14 February 2018

A profound ideological shift to a radical new sharing economy

I went to see this excellent documentary last night at VUW, and while it's not as glitzy as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, this feature-length illustrated lecture by economist Jeremy Rifkin does explain what the low-carbon Internet-of-things economy and society of the next three generations will actually look like. He's advised national and regional governments that are already well advanced along this route, like Germany, Rotterdam-Den Haag, Luxembourg, and parts of China. While the environmental risks of our current fossil fuel economy are frightening, Rifkin shows how we can secure a sustainable environment while retaining plenty of employment for we foolish humans. 

It's rumoured that we might be seeing Rifkin here in New Zealand later this year, potentially to advise the new government, which would be a tremendous opportunity. Have a look, and do share to your networks, because these sort of ideas travel best by word-of-mouth. (Be warned that it starts with our current grim environmental prospects laid on pretty thick to scare the living shit out of the switched-on Brooklyn millennials in the audience - but it does become a bit more positive after that...)

How to avoid the press gang

Scottish sailor John Nicol (1755-1825), seeking to make his way to Lincoln in around 1792 to enquire after his long-lost beloved Sarah, describes how he eluded the feared military press gangs seeking to forcibly enlist any able seamen they could lay their hands on:

'When we arrived at Gravesend a man-of-war's boat came on board to press any Englishmen there might be on board. William and I did not choose to trust our [legal] protections [letters from the British consul at Lisbon] now that we were in the river. So we stowed ourselves away amongst some bags of cotton where we were almost smothered but could hear every word that was said. The captain told the lieutenant he had no more hands than he saw, and they were all Portuguese. The lieutenant was not very particular, and left the brig without making much search.

When the boat left the vessel we crept from our hiding hole, and not long after a custom-house officer came on board. When we cast anchor, as I had a suit of long clothes in my chest that I had provided, should I have been so fortunate as have found Sarah at Port Jackson, to dash away with her a bit on shore, I put them on immediately and gave the custom-house officer half a guinea for the loan of his cocked hat and powdered wig. The long gilt-headed cane was included in the bargain.

I got a waterman to put me on shore. I am confident my own father, had he been alive, could not have known me with my cane in my hand, cocked hat and bushy wig. I inquired at the waterman the way to the inn where the coach set out from London; I at the same time knew as well as him. I passed for a passenger. At the inn I called for a pint of wine, pens and ink, and was busy writing any nonsense that came in my head until the coach set off. All these precautions were necessary. Had the waterman suspected me to be a sailor he would have informed the press-gang in one minute. The waiters at the inn would have done the same'.

- John Nicol, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, Edinburgh, 1822 (2000 edn.), p152-3.

05 February 2018

A Chickasaw County child

We were talking at work this morning about Bobbie Gentry, having arrived at her name as a contemporary to Dusty Springfield, and one who expertly covered Springfield's famed hit, Son of a Preacher Man, on her 1969 album Touch 'Em with Love. Naturally Gentry's spine-tingling classic Southern gothic track, Ode to Billie Joe, was mentioned, as it's the song that will always be foremost when people remember her. But it also brought to mind another superb Gentry track that harks back to her Mississippi youth - Papa, Woncha Let Me Go to Town With You?, a song from her first album in 1967, the one that was named after Ode to Billie Joe.

While Ode to Billie Joe closes the album as a tour de force of bravura songwriting, Papa... also on the album's Side B is a simpler, playful childhood reminiscence of a young Gentry pleading with her father not to leave her behind when he goes for his weekly journey to town. A girl isolated on her grandparents' Chickasaw County farm 16 miles outside of the shining lights and alluring shops of the nearest town clearly needed to pull out all the stops when it came to wheedling a ride:

There's a blue dress at Dindy's I'd give the world to see again
I need some hand lotion and some powder from the 5 and 10
Buy us some chocolate and I'll make you a pretty pie
If you don't let me go I'll just die...
It's not only the fine, nimble lyrics and the precise, folksy acoustic guitar that helps this track stand out - it's also the money Capitol Records very sensibly invested in employing a studio orchestra to augment it. In particular the horn section acts as a marvelous counterpoint to Gentry's voice, bookending her pleas with a stern paternal voice as she marshals all her best arguments to avoid another seven days trapped on the farm.

I've loved this track ever since hearing it on a fine Under The Influence compilation from 2004 by Beautiful South supremo Paul Heaton - although there the track was mislabeled as Chickasaw County Child, an entirely different track on the same album, which confused me for years. Here's a 24-year-old Gentry performing the song on her own BBC TV series in 1968.

21 January 2018

One Ringo to rule them all

Ringo went home [from Rishikesh in 1968] after two weeks; his stomach, weakened by childhood surgery, couldn't deal with even that mildly-spiced vegetarian food, and Maureen hated the flies. Into their cabin moved two members of the Apple team, Neil Aspinall and Denis O'Dell, who'd arrived from London. O'Dell was there to discuss John's idea for a documentary about the Maharishi and the hard-headed Aspinall to make sure it never got off the ground.

O'Dell brought with him what he considered to be the best idea for the Beatles' next feature film since the Joe Orton script. This was J.R.R. Tolkein's fantastical trilogy The Lord of the Rings, already an enormous hit on American college campuses but still relatively unknown in Britain. Consequently, neither Paul or John had ever encountered Tolkein's world of hobbits, elves and wizards which - so their film 'guru' said - offered plum screen-acting roles for them.

Knowing no Beatle could be expected to plough through a 1000-plus-page trilogy, O'Dell gave the three remaining meditators a volume each, subconsciously maintaining their usual order of precedence: John was to read the first in the sequence, The Fellowship of the Ring; Paul was to read the second, The Two Towers; and George the last, The Return of the King [...]

Nothing came of the film idea Denis O'Dell had brought out to India so excitedly... At the Maharishi's ashram, it had been provisionally agreed that Paul would play the hobbit Frodo Baggins, John the slithery humanoid Gollum, George the wizard Gandalf and Ringo Frodo's sidekick, Sam. 'John told me he could write a double album to go with it,' O'Dell remembers.

- Philip Norman, Paul McCartney: The Biography, London, 2016, pp.306-7 & 324

[This snippet falls into the category of something I probably used to know, but had forgotten. Apparently O'Dell's discussions with United Artists included the idea of David Lean to direct the film]