Sunday nibble #45

Keep in mind that I try to keep my post-writing a week or two ahead of the dates they go live, so for all I know everything could have gone downhill in the past week, given events from last weekend, which is when I’m writing this.

The Sunday Nibble is back from hiatus, which began with my Christmas Countdown, and the last installment was the eighth and last in a series of short pieces I’d originally written with the intention of publishing them on a friend’s website, The Flushed.

The series title was “A short guide to knowing your shit,” and it fit right in with The Flushed, which is about all things having to do with the bathroom — although the title they would have gotten used the word “poop” instead, because they’re more PG-13. But the series never ran there.

However… I am now also guest-blogging four times a month over at Paw.com, a site all about pets, mostly of the canine and feline variety. I wound up with this job because I used to write for “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan’s ecommerce website, and one of my former co-workers there recently became Creative Director for a company that does content creation for various client sites.

He contacted me almost immediately to offer the gig, and how could I say no? It was a natural fit. Check them out, and yes, they do sell stuff, specializing in beds, blankets, and other pet-friendly products.

So yes, it’s another case of “it’s who you know,” but Creative Directors are good people for artists and writers to know in general, since they tend to have a lot of clout within their organizations. And, being Creative Directors, they hire us — the creatives.

Also, from time-to-time, I’ll still post the random movie review to a site called Filmmonthly.com, which I founded two decades ago with a pair of fellow film-lovers, one of whom was the other roommate during the tenure of the very bizarre Strauss, about whom I wrote on Friday, and the other was the roommate who took over when Strauss abruptly departed — the one whose cousin accidentally torched their kitchen with a toaster oven.

We ran the thing for a good while, and all three of us were the publishers, racking up a ton of reviews. Eventually, we all stepped back and turned it over to the next generation, although for a long time our prior work was there — until one of the people trusted with the site at some point muffed up and wound up losing a lot of the older files forever.

Things that make you go “Grrrrr.” Unfortunately, if you search my name and filmmonthly, you’ll get a ton of hits because, as publisher, my name was on every page. Most of them will not be my work.

But I did recently review a low-budget adaptation of the King Arthur story that surprisingly did not suck, so there’s that. There was also a fun little indie comedy about incest, Call Me Brother, that I also liked and reviewed.

I’ll share another secret with you. The Christmas and New Year Countdowns are my way of giving myself a vacation. I program everything to publish automatically before Thanksgiving arrives, and then on the Friday after, boom. I don’t need to write or post anything for over a month.

This works out great IRL, because this also coincides with the frantic tail-end of my busy season at work, which pretty much entails seven-day weeks and ten hour days from October 15 to December 7. Every. Single. Year.

The only exception, of course, is when the Out of the Blue Oxford Boys drop their charity single for the current year. That always gets its own special post, because they and what they do are both very special.

Which is to say that, looking back at 2020, I’m kind of amazed that I managed to post something every single day when there were many days that I felt no motivation — and I think that’s true of a lot of us who lived through lockdown.

Kind of ironic, really. All the time in the world to write, but it was hard to get motivated. Except… it did give me time to focus in on The Rêves, which I started serializing here weekly back in July, long before I actually finished it.

And now it’s 2021, and it feels like we’re going to have a new beginning, maybe, but it won’t be soon and it won’t be fast. What it will probably be is the final general realization that if we want to fight this thing, we do have to take it seriously and sacrifice.

It may not seem like it, but “sacrifice” is something that Americans can be good at when they actually do it, and when they’re not being cheer-led on by greedy, selfish leaders.

Nobody really complained when security tightened up after 9/11 and it seemed like it took an anal probe and two blood samples to get into any government building. No one complained back when they could only buy gas on days based on their license plate number.

No one complained when everything was rationed during WW II. And on, and on.

Now, I don’t know what percentage of people who voted for a certain losing presidential candidate last year are also staunch anti-maskers, but I can give you these numbers. Out of the total U.S. population, only 23% voted for the outgoing incumbent. But if we cut that number down to “all people eligible to vote,” whether they do or not, then it’s 38%.

The other candidate got 25% of the total population, and 42% of all people eligible to vote, although based on the actual vote count, it came out as 52% to 48%.

Or, in other words, for the politically engaged, a divided world, but if you look at the total population, one thing stands out. The selfish people fall to around one-fifth of the population.

And that is very hopeful, because there are more of us who can be good Americans and sacrifice, whether we vote or not (and why the hell don’t you, if you’re eligible?) than there are greedy Americans who want to burn it all down.

So… for every Karen, there are four Americans willing to stand up to her shit. And that is how we are going to turn it around in 2021, albeit slowly, and finally see normalcy return in 2022.

Simply put, there are still more Americans willing to do the right thing. We’re just not as vocal or visible as the selfish ones who like to kick and scream like infants to get their way. But their tantrum will end soon, once they’ve woken up to reality. If they ever do.

Okay, it’s another Sunday Nibble turned into a full buffet, but that’s okay. It feels like I’m coming out of hibernation, so there’s a lot on my mind.

Christmas Countdown, Wednesday #4

The theme of this day is Superstar Christmas song, and the one that popped to mind is Christmas from the rock opera Tommy by The Who.

Now, in my personal opinion, Tommy is actually the inferior version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, even though The Who did the story first — it’s just that The Who’s music sounds like nails on a chalkboard, while Pink Floyd’s has depth and melody and so much more going for it. Plus theirs is a better version of the story.

Fight me.

Anyway, both of these rock operas are a direct reminder of how WW II created much of modern music. Why? All of those pioneering rock artists who became prominent in the mid-60s and early 70s were born in the early to mid-1940s.

In other words, Boomers, all of them. And quite a lot of them — The Who, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Bowie, etc. — were British, hence directly affected by the war.

Read “directly affected” as “having Nazis bomb the city you lived in, so your parents evacuated you to the safe spots far north in the Lake District or elsewhere for the duration.

That and having a really good chance of learning that your dah got blown to bits somewhere in France or Italy.

These are the catalysts that led to the creation of both Tommy and The Wall. I think the big difference is that The Who basically avoided the real issues and came up with metaphors that missed the mark, while Pink Floyd hit it head-on with the admission up front of, “Yeah, this formed who we are now, but it’s still no fucking excuse.. Sorry!”

Meanwhile, in Tommy, the protagonist suffers from hysterical sensory loss (becoming “blind, deaf, and dumb”) after seeing his mother and step-father murder his unexpectedly returned from the dead actual father.

Much, much lamer than Pink’s realistic journey and lament about how the “tigers broke free” and “took my daddy from me.”

But I do digress. Here is todays superstar Christmas song. If it seems a bit weird, it’s because the video take footage from the Ken Russell film of Tommy and tries to sync it to the original album.

Trust me, the movie version, with musical star Ann-Margret and couldn’t sing his way out of a paper bag Oliver Reed does a lot more justice to the vocals. Anyway, enjoy.

Christmas Countdown, Sunday #4

Sunday’s theme is “It’s not just Christmas,” and it’s appropriate to have this one today since tomorrow is the winter solstice. In pagan cultures, this is called Yule, hence all those yuletide log things in your Christmas carols.

The idea of celebrations occurring around the solstices and equinoxes is something that has been baked into humanity since the beginning, especially after we went from being nomadic hunters to settlers with agriculture.

It became very important to predict when to plant, when to harvest, when to expect what kind of weather, and the only clocks we had were in the sky — the Sun and the Moon. That’s why we measure days by the Sun and months by the Moon — indeed, in many languages the words for “month” and “Moon” share the same root.

The two most important of the four equinox/solstice times are the one that comes tomorrow, the winter solstice, and the one that comes three months later, the vernal equinox, “vernal” meaning the same thing as spring.

The reason they became so significant is that the Winter solstice is right at the time when the period of daylight in the northern hemisphere is the shortest and the world is dominated by the night. Solstice refers to the idea of a standing or stopping and, indeed, if you look at the analemma of the Sun, you’ll see that the images clump together at the bottom (start of local winter) and the top (start of local summer.)

As for the vernal equinox, this is the day when sunlight and darkness are equal and periods of daylight start to get longer until they hit their maximum on the summer solstice in June.

I think you can see why agricultural societies would find these dates so important. By the start of winter, all of the crops should be in and everything should be stored up to survive the long, cold winter until planting could begin once the ground began to thaw in the spring.

So… they kept an eye out for the day with the least sunlight, then counted thirteen phases of the Moon. This is why so many cultures in the northern hemisphere have big and important holidays, both religious and secular, in late December and late March, and more minor celebrations in late June and late September.

And, to further subdivide it, there are important events in early February (Candlemas or Groundhog Day, anyone?), early May (Beltane/May Day) early August (Lamas Day), and early November (Halloween/All Saints Day).

That was the long way around of saying that it’s totally appropriate for this group of Pagans to be celebrating the solstice at Stonehenge, because the entire structure seems to have been one huge calendar and observatory, lined up so that the way the Sun hit different stones inside let the people know exactly what day it was.

And, ignoring the differences in liturgy and beliefs, isn’t this observation pretty similar to any other religious celebration? People gathered together in a sacred place to sing, connect with each other, and celebrate something beyond to unite them and bring hope.

In this case, these people are actually celebrating the Sun, the Moon, and Mother Earth, and those three things could not be more important to the continued existence of our species and, indeed, every living thing on this planet.

Christmas Countdown, Friday #3

It’s time again for another cover of Maria Carey’s retirement plan, aka All I want for Christmas Is You, but this is one that shows the power of music in creating a mood. It’s the same song and same lyrics, but now it’s in a minor key, and that makes all the difference.

Here is Chase Holfelder’s take on the song.

A few years ago, Schmoyoho did the same thing with the song All Star, made famous by the Shrek franchise, but again the mood here is totally different. Likewise, check out KestrelTapes minor key version of Toto’s Africa. Same effect.

The reasons for this aren’t totally clear, but it is a cultural thing because people who grew up with harmonic systems outside of Western music probably don’t hear it the same way.

A year or so ago, I learned the theory behind something that I’d just known instinctively for years as a musician, but had never thought about. The concept of Major and minor really only depends on two sets of two notes.

Western music has eight note names: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The G is followed by A. The distance between each of these notes is considered a full step, so there are eight notes in any regular scale.

But the Western chromatic scale has twelve tones.

That’s because all of the notes can be either raised or lowered half a step. In the former, they become “sharp,” designated with what we now call the hashtag: A#, B#, C#, etc. When they’re lowered, they’re said to be “flat,” designated with what almost looks like a lowercase “b”: Ab, Bb, Cb, etc.

So that should give us fourteen notes, right? You’d think, but there’s a trick to it.

The intervals in a normal Major scale go whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half. In the simplest Major scale, C, which has no sharps or flats in its key signature (don’t worry about that here), the notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.

And, indeed, from C to D and D to E, and then from F until you hit B, everything is a whole step.

But E to F and B to C are half steps. If you ever look at any kind of musical keyboard, you’ll see that the black keys come in a group of two, then a group of three, and this is a precise visual representation of the Major scale. Where you see two white keys together, it’s that half step — and on the keyboard, the pair after the first two whole steps are E and F, while the pair after the next three are B and C.

The important notes in the scale, though, are the 1st, 3rd, and 5th, which are often referred to as I, III, V. The three together make up a simple Major chord, and you’ll notice that between the first two, C and E, there are two whole steps. But… from the E to the G, it’s only a step and a half E to F is a half step, F to G is a whole step.

The I is the important note, though, and the I-III relationship defines the Major. So how do you get a minor out of that? Simple. Turn it into I-IIIb. In other words, the notes are now C and Eb, which work out to whole step (C-D) and half step (D- Eb).

Most likely, the psychological effect is that it feels like the expected goal did not get reached. We started out on that happy climb up two whole steps to the happy key, but then missed and, literally, fell flat.

Here’s the other interesting part of it. Every key has a relative minor, and it’s the key that starts on the notes one-and-a-half steps down from it. In the case of C, that note is A, because going backwards, C-B-A is half step down, whole step down.

And when you start on A but the notes are A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, then the pattern becomes whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole. It really changes up the order of everything, so no wonder it deceives the ear.

The unanswered question is why one note order always seems upbeat and happy, while the other seems downbeat and sad — and it may have as much to do with our own creation and development of music as anything inherent in the notes.

Interestingly, though, the pentatonic scale, which may have existed in ancient Greek music (we just don’t know) but which is also common in Asia — and, in fact, is the stereotypical scale used in the West to instantly indicate “Japan” — has five notes, and the intervals vary depending on where you start, but they are whole step, one and a half, whole step whole step, one and a half.

You can play this using any starting point you want on a piano, but you can do it automatically by only playing the black keys. And here’s the really interesting part: You can play any or all of those keys in any combination or order, even all at the same time, and nothing sounds dissonant at all.

Note, too, that the C Major scale is only the white keys, while only the black keys make up a pentatonic scale. I don’t know that that has anything to do with anything, but it is a fascinating thing nonetheless.

Check out the previous post, or the next.