Steve Gadd plays drums with his Neck

I have enjoyed Steve Gadd’s drumming for years, but recently listened again to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” where Gadd created a classic, universally admired beat for the song.   If you have not heard it before, you can below in a live performance. .

So many with much more knowledge than I have commented on this beat, but one thing that strikes me is how well Gadd   gives the song a massaging of the shoulders feel, like being out on a slightly choppy lake in a small sailboat where your body can pleasantly roll from side to side.  He avoids giving the beat too heavy a feel by only lightly accenting beat 4 at the end of the two measure phrase on the low tom-tom.  Most drummers (myself included)  would drag the song down unnecessarily by doing precisely what Gadd avoids and give a big “thud” at the end of the phrase.  Gadd keeps it light.

While watching Gadd perform the beat by himself, a friend noted how Gadd’s neck moves while he plays:

So, no, he does not actually play with his neck, but the way he moves it reflects the tremendous feel he gives the song.  From a purely technical standpoint, playing the beat is not very difficult.  But as the following shows, how one plays the beat makes a tremendous difference.

Perhaps the instructor needs to bob his neck more.

Gadd’s abilities start not with his wrists/fingers but somewhere inside him.  Some might call it Gadd’s “Zen” approach, but I hate that word because it implies disengagement.  I don’t think Gadd is disengaged at all, rather he engages in a different way than most drummers.  He’s after overall feel, not technique.  He stands inside, not outside the pattern.  In the following clip, Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta outclass him technically, but which of the three’s playing most impresses?   Look for Gadd’s neck to start doing its thing at the 3:27 mark, and yours may join him!

Our culture talks a lot about innovation, creativity, and the like, and we rightly recognize the importance of such things.  Unfortunately much of our approach to education will not produce it.  It will give us the same kind of result that we saw in the drum “lesson” on Gadd’s beat above, which robs all the life from Gadd’s creation.  Our standardized, rote-fact approach to education will never allow us to get inside History, Science, Math, etc. in the way that Gadd gets inside the beat in Simon’s song.  Creativity will not come from outward mastery of exteriors, but from cultivating a love and engagement with the subject from the inside out.

The master, one more time, giving his neck a wonderful workout. . .

“The Military Institutions of the Romans,” by Flavius Renatus Vegetius

Sometime in the early 5th century Vegetius wrote this simple and straightforward work, both a manual for a successful military and a plea for Rome to return to the values of an earlier time.

I am not a military man, but much of the advice Vegetius meets out concerns basic common sense, i.e. make sure your troops are well-fed, pay attention to terrain, make sure you have a reserve force, and so on.  What interested me as I read is what the book might reveal about the late Roman empire, and why the work had a huge following the Middle Ages.

Vegetius does not bellow, shout, or stamp in his writing, and yet underneath I think we can see a quiet desperation.  It seems like every ancient and medieval historian must as a matter of course talk about the past as a beacon of light, and how decrepit the present had become (does this not change until the Enlightenment?).  In Vegetius’ case, however, his attitude may have had more connection with reality, as the Empire seemed less and less able to exert control over its borders (Hillaire Belloc disagrees with this standard interpretation in his Europe and the Faith).  We do know that Rome had a harder time recruiting for its army in its later phase, and one of the great ironies of this book is that Vegetius, though wishing for a time when all men were strong and all the children good-looking, had no military experience himself.

The book touches on many things, but at the core Vegetius pushes discipline, discipline, and still more discipline.  Who can doubt that an army needs discipline?  Nothing remarkable about that.  Still, as this Youtube shows, Rome rode a few basic military moves and formations to world dominance.  Nobody plays the hero.  Stay in formation. Crouch, block, thrust, and move on to the next enemy (warning: a bit bloody).

What I did find revealing, however, is what is not there, much like the dog in Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of Silver Blaze.”  Nowhere does Vegetius mention anything about armies needing morale, a cause, a belief to fight for.  Napoleon for one gave it great store.  His famous quote that,

In war, the moral is to the physical as three is to one.

comes to mind.  Why does Vegetius not mention the morale, or motivating cause, of an army?

I wonder if Vegetius does not include it because the army had no possibility of fighting for a cause in the late empire.  Rome had power and wealth even in the late 4th century but had lost any real reason for its existence long before. Vegetius wouldn’t mention it not because he judged it of little value but because he never would have thought of it in the first place, like a fish failing to extol the virtues of living on dry land.

Against my interpretation, however, is Vegetius’ own claim that nothing that he says comes from his own pen.  He claimed only to be copying, collecting and transmitting much older sources.  Some of those sources, like Cato, predate him by hundreds of years, when Rome had more internal health.  Did Rome never concern itself with morale in their military treatises?  One could imagine a stereotypical Roman thinking it a bit girly to think too much.  Leave that sort of thing to the French.

Or perhaps by coincidence the sources he uses don’t mention morale, so he doesn’t either.  But if so, he also chose not to add it.  Or maybe they did include it, but Vegetius did not work with their complete full text, or perhaps he deliberately left those parts out because they made no sense to him and would make no sense to others in his day.

Since the original date of this post I had some wonderful feedback from a friend who had the following idea.  His thoughts ran in a different course, which I paraphrase in the next two paragraphs below:

Vegetius may not have included the morale section for the reason that morale for the Roman armies was never the problem.  If anything, they needed at times an check on their desire to fight, hence the strong emphasis on discipline.  We see a few examples of this, first from the Gallic Wars, when Caesar wrote,

On the next day, Caesar, having called a meeting, censured the rashness and avarice of his soldiers, “In that they had judged for themselves how far they ought to proceed, or what they ought to do, and could not be kept back by the tribunes of the soldiers and the lieutenants;” and stated, “what the disadvantage of the ground could effect, what opinion he himself had entertained at Avaricum, when having surprised the enemy without either general or cavalry, he had given up a certain victory, lest even a trifling loss should occur in the contest owing to the disadvantage of position. That as much as he admired the greatness of their courage, since neither the fortifications of the camp, nor the height of the mountain, nor the wall of the town could retard them; in the same degree he censured their licentiousness and arrogance, because they thought that they knew more than their general concerning victory, and the issue of actions: and that he required in his soldiers forbearance and self-command, not less than valor and magnanimity.

My friend continues,

Similarly, one of the Consuls in the Macedonian wars (maybe Aemelius Paulus? I’ll have to dig out Plutarch) had terrible problems with his troops making frontal charges into Macedonian phalanxes and being annihilated. He entreated them to fight defensively and maneuver but they would have none of it.

Either way you slice it, the absence of anything resembling the morale of an army in his text says something.  Feedback like this is always very welcome, so thank you.

The book had a curious second life in the Middle Ages, where it became the standard military textbook.  I find this quite amusing.  Nearly everything except for the most basic dictums would have no application in the Middle Ages.  Many differences between the two armies/societies existed.

  • The Medievals could never have raised the large, professional forces that Rome did
  • Medieval armies did not often come together, and fought in short bursts, not extended campaigns far from home (the Crusades an exception, I grant you).
  • Medieval armies had very different people in them than Roman armies did.  An aristocratic warrior elite with a shared code of honor with their opponents would probably not go for the discipline, discipline, discipline, approach of Vegetius.

And yet the Medievals loved him.  Whatever for?

Some might call them simpletons who did not realize these differences, but I would not call a culture that produced Gothic architecture and St. Thomas Aquinas simpletons.

Some might see their possession of the manuscript of Vegetius valued like one prizes a good luck charm.  On this interpretation it’s the manuscript itself that’s valued, not the actual words.  Or perhaps in a childlike and humble way, they venerated the past and gave great store to anything from that time.

I could believe this second explanation, but I think the answer lies mostly elsewhere.  A clue might arise from a medieval portrait of Vegetius here below:

Why did the late 15th/early 16th century picture him in garb exactly like their own?  Did they really believe that the Romans wore clothes that they themselves wore in their time?  Or were they visually displaying their belief in using his work for their time?  Perhaps they had no idea what Romans wore and they felt free to invent whatever  clothes they wished?

In his great The Discarded Image C.S. Lewis speaks of the medieval imagination. . .

We have grown up with pictures that aimed at the maximum of illusion and strictly followed the laws of perspective.  . . . Medieval art was deficient in perspective [both historical and visual], and their poetry followed suit.  Nature, for Chaucer, is all foreground.  We never get a landscape.

Historically, as well as cosmically, medieval man stood at the foot of a stairway; looking up, he felt delight.  The backward, like the upward, glance exhilarated him, and humility was rewarded with the pleasures of admiration.  Thanks to his deficiency in the sense of period, that packed and gorgeous past was far more immediate to him than the dark and bestial past could ever be. . . .  It differed from the present only in being better.

The Middle Ages are unrivalled, until we reach quite modern times, in the sheer foreground fact, the ‘close-up.’    . . . Two negative conditions made this possible: their freedom both from the psuedo-classical standard of decorum, and from the sense of period.  But the efficient cause surely was their devout attention to their matter and their confidence in it.  They are not trying to heighten or transform it.  It possesses them wholly.  Their eyes and ears are steadily fixed upon it . . .

This lack of “background” in their art and thought might lead them to ignore Vegetius’ context.  We do this too.  Who among us does not think that Ben Franklin’s idea of making the turkey our national bird ridiculous?  We know that Bald Eagles may not be the nicest of birds, but that’s not the point.  We are interested in the immediate image the eagle projects, not its actual reality.

But I think there is more to than that, something distinctly medieval about Vegetius’ image. Medievals developed the habit of looking so closely they missed the forest for the trees.  With Vegetius, we might surmise that all details beyond the immediate text were entirely superfluous, which made those details, in a sense, entirely in the now.  This attitude could be akin to the scientist absorbed so much in trying to clone DNA that he takes no notice of the larger consequences of his actions.

Cheap histories of the Middle Ages talk of the period’s ignorance, darkness, etc.  In reality it appears they had quite a scientific bent, with a love of classification and minutiae.  The quote, “Nothing is known perfectly which has not been masticated by the teeth of disputation,” on my homepage from Robert of Sorbone, dates from the 13th century, and not the 17th.  Vegetius’ portrait may not speak many words about him, but does speak volumes about those that created it.

Chesterton and Toynbee on Sumerian and Greek Mythology

The explosion of interest in the ancient near east, and the rise of archaeology and anthropology in the late 19th-early 20th centuries stands as one of the great eras of historical research.  It added a great deal to our understanding of so much of the past related to the Old Testament.

Unfortunately these discoveries came at a time when Darwinism, Victorian conceit, unbelief, and the Whig interpretation of history all coincided to help radically misinterpret much of what they found, and nowhere is this more evident than in their commentary on Sumerian mythology.

In Donald MaKenzie’s  Myths of Babylonia and Assyria he mentions in the preface how scholars believe that Egyptian and Sumerian mythology had a common, ancient, as yet undiscovered source.  At this the Christian might raise an eyebrow of amusement and hopeful anticipation that Mr. Alexander might say something profound.

But no, because from there he quotes approvingly from Joseph Frazer who believed that this “homogeneity of belief” came from a “homogeneity of race” *(see below).  From the muddling use of big words he continues to slide down the slope . . .

  • In Sumerian mythology we do not deal with symbolized ideas but simple folk beliefs enlarged into greater stories.
  • Babylonian creation myths can be traced back to a story of some tribal hero who liberated the people from some oppressive neighboring tribe.
  • Sumerian dragon stories show disunity more than anything else, for some have the dragon bringing drought and others flood.  Translation: Those silly Sumerians!
It seems to me that this dissection, done with intent to kill, misses the overall point.  Myths, in their view, “evolved” from stories with “different local color, and different local geographies,” into a grand story that explained the origins of everything.  But as Chesterton said in The Everlasting Man, 
We cannot say that religion arose out of religious forms, because that is only another way of saying that it only arose when it existed already.
Somehow, according to the MacKenzie/Frazer school, the Sumerians had the audacious intelligence to found civilization itself, yet persisted in the Victorian-imposed imbecility of supposing that their view of the creation of the cosmos had its origins from some local chieftan hailing from some “local geography.”  But even if you want to suppose some gradual ascent, that still does not solve the problem.  How to explain the spiritual underpinnings of the stories? Chesterton again writes,
An event is not more intrinsically intelligible because of the pace at which it moves.  The medieval wizard may have flown through the air to the top of a tower.  But to see an old gentlemen walking through the air in a leisurely manner would still seem to call for some explanation.  Yet there runs through all the rationalistic treatment of history this curious and confused idea that difficulty is avoided, or mystery eliminated, by dwelling on mere delay . . .

Art is the signature of man. That is the sort of simple truth with which a story of the beginnings ought really to begin. The evolutionist stands staring in the painted cavern at the things that are too large to be seen and too simple to be understood. He tries to deduce all sorts of other indirect and doubtful things from the details of the pictures, because he cannot see the primary significance of the whole; thin and theoretical deductions about the absence of religion or the presence of superstition; about tribal government and hunting and human sacrifice and heaven knows what.

Greek mythology  has just as much strangeness and murkiness to it as Sumerian mythology, with violence and capricious gods doing as they please.  And yet, western Europe never subjected Greek myths to the same kind of psuedo-scientific dissection and subtle derision. Why might this be?

One reason could be that western Europe knew of Greek/Roman mythologies for many many centuries prior to the late 19th. Having been known in a more sensible age, Greek myths could be taken in the more proper literary  sense than their ancient near-eastern counterparts.  Another could be that their assault on Sumerian mythology helped train their guns, a kind of test run, for their assault on the Old Testament.

But I think a truer reason might be that Victorian Europe, and especially England (from whence so much of that nobly minded scholarship came) saw themselves as the inheritors of the Greek legacy.  Surely then, Greek foundation myths had some nobler origin than their Sumerian counterparts.

The Toynbee Convector has a great anecdote from Toynbee related to England’s patterning themselves after the Greeks, especially their “idolization of the parochial state,” (i.e. idolatrous nationalism) which I quote in full.

At some date during the latter part of the breathing-space between the general wars of A.D. 1914-18 and A.D. 1939-45, the writer of this Study heard the presiding officer of one of the livery companies of the City of London bear testimony which was convincing, because it was unselfconscious, to the primacy, in his Weltanschauung, of one of these tribe-worships. The occasion was a dinner at which the company was entertaining the delegates to an international congress that was in session in London at the time, and the presiding officer had risen to propose the toast “Church and King”. Having it on his mind that a majority of his guests were foreigners who would not be familiar with an English tribal custom, the president prefaced the toast with an apology and an explanation. No doubt, he said, the order in which he had rehearsed the two institutions that were to be honoured conjointly in the toast that he was about to propose might seem to a foreigner not only quaint but perhaps even positively unseemly. He apologized for abiding, nevertheless, by the traditional order, and explained that he did so because it was the pride of the city companies to be meticulous in preserving antique usages, even when these had become so anachronistic as to be open to misconstruction by the uninitiated. — from A Study of History, Vol. IX

The tragic irony of all these brilliant and inquisitive men like Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. Frazer ascribing real spiritual hunger to “homogenous local ethnographies” is that they reduced themselves to tribal worship of their local community, and suffered the cataclysmic fate that the Greeks suffered from 431 B.C. – 338 B.C during the years 1914-1945.
*On the love of long words, Chesterton again is spot-on:
One of my first journalistic adventures, or misadventures, concerned a comment on Grant Allen, who had written a book about the Evolution of the Idea of God. I happened to remark that it would be much more interesting if God wrote a book about the evolution of the idea of Grant Allen. And I remember that the editor objected to my remark on the ground that it was blasphemous; which naturally amused me not a little. For the joke of it was, of course, that it never occurred to him to notice the title of the book itself, which really was blasphemous; for it was, when translated into English, ‘I will show you how this nonsensical notion that there is a God grew up among men.’ My remark was strictly pious and proper; confessing the divine purpose even in its most seemingly dark or meaningless manifestations. In that hour I learned many things, including the fact that there is something purely acoustic in much of that agnostic sort of reverence. The editor had not seen the point, because in the title of the book the long word came at the beginning and the short word at the end; whereas in my comment the short word came at the beginning and gave him a sort of shock. I have noticed that if you put a word like God into the same sentence with a word like dog, these abrupt and angular words affect people like pistol-shots. Whether you say that God made the dog or the dog made God does not seem to matter; that is only one of the sterile disputations of the too subtle theologians. But so long as you begin with a long word like evolution the rest will roll harmlessly past; very probably the editor had not read the whole of the title, for it is rather a long title and he was rather a busy man.

Food and Sacrament

The recent issue of The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, features an interview with Hoover Institute policy fellow Mary Eberstadt.  In the interview she makes a striking observation.  We all know, she remarks, that our society has become increasingly amoral regarding sexual activity over the last 50 or so years.  But an interesting thing has happened: as we became more lax on sex, we became much more censorious and aware about food.

She does not necessarily condemn this concern about food, noting that she herself is a vegetarian.  After all, we should know something about what we put in our bodies.  But she feels that a connection must exist between these two phenomena, and I agree.

What is this possible connection, and how did it come about?

For starters, we have lost the sacramental nature of sexual activity, and I don’t just mean “lawful” sex between husband and wife, but of sexual activity in general.  As St. Paul notes in Ephesians 5, the sexual union is itself a mystery, a clue to the keystone relationship of Creation itself, the union between Christ and His Church.  In certain Old Testament passages, like the meeting of Isaac and Rebecca, the sexual union is the marriage.

But sex outside of marriage also “works” — works in the sense that it forms a spiritual union between the participants.  But no man can serve two masters, and this is why those who have multiple sexual unions with many different partners might be expected to have issue that resemble those who have had multiple marriages.

To engage in the “freedom” of “free love” we have had to try and rob sex of its inherent spiritual meaning and focus on its mere physical aspects, or as a purely personal means of self-expression.

But we are a hungry people, in need of meaning.  We need to replace the meaning abandoned in sex, and perhaps we have chosen food to do that.

As mentioned, the impulse to find some kind of spirituality in food is not inherently wrong.  Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote in the opening pages of his classic, For the Life of the World,

“Man is what he eats.”  With this statement the German materialist philosopher Feurbach thought he had put an end to all “idealistic” speculations about human nature.  In fact, however, he expressed, without knowing it, the most religious idea of man.  For long before Feurbach the same definition of man was given by the Bible.  In . . . the creation story man is presented . . . as a hungry being and the whole world as his food. (Gen. 1:29-30).  He is indeed that which he eats, and the whole world is presented as one all-embracing banquet table for man.  And this image remains throughout the whole Bible the central image of life.  It is the image of life at creation and also the image of life at its fulfillment: “. . . that you eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom.”

Later he comments that the family meal is the last American sacrament left.

If we look around we can also see that emptying the sacramentality from sex has also gone in tandem with a rise in concern for the environment, which of course also goes in tandem with increased interest in food.  In abandoning a spiritual perspective on sex, we have discovered something of the spirituality in creation.  But tragically, much of our culture associates our newfound interest in creation with something apart from a Christian world-view, even though certain conclusions the modern environmental/food movement draws are right in line with historic Christianity.  Take, for example, the interest in getting away from industrial farms and towards humane treatment of animals, which makes us think more about stewardship, and helps us realize that meat does not come from the grocery store.  I grant that this can go too far. . .

. . . but this is not the problem with the Church or the world at the moment.

Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water.  As Schememann and others have noted, if sacraments reveal and communicate the life of God to us, the whole of creation is sacramental in itself.


Thus ends the original post.  A friend of mine forwarded me this article about the Olympic village that perhaps many of you have already seen.  Sobering, to say the least.  The analogy of a college frat atmosphere used by the author may be the best explanation for their behavior.  But I wondered if there might be a connection to Eberstadt’s thoughts above.  If they train and eat so “religiously” for so long, might that lead to emptying the mystery and sacrament out of sex?

James McPherson’s “Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the Civil War”

James McPherson is my favorite Civil War historian.  Those familiar with McPherson might assume the cause of my affinity lies in McPherson’s fondness for the Union cause.  But to say McPherson is pro-Union is like saying St. Thomas Aquinas was pro-Catholic.  Both canvass a wide field of inquiry, both speak with conviction, but conviction accompanied with a sober and careful mind.  Admittedly, an ardent pro-Confederate might not be amused.  But like any good scholastic, McPherson respects his opponent.

Drawn with the Sword is not one continuous book, but a collection of essays on a few different topics.  The most interesting section for me dealt with the broad picture issues of whether the North won the war, or the South lost it.

McPherson points out that how we frame the question will tell a lot about our perceptions of the conflict.  I have never been a fan of the view that the South lost due to the overwhelming resources of the North.  In general I fear explanations that allow you to transfer blame, and I also feel we should have antennae up when people attempt to avoid reality via romantic escapism.  Truly sometimes I feel that a minority of Confederate sympathizers are subconsciously glad they lost, for it allows them to dream of the “lost cause.”  This romance can be preserved in part because of their defeat, because their society never really had to face reality in full.

McPherson makes it clear that the South could have won the war, and in his opinion almost did in late 1862 and again as late as the summer of 1864.  Any look at a map of northern and southern territory shows that the Confederacy had certain key advantages, namely, a huge amount of territory for the North to conquer.

I have always thought that a Russian style tight-knit defense-in-depth would have served the Confederacy much better than what they actually attempted.  But the whole concept of state sovereignty forced them to spread their forces out which robbed them of a key advantage.  One might say the inherent logic of their system worked against them without “dooming” them.

McPherson gives at least a partial counter to this.  First, he notes that, however much the South may have been forced by their cultural values to a strong border defense , this would not in itself hurt them.  If the North penetrated their lines they could always let them pass through and then fall upon their rear.  One might think of Marius in the battle of Aquae Sextae, or Patton’s comment about the Nazi offensive during the Battle of the Bulge, where he said that we could let the Nazi’s advance, leading them by the nose so to speak, and then turn and kick them in the rear (it was Patton, so you might guess the quote’s not exact!).  So a strong border defense in his view was not foolish per se.  Reasons for their defeat lie elsewhere.

Second, he argues that the South came close to winning.  He defends Lee against critics that argue that his “Virginia-centrism” and his two main offensives into Northern territory cost the South the war.  Virginia was an important theater, and one where the success they had almost gave them recognition from England.  Furthermore, the relatively narrow confines between the two capitals minimized the territory the Confederacy had to defend, and thus minimized the North’s physical advantages.  Lee, he argues, did not pursue a strategy doomed to fail.  He chose a strategy that could have, and almost did work.  Again, we must look elsewhere for reasons for the North’s victory, or if you prefer, the South’s defeat.  McPherson quotes General Pickett, who when asked why the Confederacy lost, remarked, “Well, I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

McPherson throws out his own opinions here and there, but mostly he forces his readers to follow an ever-widening game of ping-pong, where the ball bounces back and forth between different ideas and perspectives.  McPherson is that rare Civil War writer that can make studying the period enjoyable, as opposed to merely emotionally draining.