During the summer of 2016, I spent a good chunk of time in Amsterdam. While there I read—for the first time—Anne Frank’s Diary. A few days after completing this powerful book, I visited the annex on the Prinsengracht Canal, where she hid for two years during the Nazi occupation. Song For Dear Kitty resulted. A combination of hyper nationalism, authoritarianism, sanctioned bigotry and a rejection of intellectualism and the arts resulted in Anne’s plight and the plight of countless millions more. These same forces lurk today. When a politician declares the free press as an enemy of the people it is time for all to take note. In the name of Anne, resist demagoguery! Song for Dear Kitty ©2016 Roger Bain
They say that attitude is everything. By societal standards, I have a bad attitude.
I am not a big fan of anything with a pop prefix: Pop music, pop radio, pop culture. (I do like “Pop Goes the Weasel.”) Also not a fan of homogenized corporatization, mindless nationalism, dogmatic ideology, most reality and talent shows, most food products advertised on national television and let’s throw in much of social media behavior.
I am a skeptical optimist, walking the fine line that separates humanism, curmudgeonhood and flagrant relevance.
In the 60s, I liked the Stones more than the Beatles. I liked Elvis only before he went into the army. I revered Mad Magazine, Monty Python, Captain Beefheart, Paul Bowles and Lester Bangs.
Now that we have that out of the way, I invite you to listen to this quirky lament that I wrote and recorded last summer.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
The nature of screens will change.
What now requires a screen may one day require no screen, but this ever expanding connection to all humans, all information, is irreversible.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Have a listen to the song below. From the collection, My Mailman Has a Tail.
(copr. R. Bain, 2010)
One of the more annoying personalities on the planet is the yes man.
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.
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.
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.