Tuesday, October 29, 2013

30 Songs in 1 Day

I just learned of this challenge from seeing it on Michelle's blog.  Great timing, me.  The month is just about over.  Oh well, I thought I'd catch up with it in one mega-post.

The deal is to think of 30 songs that address a range of questions... most of which, I think, are meant to help uncover the real you.  Do they really?  Aw, who cares, I had fun doing it.  Apologies for taking a pass on some of the questions, and for not linking every song to a place where you can listen to it.  It may have been fun, but I didn't have a ton of time...

Day 01 – Your favorite song

This normally would have me scratching my head, what with all the decades and genres of good stuff out there.  But this was asked before, and I happily settled on Rush's Closer to the Heart.  (The link takes you to an extended concert version... the only way to fly.)

Day 02 – Your least favorite song

Yikes, that's difficult.  For years I hated the Beatles' Wild Honey Pie, because I thought it was John viciously mocking Paul's Honey Pie.  However, it really was Paul making goofy fun of himself!

Okay, I'm going to be controversial here:  I'm no longer a fan of Pink Floyd's Time, from Dark Side of the Moon.  I admit that it's a classic, quality piece of songwriting.  But the way I interpret the lyrics, there's a deep black core of nihilism at the center of this thing.  Every year older that I get, I want to fight against such pessimism more and more, and with everything I've got.

Day 03 – A song that makes you happy

Ah, good.  Something more uplifting.  Can anyone listen to Supertramp's Give A Little Bit and not have their mood instantly boosted into the stratosphere?

Day 04 – A song that makes you sad

Blegh.  There are too many of those.  The first thing that comes to mind is that the sax solo in Springsteen's Jungleland sounds so much sadder since we lost the Big Man.

Day 05 – A song that reminds you of someone

Billy Joel's The Longest Time.

Day 06 – A song that reminds you of somewhere

The Outfield's Your Love is psychically connected to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station in the spring of 1986.  So you get a "somewhere" and a "somewhen" all tangled up in a wibbly-wobbly ball.

Day 07 – A song that reminds you of a certain event

Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down serves a doubly sad duty.  Its original release in 1989 seemed timed to be the soundtrack of the Tienanmen Square student protest and crackdown.  Later, it gave voice to my feelings about another event.

Day 08 – A song that you know all the words to

Putting aside Rush (since so many of Neil Peart's lyrics have been weaved into my DNA), I'd like to say something morally uplifting like Queen's Under Pressure.  However, I think I'd score a B- to C+ if I was tested on it.  Groan, I've got to admit that one I'd probably do really well on is AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long.

Day 09 – A song that you can dance to

If anyone has footage of myself and friends in college dancing around to the Housemartins' weird anthem Me and the Farmer, I'll pay dearly for its destruction.

Day 10 – A song that makes you fall asleep

I'm not sure if it's ever actually caused me to lose consciousness, but I think the most soothing, calming song in all of existence is the Fleetwoods' Come Softly To Me.  (Thanks, Libby.)

Day 11 – A song from your favorite band

Haven't I talked enough about those three guys from Willowdale?

Day 12 – A song from a band you hate

Gosh, there may be plenty of songs that I just can't stand, but I can't think of a band or artist that I'd put into that category.  Even the ones I think are politically stupid are just doing what they think is right.

Day 13 – A song that is a guilty pleasure

I have no idea why, but... Kid Rock's Wasting Time.

Day 14 – A song that no one would expect you to love

See above?  :-)  

Day 15 – A song that describes you

I've been answering these out of order, so #24 below covers my first choice(s).

Day 16 – A song that you used to love but now hate

Back to Rush (sort of), so we're not really talking hatred, here.  But I often get annoyed with radio program directors, whose knowledge of this band seems to begin and end with the same song: their biggest hit, Tom Sawyer.  Whenever I hear it on the radio these days I end up switching stations.

HOWEVER, a few years ago, I heard a remix of it (from the soundtrack a movie called "Small Soldiers") that blew me away and breathed new life into this song for me.  So I went from love to hate, then back around to love again.  :-)

Day 17 – A song that you hear often on the radio

I came up with a short list of overplayed finalists yesterday, and I decided to let fate decide the winner.  The next one I heard on the radio would be the one.  The very next time I got in the car, to pick up my son from karate, I heard one of them right away:  Jimi Hendrix's version of All Along the Watchtower.

But guess what?  Not so overplayed, because I listened through the whole thing.  Still a damn good song.

Day 18 – A song that you wish you heard on the radio

No one ever seems to play ELO's Hold On Tight (To Your Dreams) any more.

Day 19 – A song from your favorite album

V is for Vienna.

Day 20 – A song that you listen to when you’re angry

I guess I don't tend to plug in to music when I'm angry.  But if you want to channel your anger into personal power, you can't go wrong with Pink's So What.

Day 21 – A song that you listen to when you’re happy

Again, I don't think I run for the MP3 player when I'm feeling a strong emotion.  In the past, though, I was known to cycle through Van Morrison's Jackie Wilson Said, over and over, when feeling in an exuberant mood.

Day 22 – A song that you listen to when you’re sad

If I see myself start to wallow, I do my darndest to snap out of it.  Exercise, fueled by up-tempo stuff on my MP3 player, can sometimes do the trick.  No one specific song, though.

Day 23 – A song that you want to play at your wedding

We didn't do the big catered shin-dig... no band or DJ.  Just the ceremony on a Saturday (with 6 or 7 people in attendance), then the party the next day -- a backyard gathering of about 30 to 40 people -- with somebody's boombox playing in the background.  I guess I wish we'd squeezed in Bill Withers' Lean on Me at some point, but the occasion was pretty much perfect none the less.

Day 24 – A song that you want to play at your funeral

There are two that I can't decide between.  Both are by the same artist, and they share a word in their titles.  John Gorka wrote a song called "Good" in 1991, and then a song called "Good Noise" in 1994.  They're very different songs, but I'd like to think their intersection defines the person that I'd like to be remembered as being.  (Hm... Youtube doesn't seem to have "Good."  I may have to post some lyrics.)

Day 25 – A song that makes you laugh

Do parodies count?  (best line: coffee table)

Day 26 – A song that you can play on an instrument

Nope... I don't think I could even do Chopsticks correctly at this point.  :-)

Day 27 – A song that you wish you could play

Journey's Don't Stop Believin.  (Piano intro only)  :-)

Day 28 – A song that makes you feel guilty

The Eagles' Hotel California.  Ain't ever telling the story behind thaaaaat.

Day 29 – A song from your childhood

10cc's The Things We Do For Love was freakin' everywhere.

Day 30 – Your favorite song at this time last year

Ha!  I can actually check to see what I added to my electronic storehouse about one year ago, can't I?   The closest match in time is Prince's Kiss.  (Gotta love how he drops the falsetto at the end, right?)  If you limit it to new songs, then Muse's Madness.

Rock on!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: Lost Worlds of 2001

The back cover of my copy of Arthur C. Clarke's 1972 memoir The Lost Worlds of 2001 contains the following blurb:


Yes sir, this was the late sixties / early seventies, all right.

This book is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the famed 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.  A book like that, in itself, wouldn't be so unique, but I don't know if a book like this could be written about any other movie.  It contains some of Clarke's short stories that inspired the plot, entries from his writing journal, a bunch of unused chapters from his 1968 novel of the movie (with very different versions of events), and some interesting personal reminiscences about director Stanley Kubrick.

I hadn't appreciated the true nature of the multi-year back-and-forth creative process that went on between Clarke and Kubrick to make this combined... thing.  (Wikipedia calls it a "science fiction narrative" to convey the intertwined nature of the movie and novel.)  I had it in my mind that Clarke's novel was kind of written "on spec" and Kubrick was calling all the phantasmagorical shots.  In reality, it was a fascinating, tumultuous two-way collaboration.  Early on, they planned essentially for the movie to say "directed by Kubrick and Clarke" and the novel to say "written by Clarke and Kubrick."  (The lawyers didn't let them.)  The initial impetus, though, was Kubrick's.  According to Clarke,
"He [Kubrick] wanted to make a movie about Man's relation to the universe -- something which had never been attempted, still less achieved, in the history of motion pictures. Of course, there had been innumerable 'space' movies, most of them trash. Even the few that had been made with some skill and accuracy had been rather simpleminded, concerned more with the schoolboy excitement of space flight than its profound implications to society, philosophy, and religion."
My own history with 2001 is kind of strange... I read the novel, and did a middle school book report on it in 1978, prior to ever seeing the whole movie.  It was never about the phantasmagoria for me -- the novel explained many things that the movie left ambiguous and trippy.  Even the final "beyond the infinite" part was set in my mind as strange sci-fi, but still solidly in the realm of "this could someday happen."

That brings me to the unused chapters from Clarke's novel, which take up much of the real estate in Lost Worlds.  Like I said, the final version of the 1968 novel explained a lot more than the movie.  These "lost" chapters go even further to reveal much more about the plans and motivations of the aliens that make contact with early hominids, then wait patiently for us to catch up.  We often see events through their eyes.

I've got to say, though, that I was kind of surprised that the unused chapters felt so, well, 1950s-ish.  Is that a word?  Sci-fi readers will get my drift.  The aliens who sent the monolith were humanoid.  The astronauts were all standard issue scientist-heroes, smoking pipes and twirling ladies on the dance floor, prior to setting off in the Discovery.  HAL-9000 was a robot.  It was kind of amazing that Clarke, a leader in the sci-fi community, started out this project with such a hokey take on the material -- especially when so much New Wave experimentation was being done at the time by his colleagues.  It was even more amazing that such a counter-cultural masterpiece of a film eventually came out of it.  (Clarke kind of blamed a lot of the trippiness on the art department!)

Anyway, even though I'm glad that all the extra explanation and tired tropes were eventually pared away, it was fascinating to get such a complete and intimate peek at the origins of this classic story.

Oh, and that 1978 book report?  It was accompanied by a presentation at a school book fair.  Don't believe me, do you...?

Note, both in the poster behind me and on the table in front of me, that we "updated" the Pan Am space clipper from the movie to the real Space Shuttle that was just a couple of years away from its first launch.  No 60s nostalgia there!  :-)

- - - - - - -

Pleae go even further beyond the infinite to visit the other blogs participating in this month's Cephalopod Coffeehouse!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Meaning of Liff

I'm thoroughly enjoying the book that I'll be reviewing for Squid-man's Cephalopod Coffeehouse next week.  While reading, my eyes stopped on a short snippet that probably won't make it into my review, but I wanted to explore it a bit anyway.  While still keeping the identity of the book secret, I can share that isolated sentence:
"Only a space-faring culture could truly transcend its environment, and join others in giving a purpose to creation."
I'm sure I've talked about that first part before -- i.e., my hope that humanity will indeed follow this path and at least make the attempt to seed ourselves elsewhere.  It's the second part that struck me, though.  "Giving a purpose to creation."  It implies that there is no imposed, absolute purpose to creation, and we have to do that job ourselves.  Certainly not a new idea...

But it's still controversial.  On the surface, it seems to disagree with most established religions, which come packaged with tons of absolute purpose.  I really don't think there needs to be a contradiction, though.  With just a bit of leeway, the process of figuring out your purpose maps pretty cleanly onto the idea of "discovering God's plan for your life."  Much like the idea of natural rights in law, the details about who or where or whence it comes from don't seem so important in the end.  The key part is that your purpose isn't handed to you by other people.  It's your birthright to discover and follow, all by your lonesome.

On a whim, I wandered a bit through Wikipedia's article on The Meaning of Life and found several close parallels to the above ideas.  Like I said, not new.  :-)  That article didn't mention Crowley's Thelema, though, which apotheosizes the phrase "Do What Thou Wilt."  The twist is that you've got to think reeeally hard about what your true will is, and you'll eventually find that it's best when tempered with love.  It ends up being deeper and more subtle than something you can articulate into a few sentences, though trying to do that is helpful.  Sometimes, experience and hindsight helps you see it more clearly than anything else.

As I read over the above, it kind of sounds like I have it all figured out in my own case, doesn't it?  Nope!  :-)  But I do try to keep my compass needle pointed in the right direction with some prayer-like words.  A Thelemic colleague of mine came up with the following four aspirational phrases that occasionally pass through my brain...

Lead me to the Light of my true will.
Strengthen me to embrace every experience of Life.
Fulfill me in the rapture of thy Love.
Awaken me to the knowledge of Liberty.

I've got to say, though, that since I'm not sure to whom I'd be addressing these words, I don't use them all that frequently.  Something that feels more natural to me is the following, which I pieced together from several different ideas, starting with the Buddhist concept of dedication of merit:

May all be loved.
May all find liberty.
May all become co-creators of the cosmos.

That covers all the bases, doesn't it?  :-)

- - - - -

Postscript:  I wanted to squeeze in a reference to Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy somewhere, but didn't manage it.  Also, for completeness, the title refers to this and the image to this.

Post-postscript, 10/20:  As I reread my final prayer after thinking about Squid's recent post on the plight of the Palestinians, I'm thinking... #FirstWorldProblems.  Maybe there should be a line at the beginning that asks first that "May all be safe and sound."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Four Hands

March 18, 1986

There were four of us in that boat of a station wagon, screaming away from the light into the suburban black. The car could have held double that amount, but strangely, nobody else wanted to come. Driving was Niall (pronounced Neil) Farrelly, an upperclassman who was stuck rooming on a floor full of obnoxious college freshmen because he transferred to our school in the middle of the term.

Niall was one of the last people I thought would be interested in driving 100 miles out of town on a whim.  But hey, he was an engineering major, and he had been inundated with the same media hype we'd all been hearing for the past year.  Carl Sagan couldn't shut up about it, and there was that ominous looking book nearly everywhere you turned.

This was supposed to be one of the last weeks that you'd be able to see Halley's Comet, in the southeastern sky, as it screamed away from the light and back into its own corner of the suburban black.  From our campus, east was the shining Philly skyline, and south was puffing oil refineries.  It only seemed logical to do the road trip thing, and the Jersey shore seemed perfect.  We pointed to a little dot on the map called Cape May, right at the southern tip, knowing it to be far from the sparkly rides and well-lit boardwalks.

We left around 8:00 pm, with that utter disregard for a good night's sleep that can only be understood prior to the age of 25.  Poor Niall was stuck in a car with three of those obnoxious freshmen.

To his right was Fozz, a wide-grinning frat pledge and fellow engineering major, who just spent the last few hours arguing with his girlfriend about this spur of the moment trip.  In the back seat, passenger side, was Beave, Fozz's roommate, and the amateur astronomy buff of the group.  I was next to Beave, right behind Niall.  (I won't be telling you my college nickname, but thank you for asking.)

We stopped at our campus 7-11 to get cigars to smoke on the beach, then we zoomed off to Cape May.  After almost 30 years, I can't recall much about the drive down, but I remember that little town.  We circled and recircled the half-dozen streets, looking for the best place to park and comet-gaze.  There was rampant paranoia about the town cops that we glimpsed from time to time.

Then the beach.  We finally parked and walked out onto the sand, the waves crashing higher and closer to us than really seemed proper for that time of night.  The stars were crisp and the sky was black.  Beave kind of sheepishly told us that, despite being from Baltimore, he had never stood on a beach before.  We broke out the cigars, mainly for warmth.  I didn't mind the stomach ache it gave me.

It probably took a half hour to really get our bearings -- and to remember that we had a friend's binoculars in the car -- before we found that sad little comet near the horizon.  Just barely a smudge with the naked eye, the coma and tail were nicely visible with the binocs.  We felt mildly betrayed by the talking heads on TV -- not to mention Professor Billyuns and Billyuns -- who all promised a major spectacle.  It didn't matter.  This was something special.

Being so excited, we didn't notice the elderly couple walking along the beach.  (I won't examine my memory in too much detail, for fear that these old people weren't so much older than I am right now.)  They saw what we were doing, and asked us to point out the comet for them.  Despite our gesturing, neither of them could make it out.  I think it was me who suggested propping the binoculars on a nearby stone wall, and have Fozz go stand about 10 feet in front.  I'd look through and get it centered, then tell him how to adjust his stance and his upraised arm, so he would be pointing right at the target.

It took a few minutes to get right, but it worked.  The lady and the gentleman took turns looking through the steadied device, and their eyes followed Fozz's magnified finger right to it.

"Hey Beave," Fozz called over, a while later.


"I touched a comet."

We hung around a bit after they left, collecting shells and daring each other to go further towards the water.  Before getting back in the car, we did probably the cheesiest thing any of us had ever done, or done since.  We put our four hands together and vowed that, if any of us are still alive when the comet comes back again, in 2061, we'll make our way down to this very same beach and say hello again.

We got back in the car and headed to the highway that would take us back to the city, to the light.  Almost at the on-ramp, red and blue light filled the night.

Panic, of course.  It was something like 3:00 am, and we were 100 miles away from where we should have been.  (Though we were breaking no laws here, I still have no idea if we were violating university policy by being out of the dorm like that.)

"You know your left tail light is out, son?"

Again, almost 30 years of time has fogged the details, but I'm pretty sure a verbal warning was all that Cape May's finest had for us that night.

I knew I should've been sleepy on the drive back.  We all should've been.  We were also not quite 20 years old and knee-deep in high adventure.  Classic rock anthems blared from the radio, and we sang along loudly.  But then another song started up, one we all knew by heart.  Its first bars were just lone piano, cycling through a subtle harmony that penetrates one's chest because the pianist's left hand is all the way down at the bass end.  We didn't sing to the first few verses, because this is one that builds.  The words that make up the name of the song don't even appear until it's nearly over.  It's the one moment of this whole trip that will be burned into my memory until the year 2061.

"Hey Beave," Fozz turned around and called.


"Don't stop believin."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Love and the Fight

October is here, and it's treadmill season again.  This morning, while marching up an endless incline, I received an interesting juxtaposition of music from the ol' MP3 random shuffle.

First, Uprising by Muse.

Second, Come and Get Your Love, by Redbone.

If you know the songs, you'd probably think it might be somewhat jarring to segue from hard-driving V-for-Vendetta-style rebelling against the Man, right into a groovin' 70s Native American love-in.

Strangely, I found myself not being jarred at all.  It kind of worked for me.

For the rest of the day, I wondered why.  I'm still not sure if I have an answer, but I think it tells me that our yearning for love and our yearning for justice are related to one another very deeply.  It tells me that Aleister Crowley's statement "Love is the law, love under Will" doesn't mean that love is a second-class emotion, under the thumb of one's intentional volition.  Very much the opposite.  Instead, I think it means that you can only have real love if you have the freedom to will it into existence.  The freedom to say "yes" or "no" when it comes a-callin.  But sometimes that freedom must be fought for.

This also reminds me, for the umpteenth time, of my dissatisfaction with Neil Peart's Clockwork Angels (both album and novel).  I hate to belabor this point yet again, but it's hard to wrap my head around the idea that the author of 2112 -- a triumphant and tragic Uprising of its time -- has changed so much that he lets the bad guys go their merry way.  I don't see the need for such a strict either-or, here.  Turn the other cheek or be consumed by the dark side?  Please... it's possible to fight for freedom and live a life of love.

I don't think the above contains any sparkling new insight on humanity and the world.  "Cygnus: master of the bleedin' obvious."  (Fawlty Towers quote)  But it's not every day that the random music shuffle gets one thinking about such things.  Might as well document it.  :-)