Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dropping the Chains of Equality

I was on the treadmill today watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (for some reason, I am on a mission to watch them all, in order) and Captain Picard referred to his "superiors." I had a thought at that moment that liberated me from the chains of equality.

Of course, Americans have the idea ingrained in them that "all men are created equal." This fuels a kind of independent spirit (no pun intended) and a sense that we are just as good as anyone around us. Those who think they are "better" than us can sod off. On an existence level, this is true... No one is simply born with more worth than anyone else.

As a teenager and as a young adult, I was fiercely against regarding anyone as a "superior." I have always been a bit snippy about that idea. I would never have joined the military, because I have a problem with playing the role of a subordinate. After all, I, as a private, I am every bit as good as the drill instructor, am I not? Am I not as good a person as him? Am I not as valid of a human being? Why should I call him sir?

At the same time, I have always been respectful of those who have achieved higher levels than I have. This would seem incongruous, no? I use, and have always used, the word "sir" when addressing elder gents. (I use "ma'am" more reservedly, if only because I have known women who think this is an accusation of oldness...)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Heresy in the Church of Science

I have, many times, criticized the American transition into science as a new religion. But, to be clear, it is not science I have a problem with; it's the worship of science I have a problem with. In fact, I (note the quite intentional lack of a rude expletive) love science. I have been fascinated with it since I was a boy.

As neurologist David Eagleman so aptly pointed out, science is just a pier that stretches out into a vast ocean of things we do not know; therefore, science cannot be looked to for the definitive answers to everything. And it certainly cannot be seen as a defining parameter for all that is possible in the universe. Things exist, in incalculable numbers, outside of what science can prove. To say one doesn't believe in anything that is unproven is to admit to idiocy, if you ask me.

The worst outcome of this worship of science is the decreased wonder at the depth of the human mind and body.

Just a few days ago, this occurred to me as the reason why I turn so angrily away from studies that tell us that there is an answer as to the source of human creativity; or that show us, in a CT scan how the mind of an athlete works; or that explain the physiology behind criminal behavior; or that reduce love and passion to chemical equations.

We humans are so much more than that. A trend in brainwaves might be a pier into the ocean of what goes on in our minds, but it will ever be a boat ride to Truth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Social Will

short one, since it is Christmas Eve.

Society bends individuals to its will. It always has and it will do so in the future. No matter how much the will of society changes, it is the will of society that dictates the way we are "supposed to" act.

Therefore, what was "right" fifty years ago may not continue to be "right" today. Still, social will, no matter how much it reforms itself, is not a proponent of freedom. It is an organically occurring form of control that seeks to tell the individual how to think.

Social agendas that claim to promote freedom for certain individuals are, in and of themselves, an attempt to take freedom of thought away from others.

The only solution to this is to think one's own thoughts and to be independent of groupthink.

I leave you with this irrelevant but nifty cartoon. (Hat tip: C. C.):




Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting a Grip on Tradition

I hope people don't run screaming when I write about the drums. In most cases, I am not writing about the drums, but about something I learned about life through the drums...  Granted my last piece on the aesthetics of drums is a bit more drummy than most, but stick with me with this one. It's about the concept of tradition more than it is about drums.

There are those among us who are so tied to tradition that we refuse to admit change into our lives or into the lives of society as a whole. This is bad. But, then, there are those who call any traditional view "old fashioned" or outright stupid. This, also, is bad. The thing is, tradition that makes sense should remain and tradition that does not make sense should be considered for upheaval.

A great metaphor for this is the way drummers hold their sticks. There are, out there, die-hard proponents of the "traditional grip" in drumming. It looks like this:



Note the sort of sideways grip in the left hand. This is the way many drummers were taught for years and years. According to Neil Peart, in an article he wrote many years ago for Modern Drummer, this grip originated with the side-hanging snare drum for marching -- the one we picture in the Revolutionary War photos:

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Drum Aesthetic

I have referenced my ridiculous attraction to the appearance of drum sets before, but...I remember...

My father had a recording studio in our house for awhile. I was but a lad at the time; maybe in middle school. After a session, a great area drummer named Carl Mattola, who was a cool guy and a good friend of my dad's, left his drums behind in anticipation of an upcoming session. The thing was, he hadn't left any sticks, so I couldn't play them.
Gavin Harrison's set on a King Crimson tour: potential energy.

I had never played the drums before and now I had to just look at them. But, I could see something in that little Pearl four-piece set. At the time I wouldn't have been able to articulate it, but there was tremendous beauty in that silent sculpture that is a drum kit. It was the aesthetic of  potential -- potential energy; potential for human movement; potential for explosive or shimmering sound...

Here, a cymbal hung in perfect reach; there a pedal for one foot; there a pedal for the other foot. The drum set was a mechanism for a kind of Tai Chi movement of four limbs at different times and in different ways; there was the potential of bringing the disparate instruments of a hi-hat cymbal (that could hit or played with the feet) a crash cymbal, a "ride cymbal," a snare drum, a kick drum and a mounted tom-tom and a floor tom all into focused rhythmic pattern that could only come out of a musical oneness with Tao or Zen or "The Groove" whatever you wanted to call it.

I'd sit with my feet on the pedals and imagine playing. I'd envision it. But... no sticks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Remember me...but...forget my fate."

Yesterday, I was driving drowsily home. I turned off of the main road, onto a sort of sub-main road; a busy little side street that runs past some schools and businesses.

The speed limit is 25. No one does that, but no one "flies," either. Between obstructing cars parked on the side, I saw something topple and I tapped my brakes. My brain tried to make sense of it. It had all of the characteristics of a falling tree -- a small one, but rigid and straight, all of the way down. As I got closer, I saw an old man, half in the roadway, his cane pinned under him. He was motionless.

I stopped the car and put on the hazard lights. I crouched next to him.

"Are you okay, sir?"

"I think I hit my head." He was bleeding from the forehead. "I guess I can't even walk anymore."

This was familiar territory for me. My dad went through this kind of thing, both the physical falling and the visible shame of a dwindling list of strength-affirming things he could do on his own. I had picked him up many times, both physically and mentally. (Sometimes I failed to "pick him up" on the mental end.) Not all experiences are good, but, sometimes good comes out of them: I knew what to do.

I helped this old man to sit up and rest for a minute, then I put my hands under his arms and used my legs to help him stand. (It is astounding how heavy a little old man can be.)

Before long, I had him holding onto a street sign for support. I got a rag out of my glove box and gave it to him to hold up to his bleeding head. "Do you have a car?" he asked. "Can you take me home?"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Music: The Lyrical Steroid

How does the listening public hear certain song lyrics and not demand recompense for the time lost in listening to them?

Yesterday, Bryan Adams's old song, "Heaven," came on the radio. It came out when I was in high school. I think it was our prom song in '86. That lyric is a pile of cliches. That's all it is.
"Now, nothin' can take you away from me.
We've been down that road before
But that's over now.
You keep me comin' back for more."
It must have taken him about eight minutes to write. (But what more can you expect from a guy who would go on to write a song called "18 'Till I die"?)

"How can anyone allow this happen?" asks the lyricist in me. "How can you people listen to this?" asked the teenaged, progressive rock/classical-loving high school kid I was...

Well, I know how. And between you and me, I, too, have fallen prey to bad lyric songs: they're relatable, which is the stuff of a cliche, in the end. But the main reason this happens is that music kicks the proverbial butt of all other art forms. People can see lyrics as "good enough" because music is to lyrics what steroids are to a 40+ home run hitter; it can raise the most inane drivel into the realm of the sublime.
"Hmm... 'Poopsie, you are everything I need..'
No. 'Baby you're all that I need.' That's it!"

It's not that Bryan Adams is a master composer, by any stretch. It's that music is that powerful. Even a simplistic chord and song structure like the one in "Heaven" is impressive to the non-musician's ear. Float that mediocre music and brainless lyric out there to a hormonal sixteen-year-old who is convinced that the girl he met in chemistry class is worth dying for because she is a good kisser, and you are guaranteed success.

I can just see my classmates delving into each other's eyes on the dance floor...boys singing into the girls' faces ("Baby you're all that I need..." ) and the girls tearing up as if they had just been presented with a wax-sealed Shakespearean sonnet.

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Wife Is Not My Dream Girl

My wife is not my "dream girl."
Karen in a hat.


The girl I used to dream about was...different than my wife. She was very visibly artsy. She had an English accent that was probably more of an American actress's approximation of one than it was real. She looked cute in hats and wore floral summer dresses year 'round. She read the Romantics every night before bed. She was as obsessed with creativity as I am. She was a character that I had "written;" she wasn't a person.

I even met this girl. In fact, I broke up with my wife (who I was dating, at the time) to go out with this girl. My wife had (clearly, with complete accuracy), stepped back and taken a "you'll be back" attitude. She was right. It took about three dinners with my dream girl for me to realize I was...bored. We had plenty in common; she was attractive and intelligent; she was sweet. We got along great. But...after a few great conversations, we had sort of run out of stuff to say.

My wife-to-be, no doubt having sensed the perfect time for the coup de grâce, showed up at a crowded gig looking stunning (to say the least) and that prompted my stream of consciousness into a realization that I had, indeed, made the wrong move. The rest is history -- including my "dream girl."

Karen and I are very happily married and have been for nearly seventeen years, now. I know it is unfashionable for creative types like myself to be happy at all, let alone happily married. (I almost feel I have to be apologetic for not being an alcoholic or an insomniac.) But just as I realized that I don't have to fit the artistic cliches, I eventually realized we are all making a mistake when we set out in search of a "dream" partner. We're bound to paint a two-dimensional picture and where's the satisfaction in hugging a cardboard cut-out?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Missing Dignity

I miss dignity.

I recently saw an "article" about things couples do when they have been together for a long time. One of them was "you let him pee in the shower when you are showering together." There is such a long list of ways that this shows a lack of dignity that I can't give it the time required...

If this (at best) unhygenic practice is common, first of all: welcome to the Express Bus Ride to De-evolution. Second of all...why would anyone write about this? -- why would in Internet-reading world admit to the truth of this, if it were the case? Lack of dignity is the only thing I can think of.

A lost look of dignity? 
The other day, I saw a clip -- I guess it was from a game show -- in which a woman admitted that she has an agreement with her mistrusted man. When he goes out without her, she writes her name on [How shall I put this on a dignified blog?] him. If he comes home with the ink smudged, she knows he has cheated.

It's strange enough to do this, but, to go on TV and admit it? Total lack of dignity. Even if Sharpie Girl made it up to get on TV, it still shows a lack of dignity: she is willing to make a fool of herself for fifteen minutes of fame.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Christmas Truce of 1914: Every Silver Cloud Has a Fecal Lining

It's a famous story, now. Here is it charmingly depicted in a commercial:
The commercial is a pretty good depiction of what happened.

On one website, it was called a heartening proof that the soldiers' essential humanity remained. They saw the event as uplifting. But every silver cloud has a fecal lining.

From an article in the November, 2014 issue of National Geographic:

"No one there wanted to continue the war," [author, Stanley] Weintraub said. But the top brass did, and threatened to punish troops for shirking duty. As the new year began, both sides "went on with the grim business at hand."

Absurd, is it not? This is how the many are herded, lead and eventually slaughtered at the whim of the few.

So, let's all cheer war like it is a football game. That will get us far. Some day they are going to give a war and...we'll just keep doing what we are told.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Window

Hugh Syme's cover art for Rush's Power Windows
Last summer, when we were on vacation, my son, through a series of events, got into a very bad mood one day. This sent him into a series of negative thoughts until things turned into a conversation about how horrible the world is. He referenced various things in the news; a whole chain of valid observations about how nasty the world and and how nasty people can be.

It so happened that, much to our surprise, construction had begun on the lot across from our rental house. Our kind rental owners had called and explained that they had not known construction was going to begin that week and they had offered us a refund for the second week if we wished to move to another rental property. We stayed and it was fine.

I went up to my son's room, which had a small window that looked out, across the street, onto the construction. When he was at the height of his anger about the world and nothing I said could cheer him up, I said:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hypercommunity

During a discussion with my wife, the other day, I realized that I have been sort of misrepresenting my opinion on a very prominent issue -- prominent, at least, on this blog. What I mean is: the issue of "community." I tend to be harsh toward the idea, which is, to the general populace, not unlike being harsh toward puppies.

I am sure that most readers have been "getting" what I have been trying to say, but, it occurred to me, during that aforementioned conversation, that what I should be railing against is "hyper-community."

My problem is easy to explain: the individual has been swallowed up by a world that over-emphasizes "community" and that is obsessed with the idea of being "connected." But this is not "community;" it is "hyper-community." From now on, I will call it that.

Community is, at least for me, when there is a big storm and one's neighbors come over (as mine once did) to help one clear a huge fallen tree. Community is barn-raisings and sing-alongs. Community is bringing in your neighbor's mail when he is on vacation. Community is returning a lost dog to the address his collar. Community is long summer talks over fences. Community is watching our for your neighbors and working together with them when circumstances call.

What it is should not be is the abandonment of family and the dismissal of private life. It seems, however, that this is what it has become, with the ripples moving outward...