Saturday, June 30, 2012

Album Review: Fiona Apple's "The Idler Wheel..."

In this day and age, with superficial musical scene once more pervading (“Bieber Fever!”), it almost seems amazing that an album by an artist who reached her peak in the late nineties, and who’s musical genius was often undervalued and underappreciated, to the point that she seemed to virtually disappear from the commercial music scene, would make a comeback in this day and age. Fiona Apple certainly is not your prototype female vocalist and songwriter. She is nothing like J-Lo, Rihanna, Beyonce, or Shakira.
But she is more real.
This is her first album in a long time – since 2005, to be precise.
First of all, the full title of this album is very long, and this is not the first time that Fiona Apple has had such a long title for one of her albums (remember “When the Pawn”? That name is even longer, but this one is quite long in it’s own right. Ready? Here it is:
“The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do”.
Whew. That was a mouthful, right? I will not venture forth to guess upon the meaning of the title. If interested, do some research, look for interviews in magazines or online, or perhaps some YouTube video clip, or so. 
The album is fairly diverse collection. At times, there are hints of the semi-alternative tone that she used to be identified with, and at other times, it would seem amazing that she was ever even remotely identified with it. The final song even has a kind of tribal music feel to it. Again, it is diverse, and about the only common chord
“Every Single Night” opens the album up, and it starts off sounding almost sweet and quaint, like a music box ditty (if you ignore the lyrics, that is). But then, it quickly turns darker, and begins to match the lyrics.
“Daredevil” is the first time that you really see the similarities with some of her earlier work utilizing a piano, and more than hints at measure of self-destruction.
With “Valentine” , Apple shows some real poetry with her lyrics.
“I made it to a dinner-date
My teardrops seasoned every plate”
“Valentine” seems to be about loving someone who hardly recognizes her, let alone acknowledges her love, and she feels as if she is living her life through this mysterious other who she loves so, as her lyrics suggest that she’s “a fugitive too dull to flee”.
“Jonathan” is perhaps the most well-orchestrated song on the album (with some trademark Fiona Apple twists), but with a somber kind of feel to it. It, too, is depressing (this is a Fiona Apple album, after all), but it is strangely magnetic, as well.
“Left Alone” has some wonderful wording in the lyrics, as well. I particularly like “I went to work to cultivate a callous”. This song is about her inability to really love with any closeness:
“How can I ask anyone to love me
When all I do is beg to be left ALONE~”
 Apple delivers these somber lyrics with her strained, tortured tone.
“Werewolf” offers more amazing lyrics, such as this opening refrain:
“I could liken you to a werewolf,
The way you left me for dead
But I admit
I provided a full moon”
As you may have guessed, this song is about a relationship gone horribly wrong, as additional lyrcs make even clearer:
“And you are such a super guy
Til the second you get a whiff of me”…
“But we can still support each other
All we gotta do is avoid each other
Nothing wrong when
A song ends
In a minor key”
The lyrics here sung more softly, and the piano comes out more pronounced and  very clearly, which is, of course, another Apple specialty.
“Periphery” is a bitter song. There’s no other way to describe it, but bitter and angry. This song relies far more exclusively on the piano than most of her other works, and is about another relationship gone bad, as her former lover has left her, for a prettier girl.
“Regret” is a song about – you guessed it – a relationship gone bad. Does anyone get the feeling that Fiona Apple perhaps has had some bad experiences with past relationships? This is a slow and somber song (not the only one on the album), with highly personal lyrics:
“Now, when you look at me, you’re condemned to see
The monster your mother made you to be
And there – you got me – that’s how you got free
You got rid of me”
“Anything We Want” is not quite as depressing perhaps as some of the other songs, seeming a bit more hopeful, or at least reflective of a past that perhaps got away somewhat, but not one filled with remorse and regret, or bitter pain. It is not quite precisely a happy song, to be sure. It also does not have some of the crazy changes of direction that is characteristic of much of Fiona Apple’s music, but is more consistent with it’s rhythm.
Finally, “Hot Knife” is the closing song of the album. As stated earlier, this one sounds more like rhythmic chanting than a typical Apple song, with mostly just a consistent beating of drums serving as the musical backdrop – although there is a bit of the piano, as well, although it seems less prominent somehow in this particular piece. Apple’s voice comes out over the multiple chanting voices that accompany her, and this is probably the most upbeat song on the album. Her lyrics reflect this as well, and also offer the same repetition of the beat:
“If I’m butter, then he’s a hot knife
He makes my heart a cinemascope screen
Showing a dancing bird of paradise”
Not quite the doldrums, pouring her heart out about a failed relationship, or going on about how her heart was broken this time or that time. ‘Hot Knife” is about making sure that she will keep a guy when the opportunity comes around:
“If I get a dance, I’m gonna show him that
He’s never gonna need another
Never need another”
Thus, Fiona Apple closes a mostly sad, reflective album with an upbeat and hopeful song placed right at the end.
All in all, this is a good album, as Fiona Apple shows off her trademark musical ingenuity, her true gift for songwriting, and her strong lyrical abilities. She can certainly make a connection, as her devoted cult following shows. Not many people can get a movement to back them, asking the record industry to free her, but Fiona Apple can boast that much.
This album is a reward for them, and will surely be appreciated for those starving to hear Fiona Apple after such a long absence.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Supreme Court Ruling on "Obamacare"

There are still plenty of things that I would like to write in this blog in the near future. There is the Euro 2012 Finals coming up on Sunday, and I would like to write a preview for that one. There is a review of Fiona Apple's new disk, as well as a review of a concert I am scheduled to attend tomorrow. There is the continuation of book reviews for "The Story of B" and "Touch the Earth". Further on down the line, I will write a review on the autobiography of Johnny Rotten, as well. Also, there are a few other ideas that I have been bouncing around.
However, there was some big news that came out earlier today. I am assuming tht everyone knows what that is, of course.
The Supreme Court ruled today on the constitutionality of the President's proposed health care reforms, often dubbed "Obamacare". Specifically, it ruled in favor of "Obamacare", if you will. It actually ruled on the constitutionality of certain aspects, and just about all of it was preserved.
Almost all conservatives in the country were opposed, often vehemently, violently opposed to this measure. When Obama first seriously proposed it, you may remember that people marched in the streets of Washington and slapped a Hitler moustache on a picture of Obama, obviously suggesting parallels to Obama as a dictator.
Most conservatives seemed sure that this challenge to Obamacare would work. The Supreme Court has a 5-4 majority of justices who were brought in during conservative Republican administrations, after all. It seemed a cynch, and many figured this was in the bag. After all, government cannot force it's citizens to purchase something, and that is what Obamacare seemed to do, right?
But the court decided otherwise, and of all people, it was Justice Roberts who cast the deciding vote, the swing vote. Most had assumed the deciding vote would have been from Justice Kennedy, but he decided with the minority in this case, favoring striking down Obamacare. It was Justice Roberts who ultimately cast the deciding vote, and upheld the policy.
Many conservative are seething.
Here is the thing, though: we are the only industrialized country in the world where citizens have to worry about not being able to afford medical care if they get sick or injured. As of right now, the still includes children, and I never understood how people can justify that. Yet, conservatives apparently do.
Yes, I am aware of their arguments. It's a government handout, and thus encourages people to be lazy and rely on a bloated government bureaucracy. We cannot afford it – have you seen the budget deficit and the national debt lately? It's inviting more government control into our lives, limiting our personal freedom to choose for ourselves. It will raise our taxes for something that surely will not work.
Mitt Romney has declared that his very first act as President would be to repeal Obamacare. That would probably be considerably more involved than he is making it out to be, since there would obviously be strong opposition to this measure. Yet, it is a measure of just how unpopular this policy is right now that Romney is trying to gain the White House by appealing against it.
I have mentioned before that this particular issue – that is, affordable healthcare – is one of the key issues that I always identified as one of the more transparently right or wrong positions. In the eighties, it seemed to me to be right there along with apartheid in South Africa – a position you could hardly justify if you favored the wrong way. I wrote a piece already in this blog fairly recently ("The Criminalization of Affordable Healthcare in America", April 6, 2012), and it is an issue that I always followed with avid interest. I remember President Clinton holding up a pen, threatening that he would use that very pen to veto any measures that were not up to his precise specifications. We all remember what happened there – he backed down.
It is an issue that everyone seems to back down in, in the face of such incredible and angry opposition. As I mentioned in that previous blog entry, there is a system of so-called "socialized medicine" in place in literally every other industrialized nation in the world. I put that in quotes because it should be noted that there really is not one single definition of "socialized medicine". Each country has it's own system, and they differ from country to country. Only Americans lump all these diverse approaches to affordable healthcare into one easy label, all the better to dismiss it with, and favor, as Amricans always seem to do, that peculiar notion of "American exceptionalism".
So, indeed, The United States is the exception in the industrialized world, as the only nation that does not provide it's citizens affordable healthcare options. The most recent nation to adapt such a system should be enough to raise some eyebrows as well: South Africa. Yes, that's right. In the 1980's (not all that long ago, actually), the United States shared this dubious distinction with South Africa, the officially racist, white minority ruled nation that served largely as an embarrassment to the Western nations. Now, we stand alone, and for all the wrong reasons.
I have already mentioned in that previous blog entry that not a single other nation opted to scrap their system in favor of what Americans have, although Canadian Prime Minister Harper toyed with the idea. But there was such staunch opposition in Canada  -and what foreign nation knows the perils of the American system better than Canadians? They are our next door neighbors, and who get our news coverage and have met many Americans, among them those who flock to Canadian borders in order to pick up drugs and such that are more affordable in Canada, where there exists price regulations to keep this stuff affordable.
Many conservative likened Obamacare to "socialized medicine". But this is far from the case. In fact, Obamacare was a modest measure to make healthcare more fair and accessible, at best. There is still a long way to go. We will still have tens of millions of uninsured, and there will not be anything like strong price regulations in place. It also forces the uninsured to buy a private insurance policy, or face penalties, thus in effect, actually allowing these corporate health care providers to grow, to expand their market. There are other weaknesses with the system, for that matter. I cannot stress enough how modest some of these improvements are – but improvements they are, nonetheless. It is a step in the right direction and, overall, good for Americans, even if most Americans do not seem to recognize it.
It truly baffles me, how strong the opposition to affordable healthcare is in this country. I never understood it. How can you justify being in favor of healthcare that most people cannot afford? How can you justify medication in the country that s producing the pills and such to be not only more expensive, but far more expensive, than they are when exported to countries with price regulations? That is why people flock to Canada, to get things cheaper there than they are here – and the bulk of these medicines are made right here in the States! That sickens me, and it really is a wonder to me how more Americans are not offended by that, with all of their conspiracy theories and apparent anger.
For that matter, how can people justify such a high burden to pay, quite literally, for those who are literally the least fortunate among us? It is a gamble, after all, is it not? Unless you are indeed wealthy, or have an incredible, exceptional healthcare program, chances are you simply cannot afford to get seriously sick, or to obtain some rare disease, or to get hit by a bus or get some other serious injury that impairs your ability to work. Or, simply, to grow old. It is baffling, perplexing, that Americans seem so intolerant of perceived abuses by the invisible phantom of inept government bureaucracies running a monopoly on healthcare, while the real life abuses of private healthcare providers and drug manufacturers go largely unnoticed, time and time and time again. On top of it, these people think that they are extremely sharp and watchful of the government that is elected by the people, all the while allowing corporations elected by no one to exercise all sorts of power over their lives. Not only that, but it actually works in other countries – at least better, and I would argue far better, than it works here! It really is amazing, and tragic, when you stop to think about it.
But few ever seem to truly stop and think about it.
I will share a story with you here. I once worked at a mall – it does not matter what mall – a number of years ago. We are talking well over a decade ago now. A woman, she seemed middle-aged, but maybe a bit older, it was hard to tell, in a store fell down the stairs. I did not see the accident, but I saw her lying face down at the base of the stairs, seriously injured and unable to really move. The ambulance came, and what happened next just horrified me, and cemented my opposition to the privatized system that we now have in place in this country. The emergency responders knelt down next to the woman – she was lying face down – and asked her where her insurance card was. Was it in her wallet, and was that in her purse? Could she give them permission to rummage through her bag, in order to get the card?
Here was this poor woman - again she could not move and was in obvious pain – and yet she was being asked all of these questions. It took a good couple of minutes, and they must have been excruciating for her. A crowd had gathered to watch, and that must have added to her discomfort. Surely, she just wanted to be taken into the ambulance and to a hospital by that point, yet she had to wait for them to go through her personal belongings in order to obtain the information that they needed.
Such episodes should not happen, and they illustrate precisely what is wrong with healthcare in America. Are you worried about inept and bureaucratic, inhuman, government dominated healthcare? What about the inhuman, and very bureaucratic, aspects of the privatized healthcare already in place? Would it not be better, for all parties involved in such a case as the one I just described, for the woman to be taken to a hospital without delay, and for those details to be worked out later? She was in need, she was desperate, compromised and helpless. Yet, she was made to wait, until it was determined what policy she had, and perhaps which doctors or hospital she could be directed to. It was a sad episode to witness, and shook me up. I almost get shivers just thinking about it even still.
Yet, this was a rich mall. Believe me, few people go there except those who can afford to, and that probably excludes you, the reader, as it certainly excluded me, then and now (I only worked there, never really shopped there).
The system that we have in place does not work, simply stated. Getting angry and ignoring that fact and breathing fire because some politicians want to change that does not make this system right. I do not belong to either major party. In fact, I actively avoid them, and view them both with a high degree of skepticism. I try my best to avoid them come election day – although I do vote!
That said, the healthcare system here is so wrong, so unfair, that something needs to be done. I have my problems with President Obama and his policies and overall image, but at least this was something to address the inherent unfairness. It does not correct everything, and in fact, as stated earlier, does not go nearly far enough in my opinion. But it is something, and it should help to make healthcare more fair and affordable, overall. With all of this talk of freedom, Obamacare essentially is designed to allow those who are not rich (the majority of us, in other words, who cannot afford to shop in that mall that I used to work in), to be able to gain access to better healthcare. It is an improvement, however modest, and it is far, far from anything remotely resembling "socialized medicine". The story might not be over yet (again, opposition is strong and, in my opinion, too blinded by anger to be rational), but this is overall a step up from what was in place – what remains in place in fact, until 2014.
For that, I applaud this President, while also keeping in mind just how modest these reforms were, and I also applaud the Supreme Court, because I was kind of half-expecting them to strike it down. Whether Roberts will pay some price for crossing party or ideological lines remains to be seen. But what he did agree or disagree, he did based on his understanding of constitutional law, and not because he was either in favor, or opposed, to the policy itself. I am not entirely sure that the other justices can say the same thing, pro or con.
For that, perhaps this should be recognized as a victory for the American legal system, as well. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Uniformity in Modern Music

This began as a music review for Fiona Apple's new album, the full name of which is "The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do". Yet, as I wrote it, it grew longer and more involved, until it kid of took on a life of it's own. I did not fight it, and decided to break this up into two posts, since it seemed somehow inappropriate to write a short dissertation on music before actually getting to the review of her album. So, I decided to keep it, and just make two separate posts out of it, which makes more sense, it seems, then to make it one huge, monstrous review that takes several pages worth of words before it really even touches upon her work. So, here are some thoughts on music in general, and tomorrow, I will review her album, specifically (and without allowing myself to get so distracted – I promise!).
Historically, many classical compositions were done in such a way that it makes sense, while also appealing to your emotions. Listen to some of the great composers (Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner, to name just a few), and the layout is smooth and well constructed. It makes sense, and we are often swept away by the mixture of the softness and sweetness of the tune, and/or the grandeur of the music, the power it lends to transport us away).
Of course, this music was the product of a different time, and it was reflective of that time. The world seemed more sure of itself, and civilization seemed more sure of where it stood. It seemed to make sense, seemed to being heading in a definitive direction. It could be soft, sweet, and subtle, or it could be overpowering in it's grandeur and majesty, but it seemed to make sense to one and all who belonged to civilization. It was comfortable, and the music fit the era.
We now live in a very different era, and much of the music, much like those wonderful and beautiful classical compositions, is reflective of our new reality. Much of the music we see out there today is not as easy on the ears or quick to digest. A lot of music is crass and in your face, much like the society that it belongs to. We have something that is referred to as the "music industry", and an industry it has indeed become. Like everything else, a lot of the music of the present day is simply one more consumer product, and thus by definition highly commercialized. In his book, "Freedom", Jonathan Franzen uses his fictional characters to make the argument that rock 'n roll, far from it's image of being some kind of alternative, or even protest, to the commercialized society at large, is in fact very much a product of that, and just another way these days of making money. Indeed, like the Rush lyrics in The Spirit of Radio", popular music nowadays "echoes with the sounds of salemen". Almost everything is prepackaged and formulaic – unless you find the musical genius of boy and girl bands and flavor of the moment musical acts like heartthrob (I don't mean that as a compliment) Justin Bieber to rank as truly great music.
Of course, I am not arguing that all modern music fits into this grinding machine. However, too much of it does. Much of rock 'n roll that seemed shocking and testing the limits yesterday seems tame today. Elvis gyrating his hips on national television, or the screaming throngs of teenage girls as the mop haircut-era Beatles stand in their matching suits performing their popular tunes, all of that seems quaint nowadays, yet they were shocking to many at the time, and seemed to present a young, and even dangerous, image at the time. Rock began as something dangerous and foreign to many, since it was predominately considered "black" music. It gained a more widespread audience, not surprisingly, when there were whites – particularly attractive white males-  who engaged in it, like Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Then it began to branch off, and their seemed to be a lot of different types of music and musicians. The Hippie-era seemed to be a strong and powerful protest to the society at large, a real alternative. Yet, Alice Cooper, and later the whole punk movement, largely vomited on the hippies, and went a long way towards the demise of flower power. Punk has often persisted in the spirit of protest, and many punk bands to the present day retain and maintain their individuality and independence of thought and action, and it is reflected in their style and in their music.
Yet, even punk was not immune from a "one size fits all" kind of cultural image, as it became all the rage to get a certain look and image that qualified one as punk. Suddenly, a certain hairstyle, and a certain way of dress (or as Johnny Rotten puts it, a uniform – more on that in the next paragraph), solidified you as a bonafide punk.
Johnny Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited), says of the formulaic trendiness of the punk look, "It was no different from the punk imitators who grabbed onto the idea of one steady uniform being rigidly adored. If you have any kind of movement at all, you should reject things like that. You're not moving, plus it's sterile."
Jello Biafra, best known for being the frontman of the Dead Kennedys, once sang that
"Punk's not dead it just deserves to die
When it becomes another stale cartoon"
Jello went on to suggest that not only did the image make everyone look the same, which was the complete antithesis of the original thinking behind punk as protest, but it also all started to sound the same. There was starting to be a trademark punk sound, and everyone was grabbing onto it. The arguments that both Lydon and Biafra are making is that punk had lost it's originality, and had lost much of it's meaning.
Yet, much of modern music is indeed a certain sound, and quite formulaic and boring. Originality is out. It is rare, very rare, to get someone who takes an entirely different approach, and stands out on their own. Often times, it serves as an alternative, until people catch on, and there are imitators, and before long, it becomes a new trend, and itself grows sterile. Punk suffered this fate, but was certainly not alone. Just look at heavy metal or what passes as grunge these days.
Whatever happened to intelligence, and why can't it be reflected in music, as well as the lifestyle of musicians? Why is it that music and musicians ultimately seem to get watered down so much that any danger that it once posed has lost all flavor, and becomes just another trademark? When George W. Bush hosts a dinner that Ozzy Osbourne attends and shoots the shit with him, you know that the days of the seemingly dangerous and crazy Ozzy are done and long gone. Like many before him, he has become a businessman, and does nothing that go against his business interests. The same can be said for seemingly protest-era icons The Who. Pete Townsend felt so appalled by Michael Moore's protest film "Fahrenheit 911" that they ultimately refused to grant permission to Moore to use The Who's protest anthem, "Won't Get Fooled Again", to conclude his film. 
Of course, the Who was also the only band that played the legendary Woodstock festival that absolutely insisted on getting paid. The more you hear about that group, the more you wonder just how much they took their anger and their rebellious lyrics to heart. You wonder if, even back then, they were not businessmen, first and foremost, projecting a popular and profitable image where they could rake the money in.  But they are not alone, of course.
In the 1980's, Metallica seemed to be the antithesis of the establishment, perhaps more than any other major band. They seemed to have a cult following, and not so much a mainstream following. Their lyrics seemed intelligent and reflective, well thought out, and received some attention from outside sources (Jello Biafra once complimented their lyrics, back then, for example).
However, they ultimately became the perfect poster child for what music has become. If they were one dangerous and seemingly politically charged, that whole thing went away once they tasted sweet success.
This group was never the same. Suddenly, they had a "look", all black, from head to toe. They portrayed a hyper macho image, and James Hatfield played up his role as the redneck. They won more and more fans, but many of their old fans felt disillusioned, including the author of this piece. They just were not the intense, anti-establishment group they once had been. Their music changed, but that in itself was not so much a big deal (at least not to me). After all, we all change as we grow older, and Metallica should not have felt stuck, or forced into constantly repeating the same genre, the same music and image, forever.
That said, the turn that they did take was a bit shocking, and felt a bit empty, as a fan. They suddenly were a huge group, and as such, they grabbed onto many of the same clichés that the old Metallica would normally have made fun of.
You hear stories about their lawsuit with Napster. Whatever the merits, or the lack thereof, in the case, ultimately it is a bit shocking for us older Metallica fans to think that this is the same group that it was back in the eighties. You hear Metallica members dismissing claims from other bands that they have lost their edge by claiming that they go to their shows in limousines, which presumably we should take as a mark not just of their success, but of their supremacy, evidently. In trying to deflect criticism that they sold out, they laugh it off by saying, why yes, they sell out, every show is sold out. They have grown to become rather arrogant pricks, and considering that they used to be a band that seemed to thrive on not being like that, by holding onto their values or reality or whatever it is that they had, this turn is unfortunate indeed.
The music is different, but that in itself is not too much of a big deal. But the lyrics changed, too, became less dangerous or adventurous, and reflected the conservative turn the American society has taken. Two years after covering the anti-war anthem "One", which still remains one of the staples of Metallica's repertoire, they released "Don't Tread On Me", which is as close to an outright pro-war song that they could have done, at the time of the first Gulf War.
This was not the same Metallica that we older fans had remembered, and their image, while more profane, became much safer in a very real sense, in terms of being accepted into the wider, mainstream audience, when alternative was growing more accepted.
It just seems that a lot of music is more conventional these days, more "safe" like that. It had long been the case, but we seemed to be moving away from that quite a bit in the early nineties. With Nirvana's explosive "Smells Like Teen Spirit", it looked like mainstream music was returning to a more protesting kind of spirit. So it seemed, at the time, as the so-called "Seattle Sound", also known as grunge, exploded onto the national scene. There was a new sound, a new way of dressing, of acting, etc.. A new consciousness overall, and mindless rock anthems seemed to be out.
That did not last too long. The alternative wave lasted a few years, sure. There were grunge groups, and other groups previously on the fringes suddenly became huge – groups such as  Metallica, like I mentioned before, as well as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others. Numerous Seattle groups, such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden, also became household names overnight, practically.
Suddenly, the popular music scene  seemed to possess a bit of danger and unpredictability again, as traditional popular acts that presented a safer image, such as Michael Jackson, or Madonna, or even other rock groups like INXS, suddenly yielded the radio waves to a harder, rawer sound.
It lasted some years, but once again, turn on the most popular radio stations, and once again, you will hear safe pop music, dance music, once again dominating the airwaves. Rihanna is constantly in the news. Beyonce is the sexiest woman alive, according to some magazines or other entertainment sources. Both of them dominate the airwaves. Shakira is still heard quite a bit, although she is not as dominant as she was a few years ago. One down the line, what you have is a cleaner, safer, prepackaged music scene. Music without much spontaneity, and that is, predictable, right back on top of the music scene.
Don't even get me started on techno, which I will admit to absolutely loathing. Bill Maher once said that you have to be high on drugs to really get into that, and I agree with that. It really is horrible music.
I do not know what the answer is. There is something perhaps to be said that all forms of music have some value, but the music that really moves usually is the music that lasts. People still listen to Mozart and Beethoven centuries after their lives. Some of the old jazz icons from early in the twentieth century still loom large. Chuck Berry and Little Richard remain well known and influential. Elvis and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones still remain very popular, and influential. People still buy and listen to albums from artists such as Pink Floyd, the Doors, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, and numerous other rock icons from the sixties. Led Zeppelin remain legendary and are a huge nfluence for numerous groups even to the present day, as are Black Sabbath. Many listen to the groups that came out of the Seattle scene in the nineties, including yours truly (I have traditionally been a big follower of Pearl Jam, in particular, but I like most of the bands that came out of that whole movement). These groups, and many more too numerous to mention here, will likely live on for many.
As for Shakira and Beyonce and Rihanna, and many other artists enjoying their spot in the sun right now, are not likely to have such staying powr, and remain influential. I do not want to sound like a snob, but again, what happened to those times when music meant something? When it was a protest of sorts, when it was perhaps a cry for help, as well, or perhaps in addition to, being very artistic and challenging, a testament to the musicianship of the band creating and/or performing the music. Listen to Rush, and you will likely know what I mean.
Some music is meant to be timeless, while other music is timed just right for the moment. They will have their moment in the sun, and enjoy dominating the airwaves for this period. But when all is said and done, it will be the groups who showed a bit more creativity and who sought greater meaning with their music that will withstand the test of time, me thinks – even if they do not any longer dominate the airwaves, or perhaps never even did in the first place.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: Ganesha: Remover of Obstacles by Manuela Dunn Mascetti

I am not the most religious man, but I do enjoy learning about new things, and religion certainly would be among the subjects that I find the most fascinating. Having largely completely ignored it when younger, always assuming it was propaganda, I now find myself more willing to expose myself to it, knowing that learning about it does not necessarily translate to converting to any particular given faith.

In the process, I have been blessed to learn more, much more about all sorts of faith. It started with an academic interest in Buddhism that led to a more pronounced interest, and eventually, I was reading more and more books on the subject, going to see the Dalai Lama in Central Park, and even taking meditation classes on my own. But this was only the beginning.

There was a burgeoning interest in learning more about the Western religions, as well. This included Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I pursued more knowledge, and eventually, began to be impressed enough with one particular faith, Unitarian Universalism, that I tried to study it, to learn more about it, and eventually, even began to attend services and take classes at that particular congregation (Morristown Unitarian Fellowship).

I learned more and more, and enjoyed stimulating and lively discussions with people of diverse faiths and beliefs, as well as experiences. I still was learning more about each faith.

It faded away, eventually. My attendance at the Unitarian services was never consistent, but I began to stop going altogether. My work schedule in large part interfered, and my presence there just kept diminishing until it faded completely.

Yet, my interest in faith has not waned. If anything, my appetite to learn more about spirituality (and yes, I would make a clear distinction between spirituality and religious beliefs) just kept growing. I pursued it through different avenues, and my interests expanded enough to explore learning about faiths outside of what have often been referred to and recognized as the big five: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. I began to learn more about other faiths and mythology, reading various authors in this field, most notably Joseph Campbell, who spoke about the need for mythology in our culture. But it went beyond this, as well. I also became very interested in Native American spirituality in particular, and very much enjoyed learning more about animism in general – particularly by author Daniel Quinn (who also had a riveting and very different, unconventional interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve).

So, yes, my base of knowledge has expanded considerably over time, as have my own thoughts and reflections on spiritual subject matter.

However, there is one particular religion that I really never felt I had a solid enough base of knowledge in to even discuss it intelligently, and it is among the”big five” religions, and that would be Hinduism.

The thing is, it is one of the oldest religions in the world, and easily the oldest among the “big five”. It also has the most stories and such, the most Gods, and so on and so forth. A very complicated and involved faith, and it seems that practitioners have numerous different ways to exercise their faith, even more so than in other religions. So it was all very complex, and a bit overwhelming, even perhaps intimidating.

Still, I wanted to explore this subject matter enough to still pursue it, and read some material on it.

The latest was a book that I found for maybe fifty cents at a thrift store earlier this year. It is a short and small book focusing on Ganesha in particular, who is the most famous and common deity in the Hindu religion. I picked up the book right away when I saw it.

This book, although it does not look like much, is actually a quite informative little guide that offers a terrific glimpse into pertinent information about Ganesha specifically, and about Hinduism more generally. For a book that you could probably read in one sitting (it takes a couple of hours or so), it is very informative, giving you quite a bit of information about his god and the religion overall. It offers a fascinating overview, without getting bogged down in specifics, and without assuming either that the reader has a working understanding of Hinduism (which I did not), nor assuming that the reader is too dumb or ignorant to understand This was not a book for children. This is a book for adults, interested in learning more about this particular subject. As such, it was pretty solid.

It even goes into specifics, giving a general history and some related stories, then going more into detail about the mythology of Ganesha, his powers, and all the different forms in which Ganesha is portrayed.

I should perhaps mention one little story regarding Ganesha, although it really has little to nothing to do with this book, and that is this. On my weekends, I work at a financial facility that is obviously mostly closed during the weekends and other non-business hours. This place has a beautiful park, owned by the company, outside of it, that offers tennis and basketball courts, a baseball field, and a vast expanse of lawn, as well as a couple of ponds and some nearby woods (not to mention some incredible wildlife for such a small plot of land in the middle of suburbia in New Jersey. It just seems kind of strange, but let me go forward

Anyway, there was one weekend a number of years ago (maybe three of four, perhaps even five years ago, I cannot remember for sure anymore) that I noticed something weird on a park bench right next to the pond. It looked like a paper bag, although I only saw it from a distance, as I passed by driving. It was from a bit of a distance, so I did not have a clear view, or anything. I said to myself that I had better leave it alone, and did.

But the next weekend, it was still there, sitting on the bench, exactly as it had been the weekend before.

By now, I was getting curious, but I resisted again, figuring that whatever it was, if the owners had not even come back for it yet, it probably was not worth coming back to. If it was a paper bag, then probably the food would have gone bad, and would surely be consumed by animals soon, if it had been already.

Yet, the next weekend, there it was again. In the exact same place it had been the prior two weekends.

So, yes, by now. My curiosity got the better of me, and I went over to the park bench, and picked it up.

As you might have guessed, it was not a paper bag at all. It was a little statue of Ganesha. I knew who he was, of course, but really only dimly. Just a vague awareness of him, that he was seemingly the most prominent Hindu god, and that he seemed so odd. Not much more than that.

But I picked it up and took it home. It was obviously made of clay, and it looked kind of old – although not really an antique, or anything like that.

For whatever reason, I took it as more or less a good luck symbol, and have basically kept it ever since. It was actually quite fun trying to identify which Ganesha, among the 32 illustrated, that my “new” Ganesha statue was. Each has a different meaning, and the differences are often subtle.

In any case, I obviously still would have a lot to learn about Ganesha, and about Hinduism in general. But I always seek to learn more and more, as much as I can, and this book certainly helped.

It is for starters, not for experts, obviously. And just as obvious, I am a starter in this field, by no means an expert. But this little book helped me to understand not just about Ganesha specifically, but quite a bit about Hinduism in general, as far as a starter book is concerned, and I could not ask for more than that from a book that was under a dollar, or a statue that I just happened to find on a park bench.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: TOUCH THE EARTH: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence (up through Part One)

This is not the first time that I read this book, nor is it likely to be the last – which is as high a compliment as probably can be given to a book by any reader!
It is not a new book, either. In fact, it was published before the writer of this particular piece was even born! But that said, there is a timeless quality to the words and pictures here.
In the introduction, T.C. McLuhan notes that the wisdom of the Indian has been available for a very long time, but was very often ignored. But increasingly, as we inhabit a world that seems completely absorbed in the process of destroying itself and destroying whatever open spaces still exist, and consuming every last untapped natural resource remaining and draining everything that we can so that we can live it up at this very moment, even at the expense of future generations, these words and thinking of the old Indians and their way of viewing the world overall begins to ring true, as do many of the projections about the ultimate direction of the conquerors, the white men or, nowadays, the society at large. We are in need of a different direction, a new way of thinking, and perhaps we should look towards the past to give us a new direction for a better future.  "Perhaps now," McLuhan states, "after hundreds of years of ignoring their wisdom, we may learn from the Indians."
The book is split up into four parts, and I will review each individual section.
Part One: The Morning Sun, the New Sweet Earth and the Great Silence
The first section focuses on the Indian attachment to the land – in many cases, literally. Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Lakota describes how the land itself was the source of life, both past and present, as well as for the future, and illustrates the physical attachment that Indians had to the land:
"That is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; he can see more clearly the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him…"
He concludes by explaining the wisdom of the old Lakota, saying that he "knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too." (6)
There is much about how Indians consumed what they needed, and not more. When they killed a beast they got sustenance in terms of food from it, and they got clothing to keep them warm. They lived in a much greater balance with nature than the modern society that displaced them did. The white men who came and conquered essentially destroyed whatever lay in their path of progress, in order to get at what could be properly utilized.
This destruction was widespread and touched everything, weakening the traditional Indian way of life, including diet and even water sources. In the early twentieth century, Okute (Shooter) said that Indians "have less freedom and and they fall an easy prey to disease. In the old days they were rugged and healthy, drinking pure water and eating the meat of the buffalo, which had the wide range, not being shut up like cattle of the present day. The water of the Missouri River is not pure, as it used to be, and many of the creeks are no longer good for us to drink." He concludes in the last paragraph of the passage, saying, "A man ought to desire that which is genuine instead of that which is artificial." 19
Mentioned in this section is not only the attachment to the land, but also the notion that life had to be in spiritual accordance, that Man and nature, as it were, are not separate, let alone opposing, entities. That being enemies with nature is ridiculous. Everything is tied into with traditional spirituality of the Indian. Bedagi (Big Thunder) says, "The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our mother. She nourishes us; that which we put into the ground she returns to us, and healing plants she gives us likewise. If we are wounded, we go to our mother and seek to lay the wounded part against her, to be healed. Animals too, do thus, they lay their wounds to the earth." (22)
*Tatanga Mani points the accusing finger at the whites who displaced the Indian from his land, explaining, "We were lawless people, but we were on pretty good terms with the Great Spirit, creator and ruler of all. You whites assumed we were savages. You didn't understand our prayers. You didn't try to understand….Without understanding, you condemned us as lost souls just because our form of worship was different from yours." 23
There are some truly poetic and wonderful parts included, such as the funeral speech reported by Jonathan Carver, which is truly a beautiful and eloquent praise for a recently departed member of the tribe.
"But whither is that breath flown, which a few hours ago sent up breath to the Great Spirit? Why are those lips silent, that lately delivered to us expressive and pleasing language?" (31)
The reader gets a glimpse into the Indian attachment to the land itself, and being a part of it. Far from the Christian religion being offered to them by the invading army, which promised a wonderful Heaven beyond this world, the Indians believed that you make your own Heaven or Hell right here on Earth. William Warren, the mixed son of an white man and an Ojibway woman, explains that while camping, "the soul arrives in the land of spirits, where he finds his relatives accumulated since mankind was first created; all is rejoicing, singing and dancing; they live in a country interspersed with clear lakes and streams; forests and prairies, and abounding in fruit and game to repletion – in a word, abounding in all that the red man most covets in this life, and which conduces most to his happiness. It is that kind of paradise which he only by his manner of life on this earth, is fitted to enjoy." (33)
We hear more about Indian life as well, including the way an Indian would typically wake up, walking to the water and splashing water on himself or herself, then facing the rising sun in the East, and coming to terms with one's own spirituality on their own, without any company, since everyone had to come to this on their own. I enjoyed this part about traditional spirituality, and was particularly impressed with the lack of need to have all the answers, something that Western religions tend to need. An example is provided by Mato-Kuwapi (Chased-By-Bears), who mentions that it was "the general belief of the Indians that after a man dies his spirit is somewhere on the earth or in the sky, we do not know exactly where but we are sure that his spirit still lives." 39
The reader also learns about the importance of circles in the Indian tradition by vivid descriptions from Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk) and Tatanka-Ptecila (Short Bull). Everything in the world worked in circles, and life was a series of cycles – an idea not altogether foreign to us in the modern day.
Hehaka Sapa says, "The Sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in  circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round."
The season also seemed cyclical, and thus, circular, and so did life itself, from childhood to old age. So the Indian also built his tipis in circles, as well. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: The Story of B

Daniel Quinn is one of the most intriguing authors I know. He has a strong writing style, and makes his stories interesting, so that you want to turn the page and see what is going to happen next. Yet, it is not the stories that often really capture your imagination, as much as his ideas, many of which are truly astonishing and eye openers. The way that he presents them almost makes you want to slap your forehead and cry out, "Of course!", as if it were obvious. He makes it look obvious, and it is hard to refute the power of his logic and thinking overall. Quinn is an author where it feels like the story is simply the backdrop for the ideas being expressed – and that is fine by me! His ideas are amazing and provocative!
 I first read this particular book, The Story of B, maybe a couple of years ago. It has a series of essays, or perhaps you can call it one long essay, at the back of the book, and I saved this for last both times that I read it.
But I will get to the essay part later, although that is indeed my favorite part of the book. But since it comes right at the end (though you are encouraged to turn to it by none other than Daniel Quinn himself throughout the book), I will stick with a review that stays true to the chronological order, for the sake of organization and simplicity.
First, the story.
It is about a once promising young Laurentian priest, Father Jared Osborne, who is called upon for what amounts, essentially, to a spying opportunity, so to speak. He is to monitor one Charles Atterley, who is in central Europe, in Germany, and apparently getting a steady following that this priest's religious order finds threatening.
So Father Jared Osborne goes to Europe and, after a few hiccups early on, finds Charles Atterley, who is known simply as "B". The ideas that B throws challenges everything that Jared has been led to believe throughout his life, and he struggles with his own inclination to become a follow and disciple, or to remain steadfast in line with the opposition of his established faith, of which he is a committed member and believer – although his faith is now rapidly slipping and fading.
In the meantime, Friar Lulfre, an accomplished archaeologist and paleonthologist, who is the one that has sent Jared to Europe to gather information on Charles Atterley and to report if this man poses a possible real threat to the faith, has been working behind the scenes all along, as Jared soon finds out. When Jared finds Atterly dead one day on a moving train, he begins to suspect who is really behind the order for this killing.
It is then that we learn why Atterley has been referred to as "B". For though Charles Atterley has died, "B" has not, and so the story, and the teachings, go on. And as they go on, the process of Jared losing his faith is finally completed. Now Jared, far from simply reporting on the teachings like he has been doing, suddenly finds himself targeted by the same church that he used to devote his life to.
Jared's understanding of the teachings, and his subsequent loss of traditional faith, is a painstaking process. He loses his faith because of B's teachings, but it is also helped along by a couple of other factors, including his feelings of attraction for a woman that is among B's inner circle, as well as the exposure of the sinister actions of his Church, particularly of Friar Lulfre, and the lengths that they are willing to go to in order to protect the wellbeing of the faith. Even if that means killing a peaceful man teaching a controversial message. Even if that means killing this man's message, which might be the last great hope for our civilization.
Of course, "B" has evolved into someone else than Charles Atterley, and we learn that it is not the individual that is as important as the message. Jared confronts his now former faith himself, he says as much, and claims that he himself is now "B", in a very real sense.
When the powers that be understand the truth of this, he once again pursues assassination attempts against "B" and Jared, and the book essentially ends with them on the run.
Now, I normally would not reveal the entirety of the plot in a review, since the reader may just want to read the book.  But as I have said before, this book seems not so much to be about the work of fiction on the surface, as it is about the message found everywhere within, and which Quinn encapsulates brilliantly at the end with some truly thought provoking essays. I am a history major, yet his interpretation of history in this essay was a real eye opener! His command of the subject matter, for that matter, is truly impressive, and the logic is hard to argue against.
The ideas in this book are not strictly relegated to the essay in the back of the book, although the most direct aspects of his ideas (meaning, those that are not really a part of the fictional story in the book) are all in the back, yet the ideas presented to the fictional priest that narrates this are in evidence throughout, and often quite beautifully worded prior to "The Public Teachings" section.
This entry concentrated on the fictional aspect of the book, which was enjoyable and well-written. Yet, I believe it is the ideas in "The Story of B" that are the most impressive aspects, and so I will dedicate a blog entirely towards those very teachings, both the essay part in the back, and the teachings packaged within the framework of the fictional story itself.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Concert Review: Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band

Wantagh, NY, June 22, 2012 (Jones Beach)
            Any time that I get the opportunity to see one of the remaining living Beatles on stage, I try to do so. I grew up on their music on many levels, even though I was born well after the legendary band had already broken up. I have seen Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band on four prior occasions, the first dating back to his tour in 1997, that being with Peter Frampton, and some others that I am not recalling at the moment (someone from Procol Harem, and another from Bad Company, if memory serves me correctly). I have seen Paul McCartney twice as well, once in Madison Square Garden, and the other time in Quebec City, when he gave a legendary free show on the Plains of Abraham on the occasion of that city’s 400th anniversary, back in 2008. I have even seen the Pete Best Band, featuring Pete Best, the original drummer of the Beatles just prior to his being released and the band bringing in Ringo Starr as his replacement.
So, when I saw the opportunity was there to go see Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band once again, I jumped on the opportunity. How many more chances can one get to see a living member of the Fab Four, anyway? There are only two of them left, and neither are exactly spring chickens.
This edition of the All Starr Band featured numerous notables from the music industry to back Ringo Starr up, as they pretty much always capably do. Todd Rundgren, who has had an impressive solo career, and also was part of the band Utopia, was perhaps the most famous individual among them, and seemed to generate the strongest crowd reaction and identity.
Steve Lukather has been many musical projects and worked with some of the best talent in music over many decades now. Among his projects, he was co-founder of the group Toto, and found in the setlist for the show was Toto’s biggest hit, the instantly identifiable “Africa”, which he introduced by claiming it was a party song, as he tried to get people on their feet.
Richard Page is working with the All Starr Band for the second time, having  worked with Ringo in his last incarnation of the All Starr Band when they played in 2010. Page was the lead vocalist for Mr. Mister, which had two enormous hits that earned that band platinum records, both of which were played in this show, “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings”. He also did a new song that, he noted, was a departure from much of the stuff that people know him best for, and it was truly a beautiful piece, actually.
Gregg Rolie is on keyboards. He co-founded and played with two huge bands, Santana and Journey. With Santana, he played at Woodstock, and the band honored this legacy by playing “Black Magic Woman”, among other of his works.
Finally, Mark Rivera and Greg Bissonette each have a longer history working on Ringo Starr's All Starr Band. They both have illustrious credentials to their name, as well. Rivera featured on the percussions, saxophone, keyboards, and vocals. He has worked with Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Simon & Garfunkel, John Lennon, Billy Ocean, and Billy Joel. Bissonette, the drummer, enjoys playing for his favorite drummer of all time (that would be Ringo, just in case you do not know who I am referring to here). He has worked with David Lee Roth, Pat Boone, Richard Marx, the Foo Fighters, James Taylor, and Spinal Tap. He also played (every season, apparently) on the sitcom Friends, as well as numerous other famous movies.
It was a good concert overall. Jones Beach is always one of my favorite concert settings. It is not as huge as some places and, for whatever the reason, it always feels considerably more intimate than arena or stadium concerts – although it is a big venue in it’s own right. Jones Beach always seems like a nice place to see a concert, and I have gone there many a time over the course of the years to see various acts, including Roger Waters, Pearl Jam, Jethro Tull, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and the Sex Pistols. If you have or take the day off, you can really make a nice time of it, enjoying a day on the beach prior to the show, and then finishing up the day by watching a good show afterward. But the traffic there was horrible, and we did not make it on time to actually enjoy the beach at all. In fact, the traffic was so horrible for a long time, that we barely made it to the concert on time.
The entire top section was empty for this show, but that may have been a result of the weather – it was rainy and with passing thunderstorms around the time of the concert – than for any other reason. One thing that I enjoy about Jones Beach is that, even when you have nosebleed seats, you get an amazing view of the ocean beyond the stage. It really is a cool setting for a show!
It always helps, of course, if the show is good, and this show was. It had a good cross section of people, young and old and everything in between.  The variety of different songs and styles of music, from Ringo doing his Beatles stuff (and one song even predating the Beatles) to his solo stuff, to the involved and hippie-era Santana material such as "Evil Ways", "Black Magic Woman", and "Everybody's Everything", to Toto’s “Africa”, "Hold the Line" and "Rosanna", to Todd Rundgren’s popular hits (which the crowd really responded well to), and Richard Paige doing his popular Mr. Mister eighties anthems, then switching gears and introducing a new song that truly was beautiful, this one was memorable in many respects.
Ringo showed his trademark sense of humor, as well – something that has been in evidence since the early days of the Beatles, back when they had their then trademark  mop haircuts. My favorite example was one that he repeated from at least the last tour – when he mentioned his most recent album. He then specifically thanked “the seven people” who bought it, and the “hundred people in the audience” who had applauded (but not bought the album).
This is where I will have to make my admission: I have not gotten Ringo 2012 yet, either. I in fact had heard only one of the songs on it prior to the concert, which  was the third in a trilogy of songs he had done about his upbringing in Liverpool during his last three albums. I enjoyed the one from his previous album (which I actually did buy), and enjoyed this one, as well. However, I would not necessarily have been able to identify the songs from the recent album that he did do, although what I did hear sounded pretty good. I particularly enjoyed "Anthem".
Otherwise, he performed some of the staples of his repertoire. He played what is probably his biggest hit, “It Don’t Come Easy”, which was actually the first real hit by any former Beatle following the break up of the band. This concert was the first time that I saw Ringo in which he did not open up with that hit (he had opened up with it in each of the previous times that I had seen him). He also performed “Photograph”, which the crowd rather enjoyed, as well. Of course, the crowd was particularly responsive to the Beatles songs that he did, and these included “I Wanna Be Your Man”, “Act Naturally”, “A Little Help From My Friends”, and “Yellow Submarine”, among others.
Ringo also shared some stories, which he tends to do, to add a personalizing touch. For example, he mentioned that "Don't Pass Me By" was the first song that he had ever written, before launching into the song. He also mentioned that "I'm the Greatest" was a song that John Lennon wrote for him.
I should note, that the last time I saw Ringo, it was one of the most memorable concerts that I have ever seen. This was back in 2010, on July 7th, specifically. That was the occasion of Ringo’s 70th birthday, and you bet that I tried to make a real point of getting those tickets. I was thrilled to have gotten them, and was not disappointed. There were a lot of special guests, including George Harrison’s son, Ringo Starr’s own son Zach Starkey, Yoko Ono, and quite a few other notable artists. That was for what was supposed to be the finale, which was “A Little Help From My Friends”, and he had many of those friends on the stage with him. But the atmosphere was absolutely electric when the stage crew brought out a left-handed Les base, which was clear indication that Paul McCartney was about to come on stage.
When he did, dressed in a suit that seemed almost reminiscent of the Beatles early days (as did the very enthusiastic fan response, which was filled with screaming and shrieking that was eerily reminiscent of the old enthusiasm that the Beatles generate din their heyday), Ringo came back on the stage, and took his place on the drum set! It was as close to a Beatles reunion as I’ll ever see, and the crowd just went nuts. They played “Birthday”, with Nils Lifren playing guitar and . It was an amazing thing to witness, and again, one of the most amazing moments that I have ever witnessed at a concert – and I have been to quite a few!
Ironically, this night was yet another birthday for a man on the stage – just not Ringo Starr’s. It was the birthday of Todd Rundgren, and he was called “the birthday boy” throughout the night – although surprisingly, no one sang the Happy Birthday song, and the band did not even perform “Birthday” (I know, this is not actually one of the Beatles songs that Ringo sings, but still).
Now, I did not expect this concert to surpass the magic of the last time having seen Ringo in July of 2010 – and it certainly did not. That one was a show for the ages, and I’ll likely remember that for as long as my faculties are intact. Truly one of the most magical experiences I have ever seen in any kind of event that I attended, and it felt like history in the making. But that said, this was a good concert, and I felt like it was money well spent to have gone. The seats were decent, and again, the atmosphere felt fairly intimate. Despite the trouble with the traffic jams in trying to get there, and then the unaccommodating weather conditions, the best was made of it, and it proved to be a very good and enjoyable concert!
I would definitely go to se Ringo again if the future should offer such an occasion!
Below is the set list for the memorable show:

Matchbox (Carl Perkins)

It Don't Come Easy


I Saw the Light (Todd Rundgren)

Evil Ways (Santana)

Rosanna (Toto)

Kyrie (Mr. Mister)

Don't Pass Me By (The Beatles)

Bang The Drum All Day (Todd Rundgren)

Boys (The Beatles)

Yellow Submarine (The Beatles)

Black Magic Woman (Santana)


I'm The Greatest

You Are Mine (Richard Page)

Africa (Toto)

Everybody's Everything (Santana)

I Wanna Be Your Man (The Beatles)

Hello It's Me (Todd Rundgren)

Broken Wing (Mr. Mister)

Hold The Line (Toto)


Act Naturally (Buck Owens originally, but which Ringo sang with The Beatles, and which is likely the most well known version of this song)

With a Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles)

The Encore: Give Peace a Chance (John Lennon cover – an abbreviated version of this one, following the trend the band set in 2010)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Movie Rental Review: Red Dawn (Eighties Version)

I had long wondered about this movie, being one of the few people, or at least one of the few guys, that I know who had never seen it (much like I had never seen the Rambo movies).
            Not that I was obsessed with it. Far from it, in fact. But the movie was mentioned prominently in lyrics for a Dead Kennedy song (Rambozo the Clown), and when it came on recently, a fellow coworker of mine strongly recommended the movie, claiming it was excellent.
            So, I made a point of watching it, finally.
            All I can say is, I was not impressed. All that hype, and the movie was just a sad series of clichés, one after the other. Kind of makes me wonder why they decided to do a remake of it for 2012.
            It does in fact reinforce stereotypes about weak Europe, with no will, and the strong but hopeless, dogged determination of the island nation of Britain, the only power strong enough to stand up to an enemy on the European continent (Germany during the real life World War II, and the Soviet Union during this fictional World War III of this movie).
            For that matter, the Soviets are seen as absolutely monstrous, essentially. They are seen as inhuman monsters, literally starting the movie by senselessly killing defenseless people, including high school age kids. The takeover is supposed to be frightening, but it is hopelessly unrealistic, with the Soviets and their allies seemingly flying deep in American skies almost completely unopposed, and the Soviet military taking over and occupying with an incredible level of ease. I can suspend my level of disbelief to some extent, but this seemed more an insult to one's intelligence.
            Obviously, it also reinforces the American sense of exceptionalism (the whole world has essentially fallen to Communism, but not in the United States), and the Americans sense of themselves as the last great bastion of hope and freedom in the world (although it really is neither, certainly not at this point).
            The script is bad and cliché, targeted to an ignorant, chest thumping, American centrist (or perhaps supremacist is the word) audience that likes to lump other nationalities into narrow stereotypes. Not impressive, but a definite sign of the times when the movie was made, to be sure.
            The acting was not all that great, either. Patrick Swayze usually seems better, more animated than he did in this one. Charlie Sheen is….well, Charlie Sheen. I am not sure that he is really well known for quality acting, especially at this point in his career. None of these characters are very deep or realistic, so it really is hard to gauge the acting based on these roles.
            Overall, despite this being a movie that was (and apparently still is) very hyped (and I remember it being so when it first came out), it just is not a good movie, and serves more as a testament to an era of rising propaganda and nationalism, than an exciting or well crafted movie, let alone one that explores any serious or plausible material. I was curious about this movie, but frankly, wish I had not been. A waste of two hours on my end, but don't make it a waste of your two hours.