Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sitting in Limbo

No photos this time, just my rambling thoughts.
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A rum-happy tourist clumsily Limbo dancing enjoys a whole lot more motion than Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, stuck sitting... somewhere.

These December days leading right to the end of 2014 are a limbo for me. I'm waiting for a Godot, or maybe it's that big boat, the Robert E. Lee... waiting for the other shoe to drop (while cooling my heels)... waiting for the axe to fall. Or could it be that, like Mr. Dylan, "I'm stuck outside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again"?

Call it what you will, I'm just hangin' out at the house, all dressed up and no place to go, anxiously awaiting (and dreading too) the morning of the 30th of December, when I'll undergo the surgical procedure known as "deep brain stimulation." The DBS operation is designed to control Parkinson's tremor, the shaking or flailing hand movements of those with Parkinson's disease. (A slightly different procedure works on "essential" tremor instead--meaning shakes when in motion rather than shakes while at rest.) DBS sort of reenables the age-worn nerve switches in your brain that, for most of your life, have prevented or minimized the shakes so common to the elderly in general and to us "Parkies" in particular.

I've mentioned Frankenstein's monster a couple of times lately, for good reason. This operation drills a half-inch hole in your skull, embeds wire leads (one for each "side" of the brain) in the STN (Sub Thalamial Nucleus) area of the brain, and those wires run down inside your neck and upper chest to hook up with one or even two battery-driven, pacemaker-like "stimulators" planted in your chest. These in turn are programmed to zap the brain as needed, in order to suppress whatever unleashed nerves are causing the shakes.

Parkies individually exhibit a variety of symptoms, from stiffness and spinal collapse to forgetfulness and overall diminished capacity; DBS pretty much works on tremor only and in rare cases makes some capacity problems worse. So by New Year's Day 2015 I'll be either an incipient new man... well, an improved old one, anyway... or somewhat more vegetal. If I'm part of the fortunate 97 per cent, my Parkinson's shakes will be stilled measurably, allowing for easier keying at the computer, better control when attempting to eat, reduced interference when using a toilet, less agitated movement when I'm lying in bed trying to doze for a few hours.

I'm reluctant to examine the missing 3 per cent too closely, which I suppose just means I'm haunted all the more. To avoid such thinking during this on-hold, thumbs-twiddling time, I've spent about 16 hours a day listening to music or watching downloaded DVDs and TV shows. (Reading is iffy due to shaking hands and ragged vision.) The good news is I have a few artifacts of American culture--i.e., CD sets issued for the current holiday season--to recommend.

I've written before about a certain record label and its remarkable owner (go here to be hip to the long-range trip), and can happily endorse a new 2CD set long-windedly titled This Ain't No Mouse Music! The Story of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records, the Americana/Roots-rich soundtrack to a new documentary issued to mark Chris's 80th birthday, featuring 38 tracks, most of them previously unissued, from the five decades of Arhoolie Records--Mance Lipscomb to Michael Doucet, Lydia Mendoza to Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell to the Treme Brass Band, and Ry Cooder (joined by Flaco Jimenez) to Clifton Chenier zydeco-in' alone. Buy it... you'll like it!

Also released this month in a 2CD set offering 38 tracks (from Columbia/Sony this time): the "Raw" version of the brilliant, (in)famous, wide-ranging ragtag recordings universally known as "The Basement Tapes," perpetrated on an unsuspecting (but eager-for-anything) Folk-Rock public by raggle-taggle gypsy musicians Bob Dylan and the Band--a splendid sampling from the monster master cache of 138 songs, rough bits, snippets, and outright goofs, casually taped at home(s) by those five or six cats'n'jammin' kinder over the summer of 1967. (The Raw sampler just might persuade you to spring for the bigger-and-better, legalized boot expansion, presenting all known or found tracks, and packaged in a solid slipcase housing six CDs and a spectacular hardbound book... The Basement Tapes complete, maybe, at last.)

RecommendEd too, though not yet arrived on my doorstep (read more about it at, is the latest landmark CD set from the inestimable Mosaic label specializing in Jazz reissues, whose multi-disc Limited Edition packages are inarguable masterworks of critical, historical, and musical significance. This time it's the long-overdue Complete Dial Modern Jazz Recordings, documenting the astonishing, later Forties to mid-Fifties run of Ross Russell's tiny Dial label, which managed to record and release much of the best of Charlie Parker, plus terrific sessions led by or featuring Dizzy Gillespie, young Miles Davis, Howard McGhee, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards, Dodo Marmarosa, Erroll Garner, Teddy Wilson, Max Roach, J.J. Johnson, Ralph Burns, Bill Harris, Lucky Thompson, Red Norvo, Slam Stewart, etc., etcetera, excelsior! Nine great CDs of Beboppin', ever-illuminatin', essential-and-then-some, essence of Modern Jazz recordings, issued in most excellent Monaural sound and accompanied by the usual impeccable Mosaic booklet of rare photos, annotation essays, and detailed discography. A copy belongs in every Jazz collection, but there are only 7500 copies available. I will be listening, pre-op and post-, come what may.

...Whiling away the hours, watching the play of light as it changes... pre-dawn; midday up from the water; near-twilight's "golden time"; full dark... but each stage as reflected on the HD television screen, my new version of through a glass darkly. Eight episodes comprising the BBC's Broadchurch; 19 cases from the wan career of Sweden's Kurt Wallender; 32 quirky, conZentric angles on the jaunty cop show called Life; 86 chapters in the on-going horse opera of the Canadian Heartland; 275 stop-offs at Boston's landmark bar Cheers, always good for a laugh and a coupla beers (per the Norm, anyway)--all these and scads more. But none so wonderful and brilliant and historic, so clever/funny and heart-warming and patriotic--none of them, in short, as well-written and important as the 156 episodes of writer/producer Aaron Sorkin's television masterpiece The West Wing.

Originally airing from 1999 to 2007, that hour-long program was at the time the perfect ironic counterpoint to the venality and stupidity and repression of rights of the Bush years--the Towers, invading Iraq, legalizing torture, Homeland insecurity, the shame of Katrina, squandering the Clinton surplus, outsourcing America, the banking collapse and the new Depression, plus the growing cult of celebrity, the gadget-driven fracturing of information, and the ridiculous rise of so-called Reality TV. Week after week, while the United States went to hell, for one hour at least, the last, best gasp of Liberalism, Humanism, and American Democracy was there to see in the fictional two terms of the "Bartlett Presidency." One would think that such a splendid, hope-bearing role model would carry over into the unprecedented reaction-to-Bush ascendency of Barack Obama...

But no.

What became of that remarkable candidate and campaign? Was it timidity? An excess of polity, or some better word for professorial politeness caught up in politics-as-usual? A lack of fire-in-the-belly ambition? Too much oreo in that milk chocolate exterior? However defined, it seems the President just didn't know how to preside--no Roosevelt-Truman or Kennedy-Johnson he, merely another big-business, lower-case mode of Demo like Carter and Clinton, both of whose celebrated (but uncelebate) brains proved ineffectual against the negative forces, barely legal farces, and immoderate forces majeures manipulating 21st century America. Our first not-really-Black President turned out to have feats, and resolve, of clay--a nice-guy odd duck incapable of overcoming the inside-the-Beltway yammering, hammering, and stammering, and the infernal No-Mercy/NO-bama black magic of the ugly Repugnicants.

And now he too, on a massively bigger and more important, not to mention tragic on a national and likely international scale... he too sits in limbo--in stasis--a low-confidence sitting duck stilled two years ahead of his unavoidable lame-duck status and time.

Please... no quacks.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

David Stone Martin, Graphically

And so we come to the pater familias of record jacket illustrator/designers, Mr. David Stone Martin. Samples of his artistry and sometimes avant garde illustration can be found in books, on the covers and insides of slick magazines and, of course, gracing the front jackets of hundreds of 78 and 33 1/3 r.p.m. record albums.

I've had occasion to mention DSM fairly often, but the bulk of any intelligent remarks can be found in a post from 2010, when a splendid visual gallery of his work appeared on Steve Cerra's Jazz blog and I wrote a piece meant to complement verbally that pictorial. Sadly, his gallery has since
been removed, so my archived commentary is short on pictures, but I assure anyone coming to view DSM's work for the first time that a Google search of his name will yield wonders!

Start with this appetizer, and then take a seat at the DSM table... it's a viewable, movable feast.