None Dare Call It Groovy

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 5:50 PM [General]

    I keep hearing people say Obama is a socialist. Well, not saying it, but writing it in postings at BeliefNet and on the right-wing blogs I click on by accident or read about in the real world. And I've heard that the talking androids on the TV are saying it, although I don't know how much cuz I don't got no TV myself.

    I always say to myself when I hear that, "Yeah. I wish."

    Folks who see the world in nice, neat categories, stowed away in little boxes, may find this hard to believe, but Karl Marx and Adam Smith are not irreconcilable.

    Free enterprise can exist and thrive alongside Social Security and Medicare. In fact, free enterprise and socialism can co-exist and both be better because of the association.

    And make no mistake, as Barack might say, Social Security and Medicare are socialist programs. It's silly to pretend they're not.

    Just because we have Social Security doesn't mean we're going to end up a communist dictatorship. That's a right-wing fallacy known in logic as the slippery slope argument.

    Whatever best serves the people is the constitutional ideal. The government exists to serve all of us, not just the privileged few. If it doesn't serve us, it needs to be abolished.

    "Oppostion is true friendship" said William Blake. And the world is neither black nor white.

    Seein the world in ideological terms abstracts it. The real world is not an abstraction or a computer model.

    We need small-scale free enterprise, and a return to family-owned businesses and small farms, where people compete to do a better job and, if successful, make a lot of money. Such people used to inhabit all the small towns of this country, where they owned a home and a business building, were integral parts of their communities, served on the library boards and chambers of commerce and school boards and PTA's, and were citizens in the truest sense. They tended to be conservative. And I mean that in a good way.

    That was before the corporatocracy moved in on small communities with their Wal-Mart and their Burger Kings and their Midas Mufflers. And now most of those towns are ruins, with shabby looking but frequently busy strip malls on their peripheries. This is not what people need.

    And we need Social Security and Medicare for all.

    Power to the people. Viva Carlos Marx.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The Gypsy Road

    Monday, August 15, 2011, 4:47 PM [General]

    "Latcho Drom," ("Safe journey" in the Rom language) is a musical odyssey, the story of the Gypsy diaspora. It follows the trail of the Gypsies from their oldest known homeland, the Rajasthani Desert in northwestern India, through Egypt and across the Mediterranean to Turkey and Rumania, then westward across Europe to Spain's Atlantic shore. Filmed in all these locations in the early nineties by Tony Gatlif, it was for a short time available on DVD, but now is once again only sold on videotape. At the moment, Amazon has access to several sellers vending used copies of the tape for reasonable prices (around $60).

    Although the whole movie is an education, I found the most exciting parts near the beginning, where families of nomadic herders with goats, camels, and donkeys, carry their few possessions through the desert in carts and barrows. Precious-metal wealth they wear as they glide over the landscape, still finding time and an inclination to celebrate their lives. This is a purely tribal and almost completely illiterate society, whose songs, stories, instrumentation, and dances are transmitted orally from one generation to the next, and necessarily learned by rote.

    Memorization for permanent retention and recall is a powerful learning tool, and underestimated in literate societies where written records have made it obsolete. It empowers learners to absorb and then transmit information with strict attention to the tiniest details, as these three young women have obviously done in learning the words, the timing, and the accompanying choreographed movements of the traditional tribal song they perform here near the beginning of Gatlif's movie.

    Understandably, learning by rote has a bad reputation among educators nowadays. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the power and beauty of what was for thousands of years the one indispensable tool for learning and the transmission of civilization and civilized values, and is still, among obscure people in a few remote and barely accessible places, a family tradition.

    --Db

     

    0 (0 Ratings)

    9th SS and 71st

    Saturday, August 13, 2011, 2:50 PM [General]

    The 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen is a topic suggested to me by a random blog topic generator. As it turns out, my young father crossed paths with these  9th SS Panzers Hohenstaufen when that command surrendered near Steyr, Austria in May of '45. Dad was with the 71st Infantry, the "farthest east" US division, which reached Steyr at the same time as units of the Russian Red Army advancing from the east.

    The 9th SS Panzers was moved around a lot during the short history of its active role in combat. They first saw action in Poland in the spring of '44, but were quickly moved to Normandy and from there took part in the general retreat inland which occupied most of the next year.

    The pictures from my dad's wartime divisional chronicle* don't show the Panzers, but they do show American and Russian troops meeting up and eating together, along with the obligatory group portrait of the high generals on the scene, Inset at the bottom of the page is a destroyed German #88 anti-aircraft gun near Steyr.

    History from the troop's eye level -- that certainly gives a different kind of view. At the troop's eye level you see the individual nuts and bolts on the machines that drive modern war along, Nowadays, killing mechanisms are more dependent on electronics and less mechanical than in the past, still nothing has changed much since gunpowder came along.

    *Clinger, Johnson, Mazel, and Nichols, The History of the 71st Infantry Division (1946, Augsburg, Bavaria: 71st Infantry Division (self-Published).

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Stencil Graffiti

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011, 3:27 PM [General]

    The ugliness of freestyle tagging is increasingly taking a back seat to stencil graffiti.

    Under the influence of the U.K.'s great stencil artist Banksy, stencil graffiti has become a major influence in public art in the world's more cosmopolitan cities. Not all of it is great, or even good, but a surprising amount of it is very high quality.

    In this city most of the stencil graffiti is executed on the sidewalks rather than private buildings. This puts it squarely into the realm of public art, as opposed to vandalism. But even though it's more polite than tagging, it expresses an anti-authoritarian, outsider aesthetic. As such, it is revolutionary.

    Other traits of the revolution to come include anonymity, the uncompensated production of free art, goods, and services, a tendency to use hit-and-run tactics rather than prolonged confrontation with the powers that be, and humor, especially satire and sardonic ridicule.

    Photo © by Dave b, 2011.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Pyrates & Strumpettes

    Monday, August 8, 2011, 5:41 PM [General]

     

     

    I'm 169 pages into the 600-page "A General History of the Pyrates," (the modern book with soft covers, not the original letterpress edition with all the f's), and finding it very uneven. This newsy book is most often cited as a work by Daniel Defoe, who wrote enormous amounts of stuff very quickly and never revised, although nothing I've read by him ever shows any weakness whatsoever.

    Amazon.com credits Defoe with the authorship of "Pyrates," but the reference article at Wikipedia raises the possibility that publisher Nathaniel Mist wrote it.

    Either way it's lively as hell, and what I've learned from it so far is that these desperate men (and a few women), colorful and romantic according to our modern portrayals of them, were drunken, sleazy, illiterate, mostly sadistic, violent gangsters. They often eased into the life by first becoming privateers, an arrangement in which known thugs obtained government licenses to engage in legalized piracy, as long as they didn't attack their own king's vessels, and the king got his cut of the action.

    When the license was eventually withdrawn, and it invariably was, these professional robbers and cutters of throats usually continued their chosen profession without benefit of a license, and no longer restrained themselves from attacks on their own country's ships.

    The worst pyrate was Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. He was such a villain that when the brave Leftenant Bobby Maynard went after him without a single cannon, just pistols and cutlasses, and did a David-and-Goliath turn by cutting off Blackbeard's head and hanging it from his bowsprit, I found myself cheering inwardly.

    Pirates are perennially marketable in any era's pop culture, and "Pyrates" was a commercial success, as was Daniel Defoe's most famous book, the historical novel "Robinson Crusoe." However his masterpiece, a work Virginia Woolf described as "one of the few works in English that is indisputably great," was his account of an abandoned child who became a part-time prostitute and petty thief, Moll Flanders.

    Although it was written as quickly as any of his other productions, "Moll" sustains an amazing intensity from beginning to end, and the writing gets both feet off the ground and flies. DeFoe was, I think, wrestling within himself over the thorny question of who was to blame for Moll's criminal life. Was she herself responsible? Defoe portrays her as a morally weak and spiritually bankrupt voluptuary who never, after her first youthful infatuation, gave a thought to anyone but herself.

    Or was her turning toward crime and the seamy London underworld as a part-time sex worker and full-time pickpocket forced upon her by a callous, stratified, male-dominated, hypocritical society, an environment in which a poor woman with no family connections, no dowry with which to snag a well-off husband, and no friends in high places had no other way to live?

    My reading of the novel is that DeFoe was never able to answer his own question.

    --Dave B

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The Sun's Light

    Saturday, August 6, 2011, 9:19 AM [General]

    The wise man Patanjali, the apocryphal transmitter of early yoga tradition, spoke of a "seer," or that part of us which sees, and taught that the right kind of mental discipline would establish (or reveal) this seer "in our own true nature." The discipline, according to the teaching, will enable a person "to see clearly."

    The ancient Indian texts called the Upanishads identify this seer as Atman, also called the self, "hidden in every object of creation," being  "the very Self which descends down...through self-projection and participates." According to this view, then, the center of the human being (or any other living thing) is the supreme being itself, incorporating itself into, the individual.

    This sounds very much like the "collective unconscious" theory of Dr. Jung, who wrote that "A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious (i.e., subconscious mind) is undoubtedly personal. I call it the 'personal unconscious.' But this personal layer rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the 'collective unconscious.' I have chosen the term 'collective' because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal..." (S.V. Wikiquote: Carl Jung, en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Jung)

    Not everyone agrees. Prince Gautama, who became the Buddha, did not believe in a Self separate from the individual, and taught that "Self is but a heap of composite qualities." He believed that what some call the Self or Seer is a bundle of loose ends, and simply another component of the individual.

    But for our purposes, defining this part of our brain we see with as God or not-God is not important. What's at issue is the possibility of seeing "clearly," which both Patanjali and the Buddha agree is only possible by overcoming our social conditioning. William Blake expressed this same idea when he wrote that "The sun's light, when he unfolds it / Depends on the organ that beholds it."

    This is all very deep stuff, and confusing to one not used to thinking in terms which can only seem abstract until experience has made them concrete. I find myself referring to something I heard my grand-teacher say about the G-word (God) when he expressed his preference for simply lumping all notions of Atman, Self, God, etc. under the phrase "that which never changes." What he's saying is that our attention, as distinct from that upon which the attention is directed, never changes.

    The metaphorical analogy I use to illustrate this principle is a goldfish bowl, which holds fish, water, plants, pebbles, and dirt. The contents of the bowl are the objects of attention, and the bowl is the attention itself. If your mind perceives goldfish in the bowl, you're perceiving accurately. If you see piranhas, you're misperceiving, and if you see miniature sea monsters, you're imagining. If you see not the goldfish swimming in the bowl but the ones who used to swim there and are now departed, you're remembering. And if you see nothing, you're asleep.

    But if you empty the bowl and wipe it clean, and allow it to remain empty, avoiding both the temptation and the tendency to fill it with this or that, then there will be nothing to occupy the attention but the attention itself, which unlike its constantly-changing contents, never changes. It's always transparent and reflects accurately, like a clean mirror.

    Since beginning a yoga practice I've attempted with limited success to empty my mind's attention of its contents. Changes in the mind have occurred, and I sometimes see things in my mind's eye that I don't understand. Also, life, and even the most mundane daily events, sometimes seem extremely strange and unfamiliar. I'm sure this is some sort of manifestation of the practice. I guess there's nothing to do but go on with it.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Inside Out

    Friday, August 5, 2011, 5:32 PM [General]

    As I was inhaling and exhaling through my morning yoga practice early today it occurred to me that we get what we need.

    The great '80's band Devo has a brand new CD, a sign of our times. Older and fatter now (also a sign of the times), as irreverent as ever, they've replaced original drummer Alan Myers with Josh Freese, a capable veteran of Nine Inch Nails and Axl Rose's band. Other than that the personnel -- Mark and Gerry and their brothers, the two Bobs, are the same, and so is the sound. The message is pretty much the same too, only a little more urgent now and more appropriately matched to the headlines than ever.

    It also occurs to me that even though there seems to be a disconnect between our internal lives and what's happening outside, in "the world," that's an illusion. The laws of causation rule everything, and what we choose to become is to a large degree a response to what's going on around us.

    It's very quiet in here this morning -- inside the apartment and inside my head. Outside, the world of human over-reach and of humanity suffering disasters born from greed and corruption roars along.

    It's natural to search for purity in a corrupt world. With 23 pure and clean breaths, I'm ready for anything. What I expect will happen today is that a few more of my fellow citizens will wake up to the gritty reality of where we are and respond appropriately.

    "Sooner or later," says Mark Mothersbaugh in one of the tracks on the new album, "everybody finds out."

    --Db

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Author, Author!

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011, 10:53 AM [General]

    How many of us have ever been sure that somewhere in the depths of our suffering souls, there was a book just waiting to get out, a story the world would be eager to devour, and a point of view that judicious and discriminating readers everywhere would find, new, innovative, and refreshing?

    Well, the time is at hand, would-be authors (me included), and there are no more excuses. We can no longer say, "I'd probably never find a publisher," or "It would cost too much to have it printed myself." Becuase, the up-to-date fact is, if you can write that book, you can easily publish it at no expense. After that, all that's left is the hard part -- promoting and selling it, or, not to put too fine a point on harsh reality, finding people willing to pay to read what you wrote.

    The on-demand publisher Lulu.com has printed and shipped over 250,000 paperbacks since it opened in 2002, and its volume of new paperbacks has risen each year.

    What makes cost-free publishing possible is publishers producing books only after they're ordered and paid for, which eliminates overruns and the need for warehousing. They charge for printing, or take a cut of sales, and they set up payment systems and online bookstores as well as helping with web marketing.

    I'd encourage all unpublished authors to visit Lulu.com, then reach deep into that bureau drawer, under the tee shirts, and pull out that yellowing manuscript, and blow the dust off. It's time to go to Lulu or Amazon or any one of several other publish-on-demand sites and start working.

    I'll be right there with you, since I already have my topic. It's going to be a biography, but I won't say of whom.

    Photo: Charles Dickens

    --Dave b

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog

    Monday, August 1, 2011, 9:23 AM [General]

    WC Handy's formal musical education was spotty, but his ability was as natural as breathing. His autobiography, "Father of the Blues," cites some of his earliest musical inspirations as "whippoorwills, bats and hoot owls and their outlandish noises, the sounds of Cypress Creek washing on the fringes of the woodland, and the music of every songbird and all the symphonies of their unpremeditated art"

    Another source of the musical training of this preacher's son from small-town Alabama was the Sunday services at his father's church, but dad disapproved of the guitar young William brought home one day, and forced him into organ lessons instead. The organ lasted just long enough for Handy to quickly master fluency with those little black dots we call written music, and when he quickly (and secretly) switched to cornet he had sufficient knowledge of European forms and methods to qualify as an educated musician.

    During his youth he was pressured by parents, peers, and especially employers to adopt a more European-derived sound and repertoire, but Handy had a deep love of the spontaneous, indigenous music of his own people, and borrowed freely from both African-American and European sources, carefully documenting all of them. Despite disagreements with his father over his adult lifestyle, he remained deeply religious, and the sound of the church choir was never entirely absent from his music.

    In 1903 at age 30, Handy was already a veteran of many minstrel shows, medicine shows, and the directorship of the band at a negro agricultural and mechanical college when he was offered the leadership of a dance orchestra, the Knights of Pythias, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and eagerly accepted. It was while waiting in a depot for an hours-late train to Clarksdale in the little Delta town of Tutwiler that the young, worldly, and sophisticated bandleader made the acquaintance of the music that would define the next three decades.

    As he sat on a bench trying to nap, as Handy described it years later, a "lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plucking a guitar beside me while I slept."

    The man was obviously poor and dusty. One bony knee protruded through a hole in his threadbare pants, and his toes were peeking out the fronts of his worn shoes. His song was repetitive, with each line sung three times:

    "I walked all the way from East St. Louis and didn't have but one thin, lousy dime."

    "As he played," Handy wrote, "he pressed a knife on the strings of a guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who use steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly."

    "I'm goin' where the Southern cross the dog..."

    "The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard. The tune stayed in my mind. When the singer paused, I leaned over and asked him what the words meant. He rolled his eyes, showing a trace of mild amusement.

    "Perhaps I should have known, but he didn't mind explaining. At Moorhead, the east and west bound met and crossed the north and south bound trains four times a day. This fellow was going where the Southern railroad crossed the Yazoo Delta railroad, (nicknamed the 'Yellow Dog'), and he didn't care who knew it."

    The lyrics would reappear in Handy's "Yellow Dog Blues," one of his earliest compositions to have the word "blues" in the title, although strictly speaking the song is not a blues, but a fox trot.

    Ever since Miss Susie Johnson lost her jockey, Lee,
    There's been much excitement, and more to be...
    She's wonderin' where her easy rider's gone.

    Dear Sue, your easy rider struck this burg today...
    I seen him there and he was on the hog...
    He's gone where the Southern cross the Yellow Dog.*

    To get an idea of what Handy's itinerant guitarist sounded like, check out this YouTube video of Texas guitarist Mance Lipscomb playing "Jack of Diamonds" with a knife. (I'm grateful to the person who posted it, even though he carelessly misidentified the card's suit.)

    The best-known version of "
    Yellow Dog Blues," Bessie Smith's, contains one mis-heard lyric. Handy wrote "Everywhere that Unce Sam has rural free delivery," but Bessie apparently didn't understand the line and sings "Everywhere that Uncle Sam is the ruler of delivery" instead.

    --Dave b

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The Lion Sleeps

    Saturday, July 30, 2011, 11:46 AM [General]

    "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," recorded by the doo-wop group The Tokens in 1961, shot to number one on the pop charts immediately on its release. Part of the song's appeal was its uniqueness, and it certainly sounded completely different from any other American pop music of that or any other time.

    Very few people were aware that the Tokens' hit was a cover, and that earlier versions had been done by the Kingston Trio, in 1959, and Pete Seeger's folk revival group The Weavers, in 1952. The Weavers' version had actually gone all the way to number six on the Billboard Top 100, but pop music fans tend to have short memories.

    Virtually nobody was aware of the song's South African origins, even when, in 1994, it gained renewed popularity after Ladysmith Black Mambazo recorded it for Disney's animated feature "The Lion King," using its original title, "Mbube." The success of this latter-day version, which was incorporated in a live Broadway musical and a TV series, generated millions of dollars in revenue for Disney and a lawsuit by the dirt-poor descendents of the song's author, Solomon Linda, and the back story of "The Lion Sleeps" finally began to circulate.

    Linda, at far left in the photo above, was born in 1909 in South Africa and wrote "Mbube" in the '20's. He was working as a cleaner and record packer for the Gallo Record Company in Roodepoort, South Africa in 1939 when he got the opportunity to record the tune with his vocal group, The Evening Birds. It was a hit in South Africa, selling over 100,000 copies, but Solomon Linda was paid only a small recording fee and sold the rights to the song to Gallo for a pittance. He enjoyed regional success as a singer and songwriter for some years thereafter, but died impoverished in 1962.

    In about 1950 the American musicologist Alan Lomax discovered the recording and shared it with his friend Pete Seeger, whose subsequent concert and recorded versions were titled "Wimoweh," a mishearing of the song's Zulu refrain "Uyimbube" (You are a lion).

    I became aware of the song's origins in the early 90's when I heard it on the CD "The Secret Museum of Mankind: Ethnic Music Classics; Vol. 4, 1925-48" on the Yazoo label. No American version that I'm aware of conveys the powerful and extremely African essence of the original, in which Linda used three bass singers in his back-up chorus.

    If you want to learn more, see the excellent Wikipedia articles "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Solomon Linda."

     

    0 (0 Ratings)

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