Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the Virtue of Moderate Vice

Not much time again this morning, so I suppose we can complete our list of top ten favorite releases of 2013.

Nah, I'd just ignore this post, which is both substandard and self-indulgent. See you tomorrow!

You will have noticed that I like to collect box sets. Why is this? Because I am the ideal sucker identified by Big Music back in the early '90s, when the music industry started to go south. At the same time, it dawned on them that they made more money from their back catalogs than from new product, and with the conversion to CD, it was an opportunity to re-sell everything to aging boomers -- precisely the demographic that regarded music as a substitute religion and albums as a kind of sacred object.

They know my weakness. They know that I could never be satisfied with just having my music on my computer or in the cloud, whatever that is. Rather, I must have the physical object. It's the same way with books, of course, but there's a good reason for that, since my books are my files, what with all the gnotes and thoughtlets contained therein

Have I ever recovered from this curious illness of my youth? No. However, I place it under the heading of "moderate vice." That's a phrase Dennis Prager uses to describe the legitimate human need to let off steam, or waste one's time, or be selfish, or engage in stupid or indulgent things.

If we try to be perfect, we will of course fail, or just get frustrated, or feel guilty. But we can't just stop trying, and give ourselves over to the dark side. Therefore, Prager advocates moderate vice as a way to manage our subrational impulses. In his case, I know he spends a queer amount of time at the camera store, ogling the products. And he too spends too much money on music and audio equipment.

But in my case, I actually sell quite a few things on amazon -- either that or trade them in for credit at Amoeba, my favorite record store, which reduces the guilt. But sometimes I just can't stop myself, especially when I see a Fantastic Bargain.

Example: I've had a particular item in my shopping cart for months, hoping the price would come down. It was a 10 CD box set of Jerry Lee Lewis from the legendary Bear Family Records in Germany, renowned for its loving reissues of CosmoAmerican music. The list price is like $250, but someone was selling one for close to $100. So, how was I supposed to resist? Even so, Mrs. G. doesn't need to know about this, okay?

For those of you who only know Jerry Lee from the handful of hits in the 1950s, you don't know Jerry Lee, for in latter half of the '60s and into the '70s, he became the finest interpreter of country music ever. Some people think it was George Jones, but he just doesn't do much for me. Too hick sounding. To my ears, Jerry Lee is the Sinatra of country music, so inimitable is his phrasing. He is such a stylist that he can inhabit any song and make it his own -- even signature songs of others, for example, Me & Bobby McGee, or even Somewhere Over the Rainbow (he sings it with such weariness and resignation).

Jerry Lee is without question one of a handful of touchstones of CosmoAmericana, others being, for example, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Dylan, Brian Wilson, Aretha, Sinatra, James Brown -- people who stand so far above the crowd, that they are consistently coming from some transcendental place. You know, where the soul of man never dies.

Hmm. Rather than the best releases this year, how about the best Cosmo-American releases ever -- the ones that would be the foundation of any comprehensive collection?

How about this four CD collection of Aretha's legendary Atlantic recordings, Queen of Soul. It is just insanely great, and I envy the person hearing her for the first time. Lots of chills & tingles.

Or how about Ray Charles' seminal Atlantic recordings, The Birth of Soul? Again, it's coming from some other place, either beyond music or the source of music. Neither he nor Aretha ever reached this pinnacle after leaving Atlantic.

James Brown? Best place to begin is no doubt Star Time, although I ended up trading that one in and collecting the complete singles, at least up to volume seven. That's 14 discs, and still only scratches the surface of his output.

Well, out of time. Maybe I'll continue this at a later date, if anyone is interested.


Blogger Rick said...

Please continue.

This reminds of a joke. Once upon a time there was a comedian, I think his name was Jim Brenner. I could be way off. He reminds me of the guy who washes Elaine's hair to get the BO smell out.
Anyway his joke is about the Mercedes Station Wagon. He doesn't get it. Says, do the buyers go to the dealership and say, "I've got a lot of crap to haul around. Do you have anything for 90 thousands dollars?"

That joke is not adjusted from 1985 dollars.

I guess that's my moderate vice. Things, sayings, things people used to say, they stick and I can't get rid of them. I mean part with them.

12/19/2013 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger son of a preacher man said...

"Too hick sounding."

That is unpossible.

12/19/2013 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Olden Ears said...

When I was a kid in the late 50s my dad was an LA fireman. We would go "over the hill" from the Valley to his station in Hollywood. The firemen would be doing their chores listening to "Great Balls of Fire." That was my introduction to Jerry Lee. Like you, I enjoy his country ballads the most. He can cover anything and make it his own.

On another note, reports on Vladimir Putin's State of the Union address in which he quotes Berdyaev: "...speaking in the words of Nikolai Berdyaev, the point of conservatism is not that it prevents movement forward and upward, but that it prevents movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state."

12/19/2013 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Bob - I know it's OT for the day, but regarding our freedom, do you believe that God ever makes anyone do anything, or does everyone ever only act according to their own will? I daily come across statements in the Book like this, "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen." Acts 4:27-28 This kind of stuff is literally everywhere.

Seriously, I'm working hard to reconcile God's sovereignty and omniscience with human free will. Perhaps the way God works out His will has evolved since the writing of the Book.

BTW, I sought out the Tower of Power Live gem you recently recommended, but to no avail. Demand has exceeded supply everywhere I've checked so far. Will continue search.

12/19/2013 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Come to think of it, now that I have the Big Jerry Lee Box, I no longer need this more modest one, which I've listed on amazon. It is by far the best survey of his entire career, including three and a-half discs of killer country and a 70 page booklet. Buy it now and I'll throw in a free book!

12/19/2013 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

OT, but a follow up from yesterday. From MOTT (I really love this)...

Now, we occultists, magicians, esotericists and Hermeticists — all those who want to "do" instead of merely waiting, who want "to take their evolution in their own hands" and "to direct it towards an aim"—are confronted with this choice in a much more dramatic way, I should say, than is so for people who are not concerned with esotericism. Our principal danger (if not the only true danger) is that of preferring the role of "builders of the tower of Babel" (no matter whether personally or in a community) to watching over "as gardeners or vine-growers the garden or the vine of the Lord". Truth to tell, the only truly morally founded reason for keeping esotericism "esoteric", i.e. for not bringing it to the broad light of day and popularising it, is the danger of the great misunderstanding of confusing the tower with the tree, as a consequence of which "masons" will be recruited instead of "gardeners".

12/19/2013 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...


There is no such thing as off topic.

As to the passages you site, I am aware of them. Another famous one has God making Pharoah do something bad to Moses. There is traditional explanation for such passages, but I forget what it is. But since I'm not a sola scriptura guy, these things aren't issues for me. If something contradicts common sense or everyday experience or empirical reality, I don't bother with it. And if the tradition that put the Bible together didn't believe they were assembling a doctrine that denies free will, that to me is important, even though I realize this is a sensitive subject for Protestants.

I think first of all that it would be helpful to read it in the original language, because a LOT is changed in translation, and I would especially lean on traditional interpretations by recognized authorities rather than try to reinvent the wheel myself. Trying to render scripture totally harmonious on one's own is a hazardous enterprise.

12/19/2013 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

More generally, I think of God as wanting and preferring certain outcomes -- obviously -- which eventually do come about, not by "forcing" but by "luring." Perhaps there was no language for such a thing back then, whereas today we have the language of chaos theory, e.g., attractors and the like. Indeed, it has only been historically quite recent that man even thought of himself as capable of changing the course of history. Humans were pretty much blind to this until, I don't know, the 17th century or something. So perhaps scripture was at times conditioned by a faulty understanding of time and change, similar to how an absence of geological and astronomical knowledge made them assume certain things about the earth & heavens which we all ignore today. No one reads the Bible to learn about how the sky is a dome with lights hung on it.

12/19/2013 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Another important point is that who among us is qualified, for example, to determine what in scripture is "essential" vs. what is ancillary? We all must make this determination. After all, we don't treat each word and each sentence equally. So there again, I find it helpful to consult the 2000 years of great souls who have worked on such issues way before I started thinking about them.

12/19/2013 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I just looked up the passage I mentioned from Exodus. In the Orthodox Bible there is a footnote for 4:21, saying that "It is customary for Holy Scripture to call God's permission his action. Therefore, when the Lord said to Moses, 'I will harden his heart,' this hardness was by way of divine permission. For Pharaoh hardened his heart through his free choice."

12/19/2013 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

And my translation of the passage you site in Acts refers to doing "what Your purpose determined before to be done." I don't see the problem here, because God has a predetermined purpose, even if it doesn't play out mechanically. If it does, then there is no reason whatsoever for us to know about it, since it will happen anyway, like clockwork.

12/19/2013 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Speaking of music essentials [versions]
you of course know-have the Mono Fresh Cream album/era?? they sonically compromised the stereo terribly apparently.

merry xmas! [go for the orange option there]

12/19/2013 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I don't have the mono but I agree the stereo is problematic -- to thin a sound for a three piece to be separated in that way.

12/19/2013 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob, the hardening of his heart passage was the precise one I had difficulty with. And I reconcile it the same way you do. The Law was written at the foundation, in a sense, Pharaoh would have showed up eventually. (Heck he's still here!) One man's Law is another man's rope, and Pharaoh couldn't get enough of it.

12/19/2013 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Certain aspects of Bible research are very important, like, what did people mean by certain words & phrases, and how did the mentality of the time affect how things were understood? For example, imagine a passage saying that "when Jesus heard this, he really went through the roof." It's not describing a miracle, rather, just saying he was angry.

12/19/2013 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Nomo, for my 2¢ (which would probably be worth three if you melt down the coins for the copper), isn't it possible that "predetermination," even in the Biblical sense, is a lot less like a rigidly-planned and unchanging structure (a crystallization, to borrow an idea from our UF), and a lot more like, say, training up a vine? Especially considering how much God loves the grape analogies. Anyway, a vintner may have a specific plan in mind for the vine that he plants from seedlings, and may train them up in ways to produce a desired result, but still the vine is free to grow as it will, and it seems to me the vine is free, to some extent, to direct the path of its own growth and even sprout off in unexpected directions.

It's an imperfect analogy, but the point is it seems there are ways that some things may be predetermined without coming into conflict with free will, and thus without turning life into a pointless exercise in automation.

12/19/2013 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Godwin said...

It just occurred to me that if predestination is true, then miracles would be pointless if not impossible.

12/19/2013 03:37:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Good point. And what was it I read a few weeks ago; I forget who and where, but to paraphrase, it was something like "God didn't mean for the Hebrews to have kings, but when they demanded it he rolled with it and gave them David."

Which makes perfect sense, to me at least, inasmuch as it seems a bit silly to go to all the trouble of dictating a set of laws by which the people were to live, and thus create a culture of self-rule and personal responsibility, only to later allow a top-down system where the people are ruled from without, unless the people in question were free to choose how they wanted to live, even though they chose wrong.

12/19/2013 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

It occurs to me just now, too, that the saying, "Man plans, God laughs," must also be true in reverse. God plans, then Man says, "Wut?! LOL."

12/19/2013 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Godwin said...

Hartshorne actually argues that God has to adjust to the idiotic things humans do in order to bring about the desired outcome. One reason I like such an approach is that it makes it very easy for me to explain it to my son. Conversely, the other way makes it almost impossible to answer the inevitable questions about why God causes evil. Not only do they see through the rationalization, but I think it turns them off religion.

12/19/2013 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Godwin said...

In fact, I think this accounts for the flat strangeness of the whole passion story. I mean, who would devise this beforehand?

12/19/2013 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Godwin said...

And it's the aura of unplanned weirdness that enhances its credibility, in my opinion...

12/19/2013 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "I think first of all that it would be helpful to read it in the original language, because a LOT is changed in translation"

Speaking of writing, and how it adds up over time.... the last year or so I've been digging into how mathematics has been taught through the ages. If you ever want to see how deep the rabbit hole of crazy goes, start looking into math... the newage sewage is positively overflowing.

But I came across one that is very... intriguing. I skipped past this outfit The Meru Project several times,

"The Meru Project is based on 30 years of research by Stan Tenen into the origin and nature of the Hebrew alphabet, and the mathematical structure underlying the sequence of letters of the Hebrew text of Genesis. The Project is sponsored by the Meru Foundation, registered California 501(c)(3) private nonprofit research and educational corporation founded in 1983."

, but I kept catching bits and pieces that caught my attention. Started by a non-believing physicist who happened to notice something interesting geometrically in Hebrew letters, the hand signing of the language, and then patterns in the Torah.

Suppress your initial urge to click away, and watch this video, and at the very least, especially from the point of view of the "One Cosmos" 'the beginning that continues from the end', I think by the end you'll at least say "Oh... well that's interesting.

First Light

12/20/2013 06:00:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks, Van - that's interesting. Particularly the point where he applied a base 3 numeric system.

Trinitarian, through and through...

12/20/2013 06:30:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

(Still watching it) - and I think one of those "donuts" would make an awesome Christmas present...

12/20/2013 06:34:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

The explanation I heard for 'Pharoah's heart being hardened' was "having become as clay, in the same way it hardens in the sun, the heart of Pharoah hardened in the presence of God."

AKA Hitsuzen.

12/20/2013 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Julie said " that's interesting. Particularly the point where he applied a base 3 numeric system"

Yep. The Trinity and One keeps coming back into and out of it. It gets more and more intriguing, especially as he gets into the form of the letters, the shape of the hand and....

" I think one of those "donuts" would make an awesome Christmas present..."

;-) I was thinking the same thing for an OC Christmas!

Rick, the " "having become as clay, in the same way it hardens in the sun, the heart of Pharoah hardened in the presence of God." makes good sense - falsehood when confronted with Truth, hardens, solidifies into a brittle state.

12/20/2013 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Van, thanks fer thinkin of me, but it was Riv who said that.

12/20/2013 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

R said "...but it was Riv who said tha..."

Hey, when you've got the first letter right, why worry about the rest?


12/20/2013 01:54:00 PM  

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