Categorically

In keeping with generally accepted best blog practices, I use “category” functions to create a structural architecture for the materials here, both for my own convenience and (ostensibly) for that of my readers. If you’ve been following along here for any amount of time, it’s probably not a surprise as to how the top ten most common categories for my public output stack up. They are, in declining order:

  1. Music
  2. Writing
  3. Travel
  4. Work
  5. Science
  6. Home and Family
  7. Art
  8. Food
  9. Books
  10. Film and TV

That “Music” category is particularly well-used, with about 45% of all posts here bearing that label, about three times more than the closely-ranked second and third place “Writing” and “Travel” categories. Makes my primary creative and critical obsessions over the past quarter century pretty clear and obvious, I guess.

While I’m fond of the Hemingway Rewritten Theme that I use here on the blog, my one small annoyance with it is that post categories aren’t very prominent in the public view of the site. If you’re reading this article on the front-page of the website, for example, you won’t see them. But if you click on this or any other specific post, then scroll down to its bottom, you’ll see the assigned categories there, linked to their similarly labeled fellows. While that’s not necessarily meaningful in any way for some obvious and widely-used things like “Music,” it does mean that some of the more topic-specific items here that might lend themselves to cross-platform exploration by readers are not as intuitive as I wish they were.

So as a small Life During Quarantine Time Public Service for bored readers looking to explore the more arcane corners of this long-running blog, I cite some of my less frequently used categories below, with links and explanations to assist you in content trawling. Click any of them, and you’ll get all the articles so categorized in reverse chronological order, so you can keep scrolling and clicking that “Older Posts” button at the bottom of the page to your heart’s content. Assuming your heart beats to some of the same weird rhythms as mine does, anyway.

Best Albums: Loads and loads of lists, documenting best disc picks over time.

Best of the Archives: A 2020 dig into the first 15 years of the blog.

Concerts: An archive of live music reviews and experiences.

Credidero: A 2019 philosophical treatise.

Des Mean: Relics of a satire site I ran during our first stint in Iowa

Five By Five Books: An ongoing review series of my favorite novels.

Five Songs You Need to Hear: An ongoing peak at my current favorite obscurities.

Hidden in Suburbia: An archive of urban exploration adventures.

In Memorium: Obituaries for folks who moved me.

Interviews: An archive of conversations with musicians both famous and obscure.

Upstate Wasted: Relics of a scabrous group satire site where I once wrote tons.

Please do not return articles to the stacks yourself. I like to make my own messes.

1,000 (Again)

WordPress tells me that this is the 1,000th post here on Ye Olde Blog. Which is nice, but this is probably the fifth time or so that WordPress has informed me of this milestone, and I’d guess the first time I hit it was back around 2005 or so. I would estimate that the total number of items ever posted here is actually somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000.

Whenever the number of posts creeps much above that nice round thousand, though, The Destroyer tends to erupt from his pit of infinite darkness to balance my creative instinct with its opposite. That’s a key part of my process, such as it is. I write a lot. And I delete a lot. And when I delete, I delete for good. Well, as much as “for good” can exist on the Internet, where the Wayback Machine or other resources exist if I ever decided that I desperately wanted or needed an article that I’d already blown to pieces here. But that rarely happens. I’m happy to obliterate things.

I’ve also been invoking The Destroyer over at my one remaining social networking account: LinkedIn. I registered there about 12 years ago. I’ve held three full-time jobs in three different parts of the country since then, so in each case, there were loads of new connections to made in my new professional networks, such that I ended up being linked to about 2,000 people or so by early 2020.

But, honestly, I can’t quite tell you why or what good that ever did for me. My feed is typically filled with loads and loads of things that don’t interest me enough to click through, and I’ve never leveraged a LinkedIn connection for any personal or professional gain, since if I know someone well enough to deploy such leverage, I just do it in real life, not there. I have cross-posted things here with real-time alerts there, but the volume of return traffic that has generated over the years is barely meaningful against my total website traffic. So with this post, I’m going to turn that off. This article can stand as my LinkedIn social media epitaph.

LinkedIn remains an okay place to hang a public resume, I guess, and a fair number of job applications or freelance proposals I’ve written over the years request/require a link to a LinkedIn profile, so I don’t see destroying that, for now. I have started culling my unwieldy roster of LinkedIn connections though. The list included loads of folks who I didn’t actually know, but who had asked to link with me for one reason or another at some point or another, and I had rarely seen any reason to say “no” without feeling churlish about doing so. My list of connections is down to about 150 now, and may continue to shrink. Maybe down to zero, if that’s allowed, in keeping with my “I hate social networks” paradigm. We’ll see.

At any rate, if you’re reading this and you notice that we’re not connected on LinkedIn anymore, it’s nothing personal. You’re still more than welcome to connect with and/or follow me via my website, always the best place to do so. (When you’re at the top of my front page, there’s a little button at bottom right that allows you to either put me in your WordPress Reader, or get email alerts when I update).  You could also write comments on any or all of these posts, send me an email, or give me a call. I’m happy to communicate, as always. I just don’t see any reason anymore to do it via LinkedIn after a dozen mostly useless years there. The Destroyer likes things tidy, and brooks no fluff.

That’s a big part of why 1,000 seems to be the maximum-ish number of posts that my psyche tolerates here at the website. Just by the serial and periodic nature of what I do here, stuff becomes dated, or stale, or is overcome by events, and must go. Or I find things that were very specific to professional things happening in my life at certain points, but not today, and I don’t wish to have the bots and spiders and crawlers out there still associating me with work I don’t do anymore. Or my itchy trigger finger just presses “delete” when I run across a forgotten piece, just because it must have been forgettable, by definition, since I forgot about it.

In theory, I guess this means that the quality of the site gets better with each purge, as it becomes more densely filled with keep-worthy stuff. But since my new stuff may also be of variable quality or have different degrees of lasting relevance, that’s not really likely to be true in practice, over the long run. I mean, I am sure at some point down the line, I will write a post called “1,000 (Still Yet Again)” whenever The Destroyer next arises here, and this post will be vaporized. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The 1,000 rubric also resonates with me as the 25th anniversary of my website approaches, I think in July, plus or minus a month. (The first two incarnations of my website were hosted on long defunct sites with long URLs that I cannot remember or recreate, so I can only accurately track posts and activities back to 1999). 1,000 posts over 25 years equals 40 per year, or three and a third per month. That seems like a healthy clip, neither too spaced out, nor too obsessively scribbly. WordPress also tells me that ~150 posts here have received at least one read over the past 30 days. Some are more popular than others, obviously, but if that general trend is typical of a random 30-day period, then most everything here will be read at least once in every six month-ish period. That seems just fine. I’ll take it.

That’s all an historical interpretation rewritten by selectively looking backward, of course, but then what historical account isn’t?

I’d love to see Grover Cleveland on currency again. An under-appreciated leader from an under-taught era.

Four Mathematicians (Poetically)

I think I’m done archiving old concert reviews for now. While trawling though that old hard drive, though, I did find a few other things that I found amusing, and that have not been up on my public website since the 1990s. One that particularly pleased me was my series of short poems about mathematicians. I don’t know why I wrote them, but I was happy to be reminded of their existence, and share them today. Because nerd.

ONE:
He George Boole
He no foole
He new al-jabre
Nifty toole
Things be yeae
Things be naye
Or and nor nande
All things saye.

TWO:
Fibonacci, in perplection,
Logicked out the Golden Section.

THREE:
Gödel’s Hurdles:
By going out a system seeking proofs,
A bigger system’s spawned with bigger troofs.
(Repeat ad infinitum).

FOUR:
Georg Cantor, never dull,
Starts the count at aleph null.
Now he’s boxed and wormy dirty,
Contemplating aleph thirty.

I think I see a Fibonacci Spiral in his stylish hat.

Programming Note: Concerts

I was recently going through some old files on my back-up external hard drive and I found a bunch of concert reviews from my Metroland music critic days, roughly 1995 to 2003. Most of the reviews don’t merit any sort of preservation beyond sitting on that drive as they have for the past two-plus decades. There are some, though, that I think have public archival value given the caliber of the artists being critiqued, or some unique facet/aspect of the shows attended, especially since Metroland went kaput and has no public archives of its own.

So I’ve been posting these concert reviews here over the past couple of days, and will continue doing so until I’ve trawled through the whole archive. Might take a couple of days more. I’m back-dating them all to whenever the original articles ran in print, so they’re not all at the top of the home page, clogging up newer material. You can use the Concerts category links if you are interested in seeing any or all of them. You can also refer to the Interviews category if you’d like to read that back catalog as well. Many of the interviews were conducted to preview the concerts that I’m posting about now. I may cross-link all of those at some point. Depends on how ambitious and/or bored I get in the weeks ahead.

I’ve turned off the LinkedIn notifications for all of these new/old posts (that’s the only social media presence I maintain for now, somewhat begrudgingly, since I consider the other prominent platforms to be noxious cesspools of swilly shite), but WordPress still puts out new post alerts for these. This means that if you follow me via Reader or email, I must apologize for filling up your feeds/inboxes without being invited to do so. Though maybe you’re liking that, collectively. I’m surprised at how many reads some of these old nuggets are getting already. Go figger.

The last concert I saw in Chicago was an all-time great one, with King Crimson delivering the goods, and how. This photo was taken post-show by bassist Tony Levin. If you click on it to enlarge, and look closely in the front row, just left of center, you’ll see Mr Prog Nerd and Bride, most happy to have been there.

Tiny Blue Isle

We all live on a tiny blue isle
in a ravening crimson sea
that scours our shore
as storm gales roar
from windward side to lee.

We all live on a tiny blue isle
that shudders against the waves
of scarlet brine
and turpentine
leached from sunk slavers’ graves.

We all live on a tiny blue isle,
that’s smaller, day by day,
as marshland sinks
into that pink
foam sloshing ’round the bay.

We all live on a tiny blue isle,
like a berry in currant crème,
a healthy mote
that stays afloat
in a sticky blood-red stream.

We all live on a tiny blue isle
and work one job, with glee:
we fling blue sand
with spade and hand
to fight that damned red sea . . .

I wrote this poem on November 10, 2016, after seeing some version of the following electoral results map:

I don’t often get political here on any partisan basis (though I presume my allegiances are clear), since nobody needs yet another voice howling into the Twitsphere about that which each of us feels is obvious, creating ever more repetitive echoes in our respective chambers of cognizant isolation. But while looking for an old article to reference in an another post, I re-read “Tiny Blue Isle” for the first time since I wrote it. I’m pleased with it as an original take on a tiresome topic, so I am sharing it again today. Take it as you will.

Back in February (Jeezum Krow, it was only three months ago?!?), Marcia and I participated in the dumpster fire that was the Iowa Democratic Caucus, which was appalling in the moment, and even more so in hindsight. Never again, America, please?  We just took our next step in the 2020 electoral process today by casting our ballots by mail for the Iowa Democratic Primary, which only featured one competitive race in our district: the Senate candidate who will challenge Joni “Hog Balls” Ernst in November. Here’s hoping Iowa can count our ballots correctly this time. I take nothing for granted on that front anymore.

We’ll be supporting candidates and organizations on a nationwide basis in the months ahead to perhaps create new blue land around our current tiny isles, while taming those ever-more damnably bloody red seas. And with that on the table today, we will return to our regular piffle and tripe here on Ye Olde Blog with my next post, whenever that may be. Likely soon. Quarantine Time is certainly fostering blog post fecundity.

International Feel

Having recently posted playlists documenting our family quarantine-time jazz and gospel listening favorites, and my own personal extreme fare, it occurred to me that there was one more prominent discrete chunk within our roster of regular spins: international music, with heavy emphasis on the African continent.

In my memorial to the late, great Johnny Clegg, I explained the roots of my love for African music, and how the Scatterlings album by his first group, Juluka, factored into that equation:

While at the Naval Academy in the early ’80s, I made a decision to focus my political science major on African politics. My motivations were not entirely altruistic: I found that it was easier to wait until the last minute to work on papers and projects because so few books about Africa ever got checked out of the Academy’s library, while the Soviet or European or Chinese shelves would be picked clean most of the time. Score one for the lazy man with a keen eye for an angle.

Initial motivations notwithstanding, I actually really got into my African studies, and in parallel, I got deeply interested in African music, and spent much of my paper-writing, reading and studying time listening to it. In those pre-Internet and pre-“World Music” CDs at the Starbucks check-out counter (bleh) days, records and tapes from Africa were still relatively hard to find, and information about all but the most high-profile artists (e.g. Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, Miriam Makeba, King Sunny Ade, etc.) was scarce. I had an odd hodge-podge of tapes and albums from all over the continent that I played to death for a couple of years, but the global popularity of Scatterlings (which was even reviewed by the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin) opened up new interest in African music, politics and culture that made it easier to access some true gems of the era and beyond, on and on for me up to this day.

My dig at “World Music” in that quote is indicative of my long-standing distaste for that term as a single proper noun, emerging as it did around the time that Paul Simon’s Graceland became a huge hit through its equally huge appropriation of South African popular music. That phrase, when used in the United States, presumes two things that I find objectionable: (1) That the United States is somehow not quite part of the world, and (2) That the world’s music can be meaningfully blocked as a single genre. Even clustering “African Music” (note the capital letters) as a single genre fails on this front, given the immense ranges of styles, languages and instruments deployed in both traditional and modern fare. “African music” is more correct, an adjective-noun combination that leaves open the breadth and depth of experiences to be found therein. It’s simply music from Africa, not a genre into and of itself. Similarly, I use “international music” in lieu of “World Music,” when viewing my song catalog from my perch as an American listener. Yeah, I know that’s subtle, but words matter.

In looking at the most-played songs in our household since the dawn of the dread, and trying to decide which ones qualified as “international music,” the distinctions I made were: (1) Any non-English language music, or (2) Any music produced by artists from or working outside of the United States and the United Kingdom, as those nations’ pop and rock-based musical industries and traditions are so closely knit in most cases as to be legitimately indistinguishable, beyond particular folk traditions, none of which popped up in my dozen most potentially qualifying most-played songs. The top dozen qualifiers of that cut make a pleasing list, including music released as recently as April 2020, and as far back as the late 1950s. There are seven songs by artists from various African nations (including some working elsewhere due to various diasporas), one from Jamaica, one from Japan, one from Denmark, one from Peru and one from Germany.

The songs are delightful and diverse in their own rights, and they also help remind me that what we’re experiencing at home these days doesn’t end at our national boundaries. There’s a world of art and culture out there to be savored, even in the world of hurt in which we find ourselves in these transformational times. Happy spins, in hopes of happier times.