Monday, September 24, 2012
Friday, March 2, 2012
On March 1, 2012. the comedy legend Paul Mooney had me laughing harder than I had in a very long time. The wicked genius was in top form as he proceeded to give the opening night Thursday crowd a three hour show! It was supremely funny, harsh, and fierce, sparing no one and leaving everyone's bullshit out in the open for examination.
Having long had a dream to watch a live Paul Mooney set, this was really a thrill. The best comedians are the dangerous comedians. Paul Mooney is the last living legend in this category. The others are all dead or just up and comers. Chris Rock may put on great thought provoking comedy shows, but they are a pale shadow of the visceral Paul Mooney experience, and he is certainly not dangerous.
Chris Rock is a big Hollywood star, and plays the game. Paul Mooney is too dangerous for Hollywood. He hits too hard and too revealingly. He even gets kicked off the stage at Harlem's famous Apollo theatre for talking shit about George W. and his mother Barbara Bush, offending the people at Time Warner who run Showtime at the Apollo.
Arriving at the Houston Improv, my wife and I saw taped up sheets of paper on the box office windows reading "Controversial Comedy Show Tonight," as a warning it seemed. To me that always reads more like a successful ploy to get me in! Having been very familiar with Paul Mooney this was just funny to me, but if I had not known of him I would have wanted to see the show just because the comedy club felt it had to warn people! It is amazing what a man and a microphone can do to strike fear in people.
The opening comedian and MC for the night came on around 8:00 PM. He was funny and lighthearted enough to get the crowd going. The second act was an older comedian from Dallas who was too corny and stodgy to get over in this crowd. When he finished, and the MC began to announce Paul Mooney the crowd went wild. The show we attended was the first night of a 3 night stand. On Thursday he had one show scheduled, but he was to do two sets on Friday and two on Saturday as well. We figured to go to the first show so we catch him at his loosest, which is what you want with the mature seasoned comedians. We chose well.
He got onstage instantly talking shit about how "they never listen, the bastards," complaining that they had put a stool on stage when he wanted a chair. After grabbing one from the crowd and getting settled in, Paul Mooney proceeded to riff on everything that crossed his mind.
One of the disappointing aspects of stand up comedy sometimes is when a comedian does a set that is filled with too many jokes or routines you have already heard. The great ones have so much on their minds that they can talk and make you laugh and rarely tread the same comedic ground. Paul Mooney did a very long set, longer than any comedy set I had even heard of, with the exception of Bill Cosby who regularly does 2 hour plus sets. Out of everything maybe only about 10% was material that I was familiar with. I could not stop laughing, and at times, could not muster a sound, because Paul Mooney walks that thin line between making you laugh and making you nervous! It was great.
Before I knew it my watch read 10:30 PM. Two hours, and he was nowhere near stopping it looked like to us. He kept riffing and making everyone laugh crazy even as the Improv waitstaff was cleaning the tables and putting up everything. People were checking the time and leaving because it was getting so late! The red light they flash to the talent to let them know their time is up had come on a while before, and then Mooney mentioned it. He said something along the lines of,
"That red light's been on for like fifteen minutes (actually more like 35 minutes - RXTT) but I don't give a fuck."
He then looked at his watch and his face appeared shocked. He exclaimed, "It cannot be 11:30, can it?" and many in the crowd went "Wha..???" loudly because they had lost track of time too!!! My wife turned to me with a look of shock, thinking that maybe it was around 10-10:15 PM!
A three hour Thursday night set by legend Paul Mooney. Amazing what $20 can get ya.
As we cleared out we went to the merchandise table where Paul and a lady who was maybe his road manager were selling CD's and DVD's of his shows. I saw one I had not heard yet from 1997 called "Masterpiece" and paid for it. The lady asked me my name and I said it, trying to pronounce it so she could easily understand, "Ro-Ber-To."
"Reeburra?" she asked and handed my CD to Paul Mooney. I repeated my name trying to correct her and saw Paul scribble something on the CD and sign his name. He looked at me as he handed it to me and said "Thank you."
I looked down and started laughing my ass off because he had signed it "ReBRA, Paul Mooney"
It was a great night and exceeded my expectations in every way.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
On June 10th of 2009 I saw a conversation between Buzz Aldrin, the famous astronaut, and Ernie Manouse, a local Houston journalist and broadcaster, at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. On June 20th it was to be the forty year anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Forty years since humans first touched down on a heavenly body other than Earth.
“Hopefully the wait will not be too long to have Mr. Aldrin sign my book. There are all sorts of people here. Half of them, like myself, are too young to have actual memories of the moon landing in 1969. There are myriad nerd chicks all over the whole theater. It does the heart good to see so many ladies into space exploration.
I wish I could go to outer space and go to the Moon. If I was on the Moon I would find an out of the way place with a lot of lunar soil and I would draw an angry picture in the soil for other explorers to find later! I would love to volunteer as an artist to meet any aliens we run across and have them share their species' art with me, so I could them talk about it to my fellow Earthlings.
There are so many people here that the ushers are seating them in the aisles, on the stairs. They are soon to start. We are so far underground in this auditorium that the cellphone reception is non-existent. They project images which will likely be included in the actual exhibition.
The conversation Between Buzz and Ernie goes well. Buzz is very funny and talks honestly about his feelings towards the current space program. I learn a lot and before I know it the talk is concluded. Now came the hard part.
I go out of the theater and head to the main level of the museum. It is there that the staff have set up Buzz to sign copies of his book. Seeing how long the line was made me think that nearly as many people waited in line during the talk as went to the actual talk in the auditorium. It was a long wait, and by the time I got up there Buzz was pooped. The man is in his 80's and it was getting late in an already long day.
I handed him my book and told him it was an honor to have met him and heard him speak. He may have heard me and he may not but either way I had gotten close to one of only a small handful of humans ever to set foot on another celestial body. I wish I had a weekend to hang with him so I could ply him with question after question. He would probably grow sick of me asking stuff but what an opportunity that would be!
Looking back I saw that Mr. Aldrin was going to still be signing books an hour or more into the night. I headed outside with my signed book, and looked up at the sky. It was like meeting Magellan, or Marco Polo. I got to listen to one of the greatest explorers in human history first hand. Quite a fun night.
Now, how do I get on one of the new flights to the Moon? I think that sending a trained artist to outer space would be such an amazing thing. The images created by an artist would add so much to our understanding of what it really is like to be there. Photography does not do the experience justice. Maybe I should petition the government to create an astronaut-artist position!
What if our Earth is the only planet out of the trillions of possible planets that could exist that has managed to beat the infinitesimal odds and created life, a new form of matter that has the ability to understand and alter itself and everything around it? If every variable that could possibly have affected the path to life is accounted for, then the likelihood of the occurrence of life on this planet is near impossibility.
Just because we find life here on Earth does not mean we are likely to find life anywhere else in the galaxy because, for the most part, the Earth is a closed system. Comets, asteroids, and other such features of our solar system can definitely strike, and therefore interact with, the Earth. They have been doing so for the entire existence of the Earth. They as well as the myriad influences the Sun exerts upon our planet are part of the whole package. In a sense it is our solar system that is closed.
How do you get people to think about this? How do you get people to understand how deeply fragile it all is, to truly accept it? And, by that token, how do you make people understand the near infinite level of responsibility that we humans, with an unprecedented capacity to affect and understand ourselves and our universe, have for the care, maintenance, survival, and dissemination of life through our universe?
By the latest estimates, the visible universe is somewhere around 14.5 billion years old. For all we know this could be a very young age for an Universe. It has taken that long, that massive an expanse of time, for one of the trillion planets to create lifeforms capable of spreading Life not only across planets but across solar systems, through the galaxy, and maybe in the far future, across the sickeningly vast abyss between galaxies themselves.
The universe as we know it could last another 14 billion years, or it could last 100 trillion years. Unimaginable expanses of time. We humans can barely wrap our minds around the concept of a “lifetime's” worth of time (averaging between 60-90 years) Beyond mathematics, the age of our Universe and it's possible lifetime may as well be infinite.
What could life become if we help it to populate the cosmos? Life is as cruel as it is beautiful. It is as joyous as it is meaningless. Spreading life means spreading death. This would be no different than having children. When we procreate we do not know what the future holds for our offspring, but we do know it will hold it's fair share of pain as well as joy. This does not keep us from birthing a new generation. The same should apply to spreading life through the galaxy.
Humans are the first and so far only species on the Earth capable of analyzing and altering the world around us in endlessly new ways. Other animals change their environment, beavers, bees, elephants, but they do so as a result of just a few instinctive urges, and do not do so solely to see what happens, like humans often do. We can not only imagine change, we can effectively cause change.
The spread of life would be done through microorganisms. Humans find hardy single-celled organisms that live where no oxygen exists, where no sunlight reaches, where there is no available food. These organisms would be prime candidates for the spread of life. If an array of craft were launched from Earth, each containing mechanisms which would allow for the dispersal of their contents when they have reached a far away planet, we could germinate the cosmos. We could send a batch of heat-resistant, sulfur-digesting bacteria to Mercury for instance, or a batch of algae that lives in deep dark ice to Neptune. We could try to match the bacteria to a planet whose composition most suits it.
The rub is that it took over 3 million years of microbial life to develop complex multi-cellular life on Earth. It will likely take just as long or longer for life to develop complexity on these new outposts. In fact, life may never develop beyond the single-celled stage, but so what? What a triumph it would be to seed any type of life anywhere. The Earth is at any time one stray comet away from mass extinction. If an event is big enough Life itself may only survive in single-celled organisms here on Earth. We must guarantee that life as we know it continues.
There are many people who suppose that life on Earth came across the wastes of space aboard comets or asteroids during the early Earth's near-constant bombardment. Others suggest that perhaps some other ancient and powerful civilization put life here on Earth, seeding it as I suggest seeding other planets. To this day there is no acceptable explanation for why the first DNA molecule came into being. We have been able to recreate the conditions in the early Earth and all we can create are amino acids. These are the building blocks of DNA but to get to the helical complexity of the DNA molecule from the far simpler hydrocarbons known as amino acids is a quantum leap we do not yet understand.
For all of our interplanetary exploration, we have barely scratched the surface. The likelihood exists that we will find microbial life in our Solar System. If this turns out to be the case then we can compare that life to our Earth life and see whether we are fruits of the widespread nature of life in the Universe, or, if our DNA was tampered with somehow. The tough part will be in convincing those in charge of discovering such things to share them with the rest of the population.
Our Milky Way galaxy is estimated to be around one hundred thousand light years across. That is an average size for a galaxy, as far as we have been able to determine. This average sized galaxy is composed of billions of individual stars, with thousands being “born” every day. The immensity of our galaxy is nearly incomprehensible. To think that there are billions of galaxies of all types out there in the vastness of space just boggles the mind. It truly is a limitless fountain of possibility.
Friday, January 20, 2012
# 1 – Organization
I am not the most naturally organized of humans. However, collecting records have taught me that proper care and storage of a collection requires diligence. It takes a lot of time to maintain a constantly used collection in it's proper organizational structure, especially if you want ease of access.
Every collector has their own chosen way to organize what they collect. I have a large 5' x 5' square shelf unit from Ikea. I arrange my records alphabetically by either the musician or the group, and within that subset I arrange the records chronologically, which helps me place the records in context to each other. I have created filing labels to mark my collection, so the individual letter's are easy to see.
Some musical groups have a more extensive archiving. Sonic Youth, for example, have been making music together for over thirty years. Since they are my favorite band ever, I try to collect as much of their output as I can. Because of this I have divided their records up by studio releases, SYR releases, full-length bootleg releases, 12” singles, 10” singles, 7” singles, group side projects, and individual side projects, all in respective chronological order. It is where my anal-retentive obsessive side is allowed to shine. Believe me when I say my Sonic Youth collection is not yet complete.
# 2 - Patience
The world we live in does not place a premium on patience. Music consumption these days is no different. We want the world and we want it now. That's what Jim Morrison sang. Living that way burns one up. Jim did not make it to thirty. Collecting records is a compulsive hobby, driven by desire. Whether that desire is for the music itself, or the fetishized object that is a rare gate-fold album, it is omnipresent.
When looking for old, out-of-print records I must have the patience to look through hundreds or thousands of records before finding one I want to spend money on. I may run across multiple copies that I do not buy due to scratches, damage, etc. Sometimes I find records that I have been looking for actively for several years. I still have dozens on my personal wish list yet to find. Only patience keeps me from going crazy when looking through a record convention's worth of bins and boxes!
Apart from the acquisition of the records, the enjoyment of them requires patience. Records are fragile and need to be well-kept. Playing them requires careful handling of the media and equipment, even with the simplest turntables. Listening to records I have collected is not just about wish fulfillment. For every album I listen to and instantly connect with, there are two or three that take multiple listens, allowing for time to do it's thing on the brain. “Difficult” music, whether Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, or Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising requires patience to at first understand, and then secondly to enjoy what is being given to your ears. Records, due to their nature, are more likely to be played straight through than CD's or digital media. Having a little button that instantly skips anything your ears find initially off-putting does not teach patience, but the exact opposite, a sense of entitlement due to an inflated sense of self-worth that breeds urgency and instant wish-fulfillment. Good things take time.
#3 – Collecting is a lonely existence
Due to it's time-consuming nature, the hobby of collecting becomes quite a solitary enterprise. The enjoyment of the collection can happen alone on in social settings, but the acquisition of the individual items is done by you alone. If you are lucky you have a few friends who are also bitten by the same collecting bug and who are willing to go with you and spend hours browsing through old, dusty, shitty records hoping you find something golden.
Even then, you may end up actually interacting with them just a few times an hour, because you are focused. You are flipping two separate boxes of records with both hands, scanning with your eyes like some sort of factory machine designed to spot imperfections, only you are looking for perfection, or at least that cool album by Miles Davis where he sang with the Muppets. (Does it actually exist?) The joys are solitary too. Those same friends you go record shopping with may scoff at your selections, and often will. The joy and pain are yours and yours alone.
As the collection grows it begins to take up actual living space around you. The pride in such a collection is again just yours alone. Your loved ones may admire and enjoy your collection but it is not their collection. It has not been built up by them through hundreds of trips to record stores, garage sales, or record conventions. Those long car trips were made by you. Those shelves or cases or boxes were arranged by you. The knowledge of it's totality exists solely in your head. As you have had to add new records to the already arranged stacks you sort through them, again and again, seeing older records as old friends, much like people see their books. You know exactly where to reach to find the real favorites among the bunch, either because you play them often or because you like to pull them out to show off to fellow collector nerds.
If you think collecting something like records or books or stamps is a lonely thing, imagine the worst aspect of collecting, those people who collect whatever is en vogue currently. For a brief period of time people such as those who collected Beanie Babies flourish among what seems like a ton of other people sharing your passion. It seems that what is being collected actually matters to normal people. The prices go through the roof for the rare ones. It can be quite a rush for some. The ride always comes to an end and usually way too soon for most people's tastes. Those collectors are then left alone, with no collecting pals, with a collection of shit they overpaid for and which will likely never see an increase in value within their lifetime. That is truly lonely.
# 4 – Value exists in your own head
Everything you value, every single tiny bit of worth you see in anything is purely a product of your own creation. How did collecting records teach me this? For one thing, record collecting shows you how value itself is an ephemeral illusion. What is worth money to one person is worthless to another. What is worth little today is a sought-after collector's item tomorrow, and vice-versa. Value does not exist independently of everything else. Value is a purely subjective idea, dependent on everything from rarity to condition to location. Because of this, record collecting needed to be about something more than just the accumulation of monetarily valuable objects for me. The value of the records lay in how I chose to think about them.
This applies to every aspect of life where value judgments must be made, and it informs what becomes meaningful to me. I am better able to understand what is really important to myself, because I know that I am the only one who sees it that way. What I find valuable in life is important because I find it valuable, not because the value is an inherent quality. This can refer to anything from Unsane's music to what restaurants I enjoy. It has allowed me to try and resist the throngs that are seemingly swept away every second of their lives by what others consider valuable. It has also sucked in that part of the joy of music is sharing the love of it with others. It is sad seeing whole chunks of one's record collection becoming slowly forgotten by the world around you.
The sad truth is that everything is forgotten in time. Even those people, places and things that become legendary are remembered erroneously, their true selves forgotten in favor of an easy to tell legend. Someone like Robert Crumb, who amassed a definitive collection of very early delta blues 78's, lives in a world within his own mind, enjoying a music that most of the world has forgotten existed. Upon an owner's death, some collections are kept intact as historical archives, others are sold off to other collectors in auctions, and yet others are disposed of as if worthless, for a collection is only important to those who know and understand it's contents. That is the ultimate loss of value, knowing that your collection may well end up discarded after your death. These thoughts come to the true hardcore collectors.
With such heavy shit it is a good thing music is so fantastic!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
There are three kinds of people in the world. Those who love music, those who like music, and those who do not enjoy music. That last category does not concern us. People who do not enjoy music of any form, who claim outright to dislike music, are quite the mystery in and of themselves, but let us talk instead of the differences that arise between those who love music, and those who merely like music.
A music lover will hear a new song and, if the song strikes their fancy, will then proceed to seek out more of that artist/group's music. Enjoying that, a music lover will keep an eye out for more and more of that person's music, as long as it continues to entertain them. They actively seek more, eventually amassing some type of collection of that artist/group's music. This process may take years and can allow that artist's music to become a deep and meaningful part of someone's life.
A person who merely “likes” music, as opposed to loving it, will hear a song that strikes their fancy, fall in love with it, listen to that one song constantly, suck every bit of juice out of it until it is as desiccated and tedious as a song can get, and then move on to the next tune that happens to hit their ears. Some effort may be made towards seeking more music from the same artist, but usually, once it is seen that the other songs do not sound like the one that hit them hard, that person is willing to move on to a new tune. This method of ingesting music can create some very strong sense/time memories, due to the overload of the music on the brain over such a short and intense period of time.
Once a music lover has exhausted the available music of a given artist/group, they will then investigate further. Are there other bands that sound similar, or have the same vibe whose music may be good too? Maybe this band was influenced by some musician previously unknown to you? Have these musicians ever played in other groups? Questions such as these allow for new music to expand the musical map in a music lovers brain. Previously unseen connections are brought to light. Sometimes a certain recording may become more meaningful to you, and others may lose some of their luster when compared to previous acts. One never knows what will arise but there is always more to explore. This creates a deep connection between the music lover and the musicians involved, as their individual contributions are explored and analyzed.
The “Liker” of music does not concern themselves with any of this. Instead of looking for more music by the group that made the song they heard and loved the “Liker” waits until his sources provide him with a new tune by that artist. These sources can range from their favorite radio station, to their favorite nightclub, from friends to the television. And, if the next song that comes down the pike is a stinker? No problem, because the “Liker” is not personally invested. There are more songs every day. Because the “Liker” does not actively expand their mental sonic map as the music lover does he never develops personal connections to the creators of the music itself, just to the individual songs. If an artist has a lot of hits then the music “Liker” will feel a bigger connection by virtue of exposure. Otherwise, they move on to the next hit by the next artist. Either way, the names and careers of the musicians involved in crafting the hits are unimportant, and do not factor in the “Liker's” enjoyment of the songs they like.
A music lover becomes more willing to accept musical risks taken by their favorites. They would expect nothing less. Solo records are seen as an intimate view into one member of a favored musical group. In an odd irony, music lovers also appreciate any artist who fiercely maintains one style as their own through the ever-changing musical fadscape. In other words, a music lover accepts what a musician gives them on the musician's terms. Of course it is judged and examined and compared but it is given a fair shake.
Music “Likers” sometimes infuriate music lovers because they see no value in the deeper analysis, which to them seems like an obsession with the unimportant parts of music. The “Likers” love the songs, and will love the songs forever. Music lives in the moment, more so than most other art forms. Recorded music is not music until it is vibrating the air through some mechanism or other. It is to be enjoyed in the moment, to be danced to, to serve as the background to life. This is a different and quite valid joy, but it does not allow for one's brain to interact with the minds making the music, only to react.
There is no correct way to enjoy music. There are only more ways to enjoy music. Everyone begins as a music “Liker.” Even people who consider themselves musically sophisticated originally just listened to what they liked and sought nothing more. Liking music is the first step to loving music. It is not always easy to be a music lover, and a lot is asked of you if you are one, but like all things, the reward is as great as what is put into it. Music is humanity’s best friend and deserves to be loved.
Almost everyone, at some point in their lives, has amassed a collection of something. Some choose baseball cards, others postage stamps, and yet others collect driftwood. The possibilities are endless for collecting. A collection does not have to have any inherent monetary value. It can be a collection for purely emotional value. Most collections however, straddle both these worlds.
Take, for example, someone who collects vinyl records, as I do. There are items in my collection that are prized for their rarity, or the cost incurred in acquiring the item. Others are prized because the music contained within is emotionally important to me. Yet others are kept because of the cover art, or innovative packaging. This is true for most types of collecting.
The trick lies in knowing when a collection is complete, or as complete as you are gonna get. There are only so many Sonic Youth records one can acquire, before it becomes more of an exercise in completism than an enjoyable pastime. There are only so many shoes a woman can buy before the ridiculousness of hundreds of pairs for just one pair of feet becomes self-evident. Many collectors fear this. Once they have amassed the collection, it is more favorable to them to then sell it to others, allowing the new owners the same thrill they received previously. They then go on to collect something else. Even if they do not get rid of the previous collection, they begin with a new collection right away.
Many collectors have several groupings of things they collect. The greatest collectors will go on to donate their collections to museums or institutes of higher learning, allowing the public to share in their acquisitions. Others hold onto them with a strong grip, to the grave. These are the collectors who blur the line between collecting and hoarding. They become so obsessed with acquiring any and all ephemera associated with their particular collecting “jones” that they lose sight of the true goal, which is to take enjoyment from the collected items! Certain people get so protective of their collections that they barricade themselves in their home, adding layers of security, until they must feel like they are living in a prison of their own making.
The odd part is that while two people may share the exact same delusional drive to collect,the one that gets anal-retentive and creates displays and keeps his items spotless and in perfect condition, all sterile and unused, the masses see as normal! The people who clutter their lives with the collected items, whose homes look more like a child's room than a museum, are seen as warped, sick, maybe needing help of some sort. While they are both worlds apart in appearance, their inner lives are probably very much alike. It is a near-delusion, the mania of a collector in the full throes of the hunt, and not for the faint of heart.
Is it that a person who hoards seems to give no thought to the actual care and maintenance of what they hoard? Collectors take great care in buying the right furniture to display their collections, oftentimes having cases and shelves custom made. Hoarders seem to be satisfied with the ownership of an object, and do not seek to properly organize. Their organization mainly consists of grouping like items together, with no consideration to the decay or damage caused to the hoarded material. A collector would be shocked at such ill treatment of their prized possessions. Where does the line exist? It may be a far blurrier line than ever imagined.