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June 25, 2010

Neal Bites the Pulp

At the hip left-wing bookstore there are lots of little rooms full of theme-related books: Marxism for the 21st Century, Feminism for the 21st Century, the history of the union movement (for intellectuals to read on the summer beach), Gramsci, Trotsky, De André, non-violent children’s books, the Sexual Orientation room, the Che Guevara room, and the Little Magazine Room. Every month, Neal likes to get a certain music mag to follow Bob Dylan’s latest shenanigans.

I waited outside on the sidewalk. The people who worked in the cooperative bookstore (the workers) were so chronically depressed and grouchy that they put a funereal pall over whatever brightness might have come from the collected works of François Marie Charles Fourier.

Neal went straight to the back to get his magazine. The political and musical magazines were arranged on a handsome tiered wall-rack of tan wood with low slots so that they all faced the customer, staggered down to the floor like a strip mine. There were hundreds of flimsy, over-priced publications in that rack, all balanced, upright and beckoning. Someone had arranged them like flowers.

With his characteristic enthusiasm, Neal reached out his arm and grabbed his favorite from one of the top shelves, but the corner of Neal’s magazine touched the corner of the magazine next to it pulling it forward. And that one nudged the one next to it and so on.

Talk about dominos. The magazines falling from the upper shelves tapped the ones below and they cascaded downwards onto the floor at Neal’s feet. To his credit, he tried to stop this periodical avalanche, first swatting with his hands and then, since the magazine rack was inclined, he tried to keep a couple magazines from falling by holding them with his knees. “Help,” he muttered meekly to no one. Neal was alone in the magazine room.

Panic. The hundreds of magazines were clicking down one by one to the floor like a Jacob’s ladder toy. Neal spread out his arms to try to hold some in place, save the savable at least; he even held some with his elbows. His legs were bowed outwards like a rock climber on sheer granite.

Then Neal lost his balance and could not remain vertical any longer. On tiptoes, he slid forward about a foot, against his healthy belly, just enough so that he could not return upright. His forehead resting against the magazine stand, saving the last few magazines, the main pile around his ankles, he was stuck, unable to right himself. Neal whispered, “help,” again.

I think I’ll leave Neal spread-eagled there, pressed against the magazine display in an extremely compromising (criminal and/or sexual) position with his left hand saving La Rivista del Manifesto and his right hand saving from the fall a photocopied collection of love poems from prison by Francesca Mambro. Kissing the rack, so to speak.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Good day to you, Honorable Jeff of Leisure
Jeff: Thank you, kind sir, and another happy day of leisureliness to you too.
Mutt: It wasn’t always like this, you know? I used to be a transplant surgeon, but my heart just wasn't in it.
Jeff: I used to be a train driver, but I got sidetracked.
Mutt: I used to be a tailor, but found the work to be just so-so.
Jeff: I used to be a hotel clerk, but then I had reservations.
Mutt: I used to be a shoe salesman, till they gave me the boot.
Jeff: I used to be a carpenter, but then I got bored.
Mutt: I used to work at an orange juice factory, but I was canned because I couldn't concentrate.
Jeff: I used to be a marathon runner, but couldn't stand the agony of de feet.
Mutt: Well, I used to be a baker, but I didn't make enough dough.
Jeff: Well, I used to be a nun, but I got expelled because of my dirty habits.
Mutt: Really, seriously?
Jeff: Absolutely. Like Pedersen, I’ve spent most of my adult life a broad.
Mutt: Poor thing.

June 21, 2010

The Post-Modern Blues

Pedersen sez: I stick by every word.
But sir, you said one thing then totally reversed yourself, ‘against’ and ‘in favor’?
I know, and I stick by every word.
Is this some kind of semantic joke?
No, it’s the post-modern blues. Either/or, you’re out the door.

Not the truth, but no longer the post-Obama black and white only truth. Not Orwellian doublethink (or maybe it is):

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. [Nineteen Eighty-Four. p 32.]

Not the two sides to every coin. Flip it fast and see them merging. Heads, tails, both, neither. A pretty vase or a woman’s face? No, this is a case of such a broad topic that both opposing opinions fit comfortably inside it. A shoebox full of leftover pros and cons. Yes, at the same time.

In sum, the music of the 80’s was, objectively measured, of inferior quality, AND the music of the 80’s was, subjectively measured, some of the best of the century. It moved people, myself included, got the feet moving and the head nodding. But ethno-musical history is only an example. (Oh sorry, can’t use obj./sub. dichotomies any more. Oh sorry, dividing the past in decade blocks is an artefice.)

Syncretism is the technical term. I don’t want to go too far into philosophy with its illusive jargon and autoerotic complexities. But just think of the one you love most on earth. Ahhh. Most of the time. Is that love always white, never black, never gray??? Checkered? Striped? Cappuccino? When you love and hate the same person, usually first one then the other, perhaps no outer cause can be found, your feelings just inverted, or you feel both clashing feelings at the same time. Pinch.

I know, it was easier to experience reality when every question (or daisy) had an A answer and a B answer (check one only), but then we saw that that was a childish distorting viewpoint. We saw that, right? When that poor tree in the lone forest came crashing down, it made a tremendous noise AND it made no sound at all. Then again, how would I know?

Does Santa exist? Come on, fess up. On so many levels. Like being on trial and the judge says: Just answer yes or no! And all you can think of is how badly you need to explain your answer because it’s not as simple as yes or no. ‘Please can I …’ ‘NO!’

Does God exist? Angels, ghosts, aliens?
Does Mr. Death exist? Mother nature?
Do you exist? At home or Lost on an island?
Does any truth exist? Justice? Right, wrong?
Does this universe exist? In a glass snowball?
Prove it.
And disprove it.

Debate used to be considered a noble sport and a fine practice of the intellect. Can I believe in mine, and allow you to believe in yours? Think Islam-Christianity. Often tolerance is a mask for ‘I will allow you to be wrong, because I can’t convert you’. Whatever happened to ‘I will defend to the death your right to your opinion even if I disagree’? Bull, you say. Bull, I say. At least we agree on that.

Nowadays everyone, including me, is spouting off all the time in public, but who’s listening? Who is quiet? Is there arrogance or shame in continually expressing oneself, ignoring the counterpart of silence?

Pete Seeger said, “An open mind is a wonderful thing. Just don’t let it become a tunnel of winds.” In the end you need to say what you believe, this is my yes and my no, line in the sand, which side are you on, this is what I will fight for, however hard it is nowadays not to see both sides at the same time with our immobilizing po-mo cross-eyed perception. Thanks a lot, Martin Heidegger!

Here’s a song from my Myspace collection:

The Postmodern Blues

Talkin’ out both sides
Hi ho the derry-o
You get it all and its contrary
In frequency modulation stereo.

chorus: Oh, Foucault
Daddy’s got them post-modern blues
Don’t Derrida me
Just hand me down my deconstruction shoes.

Reductionism’s my top ten
Ding dong the derry-o
But to ride a pony into the wind
At the Alamo theme park near San Antonio.

I fear the noosphere
Hiddy hiddy hiddy ho
Professor Eco get me out of here
As I spinning down the vortex go.

With “and/or” tattooed over my ear
A-bee bop a lula
Hello, goodbye, life, death – aloha
She’s my baby, dancin’ the hula.

Wars of the worlds of uncertainty
Sing ring around the rosey
All absolutes fall down (crash bang)
That’s the way the monkey goes-y.

Embrace me ambiguity
Pop! Goes the weasel
Put your tongue into my mouth
And paint your nude on top of my easel.

Epistemology – I thunk, I thunk
Hey diddle diddle me, please
Your implosion of my meaning
Could collapse my theoretical hierarchies.

Placeless, nameless, postness, sameness
Rain rain go away
A paradigm won’t buy you coffee
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, you’re so passé.

© E. Martin Pedersen, 2009

And lastly, I got 200+ hits on my blog during the 80’s music debate, so you’re stuck with me for a while. I did not, however, get thousands of hate mails; that was a lie. One leap ahead of the truth.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks.
Jeff: Let me guess. They charged one and let the other one off?
Mutt: A chicken and an egg, lying in bed side-by-side, each smoking a cigarette.
Jeff: I know, I know: "Which came first?"
Mutt: There were two ships: one had red paint, one had blue paint. They collided.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, the survivors were marooned. Jeez!
Mutt: A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France …
Jeff: Oh, really?
Mutt: Linoleum Blownapart.
Jeff: That’s just wrong.
Mutt: Two peanuts were walking in Central Park, one was assaulted.
Jeff: Man, that one was old when Adam was pinning leaves and picking fleas. Don’t you know any new jokes?
Mutt: All jokes are new in Amnesia.
Jeff: Are we scraping the bottom of the barrel yet?
Mutt: Not even close, pal, not even close.

June 15, 2010

A Rant in Favor of the Music of the 80’s

E. Martin Pedersen is under attack. Thousands of angry music-lovers have been sending him hate mail including threats on his life. He may go into hiding, but first this note.

The 1840’s & 50’s were a great time in American popular music. Stephen Foster wrote many hit songs that we still sing, Dan Emmett wrote Dixie, Old Dan Tucker and so on. The minstrels appropriated the slaves’ music and melded it into the common idiom, honoring it at the same time they interspersed it with racist jokes and gags. Negro spiritual choirs were performing around the world raising money for the abolitionist movement. The country was struggling in music with the issue that would tear it apart.

The Gay 1890’s were another rich period in song. The barbershop quartets sang the classic songs of Tin Pan Alley. Orchestras of all types were formed (banjo or mandolin orchestras, for instance). Pianos, guitars and autoharps filled parlors. Marching bands played the Sousa hits. Vaudeville variety shows replaced the minstrel shows. Immigrants brought their sounds from around the globe. And ragtime was being invented by Scott Joplin.

In the 1950’s rock and roll, founded by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, swept aside the crooners. But it came to full form in the 60’s and hit its peak in the 70’s. Then what happened?

These things go in cycles. That’s clear. And technology can have an effect. Radio didn’t exist in the first two periods I mentioned above, but songs were extremely popular, sold as sheet music, sung in theaters and around the fireplace. In the 1950’s single 45 rpms could put the A-side in the top 40. Radio was king; TV didn’t come to our house until the 60’s.

In the 1980’s the two new shocking technologies were video commercials and CDs. The walkman also replaced the transistor radio, but that just gave the listener a bit more choice. However, recording technology also changed, meaning that a single person with a computer and keyboard could make records in their basement. See Todd Rundgren, Lindsay Buckingham, Enya and many others. Some of those multi-track recordings could not even be played by a band in public. Even singers could modify their voices unnaturally, better than live. Electronic music swept the world like a wildfire.

I think this made the 80’s the “infancy” of a new musical era with new intricate tools, a reaction against the amplified acoustic sound of the past and an experiment for the future, which is now. Plus, almost for the first time, young people had money, lots of money, to spend on music.

So to judge the results as immature is unfair, to compare to before or after is unfair. The 80’s were essential … and fun as hell. Cyndi Lauper bouncing around was fun!!! Michael Jackson’s Thriller was fun! Devo was a blast! Alice Cooper. Culture Club. We Are the World.

Ignore the copy-cats and parody-artists, anyone who can make others feel good is doing valuable community service. The war is over, let’s dance!

There were plenty of truly great singers in the 80’s: Whitney Houston, Elton John, Lionel Ritchie, Tina Turner, Bobby McFerrin, Sade, Annie Lennox, on and on.

Yet maybe the major contribution of the era is in hard rock: AC/DC, Black Sabbath, The Clash, The Cure, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Genesis, Guns n' Roses, Iron Maiden, Journey, Judas Priest, KISS, Megadeth, Metallica, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, The Police, Rush, Sammy Hagar, Scorpions, Thin Lizzy. Not stuff I listen to every day, but high-voltage music that changed the world.

Oh, and rap, sorry, RAP! Hip-hop. And all-girl bands. And boys dancing and harmonizing a cappella. New Wave, New Age, Newgrass … and, my favorite, Funkytown.

A good song is … one that you like, no matter how silly. If you were young, just starting out, when you heard it, it will remain with you for life. A good song lives in your head. If I say Kim Carnes, Betty Davis Eyes, you can hear the opening chords and the electronic drum beat, right? Try this: My my my my …

MY SHARONA! (I see you. You're shaking your head to the beat.)

Things are so bad right now (they aren’t really, but we’re told they are), that everyone on earth is suffering severe depression, impotency, überangst. We need the good-time music of the 80’s more than all the pills in the medicine factory. Didn’t MTV recently invent MTV Gold a channel of 80’s music (see also VH1 Classic)? Isn’t the biggest Broadway event of the current decade a re-visitation of Abba songs? (Mamma Mia!) Forget raves (way too 60’s), this year adolescents (and former adolescents) are having 80’s parties. Wine coolers and Hall & Oates: what could possibly be wrong with that?

And Cyndi baby, thanks for one of the best songs of all time … Time After Time.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Just covering his ass.
Jeff: Like always.
Mutt: Heard any good jokes lately?
Jeff: Nope, the usual duds. You?
Mutt: Sorry. Did you know the Energizer Bunny got arrested?
Jeff: Really?
Mutt: Charged with battery.
Jeff: You know, Mutt, if you want to practice safe eating, I say use condiments.
Mutt: I agree. Condoms should be used on every conceivable occasion.
Jeff: I used to work in a blanket factory, but it folded.
Mutt: Oh well, I used to have a hangover, the wrath of grapes.
Jeff: And a pessimist’s blood type is b-negative.
Mutt: And a Freudian slip is when you say one thing and mean your mother.
Jeff: I used to work … oh, I said that already. Corduroy pillows are making headlines.
Mutt: Banning the bra was a big flop.
Jeff: Sea captains don’t like crew cuts.
Mutt: Without geometry, life is pointless.
Jeff: A gossip is someone with a sense of rumor.
Mutt: When you dream in color, it’s a pigment of your imagination.
Jeff: Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.
Mutt: And finally, if electricity comes from electrons, does that mean that morality comes from morons?
Jeff: Maybe, but if ‘pro’ is the opposite of ‘con’, what is the opposite of congress?
Mutt: Ha Ha.
Jeff: Yuck yuck.

June 11, 2010

A Rant Against the Music of the 80’s

MTV and drum machines ruined music. My wife is at a party tonight with all her high school friends dancing to music from the 1980’s. I’m home pouting.

MTV and drum machines, indeed, and CDs, colder than a witch’s teat.

Whatever your tastes let me reel off a few names from the 60’s and 70’s: Janis, Jimi, The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Morrison, CSNY, Beach Boys, Creedence, The Dead, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, Joni, Elvis, Aretha, Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols, Bee Gees, Bob Marley, Queen.

Now a few from the 80’s: The Knack, Kiss, Madonna, Prince, Spandau Ballet, The Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, The B-52’s, Aerosmith, Blondie, Boy George, Simple Minds, The Bangles, New Kids on the Block, Adam Ant, Wham.

Point made or not? Young people in the 80’s, not only girls, rightly just wanna have fun, but most of their songs turned out as jokes. So what? What’s wrong with a decade of comedic music? Oh, did I forget Devo? How could I forget?

The best album of the decade, Paul Simon’s Graceland, was a serious opening to world music, but look at the texts. They’re bizarre and funny, weird and coy. Still some sort of joke.

I can imagine the early years of music videos filled with directors yelling, “Dance around, honey, do something colorful. This is video! You’re not just singing songs anymore!” The actors got silly out of take-75 boredom (And since when was music ever boring? Don't like it, turn it off. No need for funny hats.) Then the MT videos got choppy and neurotic, and the line between a commercial for a song and a commercial for cornflakes disappeared.

Now we have these Gaga mega-concerts with disturbing flashing lights, dancing girls and boys, dancing singers, sets, costume changes, smoke fog and bubbles. If you don’t like to go out and pay money, it’s all over invasion tv too. As if that were music. That’s Ziegfeld’s Follies, Cirque du Soleil. Often it's soft porn. But is it music? What’re those empty words they're chewing on? Is the drummer playing with his hands or a memory card? Anyone under 50 remember Leon Redbone, who plays sitting down, singing softly?

Can someone—pick a card, any card: Maria Muldaur singing Midnight at the Oasis—do it for you without the tricks, give you the love that songs are for without any medicine show con-artist mirrors and distractions? Somebody like Christina Aguilera has the pipes, but is she singing a song or just shouting: Look at me, over here, everybody, check me out!?

Here’s a good song. A really good song.
By whom?
Not interested.
No sexy video either.
Double not interested.

Here’s a good song from the 60’s and 70’s: Let It Be
Here’s a good song from the 80’s: Walk Like an Egyptian
(What? 80’s music, jokes? Says who?)

Nirvana came along and saved us all. Pearl Jam. Dave Matthews. Ben Harper. Natalie Merchant. U2. Green Day. Dido. Chili Peppers. Black Eyed Peas. Oasis. Shakira. Plenty of decent stuff came after the 80’s. I’m not stuck in my high school/college years, too much. Okay, we all are to some degree [I posted Born to be Wild on my YouTube channel], but if you can consider my point without nostalgic prejudice, I may be onto something.

Or I may not. I may just be trying to provoke any reaction, because I don’t get much response to my blog, and I’m wondering whether I should continue writing if no one’s reading. My brother says: if you can’t be good, be controversial. I’ll be watching the comments box for infuriated 40-somethings who feel their beloved music’s been offended. Give me your best shot.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: He does like trouble.
Jeff: Masochistic retrograde song terrorist.
Mutt: Got a poem for you, my man.
Jeff: Have at it.
Mutt: Here.
"The attributes
Of bathing suits
For lasses of lithesome limb
Make me inquire
If this attire
Is worn to slink or swim."
Jeff: For the love of Mike, that’s a zinger!
Mutt: ... well?
Jeff: Okay.
"A bachelor is a cagey guy.
He has a load of fun.
He likes to check out all the chicks,
And never Mrs. one."
Mutt: Oowah! You win. Uncle! I can’t stand it anymore.