Spencer gave me a music book for Xmas—piano arrangements of works by Joe Hisaishi, a famous composer of anime films by Studio Ghibli and video game music, he’s also issued some albums. I’m loving getting to know this stuff—the melodies are fantastic, but bear with me—it’s not every day I get new sight-reading material and it’s still unfamiliar ground. I plan to post covers of every piece in the book, eventually.
I’m still digging myself out from under the profusion of photos received and recordings made during the holidays and the rest of this month. Today’s posted videos include one from a month ago, and three from a week ago—but they also include over one hundred photos that I’ve just gotten to processing. So, nothing in today’s posts is recent except the effort.
You’ll excuse some of the holiday photos—there’s still mostly nothing but baby pictures, so you can live with a few ornaments. That baby gets cuter every time I look. I barely listen to myself play the piano on these videos anymore—I just gaze at my adorable granddaughter and remember her recent visit.
It’s been a long week—but I used the time to get my backlog cleared, so it wasn’t a total loss. I needed to have a lousy day or two, just to convince myself that photo-shopping picture after picture was a pleasant enough way to pass the time, compared to the rest of what was going on around me—so, there’s no cloud but has a silver lining, once more.
I long to return to a time when I play for the camera, process the video or videos, and post them to YouTube—all in the same day. This playing catch-up is for the birds—and I’ve got a crick in my neck from repetitive keystrokes during the hours of photo-shopping. I’ve gotten to where I prefer receiving videos of the baby, rather than a slew of photographs—much less processing involved for five minutes’ worth of background graphics.
Enough shop-talk. Sometimes, I swear, I type just to hear myself think. This blog is supposed to at least try to be interesting.
I’m trying to post my final Christmas carols before anyone gets here—I expect to be posting far less once the house gets full-up. I have the raw recordings from last night, but editing them will take some time. This always happens to me—I’m about to complete my big project of recording the entire Christmas songbook—and before I finish, I’m already feeling foolish for having bothered. After all, who wants to watch a long piano recital by a half-assed piano-player, no matter the theme of the concert?
But then I remember that family will watch. Poor piano-playing can actually add a homey touch to a video—and these videos are as much baby-albums of all little Seneca’s pictures and videos, as they are piano performances. I haven’t really created a Playlist—I’ve created a deluxe photo album of the first four months of my granddaughter’s existence (with holiday soundtrack included). And that is certainly worth a little effort on my part.
Just as few words about the completed playlist of: the Big Book of Christmas Music. There is one song missing from the book—“Joy To The World”, strangely enough—somehow the page came loose, and I couldn’t play just the first page, and stop in the middle. It’s not important—I’ll just include it in the next book’s recordings (“Joy To The World” is in every Xmas songbook).
Also, there are a few of these that I don’t play so well. Some pieces use figurations, especially in the left hand, that are difficult for me—I usually avoid them, but this was a clean sweep of the table of contents, from beginning to end, so I did the best I could with the ones I shouldn’t have been playing. The good news is that I won’t be posting these carols ever again, now that I’m sure I’ve done the whole book.
In doing this sight-reading every year, I’m always struck by the carols and songs that are of an earlier popularity—the ones that you can only barely remember hearing before—and then in childhood. There’s really an endless supply of Christmas and holiday music—I was just watching Bill Murray’s “A Very Murray Christmas” (2015) on Netflix yesterday—and that whole musical special was a list of songs I don’t have the music for—great stuff, too. I hadn’t realized there’s this very show-bizzy-type side to Christmas music as well—and Paul Shaffer is fantastic at that stuff. It was excellent fare—for a Christmas Special.
As for the words—this was a big project for me—and close-captioned lyrics would have made the whole thing take ten times the work. If you want to sing along, the lyrics to songs are easily searched online—so, I left it to you, if you want them, they’re out there. I did supply the title at the beginning of each song, so you’ll know what song to do a lyrics-search for.
Every year I post YouTube videos of myself playing Christmas Carols on the piano, occasionally singing along. I don’t do it because I play them so well—I just do it to celebrate the season. Also, singing Christmas Carols is one of my earliest childhood memories of a happy activity—sing-alongs, to me, are one of the greatest pleasures in life and, when it’s carols being sung, it just doesn’t get any better.
Caroling is one of the few times I can feel that great feeling from my youth—that God is in his heaven and all’s well with the world. The average carol only lasts a few minutes, but for that short span, I can almost believe—it’s very cozy. Usually, I don’t allow myself the indulgence—day-to-day life is only made more difficult by subscribing to wishful thinking—but Christmas only comes once a year, so what the hell. A little fantasy never hurt anyone.
This year I somehow decided to get very serious about the caroling videos—recording the songbooks from first song to last, so that I don’t have to wonder which ones I’ve done or which ones I’ve left out. I sometimes get serious about my YouTube videos—like with this one trio of Brahms Intermezzi I recorded last year, or the various Bach suites and partitas for keyboard. But my amateur-level piano technique doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny, so the projects usually fall apart before I’m finished recording the whole mess.
I’m getting more tenacious in my old age though, I guess—I’m closing in on the full Big Book of Christmas Songs—with today’s posting of twenty more carols, I’ve reached the ‘S’s—so, alphabetically, I’m almost to the finish line. And I am eager to finish this largest and most traditional of my Christmas Carol songbooks, because then I move on to the more popular-song Christmas music songbooks—and they’re a lot more fun/familiar and easier to play. Also, for all subsequent books, I plan to skip any carol already included from a previous book’s videos.
Time, as always, is chivvying me on—less than two weeks until Christmas, and these videos seem to take more time and effort with every post. I always over-do the Carol-playing—so, as the holidays go on, I get more troubled by back-strain, hand-tremors, and weakening eyesight (some music publishers are criminal in their demands on sight-readers—such tiny print). I reach a point where I’m actually conserving my strength for the live Christmas caroling—when a roomful of people are expecting me to accompany actual singing.
In the final result, by New Year’s Eve, I am more than happy to put the carol books away for another year—a full-month’s immersion in any genre is usually enough for me. But I wouldn’t give up my Christmas carols for all the tea in China.
Spencer has made bread. Claire has come home from the gym. I’ve had a full day, for me, but I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you what I did—little victories are my stock in trade these days. Real little. Okay—I moved two very-light pieces of furniture. That’s a full day for me—okay? You happy now?
It’s getting dark way earlier all of a sudden. Winter is here. I’m still working on video-ing the Big Book of Christmas Carols, front to back. It’s slow going—most of them are very familiar, but some of them need many ‘takes’ before I play it through with some semblance of accuracy. Sometimes, like just now, a few minutes ago, I’m too tired to get a good take. I have to wait for tomorrow’s supply of energy and alertness.
I have my mind set on it. Indeed, I’ve considered keeping the idea, and only posting videos of entire books from now on. I have a large manuscript library, but only a few of them are easy-to-play enough for me to play the whole book. So, I guess I’ll try it with a few books, after the carols are all recorded, and then forget about it and go back to my random recordings.
That’s the thing—I start every new day with a fresh head—any long-term plans I might have do not survive the pleasant distractions of waking up each morning. There’s usually a thread or a hint lying around somewhere, but if I don’t look for it, I miss it. Fresh head—every damn morning. I’m considering tattoos….
Monday, November 28, 2016 5:45 PM
I freely admit that I binged the new Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, on Netflix—which is as good as admitting I watched the whole series, back when (which I did, of course). But it’s not just because I like that kind of show—you go ahead and check—Kelly Bishop, Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel—they’re all great actors who have done lots of great stuff, outside of fictional Connecticut.
That’s the trouble with bingeing TV, isn’t it? It’s over now—nothing to wait ‘til next week for. That’s why I like to stay busy—as I get older, I’m becoming really picky about my viewing. At this point, if it isn’t as pleasant as listening to myself play the piano, while I look at pictures of my granddaughter, then I don’t need to watch it. I’m building a library of granddaughter/piano YouTube videos—I’m stockpiling this stuff. If the TV won’t give me what I want, I can make it myself. And, with my new Wi-Fi-enabled TV—I’m just another channel.
I’m working on two projects at once. Longer-term, I’m working on the next installment of Xmas Carols—the Series. And today I’m also processing a treasure trove of pictures and videos from my favorite movie stars—Jessy and Sen. The two will go together nicely—but eleven-Xmas-carols is always a lengthy video—so I’m here waiting for the music-video pre-edit to finish saving-to-disk. I’ve prepped the pictures into video, and the raw videos from Jessy—so now I just have to put all of that into one video….
I played a Chopin Mazurka on the e-piano, with the Harpsichord setting—nice result. I don’t mean I played all-that-well—but Chopin sounds just swell on a harpsichord. That’s a trick I noticed about good music—you can play that stuff on anything. There’s a guy who’s famous for playing Bach on Harmonica—I used to own the LP, hand to God—and it wasn’t half bad.
I can only use the first half of all my Carols recordings—I stay pretty cheery and spritely for a few songs—but then it becomes a Bataan Death March of sight-reading, turning every song into a dirge. You’d think I’d know all this stuff by now—I can feel my fingers remembering as I play them—why can’t my head do that?
Tuesday, November 29, 2016 3:28 PM
Okay, I must be in a post-Thanksgiving metabolic ‘trough’ these last few days—my energy levels are nil. My aches and spasms are small but many. My mental focus is a joke—I’m not even sure if I’m entirely awake. Partly, I stressed myself out—I finally finished the five videos and doing five videos at once makes my head swim—it’s hard to keep everything straight.
But I’ve got them all done now, just waiting for the last two to finish uploading to YouTube. I’m going to try to process my videos one-at-a-time from here on, if I can—it’s a tricky little maneuver that I’ve gotten very comfortable with—but doing more than one at a time makes it ridiculously complex.
I’ve been trying to plan what to write about in future—after the election. If there’s an upset, I’ll be too upset to write for quite some time. But if Hillary Clinton wins as expected, I’ll be needing a new topic—I’ve spent over a year raging against the threat of Trump. When I felt that I was seeing something dangerous in him, that seemed to be invisible to others, I was desperate to express my misgivings. I saw our great nation tottering on a precipice.
Now, though, the truth has come to light—Trump is unqualified and unfit for most everything, but most especially unlimited power. The charges made against Secretary Clinton are the sorts of things we’d cheer if they were done on behalf of our own ‘side’—mostly it amounts to her being a juggernaut who gets things done. This is only a problem for people who don’t want the things she’s going to do—I’m more than ready, myself, to see some changes being made to the near-plutocracy the one percent have managed to make of our system.
So, case closed (But don’t forget to vote!) and new topic wanted. The trouble is, these last two years I’ve been consumed with resistance to an approaching disaster. How am I going to find a topic that is equally pressing? In a sense, Hillary’s election will be a ‘happy ever after’. I’m confident she will proceed from victory to victory in making our government better, and hopefully our lives better.
Not that doing so will be quick or easy. Nothing good ever is. But I will have little to say about it. I need to begin a new crusade—I’ve gotten used to trying to convince people of something important that I believe. I’d like to keep doing it—but nothing has ever been so obvious and so dangerous as the threat posed by Trump. And the focus on a single individual made the whole issue a very simple one. If I tried to do the same with, say, the Environment, there are issues upon issues, piles of data, commercial pressures, international pressures, and the whole ‘do no harm’ problem that always arises when we press for change without being too sure of exactly what change we want.
The world is very interconnected. Trade, communication, and transportation have all gone global—making any kind of change a complicated piece of business. What works on the plains doesn’t work in the mountains—what works in the desert doesn’t work in the jungle. Whenever we try to plan for a sensible change, we have to figure out how to insert it into the organic goat-tracks of the existing culture—and no two cultures are the same. Plus, there is a clock on anything environmental—saving biomes and habitats is only feasible if we succeed before they are destroyed.
Many potential environmental fights have already been rendered moot by the disappearance of a species, or a forest, or by rising sea levels. The environmental fight is therefore a heartbreaking commitment—I don’t know if my heart could stand it. If I had the strength, I’d go get myself arrested at that pipeline protest—my god, haven’t we taken advantage of the natives long enough? Not to mention, they have a point—water is life, and no amount of money can change that.
No, life is rarely as simple a question as whether Trump could be trusted with the leadership of our country. Nothing else has ever appeared so blatantly, simply unwise. It will be hard to find something new that fires me up like that. But the problem is not in any dearth of issues—the problem is finding something I know enough about, that I could debate intelligently over.
I was paying a great deal of attention to politics, long before Trump showed up—and I’ve studied American history extensively—I know which people protested and fought and died for the national ideals that Trump is so willing to trash. And I know enough about it to know that Trump doesn’t know any of the important ideas behind the job he’s asked for. I don’t know of any other subject I’m so comfortable with. So I may have to retreat to poetry or some such writing.
Still, it’s better this way. If I can see the whole country about to jump with both feet into the worst mess imaginable—well’s, that’s a pretty sorry state of affairs, regardless of my writing ambitions. I wouldn’t want to become like the media—eager for trouble so that people will pay attention to me. That’s not who I want to be.
And perhaps I will even reach some new understanding through all of this stress and angst—maybe I’ll turn to something completely new, something hopeful—an idea of a new renaissance, even. Who knows? Perhaps all of this pent-up urge to write will come out in fiction, and I will finally write a story that entertains while I bore people with my opinions. It could happen—even if I am sixty already. I’m not too old to try something new—just limited in what I have to choose from.
The election will soon be over. The news channels will soon be seeing a nose-dive in viewership—which is a good thing, as I mentioned above. But they will take a hit, still. The news rarely involves something that touches everyone so closely as their vote—the one time we get involved in government, every couple of years. International news is pretty bloodthirsty stuff: drowning refugees, sex-trafficked girls, besieged cities under heavy bombardment—it’s a shitstorm out there in the big world. And domestic shootings hardly draw viewers as much as outrage. It’s bad news for the news, alright, the end of this election season.
But I will approach it as a positive—a new beginning for my writing efforts—something more about myself than ‘the worst person ever’ running for president. Hmmm… I’ll have to give it some thought.
Breakfast—is there anything sweeter than a hearty breakfast—and a handful of pills? Well, the pills are something I’ve acquired over time—what I really like is the bacon and eggs and hash browns—and then the sour of orange juice washing it all down—and then the hot, steamy, rich coffee (I take mine with lact-aid milk—the half-n’-half of the lactose intolerant).
And the best thing about it is that one isn’t supposed to have a hearty breakfast—all those nitrates, and fats, and the salt—OMG. Heaven forfend! But that just makes it taste better. And no breakfast is truly enjoyed without a newspaper, or at least a crossword puzzle or something—so you feel like you’re preparing your body and your mind for the day ahead. Well, the rest of the day—I don’t usually get around to breakfast until noon-ish—I know, I know—but it takes me a couple of hours just to wake up all the way. I’m kinda punchy for a while, at first.
Now, take a look at this picture of my niece holding my granddaughter—just look at the smiles on these two gals. It’s quite a photo, no? I stared at it for a good few minutes—it’s as good as a TV show.
But before I have my breakfast, I’ve uploaded this morning’s improv—it came out pretty good because I wasn’t entirely there. See, I tend to overthink things—so, when playing the piano, the more asleep I am, the better.
Thursday, September 22, 2016 12:43 PM
Aaah—so satisfying. Now that’s a breakfast. I made the mistake, however, of substituting the TV-news for a newspaper. When really bad stuff starts to go down, I realize I didn’t know how good I had it, when it was all presidential election claptrap—they were just filling time because they had no news—and no news truly is good news.
I see video of a pack of Tulsa police gunning down a stalled motorist in the middle of the highway in broad daylight. I ask myself, ‘what the hell is it like, living in Tulsa?’ I ask myself, ‘what would it be like if our cops just shot people down in cold blood like that?’ I find myself grateful, not to live in Tulsa—what a stain on this country. Then the stain running for president, the Donald, becomes the first Republican to hassle the cops about shooting black people. Why? Because, this one time, the shooter is a woman—Trump’s not castigating the police, he’s saying women don’t have the balls—a very different issue—but Trump’s an ass, and wouldn’t know the difference.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the cops shoot another black man—this time they say he had a gun—his family says he had a book. The cops won’t release the video—they had one excuse yesterday—today they have a different excuse—they’re saying they’re just following the law. But the law about releasing cop videos just got rushed through their state legislature—so it doesn’t take effect until next week—and on the hypocrisy goes. But that doesn’t stop the media from drooling in anticipation of more violence during community protests there—so they can say there’s violence on both sides. Vultures.
I must confess—if the cops made a habit of shooting at me, I’d be tempted to shoot back—but I’m white, so maybe I just don’t understand the situation? Regardless, it sure ruins a good breakfast.
I’m an escapee. My disability sidelines me from the distractions of life, so I get to watch the rest of humanity go about its business. It’s a disturbing show—we’ve got a lot of chaos going on in the world. You who have jobs and other distractions are lucky; you don’t spend the day poring over the problems of the world.
I’m an escapee. I already died once, so my concern over dying is not the big deal it once was. Everyone knows we all die someday—but we don’t usually accept it—and that’s a healthy thing. I’ve accepted it—and while that tones down the fear of dying, it also detracts from the ambitions of living. Plus, I’ve gotten old, so any ambition of mine would just annoy people. My day is past, just like Dr. Evil holding the world hostage for a million-dollar ransom, in a time when a million bucks barely pays for a new house.
I’m an escapee—even from myself. I used to be very intent, very tightly wound—now I have trouble concentrating, so I’ve let go of all that OCD behavior, as much as I could. I enjoy playing the piano when I first wake up, because I’m not all there yet—I don’t get in my own way as much.
We’ll all be escapees in November, when Hillary gets elected—we will have escaped an unholy confluence—NBC Universal, The Republic Party, and the Alt-Right movement have created a monster out of a joke. In truth, Trump remains laughable. It’s the half of the country he’s bamboozled into supporting him that’s scary.
We’re also beginning to escape from our past Conspiracy of Silence shielding police misconduct in the persecution, and murder, of minorities. For generations, certain police in certain communities have indulged their bigotry in a calculated and cold-blooded fashion. For generations, minorities’ claims of unwarranted search, seizure, arrest, beatings, and killings have been waved away with a ‘he said, she said’ and a ‘who you gonna believe?’
But now we have video. The old tradition, the evil conspiracy, is being shot through its own heart—its secrecy—and I confess to a certain glee as I watch these criminals-in-cop-clothes try to explain away the truth as it plays on a screen in slow motion. The thin blue wall of silence doesn’t work against YouTube footage—bigots, your day is come.
Unrest will be part of this process. The unwillingness to absorb this age-old confederation of persecution, even while it plays on our TV sets, faces tremendous inertia among white people. We don’t want to believe that such villainy has been sniggering behind our backs while we trusted our men and women in blue. And we recognize that many police do their jobs with pride, competence, bravery, and integrity.
But our respect for the police as a group cannot be a shield for this pernicious evil that resides within it. Black communities gather in outrage, risking harm themselves, to protest this cancer within law enforcement, and within the hearts of communities. Evidence is plain to see—yet we do nothing but debate talking points.
Changes must be made. Perpetrators must face consequences, even when they wear the uniform. Improved training and community outreach must become the norm—as must criminal prosecution for these brazen killings committed under the guise of ‘keeping the peace’. Ironic, and unacceptable—and most of all shameful. Shame on them. And shame on us if we don’t root out this corruption with the same intensity with which we support our cops.
But I see all this as ultimately good, as progress—an ancient evil has been caught in the light of day and, if we do right, will be hounded into non-existence. Trump points to this unrest and other violence, and tries to say that violence and crime are increasing—statistics, as usual, make a liar of him—but that’s how he wants to frame our reality, so we’ll all get scared and vote for a bully. Crime and violence are at historic lows. The recent unrest is a part of making the police a force for good for everyone, including every shade of skin.
This is important work, not cause for hysteria. But, regarding Trump, that could be said about many of his positions, on just about every issue.
Wow—even I’m tired of me—I can’t imagine how fed up you must be, dear reader. But it’s the weekend now, so I’m going to do my best not to say anything until Monday, maybe even Wednesday—who knows?
Our granddaughter has a wonderful new toy in her crib—a small keyboard that she can play with her tootsies. Punkin sent me a video of it, so I’ve made a new video of the two of us playing together. Enjoy. (I’m the one in the green shirt.)
A long and productive day—Pete came by, we recorded most excellent musical diatribes, but he had to cut our visit short and return to the world from whence he came. Then Joanna came by to see Pete—moments too late, very frustrating—but she and I had a pleasant visit, at least. This time I remembered to take a picture:
Today’s posts bring my total YouTube uploads to 2,005. Of those, 59 are videos of Pete Cianflone and me, collaborating together on improvisations and song covers. The audio-cassette archives of our 20th-century recordings are lost in the mists of time—after many years of pursuing separate paths, we resumed our monthly journey together in January, 2014. It’s all on YouTube: Pete n’Me playlist
I’ll grant you, it’s an uneven catalog (always with the caveat that the problems are all mine—Pete’s a professional who’s nice enough to indulge me) but as we’ve gone along, Pete has figured out an impossible trick—drumming for a pianist with no sense of rhythm. He always makes me sound better than I sound by myself—it’s really something. Today’s videos are a perfect example—no matter how badly I mess up, Pete keeps things going.
Well, it’s been a very busy week. I think I’ll go back to bed for a few days.
La-dee-da…. I don’t care. Let it all swirl around me. I usually feel obligated to pay attention, to try to sort the wheat from the chaff. But it all roils on, with or without me—I could live the rest of my life without a glance at the world and no one would ever notice. I could stop watching TV or going online, wait until November, vote for Hillary—and the result would be the same as if I had obsessed over all the political reporting, day and night, leading up to election day.
Those of you with the health and strength can rush down to campaign headquarters and volunteer to get out the vote—you may even decide that you’ve found in Politics a lifetime career—you can make a difference. I am unable to do so—but that’s okay—like I said, my lack of involvement frees me from worrying about my level of engagement.
We live in a media-centric culture. It is a mirror that we hold up to ourselves—and so our lives are judged not just on what’s happening, but whether we find ourselves entertained. It’s a lot to ask of ourselves—as if the whole family-of-man was driving its car down the interstate, admiring itself in the rearview mirror, trying to keep one eye on the traffic and the road signs. We must pay attention—but there are some things that don’t require our attention—they get in the way of the stuff we must keep watching for—dangers, opportunities, and responsibilities.
Not that we don’t need entertainment—I’m not saying that. Ever since fireside storytellers lit the imaginations of their tribe to mark the end of the day, people have hungered for entertainment. It is a part of who we are—just as much as eating or sleeping. In modern America, we’ve found that an overabundance of tempting foods can transform nutrition into a health threat. By the same token, it seems that we have the ability to over-indulge in entertainment to the detriment of our mental health. Sensationalism leads us on, to shorter attention-spans, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, and carpal-tunnel syndrome.
As a bookworm, I was an early-adopter of today’s media overload. Long before it was popular to spend the entire day staring at a rectangle in your hand, I was reading a book during every free second of my time. Even back then, I found that reading books (a supposedly relaxing activity) could become a binge activity. I’d reach a point where the eye strain, stiff neck muscles, and headaches made it necessary to stop awhile—even at three in the morning, with only one chapter left to find out the ending.
I got a lot out of those books—I learned a lot and I was exposed to new concepts and perspectives that broadened my understanding. But I also missed out on a lot of other things—the kinds of things other people did—which narrowed my understanding. It’s that whole ‘balance’ thing—it always bites us in the tush. And when it comes to the popularity and ubiquity of the I-phone, balance goes completely out the window.
People in olden times often resisted having a phone put into their home—if they wanted to talk to someone, they would go and see them. Nowadays, landline home-phones are only remarkable in that younger people have begun to feel landlines are superfluous. And, as in those days, we have many people today who don’t wish to ‘be online’—if they want to talk to somebody, they’ll call them on the phone. But like the people before, their children are using texts and Twitter and Skype, et. al., to keep in touch—so they are forced to adopt the new tech, if only to talk to their kids.
But what if you’re among the millions of people without the money for gadgets, without access to the internet, perhaps without even literacy? We are creating a divide between the digitally-enabled and the dark-zoners—and these two groups live in worlds that the other cannot comprehend, much less share.
We are approaching a point where digital illiteracy and lack of access will become more disabling than a lack of money. It is a new form of what film-director Godfrey Reggio called ‘Koyaanisqatsi‘ or ‘life out of balance’. Only, in this case, it is specifically Humanity that is putting itself out of balance.
Prototypical ‘wild’ humans evolved to live a life of constant struggle and frequent deprivation. We have built civilizations that free us from such rigors—but being free of the necessity of fleeing from predators, free of hunting, gathering, and finding water and shelter—that doesn’t change the way we evolved.
We still need to exert ourselves. We still need to balance food with activity. We still need to bond, to form social groups, and to share stories. We still need to keep these animal bodies of ours balanced on the tightrope of biological function. Any extreme unbalance of exertion, food, leisure, entertainment, or self-regard causes problems—as lack of balance always will.
So, in the end, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with eating McDonalds or playing Black Ops or Tweeting—the danger lies in imbalance, in overdoing any one thing to the exclusion of a diversity of activities. Just as a conversation must include both talking and listening, our lives must balance our pleasures with our requirements. We take our bodies for granted—but we ought to stop using them occasionally, just long enough to listen to them and give them what they need. But I should talk—I collect unhealthy habits like they were baseball cards.
Okay, videos for today—one new one, and one from a week ago that I’ve put off posting.
I finally got in a file-folder from Bear, containing over 100 Photos of Seneca showing off his daughter, Seneca, at his Restaurant—he appears to dance about the place, introducing the Princess to all his co-workers. It’s beautiful—so I made a video of it. I can’t speak for the piano music—my fingers were a bit tired from photo-shopping all those pics—but I think it will do.
The photo sequence repeats once, because I only show each picture for 0.75 secs. That left me with a-minute-and-a-half for the whole sequence, but the music is three minutes. It’s driving me crazy to be in New York while my baby granddaughter is growing up in California—it’s just so wrong. They’re going to visit at Christmas time, so I’m very impatient for the holidays. Meanwhile, I have to settle for photos. Arggh!
Well, anyway, that was a full day’s work—and I think it came out okay—but I think I’ll use these pictures again, more slowly, on my next video. I like the way this one suggests movement, but it’s a little frenetic. I’d like to see the pictures come more slowly. Next time.
For some reason, 36 years ago, I married a Bear. She married a Clown. We did the things that other families do—house, kids, pets, Christmas, birthdays—but we did something you don’t see too much of—we were silly. I find silliness to be precious—it’s something a lot of people don’t have time for. Some people even have an aversion to silliness—though that makes them the perfect people to be silly in front of.
Bear is not always relaxed enough to get silly—she spends most of her time being quite serious and busy. She’s lucky she has me—I know the value of silly. I’ll check—but I’m pretty sure she feels the same way—yeah, pretty sure…
I told her last night that I had forgotten to get her a gift. Bear doesn’t care—Bear doesn’t like a lot of gift-giving. She likes Christmas presents and birthday presents and she doesn’t mind a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day—but that’s it. No Mother’s Day, no Easter, no wedding anniversary, nothing where she feels a gift would cheapen the day. I try to get gifts anyway—silly ones, of course—but when I forget, it’s not the end of the world.
She said, “When I go shopping tomorrow, I’ll get myself some flowers.” That’s what we do—I tell Bear I didn’t get her a present, and she gets it for me (for her). I think she prefers to do her own shopping and decide what she wants—silly gifts are all well and good, but….
To the outside observer it might look like I get most of the benefit of being married and Bear gets most of the work—but only because it’s true—and I have an excuse—and a note from my doctor. But I do bring something to the table—old world queens had their court jesters—and Bear has her Clown. Plus, I kill spiders and fix toilets.
I don’t even want to think what my life would have been like without her. So that worked out pretty good. I am the lucky one.
Sunday, August 28, 2016 12:33 PM
It’s Addictive (2061Aug28)
I’m having trouble getting any work done on the computer. My wife is having trouble leaving the house. Friends come over and when they try to leave they just can’t walk out the door. It’s a real problem. We’re all addicted.
I’m a nerd by trade. My usual PC-monitor backgrounds and screen-saver slide-shows have always been NASA images—false-color galactic spectaculars, grandiose launch-fireworks, awesome celestial bodies—you know the drill. But I have recently received an influx of my granddaughter’s baby-pictures, which reminded me of younger times, when my computer graphics included our own infants—before they grew old enough to be self-conscious about being on daddy’s screen-saver. So, now, only occasional close-ups of solar storms or galactic star-cradles interrupt the steady stream of baby worship.
If you’ve had kids, or grandkids, then you know that your baby pictures are the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen—and it’s hard to look away. This is especially true when the actual enfant is on the opposite coast, unavailable for grandparental doting. Well, it turns out that having a slide-show screen-saver of such images is pretty close to graphics heroin.
I finish my typing or Facebooking or whatever, I go to leave the room, and I find myself caught, in glancing backward, by the full-screen splendor of our little Seneca. I walk into the same room later on, and I can’t bring myself to hit a key, stopping the screen-saver—I just sit and watch. When Claire (or anyone, really) tries to walk past the computer on their way out the door, they find themselves stopped in their tracks. She’s a cutie, what can I say?
I have piano recordings I’ve put off for days now, because I won’t edit the video without some fresh Seneca graphics to replace the image of me sitting and playing (with over 1,900 YouTube videos, I’ve seen more than enough of myself). Claire is holding out on me—but that’s between us, we’ll work it out. In the meantime, I have one recording that I really like—I may have to post them as is—or at least this latest one.
The universe is a big place (he said, apropos of nothing) and if we are honest with ourselves, our individual selves are such a minute part of the planet—itself a minute part of the whole—and we must accept that ego is entirely a biological-evolution thing—it is as misleading as our perception of the Earth as a flat surface—ego is a special case, only valid to one person in a specific point of time and space—certainly not any part of the larger reality around us.
We accept ego as a driving force, giving us the confidence to move forward, the sense of self-worth that allows us to believe in our goals and dreams—just as we move across the earth as if it were a table-top—it’s practical. But an overabundance of ego in one person is usually recognized in those around him or her—as delusional. So we conclude that ego, like glandular balance, is a healthy thing, and egotism, like any metabolic imbalance, is unhealthy.
Our egos are like our faces—other people see them clearly, while we cannot. And there is no mirror for an ego—except perhaps the brick wall of harsh reality, though sometimes even that has no effect. I’m not sure how big my ego is—I can’t be certain if my ego is in balance or not. It troubles me. But then, I’m out of shape too—no question, yet I can live with that—more easily than I can get myself to exercise every day. Sometimes I have to accept that I am what I am.
My point? I don’t know—my point is that it’s hot—too hot for this heavy, long-sleeved shirt I wore in the air-conditioned part of the house. My point is that I’ve gone down the rabbit-hole of presidential politics and it’s virtually impossible for me to write about anything else. But it’s Sunday, so I’m trying to take a day off from all that. Still, I catch myself nibbling around the edges of it.
For me this political ‘rumpus’ is about human nature, about character, about strength of purpose and clarity of vision—it’s not a party to me, it’s not a hootenanny where I get off on the sheer emotional energy of it. I’ve always been too damned serious—and this election is an exaggeration of that side of me. Don’t think that, because I’m taking a day off, that I don’t have a lot more scolding and griping to do—but that’ll wait.
In the meantime, I only have eight measly photographs with which to make four videos—I guess if I can’t squeeze any new shots out of Jessy or Claire, I’ll have to fall back on photos I’ve already used—we’ll see.
Once upon a time I supervised thirty employees and ran the computer systems all by myself—I made and spent money like a lord, because times were fat—People thought I was a computer genius, and in that context, I kinda was. Along the way, I had married, we’d had two kids, a dog, three cats, a house, and two cars. We live in a lovely, woodsy neighborhood with a beach on the lake, just north of New York City.
I worked hard, long hours on the hardware, the software, the supplies, training the people (people didn’t know what to do with a computer back then—and, to be fair, all the computers were different, with different, custom-made programs). I talked to clients and suppliers on the phone. I talked in meetings. I talked to individuals if they had a question or problem. I kept everything going and, on the side, de-bugged programs or wrote new applications. I was often brought in on a big closing as the resident nerd—back then, if you had your own nerd, you could get ahead of the competition using those new ‘computer’ gadgets. I was big stuff—in a small way, for a short time.
But I had my own corner office, with a beautiful view. I had a nice chair. I was happiest when I was just sitting at my terminal, writing code. That was the easiest part of the job. Dealing with customers and co-workers was never my strong suit. I was younger than a lot of employees, and that could be awkward for both of us.
On my birthdays, a group of friends and family would join me at a fancy restaurant. We’d eat fancy food and drink pricey wine—it was very sumptuous, not hard to take at all. Eventually, we’d toast to my birthday and everybody would say, “You are the lucky one!” It was said half-joking, ironically, because there wasn’t anything too special about me, but I was undeniably enjoying a lucky life—and it was a night to celebrate.
But I believe it. I said it to someone just recently. They looked surprised. They said, “You? You’re the lucky one?”, incredulously.
I said, “Yeah. I should have died ten different ways by now but I’m still breathing. I should be a grouchy misanthrope hiding in a solitary cave somewhere but (and here I looked at my wife) I live in this wonderful place with wonderful people. I have everything I want and nothing I don’t.” Now, that may be a slight exaggeration, but not much of one, not in any way that really matters.
I do believe it. There are so many ways in which the twists and turns of fate could have put me up against it, but that has never happened. Fears arise, troubles come, but with time they all fade, and a better day dawns—every time. If that’s not lucky, I don’t know what is.
And yet it isn’t much different from your life, is it, dear reader? We are all tremendously lucky to be waking up to this day, eating food, being with others, cruising around, reading books, whatever you like doing. It’s good, right? I mean, it could get worse. That would suck. That would be bad luck. But meanwhile we swim in a stream of good luck, barely noticing the miraculous moments go by. I am the lucky one. Say it with me.
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.
Why do I always do this? I post a blog-entry about my rage over politics, full of invective and damnation—then, later in the same day, I post another blog-entry swimming in sweetness and light—usually to go along with my new granddaughter’s latest photo-shoot, hopefully with accompanying piano video using said photos. It’s ridiculous—no one who wants to read one could possibly want to read the other. What am I doing?
Truth is, I’m just being myself. I try not to get worked up about the election, but then I watch CNN or whatever, get a whole new bee in my bonnet, and I’m off to the races. I’d much rather spend the day doing what I did this afternoon.
Bear and Punkin have been emailing me regular albums of virtually daily baby pictures. Today’s batch of eleven photos inspired me to create a new frame for the photos in my video. I work in photo-shop (the Corel version) with screen grabs of medieval illuminated page borders and fancy capital letters (which I used to create a monogram-inset for the royal princess’ picture-frames), going to extra pains to ensure that each photo is the same size and in the same position. Otherwise the video doesn’t flow as well.
Our old friend, Chris Farrell, came by to tune the baby grand today. I waited until his visit before I played today’s piano improvisation. I hope you’ll notice the clarity of pitch—it should stand out, compared to the ‘sour’ recordings I’ve been making these past few weeks. I have to watch that, because frankly my ear isn’t good enough to notice, but I know musicians who actually suffer, hearing an instrument played out of tune. Today’s video does not have that problem. As they say, all mistakes are mine alone…
This is one cute baby. I have trouble sometimes finding inspiration to record my 2,000th improv (actually, my YouTube-uploads total is more like 1,976). However, knowing that I need an audio track for my baby-pictures videos makes it seem easy—but then again, I don’t try as hard—I just try to play something a baby might like. Today’s piece ends with a lullaby of sorts, hence the title.
Bear tells me that Lil Sen watched my previous video on YouTube—out in California—and seemed to think it was okay. Talk about inspiration. I’ll be playing piano improvs until further notice, no problem. Bear returns this Thursday—poor Bear, I’m sure she’ll be sorry to say goodbye (just for now) to our little sweety-pie. Though I’d better come up with a different nickname—I doubt Jessy wants to be called our ‘old sweety-pie’! But it’s bound to be confusing when your baby girl has a baby girl. I’ll work on it.
Okay, I give up. Yes, the computer room needs an air conditioner. In this heat I waver from wanting to stay in the cool bedroom, or coming out here to the hot-box and typing on my PC. I can be comfortable and bored, or engaged and sweating like a pig. Neither one is working right this minute—and I always decide I need A/C on the weekend, when I have to wait until Monday to order one. What a schmo.
I just got back from the supermarket. Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pastas and Progresso hearty soups—it’s a can festival. Also some hot dogs. Now that I know I can make it into next week without shopping for a while, I feel better—plus, call me picky, but I like to eat dinner almost every day. I bought dill pickles and pickled sausage bites and some Laughing Cow and those round cheeses in the net-bag.
I found the world’s best microwavable breakfast—Eggo’s bacon-egg-and-cheese waffle-meals. And I grabbed some Polar Bears (Heath bar flavored). I was worried about getting those two things home and in our freezer before they were ruined—I think I made it.
Sunday, August 14, 2016 12:48 PM
“98.6” by Keith—what a great tune. It lifts my spirits. I collect one-hit wonders—the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of the music world—strange artifacts that belong to no movement or genre but their own personal musical ‘ear’. There are a surprising number of them—and it’s sad in a certain way. Think about it—you can try for a musical career, spend a few years touring local bars and clubs, then peter out from lack of determination or lack of audience interest—or you can get lucky and hit it big, get signed to a label, tour big venues, the whole nine. But with a one-hit wonder, the artists are served the success-banquet and then have the whole thing snatched from their mouths after the first course. The same amount of grueling giggery, PR, lawyers, fans, and yet more giggery—then the promise of fame and fortune—then the almost instant fading of it all—how hard that must be. I love one-hit wonders—but I truly feel for the artists that make them.
And it begs a question that often haunts a sixty-year-old would-be artist like myself: Is there a finite amount of creativity in each of us, to one extent or another? Would Beethoven’s Tenth have been anti-climactic? Did Van Gogh kill himself because he had used all the colors in every way he could imagine—and was loathe to repeat himself? Was Dickens’ last novel just ‘more of the same’? In olden times an artists could be satisfied with just one single ‘masterwork’. Of course, if one is capable of that, there was probably a bunch of stuff one could do—Michelangelo did sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry, but he did some things better than others.
But today, with the ‘industrialized’ arts, if you can have a hit record, contracts are drawn up by the money-people, as if to say, “Well, anyone who can please the public can continue to do so forever”. There is no recognition of the possibility that what makes someone creative may be the same thing that bridles at being expected to play those songs every day for years, or come up with another whole album of ‘more’. What the hell is ‘more’ when dealing with inspiration? And how can we expect inspiration to stick to a release deadline?
We think of art as a job. It was never a job. The musicians that played at weddings and dances were just the folks who had a knack for music—they had day jobs. The artists of old weren’t working on canvas—they were carving sculptures into the furniture they made, painting landscapes with glazes on the pots they were throwing. The ‘career’ thing started with court appointments—Michelangelo was part of his Pope’s court, Bach worked for his church choir until his fame made him a member of the household of the Duke of Brandenburg.
These early artists didn’t do anything but their art—but they were servants to royalty, at their beck and call—even with regard to subject matter and style. No artists made a living from their art except the travelling troupes of entertainers—and they were mostly fugitives, working sub-rosa in a culture that forbade merriment in general—criminals of art, in effect. No individual musicians made a living concertizing until the nineteenth century. The monetization of art has a fascinating history—but it is a history of the deformation of the original impulse to art.
Sunday, August 14, 2016 6:48 PM
I’ve made a nice video that contains our granddaughter’s latest pictures and, in between the two improvs, a piano cover of Cole Porter’s “Tomorrow”—so I tried to throw in some entertainment. It’s difficult to create a video under these rolling thunderstorms—I’m a computer hack since back in the ‘80s—lightning is my mortal enemy. I always rush to power down the PC when the lightning gets too proximate.
Usually a storm comes and I call it a day, computer-wise. But with this kind of late summer weather, I can either play the margins or wait for Fall—intermittent thundershowers are forecast for the foreseeable future.
So, I’m going to upload my video and get off until tomorrow—it’s hot and muggy even when the sun breaks through. Only a fool gets stressed on Sunday. Bear returns next Thursday, thank goodness.
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:
Don Pietro del Cianflone has returned from summer hiatus—sing laude and strike the tambor! Here, we have the Buds-Up Semi-Ensemble wreaking havoc with the laws of both rhythm and harmony in a spectacular display of bongo-osity and piano-tivity. If you spot this duo—notify the musical authorities at once. If you hear something—you’ve heard too much!
The rest of this is just me—nothing to see here, just move it along…
That’s that, for now. A big thanks to Peter Cianflone for the jam session!
We believe what we wish and we think sometimes too
Sometimes we are faithful and sometimes, untrue
When we are not peaceful we’re provocative
People are silly—just watch them and see
People get ugly—you know they can be
People like laughing—it’s such a relief
But then we like fighting—and that causes grief
People are silly—if I wasn’t one
I’d say let them all walk around with a gun
I wouldn’t even mind taking a bullet from one
If I didn’t have a wife, a daughter, and a son.
(please note: this poem is in the style of Dr. Seuss, not actually by him.)
It’s a lazy day. Happy summer. I recorded one of Bach’s French Suites. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother posting it, but I want to forget about the troll that bugged me a few days ago, so I’m posting more classical music videos. This one is no better than that one, because I don’t play all that good—but I hereby declare that to be okay. Anyone that doesn’t like it—doesn’t have to watch it.
I also managed an improv. The set-to with the troll took my mind off my biggest problem, which has nothing to do with my playing bad classical music. I’ve always played classical music badly. I usually tell myself that it’s background research—I only play the classical for practice—to get ideas and improve my technique—for when I improvise. Because I’ve been pleased with my growth in that area—some of my improvs are quite listenable.
I know this because I burn CDs and listen to them while lying around or reading. I started doing that way back when I was still using a Sony cassette recorder and never posted anything. The idea was to hear myself in playback and see what I sounded like to another person. I learned a lot—enough so that, at some point, I actually began to enjoy listening to my own CDs. They still couldn’t stack up against store-bought music, but they were good enough that, when factoring in that I had made them myself, it was nice to listen to.
But lately I don’t know. I’ve always sounded kinda the same, but I was always trying new things. I think lately the problem is that I’ve accumulated a bunch of ‘tricks’ that I like, and I use them too much—it’s getting repetitive. So I’ve recorded some improvs lately that I didn’t think were good enough to share online because they’re just too much like stuff I’ve already posted. I don’t know, maybe it’s just getting old. I have been improvising for like thirty five years by now—maybe I’ve just reached my peak and I don’t have it in me to do any better.
Anyhow, for today’s recordings’ titles, I recycled my drawings from the last post—I’m not making many new drawings, so I have to make the most of what’s left in my old archives.
Some motherfucker has commented on my YouTube post of one of Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs Without Words’ saying, “What a laugh! lol.” So I went to his YouTube channel to see what he was about—he had a post of the same piece, which he played very well, liked a trained pianist. My recording was definitely inferior—I don’t play very well—but I still didn’t understand why he felt the need to deride me—who made him the Internet Music Police, anyway?
Maybe he didn’t mean to be mean—I jump to conclusions about that, because he wouldn’t be the first troll on my YouTube channel and I’m kinda sensitive about my piano-playing. Maybe he’s just trying to make friends and he’s even more socially inept than I am—but that would be giving him a truckload of benefit of the doubt. A friendly comment would have made a point of laughing with me rather than at me.
But that leaves the question of ‘why would anyone bother?’ Who surfs YouTube looking for videos to make fun of—and how would a person’s life become so vacuous that being unpleasant to strangers would become a pastime? He may very well have been trying to upset me—but all such comments only confuse me—don’t people have anything better to do?
I’ve made many comments on other people’s YouTube posts—but I never bother unless I want them to know how much I enjoyed their music, or thank them, or encourage them to keep playing and posting. Here on WordPress I find myself sometimes trading barbs with someone who offends my sensibilities—but on YouTube? If I don’t like a YouTube post, I just stop listening—I don’t go out of my way to tell someone I don’t like their music. That’s like telling someone you don’t like their religion—or their face. It’s just rude.
I don’t like violence—I don’t understand how it keeps being such a big part of our lives. It never produces anything but more violence. Maybe I’m just lucky enough to live a life where violence doesn’t come up—but even in situations where violence is commonplace, I still don’t see it doing anyone any good.
And trolling seems to me much more an advertisement of loneliness than any kind of criticism I would take seriously.
Friday’s here—and just as I often don’t get fully awake before noon, I feel like I’m just getting warmed up whenever the end of the week rolls around. Old and in poor health is no way to suck the marrow from life. But I find I have company, or rather, competition.
That is to say that I’ve just finished reading Julian Barnes’ excellent historical novel, “The Noise of Time: A Novel”, touching on the life of Dmitri Shostakovich—a Russian composer of the Soviet era, and a favorite of mine since my early teens. I clearly remember mentioning the name to my mother one day, mispronouncing it, and being surprised that she corrected my pronunciation of his name—firstly because I realized he was famous enough for my mother to know his name, and secondly because I had been enamored of his music for months, while saying his name wrong (I had been thinking of him as Shos-TOCK-ovich!)
The Russians take pride in their deep sadness—as an American, I’ll never get that, but I get it, kind of. Masochism, irony, and melancholy are tools I have used myself in defense against a dysfunctional reality. But my life, and my troubles, are of an American smallness, in comparison to Barnes’ description of the living hell Shostakovich found himself in. He was a sensitive composer trapped in Stalin’s Russia, forced to publicly denounce his own works, and the works of his hero, Stravinsky—and other close friends and respected musicians; in danger for years from ideologues and politicians trying to ferret out disloyalty, even in thoughts and feelings, especially among artists—and even more especially in composers who had achieved global fame.
The book reminded me of the stories I heard about Soviet Russians living in terror of anonymous squads who came and took them in the night, often never to be seen again—and about the ideological tyranny that deposed aesthetics as the yardstick against which their art was ‘measured’—and sometimes condemned, along with the artist’s life.
Stalin’s rule, up to 1953, was so bloody that upon his death and the ascension of Khrushchev, it was said that ‘the Soviet had become vegetarian’. Although it may be more proper to say that the Soviet ceased to be cannibalistic, since Stalin’s machine had been devouring his own people. And Shostakovich was apparently a pretty nervous fellow—at the height of the pseudo-ideological criticisms of his music, he spent every night, for weeks, waiting at the elevator to be taken away by the KGB so that they wouldn’t have to burst into his apartment and drag him away in front of his wife and child. Barnes writes that Dmitri was just one of many people who observed this nighttime ritual during the terror known as Stalin’s Cult of Personality. Shostakovich’s life was one horror show after another—and it didn’t help that he was fairly well-off, compared to the average Soviet Russian—that just gave him more to lose.
As a boy, my favorite of his works was the last movement of his fifth symphony—but as I matured, I learned to prefer the rest of the symphony. According to Barnes’ story, Shostakovich was forced to add the final ‘triumphal’ movement to the symphony because the foregoing movements were so unremittingly ‘pessimistic’—and so he composed the final movement ironically. To my callow ears, and to the politburo, it sounded glorious (which saved Shostakovich’s life, and career)—but as my tastes matured I came to find the last movement somehow brash and ugly, and prefer the music that comes before—and now I know why, I suppose. Much is made in the book of the fact that when confronted with brainless tyranny, the only safe rebellion is in irony—but that irony over time gets lost in itself.
This book is no happy story, but it is something perhaps better—a fascinating story about strange and awful truths, and the horrendous lies that hide them, for a time at least. I have long since given up hope of finding in great artists’ lives any kind of reflection or explanation of the exaltation of their creations—but this book actually matches up the bleakness heard in most of his music with the day-to-day life of its composer. I read it in one sitting—something I’m only pushed into nowadays by irresistibly good writing and an enthralling story.
Barnes quotes Shakespeare at one point, mentioning that his Sonnet LXVI resonated with the artists of Soviet Russia, particularly the line, “And art made tongue-tied by authority”. I had to go look at the whole poem and I am struck, not for the first time, by how apropos Shakespeare always is, no matter how modern we think we have become:
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
(Shakespeare, William (2011-03-24). Shakespeare’s Sonnets (p. 132). . Kindle Edition.)
I love that line about “And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,”—geniuses so often appear to fools as people who need to be ‘cured’, or at the very least, ‘corrected’. The poem as a whole is fitting for a Shostakovich biographical novel—he too was often tempted by thoughts of suicide, harried by the ubiquitous surplus of malevolent injustice crowding every aspect of his life.
That’s my take on the book—-lacking a segue, here’s two improvs from earlier today–hope you like them:
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.
Happy Vernal Equinox (1st day of Spring) everyone! It’s colder today than it was on Xmas, so of course they’ve forecast a little snow for the area.
I’ve been asked about copyright issues. First, let me disclaim any education, pre-law or otherwise—I don’t really know anything—I can only give what is my present understanding of how these things go. Firstly, aside from my downloadable e-CD, “Opus Eleven by XperDunn”, I don’t have anything profit-based online—my YouTube videos are downloadable and are all part of their Community-Usage pool of material, my blog is not subscription-based, and I have nothing for sale on E-Bay—I’m a non-profit user.
As I understand it, that doesn’t exempt me from copyright law, it just makes me a low-value target for the litigious—unlike successful artists, who it seems must spend a great deal of time and money fending off pretenders to their work, valid or spurious. Were anything of mine to go viral, or to show any revenue-earning potential, then I would have rich people’s problems—but don’t hold your breath.
As far as what you can post to YouTube, there aren’t any hard and fast rules—you can even post a favorite album of yours, if you go to the trouble of making a video out of it. But if you do that, and the band you posted doesn’t like it, YouTube’ll take it down. What I do is slightly different. I post covers of music—meaning I perform a piece of piano music on video and post that.
A lot of my stuff is classical or folk—and that stuff is in the Public Domain—which means it’s at least a hundred years old and no one can ‘own’ it. But I do a fair number of jazz and pop covers from songbooks—and in these cases both the original music belongs to someone else—and the piano arrangement rights belong to the publisher of whatever book I’m sight-reading. Here’s the weird part—I own the video of my own performance.
In the case of covers, YouTube will send you an email asking you to agree that the song doesn’t belong to you—but they leave the video posted online. I always include a ‘cover’ tag with any such post of mine, just so nobody can claim I was trying to pull something. When I’m not feeling lazy, I try to include the credits and copyright info for each cover-song in my description text as well. It may subsequently have a suggestion-link that uses your video to sell the original artists’ e-tracks—but even if they don’t use it as advertising, the cover post itself is free publicity. Unpopular YouTube channels like mine don’t get a lot of views—and if I post a really bad cover, even my channel subscribers don’t watch it—so it isn’t as if it hurts the composer—unless he or she listens to it.
Perhaps I hadn’t made it clear in my previous posts about copyright claim disputes—in my case, it’s all about the principle of the thing. My sole downloadable CD for sale hasn’t sold even once in two years, that I know of—and that’s pretty much what I expected. Only when an artist generates revenue does the issue of copyright become a serious legal matter—after all, you’ve got to pay for the lawyers. If you are a piano player, like me (or play any instrument, or if you sing) then you should feel free to post whatever you record—nobody is going to sue you. No one’s going to pay you either, but no one’ll sue you.
Here is the text from my latest YouTube copyright dispute:
CD Baby is a service through which I uploaded a CD’s worth of digital tracks [now available for sale on CD Baby, Amazon, and I-Tunes: “Opus Eleven” by Xper Dunn]. Today I’ve received multiple Copyright Notices from YouTube telling me that CD Baby is claiming the rights to all my videos of the same mp3 tracks on the album.
Today, I’ve been notified of two specific tracks:
Video title: Improv – I’m Thru (2014Nov18) – Copyrighted song: I’m Thru – Claimed by: CD Baby
Video title: Improv – Book To Movie (2014Nov11) – Copyrighted song: Book to Movie – Claimed by: CD Baby
I may have naively clicked on some EULA approval box designed to steal my rights—but even if the law allows CD Baby to rip me off for the audio rights, that still doesn’t give them any claim on the videos—or so it seems to me.
Four previous attacks have been ended by emails stating: “Your dispute wasn’t reviewed within 30 days, so the copyright claim on your YouTube video has now been released.” And, while I’m glad that is so—it doesn’t address the overall issue—as is shown by these two new claims being made.
I would appreciate it if YouTube would respond to these reprehensible attacks on my ownership of original content created, performed, and recorded by no one but myself. Please advise.
[End of Dispute text]
So, there’s the YouTube mess continuing on—me vs. the robots that run the site, to all appearances. But that’s not all. Yesterday I had some fun with my CITI card:
Thursday, March 17, 2016 3:53 PM
Bunch of Billionaire Crooks (2016Mar17)
I was paying my Citi credit card bill online when I downloaded the activity on the account and saw these charges:
3/17/2015 $7.07 Payment Safeguard 1-877-242-5987
4/16/2015 $1.22 Payment Safeguard 1-877-242-5987
6/16/2015 $0.93 Payment Safeguard 1-877-242-5987
7/16/2015 $1.52 Payment Safeguard 1-877-242-5987
8/18/2015 $1.60 Payment Safeguard 1-877-242-5987
9/16/2015 $0.30 Payment Safeguard 1-877-242-5987
10/16/2015 $0.41 Payment Safeguard 1-877-242-5987
11/17/2015 $3.04 Payment Safeguard 1-877-242-5987
Now, I’d heard of this sort of thing—a bunch of little charges on banking statements that you’re supposed to overlook—after all, it’s only little tiny charges, right?
So I called the number—it’s some kind of credit service company that covers outstanding debt payments when you lose your job or go broke generally. I think to myself—‘hell—I’m on disability—why would I buy insurance on my credit card debt?’ I figure they must have snagged me disguised as some ‘free service’ or as a banking option offered by Citi themselves—got me to check some box—or maybe allow a pre-checked box to go by without un-checking it—either way, these people did not get my name in any straightforward manner.
So I call Citi—they want my name, account#, account# of the checking account I use to pay their bills—then they wanted my pet’s name—I don’t have a pet. I was put on hold for a supervisor—by the time she got on the line, I’d remembered my daughter’s late dog’s name was probably what they had on file. But since she was a supervisor, she asked a few more ‘security questions’—she wanted to send me a verification code on my cellphone—and could she have that number? Finally she asked me what the problem was.
I told her. She had a devil of a time finding these seven charges on my account activity (even though my last year’s worth of account activity on that card comes to no more than fifty lines of charges and payments). Then she put me back on hold for the fourth time—gets back on the line—tells me she’s connected me to a Payment Safeguard representative—and hangs up.
Now I’m on the line with these people—“What can I do for you.” “Cancel my account please.” –another long hold— “Is there anything else I can help you with, today?” “If you can assure me that I won’t see any more charges on my bill, then I’m satisfied.” “Well, Mr. Dunn, depending on your billing cycle for your card, there might be one more charge—but that will be the last one.”
Yeah, right. I’ll believe it when I see it. I hate banks—bunch a crooks. I hate customer service—soulless bastards. Bunch of billionaires nickel-and-diming the rest of us into endless debt. This whole cold-blooded, mindless, inhumane system will burn to the ground some day—and they’ll be getting off easy, at that. Bastards.
I’ve complained previously about how YouTube will try to snatch my videos’ copyrights away just because my classical-piano-music posts have the same title as some label-signed virtuoso, even though the recordings are my own performance of a centuries-old piece of music, long passed into public domain.
Now I’m confronted by a new wrinkle—CD Baby is a service through which I uploaded a CD’s worth of digital tracks [now available for sale on CD Baby, Amazon, and I-Tunes: “Opus Eleven” by Xper Dunn]. Suddenly, today I’ve received multiple Copyright Notices from YouTube telling me that CD Baby is claiming the rights to all my videos of the same mp3 tracks on the album.
So far, I’ve been notified of four specific tracks:
Video title: Improv – On The ‘A’ Line (2014Oct28) – Copyrighted song: On the ‘A’ Line – Claimed by: CD Baby
Video title: Piano Cover: “When I Fall In Love” (plus “Improv- When In Love With Shakespeare”) (2014Oct21) – Copyrighted song: When in Love With Shakespeare – Claimed by: CD Baby
Video title: Improv – The Starfish-Annointed (2014Oct15) – Copyrighted song: The Starfish-Annointed – Claimed by: CD Baby
Video title: Improv – Noble Gaseous (2014Nov03) – Copyrighted song: Noble Gaseous – Claimed by: CD Baby
I assume that CD Baby will eventually make claims on all the tracks from the CD I so naively clicked on the EULA approval box for. Now, even if the law allows CD Baby to rip me off for the audio rights, that still doesn’t give them any claim on the videos—or so it seems to me.
I would appreciate it if YouTube would respond to this reprehensible attack on my ownership of original content created, performed, and recorded by no one but myself. Please advise.
[This is the text of my claim dispute submitted to YouTube.]
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?’
Billie Holiday’s discography includes some beautiful old standards—one of my favorites is “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” written by Jimmy McHugh & Clarence Gaskill in 1926. I find the sheet music demanding and if I can’t play the thing properly, I certainly can’t give you the slightest idea of how exquisitely simply beautiful it is on the Billie Holiday recording. Those early recordings of Billy Holiday with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra are, in many ways, the apotheosis of musicality—so weirdly perfect and so perfectly weird. (Apotheosis means “the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax.”—I looked it up to make sure I wasn’t being stupid.) Here’s another favorite Holiday recording:
And that’s the context in which I first heard performed “Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me)” written by Jack Palmer & Spencer Williams in 1924. Again, I struggle too much with getting this sheet music played to give it the easy bounce that it should have.
The middle piece from today’s video is by Vincent Youmans—a real class act—influenced in later years by Jerome Kern—but this early song is more of a jazz take on a revival-tent choir—“Hallelujah” written by Vincent Youmans, with words by Clifford Grey & Leo Robin in 1927. Here’s another from 1927, “I Know That You Know”:
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.
Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. Okay, okay, fine, alright—you want to talk about this clown—let’s talk about him. He’s a wonderful businessman. In a boardroom he can’t be beat—he’ll shaft you right between the eyes without hesitation; he’ll burn your house down with your family inside and he won’t even blink. And his famous, off-the-cuff, no-filter patter—that’s a powerful business tool. It lets whoever he’s talking to know that he’s up on all the political-correctness memes—he knows how far he can go without crossing a legal line—but he also lets us all know that he doesn’t give a damn about right or wrong—he’s all business. Or, in his own words: “I don’t have time to be politically correct—I’m too busy.”
He may be a misogynist—he may not be—in his heart of hearts, who knows? But Business is a misogynist culture where condescending to women is as acceptable as calling a man a pussy for not ‘going for the throat’—and he’s a Business Man.
This comes to the fore in what passes for his foreign policy also—trash-talking one’s rivals is common business practice and no American businessperson ever lost points for smiling at their Chinese or Mexican counterparts while at the negotiating table and then trash-talking them to his American cronies afterwards. Trash-talking is a part of sports and Business is a blood sport.
Would brash bullying be an advantage to an American President? Reagan had some success with it—but he was canny conservative, not a lord of the boardroom who had been lauded his whole life primarily for his cold-blooded willingness to attack all comers. If Business is like Football, then Politics is a Chess game—can Trump’s aggression, flexibility and maneuverability win the day against a longer, deeper game-player who looks many moves ahead? This question has two answers—because we are in the uncomfortable position of considering (a) whether Trump can win the election and (b) what kind of country will result from a Trump presidency.
I say ‘uncomfortable position’ because this will be the first time that our country’s choice of its leader may have no connection to our expectations as to what that leader will lead us into. But as Trump says when asked about policy, “We’ll get to that later.”
As a businessman, Trump is strongest in his domestic agenda (what there is of a Trump political agenda, that is). He’s made noises about fixing our infrastructure and improving the jobs market—and a real businessman may be what we need in that regard. It may come at the price of a sweeping away of most of the social progress of the last fifty years, but you don’t get nothing for nothing. It is conceivable that a single Trump term might get this country out of its domestic doldrums—and that the reactionary Democrat who follows him will have a fairly easy time putting our social justice agenda back on track.
But it is the breadth of the presidency’s powers and responsibilities that scares me—what consequences may result from four years of Trump leadership—and will those consequences be too heavy a payment for a surge in our domestic economy?
I don’t believe Trump himself expects America to be dumb enough to actually elect him—he may have underestimated the power of modern media. Jon Stewart when interviewing President Obama asked the president if he felt the public was fair in mistrusting politicians for speaking so ‘carefully’—and Obama replied to the effect that a citizen was freer to express himself or herself, while members of government had to consider the potential influence of their words on things like the stock market, international relations, and other factors—outside of whatever they might wish to say to their constituents in plainer language.
You can take that with a whole bag of salt but there is a kernel of reality there. A businessman/reality-show-host may find that distinction a bit too fine—Trump has never allowed himself to feel vulnerable. The great American empire, however strong, is far more vulnerable—not existentially, of course, but the point of America is not whether it will continue to exist.
The point of America has always been about what it will become. Will it offer social justice? Will it maintain human rights? Will it look after the old, the weak, and the sick? Will it reward honest effort and restrain the mighty from creating a de facto upper class? Will we retain our primacy in the arts and innovation because of the love of free expression we instill in every kindergarten child? Will we remain the first and most successfully unreligious government in history? And will America continue to be among the leaders of the United Nations that try to maintain peace and international humanity?
Some tall corn, I grant you—but whether that is what we are, or if it’s only what I wish we are becoming, it’s still my American Dream and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I’ve always felt that America isn’t great because it is rich and powerful, but rather the other way around. Successful businesspersons like Trump are playing the game of Capitalism. Like I said before, it’s blood sport—a serious game—but it is still a game, based on the conventions of property, currency and bookkeeping—it’s all somewhat fictional, in a sense. Governing America, on the other hand is no game.
Trump wants to stop all the blathering nonsense that is today’s Republican party—and I applaud that sentiment—but the answer is not to double down on the anger that seethes among the disaffected. I have never cared for the rich, elder citizens in Somers County who fight against real estate taxes for personal gain. That money goes to our public schools—something only a moron would underfund. I’m still happy to pay any kind of school budget, even though my own kids are long gone from our local schools—it’s common sense. You don’t want to be known as the county with the dumbest kids.
And I feel that this principle applies in a larger sense. People are always fighting against taxes. I don’t want to fight against taxes—I want to fight over what we spend them on (and who’s lining their pockets along the way). I don’t want to pay less for gasoline for two years—I want to drive on well-maintained roads (and breathe the air). I don’t want to be tax wise and infrastructure foolish. I don’t want to mine any more of the fool’s gold this country has been busily digging up for so long—interference in women’s health (to protect the poor things, I guess), interference in gay relations and lifestyles (to stop Satan, I guess), and caving to the personal whims of our nation’s wealthiest and most influential (because it’s “by business, of business, and for business”, isn’t it?)
Trump would say that’s all a bunch of ‘political correctness’. But it is interesting to note that we have come to think of that as a term for those who go too far in their socially-conscious vocabulary. People aren’t into subtlety these days, but there is a difference between rectitude and correctness. Political rectitude is farcical—but political correctness, in its literal sense, is what America is all about. Outside of their casting doubt on scientific verification, the invention of the term ‘political correctness’ is one of the right’s strongest moves in their eternal march towards the past. It allows them to poo-poo that which we hold most dear—the acknowledgement as equals of those who are different from ourselves.
The English language evolved in a society of god-fearing, bigoted, male chauvinists—trying to modify it to sound like free-thinking egalitarians makes for the occasionally ridiculous. Using that laughter to dismiss such efforts, however, is an urge from the pit of the evil one—and is only stressed by those who yearn to maintain that old-timey slime.
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….
Artist: Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine)
Oil Paintings by Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
“Camp Fire” (1880)
“Searchlight on Harbor Entrance, Santiago de Cuba” (1901)
“Rainy Day in Camp” (1871)
“Harvest Scene” (ca. 1873)
“Moonlight, Wood Island Light” (1894)
“Shooting the Rapids, Saguenay River” (1905–10)
[courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC]
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’ “:
Okay, this time I’m giving credit where credit is due–Sherryls’ got the green thumb. Harlan, however, makes an appearance towards the end of the video (see yesterday’s blog about the Big Tree across the street).
I’ve been trying to hook up my electronic piano to my PC using a MIDI-to-USB connection, but my Music Studio software isn’t picking up any input from the MIDI port. Maybe I need a new Sound Card—I don’t know. All I know is after hours of wasted time, I had to settle for recording my e-piano’s own playback—so, apologies for the sound quality. In the video, you can see that I dance about as well as I play.
The title graphic is from the Rijksmuseum—it’s a page from a French marionette catalog of the 18th century, I think:
[Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1786, eee 312: La minaudiere Marinette…, Pierre Charles Baquoy, Esnauts & Rapilly, 1786 (Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website)]
The other improv is me trying to reproduce that first improv, but on my usual Mason Hamlin baby grand piano. Thus “Reiterations”….
[“Fighting Peasants”] “Vechtende boeren” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, 1600 – 1662
Wednesday, June 17, 2015 10:12 PM
Things are calm and peaceful—nothing’s wrong—and that’s excellent news. The past three days I’d been feeling pretty homely at the piano, but I couldn’t post it until now because I did a special background movie for the three improvs—”Winter (Amusement on the Ice)” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, (1625) and “A Musical Party” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, (c. 1635 – c. 1645) –source graphics downloaded courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website and converted using “Photo to Movie 5.0” (software from LQ Graphics, Inc.).
First off—to be honest, it’s Sherryl’s garden more than it is Harlan’s—I’m pretty sure he confines himself to lawn-mowing, landscaping, and home-repair—Sherryl does the gardening. I only used Harlan’s Gardens because it sounds so nice as a title. Ergo, my humble apologies to Sherryl—but, as she knows, ‘that’s Hollywood’.
I went next door yesterday right after a big June shower—I wanted to get the droplets on the flower petals (which I did) but I also got a lot of wash-out in the whiter flowers—and I hate to lose that delicate detail and end up with a white blotch in its place—but what are you gonna do, right? There’s still a riot of color in these photos—almost like a party in your eyeballs.
Also, there are just a few shots of our own flowers and vegetable boxes towards the end of the clip, so today’s video should not be considered an official ‘documentary’ of Sherryl’s garden—more like a celebration. One of the very last photos is interesting because it is lettuce from a previous year’s box garden that decided to start growing wild in the cracks of our driveway’s asphalt. Nothing stops Life, I guess.
Every one of the 162 photographs were retouched in Corel Photo-Shop, whether it needed it or not (they all needed it)—so I hope you all appreciate how much eye-strain and mouse-clicking I go through trying to make these videos interesting to watch. And here I run into a paradox—when I do these photo-journal, slide-showy videos of pretty pictures, I always make the insert frame of the ‘me performing’ video very small. I do this because I want the photos to be as visible as possible. But then when I’m making the ‘me performing’ video I add all kinds of video effects—because I figure it’s going to be too small to see. That’s the paradox—I like adding video effects gadgets so much that I’m happier when no one is going to see exactly how loopy the video turns out.
As always, however, I put the lion’s share of my efforts into the music itself—and today, as you will hear, I even got some help from a flock of birds. This improv is a little different from my usual, but I was trying something new—I hope you enjoy it.
On a whinier note (and yes I will have some fine cheese with that) my back is killing me, my shoulder is stiff from all the repetitive photoshop-mousing, a headache is just starting that tiny silver hammer-tapping, and I’m awful tired. I sure hope this video lives up to all the effort.
I’m watching large, humanoid robots walk up to doorways, use the door handle to open the door, and walk into the building. When one of the robots got the door open there was a camera shot from inside showing the robot framed in the doorway. I could imagine one at my door—it was a little intimidating.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge is an exciting event—robots are expected to drive cars (and get out of cars—a far greater challenge in some ways) then open doors, walk through rooms, turn a big cast-iron valve attached to a pipe, and other challenges. The teams are from all over—the USA, Germany, Japan, and others—mostly students, learning as they change the world as we know it.
In time, these robots may help disaster victims caught under rubble—or turn off reactors in radioactive rooms that no human could survive. Beyond these heroics, there are infinite possibilities. Robotic construction crews could potentially build an entire Martian base—ready for human occupation.
Robots for the rich could become ‘universal remotes’, capable of changing your channel, putting your feet up, and making you a snack in the kitchen. The most remarkable thing about today’s robots is that they have no wheels, no treads—no expectation of level or paved ground. They walk on four legs, on two legs, on little spikes that make them seem to be tiptoeing, and on cushioned pads that look suspiciously like a pair of sneaks.
The variety of approaches makes the DRC Finals a fascinating show—every teams’ robot has a different look—different armatures—different heads—it’s a circus freak show of mechanical geeks. That speaks to the pioneering aspect of robotics research—it’s still just getting started.
But that giant robot looming in the doorway brought a frightening thought to mind. We already have hackers who can wreak havoc on our on-line lives—what will we do when robo-hackers can send a pack of killer robots to any address? Gun control—phooey. A half-ton of robot can ruin your whole day—and who’s to say they can’t be fitted with their own armaments?
So, yes, be afraid—be very afraid. But the immense power and potential of robots will go forward—becoming faster, lighter, stronger, and more capable. The Internet has some unacknowledged problems with security—it’s so irresistibly useful we try very hard to ignore its vulnerabilities. Robotics will, I predict, go just as far before we start worrying about how much power it puts in the hands of not-nice people.
In a way, we have rid the world of dangerous, man-eating animals only to replace them with artificial creatures that could end up stalking us at the push of a button. But please note: I am filled with wonder by the dawning of the Internet—and I am no less excited about this new dawn of robotics. It’s people I’m afraid of.
Oh–and just for laughs–I wrote a song lyric today, in honor of the season:
When the Spring is really greening
And the dog-flowers start to bloom
I can’t stand this crampy house.
I got to leave this musty room.
Outside, breezes float the pollen
And my nose begins to run
But it’s worth it for the freedom
And the warming of the sun.
Give me a Kleenex, baby
My nose in on the flow
Throw me a Kleenex, baby
I really got to blow.
I’d use my sleeve or spew it out but runny noses make me shout
Give me a Kleenex, baby
My nose in on the flow
Throw me a Kleenex, baby
I really got to blow.
Some days ago I threw a bag of birdseed onto the lawn outside the front door. It may not be for everyone, but I enjoy the racket every sunrise and sunset when the birds come to feed—and sing. The squirrels don’t sing much, but they do appreciate a bag of bird seed—boy, do they get chubby when I do this.
Bear suggested I place the video-camera outside the door for awhile and see what I got. That was a great idea—although I had to edit out a terrible amount of passing cars and idling or beeping trucks to get my final, idyllic background-footage. The remaining background sounds are mostly the breeze, the squirrels arguing, and the birds tweeting—I almost posted it all sans music.
Plus, I nearly didn’t post these two ‘cover songs’ videos—they’re terrible. But the squirrel is fun to watch. And the two ‘improvs’ videos are pretty good, for me—so I’m listing them first, in case any of you want to click on a video.
My old friend, Randy Bell, dropped by yesterday for a brief recording session. It had been three years since his last ascension from his Georgia home to visit his old stomping grounds and we had a lot of catching up to do. Inevitably, we turned to music—Randy, a one-time fervent ‘Dead-head’, has a very different musical perspective from mine, and our collaborations, while challenging, produce some very interesting results (for me, anyway).
It was a confusing afternoon in one sense—I have a tendency to improvise on basic chord progressions, and those chord progressions, being in some sense basic building blocks in a variety of tunes, can go in and out of the ‘cover’ domain. For instance, my favorite a-minor chord progression led Randy to start singing along, revealing those chords to be the basis of a Chris Issak hit, “Blue Spanish Sky”. However, as I said, some chords progressions are basic components to many pieces, of both classical and popular music. So if I have to credit Chris Issak, then Chris Issak has to credit basic music theory, as do the Beatles and the Turtles, who use the same chord progression in hit songs of theirs, and Vivaldi, who uses it in his “Four Seasons”.
Having crossed that line, I showed Randy how I had derived my favorite G-Major chord progression from Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. It was weird—after a good half hour of ‘improvisation’, we had recorded two ‘covers’!
But my favorite part was Randy teaching me to play a cover of a song written by someone we both knew—“Hard Road Blues”, written by Randy’s lifelong friend and one-time collaborator, Burrie Jenkins. Burrie is a Massachusetts composer and guitarist best known for his “Dharma of the Leaves” . I hope he doesn’t mind too much that Randy and I ‘roughed up’ his tune—it was hella fun to play…
My eldest brother, Greg, treated me to lunch this afternoon at The Fish and Farmer Restaurant (which used to be The Box Tree) in Purdys. I had the clam chowder and the soft-shelled crabs with shrimp roulade—impeccably delicious! We had a great afternoon, catching up and shooting the shit. I haven’t been to a fancy restaurant in a dog’s age—I forgot how much fun it is.
Today’s improv was actually played prior to Greg’s arrival, but it needs a name, and that’s what happened today, so that’s that. Hope you like it…
Overcast, sprinkly day—our neighbor hurt his hand on a power tool, but Bear had just bought some first aid supplies—now his fingers look like gauzy sausages. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. But my day went alright—up until now, when I’m finally posting the videos—the Stevie Wonder Covers video is like eighteen minutes long—and I’ve got a splitting headache from all this video editing. Not that my performance wouldn’t make Mr. Wonder cringe to hear it, but he’s on his level, and I’m down here on mine. With some more practice, I may be able to post better attempts in future videos—I love his music. I hope that, at least, can be heard.
The improv is silly—on purpose. I felt it was high time I did something silly and this improv qualifies.
The Artworks for both videos, by Caspar Luyken and Carel Allard, are, once again, provided (for non-commercial use only) by the wonderful Rejksmuseum (State Museum) in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
“Verzamelen van het manna in de woestijn”, Caspar Luyken, 1712
(“Gathering Manna in the Desert”)
Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website
“Sterrenkaart van de noordelijke sterrenhemel”, Carel Allard,
Johannes Covens en Cornelis Mortier, Anonymous, c. 1722 – c. 1750
(“Star-Chart of the Northern Hemisphere”)
Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website
It’s been a banner day for music here. First, I got off one decent improv this morning; then Pete arrived, and we knocked out two covers and two improvs—a decent day’s work for my YouTube channel and some decent music, if I do say so.
I’ve been practicing the “Brown-Eyed Girl” cover in anticipation of being accompanied by my professional drummer buddy—but the “My Guy” cover was just easy enough for me to get through without prep. The improvs made me very happy—if there’s a bit of paisley and patchouli in there, there’s a reason—‘nuf said. I’ve never been exactly ‘hard rock’, per se—which is why I appreciate the support from Pete, who definitely is. He always add so much energy, he almost makes me sound healthy!
Here we go…
I really needed today. Lately, I’ve been very down about the piano-playing—I’ve frustrated myself by working on difficult pieces and I’ve been even more frustrated by how hard it is to keep improvising without ‘going backwards’—if that makes any sense. But today was fun—and I’m truly pleased to share the results. Thanks, Pete!
“Gavotte variée”, from Suite in A minor (1726) by Jean-Philippe Rameau
I start this recording with the most difficult of the variations—I was trying to warm up—but then I start from the beginning and play it all the way through. I take some pride in how well I sight-read this Rameau piece, in spite of my poor motor-control—it is a big improvement over the way I’ve played it in the past.
Unfortunately, it is still a terrible job if compared to any proper performance—I recommend listening to Trevor Pinnock’s (or anyone else’s) performances, elsewhere on YouTube, to hear the charm, power, and beauty of this piece when played properly by a musician, on either the piano or, more properly, on the harpsichord.
Plus, while this recording is over ten minutes, Trevor Pinnock plays the piece in about two minutes—so it saves time as well. I only post my own recording because I love this piece and I’ve tried most of my life to play it—like all my classical ‘dream-board projects’—and this may be the closest I ever come.
Note: I don’t play this sheet-music so much as play around with it–and while I eventually hit every written note, there are parts where I’m just improving on the chord changes. See ‘Trevor Pinnock’ (and others) to hear a proper performance of this piece.
Yesterday’s videos are weird — the cover video is of “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, and “Do It Again” by Brian Wilson and Mike Love –I play both songs in the morning and then again in the evening. I had hoped for one to be better than the other, but they are both imperfect in their own way. I’ve been sight-reading out of my weight-class lately, and these recent videos are evidence of that, but there it is, anyhow.
The improv is weird too, though I can’t say exactly why.
The graphic images used are downloaded from the new Metropolitan Museum of Art online collection:
I’m still feeling off-balance today. When I’m happy the beautiful things in life make me want to sing but when I’m sad the beautiful things in life make me want to cry. There’s a little of both in today’s piano videos.
I’ve just learned that Gilbert Freeman has been injured at the Grand Canyon. He is presently in the Trauma Hospital in Flagstaff, AZ—I wish him a speedy and complete recovery. Gil is a retired music teacher responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of music-lovers, many professional musicians, and even a few virtuosi. We all have fond memories of our days in his choir and in his theatrical productions. I do hope he’ll be okay.
My George Gershwin songbook has always been difficult for me to play. Those Tin-Pan Alley harmonies make absolutely no sense, if like me you’re used to Bach, Mozart, or even Contemporary Pop—until I play them—then they make perfect sense. Gershwin’s music reminds me of Mozart in the way that he seems to find the perfect sound, right on the knife-edge of dissonance, or even just plain noise, but in its narrow escape from that, sublime in its perfect fitness.
This makes it all the more frustrating that, as sheet music, it is an obstacle course of illogical and unexpected twists and turns. I know, if I could only play it properly, how gorgeous it would sound, as I flub and fluff my improper way through it. And it’s fairly gymnastic playing, too, by my standards—physically on the edge of possibility, for me. So I was surprised yesterday when everything seemed to conform fairly easily to my hands—so ‘doable’ as to make singing along a possibility.
Today, I resolved to do a Gershwin Covers recital—I figured if yesterday’s sudden windfall ran true, I’d better take advantage while the advantage-taking was good. I decided it would be called “Gershwin is Sweeping the Country”, since “Love Is Sweeping The Country” is one of his peppiest, happiest tunes and I really like it.
I played four or five songs with semi-decent results (they comprise the video below) but when I got to “Love Is Sweeping The Country” my luck and/or energy had run out. There’s this damnable chromatic sweeping up and down in the course of the song—beautiful stuff, but murder on my brain and eyesight—so that recording went into the trash-pile, and all that’s left is the play-on-words of my title. I’ll work on it for later. It’s a really cool song.
Prior to playing, just to get the blood flowing, I took a walk. I meant to go all the way around the block, but when our driveway appeared, midway, I took the easy way out. Hence the title of today’s little piano improv “Short Walk”. I brought my camera along on the walk, though, so short or not, I got some striking photos of the local color. I hope they make a more picturesque background video than my ugly mug—once again, I’m relegating the video of me to the corners of the screen.
There are plenty more in my Gershwin songbook, but I didn’t want to press my luck today. I look forward to a second or third Gershwin Covers video, sometime soon.
Last evening was the fourth annual Students Concert that Sherryl Marshall hosts for her voice students—and she is kind enough to include me every year. This year I sang “The Way You Look Tonight” and got through it without any serious harm done. I didn’t have my trusty videocorder, so I’ve reproduced the effort today. Also, I threw in “Can’t Help Singing” because, unlike Sherryl’s stage last night, no one was watching this time. Both songs are by Jerome Kern.
“The Way You Look Tonight” has lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936. The lyrics for “Can’t Help Singing” are by E. Y. “Yip” Harburg. Kern and ‘Yip’ earned an Academy Award for Best Original Song for it in 1945. At the 1946 Academy Awards, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II won for Best Original Song for “All Through the Day”—the award was posthumous in Kern’s case as he had died on November 11th, 1945.
I’m not like ‘Baby’ from “Dirty Dancing”—I went ahead and stuck myself in the corner—of today’s two videos. I wanted to show off my photos of all the life springing up out of the ground ‘round here. I used them ‘straight’ in the Kern-Covers video, but I went for a more psychedelic version on my longer-than-usual Improv to Spring. Hope you like both of today’s videos—especially as I don’t think I get any better than this.
Herman Hupfeld , in his beautiful lyric to “As Time Goes By”, wrote:
“This day and age we’re living in / Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention / And things like fourth dimension.
Yet we get a trifle weary / With Mr. Einstein’s theory.
So we must get down to earth at times / Relax relieve the tension
And no matter what the progress / Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such / They cannot be removed.
You must remember this….”
We’re pretty familiar with the rest—there are few people who have neither heard this song nor watched the movie, “Casablanca”. But like the vast majority of standards, the ‘intro’ is usually overlooked—if not left out altogether. In the case of many songs, the ‘intro’ is no great loss. Some are outright drivel, or the worst sort of doggerel, and the fame of such songs indicates that some smart performer realized he or she had better get right to the ‘burthen’, without any preamble, or they’d lose their audience. And, surely, this also accounts for the fact that most classic songs are considered as having been properly performed whether they include the official ‘intro’ verses or not.
However, in some cases lyricists positively shine so much in their wit and wordplay that it’s a shame to leave the ‘intro’ unrecognized—particularly with the great lyricists. Nothing upsets me more than a songbook that decides not to print the ‘intro’—taking the choice out of my hands for the sake of volume, I suppose.
“As Time Goes By” has a fascinating introductive verse, as seen above. Hupfeld bewails the hectic pace of modern life, it’s constant changes and new information. He gets “a trifle weary of Mr. Einstein’s theory” and wants to get away from all that. He seeks out bedrock principles on which to rest, safe from the shifting sands of cultural distraction. And, of course, he finds them in Love, that favorite of all bedrock principles.
How surprised Mr. Hupfeld would be to learn that his theory of days-gone-by would see eternal popularity in spite of such enormous changes in women’s roles and in relationships generally. A kiss is still a kiss—except when it’s a workplace harassment lawsuit or a charge of improper touching of a minor or the gift of herpes. And in a way, a kiss is now more than a kiss, assuming that Hupfeld wasn’t imagining two men or two women kissing.
Worse yet, we are no longer allowed to ‘weary of Einstein’s theory’—we have to remember our PIN numbers, our passwords, the usual computer Control-codes, game-controller button-sequences, et. al. We have to worry about our AC’s BTUs, our car’s MPG, separating our recyclables, our FICA, our prescriptions deductible, and whether we have time to find out what ‘streaming’ is, or should we just keep trying to program our VCRs. Neither Hepfeld nor Bogie could have envisioned a culture where everyone had to learn to type—and only with their thumbs.
Still, the most luxuriously nostalgic aspect of these lyrics is that they still hung on to the dismissive subtext of that word ‘theory’. Today, when we mention Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, whether Special or General, we hear the word ‘theory’ in its historical sense, not in the sense that no one yet accepts the truth of it—much like the ‘theory of evolution’. Only the fringe-dwellers in today’s society place any emphasis on the word ‘theory’ in these phrases. Back in the early nineteen-forties, though, Einstein’s theories could still be confined to cocktail-party gabbing—Hiroshima and Nagasaki were yet to come, as were nuclear power plants, nuclear subs, nuclear aircraft carriers, or nuclear-powered space probes.
Today we take Relativity for granted, just as we accept quantum physics, or the big-bang theory. Now string theory, dark matter, black holes, and the Higgs-Boson particle have come to be commonplace concepts among physicists and cosmologists—even discussed on popular science programs for the layperson. On top of that, we are in the midst a digital-technology revolution, an upheaval so great that it threatens the stability of global civilization with its sheer speed, while we try to adapt from the ‘generational’ pace-of-change enjoyed for all prior history, to change that now happens on a monthly basis.
What wouldn’t we give to ‘sit under the apple tree’ of the 1940’s whenever we got weary of all that? Oh, for the days when the ‘facts of life’ were not only simple, but they couldn’t be removed! Here’s me taking a stab at the old classic, followed by two more piano covers from my piano songbook, “AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Songs”. (I also recorded “Evergreen” but left it out in the end—I’m sure I can do it better some day soon.) I left out all the video effects today—sometimes less is more….
This video of six song covers is seventeen minutes long—but it isn’t what I really wanted. I thought I’d dig up any John Denver songs I had the sheet music for, and do a recital of just that. But I couldn’t find “Rocky Mountain High” or “Annie’s Song”, his biggest hits—all I could find today was “Follow Me” (1970), “My Sweet Lady” (1971), and “Leaving On A Jet Plane” (1966).
Like many of my favorites from my high school years, “Follow Me” is one of those songs that has a great rhythm and spirit, but vaguely misogynist lyrics. In this one he actually sings, “..make it part of you to be a part of me..” (as if “Follow me, up and down…” weren’t enough).
It always freaked me out a little that song-writers of such a politically active and ‘enlightened’ era would shill for the barefoot-and-pregnant mind-set in lyrics to their otherwise-modern rock tunes. John Denver, Paul Anka, and Bobby Vinton were some of the worst offenders in this arena, but it was fairly widespread through the sixties and seventies. By the eighties I guess feminists were calling people out on some of this stuff to the point where other people started to hear what I’d been hearing, and things got a bit more ‘aware’ from that point on.
The only real trouble is, I like“Follow Me”—I enjoy singing it, even though I kind of gag on the lyrics. “My Sweet Lady” is likewise a bit much on the saccharine-macho side, but I still enjoy his recording of it. It is included here, however, only because I was desperate for John Denver songs—it’s not really in my wheelhouse, as it were. And “Leaving On A Jet Plane” always feels weird to sing because it was the song all the girls on the school-bus sang on the road during class outings—the most popular version was released by Peter, Paul & Mary, and Mary Travers’ vocals predominate on their recording, so it became a ‘girl’s’ song.
The other, non-John Denver songs are of the same ilk—popular music of the sixties and early seventies that managed to not be rock-and-roll—Tom Paxton, (“The Last Thing On My Mind” ) like Denver, was more of a folk singer/songwriter. The Bacharach/David team (“Look Of Love”) and David Webb (“Wichita Lineman”) were both of the sophisticated, atmospheric school—almost Jazz, but with enough Pop to hit the charts.
I regret that these covers aren’t my best work—but, as always, they’re the best I can do. However, I was very pleased with the piano improvisation “Spring Earth”. I feel like I got a real “Le Sacre du printemps”-vibe going on this one, in my own goofy way.
And I end with a few more photos of the spring bulbs popping up out of our yard….
Here are three more Cole Porter piano covers—true piano covers, this time. I tend to sound like a dog howling when you get these long-held notes. Besides, the playing is tricky enough on its own. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the improv(s) yet—they are two short quips, one from this morning, one from this evening. That’s true of the Porter, too—“Begin the Beguine” was played earlier, the other two this evening. Hope you like’em. And I hope you had a fine day, as well.
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’m drinking ‘Yukon Gold’ this morning—Tea Trader’s most expensive loose-leaf, all the way from Ireland (though I suspect the tea-leaves weren’t grown there). It’s black as coffee—and nearly as strong—and has none of the smoothness of your Earl Grey (which was already my favorite, long before Picard was even cast, so don’t even) but instead has a bite as sharp as an Irishwoman’s tongue.
St Paddys’ is a-comin’—which always makes me harken back to my halcyon days as head-of-systems for my dad’s old agency. In the 1980s, he would take the entire staff to the Blazer for lunch every St. Patrick ’s Day. (If you haven’t had the pleasure of eating at the old Blazer in Somers (just north of Katonah) you’ve missed out on the legendary, ‘best burgers’ in Westchester.)
My co-workers and I loved this special day—no other companies got St. Patrick’s Day off, so we felt privileged—although it wasn’t exactly a day off. We worked until lunchtime and left en masse. Lunch at the Blazer was actually mandatory—if you didn’t want to go, you could stay at the Croton Falls office and work all afternoon. Everyone went, of course. The saddest part of it was picking the person who had to stay and cover the phones—you’d think they were being left behind on the family trip to Disneyworld. But there was the consolation of telling everyone who called that day that ‘Mal Dunn Associates was closed on St. Patrick’s Day…”
In the old days, there was still smoking in bars—we smoked, we danced, we ate burgers, we ordered Kamikazes by the pitcher—this was an office party with boots on, I tell you—and it usually went on and on—at least until Mal left and the drinks were no longer free. All you needed to do was wear at least one article of clothing that was any shade of green at all. My dad had a lovely, high Irish tenor, and when he sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, everyone stopped to listen. It’s still my favorite song. I’m always somewhat disappointed nowadays, when St. Paddy’s rolls around, because nothing happens anymore—it’s just a day. So much of life is like that—oh, pooh! And oh, bother!
This has been quite a week for me, piano-wise. I played so much Brahms and sixties-hits piano covers and improvisations, that I had to re-charge my camera half-way through the two days’ worth of playing. It was so much material that I’ve been spending the last three days rendering it all into post-able YouTube videos. I’m really quite tuckered out by the whole thing—and three days is a long time to wonder if my music is worth the trouble of posting, especially the Brahms.
But here’s the thing. I’m sight-reading through the Brahms (and everything else I play) not ‘performing’ it the way a pro pianist would—so, why bother posting it? Just for my friends and relations who wouldn’t listen to Brahms anyway, except that I’m in the video. Plus—and this is just for my own satisfaction—sight-reading Brahms is no picnic. You try it—you’ll see. In truth, it’s all about me—I’m not really posting this stuff for anyone else.
Neither am I truly sight-reading. Sight-reading implies that I’ve never seen the score before—but I’ve been sight-reading Brahms for decades. It would be more proper to call it score-reading, but this is one of those cases where I sacrifice precision of terminology for ease of comprehension.
Gosh, this took forever. It’s 3am Saturday now, and I’m still waiting for the last video to upload to YouTube. Six pieces by Brahms, four Improvs, and two groups of 60s covers (using a total of ten recordings of songs)—there was a lot of material to work through. I’m going to be scared to sit at the piano from now on—what a schlep!
And my sleep has been skewed—I’ve been reading lately and that always makes me overlook the passing of the night. I’ve just finished “Yesterday’s Kin” by Nancy Kress, “The Doubt Factory” by Paolo Bacigalupi, and I’m midway through “Henry of Navarre” and just started on “Alan Turing: The Enigma” (which is a whopper—776 pages). All good stuff, if you’re looking.
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…
First, a few admissions about my ‘poetry’—I have two gears, as it were, one of which is to get all technical and use a rigid meter and rhyme scheme (in this first gear, I can use the confinements of format to excuse any stiffness or awkward phrasing). My ‘second gear’ can be seen above—I basically write what I’m thinking, but I don’t allow myself any of the run-on sentences that are too much a feature of my prose. I chop off all my lines before they reach the right-hand side of the page and I capitalize every first letter of every line. However, I also allow myself to go from one thought or idea to another without any ‘connective tissue’, much less a segue—and I allow myself encapsulated symbolisms, used as shorthand, without being too judgmental about their aptness or comprehensiveness (i.e. describing all of modern, first-world technology as “addiction to the washing machine”).
But my poetry is also a great time-saver, for me and my readers. Take this line: “The more special we believe we are, the worse we behave.” Now, this thought, ordinarily, would come to my mind as an inspiration for a lengthy blog-post on human nature and the problem of modern humanity—and I do so love stringing those words together into a cohesive argument or illustration about truth and reality. But poetry is a beautiful thing—in poetry, I can just write down that ‘kernel-ized’ concept as a single line and, by the ‘rules’ of poetry, it is now left to the readers to read that line and write their own blogposts in their own heads. I trade the pleasure of spelling things out to a ‘T’ for the ease of simply saying the germ of the idea.
All you serious poets out there will have recognized by now that I am describing ‘writing prose in a poetic format’ more than ‘writing poetry’. I know when I’m reading ‘real’ poetry, because it leaves sense impressions in my head and evokes ephemeral feelings, without ever displaying any coherent thoughts or unmitigated images—and I respect that. Also, I truly hope that something like that effect is achieved by my less-nuanced writings–it isn’t as though I’m trying to do it wrong. I know that if I tried to write that ‘real’ kind of poetry, I might succeed—but I’d be more than likely to get lost down the rabbit-hole of thinking poetically, un-sequentially, unconnectedly. And, if you’re not involved in creative pursuits, let me tell you—it’s as much about what one becomes, through pursuing the creative, as it is about what one achieves as a creative person. Madness is catching—and I prefer to cherry-pick my madnesses.
All that being said, poetry is undefinable—so if I write anything at all, as long as it has Caps at the beginning of each line, regardless of grammar, it’s my poem. And fortunately there are others who agree with me. Tyler Syd, a poet friend of mine, has chosen to include the above poem in his upcoming public reading (something which I’m very proud and flattered to know). I appreciate that because, while I may not consider myself a traditional poetaster, I do feel that I have something to say—and poetry, by virtue of requiring the readers to engage their own thought-processes and imaginations, is far better suited to communicating my somewhat ‘intellectual’ musings on society and the nature of reality.
While blog-posts are more straight-forward and specific, most readers will read a blog-post with half a mind towards what their comments or complaints or disagreements might be—with poetry, my readers do not approach the piece from that point of view. They put more focus on what is being said rather than their own responses. They maximize my images through their own imaginations rather than confine them to the limits of reflexive debate and objections. Not that I’m hiding from argument—just from ‘argument for argument’s sake’.
Have you ever had that experience where you’re in the middle of an argument and suddenly realized that you are wrong and the other person has a point? I used to hate, hate, hate that feeling! But now, in my dotage, I’ve learned to enjoy it, to embrace the revelation of something I hadn’t previously seen. And I learned, in the process, that a lot of argument is nothing more than momentum—the desire to keep on fighting, right or wrong—which is admirable in its way, but perhaps not entirely suitable to logical argument. And in such a complex world, I feel that reducing unnecessary argument is vital to positive progress. Thus my hearty disapproval of modern news media—we are in vital need of information, but we are force-fed controversy instead, because of its greater ‘entertainment value’—what a load.
It also fuels my resentment towards fundamentalists—the world is such a messy tangle of ideas, the last thing we need is a bunch of people re-raising questions that educated, thoughtful people have long since put to bed. To look upon all the amazing discoveries made by geologists, biologists, and astronomers—and dismiss it all in favor of one’s own ignorance—I can’t see that as anything other than madness—willful, egotistical blindness to the obvious. These same people will use jet airliners to travel and computers to communicate their ‘ideas’ about the falsity of science—I don’t know, I guess logic just doesn’t appeal to them.
I suppose I shouldn’t blame them—after all, logic isn’t the bottom line, survival is. We don’t need to make sense as much as we need to keep breathing. And if they want to trade logic for the chance to keep breathing even after they stop breathing, well, they’re certainly making a good start on it—an afterlife makes about as much sense as a fish on a bicycle. Now, go away, before I decide to capitalize all my first letters and turn this into a poem….
One last thing–here’s the drawing used to make the poetry-graphic, and an alternate version of the completed graphic:
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: