Wednesday, October 27, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 11 of ??

1. Lapsing With Drainpipe - Grogshow.

2. Last To Know - Neil Finn.

3. Laughing - Winterpills. Three mopey indie/alternative tunes in a row. I needed this?

4. Lazy Line Painter Jane - Belle and Sebastian. That's more like it. I love the ambiguous gender/sex/sexuality stuff in the chorus as the song progresses: "You will have a boy tonight/ You will have a girl tonight / On the last bus out of town..." This version is from a collection of random bits and pieces, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds.

5. Leave It Like It Is - David Wilcox. My friend Nancy knew him when he was scratching out a living playing fingerstyle guitar in coffee shops in the mountains of North Carolina. And now where is he? I think he's scratching out a living playing fingerstyle guitar in coffee shops. Who says show biz doesn't pay?!

6. Leif Erikson - Interpol.

7. Length of Love - Interpol. The more I listen to Interpol, the more I'm willing to accept them into my musical life. They have a good chunky feel. They may be one of those who deliberately title songs so they play consecutively when people play all the songs on their iPods in alphabetical order (I'm looking at you, R.E.M.). Or I might be paranoid.

8. Life And How To Live It - R.E.M. Aha!

9. Life Being What It Is - Kaki King. I love this song. I love Kaki King. She doesn't love me. Life being what it is...

10. Life Is Hard - Bob Dylan. Or as Dylan would say.

11. Lion - John Fahey. Fahey wrote this song about his cat, Lion, after Lion's death. The separate parts are a romping blues and a slow, sweet ballad, and, on my listening at least, capture two essential cat moods.

12. Lips Of The Goddess - Grogshow.

13. Listening For The Weather - Bic Runga. Apparently one of the biggest names in New Zealand pop music, I only know Bic Runga because of this song about the ineluctable vicissitudes of weather, the inevitability of age, and the will to be accepting of each.

14. Little Blue Joy - Paper Cats. A short solo guitar piece of mine, title drawn from a comment Lauren made about a tiny blue wood-sided house somewhere.

15. Living Room - Tegan and Sara. What I like about this song, and what I like about Tegan and Sara, is the sense of their being almost totally out of control. I'm not sure at all I'd like to be around them when they finally lose it.

16. Lonely Rag - Nick Roche. I found this on Soundclick when I first set up my account to share Paper Cats music on the web. It is indeed lonely sounding. If I recall correctly, Roche is from the UK, has some kind of technical job (engineering?), and at 50-something aspires to learn to play better. I need to remember him when, as lately, I despair of ever playing well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

album of the day: Mr. Demachy - Pièces de Viole

A few weeks ago, my loveliest and I started talking about and listening to more classical music - in particular, cello stuff, and in particular, Bach. About that time, I heard about the music streaming site Pandora, and added Bach to my list of musicians (along with Beth Orton, John Fahey, Bert Jansch, Land Of Talk - a very weird list). Pandora uses something they call musical DNA to identify what similar music you might like, and plays it for you.

It played me two Baroque composers I have since fallen madly in love with: Tobias Hume (of which more anon) and Machy (aka Le Sieur de Machy, or on the cover of this album, Demachy) - both composers and players of the viol, the predecessor of violins, cellos, etc. The Pièces were written sometime in the 17th century, but feel rather pre-Bach, both because of the lack of more modern instruments, and because they're still written in more varied modes.

I realize this is why the musician in me loves this music. It's just not like music that's been made since Bach, since we've standardized and reduced our modes and have perfected tuning and scales of instruments, in particular of stringed instruments. Back then, one viol was much like another, but not identical to another, and the frets on them were adjustable, which would change the way the instrument scaled.

But the real reason I have fallen in love is that the bass viol's range is somewhere between a cello and a viola, and has the sonority and cry that cellos have. The varied musical modes add more to the melancholy of the bass viol's sound, so the whole of it has tremendous emotional punch. You do have to really like melancholy music, though.

The four suites contained in the Pièces are modally and chromatically linked, progressing from D minor, to D major, to G minor, ending in G major. Even the major keyed suites aren't your grandpa Bach's major key, because the intervals are both not quite the usual and the steps aren't quite the same as on Grandpa Bach's blasted violins and cellos.

I want to make my guitar sound like that, and to a limited extent, one can do that by changing the tuning. I keep a crappy Takamine tuned to open-C major, with the low E string tuned down to C, but because the frets are built for higher string tension, the lower tuning distorts the scales. Yippee, I say.

I'd love to get my hands on a bass viol, but my guess is they costs millions of dollars, and I have no experience whatsoever with bowed instruments. Maybe I should look for a lute?

That's the other reason I'm enamored: I love early instruments almost as much as I love early music. They both have an imperfect grace that I'm just a sucker for. The viol, like the guitar, derive from an earlier mainly Spanish-made instrument called the vihuela (there are Mexican vihuelas nowadays, but these are the old jobs, the vihuelasaurus as it were). Viols moved north into France, and eventually England, and somewhere along the way somebody decided to bow them instead of pluck them. Machy has a little pluck left in him, too. It sounds somewhere between a guitar and a harp, hint of banjo in there, rather than like a plucked violin or cello - the sound boxes are smaller and so there's much less of that deep resonance.

Monday, October 25, 2010

terminally tired

We went to our fourth Bridge School Benefit concert Saturday night, through the kind auspices of our pals Jennifer and Andrew. It was, as every year, jammed (the grass seating area was entirely full), chock-full of excellent performances, and very long. It was also rainy at the beginning.

After seven hours of Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, David Lindley, Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Idol, Modest Mouse, Grizzly Bear, and, oh yes, Buffalo Springfield, we walked as we have done every year the couple miles back to our hotel. We got to our room at 1:40 AM. We didn't get really properly to bed for another hour.

Up at 9 to grab breakfast and drive home, home by 1 PM, to spend the rest of the day in a muddled state of consciousness. One thing I don't like about Bridge School is that after that much stuff in one evening, I lose the impact of individual performances. The other thing is the exhaustion the next day.

I'm still tired this morning, and just about my first conscious thought this morning was to wonder if exhaustion could be terminal in a literal, medical sense. To the internet I've hied self, then, to find what wisdom I could on the subject.

According to this exchange on Yahoo! Answers, indeed, exhaustion can be terminal. We might, however, question whether the diagnosis of death by fatigue is correctly applied by the, um, roofer who answered.

Something called "Wrong Diagnosis" offers the tidbit that exhaustion death is actually a misnomer for Bell mania. I find this disappointing, because Bell mania is a symptom-related syndrome, rather than a proper diagnosis of death caused by exhaustion. Plus, I'm personally just not that into bells.

I found an online test for an EasyDiagnosis (presumably TM) to determine, from the comfort of your own keyboard, whether you are about to die from exhaustion. The disclaimer uses large bold fonts to tell you, repeatedly, that this diagnosis software, whatever it does, doesn't diagnose. Which may or may not cover the EasyDiagnosis people's asses legally speaking, but sure as heck doesn't answer my question, which is why the hell anyone dying of fatigue would spend their last moments on earth trying to get a computer program to confirm it - or, really, to do anything.

I still, therefore, have no trustworthy information on whether a person in ordinarily fine health can (as they say in the South) up and die from fatigue. I suppose this is the kind of thing I should really ask qualified medical personnel. I'm sure my Kaiser Permanente GP will be happy to hear from me, for the first time in five years, when I email him to ask. Maybe I should ask for a referral.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

down with negativity!

For the last couple weeks I've suffered an unaccountable bout of depression.

All depression is unaccountable, as anyone who's had any kind of treatment for it can tell you. There are only "factors" in depression, no "causes," and no "cures."

One such "factor" is having previously been depressed, which is kind of like saying that there's a correlation between the sun rising Wednesday and the sun rising all over again on Thursday. (Which it has.) My first actually acknowledged and treated depression happened when I was 9. Then again at 14, 19, 22, 27, 29,... you get the general idea.

A major "factor" this time around is that every day I am immersed in a tub full of the vomit and excrement of powerful people. In the media, this mainly takes the form of the resentiment of an ownership class so paranoid and jealous of its wealth and control that it foments fake populisms to pervert democratic processes. At the university, it's the mind-warping inversion of all meanings to preclude any real public accountability or responsibility. On the streets of this town, it's mainly in the trickle-down form of bumper stickers, like the one I see in a parking lot telling me that the driver will keep his guns and money, while I keep the change.

(Which - HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR! Keep the Change!! HAR HAR HAR! I have insane urges to grab people like this and shake them, shove them up against their own vehicles and sneer into their faces while I mutter in barely-withheld violence, "Oh, don't doubt it for a second, buddy. That crazy [derogatory word for African American] in Washington is going to come and take your guns away. And your money.... And your truck.... And your daughters....!" I don't do these things, you understand.)

So, I'm going to try to take a vacation from all that vomit and excrement, give myself a thorough wash. For me, that generally means a refreshing dip in a cool satire pool.

For the next little while, Paul Krassner is my co-pilot.

Friday, October 15, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 10 of ??

1. I Was Meant For The Stage - The Decemberists. Quick, name three other songs with the word "derision" in them!

2. I Will Follow - U2. Way back in the day, U2 were a proto-alternative band with a unique sound.

3. I'll Be Back Up On My Feet- the Monkees. Kind of genius: the staccato rhythm of the lyric and the punchy rhythm guitar give this recording a tremendous forward momentum.

4. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Norah Jones/Bob Dylan. A very lovely take by Norah Jones on one of The Bob's sweetest ballads. She even retains his long pause on "IIIIIIII'll be yooooooour..." and snap on "ba-by tonight," which is good, because it wouldn't be half the song it is without those.

5. I'll Stop The World And Melt With You - Modern English. For some reason, this is mislabeled on my iPod as being by the Cure.

6. I'm Burning For You - Blue Öyster Cult.

7. I'm In The Mood - John Lee Hooker with Bonnie Raitt. From one of those late-career John Lee 'n' Friends projects that has such mixed results. Bonnie Raitt is no slouch on slide guitar, though.

8. I'm On Fire - Bruce Springsteen. It's Boss's day tomorrow! Er, no, sorry, that's Bosses' Day. Screw that.

9. I'm Only Sleeping - the Beatles. A strangely good fit after "I'm On Fire."

10. I'm Special - the Pretenders. Okay, you have my attention. Geez!

11. I'm The Man Who Loves You - Wilco. Kick-ass distorted/feedback guitar solo. Did you know Summerteeth is 17 years old now? That album can drive a car!

12. I've Been Everywhere - Johnny Cash. Rapid-fire delivery catalog song. It's fun to listen to all the place names and compare with my own (rather extensive) list of places I've been.

13. If I Needed Someone - the Beatles.

14. If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It - Al Stewart. I dunno, Al, it's just so put together, I can't be sure it did come naturally.

15. In My Place - Coldplay. One of the best numbers by the band we're supposed to love to hate.

Hey, by the way, this is my landmark 641st post!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

album of the day: Bringing It All Back Home

My favorite "early" Dylan album includes several well-known songs - "Maggie's Farm," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" being among Dylan's best-known. These songs were very influential, as well. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was famously and popularly covered by the Byrds, who sang one inconsequential verse of it. "Maggie's Farm" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" indirectly affected untold thousands of folk singer-songwriters' socially-conscious efforts.

But the most influential, and most copied, I would argue, is "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - the fast-paced story song made into the famous film of Dylan in the alleyway dropping cuecards on the pavement, literally dropping names/concepts from the song. That film, which tons of people have seen, analyzed (yes, that's Allen Ginsburg; no, it doesn't mean anything), and copied, makes the song seem to be a catalog song - which it clearly isn't - and has led to at least 4 more-or-less satirical mimicries that I know of. First was the obscure Simon and Garfunkel bit, "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or, How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)," which satirizes the entire genre of folk-rock, which evidently Mr. Simon did not believe his own music was part of. Simon did, however, establish the parameters of the "Subterranean"- style Dylan knockoff with his vague logic and name-dropping - picking up the vibe of the film, rather than the actual song lyric. Second is R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," the logic of which is less clear and which drops fewer names, less coherently. Third is Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire," which is still less logical, drops more names even less coherently, and is the least satirical of the direct ripoffs. Finally, there's the Weird Al Yankovic parody, "Bob," written entirely in palindromes, and complete with parody film.

I think we wanna cover the original "Subterranean Homesick Blues," because it's actually kinda good. That'd be the second cover we'd do from this one album, though, and that rather arbitrarily strikes me as one too many. Lauren also wants to cover "Mr. Tambourine Man," all 290,117 verses of it.

My favorite single track on the album is "She Belongs To Me," a rather ambiguous ode to a woman who the singer might love, might be under the power of, or might really be suspicious of, depending on how you read it. In any case, it's a spooky portrait of a spooky woman, who apparently "paints the daytime black." The song really hit me when I was 18 and suddenly found myself in a very heavy relationship with a 30-year old woman who, in a certain respect, had everything she needed, who was an artist, and who did not look back. It was the first time I felt like I was having the kind of experience that people like Bob Dylan wrote songs about - the first time I felt that the authentic voice of experience of loss, confusion, and heartache could be one I would ever speak with.

I also have serious affection for "Gates of Eden," a pessimistic paean, and the bleak (and, depending on my mood, irritatingly narcissistic) "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." But there's also the ridiculous "On The Road Again" and "Bob's 115th Dream."

Earlier I wrote that Blood On The Tracks would be my Exhibit A in the case for Dylan's greatness as a songwriter. I must have been crazy, because this is clearly the stronger album for overall lyrical cleverness, range of themes, and critical perception and bite.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 9 of ??

Now, for the letter I!

1. I Am A Rock - Simon and Garfunkel.

2. I Am Also A Walrus - Biff Nerfurpleburger. Written because I realized my character/alter ego Biff believes he was a member of the Beatles, and needed to write a post-Beatles self-referential song (like all of the actual Beatles did). I'm pretty sure Biff is not deranged, though most of his fans may believe otherwise. The whole Beatles thing is because he is badly misinformed.

3. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart - Wilco.

4. I Don't Wanna Grow Up - Tom Waits. If you've never seen the video of the song, directed by Jim Jarmusch, it's revelatory - I'm just not sure of what. Jim Jarmusch is not allowed in the house.

5. (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea - Elvis Costello. Well, then, don't go, Elvis. Do I have to explain everything to you?

6. I Feel It All - Feist.

7. I Found A Letter - Paper Cats. Not my favorite of ours. I wrote it one evening when I found a letter or something written by my ex. Seeing her handwriting was really weird, and brought back a lot of very bad memories, so I wrote them all in a song. As one might imagine, it's not a very nice song.

8. I Found A Whistle - MGMT. I don't know what was happening when they wrote this. I'm guessing its allegorical. Or apocryphal.

9. I Guess I Planted - Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie. Union song!

10. I Kicked A Boy - The Sundays. The Harriet Wheeler of the date this song was recorded would probably be welcome to kick me a few times. She's got one o' them voices, I tells ya!

11. I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts - X. Not only does this song express John Doe's bad conscience about being an American, but it also incorrectly foretells the doom of American bands. Hah! Stick that in yer pipe and smoke it, X fans!

12. I Remember California - R.E.M. Yes, California is on the edge of the continent. Very informative, Michael.

13. I See Your Face Before Me - Miles Davis. I only know this Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz song from Miles' mid-50s recording, which is painfully desolate. Someone once wrote that no one else has ever been able to express loneliness and forlornness like Miles playing the trumpet. Exhibit A right here.

14. I Started A Joke - the Bee Gees. Wow, has this thing utterly failed to remain current, or even viable, in any way, shape, or form. Play it once, I dare you. Does. Not. Work. Especially not after Miles.

15. I Want You - Elvis Costello. Look, Elvis, she's with that other guy, and she doesn't care what you think of him. And quit being such a creep! This is, in fact, an amazing song. If you're in a committed relationship, and you've got a desperate longing for someone else in a committed relationship, and the two of you are alone together, and that person plays you this song, I for one believe it might mean something.

16. I Want You - the Beatles. In fact, not too very different from the previous song - for the first and only time today.

Monday, October 11, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 8 of ??

... more skipping...

Today's list is brought to you by the letter H.

1. Hey Stella - Paper Cats. I write songs for cats. It's just something I do. Stella is one of the cats that lives at Lauren's mom's house in Harbor City. It dislikes everybody but me and Lauren's mom. I almost always greet her by doing a bad Stanley Kowalski, hence the title of the tune.

2. Hideous Towns - The Sundays. One of my all-time favorite moody alternative bands. I used to play Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic on my usually very depressed drives from Punxsutawney back home to Pittsburgh when I taught at IUP. Perfect music for those gray February afternoons.

3. High Fidelity - Elvis Costello. Not to kvetch, Elvis, but hasn't everybody tasted the bitterness of their own tears?

4. High Flyin' Bird - Richie Havens. Beautiful, sad song.

5. High Germany - Bert Jansch. Traditional song of the Thirty Years' War in a typical Janschian setting - acoustic guitar and bass, a little flute, female voice.

6. Higher and Higher - Jackie Wilson. Possibly the most joyful song ever.

7. Hoodoo Voodoo - Wilco/Woody Guthrie. Yet another from the Mermaid Avenue disc. Among the silliest songs ever.

8. Hotel Song - Regina Spektor. Yummy.

9. House of Cards - Radiohead.

10. Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin.

11. How Do You Feel? - Jefferson Airplane. If there's a Jefferson Airplane album other than Surrealistic Pillow that's worth anything, I sure don't know it. It's dated as hell, but who cares?

12. How My Heart Behaves - Feist. I adore Leslie Feist's voice. I hate the backup singing by the band on this track. They shouldn't have done that.

13. How Soon Is Now? - The Smiths. May I be forgiven if I have doubts that Morrissey is human, or that he needs to be loved just like anybody else does?

14. How To Be Free - Paper Cats. From Do Paper Cats Dream of Origami Birds? When I first started writing the music for our 4th cd, I fully intended to write a rock record. This ended up being really the only rock song on it.

15. I Am A Rock

Saturday, October 09, 2010

choral concert, preceded by abject despair, followed by hyperreality

I am a fan of the music program at Cow State Santa Claus. I go to numerous concerts every year, especially choral and jazz performances. But I almost missed last night's concert because I saw no advertisement of the show on campus. None. Zippo. I have received four emails announcing the current theater show, and not one about the choral concert.

Thanks to insider information, we got to the show anyway. And as usual, it was excellently performed.

The Concert Chorale performed Mozart and Mendelssohn, and some people you don't know, but maybe should, like Nunes Garcia, Clements, Van Heusen, and Earnest (though Earnest's name probably isn't important...). Wonderful work by the soloists.

Lousy work by the audience. I have really never heard such a rude and obnoxious audience. First of all, dozens of people arrived late, came into the recital hall and didn't get seats until music had started. The etiquette is that you do that as quickly as you can between songs, not walk in and wander around for a while, waving at your friends. Secondly, don't crinkle yer damn program! Most importantly, if you are going to break the law by recording the performance, don't play back the recording immediately after a song!

The Chamber Singers followed after intermission. Our joke name for the Chamber Singers, which dates back to 2005 I believe, is Daniel Afonso's Elite Republican Guard - which is a weird joke, to be sure. (The Elite Republican Guard were Saddam Hussein's crack military security force, alleged to be the absolutely best Iraqi military personnel. I think I had some idea of their being the troupe/troops Daniel sends out to commit musical murder, mayhem, and mischief, though I can tell you I never put it in such brilliant alliteration before.)

The Chamber Singers are indeed the elite choral singers on campus, who generally work with more challenging material and are basically expected to be professional under all circumstances - handy for enduring such a crap audience. They sang all kinds of stuff you've never heard of before, which is great fun, especially the excerpts from Poulenc's Sept Chansons. (They did numbers 1, 2, 5 and 6. I explained, rather helpfully I thought, that in fact this is the complete version of Poulenc's Sept Chansons - it's just called that because Poulenc was a nutter.) Poulenc was a nutter, and the Sept Chansons include some of his weird intervals and melodrama. The other two highlights of their program for me were another 20th century piece, by Hanson, called "A Prayer of the Middle Ages," which has some of the same stuff I love in Poulenc, and was beautifully sung, and the closing number, "Cosita Linda," which is a bit of fluff, but rhythmically dynamic and featured Daniel playing a shaker and the choir swaying to the beat.

Great, great show. The audience didn't deserve it. Well, okay, some of us did.

Anyway, yeah, this was after a day of feeling utterly miserable, all freaking day. No further comment on that.

Afterward, we stopped in at a party for the choirs, and this morning somebody on Facebook had a profile picture taken at the party. So this morning I'm having this Virilio/Baudrillard moment, staring instantaneous nostalgia in the face(book) over my coffee. For some reason folks' party images posted to Facebook hadn't struck me before, but they really are hyperreal, taken to the extreme - some people spend a great deal of time at parties capturing images of the party, then either posting them immediately or soon after to teh Interwebs, so the party becomes this hyper-real event - you know, like the Gulf War... which ties us back into the Elite Republican Guard joke, and which will close out this rambling for today, not least of all because I have a two-inch stack of student papers to grade.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

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the problem with public education,
or, why Johnny's much-bemoaned fate is probably a red herring

[Caveat: I've worked in public higher education for 13 years, going all the way back to the year I taught at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's satellite campus in Punxsutawney. I went to public school in Maumee, Ohio and Greensboro, NC, and to a public university for my bachelor's degree, UNC-Charlotte. So my perspective might be biased.]

I'm reading a fair bit lately about public education - about funding, success or failure, even purpose. Well, okay, a lot less about purpose. This morning's San Francisco Chronic web site had two stories about public education that, juxtaposed to one another, give a pretty clear picture of where public educational policy seems to be.

The first is a review of the David Guggenheim documentary Waiting for Superman. Guggenheim advocates for ... something (it's not clear what from the review), by following the families of four kids who are hoping to win a lottery to take a spot in a charter school, freeing them from the failed public school they were attending. The Chronic reviewer notes that, on average, charter schools are no better than public schools, and in fact may be marginally worse, and cites with irony the position Guggenheim has cast his protagonists in: "The families that won spots in the schools just won a future for their kids - why wouldn't they celebrate? Everyone else is just someone else's problem."

So, that's point one. Public education is meant to be a public trust and a public good. To me, the whole phenomenon of charter schools, home schooling and so forth are an admission of a tragic loss of faith - not in the schools themselves (they may be objectively crappy), but in public education as an institution and commitment. This is the deepest, most difficult, and most important problem to deal with, because unless there is public commitment to public education, there can be no political will or moral justification to help them.

Instead, many people blame them. And by "them," I mean the scapegoats they pick out, and by "scapegoats," I mean, for the most part, unionized teachers.

So, that's point two. Unions operating in the least socially conscientious way possible advocate the interests of labor groups. That is, they protect jobs and seek higher wages, expanded benefits, and more desirable working conditions. They do so through collective bargaining, in which (a) there is a powerful group called "management" on the other side pushing against the union, and (b) a need to reach a mutual agreement. Whenever you read a story blaming a teacher's union for schools' failures, you should ask what the relationship actually is between unionization and the alleged failures, and you should ask, if the contract they have seems far too cushy for the teachers, why the hell management agreed to it.

I know, I'm bucking the trend of 40 or 50 years of backlash against organized labor. I'm not a labor historian, but I can tell you about what I've seen the California Faculty Association do. Indeed CFA bargains faculty contracts, including the most recent agreement to give faculty their first considerable raises since I've been employed here. Those raises were eliminated by the CSU administration in the first round of budget trouble, because, they said, they had other spending priorities.

CFA has opposed every student fee increase. CFA has advocated for increased state funding for the CSU (while the administration has sat on their hands). CFA has commissioned a study of the economic and fiscal benefit of funding the CSU (an effort the CSU administration has recently duplicated). I don't think there's a better advocate for the CSU, for CSU students, and for the cause of public education in the state. Whatever one imagines the problems are in the CSU, unionized faculty don't seem to be causing them.

Point three is murkier. It's the question of what, exactly, is wrong with public education. Contrastingly, I think the issue of whether there should be well-funded public schools is obvious, and the issue of whether unions are good or bad for schools can have some actual factual basis - and I'm confident how such a debate would turn out (yes, even in the crappiest school districts).

But what's wrong with public education?

The hidden agenda of the "failing public schools" talk has always been: (1) break the unions, and (2) give the public's money to private companies. Various quantitative accounts of what the failures are alleged to be have been marshaled in order to drive the agenda, not in order to arrive at any objective conclusions about what schools do. We don't even know what schools do at that level of generality.

We judge schools subjectively, based on our own schooling experiences, and on our kids' experiences or our neighbors' experiences. I think we have to admit that. Education is not measurable in terms of general outcomes. And why should it be? Is everyone equally talented or industrious? Are the talents and work the school curricula demand even equal across disciplines? But if the true and proper results of education can't be quantitatively measured or even generalized, and if even qualitative accounts of the success or failure of education are going to be subjective, then we may have to face this rather inconvenient fact.

Trust me, I'm a doctor.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

album of the day: Breakfast in America

I'll refrain from any extended commentary on Supertramp, thank you very much. Just take this one album, forget anything else, and you've still got a single work of towering genius, at least as far as pop music goes.

I have the odd feeling about this album, and one or two others, that I've always known it. I feel like this music was familiar to me from before birth, as some weird kind of congenital cultural inheritance. The truth is that my sister had a copy that she played regularly, and I eventually felt compelled to buy one for myself rather than wait for her to play it.

I don't feel one way or another about the quality of the music. It's perfectly fine, perfectly suited to the project as a whole.

Breakfast in America has a perfect pop sensibility, too - bouncy, great hooks, and an ideal balance of cynicism, discontent, and nonchalance. For instance, in my favorite, "The Logical Song," which is the pop-song version of Freud's Civilization and its Discontents, but catchier, Roger Hodgson lumps together education, logic, responsibility, and strict adherence to social and political convention. Once you've been in school, you're trapped in this plastic cage of discipline, with no way out:

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical,
liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to feel you're
acceptable, respecable, presentable, a vegtable!

Whence into that tight, gorgeous little sax solo by John Helliwell.

Dissatisfaction is a fundamental theme of the album, or at least of Hodgson's stuff, as in the confusedly hopeful travelogue "Breakfast in America":

Take a look at my girlfriend
She's the only one I got
Not much of a girlfriend
Never seem to get a lot
Take a jumbo across the water
Like to see America
See the girls in California
I'm hoping it's going to come true
But there's not a lot I can do.

Good luck with that, Rog. Write if you get anywhere with the California girls.

It's not just Hodgson, either. Rick Davies has his own problems to talk about, for example, in the less well-known "Just Another Nervous Wreck":

Live on the second floor now
They're trying to bust the door down
Soon I'll have a new address
So much for liberation
They'll have a celebration
Yeah I've been under too much stress
And as the cloud begin to rumble
So the juggler makes his fumble
And the sun upon my wall is getting less
Don't, give a damn
Fight, while you can
Kill, shoot 'em up
They'll run amuck
Shout, Judas
Loud, they'll hear us
Soldier, sailor
They'll run for cover when they discover
Everyone's a nervous wreck now

No wonder they're trying to cross the pond.

Even when I was 15, it was interesting to me how strangely disaffected this album is. If I wanted to be very cynical about it, I'd suggest that Davies and Hodgson were deliberately exploiting popular grievances in order to sell records. And I can't really judge that one way or another, in the end.

But I can tell you a couple things.

If you happen to be living through the doomed end of a rapidly failing relationship, and you're pointedly avoiding both this thought and the other party one weekday after work, and you're driving rather far west for your destination directly north, and "Take the Long Way Home" pops onto the radio, it means something.

And if someone you think is lovely suddenly and randomly quotes "The Logical Song" at you, and you know there's no reason it should be there, except that it had to be, and it perfectly and directly addresses you, it means something.

Whether or not it meant anything to Davies or Hodgson.

Friday, October 01, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 7 of ??

1. Fall On Me - R.E.M.

2. Feeling Gravitys Pull - R.E.M. I'm using their spelling, omitting the apostrophe.

3. Feral Children - Beth Orton. Ain't that a great name for a song?

4. Fighting in a Sack - The Shins. And yes, I once more typoed the band name as The Shings. They might as well change their name, eh?

5. Finest Worksong - R.E.M. I wasn't fully aware how many R.E.M. songs start with F.

6. Fire and Rain - James Taylor. Quick, name three other James Taylor songs that aren't about people either going crazy or dying.

7. Fireplace - R.E.M. This is getting suspicious.

8. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Robert Flack. I wish this song held up better over time. Partly it's the schmaltzy recording and production of this track, but partly, sadly, it is the song.

9. First We Take Manhattan - R.E.M./Leonard Cohen. The is beyond suspicious. R.E.M. close to, but perhaps just a moment beyond the pinnacle of their power, from the Cohen tribute disc I'm Your Fan - the only tribute album I know of whose title puns on a lyric by the honoree.

10. Flash Delirium - MGMT. I'm not sure what to think of MGMT. Some of their more neo-psychelia stuff I like. This isn't some of that stuff. Too much whispering and shouting.

11. Flavor of the Month - The Posies. It's grape.

12. Float On - Modest Mouse. Another band I'm not sure what to think of. You're supposed to like Modest Mouse if you like bands like Coldplay or Radiohead, but I frankly don't see what's so similar.

13. Flying Sorcery - Al Stewart. In late spring and early summer, we kept hearing "Year of the Cat" on the radio, and I eventually downloaded the whole album. Whatever one thinks of it - overproduced, cleverly disguised vapidity; smart pop-rock; significant genre-stretching singer-songwriter meets rock meets prog meets proto-chamber-pop - you couldn't get away with this these days. You'd have to be waaaaay more techno or emo, and that'd wreck the thing.

14. For Marlene - Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog. Possibly the only coherent, and easily the most listenable song on Party Intellectuals. It tells the story of a working stiff's devotion to his kid, and for all of Ribot's brooding and bombast, it's actually rather sweet.

So, I had three comments submitted to recent posts, all spam from a website design joint. Let's see if they prowl again.