Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Can You Take Me Back?...

I write about music a lot... but as you probably surmised, music is an important part of my life. And yes, I'm about to mention music again.

There are songs that are my parents' songs--songs that they enjoyed during my childhood, songs that they listened to and sang and hummed so frequently that they are interwoven into my life. These songs weren't my songs when I was a child, but they have become my songs by way of an inheritance--a gift of memories that my parents gave me that take me back to those years.

Ferrante & Teischer... Ray Conniff... Frank Sinatra... Perry Como... Dean Martin... Floyd Kramer.... Mantovani... these are some of the musicians whose songs were a part of the background music of my life. These are artists whose songs I still remember well, and now embrace because of the many memories their songs bring forth.

Ultimately, we are the sum of our memories--and music is often the catalyst that initiates a flood of memories. Perhaps that's why I so love Christmas songs; the thousands of cherished memories that a Christmas song can unleash are so remarkable that the music is perhaps the most joyful I can imagine.

Like many of you perhaps, I would gently mock my parents' taste in music when I was younger. Little did I know that they were sharing with me a heritage that I wouldn't fully appreciate until decades later. Did their parents do the same with them?...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Words from an Old Friend

Heard from Sven Ahlstrom today--and what a pleasant surprise it was! I spoke about Sven a couple of postings ago; he was my closest friend in the summer of '70, and remained very close to Susan and me until he moved away from Georgia.

Y'know, even if my blog accomplishes nothing else, reconnecting with Sven is reward enough!

My Tunes Pre iTunes

In my last entry, I talked about the unforgettable summer of 1970—and of course, much of that entry revolved around music. That's to be expected; music has been a vital part of my life, and I tend to measure my most memorable events by the music that I was enjoying at the time.

Before you dismiss the remainder of this post as the ramblings of a Luddite, let me mention that I have iPods. I have an iPod from every generation, in fact. I like iPods.

Now, back to the subject at hand.

Back in the 1960s, when I began buying albums (I made my first purchase in 1964--and it was, as you might have expected, Meet the Beatles), it was common for me to immerse myself in a new album. I played it over and over, learning the order of the songs, the transitions between tunes, the feel of each side of the album (usually, each side tended to convey a different mood, at least for me--and that determined which side became the A side as far as I was concerned). There was no shuffle, no random mixing; an album was a vital unit, and that's the way music was heard.

It didn't occur to me in those days that there were bad songs. I'd never dream of eliminating a song from an album; first off, it would be difficult to do so, since I'd have to get up, move the tone arm, and then reposition it for the next cut. But more importantly, it broke the organic flow of the album. Removing a song from an album would be like removing a note or a series of notes from an individual song because I didn't particularly like A-minor.

I hadn't realized just how important the flow of an album was until we recently acquired a 2006 Acura RL. It has a DVD-Audio player, so I transitioned much of my musical listening from my ever-present iPod to the DVD-Audio player. And then I rediscovered the allure of the album as opposed to the randomization of songs. Works were allowed to build on each other; moods were juxtaposed; I was once again hearing the unified work the way the artist envisioned it.

And as much as I enjoy my iPod, I realize that it's not the ultimate format for music. There's something to be said for the unified format of an album (even though they're not really albums at all any more), and I'm going to try giving more of my old favorites a new listen in an old-fashioned way.

Pardon me while I once again pull out a copy of Abbey Road and re-experience the Beatles' finale the way it was meant to be heard...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Favorite Year

Does each of us have a "favorite year"? I do--or more specifically, I have a favorite part of a year. The summer of 1970...

That was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. It seemed like an endless summer, probably due in large part to my taking a Summer Enrichment Program class at Berry College. This was a program they offered for select students from the various local high schools; we could take one college course at no charge, giving us educational opportunities that exceeded what was available to us in high school as well as offering a taste of college life. Since my chosen course, Calculus, was a morning class, I was getting up early (not a typical summertime activity for me) three days a week, which put me back home at 9:50 on those mornings, ready to enjoy the day.

I didn't have a job that summer, because of the SEP class; my parents didn't think it would be wise to balance the two. They suggested, wisely, that I focus on the class at Berry, since I had already accepted an academic scholarship there; it would probably have made them question the decision if I bombed out on the SEP course.

That meant that I had a full day of Doing Very Little--something that has turned out to be quite rare, although I had no idea that would be the case. My best friend at the time, Sven Ahlstrom had an afternoon newspaper route--a sprawling car route, not one of those neighborhood bicycle routes--so our days were typically spent riding around in his '68 Chevy Malibu, looking for comics or books or music, getting something to eat, then working his paper route. We were both doing fanzines--I was in two amateur press alliances and writing for other fanzines at the time, and I had lured Sven into the world of apa-dom as well--and that filled up some of our spare time. But the days seemed forever long, and the pressures seemed almost nonexistent.

Sven had an eight-track tape player in his car, for which we owned precious few tapes. What he and I had bought on eight-track, we listened to over and over again, Steppenwolf Live, Badfinger's Magic Christian Music, the Beatles' Let It Be, the eponymous Crosby, Stills, & Nash first album; In-a-Gadda-da-Vida, Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar, the Rolling Stones' Beggars' Banquet... I know there were a few others, but not that many. Tapes were expensive, and for the most part they duplicated what we already owned on vinyl (albums were real music; tapes were just a means to enjoy that music on the road).

In those pre-iPod days, there was no shuffle; we listened to albums all the way through, again and again, until we not only knew every note of the song, but we knew exactly how long a silence there would be at the end, and then we knew every note of the song that would follow that. (Problem was, we had learned some of these playlists from the vinyl versions, and the eight-tracks were in different order so that they could divide the album into four more-or-less equal lengths--I could tell you why, but that's more eight-track technology than the 21st Century would dream of enduring.) So not only would we sing along with the songs that were playing, we'd start the next songs a half-beat or so before the music began--not because we mis-estimated, but because we were too impatient to wait.

Susan and I were dating, but she was working at the time, so I spoke with her only in the evenings and saw her only on weekends. Sven was interested in a friend of ours, Ida Hutchings, but any romance between them was sporadic and ill-fated; they were destined to remain friends, but nothing more. Gary Steele was a good friend, but for some reason he didn't enjoy the hours spent in an un-air-conditioned Malibu, so he rarely hit the road with us.

I feel like we lived in that Malibu; I didn't have a car of my own, although I could use the family's '64 Volkswagen if I really needed to, so Sven's car was our only legitimate transportation choice. Like all sixteen-year-olds with access to a car, we felt like it would be positively criminal not to drive as much as possible, so we were continually mobile.

We discovered underground comics that summer when what would probably have qualified as a head shop opened in Rome; I never paid attention to the drug or lifestyle paraphernalia, but the books by Robert Crumb and Foolbert Sturgeon and Richard Corben and Vaugn Bode were endlessly fascinating. We also discovered Rolling Stone that summer; the magazine was relatively new to Rome readers, since I don't believe that the two magazine distributors in Rome carried it prior to that spring. The biweekly magazine joined our must-read list alongside comics and science fiction magazines and Doc Savage books and Playboy (sure, we looked at the pictures, but we really did read the articles--and we discussed them!).

The summer gradually transitioned into the beginning of our senior year of high school; none of us knew at the time that this would be the last summer we were all so free to enjoy life as we wished. But oh, what a wondrous two and a half months it was!..

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Heart of the Matter

Tomorrow is my six-month cardiac checkup; I'm not expecting anything out of the ordinary, but that doesn't stop me from feeling a little bit apprehensive. As much as I like Dr. Mike, my cardiologist and long-time friend, I still get a little nervous; there are always those dark back-of-the-mind worries that he'll come in and say something like, "Remember all those repairs we did back in 2000? Well, they didn't last..."

Before I brood too much and stay awake all night, I'll at least go through the good things that came out of my heart attack and subsequent surgery:

(1) I lost 70 pounds and have kept it off (well, all but about five pounds that occasionally come back to visit until I send them packing again)
(2) I started exercising faithfully and found out that I really like it
(3) I began eating a lot of Caribbean grilled salmon and grilled tuna steaks and ended up liking both more than beef, which I've virtually eliminated from my diet
(4) I reconnected with the great outdoors, thanks to my twice-a-day-minimum walks
(5) After being forced to retire, I discovered that it's not absolutely necessary that I get up at 5:24 a.m. after all
(6) I got to know Lucky, Sable, Rudy, Sadie, Scarlett, Sandy, Toby, Laurel, Hardy, Chelsea, Chester, and the rest of the dogs who expect some attention every time I walk past their houses (I like dogs, although I don't like owning dogs, if that makes any sense)
(7) I shaved my beard off and decided that, for the first time in years, I liked what was under it enough that I kept it shaved off this time

I know there are other things I should add to that list, but it's late and I actually do have to get up early tomorrow morning (have to exercise and feed cats prior to my 9 a.m. appointment)...

Dead Wooden

Last season, Deadwood shone, thanks to complex plotlines and eloquently quaint dialogue. This year, though, David Milch has taken everything that made Deadwood distinctive and pushed it to the point of excess: plotlines that meander with inadequate resolution, dialogue that is so pointlessly turgid that it impedes the flow of the story, characterization that seems at times at odds with itself...

When I first heard that HBO wasn't renewing this series for a fourth season, I was aggravated and disappointed. Now, though, I suspect they watched some of the season three episodes and realized that the spark was gone.

I'll stick around for the remainder of the season--but bear in mind that I also watched Twin Peaks and X-Files until the very end, even though both of those were execrable in their final seasons. My viewing is sometimes driven as much by loyalty as it is by a quest for quality...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Unconventional Times

I see today that Swiss authorities have criticized Israel for its actions in Gaza, claiming that it wasn't taking adequate steps to protect civilians and that it was utilizing collective punishment against the Palestinians.

It's obvious from recent developments like this and the absurd Supreme Court decision endowing Geneva Convention protections on terrorists that methods of warfare have changed to such an extent that the Geneva Convention must be modified, if not dismissed entirely.

The simple truth is, it's only the civilized Western societies that are allowing themselves to be limited by this. Switzerland wouldn't think of condemning the Palestinian terrorists for violating the conventions by allowing their "troops" to operate out of uniform, or for placing their "troops" and military installations in civilian areas, where they use civilians and particularly children as human shields. Why does Switzerland not condemn this? Simply put, it's because the civilized world doesn't expect the Palestinians or other Muslim extremist societies to operate by rules of civilized warfare. We have lowered our expectations of behavior for one side of the war, and then condemn the opposing forces for adjusting their methods of warfare in the face of an unprincipled enemy.

Of course, the world will wail and lament if the Geneva Conventions are cast aside--but truthfully, they exist only as another weapon in the Muslim extremist arsenal, a weapon that they are utilizing against Israelis and Americans and Britons on a daily basis.

It's time to clarify that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to a force that does not place its troops in uniform; they do not apply to a force that views its populace as nothing more than human sandbags; and it does not apply to a force that uses human beings as hostages without regard for the same Geneva Conventions.

So long as one side is forced to wage a 21st century war using 20th century philosophies, there's little chance of a clear victory...