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June 2008
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August 2008

A Band Is A Beast Unto Itself

When The Bearded Pigs landed in Memphis for the When Pigs Fly sessions last April, we were joined by a rather fascinating creature who called herself Dr. Gatha Snowmoss.  She claimed to be a peripatetic photojournalist who'd been intrigued enough by the rumors that she'd heard to arrange to spend some time with us.  Exotic she was, indeed, with enough contradictions in her backstory to raise several eyebrows, but she fit right in.  SG has finally posted her report, and it's pretty accurate -- as far as I can remember.

It's a bit poignant for me to read, since I'm still in mourning a bit from SG's decision to formally retire from the band.   I wasn't really surprised when the message came -- as he said in his note to us, he's been moving in other musical directions the last couple of years and that's where he wants to put his energy.   While he played brilliantly in Chicago, I could sense that shift.  I'm grateful that he made it a clean break -- it was a classy move. 

As it happens, he sent his note to the band on the same day that VH1 ran their Rock Honors special for The Who.    I watched it, thinking how appropriate it was to see these two old survivors, famous for their battles, still rocking as hard as the youngsters they shared the stage with, still being a part of something larger than themselves.  It was the tension between Daltrey and Townshend that made The Who something more than the component parts, that makes it possible for the band to still be a band, even with half of the original members long gone.

I used to half-joke that if we all lived in the same town and played out a couple of times a month, the musical tensions within The Bearded Pigs would have broken it up long ago.  SG and I were on opposite ends of the continuum -- I was happy with a big, sloppy, acoustic-based sound where the songs sounded different every time and were never the way anybody else played them.  If there were mistakes or trainwrecks, I didn't really care, as long as there was a lot of energy.  SG pulled us toward a crisp, much harder rocking sound, with clean lines and sharp tempos.  If I was looking in the direction of The Band and Steve Earle and Dylan, he was channeling Cream and the Allman Brothers.  The harder we tugged at each other, the more it became a band, and each of the other musicians was able to find their perfect and very individual spot within.

When I got the note from SG, my immediate thought was that we should pack it in.  How could it be The Bearded Pigs without him?    And yet, it actually is.  In Scotland, with Ringer Ruthven playing bass, it was The Bearded Pigs.  The North Carolina contingent has played a couple of gigs without me or Bruce or SG or TG and it's still the Pigs.   When TomCat, Bruce, TG and I played in London last February -- it was The Bearded Pigs.  SG wasn't with us in San Antonio, and it was still...

So on we go.  But I'm not done playing music with SG.  Somewhere, sometime, we're gonna play Landslide again..

But now I've got to find a new bass player for Hawaii, dammit!

Deep Reading

Carr's Atlantic Monthly article has spawned some pretty interesting debate and commentary, and I've been thinking about posting something myself, but my penchant for deep reading of long texts has been interfering with my ability to skim superficially in search of a couple of little factoids that I can quickly respond to.  Despite the amount of time that I spend online, my brain seems to be stubbornly resisting getting rewired.

It's hard to get too enthused about participating in the discussion when you have someone like Clay Shirky saying something so eminently silly as, "no one reads War and Peace. It’s too long, and not so interesting."    Shirky has some worthwhile things to say in his response on the Brittanica blog, although he clearly misreads Carr's article (as Carr points out in his response), but why would one bother to seek them out after reading a sentence like that?  I find myself stopping at that point to think, Does he really believe that no one reads War and Peace?  Or does he really mean "No one except dweebs who don't realize that it's too long and boring?"  Just exactly what point is he actually trying to make here?  By then I'm bored with him and rather than trying to puzzle it out, I go back to reading Europe: A History (I'm on page 329 -- only 800 left to go.  Yummy.)

I enjoyed the article in Sunday's New York Times, though.   Clearly, much reading online is a different kind of activity from reading a book like Europe.  But then, so is reading the Sunday New York Times (which is a different experience whether one is reading it online or in print).   I started my morning with a couple of poems from James Liddy's I Only Know That I Love Strength in My Friends and Greatness which is a seriously different reading experience.

As with most discussions about the impact of the digital world, the print vs. online dichotomy is a false one.  It assumes that the gulf between any reading online and any reading in print is fundamentally deeper and wider than the gulf between reading one of Liddy's enigmatic, allusive poems and, say, Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat.  This is nonsense, but how would one know unless one reads widely?  (I read a blog post recently by a young librarian who is reading a nonfiction book for the first time -- she's always only read novels.  Ask her how different those reading experiences are.)

In response to Shirky, Carr writes,  "Shirky seems rather pleased to think of his opinions as 'sacrilegious,' but I suspect that at least a few readers will see them as a highbrow form of philistinism."    In that, Shirky is amusingly aligned with David McCullough, who is quoted in the Times article saying, "Learning is not to be found on a printout. It’s not on call at the touch of the finger. Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books." 

The danger comes not from being online, but from the philistinism that gives Shirky an excuse to avoid engaging with something as rich, exciting, entertaining and fulfilling as War and Peace, and that gives McCullough a rationale for not diving gleefully into the enlivening and frustrating soup that is the internet.  They are each poorer for it, having chosen to stay within their comfort zone rather than trying to see how far their malleable minds can stretch.