Friday, August 30, 2019

Desolation Row

On this date in 1965, Bob Dylan's album Highway 61 Revisited was released, the second of three albums Dylan released within 15 months that transformed American music; Bringing It All Back Home (March 22, 1965), Highway 61 Revisited, and the double album Blonde On Blonde (June 20, 1966).

Prior to early 1965 Dylan had gained growing recognition as a talented folk singer/composer moving between tender ballads, blues, and protest songs like Master of War and The Times They Are A'Changing (as well as The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll which THC covered two days ago).

With the three albums in 1965 and 1966, along with the sarcastic hit single Positively 4th Street (the greatest put-down song ever recorded), Dylan exploded upon a larger audience as he electrified his sound, to the bitter disappointment of some of his folk music fans, and his lyrics became more picturesque, evocative, and sometimes hallucinatory, with fewer traditional folk and protest themes.  His first hit single was Like A Rolling Stone in the late summer of 1965 but by that time The Byrds had already reached #1 with a cover of Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man, unleashing an avalanche of Dylan covers by pop and rock artists over the next two years.

The albums contain three hours of music, with nary a bad tune in the mix, and a high ratio of masterpieces including:

Subterranean Homesick Blues
Maggie's Farm
Love Minus Zero No Limit
Mr Tambourine Man
Gates Of Eden
It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
Like A Rolling Stone
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
Ballad Of A Thin Man
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Visions Of Johanna
I Want You
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (which later became the starting point for every early Bruce Springsteen song)
Just Like A Woman
Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands

And this song, Desolation Row, sans electric instrumentation.

After this creative outburst, Dylan retreated to his wife and young children at his home in Woodstock NY.  It would be 18 months before he reemerged with his next album, the restrained and somber John Wesley Harding.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, he was also in the midst of a collaboration with The Band, his touring band, on The Basement Tapes and writing some of his finest and most personally touching songs including Tears Of Rage and I Shall Be Released.

SELECTED LYRICS FROM DESOLATION ROW


They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face, now ain't the time for
your tears. 
On this date in 1963, the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I Have A Dream Speech" at the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC.

On that same day, a three judge panel found William Zantzinger guilty of manslaughter in the death of Hattie Carroll.  Zantzinger was sentenced to six months in jail.

Zantzinger was the son of a well-off tobacco farming family in Maryland, 24 years old, standing over 6 feet and close to 200 pounds.  Hattie Carroll was poor, the mother of nine children (or 10, 11, or 13 depending on other accounts), a grandmother, and 51.  Zantzinger was white; Carroll black.

We Must Never Forget Hattie Carroll

Zantzinger and his wife were attending the Spinster's Ball, a high society charitable event with 200 guests, at Baltimore's Emerson Hotel on the evening of February 8, 1963.  They'd started off the evening with dinner and drinks (a lot of drinks) at a local restaurant and had whacked a couple of the staff with what's described as a wooden carnival cane.  (The best account of the events that evening can be found here).

Arriving at the Emerson the couple continued drinking becoming so drunk that when they attempted to dance they both collapsed on the floor with Zantzinger hitting his wife on the head with her shoe.  Jane Zatzinger was finally taken upstairs to a room where she could rest and recover.

William Zatzinger continued drinking and falling into an even fouler mood.  He yelled racial slurs at a waitress, chasing and hitting her in the arm with his cane.  At about 1:30am he approached the bar where Hattie Carroll was working and demanded a bourbon.  According to the later trial testimony of two other barmaids:
Zantzinger shoved his way through to the bar again, and was calling for more bourbon. Carroll, who was busy serving another customer, asked him to wait for a moment. “Mrs Carroll was fixing another drink,” Patterson testified. “So she didn't serve him immediately. He said ‘Nigger, did you hear me ask for a drink?‘ He said ‘I don't have to take that kind of shit off a nigger.’ He took the cane and struck her on the right shoulder. she leaned against the bar. Mr Zantzinger stood at the bar for a while, then he picked up his drink and left. She seemed to have been in shock. She said ‘That man has upset me so, I feel deathly ill’.”

“He hit her. He struck right down and hit her,” Burrell confirmed. “It was a hard blow. So hard that I couldn't understand how she could stand up. [...] She handed him the drink, and then she stood there for a minute, and then she fell on me. I was so shocked I couldn't say anything to her.”
 
“Zantzinger yelled ‘Why are you so slow, you black bitch?’ then hit Mrs Carroll with the cane,” Shelton added. “We were petrified. We were dumbfounded.” 
An unconscious Carroll was taken to Baltimore Memorial Hospital where she died eight hours later from a stroke.

Another hotel guest took the cane away from Zantzinger and snapped it in half to prevent him from using it again.  The police arrived and took Zantzinger to the station where he was held overnight before posting bail.  When news later arrived of Hattie Carroll's death a murder warrant was issued.  Eventually Zantzinger was charged with second-degree murder and released again pending trial which was moved to Hagerstown in western Maryland because of all the publicity in the Baltimore area.
Carroll's funeral was held on a wintery February afternoon at West Baltimore's Gillis Memorial Church, where she'd been a deacon and sung in the choir. Afro reporter Ralph Matthews put the crowd there at 1,600 mourners, only about half of whom were able to fit in the church for the service itself. White police, there to control the crowd, looked on as organisers distributed flyers for a rally to protest Carroll's death.

“It was a cold, grey day,” Matthews reports. “Silent intense-looking men passed through the onlookers, handing out leaflets with a headline ‘Who will be next?’ The people read news of a mass meeting. They did not throw the literature away, but read the message and shoved the paper into their pockets. [...] Among the watching crowd were well-dressed men and women, school children, people stopping on their way to work, veiled Muslim women in their long grey dresses. No white faces were to be seen, except in cars whizzing east on Mulberry Street, past the church.”
 
Although there were no white faces in the crowd, the National Council of Christians and Jews did send representatives to the funeral, and so did the Emerson Hotel. Messages of sympathy came in from as far away as Alabama, confirming that Carroll's case was now getting national attention. Inside the church, Rev Theodore Jackson preached that her death would mean more to the city of Baltimore than any other it had seen.

“The ministers of this city, the doctors, lawyers, all people should come together as never before and let people know that coloured citizens are not going to stand for certain things,” Jackson thundered from the pulpit. “We are in the hands of a just God, but not in the hands of a just people.” 
Zantzinger's trial began on June 19, 1963 and according to news accounts the Maryland prosecutors worked hard to obtain a conviction referring to the defendant as "the lord of the manor, lord of the plantation" and as someone who never accepted the defeat of the Confederacy and the end of slavery.

The three-judge court, Judge McLaughlin presiding, issued its verdict on June 27:
“We find that Hattie Carroll's death was not due solely to disease, but that it was caused or hastened by the defendant's verbal insults, coupled with an actual assault,” he said. “And that he is guilty of manslaughter.” . . .
 
“The court accepted medical testimony that the caning itself was not enough to cause death,” next day's New York Times explained. “But the combination of shock, produced by Zantzinger's abusive language and the blow with the cane were sufficient to cause a sudden blood pressure increase and fatal brain haemorrhage.
The manslaughter conviction carried a maximum 10-year prison sentence.  At the sentencing on August 28, Judge McLaughlin levied a 6 month term, to be served in a local jail, not state prison after stating:
“A review of this case discloses this was involuntary manslaughter, similar to manslaughter by automobile,” McLaughlin announced. “We don't feel that Mr Zantzinger is an animal type. Our problem is to view this case from the type of punishment Mr Zantzinger should have.”
Prior to leaving home to serve his sentence, the New York Herald Tribune interviewed Zantzinger, who did not sound as though he'd done much soul-searching over the death of Hattie Carroll:
The paper found Zantzinger in arrogant mood, declaring that all he was going to miss out on during his winter incarceration was “a lot of snow”. He also told the reporter that he had much more respect for some black people than for the “white niggers” he knew, and added: “Hell, you wouldn't want to go to school with Negroes any more than you would with French people”. Stepping in to defend her husband's generosity, Jane said: “Nobody treats his niggers as well as Billy does around here.” For some reason, she seemed to think that would be helpful. 
Bob Dylan, who sang at the Lincoln Memorial rally on August 28 as William Zantzinger was being sentenced, had been following events around the death of Hattie Carroll.  In early October, while in California with his then-girlfriend Joan Baez, he wrote The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, recording it on October 23, 1963.

It's a powerful song; like many based on historical events there are inaccuracies, Zantzinger did not wear a diamond ring, Hattie Carroll was a barmaid, not a waitress, Zantzinger is called Zanzinger, and Dylan confuses the original charge and bail situation (Zantzinger was originally booked for assault and released on bail before it was known Carroll had died) but it really doesn't matter because he gets at the truth of the story.

The lyric never mentions race.  The repeated incantation of the name William Zanzinger creates an unnatural aura because of its unusual use in a song.  In the third verse, Hattie Carroll's lowly status is emphasized in three consecutive lines that end, "of the table", "at the table", and "from the table".  The repetition, lack of rhyme, and interruption of the song's rhythm pounding the message home.

Dylan's chorus, quoted at the top of this post is repeated four times.  The first three times he tells the listener "Take the rag away from your face, now ain't the time for your tears" and then each following verse adds more terrible details.  After the final verse Dylan finally gives permission for releasing the listener singing, "Bury the rag deep in your face, for now's the time for your tears".



Sunday, August 25, 2019

Spiders Spiral Down

On this date in 1899 the Cleveland Spiders, playing at home, beat the New York Giants 4-2.  It was their 19th win of the season against 94 losses.  Cleveland was in 12th and last place in the National League, 55 games behind the first place team.

After that, the season started to go really bad.

Cleveland played 41 more contests in 1899, losing 40, the last nine by a combined score of 111-22.  The last 36 contests were on the road.  For the season, the Spiders recorded 20 wins versus 134 losses, playing only 42 games at home (including only 8 of the final 92 games), 84 games behind the pennant winning Brooklyn Superbas. 

The Spiders had not always been a terrible franchise.  Joining the National League in 1889, the team had played below .500 its first three seasons but then above .500 for seven consecutive years, including 3 second place finishes and one in third place.  Its greatest star was Cy Young, baseball's leader in pitching wins then, now, and forever, who was joined by two other future Hall of Famers, Bobby Wallace and Jesse Burkett.

The prior year, the team finished at 81-68, good enough for 5th place, 21 games out.  Even then, as late as August 11, the Spiders were in third place, only 3 1/2 games out of first.

What happened?  And why?

The demise of the Spiders can be attributed to two factors.  The first was the ban on Sunday baseball in Cleveland and the second was allowing team owners to own more than one franchise.

Since the inception of the franchise it had been owned by Frank and Stanley Robison, with Stanley being the driving force.  Despite fielding competitive teams, the Spiders always had one of the lowest attendance in the league.  At a time when almost 100% of team revenue was dependent upon the fans in the ballpark this was a problem.  The biggest obstacle was the Sunday baseball ban.  In a world where most men still worked a six day week, Sunday was always the day that drew the biggest crowds to a ballgame.

The ban was state law in Ohio, but in Cincinnati enforcement was ignored and the Reds played at home on Sundays without interference.  Cleveland was another story with longtime major Robert McKisson supporting the ban and, in a version of the Baptists and bootleggers theory of government regulation, strongly supported by churches and local saloon owners.

In 1896, the second place Spiders drew 152,000 fans (2,450 per game average), 11th out of 12 teams.  The following year, the Robisons decided to file a legal challenge to the law; they lost and drew only 115,000 fans (1,800 per game average), dead last in National League attendance.

The following year, the Robisons began to execute on what they believed to be a more profitable strategy while planning their exit from the Mistake By The Lake.  The 1898 club played only 55 of 149 games at home, including only 3 of its last 42 contests.  Attendance for home games was down to about 1,300 on average.

Prior to the 1899 season, the Robisons took the next step, purchasing the St Louis franchise (which a year later they renamed the Cardinals).  St Louis permitted Sunday baseball and was a larger market, and Stanley Robison transferred all the best players on the Spiders, including Young, Wallace, and Burkett to the Gateway City franchise.  Though they still owned the Cleveland franchise, it was a wreck, a shell of a competitive baseball team which staggered through the 1899 season.  Average attendance for the 42 home games was 145 (that is not missing a digit!).

The unstable 12 team configuration of the National League, seasons in which most of the teams never competed for the pennant, and the dual owner shenanigans of the Robisons and the owner of the Pittsburgh and Louisville franchises and the Giant-Reds dual ownership led to changes in league structure.

For the 1900 season, four franchises were dropped from the league (Cleveland, Louisville, Washington, and Baltimore) leaving eight teams.  The turmoil also created an opportunity for an upstart league, the American, which declared itself a major league in 1901 and created a new franchise in Cleveland, now known as the Indians.


Friday, August 23, 2019

The Pact

On this date 80 years ago the Nazi regime in Germany and the communists ruling the Soviet Union signed a Non-Aggression Pact surprising and shocking the world.  The Pact opened the way to the Second World War and caused great confusion among Communist Parties outside of the Soviet Union and who, as we know now were funded and under the direct control of the Soviet communists.

In the years prior to Hitler's ascension to power in 1933, Stalin had directed the German Communist Party to consider its main enemy the parties supporting the democratic Weimar Republic, not the rising Nazi party on the theory that once Weimar had collapsed the communists could defeat the Nazis and control Germany.  It was a massive miscalculation.

In the mid-30s, Stalin directed Communist parties to cooperate with other anti-fascist groups in Western countries in order to oppose the Nazis.  And now, on August 23, 1939 Stalin reversed direction again.  Once the war began with Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1 and Great Britain and France's declaration of war on Germany (September 3), Stalin directed communist parties in the UK and France to undermine war preparation efforts and for the American communist party to oppose any action by the United States to support Britain and France.

The public portion of the Pact was a Non-Aggression agreement between the two countries but there was also a Secret Protocol, the existence of which was not acknowledged by the Soviet Union for fifty years.  That section carved upon eastern Europe, including Poland, Finland, the Baltic States, and Romania into spheres of influence and control between Germany and the Soviet Union.

Six million Polish citizens (three million of them Jews) were to die in the next six years as a result of German terror, while hundreds of thousands of Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Romanians were to die, with as many more transported to the Gulag during the Soviet occupation.

Witold Pilecki was a symbol of those times.  Joining the Polish Home Army to fight the Nazis, spending more than two years in Auschwitz, fighting in the Warsaw uprising against the Germans in 1944, and then becoming an opponent of the new Soviet backed regime until he was imprisoned and secretly executed.

During the first two weeks of September the Germans overran Poland, and then on September 17 the Soviets announced they would be entering the country to help preserve stability and security (at the time, no one knew of the Secret Protocol dividing Poland).

The Germans advanced so quickly they entered areas designated for Soviet occupation.  In the city of Brest in eastern Poland a formal handover ceremony was held on September 22.  Below is a photo of German General Heinz Guderian and Soviet General Semyon Krivoshein holding a joint review of their forces on that day.  Krivoshein invited Guderian to visit him in Moscow after Germany defeated Britain.

Krivoshein had a distinguished career after Germany invaded Russia in June 1941.  Late in the war his corps recaptured Brest and spearheaded the final assault on Berlin in April 1945, capturing the Reichstag.





TEXT OF NAZI-SOVIET PACT

Article I

Both High Contracting Parties obligate themselves to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action, and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other Powers.

Article II

Should one of the High Contracting Parties become the object of belligerent action by a third Power, the other High Contracting Party shall in no manner lend its support to this third Power.

Article III

The Governments of the two High Contracting Parties shall in the future maintain continual contact with one another for the purpose of consultation in order to exchange information on problems affecting their common interests.

Article IV

Should disputes or conflicts arise between the High Contracting Parties, neither shall participate in any grouping of Powers whatsoever that is directly or indirectly aimed at the other party.

Article V

Should disputes or conflicts arise between the High Contracting Parties over problems of one kind or another, both parties shall settle these disputes or conflicts exclusively through friendly exchange of opinion or, if necessary, through the establishment of arbitration commissions.

Article VI

The present Treaty is concluded for a period of ten years, with the proviso that, in so far as one of the High Contracting Parties does not advance it one year prior to the expiration of this period, the validity of this Treaty shall automatically be extended for another five years.

Article VII

The present treaty shall be ratified within the shortest possible time. The ratifications shall be exchanged in Berlin. The Agreement shall enter into force as soon as it is signed.


Secret Additional Protocol

Article I

In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and U.S.S.R. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilnius area is recognized by each party.

Article II

In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San.
The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish state and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments.
In any event both governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement.

Article III

With regard to Southeastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares its complete political disinterest in these areas.

Article IV

This protocol shall be treated by both parties as strictly secret.
Moscow, August 23, 1939.
For the Government of the German Reich v. Ribbentrop
Plenipotentiary of the Government of the U.S.S.R. V. Molotov



Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Need For Gratitude

Congressional campaign poster

“For someone who needs gratitude, the New Deal is the natural philosophy, because it lets you do things for people, and therefore gives you the greatest opportunity to get gratitude”.
Robert Caro, The Path to Power, quoting an assistant to Lyndon Baines Johnson when LBJ was secretary to a Texas congressman in the early 1930s.
“Ambition was not uncommon among those bright young men [assistants to congressional representatives] . . . but they felt Johnson’s was uncommon – in the degree to which it was unencumbered by even the slightest excess weight of ideology, of philosophy, of principles, of beliefs. ‘There’s nothing wrong with being pragmatic’, a fellow secretary say. ‘Hell, a lot of us were pragmatic. But you have to believe in something. Lyndon Johnson believed in nothing, nothing but his own ambition’.”
Robert Caro, The Path to Power, of LBJ during the same period in the 1930s

For LBJ the ability to get gratitude linked to huge ambition unguided by any principles proved a powerful tool. Robert Caro has published four volumes of his LBJ biography since 1982; The Path to Power (1908-41), Means of Ascent (1941-48), Master of the Senate (1948-58), and the The Passage of Power (1958-64) and is working on the fifth and final volume. It’s an astonishing piece of work, with the first volume being among the best political biographies ever written. Caro has done both a character study and a study of how political power works, how it is accumulated and how it is used.

No matter what you think of LBJ personally or of his presidency these volumes are worthwhile reading because they are instructive. I resisted for many years, having little regard for LBJ and with each volume being 800-900 pages was unwilling to invest the time.  Turns out it was worth it.

LBJ’s career also raises a more general issue. How important are motivations when measured against actions? For all the disasters of LBJ’s presidency – Vietnam and the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the finest achievements in domestic legislation of the 20th century and LBJ was key to their enactment. In the process LBJ made many conflicting statements about his motivations in pushing these bills through Congress. Some reflect well on him and some reflect very poorly.

Reading Caro’s books you realize that was the essence of LBJ from his start in politics in the 1930s. For 30+ years he said whatever he needed to say to whomever he needed to say it to in order to achieve his goals. Caro has multiple accounts of LBJ telling one politician X and two minutes later telling the next one Y. Reading in Master of the Senate, how he manipulated everyone on both sides by telling them what they wanted to hear in order to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (the first civil rights bill since 1875) was eye opening. And it wasn’t just what he said; LBJ had a remarkable ability to read people and figure out what they wanted, and to cultivate useful political connections with powerful older men who would look upon him as a son like Sam Rayburn (who, unlike LBJ, comes across as an admirable person in the Caro books), Richard Russell, and even FDR.

We can’t take any of LBJ’s statements in connection with the 1964 and 1965 Acts at face value. We simply don’t know what he really thought. Even he may not have known. In the end what counted were the acts.

It was LBJ’s lack of principles, his penchant for manipulation, and not wanting to box himself him, techniques that worked in the legislative world, that proved his downfall regarding Vietnam. It was Senator Frank Church, of all people, who identified the problem:
He [LBJ] played a role between the doves and the hawks, and he did it much the way he used to conduct his majority leadership. He did it on the notion that here was some middle ground, always, on which the majority of the votes could be secured. That was true in the Senate where you have to find that consensus in order to enact legislation. But I think the role of the president is different from that of a senator and that this was a matter of policy that could not be cut down the middle.
Something else I learned from the Caro books.  LBJ has received a lot of just criticism for his micro-management of the Vietnam War including selecting individual bombing targets.  Micro-managing was not something new for LBJ.  He made his political career because of his unbelievable and unrelenting personal energy and attention to the smallest detail in his political campaigns and in the office work when he was a legislative aide, Congressman, and Senator.  It had always worked for him and saw no need to alter that approach during Vietnam.

The era of LBJ is now gone in American politics. It was before the great ideological sorting out of the parties that began in the last quarter of the 20th century. In LBJ’s day both parties were coalitions of very different groups. From Master of the Senate I learned that political science professors in the 1950s urged an ideological sorting out of the parties in order to help government function better. I think it is debateable how well that sorting has turned out.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Greenland In 10 Years

From my friend Jon Gabriel.


And retweeted by Donald Trump!  Things just keep getting weirder.

Image may contain: 1 person

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Walk, Don't Run

It's a warm night, let's put the top down and go cruisin' on the coast highway!   The Ventures from 1960.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why The Songs Sound The Same

From Rick Beato's essential YouTube channel if you love music.

The hook for the video is the recently announced lawsuit against Lady Gaga for allegedly plagiarizing her song Shallow, from the movie A Star Is Born.  Rick quickly dismisses the lawsuit as nonsense but it leads to a fascinating discussion on the trend in pop music over the past two decades to rely on variations of the I-IV-V-VI chord structure for so many songs.  He and Rhett Shull discuss many aspect of pop and why music has ended up in a straight jacket.  Rick points out that of 27 Number One singles by The Beatles only one (Let It Be) used the I-IV-V-VI progression (if you're more familiar with chord names, in the key of C that would be C, F, G, Am).

Below is the discussion and as an extra bonus this is Rick's discussion of Steve Gadd's amazing drum work on Steely Dan's Aja.  Rick provides less technical discussion than usual but his enthusiasm is infectious.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

John Wick 3: Parabellum

Keanu Reeves brings a sense of gravitas to the John Wick series.  Now there's something I never thought I'd be writing.

After ignoring the first John Wick film because the premise sounded stupid, I caught most of John Wick 2 on cable and actually enjoyed it, prompting me to see John Wick 3 when it was released.  It turns out to be a very good and entertaining action film.  And Keanu Reeves does bring a sense of gravitas to the role.  Really.

Particularly enjoyable were the realistic touches in the film.  That is they are realistic within the completely unrealistic framework of the film which envisions a world in which private contract killers meet at neutral hotel locations in major cities to enjoy civilized conversation, food, and drink, and a world in which there are apparently no police, anywhere.

But everyone has to carefully track how much ammo they have in each clip and frantically reload when empty and there is no CGI.

The supporting cast is outstanding; Ian McShane as the droll manager of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in New York, Lance Reddick (who I've grown fond of in his role as LA Police Chief Irvin Irving in the series Bosch) as the hotel concierge, Laurence Fishbourne as Bowery King, Anjelica Huston as head of a Russian crime organization, and Halle Berry as a fellow contract killer.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Again

I paid the new Tarantino film a second visit, this time with the THC Son who is visiting for a few days.  My original review.

Seeing it a second time allowed me to pay more attention to the period details, which are so precise and so right, and the general atmosphere, appreciating all of Tarantino's little touches.  Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are even better than I thought.  And the musical choices are spot on.  I particularly liked the use of Out of Time (The Rolling Stones), Twelve Thirty (The Mamas & The Papas) and the Jose Feliciano version of The Mamas & The Papas classic, California Dreamin, as well as a perfectly using an edited version of the intro to You Keep Me Hangin' On by the Vanilla Fudge. I rate it even more highly now.

Tarantino finally made a movie with heart and warmth (and yes, there is violence).  A great film.



Friday, August 9, 2019

Politics Without Substance

I came across this political quiz at the New York Times. Using eight questions it claims to be able to predict your political affiliation. None of the questions have anything to do with policy or ideology; all are related to race, sexual orientation, education and religion.

I took the quiz. Party affiliation strength is rated on a scale of 1-100 for both parties. I scored as a +48 Democrat, which means right now I should be deciding whether to support Bernie, Handsy Joe, Granny Warren, or Willie Brown’s [redacted] in the primary.  Long ago, before the last Ice Age, I used to be a Democrat but the last time I voted for a D presidential candidate was 1976 and the last time for any office (other than local) was around 1990.

Where did I go wrong?

My Democratic parents raised me to believe America was the greatest country in the world and we were fortunate to be here. They taught me Commies were bad, really bad. They taught me you needed to work hard to succeed, though they also knew it did not guarantee success. They taught me we had an obligation to help those who couldn’t help themselves, though admittedly their definition of being unable to help themselves was much narrower than that of today’s progressives. They taught me to treat everyone decently, unless they proved they should be treated otherwise, and they taught me that something needed to be done to improve America’s treatment of what were then called Negroes.

I believed then and now they were right in what they taught me.

So maybe this is more about where the Democratic party went wrong.

There’s always been a cottage industry among progressive journalists and intellectuals seeking to explain why Republicans are so racist and xenophobic (and if you read the text surrounding the Times quiz you will see it is dripping with progressive assumptions about how and why people vote Republican), which has exploded into full-time work with the Trump presidency.  What is most striking about these musing is their lack of insight into their own belief system and how it looks to anyone not immersed in their world.

In both my personal life and in thirty years in the corporate world where I hired, managed, promoted, and mentored many people I’ve always been the same; treat people fairly, and I'm confident that's how others see me.  I’ve seen people discriminated against, been outraged, and objected. For that entire time it has not mattered what my political affiliation has been, nor what anyone else's political affiliation was.

I'm not happy with the overall trend in American politics, regardless of party, but I've witnessed the old Democratic party disintegrate over the decades and now transform completely in the 21st century into an organization that manufactures divisiveness, suppresses dissent, seeks to punish its enemies by denying them a livelihood, and wants a permanent one-party state in which identity defines ones belief system.  It’s a party that devalues ideas and an individual’s ability to make decisions.  I feel like I’m watching the scene in Alien where the creature bursts from a crew member’s chest and seeks to devour everything in sight.

Or, as Joe Walsh put it, “Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed“.

It’s why the social justice crowd and white nationalists, race realists or whatever they are calling themselves now, deserve each other. They have the same analysis of society and our political system. Their only difference is in who they think should be on top. Actually, there is one more difference – one is a fringe group of crazies, the other seems to have seized control of one of our two major parties.

I think this best sums up my reaction to the Times quiz:

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Historic Greatness

Image result for mike trout

Today Mike Trout turns 28.  He's on his way to his eighth full season in the majors and is probably the best all-around player in baseball over the past 50 years.

Mike began with a spectacular rookie season in 2012 and has only gotten better since, improving every weakness in his game.  He used to strike out a lot and walk less.  In 2014 he walked in 11.7% of his at bats and struck out in 26.1%.  Last year he was 20% in both categories.  He had trouble with the high inside fastball but changed his stance and now you can't throw it past him.  He was criticized for a weak throwing arm and had only three assists in his first two full seasons.  After working on his throwing strength he's had 30 assists over the last five years and measurably increased the speed of his throws.

He covers a lot of ground as an outfielder and has made any number of spectacular catches.  As of now he is the fourth most successful base stealer in major league history with an 84% success rate - actually, apart from a period in 2015 where pitchers and catchers seemed to have found something in his approach and caught him 7 times in 11 attempts, his success rate is 87% which would be the highest in history.

He hits for average, he hits for power and for the fourth year in a row he's leading the league on On Base Percentage, for the third consecutive year in OPS, and for the fifth time in a row in OPS+ (he plays home games in a pitcher's park).

In seven full seasons he's won two MVPs and finished second on four occasions.  The year he missed a third of the games due to injury he only finished fourth.

In the new fangled stat of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) he is #1 as of age 28 of the almost 20,000 players in major league history, displacing the former #1, Ty Cobb, and is already #60 in career WAR for position players.

What a treat to watch someone perform at this level!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Routine Traffic Stop

August 1 in Parkland, Washington.  I wonder if the cop asked him for his license and registration?

Monday, August 5, 2019

This Life Is More Than Just A Read-Thru

True words.  Take it from me.

One of the best from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.   And a loony video.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sandford Hall

Just returned from Tampa where we visited my 97 year old father-in-law.  While there we got on to the subject of how much he used to love dancing.

As a teenager, growing up in depression-era Alliance, Nebraska, his mother insisted he learn how to dance.  His instructor was the daughter of the local banker.  On Saturday afternoons he would go to their house and for 25 cents she would give him a lesson.

He told us how in the late 1930s he and his buddies would drive two hours to a dance hall on Saturday night and then two hours home after midnight.  Mentioning that he'd heard all the Big Bands play he lamented that the dance hall was probably long gone.

Turns out that after asking him some details on location, we were able, thanks to the miracle of the internet, to find the dance hall and learned to our surprise it is still standing! 

Sandford Hall in Mitchell, Nebraska is located at the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds and been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1997.
Historical dance hall gets a facelift
Sandford Hall was built in 1934, replacing the Mitchell Dance Hall Pavilion which burned down in January of that year.  1934 was a very tough year in the Nebraska Panhandle; not only was the Depression in full swing but it was the first year of the Dust Bowl sweeping across the Great Plains.   The Panhandle was big, lonely country.  Take Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, west of Worcester, and then remove 4.9 million of the 5 million inhabitants in the area and you've got the Panhandle, with its biggest towns in 1940 being Scottsbluff (12,000) and Alliance (6,000).  In 2019 the Panhandle's population is down to about 85,000.

Thankfully, JL Sandford, one of the owners of the First National Bank in Mitchell, was able to arrange a line of credit to finance the new building (and have it named after him!).  The dance floor in the new building was made of hardwood and measured 120'x50'.

And just as my father in law remembered, many of the famous big bands played there, hosted by the American Legion, including Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Harry James, Artie Shaw, and Lawrence Welk.  In those days the bands toured nationally by bus.  There was no interstate highway system so traveling took much longer and Mitchell and Scotts Bluff was a natural overnight stop between Denver and Omaha.  Mitchell's population was only 2,000 but the bands often drew more than 1,000 people to their shows as folks like my father in law and his friends would drive hours to get there.

Today, the recently renovated hall is still used for events ranging from dog shows to weddings.