The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, November 18, 2013
Music ... Society ...

I was thinking today about my religious heritage, and it reminded me of a song. For the most part, my religious heritage is . . . well, nothing and everything! I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition, and I remained loyal to that faith well into my 30’s. For various reasons, I became a “roam-in catholic” after that, roaming from religion to religion. I committed myself to the Episcopalians for a few years (not much of a commitment, I guess), sat with a Quaker congregation on and off for about a year, went to a Unitarian church for a few weeks, visited a few Buddhist groups, and for the past 3 years have been a part of a Zen sangha. Furthermore, my initial DNA ancestry results indicate that my paternal grandfather may have hailed from a Jewish family. If this evidence holds up, I may need to somehow honor the Jewish tradition in my old age.

I’ve also read quite a bit about all of the major world faith systems, and include many of their sacred writings within my evening prayer routine. I even give atheism it’s due; I feel that faith and doubt are two sides of one coin; they are part of a yin-yang complementarity, like the quantum wave-particle dualism of light. Without a legitimate atheist shadow in our lives, we could never take God seriously. I think that God wants us to have our doubts, even though it causes a deep existential longing, a sometimes painful longing. No pain, no gain.

But that aside, the song that came to mind today was “Universal Soldier“, which was originally written and recorded in 1964 by Buffy Sainte Marie, a Canadian folk singer that I’m not otherwise familiar with. I remember “Universal Soldier” because  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:20 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Music ... Personal Reflections ...

My brother and I started a new family tradition about a year or so ago; just about every Friday night at 8, we gather ’round a TV and tune into VH1 Classic, to watch a re-run of That Metal Show. For those of you who may not be fans of metal and classic hard rock music, That Metal Show is hosted by Eddie Trunk, a fellow from New Jersey who gained a reputation over the past decade or two as a DJ, VJ, author and impresario about metal bands and their music. Actually, Eddie takes an expansive view of metal so as to acknowledge most any band, old or new, that delivers pure, hard-edged “heavy” rock music, whether “metallic” or not (he also includes Rush and Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp in his circle, despite their tendency to focus more on ballads and story-telling). He’s something of a still-young-looking fellow in his late 40’s, but Mr. Trunk nonetheless pays much attention and tribute to the now-graying musicians who opened up the metal and hard rock scene in the 1970s. (He’s also not at all what you might expect, personality-wise; Eddie Trunk comes across on TV as an extremely pleasant character, a bit rotund and generally harmless looking, a slightly matured version of the good kid from high school who just happened to play lots of Sabbath and Kiss and Priest and Iron Maiden and Deep Purple on his I-Pod between classes and after finishing his homework.)

So, my brother and I usually find ourselves on Friday watching Eddie and his two sidekicks (comedians Jim Florentine and Don Jaimison) interview various rock performers. Eddie’s show is in the classic talk-show format, although there is usually a “musical” guest who will jam a few guitar riffs or a quick drum solo just before a commercial break. What is interesting is that almost none of Eddie’s guests are “spring chickens”. That Metal Show is not for the cutting-edge acts of today like Nickleback or Halestorm or Papa Roach. While many Metal Show guests are still in pretty good shape in their 40’s and 50’s, some of them are way past their prime (such as Lemmy from Motorhead). Eddie also spends a fair amount of time keeping up on what is happening or had happened to the earliest, most venerable bands — and what is happening to them generally is old age and death. Some of these bands, such as Deep Purple, still record and perform, but many or most of the original members are now retired or dying or dead (e.g. John Lord of Purple). It’s not that unusual for Eddie to wish someone to get better after a bout with cancer.

Friday night is generally a time to kick back after a tough week at work, so I tend not to philosophize too much. But still, I can’t help but ponder the irony  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:34 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Music ... Psychology ...

I was going thru an interesting article on the neuroscience of introversion recently. There have been a surprising number of brain studies which well establish that the brains of introverts and extroverts operate quite differently. One side effect: extroverts are found to be “happier”. Well, why not, America is an extrovert culture, and those who go with the flow generally have an easier time of it. Personally, I feel more “fulfilled” as an introvert, even if my life isn’t one big smile.

Another interesting fact about introverts: our brain reacts more sensitively to certain physical stimuli. One such stimuli is lemon juice. Various tests have shown that introverts salivate quite a bit more then extroverts in response to lemon juice in the mouth. Actually, I do rather enjoy licking fresh-cut lemons (when no one else is around and only I will use them). It’s interesting that extroverts can’t easily turn a sour lemon into a pleasurable experience, as the introvert within me can.

This all reminds me of an old episode of “The Little Rascals“, one that I watched many times when growing up (one of the pleasures of summer vacation  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Music ... Society ...

Here’s a bit of trivia that an old Baby Boomer like myself could find interesting, maybe even a bit ironic. Remember the great Woodstock Music Festival of 1969? Well, I wasn’t there. But I do know that one of the dudes who helped pull it off was a fellow known as “Wavy Gravy“.

Mr. Gravy is variously touted as THE master of ceremony for Woodstock, and the chief of security . . . sort-of. He and his “Hog Farm” commune friends were designated as the team that would keep the multitudes from doing irresponsible or anti-social things. When you put 400,000 young people on a 600 acre plot (roughly like cramming the city of Atlanta into a square mile — Atlanta itself covers 132 squares), someone is going to act up, despite all the bonhomie about peace, pot, microdot, and making love not war. But Mr. Gravy and his “Please Force” managed to get everyone through it all without much more than an OD or two (actually, closer to 4,000 were treated for injuries or drug reactions, and two people died of heroin use; still not bad for something almost the size of Atlanta).

Mr. Gravy is still around, playing the quintessential hippie-clown role and doing some good  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:14 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Music ... Society ...

Two thoughts for tonight, neither seem very substantial at first glance. I composed these thoughts on the first hot day of the summer season here in NJ, and my mind was not running on all 8 cylinders at the time. But let’s have a look, nonetheless . . .

I was listening to the radio the other day and had it tuned to a classic rock station. That was just for a few minutes while my main station, WDHA, was going thru its 12 minute cycle of uninterrupted commercials. WDHA fashions itself as a new rock station, but it still plays plenty of Zeppelin and Van Halen, with Kiss and Dio thrown in the stew. That’s what the DHA people now think that rock really was in the old days. Rock revisionism, you could say.

Anyway, after zooming over to a station that takes a broader view of what ‘rock n roll’ once was, I heard a tune that hasn’t been on the airwaves in the New York metro area in a long time: Billy Joel’s “Miami 2017”, better known as  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Music ... Personal Reflections ...

I grew up listening to the radio. My father always had the car radio tuned to the standard New York metro top-20 stations such as WABC and WMCA. Eventually I got my own radio and my own car, and WNBC and WWDJ entered the mix (while WABC kept on playing the hits; it then seemed like it would do so forever). The late 60’s and 70’s dawned, and the FM stations were the place to be for the new “psychodelic” sounds (remember In A Gadda Da Vida?). WABC-FM became WPLJ, while WNEW-FM became the standard rock station of the world. They got me through high school and college, along with 8-track tapes and cassettes.

Given that I started searching for a “spiritual life” at a relatively young age, I always hoped that some positive messages about life, the universe and everything would find their way to the pop airwaves. But mostly it was about intoxication, sexuality, and the expectations and disappointments of young love.

Once in a while, some semi-religious, semi-inspiring notes and lyrics would find their way to the play list, stoking my hopes  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:50 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Music ... Science ...

Just a quick thought tonight on chaos theory and fractals . . . and music. Chaos theory, in the strict mathematical sense, is based on the notion that many natural processes and social networks operate in a fashion in which their future state, e.g. how things will be tomorrow or next year, is largely determined by their present state.

However, this does not mean that things stay the same. Systems such as the weather or the stock market become chaotic because the relationship between present and future states is “non-linear”, i.e. based on mathematical functions that in-and-of themselves twist around. There is no straight-line proportionality. Things jump around a lot; but in the long run, there are patterns that can be found within that jumping around. That’s the crux of chaos theory. Chaos theory does not deny that future states are also heavily influenced by “exogenous shocks”, i.e. “black swans”, things that aren’t part of the pattern nor within the “state space” region where the system usually noodles around.

Fractals are in some ways much like chaos and in other ways different. Fractals focus on repeating patterns that may not be obvious at first when beholding  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:42 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Brain / Mind ... Music ... Science ...

A few days after writing my Sad Song blog, about how a tune by The Cars pulled me out of the dumps on a very trying and frustrating day, I read an interview in the May Scientific American with a hearing specialist and surgeon who is performing neuroscience research on musical creativity. I.e., what goes on in the brain when a songwriter sits at a piano sit at a piano searching for a pleasing series of notes, or when a bunch of performers improvise and exchange riffs. The pace may be different in these two situations, but the overall process of creativity is about the same. But just what is that process all about?

The interviewee, Dr. Charles Limb, mostly said that more research is needed before anything definitive can be said. So the article is more about investigating an unanswered question than about explaining a new scientific discovery. Another interesting question that Dr. Limb asked towards the end of the article – and again left unanswered – is “why do we love sad music? Why does it make us feel better and not worse?” Hmmmm, that’s a darn good and interesting question, especially given how I resolved my Friday the 13th blues earlier this month. We don’t seek out other sad and depressed people when we’re feeling down; that just makes us feel worse (most of us, anyway). But we certainly do love our sad songs, and maybe movies and paintings too. What’s the difference?

If a scientist like Dr. Limb can’t give a good answer, I certainly can’t. But heck, that never stopped me before.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:01 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Music ... Personal Reflections ...

Yesterday I had the Friday the Thirteenth blues. Nothing all that bad, really. I didn’t see the doctor for test results, I didn’t lose $10,000, I didn’t lose my job (I hope), I didn’t get a thick envelope in the mail from a lawyer, and no one I knew got hurt. So yeah, I should count my blessings. But it was still a frustrating day. As the morning dragged on at work, a bunch of things that should have been settled days, weeks or months ago came back unsettled. The trend continued throughout the afternoon. More e-mails, more phone calls, more visits from co-workers. I tried to settle what I could, but the wave was too big; I left around 5 with a huge to-do list for next week. And in the midst of all this, it occurred to me that I’ll never have a romantic relationship again, as the fires and passions that ruled my youth have cooled far too much. I could never go thru the craziness of it all again.

I felt a bit better in the evening, sitting with my brother in a local bar-restaurant with a Guinness Draft under my chin. But then he got into the weekly review of the situation with his girlfriend, and it sounded pretty much like the report from last week; and the week before that, and the month before that, and . . . Well, let’s just say that they are caught in a loop . . . can’t live with you and can’t live without you. (Hmmm, maybe it ain’t so bad about my own fires having cooled . . .)

OK, it’s a little more complex than that – i.e., can’t live with your kids, whom you can’t live without, and who can’t seem to live without you, despite being in their mid-20s. I asked the usual questions:  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:18 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Music ... Personal Reflections ...

I recently met up with a guy from college who I hadn’t seen since the late 70s. His name is Al Lacki (hi Al!) and he reached out to me after accidentally coming across this web site! We had a good chat over a few beers, with lots of reminiscing, catching up, and pondering the world in a way that only engineering school graduates can ponder it. He’s got a great web site dedicated to Corvairs and other rear engine cars. If you’re into Corvairs it’s definitely a must-see site. And even if you’re not, it’s worth a visit.

In other recent doings, I got hooked on a band that started out over 20 years ago, not long after Al and I had last seen each other. They’re called Sawyer Brown, and they’re known as a modern country and western act. I was never big on country and western; it just gets too twangy and weepy and harmonic for me (although it does bring back memories of younger days when I used to cruise the hinterlands of Pennsylvania and Ohio and Maryland and Virginia on photo expeditions). Sawyer Brown is still pretty twangy and weepy and harmonic. But they mix a lot of rock and roll into their music, so it isn’t so hard for an old time rocker like me to relate to it.

I recently picked up their album “The Hits – Live”, and I have to say that it’s an easy album to listen to, with elements of evocative story-telling, good-time foot stompin, honest sentimentality, and sly humor (something that rock and roll doesn’t even try to do). The song that best combines humor and country-style narrative is called “800 Pound Jesus”. It’s hard to say if the song is a parody of the typical country faith song, or whether it still has a theological agenda (or maybe both). But it does have a catchy refrain, one that you can sing while walking in from the parking lot in the morning. The basic premise of the song is that a guy stops at a yard sale and buys an eight-foot high concrete statue of Jesus. The refrain obviously claims that this statue weighed 800 pounds.

Having been trained as an engineer (in the same class with Al), I decided to investigate the weight claim; would an eight-foot tall human statue in concrete really weigh that much? OK, first question: what is the cubic volume of a human body? A science web site suggested that the volume of our bodies depends mostly upon our weight, and suggested using a conversion factor of 1 cubic centimeter per gram. Let’s assume that Jesus was relatively tall and thin; I’ll guess that he weighed around 140 pounds, since he did a lot of walking and ate mostly fish and figs and wheat berries. Remember, there were no Big Macs or three-meat pizzas back then. There are 453 grams per pound, so we shall re-state Jesus’ weight in metric, as 63,420 grams. Then using the cubic centimeter-to-grams conversion factor of 1, we can say that Jesus’ body filled about 63,420 cubic centimeters of space.

Next, I’ll guess that Jesus was about 5 feet, 11 inches tall; an average height today, but back in the old days of malnutrition, relatively tall. No one in the New Testament bothered to describe what Jesus looked like; he could have been a shrimp. But the Gospels do indicate that Jesus had a very charismatic personality, and guys like that are usually pretty tall. So, I’ll go with 5 feet, 11 inches, which can also be stated as 5.9 feet.

Sawyer Brown points out that the statue in question was 8 feet tall. We will assume that the statue is correctly proportioned for a tall, thin human (as most Jesus statues are); so, in order to estimate its volume from the 63,420 cubic centimeters for the actual Jesus, we need to scale up each dimension (depth, height and width) by a factor of 8 / 5.9. The volume increase factor is thus (8/5.9) x (8/5.9) x (8/5.9), which is about 2.493. So we multiply 63,420 by 2.493, and get 158,106 cubic centimeters for the concrete Jesus. That’s a lot of concrete. Another web site estimates that dry concrete weighs at least 2.3 grams per cubic centimeter. So, the concrete Jesus must weigh around 363,643 grams, which is 363.6 kilograms. Each kilogram equals about 2.2 pounds. Multiply 363.6 by 2.2, and we get . . . 800 pounds !!!!! (Actually, it could be a bit more, since I didn’t account for the added volume from the statue’s robes.)

(The question remains, however, how the guy in the song got this statue home; even if he had a heavy duty pickup truck, as a lot of country-western fans do, he would still need an industrial hoist to load and unload the statue.)

I hope that Al Lacki is proud of me for quantitatively investigating the weight issue! But despite our marvelous mathematical intellects, Al and I must bow down before the greater power involved here. As the refrain to “800 Pound Jesus” goes, “he’s a bigger man than you or me.”     :^)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:41 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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