“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

So, you think you’re a fan. . .?(S)

If you started singing, you’re not alone!

For most people, the music of one’s teen years has a definite impact on our musical tastes, or preferences if you will. This should not come as a surprise because those are the years of many “firsts” as we tentatively move towards adulthood. The backdrop for my teen years were the sixties (1963-1969 to be exact) and I probably don’t have to tell you how this musical era shaped and, in many instances, continues to shape the music landscape today. Although this music from my youth certainly has its rightful place in my memories of that period and has the ability to transport me back in time when I hear a specific song from the past, I have moved on from this music and have acquired a taste for many different genres and styles. That does not mean I don’t listen to sixties music anymore; I do, but I am not one who is stuck in the past musically.

I was listening to some music the other night, which is a fairly normal nighttime ritual for me these days. It was a random Apple Music station so you never know what song will be next, when a song popped up from my past and I found myself saying: “Damn, I haven’t heard this in years. What a great song, I think I need to go back and listen to an album or two of theirs and open up the memory floodgates!” And I did just that. The next two evenings I listened to the first two of their six albums (both recorded in 1967), 21 songs in total and was actually a little surprised when I only remembered six of the songs! So, I spent the next four evenings listening to the remaining albums recorded in 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971. These albums with a total of 40 songs yielded only another six songs that I remembered! And that got me thinking.

Back in the day there were three ways to hear this music: Live concert, radio, or buy the album. While I was a huge fan of this particular band, I was a teenager with limited funds and purchased only one of their six albums. I never had the opportunity to see them live. So, the only time I was listening to them was on the radio, primarily AM radio, which meant nothing longer than three minutes! It made me realize that being a “fan” has its limitations, because radio stations then and even now to some degree only play the hits. Can you name the group that released these songs? “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar);” “Twentieth Century Fox;” “Horse Latitudes;” “Moonlight Drive;” “Yes, the River Knows;” “Spanish Caravan;” “The Soft Parade;” “The Spy;” “Been Down so Long;” “Crawling King Snake.” If you know any or all of these titles and to whom they belong, I will venture a guess that you owned and perhaps still own the albums that contain these songs. However, the following titles will no doubt have the lightbulb in your head shining brightly: “Break on Through (To the Other Side);” “Light my Fire;” “The End;” “Love me Two Times;” “People are Strange;” “When the Music’s Over;” “Hello, I Love You;” “Touch Me;” “Roadhouse Blues;” “L.A. Woman.” Go to just about any website and type in The Doors and inevitably these last songs will be listed as the top ten Doors songs, as these were the ones you heard over, and over, and over again on the radio. In other words, they were “top ten” by default! If you are keeping track, that’s ten songs out of a total of 61! There was a seventh album recorded in 1971, but this was after lead singer Jim Morrison had died in Paris, and the remaining band members decided to release an album of songs they had all been working on before Jim’s death. It is appropriately titled “Other Voices,” as Ray Manzarek (keyboards), and Robby Kreiger (guitar) took over the vocals for this release.

This little journey down memory lane also got me thinking about music classification i.e., genres. All six Doors albums are labeled as “rock,” which is a very large genre that incorporates a vast array of musical styles and has its roots in what was once called “rock and roll.” One source gives the following description of rock as: “characterized by a strong beat, the use of blues forms and the presence of rock instruments such as electric guitar, electric bass, electric organ or electric piano.” Noticeably absent from this description are the drums, and if we want to be really picky The Doors did not have a bass player in their line up! Nowadays, there are more subcategories of rock than are probably needed but we, as a species, love to categorize things and the more categories the better. Just for the record, I abhor all these attempts to “label” as they are completely subjective and, at times, completely wrong or ridiculous, sometimes both. For example, take the following list of sub genres of rock: Alternative Rock; Rock ‘n’ Roll; Blues Rock; Progressive Rock; Indie Rock; Punk Rock; Psychedelic Rock; Acid Rock (basically music you listen to while doing acid!); Glam Rock; Roots Rock; Folk Rock (think Batdorf & Rodney, and if you’ve heard of them give yourself ten brownie points!); Arena Rock; Soft Rock; Funk Rock; Garage Rock; Space Rock (not what was brought back from lunar landings); Electronic Rock; Experimental Rock; Surf Rock; Brit Pop; Art Rock; Stoner Rock (nah, too easy); Instrumental Rock; Jazz Rock; Sleaze Rock (If you got torn jeans, a mesh tank top, and an outrageous wig then you are a sleaze ball. Example bands: Hanoi Rock, L.A. Guns, and Faster Pussycat – I wish I were making this up!); Goth Rock; Jam Rock (much better if you have toast); Industrial Rock; Geek Rock; Yacht Rock (the single most ridiculous sub-genre). Supposedly this is “softer” rock, but not Soft Rock. Examples given: Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers. Enough said!

I apologize for this rambling trip down genre lane, but there is a reason for this, and it is directly related to the six evenings I spent listening to 61 Doors songs. While this is a rough estimate, I would say that at least half of the songs that are not part of the top ten listed above would never be classified as “rock” today. However, since I just spent an inordinate amount of time ranting about the subjectivity of classification, I will let you decide for yourselves how you would classify the following songs. Let’s say that the songs below are a selection from my unofficial top ten (also listed above) that probably never had any airtime on the radio, and that are, in my mind at least, not what I would consider “rock” songs. The emphasis here is on the MY. They are songs that you may or may not remember or may or may not know. There is also a chance that you may or may not care! These are Apple Music links, so if you are a subscriber then easy-peasy. If you’re not, well you know where to find me. These are songs that range from spoken rants to musical theater. There are classic blues, poetry, flamenco, and songs that go through so many different styles that there should be a sub-genre called Smorgasbord Rock!

#1. “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)

https://music.apple.com/us/album/alabama-song-whisky-bar/1622368510?i=1622368629

#2. “Horse Latitudes”

https://music.apple.com/us/album/horse-latitudes/1622362830?i=1622362927

#3. “Spanish Caravan”

https://music.apple.com/us/album/spanish-caravan/1622361522?i=1622361529

#4. “Yes, The River Knows”

https://music.apple.com/us/album/yes-the-river-knows/1622361522?i=1622361532

#5. “The Soft Parade”

https://music.apple.com/us/album/the-soft-parade/1622365586?i=1622366154

#6. “Crawling King Snake”

https://music.apple.com/us/album/crawling-king-snake/1622471682?i=1622472311

Enjoy the music and enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Los Angeles 2022

hair. . .Not the musical!(s)

Can I borrow Your Comb?

It would be easy say that the picture above represents the mother of all bad hair days, but that would be a bit too simplistic. There is obviously a “statement” being made here, and I will leave it to you to figure out what that is exactly!

It is, I believe, safe to say that that as a species we are obsessed with hair – ours and everyone else’s. Skeptical? I was until I found the following on the web: “The Cult Obsession With Hair And Why It’s One Of Our Most Defining Features.” In it the author states: “Much like body fat composition or blemished skin, our hair is one of the first bodily traits we notice in the mirror. It has a real, tangible prominence in our lives. We associate our personalities with our look, let it impact our mood, and even form an emotional attachment to our strands. Experiencing a bad style is not unlike the entire island of Manhattan breaking out into anarchy and collapsing on itself.” Perhaps a tad overstated, but who am I to judge? I also discovered something called “hair dysmorphia,” a condition characterized by people obsessing about their hair for hours and sometimes an entire day, leading to compulsive and repetitive behavior to try and to hide or improve perceived flaws. Then there is the more serious “Trichotillomania,” a hair pulling condition. This got me thinking about my hair, at least when I still had some, and my dad.

Although this happened almost 60 years ago, I remember it like it happened yesterday. It was the day my dad came home wearing a toupee! I was 14 or 15 years-old and, to be honest, my initial reaction was somewhere between shock and disbelief. The jokes would come later! My dad was in sales and felt that his appearance was important to this vocation, not to mention his ability to earn a living, and who can really argue with that? But teenagers tend to see the world a little differently, especially when it comes to a parent. I don’t specifically remember when my dad started losing his hair, but it must have been in his late twenties, as he was in his early forties when the toupee first appeared. My own hair at the time was starting to get longer and shaggier as was the style in the mid 60s. My parents didn’t overtly object to my hair length; rather, the objection came in the form of a warning from my dad: “Keep your hair long like that and it’s eventually going to fall out,” he’d say in a serious tone. I was about to point out to him that he never had long hair in his life, but I thought better of that and kept my mouth shut. And even though I had a front row seat to this possible eventuality, teenage hubris kicked in and I said: “Yeah, right.” As you can see in the picture below taken when I was 20, I did not heed this advice.

Lake Tahoe CA June 1971

Over the years, there were some humorous events with my dad and his toupee, but the most memorable has to be when as a family we were visiting friends who had just built this amazing house that had in indoor swimming pool! We were all lounging around the pool when my dad decided to go for a swim, and before we could say anything he dove right in, surfaced a few feet away and started swimming to the other end while his toupee floated merry along behind him. It was fortunate that it was an indoor pool, as the ensuing laughter from those around the pool would have caused a noise complaint from neighbors. Just for the record, my dad was laughing the loudest! From that day forward, I vowed that if I did start to lose my hair, a toupee would not be in my future.

Fast forward to the mid-90s. I am now 45 and my hair is starting to “thin.” This is the politically correct word for “you’re going bald.” I was keeping my hair shorter by then and particularly more so in the summer, as I was playing a lot of slow-pitch baseball. In December of 1995, I was invited to a formal New Year’s Eve Party and decided to rent a snazzy tuxedo for the event. My hair was still short from ball season and for some, still unexplainable reason I decided that shaving my head would give the tuxedo the needed umph to complete the look. In the back of my mind, I was thinking Albert Finney in Annie.

Daddy Warbucks. “Annie” 1982

I told no one that I was going to do this and just showed up to the event with my new “look.” Let’s just say that the reaction was mixed! Now it was early 1996 and my hair is starting to grow back . . .well, it is more accurate to say that it was growing back in certain places and not in others. One morning I looked in the mirror and decided that’s it. I do not want to look like Krusty the Clown for the rest of my life, I’ve had a good run with my hair, it’s time to embrace my baldness!

Not long after this decision, my dad was visiting, and we arranged to meet for dinner. He did not know that I was now bald, and as far as I knew he was still sporting a toupee. I remember walking into the restaurant and saw that my dad had already been seated. As I walked towards the table, he turned around, looked at me, and said: “So, that’s what I look like!” My mom, on the other hand, was devastated by my new look. She said: “My god, all those gorgeous natural curls gone.” I told her that she would get used to it, which is when she told me to grow a beard so I would at least have some hair on my head. I was a little taken aback by this because she hated every beard I had ever sported over the years and there had been several.

Vancouver 1984-5 (Dad in background with toupee!)

I have been shaving my head since that decision years ago and have zero regrets. And just think about all the money I’ve saved on shampoo!

Napa Valley 2022

Los Angeles 2022

My Two Wheel Love Affair (S)

I rode my first motorcycle when I was in my early twenties. It belonged to a friend of mine, and I asked him if I could take it for a spin around the block. It was only a ten-minute ride, and I don’t think I ever got out of first gear, but the seed, so to speak, was planted. Sometime after that wonderful ten minutes, I found the picture above in a magazine, farmed it, and it sat on my desk for many, many years.

However, this is not when the love affair started. And to be honest, the love affair at first was more of a fascination with the open road and discovery than with motorcycles, as after my first “spin” it would be 13 years before I purchased my first bike at 34 years old, and 28 years before getting my first Harley. In retrospect, it is probably very fortunate that I did not start riding motorcycles when I was a teenager as I would most likely not be around to write this!

No, this love affair begins in a quiet suburb of Montreal, Quebec around the early 1960s. I was either 13 or 14 when I first heard a Nat King Cole song on the radio from the album The Nat King Cole Story – 1961: “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” It was around the same time (I really don’t remember which came first) that I started watching the TV show Route 66, starring Martin Milner as Tod Stiles, and George Maharis as Buz Murdoch. After being exposed to both these pop culture offerings, I definitely had Route 66 on my mind and vowed to myself to one day travel that highway. Just a few years later, around 1967 and not long after getting my first driver’s license, I watched the movie “The Wild One” (1953) starring Marlon Brando (as Johnny Strabler), which is now considered as the original outlaw biker film. My favorite lines from that movie come when someone asks Johnny: “What are you rebelling against?” The reply” “Whaddaya got?” It was after watching this film that I started to fantasize about the culture of motorcycles and someday riding along Route 66 on my hog with the wind blowing in my hair. That fantasy quickly faded from my mind after I mentioned it to my parents. Their collective looks informed me that I might need to shelve this for a later date. It took 51 years to make it happen, although by then the hair was long gone! But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I purchased my first motorcycle in 1984, it was not done with the open road in my mind, rather a need for a cheaper mode of transportation. I had relocated to Vancouver, B.C., and at the age of 34 decided to leave my job and go back to school. I packed up what I was doing, enrolled at one of the local universities, sold my Volvo station wagon, and bought a used 1982 400cc Yamaha! I remember phoning my mom to tell her all of this and there was a silence on the other end until she said: “Who is this?” The day I purchased the bike was interesting to say the least. I was at a local shop looking at bikes that wouldn’t be too draining on a student budget and settled on the aforementioned Yamaha. After getting the necessary accessories, helmet, gloves, bike shades (hey, ya gotta look cool!), and going over the bike with the salesman, he asked for my driver’s license to finish the paperwork and that’s when the fun began.

Apparently, and much to my surprise, you needed to have a specifically designated motorcycle driver’s license, or a learner’s permit to ride a motorcycle. I had just spent hundreds of dollars on a bike and accessories, and I couldn’t leave the shop with it! I was not happy. He said I needed to go to the nearest Canadian equivalent of the DMV to get a learner’s permit, which allows you to ride a motorcycle with three stipulations: No riding at night, no riding with a passenger, no riding over 55 MPH (meaning no highways). I remember breaking all three of these the second week I owned the bike!  Fortunately, there was one nearby, so off I went. After standing in line for way too long, I approached the window and asked what I needed to do to secure this permit. I was told that I had to read the motorcycle safety handbook and then come back and take a written test of ten questions and needed to get an 80% or better. I took the booklet and went to the restaurant next door, had some lunch, read the booklet, and went back to stand in line. When it was my turn, it was the same woman who had served me earlier. She looked at me rather puzzled, but before she could say anything I said: “Look, I just bought a bike and I need to ride it home!” She shrugged, gave me the test and I scored 9/10. I was issued a learner’s permit and promptly went back to the shop.

The salesman quickly completed the remaining paperwork and asked if I had any questions before taking off. I remembered nothing from my 10-minute ride years ago, so I asked him: “Where’s 1st?” Since I had just purchased a bike, he assumed I was asking directions for 1st Ave! “Nah, I know where 1st Ave. is, where is 1st gear?” “Have you ever ridden a bike before,” he asked with a look of consternation on his face? “Yeah, but it was a long time ago I’m a little rusty.” Shaking his head, he gave me a quick tutorial on gears and braking and then I was on my merry way. I’m pretty sure the salesman was Catholic, because when I looked in the mirror as I left, he was standing in the parking lot crossing himself!

I managed to get home without incident and quickly decided that I needed some practice riding time, preferably not with any other vehicles around. There was a new shopping center being built close to home and they had just finished paving the parking lot, a huge blacktop expanse with no cars, just lampposts. Perfect! Off I went with a full tank of gas. I rode around that parking lot for hours practicing braking, turning, sudden stops, all while trying not to hit the posts. Do you have any idea how long it takes to empty a four-gallon gas tank on a 400cc motorcycle? Let me help you. The parking lot was approximately ½ mile long by ¼ mile wide, and this motorcycle averaged about 50 miles per gallon. So, that’s two hundred miles per tankful to use up in a space with the dimensions above. Yup, I was there for a really long time!

There is a very common disease that just about everyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle contracts at some point during their riding years. It has a similar suffix to many other afflictions like tendonitis, bronchitis, tonsillitis, appendicitis, and meningitis. It’s called: CCitis! CC’s (cubic centimeters) are how most motorcycle engines are classified and CCitis is when you look at the 400cc bike you’ve been riding for less than a year and say: “Hmm, I think I want something bigger.” And so, it began. My next three bikes were 750ccs, one Honda and two Yamahas. Then, after relocating to Los Angeles (a motorcycle paradise weather wise) came a 1300cc Honda, a 1200cc Harley Fat Boy, a 1600cc Harley Road King, and my current ride, a 1700cc Harley Soft-Tail Slim.

The latest bike just outside Ojai, CA. May 2021

I am very fortunate to have covered a great deal of ground on my motorcycles over the years. Numerous rides all over the Province of B.C and down into Washington, Oregon, and California when I lived in Vancouver, B.C. And numerous rides all over California and Southern Oregon since my relocation to Los Angeles. I’ve done everything from motorcycle camping to staying in fancy hotels and everything in between. But my most memorable trip was the one that fulfilled that long dreamed about fantasy mentioned above, when I poured over maps and plotted my route for a trip along Route 66 from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, N.M., a distance of just under 1,000 miles. I completed this trip in June of 2017 when I was, appropriately enough, 66 years-old! Since this historic road is no longer continuous, it took some planning and many detailed maps to accomplish this trip, but it was worth every minute I spent in preparation. I visited so many interesting towns and saw so many wonderful features of the varied landscape along my way through California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Each town along Route 66 had a more interesting history than the next one and I soaked it all up. One could say, as it was stated in that song so many years ago, “I certainly got my Kicks on Route 66!” Below are some photos from that memorable trip.

Oatman AZ
Petrified National Forest Park, AZ
Wigwam Hotel, Holbrok AZ
My room for the night!

I found the Wigwam Hotel on my way to Santa Fe, and promptly made a reservation to stay there on my return trip. I found out that there used to be many more of these hotels across Arizona and California and that there were only two remaining. I also found out that the original owners were not very up on Native American culture, as these structures are actually teepees not wigwams!

After my stay in Holbrok AZ, I decided on a short riding day to give my body a rest and rode the 33 miles to Winslow AZ which, as you can see by the photo below on the left, is very proud of its affiliation with this iconic road. And of course, if you are of a certain age, you will no doubt remember the now classic Eagle’s song “Take it Easy,” the second verse starting with: “Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” represented in the photo to the right. Glenn Frye passed away in January of 2016 and the statue was unveiled in September of the same year. On opposite corners of this intersection are two souvenir shops. I went into one out of curiosity and noticed that they had Eagle’s music playing when I entered. I initially thought that this was quite a coincidence until I realized that every song that came on was an Eagles song! I asked the young woman behind the counter if she ever tired of listening to the same songs over, and over, and over again? Her terse reply: “I block it out!”

Winslow, AZ
“Standin’ on the corner”

I am still out there riding, although I will be doing only shorter trips in the future dictated by the smaller, non-touring motorcycle and aging stamina. However, a short ride is better than no ride at all. The last words belong to the back of a t-shirt I wear proudly:

Says it all!

Los Angeles 2022