Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A small story gets me thinking about the big picture...

Earlier this evening, I was listening to NPR as I was on the way home from the grocery store. They were, of course, talking about Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. Because of the devastation, and the problems that is causing in getting around in parts of New York and New Jersey, a reporter had taken to her bicycle to look around and see how people are coping in areas with a great deal of damage and, in many cases, no power.

She happened on a Chinese restaurant that had figured out how to keep cooking and stay open despite the power being off. Talking to someone who was on their way out of the restaurant with the food they had purchased, the reporter asked how the prices were; were they higher, lower, or the same as they had been before the storm. The response was that they were the same as always.

When I heard that, I burst into tears, right there in front of God and everybody.

That reaction puzzled me at first. It was nice that the restaurant owners weren't trying to price gouge, but it was nothing to cry about. Thinking about it as I made my way home, however, I finally realized why I had started crying.

Mitt Romney has been caught on tape, repeatedly, talking about how it's immoral for the federal government to spend money on things like disaster relief, and how he would defund FEMA, the agency that is charged with helping out in time of natural and man-made disaster. If he is elected president, he has said, he would put disaster response and relief on the states or, ideally, he has said, privatize it. And that's a big problem.

Why is that a problem?, you might be asking right now.

It is a problem because privatized disaster relief on a scale needed in the wake of events like Sandy would necessarily fall into the hands of big companies. And big business is out to make big profits, first and foremost. And so they would charge for their help. Not only would they almost certainly overcharge for their help - unlike that Chinese restaurant in the NPR story - they would almost certainly only help those who could afford the help. And in the process, those big companies would probably put that Chinese restaurant out of business to eliminate the competition, however small. Which fits right into the Romney philosophy of "if your poor, you're on your own". Not to mention one of his main specialties as a businessman, that is, taking apart smaller and underperforming companies and selling off the remains for a profit. But that is another problem, for another blog post.

This is not the way it should be. In a disaster as big as Hurricane Sandy, it is really only the federal government that is big enough to coordinate the recovery efforts and to make sure that recovery does not take years...or decades. And to make sure that the recovery reaches everyone, and does not further enrich the already wealthy on the misfortune of others.

As I commented elsewhere in the past couple of days, I really wonder when people are going to realize that "looking out for number one, and everyone else is on their own" is not a sustainable life plan in the long term. We're all in this together, and that includes the government. If we follow Mitt Romney's philosophy of politics, and probably his philosophy of life, it's going to be every individual for him or herself, and God, or whichever deity you believe in, help us all.

That is why I was crying on the way home from the grocery store this evening. That is not the America I was brought up in, and if it turns into that, any more than it has already become that, heaven help us all.

As a postscript, the Romney campaign released a statement earlier today (Wednesday) saying that if he is elected president, Mitt will support and fully fund FEMA. If he thinks people won't notice that he is changing his story...again...just because he thinks that the position he stated earlier is sure to be unpopular in states where he needs votes, he is, I hope, sadly mistaken.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How do you define "celebrity"?

I'm probably destroying my own argument here by even writing about this, but I need this question answered:

Why does anyone, anywhere, think it is necessary to report nationally that Levi Johnston got married Sunday in Wasilla, Alaska? No, really?

Just because he fathered a child with the daughter of a failed vice-presidential candidate and ex-Alaska governor who quit partway through her term, are we doomed to be subjected to reporting about every life move of Mr. Johnston's for the next, oh, thirty or forty years? What relevance does anything he does have to anyone that is not his immediate family?

I'm hard-enough-pressed to figure out why Bristol Palin, Mr. Johnston's former girlfriend and the mother of his son, Tripp (and, while I'm here, who names their kid after a stumble-and-fall, and even misspells that?) was invited - twice - to appear on "Dancing with the Stars". But, I'll give them that her mother was, indeed, a vice-presidential candidate and governor, and so that imparts some sort of notoriety to her.

But, do you explain Levi, and the continued reporting of the things he does? He has never done anything even slightly notable. Really.

People do exciting and wonderful and notable things all the time, and never get so much as a mention in the media. Things that are actually of benefit to their community, to the country, sometimes even to the world. But this...this...hanger-on...why do the arbiters of what gets reported think they must breathlessly report everything he does?

Come on. There are important things going on in the world. There are interesting things going on in the world that, while probably not important, are still much more relevant to report than the fact that Levi Johnston got married.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie Monday: The "Klaatu barada nikto" Edition

So, I'm thinking about 1950s "flying saucer" movies today. I probably do that more than most people, since I was brought up on science fiction films, but today's reflections on the genre, or sub-genre, I suppose, since there were other types of science fiction movies that were popular in the Fifties, were prompted by my viewing last night of "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (1956) on Turner Classic Movies.

It's the time of year for movies like this, I suppose, since we're only a couple of days from Halloween. This is when all of the science fiction, horror, monster, and slasher movies get dragged out of the vaults in an attempt to scare the living daylights out of us. But, I'm always happiest to see this particular sub-genre, even though I've seen the three films I'm highlighting here today countless times.

No, really. I've lost track of the number of times I've seen "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers", "Invaders from Mars" (1953), and the granddaddy of them all, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951). You see, we had this thing called the Million Dollar Movie on channel 9 when I was growing up in Southern California. Every week the show would present a movie, and then show it every weeknight and two or three times each on Saturday and Sunday. People complain now about how often cable movie channels, especially, show particular films, but for those of us who grew up in SoCal in the 1960s, it isn't a new thing at all.

Anyway, those three movies got shown a lot on the Million Dollar Movie, and I'd be right there watching them. Now, I might not watch every weeknight, but I'd see the movie of the week at least two or three times on the weekend. Since all three movies were in fairly heavy rotation there, I saw them frequently.

Actually, "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" is my least favorite of the three. I think that mostly has to do with the fact that the main female character, Carol Marvin (played by Joan Taylor) spends most of her time either screaming or hiding her face in the chest of her husband, Dr. Russel A. Marvin (played by Hugh Marlowe). Dr. Marvin, who is in charge of Project Skyhook, which puts research satellites into orbit, is the one chosen by invading aliens to be their contact with the governments of Earth. This puts him in danger from both the aliens and from his bosses in the government, who order him not to contact the aliens as they have requested. Of course, this being Hollywood, he goes ahead and contacts them anyway. There is a climactic saucer attack on Washington, D.C., the saucers are defeated through the ingenuity of human (American, of course) science, and the day...and the saved.

Earth is also under attack in "Invaders from Mars", but the aliens in this film are much stealthier than those in "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers". In this one, the Martian ship burrows into a sandpit near where a boy, David MacLean (played by Jimmy Hunt), lives with his parents. David sees the landing, but when he tells his parents the next morning, they pass off his story as a dream. But David soon sees changes in his parents and tries to get help. Of course, none of the adults he goes to with his story believe him. Some of them have already been taken over by the aliens, and others just regard him as a boy with an overactive imagination. Again, finally the day is saved...maybe. One of the cool things about this movie is that the resolution, at least in the American version, is left ambiguous. Was it a dream? Was it real? And, if it was real, is the invasion really over?

There was a remake of "Invaders from Mars" in 1986. It is not nearly as good as the 1953 original, which was made on a budget of around $293,000. Possibly the only notable thing about the remake is that Jimmy Hunt, who played David in the original has a one-line role as a police chief in the remake.

There was also a recent remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still". I've avoided it on general principles, seeing as the original, from 1951, is a classic. I wrote an argumentative paper for a critical thinking course once which argued that the original 1951 film is not only the ultimate first-contact movie, but the perfect science fiction film. It is a little different from "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" and "Invaders from Mars" in that the aliens here are not invaders, exactly. Instead, they have noticed that scientists here on Earth have developed nuclear weapons, and have used them, and they are concerned that we are going to carry those weapons, and their destructive power, out into the rest of the universe. A representative of the aliens, Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie), has been sent to Earth to warn its inhabitants that if we insist on exporting our violent tendencies and weapons into space, the Earth will be destroyed. But, Klaatu is injured by a trigger-happy soldier and taken to a government hospital. He escapes, of course, and turns up at a boarding house claiming to be a Mr. Carpenter. He befriends a boy (played Billy Gray) and his mother (played by Patricia Neal) who live there, much to the dismay of the woman's boyfriend (played by Hugh Marlowe), who is convinced that Mr. Carpenter is up to no good.

The escape of the spaceman is big news, of course, and it doesn't take long for the boy to start suspecting that Mr. Carpenter might be the spaceman. With the boy's help, Klaatu/Carpenter contacts Dr. Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), an Einstein-like figure, and charges him with bringing the world's leaders together so that he can deliver his ultimatum. But no one believes the scientist and Klaatu must arrange for a demonstration to convince the world that they must listen. The message is delivered, but Klaatu is killed. But, being alien, there is technology that resurrects him, at least temporarily, and Klaatu and Gort fly off, leaving Earth to make their decision.

It has been said that there are allusions to Christianity in the character of Klaatu because he takes the name Carpenter and then is resurrected after being killed despite his message promoting peace in the universe. Screenwriter Edmund North has been reported as saying that he did insert the references deliberately, but as a sort of subliminal private joke rather than as a serious theme of the film. But, the story goes that the references were overt enough that the Motion Picture Association of America censor at the studio (20th Century Fox) objected to them and a line was inserted into the film which indicated that Klaatu's resurrection was only temporary.

So. Flying saucer movies. Of course, all three of these movies contain overtones, one way or the other, of the Cold War that raged during the 1950s and beyond. These are interesting, just like the allusions to Christianity in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" are interesting. But, ultimately, and overtones and allusions aside, all three of these movies are just plain good fun. Some are better than others, but all three are classics of their genre, a permanent part of pop culture, and stand on those credentials alone.

Do yourself a favor. If you haven't seen them, give them a look. If you haven't seen them in a while, revisit them. You'll probably be glad you did.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Music Sunday: Another View of the Rolling Stones Edition, plus a book review

I've never been that big a fan of the Rolling Stones. It isn't that I don't like their music; some of their songs are classic. I think it's mostly because I've always had the impression that Mick Jagger can be sort of an ass. On the other hand, I've always been sort of intrigued by Keith Richards, who seems to be a walking, talking set of contradictions. He has this reputation as being "bad, mad, and dangerous to know" (I don't know who said that first, but I've heard it over and over gain), but he is, by all accounts, extremely well read and fairly articulate for someone who has ingested the amount of liquor and drugs he reputedly has.

Well, last week, I read another book about the Stones, sort of, Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with The Rolling Stones (and Lived to Tell About It) (2009, Villard Books; 354 pages), by Bill German. Like the book I read about Led Zeppelin's 1975 US tour, and reviewed here recently, Under Their Thumb is really more about the writer than the band. Unlike the author of the Zeppelin book, Bill German acknowledges in the title that the book is really about him and his adventures as writer/editor/publisher of the fan newsletter "Beggars Banquet", which he put out more or less on his own beginning in 1978, on his sixteenth birthday, and continuing until 1996. During that time, German became friends with the band, especially with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, even ghostwriting an art book with Wood along the way.

It's a good book, with interesting insights into the life of the band and the lives of its members during a time that doesn't get that much attention. German was there during the years when it seemed that there might not be any more Rolling Stones, as the band struggled through personality clashes and disagreements and then came back bigger, but indebted to big corporations in ways that changed the band and its relationships with the music and the fans in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It is also the story of how a teenage boy, through hard work, persistence, and luck, got to hang out with his favorite rock band and make a living writing about them. Not that it was much of a living. Even though his newsletter was the Stones' official newsletter for a period of about a year and a half, he never made much money from it. It's expensive, following a bad around the world amid ever-higher ticket prices (again, thanks to its association with corporations), after all.

By the time German began to hang with The Stones, a lot of their more controversial work and behavior was behind them. They had not, individually at least, gotten any less interesting, even if they didn't quite live up to the "bad boy" image that had cultivated since their earliest days as a band, not least through the songs they recorded early on in their career.

For instance, I found this oddity, from a television performance in 1965, of "Play With Fire", that presents all kinds of mixed messages, illustrating fairly well why The Stones were the band that your parents didn't want you listening to:

Things didn't get any better when they recorded "Let's Spend The Night Together" in 1967, and then got positively dire when they released "Sympathy For The Devil" in 1968. Unlike the Beatles, the Stones were not out to play nice.

Here is a performance of "Let's Spend The Night Together" from Top of the Pops the year it was released:

Of course, Mick Jagger was not above altering the lyrics of the song to "let's spend some time together" for The Ed Sullivan Show in the US. He wanted the exposure, after all, and at that time, the Sullivan show was the ultimate in exposure. Jagger showed, however, by some pretty dramatic eye-rolls during the performance, that he thought the whole idea of having to change the lyrics was really pretty damn stupid:

"Sympathy for the Devil", of course, started rumors that The Stones were Devil-worshipers, despite the fact that it is one of their best songs, here in a much later live performance:

The Stones' reputation was not enhanced after their free concert at Altamont Speedway in California in 1969, which essentially ended the Sixties when a concert-goer was stabbed to death by Hell's Angels. Well, the bikers were serving as security (not necessarily the wisest choice for that role), and the victim, Meredith Hunter, had been waving a gun around near the stage (a stupid thing to do even before the days of terrorist threats), but The Stones took a lot of the blame for the incident, especially after rumors spread that the band had been singing "Sympathy for the Devil" at the time of the stabbing, something that a viewing of the concert footage proves to be untrue.

The picture Bill German paints of the later Rolling Stones in Under Their Thumb is much less threatening. Sure, Jagger is "a nice bunch of guys", as German is told by Richards and Wood at one point in the book, referring to Jagger's variable personas and an inability for even those closest to him to predict which one of those guys they were going to get on any particular day, or even from one hour to the next. And there is a lot of drug use and drinking, although German insists that he never did drugs with The Stones - never did drugs period. German further claims that Richards defended him in that when others accused German of maybe being a narc when he refused to snort a line. All in all, the members of the Stones as portrayed by German are much nicer, and much more human, that their reputation would have us believe.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How many days left until the election?...

...because things are just getting stupider out there.

Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu said on CNN Thursday that he believes that former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired General Colin Powell has again endorsed President Barack Obama for a reason other than those Powell stated in an interview on CBS television earlier in the day.

The reasons Powell gave for his endorsement included his concern that Mitt Romney is a "moving target" on foreign policy issues and that he does not want to see Obamacare "thrown off the table." Powell also said that he supports Obama because the president got us out of one war, is in the process of getting us out of another, and hasn't gotten the country into any new wars, and that Mr. Obama's record on terrorism is "very, very good."

Powell's endorsement of Mr. Obama came even though Powell is a registered Republican.

And what was Sununu's take on the endorsement? He said that the real reason that Powell endorsed the Democratic Party's candidate for President is that they are both African Americans.

Now, this declaration from Sununu should not be surprising, considering earlier remarks from the former governor about Mr. Obama, including his comments that the President is "lazy" and that Mr. Obama needs to "learn how to be an American."

Of course, Sununu later moderated his comments about Powell's endorsement of Mr. Obama, allowing that he thinks that Powell endorsed the President because Powell supports Mr. Obama's policies. Neither the walk-back, nor the fact that it wasn't much of a walk-back and certainly not any kind of an apology for his earlier remarks, should be much of a surprise, given the Romney campaign and it's supporters' record of saying something outrageous and then pulling back without ever really disavowing what was said in the first place. It is a long record, much too long to reprise in full here.

The problem I have with all of this is that if someone from the Democratic Party got up on CNN and said that a prominent member of the Mormon church had endorsed Mitt Romney's candidacy for president only because they are both Mormon, the Republicans would be out for blood, claiming religious bigotry and who knows what else. There would be outrage and angry accusations, at the very least.

How did Mr. Obama react to Sununu's remarks? He said in a radio interview today (Friday) that he would let Powell's statement stand on its own and that Sununu's remarks didn't "make much sense". Cool, calm, and collected. I doubt that we could have seen such equanimity from Romney, had the situation been reversed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vote, damn it...

With nearly two weeks to go, I'm ready for the election to just be over, already. Between the incessant political ads on television and radio, more campaign signs seeming to pop up on the landscape every day, and people getting less and less civil on the campaign trail and on social media of all kinds, I Just. Want. It. To. Stop.

I thought it would be better after all the debates were over. But, no. If anything, it's worse. Dueling analysts, polls that contradict each other, certain candidates who act like they don't have an obligation to explain themselves, or even outline how they intend to do the things they say they are going to do if they are elected.

Get a clue, guys. You're engaged in an extended job interview. You wouldn't hire a job applicant who refused to answer your questions; why do you think we should hire you to be the leader of the free world when you won't even supply a few details about how you intend to up spending and cut taxes to the wealthy at the same time. You know who you are; I'm not going to name names.

And then there are the games that are still being played (by partisans on both sides, I'm ashamed to say), attempting to prevent people they think might not be voting for their candidates and issues from voting at all. Cut it out, guys. You don't deserve to call yourselves Americans if you support, much less engage in, this sort of voter suppression. Another clue: voter fraud is virtually non-existent, so quit acting like it's rampant on the landscape. You're just making yourselves look like goons.

I'll be out there voting on Election Day, and if you are eligible to vote, you should be, too. I don't care if you support the same candidates and issues that I do. You should vote regardless. And you should support the right of everyone to vote, not just the right to vote of the people who agree with you. That's the way they did it in the bad old Soviet Union.

You can even vote early in a lot of states. I'm not really sure how I feel about that. I was raised that you vote on Election Day, and unless your are incapacitated or know you will be away from home on the day, you go down to your local polling place and you vote on that day. But, the option for early voting is there. Use it, if you can, or if you think your boss won't let you off to vote on Election Day. They are legally obligated to do so, but many still don't.

Just vote.

There are some other things I would like to say, but I'm really trying to not contribute to the ridiculous amount of partisan rambling that has been going on leading up to the election. I also don't want my head to explode when I start thinking about some of the stupid things candidates have been saying this election cycle. You know who you are, too.

So, I'll just leave this here for you.

And, VOTE.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I wonder what grades Mitt made in geography class...

Apparently, Mitt Romney slept through his geography classes in high school and college.

In last night's debate with President Obama, Mr. Romney said that Syria is Iran's route to the sea. Did the fact that there is a big chunk of Iraq or Turkey between Iran and Syria, depending on how far north or south you are on Iran's western border, completely escape Mitt? Has he not noticed that Iran has about 1,500 miles of coastline along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman that gives that nation a clear water path to the Arabian Sea and then to the Indian Ocean?

Basically, this means that Iran doesn't need a land route to the sea through another country. Not even to get to the Mediterranean Sea to menace Israel, if that's what Mitt had on his mind. Because, you know, there's always the Suez Canal. Why use a land route to get to the Med when you can, oh, sail there?

Maybe it's just me, but this whole thing has given me a mental image of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad schlepping a warship across Iran and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea. Funny, but not very practical.

Of course, Romney's crack team of campaigners have ridden to their candidate's rescue (something they seem to do a lot), insisting that what Mitt really meant was that Syria is of strategic importance to Iran. Which is probably the case.

But, you know, if that's what Mitt meant, then that's what Mitt should have said. Because what he did say, that Syria is Iran's route to the sea, just makes him sound ignorant of the basic facts of geography, at the very least.

Now, me? I want a president who shows at least some evidence of knowing his geography.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Movie Monday: The I Can't Not Watch Edition

Over the weekend, I ran across a discussion online regarding the movies that we just can't seem to resist watching whenever we find them on television, be it broadcast, cable, or on demand.

I think it is true that we all a list like this if we like movies at all. If you're like me, and you love movies, you probably have a long list of them. They're those movies that you love and will watch whenever you can, not because they are necessarily good movies but just because there is something in them or something about them that speaks to you, one way or another.

In the discussion online, participants were asked to stick to a list of ten movies. There is no way I can do that, but I managed to limit my first list to thirteen, and then added another to that after stumbling on That Thing You Do! (1996) late last night on cable. It's one of those movies that I've loved ever since the first time I saw it in the theater when it first came out.

Thinking about it this morning, I added a few other movies to the list. I can't rank them from best to worst, or most liked to least liked but will watch any time, and so here is my list in order of when they were first released. They are:

The Mummy (1932)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Rear Window (1954)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
The Trouble With Angels (1966)
The Doberman Gang (1972)
The Turning Point (1977)
Grease 2 (1982)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Road House (1989)
Empire Records (1995)
Twister (1996)
That Thing You Do! (1996)
Almost Famous (2000)
Zoolander (2001)
The Princess Diaries (2001)

As you can see, some of the movies on this list are not what anyone would consider great cinema. Those are the movies that I will watch because of some personal or locational connection I have to them. For example, the reason I will watch The Doberman Gang anytime, anywhere is that it was filmed in the town where I grew up. It's a bank-heist movie, and the bank branch that was robbed in the film was the branch where I had my savings account as a child and teenager. The theater shown at one point in the movie was the theater where I went to the movies on a weekly basis for years. In fact, it was the theater where the premiere of the movie was held, and which I attended. It was kind of funny, because they had used the real tellers from the bank to play the tellers in the film, and they were sitting right behind me at the premiere. Every once in awhile I'd hear an astonished, or a gleeful, "There I am," as one or another of them came on the screen. There are several other places I knew well growing up that appear in the movie, including a quick glimpse down the street I lived on at the time and an equally fast look at the side and back yard of the house where I babysat regularly.

I've also got a personal stake in viewing Grease 2, which really is a pretty bad movie. However, it was filmed at the campus where my high school graduation was held. It was not the school I attended my senior year, but my school didn't have any facilities to hold graduation ceremonies, and so we used the football field at the "other" high school in town. So, whenever I want to see where I graduated, all I have to do is pull out the DVD of Grease 2 and it's there, in the scenes that take place on the football field and track.

The other movie on the list that I have a locational tie to is Road House, part of which was filmed in and around the town I lived in and the town where I went to college for awhile. While I never saw any of the filming or ran into any of the cast or crew, I got a lot of laughs from the women in the small central California town I lived in who, for the duration, were intent on tracking down Patrick Swayze, who starred in the film. Personally, I would have been much more excited to meet Sam Elliot, who was also in the movie, but that's just me.

I also noticed as I was keyboarding the list here, that there are several films that center around music one way or another. A Hard Day's Night, That Thing You Do!, and Almost Famous all center around bands, while Empire Records chronicles a day in the life of an indie record store. This should be no surprise, since anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I love music.

There are also some classics on the list, of course. I'm sure you can pick them out. And the others? Well, I just like them. Sometimes I'm not quite sure why. The Princess Diaries is really a movie meant for teenage girls but, although I can't put my finger on why, there is just something about it that makes me go back to it again and again. With Zoolander, on the other hand, I know exactly why I like it enough to see it again and again: it is possibly the most absurdly funny thing I've ever seen. It is the performances and the fact that I love the ballet that brings me back to The Turning Point again and again.

So. Now you know which movies I cannot resist seeing over and over again. My question to you, readers, is what does your list look like? Feel free to share in the comments section.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Music Sunday: The Magnitude 5.3 Edition

This week's Music Sunday is brought to you by Mother Nature.

No, seriously. Last night at nearly midnight, my region of the world experienced a 5.3 magnitude earthquake. The quake was centered near King City, California, but some of us here in Fresno felt it as a sharp jolt followed by fifteen or twenty seconds of sort of quivering ground motion, during which my floor lamp continued to sway. My poor stomach continued to quiver for some time after that, since I don't like earthquakes at all - probably a function of having been in too many of them, which is a topic for another day.

Anyway, as always happens when I feel a quake, Carole King's song "I Feel The Earth Move" popped into my head shortly after the tremor and has been running on a loop ever since, and so I decided that it was only fair and proper to share some of King's music with you all today.

King has been writing, by herself, with her former husband Gerry Goffin, and with others since the mid-1950s, and her work has been covered by singers and bands in virtually every genre of music. She wrote or co-wrote 118 songs that made the Billboard Hot 100 between 1955 and 1999, and she has four Grammy awards and has been inducted into both the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Those are some serious credentials. Also, it means that there is a lot of her music out there to choose from.

Of course, I have to share "I Feel The Earth Move", which went to number one on the Hot 100 in 1971. And, although the song is not about earthquakes, at least not the geological kind, the beginning of the song is used in an earthquake exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry in Portland, Oregon. This performance comes from the BBC in the year the song was released:

"I Feel The Earth Move" was actually a double A-side single with "It's Too Late", which King co-wrote with Toni Stern, and which also hit number one in Billboard in 1971. This performance is from the same 1971 BBC show as the previous clip:

Here's another performance of "It's Too Late" that I found. This time, King performs with James Taylor, in 2007 at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, thirty-six years after the BBC performance:

James Taylor recorded what is probably the most famous of the covers of another Carole King song, "You've Got A Friend", a song that has been covered by singers and bands in just about every genre of music that exists. This performance looks like it was given around the time that Taylor's cover of the song was released, also in 1971, which was a big year for King. If you look closely, you can see King playing piano in the background:

And, because I'm fascinated by the way singers and songs grow and evolve over the years, here is another live performance of the the song by James Taylor, this time from 2009:

In another aspect of her career, some of King's songs written with Gerry Goffin turned up, along with songs from other writers of the era, as songs for The Monkees. Some were love songs; this one, for example, from 1966, is "Sometime in the Morning":

On the other hand, "Pleasant Valley Sunday", also by King and Goffin, was a piece of fairly sharp social commentary, proving that they could write good songs that were not love songs and that The Monkees might not be as harmless and "prefab" as most people assumed they were:

One of these days, I'll do a Music Sunday post on why I think The Monkees were not the blight on pop music so many critics at the time, and now, seem to think they were. But that will be another day. For now, enjoy your day, and here's hoping you don't experience any earthquakes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

In which your faithful writer gets philosophical...

You never know where you are going to come upon something that just blows you away with its message. That happened to me today when another knitter posted the follwing video over on a board at Ravelry. This is a slightly longer version of the same bit, with a little context at the beginning, with the narration from the audio book version of the book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994, Random House), by Carl Sagan:

Now, some people might argue that all the perspective given in this clip does is make us seem obscure, insignificant, and without meaning or purpose.

I don't think that is true. I think it points out an important truth. We are all here. "Every human being who ever was," as Carl Sagan puts it in this clip, has lived and died here. A few have left for a few days, weeks, or months and ventured out and down the street a little bit, cosmically speaking, but they started here and ended here, on planet Earth. We're all stuck here.

The Spaceship Earth meme got overdone in the 1960s and 1970s, as those few of us began to venture out beyond the Earth's atmosphere, so much so that it became a cliche. But, for all that, it isn't any less true. We are all, very literally, in the same boat. Every ethnic group, every religion, every nationality, has to share this little bit of living space. And the truth is, if we don't start learning to be nicer to each other - all of us - the boat is going to sink and we will all drown in our own animosities.

During the L.A. riots after four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King during an arrest, Mr. King himself asked: "Can we all get along? Can we...can we get along?" And people laughed. The quote became a big joke. But it isn't very funny. As Nick Lowe wrote in a song from 1974, "What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?" How did we become so hard and cynical that asking for those things is treated as stupid?

Historically, we haven't been very nice to each other. I know that. But you would think that as species, we would have learned a little bit in all the millennia that we've been "civilized". But, no. We still maim and torture and kill each other for the stupidest things. One of our US presidential candidates recently and famously expressed his feeling that some of his fellow human beings are not entitled to food, shelter, and health care, just because they don't have as much money as he does and haven't had the fortune in life that he has had. Kids regularly bully each other on the playground just because they look different or talk different or are interested in different things.

Why haven't we learned to be excellent to each other, rather than being cruel and petty and nasty over the most insignificant things?

Does asking that make me hopelessly naive? Doesn't matter to me. I'm just fine with being a naive idealist. So much better than being a jerk.

Hat tip, by the way, to AZHikerChick, over on Ravelry, for turning me on to the video from Pale Blue Dot.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Coffee? No, Thanks...I'd Rather Not Torture My Taste Buds

Making my usual rounds of the Internets this morning before I start on the list of things I need to get done today, I came upon this post from John Scalzi, over at his blog, Whatever, in which he proclaims that coffee "tastes like ass".

It is so nice to find someone else who agrees with me about coffee. Which is to say, someone else who thinks coffee tastes nasty.

I get so tired of people looking at me like I've suddenly sprouted a second head out the top of my regular head, complete with a third eye in the middle of its forehead, when I say that I don't like coffee. I have to confess that I haven't really researched the history of coffee - I don't care enough to put in the time to do that - but I have wondered from time to time what the deal did our culture here in the United States come to the point where it is assumed that everyone drinks coffee, and that people who don't do so are somehow wrong. No, really. I've heard people insist that unless you drink coffee, you are not a proper adult.

It is just as tiresome when people ask me, "Is it because you used to be Mormon?"

No. My distaste for coffee - for all hot beverages, for that matter - came long before I ever was a Mormon. My dad started trying to turn me into a coffee drinker when I was about ten years old. My mom didn't drink coffee, and so he tried to get me started on it so that he would have someone to have a cup of coffee with in the morning.

His efforts never succeeded. Even getting past the fact that coffee is hot, which is difficult enough for me to get beyond, it just tastes awful. I don't care how much you dress it up with cream, sugar, or other flavors, there is still that underlying bitter, acidy taste that Is. Just. Not. Right.

The funny thing was that my mom always used to say that while she didn't like the taste of coffee, she loved the smell. I've heard others rhapsodize about how wonderful coffee smells.

No it doesn't. It smells as bad as it tastes.

But, you know, I'm not the judgmental type. So, go ahead. Drink that coffee. I don't understand the attraction, but whatever. Just don't act like there is something wrong with me because I don't drink it. Would you like it if I insisted that you are not a proper adult because you don't like the thing you really, really don't like? Say, broccoli? Peas?

I didn't think so.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Music Sunday/Monday: The Flying High Edition (and that's not a drug reference)

If you're looking for Music Sunday, I have to apologize for being a little tardy this week. I was busy for much of today with other things, chiefly watching Felix Baumgartner taking the most awesome skydive in the history of, well, skydiving.

I have to admit, I did not watch the event live. There were just too many things that could have gone wrong, and I could not make myself watch. However, once I knew that everything had gone as planned and he was back on the Earth safely, I sat down and watched the rebroadcast of the event. It was amazing.

I also have to confess that I've never, ever had any desire to skydive. I just don't understand why anyone would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Yes, I know; that's not an original observation. It does, however, sum up my feelings about the subject perfectly.

Baumgartner's jump today is something orders of magnitude different, though. He rode a pressurized capsule, tethered to a helium balloon, up about 24 miles and then stepped out on a little platform said to be about the size of a skateboard before stepping off for a descent that started with a free-fall of over four minutes. Along the way, before deploying his parachute, Baumgartner exceeded she speed of sound by a significant amount, the first time anyone not in an aircraft has broken the sound barrier. And, after all that, he landed on his feet.

Being the history geek that I am, I think a little historical context is a good thing. And that context is this: Baumgartner's jump, and his achievement as the first human to break the sound barrier without benefit of aircraft, came on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager's flight to become the first human to break the sound barrier with benefit of aircraft. I just hope I don't have to explain who Chuck Yeager is. If you don't know, go watch the film, The Right Stuff, or read the book of he same name, by Tom Wolfe.

Some people see what Felix Baumgartner did today as a stunt, on a par with Evel Knievel's jumps over rows of cars or his attempt (much less successful than Baumgartner was today) to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in some sort of souped-up, rocket-propelled motorcycle. And there is little doubt that Baumgartner was partly motivated by the challenge of doing something no one has ever done before.

But today's achievement was much more than just thrill-seeking. What Baumgartner proved today that can be achieved could be the first step in making space flight safer than it now is. This might have been a stunt, but it was a stunt that collected scientific data that could someday save lives.

But, since it is still Sunday (barely, and not anymore in most of the world)...and there is a song for every occasion and an occasion for every song, I'll leave you with some flight music:

Even though this has nothing to do with skydiving or spaceflight, as I watched the balloon taking Baumgartner aloft today, I kept thinking about this song, "Up, Up and Away", by the Fifth Dimension, from 1967:

And then there's this, Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly", in a live performance from 2006. Some of the lyrics: "I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings/Coming down is the hardest thing", could be seen as appropriate to the day in their own way:

Pink Floyd also recorded a completely different "Learning to Fly":

And, not music, but I found this while I was looking around for some music to share with you. It is a dramatization, from The Right Stuff, of that first time the sound barrier was broken. Just, you know, so you really will know who Chuck Yeager (here portrayed by Sam Shepard) is, and what he did:

Well, it has slipped into Monday while I've been writing this, so I'm not sure what to call this. Music Sunday/Monday? It'll have to do, I guess.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Music Sunday: The Led Zeppelin Edition, plus a book review

As I mentioned a couple of days ago here, during the past week I read LZ-75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour (2010, Gotham Books; 217 pages), by Stephen Davis. Davis has written about the band before, in his Hammer of the Gods (1985), which was criticized as sensationalized and inaccurate by the members of the band. I haven't read that book, but due to its reputation, I didn't expect much from LZ-75.

As it turns out, LZ-75 isn't really about Led Zeppelin, but more about Davis's experience covering the band's 1975 American tour. He made it sound just a miserable time, and again highlighted the drinking (primarily by John Bonham who, of course, isn't around to defend himself), the groupies, and the difficulties both musical and technical, of the tour. He makes sure to point out that in its early years, Led Zeppelin was routinely discounted and criticized by Rolling Stone Magazine, a publication that Davis worked for during that time. I think it is interesting that Davis couldn't get an assignment from Rolling Stone to cover the 1975 tour after he was told that an assignment with a reputable publication was a requirement for him to have access to the tour, but ended up getting the assignment he needed from The Atlantic Monthly, not a publication known for its rock/pop music coverage. It is even more interesting that the article Davis eventually turned in based on his experiences on the tour was not printed by the magazine. Well, things like that happen in publishing, but one wonders exactly why they declined the article. Davis's excuse is that the "elderly" editor-in-chief of the magazine "hated" his article (p. 194).

LZ-75 was only ever written, according to the author, because he found his long-lost notes from the tour and thought that "there was a story that could be told" (p. 4). But, it seems to me that it is more Davis's story than they story of a band on tour. Which could have been interesting, but ultimately wasn't, especially. The most interesting thing in the book, from my perspective, is Davis's reporting, in a few pages, of a meeting between Jimmy Page and William S. Burroughs, in which the two men discussed, among other things, crowds and the control of them in the context of the live rock and roll show. In these discussions, Page seems most interested in balancing the energies of band and crowd so that things don't get out of hand, while Burroughs seems obsessed with the times when crowds have gotten out of hand, with disastrous results.

Other than that, I can see few reasons to recommend Davis's book. But, it gives me a chance to share some of Led Zeppelin's music. First up is "Kashmir", which is from the album "Physical Graffiti", which was released during the tour chronicled in Davis's book. I find it interesting that, while Davis makes a big deal about the fact that Rolling Stone Magazine was both critical and dismissive of the band in its early years, six of their songs placed on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. "Kashmir" came in at number 141 on the list. This live performance comes from May 24, 1975, at Earls Court in London:

Of course, the Led Zeppelin song to place highest on Rolling Stone's list is "Stairway to Heaven", the most requested song of the 1970s. It placed at number 31 on Rolling Stone's list and in 2000 it placed number 3 on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs. I believe I shared this song a few weeks ago here, but with it's reputation as one of the greatest song ever, I feel comfortable sharing it again, especially since this is a different live version than I shared before, this one being from another of the 1975 Earls Court shows, on May 25, 1975:

"Whole Lotta Love" came in at number 75 on Rolling Stone's list of greatest songs:

The other three songs that made Rolling Stone's list were "Black Dog", at number 300; "Heartbreaker", at number 238; and "Ramble On", at number 440.

And, because I love drum solos, here is John Bonham's "Moby Dick" drum solo from Led Zeppelin's January 9, 1970 show at Royal Albert Hall in London:

Besides the six songs that Led Zeppelin placed in the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Songs, at least three of the band's albums placed on its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the band itself came in at number 14 on the magazine's list of 100 Greatest Artists, Jimmy Page placed at number 9 on Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, and Robert Plant came in at number 15 on the magazine's list of 100 Greatest Singers.

It seems to me that, in the end, Led Zeppelin won the argument with Rolling Stone about its worth as a band.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Three books in four days...

I haven't done that in awhile. Finish reading three books in four days, that is. You know, ignoring things that need to get done and staying up much later than I should considering the time in the morning the alarm is set to go off, all because the book I'm reading is just too good - or at least too involving - to put down.

Well, that was the case for two out of the three books I finished reading between Saturday and Tuesday just past. The other one got read just because it wasn't that long, was pretty easy reading, and I wanted to get through it to know if I could use some of the information from it to help construct next Sunday's Music Sunday post.

The first book I finished, on Saturday, was Summer of the Dragon (1979, Tor Books; 277 pages), by Elizabeth Peters. It's a romantic mystery from the same writer who has given us the Amelia Peabody mysteries, and while it is slight in many ways, it was a fun read. The story concerns D. J. Abbot, an anthropology student who secures a summer job working for eccentric billionaire Hank Hunnicutt. The main attraction of the job is the fact that Hunnicutt lives in northern Arizona, 600 miles away from her family. It isn't that D. J. doesn't love her family; she does. But they are, well, a bit eccentric themselves, and she would rather not spend the entire summer with them.

Hunnicutt is looking for a summer intern because he has found something in the desert. Although D. J. and her advisor at school suspect that this something probably isn't really anything, since Hunnicutt has a reputation for interests that are not entirely scientific and is known to surround himself with mediums, UFO enthusiasts, treasure hunters, and other fringe types. However, the pay is good and the scenery will be different, so D. J. takes the job. But, when she arrives in Arizona, D. J. finds more than she bargained for. Hunnicutt is being very mysterious about what he has found, most of the hangers-on at Hunnicutt's ranch are positively hostile toward D. J., and mysterious things are happening. But D. J. likes Hunnicutt from the beginning, and finds his right-hand man quite attractive despite his abrasive personality.

Developments move quickly, and soon D. J. is in over her head. It's a fun story. I won't claim that some of the characters are not rather flat and stereotypical, but that didn't hurt my enjoyment of the story overall. As a bonusm the archaeology is accurate; after all the author is an Egyptologist with a doctorate from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. Summer of the Dragon, in short, isn't great literature, but it's a quick, fun read. Maybe it's just me, but sometimes a good story trumps great literature.

I'll only mention the book I finished - in fact, read in it's entirety - on Sunday briefly, because it is going to be part of Sunday's music blog post. I'll just say here that it was LZ-75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour (2010, Gotham Books; 217 pages), by Stephen Davis. It was another quick read, but not my favorite book about the music industry, a genre that I enjoy a lot. It isn't a bad book, but it seemed to me it was more about the author's experience on tour with Zeppelin rather than really being about the band or the tour itself. But...more about that in a couple of days.

The third book, which I finished reading on Tuesday, was Bones Are Forever (2012, Scribner; 288 pages), by Kathy Reichs. This book tells another story in the further adventures of Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, upon which the television series Bones is based. There are no similarities between the character in the books and on the TV series other than her name and her occupation, but that's okay. The books are very good, and I enjoy the TV series immensely. I just accept that they are two very different things.

In this, the fifteenth book in the series, Temperance finds herself investigating the deaths of four newborn infants over several years, all apparently born of the same woman. The mother has disappeared, and Brennan and detective Andrew Ryan, with whom Brennan has a past, find themselves searching all over Canada to find her. Starting in Montreal, they follow her trail to Edmonton and then to the far north, to Yellowknife, where, they find, things are not entirely what they seemed when their investigation began.

I hesitate to say any more about the story, for fear of giving away too many spoilers. I will say that Bones are Forever is a good book, well worth the time spent in the reading. Reichs has once again constructed an exciting, engrossing mystery, something she is very good at. The characters are well-drawn. The plot is just convoluted enough to hold the reader's interest without going overboard with twists. For someone like me who has read most if not all of the books in the series, the main characters continue to grow and remain interesting, an unusual and not inconsiderable attraction in series mysteries.