Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Right to Remain Silent

A Charm / A Blade - Phosphorescent (mp3)

“Guess my age,” she said.

“Fifty-two,” the drunk Indian said.

“Nobody can guess my age right. Most people say 42, but I’m actually 62,” she said.

She looked 65. A hard 65. Like, the adult version of a Ford F-150 that’s been used on a major construction site.

I sighed and rolled my eyes and looked across the table at the older mustachioed gentleman. He looked back at me and shook his head.

The drunk Indian sat down at our table at around 4 p.m. He bought in for $200 and got hot instantly. Within 30 minutes he was sitting on over $700 just from flopping a straight, a flush and a boat and getting called on all of them. His eyes were utterly bloodshot. He claimed he hadn’t slept four hours in the last three days and was playing purely on instinct.

Her response on his third big win: “Are you a legal citizen? Where are you from?” When he responded, “Atlanta,” she came back: “No, I didn’t mean yesterday. I meant where were you born?”

“India,” he said.

“I saw you out in the hall talking to a couple of women,” she said.

“That was my wife and her sister and her mother,” he said.

“They don’t speak English good.”

“No, no. But my wife understand English well. Her sister and mother do not.”

“I don’t think you should be allowed in this country if you can’t speak English,” she said. She then began a rant that never quite involved slurs or insults but contained that endless string of coded words and phrases that made it very clear where she stood on Fur’nurs.

When it became clear that everyone else at the table was ignoring her rants about Fur’nurs, she went more directly into the heart of the political briar patch. Obama, needy lazy people who sucked on the teet of government, people who drool at the thought of taking her pistol from her cold dead hands. It was all textbook FoxNews talk, nary a lick of mental fatigue spent forming independent or nuanced opinion.

About 10 minutes into this next rant, the only other woman at the table and one of the people who had tried to seem friendly, spoke up. “The last time someone insisted on bringing up politics, they killed the table. People just got up and left.”

The woman didn’t get it. And we couldn’t go anywhere, because there were only three tables, and none of them had an opening. I popped in my headphones and cranked me some Jenny Owen Youngs and Phosphorescent, my two latest musical acquisitions, and watched the woman mouthing things I couldn’t hear. Which was sort of funny.

I’d love to tell you this woman was gorgeous, or charming, but you could almost picture this woman without me describing her. She satisfied almost every stereotype of the bitter old gambler babe. Close to 300 pounds. Long straight but thinned-out chicken-shit-colored hair quickly losing the battle to white and gray, hair that hadn’t been washed in several days on top of a face and body that likely looked equally oily and unwashed. Thick cheap glasses, bad teeth, and facial flesh that better resembled a country road than a bowling ball.

She was Ugly. And I’m talking about how she shared herself with us, not how she looked. I found myself wondering if, like Dorian Gray, she had spouted hate and prejudice and division and spite so long that her appearance began to shape itself to mirror her attitude.

Right before I left for dinner, she had to leave for her charter bus back to Atlanta. She hadn’t even made it out the door when the entire table laid into her. Thank God she’s gone. What a terrible woman. How could someone have such a lack of awareness? Why couldn’t she just shut up? One older guy at the end of the table joked, “I almost ripped up my Republican card, but then I thought maybe I should rip up hers instead.” And another joked that he’d volunteer to take that gun from her cold, dead hand as long as we’d promise not to press charges.

Why did we remain silent? How rare is it that nine strangers around a table could so unanimously share a negative opinion of that tenth person yet say nothing, do nothing, but sit back and sigh.

Would we be better people if one of us had spoken up immediately, in defense of the drunk Indian dude? Or if one of us had backed the other woman when she spoke up? Or is our collective silence our greatest blessing? I tried playing the scenario out in my mind, little changes in actions here and there. None of them came out that much better.

Such is poker. Such is life. Right?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Questions Borne of "Going Clear"

Island of Souls - Sting (mp3)

Going Clear
is the in-depth lascivious history of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, as meticulously reported by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright. It is 400-plus pages of perversity, and for anyone fascinated by religion, cults and matters of faith and absurdity, it’s worth every moment spent swimming through. The book is especially harsh on L. Ron Hubbard, current “Chairman of the Board” David Miscavige, and Tom Cruise.

Anyone who read and enjoyed Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer’s in-depth and damning look into the Church of Latter-Day Saints and the even-wackier FLDS would be doing themselves a tragic disservice not reading this one. For better but mostly worse, LDS and Scientology are what can best be called The Most Successful American-Born Religions.

Observations and Questions Borne of Reading “Going Clear”:

1. Thank F*&king God We Know Nothing of Jesus’ Youth
Perhaps the single biggest benefit to the power and sustainability of Christianity as a religion is the absence of any information of his young adulthood. For those who are dispassionate enough to see it, the evolution of both Joseph Smith and LRH from shyster to zealot (or from shyster to religious shyster) is, while fascinating, terribly disillusioning.

If I were to even attempt to break down the number of lies and half-truths in the life and writings of LRH, I couldn’t possibly keep under my 800-word limit. The best way I can summarize his gift of bullshit is thus: He clearly lost the ability to separate his own imagination from that of reality; thus, all things in reality and his imagination merged into something he believed to be true.

Between his war wounds, his foreign travels, and his marital and extramarital relations, the lies he weaves are beyond bullshit. To call them “bullshit” is to insult bulls. It’s also insulting to his creativity. If nothing else, what I’ve discovered from reading books on LDS and Scientology is that the line between brilliant fiction and founding a religion is thinner than Karen Carpenter. And I mean Karen Carpenter circa 2013.

2. Just a fraction of my favorite passages, Scientology lexicon included:
(a) “Bored thetans had created (universes based in Matter, Energy, Space and Time) where they could frolic and play games; eventually they became so absorbed in their distractions they forgot their true immortal natures.”

(b) “Science fiction invites the writer to grandly explore alternative worlds and pose questions about meaning and destiny. Inventing plausible new realities is what the genre is all about.”

(c) “It was the larval stage of Hubbard’s astonishing transformation -- from the depressed, rejected, impoverished, creatively exhausted figure he paints in the Affirmations, to his nearly overnight success as a thinker and founder of an internation amovement when his book Dianetics was finally published. He wrote his friend Robert Heinlein, “I will soon, I hope give you a book risen from the ashes of the old Excalibur which details in full the mathematics of thehuman mind, solves all problems of the ages, and gives six recipes for aphrodisiacs and plays the mouth organ with the left foot.”

3. Aleister Crowley and Anyone Who Riffs Off Him Are Fuuuuuuu&#ked Uuuuup
When I was a KISS-lovin’ elementary school student, I mocked and scoffed at the idiot adults who insisted that KISS stood for “Knights In Satan’s Service” or any other acronym that would connect the makeup-clad band to the Devil. I mocked them because I somehow managed to listen to their music while still going to church. While at church, I was never struck by lightning, or was I ever excommunicated.

Still, the fact that Jay-Z and Beyonce are currently riffing off the same vibe that once propelled Aleister Crowley’s “Do What Thou Wilt” hedonistic cult freaks me out a bit. Is it marketing? Is it a legitimate religious thing? I don’t know, and I don’t care, but it freaks me out. My fear of this occult movement suggests that it has more power and holds more sway over me than it should. I would be far more at peace with myself if I were able to ignore it. Like I could the demonic accusations flung on KISS.

That L. Ron Hubbard and Tom Cruise have both found themselves at crucial formative moments wrapped up in The Crowley Hubbub is no kwinky-dink. That celebrities in general would flock to any religion that promised them greater success without any guilt or sense of responsibility makes total sense. But any religion that caters more to the need for self-affirmation than to anything resembling The Greater Good should be feared. That goes for LRH and Ayn Rand and the long list.

If saving yourself becomes more central than saving everyone else, I don’t care if it’s a false religion; it’s a dangerous one and one that deserves extinction.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Anger is about the funniest thing there is.  At least when you are out of it.  When you are in it, then it makes perfect sense.

Today, when I was trying to get onto a busy highway, I was so conscious of trying to work my way into a lane of traffic filled with cars that I didn't see the car approaching in the turning lane I had to default to when I pulled out.  Boy, did she let me have it.  She laid on her horn.  When I looked into my rear view mirror, I could see her outraged face yelling at me, mouth and jaws all stretched, brows bunched downward, arms raising off the steering wheel, her passenger nodding his assent to her assault on me.  It didn't touch me much.  I passive-aggressively slowed down, shrugged my shoulders, and worked my way into the lane of traffic I could now maneuver, waving to thank the driver who let me in.  And went on my way without so much as the slightest spike in my adrenalin.

Of course, I have been her.  In her position, I have been known to stay on the horn 45 seconds or more, trying to provoke what response I don't know.  I have been known to use the C-word, the D-word, the F-word, the G-word, and the J-word, both in and out of alphabetical order.

Most of my students will tell you that they have never seen me get angry.  That's true.  But still, it's a situation that needs parsing.  Does that mean that I don't get angry?  That students can't get to me?  Or does it mean that I am the ultimate master of self-control, channelling my negative impulses to serve the forces of goodness and maturity?

Of course not.  What it means (I think) is that I don't know how to use anger as an effective weapon.  I don't trust it because it doesn't call on me very often and because I have enough of those moments of seeing the mute face screaming from the windshield behind me to know what I will become if that anger rises.  But even more than that, I have never understood what the positive step beyond anger is.  In other words, once unleashed, where do I go after that.  As Steve Miller reminds me in another context, "I heat up, I can't cool down."

So, I have learned for a long time not to go there if at all possible.  It isn't self-control; it's that I simply took anger out of my bag of tricks.  it is not even an option.  Once you lose your cool, it is pretty hard to find it again.  

There are those people--sports coaches and drill instructors, etc.--who think they can turn anger on or off at will to suit their purposes, especially to take charge of a situation.  I don't believe them.  Nor do I admire that approach.  While I certainly acknowledge the value of extreme emotion to inspire a group, I don't think that anger is the extreme emotion that one should go for.  Fighting for a common purpose?  Yes.  Needing to rely on each other? Yes. Anger?  No. And the results it tries to claim, compliance and renewed focus, are driven only by shame or fear.  And no one with decent self-esteem will change behavior for either of those reasons for very long.  Eventually, the shamed and afraid will settle on disgust and subversion, if not externally, then on the inside.  

I think anger works more like fire; no matter how many times one may think he or she has it under control, eventually, it will burn the person wielding it.  Things that are said in anger are very, very difficult to take back, and even the person who received that anger allows you to withdraw it, the chances that he or she can forget it so easily are slim.  Anger is usually hurtful and hard to get past, as is the misplaced (or intentionally placed) aggression that often accompanies it. 

My problem is that I've never really figured out a satisfactory replacement.  Sarcasm?  Irony? passive-aggressive "punishments"?  I've been all of those places far more often than I've wanted to be.  Knowing full well that anger could change behavior in students in the short term, but knowing equally well that in a relationship anger only leads to isolation, I probably don't get out of students what I could when they are not doing what I want them to do.  

I suppose that means I'm modeling something for them, something very adult and mature, but at the same time, it can feel pretty impotent.  My default, when I'm intentional about it, seems to be that I try to change behavior one student at a time.  In or out of class, if I can talk to one person about the group, I can sometimes build a loose alliance.

But anger isn't about school; it's far bigger than that.  My standard response these days when someone tells me that he or she has had an argument, before I even know much of what it was about, is to ask, "Who won?"  It's off putting, it's somewhat rude when someone is starting out trying to win me to his or her side, but it also reminds, at least me, that arguments spiral downward into anger and there never is a winner.  It's my way of trying to make that the point.  Of course, they always tell me about how heated things got anyway.  And they want me on their side.  They want me to share their anger.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Road Ramblings, Part 2

A continuation of some random observations away from home.....

6.  My #1 Rule.  Is that there is always money for travel, which I realize on the front end is a rule only enforceable, perhaps, as a middle class or upper middle class notion, but I believe that when travel goes up against other voluntary expenditures, travel must win out. At least for me.  A friend debating whether to take his boys to Ireland this summer and I has this discussion yesterday.  The only issue there is whether the younger boys will remember the trip.  That is indeed a consideration.  But when I look back on a trip to Italy in 2009 that I'm still paying, I say without hesitation that I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  Totally worth.  I have another friend who will go into the hole for travel without hesitation.  I don't know what that does to his retirement, but I can confirm what it does for his current life!  I can't think of anywhere that I have been lucky enough to travel to that wasn't worth it. 

7.  Racing in the streets.  I don't know if seeing a Grand Prix race should be on someone's "Bucket List," but it is pretty damn cool.  The idea that you can walk into the heart of a city like St. Petersburg, Florida and watch Formula One racing is astounding.  To be that close to the cars, the noise, the speed on streets that are normally driven at sane speeds can boggle the mind.  The event itself is half-cool, half-redneck, but that's the kind of thing I like sometimes, sharing space with people whom I normally wouldn't when there is a common, positive goal at stake.  In this case, the pursuit of speed.  Whether or not we want to go that fast, there is no doubt that we want to see people go that fast.

8.  If I'm going to keep reading thrillers, I'm going to have to embrace the conservative mindset.  The reality is straightforward: if someone is writing books where people are challenging the government and the status quo, where the embrace of guns is crucial to the plot, where a lone hero will figure out things that government agencies cannot, then there's an excellent chance that the writer in question takes a conservative stance on things.  Case in point, I, Sniper by Stephen Hunter, one of my Spring Break reads.   But really any of them.  The hero has to do things outside the law and he often has to do those things with a gun, and so, he ain't no liberal.  In the book in question, a Jane Fonda clone is murdered on the first page, and a Ted Turner clone and The New York Times are both major impediments to the situation.  Or worse.  A person who enjoys these kinds of books, like me, is going to have to acknowledge the reality of the situation, that intelligent inkers and writers and book's heroes are not going to see the world the way a Liberal does.  I'm willing to acknowledge that.  The change is that I'd never really thought about it until now, and I've been reading these books for decades.

9.  One of life's great pleasures.  Admittedly, this is not a joy for everyone.  But if you play guitar, what greater pleasure is there than a new set of strings freshly installed and stretched out enough and retuned enough that they are in tune and ready to play?  OK, now up the ante.  Make that guitar a 12-string and those strings for a very limited amount of time sound like a church, a chorus, God Walking on this earth, at least a lot more than what 12 strings should be able to do. You sit in an empty room, strum chords or pick individual (doubled) notes and it is as if you get the smallest glimpse of heaven. Will it work in a band?  I don't know.  Will it translate to another setting? Equally unsure.  But when you have those moments where it is just you and those twelve strings, you can't help but feel like you have connected to something beyond.  Now, here's the odd thing:  at some point, those string will no longer sound new, but there is no way to predict when that will happen.  In the middle of a song? At some moment when you have left the guitar alone for a couple of days?  No way to know, but when it's gone, it's gone.

10.  The City That Sleeps.  I spent Winter Break in the city that never sleeps; now I'm in the city that does.  It is very disconcerting.  When a city does not sleep, everything is available to you.  When that city sleeps, you have to plan.  For example, here in Venice, Florida, no local restaurant stays open past 9 o'clock.  Maybe not a big deal, but when I'm down here on a limited time budget, I try to maximize everything, and if I'm on a bike ride or at the beach and not really hungry after a sleep in and a late lunch, then sometimes 9 o'clock is pushing it.  But if I don't order before then, then I am at the mercy of the national restaurant chains, and, lets be candid (I hope), no one come to Florida to eat at Chili's, do they?  I don't. The  reality is that in a city of old people, no one wants to eat as late as I do sometimes.  I understand that.  But it is difficult to factor in that reality when you are coming from a city that never sleeps.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Road Ramblings, Part 1

Longtime readers of this blog know that when I go on the road, my mind wanders, both while driving and while hanging out in a Florida condo.  I can't really (perhaps by choice) focus on big ideas very well, so I take more of a scattershot approach, spending a little bit of time on whatever strikes my fancy, and then moving on.  Today is no different, and tomorrow most likely won't be either.  So, here's what's on my mind:

1.  Jesus most likely doesn't need a billboard to deliver the news.  There's nothing worse than having a PR team you didn't ask for, and so the lame, super-conservative billboards that catch one's eye while driving through Florida would seem to cheapen the messages that Jesus wanted the world to hear.  Encountering billboard after billboard urging me that "Jesus Is Still In Control," I tend to be reminded of the famous line from Hamlet: "methinks the lady doth protest too much," which tells us that making a point more strongly than it needs to be made tends to undermine that point.  And so, with Easter fast approaching, I can't help but wonder if Jesus really is in control, given the world we live in.  It feels more like things are spiraling out of control, that nothing is in control, and that our chances of triumphing depend to a large extent on randomness.  I don't really like to think that way, and I wouldn't, if some idiot with enough money to buy a bunch of billboards, hadn't made a claim that didn't need to be made.

2.  Can food combinations get any more disgusting?  When I was younger and less aware, I had the mistaken notion that fast food joints and (bottom of the) food chains were somehow cutting edge. Because a teenager doesn't/didn't eat all that many places that weren't fast food or national chains, I thought the McRib was cool, admired "innovations" in French fries or milk shakes or burger types or, Wow!, the introduction of a chicken sandwich.  I knew nothing of food trends.  Now, of course, is different, and I am nonplussed at the ubiquity of chipotle (which was a pretty cool flavor) or guacamole, which if it isn't freshly-made needs to be flushed down the toilet.  And I am repulsed by chain restaurant's attempts to bring wonderful regional food into their menu mix.  Case in point: IHOP's new pancakes that have New York cheesecake in the middle of the pancakes!  Who in the world, what misguided chemical genius thought that I/we wanted cheesecake in the middle of our pancakes?  Food is becoming Frankenstein, a blend of parts that, if it has a life, is concluded to have worked.

3.  Die Hard in the White House.  I haven't read any reviews yet, but I'd be shocked if the observation is unique to me that the new thriller, Olympus Has Fallen, has drawn pretty heavily from the first movie in the Bruce Willis action series.  Terrorists take over? Check.  Lone rogue lawman is secretly inside the building and the only hope? Check. No one else can get I side the building to help?  Check.  Brutal murder of hostages? Check.  Foolish air assault? Check.  Multiple decoys by the bad guys?  check.  Lone lawman encounters friend who is really an enemy? Check.  Except that Willis is better at this kind of thing than Gerard Butler, that Willis had a better script that made him a richer, more vulnerable character, and that, even though Butler is in position to save the entire free world, Willis' quest seems to have more depth.  That being said, I love this kind of movie, and so I felt some suspense, was completely sucked in to the extent that I ignored all of the plot implausibilities, and would, against all odds, recommend this as a serviceable thriller.  Sometimes, that's all you need.

4.  Pizza is a barometer.  I mean, really, how hard is it to make a decent pizza?  I've even convinced myself that I can do it.  I'm not talking about a great pizza, just one that rises above the mediocrity of life.  Because I believe that pizza is like Lake Woebegone these days: all pizza should be above average.  The basic requirements of the species are just not that complicated--basic dough, simple sauce, cheese, a few toppings, and a decently-high temperature.  So why is it so hard?  Why are there entire cities that can't produce a decent pie?  I blame hubris, I blame tradition, I blame lack of initiative.  Luckily, I reside for the next few days in a city that can offer a variety of New York-style or New England-style pizzas, all executed at a pretty high level of pizza.  And, the city I live in, while without the roots of Venice, Florida, is working hard all the time to improve its pizza standing.  And I salute that.  But if you can't produce a decent pizza in your city, as is true just up the road from here, then I question your civic responsibility,  people eat too much pizza to not offer them a few decent options.

5.  Here's how to save the planet.  It came to me in a Chik-Fil-A in Georgia.  Or else, in my car, when I had quickly worked through a combo #1 of classic sandwich, waffle fries, and drink on my way southward.  And it was this: if fast food restaurants would embrace recycling, then recycling could really mean something.  Because, when you think about it, most of the trash that you see comes from fast food restaurants, a reminder that they are generating tons and tons of paper and plastic.  But when did you see a recycle bin in a fast food place?  How many of these chains are continuing to use styrofoam, a man made abomination that we all know does not biodegrade?  Instead, all of them are content to let us dump their waste in store, in gas station gas bins, and, apparently, alongside the highways of America.  Reverse the course on that, fast-foodies, and you are doing something that matters.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"I'm married to the drummer"

Forget that the drummer is an ordained minister, a school administrator, an accomplished runner and coach.  When the name of the game is live music, you get the most cred by being able to state your connection to the band.  And so, a gray-haired wife in a kitchen of a house where music would soon be played downstairs identified herself as being "married to the drummer."

Welcome to Stones Night, where a ragtag group of aging teachers who have been banging away at these songs for the better part of a year finally put aside all of the interruptions, delays, and distractions to try to recreate a batch of songs by one of the acknowledged greatest rock and roll bands.   With some struggles, with some success.

The playlist:  "Honky Tonk Women," "Paint It Black," "Angie," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Brown Sugar," "Bitch," "Dead Flowers."  And, long after the show was over, raggier, taggier versions of "Sympathy For The Devil" and "Gimme Shelter."  As well as some strange stragglers during the encore--"Summer of '69," Manfred Mann's "Pretty Flamingo," Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Life By The Drop," and Springsteen's "No Surrender."  Maybe even a "Happy Birthday" in there somewhere.

It isn't easy being or doing the Stones.  But it sure is fun.  Forget that there's a woman in the band and the other singer is more Roger Ebert than Mick Jagger.  Forget that there is no bass player (but, what the hell, Bill Wyman left the band anyway).  Two of the band members are in all black and look like caterers, one of the guitarist's wardrobe looks like a mix of Neil Young and Angus Young, and the other two guys look like they are average, middle-aged men.  Who rock.

Forget, most of all, the screw ups--bad vocals, songs that go on too long, wrong chords, fumbled solos, missed cues.  Because absolutely none of that matters.  It might have mattered then, to the band, but it doesn't matter now, and it didn't matter then to the audience.  And, now, no one but those of us in the band even remember those things.

It's why, if you're an amateur band, that you play to a group of supportive friends.  They will cheer you, they will praise you, they will join in, they will ask for more.

But there's something deeper that goes on during a Stones Night, or any other live night, for that matter.  There were two choices in our fair city last night--the place where a fledgling band was doing their best on some Rolling Stones songs, and all of those places where they weren't.    

If you were with us for our imperfect endeavor, you got music of varying quality, but I think you got something far more important.  You got to be part of a family and to enjoy families, an all-ages show with all-ages food and drink, where an 8-year-old could come up and sing "Summer Of '69" with the band, where "Stones Trivia" required the knowledge of a wide variety of ages, where children made new friends, where adult friends came up and lent their voices to songs, where everything from the water to the beer was green (in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day), where Trout, our keyboard player, did his usual "all in" approach to making the house feel like an homage to Mick, Keith, Charlie, and the rest.

When you think about it, there really aren't that many things better in life than a group of families and friends sharing a common experience that is safe and positive, but a bit of distance away from the norm.

Of course, for those of us who are teachers, who live by the mantra of "life-long learning," and who play in this band, the journey it provides outside of our own comfort zones is both challenging and rewarding.  Anyone who thinks it's easy to get up in front of people and play live music has never gotten up in front of people and played live music.  You aren't exactly nervous, but a lot of your decision-making goes out the window as a song that you thought you owned suddenly owns you and it isn't going to let you out of its clutches until you serve its desires.  You live players know exactly what I mean.

And, yeah, we have groupies, but we're married to them and they're aging right along with us.  It's easier that way, and more satisfying.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

"I Love My Living Gay Son!"

I Like It - Foxy Shazam (mp3)

Rob Portman:
"I didn't mind condemning and hating all
of your gay children until I found out
about my son. And by 'hating' I don't
mean actively. I just mean I was happy
they were going to hell."
Rob Portman, I hope you go back in time and kick your own ass.

Apparently I'm supposed to admire you for being the first active Republican politician in Washington to take an open stand in favor of gay marriage. Apparently this makes you, in the eyes of many, a trailblazer and a hero.

You're neither, you self-interested egotistical ass-clown.

Lemme lay out the story of your "conversion," and you correct me on whatever part I get wrong.

A year ago, you're a homophobic bigot who opposes gay marriage. You use the Bible as your defense for this stance, one of millions of "Christians" who insist gays are going to hell. Then BAM! Your son comes out of the closet. At this personal crisis point in your life, you  realize that you must either accept that your son, according to your beliefs, is going to hell and is an impure and immoral being, or you must readjust your take on Christianity. You decide God might actually love queers, too, and you also decide being in favor of gay marriage is suddenly about freedom for all American citizens.

Best I can tell, all you did, Robbie, was wake up and cover your own ass. You switched sides because it's convenient for your family.

The Republican Party
My biggest problem with how our politics and political system works is and has always been how deeply rooted in self-interest it is. A huge chunk of the Democratic Party consists of a menagerie of smaller groups all fighting for themselves or their singular cause. Groups based on racial identity and unions and the elderly and trial lawyers, all a part of the party because it's looking out for their little niche interests.

Republicans are in many ways more annoying because their selfishness is even more naked and aggressive. My guns. My income. My religion. My country. Republicans remind me of those seagulls in "Finding Nemo" who spend the entire film barking "MINE MINE MINE MINE!"

Rob Portman's "stance" in favor of gay marriage isn't about doing what's right. He's not standing up for freedom or equality or fairness. The ground of MINE MINE MINE shifted underneath him the minute his son was born, but Portman apparently only discovered the shift two years ago. I'm betting his son had to announce it in a family press conference to even get his father's attention.

This is a hero.
Once Portman became aware of his son's "perversion," Rob's self-interests mutated. He was forced to move from selfishly "protecting the family unit from the scourge of homos" to selfishly "protecting my son's rights as an American" and selfishly "hoping God lets my son go to heaven."

Portman never once stopped shouting "MINE!" It's still all about him.

Rob Portman is a better man for making this change than he would be for banishing his son from his sight, packing up his son's possessions and placing them on the curb and closing his heart to the boy. So, congrats, Rob. You're an almost-decent human being for loving and accepting your gay son. But being almost-decent doesn't make you my hero. You'd be my hero if you'd made this change of heart like Jon Huntsman, who did so not because any of his 42 daughters is gay, but because he knows it's the right thing to do. Not for himself. Not for anyone in his family. Not become there's some secret branding strategy in it, or some fiscal reward for betting on the better team. But for our country, for all people, for justice.

That's heroic.

Sadly, that's also probably why Huntsman was out of the Presidential race before the damn starter gun went off.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Synth Zenith?

You Know Me - Air Traffic Controller (mp3)
Old Skin - Olafur Arnalds (mp3)
Little Numbers - BOY (mp3)

Are we at the zenith of synthesized music? If we’re not, can we pretty please hurry up and get there so that the damned pendulum can swing back already?

Fret not, synth-lovers. Even if synth withers away, it’ll come back. Synth is like Herpes. It might go dormant, but it will never disappear completely or permanently. We're stuck with it until someone shuts the power off forever.

As a damn-proud-of-it child of the ‘80s music scene, I’ve got nothing against synthesizers and simulated sound in pop music. In measured doses, synth is far more palatable than the saxophone, an instrument that has failed to reinvigorate itself into the pop music scene despite a few recent noble attempts by Lady Gaga and others.

The latest synth rebirth, which sprouted early in the 21st Century and went apeshit over the last few years, is not merely a longing for the days of New OrderErasure and Howard Jones. This latest tidal wave of electronica is more about the democratization of music. Anyone who has purchased an iPad and the Garage Band app knows that the only thing getting between a music-loving kid and the skeleton of a hit song is some time and creativity, elbow grease, and understanding of what makes a good hook. The synthesizer and the computer can now create an impressive impersonation of most any instrument in the world, and Autotune can help even Britney hit the right notes. One need not know how to play a single actual instrument to craft a hit. If a million monkeys with a million typewriters could eventually bang out a William Carlos Williams poem, then a million humans with a million iPads will inevitably, eventually, dominate the Billboard Top 100.

Bottom of the Glass knows this because we’re receiving 20-25 music submissions daily from hundreds of artists you’ll never know. The songs coming into our mailbox are drowning in synth. The next generation of ambitious musicians are dunking the Oreo in the synth milk for so long that it’s completely destroying the point of the Oreo in the first place; it's just dissolving into the glass, dirtying up the drink. It’s the music equivalent of “Would you like a little coffee with your sugar?”

"Synth" no longer means Pet Shop Boys. Nowadays, anytime I hear an instrument in a song and know instantly that said instrument is electronically simulated, that's synth. A fake orchestra. Fake drums. A fake bass. All of it, not just the stuff that sounds like it came from a keyboard. And it's damn near omnipresent.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Synth doesn’t have to kill the music when done right, when done well, and with proper respect and restraint. And when I'm reminiscing Howard frappin' Jones as using a synthesizer with restraint, you start to grasp just how far out we've gone this time.

If, unlike my BOTG partner*, you would love to sample some new and diverse music, I can’t think of a better place for you to start than NPR’s “The Mix: The Austin 100,” a collection of 100 FREE songs by artists scheduled to perform at South by Southwest (“SXSW”) 2013. I've included three of the better ones up top, a mere sampling of the stunning quality.

I pulled out 24 of those songs and made one seriously mind-blowing playlist out of it. If you can’t find a 90-minute kickass compilation from what’s being offered... well, you’re probably not reading music blogs in the first place.

Almost none of my favorites call attention to the electonica if it's used at all. If I listen to my NPR SXSW playlist a few more times, maybe I can work up the nerve to dive back into our email in box to check out the latest submissions...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bob 3, Billy 3

I'm offically declaring this "Keep Up With Billy Month."

If you're not as old as I am (approaching 56), then you have no idea how far dentistry has come since the 60's.  Believe me, there's nothing here for me to brag about.  If you missed it, be glad.  Maybe.  I still have few issues with modern dentistry, even as I sing its praises.

Nowadays, the whole dental staff is worried about nothing more than your well-being, your comfort.  Every aspect of a procedure is fully explained to you and they check on you all the time, just to make sure that you are cool with it.  And you never have to lean over to spit anything out.  The nurse stands over you with a suction and whisks away whatever kind of stuff is either coming out of you or being shoved into your new opening.  They offer you special glasses so that you don't get sprayed with whatever on your real glasses.

Nowadays, if you are told that you "might feel a pinch," you do feel only a pinch.  Your dentist has worked very carefully with some kind of numbing gel to ensure that you will feel nothing more.

And they can drill and fill two teeth in about 45 minutes, sending you out the door with a multi-hundred dollar receipt for potential reimbursement and a face that feels like it has been punched and is swelling in response.

Of course, these days, they also numb the shit out of you.  I mean, my God, my freakin' ear was numb  in preparation for the filling of a cavity on a lower tooth, not even a back tooth.  On the other side, my dentist warned me, "You may feel some numbness up to your lower eye."  Whereas that pinch you might feel was a real pinch back in the day, a transfix-your-stare-on-the-Norman-Rockwell-print-pinned-to-the-ceiling-and-try-to-get-to-a-different-place kind of pinch.  Except that there was no Norman Rockwell on the ceiling for you to stare at.  Just the patterns in the ceiling paint.

When I first started going to the dentist as a child, there was no such thing even as a dental hygienist.  The position hadn't even been invented.  Your family dentist was jack of all trades, master of .....right.  He cleaned them (it was a he), he fixed them, he straightened them, he built new ones for you in his little dental lab.  He was a one stop shop.

He also wasn't afraid of imposing a little guilt.  If you had a cavity, there was no doubt that it was your fault.  Before you got any kind of treatment, you got a lecture.  About brushing.  Or about what you were eating.  And your mother might get called in and get a lecture of her own.  About your habits, in general.  Dentistry was about as cause-and-effect as it gets.  

And, if you had let the world down like that, there was perfect justification to teach you a lesson you would never forget.  Both my wife and I, separated by South and North, by country and city, had experiences where we were drilled upon without any Novacaine at all.  Not for a big cavity, mind you, but certainly for a small one.  And we were expected to take it.  Novacaine cost extra and it was such a little cavity and there was a decent probability that Mr. Dentist wasn't going to hit a nerve, execpt that every cavity in the world seems to have some kind of direct connection to a nerve, without any kind of protection.

Today's dental patients are pussies.  We all know that, even those of us who are willing to man up (or woman up) and take the pain.  The whole system has changed to where we are protected by/doomed by a standard of care that seeks to take all and every pain out the experience of metal machines working their ways into our various tissues.

And that is probably a good thing.  Except that those of us who went through it, confused by both the sadism and masochism of ancient dentistry, see some value in that pain.  Maybe it's perverse.  Maybe it's just that we think we have the training to sit in a chair with everything beyond our control, not wallowing in excessive numbness, but waiting for an all-encompassing pain that might or might not come.  At least, as we have worked our way through our many years, we are kind of ready for it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

NPR, me, and you

Most days, I get really irritated with our local NPR station.  Not the news, not the purchased programming, no, just the music.  See, our NPR station, WUTC, is the modern-day equivalent of a progressive radio station.  When the latest release from the latest slightly-obscure artist in the field of bluegrass, Americana, light jazz, folk, rock, folk-rock or just something that is just very intentionally alternative hits the station's mailbox, they go for it, embrace, build a day's worth of programming around it.  They keep us updated with all of the lastest "literate" releases out there, or at least they expose us to them..

And it pisses me off.

Or it at least it did until yesterday when I had one of those very minor ephanies that I hang my hat on.  I realized that NPR is no different from me.

What I want NPR to do, as a station with intelligent musical programming, is to honor the best music out there.  But they don't.  They focus on the latest music out there that isn't going to be played anywhere else.  Fine, that's a somewhat admirable goal.  But is it also true that most of the greatest music ever written in the pop idiom is not being played anywhere else?  

And that's the problem.  If you had a radio station, wouldn't you want to play the very best stuff that you could?  While I fully realize that the best song ever written could come out tomorrow (yes, I believe in that possibility), the reality is that even if it does, all of the other songs released aren't going to come anywhere close.  So why put your radio eggs in that basket?  

The reality is that most of those songs are 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old, and I'm not talking about the narrow palette an "oldies" station paints with.  I'm talking about the canon of great popular music that never gets heard--Hendrix songs off of Axis Bold As Love, early Leonard Cohen, Leo Kottke, the James Gang, the Db's, Let's Active, Guadalcanal Diary, Springsteen's Tunnel Of Love, most Dylan, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Mavis Staples.  You get the idea; you have your own artists and songs that you would include and none of it on the radio, even NPR.

But back to that tiny epiphany--I'm no different.  I try my best to keep up with what's new and fresh and out there and worth hearing, but it gets more and more difficult every year.  Not hard to figure out why--each year we add another substantial batch of songs to the canon, to the personal collection, to the songs that matter.  Yes, that's still going on at this second, and if you don't believe it, I'm sorry to inform you that at some point your machine got stuck in mud (maybe somewhere in the swamps of Jersey).  

So, even though I look forward to revisiting Neil Young's forgotten classic, Zuma, or the blues of Joe Louis Walker, I also want to keep current and reward myself with songs by artists who might be too young for me or too hip-hop or too torchy or whatever other kind of music is not supposed to appeal to my demographic.  Just like NPR.

Listening to music in 2013 requires a great deal of intentionality.  I don't think that anyone wants to admit that because it seems so counter to the way that we live these days, presented with incredible amounts of everything from which we can pluck as the mood strikes us.  There's nothing wrong with that, as long as we are the ones doing the choosing.  But if we let someone else choose for us, the past will be gone.  The Beatles will be about 15 songs instead of 150.  Dave Brubeck will be a song, "Kashmir" a sample in someone else's song.  Joni Mitchell will be gone altogether, until someone revives her for a commercial.

I am here to declare that rest of March is, for me, "Dylan Month."  I haven't listened to him in quite some time, except when I went on a Blood On The Tracks tear a year or so ago.  And realized that it is probably the greatest record of all time.  At that time.  When I committed to it. Dylan deserves my time, or maybe he deserves yours.  And if not him, then someone else, some who isn't going to be just a song or two in the modern habit of listening, but a deep well that is worth being dropped into and floating in the bucket down there for awhile until some other artist stands at the top and cranks us back up and sends us on a new listening adventure, but only with those songs ringing in our ears.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Small, White House

The last time you finished a story
I had written, one you hadn't fallen
asleep over, or forgotten, or let drop
to the floor where the cat slept
on it, dotting it with flecks of flea
blood, as if it had become the setting
of some small crime, until I found it
and hid it as a test to see if you
would ever ask for it again,
we lived in a small, white house--

There was an L-shaped porch
where I pissed leisurely into the shade
to hear the sweet, beating sound
on concrete, as they razed houses,
one by one, around us.  We hid the Christmas tree
into March in that same corner, from passing cars.
Summers, we'd drink quickly, before
the melting of the ice, to hole up
in the one cool room, its wall unit
droning out our love whispers.

I found that cat years later, frozen dead
outside these walls, his white fur soiled,
his dry blood the color of brick,
his return the same mystery as his leaving.
My friend put him in a bag for me, and he
went with the trash, and we told 
our children when they remembered, that, yes,
Burt buried him at the dump.  It was cold
that day, we were tired from work,
and the people who clear things away are prompt.

Tonight I drive past where that white house stood
and dream myself curled up asleep,
only your light on, and my words
speaking to you from pages like these--
not yellowed in a basement drawer,
not discovered in a search
for something else.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Holly Don't Go Lightly

Happy - Holly Williams (mp3)

Lori McKenna’s Twitter feed has become a touchstone. I’ve purchased four albums in the last six months after having stumbled on them because Lori’s gushing about them on a Tweet. I’m grateful as hell Lori Tweetroduced me to Holly Williams, and I’m grateful we met now, in 2013.

Holly Williams’ new album, The Highway, is everything missing from the heart of most modern country music. That’s not to say The Highway is pure country, because it probably falls as closely to the folk/singer-songwriter genres as it does classic country, but its soul is country. It’s about drinkin’. It’s about running away from what’s good for us and not having enough courage to run away from what’s bad. It’s wallowing in pain in the present and drowning under pain from the past. It’s loves lost and loser lovers. And that’s just in a song called “Happy.”

The album opens with “Drinkin’,” a song for which she made a video. It’s got all the stuff of Old School Country: a weeping fiddle, soft hand claps, a steel guitar, and the eternal topics of alcohol and infidelity. I reckon if you listen to this one and don’t find yourself intrigued, there’s not much use going any further. And don’t feel bad. This music ain’t for everyone.

Not that “Drinkin’” is the best song on the album. And it sure as hell ain't the only song with drinkin' in it. With each successive listen to the whole album, another song springs up higher on my chart, and most of 'em include some drinkin'. Most of 'em sound mighty nice while you're drinkin', too.

Simple arrangements. The occasional harmonizing from a haunted male voice who might or might not be Jackson Browne, Jakob Dylan or Dierks Bentley, each of whom pitch in on a song. Only on a couple of songs, most specifically the uptempo "Railroads," do the instruments combine to such a level that you can’t distinctly and swiftly identify all of them.

The Highway is Ms. Williams’ third album, but it’s her first as an independent woman. It’s her first on her own terms, but it carries the confidence and strength of someone whose mantra during the recording process seems to have been, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” The product of this confident, mature independence is a knee-bucklingly potent collection.

Maybe some would find “Let You Go” a bit too repetitive or “‘Til It Runs Dry” a bit too formulaic. “Waiting on June” is a strong close, but some might wish didn’t stretch almost seven minutes. But damn if it doesn't feel like this is picking nits from a supermodel's coiffure.

We’ve all been trapped into a discussion about “desert island” music lists. I’m not sure Holly Williams’ album suits a desert island and the tropical climate. However, were I snowed into a three-room cabin in the Appalachian mountains with no power and only a warm fire and the comfort of some battery-powered music device, The Highway would definitely make the “list. This is the album you want when you’ve got the time to think, hands around a warm coffee mug, feet propped up, the crackling of the wood and the warm-red light embracing you in a solitude that is comforting rather than lonely.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Above Privileged

Pretending the Stars - Mindy Smith (mp3)

Ideologues can really be annoying, especially educational ideologues. Yesterday, The Huffington Post published a guest column by an educational ideologue named Steve Nelson who slammed the Advanced Placement program and damned the College Board.

AP’s are a fun and easy target for educational ideologues  because the College Board (much like the NCAA) manages to prove its incompetence and self-interested motives all too often, and the program and the organization deserve to be scrutinized and criticized.

After declaring “a pox” on the program, Mr. Nelson aims for the heart of his concern:
Even if the test is not biased per se, the process is biased by the burgeoning test-prep industry. It is inarguably true that wealthier students can "buy" test points through expensive test prep courses. If the College Board ever intended to create equity in college admission, its effect has been the opposite. It advantages the already advantaged. The disproportionate weight given to SAT scores in admission further magnifies the many advantages already enjoyed by privileged kids.
Mr. Nelson then tears into the AP program. He damns it for being more available to the wealthy and then claims its dying because too many kids are taking them. This seems fairly contradictory to me, but nevermind that. He adds:
Most AP courses are canned, formulaic and uninspired. Students take them at a high cost, financially and emotionally. They accumulate AP credits like little badges of honor, surrendering curiosity, imagination and critical thinking skills to the building of a glittery transcript.
For the record, I’m all but positive Steve Nelson has never stepped foot into the school where I work. More than 20 years ago, I graduated from high school and attended UNC-Chapel Hill. Thanks to my AP course work, I entered with 32 hours of college credit and was able not only to earn a double-major in four years, but also to take an amazing array of electives. Without those AP credits, I would have been stuck in “general college” classes covering the exact same material I’d covered the past three years, except in larger classes taught by teaching assistants.

One needs no PhD in education to say Steve Nelson is batshit nuts if he thinks my educational life would be more fruitful had I not taken AP courses.

My niece, who graduated valedictorian of Chattanooga’s second-largest public high school only took one AP course. She entered UNC roughly a decade ago along with four of the boys from my school, all of whom had taken at least four AP courses. The summer after her freshman year, we were talking about her experience, and she said, “It was crazy how much better prepared those guys were. It’s like they walked in the first day and were ready for that level. It took me a semester to know what hit me. Nothing at my school was anything like college.”

My school currently has a freshman who will take the Calculus BC exam in a month. He’ll spend the next three years exploring even higher college-level math courses. Nothing about this kid suggests he’s gaming the system, and anyone who thinks he’s not interested in learning more is a fool. The kid is a friggin’ sponge.

Our school isn't perfect. It's AP courses and teachers aren't some murderer's row of geniuses who turned down jobs at Harvard. But neither are the TA's who teach first- and second-level courses at most public universities. I'd take my teachers, their class sizes, and their time and energy over the college equivalent any day.

This is Calhoun School.
It is on the Upper West Side.
It's $25k/year for 3-year-olds.
But only if they go for a half-day.
Is the AP system flawed? In the world of college admissions and high school academics, what part of the system isn’t flawed? So is our justice system, our healthcare system, our financial system, and so on. And all of them deserve scrutiny and criticism. However, to damn AP courses in general as superficial, or insufficient, and to damn participating students as more focused on the gaming of the system than on learning speaks more to his own apparently myopic educational experiences than to reality.

Some disclosure on Steve Nelson seems relevant to the argument.

Steve Nelson is the headmaster of The Calhoun School in New York City. Tuition for this school begins at $25,000. For 3-year-olds... who attend only a “half-day.”

This guy, who is all about fairness and diversity, who is opposed to that which might be unfairly advantageous to the wealthy and privileged, is the head of a school where the parents practically scratch one another’s eyeballs out to get their kids into PRE-K. He’s in the middle of the most notoriously cutthroat private school system on planet Earth, at a school that likely filters in only the creamiest of the cream of the crop.

He slams the unfair benefits of privilege from the Upper West Side. It's like CitiGroup criticizing local banks and microfinancing groups for being dirty and corrupt.

Mr. Nelson, I’m sure your students somehow, by some miracle, manage to get into the Ivy Leagues without AP courses. Yay for you. Yay for them. You knock the AP system as being for the privileged, yet your school is so Above Privileged (“AP,” get it? Ha!) that it doesn’t even need the AP system. How convenient for you.

Because kids who attend Calhoun have enough pull
they can get into Ivy Leagues without AP courses,
Mr. Nelson believes all schools would be better off
without an AP program. Isn't it pretty to think so?
I invite you to put your money where your mouth is. Resign from your cushy job and head down South. Work in the public school system in a state like Tennessee, in one of the 300+ high schools which offer a couple of AP courses if they’re lucky. Come back in three years and proclaim these schools are better for having ditched the AP program (even if it was because of financial reasons rather than ideology).

Tell me their students learn more without that distraction of college-level fake rigor. Even as colleges are claiming that the biggest problem is the number of students entering their ranks completely unprepared for the academic rigor. "A national survey showed four out of five students in college remediation had high school GPAs above a 3.0," the article states. I'll go out on a limb and theorize that none of those are students who scored 4s and 5s on their AP in the course. Unless they joined a frat and stopped going to class.

I suspect Mr. Nelson just fine making all these claims from the Upper West Side. What safer ivory tower could there be from which to make such sweeping judgments about a flawed system his students don’t need thanks to their own privileges?

As for the rest of us in the real world, the problems facing our American educational system are far more dire and vast than can be solved by making AP courses the overly-simplified bogeyman. Here’s to hoping the ideologues take a backseat to those ready and willing to dig in to the real meat of the issues and get their hands dirty in the process.

Friday, March 1, 2013

AC/DC = Stoopid

Gypsy Road - Cinderella (mp3)

No one ever accused rock legends of being business savvy. One might argue that being business savvy would stifle the very creative process necessary for immortal rock.

But still, even given that, AC/DC is stupid.

For my birthday in January, a friend who was at the very small "birthday" party at my house gave a unique gift. He got everyone in attendance to purchase two songs on our iPad, and he made that 16-song combo into my "Birthday Party Mix." It was a clever idea, particularly because he knows that's just about as "up my alley" as a random gift could get.

As expected, the results were hit-and-miss, but the fun was enjoying the music the rest of the evening as we sat and ate dinner, with various people including my daughters explaining why they had selected the songs they did.

One of the middle school boys in attendance chose "TNT" by AC/DC. It just so happens that my 5-year-old son was, at this same time, becoming obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or, as they are lovingly called, TMNT. It didn't take much effort to convince him there was a connection between the two.

Classic rock does something to small boys. There's a primal connection there, and I can't explain it, but I know that my son has been drawn to the sound of pounding drums and an electric guitar since he was 2. While my daughters flocked to the sound of "You Will Be In My Heart" by Phil Collins, the boy revved up for "Thunderstruck" or "Black Dog" or "Juke Box Hero."

After a single listen of "TNT," he was already shouting "OY!" with Bon Scott. Perhaps men love rock because it makes sense to us even in our youngest state of life. And we men, we love simple.

In the two weeks that followed, "TNT" played at least 50 times. Every time I got home from work, my boy would rush up to me and say, "Can we play 'TNT'?" And of course I'd allow it, because it's a kickass song. So we'd hop around the living room shouting "OY! OY! OY!" together before disappearing into the TV room for a 30-minute session of LEGO Batman on the Wii.

This doll has more business sense
than the members of AC/DC
(or whoever manages their decisions).
Happy to feed any child's love of great music, I recently hopped on to search for more AC/DC. Although I'm not a rabid fan, I so heavily played my cassette of Who Made Who in the late '80s that the thing practically disintegrated, and I was shocked (shocked!) to discover I only had six AC/DC songs in my iTunes collection, all of those due to various people putting a song of theirs on a mix CD.

So I signed into my eMusic account to see what AC/DC songs were out there: Nothing. No AC/DC at eMusic. Then I went to Amazon. No AC/DC music at Amazon, either.

Then I checked out iTunes -- otherwise known as "The music store that charges 40-60% more for the exact same product for no other reason than that no one seems to care" -- and there was AC/DC's entire body of work. Every song was $1.29. Every album was $10. No discounts. No sales. No specials.

I was surprised to discover that only last November had the band even released their material to Apple.

What morons. While they sit back and count the additional money they will make by releasing to Apple, they will fail to realize how much money they've left on the table by not (a) doing so sooner and (b) releasing to other sources.

Here's what I'm gonna do this weekend. I'm gonna drive 15 minutes to our huge used record and book store. I'm gonna spend $10 in credit I've made from trading in DVDs I no longer want, and I'll return home with three AC/DC CDs. I'll burn some 30 songs of material to my iPod, and the Young brothers and their bandmates won't see a lick of profit. Not a penny. At a time when the entire music industry has, for the first time since Savage Garden, turned a profit!

I see no point in paying $1.29 for songs that came out when Farrah Fawcett was the hottest woman in America. I won't steal them; I'll just buy legally and on the cheap what others saw no reason to keep for themselves.

Compare my encounter with AC/DC to recent ones with The Cars and ZZ Top, two bands I hold in less esteem.

In the last few months I've purchased greatest hits compilations by both bands. In both cases, I went in looking for one song from each, found their greatest hits selling for a mere $4, and jumped in. Each band made extra profit from me. It was the ideal business transaction, because they took me for more than I planned to spend!

While I realize that $3 in profit doesn't go very far for a band, surely it's clear this is more than about a single customer, and we're not talking about material that is as carefully confiscated or managed as the Disney Vault of Movies. (And trust me that $3 is far more than I ever expected to spend on ZZ Top, like, EVER.)

But not AC/DC. They'll get nothing. I'll get their music, and I'll do so quite legally. But they won't make a penny.

That, friends, is the very definition of stupidity. AC/DC is stupid. I doubt they even know why they're doing things the way they are. They probably still think most people listen to phonographs. They probably still use rotary-dial phones.

In honor of AC/DC's stupidity, I've posted a song by Cinderella -- also known as "that underrated '80s hair band that sounds a lot like AC/DC" -- because were I to post an AC/DC song, all their lawyers would chase me down. Meanwhile, someone might hear this Cinderella song and want to hear more. You can get their 17-song Greatest Hits collection for $9.49 at Amazon. They really were pretty good underneath all that cheesy makeup.

(And if Cinderella's music lawyers ask, I'll swiftly remove their kickass song, too. But I'll also never say another nice word about the band and remove all mention of them. Bye bye free advertising, you goobers.)