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After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host

On the South wall of the vestigial foyer here at Casa Stark hangs a 31" by 24" poster. In highly-stylized fashion, it depicts three riders approaching a redwood tree that looms in the foreground, against a background of soaring cliffs and thundering waterfalls. Above the riders' heads, "See Yosemite On Horseback" is blazoned across the azure sky.

I had my first in-saddle experience there, in Yosemite National Park. In 1994, my wife and I took the half-day trail ride. We rode to the base of Nevada Falls -- a 1000-foot climb along a narrow, winding path that twitched back and forth across the cliff face like an itchy snake -- and back down to the stables on the valley floor.

Despite the unpadded saddles, we loved it. We've been hooked on riding horses ever since -- and I mean big time. In particular, we were looking forward to the full-day ride -- beginning with a grueling climb of over 3000 feet from the valley floor to Glacier Point, continuing with a spectacular trek around the South rim to the crown of Half Dome, and ending with a twilight descent to the stables via the bunny trail -- which we planned to take on our next visit to Yosemite.

Nature had other plans. The Spring 1996 Happy Isles rockslide scrubbed the bridal path to Glacier Point right off the valley's walls, putting an end to the full- and half-day Yosemite rides pending reconstruction of the trail.

Then, beginning on New Year's Day, 1997, heavy rain, unseasonably warm temperatures and an already-dense snowpack combined forces to produce the worst flooding in Yosemite's recorded history. The inundation destroyed the valley's sanitary sewer system and seriously damaged many roads, bridges and structures, including administration buildings, residences, visitor cabins -- and the stables.

Nothing much happened until March 27, 2000, when, in an address to San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit unveiled the National Park Service's proposed Yosemite Valley Implementation Plan -- a scheme to restore Yosemite Valley to a "more natural state" by not replacing a lot of what had been destroyed by the flood and the rockslide. Among other things, it called for the elimination of most parking lots in the East Valley, demolition of virtually all the employee housing in the Valley, reducing accomodations for Park visitors, ripping out many roads and removing various Park and concessionaire buildings.

Including the stables and the horseback riding concession.

Now perhaps I'm just being selfish, but I think Interior's plan stinks like last week's salmon. It would effectively deny much of the Yosemite experience to anyone who's not able-bodied enough to hike in rough country -- including the handicapped and the frail elderly.

And me. With a sprained ankle and a bum knee, I'm not worth a damn on foot -- but I can still sit a horse just fine.

There are many other things about the Yosemite VIP that I find objectionable, but I'm every bit as upset about the plan to permanently eliminate the stables and trail rides as I am about Napster. And it may surprise you to learn that I'm on Metallica's side on that issue.

A Hard Day's Night

For a period of a several months in 1983 Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield, two of the founders of the band Metallica, lived at 3132 Carlson Boulevard, less than a block from me, here in El Cerrito. I passed by their tiny rental house almost every day on my way to the post office and the Plaza.

I had rock and roll dreams myself, at the time. My bands -- first the Jungle Band, then the Egos -- rehearsed in my living room, three times a week. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, we'd play for three-and-a-half hours and on Sundays we'd stretch it to six or so. We thought we were pretty dedicated.

Lars and James rehearsed, worked out new material or auditioned guitarists to replace Dave Mustaine every single day, the urgent pulse of Lars' kick drum clearly audible through the layers of blankets they'd nailed over the walls of the garage where they labored. And they worked not just for an hour or two, but for hours at a time, every day.

They had one and only one focus -- their music. And, despite the time and effort I spent honing my own material, my bands were, at best, dilettante ventures by comparison.

They found their new guitarist -- Kirk Hammett -- and pressed on. Over the next few years, they toured constantly. When their tour bus rolled over in Holland, killing their bass player and musical guru, Cliff Burton, they hired Jason Newsted and persevered, never losing sight of their goal -- to make a living making music.

They worked their asses off in pursuit of that end. In one two-year period, they played 300 concerts. They sold tens of millions of albums before they had their first hit single and they did it the hard way -- via word of mouth -- eschewing rock videos and corporate sponsors alike.

Through it all, they've never compromised, never pandered. They've been generous with their fans, encouraging them to tape concerts and evangelize their friends with cassettes, but they've never written or played a single note in an attempt to please their audience. Instead, they've chosen a path of steady musical growth and exploration, with total disregard for other people's expectations about what they should play and how it should sound.

It's Metallica's music, and they are fiercely protective of its ownership and control. Then along came Napster -- a service that enables users anonymously and promiscuously to leech mass quantities of pirated MP3s directly from each other's hard drives.

Napster's service is an altogether different thing than the casually taping and trading of cassettes, as permitted under the "fair use" doctrine. Those exchanges typically involve friends and are limited to a handful of copies at a time. Napster permits parties unknown to each other to exchange perfect digital copies of copyrighted material without the permission of or payment to the artists that created and own it.

That's theft.

Predictably enough, on April 13, 2000, Metallica filed suit against Napster.com for copyright-infringement and racketeering, asking $10 million in damages. Metallica also demanded that Napster delete from its database all users who offered copies of its music.

Cliff 'Em All

Napster refused, claiming that Metallica's demand was technically infeasible. The band responded by hiring a programmer to write a monitoring application that -- in just 3 days -- generated a list of 335,435 Napster users, each of whom offered an average of 5 MP3's of Metallica's studio recordings. On May 3, Lars Ulrich presented a printout of that list to Napster.

Instantly, the band became the focus of intense and withering criticism -- much of it from gigantic Napster leeches. The grassroots outrage was fed by Napster's skillful PR, which did an excellent job of making it appear that Metallica wore the black hat in their struggle.

And that's just plain wrong.

The band members themselves have spoken out on this subject. On May 2, Lars, James Hetfield and Jason Newsted did a live chat session on Yahoo and Lars did an extensive interview with Timothy Lord of Slashdot on May 26, answering readers' questions.

In a nutshell, their position is that Napster exists solely to abet piracy; that -- while the band supports the trading of recordings of its live shows -- Metallica makes its living from its studio recordings and is determined to maintain control over their distribution; and that its fans have no inherent "right" to steal the group's music.

And they're right on all counts.

For a professional artist, art and commerce are inseperable. That's what makes an artist a "profesional" -- if you get paid to produce art, ipso facto you're a professional artist. And that goes for painters, writers, photographers, sculptors, potters -- and musicians. Let the middlemen -- or anyone else -- take away your ability to make a living from your art and you're back to being a hobbyist.

The members of Metallica are in no danger of losing their day jobs -- but there's a principal at stake in their conflict with Napster that anyone who produces intellectual property would be well-advised to heed. And, although I give away MP3's of my own recordings, I respect Metallica's decision not to do so with theirs.

I need the exposure. They don't. They make a living from music. I don't. I choose to give my studio recordings away. They don't.

End of story.

I think that John Muir, the patron saint of the Sierra Club, would have agreed with me about Yosemite. He believed the beauty and spectacle of the "crown jewel of the National Park System" should be available to all -- heck, he was actually in favor of building a paved road all the way to the top of Half Dome -- and I'm sure that he would have disapproved of making it less, rather than more accessible to the ordinary citizen.

I'm equally sure he would have agreed with Metallica about Napster:

"Screw them. And the horse they rode in on."

(Copyright© 2000 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)