Thursday, June 28, 2018

Who Will Save The World - Travels Through The Texas Panhandle

-by Bill Glahn-

The world can't give
All its life and live
We must give back or lose it.
(“Music Is The Food Of Thought”, written by Tony McPhee)

When The Groundhogs released Who Will Save The World in 1972, it followed a popular format in rock music at the time – theme albums. But the theme Tony McPhee chose for his songs may have been a first for rock music – “earth first.” The cover was designed to look like the action comics of the day. Up in the left-hand corner, where you might usually find a brand name like “Marvel”, it contained the phrase “When danger arises, up from inner space come the MIGHTY GROUNDHOGS."

Recently I took a trip from Springfield, MO to Tucson, AZ. Much of the trip was along the same route I had made many times in the late ‘80s and ‘90s with my family, to CD and record trade shows in Los Angeles. On one of those trips, Don Henley was autographing copies of Heaven Is Under Our Feet, a collection of essays edited by Henley and journalist Dave Marsh. The book was part of Henley’s Walden Woods Project – an ultimately successful effort to save Walden Woods from development by purchasing the portions that weren’t already under protection. The Groundhogs weren’t nearly as successful in their efforts to bring attention to environmental concerns in the United States (the album peaked at no. 202 on the Billboard album charts) but did have noticeably better results overseas (no. 8 on the British charts).

I took my dog, Sally, on my recent trip. Sally, like many non-humans, not only takes notice of what’s on top of the ground, but what’s under the ground as well. I’ve learned to pay attention to Sally and follow her lead. Heaven is, indeed, under our feet. Hell can be, too.

As we passed through the Texas Panhandle, the landscape had changed quite a bit since those trips to L.A. Gone were the small wooden or steel windmills and their small collection ponds for cattle. Gone was the sagebrush that the cattle feed on. The cattle had moved onto feeding lots. If the sight of cattle, tens of thousands of them, corralled in tightly packed pens makes your stomach churn, you probably shouldn’t travel I-40 through Texas. But you should know they’re there and think about that the next time you bite into a hamburger.

But what of the sand and native grasses?

On those earlier trips out to L.A., the first giant windmills started showing up in the passes leading from the high desert into Los Angeles. "What a wonderful thing," I thought. "Using wind power to light such a vastly populated area." Passing through the Texas Panhandle last week, those windmills were everywhere. Thousands of them, stretching over millions of acres. But there were no cities to light. Hardly any houses at all. What there was were vast fields of vegetation - lush green vegetation. Looks can be deceiving.

You see, the largest aquifer in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer passes directly under the Texas Panhandle - the entire width of it.

From Wikipedia: "Large scale extraction for agricultural purposes started after World War II due partially to center pivot irrigation and to the adaptation of automotive engines for groundwater wells. Today about 27% of the irrigated land in the entire United States lies over the aquifer, which yields about 30% of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States. The aquifer is at risk for over-extraction and pollution. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Once depleted, the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall."

What Wikipedia doesn’t say is how much of that 9% has happened in just the last decade or two. Or how long the aquifer can last under such an accelerated draining. Capitalists can sure fuck up a good idea. When the aquifer reaches a point where it can no longer be exploited, Capitalists will do what they always do – abandon it. They’ll leave behind a legacy of destruction that dwarfs the slag heaps outside of Pittsburgh, burning rivers in Cleveland, lead mines in western Missouri, and even the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Dust Bowl? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

The Mighty Groundhogs didn’t save the world. But they served notice. Now it’s up to you and me.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Sally's Big Adventure

-by Sally G as interpreted by Bill Glahn-

[Sally is my Great Dane companion – my best friend for the last 2+ years. I had no plans to get another dog until I retired, but Sally needed to be separated from a bad situation. I was asked to adopt her, I said OK, and I have never regretted it. Retirement came 2 months ago. I’ll let Sally take it from here – to the best I am able to interpret her Scooby-Dooisms.]

Daddy likes to play music for me a lot. Sometimes it sounds great to my ears, sometimes not. When it’s not-so-good, I just stand up and walk out of the room. Daddy doesn’t mind. He thinks it’s kind of funny. But when it’s music I like, I usually go lay down closer to the speakers. “You’re a lot like your Great Aunt Baby,” Daddy says. “The best music critic in the house!” I’ve never met Great Aunt Baby, but Daddy has shown me pictures. She looks a lot like me only older.

Daddy has told me stories about her – stories about great cross-country adventures to Atlanta, Baltimore, and Minneapolis. In Minneapolis, there is an annual concert called Rock For Pussy where they play David Bowie songs. I like David Bowie. Daddy says it raises money for “no-kill” animal shelters. I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s a real good idea if it makes Daddy happy. Daddy took Baby to Muscle Shoals once. Daddy says this is where some of Baby’s favorite music was made. He always adds a lot of details about funny stuff. Like the biker bar/ pool hall outside of Muscle Shoals called Hog & Heifer. And about how he taught some bikers how to play a game called Cheater’s Pool. I don’t understand a lot of what Daddy’s talking about, but he seems happy when telling me those stories. So I listen until I fall asleep. When Daddy retired a few months ago, he said it’s my turn for big adventures now.

He started making what he called mix CDs for the road. Mark Insley’s “Middle of Nowhere.” Billy Dankert’s “Open Wide.” Blackfoot’s “It’s A Highway Song.” Al Perry’s “We Got Cactus.” Elton John’s “Holiday Inn.” There was one called “Cadillac Ranch.” Daddy says we’re going there. He sings along with that one! “"I'm gonna pack my pa and I'm gonna pack my aunt/ I'm gonna take them down to the Cadillac ranch." I can’t wait!

Daddy put some extra things in the car. Like the suitcase and a lunchbox marked with my name. The last time he did this was when we went to a cabin at Devil’s Den State Park. Oh, Goody! That’s near where those little humans Daddy calls “the grandkiddles” live. I always have fun there! Daddy does, too. When we get on the big road heading that way, I’m sure of it.

We drove for miles to a town called Joplin. That’s where Daddy usually turns onto another big road. But he missed his turn! I tried to tell him but he just didn’t understand. So I jumped into the seat next to Daddy and tried to explain. I know I’m not allowed in that seat, but this was important. Daddy got off the road and put me back in my space. He told me if I didn’t behave, I couldn’t see the Cadillac Ranch. Then he put my lunchbox between the seat to block me. This was serious. I have to admit, I laid down and copped an attitude at first. Daddy has this saying sometimes, “Fuck ‘em. Let them make their own mistakes if they don’t wanna listen.” He was usually talking about his bosses. I pouted a little and thought the same thing about Daddy. But it turned out Daddy was right. This was a long ride to somewhere new – an adventure, not a trip. Daddy stopped the car a lot to let me out and stretch my legs and pee.  We drove all the way to Amarillo. Daddy said I was so good that we would definitely stop at the Cadillac Ranch in the morning. We got a room at something called a “motel.” There were two beds, one for me and one for Daddy. I decided that I wanted to sleep next to Daddy in his bed. He didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure he had forgiven me for my bad behavior a long way back.

Day 2 and the first stop is the Cadillac Ranch! This was a cool place – a bunch of old cars sticking out of the mud in the middle of a cow pasture. The dirt trail up to the cars was rock hard but there were good scents on the ground. I could spend some time here! When we got close, there were cans of spray paint all over the ground. The empty ones were turned over and the ones with paint still in them were turned straight up. Daddy let go of my leash and told me to stay. He walked into the mud pit around the cars and painted my name on one of the cars. I don’t like mud on my feet so I waited for Daddy to get done. A nice boy took some pictures of us. On the way back to the car Daddy let me wander into the cow pasture to poop. I have a container of poop bags attached to my harness and Daddy always puts my poop in a bag when we take walks. This time he didn’t. I suppose if cows use this field to poop it doesn’t really matter.

On the way back to the car, there was a man and his wife on the side of the road. The man was on a scooter like the one our friend Douglas rides. Douglas has a dog called McLaird and we see them at the park a lot. This man didn’t have a dog. Daddy stopped and asked the man if he needed any help. The man said that his scooter wouldn’t fit through the pasture gate but the view from the road was good enough for him. The Cadillac Ranch was on his bucket list of things to see. Daddy showed him pictures on our camera of what it looks like close-up. The man and his wife were real friendly and petted me a lot. They said I was beautiful and asked if Daddy would take a picture of them and me. Daddy took one with their camera and took one on ours as well. Yippee! New friends! I’m beginning to like this adventure a whole lot. But what’s a bucket list?

Daddy said we wouldn’t drive so far today. We drove to a city named Albuquerque. We stopped at several rest areas. The first had a dog park so I could run off leash. I played with another dog there. We got along great. But, jeez, was it hot. I didn’t play long. At the second stop, the nice people let me go into the gift shop and Dairy Queen. Daddy says that different places have different rules. Back home it’s against the rules for pets to go into the big building at Nathaniel Greene Park. But there’s one lady there that always makes an exception for me. Being friendly and well-behaved has it’s advantages. When we got to the hotel the ladies at the reception desk loved all over me. Daddy calls me a “chick magnet.” I’m not sure what that means but it sure sounds funny. I got to eat in the breakfast area in the morning as well.

We stopped at a place called Tombstone the next day. They wouldn’t let me in Boothill Graveyard, but they let me walk the historic district in the downtown area and even into one of the stores. You could take a tour on a trolly - $10 for adults, under 5 rides free. Hey! I’m under 5. But Daddy said no, we needed our daily walk. On the highway south to Tombstone there was a Border Patrol check-point. All cars headed north were being checked. Daddy told me a story. He called it his “duh” moment. It seems Daddy knew Tombstone was in Arizona but didn’t know it was so close to the Mexican border. No wonder so many bad men gathered there. They could cross the border in minutes to go where the law couldn’t get them. Murderers, thieves, rapist, gun smugglers. Daddy says Trump had it right all along. He just had his history and directions mixed up.

When we were stopped by the Border Patrol heading back, Daddy opened my window in the back so I could stick my head out. He said, “They’ll want to search inside that big green suitcase for sure. I could fit a couple of kilos into that thing. Sally, do your best ambassador-of-good-will act.” I’m not sure what he meant, but I stuck my head out and let the Border Patrol officer pet me on top of my head. The officer said, “Beautiful dog. You’re Ok. Go on through.” What’s a kilo?

Tucson was wonderful. We stayed there for two days. They have a great park there with water fountains and shady trees. And grass! I haven’t seen much of that out here.
The hotel ladies were real friendly there, too. A nice man named Mark came by the hotel for an interview. I'm not sure what an interview is, either. But he was nice and he talked with Daddy for about an hour and sang me some songs. I could smell some dog scent on him. He said he had two dogs – a Labrador named Layla and a Huskie-Cow Dog mix named Jack. I know some Labradors but I’ve never met a cow dog. I was super tired and I needed my sleep for the journey home. Daddy went to a club where Mark was playing and I dozed off. The sun sure stays up a long time out here and the earth’s gravitational field just doesn’t seem right to me. I woke Daddy up early in the morning. He seemed a little out of sorts, but he rubbed my head anyway. “Only one stop on the way home - Tucumcari. That’s where I used to stop on the way back from trips to California with my sons. There’s some cool older hotels there in the downtown area. Cheap, too.”
Road trip with Baby 2005
All in all, I think Great Aunt Baby DID make the trip. Daddy says dogs have souls. I want to do this again. Please, Daddy! But first I want to rest up. 

Bonus tracks:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Remembering Danny Kirwan

[edited from a 2003 article I wrote for Big O, Singapore's only independent music publication]
-by Bill Glahn-
Sometimes you just have to go spiritual to keep from going postal. For me "going spiritual" has always been to put down the newspaper and pick up a book. Or to turn off CNN/Fox News and put on some music. That isn’t the same thing as burying your head in the sand. You can do THAT reading the New York Times or tuning in to The O’Reilly Factor.

This past week was one of those weeks for me. I needed a reprieve from the taxation of maintenance living. So I dusted off a 34-year-old album that I remembered liking but couldn’t remember why and a 13-year-old book about what is possibly the most complex "simple" song ever recorded.

Fleetwood Mac fans are mostly divided into two camps these days, the smaller one consisting of guitar obsessives who favor the blues styling of Peter Green. By far the larger of the two fan bases is the one that favors the latter (post-'74) line-up fronted by the smart pop sensibilities of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and the enticing sexuality of a chanteuse-turned-arena warbler, Stevie Nicks.

Sandwiched in between there was another Fleetwood Mac - one with a shifting line-up and varying styles. It was one that was hard to get a handle on, but also one that moved beyond its inconsistency to record some of the best (and most overlooked) songs in the group’s history. It’s easy to forget that the band recorded six albums of new material in the post-Green, pre-Nicks era (1970-1974).

For the first three of those albums, Danny Kirwan, who will never be known as a household name in the annals of rock 'n' roll, played a significant part in providing some of the best tracks. The first venture into life-after-Green, Kiln House, primarily served as an exorcism of the remaining members’ rock 'n' roll roots (buried for years as a mostly slow to mid-tempo blues outfit under Green). But it also yielded the stunning "Station Man.” If Kirwan was not a particularly adept improvisational guitarist, he was, at the very least, one that could come up with a lyrical six-string component that could carry a song for five or six minutes. As well as a wordsmith who kept things deceptively simple. Much of the charm of Kirwan's lyrics were in their tempered optimism.

It was not Kiln House that I dusted off, though. It was Bare Trees, Kirwan's final opus with the band. Mostly noted for the sugar substitute, low-calorie flavorings of "Sentimental Lady," Kirwin’s influence in the band was waning. But the album’s title track, a two-line chorus, a two-line lyric and an outburst of pentecostal exuberance penned by Kirwan, dwarfs Bob Welch’s nonsensical paean to gentle love.

The lyrics of "Bare Trees" are anything but sweet. Using an economy of words, Kirwan paints a cold picture. Then the words stop and the spirit lifting begins.

Bah do dah, do dah da do da do
Bah do dah, do dah da do wah wah

It’s sung with such fervor that it reduces the rest of the lyrics to lies. It’s a cold world? Bah do dah bullshit. You are at the mercy of others? Do dah da do da do. Don’t you believe it. The truth doesn’t always come in the form of words. Lies always do.

Rama lamma fa fa fuck that shit!

Maybe the best book ever written about a single song was Dave Marsh’s "Louie Louie."

The FBI investigated that notorious song for a full two years, cementing the myth that it contained obscene lyrics to such an extent that over four decades later there are still high school principals trying to ban it from the repertoire of their marching bands.

At the time, the governor of Indiana made the fantastic statement that his attempts to stop radio programmers in the state from playing it were not the same as censorship. The irony is that "Louie Louie," as recorded by The Kingsmen, was unintelligible at any speed. They might as well have been singing "a wop bop a lu bop a lop bam boom." But in all its innocence, it was subversive. Maybe what scared the Feds more than anything were the words that were most clearly stated. "Let’s give it to ‘em, right now!"

As I neared the end of my sabbatical from the rat race this week, I remembered what it was about "Bare Trees" that I liked. Like "Tutti Frutti," "Rocket Reducer No. 62," "Louie Louie" and countless other songs that invoke "speaking in tongues," bah-do-dah lifted my spirits. And it didn’t lie to me.