I Wouldn’t Call it Love

Well the human race keeps ticking
But I don’t know how
I’d have thought we’d have killed
Each other by now
Yet there’s more of us
Then there ever was before
I wouldn’t call it love
But it’s more powerful than war

There’s a creation myth
That some believe
Out of the Garden
God cast Adam and Eve
Which leads me to bring up
A dangerous rumor
I wouldn’t call it love
But God’s got a sense of humor

Got a map of the universe
And no illusions
I’m not looking for order
In all this confusion
I know there’s no reason
I know there’s no rhyme
Just the random chance
There’s someone out there tonight

My baby she likes chocolate
And strawberry wine
Movie stars
And astrology signs
I’m getting older now
But I still like them young
I wouldn’t call it love
But it’s only just begun

This is one of my favorite No Show Ponies songs I have ever written.  It didnt make the current album, A Manual for Defeat, because we haven’t gotten the three piece arrangement right yet.  But it will be on the next one for sure.

The Folly of Man Vol. 1

Sometimes I view war as science fiction.  That does not mean that one part of my brain does not feel empathy for the suffering and horror that goes on.  In fact I think war should always be a last resort. 
However, if you view it in a certain way a great deal of absurdity arises.  Certain wars, when they are fought between civilizations at different levels of development are again almost like science fiction.  When we fight people in the hills of Afghanistan it is almost like people from two different time periods fighting.  Some strange portal opened up and people with space aged weaponry are fighting a bunch of ancient tribes over a barely inhabital landscape. 

I was reading about the Vietnam War in the van today.  I was reading about the folly of our use of helicopters in that war, something that has been confirmed to me by several vets.  I want to return to that theme when I get home as it is really interesting.  Anyway, I read something I hadn’t heard before.  Apparently the Vietminh would hide in tall grass with large bows and arrows in large numbers.  They would lie down, put their feet on the bow, and pull the chord back with their hands.  They would fire arrows with heavy tops that had things like rope and twine attached as low flying US helicopters would pass.  These objects would get caught in rotors and bring the helicopters down.  Sometimes as many as fifteen at a time.  This was during the early part of the war. 

Now imagine the billions we poured into state of the art helicopters during that war.  Then imagine them being brought down by primitive weapons in the hands of peasants.  I can only think maybe the Greeks got the gods right.  Maybe a group of supernatural beings were up on high finding themselves highly amused at such a situation.  Watching the hubris of the strongest most technically advanced nation brought low by a bunch of peasants using the same weapons that Robin Hood used.   We should have never gone into that country.  Either the gods were having a laugh or our leaders were really stupid and corrupt.  Maybe both?

Touring Again and Mountain Minstrelsy

Going on tour this weekend with Shinyribs in North Texas.  You can check our schedule at http://www.shinyribs.org.  Will most likely be off the grid till Sunday, though as always, I hope to get some posting in at some point.  

I am really excited to listen to the new Marah record while I am out on the road.  For those that don’t know Marah is one of best bands of the last 20 years.  No matter what style they work in, and they have played things from beautiful folk music to blistering rock, it is always filled with intelligence, wit, and heart.  A true rock n roll spirit informs everything they do, no matter what genre.  There isn’t a band on earth I would recommend more highly.  Personal favorites are Kids in Philly, 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry, and Life is a Problem.  Their lead singer Dave has one of the great modern rock voices.  

Their new album is actually billed as Marah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania.  This is a collective of Dave and Christine from Marah with local residents of Millheim, Pa.  Milheim is a one traffic light town in my former home state.  I had the pleasure of meeting Dave and Christine from Marah after the Shinyribs show in that town last year.  

For this new album they found a book of old folk song lyrics and wrote an album around them.  Then they recorded it live to tape with the local residents of that town in an old church.  The story is much more interesting than that, but I’m running out of time before I hit the road.  You should check out Dave’s own words on it at http://www.marah-usa.com.  

I hope to write a full review of the album when I get back.  It’s one of the releases I’ve been most excited about lately.  If you live in North Texas, perhaps I shall see you there…


Science Fiction Theater of the Absurd

I have finally succumbed to Doctor Who lately as my late night escapist entertainment.  I started with the 2005 series, but I know there is much more out there.  I have only watched about five episodes so far.

At first I felt guilty, like I had crossed some science fiction nerd border that there was no coming back from.  But then I realized when you can go from aliens to Charles Dickens in one episode, it’s like getting high without really having to.  You can dive into the world of free association without drugs.

Bring it on.  Let weirdness reign.  Ever since they closed the Enchanted Forest in Austin I have felt like the city’s Keep Austin Weird motto was declining in currency.  (The Enchanted Forest was like some kind of weird mutant hippie rave in the woods with bizarre art installations, music, late night movies, burlesque dancers, and booze and drugs.)  Leslie, our city’s famous transvestite, has passed away.  There are still things to see, but it’s not quite what it once was.

At least now, even though it’s not even close to the real experience, I can drift away into a science fiction theater of the absurd for an hour or two a night.  Though with the news these days it is often, alas, more real than reality.

Billy Cox Allows Hendrix to Transcend

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Adam Clayton and how his bass playing, despite often being deemed simplistic, is actually essential in creating U2’s sound.  While I was out on the road this weekend I was diving deep into the music of Jimi Hendrix, whom I have always loved, but haven’t listened to with this kind of focus for a couple of years.

Anyone that doubts Billy Cox, Jimi Hendrix’s bass player from Band of Gypsys on, only needs to listen to First Rays of the New Rising Sun.  There are some serious deep pocket grooves and some sixteenth note work that is especially challenging if you understand the bass.  He was much more of a traditional bass player than Noel Redding, whom I also love for different reasons.  Billy Cox had a thicker sound and a deeper pocket.  He filled up a great deal of space while Noel Redding played with a more frantic style that worked great for the early part of Hendrix’s career.

Anyway, I have been listening to Machine Gun lately from the Band of Gypsys album.  In many people’s opinion this is one of if not the high point in Hendrix’s career.  Hendrix was able to capture the imagery of the Vietnam War through the sound of his guitar.

Overall, the bass line is pretty simple compared to some of Cox’s other bass lines.  Although he occasionally branches out and jams, at around 7:25 minute mark for instance, but for the most part he lays down relatively simple deep pocket bass lines that hold the song together.  The most memorable one is the descending bass line that he starts the song with and employs throughout many of the songs twelve plus minutes.

First of all the bass line is very memorable.  If you listen to the song the part that will most likely stick in your head is this hook line that he plays on bass.  Also, even though he is playing somewhat simply he is playing with great tone and feel.

However, I again want to state that this main part of the bass line, and the bass line for most of the song, is pretty simple.  I am pretty sure it is something I could have played early on in my career.  But just because it is not extremely technically challenging does not mean it is not brilliant and functional.  Again, it is very memorable.  But what is most important about it is that it provides the glue and the foundation of the song.  Because of this foundation that Billy Cox creates it allows Hendrix the freedom to play transcendentally.  Hendrix doesn’t have to worry about holding the song together.  Cox does this and because of that Hendrix is free to let his imagination run rampant.

I stated in that post on Adam Clayton that someone has to stay home and block.  Someone has to hold a song together.  It is often the bass, but it can be any instrument.  Having someone in a band that is willing to subdue their ego is so important.  It doesn’t mean that they subdue their creativity, just that they are not concerned with having a staring role at all times.  Unless is it is AC\DC, Crazy Horse, or punk music, I’m not a fan of the simple root note style of bass playing.  I do want to hear some creativity.  I want to hear someone do something unique.  One should never confuse simplicity with lack of ability or lack of creativity.  Also one should always realize that when someone is onstage getting their moment to shine, it is often because someone else in the band is laying down a foundation that can be built upon.

Beating Ted Cruz

A Texas friend of mine said the following after seeing Ted Cruz’s picture on the cover of Texas Monthly:  “Even if Ted Cruz was awesome and believed in all the right things, wouldn’t just the site of him make you want to beat the piss out of him?”  Alas, I agree.  He just looks smarmy, like he just climbed out of the primordial ooze with the intent of stealing your grandmother’s pension.

Put Down or Backwards Compliment?

Julie Burchill is, of course, not loveable, and has pitifully late middle-aged legs.  Her naked body probably kills off marine plankton in the North Sea…Unchained from the cellar Burchill will make sure that you remember her…I shall be honored to attend her funeral and i might even jump into the grave.

Morrissey on Julie Burchill in Autobiography.  Burchill is a music journalist who once worked for the NME.  I know from living in the North East that you often rip on the ones you love as sort of a loving past time.  I get the sense North England, and Manchester particularly, is quite the same.  However, with Morrissey you can never be quite sure when he is giving someone a backhanded compliment and when he is slinging arrows at his enemies.  Just don’t ever accuse him of not having a sense of humor.

Why do the Japanese Make Such Weird Movies?!!!

I have long loved certain kinds of Japanese anime, especially the Studio Ghibli films.  Watch the movie Spirited Away sometime.  Visually these movies are unlike anything in Western culture.  Often after viewing one of these movies several questions come to mind.  Are the Japanese taking a lot of acid?  How do the Japanese know exactly what my dreams are like after I eat a Cadbury egg right before bed?  I often wonder if things like Santa Claus or Mickey Mouse are as strange to the Japanese as their films are to us.  Is there something in their culture that makes these movies so popular in Japan?

I don’t have a definitive answer, but I have read part of two books about Japanese culture.  One is A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony by Hector Garcia.  The other one is called The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture by Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno.  I admit that I am only about 30% through the first one and I haven’t actually even gotten to the part about anime yet.  However, what follows is some guesswork on my part that I believe will turn out to be somewhat accurate.

The Japanese highly value social harmony.  Because of this their culture is infused with a great deal of ambiguity.  People will often say things that are vague so that the other party is not offended.  A good deal of the time you can infer what people mean by the way they say something and not by what is actually being said.  The closest example in our culture that I can come up with is from an episode of Married with Children.  On the show there is a situation that goes something like the following:  Al Bundy gets asked by his wife Peggy how she looks.  He can either tell her she looks good and then be forced to sleep with her, or he can tell her that she looks bad and get slapped.  Neither outcome is desirable.  Because of this he tells her that she looks nice.  Nice is a lukewarm meaningless compliment that can only be understood by how someone says it.  The Japanese use a great deal of this kind of language so that they can maintain social harmony.

There are also other reasons that the Japanese are comfortable with ambiguity.  Another reason is related to the roll of Zen Buddhism’s influence on Japanese culture.  There are a series of brief stories that resemble riddles called koans.  The most famous one is: “What is the sound of one hand clapping.”  Another one is as follows:

Two monks were arguing about a flag.  One said, “The flag is moving.”  The other said, “The wind is moving.”  The sixth patriarch happened to be passing by.  He told them, “Not the wind, not the flag.  Mind is moving.”

These koans are supposed to be slightly confusing and ambiguous.  However, when you are confused you begin to think.  By thinking you can start moving towards enlightenment.

Another factor that might play into all of this is the way that the Japanese write.  Two of the Japanese alphabets, their culture uses three, are based on symbols.  Anyone that has seen the beautiful Japanese characters knows what I am talking about.  The Japanese do use our alphabet, but often when things are written in this alphabet this can be slightly confusing to the Japanese.  That is because their minds are trained to again read through symbols.  Reading is often a much more visual act for the Japanese.  Because of this the Japanese are a highly visual people.

So you combine a highly visual culture with people that are primed for ambiguity and that is my guess on how you arrive at strange cartoons that resemble acid trips.  Except for certain filmmakers like David Lynch, our cinema does not dive so regularly into that kind of abstract dream logic.  Unless of course we do drugs, which we sure have a lot of!

Vietnam, Ignorance of Culture, War Profiteering

I am going to try to explain a very complex subject in a very short amount of space.  While I was out this weekend I was reading about the Vietnam War.  I believe what I’m about to say has currency now with our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Really though it has to do with a lot of the wars we have been involved in, especially going back to the Indian Wars of the 1800’s.  We basically don’t take the time to understand a culture, we project our own politics onto it often based on what is in the best interest of big money, and then we make a mess out of shit.

A great deal of daily life in leading up to the Vietnam War was based on village culture.  People lived on their ancestral homeland in small villages and lived off the land.  What goods they couldn’t produce they would trade for rice and other goods that they got farming.  The people that they traded with were largely Chinese merchants.  Because of the Communist ties of the Chinese, the Diem government, which we backed, kicked the Chinese out of Vietnam.  Suddenly peaceful villagers’ rice was left to rot as they had no one to trade it with.  Many of the Vietnamese traded for water, as the brackish water that they used for farming was undrinkable.  They did collect water from rain, but this was not a solution to everyday needs.  After awhile these villagers, many of which were in South Vietnam and had no relation to the North Vietnamese, again this was a village society where politics and justice was local, resorted to banditry to get what they needed.

On top of this you had the French leaving after they were defeated and a large part of the law and order of the country left with it.  This didn’t matter so much in and of itself it had not been combined with the expulsion of the Chinese merchants.

To make it all more complicated Diem was a Catholic.  Millions of Catholics from the North were coerced into coming down into the South of Vietnam, some would say through government propaganda and fear tactics that we supported.  Some estimate that 1,500,000 refugees came to South Vietnam during this time.  Many of these people were also from a village society and had never lived anywhere other than their ancestral land.  Many of these people had nowhere to go to earn a living.  Some were put in power by the Diem government because they were Catholics, and were now in positions of power over those that were non-Catholic.

So basically lawlessness erupted that had nothing to do with communism.  It had to do with economic reasons, a breakdown in law and order, and a mixing of different cultures.  That’s not to say that there weren’t problems derived form the communist North.  However, because we didn’t understand the culture and we viewed everything through a communist vs. capitalist lens at the time, this led to the early escalation of the war.  Often we ended up killing or supporting people that killed peasants that only wanted to live in peace and have some kind of economic stability.  One of the biggest problems of Vietnam was trying to figure out who the enemy was.  Even calling Vietnam a civil war is a bit simplistic.  There were all kinds of different factions fighting for different reasons, especially in the beginning.

You can see in more recent times that we didn’t fully understand the Sunni Shiite dynamic or the tribal culture of Afghanistan.  We also didn’t realize, at least I hope we didn’t, that we were empowering our future enemy when we helped the Mujaheddin, aka the Taliban, fight against the Soviets.

During the Indian Wars we couldn’t separate the peaceful Indians from the ones that waged war, so we often just killed everyone.  Even when we did try to make treaties, even on the small occasion that we were acting in good faith, we often didn’t have interpreters that were good to deal with the Indians.  Often our government agents would walk away from a treaty with a very different interpretation from what the Indians had signed off on.

I guess if you are going to go to war you should at least try to understand the dynamics of the country you are invading.  Otherwise you end up in a war without end, fighting people that are no threat to you or your country.  Shame on our leaders and pity on those poor bastards sent to fight.

Where does big money come into all of this?  Everyone with half a brain knows that our country has plenty of companies that benefit economically from warfare.  They were once called war profiteers and looked on poorly, now they are called job creators.  One can read a lot of right wing literature and know that people wanted to go into Iraq long before 911.  911 was just an excuse to go in and do what some members of our society always wanted to do.  Often we killed Indians just because they lived over gold.  When you combine ignorance of culture with economic interests to go to war, there is a good chance that there is a giant shit storm brewing up ahead, just around that next bend in the road.

Touring, Touring

I was off the grid for awhile.  I was out on tour with Shinyribs.  It was a short two show run, but touring always feels longer than it is, even if you are having fun.  We drove eight hours to Oklahoma City on Friday.  We opened for the Turnpike Troubadours to around 2,000 people.  On Saturday we again opened for the Turnpike Troubadours in Amarillo, about a four hour drive, that night to about 1,200 people.  Sunday we had a long nine hour journey home. 

I had hoped to blog while I was out, but most of the time was spent in a van, at a venue, or spacing out in a hotel room.  I was slightly under the weather as well.  I listened to a great deal of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Jimi Hendrix, and read about Japanese culture and the Vietnam War.  I caught as much of the Olympics as I could.  That in a nutshell was my weekend.  Not very interesting to read about if you weren’t there I’m sure, but that is life: Always more interesting when you are taking part in it.  I’m just starting to feel more man than animal and I will resume posting throughout the week, at least until this week’s run.