OGH Blog

May 31
Why we build the wall

I have been reading Chris Beckett’s science fiction novel America city –  a direct extrapolation from today’s events in the US. A hundred years from now, the south of the US is no longer liveable. Immigrants flow to the north. But to win the election, presidential candidate Slaymaker has to relieve the burden on the northern US states. His outspoken female (and partly feminist) advisor comes up with an advice: what about Canada, they have room for our refugees. With scary but quite probable results.

Bilderesultat for chris beckett america city

This book, together with the great conclusion of the Dark Eden trilogy, Daughter of Eden, makes Beckett my favorite current sci-fi author. There, he goes into the mind of a “ghostspeaker”, the kind of woman prophet-sayer that is otherwise not much credited in science fiction. In America City, it is the mind of a US president wanting to build walls. Beckett looks from the inside. He goes into the mindset of the “others”.

Top of today’s literature, if you ask me.

After reading America City, it was somewhat of a shock to discover this record – Ainais Mitchell: Hadestown – Why we build the wall. I had not known this before.

I read, it is now a Broadway musical – I would love to see it.

To soothe my mind, I play a record dedicated to another vision of America – one of openness and acceptance:

 

 

 

Apr 12
The mystery of the Beatles – and boys “looking like girls”

How come boys and young men wanted to grow their hair long, going against the dominant social norms in the 1960s and 70s?

They were seen as girls, devalued and unmanly. Yet long hair became a way to demonstrate a youth revolt and a counter culture.

I am reading a lot of books, including music histories, for a book project on men and masculinities, in order to understand this change.

“All you need is ears”, Beatles producer George Martin argues, regarding the success of the Beatles – the leading long-haired band.

This is a good book regarding sound – a focused yet limited regarding the artistic contribution of the Beatles (and their sound as part of their artistic intention). Martin writes a lot about the technical issues and troubles with analog recording, with too few tracks and too much noise, and the text (written in the late 1970s) is more technical than emotional.

Yet this is the text of a record producer, not an artist, and should be judged on its own merits.

Much of what he says about analog recording, written before the advent of digital recording, which emerged some years later than this text (in the early 1980ies, with CDs supposed to represent “perfect sound forever”) is still relevant and interesting today. His book gives valuable knowledge, for example, on how to set up microphones, how to adjust for different instruments, and how to get the full sound of a band.

George Martin the producer and sometime-co-musician with the Beatles was never fully credited for his work. This is made very evident in the last part of the book. His complaints are reasonable, but his nagging tone,  bringing up the theme, also reminds me of other recent music books I have read, in the direction, “I should have been paid x times more”. Artists and contributors often start out from artistic and idealistic reasons, but often end up – even if they sell well (or, especially in that case) – in conflicts regarding revenues, profits and egos. With maybe the ego part the hardest territory to negotiate. Alltogether, the in-depth books I read, including biographies of rock bands, artists and producers, describe a complaint against music capitalism. You can make a hit, but from then on, you are on the run.

Apr 01
Gender equality survey research – updated information

 

In 2007 I led a survey study called “Gender equality and quality of life” (Likestilling og livskvalitet) in Norway (with Helge Svare and Cathrine Egeland).

It was a “state of the art” type of detail survey of gender in/equality. Nationally in Norway it was used in policy documents like the white paper on men (Mannsmeldingen) and by the gender equality commission (Skjeie-utvalget). Internationally, it spread much more than usual, especially in the (partly Norwegian-funded) IMAGES survey around the world: https://promundoglobal.org/programs/international-men-and-gender-equality-survey-images/#

Based on this rather unusual international take-up for a Norwegian research model, I had hoped that in 2017, ten years after the original survey, Norway would finance a follow-up, but that that did not happen, despite a bit of lobbying from my side (not usual for me, but I thought this was of national importance). It was even brought up in the parliament / Storting, but did not get funding.

The Research Council of Norway helped bring a more limited development into reality.  A Poland-Norway project was financed under EEA Grants, with the same title as the original 2007 Norwegian project.

Now, the main results from the new study have been published in Polish, as well as a first more theoretical outline, in English.

The Poland-Norway version of the study tried to go beyond the IMAGES version, which was somewhat “applied” and focused on men and violence. It aimed towards rom the Norway side) was to and improve the basic “structural/cultural” Norwegian design – a more in-depth approach to gender equality. The task was to develop a model of gender in/equality that  worked well also in Poland. The research teams cooperated in order to make a more wholistic gender equality measuring “instrument” than has formerly been available in Europe. A representative survey was made in Poland 2015, as well as interview studies.

Here is the first book from the project, in English:

The second book (2018), with results, in Polish;

 

Based on the Poland/Norway research experience and comparations, the two teams also cooperated to make a”blueprint” version for an improved survey – in English – going beyond the Poland/Norway frame, appliccable in further research development, for example, for a survey of Europe as a whole.

The blueprint proposal can be found here:

http://www.geq.socjologia.uj.edu.pl/en_GB/start?p_p_id=56_INSTANCE_ZGJFS82ydNo6&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_state=normal&p_p_mode=view&p_p_col_id=column-2&p_p_col_count=3&groupId=32447484&articleId=136474060

The idea is to go one step further – for more research;

 

 

 

 

Mar 24
The new youth movement

STREIK: Rundt 20 000 elever er ventet å streike for klimaet over hele landet fredag. Her fra en elevstreik i Bergen sist torsdag, der skoleelever og studenter demonstrerte på Torgallmenningen. Foto: Marit Hommedal / NTB scanpix

20 000 pupils – or more – have protested in Norway, against the lack of climate awareness on the behalf of the politicians. The protest is spreading all over the world.

Not strange – the youth are the ones who will face the costs of the actions – or inactions – we do now.

The movement, now, is much focused on the young against the old. A well known division, “age”, comes into sociological play. “Hope I die before I get old”, like the Who put it, back in the radical 1960ies.  Even in gender-equal  – supposedly – Norway – we get voices like way back then. “Why don’t these youths go back to school”. Demonstrating for the environment is not a legal ground for being absent, in most of the schools.

Norway seems to react like a dinosaur slightly before the catastrophy hits. It is sad to see.

Yet this is the very fare that provides the food for a new opposition, a new youth rebellion, going beyond the one in the 1960s. Now, like then, the adult world and the establishment create barriers, obstacles, and try to brush off the new insight. Later they will try to co-opt it, make it into the system in “harmless” ways – to judge from historical experience of the last youth revolt. Now it is maybe happening again. Yet these errors can be avoided. The situation is different, there is more focus, and the pupil revolt is supported by scientific evidence. The 68-ers said the whole system was bad. Now, the approach is more limited – the system is bad, if it does not correct the environment crisis.

There are plus and minuses to the “critical” approach back then – and the environmental approach now. The usual end of the story – youthful rebellions through the times – is that the youth revolt does not hold out. It has maybe some victories but mainly cultural, society is not much changed, and may even go back to worse practices due to the “humiliation” of the childish critique of the youth and its counter culture.

However, now the clock is ticking, and the expertise is on the side 0f the youth – so who knows?

Mar 13
Long hair and progressive music: The Who and The Moody Blues

I am writing a book on young men breaking the gender barrier, “looking like girls”, growing their hair long in the 60ies and 70ies. Since I have other tasks it moves ahead a bit slowly. However, I read source material, especially, music biographies and books.

Recently I’ve read Townshend, Pete 2012: Who I Am, and Cushman, Marc: Long distance voyagers – the history of the Moody Blues (vol 1 1965-1979). Both contain interesting glimpses of the aversion against young men with long hair, and the way the hair was – so to speak – entangled with the new youth culture and progressive music.

As a music sociologist, I think they err on each side of the road. The two books have two different kinds of limitations.

Townshend lays out claims that he was the first doing power chords, and came up with other inventions, but he tells surprisingly little of the musical development in the band and how this impacted on the band relationships. It is more like, this band mate was strong / not so strong.

Cushman’s first part – a massive volume on the Moody Blues, will there be a second? – on the other hand, goes all into the music. The social context is more sparse. And the text uses a lot of space for listings of the band’s record sales, rather than the music itself. Nevertheless, it is clearly the new standard of scholarship on this band. Yet even here, I would have liked better analyses of what exactly the Moody Blues did, that was musically new.

Plus points in Cushman’s book include glimpses of Ray Thomas as alto flute player (and other musicians in the band) combined with the production talents of “the sixth moody” Tony Clarke.  The credit to Clarke is well deserved. Decca was quickly learning and developing production technique developed at EMI (Abbey Road), and had very high standards from earlier recording also, surpassing EMI in some respects.

TheMoodyBlues-album-daysoffuturepassed.jpg

Cusham is great on how the Moodies – this unlikely bunch of old-style-singing long-haired guys with somewhat uncertain instrumental prowess – were allowed into the Decca “holiest of holy”, with the new Deram sound system (DSS), using two four-track recorders for better stereo. The band was supposed to play classical easy listening music. They barricaded themselves in Decca’s best studio, and ended up inventing something new, in the typical spirit of the day. The result was Days of future passed, one of the larger-selling LPs of all time.

Who I am

Townshend mainly tells his own story, and somehow, I find the connections to the music rather weak. Fans of The Who may love the band for “inventing” this or “doing” that, but what actually happened, musically? Maybe this critique is unfair. Townshend does tell about his attempts to go further, to develop music beyond what the band had done so far. Later in the book he says that the band had done a lot of jumping and showing off, this would not do anymore.

Inadvertently he also tells a story of how “youth” wasn’t a staying ground for the attempted change.

I would have hoped Townshend took some self-critique for lines like “Hope I die before I get old” – but it is only implied. Like, maybe we DID smash up a few guitars too many. This is the tone of the book, as I read it. Townshend’s book has elements of defense that I won’t go into here. Maybe it spilled over, also into his judgement regarding things back then. Maybe a revised version could work this out better.

Bands like The Who took the “soft” message of the youth revolt and the counterculture, and “hardened” it.  What happened, in that transition?

Bilderesultat for cushman long distance

Cushman is fine on the music, but the wider social context, culture etc is often largely absent. How come these nice Birmingham lads, singing in almost 1950s style, were tuned on to the new youth rebellion and counter culture? I wasn’t much wiser, even after 700 pages.

Was the Moody Blues, on the road, a much more orderly affair, than The Who? Less misogynism and use of groupies? It seems so. The books show that male bands could have quite different wishes and setups. Although the different filtering of the story telling applied by the two authors may play a role.

Was the creative process of both bands hindered, by the music industry, the emphasis on commercial hits and best-selling albums? Again, it seems so. Despite variation the basic story is remarkably similar. Did this, all in all, create a more “masculine” idea of music? Now we are into speculation territorry – but it may seem so, yes. In various ways. Ending with the synth-pop of the 80s. Long-haired bands becoming dinosaurs, one way or the other. In fact, you maybe don’t need Reagan or Thatcher or digital sound problems into the equation, to predict the generally agreed-upon “bad sound of the 80s”. Just add “band pressure” working over time.

For example, listen to Moody Blues: Octave album, Steppin in a slide zone (1978).  This sounds so bad, it maybe sounds great. If you like the 1980s sound. The flat synthetic sound reminding me of shoulder pads for men. Short hair once again. A kind of prophesy of the 1980s music letdown. Was Clarke out to lunch? Anyway, almost everyone agrees – with Octave, we are no longer into the “classic” period of the group. Artistic quality is falling. Why? Constant pressure from a commercial machine is – broadly – the best answer.

Octave was made after the group was totally exhausted, having made seven albums, later called “the classic seven”, in a period of nine years. Likewise, the Who and other groups were pushed beyond their limits, by very high demands from the record companies – entangled with their own wishes to make money, while the attention was there. “Do it now”, like Paul McCartney advises on Egypt station. Everyone remotely musical and socially engaged, 1965-75, felt like a storm was coming on, a counter culture expressed especially in music, a new truth that could not be denied, or at least, a new level of public discourse, an extension of democracy, “love” as  in empathy, etc. So – the behaviors and conflicts of the bands – can be read in this larger perspetive, they were a new type of organizations, that tried to spearhead the youth revolution and the counter culture, but encountered great costs along the way.

Both books are well worth reading, if you are interested in this period, and its wider repercussions. They both give some guide into what to listen for – albums, songs – and a musical follow-up is interesting.

Best place to start with the Moody Blues is maybe To our children’s children’s children (1969), perhaps the most successful of their classic seven albums. Then try Questions, on A question of balance (1970). If this doesn’t rock you, nothing will.

Bilderesultat for moody blues to our children

Best place to start with The Who – I have not decided yet. Listening to Tommy and Quadrophenia, The Who sells out, A quick one. The early stuff is often the most interesting. Maybe all in all the best intro, to get the feeling of the band, is The Who sells out.

 

 

 

Jan 16
Dating revisited

It feels strange, now, looking at a book I wrote many years ago.

The cover by Klaus Nordby is great – one of the best I have had, on the books I have published. You can see a key as well as a broken heart.

My own bookshelf copy is pictured here. It has been useful, opened many times.

What does the book say? Well – read it!

It is in Norwegian, and the title – translated – is “Dating, love and the gender market” (Sjekking, kjærlighet og kjønnsmarked). Pax, Oslo 1981.

The title starts with the Norwegian word “Sjekking” which is not so easy to translate (literal: checking, checking up). “Dating” is not quite precise, especially as it relates the practices in the US that were never common in Norway. Picking up a partner is maybe more realistic, on the whole, but the English words are not so clear.

There was a Swedish translation of the book (Hammarstrøm och Åberg, 1983) – using the word “Raggning” for the Norwegian “Sjekking”.

The cover  (by Johan Petterson) shows another angle – a kiss above, a jungle below.

 

 

Note those eyes…

Sadly, the book was never published in English.

 

Dec 03
From blues to prog: Cream

 

Cream once more

Reading Dave Thompson: Cream – the world’s first supergroup. Virgin books, London, 2005

I put on some relevant vinyl albums, to test his hypotheses.

The band sounding very good indeed on live concerts, Thompson claims. I put on Live Cream, volume 2 (RSO 2394 155) – yes this is true. On some tracks they sound better live, than on their studio albums. Do they need an organ (which they worried about) – no.  I note that bassist Jack Bruce takes over much of the stage, and yet this is contested by the two others – as interpreted by Thompson.

In some long instrumental tracks, Clapton mainly plays with Ginger Baker (on drums) while Jack Bruce (bass, vocal) shuts up. Baker heightens Clapton’s playing beautfifully, increasing energy and light and darkness where needed.

I listened to the “Beano” album (1966), and then John Mayall’s solo album (1967).

Again, Thompson’s interpretations are in line with mine. Thompson’s first 70 pages are focused on the UK blues scene before the arrival of Cream. This is very useful, and spot on, as far as I can tell.

Example: I   first heard the Beano album way back when, with my cousins, in ca 1969, on a small Phillips Bambino record player. Even with this tiny player, we were mesmerized by the tone of Clapton’s guitar, from opening track “All your love” onwards.Thompson details how Clapton had to struggle, to get this “overdone” guitartone accepted, in the recording.  

Cream was created as very fragile compromise (the group only lasted two and a half years)  going beyond the music up to that date (1965-66). It was like opening a time window.

When the group got lyrical assistance from Pete Brown, they started the venture. They strutted their musical stuff on the debut album Fresh Cream (1966), but their main progressive thrust forward was the next Disraeli Gears album (1967), followed up by the halfway succesful double album Wheels of fire (1968) and the so-so Goodbye album (1969).

Thompson does not note that some of Mayall’s songs were pro-feminist.  Or at least, proto-feminist, compared to the standards of the day.

On the Mayall and Clapton “Beano” album, his song “Little girl” is about a woman who has lived 18 years in bad relations. Mayall is out to rescue her. Is it “pastiche” or just riding with the options of the day? Maybe somewhat, but on the Blues alone album, a bit later, he is more explicit, on this front – especially in the “Broken wings” song, maybe the best on the album.

“Somebody broke your wings”, he sings, telling the story of a woman. Mayall does not try to intervene as savior. Instead the song is a beautiful attempt to do what Kate Bush (Hounds of Love, 1985) called for later – if I could be in your shoes, climbing up that hill – trying to be in the other person’s place. Shifting  the gender perspective. Reminding me of Donovan – although the two started from different musical grounds (folk vs blues).

Another follow-up of the pre-Cream scenery detailed by Thompson was the band Colosseum, with Jon Hiseman on drums. I would not say he is better than Ginger Baker in Cream – rather, he is (at his best) in this same “creamy” class, like in their most well-known prog rock cut, “Those who are about to die”. Here, you can hear many jazz-rock attempts get to frutition, based on a good prog song concept, and – not least – the drummer Hiseman propelling the band forwards. The great horn-blower Dick Heckstall-Smith and the others get air under their wings.

This is a song about – basically – freedom from slavery. Other songs were about freedom from other forms of oppression. Including gender oppression. This was the spirit of the time.

This social awareness – in my opinion – was what pushed the music forwards – opening the “time window”.

 

 

 

 

Oct 24
Old man gets it up?

 

Paul McCartney’s Egypt station lights up like nova and will become a classic record.

Yes some songs (like Fuh you) are silly and in the “old man gets it up” category. But they are made with a joke. They are parts of a serious album of surprising strength. Made in senior days, reminding me of Dylan’s Time out of mind, showing what a great artist Paul McCartney is, beyond any form of classification; inventive and communicative. Even in his vaudeville and sing-along songs on the album, there is a coherence and sense that it fills a whole. “If you come on to me I will come on to you”. There is an old man trying to get it all on record, before he dies.

The nadir is Despite repeated warnings, a small symphony, and the best potential single is Dominoes. It all works up to a coherent unity. Listening to the album, I found it did not leave me, it would not let go. Over time, different songs on the album came into my mind. A grower, like they say.

Sep 12
Working with Commence

 

Screen capture showing Commence with my calendar, contacts and research references windows open

“Commence” (or “Commence RM”) is a program in the somewhat quaint category called PIM – a personal information manager. Now, why would I need a personal information manager? It was big news almost thirty years ago, running the newly developed Windows operation system, at that time called “Current”, developed by IBM engineers. But today?

My method was to use the program in my own way. I liked the “personal” element, even if Commence mainly was developed in a commercial direction, as help for sales management. I used it as a researcher. I built my own research literature reference database in Commence long before Endnote came along.

I bought the first version of Current (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Current), not least due to an enthusiastic review (I think it was in PC Magazine) – this is not only personal, it enhances the power of the user, in line with “the PC revolution” – a term still very optimistically used at that time.  But I have not regretted, since.

After some quarrels (“why do you need this when we have Outlook”, etc)  I’ve usually been able to get my employer to pay the cost of upgrading. I have succeeded in convincing my managers that this is an advanced tool that I need in my work. Why? I have a lot of extra information along. Not just the capability of e g Outlook to connect meetings and times. The PIM category was created from the ground up to support four main categories of information – time, meeting, note, to do. Current / Commence does this from the start, it is built around this core. So it is possible to use “as is”, and it can be tuned and developed, for further benefit.

So what is the plus, and the minus? Minus first: expect a learning curve. Yes, you can set up your own databases, and get them connected to the calendar function of the program, or other data bases, when needed. But it takes some time to learn how to do this, and some of the user interface, for example for setting up “Agents”, programmable functions in the program, is not very good. The big plus is that it works. Once you have set up something successfully, it seldom breaks down due to bugs. The program is very stable. It is also remarkably fast. Searching through the data is very quick (and you can do a search through all your data bases).

Some concepts must be learned – Commence lets you set up a database under the term “Category”, and each category has “items”. So my literary database has books and papers as items. You can connect categories to each other. My “Music Works” category has connections to my “Artist” category.

When you learn the basics of it, and have set up a few of your own databases – you will discover that Commence is extremely flexible, in the ways you can work with it. For example, I have 3000 items in my book base, 1500 in my music database, and 500 in my product base. Database items can be imported into Commence, or created there.

How can I get the information from each of these bases / items? Not just by opening the program and having a look, from a quite good user interface. But also from other programs. I can use an old but still functional mechanism in Windows called DDE (dynamic data exchange).

So from a Word macro, for example, I can ask for an item, or list of items, from the Commence database. You can also use the Commence API, and program it, from some other type of code, in Visual Basic, for example. If you know how to use Commence, and the basics of a programming language like Visual Basic, it is not very difficult to extract or input information in Commence. Commence also has “scripting” options, so that you can get some data base behaviour for free – fill in this field, and that field will also be filled in, and similar. And as mentioned, you can have Agents that are called from other programs (or from within Commence) to perform batch operations – a series of commands.

So for flexibility, the program scores top – just like it did at the start. It is a kind of “Lego”. You get a lot of building blocks.

Even if it requires some effort to learn and to adjust for personal needs, the program has given me real improvements reducing time for “look-up” type of work. It is like having some extra pockets, for information.

 

 

Aug 25
A childrens Sgt Pepper

HMS Donovan

This is one of the unknown treasures from way back then – 1970. Donovan was taking a shot at Sgt Pepper, starting from children’s songs. The music is just as amazing as the cover.

Donovan is an underrated artist, part of the youth revolution in the 1960s, and though somewhat “cosmological”, also quite wise (followed up e g in Sutras, 1996). His best guitar work is unmatched to this day, and shines through here.

Donovan, just with his voice and acoustic guitar, can take you away – like no one else.