Thursday, September 01, 2011

Branches, Trees, Roots

There is a lot of grumbling going on around Long Island as a small army of men and woman go about cleaning up the mess left by hurricane Irene. I was in the dark for three days and it was not a pleasant experience. I can only imagine how difficult it is for those with special needs. Even so I am always surprised by the response of the public to those who did not create this problem, are doing their best to correct it and yet suffer the wrath of those who think that berating these workers will somehow get their lights back on.

Maybe it's me but I can't help but wonder where this attitude has come from. Could it be the endless stream of whiners that flood the airwaves and fill the television screens these days? 

It was thirty years ago that Bruce Springsteen held a benefit show for the Vietnam Veterans. This was Springsteen's coming out party as a true social activist and, as a side note, certainly one of the top-ten shows of his career. If you have a chance to dig it up you'll find it well worth your time. A little known fact is that Springsteen single handedly saved the Vietnam Veterans Association, placing a call to them on the very day that they were going to close up shop due to financial problems and a lack of support. Springsteen opened the show with an exceptionally accurate view of the plight of the Vets and then introduced Robert Mueller, a Vietnam vet, who introduced the event and in a few minutes explained what everything was about in the most eloquent way. The two speeches are short, to the point and truly uplifting.

The band then kicks into John Fogerty's "Who'll Stop The Rain" and from the opening note you can hear that, to a man, the E-Streeters were well aware of the importance of that evening's performance.            

Remembering that night and the mood of the country at that time, Mueller recently said that among the many, many obstacles that the returning vets had to deal with was that they were associated with the war it self instead of soldiers who were just doing their job. The fact is that a great part of why even the most ardent anti-war activists can now separate the troops from the mission is due to the work by the Vietnam Veterans groups.

If you will; don't hate the players, hate the game.

Now it's 30 years down the road and a lot of men and women still have nowhere to run, nowhere to go. But thanks to an August night in 1981 many were able to find a light to lead them out of the darkness and it was Bruce Springsteen, the E-Street Band and rock and roll that led the way. Like I said, check out the show if you can. When rock and roll is delivering a message it can be powerful stuff indeed.

Some guy, who may very well traveled from out of town, who is cutting down branches today somewhere on Long Island is certainly different than a nineteen year old who was sent off to a foreign land to fight for his country, but they are both men with a job to do - and they both deserve your thanks and support.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Why Spotify will change your life - even if you never use it.

When I bought my car a few years ago it came with a 3-month free pass for XM radio, something I had no previous interest in and something that I had said time and time again that I would never subscribe to. Pay for radio? No way. Needless to say that within a week I was hooked and now I live in the Underground Garage and Outlaw Country. I am positively giddy over the fact that they will be adding a 24-7 channel built around Dylan's radio show.

When I first heard of Spotify I didn't see any reason why I would like that any better then the other subscription-based music services like Rhapsody and LaLa. After all, I have a huge music collection - over 50,000 songs in my iTunes library. I definitely embraced downloadable music - I am more than willing to give up the physical aspect of most recordings and when a package is worth buying for, well, the package, I'll buy it. But do I really need to pay for another music service - especially where I am in effect renting the music and not buying it?

Oh yeah.

Spotify delivers, big time. Think of an album or a song you want to hear and there it is. Take a few minutes and build a playlist that will last all day long. But Steve, what about those 50,000 songs of yours? Surely you have enough music to listen to, right?

The beauty here is that Spotify will be different things to different people. For the average person, five bucks a month to listen to whatever you want, whenever you want is a great deal. For people like me - who obviously have collected and purchased music all their life, there is still a great deal of music from their past that has yet to make the transition from vinyl to CD, much less from CD to digital. Its been a blast thinking of older LPs that I haven't bothered to digitize (a "best intentions" scenario if there ever was one), only to have them instantly appear on my desktop.

Right now I'm rocking the free version which lets you listen to as much as you want with short 15 second ads every 15 minutes or so. The five dollar a month buy in takes the ads away and ten bucks gets you the mobile app so you can listen via your phone. The paid versions also let you keep something like 3000 songs off line so you don't need an internet connection - great for traveling and all that.

The thing about subscription services is that eventually the prices will go up and should you decide to drop the service - you lose all of your music. That could certainly suck for some folks, but I have those 50,000 songs to fall back on.

Or I could take a long drive and listen to the XM.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

I guess there's just a meanness in this world

I know that there are at least two sides to every story and that, usually, even the most unfathomable circumstances can be explained. As Mr. Holmes said, "Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth." Even so, I will never understand how one human being can inflect pain and injury on another without a real and true reason.

Believe me, I understand justice and I believe in it.

I have a friend who was attacked recently and beaten badly. He was blindsided - the victim of a coward who had only one goal - to do him harm. As I said up top, there may or may not be a reason that drove this madman to commit this crime, but one thing is certain - my friend did nothing to deserve this.

What is that allows a person to leave all reason behind and commit such a senseless act? Is it a chemical imbalance or some sort of bad wiring? Is it simply a lack of understanding of right vs wrong? Is society or his parents to blame? Or is it as Bruce Springsteen sings in "Nebraska" that "there's just a meanness in this world?"

I'm stumped. In the past few weeks, for whatever reason, bad news has affected me in ways that it hasn't before. It's just the sad truth that there is always a sad story in the paper and while they often caused me to pause and consider the family and friends of these unfortunate individuals, lately they linger longer in my thoughts. The nine-year-old boy lured into a car by a stranger. The insanity in Norway. A purse snatching in my hometown just a few blocks from my house. All strangers, but I kept imagining myself or my family in their place. It was if if there was a ever tightening circle of evil that was surrounding us.

Now I've seen it, if not first-hand very, very up close and it has chilled me to the bone.