So, You Want To Be A RockStar?

I was 13 years old when I listened to my first Beatles song on the radio and right then and there, I wanted to be a “rock” star, even though I had no clue what that meant! I remember begging my parents to allow me to take some of the money I received for my Bar Mitzvah to buy my first guitar for $39.99, including the case!  While this would be the opportune time to say: “The rest is history” …Well, it was, but not the history that I was looking for at the time. Truth be told, I was a mediocre guitar player at best, but certainly not for lack of effort. After torturing my parents’ eardrums for about six months, they acquiesced and enrolled me in guitar lessons at the B Sharp School of Music, which was above the store of the same name where I bought the guitar. And so, it began.

By the end of the summer of 1964, I was getting somewhat proficient with basic chords and my teacher suggested I try some fingerpicking techniques, as they appeared to be in vogue at the time. This was also around the same time that I first heard “House of the Rising Sun” (HRS) by the British group, The Animals, which was released in the US early August of 1964. HRS is actually an old folk song originating in Louisiana, as the first line will tell you, and as is the case for many of these old songs, who it was written by is uncertain. Two things that are certain: The song has been covered ad nauseum, and I simply had to learn to play it. If you are familiar with The Animals’ version of HRS, you might remember that the beginning of the song starts with some note picking (skillfully done by lead guitarist Hilton Valentine) rather than strumming, and this is what I wanted to learn from my teacher. If you are not familiar with the song, here you go:

As it happened, my timing for wanting to learn this song couldn’t have been better, as the music school was planning to mount a musical showcase for some of the more advanced students to perform before an audience in November of that year, just after my fourteenth birthday. I had just over two and a half months to master the finger picking of the intro to HRS! To say that I was nervous about this would be an understatement, but when I found out that the location for the performance was my high school gym, nervousness turned into a full-scale panic attack. It’s one thing to perform live, and a completely different thing to play in front of people you know! I am happy to report that we didn’t suck (I was accompanied by a bass player, another guitarist, and a vocalist), and we were ushered off the stage to a hearty round of applause. I immediately vowed to never, ever do that again. It turns out that wasn’t to be the case.

Many years later, 2007 to be exact, I was teaching high school English and many of the students at this school were fairly accomplished musicians. When I first found out about this, I brought my guitar to school (the one I bought in 1974!) and left it in my classroom so that students could pick it up during breaks and play around. By that time, my obsession with playing had subsided, but I would still pick it up once in a while. I was doing that very thing one afternoon in my room (playing HRS of course) when one of my more gifted musical students came in and told me that she loved that song (she sang and played piano amazingly well) and then asked if I wanted to join her and a few of the other students and perform that song for the school’s annual showcase. So, 43 years later, there I was on a stage in front of colleagues, my students, and the parents of my students. This is when I learned that panic attacks when you are 14 are exactly the same as the ones you have when you are 57!

The spark for this memory comes from scrolling through YouTube one night and coming across a compilation video of covers of HRS from talent shows around the world. Music, it is said, is the universal language because emotions expressed through pitch, rhythm, and tempo are attributes that are shared across cultures. So, if there are words to a particular song you are listening to that you don’t understand, you can still have a visceral reaction to it because of the music. That being said, all six versions of HRS on this video are being sung in English (well, one is from the UK, so that doesn’t count!), which should be a prompt for a discussion of cultural appropriation, but I will leave that for another time. If you have the stomach for it, watch all six, but the ones that amazed me are as follows: #1. An 11-year-old girl from Germany that is seriously channeling Eric Burdon; #2. A man from Russia (starts at 1:57); #3. A man and women (I am not sure where they are from as I can’t read that particular alphabet!). This is the most sexualized version of this song I have ever heard (starts at 10:00). The judges’ reactions to these performances in a host of foreign languages are definitely worth the price of admission. Enjoy!

Los Angeles 2022

“Information! Get Your Red-Hot Information Here”(E)

The following is a quote from a recent (October 3, 2022) “daily journal” article for The Atlantic Magazine titled, “The Widening Gyre,” by Tom Nichols:

But we are not helpless. The center can hold-because we are the center. We are citizens of a democracy who can refuse to accept the threats of mob bosses, whether in Florida or in Russia. We can and must vote, but that’s not enough. We must also speak out. By temperament, I am not much for public demonstrations, but if that’s your preferred form of expression, then organize and march. The rest of us, however, can act, every day, on a small scale.

It is fairly easy to read between the lines of this quote and understand that Nichols is referring to Trump and Putin. However, I feel that he is leaving it up to the reader to figure out what exactly he means by the “center.” While this may not be true for everyone, I have serious doubts that a “center” position in politics, and perhaps in many other facets of life today, exists anymore. It is also being left up to the reader to decide who the “we” are. In our ever-expanding polarization as a society, the “we” is becoming exceedingly difficult to pinpoint. The reasons for this are as complex as they are multifaceted, but for me one of the primary factors for this polarization is media literacy, or lack thereof. Not because we are not trying, or because we have become media illiterate so to speak, but rather because there is simply too much information out there for people to digest. And it is for this reason that Nichols’ title is very appropriate, because as the circle widens the center keeps getting further, and further away!

Throughout the ages, the dissemination of information has had its impact on numerous societies. One could say that it all started around 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. It took about 400 years later (1844) for the first telegraph to again alter the information landscape. Then the floodgates opened: Telephone and mimeograph (remember those?) 1876; typewriter 1880s; photocopier 1937 (but the first Xerox commercial ones were around 1959); home computers late 70s; mobile phones 1973 (who can forget the Motorola weighing in at 4.4 lbs.!) Apple Macintosh 1984; WWW 1990 (widespread around 1995 when Netscape launched); and then the social media phenomenon, starting with bulletin boards and ending with who the hell knows what. I am sure there are some blanks to fill in here, so please feel free to do so!

Even though it is called the “Information Age,” when you look up many of these 20th century inventions you will find people discussing the amount of “knowledge” now available to us, and this is inherently wrong. Information, or put another way, raw data, does not become knowledge until whoever is looking at the information does something with it. You need to process it, measure it against other information, fact check, and a whole host of other gatekeeping tasks before it can be classified as knowledge. So, if you read something and pass it on to someone else, you are simply sharing information; you are not enlightening anyone with knowledge. This may sound simple and reasonable enough, but in this day and age, it is more the exception than the rule.

It is no secret that we are being bombarded on a daily basis with information of all kinds available 24/7 on a multitude of different platforms and devices, in our homes, our offices, our cars, in our pockets, even on our wrists. We are “connected” to everything and everyone in ways that are very different than 75 years ago. And historically speaking, 75 years is like a blink of an eye. While the state of being “connected” can be seen as a positive thing, there is an important question that needs to be asked about this connectedness: “To whom?” For me, this is where “polarization” and “information overload” meet head on.

We have only to look at the current state of politics, for one, in this country to better understand this collision. Collectively, this country is divided into two camps, sides, parties, factions…pick a term! If this isn’t a salute to polarization, then nothing is. The sheer volume of information (“noise”) is bad enough, but when the noise itself is aligning itself into the above-mentioned divisions, what you end up with is that neither side is listening to what the other is saying. Just think about the plethora of right-wing or left-wing publications, forums, groups, websites, etc. out there. So, when Nichols writes: “We must also speak out,” who are we speaking to? For argument’s sake, let us say that the split between the two sides is 50/50. What this means is that at any given time neither half of the split have any fucking clue what the other is saying, or more importantly why! There has always been a divide in thinking between city and rural, but where this country finds itself now goes far beyond city slickers versus country folk. I am not referring to people we might know because of who they are; I’m referring to the average Joe or Josephine. What are these “other” people listening to? What do they believe to be true, accurate, or factual? And if you are relying on the “noise” you regularly listen to in order to form your response to the questions above, you are no closer to knowing what these people know, want, or care about!

More recently (November 14, 2022), Nichols had this to say in his assessment of the recent midterm elections titled: “A Break in the Gloom:”

The misfit flotilla of Republican election deniers, conspiracy theorists, and other assorted flakes and phonies was poised, it seemed, to board the American ship of state without much resistance. Instead, much of the Republican fleet sank within sight of the shore.

If your first thought was that I really don’t need to read between the lines here, you are absolutely right, but the second thought should be: “Who is reading this?” Many of you I am sure are familiar with the phrase, “preaching to the converted,” (as I am most likely doing here!), and the above missive is a perfect example of this. However, let’s say that agents from the “other side” read this. What do you think their reaction would be to being called “misfits,” “deniers,” “flakes,” and “phonies?” More than likely, they would respond with corresponding vitriol…and on and on it goes as the circle gets even wider. Why is all this important, you might ask? Because it is often the “voice” seldom heard that can be the loudest one in the room.

Los Angeles 2022

“Tie One On!”

Most of you are probably familiar with this expression as code for getting intoxicated, or going on a drinking spree, neither of which I have ever done. If you believe that, then have I got a deal for you! The precise allusion of this phrase – what it is one ties on – is not entirely clear. However, as you can see by the photo above, getting “wasted” is not what this is about; but hey, feel free to have a drink while you’re reading.

I honestly cannot remember exactly when and, perhaps more importantly, why I was thinking about ties the other day, but I have given up on trying to figure out how these things pop into my head, which is a good thing, otherwise I might gravitate towards “tying one on” more frequently! The last time I wore one was for a wedding, just over a year ago, and it came with the tux I rented. The time before that…I have no idea. To say that I have a love/hate relationship with this particular article of clothing is accurate, although it does not really tell the full story. So here it goes.

My introduction to ties begins, where I suspect it begins for most guys, watching my father getting dressed for work. My dad was a bit of a “clothes horse” and had vast array of beautiful suits, shirts, shoes, and, of course, ties. As far back as I can remember, I marveled at the way my dad would make these perfect knots every time he put on a tie, and when I was old enough, he taught me how to make the knot he preferred, and by default it became my preferred knot. I couldn’t wait to be able to actually wear one. That opportunity came when I was in high school and the dress code (remember those!) at this particular school included a tie, not to mention a very ugly school sweater. Most of my friends cheated and had their parents buy them clip-on ties with a prefabricated knot…losers! I was very proud to show up to school with my beautifully knotted tie, knowing that I was the envy of the entire student body. Yeah, right. I can tell you though, that by the time I was ready to graduate I was “over” ties, and I am sure at some point I swore that I would never wear one again!

I feel it is only fair to expand on the idea of my preferred knot because, even though I abhor wearing ties, I still cringe whenever I see someone wearing a tie with that “other” knot. (There are far more than two knots, but these are the most common). I am referring here to the “Windsor” and “Half Windsor” knots pictured below.

Now I fully realize that there is not much difference between these two knots, but I distinctly remember that everyone that sported the Windsor despised the Half Windsor, but those who sported the latter really couldn’t have cared less, usually saying: “Come on, a knot is a knot.” The blasphemy! Back in the day, I was definitely in the Windsor camp.

These days I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. Been that way for quite a while. With the one exception of a job, I had when I was in my teens working in a jewelry store, I have never been employed by any company that required me wearing a tie, and I’ve had more jobs than I care to remember. I may have worked at a place or three that might have frowned if you wore jeans, but that is where it ended. When I was working sales in the sporting goods industry, casual work attire was the norm, and there was a running joke that if you saw a fellow salesman wearing a tie it meant one of two things: He had just attended a funeral, or he had a meeting with the president of a large department store! 

The truth is, whether you call them ties, cravats, ascots, neckcloths, or simply bands, most people who wear them, especially for dress up occasions like weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, important work functions, etc., usually end up either loosening them or removing them completely before the night is over. Don’t believe me. Look at any photos of these events and I am sure you will see Uncle Bob looking debonair, dashing, fetching, handsome, even dreamy in his tailored suit and perfectly knotted tie, Windsor knot of course, but the photos towards the end of the evening will feature Bob with a slight bulge in his suit jacket pocket, which contains his tie. Of course, If Uncle Bob likes to imbibe the “hard” stuff, you may be lucky enough to find a photo of Bob with his tie knotted around his forehead.

You rock, Bob!

Los Angeles 2022

DUMBCON

Been thinking a lot these days about deserted islands. More specifically, about being shipwrecked/stranded on one and saying to myself: “I could get used to this!” I can only speak for myself, but this type of fantasizing is occurring more often than not and especially after catching up on the news.

When this idea first popped into my head, I chuckled to myself knowing that I would find exactly the right images to compliment this rant! And I also thought of the oft-used aphorism: “Life Imitating Art.” I am, of course, being very liberal with my use of the term “art” here, but movies are certainly an art form, and “Dumb & Dumber” is a movie. . .Well, you get the picture! As it turns out, there is no shortage of “art” devoted to either deserted islands, or islands that are populated but are not on any map. The earliest entry I could find was “Robinson Crusoe” (1954,1970,1973,1997, ????), the 1957 rom com, “The Admiral Chrichton,” which is actually based on a 1912 stage comedy of the same name written by J.M. Barrie of “Peter Pan” fame. Then came “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960), Lord of the Flies” (1963 & 1990), “Gilligan’s Island” (1964-7), “The Blue Lagoon” (1980), and “Castaway” (2000), among others.

I was glancing at headlines the other day, and after reading a few, I was shaking my head in disbelief and mumbling to myself: “How could anyone be this dumb?” There is no easy answer to this question, and one has to consider that what seems “dumb” to some may not seem that way to others. My response to that is: “Sometimes dumb is just dumb.” And when that level of dumbness is coming from elected officials and/or our titans of industry, then we have every right to shake our heads, unless of course you voted for “dumb and dumber,” then all bets are off

More specifically, there have been a fair number of stories about rising tensions on the world stage, wigged out leaders with itchy fingers, missile launches, nuclear warfare, and other such uplifting reading. Is it any wonder that palm trees and being surrounded by water are calling to me? I would like to think that the inevitable outcome of all this is really just me being paranoid, but…So, I decided that since a deserted island is probably not in my future, I would resort to parody to calm me down. Below you will find the Defense Readiness Condition chart (DEFCON) that was created by the US joint chiefs of staff in 1959, and below that my parody of it DUMBCONR. You’re welcome.

Just in case you were thinking that all of this is new…well, think again.

Los Angeles 2022