Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chuck and Dave Without Vera

Two men born in 1926 about five months and five thousand miles apart have made deep impressions on me. One is Charles Edward Anderson Berry, known to most of the general public as "Chuck" and the other is Sir David Frederick Attenborough.

Of all the people in the world, David Attenborough is the person I might most like to trade lives with. No one has witnessed more fascinating natural events than Attenborough and I challenge anyone to fashion a reasonable argument for somebody else. For those who do not know of Mr. Attenborough, he has for over fifty years researched and presented scores of television programs for the British Broadcasting Corporation, the vast majority of which involve filming flora and fauna throughout the globe. He has traveled to every continent, through dozens of countries, and seen creatures many of us would never have heard of if it weren't for him. A national hero in the United Kingdom, anyone on the west side of the Atlantic who is unfamiliar with his work and even remotely interested in biology is advised to seek out "Life on Earth", "The Living Planet", "Blue Planet", "Planet Earth", "The Life of Birds", "The Life of Mammals", or any of the rest of his absolutely astonishing television series.

And now, Chuck. From the man of science to one of sheer musical genius. Chuck Berry made music so definitively rock & roll and so American, it seemed like it must have always been there, the kind of of songs nobody in particular wrote but were always around. But somebody in particular did write "Maybelline", "Johnny B. Goode", "Let It Rock", "Sweet Little Sixteen", "Almost Grown", "Brown Eyed Handsome Man", "You Can't Catch Me", and "Around and Around."

His songs could be harmless fun or they could be stirring and profound and some of them--lots of them--could be either or both depending on the mood of the listener! "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" is a whimsical number in which the Venus DeMilo, identified in the song as "Marlo Venus", loses "both her arms in a wrestling match to meet a brown eyed handsome man". It's a fun song that gives silly names to classical sculptures. But what about the guy "rounding third and headed for home"? Does that refer to Willie Mays or perhaps another black baseball player, a "brown eyed handsome man" tearing up the big leagues following the relatively recent collapse of the color barrier?

The best word to describe Berry's music is glorious. It's not quite as lyrical as the best work of Bob Dylan, nor quite as melodic as the best Beatles, nor quite as angry and edgy as the best Rolling Stones, nor quite as driving and danceable as the best James Brown, nor quite as earthy and arresting as the best Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, but it combines all those elements into something more liberating than any of them. If Freedom itself had a radio station, the first song played would be one of Chuck Berry's.

David Attenborough celebrated his 83rd birthday on May 8th while Chuck Berry turns the same age today, October 18th. Attenborough remains active in television and Berry still performs once a month at a night club near his native St. Louis, Missouri. I hope for many more birthdays from these two and that anyone previously unacquainted with their genius gets a taste of it soon.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Call It A (Not Terribly Welcome) Comeback

The reason for my recent blog inactivity is a valid one: I'm working on a novel. It's good, too! I'll concede parts of it are rambling and convoluted but that tends to be the style I employ, for good or ill. I will dish out an obligatory summary of recent events, for what it's worth.

First, I wanted Chicago to get the Olympics. I love it there. It's far from a perfect place, but I consider it the definitive American city full of all the contradictions for which this country is known, loved, and loathed. However, I'm pleased South America finally gets an opportunity to host. Africa ought to be next. Cape Town put together an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 games but whether they're poised for another run in the near future is uncertain.

Reasonable opponents of Obama's health care plan could probably formulate sensible arguments and propositions, really adding something substantial to the proceedings. Indeed, they have probably done so already, but their voices are, for the most part, being drowned out by histrionics. Equating the Obama Administration with Nazism is offensive, over the top, and deeply insulting to people who actually had to endure the Third Reich. If it wasn't fair to compare the Bush Administration to Nazis--and it wasn't--it isn't fair to hurl the same epithets toward Obama.

Special recognition goes to Investors Business Daily. About two months ago, that publication printed an article indicating how fortunate physicist Stephen Hawking was not to be living in Great Britain, since someone with ALS was not "valued" by their health care system and therefore would not have survived to his current age (he's 67). There were two problems with this, one of which proved very embarrassing to Investors Business Daily while the other went largely unremarked. Stephen Hawking, as anybody capable of picking up one of his books or performing an Internet search can easily discover, was born in Britain and resides there yet. The other problem, obscured by IBD's egregiously lazy error or general disinterest in facts, is the sweeping generalization and assumption made in the first place, the idea that anyone can know for certain whether Stephen Hawking, or anyone, would have fared as well in another country. This is pure guesswork because it isn't merely a matter of the health care system employed by one country or another; so many other factors can influence patient outcomes--doctors, nurses, the patient's own behavior--that it is impossible to made accurate predictions about whether a patient would have lived or died in another situation. Besides that, it's crass. Stephen Hawking is alive and well and even if he weren't British, it's very tasteless to imply he'd be dead if he had a different address.

President Obama should not have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He has all but admitted as much himself. But he should accept it, then go out and earn it. Receiving an award before you deserve it is unorthodox, but instead of making him complacent, he ought to use it as motivation. That's what I'm hoping for anyway.

Is it just me or are the Pussycat Dolls even worse than most performers of their ilk? Not many contrived girl and boy groups make great music, but the Pussycat Dolls seem so derivative, overwrought, overproduced, and flat-out dull that I simply can't understand the appeal of listening to their alleged music. I do understand that dirty old men and pre-teen boys might find their gyrations alluring even if they are a canned and phony act. They are, in fact, canned and phony even by the standards of the genre. In terms of spontaneity and passion, the Pussycat Dolls make Destiny's Child look like the Donnas. "I Hate This Part", indeed!

Regrettably, there has been no desperate outcry for me to resume blogging. It seems the forces of the world still expect me to earn a living and this stands as yet another bitter disappointment.