See Your Kids in Bartertown

Yes, I did delete my Huffpo phone app, but I still do go to their website.  It just cuts down on the amount of time I spend there.  The latest headline, the above link is to it, is about how the UN Scientific Panel just released a new report on how many dangers will arise from global warming if we don’t start acting to prevent the worst of it.  Some people, alas, still have their head in the sand on this issue.  I hope that we wake up soon and start doing something about this issue.  If not, as I tell my conservative friends, “I’ll see your kids in Bartertown.”

Onstage Volume

Shinyribs played a really great gig the other day at Brentwood Elementary School.  It was great because before us kids from the School of Rock played.  You should have seen these kids!  They were playing 70’s and 80’s rock and metal and simply killing it.  One of the songs that they did was a version of Metallica’s Seek and Destroy that was note for note perfect, and I mean with the shredding solos and everything.  These kids were better than most of the bands I see around Austin! 

One of the things that was also great about their show was seeing aggressive hard rock and metal played with a really clear sound out front sound.  They were loud, but never too loud.  This had to do with the players and their stage volume, the sound guy, and the fact that the show was outside.  But it is very rare to hear that type of music where the mix is clear.  So many bands mistake volume for aggression or attitude.  Yes, there are certain bands like My Bloody Valentine whose sound is derived from playing at extreme volumes, but bands like that are actually rare.  Many bands that are inexperienced, or have experience and are ignorant, destroy their sound with too much volume.  You end up hearing overtones and a giant wash of sound instead of the things that people are actually playing.  Whenever I walk into a bar and the music is too loud I usually leave.  Every once in awhile you will see a really loud band that is also happens to be really great.  However, most of the time if the band is too loud they are over compensating for something.  You know that feeling, when you walk into a club and it just sounds like someone is putting a microphone on a vacuum cleaner. 

I grew up on heavy metal music.  There are so many neat intricate technical things that go into that form of music.  I just broke out Anthrax’s Sound of White Noise the other day and I enjoy that album every time I hear it.  The guitar playing is so aggressive and the sound is so clear and crisp on that record.  But if a band were to play something like that in a small club at concert volume, all those intricate riffs would just be lost in a wash of noise. 

I’m talking about heavy metal because that music is associated with aggression and volume, but really any form of music would do that has a drum kit and an electric guitar.  If you spend all those hours practicing and perfecting what you do, I would imagine you actually want people to hear what you have come up with.  It’s a crying shame is something good were to go unnoticed because it got lost in a haze of noise. 

The other thing that you realize you lose when you play too loudly is dynamics.  When one person on stage is playing to loudly every else seems to match their volume.  People are trying to hear themselves above the din.  Those subtle dynamics that make music really exciting get tossed out the window! 

Except for a couple large outdoor shows where backline has been provided, I never use anything live but a single 15 inch Ampeg combo cabinet with my bass.  The instances where I felt I needed more have been few and far between.   Guess what, at all of those larger venues, there is a direct out on my amp that can pump it straight through the PA.  A 15 generally gives me all the stage volume that I need.  Anything larger would just be for show and would just be added gear that I would need to hump in and out of clubs all the time.  Anyone tells you that you need more than that, who isn’t playing to at least a thousand people on a regular basis, is either lying, clueless, or deaf. 

Reading and All-Knowing Space Gods

Right now one of the several books that I am reading is L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  Prouty was the basis for Mr. X, played by Donald Sutherland, in the Oliver Stone film JFK.  Prouty is a controversial figure, as one can imagine, given the fact that he believed in a conspiracy in the JFK assassination, amongst other things.  If you look him up on the internet you will see him praised as a hero and called a sham.  I think there are very interesting ideas in this book that are very credible, especially regarding our reasons for getting involved in Vietnam.  I also feel there are times he makes bold claims which he does not back up.  He often talks about a High Cabal of money men that are making decisions for the country, but he never backs up this claim in any substantive way.  I haven’t even gotten to the JFK stuff yet.  

The reason that I bring up this book is that I believe that when we are reading, that we always read with a hyper critical eye.  I think reading in general is positive.  I think you should purposely read things from a wide variety of perspectives.  I think Ayn Rand is batshit crazy, but I still read The Fountainhead.  Even in a book so full of asinine theories, there were small moments of truth.  All humans, no matter how flawed, are still possible of revelations.  Also, even the best writers have biases and blind spots.  Even if you are reading for escapism, you should occasionally reflect about what the author’s aims are and if they hold water or not. 

However, life is short, and you do not want to spend too much time out in la la land.  You cannot possibly read every book.  You need to pick and choose your battles.  Occasionally though, you should venture out into strange territory and try out some new ideas to make sure that life is never too safe.  Just make sure you are thinking when you do so.   

The only exception is when you are reading this blog.  I have clearly descended from some all-knowing space god. My aim is true.  

More Thoughts on The Auld Triangle

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I’m going to mention it again anyway: The song The Auld Triangle is one of my favorite songs of all time.  I especially love the version by The Dubliners and the version by Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard.  I know it will be received as blasphemy in some quarters, but I listen to the Dempsey and Hansard version the most.  I love both Luke Kelly and Damien Dempsey.  I was jogging yesterday, while listening to this song on my headphones.  Every time I hear it, it fills me with joy.

The triangle in the song is a reference to a triangle that hung in a Mountjoy Prison in Ireland and woke the prisoners each day.  No one is quite sure who wrote the song, but many attribute it to Dominic Behan.  He was the brother of the famous writer Brendan Behan.  Brendan used the song in his play The Quare Fellow, a play about the prison on a day that an inmate is going to be executed.

How can a song that is about such a dark topic bring one joy?  First of all the melody is carved from stone.  It seems like it always was.  Listening to the song, I’m reminded of the Anthony Newley quote at the beginning of Morrissey’s Maladjusted album:  “On this glorious occasion, of the splendid defeat.”  The lyrics are infused with a sly humor.  The lyrics, along with the cast iron melody, make the song seem defiant.  The characters are unbowed in the face of defeat.  It is particularly the last verse that lets me know life is worth living, even under the worst of circumstances.  We always have our dreams.  From the Dempsey, Hansard version:

Up in the female prison
There are seventy-five women
And it is amongst them
I wish that I did dwell

Advertising and Children

The above is an interesting article on how advertising influences kids.  It was written by Derek Thompson for The Atlantic.  I think with Netflix, DVD’s, and video games, that now is a better time than ever to keep TV advertising out of the home.  Plus as George Carlin has pointed out, they can always just go out in the yard and dig a hole with a stick!

Dark Time in the Revolution

You know Tom Paine wrote the first best-seller at a dark time in the Revolution when we were losing and all the soldiers were deserting. Giving up. And the book was called Common Sense and it was really just a long list of questions. And one of the questions was: Does it make common sense for an island to rule a continent? And everybody kind of went hmmm and they signed back up.
And today you could ask: Does it make common sense for a country to rule the world? But no matter what your answer, no matter what you think, no matter what you vote for

We just keep calling em up, calling em, calling em up. No matter what.

A snippet of lyrics from Laurie Anderson’s Dark Time in the Revolution.  When she talks about how, “We just keep calling em up”, she is talking about soldiers.  The always great Laurie Anderson brought a little light to my daily jog today with some truth.

For Everyman

Everybody I talk to is ready to leave with the light of the morning
They’ve seen the end coming down long enough to believe
That they’ve heard their last warning
Standing alone each has his own ticket in his hand
And as the evening descends I sit thinking ’bout everyman

Seems like I’ve always been looking for some other place to get it together
Where with a few of my friends I could give up the race
Maybe find something better
But all my fine dreams well though out schemes to gain the motherland
Have all eventually come down to waiting for everyman

Waiting here for everyman
Make it on your own if you think you can
If you see somewhere to go I understand
Waiting here for everyman
Don’t ask me if he’ll show baby I don’t know

Make it on your own if you think you can
Somewhere later on you’ll have to take a stand
Then you’re going to need a hand

Everybody’s just waiting to hear from the one
Who can give them the answers
Lead them back to that place in the warmth of the sun
Where sweet childhood still dances
Who’ll come along and hold out that strong and gentle father’s hand?
Long ago I heard someone say something ’bout everyman

Waiting here for everyman
Make it on your own, make it if you think you can
If you see somewhere to go I understand

I’m not trying to tell you that I’ve seen the plan
Turn and walk away if you think I am
But don’t think too badly of one who’s left holding sand
He’s just another dreamer, dreaming ’bout everyman

For Everyman by Jackson Browne.  I recently posted one post about Jackson Browne and one about hope.  I always felt that this song was, dare I say it, inspiring.  It was written after many of the 60’s generation started giving up.  I remember during the GWB administration that it felt pretty damn current.  Unfortunately it is still current.  It always will be for it is timeless.  

You’ve Got to Have Hope

The above video is a long speech by author and activist Rebecca Solnit on the topic of hope.  It’s easy in this day and age to want to throw your hands up in defeat.  With climate change, reality TV, endless war, the military industrial complex, overpopulation, banal music on the radio, the increasing gap between rich and poor, people in power like Ted Cruz and Rick Perry, or any number of other things, it can be hard to wake up each day with a can do attitude.  On this blog I often point to a lot that is wrong in this world.  The reason for that is simply that a lot is wrong.  However, if I didn’t think things could be better I would simply quit writing, go buy a ton of drugs, and enter my own private fantasy land.  I always loved Flannery O’Connor’s quote that if a writer writes about dirt it is because the writer despises dirt, not because they love it.  (Paraphrased)  Hope doesn’t mean looking at the world through rose tinted glasses.  It just means realizing that the potential for positive change is there if it is worked towards.  Even someone like Hunter Thompson, famous for writing things like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, believed in fighting the good fight for a better future.  There is nothing more noble in human beings, in the face of an ever growing storm, than small acts of defiance like hope.

That’s Entertainment

I find the above interview to be highly entertaining.  It’s an early interview with the band Public Image Ltd. on a show called Check it Out.  Things descend rather quickly as the band is faced with banal questions from typical talking head personalities.  Whether the band is committing an act of theater, or really had such hair trigger tempers, we will never know.  All I know is that it is pure comedy gold.  I only wish this kind of thing would happen more often.  I wish that people would more often go into the “reality” of television and throw monkey wrenches into the works.  As the Jam once sang, that’s entertainment. 

Advertising Absurdity

The above link is to Axe’s Make Love Not War Super Bowl ad.  I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, so I am only just becoming aware of this ad as of a week or two ago during some kind of online streaming.  If this ad’s purpose is to make you give up all hope and surrender to our corporate overlords, it might have achieved its purpose.  “Please Lord”, I thought after watching this ad, “give me a lobotomy.”

I was reading Rebecca’s Solnit’s Landscapes for Politics this morning. She was talking about a company that built Trident missiles during the Cold War and how they used famous landscape paintings as their public image.  This is even more absurd because the company was polluting those very landscapes. 

Companies will co-opt anything.  They are like giant leviathans that will eventually swallow anything in their path for any purpose that they deem useful.  No art or culture is safe from this.  One only needs to think of all of the 60’s counter culture rock songs that have been used in car commercials. 

The best that we can hope for is that artists, musicians, comedians, and writers will stay one step ahead of the game.  We need people that will produce new works that will point to the absurdity in our country and the injustice and insanity that often results from this.  This is because eventually all of these works run the risk of being integrated into the system.