I’m So Tired: so say we all, John…

“I think it’s 100 per cent John. Being tired was one of his themes; he wrote ‘I’m Only Sleeping.’ I think we were all pretty tired but he chose to write about it.” – Paul McCartney

John Lennon, White Album period (image courtesy Best Classic Bands)

Being a Beatle was, to be sure, exhausting. John Lennon in particular found the constant stream of attention to his every waking moment (and sometimes to his sleeping moments) tortuous. From “There’s a Place” to “Help” to “I’m Only Sleeping” to “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Lennon consistently looked for escapes from the pressures of being a Beatle, of being John Lennon. One might note that Lennon sought solace from having failed to beware of the old adage “Be careful what you wish for.” Being at “the toppermost of the poppermost” was, he found, a mixed blessing.

The song itself is one of that large number of tunes that he, Paul, and George composed during their retreat in Rishikesh, India, studying transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While some of the songs such as “Dear Prudence” and “Julia” were playful or serious expressions of Lennon’s kindness and love,  “I’m So Tired” and “Yer Blues” were examples of Lennon crying in the wilderness – literally.

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Random thoughts about the record album – part 6: one last hurrah…and into the mystic

“There hasn’t been anything real since grunge. That was the last movement led by music or an art form.” – Daphne Guinness

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

Grunge rock’s great, tragic star, Kurt Cobain (image courtesy Twitter)

The last great movement in rock music – and the last great flowering of the album, an art form inextricably tied to rock music’s rise – was Grunge. Its rise in late ’80s Seattle and its explosion into a national and international phenomenon in the early ’90s produced a wave of albums that most Xers and early Millennials know as well as their Boomer predecessors know Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Let It Bleed, or Tommy.

Pearl Jam’s Ten, Alice in Chains’ Dirt, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core are all albums that both epitomize the Grunge sound and convey Grunge’s vision: powerful music played loudly with lyrics filled with tales of misery and dark thoughts. In some ways this is brilliant music, capturing as it does both the misery of Xers who felt keenly traumas such as their desertion by parents (through divorce and the perceived economic necessity of two income households that created “latchkey” childhoods) and anticipating as it does (which perhaps explains its powerful appeal to older Millennials) a world dominated by technopolistic forces.

No force from the Grunge movement captured the angst of Grunge more acutely than Nirvana’s album Nevermind and its chief architect, Grunge’s icon, Kurt Cobain. Continue reading

When a company cuts jobs, it shouldn’t spin that reality with corporate bullshit

time_magazine_-_first_cover

Time magazine’s first cover

The owner of the grandparent of weekly news magazines, Time, has decided to shed 300 jobs through layoffs and buyouts to reduce its costs.

A media corporation whacking jobs to save money? That’s not surprising news in the digital era. But what continues to aggravate and irritate is the lame corporate-speak executives use to explain the “downsizing” and to insist better, more profitable days lie in the future.

Consider remarks in a memo to staff from Time Inc.’s chief executive officer, Rich Battista:

[O]ne of the key components of our go-forward strategy is reengineering our cost structure to become more efficient and to reinvest resources in our growth areas as we position the company for long-term success. Today we took a difficult but necessary step in that plan as approximately 300 of our colleagues throughout Time Inc.’s global operation will be leaving the company. …

Time Inc. is a company in rapid transformation in an industry undergoing dynamic change. Transformations do take time and patience, but I am encouraged by the demonstrable progress we are making as we implement our strategy in key growth areas, such as video, native advertising and brand extensions, and as we see positive signs of stabilizing our print business, which remains an important part of our company. [emphasis added]

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Democrats need a lesson in humility. Consider what Mike Dukakis learned.

Donald won. Hillary lost. Now the Democrats face what The New York Times called “a widening breach in their party.”

Fashion Consistent CandidatesPerched ever farther on the left is Bernie Sanders, perhaps still smarting from being stiffed by the Democratic National Committee while leading revival-style rallies of millennials and urging stiff resistance to the Donald agenda — and to the DNC’s approach to political reclamation. Then there’s the DNC and the party’s elected leaders demanding a more conservative, data-driven approach to finding votes where Hillary didn’t get them.

Oh, well. Good luck with that, Dems. Neither approach is destined for electoral redemption. Professional Democrats have tended toward elitism when selecting and supporting candidates. The national party assumed (as did virtually all media and pollsters) Hillary had an easy road covered with rose petals to the White House. The 2016 version of the Democratic Party continued its longstanding march away from those who had always supported it. The party’s elites oozed a “father knows best” attitude. Cockiness ruled after Donald became the GOP standard bearer.

Perhaps the Democratic Party, and especially the DNC, ought to consider … humility. Consider the example of Michael Dukakis as a Democratic candidate. No, not presidential candidate Dukakis of tank-driving infamy. Look at gubernatorial candidate Dukakis.

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Dear Prudence: John’s beautiful dreamer…

The song represents an aspect of Beatle songwriting that emerged on the White Album: the album is filled with songs that offer carefully observed portraits of characters real and imagined along with relevant social commentary…

“Dear Prudence is me. Written in India. A song about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in….  That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first. What I didn’t know was I was already cosmic.” – John Lennon

Prudence Farrow (far left, dark hair) with the Beatles and Maharishi in India (image courtesy Rolling Stone)

The Beatles famously went to India in February of 1968 to study transcendental meditation. While they didn’t necessarily reach nirvanic enlightenment (hence John’s bit of waggery in the above comment), they wrote many of the songs that appeared in November 1968 on the epic double album The Beatles known as “the White Album”). Among these is “Dear Prudence,” John’s tune about his, George’s, and Paul’s attempts to coax Prudence Farrow, Mia’s sister, from her hut where she had become “addicted to meditation.”

The song is notable for a couple of reasons. One is that John learned a finger picking style from Donovan who was also on the retreat and “Dear Prudence” is the first song where one hears John’s newly developed skill. The second reason is that the song represents an aspect of Beatle songwriting that emerged on the White Album: the album is filled with songs that offer carefully observed portraits of characters real and imagined along with relevant social commentary such as “Back in the USSR,” “Bungalow Bill,” “Martha, My Dear,” “Julia,” Piggies,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Honey Pie,” and “Cry, Baby, Cry,”

“Dear Prudence” is perhaps the loveliest and kindest of these portraits. Continue reading

Random thoughts about the record album – part 5: they want their MTV

Video killed more than just the radio star.

“It made the record industry a one-trick pony. It became only about a three-minute single and a visual image, and if you didn’t have the three minutes you were over. The corner was turned at that point, I think, away from believing in the power of the music, and [to] believing in the power of the market. Once that corner was turned, we started on the path that has led us to this moment here, where kids are treating music as disposable.” – Michael Guido, entertainment lawyer“I think that there’s always been two different kinds – at least two different kinds of music fans. There are people that just are into songs, and there are people that are into artists.” – Danny Goldberg, record executive

The Buggles:

The Buggles: “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first video aired on MTV

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3, part 4)

During the era of the record album’s dominance, from 1967-1981, audiences listened to music. For young listeners it was more often a solitary rather than social experience, often taking place in a teenager’s room, sometimes made even more solitary by the use of headphones. It was easy to lose oneself in the experience of interrelated songs telling a story, as the concept album sought to present, or share in the intimate experience of the singer/songwriter’s soul baring compositions. If a fan went to college, the experience might become more social, though still in a fairly intimate way, sharing favorite albums with a roommate or a couple of suite mates, sometimes the experience enhanced by a few beers or a joint. And such listening became part of the mating rituals of countless romantic relationships formed during one’s college years.

If a music fan watched television during this period at all, it was perhaps a concert show like ABC’s excellent, short-lived In Concert or NBC’s long-lived, less excellent faux concert show Midnight Special. One listened to music; one watched TV.

That changed August 1, 1981. Continue reading

How do we earn loyalty? Or lose it?

Should I remain loyal to the men and women in the three branches of that government who have shown more loyalty to self and self-service than to the electorate?

Trump meets Comey at an Oval Office reception (Image Credit: Andrew Harrer / POOL / EPA)

The ousted director of the FBI sat in front of a Senate committee and told the panelists the president of the United States had demanded the director’s loyalty.

Meanwhile, Joseph Kennedy III, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, spoke about loyalty for two minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives. Kennedy pondered President Donald’s loyalty to the nation’s citizenry, asking whether the president “put his own personal and political interests above the interests of the American people.”

“Americans,” Kennedy said, “should never have to doubt the loyalty of our commander-in-chief.”

Given that loyalty has again entered the national conversation, I’d like to remind S&R readers of one man’s perspective about assigning — and retracting — loyalty. Here’s the post from February 2014: “A contrarian’s disheartened view of loyalty.”

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ArtSunday: LIterature

A few words about The Sorrows of Young Werther

What is most fascinating about The Sorrows of Young Werther is how much its love triangle structure permeates our culture in one form or another.

Ich habe das Herz gefühlt, die große Seele, in deren Gegenwart ich mir schien mehr zu sein, als ich war, weil ich alles war, was ich sein konnte. (I have possessed that heart, that noble soul, in whose presence I seemed to be more than I really was, because I was all that I could be.) – Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther (image courtesy Goodreads)

I ran across an article the other day (link popped up in the old social media feed) that suggested that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des Jungen Werther, known most commonly in English as The Sorrows of Young Werther, was a contender for the title “deadliest book in history.” While that assertion is rather preposterous on the face of it, and while as I write this I can think of example after example of books that have been deadlier (Mein Kampf, Mao’s Little Red Book for starters), if I grant that perhaps by book the author, Sean Braswell, means novel, then, that would be… different? Maybe. I can also readily think of novels that have been or are being deadlier (The Turner Diaries or anything by Ayn Rand, for example).

So initially I found myself agreeing with a number of commenters and dismissing the article’s author as being provocative for the sake of grabbing eyeballs. It’s a useful article, though, because it gets Goethe’s breakthrough work into the public consciousness, and that’s a good thing.

And there is something about Werther that makes it a book we should be thinking about. Continue reading

Eleanor Rigby: the real and the imagined…

It would be enlightening to hear McCartney explain how he came to create such an effecting portrait of loneliness and existential pain.

“I thought, I swear, that I made up the name Eleanor Rigby like that. I remember quite distinctly having the name Eleanor, looking around for a believable surname and then wandering around the docklands in Bristol and seeing the shop there. But it seems that up in Woolton Cemetery, where I used to hang out a lot with John, there’s a gravestone to an Eleanor Rigby. Apparently, a few yards to the right there’s someone called McKenzie.” – Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney – pondering the existential dilemma, perhaps (image courtesy The Internet Beatles Album)

Any artist who has ever tried to explain the genesis of a work has had the experience. When the work is a significant one, such as Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby,” interest in the genesis of such a work is high; fans, critics, and music historians all have keen interest in understanding the how and why of such a song.

A song that explores the existential pain of loneliness, “Eleanor Rigby” is the tale of Eleanor and Father McKenzie, the priest in the church where Eleanor “picks up the rice…where a wedding has been….” Eleanor deals with her painful loneliness, McCartney tells us, by living “in a dream.” Father McKenzie, the person that conventional expectation would assume could serve as a comforter for Eleanor, is as lonely and isolated as she is, writing sermons “that no one will hear” and “darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there.”

Father McKenzie trying to help Eleanor Rigby is a case of a lonely soul unable to help another lonely soul. Continue reading

Some wasted words about Gregg Allman

By blending rock and roll, soul, country, blues, and jazz, the Allmans created a brand of music that nearly 50 years later sounds as fresh and original as it did when it first appeared.

“I ain’t no saint, and you sure as hell ain’t no savior… Don’t ask me to be Mr. Clean, cause Baby I don’t know how….” – Gregg Allman, “Wasted Words”

The original Allman Brothers Band, Gregg on the left in the middle row (image courtesy Fanart.tv)

Gregg Allman’s death Saturday of liver cancer brought to a close the colorful, tragic story of the group more responsible than any other for creating the genre known as Southern Rock.

Duane Allman brought jazz and rock and roll to the table (and his work with R&B and soul artists led to his bringing drummer Jaimoe Johnson to the band who added jazz style drumming). Drummer Butch Trucks and guitarist Dickey Betts came to the band from more conventional rock bands, though they brought with them a bassist, Berry Oakley, who quickly grasped Duane Allman’s vision of a band playing soul/R&B inflected blues rock with twinges of country and extended improvisations in jazz style.

But they needed a singer. Gregg Allman, who’d steeped himself in soul and R&B as well as rock and blues, provided that. He also became the band’s main songwriter.  Continue reading

Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long…a myth maker’s myth…

Richard Fariña was the Baby Boom generation’s chief myth maker.

“The conscience of my elusive race gives not a fig for me, baby. But I endure, if you know what I mean.” – Richard Fariña

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me – author Richard Farina pictured (image courtesy Goodreads)

After reading David Hajdu’s excellent Positively 4th Street which chronicles the early careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Richard and Mimi (Baez) Fariña, I decided to re-read Fariña’s first (and only) novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. I hadn’t read (or thought much about) this book since I read in during my undergraduate days in the early 1970’s. My memory of that reading is a little hazy (the early 70’s, after all, were an extension of the 60’s with all the attendant excesses), but I remember being impressed with Fariña’s novel. It seemed to me to capture – well, anticipate, I guess would be a more accurate term for what I felt then and think now – the zeitgeist of that time.

There are other works that spoke to that zeitgeist, of course: Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America; Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five; Carlos Castenada’s The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge; Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf; Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test; Fariña’s college roommate Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49  – all of these are works that  many Boomers remember as the stuff of conversations around the beer keg – or bong. But of all these counter culture touchstones of reading, Been Down So Long… holds a special place because it is a near perfect depiction of the ambivalence that plagues Boomers.  Continue reading

A tale of newspapers’ financial collapse in three charts …

CATEGORY: JournalismThree charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two covering about 15 years, bluntly demonstrate the swift collapse of the centuries-old newspaper industry business model. They also herald the rise of an information-disbursing replacement — the internet.

A 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors shows newsroom (not overall) employment in the nation’s 1,400 daily newspapers at just under 33,000 people. That’s down from a high of 56,000 newsroom employees in the early ’90s. Of course, those paying attention to newsroom cuts over the past two years have seen what newspaper managements, particularly at Gannett, have done to its remaining workforce. I estimate the daily newsroom workforce to be down to nearly 31,000.

The BLS data covers all employment in the newspaper industry, not just reporters and editors, and not just from dailies. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook lists more than 6,500 community weeklies, defined as any newspaper publishing at least once a week but no more than three times a week.

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Strawberry Fields Forever… and ever… amen

“No one I think is in my tree…” John Lennon

“Strawberry Fields” shouldn’t work – but it does. Brilliantly. The intriguing question is – why?

John Lennon (image courtesy 100.7 KOOL FM)

Adulthood is all mixed up, as almost everyone reading this knows. Not that childhood isn’t all mixed up, too, but in childhood we find coping mechanisms. It can be as simple as finding one’s happy place and going there.

John knew this. He also knew how important that finding coping mechanisms is for us.

“Strawberry Fields Forever,” arguably his finest song as a Beatle, is about remembering. Remembering had become a favorite lyrical theme for John (“In My Life,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl”). An equally important theme, and one that John sometimes explored in tandem with the remembering theme, is differentness, especially differentness in how one looks at the world (“Rain,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said She Said”).

It is that combination of those themes – remembering and differentness – that makes “Strawberry Fields Forever” the masterpiece it is.  Continue reading

Ethics rules matter little to an authoritarian White House …

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernmentA code of ethics defines behaviors. Many professions have such codes. For physicians, for example, the code of medical ethics of the American Medical Association prescribes how they should interact with patients. For many, if not most, journalists, the code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists dictates acceptable practices.

The executive branch of the American government also has a code of ethics and an office to oversee it. The United States Office of Government Ethics, whose tagline is “Preventing Conflict of Interest in the Executive Branch,” issues regulations titled “Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.”

The OGE rules say any political appointee must sign an ethics pledge regarding conflict of interest. Continue reading

Chris Cornell

A musician’s passing, and the passing of time …

by Amber Healy

Even the music that has comforted me, inspired me, brought sanity to a broken world time after time, kept me company, kicked my ass into gear, healed other wounds … even that is of little help now.

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell

May 15, 2002, the day after graduating from college, the Dave Matthews Band cover of “In My Life” made me cry so hard I had to pull over on the side of the highway because I couldn’t see the rainy road through the sobs.

May 18, 2017, driving into work on an overcast Thursday morning, the tears came again, probably the second wave of the 90 minutes I’d been awake. One of the guiding voices of my life was gone, unexpectedly and without any kind of reason that made sense, and there was nothing to do but go to work and try to stay distracted for nine hours.

In the intervening 15 years, there were cross-country moves, more than a dozen jobs, two seriously broken hearts, the deaths of my beloved mentor and grandparents, the births of my seven (soon to be eight) nieces and nephews. Through it all, the music was there to keep me tethered.

2017 is becoming a complicated, delicate year.

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John Oliver’s beatdown of DaVita reminds us: Richard Nixon was an American liberal icon

Noam Chomsky, of all people, has called Tricky Dick “America’s last liberal president.” Sadly, he couldn’t have been more right.

Way back in 2008 I said this:

If he were a candidate in the 2008 presidential election, Richard M. Nixon would be more progressive than either the Republican or Democratic nominees.

What a ludicrous thing to say, right? I mean, Nixon was as twisted and corrupt as any president in US history. Hunter Thompson said “Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning.” He got caught with said pants down in l’affaire Watergate and had to resign. He’s the reason anything remotely scandalous has to have a name ending in “-gate.”

Worst. President. Ever. A fixer of the first order. All of which attached, by association, to the Republican Party, making his name synonymous with the rank evil of the American conservative polity.

That he was congenitally shady is unarguable, but the conservative part probably isn’t fair at all. Continue reading

Random thoughts about the record album – part 4: singers and songwriters, concepts and collections

The album was king, thanks to male singer-songwriters (Crosby, Stills, Nash, James Taylor), female singer-songwriters (King, Simon, Mitchell) and bands like Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon) andThe Eagles (Hotel California).

“You take the risk of being rejected. If you have pretensions to be an artist of any kind, you have to take the risk of people rejecting you and thinking you’re an arsehole.” – Roger Waters

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3)

Pink Floyd suggested that Newton’s theory of light composition has validity (image courtesy Wikimedia)

After the artistic (and influence) success of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the stupendous artistic and commercial success of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, the appetite of record buying audiences for “full length works” was well whetted. Musical artists of the next decade or so found themselves faced, however, with a choice. Did they, as many bands did, follow the “concept” approach introduced to rock audiences by Brian Wilson? Was there another path?

Under normal circumstances that “other path” might have been to follow the example of Bob Dylan, choosing to record albums of original songs without any overt conceptual framework. Certainly Dylan was pointing out that “other way” with his albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.

Dylan had retreated from the world after his motorcycle accident in mid 1966, but his work still cast a long shadow. Continue reading

Journalism’s new (not really) vehicle for delivering news — email newsletters

CATEGORY: JournalismI don’t read The Washington Post any more. I don’t see a hard copy. I don’t go prowling around its website.

Instead, I read four of its newsletters delivered by email every day. In fact, WashPo offers 68 newsletters culled from the work of its journalists and pundits. So it’s easy to select the kind of news anyone might want (rather than have an algorithm do it).

These newsletters are well-crafted and not necessarily hastily churned-out hodgepodges of factoids. For example, the Daily 202 (all about news from the American capital), begins like this today:

10 important questions raised by Sally Yates’s testimony on the ‘compromised’ Michael Flynn

Sally Yates’s Senate testimony in three minutes

THE BIG IDEA: Sally Yates’s riveting testimony Monday raised far more questions than it answered. Most of all, it cast fresh doubts on Donald Trump’s judgment. [boldface in original]

Each Daily 202 from WashPo is designed to be quickly read. Each item is one or two paragraphs and contains a link or two for further consumption.

WashPo’s not alone in the newsletter game. Continue reading

“We Can Work It Out”: that wonderful harmonium

Not enough songs make use of the harmonium.

“In ‘We Can Work It Out,’ Paul did the first half, I did the middle eight. But you’ve got Paul writing, ‘We can work it out, we can work it out’ – real optimistic, y’know, and me impatient: ‘Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.'” – John Lennon

I have reached a conclusion. Not enough songs make use of the harmonium.  Some may find this conclusion baseless. They would be mistaken.

Take, for example, “We Can Work It Out.” One side of the Beatles’ first “Double A side” single (b/w “Day Tripper”), it’s always been one of my favorite Beatles’ songs, partly because of that harmonium John added to the track. One of them (John or Paul) spotted a harmonium in a corner of one of the studios at Abbey Road and John suggested that they add it to “We Can Work It Out.”

The result is a song with a feel that reminds one of a French cafe. A suggestion from George, the time change from 4/4 to 3/4 time adds a lilting quality. Combined with the harmonium sounding much like an accordion – in a French cafe – the effect suggests a chanteur working – it’s Paul channeling his inner Jacques Brel and John enabling him with that damned wonderful harmonium sound.  Continue reading

Chronicles Part 1: Bob Dylan being Bob Dylan

Dylan gonna be Dylan. But in his memoir he reminds us why he’s Dylan.

“I’d come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.” – Bob Dylan

Early Bob Dylan (image courtesy CBS News)

Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles: Part 1 is a book I came to with a good bit of skepticism. One reason for my skepticism that comes from having read Dylan’s novel Tarantula, a book I found self-indulgent and (perhaps) purposely off-putting.

Another reason for skepticism comes from having read David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street, a well researched book whose view of Dylan is less than sanguine, portraying Dylan as opportunistic, self-centered, and callous.

My last reason for skepticism comes from having seen a number of interviews with Dylan where he is evasive, defensive, and at times downright hostile to reporters and interviewers asking him questions about his life and work.  Continue reading