Friday, September 06, 2019

A Tale of Two Bands


They were the best of bands, they were the worst of bands . . . Okay, lame, sorry.

While digging through my extensive collection of ancient relics, I came across two albums I've always liked. They feature the same singer, and share a lot of other similarities, but are still strikingly different.

Janis Joplin left her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas in 1963, at the age of 19, for San Francisco. While there, she found herself slipping into serious drug abuse and, in 1965, returned home. She attended college, and was even briefly engaged to be married. She had left her mark, however, in the Bay Area. A friend of hers out there, who also knew an up-and-coming local band, came to Texas and convinced her to return to San Fran and join this band. Their name was Big Brother and the Holding Company.

BBHC was already pretty well established in their home town, but it was clear that they needed a good singer if they wanted to take the next step. In June of 1966, Janis joined, and history records the rest. They made one album for a small independent label called Mainstream not long after, which went nowhere. But, on the strength of that and their reputation as a live band, they were approached and signed by Columbia records. Columbia re-released their first album, adding two songs Mainstream had left off and putting “featuring Janis Joplin” on the cover.

Apparently, one thing that people remember about Big Brother was how loud they were. It was a point in time where amplifiers were making a leap in technological advancement. The original purpose of guitar amps was to help the guitarist, a member of the rhythm section, be heard alongside the horns in a big band. When rock and roll came along, the guitar took a more central role and the horns largely disappeared.

Guitarist Steve Vai once observed that “volume is tone.” The spirit of “Vai's Dictum” was being discovered by pickers along the way, from Charlie Christian to Chuck Berry to Jimi Hendrix. By the mid 1960's, Marshall, Fender, Vox, Ampeg, Kustom, and many other companies were producing guitar amps with increasing power and volume. The guitarists in Big Brother used them to their fullest effect. And, of course, the drums and bass had to keep up.

Getting Janis Joplin to sing over this, and help write new songs, was a giant step forward. But at no point, despite the widely held view, were they her back-up band.  The other members have made this abundantly clear in any public statements they've made since then. They were a five piece band, and she was the singer. And she didn't even sing lead on all the songs.  Still, she attracted a lot of attention, and to their frustration the perception grew.

Sam Andrew was more or less the band's leader. He was a good guitarist and fair singer, and usually took the lead vocal on songs Janis didn't. The main lead guitarist was James Gurley. He once stated that his main influence was saxophonist John Coltrane and his 'sheets of sound' style of soloing. This can be heard on the first cut from Cheap Thrills.


Sam Andrew is actually credited with the lead vocal on this song. He and Peter Albin would swap off playing bass and guitar, although Albin usually handled bass. Dave Getz played drums. A lot of people think that Cheap Thrills was recorded live, and the cover even states that the live recordings were done at the Fillmore. Actually, only the last song on the album, “Ball and Chain,” was recorded live. Any crowd noise on the rest of the album was dubbed in.

Big Brother was part of a Bay Area scene that included Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and others. Some people have called 1967's Monterrey Pop Festival “The Battle of California.” The festival was organized by music industry insiders from Los Angeles, including John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, and producer Lou Adler. One result of the show was to make clear the stark differences between rock music from LA and SF.

There were acts from all over the world, including The Who and Jimi Hendrix from England (yes, Jimi was from Seattle, but was based in Britain at the time), and Ravi Shankar from India, as well as R&B great Otis Redding. But most of the attention fell on the groups from San Francisco, and few if any made a bigger impression than Janis. Many people's favorite moment in the documentary about the festival is Cass Elliott, no slouch herself as a singer, gaping at Janis from her seat in the audience and mouthing “Wow.”

At some point in 1968, they began to be billed as “Janis Joplin and Big Brother,” which annoyed the rest of the band. Twenty years later, the same thing would happen to an up-and-coming group known as the New Bohemians, when their lead singer, Edie Brickell, started to draw attention. In both cases, the singers went along with it, and the result was the end of the band.

A lot of people say that was a good thing, arguing that Big Brother was never very good to begin win. I think they have to be seen in context. Yes, I suppose it's true that they could never get signed today. Their sound is rough and raw, but that doesn't mean they can't play. You get past the looseness and you begin to notice just how sophisticated the arrangements are, and how skilled the playing is.


Now, tell me, who else has the sheer balls to tackle a Gershwin tune? This is from the opera, Porgy and Bess. Here's the original, just to compare:


That clip is from a television production of Porgy and Bess, with Harolyn Blackwell singing and the London Philharmonic providing the music. The opera is from 1935, though this film is obviously much later. Even so, what made Big Brother pick this to cover?

Sam Andrews came up with the arrangement, which is pretty striking. Twin guitars playing contrapuntally, while Janis does the lyric in her bluesy growl. I don't care, this is not a mediocre band. Rough, maybe. Raw. Unschooled, probably, but not unskilled. Cheap Thrills shows a dynamic range that is galaxies wide and deep. They express the kind of passion you can't write on a page of sheet music.

Upon leaving Big Brother, Columbia Records put together a back-up band for their star. Sam Andrews was invited to join and be the musical director. The Kosmic Blues Band included numerous studio musicians that the big wheels at the label liked and trusted, including a horn section that made them more R&B, as opposed to the psychedelic rock Big Brother was known for. Among the musicians was a Canadian guitarist named John Till.

He was the leader of his own band, known as the Full Tillt Boogie Band. (The “Tillt” was in reference to his name, of course.) Janis' first solo album got mixed reviews, and she had conflicts with some of the members, so they were scrapped. 

Till was the one person retained from the project. He convinced Janis to use his band, (dropping the second L in “Tillt”) to which she agreed. She famously stated that “finally, this is MY band.” It seems unusual today, but they had two keyboard players; Richard Bell on piano, and organist Ken Pearson. Now, you'd have one guy on keys, and they could do it all from a single instrument, but Bell and Pearson work together beautifully. Till was also a brilliant guitarist.

Brad Campbell (bass) and Clark Pierson (drums) might at first seem weaker than their counterparts from Big Brother, but it's strictly a matter of style. While not as wild as Albin and Getz, neither are they mild. The same can be said for the entire band. They were tighter and more disciplined, but still energetic.


I chose this clip because it preserves the best parts of John Till's guitar solo from the album; that descending figure from high up that comes in the middle of his break. If James Gurley is John Coltrane, Till is Cannonball Adderley. (Get a copy of “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis and see what I mean.) Plus, being live, it shows the interplay between the musicians. Like Big Brother, they had been around for some time. Unlike BB, they were clearly and intentionally Janis' band.

And, also like Big Brother, they had a wide dynamic range. Backing up Janis Joplin, they had to.


This song shows how well Bell and Pierson work together, and why having both is just right. Full Tilt Boogie was as tight as Big Brother was loose. And yet, both bands burned with passion. Which, of course, was a requirement, considering the singer.

If you are of a mind to continue the investigation, I would recommend checking out “Buried Alive in the Blues” from Pearl. It was the last session Janis ever did, but they did not get the vocal down before she died. So, the band went back in and finished it as an instrumental. The song, written by Nick Gravanites, actually does have words, and it's been recorded several times since.


This is the late, great Paul Butterfield's 1973 version. You can also easily find a version by the composer, joined by Mike Bloomfield on guitar. Many other versions have been done as well, by James Cotton, the Chicago Blues Reunion, and even Big Brother eventually did a take on it. But to me, they don't touch FTB's version.


We'll just have to imagine Janis wringing out the lyrics. In the meantime . . . there is a way to enjoy these two great bands back to back. If you get a copy of “Joplin In Concert,” the first half is her with Big Brother, and the second, with Full Tilt Boogie. It's actually quite a good album, and still in print.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Answering a friend's questions




This list was posted on Facebook by a friend of mine, whom I will not name, because I don't want to embarrass them. The questions are from their post. The answers are my own. If they embarrass me, then so be it.  The words in bold, italicized type are from their post.  The answers are my own.

~

Copied in part...You call this great? I don’t.

Do you support separating families at the border.....put them into concentration camps? They are applying for asylum.....what he is doing is against international law. You do realize that?

- Okay, let's take this a bite at a time:

- If these same people were caught burglarizing homes, or stealing cars, or killing people, or committing any other crime, they would be separated from their children. People who are in holding awaiting trial for crimes they are accused of get separated from their children. Like it or not, entering this country illegally is a crime. It's a crime in every nation in the world. Just out of curiosity, why don't you find out what the penalty is for entering Mexico, or Guatemala, or China, or Luxembourg for that matter, illegally.

There is an alternative, though. Make it not illegal. It's a matter of passing a law, which would require electing representatives committed to doing just that. What you are asking the government to do, essentially, is let there not be a border. If crossing the border brings no penalty, then you don't have one. If you're cool with that, talk about that and not some bull**** thing about whether or not lawbreakers get treated like lawbreakers.

In the interest of having access to the necessary information to make an intelligent choice, I've done a little research into immigration laws in the countries I flippantly listed above. Here's the link to a website called Mexperience, and the page that discusses immigration to Mexico. https://www.mexperience.com/mexico-immigration-guide-published/ On the page is a link to the 2019 immigration guide, provided to them by the government of Mexico. It doesn't discuss any penalties for illegal immigration, and I've had difficulty finding this information. Plus, here's a link to a pretty comprehensive Wikipedia article on immigration to Mexico. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Mexico Answers.yahoo came up with a penalty of two to five years in prison for illegally entering the country, but I haven't been able to verify the sources.

No luck finding information on penalties for illegally crossing borders into Guatemala. Here's a link to an article on immigration to Guatemala: https://legalbeagle.com/5465314-guatemala-immigration-requirements.html I don't know what the political leaning of legalbeagle is, or if they have one.

Here's a piece from the South China Morning Post on illegal immigration into China: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1272959/under-chinas-new-immigration-law-harsher-fines-illegal-foreigners Apparently, there are harsh penalties. The article dates from 2013.

The most I can found about illegal immigration into Luxembourg are news articles complaining about how many there are, and how it should be stopped. I'll leave it up to you to find them. Trust me, it's not difficult. And, I've seen nothing about whether or not your children are taken away in any of these countries if you bring them in illegally. I would guess that whatever would happen would happen no matter what crime you committed there.

Btw, here's an interesting piece from factcheck.org: https://www.factcheck.org/2018/06/illegal-immigration-statistics/ I don't know what their political leaning is. They are funded by the Annenberg Foundation, which also does a lot with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, so I suspect if there is a leaning, it is liberal/progressive.

- Concentration camps? Do you even know what one of those is? From the reports I've seen, even the ones put out by MSNBC, NPR, NYT, etc, they don't even really count as prisons, much less concentration camps. Comparing them with Auschwitz, Buchenwald, etc is ridiculous.

- Are they all applying for asylum?  All of them? How do you know? What's your source? And, what happens to them while they're waiting? Maybe you didn't know this, but there's a legal process to applying for asylum. They've committed a crime. (See above)

- International law? Which international law? Would you please quote it? We are not subject to international law. We are, in this instance, subject to the laws of the United States. International law does not apply to someone who burglarized a house, or steals a car, or murders someone, or speeds on the interstate. And the United States has borders. Did you know it's illegal to cross a nation's borders without proper authorization? Any nation? (See above)

Do you support him because he likes to grab women by the pussy?

- Now, let me think about that a minute. Do I support Donald Trump . . . BECAUSE he likes to grab women by the pussy? Uh . . . no. Although, I must say, it's not why I DIDN'T support Bill Clinton. I don't consider Bill Clinton a good president because I think his policies proved to be severely flawed. (That is, when he bothered to have policies. The worst thing about Clinton was, he didn't really do much. The best thing about him was, he didn't really do much. Which, after Reagan/Bush41, was a good thing. Still, it would have been nice to see some good and necessary things done.) Same with Teddy Kennedy, and many other misogynist politicians, Democrat and Republican. I think what you're asking is, would I hire Donald Trump as a babysitter for my daughters? No.

Do you support him because he makes fun of the disabled?

- Oh, there's another good one. Y'know, I was going to vote for Hillary, but then Trump made fun of a disabled guy, and that convinced me to vote for him instead. C'mon, now!! I suppose there are people who voted for Hillary specifically because she DIDN'T make fun of a disabled person. At least, not in public. Of course, it would be all right for her to make fun of a disabled person IF they disagreed with her. Then, it would be all right. But since it was Trump, it doesn't matter what his policies are, or if they improved the country and made people's lives better. He said something you find distasteful. And you know what? I did, too. But I also know why he said it; because the guy was cutting him down. He didn't send the FBI to take him in, he just gave back in kind. Didn't take away his job, didn't put him in jail, didn't have a couple of Arkansas state troopers shoot him, he said words.

Do you support him because he has increased our national debt by 4 trillion dollars making us financially insolvent?


-Ooo! Check your figures. How much did Barack Obama's administration increase the national debt? I'll leave it up to you to find out the answer to that one. If the country is insolvent, it's because the previous administration brought us to the brink of insolvency. Or does that not count, because your preferred news sources said that the money was spent on good stuff? Y'see, that's what happens when you only get your news from one side. You find yourself repeating lies.

And when you double-check the figures, please send me the links.  You will note at the bottom of the picture on the right, its sources are listed.


Do you support him because he is a racist?

- Another good one. Let me make one thing clear; I don't care if he's a racist. Let me repeat that; I do not care what his personal feelings about people's race is. Are. Whatever. What I care about is, what are his policies going to do? I don't actually know if he's a racist. And, news flash, you don't either! If you go by his policies, black, Hispanic, and Asian unemployment in this country are at historic lows. 

Do you know what that means? It means, those people, those demographic groups, have more jobs. Maybe I'm wildly off the beam here, but I think the biggest problem facing these demographic groups is, they're poor. Doesn't having a job kinda help that?

I think it's funny, any time I watch a sporting event, I see the same ads. Did you know the state of New York – one of the bluest, most liberal states in the country - publicly promises a tax break for businesses that are willing to move there? They've been running those ads for years. Why do you think they do that?

No matter what liberal/democratic/socialist politicians say, they all know that lowering taxes stimulates the economy. Reagan proved it. And before you think about how altruistic they are, remember that the stock market stayed strong during the Obama administration, in spite of the economy slowly turning to part-time jobs and the “gig economy.” Manufacturing was draining away, but Wall Street was booming. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence. >wink<

In a nutshell, if Trump is a racist, he's a stupid one. His policies seem to be helping the very people he's accused of hating. And these accusations didn't start until he was elected President. So, I don't care if he's a racist, any more than I care about his hair or the color of his socks. What I care about is what he does in the office of the Presidency. I hope he's not a racist, but I've seen no conclusive evidence that he is. And Don Lemon's opinion doesn't count as conclusive evidence.

By the way, not sure where this appropriate to include, but the Center for Responsive Politics puts out a publication called the Blue Pages. It's a directory of companies, rated by their politics and practices (quoting the cover). Basically, it tells you who the listed companies donate to, so far as politics and political causes. Interesting to just thumb through it.

Do you support him because he has taken all the ecological restrictions away destroying the earth for future generations?

- Careful. All the ecological restrictions? All of them? Or are you talking about the Paris Climate Accords? Have you read them? Here's the link, so that you can:
And that's the actual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website, not some conservative blog. If you're going to talk about something, you should know what you're talking about. And, this link (found in the opening paragraphs) compares the Paris agreement with the Kyoto Protocol:

The two main arguments I've heard against both of these agreements are:
1) they are agreements. They have no teeth. It's just the governments of the signatory countries saying that they want these things to happen, but there are no consequences if they fail. I would be curious to know how many of the 192 signatories to the Kyoto Protocol actually met the stated goals.
2) they seem to have more to do with giving governments control over businesses, than restoring the environment. The “essential elements” section of the first page talk about “appropriate financial flows,” among other things. There's also a link to the complete text of the agreement, on the right side of the opening page of the link above. And if you can't find it, let me know. I downloaded the PDF file, and can send it to you.

Also, here's an article about the mixed success of the Kyoto protocols: https://www.factcheck.org/2018/06/illegal-immigration-statistics/ New Scientist is a British magazine, published since 1956. I have been unable to find any discussion on their political leanings, which means they may not have any.

I have argued for years that the whole climate change debate isn't about climate change. It's about division. Riddle me this, Batman; what is the alleged cause of climate change? I can answer that in one word: Pollution. Too much foreign matter and chemical compounds in our air, water, etc. When you break it down to that basic fact – if, in fact, climate change is even real – then it's easy to sell.

Try this experiment sometime, if you have the courage; go to some person's house that has a swimming pool. Now, urinate in it. The pretty blue water is very likely to turn a pretty green, slowly spreading to the whole pool. Then, somebody kicks your ass or runs you off, but that's a side effect.

This simple experiment PROVES that one person can negatively affect an ecosystem.

There are other examples. I remember seeing two pictures in a magazine – I think it was Newsweek, or maybe Time, in the late '80's – that showed two images of Los Angeles from about five miles off shore. One was taken in 1962, and all you could see was the tops of a few buildings. The rest of the city was blanketed in a gray haze, although it was a sunny day with a blue sky framing the top of the photo. The second one was, I believe, from 1988. There was still a gray haze, but you could clearly see the city, and it was a similarly bright, sunny day. That tells me that we've actually made progress, even if no one on the left is willing to admit it.

The other pictures were of the shore in Antarctica. One showed a shoreline of snow and ice. The other, a wide patch of green grass. These pictures as well were supposedly taken some 30 or more years apart. Now, the publisher of these pictures didn't happen to mention what seasons they were each taken in, but the message is clear.

But the cure is simple, and almost universally agreed upon: Pollution is bad. If you find anyone that disagrees with that simple statement, “pollution is bad,” let me know and we can go together to pee in their pool. Whether it's changing the climate or not is irrelevant, isn't it? The swimming pool experiment proves that pollution is bad, whether or not the temperature of the pool goes up.

So why isn't pollution the issue, instead of climate change?

Because climate change is something that we DON'T agree on. And look how much money changes hands, and how much power, keeping both sides spun up! If you believe in climate change and I don't, but we both agree that pollution is bad, then we can both agree on a solution. Argument over. Then, what would Rachael Maddow and Sean Hannity scream about?

But when you ask about “all ecological restrictions,” you're suggesting that we're back to using freon, leaded gasoline, asbestos, and many other things that we've stopped using decades ago. I haven't seen anything about Trump demanding a return to freon, etc.

Do you support the lack of respect he has for officials that do not agree with him?

- Yes, actually, I do. I don't respect them, so it comforts me that he doesn't either. Most of them are left over from previous administrations anyway, dating back to probably Nixon in some cases.

Here's a pop quiz for you; do you know where most bills presented to Congress are written? If your answer is, the offices of Congressmen and Senators, I'm sorry, thanks for playing, and don't forget your copy of the home game. The correct answer is, K Street in Washington. Where a lot of lobbyists offices are located. So, which officials are we really referring to, here? The official officials, or the unofficial officials they work for?

Did you support all those federal employees he used as pawns to try and get approval from Congress for his wall?

- I think his biggest campaign promise was the wall. It got him elected, so those who voted for him expect him to come through. And to do that, he's going to have to twist appendages. When Ronald Reagan left office, he warned that there was already a crisis because of illegal immigration. At the time, 1988, the estimate most popular was that there was possibly 3 million illegal immigrants in this country. The figure being thrown around for the last decade is 11 million, so it's hopelessly out of date. A Yale study (linked above; the FactCheck article) says it's probably twice that many.

Democrats AND Republicans have been lying ever since about fixing that problem. And they continue to get away with their lies. It's a problem, they all know it, and they lie when they say they're going to fix it.

Which makes me wonder; why? Why don't they just fix it? Why aren't they jumping at the chance to finally secure our borders for really real? To me, the wall makes sense. They actually do work. If you don't believe it, ask the residents of East Berlin. Or the Palestinian territories, where incursions by terrorists into Israel have been cut almost to nothing. The much-touted “high-tech virtual wall” disappears the second its funding is cut. It would be great to have that to supplement a real, physical wall, but the real, physical wall would be just as expensive to take down as it will be to build. And even its physical existence would be a major deterrent to illegal immigration. Not all immigration, btw, just illegal. Trump did, after all, also promise a big, beautiful door.

So . . . why, if most of the country wants a real, actual border, and all the politicians know it, and keep promising to do it . . . why don't they?

I'm just guessing here, but it might be because their patrons don't want it. Maybe, just maybe, they like having an army of available workers who have no legal standing and can't do things like demand minimum wage or decent conditions. Have you ever done any research on how illegal immigrants live? I read a piece a few years ago about Latino illegals living in Chicago and working for Ty, the company that produces Beanie Babies among other things. Squalid living conditions, ridiculous hours, poor pay and working conditions. And their only choice is to not work, and therefore not make any money, because they have no legal recourse. I did save the link to the article, but the last time I clicked it, the article didn't exist any more. How convenient. It was from the Yahoo news feed; I forget the original source.

So, just how compassionate is it to let these “asylum seekers” in to roam free? Again, it comes down to law. If anybody can come in, and have legal status, then do we actually have a border? If that's cool, then say so. Completely open borders. Advocate that, and I'll believe that you actually mean what you say, and that you've thought that far about it. No passports, no background checks required, you get here, you're a citizen, period. Even if I disagree, at least I could respect someone who advocates for that and honestly believes it's right for everyone. And if there's actually anything between borders and no borders, would you please explain it to me?

Do you support his lies.....daily lies? Is that the character you like to see in a president. You wouldn't tolerate it in a friend....why would you tolerate it in a president?

- I don't respect anybody's lies. I don't respect Mitch McConnell's, or Barack Obama's, or John McCain's, or Jean Shaheen's, or anybody's. But I think it's funny for somebody who probably liked President Bill Clinton to be so huffy about character.

And, I do tolerate it in friends. If I know they're lying, I shine it on in order to maintain my friendship. I try not to lie myself, especially to my friends. I've even told truths that harmed friendships. So, I have repeatedly, continually, put up with lies from politicians, because I honestly care more about how they do their jobs. And I do my best to keep track of when they lie, and about what, so I can parse who to vote for next time around.

I don't honestly think that Donald Trump lies a tenth as much as he gets credit for. I've looked through the ever-growing lists published on line about how many lies he's told, and most of them are horse pucky. Some have turned out to be true. Some of them are strictly up for interpretation, like regarding whether or not you believe in climate change.

And a lot of what he says is just to keep the pot stirred. The more people over-react and go ballistic, the more they show themselves for the tools they are. In my experience, most people have an active bull**** meter, and when somebody is spouting mindless hyperbole, it puts them in a bad light. 

Unless, of course, you've emotionally invested yourself in their point of view. So, when somebody keeps coming back with; “I know you are, but what am I” and getting rabid foam-at-the-mouth responses, I know which one looks like an idiot.

Give me a reason to support any decision or statement he has made and I will give you 10 reasons why that is not sound judgement.

- First of all, I would be skeptical of anyone who didn't have the “judgment” to even consider trusting their spell-check. (Btw, I copied the questions directly from your FB post, and you obviously didn't catch the mistake.)

10 reasons? Is that you, or just the K-Street cubical mouse that put out the original list? Okay, I would like to hear your 10 reasons why I shouldn't support each of the following:
- Tax and regulation cuts that stimulate the economy,
- Secure borders,
- Challenging deep-seated corruption in our government,
- Naming judges who respect the Constitution,
- Demanding real solutions to real problems, instead of offering promises they don't intend to keep.

I've said this in another blog post, but maybe you missed it. I believe that there are certain things that everybody wants: Peace, prosperity, equality, security, and freedom. In as equal measures as possible. I've watched the deterioration of this country for more than six decades now, while people I put my trust in lied through their teeth about fixing it. If I see somebody who understands what those five things actually are, and has a track record of getting things done, they've got my vote.


Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Album review - "Songs From The Goose" by the Whiskey Geese



This is a review of the Whiskey Geese's 2017 release “Songs From The Goose.” Dane Anderson, Tyler Wayne Drabick, and Jesse Farnham are listed as being who the Whiskey Geese are, although any time I've ever seen them live it's just Dane and Tyler. They often perform with two acoustic guitars, both singing, and simply told, you owe it to yourself to go see them. They're fantastic.

Now, over the years I have heard a lot of locally produced recordings and I have to say, until recent years they have just about all been sorely lacking. I am a faithful friend, and gladly pay whatever the going rate is to support a local artist, but probably anything in my local record and cassette collection from before 2000 has had one courtesy listen and left to collect dust. And the sad part is, most of these acts are/were great in a live setting.

The sad truth is, local acts don't often get to play the music that they write. Let's be honest now, people at clubs and parties expect to hear music that they're familiar with. Which isn't a bad thing, but for an artist there is no replacement for playing a song again and again. And when you don't get to play your own songs except a few times in rehearsal to learn the changes, and then in a hurry during an expensive studio session, they don't get their due.

That said, since the advent (and rapidly dropping price) of digital recording, there are a lot of good local things coming out, and this is definitely one of them. Most of it was recorded, as reported on the CD sleeve, “in a small cottage on Goose Pond in Canaan, NH.” And yet, in spite of the semi-amateur setting, the final result is very professional. The mix is good, the performances are excellent, the vibe is relaxed, the instruments and vocals are clear . . . all in all, an excellent effort.

Okay, so, because I know Dane and Tyler, I feel like I have to take pains to find what I don't like about it and present that as proof of my own integrity as a reviewer. And I would love to, but . . . damn, it's a good album. And it's one of those that's becoming an ear worm. I've now played it four times, and I'm liking it better every time. That's a very good sign.

I think Jesse Farnham does a lot of the lead vocals, although I hear Dane and Tyler's distinctive voices taking the lead on some. Blake Goedde plays excellent drums, very tasty, not overplaying but setting a deep, comfortable pocket for the songs. Drabick does some very sweet keyboard, and both he and Anderson contribute great guitar work. Their individual styles on guitar stand out as well.

This is a very tongue-in-cheek record, but far short of what I would call cynical. Cynics sneer at everything, basically despise anyone not as smart as they are (and nobody is), and at the end of the day don't really care because it's all an illusion, right? The Whiskey Geese view the world through smart-ass glasses, but do it with heart and soul.

In a lot of ways this is classic jam-band stuff. If you like Grace Potter, Keller Williams, the Allman Brothers, Umphrey's McGee, and Gov't Mule, this is right up your alley. They draw from a deep, deep well of influences; a true 21st-century group but with roots sunk deep in the ground. Yep, the usual suspects; jazz, blues, country, the whole kettle of fish. They like taking things just a little over the top, but not so far that they fall into head-up-the-poop-chute cleverness.

If I'm not mistaken, Dane is a Berkeley School of Music graduate, and I've heard that this is where he and Tyler met, but that's second hand. If I weren't so darned lazy, I'd ask them. More fun to just spread rumors, but they are both highly educated. And I'm not sure of how else to say this, but . . . they don't sound it. School didn't beat the soul out of them.

Oh, right. Songs. The opener, “Whiskey Goose,” chugs along with a Joe Bonnamassa-meets-John Lee Hooker guitar hook and then throws clarinets (played by Drabick) at you. And, at the end, you still have no idea why they call themselves Whiskey Geese. They won't tell me, either. (Assholes.) They probably tell everybody else, and then order them not to tell me. Fine. Be that way. I don't care. Good song anyway.

I'm trying to pick a few stand-out cuts. “Funkalotapuss” is great. And, yes, Jesse, you are a blues singer. Good effort, though. “Spittin' Blood” makes me wonder where they got that particular inspiration. Hmm, Drabick and Farnham . . . You bad, bad boys! “In The Snow” is one of those modern-classic-throwaway tunes; a very calm, very sweet, very gentle roller coaster ride. (See, right here is where your guts slam up against your rib cage.)

“High White Mountains” gives them a chance to show off their bluegrass chops. “Proper Man” is just absolutely righteous. “Bucket of Blood” is Dane at his best. “Mary Claire” might be funny, but they do it so damned well it comes over beautifully.

On the whole, “Songs From The Goose” is fun, often funny, smart, and very well done. I will give it, on a scale of 5, 4 ½ NH pine cones. After all, nothing is perfect.



Thursday, January 17, 2019

Film review - Chappaquiddick


Just watched this movie, and found it quite interesting.  Pretty good, obviously a good sized budget, good acting and writing.  The lead was played by Jason Clarke, who I'm not readily familiar with.  But he gave a good performance and, in the right setting and lighting, even looks a fair bit like Senator Ted Kennedy.

The picture above is the real Senator Kennedy, probably taken at Mary Jo Kopechne's funeral.  The movie explains its significance.  For those of you who don't know, Joseph Kennedy was the patriarch of a very rich and powerful family and was deeply involved in politics.  The height of his own career was serving as the US Ambassador to Great Britain.

He and his wife had many children, four of whom were sons.  He had very high aspirations for all of them, hoping that one or all of them might eventually become President of the United States.  The eldest, Joe Jr., was a bomber pilot who was killed in action in WW2.  The next son, John, also served in WW2 as a PT Boat Captain.  He survived the war and was a bone fide hero.  From there, he went into politics.  He became President, but was assassinated late in his first term.

The third brother, Robert, also went into politics.  He served as his brother's Attorney General and then won a seat in the US Senate from New York.  While running for President himself in 1968, he, too, was assassinated.

This left the fourth, Edward, also known as Ted.  While serving as a US Senator from Massachusetts, he went to a party one night on Martha's Vineyard.  One of the other people there was Mary Jo Kopechne, a former staffer with his brother, Bobby's Presidential campaign.  They left together in his car.  There was an accident; the car went off a bridge and turned over, sinking into the water below.  He survived, but she didn't.

About the only thing the movie glosses over is their relationship.  It's been presumed for decades that they were having an affair.  It's also been assumed, and admitted to, that they'd been drinking and that he was quite drunk.

Any movie has to have a central theme; a focal point from which everything else is connected.  The central theme of this movie is that Teddy Kennedy was an idiot and an ass.  The first part presents him as the dimmest of the four brothers.  He became head of the clan by default, not by merit.  The rest of it walks us through mistake after screw-up after blunder, most of it driven, not by remorse or concern for Ms. Kophecne or her family, but his own political future.

It also delves into the mechanizations and manipulations behind the scene.  By implication, it can be assumed that the same happens around anyone who is that rich and powerful.  The film makes it clear that there was a firm plan to run Teddy for President in 1972.  This event made that impossible.  He finally did run in 1980, trying to wrest the Democratic nomination away from sitting President Jimmy Carter, but found Chappaquiddick hung around his neck like a '67 Oldsmobile.

I find it amazing that Edward Kennedy, the fourth longest serving Senator in US history, is so revered, even in this age of Donald Trump.  Trump is rude, crude, and has been unfaithful to three wives.  The biggest difference between his personal life and Kennedy's is that Ted was only unfaithful to one wife.  And, he drank to excess, while Donald doesn't drink at all, according to legend.

The movie has made me think about the Clintons.  Bill is clearly smarter and more careful.  And Hillary has his back.  When the ballots are cast, do we really care about someone's personality?  Or is what they actually do on the job more important?  If you hate Donald Trump because of his tweets and Stormy Daniels, don't you also have to hate Ted Kennedy or Bill Clinton?

If you still believe that Ted Kennedy was a good man, it's because you agree with his politics. Not, because you would trust him to drive your daughter home after a party.

You want to talk about personalities?  Look at Richard Nixon.  Very likely, the most awkward and uncomfortable man to ever hold the office of President, certainly in the modern era.  He used to practice things to say at parties.  Whatever you might want to say about his competence or his honesty, nobody's ever accused him of having an affair.  Who would he have one with?

I think I'm well within the mark when I say that the most decent two men to hold the office of President in the last century, regardless of their policies or success/failure ratio, would have to be Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.  This begs the question; is there a difference between good people and great people?

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Problems?

Two poster children.  Okay, quick disclaimer.  I know only a few people ever read this blog, but those few people tell me they like it.  And, I'm predisposed to take requests.  So, when Jim Alger told me earlier today (just before A Band Called Spike took the stage at the First Annual Mountain Music & Arts Festival in Warren, NH) that he liked it, AND he liked the political stuff . . . well, I couldn't resist.  So, to the three of you who HATE my political stuff, blame Jim Alger.  And, buy an Evert or A Band Called Spike CD.

I've been waiting to see if anybody else would make the connection between the two people pictured above.  One is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently won a Democratic primary against a long-time Democrat congressman who is a close ally of Nancy Pelosi.  The other is, at this writing, our current President, Donald Trump.

For Ms. Cortez, I think there are two likely possibilities.  One is that her opponent, Joe Crowley, pissed somebody off that's higher up on the political food chain and they pulled his plug in favor of the young upstart.  The other, I think is more likely.  And I confess, I say this from the outside of Democrat politics.  But I think a lot of people on both sides, Conservative and Liberal, are sick to the teeth of business as usual.  Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is vocal about her ideas and proposes what she thinks are solutions to actual problems.  I disagree with her, but that's not the point.

The point is, problem solvers - or, more accurately, prospective problem solvers - have been getting a lot of traction lately.  For decades, more decades than I've enjoyed (I'll be 63 next week), the two parties have been derided as being so similar.  And it's true!  Yes, one will do more to tax you, the other, less, but on the whole they both pay a lot more attention to their donors than to the people of this country.  And they shamelessly lie about it!  Oh, of course we care about you and your little problems.  What was your name again?

Back in the Olden Days, probably going back to when the biggest guy with the biggest stick ruled the group of cavemen that shared a cave, it was relatively simple:  I can whup everybody, shut up and do what I say.  You want some food?  Tough bananas!  I want to bang your daughter, I win.  And, we won't go into how the daughter used her access to power.

So, as the species evolved - IF there's any truth to the theory of evolution - it has become increasingly important for the leaders to have popular support.  I think a lot of this is about the sheer size of the groups being led.  Before long, there were more people than one tough guy with a weapon could subdue.  He/she/they had to convince you to shut up and give up your daughter.

One very effective way of gaining that support is to solve problems.  You need food?  You need roads?  You need people to start hassling you because of your background, or your life choices?

The Continental Congress was assembled because of perceived oppression by the rulers/owners of the colonies in North America; namely, the British Crown.  The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution were all intended to solve problems.

And again, as time rolled on, prudence demanded compromises.  If you actually want to solve this problem for your constituents, then you need to solve a problem for me.  Who am I?  I'm a big, tough guy with a big stick.  I am someone with power and control, and I can move obstacles.  Or, put them in your way.  And by the way, that daughter of yours is really looking fine.

So, for much of the 20th century and thus far in the 21st, we have played the game of shuffling the deck chairs while the ship continues to take on water.  But, our elected officials, to whom we give power and control and tons of our money, have figured out something along the way.  You can make a difference solving problems . . . but you can make a living managing them.

Here's where the line is drawn.  Let's say, your basement is flooding.  Solving the problem would be to drain all the water, dry it out, paint the inside with Kilz (a paint designed to hold back moisture - no endorsement intended) and whatever else you need to do to keep your basement from flooding again.  Maybe you could dig a deep trench around your foundation and fill it with loose rocks, and put a drainage line on the low end of your property.  Managing, on the other hand, would be putting a pump down there that would pump out water at roughly the same amount as it's flooding.

Why would anyone do that?  Maybe, because they sell pumps.  The flooding actually works to their advantage.  And if the water level is kept low enough to keep lasting permanent damage to your house, then that's okay, right?  Actually, it would cause damage, but not for a long time.  Hopefully, after you've passed the house along, and somebody else owns your pump business.

To advance the analogy, what if someone comes along who says; "That's terrible, that your basement is flooding.  I want to help!"  To that person, you give a paper cup and a pat on the back, and publicly applaud them for being so good-hearted.  Just so long as they don't actually solve the problem.

You could play this game with just about any problem in the world that involves any government.  Let's say, you have a country that has 1) a dominant religious culture, and 2) an economy based on one product.  A small group of people benefit financially from the selling of the product, while behaving in a way that flies in the face of the religious precepts.  The majority of the people in the country work constantly to produce the product, but reap barely more than the means of survival in return.

Whenever the working class gets grumpy, leaders of the nation and of the religious hierarchy scream that the problems of the people are really being caused by some outside group that are infidels.  This, coupled with a rigorous ongoing effort to keep this working class ignorant and cut off from the outside world, is how this problem is managed.

Pop quiz:  Why does a beloved ally of the United States, known as Saudi Arabia, continually show up on the short list of most oppressive/repressive regimes in the world?

And let's be honest; the government of our own free democratic republic is also guilty of managing problems instead of solving them.  Has been for decades.  We keep being offered a selection of problem managers, backed by the same shadowy powers who care much more about their own agendas than ours.  Nobody else ever seems to make it to the November ballot, and if they do, they become a target.  And if they win, they spin their wheels until they either sell out or get sick of it.  AND THEN some of them write books about it, which you never hear of.  Nothing to see here.  C'mon, baby, tell me all about your Daddy's problem.

So let's say somebody steps up and offers solutions.  Real solutions, that they believe in.  They are able to delineate how the progress, real progress, will happen.  They take on the establishment, and by some miracle, against everybody's predictions, they win!

I speak, of course, of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  And I find it notable that she has become an instant celebrity, and yet with certain caveats.  On the left, some applaud her stands and success.  But nobody on the left expends much energy defending and pushing back against the outrage from the right.  Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and all the conservative pundits have large fun pointing out her missteps and misstatements.  They leave blisters at every opportunity.  And the liberal media . . . doesn't seem to have noticed.  I listen to NPR almost every day, and occasionally catch CNN and MSNBC, and I haven't heard any outcry about the unfairness of these characterizations.

Which makes me wonder; is the power base on that side just letting her twist in the wind?  Hell, they're doing everything but endorsing the Republican nominee.  Who is that?  Who cares?  They'll count the seat as lost, and then hamstring the winner.  That, frankly, would less of a problem for the problem managers than Ocasio-Cortez' victory.  She would get in there and actually try to DO something!

That seems to me to be the hidden similarity between her and Trump.  He takes so much flack from the Democrats - and most of the Republicans, if we're honest - the media, and just about everybody.  Except, the millions of people who voted for him.  Which, disclaimer, includes me.

Now, know this, I didn't vote for him because he's a Republican.  I'd have likely voted for him if he were a Democrat.  And if you look at the piece I wrote about him during the primaries of 2016, I argued that he maybe should have run as one.  I have put up with all the "scandals" about his sex life and his "collusion" with Russia.

 - sidebar - What, exactly, did Russia do?  They're supposed to have "interfered" with our election.  What did they do?  So far, the only actual fact I've heard on this regard is that they bought about $30,000 worth of ads on Facebook.

I would agree that marital fidelity is important.  It was important when Bill Clinton was President, and when Jack Kennedy was President, and it's important now.  I wish Donald Trump were a more moral person, and I feel for all three of his wives for having to put up with his sexual adventures.  Unfortunately, the alternative is more business as usual.

Can any of you look me in the eye and honestly tell me that Jeb Bush would have solved any problems?  Or Hillary Clinton?  Bernie Sanders might have actually tried.  Then again, when he finally lost his "valiant quest" for the Democratic nomination, he quickly rolled over and put his paws in the air.  The news that the DNC conspired to deny him the nomination seems to make no difference.  Which reminds me; I wonder how his wife's legal battles are going?

I voted for Donald Trump for one reason; He enumerated problems, and promised to solve them.  And I firmly believe that this is why liberals in the 14th Congressional district of New York voted for Ocasio-Cortez.  Personally, I wouldn't vote for her, not because she's a woman, or Hispanic, or any reason other than I think she's wrong.  Then again, a conservative Republican who mouths platitudes and stands in the way of solutions wouldn't be any better.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Ten Years After

I suppose you could consider this a continuation of the piece I wrote on Alvin Lee.  It comes from how my latest music binge has evolved.  Do you remember a little while go, when I wrote a piece about the album, Triumvirate?  Well, that got me digging around my collection for anything with Michael Bloomfield on it.  After that, I went kind of sideways, into British blues, and checked out what I have from Savoy Brown.  (Street Corner Talking and Hellbound Train have held up well, Looking In has not.)

At this point it was decision time.  I thought about going through early Fleetwood Mac, which I will still do at some point.  But instead, I headed for Ten Years After, seeing that I never really paid any attention to their early stuff.  Whenever I went there, I would start with Cricklewood Green and follow the thread to the end.  This time, I went back to the beginning.




Listening to their first three albums with new ears, I came away surprised.  I'd always considered TYA to be Alvin Lee and his backup band.  He wrote the vast majority of their original material, played lead guitar, and sang.

On these early albums, dating from 1967 and 1968, the band really showed its stuff.  Leo Lyons (b.) Chick Churchill (k.) and Ric Lee (d.) turn out to be excellent musicians, easily on AL's level.  They helped to found a sub-genre that would come to be known in the 70's as Boogie.  Their followers would include Foghat (coming from the aforementioned Savoy Brown), Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many others.  Now, they would be considered a jam band.

Their Wikipedia page calls them blues-rock and hard rock, and although I can understand why, I get the feeling that this evaluation was given by someone who doesn't really know them very well. 

For one thing, they were heavily influenced by jazz, and could play it with authority.  And yet, they do not fit in with what would later be known as jazz-rock fusion.  Fusion, like Mahavishnu, Jeff Beck, Brand X and so on, was largely instrumental rock with lots of harmonic influence from jazz.  What TYA did was a lot closer to hard be-bop.  It swung!  Check out their take on Woody Herman's Woodchopper's Ball.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxPrIHnS2fM

This is not the version from Undead, but AL's band in 1983.  I like actually seeing them play it.  But TYA's version is just as hot, and about twice as long.  (Actually, the caption says it is TYA, and that could easily be Lyons on the bass.)

And, yes, they did the occasional blues tune, but it's widely known that AL was a huge fan of Elvis Presley.  In fact, the name Ten Years After refers to the fact that they took that name in 1966, a certain amount of time after Elvis' big breakthrough in 1956.  And, yes, AL plays a lot of pentatonic scales, but I think his style owes a lot more to Scotty Moore, James Burton, and Carl Perkins than it does to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, or the Kings.  Alvin Lee is the love child of Moore and Johnny Smith, on acid.

It's also quite unusual for a band's second album to be a live one.  Normally, a live album is kind of a Best-Of from earlier releases.  Undead repeats almost nothing from their eponymous debut.

It's also fun to follow the evolution of what became their signature live song, I'm Going Home.  Undead's version is quite a bit different from the Woodstock version, which is again different from the version on Captured Live.  There's also a version of it on the live album released a few years ago from shows they did at the Fillmore in 1968 that fits between Undead and Woodstock.  And, go on YouTube and there's versions AL did with his own band in the 80's and 90's.








The next stage of their development involved getting out from under the shadow of rockabilly and be-bop, and finding their own voice.  Shhhh was released in August 1969, the same month they took the stage at Woodstock.  When the movie came out, they immediately became one of the hottest bands in the world.  Love Like A Man from Cricklewood Green got radio airplay, and they were clearly stretching out artistically.

Bad Scene from Shhhh set the stage, being quite the departure from what TYA fans had been used to.  And yet, it's surprisingly familiar, being kind of a mash-up of all they styles they did on their first three albums.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5k9WJRg3Dc

You dig into that, and things like 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain from Cricklewood, it was quite stunning.








The next stage began when they left their long-time record label, Deram, and signed with Columbia.  Sometimes, you can look at one album and see the clear peak of a band's creative muse.  With Ten Years After, that peak was A Space In Time.  Yeah, I'm sure you disagree, tough.  It's my blog, and I'm sticking with it.  ASIT was, and is, the greatest album they ever did.

And the sad part about reaching your peak is; it's all downhill from there.  But like any great band, that's not altogether bad.  Just as the first albums were rough and raw, they were still great and hold up well over time.

It's been said many times that Alvin Lee never really liked fame.  He said so at the time, as Woodstock and I'd Love To Change The World from A Space In Time were getting them known everywhere.  He always claimed to prefer playing the small rooms and having the connection with the audience that they never could achieve in the huge auditoriums.  We could start a big, long argument debating which live album was better; Undead or Recorded Live.

Myself, I feel that their fame worked to their advantage in the long run.  It gave them the ability to fill a room just by posting their name.  Alvin Lee made his living for the next 30 years just by being Alvin Lee.  Even so, listening to Positive Vibrations today, you can see the cracks.  They were running out of gas.  I've always liked this album, and still do, but now it feels like outtakes from ASIT and R&R Music To The World.

There's even a coda to the TYA story:


The original band got back together in 1988, did some shows, and recorded About Time, which was released in 1989.  The reviews were lousy, but I like the album.  It certainly shows that Alvin Lee kept busy and evolved considerably in the 15 years since Positive Vibrations.  And the other three were just as good and tight as ever.




That would prove to be the last time TYA went into the studio with Alvin Lee.  But it would NOT be the end of the band.  In the early 2000's they got Joe Gooch to sing and play guitar, and the newly revised band recorded Now.  It's . . . good . . . in that, it's well done, Gooch can really play, sings well, the songs are . . . good . . . but . . .

Let's face it, the guy could probably approximate AL's vocals and leads on stage.  Other than that, the album really did nothing for me.  And, I haven't heard A Sting In The Tale yet, which features yet another guitarist/singer.  Gooch, along with bassist Leo Lyons, left TYA to form their own band, so there's a new bass player as well.  According to their website, they're still out there, playing mostly in Europe.

So, there's the history of a sorely under-appreciated band, and my take on them.  Dig out that old stuff, get on YouTube, and let me know what you think.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Everybody Knows

Everybody knows, right?

I am writing this on the premise that, in spite of all our political differences, the average person understands that the government doesn't give a royal shit about us.  By "government," I mean the Presidents, Kings, Premiers, Ministers of Defense, Members of Congress and Parliment and the Diet and the Kremlin and so forth and so on.  These people are in this as if it were a high-stakes game.  They are working for their own advantage, and the advantage of their party, which inevitably is for their own advantage.  We elect them, and participate in their ascension, hoping they will work on our behalf, but they never do.  At best, we get the scraps.

The dealings that governments have with each other is, again, for their own advantage.  You ally yourself with somebody that has something you want, whatever that might be.  France and England were bitter enemies, until Germany became a threat to them both.  Now, Germany is a friend of both, because the USSR was a threat.  Russia can be a friend if it becomes to everybody's advantage.  And to "everybody," I mean to the governments.

If you've ever seen the 1960 epic "Quo Vadis," you might remember the performance that Peter Ustinoff gave as Nero.  Talk about chewing on the scenery!  Anyway, there was a scene where they were discussing what to do about the problem of a dusty, dirty, filthy city of Rome.  Nero's vision was to build a beautiful, new city.  Problem was, the old one was still occupied.  I don't remember the exact line, but an adviser said something about the necessity of populace; that a ruler needed someone to rule.

We are nothing but a problem to these people.  We don't actually exist, unless their car needs gas, or their lawn need mowing, or somebody has to babysit their kids.  We are game pieces, best understood as demographic groups instead of human beings.  Human beings could be their equals, and that's ridiculous.

Yes, we all understand this.  It explains why we are so cynical.  It explains why we repeat talking points we hear in the media, as if they were deep truths.  Liberals honestly care about people; No, wait, they hate their own country.  It's the Conservatives that care about the working man; That is, when they're not helping their fat, rich, white buddies line their pockets.

Yeah, we know, they're actually using us.  They have to convince a sizeable number of us to vote their way, because we know that if we do the nation will lean in a general direction that we can tolerate.  We're all suckers, but we know it, and we go along because somebody has to be President and populate Congress and print our drivers licenses and Social Security checks.  And the choices, sadly, are limited.

Some of us get so damned sick of it that we run for office ourselves.  Selectman, or City Council, or Alderman, depending on the size of the community we live in.  Maybe we go in, do some good things, and attract the attention of the Democrats or Republicans.  They suggest you run for something bigger.  Or maybe you just decide to do so yourself.

The point is, the further up the ladder you get, the more compromise you are subject to.  Scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.  And if you don't, you can't do anything you want.  If you play along, they own you.  And if you don't, you're stuck.  Anyone with actual compassion finds themselves selling off little bits of what they care about until the machine just grinds it all up.  The end.

But what if someone with actual compassion got into a very, very high position?  Someone who looks out their limousine window and honestly cares about the people he's driving past?  And I don't mean a Bill Clinton cynical 'I feel your pain' kind of faux compassion, but who actually cares.  Who sees the world as clearly as any of us, and is sick of the assholes always winning?

What would such a person think of the current situation in the Middle East?  It's such a mess, and everybody with power over it has been hopping in and out of bed with everybody else for centuries.  The people that really care about something seem to care more about their religious ideology than any people, including themselves.  Everybody else seems to be more concerned with who controls the oil.

Just imagine, if you can, that somewhere there was somebody that watched all this never ending war, chemical attacks, continual oppression, and was sick of it. Somebody that felt the people living there should have a better chance of a decent life.

If I were a person like this, I think I would see three basic paths to follow.

One would be, get out, get lost, hands off.  Let everybody else worry about it.  We have oil, and tech, and we don't really need anything that they have there.  Let the Shi'ites and Sunnis kill each other.  Let Russia control the area.  Let Turkey stomp the Kurds into the dust, and Europe make deals with whoever they want, at whatever price, and to hell with everyone there.

Two problems with that.  For one, the people of the Middle East are suffering.  Ah, but they've always suffered.  And our love for oil has helped fund the oppression.  Saudi Arabia is always high on the list of oppressive regimes, right up there with North Korea.  It seems like everyone in power there hates everyone they're in power over, even the ones on their side.

For another, we have already seen what happens when those areas of the world are left devoid of our influence.  So, what do we do if (if?) they eventually come after us?  Oh, but they'd never do that.

We will now take a ten-second break while nobody remembers 9-11.

Second path:  Total involvement.  People keep telling me that "those people" wouldn't like democracy, wouldn't appreciate it, couldn't even understand it.  That's like saying that if I had a billion dollars, I wouldn't be happy.  Thank you for your concern, but I'd like a chance to find that out for myself, if you don't mind.

History tells us that democracy has worked every time it's been tried.  Does anyone remember the happy faces of Iraqis holding up their blue fingers?  And yes, corruption is almost inevitable, but even corrupt democracies - like ours! - are pretty damned decent places to live.

So we could go in, dare Russia to cross the line in the sand, kick out the criminals and despots and build some nations!  In spite of what Pres. Trump says, by 2008 Iraq was headed in a pretty good direction.  Compared to their recent past, and anything their neighbors had experienced.  I STILL say that THIS more than anything was the cause of the Arab Spring.  Small people all over the Middle East looking through the fence and thinking, "I'd like some of that."

There is also the invisible elephant in the room; Israel.  Maybe you hadn't heard . . . but they are God's chosen people.  Scoff if you will, but I didn't pick them.  No, they're not perfect.  They're not even nice.  News flash; they never were.  Read about it in the Bible, which they wrote, and even then it didn't ger covered up.  Again, I didn't choose them.  And if you want to stand up to the dude that did, then let me get out of your way.

One thing I would point out; Will Durant wrote an epic set of books called the History of Civilization, aided later in his life by his wife, Ariel.  It discusses every significant civilization that left any historical or archaeological record.  I've never read it, but I do know a couple people who have gone through all 11 volumes, and they say it covers every empire, every nation of every significance . . .

. . . except Israel.  The reason for this is, Israel's history doesn't fit into any model that any other nation has ever experienced.  Like, it was different, for some reason.  So, they simply left it out.

There is a difference between problem solving and management.  Let's say, you own a restaurant.  You walk in, and there's a dining room full of hungry and thirsty people, a fully equipped and stocked kitchen, and an empty cash register.  You get to work, and soon you have satisfied people, a dirty, empty kitchen, and a full cash register.  Have you solved a problem?

Well . . . yes, and no.  You've solved the immediate problem, but you still have to pay the mortgage on the building, restock the fridges, clean up, and hope your dining room fills up again tomorrow.  So, you solve each of those new problems, rinse, and repeat.

That's called, management.  Which brings us to the third option; managing the situation.  As that situation now stands, the Europeans have relative security as to their oil supply, the Russians have increasing control over their biggest competition in this same area, and the despots on the ground have plenty of support in their intermural pissing contests.  Saudi Arabia and Iran are each held in relative check by their chief backers, us and Russia, and the others line up behind them on sectarian lines.  The pieces in play are struggled over.  And everybody hates God's chosen people, except us, maybe, depending.

The whole situation can be seen as a big problem, solved by either quitting altogether, or taking control altogether.  Or, it can be seen as a management situation, in which one would exert power and spend capital for and against all the players mentioned above.

But what about the people that live there?  The people that run the oil wells, and load the ships, and so on and so forth?  Who's on their side?  Careful examination would indicate that they have problems, too.  And don't bother Daddy, he's got more important things to do.

In my fevered imagination, I wonder what would happen if the President went to Putin and announced his intention to see things change significantly in the Middle East; Syria, in particular, at this time.  Putin would probably look back, wondering what move in the game this was.  Why would you want that, he might ask?

Because it's the right thing to do.

This answer would cause confusion.  Putin, of course, would completely reject that as a possibility.  What other game is being played here?  What position on the board is this a move toward?  Right for whom?

A commentator on NPR mentioned the other day that the current Middle East resembles Europe in 1914.  I can see his point.  Some little person could easily do some stupid thing that could cause the whole thing to explode, and World War 3 would begin.  All the world's major players, save China, have a lot invested in that region.  And, I know, you reading this probably are aware of China's involvement more than I am.  It's a dangerous place to play with fire.  The whole place could light up, and take us all with it.

So let me ask you this; if there was actually a world leader who decided to act on behalf of the little guy, what would it look like?  What would they do about things like gas attacks on innocents?  And in the mighty words of Woody Guthrie, which side would you be on?