Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why Faith Isn't Silly

I write about religion sparingly. But, when I do, I am a defender of spiritual belief. I believe what I believe, but I'm not about foisting that on my audience, so don't run away on that account.

I do, however, get my back up a bit in the face of flippant dismissal of spiritual belief, in general. I think atheism is illogical, just as I believe blind belief is illogical. In a way, though, I think any arrogant and any smirking dismissal of belief in God (in whatever form) is an insult to all that has made us human, since the dawn of life.

Let me lay this out. Since forever, all cultures, in all parts of the world, have either created or (depending on one's viewpoint) subscribed to true beliefs in gods, a Great Spirit, God or spirits of wood and stone. During that time, of course, there have been people who have not believed. It would be silly to pretend that every Greek in ancient Athens expected Pallas Athena to show up one day at the local souvlaki stand. Sure, some didn't believe.

For the most part, though, all cultures, great and small, have been aligned to the idea of a greater power -- or powers. Every culture has explored the mystery of death and has developed its beliefs in what happens after we sleep the longest sleep. There have been any number of variants on Hades, Valhalla, Heaven and the Happy Hunting Grounds.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Pot of Old Socks at the End of the Rainbow

Artistic fulfillment. So stinking elusive. You just have to fall back on the old cliche: the fulfillment just has to come from the doing; not the having done; not the accolades.

My band played on Saturday night to a pretty packed room. The place is biggish, too. Usually, we get a lot of positive feedback -- people dancing and singing along; a lot of smiles; a lot of high-fives when we come out with a song someone is surprised we are playing. We're usually pretty good at picking them, especially in that particular room.

Not last night. Last night, with the exception of a few moments, we might as well have been playing to a room full of cacti. It was like serving tennis balls into a hanging blanket. So what did we do? We played. We decided just to have fun. We sort of did, but, it was one of those nights you look forward to wrapping up.

Great American songwriter, Jimmy Webb -- who "gets it."
With my own original music, I find that, with Internet radio play -- Spotify, Radio Airplay, etc. -- that people are responding very favorably. Hundreds are people are bothering to become "fans" of my songs, from New York to Great Britain to Singapore and Japan.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Literal Kick in the Face

I just kicked my dog in the face. Hard. So hard, it hurt my foot. In fact, my heel is still throbbing. And do you know where she is? She is sitting here with her head on my knee, looking up at me with eyes brimming over with love.

Before you call in the animal cops, I need to explain that it was an accident. My wife threw a toy for her to fetch and, as the dog was speeding by my chair, after it, I tried to lift my leg out of the way. As my foot came up, I planted a karate heel right into her snout.

No blood or broken teeth, but I sure thought there would be. She seems fine. In fact, she is better off than I, because I feel horrible, even though it was purely accidental.

Which one of us is superior? Does her total lack of anger, as a dog, make her inferior, in either a scientific or a philosophical sense? Or does it make her superior?

I suppose it comes down to the difference between "can't" and "won't." She is not smart enough, being a canine creature, to conceptualize resentment. (At least, I don't think so.) That would be "can't," of course. If someone accidentally were to kick me in the face, I would be really mad. I might even lash out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Most Important Question

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot
One day,
It occurred to me
That many --
If not all --
Of the problems in our world
Would be solved
If every person
Would stop and ask

"What if I'm wrong?"

Monday, January 21, 2013

Listening Hard for Walt Whitman's Footfalls

We all, as we get older, tend to ask that cliched "where-does-the-time-go" question. I'll tell you where it goes; it goes past us while we toil over necessities and then try to fill our free time with "meaningful" activities. As I once said, paraphrasing Whitman: we fail to loaf and invite our souls.

Walt Whitman
A testament to this -- and one of whoppingly ironic proportions -- is the fact that I have lived within walking distance of Walt Whitman's summer home (the place where he reputedly wrote a good deal of Leaves of Grass) for more than a decade and have never, once, visited it. Granted, it is open by appointment, only, but -- you'd think a guy like me, who spent quite a few hours studying the man's work and who went to school in the city of Camden, New Jersey, where the poet spent a large portion of his life, would have made the effort.


Well, today, I'm going -- not into the house, because it is Sunday, but, I will visit the outside of it and I will also venture into the nearby environs of Crystal Spring, where the poet once loafed, invited his soul and penned many of the pieces of his seminal collection of poems.

I'm off to loaf, and to invite Whitman's soul to pay me a visit. I'll be right back...with pictures.

Friday, January 18, 2013

When Chaplin Spoke

Here is the iconic speech from Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece, The Great Dictator. The film was made in 1940, so the historical context (as well as the mustache) is obvious.  (For those of you who may not have seen it, the speaker, Omler -- a lowly barber --  is a look-alike of the Hitler-like dictator, Adenoid Hynkel. Omler has decided to step out of the dictatorial role into which he has been forced by odd and comic circumstances.)  A friend of mine posted a similar video on Facebook the other day, reminding me of the greatness of the film. I'm not saying it brought tears to my eyes or anything...

I'm not sure if this makes me emotional because I believe in its hope or because I have no hope left. But I am sure it makes me emotional because it is pure, honest and powerful art.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dream X

Gene Krupa -- nourishing himself.
My son didn't want to go to karate class the other day. I asked him why not, even though
I knew: It was Saturday morning. He was in his jammies. Cartoons were on. Sloth was calling.

I pointed out that he sometimes complains about going but always has a good time when he is there. He acknowledged this and grumpily pulled on his uniform. He went. He had a good time. He returned to glorious Saturday sloth.

While the boys were at karate, I stepped out in the the rainy gloom to load my drums into the car for that night's job. I was grumpy. I didn't want to leave the warm house to go out into the fog and drive for half of an hour to a crowded room where I would be until two in the morning. I wanted to stay home.

I looked up at the iron clouds as I loaded my bass drum into the car. My winter breath rose up toward them. To my surprise, the clouds slowly took the shape of my father (he's very much alive, by the way, but this is too dramatic to pass up) who looked down upon me and slowly shook his puffy-cloud head, little ribbons of cottony moisture twirling in wisps to disappear into the gray ceiling.

"Dad? What the hell are you doing up there?"

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Dead End Treatment

Rin Tin Tin
Forgive me my little trends on this blog, but, back to profanity again. A few days go, I wrote a lament to the death of the effectiveness of profanity. In short, I don't hate profanity. In fact, I think it was once an effective communication tool. It just seems to me that is has been rendered impotent by unfettered use. (Thanks goodness that doesn't happen to people -- BA-DOOOM, CHEE! Thank yeew!)


Anyway, I recently saw a post -- a thing about dogs. I started reading it and thought I might re-post it on Facebook. (It was about dogs and their silly dogness...) As I read further, it got more and more crass. By the end, I decided that it wasn't how I, a teacher with many former students as friends -- and even some of their parents as friends as well -- wanted to represent myself on social media.

The thing is, the profanity in it was simply not effective; it didn't make the piece any more funny. If anything, it took something away from the contrast of dogly innocence to the real world that would have made it even more humorous.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Pop Deficiency

I was once reading a book by Neil Peart -- it might have been Ghost Rider -- in which he mentioned something about having, as part of him, an "inner teenaged girl" -- or something to that effect -- who craved the sappiest of pop songs. Neil, of course, is the drummer/lyricist of the great progressive rock trio, Rush, so this was surprising to me to read. I was also pleasantly surprised by his affinity for Frank Sinatra. (Why I would be surprised, I don't know -- we do tend to over-simplify our reading of people, don't we?)

Anyway, I know what he is talking about. I just posted this the other day on Facebook:

"I keep trying to write straight-forward pop songs, but it always feels like kissing with one lip."

I have to say, I am often moved by a simple tune with a great "hook." There's something to that kind of writing that is admirable. But I just can't seem to bring myself to write "baby I miss you so much" lyrics and I tend to find myself wandering in more experimental directions, involuntarily, in terms of harmony and song structure. Still, part of me wants to write for my "inner teenaged girl."

(Okay I do realize how weird that phrase sounds, just for the record, but it makes the point...)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Zombie Girl and the Shopping Cart Serpent

Some time ago, I wrote about my de-evolutionary fears -- the fear that kids and teens are losing their capacity for "fight or flight" reaction as a result of exposure to too much daily neurological stimulation. I think I was right. I also think this phenomenon could be the reason for the current pop-cultural obsession with zombie stories.

Think about it. In the early fifties, with the growing national obsession with nuclear energy (and the constant afterimage of mushroom clouds at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) science fiction writers and movies makers spewed forth a cavalcade of radiation-mutated monsters, like giant spiders and giant women. Fear of the power of nuclear energy and the knowledge of its possible destructive (and mutative) powers yielded tales of science-gone-wrong. Movies and stories were a means to vent the writers' horrors that we might lose control of the very powers we had become able to release in great flashes of destruction or in seeping, silent, invisible rays that morphed the things with which we were familiar into three-headed deformities.

I think it is happening today with zombies.The explosion of movies and books on the subject of zombies is a reaction to the ghastly, plodding, unresponsive, foot-dragging lifelessness of our young people. Metaphorically, the zombies are coming, to swarm over us and to consume our brains.

From the original Night of the Living Dead
How do I know? Well, I don't, really. But I do know that, the other day, I stood in a crowded supermarket, in line, waiting, waiting...waiting. And, when I got up to the checkout, I was faced with the undead.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Which Son Do I Like Best?

Some time ago, I listened, with wrinkled brow and rankled sensibilities, to a guy being interviewed on the radio. He had written a book about parenthood and one of his contentions was that parents have a favorite child when they have multiple children. He argued this was natural. What's more, he argued it was inevitable.

"Nonsense," I barked, sitting at a red light. "Anyone who has a favorite among his children is a bad parent. Bottom line."

MC Escher

But last night, my wife and I were out for some rare grown-up time (the kids were living it up at my mom and dad's house in a wonderland of donuts and infinite video-game time) and she and I got to talking about one of my sons. We both got the warm-fuzzies about something he typically does.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Programming Families vs. Family Programming

One doesn't want to label everything that is surprising or offensive as a portent of doom -- as a sign of the collapse of modern culture. Still, every captain of his own little ship wants to remain wary that icebergs are generally smaller at the tip and fatter under water...

"The Family Channel" (or "ABC Family") -- which markets itself to "a new kind of family" (I'll say) -- looks like just such an iceberg to me.

Andy Griffith: family programming: then...
I don't generally see much of an attempt on the channel to keep things family friendly, at least by my standards -- so why market it as a "family" channel?

Here's your typical family channel irony: the other night I was flipping through stations and I saw that a movie was about to come on. It was called Burlesque. The channel, before rolling the film, labeled it as a movie that contains: "intense sexual situations; intensely suggestive dialogue." The PG-13 rating portends partial nudity, profane language and -- go figure -- suggestive dance routines.

In short, not a movie I would sit and watch with my little ones. So...I suppose, to a father of "a new kind of family" -- one that thinks it is okay to watch burlesque dancing with children -- that would all be fine.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Eulogy for an Old Drinking Buddy

I have lost a good and useful friend. He was a dark friend, no doubt. He wouldn't go everywhere with me. But where he showed up, he was effective -- even powerful; even intimidating.

Where would he go with me? Smokey taverns, for one. He was only comfortable around gentlemen. He tended to stay hidden when the ladies were around, but when the joke was among the boys, he was a bawdy card.

"McSorley's Bar," by John Sloan
He also was a fierce competitor on the sports field, but he didn't like the umpires and referees to see him. He was a gravelly whisper between me (the defender) and the fellow I was clashing with over the ball. He was right there with me if someone came all dust and high spikes into the base I was covering and gashed my shin.

Sometimes, he was my only companion in moments of lonely anger -- those times when I skinned my knuckles, reaching in to replace a car battery, for instance. Or he would rumble out under the roar of the band when a quarter-inch drumstick splinter lodged itself into my finger halfway through a song, when I couldn't stop to take it out.

He used to be a star on the screen, too. He'd deliver some pretty dramatic moments; one, in particular, shared with the legendary Clark Gable. But he's no presence of the screen anymore. He's but a wraith. He's a strand of hay in a haystack.