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    Southern Sounds

    Living in the Material World

    by | Feb 14, 2012

    The young man had things going his way. In what he considered a moment of clarity, he invested all his savings and whatever money he could raise in a venture that was too good to be true. Life was great. A nice condo in a tasteful suburban setting. New car. Lots of trips overseas. Then it all fell apart, even in those hazy and crazy early days of the George W. Bush administration. It made no sense. Sure, terrorists were flying jets into our buildings, but our investments were deemed safe. Not this guy’s investments. Gone. Everything. He calls Mom and Dad. Junior’s coming home. To stay. It was too good to be true after all.

    The lawyer living in one of the city’s more verdant neighborhoods had a good year. A very good year. Representing mortgage-holders at foreclosures, he made a nice living interpreting the fine print of legalese.

    Hey! You losers in 30274!  Out you pixies go!

    So as the losers in the tacky zip codes seek dwelling for safety and warmth, the lawyer has cash burning a hole in his pocket. So what does he do? He buys a bigger and better home. Even with all the misery in the recent economy, there’s still money to be made and money to be spent. It makes little sense if all that misery goes to waste.

    George Carlin gave thought to the misery on one side and the ka-ching! on the other. He offered his own thoughts on the matter in a routine 40 years ago.

    There is no morality in business, just ledger. Keep it in the black. Never mind your soul, never mind the landscape, never mind the other guy.

    Never mind your soul? In the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 8, Verse 36, Jesus poses the question “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” The question has been asked in the centuries since Christ walked the earth, whether by those on a mission, or just rhetorically when frustrated by the actions of others.  In the Beatles song, “Within You Without You,” George Harrison ponders “the love that’s gone so cold and people who gain the world and lose their soul.” We’re often flummoxed by the contradictions around us, including the ones fashioned by ourselves.

    Simon Leng, in his book, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, The Music of George Harrison, suggests that Harrison was preaching to himself.  Mindful of the Hindu beliefs he had studied but also impressed with the temptations and indulgences that came so easily to a Beatle, Harrison must have had thoughts similar to Bruce Springsteen in his ’84 song, “Pink Cadillac.”

    Well they tempt you, man, with silver

    And they tempt you, sir, with gold

    And they tempt you with the pleasures

    That the flesh does surely hold

    More than three years after the Beatles broke up, Harrison opened up about the contradictions, dealing with them wryly, just as Springsteen did some 11 years later. In the title song of his album, Living In The Material World, Harrison pokes at his own life and what had dominated it, that is, being a Beatle (“Though we started out quite poor, We got Richie on a tour.”). He also notes the pursuit of worldly goods is never-ending.

    As I’m fated for the material world

    Get frustrated in the material world

    Senses never gratified

    Only swelling like a tide

    That could drown me in the material world

    With both Jim Keltner and Ringo Starr on drums, “Living In The Material World” is the album’s most vigorous rocker. The other songs on what is Harrison’s follow-up to his wildly-successful All Things Must Pass album are more gently delivered. It’s as if he not only wanted people to hear the album, but listen to it closely. Throughout Living In The Material World, Harrison brings light to the perplexities created by what we seek to possess and what often ends up possessing us. The pursuit of the various possessions may require an exacting plan or nothing more than just a trip to the nearest big-box retailer.

    Every week nearly a third of the U.S. population visits the biggest of the big boxes, Walmart. That leaves over two hundred million Americans who aren’t patronizing Walmart’s stores. Well, give ‘em time. The world’s largest retailer can easily afford to expand into the urban, urbane and hipster areas, even when the welcome mat hasn’t been rolled out. One such area is the community in and around Decatur, Georgia, a suburb bordering Atlanta, which has renewed itself with plenty of innovation and attitude. Quite naturally, the people of Decatur aren’t thrilled with the idea of Walmart opening its doors close to its independent retailers and restaurants, even if the store does locate just outside the city limits on property long considered an eyesore. The idea is an affront and it’s worrisome. Which local merchants with personal service and close ties to the community will go out of business if unable to compete with the low price leader? Will Beatles fans slog through the acres of asphalt at the new Walmart to buy one of his CDs there instead of the local upstart, Decatur CD, now the best record store in the state? They just might, unless they look to the message in a lesser-known George Harrison song, “It’s What You Value.”

    One hopes the people of Decatur will hold strong to their shopping patterns if and when the Walmart opens. But that will require some variation in human nature. In fact, it’s likely some who are now unhappy about a neighboring Walmart will be among its customers. After all, like the mall that Jake and Elwood Blues demolished, the store has got everything. Or at least some of everything. And it’s hard for It’s What You Value to compete with convenience and selection. For example, on this year’s Super Bowl Sunday, under one Walmart roof, the Couch Potato could get everything needed for watching the big game. Big Screen TV. Lounge Chair. Chips. Dips. Drinks. Plus a Madonna DVD to watch after thrilling to her halftime extravaganza.

    Walmart sells a lot of CDs and DVDs. Their inventory is hardly deep as it is wide, but as the world’s largest retailer, millions get their music at Walmart stores. A sales manager for a major record label group acknowledged that Walmart was his largest customer. Usually a sales guy enjoys calling on his top client. Our sales manager friend did not. Despite his friendly and flexible manner, he usually felt beat-up after making his Walmart calls. Too many unreasonable demands.

    Demonstrating its importance to the record industry, Walmart has managed to make deals in which new albums by major recording artists would be available only at its stores. Among the acts providing Walmart exclusives have been Journey, Garth Brooks, AC/DC, Eagles and Bruce Springsteen. Bruce Springsteen? One could expect such of Eagles, but not The Boss, who’s supported workers rights, something that Walmart has often been accused of violating. What happened here? Was Springsteen, a guy one wishes to give the benefit of the doubt, barrelling down Thunder Road, headed for a penthouse apartment in the material world?

    To his credit, Springsteen acknowledged the Walmart exclusive, a 2009 greatest hits collection, was a “mistake” on his part, admitting he and his management had “dropped the ball.” According to the New York Times, Springsteen claimed, “We were in the middle of doing a lot of things. It just came down and really, we didn’t vet it the way we usually do.” The apology is sincere enough, although the excuse is flimsy.

    Springsteen’s reply seemed to keep him a safe distance from the hurly-burly proceedings in executive suites. His manager Jon Landau’s response to the Walmart questions was less diplomatic but did convey a sense of how the world works. Landau was direct, saying, “Let’s start with the premise that Bruce is already in Walmart. Walmart has been 15% of our sales in recent years. It’s not a question of going into Walmart; we’re there.”

    Those who follow the business of music believe the Walmart exclusive was intended to help defray Sony’s large investment in Springsteen. The company had shelled out big-time on a Springsteen contract in 2005 and the agreement had proved no bonanza. Sony expected Springsteen to be the good soldier. Help us with the Waltons if you want help with the Joads.

    The material world, even in the field of arts and entertainment, has its demands, with a lot of handshakes and winking. It’s yet another world Tom Joad would find confusing.

     

     

    ###
    Jeff Cochran

    Jeff Cochran

    Jeff Cochran worked in advertising at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years before accepting a buy-out in the Summer of 2008. In the seventies/early eighties, he handled advertising for Peaches Records and Tapes' Southeastern and Midwestern stores. He also wrote record reviews for The Great Speckled Bird, a ground-breaking underground newspaper based in Atlanta.

     

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    • Dallas

      Another eloquent line drive, Jeff.  You hit it right on the money. I will empty my Amazon cart, skip WalMart and go find Decatur CD.

    • http://hannah.smith-family.com/ Hannah

      Well, this is all fine and good, but it’s not the material world that’s screwing people right and left.  It’s people.  You know, bodies that are supposedly animated by souls. That people attach significance to the material world, as fish do to water, should not be held against them.  That they are deceived by deceivers and deprived of dignity by schemers should be held against the latter. Yes, they are also people (wether they have souls is questionable), but what they are after with their deception is not material; it’s power. Deceiving, if not consuming, one’s own kind is evil incarnate.  
      There’s a long tradition of blaming those who take a bite of the apple, but that doesn’t make it fair. Credulity is not sinful; lying is.

      • T-Ho

        Fish need water to survive.  Not sure humans need the level of materialism we have grown accustomed to.  It’s not a fish to water analogy here, it’s more…fish to bicycle.  Cheap bicycle, made overseas, that’s causing the local Decatur mom-and-pop bike shop to shut down.  It’s not evil incarnate, nor is that what I think the author of this article is saying.  It’s just a shame that small businesses have suffered at the hands of cheap and convenient.  I’ll cop to being guilty of sitting at home and pushing “Buy this CD” on I-Tunes rather than driving to Decatur CD.  I’m not being deceived, I’m just being lazy -- or trying to save a few $. 

        Supporting local businesses is just good karma.  Supporting Wal-Mart doesn’t make one evil.  It -- perhaps -- just reflects on our cultural landscape:  Cheap and convenient trumps community.  

        I’ll let you decide if that’s evil, complicit, or just dandy.  We’ve all got to do what allows us to get a good night’s sleep. 

    • Phyllis

       I totally agree that our obsession with material goods has long been out
      of control and that figuring out how to unplug it is one of the things
      we had better do if we are to save ourselves. But I also think
      translating that into blanket hatred of WalMart is counterproductive and
      tends to obscure the real issues.

      Not everybody who shops at WalMart is buying big screen TVs and Springsteen CDs. Not everybody who lives in and around Decatur has the luxury of boycotting a merchant that offers significant savings on food and necessities like toilet paper and laundry detergent, regardless of how they view the politics of it all. The Decatur community (inside the city limit and beyond) includes plenty of people living on ever-tightening budgets, whose absence from the gourmet coffee shops and frozen yogurt bars and trendy pubs renders them more or less invisible. I would prefer a world without WalMart if it meant there weren’t so many people for whom saving pennies on a can of soup makes a meaningful difference in their ability to make ends meet. Decatur is a great place for dining out and boutique shopping. If you fancy more in the way of groceries than CVS and the mini-Kroger store offer, or need new socks or underwear or a case of copy paper, then you’d better have a car. The new WalMart will put a decent selection of groceries and commodities within walking/biking/public transit reach for more people than has been the case in Decatur for decades. It’s not all good and it’s not necessarily good for everybody. But it’s not all bad, either, and it’s not bad for everybody.

      • T-Ho

        It’s not all bad, per se, but as a Decatur-ite, living in the shadow of Suburban Plaza, if being able to bike is your desire, just know that the already dicey traffic around Scott Blvd and N Decatur is about to get much messier, and I see a lot of pedestrians and bikers having to dodge the cars as it is.  I’m not saying boycott Wal-Mart, I’m just saying -- as Sgt Esterhaus of “Hill Street Blues” fame often said -- “Let’s…be careful out there.”  

        • Phyllis

           I think you are absolutely right. But that’s a different conversation, one which has been pursued by a few but not the one that has consumed the most oxygen and generated the most heat. We’d be looking at the same traffic challenges if Target or Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods were coming in, but I believe the public conversation would have proceeded pretty differently. The issues that need attention are how to redevelop commercial zones in ways that enhance the community instead of recreating what blights us. The challenges are brand-agnostic.

    • Michael Jarrett

      Good Article Jeff .. the corporation scum continue their plundering of Amerika .. we can thank that Rethugilcan Clinton [in Dems clothing] along with the puke “Gingrinch” and the rest those filthy greedy bastards in that administration for the decline of the middle class in our once beloved county .. Reading your article reminds me of the following:
      The Last Racketeers -- Epilogue
      MONDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2012 19:05 ALEX BAER
      Back in 1933, an authentic American hero in every possible sense of that word stepped in to rescue the nation from traitors plotting to pull it all down — Constitution, Bill of Rights, dreams of the Founders, everything, all of us, every last bit of it.The traitors here were bankers, financiers, moneyed interests. An ocean away, their German peers advanced their own man to the front of the feed trough:  Adolph Hitler, by name.Here, in the interim, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, USMC, had been chosen by those who would wreck us all, torch all of it, for mere money, for more power. But, Butler fished them, angled them from the bank, toyed with them, played the line, beached them all, up on his dry banks.He famously said, from his book, “war is a racket.” He sure knew how to treat racketeers.* * * * *Franklin Delano Roosevelt stopped short of crushing the fascist bankers plotting to pull down the place.  He chose instead a number of reforms, to try to hold traitors and financiers in check.  He knew they’d never give up, never would, so — even catching one batch of traitorous bankers was only a temporary fix at best.  No shortage of greedy traitors — there were always more.One of FDR’s reforms was the SEC, another the FDIC, and so on.  One central reform over all others helped keep the schemers in check:  The Banking Act of 1933.  You probably know it as Glass-Steagall.  The Act kept everyday commercial banking functions walled off from investment activities:  no casinos inside, the best you could do there was, well -- bank.Potentially dull stuff, the Act, like area zoning meetings — at least, until an all-night casino, strip club, drag strip, drive-through liquor store go in right next door. Then, NIMBY rules!Glass-Steagall slipped all the leashes and was repealed 66 years later, on November 4, 1999 — 13 lucky years later, the party’s still raging, no sign of a let-up.  The banks all take turns at the helm, crashing the economy up on shore, where investment houses ride all of our retirement hopes around on roller coasters, up and down, whee! And so on and so on.Glass-Steagall was the restraining lid on the vat of sanity we had left. It took the high priests of the heavily-moneyed mob — bankers, financiers, speculators, capitalists, corporations, the idle rich — 66 years to pry that lid off… and, meanwhile:We had a good run, 66 years of high growth, including the formation of a middle class, and, even with wars, the country went booming along anyway, in spite of all that.  It was a good run.It took the weasels and traitors 66 years to get the lid off, and now, here we all are — everything wrecked, them making and taking money on the ups and the downs.  We have even had to bail them all out from their very own monetary system, these high priests supposedly guarding it all, instead, just buggering the books, and each other, and us all, too.Probably, it would have taken them less than 66 years to blow the lid on those restraints, but, back then, in FDR’s time, there were some quaint notions inside of our nation — that we all owed each other something, such as respect, and even more, that we’d help out each other, take only what we needed, made sure to put back for others, so much more.  Imagine that.Back then, news had to have facts, had to pass a common litmus test for sanity, too.* * * * *Thank goodness legal rulings have said there’s no reason that news broadcasts contain truth — that lies and propaganda are all fine, sure, no problem at all.  Thank goodness, today, you can have live broadcasts from any asylum you like, say or do anything, except these famous few words on the list here, all the usual ones — but we just added some more:  No more truth, no more facts, capitalism’s just fine.  The bankers know what’s best for us, just remember, so we should toe the bankers’ and financiers’ lines.* * * * *Good evening.  Here is the news: The moon and all the world’s oceans have just been kidnapped and taken hostage — no, don’t go look, no need to do so — by the socialist, communist, Marxist American government and all the liberal media.  Sources say the moon and all the world’s oceans will be returned unharmed, just as soon as all the unions are destroyed, all workers agree to an 85 percent cut in pay, and when all members of the middle class have been eliminated, plus, dollar-a-day-pay has been reinstated, and child labor OK’d.  Our sources also say, that a select group of financiers must also be allowed immediate and unfettered access to the entire Social Security pot, where they will, in Las Vegas, place it all on Number 33 for one spin, with a 15 percent hedge bet on “red” in this shrewd investment move…* * * * *You want to know who’s really flying this battered old cargo plane, riddled with bullet holes from FDR’s time?  Eyes front, toward the cockpit.  See anyone in there plotting destinations anywhere except where the uber-rich and where the corporations want to go?  See anyone in there but errand boys of those thugs?  See anyone in there making any plans to fly this crazy thing where you and your family and friends want to go?* * * * *”There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes. The other is the Bill of Rights.”- Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, USMC; two-time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, personal preventer of a fascist overthrow of the United States of America

    • Vernon Purnell

      You cited this lyric:

      “We got Richy on a tour.”

      The lyric sheet for the album says “Richie” — that’s Richard Starkey aka Ringo.

      • Jeff

        Thanks for reading Vernon. It says “Richy” in the remastered CD package issued a few years ago. That’s what I went with. Yes, Harrison showed his humor throughout that song, especially with the Ringo reference. Keep reading Like The Dew. Jeff

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