Saturday, April 30, 2011

O Canada

I’ve always had a soft spot for Canada, probably because I grew up in Motown, across the Detroit River from Windsor.

So the video below gave me a pretty good chuckle. I gotta like any song that, among other things, apologizes for Celine Dion. Sorry about all those stupid pop-ups someone stuck in it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guitar Heroes

Jimi Hendrix. Eric Clapton. Stevie Ray Vaughan. B.B. King. These are the guitarists whose names invariably come up when pop-culture brainiacs yak about the "greatest" guitarists of all time.

They usually sneak players like Pete Townshend and Keith Richards into the conversation, and Mark Knopfler, too.

Outstanding guitarists, all. But they've never interested me all that much.

My favorite guitarist is Ralph Towner. Not exactly a household name, although he is well-known in certain circles. For many years he's been in a band called Oregon. He's also a well-established soloist. Check out the YouTube video below; it's Ralph playing, in his inimitable style, his composition "Jamaica Stopover."

It sounds best with headphones.

Another of my guitar heroes is William Kanengiser. I was privileged to participate in a master class he led about fifty years ago. Kanengiser is mostly within the classical tradition, though not exclusively. He too is a soloist of note, and also a member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (and an academic). I absolutely love his solo album Rondo alla Turka.
In the video below he plays that CD's title track, from Mozart's Sonata in A major (K. 331). This is probably Mozart's most famous tune. (This video is from a guitar instruction series Kanengiser made. He doesn't play the Mozart with nearly the élan he does on the CD.)

So these are two of my favorite guitar players. There are a few others.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Click Here

There's a link I would like you to click on. It takes you to a place called "The Hunger Site."

By clicking a button there, someone gets fed for free. Sponsors, they say, pay for it. No further explanation is offered. How much food, and who gets it, isn't clear to me. But I take them at their word and click daily.

In addition to the Hunger Site, there are tabs across the top of the page for other worthy causes: breast cancer, animal rescue (my daughter's favorite), veterans, child health, literacy, and rainforest. Every morning when I fire up my computer, I click my way down the line. You're only allowed to click once a day, so whenever I'm on another computer, like at the library, I try to double that by visiting the Hunger Site and clickety clicking my way along.

The sites are littered with advertising, which says that if you buy stuff from their sponsors, even more free stuff is donated to those who need it.

I'm skeptical enough to think that none of all that clicking makes a goddammed bit of difference. But I keep doing it anyway and hope I'm wrong.

I humbly request you do the same.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Evil Twin

In college there was a guy in my dorm who bore a remarkable resemblance to me. Even I could see it: we were about the same height, had the same general build and coloring, and both had long scruffy hair in the style of the day.

We became friends, and after his roommate moved out we became roomies. I think a lot of others in our dorm assumed we were brothers, or if they didn't see us together, thought we were one and the same.

I see people who remind me of other people all the time. If it involves people I see often, I typically begin to see beyond the superficial resemblance. Before long I reach a stage where I wonder what I ever saw in the first person that reminded me of the second.

In the case of my collegiate doppelganger, however, the confusion between us kept up the entire school year.

One day a guy who lived on my floor, an athlete I knew by sight only, approached me in the dorm hallway. "You think Communist Cuba is so great?" he demanded. "You think Fidel is such a hero?" His voice cut sharply; every gesture oozed menace. Lucky for me, one of his friends pulled him back before things escalated.

The threat bewildered me. Then I learned my new lookalike roommate had radical political views he did not hesitate to share, and that the guy who threatened me was a Cuban refugee.

Did I leave well enough alone? No. I resented that threat. After I pieced together why it happened, I retaliated by finding pictures of Castro, Che Guevara, Karl Marx, and a few others, and taping them to the outside of our dorm room door, where any passerby would see them.

This touched off an ongoing battle. The pictures got torn down. I put them up again. Torn down again. Put up again.

There is no satisfactory ending to this story. I got threatened a few more times, but never did get beat up. The school year ended and everyone went their separate ways. That includes my evil twin, who vanished into the great horde, never to be seen by me again.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kennedy Assassination Jokes

There aren’t many laughs associated with the Kennedy assassination. This is as it should be.

Of course, there are always those undeterred by matters of good and bad taste. And humor can be a defense mechanism. So naturally there is a lighter side to the issue.

Mark Lane, for example, wondered why the Warren Commission's Hearings and Exhibits included the dental records of Jack Ruby's mother (Vol. XXII, p. 395, at right). Those wouldn't be relevant, he quipped, even if Ruby had bitten Oswald to death.

In introductory material to her comparative study Accessories After the Fact, Sylvia Meagher related this anecdote: "It has been said jokingly that the Dallas police are not so bad – look how quickly they caught Jack Ruby."

But comic attempts are made at the speaker's peril. In 1964 Vincent J. Salandria briefly and informally debated Arlen Specter, when the latter was feted by the Philadelphia Bar Association for his work with the Warren Commission. 

Salandria told Specter that the Commission had a duty to demonstrate the shooting performance it attributed to Oswald could be duplicated.

"He asked whether I would have them kill a man," Salandria recalled. "The joke fell upon ears which detect no humor in murder."

Now, with the passage so many years, we can get away with more than we could in 1964. Which brings me to comedian Bill Hicks.

Bill Hicks was an 1980s and 90s-era comedian with a popular stand-up act. He made numerous appearances on late night talk shows and seemed poised to break out to greater things when cancer killed him in 1995.

Hicks had an interest in the JFK case and expressed it sometimes onstage. (In the video below, he obviously references the Sixth Floor Museum, though calls it something else.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Farewell to the Printed Page

Novelist Jane Smiley once described a book as "a small, rectangular, boxlike object a few inches long, a few inches wide, and an inch or so thick. It is easy to stack and store, easy to buy, keep, give away, or throw away."

But with the emergence of e-readers, I'm afraid books are an endangered species.
As a rule, I'm opposed to e-readers. Yes, a case can be made in their favor. The phrase 'save a tree' comes immediately to mind. E-readers can hold hundreds, maybe thousands of books, yet fit easily into your backpack or hip pocket. Having one enables you to take a small library with you wherever you go.

But they are still a device – an electronic thing. They look like a device, feel like a device, and perhaps worst of all, smell like a device.

Nothing smells like a book.

(I was going to say "nothing smells as good as a book," but that's getting too subjective. What about bacon?)

Are e-readers a passing fancy or the wave of the future? I suspect it is the latter. I don't think books as we know them now will become extinct any time soon. But overall trends suggest to me that in the not-too-distant future, virtually all information will be Internet-based. Music is increasingly delivered to us via the Internet, and movies and video are close behind.

Books, assuming people keep reading, will follow the trend. (It can't escape notice that this very thing you're reading is electronic!)

This is all rather obvious, of course. 

Much as my parents decried the loss of classic radio and its golden age, those in my age group will seem like crotchety fuddy-duddies to our own kids. They will likely cringe listening to us decry the loss of a well-bound hardcover – or even a humble, mass market paperback.

"Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book," Jane Smiley said. I'm among them, too. And I'm going to miss them when they're gone.

Both Jane Smiley quotes are from her book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, hardcover edition, p. 14.