there’s one from yesterday that’s kinda lively:
The great and powerful Peter Cianflone, drummer extraordinaire, came by today (or technically yesterday) and kindly agreed to join me in some ridiculous music-making, none of which is his fault—he was just an innocent, bongo-playing bystander. I do like the piano with a little extra percussion, though, and Pete’s performance upon the mini-bongos is not to be missed.
Nothing went right today at the keyboard—I haven’t listened to it all myself yet—the improv may be passable, who knows? But we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, so it’s all good.
Looking at a possible record for coldest day today, I woke up, went to the kitchen and turned on the oven to 425 with the door open, turned on the plasma TV in the bedroom (plasma TVs act as space-heaters, which helps in winter, but is not so good in summer) and put the space heater on full blast in the foyer. It’s still pretty chilly in here, so I’m sitting at my PC with a scarf and Elmer-Fudd-hat on. The only way to warm my hands is by holding them over the open oven door, but then I’m breathing in the heat coming straight up at my head, so I can’t do it for long.
Winter takes a lot out of a guy. Whenever I think of spring, I feel an overwhelming weariness at the thought of all the days between now and then, all the hours of chilled bones, stiff muscles, and runny noses. I hung one of those seed bells from a tree branch outside the window yesterday—I’ve been putting it off because it’s been too cold to run outside, but then I thought of how hard it must be for the birds to find food right now, so I forced myself to get out there and do it. I couldn’t tie a good knot with that nylon webbing they come in—I expect it to be on the ground, being gnawed at by squirrels, before the day is out. Even then, the birds will still get the small seeds that the squirrels leave behind, so it’s not a complete waste.
I wish I could, with a snap of my fingers, hang ten of those things from squirrel-proof wires all around the property and just make our yard a bird’s winter paradise—but all that ladder work is problematical when there’s more than a foot of snow on the ground, so that will remain a fantasy. Tough luck, birds.
I’m expecting a visitor or two today, but I won’t be surprised if no one shows up. It’s tempting to think of just going back to bed and calling the whole day a wash. Winter always makes me politically incorrect—there’s nothing sounds so good to me right now as ‘global warming’. Warming, did you say? Bring it on!
Yes, that’s what I’m promising for your Lunar New Year with this collection of music—transports of joy. Either that, or something slightly less felicitous. You decide. The Tchaikovsky is choppy—the old sight-reading problem—and of the two improvs, I’d say ‘Whooping and Hollering’ is the inferior effort but ‘Carrying On’ is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. There are also two more-pastoral-type improvs from the sixteenth—they’re pretty standard ‘me’ stuff.
Bach’s English Suites are a favorite of mine. This is not the first time I’ve posted a recording of the A Minor Suite, though it is rare that I record the full suite. This recording was done over two days and it’s a bit better than any of my previous attempts, so I’m posting it. Someday, I’ll have to review my YouTube channel videos and delete all the older versions of redundant posts—assuming that the newer ones are always better—I’ll have to do some comparison listening to be sure. So, maybe someday is pretty far off.
It’s not that I don’t listen to my own recordings—I hear them plenty when I’m editing them and I also burn them to CDs and listen to them away from the computer. However, it’s an educational process for me—I hear the mistakes more clearly than the music and I can’t help but make mental notes on how to play it better next time. Once I’ve given them a good listen, they usually just make me itch to jump up, go to the piano, and play it again, better. But that’s just the sheet music for other peoples’ stuff.
My improvisations are a different story—for some reason, I really like my own music. Not every day, and not all day, but I like it and I listen to myself quite often, especially when reading—or to lull me to sleep at night. I like to listen to some real music—all kinds—and listen to some ‘me’. My music isn’t better than real music, but it isn’t exactly worse—it’s more like ‘complimentary’ to real music—it gives me a break from the passion and precision and perfection of say Glenn Gould, or Ziggy Stardust, or Matt Glaser, or Enya. It’s filler, for when real music is too much but silence is too little. To me, anyway.
So, here’s a long-ass Bach piece that came off rather well, and the improvs from each day (I highly recommend Tap-Dance–it came out pretty good):
I just received a belated birthday gift from my mom—one of those tea infusers that look like miniature medieval weaponry, a tea ball. (She also sent me, among other gifts, what Bear likes to call ‘Clown Pants’ which are red plaid flannel pants with an elastic waist and a string-tye tightener—but we won’t go into my propensity for garish apparel.)
I shoulda tooka picture—but instead, I have used Bear’s latest quilting project as my front- and end-piece illustrations. She does wonders with a needle and thread—I love her work.
Yesterday and today I tried to play two dances from “The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book – Vol. I”:
“XIII. Pavana.” by John Bull, and
“XIV. Alman.” by Anon.
Yesterday’s recording was terrible, so I tried again today and got an acceptable rendering from the Fitzwilliam—still, pretty-decent Piano Improvs from both days’ recordings, so I have two of those today—lucky me.
But first, I play two of my favorite pieces from this ancient music book. You can hear birds singing outside during the performance (our local birds come for the bird-seed but they stay for the concert—and they like to chime in). It reminds of those pieces in which composers like Handel or Couperin would try to score music to sound like birds—I find it’s much easier to simply invite them to sing along…
I just played a few of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words”, then I played ad lib, in D major, mostly. It all seemed quite impressive to me—I’ve spent a lot of time over the years on Mendelssohn—and he is a pianist’s composer, as far as I’m concerned—his pieces seem to fit the hand more elegantly than your average piano music. He manages to make me (or anybody) sound more accomplished than they are, without breaking your wrists to do it.
And my improvisation has matured something awful—the simple chords I once pounded incessantly are no longer sufficient to satisfy. And that has been the case for some time now, so my searching and scratching for new harmonies, figures, turns, and fillips—and, more importantly, my recent focus on the attempt to make melodic lines a part of my improvs—has, in these most recent years, transformed my freestyle playing into something I’m almost proud of.
Much of my improvement, and my enjoyment of it, is due to the seeming resurgence in my CNS. Ever since I took the HCV ‘cure’, the inflammations and other upsets to my insides–including my mind, my focus, my hand-to-eye, etc., have stopped, leaving me more clear-minded, more present, better coordinated, and better able to remember short-term, continuity-related memories.
I don’t have time to think in terms of being proud of my music, though—the only reason I’ve come this far is by working as hard as you would expect someone who doesn’t believe they’ll ever get anywhere would work. When I lost my strength and my intelligence—during the worst, most death-defying periods of my liver disease—the idea of ‘making progress’ became laughably out-of-place. Playing the piano was simply primal enough to be included in the list of things I could still do—as long as I accepted that my playing went from bad to worse.
So, I never stop to ask myself if I’m pleased with the result. I spent far too many years being quite sure of an answer in the negative, without even asking the question—it’s only now that the subject has even arisen. And still, it seems clear, I’ll never get anywhere near ‘flashy’ with a piano—I’m only excitable about the fact that I play almost all the correct notes when I play a Mendelssohn piece, nowadays— I’m still chained to sight-reading and I still can’t trust my left hand. Virtuosi are still safe from competition—even more so than before my long illness.
But I pity everyone who is not me, nonetheless. No one else will ever hear how I play when I’m alone—and judging from what I can tell, it’s not half bad. Of course, I don’t compare myself to others’ music—I compare myself with what I’ve done before. Hearing myself play better than I’ve ever played can trick me into thinking it sounds great, when I’m making a relative judgment, instead of an esthetic judgment.
It’s certainly better than what I get when the camera is capturing it—or when someone is in the room with me. I have a policy to always turn on the camera and take whatever comes, good or bad. That way, I thought, I’d get used to the camera. But I don’t. I just play like there’s a camera on. So, since my policy doesn’t work, I sometimes give myself a treat and play without a camera—it’s so freeing. Then afterwards, like now, all I can think of is “Was that good? Should I have had the camera on for this sitting?” It’s hopeless. All my acceptance of my limitations does nothing to quell my desire to be ‘good at’ the piano. And, yes, I know that great pianists have the same bottomless demands on their efforts—but they have better reason to push it; and they have far finer results to show for it.
In many ways, my journey to the brink of death and back has enhanced whatever musicality I started with—maybe it’s that old ‘suffering artist’ hogwash. But I think it’s more specific than that. I think my struggles with my fading mental powers, the trembling and fatigue, the almost total loss of short-term memory—followed by my long recovery from my liver transplant and my more-recent return to something approaching my old self—was a learning experience that took place at the very source-code of my esthetic perspective. I learned not to take anything for granted—not even something so basic as remembering what I’m trying to say long enough to finish a sentence.
At age fifty-nine, I’m also faced with the confusion between my recovery from illness and the losses due my natural aging. In a sense, I’m getting better and worse at the same time—my disability is lifting but I’m not getting any younger. Having been penalty-boxed for the last twenty years is just an emotional problem—starting over when I’m twenty years older is a baldly practical problem. In my case, ‘becoming healthy’ is a relative concept, with multiple perspectives to view it from.
I faced death due to illness and was saved at the eleventh hour by my transplant surgeon and her team—but now, close to sixty, and not expecting to survive far into my senior-citizenship, I’m facing a more leisurely death due to natural causes. Once you start losing, it’s hard to stop, mentally. And modern life makes old age very confusing. In our time, a sixty-year-old, for example, faces the possibility of living for another forty years—but someone with my health issues can still see sixty as a kind of ‘two-minute warning’. Someone who takes care of themselves can become a centenarian—but even with my illness, I never learned to take care of myself. Hey—life is for living—that’s how it always seemed to me. I still smoke tobacco, among other things—and a smoker in his sixties is dead meat. Inhaling a house-fire is a young man’s game.
I find myself ready to begin my life again—but I’m old, I have no degree, I’m just a step above bed-ridden, my driver license lapsed two years ago, I’m addicted to nicotine, I go to the bathroom more often than a normal person—it’s just demoralizing. And to complicate issues, the many years my failing health went undiagnosed, when my symptoms were mistaken for dissolution and irresponsibility, led to many stressful situations in the old office.
I worked for my parents and family businesses are always stressful to begin with. I was a systems manager, coder, and PC specialist in those early times of business computing, when there was resentment against the geeky, entitled, self-taught computer-maven. Plus, the fragility of those earlier hardware systems brought its own freight of stress—young people who now toss around their I-phones have no idea!
Just as my symptoms began to manifest—loss of focus, loss of memory, confusion, fatigue—my parents retired, sold the business to a VC-company that tried to bankrupt the business for personal gain (filing chapter eleven, or is it chapter thirteen?—whatever) which the family was in the process of buying back, out of receivership, when my father died suddenly, crashing his private Cessna. The business then became the responsibility of me and my siblings, which turned out to be a recipe for disaster—but I was slowly dying from liver disease without knowing it and trying to do my job—and failing.
At the same time, there were a few bad employees, embezzling money through some kind of sales-commission scam—and the one managing the accounting department pointed fingers at me and my systems when there was confusion about unbalanced bookkeeping. My family chose to trust her, rather than the careless reprobate I appeared to have become. In the end, I was fired by my own brother.
I spent the next ten years supporting my family in relative poverty, working jobs that were way below my usual skill-set, but just doable with the brain-power I had left—I did computer graphics for IBM for a year, then transferred outside-data to in-house field-formats at Telemarketing Concepts for a few years. Then I did Y2K-corrective coding as an independent contractor in NYC. After ten years, my brother called to re-hire me as Systems Manager. It turned out he had hired an entire systems department, four full-timers and an intern, to replace me and there was still some programs of mine that they couldn’t figure out how to de-bug. It also turned out that my brother lied—he hired someone else to run the systems department and made me a Special Projects Manager—which was his way of admitting he needed me, without actually being a decent human being about it. (His new ‘manager’ turned out to be a nut-case with control issues, fired within the year. Sadly, MDA went out of business after I left, as did Telemarketing Concepts, Inc.—and the old man I did the Y2K coding for died, ending his company, too—so time has brushed away virtually everything I’ve ever done in the business world. It makes for a sense of futility.)
But I was barely there for a year myself before my illness overwhelmed me and I could no longer make the commute to work every morning, much less do any complicated programming. I would spend the next four years doing Interferon treatments and degenerating in mind and body until the liver cancer showed up. That was when the doctor told me I only had a few weeks left. I was barely conscious by then, tenuously lucid, and barely able to walk to the bathroom by myself. Claire helped me walk from the parking lot into the hospital on the night of my transplant.
Transplant rehab takes at least a year—it was a few years before my abdomen fully healed (what was left of it—some control nerves were cut during the operation and a few muscles are now vestigial—which developed into a vertical hernia—I look pretty messed up without a shirt on). Post-op, though, was by-and-large, all positive progress—with my blood finally being cleaned by my liver once again, my body and my central nervous system began to rebound—though some nerve damage is permanent and my brain has atrophied. Then, a few years ago, my health started to tilt back into degeneration—the Hepatitis C virus had made a comeback and it was doing a number on my ten-year-old replacement liver. Recently, I took the new three-month treatment that eradicates HCV permanently.
This time, the upward swing of my health and mental function has been a wonderful experience—my piano-playing is better; my writing is better; I’m more active, walking every day; and I’m getting restless enough to give serious thought to reclaiming my place in the rat race, nine to five, living for the weekends—with the attendant paychecks and feelings of self-worth. But my petit-PTSD burn-out from that rollercoaster ride during the final ten years of my professional office-work career has left me emotionally damaged—I’m markedly anti-social in close quarters. Like Lucy Van Pelt, ‘I love humanity—it’s people I can’t stand’. And I’m neurotically averse to authority—especially the petty dictates of middle-management.
Thus, office work, my strong suit, is also the worst environment I can imagine. And I’m no good at anything else—as far as I know. Plus, I’m pretty old—the fire in my belly is a distant memory. I want to be useful. I want to be productive. I’m just not sure I want a job—or if I could handle a job. Jobs involve so much more than being useful and productive—and that’s my problem with them. It’s a tight spot—and I know tight spots. I also can’t help feeling a little resentment towards my peers—as I daydream about coming ‘back to life’, most of them are eyeing retirement, if they haven’t already retired. And they have adulthoods full of accomplishment to look back on.
But enough background autobiography—back to my original point—esthetics enhanced by the purifying fires of mental dysfunction. For one thing, the connection between me and my piano is so much deeper now—it was there through all of it, when people, as a group, had their own lives to live. Time I might have spent socializing was spent communing with my keyboard, contemplating the intricacies of acoustic artistry. A PBS documentary on Thomas Edison claims that his hearing loss encouraged him to use the power of his inner mind, to separate himself from the bustle of the everyday and retreat to his inner workplace of invention. Van Gogh’s mental illness seems to have a direct link with his painting style. Otherwise normal people have been known to become artists as a result of head trauma.
The brain is a mysterious thing. Creative expression is one of the few things that are even more mysterious. Sometimes I actually despair of having had no great tragedy or trauma, of not being raised in dire poverty or sociopathic dysfunction, of not being in a minority, not a woman, or a Jew. How can I compete as an artist when my whole life has been a core sample from the ‘average white guy’ milieu? Where’s the mighty engine of struggle supposed to come from? If a fairly happy, fairly comfortable life prevents one from any chance at greatness, it becomes hard to define what ‘happy’ really means.
And it raises some weird questions. Children who endure hardships grow up to be tougher, more resilient, more capable—does that mean being nice to my kids was a mistake? Greatness never comes without struggle—should I envy the struggling, when I know darn well that I wouldn’t wish to suffer as they do? Perhaps, as Jack Nicholson said in “A Few Good Men”, I should stop questioning the ways of ‘the Arts’ and just say ‘thank you’ to those whom fate has decided to make artists. God, I hate that idea.
The weatherman predicted the worst Winter storm in history for last night and the majority of today. The mayor of NYC made emergency announcements at 7 PM last night. I expected to be snowed in, without power, and who knows what else might happen.
Being a coastal storm, and heading northward, it trashed Long Island, Boston, and Maine, as predicted—sorry about that, Down-Easters—but here in Somers, where the initial forecast was one-to-two feet of snow, then just one foot—I’d be surprised if the official measurement reached six inches. It looks more like four or so.
Which means I was allowed to shoot, edit, and post four videos today—I shot the whole room in hopes that the weather outside would appear frightful, but all the video shows is a white glow where the windows should be windows. Unluckily, that left me with very dark videos, which I have tried my best to brighten with my video-editing controls, but it’s still a pretty lackluster show—just a dark room with my head peaking up from behind the piano.
I took some stills for the Titles and Credits graphics, too—in the “Mendelssohn – Songs Without Words No. 25”, you see where Claire couldn’t catch the cardinal outside our window (you can just see a bit of red). In the “Mendelssohn – Songs Without Words No. 24”, you can see a wren at the same window (it’s a very popular sill). The improvs just show pics of our yard covered in snow.
The two Mendelssohn pieces, as usual, are posted more as proof that I can sight-read/stumble my way through with minimal mistakes than as any competition for the real pianists out there—but that’s where I’m at—what else can I do? I’ll let you judge for yourself what sort of voice I’m in with today’s two improvisations….
Finally, here are some of today’s stills, on their own…
So, now I have my video of Joni-Mitchell-song piano-covers, my poem about my winter walk, and here I am, being greedy, trying for an essay to top it all off…
Well, the odds of my getting a good essay, when I haven’t actually been driven to the keyboard by frustration and a head full of roiling thoughts—when I’ve just ‘decided’ to try and squeeze one out of myself—are lower than dirt. So I might as well choose an equally off-the-grid subject, like Ancient Aliens. Nobody takes ancient aliens seriously, so they make a perfect subject for me—although, I should admit, being taken seriously is the last thing I need. I have a hard enough time being taken for a light-headed jester.
Nevertheless, there are many ancient ruins whose construction is ‘unexplainable’. It’s hard for me to accept that word, ‘unexplainable’. ‘Very difficult’ I could manage—even ‘mysterious’ I can handle—but for something to be entirely unexplainable (in my experience) is a poor use of words. In science, there were (and are) many unanswered questions—but we don’t just throw up that word, ‘unexplainable’, and move on—we find explanations. That’s what science is—the refusal to accept ‘unexplainable’ as an answer.
Now, ‘unexplainable’ does have a temporal meaning—even in science, there are many things which are not yet explainable. And if Ancient Alien proponents wish to replace ‘unexplainable’ with ‘not yet explained’, then I’m ready to listen to the rest of what they have to say. Until then, I have to place them in the set of all people who are willing to accept ignorance as an answer, rather than a challenge—and members of that set do not intersect with the set of all people who are rigorously scientific.
And scale, in and of itself, does not constitute any great mystery, to my mind. Huge blocks of stone may seem immovable, laser-guided precision of ancient carvings may seem impossible—lots of things appear at first glance to be outside of our capabilities—or the capacity of our ancestors. But give thousands of people hundreds of years to think and experiment and work things out, and there is very little that we can pronounce to be impossible. Large objects can be floated upon waterways, rolled on wheels or cylinders, or undermined in sand. These and other techniques can also be combined in various ways to enhance their power. In short, to pronounce something to be too big to move is actually just a way of saying that our imaginations have limits—a statement with which I could never agree.
Others questions, such as the visibility of the Nazca Lines diagrams only from the air, seem to me equally judgmental about the cleverness of people. There’s a tremendous gap, to my mind, between something that is very, very hard to do—and something that is impossible to do. Nor do I give credence to the issue of why ancient monuments were built. Without context, even our more modern structures, like cathedrals, have no obvious, practical use. In the particular case of the Ancient Alien question, we see many ruins of structures that have an astronomical connection—but the stars are as important to a farmer, or a sheepherder, as they are to an alien. The circuitous seasons have, for mankind, both a life-or-death meaning for agriculture and a more mystical attraction as a source of contemplation and dreaming—the addition of aliens is superfluous to their import.
Thus, while I’m open to the idea of Ancient Aliens, I’m less than satisfied with the current archive of ‘proof’ that we see on TV. Also, I’m not too crazy about the idea that humanity is nothing more than an experiment in some galactic laboratory run by alien overlords. I’d rather believe in God, if I could.
Same stuff, different day: An improv, a few Beatles covers, and a cantankerous essay comprise your XperDunn blog-post for today:
On Statesmen and Business Leaders
The prior essay (“Do Your Worst”) unsettles me—I always want to take my temperature and blood pressure whenever I catch myself advocating anarchy and destruction. And I’ll cop to that—I’m a little ‘unstable’—I think is the fashionable term these days. But it’s also partially the fault of whoever’s in charge of our businesses and our government—they make it so that advocating anarchy is nothing more than a difference of degree to what we already endure. I’m not saying they suck—I’m saying they suck the big, hairy, hard one.
Neither am I talking about a mob—nor even a crowd. There are only one hundred senators and fifty state governors—and I doubt there are more than another 150 chairpersons of the kinds of bloated multi-national corporations that squat upon humanity and bring shit to everyone’s lives. So, say maybe three hundred and change, tops—that’s the number of people that keep the tens of millions of Americans from having decent, secure, dignified lives. That tiny army of power-mad mongrels does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of us in misery. Just think—in the olden days, we’d need thousands upon thousands of these assholes to do the same job on so many people.
It’s impressive, too, when you consider that they all have to spend most of their time pretending to be the kind of person you’d invite into your home without worrying about the inviolability of your house-pets. These men, and a few women, too (let’s not be sexist about this) spend the whole day babbling vacuous PC-speak about values and concerns, initiatives and committees, convincing the gullible among us that they have some concern for the average citizen—yeah, right. It has become so accepted that their job-description precludes plain speaking that we have a special term for their lies—when someone is never comfortable with honesty, we call the noises they make with their mouths ‘spin’, which is a euphemism for BS, and plenty of it.
We have to call it ‘spin’. Can you imagine news-reports, otherwise? “This afternoon, the heads of the major investment banks told a bunch of lies. Five senators who head crucial senate sub-committees told even more lies. The CEO of America’s largest petroleum producer told a total of ten real whoppers that no one in their right mind would ever believe for a second. And now, the weather…”
And what do these people do when they are not busy ensuring our perpetual misery and lying through their asses about it? They spend a lot of money. They have to—there’s little else a soul-less, hollow shell of a human being can do to pass the time. They can’t have real relationships—that would involve emotional maturity—and while these people may be alpha dogs, strong and successful and loaded, the one thing they never have time or talent for is learning to know themselves, or to truly care for another. Outside of the rough and tumble schoolyard of corporate and political in-fighting, they remain the children that all business-leaders must be to devote so much energy and determination to something so trivial as being first amongst douchebags, the top of the shit heap.
So, while these idiots may enrage us, frustrate us, drive us to the very edge of sanity—we may nonetheless be thankful that, at least, we are not one of them. For while they may ultimately (and frightfully soon) bring the entire planet to death and ruin, and kill us all—they are already dead, insofar as the ability to truly live like a human being was never in their grasp.
But if you ask any of these psychos whether they, personally, are part of the group I’m addressing, they will, without pausing for breath, start explaining furiously how they could not possibly be one of the damnable damned—and you will then hear what we like to call ‘spin’.
“Jimi: All Is By My Side” (2013) [originally “All Is By My Side”] 118 mins.
(A drama based on Hendrix’s life as he left New York City for London, where his career took off.)
Director, Screenplay: John Ridley
Starring: André Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots
This bio-pic was fittingly obtuse in some ways, hard to follow—not unlike its subject. I’ve never been quick on the uptake—much of my favorite music is music I disliked on first hearing—and Hendrix certainly falls into that category. But the funny thing is that I appreciate and enjoy Hendrix more with age—and having seen this movie (and allowing for its being a cinematic work rather than a reference work, but nonetheless) I think Hendrix was too prolix and light-heartedly free in his music for the age of the super-serious, socially-conscious music stars such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan. That was certainly my youthful problem with him—so maybe I’m just projecting.
But being unlimited in what he could do with a guitar, his penchant for musical playfulness, flights of fancy, and unabashed abrogation of anyone and everyone else’s songs, styles, and techniques was to be expected. He was a virtuoso in a time after the recognition of virtuosity. His newer age had ‘discovered’ that emotional depth and spirit outdid pure expertise every time, but we (I was a way-too-serious ten-year-old on Long Island during Hendrix’s year in London) may have overlooked the fact that some virtuosi, such as Mozart or Chopin, were expert musicians as a side-effect of their unbounded talent and artistry—as was (is?) the case with Hendrix.
My confusion with tenses needs explaining—it’s just that musicians may die, but in our time, music lives forever; and it’s hard to separate the person and their music. If, when listening to Hendrix’s recording of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”, I lose myself inside Hendrix’s performance, is he not alive? But, that’s my issue—so I leave it here.
In my youth, there was a compulsion among some of my peers to analyze the lives of their musical heroes—as if the biographical data, no matter how trivial, always gave greater insight into the music they so revered. I was never reverential about anything—I was raised to ‘show respect’, which I quickly learned meant speaking and acting in such a way as to avoid getting beat up or killed, so I reserve my true respect for very few things, and even fewer people. I suppose those music-obsessive friends of mine bothered me because they were the exact opposite—too quick to give their respect, unthinkingly and completely.
But in this movie, which covers a pivotal, but single year in the life and career of Jimi Hendrix, I was shown that biography can indeed be a powerful way of granting insight into, if not the music, certainly the musician. How effective it is for those who only know the sixties second-hand, I can’t say—but that is neither the filmmakers’ nor my problem. I didn’t require the big-picture, historical back-fill—and I was tickled by all the little details, drenched with significance by their connection to his more broad-cast iconography.
André Benjamin does a great job, although I was given pause by one aspect of his performance. He depicts Jimi Hendrix as a thoughtful, gentle, infinitely peaceful dude—but then, in one scene (and I assume it’s historically accurate) his character, in a sudden rage, repeatedly smashes his girlfriend’s face with one of those old pay-phone phone-receivers—she ends up hospitalized. Now, either Mr. Benjamin, or Mr. Ridley, or someone—did a little image-buffing here, or there was a far more physical side to Jimi Hendrix than we see in the course of this film, outside of that one scene.
And it is remarkable that Hendrix’s past is well-indicated, that his childhood was not an easy one, nor his father quick to give approval (or able to) while also depicting his on-screen self, the product of that environment, as very self-contained, almost demurring. He is shown to be unusually sensitive, it’s true, and unstable in some ways, but extreme sensitivity, raised in a harsh environment, rarely produces the o-so-civil young adult portrayed through most of the film. But now I’m just spouting—is it the film, the history, or my own assumptions that raise the issue? Anyway, it just stuck out as a question, to me, plus I was shocked by the sudden savagery—which distracted me from the film. Is that too critical?
All in all, I was swept up by the experience (if you’ll pardon the pun). I won’t say I enjoyed it, because the story of Jimi Hendrix is not a happy story with a happy ending—and I do love happy endings. Based-on-fact films, however, are not famous for predictable, tied-in-a-bow endings—and I watch them for engagement and education, more than mere enjoyment. And “All Is By My Side” certainly succeeds in that sense.
I stumbled through a short-concert-for-no-one earlier today. It includes two of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Lieder Ohne Worte” (Songs Without Words), a song from Cole Porter’s classic musical “DuBarry Was A Lady”, entitled “Come On In”, and (as always) a brief piano improvisation of my own devising. I hope everyone, or anyone, enjoys listening to it as much as I enjoyed playing.
In other news, I’ve begun a song project. At the moment I have only a rough draft of the lyrics, given below—I invite comment and constructive criticism:
Chopped greens, yolks in a bowl,
The wooden spoon, the shakers, the mitt,
The stove-tops, all four, full,
As the oven glows and bakes.
Boy comes into a warm steamy kitchen,
Aroma says stew’s on the stove,
The sure cutting of mom, cooking…
“Get yer hand out of there!”
“You wanna lose a finger?”
“What the hell’s wrong with you?!”
A boy who wants, just wants,
Thinks of a cookie in a bear-shaped jar.
Having been chased off, he tip-toes
Toward the pantry, stubby fingers
Reach for the china head.
Eyes wide, mouth agape, boy
Approaches the granting of his sugary wish.
“Get yer hand out of there!”
“Can’t you see me cooking dinner?”
“You wanna RUIN your appetite?!”
Boy walks away, then skips a little,
Hums a tune—a nursery rhyme,
Spins around and starts to sing,
Dancing along, closing his eyes,
He pipes angelic notes,
Transported to a fairy-land
Of song and dance and freedom…
“Watch where yer going!”
“What is your problem?”
“Get out of my kitchen right now!”
Please note that the mother’s lines are meant to be contrastingly loud and screechy, very unmusical—while the verse is meant to be all soft and trilly and peaceful. I’m not sure what the song is about yet—I’m just amused by the idea of the really strong contrast between the narrator’s lyrics and the mother’s words.
Here’s a comment I wrote for an atheist’s video-post:
“Well, guy, I’m with you—but, as the many comments indicate, being rational goes against human nature. I find it amusing that the type of comment-rebuttal depends on the user’s level of zealotry. The almost-rational always take you to task for word-definitions, chains of sequence, and attitude of approach. The less rational take you on for misinterpreting scripture or failing to credit the creator of our ‘perfectly designed’ universe. The full-on crazies try to talk down to you as if you were a child, or an insane person. It’s pretty funny—someone should write a play about it…”
Sometimes, when I want to say something multi-layered on Facebook, I write it in Notepad and then paste it into the comment box—it’s easier to correct and re-word when I’m not typing straight into the Facebook text-box. However, Notepad doesn’t ‘translate’ my double-dashes into big dashes, or flag my mis-spells and poor grammar, like Word would do.
Then, because I hate to write down any thought without saving it, I cut and paste it into my Word running-journal-document—where everything gets corrected—but after I’ve paste/posted the Facebook comment, typos included. Why don’t I just use Word in the first place? Because I don’t expect to save my Facebook comments—even though I sometimes do. Plus, Notepad is straight ASCII text—it doesn’t transfer font or format from one app to another, as can happen with Word vs. Website.
Pete Cianflone came to jam today–again, no drums–used a garbage can.
There’s a lot of sillyness happening in these videos. The Cole Porter song, “A Little Skipper From Heaven Above”, is a crazy song about a pirate captain who announces to his crew that he’s about to have a baby, that he’s really been a girl in disguise all this time… my performance is atrocious, but watching Pete try not to laugh is worth viewing.
My performance on the Christmas Carols is equally horrendous, but I couldn’t resist getting some Xmas stuff with Pete down on digital–even if it is the day before New Year’s Eve.
The piano cover of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” will be familiar to my listeners (perhaps too familiar) but I like to bang it out now and then, just to update myself.
But I think the three short improvs we managed are the best of the day’s video ‘catch’. Pete tells me his brother, Richard, likes the ‘video FX’ that I often use, so excuse me if they’re a little crazier than usual–That’s for you, Richard!
Happy Holidays, everyone — and have an excellent New Year.
Well, I wish I’d posted this yesterday (It was Sequential Day, that is, the date was 12-13-14) But, I can only play when my aching back lets me, so today was the best I could do.
You have a choice with this post: you can read my boring-ass essay -or- you can listen to my silly-ass music–either way, please don’t forget to ‘like’ and ‘share’ or whatever.
“Baby Steps Among The Stars” – Part Two (Chap7)
Sounds easy—just place limits on money’s influence; allow it, where necessary, to be over-ruled by ecological or ethical considerations. But how? Much is made of the ‘revolving door’ of big-business executives and government regulators—doesn’t it invite corruption to have the same people flit between the leadership of these dangerous industries and the guardianship of the peoples’ interests, rights, and well-being vis-à-vis these industries? Certainly a conflict of interests is almost guaranteed by such intermingling. But what is the alternative? It doesn’t make much more sense to have all our potential regulatory chiefs be confined to those with no knowledge of the industry they monitor. Neither does it seem fair to ask a retiring federal regulator to find a job elsewhere than the industry in which he or she is a recognized expert.
And the power of Capitalism is likewise inherently bound up with the efficiency of our commerce—we can’t declare money invalid for one use and not another. If money has any purchasing power at all, it can ‘buy’ a person—or at least, their effort or their influence—which means that money can ‘buy’ exceptions to rules. The very versatility and anonymity that makes cash so useful also makes it impossible to confine to specific uses.
Worse yet, people are as much a part of the problem of Capitalism as its mechanisms. People, as has been mentioned above, are changed by both authority and submission to it—to be a boss affects one’s mind, as does being an employee. The office politics, the competition to climb the corporate ladder, the stress—all the unnecessary dramas produced by people under workplace conditions—are unavoidably caused by the nature of labor in business. This almost-biologically-mandated perversion of people in positions of authority has gotten much notice recently with regard to the police and their relationship to the communities they protect and serve. It would appear that any person given a gun to wear, and told to enforce the law, is in danger of becoming authoritarian, even violent towards those they ostensibly serve. But the same dynamics that obtain in that example are also true, to a certain extent, in any workplace where a manager is led astray by the urgings of power.
Because of this, it is safe to assume that, regardless of how many laws and regulations govern the workplace, it will always be an inherently unfair environment. Worse yet, this is only a statement of the influence of authority—it doesn’t even touch on the fact that people don’t necessarily arrive at a job with an intact, healthy psyche. People go through lots of stuff before they reach the legal age to get a job—and whatever traumas have formed their personalities are only exacerbated by ‘gainful employment’.
Indeed, this is true of people in general. Many are raised by less-than-perfect parents. Many are raised in religious fundamentalism, giving them a skewed perspective on reality. Many are raised in poverty, causing permanent fear and resentment towards those who live in comfort—and, conversely, being raised in wealth can lead many to become overbearing and dismissive towards the majority of the human race, particularly the poor.
The way we are raised, the conditions of our family and community life, the teachings of our spiritual leaders—all these things create a humanity that is far more disposed towards conflict than cooperation. The formation of an individual is so haphazard that a certain percentage of people can be expected to end up as murderers, rapists, thieves, and con-artists—and the rest of us are only relatively well-balanced. We are not perfect—we’re just good enough to stay out of prison, is all.
So when we speak of Civilization, of the Family of Man—or any such grand generalization—we are speaking in the aggregate of people who, as individuals, must each be considered potential time-bombs of anti-social behavior. And that behavior can take an infinite number of forms, from being crabby towards one’s own children, to being a cold-blooded dictator of an undeveloped nation. This clarifies the issue of ‘how can we be so self-destructive?” We can observe Humanity as a single entity, we can discuss Civilization as an overview of ourselves—but we have zero control over ourselves as a group.
Even when rules are so clear and exact as to describe a perfect situation, the troubles that live within each individual will eventually lead us to find ways to circumvent the spirit of the rules, to manipulate the letter of the rules, for selfish reasons. We have been in this race since Hammurabi’s Pillar, and even the lawyers find themselves working half the time in good faith with the law, and half the time working against it. When the rules get in the way of our dreams, we search for ways around the rules—it’s in our nature.
That’s us—nothing to be done about that. That was fine, back when the world was too enormous ever to be used up, back when God was in his Heaven, back before the Internet, when we weren’t on the cusp of quasi-AI and nanotech-enhanced, remote-presence medicine and self-contained, robotic Mars explorers. Now we don’t know whether to ban paraplegics from the Olympics because their hi-tech prostheses give an unfair advantage, or to baby-proof munitions factories so that single mothers can bring their kids to work.
In a recent broadcast, the discussion over e-share commerce brought out the point that Uber’s car service, while superior to existing urban transport, also circumvents a century’s worth of safety and regulatory legislation. This makes Uber both modern and primeval—they create a paradox by using modernity to circumvent civilization. (As of this writing, there is a news report that India has banned Uber due to a rape that occurred during a ride-share—an excellent example of the conflict between progress and human nature.)
Hacking has always been synonymous with coding—its only difference is in the suggestion of a rebel outlaw doing the coding. The term is important because software, like any tech, is open to both good and bad aims—but a hacker isn’t just a bad person who codes. Hacking can mean being a rebel, or a Robin Hood, who codes—possibly even a champion of human rights. Beyond that, the subject becomes one of syntax. But Hacking, as an activity, has also come to be synonymous with finding an easy way to solve or circumvent problems. So-called ‘life-hacks’ can be anything from the best way to refrigerate pineapple slices to the safest way to invest towards retirement. Hardly the acts of a criminal.
But Uber, and other e-share-oriented businesses, are busily pioneering the ‘corporate hack’, a digital backdoor that allows new forms of trade, free from the boundaries of written communication, brick-and-mortar competition, and civil oversight. These clever, new uses of the digital universe, however, create legislative loopholes faster than they generate new business models. The fly-by-night business, once confined to the mails, has now blanketed the globe via WyFy. A person without a physical location is not held back by the same constraints as a person who can be found behind the same counter on the day after you buy something unsatisfying from their shop. And when combined with computerized phone-answering, these businesses can even offer ‘customer service’ while still leaving the customer with no solid target for retaliation, or even complaint. Hence Yelp reviews, I guess.
So, complexity takes a quantum leap forward. Personal responsibility virtually evaporates. Global climate-change edges ever closer to global disaster. Population growth towers dizzyingly. Suddenly, our civilization is faced with an ultimatum—confine the term ‘civilization’ to mean only the one percent and consign the rest of us to savagery among ourselves -or- take a pick-axe to the existing paradigm through collective action. The first option is the most likely because it counts on the disorganized lack of action we can expect from ourselves as a group. The second option is far less likely, as it would require people, as a community, to act in their own best interest—something history tells us we have never, ever done before.
On the contrary, it seems that small, well-led groups of people are the only paradigm within which humanity can exert its greatest power. A team of dedicated people can be found at many of the central pivot-points of civilization’s history. Now, small groups empowered by technology, can accomplish incredible things—good and bad. Thus we witness the rise of SpaceX, a relatively new and tiny company that accomplishes things it once took a federal institution like NASA to orchestrate. And we see the birth of terrorist groups, without massive armies or host nations, capable of attacks on the world’s mightiest superpower. Even individuals have greater power than we ever dreamed—Snowden’s release of classified documents surprised us, in part, because it involved more pages of information than Edward, in an earlier age, could ever have moved without several large trucks—and he did it with a few clicks of a mouse, sending it all not just to one location, but virtually everywhere. That’s power—we all now have that power—any of us can send a mountain of information from one place to another, instantly.
Those of us old enough to appreciate the difference between then and now are hard pressed to encompass the meaning of such power as the digital age has conferred on us. Those young enough to take digital communication for granted have no idea how much the world will be changed by the growing inclusion of all seven billion of us into this information-empowerment. We tend to look at ‘progress’ as an ennobling evolution—that with great enough knowledge, surely wisdom must follow. But progress enables our fears as well, our greed and our bitterness—these things are provided with the same wings as our dreams.
So, at the end of all this trouble and woe, we find that improving ourselves and making things better for others is the most important progress of all.
But if truth is anything, it’s inconvenient. Take the Earth, for instance—looks flat, feels flat—and for hundreds of years, most people thought it was flat. Ancient Greeks who studied Philosophy (Science, before we called it that) knew that the world was round—some even calculated brilliant measurements that gave them a close approximation of the Earth’s diameter. Perhaps the Mayans, or the Chinese, maybe even the Atlanteans—knew similar stuff, but none of it mattered to Western Civilization during the Dark Ages. Most of ancient math and science would return to Europe during the Enlightenment via East, the caretakers of ancient knowledge during the chaos of post-Roman-Empire Europe—and, indeed, without that returning influx of science, Columbus may never have sailed.
These exceptions notwithstanding, the popular view was that the Earth was flat and arguing about it seemed a moot point. It was only after Columbus’s well-publicized return from the ‘New World’ that people began to see the globe, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a limitless expanse of unclaimed assets and resources. Now that there was land to be grabbed and money to be made, the world could be in the shape of a dodecahedron for all anyone cared. The truth of the world being round had ceased to be inconvenient.
But others remained. Now that we couldn’t avoid the image of all of us standing upright on the outside of a globe, gravitational force became another inconvenience. ‘Things fall down’ was no longer sufficient—because we now knew ‘down’ to be several different directions, and all of them inward, towards the center of the globe. Without Columbus’s voyages, there may not have been any cause for Newton to ponder the invisible force we call Gravity. But once his calculations produced the Laws of Motion, and the Calculus, it became possible to send a cannon-ball exactly where it would do the most damage. The truth of Gravity then went from inconvenient to useful—and physics was ‘born’. Between the chemists cooking up gunpowder and the mathematicians calculating parabolic arcs, the militant-minded leaders of early European states would forever-after find it convenient to shield the scientists from the witch-hunters and the clergy.
Science, however, would not confine itself to military uses. By the dawn of the twentieth century, we had begun to study ourselves. Archaeologists had studied our prehistoric past—and found it contained evidence of religion having evolved from primitive atavism to the modern churches. We discovered that God was a part of human lore, not of divine revelation—that God didn’t exist. This is the most inconvenient truth of all—and it has spawned a culture of debate, diversion, propaganda, indoctrination, and fundamentalist extremism. Half the world pines for the loss of innocence and simplicity—the other half is busy trying to undo science with suicide vests and beheadings.
I’ll always remain puzzled by this aversion to observable facts. We’ll trust science enough to take a ride across the globe in a multi-tonned, metal jet-airliner—but still hold it lightly enough that we pick and choose which science is convenient and which isn’t. Observable fact gets a bad rep—‘there’s more than meets the eye’; ‘all is not what it seems’; ‘the hand is quicker than the eye’—yes, observed fact can be misleading, but only because we feeble humans are doing the observing. Still, I consider the incompleteness of science to be a necessary characteristic of good science—observable fact may not be written in stone, but reproducible results are still of greater value than any other perspective has yet to offer mankind.
And the worst part is that we who believe in science are often so hard-pressed by theists that we shy away from the vital humanism that science lacks. It is, rather, all the more important to embrace what it means to be human in a world with no one to worship but ourselves. But we are too busy defending ourselves from people who would kill us in the name of their fairy tales.
My old friend and legendary drummer, Peter Cianflone, came by today. He forget to bring any equipment, but I made him use an overturned trash-can and an empty packing box. He’s such a good sport (and besides, Pete can play on anything!)
I found this video enjoys a heavy hand on the volume–unlike most of my stuff. But Pete’s a veteran rocker, so crank it up.
What a day! I wrote a song, “Obama Went A-Courtin”; I played through two challenging piano arrangements, George Shearing’s take on “If I Give My Heart To You” and Bob Zurke’s version of “I’m Thru With Love”; and I threw in a couple of short improvs, just for fun…
“If I Give My Heart To You”
by Jimmie Crane, Al Jacobs, Jimmy Brewster
(c) 1953 Miller Music Corp.
Piano Interpretation by George Shearing:
“I’m Thru With Love”
words by Gus Kahn
Music by Matt Malneck, Fud Livingston
(c) 1931 MGM Inc.
Piano Solo Arranged by Bob Zurke:
I keep to the extremes of classical piano music–I like to play the very old Baroque and Renaissance, or the very late Romantic and Modern composers for keyboard–but there are exceptions, to whit–Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (what little of his work is within my technical limits). But Johann Christian Bach (9/5/1735-1/1/1782) the “eleventh surviving child and youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He is sometimes referred to as ‘the London Bach’ or ‘the English Bach’, due to his time spent living in the British capital, where he came to be known as John Bach.” [Quoted from Wikipedia] He falls into the Early Classical, if speaking of the chronology of music history–and is said to have had some influence on Mozart’s works, or at least his concertos–personally, I have trouble hearing such subtleties, so I leave it to you to decide.
One reason I avoid the less titanic composers is that the music of the greats sings out pretty well–even under the fingers of a clumsy dabbler like me–but the delicate and simple music of mere demi-gods such as J.C. Bach really throws a spotlight on inadequate technique–and the poor technique throws it right back, lighting their creations with a guttering fluorescent bulb, rather than the warm sunlight of a proper performer. In spite of this, whenever I make a halfway-decent show of sight-reading some interesting music (and this IS that) I can’t resist posting the proof on YouTube. This is one of those times.
One last thing–I couldn’t blame anyone for passing on 30 minutes of inept classical piano, but you really should give today’s improv a try–it’s got a tangy Spanish flavor at the start that I’m very pleased to have discovered.
It’s dull and chilly and damp today. Hardly inspiring. My mood slips in and out of types: melancholy, disinterest, avidity, disinterest, persistence, disinterest…. All in all, a good day to go lie down.
Well, big mistake—I got back up again. I played Bach’s English Suite No. 5 in e minor, plus fore-and-aft improvs. I’m making the videos now—not as exciting as I might have wished, but something to do.
I’m thrilled with this sudden increase in my ability to sight-read and play piano in general—but there are limits. For instance, no one should be surprised if the last few dances from the English Suite sound a little raggedy—after the first twenty minutes, even ‘new, improved’ me wasn’t really bringing the awesome.
Still, it’s so nice to be going through a slight improvement, for once—I can’t help but get carried away…
An online Facebook-meme mentioned Pain and Rose Kennedy yesterday and, shooting from the hip, I commented, ‘Pain is the Teacher—and I fear poor Rose was over-educated’. A freshet of comments debating the point followed. I was tempted to add a second comment but, as I thought on it, I realized it would be rather lengthy—and here we are:
Pain teaches us lessons which we can never share. Those whose lives are mercifully light in such lessons enjoy an ignorance that is not to be despised. Such lucky folks see the world in a brighter light. We who have experienced pain are forever adjusted to see the world as a place where pain is a constant. The more we suffer, the more prepared we are for more suffering—it doesn’t surprise us and it doesn’t destroy our existing perspective on life.
Young people, simply due to the time factor, are ordinarily ignorant of the sudden changes that loss can bring—and the few who receive an early education find themselves lost among their peers, stripped of the bottomless optimism of youth. Old people, by the same notion, are almost unanimous in their expectation of worse times to come—and the optimistic oldster is a rare find.
Pain is random—it can average out, over large groups, over time—but it strikes here and there, willy-nilly. Pain comes in a variety of flavors—loss due to death, loss due to absence, loss of health or limb or sense, the pain of wounds and insults, existential pain, loneliness, anger, despair—and it can have a wide spectrum of intensity, from annoyance to overwhelming grief.
Our adventures in pain grant us a depth of character—our extrapolations are broadened beyond ‘wishful thinking’, our precautions stretched to include the ‘probably not’. We foresee potential pitfalls with a clarity that can mystify the more rose-colored-sighted. We ride out the surf and chop of Fate’s dice-game with equanimity of expectation—and in so doing, we often avoid risks that appear vanishingly small to the less pain-evolved, making us appear dull, even cowardly.
The challenges of youth often require a madness of bravado to overcome—the winning of a mate, the starting of a career, the invention of something new—such youthful pursuits often mandate a blindness to caution that takes a parent’s breath away. And many of the good die young—statistically, anyway. The late teens and young adulthood both have a terrific death rate—and that rate drops to almost nothing (relatively) for those who make it through to full adulthood and middle-age—we don’t start dying again until old age. Thus we see that an early education in Pain can cripple the developmental course of a child—they need that heedlessness to puncture the seal of adulthood and find a place among the independently-living. That some will die in the attempt is simply the cost of doing business, if you will.
By the same token, adults who lack the normal familiarity with struggle and loss are often dismissed as immature. These lucky people have lives of surprising peace, and peace of mind—but their judgment cannot be trusted with regard to the big, bad world of adulthood. They can still be caught unaware by troubles the rest of us have long been familiar with—making them dangerous people to have in charge of adult responsibilities.
So Pain divides us—not in twain, but into two spectra. Our experiences, particularly our unpleasant experiences, give us a perspective on what we falsely assume are absolutes—good and bad, progressiveness and conservatism, risk and safety—even life and death. Death, especially. Our lives are line segments, with the two end-points of birth and death. Our exposure to pain dictates how easily we overlook this simple fact. Life can be lived without any thought of death—but pain solidifies death in our minds, making it more real with every loss.
Those of us who know this would never want to teach it to those who don’t. Ignorance of pain is a blessing—no one wants to tell the kids the truth about Santa Claus. And those who do not know pain’s lessons can never learn them second-hand—so it would be a waste of time to try.
As an atheist, I see this more than I used to. An atheist’s first impulse is to share ‘enlightenment’ with those who are ‘deluded’ by faith—but faith is a valuable mind-set, keeping believers happy, hopeful and secure. What point is there to destroying that? I save my atheist rantings for those who have been hurt by faith, or those whom faith has failed to succor—they actually need an alternative. The rest I leave alone—it’s not my job to make the world see things my way—particularly at the expense of others’ happiness.
We grew up in Bethpage, Long Island, absorbing the conventions of the times. Our dad (well, everyone’s dad) went to work every day and our mom stayed home and did homely stuff. We siblings lived in well-justified fear of their anger, drunkenness, or just lousy moods. No one mentioned sex (I heard about it later on, from other people). Authority was absolute—and punishment knew no limits. Homosexuality, women’s reproductive health, domestic abuse, incest, rape, bigotry and anti-Semitism didn’t exist—in spite of the mystifying glimmers of such things all around us.
Women simply weren’t the equal of men. Ethnic humor was a riot—we could just ask Jose Jimenez. Drinking and smoking were what grown-ups did—and there was nothing wrong with that. Driving a car as fast as possible was a God-given right (our major highways had no speed limits until the seventies)—and driving safety was the other guy’s problem.
It was a machine of a world—one knew that standing in the road meant being run down, and that it would be one’s own fault for getting in the way of the car. ‘Family values’ were survival tools—if dad got mad enough to put us out on the highway and keep driving, we would surely be devoured by the cold world lurking outside the family circle.
If we got in trouble Christmas morning, if they raged and screamed at us—we’d better shake it off and get back into Christmas-cheer mode when we arrived at Gramma’s house, or we’d be in even deeper trouble. “If you don’t cheer up and have fun, I’m gonna beat the living hell out of you.”—that sort of ‘reasoning’.
Actually, ‘reason’ was the most dangerous material a person could handle back then, especially a kid. Being the logical winner of a debate with an angry father makes a child anything but the ‘winner’. “Don’t get smart with me.” “Don’t be a wise-ass.” “Because I’m your father and I said so, godammit.” “Just shut up and do what you’re told.” These were but a few of the idiomatic gems we lived with.
We lived insular lives—no history beyond our own lifetimes, no society outside our own neighborhoods. We felt perfectly right to classify anyone with unusual interests as an oddball—even reading a book made someone a target of ridicule (Who the hell’d they think they were—Einstein?)
You, dear reader, may have lived a better version of this in your childhood, or perhaps an even worse version—or you may not even be old enough to know what I’m talking about. The fact remains—the developed world (and not so very long ago) was not a civilization, it was a Neanderthal’s fantasy of civilization.
Any real question of ethics was put off to the priests—and the priests were put off till Sunday. Any real appreciation of the arts was the domain of homosexuals (or, in the parlance of the times, ‘sexual deviants’—or just plain ‘perverts’). Any issue of philosophy, not to mention hard fact, was left to college professors—funny little men (like Einstein) who may know book-learning but who had no practical knowledge of any worth and were, therefore, idiots.
In the 1960s, thoughts and ideas and ethics and personal expression became subjects of news reporting. They didn’t know that, of course—they thought they were reporting on men growing long hair, boys burning draft cards, and girls burning bras—but they were unknowingly publicizing the value of individual thought as equal to the value of convention. The underdeveloped world continued with their focus on who was stronger, who could kill who—but we had finally begun to talk about who was ‘righter’. And through the practice of civil disobedience, we often proved that right had its own kind of might.
Intellectual awareness made a few gains, but pencil-necked geeks were still targets of society’s abiding heroes—the fit, the rich, the unremarkably normal. Then electronics stepped in and by the 1980s, being ‘smart’ had the potential to become ‘rich and powerful’—and the era of the mind had begun.
The context of our lives is now moot. What once was common sense is now the height of ignorance. What was propriety is now bigotry. What was manly is now sexist. What was feminine is now self-loathing. Trust in authority became paranoia. Progress became pollution. And capitalism has become slavery (or rather, it has finally been recognized for what it always was). These are good changes—this is progress—but that doesn’t ease our confusion.
Now we must second-guess every thought, every word, and every assumption. We live with dual minds, judging our surroundings by two conflicting perspectives, repressing most of what we ‘knew’ in favor of what we now ‘understand’. Life is complicated—and not everyone is comfortable with that.
Prior to this, the physically weak were the losers—we pitied them (or ourselves, depending on genes and physique) but otherwise relegated them to the ‘unimportant’. Nowadays, the intellectually weak are the losers—but for some reason, they have retained importance. An ignoramus like Sarah Palin can become a public figure. Idiocy like Creationism can be taught in public schools. Neo-Jim-Crow local law-enforcers feel empowered to gun down young, African American men at the slightest whim. Politicians even celebrate reactionary ignorance, as evidenced by the Tea Party.
So it isn’t confusing enough to come from institutionalized repression into a society just beginning to embrace reason—we have to deal with the sore-losers who want to move back into the cave, as well. God forbid we ever do things the easy way.
Reason is dangerous. Being a billionaire while millions starve is unreasonable—if we embrace reason, what horrible fate befalls the poor billionaire? Manufacturing weapons in a violent world is unreasonable—but that is not a problem so long as we are willing to put all the reasonable people in front of a firing squad. Reason precludes religion—but what good is reason if life isn’t a prelude to ‘an eternal afterlife in paradise’? Who wants to see the world as it is when, if we shout loud and long enough, we can insist the world is what we choose to believe?