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Romeo and Juliet – Not my fav but respected

Photo - Wikipedia

Photo – Wikipedia

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare (1595-6). It portrays the brief lives of two “star crossed lovers” who come from feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues.

In Shakespeare’s time it was one of his most popular plays, as it remains today.

Myself, I never really liked Romeo and Juliet too much. It seems small and dark. Romantic love is fine. But when it gets all messed up and doesn’t work out right, it doesn’t really capture my imagination.

I find it sort of silly and dramatically frustrating that someone would commit suicide because he thought his true love was dead. And guess what? She wasn’t even dead after all. So what happens? She wakes up and kills herself.

Maybe I just like happy endings. I realize life doesn’t always turn out that way but still, Romeo and Juliet for me is a bit of downer.

Like many of his plays, Shakespeare didn’t come up with the idea out of the blue. There were precedents, some very clear.

Romeo and Juliet borrows from a tradition of tragic love stories dating back to antiquity. One of these is Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ovid‘s Metamorphoses, which contains parallels to Shakespeare’s story: the lovers’ parents despise each other, and Pyramus falsely believes his lover Thisbe is dead. The Ephesiaca of Xenophon of Ephesus, written in the 3rd century, also contains several similarities to the play, including the separation of the lovers, and a potion that induces a deathlike sleep.

One of the earliest references to the names Montague and Capulet is from Dante‘s Divine Comedy, who mentions the Montecchi (Montagues) and the Cappelletti (Capulets) in canto six of Purgatorio:

Come and see, you who are negligent,
Montagues and Capulets, Monaldi and Filippeschi
One lot already grieving, the other in fear

Image - Wikipedia

Romeo and Juliet (detail) by Frank Dicksee – Wikipedia

In 1938 the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote a ballet after the story. And Berlioz (1839) and Tchaikovsky (1869) also wrote classical pieces on the theme.

There have been several screen adaptations. One of my favorites is Franco Zeffirelli‘s 1968 Romeo and Juliet. I remember marveling at Olivia Hussey as a kid when I saw the film in junior high. For me, she was the epitome of womanly beauty back then.

¹ See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet

In India, the Mahabharata epic tells of a family feud that leads to total war between the Pandavas and the Karavas. This war is also central to The Bhagavad Gita, which is a part of the Mahabharata (some believe a later addition because it differs stylistically). I don’t think the Capulets and Montagues were related but the Pandavas and Karavas were. Of course, Shakespeare most likely did not have access to Hindu myth (in this case, the Puranas) because it hadn’t been translated into European languages yet. But for thinkers like Adolf Bastien, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung (who believe that certain psychological “patterns” or “structures” arise independently around the world) this wouldn’t have been a huge problem.

Related » Projection, Radha


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The Power of Pop – Still No. 1 after all these years

Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music
Any old way you choose it
It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be rock and roll music
If you want to dance with me

Rock and Roll Music, Chuck Berry


Rock and Roll is a form of popular music originally emblematic of the freedoms, joys, sorrows, romance and rebelliousness of youth. It emerged in the 1950s, blending country/western and the blues. The emphasis is on the “back beat” — the second and fourth beats (ta TA ta TA). This is the opposite of the military march, with accents on the first and third beats (TA ta TA ta).

Cultural studies professors and musicologists also say that a lot of rock and pop music runs roughly at the same tempo as – or as a multiple of – the human heart beat. This claim is a bit vague but rock certainly does connect on a visceral level.¹

Early rock’s brightest lights were people like Chuck Berry (1926-), Little Richard (1932- ), Bill Haley (1925-81), Buddy Holly (1936 -59) and “The King,” Elvis Presley (1935-77). These guys nearly killed the old crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Sinatra was hip enough to joke about it when Elvis appeared on his TV show in 1960. And in 1977 Crosby embraced the, at the time, spiky David Bowie because he recognized his immense vocal talent. So the old crooners were down but certainly not out.

The 60s and 70s saw pop/rock expand into a different kind of beast. Recording technologies (like the multitrack tape studio), the rise of FM radio, and the changing values of the hippie era opened up new sounds, techniques and styles.

Dianna Ross and The Supremes helped to define the Motown sound (music from a record company based in “Motor City,” Detroit).

British groups like The Beatles and The Moody Blues brought in symphony orchestras and made rock accessible to kids from 2 to 102.

Meanwhile, Traffic and Americans like The Doors (with Jim Morrison), Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin challenged conventional parents around the world. Teens and young adults were openly getting drunk, doing drugs and practicing free love.

In this unhinged era of purple haze and paper suns, there were still lots of sharp business people ready to profit from millions of young consumers. Rock took on different styles and marketing categories. The two dimensions, music and money, thrived in a more finely tuned kind of reciprocity.

Suddenly we had Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, Funk, Raggae, Soul, Easy Rock, Disco, Glam Rock, Pop Rock, Bubble Gum Rock, Comedy Rock, Folk Rock, Christian Rock, to name a few.

Image by Mike Clark, taken at HMV records downtown Toronto Jan 22 2017 (store now in receivership).

Image by Mike Clark, taken at HMV Toronto Jan 22 2017 (now in receivership).

Some of the biggest 1970s stars were Paul McCartney and Wings, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, David BowieGenesis (with Peter Gabriel), Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, Yes, Led Zeppelin, ELP, Santana, Supertramp, The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller, King Crimson, The Alan Parsons Project, Rush, Bob Marley, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, The Who, The Guess Who, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Eagles, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, The Bee Gees, EWF and Stevie Wonder.²

Disco also hit the scene in the 70s. Donna Summer is arguably the grandma of EDM, along with her grandpa producer Giorgio Moroder. Moroder still makes commercially viable music today. And producer Nile Rodgers, another 70s survivor who helped David Bowie commercialize “China Girl” in the 80s, recently worked with the EDM star, Avicii.

The German band Kraftwerk also played a huge role in the development of electronic music, as did Alan Parsons in a more progressive style.

One of my favorite 70s songs is “I’m Not In Love” by 10CC (1975). The band used analog tape loops to achieve what we now take for granted with digital tech. The tune is so well done and ahead of its time, I still get goosebumps when I hear it.

The 70s were great to live through but things had to change. Toward the end of the decade pop music was overblown. Progressive rock collapsed in on itself with pretentious, uninspired, pale reflections of former glories.³

Enter Punk Rock, New Wave and Rap.

Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols are often cited as the inventors of Punk Rock. And minimalist bands like Devo, The B-52s, The Talking Heads and The Police (with Sting) were part of a “New Wave.” Most of the New Wave fizzled out fast but The Talking Heads made their mark into the early 90s. Their existentialist, deconstructionist songs have been studied by academics interested in postmodernismRappers Delight (1979) is usually credited as the first rap record to reach mainstream audiences, based on “Good Times” by Chic.

Groups like Soft Cell, Eurythmics and Art of Noise used sequencers and digital sampling with a new minimalist response to the excesses of the 70s. A key feature of 80s pop was the “orchestral hit” — a full orchestral sound burst from the touch of keyboard. Sampling was also essential to rap and hiphop.

Annie Lennox

Like most trends, pop’s minimalist response didn’t last. Instead, 80s pop-rock was mostly about slick studio production, made possible by digital instruments and recording gear. Duran Duran and Tears for Fears are good examples of the lush, 80s studio sound. Meanwhile, Depeche Mode worked digital sampling to create harder, “industrial” music.

In 1980 John Lennon and Yoko Ono released their successful album, Double Fantasy. Sadly, Lennon was murdered by a misguided fan that same year. In 1981 The Moody Blues reinvented themselves with a new keyboardist and a No. 1 album, Long Distance Voyager. And in 1983 Yes rose from the ashes with a totally new sound in “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

Madonna was a sensation in the 80s, along with The Police (Sting), U2, Michael Jackson (the “King of Pop”), Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Winwood, Dire Straits, China Crisis, Queen, Boy George, Wham! and many others. The Cure was an influential art band, lingering somewhere between cult and superstar status.4

The New Age movement and ambient music was also on the rise. Ambient music is a diffuse style pioneered most notably by the producer Brian Eno in the late 70s (Eno also made rock albums). Eno’s seminal album is “Music For Airports” (1978), a soft and repetitive strain of voice and piano tape loops.

Eno’s analog artistry influenced more accessible, digital acts like Enya, various Windham Hill artists and producers like Daniel Lanois. Eno also collaborated with stars like David Bowie, The Talking Heads, U2 and Philip Glass.

The 90s saw more lush studio production with woman singers like Mariah Carey and Céline Dion. Others, like the late Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and The Smashing Pumpkins kept it straight and simple. Alice In Chains took a dark turn with lyrics like, “you’d be well advised… not to plan my funeral ‘fore the body dies…”

Alice In Chains

Alice In Chains

Radiohead delivered a sound reminiscent of the 1970s band Jethro Tull. Garbage, Bjork, Alanis Morisette, The KLF and Seal all had their moments. No Doubt had a killer single, “Don’t Speak.” And TLC released a classic album, Crazy, Sexy, Cool.

Veteran rockers who kept up with the times (e.g. Elton John, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen) flourished in the 90s with top-selling albums. Others like Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan lost touch with the pulse of the people.

Rap, Hiphop, Dance, Grunge and Techno (now a branch of EDM) also took off in the 90s, although they all began in the 80s or before, depending on how you look at it. The (late) Guru‘s intelligent and pacifist Jazzmatazz vols. 1&2 were appreciated by listeners of all colors and creeds.

The new millennium saw more powerful woman acts like Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne. Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, who’ve billed themselves as the “longest running rock act,” continued to fill stadiums.

More recently EDM (electronic and dance music) seemed to dominate for a while. The outstanding EDM artists are Avicii, Skrillex, Tiesto, Krewella, Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Zedd and several others.

Nile Rogers and Avicii

Nile Rodgers and Avicii

But pop music is still number one. Acts like Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Drake and Kanye West tell us that we still want to hear people in the mix.5

¹ The normal human heartbeat range is 60 to 100 bpm. The default tempo for most digital audio workstations is 120 bpm. In a witty interview, classical pianist Glenn Gould says he dislikes rock because it’s always the same tempo within a given song (e.g. 4/4 time). But some Beatles’ time signatures change within a given song. And I suspect the same is true with Genesis and Yes.

² And many more; this list is somewhat arbitrary, mostly based on my upbringing and personal likes. See top 70s bands. Any account of the history of rock must be biased. “The History of Rock” thread at The Reaper Lounge is contentious at times.

³ It’s almost like there’s a universal curve in pop where things start off great, reach their peak, and then decline to mediocrity or worse. By way of contrast, classical composers tend to get better with age, probably because their music is not focused on youth but on maturity.

4 David Bowie’s touching swansong “Lazarus” seems heavily influenced by The Cure.

5 This is how many people feel but it’s not quite right. Everything has changed, once again. The laptop has replaced the guitar as the new indie folk instrument. Anyone with a PC and a bit of talent can post material on SoundCloud or YouTube. This tends to show how incredibly talented the leading producers are. There are amazingly skilled people behind the buttons, and gifted vocalists behind their effected vocals. Some might have to try doing EDM themselves to fully appreciate its human element.


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Regression – Childish vs. Contemplative

coloring time

Jenn Vargas – coloring time via Flickr

In Freudian psychoanalytic theory regression is a defense mechanism in which the ego partially or fully revisits an earlier phase of libidinal¹ development.

This process is generally viewed as a backward step, one brought on by unresolved anxiety that challenges ‘normal’ functioning. It is also maladaptive because the person re-experiences anxiety clustered around an infantile stage of psychological development. In very real sense, one becomes fixated at an earlier developmental stage and aspects of the world are interpreted though the lens of an anxious child.

Not surprisingly, regression can contribute to negative personality characteristics. In the extreme, we get the paranoid, the grandiose, the manipulator, the pathological liar, or some combination thereof.

That’s the down side of regression.

However, consciously chosen regression – for example, creative play, reading childhood books or listening to old records – need not be maladaptive. Returning to earlier pastimes and pleasures in a controlled way can be therapeutic. It helps to integrate the total personality and possibly leads to increased awareness, experience and wisdom.

As a personal example, one of my favorite controlled regressions is listening to music from different periods of my childhood and young teen years. When I listen to my old favorites now, it’s almost like I psychologically ‘travel’ and connect with aspects of my former self. This can lead to an increased appreciation of where I was at within a given era. But this isn’t something I do on a regular schedule. For me, the right time to revisit and reflect simply arises, and discerning that time is more an art than a science. And when the time isn’t right, old tunes just sound like old tunes… stale, small and uninspiring.²

Hanging man artwork, in Husova street, central Prague, Czech Republic, a work by David Cerny intended to depict Sigmund Freud.

In a nutshell, the main difference between healthy and unhealthy regression depends on whether one

  • consciously participates in opportunities to remember, feel and reflect

or

  • unconsciously plays out old neuroses, over and over like a broken record

I touched on this in a piece influenced by the late, great sociologist Max Weber, “Childish or Childlike?

But not all childish people are necessarily fixated to something from early childhood. This is just a theory. Some believers in reincarnation, for instance, believe that we can be fixated to trauma occurring in past lives. On the other hand, geneticists would probably say that some people are simply born sensitive or anxious, and their anxiety and the resulting distortion of ‘reality’ has little or nothing to do with early childhood or past lives. Meanwhile, philosophers ask “what is reality?”

My point is that we should consider various perspectives but never get caught up in a single one, because that’s a kind of fixation too.

¹ Libido commonly refers to sexual energy or the supposed “sex drive” but for Sigmund Freud and his followers, the meaning is far more nuanced. See

See also

² Or as The Bard put it, “stale, flat and unprofitable.”


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The Raga – Mind altering sounds from India

In Indian classical music a raga (Sanskrit = color, tone) is the totality of a pattern or patterns of five to nine notes that provides a structure for improvisation. When improvising on a raga, the performer is free to change the pitch, volume, tone, timbre, tempo and number of notes but usually begins and ends on the same note, as indicated by the particular raga.¹

Ragas are often regarded as vehicles for spiritual meditation but they also recall, in an abstract and condensed form, epic stories and actual events from Indian history—e.g. the archetypal motif of arriving home after a lengthy war and finding out that one’s lover has died.

Accordingly, many see the raga as a tool for transcendence. For others it is also sublimely emotional.

While studying in India I had the opportunity to hear some masters like Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan play the raga. At one gathering, some Western ‘foreign’ students (as they were indelicately called) played first. I thought they were quite talented. But when the Indian master – in this case Ali Akbar Khan – played afterward, I was amazed at the difference. Khan captivated the audience with a true authority that the international students just couldn’t muster up.

Akira Asakura Raga in the Evening @Hindi concert ③ via Flickr

Akira Asakura Raga in the Evening @Hindi concert ③ via Flickr

These days, I don’t listen to that type of music as it takes me into a zone that I am no longer comfortable with. Let’s call it expansive transcendence. That was okay in India during the latter 1980s when time was slow and many local people seemed halfway in another world. But in the fast, focused Western world listening to Indian classical music affects me like taking mind altering substances that I don’t enjoy nor want. Sort of like a spiritual alcohol.²

Along these lines the Swiss analytical psychologist Carl Jung warned against Westerners embracing Eastern forms of spirituality. He felt that the Western psyche could face serious dangers if overwhelmed by what he saw as uniquely Asian archetypal forms. Many today would laugh at this, of course. But we must remember that Jung wrote well before yoga was trendy and international travel, common. And in Jung’s defense, I should add that he was rarely a black and white thinker. Jung also wrote that Asia possibly was “at bottom” of the paradigm shift that the West was just beginning to grasp.³

¹ Wikipedia adds some interesting details:

Although notes are an important part of rāga practice, they alone do not make the rāga. A rāga is more than a scale, and many rāgas share the same scale. The underlying scale may have four, five, six or seven tones, called swaras. Rāgas that have four swaras are called surtara (सुरतर) rāgas; those with five swaras are called audava (औडव) rāgas; those with six, shaadava (षाडव); and with seven, sampurna (संपूर्ण, Sanskrit for ‘complete’). The number of swaras may differ in the ascending and descending like rāga Bhimpalasi which has five notes in the ascending and seven notes in descending or Khamaj with six notes in the ascending and seven in the descending. Rāgas differ in their way how to ascend or descend. Those that do not follow the strict ascending or descending order of swaras are called vakra (वक्र) (‘crooked’) rāgas…

It is important to note that in Indian classical music there are seven natural notes (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni) and five half-notes. The four komal (flat) swaras are Re, Ga, Dha and Ni. The only one which can be sharp (tivre) is Ma. That means that any instrument tuned in a tempered way should actually not be used for this music since it is to be considered “out of tune”. In rāga Mārva, for instance, the komal Re is a little higher than it is in other rāgas (emhpasis added)

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raga

² Even though I don’t listen to them, I’ve kept all my old Indian classical tapes, stowed away in a bag in the basement. Come to think of it, I’ve kept practically all of my old music.

³ That last line is a bit confusing to me. I have a tendency to try to straighten out Jung’s thinking. But when I do it usually ends up like my thinking, not Jung’s. So I think I’ll just leave it as is.

Related » Mantra, Orpheus


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Oliver Sacks – A shy man who overcame his “disease”

English: Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks a...

Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was an influential British-born neurologist and bestselling author whose clinical and yet anecdotal writing style stresses the inalienable dignity of human beings suffering from neurological disorders.

His work looks at how patients with neurological disorders cope and, in so doing, explores the notion of body/soul interaction in both ‘disabled’ and ‘normal’ people.

He appeared in Wim Kayzer‘s 1994 video series, A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle, along with Rupert Sheldrake, Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennet and other major figures who, at the time, were at the cutting edge of their respective fields.

Sacks’ overt holism is best illustrated in his own words: “Mozart makes me a better neurologist.”

MINDMAP OF MUSICOPHILIA BY OLIVER SACKS by Austin Kleon

MINDMAP OF MUSICOPHILIA BY OLIVER SACKS by Austin Kleon via Flickr

Sacks was a shy person, to the point where he called shyness a “disease.”¹ He spent many years in the closet, first as sexually active and then as a celibate, until he found a male partner with whom he shared his home.² His book Awakenings (1973) was made into a film, nominated for an Academy Award in 1990.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Sacks

² Ibid.


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Joni Mitchell – Not one of my personal favs but respected

Joni Mitchell, performing in 2004

Joni Mitchell, performing in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joni Mitchell  (born 1943) is a Canadian folk, pop and jazz singer-songwriter whose hippie era lyrics speak volumes about the current situation:

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

–Big Yellow Taxi

We are stardust, we are golden. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden

–Woodstock

Mitchell has played, collaborated and recorded with many top pop, rock and jazz stars, to include James Taylor, Carole King, CSNY, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and the list goes on. Some believe she is the most important female pop artist of the 20th century.¹

Some of my female friends were really into her back in the day. But she never really turned my crank, for whatever reasons. As a kid and young adult I found the likes of Patsy Cline, Carole King and Annie Lennox far more appealing when it came to woman composers/vocalists.

Their music seemed less “involved” and more up front. For me, getting a good simple hook is the hardest thing to do. It’s less impressive to do long complicated pieces that never really fly. And I suppose I felt that Mitchell’s tunes, for the most part, were stuck on the ground or mired in drama. That’s an entirely subjective opinion, though, and it’s hard not to respect her for songs like those mentioned above, along with “Both Sides Now” and, I suppose,”California,” “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” and “Help Me.”

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joni_Mitchell

Related » Bruce Cockburn


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Alanis Morissette – Time smooths jagged edges

Alanis Morissette live at the Moon&Stars Festi...

Alanis Morissette live at the Moon&Stars Festival Locarno 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alanis Morissette  (1974 – ) is a pop-rock songwriter and performer born in Ottawa, Canada. Her wildly successful album Jagged Little Pill was in stores when I was doing my doctorate in Ottawa. So I felt a special connection to it. Also, I was happy to see another Canadian make it big.

Her style is a mix of Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell. She’s been called the “Queen of alt-rock angst” by Rolling Stone magazine,¹ but there were other Alternative Queens before her, not too long ago.

Alanis Morissette: Live in the Navajo Nation

Alanis Morissette: Live in the Navajo Nation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of Morissette’s more recent melodies seem to combine Native American Ghost Dance music with traditional pop-rock influences. And it seems that her jagged edge has smoothed out a bit over the years.

As with many pop stars, Morissette seems to enter into another reality while performing. Raised in a devout Roman Catholic family, she now practices Buddhism.

Not really a global force in music today like Sia, Katy Perry or Adele, Morissette’s last album Havoc and Bright Lights (2012) did have limited success in North America and generated a hit in Europe.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alanis_Morissette