Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Part III: Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

The very day I became a teenager the Beatles cracked the Billboard charts for the first time with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. I remember first hearing it on a cheerleader’s transistor radio while we rode the team bus home after a Gavin Central Grade School basketball game.

The astonishing cultural phenomenon that was and remains the Beatles has never been rivaled. There was little hype, little PR, it just happened. The music business could only play catch-up and the concert business had no procedure to handle such an explosion. 45% of Americans watched the debut three weeks later on the Ed Sullivan show! (Jack Paar scooped Sullivan by airing a videotape of the lads singing “She Loves You” a month earlier) I must admit that I didn’t like this first hit or “She Loves You” all that much, and I thought the whole head shaking thing was pretty silly. Soon the imitators would come, and I actually liked The Dave Clark Band’s “Catch Us if You Can”, “Glad All Over” and “Because” better. I remained lukewarm until Sis took me to see “A Hard Day’s Night”. In that nearly empty theater with real HI FI (look it up) I heard the Beatles studio stuff for real and was awestruck. I watched Lennon sing “If I Fell” and the harmonies blew me away. It really was Lennon, especially at this stage. In a famous bit a reporter asked him how he had found America. “Turn left at Greenland,” was his quick as an eyelash quip, clearly this guy was going to be a handful.

Here was a path out of the post-assassination doldrums when it became clear that my parents’ generation was losing its grip. Here was a culture all our own. Here was my girlfriend with a comb in her hand ready to fix my hair and there was my father with the clippers in his hand ready to solve that little problem. Here was life being about what I wanted and here was trouble. Not even our goofy version of a military industrial complex ridin’ cowboy in the White House could steal this thunder!

There was much more in ’64. The Invasion brought Gerry and the Pacemakers and Herman’s Hermits, and we danced the Freddy to Freddy and the Dreamers (well, somebody must have). Among this driftwood of “ands” came decent efforts by Peter and Gordon in “World Without Love” and Chad and Jeremy with “Yesterday’s Gone”. The Animals gave us all a second song to play on the guitar in “House of the Rising Sun” (“Louie, Louie” had come first, of course) and just when Dad was starting to tolerate this bunch there was Mick Jagger and the Stones doing “Time Is on My Side”! Manfred Mann scored the first of his four #1 hits in 12 years (name them, don’t cheat) with “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” and I was digging “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks and its seminal rock guitar lead solo. I also liked the organ solo in the Zombies hit “She’s Not There”.

Stateside the beaches and bumpers boys in LA were hanging on for dear life with the Beach Boy’s “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “I Get Around”, the Rivieras with “California Sun“, “Dead Man’s Curve” and “Little Old Lady From Pasedena” from Jan and Dean and “GTO” by Ronnie and the Daytonas “Oh, Pretty Woman” was a monster for Roy Orbison and the Four Seasons stuck around long enough to score a #1 with “Rag Doll”. Toss in some great stuff from Johnny Rivers (“Memphis”, Mountain of Love”), Ray Charles’s “Hello, Dolly” and Barbra’s “People” and this year was getting pretty full. Though it only hit #31 “The Pink Panther Theme” had some legs, too. Somehow in this crowd Dean Martin’s “Everybody loves Somebody” and Lorne Greene’s shameless “Ringo” were smashes too!

And I haven’t even mentioned soul. The Supremes topped the charts three times with “Come See About Me”, “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go?” while Mary Wells sang about “My Guy”. The Drifters were “Under the Boardwalk” and Martha and the Vandellas were still hot with “Dancin’ in the Streets”. Sneakin’ up to #11 were the Temptations with “The Way You Do The Things You Do”.

A little white soul came from the Righteous Brothers in “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, to my mind the most depressing song ever written. A lot more fun were the Nashville Cats (from Liverpool) and their “Tobacco Road”.

All inspired efforts but the story of 1964 is encapsulated in the genius of that opening chord in “A Hard Day’s Night” and the buzz of the opening riff in “I Feel Fine”. One tone and you knew it, this was the new stuff.

‘64 rolled into Beatles 65 but it was on Help actually that McCartney was crooning “Yesterday” while Lennon was as usual out in the trenches of the male/female relationship with lines like:

She says that livin’ with me was bringin’ her down
She would never be free when I was around
She’s got a ticket to ride
She’s got a ticket to ride
She’s got a ticket to ride
And she don’t care
This before domestic subjugation of females was to become a contentious issue in America (kinda like now).

I was in eighth grade by now and honestly in love for the first time. I’ll never forget that moment between the buses (and during the busses) when I discovered that there was a physical high greater than the execution of the perfect jump shot as I experienced the unbelievable sensations of mohair and Chanel #5.

’65 showed the trend away from the song-is-everything kind of popular hit. There were exceptions, such as Jewel Akens’ “Bird and the Bees”, “The Boy From New York City” by the Ad Libs and “You’re the One“ by the Vogues, but the hook was beginning to be about the sound.

From the quaint Edwardian suited TV renditions of ballads like “As Tears Roll By” and “Time is on My Side” nobody had a clue what the Stones were about. After “Get off of My Cloud”, “The Last Time” and the incredible “Satisfaction” there was no more doubt.

In America we suffered an ungodly number of hits I refuse to acknowledge from Garry Lewis and the Playboys, but then I guess you could consider this revenge for the lobs of Freddy and the Dreamers and Hermin’s Hermits we would continue to suffer from the UK. We had the soul, and it was better than ever with breakouts by the Temptations with “My Girl” and the Four Tops with “I Can’t Help Myself”. The Supremes struck again with “I Hear a Symphony” and “Stop! in the Name of Love” while vanilla soulers The Righteous Brothers followed up big time with “Unchained Melody”.

Cute American bands like The Lovin’ Spoonful (“You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice”) and The Turtles (“It Ain’t Me Babe”) popped up here and there, and the Beach Boys were ever the Beach Boys with “California Girls” and “Help Me Rhonda”, but there was a growing response to the Invasion brewing as Americans looked for a counterculture to put up against the English. The answer seemed to partially lie a few years back in the poetry of the Beat. Dylan went electric with his “Like a Rolling Stone” and Simon and Garfunkel exploded onto the scene with “The Sounds of Silence”, but the real beginnings of the American “head” generation showed up in the Byrds. These pioneers laid the groundwork for American bands from Jefferson Airplane to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to Pearl Jam with jingle-jangle, spacey songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn”.

Closing out ’65 came Rubber Soul, and in response to the folksier American trend the powers that be left “Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car”, “What Goes On?” and “If I needed Someone” off the American version, substituting the acoustically driven “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love”. The unmistakable scent of pot was becoming evident in lyrics like:

And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn't it good Norwegian wood?
though we didn’t all get it quite yet.

’66 came, another one of those in between years. On one front everything was all sunshine and love with “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys”, “Good Lovin’” by the Rascals, “A Groovy Kind of Love” from the Mindbenders and “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful”. The Mamas and the Papas emerged with “California Dreamin’”, “I Saw Her Again” and “Monday, Monday” while Graham Nash led the Hollies with “Bus Stop”. Staying on the lighter side we had number #1 hits from the Association with “Cherish” and “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians, not to mention Frank (“Strangers in the Night”) and Nancy (These Boots Were Made for Walkin’”) Sinatra!

But all wasn’t sweetness and light. The Stones were in their own bag with “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Mother’s’ Little Helper”, both vicious denunciations of 60’s suburban lifestyle, plus a song that would still bring anti-cheer to our present day Goths, “Paint it Black”.

I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
Contrast that #1 with Tommy Roe’s bubblegum hit “Sweet Pea” and it’s obvious some very different things were going on here. Though the Supremes held on with hits like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”, Motown began to lose its momentum. Behind the pop very little was heard from California, though “Wipeout” by the Surfaris was a pretty cool and durable throwback example of the sound begun with the Ventures in 1960.

Somewhere a lot of musicians were sitting around enjoying “Mellow Yellow” (Donovan) or “Day Tripper” from the Beatles while millions of music nuts created by the Soul and Invasion heydays were ready to leave adolescent popsters like The Monkees (“I’m a Believer”) behind. Beginning guitarists had two new victims in “Gloria” from the Shadows of Night and “Wild Thing” by the Troggs—and I was one of them, adding Tommy James and the Shondells’s “Hanky Panky” as well to my Gibson Melody Maker repertoire.

Perhaps the disconnect of ’66 was a result of the gathering storm in America. Consider these two songs, the first from Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler:

Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret

The war was heating up, and not everyone felt the radiant glory of the above. Sneaking into the #11 spot at one point was “Shapes of Things” by the Yardbirds:

Shapes of things before my eyes
Just teach me to despise
Will time make men more wise?
Here within my lonely frame
My eyes just heard my brain
But will it seem the same?
(Come Tomorrow) Will I be older?
(Come Tomorrow) May be a soldier
(Come Tomorrow) May I be bolder than today?
Soon the partisan ranks would grow. Soon would come the birth of the adult alternative genre that would slake the thirst of millions of productive stereo equipped boomers with money to spend. Soon FM stations would be able to provide an alternative to the Top 30 giants and give a voice to a whole new counterculture. Soon the explosion of pop art, generational disillusionment, anti-war sentiment, drug experimentation (and hateful reaction to all of those) would change things forever. And a big part of that began on December 8th, 1966, when the Beatles, while wrapping up the singles “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”, went to work with George Martin on a little concept Paul had been kicking around about a music hall band motif.

Soon Rock and Roll was going to mature along with the boomers while it left pop behind, as one of the most important LP’s of all time wouldn’t produce a top 30 single. In Part IV we would see a new word pop up in rock jargon, masterpiece.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Holy Llama!

Just today, along about 11:00 AM or so, I discovered the path to “more environmentally and socially responsible living.” Each of us needs to:

· marry well and pursue two professional careers long enough to

· make enough money to quit our jobs while we at the same time

· buy 5 acres in a prime tourist location out in the woods and

· restore an old farmhouse into a quaint bed and breakfast so that we can

· charge each other $115.00 a night to come park our bio-diesel Geo Metros and read from each others’ eclectic poetry collection.

This is only the beginning of the incredible story of two BOBOs gone beyond bucolic, Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko, your hosts at the Inn Serendipity. There’s even a book. Go to the site for the link if you’re interested cuz that’s all the formatting I’m going to do tonight.

These two do it all. Lecturing, organic farming, organic gardening, solar power, wind power, inn keeping, hangin’ out the laundry, cooking classes, purveying produce at the local market, free agent photography, advertising, marketing and being active members in a few score of noble organizations, not to mention feeding the llamas and raising the kid (home-schooled no doubt).

In the course of their hour long interview (where do they find the time?) they must have used the phrase “renewable energy” about eight thousand times! They’re just about breaking even on electrical usage with the used wind turbine they bought about 5 years ago, and don’t use fossil fuels on their “farmstead” at all. Good for them. Have you ever heard one of these babies in operation? This one is about 300 feet from the house so the guests can sleep. Assuming I could afford one of these puppies 300 feet would put my 120’ high whoop whoop machine in the vicinity of the bedroom of my neighbor about three doors down.

You physicists can correct me if I’m wrong, but how do you renew energy, anyway? With a perpetual motion driven generator? Does wind spring from a cosmic well of some sort? Is the solar energy received by Earth infinite? How many wind mills does it take to alter the rotation of the earth? I don’t know and I’m not going to look it up, but I’m thinking this “renewable” part is hooey.

So while these two are out lecturing on the environmentally sound method to keep the crabgrass out of the kumquat patch I wonder just how many solar panels and windmills it would take to heat up Tokyo and London. How much recycled French fry oil would it take to fuel traffic in Peking and Mexico City?

This couple has found a way not to take from the Earth. It’s a commendable goal, to be sure. They’re two in a million. Where does that leave the other 99.9998%? (I think that’s right)

Gasping for air.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Remotely Disinterested

For 54 years of my life it has apparently not occurred to anybody that I might actually be worth something, and so I admit that I again shirk my Patriotic American duty to be SCARED TO DEATH, this time of my identity being stolen. Nevertheless my little Hun yesterday brought home from the again obviously evil gates of Super-monstrous Wal Mart a shredder, the timing of such purchase to coincide with the annual cleaning of the files of records of things transacted across the vast Sequoit global empire.

And so while I might have been enjoying a nice, quiet Saturday in the doldrums of this February Great Lakes climate—listening to the Illini game, playing Scrabble with two computer generated mavens and watching the Discovery Channel—I found my concentration dangerously fragmented by a series of additional noises. This beguine began benignly (sorry, I watched De-Lovely, the Cole Porter story, Friday night) with about fifteen repetitions of rhrhrhrhrh as I figured it would all be over soon. But more disturbing was what followed, a couple of very low huuuuuuuuuuuuuuums and then silence. I was nearly moved to turn around, but my alpha male’s nose didn’t detect any trace of what is so familiar to those who might be sure that one more try would free the garbage disposal, the dispiriting odor of burnt electrical motor coil.

After several cycles of this it was clear that some intervention would be necessary to avoid the distracting hubbub of my wife collecting up the packing material, warming up the car for another trip to the Superbly-magnificent Wal Mart and the attendant oaths of damnation, let alone the inevitable byplay related to the perceived importance of our as yet separate activities.

And so, heroically, I turned to enter the fraying.

First off, it was clear that the proper tool was needed for the job of clearing the blades. An attempt was being made to pull out the offending clumps of account and SS numbers with a set of tweezers. Carefully balancing the relative values of my previously noted valuable time, the cost of the machine and the likelihood of irreparable damage I opted immediately for the small screwdriver vigorously poked between the blades alternated with blowing the loosened material all over the room. Thus was made relatively short work of the jam, and upon inspection it was determined that the blades remained more or less in line and that it was time for another run.

What followed might be considered eerie or coincidental in another household, I couldn’t say because my memory of other households I’ve been a member of is understandably selective. In this household, however, it was inevitable. I proceeded to shred every thing in sight, hundreds of sheets, with no jams. Did this irritate my dear one? Nope, the whole ordeal just further validated her longstanding tenet, “I hate machines and machines hate me!”

Last night, after shutting down the DVD player, turning down the Wave Radio from theater-type volume, tuning the VCR back to channel 4, selecting TV from VCR/TV, selecting the “Soundscape” music channel on the cable box, switching to TV mode on the cable remote, turning off the TV, setting the wave radio to 45 minute sleep mode and canceling the alarm, I thought to myself, “What’s her problem?”

I realized that in the morning she would turn on the TV, change the channel of the TV instead of the Cable (remote still in TV mode) and get static with no sound (was turned down to listen with the Wave Radio to the movie). And so I again remembered to leave the seat up, left the door to the bathroom open (I hate that thud in the middle of the night), and made a mental note to remember in the morning to turn on the TV, switch the mode to Cable, put the volume back up and turn off the Cable/TV combo.

Probably because I have so many such responsibilities around here I forgot this morning.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Quality is Being the Jobbed One, Part II (the evil junction of a typical corporation and the law)

Not satisfied with acts such as suing the village of Volo, IL because Google might suggest Volvo was a misspelling, the corporate lawyers of Ford Motor Company have apparently threatened the bejeezuz out of some citizen who had the audacity to provide a forum for letters of complaint.

Now, if you Google “Ford Focus Problems” or “Fox Lake Ford” you will still see a link to my long letter about several dealers’ incompetence, one dealer’s flat-out dishonesty, and Ford’s utter dismissal of any responsibility for the dealers that fly its logo.

But you won’t see the letter. The only reference to Ford in the site is a link to an opinion piece, and that comes up blank as well. The only hint of what happened is a mention of having a recent run-in with a corporate attorney.

Free speech ends at the corporate boundary. It is certain that this person was threatened with legal action by this international colossus. Whether he was within his rights is lost in the fact that once legal action is threatened the David of this story faces financial ruin in the mere consideration of standing up for them.

My rights are abridged as well, I must accept as fate that $800.00 was stolen from me. I must accept that I can no longer at least have posted my letter on a tree visible from the street, even if on private property. I will try to post this as visibly as possible—if I have some success eventually the lawyers at Ford will send me a letter—inevitably I will have to choose between taking it down or financing a battle with everything that I own. While “Quality is Being the Jobbed One” would be correctly defended as satire by the Comedy Channel the legal structure would never afford me that opportunity.

For David and Goliath is a myth, and for victims of corporations so is the First Amendment.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Stuck in the Middle with You

Sometimes the oddest things can fit together, and life for a moment seems like that James Burke PBS show Connections. In this case we’re talking about my vacation to Orlando and Las Vegas, my search for kindred souls, golf, American life and the unvieling of Christo’s “The Gates” in New York’s Central Park.

How’s that?

During these two weeks I had time to read two books, The Price of Dissent, by Bud Schultz and Ruth Schultz and The Middle Mind, by Curtis White. The first is a historical account of repression from the early days of the union organizers through the Red Scare, the civil rights and anti-war movements, and continuing to accounts of government spying on dissidents during the Reagan era imperialism in Central and South America. The words are mainly those of the victims who survive . This should absolutely be a text for every high school student in America. I don’t think this will happen.

The second book is subtitled “Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves”. I think I had heard this book referred to in some op-eds but when I saw this subtitle there was no hesitation—along to the library desk it came. This is, after all, where we started back during the campaign. This is Fiengold’s lament for the Greenvillians of Alabama—this is the water down the center of the water slide—this is the absurdity that Janet Jackson’s breast is what makes a Superbowl garbage.

My reaction to the urban/suburban landscape of America is one of great disappointment at the utter ugliness of it. I see miles and miles of asphalt and signs and millions of noisy charging steel nightmares belching the silent plague of exhaust. I have this futurist notion of high-rise pods connected by quiet electric trains. Instead of the vestigial feudalism inherent in owning a postage stamp of land humans have opted to free the land, population centers are interspersed within vast free ranges where again “the deer and the antelope play”, as do we. It is difficult for me to accept the American social design because for some reason I continually ask if we might find a better alternative. In doing such I have resisted Wright’s “Middle Mind”, though expression of such thoughts is often met with antagonism. I imagine an alternative.

The “Middle Mind” is Clinton’s moderate liberalism and W’s neo-conservatism at the same time. Mostly it is about the vacuum of critical thinking that exists in a society so hell-bent on conforming to perform. The “Middle Mind” marches to sound bytes like “bridge to the twenty-first century” and “the march of freedom” without first thought, let alone second.

So while a liberal might see a trip to Las Vegas as sin I see that, despite all of its excesses, the Strip houses, transports and feeds its denizens in a manner that is more aligned to my efficient ideal than any suburb might be.

And while so many families are charging along intent on starting their Disney Experience they pass quickly through what was my most artistic experience of Orlando, the vast atrium of the hotel/airport. (just stop, close your eyes and listen)

And though it’s not likely that the National Endowment for the Arts will begin to support golf lessons, there is art indeed in summoning up all ones senses and coordination to strike a two iron perfectly from 225 yards into a quartering wind. As time slows violence becomes grace as the ball seems to defy gravity for a while before it begins its graceful arc downward and (joyously) laterally toward the target. This ball that was launched with such force now doesn’t so much drop on the green as it settles cozily and quietly. You, I, or Tiger Woods himself cannot know how, why or when this will happen, only that it’s similar to something imagined.

Is it rational to chase a thousand miles and dollars to pursue such a rare thing? (didn’t happen this time, incidentally) Yet golf is America’s pastime, so much so that it is difficult to conclude that Americans don’t spend a lot of time imagining. Is it rational to hang thousands of “too-short window shades” in Central Park? This has been done and it is clear that we are not nearly intellectually dead quite yet.

To a much greater degree than in any society before us we are burdened with our success. To advocate upheaval in our society is to promote destruction on a previously unrealized scale. To imagine a new paradigm for this culture is unprecedented in its complexity.

To shake us from complacency would be a monumental task, likely only possible as a result of cataclysmic events. A likely more attractive impetus might result from an enlightened leadership as yet unknown.

And it is here that American anti-intellectualism and American disdain for metaphysics seem most fatal. Because the only alternative to learning to think change is “faith”, as our leaders like to put it, in our political process, in the honesty of our political representatives, in technology, and in the benign presence of capitalism,. Nothing about the last few years of North American history gives me any reason to think that these things deserve our faith. Our political representatives and their parties have shown themselves to by venal, self-serving, obliged to corporations, and afraid of the collective strength of the military and the defense industry. To these people are trusted the authority over weapons that replicate the destructive power of stars. So, no question about it: We need to learn to think change. Then we need to change. (his italics)

White isn’t very optimistic and I must admit that I’m not either. In the meantime I have my imagination.

update 2/14/05: As an aside, I couldn’t help but wonder how it is that Curtis White came to teach at Illinois State in Normal, IL. Though Normal comes from the University once being called “Normal College” meaning “to train teachers” there is some Vonnegutarian quality in seeing it pop up in White’s book.

There’s more. I hung around with a pretty quiet crowd in high school and I managed not to get drunk until college. My first week at Illinois Wesleyan, which is in Bloomington and one mile south of ISU, culminated in a football game between this small private college and the University. My new friend from San Mateo, CA and I walked up a set of railroad tracks to the game while splitting a six pack of 16 oz. Schlitz beer. Thus as I became inebriated for the first time I at some point crossed the line into Normal.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Just passing through

Returned from Las Vegas last night. Much more on that later but right now I'm getting ready to go to Orlando for some golf. It's vacation season for us seasonal employees, I have to remember these days in the summer when I'm driving home on Friday evenings and watching the weekend warriors fly by on the way to Wisconsin's beautiful north woods while my weekend doesn't start 'til Saturday around four.

The weather forecast is frighteningly good for golf, mid 70's and fairly calm through at least Wednesday. Where do we keep the sun block?

Look for new stuff around the 12th, unless I get bored enough to track down a cafe and do some catching up. Not likely.