Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This California Girl is Going (back) to California


Well, it turns out that after all this time and expense and effort, I'll be on my way back to California soon.



I ran the numbers this morning after a few days of indecision, and I just can't afford to stay here on the East Coast looking for work. So, I'll go back home and try again there. I know I hit my head against that particular brick wall for far too long, and it isn't going to be easy to find anything there now, either. But I will at least be on familiar territory.

See, that's the thing. I've been having trouble navigating here. I don't know which way is up - well, which way is North and so forth, and I just don't feel comfortable when I don't know which direction is which. I also often can't get where I want to go because I don't know the area and don't know which buses go where and when.

That aspect of it wasn't too much of a problem in DC itself, actually, but I've been out here in Maryland, about halfway between DC and Baltimore for nearly a week now, and it's just hard to get around. I ran around in circles for about three hours this afternoon trying to figure out how to pay for my train ticket back to California once I made the reservation on the phone. There is no Amtrak station with a ticket agent in the town I'm in right now (Laurel, Maryland). The nearest one is about 10 miles away. I couldn't figure out how to get there on the bus, and it was going to take about two hours each way, anyway, and I really wasn't up for that. And I didn't have a credit or debit card to pay over the phone - if I'd had that, I could have just made the reservation and paid online. That would have been much easier than talking to a computer to make the reservation. And I certainly wasn't going to pay for a taxi to take me those 10 miles and back. I wouldn't have, even if I could have afforded it, which I can't.

Jeez - either someone is sawing something next door, or they're having sex on a bed with a very squeaky mattress. It's only 7:12 p.m. - it's too late for sawing and a little too early to be having that loud of sex.

Sorry or that interruption. To get back to the story - I finally decided that I needed to get a pre-paid debit card so that I could pay for the reservation. See, they would only hold it until tomorrow, but I don't check out of the motel I'm staying at to go back to DC until Friday morning. That was not going to work. One of the motel employees told me where she thought I could buy a pre-paid card within walking distance. I walked down there. No joy. So, walking back up toward the motel, I stopped at a convenience store to ask if they knew where I could get one. And the clerk did know. He told me that they sold them at Family Dollar, and then he said, "and they sell them at 7-11, too. There was another man in there, clearly someone the clerk knew, and he said, "What are you sending her clear up to 7-11 for. That's too far." (It really wasn't too far, but it was farther than Family Dollar, and uphill.) It was kind of cute, and they were very helpful.

This is one of the things I've learned while I've been out here, by the way; most people are more than happy to be helpful if they can be.

So, I walked to Family Dollar, bought the card, came back to the motel and activated it, then called and paid for the train ticket. So, the trip back to California is a done deal, and I'm glad of that. The odd thing is that I haven't been aware of being homesick since I've been here, but now that the decision is made and the ticket is bought, I'm very glad to be going home. Even though there is actually no home to go to out there. It's still home.

But, that whole process took about three hours, from making the reservation to getting the ticket paid for, most of it out in a warm-to-hot sunny day. I've got a lot more stamina than I did when I arrived here, nearly a month ago, but I was tired and hot by the time I got to the motel. Not least, I realized at nearly five p.m., because I hadn't eaten anything all day. This is a problem when I have a problem to solve or a task to accomplish. I start concentrating on that and I completely forget to eat.

So, I had to go out again, walk back over to the Subway sandwich shop, and get dinner. I could have had a peanut butter sandwich, but I decided that just wasn't going to cut it. I've grown fond of that Subway shop since I've been here, although I haven't eaten there every night. They make good sandwiches and the people who work there are friendly. At any rate, now I'm fed, and not so anxious, and have the rest of the evening to relax.

There's be pre-travel things to do tomorrow - primarily doing up the dirty laundry I've accumulated since I've been here and packing to leave the motel on Friday morning, but also trying to figure out if there's anything I can leave behind so that my luggage won't be quite so heavy. I doubt there will be, but I'll unpack everything and repack, and in the process I might find something that isn't essential. That would be a helpful thing, since I've got to drag all that stuff back to DC and onto the train. Thank goodness for checked baggage. However, since I'll be in the train station Friday night, I will have to lug everything around with me all day Friday and part of the day Saturday, until time to actually check the bags.

I'm really not looking forward to the night in the station - another one. It isn't a pleasant place to begin with, and it's positively dismal at night. At least I should have my ticket in hand, so I shouldn't have to try t find places to be all night and can grab a chair in the ticketed passengers section and get a little sleep. The train, though, doesn't leave DC until just past 4 p.m. on Saturday, so that's going to be a long time in the station. If there were a place I could park my bags, I could go sightseeing Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, but that costs too much to even think about. But, I've got knitting, and I can spend some time in McDonald's using the Wi-Fi - I'm going to be in withdrawal across the country, on a train with no Wi-Fi access. Still, I can listen t music and watch DVDs and write - they do have electrical outlets at each seat.

I'm trying not to worry about what happens when I get back to L.A. just yet. There isn't anything I can do about it now. I've already been looking at job listings out there, and trying to see what the possibilities are for a safe place to sleep when I first arrive. But tonight? I think tonight I'm going to take advantage of the motel Wi-Fi, listen to some music, maybe do some writing, and just think that by this time next week I'll be back on the Left Coast...which is the right coast or me.

I just hope it doesn't welcome me home with an earthquake, like it did when I arrived there in March.

Quakes or not, though, I'm a California Girl, through and through.

Monday, September 15, 2014

If I had a TARDIS, I'd...


Somebody really needs to get their act together and invent time travel.

No, really. In between doing the job search thing and getting a few other things done today, I got to thinking about how cool it would be to be able to hop around in time and witness past events. And then I got to thinking about it some more and soon realized that most of the things I want to go back and see aren't discrete historical events - moments in history, or even the things you traditionally find in the history books. Instead, they are processes, many of them, events that happened over a period of time and that have had an impact, but not necessarily on war, politics, and economics - all those drivers of academic history.

I shouldn't really be surprised by that. I chose to major in anthropology rather than history, and I'm really fascinated with how people get along and how they do things, individually and in groups. As I think I've mentioned here recently, process is a big thing for me. There are a few more traditionally historical things that I'd like to go back and see about, but there were also some very pop-culture things that turned up on the quick list of ten that I drew up. I imagine that if I took more time, there would be a list that's a lot longer than this, but these are the 10 that came immediately to mind, starting with the less traditionally historical entries:

1) Opening day at Disneyland.

Not the famously disastrous "Press Preview" day on July 17, 1955, but the next day, the real opening, when people started lining up at something like 2 a.m. to get in to see Disney's newest production. I've always loved Disneyland (for all that I was chided once for that love and told that liking Disneyland is not "sophisticated"), and it would be so cool to see what it was like at the beginning, before it expanded and turned into the icon that it is today.


2) A Beatles concert.

Preferably the one that appears in the movie "Let It Be", the final time all four Beatles performed live in public together. That was on January 30, 1969, on the roof of the headquarters of Apple Records. But any Beatles concert would do, because it just isn't right that I never got to see The Beatles perform live.


3) The recording sessions for "Pet Sounds".

I've been watching some documentary footage recently of the sessions for this Beach Boys album, considered by many to be one of, if not the, greatest pop album ever made. Fascinating. I don't think all those people who call Brian Wilson a genius are just engaging in hyperbole. Clearly, Wilson hears things that the rest of the world doesn't, and that he managed to get those successfully on record is miraculous (especially since he is deaf in one ear), and I'd love to be able to witness that genius at work. Because they were done the same year, I'd like to also include in this the "Good Vibrations" sessions, which were a continuation of Wilson's experimentation on "Pet Sounds".


And now, on to the more historical events that appear on the list:

4) Mission control during the flight of Apollo 11.

Yeah, I'm a space geek. I proved that a couple of weeks ago when I visited the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian, and burst into tears several times at the things I saw there there. I've seen some film of operations in mission control at Johnson Space Center in Houston during that mission, and I would love to have the experience of seeing that first moon landing from where the flight was being directed.


5) A meeting of England's Queen Elizabeth I with her Privy Council.

Elizabeth I must have been one hell of a woman, running a country at a time and place in history where women were just not expected to do that sort of thing. I'd love to see how she handled the responsibility - and the men who had to acquiesce to her as queen.


6) One of Savonarola's sermons around the time he came to power as the de facto dictator of Florence in the mid-1490s.

I'm really curious about how that ugly little monk (sorry, I've seen paintings, and if they are at all accurate, the poor man was one of the least attractive individuals who ever lived) was able to impose his will on the home of the Renaissance for a bit over two years after delivering a series of fire-and-brimstone, prophecy-laden sermons to the population of the city. Hell, even Botticelli burned some of his artworks in Savonarola's "bonfires of the vanities" after hearing his sermons. Michelangelo, thank goodness, wasn't as swayed by the monk's admonitions. Savonarola finally overstepped in his ambitions when he started preaching reform. Pope Alexander VI excommunicated Savonarola and put Florence under an interdict as long as they harbored him. That was bad news for Savonarola, since instead of just kicking him out of town, Florence had him and two of his fellow monks burned at the stake. The thing I'm interested in, in all this, is how Savonarola managed to work his way into power in the first place.


7) Michelangelo painting the Sistine ceiling.

Just about the time that Savonarola was coming to power in Florence, Michelangelo left his home city for Rome. He returned to Florence to carve his David after having sculpted the his Pieta that stands today in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Once again in Rome, summoned by Pope Julius II to carve the Pope's tomb, Michelangelo found himself instead assigned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He resisted, insisting that he was a sculptor and not a painter. But those were the days when you really didn't say no to the Pope, and over four years, from 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo created one of his most cherished masterpieces. Of course, he made things more difficult on himself by designing a much more ambitious series of frescoes than the pope had asked for, but that was Michelangelo for you. I would love to be able to witness the process that resulted in such beauty.


8) The building of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Well, yeah. It's the Great Pyramid. Every once in a while, someone says that they've figured out how the Egyptians lifted all those heavy, heavy blocks to build that pyramid, but I would like to see for myself exactly how it was done. Because, you know, I don't buy the story that it was aliens.


9) Life in what is now the US southwest during the time when the Pueblo peoples were building and living in those giant apartment buildings they created.

There's more to it than just the cliff dwellings such as those at Mesa Verde in what is now Colorado and freestanding apartment buildings like Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico. There were the roads that supported a wide trade and indications that they traded even outside the region and into Mexico, over a thousand miles away. This was a complicated culture, and I would love to see how those communities were built and sustained in such a difficult environment.


10) The United States Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.

I get tired sometimes of hearing politicians talking about the original intent of the framers of the US Constitution. I would like to see for myself exactly what was said in those meetings, and in the after-meetings where the framers probably said what they were really thinking. But, again, I need a time machine to do that.


The truth is, if I made this list again tomorrow, or had made it yesterday, it would be different than this list. Probably not completely different, because at least a few of the entries are non-negotiable, at least today. No, I'm not telling which ones. And as I said at the beginning of this, if I had taken more time to think about it, this list would probably be a lot longer.

The thing I'd like to know now is, if you made a list like this, what events would you put on it? Why would you choose those events? Please, if you feel so inclined, drop a comment about what your list would include. Or, if you use this question as a prompt for a blog post of your own, please drop a comment and link so that I can read it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I want to work. Why won't anyone let me?...


I want to know exactly what I'm supposed to do.

I came east to look for work almost a month ago. I started putting in job applications even before I started the journey out here, and I've put more applications in since I got here. Nothing.

Well, not much. I've got a meeting scheduled on Tuesday with someone about some editing work, but as I understand it, that's a one-off deal, not actual ongoing employment. It's a good thing, but not nearly what I need right now, which is a steady job.

I've also not had any luck finding a place to live, because everyone wants to rent only to students or people who've already got work, even if they have enough money to move in. I'm in a motel right now, but I can't afford to do that for too much longer, and could soon find myself out on the street.

Except, you know, how am I supposed to look for work and go on interviews from the street? At minimum, I need a safe place to sleep and a place to shower and wash my clothes and hair on a regular basis. Yet, apparently, those kinds of places do not exist for people who cannot provide it for themselves.

Oh, and a phone. Don't forget the phone. Have you ever tried to look for work without a phone? No? Well, let me tell you, it's impossible. In fact, these days, it's well nigh impossible to do a job search without reliable access to the Internet, since that's the way most businesses take applications now - even fast food joints now often require job applicants to fill out an online application. Yet, I see and hear comments from people all the time to the effect that people who are poor don't deserve to have a cell phone or internet access, usually right after compaining that "those people" are too lazy to go out and get a job anyway.

What's the message I'm getting from all this? Plainly, that anyone who does not already have a job, how has fallen on difficult times for whatever reason, does not deserve a job.

This is making me very angry right now, especially since when I was growing up I was told over and over and over again that if I did the right things - got an education, stayed out of trouble, honored my parents, and remained ambitious - there would be a job for me and a roof over my head and at least enough food on the table to keep me healthy.

Apparently I was lied to. I resent that because, you know, I'm intelligent, I have a college education, I gave up my life for several years to take care of my dying mother (which was a 24/7 job in itself, but I also worked in a work-at-home job, and a good one, for the entire time my mother was ill and for nearly three years afterward, until I got laid off due to the poor economy), and then when I couldn't find another paying job I started doing volunteer work so that I would feel like I was contributing something to society.

But I guess that isn't good enough. I guess I'm supposed to just quietly go off somewhere and starve to death, or get sick because I don't (or soon won't) have a roof over my head, or fall victim to violence on the street, or just fall over from exhaustion because those with nowhere else to go are apparently not even allowed to sit down, much less have a place to safely lay their head to get a few hours sleep at night.

That is not the culture I grew up in. The culture I grew up in helped people get back on their feet and into productive work. Those in positions of leadership didn't attempt to game the system so that once people are down, they are denied a chance to get back up again, which is what seems to be happening now.

You know, I want to work. I don't want to die, cold and alone out on the street. But it looks very much like there are powers in this country who think that's all I deserve. Many of those folks, at least the ones in positions of power and influence, who are on the news and in the papers all the time, spend a lot of time standing up and proclaiming what good Christians they are. Well, as far as I can see, they never read their own scriptures, because the Jesus in the Bible I grew up with was all about helping people be the best they can be, and not putting a foot on their neck so that they have no chance to get up again.

This is my declaration to the people who don't think I deserve another chance, most of whom don't even know me, that I am not going to go quietly along with their program. If I can't find work because I can't do the minimum necessary to be a successful job hunter and then employee, I will kick and scream and let the world know exactly how hypocritical these folks who already have everything they need are when they praise God out of one side of their mouths and curse or ridicule those who don't have much (if anything at all) out of the other side of their mouths.

There is a scripture in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Matthew, chpater 25, verse 40, which says, "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." In other words, Jesus said that whatever you do to the members of society least able to help themselves, you have done the same to him.

Well, I've got news for the people I described above: If you consider yourselves such good Christians, how do you justify calling the poor and the unemployed the names you do? How do you justify just assuming that anyone who needs help getting back on their feet are drunks or drug addicts or lazy or stupid. Because, if Matthew 25:40 is true, then you just called the one you claim to worship a drunken, drug-addicted lazy idiot.

There's another scripture, one that I used to puzzle over, again a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew: "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." That's Matthew 19:24, and I never could figure out why it would be so difficult for a rich person to go to heaven.

I get it now, after watching the behavior of certain leaders and opinion makers in this country who claim to be followers of Jesus but who appear to instead be following the Gospel of Gordon Geckko, the character portrayed by Micahel Douglas in the film "Wall Street", who famously said at one pont in the movie: "The point...is that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."

Funny, that. I don't remember anything that sounds remotely like that coming out of the mouth of Jesus in the Gospels. It also says in the Bible, in Matthew 6:24, that "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." With mammon, of course, being material wealth, otherwise known as greed.

And one other Biblical admonition, as long as I'm going there: In Matthew 7:12, it is stated as "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would do that men should do to youm do ye even so unto them." Then, in Luke 6:31, it is said this way: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." In less Elizabethan language, "Treat people the way you want to be treated." This has been known as the Golden Rule, a term that appeared in the late 1600s but was a part of ethics and morality for much longer.
Only, too many of those same politicians and opinion makers seem to follow the other Golden Rule - "Do unto others before they do it to you." In practical terms, what that seems to mean to them is, take everything you can from everyone you can, even those who can least afford it, before they put you in a position of not being able to gather more and more material wealth for yourself, in some cases more than you would be able to spend in several lifetimes.

I apologize for turning this into a scripture-quotation frenzy. And I apologize, too, for sounding as if there are not generous people in the world, Christian and non-Christian. I'm living proof that there is a lot of generosity out there, and I'm grateful that I've been gifted with some of that generosity, which I intend to pay back or pay forward, or both, at the first opportunity. But the fact remains that people - espeically the people I know - don't have much to give, and shouldn't have to give it anyway, because in many cases, they're just barely getting by and have troubles of their own.

My argument is with the people who try to stand in the way of other people's prosperity so that they can have more for themselves by making it more and more difficult for those who have fallen on hard times to return to prosperity, and who try to justify their obstructionism by waving their religion around for all to see, another concept that the Bible I grew up reading did not recommend.

Honestly. All I want is a job so that I can take care of myself and not have to ask family, friends, or the goverment to help take care of me. My family and friends cannot afford it, and some of those same people I was criticisng earlier want to fix it so that the governemnt won't be able to afford it, or be able to do it even if it can afford it, either. I don't want to "start at the top", and I don't want a palace to live in and a fancy car to drive. But I think every human being deserves a roof over their head and enough food on the table to eat, and a job to earn those for themselves if they are capable. Even me.

Found a new creature? Name it after a rock star...


Those of you who follow along here know that I write a lot about music here, and a pretty fair amount about science.
Cruising the Internet today, I stumbled across a story that touches on both topics.

It seems that the fossils of a previously unknown species have been found at a remote site in Egypt. An article at Science Daily says that the animal was about the size of a small deer. The fossils found included fragments of jawbones that had a series of small holes on each side of its jaws that held nerves providing feeling to its chin and lower lip. The large number of nerves probably involved led to the conclusion that the animal had a sensitive snout and mobile lower lip that were likely used to forage along moist river banks. The area where the fossils were found is now desert, but evidence suggests that at the time the animal lived there, 19 million years ago or so, it was a lush tropical delta.

Because the animal looks to have had large, mobile lips, the discoverers of the fossils named the new species Jaggermeryx naida, which means "Jagger's water nymph", after Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger. Needless to say, Ellen Miller and Gregg Gunnell, co-authors of the report and who named the species, are big Rolling Stones fans.

However, I have not been able to find out what Jagger thinks about having an animal that was described as probably looking like "a cross between a slender hippo and a long-legged pig" that lived in a swamp named after him.

Being the curious person that I am, I started wondering if there were any other animal species, living or extinct, named after musical celebrities. It didn't take much Googling to find that the answer to this question is, "Well, of course," according to at article at Music Times It turns out that there is a large iguana-like creature named Barbaturex morrisoni, after Jim Morrison who was after all the self-proclaimed Lizard King. By "large", I mean that B. morrisoni was about six feet long and around 60 pounds. I suspect that Morrison would have loved that.



U2 singer Bono has a spider named after him. Aptostichus bonoi. A. bonoi lives only in one part of Joshua Tree National Park, in Southern California, and so presumably the spider was named after the singer in honor of the fact that U2's best-known album was called "The Joshua Tree". Another species of spider from the same genus, this one living in several counties in Northern California, was named Aptostichus barackobamai in honor of US President Barack Obama, incidentally.



Bono isn't the only musician who has a spider named after him. In fact, Lou Reed has an entire genus of spiders named after him, Loureedia, although it must be noted that this genus is made up of only one known species, Loureedia annulipes. It is a velvet spider that lives underground, so the naming makes sense. David Bowie also has a spider, Heteropoda davidbowie, named after him. Bowie's spider namesake has been described as "large, yellow, and hairy." Singer and songwriter Neil Young is another musician who has a spider, Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi, which is found mostly in Alabama, named after him.







A species of wood roach, a type of cockroach, is named Cryptocercus garciai after Grateful Dead icon Jerry Garcia. Think about it.

The thing is, the recent fossil named after Mick Jagger isn't the only fossil that was named in his honor. There is a trilobite called Aegrotocatellus jaggeri, after him. At the same time the other half of the Glimmer Twins, Keith Richards, also had a trilobite named in his honor, Perirehadulus richardsi. Yet another trilobite was named for the Rolling Stones as a group, Aegrotocatellus nankerpheigorum, which only makes sense if you know that Nanker Phelge was the pseudonym used for several songs that were written by the entire band between 1963 and 1965. Probably the best known of these songs is "Play With Fire", from early 1965. Jagger also has a snail named after him.



An isopod, Cirolana mercuryi, found on coral reefs offshore from Zanzibar, was named after Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, who was born in Zanzibar (which is now Tanzania). Isopods are crustaceans that can live in the sea, in fresh water, or on land. Bob Marley also has a crustacean, Gnathia marleyi, named after him.



Among others in the music world who have living organisms named after them is Frank Zappa, who has at least a snail, a jellyfish, and a bacterium named after him. The man who named the jelly fish after Zappa admitted that he did it in hopes that he would be able to meet the musician.

Henry Rollins has a jellyfish named after him, while Carole King and James Taylor both have stoneflies named after them. Both Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr all have trilobites named after them. There are a lot of species of trilobites. Each one of The Ramones also has a trilobite named after him.
Sting has a Columbian tree frog, Hyla stingi, named after him. Masiakasaurus knopfleri, a small theropod dinosaur (although small is a relative thing; M. knopfleri was around 5.9 to 6.6 feet in length), in named after Dire Straits sing, songwriter, and guitarist Mark Knopfler.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of musical celebrities who have had organisms named after them. So far as I could tell from my research, only one person who named a species after a musician admitted that they did so to meet the musician. The thing I'm left wondering is, how many others chose to name a plant or an animal for a musician also really did it so they could meet that musician. I'd be willing to bet that the number is more than one.

I wish I could attach some music for each of the artists included in this post, but that would make it way, way too long to be manageable. But you get the idea. There are music fans everywhere, even in the world of science, and the people who get to name newly discovered species have a habit of naming their discoveries after the singers and musicians that they love.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

1964 - Britain Invades the US Music Charts


The British Invasion - That time in 1964, when the US began to be flooded with acts from the UK, acts that didn't just come over, test the water, and then retreat to their little island off of continental Europe, but who came, saw, and conquered the hearts and minds of the American listening public. Who brought with them music that started appearing on the charts, even reaching the coveted number one spot on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 Singles chart. Who changed the face of popular music forever.

Nine singles by British acts hit number one during the first year of the British Invasion, out of 23 songs that reached the top of the chart in 1964 (if I counted correctly). Among those 23 chart-toppers were a variety of musical styles by a variety of artists. Dean Martin had a number one that year with "Everybody Loves Somebody", on the week of August 15. So did Louis Armstrong and the All Stars, when "Hello, Dolly!" reached to top spot during the week of May 9. "Chapel of Love", by the Dixie Cups, spent three weeks at number one in June. The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" was the number one song in the US during the week of November 28. A mostly spoken-word single by actor Lorne Greene, something called "Ringo" but having nothing to do with The Beatles' drummer, spent a week at number one at the beginning of December. The Supremes got to number one twice during the year, with "Baby Love", which spent the last week of October and the first three weeks of November at number one, and with "Come See About Me", which was the number one song in the US for the week of December 19. Bobby Vinton charted twice in 1964, at the beginning of the year, when "There! I've Said It Again" spent all of January at number one, and again near the end of the year, when "Mr. Lonely" hit number one during the week of December 12. The Beach Boys spent the first to weeks of July at number one with "I Get Around". You can look here for the full list of number one singles from 1964.

Here is just a sampling of the US-based artists who managed to get a song to number one in 1964:

This is Dean Martin and "Everybody Loves Somebody". This is a real indication, compared to some of the other music released in 1964, of how music was changing at the time:



Here is "Leader of the Pack", by The Shangri-Las:



And, The Beach Boys, in a live performance of "I Get Around":



Of the nine singles by British artists that rose to the top of the charts in the US in 1964, six of them were by The Beatles. It's difficult not to add "of course" to that statement. It was the Fab Four, after all, who led the invasion of UK acts into the United States and around the world. The songs the Beatles took all the way to number one were "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "She Loves You", "Can't Buy Me Love", "Love Me Do", "A Hard Day's Night", and "I Feel Fine". It was the beginning of a track record that saw 20 singles by the band hitting number one in their career, the most of any artist in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" stayed at the top the longest of any of The Beatles' 1964 number ones, topped only by "Hey, Jude", with a 9-week run at number one in 1968. In order, "She Loves You" was at number one for two weeks, while "Can't Buy Me Love" was number one for five weeks, "Love Me Do" for one week, "A Hard Day's Night" for two weeks, and "I Feel Fine" for three weeks".

This live performance of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" comes along with some British humor at the end:



And this is one of my favorite Beatles' songs:



Of the three other singles by British artists that hit number one in 1964, "A World Without Love", by Peter and Gordon, spent a week at number one in June, The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" spent three weeks at number one in September, and "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", by Manfred Mann, spent two weeks at the top of the chart in October.

Peter and Gordon's "A World Without Love" was billed as a Lennon/McCartney composition, but it was McCartney's song:



As a bit of trivia, "A World Without Love" was one of only two Lennon/McCartney compositions taken to number one by other artists on the US charts. The other was Elton John's cover of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", in 1974.

"House of the Rising Sun" is a traditional folk song that had been recorded as early as 1934, but The Animals' version was the most successful of many covers and went to number one not only in the UK and the US, but also in Canada, Sweden, and Finland:



The version of "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" by Manfred Mann that went to the top of the charts in the US and in the UK is a cover of a song first recorded in 1963 by The Exciters, an American band:



It is interesting, I think that, while non-UK artists' singles spent much more time that did British Invasion artists at the top of the US charts in 1964, four of the five top-charting singles of the year, the songs that reached the highest point on charts worldwide, were from British Invasion artists. The only artist and song in that top five was Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman", at number two. The Beatles held the number one spot with "I Want to Hold Your Hand", the number four spot with "A Hard Day's Night", and the number five spot with "I Feel Fine". The Animals had the third-highest charting single worldwide in 1964 with "The House of the Rising Sun".

By 1968, British influence at the top of the US singles charts had fallen back to pre-Invasion levels, with The Beatles' "Hey, Jude" being the only single by a British act to reach number one, although it did manage to stay at number one from the week of September 28 through the week of November 23, the longest run at the top for any of The Beatles' singles. British influence on the US singles charts had peaked in 1965 with twelve number ones from British artists, four of them by The Beatles and two each from The Rolling Stones and Herman's Hermits. The only other act that hit number one in both 1964 and 1968, as a side note, was The Supremes, by then billed as Diana Ross & The Supremes, an indication of how much turnover there had been in popular musical acts, no matter where they were from, between 1964 and 1968. Further indication of the changes that had come about in such a short time is that in 1964, The Beatles had been singing about holding hands, while The Supremes' song that hit number one in 1968 was "Love Child".

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A few thoughts on The Beach Boys and their music...


Anyone who has been following my Facebook feed recently will have noticed that I've been posting a lot of Beach Boys music.

I've been a fan of the band's music, well, forever, it seems like, but I've only really known the hits until very recently. I'm not quite sure why I started looking for songs by the band that aren't as well known. It probably has something to do with the wide availability of their work on YouTube and having the time to go through and look at - and listen to - more than just the usual chart-toppers. There are also a number of band-related documentaries and interviews and the like available, and those have been very interesting to watch and pointed me in the direction of the band's more obscure work.

A turning point was discovering "God Only Knows", which had somehow escaped my notice. Oh, I'd probably heard it, but it didn't do well on the charts when it came out in 1966 (it was on the album "Pet Sounds", which did well critically but not commercially when it was released). The single only reached number 39 when it was released. Not sure how that happened - it is one of the most exquisite songs I've ever heard. Carl Wilson, the youngest of the three Wilson brothers, who sang lead on the song, had perhaps the purest voice I've ever heard in rock or pop music.



Another turning point was my viewing of the documentary "Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy", from 2008. Pretty much all I had known about the middle Wilson brother before seeing this documentary was that he was a drummer, had figured somewhere in the whole Charles Manson story but managed to escape Charlie's wrath at him for supposedly stealing a song from Charlie only to drown at the exceedingly young age of 39. The impression left by what I knew, or thought I knew, was that Dennis was the fuck-up of the Wilson family. Somewhat more kindly, he has been referred to as the "overlooked" member of his talented family . It turns out to be not exactly true that Dennis was the screw-up of the family - yes, he had addiction problems that were different in kind but not in scope from those of his brothers, but he was a talented songwriter and singer in his own right. The solo album that he released in 1977, "Pacific Ocean Blue", was the first by a member of the Beach Boys and was a hit with the critics; it has been called a "lost classic". I sought out the songs on that album after seeing the documentary and found that they are amazing songs. Dennis Wilson's excesses had changed his singing voice, but not in a completely bad way - it had become rough and raspy, but that only seemed to add soul and melancholy to it.



Dennis Wilson's singing voice had never been exactly like his brothers' voices, anyway - not pure like Carl's voice and not sweet and earnest like Brian's voice. But it was a moving voice nonetheless:







Brian Wilson, of course, has always been known as the genius of the brothers. He was the one who was responsible for "Pet Sounds" (1966), which was named the second best album ever made in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and was, according to Paul McCartney, the main reason why The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was made and why that album was as experimental as it was. (Incidentally, McCartney has also repeatedly said that "God Only Knows" is his favorite song of all time). "Pet Sounds" was Brian's vision and Brian's creation, and it was a revelation at the time, with the sort of experimentation that hadn't ever been seen before in pop music. But, by the time "Pet Sounds" was released, Brian had already shown signs of the mental health issues (apparently before he began the drug use that has often been blamed for those issues) that were to plague him for years and he had already stopped performing live with the rest of the band.

"Pet Sounds" was a gamble for Brian Wilson on many levels. The biggest gamble was that the lyrics he had written exposed his soul to the world. These were very personal statements about the state of his emotional life.





An insight into how Brian Wilson worked in the recording studio to create his music can be gained from this rehearsal footage from sessions for "Good Vibrations", which was recorded around the same time he was working on "Pet Sounds":



The songs on "Pet Sounds" were a departure from everything that was expected of pop music at the time, and a definite departure from the music the Beach Boys had been making since they first charted with "Surfin" in 1961. This was largely Brian's album and sources differ on just how much participation there was by the other members of the band, aside from singing background vocals and harmony. In information on Wikipedia regarding the personnel who worked on the album, the only band members credited with any instrumental participation besides Brian were his brothers Carl and Dennis. Because there has been so much mythology built up around both "Pet Sounds" and the Beach Boys, it is difficult to figure out exactly where the truth lies on the issue of band participation on the album. The documentary, "Pet Sounds - Art That Should The World", addresses many of these issues in greater depth than I can within the scope of this post.



The bottom line here is that I love this music, more than I ever realized that I do, which is why I'm sharing it with you here.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

There's a whole universe out there...


What do you see when you look up at the night sky?

Well, I suppose it depends on where you are - how much light pollution you live with, and what the phase of the moon is.

But, really? What do you see?

If your answer is "Not much, really", my first suggestion is that you go up on top of a mountain away from the city, or out into the desert on a really clear, moonless night. Then answer the question again. If you're lucky, you'll see something like this:


I imagine your first answer will be, "Stars. Lots of stars." If you're a fan of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", what you say to yourself as you look up might be, "It's full of stars." And that might not be a bad answer.

Not that the sky is really "full of stars", although it might seem like that under the right viewing conditions. But the truth is that, for all that is out there, the universe seems to be mostly empty space. One article at "How Stuff Works" says it like this:

A cubic light year contains about 1E+48 cubic meters. So all of the matter in the universe would fit into about 1 billion cubic light years, or a cube that's approximately 1,000 light years on each side. That means that only about 0.0000000000000000000042 percent of the universe contains any matter. The universe is a pretty empty place!

Those are pretty difficult numbers to comprehend (especially for those of us who are mathematically challenged), but even I can see that the last number there - the one with the decimal point and all those zeroes - means that the amount of matter in the universe is vanishingly small.

But, even at that, there are (to misquote Carl Sagan) "billions and billions" of stars just in our own galaxy. The Wikipedia article on our galaxy (the Milky Way) speculates that there are between 200 billion and 400 billion stars in our galaxy. Of course, there are problems with using Wikipedia as a research source, but it isn't a bad place to begin, to start figuring out the lay of the land. An article at Science.com gives a lower estimate of about 100 billion stars in our galaxy. How Stuff Works (yeah, them again) ( http://science.howstuffworks.com/milky-way5.htm ) puts its estimate at about 200 billion stars - the low end of Wikipedia's estimate. A much, much larger estimate appears in an article at Huffington Post, at about a trillion stars - just in one galaxy. Multiply any of those, roughly, by the number of galaxies estimated to exist in the universe - and there again, the numbers vary. Space.com says 100 billion to 200 billion. Universe Today gives the same rough estimate but then cites German research that puts the number at more like 500 billion.


In other words, there are a lot of galaxies out there, made up of an unimaginable number of stars. Of course, we can't see all of those, even in places where the seeing is good. With the unaided eye, so says the One Minute Astronomer, where the seeing is good, you an see around 2,000 to 2,500 stars in the sky on a typical night. But those are only the ones on the side of the Earth that is in darkness at any one time, so it makes sense to double that number to know how many stars it is possible to see from earth with the unaided eye. Those all, by the way, are stars that belong to our own galaxy. The same site points out that with just a pair of binoculars - without needing even a rudimentary telescope - that number increased to around have a million stars that can, potentially, be seen from earth, again, all inhabitants of the Milky Way. Even without those binoculars, thought, you an see one of our galactic neighbors, the Andromeda Galaxy, which has an estimated 500 billion stars of its own. But, without the aid of a powerful telescope, you'll only see Andromeda as a pinpoint of light.

All of that - all of those billions and billions of galaxies, each containing billions and billions of stars - and they would all fit in a miniscule fraction of one percent of all the space available in the universe. It's a mind-boggling thought, isn't it?

But, as mind-boggling as it is, every time I go out to look at the stars, I'm struck by the thought that all of those pinpricks of light, some representing only one star, or maybe two in a binary system, and some representing entire galaxies, are places, just like this rock, this Earth, all traveling through space because they - and we - are moving through space in several different ways all the time.

As far as I'm concerned, everyone needs to have their mind boggled every once in a while. So, my advice to you is to go out on the next clear, moonless night, get as far away from the city lights as you can, and look up. See what the universe has to offer. And then just think about those places out there. It'll be good for you. It might even be fun.

Friday, August 08, 2014

It was 40 years ago today...

Everyone, as I think I've pointed out here before, remembers exactly where they were when certain events occurred. Mine include the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the announcement from Lyndon Johnson that he would not run again for president, the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake (it would be difficult for me to forget that one, as I was right in the middle of it - it made a hell of an alarm clock), the Challenger explosion. There are more, but you get the idea.

And then there is an event that occurred 40 years ago today. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Richard Nixon made his televised announcement that he would resign from the presidency, effective at noon the next day. It was all I could do to refrain from jumping up and down and cheering; I was never a Nixon fan. But, that wouldn't have been an appropriate thing to do, standing as I was in the middle of the electronics department of the K-Mart on Rosecrans Boulevard in Bellflower, California. Yes, I know that is an odd place to be watching from. I was at work at my first job out of high school, and happened to be on break from a busy evening at one of the registers. The announcement just happened to be coming on as I was on my way to the break room for my 10-munite break in the middle of a four-hour evening shift. So, because I was a bit of a news geek even then, I stopped to watch.

It wasn't really that much of a surprise that Nixon was resigning, even though he had repeatedly denied that he was going to do that. He was not only going to be impeached; it was fairly clear that the Senate would vote to remove him from office. It was, basically, a simple "I quit" before he could be fired, just like people do every day, from all kinds of jobs. But it came after a scandal that turned the country upside down. Ever the politician (and ever the ass-coverer), he proclaimed that he wanted to remain and fight through the mess, and that his family had urged him to do so, but that he had lost his base and was resigning in "the interest of the Nation". He said he regretted "any injuries that may have been done" during the course of the scandal - what has become the standard script of the "non-apology apology" - and then proceeded to list all of his accomplishments in office, invoking his "legacy to you, to our country" as if he hadn't left a legacy of divisiveness, of lies and deceitfulness that still reverberate today. He never did admit any wrongdoing, in his resignation speech or later on. He famously insisted, in one of a series of interviews with David Frost, that "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

It's interesting what this legacy has meant in my own life. I am a registered Democrat (well, not now, because I'm in the process of moving for the second time in just a few months, but when I finally get settled in at my new location, I will once again be a registered Democrat) directly as a result of Nixon's legacy. You see, I was able to register to vote for the first time just fifteen days after Nixon's resignation speech, when I turned eighteen. I deliberately chose to register as a Democrat specifically because I did not want to be associated with the party of Nixon. I had followed the whole mess fairly closely, and didn't want any part of a political party that used the tactics that Nixon condoned as part of the Watergate break-in and it's aftermath. I won't even get into Nixon's long history of using dirty tricks to win elections and get his way. Even in his earliest campaigns, he implied that his opponents were Communists. Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas, anyone?

This is not the time nor the place to comment on what has become of the Republican party since then, except that I will say that we've come to a fine pass when it would be necessary, if Nixon were alive and running for office today, he would probably have to run as a Green because he would be considered too liberal for many of the current Republican leadership. After all, Nixon was the president who signed the Clean Air Act of 1970 and under whose administration OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency were created.

Nixon was an enigmatic individual, to be sure. Or, in today's terms, he had issues. He came across, at all times, as awkward and overly formal. He appears, from the evidence, to have been paranoid. Yes, he did some things as president that could be considered progressive. But he also did things like calling his opponents Communists and adopting the Southern Strategy, appealing to the racism of white Southern voters in order to win the presidency. And he was, even though he denied it many times, a "crook". It really is difficult to see him as anything other than morally bankrupt.

I certainly was not sorry to see Nixon resign, even though by doing so and through the graces of Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon after Ford became president, he largely avoided any consequences for his actions as president. There was no impeachment, no Senate trial, no real accountability for leaving his country in much worse shape than when he entered office. And, I think, there should have been consequences other than the public humiliation of being the only president thus far to resign his office. Not because I like to see anyone get piled on, because I don't. But the reality is that Nixon violated his oath of office to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." It doesn't quite seem fitting that he ended his life with the status of elder statesman, despite all the things he put his country through in the name of winning an election.