Until the sudden disappearance of the Lancaster Library and their vast DVD collection, I watched about 10 movies a week. I considered it film school, and I recently learned in a Masterclass with Aaron Sorkin, that it, indeed, is film school. I’m not going to try and deduct my couch and TV off my taxes though. Choose your battles, I say.
One thing I noticed during many of the movies, was the extraordinary use of the cello in the film score. I wished I could play one. Then came the lockdown. So, if ever there was a time to learn, this was it. I ordered a cello online and it recently arrived.
It didn’t come with any instructions, but it didn’t need any batteries, and I had 2 beginner cello books I’d also purchased online. I did the minimum assembly required.
The first day, I couldn’t get any sound out of the cello. I thought maybe it was broken, and I made sure to save the giant cardboard box that it came in.
The second day, I got sounds, but nothing musical. Maybe it’s just defective, I thought, as I wondered if I would have to call Customer Service to get an authorization number to return it. I worked in shipping for a while at Cyber Medical many years ago.
The third day, I got a couple sounds that resembled musical notes. I guess whatever might have jarred loose during shipping must have settled down. Maybe it’s not broken. It just needed time to settle.
The fourth day, I was getting notes out of every string. I still can’t play those first two notes of the Jaws Theme, which I tried to figure out for at least an hour, but I was learning some other things. On the C string, the thickest string, I was able to make noises that sounded like whale songs, maybe, or perhaps, more likely, whale farts. On the thinnest string, the A string, I was able make a sound like a dying mosquito. Those are my favorite kind of mosquitos, so I liked that sound.
So, this is where I should now be playing London Bridges, Frere Jacqua, or something like that, but, let’s face it, that’s boring. I ended yesterday’s Saxophone practice with The Star-Spangled Banner, so that was on the music stand when I sat down today. So that was my project for the day.
By the end of today’s session an astute neighbor might have recognized five notes I was playing on the cello as being eerily similar to the first five notes in the Star-Spangled Banner. I’m getting the hang of it. Purple Haze might be a little tougher to learn, but the journey of many miles must begin with the first step.
After that, Freebird!
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
I just checked, and it’s been over a month since I posted a new blog. There’s no baseball, no roller derby, and the liquor stores are closed, so I haven’t had any of my favorite subjects to write about.
How are you all doing? I hope you’re safe and well. I spent a year stationed on Adak, Alaska when I was in the navy, so isolation is easy for me. At least I’m not freezing my ass off this time. Sure, there’s the danger of death, this time, but I’m taking as many precautions as possible. The last time I left my apartment was to go to the mailbox to mail the May rent check, and I didn’t come in contact with anyone along the way.
I haven’t been indoors all this time, though. I’ve got a back yard and that has become my playground. What I’ve been playing is musical instruments. When I was a kid, I played the clarinet and saxophone to get me over a history of Asthma. It worked, as far as the Asthma goes. Musically, it wasn’t as successful. After 5 years of music lessons I still wasn’t much past the beginner level.
When I moved here to Lancaster I decided to go back to playing, so I bought a clarinet and saxophone. I practiced the clarinet for 45 minutes, 3 times a week. I only got the saxophone out one time. It was so loud, and I was so bad, that I decided that the quieter clarinet was enough punishment for my poor neighbors.
Then Covid-19 hit, and I wound up in isolation, social distancing to the extreme. I have a heart condition and I’m a former Asthmatic, so I tried to stay as far away from the Corona Virus as I possibly could, especially since it appeared that old people with health problems were the most likely to wind up in a morgue if they caught it.
So, I started playing the clarinet every day in my backyard. After a while, I decided that it was time to try the saxophone again, and this time, I stuck with it. Now, I play either the clarinet or the saxophone for 3 hours a day. Then, I decided that I would get one of those Casio keyboards with built in rhythm makers to accompany me. That virtual drummer made playing more fun, but I kept looking at the keyboard and thinking I should give that a try, too. What the hell, I thought, even if I suck at it, it’s quieter that the saxophone.
I turned out to be right. It was much quieter that the saxophone, and I did suck at it. But the beauty of having a lot of time on my hands to practice, is that I no longer suck at it. Now, I’m just plain bad. But you know what? It’s still a lot of fun. Today I was having a blast playing the old Troggs hit, Wild Thing. If you’re not old enough to remember the Troggs, you probably still know the song from the baseball movie with Charlie Sheen, where the fans nicknamed him Wild Thing. I don’t play the whole song, just those same Rock n Roll chords that have been the backbone of Rock for ages, C, F, and G.
“Wild thing, you make my heart sing.” Music, they say, has charms that soothe the savage beast. It’s working for me. And the keyboard came with headphones, so the neighbors wouldn’t even know I’m playing it, if they didn’t hear me occasionally belting out, “Wild Thing, I think you move me.”
A trio of instruments wasn’t enough for me though. I looked at my stimulus check and said to myself, “Self, it’s not going to stimulate the economy just sitting there.” So, I went online and bought a cello. It’s supposed to arrive this week. I love movies and a cello is one of the ubiquitous instruments in movie soundtracks, so I might use it to do my own little musical improvisation for my three screen plays.
Of course, I don’t know how to play the cello, but if a guy named Yo-Yo can learn to play it, I figure I should be able to learn it too. I ordered all the self-instruction booklets I can find.
So, my backyard has become my recording studio, and I’ve posted some of my clarinet and saxophone solos on Facebook. I’m almost ready to post my first keyboard effort, too. My friend Tilda asked me if I would play the Theme from Mahogany, Do You Know Where You’re Going To. I practiced it for a few hours today, and I can play the beginning of the song fairly well. Another couple days of practice and I should be able to play the whole song. Right now, I play a version that is a blend of the beginning of the Diana Ross song, and then it goes into Wild Thing. No two songs were ever less likely to mix in a medley. It’s not normal, but these are strange times we’re living in, and normal just doesn’t exist anymore. I’m thinking of getting a YouTube account. Maybe I’ll inspire another former musician to break out their old instrument and play. Or better still, maybe some scientists will hear me play and work harder to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, so that I can go back to the bars and stop making all that racket in my backyard.
Peace & Love and all of the above,
On Thursday I attended James Buchanan’s 229th birthday party online. It will be replayed on the LancasterHistory website in about a week. In the meanwhile you can view the trailer for Raising Buchanan, which they previewed. It is a light-hearted portrayal of a desperate woman who kidnaps the un-entombed corpse of our 15th president and tries to ransom him to get out of her financial straits. It will be released on May 5th on iTunes, and it will be available in DVD and Blu-ray formats.
James Buchanan served the Country for almost a half century, earning himself the nickname, “The Old Public Functionary.” He unsuccessfully sought the Presidency in 1844. He tried again in ’48 but didn’t get the nomination. He tried again in ’52, but was denied for the third time. So, he figured he was never going to be President, and when he was in his sixties, he accepted what he thought would be the final position in his illustrious career of public service. He accepted, what was considered political exile, the post of Ambassador to Great Britain.
When he returned from Britain, however, he was just about the only Democrat not tainted by the Kansas-Nebraska Bill brouhaha, and the country offered him the election on a silver plate. By that time, he was 65-years old, and the life expectancy of a man of the time was about forty. He, actually, almost died from National Hotel Disease (like Legionnaire’s Disease) right before he took office, and he was still very ill when he took the Oath of Office. Because of his age and health, he announced in his inaugural address that he would not seek re-election. That was his biggest mistake. He made himself a lame duck President, and Stephen Douglas tried to use the opportunity to take over the Democratic Party, causing a split in the party that opened the door for the new guys on the block, the Republicans to win Congress in 1858 and the White House in 1860.
Two days after his inauguration, The Supreme Court issued their infamous Dred Scott Decision. Buchanan knew ahead of time what the decision of the Supreme Court was going to be. He knew that they voted 5-4 against freeing Dred Scott from slavery, with an absolute regional bias in their decision. The 5 Southern judges voted against Dred Scott and the 4 Northern judges voted for his freedom. Knowing that this strict North/South split-decision would only divide the country even more, Buchanan begged one of the Northern judges to change his vote, so that the final decision would be a more impressive 6-3 decision, without the strict regional bias. He didn’t change the outcome of the Supreme Court Decision. He only wanted to make that decision more acceptable to the American people, in hopes that they would accept the decision, obey the law, drop the slavery agitation, and let him and the nation concentrate on other pressing problems, of which there were many.
Historians have crucified him for getting involved in the Supreme Court decision, as that is an absolute no-no today, but back then it was a common practice for the Supreme Court to share their decisions ahead of time with political leaders. James Buchanan’s reputation wound up taking a beating that should have been delivered to the Supreme Court. They made the bad decision, not him, but they had one big advantage that politicians don’t have. The Constitution states that Justices “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” This means that the Justices hold office as long as they choose and can only be removed from office by impeachment. They don’t have to win elections.
Buchanan felt that because slavery was Constitutionally legal, there was nothing he could legally do about it, and besides, he felt, it would only be a short time before the South would have to bow to world pressure and drop it on their own. Iceland outlawed slavery way back in 1117, but it wasn’t until late in the 18th century that the idea started to spread from country to country like wildfire. In 1777, the State of Vermont, an independent Republic after the American Revolution, abolished slavery. The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in Britain in 1787. The U.S. Constitution banned the slave trade, effective in 1808. In 1792 Denmark banned the import of slaves to its West Indies colonies, although the law only took effect from 1803. Haiti won independence and ended slavery there in 1804.
In 1807, Britain passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, outlawing British Atlantic slave trade. In 1811, Spain abolished slavery, including in its colonies, though Cuba rejected the ban. Sweden banned slave trading in 1813. A year later, the Netherlands banned slave trading. France banned slave trading in 1817, but the ban was not effective until 1826.
In 1819, Portugal abolished the slave trade north of the equator. Britain placed a naval squadron off the West African coast to enforce the ban on slave trading. In 1823, Britain’s Anti-Slavery Society was formed. In 1833 Britain passed the Abolition of Slavery Act, ordering the gradual abolition of slavery in all British colonies. Plantation owners in the West Indies received 20 million pounds from the British government in compensation for their freed slaves. Then in 1833, Great Britain and Spain signed a treaty prohibiting the slave trade.
In 1846, the Danish governor proclaimed emancipation of slaves in Danish West Indies, abolishing slavery there. In 1848, France abolished slavery. In 1851, Brazil abolished slave trading.
So, Buchanan hoped that slavery was destined to become a non-issue. He often mentioned that long before the Civil War, the State of Virginia came close to abolishing slavery in the state legislature. Then Nat Turner’s Slave revolt in 1831 brought that idea to a screeching halt. Radical Abolitionists were at work trying to spark a race war, and that struck fear in all Southern hearts Most Southerners didn’t own slaves, but they all greatly feared what might happen to them and their families if 4 million slaves were suddenly freed overnight, especially if they were given guns.
Buchanan believed that if the Abolitionist would just calm down, slavery, as an institution, would die out on its own. But the Abolitionists didn’t calm down. They grew even more vociferous with the publication of Harriet Beacher Stowe’s fictional play Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Simon Legree is an extremely cruel plantation owner who sees his slaves as nothing more than feelingless objects to be used or abused as he pleases. He beats his slaves and rapes the women. This work of fiction was all the evidence radical Northerners of the time needed to “prove” that every single slave holder was like Simon Legree and had to be stopped immediately by any means possible.
The Constitution allowed slavery in the South, but the North was, nevertheless, inflamed by the idea that it was their moral obligation to end the institution immediately. I guess they forgot that it was mostly the ships built in New England that brought the slaves to America in the first place. “There’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk.” Anyhow, by itself, ending slavery is a very noble goal, but they decided to do it, not legally, but by superseding the law and using any means possible, and that meant killing. “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free…” The South just wanted to be left in peace. The North wanted war. They were spoiling for a war, especially since they felt they could easily win the war in three months or less.
When the South severed its ties with the North, the South did not invade the North to fight for their independence. They simply left the Union and tried to peacefully form their own government, a government that took their safety and the safety of their families way more seriously than the Union did.
The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence states that, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
This is what the South tried to do, but the North wouldn’t let them, because of their highly-aroused sense of moral outrage at the institution of slavery. Many ardent Abolitionist, like John Brown at Harper’s Ferry tried to arm the slaves and urge them to kill their masters. To me, this is comparable to the bombing of abortion clinics and the murdering of surgeons to show your moral outrage at the legalization of abortion. It was moral outrage on steroids, and it led to the inevitable Civil war that killed more than 650,000 Americans, not to mention how countless many more lives it ruined.
Buchanan served in his State legislature. Then he was a Congressman, a Senator, Ambassador to Russia, Secretary of State, Ambassador to Great Britain, and finally President. He was also offered an appointment to the Supreme Court by a few Presidents. Very few people have done more for this country than James Buchanan, yet historians continue to mock him as the worst President ever. I place a lot of the blame on Jean Baker, who wrote a very unflattering biography of James Buchanan.
In my opinion, Buchanan was just unfortunate to get the Presidency at one of the worst possible times to be President. Civil War was already raging when he took office. There was bloodshed in the Kansas territory over the slavery question, and hundreds were killed. Buchanan had to send troops to bring law and order to the territory. Religious conflict caused Mormons on their way west to be killed for their beliefs, and then they revenged the killings by massacring a group of Non-Mormons passing through Utah on their way to California. Buchanan sent troops to restore order in Utah. He also tried to buy Alaska from Russia, so that he could invite the Mormons to live there in peace. He was a President who wanted peace, when the North badly wanted a war. They called him a Doughface, a derisive name used against anyone who had any sympathy for the South.
There is, also, little talk by historians about the numerous foreign policy triumphs during his Presidency. I’ll have to cover that in another rant.
Happy Birthday, President Buchanan
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
This guy might not be knocking on your door, but he is in the neighborhood, and he’s going door-to-door. Don’t let him in.
It’s understandable that after a month indoors most of us want to get back to normal, but Normal hopped on the last flight out of town, with on open-ended return ticket. By now, you and your family have probably played about as much Monopoly, Yahtzee, or Clue as your mind can take. Even video game players and TV watchers need a touch of reality once in a while. So, you’re probably eagerly anticipating a sign from the government that it’s over, and it’s safe to go back outside.
There is a lot of financial pressure to get the country moving again. Businesses will reopen, so that “the cure isn’t worse than the disease.” Democrats and Republicans want to show us that they are better at handling this crisis than the other guy. Grandparents want to hold their grandchildren. Parents want to get away from their children, and children now nostalgically long for the days when their parents would yell, “Go outside and play.”
If the economic, social, and political pressures force the country to “open up” again before there is a vaccine, it might be considered necessary, under the circumstances, but it won’t really be safe. If you can remain indoors, do so. If you must go out, do so as infrequently as possible and as safely as possible.
I think that a lot of people believe that the worst days are over. Unfortunately, I think we might someday be looking back on the past month as the “Good old days of Coronavirus.” Normally, I use an Excel spreadsheet program to help me gauge the speed (and bet-worthiness) of Harness Horses. Well, there’s no Harness Racing nowadays to occupy my mind, so I punched in the Covid-19 case and fatality numbers. Then, just like handicapping a race, I tried to predict where the numbers will go.
Currently there are 641,507 reported cases of Covid-19. It took almost 3 months (85 days) to go from 1 case to 641,507 cases. My computer predicts that this number will actually grow incredibly to over 1,000,000 cases in as short a time as a week. Until a few days ago, Heart Disease was the number one killer of Americans, killing 1774 a day. Covid-19 is now killing more than 2,000 Americans a day, and that number is still getting larger every day. Soon it will be killing as many people a day as Heart Disease and Cancer combined. This isn’t going away overnight, even if it is urgent to get the country back to work.
- Heart disease: 647,457; 1774/day
- Cancer: 599,108; 1641/day
- Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936; 466/day
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201; 439/day
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383; 401/day
- Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404; 333/day
- Diabetes: 83,564; 229/day
- Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672; 153/day
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633; 139/day
- Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173; 129/day
So, just know that when they sound the “all clear,” and urge people to get back to normal, it’s not really all clear, and normal will still be on vacation. Be safe.
Like they used to say in the squad room on the old Hill Street Blues TV show,
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
The Honeymoon is Over.
The first few weeks of the Social Distancing and Home Sheltering went smoothly. With the exception of the “Black Friday” rush for toilet paper, people everywhere were helping their neighbors. My friend Tilda, a seamstress, is making masks for all 50 people in her building. My upstairs neighbor, Shawn, brought me two boxes of wine. There were a lot of stories like that. But recently I’m noticing that some people are starting to come unglued. For them, the honeymoon is over.
I have been de-stressing by using my phone to video myself playing the clarinet, and I’ve been posting some of the less squeaky songs on Facebook. I can’t post video on this blog, so I’ve been posting them there. Count your blessings. My Facebook friends have been very supportive, though, making positive comments, and even offering some suggestions. I played The Ballad of Davy Crocket and my friend Denise suggested I wear a coonskin cap. I just so happen to have a coonskin cap. So, I’m going to “Head back into the studio” for that one.
I started making lists of songs I can play that might be fun on the clarinet. I can do those notes at the beginning of Smoke on the Water, and it sounds pretty cool, but it goes immediately downhill after that. It’s just not a good clarinet song. Yankee Doodle sounds good on a clarinet. I added that to my song list, and I’ve got notes on what would be good to wear while playing those songs, an appropriate t-shirt or hat, like a ballcap for Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Now, I’m starting to wonder what I should have in the background while I’m playing. Pictures??? Maybe I could add sound effects???
It’s getting crazy out there, and I have a feeling that I’ll be right near the front of the crazy parade, at least virtually. Hey, I wonder if Seventy-six Trombones would be a good song on the clarinet. I wonder what kind of outfit would go with that song.
Avoid the crazies. Be safe at home.
Peace & Love and all of the above,
Whether you’re self-quarantining, home sheltering, or just plain hunkering down against this Covid-19 pandemic, I hope you have plenty of food, drink, and, of course, the current Tickle-Me-Elmoish/Cabbage-Patch-dollish-must-have item of the year, toilet paper. I, personally, was more concerned on stocking up on rolling papers, but we all handle crisis differently. Besides, my buddy Tommy provided me with a solution to the toilet paper shortage. Spray your butt hole with a little WD-40 every morning and the poop will slide off. Thanks Tom. I sure hope your wife Lydia doesn’t kill you during your home sheltering. Nobody falls for that “I just want to lubricate your butt to save toilet paper ploy” anymore.
While many of us are home sheltering to avoid the Covid-19 virus, we should also be wary of the symptoms of Cabin Fever. It can quickly lead to I’m-gonna-kill-you-if-you-don’t disappear-for-a-while Disease. So, wash your hands, wipe the table down with a bleach rinse, break out a fresh deck of cards and have some fun with the family. Just be sure to switch to another fresh deck, whenever somebody coughs on their cards.
You know what they say, “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”
I noticed that half the stories on the internet are about the virus, and the rest are sick jokes about the virus. Laughter is the best medicine. (Unless you have lots of insurance, a really good doctor, and a great prescription plan.) That’s one thing about Americans, though. Give us a disaster, any disaster, and within 24 hours we can do a whole routine on it. The World Trade Center broke us, though. We didn’t have any quick one-line comebacks for that. This disease is bringing us back together again. We know it’s not funny, but we can laugh at ourselves, and keeping a sense of humor is important. I recently read that the very hot Carmen Electra said that most women will choose a funny guy over an interesting guy. She went on, however, to say that they will eventually become irritated with the funny guy, though, and dump him for an interesting guy. So, gents, keep your sense of humor, but try to make yourself more interesting, too.
One way to be more interesting is to read more books. The little tidbits you pick up in your reading will make conversations with you more interesting. Unless you are like me. I just finished Spillover by David Quammen. It’s all about how viruses spread. Cool, huh?
Well, I have to get back to washing my hands. I used to do it for as long as it took me to sing Happy Birthday twice. I’ve switched to singing American Pie…twice.
Be safe; Be healthy; and Be grateful to all the Superhero Health-Care professionals and others who are on the front-line fighting this thing.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
I wrote this story last week, but with the Library being closed I didn’t have any internet access. So I ordered a mobile hot spot, and I just got it activated. I’m back on the grid.
In 1965, I was walking along Rockaway Boulevard when suddenly all the lights went out. Most of the Northeast and parts of Canada lost power. I went to see Tommy Powers and Donnie Mazurkiewicz, my two best friends. We spent most of the night in Tommy’s basement on 132nd Street listening to radio broadcasts on our transistor radios. The city came together that night. Citizens were directing traffic, and traffic flowed smoothly. Good Samaritans were everywhere. Everyone was getting along with everyone. People were helping one another. The City was having a grand celebration of itself, with everyone eating all the ice cream that was melting in the freezers across the city. The three of us were stuck with nothing to do but listen to our radio in a basement in South Ozone Park.
In 1977, I lived in Jersey City, and there was a blackout. I immediately jumped on a bus to N.Y. I wasn’t going to miss all the fun, this time. Unfortunately, that was the year that looters and rioters grabbed all the headlines. You win some. You lose some. I do remember one happy moment, though. I was sitting by a big square water-filled fountain. The water was still. The entire area was pitch black. I looked at the reflection in the water and turned to look up. I saw a night sky that was as brilliant as anything the Hubble spacecraft has ever photographed. Without the lights of Manhattan overpowering them, thousands of stars beamed brightly overhead. Thousands and Thousands. Millions. Billions even.
I went to New York on Friday the 13th this year for the annual party Marianne and Tres throw each year around St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, the party was cancelled as a precaution, since Covid-19 is poking its unwanted ugly face everywhere. So, this trip, I spent some time in Manhattan. The stars were not out this time, not in the sky or on the Great White Way. The threat of Covid-19 caused the cancellation of every show on Broadway, and a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden. So, I’ve witnessed the lights being out on Broadway, twice now, but this time the problem was bigger than the lack of electricity.
Some Television shows tried to continue without an audience on Friday, but most just went to re-runs immediately. Eventually, they all closed-down production for safety’s sake. March Madness was cancelled. All sports are closed. Yonkers Raceway is closed even though their attendance can’t be more than a handful of people, who wandered from the casino and got lost.
So, with no shows to watch, the audience went shopping, and they bought toilet paper, lots and lots of toilet paper. They were also looking for Purell and face masks, but those items have been out of stock everywhere for weeks. TV News cameras on every station featured zoom-in shots of bare shelves in the toilet paper aisle.
There weren’t nearly as many people on the streets of Manhattan, as there usually are, and half of them were probably just out looking for toilet paper and Purell. Remember that old Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?” Competitive toilet paper manufacturers will probably be running “Where’s the toilet paper?” ads soon with a hologram of Clara Peller.
Because of the consequences of Covid-19, the stock market faced a huge drop, and even God’s stock took a big hit. The Catholic Church excused all their members from church for three weeks. I guess that collection plates will probably be mailed to their houses.
Among the party people, I noticed that kissing, shaking hands, and even fist bumping are all “out” now as forms of “hello.” Elbow bumps are the “in” way to greet friends, and now, when people want “elbow room,” they mean six feet. All touch is with the elbows, even though that is where you are supposed to sneeze now. The hands are shunned for everything. The bartender asked me if I wanted another drink, and I said, “Twist my elbow.” In the old days, that might have gotten a laugh. People are very serious now, though. Nobody is passing around joints anymore, either. Everybody just Bogarts their own.
My return train trip home was cancelled three times by Amtrak before I finally found a train going to Norfolk that stopped in Philadelphia, where I was able to connect with a train going to Lancaster. Despite the cancellation of half the scheduled runs, the trains are still practically empty, though. The 6-foot social distancing guideline, that is becoming so popular, was easy to maintain. And the trains have to be clean, even if the company is doing nothing, since just about every passenger wiped down their entire area with bleach wipes before they sat down.
So, now I’m back home, and the state has closed down all the liquor stores. Oh Covid-19, now you’ve gone too far.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
Today, March 7th, is the 26th anniversary of 2 Live Crew’s Supreme Court victory, which protected parodies from copyright infringement lawsuits. The song they parodied was Pretty Woman, by Roy Orbison. Freedom of Speech was honored. The Supreme Court ruled that parodies are covered under the fair use doctrine. Weird Al Yankovic and a host of comedians breathed a big sigh of relief.
In celebration, 2 Live Crew then recorded a parody of a popular Bruce Springsteen song which they called “Banned in the U.S.A.” Bruce didn’t sue them. Yay Bruce!
I loved the original, Born in the U.S.A., but I never heard the parody before today. Maybe you haven’t either, so here’s a link.
When you finish watching that clip, you might want to enjoy President Andrew Shepard’s speech from the movie The American President.
Then, to put it all in context read the words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This was so important, that it was the very first Amendment in the Bill of Rights, but the ink was barely dry when Congress passed the Sedition Act and President Adams signed it into law on July 14, 1798. Fortunately, that was quickly repealed, but Americans have always had to fight to keep this right to the free expression of controversial subjects. Comedians, musicians, and writers have led the fight, but it’s an uphill battle we all face.
The tough part, of course, is defending the right of free speech for those with whom we disagree, but that is the core of the Amendment. The only way for us to understand both sides of an issue is to listen to both sides of an issue. Unfortunately, most of us on the left are now glued to MS-NBC, while those on the right are joined at the hip to Fox News. I admit that I’m guilty. The Internet doesn’t help me, either. It records what I watch and then steers me to more like-minded material. Once in a while, I can watch a right-leaning comedian like Nick Di Paolo, but I still don’t watch Fox News.
The thing is that when we stifle free-speech we impede our chances of learning something new. I read yesterday about a government employee who got fired for his controversial ideas on handling the Coronavirus epidemic. He kind of suggested that, because 80% of cases are mild and many will show no symptoms, instead of strict quarantines, we should all mingle freely so that the epidemic could spread rapidly and then be over just as quickly. His main idea was that in the long run the virus was going to infect just as many people, but instead of the epidemic lasting for years and destroying businesses, it would just be a short time before things could get back to normal.
This sounds like a crazy idea, but I remembered back when I was a little kid. If either my brother or I caught something like measles, my mother, a nurse, would immediately tell the other one, “Go play with your brother.” This way both of us had it at the same time and she could take care of us both at the same time, instead of having to deal with two sick kids at two separate times. Instead of having the illness in the family dragging out for a month or more, it was all over in a week or two. Just look at how many large conventions were cancelled recently, and how the stock market tumbled. Imagine what will happen if this drags out for years.
So maybe there was some merit in the idea, even if it was a bit harsh and hard to swallow. The thing is that he was just expressing an idea, “spitballing” the problem. By firing the man, it, in effect, stifled any new thinking on how to handle the emergency. What good is a think tank, if it is limited to ideas that are only “inside the box”? The whole idea of brainstorming is to explore as many ideas as possible, even bad ones, in hopes of finding the best ideas.
People getting fired for expressing their ideas is not unusual, but it is wrong. Some ideas are terrible ideas, but in rebutting these ideas we might come up with some good ideas. Some ideas, like Nazism, are repulsive, but people should still be allowed the free expression of their ideas. I know that when I listen to someone with whom I strongly disagree, I try to pay closer attention to what they are saying, so that I will be able to present a better argument against them. Some ideas may be dangerous, but controlling ideas and punishing free thinkers is even more dangerous.
Long after his death, the spirit of Lenny Bruce still lives.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,