The Buds-Up Time-Space Orchestra was delayed last week by a cold my partner caught—but Pete’s all better now, and here’s another fine mess he’s gotten me into. Seriously, though, I think some of it came out pretty good.
We almost didn’t get to the music, what with discussing the craziness in today’s politics—things are getting weirder, and not in a comfortable way. Eventually, however, we were able to move along to the Gershwin brothers—the song “Clappa Yo Hands” is one of their unfortunate efforts to force a patois onto the lyric—but it’s a nice song.
Then we tried Yellow Submarine and Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday, both of which I suspect we’ve done before—but we mostly do the covers to warm up for the jamming (at least, I think we do) so no harm done. It’s hard for me to follow a professional drummer when I’m goofing around—add sight-reading and the results are suspect at best. But it’s fun to try—maybe don’t call the covers ‘music videos’, call them videos of us having fun—that’s the idea.
I’m pretty happy with the two improvs—I tried to play along with the drumming and mostly managed it—and the music isn’t awful. Five stars, as far as I’m concerned. Well, it’s been quite a day, what with the playing and the processing and the posting to YouTube—so, th-th-that’s all, folks!
Two months ago, when our daughter’s pregnancy (and on the west coast, yet) lurked in the back of my mind—and it still looked like we might get taken in by Trump’s big con—and I was smoking too much and doing too little—back then, I resumed my anti-depressant prescription. That’s how bad I got.
But a half-a-pill a day of that stuff really pole-axed me. Yes, I smoked a lot less, because a lot less of me was there—I was zombified. But the cutting back on smoking was good for me—I felt much better. The only trouble was that I wasn’t doing anything else, either—and I wasn’t upset about that. I was very far from upset about anything at all.
Now, if I had wanted to spend my life on drugs, I could do that all by myself—and with much fun-ner drugs. So I compromised—now I take a quarter of a pill every day—and only until October, when I will stop altogether, and see how it goes. There’s a reason I stopped taking them, after all, and if I can do without, I’d really prefer that.
So, back then, it wasn’t just raining anxiety—it was pouring. But now, with our brand-new, cute-as-a-button granddaughter, I’ve been inspired to play new piano improvs. Claire’s trip has inspired me to get out and do more—like doing my own shopping. The influx of baby pictures has given me lots of busy-work in photoshop, making them fit into my YouTube videos. I enjoy my playing more when I’m looking at photos of that beautiful baby instead of myself—I think it makes me sound better.
Then Pete came by today—Hooray! I was pretty disappointed with last month’s recording, because of the anti-depressants making me punchy and basically out-of-it. But we made up for it today.
We started with a request: “Jesu—Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J. S. Bach. (That’s two requests in August—for me it’s been a banner month for music.) I played it slow, so I would make less mistakes—but Bach is good that way—it’s still pretty, even slow.
Then we did a couple of jams back-to-back. That video is called “On A Wednesday Afternoon”. I enjoyed it much more than the title might suggest—I guess I was going for the ‘soft-sell’, there. No Pete Cianflone session would be complete without a bunch of weirdness in the video—blame it on Jessy—if she had sent me a bunch of baby-pictures, you wouldn’t even see us on the video.
Then Pete suggested we cover a Golden Oldie from the 60s, so we played “Let’s Live For Today”. Now, about “Let’s Live For Today”:
Songbook from “Great songs…” series, titled “of the Sixties – Volume 2″ gives the following credits:
But Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia gives the following credits:
“Let’s Live for Today”
Writer(s): Michael Julien, Ivan Mogull, and David Shapiro. “’Let’s Live for Today’ is a song initially recorded by the English band The Rokes in 1966. The song was later popularized by the American rock band The Grass Roots, who released it as a single on May 13, 1967.”
I leave that mystery to someone else to solve, but we had fun playing it—it’s not really a piano piece, but we made do.
The last bit of improv was bang-ish, so the video is called “Monstrous”. Pete said he might be able to come back next week, so we may get two sessions for August—who knows? We toasted the baby—well, I did, Pete doesn’t drink. A good time was had by all. I hope it’s as good to listen to. Enjoy.
As I was saying—new baby granddaughter, clearer mind, more piano music—and having more fun at the piano, baby-picture photoshopping, regular shopping… and it looks like there’s no need to worry about Hillary being elected—(but Vote anyway!) Suddenly, it’s not just raining good things, it’s pouring. Ah, life. That’s what I say. Ah, life.
The summer night is soft and cooling, but noisy—what with all the crickets calling through the screen door. It’s peak summer—quiet as a tomb. If you had somewhere to go, you’re already there. Me, I like to stay home usually. Spencer’s kind of the same way. It’s a Sunday night—it doesn’t come any quieter, if you don’t count the crickets.
I don’t watch the Olympics—not alone, anyway. I’ll linger on an event in the midst of channel-surfing, but that’s about it. And no programmer in their right mind would air anything good while the whole world’s on vacation and the Olympics are on. So the usual tired offerings on Sunday night are exhausted on a Sunday night like this.
I made some videos—one of them uses the pictures Bear took, out the window of her airplane as she flew to California. The other is the first request I’ve had in a dog’s age—someone asked me for a melancholy tune—so I’ve done my best to be absolutely drippy in that one.
I’m trying to make chicken noodle soup and blog at the same time—I’m likely to burn up a pot and go hungry. Wait a second—I’ll go check on it…. Still a minute on the timer. Oh no, another thing I forgot—Roadies is on—I’ll be back.
Sunday, August 07, 2016 11:36 PM
Here I was complaining about nothing being on TV, and I remembered that I like to watch Roadies, and then John Oliver, on Sunday nights. Man, TV goes by fast when you’re watching good stuff without commercials! It’s so rare on regular TV—I can see why people switch to binge-watching whole series seasons online. It’s much more satisfying—and if you don’t like it that much, you can just move on. I have a few Netflix series that I started and got tired of—I told myself for a while that I’d get back to them but as time passed I realized that wasn’t going to happen. But I’ve watched some really good stuff on Netflix, every season, all the way through—like Stranger Things, or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt —bingeing is great!
So now I’ve got one last improv to post before I call it a day.
Monday, August 08, 2016 12:27 AM
I got my bowl of Liptons, in case you wondered—there’s a timer app on Windows 10—good thing, too, because I never heard the kitchen timer go off. Imagine—I can cook and PC at the same time now—hmm… This opens up all kinds of possibilities.
See, I used to multi-task—like a normal person. But I have no short-term memory—or I have advanced absent-minded-ness (I was always absent-minded). Anyhow, I go for a long time without looking up from the keyboard—but with a timer?—oh, man.
I think our trip to the store yesterday helped ‘wake me up’ a little. I can do things—but then I get tired or I muck it up. So I get to a point where I stop doing stuff. But I should really make more of an effort to go outside and move around a little, every other day at least. I’m only mostly useless—I have to remind myself I’m not entirely useless. Not entirely. Not yet.
Okay, enough, the video is uploaded and it’s late—more later. Good night all.
Okay, enough politics—what do I know, anyway—other people are already saying anything I have to say—people who get paid for it. I’ve been so swept up by the spirit of the Democratic National Convention—it was thrilling. But patriotism is something only idle people have a lot of time for—most people have stuff to do. So—time to stop obsessing over the TV and C-SPAN, and go back to reading books and watching movies and talking about myself. I know I’m not interesting, but I am interesting to me—and I like to write—or I should say type—I actually hate to write. If I had to do this with a pen and paper—I wouldn’t bother. But in an age of digital records, there is no saving of effort or of paper—there’s just ‘original content’.
Original Content means something you wrote yourself—without reference to Star Wars or Orange Is The New Black—something no other reasonable person would want to sue you for stealing. Be warned—if you do write something profitable, unreasonable people will come out of the ‘word-work’ to lay claim to it. But most writing has little value—so as long as you know you wrote it, you shouldn’t worry. If you’re serious about money—apply for a copyright. It’s easy—it doesn’t cost much (if you really expect to make money)—and it’s the first thing any serious professional writer does.
Original Content also applies to photos, artwork, music, and especially video. If you generate original content, which then generates a lot of clicks—you’re supposed to get paid for that. But mostly that stuff is generated in-house, so it’s not like you can just shop stuff around—although that might be a possibility, I suppose—but you’d have to go meet people. You can’t do business online—not all business, and especially closing a deal. When the Internet was young, sharing stuff was a big deal—now everyone wants to make a buck online—it’s no easier than most office jobs, unless you get a lucky break.
But I’m retired. I generate writing, artwork, and music and I just post it online. I don’t want someone else to use it without my permission—but I have no plans for a cyber-empire. I just want to be a part of it. I can’t do what young people do—posting photos of my junk, making dates on the dating app (damn, what is it? I wanna say ‘Rascal’ or ‘Heartify’…), or multi-player gaming—which I assume is tough on ‘grandpas’ like myself, especially if your hands shake. Most of the new online stuff is ‘young people only’—they don’t say that, but old people who try to fit in ‘with the kids’ are just as creepy online as they are in person. So I do ‘grandpa’ stuff and I post it. I post my piano-playing on YouTube. I post my essays on WordPress. I keep in touch with friends and relations on Facebook. I posted my old drawings on Pinterest, but I rarely have cause to add anything new.
I don’t expect a lot of people to listen to or read my stuff—some nice people do, who know me and don’t mind sleep-inducing stuff. I’m basically just putting my work out there for my own satisfaction—I like to do it. I used to have a spark of ambition—not much of one—I used to think maybe I’d become a great artist. Then I thought maybe I’d become a teacher. Eventually, I decided I just wanted to live a life without a specific goal—that’s a bad approach, but I was lucky. I ended up with a loving family, surviving a fatal disease, and cancer, and becoming an actual grandpa—oh, and I eat regular. I can’t complain.
Sometimes, after I had done a good drawing, I’d Xerox it—and the Xerox copy would look more professional than the original. There’s something of that in my postings—they just seem more substantial for being online for the world to see. I’ve actually had people tell me not to post stuff—you can’t post online without encountering trolls—but I pay them no attention. It’s like they used to say, “If you don’t like what’s on TV, change the channel.” That’s even more true of YouTube posts—if you don’t like my piano-playing, don’t watch it. I usually listen to classical music, myself—I usually only watch my own stuff once through, to check that it uploaded okay. Or I listen to it on CD, when the radio isn’t playing anything I like. It’s my fallback music.
So, Claire is flying to CA soon to meet our new granddaughter—Spencer and I will have to rough it on our own for two weeks—I hope we survive. Jessy and Seneca and Seneca are doing great. My mom had her 85th birthday today, down in Hilton Head, SC. I saw party pics on Facebook and wished I could have been there, instead of just calling to wish her a happy one.
I’ve gotten calls from Kevin Bouricius lately—he’s up in Massachusetts, trying to quit smoking. There’s a book of his oil paintings for sale online—it’s expensive, but the paintings are incredible. (http://www.blurb.com/b/4506248-paintings) He also has actual paintings, if anyone wants to go up there and buy one.
I’ll have to call Pete to set up our August jam—we usually try to post once a month, and I feel like I didn’t do too well this month, what with starting on anti-depressants at too high a dosage—I’ve halved it and I feel like I’m fully conscious again—although it was a great relief to be brain dead for a few weeks.
I was thinking, since Claire and I have our 36th anniversary coming at the end of August, about how our tradition used to be that Claire took the kids to Cape Cod or somewhere, and I’d stay home and work—we spent our anniversary in different states for years. I know it’s a weird tradition—but we’re slightly weird people. Well, the kids are grown, I don’t work, and Claire does—so that tradition has lapsed in more recent years—but if Claire stays with Jessy long enough, maybe the old tradition will come back one more time. I love the weird traditions, the ones that our just our own, the best.
I’ve been letting my muttonchops grow out lately—I look like I guy who shouldn’t have muttonchops but grew them anyway. Hey, you get bored when there’s so little to do. I shaved all the hair around my ears yesterday—I look like an idiot—and the muttonchops only make it stupider. But I stay indoors all day, so nobody sees it—just like my weird clothes. It’s kind of funny when I do go somewhere in public—people look at me sideways, but what’s the use of being sixty if I’m going to care how I look?
I have no new videos. Here’s a reprise of some recent ones:
Pete’s late—looks like no jam today. And I just got my microphone working! Oh, well. Oh, wait—maybe he comes at one, instead of noon? I can’t remember—maybe he does. Damn this swiss-cheese brain of mine.
Well, Jessy is expecting—which is great. Spencer is working on historical fiction for gamers (I’m not really sure—something like that) and he asked me for some medieval music examples recently, for research—he’s started up gardening and mowing, now that spring has sprung—which is also great. And Claire—well, as usual, Claire is unbelievable—life-drawing classes almost every day, a watercolor painting-tutorial day at the Botanical Gardens recently, and a drawing class in Katonah once a week. (She’s really becoming a phenomenally able graphic-artist). And that’s all beside the daily (at least) trips to the gym—and her ongoing work on her resume for her dream-job. Plus, she takes care of me, Spencer, and the house (with her other hand—ha ha).
So, let’s see—Claire was a prize pianist and music student in her youth, raised two toddlers as a young adult, got her Bachelor’s in computers and worked for an online-encyclopedia company during her programmer phase, then took care of her dying husband so well that the bastard never died, then went for her Master’s in occupational therapy, got in shape with pilates, yoga, and the gym, started drawing lessons—and is about to get a new job in her new OT career, at the same time as becoming a new grandmother. Lazy—that’s Claire—she’ll be sixty in a couple of years—and what will she have to show for it? Some people.
I used to have a life—boy, those were the days—but that was so long ago I can hardly remember what it was like. Okay, it’s one-twenty now—even if Pete was coming at one, he’s late now—looks like no jam today. Guess it’s time to go watch TV. Damn. Well, there were new movies on the menu yesterday—I hope one of them is worth watching.
Son of a bitch—Pete’s here!
Wednesday, May 25, 2016 6:20 PM
Okay, Pete came—we had a great session—then he had to go home—and I had a cheeseburger—now I’m just editing the video—and writing a blog about the political news of today.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016 8:41 PM
Okay, the best thing in the new movie listings is Zoolander II—hardly inspiring, although I’ll probably watch it. Ben Stiller really makes me laugh—when he isn’t making me puke—I think his masterpiece, “There’s Something About Mary”, redefined the boundaries of good taste in a comedy film—and it’s something of a genre these days. I can take that stuff, up to a point, but my gross-out limit is a very low bar.
I’ve gotten my rough cuts of the jam session edited—three improvs and a medley of eight Burton Lane tunes. The first improv sounded to Pete like calypso music, but I thought it sounded more like I was having a fit, so I call it ‘Calypsis’.
The other two improvs came out real nice—me in my best voice, I felt. You decide. One, “Either Way”, is three minutes, the other, “Twilight of the Gourds”, is a minute and a half—but still, all told we got about 32 minutes of video for the day—not too shabby.
Let’s talk about our Burton Lane songbook-covers video—first and foremost, none of this is Pete’s fault—he just puts up with my eccentricities. And, yes, this is some pretty sloppy piano-playing. But there are some moments of interest—and we did have fun joking around. If it were just me, I’d probably have second thoughts about posting this—but with Pete there, it’s still pretty entertaining, most of it. So, listen, don’t listen—either way, you’re right.
Thursday, May 26, 2016 11:38 AM
Last night I had my choice—sleepless, or sleep with nightmares. I finally got a few hours of shut-eye, but now that I’m up, my back is killing me. Which all goes to show that I had more excitement and fun yesterday than this old carcass is prepared to deal with. That’s a bad thing, kinda—but it’s also a pretty good thing, if you think about it. It’s not like I don’t get occasional nightmares and backaches—without having any excuse at all—and a good day is a good day, regardless of tomorrow.
Yes, I know—it’s cheap and silly and stupid—but sometimes I just get desperate for a new sound. I thought, ‘maybe I could turn on the dishwasher or some other appliance—maybe a car engine idling—I don’t know—Oh wait—I know, I’ll play that ocean waves CD at a really high volume, so I sound like I’m playing piano on the beach.’ Yeah, right—no way it’ll sound like a cheap stereo playing ocean waves in another room. Hey, we do what we can—we work with the tools we have. And speaking of which—yes, I’m singing show tunes with a voice that sounds more like a torture victim’s than a vocalist’s—but I like the song, so deal with it.
I know what would fix our economy—raises. Nobody’s been given a raise since the 1980s. You could double the salary of any working person today, and they’d still be underpaid if calculated by the same increases the wealthy have enjoyed these last few decades. But no—the wealthy fret about how the world would end if we had a $15/hour minimum wage. Are you kidding me? Who could live on $15/hour? And if you can’t run your business without paying a living wage—then you can’t run your business—you’re incompetent. Since when does a business plan include victimizing your employees? Well, I take that back—literally all business plans do that, and always have.
It seems strange to me that employers make half their money short-changing their customers—and the other half from short-changing their employees. Shouldn’t we just shoo these people away? We haven’t converted to an ‘office-free’ economy—we’ve converted to a ‘security-free’ economy—at least to employees.
And a business is not a person. Until a business can feel pain, it will never be a person—and it will never deserve the rights and considerations of a person. That’s just legal mumbo-jumbo being promulgated by the rich. Let’s shoo all them off too.
I’m serious—terrorists at least have the decency to chop your head off and make a clean end to it—American employers want to enslave us and abuse us until the end of time—who’s really worse? Capitalism has gotten out of hand—and the only way to restore the balance is to make the streets our workplace, dismissing all CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and HR personnel. Shoo’em off, that’s what I say. Their mismanagement is going to let our infrastructure rot away and be buried beneath the waves of global warming, anyway—dismissing these entitled fops wouldn’t cause any less disruption than their continued oversight will produce. We’ll just feed them the same line they feed everyone else—‘Hey, it’s not personal—it’s just business’. It is unfortunate that wealth confers power, without conferring one whit of good judgement. It that sense, it greatly resembles violence.
Harumph! Anyway—let’s talk about something important—how’s Hillary doing? It is Super Tuesday, and the sun’s getting low in the sky—though, if you ask me, Leap Day is pretty special—making ‘super’ Tuesday something of an anticlimax. It’s just a bunch of primaries. Still, if I imagine myself in Hillary’s shoes (and yes that does feel uncomfortable) it must be a thrilling day.
I’ve gone from sight-reading through Chopin’s book of mazurkas to his book of nocturnes—I have hours of recordings I’ve spared my listeners—I enjoy sight-reading through good music like that—but I don’t keep to tempo—and I go back and correct myself when I flub a passage—it’s a lot more like actual reading than it is performance—it’s quite unlistenable. I just do it for myself—it’s really fun. And after I find favorites, and do them over and over, I eventually get to play them better. I used to post some of the work—nowadays I only post the finished product—when I’ve gotten it as far as I’m going to get it. But that’s a tough call—take today’s nocturnes—they’re not great, but they’re a lot better than the other four that I’m not posting.
The improvs are a poser as well. I try to make them all different and, technically speaking, they are all different. But inasmuch as they’re all ‘me’, they’re pretty much all the same, too. So I post them all, even knowing that some judicious editing would make my YouTube channel far more attractive. But when you post nearly every day, it gets to be like writing a journal—you’re too busy writing it to ever read it back to yourself. Same with this blog—sometimes I go look at a post from a year or two ago, and I think to myself, ‘Huh! Did I write that?’
Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! I feel a lot better than I did yesterday—yesterday, I was just gnawing away at my own insides for some reason—I get like that sometimes—temporary insanity—I’d be more comfortable with full-time work, as far as that goes—but we don’t get to pick and choose our personal brain chemistries, so what can you do, right? I’ll append my unposted rant from yesterday below—but don’t take it too seriously—it represents a mood more than a state of mind.
But before I get to all the screaming and shouting, let me talk about today which, as I say, finds me in a far more temperate state of mind. I was just watching “A Night At The Opera”, starring the Marx Brothers and Kitty Carlisle—the shipboard music number, to be precise, when first Chico plays piano, then Harpo goes from piano to harp, with the male lead (I forget his name) singing “Cosi Cosa”. The Marx Brothers make music seem so simple and easy, like they’re not even paying attention to what they’re doing. It inspired me to the point of muting the TV and going to play some piano myself.
Today’s improv is me trying to emulate the breezy, simple music they always played as a feature in each of their films. Can I play the piano as if I’m shooting the keys with my forefinger, like Chico? No, sadly, I can’t. Can I add that soupcon of old-world classical style, with a hint of angelic despair, like Harpo? I wish. But I can play in the same spirit—and that is what I’ve tried to do with today’s offering.
As much as I admire the Marx Brothers, I must admit I’m glad it’s New Year’s Eve—weeks of movie marathons, Hallmark movies, holiday specials, and Top-10-retrospectives of the year—with commercials promising to resume first-run programming, airing fantastic new stuff—has me wishing that at least the late-night hosts would come back from holiday re-run hiatus. Why interrupt a re-run to tell people that good TV will be shown next week—are TV execs just frustrated torturers that missed out on the Inquisition?
I depend too heavily on TV as pastime to be comfortable with half-a-month without oxygen. I’ve started checking the year-of-release of all the cable movies—I say to myself, “1992—let’s see, that came out twenty-three years ago.” I wonder how many times I’ve wasted two hours re-watching this movie on cable over the decades. It’s a sad exercise—one I would gladly give up to watch a new release—but even the VOD-movie-releases dry up during the holidays—as if the whole world had ‘things to do’ during the holidays.
Some genius should start a new cable channel for TV addicts—no commercials and nothing is ever shown twice. I’d watch that, no matter what they put on. No, I take that back—the so-called Science Fiction Channel (or Syfy) taught me that TV can ruin anything. There’s very little sci-fi on Syfy—it’s mostly horror and paranormal garbage. There’s little science on Science—and scant history on History (unless you’re obsessed with Hitler—what’s with that?) TV can be so disappointing.
Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year, with lots of good TV to watch. Now as promised, I append yesterday’s horrible writing, by turns deathly boring and insanely spiteful—enjoy:
Wednesday, December 30, 2015 8:52 AM
Those NASA photos get to me after awhile—they’re pictures of things so immense that if the entire planet Earth was in the picture, it wouldn’t be big enough to make out against the backdrop of nebular clouds and lenticular galaxies. Then there’s the ‘pretty picture’ issue—when astronomers take pictures using radio-waves or x-rays, the pictures are the color of radio and x-ray, i.e. invisible—and so are displayed using false colors—which is fine. I mean, a picture that can’t be seen by the human eye is of limited use—using false-color hues to indicate depth and shadow is mandatory—but when you give someone a box of Crayolas, you have to expect a little creativity in the result. And while the resulting NASA photos are spectacular, they bear little resemblance to what I see when I go outside at night.
Not that I want NASA to be boring—I find the whole subject fascinating—humans spent centuries puzzling over the nature of light—which can exhibit the characteristics of both particle and wave—before we realized that light is simply that range of electromagnetic radiation which our optic nerves respond to. That is just wild, to me—imagine—radio waves with wavelengths longer than a grown man, and microwaves of (naturally) microscopic wavelength, are also electromagnetic radiation, but too big or too small to be sensed by human eyes.
There is nothing special about visible light—except to humans, which have evolved eyeballs to see green—that’s why green is smack in the middle of the visible spectrum—because human eyes evolved to better find food (green vegetation). The other colors are just extra, a way for our brains to separate out the green. Electromagnetic radiation in the infra-red range—now that’s special—infra-red is what we call heat—small enough to be invisible, but big enough to excite molecules (which is where the heat comes in). Infra-red’s wavelength is so close to that of visible light that we can make goggles that display infra-red imaging as visible—though I couldn’t say how they do it.
I get confused by the idea of imaging non-visible electromagnetic radiation—I know that the original discovery of x-ray photography was based on the reaction of photographic plates to x-rays—but how in the world do they do that digitally? Mysteries abound. How does a magnet know which end is positive? How does a circular magnet know where the ends are? What is the difference between electric current in a wire and electromagnetic radiation moving through space? I love physics, but it’s very confusing.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015 1:08 PM
I don’t know why I’m so full of frustrated rage today—maybe I’m coming down with a cold or something—I have no patience, no mercy, and no interest in being polite. It’s probably best if I stay off of social media today—I was just cursing at the News on TV—just sitting by myself, watching the news, and cursing a blue streak at high volume, directed towards the subjects of the news, the interviewees, and the talking heads themselves, each in their turn. No one meets my apparently-too-demanding standards of common sense and objectivity—but I usually just turn the channel—not stay there, screaming at my TV. I need a change of scenery or something—I’m really starting to lose it altogether.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015 9:26 PM
Donald Trump is a pompous dick. He says he’s a successful businessman but he’s really just a successful greedy person—there are lots of ways to get rich off of strategic bankruptcy filings, which let principle officers walk away with all the cash and leave the creditors, suppliers, and employees with nothing—but that’s not ‘good business’—that’s just being good at unethical, yet still technically legal, dealings. Trump, in his Mussolini-esque way, would insist that that’s still business—which says a lot about his take on ethics.
He’s never held office or won an election—how do we size him up? Maybe we should ask the people he has done business with—or maybe ask the people who work for him. He does a lot of talking—but we don’t hear a peep out of the people that know him. He’s pretty good at publicity—how is it he’s never been able to introduce us to his friends and colleagues? What is he afraid they might say?
Does he need ethics for a career in politics? Sadly, no. Politics is a cesspool and always has been—but the Republican solution—to elect incompetents and delusional morons to the legislature—is actually making things worse. This last hurrah of the Tea Party—a bid to elect the most incompetent moron to the highest office in the land—has been side-tracked. There are so many candidates with equally empty skulls—Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Christie—that they should by all rights be spoiled for choice. But that has all been swept aside by a reality-TV personality who has years of experience playing to the mouth-breathers. The Tea Party constituency has forgotten this is an election—they think it’s a game show—and they want their hero to win.
The GOP has only itself to blame—they’ve trained these knee-jerk reactionaries to run counter to common sense—and the party faithful have learned their lesson all too well. The Republicans wanted stupid voters and they’ve got’em—and they’re all gonna vote for the bully who’s ‘on their side’—how little they suspect what an elected Trump would truly mean for them and their families, and their day-to-day reality.
President Obama has been notably focused on positive results—so much so that, even with all the push-back, he has almost undone all the damage Bush did—but that still leaves us sixteen years behind where we should be. Imagine what would happen with Trump in that office, knowing nothing except how to bitch and blame and criticize other people. As an atheist, I can only say, ‘God help us’ if that happens. On the other hand, Trump actually making policy, making decisions about America—is an even more terrifying prospect. Bush showed us how dangerous a simple idiot president can be (the fucking ‘decider’—what a tool)—and we don’t want to find out what a reckless idiot president entails.
Doesn’t this smarmy, entitled prick have enough? Does his ego truly require the destruction of the greatest nation in the world? Why doesn’t he go back to ripping off anyone stupid enough to trust him, and building surprisingly ugly buildings with his name plastered over the door? Fucking asshole.
I call this election the last hurrah of the Tea Party because it can only end one of two ways. Either they’ll lose, proving that the electorate is too smart to fall for another Bush, or worse, a Trumpelstiltskin—or they’ll win, which will mean the doom of America—either way, the Tea Party will die. Republicans will have to go back to pretending they believe in science and pluralism and all those things they hate—they will have to accept that voters are people, with all the horrible variety that implies. Sorry, right-wingers—the world is just too serious for your childish tantrums; too complex for your simplistic pretenses.
In a world where change is so frighteningly fast that nobody can keep up, the conservatives are bound to take a beating—and ever since the digital revolution, they have had to rely on misdirection and dirty tricks to maintain any kind of influence. In fact, for people who want to live in the past, they are surprisingly adept at absorbing new technology to enhance all the misdirection and dirty tricks. The fat cats love the right because nothing panics a fat cat like the prospect of change—or fairness—and Americans, historically, have a bad habit of changing things for the better, making things fairer—so conservatism is the only safety afforded the wealthy and powerful—it’s been that way since we kicked out the British.
We let ourselves be fooled by leaders like FDR and Kennedy—men raised in wealth who still had more concern for the people than for the ruling class they came from—and boy, did their peers hate them for it. But they were special men—great men. Outside of such rare exceptions, we should never be voting for rich people—rich people suck. I submit that Trumpelstiltskin sucks big red hairy ones—he’s special, alright—just not in a good way. If he wasn’t so afraid of political correctness, he’d probably ask for a wheel-chair ramp for his brain. Then again, he’s very sly and nasty—that’s almost like being intelligent, if you don’t look too close.
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.
We got new chairs—they’re classy, made out of unpainted wood—not folding chairs, which have been our go-to chairs, mostly. It’s good to have chairs—that way you can have company—uh-oh! Company? Wait a minute….
I started to write a post today, then about three pages in, I realized I was mistaken in my facts. I had to walk away—I hate when I realize I’m wrong about something—it’s not like it happens every day (more like every other, but never mind).
But I walked away with a cigarette burning in the ashtray. I came back just now, hours later, and the smoke-eater ashtray is still on, wasting its batteries, and there’s a butt that’s gone out on the newspaper that I use for a mouse-pad, with a little burned-out circle in the paper. I almost burned my house down because I got upset about being wrong.
It’s partly the chairs’ fault—you don’t usually get a parade of new chairs coming through the front door, which I’m sitting next to. So, stunned by being wrong and confused by a shower of furniture, I walked away from a lit cigarette—but I was lucky. The house abides.
Then I misspelled “Haydn” on my video graphics, and had to go back and correct all that—it’s just my day for screwing up, I guess. Day after tomorrow is Thanksgiving—there’s a pressure (for me at least) building from the approaching holidays—opening ourselves to feelings, in the tradition of the season, makes the thought of trouble more intimidating. When things go wrong during the holidays, they don’t just go wrong—they ruin the holiday. Not that I expect things to go wrong—but bustling shoppers and stressed-out parents and heavy store traffic, all together, just need a little complication, like bad weather for example, and the whole thing becomes a nail-biter. I kinda feel like ducking, until January 2nd makes it all go away—I love January 2nd—it’s like that day you come home from vacation—the good times are over, but it’s nice to just settle in again.
Well, next blogpost, I hope to know what I’m talking about—if that was ever the case.
I noticed that today’s YouTube-posted improv was exactly one week after the last one—I used to post almost once a day—am I now going to post only once a week? Am I slowing down because my sixtieth birthday is only three months away? I think it’s more likely that I’ve finally accepted that I’m my own biggest fan and other listeners are not eagerly awaiting my next post.
It’s true that I like my own music—it’d be a pretty sad state of affairs if I didn’t, I guess. And I am one of those few people that enjoyed classical music right from childhood, without being told it was important or impressive—or without having to be taught to ‘appreciate music’ in school—though I did enjoy those classes. So I’m used to liking music that doesn’t interest a lot of other people—music that is more (and less) than just something to dance to. So, for a long time I figured that I might just be ‘inaccessible’, like classical music—but now I think I have to give that up—I am not going to draw a crowd—ever.
My big ‘idols’ are Glenn Gould, George Winston, and Keith Jarrett—and since I’ve never surpassed any of them in any way, I can’t really call them ‘influences’. I think I’d have to go past them in some way before I could relegate them to ‘influence’ status—they remain my idols, people far more talented than I. So, if recorded musicians of forty or fifty years ago are still unreached targets—if I still think of myself in terms of someone who’s trying to get started in music—then I take it as given that my dreams of being notable in music will never be more than dreams.
Not that they were ever very promising dreams—I never received the slightest encouragement from parents, teachers, friends or loved ones—more like discouragement, in many cases. I stuck with music through plain stubbornness—I wasn’t about to let myself be excluded from something that great. And if I had to be a lousy musician, then so be it—I was not about to spend my entire life just listening to other people have all the fun.
Anyway, I stuck to it for a long, long time and now I’m liking my own recordings—some more than others, but that’s how that goes—a few I’m quite pleased with. I have the luxury of having my own music—other people aren’t interested in listening to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that very few people have their own personal music soundtrack they can switch on whenever they get tired of pop music. Just another luxury—did I tell you I have my own library? I am so rich—and on so little money—I must be pretty clever.
I used to make a decent wage—we had very big bills back then, but we didn’t have half so comfortable a lifestyle. Sometimes mo’ money is mo’ problems. Sometimes being able to indulge your whims isn’t healthy. I’ll never be wealthy but I’ll always be rich. I’m lucky that way.
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.
Huzzah! I am once again a licensed driver of automobiles. My faithful compendium, Spencer, went out early this morning to top off his gas tank in anticipation of my noon Road Test in Carmel—and he reminded me to bring all my paperwork, which was a good thing. I’m not used to his car, but I’m actually an old hand at driving, so different cars don’t really throw me that badly—and he has a really nice car, too—a Chevy Impala. I forgot to look over my shoulder before pulling out; and I didn’t signal before beginning my parallel parking; but I passed, and that’s the important thing.
More important, to me, was the fact that I was able to use the bathroom this morning for the first time in several days—it’s quite a relief. I’m on my second day of heavy antibiotics for diverticulitis—things are finally becoming bearable. I’m able to think again, relatively speaking—and for what my usual thinking is worth—so I’m going to share some of the hell I’ve gone through recently.
I’m tempted to comment on the Republicans in Congress and the Russians in Syria—but this is a journal entry, so no politics today.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015 7:16 AM
Pain, And More Pain (2015Oct07)
For days I felt pain in my abdomen—then yesterday I couldn’t stand it any longer and Claire drove me to the ER in Mt. Kisco. Turns out I have diverticulitis. That may sound bad, but they were talking about ‘blockages’ and ‘surgery’, so it’s actually good news—plus, they didn’t have to admit me—bonus!
So they put me on a massive antibiotics regimen and liquid diet. It still hurts this morning but at least I’m not wondering if I’m about to die—it’s really quite painful. It reminded me of the ‘good old days’ when I had six months of forty surgical-staples in my abdomen, after my transplant operation.
People who’ve been sick or in pain can be very dull—for instance, I have no plans today other than to lay around and be glad I’m not having surgery (knock wood). Whenever the antibiotics get my inflammation to die down, I plan to spend that day just enjoying the absence of pain (I should be so lucky). With any luck, I may move my bowels someday soon—it’s a friggin carnival, here at the Dunn house.
In the meantime, I’m wondering if having something new to write about is all that great—seeing as how it’s all about dysfunction in my ass—not your traditional crowd-pleaser as literary subjects go. Still, being a shut-in makes you crazy for anything to happen, anything to break the stultifying circularity—and if I only counted the positive incidents, I’d have a long wait for that break.
There was positivity, however—my lovely Bear drove me to the hospital and stayed with me the whole time and drove me home again around midnight, when she had to get up early today, to serve jury-duty in lower Manhattan. It’s times like these that I marvel at how lucky I am to have a wonderful Bear. She’s the greatest. But anyone who has met her knows that.
BTW, All these drawings are my illustrations for my Bear Poems
So much pain over the last week or so—it made it hard for me to think—I have trouble thinking under pressure. I’m posting the improvs, but only as examples of how messed up in the head I was when I played them. I have enough trouble with the piano when I’m feeling myself.
Before I knew about the diverticulitis, I had a bad week—I wrote several posts that I never posted—they were very dark. But since I now know what was going on, I’ll share one of them with you—this was from five days ago:
Friday, October 02, 2015 11:32 AM
After a certain point, you realize that aches and pains have just become a part of your daily life—that each twinge is not a signal that you’re dying, or that you ate poison, or that you need to go to the ER. You reach the conclusion that if you’re not actually sweating in pain, then it doesn’t hurt that bad. And even when it’s sweating-bad, you give it a few minutes—just to make sure it isn’t gas—or a cramp. Pain signals help the body respond to threats and intrusions—but as we age, tiny threats and intrusions become the norm—and the aches and pains stay turned-on pretty much from the time you get out of bed.
Analgesics are wonderful things—by reducing inflammation of tissue, it reduces pain—and it also reduces the amount of damage, since the longer tissue is inflamed, the worse the damage. I occasionally use ice packs, or heating pads, for my back aches or neck aches. The only pain I have trouble dealing with is headaches—to me, it’s like static on the radio—it makes it hard to think, to read—even watching TV is difficult with a headache. So I use aspirin.
As a teenager, I was addicted to aspirin for a while—now, if I use aspirin too much, it just makes the headache worse. For years, I used Tylenol and Advil instead—but then my liver doctor told me that was suicidal, so now I’m back to aspirin—and only one at a time—and not every day. Still, I sometimes get unbearable headaches—and I break down and take two aspirin and two Advil. That works most of the time—but it also guarantees that the headache will come back the next day, a kind of boomerang effect. So I do my best to avoid that vicious cycle.
It’s so different for children—as a child, I didn’t understand what a headache actually was—I almost never got sick, and when I did I’d be so delirious from fever that I hallucinated. Pain is virtually unknown to the young—their bodies work like well-oiled machines, their bones are elastic, and they hardly weigh anything when they fall down. When pain does arrive in a young person’s life, it’s momentous—it can overpower their reason. That’s very different from someone like me, who thinks of pain as a normal part of breathing. It’s another aspect of life that makes it hard for young and old to understand each other.
If you ask a young person if they want to live forever, they’ll say ‘of course’—but if you ask an old person, they’ll have to think it over. Living forever is nothing unless it includes eternal youth—otherwise, you’re just extending your retirement—and what’s the point of that? I don’t want to live a long time—I want to live healthy for as long as I can. In my case, that’s already a moot point. I’ve been living on the edges of health for years now—and it’s nothing but hard work, fighting off the spells of frustration, rage, and despair that inevitably follow when life has no object beyond breathing.
In normal life, the bottom line is always a goal—you’re trying to accomplish something—hopefully, maybe even achieve greatness at something. Without access to a job, a career, a car, or a social group—as in my case—without the ability to work or create or achieve, life becomes a battle against oneself. Even staying alive isn’t my job—it’s my doctors’. My only real job is not to kill myself and waste all their hard work. In the meantime, I suffer from an incurable case of ‘idle hands’.
At the same time, the emptiness of normal lives is revealed to me—nine to five, working for some office manager, getting paid a salary—these thing may allow me to support my family, but what do I get out of it, besides a life of modern slavery? What right do the wealthy owners have to enslave the other 99% in pursuit of manufacturing plastics, selling magazine subscriptions, organizing vacation itineraries, or selling burial insurance? How is it different from Medieval times, when the wealthy owners enslaved everyone to grow food that wasn’t even their own?
Statistics show that democracy doesn’t respond to the majority of people in the country—it responds to the majority of rich people. Statistically, there’s as much chance of the most-wanted legislation being voted on as the least-wanted legislation—among the whole population. Among the wealthy, democracy does what it’s supposed to do—it enacts what they want most and avoids what they most don’t want—but if it only works for the 1%, then it’s not really democracy, is it?
Likewise with ‘progress’. The new I-Phone 6s is a wonder—if you have a thousand bucks up front, and hundreds a month to spare. The new Tesla model S is a wonder—if you have $100,000 to spare. Meanwhile, the rest of us get to work nine to five for the privilege of worrying about bills and driving a junker. And that’s if we’re not starving, or homeless, or sending our kids to schools that don’t teach them to read. The United States, in its origin, began a fight with the rich and powerful—I think, here in 2015, we can all agree that we’ve lost that fight. The poor are always with us—and so are the rich. Anyone see a connection there?
In our war against the rich, we are constantly being diverted with little nothings—molehills built up into mountains for the media to get excited about. They spend all day talking about whether Trump should be president, when it’s so obvious that that asshole belongs in jail, at best. The Koch brothers hold seminars to decide which candidate to pay for, when they should be huddled in their mansions with a torch-lit angry mob outside their windows.
It’s the old problem—you can’t fix a car while you’re driving it down the highway. We can protest Occupy Wall Street all weekend, but we have to leave and go work for those pigs on Monday morning. We can vote for any candidate we like, but the candidates get pre-selected by those pigs. And the most able among us are not working to beat those pigs, but to join them. And people wonder why I’m so depressed all the time. What a crock.
[Afterword: So, that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Nothing was easy or comfortable. But I’m on the mend now—and I have a drivers license again (motorists beware!) so I’m a happy man. Have a good day, everybody.]
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
I always knew I was special—and now I have proof. This morning I listened to a great YouTube of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Beethoven Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral) in F, Opus 68.
So maybe I had nature on the brain—but then I went to lie down and listen to myself. It’s not as self-centered as it sounds—I play CDs I’ve burned of my improvs, so that I have something to listen to while I roll cigarettes or watch close-captioned TV on mute or read a book.
I usually play it pretty low volume—just enough to hear it well without it actually striking my eardrums (I’m a sensitive flower) especially if I’m trying to read. By doing this I can hear when a particular improv has a sour note or an ugly passage—any awkwardness of execution, beyond the endemic. It interrupts my thinking—because, like everyone else, I’m used to perfect music coming out of loudspeakers—it’s almost impossible to imagine an album with a sour note on it. Not surprising, since a recording studio is basically a perfection filter that catches any trace of clumsiness and rules it right out—not that there’s anything wrong with that…..
I’m occasionally, pleasantly surprised by a bit of musical soaring that catches my ear in a rare piece—something that makes me proud. These are important for several reasons—one, obviously, it encourages me to continue playing Don Quixote on the keyboard. But I also play them back repeatedly, trying to take note of what I did and why it works and how I might use it in future.
There are, among those rare moments, even rarer instances where the key to what makes a passage striking is the emotional energy—not something I’m famous for, but it shows its head every decade or so. These passages stymy me—how can I transport myself into inspiration once I’ve sat down to play? You might as well ask me to fly.
Anyway, sometimes I listen to myself turned up real loud so I can hear every sound and nuance on the recording, just to make sure I heard everything I did—and whether any background sounds that might ruin the recording show up at high volume. That’s what I was doing today—I had the Bose cranked to 50—and I get to the third track, which is called “Blue Lake”. Now Claire and I have often joked that the birds outside our windows like to sing along with me at the piano—and it did seem kinda eerie sometimes, but I was too busy to pay attention.
26 seconds in you hear a cricket or cicada or something, then after a minute in, you hear a bird chirping along for two minutes or more, with occasional chiming in throughout. But it’s right on the beat—you can even hear it get a little huffy about my messing up the beat (which I do).
So, I jumped up and went to tell Claire about it in the living room—and while we were talking about how strange it was, I felt inspired and began to record today’s improv, while Claire studied on the couch—and after a minute and a half of playing, the darn bird sang along again—but Claire says it was a different bird. There’s some other birds in there, too—although I can’t say whether the crow was doing his own thing or what. Once I heard them chiming in, I started to play to them, looking around the upper register for stuff they might react to—ultimately, this is less a musical piece and more a dialogue with my avian house-hangers. So I guess I have a fan club—boy, do I feel special.
It’s one of those days—I play the piano and sing along with myself—I sing along with the playlist on my PC (somewhere in there I marvel at the inordinate amount of lyrics I’ve somehow memorized over the years—yet still have some point in every song where I have to go ‘uh-la-la-yeah-oh-uh’). So—am I happy as a lark, or am I full of frustration and this is my passive-aggressive way of venting? It’s hard to say.
One thing I’ve noticed about music—if you do it properly, it’s pretty hard work—not that I see it that way—it’s a joy, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy—it takes focus, effort and seven kinds of coordination. They say playing the piano is the equivalent of rowing a boat; playing the violin is the equivalent of lifting weights; and conducting an orchestra is like being in a boxing match—in terms of calories burned, at least. For all I know, music has kept me from wasting away during my sick period—it was the only thing that got me out of bed.
Then again, I don’t exactly look like I frequent the gym. I’ve got a permanent paunch from having a liver transplant—there are certain abs of mine that will never flex again—but that just gives me a good excuse to look like most guys my age, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
A few nights ago, I wrote:
O, Joy and Rapture! I noticed that some drawings I was sure I had were no longer showing up on my PC—then I remembered I had some back-up files.
Trouble was backup files don’t restore themselves—and I had used Norton 360 software to make them. I figured I was in for a long, hard slog before I ever managed to restore these files but I went on live-chat with Norton Tech Support (didn’t hurt that it was one in the morning) and they set me up with a quick Restore-app download and I’m sitting here typing now because I’m waiting for my 50,000 files to finish restoring—how easy is that?! Sometimes a person gets lucky.
One thing I’ve finally learned from computers—if something is important enough to get on there in the first place, I’ll probably want it again sometime in the future—no files are truly deletable.
That may seem like file-hoarding, but with the proper directory-tree organization–and considering how big today’s hard drives are–you never get into the kinds of problems that plague real hoarders of actual stuff.
Of course, now that I have that stuff restored, I have to go through my backups and de-dupe the files, and move them to the correct sub-directories—there’s a lot of confusion in my mind after a few minutes of that sort of thing, so I’m still not done. But it’s all there—that’s the important thing.
I could listen to the Beach Boys sing “I Can Hear Music” all day long, I swear…. Hey—tomorrow’s Claire and I’s 35th wedding anniversary—cool, right? No wonder I can’t think straight.
I watched Hillary Clinton at the DNC meeting on CSPAN this morning—she gave a great speech. She defined the Democratic Party as the party that is concerned with the people—and she castigated the Republicans as out-of-touch. The former Secretary of State said the Republican presidential candidates were “all Trump, but without the pizzaz”—which I found especially apt.
How do the right-wingers rationalize their religiosity in a nation whose watchword has always been ‘separation of church and state’? How do they demonize immigration in a nation that is built upon an alloyed strength forged in a revered melting-pot? How do they maintain their dog-whistles of division in a nation where our progress is measured in the advancement of freedom and equality? It is only by preying on the weakness of will, the ignorance, and the self-love of their followers that the GOP inveigles us away from the true path of America’s future. End of speech.
So, I’ve been experiencing creative doldrums recently—I seem to have nothing musical to say in my recent improvs—it’s all just a bunch of seeking and not a lot of finding. This post, as well—I began it this morning but now it’s quarter to five in the afternoon—and it’s just a patchwork of disconnected ramblings. Anyhow, here’s my latest foray into the depths of the dog days:
Well, we’ve been confusing two different things for a long time—for so long that it’s become a part of our national character—a lot of us think that good business practice is the same as good governance. So we must not blame Mr. Trump, who simply surfs the wave of public approbation.
I’m reminded of how the ‘modern’ age of machines brought so many sudden changes that some changes in our thinking went a little too mechanistic—into fascism. Fascism seemed reasonable at the time—it had logic and (pretend) science, and modern folk were all about the logic and science and mechanization back in those days.
Inflating of Nadars air balloon on a field outside the Barrier Utrecht, Amsterdam, September 14, 1865, John D. Brewer, 1865 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Likewise today we have great changes that influence changes in our thinking—we don’t even need wires today to make a connection, never mind something as arcane as eye-contact. We’re de-centralizing—we’re going Uber. And Americans maintain a firm belief that business will ‘regulate’ itself—although that is only true in terms of fair competition between companies, and has no relevance to the way in which business treats people. Unfair business practices do somehow persist—proving that business regulates itself on the same model as evolution—a bloody, kill-or-be-killed status quo that ends up with the winners becoming alpha predators—and everyone else is the food. The endgame is simply a new monarchy based on ownership rather than bloodlines—if those two things are truly separate.
Hemelvaart, Jan Punt, 1748 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Because of technology, we have lost the connection between ourselves and our world—our survival is more dependent upon the economic infrastructure—the stores, banks, office buildings, mines, factories, ports, the housing, highways and airliners—than it ever was on the source material for those sophistries: the crops, water, air, lumber, cattle, and cotton—the stuff that hitherto more visibly either grew from or fed off the Earth.
Bacchus and Ariadne, Gerard de Lairesse, c. 1680 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
We used to husband our resources, tend our fields, plant and harvest our crops—now we buy stuff. Some guy with a huge machine is doing all the agricultural stuff, somewhere out in that blank breadbasket between the coasts. Except for that one Mr. Greenjeans out in Iowa, the rest of us are working on maintaining our infrastructure—though it should more rightly be considered a superstructure, as it is built upon a natural world that once had a structure of its own—we couldn’t control nature like we do our modern environment, but we didn’t have to maintain it, either.
Dolls-house Ceiling-Painting of a Cloudy Sky with Birds, attributed to Nicolaes Piemont, c. 1690 – c. 1709 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Progress isn’t addition, it’s a trade-off—you get the new, but you lose the old. And while we are marveling at the brave new cyberworld of our present—where paper is disappearing and robots are working faster and better than the humans they replace—we should give a thought to the tremendous loss that implies. It’s not a question—it’s a given. Worse yet, history tells us that we never appreciate the true value of something until it is gone beyond recall. So, while we know that our loss is enormous, we are still waiting to feel the pain. Some days, it feels lucky to be old.
Paradise, Herri met de Bles, c. 1541 – c. 1550 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
As I see it, ‘isms’ will always trip you up. Take any Ism to its logical conclusion and you get mayhem—capitalism turns to thievery, democracy turns to mob rule, Christianity becomes a platform for hate and violence. None of our societal systems and structures stand on their own, alone—they all must be leavened with humanity. One sign of our modern progress is that some people are finally trying to turn humanity into ‘humanism’—they may mess it up—people usually do—but at least we recognize that there is something there, something elemental—that outshines any system of government or faith or justice. It is humanity that allows compromise, forgiveness, and tolerance.
Loss of Faith, Jan Toorop, 1894 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
These are the foundation of freedom and justice—without them, we have only an eye for an eye and the whole world blind—or at least lacking depth-perception. The most singular aspect of humanity is that it isn’t a system of checks and balances—it’s just giving. It’s what we do for infants, for the sick or hungry, for our grandparents and great-grandparents, for anyone we truly feel love for—or even for a stranger—we give, and we don’t look for compensation.
The Shipyard of the Amsterdam Admiralty, Ludolf Bakhuysen, 1655 – 1660 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
When I see these crowds at campaign rallies shouting for justice, I want them to stop shouting long enough for someone to tell them that you don’t get justice—you give mercy, and you hope for justice. Laws help keep the injustice to a dull roar, but nothing will ever end injustice but mercy, compassion, and generosity. If you’re fighting for someone else’s rights, you have a shot at being a force for justice, but if you just looking to get your own, Jack—you’re being selfish. Your therapists will tell you that’s a good thing—but your therapist is an idiot. Still, what can your therapist tell you? How do you tell anyone exactly how to be a human being?
Val van Icarus, Hans Bol, Anonymous, c. 1550 – c. 1650 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Thus endeth the lesson, as Sean Connery intones in “The Untouchables”. I’m wearing a T-Shirt today that I’ve had since one summer of the 80s, when our onetime family business, Mal Dunn Associates, threw a pool party, back in the day–pretty good shirts–still looks good:
I used the above photo, along with my usual pilfering of the Rijksmuseums website’s collection of masterpieces, for the three videos below:
Yesterday, after I’d upgraded to Windows 10, I restarted my PC. Upon re-booting, it asked my for my MS account login. Had I not been able to, miraculously, dredge my password up from my foggy memory, my computer would have become a worthless chunk of chips and wires right then and there. Then the router started acting up—my son fixed it by plugging my PC directly into the cable modem, but now he and my wife have no WyFy access! Is it a coincidence that our router failed right when I upgraded to Windows 10? I’ll let you know after he’s bought and installed a new router. [Note from the following Saturday: Booboo installed the new router and all’s well.]
Operating System upgrades for Windows actually go back to DOS versions—before Windows, we had several versions of DOS. Sometimes a new OS would re-format the hard drive, erasing all the files. It always required changes to the software and the hardware-drivers—meaning that the new OS was useless until all the upgraded versions of the programs were installed. And OS upgrades had their share of bugs, too. After forty years of this, I am understandably leery of OS upgrades.
In the earlier days, a new OS would give noticeably faster response time, notably better user-friendliness, and noticeably more-reliable overall performance. As we’ve become more sophisticated, the changes are harder to pin down. And as OSes became more concerned with online connectivity, the changes have become blurred by differences in bandwidth, signal strength, and traffic density.
We see OS changes that benefit the computer industry more than the individual users—like adding the ‘Store’ option to our media-player apps. And we see an unhealthy focus on phones—as if having a desk to sit at is a bad idea—not that I’m against i-phones, PDAs, etc., but all that curries to the trend in making computing a superficial, convenience-based behavior, rather than an activity we use for specific purposes. It is glamour (and distraction) over substance.
But I’m mostly just grouchy because I’m having an off day—I suppose it’s to be expected after my recent run of very active, mostly successful days. Nothing is as reliable in life as ups and downs. I used to marvel at how the blackest prospects could turn around in a day, or how giddy climbing could suddenly come crashing down—now I just take it for granted. The miracle would be if change ceased and all days were uniform.
Today, I couldn’t play the piano worth a damn—relatively speaking. And I can’t get settled. And I can’t eat. And I went for my walk but I didn’t like it. Fuck this.
Saturday, August 08, 2015 11:53 AM
Stupid by Crazy (2015Aug08)
Stupid by itself is not a problem. Ignorance is nothing but a blank space where information might be, but isn’t. Kitties are stupid—puppies are stupid—babies are stupid—ain’t nothing wrong with stupid. Crazy by itself I have no problem with. I’m a little crazy myself—there’s nothing wrong with a little crazy—sometimes it even helps. But when you take Stupid and lead it around by Crazy—then you’ve got trouble.
That’s why we need to get a handle on religion. That’s why we need to get together on the history of religion. Anyone can know about it—Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” gives a dense (and somewhat boring) outline of how beliefs and rituals evolved over time—how no religion sprang from nowhere, how they’re all related and they all evolved over the ages as a continuum of human nature.
Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library at Nag Hammadi give us insight into the early days of Christianity—when many different people had many different ideas about who Christ was, how He lived and died (and lived?) and what His message was. We have the record of the four Councils of Nîmes from the early first millennium, delineating the church rules that men ultimately formed based on their understanding at the time. And we have the history of the Papal Wars, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to further show that religion is not set in stone—and never has been.
Then there’s the cognitive dissonances of religion. Ancient texts show none of the knowledge of astrophysics or astronomy that one would expect in a creator of the universe—they indicate only the ignorance of pre-science humans. Religions have differences based on geographical limits—where one might expect a supreme being to speak to all humans as one, all over the world. I could go on, but religion itself is a process of having faith without proof—it’s as hard to argue with that kind of idea as it is to argue with an idiot.
Yet I believe religion has a place in our lives. It enhances community, it provides purpose and meaning in a world that lacks both, and it is especially important for children to have some framework to overlay the cold-blooded chaos of the godless universe. But we must forever relegate religion to a ‘Santa Claus’-like status, wherein it is given no domain over the decisions of adults, particularly our leaders. It is used now to promote and perpetuate fear, conflict, and abnormal psychology—we must remove that absolutism from our society if we are ever to stop bigotry, misogyny, and charismatic megalomania.
We in America see the rise of wireless communication begin to transform our leaders into followers—the instantaneous response of large numbers of the electorate leads to knee-jerk reactions on the part of our politicians. They no longer sit and contemplate the future well-being of their constituencies—they’re too busy responding to tweets about what happened two minutes ago. I’d like to see a politician or two stand up to a podium and say that they are atheists—that they don’t represent modern mythology any more than they represent the ancient Greek pantheon of gods.
What I’d really like to see is all the big businesses lose the support of all that evangelical hogwash they use to befog issues that should be determined purely on human rights, without any hocus-pocus. I’d like to see leaders with the guts to stand up to the universe without imagining a ‘Blue Fairy’ god at their backs, protecting them with magic, promising them an afterlife in heaven (or hell) or giving them permission to judge harshly those who are different.
“That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”
—from T. S. Eliot’s “East Coker” (The second of his “Four Quartets”)
Whenever I write poems, I always reach a point where I want to put in that quote from T.S. Eliot, just the first part: “That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory: / A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion, / Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings.” I don’t know why—it’s just the perfect segue from being poetical to being self-referential.
It’s sad, really. I admire Eliot’s poetry so much that usually I’d just as soon stop thinking up my own stuff and just quote him. And even when I write my own stuff I often throw in a phrase or an expression that Eliot-lovers will readily recognize—but that is partly because I have ‘absorbed’ his poetry into my speech, quoting him frequently enough that I sometimes forget it’s not ‘original’, or ‘common speech’. I’m a walking pile of plagiarism—but, never having been published, it’s not that big a problem.
Another Eliot quote I can never get out of my head is:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.”
—from T. S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton” (The first of his “Four Quartets”)
I guess I love it because Eliot does what few people do—he stares directly into the weakness, the fault, the nothingness. He recognizes that we fool ourselves when we assume that speaking is a precise communication—a fact that most poets are loath to even think upon, never mind address as a part of their poetry.
I’ve experienced many kinds of misunderstanding. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from incomprehension—then there’s the willful sort of obliqueness that comes from those who don’t want to be convinced. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from inexperience—as when the old try to speak to the young. Differing preferences, different cultures and backgrounds, and especially different beliefs can all cause misunderstandings.
But as often as not, it’s the words themselves—sounding the same but meaning different things, sounding different but meaning the same thing, meaning too many things, or used as similes in ways that mean a potential infinity of things, such as ‘life is an onion’, etc.
This morning I had the pleasure of reading “They Saw A Game: A Case Study” -by Albert H. Hastorf & Hadley Cantril (originally published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1954). It concerns itself with a 1951 football game where Dartmouth played Princeton. On this particular day, the rivalry between the two schools engendered a violent, penalty-laden game with multiple injuries to players on both sides. For the study, spectators were given questionnaires asking their reactions to various points of play. The main upshot of the study was that Dartmouth boosters saw a different game than Princeton boosters—more than their interpretation of events, even their perception of the events was controlled by their preconceptions, their prior knowledge, and their preference for their own team’s welfare.
Princeton fans not only didn’t judge their players for hits against Dartmouth players—they didn’t even see them—and the same, in reverse, was true for the Dartmouth fans. And if we only see what we want to see during a simple football game, how can we expect to agree on what is happening during a complex conversation?
In my mind, it all boils down to entertainment—we talk to each other as much to pass the time as through any belief that we are actually sharing knowledge. Points of agreement are as often as not points on which two people already share a common thought—the words exchanged, rather than creating that bond, only reveal what is already there. Points of disagreement are reliably irreconcilable through anything as sloppy as verbal discussion or argument. (When was the last time you won one?)
We often see in dramas the ‘courtroom scene’ where a canny attorney uses the ‘yes or no answer’ limitation on a witness to force one into saying what the attorney wants to hear, rather than what the witness truly wishes to impart. We can look at language itself as a larger example of this kind of hobbling—words will often say only part of what we wish to impart to others. The clumsiness of language is most apparent when a speaker uses a chart or some other visual aid to add precision to their speech—the chart represents that which can be better communicated in ways other than words.
Words, rather than being the scientifically precise instruments we wish them to be, are merely sounds by which we reassure each other that we agree on our shared context—arguments are only the recognition of the void where shared context does not exist. We’d like to fill all those voids—‘the brotherhood of man’—but, like dark matter or dark energy (those necessary compliments to the substance of our observable universe) —these empty places surround and support the points on which we all agree, giving substance and character to society. We fear a tyrant who would force us all to think and speak the same—but how much more horrible that would be if it happened by itself!
Here’s a new video–and it’s pronounced ‘Swirly-Cue’ BTW–in which I’ve put pictures of myself. I don’t care for egotism, but who’s else’s pictures am I gonna put in there, huh? I was so busy putting in the pictures I forgot to add any weird visual effects. Next time….
After my exciting trip to play a fancy concert grand at WestConn, I’ve had some more-intimate experiences with the freshly-tuned piano in my living room, which I’d like to share with you here:
[The following two book reviews were posted to Amazon on July 27th, 2015]:
Book Review: “Armada” by Ernest Cline
I’ve just finished reading “Armada” by Ernest Cline. There’s a new-ish school of fiction that suits science-fiction specifically, which I think of as the jump-the-shark approach. Scalzi’s “Redshirts” is a good example—the premise is based on the old insider-joke about Star Trek (the original TV series): the away-team member who wears a red shirt is the character that will be sacrificed to add suspense to the episode. In the Scalzi book, the hero finds himself thrust into what he considered a fictional setting—eventually discovering that his fate is being controlled by some outside ‘programming director’ who has misunderstood the exact role that Star Trek plays in our entertainment, and in our reality.
The hilarious “Galaxy Quest” (1999), again, posits a Star-Trek-like classic TV series which an alien race have mistaken for historical non-fiction and subsequently built themselves a real starship, complete with transporter and a parroting computer-voice. They come to Earth to ask the aging star of the series to be a real captain on their starship—mayhem and comedy ensues. It’s great fun—I’m a fan of jump-the-shark, when it is done with wit and competence.
Ernest Cline’s “Armada” takes a page from “The Last Starfighter” (1984) in which an ordinary teenager obsessively plays a video game that simulates space battle, only to discover that the machine is a testing device to locate talented recruits for real ‘starfighters’ struggling to defend the galaxy from evil. But Cline goes beyond jump-the-shark to ‘multiply-referential jump-the-shark’, including a backstory that involves most sci-fi movies and video games of the past forty years being both training devices for potential warriors and orientation for the whole planet’s population—preparing them to find out that much of popular science-fiction is, in fact, non-fiction.
In doing this, Cline gives the reader a survey of popular science fiction and gaming culture from the premiere of the first Star Wars through to the near-future setting of the story. He pre-empts criticism of recycled plot-lines by cataloging the many ways in which his character’s story reflects the plot premises of the many films, games and stories from which he borrows.
Such ingenuousness gives the story great humor and zip—the protagonist’s interior monologue is not unlike our own interior critique of the story we’re reading. And in the age of remakes, one can hardly criticize Cline for re-doing the concept of Last Starfighter—that movie is thirty years old, familiar only to old farts like myself—and the pixel-screened arcade game of that old classic is as a stone spear-head in comparison to today’s MMO-game-players and the globally interactive worlds they now inhabit.
My disappointment stems from my inability to become absorbed in the story. While much ingenuity is displayed in the references to pop culture and other attempts to add a sense of realism to a highly coincidence-crammed story, the story itself never lingers long enough to give any one scene or character as much depth as is needed to balance out the fantastical aspects of the book. Worse, not a single turn of plot manages to rise above the cliché. While I hesitate to spoil the story, I can assure you that you will not be surprised. Amused, perhaps, but hardly surprised—or engaged.
This style of storytelling comes close to reproducing the suspense and excitement of an action movie—and as with action movies, death can be a stumbling block. Deaths, whether of individuals or of whole populations, are seen through the lens of ‘the mission’, rather than engaged with as dramatic events, as in a ‘chick flick’—and such insularity against this most deeply human aspect of any story has caused many an action thriller to fall flat. The audience is unable to ‘will its suspension of disbelief’ in the face of too much superficiality.
Conversely, young readers and sci-fi newcomers will no doubt find this a much fresher experience than I did—over the decades I’ve become a really tough audience. When the cultural references become central to the story, there is an unavoidable difference in the reaction of older readers, like me, who may find it all too familiar, and younger readers who experience a sort of ‘revelation’ from the massive download of new ideas and connections. Forty years of sci-fi cultural remixing may blow the minds of today’s teens, but it’s just old, familiar memories to someone with gray hair.
Cline’s previous novel, “Ready Player One”, was likewise criticized for a lack of dimension in a NY Times book review, while USA Today wrote, “[it] undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now”. So there you have it—“Armada” is another Cline book that may act as a dividing line between we sci-fi ‘grandpa’s and the younger audience coming on. I still give it five stars, just because it is head and shoulders above a lot of what’s out there.
Book Review: “Idempotency” by Joshua Wright
“Idempotency” takes a difficult computer term as its title because the ‘tech’ in this techno-thriller is an imagined method for allowing a person’s mind to be led through a simulation of an alternate life and to return from the virtual experience without losing one’s sense of their original self. It is a concept almost as thorny as the actual definition of the word.
Fortunately, the plot manages to simplify all of that into a cyberpunk-like tale of suspense, cyber-hacking, secrecy, and madness. There is still some imbalance, as in the fact that the supposed protagonist turns out to be more of a victim, while several other extraneous characters fight over his fate. There is also a great deal of vagueness as to who’s hacking who—or who’s spoofing who. The near-future society-building is sprawling but diffuse—dystopian vistas are suggested but never fully drawn, leaving the background of events somewhat muddied.
I found the writing slightly opaque—but I can’t honestly say whether that is a failing of the author’s or my own. Sometimes, stuff just goes over my head. In my experience, science fiction writers and readers have to find their intellectual level—and there are some writers who are simply beyond my ken. Then again, I found the ‘villain’, an unstable, bitter fundamentalist, to be almost over-the-top simplistic—and unbearably grating—insanity-level religious extremism makes me crazy in real life, so much so that I find it hard to take even in a fictional character.
There’s originality here, though not a lot of it. Bottom line—I finished the book. These days, that’s a winner, just for that—but it didn’t inspire me to sing its praises. Still, the young Mr. Wright is just getting started—I look forward to his next effort.
Time sucks. We’re always waiting for something to end—when we’re not waiting for something to begin. And then, when it’s happening, we either wonder how long we can hope it will last or when it will finally be over. If time isn’t stretching out interminably into the distance, it’s contracting to a sliver in which we haven’t time to take a breath.
The only time we are truly happy is when we find ourselves outside of time—so focused on someone or something that we don’t even think about the passage of time. We always come out of such experiences wondering how much time has passed, or surprised at how much or how little time has gone by. Time is very strict and a person would be a fool to ignore it—which makes it very hard to get outside of that pressure, and why we love to escape from time’s grasp.
Our obsession with time is paradoxical. We call games ‘pastimes’ because they ‘help us’ pass the time. ‘Diversions’, too, while helping us escape the cold bareness of reality, also help speed the passage of empty moments. While we often wish we had more time for one thing or another (and we are certainly in no hurry to reach the end of our time) we spend a lot of our lives trying to lose our awareness of our sequential voyage from one moment to the next.
Time is elastic—but, seemingly, never in our favor. Hard times seem to drag on—good times are always over too soon. Whenever we are truly uncomfortable time will seem to literally stand still. Whenever we are in the throes of pure bliss, it seems to end before it’s even fully begun.
I love T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” because it explores the mystery of time:
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
Memory, as well, is explored—another elastic paradox having to do with time. Yet memory is nearly instantaneous—we don’t need the same amount of time for a memory that we need for the original event. How does our brain remember something that happened for hours, or days, without spending more than a moment to do it?
Still, even in physics, time can be measured to the micro-second—but it retains its elasticity through the mechanism of relativity. Einstein says, ‘the faster we move, the slower time goes’. But relativity only pertains in relation to something else—in our solitude, time has no relativity, it simply goes on.
In life, we get two breaks—we don’t have to deal with any of the time before we are born, and we needn’t concern ourselves with time after we die. It’s odd that something so central to our lives is almost non-existent outside of our lifelines. That’s why the subject of history is a choice—we can, if we’re interested, study the times that preceded our existence—but we don’t have to. History can’t be changed—but it is easily ignored.
My interest in time was purely academic in my youth—but now I can’t help obsessing over the differences made by my long illness. Most people have a childhood, a school period, an adult career, and retirement. But for me the period most of my peers spent having a career was spent being severely ill, at times flirting with death. Had my life been a few years earlier, I would have died when I was half the age I am now—but due to progress in medicine, my illness was cured and I returned to a ‘normal’ life in my late fifties. But there’s nothing normal about a life that has such a strong similarity to the tale of Rip Van Winkle. He had a little trouble with time, too.
I was oddly happier when on death’s doorway than I am now—back then I saw things through a hazy half-awareness, lost between my lack of short-term memory and the blur of anti-depressants—and other drugs too numerous to catalog. Now that I’m somewhat straight, somewhat aware, and somewhat active, I find myself going from TV to piano to computer to front yard. To cycle through those four lonely choices, sometimes several times a day, becomes a threadbare existence so repetitive that it threatens to lose all meaning.
There are many examples in history of great people whose childhood was sickly, solitary, or otherwise troubled and lonely—and that translated into strengths in later life. There are even more examples of people whose later years became shrunken and cut-off, with nothing but memories of past excitement. But these are relatively natural occurrences.
There’s nothing so unnatural and disorienting as having the ‘hole in one’s life’ be smack in the middle of it. It cancels out any of the inertia from one’s beginning—and it leaves no running room to get up to speed for what’s to come. Just as an example—try job-hunting with a resume that’s blank from 1991 on—it’s hard enough to get hired at the age of fifty-nine, going on retired.
The only silver lining is that I’m able to read again. I get tired quickly and I have to use an index card/bookmark to keep track of the characters’ names when I read the really big books, more than 800 pages, that I love the most. But it’s summer—which means that my TV is showing over 300 channels of garbage and re-runs until September—so having my favorite diversion available again is a real godsend.
Still, I was at such loose ends today that I played three separate improvs on the piano—morning, afternoon, and evening. I hope you find that they help pass the time.
The first time I got a true sense of history was when I asked my parents about World War II. My parents were children of the thirties, so WWII was their childhood, for the most part. But WWII as history—as it was presented to me in school, on TV, and in books and movies, was a historical event. When I asked them about it, it seemed to be something they heard on the radio news—no more a part of their everyday lives than I found the reports of Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which was a big part of my youth but which I found to be nothing but an annoying part of every day’s newscast and paper headline.
Most grown-ups of the early seventies were relieved when Nixon’s administration went to jail and he finally resigned—I was simply relieved that everyone could stop talking about it. My parents felt much the same about the last World War—it was something horrible that the grown-ups got upset about. There were things I learned about the Second World War that my parents didn’t know about—and didn’t have any interest in knowing about. I consider myself lucky that none of my kids ever took an interest in the Nixon era—I’d be just like my folks.
Similarly, we here at home knew far more about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than the soldiers who were doing the fighting. They probably don’t get CNN in action zones—and they’re probably too busy to watch it, even if they did. It’s always about perspective—if you can climb a tall tree in the middle of Kansas, you can see more than everyone else—but the people on the ground are the only ones who matter, the ones who get things done. On the news we see what’s happening everywhere—a soldier under fire has strictly local interests.
History, despite its importance, has already happened. We can talk about it, we can learn from it, but we can’t change it. Our interests in history tend to focus on whatever means something to us on its face. Everyone likes the Revolutionary War because it was a war for freedom—and freedom is a popular thing. The history of science has fewer fans—science is a forbidding enough topic without the addition of dry old history. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has remarkable success at it—yet he has to leaven it with plenty of the new, the latest things, the wildest new theories, the bleeding-est-edged tech. My point is that you don’t have to stray far from the beaten path of military events and inventions to find areas of history that have no writers, never mind no readers.
It makes sense. History, in a sense, is a playback of the past—put too much detail into it and you end up without enough of a present to do anything but study the past. Plus, history is the history of all—we have enough trouble keeping track of all the details in our own solitary lives. To tell the story of everyone mandates that we speak in mostly general terms—else we reduce history to a series of actuarial tables.
I was equally nonplussed by my parents lack of interest in the classic movies that I watched incessantly on old late-night TV, and later, at the dawn of cable, on American Movie Classics, followed, finally, by Turner Classic Movies. But those movies were seen by my parents as they were meant to be seen—in a big old movie palace with close-up faces ten feet high. Those stars weren’t legendary to my parents in the same way—they were contemporaries, even if my parents had never left Bayside Heights to mingle with the Hollywood elite.
More importantly, I have contemporaries of my own, many of whom have no interest in old movies. A taste for cinema isn’t all that common, no matter what generation you’re a part of. There are lots of people who go to the movies—that’s not quite the same thing—in the same way that lots of people listen to and dance to popular music, but have no interest in music in its broader sense.
One piece of music history that has relatively few fans is swing music. It gets by—no genre is completely ignored in this age of media. But being so distinctively antique while lacking the gravitas of classical music—plus being confined to such a tiny slice of the historical timeline—it has a specificity that limits its mass appeal to the occasional cameo in popular culture. I count myself among its adherents, though I don’t pretend to any great learning on the subject—I just like to play it. Don’t get me wrong—I listen to early Sinatra, Billy Holiday, Glenn Miller, Arte Shaw, and lots of others. There’s a sense of power to the percussion in swing music that isn’t exceeded (perhaps couldn’t be exceeded) until the advent of electric instruments and amplifiers.
I admire that—I’m always trying to get the maximum effect from my baby grand’s acoustic sound alone. I feel like whatever extra fanciness I could get from a synthesizer or a beat box would be frosting rather than cake—not that I don’t like frosting. And I recognize that there’s a power to amplification and synth that nothing I can do will match—maybe a great pianist could take that challenge, but I’m still shooting for ‘good’.
The jingoism of the post-war forties and fifties was out of favor by the time I ran across “They Call It America (But I Call It Home)” by Freddy Grant (1953). Singing such unabashed patriotic mush was frowned upon by my Flower Power generation (see this wonderful essay on Patriotism in Music).
Nevertheless I can’t deny the thrill of such crowing. It feels good to celebrate the greatness of America, even if we are far from the perfect picture being painted in the verse.
The “Our Love Affair” cover is not the famous “An Affair To Remember (Our Love Affair)”—a romantic song composed by Harry Warren for the 1957 film “An Affair to Remember”, but the lesser-known song from “Strike Up the Band” (MGM, 1940) in which it was sung by Judy Garland.
I used a bunch of my classical art graphics to create the video backgrounds today—they give a sense of history, though I didn’t put them into any chronological order or anything. I’m kinda pushing the copyright envelope today—song covers with screen-grabbed art-works. Hey, I can’t do everything myself—and my amateur status makes it all fair use, since nobody really watches my videos anyway.
The following songs are performed in “Six (6) Swing Songs That Start With ‘S’ “:
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!
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.
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
In the first recording, I do my best with ‘Melody in F’ arranged for piano, [from “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” (Memory of a Cherished Place) for violin and piano, Op. 42 (Meditation, Scherzo and Melody) (1878)] by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893). The original piece is just beautiful. I’ll provide the YouTube link here, if you’d like to hear Janine Jansen perform an Encore broadcast on April 19th, 2013, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Alte Oper Frankfurt. (You’d better listen to mine first–I can’t follow a real virtuoso, no matter what instrument they play!)
The second recording, the improvisation, is one where I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve just played the Tchaikovsky piece, but maybe that’s just in my head. It’s hard to tell–you can steal a lot from another composer without it showing, unless you’re taking the actual melody….
I’m getting lazy about my videos. Today, I played two little piano covers but they only last for a coupla minutes, so I just left them tacked on to the improv instead of making a separate movie—so sue me. I’m still going to add “cover” to my YouTube tags, which is their criterion for posting something that’s copyrighted. I’m just excluding the song titles from the video’s Title and putting them in the Description instead. No big deal. I always include song titles in my cover-video Tags, and that’s how people find stuff nowadays anyhow.
Immediately following my improvisation there are two piano covers of classic popular songs,“I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine” and “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town“, which I am reading from arrangements in the “Lawrence Welk Favorites” song book. Though hits in their day, they are rather obscure in the present-day popular memory, so I’m including these brief historical references from Wikipedia.
“I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine”[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]: a popular song, written by Mack David.
The most popular version was done by Patti Page in 1950. The Page recording was issued by Mercury Records as catalog number 5396, and first reached the Billboard chart on May 20, 1950, lasting 9 weeks and peaking at #8. It was her first Top 10 hit. The song was also one of the first recordings by Elvis Presley.
A Dean Martin version of the song was featured in the 1953 film “Scared Stiff” starring Martin and Jerry Lewis. The Patti Page recording is featured in the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. Actor Guy Pearce also briefly sings excerpts of this song in the film, as does Terence Stamp. The first Spanish-language version was recorded by Marco Tulio Sanchez, the precursor of rockabilly in his country Colombia during the 1980s. It was originally intended for Disney’s Cinderella, but not used.
“In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town” [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]: a popular song written by Ira Schuster and Jack Little with lyrics by Joe Young in 1932.
Ted Lewis and His Band performed it in the film “The Crooner” in 1932. His version was released as a single and it went to #1, where it remained for 10 weeks.
Johnny Long and His Orchestra had a million seller of the song in 1946–a slight revision of their 1940 version. The ’46 version reached #13. Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version in the winter of 1958/1959. Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads re-charted the song in 1956 where it reached #27.
The graphics are from our garden last May—which is only two months away—something to look forward to.
My rendition isn’t quite up to Paul’s standards, but I do my best with the fingers I have. I plan to record the other dances of the partita in the near future—they too have a bouncy delight to them—except for the Sarabande, which is one of the sweetest slow pieces in baroque music. I shall have to feel extra-on-my-game when I attempt that one.
The improv came out very novelette-ish and made me think of waves and wind and open water, thus the title and the ‘cover art’ (pictures, once again, courtesy of the Rijksmuseum web-site). Enjoy—
I almost had it on the twenty-seventh, last week—blogging and/or posting an original poem, an original drawing, and an original piano music video—but I had trouble trying to scan my drawing with the three-way printer/scan/faxer, which led to me destroying the internet connection to the router, which led to me crawling back into bed and watching TV for hours. By the time I’d created an illustrated-poem graphic, I just didn’t have the juice to sit down at the piano. So, just a poem and a drawing—though I shouldn’t complain—they were both well-received.
Today, I made sure I sat down for a quick keyboard recital, before I started working on all the technical stuff. Typing up a poem; sketching out a picture; tickling the ivories a bit—not that big a deal. But then try scanning, photo-shopping, text formatting, file-transferring, audio-editing, video-editing, and uploading it all—there’s where the hard work comes in.
Anyway, to content—to call today’s offering a mixed-bag is an understatement. Firstly—I was lying in bed last night and looked over at the t-shirt that I’d used to block the power-LED on the TV (otherwise the bright blue light is right in my eyes as I try to go to sleep). It looked just like the head of a cow or a moose—some sort of beast’s head. So I grabbed my trusty sketch-pad and drew what I saw. As you can see from the side-by-side comparison of a photo of the t-shirt and my drawing, the t-shirt still looks more like an animal’s head than my drawing does. (Hey, I never said I was Rembrandt).
Secondly, I was hand-rolling my cigarettes this morning when the phrase ‘there’s nothing to it but to do it’ came into my head and started re-arranging itself. Pretty soon I had a whole stanza in my head and I had to rush through my tobacco-rolling to get to the keyboard—by which time my head had come up with a second stanza but was in danger of dumping the whole thing out of short-term memory. When I think of a poem, I literally have to run to the keyboard to type it in before it fades away—that’s how leaky my short-term memory is. Most of my essays, half-written in my head before I get to the computer, and my better improvs, singing in my head while I rush to set up the camera by the piano, are all the same story.
Interesting ideas come and go out of memory like flitting shadows—the trick is to get to a working medium in time for the good ones, while not exhausting myself by trying to capture every stray idea that blows through town. As you may have noticed, I’m not one of those planner-type artists—I don’t write voluminous novels, room-filling frescoes, or complete musical compositions. I just try to chase after the scraps of ideas that stumble into my broken brain, and catch them with my shaky fingers. The large-scale mind-palace that allows long-term project-planning (and once made me a sick programmer) is now just a memory. And, like all my memories, a vague one.
Back to content—so the poem happened to end with “I think I hit a fairy with my car.” Dramatic? Yes, but unsatisfying. So I wrote some more verse in front of the first-draft, some more verse after, and ended up with a politically themed poem, which was not my intention. Still, when writing, especially poetry, sometimes you tell it, sometimes it tells you. It’s hard enough to write a poem without trying to make it walk a straight line, too.
And, thirdly, I have a brief musical interlude for today—a cover of the old classic, “That’s My Desire”, in which I do my best Vic Damone impression, and a squirrelly, little improv, for your delectation, dear reader/listener/viewer. I hope at least one of these hot messes provides someone with a moment’s pleasure today.
Finally, I’m adding my recent drawings to look at, which I finally got scans of, thanks to sneaker-net (my son repaired the internet connection, but the printer still isn’t ‘sharing’ like it’s supposed to). Here they are (click on the images to see them full-sized):
Not for the first time, I’m using graphics from the Rijksmuseum website in my videos. One of them, “Whaling Grounds in the Arctic Ocean”, painted by a fellow named Storck in 1699, shows men not only whaling, but prowling about on the ice floes, attacking some poor polar bears! I guess they were attracted by the smell of the blubber being rendered aboardship? Anyway, it’s a fantastic painting—it even has some walruses hanging about in the foreground.
It being rather cold and savage, I used it as a frontispiece for the video “Improv – February Finally Dies”, which was the nicest title I could think of for the last day of this horrible month. All of the pictures are cool—you can see how I’ve crowded out my credits just to enlarge the pics and give you a better look at them.
For the end-credit page of the Piano Covers video, I used a sheet-music-cover illustration done by none other than Toulouse Lautrec (for the song, “Oceano Nox”) showing a sailor leaning over the prow of his ship, contemplating the night. I knew Lautrec did posters and commercial art, but sheet-music covers surprised me. For the title card, I used the wonderfully evocative “Egyptian Dancer in Tent” by de Famars Testas (1863).
For the improv “Spring is Possible” I used two different images of the sea-god, Oceanus—one engraved by Goltzius (1590) and the other by Galle (1586). I really enjoyed these paintings, so I’m going to add them to this post, following the YouTube Videos—check’em out.
Well, I was apparently ‘feeling my oats’ today—it didn’t help the piano covers any, but it sure came out in my improvs. I hope they sound half as good as they felt to play…
These are two familiar pieces of Tchaikovsky for those who listen to my videos, but here is today’s run at them, for your listening pleasure. I’ve just finished watching “Whiplash”, a wonderful film about a horrible music teacher and the demands placed on exceptional musicians, and while the film gave me a great deal of food for thought it certainly left me in no doubt as to my unfitness to join the ranks of professional musicians—I just love Tchaikovsky, that’s all.
Today’s improv came in three separate themes, so I have marked them in the video—just trying to add flavor. I’m looking forward to listening to them—I hope they came out good…
O, and there’s one from yesterday that’s kinda lively:
The great and powerful Peter Cianflone, drummer extraordinaire, came by today (or technically yesterday) and kindly agreed to join me in some ridiculous music-making, none of which is his fault—he was just an innocent, bongo-playing bystander. I do like the piano with a little extra percussion, though, and Pete’s performance upon the mini-bongos is not to be missed.
Nothing went right today at the keyboard—I haven’t listened to it all myself yet—the improv may be passable, who knows? But we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, so it’s all good.
Yes, that’s what I’m promising for your Lunar New Year with this collection of music—transports of joy. Either that, or something slightly less felicitous. You decide. The Tchaikovsky is choppy—the old sight-reading problem—and of the two improvs, I’d say ‘Whooping and Hollering’ is the inferior effort but ‘Carrying On’ is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. There are also two more-pastoral-type improvs from the sixteenth—they’re pretty standard ‘me’ stuff.
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.
Bach’s English Suites are a favorite of mine. This is not the first time I’ve posted a recording of the A Minor Suite, though it is rare that I record the full suite. This recording was done over two days and it’s a bit better than any of my previous attempts, so I’m posting it. Someday, I’ll have to review my YouTube channel videos and delete all the older versions of redundant posts—assuming that the newer ones are always better—I’ll have to do some comparison listening to be sure. So, maybe someday is pretty far off.
It’s not that I don’t listen to my own recordings—I hear them plenty when I’m editing them and I also burn them to CDs and listen to them away from the computer. However, it’s an educational process for me—I hear the mistakes more clearly than the music and I can’t help but make mental notes on how to play it better next time. Once I’ve given them a good listen, they usually just make me itch to jump up, go to the piano, and play it again, better. But that’s just the sheet music for other peoples’ stuff.
My improvisations are a different story—for some reason, I really like my own music. Not every day, and not all day, but I like it and I listen to myself quite often, especially when reading—or to lull me to sleep at night. I like to listen to some real music—all kinds—and listen to some ‘me’. My music isn’t better than real music, but it isn’t exactly worse—it’s more like ‘complimentary’ to real music—it gives me a break from the passion and precision and perfection of say Glenn Gould, or Ziggy Stardust, or Matt Glaser, or Enya. It’s filler, for when real music is too much but silence is too little. To me, anyway.
So, here’s a long-ass Bach piece that came off rather well, and the improvs from each day (I highly recommend Tap-Dance–it came out pretty good):
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
I just received a belated birthday gift from my mom—one of those tea infusers that look like miniature medieval weaponry, a tea ball. (She also sent me, among other gifts, what Bear likes to call ‘Clown Pants’ which are red plaid flannel pants with an elastic waist and a string-tye tightener—but we won’t go into my propensity for garish apparel.)
I shoulda tooka picture—but instead, I have used Bear’s latest quilting project as my front- and end-piece illustrations. She does wonders with a needle and thread—I love her work.
Yesterday and today I tried to play two dances from “The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book – Vol. I”:
“XIII. Pavana.” by John Bull, and
“XIV. Alman.” by Anon.
Yesterday’s recording was terrible, so I tried again today and got an acceptable rendering from the Fitzwilliam—still, pretty-decent Piano Improvs from both days’ recordings, so I have two of those today—lucky me.
But first, I play two of my favorite pieces from this ancient music book. You can hear birds singing outside during the performance (our local birds come for the bird-seed but they stay for the concert—and they like to chime in). It reminds of those pieces in which composers like Handel or Couperin would try to score music to sound like birds—I find it’s much easier to simply invite them to sing along…
President Obama has endured a great struggle during his time in office. Over the last six years, I have often been disturbed by the bitter acrimony and the seething resentment of his many detractors. But now I see that these attacks have ultimately succeeded in only one thing—serving as a background against which his extraordinary compassion and leadership stands out in stark contrast. Ordinarily, we are taught in school to allocate greatness to this person or that. With our president, we have had the opportunity to witness greatness and recognize it for ourselves.
His humor, his warmth, his coolheaded-ness under fire—I was just watching a YouTube video entitled “Obama’s Coolest Moments” and I was overwhelmed by the preponderance of examples where crazed, reactionary, mindless criticism was belied by his calm, cool, and sensible responses to every difficulty that arises. Like all great Americans, he simply wants America to live up to its promise, to realize its wildest dreams of freedom and justice. He does not oppose his enemies, only what they stand for. During a period when the majority of his defamers have made personal attacks, his responses have always been on message—never descending into the personal squabbling so popular in Washington.
With many politicians, the bloom will eventually fade from the rose—but I find myself admiring President Obama more with every passing year. The President who sings like Al Green, the baby-whisperer President, the President who kicks ass at a game of P-I-G (or P-O-T-U-S, as he plays it)—his personal quirks are endearing—although some try to characterize it as a cult of personality. To me, that aspect of him is far less sinister. He is simply an admirable person, a man whom power (for once) failed to turn into an asshole.
But while I enjoy his humor and grace, I focus more on his leadership. He gets on TV whenever there’s a problem—and he’s usually saying, “Hey, there’s a problem, but we are not going to start immediately bombing people—we’re going to find out what’s really going on, first.” I like that in a ‘Leader of the Free World’—I really do. And it’s such a nice change from the last guy. When it comes to sticky domestic issues, like the unpopular LGBT-rights movement, he plumps for Love over Hate, calm over panic, and humanity over business. It’s really quite strange, rooting for an ‘underdog’ who’s also the President, hoping against hope that the most powerful man in the world won’t be stymied at every turn by the forces of evil.
I’ve learned a lot from Obama, too. The last election was a real eye-opener—I learned that politicians, while they may be problematical, are not the primary problem. We are. Worse than the number of people who didn’t vote Democrat was the number of people who just didn’t vote, period. Obama did some great things—but imagine what he could have done with an engaged constituency.
The weatherman predicted the worst Winter storm in history for last night and the majority of today. The mayor of NYC made emergency announcements at 7 PM last night. I expected to be snowed in, without power, and who knows what else might happen.
Being a coastal storm, and heading northward, it trashed Long Island, Boston, and Maine, as predicted—sorry about that, Down-Easters—but here in Somers, where the initial forecast was one-to-two feet of snow, then just one foot—I’d be surprised if the official measurement reached six inches. It looks more like four or so.
Which means I was allowed to shoot, edit, and post four videos today—I shot the whole room in hopes that the weather outside would appear frightful, but all the video shows is a white glow where the windows should be windows. Unluckily, that left me with very dark videos, which I have tried my best to brighten with my video-editing controls, but it’s still a pretty lackluster show—just a dark room with my head peaking up from behind the piano.
I took some stills for the Titles and Credits graphics, too—in the “Mendelssohn – Songs Without Words No. 25”, you see where Claire couldn’t catch the cardinal outside our window (you can just see a bit of red). In the “Mendelssohn – Songs Without Words No. 24”, you can see a wren at the same window (it’s a very popular sill). The improvs just show pics of our yard covered in snow.
The two Mendelssohn pieces, as usual, are posted more as proof that I can sight-read/stumble my way through with minimal mistakes than as any competition for the real pianists out there—but that’s where I’m at—what else can I do? I’ll let you judge for yourself what sort of voice I’m in with today’s two improvisations….
Finally, here are some of today’s stills, on their own…
So, now I have my video of Joni-Mitchell-song piano-covers, my poem about my winter walk, and here I am, being greedy, trying for an essay to top it all off…
Well, the odds of my getting a good essay, when I haven’t actually been driven to the keyboard by frustration and a head full of roiling thoughts—when I’ve just ‘decided’ to try and squeeze one out of myself—are lower than dirt. So I might as well choose an equally off-the-grid subject, like Ancient Aliens. Nobody takes ancient aliens seriously, so they make a perfect subject for me—although, I should admit, being taken seriously is the last thing I need. I have a hard enough time being taken for a light-headed jester.
Nevertheless, there are many ancient ruins whose construction is ‘unexplainable’. It’s hard for me to accept that word, ‘unexplainable’. ‘Very difficult’ I could manage—even ‘mysterious’ I can handle—but for something to be entirely unexplainable (in my experience) is a poor use of words. In science, there were (and are) many unanswered questions—but we don’t just throw up that word, ‘unexplainable’, and move on—we find explanations. That’s what science is—the refusal to accept ‘unexplainable’ as an answer.
Now, ‘unexplainable’ does have a temporal meaning—even in science, there are many things which are not yet explainable. And if Ancient Alien proponents wish to replace ‘unexplainable’ with ‘not yet explained’, then I’m ready to listen to the rest of what they have to say. Until then, I have to place them in the set of all people who are willing to accept ignorance as an answer, rather than a challenge—and members of that set do not intersect with the set of all people who are rigorously scientific.
And scale, in and of itself, does not constitute any great mystery, to my mind. Huge blocks of stone may seem immovable, laser-guided precision of ancient carvings may seem impossible—lots of things appear at first glance to be outside of our capabilities—or the capacity of our ancestors. But give thousands of people hundreds of years to think and experiment and work things out, and there is very little that we can pronounce to be impossible. Large objects can be floated upon waterways, rolled on wheels or cylinders, or undermined in sand. These and other techniques can also be combined in various ways to enhance their power. In short, to pronounce something to be too big to move is actually just a way of saying that our imaginations have limits—a statement with which I could never agree.
Others questions, such as the visibility of the Nazca Lines diagrams only from the air, seem to me equally judgmental about the cleverness of people. There’s a tremendous gap, to my mind, between something that is very, very hard to do—and something that is impossible to do. Nor do I give credence to the issue of why ancient monuments were built. Without context, even our more modern structures, like cathedrals, have no obvious, practical use. In the particular case of the Ancient Alien question, we see many ruins of structures that have an astronomical connection—but the stars are as important to a farmer, or a sheepherder, as they are to an alien. The circuitous seasons have, for mankind, both a life-or-death meaning for agriculture and a more mystical attraction as a source of contemplation and dreaming—the addition of aliens is superfluous to their import.
Thus, while I’m open to the idea of Ancient Aliens, I’m less than satisfied with the current archive of ‘proof’ that we see on TV. Also, I’m not too crazy about the idea that humanity is nothing more than an experiment in some galactic laboratory run by alien overlords. I’d rather believe in God, if I could.
Same stuff, different day: An improv, a few Beatles covers, and a cantankerous essay comprise your XperDunn blog-post for today:
On Statesmen and Business Leaders
The prior essay (“Do Your Worst”) unsettles me—I always want to take my temperature and blood pressure whenever I catch myself advocating anarchy and destruction. And I’ll cop to that—I’m a little ‘unstable’—I think is the fashionable term these days. But it’s also partially the fault of whoever’s in charge of our businesses and our government—they make it so that advocating anarchy is nothing more than a difference of degree to what we already endure. I’m not saying they suck—I’m saying they suck the big, hairy, hard one.
Neither am I talking about a mob—nor even a crowd. There are only one hundred senators and fifty state governors—and I doubt there are more than another 150 chairpersons of the kinds of bloated multi-national corporations that squat upon humanity and bring shit to everyone’s lives. So, say maybe three hundred and change, tops—that’s the number of people that keep the tens of millions of Americans from having decent, secure, dignified lives. That tiny army of power-mad mongrels does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of us in misery. Just think—in the olden days, we’d need thousands upon thousands of these assholes to do the same job on so many people.
It’s impressive, too, when you consider that they all have to spend most of their time pretending to be the kind of person you’d invite into your home without worrying about the inviolability of your house-pets. These men, and a few women, too (let’s not be sexist about this) spend the whole day babbling vacuous PC-speak about values and concerns, initiatives and committees, convincing the gullible among us that they have some concern for the average citizen—yeah, right. It has become so accepted that their job-description precludes plain speaking that we have a special term for their lies—when someone is never comfortable with honesty, we call the noises they make with their mouths ‘spin’, which is a euphemism for BS, and plenty of it.
We have to call it ‘spin’. Can you imagine news-reports, otherwise? “This afternoon, the heads of the major investment banks told a bunch of lies. Five senators who head crucial senate sub-committees told even more lies. The CEO of America’s largest petroleum producer told a total of ten real whoppers that no one in their right mind would ever believe for a second. And now, the weather…”
And what do these people do when they are not busy ensuring our perpetual misery and lying through their asses about it? They spend a lot of money. They have to—there’s little else a soul-less, hollow shell of a human being can do to pass the time. They can’t have real relationships—that would involve emotional maturity—and while these people may be alpha dogs, strong and successful and loaded, the one thing they never have time or talent for is learning to know themselves, or to truly care for another. Outside of the rough and tumble schoolyard of corporate and political in-fighting, they remain the children that all business-leaders must be to devote so much energy and determination to something so trivial as being first amongst douchebags, the top of the shit heap.
So, while these idiots may enrage us, frustrate us, drive us to the very edge of sanity—we may nonetheless be thankful that, at least, we are not one of them. For while they may ultimately (and frightfully soon) bring the entire planet to death and ruin, and kill us all—they are already dead, insofar as the ability to truly live like a human being was never in their grasp.
But if you ask any of these psychos whether they, personally, are part of the group I’m addressing, they will, without pausing for breath, start explaining furiously how they could not possibly be one of the damnable damned—and you will then hear what we like to call ‘spin’.
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.
Here’s a comment I wrote for an atheist’s video-post:
“Well, guy, I’m with you—but, as the many comments indicate, being rational goes against human nature. I find it amusing that the type of comment-rebuttal depends on the user’s level of zealotry. The almost-rational always take you to task for word-definitions, chains of sequence, and attitude of approach. The less rational take you on for misinterpreting scripture or failing to credit the creator of our ‘perfectly designed’ universe. The full-on crazies try to talk down to you as if you were a child, or an insane person. It’s pretty funny—someone should write a play about it…”
Sometimes, when I want to say something multi-layered on Facebook, I write it in Notepad and then paste it into the comment box—it’s easier to correct and re-word when I’m not typing straight into the Facebook text-box. However, Notepad doesn’t ‘translate’ my double-dashes into big dashes, or flag my mis-spells and poor grammar, like Word would do.
Then, because I hate to write down any thought without saving it, I cut and paste it into my Word running-journal-document—where everything gets corrected—but after I’ve paste/posted the Facebook comment, typos included. Why don’t I just use Word in the first place? Because I don’t expect to save my Facebook comments—even though I sometimes do. Plus, Notepad is straight ASCII text—it doesn’t transfer font or format from one app to another, as can happen with Word vs. Website.
Pete Cianflone came to jam today–again, no drums–used a garbage can.
There’s a lot of sillyness happening in these videos. The Cole Porter song, “A Little Skipper From Heaven Above”, is a crazy song about a pirate captain who announces to his crew that he’s about to have a baby, that he’s really been a girl in disguise all this time… my performance is atrocious, but watching Pete try not to laugh is worth viewing.
My performance on the Christmas Carols is equally horrendous, but I couldn’t resist getting some Xmas stuff with Pete down on digital–even if it is the day before New Year’s Eve.
The piano cover of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” will be familiar to my listeners (perhaps too familiar) but I like to bang it out now and then, just to update myself.
But I think the three short improvs we managed are the best of the day’s video ‘catch’. Pete tells me his brother, Richard, likes the ‘video FX’ that I often use, so excuse me if they’re a little crazier than usual–That’s for you, Richard!
Happy Holidays, everyone — and have an excellent New Year.
Well, it’s still a couple of days ’til New Year’s, but excuse me if felt the need to crawl back into my shell, post-xmas. Today you have a choice again, between a very introspective essay and an even more introspective piano improv. The roller-coaster moods of the Holidays may be wearing me out, but they certainly give my muse a kick in the ass, so I can’t complain. Hope you like’em!
Monday, December 29, 2014 2:13 AM
Before The Beginning And After The End
Well, problem-solving is in our nature. We often try to solve the problem of the human race. But humans are animals—we can accept our animal nature or we can change. If we change, how far do we change, and to what end? And if we change, will we still be human?
Born in 1956 and raised first on Long Island (next to the Grumman plant where the LEM was developed for Apollo’s Moon landings) I took to reading the Tom Swift, Jr. Series of science-fiction adventure books—I assumed that mankind’s future lay in its spread throughout the solar system and, eventually, the galaxy. I assumed that we would continue to discover scientific principles that would benefit mankind, and use them to perpetuate our destiny among the stars.
But now all electronic developments are geared towards the social interaction of young people and the entertainment of the masses. All microbiological advances are turned toward the making of profits for the pharmaceutical companies. Advances in mathematics are turned into new financial market products, such as derivatives—or used to protect and/or hack computers. Science marches on, but it has found a way to cater to the most mundane impulses of the human animal. Where we could once point to scientific research as a sacred crusade against the darkness of ignorance, we now see it put on a par with evangelical, tent-revival-type preaching and political maneuvering.
The flooding into our lives of technology has cheapened the once-pure luster of scientific clarity—clever apologists for Faith attempt to ‘turn the tables’, saying that if Science can destroy our beliefs, then our beliefs can destroy Science. Politics and Commerce do equal damage to Science, editing PR-negative sections from research reports, declining to release such reports when their contents are unabridgedly un-spinnable, and even hiding public-health related research data under the mantle of corporate proprietary-data protection laws. Between the zealots’ attempts to parse the mechanics of the universe into a theist-friendly syntax and the filthy rich attempting to commodify knowledge and probability, we are less concerned today with the challenges that confront current science and more concerned with turning Science to our own advantage, individually and in groups.
Forgetting that Science is just a fancy word for Reality, zealots impugn the Scientific Method for its lack of ultimate answers. Science gives many answers, such as how to make a multi-tonned, steel machine fly through the air faster than the speed of sound, but it has no answers (yet) for many other questions. It has no ultimate answers—and the faithful should keep in mind that their own ultimate answers were made up out of thin air and wishful thinking—and that was a thousand years ago. Confusing control of Technology with control of Reality, the filthy rich hid the science of tobacco-related health risks—and they’re still hiding the science behind climate change, particularly as it relates to vastly profitable fossil-fuel industries.
Simplicity is a desirable quality in life, but having set our steps on the path of Science, we must say goodbye to simplicity. “Occam’s Razor” is the shorthand term used for a principle that says, given more than one possible explanation of a thing, the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true. But there is what we refer to as ‘elegant’ simplicity, such as the Pythagorean Theorem, and there is seeming simplicity, the desire for things to be simpler and easier than they really are. In addition, Occam’s Razor only suggests that the simplest explanation is most likely—sometimes a thing requires a more complicated explanation. As a rule of thumb, Occam’s Razor can be useful—but as a scientific principle, it lacks the reproducible results found in all good science.
Simplicity thus becomes a matter of personal opinion. When Newton invented Calculus, he created one of the most complicated procedures ever conceived—but it allowed us, for the first time, to solve problems that were too complicated to be solved with any existing mathematics. Newton found a complex solution to a complex problem—and we could easily describe that as ‘simplifying’ the problem. So what is simplicity? The idyllic life of the hunter-gatherer age was simple in many respects. But many activities, such as obtaining clean drinking water from a sink faucet, are far simpler procedures today than they were then. So simplicity is not exactly simple.
And this is hard luck for us all, because Science can simplify many things, but it can’t simplify our reasons, our wants, or our ambitions. These aspects of human nature can never be simplified without making humanity less diverse, less chaotic. And if we change humanity, we become inhuman. Fascism was a stark example of this problem—their ‘solutions’ hinged on unexamined fears and hatreds. We cannot ‘perfect’ humanity unless we are first perfect—and who among us is without sin? I am no more capable of ‘improving’ humanity than Hitler was—my only advantage is that I’m smart enough not to try.
Yet, if we cannot improve humanity, what is the point of progress? Progress grants us the strength to build mighty structures: ships, rockets, skyscrapers. Progress let’s more of us stay alive for more years. Progress gives us power—power to transport, communicate, grow food, manufacture, refine, and destroy. But progress never changes who we are—it only changes what we can do.
That is the traditional view of progress. But modern progress goes beyond mere shipbuilding and high-yield crops. Sequencing the human genome is more than medical research—it is the beginning of our transforming ourselves into purposefully-designed creatures. Far beyond the choice of gender, or even the choice of eye color, IQ, and body-type, the deeper understanding of our own blueprint will allow us to design and create humans to specific standards.
But this does not necessarily mean that we are acquiring the means for self-improvement. We are reaching the point where we can change ourselves, but we have not done anything to prepare ourselves to determine what ‘improvement’ would consist of. Just as computerization transformed the developed world into a target for hackers, gene-sequencing may tempt us to manipulate our DNA before we fully understand the risks of eliminating the element of chance that made all of natural evolution come up with the human race. In our quest for progress, we might remove the possibility of our greatest progress so far—the natural selection that brought us from amoeba to homo sapiens.
If something as profound as Consciousness can be brought about by random selection, who can say what other wonders lay ahead? Shouldn’t we have a firmer grasp on the machinations of Mother Nature, before we try to wrest the wheel from her hands? Or is humanity’s progress too complex to leave to the random mutations of natural life? I’m tempted to answer that humanity’s progress is too complex, in general, relative to our development of our understanding of where humanity is headed, and wherefore.
I was directed to a fascinating online article today (http://www.common-place.org/vol-04/no-02/semonin/) “Peale’s Mastodon: The Skeleton in our Closet.” by Paul Semonin. Semonin tells of the famous portraitist, Peale, who dug up a Mastodon skeleton in the late 18th Century—and how this discovery of an extinct species set minds to work—including those of our founding fathers, Jefferson in particular, who tried to purchase the remains. Semonin says that the Europeans teased the new American republic, claiming that America was a land of small creatures and small men. The Americans were quick to seize on the image of a native-American animal that outsized all others, even the mighty elephant. Plus, they convinced themselves that the Mastodon was a carnivore and dubbed it the Ruler of the American Wilderness.
Semonin speaks of this idea of an alpha-predator, the anthropomorphizing of the mightiest and most terrible beasts in a given ‘wilderness’ into not just the most dangerous beings but, somehow, also in charge of the place. He points out that we speak similarly of the dinosaurs ‘ruling’ the earth of pre-humanity. I agree that he seems to have found a piece of pure human nature that has injected itself into our critical thinking, even unto the present.
Back in the bad old days, whoever was the ruler, the chief, king, emperor, head man—those guys had the power of life and death over those under their thrall. That makes a sort of sense when you figure that, prior to our reaching the apex of the food chain, something else was ‘taking out’ the occasional weakling or non-team player—and once a mighty leader puts an end to that culling of the tribe, that power transfers to the leader. The logic may seem specious, but you know how it is with ‘mighty leaders’ and ‘rules’.
It got me thinking about the whole ‘getting eaten’ thing. We started out as mere players in the great circle of the food chain, and as we attained the ability to fend off even the most dangerous predators, we retained the risk of being made a meal whenever we strayed from the group. There are still parts of the world where people can find themselves, if unarmed or unprepared, at the mercy of a large, hungry predator—but such locations are few and the predators sparse. I understand that there are villages in India that can still experience tiger incursions—once they become man-eaters, they are hunted mercilessly. And there continue to be plenty of bugs, snakes and what-not, which can kill with venom—not to mention the many deadly germs and viruses. We are not entirely safe from nature, but we are pretty safe from being eaten.
And I guess that presents a problem. A major consideration for all of our forebears, up until a handful of generations ago, was avoiding being eaten by a predator. Our instincts still stand up the hairs on our necks when we hear the howls of a wolf-pack, but outside of a camping trip in the mountains, we rarely have such reminders to think about. Modern people are far too concerned with the lack of money to waste any time thinking about lions, tigers, or bears. We used to respect the hell out of those creatures—and why not? They had the power of life and death—they were life or death.
It’s possible that our difficulty with choosing cooperation over competition is partly due to the fact that we evolved as creatures that were always under threat. We perceived ourselves, on some level, as prey—and still do. Our obsession with the totemic possession of power, if based on our instinctual expectations of predation, will always favor ‘controlling the fate of others’ over ‘responsible acts of leadership’. When we think of power, we think of using it to control others as much as we think of using it for betterment of the group. This makes it virtually impossible to wield power impersonally and rationally—thus, power corrupts.
But the problem is deeper than certain individuals being consumed by their imagining of whatever power or authority they control. The more basic problem is that we all place survival on an equal, perhaps even higher, priority with justice. When my young boy’s head was being filled with space-age daydreams of a Star Trek future, it included a world without commerce or poverty—a world where one could focus on competing with oneself, instead of scrambling to snatch necessities from the wanting mob. It foretold a world where everything was being done for the right reasons—and what could be more different from the ‘future’ we now find ourselves arrived in?
Of course, Roddenberry was a dreamer—Clarke was a real scientist—his science fiction included the twisted motives of civilization’s less-dreamy players. But even Arthur C. Clarke dreamed of a race of aliens that would come down and save us from destroying our own children when they began to mutate into the next phase of humanity, the phase that would become worthy of joining the interstellar civilization the aliens represented. The Aliens of “Childhood’s End” were there to protect us from our own atavistic fear, borne of our animal past, of the unknown—the urge to kill anything that may threaten us—even if we’re not sure how—even if the threat is our own offspring.
Science fiction does a strange job of showing us two mirrors—one reflects what we become if we act like angels, the other shows us what we become if we do not change. The latter, showing straightforward extrapolations from where we are to where we may end up, can be truly horrifying. But the Star Trek-types can be horrible in their own way—I never saw anyone on Star-Trek eating potato chips while watching TV, or bitching about their lousy love-life—the nearest thing they had to a cat-lady was the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode—and the tribbles didn’t even pee all over the ship.
That may all seem very Buck Rodgers and all that, but the question is—is the lacking laziness, loneliness, and personal hygiene issues something that ceased to exist—or is it something that is outlawed? If all the good behavior on Star Trek is mandatory, then the series would properly belong on the same shelf as Leni Riefenstahl’s opus. If it isn’t mandatory, then what happened between now and the future to transform these people into almost-saints who explore the universe, without pay, smiling in the face of danger, and all getting along famously without a cop in sight? Those people are not the same as us. If we want to see the Star Trek version of the future, we have to do more than invent a warp-drive.
As always, the main difficulty is our fear of death, of non-existence. We don’t like to think of our own death, and we aren’t much interested in the death of our species, either. But I think that we can only begin to make plans for our ‘Star Trek’ future after we have faced the truth that humanity wasn’t always there—and it won’t last forever. Civilization is not an inert object—it is an event. Granted, it’s timeline is huge, but we can never really exceed our natural selves and become something ‘better’ unless we can stand back far enough to get a perspective on all of us, everywhere, over all the centuries, and where we are going—and maybe even where we may ultimately decide to go.
Intellectual courage is one of the rarest of human characteristics, but as our intellectual strength so swiftly increases through science and technology, we are in great need of such courage. We can map the countless stars in the sky, but it won’t mean a thing if we don’t start surveying our interior wilderness, and confronting some of our inner predators.
Well, I wish I’d posted this yesterday (It was Sequential Day, that is, the date was 12-13-14) But, I can only play when my aching back lets me, so today was the best I could do.
You have a choice with this post: you can read my boring-ass essay -or- you can listen to my silly-ass music–either way, please don’t forget to ‘like’ and ‘share’ or whatever.
“Baby Steps Among The Stars” – Part Two (Chap7)
Sounds easy—just place limits on money’s influence; allow it, where necessary, to be over-ruled by ecological or ethical considerations. But how? Much is made of the ‘revolving door’ of big-business executives and government regulators—doesn’t it invite corruption to have the same people flit between the leadership of these dangerous industries and the guardianship of the peoples’ interests, rights, and well-being vis-à-vis these industries? Certainly a conflict of interests is almost guaranteed by such intermingling. But what is the alternative? It doesn’t make much more sense to have all our potential regulatory chiefs be confined to those with no knowledge of the industry they monitor. Neither does it seem fair to ask a retiring federal regulator to find a job elsewhere than the industry in which he or she is a recognized expert.
And the power of Capitalism is likewise inherently bound up with the efficiency of our commerce—we can’t declare money invalid for one use and not another. If money has any purchasing power at all, it can ‘buy’ a person—or at least, their effort or their influence—which means that money can ‘buy’ exceptions to rules. The very versatility and anonymity that makes cash so useful also makes it impossible to confine to specific uses.
Worse yet, people are as much a part of the problem of Capitalism as its mechanisms. People, as has been mentioned above, are changed by both authority and submission to it—to be a boss affects one’s mind, as does being an employee. The office politics, the competition to climb the corporate ladder, the stress—all the unnecessary dramas produced by people under workplace conditions—are unavoidably caused by the nature of labor in business. This almost-biologically-mandated perversion of people in positions of authority has gotten much notice recently with regard to the police and their relationship to the communities they protect and serve. It would appear that any person given a gun to wear, and told to enforce the law, is in danger of becoming authoritarian, even violent towards those they ostensibly serve. But the same dynamics that obtain in that example are also true, to a certain extent, in any workplace where a manager is led astray by the urgings of power.
Because of this, it is safe to assume that, regardless of how many laws and regulations govern the workplace, it will always be an inherently unfair environment. Worse yet, this is only a statement of the influence of authority—it doesn’t even touch on the fact that people don’t necessarily arrive at a job with an intact, healthy psyche. People go through lots of stuff before they reach the legal age to get a job—and whatever traumas have formed their personalities are only exacerbated by ‘gainful employment’.
Indeed, this is true of people in general. Many are raised by less-than-perfect parents. Many are raised in religious fundamentalism, giving them a skewed perspective on reality. Many are raised in poverty, causing permanent fear and resentment towards those who live in comfort—and, conversely, being raised in wealth can lead many to become overbearing and dismissive towards the majority of the human race, particularly the poor.
The way we are raised, the conditions of our family and community life, the teachings of our spiritual leaders—all these things create a humanity that is far more disposed towards conflict than cooperation. The formation of an individual is so haphazard that a certain percentage of people can be expected to end up as murderers, rapists, thieves, and con-artists—and the rest of us are only relatively well-balanced. We are not perfect—we’re just good enough to stay out of prison, is all.
So when we speak of Civilization, of the Family of Man—or any such grand generalization—we are speaking in the aggregate of people who, as individuals, must each be considered potential time-bombs of anti-social behavior. And that behavior can take an infinite number of forms, from being crabby towards one’s own children, to being a cold-blooded dictator of an undeveloped nation. This clarifies the issue of ‘how can we be so self-destructive?” We can observe Humanity as a single entity, we can discuss Civilization as an overview of ourselves—but we have zero control over ourselves as a group.
Even when rules are so clear and exact as to describe a perfect situation, the troubles that live within each individual will eventually lead us to find ways to circumvent the spirit of the rules, to manipulate the letter of the rules, for selfish reasons. We have been in this race since Hammurabi’s Pillar, and even the lawyers find themselves working half the time in good faith with the law, and half the time working against it. When the rules get in the way of our dreams, we search for ways around the rules—it’s in our nature.
That’s us—nothing to be done about that. That was fine, back when the world was too enormous ever to be used up, back when God was in his Heaven, back before the Internet, when we weren’t on the cusp of quasi-AI and nanotech-enhanced, remote-presence medicine and self-contained, robotic Mars explorers. Now we don’t know whether to ban paraplegics from the Olympics because their hi-tech prostheses give an unfair advantage, or to baby-proof munitions factories so that single mothers can bring their kids to work.
In a recent broadcast, the discussion over e-share commerce brought out the point that Uber’s car service, while superior to existing urban transport, also circumvents a century’s worth of safety and regulatory legislation. This makes Uber both modern and primeval—they create a paradox by using modernity to circumvent civilization. (As of this writing, there is a news report that India has banned Uber due to a rape that occurred during a ride-share—an excellent example of the conflict between progress and human nature.)
Hacking has always been synonymous with coding—its only difference is in the suggestion of a rebel outlaw doing the coding. The term is important because software, like any tech, is open to both good and bad aims—but a hacker isn’t just a bad person who codes. Hacking can mean being a rebel, or a Robin Hood, who codes—possibly even a champion of human rights. Beyond that, the subject becomes one of syntax. But Hacking, as an activity, has also come to be synonymous with finding an easy way to solve or circumvent problems. So-called ‘life-hacks’ can be anything from the best way to refrigerate pineapple slices to the safest way to invest towards retirement. Hardly the acts of a criminal.
But Uber, and other e-share-oriented businesses, are busily pioneering the ‘corporate hack’, a digital backdoor that allows new forms of trade, free from the boundaries of written communication, brick-and-mortar competition, and civil oversight. These clever, new uses of the digital universe, however, create legislative loopholes faster than they generate new business models. The fly-by-night business, once confined to the mails, has now blanketed the globe via WyFy. A person without a physical location is not held back by the same constraints as a person who can be found behind the same counter on the day after you buy something unsatisfying from their shop. And when combined with computerized phone-answering, these businesses can even offer ‘customer service’ while still leaving the customer with no solid target for retaliation, or even complaint. Hence Yelp reviews, I guess.
So, complexity takes a quantum leap forward. Personal responsibility virtually evaporates. Global climate-change edges ever closer to global disaster. Population growth towers dizzyingly. Suddenly, our civilization is faced with an ultimatum—confine the term ‘civilization’ to mean only the one percent and consign the rest of us to savagery among ourselves -or- take a pick-axe to the existing paradigm through collective action. The first option is the most likely because it counts on the disorganized lack of action we can expect from ourselves as a group. The second option is far less likely, as it would require people, as a community, to act in their own best interest—something history tells us we have never, ever done before.
On the contrary, it seems that small, well-led groups of people are the only paradigm within which humanity can exert its greatest power. A team of dedicated people can be found at many of the central pivot-points of civilization’s history. Now, small groups empowered by technology, can accomplish incredible things—good and bad. Thus we witness the rise of SpaceX, a relatively new and tiny company that accomplishes things it once took a federal institution like NASA to orchestrate. And we see the birth of terrorist groups, without massive armies or host nations, capable of attacks on the world’s mightiest superpower. Even individuals have greater power than we ever dreamed—Snowden’s release of classified documents surprised us, in part, because it involved more pages of information than Edward, in an earlier age, could ever have moved without several large trucks—and he did it with a few clicks of a mouse, sending it all not just to one location, but virtually everywhere. That’s power—we all now have that power—any of us can send a mountain of information from one place to another, instantly.
Those of us old enough to appreciate the difference between then and now are hard pressed to encompass the meaning of such power as the digital age has conferred on us. Those young enough to take digital communication for granted have no idea how much the world will be changed by the growing inclusion of all seven billion of us into this information-empowerment. We tend to look at ‘progress’ as an ennobling evolution—that with great enough knowledge, surely wisdom must follow. But progress enables our fears as well, our greed and our bitterness—these things are provided with the same wings as our dreams.
So, at the end of all this trouble and woe, we find that improving ourselves and making things better for others is the most important progress of all.
But if truth is anything, it’s inconvenient. Take the Earth, for instance—looks flat, feels flat—and for hundreds of years, most people thought it was flat. Ancient Greeks who studied Philosophy (Science, before we called it that) knew that the world was round—some even calculated brilliant measurements that gave them a close approximation of the Earth’s diameter. Perhaps the Mayans, or the Chinese, maybe even the Atlanteans—knew similar stuff, but none of it mattered to Western Civilization during the Dark Ages. Most of ancient math and science would return to Europe during the Enlightenment via East, the caretakers of ancient knowledge during the chaos of post-Roman-Empire Europe—and, indeed, without that returning influx of science, Columbus may never have sailed.
These exceptions notwithstanding, the popular view was that the Earth was flat and arguing about it seemed a moot point. It was only after Columbus’s well-publicized return from the ‘New World’ that people began to see the globe, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a limitless expanse of unclaimed assets and resources. Now that there was land to be grabbed and money to be made, the world could be in the shape of a dodecahedron for all anyone cared. The truth of the world being round had ceased to be inconvenient.
But others remained. Now that we couldn’t avoid the image of all of us standing upright on the outside of a globe, gravitational force became another inconvenience. ‘Things fall down’ was no longer sufficient—because we now knew ‘down’ to be several different directions, and all of them inward, towards the center of the globe. Without Columbus’s voyages, there may not have been any cause for Newton to ponder the invisible force we call Gravity. But once his calculations produced the Laws of Motion, and the Calculus, it became possible to send a cannon-ball exactly where it would do the most damage. The truth of Gravity then went from inconvenient to useful—and physics was ‘born’. Between the chemists cooking up gunpowder and the mathematicians calculating parabolic arcs, the militant-minded leaders of early European states would forever-after find it convenient to shield the scientists from the witch-hunters and the clergy.
Science, however, would not confine itself to military uses. By the dawn of the twentieth century, we had begun to study ourselves. Archaeologists had studied our prehistoric past—and found it contained evidence of religion having evolved from primitive atavism to the modern churches. We discovered that God was a part of human lore, not of divine revelation—that God didn’t exist. This is the most inconvenient truth of all—and it has spawned a culture of debate, diversion, propaganda, indoctrination, and fundamentalist extremism. Half the world pines for the loss of innocence and simplicity—the other half is busy trying to undo science with suicide vests and beheadings.
I’ll always remain puzzled by this aversion to observable facts. We’ll trust science enough to take a ride across the globe in a multi-tonned, metal jet-airliner—but still hold it lightly enough that we pick and choose which science is convenient and which isn’t. Observable fact gets a bad rep—‘there’s more than meets the eye’; ‘all is not what it seems’; ‘the hand is quicker than the eye’—yes, observed fact can be misleading, but only because we feeble humans are doing the observing. Still, I consider the incompleteness of science to be a necessary characteristic of good science—observable fact may not be written in stone, but reproducible results are still of greater value than any other perspective has yet to offer mankind.
And the worst part is that we who believe in science are often so hard-pressed by theists that we shy away from the vital humanism that science lacks. It is, rather, all the more important to embrace what it means to be human in a world with no one to worship but ourselves. But we are too busy defending ourselves from people who would kill us in the name of their fairy tales.
My old friend and legendary drummer, Peter Cianflone, came by today. He forget to bring any equipment, but I made him use an overturned trash-can and an empty packing box. He’s such a good sport (and besides, Pete can play on anything!)
I found this video enjoys a heavy hand on the volume–unlike most of my stuff. But Pete’s a veteran rocker, so crank it up.
What a day! I wrote a song, “Obama Went A-Courtin”; I played through two challenging piano arrangements, George Shearing’s take on “If I Give My Heart To You” and Bob Zurke’s version of “I’m Thru With Love”; and I threw in a couple of short improvs, just for fun…
“If I Give My Heart To You”
by Jimmie Crane, Al Jacobs, Jimmy Brewster
(c) 1953 Miller Music Corp.
Piano Interpretation by George Shearing:
“I’m Thru With Love”
words by Gus Kahn
Music by Matt Malneck, Fud Livingston
(c) 1931 MGM Inc.
Piano Solo Arranged by Bob Zurke: