Monday, May 20, 2013

Goodnight and Good Luck

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

This will be the last daily post for Artist Carnival for now. I started this blog six months ago and every week day I would write and post a short essay of a few hundred to a thousand words.

I have always indulged in the fantasy of writing a book or two but was constantly intimidated by the volume work. At least the daily effort of keeping the blog going showed me that I had the discipline to do it.

In the past I have written a volume of narrative poetry, several short stories and a dozen or so movie screen plays. Surprisingly most screen plays are made up of empty space. On average a hundred page script will only have 20,000 words.

It's been fun. The blog has been read by thousands and I have received hundreds of responses, suggestions and links. I plan to keep things going and post things from time to time but right now other there are other projects I need to devote my time to.

One of the most common question I got was "who the hell are you?" Having a semi common name confuses the issue and I had no idea how many other people shared this name. It might be easier to say who I'm not than who I am. I'm not the Brian James who was the basketball coach for the Philadelphia 76ers. I never owned a tailor shop in Denver or lived in LA. Though I've been on the radio I'm not the Brian James that did all that voice over work  for every other franchised FM station across the Mid-West. He had a wonderful booming voice and when I say things like "you're listening to power 99" -I sound more like Don Pardo or that used car salesman who would sell you rolling wreck with a 120 month payment plan.

Let me see, who else am I not. There was one fellow named Brian James who lived in and around Phillipsburg NJ. From what I gather he was a real hell raiser -and I'm not him. And there was that graphic artist in New York City, well you can guess I'm not him either.

I think my favorite instance of mistaken identity was when I was asked if I was Brian James for the punk rock group The Damn. My friends who have known still find that one funny.  

So for now I'll use Edward R. Murrow's sign off "goodnight and good luck". 



Friday, May 17, 2013

Time -as a persistent illusion

In one writers group I read an unpublished story titled the Gods Of Time. It was a science fiction story on the outside but really a philosophic examination of time. Time is like God, an omnipresent force that gives shape to the whole universe and is still total mystery.

Once I heard a BBC interview / lecture with Sir Martin Rees on gravity and the search for a possible particle that carries the force of gravity. One thing in the interview that seemed perplexing was when he said that time as an element interfered with his search for the graviton.

It has been long understood how gravity and time have an inverse relationship in Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Time slows down in gravitational fields. The equations in General Relativity keep on working if you were traveling greater than the speed of light if you have either negative time of negative gravity  -but not both together.

In one theory about the crush of matter inside a black hole came the question if time still existed?  Does infinite gravity obliterate time? The theory had the interesting conjecture that in the singularity of the black hole everything gets crushed down to the two elemental particles of the universe gravity and time. Both particles would be at the very smallest size dictated by the Plank Constant. The two particles are slightly asymmetrical and if they were physical spaces we could see, one would have 12 dimensional sides the other 14. This initial asymmetry is what divides matter from energy and limits super-symmetry, there are subatomic particles that do not have symmetrical partners.   

From these two particles everything else in the universe is a fractal expression of different combinations of the two. The free movement of single particles is what we experience as gravity and time. When these particles link together in strands they become the carrier particles for energy and if they form a "buckyball" or Buckminsterfullerene shape they become matter.

In another theory of dimensional gravity, similar to the idea of Time-Space, each graviton is actually like a cell of space that expands or shrinks dependant on the gravitational field it is in. That the real measure of distance in the universe is the number cells, the size of each cell is effected by the gradational field it is in. What we see as the vacuum of space is really a sea of free gravitons (each a distinct and undividable space).  The speed of light in a vacuum is a photon passing a set number of gravitons per second. When a photon is in a gravitational field that's more tightly packed with gravitons then light bends and travels a greater distance.  

Time on the scale of human lives or how we perceive the passing of time is like a multilevel thought experiment that has no answer because there are so many contradictions involved. Science Fiction writers have long played with the paradoxes of time travel. Traveling forward in time at a slower rate that the rest of the world is possible but traveling backwards in time is still an unlikely maybe.

As another writer I meet once said since the universe is expanding outward from the Big Bang then time is really the location of how far out from the Big Bang we are at any given moment. Time travel backwards is probably impossible because to travel back in time would mean you would have to reverse the whole expansion of the universe to get back to the location of the past. That thought doesn't eliminate parallel universes but that a whole other idea.

So in the expansion of the universe each of our lives take up a limited space as animated chemicals. The atoms that make us up where always here and will go on after we no longer conscious entities.  

Suddenly I'm in the mood to write a little Sc-fi today.    

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

June Weddings

February is always sold as a time for lovers because of Valentine's Day. And why not? This far north of the equator it's still wintery cold and February is that dreary mix of frost and mud. So a box of chocolates, a funny greeting card and a little time with someone you love is a good diversion from the realities of the season.

Sooner or later comes the crucial issue in any relationship -where is this whole thing going? I was listening one couple talk about their upcoming marriage, a traditional marriage in June. This isn't universal but at least for many European and European influenced cultures June is the ideal month to get married in.

Getting married in June goes back to the days of Ancient Rome. The month June itself is named after Jupiter's wife Juno, she herself the goddess of marriage and childbirth. For some reason the month of May was dedicated to the unhappy dead. What a concept that is, I'm sure if the dead could talk to us few of them would be happy about the situation. Still May was not the month to get married in if you could help it.

The tradition of the June wedding carried on into medieval times. June is usually a slow time on the farm. All the heavy work of plowing and planting is done. It's easy to estimate the future yield, providing nothing bad happens between June and harvest time. June can be a short rest and a time of celebration. One of the most raucous yearly celebrations was the feast day of Saint Audrey on June 23rd.  There would usually be fair with plenty of drinking and entertainment. It was said that there were so many drinks in her honor the slurred toast "to Audrey" became the root of the word tawdry.

All the full moons of the year had a name; there is wolf moon, the hunter moon and the harvest moon. The first full moon after the summer solstice was known as "the honey moon".

The whole idea of romantic love in historic terms is relatively new. Most marriages were just as much a business transaction as it was anything else. Up until the mid 1800s it was pretty common for first cousins to marry, it was a way of keeping property in the family. Many royal families of Europe had generations of cousins marrying each other.   

Daughters were both the property and responsibility of the father or male head of household. Another concept that went back to Ancient Rome. In the Roman Empire a father had absolute legal power over his family which also included putting his child to death, if the father deemed it necessary. So it was required the father give the bride away at the ceremony. 

If the bride came with a substantial dowry then there would be a possibility of kidnapping. To prevent that the groom would call upon his right hand man -like in a good right handed punch. That right hand man, the best man, was there to help protect the bride -even if that meant doing it by sword point.

Over the ages weddings have become so much more civilized than that though I can remember one that ended in both families fist fighting in the parking lot of the reception hall. The meaning of marriage has changed but it can still be an emotional event.

I like weddings and receptions. Since I'm pretty relaxed as a public speaker I have been asked to say a few words in the past. I have two standard speeches. One is a drawn out and very vulgar story with the moral that a man can make a marriage successful if he is able to handle humiliation gracefully. That story is saved for the bachelor party.  

The other speech is suitable for all ages and starts off with the question what's one think you shouldn't really talk about at a wedding? The past, it's certainly tacky to bring up old history, especially the bride or the groom's. But talking about the past violates the very spirit of marriage which should be all about the future. Where two single people stop looking backwards and merge their fortunes together as a new entity, as a married couple.  

So good luck for all those couples who plan to formalize their futures together. No matter how much changes in the world the basics remain the same but they will cost you.

Key Average Wedding Statistics
Wedding Spend (excluding honeymoon): $26,984
Most Expensive Area to Get Married (excluding honeymoon): NYC (Manhattan), $70,030
Least Expensive Area to Get Married (excluding honeymoon): Utah, $13,214
Wedding Dress Spend: $1,099
Percentage of Destination Weddings: 24%
Bride’s Age: 29
Groom’s Age: 31
Number of Guests: 141
Average Wedding Spend (on a per guest basis): $194
Number of Bridesmaids: 4
Number of Groomsmen: 4
Length of Engagement: 14 months
Most Popular Engagement Month: December (16%)
Most Popular Wedding Month: June (15%)
Most Popular Wedding Color: White/Ivory (43%)
2010 Average Wedding Budget Breakdown
Overall Wedding (excluding honeymoon): $26,984
Ceremony Site: $1,393
Reception Venue: $12,124
Reception Band: $3,081
Reception DJ: $900
Photographer: $2,320
Videographer: $1,463
Wedding Gown: $1,099
Florist/D├ęcor: $1,988
Invitations: $351
Wedding Cake: $540
Ceremony Musicians: $503
Catering (cost per head): $61
Wedding Day Transportation: $667
Favors: $222
Rehearsal Dinner: $1,127
Engagement Ring: $5,392
Figures based on respondents who hired a professional vendor for the service.
Top 20 Most Expensive Wedding Areas
1. NYC (Manhattan): $70,730
2. NY (Long Island, Hudson Valley and NYC Outer Boroughs): $51,811, $45,695, $44,718
3. Northern/Central NJ and Southern NJ: $49,347, $36,694
4. Rhode Island: $41,169
5. Philadelphia, PA: $36,294
6. Santa Barbara/Ventura, CA, and Los Angeles, CA: $36,233, $33,745
7. Boston, MA: $35,458
8. Chicago, IL: $35,389
9. Connecticut: $35,197
10. Southern Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale and surrounding areas): $33,810
11. Washington, DC, Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland: $33,727
12. Orange County/Inland Empire, CA, and San Diego, CA: $31,954, $30,687
13. San Francisco Bay Area, CA, and California/Nevada (Sacramento, Tahoe and Reno): $31,173, $26,567
14. Baltimore, MD: $30,073
15. Houston, TX: $29,129
16. Pittsburgh, PA: $28,408
17. Dallas, TX: $27,823
18. Vermont: $27,333
19. Hawaii: $26,722
20. Austin/San Antonio, TX: $26,329

A few favorite songs for the reception  

Music You Might Not Have Heard

Since the pop music industry is both highly competitive and equally insecure; it makes the investors skittish. Music producers are always in search of the next big thing but if one bad choice can be very expensive. The safest thing is watch for the up and coming break through performer and then book and record everyone else who sounds just like them. Frank Zappa's song Cocaine Thinking comes to mind.

Putting money on the safest bets makes for a good business model but often it stifles creativity and in the past promoted some of the most bland and pedestrian performers. The breakthrough of the Punk / New Wave movement was a direct reaction to the less than exciting lightweight mix of music from the mid-1970s. This was a period where the record companies were in control of a multi-billion dollar industry and the producers were more important than the performers. It was a serious question when people asked back then "was Rock & Roll dead?

Punk / New Wave was refreshing because it got back to the idea that music can be an act of personal expression instead of studio wizardry. Learn a few cords on the guitar, work up the nerve to get up on stage and bang out a song. What it might lack in refinement it will make up in raw emotions. Of course every wave crests and recedes back into the ocean it came from. Punk / New Wave gave back to music makers the idea that innovation still had value, recording artist who were comfortable in the studio began to create with a different sensibility and inspiration.

The recording industry had many excesses but it wasn't all bad. One thing it was able to do was make some music a mass experience. There is a body music that know around the world and it is almost like an international language. It is something that people from very different background can share in common. There's nothing quite like talking to a man from Indonesia about Sinatra, or being asked by a guy from Austria if I ever saw Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony because I grew up relatively close to Asbury Park, or listening to a women from the Ukraine recount her childhood and why the Beatles were so important to her.

When an industry becomes the promoter of world culture it also becomes the gate keeper. Twenty years ago it was uncommon to be considered a real audiophile if you had a couple of thousand records, which is about half the storage space on the average mp-3 player. The computer and internet have bypassed the gate keepers but taken away the communal experience of music.

A music promoter I knew in New Jersey, Kyle, once compare music to alcohol. He felt you should avoid drinking alone as well as listening to music by yourself.  These days most people listen to music at their desk or while exercising but rarely as a group activity. Music has become for many a sonic wallpaper, something to cover over the silence with -or even a sonic barrier to keep you occupied instead of interacting with other people.    

The enthusiasm for music feels like it's fading. The big concert stage is even more dominated by a smaller handful of acts and many thousands of others can't find a venue. There is so much good music out there and the public doesn't seem to know where to look. The radio DJ is becoming a thing of the past and social networks are more atomized and even alienating. Ten years ago bands used TV shows and even commercials for exposure and now that doesn't even work as broadcast TV captures a smaller and smaller audience.

I hope that people fight back or at least prevent American Idol from becoming the only default venue for introducing new national acts.

As a side note today is Brian Eno's birthday. he is one of the most well known in his category of experimental musicians and record producers.  He has a career that spans over five decades starting with rock band Roxy Music, his creation of Ambient Music and his computer programs of Generative Music. His best known work was with Bowie on his Heroes Album. Most people know the song Heroes but very few have heard the whole album, it might be an acquired taste though it's Bowie's singularly most artistic effort.

Most of Brian Eno's music is minimalistic with a mix of electronic and new wave elements. Often his music has been used as movie scores, one of the best examples is the documentary The Atomic Cafe (1982).  A few years ago Peter Jackson had Brian Eno write the score for the movie The Lovely Bones (2009).

A person like Eno is mostly known as a influence for other performers, which means he's deeply appreciated by other creative people but not a commercial success. Usually I find those people the most interesting and it use to be fun hanging out with a real audiophile that had a few special records from people who were so good they should have been famous but weren't. Sometimes it was bad luck, bad timing or just management. It's fun to enjoy music for no other reason than you like it, though it's a shame someone who deserve fame and fortune didn't get it.

As an influential performer it fun to see who Brian Eno worked with or who tipped their hat to him.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Summer Reading

This summer I plan to read. It use to be a regular ritual of every summer to pick a book or a group of books in a theme. This summer might be Moby Dick. In doing some past research I read a few chapters and like it. The book is 135 chapters long but it's more like 135 short stories all around the theme of whaling. Being a slow reader 2-4 short chapters a night will carry me through the whole summer.

Of course the monster of all literary rambles is James Joyce's Ulysses. Like all of James Joyce's works it's twisty and complicated -and at least for me easier to understand when someone else reads it aloud than reading it myself. It's a rare person who can honestly say they have read it from cover to cover. As luck should have it I person know one man who has read Ulysses several times. Chris isn't one of those overly educated culture snobs, he writes very accessible articles for an online jazz magazine. Though he might someday teach a college level class on the book.

Some of the most influential events of my life came from reading. When I was fifteen I spent some of my summer spare time reading Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 as a group. Each book complement each other with a distinctly different vision of a possible dystopia.

Being so impressed with these three authors I went on to read some of their other books. Aldous Huxley's books would later teach me about the wide spectrum of perception. Ray Bradbury would expand my sense of what's possible through fantasy fiction. Most of all George Orwell would have the biggest influence on me.  1984 is Orwell's most popular book , it's one of his most entertaining but I began to appreciate his other books more.

At the end of  1984 is a short essay on the origins and development of Newspeak the official language of Oceania and the English Socialist Party (Ingsoc) .  On the surface of it, it seems like a dry little essay that sounds perfectly plausible. It was reading in between the lines where you can see the real power of language.  The written word gives every reader the opportunity to commune with every writer and jump over the barriers of time and space (and Orwell demonstrated how Newspeak was a way of destroying that portal of communication).

It would be years later that I would read Orwell's three most personal books the Road To Wigan Pier, Down And Out In London And Paris and Homage To Catalonia.  The Road To Wigan Pier is maybe Orwell's most underrated book but all three together make a powerful statement on a man who lived his beliefs and didn't practice some armchair intellectual pontification of how the world should be. Orwell was a lifelong socialist but also he was a razor sharp critic of socialism's failings.  Somewhere he comes to the conclusion that every ideology is incomplete and the biggest enemy of any political movement is itself and the extremists in its own ranks.

One summer I was involves with the major renovation of a huge high school building in the suburbs of New York City.  I don't want to mention the exact location but there was a hideous building made entirely of concrete. It was a heat sink and by 10 am every morning the building was hotter inside than it was outside. By late afternoon the temperature difference was a good twenty degrees. At night when the streets cooled off the building radiated heat like a warm body until well past midnight.   

Because it was a school building there was a strict deadline to get the job done on time. The contractor had workers around the clock on site. My job was involved with contract compliance and inspections, that meant there were long hours with little to do. The only advantage of being there was the school library. That summer I read The Grapes Of Wrath by Steinbeck, The Ground Was Our Table by Steve Allen and How To Talk Dirty And Influence People by Lenny Bruce.  

The Grapes Of Wrath is a well known classic but The Ground Was Their Table by Steve Allen was a surprise. Steve Allen was comedian and talk show host but before he became famous he travel and labored with migrate farm workers.  The book is warm and funny with a deep social awareness.

Even more surprising was Lenny Bruce's book.  Lenny Bruce is remembered for the stand-up comedian that said "dirty words". That's not really true.  All the comedians of that time had an after mid-night route filled with off color jokes and all the four lettered words people regularly used -or at least wanted to use.  What got Lenny Bruce in trouble was his willingness to make fun of powerful people. Those very same people had Lenny Bruce arrested over and over again on obscenity charges until he was so tied up in court he couldn't make a living.

There is an agricultural connection with How To Talk Dirty And Influence People. In one of the chapters Lenny Bruce reminisces of when he was a young man and was taken in by an elderly farm couple. I don't want to spoil it for you but you may never look at farm fresh or organic eggs the same way after reading that part.     

Another summer I spend a good portion of my free time reading Phillip K Dick novels. He's one of the best science fiction writers of all time. In the last thirty years about a dozen of his books have been made into movies but the average person still has no idea who he was. Unfortunately Phillip K Dick died just before  Hollywood discovered the rick body of work the man created and it was ironic because Phillip K Dick wrote very unconventional stories that were opposite of the Hollywood mentality.  If you saw The Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Minority Report or A Scanner Darkly then you saw some of Phillip K Dick's stories that have been adapted for the movies.  

So that summer I read A Man In A High Castle (arguably one of the best sci-fi or mainstream novel ever written), The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch  and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep was the story behind the movie The Blade Runner. The story in the book and the movie are the same but the attitude and styles couldn't be more divergent. One is an action adventure story, the other a very cerebral detective story that isn't searching for a fugitive but instead tries to find out what is the essence of the human soul.   

Well so much for light beach novels. There is no right or wrong in choosing what to read.  I just personally like making an adventure of it. Though people seem to be reading less, this maybe the golden age of literature.  So much is easily available and so much is online or a simple download away.  Like sports, a good book can be a shared experience that opens up a world of tangents and conversations. 

Happy reading.