Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There But For Fortune

Time for Jubilee?
Lately, there's been an ugly mood in some areas of the media surrounding Obama's plan to bring some relief to people who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. A recent rant by a CNBC reporter has become something of an Internet sensation on YouTube. The basic message is that by trying to help people in this foreclosure crisis, we are rewarding people for bad behavior, and punishing those who were responsible, and did not get themselves into trouble.

Certainly there are people losing houses that never had any business signing a mortgage in the first place, but lo, I shall say unto you:
Let he or she who has read every line on their credit card agreement, read every line in the software agreement, or read every word of their own mortgage agreement cast the first stone.

I have been working on a spreadsheet simulation of 'generational luck' lately, and when my brain cells permit such activity, I promise to share it with you when it becomes more useful. The point is that I think many people give themselves more credit for success than they probably have a right to. I'm not saying that successful hard working people are undeserving, but there's way too much Social Darwinism in today's neocons, as if there is no such thing as good fortune, or, for the more religious, the Grace of God.

I'm not a religious man, which doesn't mean I'm not spiritual or haven't learned a lot from playing bass in church all these years, but there is something interesting I've learned about the concept of Jubilee.

There are many variants, but the basic idea is that every 50 years, debts are forgiven, slaves and prisoners are set free, and so on. Sure, I can hear what you're thinking, that this is not practical, not gonna happen, is just an ancient, archaic tradition, and maybe you're right. But the concept of Jubilee points to a reality that much of the world is shaped by events beyond our control, and unless you believe in a God that preordains the suffering of the multitudes, I think every now and then we need to do whatever we can to ameliorate the inequities caused by birth, climate change, and yes, the so-called "act of God."

When I was a child, sometimes serious family squabbles would occur, not unlike many families I'm sure, and the only way forward was to "start from scratch." The burdens of the past can be overwhelming, and the need to start over is natural, and healthy. Just like a forest fire becomes inevitable when smaller natural cleansing fires are suppressed, societies can come to a flash point when large amounts of underclass build up, until catastrophic change is the only possible outcome.

Forgiveness is a trait I think most people understand, but it's really just the everyday microcosmic version of Jubilee.

Rather than quote T. S. Eliot again (it would be so easy!) I am reminded of the late Phil Ochs (the troubadour pictured at top) song "There But For Fortune." Here's the last verse:

Show me the country where bombs had to fall,
Show me the ruins of buildings once so tall,
And I'll show you a young land with so many reasons why
There but for fortune, go you or go I -- you and I.
You and I,
There but for fortune, go you or go I -- you and I.

I know it's presumptive to think I have anything to add, but perhaps we could add a new verse?
Show me the family asleep on the floor
Show me the insurance they can't pay anymore
And I'll show you a country with shame piled so high
Yes there but for fortune, go you or I -- you and I

Friday, February 20, 2009

Penguin Indecision

In either a brief respite from the idiocy of the current political news, or perhaps subconsciously inspired by the same news, I bring you the penguin that couldn't jump in the water.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Beware the Bathtub

Taxation as Theft?
Like a bad movie, the neocon zombies just keep coming. Here we are, less than a month after the historic inauguration of Barack Obama, and just when you thought it was safe to ignore these zombies, they still still walk on, droning the monotonous mantra: "More tax cuts, less spending!" over and over and over...

The harmless-looking fellow pictured here is Grover Norquist. I had to search Google to find the name of the person credited with the infamous quote:
I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

One might think that the last 8 years of failed policy would have put a nail in that coffin, but just like a contract killer, whose employer may have changed his mind, the killer continues the quest. Even with the country in the grips of the worst recession since the Great Depression, there has been a near-total opposition to Obama's stimulus plan, a plan almost all economists (Democrat and Republican) agree is necessary. It seems like the neocons are on a kamikaze mission. They can't let Obama's plan succeed, because it represents the triumph, in their eyes, of socialism over the so-called free market. They would rather we all go down in flames than give the government a chance to put people to work. Obama has had to revert to pre-election town halls to keep the pressure on these politicians to do something. Meanwhile, the stimulus package gets watered down, and spending programs (dubbed "pork" by the conservative media) get cut.

Meanwhile, back here in California, another group of robots has control of the state budget. Due to the legacy of Prop 13, new taxes must be approved by 2/3 of the state legislature. So, a small band of Republicans has held the California budget hostage every year, even with a large Democratic majority. The media seems unwilling to confront head-on the notion that taxes are inherently bad, that for some reason we shouldn't have to pay for government in bad times. Who the h-e-double hockey sticks do they expect to pay for things?

Dig this, there's even some very literal talk of denying the New Deal even worked. If they repeat these lies enough times, it must come true.

Do whatever you can to support the government actually being allowed to help.

What a concept, the government being actually
of the people, by the people, for the people

Saturday, February 07, 2009

My Life in Posters

Sing a Song
I was looking through the web at old Fillmore posters, primarily of concerts I'd been through, and thought the posters themselves were an interesting story, probably more interesting than my comments, so it's an experiment to see if I can keep the format moving, without too much interruption on my part! I also hope that some of you may chime in if you saw any of these shows, or saw these bands during this short era.

Donovan/HP Lovecraft/Mother Earth Thanksgiving Weekend 1967
The first one is actually one I didn't go to, but Martha did! I never got to see HP Lovecraft, and always wished I had. I remember hearing Bill Graham talk about what a shame they broke up so early.

This was during the height of Donovan's popularity. I asked Martha to share a few words about this concert, and here is what she remembers:

I went to the Winterland concert with my friend Jan Burton and Kate Meyers, who I believe were going to write a review for the high school newspaper. Jan's older brother drove us from San Jose to San Francisco. I knew the headliner was Donovan, who had some big hits (Mellow Yellow, Sunshine Superman), but didn't know the opening acts, H.P. Lovecraft and Mother Earth. We arrived from our suburban teenage world to a very strange scene--a big crowded concert, dark with a light show behind the bands on stage, lots of smoke in the air, loud music, dancing, no assigned seats. I remember Donovan had long hair, wore some kind of flowing robe, tossing flowers out to the crowd. It was a new concert experience for me, but was evidence of the new alternative music that we were listening to on the radio--KMPX on the FM dial.

Mothers/Tim Buckley/Chambers Bros
Winterland, December 1967
This was my first concert of any kind or size, and quite mindblowing. The only group I was familiar with at the time was The Chambers Bros. At this point in time, "Time Has Come Today" was out and out the most exciting thing being played on the radio, or just wafting out of record stores on Telegraph Ave. The stage was on the Eastern side of the room, and projection screens were hung all the way across the East and North side of the hall. Since I had no knowledge at the time of The Mothers or Tim Buckley, I don't have much in the way of specific memories. I have this image of Buckley wearing an oversized denim shirt, big head of hair hanging down over his face, as he strummed wildly on his acoustic 12-string. The crowd seemed much hipper and older than me (I was a high school senior at the time, just turned 17) and they seemed very knowledgeable about Zappa's music.

Chambers Bros/Sunshine Company/Siegel-Schwall
Fillmore Auditorium, January 1968
This was the second time I'd seen The Chambers Bros in an 8-month period of meteoric change. They were now headliners, and dressed more in the hippie fashion than the first time I saw them, when they were in more traditional sharp looking suits. The Sunshine Company was somewhat out of place, being a hit-single type of group, sandwiched in between the bluesy Siegel-Schwall band and the hyper-hot Chambers Bros. in the intimate confines of the small Fillmore.

John Mayall/Arlo Guthrie/Loading Zone
Fillmore February 1968
What a concert. At the time, what John Mayall meant to me was Peter Green's "The Supernatural," my favorite guitar instrumental of all time. But Peter had left the band, and his replacement was Mick Taylor. Yes, that Mick Taylor, future Rolling Stones guitarist. It should be noted, that during this whole era, there were usually 3 bands, and each band did two sets! The Loading Zone was new to me, and looked totally un-rockstarish, but they really cooked. Arlo's sets were really good. I saw him wandering in the back room between sets later that night. John Mayall's sets were just basically a long blues groove. At one point he pulled some old black blues guy from the audience to come up and jam with him. They were still playing at 2 AM, when we left to go pickup some friends, including Lori Englefried, who had been waiting outside the Avalon for me to get there! I still apologize to Lori everytime I see her at our high school reunion! I didn't get home until 3 AM, and was grounded for a while!

Cream/James Cotton/Jeremy and the Satyrs/Blood Sweat and Tears
Winterland March 1968
Fortunately, after a couple of months, my parents let me go out again to a concert. This was memorable for a couple of reasons. First, obviously, Cream was the hot thing then, and this was the concert they recorded Wheels of Fire at. Also, this was the West Coast debut of Blood Sweat and Tears, who were descended from The Blues Project, and there was a lot of hoopla about them. It was great to see James Cotton, the classic Chicago blues harmonica player, the real deal, sandwiched between the generation-younger white bands. Cream was excellent, but my memories are hard to separate from the live album I've listened to a jillion times. What I do remember was that the horns in BS&T were so loud, some of my friends (Jeff Gossett among them) bailed during the second set, and missed Cream's 2nd set rather than sit through the horns again! I do remember Al Kooper standing on stage, playing his SG real loud, doing "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know."

Chambers Bros/Albert King/Richie Havens Winterland May 1968
You may notice the poster says Buffalo Springfield. They unfortunately had just broken up, and Albert King played instead. The Chambers Bros were again red hot. At this time, it was somewhat typical for the audience to sit on the floor during the set. When The Chambers Bros played, however, everyone stood up and danced! Richie Havens was excellent, and Albert King's Flying V, coming out of his huge Acoustic amp (you know, the one with the horn on top!) just sliced through air in his classic Live Wire/Blues Power style!

Big Brother/Richie Havens/Illinois Speed Press
Fillmore West, July 1968
While I have memories of Big Brother being OK, and Richie Havens acting really stoned, what I really remember about this night was what happened to my car. Earlier on the way to the concert, we drove my MG sedan through the Haight, and there was a lot of police there. Apparently some sort of riot was going on at the time. When I got back to my car, parked in a nearby alley, my car had been broken into, but nothing taken. Rumors of policemen breaking into cars were rampant, but I never quite understood what was going on. Strange days indeed.

Chambers Bros/Charlatans/Queen Lily Soap
Fillmore West August 1968
When I attended my first concert back in December, The Chambers Bros were third on the bill. Now I was seeing them for the third time as a headliner, and the line waiting to get in was really long. Now at the Fillmore West, the crowd was wearing lots of Nehru jackets and peace medallions. At this show, they played selections from their next album, A New Time - A New Day, which is sadly out of print. Smokin' versions of "I Can't Turn Your Loose," and "I Wish It Would Rain" stand out.

The Charlatans, which at the time featured a soon to go solo Dan Hicks, played their old-timey stuff, featuring songs such as "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" and "Alabama Bound."

For some reason, all I remember about Queen Lily Soap was the guitarist had frizzy hair, and was left-handed. I guess I'll never know if that's true!

Chuck Berry/Steve Miller Band/Kensington Market
Fillmore West, September 1968
Chuck Berry is notorious for using any band of locals as his backup band when he comes to town. But for these shows, his backup band was most excellent indeed! This was the original 5-piece Miller band with Boz Scaggs, who I did not really appreciate of course at that time! This was before Sailor came out, but they did preview "Livin' in the USA" for us that night. I remember during the Berry portion of the show (Boz not in backup band) Chuch egged Steve into a guitar duel. At first, Stevie Guitar demurred, rather than offend a living legend. But soon lick-trading ensued, and Miller was beyond up to the task. Eventually when Berry could no longer keep up, he wave him away, and duck-walked across the stage away from him! [note: I saw the 3-man Miller band later at Fillmore West, but can't find the poster art I remember. Perhaps I just don't remember the other bands that night!]

Jefferson Airplane/Ballet Afro Haiti/AB Skhy
Fillmore West, October 1968
I must've been home for the weekend from UCSB, and I remember arriving late, not knowing who was on stage, or what I'd missed. I did see this guy with long blond hair on stage, but when they started to play an electrifying cover of Fred Neil's "Other Side of This Life," I knew that guy with the long blond hair was Jack Casady, and that the Airplane was on stage!

Again, I was lucky enough to be at a concert that would be recorded, and eventually came out as Bless Its Pointed Little Head, which I think is one of the best live albums ever. Once again though, my specific memories, except for the opening notes, are mixed with repeated listenings to the album.

Ten Years After/Spirit/Country Weather
Fillmore West, March 1969
Perhaps I was home on Spring Break, but I remember going with my roommate Chris Torlakson, Linda Melin, and some friends from Daly City of Chris'.

I definitely remember this concert. Alvin Lee was the awesome speed demon of blues guitar back then, and this was before he became a big star vis-a-vis Woodstock. [on a side note, I stumbled into him years later at the New Orleans NAMM show, all alone in the Tokai booth, working for the Japanese musical instrument company. I told him about seeing him at this concert!] Also memorable was how the bass player, Leo Lyon, would over-emote his playing, even with the two-note "Spoonful!"

Of note were the two sets by Spirit. The first set was a total knockout, with all their hits of the time, and they really cooked. When they did the beginning of "It's All The Same," with that Theremin-sounding intro, it was so loud, that when it bottomed out, it sounded like a bomb went off! Their second set was way too spacy, and they never seemed to get it going again.

Butterfield/Bloomfield/Birth Fillmore West, March 1969
I'm not quite sure how I got back to the Fillmore West a couple of weeks later for this show, but back then, a student could fly standby from Santa Barbara for almost nothing! I had never seen the original Buttefield Blues Band with Mike Bloomfield, so this was a treat. At this time, music critic Ralph J Gleason put Bloomfield in the top pantheon of guitarists, and Bloomfield's passing was a real tragedy.

In a related coincidence, I was recently having lunch with our future in-laws, and saw this poster on the wall in Reno!

I have no specific memories, except that I was very impressed with Bloomfield's sense of touch on the guitar, a true master.

Ten Years After/Ike and Tina Turner/The Flock Fillmore West, July 1969
Having survived my first year away at college, Here I was seeing Ten Years After again. What Bill Graham was great at doing back then was exposing his clientele, which was primarily young and white, to musicians they might not normally get a chance to see. The Ike and Tina Turner Revue was so cool. This was the first time I saw them (I think I saw them also at UCSB) and they really knocked me out with their energy. It was kind of an echo of the Chambers Bros earlier, in that this time the band was all decked out in matching suits. The next time would be quite different.

It's A Beautiful Day/Ike & Tina Turner/Alice Cooper Fillmore West, end of October 1969
Looking back after 40 years, three months would seem like a quick flash in time, but much was happening at the time in Ike and Tina's world. This was an entirely new show, and they were debuting covers of the Beatles' "Come Together" and CCR's "Proud Mary" before they would release these versions on vinyl. The band was now dressed very casually, and the crowd loved them.

All I knew of Alice Cooper at the time, was that they were somehow associated with Frank Zappa. This was indeed the presaging of a new era in rock shows, as this was the first time a band eschewed the normal light show, and used dramatic lighting that I had seen. They had bright spotlights at the foot of the stage that projected stark shadows on the rear wall; it was really rather shocking at the time!

Beautiful Day was excellent, but what I mainly remember is that at the beginning of the second set (remember, this is the 6th set of the night!) I scored a seat on one of the couches in the back of the room, and all I remember is the start of the song "Bulgaria," with the words

When you're in a dream...

The next thing I remember is one of the Fillmore guards waking me up, saying something like "Party's over, can't stay here, gotta go home!"

The Closing of The Fillmore West
Boz Scaggs/Cold Blood/Flamin' Groovies/Stoneground
June 30 1970
I think I'll stop with this one. This was definitely a beginning and an end for me. This was the only show of the last week of shows I saw when Bill Graham decided to stop the concerts. It really seemed the end of an era. I had recently dropped out of school, and had just moved in with my friends Jack and Kate on Miramar St. in the Ingleside. This was practically my first night in San Francisco as a resident!

I have seen Boz countless times, but I do remember this show. His band was the one from the Moments album, and the FM hit at the time was "We Were Always Sweethearts." This show was right in my wheelhouse, as Boz, Cold Blood, and Tower of Power were three of the records that drew me to leave school and move back to the Bay Area. After all, the last song I played on the turntable before I drove away was the closer from Boz's album, "Can I Make It Last, Or Will It Just Be Over?" Cold Blood was exciting, and tight, and for a special treat at the end of the night, they had an all star jam, with Taj Mahal on vocals.

Yes indeed, there were some nice shows back then. I don't think it was all just my imagination.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Definition of Insanity

I had no idea who first said "The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result." A quick web search says Einstein, with some sources saying Ben Franklin, and yet others claiming neither. It's not really important who said it, or if it's even true. I imagine the medical community has a different definition altogether.

But, I do have to tell you, it makes me crazy!

After the last 8 years of tax break mania, not to mention those 8 painful years of Reaganomics, it's just making me bananas to hear these idiots in the House and Senate who worship Jabba the Limbaugh keep talking about how they don't like Obama's stimulus package because it has too much spending, and not enough tax cuts! Jeebus! What the hell do they think stimulus is? This is like rolling that rock up the hill over and over and over...