Thursday, February 19, 2009

Austintatious 70s

I'm not sure why, but I have been reliving some of my stories and trying to get them into some sort of record. Well, that is not really true. I do know why I've been doing a lot of thinking and typing is partly because the boys want to have some of those stories for future reference. More than likely these stories will turn out to be dust collectors for them like most of my collected "stuff". Years from now, when one of my sons has enough age on him to begin reflecting, he will be saying something like, "Honey, do you know what we did with Dad's CDs when we moved?"

To be honest, it's not all because of the kids. I also am fond of oral history...the voices of the people. Not to be confused with the dressed up historical manuscripts doled out to the population through the educational systems. I have personally found that in order for me to gain an understanding of what I consider historical truth, I need a combination of both the socially accepted facts along with a good portion of good old down home stories from those who actually lived it! I also believe history is a weapon that can aid human beings in their efforts to define civilization. I am not satisfied with the definition of the word yet, but maybe we are getting closer and the right definition of a civil society is only a few generations away. At this point in time, I am almost certain that if any good at all comes from the Internet, it will come from the sharing of "Our Stories". I have only a handful of friends who ever read this little corner of the web, and that is another reason I tell these stories. It is also for that little handful, the true friends I have met on this journey through the millions of web sites, pages, links, and discussions. Always remember...quality over quantity...quality is sustainable, and quantity is not!

So here is another story whose inspiration comes from Wheathead Danny Schmidt. I hear Danny's following has grown considerably and recently along the independent music railroad we have been witnessing the birth of a new breed of collaborators. I have heard these collaborators being called "Schmidtheads", but I have not been able to nail down where this term originated. We will have to keep our eyes on the progress of this new sensation of social networking. Why did Danny inspire this story? It is because he reminds me of the typical good folks that I knew down there in Austintacious. He reminds me of the Austin, Texas I knew back in the early 70s. That is a good thing, and I have mentioned a bit of that history once before in the Tribute to the 'Dillo. It is reassuring to know the spirit that I knew back then, is still living, breathing, and carrying on. Oh yeah...the story...

First I will try to establish my niche, my community within the Austin area and a sense of what the area was like prior to the sprawl of Austin. I lived in this little fourplex of studio apartments from '71-'74. I was the assistant manager at the rent was the pay. At this time, Austin's growth was just beginning to ignite and these apartments were only a short walk from the aquifer fed Barton Creek, which was still very remote once you were a half mile or so west of Zilker Park. Where I lived was on the edge of the then mostly uninhabited hill country. The Barton Creek area contained beautiful limestone cliffs with caves scattered along different points throughout it's length. This area would eventually be called the Greenbelt. I am sure it is still beautiful, but I am also almost certain I would be disappointed if I were to see it today. So I think I will hold on to my memories and savor the time. While I lived in this are, the local watering hole just up the street was the old Broken Spoke. A quiet place during the week, but it was kicking on the weekends!

A good friend of mine from Louisiana was drumming with different groups throughout '71-'72. I seem to recall one of the bands called themselves "Donnie & Clyde" in reference to the heroes outlaws whose names sounded very similar. Donnie and Clyde were actually brothers who had a small faithful audience that followed them from one hitching post dancehall to the next in a radius of 30 miles of Austin. These places were much different than what I was accustomed to in Tennessee, and entire families would pack into the dancehalls...every age. The atmosphere was very real and the people were very warm. Most of the time, once the place was closing, somebody would invite the entire crowd over for a community breakfast! Great times...and I wish we could see a revival of that comradery.

It was late in '72 if my memory does not fail me, that my friend Randy was approached by an old Jimmie Rodger's style yodeler named Kenneth Threadgill. Threadgill's bass and guitar players (Charlie Davis and Buzz Dolim) knew Randy from different gigs around Austin and they persuaded Kenneth to offer him a steady job. Randy fell in love with the old timer, which is what happened to everybody who met Threadgill. There just was not anything to not like about him...he was real. It didn't take long before I had to have a yodel fix at least once or twice a week. The old guy was addicting!

Sometime either late '72 or early '73, Kenneth would bring a pretty little Texas girl into the mix as his relief. I am not sure of the spelling or of what happened to her, but Janie Hart was her name. And she could sing like a bird, performing the current popular Nashville country as well as the new sound of Austin that had been labeled as progressive country. This is about the time their band took on the name of "The Velvet Cow Pasture". I'm not sure whose brainstorm that was but the next time I talk to Randy, I'll try to remember to ask.

Janie would sing a set while Kenneth would sit on his stool, one foot on the stage and one on the rungs of the stool, while he drank his favorite bourbon. I do not remember what his favorite was, but I have seen him drink a variety of labels, even what we referred to back then as "J W Don't"! The second set belonged to Kenneth and he would belt out those old railroad blues and have the house eating out of his hand. After his first set and during Janie's second, the band would watch out for Kenneth because he had been known to tilt his stool too much and come crashing down to the stage. Everybody kept a watchful eye on him and would yell at him if they saw him coming close to the precipice. Every time I showed up for one of their gigs, Kenneth would sing my two favorite tunes, Blue Yodel #1, and the Wreck of the Old '97. He was a generous man, but he also knew if he sang my faves, he could depend on me helping to load and unload equipment when I was around.

In '73, following a gig at the Shakey's Pizza Parlor on Guadalupe, I tagged along in Kenneth's old motor home with the Cow Pastures and we headed north for a Willie Nelson homecoming concert in Abbott, Texas. There was an old boy with us, can't remember his name, but if I remember right, he worked at the old Picking Post music store on Lamar. He had brought his girlfriend and he was intent on being married at the concert. Sure enough, the next day, right after Michael Murphy did a set with his son in his lap, this preacher they had found somewhere in Abbott performed the marriage ceremony for them right on stage to the complete enjoyment of the crowd. I have often wondered if the uniqueness of that moment in their lives helped the marriage or hurt it. I suppose I will never know, but I choose to think it helped it and they are still together chasing their grandchildren and talking about that special day once upon a time in Abbott.

Another opportunity arose back in '74 and when asked, I accompanied them in the old motor home once again. This time I was privy to the first outdoor Kerrville folk festival. I had the original LP album until a house fire in '76 turned it into an unrecognizable blob. I am certain Randy still has his copy somewhere and although I wish I still had the original vinyl, it would probably just be collecting dust with my other stuff. I found this album review that lists the performers of those early years. Whew! A lot of memories from Kerrville, and yet there is a lot I just do not remember! Nobody to blame but myself for that loss of memory!

Now I'm beginning to feel self-conscious as this is starting to sound something like bragging...but that really could not be farther from the truth. Now if I had been talented enough to play at these venues...then maybe I would brag a bit, but truth is, it's just a piece out of my life that I wanted to share. And the reason I have added all this unimportant text to the web (as if there were not enough already) is all because of this honest to goodness, real Texas troubadour I discovered on Whole Wheat Radio.

This has taken much more space than I realized it would, and I have really condensed and tried to remain focused on Threadgill. Maybe next time I can talk about another old friend I worked with in Austin. He and his brother were some of the best fiddlers I've heard to this day. I worked with Walter Collins while painting houses in the Austin area. Walter had perfected his fiddle playing while tagging along with his brother on the road. His brother was Cotton Collins who was a member of the Lone Star Playboys. Cotton is best known in Texas for his tune, "Westphalia Waltz". Cotton and Walter are both gone now, but I'm sure they are still making the hair stand up on Gabriel's neck when they draw the bow across those twin fiddles. But that is another story for another time!

To end this story, and bring it back into focus, I would like to offer a three part playlist of the film "Singin' the Yodeling Blues". This is the work of Claude Mathews. Thank you Claude for your work on this and for your willingness to share!

You can watch all three videos here.

Friday, February 06, 2009

γνῶθι σεαυτόν

We long for that special leader who will ignite socially responsible change. We wait and hope for that one special person who can lead us out of this unjust and deteriorating economical slavery. We are only fooling ourselves into continued submission with our longing, waiting, and hoping. To paraphrase Debs, if any one person could lead us out of oppression, then any one person could lead us right back in. The answer to our problems is in the mirror!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The EFCA Rumble

Workers and Corporate America are Ready to Rumble over the Employee Free Choice Act. The news and political pundits have swamped the newswires and blogs with an unending supply of feeds concerning the proposed legislation. So I figured I would throw my meager few cents into the pot by taking a look at a few of the people and organizations that are fighting against the EFCA.

Regardless how the corporate entities play this to the people, I have personally seen what happens to a group of workers who really want to organize their workplace. With the current limp labor laws that are in place, the workers who are targeted as the leaders in the campaign are innevitably forced to endure hardships and most of the time they are even illegally fired once the intimidation tactics against the workers finally crushes the organizing campaign. I'm not saying the EFCA should be interpreted as savior legislation, but it does level the field and removes the high ground from the battlefield. The list of business and corporate interests are long, but here is a short list of the business side that is fighting against the EFCA legislation.

  1. Randel Johnson of the US Chamber of Commerce has pledged $10 million toward the battle against EFCA. Johnson is an active participant and the Chamber of Commerce is co-chair of the following anti-EFCA organization:

    • Coalition for a Democratic Workplace...which has no workers as members, but does have the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Associated Builders and Contractors, and the National Retail Federation as affiliates.

    • Americans for Job Security is a Chamber of Commerce front group financed by the insurance industry to fight political efforts by organized labor.

  2. Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot recently participated in a conference call, hosted by bailout recipient Bank of America, where he stated that the EFCA is the demise of civilization. Marcus insisted all the clients of those involved in the conference call send large contributions to groups working against the EFCA, as well as to vulnerable Republican Senators.
  3. Richard Berman who through his lobbying company has run numerous media campaigns criticizing and even ridiculing advocacy groups concerned with the dangers of obesity, smoking, mad cow disease, drunk driving, the minimum wage and other issues. Berman's companies operate several secretive front groups:

  4. Lee Scott, until January of 2009, was chief executive officer of wal-mart. Lee is well known for his implementation of corporate policies such as low hourly wage standards and anti-labor union policies which led to lawsuits involving 187,000 workers. When Lee was asked about EFCA, he replied, "We like driving the car, and we’re not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us." Lee's wal-mart also holds political partisan sessions with it's employees and lists the EFCA on it's disclosure forms, as well as these other legislative issues which they opposed:

I know there are no CEOs out there who would agree to work without a contract guaranteeing their pay and benefits, so why are they so against the American worker having a similar contract? And why do so many of them participate in such atrocious behavior such as this?

  1. 30% of employers fire pro-union workers.

  2. 49% of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union, but only 2% actually do.

  3. 51% of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism.

  4. 82% of employers hire high-priced unionbusting consultants to fight union organizing drives.

  5. 91% of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.

The corporate interests continually market the spin for our citizens and rarely do they touch on the truth, and you never hear them honestly portray what really takes place during organizing campaigns. I see this as more of the same old corporate views and tactics which have brought America to it's gluttonous knees! If you choose to buy into the corporate spin, and think it has something to do with individualism...may Gawd help you...because you certainly do not have the sense to help yourself.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

(David) Tenenbaum v. (Goliath) RIAA

This is merely a shout out...a show of support for Joel Tenenbaum. If you have not heard of this unique case, I urge you to take a little time and do some exploring. Last year Professor Charles Nesson and a team of his students from Harvard Law decided to defend Tenenbaum against a lawsuit initiated by the RIAA back in 2003 for his file-sharing activities.

Reading about the case, I found there have been 30,000 others who have had lawsuits filed against them for sharing and downloading music. All of those cases were settled out of court excluding one, which ended in a mistrial. Tenenbaum's case will only be the second RIAA case to go to trial.

Please take a look at the material offered on Joel Fights Back and if you feel this is a righteous fight, take a moment and sign the petition below, if only to show your support for the work Nesson and the students have done. Pass it around in your communities and gather the surge. As is mentioned on their website...this is not a vendetta. It's just that Joel Tenenbaum chose to stand his ground.
It’s about defending the average Davids against the corporate Goliath.

The student lawyers who are helping defend Tenenbaum are Isaac Kriegman, Nnamdi Okike, Debbie Resenbaum, Matt Sanchez, Dmitriy Tishyevich, and Aaron Dulles.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What is a Democratic Culture?

"If art which is now sick is to live and not die, it must in the future be of the people, for the people, by the people; it must understand all and be understood by all" - William Morris

John Holden is an associate of the U.K. based think tank Demos. Holden's expertise is culture, and he has a new report out on the web I found interesting. If is offered freely as a PDF, and it's entitled Democratic Culture.

As I began reading, I realized something important...I already knew and used this word in discussions and short pieces of writing, but I had failed to grasp exactly what the word "culture" meant to me...or how I would define the term. Even the Wikipedia article on culture begins with this sentence:
Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate") is difficult to define.

So perhaps I'm not alone in my confusion and my inability to nail down a meaning of one of the most important ingredients of humanity?

Holden mentions three interrelated spheres of culture which I would like to touch on and try to define each one as I currently understand them.

  • Publicly funded culture

  • Commercial culture

  • Home-made culture

In my small acreage of the world, publicly funded culture would dismiss the roots culture excluding an occasional journey into our past as a way to share the historical arts...our heritage. Public funding sounds great at first, but at least in the southern part of the states, what it means is a select few in a hierarchical system choose what stays and what gets culled. With this type of culture, even the arts become a top-down structural enterprise which is well known for it's ability to turn the majority of the people into the powerless and the minority of the people into the elitist.

Commercial culture again falls into the top-down structure where marketing and mass media dictate the terms of culture, of which we are all expected to adhere. Mass production and mass consumption is a false culture in my opinion, and robs the people of the real culture of the people. Our artists suffer in this form of culture, and I agree with Holden that success or failure is completely market driven and access into the popular culture is controlled by a mandarin class. So many great artists and artisans never get an opportunity and the people, as well as our artists, suffer from this cultural desert.

Then finally there is what Holden calls home-grown culture. We all are familiar with folk culture, but I think Holden's idea of home-grown takes this much farther and relates how changes in awareness and connectedness come into play in a web driven society. Home-grown better describes the collaborative culture in my opinion, by expanding the spectrum of historical folk arts with the new independent arts of the here and now and the what will be. Creativity has exploded due to the available venues given us through the web. With the growth of independent artistry on the web, we see the decision of what is quality art is being placed more and more into the hands of those who actively collaborate and support these independent artists within the participatory communities that are growing and redefining value.

Now exactly how do we define "democratic culture"? UNLV operates a research and public service organization called Center for Democratic Culture According to their mission statement:
Civil society thrives in the culture which encourages trust, tolerance, prudence, compassion, humor, and withers away when overexposed to suspicion, hatred, vanity, cruelty, and sarcasm.
According to Jack Balkin, a democratic culture is a culture in which individuals have a fair opportunity to participate in the forms of meaning-making that constitute them as individuals. Democratic culture is about individual liberty as well as collective self-governance; it concerns each individual's ability to participate in the production and distribution of culture. Removing the political, economical, and cultural elitists from their thrones and allowing everyone a chance to participate in the production of culture, sounds like a wonderful idea in my opinion.

Holden goes on to say that arts are indeed "special", but they are also simultaneously, inextricably and healthily part of the everyday. As a supporter of Whole Wheat Radio and also of Folkstreams, I definitely believe art can be found readily in the everyday of our existences here on earth. Our people and their home-grown cultures add so much richness to our world, and they create an unparalleled source of art which should be given a rightful place among what I would consider a democratic culture. As Holden mentions however, defining art can be just as problematic as defining culture.

Holden mentions three gatekeepers who work towards keeping the public out of the creation of culture through their respective practices of exclusivism.

The first gatekeeper is professionalism. Holden notes that at it's worst, professionalism could become malign or antagonistic professionalism.

Just a personal note...I had a lifetime in the work force installing fire protection piping...and I always viewed my work as an example of personal art. An art that could only be appreciated by the few other professionals in the fire protection trade...but regardless, the completed system's symmetry and functionality could still be considered an art form within this small niche. Perhaps creating a culture of and by the people will be more about these niches and their cross collaboration between other niches...perhaps? No?

The next gatekeeper listed is the snob culture, which is elitist in nature but a group which can be diluted as more people acquire access to these arts. Arts such as opera, ballet, and drama are more readily accesible with the Internet and I would think this has the possibility of diluting the power within any elitist group. Although there is nothing which can be compared to attending a live performance, appreciation for the art can be spread via the web quite easily which tends shift all of the people into the horizontal world of cultural decisions.

The third gate-keeper mentioned is the avant-garde opposition to democratic culture. According to Holden, the avant-garde must either alienate or completely withdraw from the public in order to maintain it's own self-worth and status.

Holden holds that there is a way out of the opposition between authority and anarchy, between cultural exlusivism and a debased, diluted popular culture.
In culture, we will have to stop thinking of a dispute between high and popular culture, and enter into public debate about cultural quality wherever it is manifested across all three spheres of publicly funded, commercial and home-made opera, crime writing, ballet, salsa, art galleries, TV, MySpace and so on.

I see we have the opportunity to initiate needed change and build our own that we decide is best for all inhabitants and one which we decide has value. However, having the opportunity and actually utilizing that opportunity are still worlds apart in my humble opinion. As was pointed out yesterday by fellow collaborators, Google's resources are so highly under utilized, it is almost embarrassing to be a member of the human race.

I see a need for all of the people to work toward the development of more participation and better cooperation. I see a place where the educators are likely to become the student, and the student will likely take on the role of educator. We have drawn too many lines and hailed democracy as a true gift of humanity. I think it's time, now that we have the opportunity, we actually tried to collaborate and see if it truly is a gift! If it is a gift, I think it's time we unwrapped it and used it for the people!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Collaboration...what's it worth?

As we continue the shift away from the industrialized and service models of civilization, where do we place value? We have seen what can happen to the monetary value system. It is not a sustainable model and is prone to corruption and failure. So what does that leave us, and what is a sustainable system of capital? I wish I knew without a doubt, but all I can give is an uneducated guess mixed with a little common sense and a whole lot of hope. Just my humble opinion, but I believe collaboration will naturally give us a new definition of capital and in turn create an entirely new value system. These are just a few of my thoughts, which hopefully will continually change as we progress!

Collaboration...just what is collaboration and what do we get out of it's growth as a social norm in this age of expanded communication? According to my sources, (Wikipedia), collaboration exists when two or more people or organizations work toward a common goal. The Internet is allowing a low cost and instantaneous sharing of ideas, knowledge, and skills in order to create sustainable communities of niche interests.
Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together toward an intersection of common goals: for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. Collaboration does not require leadership and can sometimes bring better results through decentralization and egalitarianism. In particular, teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources.

As an individual, what can one expect to receive from their collaboration? It's been said that in the not so far off future, there are three types of capital the individual will receive from their participation in the new collaborative society.

The first is knowledge capital, or perhaps a better definition would be human capital. Knowledge is acquired from the experience of collaboration, as opportunities to learn are inherent within collaborative communities. As knowledge is shared it is expanded and becomes self-generating with use. The more experience, the more the knowledge base will increase. The economics of self-generation eventually replaces scarcity economics. Regardless how narrow or broad the focus, this self-generated knowledge tends to assimilate in niche communities and knowledge management evolves as the process of sharing and learning continue.

The second type of capital is social capital, or relationship capital. Relationship capital allows people to know others who work on a large variety of projects...some of which overlap. Through collaboration on projects, lasting relationships are built with others. There is a mutual sharing of knowledge that takes place between these relationships and common goals are reached through the help of all involved. These voluntary associations and communities will hopefully be conducive of altruism as we learn to give it away in order to receive.
These voluntary associations also connect people with each other, build trust and reciprocity through informal, loosely structured associations, and consolidate society through altruism without obligation.

The third type of capital is reputation capital whose essence can be summed up as trust. The actions of an individual or a community translate into their reputation. Reputation can be the sum total of a good name, good works, and validation. A good reputation creates demand and helps define what is expected of an individual or community.
Reputation Capital is a label given to any attempt to measure this in a comparative way, which is often seen as a form of non-cash remuneration for their efforts, and generally generates respect within the community, or marketplace where the capital is generated.

The order seems to be accumulation of knowledge, then selection of the most useful knowledge, and lastly protection of the knowledge project from inappropriate use. All three of these happen at the same time and run parallel in order to avoid the knowledge from being privately appropriated.
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