Band Names, Numbers and Elephants

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March 19, 2022 by libroshombre

            The Lone Tones is the name of the acapella doowop group in Austin that I’ve sung with for forty-plus years, many of which have included being the opening act for Esther’s Follies, a long-running comedy and musical variety show.  “Lone Tones” was a last minute choice, and it became our schtick to appear at Esther’s under a different name every week – Poultry Guys (“Poltergeist” had just opened and we had access to a chicken), Turban Cowboys (it was the early 80s and we pretended to be Iranian country eastern stars), Amphetimen (“60 Minute Man” became “60 Second Man” and was sung in under a minute), and Sanitaires (we came on stage dressed as a cleaning crew to clean up a ceiling leak before breaking into “My Roof’s Got a Hole In it”).  So, I sat right up when a talented childhood friend (founder of Chicken Little and His Fabulous Eggwhites while we were in high school) recently forwarded a list of unusual yet verifiable rock and roll group names.  Many are unsuitable for a family newspaper, but some seemed apropos for Alaska, such as Unprovoked Moose Attack, Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her, Congratulations On Your Decision to Become a Pilot, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House, and Let’s Get Out of This Terrible Sandwich Shop?

            Once the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones seemed cutting edge, and to hear Keith Richards tell it, they lived incredibly wild lives.  Richards’ autobiography, “Life,” includes the best written descriptions of the way rock and roll music works that I’ve ever read, and it’s also quite lively.  The estimable Kirkus Reviews wrote, “part of the joy of this altogether enjoyable, if sometimes mean-spirited, book is the damn-the-torpedoes take on things. Indeed, when he’s not slagging or praising, Richards provides useful life pointers, from how to keep several packs of dogs in different places to the virtues of open guitar tunings. He even turns in a creditable recipe for bangers and mash, complete with a pointed tale that speaks to why you would not want to make off with his spring onions while he’s in the middle of cooking.”  The New York Times “Life” review quoted Richards, “‘For many years I slept, on average, twice a week. This means that I have been conscious for at least three lifetimes.’  You better believe it. This cat put the joie in joie de vivre … Keith Richards has done more, been more and seen more than you or I will ever dream of, and reading his autobiography, “Life,” should awaken (if you have a pulse and an I.Q. north of 100) a little bit of the rock star in you.”  Indeed!

“Life” is also where I learned how influential on many power groups of the 1960s –, Everly Brothers, Elvis, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, etc. – was bluesman Jimmy Reed.  Even the Beatles lifted “yeah, yeah, yeah” from Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do.”  Richards wrote, “‘Jimmy Reed was a very big model for us … Almost a study in monotony in many ways, unless you got in there. But then Jimmy Reed had something like twenty hits in the charts with basically the same song. He had two tempos. But he understood the magic of repetition, of monotony, transforming itself to become this sort of hypnotic, trancelike thing. We were fascinated by it.’”

The article on Reed said, his “music was clearly rooted in American blues, but the key factor in the perseverance and overarching influence of his material lies in its presentation. Having chosen to all but do away with the sense of urgency which was baked into the delta blues sound of contemporaries … Reed chose to exercise a measured, almost leisurely approach to playing which more closely echoed Miles Davis’ forays into the cool jazz of the 1950s. Reed’s performing technique has been affectionately referred to as lazy, slack-jawed, and simple … What remained was an aesthetically pleasing, fairly predictable, and highly palatable variant of the blues, a clear precursor to modern-day r&b, and a sound that would prove to be highly resonant among the general record buying public.”  YouTube Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” and you’ll understand.

There are limits to repetition; a few are OK but a million can become annoying.  We blithely bandy about “million,” “billion,” and “trillion” but usually without consciously comprehending their scope.  In “How Much Is a Million?,” David Schwartz’s fine picture book, Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician demonstrates to some children that a million kids standing on each other’s shoulders would reach higher than airplanes can fly, a billion would reach beyond the moon, and a trillion would almost reach to the rings of Saturn.  Schwartz didn’t go into quadrillions, quintillions, or sextillions, nor nonillions (10 to the 30th power), quarttuodecillions (10 to the 45th), novemdedillions (10 to the 60th), much less googol (10 to the 100th), and googolplexes (10 to the 10th to the 10th).

He also failed to consider the amount of money possessed by Scrooge McDuck.  His creator wasn’t anyone named Disney; it was Carl Barks who made Donald Duck comic books for Disney from the 1940s-60s.  Uncle Carl stated that Scrooge is worth “one multiplujillion, nine obsquatumatillion, six hundred twenty-three dollars and sixty-two cents.”  However, just as the richest 1% have grown even more obscenely wealthy, Scrooge’s fortune has likewise swollen.  Forbes Magazine, who occasionally estimates the contents of Scrooge’s money bin, appraised it at $28.8 billion in 2007, $44.1 billion in 2011, and $65.4 billion in 2013.  An in-depth exploration of Scrooge’s money by MatPat, AKA Matthew Patrick, an Internet commentator on logic and scientific accuracy, used four different methodologies for his estimates: the depth gauges ($52,348,767.50) and ladder-lengths that Barks showed in his comics, ($239,307,400,080) the cubic size of the bin (3 cubic acres – $12,434,013,552,490)), and the money bin blueprints created by Don Rosa, who continued the Scrooge stories after Barks’ death in 2000 ($333,360,000,000,000,000, or $333,360 quintillion).

Such figures are impossible to readily grasp, but they’re more comprehensible if broken down into chunks.  For instance, in 1997 – twenty-five- years ago – Noel Wien Library received a much-needed expansion of its public areas.  That involved replacing the carpeting and moving all the books around to accommodate construction, replacing carpeting, etc. while keeping the library open to the public.  A local elementary teacher devised a class project to determine how many African elephants would equal the weight of the library’s collection.  Your average African elephant weighs around 11 tons – Asian elephants come in at 4.4 tons – and it turned out that the library’s books weighed 26 African elephants.   It’s extremely easy to get dozens of carloads of books in the wrong places, so a great deal of logistical planning went into the staff figuring out the fewest number of times we’d have to move those elephants, and we wound up moving the herd six times.  No outside laborers were brought in – there wasn’t even enough money for new furniture – and the library staff lifted and cleaned every single item.

The rest of the library – restrooms, lobby, auditorium, entrances, work areas, etc. were supposed to be remodeled in 2005, but even after focus groups had been developed and worked on the project for years, and library design and space utilization consultants were paid, the mayor at the time decided against it for reasons best known to himself.  No facility is better used by the community than the Borough’s public libraries – well over 50% of the entire borough population have library cards they’ve used in the past two years.  It’s way past time for the planned remodeling project, for when it comes to uncalculatable numbers, the local affection for their libraries is weightier than a host of elephants.  And, for the record, there are current rock groups named Elefant, Elephant Tree, Cage the Elephant, and Hunted by Elephants.

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