Friday, October 14, 2005

To cover or not?

Do "real" folk musicians play covers?

A cover, I'm told, is any song the performing musician did not personally write. Folk musicians in my area are discouraged from performing them. Those who do so are frequently scoffed at. Unfortunately, the romantic vision of the singer-songwriter has become prerequisite for being taken seriously as a musical artist. As a result, great songs go unheard while lessor songs are heard far too often.

Folk music is the music of the people. It's passed on from one generation to the next. It's tradition. And it's culture. Covering a song is the only way it's past on from one generation to the next. Artists often add something new to a song so it eventually takes on a different shape. You could all it musical morphing.

The House of the Rising Sun
is a perfect example. The song's roots stretch all the way back to a 17th century British folk melody. John A. Lomax, Alan Lomax, and Georgia Turner are all credited with collecting and revising it. Black bluesman Texas Alexander recorded it first in 1928 but Josh White is credited with popularizing the song. Roy Acuff covered it too on his November 3, 1938 recording. The Almanac Singers (Woody Guthrie, Lee Hayes, Millard Lampell, and Pete Seeger) also covered again in on July 7, 1941 for their album Sod-Buster Ballads. And that's not all! Other covers were done by Buster Poindexter, Charlie Byrd, David Allen Coe, Dolly Parton, Eric Burton & the Animals,John Fahey, Henry Mancini, the Highwaymen, Leadbelly, Marianne Faithful, Tim Hardin, Tracy Chapman, Waylon Jennings, the Weavers, and Peter, Paul & Mary. That's some mighty fine company to keep by my reckoning.

Some doubting Thomas is bound to argue that this particular song is an anomaly. Well. I could also point out a track on Bob Dylan's first album was a bluegrass cover of Man of Constant Sorrow, but it wouldn't matter. People do not change their prejudices easily. So, let's explore a few of the songs performed by a single seminal folk artist, Pete Seeger.

Seeger's career spans an amazing eight decades, from the 1930's until the 2000's. He began performing and collecting songs in the late 30's. He met Woody Guthrie on March 3, 1940 at the Grapes of Wrath migrant-worker benefit concert and subsequently formed the Almanac Singers. The group recorded original labor songs like The Talking Union Blues and pacifist songs such as The Ballad of October 16. They also recorded some of the traditional songs discovered along their travels. Later, he and Lee Hays founded the Weavers. Performing with this new group and surviving the assaults of red-baiters occupied his attention throughout the 50's. His cover of We Shall Overcome is cited as the official anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 60's. He is best known for singing Knee Deep in the Big Muddy on the Smothers Brothers Show in protest of the Viet Nam war. Unfortunately, the show was subsequently cancelled. Seeger continues supporting social activism and environmentalism with his music and gentle spirit still.

Pete wrote many of the songs we consider classics today but he also covered countless others from around the world. One of his biggest hits was a cover of Malvina Reynolds' Little Boxes. He is also famous for covering Woody Guthrie's Roll On, Columbia and Leadbelly's Goodnight, Irene. Even Which Side Are You On is a cover of a Florence Reece song. His list of covers goes on and on. He selected them for specific reasons. Some were chosen to highlight emerging musical genres such as Christy Moore's Viva la Quince Brigada and Jose Fernandez Diaz's Guantanamera. Others, like Darling Corey, were selected because they are part of the very roots of modern American music. Seeger often chose covers to express a point such as Aunt Molly Jackson and Jom Garland's The Death of Harry Sims and it's call for jusitice. Seeger's music illustrates several valid reasons to cover a song.

I confess to wantonly performing covers. My reasons, while not as easily defensible as Pete Seeger's, are just as valid. First, I perform to entertain people. This means I try to play the music people want to hear as long as it lies within my limited talents to do so. Second, I play songs I enjoy playing instead of just songs I wrote. Covering songs is fun and I plan to continue doing so as long as I can play the guitar and sing.

Why not enjoy a few with me?

Copyright 2003 by Mark Leon Winegar

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Don't hang yourself with your network cable

We've been having a lot of fun on our campus this year!

Not really. Imagine a college campus where students, faculty, and administrative staff intermittently cannot access the network. They frequently cannot access their email, courses, notwork files, anything. Yes, this is the college that falsely celebrates being the first "wireless" campus in the state. What is really funny is that the college's advertising slogan is "get connected!"

Now imagine that failure is never complete. For instance, in a class of 40 students perhaps 15 can get on the network but you can't. Perhaps you try again later and you can login but only once or twice. Now imagine that your are paying $1,600+ per years for this privelege. Imagine you are now into the 7th week of suffering this problem. Would you be a little frustrated?

This really is the current situation on our campus.

What happened? Like so many other small liberal arts colleges our IT department is understaffed with "home-grown" personnel. They are overworked and under-informed. Over the summer two independent contractors were hired to lay network cable. However, at least one of the contractors laid the wrong cable. The problem is that there are two standards in making CAT-5 network cable. Without specifications a contractor may lay either T-568A or T-568B cable. Each works fine as long as the entire network is wired the same way. But you cannot mix the two!

CAT-5 network cable consists of 8 sets of twisted-pair copper wire. In general, the quality of the wire is greater as the number of twists increases. Each set is shielded and color-coded in pairs. The colors are green, yellow, blue, and brown. Each color has a solid and a striped set or wire. See Ethernet Cable: Color Coding Standards by clicking on hte title of this article.

Four to these wire sets aren't used by the network and four are. Two of the used set of used for sending data and the other two are used for receiving data. Each of these pairs has a wire that carries + and another that carries - signals. So you can see that if these wires aren't connected properly you could easily have data that ran into a dead-end.

When you attempt to connect to the network a series of signals must be successfully passed back and forth between your computer and the network server to complete the login process. This is also true any time your want to transmit or receive data. The specific path data takes from your computer to the server varies. If your data hits a dead-end the signal bounces around for quite awhile creating excessive network traffic. Your computer is impatient. It repeats the transmission making the matter worse. At some point the operating system will see that there's a lot of non-sense going on and will disable your network card. This can occur quickly when viewed in human time.

Of couse, most college students, faculty, administrators don't understand this. All they know is that their computer is broke. Unfortunately, there are too few campus IT directors and support personnel that know it too.

They 7th week of the semester is quickly coming to an end and the problem still persists. Classs attendance is dropping.
The campus computer committee has recognized the need to raise the priority of computing on campus and their powerless to affect positive change and Many students are talking about transferring to other schools. Who could blame them?

Meanwhile I'm thinking about how Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Copyright 2005 by Mark Leon Winegar

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thou shalt not kill...

My reading of this commandment is very clear. It outlaws taking another life. It leaves no room for interpretation or exceptions. It's beautiful in both it's simplicity and absolute nature. Then how can the "religious" right retain it's aire of moral superiority when it supported the invasion of Iraq?

They can't!

I teach at a small catholic liberal arts college. I saw the campus community there split between those who supported George Bush and those who didn't. Bush supporters were mostly conservative catholics while the others were mostly protestants. The catholics suffer from a more rigid organziational structure guided by the principles of scientific management theory. The local bishop, Carlson, allegedly directed his priests to tell parishoners that voting for Kerry was a mortal sin. Many did despite the fact that the Pope opposed the invasion of Iraq. The catholics followed their local leaders and voted overwhelming for George Walker Bush.

Now they have a crisis of conscience. The rules of their faith clearly indicts them of moral murder. Even so, I was amazed when one of the young catholic zealots on campus tried to explain to me that the commandment had been improperly translated. He claimed the true meaning would exempt any killings ordered by the government.

I don't buy it!

Let's take this premise to its extreme. Are the nazi soldiers who executed countless jews in gas chambers guilty according to the sixth Commandment? They were following legal orders from their government. Yes, they were as guilty as sin! They made a moral choice and chose wrong. Peer pressure does not exempt one from personal guilt.

How about 9/11 terrorists? Would they be guilty of murder if they had the support of their governments in carrying out the attack on the twin towers? Of course they would. Then why would anyone make such a rediculous argument for exemption from the commandment? Guilt.

Americans are feeling their guilt.

I would go so far as to say that George Walker Bush and hils followers can no longer call themselves christian. Jesus refused to take up the sword when offered an army to help free his people. He taught the path of peace. To kill would have violated the very foundation of his faith. He also taught forgiveness instead of vengence, brotherly love instead of hate, sharing wealth instead of greed. He chased the merchants out of the temple. Certainly he would chase the warmongers out of his church.

Guilt is a terrible burden when you live a faith based upon absolutism. As progressive thinkers we must empathize with our enemy's plight. However, they have lost the moral high ground. Its now up to us to keep it by not allowing anyone to forget the events of the past few years.

Copyright 2005 by Mark Leon Winegar