Wednesday, June 4, 2014

No. 1 – Supper’s Ready

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Foxtrot
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: Seconds Out, 1977.

Note the time of posting. It was exactly 50 years ago that I came into the world. With that, we’ve reached the end of this journey.

For anyone who is familiar with my music, the selection of Supper’s Ready as my No. 1 song of all-time should be about as surprising as the sun rising in the East in a few hours. When I did my email list in 1999, it was No. 1. If I had done this here blog in 1984, it might have been No. 1 then. It would have been No. 1 in 1994. It would have been No. 1 in 2004. It is No. 1 in 2014. (It might very well be No. 1 in 2024, but you’ll never know, because I am NEVER doing this again.)

I did everything I could to not make the selection of Supper’s Ready a foregone conclusion. In fact, I refused to even listen to it for two years, so when I finally played it and Tarkus (and, later, The Underfall Yard), I would come at the songs with fresh ears.

What was most surprising when I reached that point a couple weeks ago was not that Supper’s Ready remained atop my song list. It’s that I ever doubted it would. The obviousness that it still was the undefeated champion of rock songs hit me the instant I played all three songs in a row. It was inconceivable that any other song COULD be No. 1, and, yes, that word does mean what I think it means.

So why is Supper’s Ready my favorite rock song of all time? It has it all—eight sections in which each brings something different to the table yet when combined form a massive piece of music. The sections change from dynamic to quiet, dramatic to quirky and back again. The song starts slow and finishes with a flourish, interspersed with cool lyrics (quick, what other non-Christian song is about the Last Supper and the Book of Revelations?) and odd costumes—at least back when Peter Gabriel was around.

I mentioned this already, but I got to see Genesis do Supper’s Ready—the last eight minutes of it—in 1986. It was incredible, a real highlight if not THE highlight of my concert-going career. I read recently that when Genesis toured for the last time as an active band in 1992, Phil supposedly wanted to do Supper’s Ready in its entirety, but Mike and Tony put the kibosh on that. If they had pulled this one out—when 90 percent of the people at Ohio Stadium were there to hear only Invisible Touch and I Can’t Dance—I probably would have fainted dead away.

So, Supper’s Ready is my favorite song of all time. Who is my favorite performer of all time? (No, that’s not necessarily a trick question.)

On the one hand, the statistics point to Rush. They have more songs than any other group on this here list; more songs in the top 100 than anyone else (nine to six each by Genesis, The Who and Led Zeppelin); more albums with a different song represented than anyone else—19. Then there’s this: I’ve seen Rush live 13 times. The runners up are Pearl Jam and Eric Johnson, at five apiece. If Rush tours next year as planned, I’ll be there for good ol’ No. 14.

On the other hand, I’m not sure Rush even was my favorite band at any one time, let alone all time. A broad historical timeline might look like this: The Beatles, America, CSNY, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Pearl Jam, Tool, Porcupine Tree. Rush probably has been in my top 3 every year since 1989, when I rediscovered them, but they always seemed to be behind at least one band that generated a little more ardor.

If passion were the measuring stick, no band can touch The Who, except perhaps Genesis. I rule out Pearl Jam—the band of the Nineties—because, well, The Who had to exist for me to have gravitated to Pearl Jam in the first place. The Who was the reference point, as in, seeing Pearl Jam in 1994 (my favorite concert of all time) was as close as I’ll ever get to have seen The Who in 1969.

Genesis wins in sheer music size, as I noted yesterday (good ol. No. 2), and having the No. 1 song doesn’t hurt. I also saw Genesis four times as an active band, whereas I never saw The Who until after they already had been disbanded for seven years.

Where The Who wins is in having the No. 1 album—Quadrophenia. (Genesis’ Duke is No. 2.) The Who also has the No. 2 concert—when they played Quadrophenia in its entirety in 1996. (Genesis—the 1986 show when they played the finale of Supper’s Ready—probably would crack the top 10 but not the top 5.)

Finally, The Who has significant historical impact in their favor. My music changed irrevocably the first time I saw The Kids Are Alright in 1979, as I’ve mentioned. I suppose, given my exposure to Emerson, Lake & Palmer at an early age, I might have found Genesis without The Who, but I can name three dozen acts that I love that I wouldn’t have, including Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and pretty much every band from the Nineties on. Genesis can’t match that.

The Who is my favorite band of all time, except …

Take a look at the list of songs on the right-side gutter of this here blog. (And it’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it, now that it’s complete—after you fan out the months, that is.) Notice anything in particular? Here’s what I see: Of the top 19 songs, FIVE come from one loose confederation of four people—Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Guinnevere and Wooden Ships are from CSN; Almost Cut My Hair from CSNY; and Cortez the Killer and Down By the River (CSNY’s version) from Y. That isn’t a coincidence.

A simple argument exists that CSNY is, in fact, my favorite band of all time. It’s one I wouldn’t have contemplated at the beginning of this here blog, which, of course, BEGAN with a song by CSN (good ol’ No. 1,000).

First, the song stats, when the four are assembled as a single unit, are as impressive as those of anyone else.

Second, the first time I saw CSNY in 2000 remains my No. 3 show of all time (even though it was a mostly nostalgia act). In fact, I’ve seen CSNY in various configurations six times since 2000—the same number as Rush over the same period.

Third, as for historical significance, CSNY laid the foundation for The Who. If The Who is the father of my rock music, CSNY is the grandfather. Four Way Street was the first live album I ever heard, which created the framework for my love of live music. Four Way Street begat Frampton Comes Alive, which begat The Kids Are Alright, which begat everything else. It’s a direct lineage.

Naming CSNY as my favorite band of all time seems to be the right thing to do, because it brings my music almost full circle. I like that. I was 7 when I discovered baseball and that good music went beyond Snoopy and the Red Baron. Now, at 50, I’m still in love with CSNY’s music, perhaps even more so.

(Sigh)

So … after 33 months, 1,004 songs, 1,675 pages of material and 773,255 published words, what have we learned from all of this, aside from the obviousness that I’m a perfectionist geek whose love of Nineties alternarock is surpassed only by that of really long, boring progressive rock?

I suppose you probably learned more about me than you wanted, but, as I’ve said a number of times, this isn’t about you. I said what I wanted to say, for the most part, nothing more. I didn’t say everything I could have said, true, but I didn’t lie.

Laurie only recently began to read this here blog, posting comments along the way. That led me to reread some of the early posts. As a rule, I don’t like to go back and look at older work, because invariably I find mistakes or ways I could have improved something.

So it is with this here blog. I wasted a lot of posts early that could have been devoted to better stories. It wasn’t until I was a little further along, in the 800s, that I sketched a timeline, so I would know what events took place when and match a story with a corresponding song. Many stories I knew from memory would synch up with certain songs, but others, I needed help.

You can see me—well, I can see me—floundering a bit with those first posts early on before better organization and more experience and maturity as a writer provided me with better focus. To a certain extent, that’s a microcosm for my life. I can see me floundering about—perhaps longer than was helpful—with plenty of good intentions. It was only through better organization and more experience and maturity that I gained clearer focus.

Well, I can’t change my past and all its imperfections. I’ll just leave those early posts as they are—a reminder that change is relentless and improvement always is possible. No looking back and no regrets.

Maybe that’s what we’ve learned here. It’s impossible to revise history—at least until Big Brother installs the Ministry of Truth. (I made 1984 the final book I read my first half-century.) There’s no sense in constantly revisiting it and ruing all its imperfections.

So I’m not going to, any more. The end of this here blog represents the end of me ruminating about my past, at least in terms of the mistakes I made with the best information I had at the time. I apologize to those I hurt unintentionally, and I wish those who hurt me in return no further ill will. No one’s perfect.

The memories of what happened are here if I need them. I’m uncoupling the train that’s been hauling them—and the corresponding emotions—around for 50 years and moving forward. I want new experiences—and new music—to carry me along the road ahead.

No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to clear out my iTunes of everything that’s in there, but I’m looking forward to checking out a lot of music I’ve missed, like that of Arcade Fire, The Arctic Monkeys, Dream Theater and, yes, even older acts like Gentle Giant. One of the first things I plan to do is sign up for Pandora and create a Will streaming station. I figure I’ll tell Pandora I like Tool, Porcupine Tree, Pearl Jam, ELP and My Morning Jacket and see where that leads.

In my opinion, the only way we continue to stay vital as we age is through learning new things, meeting new people, expanding horizons. We’re like sharks: If we stop swimming, we’re dead. I have a lot of things to do, including several things I’ve never done before.

Besides cutting my hair and signing up for Pandora, of course, I’m going to finish my book. I’ve dragged it out far too long as is, out of what it represented at one time and having no plan for what I’d do after I finished. My book is a project that has had a 13-year gestation. It’s long overdue for birthing.

Writing this here blog every day for most of the past 1,000 days has created a good writing discipline in me, so it should be easy to transfer that to my book. That’s why I don’t anticipate any oddness when I no longer am writing the story of my life. I’ll keep writing, just now about baseball. I hope to have a proposal ready in the fall and the whole thing more or less done by my 51st birthday. I still have no idea what I’ll do after that, but I’ll figure that out when I get there.

I also plan to change where I live, although that won’t be for a year. Laurie and I signed another lease in our current apartment. We’ve been there seven years, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere consecutively. It’s a great apartment, but I’m ready for something different. I want a yard and gardens and trees again. I want more space. I want a house.

Finally, I plan to make a relationship change sometime soon. Another in an endless parade of old phrases crammed in my noggin is: Whiz or get off the pot. The 10th anniversary of Laurie and I being together is coming up this fall. Ten years is long enough. It’s time to whiz (get married) or get off the pot (go our separate ways). I know which direction I’ll take … but I’m not going to tell you.

That’s right: I’m leaving you with a cliffhanger. No one’s lazier than a writer who doesn’t know how to finish his or her story and just leaves it hanging until the next installment, and nothing’s worse than a story that has no ending.

But that’s life, isn’t it? It’s only at the very end that you know how, or even when, it’ll end, and only if you’re lucky does it end logically, conclusively, with no cliffhangers whatsoever.

I have no idea how my life will end—hopefully, many years from now, although certainly fewer years than have come before. It could end tomorrow, no more conclusively than had it ended today. All we know for sure is that, because you’re reading this, I made it to 50, and I made it to the end of this here blog. Maybe we aren’t supposed to know any more than that … until it’s time.

If I could leave you with one final piece of wisdom out of all of this navel-gazing wankery, it would be this: Don’t be afraid to change. Treat people with courtesy and respect. And to quote the great Satchel Paige, don’t look back, because something might be gaining on you. We’re only human, but we can continue to evolve. The future awaits no man, and if I had any more clich├ęs in my toolbox, I’d brandish them.

Thanks for reading. I really appreciate you being my therapist. Now go out and do something else. After all, I will.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

No. 2 – Tarkus

Performer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Songwriters: Keith Emerson, Greg Lake
Original Release: Tarkus
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends … Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1974.

I once wrote that Tarkus might be the greatest heavy-metal song ever written, as well as the longest. Yes, I’m well aware that ELP is a synth band that represents everything bloated, lifeless and pretentious there is about prog rock, but I stand by my statement from 15 years ago. I defy anyone after listening particularly to the version on Welcome Back … to tell me this song isn’t at least as heavy as anything Metallica or the like has ever done (minus the buzzy guitar shredding).

In fact, I would say that the final five minutes of Tarkus from Welcome Back … is my favorite of any rock song. It’s symphonic and explosive—and played at break-neck speed. As I drove home the back way from Wabash to Professor Herzog’s house, I’d have my car stereo turned up to 11 to enjoy this opus at maximum effect. It just makes me feel alive.

Well, in this, the last day of the first half-century of my life, we have to talk a bit about the music, don’t we? I mean making an ass of myself wasn’t the entire purpose of this here blog. After all, the posts were marked by song, not calendar, which Im sure made things a bit difficult to follow at times.

In keeping with my love of collating and analyzing data—so why am I not a researcher, you ask—I’ve made a number of lists pertinent to the discussion. I don’t know what they say that probably isn’t obvious at this point, but I present them nonetheless.

Let’s start with the top 10 performers with the most songs on this here blog:

Rush – 51
Pearl Jam – 45
Genesis – 42
The Who – 40
Led Zeppelin – 26
Smashing Pumpkins – 25
Jimi Hendrix (including the Experience) – 24
Neil Young – 23
Tool – 20
Peter Gabriel – 18
U2 – 18

It’s a pretty good collection from all eras of rock, except the Fifties, which weren’t represented at all. The surprises here, as far as I’m concerned, are Smashing Pumpkins finishing sixth and U2 finishing ahead of, say Pink Floyd or the guys who unleashed Tarkus, bands that at one time or another were my favorite bands. U2 never was one of my favorite bands, but they’ve had a long career and, obviously, did a lot of things I liked (and I think a lot of people would agree, although perhaps not on the same songs).

By the way, if we were to apply a strict definition to “number of songs” that broke down into tracks as listed on the actual album, it would change the top of the list but not the ultimate No. 1:

Rush – 51
Genesis – 49
Pearl Jam – 45
The Who – 45
Led Zeppelin – 26

In all, 224 performers made this here list. That the top 10 made up 30 percent of the list shouldn’t be all that surprising. Everyone has their favorites who they listen to more than anyone else. Everyone also has the bands that they despise or, at least, don’t connect with. I’m no different.

Aside from the giants of the Fifties—the folks who INVENTED rock music—here are the five biggest performers that didn’t make my list at all:

ABBA
AC/DC
Bob Dylan
Eagles
KISS

For the record, Michael Jackson makes it as part of the Jackson 5—twice. I make no apologies.

If you were to make a “family tree” of songs, in which performers who are related through solo careers or band membership are combined, here’s how the list would look:

The Pearl Jam Family – 81
The Genesis Family – 67
The Led Zeppelin Family – 46
The Who Family – 44
The CSNY Family – 41

If there’s a surprise here, it’s that the Pearl Jam Family tree, which includes Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, beat out Genesis. I would have expected the latter, which includes the band, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, to have come out on top. Even if you decide—and I might agree—that AIC doesn’t belong in the Pearl Jam family tree, it still beats out the Genesis tree: 71-67.

Looking at my top 10 performers, who do you think wins out for most actual music, with respect to total time? Accepting the fact that Rush recorded its share of long songs, I still would’ve expected Genesis to come out on top. It’s close, but they didn’t:

Rush – 5:14
Genesis – 4:54

That’s hours and minutes, of course. Collectively, they left the other two at the top of the list in the dust:

The Who – 3:43
Pearl Jam – 3:15

Led Zeppelin, perhaps unsurprisingly comes in at fifth at 2:44. Here, special mention goes to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Although the number of ELP songs I have on this here list was surprisingly short—only 12—the kings of testing a rock fan’s patience still clocked in at 2:34, nearly 13 minutes per song. That’s what uncorking 27-minute alleged heavy-metal songs will do.

Now, given what you know about the lists above and given that in Rush, of course, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson write all the music and Neil Peart writes all the lyrics, you’d expect a three-way tie atop the list for songwriting, right? It didn’t work out that way, thanks to a few instrumentals slipping in and—most important—Geddy’s solo album. The final tally:

Geddy – 50
Alex – 48
Neil – 47
Eddie Vedder – 42
Robert Plant – 41

In case you were wondering, Pete Townshend got the most solo songwriting credits of anyone on this list by a mile – 40. Unsurprisingly, Neil Young was second, with 26. Surprisingly, Billy Corgan was third, with 25. Jimi Hendrix was the only other one above 20, with 21.

One more list: If I were to do this whole thing over now—and I most definitely won’t—I would have to make room for the following songs, which weren’t included on the original list of favorite 1,000 songs. A few of these I mentioned as A/B selections. This is in reverse order:

What Happens Now – Porcupine Tree
Black-Hearted Woman – The Allman Brothers Band
The Body Electric – Rush
Sound of Muzak – Porcupine Tree
Drown With Me – Porcupine Tree
Blackest Eye – Porcupine Tree
Way Out of Here – Porcupine Tree
Sentimental – Porcupine Tree
When the Sun Meets the Sky – Eric Johnson
Even Less – Porcupine Tree

Any guesses as to what I’ve been listening to the most lately, aside from the songs on this here list? All of these songs would be in the bottom 500, probably, with the exception of the last two, the bottom 250. In the top 500 would be:

Silverado – The Marshall Tucker Band
Anesthetize – Porcupine Tree
Halo Effect – Rush
If It’s In My Mind, It’s On My Face – Seal
Fear of a Blank Planet – Porcupine Tree

Halo Effect is moving up the list, with a bullet, as they say. And, yes, even though it’s been only three months, I still think Fear of a Blank Planet belongs in the top 100.

Minutia, I admit, but it’s my minutia. One song to go. I’m on the ladder of the Eagle about to take that final giant leap. Steady … steadddddyyyyyyy …

Monday, June 2, 2014

No. 3 – The Underfall Yard

Performer: Big Big Train
Songwriter: Gregory Spawton
Original Release: The Underfall Yard
Year: 2009
Definitive Version: None.

I’m not entirely convinced that this incredible epic isn’t in fact my No. 1 song of all time. I’ve been listening to it pretty much nonstop for the past three years after a very fortunate recommendation from Jim—the one from the News-Dispatch—at an otherwise dismal Cubs game.

I decided that I couldn’t put a song that I’ve known for only three years ahead of two songs I’ve known for 30. There just isn’t enough time behind it yet. It very well could be that five years from now, if I were to do this list all over again—and I won’t—The Underfall Yard could be down in the 40s. It also very well could be No. 1, without a doubt. I won’t know till I get there, so this seemed like the best place for it—clearly ahead of everything that’s come before but too soon to put it ahead of what’s to come.

So who the Hell is Big Big Train, and how the Hell did they come up with potentially my favorite song of all time? That’s a great question, and, honestly, I don’t have an answer for it. Don’t take my word for it. Go to Big Big Train’s website—go, right now—and listen for yourself. They’re streaming The Underfall Yard—all 23 amazing minutes of it. (Use Firefox. Safari doesn’t seem to work.)

As near as I can tell, Big Big Train has been around for a long time, has something of a railroad fetish and never has come close to making it. I bought both parts of English Electric—compensation for The Underfall Yard, which they used to let you download for free—and while OK, nothing stood out as being particularly notable. So the best answer I can give is that Big Big Train is rock’s answer to Don Larsen—a mediocre career marked by one moment of absolute perfection.

It’s incomprehensible as the end of this here blog draws near, because this task has become an integral part of my life. I expect the first day I ride the train to work not writing about this memory or that, as I’ve done for most of the past three years, will be weird, as though I won’t know what to do with myself. I do, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

I was conversing via email with Dave awhile ago, and it occurred to me that it would be appropriate to bring the cast of characters whom I’ve loved and whom, as Norman Maclean famously wrote, I didn’t understand when I was young up to date. Lots of artists, when they don’t know how to end something throw in a Where Are They Now conclusion. I’m going to do that here, because I have to come up with something better than that in two days.

I did a little cyberstalking to learn about some people with whom I’ve lost contact. The following might be incomplete, but it’s the best information I have:

FAMILY

JIN: Jin’s been an L.A. resident now for 20 years, and it hasn’t seemed that long. She’s still in the TV editing game and still married to Paul (coming up on their 10th anniversary this year). Bridget will be eight this year and, undoubtedly, will continue to excel in everything while continuing to simultaneously please and aggravate her mother.

SCOTT: Scott has been in and around Cincinnati for nearly two decades—his 20th year there will be next year. He just celebrated his 18th wedding anniversary with Shani. At some point this month, he’ll have been with her, including dating and engagement, for more than half his life. Leah will be 11 in a month and is a budding artist of immense talent. John, who will be eight in the fall, is hitting above .300 in his first taste of baseball—far exceeding the performance of his uncle at such a tender age.

MATT: I have less contact with Matt than I do anyone else in the family, particularly since he moved to California a few years ago. He’s a big social-media guy, and, of course, I’m not. He’s doing well, moving up the upscale-corporate-restaurant chain.

CASEY: Casey’s been a Chicago resident for years and a substitute teacher at a school district in the far western burbs for a year. We see each other about once a month for dinner with our paramours, with Big Brother picking up the check, as is his wont.

DAD AND LAURA: Much like Scott, Dad now has been with Laura for more than half his life. They’ve been married 36 years, and if you add in the years that he was married to Mom, he’s been married, total, longer than I’ve been alive. That shouldn’t be a surprise, except that he wasn’t married to the same person all those years. Anyway, he’s been retired from his law practice for three years, living the dream at Torch Lake.

FRIENDS

MARTY: I lost track of Marty, as I think I mentioned a while back, three decades ago. Well, just for fun the other day, I did a quick Google search, and I found him, on the UAHS classmates site of all places. (I’m MIA on there.) He no longer wears glasses, and he seems to be hugging what would appear to be his daughter or wife. I can’t really tell. That’s all I know.

JIM: I found Columbus Jim on LinkedIn, which, as I mentioned awhile back, is the only social-media site I’m on. He looks much the same except his black hair is now white, although he has most of it. He’s married with three kids and living in Columbus.

MIKE: I lost touch with Mike years ago, and I haven’t been able to re-establishment contact, try as I might, through his parents. The last I heard, Mike went through a pretty bad divorce with Susie—they have three kids—around the start of the decade, and he was with another former classmate from UA.

STEVE: I last saw Steve a decade ago. My breakup with Debbie, as well as the end of the poker parties ended chances for us to see one another naturally as fatherhood responsibilities took hold. As far as I know, he’s still with Katie and his two daughters, living on the outskirts of Columbus.

MATT: I just saw Matt a couple weeks ago, as I mentioned, at his son’s graduation from Wabash. He’s still with Jeanine, going on 13 years, still lives in his hometown of Delaware, but he no longer leads a church.

JIM: It’s time for Michigan City Jim and me to get together for lunch, as we do on a semiregular basis. The Smead Jolley of journalism has been out of the game, in public relations, for nearly two decades. He and his wife live In Huntley, and his son is about to graduate from high school.

DAVE: I see Dave probably more than any other friend, although it’s been a while now. He’s been busy with his new job state government job. He’s still with Julie—26 years and counting, I think. His son, Andrew, just graduated from college, too, and his daughter, Caroline, is about to do the same from high school. (Dave, I know you’re reading, and I apologize for any factual errors here.)

DOUG: I haven’t seen Doug in a decade, and, like everyone else, he finally left Flint (and journalism) a few years back after a divorce from Teresa. He’s now living in El Paso, Texas, his hometown, and doing p.r. for … the symphony, I think? Anyway, I think he’s engaged again, and for all I know, remarried.

CHUCK: Chuck is the last one standing. Of all my friends and most of my associates, Chuck is the only one still in a newspaper gig, although he’s been working in Web production at The Dispatch for at least a decade. (We’re the last two still working at independent publications.) He’s married with two twin boys.

PARAMOURS

BETH: I’d completely lost touch with Beth after her mother ended communication between us 15 years ago, and although I’d relocated her mother and sister recently, I couldn’t find Beth, because I forgot her married name. Well, I just found her again. She seems to be doing well for herself in systems management, which is a shock considering she showed absolutely zero interest in computers when we were together. I don’t know whether she’s still married to the same guy she left me for or has more than the one son I wrote a poem for 20 years ago, but she still lives in Columbus.

JESSICA: Jessica still is married to the same guy whose wedding I attended in Colorado Springs 25 years ago this Labor Day (two kids, I think), and she works in the northwestern suburbs here in Chicago. Jessica still seems to still be a bit of a rabble-rouser, thank goodness, and she looks just the same—strikingly so—as she did when we met.

MELANIE: Hurricane Melanie seems to have all but dropped off the face of the earth. All I’ve been able to learn is that she married and had at least one kid, and she seems to be living in the Detroit suburbs, where she was from.

DEBBIE: As you know, I still keep in touch with Debbie. She’s still married to the guy she left me for and still lives in the house we bought together. Apparently, a lot of the plants we had were lost to disease or the weather over time, so the place looks different from when I saw it last. However, the locust tree I saved from tentworm in 1998 is about the tallest tree in the neighborhood, Debbie tells me. I’m proud of that.

LAURIE: You all know that.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

No. 4 – What’s Happening Brother / Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky) / Save the Children / God Is Love / Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)

Performer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriters: James Nyx, Marvin Gaye, Anna Gordy Gaye, Elgie Stover, Al Cleveland, Renaldo Benson
Original Release: What’s Going On
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: None.

This suite flows together, and after you hear it once, you can’t stop until the end. I can’t anyway. Breaking it up in shuffle mode on a CD or MP3 player is, quite simply, a sacrilege to this beautiful music. I can’t thank Jim enough for introducing me to What’s Going On back in Michigan City in 1988.

Well, we can’t have, in my opinion, the greatest protest song cycle in rock history without just one more long-winded political diatribe, can we?

When I was young, I was taught two things you didn’t talk about in mixed company were politics and religion. The thinking was, of course, that people had strong opinions about either, so raising the topic would lead only to unnecessary and unwanted arguments.

Well, you don’t have to look far these days to conclude that, particularly as religion increasingly has become intertwined with politics, it’s damn near impossible to avoid either subject. This, in my opinion, is partly because of 9/11 and the rise of the 24-hour news cycle. Simply, not enough news exists—or at least enough news that the major corporations behind the news stations want to cover—to fill 24 hours.

So, to fill the time, “news” stations give us the inevitable shoutfests by the same pundits who have polluted our airwaves for the past decade. What better to raise the ire of the shouters—and get increasingly disenfranchised and, thus, irate viewers to tune in—but politics and, to a lesser extent, religion?

Maybe it’s just me—I work in an industry where I read a lot of news—but now it seems you can’t go anywhere without running into the topics. Just wander over to ESPN and check out the top story of the day. I’ll bet dollars to pesos that you won’t be able to roll through two pages of comments without encountering the inevitable “Obama/Tea Party sucks” post—and that’s after ESPN moved to “clean up” its comments by going to Facebook logins.

One question: How has bringing politics and religion into EVERY discussion worked out for us? The way I see it: not very well. Is E Pluribus Unum just something we print on our coins or is it something we believe in?

Sure, you can find evidence that political rhetoric between left and right and Democrat and Republican always was harsh, but it used to be that, for the most part, the two sides would seek common ground and compromise to move things forward. Now, we seem to have a climate where only political purity matters.

Everyone, it seems, agrees that our country faces a lot of problems. Unfortunately, we have become so rigid in our philosophical differences that we can’t even agree as to WHAT is a problem: Is it the growing wage disparity? Surveillance in the age of The War on Terrorism? Reliance on fossil fuels? Reproductive rights? Gay marriage? Guns?

The country has become so divided that no matter what happens in 2016, half the people are going to be made to feel as though they’re being dragged kicking and screaming in whichever direction the party that holds power decides to go.

A salient question: Why have we decided that “agreeing to disagree” is acceptable? For some time now, I’ve wondered whether perhaps it’s time for this country to break up. Let the Republicans have the south to set up their free-market, Christian-based, anti-science, gun-heavy libertarian paradise, and the Democrats can set up their abortion-heavy, pro-union, multicultural, green atheist Utopia in the north. It isn’t going to happen, of course, but … why not?

Only a few nations have more people than the United States. They’re governed by dictatorships, or they’re so stratified that it doesn’t matter what most of the people want, because they have no power. (Do we really want to be China or India but with better plumbing?) Maybe it’s impossible for 300 million people to be led by democracy, and, considering the political climate these days, one could argue that we’re seeing evidence of that now.

Hell, we can’t even agree that we shouldn’t default on our debt (and cause a Depression in the process) without creating a political crisis. There’s no way we ever could do something as nuanced and sober as dividing our own country peacefully.

So we’re stuck with each other, doomed to battle over every little damned issue like a bunch of tribal cavemen until something truly gigantic happens that unites us. We know it isn’t an attack on our soil, because no more unifying event ever was used more divisively than 9/11.

Maybe Gene Roddenberry has it exactly right: Mankind will unite, finally, only when it’s proven that we aren’t alone in this universe, when it’s shown beyond any doubt that if we don’t work together, we’ll be escorted quickly into the ash heap of history. I’m not holding my breath that that will happen in my lifetime.

Like a lot of things, it’s easy to blame our great political divide on Reagan, who oversaw the end of the Fairness Doctrine. Perhaps that law was a restraint on free speech, but it also forced restrained debate, because you couldn’t just make crap up and float it out there without being forced to grant equal time to, well, FACTS.

As a result, we now have the shoutfests—a wealth of hate speech masquerading as talk radio and “news” under the guise of “free speech.” Although certainly it comes from both sides of the political spectrum, there’s no question that the Right is far more proficient and better at it. They’ve been playing the divide-and-conquer hate-for-profit game far longer than the Left.

But the biggest culprit here is the Internet.

The Internet gives voice to anyone and everyone who wants it, regardless of how little they know about the subject matter. The Internet also weights everyone’s opinion the same, so morons have just as much clout, at least in the marketplace of ideas, as the experts. The result is a forum where you can’t connect with anyone, because everyone is too busy interrupting the conversation with off-topic posts and insulting anyone who disagrees with them—poisoning the water.

Full disclosure: I post on the Internet, a lot, and although my grammar, spelling and coherence far exceeds that of the typical poster, I’m just as guilty of adding poison as anyone. I’ve come to realize that I’m as much a part of the problem as the troglodyte writing racist screeds about Obama in a forum devoted to whether Led Zeppelin ripped off Spirit on Stairway to Heaven.

It seems to me there’s a simple solution, which harkens back to where my screed all began. People used to not talk about politics and religion because of simple courtesy. Unfortunately, courtesy is an increasingly lost trait. No one has the time to be courteous when they’re too busy rushing here and there, testing, driving, trying to make ends meet, so most people reserve it only for the most important people in their lives. I can be just as bad as anyone in this regard, and as I approach 50, that’s not what I want to be. So, I’m going to be part of the solution.

When Dave, Doug and I embarked on our great scouting expedition of Windsor ballet establishments in February 1996 in preparation of Scott’s bachelor party, I had a particularly enjoyable close encounter with one of the artists. Her costume was that of a Catholic schoolgirl—short plaid skirt, white button-down top. It was right in my wheelhouse.

A few days later, I exchanged emails with Dave, and he greeted me by calling me Senor Plaid due to my effusive praise of the ballerina. Senor Plaid became my Internet nom de plume soon after that, and I’ve used it ever since.

Well, in three days, when I turn 50, Senor Plaid is retiring from the Internet. Call it a World Wide Boardicide.

Oh sure, I’ll still read the news—hopefully less of it on politically based sites, because I’m sick of politics—but I’ll no longer post my opinion, as Senor Plaid or anyone else, unless it’s solicited. That’s true of news stories; that’s true of sports stories; and that’s true of stories about Led Zeppelin possibly ripping off Spirit.

To those I’ve entertained, I say thanks for the +1s. To those I’ve unintentionally insulted, I apologize. And to those troglodytes who I intentionally insulted and who will continue to soil the Internet, I apologize that I won’t be around to mop the floor with you any longer.

But this isn’t about you; it’s about me. If I want to live in a better world, I have to participate in making it a better place. Better late than never.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

No. 5 – Guinnevere

Performer: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Songwriter: David Crosby
Original Release: Crosby, Stills & Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: CSNY2K, Portland 2-2-00, 2000. Actually, probably any version from this tour would suffice.

If I could have written any song on this here list, I would choose this one without hesitation. It’s absolutely perfect, not a single false note or lyric in it.

So why is it not No. 1? I mean, how do you top perfection? Well, every song above Guinnevere eclipses 15 minutes. In fact, Guinnevere is the only song in the top 19 that falls below five minutes in length. The way I see it, 22 minutes of perfection out of 25 total, beats 4 minutes of 100 percent perfection. Any further complaints, and I’d like to remind you of the rules stated on this here blog nearly three years ago: my house, my rules.

Guinnevere is another of those songs that the more I hear it, the more I like it. The point of real illumination was the CSN box set. When I heard that version of Guinnevere, which is more or less a Crosby solo demo, I was surprised that it was an unplugged version of Guinnevere. Of course, the studio version on Crosby, Stills & Nash isn’t exactly overproduced, but I loved the stripped-down version right away.

Then came the CSNY2K version, which is nothing short of stunning. I’d compare it to an ice crystal. It would break apart if you gripped it too tightly, yet somehow Crosby, Nash and Crosby’s 12-string hold it together.

On the CSN box set liner notes, Crosby wrote that people ask him all the time who was Guinnevere—who was the inspiration behind the song. Crosby’s answer was no one; it was an amalgamation of people he’d known up to that point. I’m not saying I disbelieve him, because, well … he wrote the song, so he should know, but I have to think one person stood out more than any other, and perhaps he just didn’t want to say.

Debbie wasn’t a big fan of this song, although she knew I was. She didn’t like it, because she knew it meant more to me than it did her and—more important—that she wasn’t my Guinnevere.

Debbie always thought Beth was Guinnevere. Yes, Beth hath green eyes (sort of) and golden hair (more or less), but I never caught her drawing pentagrams on the wall when she thought that no one was watching at all. Regardless, Debbie was dead wrong.

To me, Guinnevere is the unobtainable ideal, the embodiment of the perfect love. Well, anyone who has been in love with another person knows that the only perfect love is one that’s unrequited, because a person’s faults lay undiscovered.

My love of Beth was mostly definitely requited, but, even when I was most in love with her, even before we met, it never approached the ideal. The truth is Beth never was Guinnevere.

Jan Nolte was Guinnevere.

To this day, I remember the first time I saw her. It wasn’t in the warm wind down by the bay. Instead, it was in our eighth-grade Life Science class at Hastings. I even want to say it was in Room 108. The teacher, Mr. Hord, whom I loved, had Jan come to the front of the class to demonstrate some pattern of planetary movement in the solar system.

I’d never noticed Jan before for some reason, despite her being a cheerleader. That day she wore green cordouroy pants and a red, green and blue stripe cow-neck top, which clung to the impressive curves of her budding womanhood. Her reddish-blonde hair was cut in the Dorothy Hamill style that was de rigueur in Upper Arlington, and her blue eyes pierced my heart.

I remained smitten throughout junior high and high school. I had several classes with Jan throughout the years, and she knew who I was, but, of course, I never could bring myself to talk to her. I mean, how do you talk to Guinnevere? I was too busy gasping and clutching my heart when she passed by. I had no songs with which to woo her, even the one written by David Crosby that I wished I wrote. So I said nothing, except the occasional shy greeting.

My inability to break the silence led to something I wish I could roll back and redo but, of course, can’t. Sherman, set the way-back machine to October 1981.

I had parked that day in the student lot at UA and headed home quickly after school to be at Food World for the start of my 4-10 shift. I just started there and had no interest in punching my time card late. I had to be on time.

As I drove along Brandon Road, I saw Jan walking by herself on the sidewalk. She saw me and waved. I waved back and … KEPT DRIVING!

There was no need for later self-reproachment; I understood even as it happened the extent of my boneheadedness. In the back of my mind, I knew Jan was walking to Kingsdale, just a block away, for her job, and I had to hustle to get to work, but obviously I should have stopped to ask whether she wanted a ride.

If she said no, no harm done. If she said yes, even if it was just one more block to Kingsdale, a door would’ve opened. Where that door would’ve led, I’ll never know.

Of course, one possibility is that I would have discovered Jan’s faults and, thus, that she wasn’t really Guinnevere after all.