When I was in Oklahoma a couple weeks ago I noticed, while we were driving through a commercial zone, that there was a car wash named after an Indian tribe. I don’t remember what tribe, but it struck me as both tragic and comic at the same time. Oklahoma was once the home of many tribes, including the Kiowa, Pawnee, and Shawnee. (There are obviously still Native Americans in Oklahoma, but not as they once were of course.) The white man came into Oklahoma, killed or displaced its indigenous people, and now uses their images and names to promote cheap commerce. It would be like Germans deciding to paint the faces of Jews on the inside of beer halls, just to provide some quaint atmosphere. Oklahoma is not alone, by any means, in this kind of behavior, it is just where the idea crystalized itself in my mind. People commit genocide and then name some tacky businesses after the victims. If that’s not insult to injury I don’t know what is. Next time you go to a family restaurant with your kids, make sure to tell them that the Indian on the wall was probably killed right there! That will add some interesting vibes to an otherwise drab family occasion!
Ireland has just voted in favor of gay marriage. This is a victory for sanity, dignity, and love. Ireland, a country that was oppressed by the Church for many years, is now officially more progressive than parts of our country on this issue. Although I know we will get there eventually, it is shameful that so many people here in the USA are still firmly rooted in the ideas of the past. All sane people know that those who were against Civil Rights in the 60’s will look eternally foolish when remembered in history books. So will those that oppose gay marriage now. However, today is a day to celebrate. Today brings the world one step closer to justice and equality.
The Elvis Presley versions of Blue Moon is such a fantastic recording. It is a whole universe in less than two and a half minutes. I found a site where you can read the history of Blue Moon. (Though the first two paragraphs should be skipped.) A sample:
“On August 19 they spent hours doing take after take of ‘Blue Moon,’ in an eerie, clippity-clop version that resembled a cross between Slim Whitman’s ‘Indian Love Call’ and some of the falsetto flights of the r&b ‘bird’ groups (the Orioles, the Ravens, the Larks). After it was all over, Sam wasn’t satisfied that they had anything worth releasing, but he never uttered a word of demurral for fear of discouraging the unfettered freshness and enthusiasm of the singer.”
Take 4 that evening, the one that RCA would eventually release two years later, reveals Elvis’s unusual interpretation of the song. Music historian Colin Escott describes it thus: “Elvis skips the bridge and the final verse that contains the happy ending, neatly transforming the 32-bar pop classic into an eerie 16-bar blues.” Hart’s original lyrics describe a man whose longing for love is finally rewarded. Elvis used only the following two opening stanzas, repeating and separating them with falsetto moans (that’s how I categorize the sound now):
One thing that really strikes me about the recording is how primitive it is. Yet this does nothing to detract from its enjoyability, and in fact this actually helps to create the timeless mysterious quality of the recording. Mood and emotion always win out in music. What is good music if not sounds that create emotion? In modern recordings you can make everything clear, but that is not necessarily an advantage. When there is a bit of murkiness or misdirection, it allows the imagination of the listener to fill in the missing qualities. Even knowing the history of Blue Moon, how it was recorded, cannot detract from the recordings strange beauty. I think one of the reasons that something like Blue Moon is with us, aside from the fantastic performances, songwriting, and place in history, is that no matter how much we know about it, it remains a mysterious puzzle that will never be solved. We might know the pieces that were in place on August 19th, 1954, but there is a strange alchemy, another presence, participating in the events of that night.
A friend posted the article up above on Facebook today. It’s strange, being from Pennsylvania with family in Philadelphia, that I have never heard this story before today. I was only 6 when it happened. A group that preached black liberation and back-to-nature lifestyle was bombed by the police 30 years ago. I don’t know enough about the incident to comment on it, but I think in general that the story poses a lot of interesting questions, especially with all of the police brutality that has been dominating our news cycles lately. The article says that six adults and five children were killed in the bombing. 65 homes were destroyed as well.
I recently read Candide by Voltaire. I will add my voice to the many over the years that have deemed it a classic. I think I would even say it is one of my favorite books I have read. If you were to tell someone to read a book that was written by a French intellectual in the 1700’s, many would imagine something dense and challenging. However, despite the amazing wealth of ideas in the book, it is direct, accessible, funny, and full of truths that still resonate in the modern day. I almost felt in certain ways that I was reading a precursor to Carlin or Vonnegut, people that are able to speak truth to power in very direct and clear way, while making you laugh out loud at things you shouldn’t be laughing at.
I was a history major at WVU for several years, before finally graduating with an American Studies degree from Penn State. One of the things in history that always comes up is trying to justify or condemn someone for what they did based upon the times that they live in. “Well so and so owned slaves, but you have to understand the times that they lived in.” I think something like that is only completely true if you know how far thought had progressed in certain societies. If slavery or some other evil is accepted by almost everyone, then you might not be able to judge someone if the light of truth hadn’t been shown on that particular evil yet. On the other side, if people knew something was evil, or unethical, than you can judge those people in their own time.
Reading Voltaire makes me think that the argument, you have to understand the times, doesn’t hold water as much as I thought. Voltaire satirizes almost all of the evils of his time and ours: Violence over religion, colonialism, exploiting other humans for profit, violence against women, war, and on and on. The book was written in 1759, before the United States even existed, yet there is a passage where he points out how absurd it is to treat those of another race cruelly, especially in the name of God and country. He is constantly satirizing different religious sects for fighting with each other over beliefs.
The book basically follows the title character, a well meaning but naive man from Germany who is told by a court philosopher that all is for the best, that all is part of some natural order. When Candide gets kicked out of the castle he is living in, for being with a woman that he shouldn’t be, his story becomes a downward spiral of the tragic and comic as one bad thing happens after another. The language is very direct and simple, but the amount of terrible deeds listed almost becomes poetic in its scope. It certainly is one of those works where things are so terrible it goes through the looking glass, where the awful becomes funny as a result of perceived absurdity. The book holds a mirror up to the human race, asking the question, almost screaming, “What are you doing?!!!”
The forward to the book makes the case that above all, Voltaire was against superstition. It was superstition, belief in things that have no basis in nature, that is man’s biggest folly. He understood the cruelty that humans could do to one another through created orders like religion and nation states.
Although Voltaire doesn’t have any answers, he does have a direction by the end of the book that at least points towards ways in which humans could lead lives worth living. Although this is a book largely of darkness, even if hilariously conveyed, this is not a book completely without light.
Although the world has progressed in certain ways since the time of Voltaire, many of these problems are still with us. I couldn’t help but ask myself several questions: How did he have such a clear view of the world before modern science and so much other knowledge existed? If he had such a clear view of the world of the world, why were so many others in his time so lost in the dark? If he had such a clear view of the world in 1759, why is it that so many of these problems still persist? How is it that someone writing in the 1700’s could see the world, when so many people, SO MANY PEOPLE, of right now are so lost in the woods? Why do so many idiocies associated with religion and superstition still exist, if he knew so much then and we have gained so much knowledge since his time?
Who knows such things…
It seems that is confirmed, by George Will and other sources, that Nixon committed an act of Treason concerning the Vietnam War. During his first election he contacted the leaders of South Vietnam, when he was still a private citizen, and sabotaged peace talks to make his election chances more favorable. That is the simple version. Maybe this was really big news and I missed it somehow, as Will’s article came out last year. But if not, why wasn’t this much bigger news? We spend weeks on crashed planes, but not weeks on elected Presidents who have committed treason? I realize Nixon has been dead awhile, but this seems the kind of thing that society could learn a lot from.
The other night I watched Oliver Stone’s W. for the first time since it was in theaters, his film about George W. Bush. There is that old saying that comedy is tragedy plus time. The farther we drift from those years the more they seem like some kind of strange absurd comedy. (And yes I am fully aware of the real tragedies that were part of those times.) Like when you study the horrors of medieval times they almost appear like a Monty Python comedy. I think people will look back on that point in our history with disbelief. How did we knowingly choose to put a man like that in charge for two terms? Why did we invade a country that posed no threat to us? It was baffling then to many and even more so now.
If you lived through those years the movie might seem too light for what actually went on. However, if you view it in a detached way, as someone looking back who didn’t live through them would, I think it emotionally reflects how those times will be viewed.
I’ve also, as stated, been watching House of Cards lately. Given some of the problems with the third season, I still think it possesses interesting ideas. Combined with watching W. is the idea that our leaders our just people, no different from us. They may have better luck, family ties, or ambition, but at the end of the day they are humans. It is only ritual and stage craft that gives them their power. We are all part of a play. The power they possess is only in direct accordance with how much power we believe that they have. In the show Deadwood there is the idea that history is, “a lie agreed upon.” There are rules and traditions that create the perception of order and therefore create order itself. It is the belief in these fictitious sets of principles that holds it all together.
To close, I quote Twin Peaks: “We live inside a dream.”