Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Musical Memories

I play this imaginary game where I pretend I had a house fire and lose every single CD I own and then I ask myself which ones I would replace. I suppose these days I'd just download the tracks from iTunes... but I've had this little game in my head for years so I still think in terms of physical CDs.

My obvious choices are always "greatest hits" albums because they tend to have a lot of great songs.  I own a ton of greatest hits albums from various bands that were big in the 80's like Foreigner, Toto, Chicago, and Journey.  Most of them I would likely replace because they are the CDs I listen to most often.  Then there are a few other CDs where I actually like every song on the album. Keep in mind this is rare for me since most of my CDs probably only contain one or two "good songs", but there are a few where I like the whole album and would replace it.

These albums include Journey - Escape, Fiona Apple - Tidal, Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet, Peter Cetera - World Falling Down, and a handful of others including Tom Petty, Patty Symth... I can't remember off the top of my head, but basically out of the 250 CDs I own (give or take) and not counting greatest hits CDs, I would probably only replace about ten of them.  I sometimes think I should probably replace Michael Jackson - Thriller just for the importance of the album, but to be honest I'm not even sure I still have it so it probably isn't all that important.

The thing is, I have a lot of memories tied to these albums which may have more to do with why I would want to replace them than the actual music.  As I think about why I pick certain albums over others, it often has less to do with the music but more to do with the memories associated with a specific album.  Of course it goes without saying that I do actually like this music... but it is much more than merely enjoying a melody or thinking the lyrics were clever.  Often the memory makes the difference - case in point:

Fiona Apple - I have her first album (Tidal) which I think almost everyone had back in the 90s. Love it. I lost the CD once but still had the case so I went out and downloaded all of the songs and burned myself a new copy.  I was too cheap to actually buy it again so I thought this was fair.  Then I found the original in another CD case a few years later.  I kept the burned copy just in case - and therefore I've had two copies of this CD for over a decade. 

The strange thing is even though I like EVERY. SINGLE. SONG. on that first album, I never bought any of her newer albums.  I'm so guilty of that... I find an artist I really like and I don't follow their careers.  I will admit there was a period where I basically shelved her album and didn't listen to it for perhaps a year, and then a girl I was dating at the time made a comment about liking her so I brought out the album and listened to it from start to finish.  I'm not sure why I ever stopped listening to it because the music was as good as it ever was.  Oddly enough that girl re-introducing me to Fiona Apple was probably the one good thing that ever came from that relationship.

I've had a lot of time with this album.  I've listened to it alone and continually copied several of the songs to the various portable music players I've owned over the years including to my phone and most recently my iPad.  I can't say what it is about this album, but I can say that the song "Never Is A Promise" is simply amazing to me... I'd put that song in my top 20 songs of all time.

Crash Test Dummies - I believe I bought their God Shuffled His Feet album because of their hit song "Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm", but I'd have to say "Afternoons and Coffeespoons" quickly became my favorite song.  I like the entire album as well as a few of their other songs that have been on movie soundtracks etc, but I never bought any of their follow-up albums so I suppose I might like them if I ever heard them.  I'm not sure what it is about their music, but it just has a signature sound that I find appealing.  It also reminds me of my freshmen year in college yet I have no idea why.  I can't say as I have any specific memories tied to the album itself, but it just seems that it has been with me for so long I feel a connection.  Like an old pair of jeans that have a few paint stains on them but you can't bring yourself to throw them away.  Sure you might not wear them in public, but they sure feel comfortable around the house.

Peter Cetera - This goes back to a memory I have from 1992 or so where I was working at Shopko and a guy called to ask if we had the new Peter Cetera album. I had no idea who Peter Cetera was at the time, so I had to read off the song list to this guy over the phone so he could tell me if it was the right CD.  He asked me to hold a copy of it for him which I did, and he came in an hour or two later to pick it up. The guy was so happy we had the album - he acted like it meant the world to him, and I just couldn't help but be interested based upon his reaction. So I listened to the CD and was hooked from that point. 

It might have had something to do with the duet he did with Chaka Khan since it was getting some radio play at the time, but I think part of it stems from a memory I had when I was young and my brothers were tossing a bunch of cassette tapes they didn't want. I went through a cardboard box of their old tapes and found "Chicago 16". That album was released in 1982 so this was probably a few years later...  I was probably 9 or 10 at the time.  When I listened to that tape I just loved it... I remember playing it over and over and over again.  Of course back when tapes were the pinnacle of music technology fast-forwarding or rewinding was a huge hassle so I just played the tape from start to finish time and time again.  Maybe had I grown up with CDs I would have skipped around and never appreciate the songs that were never heard on the radio.

It was some time later that I finally figured out the band was actually called Chicago - I originally thought they were Chicago 16 and had no idea the "16" was their sixteenth album. I'm not sure what happened to that original tape - and for years I've told myself I was going to buy Chicago 16 on CD but I never have.  I suppose now I may not even remember most of the songs on that album, but when I think back I can still remember exactly where I was in our basement as I pulled that tape from the bottom of that cardboard box as if it was covered in gold.  That memory is more vivid that most of what I did last week, and I dare say unless I'm a victim of serious head trauma at some point, that memory will be with me until the day I die.

So with that memory of Chicago I clearly liked their sound, and the biggest influence upon their sound in my view was the lead singer which was Peter Cetera at that point.  When I heard his solo stuff years later all those memories flooded back and there I was.  I bought the album in 1992 and a full 20 years later I still play it all the time. In fact that CD has been in every car I have owned for years. It is CD number one in the disc changer in my current vehicle at this very moment. Back in 2003 or so I bought a VW Jetta and I put that CD in the CD changer and never took it out until I sold the car. It is just one of those CDs I really love and I wish I could get Peter Cetera to sign it because there are so many memories tied to his music and his voice.

Avril Lavigne - This is probably guilty pleasure of mine. I remember liking her first album (Let Go) because a few of her songs were unconventional. You would listen to the song and think she was going to drop down a key or slow down and she would do the exact opposite. It wasn't predictable pop... yet it was still pop. I still like a lot of her stuff although I only own her first album (a trend of mine I guess).  I think she is one of those artists that I was able to watch grow because she was so young when she released that album, and to some degree I grew with her.

I fully understand most guys won't admit to liking that style of music, but I guess I'm not ashamed to admit it.  She is a talented artist and she has a unique sound.  The fact she writes or co-writes all of her own music is amazing to me and the music is that much more credible because it is her singing her own story as opposed to an artist who just picks songs to sing from a catalog.

Gin Blossoms - I have two of their albums I really like (Hey Jealousy and Congratulations, I'm Sorry), but I don't like every song on them. Although I tend to like their hits, I sometimes wonder if I like their music because of the time I was listening to it. There are a lot of memories tied to them, and I was upset when they broke up. I was really pissed.  I felt like I missed an opportunity to see them live even though I rarely go to live concerts, and I thought it was horrible that they would never produce any more music.

Yet when they got back together a few years later I didn't really care and have never listened to any of their newer stuff.  As far as I'm concerned they are still a 1990s band with a 1990s sound and that is all they ever need to be.  I know a lot of my feelings towards them surround my time in Vermillion and my time with certain friends etc, so part of me likes to pretend they are still the same band they were in the mid 90s because there is a point in time that I'd like to keep as is.  If there was a soundtrack to my life... it is safe to say Gin Blossoms would be playing as soon as I hit the Vermillion city limits.

Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies - I don't think I have ever listened to a complete album by them, but I do know I like several of their songs.  They are one of those bands I associate with college-aged kids in a college town because that is where I heard of them and nobody outside of that lifestyle had any clue.  To this day when I mention them most people have never heard of them, so I guess they were never all that commercially successful.  I can still remember when my brother and I were living in Vermillion and he bought a new stereo system... Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies were one of the first CDs he put in and to this day when I hear that song played all I can think about is standing in the basement of a run-down house in a college town listening to a stereo that sounded amazing all the while being unaware that on paper that room probably had the worst acoustics humanly possible. 

It didn't matter.  The music overshadowed everything else.  It was just that strong that the walls and floor just seemed to blur away into the distance as the music surrounded me.  Part of it was the timing, part of it was the experience of that entire house and the good times we had while there.  Part of it was just the moment and how no matter how hard I try I could never relive it.  The genie was out of the bottle, yet I wonder if that memory would be just as powerful had it been any other CD.

I'm not a musician.  I can't carry a tune if you handed it to me in a brown paper sack. Yet music - perhaps more than anything else - has specific feelings, emotions, and memories tied to it deep within me.  I wonder if this is true for everyone or if this is just something music lovers feel. 

I guess I'll never know, but I do know there are times when I would like nothing better than to sit in a recliner with a nice set of over-the-ear headphones on and listen to some incredible music.  Let it seep into me and just think about everything it means whether it be trying to interpret the words, remember an event tied to that particular song, album, or artist... or just appreciating a moment for what it is without the need to be actively engaged outside of my brain.

I doubt any two people can ever share the same feeling when it comes to music, and to be quite honest I have never really known anyone who is the type of person to sit at a record store and have conversations about music for hours.  I have had lengthy discussions about equipment such as tube amplifiers, record players, the inflated price of some high-end equipment, and the snakeoil that is ultra high end speaker cables... but that comes with the territory when you are an "electronics guy" and when you work with technology and with technical people. 

I wonder if I'm alone in this regard.  Do most people just like music because of what it means right now, or do others form relationships with the tracks as I do?  Can someone have a deep love of music if they aren't a true music snob, or is this one of those things that each person has to determine for themselves?  Maybe to some degree (almost) everyone feels they love music but merely in varying degrees.

As a wise man once said... "turn up the radio, I need some music, gimme some more".  Well ok technically that was the band Autograph, but you get the point.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Climate Change "Debate"

There are a lot of political hot-button issues that never seem to get resolved.  If we are speaking of an issue like abortion, it is safe to say people will never agree on whether life begins at conception, or whether it begins sometime later.  If we are speaking of politics, it is safe to say a large number of people will always believe their respective political party is right while all other political parties are wrong.  If speaking of religion, people will often try to convince others that their religion or dogma is the only proper belief system and that anyone who follows a differing religion (or perhaps someone who follows no religion at all) is simply ignorant or misinformed.

I understand these debates, and although I may hold an opinion of my own, I can respect someone who disagrees with me because for the most part it is impossible to "prove" either side of these issues. 

Even the best doctors and scientists and religious leaders can't really "prove" when life beings and there surely is no consensus on the issue. 

Nobody will ever be able to prove that one political party is always right or is infallible - because history shows us the exact opposite.

We can't prove a religion to be correct without resorting to the concept of faith, and we can't prove or disprove the existence of a higher power because any evidence we have can be interpreted any number of ways.

I get it.  These are debates that have existed for hundreds or in some cases thousands upon thousands of years, and they are all debates that will most likely continue to rage on for thousands of years after we are all gone.  I may feel my opinion on these matters is "right", but I'm not naive enough to believe any of these debates will be settled in my lifetime nor am I unwavering in my belief that these matters will continue to be debated for generations to come.

However, there are other subjects which I simply cannot understand why people still consider them to be debatable.  I feel it is fairly safe to say the Earth revolves around the Sun because it is accepted science.  Very few of us have the knowledge or equipment to verify this personally, but we have accepted what the scientific community at large has told us, and that data has been verified by countless others.

The same can be true for subjects such as whether the Earth is round or flat.  I personally have never been around the world nor have I been an astronaut looking at the Earth from afar, but I accept that our planet is round because there is more than enough evidence to prove it to be the case.  I also accept that a single atom is comprised of three types of particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons).  I do not have the ability of verifying this fact myself, but I understand the body of scientific knowledge that exists on our planet has proven this to be factual.

One could say there is never going to be 100% consensus on any one particular issue and I agree with that.  In truth we know there are people among us who may believe the Earth is flat, or they may doubt not only the particles contained within atoms, but the actual existence of atoms.  No amount of logic or reason or research or science will ever convince everyone, but for all intents and purposes dissenting voices are ignored when it comes to matters of settled science.

It is because of this that I am often baffled when I hear an otherwise intelligent person proclaim that there is such a thing as a debate as to whether or not man-made climate change (aka man-made global warming, aka anthropogenic climate change) is real. To some degree I don't fault the layperson who doesn't wish to take the time to actually review the data or read the reports put out by the scientific community because in most cases people really don't have any interest... and honestly this subject matter is less than exciting to most members of the human race. 

I also acknowledge that the vast majority of the public obtains information from the media who may or may not present the data in a unbiased or non-partisan manner, not to mention the journalist writing the article or presenting the news may not be well versed on the subject matter in the first place.

In addition, in our overly-politically charged climate, many people wish to avoid the controversy with issues that appear to fall across political parties.  Thus, instead of actually noting what the scientific community believes in respect to a particular scientific issue, a journalist or talk radio host may try to appease a larger audience by trying to remain neutral and by avoiding making a statement which seems to confirm or deny the existence of man-made climate change.

So it stands to reason why so many people would believe that the subject of man-made climate change is a debate.  This also explains why in many cases we hear people utter the phrase "the jury is still out" or "scientists simply cannot agree".  It also contributes to why there is so much confusion on the issue and why public opinion polls seem to show a clear difference in political affiliation between those who do believe in climate change and those who do not even though leaders of both parties have stated publicly climate change is at least partly attributable to human activity.

I recently read a comment from someone that said for every scientist who "knows" climate change is caused by human activity there is a scientist who "knows" climate change has nothing to do with human activity, and this is a prime exactly of how misinformed people really are on this issue.

The reality is, that statement is nowhere near reality.  In fact, the trend of climatologists and scientists who actually study this phenomenon has been consisting in support of the concept of man-made climate change and the trend has been increasing in support rather than the opposite as some would suggest.  One of the most recent reports on the subject indicates that between 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of [climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

So you may be asking yourself... what are those tenets outlined by the IPCC?  Well, in summary they boil down to three distinct points.
  1. The global average surface temperature has been on the rise since the late 19th century (including a distinct rise observed over the past 30 years).
  2. There is evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.
  3. If greenhouse gas emissions continue the warming will also continue.  Accompanying this temperature increase will be increases in some types of extreme weather and a projected sea level rise. On balance the impacts of global warming will be significantly negative, especially for larger values of warming.
Granted they tend to be a little more specific and add detail surrounding the actual temperature fluctuations, but in effect these three points are supported by 97-98% of climate researchers. 
Does that seem like a 50/50 mix to you?  No. 
Does it even remotely suggest there is widespread debate on this subject?  No. 
This clearly shows scientific consensus and is why man-made climate change is considered to be the mainstream scientific assessment.
It should also be noted that aside from individual scientists, every major organization on the planet that studies climatology, geology, or earth related sciences agrees with the man-made theory regarding climate change.  There was one organization (the American Association of Petroleum Geologists) who used to disagree, but sometime in 2007 even they had to finally admit the evidence is overwhelming so they basically had to stop denying it.  They won’t come out in full support (and based upon who provides them funding you can hardly blame them), but they no longer deny it and rather try to remain neutral (like some journalists who still try to convince the public there is a debate about climate change).

So who are these organizations you might ask?  Here is a partial list: 
  • The International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • The National Research Council
  • The National Academy of Sciences
  • The American Chemical Society
  • The American Meteorological Society
  • The Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
  • The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
  • The Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
  • The Royal Meteorological Society
  • World Meteorological Organization
  • The World Health Organization
  • The American Institute of Physics
  • The American Physical Society
  • The Australian Institute of Physics
  • The European Physical Society
  • The European Science Foundation
  • The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
  • The Network of African Science Academies
  • The National Science Academies of over 30 nations including all G8 nations, China, India, and many others.
  • The European Academy of Sciences and Arts
  • The Polish Academy of Sciences
  • The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
  • The Royal Society of New Zealand
  • The American Geophysical Union
  • The American Society of Agronomy
  • The Crop Science Society of America
  • The Soil Science Society of America
  • The European Geosciences Union
  • The European Federation of Geologists
  • The Geological Society of America
  • The Geological Society of London
  • The International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies
  • The Environmental Protection Agency
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
 And many, many more.

The bottom line is this... climate change is a political debate, not a scientific debate. Some politicians and talk radio pundits have done a fabulous job of convincing the uninformed that there is still some debate on whether or not man-made climate change is real and whether or not man is one of the primary contributors, but the truth is the scientific community has no such debate. They consider it to be settled science, just as they consider vaccines to be beneficial regardless of what Jenny McCarthy might say.

The only true debate within the scientific community is what we can do about climate change, how quickly we can act, what actions we can take in a short term vs. long term time frame, and what the impact of alternative energy sources will be.  Rest assured the scientific community is not suffering some deep fracture within as a result of those who may be considered climate change deniers, primarily because they are so few and far between.

Lets be clear - skepticism is good, but outright denialism is not.  It is well past time we stopped trying to blur the lines between a political debate and a scientific one.