Monday, December 31, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #12: the end

Maybe there were a lot more songs I missed, but I'm going to end my list with one about the end of the Cold War: "Wind Of Change" by Scorpions.  Maybe the cracks in the Iron Curtain were plain to see, but I think most of us were stunned when it came down in 1989.  I remember following the news at the time, and it was... well, unbelievable and even unthinkable!  You just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, and for the communists to brutally and violently stomp out the mostly peaceful revolutions that were springing up – tentatively in some cases – in Eastern Europe, and I'm sure most of them were waiting for it, too.  And the miracle was that it never happened.  If you'd ever suggested it would end like that I'd have thought you were a fool – and I wouldn't have been the only one. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #11: Getting literary

Still with me on this list?  Well, I've pretty much already listed all the songs I could think of that seemed to have themes of nuclear destruction and war, so allow me to take a little detour.  Ever read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four?  I had to read it in two nights for a book report in high school; and while 300 pages is a lot to read in just two nights it's also a lot to take in.  But I remember thinking how prophetic it must be about society in the Soviet Union and how controlling the State was.  Yeah, I thought, that's who Orwell was talking about, with their Gulag and thought-police.  And Oingo Boingo encouraged me to read the book when they sang "Wake Up (It's 1984)" (oh yeah, I had a punk[ish] streak to my musical tastes!).  I could have never imagined – back in 1984 when I read 1984 – how it would look today here in the land of milk and honey, the way companies like FaceBook (and other "Big Brothers") can track our every digital move.  Yes, "Big Brother's [still] watching," but I'm not so sure we're "watch[ing] him back" or that "we see right through his disguise."  (Sorry, I couldn't find a video for this one, so I picked the one that sounded the best.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

Whoa!  How did the whole Christmas season just slip by me so quickly!  Oh well, since I can't sleep I thought I might as well get up and post our pictures.  It's so nice to have Braiden home from school - we've really missed him.

Ever since we changed our trip to the Redwoods last year the kids have been complaining, so we went this year the weekend before Christmas and dragged our good friends, the Jorgensons, along.  We had tent cabins reserved in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, but unfortunately, when we got there the campground was closed because of anticipated high winds that night.  We ended up finding some sturdier cabins at Little Basin - and it was a good thing, too, because although the wind didn't happen that night, the next night it POURED!  We still had fun though, and saw lots of big trees, moss, mushrooms, and even some salamanders, but no banana slugs.


We got together at Ben & Melissa's house this year for a (pre) Christmas dinner and Nativity.

And, of course, there was Christmas morning and presents.  (And that afternoon I FINALLY got to see "The Hobbit.")

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #10: The coffee-house Sophocles

Now that the 90s are long gone is it okay to admit I was never really a fan of Sting?  To be sure I liked a few of his songs, but his stuff with The Police was a lot better (some of it anyway).  And when he went on his own he just seemed to have this annoyingly superior and condescending attitude, and to this day I picture him dressed all in black and sitting in an overstuffed armchair in a basement coffee-house where they're having one of those weird poetry readings and everyone snaps instead of applauding.  (I don't know if he's ever done that, but it's what I imagine.)  At any rate, he always came across to me as one of those people who think very highly of themselves and very little of anyone whose views aren't as enlightened.  Nevertheless, "Russians" might have sounded weird as pop music, but I can't argue with the (not-so-subltly overbearing) message.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #9: An atomic breeze

You might think I could go with "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears at this point.  But instead how about "Mothers Talk"?  Yeah, I wouldn't think of it either, but there's a line repeated several times that says "When the wind blows."  Apparently, When The Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs was an anti-nuclear comic book about an elderly couple named Jim and Hilda Bloggs and their bomb shelter.  Again, remember that I didn't watch videos on MTV as a kid, but there were three different videos for this song.  It sounds like the third is the only one to portray the nuclear war aspect of the song.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #8: The perkiest song

If there was a band whose sound seemed to epitomize the synthesizer-heavy sound of much new-wave music it was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or more easily known as OMD.  Their sound was peppy and cheerful and upbeat, and The Guardian newspaper (UK) called their hit song "Enola Gay" "the perkiest song about a nuclear holocaust ever written."  Enola Gay was – of course – the name of Colonel Paul Tibbets' mother.  Oh yeah, it was also the name of Paul's plane.  And it was the plane that dropped a big firecracker called "Little Boy" on Hiroshima.  So, lines like "It's 8:15, and that's the time that it's always been" refer to the time of the explosion and frozen clocks; "Is mother proud of Little Boy today?" alludes to both the bomb and Paul's mom; and "It shouldn't ever have to end this way" ought to be pretty self-explanatory.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #7: If you survive...

"Stand or Fall" by The Fixx is another song that seemed a bit cryptic, mostly because I could only pick out a few lines here and there.  Something about "If you survive don't do as we did," "Foreign affairs are screwing us rotten," and "Talks of peace will be forgotten" (?) were vague, but "Red or blue, what's the difference" might have been a little more pointed.  But I always had the impression that most of their music was politically themed.  To me, it was just good music.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #6: Superman where are you now

Okay, "Land of Confusion" by Genesis wasn't one of my favorite songs.  It was alright, but Genesis wasn't really my kind of music.  But, I found out the video was about the Cold War so I thought I'd include it (remember, we didn't watch MTV at my house) and I'll just let the video speak for itself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Iping, mandioca, manioc, and cyanide

I was recently reminded that it was 26 years ago (+2 days now) that I began my LDS mission, so I thought I'd interrupt my other posts with a quick memory.  Mormon missionaries typically eat dinner with the local church members. It not only helps to support the missionaries – who aren't paid for their service – but it also gives the members a chance to get to know them and be involved in the missionary work.

I served my mission in the southernmost state in Brazil: Rio Grande do Sul. The people are called "gauchos" and are a kind of Brazilian cowboy or rancher. There are a lot of immigrants from Germany, Poland, and Northern Italy so even though my hair is blonde I fit in well enough. But anyway, we ate lunch instead of dinner with them. It was more in keeping with the local custom of eating the bigger meal at mid-day, plus it freed us up to teach people when they were home after work in the evening. And living in another country for two years and mixing so much with the people exposes you to a very different culture.

Brazil is not "Southern Mexico." They do not eat tacos or tortillas or refried beans or chips and salsa. Instead, black beans and white rice is the foundation of nearly every meal and meat is served often (if you've ever eaten at a Brazilian BBQ – "churrasco" – that's what they eat in southern Brazil, or at least an Americanized version of it). They also had pastas and other dishes but there were other – different! – foods I'd never seen. One I remember was a long root called "mandioca" (mon-JOE-kuh), although the Brazilians from São Paulo ("Paulistas") called it "iping" (I don't know if that spelling is right, but it was pronounced: i-PING). It was starchy and similar to potatoes but more fibrous and had a thick "string" that ran down the center of the root. But it had an interesting flavor and I actually liked it – once I realized you weren't supposed to eat the string.

I've sometimes wondered about "mandioca" since then – what it was and why I'd never seen it here.  That was the Brazilian name for it, but if it was sold or eaten locally I didn't know what it might be called.  But I recently came across it while reading the latest Flavia de Luce novel (which is what started this train of thought).  It also goes by the name manioc or cassava, and it's widespread around the world.  Most surprisingly, it's what cyanide comes from and unless cooked properly can kill you!  (Which is why Flavia was interested in it.)

Obviously I survived, but I ate quite a few other things that might have made me wonder.  I remember one time dipping a serving spoon into a bowl of soup and seeing a scaly chicken foot surface briefly as my appetite left me.  A few times we ate liver, which tastes like gritty dirt to me.  But perhaps the most difficult thing I ever ate was "mondongo" which is tripe (cow stomach).  The smell was so overpowering that you could smell it even before you reached the house.

Nevertheless, eating with the members was sometimes an eye-opening experience.  I didn't grow up on the "rich side of town," but in Brazil I saw a lot of people who had very little in the way of worldly goods.  And it often made me feel bad when they asked to feed us because it was obvious that the meal they put on the table for us was better (and far more expensive) than anything they would ever make for themselves.  And yet they were so happy to have the missionaries in their humble homes!  We would try to eat sparingly, knowing what a sacrifice it was for them, but they still encouraged "come mais, Elder, come mais" ("eat more"), and they felt they would be blessed by feeding us.  I know I uttered many a silent prayer in their behalf.

And I still count those experiences as among the most treasured in my life.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #5: Oops!

Mistakes happen, right?  Well, hopefully not the kind of mistake shown in the video for "It's a Mistake" by Men at Work.  But surely a lot of people around the world must have worried that with so much destructive firepower and a bunch of edgy leaders, even the littlest thing might set it all off.  Remember that clip of Reagan making a joke about outlawing the Soviet Union?  I'm glad the president had a sense of humor, but it would be nice if someone had told him when the microphone was on!  Oh well, mistakes happen, right?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #4: Balloons and UFOs

Germany has been at the center of world conflicts for at least a century, and the beginning of the Cold War was no different.  When it was divided up after WWII, it was split not only into East and West Germany, but the capital Berlin – which was located within East Germany – was split into four different sectors (American, British, French, and Soviet).  And one of the more dramatic post-war events occurred when the Soviets imposed a blockade (in an attempt to take over all of Berlin) and the West responded with the Berlin Airlift, and we ended up with one of the most visible symbols of the Cold War: the Berlin Wall.  So, you might say Germans were living at the epicenter of the Cold War, and when the guitarist for the German band Nena watched balloons at a concert in West Berlin float away he wondered what might happen if faulty Soviet radar equipment mistook them for something else.  With thousands of missiles pointed at each other it wasn't just an idle worry that a small misunderstanding could trigger a bigger event, and the song "99 Luftballons" imagines a war set off by something as insignificant as balloons.  Of course, unless you spoke German you wouldn't really know that until the English version, "99 Red Balloons" came out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #3: Wearing sunglasses

Wouldn't you just love to actually see a real nuclear explosion?  No?  Well, I would – if I could be safe and it wasn't blowing up a city full of people, of course!  But I find myself fascinated by the descriptions of those who have seen it: the sky changing and flashing all different colors, the mushroom cloud, the sight and feel of the shockwave... it must be an awesome – if perverse – sight.  A song that's more often associated with happy graduations than a terrifying end-of-the-world is "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" by Timbuk 3.  And yet the song came from a comment Barbara MacDonald made to her husband Pat (both members of the band) as she reflected on the grim future their children might face in a tense nuclear world, and Pat spun it into a hit (although this has to be one of the dumbest videos ever made).  Maybe he was singing to students graduating with degrees in nuclear science?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #2: Frankie says...

"Red Skies" and "The Gap" might not be obvious songs about the Cold War, but "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood was pretty clear.  Keep in mind, however, that I didn't grow up watching MTV (my dad wouldn't dream of paying for television), but even without having seen the video wrestling match with Reagan and Chernenko I thought it was obvious.  "When two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score" and references to Reagan ("Cowboy number one, a born again poor man's son / On the air America, I modelled shirts by Van Heusen") were usually hard to understand, but air raid sirens and explosions weren't.  Plus, this song had several remixes, at least one of which featured a "public service" voice giving instructions for how to survive the attack (see the "Protect and Survive" videos), and another had a very Reagan-like voice.  I never noticed it at the time but there are also some very Russian-sounding notes played during the song.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #1: Chew the fat

While reading Pandora's Keepers I couldn't help thinking about how strongly the threat of nuclear war had affected our culture. I grew up in the 80s and it seemed like a lot of the music I listened to expressed this fear that war between the US and the USSR was imminent – a war in which nobody would come out a winner. Some were obvious and others might just be my imagination but I made a list of songs that I thought were specifically about nuclear war or the Cold War. So, here's my list – one at a time – of some of my favorite 80s Songs from the Cold War.

I've already posted about "Red Skies" by The Fixx, which may or may not have been about the Cold War. Another that's not so clear is "The Gap" by the Thompson Twins. The lines "East is East, West is West / Two different colors on the map" seemed to refer to the USSR and USA, and "Break the line, chew the fat / Keep moving out into the gap" sounded like urging the two superpowers to resolve their differences. (Am I reading too much into it?) Anyway, most of all I love that my kids are embarrassed that I still like music like this! (Sorry, I couldn't find a video for this song, and this was better than the live performances I found.).