Should Have Been An A

From the Chateau comes this priceless ambition from a future leader:

(I know the thing is probably fake, but leave me with the illusion, willya?)

Had this young man (? if it was a girl, I’m gonna explode) been several years older, I would have pegged him as a Junior Reader. After all, I believe I once posted this little thought:

I think I’m going to get a few “Pinochet Was Correct” T-shirts printed. Hey, if the Left can do it with that murdering Commie bastard Che Guevara…

Bloody Immigrants

They come to your country, build successful multi-million-dollar companies while still in high school*… as I remarked to Mr. Free Market, he’ll probably end up marrying into the Royal Family.

Most teenagers of his age spend their school lunch breaks playing football or chatting to girls.
But Akshay Ruparelia used every spare moment to sell houses.The young entrepreneur – nicknamed Alan Sugar by his friends – set up an online estate agency while still at sixth form.
The teenager started his business after persuading family members to lend him £7,000 and already employs 12 people.
And his clever business model has been such a hit that his company doorsteps.co.uk has been valued at £12 million in just over a year.
Now aged 19, Akshay has had to put plans of studying economics and management at Oxford University on hold because the firm he set up at school is expanding so rapidly.

I’m curious as to why he’d bother with university at all, seeing as he seems to be doing quite well without the academic drag of “theory” (as opposed to actual, you know, stuff that works in the real world).

Good for him.


*For my Murkin Readers: “sixth form” is the equivalent to an extra year of high school — thirteenth grade, as it were — as a preparatory step towards university. It is one of my deepest regrets that I didn’t stay on for the Sixth myself; my life would have been considerably different had I done so.

The Dan

I was truly saddened by the death of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker earlier this week, and I was going to write something about him and Donald Fagen when I remembered that I’d already done so back in October 2007. I found the piece, re-read it and cannot add a single thing to it. Here it is.

No Pumpkins Here

After revealing my love for the music of ABBA and the BeeGees last week, I got an email from a Reader:

Okay, I can’t believe you like that commercial crap, with your taste in classical music and all. What is your favorite kind of music then?

Leaving aside the classical music for a moment, to concentrate on errrr “modern” music, I have to say that I prefer complex music when it comes to pure listening pleasure.

“Favorites” is a loaded term, because in making that decision, it almost depends what I last listened to.

You all know about my “art rock” preferences (eg. Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, Happy The Man, and Jethro Tull), so I’m not going to talk about that stuff here.

Those who know my dislike for jazz, however, may be surprised by a band whom I absolutely love, and whose albums I have in their entirety: Steely Dan.

There is a need and a time for straight-ahead rock, and then there’s a time to enjoy the dense, complex music patterns of Messrs. Fagen and Becker.

I started off with Steely Dan’s Royal Scam album—I’d heard their earlier hits like Reeling In The Years, but for some reason I never got round to listening to their albums. Then, on a whim one day, I bought Royal Scam along with a couple of other tapes, to listen to on a long car trip I was taking.

For the next four days, the Steely Dan album was the only music I listened to—none of the others could hold up. To this day, if I hear a single song off the album, I have to get the CD out and listen to the rest.

Lots of words have been written about Steely Dan’s music, so I’m not really going to add many of my own to the chorus. Suffice it to say that whenever someone asks me to list my favorite songs of all time, it’s really difficult for me—because I can’t even list my favorite Steely Dan songs, so much do I enjoy them. The arrangements are tight and dense. I use the word “dense” a lot with their music, because there’s really no other way to describe the busyness—there’s always a lot going on with the instruments, but even within each instrument, all sorts of stuff is happening. (The next time Donald Fagen plays a straight major chord will probably be his first.)

And all the musicians who’ve ever played with Fagen and Becker have been artists and craftsmen of the highest order. To see exactly how good these guys were, you have to try and play a few Steely Dan songs—and I don’t mean an approximation of the song, I mean an exact copy of the song, to see how good these guys really were. I think I only ever managed a few: The Fez, Don’t Take Me Alive, With a Gun [duh], and Boston Rag. Players like Skunk Baxter, Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton were the norm, not the stars—and current bassist Freddie Washington is beyond astonishing in his virtuosity.

But above all, one has to allow that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker themselves are brilliant musicians, and beyond-brilliant composers and arrangers. The cerebral, cultured Fagen and explosively-funny, irreverent Becker combine to make music that is… cerebral, cultured, funny and irreverent. And just to make things more confusing, they look like a pair of Ivy League college professors:

I’m also love with, in addition to the music itself, the wry, ironic feel to the lyrics and melodies. This is really unusual for me, because when it comes to that kind of thing, I’m an unashamed sucker and romantic. Hell, I’ve shed many a tear on maudlin ballads of the Streets Of London genre, but of course, tears are not what comes from listening to the hip, sly and obscure Steely Dan lyrics—that would not be cool, after all; and “cool” is a word which describes Steely Dan’s music better than any other. “Cool”, in lesser hands, could easily lead to “cold”, but it’s impossible to feel that way when listening to, say, Any Major Dude or Pretzel Logic.

And if you can’t see the comic genius and intellect of the people who wrote this letter and this article, you’re beyond redemption.

For the musicians among my Readers, I tend to prefer Skunk Baxter’s guitar work over Larry Carlton’s, not for any technical reasons—Carlton is a genius—but simply because I like Baxter’s sound for this kind of music. But that doesn’t stop me from preferring Royal Scam (a “Carlton” album) to any other of their offerings.

Did I imply from the above that I have a “favorite” Steely Dan album? Well, maybe. Royal Scam is certainly the first among equals, but then again, that’s just because I haven’t heard Countdown To Ecstasy or Pretzel Logic recently.

So I’m going to go and remedy that situation, right now. You could do worse than follow my example.

If you’ve never heard Steely Dan before (and there may be one or two sad souls who haven’t), and you like your music to have a complex, slightly jazzy feel, then here’s Amazon’s main Steely Dan page. Help yourself, to any one. You will not be disappointed, regardless of your choice; and how many bands can you say that about?

(I’d recommend the Citizen Steely Dan set for a starter choice, myself.)

And of course, not all Steely Dan’s lyrics were cynical and ironic.

Charlie Freak had but one thing to call his own
Three weight ounce pure golden ring no precious stone
Five nights without a bite
No place to lay his head
And if nobody takes him in
He’ll soon be dead

On the street he spied my face I heard him hail
In our plot of frozen space he told his tale
Poor man, he showed his hand
So righteous was his need
And me so wise I bought his prize
For chicken feed

Newfound cash soon begs to smash a state of mind
Close inspection fast revealed his favorite kind
Poor kid, he overdid
Embraced the spreading haze
And while he sighed his body died
In fifteen ways

When I heard I grabbed a cab to where he lay
‘Round his arm the plastic tag read D.O.A.
Yes Jack, I gave it back
The ring I could not own
Now come my friend I’ll take your hand
And lead you home.

R.I.P. Walter

 

Another Dinner Guest

In an earlier post, I talked about my favorite all-time dinner guest, David Niven. Yesterday I was asked about my favorite living dinner guest, and I do have one, but I need to explain my rationale first.

A dinner party is not a place where I want to engage in deep philosophical discussions, or intense socio-political debate. At a dinner party, I want to be entertained, and the wittier, more erudite guest will always get the nod ahead of someone like, say, Thomas Sowell, who is beyond-words brilliant and a wonderful person to know withal. (My respect for Dr. Sowell is immense. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s ever written, and whenever I see one of his articles online, it’s “drop the baby and get over there” time.) But while Sowell is a brilliant man, he’s not a polymath like I am — most experts are pretty focused on their areas of expertise — and nah, I want a guy like myself, who’s interested in everything, the kind sometimes called a “Renaissance Man”.

Enter Stephen Fry. Read more

Quote OF The Day

“The free world… all of Christendom… is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.” – Captain Clay Higgins

Higgins is a Republican Congressman from Louisiana.

To say that I endorse his position is like saying that I endorse the Second Amendment.

Memorial Day

Charles Loxton was a small man, no taller than 5’6”, and was born in 1899. This means that when he fought in the muddy trenches of France during the First World War, he was no older than 17 years old — Delville Wood, where he was wounded, took place in July 1916.

Seventeen years old. That means he would have been a little over sixteen when he enlisted. In other words, Charles must have lied about his age to join the army — many did, in those days, and recruiting officers winked at the lies. After all, the meat grinder of the Western Front needed constant replenishment, and whether you died at 17, 18 or 19 made little difference.

Why did he do it? At the time, propaganda told of how the evil Kaiser Wilhelm was trying to conquer the world, and how evil Huns had raped Belgian nurses after executing whole villages. Where Charles lived as a young boy, however, the Kaiser was no danger to him, and no German Uhlans were going to set fire to his house, ever.

But Charles lied about his age and joined up because he felt that he was doing the right thing. That if good men did nothing, evil would most certainly win.

It’s not as though he didn’t know what was coming: every day, the newspapers would print whole pages of casualty lists, the black borders telling the world that France meant almost certain death. The verification could be found in all the houses’ windows which had black-crepe-lined photos of young men, killed on the Somme, in Flanders, in Ypres, and at Mons.

He would have seen with his own eyes the men who returned from France, with their missing limbs, shattered faces and shaky voices. He would have heard stories from other boys about their relatives coming back from France to other towns — either in spirit having died, or else with wounds so terrible that the imagination quailed at their description.

He would have seen the mothers of his friends weeping at the loss of a beloved husband. Perhaps it had been this man and not his father who had taught him how to fish, or how to shoot, or how to cut (from the branches of a peach tree) a “mik” (the “Y”) for his catapult.

But Charles, a 16-year-old boy, walked out of his home one day and went down to the recruiting center of the small mining town, and joined the Army.

When years later I asked him why he’d done it, he would just shrug, get a faraway look in his blue eyes, and change the subject. Words like duty, honor, country, I suspect, just embarrassed him. But that didn’t mean he was unaware of them.

So Charles joined the Army, was trained to fight, and went off to France. He was there for only four months before he was wounded. During the attack on the German trenches at Delville Wood, he was shot in the shoulder, and as he lay there in the mud, a German soldier speared him in the knee with his bayonet, before himself being shot and killed by another man in Charles’ squad. At least, I think that’s what happened — I only managed to get the story in bits and pieces. But the scars on his body were eloquent witnesses to the horror: the ugly cicatrix on his leg, two actually (where the bayonet went in above the knee and out below it), and the star-shaped indentation in his shoulder.

The wounds were serious enough to require over a year’s worth of extensive rehabilitation, and they never really healed properly. But Charles was eventually passed as fit enough to fight, and back to the trenches he went. By now it was early 1918 — the Americans were in the war, and tiny, limping Private Charles Loxton was given the job as an officer’s batman: the man who polished the captain’s boots, cleaned his uniform, and heated up the water for his morning shave every day. It was a menial, and in today’s terms, demeaning job, and Charles fought against it with all his might. Eventually, the officer relented and released him for further line service, and back to the line he went.

Two months later came the Armistice, and Charles left France for home, by now a grizzled veteran of 19. Because he had been cleared for trench duty, he was no longer considered to be disabled, and so he did not qualify for a disabled veteran’s pension.

When he got back home, there were no jobs except for one, so he took it. Charles became, unbelievably, a miner. His crippled knee still troubled him, but he went to work every day, because he had to earn money to support his mother, by now widowed, and his younger brother John. The work was dangerous, and every month there’d be some disaster, some catastrophe which would claim the lives of miners. But Charles and his friends shrugged off the danger, because after the slaughter of the trenches, where life expectancy was measured in days or even hours, a whole month between deaths was a relief.

But he had done his duty, for God, King and country, and he never regretted it. Not once did he ever say things like “If I’d known what I was getting into, I’d never have done it.” As far as he was concerned, he’d had no choice — and that instinct to do good, to do the right thing, governed his entire life.

At age 32, Charles married a local beauty half his age. Elizabeth, or “Betty” as everyone called her, was his pride and joy, and he worshipped her his whole life. They had five children.

Every morning before going to work, Charles would get up before dawn, and make a cup of coffee for Betty and each of the children, putting the coffee on the tables next to their beds. Then he’d kiss them, and leave for the rock face. Betty would die from multiple sclerosis, at age 43.

As a young boy, I first remembered Charles as an elderly man, although he was then in his late fifties, by today’s standards only middle-aged. His war wounds had made him old, and he had difficulty climbing stairs his whole life. But he was always immaculately dressed, always wore a tie and a hat, and his shoes were polished with such a gloss that you could tell the time in them if you held your watch close.

Charles taught me how to fish, how to cut a good “mik” for my catapult, and watched approvingly as I showed him what a good shot I was with my pellet gun. No matter how busy he was, he would drop whatever he was doing to help me — he was, without question, the kindest man I’ve ever known.

In 1964, Charles Loxton, my grandfather, died of phthisis, the “miner’s disease” caused by years of accumulated dust in the lungs. Even on his deathbed in the hospital, I never heard him complain — in fact, I never once heard him complain, ever. From his hospital bed, all he wanted to hear about was what I had done that day, or how I was doing at school.

When he died, late one night, there was no fuss, no emergency, no noise; he just took one breath, and then no more. He died as he had lived, quietly and without complaint.

From him, I developed the saying, “The mark of a decent man is not how much he thinks about himself, but how much time he spends thinking about others.”

Charles Loxton thought only about other people his entire life.

In Memoriam