Joe’s Garage

I was listening to Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa while driving to work today. I always get sad and wistful while listening to Zappa, since he was struck down by the big C way too soon, no two ways about it. But I got to thinking, too, that there aren’t too many other famous dead people who I get sad and wistful thinking about, since I’m not much of a fan kinda guy, in the cult of personality sense of the word “fan.”

I mean, I have absolutely zero emotional reaction when I think about Princess Diana’s untimely death, as an example. Intellectually, I know I should mourn John Lennon’s terrible, terrible passing–but I don’t really feel it, not the way I do about Zappa, anyway. Which is weird, because I actually like Lennon’s music more than Zappa’s music, so it can’t be anything linked to their bodies of work. Maybe it’s knowing that Lennon’s passing was fairly quick (although no doubt excruciatingly painful), while Zappa suffered for quite some time with his cancer, leaving some really haunting photos near the end, where you can see the pain (or maybe it’s fear) in his eyes.

Anyway, no logic to emotions, I guess. But I tried to think of other famous, living people who I think I will feel real, legimitate, non-intellectualized sadness about when I hear they’re gone–and I could only think of two: Muhammad Ali and Robert Wyatt. One taught me racism was bad. One taught me not to eat animals. Such is the nature of heroes.

Gravitas

I had a rare opportunity yesterday to observe and participate in the consecration ceremony for the meditation and study center of the Albany Karma Thegsum Choling Buddhist community. The ceremony was presided over by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, Abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York, one of the world’s most venerable Buddhist spiritual leaders. The ceremony was simple, elegant and touching–the new center marks the first public gathering space for a community that’s existed in the Albany area for some 20 years. The service was conducted in Tibetan, in the same “throat singing” style that’s made Tuva famous–so that three singers sounded like an army of twelve with the undertones and overtones and harmonics working their magic together. At the end of the service, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche blessed white prayer scarves and presented them to each of the Center’s guests. Which was surprisingly powerful, since this peaceful, quiet man exudes so much more “gravitas” than any number of politicians I’ve heard invoking that property through the current campaign season. Good thing the Buddhists aren’t interested in running the world–because if their leadership are all as impressive as Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, they’d have no problem doing it.

Barbasol

Wondering: Why does Barbasol shaving cream cost so much less than other leading brands? I mean, I buy the stuff, and I like to think that I’m getting a bargain–but when I’m at the drug store and Barbasol costs half as much, per unit, as Gillette Foamy or some other brand, it makes me wonder whether I’m doing something awful to my face by putting this cut-price product on it. Is it burning my beard off? Altering my genes? Making me sterile? Will I grow breasts from using it? Is it made from monkey sperm? Spider Eggs? Can I use it with Pop Rocks? Did Mikey’s head explode after he shaved with it? Wondering, wondering, wondering.

Family

I’m quite tickled by Castle Records’ new releases of the Family back catalog and (even better) an excellent retrospective/greatest hits disc called A Family Selection. No lie: these guys were one of the most under-appreciated bands of the ’70s, even though today (if they’re remembered at all) they’re generally recalled as little more than the training ground for Blind Faith’s Ric Grech and King Crimson’s John Wetton. But they were so much more than that: singer Roger Chapman, guitarist Charlie Whitney and drummer Rob Townsend anchored this quintet for nearly a decade, creating the smartest, most accessible blues-prog blend ever to cross this critic’s plate–particularly during the 15-month period when Wetton and keyboardist/vibes player Poli Palmer were in the group. Exquisite. Essential. Important.

My Man, Cat

As uncool and politically incorrect as it is to admit it, I’m really digging the hell out of having the Cat Stevens back catalog available on compact disc. Not for all of the songs that once appeared on the ubiquitous Cat Stevens Greatest Hits, mind you–since I’m as sick of that too-too-treacly-treacly collection as anyone–but instead for all the lost songs that don’t make the compilations.

Songs like “Music” and “Sun/C79” from Buddha and the Chocolate Box, for instance, or “Longer Boats” from Tea for the Tillerman, or just about anything from Numbers and Foreigner, two woefully underappreciated, underanthologized discs. As a general rule, the non-Greatest Hits songs tend to be knottier, grittier, more densely arranged and more artfully performed than their more famous counterparts.

A particularly strong recommendation must be given to the reissued Mona Bone Jakon, the first album Stevens released after falling into a tuberculosis ward from the lofty heights he had achieved as a mid-’60s U.K. pop star. It’s a powerful collection, with nary a whiff of the sentimentality normally associated with Stevens’ work. I mean, jeez, the opening tune, “Lady D’Arbanville” is about a dude pining over the body of a dead woman, whose method of demise is left mysteriously unexplained.

It’s ooky. It’s spooky. But it’s Cat Stevens. How weird is that?

Blog

There is now a word for what I have been doing on my website(s) for several years now, and that word is “Blog.” It sounds gross and biological, and I like it. “Blog” is a portmanteau word for “web log,” defined as a diary-cum-bulletin board posted online, the place where one’s hubris is hung out for all, some or (usually) none to see. For background, Rebecca Blood has written a most excellent blog history and has posted it on Rebecca’s Pocket, her own fine blog. Which is a beautiful looking website, I might add, in all the ways that my own will most likely never be — in part because I don’t have the web design skills to make it so, but also in part (for now) because I consciously choose not to have the web design skills to make it so. I’m word oriented, see, as a writer, so I want to make sure that anything containing my words puts the focus squarely upon them — and not on spinning animations and lush backdrops and complex tables and distracting, browser-killing frames and nests and scripts and applets. So all the sites that I’ve designed (and I use that word lightly) have similar, simple, streamlined designs (and I that word lightly) that make each site (hopefully) worth visiting in the first place. It should be clear that what started as technical limitation has now become stubborn ideology. Or maybe just a brilliant rationalization for technical limitation, who can tell? Hopefully not you. More here soon.