“Who Are Those Guys?”

Paul Newman asks repeatedly in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “who are those guys?” That was my overriding impression when I started thumbing through the gallery at Little Rock Blog. If anyone needed more support for the idea that all white people look the same, take a look at the people on those pages. They’re all terribly beautiful by modern standards, but I’ll be darned if I can tell any one from the other. All the girls have the same hair and faces. It’s Stepford-esque. The guys are all similar, too. And everyone smokes light cigarettes and drinks light beer. Can a brother not get a stout and a Lucky Strike once in a while?

I’m not just saying this as a nerd looking at the cool kids[1], I’m saying this as someone who is continually fascinated by human behavior and social interaction. The homogeneity is weirding me out, plus the fact that I don’t know any of these people even tangentially. I never realized what a vast social circle exists in Little Rock with which I have no connection whatsoever.

I just noticed the tag line “image is everything” underneath the page header. Apparently that’s the case.

1.) Because there is probably an element of that to it.

My Christmas Vacation

I went to Harrison for dinner and gift exchange on Friday because the siblings’ in-laws have dibs on their children for Christmas gatherings. I got mostly kitchenware because that’s what I didn’t feel like buying myself. I have officially entered the adult world wherein there is nothing I want for Christmas that I can’t get myself. So now I ask for things I don’t want to pay for, i.e. utility items. This would not have been so bad if my grandmother hadn’t been making jokes that I was having a bridal shower. And of course my insufferable niece asks me again when I’m going to get married. We really need to do something about her; she’s becoming a Mean Girl. I blame Bratz.

I used the weekend mainly to catch up with friends and family. Elizabeth was in from California, Lance and Kevin from Missouri, plus locals Robin and Josh (sorry about the brevity of the visit, guys – I was going to call again Sunday but I went back to LR because I forgot Zoe’s meds) and I talked to Nica and Becky for a bit via phone. That’s about it really. Sunday night was spent at Heather’s watching the first season of Gilmore Girls, drinking wine, and munching on cheese and venison sausage.

Monday I spent my gift cards. I got Robert Altman’s Short Cuts on DVD and picked up the actual CD of Death Cab’s Transatlanticism, plus some Snow Patrol. I caught up with Tara, in from Austin, and she gave me bourbon chocolates and a wide assortment of other sugary things. Kathy came over and we watched It’s a Wonderful Life, which, GASP, she had never seen. Neither has Tara, it turns out. How could you people have missed it?

Death of a Character Actor

I’ve always wondered what the opposite of a “character actor” is. If you’re not a character actor, what are you playing? Scenery?

Anyway, we lost one of the most identifiable ones recently, Vincent Schiavelli. You may remember him as the creepy teacher in Better Off Dead and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or as John O’Connor in Buckaroo Banzai or the crazy subway ghost that teaches Patrick Swayze how to move things in Ghost.

Vincent Schiavelli 1948-2005
(The guy on the left)

What’s not to delight in a dreamy wrist accessory?

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This Just in from the Department of Understatement

Saw this in the D*G’s front page last Sunday (yes it takes me a week to read the Sunday paper):

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, speaking to 3,000 delegates at a conference…conceded that shortcomings in his land redistribution program contributed to critical food shortages in his country.

You read that and think, oh ho hum, there are some problems there, but if you’re not aware of the particulars of Mugabe’s land reform, you’d have no idea that that statement is roughly equivalent to “Bush concedes shortcomings in Iraq War.” For those who may not know, Mugabe instituted a sort of government-imposed revolution whereby all white farmers were expelled from their land and their property given to black folk. This was in many cases a violent expulsion; imagine the Mafia enforcing affirmative action. Trouble is, the folks who took over the land have no farming experience, so you can imagine that this essentially crippled Zimbabwe’s economy.

Oops. Finally Mugabe is starting to admit the program wasn’t such a great idea.

Inspired Thievery

Perusing Spinsouth‘s recent blog entry containing a fine Johnny Cash mp3, I realized I should be offering occasional free downloads. The lowly pointedstick.net server is probably too clogged up, but the littlerockmusician.com server isn’t doing much (other than hosting a forum that may already be dead because I never think to promote it[1]), so I can store stuff there. With that in mind, I give you:

Millard Powers – Simple Thing

Millard fronted an amazing band called The Semantics, alongside Will Owsley and Zak Starkey (son of Ringo, now in Oasis), and has also played bass for Ben Folds and Counting Crows (of whom he’s likely to become a full member if he hasn’t already). Millard and Will also moonlight in Amy Grant’s backing band.

This track came from Millard’s old mp3.com page. Since their original business model folded, Millard has been without a home on the web. Evidenly he has no interest in getting his music out through traditional means. I just noticed that some guy in Panama registered millardpowers.com only two days ago. Weird. I love Millard. He can do Ben Folds better than Ben Folds sometimes.

1.) I set the site up years ago as a way to keep in touch with my guitar students, and for anyone who wants to find a music teacher in Central Arkansas. By all means, check it out and spread it around.

The Acceleration of History

Of course the Internet speeds the exchange of information, allowing scientific communication to accelerate and advancements to be made more quickly, but something I’ve noticed recently is that it has a similar effect on the distribution of historical facts. I have seen more references to Saturnalia this holiday season than in any previous year, and I blame the ease with which the Internet allows us to transmit information. In the case of Saturnalia, it’s likely a side effect of this hubub regarding references to “Christmas” versus “holidays.” Apparently the tide of political correctness is being turned back toward the Christian majority who want to make sure that everyone knows Christ is the reason for the season. I won’t get into that, though [1].

What I’ve been seeing lately are a flurry of emails and weblinks discussing December 25 and its Saturnalian origins. Much the way Easter was co-opted by the Christians from pagan tradition, so Christmas was conveniently placed at the same time of the Romans’ Saturnalia in an effort to convert the heathens. In fact, most biblical scholars put Christ’s actual birth a few years back into the B.C., and probably in spring or summer, as the Nativity would have been an unlikely scene in the dead of winter. Not many shepherds would keep their flock by night in the fields during the cold season.

Another, completely unrelated historical item I came across today was graffiti from the walls of Pompeii. For some reason I never considered that the scrawlings on the walls of truck stop bathrooms have a long tradition, stretching back very likely to the first days of indoor lavatories. The Pompeii markings read nearly identically to their counterparts in the modern day. The topics are alternately scatalogical (“show us your hairy privates”) and romantic (“Marcus loves Spendusa”). I also never realized “I was here” has been written on walls for millenia. Were we to intuit the central message of humanity from these writings, one could only assume that it would read: “We were here, we had sex, we loved.”

For anyone searching for the meaning of life, the answer may well lie right there.

1.) Yet.

Richard Pryor (1940-2005)

One of the great things Richard Pryor did was take the “bad words” and make them funny. I may be wrong, but I think that the more you laugh at words like “motherfucker” and “nigger” the less powerful they become. Pryor was so funny, all he had to do was say those words and their socio-linguistic[1] hegemony started to crumble. The more we laugh at the things that make us uncomfortable, the less power those things have over us.

Frank Zappa was a tireless crusader for the idea that words, in and of themselves, cannot hurt you. For the same reason that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, so also words can’t hurt you, only people can hurt you. If a word hurts you by itself, then that pain comes from inside you; it is but a dagger of the mind.

To extend that even futher, at 29 I still refuse to believe there is any qualitative difference between the word “shit” and the word “crap.” That whole “swear word” thing never worked for me as a kid, and it still doesn’t. If I train myself to say “crap” rather than “shit” or “fuck” when I stub my toe, the meaning and intent of the word hasn’t changed, only its linguistic garb. To say that one word is safe and another is not, when they both mean the same thing and convey the same image, is ludicrous. Another particularly vexing example is the phrase “that sucks,” which is somehow permissible to most people, even though the unexpurgated version of the phrase involves direct reference to either fellatio or cunnilingus [2]. That was the phrase’s intent and origin, yet stripped of its object it somehow becomes harmless.

Well now that I’ve set off all your pr0n filters, I guess I’ve made an effective tribute to Richard Pryor. I’d also like to say that, while Pryor’s films were rarely box office smashes, they have an easy amble to them; I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Brewster’s Millions, The Toy or his Gene Wilder buddy flicks. Or his best work as a screenwriter, Blazing Saddles, which he co-wrote and was supposed to star in, were it not for the studio’s fear of what Mel Brooks charitably termed as Pryor’s “sniffing habit.”

1.) Not sure if that’s a word, but let’s preted it is because it sounds really cool and pretentious.
2.) Somehow those terms are safer than “blow job” and “rug munching.” Perhaps because they are entirely devoid of all humor.

An Audio Obsessive

Not that anyone probably cares, but here are the records I got for $1 each in Memphis a few weeks ago:

Keith Jarrett – The Koln Concert
Keith Jarrett – Staircase
Keith Jarrett – The Survivors’ Suite
Keith Jarrett – Sun Bear Concerts
Keith Jarrett – Arbour Zena
Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette – Ruta & Daitya
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette – Tales of Another
The Zombies – Odessey & Oracle
Al DiMeola – Casino
Al DiMeola – Scenario
Al DiMeola – Splendido Hotel
Richard Lloyd – Real Time
Calculated X – Some Change No Change
Chick Corea – Return to Forever
Chick Corea – The Leprechaun
Allan Holdsworth – Atavachron
Jan Hammer Group – Melodies
Billy Cobham – Life & Times
Stanley Clarke – Time Exposure
Stanley Clarke – Journey to Love
John Abercrombie – Night
John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner – Five Years Later
Bill Frisell, Tim Berne – Theoretically
Ron Carter – Blues Farm
Lenny White – Big City
Billy Vaughn – La Paloma
McCoy Tyner – Focal Point
Buddy Rich – Stick It
Pat Metheny – New Chautauqua
Bill Laswell – Baselines

Yes I had to update my vinyl list, too.