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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

Library 1971 vs. Library 2011

Let's go back in time forty years or so and stop in at your local public library. What do you see?

Look there in the children's section. Children sit listening to records on big bulky headphones, smiling together and laughing a little too loud because they can't hear themselves. A mother reads to her son, doing the funny voices that she knows he loves.

Smell the musty card catalog. A high school student is researching a paper he's writing on Egypt. He finds what he is looking for and uses a pencil to write the call letter down on a handy sheet of scrap paper. Off to seek the ancient treasure!

There's the newspaper section. An old man sits and has a cigarette while he reads the week's news from all across the country. But wait, what's this?

A smelly drifter has entered the library. Everyone is apalled and after a mercifully brief altercation he is led out of the library and asked politely never to return in such a state.

Fast it's 2011!

Forty-five smelly drifters sit, eyes glazed over, playing Bejeweled and Farmville. What's that tinny, angry sound? Why it's a violent music video the taxpayers are providing to that disheveled man in the surplus army coat. My, he likes it loud, doesn't he! What would he do without free access to the internet?

Wait, what's this? A child is crying because some of the puzzle pieces are missing from the wooden puzzle of a castle in the clouds. The smelly drifters within earshot glare in the direction of the child and her mother. But wait, here comes the uniformed security guard. The mother is told her child must be quiet or they'll have to leave. Now the child is frightened and the mother is angry and embarassed. They end up leaving. Thank goodness! The drifters all grunt and return quietly to their pornography.


On January 1 Hennepin County Library is reducing the number of items you can have out to 30. (I currently have 40.) They're reducing the number of items you can have requested or on hold to 30. (I currently have 72.) They're reducing the loan period of CDs from 21 to 7 days. (DVDs currently have a 7 day loan length and guess what? I never borrow DVDs because I don't get to the library every week.) This change is sold as a "conservation of resources" decision here.

I won't bore you with further details of how much this new policy seems likely to ruin my library experience. In short, the library has become THE WAY I experience new popular culture and I don't think it will work anymore. And when I think about what they ARE spending their money on I can get really pissed off. Seriously. Have you been in a library branch lately? At ours most of the floor space and presumably the money is dedicated to the smelly drifters at this point. A bunch of unemployed noobs playing addictive video games. Fucking computers. Fucking disgusting.

So Hennepin County Library, I might still love you. We'll see. But if your goal was to drive me away to try Kindle, Amazon, iTunes, etc., give me less reason to visit your branches, and cause me to recosider votes about libraries getting more tax dollars - mission accomplished!

(I am turning 40 remarkably soon, so I'm sure this will be the first of many such rants against change.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Ten Greatest Guitar Solos Ever Recorded

1. "Let It Be" (album version), George Harrison
Perfect tone. A melody you can whistle. Versatility: I have learned and used this solo verbatim - in other songs. A transcendent overall form, building slowly to its highest notes, then relaxing back down to make way for McCartney. The perfect blend of repetition and freshness from one phrase to the next. The guitar comes raging back and is a soulful co-lead singer on the outro.

Honestly I could have made this whole list out of George Harrison solos. Hearing this song recently inspired me to write this list.

2. "Sympathy For The Devil", Keith Richards
The guitar solo that channels everything people who think Satan is cool think is cool about Satan. Violent, brusque, screaming insanity. The solo tells the story just as much as the lyrics do. And that last ripped chord before Jagger comes back in? A frustrated Satan vanishing in a burst of hellfire.

3. "Candy's Room", Bruce Sprinsteen
The fastest, most intense song on Darkness on the Edge of Town comes to a literally screeching halt then gradually speeds up and loses its mind to become even more intense than before. It seems he's tried to become this sort of this folky, songwritery guy now but here Bruce just freaking wails.

4. "The Wind Cries Mary", Jimi Hendrix
More eloquent than any words could be, this solo makes an initial powerful statement and then sings about the variations the statement suggests. Then it goes veering off into places that appear nowhere else in the song. Finally, a return and resolution of the early statements. This solo is like a satisfying mathematical proof if a mathematical proof was translated into a heroic fanfare.

5. "Sunshine Of Your Love", Eric Clapton
I once created a piece of art with construction paper, two corks, and a wire that tried to depict how this electric solo blazed and flew above a sea of color. This made me realize the necessity of getting my first wah pedal.

6. "Sweet Child O' Mine", Slash
The awkward fourth note of the scale has been involved in a lot of poignant moments over the years, usually yielding to the sweetness of the third, never more so than in the indelible first two lines of the solo over the verse chords. The more violent, minor solo later on and of course the intro that kicks the whole thing off are possibly the best guitar moments of the entire 1980s.

7. "Bell Bottom Blues", Eric Clapton
Like Coltrane he sort of plays the melody but with embellishments. Also like Coltrane (come to think of it) he uses harmonics. This song taught me to use the edge of my picking thumb to make the guitar cry a little bit.

8. "The Crane", Matt Wilson
From Trip Shakespeare's Across The Universe album. It's an entire melody to itself, climbing up in bent fits, then falling down into the lowest notes the guitar has to offer. Once I finally figured out how he was articulating some of the climbing parts, this solo taught me to bend a note on one string to match a note on a higher string, something I later found in Hendrix as well.

9. "Way Out West", Alex Chilton
From Big Star's Radio City album, a melodic distillation of everything good and chimey Roger McGuinn ever played. Hearing this taught me how to solo using chord shapes and to mix open strings with fretted strings where possible.

10. "Octopus' Garden", George Harrison
In a demo session in the now unavailable Let It Be film Ringo is plonking out this silly little number on the piano. Months later, with a fellow underrated Beatle leading the way it exploded into a 3-D rock masterwork. I used to quote bits of this during Honigman shows. The guitar intro, verse arpeggios, solo, and outro are justification for the song's existence and inclusion on the greatest rock masterpiece of all time, Abbey Road.

Also essential learning:
"Johnny B. Goode", Chuck Berry
"Patience", Slash
"Eruption", Eddie Van Halen
"Bohemian Rhapsody", Brian May
"Let's Dance", Stevie Ray Vaughan
"Dear Prudence", George Harrison

All right, what did I forget?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cross Section of Conversation

Me: ...I mean the whole reason I started going to doctor visits again was to live as long as possible.

Doctor: Yeah, good! What else have you done to that end?

Me: Hmm. (Thinks) I quit eating sausage, egg, and cheese muffins from the gas station every week.

Doctor: Congratulations. You have discovered the key to immortality. Surely you shall be a modern Methuselah.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Last Thoughts on the 2011 Twins

1. The undeniable highlight of this season was the roadtrip with my friends where we saw two games and did some epic tailgating in Kansas City. The Twins swept the Royals in four games and seemed to be on a path back to contention. Brian Dinkleman got hit by a pitch, was intnetionally walked, got his first hit, and made a spectacular catch directly in front of us in left field - all in his first ever major league game. Awesome time.

2. But it wasn't all sweeping the Royals for the Twins this year, obviously. It was all about injuries. Joe Mauer, with bilateral leg weakness (I can relate, but then I'm 39 years old), sat out a ton of games. He was widely criticized for not playing hurt. I disagree with this criticism. If this was his final year in the majors then sure, play hurt. But we want Mauer to be well and healthy for the next 6-10 years here in Minnesota. Forget this year and just heal up real good, I say.

3. On the other hand, Michael Cuddyer played hurt a lot and got most of the positive press for the Twins despite Liriano's thrilling no-hitter and Thome's 600th home run. To me the explanation is simple. Cuddyer is in the final year of his contract and stands to get the biggest payday of his career if this season is a success for him personally. So I'm not jumping on the Cuddyer-plays-hurt-has-heart-and-Mauer-doesn't bandwagon just yet.

4. The biggest question now is next year. Will Bill Smith bring back the players this team could build around to contend again in the near future? I hope so. I realized this year how much I've gotten used to supporting a winning team and I (a Hennepin County resident just like Bob Dylan) continue to pay a .15% sales tax to support the new revenue generating stadium.

5. Which brings me to my penultimate point - I did not attend a single game at Target Field this year. Too pricey, too crowded, just never got in the habit. Yes, Johnny Cash, I still miss someone and her name is the Metrodome.

6. Finally, I think I just saw Alexi Casilla (15-day disabled list) shopping at the Knollwood Target in St. Louis Park. Does anyone know if he's shaved his goatee off or whether he's back here from Florida?

Oh, and I will try to catch at least one more game on the radio to hear John Gordon one more time. What's next year's broadcast team going to be? I'm hoping for Chris Atteberry and Jack Morris but they'll probably keep the Dazzle Man.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Have You Ever Met Your Heroes and They Were Totally Cool? I Have.

On July 22 I played bass at a Skittish show at Mears Park in St. Paul. We were opening for The Twilight Hours featuring Matt Wilson and John Munson, two of my all-time musical heroes. It was awesome to meet them, tell them how very much their music has meant to me over the years, and find out they are really great guys who are kind and considerate toward their fans. Here is that whole story, which I wrote up when I got home because I was very excited about it.

My Dad and I drove over to St. Paul and got a parking space directly behind the stage. It was perfect. I got my stuff set up. Then Matt Wilson arrived. I must have stared a little bit because as he walked by he said, "Are you playing tonight?" I said I was. After a little while I went to the back of Dad's Kia to change into my suit pants from my shorts. That was unpleasant, changing into a suit there on East 6th Street in downtown St. Paul in the back of a car.

I realized the knot in my tie, which I leave in due to not knowing how to tie one, was looking totally weak. I asked Dad to do it for me. He realized he couldn't do it without a mirror. He was doing it in a car window and said to the car's owner, "I'm not trying to peek in your car but I can't do this tie without a mirror." The car's owner was Twilight Hours' keyboard player Dave. Matt Wilson went over to my Dad and was trying to tie it on him.

At that point I came over and said, "You've further outsourced my outsourcing of tying my tie." Matt asked if he could put it on himself and do it. I said sure and he put a good, big knot in it. Dad asked him about schooling or something and he said St. Louis Park High School then a short time at Harvard. Dad bragged about me being in the St. Olaf Choir.

I told Matt I'd first seen him in December '92 at First Ave and how very much his music has meant to me over the years. He said thank you and said he was honored. I said I wished there was more of it and he said he did too. We talked about how music gets put into such a small stretch of time when you get older. "Unless you're Mick Jagger or my brother," he said. I agreed and said yeah I was in a similar boat. Then loud music started to play over the P.A. and he gestured to his throat and said something about his voice - needing to not shout to be heard right before the show presumably.

John got there a little later, while I was soundchecking my bass and when he walked up I said, "John Munson!" and we shook hands. I said I'd seen him for the first time at First Ave in 1992 and that his music had meant a lot to me. He said thanks and asked my name and I told him.

While the sound man was still setting up I went and got in a conversation with Matt, John, my friend and bandmate Pete Rivard (who has done some work for Twilight Hours), and Dave, Twilight Hours' keyboard player. John talked about vintage clothing acquisitions and golf. Pete brought up the ukelele and said he'd given me one and he hadn't gotten it back. I said I could not possibly give it back. John said he liked playing single note stuff on the uke - just sitting around and picking out melodies. That I would be fascinated to hear, but I didn't say that because I felt very conscious of seeming like an overly involved fan, which of course I am.

As Skittish was soundchecking and the soundman asked for bass I played the riff from Matt's "Raking Service". John noticed this walking by and laughed, which I found gratifying. We played the Skittish show and I was distracted by Skittish leader Jeff's acoustic and possibly my bass being badly out of tune. I'd been so busy chatting with John, Matt, and Pete that I neglected to tune right before the show. Skittish were okay but not great like we can be. I had to really try to get into "Little Things" but got there of course, partly by thinking that it may have been our last show. (It turns out this was probably true. There are currently no shows on the calendar and unfortunately co-leader Vonnie has quit again.)

The Twilight Hours part of the show was pretty great. Like their album, they started with "Dreams". They were much more electric and rocking live than on their album. Matt was lit in red and the night grew dark and the music became increasingly intense. Their musical interaction was really great to watch. They did stuff from the Twilight Hours album and several new songs. As far as I could tell only "Troublemaker" and "Descender" were older than 2010. They finished with "Descender" then encored with "Stay With You".

I spoke to both guys afterward. Matt mentioned how great it was that my dad seemed so totally with me. I agreed and we talked about the benefits of having good parents.

A moment passed and I radically changed the subject and mentioned that he had done a lot of new stuff and that I liked it. He said they're working on a new album. Matt signed my Twilight Hours CD soft case I brought with the Sharpie I also brought. He wrote, "I'm happy to adjust your couture anytime. Matt Wilson." Jeff and Vonnie came by and we chatted about ties. I said in high school and college that if you couldn't tie a tie it just meant you'd have to get a girl to do it for you and that was a good thing. Matt jokingly asked if that was what was going on tonight. I said no.

I talked briefly to John and he signed my CD as well, writing "A pleasure to meet you after all these years. John" and drew an arrow to his picture. I helped Jeff and Vonnie take their stuff to Jeff's parents' Chevy Suburban on the opposite side of the park. I was in a great mood and was much more talkative than I was when I was exhausted and hot at rehearsal yesterday afternoon. I don't know what the other people in Skittish must think of me. Probably just that sometimes and I am talkative and funny and other times I am stonily silent, which is accurate.

Dad and I drove home. Then I came downstairs and wrote this blog entry while it was all fresh in my mind. I feel so happy to have met those guys and to have had them be such friendly, gracious guys. I think I conveyed how much their music has meant to me without seeming creepy or obsessed. I feel inspired to really try and get something of my own going and finish an album and maybe even play some shows, even if only a few people ever hear it.

I remember how strongly I used to feel sort of sad and happy all at once after a Matt Wilson show. Like pretty much all my feelings at this age (39), I still sort of feel it but it's muted. It's a more manageable, practical feeling that won't interfere with my getting to sleep or send me into some kind of spiral one direction or another. Getting old is weird. Or maybe it's being young that's weird and you just don't realize it at the time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Onion: News Before it Happens, Part 3

I've documented at least three instances of The Onion having the news slightly before the rest of the media. Here is another one.

The Onion article, August 4:
Drunken Ben Bernanke Tells Everyone At Neighborhood Bar How Screwed U.S. Economy Really Is

Yahoo! Finance, August 9:
The Fed’s Disappointing No Exit Announcement

They definitely deserve to win a Pulitzer. Here are the other times they've had the story before anyone else:

Part 1
Part 2

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Anhedonia: When Nothing Is Fun Until Suddenly It Is

A few days ago I watched the "I Have A Dream" speech because it was a bonus feature for season three of Mad Men. That is a powerful piece of rhetoric. Rivers, mountains, streams. Judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Little Black Boys and Little White Boys and Little White Girls and Little Black Girls all playing together on the playground. Not taking the tranquliizing drug of gradualism. You should watch it. It's practically Shakespeare. So forty-eight years on, how are things going? Has the dream come true?

Tonight I went to a Beatles tribute band doing a concert in the park. Of course the concert had been moved from the park to a tent in a parking lot across the creek and the kids just wanted to play in the park. Depressed, I identified the songs by the opening bass notes, which were the only sound that really carried to where we were. Excitement about the concert became the usual mild anxiety about the children falling off the equipment or being injured by rampaging "big kids". Nothing is fun.

Twenty minutes later I said we could stay for ten more minutes. This is always my job, to put limits on and ultimately end our fun. With one of the kids, I got on what passes for a seesaw these days - big platforms with railings and handles on giant springs. An African-American woman with a little boy asked if she could get on the other end and I smiled and said yeah. We smiled at each other like all strangers who are acting as children's caregivers do. (The Parenting Smile means "See, I'm harmless. We're friendly. I'm one of the good ones.")

"Whee!" we said with our children. And suddenly I flashed back to Martin's speech and all the disappointment and depression about missing the ongoing Beatles tribute band was gone in an instant. I thought, "We're doing it, Martin! We're doing it! It's not perfect and it's maybe a little awkward, but we're doing it! Look, Martin! Look! Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"

Cynical as I am, I can't believe how honestly good I felt right at that moment. I almost teared up. I was really caught of guard by this feeling of America being better and not just better but also improving - improving in our own hearts and those of the next generation we were seesawing with.

So thank you, Dr. King, for having the dream, articulating the vision, and making sure I would live in this version of America. Now I am going to go watch the next episode of Mad Men. Ha!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where Will The Twins Finish This Year?

It's time for my annual AL Central prediction. I happened to catch the middle two games of the Twins' four game sweep in Kansas City in person. I saw some of the ineptitude that's nagged them all season. But I saw some things that gave me hope for the Twins as well.

The Twins, who at this point seem to be mostly Red Wings, are finally starting to play like a Ron Gardenhire team. They are getting inside the opponent's mind, bunting, stealing bases, taking extra bases, and playing good basic defense. Starting pitchers are going deep into games. Pavano was amazing to watch Friday night to the extent that I did not even use my free ten dollars on dollar dog/beer night. Yeah, really.

The Twins will get Mauer and Nishi back somewhere along the line and one or both of them will play awesome. Cleveland will collapse. The White Sox will stay mired in mediocrity and finish around .500. For all the excitement over their new players the Royals, God love 'em, are the Royals. The only competition for the Twins down the stretch will be the Detroit Tigers. The Twins will make it a race, but the Tigers' lead will prove to be just too huge. I will then wish Jim Leyland and his team success representing the AL Central against New York, Boston, or Texas.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

True Story

I was in Florida recently and I met some interesting people. There was a family who named their children after letters of the alphabet. I didn't think that was a super idea, but I found their fourth child particularly inspirational.

One morning we woke up to find that a strange, prehistoric looking group of birds had flown over and defecated hair on the extremely large houses we were staying in. Worse, this hair could only be removed by scraping at it with a dorsal fin of the native fish.

Even worse, the fish had to do it voluntarily, which meant alive. Special water-tight suits were constructed to keep these beautiful creatures breathing while they scraped the hair off the homes. One good thing about all of it was the development and implementation of a system of communication with the graceful beings. They're really quite bright and, once they understood our predicament, most compassionate.

Everyone else in the entire neighborhood had gotten their houses clean of the hair except the family I was staying with. It was a fascinating thing to watch and the fourth child of the alphabet nomenclature family became very attached to one of the wetsuited workers and vice versa.

It was the end of a very long day and, as I said, the large house I was staying in was the last one to get the hair scraped off it. The last native fish still working said he was going to call it a day.

We begged him not to stop because we couldn't stand to sleep another night in the house while it still had its disgusting coat of stinky, pterodactyl poop-hair. What finally convinced him to do it? I must admit, I played on his relationship with that inspirational fourth child and said, "


Saturday, June 04, 2011

Bob Dylan, Star Trek Fan

Who knew? Clinton Heylin knew, that's who. Clinton Heylin points out in his superlative book "Still On The Road" that two lines from the 1985 Empire Burlesque version of "Tight Connection To My Heart" are from an episode of Star Trek. He did not specify which two lines so I had to seek it out. This is why the internet exists:

From the episode "The Squire of Gothos":

SULU: Captain, how far do we go along with this charade?
KIRK: Until we can think our way out. Meanwhile, we accept his hospitality.

From the first verse of Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love):

I’ll go along with the charade
Until I can think my way out

Awesome. I imagine Bob sitting around, maybe in a hotel room, working on this song that has been calling to him for at least two years. (It was originally recorded for Infidels with different lyrics in 1983.) He happens to catch this excellent episode of Star Trek at just the right time and gives himself that mental, "Yeah!" that you get when you are really pleased with something artistic you've done. He immediately goes to the studio and overdubs the new vocal, now complete.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Walker Brothers Reissue

I have come to accept that I don't really make any effort to listen to "new bands". I DO ocasionally listen to bands that are new to me, whatever era they may come from. As such, I have to mention a really good, cheap reissue of three 1970s albums by The Walker Brothers. They're like Elvis in that they have the best elements of every genre and a big, powerful voice and sound.

Mostly I was interested in this because of the David Bowie connection. Bowie covered the song "Nite Flights" on 1993's excellent Black Tie, White Noise. I also was introduced to Scott Walker's solo work by A. Hon of Honigman and the Missisippi Seven and J. Dogs and so on. I was mostly interested in the Nite Flights album and had wanted it on CD for a long time. I was pleasantly surprised to find No Regrets and Lines are at least as good, if not as experimental.

Mastering is relatively quiet and totally transparent. It sounds like a good vinyl record. The CDs come in cardboard replica LP sleeves all held in a little box with a bonus photo. The page at amazon has that "Only 2 left in stock--order soon (more on the way)" notation on it already. Get it before it goes back out of print and sells at grossly inflated prices!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Yoko Ono and The Beginning of Wisdom

Open this in a separate window and play it while you read: John Lennon

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

You've probably heard that. You may have even heard it's by John Lennon. But do you know what song? Do you know the line that comes right before it?

It is from John's "Beautiful Boy", a song about his then five year old son. It's from John's final album, Double Fantasy. The line always seemed out of context to me. It is, alone, such a great line that I always assumed he shoehorned it in at the end of one of his latest songs at random because, you know, it's such a great line and it had to make the album even if he didn't have a complete song worthy of it. Turns out I was wrong.

Last year the Double Fantasy album was released in a "stripped down" mix supervised by Yoko Ono and original DF producer Jack Douglas. I finally got to the top of the queue for it at Hennepin County Library. It is really, really good. Way better. Way clearer. I always liked DF but the kinda '80s production was a barrier to totally loving the thing and really hearing the souls behind it.

So what is the little known line that sets up this better known line so beautifully?

"Before you cross the street take my hand."

When I listened to it in this new mix suddenly the connection was obvious. "Other plans" = crossing the street, going where you need to go. "Life" = holding hands. What you're going to do across the street - going to some office or something - matters not in the long run. Holding hands? Especially with your child? That's what it's all about. It's not about what you do. It's about how you do it and how you treat the people you're doing it with. This is a lesson I have to remind myself of over and over. I think it's part of what some people call wisdom.

I am now right about at the age John was when he wrote these two lines that so clearly belong together. Maybe I just had to get to where I am now to understand the song.

So check out the stripped down version of Double Fantasy. And pray with me that Yoko Ono somehow gets jurisdiction over Empire Burlesque!

Friday, May 27, 2011

From Memphis With Love

You know, I'm seeing some ads for "From Paris With Love" on DVD or Blue-Ray or something and I just want to tell everyone I can - don't see that movie. The woman turns out to be a terrorist and Jonathan Rhys Meyers shoots her while she's wearing a suicide vest. There, now I've ruined it for you.

That misogynist climax is the least of this movie's problems. Don't see it. If I can stop even one person from wasting their time with that movie then I've done something good today.

Yes, I like John Travolta and Johnathan Rhys Meyers. Yes, I like action movies, buddy movies, and spy movies. Still, that movie sucked. It wasted the movie portion of a date night. It was horrible without being so horrible it's good. Don't see it. Sincerely. You're welcome.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Help Me Fellow Songwriters and/or French Speakers

I think some of my friends speak French. Anyway, here is my idea. I have this song that I truly love called "Echo Some Tune" that I wrote in 2005 or so. It's a spooky ballad in 6/8 about the narrator staying in the Midwest while someone they love goes to California to follow a nebulous idea. Think Angel season four, Hitchcock's Vertigo, vampires, Free Fallin', Mullholland Drive, etc. I love the song but have never been 100% satisfied with it. I can't think of a first line that REALLY satisfies me. Here's where it's at right now:

Listen/download: Echo Some Tune

Why should you fight fair?
There's no cause to fight there
There's no one to turn to at all
Palm trees and loneliness
Sunshine and coke I guess
that's how far you had to fall
I wish that the courtyard apartment house life in L.A.
made you want to come back or at least maybe call - call

I listen for the sound's sweet sound
I listen for the time gone by
I listen to the bells' sweet toll
They're ringin' out the souls of men

Up in the tower
toll four times an hour
and twice a day Echo Some Tune
but the range of the mission's
been called into question
most people want naps after noon
The crosses and shadows on stucco and canyons are pretty
but sometimes the sun shines less bright than the moon - Oooh

We listen to the sound's sweet sound
We listen for the time gone by
We listen to the bells' sweet toll
They're ringin' out the souls of men


Cordelia Mota
came from Some Dakota
but the West Coast was there on line two
My Vertigo Angel
whose feet somehow tangled
in the sand and the beautiful blue
At night you think that you're hearing the creatures who walk in the moon
try to talk but it's just me, the darkness, and you – you

You listen to the sound's sweet sound
You listen for the time gone by
You listen to the bells' sweet toll
You're wringin' out the souls of men

Yeah listen to the sound's sweet sound
Yeah listen for the time gone by
Yeah listen to the bells' sweet toll
They're ringin' out the soul of man

So what can you do? Give me a good first line. (And maybe a second line, if you must change it.) Why French? Because "la guerre" rhymes with "fight there" and I don't know enough French to get a line that says something like "Why are you fighting a meaningless/unwinnable/Pyrrhic war?". But it doesn't have to be French. It does, however, need roughly five syllables. I welcome all of your thoughts and ideas.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Twelve Very Sad Musician Deaths

Elvis. His last album, Moody Blue, still sounds fresh, new, emotional, and fascinating. It pointed the way for much of what I remember of the next five years or so of music, especially early '80s country, which all sounds derived from "For The Heart" and "Moody Blue" and "He'll Have To Go". He was still active and creative and innovative and I'd love to know what he would have done for the last thirty years or so.

John Lennon. Possibly the saddest, most shocking, senseless, unfair rock star death ever. He wasn't effed up on drugs. He had a five year old son he loved, a smart, loving wife and collaborator, a new album (Double Fantasy) that was the best thing he'd done in almost ten years, and a public ready and waiting to welcome him back from his self-imposed exile. And he was only 40!

George Harrison. The last album (Brainwashed) is brilliant, the equal of anything he'd ever done. I would love for him to have gotten another twenty or thirty years; both for his own music and so he could hear the excellent music his son is now making (Fistful of Mercy) and tell him in person how proud he was.

Kirsty MacColl. Again the fantastic creative leap of the last album (Tropical Brainstorm) pointing the way to what else she might have done. She also never got the widespread, A-list acclaim she deserved for her outstanding songwriting.

Kurt Cobain. Nirvana is still the most interesting thing on modern rock radio, despite the familiarity of all the tunes. I never switch stations when "Lithium" or even "Smells Like Teen Spirit" comes on. I started teaching guitar the year he died and I always felt like the kids really learned something musically important by playing his songs.

Jimi Hendrix. What would he have done next? What would he be doing now? I can't even imagine it and neither can anyone else. That's what's so frustrating about a lot of the people on this list. A sense of an unfulfilled mission, the continuation of which would have benefitted the entire world. Perhaps most especially...

John Coltrane. His last recordings were the most extreme, intense, intelligent thing anyone had ever done and no one has ever matched him. Would he have topped himself somehow and showed us something even more new and revolutionary? The frustrating answer is that only he had the mind, the technique, the feeling, and the soul to do whatever it is he would have done next. You could make a case that an entire genre died with him.

Janis Joplin. Wouldn't it be cool to have some late '70s Janis albums? They would sound so soulful and rockin' and mellow by turns and probably sometimes all at once.

John Stenseth. My favorite regular performer at St. Olaf's Larson Coffeehouse by a wide margin and the only one to whom I willingly, enthusiastically surrendered the open mic night stage back in the day. His 12-string was a marvelous machine of melody and rhythm and his voice was a fountain of soul. It makes me question the very nature of existence that he, of all people, died so young.

Sandy Denny. I only recently discovered for myself the true glory and power of this British singer/songwriter, a giant of folk, and I look forward to hearing everything else she ever did and I'm sure I'll get to the point where I am knowledgeable enough to wish there was another thirty years of it.

Chris Bell. His post-Big Star recordings (I Am The Cosmos) are really excellent and I'd love to see where he would have gone. Plus, Like John L. above, his band's inevitable reunion would have been a lot more interesting and authentic.

Alex Chilton. He seems to have been pretty much done with studio recordings but his shows were still great, be they with Big Star, The Box Tops, or solo. I would've liked to have seen him another time or two.

Ars longa, vita brevis.
Wish You Were Here.