Of Deoxyribonucleic Acid, The Higgs Boson and The Mudcats
April 14, 2008
I see myself mentioned up there in a recent Post To The Host and have to admit to most everything my friend Mr. K. stated there. I'm flattered by the title of "crotchety old libertarian," as he likely knew I would be. I just wish there were more of us. There's plentyful crotchetyness out there but not nearly enough libertarians.
The minor nit I'd pick with the biography is the word "crisis." What is commonly called a midlife crisis can sometimes be mistaken for a midlife revelation. But it's all too true that if you're going to get a revelation it's better to take it at the age of 24, when it'll do the least damage. If you miss it then you might want to wait about thirty years to buy your first Harley, or your first truck, past the prime age for crises and more into the age of simple blunders. Or great triumphs.
I'm not sure which of these I began last December when I took a notion to resurrect the Mudcats for another expedition to Montana.
It's not feeling all that triumphant at the moment. We've booked only four gigs so far and it'll be eleven days on the road and I doubt the players can afford it.
We recorded a CD and it turned out terrific but seven venues we've played in earlier years are off the list this time. They either gave up on live music or simply went out of business. There are some newer ones available but I keep hearing from the owners that "we love the CD but it's not the kind of thing that'll work for this place and this crowd." Which translates: "It's the kids that spend the money here and the kids want that godawful trash you hear on the radio." I hear that same trash in short stretches when I'm punching through the radio dial on the road. I know my parents thought the same thing when rock and roll first hit but it's not the same. That early stuff had an exuberance and it spread like wildfire, took over the world. This current stuff sounds like a woe-is-me death rattle.
I'm starting to think the book is nearly closed on rock and roll like it has been on classical, and it's beginning to close a bit on country music as well. Delbert McClinton is still writing good tunes, but I can't think of a single song written in the last twenty years we all know. Like for instance the Eagles' "Lyin' Eyes," to pull an example out of midair. Hard to believe Dwight Yoakum's "Guitars, Cadillacs" was written over twenty years ago.
The music is worth saving but it's getting harder to keep it alive. I drove out to Montana three weeks ago and I've been on the phone since I got back, hammering on music venues in Fargo, Mandan, Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Wall, Spearfish, Deadwood, Cody, Miles City, Billings, Red Lodge, Chico, Big Fork and Helena. So far we're booked in Sheridan, Missoula, Butte and Livingston. In years past I'd have the whole tour set in two days and we didn't even have a recording.
I do have a lot of CDs available, and I'm thinking of putting Œem up for sale by mail. Problem is my real job is kicking in this week when the PHC show begins the annual three month coast to coast tour. So there's nobody back here to pack'em up and mail'em out. Maybe in July, if we decide to drop our music expedition, I might get into the CD mail-order business.
* * * *
As persistently difficult as it has become to book a good band into far-flung bars it's nothing compared to finding the God particle, as they like to call the Higgs boson particle. Professor Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh calculated in 1964 that there has to be a particle that gives matter its mass and therefore allows the universe to exist at all. They've never actually been able to detect it because it can only exist briefly, goes the theory, at the incredibly high energies that last occurred in the Big Bang. I don't really know what this means, but that's what the article in the UK Times Online said. (April 8, 2008.)
A simple guy like myself, I'm thinking if it gives the atom its mass and that atom is in an ice cube in my freezer, then it must be existing there. Why does it need the high energy atom smasher? Maybe you only need the atom smasher to detect it and they're supposedly floating around everywhere, all the time. Invisible. They're pushing this stuff and I'm going along with it, at least for now.
They've got this Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, cut into a mountain in Switzerland, a 17 mile circular tunnel that'll smash proton beams into each other at just a smidge below the speed limit of light.
Wham. They'll track the collisions of the particles and they say the data coming out will fill a stack of compact discs 40 miles high every year. You picture a stack of discs that tall and you just know it's gonna tip over. But I'm still going along with them on this.
So somewhere in all that data they'll find the God particle. When they do, the 78-year-old Professor Higgs says he will "certainly open a bottle of something." If they don't, he says, "I should be very, very puzzled. If it's not there, I no longer understand what I think I understand." Me neither. And in my case it's not much anyway.
* * * *
If anything really deserved to be called a God particle I'd think it would be the mystery drive that makes the DNA care. Makes it want to get better and make more of itself. What a shocker it was when they discovered in the late 70s that in each cell of a living organism there is a complete blueprint to the whole thing. As if in a building, in every nail and screw, in every board and brick, there was inside the complete drawings of the entire structure. Every room, every floor, from basement sump pump to rooftop ventilator stack.
And the DNA, which is deoxyribonucleic acid (try to remember that two minutes from now), it not only knows the entire being but has this will in it to reproduce. You wonder not only why does it care, but how can it care. From somewhere comes an amazing resolve, some force in there that gives it a sense of absolute purpose and the aggressive nature to make it happen. And it's nearly unstoppable. Little critters live way down in boiling hot seams in the ocean floor, under terrific pressure and with no light. They reproduce so they can keep doing that. Birds fly halfway around the world to find some particular nesting place and some weird bug to eat. They'll do anything, take any risk, suffer any miserable condition, to raise little ones. They can't help it. The DNA makes'em do it.
And the DNA, each one is a separate entity. That little sample there on the crime lab slide, it doesn't want to be there. It wants to be back in the neighborhood, in a cell, and it wants to be making more cells and more DNA. Convicting criminals is just a sideline. (The first person ever convicted by DNA was a guy named Colin Pitchfork, in 1988, for the Enderly murders in England. Joseph Wambaugh wrote a book about it, "The Blooding," the following year.)
You get enough of those chromosomes together and let'em connect up and percolate and mutate and about four billion years later you get the Fifth Symphony. The molecules probably didn't have the 5th Symphony in mind at first but they had in mind to keep growing, and there it is. As if it were inevitable.
The Indians understood this thing about life all being related, the swamp grass to the white pine, the alligator to the indigo bunting.
It all follows the pattern, everything feeding on everything else.
The rabbit eats the greens, the fox eats the rabbit, the tick hides in the greens and drinks the blood of the fox. The strong survive, the weak fade. Competition and cruelty are as common as time itself.
And then, the incredible followup miracle: They all know to leave.
They start life and keep it growing and when the time is right they step aside to make room for the next generation. Those acids, sugars, proteins, phosphates and what-all, they don't wear out. They have the power and the energy to combine and to live and make more life and then they have the wisdom to give it up and die. The same power that brought them alive. It's the driving energy that I'd think would rightly be called the God particle, or maybe it's not a particle.
Could be the God Force.
The Higgs boson particle, if it exists at all, isn't nearly as astounding as that. It's amazing but it's still not as mysterious.
And, assuming it's there at all, it seems neutral. Neutral as the Big Dipper. Free of motive. Doesn't care about any critters at all, one way or another.
Now the case of my taking a band out west, that's a little different.
That's not so much an irrepressible force at work to bring forth some grand and supernatural masterpiece. In our case we just want to go there because it's fun. Maybe having fun is also built into our deoxyribonucleic acid, but you do get the feeling it's not the first thing on its agenda.