Don’t let the plastic bring you down

In this edition: The Boston Marathon bombings in perspective. The rise and fall of psychedelic funk music and boomer idealism. Quick takes on Broooooccee!, the Women’s Movement (careful what you wish for), and Wanting More!

You can make it if you try

Push a little harder
Think a little deeper
Don’t let the plastic
Bring you down

Time still creepin’
‘Specially when you’re sleepin’
Wake up and go
For what you know

You’ll get what’s due you
Everything coming to you
You got to move
If you want to be ahead

(All together now)
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah

You can make it if you try
You can make it if you try

– Written by Sylvester Stone, Performed by Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

Sly and the Family Stone was both a product of and catalyst for the times. The band was interracial, and although the roots were black gospel music, Sly’s own funk sensibilities made the appeal universal. It was a groove that white and black kids could get into. The message was about freedom and independence and transcending the joyless realities of life to reach new ground. But the generation gap held. We’d heard in the previous year’s single, Dance to the Music, “Cynthia and Jerry got a message they’re sayin’, All the squares, go home! “

Three band members were siblings, Sly, brother Freddie, and sister Rose. The drummer on 5 of the group’s albums was Greg Errico, a white San Francisco player who went on to play or produce many outstanding acts. He toured (but didn’t record) with Weather Report, played on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, and collaborated with Mickey Hart and the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, Bill Wyman, and many others. He even played on David (Don’t Give Up on Us Baby) Soul’s 1976 album, David Soul. Larry Graham was the bassist, an African-American with roots in Texas (like the actual family Stone). He was a pioneer of the slap style that added percussive elements to the bass line. Trumpet and attitude came from Cynthia Robinson, the first black female (and for that matter, just female) in a major band. Finally, saxophonist Jerry Martini rounded out the lineup. He and Cynthia went on to collaborate with Prince.


Whenever you think of psychedelic funk music, you should think of Sly and the Family Stone. But that probably doesn’t happen too often!

Sly Stone’s story is the story of many from the free-wheeling 60’s and early 70’s. He fell into obscurity thanks to cocaine and other drugs and continues to struggle with it. In case you were unaware, the brief history of the sixties boomers is this:

  1. Become socially aware. Stand up for what you believe in. Have enormous potential to transform the world into a place of peace, love, and understanding.
  2. Reject doing things the way they’ve always been done, opening up the world to innovation and change.
  3. Include sex and drugs in your new ideals of freedom.
  4. Become way too involved in drugs and give up all the positive momentum to movements like Disco and Reaganism.
  5. Allow a sexual culture to color the understanding of the importance of AID’s emergence and fail to understand the consequences of unprotected sex. Add counter-establishment fervor to create camps of “can’t happen to me” vs. “deserved to get it.”
  6. Wind up in a world where the Kardashians make millions, the underclass is stricken with violence, wealth has markedly shifted toward the top percentiles, and the government is paralyzed (bizarrely considering inaction to be the way to serve). 
  7. Have some influence at the edges, but no realization of the original promise of remaking society.

That seems a little depressing. Because it is. I was also depressed to see the video of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev walking among the men, women, and children along the marathon’s route in the FBI video. How can people get so disconnected from the reality of the bomb’s effects to remain unmoved by the humanity of the crowd around them?  It speaks to some kind of darkness that infects and sickens the perpetrators of the violence. Tamerlan evidently influenced by politics, but Dzhokhar seemingly more influenced by the will of his older brother.

It may be little known (or dimly remembered) U.S. history, but we did suffer similar violence around 40 years ago at Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A think-tank called the Army Mathematics Research Center (AMRC) was housed in Sterling Hall. In 1970, four activists, in protest of the Vietnam War, used a van loaded with explosives to attempt to damage the AMRC. They grossly underestimated the strength of the explosives and in addition to that miscue, they placed the van too far from the AMRC, under a physics lab instead. One physics researcher was killed, three were seriously injured. That bombing featured two brothers as well, Karleton and Dwight Armstrong. Three of the bombers were caught after years on the run, the fourth remains a fugitive.

The victim, Robert E. Fassnacht, was a physics post-doctoral researcher in the field of superconductivity with no connection to the AMRC. He left behind a wife, 3-year old son, and twin daughters, just one month old.

What justification did the bombers have for the Sterling Hall bombing? The bombers didn’t renounce the act, only the unintended results. Students had recently been killed in the protest at Kent State. The war in Vietnam was increasingly seen as senseless and cruel–of benefit to the war-machine profiteers who gave little value to American fighters, mostly college-age, and to the population they claimed to be protecting in Vietnam. These and other factors created a justification in the minds of the bombers. The Tsarnaev brothers must have had that same sense of justification. They, like the Wisconsin bombers, were completely wrong.

Little constructive benefit comes from destructive means. It serves your enemies over your cause, as you will be seen as  heartless and crazed. Peaceful protest is much more effective as it holds the potential to convert your opponents or at least, open the possibility for dialogue.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ideas on the Run

Got the Springsteen in NYC concert CD for my birthday. Then happened to catch the video on cable. The effort of the boss seemed a little forced sometimes, but the overall themes of rock and roll redemption tie in well to the funky joy of Sly and the Family Stone (pre-Sly-demise). I was struck by the theatricality and message of the final song, If I Should Fall Behind from 1992’s Lucky Town. Bruce sings the song to Patti, I imagine,

If as we’re walking a hand should slip free
I’ll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me

The band sings the verses giving the idea of their unity and brotherhood. Well, not all the band. Only the front row team, Bruce, Scialfa, Clemons (may he rest in peace), Lofgren, and Van Zandt . I guess poor Roy Bittan, Gary Tallent, Max Weinberg, and deceased Danny Federici should not expect to be waited for. Still, that wouldn’t have felt as bad as they must have all felt in 1989 when Springsteen said he wouldn’t be recording with the E-Street band in the foreseeable future (and that turned out to be about 6 years).


Thinking about the issue of deteriorated sixties idealism, the idea of the women’s movement came to mind and the following slippery slope argument. In the beginning, men had the identity of provider and woman had the identity of house manager (with some administrative work thrown to younger, single women). Then, women sought to break out of their role and to look for some fulfillment functioning in the outside world. So the eligible workforce ends up being about doubled.  Labor, being a market, finds it doesn’t have to double the money paid to a household. They can hold pay down and nearly get 2 for 1. So in my parent’s day, a single income meant a new car and suburban home. Nothing fancy, but no giant debts. In my day, you need a dual income for that. If things had stayed the same, we’d have two incomes with 2 new cars and a summer home on Lake Geneva. Oh well.

And that fulfillment thing–I don’t know. Maybe just chasing an illusion. Most jobs are just like the teeth on the gears of the sub-assembly that runs some portion of the corporation where 10% of the staff have nice offices, take normal lunches, and are enjoying 90% of the payroll.


The AT&T commercials featuring Beck Bennett speaking with precocious but only semi-cute kids is definitely attention grabbing. It’s caught the attention of many ad people and an everyday curmudgeon like me. There’s one in particular… you will know it:

More is better than less
because if there’s more less stuff,
then you might want to have some more.
But then, your parents won’t let you because there’s only a little.
If you really like something, you’ll want more of it.
We want more,
We want more,

Like, you really like it,
you want more.

So I have two issues. First, do these commercials work? The concept is to sell AT&T mobile service and the ability to multitask on the iPhone (surf and speak). The connection from the kids to the product seems weak. Second, that whole “wanting more” thing should be a parent’s nightmare. Why can’t the kids want “enough” or “some sustainable amount”?

All the squares, go home!


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Filed under History, Politics, Social Issues

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