Friday, December 23, 2011

The Moody Misanthrope

On Mondays it's kindness to all that I meet
On Tuesdays I'm still pretty fine
By Wednesday I'm starting to go a bit mad
in this dippity bapping of mine

By Thursday I might snap a bit at a chap
and on Friday, well, best not to call
The high expectations of weekends, of course
disappoint me and fill me with gall

By Saturday everything seems like a loss
My demeanor turns onward to rotten
On Sunday I drink 'til I can't think at all
So by Monday next all is forgotten

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Onion: News Before It Happens, Part 4

Longtime fans of know I am a huge fan of The Onion satirical newspaper. They have, once again, published a story BEFORE it actually happened. Here they are:

The Onion, November 30, 2011:
54 Iraquis Die In Not Our Problem Anymore

Yahoo! News, December 22, 2011
Wave of bombings across Iraqi capital kills 60

By the way, neither I nor The Onion are making light of this tragic event. My readers can tell that, right? You get satire, right? The real point being that tragic things are still going on and it is sad, even if we ignore it. I ask because my teacher friend Kaptain Karl has realized that some 90% of high school students do not understand or even recognize satire. It makes me wonder if that statistic is any different in the adult population.

To see previous examples of the remarkable predictive power of The Onion, you can search for other blog entries here with "the onion" tag if you know how to do that. Sometimes I can find that, sometimes I can't. I don't know how to capitalize "the onion" tag.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Now THAT was a GUH show!

Well that was awesome. I really enjoyed that. In light of the less-than-totally-successful Great Uncle Helmer portion of the joint show last Tuesday, I took a half hour or so today and dedicated myself to the success of this all-GUH, two hour night at J&S Bean Factory. I made a set list and printed out lyric sheets for the two songs I didn't have memorized. I organized the instruments and gear I would need. Seems simple, doesn't it? But sometimes I forget or neglect these easy yet important steps.

Unlike Tuesday, the staff cleared the space for us and made us feel welcome. We had enough people there that the place (which is cozy) seemed about half full, then a few more people showed up. So it was totally worth us setting up and playing. (U.T.) the people who were there were enjoying the music, not just the free WiFi. (U.T.) we had plenty of time to plan and execute a set list that ebbed and flowed with the true lifeblood of GUH, now a twenty year collaboration.

We started with Chimney and (U.T.) didn't somehow forget the words of our most oft-played song. We got a good sound going (U.T.) that was appropriate for the room, but not killing anyone. I felt comfortable singing into my microphone. I gave myself a little bit of echo just so it wasn't the dry sound of a banquet toast and I could hear myself and Karl clearly. We started by playing eight straight songs we know very well, right off the set list. It sounds so basic when I put it like that. Of course! Why wouldn't that be a good show? Duh!

We brought up our special guests Scuffy and Scrappy Pucker on banjo and flute and they were terrific. I played bass and Karl played guitar. Two-Dollar Bill Turner was missed at the show but we played a 10-12 minute version of his Total Peace that almost made up for his absence. Here's the crazy thing: Even at 10-12 minutes, it was NEVER BORING. Sometimes I look at a Grateful Dead live CD, I get disheartened just by looking at the track times, and I take it back to the library unheard. (Europe '72, I'm talking to you.) This was not that.

At the beginning of the song Karl said he didn't know it on the guitar. I told him play C and G, but up two frets but with the open strings still ringing out. Done. I sang the two verses in the wrong order but it wasn't an issue. Scuffy started the soloing and we all sat back and answered him when it was appropriate. I stomped on the floor and reduced my bass part by several notes to leave lots of space.

Later in Scuffy's solo I played a long, ascending e dorian scale on whole notes, building tension much like the choir towards the end of the Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want, only with answer and commentary from my mates. I sang along with my bass part off mike. I got to the highest note on my bass (D) then bent up to reach the E that is the song's key center. It all sounds rather dry and intellectual in these music theory terms but it was really quite thrilling and I was on the verge of shouting. I looked at Karl to end the soloing on a high note and start the vocal, but he was looking at Scuffy. That actually happened several times, to the benefit of all concerned.

Scrappy took a solo spotlight for a while and it was great to hear some extended ideas from her as it rose and fell and rose. Then Karl played probably THE finest guitar solo of his life to date.

Once late at night many years ago we were sitting around mocking and laughing at a guitar solo Karl had played during a show and when the laughter subsided he quietly said, "Justin...when I was playing that solo...I I had wings." It was the perfect thing to say and we just about got kicked out of the Faribault 24 hour Perkins for laughing. Well tonight Karl made good on that boast and I think we ALL felt like we had wings.

We played a Good For A While that I wish I had on tape because I accidentally hit the perfect wording for the last line before the title in verse three but now I can't quite think of it. (And I think we'll be? And I wanna be? bet we'll be? And I think we could be? Dammit. I don't think I'd even recognize it now if I did remember.)

The Haiku joke was much more successful than it's been in previous years with people actually paying attention, Karl really building it up, and me telegraphing it a little more.

We nailed the complex old favorite Velvets and Karl played a mind-bendingly perfect harmonica solo on "The Wicklund Rose". His New Song Showcase number "She Called Him A Dark Poet" had people laughing at every single line. I then asked him to play Don't Remember Me, one of my top five favoritest Kaptain Karl Kompositions. I stood back up and we rocked Shadowy Figure so hard my foot literally stuck to the floor. My New Song Showcase "(Don't Worry About) The Disco" was just as good a performance as it was on my birthday but this time everyone in the room was paying attention. Ring-A-Ling-Ding-Ding-Ding and Behind The Curtain (by kind request) enthusiastically ended the show almost on time.

Thanks to everyone who came, listened, played along (S.P & S.P), donated toys, and took CDs. Thanks to the woman who videoed some of the show (wish I knew where that was going up) and told us we were good. Thanks to the staff at J&S Bean Factory. Thanks for J. Bell for tirelessly organizing the Toys For Tots drive every year. Most of all thanks to Karl for setting up this particular show and playing it like a champion.

Complete Set List

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Well, That Was Technically A Show

So usually when I really enjoy a show I write a blog post about it. But what about when a show is mediocre? I never write about it. Until now.

I'm pleased that Grand Avenue Dunn Bros. has live music. So very many places I used to play are shut down or don't have music. (R.I.P. Professor Java's in Hastings and Java Hut in River Falls - two of my old favorites.) I'm not as thrilled that they have WiFi, which lends itself to scenes like this:

Having seen this photo (taken last week) I was not excited about the potential audience for this show. Laptop slaves. Been there. Am there right at this moment kinda, but at home. Karl and I got to the place and there was a couple in some deep discussion at a table on the stage. We set our guitars down near them and they didn't move. Eh. Fine. We had like an hour before starting. I already felt hostile toward any potential stranger audience and they could all just fuck off. Not a great frame of mind.

Eventually the couple left and we got set up but no matter how much I goofed with the equalisation knobs and sliders everything sounded boxed in and mid-rangey. We started quietly with "Pale Blue Eyes" and I felt like there were so many other songs I would enjoy playing but I couldn't think of them. Longtime GUH fans will be familiar with those shows where we are not particularly sincere and laugh at ourselves a lot while strangers look on in pity, confusion, or disgust and longtime GUH fans are mildly entertained or perhaps merely resigned. This was sort of like one of those.

Karl made a remark about a PBS telethon and that caused me to depart our set list and begin to play "The Boxer" for which I forgot the words. I have played that song dozens of times and the words always come to me and I feel alive in the song. Not this time. No one seemed to get the joke of "PBS always plays Simon & Garfunkel's Concert in Central Park at pledge time" either.

This is where not doing any preparation for the show also hurt us. With a rehearsal or two we could have done new songs I'm really excited about like "I Am The Devil" or "geez I can't even think of one when I'm sitting here three hours later" I guess I would have liked to play "Good For A While" especially since Scrappy Pucker of the Mississippi Seven was there, although in her humility she had her flute hidden in a large bag so we didn't see it and we thus didn't even think to ask her to come on up.

Doc's Kids played and they were good. The contrast between BPZ, calling on people, even strangers, and getting everyone smiling and singing along, and me, standing perfectly still and looking at a high spot on the back wall, is tremendous. I did have fun playing along with DK on casaba and claves. Karl's trombone solo on "Peru" was epic and rhythmic, a fun contrast to his short, tasteful, melodic solo at the Acadia last week. Sitting back down, the sound was boxy and mid-rangey out in the room, though, a far less welcome contrast to the Acadia show, where the sound was great.

(Oh, I would also have liked to play "The Wicklund Rose". That's the one I was trying to think of earlier. But I didn't rehearse it. Or anything. In fact, except for a brief GUH set at the Acadia, I hadn't even played a steel string acoustic guitar in months. All this shit is my fault, btw. In fact most of it is probably just in my mind.)

For GUH's second set Karl was making some jokes as I started Isolation For Christmas and I couldn't stop giggling. I heard some laughter in the audience during that song, which was strange but good. We finished with Powerful Statement and it was over. We were supposed to leave time for Doc's Kids to play another set but I guess we went long. They only played two songs after that. This has been a tough year for the Doc's Kids Toys For Tots Drive for a lot of reasons and I think the performers were kind of wiped out tonight. Still, it was great to see my friends. And there's one show left, for which I think I'll rehearse a bit if I can get time in the next two days. Should be good. Potentially redemptive. You should go! Facebook Event

Oh also I've had a sore throat and something I ate for dinner was not agreeing with me. (Still not.) So if you were there I'm sorry you didn't catch GUH at our best. If you weren't there, well, you picked the right one to skip. Whoo! See you Friday.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

2012 Presidential Election Results - Today!

I just realized something, much to my relief. President Obama will be re-elected in 2012! Whew! Not saying it won't be a lot of work for a lot of people - it will. But that work will be rewarded. "How do you figure?" you say.

History. Whether we learn from it or not, we are doomed to repeat it. I am 40 now, old enough to remember 2004. That was the first and last time I actually went door-knocking on behalf of a political candidate, something that went against my deeply held beliefs about the evil that is unsolicited solicitation, but something I found necessary given the greater evil occupying the White House at the time. My new young wife and I were on fire for the Democrats. Can I even imagine such a thing now? Anyway...

We had a sitting president who made about half the population absolutely furious nearly to the point of murder. Certainly to the point of suspending their beliefs about giving the POTUS the benefit of the doubt or, in my case, leaving people alone to enjoy their homes. Nevertheless, the best the opposing party could do was a stunningly boring flip-flopper from the Northeast and a sleazy, cynical, calculated, career politician from the South.

See where I'm going now? I'll spell it out for you. Bush 2004 = Obama 2012. Kerry 2004 = Romney 2012. Edwards 2004 = Gingrich 2012. Game over. I've seen this movie, only this time I am happy about the ending. Whew!

(Unless, of course, the Republicans again manage to take the election out of the hands of the American People and leave it up to their crooked voting machine cronies.)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Really Fun Show

Really fun show tonight (actually last night now) at the Acadia. (It's all for the 2011 Toys For Tots drive and there are a few shows left. Great Uncle Helmer and Doc's Kids at Grand Ave. Dunn Bros. in St. Paul on Tuesday Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. and Great Uncle Helmer only on Dec. 16 Facebook Event. Bring a new toy or $10 and get an exclusive CD featuring several local artists.)

Tonight began with Mischa Suemnig, who I had never seen live before. He was really good and I'm glad I showed up early for his set. It continued with Doc's Kids, who were out of their minds great. They struck the perfect balance between antics and musicality. They also made clear that vulgar language would be acceptable on this night, which I always enjoy.

Next up was Shotgun Johnson & The Mississippi Seven, in yet another configuration we've never done before and likely will never exactly do again. Tonight was (counterclockwise):
J. Bell: bass
Srappy Pucker: flute
Kaptain Karl: guitar and vocals
Memphis Evans: ukelele and vocals
Scuffy Pucker: banjo and squeezebox and vocals
Two-Dollar Bill Turner: keyboards and vocals

Drums and cover tunes are banned at The Acadia and we enjoyed their commitment to quiet, original music. I personally got really into Good For A While and sang it absoluetly perfectly. (I can say that, can't I? It's my song. I think I get to decide.) I usually unintentionally goof some lyrics but I did not. I think I conveyed emotion with my music, which I don't always do.

I prefaced Hey Where My Shed Done Gone with the country authenticity story. I prefaced The Devil Is Knockin' At The Door by saying it was our gospel number. On the latter I didn't play an instrument and my phrasing was all over the place but in a good, conversational way that suits the song. I could see and hear people respond and enjoy the humorous yet passionate song.

I really enjoyed sitting next to Scuffy and sharing an amplifier. (I was using his uke as mine does not have electronics.) On the songs I didn't sing, especially Total Peace and Don't Be Dumb, we really had some musical conversations going. It was very satisfying. Everyone wants more banjo and uke interplay in their music these days, right? That could be all over the radio for all I know or care. (Thankfully I have a CD player in my car now and have been obsessed with Beethoven Symphonies 1 & 6.)

Then Sarah VanValkenburg played a good set of original material she developed with the help of J. Bell who, in addition to doing all the hard work for this T4T thing every year, taught guitar before becoming an attorney. Karl and Justin and I sat right up front and, while we were chatting because we don't get to see each other and catch up as often as we'd like, we were certainly enjoying the catchy tunes.

Karl and I played next as Great Uncle Helmer. After Chimney Karl went in to some spooky weird sounds that were hilarious and inspired me to play Winter Ghost, which people responded to well. I've played that song so many times I don't really feel the words anymore (the song is old enough to vote this year) but I did enjoy playing the guitar parts and having people obviously enjoy it.

As GUH always do with Toys For Tots shows, we did New Song Showcase, since Karl and I basically play only these few shows as GUH nowayears but we both still write quite a lot. I did "(Don't Worry About) The Disco". I felt it so very strongly I was tearing up a little and I had every word memorized and flowing out of me. I fingerpicked it in C, very different from the daffy recording I made last year. I felt as though if someone were to pay attention to my performance without any distractions they would understand something very important about me. It's not necessarily true but that's how it felt.

I do not always feel that way. During some musical performances I feel confused, secondary, misunderstood, disconnected, or intentionally hidden behind a mask. During others I am merely a technician, a vessel, a sideman, a hired hand in the background, or sometimes all of these things at once. But tonight during Good For A While, The Devil Is Knockin' At The Door, The Disco, and even Hey Where Mah Shed Done Gone, people had an opportunity to see me as real and as pure and as good as I get.

We finished with California, No Time To Kill, and Don't You Need Me with all of MS7 and DK onstage. I played bass and something about the bass, amp, and microphone gave me a shock when the band dropped out and I tried to sing the first line of California. Instead of "Went up on the mountain" I cut loose with a very naughty word not heard from me onstage since Urban Rust played a poorly thought out bill with Amish Armada. (***********r)

So it was a great start to the 2011 Toys For Tots drive and I'm hopeful we'll have similar moments at the remaining two shows. Thanks to everyone who came out and gave toys, everyone who played music, and especially J. Bell for setting it all up and unknowingly taking home the half dozen Urban Rust CDs I sneaked into the toybox. Ha ha!

Mississippi Seven setlist:
Ghost Train D tr
C'mon Lizzie G bo
Kansas City, NE C tr
(Let's All Get Drunk In) St. Paul D wa
Good For A While G da
Illusions of Banjeur G tr
Into The West D ba
Hey, Where My Shed Done Gone? A ca
North on the Soo Line C wa
The Devil Is Knockin' (At The Door) G sw
Total Peace e dorian so
The Rainmakers C ca
Don't Be Dumb G tr
Between the Weather and the Scores C ba

tr = train
bo = boogie
ca = cajun
wa = waltz
da = da...dat-da
ba = ballad
sw = swing
so = soul