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June 2014

52 Guitars: Week 26

Roy Buchanan

That's the great and tragic Roy Buchanan, once introduced as "the world's greatest unknown guitarist." He never did become very widely known, but he was certainly admired, respected, and influential. I reviewed the double-CD collection Sweet Dreams here a few years ago...well, over seven years ago...and for further information, and an opinion which hasn't changed, I'll refer you to the two separate entries for disc 1 and disc 2

And for this post, I don't think any assortment of individual YouTube clips would serve any better than this Austin City Limits appearance from 1976. It's thirty minutes long, but you'll know after four or five if you want to hear/see the rest.

 

I bet those two guys sitting right in front of him are guitar players, or trying to be. I still sort of wish he had played something other than a Telecaster, which has a brighter and thinner tone than some other guitars, or at least it usually sounds that way--it's traditionally associated with country music. But that was the tone he wanted, obviously.

For more information about his life and career, see the Wikipedia entry.


Serious or Satire?

I only skimmed it, so maybe I missed the giveaway. But I honestly don't know for sure, although I lean toward thinking it's serious. Read it yourself and decide whether the author really believes it's wrong to decide whether a baby is a boy or a girl.

Things are breaking up out there
High water everywhere
          --Dylan/Patton


It's Ambrose Bierce's Birthday

At least for another hour or so, at least in my time zone. So in the great cynic's honor, let's have a few choice items from The Devil's Dictionary. We need look no further than the "M"s for half a dozen nice ones.

MAGPIEn. A bird whose thievish disposition suggested to someone that it might be taught to talk.

MAUSOLEUMn. The final and funniest folly of the rich.

MERCYn. An attribute beloved of detected offenders.

METROPOLISn. A stronghold of provincialism.

MONSIGNORn. A high ecclesiastical title, of which the Founder of our religion overlooked the advantages.

MULTITUDEn. A crowd; the source of political wisdom and virtue. In a republic, the object of the statesman's adoration. "In a multitude of consellors there is wisdom," saith the proverb. If many men of equal individual wisdom are wiser than any one of them, it must be that they acquire the excess of wisdom by the mere act of getting together. Whence comes it? Obviously from nowhere — as well say that a range of mountains is higher than the single mountains composing it. A multitude is as wise as its wisest member if it obey him; if not, it is no wiser than its most foolish.

(Lifted from TheDevilsDictionary.com)


Versus Science Versus Religion

The New York Times has been running an interesting (yes, really) series of interviews on philosophical and religious subjects. It's part of a broader series called "The Stone" (the philosopher's stone? I don't know...) and the interviewer is Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame. The most recent is with Tim Maudlin, another professor of philosophy, whose specialty is apparently the philosophy of science. The subject: Modern Cosmology Versus God's Creation, and it's worth reading, but Maudlin ends up with the sort of statement that makes me groan:

As yet, there is no direct experimental evidence of a deity, and in order for the postulation of a deity to play an explanatory role there would have to be a lot of detail about how it would act.  If, as you have suggested, we are not “good judges of how the deity would behave,” then such an unknown and unpredictable deity cannot provide good explanatory grounds for any phenomenon.

"Direct experimental evidence of a deity"? Shall I laugh or cry? When I encounter statements like this I think of those earnest 19th century investigators who weighed dying people immediately before and after death, or with other physical experiments attempted to determine whether a soul had departed the body. I don't even know if those stories are true, but they certainly capture the determined obtuseness of those who believe the existence of God is a question to be studied and at least in principle resolved by the physical sciences. What annoys me is the serene superiority with which they give a confident answer to a question they have not understood.

But it has to be admitted that Christians set themselves up for some of this. There is of course the continuing rear-guard action against the idea that the earth is very much more than a few thousand years old, and was not created in six twenty-four hour days. There's also the more sophisticated attempt to appropriate certain ideas from modern physics in support of theology, such as the use of the uncertainty principle to allow space for the existence of free will. Although these ideas are interesting to play around with, I think it's generally a mistake to make them part of an argument for the existence of God or for some other theological insight. For one thing, to attempt, for instance, an argument for free will on the basis of the uncertainty principle is to give away much of the game in advance, by implicitly accepting the presumption that physics has any light to shed on the subject. For another, I strongly suspect that Christians who are not themselves scientists (of whom I am one) don't fully understand the ideas they're trying to appropriate, and thus risk (or insure) that they won't be taken seriously by those who do.

I am not one to make fun of simple conceptions of God. A six-year-old child, or an adult with the IQ of a six-year-old, may have an intuitive sense of relationship to God that escapes a theologian, and a spontaneous goodness that makes me feel ashamed. And anyway even the most sublime insights of theology are no more than glimpses into the endless mystery of God. But to venture into very abstruse and complex scientific and philosophical debate armed with a conception of God that does in fact resemble the skeptical caricature of a man in the sky only brings the faith into disrepute.

Beyond the superficial oppositions set up by fundamentalists on both sides, there are deeper questions to be pondered. The skeptic would do well to stop thinking of religion as primitive science and consider the philosophical questions: how did we get from nothing to something? how do we get from is to ought? The believer would do well to trust that all truth is of God, and be less anxious about the apparent challenges to belief from science. Both should try to understand where the boundaries between theology and science lie. At least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the "conflict between science and religion" doesn't really amount to very much, as long as each understands its proper function and limits. 

Not that the boundary is always easy to discern. There is one question that troubles me, and which I think about frequently. Since Catholics are not obliged to believe the creation account in Genesis literally, many of us glibly dismiss the whole question: "What does it matter whether the creation took six days or billions of years? The important thing is that God created it." Well, yes, but that really doesn't dispose of the matter. Never mind the time scale--unless we detach Genesis entirely from the physical world and history, we have a conflict between the pre-lapsarian paradise described there and the picture of millions of years of nature red in tooth and claw before mankind appeared, the savagery of which seems to have been our habit from that moment on. 

I discussed this problem at more length ten years ago in this Sunday Night Journal. I'm no closer to a resolution than I was then, and really don't expect one.


52 Guitars: Week 25

Terje Rypdal

A Norwegian player whose work is most often something that could be roughly classified as jazz-rock fusion, Rypdal is a long-time ECM artist, going back to the mid-1970s, which really tells you more about him than an attempt to place him in a genre. I'm familiar with maybe four or five of his many releases, and even within those there is a great deal of variety, as will be evident from the clips below. And I didn't even touch his work for orchestra and other ensembles that aren't as guitar-focused.

"The Return of Per Ulv," from If Mountains Could Sing:

 

The title track from After the Rain:

 

A basically simple, but wonderfully moody and evocative piece from Chaser: "Ørnen", which Google Translate tells me means "The Eagle." I think a better title would be something having to do with a slow dance in 1959.

  

I said to someone not long ago that I probably have all the Rypdal I need. But based on my sampling of a number of albums while looking for material for this post, I don't think I do. Here's one more from Chaser, "Ambiguity." It's pretty much out-and-out rock:

 


History as God

It's probably abusing the privilege somewhat, but a portion of James Bowman's media column in the April New Criterion is so good that I'm going to quote it at length. It's a devastatingly sharp critique of the fatuous Mr. Obama's assertion that he is always "on the right side of history."

...Mr. Kerry, when interviewed on Face the Nation about Russia’s “incredible act of aggression,” found his credulity taxed. It was because “You just don’t in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely trumped up pretext.” Well, you don’t. Other people, who haven’t got the memo about history’s changeover from nineteenth- to twenty-first-century international norms, might still behave differently—“incredible” as that may seem to someone grown, as so many progressives have grown these days, accustomed to regarding “history” as a compliant imaginary friend. A wiser man than Mr. Kerry might have taken the Russian démarche as a sign that “history” is not what he thought it was. He might even see one or two other signs that the twenty-first century is going to look a lot more like the nineteenth century—or even the eighteenth century—than anyone might have supposed only a few years ago. My own darkest suspicion is that it is likely to be the seventeenth century, with its religious wars, that will provide the better model for our future.

Back in the third, or Bob Schieffer, debate of the 2012 campaign—the one in which, as various commentators suddenly recalled, Mr. Obama mocked the hapless Mitt Romney for having said that Russia was our number one geopolitical foe—the President also dealt as forcefully as he knew how with those who, like Mr. Romney, would have questioned his leadership:

And they can look at my track record, whether it’s Iran sanctions, whether it’s dealing with counterterrorism, whether it’s supporting democracy, whether it’s supporting women’s rights, whether it’s supporting religious minorities, and they can say that the President of the United States and the United States of America have stood on the right side of history. And that kind of credibility is precisely why we have been able to show leadership on a wide range of issues facing the world right now.

Leadership to him means standing, rhetorically, at any rate, on the right side of history with democracy, women’s rights, and (bizarrely) religious minorities. Tell that to the Christian minorities in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. It has little or nothing to do with forming or strengthening alliances or confronting enemies among nation states—which, in the progressive view, are pretty much obsolete in any case. It is an occasion for reaffirming rather than reexamining the progressives’ putative alliance with “history,” without which progressivism itself would be unimaginable. If history does not equal progress, then whither the progressives? Conversely, therefore, Russia is meant to be abashed by the news of history’s disfavor, which the President takes it upon himself to pronounce in no uncertain terms on history’s behalf. Here’s what he said the following Monday before a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu: “And I think the strong condemnation that it’s received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia’s on the wrong side of history on this.”

Do tell! A similar message, we may remember, was sent to the brutally oppressed Iranian protestors of the “Green Revolution” back in 2009. “After more than a week of being accused by Republicans and others of failing to live up to the American tradition of supporting pro-democracy movements,” the Guardian reported at the time,

Obama adopted much tougher language, going far beyond his previous expressions only of sympathy with the demonstrators. “The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost,” he said. He praised the women who had courageously took part in the demonstrations and “the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.” The demonstrators would in the end be seen to be “on the right side of history.”

I guess it must be the promise of support from “history” that puts this “much tougher language” so “far beyond his previous expressions only of sympathy with the demonstrators.” At any rate, it is all the more unfortunate that, five years later, history still shows no signs of coming through for them. Like freedom-loving Ukrainians, presumably, freedom-loving Iranians will just have to be patient until the quasi-deity of “history” can get around to their problems. For now it’s busy conferring upon Americans its latest gifts, which are the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage....

The jihadists currently enjoying the revival of the custom, long abandoned in the West, of beheading their enemies, also no doubt believe that they are on the right side of history. But it's more important to them that they are on what they believe to be  God's side. The vague appeal to history as "quasi-deity" is probably the residue of Christianity in the modern secular mind. Like most secular gods, it's a wispy ectoplasmic one, and the arguments for its existence are incoherent: what exactly is it in the nature of things that would cause unguided evolution-driven "history" to aim for something that progressives would consider to be utopia, which is implicitly their expectation? Or to aim at all? Nothing, as far as I can see.  The shark and the cockroach, we're told, are fabulously successful, from the evolutionary point of view. 


Father's Day, Again

And I just read this post by Neo-neocon on the subject, and thought, "I'm going to post a link to that." Then I started thinking it was familiar, and checked, and found, once more, that, as Neo says, it was an earlier post of hers, and that I had linked to it before, only two years ago. Well, it's still good, so I'm posting it again.

And in one respect more than merely "good," because that phrase, which I guess is Neo's--"the love that was always, always there"--has stayed with me. I can see that it was true of my father toward his children, and I know it has always been true of me toward mine. And I hope they realize it. 

 


52 Guitars: Week 24

Joe Satriani

 I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that Satriani was Steve Vai's teacher. I like Satriani better, to the extent that I know his work. His material just seems more appealing to me, more overall-musical. I reviewed his Flying in a Blue Dream album several years ago, and am still of more or less the same opinion. Here's something from that album, "The Forgotten."

 

I don't know what album this song--"Always With Me, Always With You"--is from, but it must be an earlier one, because he looks pretty young, and not bald. For some years now he's always appeared with a shaved head, or occasionally a stocking cap, which I take to be his solution for the problem of balding. Anyway, it's pretty, and also includes a very expressive solo. And it's a pretty video.

Something more recent: 

 

My memory is really getting bad. I was thinking, after having featured Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani in this series, that I would close it out with something from G3, which is a trio of guitar heroes featuring Satriani and a varying list of others. So I looked on YouTube, and I didn't find much featuring the Johnson/Vai lineup. This is one of the few. "Red House" is a blues, well-known to Hendrix fans (Johnson starts it off with Hendrix's riff). So I set up the link here. And then when I searched the blog for Satriani's name so that I could link to my old review above, I discovered I'd already posted this, and only six months ago. Well, here it is again.

   

Whose solo do you like best? I like Vai's a whole lot. Maybe the limits of the blues kind of kept him a bit more down to earth.

 


The House of Cards Opening Theme

I wanted to include this in last night's post about House of Cards but was in a rush and didn't have time to look for it. I love it, both musically and visually but especially musically. It's a great little trip-hop-ish piece, though I wish it were longer. UPDATE: Sorry, this is audio-only, apart from the one photo. I can't find an embeddable version of the full credits sequence.

 

It was changed a little for series 2, most noticeably by dropping the bass back a lot, and that one's not quite as good.