Economic Meltdown, Transitions, and Roots Music: Recent Books on the Nightstand

My last post said More to Come… was going on sabbatical, but in cleaning up the  nightstand today I realized I’d been holding four recent books that I planned to review on the blog.  These represent my eclectic interests (which is what More to Come… is all about) as well as priorities in my life at the moment.  So in the hope that I can now hold to my promise to take the blog on sabbatical,  I’ll pass along thumbnail reviews of the four and put them in my mental “checked off” category.

The first is Michael Lewis’ terrific (as in well-written) and sobering (as in scary) The Big Short:  Inside the Doomsday Machine. This is, by far, the best known of the four and much has been written about the story of three small hedge fund managers and a bond salesman who knew what was coming before the economic meltdown of 2008.

I don’t need to elaborate because Steven Pearlstein said it all in a Washington Post review I highly recommend.  As Pearlstein  writes, “If you read only one book about the causes of the recent financial crisis, let it be Michael Lewis’s ‘The Big Short.'”  Agreed.

Lewis also has an opinion piece in today’s New York Times.  I hope that means he does not intend to stop writing about the causes and outcomes of the financial crisis anytime soon.

The second recommendation is the new book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath entitled Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I am a big fan of their first book, Made to Stick which focused on communicating ideas that stick.  We even exchanged some correspondence to discuss a few real-life examples.  Switch is another winning book in the Heath brothers tradition.  It goes beyond the intended “business book” audience to speak to anyone trying to move individuals, families, offices, or organizations to change.

You’ll find this to be a valuable read if you’ve ever thought that “your brain isn’t of one mind.”  But change can come during times of transition, especially when you believe – as the Heath brothers do – that change isn’t an event but a process.

Now for something completely different:  Still Inside – The Tony Rice Story. Rice is – in my humble opinion – the best acoustic guitarist on the planet, and this work covers his entire life’s story and musical development.  Much of it is written in Tony’s own words or comes from remembrances from fellow musicians and friends.  The section on the development of David Grisman’s Dawg music, when Rice left his bluegrass roots and joined the seminal David Grisman Quintet in 1975, is worth the price of the book.  As Tony says, there are now at least 10 guitarists who can play circles around him while playing Rice’s own music, but none have the tone and touch…and none came up with the beautiful combination of roots, bluegrass, jazz, and even classical influences that makes the best of Dawg music still fresh some 30+ years later.  After reading the book, I recalled all those great Rice albums that I had listened to on vinyl and immediately went online and downloaded several CDs worth of music from Tony’s four decades of music.  Backwaters is Tony’s favorite, and with fresh listening I can see why.

The best part of Still Inside?  My copy of the book is inscribed “To my old pickin’ pal, David – Tony Rice.”  Now, there’s not a shred of truth in that, but my grandchildren (should I ever have any) will never know!  Thanks to my friend Leti, who stood in line at Merlefest when I couldn’t go this year and snared the best inscription ever for a guitar lover.  There are so many different phases to Tony’s music which would show his prodigious talent, but I’ve chosen his solo guitar version of Norman Blake’s Church Street Blues in the video below.  Enjoy.

The final book is another roots music work, chronicling one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century.  Meeting Jimmie Rodgers is an extensively researched work about the influences of Rodgers on a wide variety of pop and roots music of the 20th century.  There are few individuals who know more about this field than Bill Malone, so his blurb carries a great deal of weight:

Until I read this book, I had assumed that the last word had been written on Jimmie Rodgers, the great country blues musician. But, buoyed by Barry Mazor’s keen insights, innovative research, and felicitous writing style, I have become aware of new dimensions of the Singing Brakeman’s influence on American popular music. While Rodgers drew upon a wide array of styles and genres to build his own career, it has been his legacy to shape the sounds and styles of generations of musicians, both in and outside of country music, right on up to our own time.

My father heard Barry Mazor speak and quickly knew I’d enjoy this work.  So I jumped in when my father’s gift arrived, and haven’t been disappointed.

A best seller on the economic meltdown and four people who knew about it beforehand, a thoughtful work on transitions, and two new works on roots music pioneers.  Take your choice, and enjoy.

More to come…


Twenty Dollars Per Gallon

The pace has picked up with my day job, so More to Come…the DJB Blog will go on sabbatical while I focus on other priorities.  But before that happens, I want to share with you the work of Chris Steiner, an engineer-turned-journalist who has been writing about society’s relationship to energy.

I had the opportunity to spend time with Chris recently while he was  speaking at the National Main Streets Conference.   A writer for Forbes and The Steiner Post, Chris is the author of a thoughtful book entitled $20 Per Gallon:  How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better.

This 2009 work takes the “inevitable rise” in oil prices over time and imagines how each $2 increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline will change our lives. Perhaps counter-intuitively, he sees the change as largely positive.  The rise is inevitable because oil is a finite resource and demand worldwide is escalating at an unsustainable pace.  For instance if China – which now has 4 cars for every 1,000 people – rises to only half the ownership rate of the US (750 cars/1000 people), it means an additional 400 million cars – or the equivalent of two United States’ worth of cars – on the road.  That fits my definition of unsustainable.

Some of Steiner’s predictions fit our current way of thinking.  For instance, when gasoline reaches $6 per gallon, the SUV as we know it is history.  We’re seeing that now.  Other conclusions were more of a surprise.  I simply hadn’t focused on how much oil it takes to run the airline industry, but Steiner has.  Just a little more than double the current price of gas will bring an emptying of the skies.  When jet fuel reaches $4 per gallon, fuel costs will account for 40% of the cost of doing business for those airlines which remain.  Steiner predicts the cost of a ticket will rise to the point where the flight across country, or up and down the eastern seaboard, will become much more prohibitive.

At $12, the suburbs begin decaying as people move to urban centers where density permits the use of mass transportation and car ownership is not required.  This is good news for preservationists.

And Steiner predicts our behaviors and priorities will change further at $18 per gallon:

The state and federal government have plans to make the fifty miles of two-lane Route 20 between Freeport, IL, a town of 25,000 and Galena, a town of 3,500 four lanes all the way.  The cost:  almost $1 billion.  That’s $18 million a mile to widen an existing highway between two rather small towns.  The same billion could build a high-speed train corridor from Chicago to Milwaukee or from San Diego to Los Angeles….Instead, the momentum of our government’s road building machine may build a road that few people will know about, care about, or use.

Not all changes will be positive and many will require deep sacrifice and strong collective action.  But the bottom line for Steiner is that we’ll have to live in a much more sustainable basis…as our grandparents did…or give up our economic security.

$20 Per Gallon is sobering, positive…and a good read.

More to come (at some point)…


Lena Horne, RIP

One of my father’s favorite singers, Lena Horne, passed away yesterday at age 92.  My father can’t carry a tune in a bucket and he can play only two songs on the piano – St. Louis Blues and Teddy Wilson’s Body and Soul – but my father had a great collection of 78s from the pre-war era and he knows his jazz singers.  TB was so right about Lena Horne.

As the web site The Music’s Over but the Songs Live On noted,

Lena Horne was a popular and influential jazz vocalist and actress who broke many color barriers over a career that spanned nearly seven decades, and her 1943 recording of “Stormy Weather” is arguably the most recognized song of its era.  Horne was not only a multi-Grammy award-winning singer, she was also an award-winning star of stage, screen and television.

She was also an activist during the Civil Rights era, which is where I encountered her after the introduction by my father.  The New York Times obituary recalled the difficulties she faced as a black actress during the era of segregation, often performing only musical pieces that could be cut from films for viewing in Southern theatres.

Stormy Weather is a great song, and Lena Horne made it her own.  Here’s the full version from the 1943 film.

She will be missed.

More to come…


Oklahoma City National Memorial: The Power of Remembrance

When in Oklahoma City last week, I made the time to visit the national memorial dedicated to the memory of those killed, wounded, or changed forever by the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

It was a powerful experience that would  be moving at any time.  In these days of bombing attempts in Times Square and daily cable television rants against government, the power of remembrance seemed all the more important.  This place – forever altered in horrific ways 15 years ago by the act of an individual angry at the federal government’s actions at Waco and Ruby Ridge – is a somber counterpoint to the hysteria that counts as civic discourse in parts of America today.

One enters the outdoor symbolic memorial through a gate marked 9:01 – the minute before the bombing – to represent the innocence of the city.  At the other end of a reflecting pool, the west gate is marked 9:03, after everything changed.  The best known feature of the memorial is the field of empty chairs, 168 in all, each to symbolize a life lost.  The smaller chairs especially tear at the heart, representing the 19 children or babies killed.

These are real people whose lives were cut short because of irrational hatred and violence.  In today’s culture, we need this place to remember.

More to come…


Muriel Anderson: Day Tripper

Okay.  I’m officially in love.

I posted a video earlier this morning of Muriel Anderson playing harp guitar.  When the video ended, it did the normal YouTube thing and gave me an offering of related videos to view.  I clicked on “Day Tripper” – one of my favorite Beatles tune – and within about 20 seconds I was mesmerized.

Here’s Muriel Anderson, playing this wonderful and complex pop tune while explaining the thought process that went into the arrangement.  She’s copying McCartney’s bass line (never an easy thing to do even when you aren’t talking) but then she has the melody going, and then she switches to play in B, and then…well, see for yourself.


More to come…


More Harp Guitar

After writing the post last evening on the harp guitar article in the Spring 2010 issue of  The Fretboard Journal, I kept looking around on YouTube for other players mentioned in the article…and I came across this wonderful video of Muriel Anderson that I had to share.

Anderson’s harp guitar is a classical-style model which has a beautiful sound.  I hope you’re able to listen to these videos on a computer that has a good bass speaker, because the sound of those ringing bass strings turns a beautiful tune into a magical tune.

(As an aside, check out all those beautiful harp guitars on the stage behind Muriel at the opening of the video.  Guitar eye candy indeed!)

Here’s “Lady Pamela” by Muriel Anderson.  Enjoy.

More to come…