A Tale of Two Cities

…except, in this case, it’s a case of two attitudes defining a single city.something that seems to come to the fore when crisis is upon us. The constructive side of the two outlooks was outlined in some depth is Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell, a telling litany of how self-help and community organization develops in times of great stress and potential societal breakdown.

Houston in the time of Harvey is very much a case in point.

Case #1 showed up on a news broadcast that my wife was watching the other day, and the owner was quoted elsewhere in the press as saying something like: “To Hell with profits.” When people see human need and the common good as a higher calling than whatever the status quo was, we’re all better off.

 

 

Case #2 is not such a happy outcome, in which a mega church had to be shamed into contributing to the well being of the dispossessed and the despondent, despite the clear message in the New Testament about duty of care. This piece from iconoclast sportswriter Dave Zirin, delves into the shenanigans of not only televangelists, but sports franchise owners and the havoc they wreak, with seeming impunity, on the public accounts (remember that roof replacement at BC Place?)

 

The Houston Stadium Grift Comes Home to Roost

 

One can only hope that, in this battle for the soul of humanity as we enter a time of greater danger and precarity than humanity has faced in and phase of its “civilized” existence, the answer will lie behind Door Number One, with figurative mattresses for all.

 

 

 

Amid The Storms, A Tempest In A Tea Cup

(The title refers to this post about musings on things ephemeral, like taste in music, the viability of a particular commodity in the market, and individual people, even as we experience social and environmental upheaval all around us. Maybe this is my version of fiddling as Rome burns.)

I first picked up a guitar in 1967, having been a trumpet player of sorts up until that point. It was a Harmony acoustic and I had to look twice to figure out that my left hand was supposed to be the fretting hand. I’ve been a little crazy in love with music as far back as I can remember and grew up in a family where all of us were involved recreationally with music, and there was often music being played on the hi-fi when someone wasn’t blowing on something or another.

I went right over the edge listening to a plethora of fine guitarists in the time where we lived within easy walking distance of the Fillmore Auditorium and a short bus ride from the Avalon Ballroom, and guitars ruled the sonic world as the rock, blues and jazz idioms got stretched. I’ve never gotten over it, having lived through several iterations of the blues rising from the dead, of rock reinventing itself, of the integration of the many musics of the world, and all the crossovers that defy classification bursting forth. I even fell in love with some of the twang of Nashville, as well as classical music and bits of just about everything, but I keep close to some of that bluesy-rocky guitar-drenched sonic assault that first bowled me over as a teen, to the point where I actually laid out money for instruments and took to playing.

I abandoned any thought of seriously seeking performance options about the time that I started to learn more than a few chords and some melody lines. I had a ’61 Strat that I bought out of a used shop in Stockton on a visit to a friend at UOP in 1969. Poverty forced the sale of it a year or so later. It was candy apple red and a lovely instrument, as attested by the new owner’s refusal, flat out, to sell it back to me a year or so down the temporal road.

Duane Allmän and Dickey Betts were big favourites so it wasn’t a total surprise that I bought my Gold Top about the time Brothers and Sisters was released. I still have it, and still play it, though with little of the fire and flare displayed by Betts and friends (Les Dudek also played one at a show the ABB played at the Coliseum that year). That was also about the time that Robin Trower surfaced as a solo artist, highlighting the next phase of the Hendrix legacy. The list of players got longer and longer, and continues even today with players like Eric Gales, Gary Clark and the like.

So this one aggregator to which I subscribe, Next Draft, had this reference to the demise of the six-string electric, occasion for some reflection. The trigger seems to be a somewhat steep fall-off in the sales of electric guitars, and the sentiment on the part of the author that there just aren’t the Guitar Gods that studded the musical firmament during the years between 1950 and 1990, say. It’s true that few achieve that stand-out status attached to the playing of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman and the Eric Johnson/Joe Satriani, EVH crowd, but part of that is that there are elementary school students who can make a lot of the older folk sit up and take notice, at least in terms of navigating the fretboard with dexterity and speed. Then there is the so what factor, the been there, done that saturation of some forms of music with old-time guitar solos, riffs and fills, along with the yearning for something different. Some people will never appreciate the virtuosity of John McLaughlin because he strays so far from the simple-mindedness of pop hooks. His music requires attentive listening and associations with other phenomena than dating, so it’s just irrelevant to a lot of folks.

 

Sales might also be flagging because of market forces, such as the possibility that the market is just saturated. It doesn’t take too many years of selling a million and a half guitars to hit just about everyone who is going to persist at playing, and the antics of Jeff Beck in Blow-Up,

Jimi Hendrix at Monterey,

or some Pete Townsend stunts

are rare enough that most of these instruments persist out there in Nature, being bought and sold at a discount or a premium depending on name and provenance, in an eternal spiral of possession and relinquishment. The instruments after which six-string cognoscenti lust most have also become fodder for speculation with many of the most prized instruments ending up in display cases, never to be played again, while others might be subject to sales into collections where they will be played, but many of these collections are large enough that it’s unlikely that any but the most go-to instruments will see more than the occasional glimpse of daylight (stage spot?). There is a bit of a parallel with fancy cars of a sporting nature which really are meant for young folks, particularly the roosters on the way up saying something about their suitability for reproduction: those that can afford that luxury are generally old enough that they should be beyond trolling, just as many guitar collectors have become unsuitable candidates for seriously engaging with their instruments.

Last question (for now): does it matter? Music is based on change and we’re all witness to levels of change perhaps unprecedented in human history. Even at the small scale that popular music represents in the totality of human culture, itself an infinitesimally minor part of the universe we inhabit, this might signal nothing other than the passing of a generation into oblivion and its replacement with something else. I know I still love much of the music in question here, and that I have never taken to some of the succession of genres that have come along since it was new, ground breaking and fresh, but I wouldn’t ask anyone else to go down with the Guitar God Ship.

 

Comfortably Numb

Slacking off because things are busy, but also because I needed a bit of a break from the tension inherent in any discussion how we govern ourselves, the odd time when we get the opportunity.

So I got a notice that WordPress needed to update the site, and there was this comment awaiting moderation, from Scotty on Denman, a cogent bit that I will feature prominently if he gives permission. Crap! I’ve dropped the ball, so I guess I better pick it up, given that we continue to live in interesting times and there is still a crying need for perspective from the proponents of a generous and inclusive society.

Absurdities, Atrocities

 

As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities. 
 
—Voltaire
It would be no exaggeration to say that absurdities abound in our current social and political realm, and the atrocities, though perhaps somewhat distant and out of the sightlines of those who care to ignore them, are following suit nicely. Syria, Iraq, various South American countries and all over North America with drug wars, oil infrastructure, the sell-off of the commons, the financialization of everything and the rise of the New Selfishness should be enough to convince any sane person that we’ve stepped over a tipping point into something like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and your pick of Kafka’s novels. The responsibility is widespread and manifold: DJT and those who have blown into the Washington vortex as part of his backwash (or advanced guard, depending on your perception of which is the horse and which is the cart )may be more a product than cause, but Republicans of all stripes, as well as mainline Democrats, are very much on the hook for having pursued pretty much the same agenda in favour of the same constituency for decades, with the Dems getting extra credit for acute hypocrisy. The constant fawning over monied interests in pursuit of self-perpetuation in power seems common, even now, in the motivation of both “sides” of the political apparatus.
As Andrew Coyne pointed out in a recent piece about our own PMJT and his broken campaign promises, the fault is also ours for believing the absurdities (such as the idea that an elected politician might actually follow through on stump rhetoric, in this case relating to voting systems). Our behaviour that merits rebuke and reprobation is driven by our ignorance or our sloth, or both, as we don’t generally take the time to be active and informed on the nature of our own governance, sometimes because we just have more gratifying items on the agenda, sometimes because of the conflictual and unpleasant nature of much of the political activity in which we would be called to engage. Same onus for believing in anything but the hollowness of pretty-boy promises, though it must be said that the urgency of expediting an exit for the Harperites might have driven much of the (minority) of votes that JT garnered on his golden path to sunnier days and sunnier ways. Our failure to engage with others on issues of substance, combined with a tsunami of obfuscation and misdirection on the part of most “news” sources ensures that the options at the ballot are likely to be somewhat meaningless. Who knows what might have been better had we elected Angry Tom (anywhere there is Brian Topp, there is unlikely to be much of anything other than back room deals). Thus, we still have corrosive  trade deals, First Nations deprived of the basics of infrastructure that most of us take for granted, pipelines, tankers, fighter aircraft and overseas wars, expensive ancillary health care, rapacious financial institutions lining up at the infrastructure trough and a warped economy to accompany the petty bickering and corruption in legislative assemblies from coast to coast to coast.
Sadly, the time for deep and lengthy dialogue and reflection seems to shorten up constantly as scientific evidence piles up that our existential crises are converging and that their combined tipping points are approaching even more rapidly than we had been given to believe, or perhaps it was just vain hope. Doing nothing, or retreating back into the comfortable cocoon of self-interest are not options, neither does it look like a good option to engage in the kind of aggressive bullying, posturing, nastiness and violence that drives so much of what we call government. meaning that there is almost certain to be a degree of resignation present in any attempt to move people off positions defending a system that is patently in crisis, but that resignation mustn’t preclude steadfastness in whatever attempt is made to leave this place a little better than when it found us.
Valtaire also said, famously:
Il faut cultiver notre jardin. (We must cultivate our garden)
Now here’s what I wanted to contemplate before I go off to chase some of the sustainability, resilience and relocalization that seems so necessary as an antidote to our multilevel Washington-Concensus, Chicago School of Economics, Neo-Liberal, Neo-Conservative, Neo-Fascist way of doing business:
Several decades ago, I bought a used LP at Rohan’s Records on Fourth Avenue in Vancouver, a set by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, for which I paid the princely sum of $1.75, as still attested by the grease pen marking on the front of the jacket. I was initially drawn by the graphics and the name, but likely wouldn’t have bothered to buy it if I hadn’t noticed a couple of names in the liner notes, in particular Rick Schlossen, whom I had recently seen playing with Box Scaggs, and Rick Derringer. So I did buy it, partially because of the star power (my definition) and partly because I knew I could trade it in for most of its face value if it turned out to be a dog. It wasn’t everything I would have liked or anticipated, but it opened up some new doors and has turned out to be a long-time favourite of mine.
This month also brought out a new recording by Bill Kitchen, a twang-master alumnus of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, back in the depths of time. Kirchen’s somewhat virtuoso twanging combines with a sense of humour akin to Amos Garrett and Leo Kottke. I like this stuff a lot even if it’s not my main musical interest. Thing is, his new recording, Transatlanticana, also features keyboardist Austin de Lone, of whom I had never seen mention anywhere, but casting about, I did find a set of recordings he did back in 1991, so , with Kirchen’s de facto endorsement, I bought it: love at first listen and a great reward for following he connecting instinct.

Here’s some Thomas Jefferson Kaye with a little Derringer flash at the end:

Lest We Forget, or Perhaps We Never Knew

rd

 

 

Just a note to say that, despite the outpourings of respect for those who fought in wars, the markets are open today as usual.

 

Comment from one of the wise:

I am a very privileged man. My son is the fourth generation of my family who has not fought in a war. I have family members though who have sacrificed lives, and or, their soul and families to war. For them, I remember and hold respect for them, not the politicians who created the situation they had to risk their lives to change. Please educate your child to make them aware of other people’s ways and differences and teach them to respect the lives of everything on this blue planet. Through love, respect, knowledge, acceptance of others, and equality we can make wars history. Lest We Forget.

 

From the lyrics bin (listen below, loud music alert)

Yes business as usual
And there’s people for sale
They’ll buy and they’ll sell you
They’ll fight tooth and nail
Cause business is business
There’s always the cry
You’re all caught up
In a network of lies

–Robin Trower

 

 

 

 

 

Standing On Guard For All?

Bit of a ramble here because a lot of this keeps me scratching my head at the level of blind acceptance we accord to traditions, the protection of those traditions and the negative reaction to proposals to modify or extinguish anything even loosely defined as a tradition. The latest volley in the tradition wars is the proposal to change a line in our national anthem from”…in all thy sons command” to “… in all of us command”, part of a desire on the part of an MP to render the national anthem gender neutral and therefore more inclusive. Said MP is apparently on a fast track to an early expiration and seems to have engendered more bickering than sympathy.

 

There have been a ton of interesting and different renditions of national anthems over the years, most of the interest being generated in the name of being different, or sheer shock value.  The first shocker was the Hendrix rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, a somewhat different affair from the typical fare at sporting events where the reverence can be irreverent, but the tribute must be paid. Most renditions are pretty serious, but there are singers who just plain overdo the operatics and the embellishments and those who want to show how Country they are, and there may be disco, jazz, reggae, polka, trance, metal and other styles applied to anthem singing, but I’ve managed to miss them. In fact, as I’ve moved into serious curmudgeonness, I tend to screen out the anthems and, increasingly, the sporting events that follow.

 

 

 

I remember sitting through this, just stunned:

 

Carlos has come a long way since the early Fillmore/Mission District days:

 

The kicker is this lovely rendition of O, Canada, which, hopefully, does not indicate the level of respect for Canada from its border mate and largest trading partner:

 

 

I love where I live and I’m a great enthusiast for much of what passes for Canadian ethos and culture, though it often seems as though there is something of a discrepancy between who we are and who we think we are (was it Germans who started saying that the way to great wealth was to buy a Frenchman for what he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth? Canadians are not alone in being blissfully unaware of much of what’s done in their names). I like the idea that we want to have symbols of inclusion in all that we do, particularly in those national artifacts that are supposed to be the greatest expression of the Canadian spirit, but I see almost daily and generally across the country where people are much more concerned about the image that we project than they are in living, as a population, up to our expressed and implied ideals. Let’s work at reversing that phenomenon and the cultural artifacts will take care of themselves.

 

Post Post Note:

I was travelling with family in the Massif Central in France at the time of Bastille Day in not-too-recent history, during which visit we attended several official celebratory functions. I realized at the end of it all that I had never once heard the singing of La Marseillaise, and if it had been sung, I would have heard it. So where was the Cocorico?!

Another One Bites The Dust (Lonnie Mack Edition)

With all the (deserved) hoopla around the disappearance of Prince, it came to my attention this afternoon that Lonnie Mack had just died, and here is an player who was as consistent as consistent could be over a long and varied career, well-known to many who play guitar, less so to those who don’t follow the evolution of popular (and less popular) music over the years.

I heard Mack’s version of Memphis, the chuck Berry tune, on AM radio when i was in junior high school in San Francisco and fell in love with it. Sadly, it was the last I heard of him for a half-dozen years while I meandered through explorations in R&B, pop, psychedelic, jazz, classical, Latin and whatever else vibrated in and around my ears and fell in love with blues and blues-rock. I was on a visit to the Bay Area in 1969 when I bought a ticket to see Johnny Winter at Winterland, and was particularly curious to see what would happen with the opening act which just happened to be Lonnie Mack. It was a fascinating show, as Mack did Memphis and some other older things that I had never had a chance to hear because I had never seen the album that featured Memphis, and some entirely new material, including ballads, story songs, and a tune or two that bordered on religious. He seemed an imposting presence with a burly and hirsute look, vest and mush mouse hat with what looked like a ring of beer tabs. The crazy thing was watching Winter and friends emerge suddenly from the wings to check out this guy on stage because he could play stinging licks while still carrying a vocal line, and because he had a pitifully small amplifier in an era where banks of Marshall stacks seemed to be the norm: he just mic’d it into the PA and had his tailored sound sent out plenty loud courtesy of Bill Graham.

A couple of somewhat lacklustre albums followed, always enough to maintain interest, but sometimes tending toward the maudlin, and then Mack went truck driving and disappeared.

Mack burst back on the scene in the mid-80s in the company of none other than Stevie Ray Vaughan, at the time about the best endorsement a resurgent guitarist could desire. By this time I was thoroughly familiar with the early album he had recorded that produced the hit Memphis, but which also included Wham, Suzie Q., Chicken Picken, Turn On Your Love Light, and Farther On Up The Road, and it was rewarding to hear the versions that appeared as covers on SRV’s recordings and, finally, to see the product of some active collaborations.

I still love hearing Mack’s stuff, partly for nostalgic reasons, but also because I still find pleasure in his playing and singing just for what it is. It’s not a tragedy that Mack passed away at this stage as he was well into his seventies, but a little sad to think that there will be no more reappearances, and that there won’t be any new tunes from Mack in that style that he so favoured. So perhaps we can all just go and learn a lick or two in the Lonnie Mack style and so pass on what was best about what he did over so many years.

 


The Good News Is Everywhere

EU

 

I had a little pass through the site of the Washington Post this evening. Very enlightening, though perhaps not in the intended message.  I just find that I have to spend some time away from the echo chamber of my own building to see what’s out there and how it’s being presented to what seems to be an audience that is content to assume they’re getting the whole picture from mass media.

DC

An article that scores right up there on my own interest scale is the hammering out of an agreement that David Cameron can use to bolster the idea that the UK should avoid a Brexit, a departure from the European Union. On the face of it, the agreement gives special status to the UK in terms of retaining its own currency and making decisions about immigration and border matters (among other items), and this permits Cameron to pursue his policies of disaster capitalism without interference from the European Parliament. It also highlights what the EU has become, that being a vast neoconservative project to bring together as many European nations in a vast trading bloc where competition and flexibility of labour standards trump considerations of equity and well-being, human rights and the process of building a peaceful continent. It really is wonderful that France and Germany haven’t blown each other up for over seven decades, something of a rarity in the course of recent history, but a different kind of warfare is at work with the auto/technocrats centered in Brussels and following the lead of Chancellor Merkel working to ensure that Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish assets fall into the hands of banking cartels, and that the large bulk of wealth continues to trickle up to those already on the winning end of the economic scale. At the same time, EU nations who once ruled vast empires, continue to plunder as much abroad as possible to feed the Euro version of the new empire, based partly on the same brute force of old empires, partly on the thumbscrews of capital and market access.

 

Elsewhere, Christine Lagarde has been reappointed as president to the IMF for a second five-year term. She was finance minister of France for a while under President Nicolas Sarkozy, a willing participant in rolling back workers’ rights, gutting protections for ordinary citizens, working to privatize pretty much whatever she could get away with and dodging inquiries into her dealings with Bernard Tapie, a once wunderkind of French business (sounds weird, doesn’t it?). As far as I can tell, she’s brought the same flair to her work at the IMF, continuing to push loans on poorer countries for projects that will benefit the larger concerns in international construction and finance ensure that the peasants everywhere are loaded down with debts they have little chance of paying off.

CL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We might also recall that she was pressed into service when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was embroiled in a sex scandal in a New York hotel room in the days leading up to the presidential election in France, and election in which he was favoured to win the nomination of the Socialist Party and to very possibly oust Sarkozy. There was speculation that DSK had to go because he was making noises about a major shift in IMF policy away from the model pursued by Lagarde and those of her ilk. Whatever it was, he certainly left himself open to opprobrium and prosecution as multiple incidents of sexual bad behaviour seemed to pop up out of the woodwork like termites exposed to light, and DSK has been effectively sidelined, his place taken by Lagarde, that paragon of social rectitude and financial solidity.

The Post might define these two events as proof that the world is unfolding as it should, but those of us who live outside the fairy tale land defined by the Washington Beltway (and its equivalent at No. 10 Downing, the EU HQ in Brussels and the  Elysée Palace) might be more tempted to see said happenings as yet another shot across the bows of any meaningful undoing of the predations of the last forty years and a harbinger of yet more pillaging to come.

Meanwhile, here’s a little Pure Food and Drug Act from 1972 or thereabouts, Sugarcane Harris, Paul Lagos, Randy Resnick, Victor Conte and Harvey Mandel, something of an offshoot of John Mayall’s Blues Union outfit. Saw them do these tunes at the PNE Gardens about that time.  The second half of the vid has the intended message.

They also did a kind of a modal moan with lots of improv, the main lyric of which was something on the order of “Why don’t you cut that joker loose and come fly with me to L.A.”, I’ve never been able to find a recording and would appreciate knowing if it exists.

 

 

What To Do With Your Box of Crayons

17C Fr Drama

Far Side–Gary Larson

I have an arts degree, specifically a major in French (primarily literature) with a minor in history (see Gary Larson’s comment above). Throughout my existence, I’ve seen references to people who do studies in the Humanities teased about the uselessness and frivolity of studies in this vein, and have disagreed somewhat vehemently on the basis of a perception that there is a major difference between education and training, and that the job that pays the bills is not necessarily the only focus of a person’s life. I was one of the fortunate folk who managed to find a  career with my unmarketable skill: teaching kept me gainfully occupied for three decades, paying not only the bills, but providing a wealth of experiences for me to mull over looking at the interface between the Humanities and life in a logging town. Over the course of that career, I was able to maintain and pass along a sense of a broader perspective, one version of a vision where we might be capable of encompassing more than the simple generation of income and the dispersal thereof, a sense that there is more to see and do than just weather the Monday-to-Friday grind and the acquisition of a new truck. I learned that I ought not perhaps to be too judgmental about the relative merits of the various visions we all bring to the conversation, but work to see other people’s visions and to share my own as one of many. There were earlier iterations of this view that I was able to bring to the many other jobs I did before settling into the ongoing upheavals of a teaching career as well as to the upbringing of a couple of step children and some resultant grandfathering in which I presently engage, and I’ve always found it rewarding  to encounter millwrights, engineers, fallers, plumbers, people of all stripes of careers, who have some version of breadth of vision, some through formal education, some through a simple personal propensity to question and read broadly.

The above video sums up much of my worries about how we view education and the resultant disdain for anything that isn’t of immediate utility in the workplace. This “know-nothing” treatment of learning leads potentially to the loss of perspective and knowledge akin to the destruction of ancient artifacts by religious extremists, people who will not tolerate parallel and sometimes conflicting world views, and where tolerance wilts, civilization follows. In part because of a lack of care and attention to our collective cultural treasury, this is where we appear to be headed, that is, to a society that isn’t social and a civilization that isn’t civilized.

This all came up because of a tweet from Alain de Botton, retweeted by Greg Blanchette.

 

 

Blues On Top Of Blues

BBKI guess when you’ve become an icon, you get the big news. CBC Newsworld was full of B.B. King’s passing, and a lot of it was truly gag-worthy as the level of faux reverence, long faces and script-reading ratcheted up to full stun, including touching testimonials from the likes of Kelly Clarkson. (?) Really? Nice words from Eric Clapton via Skype, though.

I went to see What’s New, Pussycat? with a Bill, Stella and Leah when it was a new movie. Leah’s mother drove us, then left us to hang out for a second showing of the movie, meaning that we were walking east on Geary Blvd. late at night on our way back to Stella’s place on Hayes around Steiner before Bill and I would turn north on Divisadero to get back to my place. It was after two when we got to the turn on Divisadero, and, being fitted, we were both hungry, so we went into this burger and barbecue place, the only thing open. We must have looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights as the reception from the all-black crowd was not particularly welcoming with an added tinge of WTF at the sight of two white boys somewhat off course.

Sensing a certain hostility, we ordered burgers to go, but in the wait, the jukebox was going full-bore and it was King playing, though it took me a couple of days after to run down the song, hence the artist. This was something of a revelation for a couple of whippersnappers steeped in Beach Boys, Beatles and Stones. I had the pleasure of seeing King live on a couple of occasions while still living in the Bay Area, the whole routine where the band would come out and do a number or two before bringing King on stage with flourish and fanfare, and he played from a fairly well-stocked catalogue with panache and freshness that belied the several hundred dates he was playing each year. The last time I saw him in the Bay Area was at Winterland (I think) and he still did some of the same routine, but he seemed much more relaxed and the connection to the crowd was much more direct. He mentioned in his inter-song patter that he’d been listening to some jazz and proceeded to ruff up some Django on the spot.

That December, Magic Sam died of a heart attack at 32, and I was sad. He went early and left a lot of possible career on the table. If you get a chance, check out King’s appearances at the Crossroads Festival to get a feel for the decline that must have been difficult for the man. Noting his passing is fine, but I know I’ll just keep on celebrating the music from the early jump stuff à la Louis Jordan right through duets with EC.

Let’s see, who’s next?