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.