Sunday, March 28, 2021

Christianity Contradictions

Two terrible, awful, no-good contradictions in Christianity (I've covered this ground before - see postings tagged "Christianity" - but it's my Slog so I'll flog if I wanna).


1. There is only one God...and don't you dare worship any other!

If they'd taken a sec to rectify this flagrant contradiction, two thousand years of crusades, inquisitions, and general brutality and intolerance wouldn't have happened. Frowny face.

If there's only one God (and you did insist there's only one!) then we all - regardless of the hat we're wearing; and the day we pray; and the nametag we stick on you - are brothers and sisters. So it's all love and tolerance, just like that Jesus dude said, after all.

2. Surrender! Surrender! Surrender! Surrender! But, of course, you won't....

A distinguished and wizened old Indian swami I knew who otherwise despised western culture and theology adored the evangelical Christian credo "Let go, let God". He considered it as good as anything in the Vedas (and to a smugly intolerant old prick like him, that was the supreme compliment).

Surrender is a theme throughout Christianity, and this delicious credo points to the essence of that. Yet there's virtually no guidance. There's this thing you must do, but we won't tell you how to do it. Nor will we offer a glimmer of what to expect once you've done it ("The Lives of the Saints", et al, describe outer phenomena, not inner experience). It seems un-Christian (i.e. overly prideful) to seek to emulate the complete surrender of Jesus. A couple millennia in, this appears to be the boil-down: "Adore the guy who did the thing we're all enjoined to do but surely can't/won't." Ah, sigh, if only 'twere possible....[eyes turn heavenward as harp music swells].

Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Shaivism, Jainism, and even sclerotic old Judaism offer some technology for surrender, while Christianity just hands you a single word: the tissue-light concept of "prayer", which seems like a placeholder someone threw into the book, intending further development, but, Gutenberg had a strict publication schedule and needed to go to press, pronto.

There were a few stillborn efforts over the centuries to fill it out. None ever reached anything close to mainstream recognition...with one odd and indirect exception. Some of us jumped down the rabbit hole opened in Salinger's "Franny and Zooey" by reading "The Way of a Pilgrim", and following its references to "The Philokalia" and other mystical works of the early Eastern Orthodox fathers. It came as no surprise (because I, too, am a smug yogi prick) that it's mostly reinvention of the ancient practice of mantra meditation. But kudos to those truculent bearded fathers for striving to actually practice the preaching!


If this stuff, from this framing, holds interest for you, you might enjoy the classic "The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta". Also, the vaguely Zen-oriented spiritual teacher Adyashanti has a couple of excellent books on Christianity through the mystic's perspective.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Quick TV Catch-Up

Three TV shows with a very high ratio of quality to obscurity:

Patriot on Amazon Prime. This one's awfully hard to explain; the title gives you nothing; it's much more about tone than genre, and you'll know while watching the pilot if it's for you. Give it a try, there's a lot to love and it hits the ground running at full speed in the pilot. Not unmissably, world-stoppingly great, but you probably haven't heard of it and probably will really like it.

The Taco Chronicles on Netflix is perhaps the most chowhoundish of the survey-a-food-genre genre. It was produced by actual Mexicans, which helps. It taught me a thing or two (and I really know my tacos), and nearly all their venue selections are admirably super-obscure and great-looking.

Per a previous posting, The Bureau (French title Le Bureau des Légendes), a terrific French spy series which you can pretty much only watch via $6.99/month subscription to Sundance NOW - but you'll easily watch all four seasons in a couple months.


Two un-missable series from the non-distant past which were never super popular but have faded even from there:

Party Down, a comedy about cater waiters featuring a cast that would cost billions to reassemble now; free on Hulu. You need to be patient for the show to hit its magnificent stride (give it until "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh", episode 8 of season 1, which I think was its peak) and...

Rectify (free on DirecTV, and reasonable enough on iTunes or Amazon Prime), one of the earliest, best, and slowest of the super-slow cable dramas. Such great acting, writing, directing, film-making.


Above all, I love Succession (HBO) so much. It really is unmissably, world-stoppingly great. I think it rivals Shakespeare. I loved it way more the second time. And I recently viewed it a third time and realized I'd only previously caught like 40% of the plot and off-cuff remarks and nuance. This is the Infinity Show, it just gets better as you rewatch it.

The only two series close to Succession in terms of breathtaking-classic-for-the-ages grandeur are Atlanta (free on Amazon Prime and Hulu) and The Leftovers (HBO). First season's a slog re: Leftovers, but intentionally so. "International Assassin", in Season 2, is the best single episode of television ever produced; it's actually Kubrick-good.


Some random notables. For All Mankind is pretty good. It's a counterfactual where Russia landed on the moon first, spurring an extended cold war in space, all the way to Mars. The Expanse is the only sci-fi that gets close to the Battlestar Galactica reboot in quality. Rick & Morty continues to be a whole other thing; the smartest, funniest, densest entertainment ever committed to videotape, though I believe it's been cancelled (they're still making it, it's just not ok for civilized people to talk about it). Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy on CNN is terrific if you don't need it to be super super chowhoundish. All Creatures Great and Small from Masterpiece on PBS is an unapologetically sentimental bit of lovable fluff from UK about a 1920s country veterinarian (perfect for lockdown soothing, but I prefered Doc Martin for the genre). NOVA, which I watched as a kid, is actually still very good. Super inconsistent (the shows with David Pogue are un-watchable), but when they're good they're very good and it's a good way to keep up with science stuff. Lincoln: Divided We Stand on CNN is watchable and interesting, probably of little interest if you're already well-informed about Lincoln. 



Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Easy Comfort and Inevitable Rigidity of Ethos

I had an embarrassing flaw as a jazz musician which very few people ever noticed: I wasn't particularly inventive as an improvisor.

This is surprising because I'm very creative. Likely to a fault, even. So you'd think invention would stream out of me. But I had a very bad day back in the early 90s when I for some reason thought to merge three consecutive recorded choruses of the same tune into one lump. And, gulp, I was playing essentially the same thing each time.

Well, maybe not quite that bad. But there was way more synchrony than there ought to have been. To make things worse, shortly after, I did something trombonists don't often get to do: I led two consecutive weeks of nightly small group jazz gigs. Trombonists are normally the character actors of the music world, playing the sidekick role, but this time I was protagonist. The gigs were all about me; I carried it all. And coming after my flaw had been revealed to me, I was listening for monotony, and, after eight or nine gigs, I found that I was boring myself. Horribly. By the end of the run, I was ready to chuck my horn into a garbage can.

I soon recovered. Amnesia set in, and I was once again impressed with my own repetitive shtick. You must be forced (ala Clockwork Orange) to hear yourself night after night to maintain appropriate self-loathing, and, as a musician who wasn't playing the same genre night after night, and who was rarely occupying the spotlight, I was shielded from my own limitations. When your job is to serve as a contrasting color, you needn't stretch to cover the whole spectrum.

I never solved this problem. I'd marvel at the playing of a Joe Henderson, who'd tear through song structures with rich inventiveness, milking fresh-ripened goodness out of each and every go-round:



But I never learned to do it, myself. I offered an excellent contrast color. And, at a broader level, was the ultimate chameleon, able to fit in, at a nearly cellular level, with just about anyone anywhere. Also: my narrowness was at least my own unique narrowness. I didn't imitate anyone else; my playing was highly original. Just not as stretchy as I'd have liked. But if I'd ever become a headline jazz star, carrying gigs on my own weight, a few listeners (mostly my own sidemen) would have noticed this weakness. And, most of all, me. I'd be an alcoholic for sure.

I was too distracted in those days to really ponder the mystery - why someone so exuberantly creative would wind up so imprisoned. But the answer just flashed into my mind, a few decades too late:

It's hard being a musician. There's a lot going on, in terms of music, audiences, business, maintaining technique, not starving to death, etc. Your mind gets distracted. So I sensed, early on, that I needed an overriding ethos to help get me through the chaos. Here's what I settled upon:
Just choose the most beautiful possible note to come after whatever just happened.
It seemed foolproof, and I got a lot of mileage out of it. While others tried to prove themselves or battle colleagues, or make a certain impression, or simply not mess up, I was in another universe, cherishing notes one by one. This excluded me from opportunities where a bandleader or producer was looking for some certain this or that (I didn't match anyone's canned expectation), but audiences loved me, as did my social circle of 80 to 90 year old semi-forgotten jazz OGs. This is how I built a career for myself (along with my tenacious sense of commitment).

But it dawns on me - right now, today, all these years later - that if an improviser sticks to choosing the most beautiful possible note to succeed whatever just happened, he will inevitably be imprisoned by his static sense of beauty. Aesthetic preference is a constant; a gravity well. I'll always tend to hanker for a dissonant rub at some certain juncture, and a bold ballsy proclamation at another. A mouse run through a laboratory maze umpteen times, trained not to tactically seek cheese but to follow its visceral inclination, will tend to follow the same route every damned time.

While an ethos serves a helpful clarifying purpose, its inherent rigidity will always be limiting. Though it's blissfully simplifying to cling to an organizing ethos, real artists must reject such comfort. You just gotta reframe. 


Two new trombone snippets I've unearthed (neither of which reveal my dirty horrible secret):

Funky solo on a recording for some long-gone group
And...
From a German film soundtrack (I get extra points for difficulty: heat was broken in the recording studio this February morning, so we were all playing in parkas).


Previous trombone stuff:
A flamenco/carnatic/jazz trio in Madrid with Indian tabla drums and Spanish acoustic guitar. (R.I.P. Xavier Turull)
Good Clip of My Trombone Playing Back in the Day
All trombone-related postings in reverse chronological order
All music-related postings in reverse chronological order

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Dear MSNBC

Dear MSNBC,

If I were unsure about how I felt about lots of Asian women being murdered by a deranged maniac, nothing you could broadcast would likely help. In fact, I wouldn't be watching MSNBC at all.

It's safe to say all your viewers find it horrendous, and understand the factors that brought us here.

When your broadcast day is endless outrage about outrage over outrage, with nothing new or insightful to add, it gives the impression that your cynical aim is to whip up your viewers, addicting them to a heightened emotional flow leaving them dependent on your product. That's the Fox business model, which is not good for America, as you frequently note.

I'm not saying outrage is not appropriate. It is. It's the ceaseless whipping I'm against. I'm pretty sure my initial shock and outrage were sufficient. So if you have nothing fresh to add, or new angles to consider, how's about you get back to being a news source, rather than a mind control device to squeeze millions of people's amygdalae, keeping them angry and scared so they stay glued to your channel? Goose or gander, that's not best for the country. Thanks in advance.

BTW, belated thanks for the 80,000 hours exploring the question of whether Donald was a racist. I'm guessing the consensus was a solid "yes", amIright? Me, I got that from "rapists/murderers" at his campaign launch, but kudos for the extra depth and analysis.

Friday, March 19, 2021

COVID Amnesty

You've been vaccinated...or soon will be (or else you're too shmucky to matter). Congratulations! You've survived the scenario most feared for decades by the smartest people. You're here. You made it!

May I offer a suggestion?

Take a solid minute to mentally survey your relationships. There is (I'd bet good money) at least one person you stopped being friends with over the past year. Stress does this. We're all a little loopy.

When you think of this person, your first thought will be "No, no, that had nothing to do with COVID, s/he's just an asshole and we're through." Expect this reaction. It's inevitable.

Shoot them a text or email and ask if they've been vaccinated. Express relief in their survival. Even though that person - like me and like you - truly is a bit of an asshole.

That's all. If the conversation continues, oblige it. If it doesn't, no need to push it. Just leave it there.

Please spread the word: we all need to establish COVID Amnesty for relationships harmed by the stress of the past year. Seriously, take a minute to do this (and, if you agree, pass it on or share this post). It's the best celebration for having survived this massive public menace.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Coming Singularity of Facial Discomposure

In a posting titled "Mask Laxness", I wrote:
I worry that once we finally cast off our masks I may be unable to stop the mouth-breathing, brazen smirking, silent mumbling, old-mannish lip-licking, and shoddy face-shaving.
Hope you enjoyed the clammy imagery. But that's not all. There's also the part I've carried with me from the before times: startling, off-putting discomposure.

I'm not a composed person. I don't practice in front of mirrors. I don't mask myself, metaphorically (only literally!). Much like Aretha, I want to feel like a natural woman. Well, "want" is the wrong term. I've backed myself into a corner. Having chosen not to pose or prevaricate, and to concentrate entirely on being rather than seeming, my affect is that of someone who's stepped in from a whole other movie.

"Excuse me, sir; can you tell me how to get to Rigel 04-1170?"

With regards to my face, while my features are all more or less where they ought to be, aside from a very slight asymmetry which forever excludes me from "10 Hottest" lists (even "10 Hottest Trombonist/Food Writers"), I don't wear my features with any composure whatsoever. It all flops around. I'm like a walking Picasso painting. Wait; is that his left eye?

Mostly, it's because I'm just not trying to sell anybody anything. You might not think you are, either, but, hahaha, oh, you are. You are. This is Planet Glengarry Glen Ross, and, believe me, you always be closing. Since I'm not using my face to constantly convince people who I am, it all just sort of flaps around. It's a little eerie. Sometimes I plant a befuddled grin, which reassures no one.

But widespread discomposure is imminent, and I can hardly wait. In a few months, when the COVID masks come off, and everyone's temporarily out of practice on the facial composure front, I'll enjoy a brief glorious moment of fitting in. I will dash from bar to bar, chatting up women who'd normally be deemed "out of my league." I will pass people who don't cough (I've previously noted that usually when people walk by, they cough. "Always the same short, dry, phony cough, releasing some of the tension. God, how I loathe that cough."). I will amiably shake strangers' hands, introducing myself and randomly offering food tips.

There will be a brief respite. Sex-occupied people won't interpret my discordant affect as lechery or perversion. Homophobes won't suspect gayness. Paranoids won't spot threat. The insecure won't read sneering superiority, and conformists won't see Tasmanian devil chaos. For a blessed day or two, I'll be just another human with no recognizable marketing agenda writ large on his face.


Back when I was more normal - more sales-minded - I had a terrifying glimpse of my future.

At age 26, I was strolling through the market in Tangiers, Morocco a couple of hours before my avante-jazz concert in the local cultural center. I found myself walking behind two women wearing formless abaya over-garments plus head-covering hijabs. Maybe I was intrigued by the exoticness of the full Muslim monty right before my eyes, or perhaps the abaya had inadvertently passed on a few bytes of topographical contour data sufficient to seize my attention. Who knows. But I found myself daydreaming about the very different lives of these women. Simple, pure, devout. Like nuns, only more so!

Suddenly, in mid rumination, I was startled out of my wits. The women had been conversing with animation and lots of hand movement, and one of them, sensing something behind her, partially swiveled her head in mid-conversation to peer back through the corner of her eye. I didn't expect her face to be bare, nor did I expect a level of disorienting, soul-bursting beauty that had never occurred to me as possible. What's worse, our .75 seconds of eye contact downloaded a few yottabytes of information, which I instantly parsed as far deeper, richer aliveness than I'd ever imagined this world to be capable of offering. She lived in vibrant technicolor, me in drab black and white.

Simple nuns my ass.

It was nothing as corny as "love at first sight", or spotting a particularly cute chick. This was graduation day, to a level of existence entirely unknown to me in my suburban shopping mall upbringing of foosball and slice pizza. A window had opened to reveal an infinite, enticing landscape and I could never again feel content in the airless little box I'd called a life.

That's what unfolded inside my head during those .75 seconds. Outside, my normally reasonably well-composed face at the time (ABC! Always be closing!) flapped around like a startled flounder. It was my first instance of facial Picasso. I wasn't even composed enough to express "disoriented confusion" or "bashfulness". This was what a face looks one-ninth of the way into forming an expression of bashful confusion. Neurons twitching and muscles lurching. This was what a mouth does as it struggles to form the initial "w" in "WTF".

The Pinnacle of Human Experience effortlessly pivoted her head back to conversation with her friend, and, in the blink of an eye, they turned right onto an adjoining street and vanished into the crowd.

I didn't follow, because I couldn't imagine what I, a mere ant, could possibly say or do to merit the attention of such higher life forms. My opportunity had passed, and my face had just waved around like bonito flakes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Honey, it's Wonderful

At the height of Chowhound's popularity, my niece asked me to look at the web page she was building for herself. Despite the humungous squeeze I was under - working nine or ten fulltime jobs for Chowhound, unpaid - one doesn't refuse a niece. So I dropped everything and gave it a careful look, shooting her a few pages of suggestions.

There was no response, and none of my suggestions were implemented. I eventually came to realize I'd bungled my line. This had been, I failed to realize, a movie scene, and in that scene, the uncle is supposed to say "Honey, it's wonderful."

I hadn't realized I was playing the role of the blandly adoring uncle. I was living in a slightly more filled-in reality of a nationally-known (at the time) Internet entrepreneur kindly sharing his expertise.

If, god forbid, this posting were to go viral, a majority of commenters would sagely observe that "people don't appreciate criticism!" To most people, everything's a shallow dramatic arc, so one deviates from the standard script at one's peril. Just say your damned line! What sort of nasty prick hands back a mansplained list of criticisms when someone's obviously looking for supportive adoration?

I wouldn't even quarrel with this framing. Hell, I'd have spoken that exact line if you ever sent photos of your flower arrangements, or your new gaming headphones or motorcycle exhaust pipe, or your Ukrainian haiku, or your clog dancing, or your Instagram feed of crowd-sourced photos of pets that happen to be named "Clyde". You'll get some version of "Honey, it's wonderful", because what the hell do I know?

But if your uncle plays with the Knicks and you send him video of your bounce pass, asking what he thinks, and he takes time to write you four pages....well, that seems reasonable to me (or even fantastic good fortune). But framings are like that. Everyone's framing feels sensible. If your thing is to watch yourself starring in a movie in your head, you naturally expect the other characters to speak their correct lines. It's their job!


As with the toddler and the steering wheel, the "I'm-in-a-movie!" perspective - the most popular framing in the rich First world (where there's enough headroom for the optional narcissistic loopback) - ensures nagging unease (the Buddhist's term Duḥkha is usually mistranslated as "suffering", but "unease" is much closer). You really can't control any of it, so an asshole's born every minute as people keep messing up your scenes. Cinematic people recognize the delusion at some level, yet the pretense endures because when results do randomly happen to click into place it feels so darn satisfying ("Fleeting instances of seeming control keep the toddler locked into his fantasy and eager for more").



Lagniappe: this two line computer program is guaranteed to ensure low-friction social ease in this world, and uninterrupted good vibes with minimal effort:
See? This life stuff's not hard!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Faith Cooking

This took seven minutes to cook, and was a near-10 (on my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating stuff). Please click to enlarge (as-is, it's a bit too small for full impact).


Sometimes cooking is about restraint and faith rather than technique or effort. A "letting" rather than a "doing". You can pull off a magic trick if you tighly harness your clear-minded, emotionally-engaged sense of taste (i.e. how you like it; how you'd like it to be) to your actions. If you make that connection, you don't need to do much.

Don't think about cooking. Think about eating, and let this framing fuel your myriad micro-decisions. "How will it look and taste?" Keep your attention firmly there, and don't let up for a moment. You can make it exist if you hold close and care enough. It's harder to do with a lamb stew requiring 30 ingredients and 75 steps. But simplicity, like this, is easier. And also harder.
Simplicity is easier because you don't need to worry much. You don't need to divide your attention or sustain your vision through time and travails. You can do the whole thing essentially in one single swoop (no one's ever driven to Boston, but this is a quick drive to the corner store). It's harder because there's no safety net; no complexity to hide behind; no formula to carry you. You are raw; naked; vulnerable. Just you and your decisions, revealing the commitment/faith/love (or lack of same) behind them.
The recipe below is like a joke. As with Von's Magical Cookies, you won't get special results from brutishly following these handful of "duh" steps. There's no magic to be found here, but I already told you the trick. It's up to you to commit.


Bring water to boil, then boil five Trader Joe's Beef Bolognese Ravioli for five minutes.

Slice three compari tomatoes and sautee briefly/lightly/gently in nonstick pan with a handful of baby spinach, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Don't cook it into a mush. Think about how you'd like it to be, and stop cooking the instant that point arrives; like clicking a camera button (remember how I suggested making toast!). The more you apply deep emotional micro-vigilance, the better your cooking - and everything else - will get!

Grate a bit of parmesano into the tomato mixture, still in the pan. Don't make it a Nebraska Sprinkle. Don't stir. Add another couple teaspoons olive oil plus some chili flakes to the mixture. And a tablespoon of cooking water. Stir very slightly. Do very little.

Drain ravioli. Cut each sloppily (I opt for deliberately sloppy - even raggedy - cuts about 75% of the time in my cooking) in half, and toss in a serving bowl with tomato mixture. Don't over-mix. Cease and desist the instant it looks like something you'd kill to eat. I just buried the lede again.

Serve.


Again: that recipe absolutely won't yield this result. As they say in jazz, learn it, practice it, then forget it. Make it a fluent swoop - a single drive to Boston - never losing track of end result. Align your myriad micro decisions around your vision of how you like it. Not in the big cartoon view ("See how diligent I am!"), but in the micro. Deep into the micro! Take responsibility for your actions! :)

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Life Cycle of Moroccan Lefftovers

I've had more experience with leftovers than you have. The only other statement I can make confidently about me and you is that I've eaten in more restaurants than you have. And the two are not unrelated.

When I was working as a food writer, my fridge was always full of greasy little bags. I was the "Mikey" of the food writing world - the guy they gave impossible, crushing, stupid assignments to. Newsday had me survey restaurants under the 7 train in Queens, and create an overview of all the best Puerto Rican restaurants in NYC. Time Out NY had me track down the best examples in the five boroughs of two dozen cuisines. My first book attempted to find 150 splendid "virgin" restaurants no one had previously written about (I cheated and threw in a few evergreens where conventional wisdom needed adjustment).

When you're fact checking 150 restaurants - or raking through the boroughs for Puerto Rican food - you're not eating every bite. Usually it's a single bite or two, and you bring home the rest. Circumstances forced me to became an accomplished and creative leftover reheater long before I learned to cook. In fact, my cooking could be viewed as an extension of my reheating.

The following shows the life cycle of a few copious foods I had in my fridge for a week. File it under Lefftovers.



Those are two containers of stewed vegetables on the left, three containers of mesmerizingly fluffy and massaged couscous on the right, and a potently concentrated container of short ribs in gravy.
Just for kicks, a kitchen background tour:
  • 1: Big version of my bagel plates
  • 2: Flour for a cracker-making project
  • 3: Semolina (for cracker-making project)
  • 4: Podiatric metatarsal pads
  • 5: Tomatoes "on the vine"
  • 6: Domaine Désiré Petit - Arbois-Pupillin
  • 7: Trader Joe's white grits.
  • 8: Dried flowers to give the place a perky touch
  • 9: Magic mushroom folk sculpture from a hilltop village in Oaxaca
  • 10: Rubbing alcohol
  • 11: Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch (my brain's on a permanent loop of believing I've run out. This is like my 73rd jar).
  • 12: Newsylum "Counting the Days" IPA, from historic Newtown CT by John Watson, the former homebrewer I wrote about here (search the page for "beer")
  • 13: Evil Twin "Harlan's Even More Jesus" beer
  • 14: Evil Twin "Even More Jesus" beer
  • 15: Black Diamond Cider "Porter's Pommeau"
  • 16: Trader Joe's "Taste of Vermont" maple syrup assortment
  • 17: Dried fenugreek for cracker-making project
  • 18: Zozirushi "fuzzy logic" rice cooker (has more computer power than Apollo 11. Me and Bob(TM) at one point considered using it to serve Chowhound. Currently inoperable, I'm stumped as to how to proceed).
  • 19: The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré
  • 20: Autographed copy of "Sizzle and Drizzle" by Nancy Birtwhistle
  • 21: Instant Pot. Bought five years ago, never used.
  • 22: Mortar and pestle
  • 23: Rolling pin for the cracker-making project
  • 24: Sample bottles of bourbon from a tasting 6 years ago.
  • 25: Maggi Seasoning ("improves the taste"). Note that this has been moved off my kitchen table since March, 2019.
  • 26: Big bag of spices from Penzey's for the cracker-making project
  • 27: Kayanoya Original Dashi Stock Powder
  • 28: Harry & David Pepper/Onion Relish
  • 29: Harry & David Contry Cranberry Relish
  • 30: Quite possibly the last surviving box of original-recipe Cope's Dried Sweet Corn on the planet
  • 31: Empty bottle of Chimay Anniversary Ale
  • 32: Maker's Mark (no, I'm NOT an alcoholic. Alcoholics don't have this stuff lying around. They drink it all up.)
  • 33: Vast pile of Chinese pu-erh tea
  • 34: Lots of cereal boxes, because I'm a grown-up and can have as much cereal as I want
Here it is in its full plated succulence:

There is a story about how I came to possess this blessed Moroccan wonderment. But I will not share that story today.

So here's the bite-for-bite:




Day two was a clone of Day one. Meat was finished.

Day three, I still had a little couscous and a bunch of vegetables. I broiled some salmon and topped the bowl with chunks of it. One of my nutrition axioms is that there must always be protein:

Day four, I realized I'd fail to properly dredge the vegetable containers, so heavier chunks were disproportionally left over. I served them over soba noodles:

...and topped it with leftover broiled salmon reheated with some onions I sautéd, and sprinkled with chili flakes:

Day five, breakfast. All I had was a precious small container of meat gravy (not vegetable broth). I heated it in a pan with leftover soba noodles, murasaka sweet potato, and chopped pea shoots, then served over an egg white omelet jazzed up with Trader Joe's Italian soffritto seasoning:


Thanks to the legendary Phil Simpson of PMS Graphics for assistance with the kitchen tour.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Everyone's So Nice!

If you help a stuck rabbit or bird, or right an upside-down bug, the animal will dash away, clearly relieved, yet oblivious to the fact that it was helped. It just goes off and resumes its critter activities.

And I keep seeing humans under age 35 do likewise. They'll accept/absorb help with relief and go do their thing, scarcely looking back. They may or may not utter a "thanks"-related statement, but if they do, it's strictly pro forma. Their inner narrative, if I grok correctly, is this:
"Another door opened!"
I imagine that's what a released raccoon thinks - or would if it were more articulate.

Understand, I'm not a quid pro quo guy. I don't need favors returned or gratitude showered. So I'm actually ok with this, and my message here isn't "the youth today are so ungrateful!" I don't expect squirrels to present me with acorns for being of service, and same for people. It's just strange to see humans become so narcissistic that help gets absorbed as entitlement.

It's always smiley, however. That's the evolution (in the 70s, only extreme hippies were smiley; the rest expressed positivity by not punching you in the face). These days, people fancy themselves on a journey, and doors appear to magically open before them. Everyone's so nice!

The problem is that the helpers, themselves, likely haven't experienced life this way; i.e. with a solicitous safety net. In fact, its their scarring and trauma that spur them to help in the first place. And it's odd to find oneself lumped into a faceless crowd devoted to the elevation of some random somebody. "Go, Riley," I guess.

I struggle to empathize with the framing. But I do understand its roots, having seen it coming years ago. Major shifts in parenting style in the 90s left an entire generation with the enduring conviction that they're superheroes - the best little boys and girls in the world.


My mom called me that a couple times, but she wasn't super-convincing, and I certainly never believed it.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Ups and Downs of Authenticity

I have a number of friends who send only "formal" emails.
"Hello there, Jim! I trust the pandemic has..."
...blah blah blah. It's like they put on their TV announcer voice and do the thing. They're not actually communicating, it's communicative gesturing. They watch themselves, in the mirrors of their minds, corresponding. Authenticity is hard for many people. They're starring in movies in their head.

I generally shake off such niceties, though I try to be good-natured about it. When my exasperation is noticed, people always attribute it to some issue with the particular form. "The Pandemic" must be a touchy subject for me. I must prefer another formal template! But, no. The template itself is the problem. Drop the stiltedness and just be real. Talk to me! Don't announce at me! Let's not play out a canned scene, sharing wry observations and maintaining "connection" so we can feel duly correspondy. I don't like to play contrived scenes. Can't we bake fresh?

Alas, such people prefer to receive emails that way, too (every friend has a handbook on style and engagement to be reverse-engineered and diligently followed). If I shoot a quickie note - "Hey, check out this video", or "Don't forget to get vaccinated!" - to a formal communicator, I can sense their frantic effort to recombobulate - to return the communication back onto proper track. "Jim, what a delight to hear from you once again, and thanks ever so much for the video link. Rebecca sends her very best, and I trust the pandemic has..."

But, late-ish in life, I've learned something very important and little-noticed. When such people "get real", you'll very often wish they'd left on the wrapping paper. It's not clean in there. They were doing you a favor. They were right. It's better this way.

Certain segments of our society - and I was one of them for a good long while - foolishly assume that authenticity's always the good stuff. Scrape down to the core, and you'll find nothing but beauty and light.

Nyuh-uh. In many - perhaps most - cases, the core is either an aggrieved needy mess, a savage tasmanian devil, or a sniveling homunculus. Tightly-wrapped people should be revered for performing a public service. It is not in your - or their - best interest for them to come as they are; to speak from the heart; to let it all hang out. Informality, it took me forever to learn, is not always the best course. It's not gems they're hiding (this is also why intuition is overrated).

I've come to appreciate uptightness. In many cases, it's just people keeping their gelatin from squirting and talons from slashing. They are showing that they care.

For one thing, I've come to view Northern Europeans in a very different light. My propensity was always more African/Latin-American. I'm one for exuberant syncopation and unbridled soulfulness. "What it is, baby!", etc etc. But (especially after managing a million people on the Internet) I've learned that bridling has its virtues.


To learn this lesson in a manner that can never be unlearned, check out the notorious/villainized Lars Von Trier film "Antichrist", in which the director kicks you in the head repeatedly to unencumber you of the foolish notion that "opening up and acting from one's deepest and most authentic feelings" is always the best course for everyone. In the film, a wife has been in therapy, where she's taken the credo to heart, and, on a rustic vacation weekend with her very patient, very understanding, very nurturing husband, turns into a fiend, eventually (graphically) severing his penis. And from that point it gets really violent and crazy. It's the longest 108 minutes you ever lived, but you will assuredly get the message.

They say great art changes a person. Most people who view this film change their willingness to ever see another Lars Von Trier movie. My shift was more per the director's intent: even though this represents a worst-case scenario (i.e. hellish savagery isn't always the outcome), I'm way less eager to see everyone acting from their unbridled, uninhibitted, fully authentic core. Thanks, Lars, I get it now.

As a devoted yogi, I know for a fact that our core of cores is, indeed, pure love and light. But what therapy junkies and new-age types naively fail to recognize is that, in most cases, a vast layer of scorching molten mantle lies between crust and core. That, in fact, is the reason people are driven to button themselves up in the first place. So don't unbutton the buttons unless you're prepared to dismantle the mantle.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Gate Hookers

Business Plan Abstract:

Only a slim fraction of returning travelers are greeted at airports. The rest have a mild feeling of inadequacy; of missing out. There's minor resentment at those who are made a fuss over. And this resentment compounds over the years, implanting a mounting sense of deprivation as, trip after trip, one is greeted by complete silence as others are eagerly welcomed.

Gate hookers would be mildly attractive, but mostly just exuberant, professionals who wait for you in the arrivals area, grinning maniacally, waving, and generally expressing delight at your return. For a small extra fee, they could hoist personalized "Welcome Home, _____!" placards (white boards, for easy reuse).

After the ecstatic reception, they'd walk you out to your car (or taxi), asking about your trip. Finally, after reiterating how truly glad they are that you're back home safe and sound, they'd return to terminal to await the next client.

Alternative: limosine guy, with full uniform and commanding presence, holds your name prominently etched on his terribly professional clipboard. British accent: "Nice to see you again, sir, right over here, sir, may I take your bag, sir?" He deposits the bag in your car or taxi and returns to terminal to await his next client.

The counterintuitive - and extra lucrative - element is that none of this has to be deceptive. You needn't pretend that this is YOUR family or YOUR driver. Nah, these are just your gate hookers. There's no stigma (no sex, etc.), so there's no reason this couldn't be an accepted traveler's norm. What kind of dweeb returns home without hiring a gate hooker or two?

Everyone enjoys being greeted upon arrival. Consider the ladies who put leis around your neck when you get to Hawaii (do they still do that?). These are complete strangers, yet everyone just loves it.


And the service could be priced super-affordably. In the future, no one will go un-greeted! Since each encounter would require only a few moments of work, a skilled gate hooker could squeeze in dozens of clients per day. $20 should easily do it, making it easy to hire multiple gate hookers for extra conviviality. Businessmen and other frequent travelers would develop chummy familiarity with their gate hooker, making the experience that much more satisfying.

Monday, March 8, 2021

CDC Guidelines for Vaccinated Persons

Media is reporting the CDCs nerdy, wordy guidelines re: what vaccinated people can do. As expressed, it seems meager. The loonies will have a field day, saying "Why even bother?"

Here's how the guidelines - or at least the reporting thereof - ought to begin the list of vaccination perks:

Vaccinated Individuals May:

1. Not die a horrendous and solitary death choking on fountains of puss kicked up by their putrified lung tissue.

2. Not risk months of affliction with neurological, cardiological, and other pernicious, little-understood effects of a terrifying pathogen.

3. Not risk killing their neighbors and loved ones.

[And then all the other stuff]....



Human beings can't communicate.

I realize that's an extreme and counterintuitive statement. But at a moment like this, with stakes this high, if the smartest and best-paid of us can't do any better than this (and some goofy trombonist/food critic needs to state the freaking obvious), the jenga tower of human culture is irredeemably flimsy and human beings really can't communicate.


Saturday, March 6, 2021

Sidemen

I recently wrote about how...
Most of my musician friends were scary. I didn't hang out much with the shiny, composed front men. My crowd was the pot-smoking unshaven sidemen; the hardworking, unheralded wise-asses at the back of the stage who made the shiny front man sound good.
I just noticed that Rolling Stone has built an ambitious trove of interviews with some of the most prominent mega-act sidemen, and it's well worth a look. They're calling the series "Unknown Legends", a stupidly condescending title. Just because you're not Paul Macartney-famous doesn't mean you're obscure. All these guys are well-known by any reasonable measure. But whatever.

The best interviews are with drummer Chester Thompson (recounting, among other things, his time with Zappa, and his culture shock as a kid from the projects of Baltimore hanging out with the swanky British gentlemen of Genesis), and with backup singer Dolette McDonald.

Since I was of that tribe (not at the stadium rock level, though a number of my friends and colleagues did pass through that carnival), there were few major revelations. But I did get a big kick out of this quote from Drummer Steve Ferrone describing the time he briefly jammed with George Harrison and Ringo Starr:
Question: As a Beatles fan, playing on songs “Taxman” and “Something” must have been real fun.

Ferrone: Even better! When we were at rehearsals, Ringo showed up and [percussionist] Ray Cooper had a second drum kit. While we’re sitting up there, I said to Ringo, “Do you want to come up and play?” Ringo came and jammed. Basically, I was sitting onstage with two of the Beatles. Whenever I play with another member of the Heartbreakers, you get some kind of idea about what it’s like to play in the Heartbreakers. And so when you’re playing with Ringo and George, there’s this connection that happens between them. It was like, “Oh! I see this now.”
That's the essence of my tribe right there. That's some brute-serious sideman stuff. No romance, image, or "legend" crap, just really digging in and seeing what it's like to actually work with them, musically. I was transported right there by those last two sentences. Picture fully painted. Sorry if you can't fully relate; I suppose this is like plumbers trading war stories of turds that just wouldn't flush.

Dolette McDonald's story of David Byrne insisting that she sing a certain way that she didn't want to made Byrne look pushy and difficult (obviously revenge for the nasty business that had gone down between them years earlier, as she also explained). But from a sideman viewpoint, it's a whole other thing. I completely understand why she eventually bailed from the business and went into hotel management. Sidemen don't say "no". We don't say we can't do it. We make it happen, period. If, as a sideman, you ever feel you've been engaged as an artist to provide your special specific something, you ain't a sideman anymore. Time to go into another line of work (I'm not excoriating McDonald; she seems smart and cool and sings her ass off, and concedes that she was pretty scrambled by all those years on the road).

Extremely unsurprising to me was that virtually all these players started as jazz musicians, and still consider themselves that. The general public figures that's just quirky Charlie Watts. No.

While the world's captivated by the preening rock ‘n’ roll rebels up at the microphone projecting their images and flipping their hair, music is music for the musicians. A player can't possibly get good enough to join these tours and make this money if their motivation is to embody some cinematic bad boy. These guys are pros, and their true love is the music the general public scorns, and which sounds nerdy and corny. They play the stuff you love in order to make a buck, but that's just their meal ticket.

Nearly all the interviews offer the polite, carefully generalized observation that none of these sidemen were fans of any of these groups before they got the gig. It's hilarious if you watch for it (I didn't even have to). The general public doesn't understand that people like me don't feel ecstatic at the prospect of playing a record date with, say, Fleetwood Mac. We step down to that, not up. Though it's nice to actually pay rent for a while.

Indeed, I spent the 80s hanging and playing with young black musicians in Jamaica Queens at night. They were all spending their afternoons in studios creating what later came to be known as hip-hop. But after work, they never spoke about any of that. Nary a word. That's not what played on their Walkmen. They were as devoted as I was to playing bebop with old guys in mildewed lounges.

So if you spent your youth enthralled by, say, Phil Collins while rolling your eyes at the likes of me, joke's on you. The cats bringing your music to life were all from my side of the tracks.

Friday, March 5, 2021

The Downfall of Andrew Cuomo

A friend of mine is upset about Governor Cuomo's fall under the weight of multiple scandals. His daily COVID update broadcasts brought her reliable information and helped instill a straight-spined "we-can-get-through-this-together" perspective.

It makes me recall Mayor Giuliani in 2001. Many New Yorkers were already well aware of what a terrifying wing nut the guy was, but he certainly rose to the occasion after the attacks, keeping us informed with sane, clear, unifying messaging. I never understood why this would make him a hero, or imagined him endlessly banging his 9/11 performance like a fading borscht belt comic desperately pushing his catchphrase. He just did what mayors are elected to do. That's their job.

Giuliani came off great due to a catastrophic gap at the top. Our president at the time was a vacuous fake tough guy ("all hat and no cattle") who went on TV, much much too late, with terrified pupils and wobbly larynx to throw down rich boy pugnaciousness. As I watched acrid smoke rise above Manhattan from my bedroom window, "We're a-gonna get 'em, just you wait and see," wasn't the message I needed to hear. At least Giuliani led, and was competent. He won the day via forfeiture.

During COVID, we were afflicted with another vacuous fake tough guy president (all spray tan and no sense) throwing down rich boy pugnaciousness ("We're gonna lick the virus easy, just you wait and see") when what we needed was sober competence. Thank goodness Cuomo did his job, filling the gap. But while it's admirable to be the only competent voice amid a vacuum, please, let's never sink so far that we equate competence with heroism.


I had a clear picture of Andrew Cuomo in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Gas was completely unavailable, plus many of us were without power. Finally, Cuomo sent a tanker to the Brooklyn waterfront, offering free gas to all comers. Gosh, thanks Governor Cuomo! But as any twelve year old could have predicted, traffic tied up for miles, gunshots were fired at line-cutters, and hundreds if not thousands of cars ran out of fuel awaiting their fill-up. Shmuck.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Good Music Now is African

You can't possibly overview "African music" in one blog post. Like most things condescendingly filed by Americans in a "World" (or, worse, "Ethnic") catch-all drawer, it's a universe, not a genre. Vastness, not slice.

I can't possibly do justice here even to the marginal realm of African avant-garde, which hardly existed until a few years ago. So this will be a haphazard grab bag of a post. But if you dive in, taking time to chase down links and listen with due eagerness, you'll transform your pre-vaccine pandemic experience, filling it with whoozily cool and refreshing music.

The first thing to understand is that African music has completely transformed in the past twenty years. I myself only recently noticed. Like, a couple months ago. Which is shameful.

Music's been overdue for a major shakeup since, Jesus, I guess the drugged-out psychedelic hippy wailings of the late 60s. I should have watched more vigilantly for the inevitable wave. Sublime individual things have been played over the past half century, but isolated bursts do not a zeitgeist make. And now Africa is once again birthing an evolutionary step. Monolith's back!

European and American musicians were always the radical innovators, while the musicians of Mother Africa played it straight. Percussionists plied their impossibly complex and syncopated beats, guitarists twanged, and, as with folk music the world over, there were few surprises but copious delights. Nothing changed much. It was "folk", with infrequent minor fusions and refreshments. It more than got the job done.

That's changed. In fact, it's flipped. European and American innovation has frozen in amber; audiences have been numbed into rote enthrallment with recreation of styles once deemed rebellious (see my enriched analysis of how music evolves in the big picture). For decades, now, Western music has been dominated by obedient imitation of the inimitable, safe-playing revivals of the once-dangerous, and smug nostalgia for congealed modes of spontaneity. Supposedly artsy musicians have struck bold poses while tamely reiterating the edgy innovations of yesteryear.

Imagine a punk revival in a Vegas lounge. That's how music has struck me for a very long time. I've dipped my toe in from time to time to check up, devoting brief attention to what inevitably sounds like a sonic photocopy of a sonic photocopy. I switch off the music with a contemptuous snort, jump in my chowmobile, and redouble my quest for yummy yum-yums. That's been my coping pattern.

But music (and quasi-musical expressions of honking, banging, plucking joy) that's scintillatingly alive and fresh is surging out of Africa. There's usually still groove and syncopation (African players would be fools to renounce their continent's second greatest gift to the world, after the birthing-of-the-human-race thing). But from that foundation, it branches in every direction, from jazzy to head-banging to chant to blends beyond description.

And it's loose. So, so loose. Gloriously loose. Music went to hell at the moment when tightness became obligatory (not a single Woodstock-era hit would be remotely acceptable to any current record producer). As good musicians know - even while they make every possible effort to tighten themselves up - the goodies lurk amid the looseness. Wynton Marsalis often fakes at missing notes in his desperation to puncture his own antiseptic bubble of bland, stilted anti-funk.

To whet your appetite, here's a quick preview of a video featured lower down. This is the band of a taxi driver collective in Ghana:


Looseness (suppressed for a half century to oblige the abnormal and counterproductive dictates of the soulless overlay known as The Music Industry) is overdue for a comeback, and Africa's delivering. God bless you, Ghanian taxi driver honking horn band. You are the groovy messiahs eager listeners worldwide have long awaited. As a generation of musician wannabes diligently drill Hayden etudes and Clapton transcriptions, you smash the smithereens out of them all with your unkempt joy and brio. You remind us we're still human after all.

More stuff below. It's in essentially random order. It's disorganized and there are redundancies and formatting errors and grungey kludge and early draft writing, all which I chose not to polish and tame and make professional, because that's not what this is about!

So...dive straight into the cacophony, listening with open ears. It's a sin to cavalierly pass negative judgement on the unfamiliar! Get to know stuff before you hate it! Everything here is lovable and brilliant and valuable, and it's your challenge to find that perspective! :)

Congotronics

You know what a kalimba is. They're also called thumb pianos, and many of us have fooled around with kalimbas like this as kids:
So what if you hooked up oversized kalimbas to car batteries so you could play them through giant speakers to make them AWESOME? And then had a group of them plucking hyper-amplified metal tines, all together at top volume, while chicks from the village danced? Well, then you'd have Congotronics.

Brace yourself.





The CD comes with an awesome DVD. You want this!

Honk Bands, Baby

Congotronix spirit has also appeared in Mali. No giant over-electrified kalimbas, this time it's brass horns and bells.

Here you go:


Here is the full album (Buy it! Pay for it! Show some support! The CD comes (the CDs always come!) with cool booklet and packaging!)

John Coltrane Worship Bands

The ethnomusicologist (who is, naturally, a trombonist) who recorded the Ghanian taxi driver horns and bells band has also documented a bizarre Ghanian John Coltrane cult nobody previously knew about. Most of the links on Steven Feld's recordings page are dead (CDBaby's out of business), but I hope to track down titles like “Accra Trane Station Tribute to A Love Supreme” and “Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra”. Here's a track from the former. I'm not sure I need to listen to it a lot, but I couldn't possibly argue against it.

Update: Fantastic! Feld's up and running again, on a site called VoxLox (sans shmear).


Tombouctou

Check out Al Bilali Soudan, a group from Mali (more info here)


You can also grab the sound file here. None of the players/groups I'm writing about are particularly capitalist; it's easy to download for free and listen. These guys hope a certain fraction will pay. And as my joy and eagerness have increased, I find myself avidly searching for ways to support them. Because I selfishly want more. Also: it's a pandemic. If you don't pay for your goddamn music in a pandemic you're evil. What do you spend in a year on concerts and nightclubs? Buy a damned CD!

Anyway, these guys from Timbuktu play more familiar genres of African music (you've heard them in movies even if you're not a devotee).

Most of this music is available via CD or paid digital download plus sort of given away via videos and soundcloud. It's a non-capitalist mess, and I try to figure out a way to pay the artist whenever possible.

Also, CDs in this realm tend to be super cool, beautifully packaged and full of extras plus not expensive. So I explore via video, research more deeply via soundcloud, and finally buy via CD when possible (or download in cases like the Saharan guy,

Music from Saharan WhatsApp

African dudes record on their cell phones and shoot it, via WhatsApp (a messaging service) right to the record label which puts it out for free though you can pay a few bucks (do it!). It disappears quickly and can never be bought again. Your eagerness is required. Here's info, and here's more info

I own #10 (illegal download link just for you guys; also please buy some stuff from him), by Malian guitarist "Bounaly" who's good but is supported by a genius calabash player (a gourd used for percussion), Hamadoun Guindo, who I've been trying to follow (like one of my peripatetic chefs) as best I can. He's just some random dude playing around villages in Mali, but I've focused my all-seeing eye of Sauron on him, trying to buy everything he's on.

Zerzura

Also from Sahel Sounds (the company behind the WhatsApp series:

Zerzura, the feature length Saharan acid Western is now available for streaming on Vimeo. Starring Madassane Ahmoudou (Mdou Moctar / Les Filles de Illighadad) Zerzura follows a young man from a small village in Niger on a surreal journey across the Sahara, crossing paths with djinn, bandits, gold seekers, and migrants, in search of an enchanted oasis. A collaborative project, featuring all original guitar score. Here's the trailer:



Here, you can rent it for $5 to view on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast. I opte for the $15 DVD, which comes with a 12 page booklet. This is where my COVID stimulus check goes. Supporting genius musicians in Africa and getting cool tunes and merch.

Sahel Sounds

Sahel Sounds runs this wonderully creative and enticing whatsapp operation, and they also have a more traditional music label operation. Their web site is a must-browse. They don't offer sound samples for most of their releases, but just google the titles for the usual overflowing bundle of youtube videos and soundcloud downloads. And, again, find a way to cough up a few scheckels to support these players and the company that finds and records them. CDs in this realm are, again, super cool and often come with art, photos, and booklets.

Here's one of their recordings, by a dude named Mdou Moctar from Niger. It's great at the surface (nice droning groove, trippy percussion, and vaguely devotional sounding music). The beauty is in the looseness. Not bad, sloppy looseness, but the good kind. Which is elusive hereabouts and greatly needed. Immerse in the looseness, this is what music was like for the millennia prior to 1980....yet also contemporaneously in touch with current music (Moctar is apparently buddies with one of the ZZ Top guys, per this NPR report calling a recent recording "The Most Fiery Psych-Rock Of The 21st Century").



Dances and Trances

Special bonus. Not experimental. Not even music. The late great Allan Evans (the Indiana Jones of obscure historical recordings) released an album of Moroccan sacred calls-to-prayers and chants and whatnot, called "Dances and Trances: Sufi rites and Berber music from Taroudannt, Morocco" in 2000.

It was recorded by music raconteur James Irsay who may or may not have converted to Islam specifically to gain entrée to scenes like this. I played portions for some musicians I jammed with a couple years ago in Rabat (Morocco's capital), and their reaction (expressed in broken English and Spanish) was complex. They expressed 1. titillation ("How the hell did anyone get access to record that?"), 2. mild disapproval ("This shouldn't be out there in a commercial wrapper!"), 3. caution (exact quote: "Be care, this take you OUT! You go OUT!") and, ultimately, the heavy eyelids and syrupy head nodding that normally results from smoking a big wet chunk of black hash.

The only way to get your hands on it is via a $10 digital download from Apple, and you can read Irsay's liner notes here.

You should also take a long stroll through the web site of Evans' record label, Arbiter Records. They mostly offer historical classical finds (including great stuff from Michael Hambourg, who I profiled here, but there's also World Arbiter, releasing material like the Moroccan recording. It's truly all great. I know that sounds hypey, but it's true.

Few of the "to buy" links are productive, but you can search for album titles on Apple/iTunes as well as the other usual suspects. Or just read through the liner notes, which are interesting and extensive.

Soundwalks

Related to the preceding recording, there's a nascent genre without a clear name. Google "soundwalk" or "ambient" or "field recording". The aforementioned Steven Feld has put out a number of such recordings, capturing sound scenes from Finland to Ghana

It's basically some person walking around recording - or sitting down and recording - the random everyday sounds of a faraway place. It's transportive; an ideal tonic for pandemic fatigue. Check out "Soundwalk Through Little India - Penang, Malaysia" Obviously, you can't just listen to a few secs and feel like you've grokked the vibe. You need to sit with it. It's fun. Do it!

Here are "The Ghats of Varanasi", the spiritual center of south India. Another, just because I'm into Varanasi (without having been there): Evening Soundscape of Varanasi Ghat

Less exotic, how about Haverford College Soundwalk?

I have a long history of doing slightly feeble and fuzzy versions of things that go on (not because of anything I've done; the first popping kernel doesn't make the other kernels pop) to become popular and ubiquitous and shiny. I'm pretty sure I wrote the first food blog ("What Jim Had for Dinner", a daily diary when Chowhound first opened in July 1997), and I also produced this very early soundwalk, "A Visit to the Arepa Lady" (MP3 link).

I over-narrated (the genre's rules had not yet been established; the first guy always seems to break rules in retrospect), but it was still immersive, conveying a you-are-there impression of hunting for Colombian street food under the el in Queens very late on a weekend night.

Fwiw, here's my original article about the Arepa Lady

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

We'll All Be Vaccinated By May

If you heard today's announcement that there will be sufficient vaccine for every adult American by the end of May (not Fall; not July; MAY) without tearing up - if not outright sobbing - then you have utterly lost touch with the situation.

My whole life, I've watched people lost in senseless drama, making cinematic emotional big deals out of absolutely nothing.

Now for once we are amid actual drama: having survived a horrific pandemic, the worst possible thing short of war, we are all weeks from safe harbor. It's a bona fide miracle. So all you drama queens and kings out there who imagine your lives to be a cinematic journey, now, for the first time, it really is. This is the moment to pull out your signature move and feel epic.

But no. Instead, everyone's bitching about some stupid shit they heard at CPAC or whatever. 41% of the country doesn't even want the vaccine. What ridiculous blinkered, entitled jackasses we are.

Perhaps, for the first time in my 58 years, the nation can go into this coming New Year's Eve with a consensus that it wasn't a particularly terrible year. Maybe not the worst excruciating torture as we've luxuriated in comfort, entertainment, and security unimaginable to innumerable previous generations. I doubt it, but maybe.

Me? Right this moment, I'm starring in a movie, lightly sobbing with relief after a year of pursuit by a monster. Because it's true.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Shockingly Lazy Branding

The single laziest branding effort I've ever seen in my entire life:

You know the whole Sweden thing and whatever? Idunno blonde furniture and lingonberries or whatever? We're that. Give us your money cuz we're that. We're hooking you up with the whole Sweden thing. Get your Sweden right here. We use the word on our end, you love Sweden - focus groups show - on your end, so give us your money and get your Swedish, like, experience or whatever.


Next week: jazz hair gel.

Aging and Framing

We all make a choice in every moment: to open up in wonder and gratitude...or to clang tightly shut in spiteful petulance. Most people, oddly, choose the latter. Most never recognize the former as an option.

Like so much else, it's entirely a matter of perspective. And while we assume worldly circumstance dictates our framing, that's completely wrong. You are The Framer. You are astonishingly Free.

As such, as I once explained, we make a capricious decision as kids: "How Happy Will I Be?". We needn't stick with that decision. From moment to moment, perspective is fungible. No matter how the world presents itself, we always have a choice. Fabulous gorgeousness can be peevishly spurned, and irritating tedium may be utterly embraced. Multitudes do both each day.

Because most of us edge toward Clang, we set our table via innumerable actions to keep ourselves from becoming overly happy (per above link). We ride the momentum of lifelong inclination, favoring the familiar. There's perverse comfort in long familiarity with nuisance and affliction, and advancing age makes black holes of our comfort zones.

But you always have a choice. You are The Framer, astonishingly Free. And, given a choice, doesn't Heaven (on Earth) seem more attractive than Hell (also on Earth)?

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