Sunday, May 27, 2012

Keep It Simple

What makes a great rock song?

Wow. That can be answered any of a number of ways. Memorable lyrics, power chords, anthemic feel…hard to answer, right?

Not for me. To me, the most memorable rock songs have had one key component. Simplicity. A catchy riff that anyone with a used six—string can pick up and copy.

Rock history is loaded with them. Bob Diddley gave us the Bo Diddley beat – that bomp-a-chong-a-chon…bomp bomp beat. The Kinks gave use the five notes the beginning of You Really Got Me – ba-DADA-duh-DAH, that has been copied by every aspiring garage band out there.

Now sure. Some great rock songs are more complex, and they’re equally great. But I was never a big fan of ‘Art Rock’ such as bands like Yes. I think they’re great, just not my cuppa tea. To this day I still can’t figure out the beat to Roundabout. Every time I think I got it I don’t. So while those complex songs are enjoyable to listen to, and to appreciate the innate complexity entailed in their construction, they are not the types of songs that aspiring rockers look to in order to copy. They are not memorable, or at least, memorizable.

So. Back to simplicity. There was a song that came out a couple of years back that caught my ear. Because it had that innate simplicity to it. So I started researching, which these days means I went to You Tube. It was there I discovered this –

THAT is a great rock song.

Seven notes. So memorable that the audience knows them & sings the notes.

Now, don’t confuse simple with easy. Jack White showed in that video why. You will note he played that entire song with one guitar. Tell me the first time you heard that song on the radio that you thought that was a bass guitar opening. I know I did. Jack then does ‘standard’ guitar for the verses, then amps it to slide guitar lead in the chorus. The same seven notes (with a G-A bridge). The crowd goes wild, he pauses, then repeats.

And that’s the catch. Simple to learn, hard to master. How many kids do you think heard that song & immediately went to their guitars to try to mimic? Well, Jack showed some old masters how he did it –

So add Jimmy Page and The Edge to the growing group that includes me (and thank you Dawn for turning me on to Jack) that think Jack White is on his way to Rock Legend status.

And they both owe him five bucks.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Big Myth

I have a question.

What are your rights?

I have another question.

Who granted you those rights?

This is an interesting discussion. Luckily for me I have a blog in which I can expand upon the topic. And luckily for you, you can comment on. So let’s see how this goes.

To the first question. In this country we have a Bill of Rights, consisting of amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They spell out such rights as freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, to avoid false imprisonment, and so on. And they are to reflect the intent of the founding fathers.

But read that last paragraph again, specifically the sentence that the Bill of Rights were amendments to the Constitution. In other words, our founding fathers determined that clarification was needed as to what our rights as Americans were.

Which leads to the second question. And that answer is pretty simple – our founding fathers, though ratification and subsequent amendments, granted we Americans those rights. In other words, they came from those in power. From men.

This is a key point; because many believe our rights are ‘God-given’. They are not. They are Government-given. Look at it this way – if they were God-Given, then what does God have against North Koreans, since they have virtually no rights? Does God really believe that Americans should have the right of freedom of speech but North Koreans shouldn’t?

Bottom line – stop invoking God as it regards your rights. He has no part in it.

So hooray for America, right? We have been granted certain freedoms by our government, so what a wonderful place to live and be a citizen of, right?

Well sure. Compared to North Korea.

But American history is loaded with tinkering and downright ignoring of our supposed ‘rights’. Couple of cases in point – Google ‘Japanese Internment 1942’ and see what comes up. Our government imprisoned Americans who only had the misfortune of having Japanese parents. And since it was a time of war against Japan, our government felt an apparent – but never proven – issue of national security was an overriding ideal than false imprisonment.

So the protection against false imprisonment isn’t a “right”. It’s conditional.

Next. Google ‘Patriot Act’. You will find, that in the aftermath of 9/11 our government felt the threat of terrorism overrode the citizen’s right to privacy. They could – and can – wiretap your phone calls without your knowledge. And, like the Japanese Americans in 1942, you can be put in jail over what those wiretaps uncover. Indefinitely, by they way, since they can label you a 'Enemy Combatant' (you gotta love these labels), which through the Patriot Act rescinds your right to a speedy trial, or even any trial. You can sit and rot in jail for as long as the government feels you should be there. There's still a bunch of them at Guantanamo Bay.

So the right to privacy is conditional. As is a right to justice or a speedy trial.

The right to dissent? Google ‘Kent State University.’

And I haven’t even mentioned slavery, which was legal in this country for its first 90 years and which took a Civil War and a proclamation of emancipation by Abraham Lincoln. So our revered founding fathers thought that you had rights – if you were white. If you were a black slave, you were property. Subhuman. 

So spare me how wonderful our founding fathers were. They were a group of politicians that, through majority vote (not God), decreed us some privileges that needed amending, and, as our history has shown, can be revoked. And their ilk throughout our nation’s history have repeatedly brought our so-called ‘rights’ into play, and have decided, at times, we should not have some of them.

Therefore I offer this: We have no rights. 

Instead we have a malleable collection of privileges that are fluid, negotiable, and change based on whatever is happening at the moment, given to us by people in power who can change their minds when they see fit.

Now. Let’s get back to “God-given” rights. What exactly are those? And do not say life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, because I will invoke North Korea again – they are every bit as human as us but do not enjoy those rights.

No, the apparent ‘God-given’ rights have to be something more basic. The right to food? Nope. People are starving. The right to shelter? Nope. Homeless people. The right to live? Well, that’s closer, but millions have been killed in wars in ‘the name of God.’ So apparently God, or more accurately, those that invoke his wisdom sometimes believe we do not even have the right to live. The 9/11 terrorists certainly believed that.

So I would now offer this. There are no God-given rights.

There is, as I see only one right we have. Only one inalienable truth that cannot be rescinded by law or man or nature.

The right to die.

It is the only thing I can think of that will happen to everyone, and no amount of government fiat can change it.

Try and revoke that, politicians. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I was walking down the hallway at work yesterday, when Reggie, the spiffily-dressed planner in my department saw me & said “J-To-The-B, wassup?”
J-To-The-B is Reggie’s nickname for me.
Which got me thinking. I have had a ton of nicknames throughout my life. Some people only have a couple, or maybe just one. Some poor souls never get one. Fortunately, I am not one of those people. If you are, drop me an email and I’ll give you one.
We like nicknames. It personalizes someone, makes them feel closer. I’m sure Reggie thinks ‘J-To-The-B’ gives us a secret little kinship. And he’s right. It does. But that’s because I like J-To-The B. It sounds cool, kinda hip. As I mentioned, I have had a lot of nicknames through the years. Some good, others, well…

My brother called me Nimrod.
My sister called me Ricky Retardo.
My dad called me Bud.
My new planner calls me Sir.
When I was a kid I wore a train engineer cap, and I got the nickname Chooch, as in Choo-Choo Charlie.
My ex-wife called me Jurr.
My yoga instructor calls me Writing Yogi
My son calls me Padre.
Guys on my high school golf team called me Hack Hack Plunk.
In middle school I was called Eddie Munster.

Some nicknames are contradictory, like calling a 350-pound guy ‘Tiny’. Others make no sense whatever, like, say, Weegie Thompson. I have no idea what a Weegie is. It’s not a Wedgie, as that’s something entirely different.
But nicknames are like jargon. It’s ‘Mystery Language’ that we embrace since it serves as a form of bonding, of familiarity. It’s a good thing.
Except that Ricky Retardo thing. Ugh.

Things I Used To Do

I was just sitting here musing about this fun trip I have been a part of for over 53 years now. You know, life.
And specifically, the wildly varied things I have done to keep from starving. Now, I went to college. Got two degrees, including an MBA. Just that alone would make some people conclude that my path has been a smooth upward climb to some cushy gig on Mahogany Row.
Uh, no.
Starts and stops. Interruptions for various personal reasons. Realizations that what I was trained to do I really didn’t want to do.
A not-complete list of my varied vocations includes the following:
·         Working in the produce department at a grocery store
·         Valet parking cars in Palm Beach
·         Raking traps at a golf course
·         Hosting a radio talk show on fantasy football
·         Pressure-cleaning roofs of houses
·         Texas Hold-‘Em poker dealer
·         Audio-visual technician
·         Running a sporting goods store
·         Professional golfer
·         Professional golf hustler
·         Transportation consultant
·         Computer trainee
·         Ran a transportation project that provided free trips Cuban refugees in Miami
·         Selling college alumni directories over the phone
·         Running a miniature golf course
·         Investment broker trainee
·         Insurance salesman trainee
…and those are the legal ones. All I can say to that is, a man has to pay the bills.
Now for the kicker. I do none of those things now. My career is in the mega-glamorous field of public transportation management. I design bus routes. I know…control yourselves. But it is a nice career, one I have been at for over 25 years now. And it is weird to think more of my career is behind me than in front of me. If things go according to plan (which they never do), I should retire in 12 years. Wow.
But my point in this little exercise is to show how unpredictable life can be. And since most of my story’s been written, I am thinking about my 18-year old, very talented son. He is an artist. Next year he will be accepting a scholarship somewhere and will be off to college in preparation for his career. Now, he seems extremely focused and appears to have a clear idea on what he wants to do. And I think that is wonderful.
I also think it is unrealistic.
Why? Because that’s life. You never know what’s around the corner.
And, really, ain’t that great?
I mean look. I think it’s wonderful that there are people who know at a very early age what they want to do with their lives, and further, have the means to achieve it. And for my son’s sake I hope he is one of those fortunate souls. I hope he takes that awesome talent of his and is able to transform it into a rewarding, enriching career that he loves every minute of. Nothing would make me prouder as a father.
But also, I will feel a little sad for him.
Because he will never get to experience the joy of pressure-cleaning a roof.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Truth In Advertising

Pop quiz: If someone mentions Seattle, what do you think of? Rainy days? Natural beauty? Coffee? Fish tossing? Grunge music?

It’s all true.

I can vouch, as I just returned from a business trip to The Emerald City (the city’s nickname, as voted on by the residents in 2007). Except something odd happened – it was sunny all three days I was there. The locals assured me that was an anomaly. A quick check of Wikipedia seemed to confirm, as Seattle is said to average only 79 sunny days a year.

Weather aside, it was a fantastic trip. Just to get the business out of the way, I was there to meet with their public transit executives on a technological project they implemented a few years back. However, that’s a great segue into one of the great positives of the city: Awesome mass transit. Unlike its west coast brethren Los Angeles and San Francisco, a car is not a necessity in Seattle. 1,500 local buses, 225 routes, express routes, a light rail line, streetcars, ferries…even a monorail that runs from the Space Needle to the light rail station in the heart of downtown. That was a remnant from the 1962 World’s Fair, but it is far from a tourist thing to do – it is a vital link from the north end of downtown. This network sets the framework for an urban/urbane environment the locals love.

Seattle sits between two large bodies of water – Lake Washington to the east and Puget Sound to the west. Beyond the water are snow-capped mountain ranges. The city itself is rather hilly as the shin splits I am nursing can attest. The downtown area is quite compact, which makes getting around convenient. Getting in and out of downtown? Different story. You got I-5 and I-90, and they’re packed.

So…ride the bus. Everyone else does.

Pike’s Market is the focal point of downtown. Down by the water (meaning downhill from the city – wear good walking shoes), Pike’s seems to be the social gathering spot, a great place to pick up some fresh flowers, crabs or fish. And yes. They do toss the fish there. Gladly. The locals revel in the attention they get and like to put on a show. In fact,  I asked Brandon, one of the tossers, if he would throw one for me while I filmed it. He asked, ‘Are you ready for it?’ Now, I’ve been in a lot of cities. When I hear a phrase like that, I reach for my wallet, as being ‘ready for it’ is code for, ‘Slip me a twenty and I’ll toss fish all day, Tourist.’
But that’s not what Brandon meant. He meant ‘Is your camera ready?’ It was, and he was. There went the fish. And back at him. Fun stuff.

We took the ferry ride from downtown to Bremerton, a bucolic hamlet on the other side of the Sound. And again, this isn’t a tourist thing – the ferry is a mode of transportation, as many downtown workers live on the other side of the Sound. Eight bucks round trip. Twenty minute ride. And awesome views the whole way.

Most everyone knows Starbucks started in Seattle. It also seems to end there as well, as there is a coffee shop on damn near every corner- - many of them Starbucks, but also upstarts like Seattle’s Best, have infiltrated the market. Without a doubt, the drink of choice in Seattle is a double latte.

I mentioned the Space Needle earlier. If you go, you must do the Space Needle. The only thing better than seeing the city from the water or Pike’s Market is from 520 feet in the air. On a clear day you can see Mount St. Helens over 200 miles away…so said Jay, the bartender at the restaurant at the top. But as it is you cannot beat the view. I planned to hang up there for a half hour. I stayed four hours.

Seattle is a heavily taxed city. Gas was $4.39 a gallon when I was there, in comparison to the $3.59 back here in Orlando. Sales taxes are high as well. Funny…I didn’t hear a lot of grumbling about that while I was there. Maybe it is because the locals know what they’re getting for their money.

Or maybe it’s because they know they are living in a beautiful city with wonderful urban amenities. This is reflected in their attitude, as they, or at least the ones I came in contact with, are a happy, contented, caffeinated bunch.

I could so live there.