Bob Schwartz

Month: May, 2021

Music: Something/Anything by Todd Rundgren

Two kinds of older pop music. Some you never want to hear again. Some that you never want to stop listening to, because it has qualities that make it—not to sound cliched but here it goes—timeless. Timeless doesn’t mean current, just music that transcends currency.

If Todd Rundgren was just a producer, he’d still be an all-time great, by producing distinctive albums that sold millions and millions (Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re an American Band or Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell), by producing albums that were critical darlings (XTC’s Skylarking), or by influencing generations of artists.

But he isn’t just a producer. Beginning in 1967 with his first band Nazz and later as a band leader and solo artist, he has shone as a song creator and performer. Never more notably than with his 1972 double album Something/Anything. It is stuffed with tracks, a some of them less than perfect and maybe skippable after a few listenings, but many others gems of songwriting and production. Also, since it includes studio outtakes, you can hear just how much fun is being had.

Following are just a couple of tracks, including his re-recording of the first Nazz hit from 1968, Hello It’s Me. Pay attention to how these are models of songwriting and production. Then listen to the whole album.

Note that even though he has been eligible for the Rock Hall since 1993, his induction in the class of 2021 was just announced a few weeks ago. The too frequent irrelevance of the Rock Hall (still second to the irrelevance of the Grammys) is not worth spending time on. Just listen and enjoy.

Cowards? Republican Senators who skipped town instead of voting on the January 6th Commission

The Senate vote on debating creation of a commission to investigate the U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6th was 54 Yes and 35 No. It needed 60 Yes votes to move forward, so it was defeated. Even though Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told them to vote against it, six Republican Senators did the right thing and voted Yes.

But wait, you might say. 54+35=89. Aren’t there 100 U.S. Senators?

You are correct. There may be good reasons to head home for the holiday weekend and miss the vote. Two Democrats—Patty Murray of Washington and Kyrsten Sinema—did so. But we should concentrate on the nine Republican Senators. It is certain they would have voted No, so the result would have been the same. But by being absent, they will not have to defend that unconscionable and indefensible No vote.

In other words, unless there is a really good excuse—not “I had a Memorial Weekend barbecue to attend”—they are very likely cowards. If you’ve watched Republican politics for the last few years, you are not surprised.

Here is the list of Republicans who missed the vote:

Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)
Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Mike Braun (R-Ind.)
Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)
James Risch (R-Idaho)
Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)
Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)

Note that Senators Blunt, Shelby and Toomey are retiring and will not run for reelection in 2022. These three could have thrown a bone to core American values, to the integrity of the Constitution and the U.S. Capitol (where they work), and allowed the investigation to go forward. Instead it appears at first glance that they chickened out. The remainder of the Republican Senators who refused to show up are not even running again for at least almost four years.

Why are Republicans so adamant about blocking an investigation, either by voting No, or in this case, by leaving town? It is obvious that some elected Republicans were at least knowledgeable about the planned insurrection in advance or enabled its furtherance. If a bipartisan commission found that evidence, it would not be helpful. If it is discovered some other way, at least the Republicans can dismiss the findings as partisan, unreliable and tainted. That’s why obstruction or running scared are the best strategies.

Paul Ryan joins the Republican civil war. Democracy will take all the help it can get.

I am not a fan of Paul Ryan. He was once Speaker of the House. He was once a candidate for Vice President on the Mitt Romney ticket. He lost the speakership. He lost the election. I am glad any time he is at a distance from the levers of power.

Yet he now belongs to a small and hearty band of Republicans who are trying to rescue the party from its devolution into indecency and inhumanity. So far, a very small band and not notably hearty. Still, since the Republican Party is a growing and dangerous force in American life and democracy—sort of a virus—we should accept any help we get in curing it.

Paul Ryan, despite being ideologically anathema to me (see Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand), is actually a pretty smart guy, known as a policy wonk.

Which leads to my muted optimism. Maybe Paul Ryan is standing up against the dominant Trumpist forces because it is the right thing to do. But I think he is more calculating and ambitious, and believes that eventually—not soon or soon enough but eventually—conventional and traditional Republicanism will be back, and he will have a place in it.

He is after all an acolyte of Ayn Rand, who believed that unbridled selfishness is the path to optimal outcomes. In this case, if Paul Ryan’s attempted return to relevance makes a crack in the current malevolent Republican monolith, let him have at it. Right now, American democracy needs all the help it can get.

I Ching on Israel

Note: It is astonishing for me to realize that in the years I have been mining the I Ching for wisdom, I have never asked about Israel. The I Ching is, for me at least, a companion to the Hebrew Bible, a text just as old from a culture just as ancient. It is worth repeating that like all the best books of hard-won wisdom, the I Ching is not a directive problem solver; it is suggestive, a vision expander, moving us away from the narrow focus that humans are naturally prone to. There are other ways of proceeding in situations, actually infinite other ways, and always have been.

Note also: Some astute students of Judaism may note that this past week included the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, celebrating the story of the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai, an event marked by fire, and sometimes referenced as…fire on the mountain. As always, generating this hexagram was random. Unless, of course, one adopts Jung’s concept of synchronicity (he was a student of the I Ching), in which case little or nothing is random, least of all generating I Ching hexagrams.


Fire on Mountain

Lü means to travel, to move from place to place. In ancient times, an army of five hundred soldiers was called Lü.

Sequence of the Gua: If abundance proceeds to the utmost and becomes poor, surely one would lose his home. Thus, after Abundance, Traveling follows.

Wilhelm translates Lü as The Wanderer, and Blofeld translates it as The Traveler. In this book I adopt Traveling.

It was challenging to create an ideograph to express an act of moving. The ideograph of this gua employed the image of an army chasing its enemy to express traveling. The left half of the ideograph is an ancient character, fang. During the Shang dynasty and the beginning of the Zhou dynasty, the minorities on the northern border were called fang.

The ideograph of fang looks like a dancing warrior with his two arms swinging in the air. The minority groups usually performed a dance ceremony before fighting. On the right side are three soldiers. The leader at the top moves forward with two soldiers following him. The heads of the soldiers face the minority warrior, and their feet move toward him, suggesting that they are giving chase.

This gua is the inverse of the preceding one, Abundance. Abundance denotes a time of outstanding greatness and plenitude. However, this period cannot last very long. Abundance advises people to treasure and use well the plenitude and to sustain the state of abundance as long as possible. The gua Traveling suggests that after the declining of Abundance, one should move forward, exploring the new world and starting a new cycle. Staying at the old place and moving with the old pace is only to stagnate. Thus, Abundance and Traveling are opposite in content but still complementary.

The structure of the gua is Fire above, Mountain below. The image of fires burning on the mountain, their flames blown by the wind from place to place, is where the name Traveling came from. When one is traveling, life is not stable, and everyone is a stranger. Moving from place to place makes one physically and emotionally tired. Under every circumstance, a traveler should remain steadfast and upright. In this way there will be good fortune.

Little prosperity and smoothness.
Being steadfast and upright: good fortune.

Little prosperity or smoothness.
The yielding is central in the outer;
It follows the solids.
Keeping still and clinging to the brilliance,
There is chance for a little prosperity and smoothness.

Being steadfast and upright: good fortune.
The time and significance of Traveling are truly great!

Fire on Mountain.
An image of Traveling.
In correspondence with this,
The superior person is prudent and precise in punishment
And does not lengthen the period of imprisonment.

This gua expounds the principle of stability and unity. When abundance reaches the extreme, an unstable situation arises. Further progress and advance is not as easy and smooth as before. The gua takes the image of traveling to display the truth of change and development in human life. Life is a journey, and we are all travelers. Every event in our daily lives is part of a continuum of change and development. Time and space are a process. Every individual event enhances change and development. We must respond to the changes and discover the most suitable way to deal with them. Responding to isolated changes merely leads to a little success. Only by responding to the changes within the whole process can great success be achieved. This is the key to success. In this gua, all the yielding lines bring good fortune because they are docile and tend to be central and harmonious with others. On the other hand, all the solid lines are not that auspicious because they tend to be willful and opinionated and difficult for others to deal with.

During King Wen’s sitting in stillness he recalled the changes and development of the Shang dynasty as well as that of the Zhou. He realized that the life of a country, and of a person, is a journey. Before one settles down, chances for progress and success are few. Only being steadfast and upright can bring good fortune. The Duke of Zhou describes the different situations in one’s life journey. Dwelling upon trivial things, one cannot create good fortune. With a place to stay, enough money, and a companion, one’s life is better.

The Complete I Ching
Taoist Master Alfred Huang

Meditating your way home

I write a little about Zen, but not much. There are so many more who write about it, more experienced, able and articulate, that I am humiliated into quiet. Besides, I don’t really know what to say.

What I will say today is that Zen sitting, like all earnest meditation, is a way home, to a home you didn’t know you had. That is not a feeling or belief, just a fact. All the places that have been or are home for you are real and really yours. But the one that is really, really yours, underneath all these others, is the one that you in-habit when you meditate. Welcome home.

Music: Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) by Marvin Gaye

“Make me wanna holler
Throw up both my hands”

Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On (1971) is getting attention on the 50th anniversary of its release. As it deserves. You’ll see lots about it, its creation, its qualities, its significance. All you really need are ears to listen and eyes to know a little about America in 1971 and 2021.

The title track, first on the album, may be the best known. But the last track, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), is the crown.

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Before we see it you take it

Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

Inflation no chance
To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

Bad breaks
Set backs
Natural fact is
I can’t pay my taxes

Make me wanna holler
Throw up both my hands
Make me wanna holler
Throw up both my hands

Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God knows where we’re heading

Movies: Z

Watch the movie Z (1969) now. It is available on HBO Max and other platforms, and may be available from your library. Even if you have to spend a few dollars, watch it.

Why? Because while there are plenty of movies that incorporate the topics of political upheaval and repression, few are more exciting as a movie and more current in relevance than Z.

Greek director Costa-Gavras watched his country come under the control of a repressive military junta in the 1960s. Z is based on a chapter of that history, when a leader of the democratic resistance is killed, his murder and the complicity of the military leaders covered up. The movie, a French-Algerian production, is set in a French-speaking country that might be any.

Z was uniquely honored with Academy Award nominations for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film; it won the Foreign Film award. Since then, it has gone on to be regarded as a classic political thriller, and Costa-Gavras has gone on to make acclaimed movies such as State of Siege and Missing.

As we watch earnest and idealistic people marginalized as radicals (and even as Communists, just as in Z), and as we watch officials of integrity threatened for doing their jobs and upholding the truth, and as we watch murders covered up in the name of law and order, Z reminds us that this is nothing new and reminds us where it all leads.

Two years later, video of a black man handcuffed, tortured and killed by Lousiana State Police is exposed: How the monstrous former White House encouraged this.

You will have seen or heard about the video that came to light today. It shows a black man handcuffed, beaten and killed by Louisiana State police officers—two years ago. At the time, the police reported to the family that he had died in a car crash. Since then, the official story has not changed, though they say there is an “investigation” ongoing. The only concern of the police today is that the video was leaked.

It is almost reflexive to blame any horrors of the past four years on the outlaw monster in the White House and his administration. In this case, though, you can see the through line. The police, not just the officers but their superiors, believed that in 2019 America, you could get away with anything, because at the highest levels, you could get away with anything, especially if you were claiming law and order. You might even be praised and honored for it. So there were no worries.

Our disgust is not just for what happened here, or the other cases, seen and still invisible. It is for the cover ups, the “what about” equivocations, the twisted visions of America that justify this. But above all, the emboldened racism and intolerance that is increasingly on display, showing what some knew, and some suspected but hoped wouldn’t be so brutally confirmed: There are millions of inhumane and hateful people in this country—yes, your neighbors, whatever your neighborhood—who are more comfortable than ever acting with impunity on that hate.

Pandemic in Cloud Cuckoo Land (America): Trader Joe’s will take your word that you are vaccinated.

Trader Joe’s has stopped requiring masks for customers. How will they know you are vaccinated? Because you say so—no proof required.

This, when only 57% of Americans believe the 2020 election was legitimate and accurate (Reuters/Ipsos Poll, May 2, 2021).

I wish we lived in a country where a vast majority acted as if they were based in facts and embraced principles like honesty. We don’t. So if you would like only vaccinated customers to shop in your store without masks, and you ask an unvaccinated customer whether he is vaccinated, there is a good chance he will say, “Yeah, sure, of course.”

If you are someone who believes in the “honor system” for confirming Covid vaccination, then, respectfully, you are no less a fantasist than those who believe the election was stolen or that the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol involved peaceful visitors in orderly lines hugging the police (actual claims).

As we modify our response to the still ongoing pandemic, it is important as ever that we stay real and self-aware, even if it is not always a great look. Ignoring or rejecting reality is how this pandemic got as tragically bad as it did.

On hearing Allen Ginsberg

I listened to Allen Ginsberg reading his poetry the other morning. It was a recording made in 1959, by which time he had become a poster poet for the Beat Generation.

In the middle of the last century, we endured the darkest era in modern history. How darkest? We witnessed human depravity on a scale and of a type thus far unseen and barely imagined. We unleashed a weapon that for the first time assured total destruction.

Polite society tried to respond humanely and politely, acknowledging the worst, but determined to resume life (more or less) as usual. Nothing to see here but good times and progress.

Also in response, some creatives announced “not so fast”. Among them were the beat poets and writers. While not strictly a beat movie, in The Wild One (1953), Marlon Brando is asked “Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” “What do you got?” he answers. Like that.

Allen Ginsberg was crowned a king of the beats, partly because he reveled in the publicity and attention, also because his poetry captured the sense, as Bob Dylan wrote, that “something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”

Ginsberg’s poem Howl is considered the loudest and longest cry of beat. Very long. So here is something shorter, but still right to the point.

A Supermarket in California

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!

What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! —and you, García Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.

I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?

I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.

We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?

(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)

Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Berkeley, 1955