I Own a Watch Now

My boss took me out to lunch today and gave me a nifty Kenneth Cole watch as a bonus for the last 6 months of taking over project management. If I forgot to mention it, I also got a raise a month or so ago. Apparently I rock. Nevertheless, upon receiving this lovely gift, the retarded gnome inside me blurted out “I haven’t worn a watch in I don’t know how long.”

Way to go, ass.

Despite what you may have been taught in kindergarten, sometimes honesty is NOT the best policy. Luckily before I made my faux pas, they mentioned that the receipt is in the box in case I want to exchange it. They also asked if there was anything else I needed from them (aside from more money, which they’re working on for everybody) to ensure a longer-term commitment to the company and all I could think to say was more vacation days. It’s true. I think I’d actually value that more than money at this point in my life.

In other news, tomorrow I’m going on a blind date set up by someone I actually haven’t met, but who is someone I’ve had many brief and clever exchanges, and who is a friend of several unconnected friends, so I’m assuming I’ll be relatively safe. We’ll see what happens.

There Are Days

There are days, sometimes, when you’re driving home on a sunny day with a milkshake and some McNuggets, listening to the Best of New Order, when everything seems right with the world. Some combination of stimuli hits you at just the right moment and you can’t help but think, yes, Western Civilization is the place to be, for it has brought you these pleasures; this magical moment was brought to you by America and your life is better for it.

There are those who would say that driving your car means polluting the environment. There are those who would say that consuming a milkshake means supporting factory-farmed cattle. There are those who would say that eating McDonald’s means polluting your body with toxins. There are those who would say that New Order is complete crap compared to Joy Division.

To all these people I would say, well, maybe. But all things in moderation. The simple pleasures of life, regardless of their origins, are to be savored. We should not be made to feel guilty for enjoying our lives.

Yes there are injustices and we should do what we can to lessen the suffering of our fellow creatures, but we should avoid making our lives completely miserable in the process. If we let the intense evils of the world get us all down, the world would only become a more miserable place. The world is a better place than it has ever been – anyone who says the past was better is either blinded by nostalgia or wasn’t there. There are fewer wars than we’ve had in a long time. Crime is down across the US, and has been steadily decreasing over the last ten years. The news media would have you believe armageddon is at hand. And the fundamentalist whack jobs would love that to be true.

I’m not saying we should get complacent and rest easy; there will always be more work to do. Buy organic whenever possible, drive less, walk more, eat fast food rarely. And whatever you do, savor it. Even if it’s unhealthy. Especially if it’s unhealthy.  Don’t believe those who tell you to be worried or guilty about enjoying your life. You only get one.

Selections from XTC

YouTube has reminded me how much I love XTC, and how few people know who they are. Here are some selections:

The puppet show in particular is hilarious. Apparently it was made to promote the Oranges & Lemons CD, but I can’t imagine what Geffen Records thought about it.

What’s the Matter with Kansas? (The Band)

I have a wide variety of musical interests, and I have a wide variety of friends. This leads to varying reactions about particular shows I go to see. If I tell people I’m going to see Kansas at Magic Springs, the reactions vary from excitement to derision. If I say I’m excited about seeing Mr. Lif from The Perceptionists, the reactions are the same but the camps are reversed. As someone who used to be a music snob, I suppose I can relate to each faction’s opinions about music, I just wish people would open up a little.

My outlook on music is summed up pretty well by Frank Zappa when he said:

“I think that if a person is making music — even if it’s the most crass, commercial kind of crud — that person should be doing that because there are people who want to consume crass, commercial crud. And they’re doing a necessary function for the audience that needs to be entertained. Just because I’m not the consumer of that stuff, it’s no reason for me to go on some big campaign against it. I don’t think it’s particularly aesthetic, but then again, if it’s providing enjoyment for somebody, then fine.”

Music is so much bigger than any one person’s narrow view of it. It’s more than notes on a page, it’s more than timbres, it’s more than the theatrical poses, and it’s a lot more than lyrics. In a way, it’s more than art. Art implies standards, but saying all music should be art is like saying all speech should be poetry.

Legendary rock critic Lester Bangs was a big believer in the idea that rock and roll is a form of expression that is gloriously and righteously dumb, and although he decried the attempts of progressive rock to legitimize the form, a band like Kansas was at least reaching beyond the restrictions of its genre. And the better hip-hop bands like Perceptionists are making compelling sounds that may or may not even be considered “music” per se. But if you like it, who cares?

I think people in general need to let go of their preconceptions of what is and is not right or cool or valuable, because I think these only get in the way of a wider view of music. Another reason for people to let go of their preconceptions is that all humans have a tendency to enjoy feeling superior to other segments of society. Dismissing what you don’t understand or can’t appreciate only makes you feel better about your own inadequacies and shortcomings. It’s much easier to deride or openly hate what other people enjoy rather than try to understand it, or them.

Herman Li, Guitar God

My junior year of college I spent winter term at Birkbeck College, part of the University of London. I lived there for about 3 months. In my journies around town, I made friends with a couple of local guitar players I met at various shows and guitar clinics. One of them was this Asian dude named Herman Li. He was THE shred guitar fanboy – super long hair, big collection of autographs, said “dude” all the time and his nickname was “Shred.” He was a great guy. We kept in touch sporadically over the next few years as he started his first real band, a group that eventually evolved in Dragonforce…the band of his dreams: the fastest-playing, highest-singing, most Dungeons & Dragons metal band I’ve ever seen. And kids, I’ve seen a lot.

Today, Herman is a bona fide guitar hero. I’m seeing him in guitar magazines in the States now. It’s amazing how good he’s gotten – he’s so fast you just have to laugh yourself silly. Just watch this, a solo section where he trades licks with his bandmate Sam Totman. For the full song, click here.

Metal like that doesn’t wind my particular clock the way it used to, but I still marvel at Herman’s will to power – he has fulfilled his goal of becoming the shred monkey guitar hero he always wanted to be. Here’s to you, lad.

Free of Cancer

Ladies and gentlemen, my grandmother Virginia Vorse Todd has been declared free of cancer! She’s 92 and she will NOT be trifled with!

Virginia V. Todd, Cancer Ass-Kicker

When we first heard the diagnosis of a small inoperable cancer development in her upper lung, I thought this was how it was going to end for her. It was grossly unfair, considering how her lungs have always been clean, at least since the 1950’s when she quit smoking. But this will not be the end for her. She made it through the chemo with most of her hair intact, and she still lives on her own, albeit with help from mom. I’m so glad it won’t end the way I had assumed it would. Her warranty isn’t up yet. She’s still got a good 10 years/100,000 miles left in her.

Best Daily Show Bit Ever

Every night The Daily Show delivers the finest comedic satire that I think this world has ever produced. Every episode is worthy of the praise Saturday Night Live gets (or used to get, or occasionally gets) for being the best comedy since Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Tonight’s episode was the first time I felt compelled enough to transcribe a bit for posterity. This from a conversation between Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee:

Jon: Sam, what are you reading from?

Sam: It’s the official Middle East Reporting Template. It provides the basic story of cyclical violence. All you have to do is fill in the specific country, weapon, and number of hostages – boom, there’s your story. It’s a lot of fun. Around here they call it MidLibs. Here’s one my niece Kimberly filled in. “Monkey planes continue to rain strawberry jam from the skies as tensions in the region mount over a unicorn prarade.” Kids, you know…

Jon: Sam, but is there any chance that this is a different kind of conflict, that might change this paradigm; I mean that out of all this cyclical horror something positive might result?

Sam: Your lips to God’s ears…I mean Allah, I mean Jesus, er, Abra – God I hate this f*cking place! Argh!

Jon: Sam, how is all this affecting the people on the ground?

Sam: Well, Jon, for now, the hope is that these violent aerosols between Israel and Lebanon won’t result in a nuclear fudgecicles. Ooh! KIMBERLY!

Jon: Thank you, Sam. Samantha Bee, everyone.

So perfect. So true. So damned funny.

And the Lord Did Grin

The gods of guitar acquisition hath smiled upon me. I took back the Eric Johnson strat I mentioned awhile back because, for me, no guitar is worth $1650. Perhaps as karmic payback, I discovered yesterday a Starfield Cabriolet. Starfield was a brand made by Ibanez for a few years in the early-to-mid 90’s. They listed for around $650, and this one was in apparently perfect condition for $319. Here’s an example of what it looks like.

I found it yesterday at the Blue Suede Shoes Antique Mall in Bryant while shopping with Heather and Kristin. I didn’t jump on it initially; I wanted to research it a little beforehand. These are pretty rare guitars, and I think there might be some collector value to it. I also took an amp with me to make sure the electronics were OK. Everything felt great to I took it to the register and the nice lady informed me that everything in that booth is 30% off right now….so the guitar cost me $224.

So jazzed was I about the 30% off that I went back and bought two cymbals and a microphone (Sabian crash, Pearl ride, and Shure SM48) for $34, $40, and $24, respectively. Hooray for cheap gear!

In other news, PBS’s Soundstage program featured Bill Laswell’s musical circus of freaks, including Bootsy Collins, Buckethead, Zakir Hussain, Ustad Sultan Khan, DJ Disk, and several others. I had always assumed Laswell’s work to be too far under the radar for PBS, but perhaps the world is changing for the better.

On a completely unrelated note, I had a dream last night that my ceiling was covered in ants. I woke up to discover my can of ant-fighting Scrubbing Bubbles somehow made its way into the bathroom overnight. I think I woke up in the middle of the night and moved it there for some reason. Weird.

Freakish Coincidences

So I’m a big fan of this guy Bryan Beller, bass player for Mike Keneally. Bryan has just recently moved to Nashville, and in looking for work has set up a transcription service. Send him a tune and he’ll transcribe it. When I read this in his email newsletter, I immediately thought, “hmm, bass player offering transcriptions…I should commission a transcription of John Patitucci’s “Scophile,” one of the knottiest melodies in the known jazz-rock universe.

I keep reading the rest of his newsletter, and as I scroll to the bottom he says he’ll have a column in the next issue of Bass Player magazine wherein he will transcribe the melody[1] to John Patitucci’s “Scophile.”

Now, kids, that’s just freaky. And because you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the song in question:

John Patitucci – Scophile (right click to save as..)

And for those who might care, here’s the column in question, Bryan Beller’s Woodshed at BassPlayer.com.

1.) Or “head” as the jazzers call it.

King Kong as Elaborate Metaphor for Black America

I was listening to a live version of Frank Zappa’s “King Kong” this morning and Frank introduced the tune by saying this:

The name of this song is “King Kong.” It’s a story of a very large gorilla who lived in the jungle, and he was doing OK until some Americans came by and thought that they would take him home with them. They took him to the United States and they made some money by using the gorilla. Then they killed him.”

Often have I heard that the Godzilla movies were a subconscious metaphor for World War II and Pearl Harbor’s awakening of a “sleeping giant” in the minds of the Japanese. So I wonder if King Kong isn’t subconsciously a parable about Black America: we went into the jungle and brought people back to make money off of them and we mistreated and often killed them. Certainly we killed their sense of cultural and religious identity.

It may be a stretch, but it would be a better explanation for the incredibly iconic status of King Kong in American film history than just the film’s special effects. Why else would a story of a giant primate on the rampage, who runs off with a (white) girl be so fascinating to so many? Would the film have worked if Kong were any other animal but a lower primate, so close to us evolutionarily, and to many minds in the early/mid 20th century, a closer relative to blacks than whites? I’ve always been at a loss to explain the appeal of King Kong. I never saw the recent remake, because I knew the story and wasn’t very excited by it the first time. This larger allegory makes sense to me, at least.