Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Last Cowboy in Paris

“Don’t worry about me, I’m an American. Have gun, will travel.”
–Lady Grantham "Downton Abbey"

Apparently Americans travel pretty well these days, with or without guns.

I will admit that, I, along with the rest of the country, swelled up more than a tiny bit with pride when the news broke about “3 U.S. Marines” stopping a terror attack on a French train. Later, as the press finally bothered to sort out who they actually were, the story changed.  

 The heroes were composed of a group of three friends, only 2 of whom had military backgrounds, all dressed in civilian clothing: a U.S.A.F. medical technologist, an Army national guardsman from Oregon, and a civilian college student.  It struck me as odd as to why they presumed the heroes to be marines in the first place, particularly since no one was wearing a uniform of any kind.  It should be noted that since so few reporters these days, have ever served in the military, most would probably not know the difference between a soldier, sailor, airmen or marine if they were standing before them in full dress uniform.  Regardless, getting the story right has never been much of priority for the press, and now it seems, inventing the stories is pretty much standard procedure.

My guess, is that the press presumed that only a marine would have the guts, as well the capability, of taking down an armed assailant.  I am a big fan of the U.S. Marine Corps and hold a soft spot in my heart for all of them.  Marines are legendary for being among the most highly skilled, dedicated and selfless warriors and quite deservedly so, but they hold no monopoly on courage.   

Furthermore, having  had combat training is no guarantee of heroism (though of course it helps).  I can tell you first hand, that Air Force basic training does not entail any combat training other than shooting an M16 at a target for qualification.

Unlike the press, I believe that many, if not most of us, have the capacity to take the same sort of courageous action, with or without specialized training.  The instinct to protect is embedded in the human psyche.  It is further enhanced by a society that values and encourages a spirit of independent thought and action. 

Skarlatos, one of the three Americans, when interviewed, mentioned that their training “kicked in after the struggle”.  What mattered, what came first, was the instinct to act. 

So why was it, that only the 3 Americans on that train took immediate action? (There were 2 Europeans who did pitch in once the terrorist was engaged-but I am focused here on the Americans because they were the first to immediately and reflexively respond)

Admitting my bias, I’d like to think it is a uniquely American trait, but it is more specific than that.   It was “cowboy”. 

A hundred years ago, the myth of the American Cowboy as an archetype was acclaimed; a bit rough around the edges and coarse, yes, but free from the societal constraints that governed the lives of the aristocracy. The independent spirit, resilience and self reliance, was admired by many Europeans, and held in high regard. 

Even the dialogue from a Downton Abbey episode manages to convey the international admiration of the period:

After Mary Crawley breaks her engagement to a cruel, malicious fiancĂ©, her father, Lord Grantham consoles her and says, “I want a good man for you, a brave man. Go find a cowboy in the Middle West and bring him back to shake us up a bit.”

These days, the spirit of the American cowboy is often mocked around the world, portrayed as a boorish, unintelligent dinosaur, somehow out of step with modern values.  

This does not surprise me.

One does not have to look far back in history to find the negative, cartoon caricatures of George Bush or Ronald Reagan- both often portrayed as Neanderthals or chimps wearing cowboy hats. 

An increasingly politically correct, European culture has most people convinced that, outsourcing responsibility for our personal safety and security to governmental authorities, is the more noble and prudent thing to do. 

Standing up and fighting back is branded as being brutish or uncultured; that to cower and beg for mercy from our adversaries is somehow morally superior and infinitely more civilized.

Remember the images of the Charlie Hebdo attacks?  

Someone please explain to me what was noble or civilized about the images of that unarmed police officer, begging in vain for his life?

Is it any wonder that when a situation does arise, they tremble in fear?  

People that do not depend on the collective, or rely on the presumption that it is someone else’s job to save them, tend to act, rather than wait to be told what to do in any given situation.

Sadly, our current cultural elites look to Europe as a fountain of inspiration.  They work tirelessly to have us emulate into law, these so called "progressive" and presumably enlightened, European ideals, forgetting the fact that the majority of our current population consists of the descendants of people who fled that continent, in bold rejection of its principles.

Today's progressives bear the shameful legacy of the Berlin coffeehouse intellectuals of the 1930's. The same ones who discounted and dismissed the growing menace of the Nazi's rise to power, because in their collective minds, "Germany, was much too civilized for any of that nonsense."

I now see our values under a similar sort of attack by hysterical, pearl-clutching urbanites who swoon at the mere mention of the word “gun”.  If these people have their way, we would all be cast into the fantasy world of their imaginings-that happy place where we can always count on a terrorist's love of humanity to keep us from harm.

Thankfully, not everyone is buying that message. 

Incidents like the one that took place on that Paris train, restore my faith in America, and more importantly, my faith that the cowboy spirit still lives on in each of us.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Radio Blah Blah

"I'm well past the age where I'm acceptable. You get to a certain age and you are forbidden access. You're not going to get the kind of coverage that you would like in music magazines, you're not going to get played on radio and you're not going to get played on television. I have to survive on word of mouth".

"Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity".
-David Bowie

I do not get too bent out of shape when celebrities die. There’s no way I could feel emotion for someone I never knew.  

 I may momentarily pause, and, if I was a fan of their body of work, if they were some sort of artist, I take note and acknowledge that they have performed their last.  There’s no grief involved; perhaps a touch of nostalgia as I recall the period in my life that coincided with whatever it was they were famous for.  If I do mourn at all, it will be for death of all that is, or was, original.

 David Bowie’ death will be the constant hot topic of conversation for the Twitterati for about 5 minutes, then everyone will share someone else's something about it on Facebook.  
Again, I don’t really care.  I liked David Bowie. I would consider myself a fan.  I liked several of his songs, I owned several LP’s, but I have never been someone who idolized celebrities.

Why should I? Why should anyone?

Even David Bowie himself mocked celebrity worship in his music.  “The papers all want(ed) to know which shirts…” Major Tom wore, but in the end, he rode that spaceship away from all the insanity on earth. 

Everyone will say all the appropriate things, there will be numerous tributes about what a great artist he was, how he was so important for reasons x, y, and z,  and then everyone goes back to the silence.  It will serve as historical back fill for millennials because they weren't yet born during the years when he'd released a great deal of his music.

I am old enough to remember the day Elvis died.  Almost every radio station in New York City switched over to playing his music, talking about him, reminiscing.  I managed to record nearly 3 hours worth of Elvis music and memories on to some 8 track tapes during this time.  I also remember the death of John Lennon.  Same thing happened.  Many radio stations played only Beatles music for days, indulged us with some concert and interview memories and it all seemed appropriate, whether you were a big fan or not.  We all commiserated together, or so it seemed.

Now?  “The circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong…”

“All we hear is “Radio Gaga”, as Freddy Mercury predicted.

Only since the news of David Bowie’s death did I also hear it mentioned that he had a new album out.
Where was it?  I guess it was available on some trendy satellite or internet station, but I was not in that loop. 

When was the last time anyone heard or played one of those influential, groundbreaking David Bowie songs on a local radio station?
When was the last time anyone heard a DJ actually mention the name of the song that had just played?  

Do we even have DJ’s anymore?

I’m sure I could conjure up a Pandora station consisting exclusively of David Bowie music, but who else would be listening along with me? 

People experience music in isolation now.  Everything is so compartmentalized.  It's even getting harder to share a freaking pot of coffee because most of it now comes in individually wrapped, single serve pods.  This leaves us little choice in how we may prepare it. 

What if I like mine stronger, damn it?

Now, I’m surrounded by zombies with head phones, tuning out the world, as they pick and choose every song.  We possess the power to create our own personal radio stations, with endless options and a million choices. We don't own any of it and we listen to it all, in perfectly noise canceled silence.


Who is really doing the programming?

The few radio stations remaining are so tightly formatted and predetermined, that other than a mention of David Bowie’s death on the news, you’d never know a pop star had died.

I don't "Heart" radio.

Then there’s the matter of which format he would fit into now. Which station would play his new album? The old AOR format was quite broad, but now…there are a thousand shades and flavors of “rock”.

Classic Rock?  Modern Rock? Genuine Classic Rock? Top 40? Soft Rock? Hard Rock?  Adult rock and roll? Adult contemporary music? Adult oriented pop music? Progressive rock? 

The options are mind boggling and I have no idea how to figure out what music would be played on which station. 

 Words and time are twisted and bent. 

Would Bowie's old song, “Modern Love” be played on the Modern Rock format?  

How old is too old to be modern? How old is “oldie”?

Are oldies classic? Are classic hits oldies?

There’s a code here, where's the key?

What’s the alternative? Oh, Alt Rock? Adult Alternative?

Alternative to what? 

How did that happen anyway?

 In the early 1980’s, pirate and college radio stations played a wide variety of music by artists that were relatively unknown, not yet successful, as an “alternative” to what was commercially available.  
The whole point of “alternative” was that there...WAS NO FORMAT.

The DJ’s were free to play anything they wanted.

Now, nothing breaks through the airwaves that is not first filtered by a rigidly constrained, deliberately designed, marketing demographic that satisfies the database masters.

Radio is dead.

We are not free.

Can you hear us Major Tom?

We can’t hear you.

"And there goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say
Hey, hey, hey
And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
And there goes the last DJ"
-Tom Petty

Apologies to Freddy Mercury for the title.
I know he'd agree.