Libertarian at heart

My son let me know he is preparing a post discussing our trip to the Republican state convention in Rochester Minnesota a few years ago. To avoid any misunderstandings, I would like to state that today I align myself with libertarian thought rather than one of the two major political parties–and in fact my election to state delegate was due to the libertarian views expressed in my speech, as my district had a lot of Ron Paul types in it. I no longer align myself with either major party.

If one seeks to learn more about libertarianism, the website contains a wide collection of scholarly and popular writings, discussing many subjects from a libertarian viewpoint. If one wants to see a very disturbing interpretation of the financial activities of our time, the libertarian/populist web site provides daily commentary–though plenty of what is discussed there is beyond my investment/financial expertise.

I will also note that I enjoyed taking Anthony to attend the convention with me, and I am glad he remembers it fondly. At the convention, I recall Governor Quie telling us of some mischief he got up to when his dad took Al and his brother to a republican convention when he was a child. Let’s guess he was 12 at the time, it then would have been in 1935. I was touched, thinking about the father/son parallel. Also, Anthony was able to sneak in because they were all too preoccupied with making sure Ron Paul didn’t get into the convention. He was confined to the outer hallway where the picture of the two of us was taken. 😉

Karen Carpenter, a generational voice

In high school, I was somewhat in the closet regarding my soft spot for the music of the carpenters. My main musical tastes and those of my friends allowed no respect for the sort of musicians who delivered syrupy schmaltz, didn’t perform with a wall of 100 watt marshall stacks, and never destroyed a hotel room while on tour. But at heart I was a romantic–if a carefully disguised one.

Perhaps initiated by Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ approach to music production of the late 1960s, the soft pop of the 1970s abandoned the production simplicity of the 60s in favor of full and lush arrangements–sometimes to excess, called over-production. These feel-good tracks, full of orchestration and free of controversial lyrics, were considered soulless by self-important ‘edgy’ music critics who gave the genre the accursed appellations “product” or “MOR” (middle of the road).

Fortunately, due to the magic of youtube we get an unusual glimpse behind the production. I believe this recording of Karen Carpenter is the center track of a three channel tape recording, containing the vocals, bass and drums. I suspect the flawless bass delivery was done by the peerless Carole Kaye, but I am not 100% sure.

If you are interested, there are other center-track playbacks of Karen available on youtube.

This center track contains a sound that almost nobody who grew up after the 1970s has ever heard on pop radio, or even knows exists: A woman alone with a Neumann microphone in a sound booth, laying down pure gold, in perfect tune, without special effects, and very little reverb. I refer to Karen Carpenter as a generational singer because a singer of her talent can be said to come along once in a generation–and I present this video as proof. Aside from the technical aspects, listen for what really counts: the emotion she conveys with powerful simplicity. I believe the lush production of the 1970s weakened this performance–but was required, by the mooks* of the time, to get it airplay.

PS. Whom who has seen the movie Tommy Boy can forget the scene where this song comes on car radio and each suggests the other can change the station, reluctantly leave it on, and ending up singing along with tears streaming down their faces.

* Mook is industry slang for a person in the music industry who has lots of power or money, who can make things happen, but who has absolutely no artistic judgement or taste. A typical mook primary criteria for green-lighting a song is that it sounds just like other current hit songs.

The 60s, a time of simple drum kits, and some tasty morsels from Cyrcle

For me, the pop/folk/rock of the 1960s was joyful in a way that has never been replicated. In my mind, conveyance of joy in popular music is a historical concept replaced with today’s obsession with darker emotions and debasement of the flesh.

I haven’t linked to any youtube yet in this blog, but I will give it a try here. Youtube has become not just a treasure chest of 60s music, but rather a city full of treasure the likes of which one can never fully explore. For your enjoyment I present this sugary snack from Cyrcle, Turn Down Day, a sound alike to their greatest achievement, the wonderful Red Rubber Ball.

A couple of notes here. It may be the limitations of my ears or mind, but I really prefer simple music in terms of number of instruments and singers. This simplicity was due to technological limitations of the era, when a premier studio counted itself lucky to have a three track tape recorder.

The item I really enjoyed in this video (the lack of microphones indicating lip-sync to their studio recording), is the small and typical early to mid-60s drum kit. a snare and hi hat, one mounted tom, one floor tom, and a single ride cymbal. And look how the drummer has managed to dramatize his 16ths on the ride by swinging his arm while swatting out quarters on the snare.

Since I mentioned Red Rubber Ball, I found another tasty morsel, a live performance of this song. Again, the drummer is of interest as I have always felt the drum shuffle was a key element of this song’s success. In a live setting, their soaring harmonies are rougher but also less sterile than the studio effort. I will also mention my lust of the gibson 335 one of the guys is playing. This video is said to be a 1966 performance, and the longer hair and less formal clothing indicates this to be about the last moment of mountain stream purity in pop music before the psychedelic influence that transforms pop music in 1967.

PS. Well, holy socks, Batman! The videos show up with an image preview–that’s as good as it gets.

The most important computer job at the Soo Line Railroad

I think everybody who worked at the Soo Line in the early 1980s would agree that running the railroad was an important task for the million dollar IBM 370/158 mainframe computer. Well, most of time 😉

Turns out that during the summer, on Thursday mornings, the primary role for the computer, and most important task of the programming department was the preparation of the golf league statistics. Wednesday evenings employees would do their rounds of golf while documenting their swings at each hole.

Thursday morning they would give this to the programmer assigned the task of entering them into punched cards and running the programs to prepare the eagerly awaited statistics that included standings, best and worst at each hole, and so on. Woe unto the indiscreet person who would attempt interrupt the  golf programmer’s work before the statistics were done–as I did on one occasion.

The golf league was well represented in the computer room, so someone would be watching the printer, and begin preparing to burst and distribute the reports the minute they were done printing. And then, of course, the flurry of activity as the statistics inspired much raucous discussion, bragging and excuses.

One one occasion I was invited to sub for a league member who couldn’t make it. Walking down the fairway  after teeing off on the first hole, we moved out of sight of the clubhouse. My manager waved me over to his golf bag. I went over and asked what he wanted. He reached into his bag and handed me a beer. Those were simpler, freer times.

My golf score that day was so bad that I received a high handicap, and one of the other golfers begged me to play on their team the next week. He believed that my score had nowhere to go but up, and that my handicap would propel me into a very low score. I declined, and to this day I mildly regret not joining them for one more round.

Some 27 years have passed, and my work at the Soo Line, from 1979 to 1982, still stands as one of my most enjoyable jobs with some of my favorite co-workers. It was the first job where I really excelled, where I felt I had a place. I was too young to know how good I had it, and one day in the autumn of 1982 I exchanged this somewhat idylic world for the somewhat grim and darwinian one of law school.

Point Man in Vietnam

I once had the pleasure of working with a Vietnam Combat Vet. He told me that his main weapon was a sawed off shotgun shooting 00 buckshot. It already sounded like a pretty hairy job.

He worked in a combat squad that attacked in a wedge formation. He was on the point of the wedge. He explained that when engaging the enemy, he would fire off everything he had in the shotgun and then lie down and let the guy behind him take over with a browning automatic rifle.  I was struck imagining the intensity of that sort of firefight, and the kind of reliance the members of the squad had for each other.

So when you hear the phrase ‘point man’, bear in mind the military origin of the term.

He had a couple of other stories of interest. He recalled one occasion he was sleeping during battle at night. He had become accustomed to the regular noises of rifle fire and bombs and was able to sleep when appropriate. On this occasion, he was awakened by a loud buzzing sound he had not heard before. He checked around and learned it was “Puff the Magic Dragon”, a cargo plane with a gatling gun pointed out a side door. The gun fired so rapidly that it made the buzzing sound. Every tenth round was an illuminated tracer, but it looked like a solid line of light pointing down. It fired so much and so quickly that there were a couple of guys in the plane shoveling shells out with snow shovels. In the morning he saw the side of a hill that puff had reduced to rubble. Formerly a wooded area, there was no piece of wood remaning more than a couple of inches long.

On another occasion, a supply guy gave him and some buddies some special shotgun shells. He refused to say what they did, just encouraging the guys to try them out. Well, it was nighttime so they went behind a building and fired off a round. He saw a 30 foot sun emerge from the gun and claimed the loudest sound was that of the irises of his eyes shapping shut against the light. Turns out it was some sort of phosphorous round. I never learned what role such a thing might play in combat.