Tragedy

Tragedy

Noun  |  trag-e-dy  |  \’ tra-je-dé

 

I’m just a guy with a blog, I don’t go around referring to myself as a Blogger. And usually I’m more concerned with exploring the mechanics of creative writing than political commentary. But I keep coming back to these thoughts, and by the way I’m not claiming this is “news” or even  “fake news,” which I thought was The Onion but maybe I’m wrong. Furthermore, no massacre, real or fictitious, occurred during the writing of this piece. You may carry on if you wish.

In the Trump camp, it seems like there’s this ego-fueled attitude that they can do and say whatever and it won’t matter. Like the “alternative facts” spate, having public beef with a department store (??), Sean Spicer’s ranting to the press about the press, or Kellyanne Conway’s transmissions from another galaxy. Of course, it’s coming down from Trump himself. He has set the tone for the team, as evidenced by, oh, his whole life before deciding to be a politician, and even then, a sizeable portion of his political life as well. He said himself that he could stand in Times Sq. and shoot someone, an act most reasonable people would find objectionable, but his supporters wouldn’t care.

It must be liberating, in a way, for his cabal. I picture a big sign over the doorway out of the oval office, like the famous Notre Dame football team’s “Play like a champion today” sign, except this one says “Just do whatever!” and everyone touches it ritualistically on their way out into the real world. Hey, if their coach got away with mimicking a disabled man, questioned Sen. John McCain’s status as a war hero*, or grabbed them by the – ahem – heartstrings and tugged on them mightily, then they must feel freed up to just be themselves! Yay.

But maybe, just maybe, that same lack of concern for recourse which once served him well in the public sector is now a serious threat to the nature of a democracy. Accountability is needed for a democracy to function. Not to say that the individuals elected to govern will take accountability, or will always comport themselves in a way beholding to their peeps. But on a high level, the structure of a democracy is such that the people choose their representatives, who then have term limits before an open, transparent (hopefully), election. Being able to vote people in and out of office is the recourse of the people, and the reason why accountability is huge. *squints and points with index fingertip and thumb touching* It’s gonna be YOOGE.  When a democracy loses this leg of the table, it’s not far off from collapsing into a regime.

From a marketing point of view, this is all on-message for the Trump brand. Do some word association with “Trump” and you’ll probably get ego alongside wealth and possibly success, as the core brand values. So the display of arrogance throughout the administration is not likely to go away anytime soon. Though, you could argue that there is a fundamental shift in how the Trump brand is perceived. According to Allen Adamson, head of marketing firm Brand Simple, what the surname stands for now includes “outspoken, politically incorrect views that target a rural, white, male, audience.” I quoted Mr. Adamson because I couldn’t have said it better.

One gets the sense that this play is destined to be a tragic one, in the classical sense, not just the colloquial way it’s used to mean “real bad.” But as in the story of a person of prominence who falls to disaster because of the very characteristic which made them successful to begin with. Pride becomes hubris eventually, and it’s just a matter of time before it reaches a critical mass. The only question is how many people will he bring down with him?

 

*To date, the only record of Donald Trump serving was during the Cola Wars.

Strange Daze

 

brain

“Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean…”

I’m just sitting there with a cup my 2nd cup of morning afternoon-ish coffee, and I start singing this ad jingle. It just pops into my head, I’m not sure why or from which dark, cerebral crevasse of my brain. But it dawns on me that I’m full of stuff like this; full of product ads, slogans, jingles. It’s like the plastic garbage that floats adrift in our oceans, only it’s my head and the garbage is of a non-physical kind. Now and then it washes ashore and comes to mind.

I know, from that day in college when I was paying attention, that there’s no finite limit to the amount of things we can store as memories, so it’s not pushing anything else out of there. There’s no problem in that sense. Maybe the oceanic plastic metaphor isn’t the best; I can’t think of an equivalent to the seagull with a 6 pack ring around its neck, so to speak. But it’s still disturbing on some level, how we’ve bombarded ourselves and retain to some degree the residue of our commercialism lifestyle. And it’s not just something ephemeral like memory. Supposedly our bodies are riddled with preservatives from eating so much processed food that even postmortem decay is slowed to an unnatural rate. So maybe there is some way that prolonged exposure to marketing messages changes how we think too.

It’s just one of the many ways which our modern way of life in 2016 is so different from the vast majority of human history. Things have gotten pretty fucking bizarre. We didn’t evolve under these conditions; “today” is an aberration. I wonder what would happen if you plucked your average 1776 New York citizen and dropped them into present day Times Square. I think they’d just explode. I mean an actual explosion, with flames and people diving in slow motion towards the camera. We might need Mr. Clean after all.

Inside the Purple Vault of Prince

“I think over 70% of the music we’ve worked on for Prince is yet to be released.”

-Brent Fischer, Grammy winning composer and collaborator with Prince

And that’s a LOT, seeing how Prince put out nearly 40 studio albums released during his career of as many years.

Now, I’m not going to eulogize him – others more capable have done it already since his death last week. I prefer to focus on the music, and the hope that there still may be more to come.

Recording engineer Susan Rogers was hired Prince in 1983 to work in Paisley Park, his personal recording studio in Minneapolis, MN. She explained “I want us to have everything he’s ever recorded right here,” for convenience as well as for the sake of preservation. “When I left in ’87 it was nearly full…it was just row after row after row after row of everything we did.” And that was nearly three decades ago. By her estimate, of Prince’s best “30% (of recorded music), I’ll bet the public has heard about 20% of it.”

prince
Click HERE for video interviews

Hans Martin-Buff, another studio engineer, helped Prince record in the 90’s and confirms the prodigious output of the man: “In the same way that most people have a conversation about their day, Prince creates music. It’s effortless for him.”

Evidence of Prince’s willingness to shelve quality material is found in the story of his legendary Black Album, his 16th studio record. Officially it has no title and is credited to no artist, as the LP and CD covers were simply black with no text. He decided it should be pulled prior to the scheduled release date in 1987. The story goes that he felt it was too dark and negative, and out of step with his spiritual feelings at the time. (Note: The Black Album was eventually released in 1994 in limited numbers and without a single or a marketing push from the label. Due to these circumstances, it is regarded as one of the most heavily bootlegged albums of all time, only adding to the artist’s aura of intrigue.)

Not to be excluded from the discussion are Princes electrifying live performances, which were also heavily documented. Alan Leeds, former head of Paisley Park Records says “[Prince] recorded every concert he ever did…so the wealth of material goes way beyond just studio recordings.” If you just know the studio hits, please try and check out some videos of Prince to see what an amazing performer he was, ripping out Hendrix-like guitar runs in between soulful vocals and tightly choreographed dance breaks, and making it look as easy as getting out of bed.

Michael Bland, who was a drummer for Prince goes on to say “There’s all sorts of music in the vault, there’s two other movies that nobody ever saw….I can’t even tell you how many songs were recorded because it happened so frequently.”

Though we can all keep our fingers crossed on the release of some amazing new music, Bland points out that there may be a benefit to keeping it under wraps: “It keeps the mystique only because the door is shut.”

Stick With It

If it’s something you love, keep it near to your heart. I think that’s what happens as we get older: we let things slip away because it’s easier to do so in the moment, and then make excuses about not having enough time or whatnot. It’s a tough lesson to learn. And sometimes what we’re told to hold onto or what we’re told to get rid of, it might not even be right for you. It might be right for someone else, but I believe that at a certain point we learn what’s best for ourselves. Whether we can block out the noise of others’ opinions is another story though.

Nobody Click On Grandma!

It was a nice day outside so I figured I’d take a stroll through my local internet. I went to a major news website, I won’t say who but they have a 3 lettered name that rhymes with ZNN, and was shocked to find, buried among the legitimate stories, all these absurd and irritating “click-bait” links to sponsored content. The idea is that people are compelled to click on the link simply because it is sensational and outrageous, however dubious the source. Of course some people are going to mistake them for actual news content and that’s a legitimate gripe for those who are concerned for the state of real journalism these days. But I won’t get into that now.

So anyway, sprinkled in and among news items I’m reading these inflammatory article titles, often hinting that you’re doing something wrong or telling some terrible truth about a popular topic. And then I realized – this is just like my thanksgiving.

Sure, there’s some actual content – maybe Cousin Dave got a new job or something – but then there are the click-bait comments courtesy of my mother-in-law. Actually, I’m starting to wonder if she isn’t writing those articles. “You’re paying too much for car insurance!”; “How Old Is Too Old To Have Children!”; or “Here’s Why Hilary Can’t Be Trusted!” Two out of the three are from her, see if you can guess which.

I can’t exactly remember, to be honest. It’s all one big stuffing and gravy drenched blur. Though I’m pretty sure the anti-Puerto Rican ones are purely hers. The real click-bait writers, manipulative little weasels they may be, have some sense of decorum after all.

Eulogy

I didn’t really know him. I knew things about him…maybe that’s as close as we can get to knowing another soul. We talk of “walking in somebody’s shoes” as if it was a possibility, but we cannot try on the experiences, fears, and dreams of anybody else. We’re barely acquainted with our own, at various points in our lives. The waters of another life must remain distant and impenetrable, much like a painting of a seascape hanging on the wall, and are not something we can ever dive into.

But back to the man: He was with my aunt for many years – as long as I can remember. They never married, she had once before I think but this was something my family never spoke of. He was from Maine. I remember that he was from Maine because he told me a story one Christmas of buying a truckload of Christmas trees and driving them down to sell in western Massachusetts, which is where my aunt was living. He may have told this story a few times, on those awkward holidays when he and my aunt accompanied my grandparents on their annual visit to our home in the eastern part of the state. More than likely, this story was repeated because it was apropos and also because there wasn’t much common ground between him and my brother and I. He was seemingly from rugged, rustic, working class stock and we were adolescents in an upper-middleclass suburb, the sons of writers. He was often dressed in flannel, and always carried a jackknife. I kept mine in a drawer since my lifestyle dictated that I rarely, if ever, needed it.

There are other things I can recall about him. He was an alcoholic, I don’t know how severe or how it impacted his life or those in close proximity to him, claimed to have seen a mountain lion once, hated the lounge singer Robert Goulet. Something about his face reminded me of Johnny Cash. In typical old New England fashion he wasn’t very talkative, but again, maybe he was open around people he felt more comfortable with.

He seemed to have a connection with the natural world, grounded and terrestrial, and not one for flights of imagination. But maybe I’m wrong. After all, I hardly knew ye. You have returned to the earth from which you came. May you rest in peace, Dave.

August 27, 2015