Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Shopping

Happy Black Friday! I've been thinking about how bizarre it is we actually have a consumer-oriented day with a name to represent retail consumption. How strange too that so many special, one-of-a-kind gifts will be purchased at Big Box stores off the rack holding a few dozen exact replicas of same. How strange that the gloom and doom economy collapse prophets seem to think it's a bad thing that endless huge anonymous yet aggressively branded caverns full of utter crap might go out of business. I'm such a contrarian bastard. Every time I see Linens 'N' Things or Joanne or Starbucks going under I get a frisson of glee up my spine.

You know what else is pissing me off lately? The new spell check databases for Gmail, Facebook, certain fora I'm on, and Blogger. I keep typing in completely legitimate words and they keep getting underlined in red. For example, in this post alone, "contrarian" and "fora." Recently, "vampyric," (here too!), "grotesqueries" (here as well) and my preferred spelling of "dialogue," which seems to have been abandoned for the odd-looking "dialog."

Anyway, these words being tagged as unrecognizable is a very bad sign. Part of the general retardifying (take that, spell check!) of culture.

But I digressify. The holidays are upon us. For the past two nights, J and I engaged in enjoyable sessions of culture browsing on You Tube. Eva Cassidy, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Don Cherry with James Blood Ulmer and Rashied Ali (and an audience full of stunned and nauseated looking Swedes), The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Country Joe McDonald, Miles Davis on the Steve Allen Show with the second quintet doing All Blues at lightning speed (featuring a brief precious moment where good old happy go lucky Steve Allen asks Davis what he's going to play, can't hear the response and asks someone else to tell him, saying "Miles has laryngitis"), The Kingston Trio, Tom Lehrer (a great bunch of footage of him that I didn't know existed; also didn't know he's still on the planet and 80 years old), Eddie Cochran doing Summertime Blues followed by The Who doing the same at Woodstock 10 years later, Patty Waters (sadly, no actual footage, just some examples of the strange yet oddly touching You Tube practice of posting music with still photographs), Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Kate Nash, Kate Bush, an almost unwatchable episode of Disco Teen with special guests The Boxtops, Danny Gatton and his beer bottle slide and towel routine, two absolutely horrifying Michael Jackson videos (Scream and In The Closet), "lame American folkie" Dan Wilcox, an excerpt from the Cecil Taylor documentary All the Notes, a duet between Milford Graves and David Murray from a documentary homage to Albert Ayler, a solo performance of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Miles Beyond by Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski , Tori Amos kicking people out of her show ("Get the fuck out of my show! It's a privilege to sit in the front row"), Tom Waits in 1977 doing Tom Traubert's Blues, a very brief snippet of Rod Stewart doing same about 5 octaves higher. There's more, but you get the idea.

So here's a thought. Don't buy a single new thing from now to January 2020. Just take the time to get to know even a little bit about what's already been made. Shop for Xmas gifts at thrift stores and yard sales. Or make your own gifts. Or reconfigure the whole idea of what a gift is in the first place. Gift or curse? For example, well-meaning people have given me a lot of utter crap over the years. I always feel obliged to hold onto it. "I can't throw that away! Someone put a lot of thought into buying that!" Thing is, it's all going to go. I'm paring down. I'm offloading big time. The real precious irreplaceable things, like recordings, books, cacti, that stuff will stay, even though I eye it askance since I can't take it with me and every single time I move (9 times in the past 7 years) I have to lug all of it around, a Laputan comedy. (and go screw yourself, Blogger spell check for not recognizing "Laputan." What a world!)

A few afterthoughts in this Special Director's Cut of the Stochasticactus Release of the post titled Holiday Shopping:

I started thinking about what the best gift one person can give to another is, short of maybe a kidney or dying to save someone else's life. I realized that perhaps the single most dreaded phone call from a friend goes like this: "yeah, so, I'm moving into a new place...think you can come over and help me move?" So perhaps the finest gift of all would be to visit every single friend you have and just start boxing up and removing their worthless crap. *Ahead* of the "hey can you help me move?" phone call. Drug them up if you have to, hypnotize them, whatever it takes. Then just gut their space. Box after box of old sand-filled hand weights, signed baseballs, Roy Orbison records, moldy-boxed board games, bread machines, yard umbrellas, whatever.

And here's a novel way to deal with "gift guilt," that feeling when you get a gift that, darn it all, now you *have* to reciprocate. Just send back the original gift with a little note: "Thank you! I enjoyed this ___________ (sweater, pen, Sigmund Freud action figure, pair of socks, etc.) for a short while and have decided to return it to you. We're all going to die anyway and nothing's permanent! Happy Holidays!"

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Where Do We Live, Again?

I'd like to suggest that citizens are all members of their national
community and nations are in turn citizens of one global community.
The amassing of great personal wealth allows for insulation from one's
community that I don't think ultimately makes for a strong, secure,
functional nation. Along these lines, my own borderline lower middle
class finances make it possible for me to insulate myself from, say,
those starving and dying in the shantytowns outside Nogales, a mere
120 miles south. So American attitudes about wealth have also by
extension isolated and insulated the US from being a more participant
global citizen. We were perhaps shocked awake by 9/11, but in my
opinion immediately put back to sleep again by promises of war and

It seems to me we aren't as a people given to any regular and
sustained awareness of events and realities around the world. Small
pockets of starry eyed citizens occasionally band together to fight
hunger, human rights violations, injustice and oppression in "other"
places. But generally, if it isn't at our doorstep, it's not our

This applies within the island nations inside the US as well. Behind
security kiosks and gates, in countless enclaves of wealth for which
no account must be given and which, as a culture, we idolize, any
sense of connection is lost. The wealthy have their own rules, their
own justice system, their own ideas of scale, their own ideas of
fairness and citizenship that are fundamentally, culturally different
from the rest of the population. The more I traveled around the US and
lived in different places, the more exposure I had to this insular
reality. Because my employment has been as a teacher of the wealthy,
I've only been able to afford to live in neighborhoods that were
liminal, on the border between wealth and poverty, yet had a lot of
experience of the values and culture of the rich, "liberal" and
"conservative" alike. It seems to me there is a point at which
quantitative differences become qualitative, at which one no longer
lives in the US at all.

The other island nations are within our borders too, "red-lined"
bombed out urban war zones, rural poverty and scarcity we don't often
shine a light on or even think about. Cities like LA, Philadelphia,
NY, Boston and even towns like Santa Fe offer jarring contrasts
sometimes in a matter of a few blocks. Poverty, hunger and suffering
of our own citizens used to be a popular theme, used to provide a
rallying cry of some kind for those who saw injustice and wanted
equity. In my opinion, it seems that these realities are now just not
very good television, just too dreary and boring to sell newspapers.
You'd think we won the "war on poverty" if you hadn't seen poverty
yourself on a daily basis. It's like the War in Iraq: we can't handle
pictures of coffins, even if they are draped in flags.

So it is that I roll my eyes and think GMAFB when those that got talk
about how unfair it is to be asked to give. "I'm the best steward of
my own wealth, thank you" is really just an excuse for continued
unaccountability, irresponsibility, disconnectedness, insularity.
"Government can't be trusted to solve problems" is an absurd
statement, given the emergence of essentially socialist democracy
since the Great Depression. Real social problems, actually solved by
that old much-hated gummint. Imagine an American historical landscape
over the past 75 years if pure free market capitalism had been adhered
to, no New Deal. My vision of that is wars, uprisings, violence,
destruction, anguish, revolution. "You just want to throw money at
_____________" is a childish dodge. For example, regarding education.
I'd sometimes hear folks spending $27,000 a year on their child's 7th
and 8th grade years dismiss "throwing money" at public education. 9
times the average per student expenditure, in that case. Seems to work
for you and your kid, I'd want to say, but wouldn't. When do we hear
someone say "You just want to throw money at terrorism, you can't
solve the problem that way." Never.

Anyway, we live in the world. If we don't take responsibility for the
gestalt, it will come around and kick us in the ass.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Political Vortex

I've gotten swept up into electoral politics the past month or so. I'm not entirely sure why, as my own personal political history has been saturated in non-representation since roughly 1972 or so. I was an 11 year old progressive commie pinko socialist then, and now I'm an older one. So my entire political experience of American public life has been as an outsider. One of the finest Republican presidents we've had during that time, Bill Clinton, offered some tiny, slight hope for a few meager ideas to the Left of Center, but to no avail, ultimately.

I went to Political Compass yesterday and tried to answer their fascinating quiz the way I imagined Obama would, the way I imagined McCain might. Then a friend of mine pointed me to the site's own analysis. I scored both candidates as less conservative than the site does, with Obama actually a couple points to the left of center economically and socially. The site has him the other way on both axes.

I'd guess more Americans have beliefs and values in the 2nd (top left)
and 3rd (bottom left) quadrants than we'd imagine, given the Center/
Right domination of national politics. I wonder if the new documentary
about Lee Atwater, _Boogie Man_,
sheds some light on the recent
history of Center/Right rhetoric and tactics. The new robocalls going
out from the McCain camp (created by the same firm that smeared McCain
in 2000) fall into the usual Atwater/Rove strategic category. I'm not
saying that Democrats don't also use appalling tactics to attain and
retain power. I am saying that, in my opinion, the bullying of public
discourse to the Right is a result of Republicans being better at

And what a spectacle it is, McCain picking up on Wurzelbacher and his
"socialistic" line regarding Obama's tax plan, in the midst of the
socialization of capital to the tune of $1 trillion and probably more
advocated by "conservative," "free market" W. But McCain has finally
found a (dishonest) way to talk about the economy yet not talk about
it, hitting his stride. He'll come back in the polls and the election
will be much closer than polls and maps show now, possibly even a
repeat of 2000. Says this Chicken Little Breslin Socialist. (Of
course, Obama is lying on a daily basis as well, as there's no way,
given the current economic picture, that he can implement what he's

It's a success for both Obama and McCain, oddly, that probably most
Americans (including me, apparently, given my guesses on the political
compass test) think of Obama as a "Liberal." McCain finally gets to
harp on ye olde Tax and Spend riff, and Obama gets to blithely deceive
a huge segment of the Democratic Party that is yet again duped into
not being represented on the national stage. Democrats have long
manipulated their own Left constituencies by urging them not to "waste
their votes" on Third Party candidates who much better represent their
views. The whining over Nader and Florida, etc., is appalling. I hope
to see a re-emergence of Left ideas into public view, and a shift to
the Left in the Democratic Party. But this is the last election where
I'll cast a fear vote. I honestly do think Sarah Palin is a "cancer on
the Republican Party," like David Brooks, and have finally found
common ground with Chris Buckley, Peg Noonan, Kathleen Parker et al.
I've been coming to terms with the simple fact that I'm voting against
Palin. Sad but true. Another statistic, another casualty of the
culture wars.

I think it's revealing too that a recent email invited me to a phone
calling party in Scottsdale hosted by MoveOn, the angle for which is
"Help Defeat Sarah Palin." The party features bar-b-q chicken
(probably organic, free range?) and Saturday Night Live Tina Fey
videos. The thought of attending this event makes me want to eat my
own face, but it's fascinating rhetoric. Obama is not "energizing" the
Left base nearly as much as Palin is. The address for the anti-Palin
Party, by the way, is a barren, windswept McMansion quadrant on the
golf course riddled edges of well-watered Phoenix. These are folks
just dying to pay more tax. Or perhaps they are secure in the
knowledge that their expensive tax accountants will buffer them from
Obama's "socialistic" schemes.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Panchromaticon

Recently, I launched a teaching unit in all of my math classes (Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus/Trig and Calculus) analyzing the ratios or factors used to develop various musical tuning systems. Generally, my students "hate fractions," and they're even more suspicious of irrational numbers. So I figured it might be interesting for them to listen to fractions and to hear the effects of multiplying by irrationals.

An introduction to the harmonic series and the construction of the 12-tone chromatic scale based on whole number ratios of the upper partials compared to a fundamental, folded within the space of an octave, came first. Then the concept of logarithmic constants used to exactly double a frequency through 12 multiplications was covered, looking at the use of the 12th root of 2 to construct a 12 tone equal tempered tonal palette. Some historical background was thrown in to try to give the students some sense of how seriously people used to take this stuff, particularly regarding religion, philosophy, psychology and spirituality. Finally, an introduction to the 43-tone 11-limit just tuned Harry Partch octave extended the topic, including a showing of _The Dreamer That Remains_, the 1972 documentary directed by Stephen Pouliot.

In researching to prepare the unit, one of the endlessly distracting toys I found was the midicode online synthesizer. There's a tuning drop-down menu that includes 12-tone equal temperament as well as a great many other tunings (Zarlino, Pythagorean, Ptolemaic, a variety of microtonal tunings, even "Wendy Carlos Super Just," which I have yet to analyze), including, lo and behold, Partch's 43-tone octave.

The whole experience has me thinking about the tonal musical palette in general. Experimental studies show that some highly percipient listeners can hear frequency differences on the order of a mere 5 cents. (The cent is a logarithmic measure of change in frequency, where 100 cents is equal to multiplying by the 12th root of 2, in other words, an equal tempered half step is 100 cents). For those who can hear 5 cents at a time, there's a universe of 20 distinct tones between, for example, A440 and A#. This of course would lead to a 240-tone octave.

I'm defining any octave that includes 240 tones as "panchromatic."

Out of this panchromatic scale (whether equal tempered or just tuned...I have to look into exactly how the ratios would look in whole numbers to get 240 tones into an octave....) one could construct all possible perceivable music. Tonally, anyway.

This panchromatic idea has me also thinking about whether a fairly simple General Theory of Harmony could be proposed. Removing all considerations of "good" and "bad" from the terms consonance and dissonance, perhaps these two fundamental principles (which, after all, turn out to be rooted in how we perceive frequency ratios) could be used as a foundation for such a General Theory. Composers would then be entirely liberated to write panchromatic music, drawing on all of the perceivable tones in the 240 note octave. Of course, composers would still be free to use only 12, or 7, or 5, or 43, or whatever number.

Perhaps problems in performance could at least be partly ameliorated with the aid of technology. But such an idea would shift music education from its current obsession with mechanical technique and facility, toward a highly refined tonal sensibility.

I have nothing against the 12-tone equal tempered scale. But the vast universe of perceivable tones available for our auditory perception has barely been explored, at least for the past 400 years or so.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Inside Out, Over but not Out

For the past two years, I've been producing a weekly radio show called Inside Out for KSFR, Santa Fe NM's local, community supported public radio station. I was brought on as a volunteer producer after the station made the switch from an afternoon "classical music" format to "jazz," a bold move to be certain. Not only that, but the station manager at the time, Tim Pemberton, did his damnedest to bring in local "jazz" musicians as producers, a truly remarkable effort. The switch resulted in KSFR featuring nearly 24 hours of "jazz" programming every week, most of it in prime morning and afternoon slots, in a national market of commercial radio featuring zero of same (largely, let's ignore execrable "smooth jazz" shall we? at least until the coffee wears off) and public radio featuring largely endless talking heads, news, political commentary and interview shows. Another remarkable aspect of the programming switch: Santa Fe isn't a "jazz" town. Or at least, wasn't, so much, when the switch was made. I hear that the recent New Mexico Jazz Festival had a mostly sold out run (never mind my acidulous take on this year's bookings, save it either entirely or for another post)-- perhaps KSFR could be credited with slowly building a real breathing audience for "jazz" in a town better known for opera, chamber music and alt country.

(yet with a growing reputation for creative music and emerging artists as well, thanks to High Mayhem Emerging Arts, but that too is another post).

Last year, I moved to Tempe, AZ. I've been recording the show at home and ftp-ing it to KSFR's server pretty much every week. The station decided this week to pull me from Thursday afternoons and get some warm bodies in the studio, an excellent idea for an outlet so connected to Santa Fe's local scene, events, people and culture. Who among the loyal listeners to KSFR would prefer a guy in a can? Not even me.

Inside Out emerged as an attempt to illustrate musically a very basic premise: "jazz" (which I usually call "creative improvised and composed music" on the program) is a complete, living, breathing continuum. It's damned sure not "dead" and it's for certain not neatly divisible into camps, schools, movements. Thus the title. Listen even a bit more closely to the best of the "inside" and you hear the perpetual innovation at the heart of great creativity. Listen with open mind, heart, ears to the finest of the "outside" and you hear with clarity the deep roots or flat out overt incorporation of the history of the music.

Most of my programming decisions were made in an attempt to reinforce this theory, repeatedly, sometimes pointedly but most often without comment from me. Spineless, gutless, predictable, formulaic, derivative, insincere, imitative, boring, blandly palliative, overly produced, insipid and insincere music was always (I'd like to think) checked at the door.

A handful of the "inside" artists with solid gold "mainstream" cred who provided endless examples of in your face (overt or subtle; yes, music can be quite subtly in your face) links/precursors/engagements with the "outside":

Duke, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson, Mary Lou Williams, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Booker Little, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Herbie Nichols, Mal Waldron, Pepper Adams, Randy Weston, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, John Coltrane, etc.

A handful of artists marginalized (to varying degrees) to the "outside" whose roots and branches are so obviously continuous (usually seamlessly) with the "inside" that it's amazing the boundary lines were ever drawn:

Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Julius Hemphill, The World Saxophone Quartet, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Bill Dixon, Jimmy Lyons, Leroy Jenkins, Don Cherry, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Steve Lacy, David S Ware, Matthew Shipp, Tim Berne, etc.

If you're not nodding your head, you're not listening. You've bought hook line and sinker some line of BS about the "great death" of "jazz" in 1959, or 1969, or 1979 or whatever. You've read too many Wynton Marsalis/Stanley Crouch/Albert Murray interviews and curricula, or maybe admired the Ken Burns/PBS patina without digging, or maybe you've been to "jazz school" in the great cookie cutter Jamey Aebersold music factories. Or you've too ardently embraced Be Bop as the be all and end all of "jazz."
(Without examining very closely that Be Bop itself was construed for a good long while as the End of Jazz). Or, I suppose, you just don't care. In which case, if we ever have a conversation, I'll ask (maybe sporting a shark-like smile) "why not?" This music is the backbone of American musical art. Never mind that the category "jazz" (and God only knows what's actually included in that category) currently enjoys a mere 2% of the record industry market share in the US. Never mind that "jazz" is perceived by many as "old people music." Never mind that the attitude expressed by an actual "jazz" music presenter in America's midwest, that "jazz" is "irrelevant," actually came as no surprise to me. Never mind all that.

What's more, the above lists are merely handfuls. The examples are in reality much more vast. I've only scratched the surface of musical illustrations of my theory in nearly 100 hours of programming over two years. One of the great weaknesses of my program was a paucity of new releases, due largely to budgetary constraints. If I had been in residence at KSFR, I would have had access to many more current examples, such as The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, etc.

The theory and my programming, by the way, was never intended to exalt either "inside" or "outside." Nor was it intended to "make the world safe for the avant garde." Fundamentally, it was intended to reveal the utter beauty at the core of a bunch of great music, period.

I'm grateful to KSFR for the opportunity to engage in such risky, perhaps one of a kind programming during an afternoon weekday slot. I was given complete leeway in programming decisions, even after a bumpy start. In either my first or second show, I went from Andrew Hill/Dolphy to Jimmy Lyons/Sunny Murray (Riffs #5) to Ornette (The Artist in America), at the top of the hour, leading into Democracy Now, one of the station's most popular programs. Yikes! Tim Pemberton and Sean Conlon unreservedly went to bat for my "dial changers," and that's amazing these days. I'm also grateful for the opportunity to interview Jane Ira Bloom, Roscoe Mitchell, Sonny Rollins and Oliver Lake. Sad that Rashied Ali didn't pick up the phone for a scheduled interview last year and that Pharaoh Sanders declined, but you can't win 'em all. I'm also grateful for the many regular listeners who called or emailed with complaints, suggestions, information, requests, etc. Gratitude as well to my friends at Destination Out for providing a ton of music for the program through their remarkable MP-free blog.

I'm intending to continue producing Inside Out on a weekly basis, moving into the 21st Century by making it a podcast. Stay tuned while I figure out this whole new-fangled podcast thing.

The penultimate show tomorrow:

1-2 pm
Randy Weston- Blue Moses, from Zep Tepi, 2006 (Weston will be 83 years
old next April)
The Art Ensemble of Chicago- Uncle/Peter and Judith, from Urban
Bushmen, 1982 (extended bass sax solo from Roscoe Mitchell)
Sonny Rollins- Sonny, Please!, from the eponymous CD, 2006
Horace Tapscott (with John Carter, Cecil McBee, Andrew Cyrille)- The
Dark Tree, 1989

2-3 pm
Horace Tapscott, conclusion
Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop- MDM, 1960 (w/Dannie Richmond, Lonnie
Hilyer, Ted Curson, Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Booker Ervin, Jimmy
Knepper, Britt Woodman)
Ornette Coleman- What Reason Could I give/Civilization Day/Street
Woman, from Science Fiction, 1971
Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus/Max Roach- Money Jungle/Fleurette
Africaine, from Money Jungle, 1962

Not sure yet what the last KSFR show will be, but you can listen in (or out).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Git Offa Mah Yard! part x

My girlfriend thinks I should start a blog called Get Off of My Yard! that features rants the likes of which might be delivered by an angry old man, shaking his fist at the neighborhood children, worrying his two remaining teeth with his yellowed old tongue. Apparently, I sometimes embody this character as I fulminate regarding pop culture, advertising, politics, music, education, the driving habits of Arizonans, etc.

So perhaps instead of launching a whole new blog, I'll just occasionally rant right here, in a charming series called, of course, Git Offa My etc.

Enough with the BS already! But where to begin?

How 'bout with an inspiring little card inserted between plastic wrapper and kale-green cigarette pack brought to us by the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Natural American Spirit cigarettes. I smoke roughly a pack a day of their admittedly high quality menthols. The menthol flavoring, by the way, comes from mentholated crystals embedded in the filter, maintaining the virginal purity of their tobacco. These are fine, tasty, high-powered smokes, my friends. I felt not a twinge of guilt as Cecil Taylor bummed them off of me, one after the other, during a post concert party in his hotel room in Albuquerque. My pals, who are non-smokers generally, cadge a smoke or two off me without remorse, savoring the "100% Additive-Free Natural Tobacco." A friend who writes screenplays and directs movies calls them "Pimp Daddy Smokes," combining the somewhat shady sleaze of menthol with a kick of nicotine and carbon monoxide mule-like in its oxygen denying ferocity.

But the company's greenwashing is ridiculous.

Text of inspiring inserted card, front:

Bold heading: DIFFERENT Company

"It's refreshing to know a company that produces a product we use actively supports human rights, the environment, and other charitable works."-Scott W.

Never mind the Oxford comma.

Further inspiration on inserted card, back:

"Our people...We believe that the way we do business is as important as the way we grow our tobacco. That's why being earth-friendly is a part of our everyday lives. Whether it's using wind power to run our offices, or contracting directly with organic farmers who grow tobacco using earth-friendly practices, we're dedicated to reducing our footprint on the earth." (followed by the company's logo, featuring an altered zia...symbolism is heavy all around, including an Indian in a full head dress holding up a peace pipe and a handy little gold Thunderbird printed on every fag).

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for reducing footprints on the earth.

But it's the epitome of balls for a tobacco company to jump so hard on the green bandwagon, really. Hey, I have an idea-- maybe my respirator someday can be wind powered? Or perhaps half my lower jaw can be removed using entirely *earth-friendly* recycled bone saws? Or perhaps the radioactive elements used in my lung therapy can be obtained from direct contracts with organic, *earth-friendly* mining companies?

Some small print on the side of the pack seems perhaps too little, too late. Or maybe just so utterly obvious as to be unintentionally hilarious: "No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette."

The stub Wiki article is highly revealing:

"The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company is a tobacco manufacturer, best known for its production of the Natural American Spirit cigarette brand. However, "Natural American Spirit" brand cigarettes are currently owned by (since 2002) the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, Inc. There is controversy surrounding this brand, both for its use of a 'native American' logo (citation needed), and for its claims to be natural, which many consumers misconstrue as meaning that the product is healthier for you."

I'm fully prepared, obviously, to admit that the only SAFE cigarette is an unlit cigarette. I'm also sheepishly ashamed to have such deep brand loyalty to a company that has obviously gone completely off the deep end of boomer, yuppie PC marketing nonsense.

And so, with gravelly voice and at a nicotine-ratcheted fever pitch, I crow to the marketing department at RJ Reynolds/Santa Fe Natural Tobacco: Git Offah Mah Yard!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Of Vinegaroons, Bootheels and Frontiers

A strange couple of weeks, these past two, especially odd coming after two weeks of 115 degree air conditioned down time, during which my obsession with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II re-emerged. (I had discovered a whole new way to play this already ancient game, involving various delay tactics intended to get all of my opponents arrested...this approach led to hours of time delightfully squandered. There's something about a well designed video game and my own impulse to twist the parameters of the software that's definitely a compulsive combination, a focus that sets in after the goals and purposes of the game intended by the designers have long been mastered).

Two Saturdays ago I set out for Roswell, NM to be an artist in residence for the Roswell Opera Camp, under the auspices of The Santa Fe Opera. 6 nights at the Days Inn of Roswell, nearly 30 kids age 6.5-13, endless hours of horrifying cable television during off time (when I ought to have been sleeping). The kids were great; they came up with a story involving 7 tomboy princesses who journey to the Amazon in search of the Godzilla Beetle and encounter an evil 4-headed unicorn named Fluffy. Very Wagnerian somehow. The camp took place at the First Presbyterian Church of Roswell, a Gothic Revival structure built in 1937 and highly evocative of my childhood church in Bethlehem, PA.

Late Thursday night, I took a smoke break from fleshing out some of the music the kids had written and stepped outside the sanctuary side door. The first thing I noticed was dozens of huge cockroaches zanting about, actually larger than the ones we've encountered here in Tempe, which is astonishing. Then, on the tiled porch, in my peripheral vision, I caught sight of an enormous...thing. My mind clamored "that's alive!" and "no, it's a dead leaf blowing in the breeze...can't be alive" pretty much at the same time. Lo, 'twas indeed a living creature. A Giant Vinegaroon, to be exact.

My teaching partner, Charles Gamble, and I printed out a photo of a vinegaroon from the web to show the kids the next day. "We see those all the time," they said, bored. It's true, the Roswell and Artesia area is the population center of these beasts. Crazy.

I got one morning of cactus hunting while in Roswell and found some great plants, including a flowering Echinocactus horizonthalonius:

On the way back from Roswell, I took a very roundabout route through Carlsbad. I would have had tons of daylight to check out Guadalupe National Park in Texas but for New Mexico's Finest, who stopped me at a DUI checkpoint and happened to notice my expired tags. I did catch some beautiful Echinocereus dasyacanthus near Carlsbad just before sunset:

I ended up driving all the way to Las Cruces, staying in a motel room straight out of Barton Fink. The next day I poked around a bit in New Mexico's bootheel, an area I've always been curious about. "Off the beaten track" doesn't come close to describing this land that time forgot.

Shortly after arriving home, I set out on a 2 day trip in a big circle from Phoenix to Seligman to Peach Springs to Kingman and up to Meadview, with an overnight in tiny Truxton, AZ.

Truxton is a motel, cafe and gas station on Route 66. As I checked into the Frontier Motel, a young German man was also checking in. He asked the woman who runs the motel, a very friendly 75 year old, "Why is Route 66 so famous?" The woman seemed to not understand him. "It was built in 1927," she said. "It's an old road." The German guy seemed confused.

Peach Springs featured Agave utahensis v. nevadensis:

The next day, I roasted half to death in my un-air conditioned car up to Meadview. The reason to go up there: I wanted to see Echinocactus polycephalus v. xeranthemoides in habitat. I found several, including this monster, about 7 feet across and 4 feet high, with nearly 40 heads:

Many more habitat pics...I might post them in a separate post. It's wild territory up there by Meadview. The kind of place you could have a vision of the heavenly host descending or all the demons of hell let out to play.

Is it any wonder most Arizonans are crazier than shithouse rats?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eternal Qwest

Okay, bad customer service from huge utility companies is one thing. It's not a good thing, but we generally learn to live with it, if not actually expect it.

However, nearly 3 hours on the phone, 2 technician visits after both of which we were told our DSL problems were "fixed," and a replacement modem all spell essentially the same thing: continued frequent outages of our internet connection and speculative searching for a new provider. When are these outages, you ask? When it gets hot out, roughly from noon to 9 pm or so. As in wicked hawt. As in 115F or so. Why? The cables and insulation at our hub were installed in the 1950s. Haven't been upgraded since. Like everything else around here, no one actually seems to have engineered for the heat...a regularly repeated climatological phenomenon about which there is a full century and a half of accurately recorded data.

How do I know we need a bucket truck and some telephone pole attention? The first technician who visited, bless his heart, said as much. "Yeah, your neighbor kept calling with the same problem. I think they finally had to redo the insulation or something. I don't know. Maybe he has cable internet now."

Funny, funny good good times: being walked through the ridiculous modem power reset/phone wire/phone filter drill by every single customer service rep we've contacted. The last time the rep tried to get me to do the pointless dance again I started yelling at him and he hung up on me. The next rep tried it too, but (significantly more calm) I simply said, "No, I'm not going to do any of that." She paused and said "I'm sorry sir?" and I said "Sorry, we've done that several times now...I'm not going to do it again." "Ah, I can hear the disappointment in your voice sir." "Yes, I suppose you can." After which she offered to send a replacement modem. Which of course has not solved jack shit.

Finishing up here as it warms up outside. Much more interesting posts to come, I promise. But first, I'm off to Roswell New Mexico until Monday, July 21, to do a Santa Fe Opera project with my buddy Charles Gamble and a gaggle of Roswell's talented kinder.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Ice Ice Baby

The best thing about these here newfangled interwebs is how much bone-crushingly depressing news one can keep up with on a daily basis.

For example, this handy little map from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, CO., which provides a daily update of the rapidly receding polar sea ice at the North Pole.

National Geographic provides an interesting article.

I only discovered this foreboding news way, way down at the bottom of Google News under the Science and Technology link. The bulk of those news stories involved product release puff pieces for PS3 and Diablo III. Shall we amuse ourselves to death on the leading edge of the end of time? Why not?

Just remember: when there's no potable water left and temperatures soar, you can check back here and buy cacti from me.

Here's some more happy time stats from the BBC. You know, the news organization over there across the Atlantic somewhere, where folks have been taking climate change seriously for at least the past decade.

Then there's this site. As Will Rogers said, "It don't take all kinds, we just got all kinds."

Recently heard music for the End Times: Kevin Frenette 4: Connections (with Andy McWain, piano, Todd Keating, bass; Tatsuya Nakatani, percussion and Frenette on guitar) and Visions by Leonard/Skrowaczewski/Zappa (Mark Leonard, bass; Nick Scrowaczewski, percussion; Stanley Jason Zappa, tenor sax and Bb clarinet). Buy them now and listen to them on your portable CD player while rafting over what used to be Manhattan.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Obama Music

Wired responds to Barack Obama's iPod playlist being outed in Rolling Stone magazine

The thought of a President who publicly acknowledges a fondness for Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane is sweet indeed. Certainly Bill Clinton made vague gestures toward being hip, and he did reinstate Jazz on the Whitehouse Lawn (anyone have a transcription of his All Blues solo?)but can Bill ever be forgiven for Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow? More apropos, it turns out, for Clinton's tenure would have been Cecil Taylor's One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye, but that's another story.

The true Presidential hero of the music was of course Jimmy Carter. Imagine Cecil Taylor anywhere near the Whitehouse, let alone being hosted as an honored guest and performer. Imagine John McCain's iPod playlist, or GW Bush's for that matter. Lee Greenwood is easy to make fun of, I know, but how sad is it that most of the old white guys to whom we repeatedly see fit to hand the reins of power are absolutely ignorant of one of the greatest cultural contributions the US has ever made to the world?

An open plea to Mr. Obama, should he get elected: please immediately remove this man and revamp this curriculum, with much less Marsalis sauce. Thanks!

Friday, June 06, 2008

local color

Things remain cactoid in the neighborhood. I'm proud of my radio show, every Thursday from 1-3 Mountain Time, (you can stream it from KSFR) and I'm proud that I taught a bunch of art school students Algebra 1 for an entire year and didn't kill anyone (including myself). I'm proud of a lot of things, like any good American.

I'm proud I might be interviewing Pharaoh Sanders in advance of his NM Jazz Fest appearance. I'm proud to know amazing, creative, risk-taking, innovative musicians, artists and performers, and to have had the opportunity to work with some of them.

But mostly, like the crazy MF I am, I'm proud of my cacti. Go figure.

Echinocereus berlandieri (tagged as "blanckii," but that's a long and twisted story for another time):

Leuchtenbergia principis, crazy long tubercles and a big Ferocactus flower:

Mammillaria guelzowiana (used to be Krainzia or the even better Phellosperma guelzowiana):

Night-flowering Discocactus (yeah, disco, like Stayin' Alive) buenekeri:

Obregonia denegrii, nice flower, plant like a mutant artichoke:

Thelocactus bicolor ssp. bolaensis

Onward into high summer here, including very exciting 90 degree nighttime lows. We'll see whether or not everything just melts.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Echinomastus of Arizona, flowers

The Echinomastus forms found in Arizona, in flower, all in one handy blog post.

Echinomastus intertextus (disclaimer: a cultivated plant, not a habitat photo, and not specifically the form found in southeast AZ):

Echinomastus erectocentrus, from near Benson, AZ:

A rescue plant of Echinomastus erectocentrus from a nearby location:

The first of two stars of this particular post, Echinomastus erectocentrus 'acunensis' from Pinal County AZ:

bizarre extended green pigments in this one:

a lot of variety in the flower colors:

Another star, Echinomastus johnsonii 'lutescens' from Yavapai County:

And last but certainly not least, Echinomastus johnsonii, from northern AZ, plants sent to me by a friend there, salvaged from a construction site:

and there you have it. From Cochise County to Mohave County. Hundreds of miles of driving and 8 months of field work. Can't wait for next year.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Venue Trauma

It's an eternal quest, really. Especially for so-called "underground" or alternative performance. Where should it happen? In Santa Fe, I've been to or played concerts in living rooms, at grocery stores, in vacant storefronts leased just for the weekend, in old movie theaters between owners, in art galleries (of course), in school gyms, even in performance spaces (usually ones that have no sound system, no stage lighting and certainly no piano...I actually once rented a lousy spinet piano for $500, to stage a concert at the Center for Contemporary Arts, in the theater).

So there we were at High Mayhem's small space tucked back off Lena St. near the railroad tracks, surrounded by art studios and dry gullies and arroyos, all set up, soundchecked, ready to roll by about 8 pm. Enter a fire marshal and three of Santa Fe's finest. Turns out High Mayhem doesn't have commercial zoning, just residential. Maximum occupancy: 8. Number of musicians in Rrake (with two guest trombonists): 7. Plus one sound man, and we're still legal. After much begging, pleading, negotiating and hand wringing, the fire marshal allowed the show to continue as long as the entire audience sat outside and we stopped by 10. In fine surreal fashion, we played 90 minutes to an empty house, several dozen appreciative listeners just outside the door in folding chairs. Very strange experience indeed. Oddly, highly successful. Too bad for the folks who arrived at 10:15 or so expecting Rrake to start late. Lucky we were able to start at all.

If Santa Fe doesn't find a way to speed High Mayhem through the zoning process and sanctify it as a legitimate venue, there's something quite rotten in the City Different indeed. It's unacceptable for the most adventurous, multifaceted, progressive not-for-profit producing organization in town to be shut down on technicalities. Performing arts are fragile enough in the area without having a bucket of ice water dumped on High Mayhem. So I expect to see the City of Santa Fe step up and make good on its "different" reputation, and very quickly and painlessly find a permanent solution. How 'bout it Mayor Coss and City Council?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rrake, flowers, etc.

This Friday at High Mayhem in Santa Fe:

"Rrake (Santa Fe)
This manifestation of Rrake consists of Chris Jonas (compositions, tenor and soprano sax), Joe Fiedler (trombone), Jeremy Bleich (electric bass), Paul Brown (acoustic bass), Milton Villarrubia III (drums) and Peter Breslin (drums).

An audience favorite in the High Mayhem Festival 2006 and 2007, the “supergroup”, Rrake (in this version a six-person double trio), is Jonas’ latest Santa Fe ensemble project. Considerably louder, more electric and brash than his previous projects, Rrake is an outburst, a conniption fit, a tantrum, a racket, a feast, a riot, a wassail, a spout, a rant, an exultation. To add more girth to the sound of the group, Jonas has built this group to consist of two drummers, two bass players, two horn players (trombone and saxophone). The music is distinctly rhythmic at core with melodic lines superimposed atop a complex of asymmetrical block rhythms."

Always glad to "add more girth." Looking forward to hearing CJ's NYC ensemble, Sun Spits Cherries, too.

Here's another message from some beautiful compatriots:

Echinocereus rigidissimus rubispinus:

Thelocactus bicolor flavidispinus:

Epithelantha pachyrhiza:

Mammillaria viridiflora and Escobaria leei:

The etc: lost filling, fractured molar. $500 dollars later (thank ye gods for sig others with plastic) and a bit of grinding and polishing and I'm right as rain. (What the hell does that mean anyway, "right as rain"?) A couple more weeks in the regular school year, with legions of students having checked out mentally about 4 weeks ago. You try teaching a bunch of hormone-addled adolescent artists Algebra 1, I dare you. Finally mixed down Duology 3 and will post tracks soon, probably on my own website which I hope is up by late June, Picking up the D4 recording up in Santa Fe this weekend too, so look forward to hearing that one.

This week's radio show DUKE including Art Ensemble's take on Creole Love Call, Braxton from Creative Orchestra Music '76, side two track 2, his sort of Duke-inspired piece, WSQ's A Train/Lush Life, the entirety of He Loved Him Madly from Miles Davis' Get Up With It (remastered on Complete On the Corner) Albert Mangelsdorff's Mood Indigo, Thelonious Monk himself doing Solitude and Caravan. Streams live 1-3 pm Mountain Time from KSFR, Santa Fe.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Cactus Flowers

Another bunch of cactus flowers. It's been a great spring here in the furnace:

Escobaria missouriensis:

Echinocereus dasyacanthus:

Mammillaria theresae:

Epithelantha bokei:

Echinomastus johnsonii:

Escobaria laredoi:

Escobaria minima:

Echinocereus nivosus:

Discocactus buenekeri:

Echinocereus pectinatus 'coahuilense':

Astrophytum capricorne v. senile, top and side view:

Echinocereus baileyi:

Echinocereus fitchii:

Thelocactus bicolor v. ?: