Born to Run and Context

Springsteen - Born to Run
Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen from the Born to Run photo session.

To understand the hullabaloo many people make about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s Born to Run album (1975), you really need to understand the context. It’s a very good rock record but there are a lot of very good rock records that have been made over the years, some we’ve heard about and many we haven’t. So why Born to Run?

In 1975 pop music had a generally bland sound. There were a lot of good songs and a lot of dross, as there always is, and when you strung them all together, played them repetitively as radio stations do, it came across as an extended yawn. There was a somnolent quality to the sound. Look at the top songs around that time:

In other words, a lot of rock music didn’t make it to the mainstream. There were rock stations but the MOR (Middle-of-the-Road) stations were the dominant ones and for most people the songs they played on them made up the soundtrack of the period.

Rock music at that time had evolved, rather like a biological organism: growth followed by decay. It had become decadent (for lack of a better word). Much of it had become self-indulgent, excessive, and generally pretentious. This was the period of such things as glam rock and progressive rock: David Bowie, Sweet, Roxy Music, Gary Glitter, Genesis, Yes and so on. Some of that music was very good but a lot of emphasis was being put on appearance, theatrics and obscure lyrics that made little sense but sounded like they might be profound. (They weren’t.)

Then this guy named Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band appeared. Springsteen wore jeans and a t-shirt. (Compare that to what Peter Gabriel was doing at the time with Genesis, or what Elton John was doing.)

His concerts went on forever with encore after encore after encore. (I saw Alice Cooper around the same period and the show lasted 45 minutes, if that. His big thing at the time was a routine with a guillotine on stage.) Springsteen and the band seemed to be having so much fun they didn’t want to go home. At the time many bands – the progressive ones – were stultifyingly serious. Fun didn’t play a big part in the equation.

Punk rock had already begun but most people were unaware of it or, if aware, knew of it as something loud and cacophonous played by angry, disagreeable people who were overly vulgar. Like most music, at first blush it wasn’t easy to distinguish the good stuff from the crap or to see (much less get) the essence of it. That would take some time.

So Springsteen came along with Born to Run and a kind of rock music that was firmly rooted in traditional rock and roll (tinted with some R&B), had an angry edge to it, was as self-reflective (even narcissistic) as most rock music tends to be, and had what most rock bands lacked at the time – romance, drama, and even joy. Hell, the songs told stories.

The shows had an energy that few, if any bands had. The songs were understandable (compare them to Yes and Genesis of the period). And it wasn’t disco, which people either loved or hated.

Peter Gabriel with Genesis circa 1974
Peter Gabriel with Genesis circa 1974

I remember reading an interview with Peter Gabriel some years back talking about that period. He left Genesis in 1975. At the time, their shows were very theatrical. In the interview he referred to what he was doing at that time and said something similar to, “Then I saw Springsteen and everything changed.”

In a sense, Springsteen was the antithesis of what Gabriel was back then. It wasn’t about music and whether one was good and one wasn’t (both were very good). It was about the approach to performance. I think Gabriel was saying that he had gone so far into the theatrics of it that he had lost his way. Maybe. That’s just a guess.

Anyway … the point is this. Springsteen’s Born to Run was and is a great album but what elevated it was that it was also the right album at the right time and Springsteen and the E Street band were the right band at the right time doing the right shows at the right time.

There were probably a lot of bands around at the time doing something similar but it was Springsteen and Born to Run that broke through and changed what audiences were open to. It reinvigorated a music that had become torpid. It put passion back into rock music.

And it was one great, kick-ass album.

Born to Run (1975)
Born to Run (1975)

13 Things I Do Not Want to Do Before I Die

I like the idea of a bucket list, at least as far as the concept comes across in the movie The Bucket List. Inevitably, when we die we leave things undone.

For most people, thinking like that is a bit melancholy. It creates a sense of regret. Hence, a bucket list to help avoid that feeling.

But I’m bothered by the kinds of things I see people putting on their bucket lists. (For a while, they seemed to be popping up everywhere.) So I’m making an anti-bucket list.

Things I Do Not Want to Do Before I Die

  • Make a bucket list
  • Climb a mountain
  • Jump out of a plane
  • Project manage my life
  • Take a train anywhere other than across Canada
  • Spend time in an airport
  • Go to Wal-Mart
  • Drink fruit-flavoured beer
  • Be a celebrity
  • Watch Fox News
  • Experience hemorrhoids again
  • Worry I have to do things other people consider cool
  • Justify my life

Please keep in mind, this list is a gut response to what I am seeing. I mean no ill will to people who have made lists that include some of the things I have above. But I look at them and wonder why on earth I would want to do those things?

Bucket lists should be very personal. The ones I see don’t seem very personal. They seem generic; they seem like something a marketing department might dream up after doing some research.

My main complaint resides in the last item on my list. Thus, my anti-bucket list.

(Note: This was actually written October 14, 2010. I forgot I had it as “pending” and just came across it again this morning. I decided, better late than never.)

Lunaricity and the Promise of Moon Power

The gorge at St. George, New Brunswick, Canada, along the Bay of Fundy coast.
The gorge at St. George, New Brunswick, Canada, along the Bay of Fundy coast.

Along New Brunswick’s Fundy coast, in the small town of St. George, a group of scientists have perfected a process that promises to change the lives of everyone on this planet for the better, particularly those of Canadians. It is called lunaricity. It is moon power and Canada has the patent.

“We thought, ‘Well, everyone talks about solar power, but what about lunar power?’” says team lead Dr. Ryan Markham, the world’s foremost expert on the subject. “Once we started looking into it, we were astonished at just how much better lunar is to solar and, of course, to fossil fuels. We haven’t found a downside yet. It’s all up.”

If what Dr. Markham and his team say is true, everyone profits, Canadians more than any other nation. As holders of the patent, the revenue potential is enormous – so much so that even modest calculations suggest that it wouldn’t take long for unemployment in Canada to become not only negligible, but a moot point. With the revenue it would generate, there would be little need for any Canadian to work if he or she chose not to.

But it’s not about money, as Dr. Markham is quick to point out. It is about harnessing a form of energy that seems to have endless applications and has none of the negative impacts of traditional forms of energy.

“There is zero environmental impact, unless you consider the real estate necessary to house the conversion plants. But those plants’ impact would be simply one of space. There is no waste produced. And the energy generated has no negative ‘side effects’ associated with it.”

The Selene Project

The project is called Selene and it has made an amazing discovery. It is a process known as “lunaquaicity” and it produces lunaricity – basically, electricity generated by the power of the moon. But it is not just the moon that is involved. The earth’s seas are as well and, importantly, the tides. Hence, lunaquaicity – moon and water.

Earth's Moon, the source of lunaricity.
Earth’s Moon, the source of lunaricity.

“We took our cue from folk traditions and, perhaps more significantly, mythology. The moon and the tides are associated so frequently we wondered if there might be some reason for it, some natural reason.

“Why would so many cultures associate the two? We knew about the business of gravitational forces, but what if there was something more to it?

“Really, it was a simple thing. There are tides – the moon pulling on the seas. But is that all?

“Our research concluded no. There is a great deal more to it.”

Studying the relationship of moon and tidal pull, the team speculated on what would happen if it were done in reverse. What if, rather than the moon pulling on the seas, the seas pulled on the moon (so to speak)?

It took them over a year, but the Selene team set up just such an experiment and the results were worse than disappointing. Lawsuits are still in progress following Japan’s tsunami disaster.

Despite the disappointing results, they pursued their quest but with a change. It made no sense to reverse the normal gravitational pull – even if it were possible, globally the costs would be astronomical and the potential for disaster (as in the tsunami event) were enormous. Why not work with the physical universe as it is?

They did so and took very different steps. Tedious though it was, they went back to the business of simply studying the phenomena of the tides with the intent of getting as much, and as detailed, information as possible.

How lunar power differs from solar power

It was a good thing they did because they came upon a surprising discovery. It turns out the tidal pull is not one way.

Tidal pull is not one way.
Tidal pull is not one way.

Just as the moon pulls on the tides, the tides pull on the moon – though in a different manner. It is light they draw. That light, on encountering water, changes. To understand this we have to look at both orbs that decorate our skies – the moon and the sun.

The great drawback of solar power is its cancer causing risk. With solar power we don’t simply draw energy from the sun to heat and light our homes. We also pull the UV rays that produce melanoma and other cancers. Thus with solar energy we expose ourselves to continual high levels of cancer producing UV rays as we warm our homes and drive our cars.

This is not the case with lunar power. To begin with, while it does have UV rays they are dramatically less than the sun’s because the moon is reflective of, not producing of, those rays. The moon reflects the sun’s light (or whatever other star happens to pass by) but does not itself generate them. It is the moon, after all. It’s a hunk of cold rock.

Still, it does reflect some rays and this is where the earth’s oceans come into play. The Selene team has discovered that water filters out the cancer producing UV rays. This means, while the moon does produce UV rays, not only are they less than those of the sun (only 12%), the filtration of the tides eliminates them entirely.

As Dr. Markham said, there is no down side.

A patent on tomorrow

The Canadian government is saying very little about the Selene Project or the patent Canada has taken out on the technology for generating lunaricity. Despite repeated interview requests to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Minister of Finance and the Minister for the Environment, we’ve encountered nothing but silence.

But I spoke with Harrison Wong Chi, a market observer for Lloyds in Hong Kong and asked if he was aware of the Selene Project. It turns out, he is.

“It’s a secret that isn’t really all that secret, not in the markets. You can already see it having an impact as oil producing countries hold back inventories to reduce supply and hike prices. They’re scared. Once this hits the market, their oil won’t be worth anything. So they’re trying to make as much as they can, while they can.

“I can almost guarantee you’re going to see oil prices spiking as they try to grab whatever is left to them. Frankly, the markets already know oil is toast. They’re looking at where they need to redirect their investments now. And all the eyes are looking at lunarcity and the spin off industries it will generate.

Costa Rica - the Pacific side
Costa Rica – the Pacific side

“This lunaqua thing, it’s the very definition of disruptive technology. It’s more than a game changer. It’s an everything changer. Nothing will be the same once it hits the market.”

Back in St. George, I stand with Dr. Markham as we look out over the gorge thundering before us.

“What will you do Dr. Markham once you hand the project over and the world starts converting to lunaricity?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he says with a wistful smile. “I know nothing will be the same. I know changes are coming – good changes.” His smile broadens and loses its wistfulness. “And I have my eye on a water front place just up the coast here.”

He then turns to me and adds, almost with a wink, “I’m also thinking of a winter place in Costa Rica. The Pacific side. Just for something different. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to afford it.”

His smile gets even broader.

Epilepsy: Part of the landscape

I wrote this little thing about epilepsy a few years for the Fredericton Daily Gleaner. It seemed appropriate to share it again since I spent the afternoon at the Emergency after I had a seizure. (By the way, I’m okay now. There was a problem with the anti-convulsant medication I take being way too low in my bloodstream.)

If I could have my friend Les from Alberta tell you about the time I had a grand mal seizure (the full blown, convulsive kind of seizure), he would send you fleeing to the bathroom with laughter. He has a way of telling a story.

Saint John River at Martinon (Saint John) New Brunswick
Saint John River at Martinon (Saint John) NB

Seizures can be comical in a darkly slapstick way but they are spooky too if you don’t know anything about them. Seeing someone have that kind of seizure is like watching a break dancer with no sense of rhythm flaying about.

I was diagnosed with an epileptic condition about twelve or more years ago when I had that full blown convulsive seizure. In the time since, the single most frustrating thing I’ve found is the distance between what you know about your condition and what you guess at.

This is likely because epilepsy is about the brain and while we increase our knowledge of it, and of epilepsy, it is such a complex organ the more you learn, the less you know. With epilepsy, the information you have to go on isn’t the best, either. I can provide some information about my symptoms, but it is anecdotal based on what I remember experiencing and much of the experience is completely gone from memory. What I can provide is what I think may have happened and what I think it felt like.

There are also things like EEGs (electroencephalograms) that record and measure brain activity, and there are brain scans. They aren’t always the best indicators either, as my own case illustrates.

Still, some things are known and people with epilepsy are very emphatic about the fact it is a condition, not a disease. You don’t catch epilepsy. It’s not floating in the air like a winter virus.

According to the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, for roughly 60% of cases, no cause is found. They do say this, however:

Common causes are head injury (eg. from a car accident); brain tumour, scar or lesion; brain injury during fetal development; birth trauma (eg. lack of oxygen during labour); aftermath of infectious diseases (eg. meningitis, encephalitis, measles); poisoning from substance abuse, like alcohol; and stroke. (Canadian Epilepsy Alliance)

Identifying epilepsy

Well known figures are said to have had epilepsy, like Socrates, Dostoyevsky, Napoleon and Joan of Arc. More recently, there is Prince and Neil Young. When asked about his epilepsy, Young said it was, “… just part of the landscape.”

I’ve probably had this condition since childhood (I was known for “fainting”) but the notion of epilepsy didn’t pop up until twelve years ago. I think this is because most of us have this equation in our heads: epilepsy = seizure = convulsions. The fact is many seizures are non-convulsive. I often sit perfectly still as if daydreaming when I have a seizure.

I think I’ve had seizures most of my life but didn’t know that was what they were. I simply knew them as “fainting.” My experience with a grand mal seizure, also known as a tonic-clonic seizure, changed that.

Do I have an epileptic condition?

In my case, I had the one convulsive incident (that I’m aware of) but it wasn’t until a few years ago here in Fredericton we could finally say yes, it’s epilepsy. I had symptoms and based on those my neurologist out west said I probably had epilepsy. But the EEGs were a problem. They all came back normal.

I’ve lost track of how many EEGs I have had over the years. With an EEG, they lay you down and cover your head with electrodes to measure brain wave activity. You relax, even sleep for about thirty minutes with ongoing interruptions for tests. My results were always normal.

I went through the same routine here in Fredericton. However, not satisfied with the unhelpful results, my doctor asked for a five hour EEG. The tedium of this makes a Royal Commission look lively. However, once it was over and the results came back there was an, “Ah ha! There IS an anomaly! Something ain’t right there!”

The results of the five hour test indicated there was something askew in my brain activity putting the symptoms I described in a clearer light and allowing the “probable” to be removed. I had an epileptic condition.

This may give you some idea of the vagueness surrounding an individual’s epilepsy, at least as far as identifying it goes. We can know a lot about the condition; it gets dodgy when trying to understand or even recognize it in a particular circumstance.

What do I do if you have a seizure?

When I tell someone I have an epileptic condition, they always ask the same question. “What do I do if you have a seizure?” They hear “seizure” and they picture a convulsive seizure.

But I usually appear to just “zone out” when I have one. (A friend once told me that I didn’t do anything but my face went white and my eyes rolled up in my head.)

What is a seizure? The Canadian Epilepsy Alliance puts it this way:

A seizure occurs when the normal electrical balance in the brain is lost. The brain’s nerve cells misfire … The result is a sudden, brief, uncontrolled burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

I think of it as the power in the house going kerflooey.

Let’s start with what you don’t do when someone has a seizure.

  • Don’t put anything in their mouth, despite what you may have heard.
  • Don’t huddle around the person gawking like they are a traffic accident. Regaining consciousness and finding faces hovering above you is freaky, to say the least.
  • Don’t hold the person down.

As for what to do, here are a few things.

  • Stay calm.
  • Place a cushion, pillow or blanket under their head to help prevent injury.
  • Turn them on their side.
  • Clear the area (remove obstacles) around the person to help prevent injuries.
  • Time the seizure. If it lasts for five minutes or longer, call for an ambulance.

I recently read an article where the director of the University of Toronto’s Epilepsy Research Program mentioned that a large number of new cases were occurring in people 65 and older. They believe it is likely the result of small strokes.

On the Epilepsy Canada web site, they state:

Each year an average of 15,500 people learn they have epilepsy; 44% are diagnosed before the age of 5, 55% before the age of 10, 75-85% before age 18 and 1% of children will have recurrent seizures before age 14. 1.3% are over the age of 60. This means that about 60% of new patients are young children and senior citizens.

Clearly, I’m not alone.

I may have made epilepsy sound like something horrible and aggravated that “spooky” business when I shouldn’t have. It isn’t spooky at all. Diagnosed, epilepsy is like many conditions, managed with drug therapy and really not an issue at all.

More than anything else though, I’d like people know that epilepsy doesn’t mean bizarre, out of control gyrations. Often, seizures go unnoticed by others because there are no convulsions. And if managed and controlled, as it usually is, there are no seizures at all.

It’s just part of the landscape.

Happy and unhappy and how we think of them

I was thinking about the words happy and unhappy and what they meant and what those things were actually about. I’ll save you considerable reading by telling you how I summed it up: We’re almost always aware of when we’re unhappy; we’re rarely aware of when we are happy.

This is because when we’re unhappy we think about it, worry about, and talk (complain?) about it as we try to figure out a way to alleviate it. When we’re happy, we don’t think about it. We’re too busy enjoying the moment that is “happy.”

Put another way, and speaking very broadly, unhappiness is almost always thought of in the present – it exists, now. When we speak of being happy it is in the past tense because, as said above, we don’t think about it in the moment. We just enjoy it. Experience it. So when we think of it, it becomes something remembered.

“I don’t know when I’ve been happier.”

The pursuit of happiness

Being happy is also thought of in terms of the future, as in the phrase, “the pursuit of happiness.” If you’re pursuing happiness, however, you’re probably not happy. You may not be unhappy (is there a word for that condition, the place between happy and unhappy?), but neither are you happy because, implicit in the phrase, being happy is something you’re looking for. Why seek something you already have?

Most of us have the usual things in mind when we consider what happy will look like: money, love, sex, property, a good wine and on and on. These, too, tend to be canards because we look at it as an effect that follows from a cause when it’s usually just something that “is.”

Whatever “is” actually “is,” one thing we can be sure of is that it is ephemeral. It’s fleeting – and this partly explains why we don’t think about it as we experience it and why it’s spoken of in past and future tenses.

Many of those canards like money aren’t really about being happy – they’re about being unhappy. “I’m broke, I don’t have an income … I need money! That’ll make me happy!” But happy is not the negation of unhappy. Happy is a positive thing. The problem is defining just what the hell that thing is.

I don’t have a great conclusion to this musing. As usual, it’s just me thinking out loud on my blog, in a post. I do, however, think the idea of seeking happiness is a wrong-headed one.

It may sound trite, but I think it’s something you find only when you stop looking for it — as I will now do for fear it will elude me the rest of the day because I’ve been thinking about it!

(This is a repost of something I wrote back in July of 2009.)


700 light years away … a dying star is building a nebula.”

Image Credit & Copyright: Ed Henry – Hay Creek ObservatorySome people think wonder is the province of children. Some believe, as we get older, we get used to, even blasé about our world. I disagree. Some may get blasé, but many do not.

I don’t stumble upon moments of wonder as often as I may have as a child, but I still come upon them. Continue reading