My friend Angie in Ireland (corrected from original) is a fan/student/blogger of classic rock. I’m just an old guy who was around then. If I could, I’d just send her my ideas and get her to research/write them; but I’m home from work early on a rainy day and this came to me on the ride home.
Homage/cultural appropriation/minstrelsy is a topic/continuum I won’t tackle here. Angie touched on it while writing about Led Zeppelin and others, Craig Werner delves into it in A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race, and the Soul of America. The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project published Wesley Morris’ essay on the topic. The Berklee School of Music offers a course on the topic. Some artists (e.g. The Beatles) openly acknowledged their sources and inspirations, others (e.g. Led Zeppelin) did not. Willie Dixon is credited with writing hundreds of songs, including some that Led Zeppelin stole. Dixon himself has been accused of putting his name on the songs of others. Picasso is credited with saying “good artists copy; great artists steal.”
Sometimes a great song (Willie Mae Thornton’s “Hound Dog”) gets turned into a novelty (Elvis Presley’s version) – though both versions were written by the white writers Leiber & Stoller, who weren’t afraid of a novelty tune. (They wrote “Poison Ivy”, “Yakety Yak”, “Love Potion #9”, and “Charlie Brown”. “Poison Ivy” isn’t so much a novelty tune as a warning about what might befall you if you”feed” that hound dog snooping around your door. )
Actual soul music would take a book, not a blog post. David Bowie referred to his music as “plastic soul”, but that didn’t stop him from making money from it. As for me, I just want a reason to listen to some old music on a rainy day.
I’m a bike rider, not a music writer. This is not meant to be definitive, but it got me through a rainy afternoon.
The tyranny of numbers
My first Wednesday Night Bike Ride of the season is over. I can’t tell you how fast I rode, or how many watts I produced, or my maximum heart rate, or anything else you datameisters like to measure.
I can tell you I had fun, but I can’t quantify that. I can tell you that my heart and respiratory rates remained non-zero. I can tell you I rode enough miles to get back to where I started, and fast enough not to fall over. I can tell you that the winter wheat is bright green and makes a nice contrast with the pale spring greens of the tree blossoms. I guess that’s bad news to those who are allergic to tree pollens, but I’m not. It felt good to get out of town and on the road again.
There aren’t a lot of people out at 6 AM – runners, the university crew, ROTC, and me.
Double timing Onto the Lakeshore path.
Double timing Into the Predawn dark.
Full camo packs Each with its Reflector.
Invisible Unless you Have a light.
I guess they are being safe in the urban environment, but it strikes me oddly when these toy soldiers appear out of the darkness, my headlight showing each so brightly as to be nearly blinding. And once they leave the path, that camo is oh-so-effective to hide on the city streets.
I guess they were working on their night moves.
In dog news, Bailey has discovered the wonder of Ash flowers. Most of the Ash trees here have been removed to stop the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer (which seems like the US strategy of destroying villages to save them, and makes this fit with the military topic of this post). Some of the bigger trees were left and are being treated. They are in bloom now and Bailey thinks the flowers are delicious. Any other dogs out there like ash blooms?
Some years ago I managed a low-income housing co-op in the Santa Clara (AKA Silicon) Valley. I was an immigrant from Wisconsin.
First you need to understand that not everyone in the valley is a multi-millionaire engineer driving a Ferrari (or Tesla Model S nowadays). Back then, there were semi-conductor plants and factory workers making those chips in the valley. There were (are) fast-food restaurants and service workers providing for those mythical multimillionaires. There were all the usual workers that we need to keep a society humming. Those are the folks who lived in the co-op I managed.
That being said, a lot of folks didn’t consider themselves poor, they considered themselves pre-rich. The day after returning from a “vacation” building housing in the third world, I received an urgent maintenance request from someone whose clothes dryer had died. She needed it fixed now; it was an emergency. Now the Santa Clara Valley has a Mediterranean climate – it is essentially a desert. Hang your clothes out on a line and the ones you hang first will be dry by the time you finish hanging the load. That is a slight exaggeration, but if you wash a second load, you could take the first one down before you need to hang the second.
Where I come from (and in the country where I had just been) you hang clothes outside to dry. In California I found that that was looked down upon. It was embarrassing to have people see your laundry; no matter that each patio had a 6 foot redwood fence surrounding it. Only poor people did that, and these people weren’t poor, they were pre-rich. Out of 80 families, two had clotheslines; the other family was from Northern Minnesota. But we were in the first world and we were in California where nobody except those crazy folks from Wisconsin and Minnesota hang clothes, so I expedited the dryer problem – just not higher than the clogged drains and leaks.
Another urgent request came from someone who saw a mosquito on her patio. She wanted me to call an exterminator immediately. Being a dry climate, mosquitos were rare. Our usual insect problem was from termites. I urged her to keep an eye out for that mosquito and, if it returned, I advised her to kill it (by slapping it).
The complex had a pool. It took me a while to wrap my head around that. Where I came from, you swim in a lake. Only the ultra-rich have pools. Municipal pools appeared eventually, but we swam in the lake or the quarry.
Mosquitos were another matter in the upper midwest. Where I come from, the mosquito fogger made the rounds on summer nights. This was a Jeep with a tank on the back which spewed a chemical fog (most likely DDT, but I don’t know for sure). The neighborhood kids would jump on their bikes and ride in the fog, inhaling that poison. My parents urged me not to do that, because I could get hit by a car that couldn’t see me in the dense fog – not because breathing insecticide was bad for me. Being a smart kid, I stayed away because I didn’t want to breathe that poison any more directly than I had to. I figured that if it killed insects it probably wasn’t good for me. Everyone told me I was wrong and that it was harmless to humans.
I grew up in a post-World War II suburb. The area had originally been Ho-Chunk land. There was one remaining Ho-Chunk family. I didn’t know until many years later that my classmate’s dad was a famous artist – or maybe he didn’t become famous to white people until many years later. He carved this effigy tree from a hackberry that was struck by lightning. It was later replaced with a bronze casting of the original after it began to rot. (Image from Allenbrowne.blogspot.com)
When white people came to the area, it was first to start dairy farms, and later to build vacation cottages on the lakeshore. It was a short boat ride across the lake to one’s summer home – or a 5-10 mile drive for the rich folks who had cars, as the streetcar line ended about five miles away.
After the war they quickly put up houses. The actual building sites were leveled, but the backyards just had grass seed strewn over the former cornfields – furrows and all. My mom said she would let me go play in the back yard unsupervised because she trusted that the toddler me would never make it to a road – it was about 250 feet over furrows to the back drainage ditch and another 300 feet to the next road. I would never make it that far because I kept falling down climbing over the furrows. We were home to the neighborhood baseball diamond. My dad built a backstop and the neighbor’s yard was left field, with the hedge on the far edge of their lot forming the home run fence. Right field was too big to hit it out. Nobody ever hit our house, which was the de facto right field wall. The furrows made ground balls take interesting hops. We learned early to keep our body in front of the ball to field it.
From what I hear, our furnishings would now be hip – “mid-century modern” they call it. I thought we had a formica kitchen table because that’s all we could afford. Particle board was not the greatest medium for furniture; especially the particle board from those days, which was more like sawdust and glue. Part of the cachet of those old tables is that they weren’t built to last, so any that survived are rare. Ours didn’t survive my childhood. Dad was always trying to fix wobbles with matchsticks and glue in the screw holes. Our living room furniture was “blond” wood – either unstained or maybe bleached. Ultra hip today.
Going downtown was a big deal. Mom would put on gloves for that. We had to dress up. We took the bus, transferring part way. I was 12 when we got a second car and mom could drive places. We had “school clothes”, “play clothes”, and “dress clothes”. Woe be unto the kids who wore the wrong ones at the wrong time. We didn’t wear blue jeans to school in order to show that we weren’t farmers. I got a paper route when I was 12. On Saturdays we had to take the bus downtown to pay our bill at the newspaper office. I’d take the bus with a friend who also had a route. After we paid our bill we’d go to HL Green (the low-budget drug store soda fountain) for a banana split. They had balloons hanging over the lunch counter and you picked a balloon for the waitress to pop to find your price on a tiny folded piece of paper inside. Sometimes they didn’t fold them enough and if you looked in just the right light you could see the price. We always searched for the one that said 1 cent. Once when the waitress opened a new can of whipped cream, the pressure was enough to knock my scoop of ice cream off the dish. She quickly scooped it up with her hand and put it back on top. What do you expect for a penny?
I must have grown up with smart people. I just learned that my high school reunion has been postponed for a year due to the pandemic. I don’t have to be a party pooper. There is no party to poop out on. (Or should that be “out on which to poop”?)
On of these days the temperature will rise above 45 degrees (7 C), the wind will die down, the sun will come out, and I will return to riding for fun and not just for transportation. Then maybe I’ll write about bicycling again.
The bike clubs have started their spring season but I don’t know who is riding. It’s one thing to ride in April snow flurries to get to work. It is a different kind of crazy to do it solely for recreation. See ya on the road.
I find questions much more interesting than answers. Questioning is like opening a book. You don’t know what’s in store. Answers are like closing the book. There’s nothing left to say. Even if you have more to say, there’s nothing left to say. The question has been answered.
My friends Martha and Carrot started a dialog today. I’m not sure they knew they were talking to each other. Martha was talking about how the pandemic has freed us from the need for “normal” socializing and how one writer pathologized this as “social anxiety”, while to Martha it is “introversion”. While she didn’t belittle the very real mental health issue, she noted that there are some things you just don’t do in a group. She mentioned her first novel. “I’d had this incredible experience that was impossible to share with anyone. I’d written a novel. I’d brought my story, my vision, for Martin (the character) into real life. I’d done the work, the immense research, all of it, the library time (back then). Because of my book, I KNEW people who’d lived in the 13th century. The experience catapulted me into a different Martha, but I couldn’t share that, either.” I will mention her rediscovery of herself as a painter and drawer this year. First the blog began to feature oil paintings. Lately, pen and ink drawings have graced its pages. Even the title of her blog changed (twice!) during this pandemic. Is she another “different Martha”?
Carrot posited a restaurant in which “the phrase ‘can I get you started on something saucy’ is as much about the dialogue as it is about the appetizer. The table clothes will be covered in questions and hypotheticals. Each bill will come with the quote du jour.” The food you are served would correspond with the table talk: “Customer:Excuse me waiter, I ordered the gnocchi and pesto.
Waiter:Right, I’m sorry, it’s just that I heard you talking about your Instagram followers, so enjoy your Cream of Wheat.“
How do we ask the right questions? Ask the wrong question (one that cries out to be answered) and we get nowhere. “What’s your favorite color?” “Blue.” Now what?
Ask without questioning, and you only get an answer. “Who am I?” “George.” Done. Or “the guy who writes this blog.” Who was I before I wrote this blog? Same me, or someone else? Am I the things I do? the roles I play? the thoughts and feelings I hold? the sum of all of my experiences? my beliefs and opinions? my body? Or am I someone else, who “has” all of these, rather than “being” any or all of them? Am I the point of view from which I see the world? If I didn’t see literally, would my “point of view” change? Would I be someone else? Is my “self” additive? (The sum of everything I hold as “me”?) Is it subtractive? (If I take away everything in the world that I identify as “other”, is what’s left over “me”?)
Dalton Trumbo looks at the relationship between body and identity, and between how we see ourselves and how others see us in the novel and subsequent film “Johnny Got His Gun”. It is the story of a badly injured WWI soldier and his post-war life in a VA hospital. There is little left of his body and he cannot see, speak, or hear. Who is “in there” and does that matter if no one “out here” acknowledges his humanity?
I used to ride with friends every week and talk and then drink some beer and eat some dinner and talk some more. Before that, I would go sit in a hot tub with some other friends and talk. Before that, I worked in a neighborhood store that was the center of a community. In all of these cases, it was a community of people interacting face-to-face. For the past year I have seen my coworkers and patients, and my family. I’ve had little contact with most of the people I identified as “my community”.
But I found this other community (hey, I’m old…it took me a long time – my daughter has been in a number of world-wide online communities for years) that has grown as organically in its own way as the physical community. When I started this blog I got some tips from a music blogger I know. I found and read a couple of bike blogs and they led me to this world of climbers, painters, writers, musicians (and writers about music)…It was Carrot and The Dihedral who introduced me to Martha.
What is community and what is necessary for our mental health? Is an online community any less real than a physical one? Can you go out for a virtual beer or cup of coffee? When I return to in-person friends, how will I balance that with these online friends?
Are other people essential, or something you have to deal with to get through your day? If the ones you “have to deal with” were gone, would you miss them?
P.S. The day after posting this, I read Ask Amy, with someone concerned about returning to face-to-face interactions. The writer related a recent interaction and made the distinction “interacting with people from a place of compassion, treating people as human beings — not human-doings.“