Friday, April 8, 2016

Moving at the Speed of Life

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off

It does, Ferris. It surely does. I've stopped and looked around a few times.  It's a nice thing.  Once, at the Grand Canyon, I had the fortuitous circumstance of being in the dark without the moon in the sky.  I laid on a block wall near the rim of the canyon, and once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see the Milky Way in all its glory, in the sky above me.  For a moment, I contemplated my place in the Universe.  It's a tiny place.
So, here I am, an old man of 58.  Marketing ignores me.  Women ignore me. I am left to my own devices.  I have idea whether I have 2 years left, 20 years, or 50.  It's part of the mystery of life.
It seems not all that long ago that I was a young man, full of dreams and habits of young men. It was long ago, but the "seems like" has been replaced by the ravages of time.  Time that passes before us like the wind.  I still have some of the habits of young men, but as an old man, it seems that they should have been replaced by old man habits.  Youth is a tough habit to break.
In some ways, I feel as though I have wasted my life.  A strange feeling - that of unresolved quests and misplaced priorities.  Would the younger me have listened to the older me, like Biff in "Back to the Future," or would he still have driven into that pile of manure?  That movie is full of plot holes ... but I digress.
I feel as though I still would have, if the older me had met the younger me at some point and said, "Don't waste your life, son."  I was too busy wasting my life to listen to an old man telling me not to waste my life. Would it have mattered if I had listened, or would I still be in this place, questioning my choices?
It's funny how your decisions culminate into other decisions, and form the life you have led. Sometimes, the bad decisions you make lead to good ones, and the good decisions you make lead you to a bad road.  When you play the "What If" game, your head explodes, and that's never a good thing.
At some point, we are at the mercy of the wind, like that feather that drifts around in "Forrest Gump."
“I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze.  But I think maybe it's both.  Maybe both are happening at the same time.”
Maybe it is, Forrest.  Maybe, as they say, there isn't a damned thing we can do about it.
What is it about life that gifts some people with enviable destinies and others with envy?  It can't be purely effort-related.  Some of it is the breeze.  Too much of it, I say.
I'm still waiting for the breeze to blow my way.  Accidental-like.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

... and another thing

OK, so I decided I wasn't done writing about Keith Emerson.

One of the things about being a fan of the so-called prog-rock movement of the 1970s was that it opened me up to other forms of music, specifically jazz and classical. It took me out of my little world of Top 40 radio junk and thrust me into a realm that I would not have otherwise been exposed to.

It was fun.  A time before sampling and massive overdubs, there was an adventurous quality to it.  From one day to the next, you'd never know what was coming.  One day, Yes was interpreting Paul Simon's "America," and another day, Focus was yodeling "Hocus Pocus" all over the place. Part of it was the innocence of the time, and another part of it was the necessity to find the stuff.  We had to hear about it though word-of-mouth or (God forbid) the radio, and then, travel to a local record store and hope that they had the damned thing.  Part of the fun was tracking it down.

By the way, we also had to stand in line for concert tickets. "ELP tickets go on sale at 10:00am on Saturday," so we'd line-up at the local Record Museum two hours beforehand and hope that the clerk didn't scoff-up all the tickets for himself.  And, we didn't even have a seat. It was only after The Who fans trampled people in Cincinnati that seats started being assigned ... but I digress.

When Emerson, Lake, and Palmer released "Pictures at an Exhibition," I went out to find the root of it.  I bought an album of Vladimir Horowitz playing it on solo piano.  Since then, I've heard countless versions of it and (dare I say) I'm smug and opinionated about the orchestral versions of the piece.  It's either too rushed, too slow, or not emotional enough.
It helped me develop a love of music that I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to.
Finding ELP led me to The Nice.  Carl Palmer started out in The Crazy World or Arthur Brown, and Atomic Rooster.  The latter is especially wonderful, if you have the time.

Greg Lake, of course, started with King Crimson.  I already knew that, but once you get into Crimson, you find yourself in another rabbit hole.

In March of 1973 I was sick with the flu.  My sainted mother was going out shopping.  She asked, "Can I bring you anything?"  I asked her to find "Lark's Tongues in Aspic," the new King Crimson album.  I knew about it because Bill Bruford (ex of Yes) had just joined, and I wanted to hear it.  Sure enough, she brought it home.  That started another journey.

The point is (if there is one) that we need a catalyst.  Someone or something to break us out of our rut - musically or emotionally - and force us to find something new.

I'll always go back to Keith Emerson for that spark.  His music was the first thing that I found that spoke to me.  I can trace every inclination to music that I love back to him and that band.  Whether it was to think about what else is out there or to explore something different, that was the spark.

Their music wasn't for everybody.  No music is for everybody.  But I found myself arguing and defending them to people who just didn't get it.  In the end, that's OK - you aren't always going to "get it."  Some see it as pretentious, others as excessive, and some as just noise.  But I think, if you go back to the roots (popular now) of what it is based on, you'll find that their inspirations were the same as the inspirations of countless musicians.

So many artists of that era have a special place in my heart:  Keith, dear old Peter Banks, Jan Akkerman, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel, Gentle Giant, Focus, Manfred Mann, Renaissance  ... they all grew out of that seed.  It warms my heart to hear their music.

The seed that Keith planted.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Keith Emerson (1944 - 2016)

I think it was 1972 - I was 15, and visiting a distant cousin in his family's Southampton, PA home.  Bored with the adults, I had wandered out to their garage, where there was a stereo system and a stack of albums.
I remember listening to Thunderclap Newman's "Hollywood Dream," and Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" (thumbing through the newspaper that was inside the album cover) and ... Emerson, Lake, & Palmer's first album - the one with "Lucky Man" on it.  I'm not sure where the adults were, but I was having quite a time listening to some wonderful music.
Perhaps that's where it started, I don't know; but at some point I decided that I loved the adventure of music.  Prior to that, I had been spoon-fed "pop music" on our local radio stations, and buying whatever records were available in the local W.T. Grant's record department - that is to say, the Top 40.
If your musical tastes only go as high as forty, you're missing out on a lot of good stuff.  Especially in the early-to-mid-1970's, when all sorts of clever music was being created:  Focus, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Yes, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Genesis, and too many more to mention here.
As it turned out, those bands were at least partially influenced by Keith Emerson's band (No, not ELP) ... The Nice.  They took Dylan tunes and classical music and turned them into 3-piece rock tunes, which sometimes included a full symphony orchestra.  Perhaps that's where the term "Symphonic Rock" came from?  (I always hated that term, as well as "Progressive Rock," but that's another topic)  Jon Anderson said, "Saying Symphonic Rock is like saying Strawberry Bricks. It doesn't make sense."  But, I digress.
Once I figured out what was going on with ELP, I needed to go back and find their roots.  Whenever I could get $4 together, I would make a bee line to a record store (remember?) and pick out a new record.  Once, it was a Nice album called "Autumn '67 - Spring '68." Back in 1967, there he was, playing this incredible music.  Interesting that, historically "Sgt. Pepper" gets WAY more recognition, even though musically, what The Nice was doing was light years beyond the producer-heavy stuff The Beatles were up to.  But, I digress again.
The first big-time rock concert I ever saw was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer at the old Spectrum on April 12, 1974.  I was not yet 17 years old. My cousin Joe and I were barely old enough to ask for a ride to the joint, but there we were, with our $5.50 tickets in the upper level.  A concern was that we wouldn't be able to hear the music from so far away.  Little did we know that when "Jerusalem" started up, their quadraphonic sound system could have been heard in the parking lot.
I don't know what 17-year-old's are listening to now, but it can't possibly be as interesting as that was.
There they were, cranking out tunes from the newly-released "Brain Salad Surgery" album, and somehow holding together the music that was clearly more complicated than any trio should have been able to perform.  Note:  Those were the days before pre-recorded tracks or sampling, so it was real music, kids.  If I wasn't already hooked on the stuff, that did it.  Hey, real music can be played LIVE and still sound great.  It didn't have to be over-produced pop fluff.
I was a sucker for the rock magazines back then.  There was no Internet, so the news we got was from monthly mags like Creem and Circus.  They liked to turn music into a competition.  Usually, pitting one against another, like Beatles vs. Stones, Deep Purple vs. Black Sabbath, or ELP vs. Yes.  As though it wasn't possible to like both.  One article I remember was titled: Keith Emerson's Favorite Cup of Blood - Genesis.  Well, if it was good enough for Keith, I should give them a go.  And off I went into Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot.  Again, a topic for another post.
Some didn't care for his showmanship.  Daggers in his keyboards (as a replacement for wooden spikes to hold notes down), a spinning piano, a Moog synthesizer that opened and "exploded" at the end of Karn Evil 9, and countless other efforts to entertain us.
When they interpreted a classical piece for one of their albums, they would take it to the composer and play it for them, seeking approval.  For Alberto Ginastera's "Toccata," Keith said, "I was dubious about taking my arrangement to such a famous man.  He didn't speak much English and his wife had to translate everything. Finally, Ginastera said, 'Diabolic!' I was terrified. I thought he hated it or thought I was the devil or something. But then, he smiled. He turned to me and said, "No one has been able to capture my music like that before! It's exactly the way I hear it myself!"  That surely must have warmed Keith's heart.
His interpretations of Copland's "Hoedown" and "Fanfare for the Common Man" are inspired and amazing.  Their third album, "Pictures at an Exhibition" was a full composition adapted for the trio, reminiscent of The Nice, and I imagine made Modest Mussorgsky smile in his grave.  Countless other tunes are spiked with pieces of Leoš Janáček, Béla Bartok, Joaquín Rodrigo, and Sergei Prokofiev. Today, it might seem trite, but in the 1970's it was innovative, fun, and critically panned as being pretentious.
Famous disc jockey (oxymoron) John Peel called them, "A waste of time, talent, and electricity." Hoo boy.  Their albums came out to mostly critical pans, because that's what they were supposed to do in those days.  Music like theirs was pretentious, overbearing, and excessive. I loved every minute of it, and perhaps the fact that most critics hated it made me love it even more.  I think there is a tendency for people to hate what they don't understand.  After all, there were huge pipe organs, giant drum kits, synthesizers, and (egad) classical music.  What's not to hate?
Keith wrote a Piano Concerto for their "Works Volume 1" album in 1977, and I remember reading a review by the cranky Matt Damsker, (who seemed to hate anything that wasn't mainstream) in our local newspaper.  He complained (complained!) that the concerto lacked a theme.  I wrote him an angry letter, because a concerto doesn't need a theme.  It's a composition in three movements.  I thought (and still do) it was a beautiful piece, but sometimes critics need to hate to get attention.  I suppose it worked.
I had tickets for that tour - where they were supposed to be accompanied by a full orchestra - again, at The Spectrum. Alas, they ran out of money and had to sack the orchestra.  The show went on, with the three of them.  I figured they could have financed it if they had charged more than $8.50 for a ticket.  Today, that show would probably cost $150. In those days, concerts were loss-leaders to promote record sales and pump-up interest in the band.  Now, they're profit centers.  Again -- another topic.
The band ran out of steam about the time "Love Beach" came out, whose title should have alerted us to the fact.  I lost track of Keith, outside of his soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone film "Nighthawks."
I've never been one for going backwards or "tribute bands."  I prefer to remember greatness and move on with life.  As much as I loved him, I never went to see any of the incarnations of ELP-style bands that formed, including Emerson, Lake, and Powell or The Nice reunion.  Once the original energy is gone, something intrinsic to the music is lost, and I have no interest in re-living past glory.
What I have to remember from him is the musical wonderment that he brought me.  How could someone find that spark?  Where does that creative inertia come from?  His energy, verve, and passion.  I didn't (and still don't) know beans about playing the keyboards, outside of where the notes are, but there was something about him that inspired awe and wonder.  Every note had a purpose, and everything he did was inspired.
Whatever caused him to decide to take his own life is his business, and I can only imagine was done with much forethought.  It makes my heart ache, but he leaves a legacy of great music.  The wonderful thing about art - whether recorded, written, spoken, or drawn - is that it lives beyond our mortality.  We have memories, sure; but there are also tangible objects that we can carry along with us.  I'm sure Keith realized that, as did the others before him.  It is sad, but glorious at the same time.
His work here was done.  Whatever made this poor soul take his own life, I hope he is in a happier place, because he certainly left me in one. Rest in peace.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

What in the World?

I don't know what to make of the world today.  The recent terrorist attacks in Paris are the latest example of a world gone crazy.  The Hopi called it koyaanisqatsi - Life out of Balance.  That is precisely what is going on now.

Changing your Facebook profile pic to the France flag colors is nice of you, but pointless.  It's exactly what they want you to do.
You can pray, hope, and dedicate your life to ending terrorism in the world, and it won't make a damned bit of difference.

Pragmatic? Maybe. Realistic? Yes.  Your prayers mean nothing to them. They don't subscribe to our religion, and the fact that you care so much only reinforces their desire to disrupt your life.
Terrorism means that they have disrupted your life to the extent that you now have to arrive at an airport two hours prior to takeoff, can't take certain things on board with you, and your entrance to sporting events means that you are guilty until proven innocent.  That's what terrorism is.

So, go ahead and pray, hope, contribute money ... whatever your penchant. It won't matter. Sorry to tell you.  The evil in the world is bigger than your good.

You can listen to the current presidential candidates when they tell you how they would deal with "those people," but their words will fall on deaf ears the next time ISIS or some other sect blows something up in the name of their religion.

Religion.  That's the thing that got us here in the first place.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What is On My Mind

I've watched the Republican and Democrat debates, and I've concluded that none of these people are qualified to run our country.  They are qualified to qualify, but as far as having the ideas and personality to lead a nation - it's debatable.

They will tell you that their parents or their grandparents came from some sort of poverty or hardship, but the fact is that none of them have come from hardship.  Either they have been given some privilege in life or earned it.  Either way, they have no idea what an average American is going through.  And by average American, I mean a person living on or near the miniumum wage or on a fixed income like Social Security.

They don't know how much it costs to shop for groceries, what cable television costs, or what their cell phone provider is charging them every month.  Put them on the spot and ask them those questions.  I'll bet you a week's pay (Mine, not theirs) that they don't know, or will stammer over the answer.

It's the thing that separates candidates from real people.  They tell you that they are real people, and they want us to believe that they are real people -- but they are not real people.  They are manufactured people created by their parties to sell themselves as being just like us.

They are not like us, and they do not like us.

It is a sad fact, and if you associate yourself with one of them, it just makes you part of the problem.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thoughts and Stuff

I just became a proud shareholder of the Ford Motor Company, so watch that stock tank over the next few months.  They do everything right, and when the company suffered, they didn't go to the government for a handout.  Rather, they solved their own problems. That's admirable.
There's another opportunity in Sirius Satellite Radio (SIRI).  I just bought a car (a Ford, coincidentally) and it came equipped with satellite radio. I used to think that I'd die before I would pay for radio, but this isn't radio.  It's customized programming over a satellite network. To call it radio is a disservice.  I'm converted, to the point that I am going to extend my free trial period for another year.  The company is growing, and since its merger with XM Radio, it is the lone provider of the product.  The only issue confronting the stock is that Howard Stern's contract expires in three months.  If he renews, expect the stock to gain substantially.  If he doesn't it should still grow, but they'll have to find a catalyst.
I've been buying Alcoa (AA), but at this point I'm waiting to see it settle-in, since it's been going steadily down for the past couple of weeks.
Likewise, Aeropostale (ARO).  It will be a huge turnaround story if they can make it work, but at 65 cents a share, I'd wait for some news that brought it back to the dollar-a-share territory before I spent any more money in it.  There is potential overseas, and the company is pursuing it. Can they make it work? There's the rub.
OK, thus ends my financial consultation. Remember, it was free.

Today, on the road, I encountered an all-too familiar experience.  Traveling along a state highway at the posted speed limit (50) I was pursued and tailgated by a driver.  She followed me for a few miles, her headlights close to my rear bumper the whole way. Presumably, she didn't pass me because there was a double-yellow line on the road, prohibiting passing by law.  Once the lines became dashed, she didn't hesitate to pass, exceeding the posted speed limit by at least 15 miles per hour.
So, one is left to conclude:  There are laws that they obey and laws that they do not.  The laws are open to their interpretation. Don't pass on double-yellow, but exceed the speed limit once the opportunity presents itself.
Strange behavior from the humans.

As humans, we have several masters to serve. We disdain the wealthy, yet praise professional athletes, most of whom are so wealthy that even their wretched excesses cannot erase their fortune. It is only when they run for president that their wealth and status become an issue.  Watching the last Democrat party debate, during their introduction, each candidate highlighted how they came from a life of near-poverty and how their parents worked and slaved to get what they earned.  It's as though we are supposed to sympathize with the candidate because of where they came from.  What they do not want us to know is that their life of priviledge has led them to this lofty state.  The only reason they are running for office is because their personal wealth enabled them to do so.  That is something that they do not want us to know.

One wonders the last time they did grocery shopping, anguished over which bills they could pay, or fought with their conscience over a purchase of less than a hundred dollars.
The people that we are electing to office do not know of our personal struggles, our agonies over how to invest our meager retirement savings, or how Social Security and Medicare will help us in our "Golden Years," which are being tarnished at every turn.

I see what my 91-year-old mother is going through: Filling-out forms for food stamps, a book as thick as a college yearbook explaining Medicare, complicated forms to fill-out to get property tax relief, and a system that makes it more difficult to be elderly and not working than young and poor.

But, we can get breakfast at McDonald's now, so that makes it better, right?

Bread and circuses.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Some Thoughts on Stuff

Cecil the Lion has been killed.  That's a big deal, as it should be, but as you may know ... killing lions and other "big game" has been a sport (sport) for decades - centuries - so it shouldn't have come as such a surprize to the Twitterverse that a lion was killed by a doctor on safari.  The Internet is acting like big-game hunting is a new thing.  That's sad.
What is more sad (sadder) is that big airlines and Senators are jumping on the bandwagon, soliciting public opinion on behalf of an animal with a name.
It makes him seem more human.  The truth is, abominal humans have been killing lions, rhinos, tigers, and giraffes for a long time. It's about time you woke up.

The Pope is coming.  You knew that, right? He's coming, and the city will be shut down for at least two days.  What's odd about that is that a church that pays no taxes will depend on a local government to provide security and transportation at the expense of its citizens - a.k.a. tax money.  And, it appears that nobody is raising a fuss. So, go ahead and have your Pope here.  Include me out.

There are more Republicans running for President than there are churches - which is an odd thing, too.  Most of them have no shot, and it makes me wonder why they bother -- other than the money.  Oh yeah, that's it.  The money. There are so many of them that one - Donald Trump - has the "lead" with 24% of the vote. That's both pathetic and amazing.  It's bad enough that we can elect a president with 51% of the popular vote, among 40% of registered voters - which amounts to about a 30% "majority" -  now, the Republicans will nominate a guy with 24% populatity.  It's entirely possible that our next president will be elected with 25% of the voters in favor.  Is this the government we want, or is it just a national version of "American Idol?"

At least it isn't as hot as it's been over the last few days.  We have that going for us, which is nice.