Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Celebrate life (or death)?: Elliott Smith

As our friends on 'haoneg' and other places have noted, today is the fifth anniversary for Elliott Smith's death. To my shame, I was introduced to him only after he'd died, but this unfortunate fact does not stand in the way of his music.
I'm still a bit self conscious when I approach him, almost reluctant, as though I am afraid to hurt him or maybe just feeling exposed by the lyrics and the music that seem to envelope him.

Sorry. The piano on "Color Bars" just hit my tender spot.

So why mark this day, the day we became angry at him for leaving us behind, for not being strong enough for us? Why not settle for his birthday (August 6th) as the nexus of potential was just beginning? Is this just another part of the artist-following relationship where we continuously make demands for more, even beyond the grave? What do we hope for? What can we hope for?

'Cause in the end there's just the music; the first song that we hear, the first that we love, the one we share with that special person, the one that is just our own. And then there's the man: a painful reflection of our everyday hurts, dreams, loves and silence.
A cup of tears filled to the brim.

Here's a live cover of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord". The song begins thus:
"My sweet lord
Hm, my lord
Hm, my lord

I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you lord
But it takes so long, my lord"

So long, Elliott.

Elliott Smith - My Sweet Lord (Live George Harrison cover)
Elliott Smith's picture from Last.fm.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty

This blog is participating in the 2008 Blog Action Day, this year directed against poverty. The declared goal is to create a discussion on the web on the selected topic, a rather ambitious (perhaps presumptuous) goal. What sort of discussion or debate? That would depend on the blog and its readers - as long as it is connected to the topic.

So, what is poverty anyway? I'm not an economist or a sociologist but it seems to me that the definition for whoever is poor and whoever isn't poor changes from person to person and depends on many factors (status of the bank account [if there is one], nutritional health, socio-economic status [place of residence, mode of transportation, clothes, accessories], employment, litteracy, amount and quality of leisure time, social and cultural contexts and many more).

How do we fight something like that, that its very definiotn changes and varies from place to place and time to time? Perhaps the answer is that there is no one answer, but instead a multitude of local answers, more fitting to the plights of individuals and families (and then there's the problem of poor nations; is that a different sort of poverty or the same, only on mass scale?).

Why do we wish to fight poverty? Because it is a state of people suffering due to the extreme lack of (mostly?) material wealth relative to the cultural and social contexts.
Because children are malnutrituned, because they get laughed at behind their backs or to their faces because their parents couldn't afford that particular "cool" shoes or the school field trip.
Because the fridge is empty.
Because there is no fridge.
Because of TB, HIV and a host of other preventable or treatable plauges affecting people where a simple sex education program or a basic health system do not exist.
Because corruption kills.
Because of cultrual heritage items, antiques and works of arts being smuggled, destroyed or sold out.
Because of religious fanatics who exploit distress to fuel hatred instead of cultivating hope.
Because of children scavenging for dangerous waste metal scraps in Africa, homeless elderly in the cold streets of Washington, D.C. and dying cramped Chinese immigrants in a shipping container.
Because no one seems to care.

Poverty has many faces and many forms, all of them human.

Think hard and do good; try some of these links for ideas on what you can do to help:
Stand Up
The United Nations End Poverty by 2015 Campaign
Blog Action Day Resources

Finally, a couple of songs. Originally, this post was to be about spiritual poverty, which is a sort of asceticism, but I guess I got carried away a bit. Regardless, the first of the songs, Kristin Hersh's (MySpace, homepage) rendition of "Poor Wayfaring Stranger", sort of touches the subject. The other song deals with what some may consider globalization or maybe just capitalism and its effects on communities.

Kristin Hersh - Poor Wayfaring Stranger (from In Shock)
Welcome Wagon - Sold! To The Nice Rich Man (from Mews Too: An Asthmatic Kitty Compilation)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Song of the Morning: Forgiveness

So it's Day of Atonement, again. Sounds like something out of a science fiction or a fantasy movie, doesn't it? The weird though friendly aliens have a bizarre and morally intriguing day long ritual in which we (the viewers) get a glimpse of some ancient and wise culture (though we, through the main protagonist, eventually refute or reject its ideas, while keeping good relations with the locals in case we ever need to refuel there again). Or maybe I've just been watching too much Star Trek lately?

I'm not a practicing Jew and I have no intention of starting now. Saying that, there are some interesting ideas this day can symbolize. Unlike Christianity, Judaism has no regular absolving mechanism except in the sanctity of this day. Even so, folk beliefs stress that the important area in which to ask forgiveness for and reconcile is the human relations (while the relations between man and god are important, you must first deal with the people you live with). God, it then says, sits in judgment and determines, not too much unlike Santa Clause, whether you've been a 'good boy' and so deserve to live or maybe you've been 'naughty' and would have to end your sorry existence on this earth. Also, there are no presents and you have to fast for 24 hours.

But seriously, the day does carry special meaning and significance even to non religious people. It is the single day in the year when it is quiet. No cars, no radios, no TV. Just children on bicycle in the street, families strolling by, echoes from the synagogues. It's as though the universe changes into some mirror existence of a simpler (somewhat boring if you're of a certain mindset) life.

I find it strange and simultaneously very human and understandable that we still need some God figure (or is it father/mother figure?) to turn to, to make sure it will be alright, that if we follow the rituals it will all be forgiven and washed anew. As Kant said, man refuses to grow up, and who wants to anyway? Why not remain the rebelling teenager who secretly admires and resents his maker, knowing that he will be forgiven no matter what?

A hard day for hard thoughts. Almost like any other.

Engineers - Forgiveness (from Forgiveness)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

(Bleeding) Song of the Morning: Words, etc.

Blimey, what the heck is wrong with this darn pre-owned vehicle? This bleeding Judas Priest won't play!
Ah, I had you there for a moment. No? Then how did you figure out what I was talking about?
I'm thinking about exploring the subjects of euphemisms and minced oaths and trying to tie them into the use of tautologies in natural languages. After all, maybe we're talking about similar phenomenons from different perspectives. They all utilize expressions and words to signify something other than the given text (or, indeed, the written/spoken words themselves).

In tautologies, especially cliches, the meaning can and usually is different from any direct and immediate interpretation. For example, the Yogi Berra saying "You can observe a lot by watching" seems like a tautology (rhetoric and logical and thus provide no new information on the world) but can actually carry added meaning (the importance of gathering intelligence, for one). Ah, pragmatics.

In euphemisms and minced oaths the meaning is also "hidden in plain sight", to use a cliche. It's obvious to the listeners or the readers a profanity was used and its exact type (and thus meaning) can be readily deduced or inferred from the form of the replacing word or expression.

So, in both cases a decoy that everyone involved in a certain context knows it as such is being used, while the true (or added) meaning is silently pointed to, in a civilized fashion.

Anyway, the Indie paper is currently under review and an abstract of it will be posted here (eventually). Till I get to the whole tautologies business I have some ancient Chinese logic tricks to unravel (don't ask). So in the meantime, here are three songs to use as a bridge between the previous paper (Indie music) and the next ones (tautologies and Chinese logic-music). The first is a classic by Mother Love Bone (which also deals with how words are used by different people). The other two songs are from the Irish indie rock-classical (yep, classical) band Clockwork Noise (MySpace, sort of associated blog), the first of which also deals with words while the other has a lovely violin riff.

Mother Love Bone - Man of Golden Words {MP3} (from Mother Love Bone)
Clockwork Noise - Choose Your Words {MP3}
Clockwork Noise - Egocentric {MP3}
Mother Love Bone's picture from their spot on Last.fm.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

It's all about the fun (and the music)

I am progressing somewhat in my indie paper, enough to help me appreciate the hard work and energies pouring into the efforts of a struggling artist. But it's not just blood, sweat and tears. It's also about enjoying yourself and having a lot of fun while you're on the road.

This post is dedicated to webepisodes and music of a Florida alternative rock/power pop band called "We the Kings". They're 4 young energetic guys (god, I sound old...) with an equally young and energetic crowd. Their self produced short clips (properly named "The King's Carriage") taken while on the tour bus not only allow a glimpse into the mysteries of the rock star's life (skittles, anyone?), but also to their real life (McDonald's, anyone?).

Here's one about the confining tour experience. The rest are here.