Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Neil Young

On 12/13 I travelled will my friend Brohan to see Neil live in concert at the DCU Center in Worcester MA. Wilco, another favorite of mine, opened up the show. Along with a newer band called Everest. As a pre-show tune up we ate Vietnamese food drank some special type of coffee that expanded our already ample amount of chest hair. Both openers were in good form but Shakey was clearly the highlight. He and his band were in fine form. Pulling from his whole catalogue from hard rockin' to gentle acoustic, Neil threw it down like no-one else can. Some of my personal highlights were sweet renditions of "Cortez the Killer", "The Needle and the damage done", "Cinnamon Girl", "Old Man" and a killer encore with a fantastic version of the The Beatles "A Day in a life".

I have seen Neil five time before, but this was his best show yet. Which is saying a lot as the other shows were also nearly flawless. The exception being a 1985 show where he was touring as "Neil Young and the Blue Notes". It was good for what it was, but I'm sorry I just don't want a brass section at a Neil Young show.

As I am writing this I find myself thinking in my "second job as a rock critic" mode. So... without further adieu I will offer up that time honored rock critic staple: The definitive list. Today's list is the Top Ten Rock and Rollers of all time, in no particular order.

1. Neil Young
2. Bruce Springsteen
3. John Lennon
4. Bob Dylan
5. Elvis Costello
6. Pete Townshend
7. Brian Wilson
8. Elvis Presley
9. Frank Zappa
10. Ray Davies

Who would you add/remove?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

St. John of the Cross

For those of who take note of such things, December 14th is the Feast of St. John of the Cross, the great Carmelite mystic. He died in 1591, aged 49 years. He is considered by many the greatest mystic and spiritual master the Roman Catholic church has ever produced. That he developed in this regard while being imprisoned by the Church for "canonical offenses" has special appeal to this writer, as I too hold many beliefs that are no doubt "offensive" to the hierarchy. He has been called "El Doctor de la Nada" The Doctor of Nothing. This refers to his understanding, espressed best in his book's "The Ascent of Mount Carmel", "The Dark Night of the Soul", and "The Spiritual Canticle", that one must be stripped of all images, no matter how beautiful, pious or profound, if one is going to penetrate into the very heart of existence. As one who has studied eastern philosophies, particularly Zen Buddhism, the analogies are readily apparent. He also sounds very much like a Quaker at times.

The essence of John's teaching is that ideologies, beliefs, creeds, religions, are all steps along the way that must be ultimately abandoned. Or, more prescisely, the "attachment" to these things must be abandoned. This is tough medicine for many people to swallow. Especially those in power. And of course it is much easier said than done. But just imagine how much less bloody and twisted religious history would have been if only this teaching had flowered widely!

I cannot help but reflect how our lives, society, and even planet have been negatively affected by all our various "attachments". In Buddhist terms it has been stated that all of our suffering is caused by our attachments. It is then broken down into two components: Craving and Aversion. Either we want something we don't have, or we want to get rid of something we have, but don't want. Thus if you stop "wanting" your life gets better. It's as simple that. You will find this very same thing in St. John of the Cross.

And if you want to read someone who is currently on the scene and who carries on these ideas in an accessible and jargon free way, you may want to pick up something by Eckhart Tolle. (As featured on Oprah!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Live Long and Prosper

"Live long, and prosper". So said Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. These words come to mind today as an almost perfect Thanksgiving blessing; a day we here in the USA celebrate tomorrow. Often our thoughts tend to wander far afield when we think of what we are grateful for, and we soon realize, if we give it careful thought, that our real blessings are in fact endless. And as our thoughts inevitably tend toward the future we find our hopes for this future gathered together in this single utterance. "Live, Long, and Prosper". It's the definitive prayer. Really. If you are not convinced, take this simple test: think of any problem or concern you have. Now imagine an outcome that could not be improved by the realization of this one statement. You simply cannot do it. Long life and success. That pretty much covers it. And you really want both, don't you? I mean, Mozart had great success, but his death at 36 kind one makes one wonder "what if"? Likewise, the war criminal and dictator/terrorist Augusto Pinochot lived to be 91. He did not prosper on any scale I choose to employ.

So.... that's my Thanksgiving Day wish for you. "Live long and prosper"!

(a curious note: a few years back I saw Leonard Nimoy, the actor who plays Mr. Spock, give a talk in which he discussed the famous hand signal that went with the phrase "Live, Long, and Prosper". He said while filming the original series he was asked to come up with something that would make his character appear "otherworldly". He then recalled going to synagogue as a young child. There is a part in the service where those in the congregation of a certain age and initiation level are supposed to avert their eyes, as what is taking place to "too holy to behold". Well, being a normal curious young lad, Leonard one day could not resist peeking. What he saw was the Rabbi holding up his hand in what popular culture now knows as the "Vulcan salute". This symbol in it's Jewish origin stands for "Shekinah" or the "Divine feminine". So there you have it. As Mr. Spock would say "Fascinating".)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Let's go Red Sox!

Let's hear it for the "little guy"! Yesterday Dustin Pedroia, 2nd baseman for the Sox, won the American League MVP award. He is the first 2nd baseman to win the award since 1959. DP has been my favorite Sox player the last couple years because at 5' 8" he is the hope of us regular folk. He epitomizes the fact that hard work and guts and skill can win out over physical giftedness in the arena of professional baseball. I mean lets face it, the guy has been told he is too small to make it at every level of baseball he has participated in since his High School days. And yet here he is, MVP. This year he led the league in hits (213), doubles (54), and multi hit games (61). I only got to see him only once this year, at Camden Yards, in Baltimore. As I recall this years 3rd place finisher in MVP voting, Kevin Youklilis, stole the show that night. Along with a typical "walk five or six batters and still dominate" performance by Daisuke Matsusaka.

Why am I writing all this down here? Because I need to go on record as saying "I love baseball". I miss that the season is over and that I have to wait till spring to see another game. During the season I watch at least some ball almost every night of the week. Baseball is really the perfect game. I won't make that case here, whole books have been written on that topic anyway.

Now, just to be self-indulgent, I will list two personal basball watching highlights that come to mind. For the record: in 2000 I travelled to Fenway Park and watched Pedro Martinez (when at his best, the best pitcher in the history of the game) strike out 16 batters. A feat that has been surpassed in only a handful of games in baseball history. And in 2004, October 19th to be exact, I travelled to Yankee Stadium to see the Red Sox beat the Yankees in game 6 of the ALCS. That was the infamous Curt Shilling "Bloody Sock" game. The following night they beat the Yanks in game 7 thus, after being down 0-3, completing the biggest comeback in a seven game series in baseball history (by the way, does this make the Yankess the biggest losers in history?) And of course from there the Red Sox, as history records, went on to win their first World Series Championship in 86 years.

So, you may ask, what do I look forward to now that Baseball is over for the season?

Simply really: February 22nd, 2009...mandatory reporting date for all postion players!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Are you an "Elite"?

Well now we have it... a new President. And one that can speak like a Elite! (by the way the test of whether one speaks like an Elite is simply whether or not you cringe every fourth sentence out of their mouth. If you have gone five sentences without being embarrassed that your even listening, you've got an Elite on your hands).

And this reminds me of that whole fracas a few months back when President Elect Obama (Ooo that sounds good!) was being roundly criticized as "elitist". My counter to this aruguement is simply: "What the hell is wrong with Elites?". I have heard that much of the appeal of the soon to be former President Bush is that he seemed like a "regular guy". I guess that "Joe six pack" liked him because he wasn't all stuffy and intellectual. Well, excuse me Joe but I don't want an "average regular guy" as President of The United States. I want an Elite. Someone who is superior in their abilities. Or to put it in a non-elitist way: Smart is good. Dumb is bad. Got it? Now if any of you happen to meet a "regular guy/gal" on your travels and they start to take issue with all the egg-head elitists that are moving into the corridors of power, just tell them this: " You know you really like Elites anyway. Yes you do. You really do. I mean you like the Navy Seals and Green Berets. Right? And what are they commonly called; Yes, that's right.. Elite forces".

This stuff just writes itself.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Revolution is just a T-shirt away

I write these words at 2:24 p.m. on 11/4/08. Later today, in all likelyhood, Barack Obama will be elected the 44th President of the United States. If this happens this will be without a doubt the most historic Presidential Election since Colonial times. That an African American could hold the highest office in this land...well, to use the words of songwriter Greg Brown "Who woulda thunk it?"

And this a great and hopeful revolution. If it turns out as I suspect it will, I can say that there has not been a day in my 49 years that I have been prouder to be an American. I have no logical reasoning to support this claim. It's just a feeling. And I certainly do not claim that Barack and his platform are beyond criticism. But if someone asked for first thoughts I would say, as someome who has studied American History in some depth, that maybe happiest by-product of this contest is that, psychologically speaking, it effectively eliminates the residual bad karma of slavery in this country. One can tout Civil Rights and Affirmative Action all one wants, but the election of Barack Obama speaks louder by far that any compensatory action that has come before.

Of course not all the votes have been counted yet. But my gut feeling is tremendously positive. And if you can forgive me for a rather silly digression, I must admit that the fact that Barack and I share the same birthday (August 4th) is especially pleasing to one who, out of some mysterious constitutional necessity, has spent probably too much time remembering various historical dates, events, and personages.

By the way, if you are wondering about the heading of this entry search out the songwriter Billy Bragg and read the lyrics of his song "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward".