Frank Zappa

Last December, it was Frank Zappa’s 70th birthday. Twentieth-century music’s most prominent Sicilian-Greek-Arab-American guitarist, composer and satirising iconoclast was duly celebrated by hard-core adherents on both sides of the Atlantic. Festivities were only slightly dampened by the fact the man himself had been dead for 17 years.

Whether he would’ve appreciated this heartfelt commemoration is questionable. When he wasn’t touring, Zappa was a near-recluse. After his death from prostate cancer in 1993, Zappa was buried in an unmarked grave in California’s Westwood Cemetery. He insisted that it wasn’t important to be remembered – ‘legacy’, in Zappa’s eyes, was for the megalomaniac Ronald Reagans of the world to worry about. Continue reading

Music – Five Years (David Bowie)

Music stands out as one of civilisation’s better achievements, in that it doesn’t kill people and has been ameliorating boredom, angst, and upset for the last 40,000 years. YouTube’s saving grace is that, in addition to providing worldwide access to a limitless supply of vacuous idiocy, it also delivers a dazzling array of musical styles and genres to be sampled and enjoyed by the discerning web-surfer. Even better, it offers the enthralling opportunity to watch live performances. There’s always something especially fascinating about seeing the sounds you’re only used to pouring out of tinny speakers be physically produced before your eyes. Continue reading

Cosmic Perspective: radical change and not taking yourself too seriously

There are plenty of reasons for not taking yourself or the garbled output of your own mind overly seriously.

Prominent among these is the inescapable fact that a single human life, the existence of one lone gangly-ape descendent singled out from a shambling mass of 6,800,000,000, is tiny, skull-rattlingly, eye-poppingly tiny. And insignificant.

The last hundred years’ worth of scientific endeavour and cosmological revelations have affirmed, among other things, that we are laughably insignificant. Grasping this is hard. The numbers involved are formidably huge. The universe as we know it spasmed arbitrarily into existence approximately 13,700,000,000 years ago. Within a million million million million millionths of a second, Everything had gone from being infinitesimally tiny to being infinitely huge, or had at very least swelled to encompass the million million million million mile expanse of space visible from Earth.

From earthbound telescopes, or satellites, astronomers can see about 200 billion (200,000,000,000) other galaxies. Galaxies commonly contain between 100 billion and a trillion stars – our Milky Way is about average, with between 200 and 400 billion. Current estimates place the number of stars in the universe as being over a quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000, or roughly equivalent to the number of grains of sand on Earth). The Earth is just a tiny 5.97 billion trillion-tonne speck in the abyss, looping round the sun at 18.5 miles per second. Our species is a biological accident on one planet, going around one star, in one galaxy, hanging at the edge of this crushing cosmological immensity. Continue reading