l never thought the Sex Pistols weren't called for, as the pretentiousness of the musicians and the gullibility of the audience had choked off the life force that made rock and roll exciting and worth caring about. Some of it might be laid at the feet of rock criticisms since the advanced discussions of Dylan's relationship to Chuck Berry's everyman existentialist demanded a musical technique and lyrical concept just as daunting. This is the danger when folk art is discovered: it stands to become something distorted, disfigured and bereft of vitality. I was lucky, I guess, in that I was a fan of the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges long before the Sex Pistols caught the punk wave. They and bands like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath were a grounding principle--rock and roll is beautiful because it's energetic, awkward, and stupid, but profoundly so. There are "concept albums" I admire and still like, if not listen to, but I won't name them here. I am pleased, though, that the idea of the Album is a literary object has been dropped in a deep grave and had dirt thrown over it's bloviated remains.I miss albums too. I like holding them, reading them, meditating on their physicality while listening to the record. It was part of the experience of absorbing what the musicians were doing, instrumentally and lyrically. Albums made you think that their size and shape were part of the home you made for yourself--house, room, cave, apartment--and that the collection of them, along with books and other such things marked your growing interest in the world around you. Now it seems like disembodied noise too much of the time, piped into devices, not really played nor considered before the music commences. It seems much of the time like a streaming hurry to get done with the whole thing and then move onto another distraction which, as well, will provide no real reward.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
It was an audio-assault American audience weren't used to, large audiences, mass audiences in any event, but I soon suspected there was more to Zappa's game than random bizarreness as I encountered him in interviews insisting, over and over, that he didn't do drugs of any kind. He did imbibe alcohol from time to time, which was a relief since I couldn't imagine, in my still expanding mind-- because I was incapable of conceding that anyone could be as not-of-this-earth as Zappa without having to insult his brain in some manner. Even so, he was sober as a judge, a serious composer, and the music he made from the early efforts to the end of his was the work of a man who regarded himself not as pop star, rock star, or even professional celebrity, but rather as an artist, a composer, a serious composer making use of anything he found useful in his goal of alternately inspiring or antagonizing his audience . There's much admire to the dedication to complexity, although I understand why many have found him off-putting and arrogant.
That he was, but I still like his music, and continue to listen to it since I first bought my first Zappa album, We're Only in it for the Money, in the late Sixties. That said, I have become less and less of a fan of Zappa's guitar solos, which I find, and have always found, repetitive and without direction. His long, live solos on many of his albums ruin the experience of hearing fine musicians play arresting compositions. It's a habit born of modern jazz players developed in the 40s and 50s and through a major portion of the 60s, when soloists of exceptional caliber would improvise ad infinitum, engaging the process of "spontaneous composition", an idea that a musician, responding to impulse, urge, inspiration and certainly without a great deal of preparation, careens off the highway and ventures down several tonal tributaries in a hunt for a better combination of notes in increasingly difficult formations. There are geniuses who've managed this consistently in their work, with John Coltrane coming to mind most easily; his music, with his friends Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison among a handful of others, is all of a piece. The invention, energy and spiritual power of the extended forays went far beyond a riffing variations-on-a-theme and became whole compositional endeavors. Keith Jarrett also should be mentioned, although that for all the brilliance he demonstrates as band leader and band member, his several multi-disc solo piano concerts have merely bored me ; so much effort getting himself warmed up for the inspired parts makes you think more of someone burning gasoline looking for the perfect parking space rather than an artist working his or her way efficiently to the dimension where they exceed their expectations. For Zappa, he is neither of these two musicians to whatever degree. He is an interesting guitarist, recognizable from the first note, effective in relatively short solos tailored to the material (One Size Fits All). He is not, though, the world-class concert soloist, although his True Believers wish it were the case.I wish he'd written sections for his best improvisers and let them shine; a lesson he might have learned from the Great Ellington. Lately, I've been dialing up interpretations of his daunting pieces, with generally good, even spectacular results.
Here's a unit doing a tight and together take on the dizzying and sonically cubist "G Spot Tornado", originally from his 1986 release Jazz from Hell. This was a disc of wholly instrumental tunes with uncompromised complexity and density, with the majority of the tracks being the efforts of Zappa's programming of a then-bleeding edge synthesizer, the Synclavier, without the aid of other musicians for most of the album. The band here, Germany's hr-Bigband out of Frankfurt, serves a blistering version in this clip.
Sunday, September 8, 2019
TB:Seeing Joe Biden on Steve Colbert's program has me concerned about this man, an honorable man , becoming out next President. I thought he was in bad form.Biden really does seem like a senior citizen who is experiencing worsening memory problems. He has always been burdened with misspeaking and getting things wrong, if unintentionally, or confusing audiences and journalists with statements where his point was ambiguous or some such thing. But now he's running for President again, and his gaffes are piling very quickly, with increasing frequency. He too often , for my comfort, seemed to be searching for the right words when asked some surprisingly spot questions by Colbert; he couldn't seem to explain why Medicare for All (universal health care/single payer) and why we'd be better off maintaining and extending Obamacare instead. He rather obviously wants to keep private insurers in the equation when it comes to providing funding for medical care. In brief , he did not make a convincing case for why it's a good idea to keep the corporations involved; he rather ignores that other democratic countries have successful, very successful government driven health care systems that exist to virtually no one's detriment in the respective countries. What disturbs me is that he has a pronounced tendency to drift away from a direct question he started to answer . When Colbert pressed him about hiss fundamentally incorrect recent recounting of the Medal of Honor he was awarding--incorrect date, rank, branch of the service, etc, etc,etc--I thought his answer was a bit cavalier, saying that the small details don't matter as long as the main point is true. In his defense, we can say yes, his main statements about the soldiers, vets, public service are correct (who wants to come out against go old fashioned patriotism), but facts do matter, even the details he think might be insignificant stacked against A Greater Truth.His response as dismissive and vaguely Trumpian.I rather imagine that Biden at that moment related this awarding of the medal on the spur of the moment, off the cuff, unplanned, but even so his getting so many crucial details wrong--a recollection of something he was involved in!--goes beyond casual tsk-tsking and burying your in your hand in embarrassment. This is the man who wants to make the crucial decisions that will direct the country. I fear this man is losing his grip. I would like him to reveal his full medical records, including results from tests that might on encroaching onset of dementia. We do not need another man in the White House with an increasing inability to make decisions based on information and intelligence brought to him. Biden worries me.
BARRY ALFONSO: I do think your concerns are real and serious, Ted. In an earlier era, Biden's age and longevity of public service would have eliminated him as a serious contender. The weird circumstances of this coming election have made him attractive as a figure of continuity, moderation and normalcy. Judging by what I have seen of his recent appearances, I think issues of his memory and general cognitive ability are ambiguous -- some of the gaffes he is being called out on are not important, while some of them are. The whole issue of "gaffes" troubles me somewhat -- it harkens back in my mind to Ed Muskie's famous "crying" episode in New Hampshire and the overblown importance given to a stumble or (to quote Lene Lovich) a momentary breakdown. Biden's clumsiness in stating what was valuable in his working relationship with racist Southern Democratic Senators is more troubling to me that his conflation of details about awarding a combat medal. That doesn't have to affect his decision making ability if he is the leader of a capable team. His dismissal of the details (if that's what he did) isn't remotely Trumpian in my mind. It is a stretch to compare Biden's blurring of memories with Trump's obviously lazy and probably addled mind and, worse, his unwillingness to take in information. Yes, Biden should release his medal records, as all the candidates should. Speaking of medicine, this current debate among Democrats about expanding Medicare vs. Single Payer vs. expanding the ACA IS troubling to me and in fact seems rather stupid. I watched Elizabeth Warren spar with various opponents in one of the first debates and I recalled that the ACA was the result of a slow, grinding, rather ugly process and series of compromises (pushed by such famous public tribunes as Bart Stupak) that disappointed many on the left, just as the next round of health care extension will. Whatever hyper-detailed plan Warren, Sanders, Harris etc. advocate in this campaign will almost certainly NOT become law if he/she is elected. It is a stupid ideological fight that just helps create divisions and re-elect Trump.
TB:I wish I could be assured by your cogent response, but I've watched him closely for years and it appears to me that his habits of mind are less than the absent-mindedness they used to be and more signs of an encroaching fragility. It's not the blurring of details so much that I thought seemed Trump like--Trump just lies, period--but rather Biden's reflection on the details being correct or not as unimportant when your conveying what you think is a Bigger Truth. The details do matter, and I'd been happier if he were more forthright about his verbal errors of statement and promise fervently to do better.He relied far too much on the you-guys-know-who-I-am defense , that he's been around along time, that he has a record and that you know what he stands for, to side step the question as to whether he's fit to be president on his third try. Actually, we know who he used to be, but now he wants to be president, which is very different from his other offices, including that of VP. He is not making a very compelling case for himself, his centrist-progressive policy statements are comfortably piecemeal for those with heart conditions. For me, he has that Ted Kennedy thing happening , a man who could not fluidly and with conviction tell us why he wants to be president. What disturbs me about the MFA v ACA debate is that it's framed in terms of the absolutely apocalyptic--millions will lose their health care!!! That wouldn't happen, but I think the bickering about it among our own takes the focus on why we need to change presidents and the senate.
In AA circles, one -on-one chats between members with some amount of consecutive accumulated time turns to one's idea of God. That is, as the organization's basic materials inform, a God our individual understanding; I remain grateful that AA does not require belief in a specific deity. So the question, when posed, makes me do a little dance of rhetoric, or it used to, in that I would shy away from theological particulars and the like because it results in dissension and division with those who have no real idea of who I am as an individual. It's been different lately, and my answer is slightly more direct. I tell most who ask me about my Higher Power that I remain an agnostic, which many mistake as the same thing as being an atheist.I give them the dictionary definition, which is that the existence of God is unknown and unknowable.This satisfies few of those who ask the question.Personally, I find it a more honest response than telling folks I'm a zen Buddhist.Although, I have taken an interest in Deism , an American spiritual notion observed by several founding fathers that God, such as he is, is responsible for the whole universe, and that his machinations are revealed according what natural law--scientific inquiry in other words--reveals to us constantly. And I am attracted to the to the idea that God does not intervene in the course of naturally -occurring human events; prayers are for a clarity of mind to make the best possible choice out of many to be made. God, though, does not act as a dating service or a loan officer.