Friday, September 26, 2008


This is a bit of a riff off one of slacktivist's regular posts.

I've discovered that while practicing zazen, my brain enjoys tuning into one song (usually) for the entirety of my twenty minutes. Now, I'd like to say that there is some great transcendental meaning to the song selections, but I'm afraid that is unlikely to be the case.

This is more mental jukebox (and who, exactly, has the nickels, I'd like to know), or, perhaps, as the title suggests, it's my "iZazen" on shuffle. This week's hits:

Sunday: "No More," Loaded
Monday: "Purple Rain," Prince
Tuesday: "Laramie," Amy Ray
Wednesday: ""Hey Castrator," Amy Ray and "Silent Legacy," Melissa Etheridge
Thusday: "Lucystoners," Amy Ray*

Now, the last four made perfect sense, as I had been (and am currently) listening to Stag this week, and I had played Yes I Am recently as well. I can't account for the Loaded tune, which I've heard all of twice--maybe three times--so far (as the EP doesn't hit here until next week), though I was checking out some fine pics of their show in Glasgow that night. And "Purple Rain" could be jealousy on my part, as Loaded apparently played it live the other night (oh, how I'd love to see that) and G. was talking about his niece's hatred of Prince that night as well, in response to my babbling about Loaded.

I have resisted giving too much attention to the songs, though they occasionally make me giggle. The mental musical shuffle is an interesting human habit, though. Germans (bless them) call it "Ohrwurm,"*** which translates exactly as you suspect dear readers: Earworm. I have a colleague, Sam, who often wanders into my office to ask if he is the only one with "such and such a song" in his head. Almost invariably, it is some wonderfully obscure and often obscene blues tune that he can then sing for me and anyone else who happens to be around; this is one of the joys of my job. Not a blues example (the names of which I seldom remember for long), but the other day he sauntered in asking if he was the only one with "Chocolate Jesus" playing on the mental jukebox. Safe to say, he was. On one occasion, we happened to have the same song. He didn't ask again for weeks.

In his fantastic This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Daniel Levitin posits that the Ohrwurm is a result of the "neural circuits that represent a song [getting] stuck in 'playback mode,' and the song--or worse, a little fragment of it--[playing] back over and over again" (155). Moreover, he suggests that the song choices seem to be related on some level to the neurological mapping that forms in our teens years that tends to shape our musical tastes. Simple ditties and fragments of songs (often the refrain, I imagine) get stuck because of an apparent "predilection for simplicity"; we are driven crazy by the stuck moments, because, as he later suggests, when a musical piece is "too simple" or "too complex," we tend not to like it because it is either "trivial" or "too unfamiliar" (155; 235).

Consider the last for a moment (and Yes fans, please sit down. I know. I get it. It's delightfully complex with a hint of tobacco on the nose. You are the wine aficionados of the musical world. See, I said it. Don't really buy it, but I did say it, so calm down. That goes for you Rush fans as well). We tend toward the familiar (say, the songs of our teen years) and to the moderately complex (says the girl who got stuck on "Rise Above" last week), and my iZazen seems to be bearing this out. At the moment I sit and become quiet, the music (which is there anyway, I'm just not listening by that time) becomes obvious. Often, the songs are reflective of what I am listening to, but they also tend to emphasize what I am concerned about at a given moment. "Laramie" and "Silent Legacy" tend to pop up when I am concerned about Civil Rights--particularly for my gay brothers and sisters (which, given one of the current VP picks, I am right now); when I am angry or nervous, I often get GNR songs playing up there--in large measure because they are comforting--familiar-- to me. Sometimes, the songs are entirely random, but they do occasionally offer a bit of insight into my current state of mind (Note: stay out of my way if I'm singing anything by Godsmack. I had "Whatever" on the brain for almost the entire time I was fighting with my first major professor during my Masters Program).

I wonder if sometimes it would be worth meditating on whatever song came up during zazen practice, using them as an intuitive guide, rather than as random music in my head. That may be giving my brain more credit than is due, as we have often done with iPod shuffle, but it could prove to be an interesting exercise.

So, what are your most common Earworms?

*Best song ever for this practice. Really. And, apparently, I'm going to hear the whole of Stag before the month is out. I expect "Black Heart Today" to appear shortly. And, admit it, you totally expected that to be a list of GNR songs, didn't you?

**Duff is dressing like Simon LeBon in the early parts of the shows. I'm not sure what to do with that.

***According to Levitin, the folks most likely to be afflicted by what he calls "stuck song syndrome" are musicians (duh) and...wait for it....

Obsessive compulsives.

Really? Imagine that.

Works Cited

Levitin, Daniel. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science
of a Human Obsession
. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nostalgia in Rawk N' Rowl

Listening to Mötley Crüe's newest this weekend led me to an odd realization: the musicians of my youth (and, shudder, this is true of me too) are getting old enough to engage in the game of "Remember When?" in their music. Nostalgia has wormed its way into my musical habits, and I am not sure I am happy about this.*

I should have realized it when Betty Blowtorch put "Big Hair, Broken Heart" on Are You Man Enough?, but the lyrics for it are so funny, that the nostalgic glances at 80's rock in L.A. were easy for me to overlook.

First of all, the girls namecheck just about everyone who frequented Sunset Strip in the late 80's hair period, including Lita Ford, who they credit with inspiring the song with an appearance on VH-1, the home of rock nostalgia.** The end result is rather like watching Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, except that Randy O and his chaps are missing in action. The song's refrain, "where did all the hair bands go"*** is clearly nostalgic, though playful, given the context of the song that also cheerfully declares: "We loved our long haired rock-n-roll men, we really, really did. Sure, we were considered groupie sluts. And who cared if we were groupie sluts, because you know what? We were having a good time. And we didn't give a shit back then." Ah, the days of Troubadour and Gazzarri's and groupies: "party hard and die real young"**** The men are likewise described humorously (if truthfully): "Aqua Net, ratted-up hair, eyeliner and lipstick too. Spandex pants and cowboy boots. He then blew me a kiss with those ruby red lips." In short, like Decline, everything is a tad bit too silly to take seriously. If you think I'm kidding, or have never seen the film, check this out. If bacon-frying Ozzy (a visual homage to Darby Crash in the original Decline) weren't silly enough, the concept of "demetalling" certainly is.

Funny stuff, yes?

"Down at the Whiskey," on the other hand, not so much. In fact, if I were to get right down to it, most of Saints of Los Angeles is a paean to what once was--or what we imagine once was, at least (which is nostagla at its most fundamental). The celebrations are similar to those in "Big Hair" as in "We never made as dime, but god we had a good time..." and "LA Girls they paid the rent, while we got drunk on sunset strip, and all the cash they made we spent on tattoos and cigarettes."***** We futher celebrate "sleeping in our clothes" and "getting high," all while we are "living out our dreams down at the Whiskey." True, Betty Blowtorch namechecks even more than the Crüe, but...I can't quite put my finger on it, but somehow "Down at the Whiskey" drips in nostalgia, rather than playfulness.

I suppose it comes down to the treatment of the elements. Stacked heels, Aquanet, drugs, and lipstick may be prominent in "Big Hair," but the song tends to privilege the silly: the make up tricks, the spandex pants...the goofiness that was our 80's. The Crüe (who are themselves namechecked in "Big Hair"), especially as voiced by Vince in this song, privilege the rags part of their"rags to riches" story; it was so good back then in the cockroach infested apartments! Back when we could get totally fucked up and have nothing to be responsible for other than showing up (note to Axl-->that's where you screwed the pooch, dude). "Down at the Whiskey" doesn't deal with the sillier elements of the 80s, which is probably why the nostalgia was so much more apparent to me.

What drew my attention to the lyrics of "Down at the Whiskey" was noticing that the rhythm and the melody don't sync up, which may be an iPod thing, but I'm not sure, as this is the only copy I have. Anyway, for whatever reason, that drew my attention more closely to the lyrics that I had previously not given a great deal of thought to. And, in the end, I'm not sure what to make of the creeping nostalgia (hell, the Poison tour--or any other reunion/farewell/whatever tour for that matter--are examples of the nostalgia creep...the much dreamt of original line-up GNR tour sure as hell would be) in my music library, other than we aren't getting younger. I hope to hell Wasted Heart will be devoid of such.

*Obligatory caveat: That I am listening to Motley Crue (or Guns N' Roses, Melissa Etheridge, Joan Jett, Poison, and the innumerable other 1980's era groups) is itself an act of nostalgia. I know this. I even (occasionally) embrace this.

**See also Rock of Love, seasons 1,2, 4, 8, 12 and so forth. Or don't. I can't watch it--far too terrifying, so in good conscience, I can't recommend that you watch it either. But, Bret Michaels wants you to watch it. Trust me; he only mentioned the friggin' show 8 times during the 2 hour concert. And what's her name was there (many thanks to my cousin for identifying what's her name when she (w.h.n.) was being mobbed by Bret-groupies, because I was lost. I have, sad to say, since forgotten her (w.h.n) name); she was the advertising, I guess.

***Answer: to the barbershop. Check them out--with the exception of Slash and Axl, everyone got a haircut. And Axl, well, not sure hair extensions count.

****Actually, a surprising number of us made it out alive. Really, who in the world would have believed in 1988 that all five original Guns N' Roses members would still be alive? And they don't necessarily look any worse for the wear; Duff has remarked that he's pretty sure that he was pickled by all the alcohol he imbibed. That said, unfortunately, Bianca, our Betty Blowtorch ringleader, is no longer among our numbers. R.I.P Lady Bianca.

*****LA Girls have a number of songs dedicated to the debauchery they supported, and one can safely assume that in all honesty, no one remembers most of what happened. The 80s Sunset Strip scene was Benjamin history at work; we need the voices of everyone in order to even begin to approach a truth. GNR geek moment: see "It's So Easy," "Nightrain," and/or and the myriad references to Tupperware bowls full of cocaine. That would be in addition to the heroin stories, smoking crack on the plane, and the references to dilaudid experimentation. Did I mention the part where no one remembers what the hell anyone was doing???

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dark Days

One of the truisms of spiritual growth (at least for me) is that it hurts; invariably, I feel far more like I am falling backwards than moving forward. Then, one day, I realize it's over...something has changed.

We are not there yet, unfortunately. Though, at only two weeks into this particular quest, I don't see any reason why the dark days should have lifted yet, even if they are awfully dark this time. The bleakness of right now rivals that of the worst of my drinking days--the ones right before I quit. Unfortunately, I can feel everything now; one of the few blessings of active alcoholism is the numbness. Now, not so much.

Time was when I could drink or smoke this away (or at least into submission); I'm at a bit of a loss right now. Apparently, I haven't gained so much insight into "healthy coping" strategies, or I'm doing a particularly poor job of applying them. So, the "vice-less" approach to darkness is goal number two in this project. I have no illusions that I can completely defeat the darkness, for I have lived with it for far too long (hell, I'm not sure what I would do without the lingering effects of the blues), but I would like to be able to more productively focus them.

I guess I should have seen this coming when I stopped enjoying reading, writing, knitting, and bass playing a few weeks ago. Takes me a while to see when my bleak buddy arrives sometimes, though. As I have mentioned before, staying busy is often the key to getting by for me.

I did call my mother and write to her, though I won't send the letter until tomorrow morning. I've done a series of "scary things," some of which are a bit silly, I suppose, but they were meaningful to me.

So, that's where I am in the "Year to Live" project; it wasn't really a lack of coffee that prevented posting yesterday, so much as the malaise. I've unearthed a fair quantity of denial in recent meditations; peculiarly, I am certain of the denial...yet not so certain what exactly it is that I am avoiding. How weird is that? If only a year to live, denial is definitely something to be rid of. Now, if I can only hone in on what I'm hiding from.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Pre-Weekend Pontifications

Ah, the joys of Friday.

I intended to post about the "Year to Live" project today, but it will have to wait until later, when my head is a bit less befogged from lack of coffee.

Reading around this morning, I found some pieces that might be of interest to folks out there.

First, Duff (yes, the very one), recalls his reactions to 9/11/01 and compares them to his reactions while flying overseas on 9/11/08. Warm, heartfelt, touching and thoughtful. In short, our hero at his Seattle hippie finest. Best comment thus far: "it's almost unbelievable that the guy who wrote this also wrote a great song called Hope and co.wrote another one named Civil War. "

On a related note, Fred, over at slacktivist, is baffled by the number of people who forget that in questions of torture, we are still dealing with human beings. Who would Jesus torture, indeed. A former professor of mine has a bumper sticker (got to love bumper sticker politics, yes?) that speaks similarly: Who would Jesus bomb?

And, on a blog I don't normally keep up with, Tim Wise defines white privilege. Some caveats (considerations of returning college students, for instance) are probably due, but I think Wise does a fine job on the whole.

Read well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Out Geeked

More Loaded love in Webisode #4.

I bow to you, Mike Squires, and your musical geekiness...even if you did invoke Creed.

And...was he drunk....that was probably the least of his worries at the time. Oi.


Thursday, September 4, 2008





The atomic number of fitting.

I had a very serious post here about life, love, and the pursuit of faith, and a variation of it appears below, but before I could post, I read Facebook. In particular--the site for "The Association for Girls in Love with Aging Celebrities." I'm sure you can imagine the horror...the absolute horror I felt when I saw this:

Enrique Iglesias Is Fit With A Great Voice And Is 33.

Yeah. So, 33.

I should confess that I stumbled across this page because of our hero, Mr. McKagan, who is mentioned in that list. He's 44, and I probably wouldn't have thought to list him. Sean Connery--sure. Duff McKagan? Enrique friggin' Iglasias?

Old enough to be our fathers seems to be the trope involved here.


You'll remind me why Facebook is a dangerous place for me in the future, won't you?

In all seriousness, I'm beginning a spiritual odyssey today, courtesy of Dharma Punx. Today is the first day of the last year of my life, at least conceptually. How would I live my life if I had only a year to live?

I intend to post on this about once every two weeks. The first thing I am going to do is contact my mother, with whom I have a wretched relationship, and see what I can do to make amends and move on. So, things to consider:

  • What changes would I make?
  • How would I live differently?
  • How would I love differently?
  • Would I travel?
  • Would I seek faith in new places and faces?
  • How can I learn to release old anger and move forward?

More questions will arise, and I imagine many will be silly, but I am okay with that. One year.

How would you live?

(And how would you deal with discovering that your age "belongs" on that Facebook group?)

The gift of that particular group? Made me laugh. Made me rethink my overweening seriousness with respect to this spiritual path. Humor is a blessing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Benjamin and Stranger Things

The sound of the title will only work if you pronounce his name properly: /ben-ya-meen/

Fun, eh?

Those that know me well are already rolling their eyes; I may periodically wander into circles and shopping carts, but nowhere are my obsessive thoughts happier than when racing around with Benjamin (yes, I know, there is another rather obvious choice for that role; I'm valiently trying not to mention him here). And this time, the essay isn't Duff's fault; it's Thomas Friedman's.

Friedman, you probably already know, is the author of The Lexus and The Olive Tree, Longitudes and Attitudes (oh hail thee, Jimmy Buffet), and, most memorably, The World is Flat, the 3.0 edition of which may have the funniest bit of snark in any journalist's book ever. Bliss. In reading Flat, is realized that I had heard all this before-->in Benjamin.

Friedman proposes that the world after 2000 "flattened" as a result of the wide availability of technology to, at least in theory, everyone. Such technology allows, for instance, yours truly to publish her obsessive snark without having to acquiesce to an editor for a multinational publishing corporation or the "independent arm" of said multinational publishing corporation or University Press. It also allows your tax returns to be prepared in Bangalore or your radiology reports to be read in New Delhi. Read Friedman for more details.

Here's the thing for me: the "flattened world" Friedman is writing about is, as far as I can tell, the world Walter Benjamin was dreaming of in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"--at least in so far as the availability of the machines of production (the Internet as conduit, the hardware & software, and so forth). Bear in mind that Benjamin was a devout Marxist, and the means of production Friedman discusses are most assuredly in a capitalist mode, but the effect is the same: in theory, the production is decentralized--controlled not by a single (government) entity, but by the masses. Well, sort of.

Benjamin is a tad less trusting of technology, at least in so far as it can be misappropriated:

The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society. The horrible features of imperialistic warfare are attributable to the discrepancy between the tremendous means of production and their inadequate utilization in the process of production – in other words, to unemployment and the lack of markets. Imperialistic war is a rebellion of technology which collects, in the form of “human material,” the claims to which society has denied its natural material. Instead of draining rivers, society directs a human stream into a bed of trenches; instead of dropping seeds from airplanes, it drops incendiary bombs over cities; and through gas warfare the aura is abolished in a new way. (242)

Technology not used to better the state of humankind is technology destined to be used against us, to further dehumanize and/or abuse us. Lack of access begets warfare. In theory, Friedman's flat world is one in which the technology is adequately utilized, to a degree I can't imagine that Benjamin ever conceived of. The superangry individual, though, is often the one feeling devalued by the technology or separated from access to it, though terrorist cells (and others) certainly use technology to their own end--so there is some form of access.

Really, though, the means of production are controlled by the forces who have ownership. Friedman is correct in noting that the availability of technological resources means that even the "superangry" individual has access to those resources--and can manipulate them; in theory, anyone can. But, the very poor in American lack this access, as do scores of our brethren in the world, so it's not really for the "masses" even yet (and I'm not sure that's what Friedman argues anyway).

A similar theory is tauted in Hardt and Negri's Empire, wherein the "flattened world" is the post-imperial "Empire" that exists outside geo-political borders, but often his hamstrung by attempts to act like a nation-state, without actually being one (the UN, for instance). They all seem to posit something similar, though--the death of the imperialist mode and the rise of something. Call it a flat world; call it Empire, whatever.

And though it pains me to admit it, there's some Pynchon running around in Friedman, particularly in the ideas of information commodification. Which means, unfortunately, that I really need to finish Gravity's Rainbow.