Archive for the ‘1930s’ Category

Getting old

October 10, 2019

Are you booting up a brave new world

or slogging in a new slave world?

You who would be brave or slave—

snickery snob or clueless knave?

Catching the new wave

or just trying to behave?

You filling your Capitalist bag,

or flying the Socialist flag?

Working for wages, or plotting for profits?

You dumbing down, or heeding the prophets?

Will you work as selective

or labor in a collective?

With more .gov or less?

destined for worst or best.

You protesting in public space,

or praying in private grace?

All things being equal,

are you satisfied or freakful?

Living as privileged  elite

or just dancing to the rabble beat?

Striving for the common or the proprietary?

will you eat fattening or dietary?

Or maybe you be in shadowland like me

wishing for what was instead of what will be.

Winds of change blow hot and cold;

Will you stay young, or like me, grow old?

Winds of change blow foul and fair;

Are you ready to turn to dust or air?

Winds of change are hard to read;

Can you face them without a creed?

Day of death casts us in the hole;

Will you fall to dust, or rise in soul?

Hollowc

Smoke

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Money’s Swan Song

August 11, 2019

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Well a lot has happened since then.

Our Creator had done some amazing creating through that original sparkle, and has given us the wherewithal to jump in there and participate in the creative playing out of all things in our domain.

The power to create was not given to other species on our planet—only to us.

We humans have done some pretty amazing things with our God-given talents.

After hunting and gathering, we planted, harvested and ate the fruits of our labors.

in the course of history, we have moved far beyond just eating, drinking and homesteading.

It’s been ever onward and upward for us, since we got a hold of this divine spark thing that we call creativity.

We’ve built pyramids and great walls, temples, mosques, cathedrals, skyscrapers, great bridges and machines that move across those bridges.

We’ve built roads, rails, blazed trails, had great successes and fails. We’ve devised tools, schools, lots of rules; we’ve forged implements, arts, coins, currency, and we’ve maintained a steady errancy.

We’ve painted, sculpted, interpreted the real world as works of art. We’ve disrupted, interrupted, corrupted and upended nature itself.

Now our carbonized creation turns—in some ways—against us.

Back at the olden time, when we received the power to cultivate earth, we were instructed to subdue those elements of the natural world that seem to be active against us—like, say, lions and tigers and bears. Such critters we had to subdue, so they would not make mincemeat of us.

Earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, tsunamis, etc.— these adverse forces we could not subdue, so we took shelter. As the ages rolled by, our sheltering instincts developed into elaborate structures.

And we have done pretty well with that. We homo sapiens have taken control of the planet—or at least we think we have. The planet may yet rise up to bite us in the ass. We shall see what happens with that.

A major sea-change that happened along the long odyssey of our progress was: we devised ways to substitute real goods into artificial representations of wealth.

Better known as making money.

MoneySwan

Land, food, livestock, clothing, shelter and such commodities that are essential for survival—all these are now exchanged by monies, currencies, paper-backed assets. And the latest thing is: electrons seem to be our new currency.

Our ancestors carved trails out of the wilderness. They gathered grains, sowed seeds, domesticated animals, and sold to neighbors or merchants all the produce thereof.

As those primary goods coalesced over the ages as markets, their value was measured and traded as money. This we called trade. Then we called it commerce, then business, and now. . . economics. We humans invented the system a long time ago because . . . well, because . . . I don’t why.

lt’s just what we do I guess.

For one thing, it made the process of manipulating wealth easier.

In economics, wealth was and is evaluated in terms of dollars or yuan or yen, or marks, francs, drachmas, denarii, zlotys, rubles, pesos, pounds sterling, etc.

Euros are the new kid on the block. They seem to have trouble making that one work.

The difficulty with retaining true value in these currencies is related to the fact that they’re—in real survival life terms—not really worth anything.

They only represent wealth. But they are not really the real thing.

I say the EU is having trouble establishing the value of their Euro. This goes way back.

The Brits, for instance, were having trouble in the 1930’s retaining the value of their pound. It seemed that their constructed currency could not maintain its value compared to gold.

Who the hell can compete with gold?

Gold goes way back.

Way back.

The second chapter of Genesis, for instance, mentions gold.

“The name of the first (river) is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.”

I suppose there’s a reason why gold goes way back in our history. Even though you can’t eat it, drink it, or keep your household warm with it, it is . . .

quite shiny.

Beautiful stuff, that gold. Precious!

Back to the Brits. As the world economy was falling apart back in the ’30’s, many savvy persons decided they would trade their British currency—pounds—for gold.

So many savvies were wanting to get back to gold, that the British government quit selling it.

What would happen after such an arrangement?

I think it was that fellow Keynes who figured out that—guess what—the economy just kept on cranking—all the goods and stuff and commodities and products and financial instruments and whatnot—just kept swirling around in international commerce.

The world didn’t stop turning. Business just kept on doing their thing. Rich get richer and poor get poorer and hey what else is new.

What else is new? Nothing. Nothing new under the sun.

Guess what. We didn’t really need gold to back currency! It was just a phase we were going through—the golden age of gold.

Back in ’73, Nixon pulled the same trick as the Brits had done in the ’30’s. He and his Bretton Woods powers-that-be decided we could no longer afford to sell gold for dollars. Too many folks wanted the gold instead of the dollars.

So we see that man-made currencies are not foolproof, and the gold bugs are always trying to make a comeback.

Money is a habit; that’s all. A very old habit.

Folks are born and bred into this modern economic world.  We are commercialized, or socialized (depending on your politics) to just keep spending those pounds and dollars and cents and euros and yuan and yen and SDRs and thusandsuch.

Nowadays we don’t really even use the money any more. Now it’s just electrons flowing around that represent debits and credits.

And that’s why—I suppose— the central banks of the world can keep cranking out their reserves, because the right to assign value is now reserved to them. It has nothing to do with gold or fiscal guarantee.

The central banks, in the fatal footsteps of every financial crisis, have reserved the right to “create money out of thin air.”

I told you we were creative!

The greatest discovery of the modern world:  we don’t even need anything to take the place of gold.

Money is just an old habit we have; we’ll never put it to rest. So somebody has to be “printing” it somewhere.  We spend so much money that all the .govs of the world are running deep debts trying to keep all the citizens fat ‘n happy.

There’s so much liquidity in the world today that the dark swan of excess has smooth sailing. Someday, some Leninish strongman will come along and dissolve all that debt into even more liquidity.

It will be a meal ticket for everybody. Yes, Virginia, there is a free lunch, doesn’t matter who’s paying for it.

It’s only money.

Glass half-Full

Bridge across Time

July 9, 2019

Setting old stones with new methods lays a solid foundation for future pathways of our life together.

Here’s a Blue Ridge Parkway bridge, near my home, built when I was a kid long ago, in the 1960’s.

BRPHollowa

It’s a well-built public-works project.

Incredible strength was laid into the bridge’s inner structure when concrete was poured around a steel rebar framework. Unseen in the finished structure, the silent steel still contributes to ongoing structural integrity and function. Internal strength assured the bridge’s longevity, allowing the structure to bear up under the heavy demands of continuous motored traffic for many and many a year.

This solid piece of work has been sustaining motored traffic for most of my 68 years.

Use of reinforcing steel roads, tied together with wire like cages, then buried forever with gravel aggregate in solid ‘crete mud, is a relatively new architectural practice in construction history. The internal rebar method was devised by constructors over time, to assure deep integrity and resilience in vast concrete structures.

Such built-in reinforcement has enabled folks to progressively build bigger buildings, longer roads and bridges, as civilization marches on.

BluRiOvPas

This strong, continuous, time-tested concrete underbelly enables motorists to drive without stopping, on a road that crosses o’er a  road that passes beneath it. In this photo, you can see the structure’s rock-hard underbelly, which bears the surface imprints of wooden planks that were used in forming the main arch  when the concrete was cast, back in the mid-1960’s.

Certainly our attention is drawn to the large veneer stones on the outside face of the construction. These chiseled rocks, having been skillfully cut with calculated angles, lend a classic appearance to the roadway, which would have otherwise been a dull utilitarian construct.

Thus did the bridge become something far more than an elevated roadway; it stands as an artistic statement of architectural continuity, in agreement with its older, 1930’s-era bridge “ancestors.”

The stone masons who erected similar Blue Ridge bridges back in the earlier days were ancestors–whether by profession or by blood– of the rock masons who set these stones three decades later.

Such chisel-sculpted work  becomes a masonary tip-of-the-trowel to time-honored traditions of stone masons who lived and worked on this same 469-mile parkway back in the day, and then eventually crossed that great celestial bridge to eternity.

Having stood the tests of time and traffic, this good work stands as a long-lasting homage to both structural integrity and graceful design.

About six miles up the road from the bridge pictured above, there’s an S-curved structure that I tied steel on, back in the early 1980’s– the Linn Cove Viaduct on Grandfather Mountain. It’s a very special construct, being the final missing-link in the middle of a 469-mile, 50-year Blue Ridge Parkway project. But this one was special–not for the classic stonework–but for the cutting-edge technology of building the thing from the top down, instead of the bottom up!

BRPLinConst2

Here’s solid evidence that in this life it’s a good idea to do things right. Build it to last, whatever it is you’re working on in your time here.  Our children’s children will notice the quality and be inspired to do great works in their own time.

Search for Blue

The Parkway Cometh

June 22, 2019

In 1937, the following scene probably happened somewhere near where we live in the Blue Ridge, North Carolina:

“What does it say?”

Jake handed the letter to his father. “There’s a lot of gobble-dy-gook there, Pa, but it says the land stopped bein’ ours when they posted it down at the courthouse.”

“Posted what?”

“The map of all the land they need to take.”

Jeremiah turned around slightly. Casting an eye on his nearby rocker, he carefully took aim and seated himself. Looking up again at his boy, “Well they ain’t paid us for it yit.”

“That needs to be decided yet, Pa.” Jake shook his head slowly. “It’s lookin’ like this is gonna drag on fer awhile.”

“We told that inspector fella we’d take forty.”

“It ain’t that simple, Pa. Them lawyers down in Raleigh gonna pay us whatever they say it’s worth.”

“Damn, son! What is this? Damn communists!”

Jake set the letter down on the side-cabinet. He had managed to glance through it and get the gist. “Shit, pa, it ain’t that bad. They’re just tryin’ to build that road real nice and scenic so’s people’ll come drivin’ up here and spend their money.”

“Well I guess that’s all well ‘n good, son. But I ain’t been down to the courthouse to see what they posted. Don’t seem right that we ain’t got payment, and we don’t even know how much we’re gonna git!”

“It’ll all work out, Pa. At least they’re only takin’ one side of our land. Watsons and Purlears got their places split up. And from what I’ve heard from Miller up in Ashe, them that got their land split up won’t be able to even drive from one side t’other. So be thankful for what you got. Ain’t  that what the Book says?” Jake looked his father in the eye. “Be thankful we’ll still be able to drive the tractor from one side all the way across the field to the other side.”

“Yeah, what’s left of it,” Jeremiah mumbled as he commenced to rocking. He looked out the window, through the porch at the front yard. “Hell, I don’t know what this world’s coming to.

Jake was reading another letter, silently. His attention riveted there, he said nothing, just nodded his head, looking down at the script on a letter from his aunt Polly in Foscoe.

“New Deal, I guess,” his father continued while Jake folded Polly’s letter and picked up another piece of mail.

“Yeah, Pa, I reckon it’s the New Deal. Did Sally say what time they’d be back?

“’bout four, I think she said.”

Pa had been pondering. “Son, did you know they posted that map at the courthouse?

Jake sighed. “Yeah, Pa, I knew about it. I went and looked at it on Friday when I was in town. Roby Watson told me about it while I was in Goodnight’s pickin’ up feed.”

“I guess you didn’t wanna tell me, huh?”

“Nah, pa, I just forgot about it.” Jake sat down in his easy chair. Now he was reading something else.

“You forgot about it.”

“Yeah, Pa.” Jake nodded his head slowly, preoccupied with his bank statement.

Jeremiah was rocking steadily now, as if he were relaxed and maybe resigning himself to whatever it was that was about to happen that would change the shape of the 67 acres he had inherited from his father back in 1910. “Seems a little strange to me, boy, you could forget about something as important as losing a quarter of our land.” No judgement in his voice. Just sayin’. Pa had calmed down from his earlier rant.

“I mean,” Jake looked up at his father again, smiling slightly. “I mean, I didn’t forget about it; I just forgot to tell you about it.”

“Uh huh.”

Jake’s expression morphed slowly  from concentration in his letter-reading, to a mild amusement. “Shootfire, Pa, there’s somethin’ else I forgot to tell you.

“Oh yeah?” His father allowed a mild chuckle. Mr. Roosevelt gonna bring us a hog or two as a consolation prize?

“Actually, it is kinda like that . . . maybe a peace offering. Uncle Skip told Roby he’d give me a job running one of them road graders.”

“On the new road?” Jeremiah’s voice acquired an even more amused tone.

“Yep.”

Jake’s father laughed. “Well, ain’t that a cat’s whisker! I seen it all now. The Parkway giveth and the Parkway taketh away,” he declared, playing upon some ancient proverb. Now he set the rocker into a steady pace. “And when’s that gonna start?”

“Coupla weeks, or something like that,” Jake replied. “They gotta finish that little bit of blasting over there near the highway. Then, Skip says, they’ll pretty much be ready to grade from Deep Gap all the way to Aho.”

“Well, I guess that’s good news for Uncle Sam, but it’ll blast the hell out of our peace and quiet around here with all that machinery and whatnot takin’ over this country.”

“Not takin’ over, Pa, just makin’ it easy for folks to come up here and spend money, after they lay the asphalt to it.”

“I reckon it will be easier for them rich folks down the mountain to come up here and ride around in their Cadillacs, like over in Blowin’ Rock.”

BlueRdgView

Yep. Coulda happened. . . maybe, maybe not. Long time ago . . . but we haven’t  yet totally obliterated our consciousness of the past with our contemporary obsession in social media and and political side-show antics. Not yet.

Blue 

Death by War

May 26, 2019

I wrote a story about an American traveling through Europe in the spring/summer of 1937. In the novel, Smoke, which I published in 2015, young businessman Philip Morrow accepts an unusual errand, which takes him through London, halfway around the far side of France, then to Paris, and ultimately to arrive at a place called Flanders Field in Belgium.

At his specific Memorial battleground destination, Philip sees for the first time the final resting place of his father, a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, who had died there in 1918 during the last week of World War I.  Philip had been eight years old in 1917 when he hugged his pa for the last time, then  beheld  his mother while she tearfully embraced her  husband, a mountaineer marksman named Clint.

In chapter 27 of Smoke, Philip arrives at the Memorial cemetery accompanied by a newfound friend, Mel, an old Frenchman who expresses his appreciation for Clint’s courageous sacrifice–given in his last full measure of devotion– for freedom, to defeat tyranny.

Clint’s total offering in 1918 was not the first, nor the last, to be put forth by millions of other soldiers since that time. In Washington DC, I snapped this photo of a newer Memorial–that one constructed for us to remember the dead of Vietnam.

VNMem (1)

We Americans do appreciate the families left behind.  Their sorrow and sacrifice is painfully precious; it  runs deep–deep as the blood that pumped through soldiering bodies alive with determination–blood that still streams through the beating hearts and minds of  us Americans and Allies.

Here’s my offering, from chapter 27 of Smoke:

       “How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

‘The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.” ‘

“Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, the stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

“At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity “. . .

King of Soul

From Grand Coulee to Grand Solar

May 8, 2019

Everybody ought to have something meaningful to do. Wouldn’t you agree?

A job, a volunteer project, or at least some personal pursuit, to occupy one’s time in an activity that is beneficial to one’s self, or helpful to others, maybe even improving society.

Whether it’s a job with a private enterprise—a small business,  a corporation, or a .gov agency, a non-profit foundation, or a personal pursuit . . .

Everybody finds benefit in having meaningful activity,

especially if it may make life better for the rest of us.

Recently I caught wind of some public discussion about maybe combining this need for individual productivity with work that benefits our public purpose. Consider the prospects of projects that would improve our infrastructure.

Infrastructure is, you know . . . roads, bridges, electrical grids, communication networks, parks, public spaces and lands . . . systems and places, etc. that we share—

networks and common spaces that tend to fall apart or degenerate if someone doesn’t take responsibility to maintain or take care of them.

As I was pondering this idea, my mind wandered back in time to an era in our national history–the 1930’s– when people working together got a lot of important work done by teaming up to improve what was our infrastructure at that time.

Back in that day there was a fella who went around lending a hand in public works of all kinds, and he wrote songs about his experiences,

Woody Guthrie.

Woody wrote a good ole song about the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, out west between Washington and Oregon.

It’s an authentic song about a great project. Listen to Woody singing  Grand Coulee Dam, which he recorded in 1941.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vLZOKshJPs.     

And check out this pic of that immense, power-conserving structure, when it was being built, back in 1933: 

CouleeConst

You can find more about the building of the Grand Coulee dam here:

    https://omsi.edu/calendar/science-pub-portland-building-grand-coulee-dam   

As I was a-listening to Woody’s song about the Grand Coulee, the thought occurred to me that we should perhaps take on a similar project, or two, today—construction of a cooperative facility to provide electricity in a manner that is clean and green and maybe even carbon-neutral.

So I added a verse to Woody’s ole song:

In a trillion solar sunbeams of any shining sunny day

flies a steady stream of energy, more watts than man can say.

We oughta build a great collector like the big Grand Coulee dam;

and capture solar megawatts in this great  Grand Solar Land.”

Have a listen and see what you think about it:

    http://www.micahrowland.com/carey/GrandCouleeSolar.mp3

And envision electricity this way:

SolarGrand

King of Soul

Give a hoot, y’all!

February 20, 2019

Here’s what I heard Joe Blow say the other day while I was trying to stay awake during the Super Bowl.

All this trouble in the world–it aint just gonna go away by itself. You know, it goes back a long ways.

For one thing, Catholic Church dominated European life and culture for over a thousand years. And for the most part they meant well (I know; I used to be one of ‘em)

But after a thousand years they (we) needed some corrections.

Long about the 1700’s, some new Reason-cultivating fellers came along—the so-called Enlightenment—and they ushered in a new way of thinking about everything . . . and they brought to the forefront a lot of profound questions, like . . .

PastFuture

Who should be in charge of things, what’s wrong or right about the way things are working out for everybody, what needs to be changed, why hasn’t God straightened everything out, who or what is God anyway? Maybe we’d be better off just to do without Him for awhile and figure this stuff out on our own.

By ’n by and moving right along . . .modern life in the so-called “West” began to be constructed on the ruins of Catholic Europe, as thinking people attempted to reconstruct society according to a reconstructed humanistic ole Greek/Roman way of analysis and ponderation.

And then came along science, duh, let’s not forget the rise to prominence of modern science . . .

analytical thinking with hypothetical testing to determine what is true or not true, what works or does not work.

And humanizing ethics . . . who gets fed and who doesn’t, who’s fat ’n happy and who ain’t . . .

Who’s in charge of this mess, anyway?

Well, must not be God. If there was any validity to that theory, those religious potentates and their blue-blooded partners in mime have pretty well got everything messed up, and how the hell can we fix everything. . . how can we get things turned around so that everybody gets an appropriate piece of the pie, piece of the action, their fifteen minutes of fame blah blah blah

Long about 1830, a couple of German guys, Marx and Engels figured out that what needed to happen was the folks who were actually cranking up all the factories, turning the nuts and bolts, churning out all them goods . . . those proletarians needed to take unto themselves control of the means of production and rearrange everything so that everybody would get pretty much the same, or at least something more like the same amount of life’s essential necessities  and let’s all get together and toss the rich folks on their asses and get this thing turned around.

Then, lo and behold, a  certain cadre of them revolutionaries managed to get a hold of a country—and a pretty damn big one at that—Russia, and start the work of getting the world turned around to their way of thinkin’ …

China statue copy

and now we know how all that turned out . . . between the Bolsheviks running the Czar out of town in 1917 and the Wall going down in 1989, there were a hell of a lot of water under the bridge, blood under the ground, and underground gulags and criminations that got imposed on millions of world citizens and it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t right and its a good damn thing them Soviets finally came to their senses, and even the Maoists even got eclipsed when Deng started to get the middle kingdom turned around and all that mess is still being worked out, even up to the present-day shaking off of Chavez and now the world is finally learning its lesson about all that totalitarian nonsense—

StalinDown

and that goes for you alt-right fascists and nazis too! Don’t you get any ideas about takin’ over, cuz we learned that lesson the damned hard way when that demonic fool with the weird little moustache dragged us into hell on earth for four years.

It took us many millions killed and a whole damn world war to get all that straightened out. And then another half-century of frigidity before all them spies from both sides came in from the Cold etcetera etcetera.

But nothin’s ever simple. It all just keeps going on and on and who knows how will end?

Maybe apocalypse; I don’t know. Could happen though.

Now in the 21st-century horizon arises this new ideology surrounding the notion that we humans should all get together and nullify our 200-year-old carbon-spewing habits real quick like in the blinkin of an eye so to speak according to the pronouncements of technocratic experts who take unto themselves the means of production, so to speak, (well shut my mouth! as we used to say down south) so’s we don’t carbonize ourself and our homo sapiens selves into obliteration!

Don’t get me wrong. Give a hoot, I say I say: Don’t pollute!

Let’s all pitch in and get this planet cleaned up, y’all. Truly. I’m not making this up.

But we don’t need to be jerking everybody’s human rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of mobility) to do it. I think we can undertake this climate change conundrum with a little common sense and maybe even some democratized republicized consensus on what needs to be done.

Like I said before: Give a hoot; Don’t pollute, y’all!

And hey, good luck with that! More power (but not too much) to ya. Just shut my mouth! if I’ve stayed stepped on anybody’s toes.

Not really. Freedom of Speech and all that . . .

Glass Chimera

The two great between-war Rhapsodies

November 10, 2018

The greater rhapsody is the American one.

Composed by George Gershwin and performed in 1924, Rhapsody in Blue embodies the merging of our native black-born jazz with highbrow classical European instrumentation.

RhapsClarinet

The other great rhapsodic composition of that time, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, created by the immigrant Sergei Rachmaninoff, represents a Russian music-master’s exploration of an Italian violin virtuoso’s experiments. It is also a great piece of music.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c33q87s03h4

Both rhapsodies are experimental, ground-breaking. Both are bouncy in their beginnings, disruptive in some transitional phrases. But both works resolve, rather suddenly, 2/3 of the way through development, to an exquisitely lush romantic theme.  The listener’s endurance in earlier discordant excursions through frantic forte poundings is unexpectedly rewarded with a sudden soothing melody. In both pieces, the earlier tensions disappear as they resolve,  melting into an absolutely beautiful melody.

And yet, both works return again to a frantic piano part before resolving again at the end.

Gershwin’s 1924 opus was intentionally concocted as a music experiment; it was commissioned by pioneering bandleader Paul Whiteman, and subsequently orchestrated by his jazzy arranger, Ferdy Grofé.

It turned out to be an extraordinary work of profound importance in the history of music.

By the 20th century, the hundreds-of-years old tradition of European classical music had reached an impasse. Composers were running out of ideas; they needed to break new ground. A morose preoccupation with dissonance and atonality threatened to turn orchestral music into academic drudgery.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Sergei Rachmaninoff fled Bolshevik Russia in 1917; in so doing, he also began a long process of escaping the heavy gravitational pull of a Continental musical death wish.

Europe’s rapid descent into World War I and wide-scale mechanized destruction was tragic.

America, on the other hand, was wide open with possibilities. Sergei traveled here and performed more and more frequently, accompanied by popular acclaim; ultimately he acquired US citizenship shortly before his death in 1943.

Before finally establishing residency Stateside, he had spent significant time in Dresden, Germany, and in Switzerland. While in Switzerland during the summer of 1934, he composed Rhapsody on a Theme by Pagnini.

It’s a marvelous piece of work.

Taking his inspiration from the great Italian violin virtuoso of a hundred years before, Sergei spun Niccolo’s multiple variations into an energetic iteration of thoroughly European rhapsody.

It was quite well done. . . profound, a notable accomplishment.

But Sergei did not have the benefit of one powerful influence that George Gershwin had been born into: a wide-open America with an entirely new beat, and worldview:

Black America.

America had given birth to Louis Armstrong, and  Louie— along with his ground-breaking black compadres— gave birth to jazz.

American jazz is what the Old World had been waiting for—though nobody knew—to get a new lease on creative life:

all that Jazz!

Atlantic City NJ honky bandleader Paul Whiteman was the pioneering musician who crossed the jazz bridge  that changed the world; later, he commissioned George Gershwin to compose Rhapsody in Blue, because Paul knew that something symphonically jazzy was needed.

And so Gershwin came up with Rhapsody in Blue.  The rest is history.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH2PH0auTUU  

And that’s why I say the greatest rhapsody was the American one, the Blue one, written by an American, in America. It changed the world of  music forever.

King of Soul

Spain

September 13, 2018

Espana.

es Passionata.

For five hundred Moor years

than the Iberian Catolica peninsula

could ever have estanded

to be Islamically commanded,

they endured Ummayed demands

until Aragon King Ferdinand

came conquestering and demanding

with Castile Queen Isabella, remanding,

to fortify their  Catolica position

with a a goddam Inquisition,

stringing up dissidents in their Inquisition power

thereby crushing the bloom of heretical flower.

But with Isabella’s demise mad king Ferd devised

that child Queen Juana should be misused:

She therefore became abused and confused,

being married off to a Hapsburg prince

so that Empire hegemony could commence,

thrusting power over in-between freakin’ France

so Spain would achieve victory in their great Power prance.

Thereby Poor Juana had not a chance

her youthful passion to enhance,

being named an infernal loco heretic.

Therefore history defined her role as lunatic.

While Jews were being unlisted,

dissidents still resisted

although many heretics persisted

while being so unjustly inquisited.

 

That was then but this is now.

Spain still bleeds; that was how

it happened long ago  

when Ferd took on the  holy Roman Catolico

Hapsburg Empire show.

Down through history from page to page

As monarchs wage their contests age to age

Spanish blood flows through impetuous action;

it then bleeds out as Spanish soul passion,

moving los manos y voces to music and song

to celebrate what’s right and lament what is wrong.

Flamenc2

Through the ages, ask the sages

what is right, what is wrong?

Who knows? The priest, the pope?

The poet? the socialist?—who offers hope?

Remember only: life is grand

despite our ruins beneath the sand.

So offer up a sacrifice of song

in notes so potent and passion strong,

while over in the sacrificial ring

a different living sacrifice they bring.

Matador leads. Bull bleeds.

Bullfight

Newfound blood in ongoing sacrifice

echoes ancient cross of crucified Christ.

Priest leads. Jesus bleeds.

The Faithful chant Apostles’ creed..

Sister Maria prays with beads.

But Falanga franco used catolico creeds

while dispatching policia on steeds.

Still saints were interceding

Flamenco singers pleading

Spain is forever bleeding

suffering behavor

even as the Savior.

SagradaGosp

In ’36 Las Artistas pled while Spain bled red.

Still the flamencos emoted, saints devoted,

peasants toted. poets wroted.

democrats noted. republicans voted.

Socialistas revolutionary

v. Royalistas  reactionary.

What else is new, not from the past?

So you might have asked .

Here’s what: Thermite bombs in 1937:

Hitler’s luftwaffe over Spanish village  heaven.

Spain bleeds through Guernica saints.

Pablo reads; Picasso paints.

Dali droops. El toro drips

The crowd whoops; the leather rips.

El  Guitarist heals. Flamenco dancer reels.

Flamenc1

As the eternal note of sadness peals,

La musica heals when dancer reels.

Spain handles the pain.

It falls mainly on the plain

people in Spain.

Smoke

Barcelona v. Berlin in 1936

September 9, 2018

When it comes to European civilization, Greece is where the  legacy originated about 2500 years ago.

Among the many enduring contributions  by which the early Greeks set Europe into cultural motion, I find two, in particular, that have demonstrated incredible longevity:

Democracy, and Olympics.

Those early Greeks were incredibly active in their sporting competitions, and also in their zeal to launch the world’s most notable experiment in governance by “the people.”

Their idea of Democracy was later amended by the Romans as a form of governance known as Republic, which was perhaps a more practical working out of the egalitarian concept, because groups of citizens could, by vote, select representatives to do the actual decision-making.

Many centuries later, the notion of democracy ascended on a fresh new wind of modern life. Most notably in the 1700’s, certain forward-thinking individuals in America and central Europe used the ancient democratic ideal as a basis for updating and improving human governance. The working out of it has been, over the last two or three centuries, somewhat messy and unsure, but the idea of government by the people for the people is still widely considered to be the best and fairest framework for doing collectively whatever it is that we humans are trying to do to improve our situation here on earth.

A lot could be said here but I’ll just toss up an example of how the idea of democracy continues to capture Euro imagination. Here’s a photo I snapped a few days ago while walking through a public square in Barcelona.

Democracia

As we can see here, democracy seems to be a readily attractive notion, worthy of public mention. However, the prospect of promoting democracy has not always been easy here in Espanya. Spain has had a rough history in which Democracy and Authoritarian governments have bloodily contested each other.

Following their rejection of a King in 1931, the Spanish people fought a civil war, 1936-39; it began in a political competition between zealous advocates of these two opposing models of governance.

But during those tumultuous years, the people of Spain were not the only nation who were grappling with such controversies. A few European borders away, the people of Germany were in a similar contest.

After the Germans suffered the defeat of World War I, they had a massive reconstruction project going on, as they were striving to re-assemble not only their physical nation and its infrastructure, but also their way of governing themselves.

During the 1920’s and ’30’s, both the Germans and the Spanish  wrestled with themselves to establish a democratic Republic. Both attempts ended in failure.

When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, they ditched the Weimar Republic and degenerated into Third Reich bellicosity. Also in the 1930’s, the people of Spain ousted their King and declared a new Republic. But in 1936, the Franco-led Falangists attacked their own people. By 1939, they had driven the Republicans out of office.

Meanwhile, back at the crunch, there was an athletic contention going on between these two violence-torn countries–Germany and Spain. This  competition gets back to the other great contribution that I mentioned earlier from ancient Greece:

the Olympics.

At the meeting of the International Olympic Committee in 1931, Spain had proposed that the 1936 Olympics take place in Barcelona. But, by a process of democratic voting among the member nations, the IOC awarded the hosting to Berlin.

That was an ill-fated turn of events. Germany was at that time being taken over by the Nazi Third Reich. Hitler and his Nazi thugs were striving to use the Olympics as a showcase of their supposed bullshit Aryan supremacy.

Down in Republican Spain, the leftist government caught wind of what the Nazis were up to. They smelled a rat in Europe. So they launched an attempt to conduct an alternate Olympics, which they thought would express more appropriately the sporting competition of  classic  events.

BarcOlyPop

But the so-called Olimpiada Popular in Barcelona never happened. As it turned out, the Spanish people were having a war among themselves in 1936 instead of inviting the world in for some friendly sports.

Later, during and after the Second World War,  the civilized world  awakened to the disastrous truth of what Nazi Germany had been doing behind the scenes while they had been hosting their facade of pseudo-Olympic propaganda back in ’36.

Spanish Catalunya Barcelona did, however, ultimately have its day in the Olympic sun. That came 56 years later, in 1992.

A few days ago, here and now 2018, we visited that Olympic site in Barcelona where the competitive events were conducted in ’92;  quite an impressive sight it still is:

BarcOlymp

My hope is that both ancient institutions—Democracy and Olympics will survive and thrive in this century we live in now—the 21st.

 Smoke