203. Reverse Engineering

I know nothing about the topic. Almost, I mean I can spell the term. I just like the sound of it, how it seems to suggest that I might be smart enough to follow it up with related meaty thoughts. I think the phrase means something like beginning with a finished  product and deconstructing it to figure out how it was made and then copying that product, often without permission. (Shhhh!!!  I believe the Chinese are skilled at this sort of thing, but I don’t want to be considered xenophobic, another favorite word of mine that I can’t often use in context. It’s just awkward for everyone when there’s a sneeze, and instead of “Gesundheit”, I say, “Xenophobia to you and your germs.”) I suppose the folks who do this are called reverse engineers. So the guys at the other end, the creators, should be known as forward engineers, I guess, but not in the social sense of “being forward” because we know engineers are mostly awkward, socially backward nerds. In fact, the only engineer joke I know was told to me by a backward, stuttering engineer.

The set up line went like this– “You know I-I-ifffff  engineers ra-ra-ran the wha-wha- world, ev-ev-rytha-tha-thing woo-w00-w0uld work and ruh-ruh-run on ta-ta-ta-ta-time.”

The punch line eventually followed– “Ba-ba-but nah-ha-no bah-bah-body woo-wooo-would have any fffffffun!”

I liked it with or without the stutter. Even if you stutter backwards.

This reverse engineering process has been very helpful for military purposes, I understand. For instance, if you find an unexploded Russian missile in your yard, and you successfully take it apart and duplicate each component, then put it back together, you wind up with two Russian missiles in your backyard. You can sell one or blow one up and keep the other for breeder stock.  Reverse engineering at last defeats the age old proposition that ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. Well, yes you can if you are eating cell phones or computers or missiles. Hah! Take that you snarky old xenophobic naysayers.

Now I just need to find something to deconstruct, figure out, and then duplicate.  The only thing that comes to mind is a Marvin Gaye song, which may be because I heard it on the radio on my way in to work this morning.  HMMM, but as I ponder this process, I realize that Marvin already did this. He found the love missile in “What’s Goin’ On?” and duplicated it successfully in “Let’s Get It On” and then resurrected that song into “Keep On Getting It On”.  And we’re all better for it. Thanks, Marvin. Now let’s look carefully at the components he skillfully manipulated.

“What’s Going On”

Mother, mother There’s too many of you crying Brother, brother, brother There’s far too many of you dying You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some lovin’ here today – Ya
Father, father We don’t need to escalate You see, war is not the answer For only love can conquer hate You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some lovin’ here today
Picket lines and picket signs Don’t punish me with brutality Talk to me, so you can see Oh, what’s going on What’s going on Ya, what’s going on Ah, what’s going on
In the mean time Right on, baby Right on Right on
Father, father, everybody thinks we’re wrong Oh, but who are they to judge us Simply because our hair is long Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way To bring some understanding here today Oh
Picket lines and picket signs Don’t punish me with brutality Talk to me So you can see What’s going on Ya, what’s going on Tell me what’s going on I’ll tell you what’s going on – Uh Right on baby Right on baby
And now for the reverse engineering by Wikipedia.

What’s Going On” is a song by American recording artist Marvin Gaye, released in 1971 on the Motown subsidiary, Tamla. Originally inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by Renaldo “Obie” Benson, the song was composed by Benson, Al Cleveland and Gaye and produced by Gaye himself. The song, which focused on major seventh and minor seventh chords, and was oriented in sounds by jazz, gospel and classical music orchestration, was mainly viewed as a meditation on the troubles and problems of the world, proving to be a timely and relatable release, and marked Gaye’s departure from the Motown Sound towards more personal material. Later topping the Hot Soul Singles chart for five weeks and crossing over to number-two on the Billboard Hot 100, it would sell over two million copies, becoming Gaye’s second most successful Motown song to date.

The song topped Detroit‘s Metro Times list of the 100 Greatest Detroit Songs of All Time, and in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it the fourth greatest song of all time, in its updated 2011 list, the song remained at that position. It is also included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list, along with two other songs by the singer. It was also listed at number fourteen on VH-1‘s 100 Greatest Rock Songs.

So there you have it. Now, just go out and find a modern equivalent of police brutality and work it into a new sound that can appeal to all audiences. Have a silky voiced dude record it flawlessly but passionately. Release it during an unsettled period of history. Then wait for it to go platinum.  In the meantime bake two cakes and eat one.

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139. Running with Jimi

I had an intense nightmare last night. I was being chased by FBI agents while running through my old geographic area, Alexandria, Virginia, with Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was wearing a bright yellow embroidered suede jacket over purple corduroy pants and blood red boots. He had his afro pulled back into a frizzy, semi- dreadlocked mullet, held in place by a shiny moss paisley bandana. No hat. He did not talk to me as we ran from car trunk to alleyway to open streets, ignoring traffic signs. I recall being jammed up where a street dead-ended into an alley and a garbage truck was picking up a dumpster. Panic rose in my belly as I realized then that we had to walk out in the open park pathways while a traitorous informant who had never heard Jimi’s music ratted out our location to J. Edgar Hoover, curiously long dead. Jimi breathed quietly through his nose, unperturbed.

I looked in all four compass directions, scanning for uniformed cops or undercover guys in detective gear. My heart was racing. I had no idea why we were being pursued, especially since Jimi had been dead for so long. But you know how dreams go, there is no logic to them, just a racing visual documentation of methamphetamine intensity. I know I kept thinking that we needed to get into the woods across the street from my childhood home. We’d be safe there for a while. I knew we could hide in those familiar old overgrown woods.

Running with Jimi Hedrix is not an easy thing to pull off in broad daylight. He’s an iconic figure who is easily recognized even by folks who have never heard his music. Like Che Guevara. I never heard one of Che’s songs, but I could pick him out in a police line up in the 1960’s. A handsome totalitarian, murderous Marxist rascal, he was perhaps the polar opposite of Jimi, the love machine. “Peace baby.”  Che’s face emblazons many a tee shirt today just like Jimi’s does. Overlap. Boom! I awoke when my real life dog whimpered to go out and pee at 3:00 a.m. My heart was fluttering. I could not forget the stroboscopic scenes in my mind. I felt a sociocultural duty to save Jimi. I let Johnny the dog out in the darkness, trying not to confuse the unconscious with the semi-conscious.

Now how does one get into such a psychological pickle jar, dodging sweet gherkins and dill chips, pearl onions and bits of garlic while swimming through greenish vinegar?  (I went to the bathroom also. I know what you’re thinking.) I wonder about Freud and his cocaine use at times like these. I tried to reconstruct my recent history to uncover links to the bizarre narrative of my dream. I had been watching the movie Chaplin the other night. It was very well done; Robert Downey, Jr. did a heck of a job portraying Charlie Chaplin. There was the political back story of J. Edgar Hoover who set out to ruin Chaplin and anyone who was not a pure American, whatever that may be. And in some odd way, Chaplin’s Tramp is a comic-tragic iconic figure like Jimi. The ugly, fear-gorged Americans in Chaplin’s day made him out to be a communist Jew. He was neither. They were just rabidly stupid. Jimi was viewed as trouble too, I think. If anyone scared the conservative silent majority of Richard Nixon’s imagination, it was Jimi “Burn Your Guitar” Hendrix. Like Chaplin he was a sex hound, I think. So there is sufficient overlap between Hendrix and Chaplin for my dream.

Image result for j. edgar hoover pictures

And then I ingested an hour of CNN overcoverage of the bomb blasts in Boston last night before going to bed. All those swarming bodies shifting from exultation to disaster in a split second. Runners lost their footing and the limelight as two explosions took center stage. Cops turned into runners, their focus switching from the sprinters in front of them to the splinters behind the police barricade. In the blink of an eye terrorism visited the U.S. again. And a corps of reporters larger than the entire Homeland Security and CIA combined began their smothering overage, saying the same damn things over and over. Interviewing new faces and officials who said the same thing over and over and over.

Perhaps that is where my tired brain left reality and went to sleep for some rest. And lo’, what awaited me in dreams?  A Jimi Hendrix/ Charlie Chaplin/ Richard Nixon/ Che Guevara/J. Edgar Hoover marathon chase. The Tramp was a lovable rascal who was always in trouble, chased by cops or immigration officials, child services officials or landlords. He was anti-authority in a good way, since Authority in Chaplin’s films was always fat and pompous, easy to hate. Without words every gesture had to be exaggerated. Now it seems audiences want nuanced close ups and lots of yakking. My dream had no words, not one. However, if I ever make a soundtrack for this dream, I’ll be sure to include Crosstown Traffic….”so hard to get through to you“. And All Along the Watchtower…”two FBI riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl”. And The Wind Cries Mary...
“The traffic lights they turn up blue tomorrow
And shine their emptiness down on my bed
The tiny island sags downstream
‘Cause the life that lived is, is dead
And the wind screams Mary

And finally, Fire… I have only one burning desire, let me stand next to your fire“.

Good night, Jimi Hendrix. Let the cat out and turn off the television, man. Peace out.