Tuesday, April 13, 2021

"Folk" Music, "Intellectual Property," and Bob Dylan


I'm a huge fan of Bob Dylan, and don't begrudge him one red cent of his wealth. Net worth: Probably around $800 million after the recent sale of his songwriting catalog for, allegedly, north of $300 million.

That sale did, however, start me thinking for the nth time about the relationship between "folk music" and the statist anti-concept of "intellectual property."

Trying to define "folk music" is complicated (here's the Wikipedia article on the subject), and virtually anything is contestable, but I think there's a strong case against copyright in folk music even if one accepts the idea of copyright at all. Folk is supposedly "the people's music," music that spreads and mutates through oral tradition, with no "owner" as such.

Woody Guthrie, Dylan's early idol/model/mentor, expressed a clear view on the subject (a view his publisher doesn't share):

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.

Dylan's first album consisted mostly of his own arrangements of traditional folk songs, and his breakout (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)  freely co-opts tunes, themes, and lyrics from older folk songs ("Girl from the North Country" is clearly based on "Scarborough Fair" and "Bob Dylan's Dream" on "Lady Franklin's Lament;" "Talkin' World War III Blues" is a gloss on Guthrie's "talkin' blues" style; "Corrina Corrina" is a mashup of a 1928 Mississippi Sheiks tune with some Robert Johnson lyrics; "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" is an 1890s folk ditty; and "I Shall Be Free" is a re-write of a Lead Belly / Guthrie recording).

For several years -- until he went electric and scandalized the Newport Folk Festival -- Dylan wasn't just a folkie, he was the top dog folkie. He didn't make folk music big, but he made it much, much bigger ... and it made him, period.

Like I said, I'm happy that Dylan is coming up on billionaire status (and I hope he tours through my neck of the woods at least once more so I can pay to see him live a second time).

But, having made his fat stacks of cash, I wish he'd taken a cue from Guthrie and put at least some of his stuff (the "folk" stuff, say everything before Bringin' It All Back Home) in the public domain when he got ready dispose of his "intellectual property" catalog.


Monday, April 12, 2021

Zoom vs. Live Meetings: The Big Up Side


Gainesville, Florida mayor Lauren Poe tweets (above a retweet from Andrew Yang on "9 Reasons Zoom is Not Our Friend"):


I feel his pain. Yes, Zoom is a giant pain in the ass for 1) large bodies 2) making lots of decisions.

Last year, Zoom played a large role for me in two related activities.

One was serving on the Libertarian Party's platform committee, with more than 20 members, working through numerous proposals. We did that through a combination of Zoom meetings and email discussion/balloting.

The other was the Libertarian Party's national convention, which was an absolute technological nightmare despite several people doing heroic work to make it functional, and not just because of the mutiny against the party conducted by a delegate minority at the physical meeting portion of the convention.

But there's one huge up side to Zoom (and similar "online meeting" products), and that's the cost savings involved for groups made up of people scattered over wide geographic areas.

If the platform committee had had a physical meeting, 20-odd people would have been expected to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on travel and lodging, and to spend at least two or three days away from their homes and their "real" jobs, in order to meet for 8-16 hours.

For the national convention, expand those costs to more than a thousand delegates (of which several hundred invested that time and those expenses because they chose to, not because it was required).

Does Zoom suck? For large meetings with complex agendas, yes.

But there's a cost-benefit calculation to be made.

In the case of the platform committee, several members offered to make triple or even quadruple digit contributions to the party if we decided to not meet physically (I was one of them), and followed through on those pledges.

The party made money instead of spending money (on meeting room rental, etc.).

The committee got its work done for, almost certainly, tens of thousands of dollars less in personal expenses incurred by its members.

Yes, the meetings were more difficult and less pleasant on Zoom than in person. But I think they were also worth it.

Hopefully Zoom and other "online meeting" software will continue to improve in functionality, and hopefully thousands of organizations and their members will save millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses that can be used on things other than flying back and forth across the US to drink bad coffee and sleep in strange beds.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Look What I Got ...


 


Picked up the Epiphone Hummingbird a couple of hours ago.

I was planning to give up a little Bitcoin to buy it when the price went over $60k, but instead I literally bled for it -- yesterday, I got my first check for participating in the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trial, and spent much of it on this.

Thanks to Maalik Simbi Makaya (bassist for The Good Voodoo, who also works at Guitar Center). He very correctly told me this was the guitar I should get when my wandering eye and tight fist started nudging me toward a cheap Telecaster clone. I'll get one of those eventually, but this is the guitar I've always wanted, pretty much (it came to less than $450; the actual Gibson would have been cooler, but would also have set me back an additional $3,000 or more, and is, IMO, not $3,000 more valuable).


Friday, April 09, 2021

1970 Album of the Week, April 9-15: Remedies, by Dr. John


The word most often associated with Dr. John seems to be "flamboyant" ("tending to attract attention because of their exuberance, confidence, and stylishness"). And the locale associated with Dr. John is, quite justifiably, almost always New Orleans -- as much for its own flamboyant influence on his flamboyance as for its obvious influence on his music.

All of that tends to distract from what a damn fine musician he was.

He was performing professionally at 13, signed as a songwriter and recording artist by Aladdin Records at 15, then as a producer at Ace Records at 16.

And all that was before he took up piano as his main instrument! Guitar was his thing, until he got shot in the ring finger at a 1960 club gig.

It was also before he did two years in federal prison on drug and brothel operation charges.

And before he became a first call session musician, part of the iconic "Wrecking Crew," in Los Angeles.

And before he came up with the idea of "Dr. John, the Night Tripper" as a one-off concept idea and ended up sticking with it for the rest of his life (before that he was Malcolm John Rebennack, Jr.).

The literally thousands of recordings he appeared on included 39 albums -- 30 studio and nine live -- of his own. If he kept a trophy shelf in his home, it boasted six Grammy awards.

Was Remedies (released on April 9, 1970) his best album? I don't know. I haven't heard all 39 of his albums. Of those I've heard, I'd have to flip a coin to choose between this one and his debut, Gris-Gris.

The feature track can't possibly be anything but "Angola Anthem," which takes up the entire second side of the vinyl version, but let's talk about that before cutting to it. Here's what David Gancher of Rolling Stone had to say about it back in the day:

Side Two consists of a 17-minute voo-doo aria called “Angola Anthem.” It is a long, meandering lyric on top of some good but aimless Afro drumming. The instrumental parts are sparse, weak, and easily lost. The lyrics, where they can be heard, do little to redeem the piece. They try to invoke the terror of living under a fascist regime in Angola, but the piece fails. And in a 17-minute piece, if you do not succeed, you really fail. Despite an occasional interesting part, the piece lacks drama, lacks words, lacks music. You can’t listen to it, and you can’t even dance to it.

 But here's what Dr. John himself had to say about it in 2012:

My managers put me in a psych ward. These guys were very bad people – I had gotten busted on a deal, and they got me bonded out of jail, and so when they did I could have got a parole violation. All of this stuff was so unconnected to music that it’s hard to relate it. A friend of mine had just come out of doing 40-something years in Angola [the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary], he was just someone special in my heart – called Tangleye. And Tangleye says, ‘I’m gonna sell you this song. Got it in Angola, but ain’t nobody ever cut this song …’ Even now guys I know getting out of Angola know this song.

The moral of the story: Never trust Rolling Stone's reviewers to know what the hell they're talking about. Apart from R.E.M.'s Murmur, I can't think offhand of an album review of theirs that's matched my own experience with a record. I mean, I'm sure there are some. I just haven't noticed them.

As for dancing to it, well, I can't really dance to anything. But if I could dance, I could find a way to dance to this.




Thursday, April 08, 2021

A Pump, with Intent to Dump


BTC is selling for about $57,800 right now.

I'm using the awesome power of my blogging presence to pump it -- bid that price up, folks!

Because:

If it hits $60k in the next 24 hours or so, I plan to spend a little (file under "Guitar, Daddy Needs a New").


The Road to Hell is Paved With Actual Belief


In the debate over "vaccine passports," I detect an implicit belief on the part of those who express outrage at comparisons of the scheme to e.g. requiring Jews to wear Star of David patches in Nazi Germany.

That implicit belief is that the Nazis didn't actually get high on their own supply -- that they were just snake oil salesmen who concocted a crazy sales pitch for the purpose of exercising power, then did so in a genocidal way because ... well, just because.

I disagree.

Oh, I'm sure there were some mere opportunistic hacks who didn't really believe in the Nazi pronouncements on race, etc., and just grasped those pronouncements as rungs up the ladder of power when they otherwise would have found different rungs. Goering, probably. Goebbels, maybe.

But so far as I can tell, others -- Hitler and Himmler, for example -- really, really, really believed their own guff. As did millions of their followers and supporters.

Ditto the early 20th century proponents of eugenics in, among other places, the US. And the early 20th century proponents of Marxism in, among other places, Russia.

And all of them, of course, loudly invoked "science" as a basis for their beliefs.

Con artists are dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as people who really, truly, honestly believe in something, and who believe that that something is so important that it must be implemented even if implementing it requires the use of state force to impose it on the unwilling.

"But they really believe it" is not a sound criterion for trusting anyone with the power to force their stated beliefs on others.


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

A Fundamental Misunderstanding ...


At American Consequences, Corey McLaughlin discusses the now-iconic 2010 "Bitcoin for Pizza" incident:


[Laszlo] Hanyecz wanted to show that you could buy something with bitcoin. So one night, from his home in Jacksonville, he logged on to the BitcoinTalk message board, a place for early bitcoin enthusiasts to talk online. And he made an offer Hanyecz would give 10,000 bitcoins to anyone who would send him two large pizzas. ... 
Hanyecz got his pizzas -- two large pies with all the fixings from retail chain Papa John’s. In exchange, he sent 10,000 bitcoins (then worth about $41 in total) to a 19-year-old American named Jeremy Sturdivant. 
The obvious punchline to this story is that those pizzas turned out to cost more than $530 million.

That "obvious punchline" is simply incorrect.

At the time of the transaction, 10,000 BTC was worth a little over $40.

If you've ever found an old coin that's worth more than its face value, no, losing that dime that now sells for $10, back when it was worth ten cents, didn't "cost" its previous owner $10. It cost that previous owner ten cents.

Anything you exchange for something else could turn out to be worth more later. If your goal is to hold on to things and hope you can sell them later for more than you're paying for them now, that's a fine idea that may or may not work out for you. But right now they're worth what they're worth right now, not what they might be worth later.


Monday, April 05, 2021

I Don't Know if I'm in Love ...


... or just an obsessed stalker.

I've visited my local Guitar Center several times lately to visit this:


It's an Epiphone Hummingbird studio. $369, plus whatever they charge for one of those "if anything happens to this, we fix it or replace it" plans.

What I probably really ought to get is a solid-body electric, since I don't have a working one (my $95 Epi Les Paul II has electronics problems which I may or may not be able to fix).

But damn, I want this guitar.

As the only one of my father's sons who learned to play guitar, I was supposed to inherit his Gibson Hummingbird, but that ended up going to a nephew who richly deserved it and whose use of it ran more to Dad's liking (playing in church).

I keep visiting the store to noodle with this one, and it plays beautifully -- perfect intonation right off the rack, sweet, easy action, that definite "woody" country tone, etc. It's far nicer than what anyone could reasonably expect for the price.

I just need to figure out where the $500 or so to do it right (guitar, protection plan, and maybe a gig bag for my 20-year-old Epiphone PR-100 so that I can give this its hard case) comes from. And I think I will figure that out eventually.


How Derek Chauvin's Defense is Shaping Up


Chauvin's current defenses, as manifested in opening arguments and cross-examinations of prosecution witnesses:

  1. I didn't do what you saw me do
  2. If I did do what you saw me do, what you saw me do did not kill George Floyd.
  3. If I did do what you saw me do, and if what you saw me do did kill George Floyd, it was the crowd's fault for distracting me.

None of those defenses seem very likely to fly, so I have a couple of suggestions for changes in defense strategy.

  1. A M'Naghten "insanity" defense: I suffer from schizophrenia, and the voice in my head told me to get down on one knee RIGHT NOW and talk with Mugaga, the astral being who visits me occasionally, for nine minutes about how to bring about whirled peas.
  2. A better variant of the existing "I didn't do what you saw me do" defense: Those videos, 911 calls, etc. are all deepfakes and the supposed witnesses are all crisis actors. In reality, what happened is that we got a call about a guy who had collapsed. When I arrived, I briefly knelt down to check his pulse (there wasn't one) and someone modified the video to extend the incident from a few seconds to nine minutes, tweaked it to make it seem like Floyd was still alive and talking to me, and  green-screened in all the people yelling at me to stop killing the guy.

Maybe one of those would work.


A Walk Down Memory Lane


Yes, I'm going to keep talking about whether "vaccine passports" are like past authoritarian schemes to ghettoize scapegoats. And in this post, I'm going to ask a simple question:

Does anyone arguing otherwise even remember what life was like in the United States a year ago?

Remember when many, maybe even most, Americans were told they couldn't travel outside their homes except for specific reasons and to specific places?

I do. Even in relatively liberal (COVID-speaking) Florida, my county's government listed particular reasons I could leave my home and threatened me with arrest if I did so for other reasons.

Even in relatively liberal (COVID-speaking) Florida, my state's government set up highway roadblocks at the state's borders and stationed state police in the airports, decreeing that people from other particular states could not enter Florida without being imprisoned for two weeks.

And yet, only a year later, with such restrictions STILL in place in at last some states, I'm hearing people -- even Libertarians, who have sound ideological, as well as well-known historical, reasons for opposing these schemes -- say that no, of course, AMERICAN governments would never use authoritarian schemes like "vaccine passports" to control internal travel and ghettoize scapegoats, that's just silly conspiracy theorizing and that the comparison between the current authoritarian scheme and past similar authoritarian schemes is invidious.


Friday, April 02, 2021

1970 Album of the Week, April 2-8: Burrito Deluxe, by The Flying Burrito Brothers


Wikipedia doesn't show any 1970 albums released for this week, but one of its non-exact-date April releases is the second Flying Burrito Brothers album, Burrito Deluxe. Week or month, there's no way it doesn't make top cut.

Top cut for TFBB? Not according to guitarist Bernie Leadon, who said "the stuff that we did were not Gram's best songs. ... Burrito Deluxe was recorded without any of the feeling and the intensity of the first album."

Top cut for Gram Parsons himself? Not according to me. Although I'd be hard-pressed to pick between solo albums GP or Grievous Angel, or his Byrds masterpiece Sweetheart of the Rodeo, for my "take to a desert island" collection, any of those three would come before either of the Flying Burrito albums.

But easily top cut for April, or some part thereof, of 1970. Parsons on a bad day disposed of about a hundred times as much "feeling and intensity" -- not to mention pure talent -- as most musicians, and the rest of the band had plenty to brag about themselves in those areas.

Of course, the pick track here -- and it's just flat no contest, even with a Bob Dylan song also appearing on the album -- isn't, supposedly, by any of them. It's officially by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. But I suspect Parsons deserves some co-writing credit -- he spent a lot of time hanging out with Richards between his Byrds and Burritos work and Jagger says of the song "I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons ..." And it sounds like Cosmic American, not Cosmic British, Music.

It is, of course, "Wild Horses," and The Flying Burrito Brothers released their version more than a year before it appeared on the Stones' Sticky Fingers:



Thursday, April 01, 2021

Thanks For Asking! -- 04/01/21


Time for the first post of April and the 100th post of 2021 -- the monthly "Ask Me Anything" thread! Interrogate me in the comments below this post while I sweat profusely beneath the single swinging light bulb, beg for water and cigarettes, and tell you anything I think you want to hear in the comments or in some other venue/format (with link from comments).




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