Miles Davis – Dark Magus

I’ve been waiting to do this one for a while. It’s the third song/side from Miles Davis “Dark Magus,” live at Carnegie Hall in 1974. This is the psychedelic funk at it’s finest, and I get way into the minutiae al the way to the triumphant finale. p.s. No YouTube for this one, but you can listen to the podcast on Apple or Spotify.

Thanks for checking into the Escape Pod!

This is such a wonderful and disturbing album. It’s right near the end of Miles electric 70’s chapter. Just a few months later he went into retirement that proved temporary, but no one knew that at the time. He probably would not have survived without that break.

To a certain extent you have to mine the depths with these albums and you have to be patient. Once this became the Al Foster era, things got looser and crazier. There is even more emphasis on improvisation and incorporation of rock music ideas.

The version of the band on Dark Magus, which is a performance from Carnegie Hall from March 30, 1974, is Foster on drums, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey and Dominque Gaumont on guitars, Dave Liebman and Azar Lawrence on saxes, Mtume on percussion, Michael Henderson on bass, and Miles on trumpet and keyboard. There is no piano or keyboard player on this set like there is on ‘In Concert’ from another New York show in September of 1972.

Incidentally, we are so fortunate to have these single-night-of-music recordings from one of the greatest musicians in history. I realize they are produced, but they still offer a pretty accurate snapshot of where Miles was at before he went into ‘retirement.’

I was introduced to this era of Miles through the last ‘official’ recordings, released as Agartha and Pangea. They are both from February 1, 1975, and when you know this is the end, it is hard not to hear the pain and sadness which must have gone into the decision to step away. The music, like all albums from this particular period of Miles’ life, is challenging and rewards the listener with some deep emotion. The substitution of Sonny Fortune instead of Liebman and Lawrence on sax is an improvement over an already favorable situation.

But let’s get back to Dark Magus. There is no question that you hear a lot of the pain and difficulty Miles is experiencing. I imagine that the keyboard is there to compensate for some of the trouble he is having now with trumpet. Bob Dylan would pull the same stunt in the last decade, opting for keyboard as the guitar proved to be too much of a strain. And you can hear that strain in a lot of Miles’ trumpet work, not just on this record, but from all the live shows in this era.

And yet, there are moments in this set where it all falls away and you hear a sound so strong and demonstrative that there is only one human being who could have played those notes like that.

The most obvious choice to listen to on this beefy set is the second side of the first lp – Wili. The song / side titles are simply the Swahili words for one, two, three and four. Wili means two.

Michael Henderson, who struggled at times in the 1971 band with Kieth Jarret and Jack DeJohnette, lays down one of the funkiest bass parts you’ve ever heard. The tone and the feel, matched with Al Foster’s wide open playing suggests such a monstrous jam to come. And believe me, it’s a good one, but for me it doesn’t match the intensity suggested at the outset. Give a listen:

—play first minute of Wili pt1

That is some skanky intro. Miles comes in with these disruptive chords on his synth. But the drums and bass just keep chugging along with that skank. The problem is that they can’t get back to that vibe and the jam ends up being a bit draggy for me in the second half.

The next tune, however, is the one where I want to go through and detect every turn and trick because it is 25 minutes that could be the best of the best, a culmination of all that Bitches Brew promised and threatened, and also a testament that needs to stand for a bit. By shutting off the fountain for a while, Miles is ensuring that the music of this end point will get extra scrutiny. Scrutiny it deserves.

So, we go to Tatu, which would have been Side three of the double LP set (and which is the Swahili word for three). This is loosely based on songs that have elsewhere been titled “Prelude” and “Calypso Frelimo.” Both of these can be found on other live albums and compilations from this era. I will confess that I didn’t know that when I first prepared this essay, but I also think that is part of the point. By not otherwise identifying these songs, we are forced to deal with them as individual units. And I think that’s the right approach, because these are not the COMPOSITIONS the Miles is known for, now that we are a few decades down wind from his passing. Instead, these are the improvisations that he is known for, and the way he activated his band to rise into a high plane of existence where the music in his head could finally become real. That’s what is very special about this era.

Miles had done this with live records before – the ‘At Fillmore’ album was another double LP set where each side was one continuous song – in that case the titles are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. A posthumous release of the same album came out in 1997 has the actual titles and track divisions, meaning that you don’t have to listen to the whole 25 minute track, if you just want to hear Bitches Brew, for example. A later release of Dark Magus breaks up the sides also, but does not use the actual names of the “songs” to identify the breaks.

By the way, I’m referring to time (minutes and second) in this essay. These times relate to the later version of Tatu, which is split in two. This is not how I go tot know the song, but this is the the version I have for reference. So if you are following along, that’s how to use the time references.

Anyway, I’m discussing this as if it is ALL made up on the spot, because that is essentially what is happening, but as we begin, know that this jam is somewhat based around themes from Prelude and Calypso Frelimo, maybe also Big Fun/Holly-Wuud. I really can’t say for sure.

So Miles starts this off, on keyboard playing a theme that I think is basically the song “Prelude,” but it doesn’t really matter. It’s simple enough so that audience and band alike can follow the “narrative” without knowing the “song.” At 1:40 Henderson basically takes over on bass. And this is easier for a guy who has been in the band for several years now. He holds up to create some early drama. Whether that’s his idea or Miles conducting his band, I don’t know (there is apparently no video), but it works great.

Pete Cosey is soloing with his array of effects through the first couple minutes here and you can really understand why Miles was so totally knocked out by this guy’s playing. It’s pretty close to that jam with Jimi he never got to have, but with even more effects and mayhem.

It’s a monster of a solo (sometimes with effects that make you forget you are listening to a guitar, but it doesn’t actually move the band from one place to another. Rather than big narrative shifts (which are reserved for Miles himself), this is a chance for the bandleader to relax and enjoy his lead guitarist’s amazing skills. So Cosey has a great amount of space to work in, but to me these jams, which are frequent in this era, tend to sometimes feel a little static. That being said, there is some hooping that sounds like it could be coming from the horn section. So even though the drums and bass are keeping things cool (after all, there is a long way to go), the guitar’s intensity is built to a dynamic crescendo with some help from the band. Again, hard to know if this is Miles directing traffic or if this is more of a spontaneous phenomenon without video.

Around 6:37 it sounds like Cosey is wrapping up, even throwing in his own version of some Miles-like riffs with the sinister wah-wah. Miles comes and bails out him / cuts him off with some keyboard hits. This pushes the jam to a new place, that’s the power of Miles. It also signals a transition is coming.

Break at 7:30, with a tease to go back, but really a much needed breakdown. This is the lower depth and volume where you can explore. Cosey writes his finale on the fly by using the space that Miles is giving him for the transition. But at this point things take a very different turn.

The exploration comes courtesy an incredible double sax solo, and this is just such a successful and satisfying turn of events where the two horns are able to pull off this trick where they had to solo together. It is at times almost like delay that is so dramatic and effective on Bitches Brew. Miles urges them on with sinister side-eye synth chords, which then breaks us all the way down (10:32) to some major chord comping from the rhythm guitar. The bass is relegated to a single note on rhythm. It’s an amazing effect. I believe the major chord comping is Reggie Lucas (or Gaumont? Anyone?), who must have had one of the hardest jobs on stage as second banana to Cosey. Cosey uses all the effects and has all the big solos. What is rhythm guitarist to do?

There is a great effort to keep everything in this nice, quiet and cool space, but it keeps threatening to go too far. It is such a sweet groove, but the band is restless. A little more synth at 13:50, descending as if to tell everyone to stay chill. Miles seems to be coming down the stairs on his synth with the intention of entering the ring and doing some damage.

This leads to some additional hype and setup from the sax and an enforced break at 15:31. Sax suggests we may be entering more relieved moment, relating back to the rhythm guitar’s major chords, but Pete Cosey storms back after the break to dial to up the evil.

This is the moment Miles’ trumpet can finally make its very first appearance of this jam. Whatever unknowable monstrosity Cosey can call up on guitar, no matter how deranged and soul destroying, it is nothing NOTHING compared to the power and glory with which Miles enters the fray. The last 90 seconds of this track culminates Michael Henderson and the rest of the string section laying down the Sly Stone-esque groove, and it is supreme. But nothing so perfect can last. And we move to the second part of Tatu. A little over six minutes to go.

The band pauses and Miles returns to the DX7 and there is some noodling followed by a simple chord progression that appears to be an “A” part, that matches with a hurried “B” in a different key. (I think this relates to Calypso Frelimo, but also maybe Holly-Wud – any help out there? Also, this back and forth reminds of how an earlier band used to play Masqualero live in 69-70) So the band can vacillate between these very different sounding feels and play together but also have a ton of space to improvise. And nobody can occupy that space better than Pete Cosey. He drops another doosey with lots of organ to urge him on.

Meantime, even during the hurried part, Reggie Lucas rhythm guitar continues to suggest the quiet part which they get back to at 2:45 of the Tatu Pt. 2.

Now Miles will play the happy little keyboard chord progression with tuned percussion to back him. This is another classic Miles cool vibe that’s mellow and atmospheric as anything he played throughout the 60’s. The tuned percussion is really the attraction here, but the keys, guitars and drum vibe are getting so tasty as we get hyped for a major helping of trumpet. No one can set up an entrance for himself better than Miles. In some ways this is the same trick as in the first half, but there is even more strength and confidence this time. It’s almost like all the hard work for this track is over and now Miles is going to take everyone out for happy hour. You can picture him stalking he stage as the horn snaps at each member of the band and audience. The blues he leaves us with is transcendent and I just want it to go on forever.

Arena Battle Games - to relax you!

On this episode of the Escape Pod, I discuss Raid: Shadow Legends and AFK Arena, both of which present a compelling and calming arena battle experience. Get lost in the game economy and a rainbow of currencies to help you level up the legendary heroes!

[listen to the podcast on Spotify or Apple, and watch on YouTube.

OMG these games are so annoying! This is the third time I am starting on this piece. First I just wanted to talk about Raid, because it is more of a marketing effort than a game, but it’s glossy and has some charm. Then I started talking about tappers, which doesn’t really work with Raid, but is appropriate for this other game AFK: Arena. Despite that somewhat cheeky title, this is a lovely and simple game that I find enjoyable and relaxing. So, now, on the third try, I’m going to talk about both, and particularly in contrast with the some of the other online games I’m playing, where there are vast virtual worlds to explore.

OK — what do we have here? First Raid: Shadow Legends. (This is not to be confused with a first-person shooter that I played for a little while on AppleTV, which is called Shadowgun Legends. Raid is not a first person shooter and it doesn’t involve any kind of large scale virtual world. Instead, Raid is a turn-based arena fighter, where you build a team of characters. The game is comprised of hundreds of characters with varying traits. The ‘action’ of the game occurs in these arena battles, against an AI, or against other players, depending on what type of progression you are trying to achieve. There is GREAT artwork for the appearance of the characters. The arenas are nothing to write home about, but the animated action you see during the bouts is pretty terrific.

The main WORK of the game, however, takes place outside the arena, in a town square type scene where you can manage your resources before and after your battles. The action is really in the resource management. Battles can be carried out on your behalf by the AI if you want to just watch your characters thrash about with varying degrees of success. Attack decisions vary by the skill the character employed and the opposing character against whom the skill is deployed.

As with pretty much every free-to-play game I have tried, Raid is enjoyable at the beginning because you can take advantage of the relatively easy rank-up process and amass a decent amount of resources out of the gate. This isn’t just good because it’s satisfying. It also teaches you how to use the myriad different types of in-game currency. In other words, you can’t properly manage resources without knowing how they work, what they’re for and which are the most important/valuable. Later on, the necessary resources for upgrading characters and gear becomes much harder to come by, unless you start paying. But if you don’t mind slow progress, the game is pretty fun for a freebie.

Before I get to AFK Arena, which has a similar philosophy and economy, I want to touch on this issue of in-game currencies. This is a common feature with these free-to-play games and, for me, it was incredibly daunting. It seemed like i would have to learn an entirely new language just to have a chance to thrive in the the game’s economy.

Let’s go back to my Real Racing 3 experience. This is a racing game that goes all the way back to 2013. You can amass a ton of the regular currency, but that doesn’t always get you what you want in the game. Most of the really fancy cars can only be purchased with a ton of the premium currency, which is harder to come by. In the past couple years Real Racing has added a third type of currency, but that’s it for now.

The different types of resources in Raid are almost too numerous to count. There is primary currency, used for upgrades and some purchases at the market. There are rubies, which are the premium currency that the game wants you to buy with actual USD. There is a special coin for taking part in PvP matches, there is also energy that is required to enter campaign matches vs the AI. There are time-limited tournaments which each have their own currency that is then redeemed for other currencies, resources and artifacts. Artifacts are their own type of currency in that they work as gear or equipment for the characters and enhance their ability, but also work together as various sets that, when properly matched based on the character’s abilities and affinities, can add an additional boost in the battle arena.

There are so many other resources that act as special currencies having specific enhancement functions. The ‘tavern’ is where you can rank up, which means that special brews are available to speed up the process. The brews come in a variety of flavors to match the character’s affinities. There are also tomes that are extremely hard to come by and offer the quickest way to level up. And by the way, this is not an exhaustive list and there are parts of this game I haven’t even unlocked yet.

The characters themselves are also a form of currency because the lesser characters are routinely exchange or ‘sacrificed’ to level up the stronger characters. This is a good place to talk about the characters, which is my favorite part of the game. Raid is splashy and attractive and the character design is top notch. I think it uses the Unreal engine, even though it is not really an action game. Also, there are a ton of characters. There are over 475 that I know about and more that remain hidden. Each character can be viewed 365 degrees and the small versions that do battle in the arena are a delight to watch. The quest for more powerful, rare and unique characters is what drives me to keep playing.


This is a good point to take a look at a related but also very different game, AFK Arena is serious, despite it’s casual sounding name. As someone who didn’t know this until recently, AFK is gamer-speak for ‘away from keyboard.’ I only learned this recently from watching hours and hours of YouTube gaming videos with my 8-year-old son. I still don’t know if OP is ‘on point’ or ‘over powered’ but usually both seem to work. Anyway, sorry for the aside.

As the name would suggest, AFK ARENA has things that happen in the game when you are not playing it. This is a well-established model. Tapping games allow you to gain resources just by tapping the screen. Many (probably most) of these games eventually level up to the point where the tapping is automated, meaning you can earn resources while NOT playing. Ahhh, the sweet smell of passive income.

The inclusion of passive or idle income in AFK Arena is the biggest difference with Raid. In almost every other aspect they are very similar. AFK has a seemingly endless selection of characters, each with their own strength, attributes and affinity. Whereas the Raid characters have a pleasing animation, the AFK characters are beautifully rendered, but still very two dimensional, and very static. When they fight, the movement is Monty Python-esque, but you can still watch hit points and ultimate talents and everything else we expect to see in an area game.

To make up for the much lighter graphics load, AFK Arena gives each character and detailed backstory that locates them in the mythology of the game. I find this to be incredibly endearing since the more developed characters stay with you for a while. Also, the stories and even fighting depictions include some humor. It’s all very delightful.

Like Raid, AFK offers a long progression in campaign mode that gives your heroes the experience to keep enriching your team and leveling up. Instead of head-to-head contests, the PvP aspect is played out on leaderboards. I don’t even know if that classifies as PvP, but it does give the dedicated player a chance to special rewards by beating his fellow players.

There is also a team aspect for both games, but I haven’t sufficiently progressed in either one to really understand how they work. I am part of some cooperative network of players in AFK, but it’s more me following prompts and allocating resources rather than actually knowing what’s going on. IN raid, I haven’t even touched this part the game yet.


I look at both of these games as super casual. They both present an engaging resource-management scenario wrapped in some Dungeons and Dragons type style. The battles themselves are not even necessary (I automate half my battles in Raid and all my battles in AFK), although they are both enjoyable to watch. The real success is the interface of rewards, currencies, incentives and progression requirements that are designed to keep you play and get you paying. And even if you don’t pay, those interfaces still offer a satisfying experience. Progression slows down dramatically as you consider whether it’s worth it to pay for this kind of entertainment.

I was surprised that I got hooked on these games and ended up taking a genuine interest. My video game awakening is quite recent, despite my advanced age, and the idea of a big virtual world to explore (like in Fortnite and PUBG) has been a big part of that. These games, on the contrary go nowhere. But there is still exploration. The artistic and economic designs are so varying and detailed in how they work and fit together that playing both of these has still helped me escape the everyday.

Miller’s Crossing (1990) – scene breakdown

This one ALSO got blocked on YouTube for copyright. May have to stop posting there.

Also, since video is completely optional, you can check out the commentary as a podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever else you like to listen to podcasts.

It is time to talk about one of my favorite all time movies. One of the things that the Escape Pod is for, I am learning, is taking a microscopic look at something in one of these works and just slice the pastrami so thin you can see through it. Fatty, of course, but sliced thin! Anyway, here is my chat about just one scene in the great 1990 Coen brothers film Miller’s Crossing .

In another life I worked with attorneys who had represented real live mobsters. For better or worse, that was never my job,. But I got to enjoy a few very memorable dinners with these elite defense attorneys of the Philadelphia Bar and I got to hear some of their war stories from representing organized crime lieutenants and kingpins during Philadelphia’s violent 1980’s. At one of these dinners, the discussion turned to mob movies, and there was a lot of love for The Godfather and Goodfellas, of course.

But one of these attorneys, Robert Simone, who had been disbarred in state court, prosecuted and convicted on suspicion that he himself was an active member of Philadelphia’s organized crime syndicate, who kept on representing defendants in Philadelphia’s Federal Courts, who eschewed the exquisite custom tailored suits favored by most of the assembled, THE Bobby Simone said that his favorite mob movie was Miller’s Crossing. Most of the others at the table had never even heard of it.

Needless to say, this endeared me to Simone in a way I cannot begin to describe. Me, a young civil litigator, petrified of anything having to do with criminal court, could bond with this GIANT of the defense bar over one of the greatest movies ever made. Simone has long since passed, but I will never forget that moment and it made me love one of my favorite films all the more.

There is vast amount of scholarship available about the Coen brothers and certainly about this film in particular. I don’t know what any of that stuff says. I do know that my experience of this film is that it is perfectly constructed, an entire universe of script, edits, performances, lighting, wardrobe, music and camera angle where everything fits perfectly like a complex and decorative watch or an insanely detailed ship in a bottle. There is so much here, but nothing is wasted. All the gags work, the violence is brutally disturbing. The protagonist’s opacity, especially to himself is perfectly fine for the only partially resolved ending. John Torturro’s over-the-top whining and pleading for his life is no easier to watch today than it was when the film was first released three decades ago.

You could literally have a field day breaking down every scene and describing the details which make it special. I don’t have the energy for that. But I do want to delve pretty deeply into one particular scene, and it is not one of the many set over-the-top set pieces, like Albert Finney’s Tommy gun skills as mob boss Leo, or the aforementioned Turturro pleading with Gabriel Byrne to spare his life, or ANY of the scenes featuring Philadelphia’s own John Polito as rival gangster Johnny Casper. Polito, by the way, should have gotten an Oscar for this movie. He absolutely controls every scene he is in with such wit, timing and an amazing physical presence.

Judging from what you can find on YouTube, the scene described above are more popular than the one that is the subject of my discussion. Yet, when I knew I wanted to write something about Miller’s Crossing, the only thing I could think of was this relatively early scene between Gabriel Byrne’s Tom Reagan, the consigliere, and a young Marcia Gay Harden’, who is Albert Finney’s mob mol Verna. And by the way, Verna and Tom are carrying on a relationship behind but is also sleeping with Tom on the sly.

Tom is drunk and has mounting gambling debts. He is trying to avoid Leo going to war with Johnny Casper’s gang over Verna’s brother. Tom wants Verna to stop using Leo to protect her brother. We pick up the action at 21:37. Tom has had a bad meeting with Leo at the club and goes looking for Verna. This whole sequence is bookmarked with a literal ‘whoosh,’ as the camera pans through the club to the bar and Tom masculinely says “get me a stiff one.” The bartender, who is also Tom’s bookie, tells him Verna is in the Ladies Lounge.

The music rises as Tom steps away from the bar (without paying for his drink) and it sounds like a bit of period jazz orchestra.

As Tom enters the ladies room, camera movement and position continue to be essential. We see through his eyes as he comes in all ready for a tussle with Verna. All the pretty ladies in pastel rise and fly from the room as this predator invades their space. They regard him with annoyance, but they accept that he’s in charge. There is one shot of Tom walking in with the camera moving at the same rate, keeping a constant distance as Tom advances. The other shot is from Tom’s point of view, you see what he sees. Motion is constant and at the same speed for both cameras. The effect is kinetic. I know you can’t see the action on a podcast, but even just hearing the ‘whoosh’, the conversation with the bartender, the rising of the music and the bravado as Tom gets into the ladies room is worth it. Here it goes.

(BREAK to show the scene up to this point)

Now that Tom has reached Verna, the next chapter of this sequence can begin. Verna who is calmly applying makeup while seated in front of a large mirror. The camera settles behind Verna’s right shoulder with Tom sitting behind her left shoulder. We see her back, we see her front in the mirror, and we can see Tom’s front also reflected in the mirror. Plus, there is ANOTHER mirror that is behind them both. Funhouse, right? It seems complicated when you break it down, but the result is that they appear right next to each other in the frame. Because Tom is drunk and a little bit behind where Verna is seated, he comes across as somewhat out of focus.

The rat-a-tat dialog increases as Tom gets up to talk about intimidating Verna while trying to maximize his physical presence. She’s not impressed. Now we’re vacillating from a camera over Verna’s left shoulder, showing her front in the mirror and camera at approximately the same location, but aimed up at Tom who is now looming over Verna. Drunk Tom is getting more and more frustrated as Verna continues to blow him off (while also confirming his suspicions). But Verna can use Tom’s obvious attraction to her as leverage and he doesn’t want to admit that she has that leverage. So he puts his hands on her and yanks her out of the chair.

This is some old-school, hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart type stuff. While he is basically assaulting her, Tom comes in for a kiss. Despite their having been lovers the night before, Verna hauls off at Tom with a substantial right hook to the jaw. He is thrown back and stumbles into a rolling makeup cart, spilling some of the contents. He then takes his whiskey glass and hurls it at Verna’s head, smashing the mirror as she ducks out of the way. She straightens up, grabs her mink and calmly walks toward Tom:

I suppose you think you’ve raised hell.

Tom drunkenly rotates his body to watch her leave. He is defeated in this encounter, but he has the style and audacity to try and claim victory anyway. The camera is now moving, following Verna out from a very low angle, putting her butt, well silhouetted by her slinky green dress, in the center of the frame. As she approaches the door, you can start to hear the party music again.

Tom steadies himself against a chair and the camera pulls away at the same speed it was moving to show Verna’s departure. I guess the view from her butt. Tom says:

Sister. When I’ve raised hell you’ll know it.

And he rubs his chin where she decked him.

What has this scene had such a profound effect on me? Is it my love of strong women? Is it the snappy dialog that is so close to being a parody without going too far? Is it the fact that Verna is Jewish? I don’t think I worried too much about who was Jewish in movies back then, but maybe. Like, I didn’t know that the Start Trek guys (Shatner and Nimoy) were both Jewish back in 1990.

Well, I think the moving cameras are a big part of the attraction. The way we have multiple angles following characters at the same speed may be filmmaking 101, but it really strikes me in its use here.

The whole thing is over in about three minutes.

Jimi Hendrix – Lover Man (commentary)

This one got blocked on YouTube as a result of copyright claim. I’m sure I’ll be dealing with more of that in the future.

Also, since video is completely optional, you can check out the commentary as a podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever else you like to listen to podcasts.

You can’t really talk rock guitar without a bow to Hendrix. This is a look at a smaller, less well-known song that still gives clear insight into much of what made Hendrix so special. His passion and emotion often mask the amount of planning and precision and economy he was able to summon. This little tune lets us see all of it in a very tidy package. Here’s the written edition of my Hendrix essay:

This came up the other day and it highlighted for me how we take Jimi Hendrix for granted. There is no way that I, born in 1972, can imagine the hysteria and the revolution that happened when this man was alive and making new music. And to make my ignorance worse, during my formative years I rebelled against Hendrix because he was “too popular.” In junior high and in high school I ended up spending a lot more time listening to the people Hendrix had influenced and the people he was influenced by. In a way, I’ve been only enjoying the bread and missing out on the best part of the sandwich.

Someone with more knowledge than I could do a whole season worth of podcasts on different aspects of Hendrix’s music and life, but for now I just want to focus on this one song and even just this one version of this song.

Now, this was a live version from an album called Hendrix in the West. The studio version can be heard on Both Sides of the Sky, which is a posthumous release. Hendrix’s catalog has victimized by disputes over his estate, so it’s a little hard for someone like me who only has a peripheral knowledge of the history, to know what version is “definitive.”

This live version, however, just jumped out of a shuffle and really got to me, so that’s the one I’m talking about. It’s from a show at Berkley on 5/30/1970 and it’s with Billy Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. This is the Cry of Love tour and the recording takes place about four months before Hendrix’s death. Based on YouTube videos from around the same time, Hendrix was regularly playing Love Man on this tour.

A lot of people think about Jimi’s epic (i.e. long) guitar solos, like Voodoo Chile and Machine Gun. We also tend to focus on the hits, like Hey Joe and Are You Experienced? But even in such an all-too-short career, Hendrix managed to cover a really diverse palette of music that was forward thinking, highly experimental, but also very organized and deliberate.

What makes Loverman worth talking about is that it is short at 3 minutes. It is structured somewhat like a twelve bar blues, but it has some easy decoration that makes it more of a rock or pop song rather than just a straight Blues interpretation. It has a great rock riff that anchors the song, but it also has a bridge at the end, which make it more of a narrative piece, rather than a blues that keeps going around the same progression. And this particular version has a few special moments that help highlight why I should have been listening to Hendrix from as soon as I could listen to music.

At three minutes, you might think there is not a lot to talk about, but when it comes to Hendrix, there are things that take literally two seconds that you can meditate over for hours and longer. It’s like what Talmudic study. And this it true all up and down the catalog, but there’s just a few things in this version of Lover Man that need mentioning.

The opening riff is the same as the studio version and has a classic Hendrix feel. That sequence takes seven seconds and then you are into the introductory Blues solo. It’s not a twelve bar, but just a one-four jam lasts about another six seconds. The solo (or fill, if you prefer) has a slow bluesy phrase, followed by some stinging right hand harmonics way up the neck and then darting back down to echo the opening riff right before the vocal starts. This is an example of how compact and efficient Hendrix’s play was. He could show you a Buddy Guy riff that was immediately followed by his disruptive technical innovations, and get right back to his blues all in the same phrase. That’s unequaled musical adroitness.

The verse has a twelve bar structure with Hendrix offhandedly doubling has vocal melody on guitar. There is no rhythm guitar, but the doubled notes (voice and saturated guitar) fill the space while giving extra deference to the rhythm section, which you couldn’t get with a second guitar.

After a second verse which basically repeats the structure and feel of the first, we get the intro riff again to prep for the solo. And what a solo. I think it’s much harder to really light up a solo in such a short space. There is no runway. Of course, to Hendrix this not a problem. Here we get the innovation of pedal effects that enhance the already distorted guitar without obscuring tone. As the extra distortion and sustain announce themselves, Hendrix slows way down – not to make silence, but to give the bends and sustain a chance to show themselves. Then we get the Octavia and more right hand harmonics to give us almost a San Francisco psychedelic amble. At the end of the first 12 bar cycle of the solo, Hendrix hits the Blues hard, very familiar turf to set up the very unfamiliar trick he’s about to attempt.

For the second part time through, Hendrix starts playing a grisly version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. Although its a fairly ubiquitous piece of Classical music, it’s still Classical music! And yes this is a gimmick rehearsed with its own bass part and appearing similarly on other live recordings from this tour. But think about what this stands for. Hendrix is the Walt Whitman of rock guitar here – he contains multitudes. He hears all the music at the same time, it seems .- ALL the music. What’s so extraordinary and so hard to understand is that he could pretty much play it all at the same time too. I don’t want to dwell too much on the gimmick, but I think as we consider Hendrix’s legacy, this is inescapable proof that he was listening to and playing Classical music, even if its meant to be tongue in cheek.

After the stunt, we get a classic Hendrix innovation where he puts his stamp on the blues by going back to his I-IV jam (or I-IV-VII-IV), but this time for a vocal refrain instead of a guitar solo. This is Jimi inventing new music, creating a space for rock music that is based on existing forms, but still totally new and unique.

After this vocal jam there are some closing hits and a walk down, but they are merely transitions to Jimi doing his very special solo guitar trick, and by solo, I mean no bass and no drums. Just Jimi, Star Spangled Banner style. There are a lot of these moments, even in his too small recorded legacy. I don’t know if this type of expression grew out of Jimi’s competition with The Who to see who could get crazier at the end of songs, or what. I can, however, say with certainty that this is a trick that Jimi really enjoys and was really good at. It sounds like he can completely lose himself in these moments, almost like taking a victory lap to celebrate the end of the song. A lot of people have messed around with this paradigm. Stevie Ray gets pretty close. Neil Young did a whole album of these feedback endings,. But no one ever did it like Jimi. And the could do these several times per night, but they don’t get old or repetitive.

Whatever these solo bits are, and however you want to describe them, they are sonically astonishing. And the one that closes this version of Lover Man is no exception. Though modest in size, it has all the elements: Whammy bar, riffs to die for, just the right effects.

And that’s it. All that in jut three minutes of music. And the last thing you hear is Jimi tuning up to deploy the next masterpiece on his appreciative audience.

PUBG Mobile: escaping into a massive battle royale

During lockdown, I’ve started to play a lot of video games, which is a relatively new thing for me. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds mobile is a console-quality battle royale game/platform that I played on iPad for several months. It was a pretty surprising journey and I’ve enjoyed getting to know how PUBG and the similar Fortnite work.

If you are playing on the mobile platform and want to get together for some battle, the username is MPomy. I usually check in every couple days.


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Ah yes, the crowded and super successful Battle Royale sector of the video game market. Even if you don’t know the game titles, you have probably heard of the major players, in particular EPIC, which is responsible for Fortnite. This is not intended to be a news post and I don’t want to get into all the fascinating machinations of the feud between Apple (App Store) and Epic, but I’m Team Epic in this one. Apple has gone too far with their 30%, but that is a topic for a different podcast.

So, what does any of the have to do with the PUBG franchise? For a gaming noob like myself, these two games are very similar. They are third-person shooters that play out on a sizable and detailed virtual map, where the player drops onto the map basically unarmed, has to scrounge around for loot that can be used offensively, like guns and ammo, and defensively, like medical supplies and body armor. It’s everyone against everyone else and the last player (or team in ‘squad’ modes) left alive wins. All player are gradually herded into a smaller space as the game progresses so everyone is playing on a much smaller map by the end. Games seem to take between 15 and 30 minutes.

Alright, let’s take a step back and talk about guns and shooting games. I am a parent of an eight your old boy who is very energetic and emotional. Years ago, I told myself that when I became a parent, I would not allow my child to play with guns or idolize guns or fantasize about guns. But reality has a way of smacking you across the face. So first there was a Nerf gun, which I resisted and used as an important tool for positive incentive/reinforcement. Having a nerf gun in the house was not nearly as big a deal as I thought. My son routinely went through weeks when he wasn’t even interested in playing with it.

But the design of his and his friends’ guns comes, in part, comes from video games and video game tie-ins. This brought Fortnite front and center. Another thing I am very sensitive about, in addition to my distaste for guns in general is the toxic behavior people exhibit online. I don’t want to start ranting about the damage that Facebook and YouTube have caused, but I knew that interactions on Fortnite could be toxic. The game claims to be prohibited to those under the age of 12, but there is no enforcement. Kids as young as six are playing a lot, a probably younger kids too.

So, in another instance of leverage and positive reinforcement parenting, I got introduced to Fortnite. I guess this is the time to give a brief background on my own gaming career. I don’t really have one. I’m old enough to have been around at the dawn of consoles. Of course, my family always tried the product that was not most popular. So, instead of Atari, we had Intellivision. And I loved the football and baseball games, but that was pretty short-lived. I never had a Nintendo because I got too into music, listening, playing.

With the advent of mobile phone games, MANY years later, I kept looking for something that could soak up my attention and give me a real escape. I guess I played some SimCity, which is a planning and strategy game where you attempt to grow a safe, prosperous and happy town. I was introduced to that title in high school where it was used to help explain the threat of unchecked population growth.

What I eventually found on the phone was Real Racing 3, which I still play today. It had a steep learning curve, but I still love the granular difference between cars and the realistic feeling of adrenaline banging around real race tracks throughout the world. I found the experience surprisingly satisfying on an actual phone, even though the bigger iPad screen seems like it would be even better.

Another note about Real Racing, which has existed in an unchanged state since about 2013. The economic model is “free-to-play, pay-to-win.” That means anyone can partake of a premium gaming experience so long as they have a compatible device with enough memory. The more you play, however, the harder the game gets and then you need to upgrade your cars to stay competitive. Upgrades are much easier to come by if you pay cash. Also, the better cars require vast amounts of in-game currency. Again, with some cash, you can realize your dream of owning a Porsche 917K Le Mans car or McLaren Senna, or pretty much anything else. So, if you are a car nut, the rewards are enticing. But they are also virtually impossible to come by through just playing and grinding and spending hour after hour playing. You can get pretty far with that, but it literally takes years.

This model has been around for a long time, so I’m thinking that, as longs as the rewards are good enough, the developers and game studios are making decent money. And for someone like me who likes to dip his toe in the water before committing ANY money to a game, you can get an idea of the experience. You can know fairly well in advance what your money will get you and how much you may have to spend.

I don’t know if Fortnite invented this new incentive structure, but it has clearly had the most success. Here’s how it works. All players start on equal footing, as I described earlier and skill is required to be the winner of a Battle Royale — what gear to get, how you use the topography, teamwork if you are in a squad game, how and when to use and save resources like ammo and medical supplies. Whether you play using default settings, or whether you have spent big money on the game, you have the same chance to win.

So how does Epic monetize its 350 million users? This game features a vast array of non-competitive items you can buy — things that are purely cosmetic. But they are so wonderful! A seemingly never-ending fountain off characters, costumes, and skins that change the appearance of weapons and other items you collect during the game. There are themes and tie-ins that come and go with updates. This year Epic submerged large portions of the map under water that gradually receded. Currently, there is a Marvel tie in, which means you can play as Thor, Tony Stark and others.

These updates are organized around ‘seasons’ for which users may purchase a Battle Pass. For the duration of the season, the Battle Pass makes a variety of goodies available to players who have lot of success at the game. The Battle Pass also grants you the privilege of paying additional cash (above the season pass’ cost) to get other goodies. None of this makes you better at the game, but it will make you the envy of those defaults who have to play in a boring skin.

Part of the success, and you can’t argue with the fact that this has been successful, is microtransactions. The Battle Pass is $10, but after that initial outlay, you can spend $2 or $3 bucks and get something additional, beyond the freebies that all Battle Pass buyers get. The name of the game is to outdo your neighbor, not only in skill but in appearance. I shit you not, there are even fashion shows.

I started my journey to understand Fortnite during pandemic lockdown. One of the immediate aspects that appealed to me was the ability to interact with a bunch of people in a way that closely mimics stuff I might do in real life. Not like really shooting people, but certainly playing a very large game of paintball would compare. Your ability to interact with little details of your environment is vast and refreshing when you’ve been spending so much time inside. The map in Fortnite is about 7 square kilometers. There are interior and exterior spaces. There are hills and valleys and water and farms. There are a variety of vehicles you can use to get around if you don’t want to walk or run everywhere. These include boats, helicopters, cars and a golf cart. If you do spend a lot of time on your feet, you don’t get tired (which is one big difference between the game and reality), but as the game wears on, you have to stay in the safe zone or you start to take a lot of damage.

Another reason I didn’t want my 8-year old playing Fortnite was the violence. It’s not just the idea of inflicting pain and suffering on other people by means of firearms and other weapons, but the emotional toll of that along with the experience of being on the receiving end of those violent expressions. Of course, I’m also the same dad that let the boy watch Jaws at age six. I’m not here to give parenting advice, but Fortnite does a half decent job of toning down the violence so that it is more of a cartoon. It’s certainly way less blood and gore than Jaws. We can quibble with the euphemistic use of the term “eliminate” as a substitute for kill, but the game experience itself is not discomforting.

My personal experience with Fortnite is limited. I have played a bit on my iPad and enjoyed the intensity of battle, but I didn’t get hooked. One particular facet of Fortnite that I was unable or unwilling to indulge is “editing,” which means, building towers, walls and FORTifications (get it?). It’s an easy skill, but it seemed non-intuitive to me. I was able top run around the map and collect loot and encounter other players and shoot them very much as I would in a complicated paint ball event. But the idea of being able to instantly create towers and barriers stretched my brain a bit too far. That’s when the App Store algorithm steered me to PUBG.

As you can imagine, PUBG has no building/editing. You are stuck with the terrain and structures that are already on the map. Other than that, as I talked about earlier, the games are extremely similar. You parachute in, gear up and kill everybody else. Squads are four players in both games and you can work with friends or randoms.

Each of the games also acts as a social media platform, including baked-in voice chat that allows squad members to communicate in real time during the game. Voice chat is on by default for the entire 100 players that will participate in that particular match. You can limit it to just the four or two people in your squad. In fact, I’m not suer why you would want to listen to the whole room, but that’s the default. So, the first time I played, I turned up the volume (because sound is a big part of the game) and I was immediately greeted by simulated (?) sounds of coitus inflagrante. I luckily turned it down before nay son could ask what the hell was going on.

But the randos are actually part of the charm. On the one hand, simulated sex acts being aurally performed for six year olds is totally not OK. And I’ve also heard some VERY non-PC expressions that I would not tolerate in person. In those instances, I either bailed on my team or just kept quiet. Most often, people are quiet or don’t have the mics on, but I’ve had a few great experiences when I got schooled (kindly) by a more experienced player or got to share my accumulated knowledge with other less familiar with the game. PUBG even has a mentor program to match noobs with the OG community. I’ve never used that, but it’s definitely a cool idea.

PUBG Mobile’s battle Royale requires three broad skillsets. The first is jumping out of the airplane and landing where you want when you want. The second skill is scrounging around for loot/gear and allocating resources. You can only carry two rifles, one pistol and only enough meds and other stuff that will fit in your bag. The final phase is the endgame, which involves getting to the last safe zone (smallest circle) and finding a place where you can eliminate the last player(s) before they kill you. If someone has a high power sniper rifle and a clear shot at you, it doesn’t matter how much armor you are wearing, you are not going to survive that confrontation.

From the moment you set foot on the ground, you are in danger. If you choose to land somewhere with lots of buildings (which means better chance for quality gear), you have a higher chance of being shot by someone who got there before you. That means you want to be quick and decisive on your way down. If you want to risk a very quick game, drop in somewhere really popular. If you want to increase your chances of surviving the first two minutes, then you risk not getting proper gear, which leaves you vulnerable to players and bots. Yes, there are bots roaming around the map.

In the end, high ground with good cover and excellent visibility is your best bet, although often not available. Being on a roof can work, but you can’t get on most roofs. There are periodic airdrops which can supply you with supreme camouflage (grille suit), but snipers routinely stake out the drops to pick off unsuspecting players hoping to grab an advantage.

Each player has a bunch of hit points, which means they can take only so much damage before they are killed. Having a helmet and vest increase those hit points, but there is almost always someone who will get you before you see them. As with other battle royale games, there is an awkward in-between phase when you are ‘knocked down.’ This means that you have now taken enough damage that you can no longer use any gear, including medical supplies. All you can do when you’re knocked is crawl around pretty slowly. Also, getting knocked means you are on the clock. Yes, a teammate can come along and ‘revive’ you (and they somehow don’t need any medical supplies to do this), but it has to be fairly soon or your injuries will prove fatal.

Unlike other battle royale games, once you are dead, your game is over. In Fortnite, your teammates can resurrect your character at special ‘reboot’ stations, allowing you to get back in the fight, while also strengthening the social bonds of the team. Reviving and rebooting is an easy way to build closeness with gratitude inside the game’s social network, but in PUBG it limited to reviving. Once you’re dead, you’re dead.

Winning, whether you do it on your own or as part of a squad, is tremendously satisfying. In PUBG it increases the likelihood that you will get better cosmetic goodies. Predictably, you get more experience points when you win. As you rank up you get more goodies, but nothing that will give you much of an advantage in the battle.

I love finding new multi-player games that are free-to-play. There is a common algorithm that “matches” you with other players in order to provide the best “user experience.” Ah yes, I love that user experience. You can say what you want about the interface, the graphics, the overall look, sound and feel of that game — none of that compares to what really moves the need on “user experience.”

The best user experience is when you win.

A game like Fortnite or PUBG mobile presents a premium feel with amazing graphics and abundant features and context that you would expect to pay $40 or more to “experience.” How can they give that away for free?

The answer is to develop an algorithm that stimulates just enough serotonin to thrill you with YOUR OWN performance, while challenging you with enough so you will repeat to improve. While using the outfits as an incentive is good, making you think you can succeed at this game if you KEEP PLAYING is the real trick.

There are always a lot of new users that can help make your first few missions easier, but the developers have stacked the odds (in your favor!) with some characters in the game not being actual players. These bots may try to kill you if you find them in the field, but they don’t try very hard.

Yes, it’s a ruse, but after playing the game for a couple months, I approve the method. The bots have helped me develop some very basic skills, while also getting my ass blown off by more experienced players. I look at it as basically a hybrid continuation of the tutorial.

The usual algorithm formula is otherwise in place for matching. As you get better, you get matched with better players. After a bunch of frustrating games you will start getting some easier opponents. The push-pull continues so that your results will reach equilibrium in correlation to the amount of time you want to spend getting better.

Part of my mission with the Escape Pod is to get away from the persistent hellscape of reality. I would not think that the disturbing violence of PUBG Mobile would be much of an antidote, but the difference between me IRL and me online in these games is so vast that it feels cathartic. Do I have a secret love for these weapons of pain and destruction? Yes, and it’s not a secret. There is a conscious appreciation of the machines, like with exotic cars, where I like to know about the engineering and delight in the emotion and artistry, but I definitely don’t want one (or more) for myself. Like a racing game that lets me live out my fantasy of being a world champion driver, these games let me celebrate my love of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies in the 80’s.

I think there’s a lot of tedious and problematic and vey young people playing these games. I’m not sure how this level of simulation effects those people, but the concept of playing with people you already know (as opposed to algorithm-aided matching) is much more appealing and easily accommodated on the platform.

If you are already playing, or if you want to try, I will continue to be somewhat active on PUBG Mobile, and I would love for you to hit me up. I’m thrilled to have gotten to know some of the aspects of how these games work and why they are successful.

The MPOMY Escape Pod

I envisioned creating a multimedia platform where I could start with writing and build audio and video content on top of that. The video will never be “necessary” to fully experience the content, but nothing is real unless it’s on YouTube. And the last time I checked, YouTube is still a video platform.

So, now the Escape Pod is a reality. No politics. No pandemic. Just the music, movies, TV, and video games that help me escape from all the horror and conflict of real life.

You can now subscribe on Apple, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also subscribe to the YouTube channel or find all the content at

Thanks for your interest, and I will see you in the Escape Pod.

Dribble Down Economics


Last night the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their playoff game against the Orlando Magic in order to protest Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey’s shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back. In a horrifying cell phone video, we can see the officer shoot Blake seven times in the back as Blake attempts to get into a car. After the Bucks took action, the NBA decided to cancel all three games. More and more NBA stars and coaches are saying that they cannot continue to play and entertain while this violence against Black people continues unabated….


More Conventional


Not much to say about the RNC spectacle so far. My assessment from 50,000 feet is that day one was about some hard work to put Biden in his place and to show voters what is at stake. Day two now appears to have been more about what a sweet, caring and capable leader Trump has turned out to be. I think they did a better job on night two, but the issue addressed on night one – labeling Biden – is probably more important to help get Trump across the victory line in November (or December, or January)…


Use of Force

On Sunday, a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back while Blake was trying to get into his car. There is reporting that Blake’s three children were in the car. The officer is white and Blake is Black. The entire event was captured on cell phone video and, not surprisingly, went viral right away. Blake is currently in an ICU and his condition is classified as ‘stable.’…


Tough Act to Follow

As Joe Biden finished his speech on Thursday night, I breathed a sigh of relief because the Democratic Convention was ending as a success. MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace described it, somewhat hyperbolically, as successfully constructing an airplane while it was flying. There is no need to list all the challenges that a ‘virtual’ convention faced, and despite the fact that it had never been done before, the Democrats totally pulled it off…