Tuesday, November 23, 2010

See-Oh-Ehn Spiracy.

I'm fond of conspiracy theories as a sort of modern folklore, a sort of objective correlative by sleight of hand. I am, however, skeptical of real-world conspiracy theories, as my last post suggested, because of my experiences on the inside of situations that seemed conspiratorial on the outside.

When two students from my alma mater, Birmingham-Southern College, burned down a bunch of Baptist churches, I obsessively perused the blogosphere to see what conclusions people were drawing about the old school. Several bloggers found it suspicious that students from a Methodist-affiliated school (variously identified as "a Methodist College" and "A Methodist Bible College") only burned down Baptist churches. Some thought they'd uncovered proof of an interdenominational shadow war. I enjoy mentioning this to my fellow Southerners, most of whom are Baptist or Methodist, and all of whom regard it as a good joke. I can see how, given humanity's long history of sectarian strife, people who aren't familiar with the placidity of Protestant interaction around here might cook up such a narrative, but there's more animosity between Bama and Auburn fans than between Baptists and Methodists. Anyway, if you're ever in rural Alabama, pay attention to the churches you see. Chances are, most will be Baptist. I don't think the arsonists were picking and choosing. They shot a cow that same trip, on the pretext of hunting, so it doesn't seem like discretion was part of their thought process.

And then there's this obsolete old horror, posting from his cavern of Catholic kitsch about how the arsonists did what they did because they were Jewish.

They weren't, by the way, Jewish; they were typical Protestant-raised cultural Christians. One might think a barmy Catholoon would be only to happy to wail on them for being the spawn of Luther, but apparently his antiquated hate is too baroque for such linear proceedings.

***

Closer to home, my Dad is the Clay Shaw of Pinewood Derbies. Pinewood Derbies, for the uninitiated, are races that Cub Scout Packs hold once a year. Every scout makes a car from a standard kit. Block of wood, plastic wheels, pair of axles. Carve the wood, paint it, race it. Most scouts carved it to resemble the silhouette of a passenger car, which is not exactly the most aerodynamic shape. With my last Derby approaching I saw, in an issue of Boy's Life, a Derby design that looked more like a race car. Actually it looked like a doorstop on wheels, but I wheedled my Dad into helping me use this plan. He was uncertain because it was so off-model from customary design, but he went along. He even painted it really nice: black with crackling red flames; he was hoping to win the best-looking car contest, which we didn't.

But we did win the actual race. The judges scratched their heads over the unconventional design, but it didn't go against the letter of the rules; it wasn't a violation to look like the sole race car in a fleet of station wagons. A Pinewood Derby takes a while; there are many, many heats if you've got a big Pack. I think ours was over a hundred boys, but we won heat after heat, and our car took First Place. There was some grumbling about this, since the car had seemingly jumped the track a couple times and blocked other cars; probably just the result of being too light in front.

But it didn't pass the smell test. Because my Dad was the Pack Leader.

And the son of the Assistant Pack Leader won second place.

Imagine what a Truther or a Birther would make of this.

Now, anyone who knows my Dad and his Scouting Assistant knows that these are not people who would risk their good names, nor betray anyone's trust, over a Pinewood Derby. They know what a childrens' game is worth, and they know what a reputation is worth. But I can understand how, from outside appearances, this might look like a small-stakes conspiracy.

If I were an Ayn Rander I might argue that there's a correspondence between the leadership qualities it takes to be a Pack Leader and the Howard Roark qualities it takes to design an unconventional race-winning Pinewoodmobile, but I doubt my Dad would stand for it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Note for the night.

If an argument on behalf of position X is just as applicable to positions like "The Jews killed the dinosaurs!" then it's time to reconsider arguments.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Confused? Yes.

I was a fanatical Yes fan in high school (I'm speaking of the band Yes, here) which is proof that I was pretty confused. I mean, it's one thing to think Close to the Edge is good stuff; that's the if-you-only-buy-one-Yes-album-make-it-this-one album. It's a recording that doesn't need much defending. But thinking Tormato is a good album? With its prissy pastiches (Most anglo funk ever), vegan-meatheaded mystic-shmistic lyrics ("boy-child Solomon"? Oy, child,) and arpeggio-workouts-disguised-as-music? That's confusion.

In the liner notes for Relayer, the other Yes record I consider a keeper, there was a note informing anyone who cared to know that the album was recorded on producer Eddie Offord's portable recording equipment. As I have since learned from interviews, this means they set up shop in a band member's house. But at 16 or whatever I visualized the band recording in the trailer of a moving ten-wheeler, cutting an album as they rolled down the road on the way to the next gig. With Eddie Offord driving the truck, which had a sound board on the dash. I'm not kidding. This made sense to me.

I still seem to lose all sense when it comes to Yes. I've been downloading awful concert bootlegs, forcing myself to listen, then deleting them from my hard drive if not my mind, in an effort at aversion therapy. It just seems to keep me fixated, though; I much prefer jazz, these days, but some part of me will always be stuck on my first love.


One thing these concerts make evident, especially if you listen to them back to back with the original studio recordings: Yes suffered from bombast creep. If a tune was sensitively played and tastefully arranged at birth, bet on it turning into a thumping, crashing, squealing, effects-laden pomp-rock disgrace by the time it's become a concert staple.

Recently I went on a solo night-driving trip to the beach, and I listened to a long bootlegged instrumental medley of Yes tunes, as performed by Circle, a band composed entirely of members or de-facto members of Yes. Circle sounds a lot like the early post-psychedelic rough and ready version of Yes, so to hear Circle's version of later Yes music was awfully disorienting... like hearing the Beatles of Meet The Beatles play tunes from Abbey Road. They stripped bombast out instead of larding it up; the reverse of Yes's usual MO. I actually had to pull off the highway and get some food, because the music made me feel too discombobulated to drive. Music has power, and goofy music has goofy power.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Routeen Halloween

This Halloween, for the first time in about a decade, I handed out candy to trick-or-treaters. I was oddly nervous about it because in my imagination I visualized trick-or-treaters as aggro adolescents who might deface my car if they didn't care for the little candy bars we offered. To my relief trick-or-treaters turn out to be tiny children with sweet and/or shy dispositions, the timidest monsters I've ever seen.

I was aghast, though, to see most of the kids were being driven around our safe, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in big suburban utility vehicles instead of walking. It was different for me and mine. We would go outside, in the dark and the Autumnal chill, tripping on our costumes, struggling to see through our masks, exploring our neighborhood on foot, knocking on doors we didn't know. It was a cozy adventure, almost an initiation ceremony; our parents were close behind, but still, the moonlight filtered down through the branches and made everything look like a less trustworthy version of our daytime world. Experiencing it on foot, fully outdoors, haunting or being haunted by the enormity of the starlit sky, made Halloween just a wee bit eldritch. Experiencing it from the back of a boring everyday vehicle just doesn't cut it; that's how kids experience everyday banality. It's neither a trick nor a treat; it's just average.

I fussed about this on Fecesbook (and let's face it, everybody who reads this blog is facebooked to me so you all saw it) and an old high school friend stood up for the automotive trick-or-treating process on the grounds that parents are tired. Well, I'm pretty sure my parents didn't have it any easier, but they still had the decency to lead us on our disguised walkabout. I was surprised this old friend took such a bourgeois stance, since in our younger days she'd been a devoted Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft fan. You'd think she'd retain some love for the real Halloween spooky spirit.