Wednesday, April 25, 2018

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

So Douglas Adams and A Perfect Circle join hands in this little beauty from A Perfect Circle's album Eat The Elephant. "So long, and thanks for all the fish" was the last thing the dolphins said when they left earth just before it was demolished - and the title of the fourth book in the five-book trilogy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If you haven't read it yet, you should. (And yes, I know there is a sixth volume, but since it wasn't written by Douglas Adams, I refuse to formally acknowledge its existence.

But A Perfect Circle. I didn't really click with their music until they released Emotive in 2004. I had their first two albums, Mer de Noms (2000) and Thirteenth Step (2003) as well, and I liked them, but I was more into them because Maynard James Keenan of Tool was the singer. Then Emotive was released, consisting mainly of political cover versions, and their sound was dark on otherwise brighter songs, such as Imagine and (What's So Funny) 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding. The way they transformed songs to their own universe really spoke to me. Then it got quiet. For 14 years. Until Eat The Elephant dropped last Friday. And man, is it good. I am completely smitten with this album - and So Long and Thanks for All the Fish is one of the reasons why.


Friday, March 02, 2018

The Ghost Of Tom Joad

This is a treat. I used to be a peripheral fan of Bruce Springsteen. I had the live box on vinyl thanks to a friend who was a huge fan, but not necessarily of the box - and for the longest time I was convinced that was the only thing you really needed of him. But I have gradually built my collection - and my conviction that I needed more came with the album The Ghost of Tom Joad from 1995. It was a great collection of folk song, and to me it was more than just a return to form, as I really saw it as a great artistic statement.

The title track was an early favorite of mine, and it was later covered by Rage Against The Machine - but not in a way that I really cared all that much for. However, in 2009, during the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts, Springsteen included the guitarist of RATM, Tom Morello, who also has done a lot of folk music under the moniker The Nightwatchman, and while the original had been interesting, Morello's lead guitar work takes the song to new heights for me. Shivers and goosebumps all over - here is The Ghost of Tom Joad.


Thursday, March 01, 2018

Autobahn

Today I will let the music do most of the talking. This song was recorded in 1974 (!), and yes, it is a long one, but it is well worth listening to. It is easy to hear the cars passing by, and with musical elements switching between harmony and some disharmony, it is always interesting. Although Kraftwerk had released three albums already (Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk II, and Ralf und Florian), Autobahn was where they really started coming into their own - and creating something uniquely new. Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, who had been working with the band in the early 70s had left to form Neu!, and while there were other collaborators on the album Autobahn, the title track only featured the two core members in Kraftwerk: Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider (only Hütter still remains after Schneider left in 2008). It is a 22 minute long track that really takes you along the German expressways (autobahns) - and I can't believe that it is 44 years old. This was in the infancy of synthesizers, but what they were able to do simply blows me away!


Monday, February 26, 2018

Imagine

I want to talk about guns today. There. I've said it. And it's long and rambling.

And let me be upfront about something first: I don't like guns. I get nervous around guns. I'll readily admit that the few guns I have shot at targets have been fun, but I don't trust other people with them, and I stay away from them. That does not mean that I am against people being able to own guns - although that is often a conclusion people draw. I would also like to point out that I grew up in Norway, where police did not wear guns when they were out patrolling, so I am even more nervous around guns in public - even if they are worn by police.

However, I am losing faith in humanity these days. And yes, it is largely because of what people post on social media - but also about what is being said at events like CPAC. While social media often functions as an echo chamber, it is also bringing to light some of what people really think, and with the PINO (President In Name Only) confusing political correctness and human decency, more and more people on the right are also finally saying what they really are thinking, and man, is that ugly.

I know that introduction flies directly in the face of David Brooks, who often is displayed as the "voice of reason" of conservatives, yet claims that we should let the conservative gun owners take a lead in this momentum for change. Guess what. That is the group that has been in charge. That is the group that has led us to where we are today. And where are we? Well... Funny you should ask:
  • We are at a place where people argue against gun control by stating that it is statistically speaking less likely to be killed in a school shooting than it is to be struck by lightning. 
  • We are at a place where people question whether high school students who were fired upon really are advocating for gun control because they mean it or because they are paid by democrats. 
  • We are at a place where conspiracy theorists are so stupid that they believe that school shootings are orchestrated by anti-gun activists who want to take our guns away (here's a hint: if there indeed is a conspiracy behind school shootings, follow the money. There isn't money in banning guns, but there is money in selling them - and gun sales always spike following a school shooting. NO, that does not mean that I am advocating conspiracy theories, I am just pointing out how incredibly stupid you would have to be if you believe that school shootings are orchestrated by gun control activist - just see how well school shootings have worked for gun control laws...). 
  • We are at a place where gun activists will advocate for guns as tools, which really is a great argument - until you start including assault style rifles in that list. 
  • We are at a place where people will argue that criminals and mentally ill should not have guns, yet people on the terrorism no-fly list should. 
  • We are at a place where people are suggesting we should arm teachers, yet people who are trained to respond in situations like this were armed and on scene and did nothing. 
The list goes on... But to the last point. I am actually not going to use this to attack the deputies that were there - I think I want to make a point about being human instead. People talk about the people who perform heroic acts, such as the football coach who shielded students with his body and look at them and say the people that were outside should have done more. And while I don't disagree, just think about one thing for a second. There is a difference between being in a war zone and actively and consciously entering a war zone. The risk of being shot increases dramatically in moving from a safe environment to one where you are actively going to be shot at - being able to be heroic comes with a much lesser increase of risk if someone is already in the same room as you firing away. I am not trying to take anything away from the heroes of the day - they have my respect and I hope I will have the same level of courage should I find myself in the same situation - but I am saying that you can have all the training in the world, but when the shit actually hits the fan, there is no guarantee that you will be able to react the way your training dictates. And that is why arming teachers is not an idea that makes sense to me. Teachers need to be trained to teach - that is what we are paying them for (and, of course, paying them less and less for, while increasing responsibilities - now also including the potential responsibility for stopping active shooters on campus). Someone much smarter than me pointed out that we are quicker to advocate arming teachers with guns than we are arming them with all the classroom supplies they need to effectively do their main jobs.

Let's talk about assault style rifles as tools for a minute. What exactly are they tools of? Seems to me they are tools of war. And I don't think civilians need tools for war. Why do I draw this conclusion? After all, I don't know much about guns, but I have started to figure out a few things about them. One thing I figured out from reading this op-ed by Heather Sher, a radiologist who treated the wounded after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is just how the high velocity bullets shred everything in their way. It is all about killing as efficiently as possible - and making sure that you don't need to be a good shot to kill either.

One of the arguments I hear frequently is that it is hard to define what is an assault style rifle. Great argument, right? Yet it didn't stop us from having an operational ban on them from 1994-2004. Did this ban have an effect? The truth is, we don't know. Congress enacted the Dickey amendment in 1996, which stated that, "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control." Of course, this law didn't start in a vacuum - only a couple of years earlier, CDC had funded research that showed there could be a link between guns in the home and homicide rates, which the NRA clearly didn't like much. So while it may be hard to define what is an assault style rifle, it is not impossible to do so. If we only should do what is easy, we wouldn't even have fire yet.

And let's talk about mental health for a minute. Our PINO has declared that anyone who perpetrates a mass school shooting is a "sicko" - at least that's the implication of his tweets. Yet fewer than 1% of firearm homicides are committed by people with a diagnosed mental illness. The chapter Mass Shootings and Mental Illness from the book Gun Violence and Mental Illness discusses this a little bit more - but the New York Times had an op-ed about how the mental health system cannot deal with this that clearly explained how the system actually works. It is often easy to look back at a person and see the signs that an atrocity was waiting to happen, but it isn't always easy to spot the signs ahead of time. That being said, in the latest shooting, there were multiple reports indicating the risk for this to happen, both to the Broward County Sheriff's Office and to the FBI - but that is an exception rather than the norm.

And then there is this idea that we should keep guns away from criminals. Except we don't. Not if you purchase the gun online or at a gun show. And then you have the fact that you are not a criminal until you commit your first crime. So if you plan shooting up a school as your first act of crime, you can legally purchase the firearms to do so.

Now contrast the approach towards mental health and criminals with the approach towards suspected terrorists. Suspected terrorists can legally buy as many guns as they want thanks to congress, who did not support Dianne Feinstein's proposed ban of gun sales to people on the no fly lists. In other words, they are considered to dangerous to be passengers on a plane, but let's give them a gun - because that makes so much sense.

Let's talk about suspicious behavior for a minute. The problem I think we can get into with reporting people we regard as suspicious is that we often consider behaviors and/or thoughts we don't understand as threatening, suspicious, or even dangerous. It will push the outsiders even further outside, and disenfranchise nonconformists even more than what is already happening. This does not mean that I don't think that we shouldn't notify authorities of suspicious activity, but I think we also need to know our biases before we do so. And teenage me would probably be flagged because of my constantly dark writings. I wrote short stories in my Norwegian and English classes every chance I could get, and they were frequently well outside of the mainstream.

So let's talk about gun control. I do not believe that our current system works. It's virtually unfettered access for just about anyone to buy just about any gun short of a fully automated weapon. And these weapons are misused. Abused. Some people talk about responsible gun owners, yet not many seem to want any kind of checks and balances on this responsibility. Imagine if we took that approach to cars. Would people abuse or ignore speed limits if police didn't actively monitor them? Absolutely. Relax, I can hear you. You are loudly saying that's not the same, our gun rights are constitutional. Well, rights come - or should come, at least - with responsibilities. There are countries that require training prior to gun ownership, and they require inspections of the weapons and their storage - inspections that are done by the police. That makes sense to me. But yes, I still hear you. The protection from tyranny. Sure. When can you invoke that right, though? At what point is a citizen uprising warranted? I don't believe it would be. I believe in the social contract, no matter how painful it can be at times. And right now it is really difficult to hold on to that belief, but I still am. 

Where was I? Oh yes, gun control. So... What I believe we need is the following:

  • A complete ban of assault style weapons. I will leave the definition to experts, but I would look at things like rate of fire, velocity, and initial purpose (I know people use an AR-15 for hunting, for instance, but I very much doubt that was the initial purpose of the weapon). I do trust in the process and we did have an operational assault weapons ban for 10 years, so I know it can be done. I know this won't stop these weapons from being used, but let's at least make it harder to get a hold of them. We know the other way doesn't work, so this can't hurt to try.
  • Checks on responsible gun ownership.
  • All guns need to be stored in a locked gun cabinet. If the owner is home, one gun can be on the owner's person or in the owner's immediate vicinity.
  • A registry for gun owners. Every gun needs to be registered. And if you own a gun that is used in committing a crime, you area partially responsible.
  • Weapons training and licensing for all gun owners.
  • A complete repeal of the Dickey amendment. The idea that the CDC shouldn't lobby for gun control laws even if significant public health benefits are shown to come from it is about as ridiculous as slapping a ban on CDC from being able to lobby for vaccination laws.
  • Significant funding of gun violence research. We need science and we need it now.

Now, if we can't get a ban on assault style weapons, I want to be able to go to WalMart and buy my own nuclear weapon. If we are not going to draw the line on weapons designed to hurt human beings to the maximum degree possible, I want the right to bear arms extend beyond firearms. And no, I won't buy one, nor am I serious about this, I am just making a point.

So, on that note, I want to play a song. This version of Imagine was recorded during the reign of GWB. It is dark and depressing in tone, but it still shows hope in the same lyrics as John Lennon wrote. The band is A Perfect Circle, and the singer is Maynard James Keenan of Tool fame. It is a great band - and their 2004 album eMOTIVe has a great selection of thought provoking cover versions. A new album is expected in April, so that's always something to look forward to...


Monday, February 19, 2018

Eat That Question

This Zappa instrumental has one major strength going for it: George Duke. His keyboards are spectacularly groovy, and the song fits his playing style perfectly. The Grand Wazoo was released in 1972, and the song Eat That Question featured Ansley Dunbar on drums and Alex Dmochowski on bass as well as George Duke. Dunbar has played with David Bowie as well as playing drums on Berlin, my favorite Lou Reed album. But today we are listening to Frank Zappa and Eat That Question.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Black Napkins

Zoot Allures was a fantastic Zappa album. It features two instrumentals - yesterday's Zoot Allures and today's Black Napkins, and they are both great - they are by far my favorite Zappa instrumentals along with Peaches En Regalia and tomorrow's song. Sometimes guitar solos get boring - even Zappa's solos, but this one hits me hard every time I hear it. Still featuring Terry Bozzio on drums, this song also features Napoleon Murphy Brook on vocals, Roy Estrada on bass and vocals, and Andrè Lewis on organ. I still consider this an instrumental, as the vocals are only ooohs. This one is more laid back and straightforward than yesterday's title track - I hope you like it!


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Zoot Allures

It's time to curse in French today. Zoot Allures is the name of a Frank Zappa album from 1976 - and it was the first Frank Zappa album I heard. Today's song is an instrumental - the title track - and it features Frank Zappa on lead guitar, the mighty Terry Bozzio on drums, the wonderful Ruth Underwood on marimba, Dave Parlato, who only played with Zappa for a limited time, on bass, and whenever you hear a harp, it is played by Lu Ann Neil.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Moonlight Shadow

The song today was a huge hit in Europe in 1983. It reached the top of the Norwegian charts, and it is one of my favorite songs from 35 years ago. Mike Oldfield wasn't known to me before this song, and for a while it was the only song I knew of his. That is until my friend Geir let me borrow the album The Complete Mike Oldfield, which was (and still is) one of the most excellent compilation albums I have ever heard, mainly because of the thematic division. On a double vinyl, each section got one side - so you had the instrumental, vocal, complex, and live sections. The complex section was a stroke of genius, as he had a tendency of having at least one major work spanning at least one whole side of the album for his early records, and by finding representative excerpts from them, they were not excluded from consideration based on length alone.

Then I started spending a lot of time with Vegard, another dear friend of mine, and he was a huge fan of Mike Oldfield - and I got even more exposed to his music. And lately, Mike Oldfield has provided a lot of music to play while I work - and while instrumental songs work, today's song, Moonlight Shadow, really gets me going. The singer is Maggie Reilly, and her voice is very distinctive and appears frequently on Mike Oldfield's albums. However, what really gets to me here is the guitar solo. He is a great guitarist - and it isn't necessarily the technical aspects that get me as much as it is the texture he creates in the way he plays around the melody. And then there is his tone. He has a unique guitar tone that just hits me really hard. I can loop this song for a day and not grow tired of it - that is how good I believe it is.




Thursday, February 15, 2018

Skägget (The Beard)

So the opening line says it all... "I would like to kiss you but there's something in the way" - and that's what she said... It's a fun song about the trials and tribulations of having a beard...The band is Den Fule (The Ugly One) from Sweden, and the song is Skägget. Of course, the main character lets the girl shave him, but the last laugh is on him, as she screamed when she saw what he looked like underneath the beard. Den Fule existed through the 90s, and I found this song on the magnificent compilation Bergtagen, which has a lot of great songs by bands in the crossroads between folk/traditional music and rock/metal.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Into My Arms (for Christine)

It's Valentine's Day, and I have my Valentine...  I love my Christine. This is our fifth Valentine's Day - and this summer we will have been together for five years. I love you, Chris!