Real World Problems

I have been attempting to put my personal issues into perspective, recognizing that my impairment is not the end of the world. In the meantime, the world ended.

I was once a fairly sharp analyst, at least two sets of memories indicate this to be true. One of the main reasons I had wanted to emigrate to Belgium was to miss the presidential election in America. As it worked out, the woman who left me behind returned in time to vote with her fresh citizenship. Had I been with her perhaps she would have stayed in Belgium, the equation is too difficult to approach.

So here I am, unable to endorse either major party candidate. I would like to make a change in our lexicon, changing the word “vote” to “endorse.” I suspect people would have an easier time accepting their role in the process if they realized the position was not solely their decision. My personal choice was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, largely because I overestimated the American voters, and thought all the folks who were upset about Bernie Sanders being cheated out of the Democratic nomination would actually vote for a third party candidate like they said they would. All that would have been required would have been for a third party to receive 5% of the vote, but that did not happen. They were all demanding honesty but couldn’t come up with any of their own.

Wednesday morning I woke to the news Trump had won, I had pretty much figured it out before I googled for the results, there was no “We Won!” fanfare from the liberals. I also had some messages from Belgium, one right wing politician was rather snippy about me and “my kind,” had I been in Belgium she might have figured out who me and my kind are. I was called a racist and a homophobe before I left for therapy, and couldn’t bear the wailing and gnashing of teeth on the radio so I put on something more comforting. I found that the bass tones on Courtney Love’s album “Live Through This” match my hearing disturbance and were quite soothing at high volume. “Asking For It” almost put me to sleep.

So there I am, at the Brain Trauma unit, and of course the elephant in the room was unavoidable. We work on mindfulness and cognitive therapies, ignoring reality is frowned upon. As I spoke with my therapists and other patients, I heard the phrase “You’re the most sensible person I’ve heard from all day” a couple of times. I have come to expect it from the other patients, coming from a therapist it was a bit unusual. Me, the guy with a brain injury, was the most sensible person she had heard from all day.

I remain impaired, plagued with neural fatigue after something as simple as a Lumosity session, as well as losses in processing speed and memory. I have regained my sense of humor, and the bloodwork indicates my hormones are once again balanced, but there has been no physical or emotional confirmation. I consider myself “better” because I can recognize I am unemployable. My neuro-psychologist says that high functioning brain injury survivors take the most therapy, because we have so much difficulty accepting our limitations. I understand, that is to say I know what is holding me back, and for the first time in my life I can’t conquer it. The astrategies which worked in the past, denial, working through pain, only make the problems worse and slows any actual recovery. Punching my way out only leaves me with bloody knuckles.

I can’t really ponder my future, fortunately I don’t care. I know I can’t sustain my lifestyle, I can’t even manage to make it to my friend’s gigs; last week I couldn’t accomplish a day trip to see the “Monkeemobile” at a local shop. I feel more isolated, but the physical isolation doesn’t trouble me. The mental isolation does, if you will excuse the comment I feel like the smartest kid on the short bus. It is all perspective. I do not expect to be taken seriously, I expect that anything controversial I say will be responded to with “Well you know, he has brain damage.”

In a society which so easily dismisses complaints as “first world problems” I try to point out the human element, the issues we all face. The turbulence following the election shows us pervasive arrogance and violence, which are real world problems, reaching across all social and economic barriers. The people claiming to be intellectually superior were suddenly made aware of the electoral college, one person standing on her degree in history claiming it had only been used five times previously (she did not realize it has been the method of election in all of the sixty previous elections, yet considers herself politically informed). I live in the Northeast, every year people forget how to deal with snow, I suspect some forget what snow is. After a lifetime of ambiguous sexuality and taunts of “faggot,” I was called a homophobe because I didn’t vote for Hillary. The problem is a failure of perspective, people who protest in the name of tolerance acting with no tolerance. It would be easy to blame this on a lack of education, but most of these people will tell you how educated they are, largely because they never bothered with the definition of education. To them it means they attended a particular institution, not that they learned anything useful. Someone told them they were educated, they never realized that the truly educated never stop learning.  They feel they are compassionate because they have seen compassionate people and it made them feel good, as they drove past. I cannot argue with such arrogance, it would be the equivalent of trying to convince a crazy person they were not sane.

I recognize I am probably not completely sane. Which in a counter intuitive way validates my sanity. I listen to people who do not listen to themselves. I guess I’m asking for it.

 

 

 

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Who am I now?

 

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There are things I do remember, among them a love of quantum mechanics. Of late I have been running reality checks on life.

Of the things I know, my name has always been a problem. My Birth Certificate says Kenneth Blake Cash. but my parents never mentioned Kenneth was my name until after that first day in Kindergarten where the teacher called me by the “wrong” name. Turns out they wanted to name me James but didn’t want people to call me Jimmy, so they named me Kenneth and called me Blake. It made just as much sense then as it does now, so I am not questioning my ability to process that information. I have had identity issues all my life, so I should be well equipped to handle them now. I just can’t find my equipment.

I hear on a routine basis that I need to accept who I am now. Usually unspoken is “because you are not who you were,” sometimes with lovely imagery about being a new person every sunrise. Yeah, right. This is not a glorious dawn.

I am not precisely starting afresh every day, but more so than before, as far as I can tell. My short term memory is failing, I compensate by taking notes (when possible) and telling people I have difficulty  processing information due to a brain injury. This is supposed to be a good sign, I am accepting what I am not “allowed” to acknowledge. I am not supposed to say I am damaged, or that the efforts I make are unsatisfactory.  See, in what is left of my mind, being unhappy with a failure is a positive move towards self improvement, but I am not supposed to damage my own self-esteem. Hard to have self-esteem when you don’t have a self.

Who I am is based on what I recall about how I got here. Even the things I remember I don’t feel a part of, making it difficult to distinguish between memory and dreams. Last week I had a strong memory of flying a C-130, I could feel the trembling and see the ground falling away. Trouble is, I have no memory of attending flight school, and the possibility I actually piloted a C-130 is remote. This scared me deeply. How many of the unlikely things in my past did not happen? My “sense of self” is exceptionally weak.

As far as I know, I do not suffer hallucinations. I am considering verifying the presence of new people, and if I am ever aware a hallucination has taken place I will.

Most of my “feelings” are vacant, I have little emotion, and I am not chasing their return. I see enough people adamant about untruths and fierce about mistaken beliefs centered around the election, I don’t want that to be my life. Some of my facilities are returning, although their return can be fleeting; I am told they are an indication of “higher executive functions.” I have a sense of sarcasm, and I’m fairly certain that I can be humorous and people are not laughing at me (today). I am aware that testosterone is missing, and I am scheduled to see an endocrinologist to measure pituitary function, these would seem to be affecting my drive and will. Frustration occurs when I know I should accomplish something and just can not begin the project. I also have read that my serotonin levels should be addressed, but I doubt my own medical skills enough to leave the dosaging of SSRIs to professionals. Again, I know (or think I know) enough to see my primary physician is less than skilled in the administration of SSRIs, so for this and other reasons I am seeking out a psychiatrist.

I know I am not who I was, but I am not certain exactly who I was. This appears to be the perfect opportunity to redefine myself, but I know I will have no past. Seems like it was interesting, I hate to let it go.

I have read through my articles since the accident, I can identify a spirit believing it is healing. That spirit no longer exists, which in a way is odd; from what I am told, recognizing my deficits is an improvement over not recognizing them. So I’m better because I know I’m worse. You should not be surprised at my confusion. Expect incredulous questions about the election.

My desire at this point is to record these facets of brain injury, so that one day I will be able to collect and edit them into a book. What I am most aware of is I may not feel this way in the future. I certainly don’t feel as I did nine, six, or even three months ago. Writing is what I can do, and apparently I am a fairly good writer, although it does not feel that way now. I know I was married to a woman named Emma, and I blogged through her fight with pancreatic cancer, and I turned that into a book. I know this because I looked it up. It is nice having things written down.

My ability to see the future is on par with my ability to see the past, I have no way of knowing this will ever turn into a book, it is a dream, and I am told it is useful to have goals. One goal is to financially survive until Social Security approves my disability claim, I’ve been selling what assets I can on Ebay, and I have started a charity fundraising web page on “YouCaring.”  Please consider donating a few dollars, the theory is it all adds up.

For now, I am Blake to my friends, Kenneth to my ever growing army of doctors, K. Blake Cash to my readers, and KB to my social media contacts and grandson (he says “kib”). The man behind the name is developing, trying to establish an identity with a foggy history. I think he will be KB, my grandfathers were known by their initials, I am now the age they were when they met Blake, now Blake can meet KB.

The construction of KB will be on a foundation of those memories he can verify, woven with the beliefs which resonate with his presence. I can remember every printer I ever touched and long to take apart new ones (the psychiatrist has a Toshiba, cognitive therapist a Konica Minolta, Neurologist Kyocera Mita). I recall an astounding array of songs. I have a couple of bass guitars but I can’t get my fingers to where they are trying to go. I know it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. I have a drum, and I know how to use it.

In just over a month I will have my 58th birthday, I don’t know who will be there.

 

 

 

 

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Memories

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I have no memory of the moment, just a vague impression of the day less than a week after I came home from the hospital, when I heard David Bowie had died. My memories are difficult to explain, I have always been able to put myself into the moment, all of my senses involved, as opposed to simply recalling a list of events, the script of the moment. This is why now I can say “I don’t remember that” while still knowing exactly what took place. If I can’t touch it, taste it and smell it I don’t call it “having a memory.”

My brain is alien territory, my neurosurgeon tells me I should make myself comfortable, I will be here for a while. Maybe not forever, but I am better equipped if I familiarize myself with the terrain. To that end I am learning how to express myself, and taking care to explain my words. I am not ready to share opinions, I lack confidence in my logic. Much as in the way I am careful when speaking about the drugs used to treat Multiple Sclerosis, they did not work for me, but they do work wonderfully for some people; don’t take the fact I don’t use them to mean they don’t work at all.

The gap in my memories has grown, and I’m told this may just be a temporary fluctuation. Presently I have no memories of December or January, and November and February are fuzzy. Important within that statement is the fact my first evening with Sam was Thanksgiving. I am thankful for our relationship, having been abused in my last few emotional relationships, an “open” relationship seemed safer, an opportunity for honesty and communication to take the place of the deception the previous relationships offered. That Sam turned out to be more loyal and caring than the women I have trusted in “committed” relationships the last few years is both amazing and spiritually rewarding (not to imply open relationships are not committed, her level of commitment just astounded me following my previous “committed” experiences). She literally saved my life, then she nurtured me back to self-sufficiency.  This is a list of events to me, I don’t possess memories of any of it. I intend to explore the entire relationship in another article. Less important is that apparently I painted the bedroom in January. Not a horrible job, especially considering I didn’t have the use of my right arm.

A different set of memories started this article, falling about me like, well like purple rain. Now I just need to place these thoughts orderly, to find some rhythm of the falling rain. I used to be pretty good at that, identifying the synchronicities of life.

A large number of iconic musicians have died this year, working down the scale a scary number of musicians have died. While just under two human beings die every second, those of us in the arts seem to have taken a disproportionate amount of losses this year. A week does not pass that at least one acquaintance leaves us, sometimes several (Lonnie Mack died the same day as Prince). Each has some impact, when numbness starts to set in another icon leaves the stage.

Music binds the artist to memory, so these losses have to me been parts of myself. Prince held one such space. Which brings me to the other aspect of memories I want to explain.

With only one previous exception, I don’t stop loving people when the relationship ends. I have been told I should adjust this aspect of my life, but I can find no reason to deny how I felt for a person. If they can’t get over it and need to deny it ever happened that is their problem, more than likely the inability to accept reality is the reason we’re no longer together. Knowing a few people, one of them my last wife, another the woman who insisted I divorce her, prefer to pretend they never knew me helps me understand them better. Getting both of those messages in the same week is a synchronicity worth examining.

After I separated from my first wife, I lived briefly with the most adorable young woman. Very young woman, just a freshman in college. The song “Raspberry Beret” was popular, and mirroring my own love of hats Kay started wearing a raspberry beret, occasionally singing a few lines from the song. I think she bought it in a second hand store, she had incredible attention to details. If only she hadn’t been so young. I moved on to a woman a few years older, but for over thirty years I have seen Kay’s smile (and if it’s a quiet day I spend more time with her) every time I hear the song. We have written to each other, she’s doing well and also has fond memories of our time together.

The first time I heard the phrase “purple rain” was in the song “Ventura Highway” by America. Just now I am flooded with the memory of listening to the song in a raging storm as I drove up the Seaward Avenue exit in Ventura back in 1978. This is what I think of as a memory, the sky is violet and I can feel the wetness from the poor seal of the convertible roof of the Spitfire. There’s a steakhouse on Harbor avenue and I can smell the smoke even through the rain. I am there, and I am here, all because a phrase connected a memory.

I am certain this should be frustrating, knowing how my brain can work yet having sections that don’t work. In many ways I wish I was frustrated, but anger rarely has positive results, and right now I am focused on positive results.

Everything is connected, this is easier to see when you recognize everything is just different expressions of the same thing. I have referred to this as the matrix which supports the fabric of Maya, and as I explore the concept I find we each thrive in a universe of our own choosing. I’m comfortable with the sometimes gritty reality, others find the softness of a custom made fantasy more appealing. There is no “right” or “wrong” approach, nothing intrinsically “better” about exploring reality. It just works for me.

Prince didn’t allow his music on YouTube, so I don’t have a video today. If you get the chance to hear it, Warren Zevon’s cover of Raspberry Beret is a fitting interpretation.

 

 

 

 

Social Therapy

The therapies I have participated in since my accident have attempted to bring me back to a functional state. I was never merely functional, but they need a target.

Occupational Therapy has been trying to get my elbow and wrist to function in ways conducive to performing in an occupation. My mind is a bit fuzzy (more on that later) but I do not recall being asked which occupation I should be prepared for. My last position was in a warehouse, preparing shipments of fifty pound boxes of cosmetics. Prior to that I have done many things, both as vocations and avocations. Presently I can write, but I have never made much money writing (You could buy my book if you want to help). As much praise as I receive for my progress, I am nowhere near ready to pick and ship boxes heavier than three pounds. The other day one of the therapists was saying how well I am doing, I can touch my shoulder. I told her I really wanted my arms to match, and she asked what I could do. I wasn’t in the mood to show off, but I took my left arm, extended it to perfectly straight in front of me, lifted my arm straight up, brought my palm to the back of my head, and rotated my wrist clockwise and then counterclockwise, ending each twist with the back of my hand on the back of my head. These movements were based on the extrapolated extremes of the exercises I had been doing for my right arm.

Apparently this was not the goal they had in mind, as none of the therapists could reproduce the movement.

My Physical Therapy has been trying to get me to walk smoothly, without falling. I am not progressing quite as well here, I’ve always been a little wobbly and my gait can best be described as a controlled fall. I make them nervous, they keep thinking I’ll fall, but I saw there was a wall there and managed to bounce off of it. My days of ballet, or even expressive dance, are no doubt behind me. Yoga is still on my list, I can see it as a life long physical therapy project. If I’m lucky I will find a way for medicaid to pay for it.

My Cognitive therapy is as broken as I am. I have my first evaluation next week, and my comprehensive evaluation has yet to be scheduled. Parts of my brain are healing, enough that I am aware that things are missing. The entire months of December and January are now a mystery, and November and February are not as clear as they should be. In the interim I am taking the Lumosity training, and after a month my scores are as high as the fifty seventh percentile. I am well aware my mental acuity was previously in the ninety ninth percentile for some tasks, never below the ninetieth. There are languages in which I once could speak fluently and no longer can count to ten. I know what belongs in the kitchen but can’t think of how to put it together into an interesting meal. Emotionally, I am vacant, yet for some reason I feel an attraction to a woman who I had the police remove from my house last year.

My vision issues are slowly being narrowed down to the correct ophthalmologist, and my hearing tests have resulted in a “well that’s unusual” response from my doctors.

The most satisfying therapy I have tried has been “Social Therapy.” Spending time doing the things I am accustomed to, with people I am accustomed to. I hope I am progressing well, but my friends are not therapists, they may not be telling me about my failures.

I started out slowly, catching my friend’s “British Invasion” show, a chronological performance of the music of the 60s and 70s. They even had actors doing introductory skits, the opening had a great twist on “Who’s on First” substituting The Guess Who, The Who, and Yes as the acts of a concert.

Sam and I had a nice evening discovering garlic fries and I shot some video for the band. It was a good “first night out,” not too crowded or loud, and loads of memory laden music.

The next week we returned to see  my friend Buddy Cash play with his band and a couple of the guys from the band Squeeze. Buddy always packs the house, it was a busy and loud night, but it was great to see everyone again. Squeeze covered a lot of Led Zeppelin, which was an odd turn but interesting. With Buddy and two former bassists from Squeeze there was a plethora of bass players, unfortunately I didn’t shoot any video that night.

A few days later I met some friends from school I had not seen in decades.

Blake, Mike, and Kati

Blake, Mike, and Kati

My friend Michael Montgomery is a magician, he lives magic, always prepared for an illusion. It was amazing to watch him seamlessly flow from conversation to magic. Kati (Karena Walker) is a yoga teacher and singing bowl practitioner.  I attended a healing circle Kati and another yoga teacher put together a few months ago (although in my mind it is presently a fact and not a memory), it was exceptionally soothing. We had not all been together in nearly forty years, we met at Michael’s house, met his wife Paula, and had a wonderful evening rekindling memories. This is something I must do again, I carried a smile for days.

Tonight I’ll be seeing another friend, Ritchie DeCarlo, play with one of his bands, The Prussia Kings, at a club not far from Sam’s house (fortuitous planning). Ritchie’s musical directions are always interesting, and the club carries Chimay Premiere, so the evening is promising.

My friend Tribbee returns from Scotland this week, the Vernal Equinox arrives with Sunday,  April brings the Punk Rock Flea Market and Record Store Day. All of these things engage and stimulate my brain, providing much needed social therapy.

The road ahead is long and mysterious, much like my journey with multiple sclerosis I have no idea what to expect. I do know, at least I feel, I must regain my memories, exercise my brain, regain my mental acuity. I may appear to have recovered from the accident, but there remains a long, largely invisible, recovery ahead. Sam has said being with me is like being with my twin bother, we look the same and have similar characteristics, but we are not the same person.

I really want to be me again.

Evaluating wellness

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I began to detest the question “How are you?”

“I’m fine” is not a proper answer, for one thing, hair is fine, not people. I might be pushing everything I have to appear I am operating within normal parameters, but I would never reveal this truth. If I have to tell you how hard I’m trying to stand up, then just standing up wasn’t good enough. I am almost certain the person asking does not really want to know all the things I am doing to look “fine” in the hopes no one will ask me how I am.

Today, almost thirty years later, the question is as difficult as ever.

After three decades of disguising myself as healthy, I don’t know what else to do. I have been fortunate in many ways, I do not appear to have aged, and I have played the part of reasonably healthy younger man well. I have not needed to adjust my act, and became emboldened by success. Then, like the roller coaster at the end of the ride, there was an immediate change of velocity. As one friend said of his experience “I woke up one morning and I was old.”

I woke up in the hospital and I was old.

This is the part I have found troubling, referring to it “like the roller coaster at the end of the ride,” feeling a sense of conclusion. Stuff happens, I have known this for thirty years at least. I have friends with Multiple Sclerosis who have lost the ability to walk, and have had to make a multitude of adjustments in life. I have known many people who were simply struck by ill fortune. I have known others who have not survived. I am, as I knew, fortunate. For some reason this has not made the adjustments any easier.

As I begin to recover from my “accident,” I am finding my recovery will not be as complete as I might have hoped. I will not be one hundred percent of what I was, but I will be closer to one hundred percent of the average fifty seven year old white male. Well, not in mass, but in many other ways. Even now, as I push my recovery, I am told I am doing too much.

I try to take this all seriously, because I am not certain about my mental facilities. What if they are right, and I really shouldn’t be trying so hard?

I gave driving a great deal of thought, determined to examine all the variables. I can turn the key, and although it takes both hands to move the gear shift, I only need to do that at slow speeds, such as parking. I have always driven with one (my left) hand. I can manipulate all the controls and see all around me. I do feel fatigued more quickly, driving a little more than an hour each way is all I care to try at this point. My doctor still feels it is a bad idea, not exactly chastising me for driving to an appointment the other day, but making his disappointment known. I knew I wasn’t ready to hit my old haunts (and their additional impairments), but now I feel the need to back off a little more, be a little safer.

I start physical therapy next Friday for my elbow, I’ve already been advised it will not be functioning as well as the other. I’ve been told a number of things about my body over the years and prefer to just see what happens, knowing the range of motion is expected to be reduced gives me a goal to exceed. My fingers are already moving fluidly, I’ll be making music as soon as I can figure out how to hold the guitar. Drumming is out for now, until extending my arm doesn’t make a sound of its own. I also begin “cognitive therapy,” which will be interesting and probably fun. Unless someone determines I have suffered excessive brain damage, which is bound to throw my confidence into a black hole.

My eyes, and the bones which hold them in place, are the subjects of Monday’s appointment. Something must be physically wrong for my vision to change the way it does, focus shifting as I stare forward. I just need everything to stabilize before getting another prescription for lenses. And there I go, assuming everything will stabilize. I spent my life making things work, I’ll hold my eyes in place with duct tape if I have to.

Wednesday we’ll be investigating why I can’t hear through my right ear. It had been getting a little weak, but since the accident the hearing on that side is gone, and although I was in a haze in the hospital, I do recall hearing one of the doctors saying he thought something was wrong which could be adjusted during the skull surgery (which didn’t take place because I kept healing).

The following week I begin catching up with all the health issues I’ve let go since Emma died. My new general practitioner was amazed I wasn’t reduced to dust in the fall, my osteoporosis has been untreated for seven years. So a new Dexa Scan and rheumatologist for treatment are in order. A new Neurologist seems an obvious choice, so an MRI is expected. The doc wrote prescriptions for my antidepressants, but a shrink is certainly on my horizon, there are a number of issues which need to be addressed; I am not the man I was 31 December, I know this for certain as my emotions have flat-lined. And of course there are still follow ups with the neurosurgeon to determine what physical damage to my brain still exists.

So, with my usual duality (good sign), my evaluation of wellness is I am better off this happened, it steers me towards treatments, but the happening itself has been awful. I have lost independence and ability, I feel “old.” I am not ready to feel old. I have a certain presence, a style which may need to be adjusted to fit an old man. It may be a mostly temporary situation, but the rest of me is not getting any younger. This is happening all at once, rather than complain I failed to prepare, I will try to rejoice I have been so healthy so long.

These are just the physical and emotional issues I am dealing with, a subset of the emotional issues are affected by the financial state of being unable to earn a living. I have never had to ask for help before; if you have not already, please stop by the GoFundMe page set up by a friend to help carry me through these difficult times. Even if you cannot help financially (maybe see it as supporting a suffering author?) perhaps you can use the “poster” button near the bottom of the page and print out a copy to share with friends. Great conversation possibilities there, and perhaps I’ll gain a reader through your good deed.

I once met Buddy Rich, his advice on drum solos was “take something simple and make it look hard, or take something hard and make it look simple.” This is hard for me, I hope I am making it look simple.

How am I doing?

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

 

Faces in the crowd

Good morning, today is my birthday. I’m spending the weekend relaxing in the mountains, so on Friday evening I was talking with a friend and not watching any news. I woke to the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

As of now one hundred and twenty nine people are listed as dead, with another ninety nine of the three hundred fifty two wounded in “very serious condition.”

One hundred and twenty nine families will have an empty seat at the table. Lovers will lay down in empty beds, children will live their lives without a parent, parents will bury their children. One hundred twenty nine times over, for now, this time. The day before, forty three died and two hundred thirty nine were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Beirut, one hundred forty seven were killed and seventy nine wounded in an attack on Garissa University in Kenya. Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends lost forever.

Every face in the crowd is loved by someone, the eyes which once lit up when that face entered the room are now filled with tears.

On Saturday morning, my circles of friends checked to see if they were intact. Most were. Not all. I haven’t heard from Beirut yet, Baba had a way of knowing where his next restaurant should be blown up.

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe was in Paris to complete an album with his band Captain Americano. He decided to catch the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Bataclan with his girlfriend. They are now faces in the crowd.

It is not a good day to be a Muslim.

I knew a woman who grew up in Germany during the second world war. She was a child, she did not know any Jews, she lived on a farm and knew there was a war going on. She had no idea about the holocaust taking place. Years later, in America, she was just another German, a NAZI, a Jew killer in the eyes of anyone who heard her heavy accent.

In America during the war we “interned” people of Japanese descent, American citizens were sent to what were essentially prisoner of war camps inside America.

As a society, I do not believe we have matured much since then. After the 11 September attacks anti-Muslim prejudices were so out of hand that Sikhs, who have nothing in common with Islam but happen to wear turbans (unlike actual Arabs or Muslims) were the target of hate crimes.

I do not expect people to be able to differentiate between peaceful Muslims and ISIS terrorists when they cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim.

It is time to make some tough decisions, and in order to make intelligent decisions you must be armed with facts. Hear that well extremist friends. Be more intelligent than your adversary.

We are indeed at war, our my opponent is hate. So look deep inside yourself, which side are you on? It does not matter if you are Muslim or Christian; if your motivation to action is hate, you are on the same side, and you are not on my side of this battle.

My God tells me to love everyone. I return to Matthew 5:43-45; “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

If you choose to feed hate, it grows just like any other organism. One friend stated it quite well; “Let us not get polarized and divisive. Extremist organizations thrive and recruit from divisive societies. Let us not cast blame on an entire community because of the actions of a minority. People killing people are not fueled by differences of race or religion. Those are just the excuse for a deeper seeded evil fueled by extremism. So let’s not provide the soil on which those seeds of extremism can thrive and flourish.”

Do not mistake my intentions. The individuals who are responsible for the destruction of lives and families should be hunted down and eliminated like the cancer they are. Feeding that cancer by attacking innocents is counterproductive.

My time here on Earth nears its end, but my time with God has only begun. I will NOT spend eternity reconciling hate, that task is to be completed here. Besides, I hear they have a pretty good band in heaven, they just got another guitarist.

Dancing about Architecture

It has been a rough month. My typical approach to such times is to embrace the mantra “When the going gets tough, the tough go dancing,” but this has provided little comfort this time around, the wounds I have received are far deeper than any logic would predict or dance could remedy.

I have yet to prove to myself any purpose in continuing to exist, and such thoughts cause me to define existence. The definition, of course, returns me to the dance, the depression staining my interpretations cannot obliterate the beauty of the performance. I remember, and try to convince myself of what I once held as truth. One does not travel the paths I have without making connections in the matrices which serve as a foundation when life attempts to remove one’s soul.

One footing of that foundation is music, which has sounded sour to my ears these last few weeks, another is writing, which requires more thought than a mind filled with self doubt can provide. Another footing is human connections, and despite the betrayal these connections have faithfully provided, little sparks of hope occasionally illuminate a bridge. Knowing I must pull myself together, the universe conspired to bring me to a minuscule venue over a fabric store in Philadelphia, the irony of the side street sharing the name of the woman who has torn my heart to shreds is not lost on me.

A string of obscure introductions led me to meet Ritchie DeCarlo, a local musician who plays in a couple of bands. I’m going to call him a “drummer” rather than “percussionist,” although his kit contains some fascinating percussion instruments, because he also covers synthesized sounds which are only percussion in an examination at the quantum level, such as his use of a theremin.

 

Ritchie on theremin

 

Playing theremin always reminds me of someone conducting an orchestra. I had explained to my second wife (the Conductor) how a conductor was the only person allowed to dance at a performance; she was not amused. So I guess it is time to explain the title of this article to those unfamiliar with the phrase. It is from a quote by Frank Zappa, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” In my world, “Dancing” is a metaphor for life. The matrix of meanings and metaphors choreographs a sequence which supports my soul, even when that soul is in tatters.

One of the lineups Ritchie is involved with, the “The Trio from Hell,” more commonly referred to by the names of the band members; Percy Jones, Scott McGill, and Ritchie DeCarlo, performed at TTR Studios last night to a crowd of about fifty. Ritchie introduced the band, categorizing the music as “Not so easy listening.” It is a fusion of styles, most noticeably Jazz, “New Age,” and Electronica. Here’s a taste from last night;

 

 

 

Funny the things you notice in a video, I would have never noticed that bald spot developing on the back of my head. Back to the dance.

I find the music very easy to listen to, soothing with just enough twists to keep me from lulling into a trance. The guitar work of McGill was fascinating, his use of fretless guitars and midis, combined with a left hand that floated over the neck delivering lightening strikes reminiscent of a gulf thunderstorm, must be seen to be believed.

 

Scott turns chaos into order

 

In an industry in which the term “legend” has been overused to the point of meaninglessness, Percy Jones demands a personal adjective. His playing not only has influenced my musical directions, it has influenced many of my other influences. He effortlessly propels his line from “rhythm section” to “lead instrument” and back, creating sounds many people might not associate with the bass. This type of thing warms my heart, having been ridiculed for some of my arrangements; living within the definition of “improvisation,” yet not improvised at all.

 

 

Percy Jones

Percy Jones

 

Ritchie’s drumming glides between the styles fused in this band, again demonstrating the strengths required to play in a trio, the ability to effortlessly transition from lead to rhythm. In the case of a drummer, changing rhythm can be difficult, the mind (approach) is altered with time signatures and style. I recall trying to teach a drummer a particular passage which he envisioned as a waltz, or 3/4 time. It was not, it was a sequence of triplets in 4/4 time. The guitarist (whose ego dictated he believe “RMS” was a reference to his initials) scoffed at the explanation, but the drummer got it and never missed the beat in that piece again. Ritchie played a rather large kit this evening, but far from being gimmickry each piece fit the arrangement in which it was used, from his tympani tomtom through his eclectic collection of cymbals.

Most of Ritchie's kit

Most of Ritchie’s kit

 

Perhaps the most fortunate part of the evening was my friend bailing out at the last minute, leaving me with no one to share the experience. Because I do have someone, you.

Writers write, musicians play, and chefs cook. I’m ready to do all three today. I’m not back yet, I still need to make the “Lovers love” part work again, which rests with that woman named with a side street.

Music

Music is an integral part of my life. It serves as a refuge, and it affects me in a myriad of ways. My experiences creating music began at age eight with piano lessons, then saxophone, drums, flute, and bass. I can pretty much pick up anything and make music with it, I bought a trombone because I thought it would look nice on the wall and ended up learning to play it. My first wife wanted to play the harmonica. I bought her a nice one in C major and she struggled with it for a while. One day I came home from work and “Piano Man” by Billy Joel came on the radio, her harmonica was right there so I picked it up and played along. She never touched the harmonica again.

I may not be a great dancer, but music flows through me and my body moves with it, I found a report card from first grade and the teacher had commented  “Blake doesn’t walk, he dances.” I like to use that phrase now when I have trouble walking, “I didn’t stumble, I’m dancing don’t you know.”

The most wonderful thing about music is no one owns it, anymore than they can own the air around them. Sound is a vibration, a wave traveling through the air, you cannot stop it or cage it. Sure, people control the ability to make money propagating music, but anyone can sing to themselves,  and harmonize with others. One of my wives found it annoying that my fingers trace the patterns in music, caressing her body like an instrument without any thought. Others have found it quite pleasant.

Music can tie itself to a moment, bringing a memory whenever it is heard. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was playing when Emma learned of her first husband’s death, twenty years later she was still disturbed every time it played, even though she loved the song it brought sadness.

There are people who believe they must be the only ones to enjoy a particular band, once the band becomes popular it isn’t “cool” anymore. Such people don’t comprehend music, and they don’t comprehend cool. There is no status attached to being the first to enjoy a song, and if the only enjoyment comes from some sense of superiority, it has nothing to do with the music. The waves travel through the universe, touching everyone in a unique way. Sharing is at the heart of music.

Music has no age, songs do not go stale. I listen to new music and songs from my childhood side by side. I saw a chart a few weeks ago comparing intelligence to the type of music a person prefers, suggesting some music makes you stupid. According to the chart, I was too intelligent to like any type of music. The truth is music only affects your intelligence if you’re making it, countless studies have shown that music education leads higher test scores in all subjects.

I’ve recently taken to following a group of musicians in South Eastern Pennsylvania. You’ve heard me refer to my “brother,” Buddy Cash, who plays with several different line ups, giving me the opportunity to hear an array of arrangements. One of my favorite venues is Gallucio’s, a small restaurant and bar in Wilmington Delaware. The crowd is eclectic, families and singles, young and old. This week a young fan lifted my heart.

Buddy had started the evening at Tom and Jerry’s in Millmont Park Pennsylvania, a weekly happy hour gig from 1700 to 2000. It’s a nice venue, Emma had worked there so I’ve been meaning to stop in some night. Following that was a special Halloween gig at Gallucio’s. Buddy thought I was following him to his place between shows, I thought he was going straight to Delaware, so I arrived before him, and he spent some time waiting for me back at home. George decided to get things going so he started an acoustic set, and Callan Brown, age two, who had been staring at me up to this point (okay, I was dressed like a pirate) was mesmerized by the music.

 

Buddy showed up, and joined George. Callan was enjoying every minute.

 

 

Callan reached his bedtime, but I stayed up well past mine as the band built up.

 

Music is like that, it wakes me up, it gives me life. The guy who is in bed every night at 2000 stays out until 0330 if there’s live music.

Music is not a line of work for those seeking wealth. The hours are long, the pay is minimal, the equipment is expensive. Yet there are thousands of musicians in every city. There is a currency in music far more valuable than any other, love. The love of music is felt by the musician as well as the audience. It feels good to make music, it feels good to make other people dance and sing.

The woman who didn’t like me to “play instruments on her” was a classically trained vocalist and horn player. She teaches High School music somewhere in New Jersey. She never really understood the joy in music, she approached it with a clinical precision. The woman who enjoyed my touch loved to dance, and though she had a horrible singing voice loved to belt out her favorites. She was the love of my life, carried with me in every song she loved. I can’t even remember what the other woman looked like.

An evening with Buddy

You meet people in the oddest ways. Last year my friend Guy Campo mentioned playing with a guy named Buddy Cash (these are actual names, a guy named Guy and a buddy named Buddy). There aren’t many people out there with my last name, so I initiated a conversation on FaceBook with Buddy, who turns out to be an incredibly talented musician and genuinely nice human being. We met in person at the premiere of a film featuring Buddy (with Guy as well), and found we had many mutual ideas about life.

COVER featuring Buddy Cash

COVER featuring Buddy Cash

This is when I cut my beard, someone had noticed a picture of Buddy and I and asked if I was his father, when in fact Buddy is a few years older than I.

The Cashes

The Cashes

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Buddy play live, that is I haven’t had the time, Buddy plays five or six nights a week at various venues with various lineups. Last night I drove down to Wilmington Delaware to catch his Monday night gig at Gallucio’s with a couple of friends. This gig is called “Open Mike Night,” which turns out to be all requests and the opportunity to get on stage and sing lead vocals in some cases. It was amazing. Not only could the band play anything requested, they played it well enough to be mistaken for the original artists. I don’t mean they sounded like the album version of the song, they had the feel of the artists. When they played a few Led Zeppelin songs, Buddy and Jim sounded like Jonesy and Bonzo. When they played “Something,” Buddy’s bass line sounded more like George Harrison playing bass than Paul McCartney, he totally captured the feel and intent of the music.

The range of songs played would probably be mind numbing to most people. I’m not good at categorizing music, and when people have asked what kind of music Buddy performs I usually say “good.” That word doesn’t fit now that I’ve seen him play, and superlatives are usually dismissed, so I’ll say “Come along and hear for yourself.” I can see myself at Gallucio’s most every Monday night from now on, and Buddy has asked me to see him at Tom and Jerry’s in Milmont Park Pennsylvania a couple of times because he lives nearby and we could hang out at his place with his family and pets (he has five cats and a pig) after the show. I’ll have to to take a Saturday off for that one, the gig is on Friday and I don’t expect to be wide awake at 0500 the next morning. Emma had once been a waitress at Tom and Jerry’s, so there are a couple of reasons the gig is  attractive to me.

COVER’s producer, Kevin McQuiston, has made the film available online for $2.99, I can’t get the link he provided to work for me, but here it is. I’ll need to contact Kevin soon, because I seem to have given away all my copies of the DVDs he was selling at the premiere. When I hear from him I’ll update that link.

One more from last night, if you see me at one of the gigs come over and say hello.

 

 

 

 

Opening acts

I’ve often wondered how a band chooses an opening act for tour dates. An opening act can be complimentary, complementary, comparable, or even detracting, to the main act. Here are but a few examples I’ve seen, in no particular order.

A few weeks back we saw the band Elbow. If you’re not familiar with the band, they’ve been together twenty three years and have put out five albums. Not mainstream, but solid. The vocalist has a beautiful voice, and moves from edgy blues to ballads with ease. The arrangements are those which you would rarely hear from a band which has not been together for twenty three years, and the lyrics carry such stunning structure as “There’s a hole in my neighborhood down which of late I cannot help but fall.” Opening for Elbow was John Grant. John has a deep baritone, in this performance he was accompanied by a young man on electric guitar while John switched from guitar to keyboard to just vocals. His melodies were striking, and his lyrics were Raw. Capital “R”, with titles I will not repeat in polite company. The two acts were complementary (and complimentary, I never saw a lead act acknowledge and promote the opening act so much before).

Considering complementary, a number of years ago Tommy Shaw opened for RUSH. Tommy’s drummer was incredible, and on any other night of the week would have been the star of the show. Then Neil Pert came on stage and made everyone forget they had ever seen another drummer before. Tommy’s band was complementary, in the sense that they were more than proficient, and still could not be called comparable.

Courtney Love’s opening act was more of the comparable type. “Starred” is a nice, edgy band fronted by Lisa Thorn. Lisa has been called “The muse of St. Vincent,” St Vincent being another female vocalist I saw perform with David Byrne. Those two are nothing alike, but as an opening act for Courtney, Starred worked well. Note to parents: DO NOT take your pre-teen children to a Courtney Love show, if you don’t know why you don’t belong there either.

We saw Junip, Jose Gonzales’ band, and opening was a little girl playing “strummy’ (her words) guitar. She was Sharon Van Etten. Junip had a number of issues that night, over modulation just one of them, and Sharon stole the show for me. The two styles, her pointed lyrics and soft arrangements versus his trance like jam made me (and her) wonder why he had chosen her to open, but I’ll thank him when I see him. I’ve made it a point to see Sharon every time she’s returned to Philadelphia.

Broken Bells was the concert that started this article stirring in my mind. Broken Bells owned the stage, using every element, even the LED arrays in the spotlights, in their performance. The opening act, “Au Revoir Simone” (ARS) was memorable only because they lacked everything Broken Bells possessed. Broken Bells (James Mercer of the Shins and Brian Burton AKA Danger Mouse) are talented on several instruments, playing well textured arrangements. ARS played preprogrammed synthesizers, going so far as to hold a drumstick to strike the drum machine. One girl picked up a prop guitar at one point, dropping it on the floor when she finished dancing with it. ARS’s lighting consisted of a couple of spotlights mounted on the back of the stage aimed at the girl’s backs. The contrast between the two bands was astounding. My initial impression was ARS is a detraction to the show, but without ARS I might not have noticed how detailed Broken Bells’ stage presentation was.

It still makes me wonder. I’m not entirely certain of the purpose of opening acts, not every band uses one. Sometimes they seem mismatched, sometimes it seems as if the design was to showcase an up and coming act, once in a while it appears the two groups just like hanging out together. It certainly complicates cancellations, recently we were to see Missing Persons, with two other bands. Dale Bozzio cancelled, and the venue wanted to reschedule. Getting the three bands to be in the same town on the same date appears to be impossible, but Ticketmaster keeps insisting the show is only postponed.

To those of you who are touring or have in the past, either as a headliner or supporting act, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

 

College radio

When I was young, “College radio” meant a low power station operated by students. The music was often local unsigned acts that provided cassette tapes recorded in garages. It wasn’t unusual to have a minute of dead air a couple of times a day. DJs made horrendous mistakes, often providing unintended humor.

The methods have changed over the years, the first station I was involved with didn’t technically “broadcast”, it was just a channel on the school’s public address system. Lieve worked at a “pirate” radio station, which is still around but has gone legit. A friend does a weekly “radio” program (92.1, Brussels) but I’m able to listen to it here as it streams over the internet.

scorpio

A handbill for Lieve’s old radio station we found in Leuven

In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania’s radio station is removed from the college entirely. WXPN pretends to be a college station, but its employees aren’t college students. Its leading host (David Dye) is nationally syndicated, and I believe his grandchildren have graduated from college. From his initial project with NPR, “World Cafe”, a small empire has risen.

World Cafe Live” is the name of two restaurants/concert venues. They are connected to WXPN in ways I can’t determine, weaving in and out of each others operations. WXPN is officially a National Public Radio station, and as such a non-profit organization. World Cafe Live is quite obviously a profit driven enterprise. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m glad they do.

Every Summer WXPN hosts the “XPN festival”, a three day concert with multiple stages, and acts ranging from local favorites to world class headliners. Tickets run about $25 a day, and access to the artists is incredible. Not only did I stand about twenty feet from Citizen Cope and Booker T, and within an arms length of Dar Williams and Gary Clarke Jr. on “stage”, there are meet and greet tents after every performance.

World Cafe Live hosts a variety of local and national acts in a theater with a capacity that ranges from 300 to 650 depending on whether there are tables or SRO. One miserable night in the middle of a storm we saw Martha Davis play a full set to about fifty people. Tickets are rarely more than $30, and every Friday there is a free mid-day concert, “Free at Noon”, which is broadcast live on WXPN. Next week we’re going to see Suzanne Vega. Free.

When we attend the evening concerts, we usually sit in the mezzanine, which is closer to the stage than most seats at large venues, and has comfy couch seats and cafe service. Having the band play in your home wouldn’t be quite as comfortable. We recorded this from our favorite seats.

Upstairs is the main restaurant, which also has a stage although I’ve never heard a band I liked there, mostly because the acoustics are suited to acoustic instruments, and the bands are usually amplified.

The food is good, innovative, and interesting. There aren’t near enough vegetarian options, which I found rather surprising considering the target clientele. The beer selection is robust, although they stopped carrying Stella Artois last year.

World Cafe Live also has charity events, and because of the odd relationship between World Cafe Live and WXPN, the charitable donation made to attend an event ends up paying for a membership to WXPN. We attend the “Musicians on Call” event every year, a fund raising concert for musicians who perform for patients in hospitals.

Being a member of WXPN has benefits, we get a discount at the Princeton Record Exchange and for the XPN festival, and early entry for the free at noon concerts.

This merging of enterprises, profit and non-profit, may not fit what we expect of the tax code, but I think it fulfills the intention of “non-profit”. It certainly fits the spirit of radio.

Time

The Doctor Who Christmas special was, predictably, on Christmas night. It is one of the fixed events in space-time, every Christmas, the Doctor saves the world, sometimes the entire universe. Or always. It’s one of those timey wimey things.

For fifty years, through twelve (thirteen, fourteen, fifteen?) faces, he is always The Doctor. Time loops around and around, so the idea of a “chronological” progression is patently illogical. He occasionally runs into himself, or selves, but understanding that time contains events that can be altered, who is to say which self precedes which? Cause and effect become fuzzy, Who nose?

It is often secondary to the immediate story to ponder the meaning of time itself, the media through which the Doctor travels. Yet we all travel through time, my personal journey spanning the distance between 15 November 1958 and some unknown point in the future. In our experience, time is both eternal and transient. We believe the past took place, and we imagine the future will, but all that we have is this very moment. Time, past present and future, exists only within our individual experience. A study by the BBC concludes as of Dr. Who’s fiftieth anniversary, he had traveled over two hundred trillion years.

Doctor Who, like any fantasy series, inspires the imagination. Anything can happen and often does. Despite initially being one of the more violent programs on television, the Doctor most often seeks non-violent solutions. The theme often revolves around unlikely heroes. Perhaps this is a reflection of the soul of Doctor Who, the appeal of the idea living beyond any one incarnation. Sydney Newman’s loose concept of a Doctor, traveling through time and space, not even an idea of what kind of doctor. Verity Lambert’s strengths as a producer, the youngest and only female producer at BBC at the time. A string of young directors and writers who might not have had the opportunity to expose and develop their talents on a more mainstream project. Even the music, written by Ron Grainer and created using an early version of the Mellotron, is iconic. Now Doctor Who is mainstream, a fixture in our culture, made so by the unlikely heroes.

Time itself is a mystery. We appear to be able to travel in one direction only, at a fixed speed. We see the cycles in nature and imagine cycles in time, anniversaries creating points on an imagined circle. We seek to renew ourselves each year, seeing New Years Day as a point on the circle when we are allowed to start again. There are an infinite number of points on our timelines, we may start over whenever we wish. Each moment we are recreated, why hesitate to be created as the best person we can be at that moment? Our time is too short to waste it being anything other than the best we can be.

1496616_805457372813232_773040147_n

I love Creedence

Sometimes things slip your mind. Lieve decided we should give little gifts to each other for our anniversary. I think a part of her motivation was to justify rummaging through the $5 CD bin. She decided to give me a CD by the group Creedence Clearwater Revisited, “Extended Versions“.  I didn’t notice that it was “revisited” instead of “revival”, John Fogerty apparently wasn’t too happy about it either when his old rhythm section started putting out albums.

It’s nice stuff. A little slower than the originals, and the vocal range isn’t what it was in the screaming seventies, and the harmonies are oriental, but forty years of playing the same songs has resulted in some very sweet bass lines.

My memories of Creedence are sunny days and garage bands, a friend’s Bar Mitzvah where someone had preesed E7 for “Sweet Hitchhiker” so many times we had to disable the selection, and the movie “Twilight Zone”. Kind of weird that I think of John Lithgow in a strait jacket every time I hear “Fortunate Son” or any other CCR song.

One nice thing was being reminded of all the great songs I hadn’t thought of in a while. Another was singing along at the top of my lungs while driving home. Yet another was finding this to be the kick required to crank up my bass and play along. It also made me laugh to find that Lieve had trouble deciding between this CD and one by Soundgarden.

There are good things about having varied tastes in music. There’s almost always something to listen to, bands break up and reform making old music new, sometimes you hear stuff you have no idea how you ever forgot.

Listen to something new this week, even if it’s something old.

Under the covers

Last night, over the credits of “The Sopranos”, the song “If I were a Carpenter” played. A somewhat spooky moment followed, as I discussed the track with Lieve, I had a similar conversation with Emma when the episode first aired in May of 2004.

Back then, I hadn’t known the artist. I enjoy cover versions, and had no idea how many times this track had been covered. It was Bobby Darrin, I was more familiar with the Johnny Cash and June Carter rendition, and didn’t know that Bobby’s version was much more popular. My personal favorite is Leon Russell’s version, from his “Stop all that Jazz” album.

Lieve heard the song begin and said “Isn’t that Tim somebody?”. She typically knows more than me when it comes to music, so we Googled the song and found that indeed, the song had been written by Tim Hardin. “Who?” you may ask (I did), is Tim Hardin? Tim was a singer songwriter in the sixties, and performed “If I were a Carpenter” at Woodstock, backed by Muruga Booker on drums. Oh but that’s not all. Tim wrote several other songs you have heard. He wrote “Reason to Believe”, which you are most likely to recall Rod Stewart turning into a hit. “Don’t make Promises” was covered by Joan Baez as well as a dozen other artists. “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce” was covered by Nico on her debut album. His music is timeless enough to have been covered by Echo and the Bunnymen and The Dream Academy. Tim had one of those interesting careers that began as a “Military adviser” in Vietnam, where he found what would end his life twenty years later at age thirty nine, heroin. He played as a studio musician on Harry Chapin’s first two albums, and appeared on stage with Harry in 1973. And yet I had never even heard of him. Life is like that, big world, too many faces. Tim died in a year of too many musician’s endings, John Bonham, Bon Scott, Ian Curtis, Darby Crash, all overshadowed by John Lennon.

This morning I have been going through the covers by scores of musicians, listening to the originals, getting a feel for his message. I always enjoy covers, reinterpretations and homages. Back in the days of Napster I collected forty seven covers of Jimi Hendix’s “Little Wing“, one nice version by Celtic circle stands out in my mind. A cover reveals not only the composer, but the effect the composer has had on other musicians. James Timothy “Tim” Hardin had an enormous effect on the world of music, and I’m better for knowing of him.

Tim Hardin in 1969

Tim Hardin in 1969

 

 

 

The misinformation superhighway

Lou Reed died last week. Really.

I mean, it’s not an incredible shock that a seventy one year old ex heroin user who had a kidney transplant last year would die, it’s just shocking that he died on Sunday, 27 October. Because on Saturday, 26 October, his agent had confirmed that Lou was alive, after an internet hoax spread the rumor of his death the week before. He had flown away from the dirty disinformation boulevard, just to be run down on the misinformation superhighway. Ambiguous in life, ambiguous in death.

I spent a bit of time trying to figure out if he was still with us or not. Rolling Stone and the New York Times were running the story. The story. As I checked various “sources”, I found the same story, word for word, published by every news agency. Does the story take on more credibility when both Rolling Stone and the New York Times cut and paste the same piece?

Despite all the amputations, you know you could just

Journalism seems to have sunk to the level of telephone tag. As I and others were trying to separate fact from fiction, one perfectly reasonable issue was raised. If the article doesn’t mention the hoax from the week before, it’s less credible. Unfortunately, Lou was dead, and he hadn’t made many friends in the press, so either they were lousy journalists or just weren’t aware of the hoax. More than likely both.

It is harder and harder to verify information, because a good deal of it is just re-posted with the primary source uncredited. When it is also re-posted without a date, old rumors can become new again. Even people who think they’ve avoided a hoax still manage to propagate one, as happened a few weeks ago when I received an email warning about a new Christmas stamp honoring Muslims. At the bottom of the email was a link to Snopes.com, which shows the information in the email to be false. I’m guessing not many people click on links, they just see “snopes.com: New Forever Stamp — Muslim EID Stampand assume that the link confirms the email. I’m sure some people see EID and fail to recognize it means “Festival” in Arabic, perhaps confusing it with I.E.D.

Most hoaxes can be dispelled by taking a deep breath and counting to ten. How likely is it that Obama has a staff of twenty secret service agents to polish his golf clubs? Wouldn’t you have heard something about it over the last four years? Isn’t that website a source of satire? Does the fact that the author’s last credit was “Twenty four ways to vulcanize a chicken” suggest that he may not have the background to be reporting this information? Is the person who sent you this email the same person who told you that the Earth’s magnetic field was about to reverse?

The internet is filled with information. Information is not facts. Facts are not “the truth”. The truth is not the story. Example: Information “There are fourteen million child brides every year worldwide” (Defined as bride under eighteen years of age). Fact The legal age for marriage is under eighteen in much of the world (The lowest legal age in the world is New Hampshire, USA, at thirteen, and Yemen, where there is no limit on age for marriage, but intercourse is not legal until “the indefinite time they are suitable for sexual intercourse”). The truth early marriages affect both men and women, both positively and negatively.  The Story Young women are often forced into servitude under the guise of marriage. 

Don’t miss the forest, don’t miss the trees.

Antiquities

A light article for a change.

 

I like old things, which is good as I become an old thing myself. There is something reassuring about old technology. Yes we can do it “better” by some measure today, but we managed to get there before in a simpler way.

I started with cameras. It was a natural, being a photographer, and where I lived there were a number of yard sales and antique shops that didn’t know what they had, so I built quite a collection. So many, I couldn’t display them all, so I ended up giving them to my son, who has them in his gallery.

Polaroids

Polaroids

This is mostly Polaroids, including a Kodak Colorburst. Most of them are in original packaging, and back when I had obtained them film was still available so I used each of them to get a feel for their limitations.

cameras 2

Nicer cameras

These are the nicer cameras of the collection, including my Grandfather’s Crown Graphic. He had taken my parents’ wedding photographs with that camera (I have a few of those as well), and there was a collection of backs, including a couple in five by seven format. When I was a child, my grandfather would let me play with the flash, which used the old magnesium bulbs.

Among with the various musical instruments I’ve collected have been a silver trombone (easier to play than I had thought) and the harmonica my first wife never touched after I picked it up and played the opening of “Piano Man” when she couldn’t get a clean note. When I started playing bass my (second) wife bought this beautiful amp for me.

Earth Research Laboratories "Revival"

Earth Sound Research “Revival”

I still have and use this amp (not often enough). Earth Sound Research was a tiny company producing all tube amps during the golden age of “louder”. The dials go up to twelve, one better than Nigel’s amp in Spinal Tap.

As I got older, I needed to get a computer. I wanted a way to save my writing, and I needed to catalog my growing comic book collection. Yes, I was collecting comic books at age thirty, I had become interested in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and had everything of theirs that had been published, from the entire series by Eastman and Laird to the Archie comics series, all the crossovers, action figures, and related materiel. I can be obsessive at times. I still follow Kevin Eastman’s work. Since my parents’ other son was a computer geek (he was the first one on his block with a one gigabyte hard drive) I went the other direction, getting a Kaypro II, one of the early “luggable” computers.

kayproii

The Kaypro II

The keyboard folded onto the body, and there was a carrying strap. It weighed almost thirty pounds, making “luggable” an accurate description. State of the art at one point, it had two five and a quarter inch floppy drives (single sided) and 64K of RAM. My Atari game console had more RAM. The operating system was C/PM, a pre-DOS configuration. For you non geeks out there, that’s less memory than your digital watch, and an operating system that was obsolete before Windows was invented. I used this computer until 1998, and there was still a healthy group of C/PM users, sharing programs through the mail. Real mail, not Email.

Today we live in what I call a “microwave” society. Waiting sixty seconds for water to boil is asking too much. Boiling water is too much. Music from two years ago is called “Golden Oldies”. “Instagram” creates photographs that appear old for people who have no idea what an f-stop is, or pigment fading. There is a pseudo respect for antiquities and little appreciation for technology that withstands the years. “New” is better, even when it isn’t.

The Timid Roosevelts

We saw a new band, The Timid Roosevelts, at a club in Trenton last night. A trio, Bobbie Parker on bass and lead vocals, her sister Jamie Parker on drums and backing vocals, and Ricky Lorenzo on guitar. Very nice sound.

This band has a lot of potential. Their CD is only five dollars, putting that in perspective, the High School soccer team is having a car wash today and is charging eight dollars. I told Bobbie she should raise the price, so buy one before she takes my advice. I’m not one for categories, so I can only suggest that you listen to a few tracks. They played a range of styles, and did nothing poorly.

Bobbie has that “Abby Sciuto” look and pink strings on her bass, a soft smooth voice that she can stretch to a muted scream a la Courtney Love, and her playing style ranges from almost “strummy” rhythms to melodic lead. Jaimie harmonizes perfectly (sisters often do) and has a great feel for percussion. I liked her use of bells, Lieve thought she filled too much, but it was a small venue, and anything other than gentle percussion would have been overwhelming. Her time keeping was both simple and intricate, I appreciated it as a percussionist. Ricky is a competent guitarist, and  had several moments when he shined, but he seems to be relegated to background/rhythm guitar and didn’t display the skills of other guitarists in trios. That could have been a function of the setting, Trenton Social is more a small bar and restaurant without a full sound system or mixing board.

They play the Philly to Manhattan circuit, keep an eye out for them.

Unusual birthday gifts

I acknowledge that I am unusual, “eccentric” is the polite word but I really don’t mind “weird”. One of the benefits of being eccentric is that “normal” people tend to shy away from you. This leaves the path open for other eccentrics, so we tend to congregate, or at least associate. There are of course times when the eccentricities clash, but we’re usually friendly, accepting folk.

Knowing unusual people usually means peering into unusual families, we rarely sprout up without some kind of nurturing. When I was thirteen, one of my best friends was Otto, and while Germans aren’t odd in and of themselves, his family was very odd to me. The food and the language was the start, but the choice to bestow a thousand dollar oscilloscope on a thirteen year old as a birthday present left even me scratching my head.

I’m not sure why Otto wanted an oscilloscope, or if he even asked for it. This was 1972, and I think it had something to do with testing vacuum tubes, our eccentricities clashed and we found ourselves out of sync with each other shortly afterward. It was cool to hook up to his record player, and watch the waves as we played music. My favorite was the song “Popcorn”, which just told a story of its on on the CRT screen.

The experience piqued my interest in electronic music, which was just coming onto the scene. Walter “Wendy” Carlos had released “Switched on Bach” a few years earlier, and my Uncle Steve introduced me to the music of Isao Tomita a few years later. Tomita’s use of synthesizers is astounding, and using his covers of Debussy and Holst I introduced a number of friends to classical music. I read an interview with Tomita in which the interviewer commented that the clock on the wall was five hours slow, and Tomita replied “No, it’s seven hours fast”.

Synthesizers have changed immensely since then. From the banks of analog Moogs to the handheld Casios sold at K-Mart. Tomita still plays the Moogs, there is something about the combination of man and machine that transcends digital electronics.

Tomita in the 70s

Tomita in the 70s

Electronic music has also changed. From the early covers of classical music through arrangements developed to suit the capabilities of the instruments. As digital took the place of analog, synthesizers began replacing other instruments. even drum kits became electronic. The pendulum swung back and forth, from “No one played guitar” to “No Synths!” being seen as selling points for albums.

Today, what is called music ranges from a rapper talking over an actual artist’s recording, to the resurgence of traditional instruments as in the band “Ghengis Barbie“. Electronica is here to stay, it can be well crafted or garbage, and as has always been, one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. I treasure my eccentric friends, and the paths they’ve opened to me.

Of all the things music is, it should always be fun.

Save

笑って元気

We’ve had a visitor. Yuko is Lieve’s friend, they have known each other for twenty eight years. We see Yuko every year or so, she’s Japanese, and in addition to being soft spoken she doesn’t speak English very well. She’s always been intriguing to me, and I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Yuko I know, and I have to use that qualification because I don’t know her well, is a music Fan. Capital F. She lives in Japan, but comes to America to see concerts. Little concerts. The last time she visited was to see The Cure, this time, she’s seeing Monochrome Set three times, first in Philly, then in New York, and then in Bordentown NJ (we went with her to the show in Bordentown). I asked her why she would fly halfway around the world to see bands in tiny little venues, and she told me that’s just something she does on vacation. The real purpose of the vacation is to “get away”.

I thought that was the purpose of a vacation for anyone, but she explained further. She likes to travel to America and England (France and Spain as well) because they don’t speak Japanese. She can be in the center of a crowd, and not pick up bits and pieces of conversations. “I don’t have to hear about someone’s mother” she said. What an interesting concept. When I asked what she does to get away at home, she said “I don’t do anything special to accomplish that. I switch on the TV and have foreign dramas or films running when I’m at home. In a crowded train, I try to be lost in thought/reading/listening/reverie in my own world.”

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When we were walking in Philly I could see the release, the freedom she felt. As we were leaving the Reading Terminal Market, there were a couple of guys playing guitar, and they started “Blitzkrieg Bop”.  Her arm went up in the air and she danced the rest of the way to the car.

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Yuko met Lieve in 1985, when Lieve worked for Crepuscule Records in Brussels, and was traveling with the label’s tour in Japan. After the third night,  the tour group realized that the same young woman was always waiting around after the shows, talking to the bands. They adopted her as a translator and worked out arrangements for her to have a place to stay with them. Later, when Lieve developed a sore throat, Yuko took her to the hospital, and translated for her. I asked her how she can just start up conversations with bands, being such a demure individual. She said “I’m kind of shy, I would like to talk to bands but I don’t know what I talk about. So I usually don’t. I don’t approach bands aggressively, I talk to them the same as other fans after concerts. I would be happy if they could understand how much I like their music. When I was young, I think I was quite cheeky.( still now?!). I want others to see me as a compassionate / friendly person.”

BrightonYuko in Brighton 1986

When I asked Yuko what her favorite type of music, she said “I have a wide taste in music. When I listen to music, I don’t think of which type of music they are. I just feel that I like the song. It just happens that Alternative/classic/heavy metal/hard rock/Progressive/Punk/post-rock/jazz/Pop/New wave/dance…. (remember what I’ve said about labels?) When I was in primary school, I listened to The Monkees, The Partridge Family,The Carpenters and Bay City Rollers. Especially, I was interested in all musicians when I was a junior high-school student. As I could be possible, I listened to any type of music and went to see concerts (Kiss, Japan, Eric Clapton, Lee Ritenour, Rod Stewart,The Runaways, Rainbow, The Stranglers….)”

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Not that I’m jealous or anything, she just managed to see most of the greatest bands ever. Her answer to “What are your favorite bands” sounds a lot like me, were I able to devote my life to following bands. She said “I have a lot of favourite bands. Too many…The Cure, The Monochrome Set, The Clash, Big Audio Dynamaite, Cosmic Rough Riders, Thin Lizzy, TOOL, Tortoise ,SigurRos, The Durutti Colmun, JosefK, Belle&Sebastian, Orange Jucie, Stump, Lou Barlow, Cheap Trick, The Bluebells, Kiss, The Shins, Neil Young, Ocean Colour Scene, Mogwai, Super Furry Animals, JasonFalkner, YoLaTengo, arco, the Sparks, Madness, Joy Division, New Order, Mice Parade, At The DriveIn, The June Brides, The Undertones, The Smiths, Eyeless In Gaza, AC/DC, Ben Folds Five, Jellyfish, Pernice Brothers, The Milk&Honey Band, Echo&The Bunnymen, Daniel Johnston, Oranger, The Sea&Cake, Sebadoh, 1000Violins, Carbon/Silicon, OKGO, The Flaming Lips, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ramons, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Gomez, The Decemberists, The LA’s, Jose Gonzalez, Nick Drake, The Vaselines, Arab Strap, The Monkees, The Partridge Family (David Cassidy)…….I can’t finish!”. Kind of like my “Whatever is playing now…”

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She says there was a period when she lost interest in music, “Suddenly, I was not interested in music. I was away from music in the 90s. Sometimes, I listened to classic music. I hardly went to see concerts, maybe a few ones in 10 years.(expect The Cure) Instead of music, I was into a play and Kabuki (Japanese traditional play). I go to the theatre a few times every month now. Again, I started to listen to music in 2000, and I listened to a lot of bands for filling the hole in 10 years.( like I was a junior high-school student)”

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Yuko visited Lieve through the years during her vacations in England and France, visiting her home in Belgium and later in Manchester. Yuko never married, and still lives with her parents. I asked her about that, as Americans seem to be getting back to multi generational homes. She said “It is common for adults to live with their parents in Japan. Most of people will move out when they get married, work at another place, go to university. But they think a responsibility to take care of their parents, so some of them move back home later. It’s also common that the son (mostly the eldest one) take care of his parents. He lives with them even if he get married or when his parents get old, they live together. It depends, anyway.” She says that she is happy living with her parents, they are getting older year by year and she can monitor that. She says that she doesn’t feel that living with her parents has hindered her life choices.

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She appears to be fascinated by everything. She’s one of those people who takes pictures of her food, and when we got ice cream she composed the photograph of her cone with the store’s sign, shaped like an ice cream cone, in the background. She laughs easily, and, maybe due to her size, has a child like aura about her. When I asked what kinds of art she enjoys she said “I like Modern Art and Pop art. I like Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall, Andy Wahol, Joost Swarte (cartoonist) and Nick Park (Stop Motion Animator).

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By all appearances she is a well rounded, happy person. When I asked What she would do if she could change anything in the world, she said “Plenty of smiles and full of laughter. Because positive vibrations is essential in life.”

Just being around Yuko brings all those things. She is a wonderful ambassador for herself. As she would say “笑って元気”, smiling, energetic.

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Courtney Love

A surprising number of people don’t like Courtney. And by “don’t like” I mean “despise”. So her show at the Theatre for the Living Arts was not sold out. That was fine, it was a fascinating crowd of true fans, and not terribly crowded. At points it was a sing-a-long, which seems better suited for campfires and the other types of artists I enjoy.

Not exactly Kumbaya, but it worked.

Music is an odd thing. It can bring people together or tear them apart. When the concert was announced, there were a lot of hate comments towards Courtney. The crowd at the concert was diverse, punkers and grunge types to families with children (that surprised me). We met a nice young man who introduced himself as “Big Gay Mike”, who was exceptionally friendly.

While we were waiting for the concert to begin, I was thinking how diverse the TLA is. Last month, Tom Jones played there. Next month, Hanson. Courtney isn’t exactly Lieve’s style, and I thought about the varied artists we have introduced to each other. Lieve had never heard of Laura Nyro when we saw “One Child Born“, she didn’t know Dar Williams or Booker T., she wasn’t familiar with the Left Banke, Alanis Morissette, Ian Hunter, Michael Nesmith, or Dr. John. Lieve has introduced me to bands I didn’t know, Citizen Cope, Kaki King, and The Monochrome Set to name just a few. Together we have found Tired Pony, Gary Clark Jr., and Sharon Van Etten.

We both have musical backgrounds, Lieve worked for a couple of record companies, including Factory, I’ve been a musician, trained on a variety of instruments and played in a few bands. We have slightly different approaches, I prefer a little raw edge, she’s more into new wave/techno, and we meet on female singer songwriters. Music takes you down unexpected paths. Largely because labels really don’t work in music. You can pretty much classify the majority of popular music of the late twentieth century as “rock”, but the sub-genres are almost as numerous as fans.

In a previous life I worked with a man named Guy Campo. Through the wonders of Social media I found that in addition to the place where we had worked together he’s performing throughout the area both solo and with his band, The Contusions. Lieve and I have seen him play, and also routinely run into him and his fiance at concerts. As I’ve gotten to know his fiance, we found that we had attended the same Allman Brothers concert back in 1976. Somehow you can see the tapestry of music and threads intersecting.

Music brings people together in ways never expected. Then there’s the other side, the “breakup song”. When you’re feeling down, there’s nothing like the right song to make you feel even worse.

My feeling is that it’s harmonic. As we exist as energy disguised as human beings, certain vibrations resonate. Vision, taste, and smell can all bring back memories, but music brings you back to the place, time, weather conditions, and mood, that you associate with a particular song. These feelings can be bad or good, and they may change over time, but nothing transports me like music. People who only like one specific type of music are impaired, there’s an incredible range out there, and it all has more in common than its differences.

I even like some rap.

The Monochrome Set

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrank Zappa said “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. While the experience of music is certainly irreducible, it remains possible to alert others to opportunities. I recently saw The Monochrome Set live at The Record Collector. In the past, I wouldn’t have done this, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, regardless of how cool I appear, I had never heard of The Monochrome Set before. The fact that they are made up largely of ex-bandmates from Adam and the Ants, and influenced such bands as The Smiths and Franz Ferdinand had not brought them to my attention. Another reason would be that I would never have found myself in Bordentown New Jersey, in the back of a record shop, for any legal purpose. It took a friend flying in from Japan to introduce me to micro concerts, and The Monochrome Set.

Picture 1Photo by Yuko Shimbo

It was, to say the very least, a fascinating crowd. One of the great things about small venues (in this case there may have been fifty people present) is the interaction with the band, and also with the audience. No one was there by accident.

For some reason the video is only coming up as a link

I have come to enjoy smaller venues. We routinely visit World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, to the point that when I buy tickets, I know our preferred seat numbers (section 503, seats 3 and 4). This was the most intimate setting since I played basements back in High School. Despite that, Yuko wasn’t close enough (that’s us in the second row) and stood by the speakers. You can see her at 00:38 on the far left, holding up her camera.

As Zappa had mentioned, here comes the architecture. The Monochrome Set possesses what I love about this type of music, in that this type of music is beyond definition. “Post-punk new wave indie rock” is a little closer than “Avocado Helicopter”, but only a little. It’s not the kind of stuff I can listen to all day long and still accomplish anything, which is probably why bands that play music you have to actively listen to aren’t popular with people who accomplish things. As with most music, you can still dance to it, but the lyrics and the compositions deserve a good deal more praise than they receive. Their playing was so tight it made their relaxed look seem incongruous, which is part of the “post-punk” bit, kind of like salt and chocolate. You now know why I don’t dance about architecture often.

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The band was, if anything, too approachable. Yuko wanted to introduce me to her friend Andy, the bassist, but one fan had brought a couple of suitcases filled with 45s to sign, and I was in need of a beer. Downside to concerts at record stores, no bar. There is, however a restaurant just down the street, Jester’s, and they politely stayed open for the post concert group. If you find yourself in Bordentown, tell the staff at Jester’s that you have a schedule to meet, and they’ll be prompt. Otherwise, you will receive service at a pace perfectly suited to a quiet little town.

I would be remiss were I to fail to mention the supporting act. A band that opens for another is always in an odd position, on this night Janet LaBelle opened. What a sweet young totally out of place act she was. While she normally performs with a full band, this night she was solo, primarily on electric guitar, but also doing several songs on the ukelele. Beautiful voice, skilled player, not too good at improvising, as when the store manager asked her to play a little longer before The Monochrome Set came out. I have no idea how music works in other people’s heads, but I liked her music. I may have been alone in that particular crowd, but at least one other person spoke to her during the break.

This weekend I will either see The Bush Tetras at Robert Drake’s birthday party, or Guy Campo at Yachtstock, or I’ll just rest up for next week’s Courtney Love show. It’s unlikely that I’ll write about any of it, I’ll be dancing.

The man in black

You may have noticed my last name. I wrote about the first two earlier, my last name has been a constant source of interest and humor. There is a certain balance to my eyes, that along with a tilt of my head says “Yes, we are related, thank you for being the three hundred fourteen thousand one hundred and fifty ninth person to mention it. You are proportionately interesting”.

When I was much younger, there were two other Cashes. Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay) and Johnny Cash. I was ever so happy when Cassius Clay changed his name, it helped in avoiding a number of schoolyard fights, and gave me a deep understanding of conscientious objection. I am proud of my twisted connection to Mohammed Ali, he taught me how to stand up for my beliefs.

So did cousin Johnny. Yes, through a genealogy I have never seen on paper, I am related to the Man in Black. For the longest time I didn’t really believe it, but my Aunt Bernay confirmed it a few years before she died, and it is not within my imagination that Bernay would ever stray from the truth. There are the similarities, watching the video “Hurt” is like watching a movie of my father aging through the years. But the most important thing is, if Bernay said it is true, it is true.

Johnny provided a number of influences. Many people at the time (and perhaps still) fail to realize his activist nature, even “Ira Hayes” missed the attention of the masses. Johnny spent time in prison, not as a prisoner, but as a performer. He was a long time advocate of prisoner rights. He was, like me, a complicated and difficult to read person. We both use it to our advantage, but it also causes some less than pleasant consequences.

Some of you associate me with a different “MiB”. I found the irony of being on both sides of the double entendre exceptionally humorous, even using it as a screen name on a couple of forums in which a few people knew my name, but most were just science fiction fans, and almost no one knew about the third connection. Which is one reason that I so adored “Griffin” in the film “Men in Black 3”.

Of course, being social in the 80s, I actually did wear black quite a bit. I continue to do so, when I worked with printers black was a natural, my friends who wore white were typically wearing black by the end of the day anyway. It suits my figure and personality, and works as something of a trademark. Our friend Yuko brought a gift of a narrow black tie with skull and crossbones designs from Japan, I’ll be wearing it at the next appropriate occasion (though not a job interview, to which I typically wear a black shirt and a Jerry Garcia tie).

Being a Cash has its benefits, we are an unusually friendly bunch, and always happy to meet relatives whether we know the lineage or not. Rat’s restaurant (named for the character in “The Wind in the Willows”) has Chef Shane Cash in the kitchen, and Buddy Cash and I probably wouldn’t have met had it not been for the name.

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So the other day, some friends were laughing about fashion faux pas, with an article about wearing black the center of the discussion. Imagine my dismay. I don’t pay much if any attention to “fashion”, primarily because I can’t be bothered to care about something that is less meaningful than the art of speaking to trees. What you think about what I wear  can only be important to me if I care what you think, and if you spend your days worrying about what people wear…well you’re off to a bad start. Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.

I’m the man in Black. 

Censorship

Alright this isn’t about food. Beverages will be tomorrow, pending beer review (that’s a pun).

“Censorship Sucks  is very nice.”

If you haven’t noticed, I am a strong supporter of free speech. I prefer to never censor anyone’s point of view or expression thereof, how else can I hope to know what is going on? There are times when certain language is inappropriate, or doesn’t fit the discussion, and at such times I will step in and point out why it is inappropriate, and were it to be over the top I might delete it, I’ve never had too but I’m aware that decision will have to be made one day. I would rather follow the advice of Abraham Lincoln, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” and let others prove their intellect.

A number of things centering on the same topic came to me in the last day, so instead of writing about wines and beers or telling you about my new job at an organic farm, I’ll be making some points about censorship today.

My interest in censorship began at an appearance by Barry Hoffman, founder of Gauntlet magazine, at a Barnes and Nobles. Barry was speaking about censorship, and how his publications were protesting against it. Gauntlet discusses and reprints articles that have been censored in various publications, and by doing so has been censored (in the form of being banned) in a variety of markets. He brought up a statement by Larry Flynt, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like; it protects speech you don’t like”.

I spend time and money supporting speech, some of which I don’t like, and some I have grown to like. Some of the artists I enjoy, I was originally interested in because they had been censored. Eminem and Everlast come to mind, two “rappers” with incredible messages and unique talents in word crafting. It was hard to follow their rap with words cut out on MTV, so I bought their albums. Salmam Rushdie, on the other hand, was given the opportunity to prove to me what a boring writer he is. You never know unless you investigate the subject yourself.

The other day, President Obama gave the commencement address to the graduating students of Ohio State University. In it, he instructed these apparently bright young university graduates, the leaders of tomorrow to not listen to voices that warn about government tyranny. I don’t care what your views are, the immediate image was “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. What kind of leader tells people to not listen to other points of view?

This morning, a friend who writes and edits Planet Princeton, an online news source focused on Princeton New Jersey, mentioned that the town is no longer indexing Planet Princeton on their website, using other sources for community news. Could this be because Planet Princeton remains independent, reporting from a neutral point of view, not just repeating anyone’s personal agenda? Yes. Recently a series of articles were criticized as being “negative”. Being “censored” in this fashion is a two edged sword. It is a badge of honor for a journalist to be singled out as reporting the inconvenient truth, but the loss in readership hurts. I’m thinking of putting together a QR code and pasting it on everything in town, starting with the police vehicles (Note to Princeton Police Department, my fingerprints are on record, have proof before you knock on my door).

People can be oversensitive to censorship, but again, their voice is telling something. A complaint means to listen more closely, sometimes it’s a valid point. A few weeks ago a friend posted something and I asked if she had vetted her source. Her angry response was “don’t censor me”. The subject involved was very close to her heart, and she is not a journalist, so I may have needed to use a gentler approach. I don’t view questions as censorship, but a sensitive person may.

Censorship can have many forms, from blacking out text to banning a book to eliminating the author. Censorship can take the form of simply not carrying a product, as Walmart has done with music, or as in the case of Princeton not indexing a particular source. Censorship can be seen as the choices of news directors, what gets covered and what doesn’t. Censorship can be the process of alienating an activity, as was successfully done with smokers, to reduce their acceptance. Censorship can take the form of obfuscation, or of vilifying individuals with alternate points of view. This practice is insidious, and growing. From what I’ve seen lately as debating tactics, the last few have become popular. It’s one of the reasons I wrote this article. When discussing if a particular tactic was censorship, one argument was that since the publisher had not been shut down, he wasn’t being censored.

Don’t buy it. In any form, Censorship really does Suck.

42

I started off several hours ago with the idea of writing about life, the universe and everything. That got a little complex, so the draft will remain in the polishing bin and I’ll give you the short version.

Albert Einstein said “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”. He also said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself”. The correlation being that everything should be simple enough for a six year old to understand. If he had not had such faith in humankind, would he have been able to live with the creation of nuclear weapons?

One of the things I really dig about that video is that it shows some great minds without the veneer of greatness. They are, as we are, human beings. Feynman loved the bongos, and Neil deGrasse Tyson really is that edgy. His line at 2:10 echoes within me.

We are all connected. Whether you approach creation from Genesis or a Humanistic view, in the beginning there was a void. Then, either by God’s command or a quantum vacuum fluctuation, there was light. Big light. Big Bang. Everything that is, every particle in the universe, was created in that instant. Following the principle of Quantum Entanglement, any particles that interact are connected, so everything is connected to everything.

That may be too simple, in that it applies to molecular size objects and not larger objects. Or maybe not. I am connected to every person that I have spoken to, and they are connected to me. The relationships and experiences we have cause us to be us. There is a layer of reality, a veneer, called “Maya” in Hinduism. It is the illusion of reality, what we see instead of reality. Maya is why we see solid objects rather than a collection of molecules, which are predominantly empty space. Maya is the fabric of reality, the Emperor’s clothes. We see what we want to see, or more precisely, we see what we are capable of comprehending. A simple illustration of the distortion of our actual vision, what we see with our eyes, is to but on a pair of coloured lenses. After a few minutes, you can see normal colors again, take the lenses off, and the “filter” that your mind was using to balance the lenses will tint the world to the opposite side of the colour wheel for a few minutes, until your brain realizes that you no longer are wearing lenses.

There is the psychological side of that, or synchronicity, our inability to see connections. There is also the physical side, our eyes contain thousands of sensory cells, some see light (black and white) others see colours. When I look out the window, I don’t see a collection of data points, red, grey, blue, black, green, grey. I see flowers and trees and sky and clouds. I may not have the same sensations that you have, but my sensation of what I call “Blue sky” is the same every time I see a blue sky. So is yours. So even though our sensations are different, the sky is the same, so we both call it a “Blue sky”.

My last wife believed she was psychic. I do to, but not to the extent that she did. She was able to interpret something, some connection between the particles that are entangled, and was right in her interpretations far more often than she was wrong. Except when buying lottery tickets. It wasn’t something she could control, it just happened.

I believe that we are connected to each other, and to everything in the universe. Explaining that in a clear manner, simple enough for a six year old to understand, with references and footnotes, is going to take longer than one day, but we can start here.

E = mc^2 \,\!

Energy equals mass at a ratio of the speed of light. Neither energy or mass can be created or destroyed, they just change into the other form. All that exists has always existed. We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon.

simple enough, or too simple?

Changing with the times

You should have immediately noticed a change in the visual theme on this page. Two people mentioned that the white print on he black page was difficult to read. As much as I like the old look, it is the words that are important. I am open to criticism, it helps to know what other people think, and sometimes their ideas are better than mine. I had a little trouble reading the old design, but I didn’t know anyone else did.

Thinking along those lines, the song “Time waits for no one” by the Rolling Stones found its way into my head. A beautiful melody and performance, marred by the arrogance of youthful inexperience celebrated in the lyrics. The drive to consume rather than savor. Lyrics written by a young Mick Jagger, who sings about time destroying a woman’s face. I find the character written on the face by time to be quite attractive, although in Mick’s case, the story is rather sad.

It is easy to get lost in the moment, to forget that there will indeed be a future. I’ve spent a good deal of my life “in the moment”, in some cases doing so has allowed me to become older. There are moments when you need to be aware of nothing other than the present. I once told my nephew, “Living on the edge is great, as long as you can pull yourself back when you fall off”.

Life, overall, doesn’t always work that way. The accumulation of experiences create our responses. The desire for new experiences drives us to explore. Today is all I have, but the beauty of today is appreciated more because of my knowledge of the past, my ability to recognize and evaluate “beauty”. It is the experience of reflection that makes me seek new experiences, knowing that I will not only enjoy the moment, but also the memory of the moment.

Yes, despite my denials I am growing older. My hair has not gone grey other than some distinguishing highlights (and my face, thus the lack of a beard), but my eyesight is growing weaker. I realize that my next frames will have to be heavy enough so I can see them when they are not on my eyes. I never understood those eyeglass repair kits, that include some of the smallest screws in the world, that you are supposed to thread into an equally small hole, without the aid of the glasses that you are repairing.

My hearing is failing, particularly in my left ear, so that as I lie on my right side it becomes difficult to converse. Too many years with the music far too loud, and of course the drummer was always directly in front of the amplifiers, head turned slightly to the left. It has worked to my advantage, in South Philly I had an obnoxious neighbor who lived to my left as I came out of my front door. I wasn’t aware that I had missed many of her insults until I left my apartment with someone else who could hear. I do so wish I could have heard before, because I had some great comebacks. I suppose the freedom from her venom is better for my blood pressure than my replies would have been.

My first neurologist warned me not to blame symptoms on the wrong causes, that even though I have MS I should be on the lookout for other explanations. I’m actually moving better recently than during the last decade, I’ve put away my cane for now and am more flexible than many other people younger than me. There are funky aches and ghosts of old injuries, but I’m in relatively good shape. I’m not sure if the extra pounds mean my metabolism has finally slowed, or if a diet of beer and chocolate really is fattening after all.

None of the physical issues of aging are important. In the sense that some cause us to slow down, moving slower allows us to appreciate more. While youth disdains age, age is appreciated by those that have enough experience to recognize its value. At one point I had a small patch of facial hair (my face went grey when I was in my 30s) so my clients would be reminded that I wasn’t “just a kid”. The external signs of age are a badge to be worn proudly. As young as I stay in my heart, I am thankful for the years, each and every one of them.

Time waits for no one. Time is the ride we take through our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to the band

I spent some time with an “old friend” last night. Michael Nesmith performed a retrospective of his career, which has spanned fifty years. Michael is a fellow Texan, and shares many of my personality traits (AKA quirks). His music doesn’t fit in a box, he wrote “Different Drum” which Linda Ronstadt made famous and (vice versa), which he performed with a totally new arrangement, moving the story from the Haight to Paris. He was in the Monkees (although he only performed one song from those days). He moved on to The First National Band, and then created MTV, creating videos for his songs like “Crusin“. Today he is Videoranch and is still making new music. Although his voice is showing some age, it is still recognizable, ties his works together. His framing of each song was poetic, and at times moving moving. In the clip above he speaks of Red Roads, and how he programmed Red’s tracks through the keyboard so he could “be there”, performing with Nez again.

What was old was new again. Not many obvious Monkee fans present, but who could tell after all this time? From the grey hair in the audience it looked like we were all roughly the same age. There was a group of guys wearing “Save The Texas Prairie Chicken” T shirts.

My wife wasn’t familiar with his music, she knew “Rio” but didn’t know it was his. We’ve shared a lot of music, she’s introduced me to new things, I’ve done the same for her. And that is what this post is about. She derives a great deal of pleasure from new music. In her youth she was A&R for a few record companies, including Factory Records, and she loves new music, not any particular genre, just tracks she hasn’t heard before.

I had often found this intriguing. I love music, and play several instruments, but she loves to listen. Always new bands, college and independent radio stations, well beyond the edgy “I heard it first” snobbery of young people, she needed it to thrive.

Then I came across this study from Canada. New music has a different effect on the brain than music you have heard before. Beyond the simple “I like music”, this study indicates that your brain likes music, and it likes new music even more. When we listen to our favorite music live, we get the thrills from the improvisations, the altered arrangements, the styles of different performers.

One of the performers last night was Chris Scruggs, grandson of Earl Scruggs (who most people know from the theme music of “The Beverly Hillbillies” but who had a seventy year career and created the “Scruggs Style”). Chris played slide and electric guitar, as well as balalaika. New from old, more evidence that musical talent is genetic. If Earl could have seen Chris’ solo on Grand Eunni he would have seen (and heard) the similarities between his banjo work and Chris on the guitar.

I believe that matter and energy are made of the same thing. Energy is expressed in many ways, and many waves. The heat from the Sun, the colours of the rainbow, the laughter of an infant. Sound is a form of energy, expressed in waves, or vibrations. Like any other vibration, it can resonate and reinforce. Now we can prove that it can harmonize with the matter of our brains. I’ve always felt this to be true, it’s just nice to have research to back it up.

I believe this is how music connects us. We resonate with the vibrations, creating chords with others, creating a song with our lives. I often use words like “dance” and “song” as metaphors, because that’s how I see life. Not that I’m synesthetic, or perhaps it’s just a degree of synesthesia. We are part of the song of the universe.As Joni Mitchell put it, We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon. And then…

The big wrap up. We’ve got to get back to the garden. Nez finished the night with a mention of the tragedy in Boston earlier in the day. For those of you from another planet or who are reading this in the future, a couple of bombs were detonated at the Boston Marathon. At this point, twenty four hours later, the casualties are one hundred fifty injured, three dead, of which two were children. Many of the injured lost limbs. Missed in the headlines was that thirty people were killed in bombings in Iraq. No data for Syria, or Afghanistan, or Spain. We can either align the phase of our vibrations, creating a larger, stronger wave, or we can be discordant with each others’ music, the result of which is silence.

Give Peace a Chance.