Monday, June 24, 2013

That Nik Wallenda sure is a crazy bastard

BUT IT'S GOOD we didn't have to see him go plummeting 1,500 feet into the Grand Canyon.

 People who do incredibly stupid and dangerous things like walking across canyons on tightropes with no safety devices, always have to rationalize what they do. There is obviously no rational reason for doing such things. I do think, though, that some of the observers do have a point when they say that watching crazy bastards like Nik Wallenda do incredibly stupid and dangerous things, is, in a way, inspiring. "If a guy can do something that incredibly stupid and dangerous, then what's stopping me from going and asking my boss for the promotion/asking that hot chick out/moving forward to start my business/etc.?" In that case, nature strikes a balance between thinning out the herd and helping to toughen it up.

Speaking of Wallendas, I have kind of a weird wacky Wallenda-related personal story of my own. Read about "Enigmarie."

Monday, June 10, 2013

A greener Chicago would be a safer Chicago

THE CHICAGO READER'S Steve Bogira blogs:
Greening a city can lower its crime rate, research increasingly suggests, and can make poor, segregated areas not only safer but generally more livable.
Here's the rest of his piece .

And my thoughts:

Well-maintained greenscapes do send a social message (which sociologists, naturally, would focus on), but there are other subtle effects of plants that you could call psychological, even spiritual. Plants, and trees in particular, have overall positive and calming effects.

U of I researchers found that children with ADHD “experienced a significant reduction in symptoms after they participated in activities in green settings. ...” For the full import of that finding, you must consider the high correlation between “ADHD,” substance abuse, and criminal involvement.

Also:

researchers found that inner-city girls who had green views from their windows at home possessed a greater degree of self-discipline than girls who did not. On average, according to the study, the greener a girl’s view from home the better she concentrates, the less she acts impulsively and the longer she can delay gratification. These capacities equip girls to behave in ways that foster success both in school and later life.

When girls have more self-control, guess what -- boys gotta have self- control too.

They also found “a greater sense of community, a reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty.”

Perhaps to eons-old human instinct, trees and other vegetation mean shelter, fuel, and food, thus comforting the primitive part of our brain; conversely, their absence means famine and hardship. Trees also shelter birds, insect and animal life whose presence and sounds most people find comforting.

The U of I blog concludes, “trees and greenspace are not luxuries, but necessary components of healthy human habitat.” Humans are made to live in nature. Without it, we are in a way, less human.

Other benefits of green life: Plants provide oxygen, which we need for normal functioning and clear thinking, and shade in summer, which provides comfort.

Subtle plant aromas, especially from flowers, may also have beneficial effects.

Not to get too mystical, but the ancients believed in plant “spirits.” Humans and plants can become attached. When I was younger and I came home one day to find my parents had had an old tree in the front yard cut down – one that had been there my entire life -- I felt angry and depressed for days. It was like they'd killed a friend.

The behavioral impact of eating more fresh produce or clean chicken, raised free-range, should not be underestimated.

Productive work supplies a sense of purpose that humans absolutely need. Almost every one wants to work, and farming is one of the oldest occupations. Doing it in community fashion actually reaches past America's tradition of widely separated large farms (due to large land grants and continual consolidation), back to more of a village configuration more familiar in the Old World. It allows one to cooperate and meet your community -- or to form one.

Farming is not usually thought of as an efficient use for urban land, but it's clearly much better than no use at all -- and in the bigger picture, could be a better use of space than a superstore selling thousands of goods from socially irresponsible corporations, if all the negative externalities of said goods were considered. While not a panacea (nothing is) it could be an important step in restoring crucial social capital.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Plagiarism or homage?

COMPARE THE CHORUSES. In the first song, you'll hear it at :30 and in the second, at 1:20. Besides a half-step difference in pitch and different bass lines under them, the vocal parts are nearly identical.




The first, from '82, is  written by Joey Gallo and Kevin Spencer, produced by Leon Sylvers III, and sung by the sweet-voiced Carrie Lucas. Sylvers additionally wrote and produced hits for the Whispers, Shalamar, Lakeside, and Midnight Starr, all labelmates at Solar Records (which was co-founded by Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame).

 The second song, from '89, is credited to Gene Griffin and performed by Today. Production was by Griffin's protege, a then up-and-coming Harlem music wunderkind named Teddy Riley.

It should be noted that, aside from the chorus melody/harmony, the songs are different, right down to instrumentation and recording technique. "Show Me" is classic early '80s dance funk: smart but simple drum pattern, everything perfectly in the pocket, and the kind of bass line that makes you miss bass lines; the band is the same crack studio team that was behind the Whispers.  

"Girl" features the patented synthesized, layered, drum-machined, stuttering-digital-sample- studded, driving and infectious sound that Riley invented and dubbed "New Jack Swing" -- the music I was doin' the "Running Man" to back in high school.
The two songs differ lyrically too. Whereas Griffin/Riley/Today are all about layin' down the mack and romancing their target, the original song is all about pre-AIDS-era frankness: don't bullshit me about romance when all we really want is to get down.

Monday, April 09, 2012

He's an Aryan Warrior

ABOUT FOUR YEARS AGO, on a shortwave radio frequency I don't frequent, I heard the cutest little ditty. Apparently, it was a girl duo, singing a groovy melody to the bounciest, catchiest Krautrock tune you could imagine. What is this? I wondered. Some cool indie band? There's no indie rock on shortwave, unless maybe it's from one of the foreign stations -- Japanese? Korean? Dutch? French?

After listening a bit further  thought the voices reminded me of the adorable trio of girls I sometimes hear on a Baptist evangelist program out of Canada. But those girls sing hillbilly style, not krautrock.

I listen closely to the lyrics. My eyebrows raise a little.

He's an Aryan Warrior 
Tradition very old 
Battling Zionist menace 
To win back what was stole. ... 

Okay, I get it.

After the song's done, the announcer says that this program is the “Vocal Minority Report.” They're out of Arkansas. The band is called Heritage Connection.

Great, but guess what, cute little Warriors. Krautrock's filtered through Germany, but it's still rock, okay? That backbeat's still a black beat. (Is that why when you perform the song live, you have no drummer?) You're still singin' jungle music. Got that, baboons? If you wanna be all pure-opean, I'm afraid you'll have to go back to waltzes, marches and oom-pah music.

By the way, Gawker.com recently discovered these guys and spent a nice little weekend with them. It's called “My Kasual Kountry Weekend With the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” Fun stuff!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012



LOVE LINES



THE MUSIC OF THE late Karen Carpenter and her brother, Richard, sometimes gets labeled yacht rock, but this is unfair. The Carpenters' music does not qualify, in any way, shape, or form, as "rock." And that's okay. The brother-sister duo were synonymous with late-seventies saccharine orchestra pop, untouched by the rock 'n' roll revolution, by the blues chords, the wailing and primitivism and raw sexualism that characterized that genre. But that doesn't mean Karen Carpenter was asexual. In fact, I'm positive she was not, with lines like this on her posthumous 1989 release Lovelines:

Remember when lovin' took all night?
Remember the feelin of doin' it right ...

("Remember When Lovin' Took All Night," a steamy Brazilian-jazz-tinged song that fades out with Karen doing sexlike "oohs")

Or, from the title track -- courtesy of Rod Temperton (who also gave us "Rock With You," "Boogie Nights," "Groove Line," and "Always and Forever"):

Heaven knows I need you, I wanna feel you
I got that strange sensation deep inside
That only you can satisfy  ...

So give me loving
Like I've never known before
Make me cry out loud for more ...



I'd love to, Karen. That is, if you had not allegedly killed yourself 29 years ago by overdosing on ipecac. You'd have just turned 61, but that's okay; you'd be a fine, fine 61. After a bit of fattening up....

Anyway. Karen's alto croon is the aural equivalent of some kind of creamy, buttery dairy concoction which if it were literal, I'd be highly intolerant to, but since it's merely metaphorical, I can bathe in its delights like a milk bath. A milk bath for my ears. The woman just had a freakishly smooth voice. And don't tell me you (guys) wouldn't have done anything to have her purr these love lines into your ear hole.

And, although this record is dated 1989, there's barely an electronic sound to be heard, no MIDI, none of the brittle cheap sound quality that became so prevalent in the late '80s. That's because Lovelines was recorded ten years earlier, literally at the height of the recording art and recording budgets -- when  it was all done with instruments played by musicians, in 48-track studios on two-inch tape through custom-made mixing boards, likely tube- rather than transistor-based. The result is an unstinting tribute to the lavish disco-era studio production: an orchestra, flugelhorns, and about twenty tracks of Karen stacked atop each other, giving dairylicious sustained "ahhs" and "oohs" so perfectly harmonized that all today's Autotune-dependent poseurs should literally hang their heads in shame. It's one of the most fantastic-sounding records in my collection, and I'm glad it happened to be at the thrift store with a 50-cent sticker, just waiting for me to get it.

Monday, September 05, 2011

'Y'all ain't none a my kids'

A MAN, WOMAN, AND three little kids -- two boys and a girl -- enter the 57th St. Metra shelter where I'm waiting for a southbound train. Here are some snippets I overheard: 
  

Man: Sit yall asses down. Sit y'all mothafuckin' asses down. (He repeats this several times throughout the next few minutes, then switches to bemoaning the cost of taking his family to "the show.") I sho' didn't plan on spendin' no forty dollars.


Woman (to kids): Yeah, y'all fuckin' whores, that's comin outta your asses. Y'all gon hafta pay us!


Man: I need a blunt ... I sure as hell would fire up right here. (To kids) Don't piss in here. You gonna piss on tha elevator.


Woman: Don't piss on the elevator. They got cameras in there.


Woman: Y'all are some crazy-ass kids. Y'all ain't none a my kids. Y'all act like y'all come from the mothafuckin' projects. I didn't come from no projects. These mothafuckin' kids ... (Turns to three teenagers sitting nearby) Don'tch'all have no kids!


Boy: Mama, I love you.


Woman: You made me spend forty fuckin' dollars at the show and you didn't even watch it. You don't love me. I coulda got some mothafuckin' weed. When we get home you bet' not say shit to me. Y'all ain't my kids no mo'.











Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cuts like a knife, but it feels so right.

"EVERYBODY'S INSANE with loneliness, but that’s OK. After a while you realize that’s part of the edge.”

(One Chicago-to-NYC transplant to another, as related at gapingvoid