Tuesday, November 29, 2011

 ...hard to believe he's been gone for a decade now...

Ten years ago, George Harrison departed this world and that's been on my mind today. Ten Years. When Abe Lincoln died, it was said that "now he belongs to the ages". To apply that to members of The Beatles startles me a bit. My first Beatles' album was "Yesterday and Today", after which I got their subsequent later albums...Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Magical Mystery Tour, White Album, Abbey Road, Let it be, etc. Back in 1966, when I got  "Yesterday and Today", I found out it contained a whole bunch of singles I'd heard on the radio, "Yesterday", "Day Tripper", "We Can Work It Out" and "Nowhere Man" plus the rest of the tunes were cool, too. George Harrison wrote one song on that album, "If I Needed Someone" which has a whole different flavor...it was jangly, the lyrics were fairly morose, and it went in a different direction; the song was strangely moody and haunting. With that tune, George began writing some major songs, every bit as good as Lennon-McCartney. He provided a sort of "counterpoint"; his dark tunes contrasting with the bubbly Lennon-McCartney compositions that occupied the majority of Beatles albums. George's songs were generally darker than the Lennon-McCartney tunes which made up most of the Fabs' repertoire.
The Dark Horse...
"All Things Must Pass", George's 1970 solo triple LP, contained songs that Lennon-McCartney had rejected outright in the past. George's songs carried a dark element throughout; a sort of gloom with maybe some light at the end of the tunnel. Ironically, the group's early albums, such as "Meet The Beatles" or "Beatles VI" were albums I got after they broke up. And those early albums invaded my consciousness ,same as if I'd bought them in the heyday of Beatlemania. During my junior year in high school, I was wheelin' and dealin' for Beatles albums. That's how I got my first copies of "The Early Beatles" and "A Hard Day's Night". It was amazing how good their early songs sounded to me, even if some of that material had been released 4 or 5 years previously (an eternity when I was a kid). When KJRB radio (in Spokane, Washington) played a full weekend of Beatles Music once it was announced that the group had broken up, I was all ears and liked what I heard. And things just went from there . Turns out  I'd heard some of that early stuff before; I just didn't know the song titles, but once they hit the turntable, they sounded amazingly familiar.

In 1970 I found my recently-acquired copy of "Meet The Beatles" (which originally came out in '64), contained a similar George Song, "Don't Bother Me", which is far away in musical flavor from the Lennon-McCartney songs that dominate the album. The song is gloomy. It's an Early George song; he downplayed the significance of that song, but I thought it was as good as any Lennon-McCartney tune and its inclusion gave the album a different sort of flavor. Many of George's tunes contain that dark element, whether it be "Taxman", "Love You To" (both from the "Revolver" album), "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "I Me Mine", "Long Long Long" (from the White Album) or "Think For Yourself" (from "Rubber Soul"). Perhaps it was how he heard rock and roll. Yes, the Beatles recorded some not-so-good songs, and George wrote his share of clunkers, but he gave Beatles albums a unique sort of depth. Later on, after the group broke up, George started up a record label, and he named it "Dark Horse". I think that's how he saw himself. He once said that he considered himself and Ringo as "economy-class Beatles". I think George was more than that. Much more. I'm not sure about Ringo, although he was/is a great instinctive drummer. Or perhaps it was the combination of such wide-apart personalities that made The Beatles what they were. The only other group that comes close in terms of chemistry is U2. The depth of feeling that U2 puts into their tunes immediately sets them apart. Led Zeppelin was also like that. I really do think they were "The Beatles of the '70s" in terms of inventiveness. Now don't go running off because I mentioned Zeppelin. They recorded some nice tunes, dabbling in folk and pop music. Think "Going To California", "That's The Way", or "All My Love". Nice stuff.

RECORD RESEARCH BEFORE THE INTERNET: It's hard, now, to imagine life B.C. ("Before Computers"). Way back in the day, though, if one wanted to know anything about anything, he/she would visit the Bookstore or library. My friends and I would talk about music, and they would ask me how I could remember such things as record-chart positions, groups, history of various songs an particulars. I'd tell them that I wasn't smart, I just read everything I could get my greasy hands on. If I had the opportunity to shave 30 years off my age, I'd want to be a record store owner. Or an album reviewer. I may not be much of a musician, but I'm one hell of a great listener. I was always intrigued by music, records and song lyrics. So here's a couple of really important books that I've used; they're fun to research with, learn from, or to enjoy as light reading...
The Rolling Stone Record guide has provided me with so much priceless information over the years. They contain capsule-type comments about record albums and assign them 'star value'; a "1" album is mediocre; a "5" means it's a great album, and a small black square means the record should be burned and forgotten about forever. I ordered the "Red" book from a bookstore in 1978, and I found a used copy of the "Blue" book for cheap at a used book store. There are probably over a hundred artists in the "Red" book that aren't in the "Blue" book, and vice versa, which is why I keep both books handy. As you can see, the "Red" book was falling apart at the seams due to overuse. Duct Tape to the Rescue! Looks like my "blue" copy is about ready to fall apart, too. Handle with care, eh? The "red" book stops at albums issued 1978 and before, while the "blue" book goes up through 1984.

Recently, I was on Facebook, exchanging messages with an old high school friend. I had posted that if I had to choose My One Favorite Song by Anybody, it would have to be "Hey Jude". And her response was, "Puh-leeze, our ladies' knitting group could do better than that." Which made me feel as if a knitting needle had been stuck in my eye. My own take is, that if someone does not like the Beatles, I'm probably not going to get along well with that someone. I'm not being one-sided about this. I can't stand opera of ANY kind, so I probably wouldn't get on well with someone who's an opera buff. And I kinda feel the same way about classical music. Ack.
Finally, I want to address a topic that really bugs me. In fact, it really Ticks Me Off. I keep hearing/seeing television ads that name anything having to do with Christmas as "The Holidays". A holiday is a day where you celebrate something. So what do "The Holidays" celebrate, if not "Christ", who the holiday was Named For? I'm no religious wacko; I'm quite the backslider actually, but Christmas is Christmas, whether you're atheist, agnostic or a fervent disciple. If you're not Christian, perhaps you can use Christmas to honor who you do believe in. There's no competition in religions here. It's supposed to be a time of peace no matter who you are or what color your skin is. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, as long as you don't blow the smoke in my face. There. Sermon over.

Monday, November 21, 2011

...a different way to put things in perspective...

*Three World Wars.
*The Vietnam War.
*The sinking of the U.S.S. Arizona.
*The sinking of the Titanic.
*The Great Depression.
*The Assassination of President Kennedy.
*The Assassination of President Lincoln.
*The signing of the Bill Of Rights.
*The Space Shuttle disaster.
*The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
*The Charleston.
*The Macarena.
*The Invention of the Wax Cylinder Record.
*The advent of I-Pods and mp3's.
*Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.
*The Edsel.
*The Model T.
*The Louisiana Purchase.
*Alaska and Hawaii become States.
*Joe "Fingers" Carr.
*Rollie Fingers.
*The Beatles.
*The Hoosier Hot-Shots.
*The Pony Express.
*The Forever Stamp.
*Riot Control.
*Birth Control.
*Fats Domino.
*Fats Waller.
*"Minnesota" Fats.
*The Shootout at the OK Corral.
*Teddy Roosevelt.
*Ted Bundy.
*and on and on and on and on...

All of the above occurrences barely make a scratch in the totality of history. Generations come and go, and things keep happening.  To put this in perspective, while Humanity has undergone all of these events (and many more); since the year 1763, (248 YEARS AGO), the planet PLUTO has gone around the sun exactly ONCE. Sorta puts thing in perspective, don't it? In short, Pluto hasn't even made HALF an orbit around the sun since it was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in  1930.

So let's see Pluto in order to get a better perspective. It is one of the stranger bodies of rock in the Solar System. In fact, Pluto's Orbit is elliptical (Oval-shaped) and rather than orbiting on the same plane as all of the other planets, Pluto actually goes above, then below the plane. Nobody's ever really seen Pluto other than through fuzzy depictions that can only hint at what's out there. When it was discovered, it was through the use of grainy space photos that compared the position of stars and planets. Since planets travel faster, one of the old grainy photos showed Pluto in different positions relative to the stars in the sky. So, without further adieu, here's Pluto...

OOPS, wrong Pluto...Guess I'll have to start using another Search Engine. While I look for the correct Pluto, I'll inundate you with facts about what used to be (and maybe still is) the 9th planet: Pluto is only two-thirds the size of Earth's Moon. Pluto may actually be one of the innermost asteroids from the Kuiper belt. Perhaps Pluto was on a path where it got near enough to be snared by the gravitational pull of The Sun. And, it's a helluva place to raise your kids, according to Elton John. Wait...I think he was singing about Mars...

Here's Pluto along with Charon, its Moon. Charon wasn't discovered until 1978. Charon (pronounced KA-RON) is large, in proportion to the ball of rock it revolves around (well, I can't say 'Planet', right?) and as such, Pluto and Charon revolve around an epicenter (or, point between the two bodies. Both little worlds are composed of Rock and Ice. Rumor has it that Pluto might have more than one moon, but we don't know that for sure. One of the primary reasons Pluto is not a planet (according to some) is because its orbit crosses another planet's orbit. Pluto's oval orbit is so eccentric, that it actually sails inside Neptune's orbit for half of its revolution so it's the furthest Planet (if indeed it's still a planet), only about half the time.

So there ya go. A little renegade sphere, along with its little renegade moon. In fact, they're both Cold As Hell...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

...your hard drive makes a sound that resembles a Norelco razor...

And that's just what happened the very evening I wrote the previous post in this here Wunnerful blog. I was semi-hypnotized after a couple of hours on Ebay and I couldn't react right away. It didn't matter. Dies is as Dies does. And my computer didn't need a fork, for it was already Done. "ZZZZZZHHHHHHHHTTTTT" went the noise that my 'puter was making all of a sudden. Then, nothing but a black screen. I tried signing on, and got the cyberworld's equivalent of a nuclear blast. A big blue screen came up, saying my "BIOS" needed updating and to contact a System Vendor about whatever. That's what I told the kid at the Computer Service business, and he pronounced the verdict by saying, "ahhh, looks like another case of "BLUE SCREEN DEATH".

Basically, my keyboard divorced itself from the rest of the computer. It didn't matter if you lightly tapped the keys or brought a sledgehammer down, that was it. Done. Finito. It turned out the Fan inside the computer (which was a Reconditioned Model I bought a couple years ago) was mounted off center. The computer, on occasion, had been running very, very hot before it flamed out altogether. So I took it to a repair place where I met The Computer Kid. What did I learn? That actually, "Laptop" computers aren't really meant to rest on your Lap. The Computer Kid said that's why they refer to them as "Notebooks" instead of "Laptops". People were actually burning their laps with their computers. (The cyber-world's equivalent of the McDonald's Hot Coffee In Lap Incident.)
I imagine the computer industry is hoping that since the word "Notebook" is now in vogue, people won't be burning their laps anymore. Gotta avoid them lawsuits! So Now You Know: Laptops aren't Laptops anymore. So, people...if you see a cheap computer at your local Radio Shack, especially if it's a make that Radio Shack doesn't NORMALLY sell, and it's for sale cheap, it may not be new. Which means that your new computer isn't new after all. (Still with me? I'm starting to lose myself here.)  Instead, your new computer might be, and probably is, reconditioned. Which means it's not entirely new. It's just been refurbished. It could die at any time. Like mine did. Sorta like a 90-year-old guy in the best of health. "ZZZZAP!!!" At any moment he could keel over. Just like my computer. "ZZZAP!!!"
So I left the computer with The Computer Kid, and after a while, I went back, and there was nothing he could do. While us humans may be relatively fragile, at least the body can be put on Life Support, and you can't do that with a computer. I still have both "shells" of what once were computers; maybe I should bury them and make them little headstones. "Here Lies HP Pavilion dv6000" (the computer I replaced a couple years ago), and "Here Lies "Toshiba 586D", both good servants who died before their time. Or maybe what I'll do, is build a Computer Mausoleum, and instead of little Urns, I'll just shove both dead computers into enclosed shelves located in my Garage That's About To Fall Down. Death, be not proud.

I don't know what it is about the forces above us all who know when we have some extra money. I spent the majority of this year in hock to the bank; I'd borrowed too many times from them, so I got my account "cooled off", the effect being that I began budgeting my money well. Then it happened. Last month, I spent $80 bucks getting my car seat fixed; I was leaning back to get my wallet out of a back pocket, and all of a sudden, "SNAP!!!", the back of the seat deposited itself onto the seat in back of it. But I worked my way through all that. I really budgeted myself for the next month, and was in good shape; bills were coming in, I was able to pay them, I was doing really well 'till this Computer thing! So how to explain this? It could be that little ghost characters from the Dark Side follow everyone around in a time dimension 2 seconds ahead of all of us and report in, "guess what! He has Extra Money! Let's GET him!!!" When psychics begin to get hired by Credit Bureaus, RUN FOR COVER!!!

So what did I do about the computer? Off to "Staples" I went. For under $400, I got this little HP computer. Yeah, I know an HP died on me before. But it was the cheapest that they had, and hey, it's got 4.0 GB of memory, which is 1.0GB more memory than the Reconditioned Toshiba I was replacing. I also got a little accessory which enables my laptop to Actually Be a laptop; it's a "Chill Mat" which supplies air to the bottom of the computer; it attaches by a USB port, the computer sits on it, and all is well with the world, until my next computer breakdown which will more than likely be followed by my own personal breakdown. (If it hasn't already happened, that is.)

So when I got ready to pay for my new computer, the Sales Associate said that if I sent in a portion of the receipt with numbers on it, that I'd get a $50 rebate (8 to 10 weeks waiting time). I asked the Sales Associate, "why can't you give me the savings right now?" and he said, "sorry, that's the way they do it." He also told me that if I took an HP Online Survey, I'd get entered into a contest for $5,000 dollar prize. I was told it was a short survey, but it took 25 minutes to fill out all dang stuff. It felt more like one of those 500-question MMPI personality-test things. They seemed to ask the same questions, over and over, in slightly different ways. The survey, that is. Although the MMPI test does the same thing. And both drive me crazy.

So once again I had to go thru the torture of computer loss and reacquisition. So if you've read this entire post, now it's your turn. Nice guy that I am, I decided to share the misery.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

...sometimes the distance between the two is a fine line...

Every now and then, I catch a fairly new program on one of the cable channels, called "HOARDERS". And, it's a show that makes me uncomfortable. Why? Because the images on the screen resemble portions of my own life. I exasperated my Mom and Dad; it was so difficult for me to keep my room "straight". This has been a tendency of mine since I was a kid. Mom and Dad kept a very neat house; everything organized and in its place. So why was I more "Oscar" than "Felix"? I don't really know. Except that, I've always got a thousand things on my mind, and all that mental clutter renders me absolutely motionless sometimes, and it doesn't take much. I can sit in a spot for hours, just letting my mind wander. And I often do. And somehow, there's always little piles of stuff in my house that threaten to overtake me, and sometimes do.

This is NOT my house. Not yet, anyway.
So am I a hoarder? I think at various times in my life, I have been. It all depends on my frame of mind. When I get good and mad, or if I've got people coming to visit, I can clean house like the proverbial white tornado. I must be vigilant, though, forever on the watch, or little "messes" not addressed can soon become frighteningly huge, and seem to pop up out of nowhere. It's a helpless feeling. I also have, and have always had, a tendency to wander off task. I'll get going on a room, tossing, sorting, straightening and et-cetera, and then something will spring up to de-rail me. Any type of activity that involves drudgery and repitition will soon render me motionles after a couple of hours. It's a weakness, and its' always been that way with me.

I probably can be accused of Record-Hoarding. I bought records as a kid, but my collection was average; 200-300 records max. When I went away to college, a friend of mine introduced me to the world of second-hand record buying from shops that sold used LP's for two or three dollars a shot. We'd get back to Campus with armloads of vinyl. Throughout my life, thrift stores have always been a place to score, and score big. And it became a mission of mine to hear to all of the music I'd bypassed in earlier times, and the great thing was, I got that music for CHEAP at Goodwill, St. Vinnie's, Salvation army, you name it. A few years ago, I decided to clean house and tighten up the record collection. I gave away 24 boxes of albums, which I'd played once and shelved. I long ago got rid of all the records I didn't care about. Now I'm at the level where I'm now giving away albums I really like, but don't really need. I dub 'em, either partially or whole, onto CD, then, out the door they go. So maybe I'm a reverse-hoarder?

So it's a fine line between Hoarding and Collecting. Everyone Collects Something. It's when that Something interferes with quality of life that Hoarding begins. People who hoard have various insecurities ranging from depression or anxiety, and that has a lot to do with all the clutter in my life. Being bi-polar with all the attendant mood swings can stop me in my tracks sometimes. But another situation is presenting itself: I'm getting older and having to reduce the amount of things I have. And a box of records seems to weigh a lot more than it used to. At least that's what my back tells me. Hoarders have difficulty in choosing what gets thrown out, and I'm having difficulty with that too, but it's made a bit easier knowing I can preserve anything I give away on CD.

I once knew a family whose matriarch was a hoarder to the "Nth" degree. The picture at the top of this post doesn't even begin to APPROACH how bad their house was. A path led from the front door to the kitchen; another path led to the bedrooms and bathroom, and piled up at least four feet high everywhere were bags and bags of all kinds of things; clothing, electronics, canned food, paper goods, cleansers, pots and pans, and on and on and on. That scares me. I don't want to be like that, but at times I've wandered dangerously close.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

...the saga of unreleased 44-year-old music suddenly made available...

Those of you who like The Beach Boys are in for an Excursion in Sound. The Beach Boys were slated to come out with an album called "SMiLE" in 1967, and it was supposed to be The Next Big Thing. Group leader Brian Wilson was the creative voice that gave the group songs to sing. By 1966, he wasn't touring with the band anymore. He assumed the role of Studio Wizard whilst his band-mates were out there gigging away. That formula worked for quite a while. But things began changing. The landmark album, "Pet Sounds" must have confused a lot of people when it came out. Including me. No fast music! Hardly any guitars! An album full of ballads! The first time I heard it, that's what I thought. The record stayed in my collection, because Everyone Said it was an important album. Which it was; I just didn't appreciate it at the time.

Brian Wilson had gotten deadly serious with the "Pet Sounds" album; it's full of melancholy musings about loneliness, confusion and alienation. I tried Really Listening to it, and it just sat there on the turntable spinning around while I sat in front of the turntable, Just Totally Confused. It definitely wasn't one of those fun surfing or hot-rodding albums they used to do, after all. So it sat in my collection for ages. Over the years, I've read everything I could find about pop/rock music, and that was how I found out about the aborted "SMiLE" album. And, that made me want to hear it all the more. One day while shopping in a used-vinyl store, I mentioned the "SMiLE" album to the owner, and he reached under the counter and pulled out a bootleg CD full of songs and musical fragments recorded during the "SMiLE" sessions. The CD was overpriced, but well worth it. So I finally had an idea of what went on during the "SMiLE" sessions. But the bootleg CD, consisting of fragmented musical tidbits, was extremely disjointed.

Yaay! After 44 years, here it is! "SMiLE"!!!
I got on the internet and began searches for anything having to do with the "SMiLE" sessions, and I ran into Beach Boys' fan websites, and through that, I was able to more or less ascertain the running order of the songs. Then, I surfed another fan website in which one guy wrote a post about actually assembling "SMiLE" tidbits into some sort of cohesive whole. So I did. Over the years, I've made half a dozen tapes/discs with "SMiLE" material; in a sense, I feel like I've "lived" the music. For a couple of years, I listened almost exclusively to the music of "SMiLE". So, the fact that this 44-year-old music was finally made available to the general public for the first time wasn't that big of a deal for m since I'd heard portions of it. But, I wanted to compare the album's song order with what I'd come up with over the years, assembling my own "SMiLE" discs. And I was surprised to find that for about half of the album, the discs I made came close to matching the officially-released "SMiLE" music in terms of song-order. So I thot that was cool. It's nice to be 'in the ballpark' sometimes. (Except if you're a Seattle Mariner...)

Brian Wilson's "SMiLE" album from 2004.
Not to be confused with the Beach Boy's version.
A few years back (2004?), Brian recorded a version of "SMiLE", complete with new lyrics for some of the songs; the original "SMiLE" album featured a good number of instrumentals, and so it was interesting hearing new lyrics for 'formerly instrumental' songs. But as in all recreations of most anything, something suffers. Brian's voice is nowhere near as pure as it was back in '67. The instrumentation on the new "SMiLE" album didn't sound as warm or organic, and while it's a good album, it's just not the same. I had come to know the original "SMiLE" music note-by-note, and the new version of "SMiLE" paled in comparison. Fast-forward to a couple of months ago, when news of the release of the original "SMiLE" album was gonna happen on November 1st. I'm going all-out for this release; I already have the two-record "SMiLE" album sitting in front of me as I'm typing this post. And I'm also going to get the CD issue. The 2-LP set features 4 or 5 extra "SMiLE" songs, while the CD features tons of out-takes and alternate versions of "SMiLE" songs.

So what's "SMiLE" about? There's a nod to the old west; there's some Americana, there's some whimsy,  philosophy, and there are portions of it that are "anyone's guess". The songs are suggestive of loss, as well as contentment, and like an abstract painting, "SMiLE" leaves you to paint your own picture. It's not rock, not symphony, and it's barely 'pop'. With song titles such as "Cabinessence", "Wind Chimes", "Vega-tables" and "Surf's Up" (which isn't about surfing), it's a very introspective and personal album. At the time "SMiLE" was supposed to have come out, the album featured two big hit singles, "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes And Villains". This is important, because Brian had come under a lot of fire from his band-mates about the album's weird songs and strange lyrics. But there were two hit singles for the group to do in performance. Sadly, all the pressure made Brian fold, and the album was shelved. Some songs destined for the "SMiLE" album ended up on later Beach Boys' albums, so how bad could this music could've been, seeing as how the group decided to use them later on? "Cabinessence" was issued on 1968's "20/20" album (1968) and "Surf's Up" was the title track for one of the BB's l970's albums.  

The original "SMiLE's" music is very rich, very musical. Some songs are "large" and "echo-ey", and others move to the tempo of a quiet solo piano. Those Beach Boys harmonies are all over the place, and the songs are beautifully strange. This album was supposed to be the Next Big Thing way back when. Supposedly Paul McCartney visited Brian Wilson during a recording session, and told Brian something along the likes of "you'd better get going because our masterpiece ("Sgt. Pepper") will be coming out soon." Finally, after immersing myself in the "SMiLE" music, I dug out the "Pet Sounds" album and instantly felt at home with the gentle nature of songs on that record, which to me, were forerunners of the fascinating "SMiLE" music.

The Beach Boys' "SMiLE" album features 1960's-era Black w/Rainbow Capitol Records labels, which the record collector in me absolutely freaked out over! And the album jacket features the original catalog number (ST-2580). In comparison, "Sgt. Pepper" was ST-2653. Had "SMiLE" been released back in 1967, it would've set a lot of listeners square on their ears, as "Pepper" did. Me, I'm thankful to see "SMiLE's release. So cool, so doggone cool. A red-letter day as far as I'm concerned.