Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Specials

Mass Pike tableau
Wait for it ...

Seeing a shooting star slashing across the night sky is kind of magical. But it signifies the end of the individual meteor as it breaks apart and leaves a trail of glittering light in its wake.

Ska was a shooting star; it emerged riding the tail of the musical course correction that brought punk and "new wave" to Britain and the U.S. in the late 70s and early 80s. Ska, much less overtly aggro than punk, is laced with reggae beats and blaring brass. Still carries a message sometimes, though. 

Like a lot of interesting music, ska was ripped off from black culture, in this case its post-war Jamaican originators. But it was Brit groups like The Specials who gave it a larger audience. Ska died down quickly but then came back again most famously with No Doubt. Sometime relatively soon, someone else will revive the style and it'll have another run. Shooting stars die, but there are always more on the way.

The Specials' two biggest hits were "A Message To You, Rudy," which is as fun a song as there can be. Their other smash was "Ghost Town," which had a meteoric (see what I did there) run to the top of the UK charts in 1981 and some success in the U.S. thanks to MTV and its irresistible beat.

"Ghost Town" is simple, but very dark. Written as a commentary on the devastating recession rolling through the U.K., the songwriters reported on the economic wasteland throughout the countryside they were touring -- shuttered shops, people scrambling to survive. There are always more "have-nots" than "haves."


I haven't written for a long time for a variety of reasons. The pace of life these days is breakneck. In August -- just a bit over six months ago -- we spent almost a week holed up in a Maine cabin on the water, and outside of some short sightseeing jaunts, basically just lazed about, listened to music, ate, read, and took it easy. It was glorious.

It seems like it happened two years ago.

In September, the rock of my family was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. She was in the Presbyterian Hospital ER the very same day as a Liberian man named Thomas Eric Duncan came in for the last time.

Panic and dread settled over my family, but happily, treatment has scored some victories and for now, things look positive. But I've been home twice, and I need to go some more. The stress of being so far away from my people is something I think about more now.

M's gone through a career upheaval. She's of course handled it well and has made that cut. (I call it "falling up.") But it was also mentally challenging, wondering if we'd have to rely on a sole income for a while. We've done that when I was out of work, so we know how to handle it. But these sorts of prospects lead to troubling nights.

Everybody has a busy schedule, but I feel like I'm always on the run. I work enough, although my work schedule isn't particularly overwhelming normally. However, there has been a little OT in the past couple of months.

Part of that has been due to record-setting snows here. Today is the first Monday in five weeks that hasn't been severely affected by monster snowfalls. Just four weeks ago, we had the first blizzard, a whopper that deposited more than two feet on us. Then the next two Mondays, more big ones, followed by one on Valentine's Day and into Feb. 15 (a Sunday) that made last Monday equally daunting.

Everyone's fed up with it.


In crisis situations you learn a lot about people. 

You frequently see this in work settings. Some people let that stress ratchet up and they become like those dancing wind-sock men you see outside retail stores, wobbling and crumbling all over the place incessantly.

Some internalize it, never say a word, lower their heads and power on. Those people worry me a bit. Are they gonna go all D-FENS some day?

Some may grouse about the BS, but at the same time, know that they've gotta fight through it. I think that's me. I want things to go smoothly and if warranted will point out ways to improve the problem(s) going forward. But I also know that freaking out won't help, we still have a job to do, so let's do it.

And some just say "Fuck it."

Welcome to Boston, where The Specials live.

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