Daily Archives: September 4, 2010

Saturday Night Video: (Re)Covered


Joe Cocker, “With a Little Help from My Friends” (Original)

This is a glorious performance, perhaps the only cover of a Beatles’ song that surpasses the original; no mean feat.  It’s from Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour (1969-1971), which was a crazy affair — a huge traveling band (including a retinue of superlative backup singers, two drummers and a full horn section) — and might be regarded as the tour that effectively marked the end of the hippie era.  If that’s so, it went out with a sweet-natured little pop tune transformed into a secularized hymn.

Now that we’ve had a look at Frye speaking and writing about rock ‘n’ roll and popular music generally as a bona fide element of culture and worthy of study (here, here, and here), our occasional Saturday Night Video selections maybe enjoys a little more cachet.

Here’s a collection of great cover versions of great songs, most of which are more famous than the original.  A link to the original artist is included, if you want to compare.

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Quote of the Day: The Community College Professor

Andrew Sullivan’s site, The Daily Dish, has been running an ongoing series from readers describing their jobs.  One of them today is a community college professor.  What he has to say is very moving and is certainly consistent with my experience.  He just puts it better than I ever have.

I believe the assumption is that instructors are the product of a liberal-biased education and then we decide to join that liberal bastion and are just going with the established flow. For those of us in the junior college ranks, however, I think there is a more concrete reason for the lean left, rather than the abstract leftism offered in certain courses we took as students.

When I hear friends and family offer specific illustrations of why they list in a more conservative direction, it often has to do with anecdotes revolving around the person they check out at the grocery store using food stamps to buy a jug of Carlo Rossi zinfandel or spending their welfare check on some other decidedly non-essential item. Or the stories they hear from mutual friends in law enforcement or social services who deal with the dregs of society on a daily basis. Who could possibly support any form of social safety net when a portion of that net will be devoted to such vermin?

Well, on an equally anecdotal and emotional level (not pillars of rational thought, granted, but clearly major inspirations for why and how most people choose a side) we here at a community college tend to see the better side of our fellow humans who are struggling on the low end of the economic ladder. We see them trying to better themselves, working hard in spite of their conditions to try and take a step up said ladder. Hell, some of them may even be spending public money on a pack of Winstons, but we don’t see that. We see them in their best light, for the most part.

And that’s what I want people to know about my job: I don’t have empathy for poor people because I read Sinclair Lewis or Karl Marx; I have it because I work in an environment in which I see them at their best. Some of them are clearly not cut out for college, some of them are unpleasant to deal with, some of them probably do spend their meager checks on stupid things. But they are also trying to change their lot. And they have much less margin for error in doing so. If I taught at an elementary school or high school, I may assume that the kids in my classes were on their way to the destinies that social research and my own perceptions had fated for them. If I taught at a university, I would never meet people who take an English class so they can legitimately compete for a promotion at the hotel chain in which they work, or pass the nursing program to get their AA degree. The world would be easier to categorize. But since I work in the gray area between, I know that it’s not that easy, and that people defy your definitions for them all the time.

Sarah Barracuda


A segment people might commit to memory if it made any sense.  (Tina Fey comes closest by quoting Palin verbatim here.)

Vanity Fair has an article on Sarah Palin this month, which she has used as an excuse to accuse the “lamestream media” of being “impotent” and “limp” — which actually confirms how she is portrayed in the article: snarling, thin-skinned, and incapable of accepting anything but adoring praise without going immediately on the attack in an effort to bully opponents into silence.  And with Fox News behind her, she can afford to stomp around noisily, swinging a big stick the entire time.  She is the anti-Obama.  No cool.  No control.  All drama.  All the time.

A sample from Vanity Fair:

Palin has been a national figure for barely two years—John McCain selected her as his running mate in August 2008. Her on-the-record statements about herself amount to a litany of untruths and half-truths. With few exceptions—mostly Palin antagonists in journalism and politics whose beefs with her have long been out in the open—virtually no one who knows Palin well is willing to talk about her on the record, whether because they are loyal and want to protect her (a small and shrinking number), or because they expect her prominence to grow and intend to keep their options open, or because they fear she will exact revenge, as she has been known to do. It is an astonishing phenomenon. Colleagues and acquaintances by the hundreds went on the record to reveal what they knew, for good or ill, about prospective national candidates as diverse as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. When it comes to Palin, people button their lips and slink away.

Palin’s rallying cry is “We’re taking America back!”  Back?  Where did it go?  And back from whom?  Oh. Right. It starts with Obama and extends to everything that does not rise to the Palin standard of representing the “real America.”  For her followers, who are well-polled on the issue, these include non-whites, non-Christians, Christians not Christian enough to believe in the End Times, city dwellers, gays, lesbians, liberals, and voters under 30.  In other words, taken all together, most of the country.

“Conservatives” like Palin revere Ronald Reagan as the most perfect president for a more perfect union, even though he raised taxes every year after 1982 (including what was then the largest tax increase in American history), and increased government spending more than twice that of the Ford and Carter administrations combined.  He did this while also running record deficits (tripling the national debt), a feat surpassed only by George W. Bush.  He was moreover responsible for the collapse of the Savings and Loan industry through irresponsible deregulation.  And — does this sound familiar? — $160 billion in losses had to be picked up by the American taxpayer.  But these inconvenient and verifiable facts are simply thrown down the memory hole.  It only matters the legend persist that Reagan brought down Communism with one well-placed judo chop, so there can’t be much reality to the perception of him from any angle.  Frye, however, saw it very clearly.  Here are two of his observations on Reagan from Denham’s Frye Unbuttoned:

Television brings a theatricalizing of the social contract.  Reagan may be a cipher as President, but as an actor acting the role of a decisive President in a Grade B movie he’s I suppose acceptable to people who think life is a Grade B movie. (249)

The Soviet Union is trying to outgrow the Leninist dialectical rigidity, and some elements in the U.S.A. are trying to outgrow its counterpart.  But it’s hard: Reagan is the great symbol of clinging to the great-power syndrome, which is why he sounds so charismatic even when he’s talking the most obvious nonsense. (250)

Which brings us back round to Sarah Palin.  She can’t speak in unscripted grammatical sentences, and she’s as mean and flinty as Reagan was genial and reassuring.  But apparently she’ll do for a “great-power syndrome” now in such a delusional state that empirical evidence and the historical record are swept aside by a policy of reckless lies delivered with indifference to the damage they do– such as Palin’s infamous “death panels,” which reduced reasoned debate about health care reform to paranoid hysteria.

The reason I always put “conservative” in quotes when talking about such people is because they’re not conservatives.  They’re oligarchs.  Conservatives accept change while promoting social stability.  Conservatives respect tradition and do not seek the radical overturning of it.  Disraeli was a conservative (“Upon the education of the people of the nation the future of the nation depends”).  Palin is not.  She’s more like a narcissistic personality disorder with a political action committee.

Fall of the Roman Empire


From the British television adaptation of Robert Graves‘s series of historical novels, I, Claudius.  In this scene featuring one infamous period of decadence among many in the Roman imperial family, Caligula addresses the Senate upon his return from his “battle against Neptune.”

On this date in 476 Romulus Augustus, last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed by Odoacer, who proclaimed himself King of Italy. The mythical date for the founding of Rome is similarly exact: April 21, 753 BC by, of course, Romulus, which is a pretty sweet bit of symmetry.  Furthermore, the Roman Republic was established  in 509 BC and the Western Roman Empire effectively ended in 476 AD, which is almost exactly the thousand years that Rome was mythically prophesied to be a great power.

So with that remarkable cycle of history in mind, here’s Frye in conversation with David Cayley on the difference between historical cycles and historical spirals — between mere repetition and progressive cultural enlightenment:

Cayley: Do you see instances in history of spiralling rather than cycling?

Frye: We find the idea of the turning cycle in the movement that went from the decline and fall of the Roman Empire to the rise of medieval civilization.  People always thought in terms of a renewed Roman Empire, all the way down to the eighteenth century, and they certainly regarded that as a spiral.  Whether we would think so or not is another question.

Cayley: I would think there’s some argument for it.  So the question then becomes whether we take our tradition with us on another turn, or whether, as appears to be the case and was noted in your remarks on senility earlier, we forget it.

Frye: I think it’s a disaster to forget it, because that means that anything new will simply be the primitive coming around again, making the same mistakes all over.  And we can’t afford to make those mistakes with the technology we’ve got now.  (CW 24, 1035)