Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lost Music, Sometimes Found

George Harrison and his Turkish Angora cat Corky

It’s an early Sunday morning and I’ve just watched the movie “Now and Then” for the second time this week. For those who may not have seen it, “Now and Then” is the female version of “Stand By Me.” It is set in 1970; the main characters a year-and-a-half to two years younger than I was at the time, but there wasn’t much difference between what they did to keep themselves occupied during the long summer months. I remember the summer of 1970 very well; I’d graduated from 8th grade, and we started the summer in Lodi looking for Nazi gold (seriously! One of my father’s dearest friends from childhood felt there is Nazi gold buried on a property near Lodi, and my dad and uncle gathered the brood and we all watched and waited for a bulldozer to find it—needless to say we didn’t!), and I ended the summer with a bang by starting my period a week before reporting to high school. In between we’d ride horses during the morning and evening hours (sometimes with a transistor radio looped over the saddle horn, though the local AM station really played poppy stuff unless you requested something else), and hang out by my parent’s new pool during the heat of the day. Probably the “worst” thing to happen that summer was coming to the understanding that the Beatles had indeed broken up, the breakup having been announced that spring—and just as I was getting old enough to fully appreciate their music to the point of picking up a guitar and teaching myself to play.

Music used to be a big part of my life. From the 5th through 7th grade I took clarinet lessons in school, so I used to be able to read music. The clarinet doesn’t really have a place in rock music though… I have always loved guitar-driven music with creative vocal harmonies and catchy lyrics—not to the point of being a fan of the really “poppy” stuff, because the guitar licks just were not there. Besides loving the Beatles’ music, I also liked Cream, and the Beatles’ protégées Badfinger, and I especially remember a song called “All Right Now” by a band named Free being all over the place that summer. Notice a trend? They are all British, and all very guitar-driven!

Unfortunately for me, I chose not to have a whole lot of fun in my high school classes. I’d wanted to graduate early, so I took nothing but college prep classes, which left no time for any music classes. I changed that my junior year when I finally had enough and dropped out of Spanish III to take guitar; during my senior half-year I took choir, where my voice was identified as being contralto and when I discovered that when acting I could do nearly anything, including sing, though I did my best singing when stoned on pot. Yep, I was quite the little pothead.

I bought all of the Beatles sheet music and taught myself the rhythm parts (I had two sets of Beatles’ music books—one with rhythm guitar tabs, the second lead, which I never really got good at). I came to appreciate just how hard the guitar is to learn, and I’d chosen to learn to play on a steel-stringed Yamaha acoustic I bought for $75 with my own money. I learned to change strings, to tune by ear, and by the summer of 1972 was comfortable enough to play in front of people, to the point I traveled around Spain for 6 weeks carrying that Yamaha acoustic and jamming at night. I’d never be a George Harrison (though he was my favorite by that time, hence I’ve used this photo of him I recently tripped over—what a beautiful man he was!), but I could play and sing most of the Beatles’ songs, a couple of Badfinger’s songs, and some Neil Young stuff, too.

Every so often I’ll hear songs from the early 1970s and remember that there was good music despite disco being shoved down everyone’s throats by the middle of the decade. I’ll wish I still had that Yamaha acoustic—my stepbrother learned to play on it and I think he sold it, which makes me very sad, that guitar had truly gone to battle! I’ll listen to certain songs that fit my vocal range and sing my heart out. Tonight’s song was from “Now and Then”—Badfinger’s “No Matter What.” That lead to a pair of Badfinger songs: “Baby Blue” and “Day After Day.” And yes, I used to be able to play those songs, and in public, too!

There are times I am tempted to buy another acoustic guitar—I’m betting I still can find my Beatles’ sheet music! I wonder if returning to music might be good for me …

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Jaded? Cynical? I Guess I Am …

Jaded: 1. fatigued by overwork : EXHAUSTED 2: made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by surfeit (jaded network viewers; jaded voters)
Cynical: 1. CAPTIOUS, PEEVISH 2: having or showing the attitude or temper of a cynic: as
a : contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives (those cynical men who say that democracy cannot be honest and efficient — F. D. Roosevelt)
b : based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest (a cynical ploy to win votes)

How has this bit of self-assessment come about?

While watching coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan over the past couple of days, I could not help but notice the difference in behavior between the Japanese people and how Americans behave in time of disaster. Specifically, thus far I have not seen, heard or read a thing about widespread looting and vandalism anywhere in the affected areas. I vividly remember seeing news videos during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, including people openly stealing from stores—and not stealing food or other things one needs to live, but stealing televisions, electronics, pretty much anything not tied down. I remember that people affected by Katrina demanded that “the government” do something for them. I remember stories about FEMA queens demanding their government assistance, receiving debit cards intended to provide assistance in acquiring food and lodging, and using those federally-acquired funds to buy flat screen televisions and designer handbags.

I’ve not seen any of that behavior from the Japanese people. From the outside, it looks like many people heeded the tsunami warnings, and though I expect the death toll will be in the thousands, the fact that so many people did survive tells me they did not sit around waiting for the government to “do something” for them, specifically evacuation. No one expected the tsunami wave to reach 6 miles inland.

I am glad there are United States military assets able to help in search, rescue and recovery. That’s one reason to ensure our military is always at the ready for humanitarian missions. I expect the Japanese people will rebuild their nation quickly and efficiently, and find a way to improve things. I also expect that Japan does have the economic backbone to finance rebuilding efforts themselves.

Here comes my jaded, cynical attitude.

Why is it in time of natural disaster it’s expected that the United States pick up the pieces for every damn country that suffers a natural disaster or war? While Japan is indeed a reliable ally today, a little thing called Pearl Harbor and World War II is still an important piece of history and there are still people alive today who vividly remember these events.

It was the United States, or rather U.S. dollars, that rebuilt Japan. Japan’s economy is in much better shape than ours. We have millions of people who are un- or under-employed through no fault of their own, people whose unemployment “benefits” may be long gone or expiring soon. We have American citizens and families going hungry and without creature comforts that many others take for granted. But it’s not glamorous to talk about them, and it’s not glamorous to donate money or goods in our own nation. You don’t see celebrities making appeals for the regular American who may not have endured a natural disaster but who is enduring joblessness through no fault of his or her own.

Charities are of course popping up to help Japan in this time of crisis. However, I’d think that what is really needed are goods and services, provided by human beings, not money. Japan has the money; Japan can pay for those goods and services. American farmers certainly can produce what the Japanese people need, but it’s up to Japan to ask for what they need. A story on CNN revealed that there are food shortages, specifically rice, bottled water, fresh produce and bread. I think the United States produces those things in abundance and I’m sure the U.S. will be happy to provide those goods.

My second question is why the crappy behavior from Americans in time of disaster, a la Katrina or even times of civil unrest—why do Americans find it so easy to commit vandalism and thievery? They aren’t breaking into stores to steal food and water—they are taking physical goods. Those same Americans expect the government to “do something,” to fix whatever they think is wrong or unjust by giving them something. I’m sick of people being so non-self-efficient, and I look at how Japan is coping, and wish that Americans could be more like the Japanese.

I also wish that people residing in the United States, citizens and those here legally—people enjoying economic success and who are in a position to help Americans less fortunate would do so—but I suppose helping American citizens simply isn’t glamorous enough.

Why am I such a Negative Nelly? I really didn’t used to be this way. I want to believe that people are inherently good and honest, but the past ten years have taught me otherwise. Especially since late 2008, times have been very tough for others and myself. It seems that the ability to get good gainful work is a crapshoot and it’s a case of who you know and if you are lucky enough to run in a circle where cronyism is the way of doing things. It doesn’t matter if you are good at what you do, or know you could really rock a job, if given the chance. It hurts like hell to see people less qualified get that great job—and it hurts worse when racism is involved.

I am cynical and distrustful because of the job that community college district did to me. I purposefully grossly underbid my services in the hope—and with the promise from the chancellor herself—that my thoughtfulness and lack of greed would be rewarded by hiring me for the job once the district was able to budget for the full-time position. Once she’d hired someone else for the job, she didn’t even have the decency to speak to me about why I wasn’t awarded the job after doing the job for nearly two years—and doing that job well. Or at least I was told I was doing it well. So much for kindness and trust—where does that get you? Screwed over, I guess.

Same goes for the place I’ve provided editing services to for over ten years—I turn my work over quickly, I have not asked for a pay raise in 6 or 7 years, yet for some reason, I haven’t received any work from them since December. Why? One of my guesses is one of the usual over published, full-of-herself Ph.D.-educated authors doesn’t like for me to edit her work because I catch holes and biases in her research, so she’s made complaints and the new research director found it easier to sell me down the river as opposed to say to this researcher “Well, maybe she is right about errors in your stuff.”

Submitting resumes is an act of futility, but I guess I enjoy self-flagellation?

Being burned as much as I have, it’s pretty hard to see any good anywhere in humanity. Hence, I trust my cats more than pretty much any human right now!

This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to try to deliver a random act of kindness whenever I can—but I will stop believing that I will receive any kindness or consideration from others. Today I let an elderly Japanese woman cut in line ahead of me at Costco. She had an armful of foodstuffs; I had a full cart. Why make her stand behind me, I said to myself, and motioned for her to get in front of me. She said “Really?” and I replied, “Of course, why make you stand there? You go ahead of me!” Once she was done, she turned to me and with a huge smile offered her sincere thanks.

It’s just that easy to melt a jaded cynic’s heart, if only for a few seconds.

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