Radical Idea : Free Stuff Sucks

It is rather odd how people have come to treat the word “free” in that some of them really believe that a promotional item doesn’t cost something. Many people remain obtuse to the idea that, truly, no man-made product is free. It either costs you something in the form of time, energy, or information given, or it costs you something in that it becomes a possession of yours, however briefly. Plus, it also cost somebody else something in the form of capital invested and/or marketing moneys spent etc. But there is no thing made by man that is free….. period exclamation point!

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People, particularly Americans it seems to me, are so often duped by this ploy. “Free valet parking with your meal” the sign says… Oh really, do you really think those boys running back and forth and parking your car just do it for fun? You must know they have insurance right? Well, it is included in the price of the meal, you say – duh. Or maybe you’re the cheapskate who doesn’t tip them, but someone else (a big spender) will over tip and you really “got away with one” eh? Folks, any time you see “free” on something associated with another product, be it a meal, or a conference center bag full of goodies, stop and realize that you are being played. And if the steak at the restaurant with “free valet parking” costs $1.00 more than the competitor chain that has no such service, for heaven’s sake realize it.

Just the words “yours” or “mine” imply possession which implies a sense of property which obviously entails a connection with you. If it is “yours” or you refer to it as “mine” then it is no longer free at all. Now you may have the freedom to discard it quickly, or to “give” it to someone else and likewise dispose of it, but it still occupies space in your world and as such has value, no matter how infinitesimal that may be. If you make an experiment and tell yourself not to accept anything free for 1 week, just see how long you last. But so too, enjoy re-setting your compass to true north on this issue. And the next time you have free valet parking, give the kid a $5er so you’re not the douchebag.

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The Opposite of Wisdom

The antithesis of wisdom is sometimes thought to be ignorance. However, this can be disproved by how there are so many well-educated and knowledgeable people who are still lacking in wisdom.

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Since wisdom is often accompanied by humility, the antithesis of wisdom is sometimes thought to be confidence. However, this can be disproved by how many times truly wise people can speak with great confidence and conviction.

No, the opposite of wisdom is pride.

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One can be wise and still lack certain worldly items of education or certain specific nuggets of knowledge regarding trivial details. One can be wise and display strong confidence. But it is a hallmark of wisdom that it disciplines and conquers pride.

Pride and confidence are not the same, in that confidence may exist without a dark side to it, whereas pride by its very deepest nature must carry with it aspects of an injurious outcome. Confidence by itself does not injure, in fact it may heal. Whereas proud confidence delivers an insult and wipes away any vestige of wisdom that might otherwise be a part of confident knowledge.

If one prays for and begins to receive any wisdom at all, the first likely temptation one must face will be the issue of personal pride. And it is here where too many fail their first step and are never granted any further ones from the Father. Wisdom requires humility, and pride and humility cannot exist in unison. Many a righteous man attempts to gain wisdom only to sidetrack themselves unto the path of personal pride; they become less wise and more a Pharisee the likes of which Jesus offered more than a few harsh words.

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I Wrote A Beautiful Song – So What – Crickets

Beautiful Song - So What copy

There is beauty inside the inspiration that brings art, and there is beauty in experiencing good and true art. But there can also be a torment for an artist between the inspiration, creation, production, and distribution of artworks. It can come in many forms such as; undue criticism, undue adulation, emotionally dissonant audience reactions, audience projection, hijacking of the art, and so many more. But perhaps one of the hardest torments is sometimes referred to as “crickets” – (US slang, humorous or derisive) Absolute silence; no communication. Derived from the cinematic metaphor of chirping crickets at night, signaling (otherwise) complete quiet. May be used alone or in metaphorically descriptive phrases.

Crickets is especially galling in the modern digital age because the ability to witness “successful” art releases is enhanced to an often ridiculous degree. Things which can and do “go viral” and achieve literally world wide notice at the speed of light can often leave someone scratching their head. I have been in that emotional state a time or two during the past decade (a slight under-exaggeration which is itself an illogical thing to say). And I find that the only genuine escape from a sense of futility when encountering crickets is to treat that beautiful sound IDENTICALLY to the way I treat accolade or notice.

In the end, Homer said that the journey was the essential thing rather than any destination achieved or missed. That to commit the act of moving toward something was more important in the end than any outcome of the movement (certainly true of the human digestive tract). And this is the only genuine escape for any artist who begins to listen to applause or to crickets and have it effect the next artwork.

Do I wish my music had a larger audience? Of course. Do I feel good if it is heard? Of course. Do I feel bad when it is lost like a tiny drop in a sea? Of course.

Should I allow any of that to stifle my next inspiration? – – Nope, and neither should you.

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Peddling Hysteria For Power Or Profit Is A Sin

Yet, it is a ploy of rhetoric so often used by politicians lately that we have become almost desensitized to it. But the symptom of how Americans seem at times to require great drama and excitement before they will tune into things almost begs for the leverage of fear and hysteria to call attention to something if you want it to be noticed. And that is sad.

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Lately, I’ve been reading Sir Winston Churchill’s six volume set of books on World War II, and the first, The Gathering Storm, written in the late 1940s gives me a contrary context.

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The reason I mention it here is how staggering was the desire on Britain’s part (and several other victorious allies from WWI) to ignore the looming threat of Germany’s rearmament in the late 1920s and early 1930s. For his part, Churchill spent many long hours delivering facts and figures and warnings to his countryment from within parliament and elsewhere about the looming dangers. Yet, in his rhetoric he always stayed well above any attempt at encouraging hysteria. And his regret at having to predict WWII and yet accept his impotence at possibly preventing it ring through in the tone of his retrospective books.

Back to the present day, as I watch all manner of politicians or political movements attempt to gain the public eye (and access to the $ they desire to do their thing) by evoking giant reactions of fear, I always try to steer towards facts and away from the invitation to be afraid… be it fear of Al Gore’s decade old failed predictions of floods and planetary doom, or some walrus Hollywood actor predicting I should be afraid of tyranny at the hands of the elected, or failure of the power grid.

I’m not saying there aren’t grave issues that need robust debate. I eagerly await discussions and progress in achieving meaningful change both in America and abroad – and my opinions are worth what you pay for them. But it would sure be nice if every time I read an article, or watch a news cast, or enjoy a TV show I wasn’t bombarded with so much invitation to hysteria.

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Germination of Song Over Time

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Sometimes a song just won’t go away. It lurks there in my head for long spells of dormancy and may even fool me into thinking it is gone. Only to suddenly re-emerge unbidden and sometimes even unwelcome. And then to make matters worse, I may become infected with hearing sounds and notes in it that I’ve not truly understood completely yet. I can hear them but when I play it on the guitar or the piano and try to find them, there may be a disconnect still between what I know in my head and what I can find on the keys so far.

This chasm between what I hear in my head, and what I can communicate with another is almost laughable at times. For example, I might sit down and play the guitar and hum or sing a song to someone who hears only the 6 strings and my feeble voice, and they might be able to enjoy it to some modest degree. Yet as they look at the excitement on my face, as I hear the rest of the score in my head and try to describe what will happen with the song as it gets “the rest” of it added, there may be a polite smile (or not), but there is an understanding between us both that there is something missing here.

I feel that many times when a song recedes and is just an infection in my head that I don’t attempt to create or transmit, that it is actually a good thing. Somehow it wasn’t time for me to attempt it, or maybe it just wasn’t time for someone else to hear it yet.

I feel sure that writers, songwriters, poets, and composers must all share this feeling to some degree or other and with infinite variations. And surely the visual arts would have similar “visions” ahead of their time as well. It is one of those aspects of the frustration of a creative art that gets ahead either of the talent of the artist as he grows, or the notice of the audience as it may be unprepared in some way that prevents the successful transmission of the ideas.
Now what to do with this idea? Just keep it in mind when an artist says something like “I’ve had this idea for a LONG time and …” There is something important there. Perhaps you will get it, perhaps they succeeded in communicating it, but surely it is important for it waited so long and would not die.

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Mindless Repetition in Music – Really?

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I heard once at a sales seminar how “seven times repetition equals 33% retention”. I remember it A) because I pay attention the first time and listen when I am spending money to attend a seminar, and B) because the man said it seven times during his presentation with laughs all around as the repetition became funny rather than the insult it should be.

Now turn on most modern radio stations, especially country or pop, and voila you will hear repetition. It is not done artistically, nor for a particular effect, or affect. It is done because it has become the formula for “success”. Don’t you enjoy repetition? Don’t you enjoy repetition? Say it again, Don’t you enjoy repetition?

Now Blues may get a pass, I say blues may get a pass……… that’s right blues may get a pass, cause … BLUES ……. has got a pass —- Key Change on rare occasions, take it up one, and bring it… Blues may get a pass.

So how does this all matter in singer songwriting. For me, I challenge myself to let a lyric come to me based on the musical melody as if it sprang from my emotional center while listening to it in the shower… or humming the tune while enjoying a left rotation spin in my biplane. I try not to fall automatically into verse chorus, and/or repeated line chorus unless there is a damned good reason for it. Like good writing, and the editing thereof, less is more, and critically deciding which items needs to go for the less to end on the recipe for the best stew.

Thus end-eth the lesson.

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Guitars, Pianos, People, and School Memories

TBT – Freshman year in college. My dorm room was a single which had previously been a closet. It had room enough for my guitar, an LP turntable and stereo set, and a tiny desk. At the time, I felt like it was heaven, but I may have underestimated its value.

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Within a few days I had discovered the music building and the dungeon below of old Steinway grand piano practice rooms. And I had figured out a way to enter an old lessor used auditorium on the “east” campus which still had a lovely concert D Steinway and the acoustics of a wooden stage and domed central hall area. Baldwin dome No wonder they had mostly discontinued it’s use in favor of a concrete blob elsewhere, because that old auditorium was truly divine acoustically and full of warmth and character. I’m told that later it was restored and now is again lovingly in use for music and drama performances.

My memories of it were mostly after dark, when I would steal back into it and find my way to the 9 foot concert D Steinway. I would practice there, and every once in a while I would encounter another music student who might wander in upon hearing my playing as he or she was walking back after their practice time in the music building, etc. One time, a lone trombone player wandered in – pulled out his instrument – and he proceeded to improvise a solo trombone part atop my playing a gentle ballad chord progression on the piano. I was truly shocked to discover how sonorous and beautiful the trombone could be as he teased it from imitation of a French horn all the way to nearly a trumpet’s range.

I’m sure I spent some time studying in my dorm room, but looking back on it, I remember the auditorium and the piano practice rooms more than most anything from my freshman year, except for some people now gone. In my memories, pianos, guitars, and people occupy nearly identical spaces of importance. And one might argue how pianos and guitars are more faithful over time – this of course includes myself in the comparison.

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Concerts and Mass Hysteria versus Lounge Gig

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In many ways, a large music concert of today is a species of mass hysteria, and the performers must at times be like conductors.

I’ve attended more than my share of musical concerts in their several varying types: intimate coffee house shows, stadium tin can blasts, mid-sized halls, garage rehearsals, opera houses, and festival-tent outdoor shows. And I’ve even been a performer in one or two of those types of venues as well, with varying degrees of reluctance. But as I reflect on those few shows that I genuinely enjoyed, and even in recalling several that made me wish to be elsewhere and yet were still being “enjoyed” by the crowd at large around me, the idea of a mass hysteria keeps returning to me.

Something about how many concert goers say something like, “Man, it was, like, you know, yeah, no, …. It was just… soooooooooo much energy. Man that band was just, like, really rockin’ it and …” – Often they speak of how the lead performer was “giving it their all” and many performers speak of being exhausted after they have given their energy to the crowd. And they are not wrong, it is exactly their energy which they are transmitting into the crowd. Often skillfully, a lead vocalist “star” can conduct a crowd into something that no one of them listening to the same song a thousand times would ever feel. The addiction to live performances, even if the music is wretched, is an enjoyment of the hysteria that often will prevail in that dynamic.

Compare contrast that to a lounge concert. There may be hundreds of people in the room seated and enjoying the “show”, but then again they are at tables of 2 or 4 and microcosms of conversation are not “massed” together. And if the music sucks, no amount of pogo-sticking or hair-tossing by the lead vocalist will generate a mass hysterical reaction that provides the energy to overcome the lack of music. But in a lounge setting if the music is outstanding, table conversation dims and sometimes even ceases and all eyes and ears may tune in – if dancing ensues a different form of grouplets of couple hysteria may exist.

There is beauty and reward in each of the types, I suppose (though I retain the right to personally feel that stadium shows lack such for me). Yes, I want a performer to “give” some of his energy to a performance; to invest sincerely in the message of his song. But for this old cowboy, I wish that songwriters would save some energy for the song and spend a little less on chumming up hysteria about things other than the music.

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Norman Rockwell Small Town Irony

It sometimes seems like everybody wants to live in a Norman Rockwell type of small town, and yet too often those same people also want to have the convenience of downtown Manhattan. They reminisce about Mayberry and the little family businesses run by loving and caring people who know each other. But then they complain about a penny difference in price at a locally owned hardware store when compared to an online juggernaut competitor.

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Part of the experience of living in a Norman Rockwell type of small town, and doing business in one is the often seemingly inconvenient moments when customer service must take a moment longer because it is being lovingly bestowed upon someone else who was ahead of you in line. Sometimes the wait in customer service is caused by how the purveyor knows what they are talking about and is giving genuinely excellent instruction to a customer about how to maximize their value in their purchase. Other times it might just be a cantankerous old fart who is gonna finish his cup of coffee, and “you whippersnappers” need to “hold on a second”.

And while you are in a Rockwellesque moment of slowing down just a bit, or paying a fair price for superlative care and concern for the service a local may give you, you might instead listen to them and learn something. The pace being a tad slower is not only a fact, but it is actually a blessing that creates the pace and feel that are, deep down, the heart of why you longed for the Rockwell moment anyway.

Sad but true, the hurry up and wait mentality of many metropolitan areas is not something one should long for when in small-town rural America. The world has no shortage of places that are fast-paced and convenient. But when in the region of reasonably paced life of rural America, don’t long for the convenience of Manhattan, just move there, and leave Mayberry alone.  Randy Newman / James Taylor song “Our Town” covers it well.

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April Fools – Pranks Gone Wrong

LLL Header w address revised copySome pranks I am seeing these days on social media are very wrong. Now April Fools can be fun. Yet with the advent of every cell phone having a pretty good video camera and the ever-present hunger of social media for content that shows people being silly or embarrassed, there has been a rather sizeable increase in the number of “pranks” that people are playing on each other. And the creativity and artistry of many of them are rising – but at the same time a great many of them are downright cruel, traumatizing at the least, or even flirting with people being physically injured.

Sure, I remember having a prank or two foisted upon me when I was a kid at summer camp. Or in college there were certain “jokes” that were played on people – where maybe someone opened a door and a 50 gallon drum of water flooded their room, or a bucket of water doused them from above. And yeah, there was a guy with an MGB convertible that wound up being carried partway up a staircase to the landing halfway between the parking lot and the front door. But generally property wasn’t destroyed, and people didn’t have their entire life altered.

When I see some of the video pranks shown now such as having a blindfolded man drop a cinder-block unto a shovel wherein the handle racks his nads while his buddies laugh, I’m thinking to myself, ‘self, those buddies would be leaving behind mourners’, and revenge would be thorough indeed. Or when it involves pretending to be a kidnapper or gun-toting murderer and a scared witless victim runs into the next room to retrieve a weapon or delivers a well-thrown shuto uchi a shutoto the throat of a prankster’s larynx in a moment of reflex survival, it just seems to me like the danger of reaction is greater than any pleasure or art of the prank.

People, prank prudently and think before you set yourself up to be the target of well-planned vengeance or accidental survival reflex that could hurt somebody you love.

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