Might as well

Sometimes – even if this is not one such – there are few things (but there are some) that can do to lift your spirits like our favorite ‘70s dance band can. It doesn’t any harm, however, to look.

Even if this isn’t a time like that.

Summer reading

Among the list that’s shrinking, a new short story collection from the prize winner…

The Atlantic

I’ll take the Scarface Pacino and The Godfather Brando
Mix it up in a tank and get a robot commando
If I do it upright and put the head on straight
I’ll be saved by the creature that I create

“… do it with decency and common sense.”

I’ll pick a number between a-one and two
And I ask myself, “What would Julius Caesar do?”
I will bring someone to life in more ways than one
Don’t matter how long it takes, it’ll be done when it’s done

Complete lyrics here for all ten short stories.

After midnight, if you still wanna meet
I’ll be at the Black Horse Tavern on Armageddon Street
Two doors down, not that far a walk
I’ll hear your footsteps, you won’t have to knock


Many of the dance band’s future followers started with recordings from this early time.

A soundtrack for the roads that got so diligently traveled.

The journey back

Many stories are odysseys, even some that aren’t. The truest definition, I believe, is not a journey into the unknown, but a long return from it. Neal Stephenson recounts an odyssey 5,000 years in the making. But you can’t go home again, not really.


Imagine our world if the moon – which has been a sort of anchor since long before we existed, which has populated our images and songs and mathematical equations, and which we all distantly consider ours – were to break. Worse still, this steady object among our belongings turns against us.

It isn’t an eclipse but a shattering, which at first splits the moon into a few large pieces that in a two-year span divide and subdivide as they knock against each other. As the pieces become smaller and more numerous, they fall upon the earth like a “hard rain,” lasting millennia and rendering the world uninhabitable in its wake.

In this story about change, the world unites to engineer a colony in orbit where the species may survive. The plan is to wait – 5,000 years according to forecast – until it’s safe again to land. But the thing is complicated, because only some can escape in time, and because in orbit the living environment requires adaptation.

A new society of orbit dwellers will be in some ways similar and in some ways very different from the society we know. It is a new civilization of women and men on a long, long journey home. The distances are vast, the path is circular, and the destination is always in sight.

Some readers have complained about the enormity of the book’s technical detail — the physics, the mechanics, the small descriptions of the gadgets — filling the large space between plot points in a speculative fiction 900 pages long. These qualities, and the length, serve a melodic purpose. The rhythm is slow, and the song is beautiful and strange, like its title, which is a palindrome…

You can’t go home again, it says, because you are already there.

A lovely view of heaven but I’d rather be with you…

Technology as culture’s artifact

In Blair Jackson’s biography there is this observation from the artist: “[The Bay Area vibe of the mid- and late-60s] has also gained enough momentum over the years that it’s partly responsible for all the things that have happened historically since then… it’s part of the gain in consciousness that the last half of [the 20th] century has represented. And that includes all the technology that goes with it.” (Emphasis added.)

The idea that culture drives directions in technology, as much as technology shapes culture, is interesting to consider. We might ascribe expansions in perspective to the printing press, or in economics to industrial, locomotion and communication advances. These innovations however did not take place in isolation, these did not happen like a gift or a discovery. These conscious acts occurred in context shaped by circumstance, by stepping stones laid out by predecessors, by inspiration. The inspiration may or may not have been rooted in the invention’s special field, though the world’s civilization was all around it.

“Perceptually,” Garcia says, “an idea that’s been very important to me in playing has been the whole ‘odyssey’ idea — journeys, voyages and adventures along the way.” The association of travel with adventure in his commentary suggests notions about change and the unknown. But where he and others may find romance in the mystery, some anxiously shy away. Change, or its perception, has that effect. Sometimes the storyteller’s role is to comfort.

My name is August West…

“The important changes,” Garcia once observed, “have already happened.”

When Quinn the Eskimo gets here…

With the fragmentation of content distribution and media consumption, there has also been a fragmentation of community. We read the articles, we watch the shows, we listen to the tracks, but we do it in the sequence that we choose, or at the time or date we want, entirely or in pieces, from whatever social outlet we prefer. We gather around interest groups, but we don’t gather around moments.

Cord cutting, in a sense, is also a cut from the shared experience. We might well gather around a popular stream, but we don’t necessarily gather together. We experience events and exchange ideas, but we do so from afar when we experience these things at different times, through different outlets, and in our chosen sequence. We call and respond on social media, but the bond isn’t the same and the enthusiasm of the moment is diluted.

Sporting events and other live performances are a lingering exception, now on pause. Many feel the absence, and maybe that isn’t only the void where there once was a subject, but also the shared experience that went missing. Which is to say, the shared moment.

The isolation that is happening in our global lockdown draws attention to these things, perhaps, and maybe this is why, say, the CBS network is bringing back Sunday Night at the Movies, where the emphasis isn’t on the show itself (which are old ones that most of us have seen) but on the event and its scheduled fixed timing. The MSG network has been rebroadcasting Linsanity all week, and the crowds gathered.

The dance band that pioneered so many things in media and its consumption, has once again been a few steps ahead (possibly because the organization has understood community better than most, considering its roots and origin). A little while ago it introduced One More Saturday Night, where the distribution channel is more or less open (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, whatever) but the time is set at 8pm ET. Next came Weir Wednesdays, and Shakedown Stream on Friday nights, following the same principle.

If the current environment, which is extreme, makes us notice certain aspects of the era that could maybe use some tweaking, perhaps this is one such. And maybe it’s coming.

… everybody jumps for joy.

Big river

In a recent interview, Bill the Drummer references Dixieland music as a model for the band’s hard to pin down style. More than other forms, including subsequent jazz varieties, this early Americana is defined by its intimate ensemble of simultaneously improvising soloists, where individual freedom and imagination blend harmoniously around a unifying motif.

The idea of harmony – derived from the Greek harmonia, meaning “joint, agreement, concord,” from the verb harmozō, “fit together, join” [Wikipedia] – has come to be associated with themes of group or individual unity, not necessarily in music, but with music as a root or guiding model.

If, in a sense, we’re all musicians, then the scales and sounds we’ve practiced and performed, alone or in ensembles, have now to be relearned. The novelty and strangeness of the melody we’re hearing is a simultaneously improvised form in which we’re playing our part with minimal direction. Harmony will ensue, it has to, even if a new music underlies its style and combinations. It isn’t inconceivable that we’re already there.

I follow you big river when you called…