Long disjointed ramble: other post-vacation musings and reports . . .

Key topics are in bold to facilitate skimming, for those who skim.

If you’re looking for a Florida vacation, the Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach area has my highest endorsement: it’s far enough north in the state to make travel relatively simple (20 minutes from Jacksonville’s airport), and temperatures and climate are a bit more moderate than anything you’ll encounter further down the state. The beaches are nice, it’s easy to get around. We were there for Fourth of July weekend, and crowds weren’t bad at all, a huge plus in my book. A great place for a family vacation, or probably for a singles debauch, too, although I can’t state that with any experienced conviction.

After years of living in states where fireworks are illegal, it was kinda fascinating to spend the Fourth of July in a place where everybody and their brother seemed bound and determined to blow something up. The hotel where we were staying put on a great beach front show, but up and down the shore for as far as the eye could see were hundreds and hundreds of little clusters of beachgoers launching and lighting all sorts of flying, fizzing, screaming, exploding devices. Us included, since my brother-in-law brought a big back of explosive fun with him. It made the Fourth feel like a very libertarian holiday: nobody gonna tell nobody what to do or not to do, and if you blow your hand off or put your eye out, well, hey, that’s what you get for exercising your own right to be you, innit?

On our flight back home, we got bumped up to First Class for the Jacksonville to Philadelphia leg. Not only First Class . . . but bulkhead First Class, the first row behind the pilots, more leg room than I’ve ever encountered on any public transportation device. It was nice . . . I’ve never been in First Class before, so it was good to see how the other half lives. Having done all my flying in the past from the back of the econo class, it was also interesting to feel how different the very act of flying feels from the front of the plane: you have a different sense of movement when you’re being pushed by the engines behind you (that you can’t really see), as opposed to being pulled by the engines in front of you (which you can watch out your window). Of course, since the Flight Deities gave us a gift on the first leg of our flight, they had to extract a pound of flesh on the second: we were in the way back econo section, pulled out of the terminal and then sat on the hot, hot, hot tarmac for 75 minutes before taking off, ostensibly waiting for heavy weather in the NYC area to clear.

I should note, for those who don’t know it, that I really don’t like flying at all . . . around ’85 or so, while flying from Savannah, GA, back to the Naval Academy, I was in a jet that hit one of those clear air turbulence and/or wind shear deals that led to major chaos in the cabin: drinks and bodies and beverage carts bouncing around, a long and sickening sense of falling, glimmers of mortality, etc. It was bad enough to get a blurb in the Baltimore papers the next day: I think a couple of people were hurt. Prior to that point, I had thought that I wanted to be a pilot. After that point, I was pretty sure that I was more comfortable on the ground. Which is, probably, smart, given that I’m also mildly claustrophobic and thoroughly uncomfortable in high places. I love and appreciation and am fascinated by aviation and space exploration in the abstract, and am very knowledgable about both topics and their respective histories. I just appreciate them most from the ground, watching.

Speaking of space exploration, how cool are the shots from Saturn that Cassini’s sending our way. Yeah, I know that our schools are broke and that there are too many Americans living in poverty, but I can never begrudge federal funds spent on space exploration. (I am also, of course, not opposed to healthy defense spending, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given my military background). Anyway . . . I love seeing the images and reading the reports of the Mars Rovers and (now) Cassini, and am fascinated by the things that they’re finding and will (hopefully) continue to find. Science good. Exploration good. Awe and wonder good. It ain’t the space program that’s causing schools and social services to be underfunded of late . . . it’s bad Federal policy around tax law, corporate contracting and subsidies for sick or dying industries that (were we true believers in the invisible hand of capitalism) should be left to the whims and vagaries of the market.

Does that mean I favor higher taxes? Yeah, I think so . . . where and when necessary. The two things that most people complain about here in Upstate New York are winter and taxes. I lived in Idaho for two years before coming here in ’93, and winters are much worse there, so I don’t complain (much) about what we get here, while taxes were much lower there . . . although that was because services provided to state residents were also much lower there. So I really don’t mind paying high taxes here when we’ve got great public schools, great road maintenance (and winter plowing), etc. You get what you pay for. Even from the government.

Let’s see . . . what else did I want to ramble about. Oh, yeah, a great book I just read: High Steel by Jim Rasenberger, about the iron- and steelworkers who built the nation’s bridges and skyscrapers over the past century and a half. Some amazing stories, and a great sense of how America’s industrial history and ambitions rode on the backs and in the hands of the men who built the physical skeletons of modern transportation and commerce. I had to stop reading at one point, though: just as we were boarding the plane in Jacksonville, I got to the chapter about how the ironworkers responded at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I decided I didn’t want to read that while airborne. Interestingly, after we finally got in the air out of Philly, our route took us up between Manhattan and Brooklyn and over the East River, and when I happened to look out the window at one point on the port side of the plane, I was looking right down into the Ground Zero site from 24,000 feet or so. I went back to my crossword puzzle at that point, after a little shiver.

And, lastly, on a musical front: the whole time I was in Florida, I had the song “Primitive Painters” by Felt stuck in my head. I had written about Felt in the Secret Bands page, and that made me go get a good CD compilation of their works, which then reminded me of just how indescribably timeless and gorgeous their greatest song, “Primitive Painters,” was. It features Liz Fraser from the Cocteau Twins on bvox, and is really one of the finest pieces of music recorded in the ’80s, and I say that without a shred of hyperbole. Felt’s best work, I think, was issued during their time on the Cherry Red label, although they also spent a chunk of their career on Creation Records as well. I think the best intro to what they did, including “Primitive Painter” can be found on the Absolute Classic Masterpieces comp, which compiles all their Cherry Red singles. If you want a good overview of their entire career, go with Stains on A Decade. Both include “Primitive Painters.” And when you get either of them, be sure to write me so we can gush together about what a great song that was.

I mentioned a week or so before vacation how much I was enjoying the new Ministry record, Houses of the Mole. It just keeps getting better the more I listen to it, clearly the best thing they’ve done since Psalm 69 in 1992. And I can say that categorically, since yesterday I went and listened to the albums between those two points (Filth Pig, The Dark Side of the Spoon, Animositisomina), wondering if they were really inferior, or if I had just not been in the mood for them when they came out. And there really is a huge difference in quality between those three and Mole. Big props to guitarist Mike Scaccia, since (other than Alien Jourgensen), he’s the common thread between Psalm 69 and Mole, and it’s his distinctive sound that really sets those two albums apart.

Last ramble for the day: I picked up the new self-titled Cure album last week, mainly out of curiousity. And it’s not bad, really . . . the guitars are a little crunchier than anything they’ve done since way back when, there are fewer ’80s style keyboard washes, Robert Smith’s singing is a little rougher and tougher than is typical (although there’s still no mistaking who he is), and the songs have a bit more substance to them than anything I heard from them in the ’90s. (For the record, I was a pretty big Cure fan until Disintigration, which most people consider one of their masterpieces, but which for me was the record that made me say “Why am I listening to this whiny garbage?” Since then, I’ve given each of their studio records a try, and haven’t been engaged by any of them. Until now).

Okay. Ramble off.

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