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Three Albums Featuring Organs

June 30, 2016
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Like a lot of people my age, I have opinions about music that I think you should hear. I am qualified to speak about music because I have listened to it all my life and for a few months a few years ago I tried to learn how to play a banjo.

For most of my childhood, I was raised by my grandparents so I am intimately familiar with the vinyl record. My most cherished possession is probably the Tennessee Ernie Ford 45 my grandpa gave me. He used to play it every year during blackberry season.

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Today’s post is three albums you should hear and it’s best that you should hear them on vinyl. Why? Because that’s the way I listen to them so that must be the best way for everybody.

“Odessey and Oracle” by The Zombies

I’m sure you’ve hear the song “Time Of The Season” at some point in your life. It has been used in Tampax commercials, sporting events and as a touchstone for the late 60s in movies and on TV. The song is a perfect representation of the album on which it first appeared. The Zombies deliver keyboard-driven rock and roll laced with airy psychedelic vocal harmonies. “Odessey and Oracle” is a revelation. Having been raised to think the only good pop rock from the sixties was produced by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it is astounding to discover The Zombies are capable of as much musical creativity as The Beatles and deliver it without pretension. Almost every song on this album sounds like a hit and you wonder where these songs have been all your life. Why do radio stations only play the same ten bands? Stand outs on this album include “This Will Be Our Year” and “Beechwood Park”

“Mendocino” by The Sir Douglas Quintet

Fronted by Doug Sahm, a pioneer in country rock, The Sir Douglas Quintet present a unique sound. Fueled by rhythm guitar and driving organ, “Mendocino” answers the question “What happens when psychedelia meets Tex-Mex?” If there is a narrative thread to the album, it is a Texas country boy lost in the strange world of Northern California in the late 60s, as evidenced in the title track and the song “Lawd, I’m Just A Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City” and others. Who can’t relate to feeling like a fish out of water? It is another album that makes me mourn the state of radio. “She’s About A Mover” is probably the most popular track but my favorite is “Lawd, I’m Just A Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City”.

“Brothers and Sisters” by The Allman Brothers

Recording of “Brothers and Sisters” began not long after the death of Duane Allman, the band’s leader and guitarist, in a motorcycle accident. Berry Oakley, the band’s bassist, was distraught and buried his grief in drugs and drink. Less than a year later, Berry Oakley crashed his motorcycle less than three blocks away from where Duane had crashed his. He died from his injuries. The band carried on, led by guitarist Dickey Betts and keyboardist Gregg Allman. Somehow in spite of the tragedy, the band was able to create it’s most commercially successful album to date. It immediately dominated the charts and with good reason. The musicianship on display throughout the album is enough to justify its success. The interplay between guitars and keyboards, bass and drums is amazing. Add to that the perfect number of great songs. There are only seven songs on the album and they leave you perfectly satisfied. It is neither too long or too short. Take your country psychedelia, add an extra drummer and sprinkle it all with jazz and you have “Brothers and Sisters”. You probably know “Ramblin’ Man” and maybe “Jessica” but make sure to listen for “Southbound” and “Pony Boy”.

 

This Is All Jon Stewart’s Fault

June 22, 2016

Over the past month our political discourse has hit a new low. The two presumptive nominees have taken to twitter like a pair of teenage rivals vying for class president. Political campaigns are unashamed protracted advertising campaigns, where influence takes precedent over content and persuasion more important ideals. We are about to descend into an arduous battle of mudslinging and personal attacks. Rational evaluation of qualifications and capabilities will disappear in the deluge of ad hominem assaults. Plans will be ignored as faults are parsed and any meaningful discussion of the complex issues that affect us all will be replaced by one-liners and zingers. We are living in a country where the candidate who is best at assigning blame is the best to lead our country.

I blame Jon Stewart.

For starters, he probably spent a decade begging Donald Trump to run for president. As a comedian, his desire for easy laughs trumped any foresight or insight into the soul of our nation. Wherever Jon Stewart is now, deep in an upper middle-class cable package, I hope he realizes it’s not so funny now.

Jon Stewart spent years cultivating a snarky off-color persona who sneered at the self-absorbed and disdained the disingenuous. Stewart is often lauded for raising the level of comedy by incorporating news and politics with jokes and sketches. Most of the time the joke was simply Stewart pulling faces or manipulating the context of statements made by public officials or politicians. With the help of many people who achieved their own level of fame over the years, Jon Stewart was able to build a ratings juggernaut and more importantly a can’t miss stop for anyone hoping to get elected, sell a book, or hawk movie tickets. Stewart and his team dismissed the importance of “The Daily Show” to the national dialogue, claiming, “We’re just a comedy show,” while at the same time leveraging that prominence to organize rallies and campaign for pet causes.

Over time, “The Daily Show” became an institution spawning spin-offs and copycats to fill the yawning cable content chasm. Politicians of every stripe realized the importance of “satirical news” programs in reaching the coveted and increasingly important youth vote. In order to be part of the joke, politicians and office seekers began to adopt the tactics of persuasion once reserved for comedians and satirists. The appeal to voters has become more important than anything. It seems to escape most candidates notice that actually doing their job to solve problems appeals to more voters than anything else. Under the outsized influence of Stewart and his cronies, our political dialogue has become a race to the ridiculous and no one, including the sitting President of the United States, has escaped. Barack Obama has spent more time creating jokes and internet memes over the last eight years than I have and I am a millennial with a retail job.

If politicians are forced to become entertainers in order to compete in the political realm, it leads us to a very dark place. A place where a blowhard entertainer has become the nominee of one of the major parties. A place where a lady in her late sixties who can’t even use a computer is generating memes in the hopes of attaining the presidency. A place where satire and humor has been co-opted by the establishment, handed to them on a silver screen by Jon Stewart.

“The Daily Show” always sucked.

June 15, 2016

There have been a lot of articles over the last year about how “The Daily Show” has lost its edge and Trevor Noah is not as funny as Jon Stewart. Here and here and here and here and here and here

I say it is no different than it has always been. Trevor Noah does all the same things Jon Stewart did. He plays a clip and pulls a face. He plays two clips out of context to show hypocrisy. He gets emotional when he should and confronts guests when needed. He banters with his “news team”. But he is not Jon Stewart.

That is where the disconnect comes in. People want Jon Stewart, not “The Daily Show”. He was like America’s intellectual uncle who never shuts up. You can’t just replace your uncle with a different person and expect to get the same results.

You have to change your expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

Untapped Vein of Enthusiasm

May 25, 2016

General Zod and Hillary Clinton: The same tailor?

As you may know, I am a Bernie Sanders supporter. Though it is nearly June, I have not lost faith that he could win the Democratic nomination. Truman defeated Dewey. Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination. Leo won an Oscar. It could still happen for Bernie.

Of course, you probably also know that I suffer from a debilitating condition called cynicism. A sunny day is too hot and an ice cube is a watery drink. Hillary Clinton could win the Democratic nomination.

In my Bernie Babe cynical mind, that would mean almost certain victory for Donald Trump in November. Even Republicans think that would be a disaster (at least they used to). America has had Clinton fatigue for  25 years. It seems unlikely that Hillary Clinton will be able to tap into some untapped vein of enthusiasm. For myself, I will not be voting for either one of them. Compromise is for diplomats.

The following is what would have to happen for Hillary Clinton to secure my vote in November:

  1. Give the bulk of her personal fortune to charitable organizations like Doctors without Borders. Repudiate accusations of greed by showing us what selflessness looks like.
  2. Come clean. Out with it. Stop hiding. Quit bullshitting. We want to hear what you really think, even if it’s batshit crazy. Honesty is the best policy and helps people to trust you.
  3. Find some new friends and advisers. Even if your team is the best in the world, they aren’t the best all the time. No one is. Stagnation breeds malaise, poison to the well of voters.
  4. Apologize profoundly and profusely for any mistakes you have made (Libya, Honduras, e-mail, that weird leather jacket you keep wearing that looks like something General Zod would wear.)
  5. Donald Trump is a joke. To treat him as anything else is giving him an opening. Your trademark laugh could serve you well in taking down this bully, but you and all your surrogates have already legitimized his campaign by launching into a general election campaign you haven’t actually earned the right to compete in yet. Laugh him off. Seriously. A well raised eyebrow and a dubious “Okay, Donald,” would go a long way to putting this clown in his place.

This election makes me feel like a computer playing tic-tac-toe against itself: frustrated.

Edit: I left this off the list because I forgot it and now it’s going to look like I am riding the news of his endorsement, but she needs to pick Governor Moonbeam (Jerry Brown) as her running mate. It is the only way of appealing to progressives without picking Sanders or Warren. In fact, if Sanders or Warren accepted many progressives would be turned off to the whole thing. They would view the whole system as corrupt. Jerry Brown is progressive enough, and while as a governor, he has been practical enough. And he is authentic which is what her campaign is lacking. In fact, I believe picking Jerry Brown is one of the only paths to victory she has left.

More bullshit about the stupid election

April 13, 2016

You may remember that back in 2008, I voted for Barack Obama. I was a fresh-faced college kid who took the bait, lured by the promise of hope and unable to recognize the ambiguity of the word “change”. Casting my vote for the fist black president made me feel like I was part of that change. I still remember being in the backseat of Chelsea’s car barreling down I-5 and hearing the news that he had won. We cheered at the top of our lungs.

Of course by the end of 2009, I began to sober up. Rather than holding Wall Street accountable, Obama had chosen to focus on his lame ass health care bill, a watered down piece of legislation written by insurance companies that has done little to lower health care costs for the average American. Rather than winding down the inhumane and troublingly inaccurate “targeted assassination” program started under Bush, he expanded it, personally giving the command  that has taken the lives of many innocent people including an American teenager. He surrounded himself with insiders and elites, including the Democratic candidate he had spent months convincing us not to vote for. He cloaked himself in pragmatism to cover his compromise of the principles that got him elected. He promised the most open government in history, and delivered the most classified, where whistleblowers are labelled traitors and prosecuted more than under any other president in history. He promised immigration reform and then deported more immigrants than W. He promised an end to our wars overseas and instead expanded them. Through inaction and bumbling responses, the Obama administration, with the help of Secretary Clinton, aided in the rise of ISIS and doubled down on the insane foreign policy of George Bush and Dick Cheney in Libya and other places.

By 2012, my hope had become a full-blown case of malaise about Barack Obama. The change he had promised literally boiled down to the fact that a black guy was doing all of this horrible shit instead of a white guy. Rather than changing Washington, Washington changed him. He was willing to chastise the elite and the entrenched until he was one of them then the need for “pragmatism” prevailed. It’s like when you have to kill someone to join a gang. They need to know you are one of them. “And they looked from Barack Obama to the Washington insiders and elite and then back to Barack Obama and they could not tell the difference.” Unfortunately the only person more out of touch with America was his opponent in 2012, Mitt “47%” Romney. I held my nose, and voted for Obama a second time.

I don’t know what I could have done different, but I still regret it. I was looking forward to 2016. We will have another chance. I had not given up on hope and change, just Barack Obama’s ability to deliver it. I told Paul when we started dating two years ago that he should be prepared for me to become obsessed with the election. I was chomping at the bit to get it started.

I knew Hillary Clinton was the “presumptive nominee” but I was like, “They always say that.” No way America is actually going to go through that again. We had already left her at the alter once. I’d heard rumblings about Bernie Sanders possibly running. If only.

Slowly a small pool of candidates formed, literally all of them preferable to Hillary Clinton.  Martin O’Malley picked a bad year to get in. Where was he in ’04? or ’08? or even 2012? I’m sure he could have beat FrankenKerry for the nomination and he certainly would’ve given Obama some worry. I like to dream that there will be a peaceful paradise in an alternate universe where Lincoln Chaffee is the President and finally passes legislation regarding the Oxford comma. Even Lawrence Lessig offered more relevant solutions than the “presumptive nominee”, recognizing that no real change can happen until our election system is fixed. I trust Jim Webb would keep me safe. Hillary Clinton can’t even keep her e-mails safe. Bernie Sanders entered the race and I was ecstatic. I was aware of his work in the House and the Senate and admired his candor and principled consistency. He has been consistent about what he hopes to accomplish through government since he arrived in Washington decades ago and before that as mayor of Burlington. He has chosen to stand for his principles even when they were unpopular. I cannot say that for anyone else in the race or for very many people I know. He is one of a kind.

If you have been alive for the last three or four decades, you know about Hillary Clinton. Quick name that scandal she was involved in! No, not that one. No, not that one. No, that isn’t the one I am thinking of. I’m not going to bore you with all the reasons why I don’t think she should be the president. We knew all those reasons in 2008 and that was before she had the whole e-mail scandal or her involvement in the disaster of Libya or her support for the ouster of the democratically-elected president of Honduras or taking money from Goldman-Sachs for speaking engagements. Measuring by the level of destructive influence on the world, it would be better to take money for speaking at a Klan rally.

Mrs. Clinton has been saying she will continue the good work of President Obama. That has been her sales pitch. “Let’s keep this good thing going!” I don’t really want to vote for a fifth Bush term. I want the hope and change I was promised. I want the change everyone says they want but no one can deliver.

This is the year.

Because of their electoral clown show and their inability to do their jobs as elected officials, the Republicans have pretty much guaranteed that they are going to lose control of the Senate and soon after that, if they continue, the House as well. If a Democrat is elected, and it is almost certain one will be, they will either inherit a left-leaning Supreme Court or will be able to nominate a new justice. This hypothetical president-elect will have the best shot any president is gonna get to pass major legislation. They might even be able to pass election reform or single-payer health care. Do you really want someone who is going to go in to the negotiation low-balling everything in the interest of pragmatism? “I could get $15 minimum wage but let’s go with $12 to be on the safe side.” The next president, if a Democrat, should be ready to shoot for the moon, to get as much done as possible to prove to the American people that the progressive agenda is the agenda of the future. Half-assing it on climate change is not an option anymore and any candidate who supports fracking is half-assed in their approach.

I am aware that the world is flooded with people praising their candidate on both sides and I am sorry to add to it. It is too important for me to keep quiet.

P.S. I would very much like to have a woman president, just not Hillary Clinton. I’d rather vote for Kim Kardashian.

P.P.S. If you liked this post you may enjoy “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” from 2012

The Individual

September 30, 2015

Americans are endowed with inalienable rights: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This philosophy is the cornerstone on which our country was built. Many extol the virtues of the Constitution, but it is constructed around the notion that having the freedom to pursuit your own happiness, as long as it does not infringe on anyone else’s happiness, is essential to our success as a people and as a nation. Our founders had the good sense to see that multiple points of view are preferable to narrow vision and that strength comes from individuals united in purpose, not from individuals forced to comply. The strength of the individual is the strength of the whole. Conversely, the weakness of the individual is the weakness of the whole.

America values the individual above all else. Evidence is everywhere you look, from Caitlin Jenner to Donald Trump. America doesn’t care about anything unless there is a face, an individual to represent an issue. It is not enough to say Muslims are unjustly profiled; you must say that this 16-year-old Muslim named Ahmed was unjustly profiled. It is not enough to say the pharmaceutical industry has falsely inflated drug prices for years; you must say this misled entrepreneur Martin Shkreli has falsely inflated drug prices. Our heroes are mavericks and renegades. “Individuals”, we call them. Women who bucked the system and did things their own way, like Holly Golightly or Amelia Earhart or Harriet Tubman or Elizabeth Warren or Miley Cyrus. Men who say and do what they please, exuding confidence and taking control, like Donald Trump or Kanye West or Frank Sinatra or James Dean or Batman or Don Draper. We love and value unique, bold and hard-working Individuals. Our country was built by and for such Individuals.

While it is clear that America still values the individual above all else, our actions paint a very different picture. A society that values individuality would encourage different viewpoints, lifestyles and cultures. Differences of opinion would not be discouraged but explored. Compromise would not be regarded as sign of weakness but as a necessity needed to foster individuality and differences of thought. A society that values the individual would not be so anxious to be offended.

In America, differences of opinion are treated like unbreakable vows. One must never admit that someone might have a different view on things. We have created a culture where our politicians and public figures feel they have to twist word-pretzels and contort themselves into bizarre caricatures that border the uncanny valley in order to avoid appearing to have original thought. Public shaming has come roaring back into fashion, with the mob throwing hapless individuals in the digital stockade and pelting them with vicious slurs and misguided boycotts. Aberrant behavior that does not meet with the homogeneous hive mind’s approval will be shamed away, by destroying careers and lives. Individuals are celebrated and shamed in the same breath.

America has heeded the call of the Siren of Double-Standards. We still love Individuals, but only the ones that agree with our own narrow point of view. We have taken a country of vast open spaces and infinite potential and built walls and borders around it, suffocating possibility and undermining the very foundation on which our country was built: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Warming The Veseel

September 17, 2015

As the skies return to their native gray, I have become increasingly addicted to hot tea. I am not an expert. I’m never an expert. I just enjoy a hot cuppa. Black tea, of course. Strong black tea with honey and a little milk. It has the calming qualities of religious repetition or a jazz cigarette. The ritual of preparing tea is part of the experience and adds to the satisfaction one experiences. It is similar to the feelings of a drug user as he or she readies to ingest their drug: The chest tightens, breathing is shallower; their mind becomes focused as they ready the needle or the pipe.

At first, when I had first been turned on to tea, I would impatiently dump the hot water into the mug containing a Tetley tea bag. The tea would steep. I would add milk and honey. The tea would be cool within ten minutes and I would have iced tea within the half hour. I don’t know if someone told me, or if I knew from some forgotten conversation from childhood, or if I absorbed it through media, but one day it came into my head to put hot water into the mug first in order to warm the mug. When it had become hot enough, dump the water and begin the normal process of brewing the tea. It was astoundingly effective.

This step in the ritual has become my favorite. I have since learned that this act is called warming the vessel. It has probably been in use for thousands of years, passed on by oral tradition and familial training. It feels like hidden knowledge to me, alchemy that was washed away by the deluge of technology. It seems obvious only after you have learned it, like pulling the dustpan back instead of pushing it forward.

So rather finding out that you have gone out and bought a mug warmer, I thought I would share this knowledge. While the sun is on furlough and the clouds take over, take the time to warm your vessel.

 

Warming The Vessel

  1. Boil water
  2. Pour boiling water into intended mug or teacup. Wait till the mug is too hot to touch and dump the water.
  3. Brew tea as normal. (Most teas will have brewing instructions on the box.)
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