Monday, April 17, 2017

RIP Allan Holdsworth, Guitar Colossus


"I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of guitar. I don't think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can." ~ Robben Ford

Though I've never played an instrument, music has been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. And for decades, Allan Holdsworth has thrilled and inspired me like no one else with his astonishingly fluid and impossibly complex virtuosity and steadfastly uncompromising musical sensibility.

Frank Zappa called him one of the "most interesting" guitarists on the planet. Eddie Van Halen said he was simply "the best." John McLaughlin quipped that he'd steal Holdsworth's licks if he could understand them. The praise went on and on from guitar luminaries the world over.

But Allan Holdsworth died yesterday at the age of 70. So, there will be no more soul-searing guitar lines and otherworldly chordal phrasings from those magic fingers. A giant who perhaps stood taller than any other in the prodigiously demanding genre of guitar-centered "fusion" has passed on.

While it was well-known that he was in poor health, Allan's death still comes as something of a shock. A friend of mine saw him perform just a little over a week ago. And, despite his not having practiced much for a long time, he was still in virtuosic form.

Sadly, Allan never prospered from his music. In fact, he was apparently in pretty dire financial straits at the end. For while serious guitarists and hardcore guitar fans idolized him, most of the public never even heard of him. And if they happened to chance upon any of his music, they probably cringed from the strangeness of it.

I confess that, huge Holdsworth fan that I was, I found some of his music pretty "out there" too, and some of it left me cold. But then there was this solo, my favorite guitar solo ever, and this rare, hauntingly pensive and beautiful acoustic guitar piece on an album he despised and tried to suppress.

I was blessed to see Allan perform in person a couple of times. One such time was in the early to mid-80's at a local nightclub in Palo Alto, CA. This song, in particular, enraptured me and is probably my favorite song that he himself composed. I wish I'd been able to see more of him.

Fortunately, his recorded music lives on, and YouTube abounds with his live performances and this lovely tribute. RIP, Allan.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Resonance of Paterson


I saw a movie trailer months ago and knew I had to see the movie when I could. Today I could and did. And I know it will linger in my heart and mind for a long time.

It's a Jim Jarmusch film called "Paterson." It's a quiet, contemplative film about a young guy named Paterson who lives and drives a bus in Paterson, New Jersey. He wakes up every workday to the clock alarm in his head, kisses his wife, eats his Cheerios while composing poetry in his mind or notebook, and dutifully walks to work. He sits in his bus before his shift writing poetry until his beleagured boss comes along and reminds him it's time to go to work. As he drives, he listens attentively to the conversations of disparate people around him. When he gets off work, he walks to a secluded place and sits on a bench by a waterfall writing more poetry. Then he walks home, greets his endearingly ditzy wife, eats dinner, and takes his bulldog for a walk, and leaves him parked outside a cozy neighborhood bar while he ambles in for a leisurely drink and quiet conversation with the bartender-owner and an assortment of fellow patrons. The next day, it all begins, progresses, and ends almost exactly the same way.

Never before have I seen a film that resonates so powerfully with my sense of the trivial repetitiveness of life. Life's pointlessness has been acutely on my mind over the past year or so, and "Paterson" drives it home. Not in a depressing way. I'm not depressed, at least not most of the time, by seeing life as "a tale told by an idiot," even when its "sound and fury" gives way for me as it does for the film's protagonist to quiet, purposeless reiteration.

And never before, perhaps, have I identified so much with a film's character. Paterson is the guy I would likely be if I were even as bold and capable as his very unassuming and mediocre personage. For one thing, I now understand the lure of a neighborhood bar the way I could never fathom before. And if I were a little more outgoing than I actually am, I'd probably end my numbingly repetitive workdays with a trip there to sip a mug of beer and talk pensively with others while cool jazz played warmly and unobtrusively on the jukebox in the background.

And, like Paterson, I would write before and after work. Not poetry but nonfictional prose. And, because of my similar lack of ambition and/or confidence, I would do no more than Paterson to get my work published for pay or recognition.

The film also conveyed to me an acute sense of how alone we ultimately are, even if we're married to someone who truly loves us and we're surrounded by chattering people all day long. My philosophy may tell me we're all interconnected with each other and with the whole shebang of kosmic existence, but my heart feels existentially separate from every one and every thing. Yet I don't find this feeling depressing so much as simply and resignedly factual.

But it's also a fact that once in a blessed while a special film comes along that makes the idiotic tale of life and aloneness glow with rare and poignant beauty that leaves me happy to be alive, in part so I can experience such affecting works of cinematic art and bask in their affirming afterglow. "Paterson" is one such film for me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Is Cataclysmic War Imminent?



"North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of." ~ President Trump

Is there about to be a nuclear war? NBC News reports that the U.S. may launch a preemptive conventional strike against North Korea if that country seems on the verge of conducting a promised nuclear weapons test, and it's maneuvering some serious weaponry in place for this. True to form, North Korea threatens massive retaliation if the U.S. does attack. Suppose it does and they do. What then?

North Korea has nuclear weapons and says it will use them against the U.S. if it attacks. They also have conventional and presumably chemical and possibly nuclear warheads they could use to attack South Korea and elsewhere. Moreover, relations between the U.S. and China and Russia are hardly amicable at the moment. And China and Russia are neighbors and supporters of North Korea to some degree.

My wife is traveling to Thailand next week to visit her family. What if war breaks out in that part of the world while she's there? And what if it goes worldwide?

I can't help but be concerned. I deplore the way the North Korean government conducts its affairs and treats its people. By all accounts, North Korea is a hell of unimaginable oppression and suffering for millions of its people. And there is grave and legitimate concern about North Korea improving its nuclear arsenal and soon threatening the U.S. mainland with it. But what effect would a devastating war now have on countless millions of people?

And why is North Korea so bent on building its nuclear capabilities? Has U.S. saber rattling played no role in this? Has the U.S. really done its best to stop North Korea's nuclear arms development by diplomatic means, or has it been kindling the flames with its policies and posturings for decades?

What would we do if we we perceived ourselves to be threatened by a superior military power, we had a nuclear weapons program, and we believed that we needed to flex our nuclear muscle to deter aggression against us?

What concerns me even more is that Donald Trump is our president. Yes, we appear to have some capable people in charge of our military. But President Trump is in charge of the people in charge. He makes the final decisions. And I have a difficult time thinking of anyone less qualified than Donald J. Trump to make sound decisions in a time of climactic crisis.

Sometimes I get so fed up with the way of the world and with human folly that I just think, "Fuck it! Let it all be blown to hell!" But I don't really want that to happen. I want peace to prevail and for people and life everywhere to flourish on this pale blue dot.

Maybe my concerns are overblown. Maybe sanity will prevail at the moment of truth. After all, despite NBC News' report, I don't hear alarm bells going off in the journalistic media. Yet, one lesson I've learned after all this time is that human beings are dangerously unpredictable and that crises can build and spin out of control amazingly quickly. And when I look at the world as it is this morning, I'm not sanguine.

Friday, March 24, 2017

An Old Song Becomes My Reality, Sort Of

Fifty years ago, the Beatles released a song that has special relevance to today. Back when I first heard it, I was amused but emotionally detached from the distant scenario it wittily described. Today, not so much.

I've been keeping this blog for thirteen years or more. And though I haven't checked to confirm it, I think last year may have been my first birthday where I didn't publish something here.

I couldn't let myself stretch it to two, even though I don't have that much to say about anything at the moment other than the fact that I'm mostly glad to still be here, unequivocally glad I'm still able to post these entries, and very hopeful that I'll be back next year with lot more to say that's worth saying.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trying Not to Vilify Trump Supporters

Today I posted to Facebook a Nicholas Kristof column in which he urges his readers not to vilify Trump supporters as the "enemy." He says he received a backlash from people disinclined to follow his advice after he initially tweeted it. A friend of mine commented that "Actually many of them are [enemies]." This is how I replied:
It's very easy for me to demonize and malign Trump supporters. And goodness knows I've done my share of it. But it doesn't feel good to me to despise and reject people for their beliefs, just as it doesn't feel good to be despised and rejected by others for my beliefs. It also seems counterproductive, as Kristof points out.

What helps me to stop doing this or, at least, to do less of it is to understand that various factors cause people to do the things they do, including support Trump, that they don't choose. Researchers and theorists such as Jonathan Haidt and George Lakoff are illuminating what these causes are.

The way I see it, the fact that we don't support Trump is not something we can rightfully take credit for, and we can't rightfully blame others for supporting him. What we can do is try to understand why people do what they do and work with this understanding as best we can to foster the best circumstances that we can. As the great philosopher Spinoza said, "“I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

I'm REALLY trying to follow Spinoza's lead because it seems like the best way to live. It's tremendously difficult at times. And this is one of those times. But, as Spinoza also said, "All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare."

Friday, February 03, 2017

Donald Trump vs Bill Clinton on Illegal Immigration?


One of my Facebook friends posted a video of President Clinton once proposing stern measures against illegal immigration arguably not so dissimilar to what President Trump proposes now, and she says: "What happened to this concept and why is it deemed so wrong today, by so many? I don't get it. I supported President Clinton on immigration then and I support President Trump now." This is how I replied to her:
"There's an old Zen saying that goes like this: "When the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way." One could argue that whether one agrees with Trump's immigration policies or not, he is so blatantly odious in personality and character and unsuited to the presidency in temperament and aptitude that everything he does, for good or ill, bears the insufferable stench of his overwhelming psychopathology and personal repulsiveness."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trump Computer Simulation Scenario?


Last night I watched an episode of the darkly brilliant series "Westworld." And I suddenly found myself wondering whether those who theorize that we are probably sentient sub-programs occupying a gigantic computer simulation might not be right, and whether the election of Donald Trump and the pride and joy many say they feel over it is something that couldn't really happen outside a computer simulation diabolically tweaked by some twisted and callous designer looking for perverse entertainment from his or her sophisticated toy. Or is all of this perhaps just my dream from which I will sooner or later awaken in joyful relief?