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Everyone, just calm down now.

April 15, 2016

Yep, that’s what I think.  Everybody just needs to calm down.

Americans get excited about money from oil, and invade other countries.  Other countries get excited about being invaded and retaliate.  Americans get more excited about security and start taking any measures they can think of to protect themselves.  Republicans get excited because the President has a relatively dark colour to his skin and start a very excited movement for everyone to be ignorant and paranoid.  Donald Trump excitedly yells, and excited people yell back ignorantly about making things “great again”.  Extremists blow things up.  Putin gets excited and starts invading things, and has some of his planes buzz an American destroyer. The excitement starts catching and other people get excited as well.

It seems that frantic, excited reaction to events breeds more excited frantic reaction, and its really hard to turn that around. Once excitement reaches a certain level it turns into fear and paranoia … and then violence. It takes a lot for Buddhist monks to get excited (actually I know almost nothing about them, but I make things up), but if they do, things really get crazy.  Most of the time, though, they’re really calm so you never hear about them doing stupid things on the news. The news is about excited people, but you might notice that a lot of the time their excitement is just a precursor to someone getting hurt. In fact, people get excited about the prospect of other people being hurt while they watch.  People get excited by football and there is no way to imagine football without brain-damaging collisions … pretty exciting. People get excited about other people doing dangerous things because other people might get hurt. They get excited about stock car racing because there might be a crash and someone might get hurt.

It’s pretty hard to be violent when you’re relaxed unless you’re a complete psycho.  So, I’d like everyone to just calm down and take some deep breaths.  ISIS should have, like, a picnic with the CIA and nobody should get excited. Maybe they could all go and get a massage and one of those hot stone treatments. The only way that could turn out poorly is if someone gets excited, and that will be against the rules. So … calm down … take some deep breaths, look around you.

Just don’t get so excited.

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Just better.

April 6, 2016

The other day I bought a lovely used 1963 release by Shelly Manne on Impulse! records.  Impulse! had a beautiful design for all of the releases that is just unmistakable.  Not many labels make all of their records uniform in design, but Impulse! always did a simple black white and orange design that looks great. (RogueArt is a great example of this now … I can easily spot my RogueArt release on the shelf.)

Anyway, I was sitting and staring at this record and admiring what is truly a message from another universe. On the cover is a picture of Manne, looking thoughtful and smoking … that’s it.  What I realized is that this is a far better mode of communication than anything that has come since.  I see Manne, I get a message of what this thing is and some atmosphere, and that’s about it.  Thing is, that is all that you need.  The music will speak for itself, and liner notes will give a bit of background, and you’re set. I don’t know what he had for lunch, I don’t know who he’s dating, there is no product placement stamped on his forehead, there aren’t a series of articles describing Manne’s misbehaviour on the weekend, or pictures of him pushing a baby stroller fresh from waking up.

If I did have all of that extra, uh, stuff, I wouldn’t be even remotely better off.  In fact, for me, having all of that information would actually put me at a disadvantage.  I am speaking of what it is like now, with the Internet providing a torrent of information to me pretty much constantly, and almost all of it is nothing but noise.  Would it be better for me to see pictures of Mann’s lunch, see pics of him wasted on the couch with his buddies on the weekend, or know about some shoes that covets?  I realize that humans have this unquenchable voyeuristic tendency, but does the satisfaction of that desire to see into private lives actually enhance … anything? At one point I thought that it was pretty cool to be able to know more about previously private lives of people that I was interested in. I’m not so sure anymore.

This is all pretty difficult to describe, but there is a real beauty to me in an object like the record I was holding in my hands.  In that one 12″ square of cardboard with a circle of vinyl inside, is the entire expression of how Shelly Manne wanted to portray himself to the world.  There is a carefully chosen photo that gives a definite impression of how Manne wanted to be seen, there are liner notes that have to tell me everything I need to be told in a limited space, and there is music that has been carefully chosen and sequenced to communicate something to me in the limited space of a vinyl recording.  Of course, people are going to object to the “limits” that are imposed in every step of that process and I am going to respond that the limits are actually what make the record jacket meaningful, rich, and a lean, calculated message. It gets to the point because it must, and every element is there for a reason, because there’s no room for waste. This is not unlike painting, which must get the communication job done inside of a limited frame, and every brush stroke is there for a reason, or it is not there.  When I view a painting by Jean Michel Basquiat everything on that canvas (or whatever he painted on) is there for a reason.  He didn’t just add a line because there was some space, his painting is tremendous because it is perfect. When I stand in front of a Basquiat painting I can  appreciate the perfection of every line and admire the fact that it is there.  I have never seen one of those paintings and said “well, there is that one line that seems to be there for no reason”.

Now, we have Justin Bieber (to shoot fish in a barrel).  Sure, there have been shallow purveyors of fluff for a very long time, but Bieber came up in discussion recently and I thought that he was an interesting case. I don’t know a single line of one of his songs and I’ve likely heard some of them.  The thing is, Bieber (or his handlers) don’t have any of that sense of economy.  They throw every stinking thing at you that they can possible find in a torrent of info that makes it impossible to not know things about Bieber. Fact is, I know way more about what Justin is wearing, who he makes the mistake of hanging around with, what his current hair configuration is, and the fact that he seems to have thrown eggs at his neighbour’s house. This info is extremely effective at keeping him in the public eye, but I’m not sure what value it brings … to anything. Of course, this is happening from multiple sources all-day every day so that I know about the Jenners, the Kardashians, what that idiot Kanye West is doing, etc etc etc.  The vast majority of this is NOISE.  Although it serves the purpose of maintaining attention, that seems to be its sole value. It’s not what people know, it’s just that they’re paying attention. I find myself pretty much constantly working to turn down the flow of garbage coming out of the internet nozzle.  The force of attention is very very strong and it is far from easy to quiet down the din. Thing is, while everyone is trying to shout the loudest, all that they are shouting is “look … Look … LOOK!!!”  I actually get this pretty much every waking hour, as I have some young folks in my house and they are forever hearing “LOOK!” and then coming to me essentially saying “we’re supposed to LOOK at this” … “LOOK at it … LOOK at it!!!”.  I look, and at this point instantly realize that I quite simply am looking at empty images with nothing except shock value, pathetic behaviour, or just about anything that someone can come up with to get some attention … whatever that takes”.

I was told that Justin Bieber has recently had a resurgence in popularity.  When I asked why, it seemed that it was pretty much entirely based on his new haircut.  While people have survived on haircuts for quite a while now, it seems that the haircut is now the entire package … there is nothing else.  His haircut has garnered attention, but his new music just melds right into all of the other stuff being played loudly at the clothing stores at the mall. His new haircut is where it begins and ends. There’s nothing there there. While Shelly Manne was sending a message and it seems rich and clear, Bieber is saying absolutely nothing except “look at me”.  I look, and that I say “what?”  “What do you want to tell me Justin?”  I’m met, however, with nothing … he is two-dimensional, flat, a pretty picture. He says nothing.  His image changes, not to send a message, but to recharge the attention machine. We are barraged with the image, and nothing else … nothing at all.

I recently was writing something and summed up the early history of the internet as a ton of promise and hope for an information network, that exploded when everyone saw William Shatner singing and expanded so fast that none of the hopeful bits could keep up.  As it turns out, it’s never gone beyond Shatner singing. Media has lost its depth … there’s nothing beneath the surface and process of content creation has just become picking up as much crap as possible and throwing it at me. I have to keep turning away to look at things with depth and meaning, and it gets harder and harder to hear something real above the 2D din.

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Time to catch up, people.

April 4, 2016

On Saturday, I began my annual attempt to watch the NCAA Final Four (the basketball tournament).  I’ve been watching it since 1983, and it’s always been an interesting measure of where tech is at. At first, it was all TV and you’d be able to see one game at a time (there are often several going on at once).  Then, the audio of games started to be broadcast on the Internet, and I’d watch one game while listening to another.  Then, they started streaming games, and I’d watch one on TV while streaming others, and there’d be screens all over the place.  Then, I got rid of TV and started watching it only on the Internet and that improved.  Then, I still didn’t have TV and the people streaming the games started getting dumber and it became harder and harder to watch the games.  Then, CBS started streaming the games themselves and for a few years I could watch games streaming high quality.  Then, CBS started farming off games to other networks, and I could watch some streaming from their site, but others required that I prove that I subscribed to the network before I could watch them on the web.  That year, clearly, we started moving backwards.

In my usual way, I thought a lot about this and cursed a fair bit in the process.  I now was watching the games that CBS streamed in high quality and loved that.  Then, a game would be streaming in high-quality but I was forbidden to watch it because I didn’t subscribe through conventional TV systems to that network.  So, I’d go to a “streaming site” where other naughty people were streaming the games.  The absolutely insane part of this is that the bad people were just re-streaming exactly the stream that I would have seen should I be allowed to on CBS, but in lower quality.  So, I was watching the same commercials but giving money to someone else, and CBS (or others) couldn’t count me as a viewer because I was getting the stream from elsewhere since I had been driven there by weird limitations.

If you think too much about it (like I do), it is clear that the limitations are extremely weird.  Essentially, my ability to watch the games in any reasonable way on the Internet is being governed by the model of TV in which I subscribe to a third-party who runs a wire into my house and controls what I watch and when. The weird part is that TV hasn’t worked like that for me in a very long time, but for some reason I can’t shake that model even  when I don’t own a TV or have an appropriate cable coming into my house. Even weirder, I know very well that I can watch other smaller events like surfing contests, professional skateboarding, or rugby through really great systems that work perfectly and don’t have ridiculous walls placed in your path.  It seems really odd to me that small events broadcast really well (and massively increase their exposure) while bigger events try to limit who can watch them, and make it ever more difficult to actually see the darn things. I think that it’s safe to say that CBS spends way more time and effort trying to keep people from watching events than they do trying to allow people to watch, which has totally reversed their business model.

Fact is, there is a lot of money to be made by actually making use of the Internet instead of hobbling your viewers by trying to make the new technology fit the limitations of the old.  This lesson has already been painfully learned by the music and film industries who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into making vast amounts of money in new modes like Netflix and iTunes. (and many other platforms)  For Pete’s sake CBS, would you stream the damn games in a watchable way, put in all of the ads and bill advertisers for that, and even charge me if you wish for the use of this service (I WANT to pay!)  Ditch all of the ridiculous  license agreements that cause you to make the Internet not work, and collect money like there’s no tomorrow.  Is that an unreasonable request?  Apparently.

For, you see, this is not about allowing viewers to view events.  It is about preserving revenue streams that were invented in very different days.  The business is about limiting access, and the viewers are just trying to view.  And the limits aren’t working. CBS is very slowly shooting itself in the foot to save its old ways.  Give them what they want, get the old models out of the damn way, and monetize it.  You don’t even need to invent this … others have already showed how it’s done.  (look to surfing … they went from having events in far off inaccessible places where nobody could watch to having 50,000 viewers watch entire events on YouTube in glorious high-definition for free … their only problem is dealing with a massive rise in popularity and ad revenue that they never used to have).

Oh, I should mention (for all two of my readers) that this all begins with having to pretend to not be Canadian.  Yes, the first step in this insane process is to fire up a VPN and hope that this year it works.  This is because in addition to all of the other ludicrous limitations put in my way, the providers of this event also pretend that there are borders on the Internet.  Of course, there aren’t any borders, just artificial obstacles played in the way to pretend that it is still 1978and to make sure that everything isn’t quite convenient.

Can we get over this soon?  Just charge me, please, and don’t make me jump through these hoops.  Soon, you will completely lose me to the people who can actually figure this stuff out, and you can horde your media all to yourself while repeating over and over that one day everything will be just like it was in the “old days”.

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Full Circle

March 15, 2016

For about a year or so, my daughter has had a job, and one of the new-fangled driver’s licenses that allow you to drive, but only with a licensed person sitting next to you.  This meant that every evening that she worked, I had to go and pick her up.  Since she worked in a place that had an indeterminate time when everyone leaves (there is cleanup at the end of the day), I often sat in the parking lot waiting for a while.  Although I enjoyed taking this time to listen to music (and the car is a great place to do that), I almost always listened to Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” album.  That may sound strange, but I do love to dive deep into a recording and get right into every single note until I can run the entire thing through my head in my spare time.

Paranoid certainly isn’t the first record that I’ve done this with.  The first record that I memorized every note of was the Beatles “Abbey Road”, particularly side 2, which to this day makes me happy.  (I just remembered this while thinking of recordings that I have memorized).  I would get my mother to put on Abbey Road at a really young age (young enough that I had to get my mother to do it), and I had every note committed to memory. One of the great things about it at the time was that the duelling guitar solos of John and George near the end of the side, was also being used as the music for a commercial for Buffalo Sabres hockey broadcasts that were on TV quite a bit.

Other completely memorized recordings:  Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Waters which was also played by my mother.  Boston – Debut – I would lie on the floor with a speaker on either side of my head and listen pretty much every night.  Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks (constant listening early in high school.  Devo – Are We Not Men? I listened to this record until I would actually feel nausea when it came on.   Joy Division – Closer … having mocked this record the first time I heard it, I proceeded to listen to it constantly for a really long time … heck, I’d put it in a “walkman”, and wander the streets at night listening to this record. New Order – Movement – the only New Order album I bothered with, I listened all the way through every night for at least a year, often through a guitar amp before I could afford a proper amp. PiL – Second Edition – a tough listen, but once again, heard the entire thing many many times.

Oh, and once I had a record memorized I would run through entire LPs in my head while writing exams in school.  (I remember this very clearly)  In particular, I remember writing my English exam while the entire debut album of the Cars ran through my head, pauses between songs and all.

So, Black Sabbath was a long overdue obsession, but I got there.  I’m sticking with the first three records (for now) but Paranoid is the one I come back to most frequently.  I have realized that this a great record.  Huge, chunky, great riffs, big chords with a lot layers overtones, and powerful playing.  Weirdly, I also have come to realize that Ozzy’s voice is pretty great (even if the lyrics are often pretty dumb).  And, it sounds fantastic LOUD.  So, this finally brings me to the point of this boring story.  My best friend when I was in elementary school was named Brian Sheppard, and he was a very cool dude.  His father had been a pro football player, and Brian was inhumanly strong and seemed indestructible.  He would hang from the bridge over the nearby drainage ditch for fun (just hanging there until he got bored, and then he’d pull himself back up and ride his bike down the stairs between two streets in our neighbourhood. (I should mention that his father also had a large stack of Playboy magazines just sitting in the den … yes, in those days that happened, and he once fell asleep in the rain on the roof of his house). One day, Brian seemed to feel that I required a test, and pulled out two cassettes.  One was Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, and the other was something poppy that I don’t even remember.  He’d play one and then the other  and then ask me which I preferred.  He clearly thought I should choose the poppy one, and I kept on insisting that I preferred Sabbath.  We dropped that shortly thereafter, but it struck me sitting in my car 45 years later that I was finally getting around to Sabbath and it brought back memories of Brian (who moved away shortly after that … I’m thinking that was grade 4).

So, my grade 4 self was right: Sabbath is pretty amazing, even if it took me four decades to get back to it. Something in my brain works the same as it did then.  Now, I just have to figure out if I’m going to spend a small fortune to see the band on it’s farewell tour this summer.  It seems like the right thing to do.

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Confirmation of lack of interest.

February 24, 2016

I have been a hardcore non-owner of a cell phone ever since there have been cell phones. Over the years this has become a thing that I enjoy saying (I don’t have a cell phone) and over the years that simple statement has become more and more shocking to people.  As I also say, though, I rarely ever think “wow, if only I had a phone right now”.  When I go to the supermarket and can’t remember what type of yoghurt to buy, I don’t phone someone … I just decide like I always have.  Sometimes I get it wrong, but the consequences are extremely easy to get over.  Last Spring my kids went out on bikes to buy some stuff and a huge rainstorm started up … rather than phoning them to confirm that it was, indeed, raining a lot, I just drove out on what I presumed would be their route, and found them (like my parents would have, or I would have just gotten wet).  Nobody said, “if only you’d had a cell phone”.

A few months ago, I decided that I would buy a cell phone just to make sure that I wasn’t just super-stubborn and self-righteous (which I may be … probably am). I found a well-reviewed Chinese-made android phone for $55 and bought a couple to try out.  I received the  thing, set it up, and even used it in wireless environments.  I figured out (this could be useful to people!) that since our home phone is VOIP, I could pop a iPad SIM card into the thing and get full data service for $15/month with unlimited calling etc.  Woo-hoo, I was ready to walk around like an idiot holding my cell phone out in front of me, texting “sup” to everyone and anyone.

Except that didn’t happen.  I did carry it around for a while, place it on tables at meetings, and occasionally look at it, mostly to see what time it was. As it turns out, though, I really don’t care about cell phones.  All of my self-righteous posturing was actually a genuine lack of need or interest in constantly having a personal radio in my pocket.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have never cared about any kind of phone.  In fact, I hate the phone and dread talking on the damn thing.  In fact, my fondest memories are of the times when nobody knows where I am … days when I happily wander around Toronto while nobody even knows that I went there, the days that I cam home from university but didn’t tell anyone  that I was coming and wandered around town for a while before going home.  I love anonymity and being completely out of touch, and the cell phone absolutely ruins that. So, shortly after getting the thing running like I wanted, I pretty much forgot about it and would just leave it at home, occasionally using it for an over-powered alarm clock.

I am in wireless environments at work and at home, and the only time that I am not in a place where I can just open my laptop and be connected is on my walk home.  That’s a time when I really don’t want to be bothered, so a phone would not help.  I have stood under a tree to wait for a passing rainstorm, and more than once I have walked across town instead of calling for a ride, but in those cases I probably could have found a phone … but, then people would have to drive to get me, and that seems like a waste when I am perfectly capable of walking. I have one chat-like setup so that I can chat with my kids (who also do not have phones), when they are in the wireless-enabled environments of school or home.

I think that I have sent about 4 “texts” in my life.  Once I was meeting someone in Toronto and needed to know when they were arriving.  I went to a Starbuck’s and used the wireless. Actually, the other time I was also meeting someone in Toronto, so maybe the big city has something to do with it.  Anyway, it seems that I really do not care about cell phones.  I have tablets and laptops and iPods that can pretty much do everything a phone can do. (You can easily send SMS messages with apps on your Mac that come built-in).  With these devices you don’t have to give in and be a complete chump, paying for “data plans” and “voice plans” at ridiculous prices (and they are ridiculous … stupid, even).  I mean, I can’t even stand to take about data and voice plans … there haven’t been “voice plans” really since everything went digital and you got rid of your rotary dial phone. Your “voice” is just digital data that goes over the same damn line as the “data” that you use to browse.  That you pay for voice AND data is just ludicrous. It’s all data. (ever talk on Skype? Your voice goes magically over the internet, without having to use to amazing “voice lines” that the phone company would like you to believe are a thing.

Ages ago, computing services came to the Library and asked what we wanted in our new VOIP-based phone system.  I asked “why do I need a phone?  It’s just another computer on my desk and I already have two of those that I can makes calls with?”  The guy actually agreed with me, but the university got thousands of little ringing desk computers whose only function is to be restricted to imitating a telephone. Weird, huh?  Well, it seems that although I have confirmed that I actually do not care about cell phones, I am obviously completely insane.  How else can you explain not wanting to stare at a tiny screen with people chattering mindlessly on it, and paying more for that that I do for everything I already receive over the internet (the same wires and network that my “phone” would work on and that I already pay for)?

There is hope.  It seems that while 20 year olds can’t put down their phones, the next generation doesn’t seem quite as attached.  My almost 15 yr old son doesn’t seem to care in the slightest about cell phones, and I’ve never seen one of his friends with one. Perhaps this wave will pass, and we’ll once again be able to walk through a door or up the stairs without watching out for oblivious phone-starers walking into walls and people.

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Grumpy Internet Man

February 23, 2016

I’ve been reading a lot about how people pre-hypertext (or just at the dawn of hypertext) thought computing was going to progress with the new technologies that shortly thereafter would allow for the birth of the internet.  There was a tremendous amount of promise at that time with visions of information being connected and navigated by everyone through hypertext (what you now know so well as a “link”).  There was much speculation that hypertext would include rich metadata that would allow a reader to know where their link was going to lead, and to record their travels so that their inquiries and discoveries could be shared.

I’m trying to find out what happened to all of these dreams.  My memory of all of this (and I was definitely right there) was that there was huge promise, and then an explosion that wiped out all planning and possibilities for conscious design.  My memory is that one day we were talking about the academic possibilities of all of this, and the next day we saw William Shatner singing on a website and all bets were off.  My (inaccurate) recall of all of this is a blur of spectacle that went from one really cool computer trick to another and the “amazing” caused the careful and considered design of the web to just get lost.  No more rich metadata, replaced by a flood of cat pictures and pictures of what people are eating for dinner (and, ugh, the “selfie”).

It seems as though a great deal of energy since has been focused on the ridiculous. Rather than developing a useful linking technology, we get links to an “amazing story” (“you’ll be shocked by #17”), a picture of a goofy kid dancing becoming a cultural phenomenon, and social media.  Social media had a ton of promise and for a while being able to talk to anyone and everyone online was working pretty well.  There was a period with Netnews when I would actually suggest to someone that forums were full of smart people, and that “crowd-sourcing” could really provide answers from experts.  Now, when I go to Google (crowd-sourcing) and try to find out why my iPod shuts off randomly, I get an endless series of people who are amazed at the possibility of re-booting the device, accompanied by an approximately equal number of people insulting their intelligence.  I can not think of any better description of the current state of the internet than “cluster-f%ck”.   Yes, I can now read about the discover of gravity waves, but the comments of people who actually know something will be drowned out by people who actually don’t even know what science is (let alone have the slightest ability to determine if the article in question might hold valuable information).  It’s like if you were at NASA trying to get Apollo 13 back home, and to solve the complex problems of gravity, propulsion, and trajectory your staff found a really great mix of top scientists and drunk soccer fans. While that would be very, uh, “democratic” (to use that word incorrectly, like just about everyone else), Apollo 13 would have missed the Earth by a long way as everyone at Mission Control called each other assholes.  It’s depressing, to be honest.

So, as I read these articles from the early days, I think about how the thinkers of the time could never have foreseen the mess to come.  Rather than links filled with useful metadata, we have links that open ten windows all with a scam included, and a final window that you can’t close offering you the ability to phone a call-center in India and have your computer hijacked.  On social media, I manage to hang around long enough to have someone who is clearly pissed off about something call me names like I’m on the school yard in grade 3.  No thanks.  The only social media left for me is Twitter, simply because I can put out cool stuff, read other people’s cool stuff, but not really have what Facebook-sociopaths would call a “conversation”.  These conversations consist of a lot of people who hold the same opinions getting into a simulated room and telling each other how right they are and scaring off anyone who might offer a different opinion, even if they’re completely right. Why people “like” this scenario is beyond me, but clearly, millions of them can’t get enough.

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Lots of death.

January 22, 2016

Oh hey.

I was reading before Christmas how this time of year is very popular for dying, and it certainly seems to be true in 2016.  There have been a bunch, but the two I’m thinking about are David Bowie and Glenn Frey.  I will instantly offend multitudes by suggesting that these are both not quite A-List cultural icons, but certainly household names and very important to large numbers of people.  I mean, it’s not like Bob Dylan or Keith Richards died … I should probably just stop now.

Anyway, Bowie was always interesting to me.  He produced music that did touch a ton of people, but he also produced a lot that was very forgettable to me.  I can say that I was very attached to his “Berlin recordings” and in particular Low and Heroes.  I wouldn’t listen to either of them much today, as they were very much (to me) the kind of thing that I could listen to excessively to feed my teen angst and these days (at 52) I get enough angst in my daily life that I’m not really looking for more in my spare time. They were very important records at the time, however, because they truly did feed in to a lot of the music of the 80s and were hugely influential.  It is rather common knowledge that the track “Warzsawa” on Low directly lead to proto-Joy Division naming themselves Warsaw, and the sound and the aesthetic of those records clearly was adopted for 80s shoe-gazing and moping (I loved that music, don’t get me wrong). It was also super-important because in the pre-internet days a a guy like Bowie was much better at keeping his ear to the ground than I was, and he would tell me about really important things I otherwise wouldn’t know. In the case of Berlin-era Bowie, he was telling me about Kraut-rock and I wouldn’t even know it for years to come.    However, when I did encounter Can, Neu!, and Amon Duul after a very circuitous route, I was ready for it thanks to the fact that Bowie had figured out its importance years earlier.  Even if most people never listened to the Berlin-era recordings their influence lead to a lot of the music to come.  Public Image Ltd always seemed to me to come out of that, the previously mentioned Joy Division and everything that came from that, and even a band like Tortoise that connected back to Krautrock through a series of influences, all might go through Bowie.  Of course, Bowie also ensured that the otherwise hopeless (at that point) Iggy Pop had a lot more years in his career, by producing The Idiot and Lust for Life and making it clear that when someone kept him moving forward, Mr. Pop was  an artist.

Anyway, it was a little weird for me when we visited New York recently and wound up staying about a block from Mr. Bowie’s residence. There it was:  the shrine that you always see on TV with the flowers and the candles, and the really terrible paintings.  I must admit that I was a little confused about the level of admiration, not because Bowie wasn’t an amazing person, but because I wasn’t sure that anyone remembered him.  Turns out they did, I guess.  Thing is, he was a person that we don’t have many of anymore.  First off, he did whatever he wanted, and was never “in fashion” … he was creating fashion. He did not do fashionable things, he did things that freaked people out for a while, until they all started doing it too to be as cool as David Bowie.  Being in New York, I expect to see some of that, but mostly what you see is people trying to make their mark by wearing what they’re supposed to wear and doing what they’re supposed to do.  Bowie didn’t do that.  When he was The Man Who Fell to Earth, or the Thin White Duke, only he was those things … there was no trend, he was creating it.  He was the right person to be in The Hunger because he had been a vampire for quite some time: long before anyone else was a vampire. Like the Krautrock thing, all of his other personas had been borrowed from somewhere, but he found cool things that other people weren’t looking at and showed them to us, and we went “wow, that’s pretty cool”.   That’s quite a talent.

Bowie was also a “renaissance man”.  He made records, of course, but he seemed to be ahead of trends in all kinds of fields. He was always ahead of the curve with fashion, he was very well read (he is probably directly responsible for Herman Hesse books being on my shelves), and he was actually in some good movies.  Aside from the Hunger, I really loved him in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, a beautiful film that is very much of it’s time that still really holds up today.

Ah right, I mentioned Glenn Frey.  I have less to say about him, but I do have something to say.  There has been way too much “I’m too cool to say something even remotely nice about the Eagles” for my liking.  They were from quite a nauseating time in music to be sure, and they pretty much define what makes me feel queasy about the 70s (along with Fleetwood Mac, who somehow fit into the same category in my brain).   However, while they often take me back to a bad time in our culture, the Eagles were really good at what they did. I can not honestly say that they weren’t cool, and I really do think that they were fantastic at what they did.  I can sing a lot of their songs from beginning to end, and there are some pretty great lyrics, even if they are basically semi-country music from California played in a haze of cocaine and decadence.  I can not deny some type of appeal to the line “it’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me” even if it is kind of meaningless and, well, absurd.  I have a guilty pleasure of listening to Desperado, even if it is absurd (again) to think of these guys singing about a cowboy … there is something tremendously touching about that  song when sung by the Langley Schools Music Project with their little-kid voices … there’s something great about that corny song.  So, hey, I am sad about the passing of Glenn Frey, if only because the sound that he made defined a time, (even if it was a somewhat nauseating time), and when I hear that music I can be right there again, listening to the Long Run endlessly on an 8-track that is stuck in a car’s player.  It’s not even a good memory, but it is that time, and to define a time is no small achievement.

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