Into The Storm: Alan White (June 14, 1949 – May 26, 2022)

I was sorry to learn this morning that long-time Yes drummer Alan White flew away from this mortal coil yesterday. I’ve seen him half-a-dozen times live over a 30ish year period, and he was one of those cool, cool cats who could play hard, complicated works for hours, without looking like he was exerting himself, and while exuding genial “what could be better than doing this for a living?” vibes, always. After Yes founding member Chris Squire died in 2015, White became Yes’ longest continually serving member, an honor he held until his death. (Though in recent years, his health had been such that Jay Schellen had been deputized by Yes to do some of the heavy lifting in concert settings, allowing White to play select songs and pieces, adding flash and flair to the proceedings instead of anchoring them). In the end, White was a member of Yes for half a century, from 1972 to 2022. How many artists can claim careers like that?

Yes are, of course, known for their complicated family tree, with various members coming and going and going and coming over the decades, rival troupes attempting to claim the “Real Yes” banner (oftentimes with both sides having excellent arguments for said claims), and radical changes in tone and style creating a fan base that is often widely enthusiastic in their appreciation for certain eras of the group, and lackluster or even antagonistic about other eras. For all of Alan White’s gifts, in the minds of some sizable portion of the Yes fan base, he was damned or denigrated for no other reason than the fact that he was not Bill Bruford, the founding drummer of Yes. Bruford is a genius, yes, in his own ways, and he went on to become a member of the Progressive Rock Royalty for his subsequent service with King Crimson, Genesis (briefly), UK, and his own various solo and small group projects. No argument about the merits of Bruford’s work and career, but most drummers aren’t him, obviously, and Alan White brought his own formidable gifts to the Yes fray, ending up playing on several of my own personal favorite Yes albums (e.g. Relayer, Drama, and Fly From Here).

It’s also important to look at the roles that Alan White played outside of Yes, and the esteem in which some of the most acclaimed rock musicians in history held his work and deployed his skills. He spent most of the ’60s backing such then-big, but now-mostly-forgotten rock and pop stars as Billy Fury and Alan Price, along with stints in Ginger Baker’s Air Force and Balls (a proto-supergroup featuring Denny Laine of the Moody Blues and Wings, and Trevor Burton of the Move, among others). In the cultural paroxysm that followed the dissolution of The Beatles, with each of the four Ex-Fabs working to establish themselves as unique solo artists, White was tapped to serve as the live and studio drummer for John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, appearing on the three records that arguably stand as the pinnacle of John’s solo career: Live Peace in Toronto 1969, the “Instant Karma!” single, and Imagine. White’s band-mates in the original incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band were John and Yoko, Klaus Voorman and Eric Clapton, and later incarnations of the group included George Harrison, Billy Preston and Nicky Hopkins. If that weren’t enough of an endorsement, John’s fellow ex-Beatle George also tapped White after their “Instant Karma!” appearance together to serve as one of his time-keepers on the epic All Things Must Pass album, again, arguably that particular Beatle’s peak recorded work as well.

By 1972, Alan White was gigging regularly while living in London with producer-engineer Eddy Offord, famed for his work with Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes, among many others. During the final stages of recording Yes’ legendary album, Close to the Edge, Bruford made the decision to jump out of Yes and into King Crimson. As White had gotten to know and spend time with the other members of Yes via his association with Offord, and given his impressive chops and resume, he was offered the gig, on short notice, to replace Bruford on the group’s imminent tour. (Selections of White’s work on that tour were released on the classic Yessongs album, a three-slab set that may be the exemplar and prototype of the live rock album idiom in the ’70s).

As Yes evolved and (occasionally) went into periods of hibernation and inactivity, White remained stalwart and steady behind his drum kit. He only released one solo album, Ramshackled, in 1976, when Yes decided that each member of the group needed to do so, whether he wanted to or not. White worked with a collection of colleagues from his Alan Price Set days in the ’60s, allowing them to write and sing the songs, while White just did what he did: he played the drums, really well. White also occasionally guested on other solo albums by Yes members, or with fellow travelers like Gary Wright and Paul Kossoff and Donovan and Joe Cocker, but, at bottom, he was Yes’ drummer, for better or for worse, in health and in (lately) sickness, until time, damnable time, finally took him away to the great drum riser in the sky.

His work and music gave me a lot of joy over the years. While I would have been hard pressed to imagine Yes existing and continuing on without Chris Squire, they’ve done so, and having already deputized Schellen to support White in his later years, I sort of expect that they might do the same thing again, leaving guitarist Steve Howe as the solo “classic era” member still standing in the group. (Of course, if the group undergoes one of its regular re-permutations that brings back classic era singer Jon Anderson and keyboardists Rick Wakeman and/or Tony Kaye, then all bets are off about the future). I guess from where I sit, as a fan, Alan White was such a stoic and supportive and solid member of the group for so long, that I’d feel okay if his passing was the final straw that made his colleagues, new and old, say “Yeah . . . that was a great run, let’s let it go in style.”

I’ll guarantee you that there will be plenty of drummers in plenty of bands out there who will keep Alan White’s work alive by playing plenty of his songs for plenty of audiences, for plenty of years to come. Yes don’t have to carry that sole responsibility to their collective graves. So RIP to a great player. All things must pass, indeed.

Alan White (1949-2022)

 

Different World

1. Marcia and I made a brief return to the Grand Canyon this past weekend. We wanted to get some hikes and exploring in, but we weren’t quite ready to do a trek as heinously difficult as the one we did last October. So instead of carrying our tents, bedding, and food down into and back out of the Canyon, we elected to stay at the Under Canvas resort some 20 miles south of the Park Boundary, and it was a delightful experience. Yeah, we slept in a tent, but we didn’t have to carry it. And it had a wood stove, which was helpful when the temperatures dropped to 29°F on Friday night. We ate breakfast and dinner in Under Canvas’ main tent, twice each, and the food quality and ease of ordering and service were both outstanding. We also had live music out under the stars each night, while we made S’mores over the propane fire pits, and it was a nice place to just sit around when you didn’t feel like doing anything strenuous. We’ll do that sort of trip again, for sure. (They’ve got several other locations around the country, so we’re already scouting them out). For our Grand Canyon hike, we elected to take the South Kaibab Trail down to Skeleton Point, down some three miles horizontally and 2,100 feet vertically from the South Rim, just far enough to get a first peek at the Colorado River, waaaaayyyy further below us. (It made our minds boggle that we actually went all the way down there last fall, and then hiked back out, with 30-pound packs). This past weekend, we made it down to Skeleton Point in about 90 minutes, and back out in about two hours, the latter trip slower not only because of the vigorous climbing, but also because of the temperatures, which approached 100°F, with the sun’s position offering paltry shade as we hugged the cliff walls on the way up the various switchbacks. The next day, after a lazy morning, we headed back toward Flagstaff and hiked up to Red Mountain, a really distinctive and cool collapsed volcanic formation. I snapped some pics, as I do, and you can see them by clicking of the sample photo below, taken at Cedar Ridge, about halfway down to Skeleton Point. . .

2. For our final years in New York and our first couple of years in Des Moines, I used to go out golfing with Marcia fairly regularly. She’s good at it, I’m not. But during our first stint in Iowa, I just got really tired of not only doing something that I couldn’t excel at, but also of the truly obnoxious “golf bro” culture that was so prevalent on courses there, public and private alike. So I quit golfing at that point, for those and a variety of other reasons. Fast forward to this spring, when for a variety of other, other reasons, I’m going to take it up again. I played nine practice holes yesterday and another nine today. I’m still not good, but I was pleasantly surprised how much muscle memory I maintained from having done it all those years ago. We’ll see how it all plays out. I think the fact that we now live in a place where you can play year ’round, and the fact that there’s a course at the end of our road, and the fact that this is mostly a lower-key, bro-free, retiree-laden community, hopefully will mean it’s easier to go out and have a good experience without having to be rushed by or listen to a shouty gaggle of drunken, cigar-smoking, racist/sexist louts trying to channel their inner John Daly. And I’m always happy to have the extra time with Marcia, so that matters too, a lot.

3. Another back to the future note: when the first Roomba robot home vacuums came out, I had to have one. But we found that the size of our house, and the fact that we had three cats, and the buggy early versions of that particularly home technology meant that our first Roomba didn’t get much done before gagging on cat hair and then spending an hour desperately cleaning and re-cleaning one table-leg until its battery ran out. A few months back, though, Katelin and John told us they had gotten a new one, and that the newer technology version seemed to be working well for them. So we gave it another try with a second Roomba, and I have to say that it seems to be working well for us this time. I can send the helpful little robot out from my phone while we’re out of the house, and so far, it just does its thing, and then properly takes itself home to its little docking station once it’s finished being useful. When I set up the account for the new helpful beastie, I had to give the unit a name. It didn’t take me long to settle on Tarkus, and if you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you’ll probably know why that is. I put a sticker of his eponymous armadillo-tank on Tarkus’ shell, so he’d know who is he, and when he does a particularly good job at his assignments, I’ve taken to giving him a little reward for his good work and service . . .

Clear the battlefields, and let me see . . .

4. I was sorry to read that Scottish guitarist Ricky Gardiner passed away this week. He was a core member of the interestingly odd Beggars Opera in the early 1970s, before a brief, but high-impact stint with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, appearing on the landmark “Berlin Era” albums Low and Lust for Life. His most lasting contribution to the core rock canon was his amazing riff and music for “The Passenger,” a critical, crucial song in the twinned journeys of Iggy and David at their most enigmatic and experimental. Iggy’s touring band in support of Lust for Life featured Bowie, Gardiner, and the Sales Brothers (Hunt and Tony) rhythm section, and those shows are arguably among the all-time most legendary live rock events, ever. Ricky Gardiner continued to write and record in a variety of genres until his failing health rendered him finally silent. He was a player, for sure, in the true and best sense of that word. Here’s a nice video for “The Passenger,” if you want to hear why that was the case . . .

One Way Or Another

1. I posted a few weeks back about my annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament pool, which I usually lose in embarrassing fashion, in large part because I over-think things, and make insider-knowledge, micro-aggressive picks that have little to no basis in the macro reality of the sport and its players. This year, though, I actually won my little group’s bracket pool (!), solely because I was the only person to pick Kansas to win the national championship. For perspective, in most standard pick ’em pools, the maximum number of points possible is 224 (32 points per round, over seven rounds). I won my group with but 95 points (42% of the possible best), probably demonstrating less my adeptness at picking outcomes than the general weirdness of this year’s tournament. Had North Carolina held on to defeat Kansas in the championship game, my sister would have won our group. I duly chastised her for picking the detested North Carolina Shitheels, since we’re from a long and devoted North Carolina State Wolfpack family (our grandfather, our father, and her husband were/are alumni there). Snarking ensued. It would have looked like this, had we been together to do it in person:

2. I also recently posted my picks for this year’s Academy Awards, as I also do on a (nearly) annual basis. I didn’t expect CODA to win Best Picture, but I was happy that it did. It is a glorious, wonderful film. There might have been tears involved when I watched it. But I am sure it was just allergies, ahem. I was also happy to see Jane Campion finally win an Oscar for directing The Power of the Dog. She’s great. Even before the now-infamous awards show slap, I was actively opposed to seeing Will Smith win the Best Actor award for King Richard, just as I was actively opposed to his nomination for playing one my deepest personal heroes in Ali. I don’t dislike Will Smith, particularly, but I also can’t get myself interested in the biographical roles that he plays. I was also “meh” on Jessica Chastain winning Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, though I expected it. The role seemed more like a triumph of hair styling and make-up design than it did a triumph of acting. That said, I do recognize that I’m probably among a relatively small number of diligent contemporary film buffs who was also regularly exposed to the real Bakkers and PTL Club, having been raised in a deeply devout, television-watching family. Film elite voters are always impressed when film elite actors play mildly-laughable country cracker types, but as a one-time mildly-laughable country cracker myself, I tend to find that urban sophisticate “Oh, these rural folks are so quaint and charming and funny and simple and wise, despite themselves” vibe to be often condescending and offensive. Oh well. At least they didn’t give Lady Gaga an acting Oscar. That really would have rubbed me the wrong way, had they done that.

3. Still on the Oscars, I was utterly appalled by the nominees and the winners of the Best Song and Best Score Awards, given that the masterfully musical Annette by Sparks and Leos Carax was completely ignored on the award-giving front. There’s no question in my mind that the finest song to appear in a film in 2021 was “So May We Start,” from Annette, which actually featured in the film, meaningfully, and also featured cast members singing, unlike most of the utterly dreadful nominated songs, which were mainly just shitty fluff tacked on to soundtrack the credits, opening or closing. (The nominated Van Morrison song from Belfast was an exception to that rule, but I loathe Van Morrison with a passion, so that point was somewhat moot in my own mind). Annette‘s score was also sublime, as opposed to the bloat-by-numbers bullshit that the tiresome Hans Zimmer loaded up upon the already intolerable and soul-lacking Dune, which won the Oscar. Bleh.

4. I generally feel just as foul when it comes to the Grammy Awards, where one would think that the voters would actually know and understand music, since that’s what the awards are for, for God’s sake, unlike the Oscars, where the music is a minor side-light. But their choices, too, are often inexplicably awful, in years where there is inexplicably great, even popular, music being completely ignored. That said, I was mildly surprised and pleased that Silk Sonic won the Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammy awards last week for “Leave the Door Open,” from the group’s debut album, which featured on my Best Albums of 2021 list. It’s a funny and sweet piece of post-Philly Soul, organic and “real” in ways that so many popular recent examples of assembly-line pop-by-numbers can never begin to replicate. If you don’t know it, it’s worth a quick spin, as is the rest of the album that spawned it:

5. The 1950 American Census data was released on April 1 this year for free search and discovery. You can dig into it here. I found both of my parents (then children) in the data, among other family members. Here’s my Dad’s family (the only Smiths on the page), and here’s my Mom (her surname was Waters). Nothing show-stopping in either of those reports, but still interesting to see what their respective neighborhoods looked like at the time, and how my grandparents described their work and educational experiences.

What Should Be Done

1. Marcia and I have been getting our healthcare insurance coverage for the past 18 months via the COBRA program, which allowed us to receive benefits as part of the last healthcare policy group she’d been a member of at the point when she retired from full-time work. But as our eligibility for that program came to its end, we visited the Federal Healthcare Website to see what our options were for the year(s) to come. We found a very good plan at a very reasonable price with a very nice Federal tax subsidy associated with it, and enrolled in said program accordingly this week. Thank you, President Obama, for that. We appreciate you, always. And we miss you!

2. Bauhaus were a tremendously influential and much appreciated band for me through most of the 1980s, and their successor bands (Love and Rockets, Tones on Tail, and solo projects by members Daniel Ash, David J, and Peter Murphy) kept me rolling in good music for years-to-decades after their original collective creative run petered out. I had read that the original quartet were on tour again this year, but was surprised when they issued a new single (the first new music they’ve released in 14 years) a couple of weeks ago, called “Drink The New Wine:”

The music media have been much impressed by the song’s origins, created via the surrealists’ game trope “exquisite corpse,” in which each of the group’s four members recorded their segments of the song independently, without having heard the other three members’ contributions. The results are shockingly coherent, but, then, that’s the point of the game, in that brilliant collaborative newness may (and in this case, does) emerge from the chaotic creative process behind the work.

But I’ve not seen (m)any members of the critical community recognizing that this is not the first time that Bauhaus have hoed this row, with one of the best songs from one of their best albums (The Sky’s Gone Out, 1982) being titled “Exquisite Corpse,” and being created under the same rubric. Here’s how that one sounded; it’s a personal fave:

Note well that the title of the new song makes it something of a sequel to the title of the earlier song, as they evoke the original surrealist quote penned by André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, and Yves Tanguy: “Le cadaver exquisite boar le vin nouveau,” which translates in English to “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.” Bauhaus (the group) also deployed this creative technique on a fairly rare b-side, where they titled the track with the band members’ names and the order in which said members created their contributions to the cut in question:

Always happy when artists I admire and respect return from long hiatuses with works that are challenging, yet anchored in their core creative values. Here’s hoping that Messrs Ash, J, Haskins and Murphy continue to make new music under their Bauhaus imprimatur. It’s a good one. I miss it.

3. We finished watching the first season of Our Flag Means Death last night. I’m all in behind the brilliant Taika Waititi, and will pretty much happily watch anything and everything that he does (except for his Marvel Universe Movies, because I boycott superhero and Marvel Universe Movies as a point of principle, as I think them a tired and sore blight on our modern culture) (but I don’t mind Taika making them, if they fund his original work), but even with that expectation for excellence, this series went in ways and places that I’d not imagined it going, and it was all fantastic. Here’s the trailer, as a tease, and I most emphatically recommend it to you:

I’ve read a lot of reviews and analysis of the series over the past few weeks, but few writers seem to have picked up on something that I knew going in, as a fan of the sorts of “tales of human suffering” books that tell stories like this one: lead character Stede Bonnett (played by Rhys Darby) was a real, historical character, who did indeed serve with the legendary Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard) for a period of time. Because my brain is somewhat broken, I found myself playing this musical version of the Blackbeard story on my internal mental jukebox for hours on end, the ear-worm factor in full, florid display:

4. I’ve written at length here over the past 18 months or so about the amazing natural beauty of our home region in Northern Arizona, and its exceptional geological history. I’ve written less often about the human history of the region, but it’s fairly incredible in its own ways. One of the cooler factors about rambling about this part of the country is finding petroglyph sites, where ancient humans left their marks by carving both decorative and utilitarian works of art in the region’s red rocks, often darkened black by microbial growth and aged lichens. I paid a second visit to one of the less known, but visually spectacular, petroglyph sites in our area this week, deeply enjoying these most cool art works, all by my lonesome:

When we’ve read or heard talks about the ancient cultures of our region (most notably the Sinagua People, who left the area en masse around 1400 AD), the writers or park docents do tend to focus heavily on the practical aspects of the places where the Sinagua settlements were developed, but I believe deeply that our ancestors were just as attuned to aesthetic “location, location, location” concerns in their own ways as we are in ours. Yeah, you needed safety and food and shelter and water back then when you decided to pitch camp or develop a settlement, sure, but I’d bet good money that the folks who carved these figures, and others in the area, also sat down at the end of the day, looked out before them, and said “Dang, this sure is a nice spot!” Here’s the view of this site, just before arriving at the rock carvings. Nice spot? Yeah, it is. Definitely.

Time of Revelation

1. After a couple of COVID-related fallow years in terms of live music-going, Marcia and I have slowly returned to attending concerts again in recent months, though living in relatively rural Northern Arizona, that generally implies trips to various other cities. We’ve recently acquired tickets to see The Who (in Las Vegas) and Paul McCartney (in Knoxville) in the months ahead, and I am eye-balling a few other shows that might rock our worlds around those. Should everything go forward as planned, 2022 will mark the year when I first see Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, and Sir Paul Himself in the flesh, after being a devoted fanboy of their work for most of my life. That’s exciting! Something to look forward to, if we’re able, collectively, to continue moving back closer to normalcy in a post-COVID world.

2. Since moving to Arizona, we’ve done trips to Northern California (plus Oregon and Washington), Southern California (L.A. to the Mexican Border), and Eastern California (Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Death Valley, etc.), and have enjoyed those trips tremendously. So for our 2022 Summer Vacation (we’re still not feeling confident enough to travel abroad), we recently booked flights, cars, and houses for a trip that will take us from Los Angeles to Marin County, just north of San Francisco. One of the nice things about moving to different parts of the country every so often is the ability to explore other new parts of the country without too much effort or strain. We’re really enjoying our (relative) proximity to the West Coast, and are glad to fill a gap in our experience on that coast with this trip.

3. I was delighted to discover that long-time favorite band Napalm Death released a new mini-album recently, entitled Resentment is Always Seismic (A Final Throw of Throes). It’s tremendous on early listens, a fine appendix to 2020’s Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism. If you dig the heavy stuff, then I commend it to you highly. Here’s the lead single, if you want a taste up front:

4. When we visited Katelin and John in Las Vegas last month, we were most impressed with the “Media Room” in their new house; they have essentially created a movie theater experience in their own home, frankly better than most of the movie-going experiences I had had prior to theaters shutting down for COVID. Amazing big-screen views, incredible sound, comfy chairs, and no assholes sitting in front us talking, or playing with their cell phones. Perfect! We have a large (though not as large as theirs) screen TV in our own home, but we’ve just been using the TV speakers for sound since we installed it. Inspired by Katelin and John’s set-up, I acquired a fairly robust sound-bar and subwoofer system, and installed it all yesterday. We watched the final two episodes of The Tourist (amazing show, highly recommended!) on the new system last night, and it was incredible. We also set up Marcia’s Spotify account to play over the system and, well, it is also incredible. I’ve written at length on my website (here’s the best example, I think) about my strenuous reluctance to embrace streaming music technologies, but I’m sorry to report that this sound system might be the thing that drags me into that world, kicking and screaming, just because the music sounds so, so, so good, compared to the system I’ve been using with my various vintage iPods. Grumble, grumble, grumble. I hate it when I have to learn new tricks.

5. A month ago, exactly, I was driving 60+ miles to Prescott, Arizona daily for jury duty, and I posted a photo taken on the drive of the most cool full moon I was seeing in the morning on my way over; it’s item #3 here. This morning, while driving home after getting my coffee from a shop in our village, I got to enjoy a similar scene, but closer to home. As always, cell phone cameras do a terrible job of snapping the moon (or any other celestial objects), but I did stop to capture this image, just to share a sense of how cool it was to see this, in my own neighborhood . . .

With Which I Am Well Pleased XV (Chaos Puddles)

Yet another installment in my recurring series, within which I share 15 things that have rocked my world over the past month or so. As always, I welcome your suggestions on things that I might have missed, but need to see, hear, watch, read, eat, play with, or experience!

FILMS

TELEVISION

MUSIC

BOOKS

Been Away Too Long

1. My three weeks as a juror at the Yavapai County Superior Court came to an end last week. We, the jury, found the defendant guilty of Second Degree Murder and 20+ related charges of property theft, forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft. Here’s one of the many news articles I saw about the case once our deliberations concluded. I’d be lying if I said that the process was not onerous (especially given my 60+ mile drive one way to the Court House), but I will admit that it provided an interesting deep dig into a variety of subcultures resident here in Arizona. It also felt right and good to do my own small part as a contributing citizen in our State and Nation at a time when personal and institutional selfishness and anti-government sentiments and actions are running rampant, to our collective detriment. I’ve got a two-year “get out of jury duty free” pass now, and I certainly won’t be clamoring for my next jury stint when that time runs out. But if called, I will serve. Because that’s how I roll.

2. As soon as my jury service was done, Marcia and I headed over to Las Vegas to visit our daughter Katelin and son-in-law John in the new house they bought in January. It was a wonderful visit, including the celebration of Marcia and Katelin’s shared birthday on Tuesday. The house was spectacular, and the work that Katelin and John have done on it over their couple of months of ownership made it even more so. We brought some small decorative items with us in various storage baskets, which we left behind should Katelin and John need them. But then we soon realized that Katelin’s and John’s needs did not matter with regard to the baskets, because the proper owner of the baskets (Lily the Cat) had staked her claim, and would not yield same:

3. This was the first visit we’ve made since Katelin and John moved to Las Vegas where most of the stereotypical entertainment options of the Las Vegas Strip were open and available and (nominally) safe, due to the various COVID restrictions that have been (rightly, correctly) in place there for most of the past two years. So we took advantage of both the outdoor options (which we’ve always done when visiting) and the indoor options (which we’ve not experienced in quite some time) while we were there. Highlights included:

Simply walking the Strip and gawking at the usual nonsense there:

Eating at a variety of great restaurants, most especially our second visit to Sparrow + Wolf, where we had also done Katelin and John’s wedding dinner last year. I cannot speak highly enough about the quality of the dining experience there. Should you visit Las Vegas, it is well worth your while to leave the Strip to dine there. I recommend that you ask your server to curate a meal for your table, as we’ve done both times we were there. Plentiful food, arriving at a proper cadence, interesting varieties and tastes and flavors and aromas, all of the highest quality. It’s world class, at bottom line. We also had lunch on the Strip one day, at The Venetian, one of me and Marcia’s favorite Las Vegas casino areas to ramble and roam:

We then played the KISS Miniature Golf Course at the Rio Casino. It was big, dumb fun, just like the band:

For outdoors fun, we did an exceptional hike at Lovell Canyon, just to the west of Las Vegas in the Spring Mountains. Obviously the tacky Strip elements of Las Vegas are what draw the greatest percentage of tourism traffic, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note just how amazing many of the natural regions around Sin City are, if you’re willing to strap on your boots and do a bit of mudding and scrambling and climbing and rambling:

And finally, we went to see the West Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Championship game, pitting National #1 Gonzaga against National #19 St. Mary’s. The Zags won by 13 points, but for most of the game, before a final scoring explosion, it was much closer than that, and a good example of college hoops played at the highest level. Of course, because we can’t have nice things, we ended up with an absolute idiot sitting and screaming (and drinking and drinking) behind us on behalf of her Gonzaga team, when she wasn’t coughing up various organs due to the smoker’s hack that made her voice even more finger-nails-on-blackboard than it would have been otherwise. The meanness of her spew was really dismaying, especially when directed toward a group of college-aged kids (big kids, yeah, some of them soon to be rich, big kids, but still). I totally get the student bodies at college basketball games engaging in various ritual chants and activities, but I’m always somewhat surprised and mostly appalled when adults, in this case even older than me, feel compelled to yell in a nasty fashion at kids at sporting events in ways that would get them locked up or punched if they did it on the street. She was an awful human being, at bottom line, and she marred what would have been quite a nice evening otherwise. That annoyance aside, we did have good seats, and we got a great view of a great game, even if we all ended up rooting for (losing) St. Mary’s just to spite the human garbage sitting behind us:

4. After the game, we walked over to the adjacent casino (everything in Las Vegas has an adjacent casino) and put bets down on the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Last summer, we had placed pre-season bets on Houston and Michigan State to win the Men’s Basketball Championship. We added new bets for Gonzaga and Southern California. I also turned $35 into $240 on a poker machine. Not a bad night, compared to most of my other casino experiences.

5. A few posts back, I enthused about a new EP from the brilliant Buggy Jive, one of my all-time favorite songwriters and musical artists. Buggy also makes incredibly brilliant videos, and I’m pleased to report that he’s recently added a new one to his catalog with this tune from I Don’t Understand How the World Works:

Words in the Distance

1. My civic duty as a juror continues. Two weeks down, hopefully one more week to go. I can’t say much more than that here, now, but will advise and report further once the whole thing’s run its course.

2. I’ve written at length over the years here about my love for King Crimson. Related to that: the general consensus is that the recently-concluded Crimson tour is the end of the road for the group as a live entity. Also, general consensus is that their song “Starless” is one of their best and most emblematic songs ever. Marcia and I have seen the current (final?) version of Crimson three times, and “Starless” is one of only a few songs that they played at every show. The official King Crimson website posted an update this week titled “The Last Starless,” a pro-shot video from the last show of the last tour in Japan. It’s outstanding, it seems to affirm that this is the end of the road, and I most heartily recommend it to you:

3. I’m saddened, horrified, annoyed, and appalled by the news associated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week, and I wish Vladimir Putin as much karmic ill will as I can muster. But as a trained political scientist, I’ve also been irritated by some of the major media coverage I’ve read about the historical basis for this current invasion, and about the cultural and political relationships between the Russians and the Ukrainians. (Never mind the narrative that finds a majority of members of the modern Republican Party having a higher opinion of Putin than they have of our own President, ugh!) Whenever matters of Russian import emerge online or in conversation, I routinely cite one of the very best books that I’ve ever read on that topic, so today seems to be a good day to share that recommendation again, for Nicholas Riasonovsky’s A History of Russia. The version I have was written before the fall of the Soviet Union, so it’s not a valuable resource in terms of understanding the latest era(s), but it’s utterly brilliant in terms of explaining and documenting the deep, long, potent, and (to American eyes and minds) weird history of the people who “emerged from the Pripet Marshes,” and who first made their mark on a continental scene as a nation known as Kievan Rus. That history certainly does not justify Putin over-turning nearly eight decades’ worth of continental stability, but I think it does explain why he thinks that his current actions make sense through the lens of deep history.

4. Speaking of history, after waiting for a few last images and photo clearances, I uploaded to the publisher’s site the final manuscript and supporting files for the book I’ve been working on for the past year, along with my collaborator, Jim McNeal.  Very satisfying to see it fly away through the ether. We’ll have to review and edit the type-set layout when it’s ready, and I’ll have to prepare an index once the final pagination is complete, but after that, it’s just a matter of meeting production and publishing schedules before it’s ready to land in your hands, should you be interested in it. I will advise further here when I have news. Because of course I will.

5. During my drive home from jury duty yesterday (63 miles from my home per item #2 here, bleh!), my iPod randomizer queued up the songs “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain” by Ten Years After, followed by “Hocus Pocus (Reprise)” (Live) by Focus. It occurred to me that I first heard both of those songs when I checked out their source albums (Cricklewood Green and At the Rainbow, respectively) from the lending library at Nassau Community College on Long Island’s Mitchel Field, sometime in the late 1970s. And that got me to thinking what a deeply important resource that was to me between 1976 and 1980, when I was still in middle/high school, but because of my base residency, had access to the college’s stacks and shelves. I first borrowed and read The Gormenghast Trilogy there, along with a variety of other seminal tomes in my intellectual development. I would generally go to the magazine room at least once a week to read the latest Billboard or Rolling Stone editions, getting tuned into what was happening in real time in the music world, beyond what I could readily access via local record stores and trips into New York City at the height of the CBGB era. So many things that still mean so much to me today first crossed my horizons via my many visits to that great lending library. And, therefore, to wrap up this post, I share a “Five Songs You Need to Hear” sequence, celebrating representative cuts from a quintet of albums that all appear of my Top 200 Albums of All Time list, and which I first heard courtesy of the librarians at Nassau Community College.

“50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain” by Ten Years After

“Hocus Pocus (Reprise),” by Focus

“Bitches Crystal,” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer

“I Just Want to See His Face,” by The Rolling Stones

“African Night Flight,” by David Bowie