Site Changes

I changed the theme of my site.  I am going to try to add more pictures in the future.  This site, as everything in life, is a work of progress.  If you like the changes, which are only in the beginning stages, please let me know.  If you feel something was better as it was before let me know as well.  I can’t thank all of you that follow this site enough, and I hope that you will please let others know about it.  As Kurt Vonnegut said quoting A Streetcar Named Desire, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

If you look at the new design there is a little menu icon at the top where you can easily access the about page and the word cloud now, among other things,  instead of scrolling to the bottom.  

Comparing Songwriting to Drawing

I like to think of a song as a pencil drawing.  It is the most important part of the drawing, because it defines what it is you are looking at. But with good musicianship and the production, the colors and the frame, it can be made to resemble many different things.  You could draw a picture of a cowboy, but then you could color it in with strange colors and make it a psychedelic cowboy.  Or you could color it is with traditional instruments, make it rustic and dust worn, and it could be a traditional country western song.  You could put it up with no frame or you could put a frame up around it that makes it look as if it should hang in some expensive gallery.  That’s what musicianship and production do, they take that thing that is either great or not on it’s own, and make it presentable to more people.  A great song, like John Lennon’s Imagine, would be great in any form, whether just as a sketch or as the final product, produced by Phil Spector.  Meanwhile, you take something like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and although there is some song craft going on there, most of the true magic is in the production and the musicianship.  They are taking a simple drawing and making it into a piece of art through attention to detail.  Meanwhile I just looked at the Billboard Top 20.  Most of that stuff is like someone pissing on a canvas, putting it in an expensive frame, and then telling you it is is a portrait of Jesus.  

Introvert or Extrovert?

My Mom gave me Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  I am really looking forward to reading it, although more about how introverts are defined than any kind of power thing, whose word in the title makes me just a little gun shy.  (I avoid self help books, diet books, or any other quick fix “empowerment” books of any kind.  So far, I am happy to state, this book does not seem to be falling into those categories.)  I long felt, although my personality, like most people, is complex and is a mixture of introvert and extrovert, leans towards the introvert side of the scale. 

Anyway, the book has a test in the beginning which, it doesn’t claim is an exact science, is just to give you a rough idea on which side of things you lean more towards.  I thought I’d post the test here.  Before I do, introvert does not mean shy.  You can be a shy extrovert.  Although of course you can be a shy introvert.  It has more to do with how you are stimulated by other people.  Introverts often feel overstimulated in certain social situations, and need to take a break after awhile, while extroverts crave that social stimulation to rejuvenate their energy.  That is just one example. 

Anyway, here is the test below.  You would answer true or false for each question.  The more true you answer the more of an introvert you probably are:

1.  I prefer one on one conversations to group activities. 

2.  I often prefer to express myself in writing. 

3.  I enjoy solitude. 

4.  I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status. 

5.  I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me. 

6.  People tell me I’m a good listener. 

7.  I’m not a big risk taker. 

8.  I enjoy work that allows me to “dive in” with few interuptions. 

9.  I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members. 

10.  People describe me as “soft spoken” or “mellow”. 

11.  I prefer not to show or discuss my work until it’s finished. 

12.  I dislike conflict. 

13.  I do my best work on my own. 

14.  I tend to think before I speak. 

15.  I feel drained after being out and about, even if I enjoyed myself. 

16.  I often let calls go to voice mail. 

17.  If I had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled. 

18.  I don’t enjoy multitasking.  

19.  I can concentrate easily. 

20.  In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars. 

Look, you aren’t going to solve your personality in 20 questions.  Some of the questions could easily be answered, “yes or no…but…”.  I just thought I’d post something, if you happened to be at work surfing the internet like I used to do, that might provide you with a little fun, and might give you some inclination as to which way you lean if you are unsure.  I am all about slowing down production! 

Comedy is Tragedy Plus Time

…constitutes a veritable goldmine for a psychologist – provided he is wise enough to understand that the horrible can not only be ludicrous but outright funny.  -  Hannah Arendt

This quote is from her Eichmann in Jerusalem.   I purposely removed it from its context, because I believe this statement to be true on many fronts.  As Steve Allen once said, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”  I was listening to the George Carlin special last night Life is Worth Losing.  In it he has you laughing at suicide, mass murder, and the “pyramid of the hopeless”.   There is a great deal of absurdity in the human condition.  Comedy allows us to talk about things we otherwise might shy away from. 

Dark Despair and Gallows Humor

In order to not completely burn myself out on the new Morrissey disc, World Peace is None of your Business, which I could easily listen to a thousand times until I need to move on, I have been mixing it up with some Frank Sinatra.  I especially like Sinatra’s music where he is drowning in gloom.  This would be on albums like Only the Lonely and No One Cares.  These are albums filled with maudlin songs full of despair over lost love.  Unlike teenage pop songs, where no matter how sad the music is you know that they will eventually be OK, because they are young and will bounce back, this is music for adults, where all hope has gone out of the window.  In teenage pop, which I love as well, it feels like a tragedy, but we know it is not.  On these Sinatra albums they are the sound of a middle age man running out of time to correct his mistakes.  In fact, the narrator of each song, may be out of time, forever destined to walk the earth bearing the grief of his lost love, like Marley’s Ghost with his chains.  

When things go this jet black, maybe it’s just me, but I also feel like they go through the looking glass and cross over to a certain kind of gallows humor.  This in no way dims the true sadness of these records, nor do I mean it in any kind of ironic sense as if I’m smirking at the albums.  But tragedy and comedy have always been very close to me.  It is through this sort of transition between tragedy and dark, dark comedy, that emotional release comes and the records actually become therapeutic.  Instead of wallowing in the despair of the narrator, as voyeurs into the world of the narrator, we can exercise our own emotions and transcend them. 

Reader Response

I got the following reply from a reader over my F@$% Fairness blog post.  I will post a link to my original blog at the bottom.  I actually encourage any of you that have intelligent arguments to make about what I have written to make them.  One of the models for this blog is Andrew Sullivan’s.  I like that he doesn’t have comments on his blog, which usually just lead to partisan bickering and name calling.  But what he does do is post the most intelligent reader comments that are in disagreement with him as the “dissent of the day.”  I do allow comments here
, but I must approve them before I post them, not to stifle debate, but to prevent the kind of ignorance that I believe actually is counterproductive to real debate.  Anyway here is the readers comment:

Jeff, There’s something overlooked in your comments, at least what’s expressed here. Trust funds, stocks/bonds, bank accounts, etc, are different than ranches. The death tax has destroyed more natural resources than all the bulldozers ever built. Those who inherit farms and ranches are forced to sell because, unless they’ve won the lottery, the only way they can pay the death tax is to sell their farm/ranch to a developer. So open space, and all its benefits provided to society … aquifer infiltration, riparian areas, wetlands, wildlife habitat, carbon sinks, oxygen production, aesthetics, rainfall runoff reduction and its cleaning, food, fiber, shelter, recreation, etc, etc, etc … are soon eliminated by becoming covered by asphalt and rooftops. And those who say that “proper planning” can escape this tax are, under certain market timings, swings and changes, full of shit. So if you want to help the environment, help keep open spaces open. There are ways to accomplish this, via carefully constructed and regulated conservation easements, etc, etc, but our “leadership” in BOTH parties won’t listen and/or are too dumb to understand, or has not so far. Finally, always remember there are two kinds of landowners: those who take from the land, and those who give to the land. Penalize the former. But, the latter should be encouraged via more appropriate policies than exist today. There’s much more to this discussion that is too complicated for my email skills, but happy to discuss any time.

I think this is a completely valid point, and one that I overlooked.  However, the only thing that I would like to add is that my original blog was more about the hypocrisy of people that are against the Estate Tax so that their children benefit from wealth, and also against social welfare of any kind for other children, and not necessarily a response to the Estate Tax itself.  If this was not made clear, I apologize.  One always realizes when one writes that, unless one would write till the end of time, given all the nuances and shades of gray of each subject, there are going to be small holes in every argument.  Here is a link to my original blog:

https://windupwire.com/2014/07/20/f-fairness/

World Peace is None of Your Business Album Review

Songs about suicide that you can dance to, songs that are devastating critiques of the male ego, songs where we root for a bull fighter’s death so that the bull can survive, songs where we are told to kick the bride down the aisle, songs of poetry that vividly attack the justice system and bring an old prison alive in our imagination, and songs unafraid to look into the abyss;  These are all songs on one album and that is the new Morrissey album, World Peace is None of Your Business.  This album is subversive, intelligent, heartbreaking, and funny as hell.  This album is not just the work off one man however; This album is also the work of a band at the height of their powers and of a producer that brings the best out of everyone involved.

This is a record that is extremely musical.  The album begins with a didgeridoo and goes on to include trumpets, clarinets, flamenco solos, gorgeous keyboards, savage electric guitars, pure noise, and delicately played acoustics.  It is all anchored with the best rhythm section of the man’s career.  The record not only expands the language of pop music, but also the language of music itself.  Sure, in this place and time almost everything has been done, but this record does stake out it’s own small piece of earth.  Have you ever heard a didgeridoo go into a beautifully gorgeous glam rock ballad that also features moments of take the paint off the wall guitar?  All while lines like, “The police will disable you with tasters,” are delivered in a gentle croon.  That’s just song number one.  Anyone that claims that this album isn’t at least trying to push the envelope is either offended by what it has to say, or is so caught up in the baggage of Morrissey’s long career that they’re not listening with anything resembling human ears.

The album swings between transcendent pop and epic show stopping masterpieces.  Take a song like Staircase at the University.  The song resembles in theme the 1960’s “death discs” where tragedy was masked in effervescent melodies.  In this song a female student under pressure from her family and loved ones throws herself down the title stairs until her head, “splits three ways.”  However, when the song ends in a triumphant flamenco guitar solo and eventually handclaps, you find yourself smiling against all odds.

On the other ends of the spectrum there are songs like I’m Not a Man and Mountjoy.  These are two of the best songs Morrissey has ever recorded.  I’m Not a Man takes all of the ways in which traditional manhood is defined and discards them.  From Cassanova and Don Juan, to the warring caveman and the soldier, he dreams up something kinder and better than man as we know it.  “And I would never destroy this planet that I’m on / Well, what do you think I am, a man?”

Mountjoy, minus a line about a judgue, described as a, “three foot half wit in a wig”, is deadly serious.  The song is about the famous prison in Ireland that among regular prisoners also housed famous ones such as Brendan Behan, who is also mentioned in the song.  He uses poetic language to not only create the horrible conditions of the prison itself and the justice system that put it in place, but also to ask big questions about the human condition.

Musically this album’s closest resemblance to Morrissey’s catalog is as an updated version of Viva Hate or Bona Drag.  There are times when Jesse Tobias’s overly distorted electric guitar brings to mind Vini Reilly’s guitar on Alastian Cousin.  There are also the extremely colorful arrangements and strange twists and turns in the production from that period.  However, producer Joe Chiccarelli has updated the sound and brought new colors to it as well.  He is somehow able to bring out both the delicate details of the arrangements without them losing any muscle.  Also new multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur brings in all kinds of wold influences from the aforementioned flamenco guitar to the French sounding accordion breakdown of Earth is the Loneliest Planet.

This is Morrissey’s most outwardly looking album of all time, both musically and lyrically.  A song like Istanbul not only is sung in character as someone from the title city, but features musical nods and sound effects to that city as well till we feel that we are caught down in the human muck with the song’s narrator.  The once most British of pop stars is now casting a wide eye across the globe with equal bits empathy and disgust.

The only song that sounds as it is definitely written in Morrissey’s own voice is the final song Oboe Concerto.  “The older generation has tried, sighed,and died / which pushes me to their place in the queue.”

I can’t recommend this album enough.  It is a record of both despair and defiance that features more wit than most singers could muster in a lifetime.  As much as this album looks at the world at large, as Morrissey is thematically not only expanding what he has attempted before, but again also the language of pop music, he still ends the album with a British stiff upper lip as he accepts the reality of life and repeats over and over:

Round, rhythm goes round
Round, rhythm of life goes round

*Some of you that subscribe to this blog may have originally gotten a different review of this album.  I apologize about sending out two different reviews, but I wrote the first one when I was exhausted and simply wasn’t happy with it.  I make a point of never going back and changing anything I wrote, other than for errors, but every rule needs to be broken sometimes.