Metnong: Live!

Well, they were at the time. Alive, that is. The time was 1980s experimental jazz in Chicago. At least, I think “experimental” is what one would call it, but I am sure about jazz, Chicago and the 1980s. Metnong: Live! (that is the title, I think, though the cassette cover is remarkably unhelpful) is one of two albums released by Metnong, the other being A Vast Orbital Kiss. You can find a copy of that at the Internet Archive.

Since the cassette cover is remarkably unhelpful, this post will have to serve as its liner notes.

Very well, then. Though I am mostly unsuitable for the task. I am not a musician nor a tribal follower of musicians and music. But I was a friend of the band, having known Steve Owens from years long before Metnong. We had been distant neighbors (same wing, different floor) with an overlapping set of friends in the same university dormitory complex. We both hung out with the Ozone Ranger, for example.

But you won’t find Steve Owens listed on the cassette cover. For Side A, the list is jab weird, steve ivan, harry lenz, and yuri. For Side B, the list is jab weird, steve ivan, and harry lenz. “steve ivan” is my friend Steve Owens. “harry lenz” and “jab weird” were introduced to me as Richard and Julie Kovacs… another pseudonym as the name was actually Theodore. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

Why all the pseudonyms? I simply can’t tell you. You see how I fail as a liner notes raconteur? Being secretive might have some entertainment value, but I can’t even offer that: I don’t know.

Neither Richard nor Julie are around to ask. Richard died more than a decade ago and Julie years before that. When asked, Steve vaguely waves and mumbles something about the law but I suspect he’s being both diplomatic and dramatic. Musicians, after all… I mean, some of the places they played may not have had an entertainment license, but really.

Posting these recordings is not a nostalgia trip for me. I think there is work and history worth preserving here. When I spoke to him about posting these recordings, Steve was a bit startled when I told him that I was more into these recordings now than I was at the time. Possibly I’m a bit more inclined to listen now than I was then…

The thing about experimental art is: It’s experimental. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it works in unexpected ways. And that is the always unexpected pleasure in just listening. Judge for yourself:

Side A (43:31) recorded at batteries not included february 14, 1988, by fred

Side B (37:21) recorded on mars a week later (time warp over warsaw) by dick teddy

metnongcover
Metnong: Live cassette cover. Photo by Roman.

“Transient 3”

If you like storm chasing videos, especially if they could be mistaken for a music video, then you’ll like Dustin Farrell’s latest, Transient 3. As with the previous videos in the Transient series, Farrell’s attention is drawn to lightning first.

Yes, the photography and editing are good and the storms spectacular yet I would have taken a pass on sharing this video but for the oddest of reasons: I really dig the credits at the end of the video. Full screen, headphones and stay for the end.

Unions in Science Fiction

I mentioned, a few posts back, that John Barnes was one of the few science fiction authors who took the concept of “memes” seriously. He’s also one of the few that occasionally include a favorable mention of labor unions in his stories. At least, he’s among the few that I’m aware of. There is quite the flood of work labelled “science fiction.” It would be a full time job just to keep up with it, which is another way of saying that I’m not all that hip so maybe there are a lot more such authors these days: IDK.

Most science fiction authors do not consistently write from a particular ideological point of view, so what is it about unions? Part of it is that a good story-teller generally relies upon the reader to supply part of the story. Stories, true or fiction, are collaborative efforts, and the readers who have had direct contact with unions are a distinct minority, and most of those experienced the union the way most of us experience an insurance company. Including unfamiliar plot elements such as unions comes with a cost: You must explain and show as otherwise the readers don’t know. (That’s also one of the reasons most science fiction tales resemble a Dr. Frankenstein’s monster of re-used plot elements.) Another part of it is the assumption that in a futurama future productivity is so great that… why would most people need a union? We’re “post-economic,” right? On the other hand, how few hours a week did the early 20th Century economist John Maynard Keynes predict we would be working by the end of that century? Gee, where did all that time and money go?

Whatever. My ulterior motive in bringing up unions here is as an excuse to quote a paragraph from one of the John Barnes books that I recommended in that previous post, Candle. The series that includes Candle was written around the turn of the century, when failed states seemed to be the likely theme for the 21st Century, including the United States. This is part of a recruiting pitch made to the residents of a Seattle orphanage by the captain of a militia hired to protect that part of the Pacific northwest:

“Burton’s Thugs for Jesus is a union shop, represented by the United Combatants, Engineers, Medics, and Chaplains, and we use the standard UCEMC contract for a battalion-sized unit. You get room and board, medical, dental if we ever get another dentist under contract, and locked-in rent control for basic uniforms and equipment. In the event of combat against other UCEMC units, you have a much better POW contract — which can make a big difference if you’re captured — you keep your seniority without penalty if you elect to defect, and you fight under the strict form of the Hague Convention, so the union is a good deal for most of you, and it’s a flat four percent of your pay. You also pay for your training with a five-percent deduction from your pay for your first year, which I waive if you’re decorated for bravery in combat. You don’t pay any local or episcopal taxes.”

Lest I give the wrong impression, unions appear in only some of Barnes’ works. But even those few inclusions are enough to stand out an otherwise silent or hostile fiction genre. When I finished reading the recruiting pitch for the first time many years ago, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to weep.

But as Billy Bragg sang:

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own;
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?

Omega II

This is the third or fourth video by Thomas Blanchard that I’ve liked enough to share here. And for all that I do not like music videos, most of them are music videos. Man, I do believe Blanchard could make a chair leg taste good. [Caution: some strobing effects.]

The music this video is meant to compliment is “Omega II” by Sébastien Guérive.

I have mixed feelings about the video as a whole, but the individual parts are really good, particularly the dances, imho.

Early in the Morning

The courtyard is mottled with pools of light, for dontcha know, it’s early in the morning, 5 by the clock this autumn day, and the elves and fairies are stirring though they are never entirely asleep. Always and ever is the roar of the Universal Spell, sometimes piano by the clock but never silent. Presto! Light appears and magic it must be for it is none other than the light ensorcelled by plants millions upon millions of years ago. It is an evil spell that makes zombie light, undead light, poverty light of but one color, lying light for whatever opportunities it provides, it also takes away with no rhyme or meter.

This is a magical hour for me, seated in my dark dining room with a grandstand view of the courtyard. Parked cars line the street. A mere century ago, prior to World War I, that would have been remarkable: So many cars in the city, there is only room to leave them parked on the street! I do believe the Singularity that some transhumanists fantasize about has done come and gone years ago. Welcome to a strange and beautiful and unwell time.

Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology will seem like magic. What do we look like to any of our fellow species of animal? The stories of elves and fairyland are but images of ourselves reflected in the eyes of other species.

The distant horns of the Hunt by the Queen of the Fairies segues into the distant horns of traffic and the thundering hooves of Her steeds segues into the ever present roar of The Machine. And what shall we say of this Hunt? It is a never ending stream of casualties and roadkill without the sometimes redemptive act of feeding. And why? I could tell a story, thousands of stories, but few would make any sense to the creatures with whom we share this planet. They would seem fay.

Wading in a pool of streetlight, someone crosses the street to a parked car. Recognizing its Master, the car opens and, after a moment, it comes alive. It is in a long parking spot and the driver, in reverse, slowly swings the nose out. Out of that spot in two moves, I think with approval: easy peasy. Then instead, the driver repeats the maneuver. Is this an attempt at a U-turn as well? This vehicle must have the turning radius of an oil tanker. A third repeat before escaping to the street establishes that the driver is Fay and I am so glad to not be sharing the road with it.

My espresso is still hot. I take a sip of my cup and a sip of my pipe. The parking spot mysteriously stays empty while the day begins its mumbled conversation with the night. The courtyard is becoming mottled with leftover pools of dark for, dontcha know, it’s early in the morning.

Performed  by Kiefo Nilsson, “it was written by Dallas Bartley, Leo Hickman and Louis Jordan sometime during the mesozoic era. Later, it was performed by Harry Nilsson on the Nilsson Schmilsson album…”

1968

[1970 anti-war meeting at the University of Illinois at Chicago, photographer unknown, scanned from a print in my possession.]

For geezers much like myself, the covid lockdown is still pretty much in place. I spend a lot of time, days on end, at home. Far too much of that time has been spent as a couch potato in front of this computer screen, though in fact I’ve not owned a couch for at least a few decades. Whatever. Somewhat less time has been occupied by re-reading books from my own library. (The Chicago Public Library has reopened but in an understandably not-so-user-friendly format.) I find the non-fiction to be more engaging.

Right now, I’m re-reading Garry Wills’ Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man. The dust jacket bills it as a “study of Richard Nixon and a deeply troubled America.” This was originally published in 1969, and neither Wills nor anyone else really knew how the next several years would work out, but it was pretty commonly felt to be a time of crisis (for the United States but also for much of the world) not unlike this time of Trump.

I don’t mean this to be a review of the book but maybe something of a reminder about our history.

Wills is at his strongest as an observer and describer. As a political analyst, he mostly reflects the commentariat of the time: the “politics of resentment” for example. It’s an individualistic, psychological approach, so it should be no surprise that Wills began his career as a public intellectual as a conservative. Covering the civil rights movement of the time moved him to the political center, at least, though a 21st Century conservative might consider him a flaming lefty. That said, for all those who feel that 2020 U.S.A. has become a strange, foreign land, it’s a worthwhile to pause to read chapter 2 of part I: “The Center Cannot Hold.” It begins:

“There was a sense everywhere, in 1968, that things were giving. That man had not merely lost control of his history, but might never regain it. That palliatives would not serve, and nothing but palliatives could be found… The cities were in danger, and the college campuses, and the public schools.

“And the President. Lyndon Johnson traveled nowhere, toward the end, for fear. He was allowed to run out his term because he had, in effect, abdicated. It was the year of the Secret Service men, their faces variously angled out across the crowd as it faced in, each trained pair of eyes raking an assigned arc. A time of mutual surveillance, when those of different races, when young and old, when policemen and ordinary citizens passed, if possible, on opposite sides of the street, warily; or — too late to cross over — went by each other with eyes down. A time of locking up and closing in, of “How to Defend Yourself.” Michigan housewives pushing baby buggies down to the pistol range for practice.”

Wills goes on to describe George Wallace’s independent campaign for President as “a weird ‘third party’ — no party at all. It lacked platform, personnel, history, future, or program. It was a one-man phenomenon… Wallace offered neither palliative nor real cure; just a chance to scream into the darkness.” Wills asserts that a “nihilist vote is something new in America, the home of the boosters.” I’m not convinced that was true even then. Any political system that customarily presents the electorate with just two viable choices will have “kick the bums out” as a major motivation for voters. That’s not a form of nihilism?

Well, okay, creeping nihilism perhaps. Wills goes on to write:

“…In 1964, many thought it shocking that, at the Republican Convention, delegates turned to the press booths  and shook their fists in anger after Eisenhower’s criticism of reporters. But by the 1968 convention, cops beat newsmen and broke their cameras… Meanwhile, newsmen who followed Wallace said they felt like patsies, straight men for the candidate’s act, so much did he use them to elicit boos and jeers from his crowds. Spiro Agnew got a similar response when he held up a copy of the New York Times and mocked it.”

It was all so very familiar and far more violent than today, including state-sponsored terrorism in places. And there were periods of U.S. history that were so much worse.

Having said that (and yes, I also said that back in the 1970s), one uses the past as a template for the present and the future only at a pretty fair risk. 2020 is not 1968 nor is it the 1933 Weimar Republic. Crisis? We may be standing in the middle of one, but it’s our crisis not the demons of the past come to do battle. History rarely really repeats itself. It may have rhythm. It may rhyme. Just what that means is irrelevant except to invoke a vision of parading historical actors, ranks hands in hands, marching down the avenue (This is Chicago. It’s an avenue.) on trochees and iambs.

Google Books has 60 pages of Nixon Agonistes available as a “preview” so you may be able to read the chapter if you wish.

On the other hand, if music is more your thing then here is “John Flip Lockup” by the Daughters of Albion, a bit of cultural commentary from that same time that is every bit as apt as anything Wills ever wrote about it:

Mr. President

a message for Donald

This is a remastered from the version that was on Randy Newman’s 1974 “Good Old Boys” album.

We’ve taken all you’ve given
It’s gettin’ hard to make a livin’
Mr. President have pity on the working man

We’re not asking you to love us
You may place yourself high above us
Mr. President have pity on the working man

I know it may sound funny
But people ev’rywhere are runnin’ out of money
We just can’t make it by ourself

It is cold and the wind is blowing
We need something to keep us going
Mr. President have pity on the working man

Maybe you’ve cheated
Maybe you’ve lied
Maybe you have finally lost your mind
Maybe you’re only thinking ’bout yourself

Too late to run Too late to cry now
The time has come for us to say good bye now
Mr. President have pity on the working man
Mr. President have pity on the working man

— Randy Newman, 1974