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Electric Crackles

In defense of the electric guitar. Howie Dean fizzles. Plus lots more.

5.24.05

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STRING 'IM UP
Re: Reid Collins's Plangent Pluckin's:

I have always have admired Reid Collins's courage in exposing the bias of his fellow journalists, and loved every one of his opinion pieces, until now. Collins has made the mistake of judging the art of playing an electric guitar using the standard of the pollution produced by the tasteless. In addition, like a gun control advocate, he blames the object, not the person who uses it. Playing an electric guitar well is more difficult than he knows, and his characterization that "the sound is all electronic and has little or nothing to do with the skill of the player" is misinformed. All the same qualities for the sound of an acoustic guitar such as the selection of wood, structure, shape, and other elements, apply equally to an electric guitar. Any luthier would agree. Ditto for the player who wields the axe. In fact, electric guitars have a wider range in tone and differentiation than acoustic guitars, and competent artists can tease out these tones.

I hasten to add that I agree wholeheartedly with Collins that the dismal use of the instrument by "[l]ittle boys whanging away on these stringed sticks" results in dissonance, but then again, everyone has to start somewhere. Collins surely would not have desired to suffer under the first pluckings of a 12-year-old Andres Segovia in the Andalusian countryside. And for an example of a great acoustic artist who benefited from and advanced the art of acoustic guitar playing after a long period playing an electronic "stringed stick" Collins need look no further than Doc Watson, who developed his trademark acoustic picking style as a journeyman gig player with an electric guitar. And for an example of the wide range of tone and sophistication that is possible on the electric guitar and is impossible on an acoustic guitar, I suggest Collins listen to Jay Gradon's title track solo on Steely Dan's "Aja." If I can coin two phrases, there are more things in electric and acoustic, Collins, than are dreaded of in your cacophony; and it is a bit more complicated than a simple pluck yew.
-- James N. Ward
Breux-Jouy, France

Get over yourself. Les Paul is a fine, gentle man of great talent. He could do things with a guitar, electric or otherwise, that Jimi Hendrix et al. could only dream of, and his invention is every bit as capable of expressing beauty as it is angst and rebellion. And the democratizing effect of Rock and Roll -- the anyone-can-do-it factor -- should be celebrated, not scorned. Why? Because it's fun, that's why. And fun is good. Try it sometime.
-- Scott Stambaugh

Sure, Les Paul's invention of the electric guitar has led to a ton of dreadful noise. On the other hand, some music which came of it, such as B. B. King's lovely playing [early, especially], would never have been quite the same without it. There are blue things that a talented player can do with a properly strung electric stick (yes, and with the right amp, speakers, settings, etc.), that he can't do with any standard acoustic guitar.

And, sure, most of us can still agree that life would be "better" without it -- but only if you accept that life would be better without a whole slew of modern inventions. How about the internal combustion engine? No, wait, how about the whole #@*&% industrial revolution?
-- Jeffrey S. Erickson
Davidson, North Carolina

Yikes! Was this written in 1955? Electric guitars are not really guitars, those who play them can't really play, and the music made with them has no melody. How old are you Reid? 105?
-- John Kelly
Salem, Oregon

Granted, Les Paul was a fabulous musician and inventor, and granted, Paul can lay claim to being the "inventor" of the solid-body electric guitar, though Leo Fender has a claim to make there, too. That's no excuse for ignorant writing about the electric guitar, notably, "the sound is all electronic and has little or nothing to do with the skill of the player."

Can't tell the difference between Grant Green and Buddy Guy, Mr. Collins? Between Jim Hall and B.B. King? Between Barney Kessel and Chet Atkins? Please. The electric guitar is a distinct and fully honorable musical instrument, no more deserving of ignorant sniffs than any other. Tin-eared folkies whang away unmusically on acoustic guitars, too, you know.

N.B. "The Stick" is a 12-string electric instrument invented by Emmett Chapman in 1970. For good pictures of it, see here.
-- Lawrence Henry

Mr. Collins, get a life! Yes, Les Paul's invention can be seen as the genesis of the loud music that you so vehemently dislike. But, when you say the sound of an electric guitar "has little or nothing to do with the skill of the player" you're doing a great disservice to the many outstanding electric guitarists who've redefined the direction of music through their virtuosity.

Now, I realize that these new genres of jazz and rock have caused you a great deal of offense, but this is the evolution of music. Please direct your browser to Amazon.com and enter "Lawrence Welk" in the search box. Careful, though -- even Mr. Welk had one of those unruly guitarists, who no doubt played an (amplified!) electric guitar. Wait, he probably had an electric bass, too. Better scratch that idea.

Remember these words, Mr. Collins: "It Goes To 11."
-- Dan Rideout, Guitarist, Electric, Occasionally Loud
Hanover, Maryland
P.S. Who will we blame for the drum?

My goodness, what a grumpy old curmudgeon Mr. Collins seems to be. An electric guitar is as capable of as much artistically finessed input (and output) as any other stringed instrument. Complaining that it is electrified and amplified "artificially," consistency would require Old Man Collins to equally decry the pipe organ, the vocal microphone (let's see anyone sing loud enough to be heard over a Big Band arrangement), and any electrically recorded 78, 45, LP or CD produced since... oh... 1930 to be the equal cause of the downfall of music. With a B.A. in Music, and a sufficient ability to play nylon stringed (like Segovia) and steel stringed acoustic guitars as well as electric ones, I can say all three have their place in the musical universe.

Some "Classical" music of the late Romantic period is at least as obnoxious, grating and banal as anything a hack four-to-five piece rock group has ever produced -- and who could ever begin to be an apologist for the likes of Schonberg and the melody-free 12-tone craze that lasted well into the last century that is today included in the Classical genre?

While mediocrity and lack of talent in musical composition are no more the invention of Schonberg than they are of Les Paul, neither is bawdiness, foul language and crude sex talk in music a recent development. I invite Old Man Collins to dig a little deeper into music history into the songbooks of Medieval and Renaissance bards and the like. Because their crude slang and sexual metaphors are no longer familiar to the modern listener without a forest of footnotes makes them no less scandalous. Especially when one discovers that the melodies of many of the crudest popular songs of that period found their way into the beautiful polyphonic masses of their contemporary church music composers.

Any musical instrument is capable of being abused by the untalented in any age. To blame Les Paul for every bad song or performer since his invention first became available makes as much sense as blaming Shakespeare for every piece of poorly written, pedantic, pompous and ridiculously elitist prose (e.g. Mr. Collins present silly screed) written in English since his magnificent plays and sonnets were set on paper.

Oh come now. Lighten up, old man.
-- Chris Doyon (a 37-year-old musicologist and Classical music fanatic with complete sets on CD of Bach's Cantatas, Schubert's Songs, Verdi's Operas and countless other treasures who also -- gasp! -- plays and enjoys good electric guitar music.)

GUNGA DEAN
Re: Patrick Hynes's Doofus Dean and the Prowler's Harry Moments: Howie's Latest Phantom:

The one common thread that binds the Democrats together is that they live in a fictionalized world. Democrats want so desperately to live in a utopian nirvana, that they are beside themselves in trying anything to make that world a reality, if that reality includes movies in they're naïve attempt to convince the America that, "See we told you that nirvana is real, because George Lucas and Michael Moore says it does."

For some unexplainable reason Democrats much like the lemmings throwing themselves off cliffs will keep making movies to satisfy that inner child inside them all the while the world explodes around them and their megaplexes.
-- Melvin L. Leppla
Jacksonville, North Carolina

Say it five times fast and you have Dr. Dean's message. I think Dr. Dean is going to get elbowed out as party chair and attempt to get his backers to draft him for the nomination. This would split the party between the Clintons and the hardheads, which would have the effect of dampening turnout of the Democrat base. In the extreme, because of the money situation, the party could split officially.
-- Howard Lohmuller
Seabrook, Texas

"Whether you call him doctor, Governor, Chairman, or reverend, Howard Dean is an absolute scream." And he should be put in a padded room.
-- Elaine Kyle
Cut & Shoot, Texas

Anyone with a modicum of common sense and minimal awareness of the political scene knew prior to the Dean interview that Russert would put on his nice white gloves and defer to Dean, just as he did when Hillary was on his program.
-- unsigned

Regarding the May 23 article "Doofus Dean," the good doctor needs to heed the advice that is frequently offered to pompous blowhards who subscribe to his "do as I say, not as I do" philosophy. To Dr. Dean, I offer this suggestion: "physician, heal thyself."
-- Kevin Cecotti
South Park, Pennsylvania

Maybe old Gunga Dean was talking to a Southern lady in the same way John Kerry used to talk with foreign leaders who expressed their desire to have him as president. Or, maybe it was like when Hillary talked with Eleanor Roosevelt. Or, maybe it was similar to Dan Rather's discussions with Edward R. Murrow. More likely, it was what Isaiah called "the dream of a night vision...." wherein Gunga dreamed that he was pro-life and when he awakened, behold, he was still pro-abortion.

Gunga Dean must be the comic relief in this segment of the Democrat show.

Though we beat you and we flayed you
By the livin' God that made you
You're a dumber man than we are, Gunga Dean!
-- Steve Hayes
Utah

Is the installation of Dean and his burnout-soon-to-be-removal act a shrewd calculation?

Consider. Democrats induct the Iowa Screamer as chair. But he remains the textbook example of loose cannon on the political, cultural, religious, and every other deck within the party and America. Predictably and deservedly, Dean gets pilloried by the press, liberal and conservative, as well as Republicans and conservatives. Red flags fly and other signs mount that indicate he's alienated all but the Democrats' leftists and hard-core Bush haters.

Cooler heads decide Dean must be sacrificed. They get Dean's head, though it's a bloody, vocal execution. Then they bulldoze through a Hillary Clinton loyalist, over objections of John-John Kedwards. Touted as the party's interim redeemer, the new chair is everything Dean and Terry McAuliffe aren't. By proxy, Mrs. Clinton seems to have salvaged, even united, the party to fight another day.

Fast forward to 2008. She's the hands-down nominee. She's reinvented herself as a moderate, but appears conservative when compared publicly to Dean and his camp. She's marketed as a real and much-welcomed alternative him and his camp. She bowls Kedwards and all other comers out of the way.

As outlandish as this is, how else can the election of Howard Dean as DNC chair and the disaster of his first 100 days be justified? The Democrats weren't ever serious about him, were they?
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

First, a tepid defense of Gov. Dean on fund-raising. Your site pointed out that the giving away of the Demzilla fund raising list to congressional fund raising organizations should have a negative impact on Dean's fund-raising ability.

Second, to pass on something noticed by the Captain's Quarters blog. Dean states that the difference between a socialist and a Democrat is mainly a matter of semantics. How refreshingly honest! Read the whole transcript from Meet the Press.

MR. RUSSERT: In your home state of Vermont, there's a vacancy for the United States Senate about to occur. Bernie Sanders, the congressman from Vermont, wants to run for that seat. He is a self- described avowed socialist.

DR. DEAN: Well, that's what he says. He's really a populist.

MR. RUSSERT: But is there room in the Democratic Party for a socialist?

DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, he's not a socialist, really.

MR. RUSSERT: He...

DR. DEAN: He hasn't said that for a while.

MR. RUSSERT: Oh, he has a--he wrote in his book: "Outside or in the House, I am a Democratic socialist."

DR. DEAN: Well, a Democratic socialist--all right, we're talking about words here. And Bernie can call himself anything he wants. He is basically a liberal Democrat, and he is a Democrat that -- he runs as an Independent because he doesn't like the structure and the money that gets involved. And he actually has, I think, some good points about campaign finance reform. The bottom line is that Bernie Sanders votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time. And that is a candidate that we think...


-- Laurence

Howard Dean is as incontinent with his mouth as former President Bill Clinton is with his boy parts. As usual, the two people who have always benefited the most from Bill's sexual incontinence will also benefit the most from Howard's verbal incontinence: Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Sexual incontinence is not 'in' right now. But verbal is very "in." Mrs. Clinton is to be commended for her prescience on this and the pick of Howard as DNC Chairman. His attacks on morality and charges of hypocrisy will make those with weak spines head for the tall grasses for fear of being considered judgmental. Howard's vitriol will make Mrs. Clinton's moral inconsistencies seem most admirable.

Howard's weakness at fundraising happens to be exactly what Bill wants. It ensures his top dog status in the Democratic Party because they will always need him.

Howard Dean may be a disaster for the Democratic Party. But I don't believe he is a disaster for Clinton's political ambitions. Howard Dean is the Clinton's Joseph P. Kennedy. FDR appointed Kennedy as Ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1938. He would laugh with his colleagues about how if he told Kennedy to drop his trousers at St. James, he would. Good politicians know useful idiots are very useful to have around.
-- Mrs. John B. Jackson III

Mr. Hynes's summary of Dean's various buffooneries is the best I've seen in a while; however, Dean and his ilk (Reid, Schumer, et al.) are perpetrating preposterousness at an accelerating rate, so it might be worthwhile to establish a task force to handle the coming installments of "The Return of the Doofi." Dean, incidentally, gives every indication of being what I would call an ambulant flatliner: he's still moving around, but it's clear that his cognitive rubber band has snapped.
-- David Carter

You have to love listening to Howard Dean quote scripture. Reminiscent of Homer Simpson, I'm sure Dean, if challenged on the text, would tell us that you could find it "somewhere in the back." Yep, that would be the New Testament, along with the book of Job.

Give this guy five more minutes and he'll be preaching about coveting your neighbor's wife's rear end.
-- Dan Martin
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I felt that Howard Dean really got off light. Tim Russert should have asked how Dean could have been in favor of people taking personal responsibility vis-a-vis abortion but was against the same people taking personal responsibility vis-a-vis personal accounts in Social Security.
-- John Croix
Alvin, Texas

DEMOCRATIC KOOL-AID
Re: Sean Higgins's Where Have You Gone, Jimmy Stewart?:

The Democrats ought to be ashamed -- assuming they have such capacity -- invoking any Jimmy Stewart movie. They presume that we have forgotten that this Hollywood icon was among the more patriotic Americans; and not just a sunshine one. He flew hundreds of combat missions during World War Two and retired with the Reserve rank of General. Strategic Air Command in which he left his major league baseball career -- and June Allyson -- to return to active duty and fly the huge jets, in essence, mirrored his life and attitudes. In Premiere Magazine, Jane Fonda says her father, Henry, Stewart's lifelong friend, shared her and her brother's political views; he just did not act on them. I could not believe that for a moment. It's regrettable that Stewart and Fonda are not able to smite Tremblechin Reid and his minions with the truth. (The Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine who balanced himself artfully against the porch banister and then gracefully paraded with Clementine to the church raising on the edge of town was incapable of the base and cowardly attitudes ascribed to him by his foolish daughter. His movies, unlike Jane's, are filled with those upright scenes that make the watcher proud to be alive and be an American.)
-- unsigned

Speaking for the Democrats, Sen. Frank Lautenberg said that if the rules are changed to prevent a filibuster of federal judges, then the Senate will become a "rubberstamp factory." Well if the Senate Democrats were the defenders of Senate traditions and customs that they claim to be, they would know that for nearly 200 years, when it came to federal judges, the Senate was pretty much just that. Unless the nominee had something in his closet that would wind up getting him impeached, if the President nominated him, he was confirmed. Then along came Bork. Because this one man wanted to rule on the Constitution in the manner in which it was written and to follow the intent of its framers, he was a danger to the Democratic political way of life and had to be stopped. Thus our current defenders of Senate tradition and customs, turned their backs on tradition and custom, and for the first time denied conformation solely on political grounds. They followed this with the unsuccessful circus that was the Clarence Thomas confirmation.

They had little to oppose during the Clinton Administration but when Bush took over, they found a "tradition" that had been used but once before. That they cling to this false tradition, the way a baby koala clings to its mother, shows the desperation of the party. If the Senate changes the rules to prevent a filibuster on these judges, I'm curious what new falsehoods will become the new Democratic truths in their ongoing struggle to perfect the art of obstructionism.
-- Scotty Uhrich
Glyndon, Minnesota

ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Re: Jed Babbin's Bedtime for Bashar:

Jed Babbin's closing reference to Machiavelli reminded me of a recent review of John Harper's American Machiavelli: Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy.

The reviewer (Kurt Walling, in the Claremont Review of Books) reminds us that Hamilton, and American foreign policy since Hamilton, has never been entirely Machiavellian.

The Florentine, who presumed that states must either molest or be molested, is described by some as a "teacher of evil," but he has not managed to teach us "not to be good" as a matter of uniform policy. Rather, America's use of lethal violence has always been highly conditional, generally reluctant, and usually too hesitant.

We are plainly too hesitant in the matter of Syrian play on the Middle Eastern chessboard. Mr. Babbin's exhortation, "whatever it takes," if it is to be followed to its reasoned end, has to include obvious but heretofore unthinkable actions. If the Iraqi government obstructs our operations across their frontier into Syria, then we could go a step further than politely ignoring the government in Baghdad and doing it anyway.

We could attack into Syria from friendly territory: across the Golan from our nominal ally, Israel. At the very least, we could create a threatening configuration on the Golan that would draw Syrian assets away from protecting the terrorists in the east.

The road from the Golan to Damascus is a short one indeed: on a clear day, the rooftops of the Damascus suburbs can be seen from Jabal Baruch. Mr. Assad's mind is not known to me, but I suspect that were the choice forced upon him, he would choose to defend his capital rather than his terrorist clients.

Why, oh why does U.S. strategy ignore the proximity of our powerful client and ally in the region? Are we afraid to put the Israeli alliance to the test? Is it the old canard about igniting the Arab street? It's time for our conditional Machiavellianism to be put into play -- to put the screws to everybody, and let the chips fall where they may.
-- Paul Kotik
Plantation, Florida

THE VATICAN POPE
Re: Roger A. McCaffrey's Pope Benedict at 30 Days:

Roger McCaffrey's excursus into recent papal politics is, at once, both revealing and a bit naive. I cannot help but believe that all the papal candidates recognized the strong pull the late pope, JPII, exerted on the selection of the new pontiff; hence, the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger was not as far-fetched a possibility as McCaffrey posits. The real question, in my judgment, is not so much that Benedict XVI has kept the same staff, at least for now, as his predecessor, but how he will choose to use them.

Pope Benedict XVI served as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for nearly 25 years. During that time, he served as the Vatican's chief theologian, aware of the dissent and fissures that currently plague the Church. Ratzinger, then, brought with him the tools, both intellectual and bureaucratic, to deal with problems, and it may very well be that the cardinals recognized these qualities which made Cardinal Ratzinger the right man for the job. But whereas JPII was a Polish pope, I am not sure that Benedict XVI will be called a German pope: he's been associated with the Vatican for too long.

During my recent trip to Munich, I was surprised at how little Pope Benedict's photos adorned windows in Munich's commercial thoroughfares a month after the selection. Indeed, the only place where such photos were evident was in a travel agent's showcase which sought customers to visit Rome. I saw the name Neumayr more often than Benedict XVI. Granted, some may consider Munich "the California" of Bavaria, but the new pope was the archbishop of the city. To most Germans, I suspect, the new pope is a product of his Vatican experience, which may be very much his major qualification as Pontifex Maximus.

The Church needs a pope who will restore order to the centrifugal forces at work in unraveling Church history and tradition. One can only hope -- and pray -- that Benedict XVI will take the required steps to bring this about. Will it happen? Both Mr. McCaffrey and I would agree with the rabbinical saying that, "after the destruction of the Second Temple, the gift of prophecy was bestowed only on fools."
-- Vincent Chiarello
Reston, Virginia

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