Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Review in Variety

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Going Clear Review

I am very interested in seeing the new Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.  It is based on Laurence Wright’s book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.  I have seen a bunch of Gibney’s previous documentaries and they were all excellent.  I especially found Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer to be especially captivating.  Above is a review of the new film at Variety.  It debuts on HBO in March.  I find Scientology interesting because I think it casts a wider net into religion at large.  How can people believe unbelievable things?

Johnny Cash and Keith Richards Perform Big River

Johnny Cash and Keith Richards Play Big River

Saw this too over at Rolling Stone on my way out the door to a friend’s B-day party.  Johnny Cash and Keith Richards playing the song Big River.  Two people who should be on some kind of musical Mount Rushmore.  I loved Johnny Cash growing up.  After he died they made that horrible movie and sort of mythologized him to where he lost some of the endless humanity that he had in his life.  I had to step away for a moment while he was turned into a pale version of the complex and musically fearless person that he was in life.  If you really want to learn about him read Cash by Johnny Cash.  I think his autobiography will put his life in context better than any retrospective could.  An indisputable cornerstone to all music that came after him.

Death, Mortality, Abraham Lincoln, and His Secretary of War

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If you want to know why Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is such a thing of beauty, look no further.  The following two pages (at least on my Kindle) shows you how jam packed this book is with ideas and humanity.  Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton were polar opposites in personality, but were a perfect team when working together.  The one thing they both personally shared was a deep understanding of mortality due to the fact that both of them suffered the tremendous loss of loved ones.  As well as losing family members, Lincoln’s first love died when he was young.  Stanton lost his first wife at an early age.  Excerpt:

That Lincoln was also preoccupied with death is clear from the themes of many of his favorite poems that addressed the ephemeral nature of life and reflected on his own painful acquaintance with death.  He particularly cherished “Mortality,” by William Knox, and transcribed a copy for the Stantons.

Oh!  Why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of lightning, a break of the wave,
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

He could recite from memory “The Last Leaf,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and once claimed to the painter Francis Carpenter that “for pure pathos” there was “nothing finer…in the English language” than the six-line stanza:

The mossy marble rest
On lips that he has prest
  In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
  On the tomb.

Yet, beyond sharing a romantic and philosophical preoccupation with death, the commander in chief and the secretary of war shared the harrowing knowledge that their choices resulted in sending hundreds of thousands of young men to their graves.  Stanton’s Quaker background made the strain particularly unbearable.  As a young man, he had written a passionate essay decrying society’s exaltation of war.  “Why is it,” he asked, that military generals “are praised and honored instead of being punished as malefactors?”  After all, the work of war is “the making of widows and orphans – the plundering of towns and villages – the exterminating & spoiling of all, making the earth a slaughterhouse.”  Though governments might argue war’s necessity to achieve certain objectives, “how much better might they accomplish their ends by some other means?  But if generals are useful so are butchers, and who will say that because a butcher is useful he should be honored?”  

Three decades after writing this, Stanton found himself responsible for an army of more than 2 million men.  “There could be no greater madness,” he reasoned, “than for a man to encounter what I do for anything less than motives that overleap time and look forward to eternity.”  Lincoln, too, found the horrific scope of the burden hard to fathom.  “Doesn’t it strike you as queer that I, who couldn’t cut the head off of a chicken, and who was sick at the sight of blood, should be cast into the middle of a great war, with blood flowing all about me?”  

Is Technology Destroying Our Culture?

Among the Disrupted

The above link is to a really interesting article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review section about how technology and economic forces are destroying important parts of our culture.  It was written by Leon Wieseltier.  It is definitely worth a read.  A small sample:

Amid the bacchanal of disruption, let us pause to honor the disrupted. The streets of American cities are haunted by the ghosts of bookstores and record stores, which have been destroyed by the greatest thugs in the history of the culture industry. Writers hover between a decent poverty and an indecent one; they are expected to render the fruits of their labors for little and even for nothing, and all the miracles of electronic dissemination somehow do not suffice for compensation, either of the fiscal or the spiritual kind. Everybody talks frantically about media, a second-order subject if ever there was one, as content disappears into “content.” What does the understanding of media contribute to the understanding of life? Journalistic institutions slowly transform themselves into silent sweatshops in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability. As the frequency of expression grows, the force of expression diminishes: Digital expectations of alacrity and terseness confer the highest prestige upon the twittering cacophony of one-liners and promotional announcements. It was always the case that all things must pass, but this is ridiculous.

The Ramones, Grandpa Munster, and Phil Spector

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Marky Ramone Excerpt

Marky Ramone is set to release an autobiography called Punk Rock Blitzkrieg:  My Life As a Ramone.  The above link is a section of the book that has posted at Rolling Stone Magazine.  I learned how to play and write my own songs by listening to the Ramones when I was a kid, long before I could learn or figure out anyone else’s.  I was probably around 12 or 13 at the time.

The book itself, if this excerpt is anything to go by, seems like it will be an entertaining read, to put it mildly.  Here is a paragraph where the Ramones first meet Phil Spector, who happens to be sitting with Al Lewis, who plays Grandpa on The Munsters:

Grandpa Al was more than a left-winger. He was an eccentric and one with a delusion here and there. He told us he served on the legal defense team of the 1920s anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. There was no doubt Grandpa would have if he could have, but he was about eleven years old at the time—or an infant, depending upon which birth date you believed. He also informed us that in the sixties he met Charles Manson, who babysat his sons. “He was a gentleman!” Grandpa said. Hearing this, Dee Dee started talking about his own sons, who didn’t even exist, and about his fictional days fighting the Vietcong. Someone should have grabbed a tape recorder, because this was an album.

Steamboat MusicFest

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Shinyribs Steamboat Dates

For the next week I’ll be at the the Steamboat MusicFest with Shinyribs.  I’m bringing my computer along so I can keep things updated.  Still, tomorrow I might be a bit off the grid as I travel.  I don’t ski, so I hope to read as many books and listen to as much music as possible between shows while I’m there.  That’s the plan anyway…

Here is the website for the festival itself:

Steamboat MusicFest

A Question For My Readers: How Do I Learn About Jazz?

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I have a question for all of my musically informed readers.  I don’t know shit about jazz.  Where do I begin?

I have long wanted to understand jazz.  However, i was not raised on it.  It is such a large topic, and I understand so little about the form, what is good and what is bad, even what is the difference between the styles of jazz, that I don’t even know where to begin.  It’s like if you discovered China.  It is so big and foreign and new to you, that it is kind of intimidating.  Where does one even begin?

About a year ago I felt the same way about classical music.  However, I found a good book that explained the different kinds of classical music and gave introductions to many of the different styles and important pieces throughout the years.  Through Amazon deals I was able to acquire a pretty decent classical library for cheap.  There is still a great deal I have to learn about classical music, but I at least have enough of a basic understanding of its history to walk through the door and begin picking things I like.  I still can’t tell a good performance from a great one, but I can at least begin to form opinions about what kinds of classical music moves me.

I have two Miles Davis records.  I have Kind of Blue and In a Silent Way.  That is the extent of my jazz library and knowledge.  I like both of those.  Other than that I am completely ignorant of the form.  Is there a kind of book that discusses, in a musical way, the history of jazz?  Like I don’t want to read just stories of jazz musicians.  I don’t need to read about Miles Davis doing heroin.  I want a book that actually explains the music and why something was important or innovative?  What are different pieces trying to communicate?

Also, what are some of your favorite jazz records?

If you would rather talk to me in private that’s fine.  I have to approve each comment before it is made public.  You can send me your thoughts, your email address, and if you don’t want your comments made public, just state that.

I would be eternally grateful if anyone can show me the light.  Help make 2015 a year when my dumb ass finally learns to love and appreciate what millions of people already understand.  Lead me from the land of ignorance into the land of enlightenment!