Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Wall's Montreal Creation

It is an on-going debate among rock n' roll fans. We are divided in factions. Beatles' fans: some are John fans, some are Paul fans. To this day, I still argue in favor of John Lennon over Paul McCartney. Some love Paul ... what can I say, I am firmly in the John camp. Always will be. Stones fans: some love Mick, some love Kieth. The Who fans: Peter or Roger. U2 fans: Bono or The Edge. Dead fans: Jerry or Bob. I have had very long heated arguments over Pink Floyd with friends, if the subject is breached, it will start up again .... "Roger Waters made Pink Floyd, his words, his concept, it is his band, man." "No way man, Floyd would be nothing without the David Gilmour sound." We continue on drinking our beer and passing the bowl of .... uhm ... bowl of chili ... and it is never resolved. We love it this way. Clearly to me, Roger is a conceptual genius and one of the greatest rock lyricist, but he needs David Gilmour and vice versa. They are a great pairing. After hearing Roger's solo work and the Floyd albums without Roger .... lets just say the world is a better place if these two artists got along.

I saw Roger Waters for the first time last night at the Bell Centre in Montreal. He performed The Wall from start to finish and it was spectacular. As a kid, I saved up for weeks to purchase my vinyl copy of The Wall. I saved my allowance to buy it and I remember biking to Zayre to purchase it so that I could get my mother's employee discount. Biking home with a record album in a bag may not have been the best move. I had listened to my 8 track copy of Wish You Were Here, my brother's album of Dark Side of the Moon and my sister's album of Animals for so long, I really needed more. It was their 11th album, a concept album and a double album.

It came in out in 1979 when I was only 14 years old. It shook my world in a way that little has. The white album cover was stolid and chaste showing only brick. This depicted the main character of the album, Pink, with his rough and generic exterior. By looking at Pink you could never tell he was dying inside. When you opened the album, you could see the nightmare of Pink's internal life. It was full of isolation, hate of authority, sexual inadequacy and pain. Pink's mother was portrayed wearing a brick bra and his teacher towered over him and carried a bull whip.

This was back when albums had sides:
Side 1 portrays Pink's childhood with songs like Mother and Another Brick in the Wall.
Side 2 portrays his sexual awakening with Young Lust and One of My Turns. His longing for his father due to his death in the war with Goodbye Blue Sky. The side ends with the wall's final brick being laid and the words "good bye cruel world its over." The album could end there as a very depressing single album. At the concert last night, the intermission came as the wall was completed. 424 bricks covered the stage extending from floor to ceiling of the Bell Centre.
Side 3 and the second half of the concert starts with Hey You. Pink inside the wall trying to contact the outside world. His isolation is complete. His suicide attempt failed perhaps. It is unclear. Roger played this entire song from behind the wall. It was very odd, but affective. The stage was empty except for the wall.
Side 4 portrays Pink's breaking down the wall to the climax of The Trial and the denouement of Outside the Wall.

Obviously as a 14 year old kid, who was attempting to read all the Stephen King novels, this blew my mind. By the end of a year, I could recite all the lyrics from start to finish without the album playing. I might be able to do it now. I'd like to attribute The Wall with introducing me to literature, but I think Alexandre Dumas did that. Perhaps it did introduce me to modern literature. The idea of a voice in a story where the first person narrative twists reality. Without The Wall I don't think I would ever understand Huckleberry Finn or The Tropic of Cancer or even Citizen Kane. Without Roger Waters, Faulkner and Joyce would be alien or even insane to me. In my listening to The Wall, a lover of literature was created. For this, I love Roger and the rest of band. I feel more connected with him than anyone in my family and most of the people in my life. Perhaps after that sentence you might understand why The Wall was poignant to me.

The Wall 's creation myth begins in 1977, Montreal. In Parc Olympique the other side of the city from the Bell Centre, Floyd was touring for their 10th album Animals. Throughout the tour Roger had become more and more irritated with the fans. They seemed more interested in getting drunk and stoned than into the music. At that show he lost it and ended up having it out with a fan at the show. After the show he vented to Bob Ezrin (their producer) in a cab and said that he felt that there was a "wall" between him and the fans. A year or so later, Roger presented the band with two ideas for an album some of the songs already written, one was called The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and the other, The Wall. The band loved the concept of The Wall and thought it had more potential for songs than the other did. But they thought it was too personal. They all had been friends since college and saw way too much of Roger in this concept. He hated authority, had a bad relationship with his mom, lost his father in WW II etc. They weren't sure they wanted to embark on this journey with him. They might have been right because Roger's ego trips during the recording session drove the band apart. Some of them didn't even talk during the sessions and only flew in for the recordings. Perhaps it was worth it. Look what we got from it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Population Growth

At some point in the year 2011, the human population of the planet Earth will reach 7 billion people (for you visual folks that is 7,000,000,000 people). Since the mid 70's the world population has increased a billion every 11 or 12 years. So barring any major planetary event, the next billion will be sometime around 2023 or possibly sooner.

Since the planet is so massively over-populated, I have a very hard time celebrating the birth of children. When someone tells me that they are pregnant, I give them an obligatory "congrats," but to myself I am saying "what the hell are you thinking?" or "that's too bad" or "my condolences." I know I am not the only one. At a community gathering last week, someone announced the birth of a child, some people clapped but many abstained (I was in the latter group). Is this still a joyous occasion? Perhaps on a personal level it is, but big picture wise ... I say it again: what the hell are you thinking?

I don't want to make it seem like I don't like children. I happen to really love them. I love them so much that I really fear for the type of world we are handing over to them. I find the energy of children to be infectious and their minds are a joy. I find, in their presence, hope. If I were to decide to have children, there are plenty of children at orphanages around the planet that I could bring into my life. This is something my wife and I talk about often. I am actually more in favor of it than she is at this point. I know several couples, both straight and gay, that have adopted and I applaud their decision. They brought a child into their lives without adding to the stress on our planet's resources. This is a great thing.

If people don't think the planet is over-populated now, at what point will it be? 8 billion? 16 billion? Do we have to wait until all the polar caps are gone or we're going to war over clean water before people stop celebrating the birth of children? It seems to be elementary science or math to me. We have limited space and limited resources on the planet and we have an out of control factor of population, increasing at an exponential rate, draining these resources. Every time a person exhales they contribute to the warming of the planet. Every time a tree (aka planet coolers) is knocked down to make room for a person to live or our food to grow/graze, we are contributing to the heating of the planet. And yet, we are still throwing baby showers? At what point is this going to stop? Shouldn't we be sending gifts and celebrating when someone has a vasectomy?

I had a vasectomy years ago. The environment impact of this decision was not the only one of the reasons why I did it. Economics played a big part of it. Another was that my wife didn't want to have a child. Like everyone else, I have a biological drive to reproduce. But like a lot of our biological drives, we need to put them aside and make logical decisions about our future. This is the basis of civilization ... up to now anyway.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Three Presidents for Two Terms Three Times in a Row

Only once in American history have we had three presidents in a row re-elected for two complete terms for a total of 24 years. Thomas Jefferson was president for two terms from 1801 to 1809. He was succeeded by James Madison who served from 1809 to 1817 and then by James Munroe, 1817 to 1825. This was before we had term Presidential limits.

In 2012, if President Obama is re-elected, this could happen again. Clinton was elected twice and serve two full terms and so did GW Bush (contentious at times but was officially elected). I know at the moment it doesn't seem likely that the President will be re-elected, but here are some things you must consider. Obama's approval rating hovers around 43% right now. This is his lowest approval rating yet, but both Clinton and Reagan had approval ratings that low at this point in their presidency. If you remember both of them were re-elected quite hardily. Here is an awesome web site that you can check these numbers since the Truman administration: Wall Street Journal Presidential approval web site.

One thing to point out the differences between Obama and these other two presidents is that their numbers were going up at this point in their presidency while his is going down. They were also presidents during a time that the economy wasn't as bad as it is now. Even though presidents have little affect on the economy, presidencies do seem to take a hit when it is in the tank. I don't blame GW Bush for the economy crashing (I would really like to but logic prevents me from doing so) and I don't blame Obama for not fixing it. The economy is a wave, mostly private sector generated, and presidencies ride that wave like it or not.

One thing I did notice from this graphic is that those presidents who were re-elected had spikes in their approval rating during the elections. If the first Bush had an election in 1990, he'd have probably won it. I am sure Obama is aware of this. Many of my more liberal friends complain about Obama in that he hasn't tackled some of the slam dunk popular issues of the day. The best example of this is the repealing of Don't Ask/Don't Tell. 70% of Americans approve of the repleaing of this policy and replacing it with a more sober and inclusive policy. Why hasn't he used his political capital and the bully pulpit to push this more? The answer to this is obvious to me: timing. He wanted to do the contentious political moves early in his term: healthcare, financial reform, pulling out of Iraq etc. By the time, he goes up for re-election in 2012, most of Americans will have forgotten about the contentious policies. Many of them will also have seen a doctor for the first time in years by then which will be another plus. The slam dunk issues will come in handy then and I am hoping he will move onto an easy win. I am predicting that you will see a steady spike upward in his Y axis on this Wall Street Journal graph. Especially when you consider the "quality" of the Republican competition forming in the ranks.

I know what you are thinking, what about his party? They have an election in 2010, in almost a month from now. Is he throwing his fellow Democrats to the lions (or the elephants is more appropriate)? Perhaps. The Republicans taking over the House may be a good thing in the long term for the Democrats. It is easy to stand on the side lines and throw stones at leadership. Leadership is what is difficult. After they take over the House, the voters will be reminded at to what a dysfunctional group the GOP is. Regardless of how bad you think Congress has been in the last two years ... wait until some of these Tea Party people get into office. They will get nothing done and neither will Obama ... but the good thing for him is he will have them to blame. Again leadership is difficult. They will have the difficult decisions on their plates. If they vote against the repealing of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, they will have the 70% of the population to contend with.

I know all of this somewhat preposterous. Predicting a presidential election two years in advance is like predicting where a leaf will land after a wind storm. We don't even know if Obama is going to run again. Right? I wouldn't be surprised if he decided not to. We know his wife isn't happy with being the First Lady. I can't blame her, I'd hate the spotlight as well. This alone may be a good enough reason to not run, that and all the death threats. Either way, the political theater couldn't be better.