Portland Anonymous: Fragment Fifteen

It was not an easy process, but eventually we came up with a schedule to release the material that #N/A had recorded with us.  First we would release the two cd and dvd combo for the benefit concert, with the proceeds devoted to charity.  That was an easy decision to make.  After that we would release the proper follow up album under the title “The Centre Cannot Hold,” with its tense and anxious feeling, and finally we would release “Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes” and promote a couple of singles to country and Christian radio, allowing him the chance to expand his reach to other demographics that we didn’t really want to go after here in Portland.  We also promised to coordinate a release of rarities and B-sides in order to fulfill his contractual obligations to us, as that would be enough material that we would be able to break even without any difficulty.  That was the deal at least, although we didn’t know how much other material there would be of his to handle before everything was done.

***

I thought we made a good deal to get #N/A as a recording artist.  Given that his anonymity was no longer an issue, we persuaded him that it would be good to release his material with us under his given name, as that would have a much more downhome appeal than his anonymous moniker did.  It also had the added bonus of differentiating his material from his old label from his new material, which we thought was only a good thing.  And immediately our deal started paying dividends, for as soon as he signed with us he got to writing and helping co-write songs for our other artists, which we saw as potential hit singles.  That sort of decision, to help out others before looking to increase his own name recognition, was one that our artists appreciated right out of the gate.  We couldn’t understand what had led his previous label to see his productivity as a problem.  Here was someone who loved working with others, could help the bottom line with quality product immediately, and wasn’t looking for all the glory and attention.  It was a great deal for us and everyone was favorably inclined to our new artist and the new direction he was taking.

***

People have this idea that country music is a place only for rednecks, and there are certainly some people who make a good living out of pandering to that idea, but I think Alan Jackson had it best when he sang “Gone Country” way back in the 1990’s, when he looked at wholesome songs that told a good story and that was amenable to people from the suburbs or with folk traditions.  When I got to talking with him while we were writing songs, I was amazed at his own background.  He was obviously one of those bookish and intelligent people who might have looked down on us, or someone who thought that he could simply pander to us by pretending, but he was pretty genuine.  We talked about his upbringing and the rural and small town life he had known as a kid, and why it is that he had wanted something more out of life, and we could definitely understand where he was coming from.  And while we worked on telling that story in songs that he would record with us, he would also talk with me and with some of our other artists and writers and we got to cutting some awesome demo tapes for some of the artists in our stable.  Those were some good times, I have to admit.

***

I was pretty surprised when I got a song written by him sent to me by the label for consideration for my next album.  I had known that he had some broad tastes in recording music, but I didn’t realize he could craft such heartfelt songs about caring for others.  He had heard that I was a stepfather to some daughters and he wrote an amazing song about wanting to be the sort of man that those girls needed, to teach them that a real man didn’t need to be related to someone by blood in order to take care and protect them.  When I recorded it in the studio, it made my eyes water, and that of the musicians that were in the studio with me.  We all knew the song would make some immediate impact and it did.  And making that music video with my girls was amazing too.  I couldn’t believe that someone as awkward and isolated as he was had a real tender spot when it came to such things, and that song was really big for our family as well as my career as a musician.  There aren’t many times you get a song and you know that it is going to change lives, but we did with that one, and I have nothing but respect for someone who can make that kind of song and realize that it would work well for someone else, even if he was trying to make a name for himself too and trying to keep from being seen as a one-hit wonder.  Anyone who has that kind of generosity of spirit is someone that I am always going to respect.  I just wish I could have known him better, as he could have written and sung for a long time.

***

I remember when we were sent the two singles from his Latin-titled album.  At first we didn’t know what to do with them.  I mean, the songs were great, and they were definitely country, but would our fans understand what he was trying to do with them?  I wasn’t sure, so I asked if the singer would come around to our station and talk with our fans, and then see if it would improve what our listeners thought about the material.  And yeah, it did.  He was a really gracious person and answered the questions of our listeners and hosts, and the songs went right to the top of our request charts and then it spread to others as the video we recorded in our station went viral.  I was really glad that this shy and diffident person was willing to take the time to talk about why he had made the songs the way he did, and what he was trying to accomplish and why they all had Latin titles, and instead of alienating himself from our listeners, we found it really showed who he as as a person, someone who was really smart but also someone who had a clever sense of humor.

***

Is that your real name?

Yes, that’s my real name.

Why did you ever go by #N/A in the first place?

The whole point was to be anonymous.  And I figured that I could be anonymous by making a reference to my real name that no one would get and by making a reference to the work I did where there were often not applicable results.  I figured it would be a clever joke.

Is this upcoming album the same kind of clever joke?

I think so, but it’s a joke with a serious edge.  Our society is deeply divided, and there is a genuine lack of trust between people who should get along, and this album is about that lack of trust and how it poisons relationships.

And we have played a couple of country songs from that album.  What were you trying to accomplish with those songs and their titles?

I thought the songs were pretty straightforward relationship songs.  In “Status Quo Antebellum,” the narrator is trying to get his old flame to come back to him, to forgive or forget the past and start over together again.  Of course, status quo antebellum is the ending of a war where everything goes back to the way things were at the beginning of the conflict.  It’s something we want to have happen but it’s not something that does happen.  I figured that antebellum would also be a reference to the civil war that people would pick up as well.  With “Ceteris Peribus,” wanted to portray the life of someone who was busy with work and trying to make a living, but where he would have preferred to have been with his sweetheart if he could have.  He’s telling her all other things being equal, I’d rather be with you.  Of course, ceteris peribus is an expression that economists like to use to compare how people would behave if all other things were equal, and everyone knows that all other things are never equal in reality.  I was hoping that mysterious economic language was not so far removed from ordinary human experience.  To some extent we are all influenced by economic concerns.  That’s true for me as a musician, that’s true for you guys as deejays at a radio station, and that’s true of people who have to work for a living to take care of themselves and their families.  So what I was trying to accomplish was taking terms that are familiar either to diplomatic history or economics and point out that they are not only elevated intellectual terms but also real and ordinary aspects of life.

Did you ever study diplomatic history?

I don’t think I ever had a class in the subject, but it is something I read on my own and as a student of military history it was a subject that came up often.  War and diplomacy are like the good cop and bad cop of international relations, and many wars are ended by armistices and treaties that stop a conflict short of totally destroying any of the regimes involved.  So yes, I would say I have studied diplomatic history.  It wasn’t a foreign subject to me, even if it isn’t something that most people are familiar with.

Who would have thought to connect economics and diplomatic history with country music?

I did, that’s who.  [Laughter.]

Do you think that people can relate to you?

I don’t know what you mean.  We’re here in Tampa, and after I get done with the radio station I’m going to spend some time with my mom at her house, and after that I’m going to go to the Old Spaghetti Warehouse for dinner.  I’m going to eat salad, bread, and chicken parmigiana and vanilla ice cream.  I’m going to read a book or two and chat with the bartender while I drink Shirley Temples and with the people around me if they are friendly.  People aren’t going to recognize me as someone famous, and they’re just going to think I’m a serious but fairly ordinary fellow.  After spending the night in a hotel I’m going to fly back to Nashville to work on some business, and I’m going to take an ordinary flight and go economy class.  I’m going to be surrounded by people like me, people traveling for business and/or pleasure and living pretty ordinary lives.  I don’t want to be so out of touch that I lose sight of the way that people live.

Celebrities often do lose touch of how people live.  Do you think that would harm your music?

Of course I do.  

Can you think of any celebrities you’re trying to avoid becoming like?

I don’t want to name any names, as that wouldn’t be very kind, but yes, there are definitely some celebrities who seemed to lose touch with the people that they were originally singing about.  They got wealthy and got involved only with other celebrities and left the country to go to New York City and adopted the wrong kind of worldview and really alienated their fans, the ones who had supported them and helped them to become famous.  

I think we all know some people like that.

I think we do too.

You grew up not too far away from here, right?

That’s right.  From the age of three to fourteen I lived just outside of Plant City.  For the first five years or so I lived with my grandparents after that for the next five and a half years my mom and younger brother and I lived in a single-wide trailer just off of Sam Allen Road.  During high school I lived in East Tampa just off of 50th and MLK, so it’s not as if this area is unfamiliar to me.  You might consider me a local boy made good, if you wanted.

Do you have any stories about your youth that you plan on singing about?  Would any of them make good country songs?

Yeah, I can think of some stories that would make great country songs.  When I was a kid, one of my teachers invited my brother and I to come out to his place one Sunday afternoon, and he wanted to show his gun collection to us.  I was pretty excited by that, and my brother and I shot targets with his rifles and pistols, and we even got to use his tuber relocator.

What’s that?

Well, it’s a bazooka made of pvc pipe and you use potatoes as ammunition.  Technically, in many areas they are illegal, so our teacher happened to call it by another name.

That’s pretty funny.  So a public school teacher of yours invited you to see his arsenal and try out shooing his weapons?

Yeah, what’s more country than that?  

Were you always as nerdy as you are now?

Yeah, I have always been this way.  When I was growing up as a kid people called me Dictionary boy because I would read reference materials for fun.  I think it was pretty much destined for me that I would be the sort of person I am.  I have always loved to play sports, but I’ve always spent a lot of time reading and writing and thinking, and that will always mark someone as an odd bird growing up where I did.

You must have been bullied a lot as a kid, right?

Oh yes, very much so.

Have any of those who bullied you apologized for it?  Did they ever say, oh no, he’s famous, he might write a song about it?

I don’t think anyone has apologized to me, yet, because I’m famous, but when I was in graduate school, one of the people I grew up apologized to me for having been mean to me in elementary school, and she wasn’t even one of the worse bullies.  I let her know she was forgiven and we laughed it off.  There’s no point in holding a grudge about that kind of thing.  The way I was treated as a kid definitely shaped who I am as an adult, but at the same time there is a lot of stuff that one simply has to forgive and let go as best as one is able.  You can’t hold the rest of the world responsible for the way you were treated as a kid.  You just have to use your experiences as fuels for success and becoming a better person than others have been to you.

So you don’t hold a grudge against us?

Why would I?  I don’t happen to know you yet.

Did you ever keep in touch with how things were going in Plant City after you left?

Yeah, I visited there from time to time when I have lived in the area, and I still have family that lives nearby, so yes, I keep in touch with my folks there.  I’m also part of a Facebook group called “I Growed Up In Plant City” where we talk about the way things used to be when we were kids there, even though I moved far away.

Do you ever think of moving back here?

Yeah, I’m actually working on building a castle of my own and a studio in the area, so I should be around a lot more often in the future, even if I have to divide my time with other areas.  I’d definitely like to stay here most of the winters, at least.

How many homes do you have?

Well, I own a place outside of Portland and I’m building one here near Fort Lonesome, and I rent a place in Nashville as well, though I might end up building myself some kind of cabin in the country to live in when I go up there so I can stay rustic to help my writing.

Let me break in.  You said you were building a castle?

Yes, that’s right.

Like, an actual castle?

Yes, I was thinking about having alligators in the moat, but that might be a bit too redneck.  When I say I am building a castle, I mean exactly that.

I imagine the photographers will have a field day with that.

I imagine they will too, until I repulse them from my battlements with a tuber relocator.

I’m sure that would be entertaining to watch on TMZ.

I’d stream that until it went viral.  And then I might write a song about it.

I would listen to that song.

I’m glad you would.

Do you think you’ll come by here often?

Absolutely.  I’m sure I can drop in whenever there is a single I’m trying to promote or for awards show coverage, and perhaps when my place gets done here I can come on here often and just have ordinary conversations with you, if you and your listeners would like that.

I think we would like that a lot.  You sound like a pretty entertaining person.

I’d like to think so.

Thanks for visiting us.

Thanks for having me.

 

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Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Blood, Sweat & Tears

When one thinks of the obvious snubs of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the band Blood, Sweat & Tears doesn’t often come to mind.  That is not to say that it is difficult to make a strong case for their induction, only that one does not hear a great many artists rising up and saying that they were inspired by the band in the same way that is true for some others.  None of the members of the band had notable or long-lasting solo careers, and the band did not write their best-known hits (although they performed the songs extremely well and created definitive versions of the songs they covered).  The group never had a #1 hit, but like En Vogue and Credence Clearwater Revival, they had three #2 hits (Credence had more), having them back-to-back-to-back no less.  As a music historian, I find this sort of disconnect between importance as a group, their obvious abilities at performance and their abilities to secure top-notch songs, and their seeming lack of a burning sense of grievance on the part of a vocal and sizable portion of the music community in their not being honored or remembered particularly well puzzing, and so today I would like to tackle the worthiness of induction of perhaps the most famous group to ever base their band name on a (somewhat misremembered) quote by Winston Churchill.

The Influence Of Blood, Sweat & Tears

In many ways, the band Blood, Sweat & Tears was a somewhat less successful band in the vein of Chicago [1], combining big-band elements and jazz and orchestral sounds with a solid rock & roll sound.  Given the fact that even to this day the combination of jazz and pop and rock elements remains an important staple of music, this would suggest that the approach and blend that the band sought in their music is one that definitely remains worthwhile and important to this day, even if the band is not particularly well-known at present.  The band’s success was clearly instrumental in helping to bring about the 70’s sound that included a wide variety of elements brought together as part of a larger group effort, and they were part of a worthwhile community of acts that included not only Chicago but such acts as Santana and Steely Dan that has generally been remembered fondly for their musical ability and for their diverse instrumentation.  More contemporary acts like Ben Folds Five show the same interest in both pop/rock and jazz instrumentation that springs in part from the influence of Blood, Sweat & Tears, which is enough to be well-remembered.

Why Blood, Sweat & Tears Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Besides the band’s distinctive and worthwhile mix of approaches, there are at least two aspects of the band’s career that deserve recognition.  For one, their ability to pick good songs to cover is part of the reason that Laura Nyro got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame herself.  As a group that gave that obscure singer-songwriter a great part of her credibility as a hitmaker despite her inability to make hits for herself, they deserve a great deal of credit themselves as performers.  Indeed, their ability to take songs written by others–whether it be classical or jazz composers or folk and singer-songwriter musicians–and turn them into distinctive and creative and definitive cover versions is something that deserves to be appreciated and is an underappreciated aspect of musicianship in the rock & roll era.  It is one thing to praise a band for creating original songs that they perform, but a band that can recognize good songs written by others and perform these songs with flair and skill is worthwhile as well.  This was certainly the case with the band’s first three singles, which all went to #2:  “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel,” and “And When I Die.”  With four studio albums (and an additional compilation) that have been certified at least gold and three additional top 40 hits that are worth remembering, this band is certainly one that deserves as spot in Cleveland.

Why Blood, Sweat & Tears Aren’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

It is mostly likely that the band isn’t yet in Cleveland because they did not have a great deal of celebrity status.  After their initial period of popularity, their creative blend of music seems to have been forgotten and only their biggest hits were remembered, without the context of having been part of a band with genuine skill as musicians and a distinctive and worthwhile blend of music.  These aspects, as well as the group’s massive hit singles, deserve to be better remembered.

Verdict:  Put them in.  They are a rare example of the early 70’s music scene that has not been inducted yet that is worthy of being inducted.  If Nyro deserves credit for writing hit songs, the people that made her songs hits deserve to be inducted too.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/02/11/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-chicago/

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Book Review: The Illustrated Longitude

The Illustrated Longitude:  The True Story Of A Lone Genius Who Solved The Greatest Scientific Problem Of His Time, by Dava Sobel And William J.H. Andrewes

If you have already read Sobel’s Longitude, you have already seen all of the text that is in this particular book.  Indeed, I mistakenly thought that there were two different textual versions when I originally got both editions of the book from the library, and to my surprise I found out that the shorter paperback of less than 200 pages and the larger-sized book with 200 pages of text in it were actually the same book, except one had pictures and the other did not (except for the cover).  Early in this book it is said that the only way that one could make this book better is with pictures, and while this book is definitely better for its illustrations, it is not as if the original book was without flaws.  Indeed, one of the most amusing aspects of this book was the way that a previous reader had annotated this particular volume to point out a couple of flaws in it, namely the authors comment about how the component metals were combined in order to preserve the same length regardless of the temperature conditions faced by the chronometer, and once to point out that there are subtle differences between GMT and Universal Time.

Indeed, like its text-only counterpart, this book is divided into the same fifteen chapters that introduce the problem of longitude, explore some of the ways that it caused death when people ran up against unexpected shores thinking they were hundreds of miles away, and how there were essentially two different ideas of how to know longitude, one based on the mechanics of the clock (ultimately used by John Harrison to solve the problem with his chronometer) and the other based on celestial mechanics that was favored by court astronomers and the scientific establishment.  This being an underdog tale, the author’s sympathies (and likely the reader’s as well) will be with the lone underdog who occasionally asks Parliament for money while solving the problem mostly on his own–although there are clearly some ways in which he was influence by others, especially in his decision to turn his third model into a small watch that was far more portable than his first two solutions.  And when he is vindicated at last and his solution is mass-produced by others, the author can close with a glorious look at his machines and their restoration, with the reader appreciative of the lone genius that worked for decades to solve a problem some people thought impossible.

And really, the text is improved with the pictures, whether one is looking at photographs or looking at designs or examining maps.  Even as someone who is generally a pretty textual person, it is easy to see that this subject matter is improved with visual aid, especially because chronometers and the travel of people through the ocean and the shrinkage of estimates of land once proper coordinates are known are all matters that can easily be conveyed through appropriate visuals and are much more difficult to explain in text alone.  One wonders why Sobel didn’t want to focus on a well-illustrated version of her book to begin with, since at least a few of her other books are richly illustrated.  With illustrations, this not only becomes a good book to read but also one which can easily appear on someone’s coffee table to be paged through admiringly by visitors to one’s house, which is definitely no small benefit.  It is also easy to wonder if the author’s work will be improved by comments like that which I found in this volume, as its minor errors probably should be corrected for the author to really show her expertise in matters of popular science as she would wish to show.

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Book Review: Longitude

Longitude:  The True Story Of A Lone Genius Who Solved The Greatest Scientific Problem Of His Time, by Dava Sobel

On the one hand, this book is one of the author’s better books, not least because it has far less in terms of unpleasant gender politics than most of the author’s writings on popular astronomy.  That is not to say that this is a perfect book, though, because while it is easier to read and enjoy, there is something unsettling in the way that the author tries to paint John “Longitude” Harrison as a lone genius, when his efforts to make it possible to understand longitude did require a great deal of effort and a long time and the help of other people as well.  The story is a compelling one, without a doubt, but it is also the sort of story that carries with it some major tropes and that encourages the sort of lone wolf tendencies that many of its readers are likely to have.  Somewhere in praising the iconoclastic tendencies of its hero Sobel forgot the necessity and importance of working within institutions in order to receive lasting success in one’s endeavors, something that many people need to learn when it comes to creativity.

The less than 200 pages of this narrative take up fifteen chapters.  The author begins with the issue of imaginary lines for navigation in longitude and latitude (1).  After that there is a discussion of disasters that happened as a result of not being able to know the longitude (2).  There are discussions of the use of the planets and stars to master longitude as happened with Galileo (3) and the difficulty of keeping time constant while traveling at sea (4).  There are some truly baffling attempts to use powders to know longitude (5) and a discussion of the prize that the English Parliament set to encourage people to solve the longitude problem (6).  After that the author turns her attention to its main character, John Harrison, and his background (7) and the tests at sea of his first chronometer (8).  There are discussions of his bitter rivals who favored the method of using astronomy to solve the longitude issue (9) and some of the later machines that Harrison made (10).  There are discussions of the trials undergone by the chronometers that were deliberately difficult (11), and the stress that it put on Harrison to deal with the political drama (12).  By this point the author moves to a discussion of the importance of various chronometers on the second voyage of Captain Cook (13), the mass production of the devices for the British navy (14), and the way the machines can be enjoyed today (15).

Again, this is not a bad book, in fact, it is a very good one, but it is not quite as good a book as it thinks it is.  Specifically, the book encourages all the wrong sort of tendencies, making villain tales out of those who work within institutions and failing to recognize that it is not only creativity and originality but also institutional backing that is important in this world.  Perhaps we wish we lived in a world where talent and merit would be recognized apart from any other factors, but that is simply not the way things are, and this book is a good reminder that there are limitations to lone geniuses when it comes to solving massive problems like the longitude problem.  For one, those solutions have to be recognized by institutions like the Royal Observatory and the British throne and Parliament and the Royal navy, because the problems are themselves practical ones.  Fortunately, Harrison had some friends and was able to learn how to turn his chronometer into a smaller pocketwatch-sized machine, which is what allowed for his development to change the history of navigation.  Alone, he would not have been able to do it.

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Portland Anonymous: Fragment Fourteen

I think silence was one of the most notable aspects of #N/A’s songwriting, but to be fair that isn’t something shared only by him.  The things one doesn’t talk about are just as important as the things one does talk about.  I can remember when we were in the studio that a lot of us would joke about our sexual experiences and he wouldn’t say anything at all.  From that you can draw one of two conclusions, either there isn’t anything to talk about–which for him was true–or he was ashamed about it because it didn’t match our expectations.  It wasn’t as if he lacked attraction.  He wasn’t asexual in the sense of not being drawn to intimacy.  We would see the way he interacted with people and we could see that he was attracted to others, but he was very shy about acting on it.  It wasn’t something that we readily understood.  Most of us were raised or trained in an atmosphere where one acted on one’s feelings and desires without question, and that’s clearly not the way it was for him.  Besides that, he just wasn’t a very coarse person.  It’s not as if he was mean or condescending to others because of the way they talked, but we could tell from his conversation the absence of that kind of mentality from him.  It was what he didn’t say, the terms he didn’t use, the subjects that he didn’t mention in his music or his conversation that told us a lot about him, and that may have influenced us to be less friendly to him than we would have been otherwise.

***

Silence is a funny thing.  What is not said is as important as what is said.  That is true whether one is writing a history book or a song.  Let’s say we’re listening to a song by Elton John, for example, or Luther Vandross, and they are singing about secret loves or the one, but what one is missing is detail.  Who are they singing to?  When Luke Bryan sings a terrible song like “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” we know that he is singing about a girl with an attractive butt.  The same is true when we hear Sir Mix-A-Lot or any other number of musicians.  When Ed Sheeran sings about a Galway Girl, or Bruno Mars sings “Just The Way You Are,” we are similarly clear that they are singing about girls.  The same is true even for Air Supply when they say that someone is every woman in the world to them.  Their songs includes enough details to make it clear who they are singing to, but that sort of detail is precisely what is missing from an artist like Elton John or Luther Vandross, and that absence of detail is important.  By that absence of detail, we can see that they are likely not singing to women but they want women to imagine themselves in that role.  A man might sing a song like “Secret Love” because one is in love with a woman in a relationship, although many contemporary rappers are quite open about wanting to steal the women of their listener, or because they are in love with an underage girl, although many singers are pretty open about their attraction to young women who are perhaps just a bit too young, or because one is attracted to a guy but can’t openly admit it because of the social cost that would follow, although those costs are becoming less and less present, which is why more and more artists are becoming more open about such things.  Whatever could bring shame or disapproval on someone is likely to be something we are silent about.  Nowadays people are often silent about politics if their views are out of the mainstream.  The Dixie Chicks lost a great deal of their popularity within the country world when they expressed shame for George W. Bush, a man no state ought to be ashamed of, for all of his flaws and imperfections.  We might say they deserved that, but plenty of celebrities faced a great deal of scorn and a loss of popularity for expressing even moderately conservative opinions, like Five For Fighting, a band whose later era albums like Two Lights and Slice are amazingly good.  Is it right that one should be blackballed for singing an anthem to the innocent victims of abortion or for preferring Mitt Romney to Barack Obama as present?  That is not an unreasonable preference to have, even if one is not a particular fan of Governor Romney.  If there are other aspects of a person’s life, like their religious beliefs, that would bring someone into trouble, we might expect some degree of silence about them as well.  We may emphasize standing with others in terms of a broad culture of life, but de-emphasize theological matters where we would disagree with others.  Silence is a tool of politeness to avoid conflict by not bringing up contentious matters, and is often used by tactful people who dislike conflict.  But a wise listener will notice what is silently left out as well as what is openly discussed.

***

Are there any subjects you won’t talk about in your songs?

I’m not sure what you mean.

This isn’t a very difficult question.

Well, it’s a rather vague question.  There are certainly many subjects I have not yet talked about in my songs, but I don’t think that I have set a boundary that there are subjects I will not address whatsoever.  The fact that I haven’t sung about something yet doesn’t mean I won’t sing about something in the future.

How many songs have you recorded?

I don’t know how to count that.  I recorded a song back in 2004 while I was attending a religious college in Ohio, but I don’t think that anyone will be releasing my version of “Thanks Be To Thee” as a b-side to a single anytime soon.  I’ve also sung live at church a few times where it was recorded, but those songs too I don’t think will ever be released as singles, even on a rarities album.  At the Sub Par studios I recorded dozens of songs and participated in dozens more as a backup vocalist or instrumentalist.  Since then I have recorded dozens more songs live and in various studios.  I don’t know the exact number, but I’m sure it’s well over 100 songs total, only a few of which have been released at this time.

Have you ever sung about your love life?

Does “Beside Me” count?

What do you mean?  That’s not a song about having a love life.

No, it’s not.  It’s a song about wanting a love life with a wonderful woman, but not having it.

Are you saying that you don’t have a love life then?

Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.

I don’t really believe that.

Look, there are some artists who make their relationships fodder for the music that they make.  When we listen to a song like “Thank u, next” by Ariana Grande or any number of songs by Taylor Swift, we have no doubt that we are listening to songs about actual relationships, past and present, and that context adds something to the songs we are listening to.  With other artists, like a Bryan Adams for example, we hear songs that likely don’t have any relationship to their current or actual relationships, because they have fanbases that expect songs about certain materials.  I’ve always made it clear that I was going to sing songs that I had a personal connection to or write songs about my life as it was lived, and as a result I have sung plenty of songs about the way I feel about love and relationships and the sort of relationship I want, and also sung about the struggles in relationships I have had or that I have seen others have.  I’m not going to make up material about relationships I don’t have.

Are you saying you don’t take advantage of the opportunities for lovemaking on tour?

I haven’t gone on a full tour yet.  And no, as a performer I am not interested in groupies.

So you don’t expect to ever make a song about them?

I think one could make a song about the context one is in without glorifying conduct or without pretending to do what one hasn’t.

So you don’t have any sort of secret partner to talk about?

No, I don’t.  I doubt I could keep something like that a secret.  I’ve always been bad about such things.  I reveal the secrets of who I am interested in before I realize that I am interested in them myself.  Other people know my secrets before I am aware of them myself.

That sounds like a pretty serious problem.

Yeah, it is, especially when they don’t feel the same way.

I can’t see why that would be the case.

That’s very flattering.  You wouldn’t think it would be the case with Carly Rae Jepsen as well, but she has spent her whole career making music about not getting the guy, despite being very interested in him and despite being a very beautiful woman.

Would you ever go on a date with Carly Rae?

Absolutely.  I’m sure she’d be fun company and that we’d have a good time talking about what it was like to want people who don’t want us.

Are there any other celebrities you’d happily go on a date with?

I don’t tend to think about that.  I mean, celebrities as a whole get objectified by others.  We see their public face and it’s usually a friendly one and one that looks its best.  But I’m not going to go to awards shows to look for dates.  When I go out to eat by myself, there aren’t a lot of celebrities come over to sit at my table and have a conversation with me.  And I’m usually trying to read a book or three so it’s not as if I look like someone who is waiting for someone else, either.

So you think you come off as a bit standoffish sometimes?

I think that’s fair to say.  I don’t consider myself an actively unfriendly person but I’m sure there are many times where I don’t appear to be very friendly or welcoming intimacy.

Do you think that’s a defense mechanism of sorts?

I think it may uncharitably and not inaccurately be viewed as such.

Is this how you actually talk to people?

Yes, at least people I don’t particularly like.

What’s not to like about me?

That’s a question I ask about myself a lot, too.

Are there any projects you’re working on right now?

Yes, I’m trying to get a few albums released and also recording some songs that may be a part of a follow-up album in the next year or two.

You record songs that far in advance?

I’m pretty sure fans would get sick of me if all of my material was released at the same time.  My debut album came out less than a year ago, and there are already three full-length albums worth of material I have recorded that has yet to be released, and that’s if you count the live and studio versions of the songs that were in the benefit concert as part of the same CD/DVD release.

That’s a lot of songs.

Yes, it is, but I feel comfortable in the studio and writing and performing helps me release the emotional burden I live under and makes it possible for me to be mostly at peace in my day to day existence.

Is that why you haven’t gone on tour, because of the anxiety?

That’s a big part of it.  I’m kind of a recluse and it’s easy for me to go into the studio and write and sing and play the viola or something or fool around on the bass guitar or drums, but to go out in front of strangers and perform for people who think they know you because of that one song you sang, that’s way less comfortable.

Is that why your benefit concert had a lot of other stars?

Yes, it’s way less stressful to perform with a solid group of people that one considers friends, but again, I tend to perform in the studio, and most of the time I’m making my tracks by myself and others come in later and fill in, so there’s not that group cohesion that makes performing the songs less stressful and more enjoyable.

You should get a posse together.

I would like to, that’s for sure, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Put something on Craigslist that says something like this:  Pop star seeks posse of musicians to perform with who must put up with awkwardness.  Must be willing to perform encore of “Beside Me” at every concert.

That sounds like it may work.  Maybe you can post it yourself and see who responds.  Maybe my agent is typing this up as we speak.

You mentioned earlier that you had several albums of material to release?

That’s right.

What sort of material would it be?

Well, I have a two-disc cover album of songs focused on the response of someone to child sexual abuse, along with a dvd of the concert.  Other than that, I have a project tentatively titled Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes that contains songs in English with Latin titles that deal with love and faith and the struggles and conflicts of our times.

That sounds like heavy material?

It’s not that heavy.  A couple of the songs are country songs, one of them is a cover of Agnus Dei, and a few of them are more comic in nature.

Is there anything else you have?

I have a proper follow-up to High Anxiety called The Centre Cannot Hold, with a variety of songs that deal with the struggle of people and society as a whole to hang together in light of the tensions we feel as individuals and as a society.

Again, that sounds pretty heavy.

It is.  Sometimes one is in a heavy mood, and the result is heavy music.

Will it ever be released?

I don’t know.  None of those recordings are under my control, so I don’t know if I am going to have to re-record them in new versions or if they will be released all at once as part of some kind of Sub Par records box set of the complete #N/A recordings or what.  I’m not involved in that label planning at the moment.

Would you want to be?

Of course I would want to be.  It’s my music.  I would like to release it a certain way, with certain songs released as singles with videos and all of that.

So you have no idea if and when that material is coming out?

I have no idea as of yet, and if I had heard various rumors and scuddlebutt, I wouldn’t be at liberty to say.  That’s all for the label to discuss.

Do you have a new label yet?

I am working on my own imprint, but no, I have not signed a contract with another label yet.  There are still some questions about when that is happening, but I am working with the lawyers on that and making sure that previous recordings are part of that.  The momentum of Badfinger was greatly harmed when Apple Records released some rough tracks around the same time as they released their Warner Brothers debut, and the band was never able to recover from the sales hit they took as a result of that.  Obviously, with so much previously recorded material that could be released, it would be important to make sure that my previous label and my current label were able to work out a way that all of them could release material in an organized fashion that wouldn’t hurt my career.

Could you stay independent?

It’s possible.  I don’t think I’m an artist that is all that high maintenance when it comes to expenses.  I’m in the process of building my own studio and I don’t need a big advance, so those expenses aren’t going to be too serious.  But I think my career is a bit difficult to market because I sing such an odd variety of songs.  Not all labels are able to handle someone who has to cover all kinds of bases and do it well, so mostly it has been larger independent labels and the majors that I have been talking to.

Have you ever thought of releasing a country album?

I think it will happen someday.  I’m not sure exactly when, but yes, I think a country album of some kind is definitely going to happen at some point, and sooner rather than later.

Are you going to wear a big belt buckle and a cowboy hat?

I’m not interested in doing something that isn’t real and genuine, but I grew up in the country, and wearing jeans and singing songs about small towns and family and negative nostalgia and having one’s dog, girl, and truck leave you are definitely songs I could see myself singing without any problem, whether I’m writing the songs myself or working with co-writers or singing covers of songs that others have sung, or a little bit of all of the above.

Is that a hint of where your career is going?

You can take it that way, if you wish.  I’m certainly not going to stop you, if you do happen to view it as a clue of where I am looking to take my career.  I could always do a neo-soul album, though, or something to throw off those who are expecting easy patterns.

You’ve got to keep the element of surprise.

That’s right.  One can’t be too predictable or one becomes a self-parody.  If something is becoming too stale, it’s time to stop it, because it’s not serving its purpose as a creative outlet anymore.

 

Posted in History, Music History, NaNoWriMo | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Sometimes The Greatest Way To Say Something Is To Say Nothing At All

2018 has been a terrible year for music.  It has featured songs that had big debuts and then flopped hard, songs that were released too late in the year to qualify for its year end top 100 list, and songs that stuck around forever.  It featured artists that just need to go away (like Drake and XXXTentacion) and some surprising and mostly terrible popular music, including a lot of atrocious trap made by loathsome human beings.  It is not an exaggeration to say that 2018 may be one of the worst years ever for popular music.  Yet even in a musical wasteland of dreary and dull music and bland pop and adult contemporary songs that somehow remain popular (like Lauv’s “I Like Me Better”), there was still good music to be found, although one had to look for it in unexpected places, and today I would like to talk about one of those songs.

2018 was not a great year for Justin Timberlake.  In fact, if a year told an artist to go away that might not have deserved to go away, 2018 was that year for Justin Timerlake.  Neither first single “Filthy” nor follow-up “Say Something” stayed on the charts as long as expected, although “Say Something,” a duet with outlaw country artist Chris Stapleton, is likely to just barely make the 2018 Year End list and it was a top ten hit (if only briefly), and so we are talking about it here.  Justin Timberlake originally came to fame as a member of the boy band ‘N Sync and then as boy bands were about to decline in popularity he was able to transition successfully into a smooth R&B and dancepop singer with a slew of successful albums.  Perhaps the writing was on the wall when the massive soundtrack hit “Can’t Stop The Feeling” was viewed as lame and when he took heat for recording “Love Never Felt So Good” from some discarded Michael Jackson sessions with Paul Anka, but it was still a bit surprising for me to witness the hostility that music critics had for his latest album “Man Of The Woods,” which painted Justin Timberlake as lame for trying to stay hip as a middle aged man and new father who is just not in touch with contemporary trends any longer.

That’s not such a bad thing–the trends of 2018 were pretty terrible, and not to be in touch with those trends is no mark of shame.  2018’s musical trends were so bad that they sparked multiple albums whose point was to mock those trends and critics who had turned on them, including Eminem’s Kamikazi and J. Cole’s K.O.D.  And included among those insightful songs of criticism about music criticism and celebrity itself, we can list “Say Something,” which is perhaps my favorite hit song of the year–and is certainly in the top 3.  In most years, “Say Something” would be a good song, but not the sort of song that represents the top quality material.  In 1983, for example, this song might not even be in my top 80 hit songs of the year, but 2018 was a terrible year for music and it makes sense that a song that is somewhat repetitive and features a singer (Chris Stapleton) whose voice I am not a huge fan of would be a rare gem in an otherwise dismal sonic landscape.

What is it that makes the song good, despite its flaws?  For one, the song is a very Nathanish one.  The song itself is about communication and its absence, a subject that is nothing if not relevant to my own writing [1].  The two singers explore two different types of issues over communication, one of them focusing on the temptation that celebrities (including popular musicians) have in speaking out about all kinds of subjects where it would be better for them to remain silent, whether because they do not know what they are talking about or whether their communication of what they think and feel would alienate others, and the other focusing on the gaps in communication that occur in relationships between people.  These are both struggles over communication and silence that I can definitely relate to given my own role as a public figure and private person with massive and awkward communications issues with others.  So, the song has one massive advantage in that I can totally identify with the song and the struggle of its artists to make both their silence and communication meaningful.

There are some pointed tensions and contradictions that the song deals with effectively as well.  For one, the song itself is an active of communication even if it explicitly praises silence and the desirability of silence in certain circumstances.  Like Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence,” it is a moving song that praises silence while violating that silence through its own words.  To defend silence, it is necessary to communicate one’s reasons for silence, and that defeats the purpose of using silence as a communications strategy.  On a more fundamental level, though, silence is itself an act of communication.  Even when we are trying our hardest to avoid talking with someone, we cannot help but communicate, because sooner or later we will come into contact with someone and we will be forced either to have awkward interactions where mere politeness requires heroic levels of self-command or our silence will move between a defensive act of seeking to avoid threatening communication into an offensive act of impoliteness that itself may provoke the sort of threatening communication we wish to avoid.  Our silence may be seen as an act of violence, even when that is not our intention, and it may justify the sort of verbal violence from others which our silence is meant to prevent.  Even against our own wishes and will, we are compelled to communicate with others.  Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all, indeed.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/31/that-awkward-moment-when-you-realize-that-the-common-connection-among-all-your-uncomfortable-silences-is-yourself/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/14/into-a-void-of-silence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/09/07/on-my-way-to-your-apartment-i-write-for-fear-of-silence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/02/26/into-a-black-hole-of-silence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/09/10/bear-the-silence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/07/09/silence-is-golden-but-duct-tape-is-silver/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/05/15/the-sound-of-silence/

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Book Review: I Could Chew On This

I Could Chew On This And Other Poems By Dogs, by Francesco Marciuliano

Although the previous books [1] that I read from the author dealt with cats and this one deals with dogs, reading a book like this a familiar and enjoyable sort of experience.  Once you read a few books (especially books you happen to like) by an author, there is an ease that one feels because of a familiarity with their style and their approach, and this author is definitely a consistent one in seeking to present animals as much as possible from within their own head through empathy.  It takes a remarkable degree of empathy to create works from the point of view of other beings, and the fact that this author has undertaken this task so often suggests that this is not an unusual or one-off experience for the author but rather a consistent one.  Whether or not this is related to the author’s attempts at helping out his writing of comics it whether it springs from an enjoyment of various pets throughout his life and his own attempts to understand and relate to them, I am not sure of, but there is still a great deal to enjoy and appreciate here.

The poems about dogs included here are divided into four chapters:  “Inside,” “Outside,” “By Your Side,” and “Heavy Thinking.”  Here too, as one might expect, there is a lot of cute photos of dogs and thoughtful poetry that helps its readers (and no doubt its writer) empathize with dogs and their sometimes quirky behavior.  The poet explores how dogs lose their minds when their owners leave the house, how dogs watch their owners make love, how dogs hoard and what they learn from television.  Other poems explore boredom and the difficulty of opening doors, as well as the lies of happy relations between cat and dogs that make for holiday cards, and how dogs feel when they are unleashed.  There are poems about the way that owners scoop up poop and put them in bags, and how dogs feel sad about being tied up outside of the store, why dogs bite, what dogs are trying to do when they make others sniff their stinky breath.  There are poems about play, about the way dogs think every day is a good day, and about chasing rabbits and cars, as well as the way that dogs think things are in general very good for chewing.

As one might expect from a perusal of the author’s previous work, these poems provide a lot of reflective material from the point of view of dogs that can be useful in self-examination of oneself from the point of view of outsiders.  To what extent do people learn from us as a result of our culture?  What is the lasting result of trauma, whether one is dealing with being fixed as is the case of a dog, or whether one is dealing with the sort of trauma that human beings often inflict on each other as a result of violence?  How much are human beings, like dogs, creatures of amusing habits?  A dog may eat the exact same dinner for eight years, but many of us have eating habits that are hardly less regular ourselves.  I know that, for example, to be the case with me.  As is true in the best of poems of this kind, these poems can be enjoyed on multiple levels, as one can laugh at the oddity of dogs, but at the same time reflect on our own strangeness and what can make us subjects of humor or puzzlement for other people and even other beings.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/11/02/book-review-i-could-pee-on-this/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/11/02/book-review-i-could-pee-on-this-too/

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Book Review: I Knead My Mommy

I Knead My Mommy And Other Poems By Kittens, by Francesco Marciuliano

Having already read and enjoyed two books by the poet [1], this book was an easy one to get and I was prepared to enjoy it, as I did.  Admittedly, this book was not much of a stretch from what the author was already doing in portraying the feelings of kittens rather than older cats.  And kittens are admittedly cute animals who are easy to appreciate, so these poems are precisely what one would expect, being both cute and often somewhat thought provoking as they explore life from the point of view of small and cute but sometimes vicious beings who are just getting to know and explore the world for the first time.  I am honestly surprised, as someone who reads a lot of poetry, that I have not encountered more books of this kind before, because there is something quite worthwhile and interesting about looking at the world from the point of view of someone else, and doing so while maintaining that delicate balance between ease of reading and also capturing the lack of spelling accuracy that one would expect to see from the young is also a nice touch.

Like all of the other books by the author I have read so far, the slightly more than 100 pages of poems and accompanying photos of cute kittens is divided into four parts:  “New World,” “New Family,” “New Adventures,” and “Same Old Trouble.”  Among the most adorable poems and standouts of this particular collection include the title poem of the kitten in search of his loving mother, an ode to a lizard who the kitten was unaware was also a pet in the same house, reflections on the need to grow up and a kitten’s appreciation of its own curiosity, reflections on the professions for cats, wondering about the praise for using litter boxes, and some reflections on visits to the vet.  There are also discussions about the luxury of bedsheets and pouncing and the ineffectiveness of people saying no.  The poems as a whole manage to capture the perspective of a kitten and that combination of cuteness, ferocity, and curiosity that kittens manage to demonstrate so well.  The author even manages to capture a poignant diary entry where a kitten spends the whole day running and sleeping and thinks it is a day that the kitten will always treasure.

As one might expect from the rest of this series, there are some poignant aspects of life as kitten that are explored.  There is the enjoyment of youth and the awareness that one has a lot to learn.  There is the frustration with negatives, the tendency to tune out the commands or prohibitions made, and the tension between having an interest in enjoying life while also having ambitions for a better life.  The author appears to use a lot of themes that one would expect from childhood in general as well as cats in general in making this particular selection of poems, and that is not a surprising choice on his part.  The author shows himself insightful to the situation of kittens and to the way in which kittens spend time, and the book’s conceit of poems that are viewed as a best of compilation demonstrates that another volume of these poems would probably be enjoyable, whether or not the author undertakes it.  Clearly with several successful books about poetry from the point of view of pets, the author has found a good niche to be in and something that can be appreciated by many readers.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/11/02/book-review-i-could-pee-on-this/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/11/02/book-review-i-could-pee-on-this-too/

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Portland Anonymous: Fragment Thirteen

I’m not proud of what we did, not proud at all.  We knew that #N/A was a person with a big mouth, and he had some strong opinions, although not unjust ones, and we were having problems with him, so we thought it would be good to put the screws on him a bit, so we helped some activist group dox him.  I didn’t say I was proud about it, and I think we in some way set the chain in motion of events that ended his life.  It’s strange to think about, I know, but looking back on it, I think that his being forced to leave Portland was responsible for the way things ended up.

***

I don’t think celebrities are owed their privacy.  It’s very important that those who hold to reactionary views, as was certainly the case for #N/A, feel the heat for their positions.  They need to know that they are out of step with the times, and I consider our group to be useful in putting pressure.  We get Confederate statues removed, we help encourage migration into the United States, and part of our job as activists is to make sure that there is a cost for speaking out against the correct thinking concerning politics.  I’m not saying he was a bad guy, but that’s even worse.  At least a bad guy with the wrong views you can easily marginalize.  Look at all of those who fell under the #MeToo barrage of bad press.  We almost prevented a decent family man from being put on the Supreme Court, and I’m still bitter about that one.  #N/A just happened to be the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We couldn’t allow a powerful conservative voice to be associated with Portland, especially once we were able to set up armed protesters wherever he met.  He couldn’t eat or go to the library in peace, and yeah, I’m happy about the way we drove him out of town.  It wasn’t a bad thing at all, and I’d do it again to anyone else in his position.  We’re in a fight to the death here, and we can’t rest until our political agenda is in force and all opposition has been crushed.

***

I think what they did was truly evil.  I’m not going to mince words.  I think the same of anyone who tries to turn the protections denied to public figures in terms of defending their reputation into a denial of privacy and the facing of continual abuse, including lynch mobs being sent to attack people at their homes.  I think it’s evil when it is done to conservative or even mainstream politicians, evil when it is done to reporters, evil when it is done to musicians, especially those like #N/A, who never wanted personal attention anyway.  I think it’s evil even when it is done to people whose political views I disagree with.  I think it’s a sign of coarsening in our culture, and an increase in the threat of violence that we all have to face.

***

First they came for the nationalists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a nationalist.

Then they came for the pundits, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a pundit.

Then they came for the Christians, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Christians.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

***

I’ve never considered myself a particularly brave person when it came to physical courage, but other people have always disagreed with me.  Yeah, it was uncomfortable what happened there in Portland.  I think anyone who wants to avoid attention and publicity has reasons for it, and I think my reasons for it were good.  I’ve always been out of step with those around me in terms of my opinions, and I’ve always paid a high social cost for being different and odd and unusual.  I don’t consider myself has having the sort of smooth social skills in order to overcome that kind of difficulty, and in a day and age where difference is viewed as harshly as it is now, that difficulty is even more serious and even more difficult to overcome.  I grew up in Central Florida and I was an oddball there, a bookish and intellectual person, and was looked down on those grounds.  There were lots of people who thought that someone who read as much or thought as much as I did couldn’t stand up to bullies, and they were wrong.  I did a lot of fighting when I was a kid, in order to prove that I could, and after a while, most people realized that it wasn’t worth it to threaten violence because there was no glory to be gained in beating up someone who could fight back, and who might even win.  And I never lost that sort of realization that bullies are cowards, regardless of their political ideology.  You saw how those cowards acted.  They wouldn’t engage in a one on one conversation because it wasn’t an issue of reason or logic, they would lose.  All they wanted to do was cause suffering, and so they would waste their time and gang up on me wherever I happened to go, to the point where I had to leave because it was causing such a problem for my landlord.  Fortunately, I had the money to be able to purchase some property and to build a modest home for myself in rural Oregon, but I also felt it necessary at that point to have a base of operations that was further from the nerve center of Oregon’s progressive politics, so I sought to build up a base near where I grew up as well, figuring that an intellectual with enough money would be less threatening than it was as a child.  So yeah, that’s where the idea of Castle Studios came about.  I wanted to build a castle to feel at least a bit safer, and to build a music studio outside of the city of Tampa that would be a safe place for people to make professional recordings in Central Florida.  It’s not done yet, but when I finish it, I’ll give you all a tour.

***

I think one can become so familiar with political violence that one stops seeing it as unusual.  I know that’s the way it has been recently for us.  We look back in history and are amazed that people didn’t see where the Nazi takeover of Germany or the rise of Communism in Russia and China would go, that it wouldn’t lead to the death of millions of people.  We look back on those places and times with hindsight, knowing what happened.  But we don’t have the same sort of clearsighted view of the past when we are looking at our own times.  We see people attack historical sites, like they were Taliban, because they don’t like something about the people being honored, and people treat it like ordinary political speech.  We see mobs of people try to bully people in their homes or attack people while they are playing softball, and we don’t see how this leads people to view political speech as dangerous, and as preserving the freedom of bullies to be less important than preserving law and order.  This is how democracies die, when people try to delegitimize those in power and do so by means that lead the ordinary mass of law-abiding citizens to prefer police and military repression on behalf of those political authorities than to submit with the arbitrary violence of anarchical forces that show no respect for privacy or honor or anything else.  I don’t think anyone would consider this an ideal outcome, but it is a pretty inevitable one, as the bias between security and freedom for most people is heavily biased towards security.

***

I’ve had a lot of arguments with #N/A over the years about politics, and I knew he thought differently than I did, but even though he was way more conservative than I am, he was always someone who was polite and respectful about our differences and not someone who was interested in starting a fight about such things.  But it doesn’t appear as if everyone is like that.  There are just some people who are unable to accept disagreement in others, and who just have to get disagreeable and violent, and that’s what happened here.

***

I don’t know when he first had to face political bullying, but I remember it being a problem when we were college students together.  During the 2000 election, I remember playing “We Are The Champions” when Bush was first announced as having won Florida and with it the electoral votes needed to win the election.  Of course, there were some liberals who weren’t happy about that and they tried to attack our room, and he stood in the door and kept them from coming in.  This was not a person who was a coward when it came to political violence.  He didn’t like gloating to anyone else about an election, but he wasn’t going to put up with anyone trying to bully him either.  I’m not surprised that was the case here either.  I mean, he’s not someone who has changed a lot in the past twenty years or so.

***

I don’t remember that we ever talked about politics around the workplace.  I mean, some of us did from time to time, but I don’t remember him ever asking any questions about what other people thought nor do I remember asking him.  He did his job, and a lot of reading and writing as well, and none of us were very curious about it.  He just wasn’t that interesting or exciting of a person and his private life was unusually private.  He didn’t talk about a wife or girlfriend or children or anything else.  He just did him and kept rather mum about everything else, and only once in a while would anyone find anything else about him.  I can’t imagine he was happy about having a large group of people following his every move and harassing him when he was trying to eat or go out privately, as that wasn’t his style.  He wasn’t someone who took selfies or seemed to like a lot of personal attention and I don’t think he would be happy about it.

***

I’ve been a friend of his for several years, and I was happy to help him with some property close to here.  He found a nice houseplan in a book and we dug out some hillside and he had a nice little place for himself.  It was good to have him as a neighbor and I was looking forward to spending a lot of time with him, but that’s not how things go sometimes.

***

Yeah, it was tough to perform with #N/A after the political drama started.  As a musician, you want to have fans on all kinds of divides.  If you’re a country musician, being conservative is a really good thing because you at least have your fanbase behind you.  I’m not surprised that he started making more Americana and country music after the doxing controversy.  What did surprise me was that he didn’t sell out and do country.  He was himself.  That is to say, he had recorded a couple of country songs and they had Latin titles, and I thought they were great, but I didn’t know how other people would take them.  It was music that was accessible but had quirky and unusual elements, and that was #N/A being true to himself.  I respected him all the more that he was able to make music that could appeal to a group of people who might give him a fair chance but at the same time was not going to show anything other than an honest quirkiness on his part.

***

We were definitely in his corner during the whole problems that he was having with those antifa bastards.  He didn’t ask us to be, but he didn’t have to ask us to be.  Of course we were going to side with him.  It’s not as if he was a politically strident artist trying to appeal to us, but he was an artist and an honest man about his views, and some people couldn’t take that.  I figured he was probably a bit cerebral for most of our crowd, but when they saw that he was a brave man as well as an honest one he won a lot of goodwill from us, and he warmed to us and would come in and do promos and talk with us about what he was doing.  I was looking forward to having built some bridges with someone who was a bit different than most of the people we worked with, and that got cut short.  It’s a real shame.  He deserved a lot better than that.  He had the chance to make some great music for a long time.

***

Of course politics matters.  He wouldn’t have been nearly as easy to support if he didn’t think the same way that we did, for the most part.  But he ended up being a friendly person, although very shy, and he was very articulate about our worldview, and so of course we were going to stand behind him.  It wasn’t even a question, once we realized this was just like Kavanaugh, were some decent and nice guy was getting attacked by people just because they wanted a political scalp, and he wasn’t going to give it to them, and neither were we.  When your own people are being attacked, you have to stand up to them, have to show them that you are not going to be cowed, not going to be bullied, not going to be pushed around.  Helping someone like him made all of us feel a lot better, because it meant doing a good thing for a good person, and in letting some scumbags know that they weren’t going to be able to set the terms of the political conversation, or any other kind of conversation, with their tactics of hatred and abuse.  It was a glorious moment to see him stand strong against that sort of bullying and to help him find a safe place to keep doing what he does.  What does he do?  A lot of reading and writing and singing, that’s what he does, and that’s quite enough, I think.

***

Of course I draw the connection between the way I was treated as a kid and the way that those activists behaved towards me.  I think most of us draw strength and insight from our own experiences, and the fact that I had a lot of negative experiences with bullying to draw on certainly influenced my own harsh feelings towards them.  Of course they are still human beings, but they happen to be very evil human beings.  It’s very easy being a bully, I think.  It doesn’t require a lot of courage to seek out the vulnerable, it’s easy to get a lot of people together if you are looking to behave violently or aggressively towards someone, and you get a moral payoff when you put down those who you look down on.  Without being violent and sinking to their level, I felt it necessary to let them know I wasn’t as easy a target as they thought, and it worked.  Of course I didn’t feel too bad when they got roughed up by counterprotesters.  They started it, and were hoist on their own petard.  I’m not going to shed any tears for people who started a fight they end up losing.

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Book Review: Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds

Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds, by Charles MacKay

There is no doubt that this 400 page long book is a classic source of information about the fads and fashions that have roiled civilization over the past few centuries.  Yet this book must be understood in its context.  For one, this work springs from the late 19th century, and the work is not as well cited as a contemporary book would have been.  It is clear the author has done a lot of reading and research about the popular delusions he discusses in sometimes painful detail, but it is not as obvious to contemporary readers where he did his research.  Aside from that, the author does a really good job at looking at the reasons why delusions and the madness of crowds persists, and though it is easy to throw stones with this book and its contents, a wise reader will reflect about why so many of the lies and deceptions discussed here are matters of permanent occurrence in our own lives and in our own situations, for there are few people who are wholly immune to the sort of things that the author talks about here as being a sign of reason gone awry.  We are not as reasonable as we fancy ourselves.

Given its size, this is a book that has a lot of content in it, and it consists of two volumes combined together into one massive tome.  The author begins with John Law’s Mississippi scheme, moves on to the south-sea bubble, the mania over tulips, the lies of alchemists, various prophetic frenzies, fortune telling, those who believed in animal magnetism and mesmerism, and the influence of politics and religion on hair style.  Together these materials take up about half of the book.  The second half of the book discusses the crusades, the mania over witchcraft in early modern Europe, slow poisoners, haunted houses, the fads of big cities, the popular admiration of great thieves, duels and trials by ordeal, and relics.  Again, this material takes up the second half of the book, and the chapters are not numbered, making this book a bit less convenient to read than many books are at present.  As full as this book is of detail, the author definitely focuses on Europe and misses the chance to discuss the fad language of American cities, the Millerite prophecy mania of 1840-1843, the Salem witch trials, and our own fondness of haunted city tours in the present age.

This book is, sadly a somewhat depressing read.  It would be one thing if one was led to simply laugh at other people as a result of reading this volume, but for this reader at least, reading this book made me think about the popular madness of contemporary crowds.  The author critiques anti-Semitism and points out rather fiercely that in the crashes after periods of irrational exuberance that ordinary people tend not to reflect on their own greed but rather seek scapegoats for their difficulties.  Indeed, the author’s comments about the way that people who are struggling seek to abuse foreigners and strangers and wanderers in their midst when times are tough is a reminder that our own times would do well to take heed about.  My concern about this book is that it seems that all too many readers have simply picked and chosen among its many areas of discussion and have not examined the work as a coherent whole or sought to understand how it is that human beings never seem to move beyond the underlying problems that popular delusions demonstrate.  However our technology has developed, our moral development has not been very great, if at all, and there is little joy that one can take from that.

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