Archive for December, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 25th, 2009

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Who doesn’t want a smart President?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Republicans, apparently.*

I swore I would stick to cultural topics and not discuss anything political in this blog, but since I can’t offend anyone who isn’t reading, and this topic stuck in my head like a brain barnacle, here goes …

Exhibit A: The last four Republican presidents … Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush:  None of them with an IQ higher than their body temperature.  Gerald Ford could trip over his own thought balloon. Ronald Reagan never had a thought that wasn’t scripted by someone else (or he didn’t mistake from a movie). George W., well, we need not even go there, but suffice it to say that he was Pinky, and Dick Cheney or Karl Rove were “The Brain.” And George H. Bush? Well, this is what the last smart GOP president had to say about him on his oval office tape recordings when Bush Sr. was ambassador of the U.N.  … “Loyal, but no brains.” And remember … he is considered the SMART one of those four.

The fact that Richard Nixon was the last smart Republican says everything. He was deeply paranoid to the point of creating a foaming-at-the-mouth enemies list, and then surreptitiously ordering a break-in to the files of the Democratic National Headquarters, which eventually got him impeached. Even Republicans never trusted him and haven’t been the same ever since.

Exhibit B: The last three Democratic presidents … Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. All of them with measured IQ’s above the genius level (150). Jimmy Carter was a nuclear physicist, for crying out loud (and a preacher). Bill Clinton had a 180 IQ and could eloquently and informatively talk about every topic on the planet from stem cell research to Keynesian economics. And Barack, well, come on, he’s a black man named Hussein who convinced a good majority (10 million more than his opponent) Americans to vote for him. Just overcoming the ‘black’ part required a communication and intelligence skill set that would set back most Harvard graduates.

So this isn’t a discussion of the actual merits or policies of the candidate, but just the fact that Republicans or conservatives have no problem voting for someone they’d like to have a beer with, but not someone who they perceive is smarter than they are. I don’t get this. Why wouldn’t we want the smartest man possible for the job? Why wouldn’t we want someone as president who makes our entire country look smart to the rest of the world?

This leads me to inevitably conclude that what makes someone either conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, ultimately has nothing to do with politics, but is more about how people are hard-wired either emotionally or genetically.

For example, you will rarely find a writer in the arts (or should I say a good writer; Tom Clancy doesn’t count) alive who is a Republican. There’s a very simple explanation for this. Anyone hard-wired for empathy, who by their very emotional skill set and craft has the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and walk a mile to either create or fill that character … is just not going to think like Republican.

George Carlin articulated it best when he said the Republicans are all about property rights (or as I like to characterize it … “I got mine, screw everybody else”), and Democrats are all about human rights (or, “Even when I GET mine, I’m not going to feel as good about it unless someone else has a chance at it.”)

So if you’re genetically hard wired against empathy, chances are you are a Republican. (Sorry, Jesus, you don’t qualify).

I would also suggest a couple other genetic traits that might put you in that camp are fear of change (hello, reactionaries), and paranoia about those things or people you don’t understand. Government is just some monstrous entity that’s going to come and take away your guns. Gays are going to convert your children into homosexuals and devalue your marriage (but Tiger Woods won’t). Hispanics are going to ruin the value of your neighborhood and force you to speak Spanish to order a cheeseburger. Anything a Republican, reactionary, conservative is not overly familiar with, somehow poses a threat. It doesn’t make them curious – no, never any genuine outside interest or curiosity; just a threat. This wouldn’t be the case if the knee-jerk reaction to anything they don’t understand was to pause for a reflective moment trying to understand, instead of just being angry or afraid (again, the empathy vacuum).

Conservatives like to say that a liberal is a conservative who’s never been mugged. This just proves my theory about being hard-wired for paranoia. They’re always basing their mindset on a negative event in the future. But a liberal always thinks deeper than that, to what actually helped create the mindset for the mugger in the first place (walk in their shoes, remember?).  Somehow, they didn’t get theirs, and now they want YOURS. A liberal doesn’t put the mugger into a ‘ME versus THEM’ category, but at some level understands that … “There, but for the Grace of God, (and some really nasty crystal meth), go I.” There are more forces creating this scenario than just … he’s a bad man who wants my stuff. I mean, c’mon, it’s ONLY stuff.

What person in their right mind wouldn’t want to know for sure that, if they or one of their loved ones suffer a catastrophic illness, they wouldn’t be financially ruined? We are the only civilized nation in the world where you can go bankrupt simply by the cost of your health, or lack of it. That’s insane. Worse; it’s morally bankrupt. Anyone with empathy, again, has no problem understanding this.  Republicans say, “I got my insurance, what’s the problem?” Again, without projecting out of their own experience to sympathize with others, how could they understand? Because, if you’ve EVER spent a long portion of your life, perhaps as a free lance artist or just an unemployed, walking on a tinderbox being uninsured, you WOULD understand…completely.

Smart, empathetic leaders do. That’s why most of us voted for one this time.

The Jesus who preached at the Sermon on the Mount was definitely hard-wired for empathy. In fact, the only people he couldn’t empathize with or tolerate were, well, greedy bastards who said, ‘I got mine, screw everybody else.’

So, let’s review. If you’re hard wired to be paranoid of things you don’t understand, then of course you’re going to feel threatened by a leader who is smarter than you because … well, they’re obviously going to try and trick you out of your money or your stuff.

And it’s your stuff, goddamit, screw everybody else.

 

*(Republican here being defined as any conservative who voted for George W. Bush twice, or who thinks Fox News is real news)

 

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This one’s for my dad … the smartest man I ever knew, a WWII veteran, and a true Democrat who would have gotten a smile out of this.               (April 22, 1921-December 22, 2001)

— A. Wayne Carter

Record reviews: Second place winners

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Susan Boyle and Adam Lambert have nothing in common other than the fact they both came in second place in national talent contests and they both vaguely resemble a female.

Here’s something else they now have in common: they both released albums on the same day and, though worlds apart in mood (but not theatricality), they both demand a good listen and deliver.

Susan Boyle is the 47 year-old Englishwoman who stunned audiences (and Simon Cowell) on Britain’s Got Talent when she opened her mouth and sang beautifully. The audience was stunned because they have been trained by a discriminating and shallow MTV culture to only expect beautiful people to be allowed on their TV screens and or in their faces.

The song she sang was “I Dreamed a Dream” from the play Les Miserables, and though on the surface you might assume it to be some harmless uplifting pap, listen closer and you’ll discover a much darker song about how that ‘dream’ was shattered by “this hell I’m living;” which, in the eerie coincidence of her life imitating art, occurred when Boyle was stunned herself to only get the runner-up award and promptly had a nervous breakdown.

So, in an ironic touch, that song is also the name of her debut album … which sold 410,000 copies in Britain alone the first week. So, maybe there is karma in the world. Or a hell of a lot of people who are sick of mediocre-talented former cheerleaders (Paula) or Mousekteers (Britney) getting recording contracts based on how they look instead of how they sing.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote a great song when they composed and recorded the original “Wild Horses” some 40 years ago. But the true test of a classic song is how it can be twisted and re-interpreted, and Boyle’s producer, Steve Mac, delivers a haunting and original arrangement here. Even Mick was blown away.

Boyle probably had some songs she has sung her whole life that she wanted to include, so you get the spirituals, “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” and the Christmas Carol, “Silent Night.” But, somehow it all works with the ethereal mood of the album.

The producer also brings slow, haunting, and original arrangements to such sixties chestnuts as “Daydream Believer,” and “The End of the World.” I think Madonna’s flamenco-edged version of “You’ll See” fared better than the one here, even though Boyle has an infinitely better voice. You also can’t top Patty Griffin for interpreting her own songs, so “Up to the Mountain” doesn’t quite reach the summit on Boyle’s version.

Still, overall, this is a really satisfying album of creatively arranged and tastefully produced covers sung by a voice that can provide the necessary goose bumps.

Adam Lambert’s debut album “For Your Entertainment,” on the other end of the spectrum, is designed to give you a hard-on. The solid, pumping, dance floor action never stops (well, for at least 11 out of 14 tracks). It also plays like a history of all the gay-influenced dance music of that last quarter century (which was always a positive thing for dance music), from Freddie Mercury in Queen, to David Bowie, to Animotion, to Abba, to Jimmy Sommerville, Erasure, and the Scissor Sisters. You don’t have to be gay to spot the influences or enjoy the outcome.

Everything is way way over the top, but it gets your blood going, your feet moving, and  it has more hooks than a cold storage meat warehouse.

“Soaked” offers this great Mid-eastern flourish up front, before dropping into a very eerie almost a capella vocal that Freddie Mercury would have shaved his moustache for.

The most obvious hit track is “Whataya Want from Me,” which pretty much sums up the whole attitude of expectations foisted upon Lambert after his American Idol notoriety. Getting simulated blown by a male dancer on the American Music Awards was apparently not the response most prime time viewers were looking for as an answer to that question.

I don’t follow all the contemporary writers and producers who jumped on board to showcase ‘Glambert’ on this album, but I appreciate the sheer energy and enthusiasm (and hooks) they brought to the project.  I haven’t done the disco scene in many years, but this disco-rock-infused extravaganza will keep the clubs pumping for weeks to come.  And isn’t that what was really really wanted from him?

Someday, maybe when he gets all his ya yas out, and his shock rebel streak out, we’ll get that beautiful vocal album that his fantastic cover of “Mad World” hinted at. But you’ll find nothing remotely subtle here. Either get into it, or get over it.

— A. Wayne Carter