Thursday, June 30, 2011

Melody of Mars

"By 2006, [as a side effect of the No Child Left Behind Act], 71 percent of school districts had narrowed their elementary-school curricula in order to make up the [core subjects gap]... between 1999 and 2004, the number of students enrolled in music courses fell by nearly half..."

- Alex Ross, "Learning the Score", anthologized in Listen to This.

"Music educators have continually observed the existence of male and 
female stereotypes ...  Vocal music, in particular, is often deemed a female instrument...  The 
fear of being feminized by peers often outweighs the joy of singing.  Researchers agree that older 
boys who choose to join choir are taking a risk with their symbolic masculinity."

- Jennifer M. Boss, Concordia University Portland, "Effects of Older Male Role Models on the Participation in Music Class
Of Male Students in Kindergarten, First and Second Grades "

It's no news flash that popular music has the imprint of black Americans from Louis Armstrong to Michael Jackson and beyond. Although many of the students in my high school were unaware that Elvis liked Willie Mae Thornton and the Beatles were fans of Blind Lemon Jefferson, they had a strong grasp of the styles, so the blues of Cream and Jimi Hendrix seemed a natural progression from those starting places. And those who sang in plays or choruses always had in mind the cool factor associated with sounding like Jack Bruce or John Lennon.

What happened in the intervening years moved inexorably away from melody on the male side of the Top Ten. "Wild Thing", the atmospheric talk-rock summer hit of 1966, was a specialty tune, as were even Dylan's talking blues hits like "Rainy Day Women" with their non-sung choruses. More normal were hummable melodies, typically harmonized, from We Five, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies, and The Byrds. In 2001, Nick Hornby wrote in the New Yorker about his experience listening to the Billboard Top 10:

"The Alicia Keys disk really isn't bad, however, and is certainly the only album in the Top Ten that I might contemplate playing again one day in the not too distant future, when the memory of this whole Billboard experience is a little less . . . vivid. ..Anyone who has lived through Deep Purple, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Cramps, Grandmaster Flash, and Nirvana could be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing out there with the potential to alienate in the way that our music antagonized our parents... Despite all this, an hour in the company of P. Diddy (formerly Puff Daddy, or Puffy, or Sean Combs) is a dismal, sordid experience." 

- and one involving no melody. The current list perhaps make a few inroads: Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" involves melody and harmony, at least in the choruses; "E.T." by Katy Perry has the 90's-classic pattern of guy-raps (Kanye West), girl-sings, in this case very predictably; Lupe Fiasco's "The Show Goes On" repeats the "Give Me Everything" pattern; Bruno Mars changes the pattern by keeping with melody the whole time in "The Lazy Song" - with even whistling. The rest of the list is pretty much female. The main element missing from ten years ago is the Metallica-style angry metal shout, where melody is only suggested.

Could it be there is an element of homophobia in this trend too? Is it possible that an environment of a calm "Dude, just don't hit on me, ok?" vs. the "OMG, I know a pervert!" rejection could take the negative charge off singing? We can perhaps look to New York for a heartening trend.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River

"There’s a raccoon in my
foundation - glares out at me
With anger or maybe fear –
I can’t quite tell the difference.
And I can’t quite get near
Enough to really tell.

"It may be having babies.
The animal hunter came by
And crawled under the house.
The critter seemed to be gone.
So we got new, sturdier
Grates. The old ones were clawed

"Through, discarded raccoon
portals. I wonder if someone
Can crawl through the basement
In my brain, the foundation
Holding my heart, the tunnel
To my soul, to find the

"Raccoon with the x-ray eyes
Hiding inside me, the
Joker in my dark hour
Shrieking for my ancestors,
The lurking space cowboy,
Bet you weren't ready for that."
(photo by Donna Copeland-Fuller)

This is true.

Danny Hughes had been a musician since his early teens - playing drums, guitar, and almost any other instrument in rock bands, some eventually becoming famous (always after he had left, like The Steve Miller Band) and some not. When he wasn't playing in a band, he was playing by himself, whatever he could do to feel the joy of the music and try to make some money at it. He'd had his ups and downs but thru the forty years of false starts, high hopes and low collapses, he
had been more successful than not. He'd paid off his house, not a fancy place by any means, but it was his, free and clear. He had a studio in the back and he was happy to record and mentor other, younger musicians. His house was the last on a block that stopped at a levee, over which was a bike trail, some industrial business, and the river.

Danny was one of those poor souls who discovered he had diabetes later in life. Of course, it didn't help that he'd had his share of booze and drugs, mostly meth, thru his years in the biz. But most of that was in the past and nowadays it was a rare occasion indeed when he would give in to that temptation. At 56 he looked 66, with long gray hair and an even longer gray beard, but his soul was that of a youngster and he was generous, some might say, to a fault. Not far from his house, and also over the levee, lived a fair number of homeless people, but Danny was always kind to them and recognized that but for a few lucky twists and turns, he could very well be one of them.

Maybe it was the August heat on that afternoon in 2007 that caused Tommy Duke to become more and more belligerent as he kept drinking, the godawful Sacramento heat and the booze. Danny was starting to get worried. He had accepted Tommy's request for music lessons but didn't realize what kind of young man he would be teaching. They were acquaintances from several prior meetings, but no one told Danny that Tommy had a mean streak that showed up and got worse in fairly unpredictable ways.

Danny had two drum kits on his property - one in his detached studio out back and one in his kitchen. He usually gave lessons in his kitchen and recorded in his studio. His kitchen was at the front of the house, facing Basler Street. Tommy had showed up a coupla hours earlier, red shirt, shorts, goatee and shaved head in the current manner of the hard-assed hipster. He was a stocky 30-something with a swagger and an attitude. Danny had accepted him as a possible student based on mutual friends and Danny's belief in the basic goodness of all people. But things were getting ugly.

To Be Continued

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dirty Deeds

(or, Old News Dept.)

"Shame is officially dead in public life."

- Mark Shields, PBS News Hour, 6/10/11, in reference to the Weiner scandal

"I feel entitled to classify myself with the martyrs; for I
confess to a grateful sense of satisfaction as I contemplate my approach-
ing political demise."

- Albert B. Fall, reflecting on Teapot Dome in 1923

“The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson.”

- Franklin D. Roosevelt 

"You have to walk out on a limb to the far end - for that's where the fruit is. If it breaks you learn how far to go next time."

- Billie Sol Estes, mid-1950's

"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

–George Orwell

"I pledge to you tonight, from this office, that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice and that such abuses are purged from our political processes in the years to come, long after I have left this office."

- Richard M. Nixon, 4/30/1973

"I apologize for lying to you. I promise I won't deceive you except in matters of this sort."

- Spiro T. Agnew, 1973

"Corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad."

–Henry A. Kissinger

"I was provided with additional input that was radically different from the truth. I assisted in furthering that version."

- Oliver North, 1985, IranContra testimony

"Power attracts the corruptible. Absolute power attracts the absolutely corruptible."

- Frank Herbert

" of [Jack Abramoff's] great gifts was being able to tell people what they wanted to hear, and this was how he was able to sell things and get them into trouble."

- Alex Gibney, director and writer of the 2010 film Casino Jack and the United States of Money 

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Reluctant Juror II

Maybe it was when I said we were at a tipping point in this country, with bankers and politicians seemingly impervious to prosecution for any perceived crimes. Or perhaps it was when I said our two-tiered legal system was becoming too blatant, with certain people "too big to be prosecuted"; even the pretense of parity was being laughingly ignored, while the rest of us were going through the usual motions of the justice machine. No, probably it was when I looked the prosecuting attorney in the eyes and told her I thought the defendant was innocent until she proved to me he wasn't, just as the judge had admonished us in the beginning, and she said, "Well, PRESUMED innocent", and I wondered out loud if things weren't a bit, shall we say, "unbalanced" in terms of our current level of justice and if maybe, just maybe, we weren't in a period of taking a coupla steps back for each step forward. I was in the row in front of the actual jury box and a gentleman behind me had said that even after several hundred years we were still wrestling with this justice thing and I agreed with him, but couldn't help wondering if we were in a period of slippage.

I was astonished as I sat in the courtroom waiting to be brought up on the panel when another panelist who was up there before me said he felt our current jury system was unfair to the average working person. I couldn't remember ever hearing anyone say something like that, and as I said in my last post, I've been in this situation at least a dozen times. Everyone is usually so concerned about being "polite" and/or getting out of jury duty with some personal excuse. I have not agreed with trying to evade jury duty. I don't know about you, but in my life I've done very few things "for my community", and jury duty is at least one thing I can do. But the times they are a-changin'. I know there are those in this country who refuse to serve on a jury for various "political" reasons, but I had never personally heard anyone say it in an actual courtroom setting. And at least as long as I was there, I heard three people (including myself) touch on this.

At no point did I say I would not serve on that jury, and of course would have if chosen. When it came time for the prosecuting attorney to ask people to leave, her first pick was someone else behind me in the actual jury box. The judge, as is the procedure, then asked me to get up and take that person's seat. As I rose, the prosecuting attorney interrupted and said, "That's okay, your honor, Mr. Fuller is excused". I left and as I passed her she smiled. We separated on good terms.

There were three more panels that day but I was not chosen for any of them. My duty had ended, at least for another 18 months.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wind and Wuthering

Last Tuesday, returning to work after a long weekend, I took a fleeting look at the weather online at around ten to see what might be happening an hour later when I went for my daily walk. At the beginning of the day there was a low percentage chance of rain and a fleeting sprinkle, and at ten it was cloudy outside. On's hourly view, 11 a.m. and later showed a 10% chance of rain, and the doppler animation showed a typical northeastern-moving system decaying on its westerly edge. I went on about my work business.

Around 45 minutes later, coming back from the bathroom, a guy with a sardonic style said "ready for your walk?" - meaning, I discovered as I looked out the window, "ready to get wet?" A steady rain was falling, and when I checked again, noon showed a 25% chance of rain, and the doppler showed what was a former decay area backfilling with green. I thought immediately of the book I was finishing, Last King of Scotland author Giles Foden's book called Turbulence.

About this date in 1944, the top weather wonks in four countries were frantically crunching numbers on the weather data gathered over the prior week. All were trying to get a read on what the weather might be like on a likely major invasion date, a time propitious due to a combination of abundant war material in the vicinity of France, a full moon, and a low tide. Though the predictions for early June two weeks before called for moderate weather, late May's forecast had a big downturn, and Operation Overlord faced a major, sustained storm during that otherwise preferred period. Turbulence is a novel, based on that couple of weeks, which describes the tensions of the relationship between General Eisenhower and the fractious team of forecasters reporting to him hailing from England, the U.S., and Denmark.

Then, as now, weather balloons and toaster-sized transmitters called radiosondes were used for upper-atmosphere readings, and buoys and land-based stations were used for surface data. Reconaissance flights filled in some data gaps in between, but the risks inherent in that gathering mechanism left plenty of holes. After the 1920's, there was much knowledge of how to create formulas relating to the turbulence of storms to at least theoretically increase accuracy, thanks to the research of a mathematician named Lewis Richardson, however,

Richardson’s estimated number of human calculators needed to keep
pace with weather developments was 64,000, all located in one very large room. 1

Even given the number-crunching limitations, however, forecasters had bad enough news for Ike on the third that the planned date of the fifth was scrapped; a storm like that would have resulted in several times the casualties that actually occurred. However, on the fourth of June, all the forecasters came to a rare agreement that there was roughly a day of calm in the action, a day of calm, moreover, which the German forecasters did not see, or perhaps even look for - and that day was the sixth of June. And even though the day featured far from perfect weather, the relative calm made for what all acknowledge as a successful invasion.

Ironically, the satellite data, profusion of ground stations, and especially computers, would not have changed that decision significantly, other than to supply the data slightly more quickly, given the volatility of the system. Of course, the Germans in that case would have had the same data, and would have been much better prepared.

In my case, I went out an hour later and got slightly less wet.