Saturday, June 6, 2015

One Good Thing About Afghanistan

I meet lots of people who have either served with the militarily in Afghanistan or worked as contractors there. At some point, after hearing so much negative feedback about Afghanistan, I decided to focus on the positive and start asking folks who have been there to tell me one thing good about that country. 

The first person I asked had been a contractor there, and he was dumbfounded and had a really difficult time coming up with something positive to say about Afghanistan. Finally, after thinking about it for a lot longer than I expected, he said confidently, "The roads in the tunnels are really good." I don't know what tunnels the gentleman was referring to. 

The next person I asked about Afghanistan had been a soldier there. A female soldier. She had a difficult time coming up with something positive to say about Afghanistan too. She thought it over for a long time and eventually said, "The translators were all really nice." Culturally, she had great difficulty there because the Afghan men were offended by her role as a female soldier. Women's Rights is an oxymoron in Afghanistan, and being escorted by a woman, especially an armed female infidel, was humiliating to many of them.  

Wow! Nothing about amazing sunsets, sunrises, spectacular vistas, or great food, (I'm personally a fan of Afghan cuisine). "Is it really that bad there?" I wondered. 

I was somewhat surprised when I asked the third person to tell me one good thing about Afghanistan. "The food is wonderful" he said without hesitation. He had been a contractor in various parts of Afghanistan and used the opportunity to learn about the culture. 

A few months passed by the time I talked to a UAV pilot who had been to Afghanistan. He told me that the "food was delicious," and added that he was impressed how hard the Afghans labor for their food, watering everything by hand.

On another occasion, a sketchy young man who seemed to be high on something was trying to get money for a hotel room. When he mentioned that he had been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan I asked him to tell me one good thing about the latter. Without any hesitation, he replied, "The people." His body language gave him away though. I knew that he was lying and would say anything to get money for drugs. He had never been to Afghanistan.

Most recently, I spoke with a soldier who has served two tours in Afghanistan. He was thrilled by my question and responded positively, "The children!" He then related some experiences that provided hope for Afghanistan's future. "Not everyone there hates us" he told me.

Maybe there is hope for Afghanistan after all. Lets hope so.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Best of 2014 - the Return of Vinyl in 3D

2014 may be remembered as the year vinyl records made a comeback. For some of us, records never left, but to the greater marketplace, vinyl has become a hot commodity, and is challenging compact disc sales for the first time in decades.

Vinyl is back and more beautiful than ever, therefore, the BEST OF 2014 is honoring four very different records with one thing in common. VINYL. This year, all of the BEST OF category winners won based on a set of criteria. The record itself was aesthetically pleasing in addition to being musically exceptional, and extra credit was given for creative marketing

Fever the Ghost ~ Crab in Honey

Even though Fever the Ghost materialized only a couple of years ago, in that short time, they've astounded audiences and pleased even the most scrupulous vinylphiles with their sparkling EP, Crab in Honey. 
3D picture of double 7" Crab in Honey EP by Fever the Ghost

In February, Swell Swann released the original US vinyl version of Fever the Ghost's debut EP. Crab in Honey is actually a double single; two 7" 45 rpm records, one blue and the other red. A few months later, Heavenly Recordings released a beautiful cherry-red 12" version in the UK. 
3D picture of 12" European version of Crab in Honey by Fever the Ghost

Of course, the Crab in Honey EP is available as a download, but I prefer listening to it on the very special cassette tape that features deluxe 8-bit versions of the songs on the other side of the tape.

Crab in Honey is NOT available on CD, and one of the ghosts told me that the band has vowed to "never release a compact disc version of their music." Good luck with that. 

2014 was a big send-off year for Fever the Ghost. The band teamed up with Sean Lennon for a short tour then hooked up with Flaming Lips and have been touring with them. Fever the Ghost was even included on Flaming Lips' Beatles tribute album, With a Little Help From My Fwends, and performed the first track, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Fever the Ghost recently completed recording a full-length LP that is due out sometime this year. 

Sleepy Sun ~ Maui Tears

Sleepy Sun keeps getting better and better and their 2014 release, Maui Tears, may be their best batch of songs yetI don't know how Sleepy Sun finds time to record new music since they seem to be on the road** most of the time. 
3D picture of Maui Tears double 12" by Sleepy Sun

Sleepy Sun music has pretty much always been available on beautifully fancified vinyl as an option. Their latest release, Maui Tears, is one of the most gorgeous records I own. A double EP consisting of two 12" 45 rpm colored vinyl records, one marbled turquoise and the other marbled burgundy. Splendid! 

The vinyl is divine, but what carries most weight on this record is the music itself. My favorite Sleepy Sun record to date. Their captivating spacey music is perfect for driving across the desert. Maui Tears is somewhat a departure from their earlier releases, and captures a broad cross-section of styles including, (but certainly not limited to), the progressive and psychedelic elements that they've always been defined by.

Buoyant but not bogged down.

This record demonstrates Sleepy Sun's ability to weave heavy and light, powerful ~ sensitive, brutal ~ tender memes in true form to their traditional trademark sound. Whether or not Sleepy Sun was trying to prove something with this record, they did. Not only the best album of the year, Maui Tears is among the best albums ever.

Primus and the Chocolate Factory

Primus came on the scene just as vinyl was being replaced by the compact disc. 

I can't imagine a better ensemble to cover the music from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory than Primus, whose funky deep-tonal dark humor is perfect for this scrumptious concept album.

3D picture of two Primus and the Chocolate Factory LP's. The disc on the left is the standard chocolate pressing, the disc on the right is an apparent misprint that sneaked past quality control.

I was skeptical at first, having never seen either of the Willy Wonka or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movies, but after one listen to Primus' version, I was so intrigued that I was motivated to watch both.

The vinyl is chocolaty delicious and the Wonkaesque art on the record is a nice touch...  
Keeping with the Wonka theme, Primus also sold candy bars and even pressed five special "Golden Ticket" versions of the record on gold vinyl. The Golden Ticket versions were placed randomly among the other records before distribution. Those lucky enough to find a Golden Ticket record will be able to attend Primus shows for LIFE. I heard that Augustus Gloop found one in Germany.

Here's a short tour of the Chocalate record factory.

Sadly, I missed the Chocolate Factory Tour°° :-(

Levin Brothers

Tony Levin is a musician that needs no introduction. In 2014, Tony teamed up with his brother, Pete, and released their first jazz album. An instant gold record, because the record itself was gold.

3D picture of the Levin Brothers limited edition gold record

Historically, a gold record meant that one million copies had been sold. On Tony Levin's Blog, he joked that he believes°* " the current market for vinyl record sales, even ONE album sold should be certified as gold. Therefore, in a reverse of the normal procedure, we have made the Levin Brothers record gold from the start." 

This vinylphile couldn't resist getting one of 1,000 copies of this special edition gold record released on Lazy Bones Recordings. All subsequent pressings will be on black vinyl, which is still awesome, but not spectacularly beautiful.

Here's a sample 

** I've been fortunate to see Sleepy Sun perform a handful of times, including their very first show at the old Vets Hall in Santa Cruz, CA back in 2007.

°° I've seen Primus SO many times that I can't keep the shows straight. This would have been an exceptionally memorable show. 

Primus front man, Les Claypool teamed up with the Melvins guitarist, , released a country album under the moniker, Duo du Twang. Said record would have been considered as Best Country Record if it had been pressed on special vinyl and if Best Country Record wasn't an oxymoron.

°* From the article, About Gold Records: a Brief History of Gold Records as reported (only somewhat accurately) by Tony Levin 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

SHADOWLAND in 3D - Another Evening with the Residents at the Rio

Part Three of the Randy, Chuck and Bob Trilogy
 This is not a 3D photo

OK, I've seen the Residents perform probably more than most people should. And I've been fortunate to see the Residents perform at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, CA more than every other venue combined. That was easy to do when I lived in Santa Cruz, only a couple of blocks from the Rio, but now I live behind the Zion Curtain - a long thirteen-hour drive away.
3d photo of the Rio Theatre doors.

3D photo of a Hello Dolly record that Skinny found in the hall.

I go back home to Santa Cruz as frequently as possible and had been waiting for the Residents to announce US tour dates so that I could plan around that. One day, I learned through the grapevine that the Residents would be playing the Rio on March 12, giving me about three weeks to get time off, make travel arrangements and secure lodging. That's usually easy for me to do, but this time there were numerous obstacles to overcome... however, I made it.
I was pretty stoked when my tickets showed up in the mail. It was much easier when I could drop into Logos or Streetlight and buy tickets, but it was awesome that there was an on-line option. 

The long drive across Nevada was agonizing as usual. By the time I got to Auburn, I began to remember what it felt like to be alive again. My skin immediately responded to the wonderful moist air. So nice to be able to breathe. I sometimes feel somewhat suffocated out in the arid Deseret Territory. 

Revitalized! The wild mouse ride* from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz kept me awake and B4** I knew it, I was on Highway one, heading to my daughter's house in Pleasure Point where she and my son were waiting for me. All of us attended the show at the Rio the following night. My kids both grew up listening to the Residents and this was my 22 year old daughter's first Residents performance. Shadowland was my 25 year old son's sixth Residents show. He's been attending Residents performances with me since he was ten years old. Lucky lad!
Rio doors

There would be only two shows on this tour and when it was announced that Shadowland would be Charles Bobuck's final tour with the Residents, I was happy that I could attend to say adios to Chuck and wish him well. 
3d photo of the Rio Theatre ticket booth.

There were lots of familiar faces in attendance. Old Santa Cruz friends and folks I've met while waiting in line at other Residents shows. Residents people is good people.
3d photo of the Rio Theatre doors. 

The show opened with a 20 minute video that cataloged a short history of of the superintendents of the subterranean. Then after a short period of prelude music, (selections from Charles Bobuck's the Highway), the lights dimmed, and one by one, the Residents took the stage.
3D photo of projection orb. 

The first song of the evening was Rabbit Habit, from the Bunny Boy album. The singer was wearing a horned skull mask, white gloves, and a long-tail white jacket over a tight body suit made to look like muscles, veins and cartilage. He also sported a fancy golden codpiece.
Photo courtesy of Rich O`Rielly  

 Photo courtesy of Don Fickles

At the conclusion of Rabbit Habit, the singer ripped his mask off and revealed his face. "Surprise! It's me, Randy, singer for the Residents," he announced. We were all SO surprised.
Photo Courtesy of Don Fickles. 

Randy introduced Chuck as "my former friend, the despicable Carlos." I suppose it was a jibe in reference to Chuck's announcement that he was retiring from touring. Throughout the Randy, Chuck and Bob Trilogy, Randy has consistently bad-mouthed Carlos, the Residents former drummer, because he retired from the band. Get over it, Randy!
 Photo courtesy of Rich O`Rielly

 Photo courtesy of Rich O`Rielly

Dressed in white jackets, the residents delivered an up-beat Vegas style show. Bob, who is often found sitting, Fripp style, at Residents performances, stood tall to assume rock star position for this tour. I really enjoyed watching his tall lanky frame squeeze out every last squeak and scratch from his guitar. Incredible.
Photo courtesy of Rich O`Rielly

Photo Courtesy of Don Fickles. 

Shadowland is Part 3 of the Randy Chuck and Bob Trilogy and is all about birth and rebirth. The previous two shows on the Trilogy tours were about death and love, respectively. Therefore, the Randy Chuck and Bob Trilogy is "life in reverse" according to Randy. "What a concept" 

Shadowed Shadowlanders in 3D- life in reverse

3D photo of projection orb. 

Nifty images were projected onto a 5' diameter inflated orb as the power trio played their thematic musical selections of familiar tunes. Every few minutes, the lights would dim, and the Residents would stand at attention as short Shadow Stories were projected onto the orb.  

The Libertine - photo courtesy of Don Fickles

The Diver - Photo Courtesy of Don Fickles

Photo courtesy of Don Fickles

There were six Shadow Stories in all. The short monologues by the Butcher, the Libertine, the Garbage Man, the Diver, the Model's Mother, and the Engineer were humorous and a bit dark. Whenever I see a Residents performance, I'm reminded how dark they can be and I ask myself, "Do I really like this?"

The Residents chose Mourning Glories, one of my long time favorite songs, as an encore. The song originally appeared on the Not Available album which was my very first Residents record that I purchased at Cosmic Aeroplane way back in 1979.

As usual, there was some fancy schwag available for purchase. There were only 75-80 copies of a special edition Shadow Stories CD that were exclusively available at this show as part of the Shadowland CD debut. 
Limited edition Shadow Stories compact disc on fancy transparent wrapping shroud.

The limited edition Shadowland/Shadow Stories CD set came wrapped in a fancy transparent cellophane shroud that was easy and fun to unwrap & re-wrap. The Shadow Stories CD is made to look like a tiny record - black with grooves.
Shadowland/Shadow Stories CD's on shroud and backside of  Theory of Obscurity T-shirt.

From Santa Cruz, the Residents were off to premier their new documentary film, Theory of Obscurity at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX. The Residents will also perform at SXSW which will be the final show on this tour. 
Photo courtesy of Rich O`Rielly

I'm interested to see the Residents' next incarnation. Will there be a Randy and Bob duo? Will the Residents break up? Will Chuck be uploaded onto the Residents' main-frame and become an electronique participant at future tours? Unanswered questions. 

Special thanks to Rich O'Rielly and Don Fickles for allowing me to use their photos.

* Highway 17 

** Santa Cruz lingo 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Old maps at Stanford prove that California was an Island less than two centuries ago

The Stanford University Library has in its possession hundreds of maps that depict California as an island. The dates of the maps range from 1622 to the mid 1800's and came from China, Japan, Italy and etc. The maps in Stanford's Glen McLaughlin Collection depict California as an island, and provide some other surprising details, like knowledge of the Great Salt Lake and the Door County Peninsula on Lake Michigan. With so much detail, what's the deal with California Island?
Image from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries.

The fact that the western half of California was an island during the early colonization period is one of the best kept secrets in American history. The physical annexation of the great island involved a decades long, secret government program, that resulted in California being grafted to the mainland of the United States. 
Image from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries.

From 1846-1848 President Polk lead the US to a sweeping victory over Mexico that culminated in America's 3rd largest land acquisition in history. That acquisition included the strategically located California Island, which was still completely separated from from the mainland. President Polk appointed Colonel Zachery Taylor to head up a feasibly study on how best to secure California, the economic and strategic jewel of the spoils of the Mexican War.
Image from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries.

Colonel Zachary Taylor had first hand knowledge of California's economic and strategic significance having participated militarily at the Battles of Palo Alto and Monterey. When he became president of the United States in 1849, Taylor initiated Operation Skip-stone, an extensive clandestine covert operation that made the containment of California a national priority. Skip-stone expanded the Polk plan to connect the great island to the mainland. California could not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands or become a nation unto itself. 
Image from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries. 

Skip-stone propagandists leveraged rumors of gold in California to lure laborers westward. Most of the treasure seekers were detained and forced to move mountains to the sea. Hundreds of labor camps located between Mexicali and Merced housed hundreds of thousands of detainees, most of whom never saw freedom again. 

Image from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries.

In addition to the need to satisfy an ever-increasing number of laborers for Skip-stone, new technology was also needed. Meantime, so was cooperation from the Mormons and subjugation of the Native Americans. In 1854, President Pierce sent Colonel Steptoe to Utah Territory to secure assistance from territory governor and Mormon prophet, Brigham Young. Governor Young agreed to help in "controlling" the Native Americans, and to cooperate with plans for American westward expansion.
Image from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries.

The Mormon cooperation secured the Skip-stone agenda in the territory and the realization of a transcontinental railroad system in 1869 provided a steady flow of materials and laborers from the east. Steam engines and railroads revolutionized the operations of Skip-stone, resulting in project completion decades ahead of projections. 

Image from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries.

Skip-stone leveraged the divisive Civil War to distract and divert attention away from the mighty earthworks program going on in California. It also provided a means of accounting for and disposing of bodies of detainees who had died in California labor camps. Their numbers were added to the official war toll.

By the summer of 1879, after more than three decades of indefatigable planning and labor, California was no longer an island. 
Image from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries.

The creation of a vast artificial California land mass was an incredible undertaking that resulted in the deaths of uncounted thousands, maybe millions of detainees who were, for the most part, just looking for a better life out west, in California. 

To some, the immensity of Project Skip-stone has been declared as a human impossibility. Some have even suggested that extra terrestrial assistance was necessary to accomplish such amazing effort in such a short time. Regardless, California Uber Alles! 

Special thanks to Stanford University Library for permission to use images from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection 

Stanford link 

april fools :-)