On race, bias, identity and other grad-school bullshit

Last night, Jonathan Coulton opened for Aimee Mann on the first night of their tour in Washington, and this happened:

JC: This is a song about a giant squid who hates himself

Crowd: Whooooooooooooo!!!

I laughed. Then something hit me.

This is really, really “white.”

And suddenly I felt a little guilty.

Ridiculous, right? Just because the crowd is about 95% white (I scanned after this feeling hit me and saw one African-American woman along with a handful of Asian people) doesn’t I should feel bad about being there. Right?

I may have been a little more defensive because I had just read, along with everyone else online yesterday, the profile piece on Rachel Dolezal, who managed to pass for “black” for a while before some investigative journalists found that she was not.

A couple of lines deep in the piece struck me:

And with that, the anger that I had toward her began to melt away. Dolezal is simply a white woman who cannot help but center herself in all that she does—including her fight for racial justice.

and …

Perhaps that itself was the secret to the power of the Dolezal phenomenon—the overwhelming whiteness of it all.

As I read this, I started to think the writer meant “white” as an insult. “Oh, I can’t be mad at this arrogant, condescending woman (Dolezal). She can’t help it. She’s white.”

But was I correct in thinking that way? I wasn’t so sure.

So I did a little experiment. I posted the link on Facebook and Twitter and asked people to give me their reactions before I countered with mine. I didn’t want them to be influenced by what I had to say, and I wanted to see if anyone saw the same thing I did.

The short answer: No. No one did. The bulk of the reaction: “This is brilliant.” One right-leaning Twitter respondent countered that the story was 10 minutes of her life she’d never get back. On Facebook, someone else (who is not writing from a place of white privilege) called the writer “really annoying.”

All of the feedback was good. I don’t know how that happened. That might be a first on social media.

And we had a few interesting thoughts on entitlement. Dolezal felt entitled to choose her race, and she still feels entitled to compare her experience as “black” to the experiences of actual black people.

white-choice

So what we could say is that Dolezal isn’t necessarily representative of all whites. But the mentality she has is uniquely white — or, at least, unique to people who don’t experience appearance-based discrimination unless they seek it out like a tourist.

Of course, it’s tricky because racial labels are slippery. Many years ago, I read a piece from a writer traveling in Brazil who found that people who would be considered “Latin(a/o/x)” in the USA and elsewhere considered themselves “white” in Brazil. I also found myself in a conversation recently in which a fellow Person of Likely European Descent (PLED, a perfect acronym) was accused of seeing a relatively harmless issue through the lens of “white privilege,” and others piled on, saying we needed to listen to the accuser because she’s a “person of color.” She’s Asian-American, and while I don’t know too much about her, I know she went to very good Boston-area colleges for undergrad and law school. My Starbucks barmate, an African-American man who’s old enough to have seen some shit, got a good chuckle out of that.

That’s not to deny that Asian-Americans have ever had it tough. Rosa Parks isn’t part of their experience, but WWII internment and other atrocities are. They’re simply different experiences. Not all “persons of color” have the same circumstances, just as not all white people do.

“White privilege” is real — in certain contexts. A Trump child and a poor kid from a meth-addicted family in Appalachia may not have much in common other than the fact that they’ll never face discrimination based on the color of their skin. But that one thing in common is huge.

And, as the person in our discussion insisted, “white privilege” isn’t inherently evil. It just is. It’s just a blind spot. We have them when we’re driving, and it takes a lot of effort to see what’s there, and even then, we don’t get the best view. And we all have those blind spots, whether it’s from race, class or whatever.

One of the people in our Facebook discussion argued that I should try to consider that the author was writing this “to and for other black women.” I took issue with that. Then I second-guessed myself again. Here’s why:

I’m surely a little defensive this week because I’ve been shredded on a message board (and elsewhere, but the message board is pertinent here). This message board is by and for lesbians. Years ago, when I noticed it was sending me a lot of traffic and people were discussing my work (at the time, a nice even split of appreciation and criticism), a couple of people from the board reached out and asked me not to identify the board. I agreed, and I agreed I would never post to it — even though it’s anonymous and no one would know.

Over the years, that message board has gotten a bit more hostile. I know several people who no longer participate. They hate me, and they hate most women’s soccer journalists. But they also hate each other, so we shouldn’t take it personally.

It’s also become a classic “bubble” in which false narratives and fake news take root. People on that board accused me of taking money from the Washington Spirit to write a blog post that devoted most of its words to criticizing the Spirit but defended the club on two counts most important to them — the “homophobia” charges against the owner and the Ali Krieger trade. (Not the scant return on that trade, just the notion of trading her in general.) And they accused me of other unprofessional conduct as well.

The way it works on that board is this:

  • Post A: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe falsified evidence.”
  • Post B: “Yeah, he’s a jerk.”
  • Post C: “Yeah, can you believe he falsified evidence?”
  • Post D: “Yeah. I bet he’s also cruel to animals. That’s just typical for someone who falsified evidence.”

The flip speculation becomes the “truth.” It’s as true on this board as it is in any obnoxious community of wingnuts who start blaming immigrants and liberals for everything in life.

All a valid concern. But was I incorrectly applying it to this piece on Dolezal? I think so. The target audience may have been “black women,” but it’s out there for all to see. There’s nothing false in it. And others who’ve read it don’t believe that it props up any unfair stereotypes of white people. An intelligent person isn’t going to read it and think all white people are like Dolezal. Anyone who does read it that way … well, that person probably brought a few issues to the table already.

And there’s value in having a community. A piece that’s written “for black women” (or for Hispanic men or Scandinavians or whatever) isn’t inherently feeding a malicious bubble. For one thing, there’s no barrier to entry. Nothing stopped me from reading that piece. If something had been factually inaccurate (and I didn’t see anything of that sort), nothing would stop me from being able to point it out.

That piece may be “for black women.” But not in any discriminatory sense. Anyone’s welcome. (Now, if a white person tried to pretend to be black … well …)

And that community brings me back to the Aimee Mann/Jonathan Coulton show. Should I feel guilty that I was in a theatre in D.C. watching a show in which we white people joke and write sad songs about how much our lives suck? I don’t think so.

lame

It did occur to me that there’s some “white privilege” at play in the sense that most of the people in the theatre live relatively comfortable lives in which they can afford to make fun of their own lameness. It’s not exclusively white, of course, and there are surely plenty people of color who can relate to Coulton’s sad/witty take on suburban ennui and isolation:

And I don’t think people would want Coulton writing about the African-American experience, at least not with any pretense of living it first-hand. That would make him … Rachel Dolezal.

But the important thing about communities like the one at the concert or the one reading the Dolezal article isn’t who’s there. It’s who’s welcome. Singing or writing a piece that’s going to resonate mostly with people of your own skin color isn’t inherently wrong. Telling people they’re not welcome — that is wrong.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, the Internet seems to be splitting into communities that refuse to converse with each other. It might be some alt-right race-baiting site. It might be a message board that slanders people in ways that can be Googled, then tells them to quit reacting on Twitter, let alone coming onto the board to try to reason with anyone. We’ve seen the havoc that such things can wreak in politics. And I have to admit it’s been getting me down on a personal level. It’s tough to find a place where we belong. Sounds odd coming from someone with more than 1,000 Facebook friends and more than 7,000 Twitter followers (most of whom signed on years ago when I was one of USA TODAY’s first Twitter users), but that’s where we stand.

Not sure what to do about it. If I were as brilliant as Aimee Mann or Jonathan Coulton, maybe I’d write a song about it.

But the Internet’s not all bad. It allows me to write long self-examinations that prove that I engage in long self-examinations. (And if the colleague who accused me of never doing that is reading — hi!)

And Jonathan Coulton has released a lot of songs under a Creative Commons license, so you can enjoy this or several other animations of a song about a zombie trying to convince his co-worker that it’s simply not “big picture” of him to try to keep the zombies from eating his brains:

 

The best Canadian songs ever

I heard the Sloan song Underwhelmed today, which naturally made me think of the best Canadian songs ever.

Apparently, the CBC made a list of 100 in 2004. (The CBC site has redesigned, so I couldn’t find the original.) Some of it makes sense. Some of it just looks like random selections from notable bands. (Seriously, Monster Hospital is the pick from Metric?) And the Guess Who’s American Woman features prominently in the great but now outdated book The Worst Rock n Roll Records of All Time. With good reason.  

I can’t do 100. But I figure I can do 10 and limit it to one per band (otherwise, I’ll have scores of Rush, Metric, Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan songs). The song’s rank in the CBC list is in parentheses:

  1. Rush, Tom Sawyer (7)
  2. Metric, Gimme Sympathy (NA)
  3. Barenaked Ladies, The Old Apartment (NA)
  4. Red Rider, Lunatic Fringe (NA)
  5. Sarah McLachlan, Building a Mystery (40)
  6. Gordon Lightfoot, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (29, below Sundown)
  7. Alanis Morissette, You Oughta Know (31)
  8. Sloan, Underwhelmed (58)
  9. Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Takin’ Care of Business (34)
  10. Bryan Adams, Cuts Like a Knife (NA)

 

Link Dump, 5-22-16: Emerson/Tufnel, the death of facts

If I shared everything I read, I would have such a high volume of social media output that no one would follow me any more.

So, on occasion, I’m going to do what I’m calling “Link Dump.” It’s a potpourri of … stuff I found online and enjoyed. Or found interesting. Or stupid.

Here goes:

FACTS, SCHMACTS

Fact-checking in a “post-fact world”The question of what is propaganda and what is truth has plagued politics since politics began. But the nature of information in the social media age means it keeps getting easier for politicians, partisans, computerized “bots” and foreign governments to manipulate news, and it keeps getting harder to correct this.

Why Are the Highly Educated So Liberal?Raises a better question — why are academics so terrible at explaining facts?

How Philosophers at Stanford Have Mastered the Online EncyclopediaWikipedia with a little less vandalism.

Why Wikipedia cannot claim the earth is not flat: A Wikipedia guide to editing fringe beliefs on Wikipedia.

BUT WE MEAN WELL …

The end of empathy: I’m not convinced empathy is dead. I just think people feel more entitled to be as mean as they wanna be.

Can the Christian Left Be a Real Political Force?: I kind of doubt it, but it’s interesting.

CLIMATE CHANGE WILL BE REAL WHEN WE CAN MAKE A BUCK ON IT

Atlantic City Gambles on Rising SeasThe casinos will be fine. But if you live there …

Miami businesses say it’s a moneymaker to adapt for warmingBy a fellow News & Record alum

YE NAIRN LABBE … WAIT, THOSE ARE SOCCER PLAYERS

17 Utterly Charming Articles on Scots Wikipedia: I still have no idea whether this is real.

AND A MUSIC BREAK …

A Brief History of the Devil’s TritoneC to F-sharp? Heresy!

Are Algorithms Ruining How We Discover Music?Not really, but I’d still argue Launch was better at algorithms than Spotify and Pandora are.

When I met Clint EastwoodSort of. The Chronicle has more archives online now. Check page 3.

Independent Label CEO Still Very Dependent on Mom Making DinnerDateline — Athens, Ga.! (Not real.)

Echobelly – now it feels right!At least, that’s what the translation from Russian says. Includes clips of this charming Britpop band, now making a comeback of sorts.

Run-DMC/Aerosmith oral historyThough it’s pretty clear that some of the people involved did a few things to alter their memories.

Meet the Moog: Video of Keith Emerson demonstrating his complex gear while channeling Spinal Tap …

 

 

 

 

Jim Sherman, rock and roll teacher: 1947-2016

We just stayed and jammed.

shermanI’m not even sure why Mr. Carter, a social studies teacher, was in the music trailer behind the gym. But he and I and Mr. Sherman, the merry ringleader of the eclectic “music” offerings in this trailer, were hanging around after school and playing — Mr. Carter on keyboards, me probably on guitar, Mr. Sherman on whatever. We’d always heard he played every instrument except harp and bagpipes, and he was learning bagpipes.

Ted Pecchio, now a professional musician, poked his head in the trailer and said he had his bass with him. Could he join in?

And that’s how the Athens Academy Jazz Band was formed.

Not that we really played “jazz” in any conventional sense. “Jam Band” would’ve made more sense. We took any old tune or just a 12-bar blues progression and played.

At our first performance, we had about five minutes left in a school assembly. We played considerably longer than that. Everyone was late to the next class. Everyone loved us.

We wound up adding a couple of people after that. I can’t remember who else joined besides Matt Sligh, who was our emcee of sorts.

All of our music had that ad hoc improvisational quality to it. We were a small school. Our “band” would be whatever permutation of people we could find. Some of us did lunchtime music in the cafeteria — one day, I played saxophone, though I could only play in one key because the fingerings in that key were identical to those on my clarinet. Picking up a new instrument wasn’t new for me — I wound up on stand-up bass because it was just the top four strings on a guitar, turned sideways. Right?

It would’ve sounded like a train wreck if not for Mr. Sherman, who could pick up any instrument at hand and save the day.

At times, he was the clown prince of music. He would play a saxophone with a rubber chicken hanging out. At graduation rehearsals, he would gradually morph Pomp and Circumstance into something else — maybe Take Me Out to the Ball Game or the Budweiser jingle.

His jolly demeanor masked a prodigious mind. He spoke several languages, having grown up in a diverse part of Chicago. He had trained to be a priest — on one road trip, he suggested he could do a quick Mass in the parking lot if anyone worried about missing church.

And he had impeccable musicianship, showing me how much more the human brain could process. I sat next to him when he played Christmas tunes for a holiday singalong. For some reason, we did Joy to the World twice. I noticed that he changed keys the second time around, transposing it in his head. He told me never to play the same song in the same key twice.

So I felt anything was possible in music. Play multiple instruments, including one you just picked up. Make people laugh. Get a “fake book” that gives a couple of chords and figure out a song on the fly from there.

That’s the life he lived. In addition to his position at the Academy, he gave lessons and performed. I remember going out to dinner at a nice-ish Athens restaurant and seeing him at the piano, cheerfully setting the ambiance. (I think he skipped Take Me Out to the Ball Game.)

My music teachers all meant the world to me, and they’ve continued their work for decades. Jane Douglas, who taught me piano and encouraged my interest in music theory, was still playing music in Athens in her 80s. Earl Ayers, whose band classes were the highlight of my Clarke Middle years, switched schools but is also still teaching in Athens. Rodney Wynkoop, the Duke Chorale and Chapel Choir director, was such a good teacher that I wound up majoring in music.

On Saturday, Mr. Sherman was at the piano at Piccolo’s Italian Steakhouse in Watkinsville. On Sunday, he passed away.

Far too young, of course. He had only been retired from the Academy for a few years. But I take some comfort in knowing he was making people smile in his last evening on this earth.

Now there’s probably a great jam session going on in Heaven. A departed Scotsman on the bagpipes. A harpist. And Mr. Sherman on everything else.

And I see his spirit in my son, sitting down at the piano or the drums and figuring out how to make something work. If I can pass along any of Mr. Sherman’s attitude, I’ll be as successful a parent as he was a teacher.

Thanks for the education. And the jam sessions.

Revisiting the messiest Yes album — Union!

I’m not much of a podcast listener. Perhaps it’s because I spend little time commuting, or perhaps I rarely find a podcast I prefer to turning up my favorite music.

But one I can enthusiastically recommend is the aptly named Yes Music Podcast. Host Kevin Mulryne is quintessentially British, using a calm, analytical tone to describe and dissect the music of Yes and some of its offshoots. He has interviewed some of the band members, most recently the longtime voice of Yes himself, Jon Anderson.

The podcast recently took a look back in the Yes catalog to give a fresh listen to Big Generator, the second album of the Trevor Rabin era. It’s not as memorable as 90125, the stunning debut for the Rabin lineup, but Kevin decided it was worth another try.

Inspired by that pair of podcasts, I decided to dive into an album that causes shudders among many in Yes circles. Rick Wakeman famously called it “Onion” because listening to it made him cry.

It is, of course, Union.

And it is, sadly, a dishonest album at its core. It’s less of a “Union” and more of a shotgun marriage between two distinct camps that were struggling.

Anderson had left Yes after Big Generator and reunited with three of the members who had played on the classic albums Fragile and Close To The Edge — Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford. Howe had stuck with Anderson and Yes through the 70s before detouring into Asia. Wakeman left and returned for Going For The One, not as well known as the earlier albums but very well regarded. This group recorded the eponymous Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and toured with “An Evening of Yes Music Plus.” They had been trying to put together a second album.

The other Yes member from those classic albums — in fact, on every Yes album to date — was Chris Squire. He remained with the rest of the crew that produced 90125 and Big Generator — Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye and Alan White. They had made far less progress than ABWH, trying out a couple of new vocalists such as Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson but not getting anything done.

The liner notes to Union put a charming positive spin on the situation:

“When Jon arrived in Los Angeles to work on vocals for the ABWH tracks, he called Trevor, who took the opportunity of playing Jon several new songs that he was in the process of writing. When Jon heard the music, he immediately felt he wanted to be a part of it and suggested he add his vocals to the songs. Trevor, in turn, realized that Jon’s unique vocal style was just what the music needed.”

I have no idea how receptive Rabin actually was to all of this, but when I first read this nearly 25 years ago, I pictured a record company executive twisting Rabin’s arm behind his back, yelling, “JON’S VOICE IS WHAT THIS MUSIC NEEDS!” Then Rabin grimacing back, saying, “Yes! Yes! I realize that!”

The liner notes continue: “Jon also heard some new music that Chris, Tony and Alan had been working on with producer Eddy Offord and added his vocals to this also. In this new spirit of harmony, it was only logical that Chris add his distinctive vocals to the new ABWH tracks, which by then had been completed by Bill, Rick and Steve.”

Well, sort of. In reality, the ABWH tracks were dumped into the lap of producer Jonathan Elias, who called in an armada of keyboard players (11 are credited on these tracks in addition to Wakeman), a couple of percussionists and guitarist Jimmy Haun, who wound up playing with Kaye and White in a side project called Circa several years later.

My Popdose colleague Dw. Dunphy summed up the result: “The keyboards are incredibly busy, even for a prog album – they’re shoved in every crack and crevice, and often have no cohesive thread to them. They become noise for the sake of noise.”

Dunphy also thinks the non-Elias songs were punched up a bit in the process. As a result, we really can’t be sure who played what. We may have one song that was Anderson DrumMachine Porcaro Levin Haun, another that was Anderson Rabin Squire Kaye White Elias, etc.

But as much as some band members may blame Elias or corporate overlords’ unseen hands or whatever, their own dysfunction played a massive role in weighing down the whole project.

Here’s Elias, looking back: “I didn’t realize how dark the baggage was within that band and how much they hated each other… I honestly believe I was the central focus of hatred for Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe, who couldn’t stand each other. Even though Jon Anderson was the co-producer of the record, and was constantly urging me to work with other players, which we subsequently did, he took none of the heat because they were so scared of him. … I felt the only redeeming value of the whole band was Trevor Rabin who remains the best element in Yes other than Jon.”

Rabin didn’t think much of the end product at all.

“I think the tracks that I’m proud of on that album are Miracle of Life and Lift Me Up. I think the rest of the album’s not worth listening to.” (He goes on to add that he also liked The More We Live – Let Go.)

So it seems no one involved has positive memories of this album.

But I do. If only because of the timing or the tour that sprang from this album, when all eight Yes members played together. It was beautiful. And they made a documentary of that tour called YesYears, which I watched over and over so I could delight in Rick Wakeman’s wry wit, Steve Howe’s bizarre tangents and Bill Bruford’s playfully acerbic take on the whole enterprise.

Even on that tour, though, they didn’t play a lot of music from this album. Lift Me Up and Shock to the System were played at every show. Saving My Heart made it on about a third of the dates. Steve Howe sometimes played Masquerade in his solo section, and Setlist.fm has one mention of the album’s closer, Take The Water To The Mountain.

The strangest personal take for me, though, is that Union is the only CD I ever bought that developed a glitch that rendered it unplayable. That’s all the more reason I hadn’t listened to the whole thing in years.

Thanks to Spotify, I sat down and listened this afternoon. Here’s what I thought …

I Would Have Waited Forever (ABWH with Squire backing vocals) — It’s a promising start, isn’t it? Jon’s voice is brimming with positive vibes, the Yes chorus adds texture, and we’re off! And then it almost immediately bogs down. The guitar riff isn’t particularly inviting, and we get some random keyboard bursts over the top. Chris Squire — oh, excuse me, that must be Tony Levin — pops in with some interesting counterpoint to spice things up, but the verses are simply plodding. The acoustic interlude leads nicely into the solo. It’s a fitting overture to the album — good ideas sandbagged in a mishmash of styles, like a beautiful prog-rock piece desperately trying to burst out of something grittier.

Shock To The System (AWBH) — Perhaps a little too self-indulgent toward the end with a rather aimless guitar riff after Steve Howe’s scales. (Or are they Jimmy Haun’s? The bass here certainly sounds like Chris Squire, but if you go by the liner notes, it’s Levin.) But this is a solid track. I love Yes’ versatility, from beautiful harmonies to powerful riffs like this. This is a good showcase of what Yes was capable of doing in the 80s and 90s. Rabin says he hated playing this one live, but I rather enjoyed it.

Masquerade (Steve Howe solo) — Perhaps not as memorable as The Clap or Mood For A Day, but a Howe acoustic solo is usually a pleasant listen, and this is no exception.

Lift Me Up (Rabin/Squire) — The pop hit of the album, with good hooks riddled throughout, from the memorable chorus to Squire’s perky bass runs. It suffers from a bit of overproduction as well, and it’s almost comical to hear Rabin’s voice yelling the second syllable of “mountain,” as if he or the production team needed to remind us that this is fundamentally his song. The structure is more coherent than many songs on this album — or, indeed, on many Yes tracks in the decades after this. We get a strong opening, a more subdued and earnest verse, then a chorus that soars. By the end, when Rabin breaks into the solo, we can’t help but be swept away. Wakeman is even smiling in the video:

Before you say that’s coincidence, he’s also smiling in this live clip:

Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day (AWBH with Squire) — It’s a good theme for Yes, a sympathetic look at the downtrodden. Anderson’s vocals are moving. But we have to wonder if this track falls in the “what might have been” category. Wikipedia, citing Tim Morse’s book Yesstories, says Rick Wakeman initially recorded a piano part that sounded like Rachmaninoff, but Jonathan Elias played something simpler. Wouldn’t we all love to hear what it sounded like with Wakeman’s part? In any case, the song soon bogs down in another plodding riff and an odd time signature that seems tacked on to remind us we’re listening to a prog-rock master. It’s a disappointment.

Saving My Heart (Rabin) — The chorus has potential. The verses do not. Rabin apparently had reservations about this one, and his instincts were right. Frankly, another band might do a better job with this one. It’s just not a good fit for Yes.

Miracle Of Life (Rabin with Mark Mancina) — It’s a jarring start, complex and fast, reminiscent of the start of Close to the Edge. But it’s also friendlier, resolving to some acoustic instruments and the Yes chorus. Unfortunately, it ends up with a lot of layers and not much of a song. It’s a quantity over quality approach that drowns the song. Co-writer Mark Mancina also worked with Rabin on the soundtrack to the wretched film Con Air.

Silent Talking (ABWH) — One of the shorter tracks on the album, and it never really gets going.

The More We Live – Let Go (Squire with Billy Sherwood) — Sherwood nearly joined Yes here, did indeed join Yes later and has recently rejoined under sad circumstances — he is the replacement for Squire, who has passed away. I had vague memories of this song being interesting. It is, but it’s not the most engaging tune here.

Angkor Wat (AWBH) — Again from Wikipedia, citing Morse: “Wakeman recorded each layer without hearing what he recorded before.” It’s an interesting experiment that ends up sounding like meditation music. Not the sort of track you’d listen to over and over again, and not something I could see Yes attempting live. But it’s worth checking out.

Dangerous (AWBH with Squire) — This is Yes? Compressed guitars. Slap bass? Yes has gone through several styles through the years, but this just doesn’t work.

Holding On (AWBH) — The ideas were really running thin by this point. The guitar riff from the opening song is reprised. Just when I was nearly hooked into the song by some clever bass riffs, it abruptly launched into another style. By the four-minute mark, it’s almost as if we have 10 people playing parts without anything tying them together. (In fact, it may be exactly that.)

Evensong (Levin/Bruford) — A Tony Levin/Bill Bruford duet, with Levin coaxing some unusual tones out of what I’m assuming is a Chapman stick and Bruford adding percussion with an Asian influence. It’s a brief, fascinating listen, like looking at an artist’s sketch of a larger project. Did they ever record that larger project, or did their work in King Crimson suffice?

Take the Water to the Mountain (AWBH, Anderson sole writer) — As with many of the songs that would’ve been on Side 2 in the vinyl and cassette days, I had little memory of this song. Listening again all these years later reveals a pleasant surprise. Like Holy Lamb on Big Generator, this is a simple, spiritual offering from Jon Anderson, and it’s an enjoyable listen. Other band members (or any number of the studio musicians Elias assembled) add nice textures without overwhelming the song. It makes you wonder what might have been if Elias and company had let the other songs on this album “breathe” as this one does.

So I count five solid Yes songs, then a few experiments of varying success and a couple of songs that never needed to be released.

I imagine an alternate timeline in which this music is abandoned and then properly recorded years later, like Fly From Here. Some of the songs, of course, would be poorer without Jon Anderson. But I would gladly listen to I Would Have Waited Forever re-recorded with Jon Davison’s voice and the Trevor Horn/Geoff Downes team finding smart arrangements.

Progressive rock bands follow a winding path. Rush, which has had the same three members for 40 years, has gone through some interesting detours. Union finds Yes at an intriguing crossroads in its complex history. These songs will never occupy the same space in my heart and mind as Yours Is No Disgrace, Roundabout, And You And I, Awaken, or Owner Of A Lonely Heart. But I didn’t regret owning this CD at the time. And I don’t regret revisiting it today.

Rolling Stone and Rush mythbusting

On its 40th anniversary tour, Rush has officially broken down the last of the rock establishment’s resistance. They’re on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Even better, the article is terrific. It doesn’t just rehash the band’s history. It captures them as a vibrant group of human beings. They make mistakes in rehearsals and struggle to play their difficult songs. Geddy Lee gets clever revenge on Joe Perry.

The story should also drive the last nail in the notion that Neil Peart is a right-wing role model or even a good Ayn Rand disciple. He gives money to a homeless person and talks about regaining his generosity, which admittedly seems to run counter to the message of Anthem.

And he gets more explicit in his politics:

Peart outgrew his Ayn Rand phase years ago, and now describes himself as a “bleeding-heart libertarian,” citing his trips to Africa as transformative. He claims to stand by the message of “The Trees,” but other than that, his bleeding-heart side seems dominant. Peart just became a U.S. citizen, and he is unlikely to vote for Rand Paul, or any Republican. Peart says that it’s “very obvious” that Paul “hates women and brown people” — and Rush sent a cease-and-desist order to get Paul to stop quoting “The Trees” in his speeches.

“For a person of my sensibility, you’re only left with the Democratic party,” says Peart, who also calls George W. Bush “an instrument of evil.” “If you’re a compassionate person at all. The whole health-care thing — denying mercy to suffering people? What? This is Christian?”

So perhaps the last decade of Rush going mainstream is simply a matter of seeing them as thoughtful, compassionate people. Not wind-up machines who play every note perfectly and pledge allegiance to libertarianism.