Monday, April 19, 2010

London Calling

The debate goes on. Some say it is "Exile On Main Street," some say "Dark Side of the Moon" while others say it is "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Blonde on Blonde" or "The Joshua Tree." Does it really matter what the greatest rock n' roll album is? I have heard some say that it is The Clash's 1979 double album "London Calling" ... I now understand a little more why it is so highly respected.

The creative force behind The Clash was Joe Strummer (lyrics) and Mick Jones (music), the Lennon & McCarty of the band. The sessions started in a garage with no ideas and nothing written down. They spent the first days playing around with standards ... jamming to Bo Diddley, Dylan and Elvis tunes. Bassist Paul Simonon just hung out listening to reggae, his most recent obsession, on headphones. They came up with the original title of the album, "The Last Testament," which set in motion what they wanted to do. They were a bunch of socialists that thought punk was dead, and with Margaret Thatcher's recent election, they weren't too happy about the state of affairs in the world. They wanted to make one last hurray for punk knowing that they were probably done. It is a not a pure punk album with obvious pop, ska, soul, jazz, rockabilly and reggae influences. Their homage to rock n' roll's past is obvious by the cover of the album where they mimicked Elvis's debut self-titled album. Is this an end or a new beginning?

The recording sessions started with one producer, Guy Stevens, who's approach seems insane. He wanted them emotionally on edge always running high. He'd do unpredictable things like start screaming and throw folding chairs at them while they were playing. He was an old-time rocker. He was the person who named the band, Mott the Hoople. He also worked with Free, Spooky Tooth, The Who and The Stones (not too shabby). But some thought he had just lost his mind by the time he worked with The Clash. They couldn't deal with him anymore and fired him midway. They hired one of their sound engineers, Bill Price, to finish production of the album. Stevens overdosed on prescription drugs just a few years later.

The songs on "London Calling" tackled all the hot button issues of the day including drug use, racial conflict, nuclear power, war, idealism versus realism, responsibilities of adults and unemployment. Where punk's strength is usually in attitude over substance or musicianship, this incarnation of the The Clash had it all with all four musicians being at the top of their game. Until "London Calling" punk received little airplay. They bridged the gap between the punk world and mainstream rock without really selling-out. People were pretty desperate for something new at the time this was released. The power rock ballads were getting lamer and lamer each year. You could call it the first neo-punk album leading the way for such bands like Green Day, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Killers, The Strokes and The Offspring among others. When you listen to this album you don't think of 1979 ... you think of all the great stuff that it inspired in the decades to follow.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Revolt of the Haves

I heard Jack Beatty today on NPR's On Point refer to the Tea Party Movement as a Revolt of the Haves. This is a reference to a book of the same name by Robert Kuttner which is about California's Proposition 13. Mid-20th century California was a social democracy with high property taxes and school expenditures funded by a flourishing defense industry which employed a new influx of immigrants from Asia. All of this changed in 1978 when Prop 13 passed which not only capped the property tax rate at 1% but required a 2/3 majority in the state legislature to change. This changed the make-up of the state for decades to come. You can debate this yourself whether it was a good thing or not. Some say that it killed the real estate market, crashed the schools and lead to their current financial woes giving Governor Schwarzenegger few options in resolving the problem. Others say that it introduced stability into their economy making the boom in Silcon Valley possible. Since I am not and have never been a Califlornia resident, I will let them battle over this one.

Beatty called the Tea Part Movement a "Revolt of the Haves" in reference to a recent poll published in the New York Times that identified the demographics of the Tea Party members. The Tea Baggers are largely white, middle class and well educated aka the Haves. Part of me does identify with what the Tea Baggers claim they stand for and I guess that makes sense because I meet their demographic perfectly. I am a little sick of paying taxes and not seeming to get a lot for it in return. If only I could pay taxes only for those programs I do support. If that were the case, none of my money would have gone toward the war in Iraq for example and perhaps would go into Pell Grants to assist working class people paying for college. But as educated members of a democracy we know this cannot happen. We elect representatives that are supposed to bring our values and concerns to light and they make the difficult choices for us. When things don't turn our way, we have to realize that sometimes our values don't win and we learn to live with the circumstances. When we lose, we don't freak out and start calling the President "Hitler" or a "socialist," but I guess apparently some of us do.

I am mostly annoyed with these people. We pay the lowest taxes in the industrialized world and we have, mostly, a safe, clean and productive society that is governed by law not by the cult of personality or grabs for power. We are a just nation and we attempt to make it more so everyday. These folks, the Baggers, have more than most people on the planet. Most of our taxes go (have gone) toward supporting their white middle class lives while little in the past have gone towards the disenfranchised. Should they be frustrated? Surely, but my empathy stops when I analyzed the situation closely knowing that our nation is aging, our economy needs regulating and the planet is in need ... these challenges require government like it or not. And government's only revenue stream is taxes.

I have worked very hard for what I have. When I have to dig into my pocket (which is not bottomless) and give to those who seem to think that they are owed my hard earned cash ... it is indeed maddening. I grew up in a working class town. I worked my way through college working up to three jobs some times to pay for my tuition, books and living expenses. It took me seven years to obtain my Bachelors degree ... long term goals over short term satisfaction was my mantra. While I was doing this, there were so many people that I knew (friends, neighbors, relatives) that didn't bother pursuing an education. It was difficult knowing these folks while they partied and gave no thought to the greater world nor to their future while I had to bog down go to work, go to school at night and then do homework on weekends. Twenty years later, now that I am moderately successful, I am reluctant to assist those who don't attempt to help themselves. I am a Have now but I feel that I have earned it. I don't know many Have's who don't feel the same.

Like I said, I understand the anger. What I don't understand is how they allow their anger to cloud their judgment. For example, I pay high property taxes to pay for a school in my town that I don't use since I have no children. If I didn't think about this situation very closely, it would anger me to no end, but when I consider the cost of not publicly educating children (poor economy in the future, high crime, high cost of prisons, low real estate values etc.) ... the decision is obvious. I will pay high taxes now to obtain positive long term goals. Same could be said about health care costs. I'd rather pay taxes to support health insurance for the poor now rather than pay for their care or lack thereof in the future when it is more expensive. You spend now as a form of preventative care for the future. I consider my taxes as an investment in the US's long term health. It is not always spent wisely, but we learn, review and attempt again. It is spectacular how successful we are actually.

I have a hard time taking the Tea Baggers seriously. They call our freely and fairly elected President asinine names like "Hitler" and "socialist" and when the media turns it back on them, they claim that the media is unfair and snarky. You can't have it both ways. They seem way too much like the bully whining when the neighborhood dork gets a new BB gun. You can't reap two centuries of supremacy and then claim tyranny when you have to pull into your wallet just a little deeper. I find it hard to take the Tea Baggers as anything more than a bunch of selfish jerks whose patriotism is only as deep as the grass on their suburb lawns. They dare to compare themselves to the American colonists who braved the barrels of real tyranny under King George. Revolt of the Haves, okay, but more like the Haves are Revolting.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Physicist Hugh Everett and the Eels

I have referred to myself, in past Blog entries, as being a music-head or rockologist as I was described in my youth. I used to read everything I could find about rock music. Rarely was I ever surprised to learn something new about rock music because I thought I knew it all. Now that I am older with other obsessions, it happens to me a lot. For example, a few months ago I learned that Norah Jones is the daughter of Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar. She was born Geethali Norah Jones Shankar. Who knew? I didn't. During my college years I used to listen to Shankar's Live in Monterey quite altered. I never would have thought his daughter would become a pop superstar ... but I guess it makes sense. At least they are both musicians. It is not everyday that you find out that one of your favorite musicians is the son of a famous physicist.

As a kid, I really did get engrossed in music. If I were young today, I think I'd be very happy because the rock and roll today is not only better than what I grew up to but more accessible. I have no doubt I'd be a file sharing nut because I had no money. Free music is so easy to find today legal or otherwise.

The Eels is one of my favorite newish bands. The lead singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist and sometime drummer of the band, Mark Everett aka E, is also the son of the famous physicist Hugh Everett III. For the non-geeks among us, Hugh Everett is the physicist who theorized the possibility of alternative universes aka many-worlds interpretation. You can't watch your television for very long without bumping into this theory: Star Trek, Fringe, Superman, Space 1999 etc. SciFi writers just love this theory. In it every event is a quantum branch point that causes a new string of quantum reality ... hence in everything you do or in every decision you act on, a new reality is born. I shouldn't really go on much more about this because I am sure I will butcher it. Mark Everett talks about how his dad was the typical bad-family-man-great-physicist like Einstein. This is going to make me interpret his lyrics very differently now.