Saturday, October 29, 2011

Facing The Consequences

There are just too many things in the world for any one person to have the time and energy to say something about all of them. There are times, though, when you have to say something. Silence starts to look like complicity.

I was reading Lisa's post from yesterday, which had a link to a Newfie blogger writing about a Canadian comedian/social commentator named Rick Mercer. The subject of a recently televised "Rant" by Mercer was gay teen suicide.

I'll get to the best part of this rant in a moment.

This hit me because . . . well, I know it's an issue. OK, it's more than an "issue". It's a very real situation where too many kids live in fear of their peers, their teachers, the administrators, the cops, the clergy. They live in fear of all these people because they are gay. Their peers taunt them and tease them, sometimes beat them and humiliate them. Their teachers and school administrators turn a blind eye and deaf ear to it. The cops chuckle about kids being kids. Clergy pound their pulpits and screech about morality, and the dangers these kids - confused kids who need love and guidance and support and all the stuff ministers and rabbis and priests and other such are supposed to give - pose to the rest of us.

Sometimes, it just gets to be too much, and these kids give up. That giving up can be a slow agonizing death from drug and alcohol, from risky behaviors that go one step too far. Sometimes, it's just that final decision, that button pushed one time too many, and out comes the gun, the razor blade, the final step off the ledge and in an instant all that promise, all the gifts this young person had to offer the world is gone because someone, somewhere, thought it was funny to taunt a kid who was different.

So, I read the post and listened to the rant video and sat here and nodded in all the right places, congratulating myself on agreeing with a no-brainer - gay kids shouldn't live in a world where suicide seems like a better option than living.

Then, I clicked the next link on my blogroll I wanted to read, and here's what I saw.
Asshole of the Day
Jim Whitney.

... adding, he says his account was hacked & his district supports him. You decide!
I clicked those links (in the original post) and found this story:
Jim Whitney, a**hole and math teacher at Joplin High School in Joplin, MO, posted several homophobic comments on a former student’s Facebook page after the student, Josh Gonzalez, posted an article about Jamie Hubley, a gay 15 year-old who recently committed suicide after dealing with depression and bullying.

Sometimes, you get a message that the time for silence on a subject is over.

Back to Rick Mercer's rant. At one point, he says that it might be nice, not only to send in the grief counselors and other "helping professionals", but also to have a good old-fashioned assembly. Bring in the cops. Get the message out to the student body that there are consequences to actions.

As someone who has had to live through the suicide of someone close, I will say that the person who does that final, horrible act does not bear sole responsibility for it. For the rest of my life, I have to live with the ways I failed a good friend, didn't see the pain he carried, didn't even think to ask about it. I never took the time to look beneath the surface. He's gone and I won't get the chance to tell him I'm sorry. I'm angry with him for doing what he did, and I stand by the assertion I made to my sister once - it was a stupid waste, not a tragedy.

Chip wasn't gay, however. He wasn't the subject of a barrage of insults and taunts, what amounts to a constant threat and actual violence against his person just because he is who he is. Which, in a way, mitigates a whole lot of the personal responsibility in the case of gay teens. The climate of hate and fear and violence is just too pervasive. We adults shake our heads at how "sad" such a situation is, yet never think there are things we can do to make it just a little better for all those kids who live in silence and fear.

We can teach our children that being gay isn't bad. We can teach our kids that words like "faggot", "homo", "queer" have barbs that stick and pull away flesh. We can tell kids who aren't ours whom we find acting this way that it is unacceptable. We can demand our teachers do more than stand by, our principals and school administrators do more than throw up their hands. We can insist that this isn't about "bullying". It's about terrorism, really. We can tell any clergy person who rails against "the gay agenda" that their words have the potential to kill. We can walk away from a church that celebrates anti-gay behavior, and make public those who would hate in the name of the one who died because of Divine Love.

Most of all, we can go to those directly connected to yet another poor kid who saw no other way out than death and say, "This broken body, this wasted opportunity for a life full of love and happiness? It's yours. Live with the knowledge that you own this death. Have a nice life."

I Love Rock And Roll, So Put Another Dime In The Jukebox, Baby

I honestly thought I'd have to punt on this one - a song I've played on a jukebox. Sheesh. Then, I remembered the Back Door Lounge at Starved Rock Lounge. I worked there in the early aughts, and the last couple years they had a jukebox in the bar where we'd go to eat our lunch. When it was dead in the off-season, I'd put a quarter in, and pick four songs. They had the full version of the Dead's "Terrapin Station", one of Robert Hunter's better lyrical compositions. The melody is a pretty tune, something the Dead was good at when they really wanted to.

Some Deadheads didn't like it when it first came out, because they used an orchestra. They screeched, "Sell outs!" Well, why not, from a creative point of view, at least give it a shot? Here's the whole thing, nearly fifteen minutes, with the band's signature vocal harmonies, Garcia playing with a restraint the song calls for, but his voice still strong before the ravages of years of smoking both unfiltered cigarettes and heroin had taken their toll. I do like this song.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Maybe More Than A Moment Of Silence

If anyone has been paying attention - and I'm not convinced anyone has - I haven't been writing a whole lot on the usual matters. Instead, I've been self-indulgent, dabbling in bad photography, and finding music that I enjoy that isn't the run-of-the-mill stuff I usually post.

Because, frankly, I am tired of the noise. I'm tired of the news. I'm tired of NPR. I'm tired of CNN/FOXNews/MSNBC. I'm tired of political bloggers. I'm tired of political pundits. I'm tired of every voice sounding like every other voice, a swelling chorus that serves little more than to detract from the reality that we would be far better served listening than speaking.

I have been trying, by and large, to follow my own preferences. I have ventured forth on occasion over the past six weeks or so, but by and large I figure that silence is a far better choice, all things considered.

We all would benefit, I think, if everyone was silent. Take a day and just shut up. Don't write about Pres. Obama or Eric Cantor of Speaker Boehner or anyone else in public life. Don't write about the latest stupid celebrity trick. Don't comment on the personal hygiene or sexual preferences of one's interlocutors.

Shut up. Sit and listen. Listen to the last of the autumn birds outside your window. Listen to the creak and groan of your house settling. Listen to your children tell about their day, what they're going to wear on Halloween, what they're frustrated about at school. Listen to your spouse tell you he or she loves you. Listen to your pets as they sleep.

Listen. Don't speak or think. Silence all the voices, inside and out. Just listen.

And wonder and the beauty and awe and majesty around you. The sound of rain on the last autumn leaves. The breeze through the bare branches. The growl and grumble of the studs in your walls and across your floors as the foundation of your house slips, imperceptibly but inexorably, in to the earth. Listen to the sound of your child't heart beat when she snuggled up to you. Listen to the sound of your spouse breathing next to you.

These are the things that are important. These are the things that matter. There is power, here, the most important power, the most threatening force to all that is - the power that comes from the very real, very human ties we share with those most close to us. Nothing threatens the world more than this. Nothing is more subversive than to sit and listen and realize, with awe and a sense of one's own limitation, how grand and glorious this world is.

Because, at its heart, regardless of political stripe or color or declared ideology, the torrent of words serves only one purpose - to perpetuate our dying status quo. To stand outside of it, to declare that one will no longer feed the beast, that the most intimate, most important ties of one's life are far more important, far more dangerous, than the most clearly worded declaration of solidarity, the most righteous proclamation for justice - this is revolutionary in a way no program or leaflet or petition could ever be.

So, I sit. I listen. I venture forth on occasion, only to realize what I should have learned long ago. Most internet discussions aren't. They aren't discussions, they are attempts to sound more informed, more intelligent, more wise than everyone else. There's no percentage in that, really. Usually, one ends up looking and sounding much more like a jerk who has something to prove. I have nothing to prove, and I have no desire to look or sound like a jerk. So, I sit. I listen.

Nothing would serve the Republic more than an internet day of silence. No blog posts. No viral videos on YouTube or viral hashtage on Twitter or viral photos on Facebook. Just . . . silence.

I'm trying to lead by example. Little more than some thoughts on music I like for a couple more weeks. Maybe, then maybe, a thought or two on what I've heard, what I've learned, what might be possible. First, though, I need to do more listening.

Which means, I just need to stop . . .

There Go Those Hazy, Lazy, Crazy Days Of Summer

A ritual of mine is watching the Director's Cut of Woodstock every August. From the opening, showing the construction of the stage and interviews with the promoter who put it all together, to the sight of tens of thousands of young people gathering, to the mud-parties, through all the performances, from mediocre to awesome, it is a way to celebrate music, freedom, and a moment in time that can never come back.

The "headliner" - the star of the show - was to be Jimi Hendrix. He was gonna close on Sunday night with a blistering set. He was being well paid for it, too. Then, the rains came, the travel snafus, the schedule snafus, the performer snafus. The end result of all these issues was simple enough. Instead of playing in front of half a million people as the sun set on Sunday night, Jimi, and his cobbled-together group of musicians (not really a band; listening to the complete performance on CD makes you wonder why he brought them together; when he says "We're just jamming, that's all," he's right, because they had only rehearsed together once), Jimi played early on a Monday as people were streaming away from the festival. All the same, as a musician he showed why he had earned top billing, even if his band was not up to par. His set list, from old material to material he was developing for future releases ("Isabella", "I Hear My Train A-Comin'"), Hendrix made his guitar weep from the strain he put on it. He had been doing the national anthem for a while in performances, and would open his Isle of Wight Festival set (his last big performance before choking on his own puke, stupid bastard) with "God Save The Queen".

So, of all the songs that make me think, "Summer!", it's our national anthem that makes the cut.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Seasons In The Sun

Only half the seasons have songs that take me there. Autumn, which we've already addressed. Summer, of course, has too many, which will make tomorrow's task extremely difficult.

I had to wrack my brain for a "spring" song. In the spring of 1995, I taught a couple community college classes at Greensville Correctional Center outside Jarratt, VA. Spending four hours a week locked in a room with convicted felons discussing western culture and American political processes was an interesting experience, to say the least. The short drive from our home to the prison allowed for one or two songs, at most. I discovered Seal's first release that spring, and of all the songs on that first recording, the one that makes me think of those drives, the move from freedom to incarceration, the uneasy feeling in my gut when the door closed behind me, and the constant surprise at the men's desire to learn (and the occasional surprise when they showed up their instructor!) - it's "Future Love Paradise".

It was a marvelous spring that year, too. April and May, 1995, with the exception of April 19th, when the Murrah Federal Office Building was blown up, were gorgeous, wonderful days. The humidity was low until after Memorial Day. We got our first dog. Lisa's grandmother came for an extended visit, helping us out with the initial training of our fast-growing Great Dane puppy (including going down in to a ditch to retrieve her because we has stupidly made her tie-out chain long enough to allow her to go down in the ditch).

Most of all, though, the song is a hopeful one. Spring is a season of hope, born out of the long dead season of winter. As the light returns, the earth warms, the dogwood blooms, the shadows shorted, it reminds us that there are possibilities, still, in this world. "Future Love Paradise" gives a glimpse of these possibilities.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

God In Big And Small - A Response to Richard Beck

Richard Beck muses on the "bigness" of God in so much contemporary worship and Protestant practice.
One of the things I've noticed in this regard--something, to be sure, not unique to this age group or generation--is the prominence of a focus on God's bigness. Worship that seems to move my college students, and many other Christians, tends to focus on God's transcendence and awesomeness. "Awesome" just might be the most common word my students, and many other Christians, use to describe God.

This focus on God's bigness is often used in worship to create an acute sense of our smallness in relation. Ecstatic worship is often triggered by a felt sense of God's transcendent power, size, and awesomeness. I leave such worship psychologically stunned and overwhelmed by God's bigness. My sense is that a lot of contemporary worship is explicitly aimed at trying to create this experience. And that makes sense. Worship means "to bow down." Thus, to worship God means to "bow down" before God's power and size.

And yet, I wonder about all this. Particularly from a missional perspective. Specifically, I struggle with how the felt sense of smallness I experience in worship is supposed to transition into Christian mission. I do see how an acute sense of our smallness works as a trigger for ecstatic worship, but find it hard to see how that sense of smallness helps Christians learn to eat with tax collectors and sinners.

Put bluntly, I'm wondering this: How does an experience of God's awesomeness help you learn that God is love?
He answers, in part, by quoting from Wiesel's Night, as a way of seeing God's smallness in the executed corpse of a Nazi gallows. He then asks:
How can we learn to see God's smallness?


It is true that God is awesome. But, as Bonhoeffer observed, "God lets himself be pushed out of the world and onto the cross." God "is weak and powerless in the world." God helps us "not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering."

God is small.

God is that little boy hanging from the gallows.

God isn't powerful and mighty.

God is weakness and powerlessness.

So this, again, is what I'm wondering. Might a spirituality of God's bigness and awesomeness be hindering our ability to see the smallness and weakness of God? God as the child hanging on the gallows. God in the body of the demented mental patient. The craving addict. The senile old person in diapers. The starving child. The drooling retarded. The street walking prostitute. The homeless man on the park bench. The queer kid bullied on the playground.

Might our God be too big? Too big for us to see the smallness of God?

Where is God?

God is here--weak and hanging on the gallows.
Which places the conundrum at the heart of our faith front and center - the God who created the Universe, made of no people a light to the nations, blessed a foreign king as the agent of national salvation, whose countenance cannot be seen by human beings without killing them, hangs there for all to see in the brutalized corpse of Jesus.

It is an inescapable contradiction, one that cannot be resolved by reason or practice. At the heart of the Christian profession of the Gospel is the declaration that we as believers are a community gathered around the murdered body of a radical opponent of Empire. The proclamation of his resurrection from the dead, which destroys the one power all Empires have - the power of life and death, particularly for those who oppose them - is now shown to be hollow. All the same, this proclamation, conducted in fellowship with others, forms not only a nucleus of resistance against violence and destruction. In its dedication to the humility and willingness to sacrifice for others, it seems to replicate the powerlessness that renders, for those who bow before the altar of Empire, any set of values worthless.

The conundrum is inescapable - God demonstrates Divine power, the ultimate power over death and destruction, over Empire and conquest, over temporal negation and transcendent evil, by refusing to demonstrate that power. As the Body of Christ, the Church is called to incarnate this reality in our lives, in our worship, in our practice of the sacraments, in our evangelizing. Transcendence and immanence, the awesome grandeur of God and the broken, bleeding body on the gibbet, are not "dialectic"; they are the very real mystery at the heart of the Gospel.

I would agree an over-emphasis on either side of the equation can overshadow the inherent connection between each side. My own experience of worship has been, if anything, stressing the immanence, the "smallness" of God in being concerned with whether or not I, or any other individual, spends eternity in heaven or hell. As if that were the point of it all. At its best, however, Christian worship that affirms both God's transcendence and immanence, God's awesome might and God's total weakness ("even death on a cross" as a certain tent-making evangelist once wrote), leaves the mystery at the heart of Christian proclamation open, the wound in the side of the Savior. There are no answers to this mystery; it is what it is, and we must live it out, even to the point of registering our complaints at the far-too-many Christ-like corpses around the planet. In so doing, however, we cannot allow our grief and rage at Divine silence in the face of the cry of abandonment to overcome the great "nevertheless . . ." that comes with Easter. Both are a necessary part of the narrative, the call, the liturgy, and the life of the Christian.

God is both big and small. It's all right there in the passion narratives. We cannot escape it. We must only embrace it, and live it out the best we can.

In The Bleak Midwinter

Winter is not a season for which I have a song or musical style to associate. Beyond Christmas music, obviously. All the same, there is music that, when I hear it, puts me in mind of a particular time and place in my life that includes winter. Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, better known to the rest of the world as Vangelis, is an anomaly. Not a trained musician, he is among the great composers of the second half of the 20th century. And, he is still composing music.

While composing a series of soundtracks for French television specials, he also composed, performed, and released a series of albums on his own in the 1970's. He was courted by the British band Yes when Rick Wakeman left, and left an indelible impression on the band's lead singer, Jon Anderson. Mostly because Vangelis surrounded himself with fine wine and, in Anderson's words, a whole lot of scantily clad women. Anderson and Vangelis would release several albums together and continue to write music together through the 1990's.

In 1978, he released Heaven and Hell, a two-part suite, with a vocal interlude, "So Long Ago, So Clear", a song featuring Anderson on vocals. The closing section of Part I was picked up by the producers of Carl Sagan's Cosmos television special. The whole first movement, however, is a beautiful, unique piece of music. Toward the end of the first semester of my junior year of college a friend recorded it on tape for me, and it was great background music for doing schoolwork. Not finding a single video of the whole piece, I offer two that have the entirety of Part I:

The Military, Part II

It's taken over a month, but here's some more thoughts on the military, following up on the first one I wrote back on September 13.

I would be lying if I said the US military has been well-used over the past few decades. I would be lying if I said I agreed with our troop deployments since the Reagan years. From Beirut and Grenada to Yemen and Libya, with the possible exception of Kuwait in the first Gulf War, American policy-makers have, by and large, treated the finest military in the world as a useful toy rather than the projection of American power as a way of intimidating our potential foes. The misuse of our military over the past decade has been extravagant, leaving it overstretched, taxing its mental and physical and financial resources, mocking the willingness of tens of thousands of Americans willingly to set aside their own safety and peace of mind in service to the defense of their country. When military leaders are asked to give their assessments of threats, folks across the political spectrum usually howl at what follows: the right carried on when global warming was called the most significant long-term military challenge the US will face; any mention of terrorism makes the Left upset because too often, that word has been used as a code for anti-Muslim sentiment (a situation made worse by recent revelations that the Justice Department has been using anti-Muslim propaganda in seminars).

Then, of course, there are the various criminal acts in which members of the military have engaged. Abu Ghraib. The murder of Iraqi civilians. These haven't helped the image of our troops among those predisposed to think ill of them, here and abroad. Yet, that is not who, nor is it what, our military is.

At its most basic, the military is an instrument of policy. The long history of uniformed deference to civilian control, while certainly staving off any possibility of the dread of a military threat to civilian rule, also leads the military to follow orders one could easily guess the military would not follow, given its druthers. At the same time, when ordered, say, to invade Iraq, or bomb Libya, or send Marines to Beirut (for what reason I'm still trying to figure out; memory is ill-served and the historical record doesn't make a whole lot of sense), the military is ordered to figure out how to do so efficiently and effectively. When the uniformed leaders bring their plans to their civilian leaders - like Donald Rumsfeld - and those plans for troop deployment are cut in half - as happened in the invasion of Iraq - and the military plans included policing after the collapse of local political leadership are completely deleted - as happened with the Iraqi invasion - for some reason, it is the military that takes the brunt of the complaint.

Then, of course, there are the folks who don't quite get that criticizing American foreign or military policy is not a criticism of the military per se, let alone criticism of "the troops". Criticizing DoD budget bloat is not code for being anti-military. It is what it is - criticism of budgetary bloat, a political process that deforms what should be a fiduciary responsibility of the highest priority. In recent years economies have been sought in odd places by the Congressional purse-holders. Pay for troops. Health care for troops and veterans. Physical plant for veterans' hospitals. Body armor and armored troop transports for forces in combat. I could go on.

I have said it several times, and will repeat it, just in case you missed it. We have the finest military in the world. Dedicated, professional, thoughtful, most of all willing to sacrifice the comforts of civilian life for the hazards inherent in uniformed service, we owe them a debt of gratitude that extends far beyond the simple platitudes we too often hear repeated for the services they have rendered in the past decade of wars. We owe them a demand that they be better used by their civilian leaders. We owe them the virtue of being listened to when asked their opinions on matters that relate directly to their mission. We owe them restructuring how we fund them, how we equip them, how we set up their force-structure so they can more effectively do their jobs. No more destructive wars of choice, fought on the cheap, ignoring basic realities such as the chaos that comes from the collapse of indigenous government institutions and the potential for civil and religious strife once a heavy hand is lifted.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reality Gives The Best Ass-Kicking

As per my long-standing policy, I will not entertain comments that question the reality of global warming. While the idea, most recently made plain in an op-ed by Katrina VandenHeuvel in The Washington Post, that near-unanimous acceptance of a theory makes it true, is no way to talk about science, with each and every published scientific study, we find the evidence mounting that (a) the planet is warming at an increasing rate: (b) the reasons for that trend is the burning of fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that traps heat; (c) absent action about a decade ago, the upward trend of global temperatures and the concomitant climate catastrophes will increase.

A simple graph makes the first point clear enough, even for the scientifically challenged:

Temperatures trending upward over the past 130 years mean . . . c'mon people . . . the planet is getting warmer.

One would think this would be enough to silence people who repeat Sen. James Inhofe's (R-OK) mantra that global warming is a scam. Alas, one would be wrong.

Last week, a team led by physicist Richard Muller released the first fruits of research on global warming. As Kevin Drum noted, Muller was a bit of a darling among climate skeptics. A physicist who insisted that global warming deniers had some good points, he did what scientists do. He went around and gathered money from rich philanthropists, some of whom are climate change troglodytes, and created the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project. An aside - this is what real scientists do; they actually do research and study stuff, rather than make comments about the size of Al Gore's house. Anyway, BEST used completely different sets of analytical methods, including different statistical methods and modeling and they discovered . . . well, I'll just let Muller tell you what they found:
In the press release announcing the results, Muller said, "Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK." In other words, climate scientists know what they're doing after all.
So, first we have the simplest of scientific techniques - a graph that shows temperatures going up. Then, we have a physicist who expressed wariness over climate change models who did his own research and discovered . . . climate change models were right! That's even better than counting the number of published articles!

Yesterday, Charlie Pierce noted another little fun fact:
Of all the Alerts for which I have subcontracted with the firm of Google and Sons, the ones regarding Shishmaref are the ones I open automatically. Shishmaref is a barrier island in arctic Alaska where I spent a week a couple of years ago. Shishmaref is being devoured by the Chukchi Sea. This is because the sea does not freeze as early as it used to freeze, nor does it stay frozen as long as it used to. This is also because Shishmaref has lost most of its permafrost in the ground. Both of these conditions are due to the changes in the global climate that have been wrought by human activity and, of course, have been exaggerated by scientists desperate to suck up that sweet, sweet grant money. Sometime in the next couple of decades, the people of Shishmaref will be the first environmental exiles in North America.
What follows is not addressed to folks like Inhofe whom, I would guess, knows that when he denies global warming he is doing so at the behest of his paymasters in the oil and gas industry. I always follow Chomsky's advice, viz., speaking truth to power is useless because the powerful already know the truth. Rather, it is important to speak the truth to folks who feel overwhelmed by information, claims and counter-claims.

The planet is getting warmer. The evidence, and scientific study of that evidence, shows that each and every day. This isn't written to scare anyone. I don't hate capitalism (well, I'm not a big fan of it, either . . .), or America, or technology. I don't want to reverse the marvels of the technological revolution so much as continue to create more marvels that are safer for the planet as a whole.

Incidentally, my guess is the couple trolls who occasionally stop by here and insist they do not accept global warming neither know nor care all that much about the issue; as with so much else in Trollistan, my guess is they only see an opportunity to act like a douchebag, and grab hold with both hands. So, yeah, I'm gonna delete your comments as best as I can, if you decide to put some on here.

For folks who genuinely aren't sure, only because of information overload, rest assured - there is good solid information out there. Use some common sense, do some digging (Google can be a friend), and you, too, can come to understand what's going on.

When the Days Get Shorter And The Nights Get Long

For some reason, hearing British bands puts me in mind of autumn. Not all British bands. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones don't do it for me. The Who, very English, don't. Traffic is more a summer-music band. I try not to think of Led Zeppelin too much at all, any season.

Pink Floyd, though? Man, I hear "Time" or "Dogs" or "Welcome to the Machine", and I can picture myself on some narrow country lane, the spire of a country parish just a couple miles off, the cool, damp English breeze scuttering clouds across the sky.

Another quintessentially British artist that makes me wax autumnal is Kate Bush. Her The Sensual World, which featured David Gilmour on a couple tracks, is among my favorite late-80's albums. She just has that Englishness about her that makes me think fondly of naked trees against a cloudy sky, a crisp wind billowing leaves about.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sometimes Music Can Fill The Hole In Your Heart

Ending a relationship with someone, from whichever direction - yours or the other person's - is never easy. It is, in fact, much akin to death. The void in one's life is one that, years later, can still be felt. You never replace those to whom one has said goodbye, voluntarily or not. At best, you learn to live, and smile, and laugh again. You never replace them.

I remember hearing a comedian talking about how, during a breakup, every song on the radio seems to speak to you. Even "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"; "She had a nose just like that . . ." It's true. And the best breakup songs, well, they give shape to feelings that, in the midst of the pain and emptiness, we are too afraid to look at too closely.

The early to mid-1970's was a time in music when the lessons from Motown were spreading. While Motown itself was expanding beyond pop sensibilities, the void it left opened up space for soul groups to fill with radio-friendly songs and groups that combined the musical sophistication of Motown with the live presence of acts like The Four Tops, The Temptations, and The Supremes. One of these groups, The Manhattans, has a great song about breaking up that tells the story from the point of view of the one ending the relationship. In the transition from the opening narration by the bass singer to the tenor lead, you get a shift from speech to the kind of grief-stricken weeping that is part of the set-piece of a breakup.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Heard It In A Love Song So It Can't Be Wrong

For all he was an irascible person (which is a nice way of saying he could be a real dick), Miles Davis' musical persona was one of warmth, vulnerability, passion, and romance. Few musicians were better at creating great backdrops for classy assignations. Music from his Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain LPs, to be sure, were both popular (by jazz standards) and certainly offered a marvelous musical tapestry if a young man wanted to impress a young woman with his taste, class, and style enough to get her in to bed.

When he wanted to, though, Miles could just do a love song. Period. His release Some Day My Prince Will Come, featuring his beautiful young wife on the cover (after a previous album had featured a leggy blonde, Miles had pitched a fit because, if had shown up anywhere in the country on the arm of that same model, he would have been in a whole lot of trouble), was aided by a special appearance on the title track by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. 'Trane had been in Miles' band a few years before, but Miles had kicked him out because of 'Trane's growing addiction to heroin. In the intervening years, Coltrane had gotten off drugs and started a quartet of his own. There are various stories about how Coltrane ended up playing on the record, but whatever the case may be, he's there.

In this live recording, from The Blackhawk in San Francisco, April, 1961, Hank Mobley does a great job not so much covering Coltrane as making the song his own.

Virtual Tin Cup

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