It’s been more than four months since my last Free Thinker piece appeared in October. Regular readers know that’s my opportunity to riff on whatever is on my mind – sometimes on topics that don’t necessarily relate to the real business of this blog – music. But what is a blog anyway except a megaphone transmitting from a mountaintop? There’s nobody else on the mountain that can hear what you’re saying, but maybe the occasional echo infiltrates the fog below, and something gets through. I keep tabs on my blog numbers, but I’m not obsessive about it. If I’m active, the number of hits increases, and if I’m not, the activity flat lines. I know others who do what I do and they’re far more successful at it than I am. They have more followers. They get more hits, more shares. I’m sure they’re better at self-promotion than I am. I loathe that part of it, and restrict myself to providing a link on my Facebook pages, but because I don’t use Facebook the way most do, only the already converted/disinterested see it. I blog because I enjoy writing, and nobody is interested in paying me to write. But this is my fifth year blogging, and I think most of what I’ve posted is worth reading for those who have the time. Of course there are a lot of magazines published every month, and newspapers published daily, and fewer people seem to be reading those all the time. And that brings me to this month’s first topic of interest.
There’s a used bookstore where I live that’s actually a nationwide chain called 2nd and Charles. They’ve been here for a couple of years now. They sell used books, records, compact discs, games, etc. They have a small selection of new books, and they also stock new vinyl records – most of which are outrageously priced. I was initially excited about a store nearby that sold records, but the used selection is generally poor, and, like the new LP’s, overpriced. The CD selection is very reasonably priced, but the selection isn’t anything to write home about. And the selection of used books in the areas in which I’m most interested – music, history, science, and biography is unimpressive. But I did enjoy going to the store to browse the magazine selection because it was first rate. In fact most of the magazines I’ve purchased over the past couple of years came from 2nd and Charles.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I visited the store a few weeks ago, and discovered they had jettisoned their entire magazine section, and given the space over to used comic books. I know magazines are struggling these days, but a bookstore without a magazine section just seems wrong. Magazines – unless things have changed in the past few years since I left the book business – are cheap to carry because most of the unsold copies are returnable for full credit. So there’s little or no risk involved in carrying them. Sure they take floor space, but this 2nd and Charles store is quite large. Magazines also build foot traffic. I didn’t ask why they removed them. They probably wouldn’t have told me anyway. But they took away the last reason I had for going to the store at all.
I visited another bookstore here in town earlier today, and their magazine section is alive and well. They don’t carry everything, but the selection is certainly adequate, and, yes, I bought one, and so did my wife. We actually visited the store to look at the magazines, and in the process saw several books we might be interested in purchasing in the near future. I know magazines, like newspapers, are on the endangered media species list. But if there’s any other place besides a check lane in a grocery store where you ought to be able to find a magazine, it’s a bookstore. I won’t be frequenting any bookstore that doesn’t have at least a token selection of magazines. Some of us have varied interests, and maybe we’d rather buy the latest issue of Scientific American or Discover than purchase a used copy of a science book that was probably outdated by the time it was published.
I found it ironic that in the same week NBC News was suspending Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for falsifying stories about his adventures covering news for the network, that one of the finest journalists in the world, Bob Simon of CBS News was killed in a car accident in New York City. It was also the same week Jon Stewart announced his departure from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. One of the local news channels here posted a question on Facebook asking which loss was greater – that of Brian Williams or Jon Stewart. I replied, “Neither. The answer is Bob Simon.”
It’s a measure of how confused people are these days about what is and isn’t news and who is and is not qualified to dispense it to the public that the question was even raised to begin with. Of course the station that posted the question on its Facebook page has, like the other three local news operations in my city, never been very good at recognizing what is and isn’t news. The majority of what passes for news locally these days is really a collection of consumer tips disguised as news. And most of the news that is reported is irrelevant to 99.9% of the viewership. Does a house fire in a neighborhood across town that is not arson, and killed no one really matter to anyone not directly involved? Is a story on how to keep from getting frostbite in sub zero temperatures really a news story, or is it a consumer tip? There’s rarely anything coming from City Hall about what the mayor or city council is doing. You do get stories on crime, although a disproportionate amount of what gets on the air seems to be of a sexual nature more often than not. And the preponderance of news stories about the weather is beyond ridiculous these days. If I see one more story about the salt supply, I may turn to salt. I’m also tired of seeing runners across the bottom of my TV screen 24/7 telling me that every church and city and homeless shelter in the city is closed again because it’s cold in February or we got a half inch of snow on the roads. If you must, put that information on your website. By now shouldn’t everybody just assume that any kind of “weather” is going to precipitate (no pun intended) the closing of nearly everything? I find it interesting that churches are always the first to close. Seems to me that if it’s God making it snow, he might want to back off if it means every place of worship shuts down as a result. I’m not a parent, but I can tell you that the way this winter is going, I think my kid would be repeating whatever grade he’s in this year because he hasn’t been at school enough this year to have learned a damned thing.
In any case, the death of Bob Simon was tragic because there are few real journalists left in television news, and almost none with the pedigree of Bob Simon. You can fill his job, but he’ll never be replaced. As for Jon Stewart, I enjoy his work, and wish him well in whatever new venture he undertakes. And if I never see Brian Williams at a news desk again in my lifetime, I might be convinced there is some sanity and common sense, and integrity left in television news.
I skipped watching The Academy Awards again this year because I hadn’t seen a single nominated film, and at my age I’m just sick to death of Hollywood celebrities giving awards to each other and pretending that the work they do is really important in the grand scheme of things. I truly don’t care about any of it. The one perk of awards season is that Turner Classic Movies runs first class films for the 30 days that wrap around the Oscars ceremony, and I’ve been enjoying as many of them as I’ve had time for.
Generally, I have been watching more TV lately I have to confess. We now have MeTV on our cable system. That’s a network that broadcasts nothing but old television shows, and while it’s not perfect, it’s certainly got my attention. Except for Andy Griffith Show reruns, nearly everything I’ve been watching has been of the one-hour drama variety. Sitcoms have been done to death through the years (Friends anyone?), but when was the last time you saw the original Hawaii 5-0, or The Mod Squad, or The Streets of San Francisco? I’m amazed at how good these dramas are even today, and they provide some much needed relief from most of the junk that passes for entertainment on television these days.
This month I also did some reading. The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald is a memoir of one of the noteworthy characters from the Greenwich Village folk movement of the early 1960’s. Dave Van Ronk was one of the faces of that scene and a respected musician, and mentor to many of the younger musicians coming up. After the chapters that cover his childhood, the book becomes more a memoir of the scene than it does of Van Ronk. Once he established his place in that community, Van Ronk’s career was really at a standstill for the rest of his life. So the focus in the second half of the book is Van Ronk’s take on how the scene went down, what lasting influence it did or didn’t have, and his opinions of those who were orbiting him at the time. To be fair, Van Ronk passed away when the book was far from finished, so Elijah Wald had to piece together the rest of it from research he’d already done. That makes the book less effective than it might otherwise have been, but if you have any interest in that period, or the cultural phenomenon that was the early 1960’s folk movement, it might be worth your time. Van Ronk possessed a fine sense of humor, and a sharp memory, and he does keep you entertained throughout.
Ken Emerson’s Always Magic In The Air is a thoroughly researched, and exhaustive look at the Brill Building Era of popular music that began in the late 1950’s and ended, for all intents and purposes (sort of) when The Beatles arrived in America. Emerson has left no stone unturned in telling the stories of seven of the greatest songwriting teams in pop music history, and along with those 14 is a cast of hundreds more behind-the-scenes label owners, promotion men, agents, producers, artists and more than a few “goodfellas” as well. The book is absolutely essential to any understanding of popular music in the 20th century, and as far as I’m concerned the last, best word on the subject. Highly recommended.
Major League Baseball spring training camps are open, but I’m not ready to make any predictions just yet. I am looking forward to seeing how the new rules governing speed of play will work in making games shorter, and, hopefully, more interesting. I’m not looking forward to hearing any more at all about Alex Rodriguez rejoining the Yankees after his lengthy suspension for the use of PED’s. The sooner the sport is rid of A-Rod, the better off we’ll all be.
Finally, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is my fifth year blogging, and since there is not much in the way of biography on me here or anywhere else online (not a single photo of me on my Facebook pages), I thought maybe I should take a bit of space telling readers who don’t know me a bit about my history and about me so they have some idea who it is they’re reading. I’ll try not to bore you with a list of triumphs (easy since there haven’t really been any). Rather, think of it as a biographical sketch without a photo. (I’m very average looking and I don’t photograph particularly well, so why bother?)
I’m 58 years old. I have a twin brother with whom I have almost nothing in common except a shared past. (We don’t even look alike.) But I had a wonderful childhood in the 1960’s, although my favorite decade for music, television and film is the 1970’s. I’m married with no children, and I have a dog I think is the best dog that ever lived. I have spent almost all of my working life in retail. I don’t particularly like retail, but I got sucked into it because I love music and wanted to be connected with it somehow. Since I can’t play an instrument or sing, managing record stores seemed to be the next best thing. For most of my adult life, I managed record stores, and even a couple of bookstores. I have what I consider to be an encyclopedic knowledge of the popular music of the last half of the 20th century, and my knowledge of jazz, blues, country, soul, and reggae is fairly impressive, too (he said modestly, but honestly). But in retrospect, given the collapse of the record business, I probably should have finished college, and chosen my second interest – journalism – over my first, music. Who knows? By now I’d probably have risen to the heights of barely employed newspaper reporter. (My third choice of profession would’ve been lighthouse keeper. So as you can see, I was pretty much screwed as soon as they handed me my diploma.) The retail work I do to make a living these days is not worth discussing, so I won’t.
In any case, I hope to live long enough to enjoy retirement someday. In the meantime, I still listen to music 30-40 hours a week. I nearly always have a book in progress on the coffee table. And I love good television, and films that don’t insult my intelligence – which is fairly high for someone who didn’t finish college. What matters to me most these days is the environment, and the welfare of animals. I’m not interested any longer in politics, although there was a time when I was consumed with it. I was raised Democrat. My favorite political writer, and pundit, however, was the late, right wing conservative William F. Buckley, and most of my beliefs these days fall under the libertarian umbrella. But when it asked me for my political affiliation on my Facebook profile, I wrote atheist.
I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic School my entire life. So my knowledge of that religion and of what’s in the Bible is pretty extensive since we attended mass 6 days a week in those days. But I no longer believe in God as the concept was taught to me in grade school. I believe now in natural law. That’s what I believe governs the universe, and gaining a greater understanding of that is one of my greatest interests in the years I have left. I don’t care what anyone else believes, and I don’t make judgments about people based on their beliefs. I hope others show me the same courtesy. I’m interested in continuing to grow and evolve as a human being, and continue to be someone who does his part to make his corner of the world a little better each day.
I’ve developed my own theory about an afterlife derived from my evolving belief system. I’m hoping that some part of my consciousness survives and is free to roam the universe after I die. Since the space program was sacrificed in my lifetime so that we could fight wars all over the planet, I think I deserve the opportunity to visit space as I once imagined I would when I was a child. Since I didn’t get to do that, I’d like to hope that some bit of ash from my remains attaches itself to some part of my consciousness, and spends eternity in the heavens watching stars form, and planets evolve, and new galaxies emerge. I’d like to slide into a black hole and see where it takes me, or take a ringside seat for a meteor shower. Maybe I’ll even hitch a ride on the next passing comet. I guess watching Lost In Space as a kid, and visiting Cape Canaveral, and keeping track of what NASA was doing all those years had more of an impact on me than I realized. Who knows? Maybe my ashes will be in the mix when there’s another big bang. Maybe I’ll wind up on a brand new planet like earth that can support life. And maybe I’ll get another chance to do it all over again. Maybe next time, I’ll get it right.
Thanks for reading The Recordchanger. It’s nice to have some company on the ride.