Monday, June 28, 2021

The Building Fell

The building fell,

12 floors,

fell down,

fell.

No earthquake.

No hurricane.

No tropical storm.

No warning.

No reason.

The residents

came home

slipped between sheets,

slept. Then

the building

fell

just fell,

floors folded

in the dark,

flattened

in thunder and dust

and

silence;

water gushed 

from severed pipes,

power arced and sparked,

mattresses smoldered and smoked,

rescuers swarmed

the rubble

amid fumes

with devices and dogs

to listen and sniff

for signs;

families cried,

hoped,

prayed,

waited

for answers.

Ocean surf roared 

broke on shore

vanished into the sand

the tide rose

and fell

rose

fell.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Secret

You can not become happy.

You can only be happy.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Colour is Life

For Stanley Solomon (1947-2021)


Colour is life.

You need only the confirmation

of startling red seeping

from a finger

caressed by the serrated edge

of a brand new blade left in the sink

sticking up between the dishes - a knife

that moments before was in your hand

carving the pulpy flesh of a tomato

into thin wedges

for your lover’s kale salad:

The gash shocks and excites,

as if time itself was sliced open

from the loose sack of routine,

the heart-pump speeds, pulse flutters

and the frantic search is on

for a tourniquet to stem the oozing colour.

And not 24 hours before the same hand

held a pale cardboard box,

‘A bit heavy’ the man said, smiling,

presenting it like a gift to be wrapped.

The familiar name was laser printed in black ink

above a cremation ID (his last official number)

evoking the Holocaust

(it's no wonder we Jews typically don’t do this).

Summoning remnants of courage

I inspected the contents;

not all of him was incinerated,

granular bits of dry bone were visible

through the clear cellophane,

reminding me of shards of broken pottery

from a lost civilization

sifted by wind to the surface

of a sun-bleached biblical desert.

And now his kin

are turned archaeologists

deciphering who he really was

and asking why he didn’t care enough,

or like children trying to colour 

between the lines,

making up a story.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Stanley David Solomon (July 23, 1947- June 14, 2021)

The legend has passed. Long-live the legend.

Born with the gift of a golden voice, as Leonard Cohen put it, uncle Stanley was first a singer, then a storyteller. He had more lives than a cat, and if you gave him the time, he'd tell you about all of them.

I've written about him before on this blog as the lead singer and songwriter of the legendary Israeli rock band from the late 1960s (The) Churchill's. For me that's really where the legend of Stanley Solomon starts. When in '67 on the cusp of his twenties, he decided to become a volunteer for Israel for the Six Day War. By the time he got to Israel the war was over and he ended up living on kibbutz doing odd jobs, like painting tanks. In Florida, Stan had been fronting local Miami bands since his early teens, notably, The Mystics who played high-school dances and the like. So when he got to Israel putting a band together came naturally. He started doing a solo James Brown/American Soul-type act opening for a band called the Churchill's at the live music clubs in Tel-Aviv - at a time when live American music was a bit of a novelty in Israel and the local club scene was just starting to take off. The act was building a bit of a following and the manager of the Churchill's asked Stan to officially join the band. When two of the original Churchill's members had to report for army service Stan got guitarist Robb Huxley, a Brit who was in Israel on tour with The Tornados, to join the band. Stan and Robb had hit it off and started rooming and writing songs together. The second 'breakthrough' version of the Churchill's line-up was complete - Stan, Robb, Miki Gavrielov, Ami Treibich and Haim Romano. They continued to perform covers of popular American music but slowly started including original tunes in their sets, usually to the chagrin of their audiences. By 1968 they had enough material for an album, the now legendary eponymous LP (also called "Songs for the film 'A Woman's Case'") on the CBS - Hed-Artzi label, with most of the songs written by Robb and Stan, and with Stan producing. The style of their recording was unusual, in fact revolutionary for Israel. The songs were a mixture of British pop, American psychedelia, and Mediterranean flavours and instrumentation. It pushed the boundary of the familiar national folk-type Israeli music of the time, with backward tape and odd sounds. It represented the beginning of the nascent Israeli rock music recording industry. Through 1968-69 the Churchill's toured in Europe, and went on to record with Israeli musical legend Arik Einstein, with Stan co-producing Einstein's third solo album, 'Poozy' (generally regarded as the first homegrown 'rock' music album in Israel). Stan produced a handful of other Israeli bands as well. One of Stan's legendary musical productions was a star-studded Hebrew version of 'Give Peace a Chance', the Lennon-Ono/McCartney bed-in song recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal (Stan's hometown). All this happened before Stan had reached the ripe old age of 23.

Even after sidelining the music business for other entrepreneurial ventures through the 1970s, including in the fashion business (a designer jeans company) and as a fine art dealer, Stan kept an interest in music. He maintained friendships with a number of musicians, sound engineers and producers, bought and rented out the first synclavier (early digital musical synthesizer and sampler) in Florida, he helped to finance Black Sabbath's 1980 Heaven and Hell album when they reportedly ran out of money, and he had a small 8-track recording studio of his own where local bands could record demos. One of my fondest memories of uncle Stan was on a visit in the early 1980s. I was 15 or 16 years old and had recently started playing in my own high-school rock band. Imagine what a thrill it was when Stan took my brothers and me to visit Bill Szymzyck's Bayshore Recording Studios in Coconut Grove, where the Eagles had recorded their album The Long Run the previous year. 

Sometimes Stan's stories about his connections to famous people were hard to swallow. He talked about being friends with guitar legend Jeff Beck, or said that Aretha Franklin stayed at his home, and then just when you thought he was blowing hot air something would happen to prove it all true. Stan's attraction to the rich and famous goes back to his childhood in Miami Beach. When (CNN legend) Larry King had his weekly radio show in the early 1950s broadcasting from Pumpernick's restaurant, little Stanley Solomon was a frequent guest and would sing a song for the audience. One of Stan's childhood playmates was his neighbour Jake Lamotta Jr., son of the former middleweight world champion. Apparently the Lamottas considered Stanley like a member of their family. My grandmother told a story that one day when Stan was a little boy he asked if he could bring a friend home from the golf course for lunch. A limo pulled up outside the house and Stanley got out with Senator Stuart Symington. It seemed that Stan was born with a 'gift for the gab'. He could talk anybody into doing almost anything. 

But it was music, I believe, that was always closest to his heart and soul, and his god-given talent from birth. His mother, my grandmother Betty, had a beautiful voice too, and said that as a little girl she saw herself on stage one day. That never happened. The apocryphal story she told about Stanley's talent was that at his bar-mitzvah the cantor was so awestruck and moved by his singing of the Torah that after Stan finished he presented the bar-mitzvah boy with his cantor's hat, a sort of coronation.

So in honour of Stan, go on Youtube and listen to the Churchill's album. And if not the whole thing I'd recommend what I consider to be their masterpiece, "Subsequent Finale."   

Uncle Stan (on the left) at the helm of the "Give Peace A Chance" recording session. 

UPDATE: After posting, I received the following reminiscences from Stan's dear friend and Churchill's bandmate Robb Huxley, which he has given me permission to share. Robb also suggested a few corrections to my original post. Incidentally, Robb has written a highly recommended multi-volume detailed memoir of his musical career including an excellent account of his days in Israel with the Churchill's called "Subsequent Finale" that features poetry and lyrics written by Stan:

Hi Glen here is a some additional material of interest on Stan and a few minor changes. When Stan went to Israel and the six day war was over he had the opportunity to work on a Kibbutz. It was Kibbutz Afek. When Stan arrived they gave him a list of jobs that were available and he was told he could choose whatever he would like to do. One of the opportunities was fishing and as Stan loved the ocean he envisioned going out on a fishing boat every day and found the thought of that quite appealing. However his aspirations were dashed when “fishing” turned out to be standing up to his knees in water in large artificial fish ponds on a fish farm. His job was to scrape and clean all the muck and build up from the ponds, a far cry from sailing out on the ocean blue enjoying the sea breeze and sunshine. When Stan notified the Kibbutz authorities that he did not like that kind of work and that nothing else such as picking olives or tending goats appealed to him he was told that his only other choice was to be a volunteer in the Israeli Army. Stan opted for the army and was sent to an army base outside of Haifa. That is where one of his jobs was to paint tanks. While there he met and became friends with the famous American actor Larry Storch from the American TV series “F” Troop. Larry had also gone to Israel as a volunteer. One day Stan was sent to an outpost to do some work there when a group of high ranking Israeli army officers showed up led by the famous General Moshe Dayan. General Dayan approached Stan and shook his hand and thanked him for his services as a volunteer. He did make one remark though which was he suggested that Stan cut his hair! While at the army base Stan met an Israeli guitarist who had a band called the Saints. Very soon after a get-together Stan was asked to join the Saints, which he did. On one occasion when they appeared in Tel-Aviv Stan was spotted by up-and-coming band manager Yehuda Talit R.I.P the manager of The Churchills and was asked to join the group.

When Stan played in the Mystics in Miami he used to go and hang out at the famous Criteria Studios where he met and became a part time assistant to the famous record producer Bob Crewe. Crewe was famous for a string of hits he produced for The Four Seasons. Stan obviously picked up a lot of experience at Criteria Studios which no doubt helped him a few years down the road when he produced the iconic Churchills Album.

Stan also entered into a business venture where he wanted to create what he called the Rolls Royce of concerts at the famous Gusman Hall auditorium in downtown Miami. The concept was to offer gourmet food and drinks during the intermission. The concept was very high class. He was unable though to entice, Bob Dylan or The Rolling Stones to top the bill. He did however put on two shows one with Leon Russell topping the bill with an incarnation of the Byrds opening up and also a second show with famous Latin singer Camillo Sesto. Unfortunately this concept was way ahead of it’s time and Stan abandoned the venture soon after the second show.

I agree with you that some of Stan’s tales were a little hard to believe sometimes. Nobody from the original Churchills believed him when he told them that he was the son of the great Canadian clothing manufacturer millionaire Sam Solomon but that was proven to be correct when Mr. Solomon was invited by then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to come to Israel and to offer advice and training in mass production of clothing. Sam Solomon did come to Kolinor Studios in Tel Aviv to see Stan producing the Churchills Album. By the way, the original first pressing copies of the album have reached a staggering high in value and have been selling for $8,000.00.

Very best regards

ROBB.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Invalid

And what if, like me,

you are an invalid,

can't do it,

whatever 'it' is,

whatever the rest do

with such seeming ease,

unthinkingly;

and you live at home

with your ma and pa

even though 

you're an 'adult'

and they never let you 

forget

that you owe them

for the roof over your head,

for the food you eat,

for the bed where you sleep, 

for the clothes you wear,

for the constant care,

and that you stand 

to inherit

from your cripple's seat

on wheels,

everything

they have, 

down

to their resentment.


Random Thoughts : Consciousness

I've been watching some lectures by a well known American philosopher named John Searle. He talks about the science of consciousness, saying that he believes it's the most important emerging field of scientific study. There is certainly a lot of scientific value in studying the biology and chemistry of how the brain works in terms of how it may relate to consciousness. But consciousness also suggests pseudo-scientific connotations, crossing over into philosophical, religious and spiritual subject matter. And maybe that's why it's such an interesting subject to think about, it's so multifaceted. Searle's talks are engaging. He's a pretty plainspoken guy so the use of philosophical jargon is kept to a minimum. He does talk a little about epistemological and ontological objective and subjective reality. But the subject of consciousness is eminently understandable from a layman's perspective I  believe. And the questions are interesting: How to define consciousness. Whether a machine can be conscious (the so-called Turing test). At what point does pure computation become consciousness. Is consciousness simply an advanced level of algorithmic computation, in which case will super-powerful computers eventually develop consciousness (AI)? What about animals? Are they conscious, and if they are, what does that imply morally in terms of how we need to treat them.  

The simple definition of consciousness is the state of being awake ie. as opposed to being unconscious, which is being asleep. These are the two opposite general cognitive states and I think the basis of any understanding and discussion. It needn't be much more complicated than that. We know that we cognitively process data in both states, awake and asleep. We talk in our our sleep, even walk in our sleep. And most importantly we dream. So we may conclude that being awake and asleep, conscious and unconscious, is nothing like turning a computer on and off. If we hear an alarm in the morning to wake up it is a clear indication that we experience external stimuli even when we are unconscious. So the experience of stimuli can't be the difference between being conscious and unconscious. When we are asleep there is no doubt that we cognitively process information (images, sounds, feelings etc.) stored in our minds. Some of that unconscious processing of information is remembered when we wake up, we call this a dream. But it's only when we wake up that we ask ourselves what our dreams mean. That expresses the essential difference between unconsciousness and consciousness. 

The essential difference between a conscious and an unconscious state is that only in a conscious state do we derive meaning from stimuli. Sentient beings derive a multiplicity of meanings when they are conscious, and those meanings are idiosyncratic in nature. Some may be standard and generalized, in the sense that they are shared within a community, and others may be strictly personal. So for example, if I see a certain type of chair, I may think of the word 'chair' (a taught conceptual meaning) and think of sitting on it (a meaning taken from experience), but if that type of chair was where my parents used to punish me with a 'time-out' I may also have negative feelings, such as fear, associated with it (a personal meaning that others don't share.) In this was meaning, can be divided into at least two categories, conceptual and experienced, and two subcategories, shared and personal. 

If we agree that the essence of consciousness is that we generate meanings from the stimuli/data, how precisely that works remains a mystery. There are many levels of scientific study to parse that out, from the chemical and neural-biological to the psycho-social. We know that consciousness comprises a complex form of neural computation of information. But if the crux of consciousness is deriving meaning from this process, it's clear that no amount of computing power will ever constitute consciousness. Machine algorithms, no matter how complex, will never be able to generate meaning.     

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Random Thoughts : Love and Work

Consider the way two concepts have changed over the last two hundred years; 'love' and 'work'. Up until about a hundred and fifty years ago, say around the time that the industrial revolution was in full swing, having a paying job, any kind of paying job, was generally considered roughly the equivalent to slave labour. It was something to be pitied. It meant that you had little or no personal liberty, that you were beholden to a master, under someone's thumb and required to do their bidding. It meant that you were limited in your ability to partake in the truly meaningful and broadening aspects of life, enjoying the arts, reading, learning, philosophy, the natural sciences, assorted enriching social, creative and recreational endeavours etc. The idea that a job could be a point of pride, that it could comprise something meaningful, and represent the crux of one's self-definition would have been considered strange if not utterly depraved. 

Love as a concept has changed radically over the last several hundreds of years, but it has mostly expanded, in the sense, I think, that it has become more elusive, and perhaps more individual and self-centered. While work is something we can trace definitionally, love is more slippery. Ask a hundred people and you will get as many different definitions, that will span the chaste Shakespearean romantic, transcendent notion of love to a sexualized more playful and youthful idea of love. Love is both something that is innocent, pure and unmarred by experience, and it gets better with age, growing and ripening into something richer and sweeter. While the old idea of work seems remote to us, eclipsed by a new supercharged definition that is all-encompassing, the definition of love seems to retain all its past meanings even as it evolves. 

Because work is so all encompassing in the way we think of life's value, our culture so built around it and consumption of product, shunting all other pursuits to the margins, I wonder, does the way we think of work today represent progress or a challenge to our sense of personal and social well-being? 

Does the way we think of love enrich our lives, or does it encumber our relationships and add to personal confusion? And what about how love and work fit together, or don't. Is there any room for both? Am I wrong to think that the pursuit, appreciation and cultivation of love relationships has become problematic for people these days?

Monday, June 7, 2021

Just A Poet

One was a farmer

raised chickens, livestock,

picked apples and pears,

another was a family doctor

back when they made house calls.

There was one

who ran a big insurance company,

and another who practiced law.

One was a banker,

one a politician,

another a mail carrier

who eventually moved up

to be a mail sorter.

One was a government bureaucrat,

another the heavyweight boxing champion

of the world.

One made documentary films,

and one studied to be a rabbi

but made his living

as a financial planner.

And the teachers, the teachers,

so many teachers.

Some I know only by reputation,

others I call friends,

not one

just a poet;

not one.

My heart aches for them,

the farmers, executives, bureaucrats,

doctors, bankers, mail carriers

and sorters

who were also poets.

Me, I’m a rent collector,

sometimes call myself

a property manager,

and also a poet.

My heart aches.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Airplanes

If we say airplanes fly

why don't we say submarines swim?

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Moving The Bed

A father moving 

his daughter's bed

to a new apartment.

"I need your help," she says,

"just this one time." 

I doubt it will fit

inside the sedan

I tell her, and I can't drive 

across the city in broad 

daylight with your mattress 

bungee-strapped to the roof

like an advertisement,

like a lit-up taxi sign meaning available.


Next excuse: My sciatica,

I say, and then, without thinking -

you must know some guys 

with overdeveloped biceps 

and a van.

"I could never 

count on you," 

my daughter says, 

without any idea

how much that hurts,

or maybe some idea.

She's always been right

when she said (to her mother)

Dad can be an asshole.


Damn the uselessness of shame

and small cars.

Damn the helplessness

of fatherhood

and one-way love.