Bach’s 13 Mistakes

“Tar” is a bit long-winded but still the best movie I’ve seen this year. Blanchett will win the Oscar. I am absolutely fabulously overjoyed that they filmed and recorded the orchestral scenes with a real orchestra, live; Blanchett’s piano playing is also real, as is the cellist ingenue. Most films about musicians dub the performances and it usually shows, badly. Contains a provocative, timely discussion by the lead character of the relationship of art to the scandalous behaviors of the artists, instancing a LGBQ student who can’t get “into” Bach’s music because he had 13 children.

Free Speech, if you Already Have it

‘I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”’  Elon Musk.

Because people sometimes ask the government to make speech less free?  Censor us!  We don’t deserve to have a voice in our nation’s affairs!  I wish to disagree in silence!

What Musk is really talking about, of course, is the obligation we are beginning to impose on gigantic social media entities to regulate and restrict what kind of speech they allow.  We are beginning to realize that shouting “fire” in a crowded virtual theatre through Twitter is potentially just as harmful as it is in a real theatre.

The whole essential principle of free speech is to protect the rights of minorities, not the right of a majority to shut them up.

CNN’s Election Coverage 2022

CNN was rather meticulously explaining why counting votes from urban districts with very large, more educated populations that tend to vote Democrat takes longer than counting the relatively small number of votes from rural areas that tend to vote Republican.
It was like Sesame Street for Election deniers. I kept expecting them to bring on the Count to demonstrate how some numbers are bigger than others.
Except, I think the Count counts faster than Arizona or Nevada.

The Red Dribble

TV News is populated with pundits who ask you to accept their expert analysis of why they were all wrong about the election results. Buyer beware. CNN in particular offers panels of cosmetically anodyne talking heads proffering the same information a casual observer could have picked up from last night’s headlines and an SNL sketch or two.
If you are wondering what “anodyne” means, it is the state of brain collapse caused by watching more than any 10 minutes of Wolfe Blitzer.
But what a stunning result! Just stunning. Miracles cut two ways, evangelical leaders! I personally think Jesus was involved in the Oz debacle and the Kari Lake upset.
And before Republicans get too excited about Ron DeSantis, a commentator pointed out that he was essentially running against a corpse, and voter turn-out was a pathetic 50%. The only politician less amusing to watch is Ted Cruz.

Permission to Vent

Did you know that in the 1960’s, while all of the mainstream media devoted their sports sections to professional baseball, football, basketball, stockcar racing, and hockey, the sport that attracted the most actual fans– in person, in stadiums– was…. ready for it?  Demolition derbies.

In politics, the whacky far right is the demolition derby of ideologies.  Until recently, relegated to the back pages of history.

In spite of all the think-pieces about polarization in American politics, I really think the issue comes down to something much simpler.

Firstly, there has not been a massive change in attitudes or beliefs over the past 70 or 80 years.  A large segment of the U.S. population has always held stupid ideas about culture, education, leadership, the military, and the police.  And, of course, race.  They love guns, hate affirmative action, can’t bear the thought of giving up their massive V-8 powered pick-up trucks, fear black people even if they don’t see themselves as racist (and some aren’t), and hate the idea of foreigners coming into the country and taking away their jobs while they themselves are unwilling to work hard for long hours to get ahead and there is a labour shortage in most areas of the country.  They believe that good manufacturing jobs have been shipped over-seas even though 85% of them were lost to automation.  They believe Republicans when they say they intend to reduce the deficit even though, when in office, they never have and never will.  They seem to think that cutting taxes on the rich will benefit them, because, fuck it, some day I might win the lottery.

Until recently, people with toxic beliefs about society have intuited that they shouldn’t openly express those views because the consensus among politicians, the media, and other leaders is that those views are, in fact, untrue, toxic, and counter-productive, and ignorant.

They always believe crime is on the increase.  Always.   Try to explain to them that if crime was always increasing it would eventually reach 100%, so there must be times when it is actually decreasing (in fact, the crime rate is up only in year-over-year statistics.  Over a longer period of time, it is down, by a clear margin).

They think that somehow making the bail system rational increases crime: no study has shown this.  Not one.

Newt Gingrich came along, and Alex Jones, and Rush Limbaugh, and then Donald Trump, and they all publicly expressed massive approval of these toxic beliefs.  The internet broke the consensus among major media outlets to not give play to ill-founded, idiotic conspiracy theories.  Now every ignorant, ill-informed jack-ass in the country can search online to find that the cause of the wild-fires in California is Jewish space lasers or sun spots.

Try to explain to these people that international trade agreements, on the whole, benefit them.  (Essentially, the lower cost of imported goods frees capital within the local market to pay for more goods, services, and other items which you otherwise could not afford.  Free trade is a net benefit to the average American worker and consumer.  Tariffs take money out of your pocket and give it to the government which in turn subsidizes corporations to the benefit of wealthy shareholders.)

People haven’t changed.  They are just louder and more outspoken and more than happy to enlighten you as to their brilliant insights into the nature of reality and the truth about Biden and the international child porn conspiracy and Hollywood’s Jewish cabal and they way young school-children in small towns all across Iowa are being provided with litter boxes so they can “identify” as a transgender kitten.

Perhaps the most bizarre characteristic of these people is their close identification with Christianity.  Do any of them actually read the Bible?  Do they really see something in Jesus reflected in Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity?  Do they really think God blesses them as they storm the capitol building and threaten to hang Mike Pence?

 

False Statements and Superfluous Details

It is always fascinating to read about a very old mystery that is finally solved.

In 1984, a twelve-year-old girl, Jonelle Matthews, disappeared from her home in Greely, Colorado.  Police say they have been “haunted” by the case since then.  Last week, the mystery was “solved”.  A man named Steve Pankey was convicted of her kidnapping and murder.

Wow!  DNA evidence, right?  Fingerprints?  A witness?  A confession?

Well, we now know better than to trust confessions.

The evidence, as far as can be determined from the news article in the New York Times and Wiki, consists mostly of Pankey making “odd” comments about the case, showing an “unusual” interest in it, and …  well, read about it.   It’s get weirder and weirder.  Apparently, Pankey, who is divorced, and whose wife seems to have provided police with some of the evidence of Pankey’s “odd” interest in the case, admits to being a celibate homosexual, even while he served as an assistant pastor at his church.

His wife, apparently, does not remember that his alibi– that he was with her the night of the kidnapping– was a lie.  She was there with him, just a few nights before they left for a trip to California.  The car was already partly packed.  Would she not remember if he had been out that evening, if she remembers that he listened to radio accounts with suspiciously strong curiosity, or that he asked her to read newspaper accounts of the story aloud to him after they arrived home?

Jonelle’s body was found in 2019 by a construction crew working on a pipeline.  There is no DNA evidence, no finger-prints, no photos, no witnesses.  There is, in short, nothing but a rather bizarre interpretation of some odd but not really strange verbal expressions by the suspect.

This is not the first time some odd person has made curious statements about an unsolved murder.  We should know better by now: it’s a psychological condition, a personality quirk, a bizarre compulsion.  If a person behaves “oddly”, by all means, check it out.  But if there is no supporting evidence, you probably have something similar to this case.

Ask yourself this: would the police have ever excluded a possible suspect because he didn’t provide “superfluous details” when discussing the case with them?

But to bring a case like that to court, based sole on the “superfluous” detail or “excessive” interest is worse than inadequate.  It borders on criminal abuse.  Close enough!  Hang him!  Great police work!  Medals for everybody.

And Jonelle’s family is glad to have “closure”.  If I were in Jonelle’s family, I would tell the police, “are you fucking kidding me?”  Get back to work.

This is all absurd.  It’s idiotic.  And, as if we don’t already know from election-deniers,  it is further evidence that a lot of people are, frankly, stupid: a jury voted unanimously that, by golly, if the police think he’s guilty, he must be guilty.  They convicted him.

Pankey insists he is innocent.  He says he is being persecuted because of his homosexuality.  He might be right.

I love the “superfluous details”.  The police felt that the “superfluous details” implicated him.  Because there is some kind of magical police science that tells you that men who provide “superfluous details” likely committed a crime.  Just as, when I was little, my mother believed that giggling if someone stared at you and asked if you were lying meant that you were lying.

I know people who put on a grave, serious expression when talking about police who were killed or injured on duty, as if there is something solemn or sacred about them.   It is very hard, especially recently, especially after the numerous incidents in which police behaved very, very badly (even to the point of homicide) and not one of the officers who saw or heard of the incident reported it, to not believe that most police don’t deserve our respect.


Interesting side-note: Jonelle was born to a 13-year-old girl, and then adopted.

“A chokecherry tree was planted in front of Franklin Middle School in memory of Jonelle. The tree died after a few years and a plaque inscribed with Jonelle’s name disappeared.[18]”  (Wiki)  So much for that solemn commitment to commemorate and honor her memory.  I guess it was a superfluous detail.

 

Ringo is the GOAT

This Youtube Video informs us about the “genius” of Ringo.

Seriously?  Look, I don’t mind Ringo.  He’s a decent drummer.  He stays in time, can hold a rhythm, and looks good doing it.  Furthermore, he seems to be a really decent guy.  He is unpretentious.  Humble.  He is a photographer.

But “great”?  Ringo is not and never was a “great” drummer.  In fact, there have been occasions on which Paul banged out a few bars in Ringo’s absence, and no hue and cry was raised.  Was it even noticed?  Some acolytes of the Sacred Heart of the Ringo is Great Divinity School like to try to make a virtue of his deficiencies by praising his simple, straight-forward, unadorned style.   The truth is that Ringo was never capable of anything much more complex than that.

Ringo just happened to be the drummer for a band that became very, very famous, and nobody will believe that a band that famous could not have had an elite drummer, and since almost no listener has the slightest clue as to what a really, really good drummer sounds like (try Hal Blaine, or Kenneth A. Buttrey on Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding”, or The Band’s Levon Helm, or Neal Pert of Rush) they just assume he is one of them.

Want to hear the worst drummers of all time?  Check out most of Neil Young’s backing bands, but especially Crazy Horse.

 

Nick Cave is Getting Old

Q.  This is semi-random but did you see the Elvis movie?  [The hit movie “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as Elvis Presley.  from this year?]

A.  Yeah. I was confused by it. Elvis is my hero. There was an aspect to the story of his later years that is almost religious to me.  NY Times

First of all, a journalist should not be telling Nick Cave that the movie is “a hit”.  What is your point?  That it was popular and successful?   [Well, pardon me– but, as if to prove me right, he didn’t say “hit movie”: the NY Times website attached a note to the article that my copy somehow picked up.]

I take it Cave was confused because Luhrmann, striving for some kind of credibility, I suppose, ended up allowing some ambiguity in the film as to just how “heroic” Presley was.  He clearly refused to stand up to his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, who made so many bad decisions for him, and Elvis’ greatest success came in Las Vegas– a cesspool of kitsch– but he is worshipped by the credulous American public who can’t believe that someone that rich (he wasn’t, really– Parker took most of the money) isn’t also virtuous and deserving.

Firstly, I know someone reading this will, sooner or later, leap up and shout “but he had a great voice”.  Yes he did.  So does Celine Dion and Michael Bublé and a hundred other irrelevant “artists” who merely produce pleasant-sounding confections.

Is there anything more bereft of artistic merit than a Michael Bublé song?

As another aside: the film could have done one brilliant thing to lift itself above the messy contrivance that it is:  it should have contrasted Elvis in Vegas– and his audience– to the nascent punk movement in London and New York, and their audiences, just to clue the audience in to just how far from “shocking” Elvis had become and how much he had become, instead, an establishment icon.

It means very little to me, who would rather hear Bob Dylan sing one verse of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” or  “Tambourine Man” or Leonard Cohen croak his way through  “Famous Blue Raincoat” or Tom Waits wail “Cold, Cold Ground” than an entire concert of Elvis.

There is a reason Elvis impersonators are so popular.  What Elvis produced is easily imitated. It’s all surfaces and gloss.  It’s that warble in his voice, the breath, the thirsty lips.  It’s audio scenery.

I won’t hide my crushing disappointment at hearing Nick Cave admit he admired perhaps the most corrupt and conformist rock-pop artist in history.  Elvis was always only ever about getting rich.  Okay– yes, he was a white artist doing black music in the 1950’s.  What did that mean to him?  That he was progressive or activist or even liberal?  He “shocked” the establishment.   Into what?  Hurling their panties onto the stage in Las Vegas?

And gosh, yes indeed, he was very attractive to girls– because, one suspects– he was a girl.  He was definitely a mama’s boy who couldn’t bear to have sex with his wife after she had become pregnant.

He was also a credulous believer in old time religion, producing several albums of the most banal, conventional gospel tunes imaginable (he made Tennessee Ernie Ford look positively conscious).   He used his money to build himself a playground at Graceland and surrounded himself with men who were willing to act like kids and horse around and eat too much and keep real people away.  He begged a fat old Dutch hustler with the cultural palette of Gumby to please, please take 50% of all of my earnings because I am too dumb and too weak to  get myself a lawyer– without your permission– and challenge you on any point on any issue including those monumentally stupid movies you signed me up for.  This was no “shock” to the establishment: it was a slobbering wet kiss to everything the white patriarchal society represented at the time.

Elvis joined the army.

Seriously– Elvis never, in his 20’s, a powerful (in terms of potential earnings power) celebrity, never challenged Parker’s control of his career, of his social life, of his engagements, his politics, his clothes?  Just how gutless exactly was the man?  Regard the Beatles, who exploded into four solo-careers, fired their manager, hired and fired lawyers and accountants, started a company, bankrupted the company, promoted new artists, demonstrated for peace, and so on, and so on, all while Elvis was sitting on a toilet in Las Vegas.  (It has to be noted here that the Beatles, too, admired Elvis, and the Beach Boys.  But they were more influenced by Bob Dylan.)

That’s not merely weird.  It’s nauseating.

Nick Cave says:

The final Las Vegas concerts were the Passion of crucifixion and redemption and resurrection.

Nick Cave– do you even know what Las Vegas is?  Have you ever been to Vegas?  Have you toured the hotels, the strip malls, the casinos?  What is there about this place that doesn’t strike you as hell?

There is a man who’s suffering on such an epic level to be onstage and to perform and to live.

No, there is a man who didn’t have the backbone to make any decisions for himself for his entire life.  You admire him for it?!!

I have always found Elvis repellent for the same reason Cave says he admired him: he played Vegas.

Growing up in the 60’s, my generation had the courage (for better and worse) to begin to think independently of the established pro-war, pro-growth, anti-sex, anti-drugs culture and strike out boldly with new values and ideas and lifestyles.  Sure, a lot of it went off the rails, and a lot of it did not endure.  But think of the environmental movement, the feminist movement, civil rights, and the antiwar attitudes that do still prevail.  Elvis had nothing to do with any of it.  It was a conscious decision, made for Elvis by the “Colonel”, to never, ever have an intelligent opinion about any of these raging issues during the entire decade.

What was Elvis doing, during the time of “Ohio”, “The Times They are a ‘Changing”, “For What It’s Worth”, “Eve of Destruction”, Woodstock, Kent State, Viet Nam, Love Canal, etc., etc., etc.?

A medley, arranged by the great songwriter Mickey Newbury, of “Dixie,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “All My Trials” that Presley frequently used as a centerpiece of his later concerts.

(Another note from the NY Times referring to a segment of the documentary, “This is Elvis”. )

Suffering?  Elvis wanted the worship, the attention, the money, the corrupting lifestyle, the entourage, the limousines, the bullshit.  It is what he lived for.

That changed my life as an artist. It was the most stirring thing that I’ve ever seen musically. There was something that was happening at those shows that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Well, that part is right.  You watched a generation of obese, self-satisfied, smug, contemptible Las Vegas consumers wet their panties over a  vacuous washed-up celebrity icon.  This wasn’t a crucifixion, and it certainly wasn’t redemption (Elvis had long ago lost the younger generation: he was now appealing to the teenagers of the 1950’s, who were now middle-aged and settled into their suburban homes) and Elvis wasn’t courageous or innovative or inventive or noteworthy in any artistic sense at all, aside from the fact that he was a white man performing black music.  All that blather that you read about his “come-back” is from a bunch of hacks being overwhelmed by Elvis’s popularity and coercing themselves into sucking up to the myth.

What, really, at this point in his career, was the difference between Elvis and a mediocrity like Engelbert Humperdinck?  Not much.  Elvis was louder.

We are told that Elvis died on the toilet.  Elvis lived on the toilet, on the Las Vegas of culture, literally: trashy spectacle and banal confections.


The only thing that could be more disappointing than Nick Cave’s admiration of Elvis would be Eric Clapton finding Jesus and becoming an anti-vaxxer or Van Morrison comparing Covid restrictions to slavery.

And yeah, Eric Clapton found Jesus and is now a pro-Trump anti-vaxxer and Clapton and Van Morrison compare Covid restrictions to negro slavery.

Has Clapton changed?

In 1976, Clapton said this, publicly:

Onstage, Clapton told his audience that it was important to “keep England White” and that “the Black wogs and coons and Arabs and f—ing Jamaicans don’t belong here.”

You might say, and I might say, that an incident that happened 45 years ago should be forgotten.  I would strongly agree, if it was an “incident”, like groping a groupie, or stealing your best friend’s wife (yes, he did).  But it wasn’t: it was Clapton inadvertently forgetting to hide his opinions from the public.  Clapton, who made a career playing the blues, a style created by black musicians, has never played a role in any protest or civil rights movements.  He has been conspicuously silent on those issues.   He choice to not publicly support those movements is, in fact, a statement in itself.

When he appeared in photos with Greg Abbott in Texas, one can’t doubt that that too was Clapton lettings his opinions slip into the public stream.

Now he complains that his old friends don’t call.


I was curious.

Articles on the web defending Elvis seem to think there is a constituency out there that thinks Elvis is racist.  I never thought that.  I don’t know of anyone who does.  Then I realized— that’s the strawman.  Prove that Elvis wasn’t racist and you have therefore salvaged his reputation from allegations of triviality and irrelevance– the kind of stuff I am asserting here.  So there are numerous articles on line showing that Elvis had many black musician friends and none of them thought he had any racist attitudes.  He grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, a mixed race community.  I’m fine with that.

However, I thought it was interesting that so many sites felt the need to make that defense.  In any case, I was curious: did Elvis agree to play for segregated audiences?  The Beatles refused.  Did Elvis refuse?

The rider for the September 11 concert “explicitly cited the band’s refusal to perform in a segregated facility,” writes Kenneth Womack at Salon. When concert promoters pushed back, John Lennon flatly stated in a press conference, “We never play to segregated audiences, and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose our appearance money.”  From Here.

It’s easy to find references online of the Beatles refusing to play segregated audiences.  The Rolling Stones are known to have recorded songs by obscure black artists as b-sides to their hit singles, to give them some income.

Regarding Presley’s first hit, “That’s All right Mama”:

Arthur Crudup was credited as the composer on the label of Presley’s single, but despite legal battles into the 1970s, reportedly never received royalties. An out-of-court settlement was supposed to pay Crudup an estimated $60,000 in back royalties, but never materialized.[15][16] Crudup had used lines in his song that had been present in earlier blues recordings, including Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1926 song “That Black Snake Moan”.[16]  (Wiki)

It is hard to believe that there would not be a record of it– as of the Beatles– if he ever had.  There is a clear record about one thing: Elvis virtually never stood up to Tom Parker (can we all please STOP calling him “Colonel”: he was never a Colonel anywhere)  and challenged any of his decisions, and Tom Parker obviously didn’t give a fuck about civil rights.

There is a video— by “fans”, of course– that claims that Elvis performed a beautiful, powerful song (“If I can Dream”) about truth and beauty and justice and brotherhood at the end of his 1968 NBC TV special.   But the song is anodyne at best, banal, and unspecific, and safely generic.  Not a single line that even approaches “battle lines being drawn” or “tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming” or even (of course) “Imagine there’s no country”.

People love Elvis.  I never have.  The people who love Elvis will twist themselves into a pretzel to find some way to rationalize that love, to find virtue in the man that is commensurate with their esteem.   That esteem is a reflection of ourselves, our good taste, our own virtue, but not of the reality of fat , sweaty Elvis leaning in and kissing the women taking a break from the slot machines in the front rows of the International Hotel ballroom.

Pretty Good Discussion of the Racism

Farewell, Your Irrelevant Highness

Well, farewell to the “The Queen”.

She seemed liked a very nice lady. I like that she learned to be a mechanic 80 years ago. But when people say she did a “great job” I can’t, for the life of me, think of anything she actually “did”, other than, basically, pose for tourists, pose as a tourist, dub things this or dub things that, wave, and stay out of the way of Parliament. As a mother… well… the results are decidedly mixed. And considering the obscene industry her like has inspired– the cult of privileged , narcissistic, self-centred white princesses (don’t kid yourself about the token ethnic entries on the market)– , Disney should have paid her salary.

I doubt that 4-year-old girls will ever aspire to be King Charles III. They might ask for the King Charles dress for birthdays or Christmas (it’s a “kilt”, dearie).

Historically, the best solution to regicide? Make ourselves irrelevant.

We Hum Along to Infidelity

There is a video of a group of children performing the song “Gentle on My Mind” in this cheerful, anodyne style that makes you sit back and think, oh, how wonderful that he (the songwriter) has such warm thoughts about his girl.  She must be so pleased that he’s thinking about her after he stayed a few nights and then ran off.

Have you ever hummed along to it?

Have you ever taken note of the lyrics:

And it’s knowing I’m not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that are dried upon some line

There are many strange paradoxes in popular culture: our contempt for men who “love ’em and leave ’em” for their cruelty and selfishness, and our worship of songs like “Baby the Rain Must Fall” and “Gentle on my Mind”.  Our cancel culture, about men who cheat.  Our public disapproval of philanderers.  But most people still hum along, as they do with a song about killing an unfaithful wife (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”).

“Gentle on my Mind” is pretty poetic about it:

I dip my cup of soup back from a gurglin’
Cracklin’ caldron in some train yard
My beard a rustling, cold towel, and
A dirty hat pulled low across my face

This gets kind of weird.  Not only is he dumping her– like Gordon Lightfoot in “For Lovin’ Me”, but he’s wandering around like a hobo, not working, evidently, and surviving on soup with his fellow derelicts in “some train yard”.  Quite a picture for his beloved, while she’s warming to the idea of being “gentle on his mind”.

So the gentle part means she isn’t going to put up a fuss about him dropping in for sex now and then, leaving his sleeping bag behind her couch, and then taking off whenever he feels like it.

Elvis Presley recorded it.  So did Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  But, Aretha Franklin?!  Yes, she did.  Well, that’s liberating!

John Hartford wrote the song, he says, after watching “Dr. Zhivago”.  And from personal experience.

Maybe I misunderstand the lyrics.  Maybe the poor guy had no choice but to move on and eat soup in the train yard.  But it doesn’t sound like it:

Though the wheat fields and the clothes lines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us
And some other woman’s cryin’ to her mother
‘Cause she turned and I was gone

Who’s right?  Well, let’s expand it a little.  Let’s consider Hartford’s wife.

The story of the song narrates the reminiscences of a drifter of his lost love, while moving through backroads and hobo encampments.[2] Betty Hartford, who later divorced her husband, noted to him the similarity between herself and the song’s female character. She questioned John Hartford about the man’s negative feelings toward his marriage. Hartford said he likened her to Lara and attributed the man’s feelings about being trapped in a relationship to his “artistic license”.

There you go.

It was, at one time, one of the most played songs (in all versions) on radio in North America.

Men thinking kindly — or not– about the women they abandoned