Mooon Bears

Some good news today on the Al Jazeera network; a report that South Korea plans to make the farming of “bile bears” illegal, starting in 2026.

The Asian black bear – also known as a moon bear or white-chested bear – is traditionally characterized as “mountain man” (yamaotoko). Being a largely solitary creature, the moon bear also is portrayed as “lonely person” (sabishigariya). Source: Wikipedia.

Sadly, an estimated 12,000 moon bears are “farmed” in China, South Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Again, Wikipedia reports that bile bears are “kept in small cages which often prevent them from standing or sitting upright, or from turning around . . . lead[ing] to physical injuries, pain, severe mental stress and muscle atrophy. Some bears are caught as cubs and may be kept in these conditions for up to 30 years.”

The bears are kept in captivity to harvest their bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, which is used in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid, which is used to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, reduce fever, improve eyesight, break down gallstones, act as an anti-inflammatory, and reduce the effects of overconsumption of alcohol.

Not surprisingly, animal rights groups have long protested the inhumane conditions under which bear bile is harvested – an estimated $2 BILLION global industry.

Hundreds of bears in South Korea now will be able to live out their lives in sanctuary. However, the poaching of bile from thousands of bears around the world continues.

Save the mooon bears!

A Topical Song

This morning, I woke up and flipped on the BBC Radio News feed, as is my routine. You know, just to make sure the planet hadn’t exploded during the night. The announcer recited the phrase “coup in Waga-doo-goo,” and I said to myself, “there’s gotta be a song there.”

So, here it is, “A Topical Song.” [not a Josephmooon collaboration]

But, where in the world is Waga-doo-doo?

Of course, the news report was about military actions currently developing in Burkina-Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou. If last year’s coup in Myanmar offers any example, this takeover has the potential to impact the lives of countless Africans already belaboured by myriad survival issues, from famine to tribal warfare.

But it’s just the latest hot spot on the globe.

A Topical Song       

They got a coup in Ouagadougou

Unrest in Ukraine, Syria an the Middle East

You know it’s not hard to explain

The world’s a mess there’s no dispute

And who will take my bet?

I’ve got a quarter of a bitcoin says

We ain’t seen nothing yet

Let’s talk about the planet

The icebergs melting fast

Ya got polar bears carrying signs that say, “We ain’t gonna last”

The power grid infrastructure sure could use repair

‘Cuz when I turn on the radio my music’s never there

Well the world’s on fire

And one thing you should know

You gotta have hope

If you want to sur-vive

Yeah the world’s on fire

One day it’s gonna blow

So strap on in for the ride of your life

There’s way too many billionaires

Oh, how they like to laugh

The One Percenters own the mine and we all get the shaft

Let’s send ‘em all into outer space, right where they belong

As soon as they pay a living wage

For streaming this here song


Disposable is what we are

Swallowed up by plastic

Tryin’ not to choke on our own smoke

Might get rather drastic

Lost in the supply chain

Lost identity

Lost respect for those who lie and spread hypocrisy


Yeah, the world’s on fire

But this I gotta say

Can’t help but thinkin’

Although the clock is tickin’

That maybe, maybe, maybe someday

Everything will be OK.

Lesson Plan

Some generous thoughts on songwriting, courtesy of Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly (find the complete Americana UK interview here):

“A song can start from really odd beginnings. Most songwriting is random. I think of it being closer to fishing: you go out fishing for three or four or five days and nothing much happens, then some days – something does. But it wouldn’t have happened if you’d not gone out those three-four-five days.”

“You sit down at the blank page and just get up or make a cup of tea or do the washing or something. You keep walking away from it.  So, I think the most important thing is to give myself ‘do nothing’ time and that’s a discipline in itself.”

“[Like all of the songwriters interviewed for this series, Kelly stresses the importance of capturing ideas], that when you have an idea to have the self-discipline to write it down as soon as possible. Otherwise, the chances of it disappearing back down into your subconscious, probably never to emerge again, Kelly warns, are very high.”

“Most of my songs are character-based. I find my way into a song, imagining a character in a particular situation or imagining a particular voice and taking it from there. But there are often little things from my own life which will come in.”

“[People] might not ‘get’ the song, which I think is a very reductive way of looking at it. The best songs you keep on finding new things over time each time. I just love them, I love their combination of sound and musical notes, what’s going on, the lyrics, strange associations.”

“Kelly says it almost always depends on the context. ‘David Byrne writes about this really interestingly,” he says, “music works very differently in different spaces. A song that might ‘land’ in a quiet concert audience listening and being there attentive, will not work when I play it at a noisy festival or a crowded bar or a beer bar or some backyard party.”

“I love it when the music is working against the lyrics, that contrast. Muddy Waters once said, ‘sing sad songs happy and sing happy songs sad’.”

(Josephmooon WIPs: “Water Floor,” “We Are All Strong”)

The Pub Quiz

For some reason, trivia games played with strangers in bars was a pastime that never really engaged me while working and living in the U.S. For the last four years, however, retired and living in Thailand, I’ve come to relish participation in a friendly “pub quiz” every month, typically, played in a bar or restaurant, with strangers (other expats, mostly, some of whom become friends and acquaintances over time, of course, as people who enjoy exercising their brains flock together like birds of a feather – or, a ‘murder of crows’, to quote one popular pub quiz answer).

In the pandemic years, our team of five regular players (along with occasional “add ons” who arrive to play but don’t have a team to join) has competed under the moniker, Where Is Your Moose? The name comes from a t-shirt worn one night by our youngest member, a teenager from Russia who competes with his mother; our other members include an ex-military globetrotter originally from Canada and a retired Belgian hair stylist turned to professional photography.

Obviously, this diversity is helpful in covering as much trivia ground as possible. Rob is great at historical events, languages and culture; Patrick knows a lot about nature and travel; Genia is a bit of a prodigy, with a broad knowledge of geography and science (there is no Periodic Table question he can’t answer); he and his mother (who is well-read and consistent in her contributions) bring a completely unique perspective, and we often must translate their Russian answers into English to achieve the correct response. Of course, the team relies on me for having lived through seven decades of “American influence” as well as All Things Music.

It’s a big responsibility. 5555 (for those arriving late, the Thai word for 5 is “ha.”)

Happy to report here that Where Is Your Moose? won the first quiz of 2022!

We amassed 66 points, enough to squeak by the second-place team at 62 points. (A perfect score would be 85; there are eight rounds of 10 questions each, but one round is a “bogey” round, where scores are halved, and another round is a “bonus” round where scores are doubled. A bit here about strategy. Many teams seem to think the “bonus” round should be their strongest category, and the “bogey” their weakest, but we feel this is hurting scores. To maximize points, the teams’ two strongest categories always should be the bonus/bogey rounds.)

It was a rewarding comeback, as the team (unfortunately playing without me) came in dead last at the December quiz to finish 2021.

For most questions, several people on the team typically know the answer. That kind of confidence is valuable. But I always find it interesting to review the answers that I alone was able to contribute — things that nobody else on the team knew. (Yeah, I’m good at music and pop stuff, but in the end, they are all way smarter than I am).

It’s never a very long list. For this quiz I knew that Red was the title of a Taylor Swift album; something about Frankie Goes To Hollywood; that Jeffrey Dahmer would not eat tattooed victims; that John Wayne Gacy also worked as a party clown (obvs, there was a Serial Killer category); that SMH in text-speak stands for “smack my head”; that May 4th is considered “Star Wars Day;” that the translation of “egg” and “watch” is how the Tamagotchi was named; that Burning Man is held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert; and finally, that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was the Beatles’ first #1 record. Sadly, we submitted “She Loves You,” because I thought someone else’s answer was better, violating one of my pub quiz guidelines, to trust first instincts and only change answers with irrefutable reason. Never mind. We won.

The pub quiz, however, is also a great place to LEARN STUFF. For example, until last night I did not know:

That “22” on a BINGO card is also known as “swans”;

That Venezuela has produced the most Miss Universe winners from South America;

That a camel’s hump is comprised of primary fat;

That astronauts cannot easily fart or burp in space;

That dogs can bark, but wolves cannot.

So, the point of all this is to say, let 2022 be a year of learning and acceptance for the things known and unknown that manage to join us on this next hurtle around the sun.

2022, Whatchagot?

A kind of Mooonmemory

Year-end reflections and new year predictions are flowing freely across the mediums we have now come to call “home.” A quarter century ago, the coming benefits and banes of the Internet were largely unknown and unimaginable to most humans, and today, the slightest ripple in its 24/7 “service” – like any disruption in basic water and electricity deliveries – wrecks social and economic havoc on a significant scale.

So much for The Future.

These last 12 months have passed mostly like the 12 months that proceeded it. Lots of lockdown, restrictive movement, businesses closed or reduced to a shadow of their former profitability. I don’t think it matters that I’m living in west Thailand, the resort town of Hua Hin; those words seem to describe the situation across most of the globe, from what I’ve read and seen on my screens here at Josephmooon Central. The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, France24, and the BBC are popular providers.

I recall being in Bangkok on 20 January 2019, already masking and hand gel-ing in the large hotel where scores of families from a variety of Asian countries had gathered to celebrate Chinese New Year. Two years later, the repetitive nature of life often feels a lot like the iconic Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, or to mention a more recent film, Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds as a videogame character who one day finds his program “freed” of its role-playing obligations.

This single Free Guy preview has been viewed 22 million times on YouTube in the year since the film’s release. There are many other versions as well, so no telling how many people were interested in seeing this movie. I found it completely entertaining and positive.

Throughout my life I have been a moderate reader – rarely fewer than 10 books a year, but rarely more than a couple of dozen. Reading takes time, ergo, takes time away from music. Enough said. And when I read, I try to balance “heavy” books and “light” books, if you know what I mean. One of the weightier tomes I slogged through this past year was Daniel Kahneman’s, Thinking, Fast and Slow. A friend who at one time was reading 500 books annually mentioned it, thinking it might have inspired the pencil imagery on the Josephmooon album, So Far So Good.

As it turns out, this exposed me to a concept called the “availability cascade,” used by legal scholar Cass Sunstein and economist Timur Kuran to describe “the mechanism through which biases flow into policy,” according to Kahneman. And as I was reading, I realized that the world population is at this very moment living in the middle of a textbook example of this concept.

Few could refute the idea that the current pandemic hews closely to the definition Sunstein and Kuran have offered for their concept of how biased reactions lead to erratic and misplaced public priorities, “a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action.”

TBH, I’ve seen this concept in action many times in my professional life, often without knowing its name or precise consequences. Working in a variety of public relations situations over 25 years, from 1985 to 2010, I observed (and quickly rejected and disdained) PR practitioners who rely on a type of “doom and gloom PR.” That is, they set up a problem, real or imagined, that could be “solved” by their Client, and typically its product or expertise, both of which came at a price.

Then one day in 2010, Laurie Anderson captured it all in this hilarious song.

If you’ve made it this far on the Josephmooon journey, thanks for reading. Our wish is for your new year to be full of surprises and fulfilling experiences for yourself and those around you.

Lesson Plan: Music Charts

To be honest, I get my weekly dose of mainstream pop music and gossip from a syndicated radio show, Asia Pop 40, hosted by an affable young DJ by the name of Joey Chou.

JOEY CHOU, host of Asia Pop 40

Naturally, the chart is comprised of the most downloaded and streamed songs across the continent, including charts in the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and beyond.

For this week’s lesson I decided to do an informal side-by-side of the Asia Pop 40 chart and the top 40 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100, the industry standard in North America and provinces. The British charts also have a distinctive flavor, but we’ll leave that discourse to another “lesson.”

Admittedly, the holiday season may not be the most representative week to conduct this experiment; fully half of the Billboard chart is comprised of holiday classics, from Perry Como and Brenda Lee to Ariana Grande and Mariah Carey. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at the songs that are featured on both charts, indicating something that approaches “global” popularity.

By my account, 11 songs appear this week on both the Billboard and Asia Pop 40 charts, roughly 25 percent. The largest discrepancy appears in the Justin Bieber song, “Ghost,” dead last on the Billboard Top 40, rocketing to #2 on the AP40 chart. In contrast, Bieber’s other big hit, “Stay,” with The Kid LAROI, sits comfortably in the Top 3 of both charts.

Additional songs that share Top 10 spots on both charts include “Easy on Me,” by Adele, “Heat Waves,” by Glass Animals, “Shivers,” by Ed Sheeran, and “Industry Baby,” by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow. Further down the list, “Cold Heart,” the Elton John mashup featuring Dua Lipa,” holds the #19 spot on both charts, joined by “”Smokin’ Out The Window,” by Silk Sonic (a collab between Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak), Sheeran’s infectious “Bad Habits,” and “Kiss Me More,” by Doja Cat, who has several other songs on the both charts, AP40 listing “Woman” at #28, and Billboard listing “Need To Know” at #12, and “You Right” at #33.

Finally, Gayle’s “abcdefu” is Billboard’s #15 song, with the “cleaner” version, “abc,” at #4 in Asia.

Now, let’s look at a couple of notable examples of songs that appear on one chart and not the other. What makes the difference, and are there any “big picture” lessons to be learned?

Billboard lists “Super Gremlin,” by Kodak Black, at #23, with Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like” at #31. Neither artist shows up on the AP40 list. The AP40 list features MAJOR artists not included on Billboard’s chart (perhaps pushed out by all of those holiday songs), including Taylor Swift, Coldplay, BTS, Shawn Mendes, and Dhruv.

Thailand is represented on the AP40 chart by Blackpink’s Lalisa, whose “Money” is at #10. I took this photo of Lalisa at the pharmacy recently; her cardboard understudy was selling toothpaste.


Ah, Ms. Safka

Stopped at one of those mindless memes on Faceboook (we spell everything with three Os now) that promised to predict the course of someone’s life in the coming year, 2020. Turns out the secret is kept in the title of “the #1 song” on an individual’s 18th birthday.

OK, let’s play. First of all, this would depend on the exact MUSIC CHART employed for research purposes, with the results varying widely depending on country, resource publication, etc. For our purposes, the Billboard Hot 100 will suffice. The chart for December 25, 1971, the day before my 18th birthday, is easily accessed online.

Of the top 10 songs, five are stone classics, and I would be happy to have ANY of them form the predictive text of my future. The remaining five, however, are rather forgettable slices of misguided talent. Play along! See if you can tell which songs are which, IMHO? Your results may vary.

But, according to the aforementioned meme, the theme of my 2020 is “Brand New Key,” a big hit (obvs) for Melanie and a source of hobby pride for roller skaters everywhere. I love the idea of starting new relationships, unsure where they might lead, if anywhere at all. That’s the “let’s give it a go” spirit espoused in Melanie’s silly love song.

Well, I got a brand new pair of roller skates

You got a brand new key

I think that we should get together

And try them out, you see

The object of her affection, however, seems to avoid her. Their mother says they’re home “but not alone” when Melanie inquires at the door. Melanie is undeterred, dropping in some cheeky sexual innuendo, coded for any teenager just discovering their own boundaries:

I ride my bike, I roller skate, don’t drive no car

Don’t go too fast but I go pretty far

Aw, go on, just check out Ms. Safka’s version (thought of recording my own, but TBH, my favorite song of hers to perform is “Candles In The Rain.” Very challenging without the help of an amazing gospel choir.

Melanie has admitted the song’s sly references, making the claim that a “key and a lock have always been Freudian symbols, and pretty obvious ones at that . . . My idea about songs is that once you write them, you have very little say in their life afterward. It’s a lot like having a baby. You conceive a song, deliver it, and then give it as good a start as you can. After that, it’s on its own. People will take it any way they want to take it.”

We hear that from a lot of songwriters, and it pretty much sums up the Josephmooon aesthetic. We make the songs, and hope that whoever listens gets something out it.

That would indeed make for a great 2022.


Holiday Music

TBH, this elder member of Josephmooon is a bit burned out on holiday music. And to think I was at one time introduced on a MAJOR Chicago radio show as, “the guy who loves Christmas music.”

I’d been “hired” to produce holiday music segments for the show – finding interesting songs, telling the stories behind them, and giving them a spin in about five minutes time – but after a lot of pre-planning and getting the first episode on the air, the whole opportunity evaporated in a heartbeat when the host laughed at the notion that I would DARE send an invoice for my services. I was benefitting from HIS platform and should be GRATEFUL for the chance to be heard.

Bullsh*t. I don’t work for free. That is called a “hobby.” And Christmas music as my “hobby” for a long time involved crate-diving in records stores and thrift shops for any unique track, collecting 45s, LPs, cassettes, and CDs for individual tracks to eventually comprise a 90-minute “mix tape” (before the phrase really had been codified) on cassette, and later, CD compilations filling up as much of the 75-minute limit as possible. As technology allowed, these collections would be duplicated and shared with family and friends, some of whom today rely on those relics of the 1980s and ‘90s for their winter celebration soundtracks. That enough makes my ‘small heart grow three sizes, to let the true meaning of Christmas come through,’ to paraphrase Dr. Seuss.

For 15 years, I also spent Christmas in church – playing guitar or singing in the men’s choir – for almost every service that was offered over a three- or four-day period. Yes, there were rehearsals, too. And don’t forget the many hospital, nursing home, and retirement center gigs as part of “Practice With a Purpose,” a group of amateur players who gathered at those places regularly to play music and provide a break in their week. Playing for shut-ins at the holidays elicits a bittersweet set of emotions. We even managed a bit of door-to-door caroling some years.

Over more than three decades I steeped myself in holiday music every December, always enjoying the various performances and new holiday songs that would emerge each annum to compete with an admittedly formidable list of “standards.” Eventually my collection grew to between 4,000 and 5,000 individual tracks. My current digital playlist of holiday music would play for nearly 20 hours – more than 300 tracks. So, ready for any holiday DJ gig, really.

But things are different here in Thailand. Christmas is not that important in a Buddhist country, except for how celebrating can benefit the hotels and restaurants offering traditional holiday feasts to the foreigners who live here. Thai people relate to the actual holiday in a very basic way, and the religious aspects not at all, and if you try to move past “Jingle Bells,” expect crickets. The malls and shops do a bit of decorating, and there are beautifully decorated trees to admire. But there is no frenzy, no family tension, no failure to live up to unreasonable expectations.

So, forgive me, at least for the moment, as I put the sentimentality of holiday music on a shelf.

Bah, humbug.

Good writing habits

Recording sessions have started for a new “album” of songs by Josephmooon, but their completion and release schedule in 2022 remains unknown. Working on three songs at a time, producer Ian Nice recently asked if the next triad was ready to go.

I had to confess that while Ronan had sent in some new lyrics, and there are older lyrics still under consideration, that I had been remiss in setting them to music.

“Then you better get writing,” was The Producer’s succinct advice.

Two days later, I’d finished three WIPs (works in progress) and recorded “home demos” to share with Ronan and our Producers. I dialed in some drum beats using a “Beat Buddy” rhythm pedal, plugged in my trusty 1990 Made in the USA Fender Telecaster w/o any FX, and sang like nobody was listening.

“Done is better than perfect,” is one of my new mantras.

The songs almost certainly will undergo some changes from here, but that’s what demos are – an audio whiteboard that can be erased and revised as needed. The Nices always have some good ideas. One of these songs really fought to be heard; there are at least 10 different versions on the little digital recorder that I use to preserve ideas and sketches as they present themselves. What will happen to it and the others remains to be seen. It’s an exciting, inexact, and frustrating process.

At the risk of sharing a song “before its time,” here’s the rough demo of “You’re (Not) In Charge.”

At the same time, BMI, which manages our song publishing, sent a link to this short advice column from Reverbnation about becoming a better songwriter. The advice was basically the same – write more, write freely, write a lot of mediocre songs in order to improve and write better songs.

Never hurts to be reminded.

Movie Trailers Go ‘Boom!'(er)

If you seek evidence that Baby Boomers continue to influence the soundtrack of popular culture, look no further than the trailers for two upcoming blockbuster movies, The Matrix Resurrections and Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Both are set to songs written and popularized between the years 1966 and 1968, “White Rabbit,” by the Jefferson Airplane, and Harry Nilsson’s “One.”

Not being in the habit of watching movie previews online, I’ve seen both trailers multiple times in a genuine big screen cinema, before feature films including Dune, The Misfits, and The Eternals.

Of course, Keanu Reeves’ brooding mug ponders the red or blue pill to advance the long-dormant Matrix franchise re-boot, Resurrections. The clips and dialogue are quickly cut to a huge, powerful, dramatic orchestral music mix featuring the Airplane’s rock classic at its center. “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small,” wails singer Grace Slick, who wrote the song smack dab in the middle of the 1960s, as one character ominously pushes across the table a vintage copy of Lewis Carroll’s celebrated tome about young Alice.

The lyric, “and the Red Queen’s ‘off with her head!’” is accompanied onscreen by – you guessed it – a woman’s tormented scream. And there’s even a character with a rabbit tattoo, in case you miss all the other references.

The Airplane’s “White Rabbit” is an iconic song of the Sixties, a sonic bridge leading from storybook innocence to the revelations and perils of LSD and other psychedelics. It’s been covered by artists ranging from Pink to Blue Man Group, used in countless video game soundtracks (many associated with the Vietnam War era), and of course, other films, notably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), which finds our tripping anti-hero, Hunter Thompson’s Raoul Duke character, listening to “White Rabbit” in the bathtub. Later, a grapefruit is involved.

Similarly orchestrated in a big, big way is Nilsson’s composition, “One,” which serves as the score for the Venom: Carnage trailer. The movie looks both CG-horrific – flesh-ripping, mucous-dripping monsters bounding about – and hilarious, as the main character (sorry, not familiar with the names) appears to “bond” with his monster super-mean alter-ego, which other people also seem to know about and accept as part of his character. Which all seems weird to me, but you know, different strokes for different folks. Maybe I will give it a go when it comes out, though it’s not really my cuppa. The plush seats and kickin’ sound system at my cinema are first-rate, however.

As for “One,” I first heard Nilsson’s song on the eponymous debut album by Three Dog Night, an amazing rock band that also introduced me to songwriters including Laura Nyro and Randy Newman. They had good taste in songs to cover, and their own tunes weren’t bad, either. You probably know them, unfortunately, for their pop hit, “Joy To The World,” written by Hoyt Axton. (Let me help you remember: “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!”)

In Rock Trivia School we learn that Axton came by his songwriting talents naturally. After all, his mother, Mae Boren Axton, penned “Heartbreak Hotel,” a major hit for Elvis Presley.

Mae Boren. That surname sounds familiar . . . where have I heard it before?

Anyway, Nilsson’s version appears on his third studio album, Aerial Ballet, which is much better known for the legendary Midnight Cowboy theme song, Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” And the music and life and times of Harry Nilsson is definitely worth anyone’s time. Beautifully sad.

There are no big observations here. Relying on time-tested Sixties rock hits to underscore a point or theme in a movie – or TV show or video game or graphic novel or whatever – is not a crime. Not even a misdemeanor. But if I was a popular artist making music today, say on the level of Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, and Coldplay, I’d be on the phone to my agent asking some serious questions about why their songs are not being used to sell movies. Those songs are 50+ years old!