Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Ghost From Christmas Past: Ray Davies and Charles Dickens

[Previously published several times, first on the Holler If You Hear Me blog, and subsequently on the Chicago Labor and Arts Festival blog and the Bigo magazine website (Singapore). I haven't rolled it out in awhile, so here it is again. (Bill Glahn)]

Ray Davies and Charles Dickens are both British. Both tell stories entrenched in the landscape of the British working class. Both are great writers who draw their audience in with the richness of their characters. Both celebrate the spirit of humans and the working class in particular.

“Yes, and both have surnames that start with D,” some stuffy Dickens scholar might scoff. But put academic prejudice aside, and the case could be made - with some notable differences.

Dickens’ influence on Davies shouldn’t come as any great surprise considering Dickens’ status in the world of British literature (second only to Shakespeare). Any British author who chooses to address the issues of class would almost have to be influenced by him to some degree. Davies’ body of work bears more than a casual resemblance.

But to say that Davies is simply putting a new tread on an old tire would be a huge misconception. The reasons are no more apparent than two short stories set in the Christmas season - A Christmas Carol and the Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” In the Dickens story, Scrooge is redeemed. In the Kinks holiday single, the antagonist is not.

The philosophy in Dickens’ Christmas Carol is more black and white - the ruling class is redeemed when confronted by an outside manager or controlling force - a holy trinity of ghosts. In the Kinks’ song, there is no outside manager and the antagonist is motivated by real life events - his father is out of work. In Dickens’ moralistic world, Davies would be a schoolboy in disgrace. In Davies’ pragmatic one, Dickens would be a used car spiv.

I’ve always found Davies’ body of work to be the more complicated to decipher - more shades of gray. More unanswered questions. At first glance, it’s a darker world where it seems everybody has an agenda. And that agenda usually involves control of the working class.

Unionists tell you when to strike.
Generals tell you when to fight.
Preachers teach you wrong from right.
They feed you when you’re born.
And use you all your life.
- Uncle Son

The workers told the unions who blamed it on the government
The politicians blamed it on the strikers and the militants
And everybody’s guilty and everybody’s innocent
Nobody gives because nobody gives a damn anymore
- Nobody Gives

That’s some pretty cynical stuff. Or is it? There’s just too much in the Davies canon to suggest otherwise. Dickens’ work is rooted in moral failures that transcend class boundaries. Davies’ work targets systemic problems in our society.

To be fair, A Christmas Carol was written very early by Dickens (1843), while Father Christmas was written by Davies several years (1976) after his most notable commentary on class issues - The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968) through Preservation (1973).

Father Christmas is more like a coda where Christmas Carol is far less mature in nature. By the time Dickens gets around to writing Hard Times (1854), much of his criticisms fall in line with Davies’. A school system that stifles creativity in the name of economic progress. (Dickens gets the nod for creative names with Mr. McChoakumchild). An uncaring upper class who justify their importance with myths (industrialist and banker Josiah Bounderby). A perverse thought process that makes pollution a healthy commodity.

But in the end, as with all of Dickens’ work, he hangs on doggedly to morality as if were synonymous with salvation. Bounderby dies of a fit. His cohort, Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, is saved by renouncing his “just the facts” obsession and replacing it with a code of faith, hope, and charity. All’s well that ends well.

In 1856, British novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) wrote, “The thing for mankind to know is not what are the motives and influences which the moralist thinks ought to act on the labourer or the artisan, but what are the motives and influences which do act on him.” She goes on to criticize Dickens, “if he could give us their psychological character… with the same truth as their idiom and manners, his books would be the greatest contribution Art has ever made to the awakening of social sympathies.”

Father Christmas is not the first time Davies utilizes dark humor to illustrate a truth. In Muswell Hillbillies’ “Complicated Life”, he hits the bullseye with the story of an ill worker who is told by his doctor that he needs to slow down or face death. “Cut out the struggle and strife.” So the guy quits the rat race and finds

Like old Mother Hubbard
I got nothing in my cupboard
I got no dinner and I got no supper
I got holes in my shoes
I got holes in my socks
I can’t go to work cause I can’t get a job
I can’t go to work cause I can’t get a job

When it comes to quality of life for the working class, capitalism is a deadly calamity. As for psychological evaluation - on Muswell Hillbillies, Davies introduces the idea of mental illness as purposefully inflicted on workers by the ruling class (Acute Schizophrenia Blues). It’s a reoccurring theme in Davies’ writing, including his “autobiography,” X-Ray - a book written in 1994 but culminating in his personal history at Preservation.

On Preservation, Davies restrains from preaching (the domain of moralists). He, instead, looks both backwards and forwards in a pragmatic way and correctly predicts a more totalitarian existence should social change be directed by ideologues and moralists.

At the beginning of X-Ray, Davies proclaims “I was born a king.” His most affecting song opens with the words “Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star” Despite its title (Celluloid Heroes) and story line, it is not simply a song about Hollywood stars and starlets. It is a song about struggle. And it recognizes that, while struggle is not always successful, neither is it futile. We are not born cogs in a corporate reality. That is learned behavior. That is mental disease.

Not too many people would call Dickens’ feel-good endings to Christmas Carol and Hard Times cynical. But which is cynical? The idea that we are forever bound by a class system not of our making or that we are all born kings?

Unlike Dickens’ morality, Davies’ work offers no cure-alls for society. In fact, he often sounds as confused as the rest of us. But he does offer a starting point. Here’s to the birth of kings. (Bill Glahn)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

On The Jukebox: (Holiday Season is Here)

Jim White: Waffles, Triangles and Jesus

I’ve been a fan of Jim White since his first album, 1997’s  Wrong-Eyed Jesus. I became an even bigger fan after seeing the documentary film, Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus (various artists). I guess I’m just a sucker for records with a “Jesus” thread flowing through them. But only in the hands of the right artists. Terry Allen’s Salivation comes to mind. So does Johnny Dowd’s Temporary Shelter.

So, anyway, Jim White has released his first album in 20 years with “Jesus” in the title. What’s not to intrigue a believer in the historical Jesus, but a doubter of the twisted myth?

With songs like “Reason To Cry” and “Sweet Bird of Mystery,” this time around it’s a softer Jim White.  But just barely. There’s also “Prisoner’s Dillema.” Picture a scene in a Stephen King book/movie set in a backwoods church inhabited by snake handlers.

Like Dowd, White continues to be a master of unusual soundscapes, setting his work apart from your standard revivalist fare. The happy sound of banjos are in there, but so is the rain.
(Bill Glahn)

Jim Keaveny: Put It Together
Jim Kealveny has built a fine cowboy record, mixing in some mariachi horns and accordion, without ever straying too far from his native North Dakota. Keaveny’s delivery is soft-spoken, half-talked, half sung - sublimely attractive in a “howdy” sort of way.  And he has stories, good stories.

Put It Together doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But Keaveny throws enough ball cards into the spokes to create something unique. Think of it as a high plains drifter embarking on a journey to south of the border.  (Bill Glahn)

Bonus views:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

On The Jukebox (Short Reviews)

(Bill Glahn)

John Baizly & Katie Jones “If I Needed You” (2013) I didn't know what to think when this came up in the suggested tracks on YouTube. Baizley's main gig is Baroness - one of those big production heavy metal/prog bands. Some call them cutting edge. If that’s the case, they’re over my head.

 “If I Needed You” is one of those great Townes Van Zandt songs that come out of a deceptively simple melody, relying more on emotional connection than virtuoso songwriting and playing skills. “How on earth is this guy going to pull THAT off?” is the first thought that came to mind. Curiosity can lead you to some unusual places.

It's nothing like Baroness. It's not even a straight Texas troubadour approach – one of those out-of-genre exercises that some artists and producers like to engage in to prove the artist’s “flexibility.” No, it wasn’t any of that.

Where Van Zandt’s version is sung in the here & now, this version conjures up a romance from the past. The contract has been surrendered – a bond that threatens to fade and never quite does. And then it finally does, but you know it will be back. Baizley & Jones’ version of “If I Needed You” rolls in like an Appalachian fog and leaves like a vanishing UFO. I dig it.

Brandi Carlile “The Joke” (2017) This one deserves attention for a lot more reasons than being one of Paul Buckmasters last arrangement projects. [Buckmaster died this week]. That isn’t to downplay Buckmaster’s role. The orchestration is astonishing – maybe one of Buckmaster’s best.

“The Joke” is the first single from Carlile’s new album, By The Way, I Forgive You. [Scheduled for release tomorrow.] It’s a BIG song – big production, big vocals, big emotion, big story. The kind of record that usually overplays the drama at the expense of everything else. The kind of song contestants will be singing on those godawful TV competitions with disastrous results for years to come. But the drama quotient on “The Joke,” boosted and pulled back at all the right moments by Buckmaster, is devastatingly good in the hands of a vocalist as supremely talented as Carlile. AND – it’s a great and honest song. It’s also a tough song. Street tough. No whining. Just the facts, sir. Listen up.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

From The Archives - Used and Abused

by Bill Glahn

[This piece first appeared in the Chicago Reader 15 years ago. I hardly think the used CD license brings the city of Chicago much revenue anymore. The few stores that have survived specialize in used vinyl now.]

Update: Chicago's Record Emporium continued for years despite the ordinance. But there were other forces at work. Gentrification in Roscoe Village, where the Record Emporium was located, and other areas of Chicago, boosted rents far beyond the capabilities of small record shop owners.

The article:
This May [2002], Alderman Gene Schulter proposed the addition of two phrases to the city's secondhand-dealer ordinance: "digital audio disc" and "digital video disc." The law, which regulates the resale of certain items, was successfully amended in June, and those six words have had a severe impact on local independent record shops. At least one store has stopped selling used CDs, a clerk at Raffe's Record Riot was arrested, and Second Hand Tunes' Hyde Park store was shut down for failure to obtain a license after the four-store chain filed a federal lawsuit against the city. (It has since reopened under appeal.)

Municipal Code 4-264 is intended as a crime prevention tool--it requires stores that buy and sell used merchandise to obtain a special license (currently $500 annually); to qualify, applicants must pass a criminal-background check. Stores must also keep a log that lists used goods purchased and collect personal information to verify the seller's identity: name, address, phone number, height, weight, date of birth, and social security number. If the seller cannot present a picture ID the store must snap a photo or record the sale on video.

Only those used items considered prone to theft are included in the ordinance, and until June that meant audio-video equipment, cameras, computer hardware, watches, coins, and certain types of jewelry. Schulter introduced his amendment after receiving a letter from Lieutenant Lee Epplen of the 19th Precinct stating that in more than 80 percent of burglaries in the city CDs and DVDs were taken.

Used-CD shops have always been aware of the possibility that they're being sold stolen goods, which is why most already had a policy similar to that required by the secondhand-dealer statute. "The guy that tries to sell us stolen CDs this week will be stealing from us and trying to sell them to another store next week," says Mike Felten, owner of the Record Emporium in Roscoe Village, who has sold used and new records for 23 years. "Our policy is, 'We want to buy your used, not stolen, CDs. Photo ID required.'" But the new legal demands are more invasive, and, in the age of identity theft, disturbing to patrons. According to Felten, many customers who have come into his shop to trade in or sell used CDs have decided not to when asked for a social security number.

Such concerns are at the heart of the lawsuit Second Hand Tunes has filed against the city in district court. Represented by the firm of Horowitz and Weinstein, the chain is basing its suit on First and Fourth Amendment issues. "If you look at the other used items listed in the statute, none of them are items of speech and expression, as CDs and DVDs are," says the chain's attorney, Paul Horowitz. "Regulating items of speech and expression is a violation of First Amendment rights." As Second Hand Tunes owner Johnny Balmer puts it, "The city of Chicago has no right to document my customers' listening habits."

The suit also maintains that the actions taken by Chicago police to enforce the ordinance violated the company's constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Those actions, as documented in the suit, included requests to inspect "restricted" areas of the Lincoln Park store and to examine the customer information the ordinance required the store to collect, threats of arrests and fines, and a statement by an officer that any business that failed to comply with the ordinance would have "a difficult time when they attempted to renew any of their business licenses." According to the suit, the police visited the store six times in two months, the last three on consecutive days. (Second Hand Tunes has scrapped plans for another store in the city until the issue is resolved.)

The existence of many independent CD stores is already precarious--more than three dozen in the Chicago area have gone out of business in the last decade. Unlike large chains, independent stores can't buy direct from manufacturers and must pay between $1.50 and $3 more per disc to get them from middlemen. They certainly can't sell new releases as loss leaders at $9.99, as Best Buy does. Balmer says he can price new CDs no higher than $14.99 to $15.99 if he wants to stay competitive with national chain stores, for a profit margin of roughly 20 percent.

Used CDs offer a similar profit per disc (about $3 to $4), but cost considerably less to stock--the average profit margin on a used disc is 50 to 60 percent. Besides, Best Buy and Borders don't carry them at any price. Many independent shops rely heavily on used CDs to stay in business: Dead Wax in North Center is a 100 percent used operation, Second Hand Tunes does 95 percent of its business in used items, and the Record Emporium sells about half-and-half.

Mark Ferguson, owner of Hard Boiled Records and Videos in Roscoe Village, did just 5 percent of his business in used CDs--he says he bought them for the convenience of customers who wanted to thin out their collections. But because of the license fee and the law's intrusive requirements, he's no longer buying. "Now when someone brings in their unwanted discs, I have to refer them to my competition," he says. "I'm not necessarily sure that those customers will return to my shop when they want to buy new CDs."

Raffe Simonian, owner of Raffe's Record Riot in Portage Park, has had more serious problems. Raffe's keeps a basic transaction log, but on September 20 a store clerk bought several used CDs from an undercover police officer without obtaining all of the required information. Half an hour later the cops showed up. The store was shut down and the employee was put in jail; it was six hours before Simonian could bail him out. The charges were dropped, but the owner received a stern warning from city attorneys to bring the store into compliance. "Much of my business is still in used vinyl," says Simonian. (Vinyl LPs are not covered by the ordinance.) "I'm not some kind of crook or fly-by-night operation. I've been in this business for several decades and have a well-deserved reputation nationally for selling obscure jazz and 60s and 70s rock 'n' roll records.

"I see these actions as entrapment," Simonian continues. "I get the feeling that the city doesn't want independent stores around anymore."

Deliberately or not, owners say, certain legislative decisions made by the city over the past decade have made things increasingly tough on them. "In the nine years that I've been at my present location my rent has tripled. I already have to sell 30 used CDs each and every day, seven days a week, just to pay my rent," says the Record Emporium's Felten. "A lot of redevelopment has gone on in the last nine years, and corporate operations seem to be more desirable to the city planners and landlords. Independent businesses are getting squeezed, and this new license fee might just be the final straw for me."

Monday, October 30, 2017

Lost In The Flood: The Bus Boys “Minimum Wage Rock ‘n’ Roll”

(by Bill Glahn)

If many white folks have selective memory, there is no better evidence than Trump Chief-of-Staff John F. Kelly’s recent recollection of what was held sacred in his Boston neighborhood while growing up. The churches, the school system, relationships – all of those things were segregated in Kelly’s neighborhood. Journalist Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC, who grew up in the same Irish Catholic neighborhood, pretty much stomped all over Kelly’s recollection of how women were held “scared” there as well.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise at how many white folks relate the origins of rock ‘n’ roll to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. In reality, Presley could never be “King” as long as Little Richard was making records, although he was certainly crowned as such. The reality is that so many radio stations, especially in the south, had segregated play lists as well. So no Little Richard. No Chuck Berry. No Bo Diddley. None of those cats in their most productive years. Not in cracker-dominated areas, anyway. Thank jesus for Johnny Rivers, Elvis, Jerry Lee and the British Invasion or we’d have been left to watered down interpretations by the likes of Pat Boone.

When the post-punk New Wave years descended upon the once-again segregated airwaves (now under the safe “non-racist” cover of narrowing genres) there was still plenty of back-tracking to the true originators of rock ‘n’ roll, often without any due credit. Anyone recall the smash hit “I Want Candy?”

Along came The Bus Boys to reclaim rock ‘n’ roll from a Black perspective with Minimum Wage Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not exactly to a yawn from white America, but no sign of any great chart success either. It reached the lower registers of Billboard’s Top 200. Success wouldn’t come until two years later when the band hooked up with Eddie Murphy for the Movie “48 Hrs” and as the opening act for his subsequent “Delirious” tour. That may have been a double-edged sword for the band. The masses might have been able to accept a Black rock ‘n’ roll band as a joke – but only as a joke. And therein lies the racism. It’s only a joke if you dismiss the true origins of rock ‘n’ roll.

I recently came across a copy of Minimum Wage Rock ‘n’ Roll in a Springfield, MO flea market that apparently had seen no playing time. Springfield is easily the most racist city I’ve ever lived in. I don’t know what the original owner could have been thinking when he bought this record. But for a 37 year-old record to go that long with a needle dropping down on it maybe once, they certainly were not in love with it. Maybe they saw the front cover and thought they were experiencing a Howard Cosell moment. Maybe they perused the track listing and saw a song called KKK and figured, “Hey, back to the scared times.” But Minimum Wage Rock ‘n’ Roll is none of that.

The Bus Boys weren’t demanding candy. They were demanding equal wages. And they were using audacious lyrics to point out racism in the music industry as a present problem (then and now), utilizing the music of their Black predecessors to illustrate the white-washing of rock n’ roll history. “I wanna join the Ku Klux Klan/Playin’ in a rock ‘n’ roll band.”  What better way to illustrate the point? Obviously not something a Springfield redneck wants to hear.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live - Death And The Workplace

(by Bill Glahn)

When Blind Alfred Reed wrote “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” at the beginning of The Great Depression, he was singing about the hopelessness of poverty when there were no jobs available. Great advancements among the work force were made over the following decades, only to see them trickle away again over the last 40 years. Sure – the labor reports state very low levels of unemployment these days. But wages in real terms are fading.

But the most ignored concern among workers by media and politicians alike, is the abysmal state of workplace safety - the callous disregard for worker safety by employers. The stripping of OSHA funding and powers, including the absurd policy of “self-reporting” wherein company reporting of incidents replaces actual OSHA inspections. Restaurants receive far more scrutiny from the local health department than operations where heavy and dangerous equipment and chemicals are in daily use. And that has far more to do with the restaurant patrons’ safety than the actual safety of the restaurant workers.

When President Trump gave his speech last week in Springfield, MO asking for more corporate tax relief – the same “trickle down” economics that have failed American workers for the last thirty years - there was zero mention in the news reports about the abysmal safety record of Loren-Cook  the facility that Trump chose to give his (private) speech. And why should there be? Loren-Cook was exonerated in the death of one of their workers in 2009, weren’t they?

Well, no. Not really.

With about 1,000 employees, Loren-Cook is one of Springfield’s largest employers. Sales exceed $100 million per year.  But when it comes to spending some of that money to protect the safety of their workers, Loren-Cook not only can’t seem to find room in the budget – they show a callous indifference even after a worker dies.

On May 13, 2009, a flying projectile from a lathe where a protective guard had been removed killed a 59-year-old worker. Just two weeks earlier, another worker had reported that another flying projectile had barely missed him. You would think that after these incidents, surely, that Loren-Cook would reinstall the protective guards. Right?


From court records: "After the May 2009 accident that killed a worker, at least one lathe operator reattached a guard to his small lathe. A Loren Cook supervisor questioned the operator about the guard and later removed it. This guard, and other guards that previously had been used on small lathes, were purportedly removed for inspection. The guards, however, could not be located when demanded by the Secretary [of Labor] in this matter. The Secretary moved for sanctions alleging spoliation of evidence.”

OSHA made a finding in the case and issued a fine of over a half-million dollars. From Department of Labor/OSHA records:

"Loren Cook Co. willfully allowed its employees to work on dangerous equipment without safeguarding the machinery and exposed workers to debris ejected while operating manual spinning lathes," said acting Assistant Secretary for OSHA Jordan Barab. "It is imperative that employers take steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment."

Seven instance-by-instance willful citations at $70,000 each are proposed for failing to guard seven manual spinning lathes, with a total proposed willful penalty of $490,000. OSHA issues a willful violation when an employer exhibits plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

Three serious citations with penalties totaling $21,000 are proposed for a lack of adequate personal protective equipment for workers' faces, extremities and hands. OSHA issues a serious citation when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which an employer knew or should have known.

The proposed fines total $511,000.”

End of story? Not quite. An Administrative Law Judge (U.S.) overturned the fine on a technicality. “According to the ALJ, the regulation at issue only required guards on the lathes to prevent debris or waste material from being ejected; it did not apply to guard against the ejection of the actual item being worked on, i.e., the ejection of the actual workpiece.” [court document] With years of experience in the manufacturing process, I can attest that sometimes companies remove these necessary guards for efficiency reasons. As in, the “waste material” can sometimes clog the machinery and cause down-time for cleaning – easier to sweep the shavings from the floor, even at the expense of the workers safety.

In 2014 the Labor Department appealed the ALJ decision to the United States Court of Appeals, Eighth District. The Court of Appeals upheld the technicality. The Department of Labor issues an annual list of OSHA cases against companies after workplace fatalities. The 2014 fiscal year contains 61 pages with an average of 15 cases per page. The 2015 report (last available in pdf file lists 81 pages – an increase of 30% in one year. How can a poor man stand such times and live? It’s a question still worth asking – and for more reasons than one.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"My Way" and the Road to the Alt-Right

(by Bill Glahn)

road sign along Highway 65 in Harrison, Arkansas

If ever there was a more self-aggrandizing song based in perceived injustices, I can’t name one. The lyrics were written by ‘50s teen idol-turned songwriter, Paul Anka, who then passed it on to Frank Sinatra to record. He couldn’t have found a more suitable vehicle, Sinatra being a hypocrite (a public liberal and a private thug). Sinatra’s version reached No. 27 on the Billboard Top 100 and No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart. Over time, it became Sinatra’s signature song. Anka would go on to have a No. 1 hit in 1974 with the pro-life smaltz of “Having My Baby.” In a 2006 CNN poll for “worst song of all time,” “Having My Baby” had the dubious honor of being voted #1.

In the 49 years since “My Way” was released, it has also become the theme song of every angry white male to come down the pike. Written a mere 5 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and just 1 year after the Fair Housing Act of 1968, “My Way” held special significance for those whites that saw no need to upset the racial status quo in America.

“But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out.”

The “injustice” of Affirmative Action. The “indignant” intrusion of minorities into previously white-only neighborhoods and schools. And the idea that, somehow, each and every one of those white folks had independently been responsible for their own advancement to the top of the economic ladder.

“I faced it all and I stood tall”

As if no corporate CEO had earned his/her bloated salary on the backs of workers. And on down the chain, no wage earner had ever benefited from the “we” of unionism. No – they got to the status of a livable wage through their own hard work and rugged individualism. Just ask them.

But songs don't predict the future. They reflect the present. The alt-right has been with us for a long, long time.

“My Way” would eventually get it’s rightful place in the halls of notable American songs, not at the hands of Sinatra, but through a sneering rendition by Sex Pistol Sid Viscious and the video which accompanied it. In his artistic coup-de-grace, Viscious shoots the audience.

[Note to copyright maximalists: The take-downs of videos on YouTube that have been there for years and suddenly removed after appearing on this blogsite is an exercise in futility. There are plenty of options for Frank Sinatra's "My Way." Sore losers at the major labels and publishing companies? You lost.]

Monday, May 29, 2017

RIAA Doublespeak

(A blast from the past from the archives of Bill Glahn, September 25, 2003, Counterpunch )

                                  Copyright Anarchists "Freedom Pirates" (click to listen)

The RIAA is notorious for doublespeak. The mainstream press is notorious for reprinting it without question.

Try this recent example out for size. “We are only filing lawsuits against uploaders at this time.” That will surely calm the fears of any P2P file-sharer that has disabled the “upload” feature on their Kaaza software. Those nice guys at the RIAA don’t really want to deprive people of the pleasure of listening to music after all. They’re only after those “immoral” characters that distribute unauthorized song files.

So what exactly is the difference between an “uploader” and a “downloader” anyway? Until the RIAA announcement, I had always thought that uploading required a conscious effort on the part of the source. This column didn’t magically appear on the Counterpunch web site. Somebody at Counterpunch HQ had to send it there.

In commerce, an example of uploading might be the purchase of a Doublespeak dictionary from an online source. Let’s call the source Dweebster’s. Dweebsters sends (uploads) the software for their dictionary/dictionary to my computer when my credit card clears (hypothetical scenario). Until then, I can’t receive (download) their product. Another example might be that Dweebsters decides to sell a line of Doublespeak dictionaries in a variety of foreign languages. They “upload” the information to their online catalog. These acts require a conscious act on the part of the sender. The person initiating the transfer is doing the uploading.

P2P software has a different dynamic. The host just sits there and does nothing. The order to transfer comes from the end user. In other words, the “downloader” is also the “uploader”. They give the “send” command. The analog interpretation of the RIAA’s position might go something like this… I go to the library. I walk out with a book and never return it. The librarian is guilty of wrongful appropriation.

Only in the vernacular of the RIAA do the words “librarian” and “criminal” have the same meaning. If you think that disabling the “upload” features on your P2P software is going to protect you from RIAA terrorism, you had better think again. The RIAA has already said it won’t. You just don’t understand doublespeak.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Save The Last Dance For Me

(by Bill Glahn)

Capitalism has sure put a screwing to the word "save" during my lifetime. I mean - if you listen to the words of Poor Richard's Almanac, the mantra is "a penny saved is a penny earned." The notion was that if you put your money into a capitalist venture like a bank, real estate, or maybe a stock, you'd end up having more than what you started with. Of course, that almanac was written well before Black Tuesday in 1929. And if "ancient" history isn't convincing enough for some people, most anyone reading this certainly was alive during the housing meltdown of 2007 and the economic crash that followed. There is plenty of evidence that high risk is an inherent part of Capitalist theory. And little is left to the imagination as to why Mr. Richard was "poor." Remember this the next time someone tells you that Social Security (a Socialist concept and one of the greatest programs this country has ever developed) should be privatized for the benefit of our citizens.

If you play your cards close to the vest and invest prudently, you may well increase your monetary value. But for the average investor of the working class, this almost never means that you will increase your purchase power. These days, a dollar bill ain't worth one thin dime.

A Capitalist will leave you to die when things turn sour. That's my general beef. But that's not exactly the one I'm writing about today. It's the way the word "save" has been turned on it's ear by marketers to mean "spend."

I mean, shit. I get reminded maybe 50 times a day that I can "save" $5 by buying some thingamabob that normally costs $50 for a mere $45. Do I still have $45 for a rainy day? No. I have some piece of shit that is worth less the minute I walk out of the store (it ain't just cars) than it was before I walked in and my pocket is $45 lighter for the privilege. I will eventually pay even more money to have whatever crappy toy or appliance removed from the clutter of my home to a landfill. Whereupon I will spend even MORE money for a water purifier when the landfill springs a leak and contaminates the water supply. Gee, I wish I still had that $45.

Still, I live in this Capitalist society and try to do the best available things to just keep my head above water. That always means thinking twice when I am approached about "saving" this amount or that amount. Big screen TVs? My eyes aren't that bad yet. Smart phones will be joining all those flipper cell phones, which joined all those message beepers, which joined all those wall-mounted home phones and message recorders, which joined all those standard black Bell Telephone home units in the next available landfill. Wanna save something? How about the earth? You can still call me, if you wish, on my $5 home unit.

A message to retailers: No, I don't want your $1,000-a-piece triple chrome plated 18-inch wheels to put on my $2,000 clunkermobile. Even if I can "save" $250 each when they're on sale for $750 if I buy 4. No, I don't want to spend $2.00 for your can of beans with the fancy label and the branding licence from the "Smokey Joe's BBQ" chain of "upscale" dime-a-dozen restaurants. The farts they create don't smell any better than the ones with the generic no-frills label. I have a small tattoo. No, I don't need two full sleeves and a figure from this week's favorite gaming character plastered all over my back. And most certainly, not a snake tattoo creeping out of my pants onto my abdomen. I'd rather buy a lifetime supply of salts for that water purifier. And that includes if you are offering a "savings" of 25% off of your competitors price. Insurance companies? Save a forest and stop sending me those mailers for "cheap" funeral expense policies. Even if you offered that crap for free, I'd be the loser in the end. And for god's sake, will you communications companies STOP telling me I can "save" on my Internet service by upgrading to the next super duper service that you come up with. Mine works well enough to do a few blogs every year.

In fact, there may only be one place in American society where saving can still reap truly substantial rewards.

Bonus link. (Thanks John Floyd!)
Apparently, the copyright maximalists at Warner-Chappel have some objection to the original Platters link without first getting their pound of flesh. Here's an "official" link to The Drifter's version.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What God Sounds Like (a remembrance of Chuck Berry)

(by Bill Glahn)

Ours wasn’t really a rock ‘n’ roll household when I was a toddler. The earliest songs familiar to my ears are the soft orchestrated tunes that my Mom favored – things like Pat Boone’s “Love letters In The Sand,” Johnny Mathis’ “It’s Not For Me To Say,” and The Platters’ “Twilight Time.” My Dad leaned towards the country side of things – usually with a doleful outlook on things – Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me,” Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons,” Guy Mitchell’s version of “Singing The Blues.” I suppose my Dad, who spent his youth in Catholic Schools, connected with the idea that this world wasn’t supposed to be a kind one. My Mom? A converted Catholic who HAD to believe in whatever fantasy world the Church was offering up – no matter how unfounded - and with all the fervor of a Donald Trump supporter.

But those aren’t the songs that connected with me at the time. I liked things like Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song,” Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes”  and Patti Page’s “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window.” “See You Later Alligator.” “The Purple People Eater.” The Chipmunks’ “Witch Doctor.” Fun songs that were fun to sing along with.

My Dad was in the military and in 1959 we moved to England for 3 years. I don’t remember a radio in the household and those were pretty barren years for my personal music consumption. Towards the end of our stay, my folks won a stereo console at Bingo and soon brought a batch of new records into the home. Mom catered to fluff like The Jackie Gleason Orchestra (white bread soft classical for the new sophisticated working class) while my Dad started branching out. British Elvis Presley Eps. A Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen album (a side of each – I liked the Buddy Knox side). But most of the music I remember from England came from my Dad. Dad could always sing a talking blues called “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette” – do it word for word start to finish. It had been a hit in 1947 for Tex Williams and I'm sure that's where my Dad first heard it.

It probably meant something to him, coming out the same year he left home and probably the same year he started smoking. And one thing Dad always retained was a sense of humor. But when he returned home from a temporary duty assignment in Germany, Hohner Chromatic in hand, it was an Elvis Presley tune he loved to play the best. Sticking true to his already doleful mindset, it was “Wooden Heart.” But still. It was Elvis! Dad’s worldview would expand dramatically over the years, as would his musical tastes. Mom’s, not so much (Percy Faith Orchestra – yech!). But even Mom would expand a little, latching eventually onto Willie Nelson – so much so that she can now even overlook his pot smoking.

The first song for me that would extend beyond entertainment into one that “spoke to me” was Johnny Rivers version of “Memphis.”  

When that song came out we were living in Florence, SC. There were two local radio stations – one country and one Top 40. There was one TV station (CBS affiliate) Being Florence, a hotbed of anti-integration sentiment, Chuck Berry was NOT going to make it onto either radio station’s playlist. With no “race music” station within earshot (no WDIA for example), the only place you might hear black artists was on the Ed Sullivan Show. There was no national Top 40 on the “Top 40” radio station. The weekly countdown was decided by local listener requests and local DJs. And maybe a little Payola in there somewhere.

But if you have to hear Chuck Berry through the voice of a white man, Johnny Rivers is the one - a genuinely effective voice who introduced the (white) world to a much looser approach to recorded music. Probably the fact that it was recorded live, as were 3 out of the first 4 Rivers albums, had a lot to do with my appreciation of live music – something that would eventually lead to my publishing and editing a magazine called Live! Music Review. But it was the words to the song that made the biggest connect. After 3 years of rare once-a-year trans-Atlantic phone calls from my grandparents, a costly and difficult connection at the time (you had to go to the military base NCO Club to receive the call), the emphatic importance Berry placed on a long-distance call meant something. Kids mattered. Add the hand claps and audience response, clearly visible on the Rivers recording, and it was an epiphany – Pentecostal in nature. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones may have been active in the revival of Chuck Berry tunes, but it was Johnny Rivers that made the introduction for me. So I continued to follow Rivers just as closely - through the hits “Mountain of Love” and “Secret Agent Man” - and when I was old enough to get a paper route, I joined a record club and bought all those Whiskey A Go-Go albums. And the feast of Chuck Berry tunes they contained.

Fast forward to 1969. Chuck Berry isn’t in the charts anymore but The Stones are on tour. I’d had my fill of Catholic indoctrination and Catholic school. Especially the year previous, where the nuns - certainly aware that most of the students in 8th grade were experiencing or soon-to-be experiencing puberty - took it as their mission in life to beat the hell out of their students. Both psychologically and physically, to rid them of the concept that any human being deserved a pleasurable or sexual life here on earth. And with no chance of the latter in the aftermath either. That didn’t sound like heaven to me. It sounded like hell.

Now located in Trenton, NJ and back in public school, my Father having left the military in late 1967, I had a new friend named Ray Smith, who’s grandparents lived across the street from us. So he was a frequent visitor to our neighborhood and lived up the road closer to the Trenton Reservoir. He had been a fan of Ten Years After for several years, and that band had recently made an impact on FM radio programmers after Woodstock (and would make an even bigger one once the film came out). One day we decided to walk to his parents house to check out his albums. I saw Ray for the first time in decades last April and we both clearly remembered that day. Besides the Tens Years After records, Ray introduced me to his parents’ Chuck Berry records. And they spoke! The sexual anguish resulting from an seat-belt that just wouldn’t cooperate in “No Particular Place To Go.” “You Can’t Catch Me.” (Bye-bye New Jersey, I’ve become airborne) The girl songs – “Little Queenie,” Carol.” And a jet to the Promised Land. Which just happened to be here on earth. Screw Catholicism.

Late in 1969, the first live bootleg was released – a set by the Rolling Stones recorded a month earlier called Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be. Harkening back to those Johnny Rivers records, the audience participation nature of the recording had a special attraction to me. And the Chuck Berry tunes, “Carol,” and “Little Queenie,” were the highlights of the album.

I had a lot of backtracking to do - a lot of new additions to the record collection. Lots of Chuck Berry.

Equal amounts of Bo Diddley. (introduced to me through the music of Quicksilver Messenger Service)  

A new interest in Mississippi John Hurt and early acoustic Blues. By 1971-72 when I first started singing in bands, Chuck Berry tunes always seemed to make up half the setlist.

And if John Hurt’s soothing voice and guitar picking, whether playing “Nearer My God To Thee,”
 or “Candy Man,” can make me feel all the comforts of what heaven’s supposed to be, it’s Chuck Berry who comes to me as the very voice of God.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Wrecking Ball Is Upon Us

[I wrote this piece for the Holler If You Hear Me group blog back in 2012. It seems even more relevant in 2017 under a president who campaigned under the guise of "making America great again" for the working man and woman. Then proceeded to appoint a cabinet filled with billionaires who have made it their life's work to INCREASE the wealth gap between the rich and poor. More than ever, "we take care of our own" has become a necessity, not a choice. -Bill Glahn]

“The wonder is, these songs bring forth such personal stories, the kind of detail you'd expect to be a journalistic staple somewhere--mainstream or alternative--because Bruce made it personal, rather than the "normal" which is almost clinical. You hear people HURT, you hear some of the consequences of the systemic collapse, and for the most part, first-hand, not third-hand.” (from a conversation with Dave Marsh on fans' responses to Wrecking Ball)

I didn't start digging into the album, Wrecking Ball until yesterday. Jack Of All Trades wasn’t the first song that grabbed me musically, but it is the song with the biggest connect. The biggest connect in a long, long time for me from a Springsteen song. And I think the reason for that is that it comes from the perspective of the lowest rungs of the working class – not the wider expanse of the middle class. I'm finally reading Daniel Wolff's 4th of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land, which IMO, is a great piece of literature to read along with this new album. Especially the parts regarding attitudes of the Asbury Park business community toward the "great unwashed" of the west side.

I've got a story...

The last time I saw Dave Marsh in person was at a gathering following SXSW in 2007. A few days later Dave posted something in an email discussion among friends along the lines of "Bill looks great, if exceedingly tired."

When I moved to Austin, about a month before I saw Dave, I was beyond broke and not quite over some ill health. I worked a lot of day labor jobs to get by. That's about as low on the ladder as you can get and still be working. But I learned a lot there.

I learned the best places for finding unfinished cigarettes and how to smoke them in a semi-sanitary fashion (strip the unused tobacco and re-roll them in fresh papers). I learned that it didn't take much cheap high gravity malt liquor (one 99 cent 24 oz Steel Reserve) to put yourself in a deep sleep and allow your body to heal for the next day. I learned that Austin has a good (and mobile) support system for feeding hungry folks. And most important, I learned that you never EVER admit that you never did any specific job before.

In fact, pretty much every person that showed up at Labor Ready was a Jack (or Jill) of all Trades. I mean - the worst that could happen would be that you wouldn't get sent back to the same job the next day, but you'd still make a day's wages on the deal.

"Anyone with carpentry experience?" "Fuck yeah, my dad was a carpenter. I grew up on that shit."

"Anyone ever run a commercial dish washer?" "You bet! I was the king of dish washing at the Denny's in my hometown."

And my favorite? "Who has a valid driver's license and a clean driving record? It WILL be checked."

Very few hands up on that one and I knew I'd be car hopping at the weekly Car Mart auto auction. If you could be convincing enough (and had a car) you could get work somewhere every day - often another shift at night as well - and even some weekend work in the bargain. But the pay was shit and the work (except for the car hop gig) grueling and everybody's hope was latching onto a permanent job and a return to some normalcy.

Eventually that happened with an underground construction company (sewer and waterline installation) where "Jack of All Trades" was escalated to a whole new level.
I lived in an apartment complex almost entirely inhabited by Hispanic construction workers - a mix of Texas natives, illegals with legal relatives, and green card immigrants, A couple neighbors worked for the same company I worked for and a few other co-workers lived in complexes near-by, so we hung out some both on and off the job. And I started to get some advice. "You work too hard, Beell. If you want to make better money, hop on a machine. Don't wait to be taught. Just hop on like you've been doing it all your life."

When the bosses weren't around I'd jump on a backhoe and start trenching (under the watchful eye of my compadres to make sure I didn't hit any underground utilities or such). When the bosses would show up they'd tell them "Beell's pretty good on a backhoe." I learned all kinds of shit. Cement work (I really WAS good at that!) Road patchwork (cutting old portions out with a concrete diamond saw and filling in). Front end loader work. Roller work. Jack-hammer work. Pipe fitting. Really - becoming a real jack-of-all trades provided a degree of sanity while I was in Austin - something I miss greatly in the mundane labor I now do in Springfield. But I have med benefits. A much less rewarding reward system now, but a needed one. Which, for the most part, does not exist in the jack of all trades world.

Back to the Springsteen song...

The "tired" tone of the song is perfect. Even more so from a day labor perspective. And you never really get over the hostility toward bosses - who are always content to watch you shovel your way to your next meal no matter what toll that backbreaking work takes on your body and soul. The only real way to get around the bosses at that level is another song altogether. We take care of our own.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Springfield, MO - Hear It Roar

(by Bill Glahn)

If anyone is still under the illusion that the vote is the strongest tool in the democratic arsenal, consider this. Women won the right to vote without actually having the vote. History shows that it was not because a handful of elected (male) officials suddenly decided, “Oh, it’s the right thing to do.” Women won the right to vote by exercising their vocal chords and implementing their 1st Amendment rights. One should also note that it was a woman who had a national impact during the Civil Rights Movement with the simple act of refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

I didn’t march in Springfield’s Women’s March On Springfield today. It was a march organized by women to coincide with the Women’s March On Washington. It was meant to vocalize the myriad of concerns by women with a Trump presidency. A lot of the same concerns I shared, but I thought (and still think) that the women would do justice to the 1st Amendment without the aid of their male counterparts. If there is one speaker at the Women’s March on Washington that is totally out of place today it is Michael Moore. Today was an opportunity for men to give up the spotlight, sit down, shut up, let the women speak, and LISTEN. 

So instead, I took my canine companion, Sally, to Park Central Square to greet the marchers and pay attention to what they were saying. It was an experience in the listening half of the conversation equation well worth the effort. As one speaker proclaimed, “An attack on the most marginalized of us is an attack on all of us.” A similar thought might have appeared some 2,000 years ago, but it’s an idea worth repeating. Over and over again. Until we get it right.

I’m a veteran of a few Springfield, Mo political marches. As a rule, they don’t (individually) amount to much, numbering in the 10s of people and, at best, the low three figures. The largest march in Springfield is the non-political annual Breast Cancer Awareness Walk. Which shows that, deep down at its core, Springfield is actually a very caring place. But one that’s empathy does not extend into the political arena. Nix that. “Didn’t” extend into the political arena.

There was something different about this march. You could hear the demonstrators coming into the square from Park Central East before you could see them. It was a HUGE sound. It was VIBRANT. It was LOUD. There must have been several thousand marchers. It was soooo un-Springfield-like. It was great.

Sally was nervous. It was her first time among a large gathering. Her fear and anxiety were noticeable. Probably not so much different than the marchers felt about a nation under Trump’s guidance. But she endured. We stayed for almost the entire presentation, leaving just before the crowd dispersed. And if Donald Trump and his ilk didn’t get the message, there is no one better than the greatest singer of them all to spell it out for him. Take heed, Donald. Take it away, Aretha.