1950s Trio

Here are songs about three disparate personalities from the 1950s. Sports, politics and rock & roll.

1n 1953, Ernie Banks left the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League and joined the Chicago Cubs as a free agent, where he would spend his entire 19 year career, winning back-to-back National League MVP awards in 1958/59 and hitting 512 career homers, all to left field. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. Thanks Mister Banks!  erniecard1

 

A few months prior to 1950, Mao Tse-tung routed Chiang Kai-shek—America’s preferred despot— and became Chairman of the People’s Republic of China for the entire decade (1949-59). Mao dictated his people with little thought to their own welfare. He was bent on consolidating his own power and leading China to world prominence.  50 million Chinese died when he traded the country’s rice crop for weaponry. How many people did you kill today, Chairman Mao?

chairman mao

 

In 1956 Elvis Presley jumped onto the national stage from his humble, blue collar, blues and gospel inspired life in Tupelo, Mississippi. As he swiveled his hips, American culture entered the Rock & Roll era. Elvis was anointed the King of Rock ‘n Roll. When he died for the sins of rock & roll in 1977, his body rose and went to R & R Heaven, where he still gives the occasional concert. Performance by Under The Kitchen.

Screens


Where previously our gaze may have been out the window or across the alley or at a newspaper or book or scroll, it is now fixed upon a screen. Not all of the time, of course, but very frequently. I hope this turns out to be a good thing.

Television has been a gateway to our new path. It entranced us.

Early television

Early television

Then along came communication satellites….

 

…which opened the door for cable TV.

In the year I was born, few citizens could have envisioned computers, the web, smartphones or twitter. But those born during the past 30 years could not imagine life without these little screens.

3screenstaring

Youth enjoying the company of others.

Imagination has changed. The pathway to personal identity has changed. The way we interact with life has changed. The use of the word “friend” has changed.

I hope this is a good thing, don’t you?

burkha staring

Even though you can’t see my face, what’s happening on Facebook?

 

grand canyonstaring

A small screen out-seduces the Grand Canyon

The nature of screens will change.

smallest-screen

What now requires a screen may one day require no screen, but this ever expanding connection to all humans, all information, is irreversible.

The author

The author seeks balance by staring at a tree.

In the third grade I combed my hair like Elvis. Is it still my duty to keep up? Do I have a societal obligation, as well as a personal one, to remain current?

It can be a lot of work but I think that the answer is yes.

Now let’s go out there and provoke each other.

rbw:smalltv

Short Little War

For a war to have any chance of succeeding, the citizenry must be sold on its efficacy. But should wars that need to be sold ever be started? As Superpower Team USA—which is what we have become since WWII—we rarely fight wars of necessity but instead fight wars based upon theory. These theories must be sold. Example theories:

• Communism is monolithic. (Viet Nam)

• Getting rid of the evil dictator will solve the problem. (Iraq)

• Democracy (voting) is a cure all. (Entire Middle East)

• Everybody wants our system.

One of the main selling points for many of our wars is their purported brevity. Because of our overwhelming force, this will be over in no time, says the leader. The reality seems to be that you don’t really get over war. Our own civil war, which ended 150 years ago, still seems to be chugging along. The rebel flag still flies in many parts of the South.

Wars are not short. But they are lucrative. According to a 2012 study by Deloitte, the U.S. aerospace and defense industries employ over a million workers and pay about double the average national salary. They generated $324 billion in revenue in 2010. According to the Council on Foreign Relations study, our U.S. military spending hovers around $700 billion annually. Our country spends close to 40% of the world’s total military expenditure. With numbers like these, an endless series of short little wars seems inevitable.

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World Lit Only By Fire

During the European middle ages, science, religion and alchemy all seemed to exist on about the same plane. A pervasive intellectual funk settled upon the land. A Dark Ages world filled with crazy notions, superstitious beliefs and cruelty.

(In our present age, there are still demonstrations of medieval behavior and thought—even in the U.S. Congress—but that is a different subject.)

When I read a review of William Manchester’s “World Lit Only By Fire” I knew that it was a must-read for me: Civilization snatched from the brink of collapse by poets, thinkers, explorers and enlightened souls. And great description of what took place during the darkest centuries.

notredamegargoyle

Two songs of mine are especially pertinent for this era.

The first, “World Lit Only By Fire” was inspired by Manchester’s book of the same title.

The second song, “Waiting for the Renaissance,” was written prior to the book’s publication and may have evolved from my own frustration with a society that is yet too filled with narrow minds.

She Stoops To Conquer

Much of what I create has a Limey sensibility—at least it amuses my English cousins. She Stoops To Conquer is a farcical British play of manners written in the 18th century by Oliver Goldsmith. After attending a performance of the play at London’s National Theater, I was inspired to write a song using the same catchy title. Literature and history are great sources for songwriting.

Disclaimer: I did not attempt to mimic the plot of the play but instead made an attempt at  capturing a feminine archetype. This song has not been previewed by any members of the National Theater Company but they are welcome to do so.

No doubt the song could have used a lute but because there was not a lute in his house, Geoff DeMuth provided mandolin accompaniment. He also engineered. 

I’m A Germ

The flue season of early 2013 has been big news but will be soon forgotten. For now, there are endless warnings of how to avoid germs. The only solution seems to be to avoid people. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman tells us that we should all stay at least 6 feet apart from each other until April.

Nancy Snyderman

“Get away from me!” warns Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

Fact Alert: Microbiology pioneer, Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek, is generally credited with being the first human to see germs using his 17th century microscope.  (He reportedly became romantically involved with several germs.)

Antoine van Leeuwenhoek

Antoine van Leeuwenhoek

But what about germs? They have lives too. And they enjoy a good frolic. And once you get to know them, they’re a lot like we are. They just want a good piece of cheese.

Illustration by Plastic Crimewave

Illustration by Plastic Crimewave

Have a listen to the song below. From the collection, My Mailman Has a Tail.

(copr. R. Bain, 2010)

Yes Man From Yesco

One of the more annoying personalities on the planet is the yes man.

illustration by Plastic Crimewave

This creature lacks imagination and self-respect. Riddled with the fear of what others might think of his ideas—especially the boss—he cowers behind a torrent of “yes-es.” He doesn’t want to rock the boat. And he definitely doesn’t wish to steer the boat. He just wants to remain in the good graces of the captain.

(A creature who is more annoying—even despicable—is the leader who surrounds him or her self with yes-spouting sycophants.)

In the workplace and the marketplace of ideas, a balance must be achieved between the notion that you are always right and the notion that your opinion is not worthy. Many unworthy opinions reach fruition. And many brilliant ideas remain caged within the minds of the timid.

Play this tune for your boss or co-workers. If you are the boss, share it with the board. Make a Powerpoint. If you’re simply bored, play it for thyself.

Golden Arm

The Man With The Golden Arm

We all are within each other.

That’s the line that gets to me in Nelson Algren’s  “The Man With The Golden Arm.”

You could start a religion based upon this sentence. Or a political movement. You could sum up life with this sentence.

Golden Arm is one of those books I’d been meaning to read for years and I finally marched to the library and checked it out. Not an easy book. Surreal. You’re not sure exactly what’s going on but when you stand back you can see it take shape. (Like when you open your eyes inches from  an expressionist painting and then slowly step back. Same effect.)

Compassion—but not glorification—of the addict is another theme. The addict is not evil, not heroic. A common man, lost.

Art Shay photo of Algren playing cards.

Frankie Machine is the ex-soldier, addict who is also a card dealer in the neighborhood game—Chicago’s gritty, post-war Division Street. 1946 or so. The precinct Captain Bednar  is the one whose interior monologue espresses that we all are within each other.

I felt no color while reading. The book is written in black and white and gray. Brought tears.

The Status Quo Has Got to Go

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

The Leopard (Sicilian Novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa)

Political systems can become rigged to accommodate those already in power. The wealthy become wealthier. Those at the lower end of the scale tend to remain there. Organized society, no matter which economic system, creates opportunity for privilege, cronyism, nepotism and undue process, mechanisms that often seek to keep things as they are—the status quo.

Fairness and justice is not the concern of the status quo. Nor is change. Those at the top wish to maintain or solidify their position. They mock change and may use tactics of fear and obfuscation to make their point.

Social mobility is not a concern of the status quo. Only a continuation of the current order.  The re-imagined past is golden.

“Too much regard for the good old days caused the downfall of Rome,” pronounced Harlow Gaylord, one of my history teachers at Hinsdale High School. This is not an easy concept to grasp at 14 years old but it remained with me until I was able to grasp it.

Those fearful of change or pleased with their status tend to back political candidates  who pledge to maintain it. Or strengthen it. Any attempt at tinkering with the order is scorned as dangerous.

Those not at the top of the system may become disgruntled. They too would like some of the man made rules to bend their way.

Sooner or later, The Status Quo has got to go.

I wrote this song about three years ago. It’s my attempt to be straightforward about this universal, ongoing battle.
UTK performs Status Quo at Fat Tone Guitars in January 0f 2012.

I’d Love To Be Rich

Wealth is aspirational. For every 1,000,000 who dream of becoming wealthy (hitting the lottery), only a tiny fraction can succeed. After all, how much room can there be at the top? The aspirants tend to overlook this statistic.

I penned “I’d Love To Be Rich” as a spoof from the viewpoint of a regular sap with daydreams of dough. Recorded in Lawrence, Ks. in 1981 or 82. The Geckettes provide the oooh wahh ooohs.