Beyond Creation

Stunning autumn hues aside, motorcycling in Pacific Northwest is a lot about winding roads. It’s about navigating those curves at an optimal trajectory and speed, creating those lively moments when your foot pegs brush the tarmac. It’s about discovering that thin line, the line which separates recklessness from precarious optimism, that optimism of everything beyond your control going right! Discovering that trajectory requires a clear view, and an understanding of the full turn ahead. That along with instincts and skills tends to shape the plan on how to approach the turn, how to maneuver, at what speed etc.

High level plan aside, how you actually cover every inch on this trajectory also matters, because this determines how you approach the remaining part of the curve. In fact, at every point on that curve, along with basic physics, our own limitations and constraints of our machines determine our immediate next steps. So you are essentially shaping the specifics of the path as you go along. This simple principle actually applies to even the most mundane activities in life.

To quote the above Canadian death metal band — “Every decision we take. Every step we make. Every word we use. And every rule we choose.” – In short, even in our everyday life, with every single step we are progressively shaping our own trajectory, and at the same time influencing lives of others. So, if you had a fortunate or an unfortunate accident, it might not be that immediately preceding step. It could be any action leading up to the accident, which actually set in motion that accident prone trajectory.

The actual question is what are those steps which maximized the probability of that incident. It could be that disturbing conversation you had with the neighbor or that reckless driver on the freeway, or both. It could also be that this accident was just inevitable. With exhaustive variables at each step, identifying and modelling that action or sequence of actions is non-trivial. It sort of requires omniscience and infinite computing power. But a functioning society requires individual to take responsibility, with the fair assumption that our free defines the path. In short, we shape our good and bad “accidents”, by acting or not acting to compensate for external pressures.

Another Miracle: The Flower Kings at 25

Interior art, Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES (Sony/Inside Out, 2019).

Looking death straight in the eye

You will never feel that much alive

—Roine Stolt

For anyone in the prog world, Roine Stolt is a grand and solid name, a trusted master of the craft and a man as honest about his opinions as anyone ever has been in the rock world. From The Flower Kings to Transatlantic to Anderson-Stolt to Steve Hackett’s band, Stolt is anywhere and everywhere excellence is. 

Simply put, when I think of Stolt, I imagine that other master of amazing things, Tom Bombadil. And, yes, that means Goldberry is nearby. “He is.”

The new Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a thing of beauty, delicate yet everlasting.  Sounding a bit like FLOWER POWER and SPACE REVOLVER, the new album has everything a fan loves: mystery, lingering, soaring, contemplating, undulation.

This is glorious and mighty prog.

The album opens with the fragile and compelling “House of Cards,” moving immediately into the Tennyson-esque rage against fate, “Black Flag.” Followed by ten-minute “Miracles for America,” a plea for the future of the free world, and then another ten-minute track, “Vertigo,” disk one is nothing if not dizzying.  If there’s a rock anthem on the album, it’s track no. five, “The Bridge,” which might very well have topped the rock charts in 1983, with its reminder of the theme of the album, “waiting for miracles.” “Ascending to the Stars,” track six of disk one, gives us a mysterious and dark Flower King, an instrumental and orchestra joy somewhat reminiscent of Kansas in its heyday. Despite its name, “Wicked Old Symphony” is the poppiest of the tracks on disk one, a track that hints at the Beatles as well as early 1970’s America. “The Rebel Circus,” track eight, is another wildly wacky and infectious instrumental, followed by the intense and aptly-named, “Sleeping with the Enemy.” The final track of disk one, “The Crowning of Greed,” is a poem, at once reflective in theme, and progressive in tone.

Disk two is much shorter than disk one, and I have no idea if it’s meant to be a “bonus disk” or a continuation of the album. That track one of disk two is a reprise of track one of disk one does nothing to answer my confusion about all of this. Track two, “Spirals,” is a feast of electronica and reminds us once again of the theme of the album: “Call on miracles—For America.” “Steampunk,” the third track of disk two, seems to take us back into the world of adventures. If “Black Flag” followed the voyages of Ulysses, “Steampunk” has us follow Aeneas. The final full track of the album, “We Were Always Here,” is a rather beautiful rock song, reminding us of life and its unending beauties. “It’s so simple in its purities/All that genius—life energies/like forgotten springs of melody.” Disk two ends with the 52-second long bluesy circus piece, “Busking at Brobank.”

Overall, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a joy.  It’s not just a joy as a Flower Kings album, it’s a joy as a rock album. Anyone serious about his or her rock music should add this to the collection. One final note—while I’m not wild about the cover art (too political for my tastes), I absolutely love the interior art, making a physical purchase of WAITING a must.

P.S. I proudly bought my copy from my favorite store, Burning Shed.

Nationalism and patriotism.

George Orwell, in his influential essay Notes on Nationalism distinguished patriotism from the related concept of nationalism:

“By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.’ Of course, patriotism is Greek in origin and nationalism is Latin in origin.

Orwell makes good points but I nationalism does NOT have to mean ethnic particularism or chauvinism or even jingoism.

Surely nationalism has been associated with a strong desire for NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE which can be a very good thing. Karl Marx famously stated that “The working men have no country”and that “the supremacy of the proletariat will cause them [national differences] to vanish still faster.” It is totalitarian to believe that regional and national differences should be stamped out.

We are all nationalists or nativists to some degree of course. Almost everyone prefers his own language, his own food, his favorite sports, his favorite music, his own religion. I would not say men and women are separated into “nations” or “conflictive classes”. I cannot distinguish between my mother and my father and the entire COMMUNITY when I think of my native land.

Of course, I have a sentimental tie to the wee homeland of my heart which is Scotland and particularly to the Highlands -the Gaidhealtachd. But unlike some, I have never felt separatism was a wise path. Small groups need the protection and security of a national union.

The decline and fall of Celtic peoples, in my view, was directly related to their divisions into clans and tribes and their inability to unite. Their inability to gain unity undermined their culture and essentially doomed their languages.

On the other hand, excessive nationalism exalting one nation, one race, one religion and one language over all others can fall off into true Fascism.

I am an American by choice but I love other nations also and other cuisines and other languages. My religious faith is universalist; it is not bounded by one race or one nation.

But you can’t win a championship without a team. And you can’t win a war without a Regiment, without a team, without an Army.

The only security for the family is the community and the only security for the community is the alliance of communities known as the nation.

To me, patriotism and nationalism are nearly synonymous. The Spanish have a word “patriotero” which means excessively patriotic in a chauvinistic or flag-waving way. We can be excessively nationalistic or excessively patriotic.

But surely love for our OUR TEAM and OUR COLORS is not bad unless it makes us HATE all rivals even neighbors. I love the Dodgers but would never beat up a Red Sox fan (some yobs do). I admire other nations and other people who have skills and traits I lack. I doff my hat to the best team. The Nationals were the best team in 2019.

But we make a fatal mistake if we think our freedom is due to the UN or chance. We are free because soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were willing to die for the Colors, the colors that represented their homeland, their nation, their security, their freedom. I consider myself a patriot and a cosmopolitan nationalist. I admire our Gallant Allies and know we need friends and allies.

Without national pride and national units, NATO and the UN would not protect me from evildoers, criminals and fanatics. To say “nationalism” is treason as Macron said, is wrongheaded even dangerous. Treason to whom? The EU superstate?

Our freedom is tied to our national independence. So let me say it on Veteran’s Day. I am a proud patriot and American nationalist. We SHOULD DELIGHT in the triumph of the Good but the costs should never be forgotten. We should have gratitude to our nation but also to our “gallant allies” the other nations who had taught us and helped us win wars and protect freedom. To me, true freedom will never mean uniformity but pluralism.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” ~ The Imaginative Conservative

One very late night or early morning in 1939, J.R.R. Tolkien awoke, a full story ready to burst from his already imaginatively feverish brain. Contrary to his normal hesitation and typical obsessive writing and rewriting, Tolkien’s short story, “Leaf by Niggle” emerged “virtually complete in my head. It took only a few hours to get down, and then copy out.”[1] If Tolkien had ever toyed with the ideas found in the novel—in terms of setting, character, or plot—he had no recollection of them or of any of it. Like Athena emerging whole out of the head of Zeus, “Leaf by Niggle” simply appeared on paper that very late evening or early morning in 1939, just prior to the beginning of the Second World War. Sometime in 1940, he read the story—presumably to an approving audience—to the Inklings. Again, the story just emerged, and Tolkien never even edited it after his initial copying it down. It was, he remembered fondly, “the only thing I have ever done which cost me absolutely no pains at all.”[2]
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/11/leaf-by-niggle-jrr-tolkien-bradley-birzer.html

When Giants Roamed the Earth: Elbow

GIANTS OF ALL SIZES. Musical perfection.

When Elbow writes a pop song, they do it right. And, not merely right, but “just right.” Every note, every lyric, every silence, every beat matters.

When Elbow produces an album, the band gets everything not merely perfect, but “just perfect.”

While I have enjoyed every album and EP the band has released, the new album, GIANTS OF ALL SIZES is the band’s best since 2011’s BUILD A ROCKET BOYS.

Indeed, anything and everything you want from an Elbow album is here: the achingly clever lyrics; the smooth and relentless hooks; and the never compromised and earnest vocals. Yet, there’s more with GIANTS OF ALL SIZES: female choruses; weird proggy keyboards; and an Abbey Road-style flow.

At this point, I love every song, but I especially love “Empires”–with it Thomas Dolby-esque (think, “One of Our Submarines”) thought-provoking lyrics–and “On Deronda Road”–with its Steve Howe guitar opening and “Fragile”-esque vocals.

Though I would never label GIANTS OF ALL SIZES a prog album, I’d be utterly foolish not to categorize it as “art rock” at its finest and best. Whatever genre one wants to assign it, we can and should be able to agree on at least one absolute: GIANTS OF ALL SIZES is a thing of sheer excellence.

Perelandra: Preventing the Fall ~ The Imaginative Conservative

It would be no exaggeration to claim that C.S. Lewis’s “Perelandra”—arguably the least read and least remembered part of his “Space Trilogy”—is nothing short of a masterpiece. In it, the author ably blends science fiction and theology, giving us a gripping thriller, steeped in thought, adventure, and myth… (essay by Bradley J. Birzer)
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/11/perelandra-preventing-fall-bradley-birzer.html

Approaching Weathertop: Anatomy of a Scene ~ The Imaginative Conservative

In his personal recollections of his mentor, hero, and friend, George Sayer remembered that J.R.R. Tolkien possessed the uncanny ability to match his facial expressions and speech patterns to and with the prevailing mood of any given conversation. “As I sat with him and the Lewis brothers in the pub, I remember being fascinated by the expressions on his face, the way they changed to suit what he was saying,” Sayer recollected. “Often he was smiling, genial, or wore a pixy look. A few seconds later he might burst into savage scathing criticism, looking fierce and menacing. Then he might soon again become genial.”[1] It was not affectation, but sincere intensity. The very same might (and should) be claimed of his writing ability. When the mood calls for levity, Tolkien writes with levity. When the mood calls for depth, Tolkien writes with depth. When the mood calls for contemplation, Tolkien writes contemplatively. As a twentieth-century author, he was an absolute master at this.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/10/approaching-feathertop-anatomy-scene-bradley-birzer.html

Music, Books, Poetry, Film

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