I read, listened to, or watched these things in 2018. They were not necessarily released or published in 2018. Some are years old but new to me – I discovered them this year.
Best Album Title: I’m Not Here To Hunt Rabbits
This is guitar music from Botswana “played in an eccentric style and with a depth of expression rivaling any genre of music, this is folk from the dusty outskirts of the Kalahari Desert.
A community of African country blues masters with a totally original technique. For one thing; the left hand reaches up and over the neck of the guitar, instead of from behind and underneath. Furthermore, although played on six-string guitars, the guitars are only stringed with 3 or 4 treble strings, usually in G, E and D, and one bass. If a bass string is hard to find, it might be substituted by a brake cable. Tuning is achieved by ear …
Where did these peculiarities originate? Why did they come about? Nobody knows. That’s how the older musicians did it – that’s how it always used to be done …” *
Ohio by Leon Bridges, Gary Clark, Jr., and Jon Batiste. This is a cover of the song written by Neil Young in response to the Kent State protests and killings of protesters in 1970. The Guardian in 2010 described the song as the “greatest protest record.” It is in The Grammy Hall Of Fame.
This passage from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
All night now the jooks clanged and clamored. Pianos living three lifetimes in one. Blues made and used right on the spot.
Best lyric from a song:
Well it’s all right, even if you’re old and grey Well it’s all right, you still got something to say Well it’s all right, remember to live and let live Well it’s all right, the best you can do is forgive
I’m just happy to be here, happy to be alive
From End Of the Line sung by The Travelling Wilburys, written by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty.
Best music genre:
Lo-fi is a genre hard to define and characterize even after some research. Lo-fi (or low-fi) is a term that’s been in use for decades as a label for “recorded music in which the sound quality is lower than the usual contemporary standards (the opposite of high fidelity) and imperfections of the recording and production are audible. . . . Lo-fi only began to be recognized as a style of popular music in the 1990s . . .” **
I think I’ve been listening to a sub-genre of lo-fi described by Wikipedia as a form of “downtempo music tagged as “lo-fi hip-hop” or “chillhop”. **
Here is my favorite example of what I think is lo-fi hip hop or chillhop. (Brontosaurus from above is also in this genre.)
The Shape of Water directed by Guillermo del Toro.
I loved the cinematography – low-key, saturated colors with a palette leaning towards greens, browns, and oranges. It reminded me of one of my favorites photographs – Flâneur Granville – taken by one of my favorite photographers, Fred Herzog. A key visual in the movie is an old-style movie theater and marquee reminiscent of a mid-twentieth-century main street. The main character lives above the theater. Later in 2018, I read Virgil Wander, a recently-published novel. One of the novel’s locations is a small-town main street where there is an old-style movie theater complete with a marquee. Again, The main character lives above the theater.
Nicholas Carr picked up on this again in an article in the Atlantic in 2008, before going on to publish his book The Shallows two years later. “Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy,” he wrote. “My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”
That’s what I’ve been experiencing in my reading. To compensate, I’m usually working on four or five books at the same time. If I get bogged down on one, I switch to another. I also set a timer. I started using a timer to make sure I wasn’t inactive for too long. I then discovered that if you know your current reading session will be only twenty-five minutes long, you’ll be able to concentrate better.
More from Griffey:
In 2005, research carried out by Dr. Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.
Our ubiquitous digital distractions are
a predominant reason for the poor concentration so many people report. The fact that we are the cause of this is, paradoxically, good news since it hands back to us the potential to change our behaviour and reclaim the brain function and cognitive health that’s been disrupted by our digitally enhanced lives.
Put simply, better concentration makes life easier and less stressful and we will be more productive. To make this change means reflecting on what we are doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implementing steps towards behavioural change that will improve our chances of concentrating better. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about our use of social media, which are increasingly urgent for the sake of our cognitive and mental health.
Griffey ends with some tips for improving concentration starting with the “five more” rule:
This is a simple way of learning to concentrate better. It goes like this: whenever you feel like quitting – just do five more – five more minutes, five more exercises, five more pages – which will extend your focus.
Watching the hands of a clock turn
Exercise, especially if done mindfully
Reading for pleasure
I can’t concentrate any longer on this post. I think I’ll have to end it here.
I have uncovered a sinister, global conspiracy – one to corner the market for bagels!
It started a week ago when I noticed a new slogan on the wall of Bruegger’s Bagels: “Life Is Short. Stay Awake For It.” Later that same day, I saw a large, Caribou Coffee panel van in the parking lot of my local supermarket. On the front of it was the exact same slogan! [sinister music playing in the background]
A couple days later, I talked to a clerk at Bruegger’s. She said that Bruegger’s was now owned by Caribou Coffee. It got worse. There is actually a holding company, JAB Holding Company, that owns or has a majority stake in Bruegger’s and Caribou and other bagel companies. Here is a list of all the bagel companies under JAB’s umbrella. I don’t know if the list is complete; there could well be more.
Einstein Brothers’ Bagels
Kettleman Bagels & Bakery
Chesapeake Bagel Bakery
I. & J. Bagel Inc
This is truly frightening. The worst part is that Caribou will not allow Bruegger’s to use crunchy peanut butter. (I swear this is true!) Creamy only. Sacrilege. I’ve been forced to switch to honey-walnut cream cheese. What would the world be like if there was only creamy peanut butter? I shudder to think about it.
Television advertising seems to be increasingly trying to sell by associating their products with good emotions. Using positive emotions has probably always been integral to advertising, but lately, it seems to me that advertisers are saying nothing about the quality or price of their goods or services. A good example is the recent Fedex campaign. The gist of the campaign is that FedEx delivers comfort, or love, hope, encouragement, support and so on. The campaign says nothing about FedEx delivering on time, at a competitive price, and without damage to the delivered item.
One could just as well say that FedEx delivers:
death and destruction in the form of a Unabomber package
disease via an anthrax-laced envelope
despair in a dunning-letter from a debt collector
depression caused by a Dear John letter
It is also probably true that both UPS and the good, old U.S.Post Office deliver just as much comfort, love, hope, encouragement, and support as FedEx.
This trend in its modern manifestation may have started with the Nike slogan Just Do It. The strong implication was that one could just do it better if one were wearing Nike shoes; and one could do it much, much better in an expensive pair of Air Jordans.
Automobile advertising uses the same approach. If you buy a particular make and model of car, you can be just like Matthew McConaughey, sitting on a beach drinking whiskey and looking cool, or thinking profound thoughts on a road trip through a scenic desert.
Buddy Guy takes the lead on “Skin Deep“, a song in similar vein produced by Playing For Change. He’s joined by more than 50 other musicians spread across the U.S. in this song that tells us that “Underneath We Are All the Same.” The video starts with a quote from Martin Luther King.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness.
Only light can do that.
This is very, very ugly. Dodge Ram Trucks using an inspirational, Martin Luther King speech to sell trucks in a Super Bowl commercial. What’s next, using the Sermon on the Mount to sell mini-vans?
I’ve been swamped in pessimism lately; pessimism that threatens to become cynicism. The problem is that I don’t want to be either a pessimist or a cynic, but I thought that all the evidence I was seeing or hearing about the world today suggested that pessimism was justified. Is it? Even if it is justified, would it be possible to somehow escape the clutches of pessimism?
I talked to my good friend Nick, the potter and bartender. He wisely pointed out that pessimism leads nowhere and produces nothing except despair. He helped me realize that even though intellectually I was wallowing in pessimism, I’m living as if I were an optimist – doing new things, seeking new challenges, always trying to develop my skills and educate myself.
Then, I stumbled across three things this morning.
I’ve been meaning to weigh in on the latest raft of pieces about the decline of American democracy, the decline of Western liberalism, the decline of globalism, and the decline of everything else in the era of Trump. In a nutshell, I’m far more optimistic than most of the people writing about this. Unfortunately, I haven’t really thought the whole thing through rigorously enough to make a little essay out of it.
Actually, you might consider that good news. However, I do want to lay down a few markers. Here they are:
Read both these articles for welcome counterbalance to the doom and gloom in much of today’s news. (Note that neither article is by a Trump or Republican loyalist.)
My other stumble this morning was on YouTube where I stumbled on The Artist Series, videos produced by The Art of Photography. They are each about fifteen minutes long and are interviews with outstanding photographers. I watched the one with Keith Carter. Carter talks about the death of his wife at the end of an illness. Her last words after looking out the window of their home from her death-bed were “What a Beautiful World This Is.”
After watching that video, how can one possibly remain a pessimist, much less a cynic?
I’ve never been interested in poetry, so I surprised myself recently by registering for a workshop for beginning poets. Imagine me writing a poem. As things turned out, I dropped out after the first day. I am however, still thinking about poetry. I’m not giving up on it just yet for a number of reasons.
My good friend Nick whose judgement and taste I respect values poetry and recently loaned me books by three of his favorite poets. One of the three is Charles Bukowski. I like some of his poems.
Chapter 3 in The Immortal Irishman, a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher,is titled Poetry In Action. It begins with reference toa poem that set Ireland afire during the potato famine in the 1840s. This was for me a demonstration of the power of poetry.
It was poetry, the bend of words to frame a cause, that lifted Ireland from its gloom in the last good months before catastrophe [the potato famine]. Thomas Davis, educated at Trinity; the Protestant son of a British army surgeon, came forth with a burst of verse that roused a generation. . . . In a country where most peasants were illiterate, the poetry of Tom Davis spread by word of mouth – stanzas repeated on a sheep path or a loading dock.
. . . Meagher grew infatuated with this rarest kind of subversive: a poet with power.
Yesterday’s Brain Pickings Newsletter had a post about fear of poetry for which there is actually a term:
Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings. [definition from Verywell.com]
The post say this:
But meditation is somewhat like poetry — a lamentable number of many people hold a stubborn resistance to it, a resistance that “has the qualities of fear,” borne out of a certain impatience with learning a new mode of being that doesn’t come easily but, when it comes, brings tremendous and transcendent satisfaction.”
I am skeptical that poetry will ever bring me such satisfaction, maybe some, but I’ve never encountered anything that is tremendous and transcendent, and I doubt that I ever will. In the same way that I’ve never had epiphanies or road-to-Damascus moments. Again, I doubt that I ever will. Whatever changes or improvements or insights I’ve had have come slowly over years or decades as a result of experience, perseverance, stumbling and getting up again and moving forward and getting hopefully a bit further down the road before stumbling again which I certainly will do. On the brighter side, I know that I will always get up from my stumbles until that final big one. I’ll always get up to appreciate the moment, the day, the summer, a thunder-storm, a little taste of the summer, music (I’m listening to Greg Brown singing about his Grandma canning a bit of the summer). Being able to write this entry. Being able to listen to great music right now (Zambesi, a great instrumental from the 1950s done by Lou Bush who I had never heard of until I stumbled on this song, a cheery song.) Being able to look forward to today, tomorrow, next week, my trip to Madeline Island in a month. (Another instrumental, Skookian, Perez Prado, another fine, cheery song from the 1950s) This can of La Croix sparkling water that I just popped – Blackberry Cucumber.
So I guess I’ll at least continue to read Bukowski although it’s hard for me to read even his poems for much more than ten minutes at a time; probably better than nothing. Before I started this entry, I watched a short video on meditation that stated that the research shows that its benefits come with only five to ten minutes of meditation a day. Five to ten minutes of poetry will at least keep me in the poet’s game. (Stranger On the Shore, Acker Bilk, the song that got me going down this road of searching for 1950s instrumentals. I heard the song as part of a sound track, recognized it as a song I love, and then promptly forgot its name and the name “Acker Bilk”. I succeeded in finding the name through research which led me to a half-dozen other 1950s instrumentals worth a listen.)
I started to look at Billboard Top-100 lists from around 1958. There didn’t seem to be any earlier than that on the Billboard website. I see now why rock-and-roll arrived with such force and was able to take over the popular music world and shove the old music aside. The hits of the fifties, the best sellers, are a soup of unbroken insipidity, cute sometimes likable music that stirs nothing in the soul. It’s easy to see why my generation preferred listening to rock over songs about doggies in the window and the like.
Easy to tweet, hard to have an ideology, a political will, an interest in anything but winning, or the frontal lobes of a burnt tuna casserole*!
As stated by a portrait of President Obama in a cartoon conversation with Li’l Trumpy, a recent, new character in the Zippy the Pinhead comic strip by Bill Griffith that’s appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press for years. The strip was never overtly political until Donald Trump somehow became our president. (Oh, did I say Donald Trump instead of President Trump? Sorry, I meant to say The Big Cheeto**.) Now the strip regularly features new characters like L’il Trumpy and Steve Bunion. Many of these strips end up comparing Li’l Trumpy to a burnt tuna casserole, a perfect simile.
In one strip, Li’l Trumpy is said to have the attention span of a burnt tuna casserole. This is the strip in which Steve Bunion says
Let’s ban all climatologists! Let’s lock up David Brooks! Let’s invade New Jersey!
I think I’m going to have to start checking in regularly on what’s going on with Zippy.
* from Zippy the Pinhead “Dropping an O Bomb” by Bill Griffith, 05/02/2017
I thought this would be just another morning at home. Then I stumbled upon the song Guantanamera done on YouTube as part of the Playing For Change project. That led to watching and listening to La Bamba, What’s Going On, Stand Up Sit Up . . . Lots of great songs. Watching the videos caused goose bumps – they are that good. Fun. Uplifting. Especially the out-of-this world rendition of Lean On Me. What a show! What a show!
Help, I can’t stop. I’m going to be here all day listening to music. Oh god! Now it’s What a Wonderful World!
Each video has many different musicians and groups that contribute to the songs. They play in locations around the world on every continent. Somehow, all the clips of all the different musicians and all the different locales are combined into wonderful creations. They musicians are the best. The videos are the best. The music is the best.
Playing For Change has a motto: Connecting the World Through Music.
Mark Johnson, the co-founder, says
The idea is to show people enough different cultures using music to uplift themselves, so that we can see the connections we all have.
. . . that’s the way music was meant to be.
. . . man, all my life I’ve been putting out love, but not like that
Far from being just another morning, it’s been an inspiring, fun, music-filled morning. I feel like it’s a bright, sunshiny day even though it’s wet and cloudy.
I stole the title of this post from Kevin Drum who posted today [not today; I forgot to publish this on the day of Drum’s post] about theEssential Health Benefits (EHB) that the Republican health plan (ill-health plan would be a more apt term) would have taken away. Here is what he says about EHBs:
Essential Health Benefits. These are things which every health care plan is required to cover, and Obamacare spells out ten of them:
Emergency room visits
Mental health care
The Republican health care bill is still having trouble getting enough votes to pass, so Paul Ryan is thinking about placating conservatives by repealing all of these EHBs. This means that a health insurer could literally sell you a policy that didn’t cover doctor visits, hospital visits, ER visits, your children’s health care, or prescription drugs—and still be perfectly legal.
What it means to me is that conservatives and Republicans do not want you to have any health care at all if you can’t afford it on your own. You can just die or go into bankruptcy. Who cares? You got cancer because you’re a bad person.
Check out Kevin’s blog. He is posting a storm about the farce that the Republicans are trying to foist upon us all. Hopefully, they will fail miserably [they did!!!], thus preserving the status quo that is far, far better than anything the Republicans have been able to come up with even though they’ve had at least eight years. More like 70 years if you go back to Harry Truman’s attempt to implement health care that was, of course, foiled by the Republicans.
Michael Hann at The Guardian recently wrote about what he has learned after 16 years as The Guardian’s music editor.
Of course, there are spivs and money grubbers, as there are in any industry that has historically promised large and fast returns. But pretty much everyone I’ve met who works in music does so because they love it, and they don’t make fortunes from it. Music is a remarkably uncorrupt world: there’s an awful lot of trust and good faith involved. And it ignites the passions, still. The surest way to get an interview with one of the old lags of rock off to a good start is to ask them about the music they loved when they were 17. You can see their eyes light up as they recall how they fell in love with music.
His point that music still ignites the passions started me thinking about what I loved when I was 17, and 27, and 37, and, God forbid, 67. I remembered many highlights. Here are some in a tediously long list.
Church music, always, from my earliest memories onward. Listening to my Dad in the Senior Choir at church.
Going with Mom to hear the Minnesota Symphony at the junior high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Early 1960s.
A band from the Twin Cities playing at the Telemark Ski Resort near Hayward, Wisconsin, circa 1965. The band featured an organ – definitely cool. Great music mixed with skiing and my fellow teenage skiing buddies.
Rural beer bars in north-west Wisconsin, 1960s. In those days, there were rural areas where those under 21 years of age could drink in taverns that served only beer. Some of them had live music. We had some fine times at the beer bars (they always had dirt parking lots) and are lucky we never crashed our cars on the country roads after a night out.
The Beatles, Bloomington, Minnesota, August 21, 1965, at Met Stadium, the old ballpark where the Minnesota Twins played in the 60s and 70s. The stage was set up on second base. I don’t remember much about the concert except that we almost left the tickets at home. I, my girlfriend, and two other couples.
A country tavern on Long Lake in Chippewa County, Wisconsin owned by an old German with a heavy accent. I think his name was Maxie and the tavern was Maxie’s; I don’t remember. On request, he would get out his accordion (or was it a violin) and play for us. Late 1960s.
Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, late 1960s, Madison, Wisconsin. This was straight out of the movie Animal House although we didn’t realise it at the time. We just thought we were cool. On two or three Saturdays a month we would have beer parties with bands from Milwaukee or Chicago – black soul bands; the frat was all white. We drank and danced up a storm; my frat brothers and my girlfriend.
Music festivals in the Woodstock era. I went with a girlfriend to Sound Storm, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival in 1970 outside Poynette in Columbia County a bit north of Madison. Here’s what a Wisconsin Historical Society essay says about Sound Storm:
About 30,000 people attended Sound Storm, the majority sneaking in through the woods without paying. [I think we paid, but I remember climbing over a barbed-wired fence. Perhaps my memory is shaky.] The Columbia County sheriff, seeing his officers exponentially outnumbered by hippies and bikers, wisely decided to ignore misdemeanors such as nudity and drug use. LSD and other psychedelic drugs were everywhere, along with marijuana and cheap, screw-top wine. Medical students staffed first aid and “bad trips” tents [that I had to visit after ripping my thigh open on the barbed-wire fence], volunteers from the Hog Farm commune in New Mexico helped as stage announcers, and Madison’s Mifflin Street Co-op provided free food.Throughout the weekend, ecstatic dancers whirled before the stage. When undercover officers infiltrated the crowd, Pete [the event organizer] dropped 10,000 fliers from a helicopter urging the audience not to harm them. Fans frolicked in nearby Rowan Creek, even crowning their own “Mud King.” Two members of the band Northern Comfort got married on stage. At night, the York farm sparkled with hundreds of campfires. Only a handful of injuries or arrests were reported.
A block party in Madison, WI, early 1970s. A band called Virginia Rose (or was that the name of the female lead singer?). This was when I was discovering country music under the influence of early country-rock bands like Poco. Virginia Rose was great.
Johnny Cash, Champagne -Urbana, IL, early 70s. I and my girlfriend drove down from Madison to visit friends from high school and see the man in black. Johnny only got better and better in the succeeding years.
Nights at the Birchmere in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. , mid-to-late 1970s, The Red Clay Ramblers, great stage show; the original Seldom Scene with Ben Eldridge, John Starling, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, and John Duffey. More beer drinking with my latest girlfriend, my best buddy Bruce, and a few other cronies from work. The best bluegrass ever!
The Annual Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering in Battle Ground just outside of Lafayette, IN, summer of ’79. At the time, a small bluegrass festival, today in its 45th year. The first time I saw people bring pieces of flat, thin, smooth wood to a festival that they would put on the ground as a surface for flat dancing or clog dancing (not sure what is the correct name for this style of dancing.)
Stumbled on a free, outdoor show by The Whites (Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl) in Georgetown, Washington, DC. I think they were then called Buck White and the Downhome Folks. Sharon later married Ricky Skaggs. They are now in the country hall of fame.
A Holiday Inn in Lafayette, Indiana, 1978. A bluegrass band. I’ve tried to find the name of the band only to come up with a number of possibilities. I think the band included Rickie Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and J.D. Crowe, but would such hotshots of bluegrass and country be playing in a Holiday Inn in Indiana? Can I trust my memory? They were wonderful musicians and well-known in bluegrass. Keith would die too soon. Rickie would be swamped in the Nashville scene but later escaped to return to something closer to his roots.
National Folk Festival, at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, an outdoor music venue near Washington, DC. Many stages set up throughout the rolling countryside of is Vienna, Virginia. Great music, non-commercial music.
Springfield, IL, 1998, driving home from Atlanta, my wife and I stumbled on an old, brick, two-story Italian restaurant in the university neighbourhood. We ate upstairs where there was a wandering fiddler. We listened for a long time and, because we were almost the only ones there, we had the fiddler to ourselves for a long time. He played everything we requested. A similar experience with my wife at the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (circa 2000) in Stillwater, Minnesota where we were entertained by the house accordionist.
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN: late 80’s, early to mid 90’s. It’s still there and going strong, but I, unfortunately, haven’t been back in too long a time:
A group of Hawaiian slack-key guitarists and singers. They didn’t know quite what to make of the winter.
Robin and Linda Williamson, tremendous in person.
Pat Donohue, the long-time Prairie Home Companion’s guitarist
John Hammond, blues man
I shouldn’t have started this list. I now realise how little live music I’ve heard in the last two decades. I have partially made up for this by spending lots of time and money on building a home library of music. It’s now all digital, but in the past, for financial reasons, I’ve sold a large collection of LPs and two large collections of CDs. How I wish I still had them, some of which were a bit obscure and might be hard to find these days. For example, in the late 70’s in a record store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, I bought an LP – a very fine LP – by Country Ham, a group I had never heard of when I bought the record. I can find no records on iTunes by a band called Country Ham.
A German beer and dance hall in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC with my Czechoslovak girlfriend Vera, 1978. My first experience waltzing.
Connecticut Ave, NW in Washington, DC, near the zoo in what was then a block or two of small retail, bars, and restaurants, circa 1976 – 77. I think one of the first metro stations was built in this block
Donovan’s. One night a week a band called Sheepshead Bay played. I sat at the bar (once again drinking beer) thoroughly enjoying their mix of folk and political and cultural satire (Reston Isn’t Resting Anymore).
Right across the street, Ireland’s Four Provinces where I first tasted the pleasures of Harp Lager and listened to the best Irish music I’ve ever heard.
Also across the street was the movie theater where I saw the very first Star Wars in 1977.
Madrid 1973 in a tapas bar. I and an acquaintance I met on the overnight train from Paris. A three or four man combo strolls in off the street and blow our socks off with Spanish songs.
Mykonos, Greece, 1973: listening to Greek music and watching the locals do their Greek circle dances. Seemingly impromptu, but probably staged for the tourists, maybe a bit of both.
Blues Saloon in Frog Town in St. Paul. The stage was on the second floor of an old, wood frame building. One got upstairs using a seedy-looking staircase. No frills in the concert room. Just loud, raucous blues. It reminded me of the movie Devil In a Blue Dress based on the first of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books. The movie was my introduction to West Coast Blues, Jump Jazz, and other music of the black neighbourhoods in southern California in the years after World War II. The movie didn’t get much attention and still doesn’t but is one of my favorites in part because of the music and a good performance by Denzel Washington.
Small Italian Restaurant on the far outskirts of N. VA suburbs of DC. Bluegrass on weekends. An old time, family group, I think a wife and husband singing. As usual, I am at the bar drinking beer, eating pasta, and soaking in the music and vibes. On the rural fringe of the urban area. An out of the way spot that I stumbled on by accident.
And still, above all, listening to music, dancing to music, working out to music, being brought to tears by music, fighting the blues (bad, bad blues) with music, smiling with music.
America has never seen a party less caring than 21st-century Republicans
– Lindy West, The Guardian, 03/29/2017
This is the headline of an opinion piece in The Guardian. Ms West’s article contains many spot-on quotes describing today’s debased version of the Republican party. I will provide a few but suggest that you read the article in full.
I don’t know that America has ever seen a political party so divested of care. Since Trump took office, Republicans have proposed legislation to destroy unions, the healthcare system, the education system and the Environmental Protection Agency; to defund the reproductive health charity Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion; to stifle public protest and decimate arts funding; to increase the risk of violence against trans people and roll back anti-discrimination laws; and to funnel more and more wealth from the poorest to the richest. Every executive order and piece of GOP legislation is destructive [emphasis added], aimed at dismantling something else, never creating anything new, never in the service of improving the care of the nation . . .
[There is a] void at the heart of the [Republican] party, that loss of any tether to humanity . . .
I had been fiddling with the idea of putting together a talk on creativity. My thoughts weren’t very serious, more like daydreaming or fantasizing – who would want to listen to me talk about creativity?. I’ve been thinking differently since reading the above. I am 68, soon to be 69, years old. I have a lot of experience in and knowledge about creativity that I am beginning to realize might be more than for most people. I’ve studied creativity and am deeply engaged in creative activities. Why not try to share? I and I suspect a lot of others, tend to denigrate my own skills and creativity. I have no credentials in photography other than a ribbon or two from one year at the county fair. No art or photography degrees, no professional experience, no fame, fortune or celebrity. I also come from Scandinavian stock and a Lake Wobegon upbringing, so I’m supposed to practice modesty and be self-effacing.
Enough of that! I think a key to creativity is being able to recognize, accept, and do something with one’s ideas. Don’t forget them or neglect them. Some will be not worth pursuing, but some will be and may turn into something wonderful. Carry a notebook or use a note-taking app on your smart phone. I use a Samsung Galaxy Note that is great for note taking.
Consider a voice recorder. Last week while in the midst of a two-hour drive, I was awash in ideas for blog posts. Perhaps some were good ideas. I had a blog post mapped out in my head, a post that would have had a lot of personal meaning for me. The heart of the post was to have been a song lyric. By the time I got home, I only vaguely remembered the lyrics. I think the song was by Emmylou Harris. I read the lyrics of dozens of her songs and could not find what I remember. I eventually drafted the blog post, but it remains unposted because I CANT FIND THE SONG. Drat! If I had had a voice recorder I could have recorded the relevant information in 30 seconds. I could have pulled over to the side of the road, but I was tired after a long day and didn’t.
The moral of this short story? I lost an idea that could have been polished into something good because I did not record the idea.
I got an e-mail today from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Below is the meat of the e-mail. Note that every statement of fact is well documented.
The fear of foreigners, the belief that refugees and immigrants are dangerous, the desire to keep them out — none of these things are new. But as our Teaching Tolerance project wrote this week in an updated post, these fears are often based on misinformation and lies.
It’s a myth that immigrants are violent or criminal. According to a new report by The Sentencing Project, immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens. Higher levels of immigration may even have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates, researchers say.
In the run-up to both Muslim bans, perhaps the most widely circulated myth has been that refugees are not screened before entering the country, that banning them will keep the U.S. safe from terror.
But we know that refugees undergo more rigorous screenings than any other individuals the government allows in the U.S., and we know that no deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to people from the countries covered by either executive order in the last 30 years.
All of these myths, however far-fetched, are based on the same dangerous falsehood: that immigrants and refugees are somehow not like us. That they’re not students in search of an education. That they’re not families trying to make ends meet. That as “somebody else’s babies,” they don’t belong here.
Some of my own thoughts: We Homo sapiens have been moving, migrating, traveling, wandering, fleeing since we became Homo sapiens. Migration and movement are among the most fundamental currents in human history. Migration has never been stopped in spite of numerous attempts to do so. Migration will never be stopped. The Romans tried. The Chinese tried. We Americans have tried in the past. These attempts have never been successful. It looks like we’re about to embark on an expensive, foolish, futile attempt to do so. An attempt doomed from the start to failure.
Why not tear down the walls? (Didn’t a Republican president say something like this?) ACCEPT immigrants and allow them to become a productive part of our society instead of condemning them to be outcasts on the peripheries.
Well, I’m not an immigrant, but all of my grandparents were. All Americans can make a similar statement. Even Native American ancestors came from Siberia.
The great Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Tree books, published an article today in The Guardian – a call on everyone to marshal their talents and decency to fight the onslaught of hate, fear, all sorts of phobias, lies, and bad government. I quote at length, but please read the entire article.
. . . we can’t hole up for four years waiting for something that’s gone. We just woke up in another country.
. . . Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; [any] restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; [any] limits on corporate influence over our laws.
. . . We’re in new historical territory. A majority of American voters just cast our vote for a candidate who won’t take office. A supreme court seat meant to be filled by our elected president was denied us. Congressional districts are now gerrymandered so most of us are represented by the party we voted against. The FBI and Russia meddled with our election. Our president-elect has no tolerance for disagreement, and a stunningly effective propaganda apparatus. Now we get to send this outfit every dime of our taxes and watch it cement its power. It’s not going to slink away peacefully in the next election.
What is to be done?
. . .wear something on our sleeve that takes actual courage: our hearts.
I’ll go first. If we’re artists, writers, critics, publishers, directors or producers of film or television, we reckon honestly with our role in shaping the American psyche. We ask ourselves why so many people just couldn’t see a 69-year-old woman in our nation’s leading role, and why they might choose instead a hero who dispatches opponents with glib cruelty. We consider the alternatives. We join the time-honored tradition of artists resisting government oppression through our work.
Kingsolver continues with what to do for journalists; consumers of art, literature, film, TV and news; teachers; scientists; women suffering from sexual assault or body image disorders; Facebook users; workers.
As she says we must all
refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble.
Trump’s election is not the continuation of normal American politics. We all need to step up. I can do my part, even if it is a small part, by writing more regularly in my blog about politics and current affairs. Today, for example, I can write about and link to Kingsolver’s article.
My earliest memories of going to the movies are of total chaos. Imagine a large, old-fashioned movie theater on the main drag of my hometown during a Saturday matinee for grade schoolers. The theater is packed. There is a cartoon, an episode of a cliffhanger serial like Buck Rogers (to be continued the next week), then the main feature, often a black-and-white western. The kids are not quiet. When they finish their popcorn, they fold the box flat and sail it out over the crowded theater. Soon the air is filled with gliding popcorn boxes. The noise and chaos didn’t bother me at all. Oh, but it was fun!
Yesterday I started watching the Stars Wars movie that is first in the series in chronological order. I was surprised how poor it was, dependent heavily on special effects and quirky characters. The plot was as weak as day-old coffee and so lame that even the good actors couldn’t overcome the hackneyed dialogue. I could only manage thirty minutes of the movie before turning it off. There are a million better ways to be bored.
I often start a movie without finishing it. A waste of money for sure, but also for me an indication that there are not many decent movies being made these days. I’m not interested in movies based on comic book characters, so that excludes seemingly half the movies made these days. Include the re-makes and there doesn’t seem much room left for original movies.
Going out to see a movie used to be one of my favorite things. When I lived alone in Washington, DC and had yet to make any friends, I went to the movies at least once a week and enjoyed myself even if the movie wasn’t very good. Now I never see a movie in a theater. It’s not because there are no movies I’d like to see (not many but there are some), it’s because the sound is often overwhelmingly loud, an assault on a person’s senses. So I no longer subject myself to movie theaters. I wait until I can get the DVD from the library or from the one-and-only, surviving DVD rental shop left in town. I may never again set foot in a movie theater.
There is a lot of junk available on the internet. Truly awful movies that exploit all possible human weaknesses. I’ve gotten sucked in by too many such movies. In my defense, I can say that I’ve rarely if ever finished any of the trashy movies, but I have to guard against temptation.
I’ve recently read or watched two items that involve the punk scene (or should I say punk-rock scene? I’m not sure.) in New York City in the mid-1970s: The book City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Spike Lee’s movie Summer Of Sam.
City On Fire is a long book, almost 1000 dense pages. The nexus of the plot is the murder of a young woman in a New York park on New Year’s Eve 1977. The book describes in great detail the lives and relationships of the people who were involved in one way or another with the murdered woman. It jumps back and forth in time from the early sixties to the start of the 21st Century while also jumping back and forth between characters. Many of the characters are punks participating in the New York City scene that apparently started in the mid-1970s. I cannot speak from experience about any aspect of punk. During that time period I was moving in the opposite direction; exploring bluegrass, country, and mountain music. So while the punks in this novel were moving away from the musical (pop) mainstream and finding punk, I was moving away from the mainstream and finding bluegrass. Given what I learned from the book and movie, I’m glad I moved in that direction.
City On Fire also covers the massive and complete blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977. Some of the book’s climactic events happen during the night of the blackout.
The movie Summer of Sam uses the background of the Son Of Sam serial killings to depict life in New York when David Berkowitz was on his killing spree. It focuses on the punk scene and on life in the city’s Italian neighborhoods. City On Fire presents more of a political and artistic picture of punk as a search for a sort of anarchistic freedom. Summer Of Sam, in contrast, focuses a lot on the sexual goings-on within the punk and club scenes.
I’m not sure I would recommend watching the movie or reading the book. I was often irritated at the book’s author for jumping around so much. I kept wanting him to stick to the plot line in which I was engrossed. Eventually, I just wanted him to wrap things up and tell me what happened to all the characters whom except, I think, for one, were strung out on drugs or alcohol. They were all drinking excessively, strung out, shooting heroin, dropping pills, sometimes doing it all in one day. I did not think it was possible for a person to use as many drugs and as much alcohol as some of the characters.
Watching the movie left me feeling like I had besmirched my soul.
I’d like the share more from Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. Yesterday I shared some of Levitin’s thoughts on the chasm between performers and listeners. What I quote today shares that theme.
. . . in every society of which we’re aware, music and dance are inseparable.
But it is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species. And it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. . . . The polite listening response, in which music has become an entirely cerebral experience . . . is counter to our evolutionary history. Children often show the reaction that is true to our nature: Even at classical music concerts they sway and shout and generally participate when they feel like it. We have to train them to behave “civilized.”
In jazz, “Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians aimed to counter the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new, non-danceable music that was more of a “musician’s music” that demanded close listening.” ∗
And as Levitin describes,
Classical music as most of us think of it . . . has diverged into two streams. Some of the best music in that tradition is being written for films . . . and is only infrequently the object of directed listening, as in a concert hall. The second stream is twentieth-century art music, much of it challenging and difficult for the average listener . . . . Contemporary “classical” music is practiced mostly in universities; it is regrettable listened to by almost no one compared to popular music; much of it deconstructs harmony, melody, and rhythm, rendering them all but unrecognizable; in its least accessible form it is a purely intellectual exercise, and save the rare avant-garde ballet company, no one dances to it either.
Yesterday while at Brueggers, I read 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West. The first of the four is daily Morning Pages. The Morning Pages technique was described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way: “[Morning Pages] are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.” I have found that for me, using an online journaling website (Penzu) is better for stream-of-consciousness writing. My longhand writing is so bad and tedious that it gets in the way of my stream-of-consciousness.
Another of the four is from Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art Of Writing. It is to
Buy a book of poetry and a selection of essays (perhaps some from a previous decade). Read a few every day to help your mind foster a state of creativity.
I will never turn down an excuse to visit my local, indie bookstore and buy a book or two. So I bought Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems and a small book of essays by Michael Kinsley, Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide. This morning I added reading an essay and some poetry to my morning routine.
Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide is targeted at Baby Boomers of which I am one. I read the foreword by Michael Lewis and the introduction by Kinsley; no essay yet. The introduction ends with
If you want to be remembered as a good person, then be a good person. Who knows? It just might work. But start now, because if you’re a boomer, time is running out.
I’m too angry to write about the Senate’s betrayal of democracy yesterday when they passed the fast track authority bill. Instead, I’ll write about visiting antique stores in Stillwater, which I did today and Monday in search of close-up photographs of metal. That is the current weekly challenge on Photo Challenge. I was able to take photos inside the stores in spite of the low light by using an ISO of 12,800. Using extremely high ISO settings causes noise in photographs, but I was able to remove much of the noise in Adobe Lightroom. In addition to the photos I took in the stores, I bought two things to use in still lives at home: a small, porcelain clown and an egg beater. Below are my antique photos plus a couple of others from this week.
You may know about Chávez Ravine if you are a baseball fan, or if you are old enough to have been following baseball in the early 1960’s, or if you were a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, or if you or your family once lived in Chávez Ravine, or if you’re a hardcore Ry Cooder fan. My family never came close to Chávez Ravine. We’re blond, blue-eyed Scandinavians who rarely strayed from the Mid-West much less into big cities like Los Angeles. I do fit all the other criteria for knowing about Chávez Ravine.
Years ago I borrowed Ry Cooder’s album Chávez Ravine from the library. I was recently reminded of the album when I stumbled upon one of its songs while browsing in iTunes. The album is a concept album that tells about the city of Los Angeles and the Dodgers destroying a Mexican-American community in order to build a baseball stadium.
The first song on Cooder’s album is Poor Man’s Shangri-la. I don’t know if it was a Shangri-la but in the 1940’s
the area was a poor, though cohesive, Mexican-American community. Many families lived there because of housing discrimination in other parts of Los Angeles.
The city designated the area as blighted and moved forward with plans to redevelop the area. The plans included a public-housing project, and the city began buying land from individual home owners. The buy-out efforts were not completely successful. Holdouts who did not wish to sell were part of the
Battle of Chavez Ravine, an unsuccessful ten-year struggle by a small number of remaining residents of Chavez Ravine to maintain control of their property, after the substantial majority of the property had been transferred to public ownership, during the period in which the city intended to use the land for the Elysian Park Heights public housing project.
The housing project died, and L.A. transferred the land to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a land swap.
With Chavez Ravine slated to become the site of the new Dodger Stadium, the tiny number of remaining members of the Chavez Ravine community were physically forced to relocate, although they were compensated for their properties at fair market valuations. While some had initially left the neighborhood, voluntarily or involuntarily through either the use of eminent domain or condemnation, a number (quite a small number after about 1954) stayed until the end. Eventually the sheriff’s department went in with bulldozers and armed men. A few property holders in the area had actually managed to avoid eminent domain proceedings and they were finally bought out by O’Malley [the owner of the Dodgers]. The final holdout eventually accepted the city’s offer of $10,500 for his former home. The homes and streets were razed, the larger community having been destroyed years before in the public housing effort.
Ry Cooder’s album tells the story of Chávez Ravine through songs in English and Spanish.
Cooder sought out musicians from the era and the place, including the late Pachuco boogie boss Don Tosti, the late legendary Lalo Guerrero, Ersi Arvizu, and Little Willie G., all of whom appear with Joachim Cooder, Juliette & Carla Commagere, Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Mike Elizondo, Gil Bernal, Ledward Kaapana, Joe Rotunde, Rosella Arvizu, and others. Chávez Ravine was nominated for “Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album” in 2006.
Check out the album if you like Mexican music and Ry Cooder and want to get a taste of what the Mexican-American music of that era sounded like. The above quotes are all from the Wikipedia entry on Chávez Ravine. It has a lot more information, citations, and links.
Something similar happened in St. Paul when the African-American, Rondo Street community was gutted to make way for the I-94 freeway. Here’s is a page from a newsletter published by my former employee taken during the construction of the freeway.
I just started Nutri System. Before I ordered I did some research to make sure it was a decent program. It is, but what nobody mentioned (certainly not Marie Osmond) was what I experienced when I met the Fed Ex man. He had two large packages, one a styrofoam cooler. The cooler is big, about 26 x 17.5 x 16 inches. The other package, a cardboard box, is just as big. I was embarrassed. Not because I was going on the diet, but because I had gotten so much stuff that is going to sit in a landfill somewhere for the next millennium. When I opened the two big packages, it got worse. Lots more plastic, not just the packaging for the food, but also plastic padding to keep the food from shifting. It feels like an overwhelming mass of stuff that I feel guilty about having.
Both packages had a large amount of these plastic air pillows.
Even if the diet works wonderfully, I will not reorder.
I’ll use up what I have (a four-week supply) then go back to a focus on non-processed foods, a focus that I should have stuck to.
I have been using a Fitbit pedometer for a few years. It’s startling how the steps mount up over the years. I now have recorded over seven million steps. That seems like an enormous number of steps, but there have been times during these few years when I’ve been more of a couch potato than a serious walker. Here are my stats from Fitbit as of a few minutes ago. I recommend using a Fitbit if for no other reason than that it’s fun.
But I have a question. How could I have burned over five million calories and still be so much overweight?
I am once again going to be quoting extensively from Dog-Whistle Politics. This is a book to read if you want information to counter the cant and hypocrisy spewed forth by today’s conservatives and Tea Partiers.
Something that came as a surprise to me is “that ‘illegal’ is a misnomer: crossing into or remaining in the United States without proper authorization is not a crime, but rather a civil matter.” A Supreme Court ruling stated that “as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”
Lopez goes on to write:
On the more fundamental question of assimilation, scholars recognize that today’s immigrants from Latin America (and also Asia), no different from the generations of European immigrants before them, are “being successfully incorporated into American society”; indeed, studies find “great continuities between the experiences of earlier European immigrants and current, predominantly non-European immigrants.” Moreover, the notion that crossing the border without authorization generates a pervasive disdain for the law is demonstrably false. Research shows that undocumented immigrants from Latin America commit far fewer [emphasis mine] depredations, not far more, than citizens. Evidence shows too that undocumented immigrants are far less likely than others to use expensive social services, including hospital emergency rooms. Indeed, unauthorized immigrants pay considerable more in taxes – typically through payroll withholding – than they receive in social services.
If illegal immigration is actually not a big problem (or not a problem at all), why all the furor stirred up by the right?
. . . the “illegal alien” rhetoric is highly popular with racial demagogues. Stressing illegality provides a way to seed racial fears without directly referencing race. . . . By constantly drumming on the crises posed by “illegals”, the right fuels a racial frenzy but can deny its intention to do any such thing.
This illegal-alien demagoguery started back as least as early as the time of (guess who?) the god-king Ronald Reagan.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had warned that migrant workers from Mexico, as well as war refugees from Central America, constituted a potentially traitorous group in the nation’s midst [did Reagan actually believe this?] To many this suggestions seemed farcical.
Get the book and read it. We progressives and liberals need to fight back.
Like, this is going to be an awesome post. Really! Maybe even totally awesome
One of my pet peeves is the over-use of “awesome”. I will be tempted to punch the next waiter or waitress who tells me that my order for an everyday salad and a mundane diet cola is awesome. It is nothing of the sort.
If everything is awesome, nothing is awesome.
Some other linguistic pet peeves:
“Just saying” (What exactly is this supposed to mean? That the spiteful, malicious thing you just said is excused if you say “just sayin’?” I don’t understand.)
“I/he/she was like . . .” (This one is really inane. Have people forgotten how to say “then she said”?)
Exaggeration in general. If not awesome, we can always use unbelievable, amazing, astounding, . . .
Wait, I’ve thought of another language pet peeve: “flawed” or “fundamentally flawed”. If you want to criticize a study or report or article, you simply call it fundamentally flawed. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve read it. An all-purpose critique that fits all situations. Cool!
A good word: “Cool” It is concise. It can be used without hyperbole or exaggeration. Although used frequently, it doesn’t suffer from overuse. Slang doesn’t have to be awful.