Election 2020

Election 2020
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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Imperfect as Life!

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are..." 

Yes, well, it's pithy, and such a great little quote... there is some dispute about where it originated - The Talmud, I. Kant, Anais Nin, Anonymous?

It does seem oh so "true!"

Turns out Anais Nin is very, very quotable... there's also this...

"You cannot save people, you can only love them."

And this too...

"Experience teaches acceptance of the imperfect as life."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Limits & Strengths

I think it's true, we should celebrate our "limitations." Our limitations help us define who we are. We should do our best to push against limitations, and in the pushing, try to turn them to "strengths." 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wrestle with Mystery?

Maybe the greatest compliment I can give to Thomas Ligotti's challenging little philosophical missile (see previous post), is that it totally animated my mind!

It has made me think, and question myself, and forced me to delve into some of my fundamental beliefs.  That's pretty impressive.  The book is challenging, and provocative. It's not easy to dismiss or ignore, once you start it, you are in for the ride, and you have to think about it, and somehow argue with it.

One of the major assumptions of the book concerns consciousness. Ligotti proposes that human consciousness is an aberration, a horror, it's something which separates us from all other living things. And it drives us mad. I wonder is this true? 

What exactly is consciousness, and is it true that only human beings possess it?  Maybe as human beings we misunderstand consciousness? Maybe it's much more prevalent than we know?Does the Universe and all things in it possess some level of consciousness? Where does consciousness come from? Does it emerge from biology and matter? Or does it descend upon us like the rain? Is it a vibration or frequency that we "tune in" sort of like a radio or television?

I don't think any of us really know exactly what consciousness is, or how it works, and we don't really know if it is unique to us, or if it's common and pervasive.  Much of Ligotti's argument is based on the uniqueness and horror of being a conscious being, but maybe from the start there is a misunderstanding or mystery about consciousness which can't be unfolded?

The same thought occurred to me about life. Animate and inanimate. Do we really understand life and death? Are we making arbitrary or false divisions? Are we looking at the reality of our human condition with false eyes? Do most of our problems of understanding our world and our place in it, flow from a place of deep misunderstanding, and unknowing?

And maybe we can never really resolve these fundamental issues. And if we can't, we can never definitely understand anything.  Maybe we can only wrestle with mystery? Maybe, or maybe not.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

We are the Conspirators!

I tracked down Thomas Ligotti's "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race," mainly because I had read that Nic Pizzolatto had used it as a basis for some of the monologues Matthew McConaughey recites in his astonishing and mind-blowing portrayal of the Homicide Detective Cohle on HBO's "True Detective." 

Ligotti is a writer of "horror fiction" in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, but "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race" is a non-fiction book. It is a totally strange beast. You could call it a "Primer on Pessimism," or "How to Lose Friends and Annoy Your Neighbors," it's a handbook of "Extreme Pessimism." Not exactly cocktail-party material.

And when I say extreme pessimism, I mean really, really extreme and really, really pessimistic. As in: non-existence is better than existence, it would be better not to be born, life is suffering, pain and horror; human beings are a abomination, we are a supernatural anomaly, an evolutionary blunder, and human consciousness (the certain knowledge that we will die) is a terrible and horrific thing that we can't really live with, and must do our best to forget. 

Ligotti, with a straight face, argues that human beings should do the brave and noble thing, do a favor for themselves and the Universe, and X themselves out, and stop procreating.  Life is suffering, and to continue life, to continue to perpetrate life, only multiplies the suffering. 

Reading the book is kind of a psychic mud-bath, it's an intellectual blood-letting. It's a poisonous book - "Beware! Tread carefully!"  For some odd reason, I found the book to be strangely uplifting, and thought-provoking. Ligotti's argument, forces you back to the essentials - it compels you to think about the meaning of life, and our place in the Universe. It opens your head!

The book makes you want to argue with it. And that's a good thing. It features a Who's Who of pessimism - Arthur Schopenhaur, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Friedrich Nietzsche, Professor Nothing, Peter Wessel Zapfe, Phillip Mainlander - pessimists, both famous and obscure. The book is well-reasoned, clear, and elegant.

Since I am an optimist by nature, some of this just doesn't fly with me. Maybe I can chalk it up to my "sunny nature," maybe it's the chemical make-up of my particular body and mind, but after reading this book, I'd say I'm primarily optimistic, with major pessimistic tendencies, and that's probably not a bad way to try to navigate this long, strange journey.

There is much wisdom in the book, but I happen to love consciousness, and even if I am fated to die, and even if my consciousness is fated to vanish, the having, no matter how brief, seems worth it. And I do think we can live with the knowledge of our mortality, even if we have to fill our lives with illusions and distractions just to keep the game going.

Schopenhaur tells us that only pain is real, but I have experienced joy, happiness, enlightenment, epiphany, pleasure, and even though it's true that those states do seem illusory and ephemeral, the glimpse, the glimmer, the briefest of brief experiences of lightness of being seems to me to be enough to stake a life upon.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Under-Appreciated: Wilco!

All this interest in Jeff Tweedy's new project Tweedy, got me thinking about Wilco. I think Wilco is under-appreciated, and taken for granted by some people, including me.  Yesterday I had some time on my hands, doing chores around the house, so I used Wilco as my musical soundtrack.

I used to think that "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" was their masterpiece, but now I think it was just one piece of the puzzle, and in some ways, even though it is a great record, and essential listening, it sounds a little dour and druggy to my ears now. It was a time when Wilco was sort of falling apart from the inside, and the end of Jay Bennet's time in the band.

I think Wilco is in elite company with bands like Radiohead and The National. Powerful, singular work, a large catalog of great music: multi-layered, subtle, sophisticated, with avant-garde touches. Wilco is so deceptive. I think they get over-looked sometimes because they are sort of anti-rock star, from the midwest, they are grounded - a working band.

It helps to hear them live in concert, their double CD live album is revelatory. And to really get the greatness of this band you must watch the DVD - "Ashes of American Flags,"  with Wilco touring some really cool, funky clubs in the heartland of America in 2009.  Tweedy is an under-appreciated guitar player, and Nels Cline is otherworldly, Glen Kotche on drums is just astonishing.  An amazingly talented band.

My favorite Wilco records are these: "A Ghost is Born," "Sky Blue Sky," "Being There," "Summer Teeth," "The Whole Love," "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and the live one, "Kicking Television," recorded at the Vic in Chicago in 2005. You have to hear them all. You have to spend the time with them and really sink into the work. The more you listen, the more you hear.  Really, one of the finest bands ever. No doubt.

And does Jeff Tweedy sometimes remind me of John Lennon? Weirdly, yes, he does.  You can't get any better, or more significant than that...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Subvert some part of my mind..." - J. Tweedy

I haven't snagged a copy of Jeff Tweedy's new record yet. You know the one called "Sukierae" with his new band called Tweedy that features his son Spencer on drums? But I did recently buy "One True Vine," the record he produced for Mavis Staples, and that record is superb, (Jeff wrote some of the best songs and he and Spencer do most of the heavy lifting) absolutely great, so "Sukierae" is on my "wish list."

I do think Jeff Tweedy is one of our best songwriters and performers. Love his work with Wilco. A soulful, heartfelt voice, and a smart and intriguing songwriter. Tweedy seems grounded in the work, in the long-term process of being an artist.

I love this from an interview with The Quietus about his process of writing songs:

"I think just divine discontent, or boredom (laughs)! Sort of shake myself out of... subvert my ego, subvert some part of my mind that I don't trust as much as my subconscious." - J. Tweedy

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ecology Trumps Economy - Or At Least It Should!

I am looking forward to buying this Naomi Klein book - "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate" I am rooting for the climate.  I do think as Klein says, "ecology trumps economy."

Can Human Beings figure out how to cooperate as a species? We are really good as being selfish, greedy, needy, wanting, grasping... we've built economies, and empires, competing with each other. It seems like a crazy way to live, but we have been very successful at dominating the planet and all of our fellow beings.

I think asking people to do the right thing is a tough sell. We want what we want when we want it! We are a nasty species. Maybe we are on the road to extinction.  Maybe that is our trajectory. I still have hope that we can "wake up," but that seems more and more unlikely.

Maybe some combination of hope and fear will help us overcome our selfish nature, but it seems to me we are not wired to save the species, we are wired to save ourselves, even though that is a fool's errand,  as Jim Morrison once sang, "No one gets out of here alive..."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Inner Leonard Cohen!

Various signs, and random occurrences have led me to the unshakable decision that I must embrace my "inner Leonard Cohen." The Universe is pointing at me, suggesting this is "the way." Who am I to argue with the Universe?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Quirky, Particular, Personal, Not Trendy!

Oh, yeah, just reviewing my "highly recommended" list of music (see previous post), I thought, "Not for everyone." And maybe that's the essence of my negative reaction to the U2 thing. Bono and company want to be everyone's favorite rock stars. They magically appear in everyone's iTunes library and declare "Love me!"

And U2 makes music that does work really well in huge stadiums with masses of people all swaying and singing along. And they are one of the best bands at doing that kind of massive presentation. And they aren't afraid to do a huge mass marketing push, that's all part of their mass appeal and approach. That's the way modern music behemoths do it.  They overwhelm you and almost demand you jump on the bandwagon.

And it has nothing to do with whether the music is good or not. I mean, really, we can assume the music is good, it's not offensive, or too edgy, or quirky, or too particular, or too strange, or too weird, or too personal. Even when Bono writes a personal, heartfelt song, (and he is good at the kind of thing), it will be delivered in a very smooth, professional, slick and well produced way.

My list of alternative picks is made of records not for everyone. They are a little off-beat, maybe even weird, certainly kind of quirky, very particular, very personal, not trendy, and there is no massive marketing muscle behind them.  You have to seek them out. They aren't gonna find you, they aren't gonna demand that you jump on the bandwagon. There isn't a bandwagon.

Those choices, well, they are about the music first and last. And the music is extraordinary, but also it's music that probably wouldn't really work in a big stadium full of people.  And not everyone is gonna like them - that's a feature, not a flaw. And that's a good thing. A really, really good thing...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why Don't You Try Some of These Instead!

So yes, instead of listening to U2's new free download, we've been listening to these fine CD's (Shelled out cold hard cash for the tangible thing!) played on a really excellent, high-end, stereo system... all highly recommended...

1. Sun Kil Moon - "Benji" - extraordinary...made me cry and laugh... powerful art and a nylon string guitar - I think it's probably one of the greatest records I've ever heard. Really!
2. Mavis Staples - "One True Vine" - produced by Jeff Tweedy... beautiful, soulful... hushed, just great!
3. Chrissie Hynde - "Stockholm" - thanks to Terry Flamm for the recommendation! Neil Young sits in on a song with his great Les Paul guitar!
4. Jim James - "Regions of Light and Sound of God" - so good, weird, and cool, love the saxophone!
5. Jenny Lewis - "The Voyager" - Ryan Adams and Beck contribute... the record builds and the title track is my favorite song of the moment!
6.  Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - "100 Days, 100 Nights" - killer soul, great voice, great band!
7. Will Phalen - "The Dirt, the Air and the Grass"  - beautifully realized. Will does it all, love that Rickenbacker guitar... he's a really cool guy too... and excellent band! Ringing guitars and haunting lyrics.
8. Nate Currin - "You and I Are Ghosts"  - A great singer-songwriter, writes extraordinary songs, excellent production... I close my eyes and am reminded of the best of Ryan Adams... but Nate has his own voice... on a national tour in a motorhome... we were on a bill with him at Uncommon Ground.  He just knocked us out...a cool guy too.
9. Parquet Courts - "Sunbathing Animal" - Noisy, funny, raucous. You just know these guys love Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, and Television and Dylan too.  Two voices, classic garage band vibe.  But these guys are super-smart and articulate... funny, did I say funny? Love it.
10. The Handsome Family - "Singing Bones" - It was "True Detective" that compelled us to buy this one.  The title song of the great HBO series is "Far from Any Road."  Beautiful and haunting. Brett Sparks owns the low tones. Gothic Country? Rennie Sparks writes beautiful lyrics... love this record! Dark. In a good way.
11. The Beatles - "Please Please Me," - OK it was "Tune In" that made me purchase a copy of the Beatles first record.  Recorded in about 16 hours. The Beatles are raw and exuberant. There are some great originals but it's the cover songs that really knocked me out this time.  I think I overlooked this one for years, thinking it was their later work that was the best. This is the Beatles as a really tight, joyous, raucous r&r band. All the elements of their later success are here. Fresh!
12. Fairport Convention - "Liege & Lief" and "What We Did On Our Holidays" - lots of people who have come out to see our band whitewolfsonicprincess have compared us to Fairport Convention. Which is just the greatest compliment! I went back to these early records. They are just amazing. Sandy Denny's voice is one of the great instruments, and Richard Thompson is an extraordinary guitarist.  We do some originals using non-standard tunings, with some Celtic, Gypsy type vibe, and I think it's these tunes that conjure up the Fairport Convention mojo.  So glad I traveled back to discover and enjoy these early discs... totally inspiring!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

No Thanks U2!

Apple and U2. Synergy. A "win-win." What a great marketing coup. What an amazing licensing deal. 500 million iTunes users worldwide automatically "gifted" with U2's latest record. Wow.

Since I like Apple products (iMac, iPod, iPad) and I like U2's music (especially War, Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, Zooropa, How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb) you'd think I'd love this deal.

I don't. And I can understand an opinion piece like this: How U2 Became the Most Hated Band in America. I mean, as a member of a struggling r&r band, I can understand trying to maximize the market reach for your music. And I can't really criticize U2 for "selling out." That seems so "Old World Hippie!" A 100 million dollar licensing deal? You go Bono!

Cool and Uncool. It's a thin line. Love & Hate too. I do think U2 has kind of killed the golden goose. It's a little bit of that "who do they think they are?" I hate the idea that U2 basically is just another branch of a corporate behemoth. "Songs of Innocence" (is that a title of irony?!) is just a marketing gimmick.

I haven't listened to the music, who knows, maybe it's great, but I don't think I will listen to it. At least not for a long time. I vote to not participate. Not to listen. Not to enjoy. Not to take the gift.

Cool and Uncool. U2 has kind of passed over that magical line. I mean, I know lots of folks feel that point was passed long ago. I have hung in longer than most. Maybe there is a saturation point? A place where too much is just too much. I hated that Bono and Edge Broadway Spider Man debacle, and their showy Oscar shilling, and really, couldn't they just be a r&r band, make good music, and let it all just play out?

I can't cheer this on. It would be like rooting for the heavy favorite. Cheering on the Roman Empire to crush all the little people. I cannot throw my lot in with the Corporate Overlords, the 1% -ters... 

U2 is so big and popular, they can do whatever they want and millions will listen no matter what. You would think they could just concentrate on the music, and let the chips fall where they may. This smacks of trying way too hard. Sorry guys, no thanks!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Your "Fan" Avatar Could Watch the "Player" Avatar!

Bill Barnwell over at Grantland imagines "Football in a Non-NFL World." I'm surprised he didn't think of "Virtual Football." Think "Madden Football."

I have a friend who has a young son who would much rather play the Madden Football video game, than watch a "real" NFL game. I also hear the many, many NFL players love to play Madden because it is so "realistic."

Isn't this the ultimate solution to the "Football Problem?" See previous post. Won't the virtual world continue to get more and more realistic, won't we reach a point where "flesh and blood" players will become redundant? 

Can't you imagine having athletes work out, and then we feed their biometric data into computers, and then programmers build video icons that totally emulate those players? Couldn't you do this over time, year after year, and build a complete, all-encompassing universe of virtual football that could replace the "real thing?"

You could still have high performing athletes, you could still "draft" them, and work them out, but they wouldn't actually have to "play the games," instead we'd let the virtual icon, the "avatars" play the games. You could still have "injuries" - concussions, knee injuries, etc. but it would be the avatars who suffer these injuries, not the people.

And then too, you as a fan could have an avatar too. A "fan" avatar that watches the games, that eats pizza, and drinks beer, that gets excited and depressed at the outcome of the games. But we "real people" wouldn't actually have to watch the games if we didn't want to, we could have our avatars do the watching.  And then we'd have lots more time to do other things. Like... well, I'm sure we'll think of something.

A virtual utopia? 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What to Say About the NFL?

What to say about the NFL and all it's problems on the field and off? Why should we care? The NFL is entertainment, and big business. Some of us have "grown up" with football, it's one of the great diversions. It's a violent game. Every play is basically a "car crash;" well-conditioned bodies slamming into each other at top speed. There are estimates that 1/3 of all players are severely damaging their brains by playing the game, and will suffer serious consequences later in life.

So the violence. Can't get around it. Human beings are seriously damaging themselves for money and fame. And millions watch all this for entertainment. Something tells me this can't be "fixed," or "remedied." Violence is embedded in this game. Players continue to get bigger, faster, more muscular. Once you realize how violent, and how damaging the game is, maybe the entertainment value starts to plummet?

Maybe if you start cringing before every play, or start totaling up the casualties every weekend, the fun, the pleasure of watching, vanishes?

And what about "domestic violence," and "child abuse?" (For details be sure to check out Grantland!) Why should we care what NFL players do off the field? Do these issues of violence tarnish the brand? Is it surprising that these men of violence sometimes let this violence seep into their private lives too? Is this all just a "teaching opportunity?"

It's safe to say that knocking your fiancé unconscious in an elevator is not a "good thing." And beating a 4 year old child with a stick, and stuffing leaves in his mouth is not being a "disciplinarian" or an example of "good parenting."

These guys are not "role models," and if we celebrate them for their work on the field, pay them big dollars, and put them on pedestals for their game stats, that doesn't mean that they are "good people," or admirable human beings.

The NFL has a problem. It's an elaborate entertainment and money machine. Millions live and die (emotionally) on each and every play. At the heart of it all is a darkness, a horror. A dark violence. Maybe it's tied up with a primal blood-lust, or some deep tribal need to belong, and to conquer a foe. It's a feature and a flaw of the game. If you open your eyes to it, the feature fades, and the flaw grows brighter. And then you can't look away, and maybe if we are really honest with ourselves, we must.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creative Ambiguity!

I like this one - "Creative ambiguity, Scottish independence and sudden death."  Creative (ability to make new things or think new ideas), ambiguity (something that doesn't have a clear meaning).

Maybe it's sometimes a good thing to have a "trapdoor," a zone of "unclearness," or "unclarity." Maybe a definitive "yes" or "no" is not such a good thing. Maybe a definitive "maybe" or "sometimes this," and "sometimes that" is the best answer!

I'm not taking a stand on Scottish independence.  I'm in the camp of "Let's see what the Crazy Monkeys do next." 

But what about this...

"Many partnerships and marriages rely on creative ambiguity too.  Should the Beatles have forced Lennon and McCartney to specify who had the final say over each cut?  That probably would have led to a split in 1968 and there would be no Abbey Road. "

No "Abbey Road?!" Incomprehensible!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Control Doesn't Figure

Then you think everything is spinning out of control. And then you remember, that it has never felt like anyone or anything is "in control." So yes, spinning, always, and forever, spinning. Control doesn't figure in the equation at all.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Angry Face First!

Seems we are actually "wired to be pessimists." We exhibit "negativity bias!" Who knew? "We will always spot the angry face first." So if you are feeling lucky punk, you are kind of running against the tide...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Is Buddha a Pessimist?!

For various reasons, which I won't go into at the moment, early this morning I typed into Google Search the search term:

Is Buddha...

And these possibilities appeared...

... a God
... Real
... in Hell
... a Real Person

What I really wanted to know... "Is Buddha a pessimist"

There is some debate on the issue. Maybe not so surprising. Buddha famously said (accurately, or inaccurately?) "Life is suffering." So in that sense, you would say yes, Buddha was pessimistic, but some argue that he offers us a way out of this suffering, which is to drop our craving for the things of this world. Drop the craving, and you can't be dissatisfied with the things of this world, and presto chango you are COOL! Which would be optimistic.

So in that way, Buddha would be pessimistic and optimistic at the same time. So they kind of cancel each other out. The bet is hedged so to speak.  Buddha has it covered it! How typical of wisdom!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Crazy, Yes, Essentially Crazy!

I guess one of my fundamental beliefs about human beings is that we are "crazy:" - yes, full of cracks and flaws, crooked, askew, mad, insane, distracted with desire or excitement, absurdly fond, passionately preoccupied, etc. Crazy in all senses of the word.

I think we are crazy because we know we will die, and we don't want to, we know we will suffer, and we don't want to, we aren't really that important in the grander scheme, and we really, really want to be important. 

If you figure that human beings are essentially crazy, then everything that happens in the world is a little bit more understandable. All the blood and mayhem, and mindless consumption, and hurly burly of Pop Culture are just manifestations or symptoms that flow out from that essential madness.

Knowing this basic, essential craziness isn't necessarily reassuring - it just helps explain lots of the strange phenomena we generate. Admitting your own personal craziness, knowing that you and your fellow beings are a crazy, unmoored species that is progressively more and more dominant on this little blue planet, just puts the headlines and the hubbub in some kind of context.

And those of us clinging to science, logic and truth?  There's this from from a biography of John Nash as described in Sylvia Nasar's biography "A Beautiful Mind," -  a book about one of our "mad geniuses:" 

A Colleague asked: "How could you, a mathematician, a man devoted to reason and logical truth believe that extraterrestrials are sending you messages? How could you believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world?"

John Nash replied: "Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously."

Friday, September 12, 2014


"Born under a lucky star," or "being a Fortunate One." If you are thinking of luck, you are grasping at straws. Good luck, bad luck. What is it?  Chance. Fortune. We think we know it when we see it. Sometimes if things are rolling out "our way," it seems luck is with us, and sometimes all semblance of "luck," seems to vanish, and everything in our lives turns to shit.

And the state, the dispensation of luck, is in other hands, or other powers, or in the weather.  We can't manufacture luck, or will it. We don't "make luck," some of us are beings who "are lucky." We all want to "get lucky." And some of us do. Some of us seem to have a surplus, an excess of luck, and some of us, can't buy a lucky break.

It's another one of those foggy, misty, hard to pinpoint chimeras that rule our lives. "Feeling lucky Punk?"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Everything Went Really, Really Right!

It's a milestone. At least for me.  It weighs like a pretty heavy stone too.  I finished it: the first volume of Mark Lewisohn's history of the Beatles, "Tune In."

803 pages, plus notes.  It is a weighty tome for sure.  Stuffed with facts. If you think you know everything you want to know about the Beatles, well, if you haven't read this book, you don't know everything! And you don't know what you don't want to know! I am the kind of person who really does want to know what guitars John and George used, what kind of amps they played through, how many microphones were used to record their first single "Love Me Do."

The book starts with a little profile of Liverpool starting in the year 1845... and ends in December 1962, just before the Beatles record their Long Player, "Please, Please Me."

And really, the Liverpool and Hamburg years, which are covered extensively, some might think exhaustively in Vol. 1 really is such a great and absorbing part of the story.  When the Beatles burst upon the International scene they seemed "fully formed," complete, and their "instant success" was mind-blowing. Of course, the making of the Beatles was not "instant" at all.

In multiple Hamburg engagements alone the Beatles played approximately 1,110 hours in 38 weeks, the "equivalent of three hours every night for a full year." They learned hundreds of songs. They were a tough, tight and supremely confident unit. This was before they conquered the world.

As Lewisohn says, things went really right for this little group. Right manager, right Producer, right everything. Everything went really, really right! And even when things went wrong, it seemed to work out just right.  That was/is extraordinary.

Anyway, I finished it, took a breath, and then... I'm waiting, waiting for the next volume. Hope it's not a long wait. Here's Lennon talking about those early years:

"We were the best fucking group in the goddamn world... and believing that is what made us what we were. Whether you call it 'the best rock & roll group or 'the best pop group,' whatever - as far as I was concerned, we were the best. We thought we were the best in Hamburg and Liverpool - it was just a matter of time before everybody else caught on." - John Lennon (1980)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Impetus for Life

Death. It is a great subject. A great mystery too. It's the exclamation mark, or the period on the sentence. Or maybe it's the ...

Death by misadventure, or by accident is a real head-scratcher. And just what kind of event is "unplanned or unintended?" Some events happen and you look for the hidden hand, you search for a reason, or maybe the secret intention. And you grasp for the "Grand Intender."

You are left with phrases like "bad luck," or "wrong place, wrong time." How is it possible that that particular tree fell at that precise time, and killed that young, vibrant, totally beautiful and talented person?

It makes no sense. And everything had to roll out exactly as it rolled out. And what if one element, one part of the sequence happened differently? Is that even possible? Is every step of the process just another roll of the dice? Or is there some kind of path of destiny?

No one knows. I think of Castaneda's Don Juan - he tells us that death always rides on our left shoulder. I have never forgotten. I'm not "death-haunted," just very "death-aware." It's good to know that death is always around us, waiting to put that mark on the end of the sentence.

It gives us a little impetus for a life, well-lived...

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Bad Chemistry!

Thinking of chemistry. Not in the scientific sense, more in the sense of "the elements that make up something," or "interaction of one personality with another."

Sometimes chemistry is almost invisible, especially when it's working well. You really notice "bad" chemistry, when things aren't working, or when an element sort of "poisons the well." I recently had a deadly encounter with a certain personality. One brief, off the cuff conversation was like "death on a stick." I couldn't extricate myself fast enough.

And that "badness" hung over me like a black cloud for days afterward. There is a real, deadly, overwhelming power there, almost unacknowledged. They used to say... "better living with chemistry," and then there's the other kind... when bad chemistry makes living a little bit harder.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Noble Honor of Being A Slob on TV!

I do not watch Network TV very often anymore. So it's rare for me to witness the barrage of commercials that are the primary point of it's existence. I mean, maybe there's a football game crammed in between all the commercials, but the amount of money, creativity and energy devoted to selling things to us, is quite impressive. I think if you see this barrage often, maybe it just sort of washes over your eyeballs, but if your eyeballs don't usually experience this kind of assault, it really does make an profound impression. And that impression is this: Advertisers have concluded that the people watching TV are total slobs, and these slobs enjoy watching people just like them - people who are slobs, happy and proud of being slobs - fat, dim & slow-witted, folks who like to sit and watch lots of TV, and who like to eat lots of really crappy food items, drink lots of really crappy beer,  and like to drive around in really big trucks. And enjoy watching themselves, or people just like themselves, looking stupid and slobbery on TV.  People watching people. Slobs watching other slobs just like them. And maybe those Advertisers are right, I'm sure they have the demographic data to back them up. To be a slob on TV seems to be a noble honor!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Isn't It Strange?

I once wrote a song called "Isn't It Strange." My brother tells me it is one of his favorite songs. Not many people have heard it. I play it very rarely. It's maybe a little too close to home.

The opening line: "Isn't it strange how success can seem like failure, how love can seem like hate..."

Yes, well, isn't it?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Tribute Bands are Weird, Creepy and Pathetic!

"Yes, but you don't want to be a "tribute band." That's weird and creepy and kind of pathetic. All those Elvis impersonators, and Beatles clones, it's kind of a sad phenomenon, even if they're good.  You know what I mean? There's something really sad about trying to "be" someone else. It's one thing to do a "cover song" but it's another thing entirely, when you put on the costume, bring out the wig, work out those solos note by note by note. Sorry, it's just too creepy..."

Friday, September 05, 2014

Lennon in a "Girl Group"

Reading "Tune In," has opened my mind about being a "Covers Band." It has changed my thoughts about one of the great bands, The Beatles. I was always a little dismissive when it came to the very early Beatles' records. I didn't want to hear the Beatles do cover songs, I wanted to hear them do their own songs.  I was always of the mind that they really hit their creative stride around "Rubber Soul," and "Revolver" and it's true, you can see their songwriting take amazing, creative leaps with each record, and the middle to late period Beatles songs are really very, very impressive and took the band to another level.

But the book has propelled me back to their first record, "Please Please Me," and to the first volume of "Live at the BBC", and on these records, it's the covers that really knock your head sideways. The "live, in the studio," nature of the recordings is edgy and refreshing too. The Beatles really were one of the absolutely great covers bands. And their song choices are eye-opening, ear-opening, wide-ranging, and inspiring.  I've been playing "Please Please Me," obsessively, as I've been reading the book, and I'm listening with new eyes and ears. And all the song choices are instructive and revealing.

The Beatles played songs they loved and they put all their heart and soul into them. And transformed them. Especially songs like "Baby It's You," or "Twist and Shout," or "Money," or that Ann Margaret, yes that's right, Ann Margaret cover "I Just Don't Understand." My favorite Beatles cover songs are the girl group songs (the Marvelettes, the Shirelles) that John Lennon sings. And you realize that they are some of the best vocal performances Lennon ever committed to tape.

Lennon was a tough character, with a brutally biting wit, he had lost lots of people very dear to him, at a very young age, and there is a hurt, a vulnerability, a subtle rage and loss buried deep in his psyche, that is alive in his voice.  And it's on those girl group songs where Lennon really lets it all go. He puts everything he has into some of the great Goffin & King, or Bacharach & David & Luther Dixon songs.  Really listen to Lennon's voice on these, it's all there, the best of Lennon.

And by doing songs written for a "girl group" Lennon gets to drop the mask, (Or, maybe it's that he puts on another mask?),  he totally commits, he opens himself, he isn't afraid to be soft, or vulnerable, he inhabits the song, takes it in, and then, let's it fly. The beauty, the brilliance of Lennon, was to take that raw emotion, and to channel it into raucous R&R, and beautiful, soulful Pop and R&B.

And then of course there are all the Chuck Berry covers (Lennon always sang them, he loved Berry's inventive, witty and sophisticated word-play) or Little Richard (McCartney sang those to throat-clearing heights) or Carl Perkins (that would be George, he liked the funny, witty and off the wall tunes) and then everything else under the sun too.  The Beatles grabbed songs from every quarter, and made them work for a 4 piece band, a really tight, no-nonsense 4 piece band that could sing and harmonize and own songs at will.  

Kind of makes the whole "covers" vs. "originals" thing irrelevant. Listen to the songs.  It's all there. And those covers happen to be some of the best songs ever written, and they come from everywhere. Pop, Soul, R&R, Country, Rockabilly, Show Tunes - little shining gems put through the Beatles sensibility. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Songwriters Not from the Great American Songbook!

Our band, whitewolfsonicprincess will be doing a set of Rolling Stones songs this Saturday at the Open Door Repertory - Songwriters NOT from the Great American Songbook.  It's a special "sit-down" performance.  The Hannah Frank Group opens with a set of Dylan.  So a pretty nice double-bill.  Great songs on all fronts. We are working a couple of our own songs into the set too.

We have been accused of being a little "Stonesy," and there is no doubt that some of our music has been influenced by Jagger and Richards' songwriting.  We have experience in a theatrical setting, so this won't be totally intimidating, still it's all a little more "formal" than playing a bar, and we chose some really beautiful, and delicate, Stones songs ("As Tears Go By," "Wild Horses") and we want to do them justice, and make them our own.

We ran through the set-list last night with the band. The order  needs a little adjustment, starting with "As Tears Go By" is not really a good idea, it's so quiet and delicate, it might be better to start with something a little looser - maybe "Dead Flowers." But the set really heats up as we go along.  Some songs really came together quickly, especially "Sweet Black Angel," it's a little song nestled in the middle of "Exile on Main Street," - Jagger's ode to Angela Davis, and it sounds so natural and effortless with our band.

We feel really good about "Sister Morhpine," it's moody and dynamic, a little piece of r&r theater, and our version of "Play with Fire" is edgy and a little weird. One of Jagger's great dark "put-down" songs. A few of these songs we know very, very well, "Dead Flowers," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," and our version of "Jumping Jack Flash" is so gloriously and messily "garage-band!"  Would like to think Keef would be proud!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

What About Volume Two?

"They'd lucked into the only Producer in London who shared their resistance to convention, the only man with a reputation for sound experimentation and a strong knack for the unusual... and he'd lucked into the Beatles." - Mark Lewisohn

How do I know that I'm sold on Mark Lewisohn's concept of a three volume biography of the Beatles? I'm already wondering when the next volume drops.  I find myself checking out Lewisohn's website. Looks like I will have to wait for awhile, he's still writing.

I am still working on volume one, just got to the part where the Beatles meet George Martin for the first time, and record some songs for him.  Martin wasn't very impressed with the music, but loved the personalities of the band. It was their humor, and charisma that kind of cinched the deal.

So entertaining. Part of the pleasure is that you know the broad outlines of the story. So when you meet interesting characters like Brian Epstein and George Martin, you get a little kick, because you know what they don't know yet.

And there are so many interesting characters that play major parts in the story, Stu Sutcliffe, Epstein, Martin, Horst Fascher, Tony Sheridan, Klaus Voorman, Astrid Kirchnerr, Alan Williams, Bob Wooler, and oh yeah, those four tough little Liverpool musicians.

And there's weird stuff too. Early name for a Lennon and McCartney band - Los Paranoias. These guys had an abundant appetite for booze and amphetamines. McCartney got the "heebie jebbies" the first time he tried to play lead guitar onstage, he performed badly, and decided then and there that he was not a lead guitarist. Lennon had a brutal sense of humor and loved to make fun of cripples - he was constantly doing his "cripple act." McCartney very much disliked Stu Suttcliffe, and helped hound him out of the band. No one in the band wanted to be the bass player. McCartney thought the bass player was always "the fat guy in the back." It's funny how McCartney's bass playing became a secret weapon, and a strength of the band.  Harrison might have been the funniest, the toughest, and the most determined of them all - his tenacity carried them along in some crucial scenes. Ringo was a very sickly child, almost died a couple times, and then emerged as the best and most highly-sought drummer in Liverpool. He had offers from all quarters.

So many things had to go right for these guys, and so many things had to go wrong too for the story to unfold the way it unfolded. Good luck, bad luck - who's to say? It's an astonishing, and unbelievable story. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Renews Your Faith in the Power of Film!

How about a story, a screenplay, a film, about a "good man," adrift in a world of cynicism, nihilism, of sex, of drugs, of r&r? That's radical. And make that man a Catholic Priest? OK, now you've really gone off the deep-end. And cast Brendan Gleeson in the lead role? Brilliant! That's my reaction to "Calvary," .  It's really an overpowering film. Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh, the older brother of Martin McDonagh, one of Ireland's and frankly, the world's, great playwrights and filmmakers (see "In Bruges").

"Calvary" is an immersive experience. I mean, we sunk into it completely. Perfectly realized, beautifully done. We went thru the full spectrum of emotion - from tears to laughter. It is darkly funny, it's deeply profound, and it will make you think. Renews your faith in film. This is a great one...

Monday, September 01, 2014

"Oh Yeah, this is What Art Can Do..."

We went to the MCA over the weekend. We decided to soak up some "art." I was sort of a reluctant participant, thinking museums are such dead places.  We stumbled through a couple of galleries. I kept asking myself, "Why these paintings?" And, "Is this all just a sideshow?"

Then we walked into Simon Starling's "Metamorphology." And it blew us away. It's conceptual. There's a narrative. This is a coherent, stirring, and enlightening body of work. Profound and funny too. My favorite "piece" was "Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima)." It's an installation, a sculpture, an environment, a film, a sacred space. It ties together many strands - a story of ancient Japan and the modern world, nuclear energy and sculpture, secret doings and spies. It's a work of History, of Myth and Pop Culture. And real and fictional characters such as James Bond, Anthony Blunt, Henry Moore, Colonel Sanders and Odd Job figure in the story.

We walked through the sculpture, participated in it. We tried on the masks and became part of the piece. It's alive, and it changes as people interact with it. Then we sat on black Japanese-style prayer mats, and watched a little film that related an amazing, looping and loopy narrative. We listened to the narrator tell this magnificent tale and watched a master mask-maker make masks from little blocks of wood. It was amazing, exciting, inspiring. Art.

We walked out of the gallery transformed.  I thought, "Oh yeah, this is what art can do... "

Photos by The Lovely Carla 

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