Tonight I tossed another hundred or so older issues of music magazines into the recycling bin. I’ve kept my complete collection of Keyboard, strictly for sentimental reasons, but what’s the point of boxing up and carrying around old issues of Electronic MusicianEQ, MixSound On Sound, or Drum? I’m never going to read them, and neither is anybody else.

The transitory nature of magazine writing is sad, not least because I wrote a lot of the features in those old magazines myself. Well, not in EQ or Sound On Sound. But a lot in EM, and a few in Mix and Drum. I also chucked my complete collection of Music & Computers, a short-lived magazine for which I wrote a column.

Music technology magazines tend to publish a lot of product reviews, and there’s very little that’s more pathetic or useless than a ten-year-old product review. But even the artist profiles and interviews tend to be awfully superficial. Reviews of out-of-print CDs? How-to articles with details on technology that’s long gone? Into the recycling bin with you.

Having made a career of writing for music magazines, I’m now reflecting that almost nothing of any importance was ever published in any of them.

And that’s just one track in today’s remix of “Dust in the Wind.” I have an enormous trove of family photos going back more than 75 years. Should I Read more

Trapped in Amber

In a couple of weeks I’ll be moving, so I’ve been putting my books in boxes. 45 boxes. I got down to the Z’s in the science fiction section, and box 44 was full, and the Roger Zelazny novels were still on the shelf. So I sat down and started reading the Amber series.

I think I have the original edition paperbacks. All five volumes, published in the ’70s. Black covers. The paper is yellowing by now. I must have read them at the time … or maybe not. I tended in those days to start things and then get distracted. I remember only a few bits and pieces from the first three books.

The story kept me turning the pages, I’ll say that for it. This time, I read all five books straight through. And yet, at the end, I find myself very dissatisfied. The Amber saga is flimsy. For the benefit of any writer who might stumble onto this blog while contemplating (or actually developing) a fantasy series, here are a few Read more

Picture Yourself Playing Cello

My new book for beginning cellists is due to arrive in bookstores at the beginning of April. Here’s a low-tech home-brew video in which I talk about the book:

The book is written mostly for folks who are new to cello playing. It’s packed with photos, a fact that I forgot to mention in the video. If you’re struggling with the first stages of learning to play the cello, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the book!

Market Madness

I’m a pragmatist. In evaluating ideas about how our social and economic life might be structured, I do my best to be guided by the results — either observed results, or the results that seem, in my judgment, to be most likely. People who believe in the free market are not pragmatists; they’re ideologues. Their belief in personal freedom leads them to enshrine the notion of the free market without examining or understanding its practical consequences in the lives of real people.

If a free market leads to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, then I’m for it. If it leads to human suffering (as all too often it does), I’m against it. Simple.

I’ve written about the basics of market mechanisms before. Today I’m going to reiterate those observations briefly and then take a look at a couple of other factors.

First, in order to function effectively, a free market requires the participation of several sellers and several buyers for any particular good or service. If there is only one seller, or only one buyer, the market mechanism becomes distorted. Human suffering is the result.

Consider: If there is only one seller and many buyers, the seller can set however high a price he or she likes. Buyers who can’t afford to pay the price will have to do without the good or service, no matter how essential to life (food, for instance, or water) it might be.

Conversely, if there is only one buyer and many sellers, the buyer can set the price artificially low. Those who want to sell are compelled Read more

More Green Reflections

As I read Chris Hedges’s insightful and frightening book The Death of the Liberal Class, I’m continuing to ask myself, “What’s to be done?” A question that is just as apropos, if not more, is, “Why isn’t there a political organization in the United States that is doing what needs to be done?”

When the disaffected turn to the Tea Party, which bamboozles them into furthering their own destruction, it’s because they have nowhere else to turn.

And then there’s the Green Party. The principles espoused by the Green Party are admirable — and yet nobody cares. I can see, or guess at, several interlocking reasons for the Greens’ failure to accomplish or even move toward any of their larger objectives:

They refuse to accept corporate funding. As a principle, this is terrific, and I certainly wouldn’t favor changing it. But the practical result is, the Green Party is dirt-poor. They don’t have the money it would take to mount a single high-profile campaign, let alone a dozen campaigns at once.

The Greens lack charismatic leadership. This is, I think, by design. The website for the Green Party of California advocates, among other things, “grassroots democracy.” I take this to mean that ideas and actions are supposed to percolate up from below rather than being championed from above. The intent of this principle is, I suppose, to remind ordinary people that their contributions are as valuable as anyone’s. But one result seems to be Read more

Why Is the Green Party Irrelevant?

Recent events, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, have renewed my interest in the pox-ridden political landscape in the United States. I’m wondering whether, if I put my mind to it, I might actually be able to do some good. It’s not easy to see how I could accomplish anything, or even how to get started.

For a few years I was a registered member of the Green Party in California. I even had a vague stab at getting involved with the Alameda County Greens. It was a frustrating experience. I came away with the impression that while the Greens have good intentions, they’re poor at organizing, they don’t know how to communicate using modern mass media, and they seem to have very little understanding of — or, what’s worse, interest in — the messy process of actually governing.

This morning I had a look at the website for the Green Party of the United States. It’s depressing. Now, we have to acknowledge that the quality of a website is not always a reliable indicator of what’s going on in an organization. But it’s hard to escape the idea that a political party needs a good website, both to communicate and to recruit new members.

The most telling weakness of the Green Party website is Read more

Glow in the Dark

As high-tech teams in Japan rush to avert meltdowns of several nuclear power plants, I find myself wondering: Who decided that it was safe to build nuclear reactors in such an earthquake-prone area?

Were the people living within 50 miles of the site given complete and accurate information about what could happen to the plant in the event of a major earthquake, and were they then allowed to vote on whether to let the plant be built? Even if the answers to both of those questions are “yes” (and that seems very unlikely), would a simple majority in favor have been all that was required — or would the potential catastrophic loss of life dictate that perhaps a 2/3 majority would be needed to authorize the construction?

In the U.S., considerable propaganda has been pumped out in an effort to convince us that nuclear power is safe. In the U.S., this supposedly free country, life-threatening hazards are installed all around us without a vote. We’re lied to quite routinely, and then we’re not consulted about what’s being done. I live within ten miles of a Read more


Over the years, I’ve accumulated a large and varied collection of books. Browsing in bookstores (back when there were bookstores), picking up odd items at used book sales, review copies of music books sent to me while I was at Keyboard — somehow books seem to gravitate to me.

Next month I’m moving, so this month the books have to go into boxes. This job can’t be delegated to the movers, because movers don’t know how to pack books. It can take 20 minutes to pack one box. You have to think about what’s going to fit, how the spines line up, whether the top is level and solid so the boxes can be stacked.

But that’s not the fun part. The fun part is leafing through random ancient and possibly yellowing volumes in muted amazement. I have, for instance, several of the very first Doonesbury paperbacks, from the early 1970s. The more tattered items in my collection of Perry Mason mysteries date back even further, to the 1950s. I have books of essays by Montaigne and George Orwell, two shelves full of Roman history, several fat coffee table books of Read more

Writers, Right?

One of my friends is looking for ways to support local writers. For six or seven years she has hosted a monthly salon, at which local writers are free to read aloud from their work — but the building where the salon meets is going away, and it’s not clear that a replacement will be available.

The town where we reside (Livermore, California) provides pretty good civic support for visual artists, but there’s really no equivalent for writers. We have a local Arts Commission, but if they’ve done anything to support writers, I blinked and missed it. The city does, in fact, have an official poet laureate, but this person’s effectiveness in supporting local writers is open to question.

What’s not clear to me is exactly how a city could support local writers. Writing can’t readily be put on display, the way visual arts can be. The act of reading, which puts one in a relation of audience with the writer, is Read more

Bang a Gong

Here’s a video that’s worth watching, if any video is. It’s not a fun frolic, it’s a serious lecture by a serious journalist, Chris Hedges. He talks about how the United States is sliding down the tubes, and why. I’m going to order his book.

One message that I take away from the end of this lecture is that electoral politics is futile. I’ve been saying this for a long time, but then chirpy people always say, “If you don’t vote, you don’t have any right to complain.” They’re wrong, of course, but that attitude muddies the waters. Voting is an acquiescence in the status quo. If you buy into the pretense that your vote makes a difference, then you won’t be motivated to take action.

The truth is, if you do vote, you’ve sabotaged your right to complain. You’ve become complicit in a lie.

All resistance, Hedges says, is local. I’m not sure what that means. I live in a comfortable suburban community, not in a blighted area. Complacency is very much the norm, hereabouts. What would resistance look like, for a white guy with money in the bank? I’m not sure.

One thing I can do is tell the truth. Often the truth is impolite. It upsets people. They think I’m being anti-social. (That’s the polite term for “an asshole.”) Maybe I just have to keep right on, and ignore their attempts to coerce everybody into acting nice.

But what scope does one have to tell the truth? Shall I write letters to the editor? That’s worse than voting! Gotta think about this some more.