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21 December 2021

Review of The New Beatles Documentary

My wife and I finally finished watching The Beatles documentary, Get Back, a couple days ago. It took us seven or so sittings to get through it. (Kids, amirite?!) Here are a few relatively disjointed thoughts.

The Music

I was struck by how much of the footage is just a bunch of blokes dicking around. It seemed unprofessional, especially given their deadline(s). I've played in more than six bands since I was a teenager, and none of them, no matter how unserious, had rehearsals--let alone recording sessions--that were as unstructured this. I reminded myself, though, just how important play is to creativity. All work and no play makes Homer something something. It really does all come together on the rooftop.

I've seen many online making note of how well The Beatles seem to anticipate each other as they jam. Without being condescending, it really just strikes me as what it is to be a musician and how it is to be in a band. It's not particular to The Beatles. When John plays a I chord followed by a IV chord, it's not magic that Paul and George know that the next chord is almost certainly the V. That's just a good guess based on the most basic of applied music theory. I understand that for the uninitiated this can seem remarkable, but if anything, it's surprising that they aren't even better than they are.

I had a preconceived notion about this, which I would have been happy to have been wrong about, but none of The Beatles are great musicians. (They were really lucky to have Preston, who is an amazing musician, sitting in.) I was shocked at George's lack of chops, in particular. He talked at one point about how Clapton and others play virtuosically and laments that he can't do it. To be clear, though, The Beatles weren't bad musicians. They, all four, are undeniably great songwriters with unique voices (metaphorically). 

To me, Paul is better at piano than bass. (Don't get me started on that awful muted Hofner bass tone! Ugh.) It was interesting to see John and George playing the Fender Bass VI. It's somewhat confusing why they wouldn't just play a traditional four-string, though.

Context

At times, I found myself impatient, noting that I wouldn't watch this kind of boring shit for anyone. Why The Beatles? Most of us don't have the patience to watch paint dry--unless it were really interesting paint laid down for the Mona Lisa by da Vinci or something, which I think is what we see here. Peter Jackson is a great filmmaker, but I'm not sure if he did an awesome job with low quality stuff or a lackluster job by not having edited down much further.

The Constabulary

It was remarkable how passive the police were! Especially from the perspective of an American in 2021, the police response was just so subdued. We are so accustomed here today to seeing heavily armed and aggressive responses from law enforcement, this seemed almost comically understated. 

It's also worth noting that the main complaint from the responding constible was the disruption to local businesses, because, you know, capitalism always trumps art.

The Studio

It's incredible to see the advances in audio technology over the past fifty-some years. Most of the microphones were unrecognizable. There was a surprising lack of audio isolation between the instruments, amps, and vocals. Indeed, they were even relying on a PA system, which would be utterly unthinkable today! The norm, even if tracking live, would typically be to have each musician in his own space, either in an isolation booth or surrounded by gobos, and for each person to wear headphones for monitoring.

There is also a humorous moment when the legendary Glyn Johns recounts how he asked EMI for four monitor speakers for the control room, and they said, "Why? You only have two ears." They weren't wrong.

The Interpersonal

A lot is also made of how authoritative Paul is and how passive George and Ringo are. Indeed, George seems increasingly uncomfortable in that passivity to the point of temporarily quitting the group. Again, this is just the way bands work. It is a near-impossibility for bands to be completely egalitarian and equitable. Someone has to have an overarching vision and the boldness to impose it and others have to embrace a supporting role. Most bands, including The Beatles, break up because of disagreements about how to best differentiate creative tasks.

As a side note, Paul essentially admits in front of Linda that he'd choose The Beatles over her when he speculates that John would choose Yoko over them. Much has already been said about Yoko and her supposed role in The Beatles' breakup. Speculatively, it didn't always appear to me that Yoko's presence was voluntary, as if John was forcing her to be there.

08 December 2021

Presidential Listening Tour

Our new president recently did the typical "listening tour." Of course, the scheduled times were predictably inconvenient and brief. There was, however, an online submission process. I'm posting my letter to the president below.

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Dear President Cox,

I am sorry that I haven’t yet had a chance to meet you and that I was not available to attend our designated listening session. I did, however, want to take a moment to share some broad concerns.


The past several years, especially the last two, have been difficult for everyone on campus and in our community. As faculty, it has been difficult not to feel exploited and demoralized. The Regents, USG, and, at times, even GC administrators have signaled their disregard for us. Here are just a few examples of the injustices we’ve endured: 

  • being forced to abide firearms in our classrooms

  • the [unilateral] reimagining of a more limited, advisory role for the University Senate

  • being forced, under threat of termination, to do in-person instruction during a pandemic

  • being forced to answer to a state legislator who demanded to know and compiled a list of which of our programs and classes teach Critical Race Theory

  • repeatedly not receiving merit pay

  • having tenure gutted


At no point has anyone intervened on the behalf of faculty (let alone staff, students, or common sense) in these matters. No one in a position of authority stood up and said, This is wrong. I would respectfully encourage you to take immediate, ongoing, and active steps to repair this damage, and I humbly ask you to prepare to take action on our behalf when required in the future. There is much trust to be rebuilt.


Sincerely,


Brad Koch

Associate Professor of Sociology

20 October 2021

A Neo-Decalogue

I've been thinking a lot over the pandemic about how I come to such different conclusions about the world than others. Why do I wear a mask or get vaccinated when others react so strongly--even violently--against such practices? One explanation I entertain is that I have a different set of base assumptions about the world than those folks. I sat down and did the exercise of writing out those starting principles. This is what I came up with:

  1. Be compassionate. 
  2. People are essentially good. 
  3. People have inherent dignity that can be neither earned nor forfeited.
    1. Honor is a vice. 
  4. We must love ourselves, our neighbors, the stranger, and even our enemies.
    1. In doing so, we love what many have come to call God.
  5. Love is an action, not a sentiment.
  6. If I fail to help someone in need, it is a statement against my character; if one takes advantage of my willingness to help, it is a statement against their character. 
  7. Any advantaged ascribed status or identity that causes fear or division is a vice. 
    1. These include nationality, race, political party, and family.
  8. All else being equal, the interests of the collective supersede those of the individual.
    1. Indeed, the interests of the individual are best served through the collective. 
  9. Social institutions exist for people, not the inverse. 
  10. All choice and responsibility exist within the constraints of a context. 
I'm not sure these are inclusive, but they seem like they encompass the gist of what I was thinking. 

05 September 2021

The Rumors of Their Christianity Are Greatly Exaggerated

I find myself full of rage these days. There are lots of reasons for that, but a prominent one is this: the people in my family who most vociferously identify as "Christian" are the only people in my family who refuse to be vaccinated. A big part of this, of course, is the same old, tired story of Evangelical hegemony. I am a Christian, too!* Evangelicals have been quite successful at convincing themselves and others that Christianity is synonymous with Evangelical and that Christianity is monolithic. It doesn't matter that this is demonstrably false both in the past and today. (There is a distinct irony embedded in this as Evangelicals have unwittingly thwarted their own global proselytization campaign. Since people have increasingly associated being religious with conservative theology and politics which they find unpalatable, people are simply abandoning religion. In other words, people are saying, "If that's what it is to be religious, count me out.") The whole thing is infuriating on many levels.

In closing, if you don't love your neighbor enough to get vaccinated, maybe consider that you're not actually Christian.


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* - I attend far more consistently than any of them, have dedicated most of my education and scholarship to religion, and actually try to live out that gospel message of "love they God/self/neighbor/enemy," but as a mainliner, they fail to recognize me as Christian. In fact, they have at times evangelized to me as if I were ignorant to Christianity. I digress, though.