Saturday, May 31, 2014


I've always believed that fiddling was a whole lot about rhythm, pace, beat, pulse, drive, all those characteristics which form the ocean on which melody bobs and rocks. Tommy Jarrell taught me that bowing was in this sense more fundamental than melodic details: you could miss some sixteenth-note glissando (pretty though it might be, and with it all the better for the porridge), but you'd better not lose the beat, or forget that "and" is at least as important as "one." Back in the day the band I used to be in, back when it was alive and interested in seeing what was around the next corner, tried out a drummer. He was a guy who was around those parts, had worked with us in Diamond Studs, and was basically a jazz guy, influenced by fifties and sixties jazz, a lot about the cymbal and brush and various other things people like Coltrane and Miles Davis wanted in their rhythm sections. We had some nice conversations about jazz, as I'd really listened to a lot of that stuff too, and loved it. But boy oh boy did he not work in our band. Maybe his problem was not hearing where the pulse was, but just trying to impose it. Anyways, we gave up that experiment after a couple of tries at the home club, the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill.

Two decades later I was playing in a cajun-zydeco band called Unknown Tongues. They'd had another jazz oriented drummer when Libby and I were invited to their dance, and he certainly did listen to what was going on (plus he would sing now and again). When he left they tried out a couple of rock guys, and because the band leader, Bryan Blake, could tell a drummer what he wanted and get him to do it, things went pretty well. Then along came Tom Parker, a guy who'd played behind touring blues players and had washed up in New Bern, NC, tired of the road, but with a soul as brimming with music as anyone I've ever met. Tom connected with Tongues immediately, and with the zydeco rhythms Bryan was aiming to harness. Some of the best musical nights of my life were passing rhythmic figures back and forth with Tom, full blasting volume, the joint literally jumping to a point that floor joists in ancient structures might have been just a little sprung permanently. I was the second fiddler so to speak, not much in front where Bryan held the focus with his accordion and singing, but standing back and not too far from Tom's central location, so Tom and me could share a glance. What I could tell right away was, Tom was all the time listening! I'd play some rhythmic phrase and damn if he wouldn't shoot it back at me in the next measure. It was fantastic. The shows built and built to great explosions of sweat-drenched, 20-minute medleys of zydeco classics, Chavis, Delafos, Congo Square, Talk to Your Daughter exuberance.

Over the years, before and after Libby and I left The Tongues, Tom maintained that great rhythmic center, and Tongues just got tighter and tighter. It's been fifteen years already since he walked into Bryan's parlor down in Gloucester, NC. Mighty good times.

So's I get this email today from the Tongues, which I'll share with you:

Friends - our beloved Tom Parker, drummer for the Unknown Tongues for the past 15 years, is recovering from a motorcycle accident in which he suffered a brain injury. After a month in the hospital he is now home and making remarkable progress. But his hospital bills will be staggering and as a self-employed musician and carpenter, he will be out of work for many weeks to come as he continues to heal. His New Bern community has organized a fundraiser June 14 at Isaac Taylor Garden [in New Bern, NC] and Tom's Unknown Tongue family will be playing around 5pm. Please come and show your support for Tom! If you can't make it, you can contribute online or we will gladly collect donations at any of our upcoming shows and pass them on to this remarkable human being we love so much. Much appreciation and love!!

You can send some dough via

You should make the show if you can, or any of the upcoming Tongues' shows, where they will pass donations on, or hunt up the Tongues' web page.

And by the way. We give a lot of lip service in this great land of ours to people who give a shit, who live honestly and with integrity. But when it comes right down to it, a straight-up guy like Tom is left financially exposed because of an accident, because this country basically has no universally available medical system, because the Romney one-percenters hold tight to their billions until the eagles grin. That's why the VA situation is messed up: no one was willing to pay to fix it. But it's not just the VA. It's everyone who couldn't afford insurance.

I'm praying that however the money side goes, Tom will recover and be back to playing. If you were ever at a Tongues gig, Tom lifted you up whether you know it or not. You owe him. We all do.

Of course Tom's other instrument would be the bass.

The community--you can spot Tom here and there in the shots. Bryan and Barbara Blake are doing most of the talking, about their tradition of Gloucester, NC Mardi Gras.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Vortex Logic

Mr. Limbaugh compared the Nation's children to pets yesterday, according to Chris Matthews. The issue under discussion was Mrs. Obama's efforts to improve school lunch menus in the sense of including more vegetables and such. Hardly shocking I know. Apparently over 90% of school lunch programs have indeed raised their "healthy food" standards. Mr. Limbaugh's snipe: we give animals we want to tame free food.

There is a logic to this, it's just sick and irresponsible. Meanwhile, my own senator, Richard Burr, has come out with an attack on all the veterans organizations, because they are not offering blanket criticisms of the Obama administration concerning the VA hospital system. Here's what I say to that stupidity--also driven by the vortex logic which the Republican Party has adopted en masse: anything which hurts the Obama Administration is good. Vote for Senator Kay Hagan this fall. Otherwise, NC, you'll get another Richard Burr in the person of Tom Tillis.

In Wyoming they are considering a bill to halt the teaching of various areas of science, because Wyoming legislators sense a conflict between the huge coal industry there and issues of climate change. Their idea seems to be, "don't tell the kids, they'll turn on us." Hey cowboy, we've been there, done that, in NC. When I was a kid I was told by almost all the powers that be (aside from my dad, who was none the less and inveterate smoker of Lucky Strikes who had put himself through college by working a portion of his dad's tobacco crop) that tobacco was not bad for you, science be damned. That was because the tobacco industry kept NC afloat in the 1950s. Even into the '70s you could hear glowing ag news reports on NC stations about how we were expanding our tobacco exports hugely into the Chinese and Asian markets. This was entirely good news, because the story ended at that point and there was no medical news segment.

Al Gore has had a bumpy road since 2000. He's gotten fat, had some sort of affair, lost his nice wife Tipper. While he got a lot of cudos for his movie, it must feel a little lonely on his endless speaking tour. But you have to wonder just how complicit the Press was in Mr. Gore's loss in that fateful election, which brought us two almost endless wars and a lot more trouble. Apparently in the US you just can't mess with Texas, where oil is king and everyone has a concealed carry permit, and the ones what don't wear their gun outside their pants for all the honest world to feel. Last time we were in Austin was early April of 2003, a week into the Iraq War. Johnnie Mata was already home and in the ground in Pecos. Our host said "it'll be too hot here next week until October." A year or two later she moved to Asheville for the summer months. There's a nice cool breeze there, falling down the surrounding hills every evening, and our host can sit on her porch and play fiddle without the neck melting off.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Weekend, or Pollen Peak

We used to be riding back from Fiddlers Grove on Sunday, Memorial Day Weekend, hoping to catch Indy or some of it. It's been a kind of "tradition" for me since I was a kid in the '50s, paying attention to this hard-boiled race. Back then it was a radio event, and sometimes just the news of it, not actually listening to someone excitedly recount the circles. I'd also notice the Firestone Tire ads in Life Magazine, which featured the winners unless they'd just gotten killed, like Billy Vukovich, who's dates are b. Dec. 13 1918, Fresno, CA; d. May 30, 1955, Indianapolis, IN. Which isn't some anonymous moment now is it, May 30 being Sunday Memorial Day weekend, and Indianapolis being where the 500 happens on that day, and sure enough Billy was trying for his third successive victory and went over the wall while leading. Here's what a racing reporter thought at the time (more or less). His archaic views are almost humorous given that today at Indy they'll be running above 200 mph. The track, however, has indeed changed: the walls and enclosures are much better, and the driver restraint systems as well. Indy car racing is still a dangerous deal, however. A man in an open cockpit going 200 miles an hour is exposed to forces capable of killing him.

Like the Kennedy assassination, the Vukovich accident is a complex of mysteries and what-ifs. The best analysis is that he died of head injuries, not from fire (as initial reports indicated). You can of course google just like I can. It took much too long to figure out how to make the race cars less death traps. Seems like there was a time when nearly every big race involved drivers burning to death, and this was true in NASCAR as well as the open wheeled areas. Then there were the further weird accidents, like Davey Allison dying in a wreck at Talladega while attempting to land his helicopter. Even though there's a lot of obvious physics in racing, it seems to take dramatic losses to change things much. Ayerton Senna's death is the last (so far) in F-1 racing. Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001 caused huge changes in NASCAR, both in driver in-car protection, and in changes to all the tracks. All the changes could have been accomplished before the fatal crashes that spurred them. But it remains true that racing is very dangerous, and that speed will always increase the danger while it also adds to the excitement.

It's a wonderful cool morning here today, the Sunday of Indianapolis and Monaco F-1 and the Charlotte 600. I might run the weed-eater after a while. I'll wear safety goggles and gloves, and some tick spray. Also a dust mask to keep out the pollen.

Update: I'll bet something was nagging at you about this post. I looked it up, and confirmed a wisp of a memory. Used to be the Indy 500 was run on a Monday, the actual Memorial Day. That's when it ran in '55, when Vukovich went over the wall. Whether my grammar school was out on Memorial Day would be harder to find out. My guess is, no, because the end of school was at hand anyways. But I think generally back when I was a kid I'd find out about the race afterwards, not from even radio, and there was no television coverage at that time. The race switched to Sunday in 1974.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


As I noted a couple of weeks ago, all of North Carolina's Republican senatorial candidates (now sifted down to one actual candidate, Tom Tillis, running to unseat our current Democratic senator, Kay Hagan), stated unequivocally and with derisive chortles that global climate change is a hoax. I believe that among Mr. Tillis's legislative achievements was a successful effort to thwart long-term planning concerning the possibility that sea level rise could have enormous effects on life as we know it and live it today here in the Old North State.

As this vast portion of Antarctica melts over the next few decades, causing a rise in sea level of up to ten feet, many of our major coastal cities will lose large amounts of very expensive real estate, displacing thousands of citizens in the process. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that sea level rise will not only be a matter of gradual inches, such as we watch when we fill the bath tub, but will be expressed as well in catastrophic storm surges coming with relatively unpredictable super storms, such as we saw a couple of years ago in Hurricane Sandy.

The complexity that is our atmosphere and climate contains many interlocking systems. Big fires in, for example, Australia and our American west, deposit tons of soot on distant glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. This layer of soot in turn holds more solar energy than a formerly whiter ice face, thus causing more melting. As temperatures rise in central Australia, hot winds blow more rapidly across Antarctic barrens, and are particularly focused by canyons and mountains to work on the particular glacier now melting to eventual extinction. So it goes.

There is no doubt that any effort to change the world's energy economy in a direction away from continued use of fossil fuels will ultimately affect the total wealth of corporations and people who are engaged in that economy. There is thus no doubt at all, and greatly ironic, that the most fervent believers in the process of global climate change now underway are people like the Koch brothers, who possess a wealth based on the continued use of fossil fuels.

This is why they continue to spend millions of dollars of their own wealth to defeat any effort to affect the course of the current world energy economy. The Kochs would spend absolutely nothing on a mere academic exercise. They didn't get rich by being altruistic. Their own fortunes, and perhaps even more important to them, their almost unlimited power of action, is what they are spending their money to protect. And what they get for their money is one of the major American political parties now maintaining, as a matter of party doctrine, that global climate change is a falsehood. And the result of this doctrine is Congressional inaction, which protects fossil fuel economic interests.

This was Coney Island the night Hurricane Sandy came by to visit. Even a committed Republican like Chris Christie had a brief change of heart on the issue of climate change while he slogged through the water and surveyed the damage, and begged a President his party despised for a little immediate help. All that has of course dissipated now, and Christie toes to doctrine just as much as the rest.

It would be nice to see Republican dreams of a complete take-over of Congress unrealized. Nothing is going to change the rise in sea level already set in motion, but it's always better to know what's going on.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Nothing Was Delivered

We've been working our way through the Oscar nominees this spring. Philomena happened to arrive first, and was much appreciated. Then came The Wolf of Wall Street. I've mostly liked and enjoyed Scorsese's work, starting with Mean Streets and certainly including his fine documentary portrait Shine a Light. There is of course no doubt at all about Scorsese's technical chops, or his ability to put gorgeous image after gorgeous image before us. DiCaprio is his usual quality- performance self.

I nontheless found Wolf literally unwatchable, and I gave up about 2/3rds through. Libby had watched the film the night before and had turned it off with about fifteen minutes to go. She didn't say anything about her reactions, generously letting me see for myself. The huge positive press for Wolf, which I sampled after my viewing, seemed mystifying.

It's not that the brutal cynicism of people who think it's all measured in currency isn't worth examining. That's our human plight, and what's wrong (among other things) with our dismaying efforts to manage to generate and maintain an humane government capable of dealing with this continent-sized nation. This coming weekend the champions of Cliven Bundy are going to ride their off-road four-wheelers through a protected national monument in Utah aiming to erode further the Bureau of Land Management's legal responsibilities over the parcel of desert canyon in question. The implications of an absolutist Second Amendment are becoming more and more apparent, and Mr. LaPierre is more and more becoming merely the political face of this no-nothing Americanism, the man in the ill-fitting suit who fronts for people willing to kill whatever happens to enrage them. It is a comedy of anarchy, a dumb and dumber movement managing to elect Congressional representatives who are capable of nothing more subtle than window breaking whilst in the shadows the billionaires continue to shovel our money into their waiting boxcars.

Wolf of Wall Street does indeed portray this vapid pornography of money. But I saw no sign at all that anything was going to happen differently in the frames I gave up on. Indeed, since Scorsese filmed a biography, the asshole who DiCaprio portrays is making one more trip to the bank, this time with the royalties from this glossy, successful movie.

The next evening I went back and watched Antonioni's L'Eclisse yet again. This almost perfect film, from 1962, is also "about" Wall Street after all. Back then there were no computers, and a real "floor" filled with excited brokers all buying and selling at once, and clerks making frantic calculations with pen and paper. Yet L'Eclisse is fundamentally an examination of absence, which is actually what the title means in Italian: did not arrive. Even back in those simple times, when movies were in black and white, it was really fairly obvious. The movie was booed at Canne, then won the prize.

Of course one can bring to Wolf of Wall Street the understanding that this is a portrait of banality. But for me, anyways, it was much more interesting to watch a film about a person who is wandering, mystified, in the midst of the banality, and who can't understand what the big deal is all about anyway.

Back at the end of the Second World War, everyone left alive understood how close humankind had come to the abyss. For a little while there was a concerted effort to back away. Money and power continue to charm, however, and in a few decades no one at all remembered. Our lives are so short, and memory is crucial. Who reads books? These days everyone seems to be constantly talking on their smart phones.

On Friday Limbaugh called the Pope a Marxist again and said charity was a church function. Hannity defended a guy who set up a trap for some teenagers who were breaking into his house and then gunned them down, even laying out a tarp where he planned for them to fall so that their blood wouldn't stain his rug. Yesterday on C-span they ran a very long, detailed presentation by a coterie of scientists on the progress of global climate change. One of the salient messages--the effects are upon us, and are already affecting us all. But all of NC's Republcan candidates for Senator reject the "theory" of global climate change as a matter of doctrine.

In the rooms the people come and go, talking of Michaelangelo, on their smart phones.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ok, Hoist

Thankfully, this may remain on the internet for some time:

Mr. D'souza keeps showing up on the teevee even after having been indicted for election law fraud. He seems to revel in the victimhood situation, wallowing and splashing like a 4-year-old in one of those plastic backyard play-pools. Meanwhile, the Clippers won their series with the Warriors last night, and Mr. Sterling says "I shoulda just paid her off." Given what Rollie Massimino reported that Sterling said to him in 1983:

...Anyhow, according to Phipps, Massimino boarded the jet, and when he landed in Los Angeles he exited the walkway and spotted Sterling. “They met,” said Phipps, “and between 3 and 4 in the morning my phone rings.” It was an irate Massimino. “I’m sorry,” he told Phipps, “but I’d never work for that son of a bitch. Ever.”

Phipps, half asleep, sat up on his bed and asked what went wrong. “Here’s this guy,” Massimino said, “and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers.’”

Massimino told Phipps he began screaming at Sterling and swore he’d rather die than become coach of the Clippers....

I guess I'm still glad the Clippers won last night, although the Warriors are a great team too, and have an embattled black coach who, unlike Doc Rivers, is likely going to be fired for Steve Kerr (according to reports). But why in the world did Mr. Rivers take the damn job in the first place? This Massimino story was out there for many many years, as well as so much more (just do the google on Sterling).

The Sterling story isn't over either. Apparently he likes to fight, and given our current Supreme Court, which seems to put money and property above all else, I won't really be surprised to find that in this great land of ours a person like Mr. Sterling cannot be removed from his property for the reasons Mr. Silver has offered. Silver has dumped Sterling. Eventually, Sterling may well dump Silver. Since all these black players found a way to work for the guy already, when they surely had heard about his obnoxious racist attitudes, will they now manage to screw their courage to the sticking place?

The truth is, this country lavishly rewards those who sell their souls for the big green. Carlos and Smith came home in '68 to death threats. In 2005 their act of protest earned them a statue at their alma mater, San Jose State University. The millionaire athletes can, of course, erect their own statues if they choose. Mr. Sterling clearly believes that would be the same thing.

By the way, only a month ago former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said this to the public:

In an interview with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, Rumsfeld complained that relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai had gone “downhill like a toboggan” under the current president, even though the Bush administration’s ties with the Afghan leader had been “first rate.”

“Take for example that we have status of forces agreements probably with 100, 125 countries in the world,” the former secretary of defense ranted angrily. “This administration, the White House and the State Department, have failed to get a status of forces agreement.”

“A trained ape could get a status of forces agreement,” he added. “It does not take a genius.”

Granted, Mr. Rumsfeld holds no current position from which he can be catapulted into oblivion, and Errol Morris has already made abundantly clear to any who care what Mr. Rumsfeld is all about. Perhaps Rumsfeld's remarks are just another example among literally thousands and thousands of the true nature of the Fox enterprise. We have invited Goebbels into our midst.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Utopia of Profit

Surely one of the motivations for the astounding level of belief in the magic of the "free market" that one in fact finds in the American electorate is the sugar-coating that the gleaming city on the hill imparts to the every-day actions of folks engaged, large and small, in the activity of bidness. Here's some reality:

While there are certainly historical examples of "statists" gone amok, it is a humane government authority which has the perspective and ability (assuming it's not been starved into submission) to, e.g., fund research into new antibiotics which address human medical issues rather than enhancing beef, chicken, and pork production on our factory farms.

On another subject, remember those three black men who appeared at a Philadelphia polling precinct back in aught-eight and supposedly kept the three McCain voters in the precinct from entering and voting? Surely you do. People threatened to impeach Attorney General Holder over his inaction, even though the event had been investigated and reasonable decisions made.

What you reckon the Republicans, or Fox News, or Limbaugh, are saying about the ersatz militia now occupying a county in Nevada, holding illegal traffic checks, brandishing military-style weapons, etc. And as a follow up question--is the Obama administration being "weak" in forebearing to make this Nevada situation even worse by sending in a real military force to clear out these yahoos, or is the administration making Herculean efforts to keep even misguided American citizens (and their spouses and children) from losing their lives unnecessarily.