Monday, September 30, 2013

Steven Wilson's "Drive Home"

I don't want to over-saturate this blog with my interest trends, but I can't avoid this one. It's just too stinking good.

I have been chirping a bit about my interest in the music of Steven Wilson, of late. A while ago, I posted a fan-made video for his song "Heartattack in a Layby." It got some pretty good reactions from readers, both on the site and on other media. I like that -- it is still cool, in this info-crazy world, to feel like one is spreading the word about someone.

Wilson is a rare success story -- a guy who does music for art's sake and who has managed to be successful enough to keep going with it. Even his videos demand something from the viewer. He is the real thing, artistically.

His latest album, The Raven the Refused to Sing...and Other Stories is evidence of this. I don't do full-on reviews (they are stupid, when it comes to music, I think) but it is my favorite thing he has done, by far. I especially like the homage to some of the older progressive rock. And, on top of it all, Alan Parsons produced and engineered it with Wilson.

(I'm still waiting for the call from Steven for a collaboration. I know it is only a matter of time. Surely when he hears my Hats and Rabbits CD...)

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Tale of Ned and Honey (A Parable)

Once upon a time (okay, it was last Friday) a guy named Ned was clicking around on the Internet and he saw a picture of a tattoo: it was a snake (a cobra, to be precise) and the cobra was wearing a cap emblazoned with the logo of his favorite football team.

I deeply desire that tattoo, thought Ned. Alas, he thought, further -- my wife dislikes tattoos deeply.

"Honey," he said, flipping around his iPad. "Look at this. Isn't it cool?"

Honey (seriously, that was her name) dropped her reading glasses down low on her nose and glanced over from her chair. "Eeeewuh. Gross. And, besides, you know I dislike tattoos deeply."

Ned was vexed. He'd always loved tattoos. His cousin, Ted, had had a great one: an image of Curly, from the Three Stooges, smoking a marijuana cigarette. Ned had always coveted it.

He was further vexed because marriage had taken away his freedom. His freedom, do you hear? Who was she to tell him what to do?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Todd Rose: The Myth of Average

Not a usual move for me, but...

As I said in a Facebook post recently:
Anyone who teaches or who has kids should watch this. This is for everyone who thinks individualizing education is "lowering the bar." I'm all for tradition, but not when it tortures exceptional kids.
There are a lot of people out there who think that the only way to teach kids to meet challenges is to force them to fit a mold. It simply isn't so. And, besides -- and I have said this to many fellow teachers -- is our job more about teaching kids to "rise to challenges" or to help them understand and to think for themselves, creatively and analytically?

Obstinate dinosaurs, please go back to washing your chalkboards and disregard this. Also, technology worshippers who think just plopping a kid in front of an iPad is education -- you can sod off, too. We need to think, people.

Monday, September 23, 2013

'Til Hair Do Us Part

The other night, I was in the emergency room of a hospital. (Not for me -- for someone else; and everyone is doing okay...)

As I sat there, I watched two teams of ambulance people roll patients in. They unbuckled and lifted and bellowed (one of the patients was hard of hearing) and finally finished delivering their befuddled-looking charges.

At one point, both teams were standing in the same area, writing on clipboards and punching things into iPads. A corpulent ambulance man in his fifties -- with grey, woolly hair and a grey, woolly moustache -- looked up at his ambulance counterpart from the other team; she was younger, a little "thick" in the body, but attractive.

The older man looked up: "Hey. You got a hair cut."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thank Outer Space for Small (Yet Beneficial) Random Eventualities!

Let me write this out to get it straight. I just want to get it clear in my own head so I don't make an ass of myself...again...

In our enlightened modern era, people think the idea of God and an afterlife is ridiculous. Science is the thing; I've even called it the new religion, somewhere else...

This being what it is, many of these devotees to science, with a complete dismissal of any theological beliefs, follow a Facebook page with the boringly irreverant name of "I F*#@ing Love Science" -- a site that looks, to me, often, like it f*#@ing loves Photoshop. (But that's neither here nor there.) A site that posts its revelations in memes. As if that is not enough, though the devotees to the surface layer of modern science don't believe that we can move, in spirit, to another place after death -- because this is just plain silly -- they are willing to accept the fact that there are parallel universes full of copies of all of us. After all, "IT IS WRITTEN" -- by the scientists... Black holes? Quantum mechanics? As long as the priests wear lab coats instead of collars, members of the Church of Science are cool with believing in things without explanations. Oh, and many are perfectly willing to accept, at the click of a mouse, that a picture of Bill Nye the Science Guy, superimposed with a quotation, is enough proof that he actually said it. Remember what John F. Kennedy said: "Just because you see it on the Internet, it doesn't mean it is true."

(This, of course, despite the facts that actual scientists, like David Eagleman, are far less dismissive.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Where the Ripples End, Nobody Knows...

We all know that change send ripples out over the pond of society. Any shift in paradigms; any newly adopted popular perspective will have unpredicted effects. That said, the increasing acceptance of homosexuality among the populace raises many questions beyond the obvious ones associated with individual systems of morality.

Before I discuss this, let me guard against any weaknesses in my own writing skills. This is not meant to be a judgement on people's sexual orientation. (For the love of God [literally], the Pope even said, recently, that he is not one to judge another for being gay.)  It is simply an observation of how acceptance of homosexuality changes things...

For instance, one day, as I am sadly wont to do, I was watching an episode of the TV show "Cops." (Heck, I'm a writer, okay? How can I resist seeing these people? -- people I would never otherwise have seen in my life? -- like, dudes who do crack and run naked around their neighborhoods claiming that God told them to steal food off of everyone's barbecue grill?) In this particular episode, a woman was going to be searched, so they called a female officer in to do it. It occurred to me that, in a world with changing attitudes toward sexuality, if I were a doer of evil deeds (or a beater-up of my wife because she got in the way of the TV during the Eagles game) I would probably start using the violation card, no matter who they got to search me. I guess anyone could have used this in the past -- sort of accused someone of being "deviant." But now that "deviant" is no longer the way many see alternate sexual orientations, what will happen when criminals refuse to be searched? What is to stop men from saying, "I'm gay. I want to be searched by a woman" or, "I'm bisexual - I refuse to be searched." What's to stop them from claiming violation and harassment when they are patted down by a male officer. (And, of course, vice-versa with female n'er-do-wells.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Love and Dementia

This is one of those things I am going to write about regardless of being sure that someone, somewhere, must have said it before; sure that a hole in my education makes me an unwitting philosophical parrot. But, hey -- they say Newton and another guy simultaneously discovered the principles of gravity and motion; that Darwin and another cat came up with the theory of evolution in, like, the same year. One just published first. I'm probably about a thousand years behind with this...

Whatever the case, I was wondering what it is about a person that makes us love him or her. What is that thing -- or what is the combination of things -- that causes us to love? (I mean this in both the romantic and familial sense...)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Scholars From Two Millenia

The scholar, 1900: 

He studied for one primary purpose: to learn. He was embarrassed not to know at least a little bit about various important things beyond his scholarly scope. His clothing and his hair were not a priority (which also means he didn't purposefully attain a disheveled look). He was well-spoken, whatever his specialty; his grammar and diction reflected a rounded education. He met with colleagues for lunch and they talked about concepts across their disciplines. (The archaeologist; the historian; the physicist; the economist; the lawyer and the English professor would debate about, say, the place of religious icons in the past civilizations.) His house was filled with books -- on shelves; next to the coffee pot; under the tea cup; by the bedside. He was fascinated by his field. He studied it to do it. Still, he knew Bach and Shakespeare and Bruegel. At home -- cutting the grass; painting fences; walking the dog; on bike rides -- he thought about what he had been discussing in class that week; he lived with what he studied. In his spare time, he met with groups of fellow enthusiasts; he may even has started a "society" or two. Beyond all things, he pursued original thought. He was on a quest for his own place in the pantheon of the intellectuals before. He wanted to leave his mark on the world...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why I Am Not An "Audiophile"

I usually preface these seemingly music-centered posts with this disclaimer (or something like it): Stick with me. It is about music, sort of, but there is a universal punch-line. There's a point made for all of us at the end....

When I was a teenager and had just started picking up the drum sticks and making noise on a little kit in my bedroom, I would often get very frustrated. I'd listen to recordings of other drummers (I specifically remember one being Steve Smith, of Journey) and then I would play my own drums. Constantly, I'd find myself disappointed in my sound (compared to his) and wonder why I couldn't get my drums to sound as "big".

Of course, at the time (at fourteen), I had no idea as to the electronic processing those drums went through in the studio: reverbs, compression, sound "exciters"  name it. This was the 80s. The recording studio had become the extra member in the band. The digital age was coming about, taking the hand-off from the recently perfected analog age...

Some years later, I got a "four track" cassette recorder. Same results. I was meticulous in getting the right levels. I was obsessive with microphone positioning. I tried sound patch after sound patch on the synthesizer... It never really sounded "right."

"Right," as you may imagine, was an equivalent to the results that could only be obtained from a multi-million dollar sound studio in New York or LA. By then, I knew this was the case. All I could do was shrug and listen to my work, lowering my sound standards, half-heartedly convinced I had done my best.

Now, every musician can have a digital studio in his bedroom. The results all depend on what you know. You can get "big studio" quality if you have good mic's, good instruments and a solid  knowledge of the recording process. But the range is huge -- in terms of the kinds of recordings you get -- from lousy to phenomenal. The fact remains, your average post-simian mug can get a hiss-free, reasonably good-sounding recording with a laptop and a hundred-dollar SM57.

But, this morning, I heard a feature on NPR about MP3s vs. high-def audio and one engineer's crusade to make better sound available to the masses...blah, blah...

Here we go again. Hyper analysis. Like we do for everything else in the modern world.

I have a discerning ear, but it is tuned to the blend of a horn and cello. It's connected to textures and tones and harmonies, not to whether a recording is sampled at a 456 shmigglewatt bit rate as opposed to a 550 shmigglewatt bit rate. Can I hear the difference? Sometimes. I admit it: my own CD (having been professionally mastered outside my little studio) sounds better than the MP3 version you can download from iTunes...

...but what happens is that my ear adjusts past the sound and its limitations and focuses on the music after
awhile. In a lot of ways "audiophiles" are the worst music appreciators. Many care more about the paint job than about what's under the hood, as it were. (There are always exceptions, of course, but I find this to be true about those I have known.) Analysis of the sound takes one's ear off of the music, itself.

I see people all around me trying to analyze everything. If a kid misbehaves, there are scientists out there studying the effects of breakfast cereals on behavior. You can take that data and throw it in the bin with the 550 shmigigglewatt bit rates.What we need back are dads and moms who learn to run the show with common sense, interpersonal intelligence and a firm, loving hand. I'll put that up against the chemical breakdown of Cap'n Crunch any day.

Wordsworth talked about those times during which we can "see into the life of things."  These were moments of feeling, not of analysis; it was the result of immersing one's self in the world (in his case in "Nature") and opening one's self up to the lessons it had to teach. If we spend all of our time looking under rocks, we can't see the mountainous clouds towering over the mountains.

Do I want good quality sound? Of course. But I would rather hear a second-rate recording of good music than a first-rate recording of bad music. I'll take harmonically interesting chords over the absolute perfect sparkle gained after a +9dB treble boost.

In listening to music, one should forget the mechanics and keep the direct line to the soul uncluttered; in life, we should, more often, be part of the flow (okay, I'll say it: Tao). We shouldn't research ourselves into being eternal diggers and sorters.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Brotherhood of Rivals?

"Group mentality" and my distaste for it has been a recurring theme on this blog. I sometimes fear that regular readers might be sick of hearing it...

But, I don't hate groups, as a rule. For instance, I think it is cool when those with common interests get together to enjoy those interests. I'm even considering going to see Gavin Harrison give a drum clinic this fall. It's just that I won't be wearing a Zildjian T-shirt or a baseball cap with "Pearl" emblazoned on it. I don't like externalizing interests for the sake of others. Never have.

In short, it is cool to talk (or, even, to write about) drums, but I'm not a fan of broadcasting my interests superficially.

The drummer-cam; pre-first set.
This weekend, the band I am in played a group gathering in Wildwood, NJ. It was a biker weekend. The streets were glutted with Harleys, Ducatis, Hondas, custom bikes and even a few classic Indians. You'd think it would have been an environment of joviality; mass celebration -- a jamboree of jolly proportions.

Not really.

There wasn't a lot of smiling going on. If you watched the unending parade of motorcycles passing behind our stage, you saw expressions that looked more like a challenge than a metaphorical high-five among two-wheeled brothers. The atmosphere was one of subdued, communal anger; or, at least, challenge.

And the trappings! The vests and the bandannas and the leather pants and the other various shmagiggies...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Safety Beyond the Interwebs?

In some ways, I guess I am a rube.

This morning, I heard a report on the radio about a big company (I forget which one) that is "asking the question" as to whether there is "any way in the world" to protect its data from hacking. The fact that they have to ask this question seems spooky to me. It seems like the mass-thought has settled into total acceptance of the status quo. 

For the modest price of, say, ten million dollars, I would like to offer this company advice -- a way to prevent data from being hacked. I'll trust them to send a check the moment they see this. Here it is:

Take it off-line. Eschew the Internet.

You are most welcome, big company with a hacking problem.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Genius of Brian Wilson

In general, when the name Brian Wilson is mentioned among (talented) musicians, you get a respectful, gentle, slightly sorrowful shaking of heads. Even musicians who didn't really like The Beach Boys are forced to admit that Wilson is something special. I fit this category: I have never liked the Beach Boys' sound, in general, but could always hear Wilson's genius through it all; like a Robert Frost quietly reading "Mending Wall" aloud in a crowded bar.

"Genius," as we know, is thrown around quite a bit, these days, but I think Brian Wilson is one guy who deserves the label. In fact, in terms of his harmonic and melodic concept, I think he ought to be recognized as one of America's greatest composers. I'd love to hear him write specifically for orchestra. I imagine the resulting sounds would rival the achingly atmospheric textures of Ravel.

Despite not being much of a fan of the Beach Boys' sound, I heard this again the other day and was reminded of what a treasure Wilson is, as a composer; and, also, of how sad he must have been -- a sadness that lead him down a now-famous path of self abuse from which he has, thankfully, recovered.

Here is a young man, writing the lyrics of a young man -- not terribly refined; sort of stilted in their poetic intentions; endearingly simple in their symbolism; wide-eyed with  honesty -- over the music of a harmonic genius, way ahead of his time, as he was (and is) always destined to be. Wilson's words:

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Ye Olden Blacksmith Shop"

Are you sometimes a real ass? I am sometimes a real ass. As parents, I think we are all asses at least forty percent of the time.

Cutting the grass, today, I was in a foul mood (as I usually am when cutting the grass) which was compounded by the fact that my sons and their friends had turned the back yard into a medieval military outpost. Yard chairs were woven with vines and covered with leaves; loose bricks were arranged into spots for "camp fires" and there were "weapons" (sticks) everywhere: lying in the grass; leaning up against fences -- you name it.

Stuff was in my way. The kids were going to get a stern talking-to when I went back in. "My work is hard enough," I would say to them, as they sat, hands folded, eyes wide and shameful. "The last thing I need is your junk in my way... Do I throw things in front of you when you are cleaning your room? Et cetera? Et cetera? Hmm? Et cetera?"

They'd hear about it, boy, those inconsiderate little snits. But, then, it happened. It always happens, you know? -- just when I get up a good head of fatherly steam. I saw this: