Gratitude while they’re still alive…

The last couple of years have been really big on celebrity deaths. What’s been odd for me is that I realized I don’t really understand what emotional profile an artist has for me until he or she is gone. This is all the worse with rock stars, who project an image of eternal youth and vitality that is of course far from the truth.

The three recent deaths that affected me the most were the deaths of Robin Williams, Bowie, and Prince. Lemmy’s death was sad for me, but it was more like losing a weird uncle: your family just got a lot more boring and you wish you’d appreciated him more when you had him. The death of the last remaining original member of the Ramones hit a little harder.

I think that Prince, Robin Williams, and Bowie affected me so much because they’ve been a part of my life since my early teen years. I remember watching Williams on Happy Days and then Mork and Mindy:

I remember listening to Bowie on the radio since about the mid-70s and then seeing him on Saturday Night Live in 1979. I watched him up there in that purple skirt as the episode was being aired and thought… dude, you’re so weird:

And I hate to say it, but my earliest memories of Prince weren’t of Purple Rain. They were of the campy Batman stuff he did in the late 1980s:

This is a long time to have people form a part of your cultural background, and regardless of taste or preference, they possessed a rare level of genius and creativity. I think I took them for granted at the time, but after seeing many actors and musicians cycle through pop culture, these three stand out as genius.

What affected me the most after the fact of Prince’s death was the universal outpouring of love and grief afterwards. Could he have possibly known how people felt? I don’t know. Of his last twelve albums, one was platinum and two were gold (but six were top 10). I haven’t picked up a Prince album since Musicology, his last platinum album released in 2004. But still, I felt his death. I felt like something significant was lost — a certain level of genius that isn’t easily replaced, exactly what I felt about Bowie, who I had at least followed more consistently over the last twenty years. I was excited about Blackstar and loved that the video generated almost a million hits its first twenty-four hours on YouTube.

So I’m mostly wishing I’d appreciated Prince more. Paid more attention, watched what he was doing, listened to what he had to say, because he had (and still has, really) things to say. I hope he had people around him who let him feel that love and appreciation.

So now, in the most morbid possible tribute, I’m going to express appreciation for a few aging geniuses here.

Chrissie Hynde (b. 1951, turning 65 this year). Her latest album is Stockholm, and I’ve heard her next project will be a joint project with the lead guitarist for the Black Keys. That’s the best news I’ve heard in some time. She exemplifies paying your dues, taking risks, and saying exactly how you feel.

Patti Smith (b. 1946, turning 70 this year). She’s a poet, author, painter, photographer, songwriter, and rock star, and she released what is arguably the best album of her life in 2012, Banga:

Jeff Beck (b. 1944, turning 72 this year). He’s been amazing since the 60s. If you can catch his performances for the Rock Hall anniversary concert, do it. They’re on Apple Music:

Keith Richards (b. 1943, turning 73 this year). Just released a great blues/blues rock solo album (Crosseyed Heart) accompanied by a documentary. He knows he’s getting old, and he just wanted to tell everyone how grateful he was for the blues artists who inspired him:

Bob Dylan (b. 1941, turned 74 this year). His late career albums have been focused upon what his career has been always focused upon: Americana. He’s always paid tribute to great American music, either by performing it or reinventing it. He is our true poet laureate:

Buddy Guy (b. 1936, turning 80 this year): With the death of B.B. King — who if you’ve ever seen him live was the model of a gentleman — may be the last of our old great blues guitarists. I saw him at his club in Chicago in 2012. He mocked pyrotechnics in guitar playing, wiping his arse with his guitar while he was performing Hendrix licks (all the while praising Hendrix’s talent), this man can still play. Check out his latest album, Born to Play Guitar, which won a deserved grammy for Best Blues Guitar Album:

I could go on — Jagger and all of the rest of the Stones are getting old. So are the remaining members of Pink Floyd and the Doors. Springsteen will be turning 67 this year, Chuck Berry is 89, while Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are 70 and 72, respectively, while McCartney and Ringo Starr are 73 and 75. And I haven’t mentioned the Ramones, whose last original member recently passed away.

These musicians all came into their careers during a time when the music industry — though just as sold out as it always was — was looking for a new sound. Now it’s harder. Music companies are only looking to sell to a defined demographic and probably know just how many downloads (or streams) any given artist is expected to get. Remember: anyone in it for the money will always play it safe. Genius has less room to flourish now, and all members of the first three groundbreaking generations of rock and roll may well be completely gone in the next ten to fifteen years. Even the 80s stars are getting old: Debbie Harry is 70 while the Mothersbaugh brothers of Devo are in their 60s.

So what are we going to do with this vacuum? What will take its place? What will we do to nurture future genius? Rock and roll has encapsulated all human energies for decades now: our rages, fears, loves, hates, and passions. It screams about God and sex and politics. It’s been sold out and whored for every dime it could squeeze out of every kid who ever bought a record since the 1950s, but it has still maintained a purity and intensity of expression: no matter what happens, strictures could never contain it. Whenever it has become predictable it rebelled against itself, reinventing music over and over again. It’s been our vehicle for the uncontainable, the inexpressible, and that which can’t be bought. If it ever is finally tamed, we may well be lost.

Apple Music Playlist: Cool Acoustic

I’ve subscribed to Apple Music recently and have started creating — or rather, recreating — my iPod playlists and sharing them. This post is an experiment in embedding a link to them in WordPress. If you subscribe to Apple Music, you should be able to view and listen to the playlist in iTunes or Apple Music by clicking on the link. If you’re not an Apple Music subscriber, you can view the list in the image below. Click on the top left image if the text is too difficult to read in your browser as it displays below.

Apple Music Playlist by Jim Rovira: Cool Acoustic.

Hillary Clinton and the Oil Industry

Hillary Clinton was recently accused by Greenpeace of taking massive amounts of money from the oil industry. Clinton, for her part, is not only denying it, but lying about Sanders being the source of this information (he’s not: Greenpeace itself has been working on this issue for some time — at least since 2012). The Washington Post (who has already been criticized by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting for running excessive negative stories on Sanders) recently came out saying that Greenpeace was falsely reporting oil company influence on Hillary Clinton.

Opensecrets.org listed Hillary Clinton as the fifth largest recipient of oil industry money in 2008, and one of only two Democratic Party Senators in the list of top ten recipients of oil company largess (Sanders does not appear on the list at all). This was 2008. If that’s not enough, on September 20th, 2015 the International Business Times reported that Hillary encouraged audience members in a 2011 speech to think of Iraq as a “business opportunity,” a phrase she repeated in a State Department email that you can read for yourself below. That same email spelled out connections between J.P. Morgan, ExxonMobil, and US involvement in Iraq. From the IBT article:

According to a 2013 email just released by the State Department, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides in 2011 hosted an “engaging roundtable discussion on investing in Iraq with senior executives from 30 U.S. companies and senior representatives from the U.S. and Iraqi governments.” The email quotes then-Secretary Clinton, apparently one of the senior government representatives in the session, as having said, “It’s time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity.”

Sirota and Perez note that the email specifically mentioned JPMorgan Chase and ExxonMobil, both of which signed deals with the U.S. government—JPMorgan to run an export-import bank in Iraq and ExxonMobil to redevelop Iraqi oil fields. It is doubtful that too many people will be surprised to learn that there were business interests competing with the U.S. government’s much more loudly touted security and humanitarian motivations in the decision to invade Iraq. Nonetheless, Sirota and Perez include comments from the likes of former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, and former general John Abizaid acknowledging that, in Greenspan’s words, “The Iraq war is largely about oil.”

You can read the State Department email yourself here:

Do you need it spelled out any more than this? Clinton’s oil industry and finance sector donors are vested interests in US policy in Iraq, and they were making large donations — and paying large speaking fees — to Hillary Clinton to buy influence, who worked for their agenda while serving in office.

Any wonder why the FBI is investigating Clinton’s emails?

This is war for profit, and Hillary Clinton is its tool.

 

Recommendation for a New Movie Rating…

I took my twelve year old son to see Batman v. Superman yesterday. He enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. I thought it was flawed, don’t get me wrong, but I enjoyed it. I think I enjoyed it because I was watching it the same way my 12 year old son was watching it: with most critical faculties turned off.

And then I got onto Facebook today and saw responses to the film by a couple of friends of mine who were not only very disappointed in the film but so disappointed that they were very annoyed. I think this Mother Jones review speaks for them. They did not go to see the film with a twelve year old. They did not watch it with their critical faculties turned off. They did watch it as an extension and development of the DC films preceding this one. And they did not like it.

That’s when it hit me: we need a new movie rating system. Not one that takes into account nudity, violence, or swearing, as our current rating system does, but one that takes into account the mental age needed to enjoy the film.

So we know it’s rated PG-13. Without seeing it, we know there’s violence in the film and probably some language (I honestly don’t recall hearing any language or not).

Now suppose we also rated it MA-12. That would tell potential viewers they need a mental age of twelve years old in order to enjoy the film. A rating like this would tell viewers like me and my friends to scale their minds way back when they walk into the theater. Just don’t notice those gaps in plot or character motivation. Just allow the slimmest pretext to advance the plot to the next action scene, and then just enjoy the action scenes at face value: don’t question their plausibility (even given the world of the film), their respect for physics, or remember where you’ve seen those action sequences before.

I think if we had something like this the film might score a bit higher than 29% on Rotten Tomatoes.

By the way, Wonder Woman was in it, and she was really cool.