Monday, June 22, 2015

A thought for a Monday

If you have the luxury of shaping your life as you go, then you tend to end up liking things just the way they are.

If you feel like nothing but a victim of circumstances beyond your control, then change is what you're after.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A thought for a Sunday

 The final destination wasn't what was interesting. It was the things they saw along the way.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A visit to Jack Kerouac's grave

I don’t typically post photographs of myself. I prefer to look out onto the world than to let the world look back at me.

It’s probably not the ideal trait. The ancient Greeks urged us to “Know thyself” and looking in the mirror isn't a bad place to start. And think of all those self-portraits hanging in the Met or in the Tate or in the Uffizi or the Louvre … they are the thread of the Self in western culture.

Frida Kahlo

Albrecht Durer

Gustave Courbet

Pablo Picasso

Rembrandt van Rijn

Vincent van Gogh

Stanley Kubrick

Andy Warhol

Vivian Maier

So I must remember that every time I think the modern selfie culture represents a major cultural ill, an unhealthy prioritization of the “me" over the "we", a narcissism of unconstrained license, I need only recall that it’s a puzzle we’ve been trying to deconstruct for a very long time.  It’s just that now technology has democratized it in the 21st century.

The First Selfie, taken by Robert Cornelius, Philadelphia 1839

Still, that’s not where I was going with all of this.

This past Tuesday, I did something of such personal significance in my own life story that I want to note it here. I went up to Lowell with Peter Blok ostensibly to look the industrial history of that city.

But because both Peter and I are of a certain age, we agreed at the outset how our day would end … We would make a visit, dare I say a pilgrimage, to Jack Kerouac’s grave.

There’s something about the Beats, and about Jack Kerouac in particular, that governed the thinking of a generation and then of another and then another. Bob Dylan was warmed by their light. The Grateful Dead grew up in the city of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore.

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsburg visit the grave, 1975

The Beats held sway for decades, so much so that when I was a teenager, they were still cool in an arty, pretentious kind of way.  I can still hear the late-night teenage cackle as Larry Fessenden and I and a couple of others strayed into the wee hours one summer's eve trying to get to the meaning of it all and why reading On The Road was so important.

As we walked past the rows of gravestones, Peter asked if I believed there was a goal to life. I understood the question to mean, do you think we're put on earth for a purpose.  No, I answered, that's not what life is. Life is life. It's its own thing. Goals are what we bring to the equation. That's how he thought of it too. It was exactly the conversation to be having while trying to find Jack Kerouac's grave.

Once there, I broke out my copy of On The Road, given me by Max Ryan in Berkeley in 1986, and I read the first few paragraphs aloud. It had a familiar jangly rhythm to it.

We each placed a quarter on the flat stone and left a piece of blueberry muffin there too because, as I cheekily opined, you never know what you're going to need on the road. The muffin probably ended up in the mouth of a squirrel or a rat and the quarter probably made it into the pocket of the cemetery staff but nevermind. Like most things having to do with the dead, we didn't really do it for them. We did it for us.

We took photos of ourselves, to mark us being where he was buried -- this working class kid of French-Canadian stock from Lowell, Massachusetts who went to Columbia University in the early '40s and then dropped out and eventually wrote an obscure novel that ended up taking on a huge force in American cultural history.

Back in Cambridge, we drank a beer at the Plough and Stars to his memory. Everyone we talked to we told ... we just returned from Jack Kerouac's grave. And everyone had a Jack Kerouac story.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Fifty years ago today ...

... in a Columbia Records sound studio on 52nd Street and 7th Avenue in New York City, the most influential song of a generation was recorded.  In that place on this day fifty years ago Bob Dylan recorded "Like a Rolling Stone".

So, how does it feel?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday Grab Bag: The Value of Nothingness

It's Friday, which means it's Grab Bag time again.  Today's Bag is filled with nothing in particular and certainly nothing of value, just the random threads of the week, threads not long enough to weave into any kind of a pattern, much less into a real cloth. It's all just dime store philosophy stuff with a couple of cars thrown in for good measure.

Here we go ...
Human specialization is often seen as one of the failings of modern society, but it's actually one of our greatest accomplishments. I mean, when I have a plumbing problem, I want to call a plumber. And when I have a hermeneutics problem, I want to call a hermeneutician. It's that simple. (What the hell is hermeneutics anyway?)
The greatest spectator sport in this country isn't football or baseball or NASCAR. The greatest spectator sport in this country is legal disputes. 
There is nothing so terrifying as the fervor of the righteous. 
The thing with writing, at least with writing prose, is to be such a good writer that no one remembers what you wrote. Or be such a good writer that no one can forget what you wrote. Another way of saying it, be such a good writer that your reader thinks they wrote it themselves. Or be such a good writer that they know they never could have written it themselves.
And to close out, more cars from the streets of Cambridge, with a plea - help me identify these two cars spotted within half a block of each other on Hampshire Street last week.

This one is obviously a Maserati, but beyond that, I haven't a clue ...

And this one, I simply haven't any clue whatsoever except that I'm certain it is an American car, and I'm guessing vintage 1975-1980. Markings include "SS" on the front grill and "454" on the side panel.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Thoughts While Shaving - The Pen, the Sword and the Camera

Reflecting on Cpl. Eric Casebolt, the now-retired out of control McKinney, TX police officer who inappropriately pulled his service weapon on teenagers at a pool party (or as one Facebooker intimated, the only thug in this photo is the cop with the gun), a thought surfaced:

In the 21st century, the phrase "The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword" has been updated to "The Video Camera Is Mightier than the (Police-Issue 9mm) Handgun".

It is actually almost directly analogous. If the question is: how does a lowly citizen combat the officially-sanctioned power of the state? Then the answer must be: with a pen; or more commonly today, with an iPhone cam set on 'video'.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Femi Kuti plays the Paradise

Femi Kuti played the Paradise in Boston last night, and he hit all the right notes. Not a man to hide his passions, he wore a jacket straight out of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

He also came with a full compliment next to him — two drummers, four horn men, a bassist and a rhythm guitarist, three dancers, and of course himself, Femi Kuti — Femi on sax, Femi on clarinet, Femi on keyboards, Femi on vocals; you name it, he was up there doing it.

With that many people on the stage in a small club like the Paradise, the performers fill the room. But that’s why you go to the Paradise, music and people in small spaces with loud sounds, performers and audience communicate. It’s direct and it’s only a handshake from the pit to the players and Kuti obliged with some audience handshakes of his own.

In afrobeat, no song ever really begins or ends. It just merges in or fades out. Or in Kuti's case, it clangs in or bangs out. Any song could have continued if it wanted to. Nothing has to finish, it just does so because there’s another song in the queue. The music is part of the continuous stream of rhythms and beats in our bodies and in our brains. It just takes a brass section to make it audible.

Kuti built the crowd from the start. The opening numbers reached back into the archives. They were softer, more hopeful, with hints of a lilting beauty reminiscent of reggae. That allowed him to hit the audience with newer starker stuff later on. Still, it took a while to get energy in the room.  The start was tuneful but flat.

A man of great energy and talent himself, the 52-year-old Femi Kuti wears the heavy mantle of being the son of a famous father, Fela Kuti, a musician with his own fascinating story and international importance. Fela's story is many times told, including in a 2009 Broadway production of great energy and power, and like father like son, politics is never far from anything Femi Kuti is doing. The country of his youth and the history of colonial Africa are all part of his message. Kuti’s version is that Nigeria was never cowed by the British imperialist in the way its neighbor Ghana suffered. Pestilence, inhospitality and the end of the slave trade insulated Nigerians in a fundamentally different way than what their neighbors experienced.

Perhaps also like father like son, Femi Kuti seems the lady’s man too. As a humorous end note both to the concert and to this very short review, he closed out his encore with a speech about the need for men to control themselves during intercourse (notice the slightly Victorian phrasing here). To paraphrase him, men should, "reverse back" when they feel themselves losing control. He urges, make it last longer than five minutes. Don’t shame yourself and all men by a lack of control.  “Reverse back” and add a couple of minutes. Pretty soon, it’ll be eight minutes, and then ten, and before long, it’ll be thirty minutes!

At this point, two very white, very middle-aged very middle class women decided they had to depart the Paradise building. Obviously, they had become suddenly very very tired. Or maybe their ankles were starting to hurt. Still, their departure seemed, well, not very international.

Femi Kuti's short American tour goes to Brooklyn next and onto D.C. before shows in the U.K. In our global world, there are few better global ambassadors than he. It’s worth going to hear him and his afrobeat.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Tragedy befalls us all

Runcible Greevey found himself drinking beers in a pub talking politics.

A woman couldn't quite swallow that in politics there is a time and a place and a moment to everything, and just like Shakespeare said ...

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts

“Are you trying to tell me that Jimmy Carter is a discredited politician?” her pleading face scarcely masked a swelling anger in her voice. Runcible thought he was about to be witness to an awful moment when a bubble still intact was undeniably about to burst.

“Yes, without question," so Runcible. Too obvious for even such a simple man as he, Runny resisted plunging the knife in deeper: Jimmy Carter may be many good things, but a good pol, this he cannot claim. And one man in his time plays many parts.

“No! No!” she shrieked, a sinking look on her face that would have extracted sadness from a stone if it had been given the chance, the proverbial high tragedian’s frown, except this was low comedy.

A good writer, Runcible thought, should turn it into a Saturday Night Live skit: Act III, When Jimmy Carter’s Failings Are Laid Bare to an Unsuspecting Fan.  Innocence cruelly aborted. The harshness of the world, like a cold winter wind, enters a door left foolishly too wide open.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Runcible Greevey

I hereby present to you Runcible Greevey, a nonsense character, who simply makes no sense.

What he'll get up to, we'll just have to see.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Lesson 3: Definitions

"Terror" is the realization that you're going to die someday.

"Sheer terror" is the thought that it might happen tomorrow.