What is your signature song?

johnhancockA few weeks ago, a friend posed the following question on Facebook:

What is a song that speaks for you in some way? A song that means a lot to you. A song that you would want played at your memorial. Your signature song.

Now, if I was just an ordinary casual music listener, this might be an easy task.

Rather, I’m an obsessive music geek, who has collected and studied and enjoyed thousands and thousands of songs over many years, over numerous genres, songs that speak to and/or for me on a variety of levels, from emotional to spiritual, from soothing to rage-venting, with lyrics simple and sweet, to abstract and esoteric, to direct and political.

To be asked to choose just one song, then, well, I don’t think it’s possible. And yet, I can’t resist the opportunity to spend a great deal of time pondering it, trying to narrow down the list, trying to determine what the phrase “signature song” really means to me.

The question was posed on January 27th, it’s now February 17th, a day has not gone by without my having thought about this, and the only thing that has become clear is that the crux of this question, the thing that makes it unique, as opposed to the typical “what’s your favorite song?”, is the phrase (my emphasis added in bold) “a song that speaks FOR you”. This, I suggest, is WAY different than asking what song “speaks TO you?”

All songs, especially those we like, speak TO us, by their very nature. Music is a form of communication, after all. But, only so many songs speak FOR us, communicating what we see, what we feel, what we experience, what we believe in, or what we don’t.

And then there’s my personal conflict, a conflict between what I experience and what I believe and aspire to.

If the purpose of a song, chosen to be played at one’s memorial service, is to represent the kind of person that we were, encapsulating not only what we felt about the life we lived, but also what we had hoped for, for ourselves, for others in our lives, or perhaps even for all humanity, in other words, an honest expression of what life was truly like for us — a Song Of Today — as well as an idealistic picture of what we believe is possible if elusive — a Song Of Tomorrow — then, in my case, it calls for two songs, two very different songs. If I’m to be authentic, I would like to be remembered for both.

Even then, picking just two songs is painfully difficult, and so I’d say that the two I’ve chosen for this post represent a snapshot of what seemed to fit today, what messages mean the most to me right now, and it’s very likely that if I try to answer this question again in the future, even days from now, that I might very possibly choose two very different songs.

The Unifying Theme
Love

A Song Of Today: Love Reign O’er Me
I think it’s safe to say that when most people long for something in their life, something that transcends material needs, if we think about it long enough we really do wish the same for all. And yet, in the immediate expression of personal longing, especially for something so fundamental as love, it’s understandable that it may be expressed with “me” language.

And so lyrically, yes, this first song — Love Reign O’er Me by Pete Townshend, performed by The Who, from their epic 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, which I wrote about a couple of years ago — sounds somewhat self-interested.

And yet, there is the suggestion in the lyric, however subtle, that longing for love is universal, in the line (my emphasis added in bold):

Only love can bring the rain that make you yearn to the sky.

But then there’s the music, music that transitions from a gentle rain of tender love to a thunderstorm of longing, a longing for love to reign down, not just rain down, on one and all. And, as I struggle day to day with how the news is dominated by all of the most horrible things going on in the world, this song speaks for my deep, desperate, urgent longing for love, rather than hate, to reign.

A Song Of Tomorrow: Box of Rain
Keeping with rain as a symbol, perhaps because I live in Bellingham, I turn to Box of Rain, from the 1970 album American Beauty by the Grateful Dead.

The music for this song was written by bassist Phil Lesh, in honor of his dying father, Phil had asked longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter, to write the lyrics, and Phil has said that he was amazed how perfectly Hunter had captured the sentiment he had hoped to express to his dad.

It’s a beautiful gesture of love, and the lyrics are filled with images of love’s healing power, not necessarily divine love, but maybe more importantly the love of one human being for another:

What do you want me to do
To do for you, to see you through?
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through.

Gone, here, is The Who’s anthemic angst, and in it’s place a sweet melody and lovely, loving imagery, a beautiful hippie song, really, in all the best idealistic ways, filled with hope for tomorrow.

And, in terms of a song for a memorial, you couldn’t do much better, given its origins, with a line that speaks to how precious and brief life may be:

Such a long long time to be gone
and a short time to be there

I just hope that these two songs won’t be needed for my memorial for quite a while longer. 🙂

(I couldn’t find a video that had the lyrics, and so here’s the song, followed by the full lyrics.)

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging or
Rain is falling from a heavy sky –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
This is all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago
Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way, feel your way
Like the day before
Maybe you’ll find direction
Around some corner
Where it’s been waiting to meet you –
What do you want me to do,
To watch for you while you’re sleeping?
Well please don’t be surprised
When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
You find by you, you can see
Clear through to another day
I know it’s been seen before
Through other eyes on other days
While going home –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
It’s all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
To another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
With words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A a box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain –
Wind and water –
Believe it if you need it,
If you don’t just pass it on
Sun and shower –
Wind and rain –
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

It’s just a box of rain
I don’t know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare
But it’s just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

Can You Spot The Dog?

IMG_5913

Video Fridays: Star Trek

star_trekSpace: the final frontier…

Man, every time I saw that star field and heard the opening tones of Alexander Courage’s theme music, and then William Shatner‘s voiceover…well, pun intended, it transported me.

Continuing with my series of Video Fridays posts, reminiscing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth…

…after having covered The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, and M*A*S*H, this week it’s all about Star Trek: The Original Series.

By this time in the evening, midnight, I was really pushing it in terms of my bedtime. As mentioned in my first post in this series, I would have to keep the volume as low as possible, sit ridiculously close to the tiny TV I had in my room, and even throw a blanket over me and the TV trying not to get caught by my parents.

But, boy was the risk worth it. Star Trek was awesome.

When I first started watching, it was post Star Wars, and while Star Trek seemed campy and low-fi in comparison, I was able to see the two as very, very different from each other, and I enjoyed them each in their own way.

What I loved about Star Trek was how it resembled the science fiction I had just started to read. The stories seemed to explore the drama of situations and dig deep into ethical questions. There was this sense that the central purpose of the show had very little to do with entertainment. Rather, it was an effort to fully consider what life might be like in the future, to imagine the possibilities of human beings giving up war and exploring the universe on a mission of peace.

I had no idea at the time that Star Trek would go on to spawn numerous TV series and movies, and I never became a full-blown Trekkie. And though I have seen all of the movies, LOVED Star Trek: The Next Generation as much, if not more, than the original series, I’ll always feel a fondness for the Shatner-Nimoy era, and it’s been great fun, watching episodes over the past few days in preparation for writing this.

Now, onto this week’s video, one of the most famous episodes from those mere three seasons, titled Mirror, Mirror, notable for its parallel universe plot, and for alternate-universe-Mr. Spock’s rad goatee.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Bellingham, Just Say No to Whole Foods

whole-foodsI was very saddened to see news in the Bellingham Herald this morning that a Whole Foods Market will be opening here in the summer of 2016.

I’ve written numerous times, most recently this past December, that one of the things that is so special about Bellingham is that local businesses are thriving here. It’s an integral part of our identity as a small city. And, local businesses are thriving mostly because we take pride in that identity and commit to support our local businesses, even at times when prices are cheaper elsewhere, because we know that the owners of these businesses are our neighbors and friends.

Another component of Bellingham’s identity is our commitment to sustainability, in terms of environmental protection and restoration, sustainable agriculture, sustainable building practices, etc.

So, you see this conflict between those two aspects of our identity when we consider the arrival of Whole Foods. While not a locally-owned business, it is a market that features natural and organic foods, including non-GMO products.

Problem is, we already have two outstanding local natural foods markets, the Bellingham Community Food Co-Op, with two locations, and Terra Organic & Natural Foods, both conduct themselves more like communities than businesses, and both contribute to a wide variety of community events and non-profit organizations.

I find the practices of these large chain stores disturbing, how they move into communities that have existing, local businesses offering similar goods and services, without any apparent concern for how they will take business away from those who were here first, wielding their corporate power against mom and pop shops, or, in the case of the Community Food Co-Op, member owners, businesses that don’t have the resources to compete fairly.

In the Herald article, a Whole Foods executive is quoted:

Bellingham is a terrific market. It’s been a long time coming…The right site was there, the right partner and developer was there, the right mix in terms of competition and suppliers. We just think the time is perfect…Our primary interest is in Whatcom County. It’s a very strong market in itself.

Now, I have no doubt that Whole Foods is confident that the market is strong enough for them to open here and succeed, but I’m just as confident that they do not consider the fact that their success could imperil the pre-existing locally-owned natural food markets.

Consider the Core Values section of their website, where you’ll find a menu of pages on a variety of topics, including one titled We Serve And Suport Our Local And Global Communities.

Sounds nice, but of course there’s no mention of their impact on similar local businesses. Why, that wouldn’t be flattering at all!

I wish I had more time to dig deeper on this topic. There are sources I’ve consulted on the impact of chain stores, which deserves elaboration, and there is the sticky fact that some local natural food producers might do better if they can sell their products at Whole Foods, and perhaps I’ll get to these topics in future posts.

For now, mine is a more personal expression of distaste for this news, rather than a thorough analysis.

I doubt we can stop Whole Foods from coming, they are already leasing the property they’ll be moving into.

But, we can make the choice to not shop there, and to continue to support the Co-Op and Terra.

Willie & Trigger & Me: ‘As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.’

triggerI came across a wonderful short documentary film today at Rolling Stone about Willie Nelson and his legendary Martin N-20 guitar (shown here), nicknamed Trigger. And, as I watched the video, it triggered a very vivid memory of mine.

About 15 years ago, I attended a weekend retreat, held at one of those camps where they have boy and girl scout events most of the time, a scenic lakeside property, dotted with towering Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and a mixture of little cabins, barrack-style dormitories, and larger lodges, and as I was walking between two buildings with an acoustic guitar strapped on, I played as I strolled, probably some well-worn and well-loved Dylan or Neil Young song. It was an old, cheap guitar that I’d had for years, bought for $200, brand new, including a hard-shell case, but it had a surprisingly decent tone, especially by then, because I played it as often and as hard as I possibly could, which ‘opened up‘ the guitar significantly. And, I was strolling along with a friend who happened to be a guitar player as well, although a very different type of player, a performing classical guitarist, who played a guitar that probably cost him ten times as much as mine, and all of a sudden my guitar’s strap came loose from the guitar, and the guitar fell to the ground, onto a course gravel trail, the guitar suffered two significant dings, one on the headstock and the other on the upper bout, so deep that they penetrated the high-gloss finish down to the bare wood, and…

Me: Oops! Ha, ha, ha. (Picking up the guitar, barely missing a step, strapping it back on, and starting to play again.)

My Friend: Dude! Your guitar!

Me: No biggie. Gives it character!

I remember, later on, feeling conflicted about that incident. On one hand, for millions and millions of people, a guitar, any guitar, even a “cheap” $200 guitar, would be a treasured luxury item. And so, it was an embarrassing display of economic privilege for me to have acted like a $200 instrument was practically a disposable item that could be replaced with ease.

j-guitarOn the other hand, I work hard at my Buddhist non-attachment, a guitar is just a material object, and it’s a tool not a museum piece, it’s meant to be handled and used vigorously, doing so causes wear, and I happen to love this wear, what some guitarists refer to as mojo. I think Willie Nelson’s Trigger, Joe Strummer’s road-worn Telecaster, and Neil Young’s Old Black are beautiful, because they symbolize passion over pretense.

My son has now inherited my old guitar (shown here, with damaged headstock), and it gives me great pleasure that he plays it and appreciates it despite the damage. Meanwhile, I moved on to my own Martin, a 000-15s (shown here in a photo I snapped 4 years ago), now replete with all kinds of scratches and a few dings and just about the loveliest tone you can image, a tone that seems to contain all of the accumulated notes and chords I’ve played over the past 10 years, a tone so dear to me that I feel as Willie does, when he says about Trigger:

As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.

Anyway, check out this great short doc on Trigger.

Video Fridays: M*A*S*H

radar-capSeveral years ago, one of my student employees came to work wearing a cap, like the one you see in the photo here, and the following Abbott & Costello-esque interaction occurred:

Me: Nice cap, Nick! Very Radar O’Reilly!

Nick: Thanks, but what?

Me: Very Radar O’Reilly!

Nick: What’s that?

Me: Not ‘what’ … ‘who’! Radar!!!

Nick: What?!

Me: Radar O’Reilly! From M*A*S*H!

Nick: Oh. I’ve seen commercials for M*A*S*H reruns, but I’ve never watched it.

This made me feel very old.

Anyway…for this week’s Video Fridays installment, I continue my series of posts, reminiscing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

…and, after having covered The Honeymooners and The Odd Couple in previous posts, let’s move on to M*A*S*H.

MASH-movieAs mentioned last week, The Odd Couple was based on a play and movie of the same name, and M*A*S*H was similarly based on prior works: the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman.

Another similarity, because I didn’t see either movie before I’d already seen many, many episodes of the TV shows, when I think of M*A*S*H, I will always think first of Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, Wayne Rogers as Trapper John McIntyre, McLean Stevenson as Henry Blake, Larry Linville as Frank Burns, and Loretta Swift as Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan from the TV show, despite great performances by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Roger Bowen, Robert Duvall, and Sally Kellerman from the movie, in those same roles respectively.

I love the Altman film and always will, but to debate the relative greatness of the movie and the TV show doesn’t seem appealing, given they’re so apples:oranges. Whereas the film is an experimental, absurdist, anti-war satire, the TV show, though also anti-war, was a 1/2-hour sitcom that employed writing and directing more rooted in the television tradition, an element that became more and more pronounced, and some, including myself, would say for the worse, starting about halfway through its 11-season run.

Continuing on that last point, I’ll be honest and say that of all of the shows from that late night lineup I was so fond of, M*A*S*H was the only show that declined so much in quality over the years that I have an extreme prejudice, preferring the first three seasons SO much more than the subsequent eight that I don’t have much of a desire now to re-watch anything but the first three seasons. Those early seasons retained MUCH more of the qualities of the movie that I like so much, but it all ended with a jarring loss of two of my favorite characters.

In the last episode of season three, we learn that Henry Blake has been honorably discharged and he prepares to head home. But, instead of this being the setup for just another U.S. Army screw-up, where in the end Henry would be told that, for some reason, he has to stay, he says his goodbyes, and the episode ends with news that his plane was shot down and he was killed.

And the first episode of season four begins with Hawkeye returning from a week of R&R, only to find that Trapper had been discharged and had left for home.

Henry Blake was replaced by Harry Morgan’s Col. Sherman T. Potter, Trapper by Mike Farrell’s B.J. Honeycutt, Frank Burns left at the end of season five and was replaced by David Ogden Stiers’ Charles Emerson Winchester III, Gary Burghoff’s Radar O’Reilly left near the beginning of the eighth season, and the change that many fans felt was the last straw, when Jamie Farr’s Corporal Klinger, upon taking over for Radar as Company Clerk, stopped dressing in drag, I’d argue, marked the loss of the last remaining element in the show that had any relation to the absurdism of the show’s roots, specifically the Altman film.

I hate to end on such a downer note, so let’s get to this week’s Video Fridays videos. Since I’ve extolled here the virtues of the earliest seasons of M*A*S*H for their closer resemblance to the film they were inspired by, I bring you a great, wacky episode from season one, and for kicks the trailer from the movie.

So, enjoy! Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: For some annoying reason, possibly to avoid draconian copyright enforcement, the episode is sped up, and so it sounds like it was filmed with the entire cast inhaling helium.)

Headline of the Day: Mummy Monk

Mongolia_monkWhen you see a headline like the following, you expect it to be a hoax or from The Onion.

Instead, this story is making its way into mainstream news outlets.

Mongolian scientists study 200-year-old mummified monk who is ‘still alive’

The Telegraph

Meanwhile, Hollywood agents have expressed interest in casting the monk in the next Night At The Museum sequel. (just kidding)

City of Subdued Excitement: Origin Story

Photo: mountainbikefarm.wordpress.com
Photo: mountainbikefarm.wordpress.com
Yesterday, I wrote:

As far as I know, the origins of Bellingham, Washington‘s unofficial nickname — The City of Subdued Excitement — are a mystery.

Some claim it derives from a locally famous mural on the side of an antique shop downtown, painted in 1994, and yet others swear that the nickname significantly predates the mural.

I’d heard this ‘mystery’ discussed many times over the years, including, as I say, disagreement on the facts, with some insisting that they’d heard Bellingham referred to by this nickname years prior to the painting of the mural (pictured here).

However, shortly after I posted that yesterday, since Fish & Bicycles posts are automagically shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr, it was seen on Facebook by Bellingham Herald arts and culture reporter Margaret Bikman, who commented:

[the ‘City of Subdued Excitement’ nickname] was coined by Mr. Peanut aka, Stephen Stimson, previous owner of Lone Wolf Antiques, next to Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall, in 1995. You can research this.

Photo credit: poppiespoppy.blogspot.com/
Photo: ifeltit-poppiespoppy.blogspot.com
Well, I truly am grateful to Margaret for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight!

I had done a brief Google search, but nothing seemed definitive, and I didn’t see specific credit given to Mr. Stimson. If I had searched a little longer, I would have found the painfully obvious URL http://www.bellingham-subdued-excitement.com/history-of-bellingham, where Mr. Stimson is indeed credited.

But, since Margaret has access to the Bellingham Herald archives, she copied and pasted into the Facebook comments the definitive article on the subject, a March 25, 2007 piece by fellow Herald reporter Dean Kahn. (I subsequently tried every form of search I could think of in order to find this article online, but the Herald online archives do not go back that far, Archive.org‘s Wayback Machine was no use, and it doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else.)

And so, without further ado, here are some highlights from Mr. Kahn’s article, titled Mr. Peanut radiates ‘City of Subdued Excitement’:

  • Stephen Stimson – aka Mr. Subdued Excitement – was wearing a black top hat when I met him at Rocket Donuts. That would be eye-catching enough, but there’s more. His black hat topped his Mr. Peanut costume.
  • Back in 1995, he explains, his mother suggested that he paint a “Welcome to Bellingham” sign on the north outside wall of the Lone Wolf building at 109 Prospect St., next to Whatcom Museum. Stimson opened the antiques shop in 1988 in the building that had been family-owned for decades. He decided to think up and paint a slogan for Bellingham…He thought of “s” words that would flow well with the soft “c” of “city.” He thought of “subdued excitement.”
  • But what is “subdued excitement?” … For many people, the appeal of Bellingham lies in its quieter attractions, ones that might not immediately attract hordes of tourists. Attractions like our trails, parks and waterfront views, the golden sunsets of late summer, residents’ love of the city, people who wear Mr. Peanut outfits.
  • The reason that “City of Subdued Excitement” rules…is that it feels right. We’ll know the city is changing, and not necessarily for the best, when the slogan no longer fits.

And, that last bullet item brings us full circle, back to the theme of my post from yesterday, titled You Can’t Take The ‘Subdued’ Out Of The City Of Subdued Excitement.

May the slogan ever fit!

You Can’t Take The ‘Subdued’ Out Of The City Of Subdued Excitement

WWU Bellingham(1)As far as I know, the origins of Bellingham, Washington‘s unofficial nickname — The City of Subdued Excitement — are a mystery.

Some claim it derives from a locally famous mural on the side of an antique shop downtown, painted in 1994, and yet others swear that the nickname significantly predates the mural.

Regardless, most people who visit or live here pick up on our subdued vibe and enjoy it.

And yet, various efforts are underway to un-subdue Bellingham, an idea that I strongly oppose.

About a month ago, the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, a non-profit organization self-described thusly (my emphasis added in bold):

The Partnership is the best source of information on upcoming events, public policies, and opportunities for downtown. We work closely with the City of Bellingham to provide leadership in the development of public policy that affects downtown, and we generate solutions to ensure downtown retains its vibrancy, life, and culture.

…hired a new Executive Director, Nick Hartrich, who, in a subsequent interview, said:

We need to set a trajectory to un-subdue our urban core.

What the what?!

Their About page says they generate solutions to retain Bellingham’s vibrancy, life, and culture, and yet, Mr. Hartrich wants to un-subdue.

How is that retaining?!

Subdued excitement is an integral part of Bellingham life and culture, and we’ve managed to earn spots, often near the top, on those ubiquitous ‘best places’ lists, in magazines and on websites, especially lists focusing on outdoor activities and retirement, partly on the basis of our unique subdued character.

To be fair, most of the ideas Mr. Hartrich shares in the interview are good ones, and none of them seem in conflict with subdued excitement.

I simply fail to see the need, therefore, for his “un-subdue” language.


This morning, I came across an article in the Bellingham Herald that couldn’t do a better job of capturing our subduedness (again, my emphasis added in bold):

Reminder: Bellingham officials look for new big event to draw tourism, business

BELLINGHAM — The city still is looking for ideas for a new “signature event” that will bring tourists to town to fill up hotel rooms and boost business, as well as highlight the many things Bellingham has going for it.

Applicants have less than two weeks left to submit their ideas for events that are unlike anything already done here or in nearby cities: The deadline to turn in proposals is 5 p.m. Feb. 13.

No one had turned in a proposal as of Friday, Jan. 30.

LOL!

Let’s see…a new, big, signature event…um…well…we could…um…

…oh, never mind.

Cognitive Dissonance: A Green Jail?

homer-simpson-dohWhen I saw the following headline and lede paragraph from our local daily newspaper, here in Bellingham, Washington, in lovely Whatcom County, it really made my head hurt.

Whatcom council wants more cost info before deciding jail ‘LEED’ status

Whatcom County leaders are not ready to give up on building the new jail in Ferndale to a widely recognized green-building standard, despite the high-energy needs of the facility.

–Bellingham Herald

LEED, for anyone not familiar with sustainable building practices, is, as the Herald describes, THE standard for sustainable buildings, but the question that begs asking is:

How sustainable is it to have over two million people incarcerated in the U.S.?

LEED standards, sadly, don’t apparently consider this question at all, and, according to the New York Times, this is not at all a unique situation.

While it is admirable that, as the Herald reported:

[Whatcom County] committed in 2005 to constructing all public buildings to the LEED silver standard, “where feasible.”

…the Times reports:

The Washington State Department of Corrections boasts 34 LEED-certified facilities, with 923,789 square feet of LEED-certified space added in fiscal year 2008 alone.

Irony can sometimes be funny.

This is decidedly not one of those times.