Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Friday, August 31, 2007

unidentified guitarist, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Len Chandler
at the March on Washington, March 18, 1963

[Update, below.]

In his recent memoir, Chronicles, Bob Dylan speaks highly of singer Len Chandler from his early days in New York. They sang together at the March on Washington of 1963, and if you haven't seen the video of them singing one of Chandler's songs with Joan Baez and another identified guitarist -- it's a hair-raiser. I've listened to it many times and still haven't caught the words of the verses, just the urgent sound of the beating guitars and the fine blend of Chandler and Baez's voices on Chandler's urgent tune which sounds adapted from a spiritual. I can't hear Dylan at all.

Check it out: “Eyes on the Prize”.

Also worth hearing and seeing: Mavis Staples covering the song from her new -- 2007 -- album of songs from the Civil Rights era, We’ll Never Turn Back. Staples' take is a terrific swampy bluesy rock-with-modern-percussion recording, and her video has intense, dramatic footage from the era: “Eyes on the Prize”.

* * *

In other folky archivalistic news, the kid wanted to hear "Wimoweh," and while I was surprised there is no archival footage of the Weavers or the Tokens doing it, I did find this charming video by a group I'd never heard of, The Tarriers, leading a well-buttoned college-y audience about 50 years ago in a singalong of the pre-English-lang version of the tune. Check it out. Seriously.

Did you check it out?

Did the banjo player's voice sound familiar?

It's Alan Arkin, who was shortly to become, and still is, a famous actor. The midrange singer is Erik Darling who later joined the Weavers and then formed the Rooftop Singers, who had a huge hit with "Walk Right In." Later members of The Tarriers included Eric Weissberg, who later wrote "Dueling Banjos."

* * *

In still other folky archivalistic news, Miguel Frasconi has excerpts from a fan letter Woody Guthrie wrote about John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (for prepared piano) on the day Arlo was born: “I need something like this oddstriking music, to match the things I feel in my soul tonight,” wrote Woody, concluding with thanks to the pianist “for recording up and down for me all of this virgin unsettled and wild wide open sounding dancy music.”

* * *

The kid has been making most of my band practices lately, playing percussion and singing some. After his first rehearsal playing two sticks, he said that next time he would bring his tambourine. I vetoed that suggestion and he got mad, saying, "You don't control what I do!" And I never had, during our at-home jam sessions. I tried to explain that a band playing a show would be different. The other night he brought a little drum, and before songs he would ask, "Do I play loud or soft or medium or not at all on this song?" A cooperative bandmate! After a while he got tired of the jamming and lay on the floor to draw. When we played a song he had written, and which we have been practicing, without looking up or even stopping drawing he sang. He'll probably back out when showtime arrives, but I hope not.

A friend joined us on lead guitar at practice the other night. After playing, Jen said to him, "You look familiar."

"We met 15 years ago at a party on Vashon Island [an island in our county]," came the reply.

"Oh! Yes! I think I have a picture of you!"

Getting stoked for our show next week.

* * *

Update: My friend Tim Harris has gently corrected mistakes in my description of "Eyes on the Prize." Len Chandler apparently didn't write it; it was an old spiritual originally called "Hand on the Plow" that got transformed into a Civil Rights anthem in the 1950s by people at the Highlander Folk School.

Thanks Tim!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Just got back from an old friend's bachelor party -- bowling and karaoke-ing and drinking, very lovely all around -- and wanted to note:

This afternoon -- Thursday afternoon, August 23, the kid swam on his own for the first time, at a pool, swimming back and forth between his mom and me, only a few feet, over and over, at first not really swimming but almost, and getting closer, and wanting to do it, and then doing it, pulling and kicking himself along through the water, and pulling his head out to breathe, and reaching one parent and then turning around and doing it again.

Witnessing the breakthrough was really something. The kid was so happy.

-- image, Paul Klee, Ancient Sound

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A friend of mine will be teaching an undergrad course in arts reviewing and is looking for a musical/sonic equivalent to Ways of Seeing, the art-crit book of political/visual theory by John Berger and others. I’m not aware of anything quite parallel.

Carl Wilson’s upcoming book on Celine Dion will talk about, among other things, the sonic imprints of class distinction in pop music, which gets at part of Berger’s story.

Alex Ross’s upcoming book on 20th century classical music, which has been excerpted here and here, will tell a lot of history through music, and while I have very much liked the excerpts, and am excited to read the whole (I was the first one in Seattle to reserve it at the library), my impression is that Alex’s approach to the politics is more personal than what my friend is looking for.

Berger’s book draws no distinction between art and advertising, subsuming all of visual culture. I’m not aware of any parallel undertaking with music. And music shares the art/commerce confusion with art and advertising, and it may be even more ubiquitous a presence than the iconography of 2-D, non-moving visual art.

In his book Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong, Joseph Lanza makes the case -- accurately -- that most people’s experience of most music is as “background music.” But Lanza’s take isn’t particularly political -- at least not explicitly.

Jacques Attali, in Noise: The political economy of music, traces parallels between social/political organization and music through history -- terrific stuff, but slow going for me.

Any suggestions for my friend?

And isn’t it neat how the books advertise themselves in ways that lend themselves to Berger’s critical approach? Astringent modern art and dry text for the cover of Berger, kitsch advertising imagery for the “muzak” book, and Brueghel’s Carnival imagery for Attali’s Noise vision. Music works similarly -- ubiquitously, garishly, trashily, sublimely, annoyingly, beautifully, crassly, cynically, ironically, subconsciously, etceterally -- all the time, in every nook and cranny of culture.

* * * * *

My mom got to town tonight, as did two old friends whom I'll see tomorrow, for another old friend's wedding. I've been busy with some preparations for the festivities, which start tomorrow and last for days, and it's been a blast.

My band --
Ruby Thicket -- has been practicing a lot, and that's been great. I'm looking forward to our September 7 gig as part of Columbia City's monthly BeatWalk -- details here.

Anyway -- light blogging for a while longer -- but I will read comments if you have suggestions for my friend!

Cheers --

Monday, August 20, 2007

Darcy James Argue has a beautiful tribute to Max Roach’s career.

He also has the roundup of Roach tributes.

Doug Ramsey has wonderful personal reminiscences of Roach.

Destination: OUT has terrific stuff on Roach’s post-bop years.

I haven't heard the gamut of Roach's musical travels, but from surveying the discography it appears he was at least as wide-ranging stylistically as Miles Davis. As many others have pointed out, he more-or-less invented bop drumming and influenced all contemporary-style jazz drumming for the next 25 years and most of it since then as well, and he did this in his early 20s.

And he didn't stop there.

My favorite album of his -- of the ones I've heard -- is Lift Every Voice and Sing, an early '70s collaboration with the J. C. White Singers -- one of my all-time favorite albums by anybody anywhere. It's 5 traditional spirituals and one original gospel tune sung by a hot gospel choir and accompanied by a fierce, outside, free jazz sextet that could also play it straight with conviction and accomplishment. When the choir sustains a richly-timbred chord for the band to rage under -- it's hair-raising. Gospel can make most rock and roll sound tame; combine a powerful choir with a passionate "out" jazz ensemble -- there's nothing like it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Max Roach has died at the age of 83.

I saw him about 20 years ago with his percussion ensemble MBoom at the Chicago Jazz Fest at Grant Park. A wonderful, amazing show by a wonderful, amazing musician leading a unique, great band.

He brought melody to jazz drumming.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Ancient Mariner regales the Wedding Guest with stories of his kid.

* * *

Got home from work late tonight to an impromptu concert in the next-door-neighbor's back yard, our four year old and their four year old and two year old jamming together. Our kid played drum, the next-door 4-year-old played bells and finger cymbals, and the next-door 2-year-old played tambourine; the two 4-year-olds sang.

The first song was a joyous chant, "Wingy dodo," I thought it was, though my beloved spouse thinks it may have been "Dingy bobo." Our son would remember, but he's asleep right now.

The next-door 4-year-old announced that the next song was from Africa. Our 4-year-old was enthusiastic about that and made up the words. I paraphrase from memory.

The rain forest in Africa is warm
But not as warm as the desert in Africa
The rain forest in Africa has banana trees
The rain forest in Africa has monkeys
The rain forest in Africa has plants
The rain forest in Africa has plants
The rain forest in Africa has plants
The rain forest in Africa has plants

I don't remember the other songs, but I danced.

* * *

One of my chores when we visited my mom in July was to go through my late father's clothes, keep what I wanted, and bag the rest to give away. It was a melancholy, happy experience; many happy memories of my dad wearing these clothes, and of course I missed him. He was a duck hunter, and one of the T-shirts I kept says "DUCK!" on the front and has a painting of a duck on the back.

I showed it to the kid.

He read the shirt.

"Duck!" he said.

I showed him the back.

"Duck!" he said. He liked it. But then he asked whether the word on the front meant the bird or the action. "That's the joke," I said. "It means both."

* * *

One afternoon on that same trip, I was walking into my mom's house after playing in the water, and missing my dad acutely, when the phone rang. I went to answer it, and just as I picked up, the answering machine clicked on and the caller hung up, and I picked up the phone to hear Dad's warm voice on the machine. A coincidence that felt uncanny.

* * *

Lots going on the next couple of weeks. Light blogging, if I know what's good for me.

Correction: If I act on what I know to be good for me.

* * *

Image: J. Noel Paton, Coleridge's
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (London: Art-Union of London, 1863), courtesy of jperez.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In the Julia Roberts movie from a few a years ago, Mona Lisa Smile, in which she plays an art history prof at an all-women's college in 1953, the unveiling of a recent painting by Jackson Pollack is a big, exciting deal.

Pollack has since lost his power to surprise.

By 1962, when Norman Rockwell painted The Connoisseur -- depicting a balding, grey-haired man in a grey suit taking in a painting presumably by Pollack and holding an umbrella and a white hat -- Pollack had been thoroughly assimilated into American cultural life, canvasses selling for major big bucks, safe and well-known enough to serve as the target of satire on the disconnect between avant-garde romanticism and avant-garde commercial success for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. But even Rockwell couldn't destroy Pollack's aura of new-ness. In the same year as The Connoisseur, Penguin Books and A. Alvarez used Pollack's painting Convergence for the cover of an anthology of The New Poetry.

When Julia Roberts unveils the Pollack for her well-buttoned-up students in Mona Lisa Smile, the painting signals the clash between avant-garde art and upper-middle-class college life.

There is no clash there now.

I love Pollack. Musical -- rhythmic, melodious, harmonious. Dense and teeming. Lyrical. Gorgeous.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

We were running late so I said to the kid, summoning sweet vocal tones, "please go as slowly as possible and dawdle and play," and he cracked up and hopped to it.

Wouldn't it be great if Reverse Psychology were an actual discipline?

"I went to see my Reverse Psychologist, who told me I should worry and pick at my flaws and inadequacies. The more I obsess and dwell on them, the better."

-- Freud's couch

Thursday, August 09, 2007


part of the deep-rooted cultural bias against Time defines Time as Time-the-Destroyer: to call something Timeless is to assert that Time can't wear away its power or charm.

but Time can't Destroy anything that it hasn't first Created or helped to Create, or allowed to come into being.

i can't imagine existence without Time -- "Timelessness" might as well be "Airlessness," and I imagine suffocating, buried before my time.

"my time" -- ah! unconsciously, it springs up, this bias against Time, even in a note criticizing the bias, without thinking about it I call my rightful hour of death, "my time."

I always want More Time.

not time-Lessness.

take your Time.

-- Panajacel dock, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, courtesy of Fotomaya

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

By the time The Muppet Show was launched I wasn’t paying attention to kids’ shows, so I missed out on first-wave Muppetmania. Through the years, though, I gradually became aware of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem and grew to admire their work. So when I came across their demolition record of the old pop standard “Tenderly” (“the evening breeze / caressed the trees / tenderly”), I knew who they were. And their version is a beautiful travesty. Aggressive, off-kilter drumming and sax, lurching New York funk-punk rhythm, and an affably bellowed lead vocal, with background singers shouting along on the recurring title word -- well, you can go listen to it at Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem’s MySpace page.

Travesties prick the bubble of pomposity. Spike Jones, the Flying Lizards
New Wave-era demolition of the Motown/Beatles standard “Money” (“that’s -- what I want!”), Michael Caine in Little Voice destroying Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” -- all of these travesties honor the power of the original songs by having their own way with them full tilt, no holds barred, pedal to the metal, we just ain’t a-gonna pay no toll.

Band practice again tonight. I showed the Mexican-style song to the drummer, and he said it would translate well into Spanish. When he mentioned that it sounded Mexican, I rewrote one of the lines to include the word “Heart,” because my friend Jay’s cousin was visiting once from Texas and told me that the word “corazon” -- “heart” -- is all over Mexican song.

Singing is physically tiring -- but it’s a good kind of tired.

I brought the kid to band practice, after a picnic dinner that I cooked and packed in the morning. We played a song he wrote. He was happy to hear it and didn’t want to sing along. I’m not sure yet if we’ll play it in public, but I’m enjoying playing it. It’s more a chant than a song -- 4 words repeated over and over, with an occasional “oh” thrown in. Catchy tune, good beat, cryptic lyrics -- what could possibly go wrong?

Speaking of going wrong, here is the Behind the Music episode with Animal the Drummer. Behind the Music is always a cautionary tale designed to console the non-famous watcher with images of the miserable lives of the rich and famous. This one is no different.

The week before, I had asked Bob, the drummer in my band, if he wanted to sing anything for the show, and so when he said that a country-ish waltz I had written but never performed, and was semi-absently strumming through, sounded like a Mexican ballad, and he loves singing Mexican ballads, and could he learn it for the show, I figured I'd better remember it. So on the way to work I remembered the three "verses," but not the bridge, so I wrote a new one on the bus, and then at work out of nowhere the original bridge popped into my head, and it was better than the new one, though lyrically half-weak. And so after various chores and activities tonight I finally sat down to remember the chords and rewrite the words, and thinking of it as a Mexican-style song rather than a country song stiffened the timbre & rhythm in a way that attracted me, and re-writing a few lines was no problem. Gratifying to be asked to remember a song, and to have someone re-conceptualize it, and satisfying to sing and play after an evening of chores and activities.

Art is an experience. It includes meaning. But the experience . . .

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

When I read last year in PostClassic that composer James Tenney had died (and you can hear excerpts from a piece by him here), I checked the library to see what music of his they might have, and found this gorgeous CD of piano duets played by a duo calling themselves Double Edge -- Edmund Niemann and Nurit Tilles. Tenney's piece is a lyrical, dissonant, quasi-minimalist piece of loveliness in arch form. The CD's pieces by Meredith Monk, Ellington & Strayhorn (the "party piece" they wrote to play together, "Tonk"), Paul Bowles (with a Satie-esque waltz), and Morton Feldman are equally gorgeous.

Tenney's piece "Having Never Written a Note for Percussion," which I've only heard in Sonic Youth’s arrangement, is equally gorgeous and lyrical, and also richly satisfying in an arch form, starting quietly, building to a peak, and gradually subsiding to its initial level, though not identically pitched. I don't know why I find his arches so satisfying. I want to hear more of his music.

music and memory.

1. Heard "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" by Elvin Bishop on Oldies radio and, man, I was in junior high school again. When I actually think about how awkward I felt in the world at that time, the memory is not particularly sweet, but damn, when I heard that song, it sounded and felt great, and I felt wistful for days long gone that will never return.

2. "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" was followed by "Feel Like Makin' Love" on Oldies, and that took me back to the early '90s, when my anarcho-feminist artist roommate hipped me to Two Nice Girls' acoustic medley of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" and "Feel Like Makin' Love" on their Like a Version EP of covers. I haven't seen my old roommate in almost 10 years, and I haven't heard Two Nice Girls in about that time. That's the only thing I ever heard by them. I don't remember the rest of the EP, except their relaxed country-shuffle arrangement of "Speed Racer." Bad Co.'s song has an interesting arrangement -- bucolic hippie-country verses and the most heavy pelvic-thrusting electric guitar riff on the choruses of any rock song I can think of. As the lead guitar squealed over the vocal in the out-chorus, I pictured a wailing penis. Rock!

3. Some months before my grandpa died in 1999, age 91, I visited him and we sang a song his mother had taught him and he had taught me, "Animal Fair" (which Carl Sandburg identified as a minstrel song in American Songbag). Grandpa got teary, remembering days more than 80 years gone that would never, ever come back.

p.s. These are the days, my friends. Do you think they'll ever end?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The 4-year-old (a/k/a Fingers Hilarity, a/k/a the kid, a/k/a Nat, formerly a/k/a numerous aliases) and I listened to a recording of the Gyuto Monks today, and, somewhat to my surprise, he liked it. I was thinking about the quest of Remy the rat-chef (in the film Ratatouille) for flavor combinations that have never been tasted, and how my appetite for music from elsewhere in the world is related. Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead -- who has done a lot to record, promote, and write about various musical practices from around the world -- has written about his goal of doing what he can to preserve traditional musical practices before they disappear.

I dig the sounds of the Gyuto Monks. I gather that they're singing sacred music of their religious tradition, which holds little meaning for me. Their system of patriarchal theological monarchy by prophetic election creeps me out (even though the present Dalai Lama seems like a good guy). The social practices with which their musical practices developed hold no attraction for me. But I dig the sonic flavor.

After the monks we listened to some Tuvan throat singing (the social context and meaning of which I know even less about than I do of the Monks), and then the University of Michigan Marching Band playing Sousa marches, as our neighbors were over for dinner semi-spontaneously, and their youngest recently graduated from high school, and we were talking about colleges, and I offered to put on some marching band music, and J.G. said sure as long as it was Sousa, because his dad, 55 years ago, when J.G. was a kid, would fix himself a scotch and blast Sousa on his homemade stereo system after work.

The kid dug all the music, but the marching band was his favorite of the evening -- he hopped around the room, beaming. I'm planning to go to a Michigan football game this fall, and the kid is upset that I'm not taking him to see the band. But the football game would bore him to bits, so no way.

* * *

I was writing about Nat and music tonight before I knew that my friend the highly esteemed journalist/activist Tim Harris posted on Nat and music on his blog tonight too. Take it away, Tim -- and thanks for a lovely dinner last night! (And, by the way, don't sweat the critics -- I think you're overestimating the harshness of your interlocutor's reaction.)

Took the four and a half year old with a friend to see Ratatouille today. The kid cried and cried when Remy the rat got separated from his family. He's reacted that way to movies before, even before he could talk much. No more movies for him for a while.

The call-to-modernism at the heart of the film
-- Remy the rat-chef's cry for "flavor combinations that have never been tasted" -- puts the modernist quest into strictly hedonistic terms: New sensations are to be sought for their own sake and for the sensual pleasure they bring. The new flavor combinations should be delicious, you see; mere novelty will not suffice.

Modernism made, if not exactly easy -- then nice! And pleasant.

I really enjoyed the movie. The melting of the harsh critic's heart melted mine.

In honor of Remy's (and Chef Gousteau's) cookery, a late-night, improvised attempt at some flavor combinations:

salad chrysanthemum potato
sensual sensible risible bull
bubble rubble on the double
buffalo roam home

misunderwalking away anyway
monkey punky in the riddle
if you daren't warrant current parent
muscle tonal music

telephone jams
the line of jelly

go row tomorrow
savor the marrow today


say isn't that the one
say aren't those too
say haven't we the three
say what's it all for

you have a winning combination having won

"at this time I'm really popular of my rest"

ahem, a hum, a hymn, um, a hymn

-- Untitled, 1951-1952, Clyfford Still

Saturday, August 04, 2007

I got a "songs of Woody Guthrie" comp from the library and heard today for the first time Rambling Jack Elliott, nee Elliott Charles Adnopoz of New York, son of a Jewish doctor. I can't believe I'd never heard him.

The resemblance to early Dylan is uncanny -- the same tone of voice, the same accent. I finally was able to place Dylan's first accent. It's not southern, it's Montanan. Clipped, not drawling.

Elliott's OK -- mostly just spooky, as the great link between Guthrie and Dylan. And the same fashion sense and familial alienation as Bob.

I've long been aware that
Rolling Stone is, before it is anything else, a fashion magazine, selling the latest in rock-related pop music fashions. I've always prided myself on my indifference to fashion -- neither following nor scorning fashion, but adopting whatever struck my fancy regardless of its fashionableness -- but of course my indifference is a fashion as well. The non-dogmatic aesthetic eclecticism I describe in my Anti-Manifestoism is very much a post-Reagan fashion, shared by most of my people I know whether artists or not.

Fashion-mindedness isn’t just a pop phenomenon, though. As Alex Ross’s terrific recent profile of Sibelius makes plain, classical music is as subject to the vicissitudes of fashion as anything in popular culture. The post-Schoenberg post-tonalists made old-style tonal composers like Sibelius and Elgar intellectually unfashionable.

Peter Schjeldahl’s lovely recent profile of Gustave Courbet makes a similar point about fashion, and extends it to lifestyle. Courbet was an early rock star who deployed his notoriety and his fame to win publicity and thus admirers.

Fashion fashion fashion. It's everywhere. In politics, it can lead to disaster. Matthew Yglesias has some depressing news. He heard Steve Clemens say at a panel on foreign policy that "he was one of the few members of [the foreign policy] community to go on television and speak against the Iraq War not because he was the only one to think it was a bad idea, but 'because everyone else was a coward.' " Needless to say, fashion-obsessed political commentators are worse than useless; furthermore, their self-imposed restrictions are amazing to consider: To find a unique spin on the conventional wisdom, and to follow the crowd while giving the impression of being independent-minded. A tough assignment! Why does society find it valuable? I can only guess. Because such an approach affirms the status quo while giving the impression of questioning it?

Passion is no longer the fashion in the world of popular music consumption. The turn away from passion might be the most brilliant move in the Oedipal chain of generational outrage yet. It makes total sense after 40 years of propaganda that [pop, rock] Music Is the Most Important Thing In Your Life!!! When Paw and Grampaw are geared up for someone to top Marilyn Manson and Eminem in the offensiveness department, disintensification is the perfect non-topper topper. "That'll really piss the old folks off! Not giving a hoot about their 'outrage' jones!"

Arguments have died down in the pop/rock neighborhoods of Blogville too. For passionate fashion-mongers, the present state is confusing. It's tricky to be passionate about dispassion.

I happen to be passionate about music -- it was the fashion when I was growing up -- but from the perspective of post-passion-ism, I have to ask myself what the fuss was about. Sure, the music, it's lovely, it's wondrous, it's immense, but who cares why who interprets it how?

Very little actual pop music criticism exists -- or, very little of the vast amount of it that exists talks much about the music, and then usually only about a narrow strata of it. To be a pop (or rock, or hip hop) critic, you only need understand a few codes.
1. Timbre as genre signifier -- and as personal signifier.
2. Lyrics as stance and attitude. Timbre as stance and attitude.
3. The relationship between fashion and persona.
4. What's fashionable.

Bonus point: How the current fashion relates to the fashions of the recent and immediate past -- maybe the last 16 or 17 years. Anything pre-Grunge is considered ancient.

Actually knowing enough about melody and rhythm and harmony and lyrics to articulate a description of them doesn't necessarily hurt one's prospects as a music critic -- or maybe it does; I'm not sure. At best it's an elective.

It's a trip that white-collar northern Jews posing as blue-collar Protestant Rocky Mountain types have defined a ruling fashion in our culture for 45 years now. As my friend J-Lon has pointed out, the embrace of blue collar signifiers by the children of white collar culture in the 1950s and '60s had a lot to do with rejecting the style of historical America's middle-class apotheosis. Folky-driven blue-collar fetishism inspired a massive masquerade-as-potlatch, as people who had so much unearned cultural power that they could afford to destroy (temporarily) a bunch of it went ahead and did so.

70 years ago, a leading popular music critic was Frederic Ramsey, Jr. Who? Times change.

And when times change, the old guard gets pissed. When Rock came and started making a lot of money -- and, even worse, started drawing more of the fashionable attention -- a lot of the old guard freaked out. Not because they weren't still popular or they weren't still making money -- they were still making lots of money. But their style was no longer the most fashionable.

At one of the peak years of rock's fashion dominance -- 1967 -- Herb Alpert had 3 of the 10 best selling albums in America; three more were movie soundtracks -- Dr. Zhivago, The Sound of Music, and A Man and a Woman. The Monkees' first two albums were the year's top 2 best-sellers, and most rock fashionistas disdained the Monkees' Rock cred (and many, such as Jann Wenner, pictured above, still do). The year's Top 10's remaining two -- numbers 5 and 10 respectively -- went to a Greatest Hits collection by the Temptations and Sgt. Pepper's by the Beatles. Of the top 10, only number 10 is universally recognized as an albumly rock album.

Where do I learn this information? Why, in Jann Wenner's 40th Anniversary edition of Rolling Stone magazine!

I've recently started wearing jeans again, because my brother gave me a couple of pairs of hand-me-ups, and they're comfy. For years I never wore jeans, after I found out my grandpa never did. Grandpa's dad was a doctor. Jeans were blue-collar garb, sturdy pants for manual laborers. Thanks to Bob Dylan and the mass fashion choices he epitomized, they aren't just for labor any more.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The illegal 4th of July parade down my mother's lane in rural Michigan, July 4, 2007. My son is in the dark blue T-shirt.

* * * * *

Near the end of Clinton’s presidency, the national debt was $5.7 trillion and heading downward.

Bush reversed course.

The Outstanding Public Debt as of 03 Aug 2007 at 05:34:22 AM GMT is: $8,915,206,223,265.40. The estimated population of the United States is 302,602,147, so each citizen's share of this debt is $29,461.80.

Bush added $3.215 trillion to the national debt.

Which works out to be $10,624.51 per person.

My son was born during the Bush administration. Thanks to Republican policies, he has $10,624.51 of new debt.

Call it Bush
’s Birth Tax. Born indebted.

* * * * *

The bridge in Minnesota collapsed. Partisans blame Republican tax cutting, but Democrats have neglected the infrastructure too.

My heart goes out to people who have lost family members and friends.

* * * * *

It’s parade season. We took the kid to a parade Sunday evening. Most of the music was old -- ‘60s and ‘70s rock and funk and pop mostly. The Masons
float blasted “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang.

“I didn’t know Kool and the Gang were Masons!”

“It’s a secret society, dear,” said my beloved spouse. “You never know who’s in it.”

I liked hearing the Chinese marching band playing Chinese brass-band music. At the parade the week before, the Shriners dressed as Bedouins and playing
“It’s a Small World After All” on Middle Eastern reed instruments and drums had been a highlight.

* * * * *

It’s just about the anniversary of my dad’s death -- August 4. He went to the hospital on Wednesday and died on Friday.

We celebrate birthdays and auspicious anniversaries, so feeling dismal on the anniversaries of dismal events makes sense. I didn’t expect that I would feel dismal, but I have been. It’s not so much the return of the dead, or that I miss him more; it’s that I remember his suffering. Why did I not think it would effect me?

* * * * *

I had to return Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity by Richard Rorty to the library long before finishing it. I disagreed with a lot of it, but always stimulatingly, and I was enjoying it, and found much of it useful. I was sad to give it back.

* * * * *

Among my points of disagreement: Rorty’s preposterous claim that the theory of liberalism had nowhere to go, that it was completely developed. No. I do support his characterization of and hope for liberalism: Up with freedom, down with cruelty.

But liberal theory has barely begun to address international inequality. Especially when viewed through the liberal lens of “freedom,” with the notion that borders should be open -- we aren’t even close to figuring out how to get there in a way that wouldn’t impoverish our country too.

The idea of international borders -- the idea of competing states -- is human-made, and, hopefully, humanly un-makeable. But it’s a long way away.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

1. The American middle class is an affluent working class. Almost nobody in the middle class can afford not to work. This working middle class has been wealthier than most upper classes through most of history.

2. The 20th century American economic splendor allowed the affluence of the middle class to extend down to blue collar jobs. This social strata has been diminishing drastically since 1980.

3. The American middle class depends on Uncle Sam guarding the borders. We depend on exporting a huge percentage of the squalor necessary to support our affluence. With open borders, our perch atop the economic heap would be knocked over.

4. The most vital American arts of the 20th century -- movies, jazz, popular music -- modeled American economic might by doing away with the "single author" and celebrating hierarchical, collective modes of cultural production parallel to the economy of manufacturing.

5. In jazz, the American myth of individuality within corporate, collective life reaches its most paradigmatic and beautiful expression. Star players are recognizable from their intensely individualistic styles. And in jazz, they must fold their individuality into the tune or band or session at hand.

6. Norman Rockwell is the painter of the mid-20th century American working middle class. Many people reject pictures like his Breaking Home Ties of 1956 as dishonestly sentimental. But millions of parents did make sacrifices in order to pay their children's way through college, so their children could have better lives. This does not look like an idealized family. Parent and child are alienated from each other, even as they're physically connected. The image of awkward, inarticulate love between father and son does not feel false or over-sentimentalized to me. The collie's chin resting on the son's knee may be overly sentimental -- false, even.

7. The problem of borders -- of economic inequality between nation states -- is a huge political conundrum. Nothing I have read indicates that we have had the beginnings of a way to address it humanely.

-- Breaking Home Ties, Norman Rockwell, 1956

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