Windup Wire

A Different View of Culture

The Grownups and Mad Men

The grownups they don’t know any more
Than you do
They still ache in their hearts
They’re just a little better at hiding the truth

Make me young
Make me young
Make me young again
There’s so much I don’t understand

They say a life viewed from the inside
Is just a series of defeats
And while that is partially true
Sometimes you find a love that’s sweet

Make me young
Make me young
Make me young again
There’s so much I don’t understand

We remain a mystery
Even to ourselves
Waiting on that one
That reflects us well

Make me young
Make me young
Make me young again
There’s so much I don’t understand

These are the lyrics to a song called The Grownups that I wrote.  It’s written from the perspective of a grownup talking to a child, letting them know that they still don’t have anything figured out.

I wrote this after I watched a really profound episode of Mad Men one time which also shares the title.  It takes place during the Kennedy assassination.  The characters are at a wedding when the news breaks.  Throughout the episode you realize that the younger characters are not as damaged as the older ones.  I also stole from one of my favorite George Orwell lines.

Mad Men is probably my favorite show on TV now because its story-lines play the long game.  It is almost like a novel in its approach.  It creates such a deep sense of character that by the time you get late into a season you can tell what is going on just by the way the characters look at each other.  This sort of long form narrative also leads to bigger emotional payoffs.  When Don Draper listened to The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows, for a brief moment I realized how shocking that music was at that time.  That is because it was shocking to the character of Don Draper, who is so well written.

The show is also excellent at capturing the existential despair that we all feel in our lives at times.  The anxiety that we face as the world changes around us seems very realistic to me in the way that it is portrayed in the show.  Most people marvel at the way the lives of the characters, the show takes place in the 60’s, are so different from our own.  I do to, but like most great art, it also is about us now.  Whatever time period we are in, we are still human.

That’s not to say that Mad Men is not also greatly entertaining and filled with moments of humor.  Anyone that has seen the show knows about the office party riding mower scene.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say that booze and riding mowers don’t go well together in an office.

If you haven’t seen the show, or have and haven’t enjoyed it, try starting it from the beginning.  This is a show where the journey from point A to point B is more important than any one episode.

In Search of Experience

I went out walkin’
Through streets paved with gold
Lifted some stones saw the skin and bones
Of a city without a soul
I went out walkin’ under an atomic sky
Where the ground won’t turn and the rain it burns
Like the tears when I said goodbye

Yeah I went with nothin’
Nothin’ but the thought of you
I went wandering

I went drifting through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t walk or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say, “They want the kingdom”
But they don’t want God in it

I went out ridin’ down that old eight lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Lookin’ for my own name

I went with nothin’
But the thought you’d be there too
Lookin’ for you

I went out there in search of experience
To taste and to touch and to feel as much
As a man can before he repents

I went out searching
Lookin’ for one good man
A spirit who would not bend or break
Who would sit at his father’s right hand
I went out walkin’ with a Bible and a gun
The word of God lay heavy on my heart
I was sure I was the one

Now Jesus, don’t you wait up
Jesus, I’ll be home soon
Yeah I went out for the papers, told her, I’d be back by noon

Yeah I left with nothin’
But the thought you’d be there too
Lookin’ for you

Yeah I left with nothin’
Nothin’ but the thought of you
I went wanderin’

The Wanderer by U2.  I know plenty of people that think Bono is not a great lyricist.  The truth is his early stuff is spotty, and the last few years he has been really hit or miss.  However, between the albums of The Joshua Tree and Pop, I think he was up there with some of the best.  I have always especially loved U2′s 90′s trilogy.  This is where U2 when looking for God in the excesses of the modern world.  Many of these songs are infused with doubt, which is a powerful thing in a song and is a thing which should be at the core of our humanity.  We’re left here without any answers.  I don’t trust people that claim they have all the answers.  I have never been a religious person, but I find religion to be at its most powerful when it is in the hands of those filled with doubt.

This is the last song on U2′s Zooropa album, which might be my favorite, even if I know it is not their best. (That title would have to be bestowed on Achtung Baby or The Joshua Tree.)  It’s the album that they went the furthest out into the world of night on.  It, along with Pop, another album I love, hasn’t been overplayed.  Johnny Cash actually sings this song and gives it an Old Testament weight.  I love the combination of Johnny Cash’s voice and the cheap futuristic music that backs it up.  Even though the album Zooropa is over 20 years old it still sounds like the future to me.  I especially love the spoken word lyrics:  I went out there in search of experience / To taste and to touch and to feel as much / As a man can before he repents.  

 

The Absurdity and Importance of Music

Bruce Springsteen once said something along the lines of music being the most ridiculous thing in the world and the most important.  To me this rings very true.  Nothing is more absurd than grown men arguing about a tambourine part in the studio.  At the same time music has kept me sane.  It is the closest thing I have to an organized religion. 

There are so many things in the music business that are completely absurd and utterly ridiculous.  First of all there are many musicians whose egos have them acting like they are the pharaoh of Egypt.  You are just a guitar player dude!  I recently heard about a musician who fired anyone in his band that was better looking than him. 

One of my favorite drinking albums of all time is Highwayman 2.  This is the band that featured Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.  There is a song on it called American Remains where they sing about being heroes of the homeland.  While drinking one night a friend of mine declared that, “They are acting like American heroes, but they are really just a bunch of old stoners!” 

There is the absurdity of the experiences associated with the music business too.  Many musicians can tell you stories about playing sold out clubs only to be eating a gas station burrito by yourself an hour later.  I remember one time Shinyribs played Threadgill’s.  There were roughly about 300 people in the audience at this particular show.  I wanted to have a late night party at my house to celebrate.  However, by the time I was done loading out the crowd had dispersed.  My late night party consisted of me drunk eating a block of cheese like a candy bar while watching Doctor Who! 

There is also the absurdity of perception.  I can’t tell you how many times a lawyer or a doctor, or someone else that has a beautiful home, a loving wife, and a successful career, has told me they would give anything to do what I do.  I always think, “Do you know what I make a year? Because if you did, I would highly fucking doubt it!”  That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate such sentiments, I actually genuinely do, but I also am able to keep in mind the absurdity between the reality and the perception.  When you come to a show in a place like New York City you see the party, the fun.  You didn’t see me hanging out in the van for six hours because we didn’t want to lose our parking space. 

Then there are just the little moments of ridiculousness that crop up here and there, but remain constants.  I mentioned grown men arguing about the minutia of a tambourine part.  I’ve done it and seen it done.  There are so many times when little things that are of no importance to the real world, that are fought over like the border between East and West during the Cold War.  If you brought a camera into every recording studio, there would definitely times of tedium, but there would also be a comic documentary to be made.  I recently watched a documentary on the making of a Stevie Nicks album and it played like a Christopher Guest movie, but for real. 

But music is also important.  To me it is my job, and my hobby, and my passion.  I listen to music every waking hour that I can.  It has allowed me to connect with people that I otherwise wouldn’t have met.  All those people that said that they would give anything to do what I do, I wouldn’t have even met if not for music.  It has allowed me to bond and have fun with love ones and friends.  Certain concerts are among some of the best memories of my life.  It is the fuel that keeps me going when I need it. 

It has also lifted my spirit when I was down.  Often if I am depressed I will go on a walk with my headphones.  Often the comic opera of someone like Morrissey, or the dark humor of Lou Reed can have me smiling in no time.  I remember one particular walk listening to Damien Dempsey’s You’re Not on Your Own Tonight and coming to the realization that in suffering we are not alone.  Everyone suffers at times and it allows us to empathize with one another.  “If you feel real bad then you’re not on your own tonight.” 

Music has also allowed me to see mystery and wonder in the world.  I remember traveling to Vienna with my family when I was at a young impressionable age.  The entire trip I walked around with U2’s Achtung Baby on my headphones.  That soundtrack combined with the images in front of me made the world seem mystical.  Music, at the right time and place, can enhance the human experience and take us out of the daily suffering of our lives.  It can reach the level of the spiritual. 

I think to keep your ego in check it is absolutely key to keep part of your mind aware of the ridiculousness and absurdity that is going on around you.  That really goes for any profession.  But, at least speaking for myself and I imagine others, one must realize the transcendent power that music and art has in life.  Sometimes I wonder if I could bare this world without it. 

My Dad is in the New York Times!

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/opinion/public-attitudes-about-climate-change.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=1

My Dad got a letter published in the New York Times today!  I am very proud of him.  His name is Donald A. Brown.  He has long spoken about the ethical problems concerning our response to climate change.  My Dad was an environmental lawyer most of his life.  After that he taught at Penn State.  He now is a professor of sustainability ethics and law at Widener University School of Law.

Benefit and Birthday Party Tonight

I try to limit the amount of posts that I have on here promoting stuff.  Although in this day and age one must promote ones work however they can, I also want this site to have value to readers in and of itself.  Otherwise there is no reason to come here!

However, my band No Show Ponies is playing a very special event tonight in Austin.  We are playing a birthday event at Roadhouse Rags for a friend that has also has been diagnosed with cancer.  The show is free and you can BYOB, but they will be taking donations if you are willing and able.  There will also be potluck food.

This will also be the last show at Roadhouse Rags.  It is another old school Austin venue that is going away.  It is one of the first places I played when I first moved to Austin about 9 years ago.

So if you are in Austin and want to have a celebratory night of fun, we will be out there…

On Raglan Road

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew 
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue; 
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way, 
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge 
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge, 
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay – 
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that’s known 
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone 
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say. 
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now 
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow 
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay – 
When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of day.

I have long been aware of the song On Raglan Road.  I love the version that Luke Kelly sings.  But I was not aware that it came from a poem by Patrick Kavanagh.  I was looking up some Irish poetry today and stumbled upon this.  

The Long Hard Climb to Change

I just read a troubling article that puts the chances of Republicans winning the Senate at 60%.  The Democrats, for whatever problems you might have with them, are still a party interested in actually governing.  The current GOP is not your grandfather’s Republican party, or even your father’s.  They are a bunch of extremists whose only principle seems to be use the US government as a trough for corporations.  Anything that doesn’t benefit corporations such environmental regulations, higher wages for workers, a safety net for the unfortunate, and on and on, is to be dismantled.  It is an unholy alliance of big money and the fundamentalist right.  Even those Republicans that dare compromise are often challenged and disavowed by a large amount of their own party. 

You’ve probably heard this rant a million times by now, but that makes it no less true.  I’ve talked about this before, but those of you that are conservative from a religious standpoint should watch the movie There Will Be Blood.  In the movie the main character, played by Daniel Day Lewis, who represents big business, makes an uncomfortable alliance with a preacher.  However, once he has everything he needs he beats the preacher to death with a bowling pin.  Once big business has everything it needs, once it has used up all of our resources, has people working for as little as possible, and no longer needs religion as a Trojan horse for its agenda, it will beat it to death and be done with it too. 

The Supreme Court just decided that there should be no limits on campaign contributions.  That to do so would be to limit free speech.  If you think you dislike politicians now, wait till you see what might be coming down the road!  The era of the middle manager is upon us.  We will be overwhelmed with dull minds that don’t question things as long as the money keeps rolling in. 

If you care at all about this country and where we are headed, then contribute in some way.  You should give money, even if it is a little, volunteer, talk to your friends, write or create something that points to what is going on, etc. 

And to all of you that think all politicians are the same:  You are fucking crazy!  Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz are light years apart.  Sure the system can at times occasionally grind even the best politicians down to mere shadows of themselves, but there is a difference.  If you don’t vote you are just accepting defeat. This is no time for apathy.  I am no fan of Obama’s drone policy, but if McCain had won we would probably be knee deep in at least a couple of other wars by now! 

There is still reason to hope though.  Look at the advances that have been made in the last few years with how we treat gay people.  Although the battle is not over many people have woken up to the fact that they are people too and deserve to be treated with dignity.  Bringing about positive change can be a long hard climb, but once you reach the summit it is amazing how quickly the whole world can look different. 

Morality and Censorship in Art

Should art have any kind of moral compass?  I’ve mentioned in recent posts that I’m currently going through a thrash metal phase.  I’ve been listening to albums by the Big 4, which is Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer.  Many songs by these bands depict the horrors of this world, and the next one, without any kind of commentary on how they feel about these horrors.  That’s not to say that these bands don’t also have socially conscious lyrics as well, but there are many that simply paint a picture and leave it up to the listener to interpret them. 

In particular I am thinking about the Slayer song Angel of Death.   The song is about the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.  This song talks about the horrors of the Holocaust without any kind of commentary by the band telling the listener if those deeds were good or bad.  Although Slayer would later go on to write things that had more of a point of view, at this point they were just writing brutal lyrics filled with horrors.  Because of listening to this song and others I have begun thinking about whether or not this kind of thing is responsible.    

In thinking about it I have decided that art, as long as it is art and a form of true expression, does not need to have a moral compass in the standard sense.  An artist’s only responsibility is to express themselves in the truest way that they can.  I would like to explain why I think this. 

First of all I am talking about art and not about commerce.  If something is done just to make money this is a betrayal of the talents of an artist.  All artists are lucky and are blessed with a talent.  Whether you deem that that talent is the result of hard work, DNA, fortunate circumstances, or some higher power, the ability to create something is a gift.  Using this “gift” for anything other than creating something that is true is not valuing the talent that you have been lucky enough to have bestowed upon you.  I am a realist.  I understand that in this day and age there are circumstances where the artist might have to occasionally cash in so that they have the freedom to nurture their true gift.  In the music business, for instance, it is growing harder and harder every day to make a living.  To create something to make money, so that you can survive, take care of your loved ones, and nurture your talent further, may not be ideal, but it may need to be done on occasion.  The line where this goes from being survival to exploitation of your talent is a murky one.  At the end of the day each individual needs to live with their own decisions. 

Also, there are plenty of things out there that have no artistry to them whatsoever and are simply done to exploit the public in some form or fashion.  Most reality TV is like this.  It creates the opposite of thinking.  It leaves the mind in a dulled state so that it can be more easily influenced by the advertising that is this forms true aim: To make money for large corporations.  Plus these things take many people that may have talent, and while possibly providing them with a living, uses those talents towards an idiotic end. 

So let’s get past that and take the exploitation of talent by commerce out of this.  Should an artist use that talent to try to make the world a better place, and if so how do they do that?  Again, I have already answered no.  That is not to say that I don’t idolize people like John Lennon and Bob Marley who inspired people with their calls for social justice.  But I would say that the art that they created was a natural extension of who they were and what they believed in.  Because of this their work is organic, full of passion, and rings true to this day.  If an artist gets to a place of enlightenment where they can write about topics that bring light to the world, then I am all for it.  If this kind of art comes from a true place it will have weight and validity. 

As an artist I think you should, despite the television and your gut often tells you the opposite, treat people like they are intelligent beings capable of reasoning on their own.  Another way to exploit talent is to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator.  If you are creating something you should not let your ego tell you that you are smarter than everyone.  You should assume that there are enough people that are as smart or are smarter than you that will get what you are doing.  If you look out at the world and see some kind of void in what you want you want to hear or see, then you should try to fill that void as best you can.  Even if this provides you with a smaller audience it is out of your control.  Sometimes, like Bob Dylan, the world will reward you.  Sometimes, like Vincent Van Gogh, the world may not catch onto what you are doing until you are long gone.  And there are sometimes when you may not ever be acknowledged, but that is ok.  At least you were trying to do something of value.  Success is not an indicator of anything.  The Backstreet Boys sold way more albums than The Velvet Underground, but only one of them moved the cultural needle. 

So now let us get back to Angel of Death.  Is a song morally reprehensible because it depicts a real world horror without any social commentary?  Again, I say no.  In doing so you would wrongly be assuming that everyone was stupid.  In doing something like this you are causing people to think for themselves.  Someone may or may not want to listen to something like this, but in hearing it they have to at least confront the issue.  They can’t ignore that something like this happened in the world.  This is not escapism, which too has its place and time.  I know enough about Slayer to know that they are not Nazi’s and that they actually wrote songs later that did express a point of view which was in no way associated with fascism.  They were simply depicting something, which in and of itself means that it is not necessarily moral, but it is not immoral. 

Two of my favorite bands of the last year have been The Angelic Upstarts and The Cockney Rejects.  These are two second generation British punk bands that are often associated with the Oi! Movement.  The Oi! Movement is really misunderstood as it was primarily a working class movement.  However, there were Oi! bands that were racist skinheads.  The Angelic Upstarts and the Cockney Rejects both actively fought against the right wing aspects of this movement, sometimes literally!  The Angelic Upstarts in particular were very political and often sang about supporting unions and other important working class topic matters.  They even have a song called Anti-Nazi

But what about the bands that were racist?  Should this music have been prevented from being made?  Although I would never listen to such things, I would say that art, if it is true expression, should never be censored.  If someone has a feeling, even an ignorant backwards feeling, if it is expressed truly in the public eye than it brings it out of the darkness.  Art is a conversation that often takes place in the public eye.  Where hatred and the less noble human emotions can often fester in back rooms, if it is created as something for mass consumption, as something tangible, it has to at least be acknowledged.  If you know something exists you can fight against it.  It has been given a form and a name.  All censorship does is give more power to those that are being censored.  It makes it a cause for those that are being censored, instead of maybe a silly little group of idiots on the fringe of society.  It also is an attempt to whitewash something that may exist.  It is far better to confront things and try to prevent what is causing something, then to ignore its existence.  It may someday, if not acknowledged, become a problem that you can’t ignore. 

So I started talking about the morality of art and ended up at censorship.  I always like to remember the Flannery O’Connor quote, and I’m paraphrasing here, that if an artist writes about dirt it is often because that artist despises dirt and not because they love it.  Although we should want love and joy out of art, we should also realize that those that are diving into the darkness of the human condition have a value as well.  We live in a capitalist society where you often vote with your dollar.  You should only vote for things that you think bring value to society, but that is for you as an individual to decide.  More often than not I would rather hang Vincent Van Gogh on my wall, but occasionally I want to stare transfixed at The Raft of the Medusa.  The duality of man fascinates me.  The world is such an interesting place! 

Post 501

My last post was my 500th post since I started this blog in August of last year.  I have hundreds of subscribers and have gotten thousands of visitors.  They say a blog takes about two years to find its footing.  I am still in the beginning stages of this blog, but I intend to see that two year mark and more.  I can’t thank all of you enough that have taken the time to read my writing.

In any kind of art form they tell you to find an identity, or brand, so that it is easy to sell what you do to people.  I simply cannot work like that.  The world is endlessly fascinating to me.  I might fall in love with a pop song one day, and the next be extremely interested in a history book.  I want to write about American culture in all its forms.  Hopefully by diving into a wide variety of things, one can get a better picture of how all these different pieces of our culture fit together.  I am hoping to create a site for people that are interested in our culture and the world at large.  Maybe it is just my way of trying to find and communicate with other people like me.

I don’t pretend to have all or even any of the answers.  Hopefully you will read something on here that will make you question something or think of something in a new way.  Even at their best these blogs are nothing more than hopefully the start of some kind of dialogue, even if it is just internal.

If you like what you read here please come back and tell other people about it.  If you don’t like what you are reading then I’m sure there is somewhere else on the internet for you.  Thanks again to everyone that has given this blog a shot.  I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it.  I intend to keep writing as much as I can, sometimes failing, but always trying.

In the future when all’s well…

Jeff

P.S.  I am slowly working on making this blog better.  I’ve read that nothing is more important to a blog’s success than updating it as much as possible.  Often when I sit down to work on the technical side of things, I end up feeling that another couple posts is more important.  If there is a topic that you are particularly interested in I hope you notice that there is a word cloud down at the bottom of the page.  There is still so much to do, oh but so little time…

Why Song Titles are Important

1.  WORLD PEACE IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS
2.  NEAL CASSADY DROPS DEAD
3.  ISTANBUL
4.  I’M NOT A MAN
5.  EARTH IS THE LONLIEST PLANET
6.  STAIRCASE AT THE UNIVERSITY
7.  THE BULLFIGHTER DIES
8.  KISS ME A LOT
9.  SMILER WITH KNIFE
10.  KICK THE BRIDE DOWN THE AISLE
11.  MOUNTJOY
12.  OBOE CONCERTO

 

Above is the track listing for the new Morrissey album, World Peace is None of Your Business, was just released.  One thing I have always loved about Morrissey is that he provides his work with many interesting titles.  Song titles are important.  Other than New Order, who to me have a certain communist bloc aesthetic in the sense that much of their artwork, music, and lyrics have a certain blankness to them that I believe is on purpose, I usually cringe when I see simple one word titles.  90’s bands often did this with songs titles like Sliver.  (I can’t remember if that is an actual title or not, but that was the kind of thing you would see often during that period.) 

Occasionally you can have something simple and it will have depth to it.  Bruce Springsteen’s The River has a certain carved in stone biblical nature to it.  Most of the time though a good song title can raise interest in a song and sometimes even provide added meaning to it. 

A song title is also a great way to start writing a set of lyrics.  If you have a strong title in mind quite often the lyrics will write themselves.  Sometimes I will come up with the chorus to something last, which often is where a title might originate from, but this is challenging.  Verses and bridges can often have various ideas that work together, but need some strong theme to tie them together.  A great title line or chorus is the thing that usually becomes the thread that runs through a piece.  If you can come up with that thread first then you can venture out from that unifying idea and know if something works or not.  Think of it like this:  If you know that you are writing an autobiography, a work of fiction, or a history book, then you already have some idea of the content that you can put in it.  If you have that strong song title then it already will start to direct your ideas in a certain way.  If you start with verses first, which can often lead to great writing as well, you will find yourself looking for that unifying idea later, which, at least to me, can sometimes be a challenge.  There is no right way to do things.  It is only that coming up with a great title first can be a way to get the ball rolling. 

I often find that a strong title will get me interested in something.  Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall captures the imagination is a way that pulls you in.  Sure, once you have pulled people in you need strong work or you will lose the attention of the listening.  However, getting people to take the time to check something out is important.  When I see the song title World Peace is None of Your Business, there are many ways in which that could be interpreted, and my curiosity is peaked.  A song title is like a headline to an article.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that the article is any good, but it gives it a better possibility of it being given a chance. 

 

 

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