Hello. Here's the blog. Mostly, this consists of entries about the songs you can hear on this site. Enjoy!

The Last Song 

Children being born today will inherit a very different planet from the one we have known throughout history.  The way things are going, the change they will see in their lifetimes won't be intelligently managed or even curtailed.  It will be catastrophic.  Catastrophic to people, but also to most other living things.  Which means catastrophic to people.

We don't seem to be capable of averting this, and I started wondering what evidence would be left of us in say, 20 million years?  What would be left to show of our self-important species?  No wood that we've used, no concrete. Even plastics wouldn't last nearly that long.  Cut diamonds would still be around, but they would be hard to find.  Some radioactive elements where power stations and missile silos once were might still be detectable, but again only in specific locations. 

The asteroid that killed all the non-avian dinosaurs left a telltale trace of iridium in a specific geological layer around the entire planet. Is there an equivalent that would be a ubiquitous telltale of human civilisation? 

One thing that will survive us will be those little space probes launched in the 1970s - Voyagers 1 and 2.  They will continue on their outward flights indefinitely, with nothing to destroy or even weather them very much.  What if some space-faring aliens stumble across one of these probes one day?  That's where The Last Song begins. 

Listen here.

Panopticon / Rome Burns 

A while back, I read about something called a panopticon. It's a kind of building that could be used as a prison or other institution. 

Imagine rooms - cells - arranged to create the outside wall of a circular building, with one-way mirrors making up the inner walls.  An observer could sit at the centre of the building and see any occupant at a glance, but none of the inmates would be able to see if they were being watched at any time - they'd just know it was possible. 

It struck me (as it has many people in recent years) that this is a good analogy for our society.  With CCTV, the CIA and MI6 watching us electronically, with Facebook and associated organisations data mining - we're all being observed at some point in some way.  We don't necessarily know when, or how much; we just know we might be, and at some point certainly are. 

It's also become clear that the internet's own algorithms filter what we find in searches. Rather than being a window onto the entire world, it's more like a mirror reflecting ourselves back to us.  Ironic and sinister, don't you think?  We live in a panopticon, but we are not the observers, we're the observed.

I thought about how helpless we all are in the face of this.  And a similar sense of helplessness often creeps over me when I think about the enormous problems we face as the human race, and that the Earth faces because of us.  I retreat into my personal world, attending to those things I do have control over, and shutting out the bigger picture.  I think most of us do. 

Fiddling while Rome burns.

Listen here


Those who cannot, will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven 

Lathe of Heaven sounds religious doesn't it?  And it is, sort of.  Vaguely.  Well, almost entirely unlike religion as it turns out.  To explain... 

A favourite novel of mine is The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula Le Guin.  While writing the book, she was apparently very taken by some Taoist verses by Chuang Tse XXIII, which she used here and there in the story.  The book title is from one in particular: 

' To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment.  Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.' 

Years after the book was published, Le Guin discovered that this is a terrible translation of the original writing, but it was way too late to do anything about it.  She still liked the sentiment though, and so do I.  I take it to mean something like, 'To know that something is unknowable, but still struggle to understand it, is a path to madness.' 

So why did I call this project Lathe of Heaven?  I'm not letting on, but if you think about it hard enough, perhaps one day you will understand.

By the way, here's my music.

 

The Barefoot Chocolate Maker 

Now for one of the good guys. 

A while back, I stumbled on an extraordinary story on the BBC's 'Food Program'.  It told of an engineer, a New Yorker called Mott Green, who moved to the Caribbean island of Grenada.  He fell in love with the island and the culture. He also found that although they grew cocoa beans there, for some reason they didn't make chocolate. 

In fact all the cocoa they grew was sold to the commodities market.  The growers made very little money, as all the value is in the final product - the chocolate on our confectionery shelves.  The program also mentioned another cocoa bean growing region - Africa's Ivory Coast. There, children are sold to the plantations, to work for years.  It's not a stretch to call it modern-day slavery. 

In Grenada, Mott wondered why they couldn't make the chocolate themselves, cut out the middle men and sell chocolate direct to the retailers.  He figured that if everyone was part of a collective, all that added value would benefit the growers. 

He put his engineering skills to work and built a solar-powered chocolate factory in Grenada, keeping it going with constant maintenance, and mastering the art of turning cocoa beans into chocolate.  In partnership with locals Doug and Edmond Browne, he set up the Grenada Chocolate Company, making fine chocolate to sell around the world. 

True to his environmental aspirations, the first batch of chocolate bars to be delivered made its journey from Grenada to the UK on a brigantine sailing ship - powered by the wind! 

But there's a tragic twist to this tale.  One night, while doing emergency maintenance, Mott was accidentally electrocuted.  Despite his tragic, untimely death, he has left an amazing legacy.  The Grenada Chocolate Company lives on, and more and more local growers are joining the collective as the customer base grows. 

Oh, and I can personally affirm - the chocolate is really good!

Listen here

Find out more about the Grenada Chocolate Company

Suit 

So here's one of the main villains of the piece. 

There's a type of person who is without conscience, but who understands very well what comforts people, and what they'll pay good money to hear.  They present themselves as respectable human beings, but are abjectly vile and corrupt.  They each have their own schtick, but underneath it all, they're all doing the same thing - they're gaining power and making money from gullible and vulnerable people, without a care for the misery and destruction they cause. 

From promoting racism or denying climate change, to just scamming folks of all their money in the name of God or even in the name of healthy living, they perpetuate real evil in this world. This song is for them.

Listen here

Now There's No Room 

This song is an epilogue to The Sibylline Books. 

I was thinking a while back of all the expressions in the English language using animals as a metaphor.  Wolves at the door, elephant's memory, eagle eyes, busy as a bee...  When you think about it, there are a lot of them.  And now we're approaching a time when these expressions will be referring to things that no longer exist. 

They'll all be dead as the dodo. 

People try to argue for the preservation of wildlife by seeing its direct value to humans.  'Don't cut down the rain forests because they might contain cures for human diseases'.  'Don't kill all the bees because they pollinate many of our crops'. 

Absolutely true. But to me, the destruction of the planet's biodiversity is also an aesthetic crime - far worse than demolishing every art gallery in the world.  Every plant, animal, fungus and microbe alive today has an unbroken evolutionary history all the way back to the first emergence of life nearly four billion years ago.  And we're mindlessly erasing it all. 

Mother Earth kindly stepped in to do the vocals for this one.  Maybe we should listen before it's too late?

Listen Here.

The Sibylline Books 

According to legend, Tarquinius - a pre-Christian-era king of Rome, once had a fairly disastrous haggle with a prophetess - or Sibyl, when he wanted to buy nine scrolls of precious wisdom from her.  She named a price, which he refused.  In response, the Sibyl cast three scrolls into the fire.  She offered the six remaining scrolls at the same price, and when Tarquinius protested, she burned another three.  He eventually bought the last three scrolls at the original price, fearing to lose them all. 

Douglas Adams re-told this story in his book, 'Last Chance to See', about his experiences travelling around the world with biologist Mark Carwardine, in search of some of the world's most endangered animals.  Adams' version is an allegory for the extinctions we're causing - not understanding the true worth of what we're losing. The species are analogous to the precious scrolls of the Sibyl.

Since then, one of the animal subjects of his book - the Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji - has become extinct.  Another, the northern white rhino, exists now only as a half dozen individuals in zoos.  Adams' account inspired this song.  It's a story, so settle down, and when you're sitting comfortably, I'll begin. 

Listen here.

Douglas Adams - Last Chance to See

WWF's account of the current mass extinction event

Marionettes 

A while back, on the peer at Santa Monica, I saw the most useless puppeteer ever. I felt sorry for the marionette being dragged around, getting his legs tangled up. He and the puppeteer weren't making much of an impact, (except to make me laugh behind my hand).

Some time later, I saw a video on You Tube taken back when the Occupy movement was holding marches all around the world. The viewpoint was from the third or fourth floor of a building in the fancy district of some western city. The street below was brimming with Occupy protesters marching past. Then the camera panned up to show a group of toffs on a balcony dressed for a ball. They were obviously highly amused by all the proles below.

It's an old cliché, comparing a person or a group of people to puppets. But the two images stuck in my head and demanded to be made into a song.

We do have the power to make changes for the good in this world. The Occupy movement was stamped out, but that doesn't have to happen. Perhaps the #MeToo movement will have more success?

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Image: Kelsey Whipple                                    

Misunderstood 

Over the last few years, it's become clear to me that many people aren't interested in what's true.  What they're interested in is believing things that make themselves feel good.  This song is about those people.

Folks have the right to believe that unicorns exist and the world is flat if they want. But when it comes to fixing a host of desperate problems the world faces, the first step is to acknowledge that the problems exist.  We're not doing very well at step one.

Listen here.

What's it all about? 

When you're young, you learn about falling in love.  The resultant elation and despair is usually the most powerful thing that has happened to you up to that point, so it's not surprising that if you write songs, that's what you write about.

As you get older, you live and love, and inevitably lose some you love.  You start to realise that the world around you is not a static thing; that ten years is fleeting and full of change.

Then there's the state of the world.  When I was born, there were half as many people on the planet than now, and there were already signs of strain.  I remember confident claims that the Earth's resources were infinite.  We now live in a world of 'peak oil'.  I remember campaigns to save a single iconic species from extinction, but now we're destroying entire habitats. 

So these days, I'm preoccupied with all the ways we're screwing things up, and all the forces that conspire to maintain this catastrophic momentum. 

Some choose to believe what makes them comfortable, rather than what's true.  Others exploit that tendency for their own ends.  Many know in their hearts that things are in a terrible state, but feel too overwhelmed to do anything about it.  They occupy themselves with manageable problems and day-to-day pleasures; never daring to look up. 

On the other hand, there are a few signs of hope; a few people who make a noticeable change for the good, and I write about them too. 

© 2011 Jeff Parker. caglecartoons.com