Chris Squire, RIP, who refused to play what he was supposed to play

Chris Squire in 2004. Photo credit: Rob Archer

Chris Squire in 2004. Photo credit: Rob Archer

Over the weekend music lost one of the greatest rock bassists of all time, Chris Squire, the co-founder of the world’s preeminent prog band Yes, and the only member to appear on every album. I woke up to the news Saturday morning, and felt like a part of my teenage years had been ripped away.

Squire’s sound was utterly unique, but it wasn’t just his trebly tone, it was the notes he chose, sometimes making you walk away humming the bass line as much as the melody line in a song. One amazing example of Squire’s roundabout way (see what I did there?) of NOT playing the typical bass line is the opening of “Starship Trooper”: It’s a two-chord riff, but Chris doesn’t play two notes, he doesn’t play three, he plays SIX. Count ’em.)

I grew up with Yes. Their music has been an integral part of the majority of my life, and in many ways it helped me survive my home town. While I was always more of a fan of their proggy 70’s output, I didn’t get to see them live in the “Big Generator” tour in the late 80s when the band dipped its toe into pop waters. But I would up seeing them four more times: the “Union” tour in which old and new members shared the stage; the “Talk” tour for an under appreciated Trevor Rabin-era album, and sparsely attended being that it was the height of the grunge explosion in music; their return to “classic” form on their Masterworks tour; and a lovely in-store appearance in 2004 in which I got to actually meet my music heroes.

Chris Squire, while nice and pleasant, seemed a little less happy about meeting fans that evening, but it was still an honor to shake his hand, that hand that was such a genius at finding something other than the typical, usual, monotoned bass lines. (Jon Anderson made a pass at my wife at the time, but that’s another story.)

(Photos: Above: Chris Squire during in-store appearance in Sherman Oaks, CA, 2004. Below: CDs autographed by Yes band members in 2004 and 1997.)

Yes autographs

The universe recycles

ring galaxy

The universe recycles. The atoms in your body have come from the most amazing places over the most stupendous distances in mind-boggling spans of time. Even if you’ve never gone far from home, you’re already a galactic traveler. There are parts of you far, far older than the planet you’re standing on.

A cat’s problem with the Schrodinger’s Cat experiment

Lionheart lamp

Schrodinger’s Cat is the thought experiment where a cat inside a closed box is both dead and alive, and its condition is not determined until the box is open and the cat is observed by an observer.

But what about the cat’s perspective? Is not the cat an observer too? Are we both dead and alive until the box is open and the cat sees us? And hey, isn’t that damn cat meowing or something? C’mon, people!

(Lionheart says the observer is dead if there’s no cat food waiting when he gets out. And he left a little “present” inside for us to clean up.)

AVERT YOUR EYES!

There’s really nothing else like Hannibal on TV. The show truly redefines the entire horror genre in the same way The Walking Dead redefines the zombie genre.

But on Thursday night’s episode a Botticelli painting features prominently in the plot. However, NBC, while perfectly okay with the goriest gore being shown in the program, felt the need to blur out the nipples and crotch areas, the naughty bits, of the painting.

Botticelli NBC

History buff

"Project Mercury 1962 Issue-4c" by U.S. Post Office; via Wikimedia Commons

“Project Mercury 1962 Issue-4c” by U.S. Post Office; via Wikimedia Commons

I’m a history buff, especially the dawn of the Space Age, World War 2, the English monarchy, the medieval period, and the Roman empire. But what made me love history was when I started to see the interconnectedness of it. The Moon landings were connected to Cold War hysteria of being able to deliver nuclear weapons without aircraft (the true cause of the Space Race), which is connected to the rocket scientists “extracted” by the Americans and Russians at the end of World War 2, which is connected to Hitler’s dreams of empire and his antisemitism, which is connected to the virulent antisemitism of Martin Luther, which is connected to the Reformation and the middle ages, which is connected to the rearrangement of European nations and cultures after the collapse of the Roman Empire, which culture had its roots in Ancient Greece, which grew from ancient Egypt and the Babylonian empire, and on and on…

Maybe history should be taught backward. The idea of history is to show us how we got here… so maybe we should work from here to there rather than there to here. Just a thought.

And any cable channel that has “history” in the name could probably do a lot more good showing the interconnectedness of today with yesterday than alien autopsies, conspiracy theories and the like.

On the other hand, if modern history has taught me anything, it’s that alien autopsies and conspiracy theories always get a bigger audience than actual history.

John Oliver is the second coming of Edward R. Murrow.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

If you’re not watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver​, you’re missing out on a cultural phenomenon — the rebirth of television news as a force for good.

We marvel at tales of yesterday in which a plucky news team led by a charismatic journalist in the person of Edward R. Murrow could not only report the news fairly, accurately and honestly, but with a sacred attention to detail and fact, and then present them in such a way as to not only make you understand, but to effect change. The fall of red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy is people’s exhibit number one for that case.

At long last, the spiritual successor to Murrow has arrived in the unlikely guise of a comedian with a keen news sense, Mr. John Oliver, late of The Daily Show and now making quite a large mark on the media landscape with his HBO show, Last Week Tonight.

More than anything, John Oliver’s show is HARD NEWS, albeit covered in healthy gobs of laughter and comedy. But make no mistake, it is hard news.

Oliver delves deeper into an issue than most other TV news shows. TV, we are told, is for short attention spans. TV news, we are told, has time only for headlines and maybe a paragraph, but no more. Even long form news programming like CNN doesn’t dive deeply into an issue, it only repeats, ad nauseam, the top three lines of the story, with video on mind-numbing loops playing over and over again, and then asking a rotating band of pundits what they think about it. A powerless cruise ship and a missing airliner are people’s exhibits number two and three for that case.

John Oliver’s format is basically this: a “quick recap” of a couple of current stories, followed by his main story in which up to 25 minutes of the show can be devoted — in depth, with jokes, in detail, with jokes, stories told with WORDS, not just video, with jokes.

Maybe it’s because Oliver, with his funny little British man routine, is unassuming and nonthreatening, thereby sucking us in, but we watch and learn more about an issue than we ever could watching any other news show, except perhaps 60 Minutes.

Finally, people’s exhibit number four is Oliver’s handling of FIFA over the course of two shows. Now that arrests have been made and the exposure of corruption has entered mainstream public awareness, we see, once again, TV news not just as a source of information, but as a force for good.

John Oliver has been able to dress up Last Week Tonight as a comedy show, a spinoff of The Daily Show, the better to trick us into having longer attention spans. I couldn’t accomplish that, what with this LONG blog post. You probably stopped reading after the first couple of paragraphs because I’m not nearly as funny as Oliver. But Oliver has succeeded, and I can only hope he keeps succeeding. America needs another Edward R. Murrow, and if he happens to also be funny, so much the better.

Condolences to the Biden family

My heart goes out to the family of Vice President Joe Biden on the tragic loss of his son, Beau. I’ve long been a fan of Joe’s because through all the terrible tragedies he’s had to face, he never stopped working and he kept soldiering on. And not just that, but he kept going on with a bright cheerfulness, good humor and joy of life seen in so few other politicians. Would that I had the tireless fortitude and strength of spirit of Joe Biden.

Here is some of what Joe Biden has said in the past about dealing with grief and personal tragedy:

During his commencement address at Yale University earlier this month, Biden described how the incident brought him closer to his children:

“Six weeks after my election, my whole world was altered forever. While I was in Washington hiring staff, I got a phone call. My wife and three children were Christmas shopping, a tractor trailer broadsided them and killed my wife and killed my daughter. And they weren’t sure that my sons would live.

“Many people have gone through things like that. But because I had the incredible good fortune of an extended family, grounded in love and loyalty, imbued with a sense of obligation imparted to each of us, I not only got help. But by focusing on my sons, I found my redemption.

“I can remember my mother — a sweet lady — looking at me, after we left the hospital, and saying, Joey, out of everything terrible that happens to you, something good will come if you look hard enough for it. She was right.

“The incredible bond I have with my children is the gift I’m not sure I would have had, had I not been through what I went through. Who knows whether I would have been able to appreciate at that moment in my life, the heady moment in my life, what my first obligation was.”

In 2012, Biden described how he dealt with grief in an emotional speech for the families of fallen military service members at the 18th Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar.

“And I remember looking up and saying, ‘God,’ I was, as if I was talking to God myself, ‘You can’t be good, how can you be good?’” the vice president said.

Of his grief, Biden added: “There was still something gigantic missing. And just when you think, ‘Maybe I’m going to make it,’ you’re riding down the road and you pass a field, and you see a flower and it reminds you. Or you hear a tune on the radio. Or you just look up in the night. You know, you think, ‘Maybe I’m not going to make it, man.’ Because you feel at that moment the way you felt the day you got the news.”

Biden also discussed dark thoughts he had in the wake of the accident.

“It was the first time in my career, in my life, I realized someone could go out — and I probably shouldn’t say this with the press here, but no, but it’s more important, you’re more important. For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide,” he said. ”Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again.”

The vice president ended the emotional speech by saying that “it can and will get better.”

“There will come a day — I promise you, and your parents as well — when the thought of your son or daughter, or your husband or wife, brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye,” he said. “It will happen.”