I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken

Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
-Bertrand Russell

What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell

November 22, 2011 - 11:38 a.m.

The Act

Last night I knew what I was going to write this morning. Why didn't I make a note of it? I know I never remember things. That is me in a nutshell. Did I just call myself a nut?

I'm going to start with my travails as a teacher then switch to an idiot story and fun music stuff. If you want to skip to that go to the horizontal line.

My calculus 2 class is a disaster. The Median grade on the first test was a 48. They came into the class unprepared. They should have never passed calculus 1, they knew so little of the basics. I actually doubt they could pass a precalculus final. They didn't know any trig and weren't strong on algebra. Then to make it worse they didn't do the homework. I told them that if they start working hard I won't count the first test. They didn't. The median grade on the second test was 44. It wasn't like it built on the first test either. It was independent material. Many didn't know the simplest thing there is in the course that the derivative of ex is ex. Four students clearly did star working and improved their grades by at least 19 points but other dropped more than that. So what was I to do? I am giving them yet another chance. I'm giving them exactly the same test but with different numbers on Monday. We'll see how they do. Of course a third of the class didn't bother to come to class yesterday so they didn't get their test backs. I emailed them to let them know about the test.

So here's the question. Why do I care? Their calculus 1 teacher just let them pass without them learning anything. I see that every semester. Students come into my classes not knowing the prerequisites. Fractions could be written in Linear A for all the difference it would many of my students. They are a total mystery. If I just passed people and let it go nobody would give me a hard time. I was told that was what the teacher who usually teaches calculus 2 in the fall did. But I do care. I have standards and find it hard to give them up. Yes I'll give them more chances to learn, but that is what they are, chances to learn. I don't just give them grades. Why does it matter it me? It gives me grief and absolutely nobody appreciates it. I see how teachers get burned out. Part of me wishes I would burn out and stop caring. It would make it much easier.

Here's something I remember. How good was Hadestown? I was so excited from it that I forgot to tell you my idiot story. Does forgetting to tell an idiot story count as an idiot story? Me getting sucked into an infinite regression of idiot stories is even more me in a nutshell.

Shortly after Erika and I got to Le Poisson Rouge someone came around to see if we were on the prepaid list. I said yes and gave my name. He told me that he had two tickets for me. Erika had bought her own ticket. I was afraid that I had asked somebody to go with me and forgot. Then I realized what happened. I bought my tickets ages ago when they went on sale. Then I forgot about it and bought another ticket a few weeks ago. Yes I'm an idiot. Oh that's where I came in. I guess I can go now.

When I was tagging photos of the show yesterday I realized that I forgot to list one member of the cast here, Ben Matchstick as Hades. I went back and added that to my blog. To find him I had to find the cast somewhere online and found it on the Poisson Rouge Website page for the show, Anaïs Mitchell Presents Hadestown. If you scroll down the videos on the left the second one has Anaïs standing in front of an upright bass. I shot that at Madison Square Park. I love finding my handiwork by accident. I wonder how many of my videos, photos, and quotes are out there on websites I know nothing about. You throw enough spaghetti at the wall and some of it will stick.

I'm going to write something that I planned out before NERFA. I am known for being effusive in my praise for musicians. I'm always afraid that people are going to think that I just love everything and that couldn't be further from the truth. I'm actually a tough audience but I usually write about what I love. Most musicians make no impression on me. When I take notes at NERFA and other places I check out new music my most frequent comment is simply "eh." I don't need to write more than that.

If you talk to me in person you've heard me criticize musicians; you've heard me eviscerate musicians. It's tougher to do so here. Most musicians I see are no more than two degrees of separation from me. If I don't know them personally they are friends of my friends. I don't want them to be hurt if they read what I say. They aren't bad men, just bad wizards. On the other hand it's fun to write a bad review. It's fun to read a bad review. So I worked out a way of panning an act while leaving the subject totally anonymous.

I'm going to simply review The Act. It might be a solo performer, a duo, or a band. I won't give a hint about style or gender or location. You'll learn very little about the material. What I hope to convey though is how I feel about The Act and why.

If given a choice it's a close call if I'd rather hear The Act or rip my own head off. That is an honest reappraisal. I usually say that I'd rather rip my head off but as I have heard The Act and my head is still on it clearly isn't true. What's wrong with the Act? It isn't a matter of technical incompetence. It isn't like the duos I've heard at open mics that each sing in their own key and play in a third. That's different. Those are amateurs working within their limits.

The Act has technical skills. The Act excels at the craft of music. What The Act lacks is any sense of art. When there is an artistic decision to be made The Act doesn't make it. If the Act covers a song it is just a note by note reproduction of the original. What is the point of that kind of cover? A cover is supposed to make you discover new depths to a song.

When the act does an original song every note and every word is what you'd get if you took the average of what everyone in the audience expects to happen. The Act never surprises you. The Act never makes you think. It never takes you to new places.

The Act has no sense of irony. To say the Act is overly earnest is like saying that Bill Gates is well off. The Act reminds me as nothing so much as the performers that are spoofed in A Mighty Wind.

The Act could be great working in a bar where people aren't listening carefully. The act sounds pretty. If you were having people at your house and wanted some live music while people talked The Act would be great. The problem is when you start paying attention. There is no there there. The act is Salieri without his self-awareness (at least in the play) that he isn't Mozart.

What always surprises me is that people whose taste I respect like The Act. They see the technical prowess and apparently miss the total lack of content. I'll often say that that I don't connect with an artist and not make judgments of good and bad. When my friends love someone I don't I can still see why. Sure I'll make fun of the Nields but I can see what they are trying to accomplish. I can see that they are trying to accomplish something. I can see people loving them for exactly the reasons that I dislike them. There is a there there. The Act is different. The Act does not make art. If the Act was a painting it would be a Keane or Elvis on black velvet.

Most people seem to think that everyone else likes the Act. People will look around and make sure not many people can hear them then apologetically say how they don't like The Act. Then I chime in agreeing and we feel relieved. Yes someone else out there gets it. Actually many people, maybe most do. I always look to see whose eyes roll when The Act is mentioned. When I see that I say how I feel

Now that was fun and a challenge. Notice that I avoided any pronouns. Pronouns leave clues to identity. I was thinking of using "it" but that always seems wrong when talking about people. I wouldn't refer to any individual or even a band as it. I have to reread this to make sure I didn't slip up at all. It's harder than you might think. I caught quite a few pronouns. If you catch one let me know.

Are you having fun trying to figure out who The Act is? I know I'd be coming up with my list of possibilities if I were reading this. But I'm evil. And see I don't love everyone.

I signed the Pro-Truth Pledge:
please hold me accountable.

Memories: Not that Horrid Song - May 29, 2018
Wise Madness is Now In Session - May 28, 2018
The NFL and the First Amendment - May 27, 2018
On The Road Again - May 26, 2018
Oliver the Three-Eyed Crow - May 25, 2018

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Horvendile November 22, 2011
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