Sunday, December 31, 2017

Marvin Gaye – "What's Going On" (1971)

War is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate

This will be the last 2 or 3 lines for 2017, which was the year when the people of the United States of America lost their cotton-pickin’ minds for once and for all.  

*     *     *     *     *

I recently saw this bumper sticker on a car parked at the community center where I go to work out when it’s too damn cold to be outside.  (It only costs $50 a year for a senior membership, which entitles me to unlimited use of the strength-training and cardio machines at any of the 19 community centers in my county.)

Technically speaking, you can’t say war is not the answer until you specify what the question is.  But let’s not quibble.

*     *     *     *     *

War is not the only thing that isn’t the answer, of course:

And last but not least:

*     *     *     *     *

On May 15, 1969, “Obie” Benson – who was one of the Four Tops – witnessed a violent clash between anti-war demonstrators and police in Berkeley’s People’s Park.  

Benson discussed the ugly scene with his friend Al Cleveland, a Motown songwriter, who wrote the original version of “What’s Going On.”

The other Four Tops didn’t want to record the song, so Benson gave it to Marvin Gaye, who rewrote the melody and the lyrics.  Gaye thought the song would be a good fit for the Originals – “a group that has been described as “Motown’s best-kept secret” – but Benson convinced Gaye to record it himself.

Motown’s head honcho, Berry Gordy, thought the idea of Gaye recording a protest song was “ridiculous.”  After Gaye recorded it, Gordy didn’t want to release it – he told Gaye it was the worst thing he had ever heard.

Of course, Berry Gordy didn’t want to release Gaye’s recording of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” as a single.  Go figure.

*     *     *     *     *

“What’s Going On” sounded like no other record.  Perhaps that was because many of the musicians who performed on it were high as a kite during their time in the studio.

James Jamerson
Unlike his fellow musicians, legendary Motown bass guitarist James Jamerson apparently preferred booze to weed.  His drink of choice was reportedly Metaxa, a blend of brandy and wine that is made in  Greece.  The story goes that Jamerson drank so much Metaxa the night he was supposed to record the bass part for “What’s Going On” that he couldn’t sit up straight – instead he lay on the floor while playing.

Detroit Lions stars Lem Barney and Mel Farr were among those who take part in the simulated conversation at the beginning of the song.

Here’s “What’s Going On”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, December 29, 2017

John Lennon – "Gimme Some Truth" (1971)

All I want is the truth
Just give me some truth

Leonard Downie, Jr., at the Washington Post for 44 years.  He was the paper’s Executive Editor when he retired in 2008.  

Downie was so concerned about avoiding bias or the appearance of bias in the Post’s political reporting  that he refrained from voting while he was a Post editor.  

Leonard Downie, Jr.
After he announced his retirement, a Post reader asked him if he planned to start voting.  This was his response:

I’ll have to think about that since I didn’t just stop voting [when I was the Executive Editor], I stopped having even private opinions about politicians or issues so that I would have a completely open mind in supervising our coverage.  It may be hard to change.

That may sound a little extreme, but you have to admire Downie’s integrity.  

*     *     *     *     *

I wonder if there is anyone in the media today who follows Len Downie’s example.

Frankly, I’d be happy if everyone just followed George Orwell’s example.

In his new book, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, author Thomas Ricks said something about George Orwell that distinguishes him from most current-day journalists:

Instead of shaping facts to fit his opinions, [Orwell] was willing to let facts change his opinions.

Let’s face it.  You can't say the same about most newspapers and television networks today.

George Orwell
Instead of weighing all the facts and coming to the appropriate conclusions based on those facts, “agenda journalists” start with a predetermined point of view and downplay any evidence that calls the validity of that point of view into question.

“The general modus operandi is simple,” according to one critic.  “[J]ump to premature conclusions, accept orchestrated events as [coinciding with reality] and interpretation as fact, ignore confuting or problematic data, and suppress or damp down countervailing intel when the truth eventually emerges.”  

*     *     *     *     *

The recently enacted “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” will reduce federal income taxes for the vast majority of taxpayers.  In fact, the left-leaning Tax Policy Center has estimated that only 5% of Americans will pay more in taxes in 2018 than they would have if the new law had not been passed. 

But a number of polls show that most Americans believe that their taxes will go up – not down – as a result of the new legislation.

For example, a New York Times survey found that only 32% of respondents believed they would get a tax cut in 2018.

How are we to explain this discrepancy between what reality actually is and what Americans believe reality to be?

Could it be the result of the consistently negative reporting about the tax legislation in most of the mainstream media?    

*     *     *     *     *

Earlier this year, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy reported that 60% of the news coverage of President Clinton’s first 100 days in office were negative, while 40% were positive.

The numbers were almost identical for Clinton’s successor, President Bush – 57% negative, 43% positive.

The press was much nicer to President Obama – only 41% of the stories about his first 100 days in office were negative, while 59% were positive.

President Trump got slammed in 80% of the news stories about his first 100 days.  Only 20% were positive. 

But CNN, NBC, and CBS were negative more than 90% of the time.

Even the Wall Street Journal – which some people believe is a right-wing paper – was negative 70% of the time.

Only Fox News had balanced coverage.  It was negative 52% of the time and positive 48% of the time.

*     *     *     *     *

Some of you will say that those numbers simply reflect reality – that Trump richly deserves every negative story that’s been published about him.

But consider this: according to the Center for Public Integrity, journalists contributed almost 25 times more money to Hillary Clinton’s campaign than Donald Trump’s campaign.  

Journalists as a group clearly feel tremendous fear and loathing for President Trump.  Most of the ones I know don’t apologize for feeling that way – they think he’s earned every bit of that fear and loathing.

*     *     *     *     *

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, most American newspapers were partisan publications.

Party newspapers didn’t apologize for what we call “fake news” today.  “The power of the press,” in the words of one antebellum journalist, “consists not in its logic or eloquence, but in its ability to manufacture facts, or to give coloring to facts that have occurred.”  

Political parties directly or indirectly subsidized newspapers.  In some instances, the relationships between party and publisher were unknown to readers.

Professor James Baughman
As the revered University of Wisconsin journalism professor James Baughman told the Center for Journalism Ethics in 2011, “by the 1950s most newspapers, large and small, as well as the broadcast networks, tried to present the news objectively. . . . [O]ur national news culture, whether print or broadcast, preferred the middle ground.”

But that changed in the 1970s and 1980s.  According to Baughman, 

Reporters were encouraged to add analysis into their stories.  Such analytical reporting more often than not, I think, had a liberal centrist slant.  Not hard liberal.  Not Rachel Maddow liberal.  Maybe “neo-liberal.”

Look at the The New York Times in 1960 vs. 2010.  The reportage is more interpretive.  This is not a problem for me, but it is an issue for my more conservative friends (and I have them).  The more analytical journalism could be off-putting for those on the fringes, left and especially on the right.  One reader’s analysis is another reader’s opinion.  Sixty percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2009 believed reporting was politically biased.

There is a related problem that editors note and I encountered when I gave public service talks as director of the journalism school . . . a lot of people can’t distinguish the editorial page from the rest of the paper.  Some assume the worst, that the editorial views of the newspaper inform the rest of the paper.

All too often, that assumption is justified.

*     *     *     *     *

Most of us are far from being experts when it comes to tax reform, immigration policy, and the other political issues of the day.  We rely on newspapers and network news programs to present the facts relevant to those issues so we can make an informed decision concerning which side is right and which side is wrong.

At least that’s the way it used to work.  Nowadays, it’s more likely that we turn to a news source that tells us what we want to hear.  

Occasionally, I’ll come across a story in the Washington Post or another news source that’s on a topic that I actually know quite a bit about.  Almost without exception, those stories are a disappointment.   At best, they are naive or simplistic.  At worst, they are poorly-disguised advocacy pieces that reflect the author’s biases.

That makes me wonder whether the articles on topics that I don’t know anything about are equally flawed. 

*     *     *     *     *

In many cases, you don’t have to know anything about the subject of a newspaper story to know that its  conclusions aren’t worthy of being taken seriously.

For example, the author of the article may base his or her conclusions on anecdotal evidence that is inherently unreliable.  You have to wonder whether that author is too lazy to dig deeper into the facts, or is simply unaware that his or her arguments are illogical, inconsistent, or otherwise flawed.

A good example of this kind of “reporting” is a recent story about a large Utah family that ran on the Washington Post’s front page.  That article clearly implied that the new tax reform legislation would hurt that family, even though it is almost certain that the new law will help them.

The Post article pays lip service to objectivity by acknowledging that “[i]ndependent analysts say most families should get a tax cut” as a result of the new law, but undercuts that statement with quotes from the husband and wife who are the subject of the article.

We just don’t want to have less money than we had before,” says the wife.  In fact, her family won’t have less money – unless there is something very atypical about them.  And if her family is that atypical, why is the Post focusing on them rather than on families that are more representative of all American families?

It doesn’t feel like it’s for the middle class,” the husband says.  “It doesn’t feel genuine to me,” the wife chimes in.  Why should what the legislation “feels like” to one apparently ill-informed couple matter?  

It seems like it might be worse for us,” the husband says.  What are we to make of this statement?  We are reading this article in hopes of learning something about the effects the new tax law will have on Americans generally – and on our family in particular.  Instead, we’re told that one man has concluded that it “seems like” the new law “might” make his family’s situation worse.  SO WHAT??? 

Imagine if that Post reporter was assigned to write a story about a new cancer treatment.  Would he feature one cancer patient who said “It doesn’t feel like this treatment is for me,” or “It seems like I might be worse off” by undergoing that treatment?  Hopefully not.

I’m guessing that it’s news coverage like this story – which should embarrass the powers-that-be at the Post – that is responsible for the divergence between the very large number of Americans who will benefit from the new tax-reform law, and the relatively small number who believe they will benefit from that law.

*     *     *     *     *

I think every Post story about the new tax bill has stated – usually in the headline, subhead, or initial paragraph – that it will primarily help the wealthy.  

The implication is that this is a bad thing – few of us see ourselves as wealthy, after all.  

The new tax law cuts tax rates across the board – almost all taxpayers will benefit.  But the wealthy will benefit more than the poor or middle-class for one simple reason: THE WEALTHY PAY A LOT MORE IN TAXES.

The top-earning 1% of Americans paid roughly 46% of all individual federal income taxes in 2014.  (They earned only 17% of all the income earned by individuals that year.)  

Roughly 45% of Americans pay NO federal income tax.  (That percentage will go up as a result of the new tax law.)  By definition, people who pay zero income tax will not be directly benefitted by a reduction in federal income tax rates.  

Saying that the tax-reform bill primarily benefits the wealthy is about as meaningful as saying that a  law-enforcement initiative against car-theft rings primarily benefit the wealthy.  

But given that the wealthy own more cars, and more expensive cars, any police efforts aimed at car thieves do benefit the wealthy more.    

But would the Washington Post lead off a story about such a law-enforcement effort with a statement that it will primarily benefit the wealthy?  Of course not.

*     *     *     *     *

I don’t agree with the Washington Post when it comes to the tax-reform law.  I happen to think that the new tax legislation is a good thing for the country as a whole.  

But maybe the Post is right.  I’m willing to admit that’s a possibility.  

What I’m not willing to admit is that the Post ever truly had an open mind on the subject.  I would say that nine of out ten stories about the new tax law that have appeared in the Post over the past several weeks represent agenda journalism – not impartial, George Orwell-style reporting.  

I’m not a conspiracy-theory kind of guy, and I’m usually very skeptical of those who make broad generalizations – including those who assert that the mainstream media has a liberal agenda.  

But after reading what the Post has had to say about the new tax law, I have no choice but to conclude that the newspaper has its thumb on the scale.  Rather than keeping an open mind and considering all the relevant facts before coming to a conclusion about that law, the Post let its political point of view drive its “reporting.”

*     *     *     *     *

John Lennon wrote a lot of terrible songs, but “Gimme Some Truth” is not one of them.  In fact, it may be the best song ever released by Lennon as a solo artist.

“Gimme Some Truth” has some things in common with rap songs – Lennon speaks the lyrics more than he sings them, and he hangs a lot of words on a very simple musical framework.  There’s a lot of repetition – “Gimme Some Truth” would be very short if the repetition was eliminated.  (Of course, that’s the case with a lot of Beatles songs.)

Here’s “Gimme Some Truth”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Monday, December 25, 2017

Glen Rock Carolers – "Hosanna in the Highest" (1829)

Lo! 'tis a youthful chorus sings
Hosanna to the King of Kings

Every Christmas Eve, a group of 50 male carolers gather at the only stop light in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, to continue a tradition that began in 1848.

From midnight until sunrise, the carolers walk the streets of Glen Rock, serenading the townspeople with Christmas carols.  They sing in three-part harmony, accompanied by trumpets and trombones.

The carolers wear a uniform consisting of a greatcoat with gray hat, gray gloves, and a striped woolen scarf:

*     *     *     *     *

In 1837, an Englishman named William Heathcote built a woolen mill in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, a small town just a few miles north of the Mason-Dixon line.  Business was good, and several of Heathcote’s brothers and nephews came from England to join him.  The family began to operate a rope works in addition to the woolen mill.

On Christmas Eve in 1848, William’s brother Mark and three nephews decided to walk through the town and sing Christmas carols to their fellow Glen Rockers.  They were accompanied by William’s bassoon-playing brother James.

Here’s a statue of the original carolers:

The four hymns that the original carolers sang that night are still sung.  By 1900, the number of songs had grown to nine.  “Silent Night” was added in the 1930s, and other carols were added in 1986, 2003, and 2013.  

*      *     *     *     *

If you want to be a member of the Glen Rock Carolers, I hope you’re patient.

There’s not a lot of turnover in the ranks of the singers.  In fact, the newest of the 50 members of the group was admitted to membership in 2008.

Contrary to the words from our featured song that are quoted above, the Glen Rock Carolers are not a “youthful chorus.”

The three most senior Glen Rock Carolers have been members for 47 years.  Three other have been singing in the group for 40 years or longer.  

The active Glen Rock Caroler has been a member for 26-plus years.

*     *     *     *     *

There are a number of families who are represented by more than one caroler – for example, there are three Englers (all of whom have been members for at least 36 years) and four Krebs.

The Glen Rock Carolers in 1908
But the Krohs are in a class by themselves.  P. Kenneth, Jack, and Robert Kroh are life (retired) members, each with at least 52 years of membership.  Robert Jr., Todd, and Brent are active members, with 39, 36, and 15 years (respectively) of caroling under their belt.

*     *     *     *     *

In 1999, one of the carolers travelled to England and visited the farm that William Heathcote owned before migrating to Glen Rock.

One thing led to another, and the Glen Rock Carolers were invited to sing at a holiday festival in Sheffield in 2002.  The group returned to England in 2012.

The carolers commemorated each of those trips by adding a new carol to their repertoire.

*     *     *     *     *

“Hosanna in the Highest” is one of the four carols that the Glen Rock Carolers have sung every Christmas since 1848.

The text of the carol comes from an 1829 English hymn book, but the source of the tune is unknown.

Here is a video of the Glen Rock Carolers singing “Hosanna in the Highest” in 2015:

You can click here to go to the Glen Rock Carolers’ website and order their CD.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Kanye West (ft. Jamie Foxx) – "Gold Digger' (2004)

Now, I ain't sayin' she a gold digger
But she ain't messin' with no broke n*ggas
If you listen to a lot of news/talk radio, you’ve probably heard the commercials for TermProvider, Inc. – also known as “Big Lou Insurance” – which claims to be one of the largest term life insurance brokers in the country.

Big Lou’s message is quite different from the typical life insurance advertisement.  His target is the middle-aged guy who’s put on more than a few pounds and is taking meds for elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.  At some point, he’s traded in his first wife for a newer model, who is afraid that he’s going to drop dead of a heart attack or a stroke any day.  So she’s been nagging him to pony up for a big-ass life insurance policy that will allow her to continue to live in the manner to which she’s become accustomed if he suddenly keels over.

Here’s one of Big Lou’s charmingly honest radio spots:

Do you have three ex-wives, and your current trophy wife wants a life insurance policy three times the size of the policies you had to purchase for your previous mistakes?  If so, you need to call Big Lou. . . . Big Lou is intimately familiar with your problems, and if you’re 50 or 60 years old and in reasonably good health, a one million dollar policy should only cost about a hundred to two hundred dollars per month.  Big Lou may have a solution for your previous policies as well.  You may even save enough to lighten the load on your new one million dollar policy.  Remember, call Big Lou.  He’s like you . . . except he’s only on number two.  

(You can click here to hear that radio spot.)

Here's a Big Lou ad that's aimed at trophy wives: 

Ladies, is his waistline expanding? . . . If so, you need to call Big Lou.  Big Lou can fit him into a term life policy even if he is a bit porky, has type II diabetes, or has high blood pressure. . . . Big Lou can show you affordable rates for one million in coverage – instantly making your man a bit more attractive, if you know what I mean.  

(Sounds like the honeymoon is over, pal.)

*     *     *     *     *

A word of advice to all you trophy wives whose hubbies buy insurance from Big Lou: be patient!

I understand that it’s no fun when Mr. Expanding Waistline has one drink too many and gets all frisky.  It will be tempting to take matters into your own hands rather than biding your time.  But the spouse is always suspect number one when there’s a murder.  

Better to keep feeding him big steaks and baked potatoes with plenty of butter and sour cream, and saying “You stay on the couch and watch your football game, honey – I'll bring you another beer.”  Pretty soon, nature will take its course.

Even if you’re a few years past your prime when that heart attack occurs, you’ll still be able to attract a virile young boy toy with the help of that million-dollar insurance payout.

*     *     *     *     *

Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” (which features Jamie Foxx) is a match for Big Lou’s radio commercials when it comes to cynicism.    

West originally intended the song for the female rapper Shawnna, and the lyrics were written from a female’s point of view:

I'm not sayin' I'm a gold digger
But I ain't messin' with no broke n*ggas  

But Shawnna decided not to record the song, so West rewrote the lyrics to make them more suitable for a male singer.

“Gold Digger” was a huge hit.  It sold a million digital downloads in only seven weeks, and quickly rose to #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in 2004.  

Here’s the Hype Williams-directed music video for “Gold Digger” (which features the "clean" version of the song):

Click below to buy the explicit version of the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Orwells – "Who Needs You" (2013)

You better save the country
You better pass the flask
You better join the army

I just finished reading Thomas Ricks’s book, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, which is an dual biography of two great Englishmen who had very disparate backgrounds and who never met each other.

Churchill was the wartime leader of the United Kingdom – a world-famous figure – while Orwell was an obscure writer who died shortly after 1984 (his most famous work by far) was published.  But both men fiercely defended the rights of the individual, which were severely threatened during World War II by the forces of fascism and communism. 

Both Churchill and Orwell were childhood heroes of mine, so the Ricks book was right up my alley.

*     *     *     *     *

I read Orwell’s two most famous books, Animal Farm and 1984, when I was a teenager.  But I also read his minor novels – like A Clergyman’s Daughter and Keep the Aspidistra Flying – as well as much of his nonfiction.  (Ricks thinks those early novels stink, but I disagree.)  

George Orwell
Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell’s memoir about his poverty-stricken years as a young man struggling to make enough money to eke out a living in those two great capitals, made quite an impression on me.  I’ll never forget Orwell’s account of how he applied black shoe polish to the parts of his feet that showed through the holes in his socks when he was a waiter in Paris.  (He couldn’t afford to buy new socks.)

*     *     *     *     *

After I had finished the Ricks book, I recorded its title, the name of its author, and how many pages long it was in a notebook.

I’ve been keeping track of all the books I read for over 40 years.  Based on a quick flip through the notebooks where I’ve recorded the titles of those books, it looks like I’ve read over 2500 books in the past 40 years.

The books I read in the first
 seven months of 1979
One reason I’ve done that is so I don’t inadvertently read a book I’ve already read.  But my primary motivation has been vanity.  (I’m using “vanity” here in the sense that it is used in Ecclesiastes – which is that human accomplishments are ultimately of no significance.)  

My list of books read is of little significance now, and it will be of no significance after I’m dead.  (Anyone who believes otherwise is a fool.)

*     *     *     *     *

I read almost as much now as I did 20 or 40 years ago, but I may have allowed myself to get into something of a reading rut.

I read some nonfiction – mostly history and biography.  But I mostly read crime novels.

I don’t apologize for that.  I think that crime novels by writers such as George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, Malcolm Mackay, Leif G. W. Persson, Henning Mankell, and Karin Fossum (to name just a few) are just as deserving of serious consideration as any more “literary” novels.

But I want to broaden my horizons a bit.  For one thing, I need to read some of the classics – Dostoyevsky, Melville, Henry James, Proust – that I’ve been telling myself for years that I would read some day when I had more time.

(I won't be reading it in French)
I’m 65 and retired now.  Time’s a-wastin’ – I don’t have forever.  Watch out, À la recherche du temps perdu – ready or not, here I come!

*     *     *     *     *

The five members of the Orwells grew up together in a Chicago suburb, and they signed their first record deal when they were still in high school.  

I assume that the band is named for George Orwell, but I’ve been unable to confirm that.

Today’s featured song, “Who Needs You,” was first released on the EP of the same name in 2013.  It was also included on the band’s second studio album, 2014’s Disgraceland.

The Orwells did “Who Needs You” live on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2014.  At the end of their rather bizarre performance, Letterman called for a reprise of the song.  But the band was unable to play – its lead guitarist had broken all of the strings on his guitar.  Paul Shaffer and the Letterman house band picked up where the Orwells left off and played the last part of the song while the show’s closing credits rolled.

Here’s a video of the Orwells and the Letterman house band performing:

Here’s the studio version of “Who Needs You”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Echo and the Bunnymen – "Read It in Books" (1980)

I've seen it in your eyes
And I've read it in books

I spent a lot of time reading when I was a kid.

One reason I read so much was that I had nothing else to do – especially in the summer.  My family couldn’t afford to go on vacations, and summer camps were unheard of in my hometown.

We had only two TV stations back then.  I enjoyed watching game shows in the morning, but not the soap operas that aired in the early afternoons.

So I read library books . . . lots of library books.

*     *     *     *     *

Our local library allowed you to check out only six books at a time.  When I was 12 or 13, I routinely checked out six books, read them in one day, and checked out six more the next day when I returned the first six.

I read a lot of nonfiction –especially history and biography.  I loved the We Were There series of books – We Were There with Lewis and Clark, We Were There with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, We Were There at Pearl Harbor, and so on.   There were a total of 36 We Were There books published between 1955 and 1963, and I think I read most of them.

I also read everything I could find about baseball and car racing.  (I still remember the international auto racing colors – green for the UK, blue for France, red for Italy, and so on.)

But I read a lot of fiction as well.  The “Freddy the Pig” books by Walter Brooks were a particular favorite of mine – but you need to be an adult to truly appreciate their sophisticated humor.  

I was also a big fan of the “Danny Dunn” series, which depended heavily on science – Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine, Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, and so on.

I didn’t read many of the classic works of children’s literature – for example, C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, or Charlotte’s Web, or Roald Dahl’s books – because no one told me about them.  (I rectified this by reading a number of them to my kids before bedtime when they were young.)

*     *     *     *     *

When I got a little older, I graduated from the children’s library to the adult library.

I checked out a lot of books that were way above my level of comprehension.  Perhaps I believed that I would absorb their contents through osmosis.  Or maybe I was just trying to impress the librarians and my teachers.

The Joplin (MO) Public Library
For example, I remember taking home Gargantua and Pantagruel by the 16th-century French writer, François Rabelais – a satire full of extravagant wordplay and risqué humor that was way over my head.  (It may still be over my head.)

I also checked out Winston Churchill’s six-volume history of World War II, as well as his four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.  Churchill was one of my heroes, but I don’t know how far I got with either of those multivolume works – not very, I suspect.

*     *     *     *     *

You’d think that someone who reads as much as I do would buy a lot of books.  But I don’t.  

I can’t help but feel that it’s a waste of money to purchase a contemporary novel that I’ll read once and never read again.  Much better to pick it up at the library and read it for free. 

Yes, I’m cheap – but in a very peculiar way.  It’s not the amount of money involved in buying books, it’s the fact that the library is a no-cost and very convenient alternative.  (There are a couple of library branches closer to my house than the nearest bookstore, and I can go online to search for books and reserve them – in a few days, I get an e-mail informing me that my choices have been delivered to the branch of my choice, where I can pick them up at my convenience.)

*     *     *     *     *

There are exceptions to my rule of going to the library rather than buying books.  For example, there are certain reference books that I like to have at my fingertips – like the Total Baseball encyclopedia, and The Rolling Stone Album Guide.  

I also enjoy owning certain books that have a personal meaning for me, but I look at those volumes more as collectibles than reading material.

For example, I found a copy of the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell at a local used bookstore many years ago.  The four volumes of that work came in a box, which was enclosed in plastic wrap.  I never even tore that plastic off, much less opened any of those volumes:

But Orwell has long been one of my favorite writers, and I’ve enjoyed having that big box full of Orwell on my bookshelf for all these years.

*     *     *     *     *

I wrote that last paragraph just a couple of days ago.  So you can imagine my surprise earlier today when I came across the following sentence in the “Acknowledgements” section of Thomas Ricks’s new dual biography of Orwell and Winston Churchill, which is titled Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom:

I want to thank [Washington bookstore owner] Andy Moursand for giving me, back in about 1982, the four-volume set of Orwell’s collected essays.

Orwell’s second wife, Sonia, was one of the co-editors of that collection.  Orwell married Sonia in October 1949, just three months before he died at the age of 46.  

Orwell was so ill that he couldn’t get out of bed the day of his wedding.  He donned a mauve velvet smoking jacket over his pajamas and got married while sitting up in bed.

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“Read It in Books” was written by Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope when they were members of the Crucial Three, a band that they formed on McCulloch’s 18th birthday and that broke up a few weeks later.

McCulloch later formed Echo and the Bunnymen, while Cope formed Teardrop Explodes.  Both of those bands recorded “Read It in Books.”  (The Teardrop Explodes version is titled simply “Books.”)

The Echo and the Bunnymen version was the B-side of their first single, “The Pictures on the Wall.”  Both songs were released on the group’s debut album, Crocodiles, in 1980.  I must have bought that album about the same time I bought that four-volume Orwell collection.

Here’s “Read It in Books”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: