Friday, September 24, 2010

$1300 Gold at the "End" of the Great Recession

Apparently, the Great Recession is now over (though Warren Buffet - for one - disagrees). At least the end of it seems to fit as far as the technical definition of “recession” goes. I remain unconvinced that we won’t slip back into a “double-dip”, but no one knows, so I’ll wait and see.

Meanwhile,
silver and gold continue to rise. $1300 is the next target level for gold, though it is currently overbought and due for a $50-$80 correction, in my opinion. Then it might be time to buy some more.

Personally, I hope the recent rapid rise of the rare metal slows and retracts somewhat. It is starting to stray far away from the 200-day moving average. As you know, for myself it is a basic investing tenet that the further any item moves above or below the 200-day MA the sharper and more violent will be the snapback toward that average when the item finally does correct (as everything does in the yin-yang dance of the markets).

No one has been more anti-gold in recent decades than Alan Greenspan. So, when he said last week that
“Fiat currency has no place to go but gold,” I was shocked. I had to research that a bit more just to make sure it wasn’t some wild internet rumor. It sounds completely un-Greenspan-like. Though he favored the gold standard back in 1966, of late Sir Alan is a poster boy for fiat currency. If he thinks the validity of fiat money, as a whole, is somehow questionable in comparison with gold then what we have is nothing less than a paradigm shift.

The funny thing is when I researched the quote I discovered no one carried it. The media largely ignored this fundamentally rather profound statement, even if it did come from nothing more than an email that Greenspan sent to
David Malpass of Encimaglobal . Nothing in The New York Times. Nothing in The Wall Street Journal. Nothing on CNN or even CNBC. Nothing on youtube. Nothing almost everywhere.


Did Alan Greenspan manage to speak at a gathering of economic advisors and no major news outlet bother to even video or report on the event?

The email reference was quoted in The Motley Fool. Resource Investor. The Forbes Blog. Gold Seek. Arabian Investor. Some other blogs. And The New York Sun. 'Dats it. Really bizarre that it got so little coverage. The New York Sun editorialized, in part, about this ominous silence amidst the significance two days ago.

Richard Russell recently observed: "
The Gulf oil powers are preparing to launch a single currency modeled on the euro. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar are set to start next year on their new Gulf currency. These four nations (total GDP of $1.2 trillion) are set to start trading with each other with their new currency. And it looks as though they will establish a new competitive central bank.

"I've thought for a long while that China was sick of taking losses on its holdings of US securities including its huge hoard of Treasuries. China, I'm convinced, wants to own the world's reserve's currency. China has already announced that it will shortly make its yuan convertible. But more than that, China has established arrangements to use the yuan with some of its main trading partners including nations in Asia and South America. Their business will not be done in dollars, it will be done with Chinese yuans. Further, China has become the world's leading producer of gold. China has been urging its population to build up their personal holdings of gold. The Chinese government is no exception. China has been switching its longer-term Treasuries to T-bills, and moreover, China is adding an increasing amount of gold to its reserves."

I think Americans have no clue about what is slowly happening to the 100-plus year reign of the absolutely-based-on-nothing dollar. This is beyond any president's or political system's ability to remedy. Economics always trumps politics. Always.

In terms of Dow Theory, the recent action of the markets has led to two recent, small but possibly significant non-confirmations. Since the Dow Theory Bull confirmation on July 26 (see July 27 post) the market has basically been locked in a trading range. Not going anywhere. The Dow rose to 10,698.75 on August 9. It then bettered that high with a rise to 10,761.03 on Tuesday, September 23. Then today the Dow closed at 10,860.26, a new high for the rally. This has led some to claim that another "buy" signal is imminent.

But, with Dow Theory the Transportation Index is always factored in equal proportion. All confirmations are both the Dow and the Transports move in unison. All non-confirmations are when they move in opposite directions or not at the same pace for short-term milestones.


So, what has happened lately? Well, the Transports confirmed the Dow on July 26 by closing at 4482.09. They then rose to a rally high of 4516.32 on August 9, again matching the performance of the Dow. After that, however, the Transports also went into meander mode.
Importantly, when the Dow went to a new high on Tuesday, the Transports did not confirm this action. They failed to confirm by 5 points. Today the Transports did not better their August 9 high. They did not follow the lead of the Dow. They came up short by one point.

In the world of Dow Theory everything is black and white. It is not horseshoes; there is no "close." There is no gray. You either confirm or you don’t.
This non-confirmation calls the Bull into question. We will have to wait and see if the rally continues but Dow Theory casts doubt as of tonight. Still, the July 26 indicator of a Bullish primary trend remains in effect pending a counter-confirmation.

But with the Bullish trend called into question, the continued strength in gold, the continuing economic issues, the ever-rising mountain of debt, and unemployment still high, I can’t help but consider Alan Greenspan’s comments about fiat currency and gold in an amplified fashion.

Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion. But, as you know by now, I am not a fan of money for nothing (fiat). I am not a fan of the Federal Reserve System. I happen to believe the entire financial underpinnings of our country are unconstitutional.


Perhaps a big change is coming. Not immediately, of course. Not dramatically in the sense of time, but certainly full of drama in the sense of the nature of the change. Certainly, something we haven’t seen since the US went off the gold standard in 1971.


Greenspan has flip-flopped, at least temporarily, on the validity of gold versus fiat money. Larger trading partners of the US are moving away from the dollar. At the moment, gold is rising not because of fears of inflation so much as the emergence of a larger question about the legitimacy of the fiat concept. Interesting times.

The only clear bull market trend is in gold, not in stocks (which seems murky at best). That's the way I remain positioned. We'll see if this a mistake on my part. Every decision short of digging a hole and putting the money in the ground is fraught with risk. But, I like my chances long-term with what is still pretty much a stealth bull market. (Disclosure: I own GLD, SLV, and NEM along with my bullion holdings. The rest is in various cash positions.)

Late Note: The following Tuesday, 9/28, both the Industrials and the Transports closed at new highs for the rally. A bullish sign. According to Dow Theory, the market is likely to continue upward. Gold moved to a record $1310 per ounce. Everything is overbought.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meltdown in Philadelphia

Last Sunday the Atlanta Braves completed a three-game sweep of the New York Mets on the road. When that game ended the Philadelphia Phillies were in the process of playing the Washington Nationals. The Nationals were leading the Phillies 6-3 in the 9th inning. But, the Phillies (thanks to Jayson Werth) scored 4 runs in their last at-bat and beat the Nationals 7-6.

The Braves could have pulled into Philadelphia for an important 3-game series with some momentum and only two games out of first place on Monday. Could've, would've, should've...that didn’t happen.

Jair Jurrjens
injured himself in a routine off-day throwing session and the Braves were forced to start Brandon Beachy, who wasn’t even called up September 1. Throwing the AAA pitcher at the red hot Phillies was not exactly what Bobby Cox had in mind. But, Beachy didn’t pitch that badly. He kept the Braves in the ball game but we couldn’t do anything with Cole Hamels and lost 3-1. The Braves, once again, left too many runners in scoring position and they made two errors including a huge one by Jason Heyward.

You know the game didn’t go well when one of the video “highlights” was of Matt Diaz assisting Philadelphia security in
capturing a fan that got loose on the field. A bad day for Bravesdom.

Last night we started another AAA pitcher, Mike Minor, against Roy Halladay. It was a mismatch on paper and turned out to be one in reality.
The Phillies won 5-3 and dealt our hopes of winning the division a terrible blow. Halladay made a strong case for the Cy Young award with his 20th win of the season. The only real highlight of the game was Freddie Freeman’s first major league home run. He will likely be the Braves starting first baseman in 2011.

So, Tommy Hanson took the mound tonight for Atlanta and did his part. He held the Phillies scoreless over 6 innings on just two hits. But, the Phillies got a run off Jonny Venters in the bottom of the 8th (their last at-bat). Meanwhile, we could only manage one skinny hit the whole night. Anemic. Phillies win 1-0. Riding a 10-game winning streak, Philadelphia is currently the hottest team in baseball. They are peaking at just the right time. I'm not sure anyone can stop their big three pitchers from winning them the 2010 World Series.

So, now we’re down to just nine games left. The math becomes very simple at this point and it is definitely not in our favor. Winning the division would take a minor miracle. So, now we have to focus on the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and the Colorado Rockies for
the Wild Card spot in postseason play.

The odd thing is, we still have to beat the Phillies. We have three of our last nine games are against them in Atlanta. So, forget the division championship, we have to beat them just to win the Wild Card race. Barring a complete meltdown (of Atlanta Braves proportions) by the three NL West teams, it is unlikely we can get to the postseason without taking at least 2 out of 3 from Philadelphia the last three games of the season.

But, for now, we have to concentrate on winning the next series in Washington against the lowly Nationals. Then we have to win the series against the always tough Florida Marlins. There's no room for error anymore. As of tonight, the Padres won and the Giants lost, which places Atlanta in a tie with the Giants in the loss column for the Wild Card position. (The NL West is truly a "wild" race at a time when pretty much every other division is baseball is decided.) We need to go something close to 6-3, in my opinion, to have a shot at giving Bobby Cox one last play-off run.

As long-time readers know I don’t like the concept of the Wild Card. Baseball traditionally has been the most difficult sport to make the play-offs. Only the elite were allowed. But, in today’s era of baseball-as-entertainment vs. baseball-as-sport, we find the need for all these Wild Card shenanigans in order to drive television revenue which, in turn, helps pay players the salary of Hollywood actors.

I think back on my dozen simulations of the 2010 season using OOTP back in the spring (see May 5, 2010 post). The Braves didn’t win the NL East in any of those sims. They did, however, make the Wild Card 3 of 12 times. They survived the NLDS once (against the Giants) and lost to the Phillies in the NLCS. Interesting. Even if each season played out very differently in terms of trades and injuries and player performances, as a general rule the average of the simulations has been remarkably close to reality at an overall win-loss level.

So, back to reality now. Nine games left, ending with three against the Phillies in Atlanta. I’ll be at the final regular season game on October 3. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, it will not the Bobby Cox’s farewell game. Hopefully, we will be planning to face either the Cincinnati Reds or whoever wins the very close NL West in the play-offs. Our best hope is probably that the Giants and the Padres keep swapping the lead back and forth or the Rockies surge as the other two teams lose, while the Braves put together a small winning streak of maybe 4 games. That just might do it.

Winning the Wild Card is not exactly the “poetry” I referred to in my last baseball post. But, Cox going out with a spot in the postseason makes for a nice verse, if not for a complete sonnet.


God help the Atlanta Braves.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Is it real?"

OK, so maybe it is not exactly earth-shattering that Joaquin Phoenix has “acted” the last two years of his life whenever everybody thought he was crazy, but it is rather cool to consider. I mean, it does beg the question where exactly is the boundary between the actor’s art and “real” life?

For whatever reason, Phoenix, who is an accomplished actor, shocked the entertainment world in 2008 by supposedly renouncing his film career in order to tour as a mediocre hip-hop performer. All he got for his trouble, apparently, was a rather bizarre interview on The David Letterman Show and a fight with an audience member in Miami.

Not everyone bought the act to begin with.

I recall following these events with interest at the time. I was particularly taken with the Letterman episode because, I swear, if I didn’t know better I would have thought Phoenix was making a mockery of the entire, inane talk show industry. A rather intense parody where the event is turned back on itself and Mr. Letterman is left to muddle through the interview more or less alone. Everyone thought Phoenix was a sad, perhaps drug-induced joke. As it turns out, he wasn’t. More accurately, he was the joker and the joke was the entire talk show phenomenon in American life itself. Rather brilliant.

With the release of I’m Still Here, the “documentary” on Phoenix’s strange new life, it can now be revealed that everything about the actor’s behavior was – in fact – an act. The distinction between who he was and who he was portraying disintegrated. Phoenix became a different version of himself, perhaps the greatest performance of his career.

As such Joaquin Phoenix has redefined the term “performance art” and taken it to its highest level. No doubt the guy he dove off the stage and wrestled with in Miami might be thinking about suing him for damages, even more so now since the audience member became part of the act. But, to me, that just makes the act even more brilliant.

And no doubt David Letterman feels a bit used at this stage of the game. But, isn’t that what all talk show hosts do anyway? Use the lives of other people for fun and profit? So, Letterman has no room for complaint really, since he merely became the victim of his own show thanks to an uncooperative guest.

In a world where authenticity is blurred by television itself in countless “reality” TV shows or “talent” shows or “game” shows, what could make more of an impact or a deeper statement or more devastatingly relevant art than to walk freely through the metaphysics of “entertainment” making everyone believe you are not quite yourself these days? I can think of no higher expression of the art form.

Feeding off the natural mediums of our own culture, Joaquin Phoenix has become a mirror reflecting the reality of entertainment news and the entertainment industry back on to itself. If we feel a bit insulted or conned or a tinge of disingenuousness that is only telling is something about who we are as a society. We crave the insult (of others), the illusion, the glamorized fake so much that when someone takes the trouble to show our craving to us in a quite revolutionary way it may leave us feeling empty. That’s because it is all empty to begin with. Much ado about nothing.

By sheer coincidence it is in the spirit of this “living parable” type atmosphere through which Phoenix worked his art that now we find Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert planning a “political” rally in Washington D.C. Last night, these two comedians decided to hold actual rallies, appropriately enough, in "opposition" to one another. While Stewart's rally will offer a message of "return to sanity", Colbert will pull no punches and "keep fear alive". How appropriate. Insanity and fear are precisely the two words that most characterize America's political landscape to me.

Even though the events themselves are “real” and will, in fact, happen (that’s no joke) on October 30, they are nevertheless opportunities for mass expression of distaste for recent political rallies by such actual goofballs as Glenn Beck and Al Sharpton. What a marvelous opportunity to poke fun and let off a little political frustration toward the political system itself.

It is not without reason I haven’t blogged anything in recent months regarding politics except for the Elena Kagan Supreme Court nomination. The further polarization in American politics between the Obama Administration on one side and the likes of the ridiculous “Tea Party” movement on the other side leaves me completely frustrated, puzzled, and questioning the very legitimacy of this country’s experiment with democracy. We seem to be gravitating toward ever-greater levels of mediocrity and stupidity.

Of course, the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to be stupid. Choose any freedom you like and if you cannot envision and accept that freedom being expressed stupidly then you aren’t talking about freedom. You’re talking about someone’s agenda maybe, but you aren’t talking about being free. Freedom is only free if it can happen in a way you wouldn’t express yourself.

When I shared the announcement of these rallies with Jennifer and a few friends this morning, Jennifer’s initial response was “Is it real?” Awesome question. I’m not sure how to answer it. Was what Joaquin Phoenix did the last two years “real”? On one level it was completely fake, acted, a farce. On a deeper level, however, it was profoundly real because it made a statement about our culture that most people simply won’t get. They’re too (freely) stupid to get it.

Is what Stewart and Colbert are doing real? In the same sense it is a farce, a humorous take on all such marches in the past, particularly the recent past. But, it is also very genuine. I don’t know that 50,000 people will show up to watch two minor network TV comedians make us all laugh at how rediculous and pathetically polarized our nation’s political process has become, but I hope the turnout is better than expected. And I expect some great lines that are completely germane about how irrelevant the extreme Left and Right have become in this country and the profound damage they are inflicting on us all.

So, bravo to Stewart and Colbert for being absurd this coming October 30 because there’s no better time to be absurd, no better time for the expansion of “performance art” on a mass scale, than right now just before the mid-term elections. Fake, humorous rallies are precisely what this country needs and perhaps the greatest expression of our political freedom as well as the definitive elocution of the State of the Union.

And bravo to Joaquin Phoenix for showing us the way, the truth, and the light. Amen.

Late note: Some reports have it that Letterman knew about the Phoenix hoax all along. Dave himself has yet to confirm this.

Very Late Note: Letterman knew nothing about the gag. Phoenix confimed that the entire 18-month escapade was "a social experiment that commented on the relationship between American culture and celebrity." Brilliant stuff.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tied with 19 Left

If Alex Gonzalez (or Derrek Lee, for that matter) starts hitting homeruns the way he hit one today (night – 12th inning) the Atlanta Braves will win the NL East. We are down to a few games left in the 2010 season and things like this mean a lot. Tonight the Braves and Phillies are tied for first. Gonzalez crushed the Cardinals. That is what we need right now. Players who will crush our opponent. Kill.

There is a poetry about baseball that lies at the heart of why I love the game. Discussion of the game among fellow fans always eventually revolves around statistics. Batting averages, earned run averages, strike outs per nine innings, walks per nine innings, fielding percentages, how this batter matches up with this pitcher in this particular situation. And so on seemingly forever.

It was statistics that initially got Jennifer interested in the game. Her engineering training makes her a very detailed, quantifiable type of person. She immediately could “see” the game through statistics and immediately appreciate the individual game in a new dimension.
That was 1990 and she became an Atlanta Braves fan. But it wasn't for the stats that season (which weren't all that great). It was for the promise of the "young guns."

But, no matter how infatuated the fan becomes with the stats of baseball, the heart and soul of the game lies in its stories. There are even more stories in baseball than statistics.
Ty Cobb’s metal cleats. Babe Ruth pointing before hitting a home run. The shot heard round the world. Kurt Gibson with weak knees knocking the ball out of the park. John Smoltz versus his boyhood idyll Jack Morris in game seven of the 1991 World Series. And so on seemingly forever.

Every season is a story and sometimes the story can become poetic. Any baseball moment (be it career or season or game or pitch) can be an inspiration and thing of beauty.

It was a beautiful thing when
Brian McCann won the 2010 All-Star Game for the National League. Something that hasn’t happened in 13 seasons. The idea of his own catcher giving Bobby Cox home field advantage in Cox’s last possible World Series is sheer poetry. Admittedly that is taking things to an extreme. That is a day-dream. But day-dreaming is a huge part of baseball. So, the possibility of Cox winning the NL East (as an initial step toward glory) has been at the forefront of my mind all season, Cox’s final season.

At the All-Star break the Atlanta Braves enjoyed a comfortable 7-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies. Today, they find themselves tied with Philadelphia. Suddenly, the playoff pressure is intense due to the recent surge of the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies as they battle the San Diego Padres over in the NL West. What happened?

When I last posted about the Braves, they had a two-game lead on the Phillies and Philadelphia was sputtering offensively. But, the Phillies got their hitting mojo back and now they have the best record in all of baseball (33-15) since the All-Star break. So, a lot of the Braves problems reside with the way the Philadelphia has played championship caliber ball.


The Braves haven't. The Braves are just 29-25 since the All-Star break. Mediocre play, at best. The reasons are fairly obvious. They are batting less than .200 with runners in scoring position during that time. Their starting pitching (with the significant exception of Tim Hudson) has been giving up more runs and putting more pressure on their excellent bullpen which, frankly, is too much to expect. Even a great bullpen can’t shutdown everyone. At times, they have looked like a minor league team in the field, making mental mistakes and errors. In short, not championship caliber play.

Add to all this to the fact that the Braves just do not seem to be able to win on the road. While they enjoy baseball's best home record (51-20), they have played uninspired baseball away from Turner Field (31-41). That's on par with the Houston Astros, who have no hope for making the playoffs. Few teams have ever won championships playing 10 games under .500 on the road.

This all sucks, of course, for me as a life-long Braves fan. It messes with the potential poetry of the moment. I want Bobby Cox to go out on top.
It is the final season of Billy Wagner as well. I always liked Wagner even when he was on the other team getting us out. It could possibly be the final season for Chipper Jones, though he says he is going to try to comeback from his injury.

And yet, there's still hope. There's still time. We’ve had 24 (counting tonight) last at-bat wins so far this season, the most in the majors. Six of our final 19 games are against the Phillies and we have played them well this year. The Braves have a record of 7-5 against them, which is important. So, maybe we are looking at a different kind of last at-bat win. Literally winning the last three games of the season at home – against the Phillies. How poetic.

Just after Swan this summer, my good friend Mark got us some tickets for Bobby Cox’s final regular season game as a manager. Sunday, October 3, against Philadelphia. I am hoping that by then the Braves will have the NL East title sown up. But, if the last at-bat karma continues for the Braves, then clinching the division on the final game of the season would be the best kind of poetry, not to mention a helluva lot of fun to see in person.

There I go again. Day-dreaming. It just …..seems ….possible though. The Braves have had the big inning late in the game many times this season. I’ve posted about this before. They had a big inning
last night against the St. Louis Cardinals. The important Gonzalez homer was authoritative. The 2010 Braves have a spirit for last-gasp heroics.

But, unfortunately, seasons are not like individual games. Seasons require a different kind of rally. They require winning streaks within a fixed number of games. And that is something different. In baseball you can bat forever until the other team gets three outs. So, you can score all the runs you need in a timeless fashion. There is no clock inside the game.

In terms of seasons, however, you only have so many games. Seasons are fixed in time and, therefore, clock-bound. The Braves have to beat the Phillies and they have only 19 games to do it. Only 19 games. The Phillies need to play one game better than Atlanta from here on out. That means the Braves have to win more of these 19 games than they have of their last 19. Because the Phillies are hot. End of story.

In this situation, I am not keeping up with one game every night, but several. I use espn.com to keep track of the Phillies while listening to the Braves but also keep an eye on the
Padres-Giants-Rockies situation as well. Taking the two NL East teams and the three NL West - one of these five times will be the wild card and two of these teams will not make the playoffs. The final playoff team will likely be the Cincinnati Reds, who are definitely displaying championship caliber play.

A pennant race this tight always makes for a great baseball story. It is so intense for the fans. It generates and expends a lot of human energy. So, this is fun, even if the poetry is, for me, threatened. You see, the Braves have only lost one series at home all year. That was to the Philadelphia Phillies. Troubling.

Come on stars. Align!


BTW: It is worthy of note that this series in Atlanta is the first time since 1950 that two managers whose combined records add up to over 5,000 wins have faced one another. It will be decades before that happens again, if ever.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Echoes in Gdansk

The juxtaposition of two small events the past few days has brought considerable entertainment in to my life. A couple of weeks ago I was watching David Gilmour’s Remember That Night DVD. There are several noteworthy aspects to that 2006 concert in the Royal Albert Hall (released in 2007).

David Crosby and Graham Nash sing some background vocals on Gilmour’s full presentation of his album On An Island and then they come back later for an encore; their remarkable harmonies joining with David’s great voice on a terrific rendition of Find the Cost of Freedom. Then David Bowie comes out to perform Syd Barrett’s original part in the old Pink Floyd tune, Arnold Layne. Bowie follows that with performing Roger Waters’ vocals in Comfortably Numb. Really nice stuff.

But, for me, the highlight of the DVD is the performance of Echoes, which so prominently features the keyboard work of Richard Wright. Though Echoes is one of my favorite Pink Floyd concepts (at 22-plus minutes it is hard to call it a “song”) I never really appreciated the weight of the piece carried by Wright on keyboards. He truly equals anything Gilmour does on guitar.

This inspired me to order the most-recent Gilmour CD/DVD which was released back in September 2008, Live In Gdansk. I never seriously considered buying it before, probably because I thought it was so similar to the Remember That Night DVD (same tour, recorded just a few weeks later). I don’t know what I was thinking. The Gdansk concert 4-Disc edition, while containing most of the same musical line-up as Gilmour’s 2007 DVD, offers enough bonus material and differences to justify its addition to my fairly complete Pink Floyd collection.

I bought my copy of Live at Gdansk from a New York reseller off amazon.com for half the price. It arrived on Friday via “air mail” (the term on the email receipt puzzled me, it seemed antiquated) from Argentina. We are in global economy for sure. It was still in shrink-wrap. Mint condition. So, I guess waiting almost two years to acquire it saved me some cash.

Live at Gdansk is an worthwhile addition to any Pink Floyd fan’s collection mostly because it features the final recorded performances of Wright before his death, one week prior to the release of the CD/DVD in 2008. Another nice addition to this collection over Remember That Night is a performance of the old Syd Barrett-influenced Astronomy Domine (1967), which gives both Gilmour and Wright another opportunity to show the stuff that made Pink Floyd such an incredible artistic venture in those early years.

Beyond that, however, there is the fact the concert is supported by the large string section of the Baltic Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. This is a nice variation on the songs presented on the 2007 DVD and makes up a bit for the absence of Crosby-Nash at Gdansk. The symphony is particularly noteworthy in their contribution to A Great Day for Freedom, which Gilmour did not perform anywhere else on the tour.

What makes A Great Day for Freedom such a nice experience is that it grounds the concert politically to the place of its performance, the Gdansk shipyards where the Solidarity movement first took hold in 1980. Live in Gdansk was performed on the 26th anniversary of the birth of Solidarity. Though Gilmour is nowhere near as politically motivated in his songwriting as Waters, the fact that this particular song is performed live for the first time since 1994 after just one afternoon of rehearsals amongst the giant shipyard cranes of Gdansk is rather amazing. The time and place gives new life to this otherwise so-so tune. The band gives it an excellent treatment, a better version than the original studio recording and so…to that extent…new Pink Floyd (kind of).

Rick Wright singing Waters' part on Comfortably Numb is awesome. The highlight of the concert, however, is the Gilmour-Wright duet-heavy performance of Echoes, a Pink Floyd song from 1971. The lyrics are largely written by Waters, of course. But, even on the original version, Gilmour and Wright sang in harmony together. They do so here as well. For the last time, as it turned out. As previously mentioned, the great guitar work by Gilmour is matched by several marvelous keyboard flurries and improvisations by Wright. I would venture to say there is nothing like Echoes in the rock repertoire. Just a joy to watch.

The bonus features on the fourth disc, a DVD, are chiefly alternate performances of Pink Floyd and On An Island songs at other locations both live and in studio. The entire On An Island album (released in 2006) is offered again in an audio-only Dolby 5.1 version as well. But, for me, the high-water mark of the entire collection, after the Echoes performance, is the addition of several “Barn Jams” from January 2007, months after the one-night Gdansk performance.

These were captured on video in Gilmour’s countryside estate’s Barn-studio with the 2006 tour band including Wright. They are three free-form true jam sessions. The band isn’t playing anything, they are just…playing off one another, improvising. In one jam, Gilmour plays slide guitar in a slow rocker, kind of bluesy. Next jam he is on drums with the drummer now playing bass and the bassist on lead guitar, on the new age, minimalist side of things. Finally, he’s back to his trusty Stratocaster on the edge of space rock; a classic, soft Pink Floyd sound. When I watched this one with Jennifer on Friday night she told me it was her favorite performance on the DVD.

At any rate, at long last I am coming to the other “small event” I mentioned at the beginning of this post. In exploring Live at Gdansk there was a web link on one of the discs that allowed you to explore online material as long as the DVD was in your PC. I went to the link, which was on davidgilmour.com, but found that the extra content had already been removed. The price I have to pay for waiting so long to obtain the CD/DVD. But, then I decided to explore Gilmour’s website and discovered on the front page that only last Wednesday (September 1) a special video had been posted of an event I had read about back in July. The video is made available on rogerwaters.com as well.

Gilmour asked Waters to help him close out his live set at a fundraiser for Palestinian refugee children. This was a controversial cause right up Waters’ ally. So, the two primary forces of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time since their Live8 performance in July 2005. The fact that they got together again is the big news here. The video quality is that of a bootleg, and their performances are just standard fare. Waters makes a point of elucidating to the relatively small crowd that he is there at Gilmour’s invitation. They look like they are having fun. Good vibes.

So, this brings me up-to-date with the lingering artistic efforts of the remnants of Pink Floyd. Waters is planning a new tour of The Wall. Gilmour has apparently made plans to play a one-off gig on the Waters tour. Other than that though Gilmour is living a quiet life these days. On an Island was only his third solo effort and his first since 1984. Unlike Waters, Gilmour has never been exactly obsessed with writing and composing. He’s rather lazy at it, in fact, by his own admission. The perennial question of whether they will ever collaborate on new material again goes unanswered, but they’re not getting any younger.

The 2006 tour and January 2007 Barn Jams were the last time Wright and Gilmour worked together and it echoed their early years of jamming jointly with Waters and Nick Mason. Many of Pink Floyd’s best musical ideas came during long, late-night jam sessions in large studios and arenas closed to the public. This was one reason credits for major early Pink Floyd projects (like Echoes and Atom Heart Mother) were always shared by all four band members, before Waters’ lyrics and ideas became such a singular force in the band’s direction. Wright was a significant, fundamental part of the Floydian magic. Waters and Mason are not missed when it comes to performing Echoes with Gilmour-Wright carrying the weight vocally and instrumentally.

Rick went out on a high note.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Once A Lucky Dog

Tennessee Williams once wrote that “Time is the longest distance between two places.” The other day, I was driving with my daughter down a road toward my parents’ farm. We passed an old white house on the left nestled under the shade of four large oaks. Every time I pass this house I recall something that happened to me many summers ago. This time I related the story to my daughter.

Back then, I worked a different job each summer when I was home from college. This particular summer I was working in a small carpet-related plant that manufactured the edging that is applied to carpet samples as well as to rugs and mats. It was about a 25-mile drive to the plant and, being a young guy, I tended to drive a lot faster than I do today.

One day I was driving home after work, going probably 10-15 miles over the speed limit. It was a two-lane road, well-paved, kind of hilly but with a lot of straight-aways and good visibility. As I was barreling along on one of those straight-aways I saw a small critter run out into the road up ahead. I let up on the gas. Just a few seconds later, I noticed it was a rabbit and just behind the rabbit was a dog giving it chase.

It was just a mutt but the dog was right on the tail of that rabbit, who was weaving all over the road trying to escape the frantic pursuit of the dog. In that moment, for that dog, nothing else existed in the universe except that rabbit. Visions of tasty raw meat were dancing in his head. Something way better than dinner scraps or dry dog food or whatever the family that lived in the old white house at the time happened to feed the mutt.


Anyway, so I am now tapping my brake and coming up on the scene of the chase pretty fast. The rabbit only knows that the dog is attempting to kill it. The dog only knows that the rabbit is within a few feet of his intently focused jaws. Nothing else exists. Me and my car don't exist. The chase was on and it was happening right in the middle of road before my rapid advance.

I was braking harder now. This was many years before anti-lock brakes so, even though the road was dry on that warm summer day, I was trying to not lock the vehicle down and start skidding. I sat on my horn.

As the rabbit weaved back and forth across the road, so did the dog giving chase. Time slowed. As fate would have it the rabbit veered directly in front of my car just as I came upon it. The dog disappeared in front as well. I turned the steering wheel sharply in an attempt to miss the dog. The car skidded a bit. By now, I was over in the other lane. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic. In fact, I was the only car on the road at that moment.

I felt my tire hit something.

I let up on the brake, corrected my skid, regained control and stopped in my lane several feet from the sound of the crunch. I my rearview mirror I saw the rabbit bobbing up and down in the air, its front legs broken, going nowhere but still instinctively trying to hop. At first, the dog was not to be seen but a few seconds later the mutt pranced back into view, nonchalantly picked the rabbit up with his jaws and headed back toward the white house at a leisurely, contented pace. I had somehow managed to miss the dog, hit the rabbit, and thereby greatly assisted the dog in capturing his prey. He ate well that night, oblivious to his brief but close proximity to death.

My car was a 1976 Chevy Monza. It had no air-conditioning so my windows were rolled down on the summer day. I suddenly noticed the sound of a child crying. Since no one was behind me I backed up to the house and pulled off to the side of the road. I got out of the Monza. There stood a little girl, maybe 8 or 9, balling her eyes out at the horror she had just seen unfold before her. I had almost killed her dog and I had traumatized her by running over the rabbit.

By now her mother had come out of the house to see what was the matter.

“Ma’am, I am sorry but I couldn’t do anything. He just came out in front of me,” I offered.

“I seen it,” she said rather sharply. “That dog’s going to get killed one day, he’s always out in that blessed road.”

The child cried. I felt terrible. “Well, I sure didn’t mean to cause any problem.” “Oh, don’t you fret none about it. It ain’t your fault, hun.” She took the girl in her arms and comforted her. The dog went behind the house with the rabbit dangling from its mouth. I got back in my car, more than slightly shaken, and drove on home. I did not speed.

I don’t know whether the dog was lucky or the rabbit was unlucky. Probably, a bit of both. I could have just as easily killed the mutt and rabbit would have gotten away. But, that’s not how it all turned out. Hopefully, the child wasn’t psychologically scarred for life. But, that’s beyond my control.

So, I think about that incident every time I pass that house, now abandoned and in decay. My daughter listened, slightly bored with my story until I got the point where I actually hit something. She immediately wanted to know about the dog. It seems no one particularly cares about the rabbit.

It all does seem rather distant now, because of time not because of the two places. Even though it is the same old white house in many ways, the oaks are now larger while the structure itself has aged. It is two places in time. Perhaps the biggest change amidst that distance is in myself. My inner space is altered just like the place of the house itself. The dog is long dead and I now have a daughter to share the story with. But, in my mind it is more than a story. It is something I not only recall but can feel again. And the feeling itself defines the distance. Maybe, on some level, that’s what Tennessee Williams poetically intended.