Quote for the Day: Ivan Karamazov on the irreconcilable suffering of the innocent

Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to dear, kind God!

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Bothers Karamazov. In a chapter of the book titled “Rebellion,” Ivan concludes he would rather be left in a world without atonement for suffering than to purchase harmony at the high price of “the tears of that one tortured child.”

(Hat tip: Ross Douthat)

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What I brought home from the Harvest

“Rye whiskey, makes itself taste sweeter, oh boy!”

I had the pleasure of attending Harvest Music Festival in Arkansas this month with my wife and a couple of other friends. We camped on the festival grounds and took in three full days of live performances. This was my first music festival, but I’m thinking now that it won’t be my last. A big part of the fun was even before the festival began, sampling artists and groups I didn’t know to find out if I wanted to catch their performances. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries and highlights.

First, Delta Rae. Here is a music video of their song that has gotten the most attention. Here is another video that I think demonstrates they have real talent. And embedded below is a video of the performance I saw at Harvest. The sound equipment failed and they came down and played unplugged in front of the stage. I really wanted to post this video because Wendy, Bob, Lacey and I are in it, too.

When I first played Delta Rae for Wendy before the festival, she said “No, they sound too Christian.” I found a video that proved they are definitely not Christians. But that didn’t make any difference to her. When I hear “that sound,” I change the station, she said. And I agree, contemporary Christian music tends to have a distinctive production quality that I can’t quit put my finger on, and I guess Delta Rae does sound like whatever that is. But hearing them live, she actually liked them more than anyone else in our group. We sure did get to see them up close.

Some Split Lip Rayfield fans

One night we tried to go to bed before midnight. But I heard a sound coming from the main stage that sounded like a herd of buffalo thundering toward our tent. As soon as Split Lip Rayfield took the stage the next night, I knew they were the band I’d heard the night before. The bassist slaps away on something rigged out of a car’s gas tank creating a massive, rough-edged thundering; everything about them is raw and wonderful.

The fans at the Split Lip show were some of the strangest people I have ever seen. Half the time I couldn’t decide whether to keep my eye on the stage or watch the circus all around me.

I liked honeyhoney and in a different way that I expected to like them. I already knew they had some good songs and a lead singer easy to fall in love with. What I didn’t know is how hard they can rock with a full band. Though brimming with great music and many musical surprises including a cover of Hank William’s “Lost Highway,” their set managed to massively disappoint Wendy anyway for not including a song she likes called “Angel of Death” below.

And speaking of disappointments, this guy didn’t show up. But Joe Purdy was there.

Joe Purdy might have been my most important discovery at Harvest. That is because he was completely off my radar before and is now somebody I know I will listen to a lot, will closely track his output, and probably buy his albums. We’re talking Dylan-level commitment here. For me, that’s huge. Something clicked for me about halfway through the very first song of his set that he performed backed up by The Giving Tree Band. And then the next song was just as good. And the one after that.

The first song was “Goldfish” and below is a video of him performing it with the same band at an earlier performance.

Here is a cello, bass, drum ensemble called Tornado Rider that proves the cello a very untapped instrument for awesome rock ‘n roll potential.

The cellist is a Berklee College of Music grad, and he infuses their act with a manic sort of vaudevillian song-and-dance routine. The video below is a great sampling of his skill. But at Harvest, he traded this prep school attire seen in the video below for tiger-print rainbow-colored tights and a Robin Hood cap. Check that out, too.

The Punch Brothers, of course. They did not disappoint. The video below is of a song called “Rye Whiskey” that became my anthem for the festival (though to really get a flavor for why they are an important band, try the less traditional “Movement and Location“).

Punch Brother, Chris Thile recently won a “ genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. I’ve admired Thile’s mandolin virtuoso and song-writing skills since I first encountered his work on Nickel Creek’s first album. (Bonus: He’s not working with the Punch Brothers in this Tiny Desk session, but is in some pretty good company nonetheless.)

The way to listen to North Mississippi Allstars

And lastly, I just love this band, North Mississippi Allstars. When we heard them take the stage singing about shakin’ ’em on down, we were just then sitting around our campsite sipping our tent neighbors’ homemade cider and nobody else but me was in the mood to trudge the mud to the stage. So I grabbed my camp chair and walked over there by myself and I’m sure glad I did.

Here’s a song off their most recent album that weaves the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” into a joyous chorus about “jellyrollin’ all over heaven”; it even manages to lend some irreverent sex appeal to the afterlife: “I love to see them sisters shakin’ that heavenly thing.”

I could go on, but I guess that’s enough. Harvest Fest was a great time that just keeps giving. I’d do it again, and hope to. Mud and all.

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Le Moribond: Of dying, infidelities and boy band covers

Since I discovered Jacques Brel a few months ago, I’ve listened to little else. His catalog of songs is for a lifetime of  absorption and enjoyment. To pull out one perfect gem, this song “Le Moribond:”

A version with English subtitles is here. A dying man bids adieu in order to his dear friend Emile, to his wife’s priest, to his wife’s lover Antoine, and to his wife herself. Expansive and humane, the singer grieves to die in the springtime and wishes that everyone he leaves behind will go on to laugh and dance and “act like a bunch of crazies.” Typical of the subtlety in Brel’s lyrical artistry, in “Le Moribond,” the singer tells his wife he will soon close his eyes “as I often closed them before” which in the context of the song hints at both sleeping and Antoine. But he charges each of those present, even Antoine (“Goodbye Antoine, I didn’t like you at all, you know”), with the care of his beloved wife. As a bonus for me, he gently tells the priest to piss off, but as the priest has been his wife’s confidante, and as we are all “seeking the same port,” the dying man extends his full heart even to the priest.

If “Le Moribond” sounds vaguely familiar, it is because the song was famously butchered by some guy in the 1970’s. And butchered again by some other guy in the 90’s. And more recently by a boy band sappily performing on treadmills while taking off their clothes in front of pre-teen girls. Yes, a song can go that far down.

We don’t need to wonder how this song would sound if Jacque Brel himself had re-recorded it in the 1970’s. He did. And while I wouldn’t trade the original version, this is the essence of a 1970s jazz fusion Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew-esque sophisticated coolness:

Bonus Brel: Here are a few more of my favorite performances.

Dans le Port d’Amsterdam – This one might be my favorite. A tribute to hard-living, hard-drinking sailors. And he sings so hard towards the end, I worry for his health.

Valse à mille temps – My wife and daughter like this one. It’s a fun song and he sings faster and louder as the song progresses.

Quand on n’a que l’amour – He plays guitar and sings on this one.

Ne me quitte pas – He begs a woman to stay. He really, really does not want her to leave. I feel almost embarrassed for his desperation. Everybody and their uncle has recorded a version of this song, including Sinatra which is definitely worth a listen.

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Quote for the Day: La Rochefoucauld on Facebook

We concern ourselves less with becoming happy than making others believe we are.

– La Rochefoucauld, from the Maximes

Or – in other words – from the recent piece in The Atlantic that asks if Facebook is making us lonely: “It’s a lonely business, wandering the labyrinths of our friends’ and pseudo-friends’ projected identities, trying to figure out what part of ourselves we ought to project, who will listen, and what they will hear […] Not only must we contend with the social bounty of others; we must foster the appearance of our own social bounty. Being happy all the time, pretending to be happy, actually attempting to be happy—it’s exhausting […] Self-presentation on Facebook is continuous, intensely mediated, and possessed of a phony nonchalance that eliminates even the potential for spontaneity. (‘Look how casually I threw up these three photos from the party at which I took 300 photos!’) Curating the exhibition of the self has become a 24/7 occupation.”

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Quotes for the Day: Tech N9ne and Bob Dylan on musical theater


In order to bring you all this rawness I have learned from earth
I hide behind face paint
I can be who I want to be
And I know its still me
But I’m totally free with my face paint

Tech N9ne from “Face Paint”

I’ve got my Bob Dylan mask on … I’m masquerading.

Bob Dylan, joking at a New York’s Philharmonic Hall concert on Halloween night in 1964.

Dylan wore face paint throughout the Rolling Thunder Revue tour and, though he was consistently pestered for a reason, predictably lacked the self-awareness to formulate an adequate explanation.

Here is a Kansas City Star review of the Tech N9ne concert I saw: Riot Maker’ Tech N9ne in top form at Midland

Here, also, is an interesting and psychologically revealing interview of Tech N9ne by the literary magazine, Identity Theory.

Special thanks to the friend who took us to see Tech N9ne. Sometimes friends shake us out of the ruts we’re in.


Bonus clips:

Here’s Dylan in his face paint days:


Tech in face paint – lots of face paint here. And an obvious nod to Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues:


This tour promo was recorded inside The Midland, the theater where Tech N9ne performed recently.


Addendum: Tech’s official fan blog links here and gives my humble blog its biggest traffic day on record. Thanks, technicians! Though the writer may have missed the substance of my comparison – alluded to in the reference to musical theater – which is that both Dylan and Tech N9ne have used face paint as a psychological aid for assuming an alternate persona on stage. The writer also introduces another comparison: “Both Tech and Bob Dylan had a religious turn-around in their lives – with Tech stating he took all the good from all the religions and melted them all down into the KLUSTERFUK and Bob Dylan converted from Judaism to Christianity…or something.” Well.. ‘Or something’ is almost how I would put it, too. Arguably, that whole evangelical phase Dylan went through amounted to another shade of face paint he tried on for awhile.

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Quote for the Day: Walt Whitman on love and swagger

I do not thank you for liking me as I am, and liking the touch of me….I know that it is good for you to do so.

– Walt Whitman, from “A Song for Occupations.”

My god!, this Whitman poetry is good stuff! I told someone recently that Whitman is the perfect antidote for me to feelings of superiority or creeping cynicism about human nature. Many of his poems are lists reveling point by point in diverse instances of the beauty and dignity of humanity. “A Song of Occupations” is one such poem. The above self-regard (translation: “You know you want a piece of this.”) extends from his over-flowing, universal regard for all people – including his own person. People are always more important than ideas to Whitman, for instance (emphasis my own):

We thought our Union grand and our Constitution grand;/ I do not say they are not grand and good – for they are,/I am this day just as much in love with them as you,/But I am eternally in love with all my fellows upon the earth.

We consider the bibles and religions divine….I do not say they are not divine,/I say they have all grown out of you and may grow out of you still,/It is not they who give life….it is you who give the life;/Leaves are not more shed from the trees or trees from the earth than they are shed out of you.

The sum of all known value and respect I add up in you whoever you are;/The President is up there in the White House for you….it is not you who are here for him,/The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you….not you here for them,/The Congress convenes every December for you,/Laws, courts, the forming of states, the charter of cities, the going and forth of commerce and mails are all for you.

All doctrines, all politics and civilizations exurge from you,/All sculpture and monuments and anything inscribed anywhere are tallied in you,/The gist of histories and statistics as far back as the records reach is in you this hour – and myths and tales the same…

All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it

All music is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the instruments…

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Quote for the Day: Montaigne on the difficulty of waking young children

Since my wife started a new job, neither she nor our daughter can enjoy the luxury of sleeping in as often as before. And because Wendy leaves for work before I do, the responsibility for making sure Sylvie is up, out, and dropped at the sitter’s falls to me. Like her mother, Sylvie is not a morning person – poor thing. So by the time I arrive at my office – hopefully by 8:00 A.M if all goes well – the toughest part of my day is already over.

So that must be why I noticed this passage from Montaigne’s essay, “Of the Education of Children:”

It troubles the tender brains of children to wake them in the morning with a start, and to snatch them suddenly and violently from their sleep, in which they are plunged much more deeply than we are… [My father] had me awakened by the sound of some instrument; and I was never without a man to do this for me.

I’ve previously noted Montaigne’s unorthodox-for-his-time views on parenting. “Of the Education of Children” offers several more examples of those views. His expectations and standards are extremely high. For example: “Even in dissipation I want him to outdo his comrades in vigor and endurance; and I want him to refrain from doing evil, not for lack of power or knowledge, but for lack of will.” But his parental emphasis is on how to foster the enjoyment of education and moral development. And in case one would get the idea Montaigne was any kind of a pushover, I offer this passage:

If this pupil happens to be of such odd disposition that he would rather listen to some idle story than to the account of a fine voyage or a wise conversation when he hears one; if at the sound of the drum that calls the youthful ardor of his companions to arms, he turns aside to another that invites him to the tricks of jugglers; if by his own preference, he does not find it more pleasant and sweet to return dusty and victorious from a combat than from tennis or a ball with the prize for that exercise, I see no other remedy than for his tutor to strangle him early, if there are no witnesses, or apprentice him to a pastry cook in some good town.

I’m getting to know Montaigne well enough that I can be fairly certain he was joking about the strangling; but on the pastry cook apprenticeship, methinks he was joking not at all.

In a related vein: I’m late to reading this, but a few months ago The Atlantic published an article titled, “How to Land Your Kids in Therapy: Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports.” I recommend the article for two reasons. (1) It contains much practical advice on helping children develop life-long “psychological immunity” by not constantly shielding them from suffering, letting them occasionally sort out some of their own problems and learn to get over themselves. And (2) it reads in places like it might have been lifted from the Stoic philosophers, or, indeed, from Montaigne. One researcher is quoted as saying, “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing, but happiness as a goal is recipe for disaster.” And it is precisely this goal, the author postulates, that “many modern parents focus on obsessively – only to see it backfire.”

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