The Show that Never Ends

The Newberry Opera House got jolted last night, when progressive rock drum legend Carl Palmer came to town with his power trio, ELP Legacy. I got to the Opera House about 45 minutes before showtime, and I checked out the merch table. Because I didn’t want to have to sleep with one eye open for the rest of my life, I managed to resist the urge to buy the $400 autographed snare drum. Instead, I opted for the gig-used drumstick for $20. The urge to own a relic is strong.

As I waited for Justin (the other half of the Berries’ rhythm section) to arrive, I watched the crowd. Most appeared to be in my general demographic, maybe a little older, and there was a large gathering of Homo Sapiens Progdorkicus (which I suppose includes Your Humble Narrator) there as well. I saw at least one eight-year-old boy wearing a Court of the Crimson King T-shirt. That’s OK, kid… prom in ten years would have just been money you could spend on the Gentle Giant catalogue.

A few minutes before showtime, I struck up a conversation with the Opera House’s technical director, who had a lengthy career as a touring tech guy before settling down in Mondoville. “These guys are loud,” he said. “People are going to feel this.” This is not what subscribers to the Opera House’s annual programs usually expect, but I thought it was welcome news. Justin and I wondered how many of the more sedate attendees would make it through the first tune.

We sat in one of the boxes on the orchestra level, with the stage to our right:

Palmer stage setup

The show began on time, a couple of minutes after I sat down, with a ferocious rendition of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” In fact, ferocity was a motif of the entire show — guitarist Paul Bielatowicz filled each solo with two-handed tapping and sweep picking that covered the high melody lines, while Simon Fitzpatrick used a six-string bass and Chapman Stick to maintain a bludgeoning sonic impact. However, each was also capable of playing with delicacy and dynamic control, which they demonstrated during feature spots in the two-hour set. Both of these guys are players to watch.

And Carl Palmer, of course, remains Carl Palmer. I’ve enjoyed his work since I was a kid, probably from the first time I heard “Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Part 2)” on an AOR station in Nashville. However, I’d never gotten to see him in such an intimate setting, and his drums were far enough forward in the mix (Hey, it’s his band) that each stroke was distinct. And as usual, Palmer has more chops than a karate class. Every song included high speed 4- and 6-stroke ruffs on the double bass drums, and his left hand speed is — well, terrifying. Even at 65 years old, and even after a recording career that has spanned almost 50 years, he’s playing at speeds that will even make metalheads nod approvingly, and he’s still working in logarithmic time signatures.

The set list included numerous ELP favorites, from the band’s heyday of the early to mid-70s. One medley went from “Mars, Bringer of War” into “The Barbarian”, and the group also did a fine version of the Tarkus suite. Palmer would step out from behind the kit between tunes to introduce the songs, crack jokes, and tell stories about his history — he says a memoir will be coming out next year. He was affable and a little wise-assed, and the crowd (which was about two-thirds capacity) delighted in it. All the songs were instrumental versions, and while at first it was a bit odd to miss Greg Lake’s vocals, the songs are more than satisfactory listening even without them.

But all good things must come to an end, and eventually some sequenced horns led the band into its version of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” including Palmer’s solo. Here’s a version of it from a recent show, and last night’s version was very like this:

The trio took their bows, but didn’t leave the stage, and resumed their places for an encore of Copland’s “Hoedown,” while a projector displayed photos and clips spanning Palmer’s life and career. Another set of bows later, the band made its way back to the lobby for signings and a meet-and-greet with the audience. The policy was that Carl would sign one old item and one purchase from the merch table. I got him to sign the CD booklet from my copy of Brain Salad Surgery, and although the stick I bought already had his name on it, I found a nice substitute:

Carl Palmer and Me

I’m the one on the left.


Posted in Music, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Mottes, Baileys, and the Contemporary Scene

As the Yalies in the process of being educated beyond their intelligence have been throwing their recent tantrums, I’ve heard more than a few people argue that this is the sort of thing PC has wrought. Indeed, the sort of nonsense we’ve seen at Yale, Claremont, and Amherst seems like a fine case of chickens coming home to roost, as Jonah Goldberg has noted:

Outside of the actual headquarters of the Democratic party itself, no major institution in America today is more thoroughly run and controlled by the Left than academia. For several years now, whenever I’ve visited a college campus, I’ve tried to make the following point. It basically goes like this:

You kids think it is somehow rebellious to be liberal. So let me see if I get this right. The administrators at this school are liberal. The professors are liberal. Your high-school teachers were probably liberal. Your textbooks are, for the most part, liberal. Hollywood is liberal. The music industry is liberal. The fashion industry is liberal. Publishing is liberal. The mainstream media are liberal. Silicon Valley is liberal. Believe it or not, most corporations and the overwhelming majority of charitable foundations are liberal. And yet, you think you’re sticking it to the man by agreeing with them?

Moreover, it’s been like this for generations. It was true when most of these administrators and faculty were born — they have grown up inside a universe where this fact was simply taken for granted. With the Left given total control of these oases of tolerance and citadels of progressivism, what do we get? We get pampered and coddled students screaming that these institutions are hotbeds of racism, homophobia, sexism, and the rest of the 31 Flavors of Oppression.  I’m sorry, but over here by the hibachi in the parking lot, that’s just frick’n hilarious.

So anyway, I’ve noted more than a few people who conveniently want to ignore their little Red Guards, preferring to argue that slagging PC (and PC-ness — which includes the insane notions that speech equals violence and that students are entitled to “safe spaces” —  and which, make no mistake, is the rationale behind the junior Robespierres on campus) is nothing less than showing disdain for basic courtesy and politeness. Now, the most reasonable response to such a claim is, and I quote, “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!” However, since I’m in the education racket, I suppose I should point out the fact that these folks are at best, committing a fallacy, and more likely arguing in bad faith. And there’s even a medieval component!

Let’s do that part first. Back in the Middle Ages, the community around a castle could be divided into two main sections, the motte and the bailey. The bailey would be the courtyard area within the walls of the castle’s territory, where one might find smithies, parade grounds, and other places where ordinary life might take place. The castle proper — what we might think of as the keep — would be centrally placed on a raised earthwork called a motte. In the event of an attack, the defenders could retreat from the bailey into the more secure, defensible keep on the motte. The idea was that under normal circumstances, one could conduct life in the bailey, retreating to the motte as needed only to sally forth again after the threat was gone.

This strategy has given its name to the type of argument we’re now discussing. The claim that political correctness is simply a synonym for politeness is the motte, the point to which its advocates retreat when challenged. Under other circumstances, however, the advocates of PC will claim every square foot available, not only making it a bailey but (to extend the analogy of battle) mining the area in the manner that dejobbed the dean at Claremont. They will then conflate both bailey and motte, claiming a disagreement at the extremes (some of PC’s neo-puritanical elements) is an attack on the central idea (politeness). We can see a similar strategy in some sectors of the feminist movement. When excursions into the bailey (rape culture, for example; gender feminism, for another) alienate people, the response is the retreat to the motte, in the claim that all feminists “really want” is stuff like the right to vote and equity feminism.

I say this is spinach, and I say to hell with it. If you believe that people who disagree with you — even people who offend you — should be mobbed, hounded from the workplace, re-educated/”sensitivity trained” or otherwise punished, you aren’t arguing for politeness. You’re arguing for fascism. Own it and defend it if it’s what you believe, but don’t pretend that politeness is all you really want. If you can’t defend the bailey, maybe its not worth the fight.

Posted in Culture, Education, Medievalia, Politics | Leave a comment

Destination Unknown

Headline from today’s Chronicle of Higher Ed (Alas, behind a paywall):

“When Pursuing Diversity, Victory Is Hard to Define.”

Well, duh! If you actually have a definition, you might accidentally achieve your goal, and then people would have to quit complaining/find real jobs/stop thinking of themselves as the moral compasses for the rest of us.

That’s not a bug to the multicultists — it’s a feature.

Posted in Culture, Education, Politics | Leave a comment

QotD: A Word from the Great Cham Edition

We’re heading into the home stretch of my 18th-C. course; we’ll spend the next two weeks reading Johnson, and finish the term with Boswell’s bio. Today, we talked about The Vanity of Human Wishes and a couple of essays from the Rambler and Idler. The Idler essay was the wonderful piece on Mr. Sober, who fritters his life away by pretending to be busy, but today’s QotD is from the earlier Rambler piece:

It is too common for those who have been bred to scholastic professions, and passed much of their time in academies where nothing but learning confers honours, to disregard every other qualification, and to imagine that they shall find mankind ready to pay homage to their knowledge, and to crowd about them for instruction. They therefore step out from their cells into the open world with all the confidence of authority and dignity of importance; they look round about them at once with ignorance and scorn, on a race of beings to whom they are equally unknown and equally contemptible[.]

I suspect this is why so many intellectuals seem to believe in their fitness to rule (and why they’re so often suckered into supporting changes that may promise them power, but will end in their being discarded — if they’re lucky), and why we see so much of a sense of entitlement at our elite schools, whether in the faculty or the student body.

Posted in Culture, Education, Politics | 1 Comment

Laying Down Markers

Not long ago, I mentioned that the University of Chicago’s Statement on Free Expression had been adapted into a model statement by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It seems that such statements are needed now more than ever, and in that spirit, I recently proposed the model statement to my institution’s Faculty Council, with an eye toward presenting it to the full faculty. I proposed it not as a binding measure — there are existing statements on academic freedom in our faculty documents, and any expansions of that sort would have to be approved by the school’s Board of Trustees — nor in response to any attempts at restraint here at the college. In fact, I have never believed myself to be silenced here in Mondoville, as anyone who has had lunch with me in the college cafeteria can attest.

Nonetheless, I believe we are seeing an increasingly chilly climate for expression in America’s colleges and universities, and a corresponding rise in mobs of overgrown toddlers spouting nonsense like, “[A Yale faculty member] needs to stop instigating more debate.” Of course, that’s precisely the opposite of intellectual growth, but someone’s feelings may be bruised, so offenders must be shouted down or otherwise silenced. (And if not saying anything offends someone, well, let’s get rid of those folks too!) I despise mobs. Consequently, I think it would be a good idea for the faculty of which I’m a member to reaffirm a commitment to free expression, even if that affirmation is symbolic and non-binding. Hence, my submission of the statement to the faculty council. As I told my colleagues there, I think of this action as prophylactic in nature — and perhaps a step toward extending the freedom we faculty enjoy to the larger campus community.

Well, I’m pleased to report that the council voted to forward the statement for consideration to the full faculty. More as it happens, but I’m glad we’ve moved this far.

Posted in Culture, Education, Politics | Leave a comment

The Cheapest House on the Nicest Street

In my youth, I read the autobiography of a Jewish comic or humorist in the stacks of Reader’s Digest that I plowed through one summer. I don’t remember who it was — (Update: Sam Levenson, from the October 1973 issue! Thanks, Google!) — but I remember a passage that went like this: “They compared me with Heifetz. ‘A Heifetz he ain’t!'”

That’s kind of how I feel about my writing, especially when Lawrence Block drops a hint about a project that includes this line:

[…] I can tell you that the book will include extraordinary new work by Warren Moore, Joe R. Lansdale, Jill D. Block, Robert Olen Butler, and Joyce Carol Oates. And I’ve written a story myself, but it would hardly be meet for me to contend that it’s extraordinary.

That’s some pretty rarefied air, and it feels weird seeing my name in that list. More info as it develops, and in the meantime, check Larry’s blog for all sorts of neat stuff.

Posted in Culture, Literature | Leave a comment

Where Rhyming Slang Meets Instro Rock

Fans of instrumental rock are of course familiar with Britain’s The Shadows, and their legendary guitarist, the bespectacled Hank Marvin. Even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, you’ve likely heard these guys:

Well, as sometimes happens, the guitar hero’s name was conscripted into rhyming slang as a synonym for hunger. (Rhymes with “Starvin’.”) And in a move like the recent Snickers commercials (“You’re not you when you’re hungry.”), Brit snackmakers Mattessons used this to advantage in 2012. It made me smile this rainy Sunday morning — I hope it makes you smile as well.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to surf rock superhero (and Hillsdale econ prof) Ivan Pongracic, Jr. (And if you get the urge, check out his current surf outfit, the Madeira.)

Posted in Culture, Music | 3 Comments