Dr. Kathryn Ladano

#710: I Can’t Grok Rock

GETTING MORE TALE #710: I Can’t Grok Rock

Before we proceed, we must put some time into trying to define the work “grok”.  One of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Robert A. Heinlein, coined the word in 1961 in his epic novel Stranger in a Strange Land.  Perhaps you recall the “I Grok Spock” slogan from the late 60s when fans mobilised to save Star Trek from cancellation.  There’s no easy definition of the word, although “I grok” can mean “I love”, among many other things.  Depending on its usage, “I grok” can mean:

  • “I hate”
  • “I see” or “I understand”
  • “I fear”
  • “I live”
  • “I am a part of”
  • “I drink” or “I eat”
  • “I think”
  • To use Heinleins own words, grok means to understand something “so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you.”

Grok means all these things, and according to Heinlein, “a hundred other English words, words which we think of as antithetical concepts. ‘Grok’ means all of these.”

Heavy stuff, but the more I think (or grok) on it, I realise (or grok) something very sad.  As much as I love, cherish, adore and try to further my understanding of it, I think I can never fully grok rock music. In order to do that, I would have to understand it to a depth I have not reached yet.  As a non-musician who has tried and failed to do play it, true grokking of rock music has eluded me my whole life.

Music exists in several ways simultaneously.  There are the vibrations in the air that are soundwaves on different frequencies.  There are the hairs on your inner ear, moved by the soundwaves.  This physical action is converted to electromagnet signals, sent to your brain and then interpreted and perceived as music.  I can comprehend these things, but true understanding of music means understanding its structure.  Why do those frequencies sound good together?  Why does a recurring rhythm sound good to you even if you don’t know it’s 7/8 time?  Or even know what 7/8 time is?

There is an underlying mathematics to music, an almost mechanical precision.  Well guess what.  I’m no mechanic either!  I have to pay someone to change the oil in my car.

I’m fortunate enough to have Dr. Kathryn Ladano in the family, who truly does grok music.  As an improvisational musician, she creates living music in and of the moment.  She and the players she works with can grok it on an instinctual and intellectual level.  The funny thing about this is that I used to have to help Dr. Kathryn with her math homework.  On paper, I was better at numbers.  Within music, it turns out she can really grok math.

I’ve spent most of my life with music in my ears.  There are bands whose history I have an understanding of deeper than my expertise in that of Canada, and I’m a history B.A.!  There are songs that I have memorised down to the last note and beat, such as “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.  But I still don’t really comprehend how it’s was constructed, why it works, or what makes it unique.  And it drives me insane.

I’ve tried, Lord knows I’ve tried!  I thought I’d pick up the guitar again a few years ago and see if my older, wiser mind could grasp the universal secrets of music.  Again, I failed.  I put my guitar away, but now we have a couple acoustics.  I’ve been strumming.  You can’t kill this curiosity.  I really don’t think I will ever grok rock in the truest sense, but I keep trying!

It’s a frustration situation, but rock and roll isn’t about quitting.  That much I do grok.

 

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#705: Extra Hands

GETTING MORE TALE #705 Extra Hands

Today we discuss perhaps the most controversial subject ever broached on mikeladano.com.  In the past we have fearlessly tackled bands without original members, whiny fanboys, the far right, and the plight of natives.  Now we go where no one has dared.

Readers here may think that my sister Dr. Kathryn and I have lots in common.  We both love music, schnauzers, and Star Wars.  That’s everything, right?  You’d certainly think so.  We disagree more often than we agree.

Some spans are simply too far to bridge.  This is one of them.

Here is the controversy.  Don’t judge until you’ve heard us out.

My sister and I disagree, strongly, when action figures come packaged with extra hands.

Say what?  I’ll explain.

This issue first arose in 2012 when the Star Wars 6″ Black Series was launched.  This was a series aimed at collectors, packaged to display.  Many increased in value quickly.  Each character was numbered.  The larger size (standard Star Wars figures were 3 1/4″) enabled more detail, better facial sculpting and way more articulation.  Some of these figures look like the actual actors for the first time.  Though quite a few are less than perfect (#03 Luke Skywalker has weirdly bright blue eyes) they were, by and large, exactly what nostalgic fans wanted.  Eventually just about every major character was released (though we are still missing a Padme) with lots of the minor ones too (bounty hunters, Jabba’s minions).  Fans were peeved that it took until now to get an original Lando Calrissian figure, while we already had such dubious characters as “Constable Zuvio”, plus about a dozen Rey variations!  From Star Wars ’77 to Solo, most of your favourites are now available in the Black Series line.

The figure that sparked the controversy is #08, the excellent Han Solo in his 1977 getup:  Black vest, white shirt, cool holster and blaster!  The Black Series also occasionally threw in some bonus accessories.  #08 Han has some of the best.  He comes with his regular gun and holster, plus a Stormtrooper’s gun and belt so you can duplicate the look he had when he was running around the Death Star after escaping the trash compactor.  He also comes with an extra set of gloved hands, so you can have Han as he looked when he was fleeing TIE Fighters aboard the Millenium Falcon.  The hands snap in and out easily with no fear of breakage, still maintaining full wrist articulation.  One of the gloved hands has fingers outstretched, as if Han were hitting buttons on the Falcon’s dashboard.

So what’s the problem?

My sister likes to keep her figures sealed.  She displays them around her desk in her music room at home.  I, on the other hand, put my sealed figures in storage, and sometimes buy a second one to open up and display.  #08 Han is one such figure that I opened.  (My sealed one is in a Cantina two-pack with Greedo!)

I’ve displayed Han in all sorts of ways:  With and without vest, with and without Stormtrooper gear, and sometimes with the gloved hands.  Meanwhile my sister’s boxed figure gets quizzical looks when she has friends over.

“Why does Han have two dismembered hands in the box?”

My sister finds the hands to be an eyesore she’d rather do without.  For me, they are just another display option.  I’ll bag up whatever accessories Han isn’t using right now.  (Currently, my #08 Han is put away, while I have “Old Han” from The Force Awakens on display with Chewie.)

To me, a bigger offender is actually R2-D2.  R2 is loaded with accessories (which is good since he’s half the size of a regular figure but still the same price).  R2 is packed with a sensor scope, an antenna, and a Luke lightsaber that he packs in his dome.  There are also blue dome covers for when you want R2 all closed up looking normal.  But he also comes with jetpacks for his legs.  Many fans consider the “flying R2” scenes to be among the worst in the prequel trilogy.  I’d rather pretend it never happened.

“Those are stupid too,” says my sister of the leg rockets.

Han isn’t the only figure in the series with alternate body parts.  Qui-Gon Jinn has a bonus hand doing a Force movement.  Anakin Skywalker came with two heads so you can do him with two looks:  mopey or angry.  My sister considers all of these to be very poor display pieces.

I guess we will never agree on this issue.  I think the extra hands are a bonus.  If her friends can’t figure out that sometimes action figures come with alternate parts, then maybe she needs new friends.