Friday, October 16, 2015

The Future: Future Games

Fleetwood Mac: Future Games [purchase]

When the theme first cropped up, one of my first thoughts was "Future Games." Must have been '73 that Fleetwood Mac first captured me with Mystery To Me. As indicated in the name, the mesmerizing effect of many of the songs fit the times (mild psychedelia) and my own frame of mind. I listened for hours to the album: side A, side B, side A again (of course, on cassette tape- de rigeur).

You check out the song titles of Fleetwood Mac songs from the era, and notice that no small number of them reference time, the future: "Woman of a 1000 Years" ... "Sands of Time" ...

I did check into the archives of SMM - seemed not possible that the song had never been posted afore, and sure enough - back in 2009, it was presented here. Both in consideration of the fact that few of you were likely to have been here then and still here now, but even worse- the fact that the link to that post has deteriorated/gone missing, it would appear to be time to bring it back to life.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Future: All Future And No Past

The Baseball Project: All Future and No Past

Later today, my long-beleaguered Mets will be playing a decisive Game 5 in their division series. Win, and continue on to the league championship series against the even longer-beleaguered Cubs, and be one step from the World Series. Lose, and start booking tee times.

Back when baseball was the unquestioned National Pastime, its major league franchises were mostly clustered in the relatively cold cites of the northeast and Midwest. It wasn’t until the 1950s that baseball expanded to Southern California, and it took until 1966 for a major league team to play south of Washington, D.C. or St. Louis. It isn’t surprising, then, that the start of the baseball season, in the springtime, was often conflated with the return of warmer weather and rebirth. And because every team starts every spring tied with all the others and, theoretically at least with an equal chance to win the championship, the phrase “hope springs eternal,” is often used to refer to baseball. It appears that the phrase was first used by Alexander Pope, in his 1734 poem An Essay on Man. (Pope was well known for his translations of Homer, but he never got to see a homer, although he might have seen cricket or rounders. Nor would Pope have been aware that Ernest Thayer borrowed his line in the most famous baseball poem ever, Casey At The Bat).

Back in the spring, most commentators figured the Mets would be improved over the last season, but would finish behind the Washington Nationals, who were expected to run away with the pennant. In May, when I wrote about Matt Harvey, the starting and winning pitcher in Game 3 of the division series that I had the opportunity to attend (see above), things still looked positive for the Mets, before they swooned in mid-season. But strong pitching and good trades led them back to success, and the collapse of the amusingly dysfunctional Nationals, gave the Mets the National League Eastern Division crown, and at least a shot at moving on, pending tonight’s results.

The Baseball Project was a “supergroup” formed by members of R.E.M., The Young Fresh Fellows, The Dream Syndicate (among other bands) to write and perform songs about baseball. I made the mistake of referring to them as a “novelty act” on another site, which band member Mike Mills took issue with on Twitter. (As a big fan of R.E.M., it was actually pretty cool to have Mike Mills annoyed with me.) They’ve released a whole bunch of good music, covering baseball-related topics as diverse as racism, the mysterious death of Ed Delahanty in 1903, labor relations, wife-swapping, eccentrics, fans, the Hall of Fame, and keeping score.

For the 2010 season, the band recorded for a series of songs designed to be a real-time commentary on the season. One of them, “All Future and No Past,” took its title from a quote from Indians player/manager Lou Boudreau: “On opening day, the world is all future and no past.” Boudreau, who appears to have been quite a guy, was a rare player/manager (starting when he was 25), also played professional basketball, and while playing major league baseball actually obtained his bachelor’s degree in education and was an assistant basketball coach at the University of Illinois.

The song is, as expected, an optimistic look at the potential that a number of teams could have, if everything broke their way, when “everybody has a chance.” Of course, there is a melancholy undercurrent to the song, because we know that it is unlikely that every team’s future will be bright. We know baseball is a zero-sum game-- every game has a loser, few teams advance to the postseason, only two make the World Series, and one gets to be champion.

As a Mets fan, it is hard to divorce the past from the future. Historically, the Mets have been often terrible, sometimes epically so, and their periods of quality have been few and usually short-lived. To now, things have broken the Mets’ way, and if they can get by the Dodgers tonight, there’s no reason to believe that they can’t beat the Cubs. But I have to admit that the success of the team this season has been a surprise, and even if they lose, I will (eventually) recognize that it was a fun season, one that gave me way more pleasure than I expected on Opening Day.

And beyond that, with their cadre of hard throwing, talented young pitchers, the Mets have a chance at a great future. Of course, as the first Mets’ manager, Casey Stengel once said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

THE FUTURE: Welcome to the Future

How often have venerable space warriors Hawkwind appeared on this site, I wonder? (Answer: none). From this distance it feels that they, if not inventing the whole genre, have certainly run with the idea of "spacerock" longer than most, celebrating, this year, 46 years on the road. OK, so Pink Floyd have dabbled with this, and the Grateful Dead likewise, but I  am sure no other group has dedicated themselves to such dystopian visions with such dysfunctional relish, blending early bleep and booster electronica, with swords and sorcerers sci-fi, Always seemingly on the edges of society, embracing and being embraced by any counter-culture available, moving seamlessly from free-festival hippy culture of the 60s to the rave culture traveller scene of the 90s, their history a maelstrom of departing and returning members, drugs and mental illness, underpinned by the sturdy dictatorship of Dave Brock, sole man standing since their inception in 1969. For a more detailed idea of their chaotic journey look here. It's as their possibly most famous ex-member, Lemmy, sacked, ironically for his drug-usage, put it: "It was like Star Trek, but with long hair. And drugs."

The song "Welcome to the Future" is little more than a spoken introductory piece to "Space Ritual", a multi-media cavalcade of very loud and very heavy rhythmic rock, primitive electronica, lightshows, mime and dance, released in a live format in 1973, after being paraded around the world in the years ahead of that. (Little known fact, Hawkwind were the first UK band to headline a tour in the US, rather than as a support act to homegrown product. They lost money, but it was still the first.) This was largely funded by the UK single success of "Silver Machine", a studio cleaned up "live" performance of a concert favourite, with new vocals over-dubbed by the soon to go Lemmy. I recall this with joy, it being, and the concert footage that went with it on U.K. chartshow Top of the Pops, a delight to my teenaged ears, the dirtiest, greasiest noise I had ever seen or heard.

Exposure to that wholly unholy din (and statuesque dancer, Stacia) sent me to their back catalogue, and I hoovered up, over the next few years, their earlier output.These first few recordings, even the hesitant nearer psychedelia of the first, I think stand up well, and the resonance between what passed for driving rock back then and what would later emerge as techno is striking, and the influence undeniable. Check this recent automobile advert out!

I confess that I eventually lapsed, the procession of rotating door ne'er do wells, including Arthur Brown (Fire) and, bizarrely, Ginger Baker and an over-reliance on spoken word liturgies eventually alienating me, not least as my precocious tastes fled to country and folk pastures. Also I had read some Michael Moorcock, a sci-fi writer with whom they had become involved, and didn't like the books, deciding I didn't like the band any more either. Such was my fickle nature. But that didn't stop them, and the ramshackle circus is till doing the rounds, sometimes with different variations of the name: Hawkestra, Hawwkwind Light Orchestra, and sometimes even rival versions playing much the same:, formed by sacked saxist Nik Turner with other ex-members, until sued into changing their name to, no doubt all irony intended, Space Ritual. However, I am beginning to wonder what the live experience may now be like. I did see them once, in 1975, at The Reading Festival, sadly being then as out of it as their reputations for the same might suggest, so, who knows, maybe next years annual shindig, Hawkeaster, may find me back amongst the faithful in front of high priest Dave Brock (age 74), to see who he has with him now.


The Future: 2000 Man

Purchase: Their Satanic Majesties Request

Ah, the future—flying cars, fully-automated homes, robot girlfriends…What a time to be alive.

When the information age really started taking off, which I calculate to be when I got my fist cell phone, I used to like to talk about how we really were living in age of The Jetsons. All those cartoon-fantastic, whiz bang inventions that made everyday life something much faster, more convenient and brought us more in tune with the wider world seemed to be coming true. Within reason, of course—I still had to sit in traffic, rather than fly over it on my way to not a pneumatic hive of prodigious industry and lightning fast tech innovations, but rather a crumbling building without air-conditioning.

But, no worry—I had a cell phone; I could talk to people while I sat in traffic. I had satellite radio, which meant I never lost the signal, unless it rained. And, as a teacher, I had this resource called the internet, so I didn’t really need to do much planning for my lectures—it was all right there for me, no trip to the library needed…

Strange how the Future ended up. I find myself often wishing for the days before I had high speed internet service and could stream and Google and text and Tweet and Snapchat and Instagram—and a whole host of other common elements of my life. Life seems to have taken not only a semantic shift of meaning, but undergone a radical revision in action and lifestyle as well. This is the information age, yes, but things change so rapidly as we trip merrily along to the future, we might as well dub it the age of Neologism, as well. We're constantly reinventing, in order to achieve this almost undefinable 'better', but we don't stay in one place long enough to think of what the better might entail...

But, let’s go back to get forward, shall we?

When I think of the theme “the Future”,  a lot of songs come immediately to mind, one because of their subject matter, but more for the sense that, when it comes to music, the future is all well and good, and I’m sure some great things are coming—but, it’s the past, the pedigree, the primordial beginnings, that make the future what it is. Rock comes from a specific well spring, a beautiful, ever-thriving gene pool that keeps replicating its DNA into new creatures, that look a little different but all come from the same family. Its like Jurassic Park—the old stuff makes the new...We never have to go travel too far into the past to find the specific root of not only the modern sense of music, but also to predict where it is headed. Rock 'n roll is very simple--it's a product of its upbringing, and damn, did it have good parents...

My song this month is The Rolling Stone’s “2000 Man”, from Their Satanic Majesties Request, their 1967 concession to psychedelia, and psychedelics (that means “drugs,” kids). It’s not a great album—even the band admits to thinking it was mess—court appearances, drug indulgences, no one to pull the strings—and it adds up to a collection of silly, flower child ditties, but overall, the album carries with the same sense of messiness that comes from over indulgence and the sense of boredom that inevitably follows said abusive behavior.

They say too much of anything that raises the senses will eventually dull them. And Request is just that: dull. And a bit silly.  Have you looked at the cover? It’s like a low-rent version of Sgt. Peppers, without the interesting subtext and treasure chest of oddities.
Even the band looks a little uncomfortable about what they are doing.  One might guess they are about 30 years early for one of those midnight Harry Potter Sales…

There are a few exceptions, such as the perfectly-pop She’s a Rainbow, and 2000 Light Years From Home, both of which listen now as not only what was good about psychedelic rock, but as a blue print for the sonic architecture of Brit Pop, and bands like Blur, The Stone Roses at their jammy best, and Oasis.

My favorite track on the album—the only other one I like, aside from the aforementioned two above is 2000 Man. Let’s be honest: it’s the standout track on the album. It starts with a country twinged guitar stutter and the chorus descends into a drum smashing, organ grind shout out, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Three Penny Opera. The breakdown is pure static, and the song reads like a mash up of a few genres, steps lively, and relies on those gorgeous twin guitar ripples that Keith and Brian Jones did so well during their brief tenure as the melody makers in the Stones.

It’s reminiscent of The Who’s  A Quick One While He’s Away or Medley, from The Beatles’ later Abbey Road  in that it is more than one song rolled into a single vinyl track. And while both of those songs are much longer in scope and more masterful in instrumentation and riskier in trying to accomplish something grandiloquent and operatic, 2000 Man makes it mark as a gesture towards taking rock music in a grandly nuanced direction.

Lyrically, which is what brought me to the song for our theme, 2000 Man is as interesting as it is nonsensical. It’s a confessional poem of sorts, delivered by a man who identifies himself as the 2000 Man and who proceeds to confess his misdeeds, his infidelity to his wife, his disconnect from his children and in a strange nod to horticulture, the strange flowers he’s growing on his window sill.

In a way, the song talks to the future in the sense that the narrator just doesn’t fit—perhaps he’s outdated, but when he says don’t you I’m a 2000 man, he seems to be saying, you don’t get me because I’m well beyond you. I am the future. When the song switches narrative perspectives and the speaker’s kids start responding to the conceited claims of their father, they simply chant:
                           “Oh daddy, proud of your planet/ Oh mummy, proud of your sun.”

It’s not necessarily done with the clearest of intentions, but it does read like a back and forth between two parties, both insisting they are  hipper, more knowledgeable,  more at home in the new paradigm. The insistence at being a 2000 man comes across as a desperate claim of relevance, which is what happens to those of us who stick around long enough to see the world change, without our help, perhaps before we’re ready.

The world morphs at a rapidly accelerating pace and it’s hard to hold steady sometimes, especially for those of us who work and have to interact cross-generationally. Nostalgia—looking back fondly, or fiercely or with bitterness—is simply a self-defense mechanism that helps us to feel relevant in a place where the only true relevancy is measured by the newness of the idea or innovation.

The future was not kind to him...
I think, though, to disparage a younger generation is somewhat pointless. Being grumpy about being 'out if it' won't get us anywhere.   And, really, the more things change, the more they stay the same…No, that’s bullshit. The more things change, the better things will alwys have been ‘back in the day’.  It will just depend on whose day it was. Bands like The Rolling Stones? It will always have been their day, their party; we were just lucky enough to get the invite.
At some point—sooner, not later—those that think we’re dinosaurs will experience the same shame of irrelevance. Such is the pace at which we are growing. Hold on to the classics—they will be everyone’s classics at some point. Because, no matter how far we grow and move on, the beginning, the fount and wellspring of greatness, the firsts—will always be the best. Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones…all that amazing rock n roll, that was the future at one point—the future with a capital F and italicized, the ideal. And, because it was first, it will always be first and won’t fade away.

And if we go back to our stubborn speaker in 2000 Man, who insists he’s not lost his hipness yet, it’s interesting to compare him to Jagger and the Stones—is there any other outfit in rock ‘n roll who has the privilege of not having to insist at all on having stayed relevant, no longer taste makers, but the creators of the taste and pretty much the judge and jury of rock ‘n roll cool and the ones who created the measure that everyone else will always have to live up to…?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Future: Fly Like an Eagle

purchase Fly Like an Eagle

It's been years since I listened to Steve Miller, but back "then", he was one of my main listens.  Heading into this theme, it was my recollection that the lyrics to Fly Like an Eagle include some kind of a reference to "the future". In fact, a re-listen to the song after maybe 20 years away reveals to me that a major conceit of the lyrics is not just that line, but in general what the future might/could bring.

Time keeps on slipping / Into the future ...  We can't/don't feed the poor now, but in the future .... I can't fly like an eagle now, but I would like to ....

In the various Youtube clips associated with this title, Steve Miller makes remarkably good use of the looping effect - playing on top of the just previously played notes as they loop past - just a thought: the present (if not the future) layered on top of the past.

Tangentially, I ran across an article in Open Culture in which there is an account of Miles Davis' rather dismissive take on Steve Miller. I enjoy them both and see no reason why one should over-ride the other - they're worlds apart.

Bonus: This is a pretty long live version and Joe Satriani joins in at about 5 minutes.