Hi, I’m Glen Campbell

One of the biggest problems with the Tweety Administration is that it sucks the life out of the news cycle – there’s simply no oxygen left for anything that doesn’t have the word “Trump” in it. It sucks the life out of the news, and out of culture, and out of the internet. This week it even seemed like it might suck the life out of life itself.

So I forgive you if you didn’t note the passing last week of Glen Campbell at age 81. Maybe you never saw a link to click on to read about it, or maybe you ignored the link and thought, “Yeah, I get it. Wichita Lineman, Galveston, country music dude. So what? Struggled with alcoholism, addiction, and ultimately Alzheimer’s? Yeah, like a lot of people. Boo Hoo.”

I admit that my own first thought was that I didn’t need to think too much about the guy who had that All American, red white and blue, clean-as-a-whistle TV show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour”, from 1969-1972, at the height of the Viet Nam War, when what we needed was the exact opposite.

But then I remembered Glen Campbell the musician. That boy could play.

His solo career took off with the release of “Gentle On My Mind” in 1967. That changed everything for him, and was the start of whatever most people know about him.

But before that, Glen Campbell was a charter member of The Wrecking Crew, the group of studio musicians that played on virtually every record produced in Los Angeles in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. And I mean everything. From Sinatra and Dean Martin, to Elvis, Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Jan and Dean, The Monkees, the Ronettes, The Mamas and the Papas, Bob Dylan. If it was produced in L.A., Glen Campbell probably played on it. All genres, all styles, all tempos, all arrangements.

If you want to find out who was really playing on all those Beach Boys or Byrds records or who really was Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”, there’s a Netflix documentary for you to stream called “The Wrecking Crew”. As a bonus, you’ll also find out something about the greatest female musician you never heard of, Carole Kaye.

Check out the T.A.M.I. Show sometime for a trip down Memory Lane, and to get a tiny feel for their versatility. They played every tune for that show.

Even after Glen Campbell became a household name and a huge star, he returned often to the studio to continue playing with them on other people’s records. That’s how good they were and how much they enjoyed playing together.

Playing with The Wrecking Crew meant you were one of the best studio players in the profession, meaning you were one of the best professional musicians in the country. You couldn’t make a mistake – it was expensive to make a record, and there was no budget for overtime for the band or to keep the studio an extra hour. Campbell mainly played rhythm guitar, as he never learned to read music beyond chord charts, but his musicianship was as good as there was.

Glen was a modest and self-effacing guy, the seventh of twelve children born to a poor family in Arkansas. They had no electricity. He picked cotton for $1.25 per hundred pounds, and said, “A dollar in those days looked as big as a saddle blanket.”

He got a five-dollar guitar when he was four and his dad made a capo for it out of a corncob and a nail. He was playing on local radio by the time he was six. He never had any formal musical training, practiced after working in the fields, and admired Django Reinhardt more than any other player he’d heard.

He dropped out of school at 14, worked menial jobs and moved to New Mexico at 17 to start his career as a musician with his uncle’s band. He moved to L.A. at 23 and began work as a session musician, and you know the rest.

He died last week in Nashville, six years after first being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He was great at what he did and made a lot of people happy.

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Youthful Success

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D.U.I.

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Alzheimer’s

Came for the Klimt, Stayed for the Gerstl

Today I made good on the promise I made myself back in February to see the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II before September, when it will go to its new home, a private collection in China. See this post for the background of why this is interesting.

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The original Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer (the “Woman in Gold”) is spectacular, and seeing it in the same room with a collection of many other important Klimt portraits is pretty special.

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While at the Neue Galerie, I had a chance to see a fantastic exhibition of Richard Gerstl, who is virtually unknown to many today, but was a very influential Viennese artist who died at age 25 in 1908. Gerstl’s unique style preceded the German Expressionists and foreshadowed them. His work was original, intense and beautiful.

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Self portrait

He committed suicide by first stabbing and then hanging himself after being caught in flagrante delicto by Arnold Schõnberg, with his wife Mathilde.

Schönberg had asked Gerstl to give him painting lessons, as he had hoped to be able to supplement the meager income he had from composing music. Gerstl became close friends with the Schönbergs (a little too close, evidently), and their circle of artist and musician friends, and painted Mathilde many times.

After Gerstl’s suicide, his family hid away all his works in an effort to put the whole scandal behind them, which is why he is virtually unknown today.

Mathilde wrote a letter to Richard’s brother Alois, asking him to destroy anything he might find among Richard’s things that related to her:

Dear Herr Gerstl. – Many thanks for your efforts, I would have much liked to speak to you myself, but I am so poorly and down because of the tragedy, that I found it to be impossible. I certainly hope to speak to you, when we are all somewhat calmer. – I would only now ask you, if you should find something in Richard’s studio, that you suspect to belong to me, simply to destroy it. Please do not send me anything, it is all so terribly painful, and only reminds me of the tragic misfortune. -Believe me, Richard has chosen the easiest way for both of us. To have to live, in such circumstances, is very hard.
Be well, and as I said, I hope that I haven’t spoken to you for the last time. Yours
Mathilde Schönberg.

Only a small body of Gerstl’s work remains, and the exhibition at the Neue Galerie has many important pieces. I particularly like the portraits of his brother, his father and himself.

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father

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Strats and Strads

Remember this scene in Antonioni’s “Blow Up”? It’s one of my favorites of all time. David Hemmings wanders into a performance space where a band is playing to a somewhat dazed looking small audience. One of the players is having trouble with an amp, and, well, see what happens next…

It’s such a great scene for a lot of reasons, one being that the band is actually the  Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck Yardbirds, one of the most iconic and influential in the history of Rock and Roll, with Beck smashing his axe in the scene.

But it’s the “treasure to trash” ending of the scene I really like. In the context of the show, the busted up guitar is treasure worth fighting for, but a minute later, out on the street, it’s just junk. It has no intrinsic value, just the perceived value of the people watching the show.

When you think of the value that certain violins have to collectors, e.g. those made by Amati or Stradivari, you can see something different. They are valued for their craftsmanship (the techniques and skill of the maker can’t be replicated), their rarity (no more will be produced), their provenance (who has owned and played them), and, most of all, their sound. Those violins are meant to be played. Of course, most of the great players can’t afford the instruments, but the people who can afford them will often purchase them with the objective of having them played by an expert. Yes, they have great value as museum pieces, but they also have intrinsic value to the musician.

Of course, there are some violins that are valued entirely for their provenance, irrespective of their quality. For, example, the violin on which “Nearer My God To Thee” was played as the Titanic went down. According to this site, it was discovered in an attic in England, had its history verified, and was last sold for $1.7 Million.

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But the most expensive violins are valued for their sound as much as their history. Here are a couple of examples from the same site (click to enlarge):

To be sure, there are famous luthiers and manufacturers whose products are also valued for their sound and playing characteristics, and some of their guitars are quite expensive.

But the most expensive guitars are simply the most famous ones, i.e. owned and played by the most famous musicians. They are typically made by companies still in business today: Martin, Gibson, and Fender, and, although often customized for the particular player, could easily be reproduced to the original standard. They are not meant to be played or even touched, but rather admired and either re-sold for a profit or given to a museum.

The Fender Stratocaster on which Jimi Hendrix played The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock was purchased by Microsoft founder Paul Allen for $2 Million. If he plays it, he doesn’t do it in public, at least to my knowledge.

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Will this particular instrument increase in value over the centuries? Only if Jimi’s fame and the Woodstock moment endure. I’m not saying they won’t, but anyone who wants a guitar of identical sound and build quality, could have one made today for a lot less than $2M.

The highest price ever paid for a guitar does not yet match the highest price ever paid for a violin, but the gap is closing. The Reach Out To Asia strat sold for $2.7 Million, not because it’s a great instrument, but because a lot of legendary players signed it for a charity auction, held for relief for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami victims. (Click on the link to find out who).

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An electric Washburn owned but rarely played by Bob Marley, was given away to his tech, Gary Carlsen, and ultimately sold for $1.2 Million. It is now enshrined in Jamaica as a “National Treasure”.

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Bringing it all back around to the Yardbirds, this 1964 Gibson ES-335 was used by Eric Clapton in his time with the band (before Page and Beck), as well as with Cream, Blind Faith, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

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It sold at auction at Christie’s in 2004 for $847,500, at the time the third highest price ever paid for a guitar. A nice axe, to be sure, but who knows what David Hemmings and Michelangelo Antonioni would do with it.

The Judensau, 500 years after Luther

On October 31st, we will mark the 500th anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther’s “95 Theses”,  a list of questions and propositions for debate which he nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. It sparked the Protestant Reformation by arguing against the corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. He argued that salvation could only be achieved through faith, not deeds.

At first, Luther was willing to welcome Jews into his congregation, reasoning that with the corrupt practices of Catholicism removed, they would have little reason not to accept Christ. He wrote in 1523 that Catholics had treated Jews “like dogs”, making it difficult for them to convert. He said,

“I would request and advise that one deal gently with them …If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either.”

But when few Jews proved willing to abandon their view that a man could not be God, Luther gave up on them and had plenty to say against them in his famous book, “On the Jews and Their Lies. “

In the treatise, he argues that Jewish synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes burned, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and “these poisonous envenomed worms” should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. He also seems to advocate their murder, writing “[W]e are at fault in not slaying them”.

The Wittenberg Castle church had been a Catholic church before Luther, and has remained a Lutheran church through today. Like many Catholic churches across Germany, it had a Judensau, a Jew-Pig, carved on its facade in 1305.

wittenberg judensau

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The Judensau iconography taunts and vilifies Jews. It’s often located on the outside of the building where all can see it, but it can also be present inside on choir chairs, on wall paintings, woodcuts, and so on.

The Wittenberg Judensau includes a nonsense inscription, “Rabini Shem hamphoras,” which seems to be a version of “shem ha-meforasch”, the full-form name of God regarded by Jews as too holy to be spoken.

Luther talks about the sculpture in his 1543 Vom Schem Hamphoras, in which he equates the Jews with the devil, and indicates their Talmud is located in the sow’s bowels:

“Here on our church in Wittenberg a sow is sculpted in stone. Young pigs and Jews lie suckling under her. Behind the sow a rabbi is bent over the sow, lifting up her right leg, holding her tail high and looking intensely under her tail and into her Talmud, as though he were reading something acute or extraordinary, which is certainly where they get their Shemhamphoras.”

Last year, an online petition was started to finally take the Wittenberg Judensau down.  The thinking is that 700 years of this kind of thing is enough, particularly given modern regional history which is very much present in the memories of many still alive.  But the petition has only got about 7500 or so signatures so far.

If the people of South Carolina can finally be persuaded to lower their confederate flags, maybe some of those open-minded, progressive Germans we keep hearing so much about could think about taking a similar baby-step here.

If you ever get the urge to see some other Judensau examples still in place today, here’s where you can find them:

judensau map

And here are some pictures showing some variations on the theme:

Dylan’s Nobel lecture

So now Bob Dylan is being accused of plagiarizing the lecture that the Nobel Committee forced him to give as a condition of receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. He didn’t care about the prize to begin with and he didn’t want to give the lecture. But everyone told him to just go ahead and do it because it would be better for everybody if he did, and the “controversy” of his “snubbing” them by not showing up at their ceremony would be set aside once and for all.

So he put together a speech explaining his influences, starting with Buddy Holly, and going on to describe how three books he read in grammar school stayed with him and inspired a lot of his writing: Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front, and The Odyssey.

The accusation is that he took a lot of phrases from the SparkNotes summary of Moby Dick to make his point. This “outrage” is laboriously documented in a Salon piece.

Oy vey.

First of all, how many new ways are there to summarize the plot of Moby Dick? If you came up with something yourself today, completely your own original ideas, there’s no chance someone else hasn’t expressed the very same ideas before using many of the very same words.

Of course Dylan went to some summary source to check his memory of a book he read sixty years ago before grudgingly performing this compulsory exercise for the Nobel people! How could it be otherwise? Should he have attributed SparkNotes  in his Nobel lecture? Would that satisfy the critics or just open him up to other “criticism”?

Is he being accused of plagiarizing any of the work for which the prize was conferred? If he paraphrased or simply lifted some words from SparkNotes in the lecture, does that diminish his body of work or influence on culture? Do I care about this at all? No, no, and hell no.

Everything we see and hear now must be framed as controversy. or, even better, a scandal. Everything must be presented as a clash of adversaries. The internet demands it. The revenue model of “news” demands it. Our poor attention span demands it. If it’s an old white guy we’re trashing, so much the better, and so much easier for everyone involved.

Can we not give Bob Dylan a pass after all these years? Just this once? He’s Bob Fucking Dylan, for God’s sake.

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Zeno’s bridge

Remember Zeno’s Paradox? Achilles gives a tortoise a head-start in a foot race, but can never overtake it. By the time Achilles has run to where the tortoise started, the tortoise has moved ahead a bit, and by the time Achilles covers that bit, the tortoise has moved further. And so on, ad infinitum.

Well, if you ever want to get a big infrastructure contract in Boston, like fixing the decaying Longfellow Bridge, you’d do well to keep Zeno in mind when you prepare your sales pitch.

Check out this super-slick animated presentation about the Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation project now underway in Boston. It’s a really cool look at how the engineers will accomplish it and every detail is covered in their plan, which they created at the time the project went out for bid.

After watching this thing, you will be 100% confident they know what they’re doing and have taken all eventualities into account. There can be no doubt they’ll complete the work on time and maybe even under budget.

Wrong again, suckers!

The project was begun in 2013 and was going to be completed in mid-2016. But guess what? When they started the repairs, they found out there were some problems that they hadn’t figured on. “Like what?”, you may ask, “that animation they did had everything covered”. Well, see, it turned out some elements of the steel supports were rusty!

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Now, I’m no engineer and I certainly have no experience making animated sales pitches, so naturally my first thought was, “No shit. That’s why we need to fix the bridge, remember?”

Anyway, when the first deadline of three years passed, the engineers said, yeah, well, we’ll be done in a couple or three more years, maybe in late 2018. When they said that, they may have really believed they could do it (or not), and, anyway, it was so  far into the future that no one would remember when the time came.

Well, we’re six months away from 2018, so they better move fast. When I look at the bridge today, it seems about half done. They’ve got the Red Line tracks moved over to one side and the entire roadway on the other side is removed. I took this picture the other day.

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In my lay opinion, and given the way things always work around here, there’s no way this project can be completed in 2018. Around September of next year, you can expect them to say, “We’re almost there. Only about 12 months left. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

To which Zeno will reply, “No worries, Achilles, you’ll probably pass that tortoise any day now”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall

It was 54 years ago this week that a little-known folk singer named Bob Dylan told the most important figure in prime time television, Ed Sullivan, to take a hike.

In May of 1963, Dylan had a small following based on playing clubs around Greenwich Village and the release of his first album a year before, called “Bob Dylan”, which contained only two original songs. His second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, which would change  everything, had not come out yet.

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Freeweheelin’ had a bunch of  soon-to-be-classic Dylan compositions on it, including “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Girl from the North Country”, “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

Before Freewheelin’ dropped, Dylan was like a lot of other people struggling to be heard. Unlike almost everyone else, though, he got a huge break in the form of an invitation to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, which at that time was the biggest thing anyone could hope for. It was the country’s highest rated variety show – a guarantee of a huge national audience.

But on May 12, Dylan walked off the show because network censors rejected the song he planned on performing, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”. The song lampooned the loony right for its tendency to see a “Communist” everywhere they looked, and the network worried they’d be sued because the song equated the views of the Birchers with those of Hitler.

They asked Dylan to choose a different song and he told them to choose a different singer.

As you may know, The John Birch Society was co-founded by Fred C. Koch, the father of David and Charles Koch, who have been doing their best for some time now to ruin this country with their Dark Money.

An excerpt from Amazon’s description of “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right”, by Jane Mayer:

Why is America living in an age of profound economic inequality? Why, despite the desperate need to address climate change, have even modest environmental efforts been defeated again and again? Why have protections for employees been decimated? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class workers?
     The conventional answer is that a popular uprising against “big government” led to the ascendancy of a broad-based conservative movement. But as Jane Mayer shows in this powerful, meticulously reported history, a network of exceedingly wealthy people with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. 
     The network has brought together some of the richest people on the planet. Their core beliefs—that taxes are a form of tyranny; that government oversight of business is an assault on freedom—are sincerely held. But these beliefs also advance their personal and corporate interests: Many of their companies have run afoul of federal pollution, worker safety, securities, and tax laws.
     The chief figures in the network are Charles and David Koch, whose father made his fortune in part by building oil refineries in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. The patriarch later was a founding member of the John Birch Society, whose politics were so radical it believed Dwight Eisenhower was a communist. The brothers were schooled in a political philosophy that asserted the only role of government is to provide security and to enforce property rights. 

The Kochs have changed the face of Congress by bankrolling candidates that can be relied upon to support their views, and by attacking their opponents with all manner of fake news, made-up scandals, and assorted dirty tricks.

One of the beneficiaries of the Koch largess has been Trey Gowdy, a partisan hack from South Carolina, who has been nicknamed “Hillary Slayer” for his absurd and relentless persecution of Hillary Clinton when he was chairman of the Benghazi hearings, a two-year long waste of the taxpayers’ money. His behavior more closely resembled that of a demented piranha than a U.S. Congressman.

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Guess who Trump’s first choice for the next Director of the F.B.I. is?

trey1 Trey Gowdy

Just when you think Trump can’t top himself, he surprises you. At least this time we don’t have to fret about whether Trump will again be so clueless as to ask Gowdy for his loyalty. Everyone already knows the answer to that one.  And it’s another big day for the sons of the Birchers – the Kochs are smiling about this.

As Dylan said all those years ago, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”

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