Archive for April 2008

Honorable Smoke on the Water

April 30, 2008

This link will take you to the much-touted video of Japanese musicians performing Deep Purple’s classic rock song, Smoke on the Water, using traditional Japanese instruments:

The Japanese culture may be older and wiser than our own Western Society, but I believe these musicians are missing the boat. Smoke on the Water is more than simply notes played in proper succession. The song represents a national cultural phenomenon.  It is one of the first hard rock songs in America that gained mass appeal, based on a guitar solo. This song can never occupy such a “first” status anywhere again.

Smoke on the Water is more than just notes from a second perspective. There are also the non-notes, the spaces, the pregnant pauses between notes. These silences build as much tension as the notes themselves. Such complementary silences are lost against the weak instrumentals of this Japanese version.

Smoke on the Water is meant to be heard live. The amplifiers throw the sound of all the instruments out in a unique way, across the crowd of eagerly waiting listeners in each smoke-filled auditorium or outdoor arena.

No, this piece of music was never meant to be adapted for Eastern Traditional, Gregorian Chant, or Otis Overhead venues.

Thunder and lightning as a crowd pleaser

April 27, 2008

Yesterday afternoon started out beautifully. I went up to Cobb’s Hill to walk around the city reservoir (.66 miles, 12 minutes). The first lap I had my shirt off, soaking up the sun. By midway through the third lap the weather had changed so dramatically that I was shivering and wondered if I would make it back to my truck without getting drenched in rain.

The 3:30 sky had darkened to almost nightfall and it was thundering. People were lined up along the city overlook in their cars watching bolts of lightning crack and strike over Downtown Rochester, a mile away. It was like the Fourth of July when folks come up here at night to watch the fireworks. But this time it was a collection of people who’d actually started to leave the hill after walking or jogging, then caught the view of the approaching storm and stopped.

We watched as the wall of rain come across the land toward us. The wall of falling water obliterated from our sight one office building after another, until there was no more cityscape visible.

Now the rain front made its way across the low-lying treed neighborhoods. The newly-leafed trees bowed in unison under the weight of the water and thrashed together in the wind.

The most spiritual part of this was the fact that all these people stopped to watch. No one was speeding off to a store or a waiting television program.

The afternoon ended beautifully.

Profiling at the US-Canadian border

April 25, 2008

A female associate and I recently drove to Canada on business. We traveled through Northern New York and crossed into Ontario at an out-of-the-way crossing site. We were the only car in sight, in either direction.

While in Canada we stopped for lunch. As on previous Canadian trips I wondered, reading the menu, what the savings were these days using US dollars against Canadian. I needn’t have bothered trying to do the math. When the bill came for $26.00, that’s exactly what it was, $26.00.

I asked the waitress, “Even exchange?”

She said, “Yep. Actually you probably owe me three cents on the dollar but I’m not even going to worry about that.” When she made change, our money went into the till mixed with Canadian cash.

Coming back across the border we were, as usual, questioned. I always find myself thinking, “Hey, I just came through here a couple hours ago, don’t you remember me?” Then, “Duh, that’s right; that was at the other end of the bridge, in another country!”

This crossing was the site of a recent and highly publicized drug bust. While the Customs guy questioned us through the driver’s window, a DEA agent with his German shepherd stepped up from the passenger’s side. He looked at our car, a no-frills 2007 sedan, and at us, apparently a couple, middle-aged and white, and took his search dog back to the trailer.

As we drove away unhassled I said to my friend, “I do believe we’ve just been profiled.”

Taking care in the air

April 23, 2008

I called a taxi to take me to the airport. I don’t use my cell phone much so the forty-some calls I make each month average out to about a dollar a call. So that 30-second call cost me about three cents a minute.

The six-and-a-half mile, 20-minute taxi ride to the airport is $22.00. Round trip, $44.00. That’s $3.38 per mile, $1.10 per minute.

Shopping on-line for a 6,000-mile round-trip ticket from Rochester, NY, to Seattle, I found one for $380. That works out to six cents a mile. The six-hour flights are about five cents per minute.

Three-quarters-of-a-billion people fly during the course of a year in America. Statistically speaking, the airlines have zero accidents. We have come to take for granted the airlines’ reliability, cost, and safety so much so that when they misfunction it literally becomes headline news. Critics of the airlines take on a vehement consumer-advocacy-like stance: Headlines! These planes were late! These flights were cancelled! We demand a government investigation!

We pay the phone company arguably more than they are worth. If we don’t, they will shut us off. We pay the taxis. They will call the police if we don’t. We pay dearly for gas at the pump. Without a peep. But the airlines, whose primary business activity is burning fuel and keeping us safe? They better not raise prices or fall behind schedule.

gnus ewe can yews

April 21, 2008

I like watching the news. The world news at six-thirty. At my job I’m on the computer eight hours a day and can get news from the internet. But I like sitting down and watching it on TV. Like when I was a kid and we all watched it as a family.

As bad as the news generally is, I feel connected to the rest of the country when the latest death toll or layoff is announced. I know factory workers in the midwest, retirees in Florida and moms in the kitchen preparing dinner are watching along with me. It’s like listening to a song on my car radio and passing another car and there’s that funny synchronized vibration and I realize they are listening to the same radio station.

Sometimes I imagine my mom is sitting next to me watching the news. She died young, 27 years ago. When the anchorperson says, “The war costs $140 billion a year,” she smiles and says, “He misspoke, he meant $140 million.”

I shake my head and say, “No, mom, it’s billion – ‘B,’ as in ‘boy.'”

Unable to comprehend the amount, she asks, incredulously, “Where is this place we’re fighting?”


What can you tell about a man based on the length of his driveway?

April 19, 2008

When I was nine my parents paved our suburban driveway. They measured it first. It was 105 feet long from the street to the garage. One-hundred-and-five feet! I thought we were rich. I casually mentioned the length of my driveway in my fourth grade classroom many times that season.

When I lived in a duplex in the city my driveway was just long enough to pull a car in off the street. If it snowed my truck would be covered but the driveway was clean. Depending on how carefully I backed out into the street I could almost avoid shoveling my driveway.

Actually, the most unique driveways I know of belong to women. My ex-wife – my kids’ mom – lives on a remote hillside in rural Upstate New York. Their driveway is 3000 feet long; that’s six-tenths-of-a-mile. It takes 30 minutes – one sitcom – to walk down to the roadside mailbox and back.

A woman friend of mine lives on the main street in a tiny nearby village. I was with her late one summer night when we pulled in her driveway. She did not stop but drove right on into her baseball diamond-size backyard. The grass was door handle high, but in it she had mowed a giant maze. As we drove along the paths cut through the high grass, fireflies and mosquitoes flashed in the headlight beams as thick as schools of fish.

Right now I have no driveway. Just a parking space. A yellow rectangle framing the number “5”.

If I ever buy another house, I’d like a circular driveway that comes in, curves around and goes out again. That way I’ll always be moving forward.

Ask your doctor if CBS News is right for you.

April 17, 2008

Not only did the “CBS Evening News” go to just one sponsor for this past Sunday’s edition, this fact was announced by the anchorman during the opening moments, as if it were a lead story: “Good evening…one sponsor…fewer commercial interruptions…”

I wondered which car manufacturer was stepping up to the plate to underwrite this heavily viewed prime time broadcast. Ironically I was, like millions of others no doubt, now anticipating rather than dreading the first commerical. The one sponsor turned out not to be about gas mileage or horsepower. The sponsor was Caduet, “one pill that may help manage both high blood pressure and high cholesterol…”

I already had thought I was witnessing a disturbing media paradigm shift when, half-a-dozen years ago, morning radio news broadcasts began reporting on what happened on the previous evening’s “Survivor” and other popular television shows. As if “Friends” and enemies in the Middle East were equal in importance. Now television is reporting on its own self and its advertising coups. As if TV is more important than real life.

Maybe I imaged it. Or maybe the anchorman actually did pause at that point where, for decades, the first commercial came in at five or six minutes into the broadcast. He then suddenly remembered he had to fill a few more minutes with content before he got a break, and continued with the news.


Second amendment, fifth wheel, eighth grade

April 15, 2008

When we were boys, my brother and I and my cousin had a .22 rifle. One rifle. Three boys. We would go to an old farm dump and shoot at bottles and junked farm vehicles. Sometimes we filled the bottles with rain water so they would explode better when we hit them. If we got bored shattering glass or putting holes through hubcaps we might try shooting at rotten apples that fell off the trees in the abandoned orchard.

With three boys there’s ultimately going to be an odd man out. A fifth wheel. We were no exception to that adage. And if you throw into the mix just one rifle and a box of 50 bullets – which doesn’t divide three ways – the issue of fairness becomes tangible. Arguments might escalate. “It’s my gun!” or “I paid for that ammo with my paper route money!” Personal dignity, respect and ownership were at stake here. And there were no adults around. Yet it never occurred to any of us to shoot or even point an empty gun at the others.

Today young people are shooting each other in the streets for a pair of high-top sneakers. I have two .22 rifles now and a box of ammo all to myself. But I still prefer shopping for my footwear in a store. As do my brother and my cousin.

Speaking of air safety

April 13, 2008

In 2007 I wrote a story, examining possible future uses of the now closed Seneca Army Depot, for Rochester’s City Newspaper. When I called my contact to set up an interview he said, “If you’re free tomorrow come on out. I’m renting a plane to fly over the Depot and take photos for promotional purposes; we have one empty seat left. You can see it first-hand.”

I jumped at the opportunity and the next day I drove the fifty miles to Seneca County to meet him. There were four of us: my contact, myself, the photographer, and the pilot. As we boarded the small plane I was suddenly hit with apprehension. I thought, “Hmmm…only one pilot; only one engine; no Plan B; no safety net. What if something happens while we’re up there? And this pilot is an old man…”

As if reading my mind, the pilot turned in his seat to face us, pulled off his goggles and stated, more than asked, “Ready?”

One look at his weathered, emotionless face told me if we only had one Plan A, this was definitely the one I wanted.

I held this thought as we buzzed the town-size Depot, engine straining as we banked steeply so the photographer could shoot almost straight down. I embraced this thought with vice grips as the wind roared in the open window so loud that we had to yell at each other to be heard. I bit into this thought, drawing blood, as we banked again, this time so steeply the horizon was nearly vertical.

Did I feel safe? Was I scared? Back down on the ground, my feet on the tarmac, I faced away from the others so they couldn’t see me grinning.

Cast: Glenn Cooke, Executive Director, Seneca County Industrial Development Agency; Don Cochran, Photographer; John Dougherty, Ace Pilot

Where our music comes from

April 11, 2008

Yesterday I presented the once obscure lyrics of the 1960s’ rock song, Louie Louie, revealing they are not – as once thought – vulgar. But there is something even more important about this song. The lyrics are the words of a (black) Jamaican sailor. The song was written by Richard Barry, a black man. This underscores the importance of older black Americans in the development of modern music.

A profound example: The success of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as songwriters doesn’t need to be driven home. The two made a deal early on: any song written by either or both of them would be credited to both. But if we look at their first two albums we’ll find a third, silent partner.

Who wrote the most songs on the Beatles’ first two albums? John? Paul? John and Paul together?

The answer is, none of the above. Twelve of the songs on the Beatles’ first two albums were either written or first performed by older American musicians. All but one was black:

Anna (Arthur Alexander); Chains (The Cookies); Boys (The Shirelles); Baby It’s You (The Shirelles); A Taste of Honey (Bobby Scott); Twist and Shout (The Isley Brothers); ‘Til There Was You (Meredith Wilson); Please Mr. Postman (The Marvelettes); Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry); You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles); Devil In Her Heart (The Donays); Money, That’s What I Want (Barrett Strong).

If the Beatles borrowed from the treasury of American black music, the Rolling Stones robbed the bank. Jagger and Richards wrote only five songs for their first two albums. Seventeen were borrowed from older black Americans:

Route 66 (Nat King Cole); I Just Want To Make Love To You (Willie Dixon); Honest I Do (Jimmy Reed); Mona (Bo Diddley); I’m a King Bee (James Moore); Carol (Chuck Berry); Can I Get a Witness (Lamont Dozier); You Can Make It If You Try (Ted Jarrett); Walking the Dog (Rufus Thomas); Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (Solomon Burke); Down Home Girl (Arthur Butler); You Can’t Catch Me (Chuck Berry); Down the Road Apiece (Don Raye); Under the Boardwalk (The Drifters); I Can’t Be Satisfied (Muddy Waters); Paine In My Heart (Naomi Neville); Susie Q (Dale Hawkins).