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


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.

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.

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?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Peter Pan's Lemonade Stand

At its core, this song is about marketing strategy.

A few years ago my wife, Lynn, and I were talking about my 'music career,' such as it was.  The phrase popped into my head as the perfect explanation for how I like doing things.  'Peter Pan' refers to the fact that I'll never grow up.  And a lemonade stand is a business where it's not important to make any money.  It's more about hanging out on a sunny day and sharing with the neighborhood.  I own the lemons, the sugar, the water, the cups, etc. 

This was one of those songs that, as soon as I wrote it . . . I hated it.  But I liked what it said.  The original groove was more of a cut-time 2/4 thing.  I piddled around with a little, played it for Jonathan and a couple other people, got good feedback, but still didn't like it.  And then, I played it for Rocko.  He put a whole new spin on it, and now it's a favorite of mine.

This might be one of those one-take songs, two at the most.  Including the guitar solo.  Jonathan does a really nice little harmony on the chorus, but he wasn't there when I went in to re-do the vocal, so I did that one myself.  Sorry, Jon.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Heartbeats, pg. 2

I got so involved with telling how the song got written, I forgot to mention how it got to be recorded.

The original plan for our album was to record it ourselves. That would save a lot of money. Then, Rocco gave me a copy of Stovepipe Mountain's CD. One listen was all it took to convince me that you get what you pay for.

I made arrangements to visit the place where it was recorded, and meet the man responsible. Wes Chapmon owns and operates Studio Bohemo in Bath, NH. I hope I'm getting this story right; he used to co-own a commercial studio in Texas and wanted to open a little one of his own. His wife happens to be from New Hampshire, so they found a place and set up shop.

We hit it off immediately, and I was very impressed with the facility. He even offered to cut us a break on the price, and we set a date for the first session. Jonathan, Rocco and I got there about 9 am on a Saturday, set up, and started. The plan was to do basic tracks for as many songs as we had time for, and build the finished product from there.

By the middle of the afternoon, we were pulling out songs that the three of us had never even played together. Every song on the CD was begun that day, and most of the bass and drum parts are from that first session. A lot of the rhythm guitar, and even some of the leads and lead vocals all happened in that one day. I don't think we needed more than 3 takes of anything, and some we nailed in 1. It was quite exciting.

This song in particular is an example of the magic that Wes worked from that point on. The rhythm guitar parts were done with a Fender Strat, through my Deluxe Reverb. I went back in to add leads with a Les Paul and one of his Fender Princetons. I also re-did the vocals.

At that point, Wes took over. We did the original guitar parts dry except for a little reverb, so he added some effects. He also pulled the rhythm guitar completely out of the first half of all the verses, which I thought sounded great, so we do it that way live now. He also put a little synthy-thing in that same spot, which gave it a nice little edge.

I have made it a point to not ever ask Wes what he thought of the music, whether or not he liked it. Jon and Rocco, yes. It was important for me to know what they thought of what we were doing, because it was as much theirs as mine. If I find I've brought them a song that either of them don't like, it's gone. Wes, on the other hand, is essentially a sub-contractor we hired to perform a service on our behalf.

The mark of his professionalism is that he tackled the whole project with a passion, working hard to make every note as good as it could be. I would like to think he would put that much into any project he worked on, even if he didn't particularly like the music. Whatever his opinion was of what we brought him, he truly became the 4th member of the band.

So anyway, thanks, Wes, for a job very well done.  I'm honestly amazed at how good the finished product came out.  It sounds better than I could have expected, and much, much better than what we'd have done on our own.

Studio Bohemo has a very good web site, and they sell gear on the side.  I've got my eye on one of those D'Angelico archtops.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

In Between the Heartbeats

The genesis of this song was a chance meeting with a gentleman who had once been a member of an outlaw biker gang.  As he explained, there are only two ways out of such gangs.  One is, to die.  The other is, as happened to him, "getting religion."  He became a born-again Christian, and promptly told the leadership of his gang that he could no longer participate.

Now, anyone else who said such a thing, announcing that they would no longer be a part of the gang and its activites, would find leaving very difficult.  In his case, he was shown the door.  It seems that, while not understanding the impulse to surrender oneself to ones creator, it is traditional to at least show said creator a certain level of respect.  In a nutshell, if that guy is now the property of God, and he's willing to risk his life to tell you so ... well, that's an owner they don't want as an enemy.

Being the inquisitive type, I asked about life in the biker gangs.  The gentleman told me about the breadth of influence these gangs hold over large segments of society.

"My God!" I said.  "You should write a book!  Expose them."

He just laughed.  It seems the books have already been written.  I'd even read a couple of them.  And, the gangs go on as if nobody knew a thing.  So, I asked him if he felt a responsibility to do anything about them.

Turns out, he does.  He goes back.  Not to join in on their crimes, or get hammered at their parties.  He goes to be available.  He does whatever he can to be allowed to hang around; cleans their bikes, get someone that's passed out to safety, treat injuries; he's cleaned up messes when somebody throws up, gives "guests" rides home, whatever he can.

If you've ever been to the Bike Week festivities at Weirs Beach, you've surely seen tables occupied by different chapters of some bike "clubs."  Members of the chapters sit out in the hot sun and promote the clubs more beneficent works.  This guy will bring them bottles of water, no charge.

His whole purpose for hanging around a group of people whose activities he has disavowed is; every now and then, somebody else gets the idea that they'd like to leave.  They'd like to put that life, and the things they've been doing, behind them and move on.  But so far as they know, there's only one way to do that.  He hangs around, to show them that there's another alternative.  Not that they have to respond as he is doing, but just so they can get out.

I have thought a lot about that conversation over the years since.  I've come to realize that this situation is not restricted to biker gangs.  We are surrounded by groups of people who have a unified identity and a singular vision.  A lot, if not most, (if not all) of these groups may present a public face that is benign, to show that their motives are pure and good and righteous.

The reality is that they exist only for their own benefit.  They are willing to go to varying degrees of effort to advance their agenda.  Often, a few at the top of the pecking order run things and the deception dribbles down through the ranks, until the operatives in the street believe the lies themselves.  If they challenge the holes in the logic they promote, they are silenced.  They may be directed into activities that keep them busy, or driven out, or even promoted.  It's a way of dealing with people who say things like; "If A is B, and B is C, isn't C really A?"

A lot of times, a person who has invested their efforts, time and treasure into something comes to a crisis point.  They wonder, what the hell am I doing this for?  I work and work, and we all do, and it all seems to be going nowhere.  Maybe they've even gotten a peek inside, and come to the realization that the people they've been following are not what they were thought to be.  Maybe what they're part of was founded on a lie.  Or maybe it was founded on a good idea, but that idea has become lost over time and succumbed to selfishness.  The thing they believed in has become a means of acquiring power that is now being misused.

The world, life, is a living thing.  It moves in a rhythm.  All things are like music, moving together from one moment to the next, the rhythms bouncing off each other, the notes struggling to harmonize.  Our brains are wired to try and make sense of it all, to catch the melody line, to move in harmony and rhythm with it.

We know that we cannot hold all of this within our minds, hear it all, dance to it all, so we try and hold onto the parts of it that make the most sense to us and hope that we are a "good" part of the music.  Or, it's all so confusing we decide we just don't care, and sing our own song.

And every now and then, in the little spaces between the notes and the beats, we get little glimpses of something.  In between the protons and electrons and neutrons of every atom, there are vast reaches of space, unoccupied areas that dwarf the physical particles that orbit one another.