(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Frank Zappa

“So many books, so little time”*…

Dear The Sophist, 

I own a lot of books, and nearly enough shelves to fit them. I haven’t read most of them—has anyone with a lot of books read most of them?—yet I still get impulses to buy more. Can you please tell me why it’s OK for me to buy more books? I should add that I live with a partner who doesn’t own a lot of books, but tolerates mine so far. So far.

—Tome-escent

Dear Volume Purchaser,

Books are ridiculous objects to buy, aren’t they? For the sake of spending a day or two, maybe a week, with some author’s thoughts and words, you take custody of this physical item that sticks around, and around, as more and more others accumulate along with it. You look at them, almost unseeingly, day after day; the walls of your rooms press in; you pay extra money to the movers to drag the extra weight around from one dwelling to the next, all because you read an interesting review once or a cover caught your eye in a bookstore.  

You know what else is ridiculous? The sheer impermanence of thought. The constant yet ephemeral flickering of partial understanding across the synapses in our wet and mortal brains, and the dry circuits of the junky and even more short-lived electronic ersatz brains we rely on for backup. A book is an investment against forgetting and death—a poor investment, but it beats the alternatives. It is a slippery yet real toehold on eternity,,, If you stop the flow of new books, you stop this flow of possibilities…

Too many books? Tom Scocca (@tomscocca) explains that there’s no such thing as too many books. (via the ever-illuminating Today in Tabs)

And lest one fear that the only option is to buy books, remember the Public Library…

Central Library, Kansas City (source)

* Frank Zappa

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As we reorganize our shelves, we might spare a thought for someone whose works definitely deserve places of honor thereon, Octavia Estelle Butler; she died in this date in 2006. An African American woman science fiction author, she was a rarity in her field. But her primary distinction was her extraordinary talent, as manifest in novels and stories that stretch the imagination even as they explore the all-too-real truths of the human condition. She was a multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and became (in 1995) the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.

It’s measure of her insight that her work– perhaps especially her “Parable” series— is being re-discovered as painfully prescient of our current times.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 24, 2021 at 1:01 am

“I traveled far and wide through many different times”*…

Fifty years ago this month Harold D. Craft, Jr., published a remarkable black-on-white plot in his Ph.D. dissertation at Cornell University. A stacked series of jagged lines displayed incoming radio waves from pulsar CP1919, as detected at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Several months later the chart appeared as a full-page visualization in Scientific American, this time with white lines on a field of cyan [above]…

Scientific American

In 1977, the image was included in The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy

… where, two years after that, Factory Records graphic genius Peter Saville discovered it and adapted it as the cover art for Joy Division’s debut album, Unknown Pleasures. He reversed the image from black-on-white to white-on-black, against the band’s stated preference for the original. “I was afraid it might look a little cheap. I was convinced that it was just sexier in black.”

It has, of course, become an icon.

* Joy Division, “Wilderness,” from Unknown Pleasures

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As we tap our toes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the U.S. Senate held hearings on what they called “porn rock.” The session was convened at the urging of the Parents Music Resource Center, a group founded by Tipper Gore, wife of Senator and later Vice President Al Gore; Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker; Pam Howar, wife of Washington realtor Raymond Howar; and Sally Nevius, wife of former Washington City Council Chairman John Nevius, and devoted to forcing the music industry to affix Parental Advisory stickers– “warning labels”– to albums and CDs deemed to contain morally challenged material (like the “Filthy Fifteen” songs the group condemned).

Three musicians– Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snyder– testified in opposition to the proposal at the hearing… which was in the end moot, as the industry, afraid of negative publicity, agreed voluntarily to begin the labeling.

It is unclear that the “Tipper sticker” was/is effective in preventing children from being exposed to explicit content. Some, citing the “forbidden-fruit effect,” suggest that the sticker in fact increases record sales, arguing as Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire has: “for the most part [the sticker] might even sell more records… all you’ve got to do is tell somebody this is a no-no and then that’s what they want to go see.”

Tipper Gore at the hearing

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Going out gracefully…

Twenty-four more valedictions at Buzzfeed’s “The Last Words Of 25 Famous Dead Writers.”  And many more parting shots– like Oscar Wilde’s “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go”– at Wikiquote’s Famous Last Words.

As we rehearse our final scenes, we might spare a tuneful thought for trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Miles Dewey Davis III; he died on this date in 1991.  Davis was a pioneer of a number of jazz forms– bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion, among others– but was perhaps even more influential for the musicians he launched in his bands (an extraordinary roster that includes Bill Evans, Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, and Jack DeJohnette) and for the bands and musicians he influenced (and equally amazing list that includes Lalo Schifrin, Tangerine Dream, King Crimson, Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, Duane Allman, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Lydia Lunch, Jerry Garcia, and Prince).

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Ex post facto salvation…

Candy Barr (July 6, 1935 – December 30, 2005) was an American stripper, burlesque exotic dancer, actress in one pornographic movie, and model in men’s magazines of the mid-20th century.

Born Juanita Dale Slusher in Edna, Texas, the youngest of five children, at age 16, she appeared in one of the first [full length] pornographic movies, Smart Alec (1951). Later, Barr established herself in burlesque and striptease with her trademark costume—cowboy hat, pasties, scant panties, a pair of pearl handled cap six-shooters in a holster strapped low on her shapely hips, and cowboy boots. Married three times, and widowed once when she shot her second husband, she was also involved with Jack Ruby and Mickey Cohen. Later in her life, she was honored by Texas Monthly as one history’s “perfect Texans,” and was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Exotic World Burlesque Museum.

Ms. Barr shares another distinction with the likes of Groucho Marx, Truman Capote, Frank Zappa, and rapper Eazy-E: they were all posthumously baptized into the Mormon Church.

Some time in 1842, the prophet Joseph Smith introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints a temple ceremony called Baptism for the Dead, followed shortly by a full complement of salvific ordinances-by-proxy for dead ancestors, which he justified again in 1844:

A man may act as proxy for his own relatives; the ordinances of the Gospel which were laid out before the foundations of the world have thus been fulfilled by them, and we may be baptized for those whom we have much friendship for.
Joseph Smith on May 12, 1844
History of the Church, 6:365–66

But the original spirit of the ordinances seems to have given way to a general enthusiasm for conversion, and members of the Church began trying to ‘redeem’ everyone they could identify.  Some members took a shortcut and performed proxy baptisms and other ordinances for any name they could find– which meant that a lot of famous people got baptized. Indeed, it appears that some time in the early 1990’s there was a fad, or at least a hobby, of finding famous people to baptize.

Famous Dead Mormons is both a tribute to the practice and a catalogue of celebrity souls– like Candy’s– saved after the fact.

As we wonder if this amounts to an E Ticket to the Rapture, we might wish a patriotic birthday to George M. Cohan; he was born on this date in 1878.  A playwright, songwriter, dancer, actor, theater owner, and producer, Cohan is best remembered as the composer and lyricist of songs including “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag” (which may explain why some sources strain to locate his birthday tomorrow– on July 4).  Cohan is not believed to be a baptized Mormon.

source: Library of Congress

A young Mother…

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The March 27, 1963 edition of The Steve Allen Show featured a 22-year-old musician playing the bicycle…  an inventive young man named Frank Zappa.

(Parts 2, 3, and 4 linked to the right on the YouTube page)

As we remark that the young Frank actually looks a little like today’s most famous singing cyclist, David Byrne, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” reached the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100.  Arguing that “there’s only two kinds of music as far as I’m concerned: good and bad,” Charles had overcome his label’s reservations (“you’ll alienate your fans”) and recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music; “I Can’t Stop Loving You” was the first single from the album.  It held the #1 spot on the singles chart for five weeks (the biggest pop hit of Charles’s monumental career); Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music went on to become the best-selling album of the year.  Speaking just before Charles’ death in 2004, his friend and collaborator Willie Nelson said that “The Genius” “did more for country music than any other living human being.”

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