It was fun playing with Pete yesterday, as always—we did Sixties covers and an improv at the end—shorter than usual, but I’ve been somewhat fatigued lately—this post also has two solo videos I’ve been trying to upload for a few days.
I enjoyed the annual arrival of March 4th on Saturday (You know… ‘What’s the only day of the year that’s like a military command?’) The worse a joke is, the better I like it. It was also brother Russell’s birthday the previous day, March 3rd—had he lived, he would have been 59 last Friday.
Lots of politics in the news—but I’ve decided it’s all a big conspiracy—the politicians, the media, the wealthy, the corporations—they do their little school play and we all applaud, like they’re responsible grown-ups instead of empty suits with staring fish-eyes. As Al Pacino once said, “I’d like to take a blowtorch to this place.” Now that they have us arguing amongst ourselves over what’s true, we’re doomed—they’re even dropping any pretense of ethics, they have us so locked up—it’s pitiful.
So I’m taking the night off from playing their bull-pucky games. I tell you what really gets me—the pretension to respectability, so transparent, so far removed from actual respectability. All we expect of them is that they can speak intelligently about the job they’re supposed to be doing—and they can’t even get that much together.
But pose? Man, can these monkeys pose. I suppose, given the majority of them having no ethics, it’s just as well they don’t know much. But enough about politicians—competent people are hard put to throw themselves in with mongrels and such saintly folk are thus eternally doomed to labor in the minority—like Warren, Franken, and Sanders. My blogging, about what that gang of thugs in Washington is doing, is even less effective.
Well, there goes my plan to write something cheery. Dammit.
What can I say? I’m not a chipper guy. And I really am feeling tired lately—it’s not helping. I think I have political depression—they’ve changed our democracy into a reality show/game show/talk show—and I get depressed remembering the good old days—when people still had working heads and democracy was a serious responsibility. Remember? It was just four years ago.
Anyway, thanks as always to Pete, for being such a good sport about playing music with me—and for being such a good friend.
Spencer gave me a music book for Xmas—piano arrangements of works by Joe Hisaishi, a famous composer of anime films by Studio Ghibli and video game music, he’s also issued some albums. I’m loving getting to know this stuff—the melodies are fantastic, but bear with me—it’s not every day I get new sight-reading material and it’s still unfamiliar ground. I plan to post covers of every piece in the book, eventually.
I’m still digging myself out from under the profusion of photos received and recordings made during the holidays and the rest of this month. Today’s posted videos include one from a month ago, and three from a week ago—but they also include over one hundred photos that I’ve just gotten to processing. So, nothing in today’s posts is recent except the effort.
You’ll excuse some of the holiday photos—there’s still mostly nothing but baby pictures, so you can live with a few ornaments. That baby gets cuter every time I look. I barely listen to myself play the piano on these videos anymore—I just gaze at my adorable granddaughter and remember her recent visit.
It’s been a long week—but I used the time to get my backlog cleared, so it wasn’t a total loss. I needed to have a lousy day or two, just to convince myself that photo-shopping picture after picture was a pleasant enough way to pass the time, compared to the rest of what was going on around me—so, there’s no cloud but has a silver lining, once more.
I long to return to a time when I play for the camera, process the video or videos, and post them to YouTube—all in the same day. This playing catch-up is for the birds—and I’ve got a crick in my neck from repetitive keystrokes during the hours of photo-shopping. I’ve gotten to where I prefer receiving videos of the baby, rather than a slew of photographs—much less processing involved for five minutes’ worth of background graphics.
Enough shop-talk. Sometimes, I swear, I type just to hear myself think. This blog is supposed to at least try to be interesting.
Pete has Left the Building. Ladies and gentlemen, the legendary, the incomparable—Pete Cianflone!! The Buds-Up Symphony Hall-Space welcomes you to return to us soon and—have a safe drive home now.
What a day—Pete came by (as you may have surmised) and brought with him an old drawing of mine—Joanna Binkley wanting to return it for safekeeping—for which I thank her. It’s great to see an artifact from the steady-hand-and-sharp-eye days of yore. I was pretty good, while it lasted.
And I had something to show Pete—Bea Kruchkow forwarded an archival copy of Newsweek—from 1989—a ‘look back’ at 1969 (then, a ‘whole’ twenty years ago). Time sure is funny. Funny—ha-ha, not funny like fire.
So anyway, after girding our hairy-purple loins, we set forth to do battle upon the field of sound. First we did a selection of Spirituals that are traditionally connected with Christmastime—and for good measure, threw in two popular songs of Xmas as well.
We did two rounds, or maybe three, of improvisation—I can’t remember. One of them is very loosely based on the Swanky Modes tune, “Any Ordinary Man” (from “Tapeheads” (1988)). Movie-credits soundtracks often have something catchy about them that makes me go straight from the end of the movie to the piano, to try and find the melody of what I just heard. That was the case, yesterday, with Tapeheads—but I soon realized, after finding the notes, that this was one of those energetic songs that I’d have a hard time keeping up with. But Pete had never heard the song—and I’m not exactly a natural-born blues-player—so it’s a toss-up whether you want to call it a bad cover, or just a different piece of music.
Pete and I were happy with all of it, so that’s all that matters. Poor Bear has had an uncomfortable head-cold for three days now—why is it impossible for the holidays to pass without colds? Spence has been renovating the attic room and the cellar, preparing for our royal visitation later this month—all must be just so, ya know. It’s quite something to have an infant come into a house that hasn’t seen one in years—I’ve started noticing dust where I was hitherto dust-blind.
It’s a sign of just how busy life can be—the Buds-Up ensemble has nothing to show for last November. We try to gather once a month, but even that tiny schedule can be impossible to keep to, in this hurrying, rattling time-stream. Still, I’m pleased enough that we had such a good time, today—I think it makes up for the gap—and I hope people enjoy these as much as we enjoyed playing them.
It’s been a busy day—rarely on any December 7th do I fail to stop and think about the ‘day of infamy’. A Japanese Prime Minister visited Pearl Harbor last week—the first-ever Japanese State Visit to the site—and this is the 75th anniversary of the start of the War. There are many Pearl-Harbor-themed movies on TV today—I guess I’ll go watch some of my favorites.
My Dad was a war-movie fan—we used to watch John Wayne movies on TV in the living room—my Dad was a Marine in Korea. Watching war movies is the closest I’ve ever been to actual murder among men—I don’t mind, I tell you. I respect the hell out of veterans like my Dad—but I don’t feel bad about living an un-blooded life. I suspect I would have made a lousy soldier anyway.
December 7th is special though—there’s something awesome about an entire globe in conflict—it may have been evil and stupid and lots of other things—but it was ‘awesome’, in the literal sense of the word, without the implication of admiration young people give the word today. It fills one with awe.
A long and productive day—Pete came by, we recorded most excellent musical diatribes, but he had to cut our visit short and return to the world from whence he came. Then Joanna came by to see Pete—moments too late, very frustrating—but she and I had a pleasant visit, at least. This time I remembered to take a picture:
Today’s posts bring my total YouTube uploads to 2,005. Of those, 59 are videos of Pete Cianflone and me, collaborating together on improvisations and song covers. The audio-cassette archives of our 20th-century recordings are lost in the mists of time—after many years of pursuing separate paths, we resumed our monthly journey together in January, 2014. It’s all on YouTube: Pete n’Me playlist
I’ll grant you, it’s an uneven catalog (always with the caveat that the problems are all mine—Pete’s a professional who’s nice enough to indulge me) but as we’ve gone along, Pete has figured out an impossible trick—drumming for a pianist with no sense of rhythm. He always makes me sound better than I sound by myself—it’s really something. Today’s videos are a perfect example—no matter how badly I mess up, Pete keeps things going.
Well, it’s been a very busy week. I think I’ll go back to bed for a few days.
Now that the ‘ill wind’ of the GOP has bloviated sufficient extremism to fill a Gag Reel of non-presidential character, or lacking character of any sort, really, we might be deluded into sitting back and breathing a sigh of relief—but that would be a mistake. Trump sprang from the mulch he grew out of—the GOP itself is the same cold-blooded, empty-spirited anti-Americanism that Trump is—he only ‘let it all hang out’, rather than the GOP’s normal tactic of ‘teaching the controversy’, or as I like to call it, hyper-bullshitting.
Vainly trying to find rationales for the worst side of people—exclusion, xenophobia, isolationism, and heedless greed—the GOP has played Devil’s Advocate long enough for us to drop the ‘Advocate’ and call them by their true name. Paying taxes for the good of the common welfare is no sin. Welcoming those who thirst for a better way of life is no crime. Insisting that the least of us get the same rights and respect as the rest of us is not faintness of heart—neither is being unable to succeed, through no fault of one’s own.
They reach into our darkest desires and fears—they tell us to blame and to suspect—they take advantage of our desperation, dangling false promises in our view. The GOP are the orcs to the Democrat’s elvish. How anyone can fall for their nonsensical prating eludes me—it is an abandonment of reason and judgment that I would not think most people capable of—yet it deludes a good half of all Americans.
I would have thought the ‘whoops’ war, and the cratered economy, would have woken up voters to the glaring truth. Failing that, one would hope people noticed the Congress they elected has devoted the last eight years to neglecting the people –with an iron resolve usually reserved for doing something productive. And if all that wasn’t enough, you have the specter of Trump—the high prince of unreason—leading them into a tomorrow full of open, blatant hate and fury.
If you vote for any GOP candidate this election, Trump or otherwise, I wash my hands of you as an American—I don’t know where the hell you came from, but you can go on back now. Just kidding. That’s what the ignorant tend to shout—‘Go back where you came from’—even though they shout it at their neighbors, hence their ignorance. I get it, though—if I blame someone else for my problems, then it feels good to shout at them to go away.
I’m sick and tired of this election—I’ve always seen Hillary as the obvious choice; I’ve always viewed Trump as a nothing with an ego; and the longer this circus drags on, the more ludicrous the coverage becomes. But I’m angry at the glacial time-frame of political change—our lives change overnight, and have done for a long time.
Our politics have got to become more pragmatic—we have to talk about grown-up stuff and shunt aside the childish whinings of those who want to turn back the clock (but only in their favor). We have to demand transparency from government, we have to start expecting results, and we have to start voting for people who hold themselves accountable—because we sure can’t do it, after we elect them. With all the work that needs to be done, I really don’t want to hear any more bon mots from the Donald. I don’t want to hear people give Hillary any more crap—you try running the effing State Department—or help run a global charitable foundation.
I don’t suppose it occurred to any journalistic geniuses to research what, if anything, the Clinton Foundation has done—that story doesn’t grab clicks, I guess. But as a viewer, I wouldn’t mind hearing about it—even if it was just boring stuff about trying to make poor people’s lives better. But no, better we stick with vague suppositions about financial hanky-panky—that makes a better news chyron. But at all costs, please don’t inject anything other than the presidential race—that would imply that it isn’t the only thing that matters to everyone. Where would that leave your ratings?
The entire state of Louisiana got flooded and sixteen people died—that’s a tragedy—not to mention tens of thousands of homes destroyed, or at least their contents and first floors—nearly the same thing. But 1,245 victims died in Katrina, 233 deaths were attributed to Hurricane Sandy—much smaller disaster areas—that makes 16 a pretty small number, President Obama—go on with your golf game until your scheduled Tuesday visit. It isn’t the presidential presence that makes the difference—it’s the preparedness and the organization of the relief effort—and Louisiana gets a gold star. The Katrina disaster was an education as well as a tragedy.
I found it amusing these last two weeks that many news shows, especially the NBC network family, were able to suspend their laser-focus on the presidential race to watch the Rio Olympics in awesome detail. But then it was right back to all politics all the time. Would that all the news shows would have the integrity to continue to report on the rest of the country, and the world, and still find time for Trump and the stupid things he says. Perhaps Hillary will be caught on tape, hiccupping during a speech—think of the infinite attacks springing to mind among the Trump campaign staff. But you journalists have minds too—maybe you can find other things to report besides Trump’s latest hiccup-gate comment.
Okay, I give up. Yes, the computer room needs an air conditioner. In this heat I waver from wanting to stay in the cool bedroom, or coming out here to the hot-box and typing on my PC. I can be comfortable and bored, or engaged and sweating like a pig. Neither one is working right this minute—and I always decide I need A/C on the weekend, when I have to wait until Monday to order one. What a schmo.
I just got back from the supermarket. Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pastas and Progresso hearty soups—it’s a can festival. Also some hot dogs. Now that I know I can make it into next week without shopping for a while, I feel better—plus, call me picky, but I like to eat dinner almost every day. I bought dill pickles and pickled sausage bites and some Laughing Cow and those round cheeses in the net-bag.
I found the world’s best microwavable breakfast—Eggo’s bacon-egg-and-cheese waffle-meals. And I grabbed some Polar Bears (Heath bar flavored). I was worried about getting those two things home and in our freezer before they were ruined—I think I made it.
Sunday, August 14, 2016 12:48 PM
“98.6” by Keith—what a great tune. It lifts my spirits. I collect one-hit wonders—the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of the music world—strange artifacts that belong to no movement or genre but their own personal musical ‘ear’. There are a surprising number of them—and it’s sad in a certain way. Think about it—you can try for a musical career, spend a few years touring local bars and clubs, then peter out from lack of determination or lack of audience interest—or you can get lucky and hit it big, get signed to a label, tour big venues, the whole nine. But with a one-hit wonder, the artists are served the success-banquet and then have the whole thing snatched from their mouths after the first course. The same amount of grueling giggery, PR, lawyers, fans, and yet more giggery—then the promise of fame and fortune—then the almost instant fading of it all—how hard that must be. I love one-hit wonders—but I truly feel for the artists that make them.
And it begs a question that often haunts a sixty-year-old would-be artist like myself: Is there a finite amount of creativity in each of us, to one extent or another? Would Beethoven’s Tenth have been anti-climactic? Did Van Gogh kill himself because he had used all the colors in every way he could imagine—and was loathe to repeat himself? Was Dickens’ last novel just ‘more of the same’? In olden times an artists could be satisfied with just one single ‘masterwork’. Of course, if one is capable of that, there was probably a bunch of stuff one could do—Michelangelo did sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry, but he did some things better than others.
But today, with the ‘industrialized’ arts, if you can have a hit record, contracts are drawn up by the money-people, as if to say, “Well, anyone who can please the public can continue to do so forever”. There is no recognition of the possibility that what makes someone creative may be the same thing that bridles at being expected to play those songs every day for years, or come up with another whole album of ‘more’. What the hell is ‘more’ when dealing with inspiration? And how can we expect inspiration to stick to a release deadline?
We think of art as a job. It was never a job. The musicians that played at weddings and dances were just the folks who had a knack for music—they had day jobs. The artists of old weren’t working on canvas—they were carving sculptures into the furniture they made, painting landscapes with glazes on the pots they were throwing. The ‘career’ thing started with court appointments—Michelangelo was part of his Pope’s court, Bach worked for his church choir until his fame made him a member of the household of the Duke of Brandenburg.
These early artists didn’t do anything but their art—but they were servants to royalty, at their beck and call—even with regard to subject matter and style. No artists made a living from their art except the travelling troupes of entertainers—and they were mostly fugitives, working sub-rosa in a culture that forbade merriment in general—criminals of art, in effect. No individual musicians made a living concertizing until the nineteenth century. The monetization of art has a fascinating history—but it is a history of the deformation of the original impulse to art.
Sunday, August 14, 2016 6:48 PM
I’ve made a nice video that contains our granddaughter’s latest pictures and, in between the two improvs, a piano cover of Cole Porter’s “Tomorrow”—so I tried to throw in some entertainment. It’s difficult to create a video under these rolling thunderstorms—I’m a computer hack since back in the ‘80s—lightning is my mortal enemy. I always rush to power down the PC when the lightning gets too proximate.
Usually a storm comes and I call it a day, computer-wise. But with this kind of late summer weather, I can either play the margins or wait for Fall—intermittent thundershowers are forecast for the foreseeable future.
So, I’m going to upload my video and get off until tomorrow—it’s hot and muggy even when the sun breaks through. Only a fool gets stressed on Sunday. Bear returns next Thursday, thank goodness.
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!
Sherryl Marshall had her annual recital next door last night—I traditionally kick things off, since I’m shameless enough to do it—and it helps put the others at ease to see me mess things up (which I do) and not have the world come to an end. Everybody gets up and sings a song or three—I did “Masquerade”, “Maybe”, and “Marching Along Together”, all from the 1930s, and all (as Claire pointed out) from the ‘M’ section of my songbook. I’ve played my parents’ old songbook for decades, but still I had to rehearse these three for a few days beforehand, just to be comfortable performing them in front of other people (something I only do this one time each year, excepting Xmas-caroling sing-alongs).
Afterwards, when I got home, I was like an old car that keeps backfiring for a while after you turn off the ignition—spazzing and making involuntary exclamations—like the police were coming for me or something. I’m really not cut out for public performance. But then there is also a feeling of having made it through an ordeal, which is very satisfying. I spent most of today just basking in the fact that it was over with, and that I hadn’t screwed it up too badly.
I don’t get out of the house much. It’s wonderful of Sherryl to include me in these annual recitals—I’m not even one of her students. She says it makes the other students comfortable to see a neighbor there, that it makes it more casual—but I think she’s just being very kind to her shut-in, next-door neighbor. And these annual concerts help to remind me why I don’t try to perform more often on my own—it’s terrifying. I only do it that once each year—I don’t know how Sherryl has the courage to do it for a living. But then, she’s a real musician—a professional—and I imagine that gives a person more confidence when they stand up in front of a crowd.
I wish I could offer you some video from the concert, but I left my camera at home—I didn’t expect my singing to be worth recording. This re-enactment video will show you why—I guess I do better under pressure. Or maybe it was the setting—I don’t know.
Also, I want to wish all you mothers out there a very happy mother’s day!
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”:
Well, let’s see, lately I’ve watched “Bridge Of Spies”, which was fantastic, “Suffragette”, which was beautifully made, and some other movie that escapes me at the moment—no reflection on the movie—I just have a swiss-cheese brain. I did a nice post the other day, “Lachrymosa Regina”, which is about as good as my writing gets—and a new improv, “Suffragette” (which I named in honor of the film) which is about as good as my piano-playing gets—so I’ve had a banner post-birthday few days. Claire and I watched the last hour of the Super Bowl last night, waiting for Stephen Colbert—but the game ran long and Claire had to give up and go to sleep—I only saw Tina Fey, his first guest—I fell asleep before Will Ferrell came on.
That’s my autobiography of the last few days—pretty insular stuff—I did take at least one walk up and down the street outside my house during that time—not much, but I did see the sun. And I just recorded another decent improv (I think—I still have to listen to the playback). Okay—I just listened to the playback—I’d forgotten that, about one minute in, I’m trying to figure out Tom Wait’s “Jersey Girl” (I just heard it during the credits of the eponymous Kevin Smith film)—I only get a few chords from the chorus before I give up and start improvising, but it does kinda drag down the whole recording—which is, otherwise, as good as I’d hoped it was while I played it.
I also recorded a cover of the old Association hit, “Cherish” (by Terry Kirkman)—which I bang on quite wildly—like the piano owed me money or something—but that’s how I play when I think I’m being expressive—maybe I should take anger-management—but I think the problem goes too deep for group therapy to fix.
It’s a long way from sheet music to video—I started this holiday season with the idea that I could video myself performing an entire book of Christmas songs and carols. I play them cover-to-cover every December, and most of the songs in the different songbooks are the same—there’s only so many traditional holiday songs that remain popular over the years. Carols and such have to be good songs, but they also have to be accessible to the untrained voice, and catchy, without being too challenging for the average kid to sing.
It’s its own genre of music—but don’t be fooled—some of these babies are just as demanding to play on the piano as your average piece of classical music—it may be for the kids, but it’s not kid-stuff to play. There are pared-down versions, of course—but it took me some years to be able to play the intermediate versions—and I don’t like to backslide.
Also, I pretty much have to sing along. It’s more difficult to sing while I play, but I know most of the words—and what’s a Christmas song without the words, after all? Anyway, the thing is—I start to record the songs—and I find that the recordings are not as good as they felt like, while I played them. So then I try again—and by playing the songs more than once, I hope to get a useable recording of each—but then the camera’s battery died just as I was getting warmed up—and an hour of playing goes unrecorded. The next day, I try again, but now my back hurts and my fingers are stumble-y.
I consider backing off, taking a day or two off from playing piano—but then I realize that if I don’t keep going, I’ll forget what I was doing (this is a common problem for me). So I keep pushing when I should be resting—suffice to say I won’t be publishing ‘recordings of entire songbooks’ on YouTube anytime soon. But I got a few done.
Sunday, November 29, 2015 9:55 AM
Okay, Christmas carols—Now, I’ve made no secret of my atheism so someone might reasonably ask why I’m so crazy about the holiday music. Well, firstly, I love music—and the holidays provide the only real opportunity to suggest a sing-along, outside of a boy-scout campfire, without hearing a chorus of moans in reply. Besides that, there’s also the matter of childhood memories—when I was a kid, we not only sang Christmas carols around the piano, we still went to midnight mass.
The carols are fun to sing and play, but they lose a bit of luster when you no longer ‘feel’ the lyrics the way a young, Catholic-indoctrinated boy does. Nowadays, I am comfortable enough in my atheism to allow some nostalgia for faith—to allow myself to pretend to still believe while I’m singing—and the thrill is back, to a certain small degree. For me, there’s no smidgen of cognitive dislocation involved at Christmastime—what with the irony of Santa Claus being a belief we grow out of, and Christ being a belief we’re supposed to maintain. But it is just that irony that now allows me to pretend that Christmas is what it once was—at least while I’m singing.
I would, if I could figure out how, prefer to make videos of a crowd of carolers—a video of just me, singing and playing carols, lacks something in the holiday-cheer department—but I have to work with what I have available.
Saturday, November 28, 2015 11:25 AM
Treacly Ever After (2015Nov28)
Have a holly-jolly…. Oh, hello there! And welcome to the dreamy snowflake happy kids express—yes, it’s that time of year again—and if you share my sickness, you’re once again binge-watching the Hallmark Channel’s offerings of Christmas-themed TV movies—partly because it’s crack for the romantics and partly because it’s a fascinating infinite loop of wishes coming true and impossible dreams coming true and fantasy—and while that may not be, as Hallmark claims, ‘the heart of Christmas’, it is certainly the heart of good TV.
Last night was an especially rich vein of fantasy—two movies which both combined Christmas miracles with becoming a princess: “A Crown For Christmas” and “A Princess For Christmas”. It got me thinking about how royalty is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in anymore—and how Santa Claus is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in after grade school—and how Christianity is an old-fashioned type of myth that many people still believe in. I think it’s odd how these Hallmark Channel movies focus so much on fantasies and miracles and dreams coming true—it’s as if theism has a market value, and this holiday-centric company is willing to intermingle Christianity with other, admittedly-pretend ideas—just for the entertainment value—in spite of how it lumps Faith in with childhood imagination and wishful thinking.
It’s like they’re admitting that Christianity is more of a ‘feel-good’ idea than a fact—something we keep as a tradition more for the sake of innocents and children rather than as a core belief—it’s quite undermining, if you think about it. There are so many of their Santa-based plot-lines that end with the kids being right all along—there is a Santa Claus—and that seems a dangerous concept to mix in with Christianity, which expects followers to keep believing into adulthood. Are they trying to say that real Christians believe in Santa Claus, too—even though the grown-ups are buying their kids the presents, and know full well that if they don’t, there’ll be nothing under the tree?
Or are they saying that Christianity is just an idea—and you have to do all the work yourself? Because, I’m sorry, but that’s Humanism—atheism with a smiley face. Now, if Christianity is just a thing for the kids, like Santa Claus, and all us grown-ups are supposed to play along, both for the kids’ sake and because it’s just a nice thing—that’s cool—I can get on board with that. It’s just when some very serious grown-up, like a politician, starts talking about how we should sprinkle magic-dust on public policy—that’s what I can’t deal with. If we could keep religion at the Santa Claus level, where we only talk seriously about it when we talk to kids, but laugh about it amongst ourselves, that would be fine with me. Maybe that’s why I like the Hallmark Channel.
Void unimaginable, an ocean without a floor or shore
Floating there I wait and see only distance and space
No company to joke with—no more after or before
Floating where eternity dances yet hides its face
With feet that never find a place
And I am small amid the vastness
And I am lost among the stars
And I am never going to see again the green
And I am stuck forever in between
And if I died no one would know it
And if there’s hope no one will show it
In this vastness
The power of nothingness overwhelming my mind
No chink in the every of everywhere always
No feature or landmark remaining to find
Come speak to me love—(I don’t care what she says)—
Say what you will but please say Yes.
Face and Bubbles – Collage
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:10 AM
Well, I may have gone a little too dark on this poem—I tried to pull the nose up, at the end—but maybe too little too late. Anyway, the point is that too much solitude is as mentally unhealthy as too little sunlight is physically unhealthy. Love is necessary, or friendship—even simple companionship which, while not as profound, may be easier to come by—I’ll take anything to break that recursive loneliness loop that eventually drives one insane.
The new pictures are made with my new oil pastels—I haven’t quite got the hang of them yet. I’ve always had a problem with color—I tend to use them all. I like prisms and rainbows—I’m very democratic, even inclusive, when it comes to color.
The piano cover of “Autumn In New York” goes well with all the gold and orange leaves outside my window—my voice—maybe not so much. I threw in the other three covers just because. I’m struggling with my improvs lately—I have been trying to make them better for decades, but I feel like I can’t find anything new anymore—we’ll see—maybe I’ll have an epiphany or something. In the meantime, I’m just trying to sound entertaining.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 10:38 AM
Real Progress (2015Oct27)
In just a few days, we will have reached the one-year mark on our presidential campaign—I can’t help wondering what the previous twelve months of back and forth were supposed to accomplish, other than to fill air time on cable-news shows and politics-based social media threads. It’s hard to stomach all the focus on ‘who it will be’ without any concern about ‘what will they do’. Yet, with the right-wing, those are the same question—a tea-party candidate will do nothing—except try to keep others from doing anything—that’s their whole agenda.
Likewise, a moderate Republican will do nothing—not for lack of trying, but because of their tea-party brethren. And even a Democrat will get done only as much as the executive office allows—because the House and Senate are still firmly in the hands of the GOP. The only real hope for governmental or legislative action is if the Democrats can find a way to win back those Congressional seats, as well as win the White House. So this presidential campaign obsession is just the usual media focus on the inconsequential. Ben Carson (not to mention Trump) is a scary possibility—but the odds of anyone but white males voting for either one is so low as to make their chances in a general election ‘slim to none’.
The same can be said of Bernie Sanders—he’s got the far-left tied up, but he could never get the majority of the nation’s voters either. That leaves Hillary, whom everyone has assumed will win all along—only she’ll be hobbled by the same GOP congress that bedeviled Obama. Again, the real story—the story that’s being ignored—is whether the Democrats can elect local support, outside of the presidency.
Of course, I could be wrong—we may get a Republican president, if voters are stupid enough—what a hell on earth that would be. Despite Obama’s heroic efforts, we still haven’t dug ourselves out of the hole the last GOP president buried us in. The only good that came out of Bush’s two terms was getting Democrats out to vote—Obama began his terms with a friendly Congress and I’m still confused as to how we managed to screw that up.
Well, not really—the answer is horribly simple. The Democrats, while they have an edge on common sense and American values, are just as dumb, lazy, spineless, and corrupt as the Republicans—both our candidates and we voters. Intellect and transparency can find a place in the Democratic party—which, as I say, gives them something of an edge—but we’re still people, just like the GOP folks. And people are human—with all the failings that implies.
When I look back on all the changes in society, I’m dumbstruck by the incredible progress we’ve made. While we still struggle with racism, at least it has lost its legitimacy in the laws of our land. While we still lack gender equality, we have seen women get access to birth-control, jobs, and inclusion far beyond the Suzy Homemaker mindset of my childhood. While we still have issues with LGBT equality, we have at least progressed beyond the point of considering homosexuality as a crime, or a mental disease. To me, this is the real progress of our country—I could care less about laptops, cellphones, smart-cars, and DNA sequencing, if it doesn’t have the open-minded humanity that an enlightened, modern culture deserves.
I don’t know—I mean, I know a little, but not enough. I have no confidence—I mean, I have a little, but not enough. I don’t have the strength—well, maybe I could manage one effort, but not over and over. Most importantly, I lack enthusiasm—I can forget the past and enthuse for a moment, but inevitably I remember the past—entropy, illness, betrayal, and indifference—and I feel the enthusiasm melt away, a mist in sunlight.
Was it a wrong turn I took—and if it was, was there any life I could have lived that didn’t come to cynicism, eventually? (Maybe it’s Maybelline—right?) If I could have lived a life that avoided the lessons I’ve learned, would that ignorance have been better? No—I struggled equally hard with a lack of information. People are animals—once I learned not to judge that statement, once I learned just to accept it, I had to stop believing in the ‘but’. “People are animals, but…” But there is no ‘but’. Take away convention and pretense and all that’s left are animals, social animals—but animals just the same.
One divergence we like to point to is the ‘path of least resistance’—a dog will bark and dig from behind a fence, trapped because it cannot move forward; a person will look around and walk away from the fence to take a route around the obstacle. We cite this as a sign of human intelligence. Yet our powerful skills in finding obtuse escape routes seem to fail when we try to deal with society—we bark behind self-imposed fences at things we could easily work around, had we the imagination to walk away from conventions and acceptance.
Such open-mindedness might bring people further away from their animality—but whenever an open-minded person suggests getting away from conventions and acceptance, a close-minded person will jump on the idea and say, “Yes! Let’s start by ejecting morality and inclusion.” The desire to act out among others without consequences is really more animal, not less. A good liberal wants to avoid the strictures of conventions and acceptance, but retain the cooperation and inclusion that are society’s best features—it’s never easy and it’s never simple.
So we see that being a ‘rebel’ is an ambiguous role—breaking the rules encompasses both forward progress and devolution. To be conservative is to consider the whole thing as being too dangerous, too unpredictable—better to just keep things as they are, warts and all. A liberal considers change a necessary risk that it is better to engage with purpose than to strive to avoid. I’ve always considered conservatism as cowardice—but to believe that, I’m implicitly agreeing with conservatives that change is dangerous. It’s really quite a pickle.
I was grateful yesterday to be joined once more by my good friend Pete Cianflone for an unusual recording session. In the course of our collaboration, we decided that we should retire someday to an old-folks’ home in Colorado, where weed is legal—someplace like “The Buds-Up Sunnyside Rest Home”. And thus a new super-group is born.
Pete crushes it on the Purcell “Air”—giving it the kind of renaissance aura such old music calls for—and he adds great vocals to the drumming on our Beatles song-covers. The improv isn’t half-bad either—and I take all the blame for the Rainbow Connection cover—sometimes I just like a song better than I can perform it.
I’ve been playing too much and posting too slow, so I’m adding four or so less-new videos, after the four Pete and I just made—they seem a bit pale compared to the new stuff but when I’m on my own, I have to do what I can. I hope you enjoy it all.
September 17th, 2015 – Peter Cianflone, Bongos and Xper Dunn, Piano
Improv – Buds Up
September 17th, 2015 – Peter Cianflone, Bongos and Xper Dunn, Piano
Henry Purcell – Air in d minor, Z. T675 (originally intended for “The Indian Queen”)
September 17th, 2015
Beatles Song Covers – as performed by The Buds-Up Retirement Orchestra
featuring Peter Cianflone on Bongos and Perc. and Xper Dunn at the keyboard
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’ “:
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…
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.
It’s been kind of a scatter-shot day. Didn’t rain much, but the sun didn’t shine much either. We’re all up in the air, living off take-out, waiting for the clock to run out on the big game. Shouldn’t be long now.
The new movies came out on VOD—or, I think they did—I didn’t see anything that really pleased me. Lotta stuff coming out recently in genres I don’t go for—horror, suspense—anything that raises my stress level, basically. I’ll go for a straight Action flick, but anything where the director’s goal is to manipulate the audience’s fear, or to go for shock-value—like those scenes where a truck comes out of nowhere and hits the car the people are in—I can’t take a rollercoaster ride anymore, not even a vicarious one. Shocking scenes crop up often enough in other movies these days—I don’t care for a movie that focuses on just that aspect of cinema.
It makes sense—I can’t expect Hollywood to crank out a new sci-fi or superhero film every day. Besides, if they dumped eight of them onto the VOD menu in one day, my head would explode and I wouldn’t enjoy the movies because of all the hurry. So, ‘every once in a while’ will have to do.
Here’s a couple of videos and some pictures from the yard:
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.
My apologies to all you who didn’t share this experience today—but I had a nice, quiet day. Turner Classic Movies showed Cole Porter musicals all day—I caught most of “Silk Stockings” (Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse) and the first half of “DuBarry Was A Lady” (Red Skelton, Lucille Ball). By that time, I felt an itch to do a little Porter of my own. I’d also felt a yen for this particular Jerome Kern song last night. Probably came into my head because it has ‘Spring’ in the lyric. Anyway, I had that all queued up, so you get one by Kern, two by Porter.
These scores are tough sledding—very thick chords, some of them. I’d give anything to just breeze them along in a nice tempo, but I work with the tools I have—my apologies. The improv is short today, but I thought it was kind of cute. You decide.
Again, source material credit for my graphics has to be given. Source graphics courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website. The Rijksmuseum Website, by the way, is a great site for at-home museum visiting—and if you’re digitally crafty, you can download anything you see, for free, and use it in a project of your own. It’s Gr-r-reat! https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en
Table cover, Christiaen Gillisz. van Couwenberg, c. 1650 – c. 1675
Gezicht op Derwent Water, in de richting van Borrowdale (Cumberland), Thomas Hearne, 1754 – 1817
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.
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…
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.
We went to the A&P earlier today and I got Bear some Ferrero-Roche while we were there—Valentine’s Day accomplished. I also played her a few love songs, which are presented here, along with three improvs. Religions are all about Love, so I thought I’d give today’s improvs religious names. I don’t practice a religion, but I love the terminology. No offense.
16 Russian Folk Songs
(Covers from the Russian Songbook)
01) All Throughout The Great Wide World I Wandered
02) Do Not Scold Me And Do Not Reproach Me
03) The Boundless Expanse Of The Sea
04) My Sweetheart
05) No Sounds From The City Are Heard
06) Do Not Awaken My Memories
07) Stenka Razin (From Beyond The Island)
08) Snow Flurries
09) The Cliff of the Volga
10) The Story of the Coachman
11) The Little Bell
12) Farewell To Happiness
13) The Slender Mountain Ash
15) Oh, You Dear Little Night
16) Down The Volga River
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.
Felix Mendelssohn wrote a collection of piano pieces entitled “Leider ohne Worte”, which is German for Songs without Words. The collection is one of my favorite playbooks. They are challenging for me, so these aren’t good examples–though I’m sure YouTube has many other performers playing it much better. Anyhow, here’s my latest playlist of my most recent recordings from the book:
(One short note: the photograph used in these videos shows the Superman® socks my daughter gave me for Christmas!)
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.
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.
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.
I want to talk to these people. For starters, it isn’t fair that their personal stupidity gets so much exposure while the rest of us are stuck talking only to our small circle of friends and neighbors. I want to talk to Don Young, Chris Christie, Nan Hayworth, that bubble-brain on FOX news (Yeah, which one? I know.) and that 17-year-old walking pimple from Australia who likes ISIS, and killing people. I want to tell you all something.
You’re all assholes—stupid, sick, selfish, stuck-up, stupid assholes. Did you notice I used ‘Stupid’ twice? Yeah, that was on purpose. But don’t worry—you five are certainly not alone. There’s Rick Perry—Texas asshole. There’s Rand Paul—Kentucky asshole. There’s Vlad Putin—Russian asshole (bonus points—it’s not easy to make your ignorance stand out in Russia!) There’s Republicans as a whole—what a bunch of eyes-tight-shut assholes you people are. Nothing personal—you’re all just as stupid as mud, that’s all.
And a lot of you are evil motherfuckers, as well. Don’t get me wrong—you’re still unbelievably stupid—but evil, too. And in such a dazzling variety of ways—you’re selfish, you’re greedy, you’re xenophobic, you’re homophobic, you’re afraid of girls, you’re afraid of educated people—you’re even afraid of the thoughts in your own damn heads. How’s that for cowardice? What makes these lily-livered, piss-yellow cry-babies think that their fear-mongering is something the rest of us in the world have the slightest use for? Too scared to think straight, I guess.
Koch brothers? Are you listening? Your mother should have strangled the both of you with your own umbilicals—you think being rich makes you right? Sorry—being rich just makes you bigger assholes. But stay rich, please—if that’s what it’s like, heaven protect the rest of us—you two are already beyond all hope—a pair of scumbags with enough money to spread the fame of your idiocy far and wide. I guess I’m lucky—when I have something idiotic to say, at least I can’t afford a billboard to plaster it on.
So which makes me the most angry—you pack of morons, or the morons that feature you in the media, to the point of obscuring anything that really matters? It’s a tough call. Stupidity is generous to you all. But, no—it’s still you idiots. The people that have to make a living have at least some sort of excuse to do the stupid things they do—they’re not in charge of Stupid—that’s all on you, you self-important bags of excrement, you.
All that being said, here’s a piano improvisation in the same, damn-the-torpedoes vein:
And just to keep everything civil, here’re some pleasanter words from far pleasanter people…
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…
Piano Cover: “When I Fall In Love” (plus “Improv- When In Love With Shakespeare”) (2014Oct21)
My early-morning, throat-clearing session:
A piano cover of “When I Fall In Love”,
followed by a brief improvisation which I have chosen to
entitle “Improv- When In Love With Shakespeare”.
(You may notice the improved quality of the vocals caused by the positioning of the camera closer to my mouth than the piano.)
Vnthrifty louelineſſe why doſt thou ſpend, Vpon thy ſelfe thy beauties legacy? Natures bequeſt giues nothing but doth lend, And being franck ſhe lends to thoſe are free: Then beautious nigard why dooſt thou abuſe, The bountious largeſſe giuen thee to giue? Profitles vſerer why dooſt thou vſe So great a ſumme of ſummes yet can’ſt not liue? For hauing traffike with thy ſelfe alone, Thou of thy ſelfe thy ſweet ſelfe doſt deceaue, Then how when nature calls thee to be gone, What acceptable Audit can’ſt thou leaue? Thy vnuſ’d beauty muſt be tomb’d with thee, Which vſed liues th’executor to be.
Here Shakespeare uses finance as an allegory, exhorting the youth to spend his beauty carefully, not to waste it in self-satiety, but to produce heirs
that may enjoy his legacy.
Thoſe howers that with gentle worke did frame, The louely gaze where euery eye doth dwell Will play the tirants to the very ſame, And that vnfaire which fairely doth excell: For neuer reſting time leads Summer on, To hidious winter and confounds him there, Sap checkt with froſt and luſtie leau’s quite gon. Beauty ore-ſnow’d and barenes euery where, Then were not ſummers diſtillation left A liquid priſoner pent in walls of glaſſe, Beauties effect with beauty were bereft, Nor it nor noe remembrance what it was. But flowers diſtil’d though they with winter meete, Leeſe but their ſhow,their ſubſtance ſtill liues ſweet.
This and the following sonnet can be seen as a pair–both use the seasons to symbolize the passage of time and the path of life. Youth is warned to
distill something permanent from his Summer, to keep him through hideous Winter.
Then let not winters wragged hand deface, In thee thy ſummer ere thou be diſtil’d: Make ſweet ſome viall;treaſure thou ſome place, With beauties treaſure ere it be ſelfe kil’d: That vſe is not forbidden vſery, Which happies thoſe that pay the willing lone; That’s for thy ſelfe to breed an other thee, Or ten times happier be it ten for one, Ten times thy ſelfe were happier then thou art, If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee, Then what could death doe if thou ſhould’ſt depart, Leauing thee liuing in poſterity? Be not ſelfe-wild for thou art much too faire, To be deaths conqueſt and make wormes thine heire.
As with Sonnet V, the theme is the distillation of self against the losses of time’s passing–but with the specific notion, here, that ten children (!) make
a sure harvest against the poverty of age and death.
Excerpt – six (6) ‘months’ from “The Seasons” (Op. 37bis)
by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
March: “Song of the Lark”
May: “May Nights” [“White Nights”]
July: “Song of the Reaper”
August: “The Harvest”
–Tchaikovsky is among my favorite composers to play—many of his piano pieces are intended for beginner and intermediate level pianists, which put them within my grasp. When playing, for instance, Beethoven or Chopin, I have to select pieces that do not assume a virtuoso technique—leaving the majority of their works outside the realm of my possibility.
The twelve pieces known as “The Seasons” were commissioned by the publisher of a St. Petersburg monthly music magazine—Tchaikovsky contributed one piece per issue for the year 1886 (They were all written the year previous). Subscribers had the pleasure of learning a new piano piece to complement each month of the year—imagine a whole year in which Tchaikovsky sent you a monthly soundtrack to play in your family room or music room! The charm of their origin is one of the things that endear these works to me.
There are bits of poetry attached to each title ‘month’, but these were determined by the Publisher, not the Composer. They can be seen on Wiki—which, by the way, points out that Tchaikovsky didn’t exactly bare his soul to write these pieces—they were more by way of earning some extra dough.
Nevertheless, I ever return to this manuscript to play a piece or three—someday I aspire to play the whole thing, January straight through to December—but it’s no small effort and I remain challenged by a few, more demanding months (like “February”). In fact, I consider today’s video of merely half of the twelve something of a high point in my video recital career—it won’t win a Grammy, but it’s surely a personal best of sorts. I hope you enjoy it.
And my posts aren’t complete without at least one improv, and today’s no exception—“Maple Trees” also includes a clip of the wind in the trees in our yard today….
The other day my camcorder’s tripod broke. It was cheaper to buy a bigger, better one than to get it fixed (plastic pieces, especially vital ones, always break—I hope they don’t think they’re fooling anybody). I move slowly and deliberately nowadays—I’m damned if I can figure out how I broke it. But that was a special case (I hope). More often I run out of charge and get disappointed that something I was surprised to get a record of—was not recorded at all.
Yes, I run my camera a lot, but you know how hard it is to get a good recording when you’re self-conscious. Fortunately, I’m so absent-minded I can sometimes forget that there is a camera—but I have to run it every time, because I’m more likely to forget it when it’s always there.
I’ve also learned that I have to check the little screen after I hit ‘record’—sometimes it’s telling me that the lens-cover is still up, or the data-card is still in the PC port. There’s also a toggle switch to set the ‘zoom’—I don’t know why they can’t just use a set-switch instead of a toggle. It toggles so fast that I end up zooming in and out and in and out. It’s ridiculous.
The Internet is tightening up these days—only a few years ago I could download a graphic from Google’s Image Search and use it to make a point or to be funny—with all that stuff out there, it would be a shame to waste it and it’s isn’t like I’m getting rich off them. But those days are over. Not only have the graphics i-vendors created an overnight industry, they’ve found security measures that follow copies of their graphics. When they detect a Facebook posting or a blog graphic that ID’s itself as theirs, they contact you and threaten to sue you. So, goodbye Google Image Search.
I just use my own photos now—I have several thousand (I’ve transcribed both sides of the families’ photo albums into videos—and some other work). Plus I just take photos of anything—but I have to remind myself to do it. I’m so used to the camera taking videos; I forget to take a few snaps before I turn it off. I’ll have to start taking more pictures, however, since my need for them has suddenly increased. My primary use for graphics has been, until now, the two end-cards I use to bracket my videos. I like to have a still shot as part of the Titles Card and I prefer to use a different photo for the Credits Card, which makes two photos per video.
Now, I’ve begun using the old family albums (theirs and ours) to make videos to be overlayed onto the piano recital videos. This way I have something to look at as well as listen to. It may not improve the videos for everybody, but I have to work with what I have. Anyhow, because this will eat up a lot of my album collections, I’ll have to start using present-day snaps for the two cards, and sometimes for the overlay videos (I don’t want my family history to be the only thing in my videos).
They always get me, I tell ya. Back in the eighties I recorded myself on an audio-cassette recorder and listened to the (unedited) tapes in my car—my daughter took some (which I was flattered by) but there were few others involved, even as an audience. Blank cassettes were pretty cheap, I used the built-in mike—et, voila! Aside from the audio-cassette player/recorder (which I would have bought anyway, to listen to music) it cost me close to nothing.
April Fools Improv No. 2
I went from there to digital audio recorder, to camcorder, to HD camcorder with tripod—plus a few hundred bucks worth of software: graphics, audio-editing, video-editing, file-conversion, etc., and an external-hard-drive to hold it all. Some days I just say ‘f**k it’ and just play the piano. But I have gone so far as to buy mikes, an electric piano, and upload software to record straight from the keyboard’s MIDI port. I got it all hooked up, tried it out, and it scared me. It’s been gathering dust for a while now. It gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Only one of these videos was shot during the actual blackout, which was mercifully brief. “Improv – Damp and Warm” is a short one, anyhow.
The piano cover is of “Stand By Me”, written by American singer-songwriter Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller. It was inspired by the spiritual “Lord Stand by Me” (plus two lines rooted in Psalms 46:2–3).
I’m working on a song–I can’t decide whether to call it “The Pit-Stop Diner” or “Best Pie For Fifty Miles”, but either way, I’m having some difficulty with the melody, hence my improvised ‘study’.
I’m thinking of quitting Facebook. I’ve enjoyed ‘interacting’ with people—I was surprised that everyone in my past was still out there, living lives I knew nothing of. I was amazed at some of the accomplishments of people who I last saw as children, or at best, teenagers. The connectedness to all the latest of the very latest in politics, showbiz, art, music, movies, books, writing, poetry, science, astronomy, space exploration, gadgets, discoveries, and absolutely everything else, has made me feel much more in touch with the world and the people in it. It’s almost like a canoe that goes along; and you can slip your hand in the water and feel the world flowing through your fingers.
So why quit? There are several reasons. At the end of the day, I don’t want my sole output to consist of keystrokes, mouse clicks, and peering at a glowing screen (no matter how mind-blowing the graphic). I can’t ‘Like’ my way through life. And the shadows of Mordor are gathering, i.e. between commercial and marketing activity, and Facebook’s own mad-scientist muddlings with what does or does not appear on our feeds, Facebook has become a dark wood with giant spiders in it. Several of my Facebook friends have been hacked. The interloper was found and expunged, the true people are back behind their profiles, and all’s well—plus, we all have an eye out now, if any of our friends starts IM-ing or posting strangely—but the chill is in the air.
It’s unsettling—whenever anything such as the internet, or snowboarding, or break-dancing—whenever anything draws a crowd of happy, engaged people who not only watch the thing, but begin to participate in the thing, the filthy rich will set up some kind of commercial approximation of it. Thus the clock is started. Once anything becomes a commodity or an asset, the race is on. Who can attract more customers; who can find the cheapest costs, who can get the highest price? Who has the best marketing campaign? Ultimately, it becomes regulated, circumscribed, a dead thing, a shadow of its former inspiration. It becomes a dark doppelgänger of what it could have been.
But Facebook is still free. Rather than simply quitting, I should consider changing my privacy settings. I could restrict my profile to just friends and a few favorite content providers, like George Takei, The Daily Show, I fucking Love Science, etc. Then I wouldn’t have to wade through the posts that are cleverly disguised sociology-landmines, or outright sales-pitches. My favorite ad is the small one on the bottom right of the Facebook ‘frame’—it’s usually a picture of a large-breasted young lady without a shirt, with the tag-line: “You gotta see this!” I actually clicked on that thing before I knew what I was doing. But the site you’re brought to is like a small-town diner’s paper placemat, just full of local service-businesses’ websites—and just reeking of hacker-vulnerability.
But cutting myself off from the ‘fire hose’ kinda defeats the purpose of being plugged into the whole world—it’s kinda the point. Otherwise, I imagine my friends and I will all end up uploading phone-pics of our breakfast each morning!
I know to avoid anything on the side-ribbons of the Facebook frame—no matter how intriguing. And I know to look for those little logos that warn of a larger organization behind that post. But it takes so long and gets so tiring. So, I guess I’ll stick with my friends, for a while at least, until the foliage gets too thick to hack through to them… ..if it gets too bad, I may still have to perform some sort of self-intervention. Life should not be lived on a keyboard. I spend hours on the computer, preparing and posting my little videos and my little essays (like this)—but I will not ‘hang out’ here. I have a perfectly good front lawn—there’s even some decent lawn furniture to sit in and talk (to myself if necessary).
Now, this is not the fault of Facebook, this is a failing of our Capitalism—one of its many—but nothing, not even Facebook (“It’s free and always will be.”) can keep out their tentacles. Facebook is a fragile thing, and it has become a badly trampled garden. We’ve all experienced ‘trolls’—they can be blocked and are, therefore, relatively harmless—but the ones who crawl behind the code (like the employees fiddling with our Facebook feeds) are far more difficult to spot, much less defend against.
Sociology is a wonderful thing. I took a course in college—it was great. But the first thing they teach you is that individuals are random and unpredictable, but the larger the ‘sample size’ (# of people) you study, the more predictable they become. And the internet is a darn big ‘sample size’. Sociology is primarily used in marketing research—its most profitable use (though it has many more important uses going begging). So it is only natural for market researchers to salivate over a titanic mass of consumers, all with the power to pay by clicking a mouse. But Heisenberg is on our side—the stats are only valid if WE don’t know we are being observed.
I saw a Times article—a man clicks ‘like’ on everything he sees on his feed for two days straight—even stuff he hates, he clicks ‘like’. He started getting crazy feed-posts from such nutjobs that he was afraid he’d be put on a government watch-list. His Facebook friends’ feeds went crazy, they were all screaming at him, asking if he’d been hacked. And some administrator at Facebook eventually called him to talk about it! He was messing up their trending algorithms.
It sounded like fun, but then I thought maybe it’d be better just to sign off for good and all. Would I lose something important, something worth staying in my present mode of checking out Facebook for two or three hours every day? Well, there are some people I interact with almost every day, very nice folks all of whom I enjoy being in touch with. And we all share stuff from the internet-fed chaos around us. All of them are too far away to have any regular contact with outside of Facebook.
Now here is the hilarious record of what happens when I try to play doubles with a real musician, Peter Cianflone–it’s almost too embarrassing to post, but I had so much fun—The first picture is to click on for the entire playlist (listen to all five videos in a row). The five individual videos are available below that, so you can pick and choose as you like. Enjoy, I hope!
Robin Williams is dead—an apparent suicide. And Philip Seymour Hoffman is still on my mind. Two of our greatest artists choose not to go on living—what is that supposed to tell us? Nothing good, that’s what. Lauren Bacall lived to a ripe old age—but those who worked for her or encountered her on the streets of Manhattan all agree she was quite scathing—nothing like the fond remembrances of Robin Williams that gush from everyone he ever met.
My late brother and I had a running debate on this—being nice, according to him, was a stupid waste of time—my attitude was that being nice to each other was the point of life. We both had firm beliefs in our opposite views—neither one of us could ever budge the other, nor did we get along all that well. But it seems we were just a dual personification of Yin and Yang—both pushing hard in different directions, which led to a spinning energy that neither of us could benefit from, nor be harmed by.
Why was I, the atheist, so sure that being nice to each other was the point of living? Well, when you take away the mythical support systems of the religious, you are left with no absolute reason to continue living—it becomes a choice. I see only one reason to make that choice, to face up to that challenge—and that is love.
But when love becomes a reason for greed or violence or persecution, it is a twisted thing. Whenever a parent takes from others for the sake of the family, the family learns a twisted definition of love. Whenever a patriot bad-mouths a foreign-looking citizen, he or she warps the true meaning of our country’s Constitution. Whenever a politician cries, “Be afraid—Be very afraid!” it is an insult to our founding fathers, who made a point of Freedom being something worth fighting and dying for.
The Patriot Act is a perfect example—politicians decide to cancel our civil liberties for our own good, just because someone might blow up a building (and this after hundreds of thousands of Americans have given their blood and their lives to earn those liberties).
Why has this become so confused? Because we seem to forget that Love, like Freedom, is more precious than life. Without love and freedom, we end up with a life hardly worth the name. We cannot insist on liberty for ourselves and deny it to others. We cannot both love and possess anyone or anything. Our love does not grant us title to the object of our love—to the contrary, it makes us a possession of our beloved. We don’t own our spouse or our kids—they own us.
We should be ashamed of our acceptance of the Patriot Act—its name tries hard, but its truth is as unpatriotic as Nazism or Communism. We have allowed this to continue long after the blind panic encouraged by the Bush administration had calmed down. We no longer support stupidity in the highest office. We no longer blindly support war against Bush’s enemies. Why do we hesitate to call for an end to the Unpatriotic Act? It is far more anti-American than the NSA phone-tapping that everyone got into such a flurry over.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, said FDR. Most people think, “Yeah, we shouldn’t be afraid—that makes sense”. But his words go deeper than that. Fear is the enemy of both love and freedom—we can choose, but we can’t have both fear and freedom. Liberty bounded by intimidation is a false concept—there’s another quote about ‘surrendering liberty for security ends up losing both’ or something like that. We have more pride than courage—we have more shame than faith in our country’s precepts.
The only thing Americans have faith in these days is money. They believe in the miracle of money, even as the power of money destroys our lives, our lands, our culture, and our country. It has even driven us to forsake the arts in our educational system—in spite of the fact that the arts are vital to understanding humanity (including ourselves). Outside of schools, the arts have become an industry—a multi-billion dollar industry that is, nevertheless, not important enough to include in our education programs. Go figure (at least you know math).
One important thing learned by studying the arts is that human expression invariably turns to love as its theme—the joys and sorrows of love are uppermost in everyone’s mind. Money is rarely the subject of a poem, a painting, or a song—and when it is, it is rarely shown in a good light.
Where did we lose the concept of sacrifice? We respect and honor it with words, when it comes to the military—but where else can we find anything but a jeering attitude at the thought of giving up something of ourselves for the sake of another, or of a group? We certainly don’t find it in business. We rarely find it in communities—the odd volunteer fire-person or EMT, the occasional volunteer food-outlet or shelter—but we find these rarities chronically understaffed.
I am as guilty as anyone. Whenever I’m asked to contribute to a charity, I feel like there are plenty of richer people who can just toss out twenties and fifties to whoever asks for it—the fact that generosity on my part would require doing without something for myself, when others can toss bushels-full at it and not even notice, seems unfair.
Plus, I don’t like the idea of crowd-sourcing programs that our taxes should be paying for—social engineering is beyond my experience and my budget, and if you don’t like ‘big government’, it’s only because you’ve never needed help. Having said that much, I must add that a lack of community involvement is as much a barrier to the inclusion of the marginal as any lack of funding.
Fortunate are the communities that knit themselves together—their lives are fuller and their opportunities are more diverse. I have noticed this especially in police-force communities—their isolation (or worse) from the general public drives them to seek each other’s company—they know the value of working together and of backing each other up—and the extreme danger of the job gives them all a strong sense of kinship. Does this lead to their sometimes thinking their wards are their enemy? I can’t say. But community is a strong tool—and a strong defense.
Babies will often create a temporary mini-community, when extended-family members and barely-known neighbors and a clique of schoolgirls who babysit, etc. will come together in common purpose. The group will slowly disintegrate as the baby reaches toddlerhood—but it will have acted as a community until that time.
The worst time is had by those who most need a community—those without family, those without homes, those without a support system of any kind. The worst communities are often those with the wealthiest residents—they pay their way through difficulties, hence they don’t want to pay for anyone else’s problems—and they’re too busy making more money to think of helping in some non-financial way, giving their time or attention to someone else.
Money can’t be simply thrown in the direction of the needy. The community must address their individual needs and concerns and then ask for money needed to achieve a specific goal. If a community has no leadership, or if leadership is without the support of a community, important issues are neglected. We do not need excitable or ham-handed leaders—we simply need responsible adults to think of their community as an important part of their lives.
Money is the score-keeper. Our lives are competitions. We all go after what we want; and someone wins, and the rest turn to other things. Our kids compete for class-levels, grades, scores, sports, and each other. It isn’t real competition—it’s more of a struggle to stay off the bottom. People like me, who have been forced to the sidelines by misfortune, are tempted to see ourselves as losers—for, even though life continues to be a struggle for us, our chances of scoring (i.e., making money) are zero. Those who are above the fray, the very wealthy, need only compete with the small number of their ‘peers’—and, more importantly, they change the rules as they go.
After decades of industry, banking, stocks, war armaments, monopolies, lobbying, and ‘person-hood’, the big-money people and corporations have widened the gap between themselves and the billions of blithely competing thralls of their unshakeable system. For they know the horror of our situation far better than we grasp it—the metaled jaws of commerce will macerate even the super-rich, if they get caught in a jam. Even a couple of billion dollars isn’t enough for this crowd—that’s still middle-class in their view. As the rule-makers, they have a horror of being made to follow someone else’s rules—so they’ve set the rules by now so it’s impossible for a nobody from nowhere to steal as much of other people’s money as they do. The Land of Opportunity and the American Dream have given way to a new American Order that says the money-people are fully in charge.
They scoff at people who work all day and don’t make enough money to both eat and take medicine. They look down their noses at the millions of chronically unemployed, as if the free-market system (which the money-people control) hadn’t put all those people out of their jobs. They lobby congress incessantly to protect their profits by legislating against our rights as employees, consumers, investors, homeowners, prisoners, or patients. Some of the worst corporations make their money from manufacturing weapons and outsourcing para-military mercenaries. They send jobs overseas to countries where the workers are more victimized than we are. They keep their money overseas so they can dodge their taxes, leaving us to pay for the communities they profit off of.
As you may have guessed, I’m not a big fan of money. If I had any money, I’d give it to my wife—she’d know what to do with it. I’d be much happier if everyone else had money—or no one. It’s just not working anymore—all it can do, from here on in, is make things worse….
Yes, I know this blog entry is disjointed and confusing–I’m on medication now, and for the next six weeks… Hopefully the posts will become more coherent with time. In the meantime, read all my stuff with a grain of salt.
In this improv, I attempt to use thirteenth-chords and eleventh-cords (at least, I think I am doing so). It’s a little slow in the tempo, but I was doing a lot of thinking between chords (like I have to, when it’s a new idea or technique) so please don’t hold it against me. I think it came out kind of dreamy (hence the title) but it has a certain ugliness, too, because of the strange discords such complex chords tend to create… But I don’t mind ugly.
Listen, I play my song books every day; I have a zillion of them, and I have carefully documented nearly all my preceding videos of piano covers with the Title, Composer, Lyricist, and Copyright holder of each song. But on this recording, I give the cover of the songbook (The Johnny Mercer Song Book) and I leave it to you to look them up if you’re interested. Johnny Mercer was an incredible Lyricist, but he also published many songs with both Music and Lyrics by him–making him rather unique amongst his peers.
Here I just play fifteen minutes of songs I like–I didn’t sing along this time, but sometimes I have, on previous recordings.