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A Virtuoso of Rhythm Passes

Just over an hour ago I was given some very painful news from a friend. She and many/most of my good friends know all too well how passionate I become about iconic drummers, percussionists who make the skins (as they are sometimes called) come alive, the various metals, hollowed woods, mallets, and drumsticks hit, reach, vibrate into and through, then consume human bodies and spirits bringing together perfect, harmonized syncopation with Earth’s air, our ears, with life’s purest beat and rhythms. Today is a day and night of mourning. I am crushed as well as stunned by this news. The Rolling Stone headline reads:

Neil Peart, Rush Drummer Who Set a New Standard for Rock Virtuosity, Dead at 67

When I heard the Canadian band the very first time in 1978, their “2112” album, I was immediately affected and in sheer awe at this drummer’s skill and abilities. I remember that day on the airline flight to London Heathrow with football/soccer teammates. He and I were both drummers in our middle school and high school marching and concert bands. After listening to Overture, The Temples of Syrinx, Discovery, and the remainder of the 20-minute concerto of fine rock, and then A Passage to Bangkok, I was speechless. I thought I had just listened to the most beautifully complex, other-worldly performance of percussion I had ever heard. And believe me, I had listened to countless rock drummers at that age. It was my obsession next to football/soccer.

To this day there are but two or three other performances by other drummers that by my heart and standards can be included in the discussion of Greatest of All Time. Neil Peart was more than my childhood idol behind the skins and cymbals. He was a god, the Lord of the Skins as we ‘sophisticated’ drummers affectionately called him. Now he has passed into the ages at far too early an age. This world, the art of fine modern music, percussion, rock, and lyrics will miss terribly this brilliant, talented man. A dark day indeed.

I raise my shot-glass to this icon of drums. I place a pair of drumsticks in front of a burning candle in honor to this once-in-a-lifetime artist that meant so, so very much to me most all of my life, not only by his remarkable sometimes independent syncopation by his two hands and two feet—he could keep four different rhythms perfectly and simultaneously—not an easy task for most, but Neil was also highly educated and therefore an exquisite lyricist for Rush. I’d like to pay my homage to this fantastic man and the trio from Toronto.

Many of you might be familiar with their 1981 hit Tom Sawyer from the Moving Pictures album, one of their top selling albums of all-time. Be utterly impressed by this man’s drumming talent and watch how he invests so much into his artform:

I have many favorite songs/lyrics that Neil composed. It’s impossible for me to say that I have a number one song/lyrics because I don’t; never could shrink that list to less than ten. However, for this emotional occasion I will share one of my top five. It is from their Permanent Waves album released in 1980. I wore this entire album out for at least two years straight. I played it so much on my stereo turntable it hardly left the actual record-table, much less get put away into the paper sleeve. The song I’ve chosen? Though Red Barchetta is a magnificent arrangement in all ways, I did not choose it. Part of my adoration for this particular song is its continual time-signature changes from 6/4, 7/4, to 6/4, to 7/4, 6/4, and 8/4 and back again. Simply amazing! Neil’s four limbs never miss a beat, that is… four independent beats. Here is Neil Peart’s work of art, Freewill:

Rush_Permanent_WavesThere are those who think that life
Has nothing left to chance
A host of holy horrors
To direct our aimless dance

A planet of playthings
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive
The stars aren’t aligned
Or the gods are malign
Blame is better to give than receive

You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice

You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will

There are those who think that
They’ve been dealt a losing hand
The cards were stacked against them
They weren’t born in Lotus-Land

All preordained
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate
Kicked in the face
You can’t pray for a place
In heaven’s unearthly estate

You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice

You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will

[incredible instrumental solos by Geddy and Alex, followed by the most hypnotic, moving seque back into the main theme] 😲

Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt
That’s far too fleet

You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice

You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will

Freewill” by Neil Peart and Rush from their album Permanent Waves

If you are interested in listening to this song’s complex sophistication of Neil’s syncopation talent along with bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, click here.

Finally, I give my most humble adoration, appreciation, and tribute to Neil for this long, very exhausting composition, also with several time-changes. It took me all summer long (in 1981 when I finally got my 15-piece monster drum kit!) to learn and master, mimicking every single hit of the open or closed hi-hat, double-bass strikes, cymbal crashes, and all drum-fills by every sized tom-toms from 4-inch to the 16-inch and 18-inch floor Toms in perfect syncopation! Never in my life, then or since (well, until my Alt-lifestyles actually), had I achieved the neurological, chemical rush in my body, the natural euphoric HIGH I would get every time I played this song. Dear God it nearly killed me. The composition was around 144-beats per minute for 9 ½ minutes non-stop! Very, very demanding mentally and physically on any drummer. Some olympic athletes might compare it to a Decathlon. But the more I perfected it, the more I HAD to have more! I was becoming a protégé of drumming greatness. Without a doubt I was a seriously lost Peart-addict. There was no hope for me.

I pumped it through my garage band’s Peavey guitar-speakers, four of them all at once! Our downstairs playroom walls with sliding glass door and one window vibrated like earthquakes when I turned up this jam. I had to install a small fan on top of one of my bass-drums to help with the perspiration I’d work up. Several times my hands were so sweaty I’d launch a drumstick across the room trying to keep up with Neil’s unhuman play. What a FREAKIN’ workout it was to get lost in this brilliant piece of music… and I loved every second of it. Perhaps you will hear and detect why it is incredibly demanding for the drummer:

I am going to miss this great artist and percussionist dearly. He fills so much of my early life, my addiction to many rhythms all coming together to create masterpieces. There have been several great drummers over the decades that compare to him, but they have or will confess soon enough that they should not really belong in the same hall or Apollonian Temple as Neil Peart. Here’s to you Neil, rest in peace. I wonder, will the concert halls and recording studios ever be so fortunate again to have a real historic Master of the Skins? Probably not. Not in my lifetime. Now I’m going to a private room to weep.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always — Bang the Skins

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A Whale of Altruism

For the longest time I have always considered Killer Whales, or Orcas, to be the apex predator of our seas and oceans. No other aquatic mammals possess a higher level of sophistication in social and hunting behavior as these fierce, cunning, team-working killers. They are the ocean’s top predator because there are no other seafaring animals that prey on them. No other creature in the sea has the group intelligence, the complex vocal communication, or eusociality to compete with the mighty Orcas and their pods. All aquatic animals fear Killer Whales, even the Great White Sharks run from the first hints of approaching Killer Whales. They are indeed the Dexter’s or Jack the Rippers of the water-world.

Orca v sealsI’m sure many of you have watched Nature documentaries on these animals and how they are able to hunt seals right off the beach swimming up onto the sand, out of the water to chomp on surprised, unsuspecting pups then dragged back into the sea with their floundering meal in their teeth.

As a remarkably fast pod they search out dolphins, chase them long distances and exhaust the weaker dolphins. This separates the stragglers from the main pod. Once this is achieved the lone selected dolphin is pounded by the veteran Orcas’ strong tails and kept from surfacing to breath. It soon drowns and is eaten, shared by the Orca pod. Depending on the geographical habitat Killer Whales feed on over 30 species of fish, cephlopods like squid or octopus, mammals (even deer swimming island to island), sea birds and sea turtles. Personally, I have the highest respect and fear of Orcas simply for their astute intelligence and ability to hunt as a pack—strength in numbers with highly evolved brains and 56 razor sharp teeth per Killer Whale. Seriously, what isn’t to fear about this animal!? When I learned that even Great White sharks will not stay around if any Killer Whale pod is in the vicinity, I concluded that this creature was today’s T-Rex of the seas; the unequivocal Champ/King of the food chain with no contenders.

Then I learned about one of the most fantastic natural events in animal behavior. They are knights in shining armor, the Sir Lancelots of the Brutal Seas. I was stunned! I could not believe my eyes and ears and what I was reading and watching on PBS.

The One Ocean Mammal that Will Stand-up to Killer Whales

They are not the largest mammals on Earth, but despite the hunted species in distress fearing for its life Humpbacks are seemingly compassionate heroes and fearless defenders when it comes to lethal, attacking Killer Whales.

Increasingly more and more oceanic documentations and studies from around the world seem to show a pattern of extraordinary altruistic behavior among Humpback whales when Killer Whales attack prey. From the August 2016 LiveScience.com article:

The study found that large and powerful humpback whales, the only whales known to attack orcas, will band together and sometimes travel great distances to interrupt and terminate a killer whale attack, regardless of what type of animal the orca is attacking.

Yes, as if the weak and defenseless had little to no hope of surviving the hungry pod’s trap and guaranteed feast starting with little ones, the proverbial cavalry swoops in and swims to the rescue. Is it possible that highly evolved aquatic mammals like whales, dolphins, and octopuses that we’ve only just begun studying intimately the last few decades have an intricate social-system connected with levels of empathy and compassion? We know they protect offspring, of course, as most mammals have done for many centuries and millenia. However, just how expansive is interspecies relationships, friendships, or compassion for animals not their own?

Humback v Orca

Humpback hits and flips a Killer whale

One account in the study described a killer whale attacking a gray whale mother and calf, when “out of nowhere, a humpback whale came trumpeting in.” Four more humpbacks shortly followed, which the observer found odd because no humpbacks had been sighted in the area before then. Their timely arrival allowed both calf and mother to flee to safety, the researchers said.
Saved by the Whale! Humpbacks Play Hero When Orcas Attack, https://www.livescience.com/55639-humpbacks-protect-when-killer-whales-attack.html, LiveScience.com accessed Jan. 8, 2020

Are these events and reports just random, freak occurrences that do not portray such a learned, high-level of caring, compassion, and empathy of which we assume is only a behavioral manifestation by “God-created” or socially evolved humans?

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are known to interfere with attacking killer whales (Orcinus orca). To investigate why, we reviewed accounts of 115 interactions between them. Humpbacks initiated the majority of interactions (57% vs. 43%; n = 72), although the killer whales were almost exclusively mammal‐eating forms (MEKWs, 95%) vs. fish‐eaters (5%; n = 108). When MEKWs approached humpbacks (n = 27), they attacked 85% of the time and targeted only calves. When humpbacks approached killer whales (n = 41), 93% were MEKWs, and ≥87% of them were attacking or feeding on prey at the time. When humpbacks interacted with attacking MEKWs, 11% of the prey were humpbacks and 89% comprised 10 other species, including three cetaceans, six pinnipeds, and one teleost fish. Approaching humpbacks often harassed attacking MEKWs (≥55% of 56 interactions), regardless of the prey species, which we argue was mobbing behavior. Humpback mobbing sometimes allowed MEKW prey, including nonhumpbacks, to escape. We suggest that humpbacks initially responded to vocalizations of attacking MEKWs without knowing the prey species targeted. Although reciprocity or kin selection might explain communal defense of conspecific calves, there was no apparent benefit to humpbacks continuing to interfere when other species were being attacked. Interspecific altruism, even if unintentional, could not be ruled out.
— Pitman, R.L., Deecke, V.B., Gabriele, C.M., Srinivasan, M., Black, N., Denkinger, J., Durban, J.W., Mathews, E.A., Matkin, D.R., Neilson, J.L., Schulman‐Janiger, A., Shearwater, D., Stap, P. and Ternullo, R. (2017), Humpback whales interfering when mammal‐eating killer whales attack other species: Mobbing behavior and interspecific altruism?. Mar Mam Sci, 33: 7-58. doi: 10.1111/mms.12343

It is quite rare for scientists to film a united Orca attack, but it is even more rare for them to catch and film Humpback whales intervening to stop the attack. More and more footage is showing that if Humpback whales are able to arrive soon enough during the Killer Whale hunt, the Humpback whale(s) will put themselves between the Orcas and the prey.  They will defend and deter the Killers however they are able until the Orcas swim away defeated. It is truly astonishing.

As I watched the PBS Nature show The Whale Detective, I was pleasantly blown away by this heroic behavior from adult Humpbacks. I had never known ANY modern oceanic species that was capable of stopping, let alone scare away Killer Whales from an almost successful, team/pod hunting attack. Seriously, how often do Orca pod attacks end in failure? They are phenomenal pack-hunters with cunning skills in various conditions and places when they set out together to kill an animal, in the water or on the beach! Finally, they have an opponent that will not back down to them and do what they can to protect other vulnerable sea mammals.

Is it not a wonderful moment when knowing full well we humans are by no means at the top of the food-chain—when NOT in our own controlled environments, especially—and  you witness or learn that what once was thought to be an unstoppable, unmatched predator (e.g. grizzly bears, Burmese pythons), a given… in and on this planet’s carnivorous flesh-ripping arena, the hierarchy is turned upside down. Suddenly the top dog, the apex predator actually DOES have a serious threat or contender, a weakness? I do! I love when big slices of humble pie are served up. I thoroughly enjoy watching hyper-arrogant bullies, in dismay, meet their match and fall embarrassingly to the next champ, the next better killer, or more advanced, more evolved highly skilled species, and “the fall,” perhaps extinction, suddenly becomes a serious F*CKING reality. 😆 Nature seems to have a way of rebalancing things, of realigning or reorganizing equality, huh?

Ahh, Natural Selection and advanced, progressive intelligence:  a wonderful bitchin’ combination ain’t it? Three cheers for the Humpback whales!

————

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always — Know the Food Chain

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Winter Celebrating

Winter Celebration_breaker

blue nutcrackerDuring this time of year, the holidays or Christmas and New Years, have always been a jolly, entertaining time of year of expectancy, of buckle your seat-belts and brace for anything. Sixteen days or so of all things good, sparkle and wonderment, uplifting or mysterious it all was/is possible. Taking time for the less fortunate in a plethora of ways. Reuniting with family around meals, in the kitchen or living room for games, maybe telling stories past or present with traditional beverages and libations for cheer. Most things are fluid, undefined precisely, other things traditional, conventional, predictable, and new. The exception? Young children. Then holiday gatherings are certainly fluid, very undefined, traditionally loud, unconventional, unpredictable, and newly broken. Messy. Pass the broom and dustpan.

red nutcrackerThere is also a never-ending amount of wishing. Wishing everything was neat and tidy. We wish you this, we wish you that, we wished you’d come, we wished you’d leave! Lots of wishing everywhere, wishing some things were different. Wishing other things and people were all the same, maybe equal. Identical? Wish you were like me, like him or her or it. Or a very popular wish of the last couple of millenia: wishing things were meticulously, undeniably true.

Not the case.

green nutcrackerNo matter what time of year it is I find things are wonderfully messy. People of all ages are messy. Life is messy, past and present, and near certainly will be in the future. That’s what it means to be human among 7.7 billion other humans. We are all alike, but equally different, from just as many different places and backgrounds. Normality and paradox somehow coexist. Going against this truth will eventually drive you mad. Life plays and swims in paradox while the kill-joys go mad and the libertines live.” A quote from yours truly on my Favorite Quotes page. But enough with my rambling!

red-captain nutcrackerWhy do we celebrate this time of year? When and where did this celebration begin? Who should I ask? Or should I not ask and go find out for myself? Ahh, more messy answers from previous messiness. One is never served so well as by oneself as Charles-Guillaume Étienne coined. The common version is If you want something done right, do it yourself. There is some truthiness to either one, I think. Some will exhort the Golden Chalice exists and certainly can be found! Others will posit no such thing exists. Still others will have no answers of any import. Perhaps it’s wise to saddle both, or maybe all three? HAH! A ménage à trois beaucoup! Oui?

Apologies. Now I’ve slipped into delicious hédonisme and débauche as the French would say with a sly grin.

court nutcrackerThere are many wrong answers to those questions, mostly wrong… most likely. Yet, if one puts on their forensic hat and goggles, with some persistence, equitable examination without rash simplification and disassociation, 😉 the messy truth can and will be found. It’s not so scary. Much of this messiness is well-known, checked and rechecked. Nevertheless, here are a few starter-fireworks, kindling if you will, sure to light-up and excite your holiday bonfire, conversation, and show:

  • Christmas is a multicultural Pagan festival dating back to at least the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages, i.e. 5000 BCE to 600 BCE, as winter solstice festivals.
  • The year and precise date of “Christ’s birth” is unknown, but the time of year is estimated by scholars to be in Autumn, not any later than September.
  • Earliest Christians from Yeshua’s (Jesus’) The Way Movement never celebrated his birth; it wasn’t until the 16th or 17th centuries CE that Western churches in Europe incorporated popular Pagan winter festivals in December into their Catholic Christ’s Mass or Mass for Christ.
  • Several Protestant denominations throughout the world banned Christmas celebrations completely, English and American Puritans, for example. Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of Christ are three more examples.
  • Our familiar gift-giving charity originated in the Victorian Era (1800’s) and the traditional Christmas tree is Germanic-Teutonic in origin where greenery from outside is brought inside to cheer up the dormant, colorless, glumness of winter.
  • Christians of the mid-1st century to 2nd century CE celebrated Christmas in April to May; this greatly bothered the Church Leaders because Jesus’ place of birth, or death, or burial were completely uncertain, speculation and conjecture. Therefore…
  • Pope Julius I in 350 CE declared Dec. 25th as the official imperial birth-date of Jesus; it was the same time of Rome’s very popular Pagan Saturnalia festival.
  • Nativity stories, plays, and decor are taken from several Pagan celebrations and imagery, like the ideas of shepherds, wise men (Magi), and an illuminating star were all secular in origin.
  • In the modern era Christmas has taken on more diverse forms, various rituals, and commercially energized out Rudolph’s cold, red ass; I mean, nose!
  • Saint Nicholas was an obscure 4th-century philanthropist and turned into a chimney-diving Santa Claus with elves and flying reindeer, a mingling and mixing of the ancient German king of the gods Odin and his Yule celebration.
  • The story A Christmas Carol was a quick-buck publication by Charles Dickens in 1843 turning traditional Christmas scenes into heavy sentimental, heart-grabbing sharing and giving.
  • The Advent Calendar of the holidays was once just an unromantic invention by a weary 19th-century Munich, Germany housewife to silence her pestering children who would not stop asking Momma, how many days until Christmas!?
  • Yes, now is the time for some good song! Hit play (below), give hugs, find mistletoe, and be of good cheer because it is the most wonderful time of the year!

As it turns out, if truth be told historically, the Christmas holidays actually have nothing to do with the birth of the anti-Semitic Greek Jesus Christ, but instead is a winter celebration and festival of diverse, all-inclusive, ancient cultural Coming Together. A gathering of family, friends, and strangers from many messy traditions and perceptions to form a messier, melting pot of holiday mess! I vote to call the winter celebration Good-mess. Goodmess Eve, Goodmess Day, and have a cheerful Goodmess New Year. Yes? Say Ho ho ho if you agree.

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Christmas_Lights

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