Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Revolving Pies


If you hadn't noticed, I have a little Flash widget in the right hand column displaying advertising for my furniture business in the format I like to call "The Revolving Pies." Anyone who's ever eaten in a stainless steel diner knows all about the revolving pies. When you stand at the cash register, coming or going, there's a spinning display case with pie and cake. I don't eat dessert, (I told you I was strange)but I am not immune to the charms of spinning confections. It's like chanting in Latin in church. You might not know what it means, but its very existence is like a pleasant touchstone in an everchanging universe.

Advertising is hard. Well, commerce is hard. Composing the message and gauging the results in advertising is obscure and equivocal more than hard. It's like juggling. If you stare at any particular ball, you drop them all. You have to learn to stare out into the middle distance, trust to your instincts, and go for it.

How can I tell people I exist, and have things that they might like and need, without annoying them? That's a delicate task. But you have to do it. I always liked those restaurants that didn't have a sign, but everybody knew about them. But they're just advertising in a different way, really, not foregoing it.

If all advertisers treated the general public as if they were me in front of the pies, life would be better. I don't want pie, but I don't mind them spinning around there. Most advertising seems to consist of a pie with dubious ingredients being shoved in my face. No thanks, times two.

There's a Dutch retailer in Europe called Hema. I've never been anywhere they sell things, and it's likely I never will. But I like their revolving pies. That's half the battle. I bet you will too, if you are patient for a handful of seconds. (self-launching audio alert)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wanting Is Half The Getting

(The most excellent photograph is from: Daily Dose of Imagery. Visit them.)

I think that I like the average person more than your average person does. But I am not like most people.

I don't know what to want. Most people know what they want. Many are a bundle of wants, and ratchet the most optional things up to "needs" from "wants." There are a multitude of things that I see people ready to debase or impoverish themselves for that I wouldn't cross the street to participate in if they were free.

I could list quite a few things many sane persons would like and enjoy that would be a prison sentence for me. That's boring and cranky and I won't do it. I'm not sure what makes me so strange. I do know that the average person wants to hear "Sweet Home Alabama," coming through a tinny speaker on the gasoline dispenser while they're filling their tank much more than I do. By "more," I really mean "at all." Que sera.

The crabbiest people with the narrowest worldview always think everyone should be like them. I think the world would be a drearier place if everyone was like me. Then again, if uniformity is required, then the everyone should be exactly like me. It's the only way I'll be happy. I'd dearly like to be left alone to be as strange as I am, though, and you nice people go about your business.

I'm grateful to be alive, and still in the game. There are not enough hours in the day to suit me. If I could live to be a thousand years old, I'd be perfectly content to spend every single one of those days in my house with my family.

But I saw that picture. I once walked out a door on the left side of that picture from that "Office" and dodged around the peddlers on the stone flags, dazed by the sudden rush of sunlight, what is now a long time ago. I was holding my wife's hand.

I want to go and stand on the disc in the middle of the square over there, where they burned Savonarola. It seems like the place to be, for a person like me. I don't know if I'll ever be able to do it again. But I know that I'd like to.

I'm halfway there.

Monday, January 28, 2008

(It Snows Every Year, So It's Time For) More Hysterical Fiction


[Editor's Note: It snowed pretty good last night, and the wind howled, and the house creaked, and it reminded me how much it is the same here as centuries ago. This story was written to accompany a candle shelf, a common item in colonial America, sort of our forebear's wall sconce. I've used real people and places, but it's fiction. Any man that has called on his sweetheart knows that being fiction, it's a long way from being fictional.]
{Author's Note: There is no editor.}

From Wethersfield we went out, about half an hour before sunrising, for Quabaug. We lost our way in the snow, which hindered us some hours. Having neither house nor wigwam at hand, we lay in the woods all night. Through mercy, we arrived in health to the proceedings. JosephBradford, appraiser, had begun calling out the Probate Inventory of our beloved departed Obadiah Dickinson, father of my bride, recently deceased of apoplexy in the yeare of our Lord 1750.

My bride was in distress, and Mr Bradford, spake quickly, and the words tumbled out and gathered and split asunder again without warning, and we were content to let them go past without signifying. Mr Bradford paused, with force, and called my name most clearly, and approached to take my hand. He placed in my hand six coins, of no value, worn and dirty with much handling.

"It was the earnest desire of Mr Dickinson that these be returned to you, sir. "

I was adrift.

"I know not of these coins, sir. That cannot be returned which was never given. "
My wife pressed my arm, and looked at me with with such emotion, I did not spake further, hoping until such time as she could explain this mystery.

For my wife's father, who was a good man, and true, did not care for such as myself. He tolerated me only, and watched over his girl as a bear watches her cub. I felt always his look over my shoulder, even betimes he was not present.

We hired a team to bring such belongings as were meet over the frozen Connecticut River to our lodgings, Methinks the villein charged more than the lot was worth to transport them, but he avowed he would not hear the frozen river cracking under each footfall for less than a treasure. My wife could not do without what little was left of her father, and I grudgingly gave way.

"Why should your Pater, who knew no rest in minding me, make me this present? He did not care for me."

"You are harsh, Caleb, and wrong in the bargain."

"I speak the truth, woman, Bless his soul, but he did not care for me. He has given me this trifle to shame me afore the appraiser."

"Nay, Caleb, they are your coins, and it is his love which it displays, not scorn."

"How can this be?"

"You are older now Caleb, and forget the things of your youth. But my father, and I, did not forget."

"What do I forget?"

"You would call on me Caleb, with your hair in place and your clothes brushed. "

"Yes?"

"And my father would let us sit alone in the room, while he smoked outside; do you remember?"

"Just so; I had forgotten."

"Father would say he would come back inside when the candle flame could not be seen on the candle shelf anymore."

"Through mercy! I would put the coins under the candle to raise it up and prolong the time. "

"Yes Caleb. He knew. And now it is time you knew- Father did not smoke."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's Sunday. What Method Will You Employ To Contemplate The Sublime?


It's a grumpy shaman we've hired, it's true. But it is not meet to shout out which passage from the scrolls you'd prefer.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Abandon Hope (For Fresh Content) All Ye Who Read Here

[Editor's Note: Originally offered more than a year ago. ]
{Author's Note: I could use one of those gold-plated Republican jobs right now myself. Then I could afford a better editor, unlike this one that doesn't exist.}

Can you tell me the way to Hope Street?

They tell me the road to hope is long, and fraught with peril, sir.

(Stunned silence. A moment of recognition. Wry smile.)

Yes, but at least it's paved now.

The cobbles are made from the hearts of policemen, sir. They are only mortared loosely with good intentions.

You have the gun, so I defer to your judgement. The way?

Go back up the hill and turn right, if you want to find Hope. Abandon hope, all ye who stand here in the middle of the street with a policeman in the sleet.

Would you like a cup of coffee, officer?

I'd like a gold-plated Republican job and a roast turkey with a side order of another roast turkey, and a whiskey and an upholstered woman with a fireplace and access to more whiskey, thank you. But I'll settle for a cup of coffee, if that's what you meant.

I'll need to cross the street to get it. Will you stop the traffic?

Sir, I'll hold them here until the ammo runs out, then go hand to hand with the stragglers, if you'll bring a sinker with the joe.

Done, and done.

Dunne and Dunne? Are those your lawyers, sir?

Spring is coming, officer, if we keep this up.

Go. I'll cover you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Elevator Jones 4


You collect yourself in the car. I never knew what that meant before.

I hate the Star Trek doors. I want to feel the weight of a door when I push on it. A building shouldn't devour you. I don't want to go in its maw.

There's something wrong with everybody. Spectator or actor or stagehand or director -- doesn't matter. Everyone's a mess. There's a man in pajamas in a wheelchair on the curb smoking a cigarette. It's twenty. You could grind him up and make a paste of pure corruption.

VCT. That means vinyl composition tile. Twelve inch squares. Hard. Cold. Everyone stares at it and walks. There's nothing to see and that's the point.

After a while it's over. It's late. What difference should it make in there what time it is? But we are humans no matter the VCT. The moon is up and the sun is down and the day is over and that's that.

You go down the long lonesome corridor and stare at the flecks in the floor and there's nothing and nobody for the last fifty yards. You come up hard at a doorway. There's a badge and some writing and it doesn't matter what it says. The room has no people and the television is screwed to the wall in the last place it should be, in the corner at the ceiling, and it yells at no one. Not even me. You stare slackjawed for a moment and the corpse of some hoary joke is hurled at the audience of dead souls in an empty room.

Going down.

A Lot Of Thrust. Big Payload


I don't see TV much anymore. Is there anything like Night Music on the tube now? David Sanborn's hair helmet was great. I used to be up late in the eighties and early nineties a lot for work, and I used to see this show all the time. I got the impression the performers outnumbered the viewers sometimes, at least when the Sun Ra Orchestra was on.

That's Dan Hicks. Dan Hicks was always just the right mix of sophisticated and crazy, wasn't he? The intellectual's Screamin'Jay Hawkins. The song's not about me. I scare other people. Wait, what?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Holidays Are To Remember Where You Came From



The signal achievement of contemporary American cultural life is a profound, all-encompassing ingratitude. I'm not interested. Neither was Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sunday, January 20, 2008

We Can Indeed Work It Out

I play music with young men sometimes. It's fascinating to see what they like.

They have their own musical worldview, open-minded or cranky to taste, filled with contemporary things. Rock music isn't all that complicated, and me and my hoary old friends generally don't have too much trouble kenning what's going on in your typical Weezer song and bashing our way through it. There really isn't all that much difference between any two guitars/bass/drums/two-or-three-guys singing stuff. If you can play the Dave Clark Five, you can play Radiohead.

Since I play the bass, mostly, I'm often pressed into service as there's regularly a shortage of that. My friend's sons are college age, and some of our co-workers and friends aren't yet thirty. They all play better than we did, or do. It's funny to see them pawing through crap from my high school years like we pawed through Animal House flotsam for oldies.

In pick-up situations, you have to find things that everybody knows, or can fake or figure out in a hurry. You end up playing everything they play during time-outs at football games, and you always play the Beatles.

The Beatles were my older brother's vintage. They were gone before I was in high school. But an archaeologist could take a sample of all the layers of Beatles stuff I've played, and make a series of geologic Beatle eras.

1. The Beatles any song
2. Beatles raves like Twist and Shout
3. Mature pop songs like You Can't Do That.
4. Arena rock progenitors like Back In The USSR
5. Silly stuff like Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
6. Back to Twist and Shout for bald men and women gone thick in the middle

But this is what the young fellers want to play now. Good for them. It's lovely:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

1937

The Old Mill won the Academy Award for Best Short Subjects: Cartoons. I'd never seen it before that I can recall.

As we discussed earlier, the word "genius" gets bandied about a lot, especially in Hollywood. Walt Disney is the only one from there I can think of. Personally, I'd rather watch a Warner Brothers Daffy Duck short than any Disney offering, but that signifies nothing. I'd rather eat at Johnnie Rocket's than have an Escoffier dinner right now, too. An opinion is not always an analysis.

Disney captured great themes, and was a visionary in a multitude of ways. He was always in my mind a Californian, a representation of the very essence of America at its leading edge. But that man understood Europe better than the people that inhabited it .

Friday, January 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Archie Leach

Cary Grant was born this day in 1904. He never died, really. I wonder if he ever will.

When in doubt, just point a camera at him. You can turn off the sound for a while, too; doesn't much matter.

He's a big favorite here at the Cottage:

Wait For It

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse

Red, Green, Blue Yellow, White



Thursday, January 17, 2008

(I Continue To Be) Not Lonely. Alone.

[Editor's Note: This essay needs a cake with one candle.]
{Author's Note: There is no editor}

I delivered some millwork I fabricated to a nearby jobsite. It's a marvelous shingle style rehab of an older house in the town I live in. A friend of mine owns it, and is his own architect. Another of my dearest friends is the general contractor. I dropped off the final piece of a railing I'd made, and the only person at the job was the general contractor's brother, a finish carpenter. And he shouldn't be alone.

Not because he doesn't work when he's alone. Not because he needs help, either. He's managing fine. He shouldn't be alone because it doesn't suit him.

He's the gregarious sort. He's got a sunny, chatty disposition. And he's rattling around in there by himself.

I don't know what happened to laconism. It used to be very common in the building trades. I met dozens of men who communicated, as Calvin Coolidge's biographer once described the president's conversational ability, by the "ugh ugh of the Indian." Real quiet like would be the Okie version of that. Anyway, they were not prone to running their mouths. I think they're all dead now. I bet the undertaker pinched them all before screwing the lids down, too, just to make sure they weren't just being real quiet like.

Most contractors used to be Henry Fonda. Now they're all Eldon the Painter. I'm not sure what happened.

I work alone most of the time. I am, as they say, a yammering Mick. And being half Sicilian in the bargain, I'm a yammering Mick that talks with his hands. Terrifying to behold.

Anyway, as I said, I work alone a lot, and it suits me somehow. I think it has to do with the nature of your employment.

The clock and the calendar hang on the wall, glaring at me the whole time. Every day is too short, and every week is shorted a few days. There will literally never be enough time for me to accomplish what I'm trying to do. I can never make a to-do list that makes any sense; each tick mark suggests ten others.

When you work for wages, your attitude changes. You have surrendered a sort of autonomy, and gained another kind. The clock and the calendar are Newtonian, not Quantum based measurements of time. And so the day is never too short, no matter how fine an employee you make. When it's over, it's over. The boss signed up to worry at 2 am on Sunday. You didn't. You just worry every once in a while if you picked the right boss.

My friend, the lonely carpenter, picked the right boss. His general contractor brother is a hardworking and determined fellow, and worries a great deal so his younger brother does not have to. But he's overlooked one aspect of the equation. Loneliness.

I'm not lonely, when I'm alone. The frantic never are.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

de fixer les objets longtemps sans etre fatigue

Genius.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I think it's hilarious that if you want to swap a battery out of an Apple product, you walk up to a counter called a "Genius Bar" in one of their stores. Apparently the Fuhrer of Lake Wobegon has gotten his enabling act, and has annexed the whole United States now. I don't have an opinion one way or another on the gaudy overpriced stuff they sell; but I'm not sure I could stand to be patronized in that fashion and keep a straight face. "Who's the genius -- you, or me? Both of us, of course!" I worked for many years with my younger brother, who is possessed of a sardonic wit. Whenever he was presented with any extravagant claim of the usefulness or value of any item, he'd pause for effect and say: "Yes, but is it premium?"

In politics, the word genius gets used quite a bit, but I notice that what the word they really mean to use is shameless. I really don't know why they keep getting those two mixed up. The last two political geniuses I can think of are Hitler and Churchill. Thank god we got both at the same time. Other than that, for 75 years it's been all workmanlike or incompetent; take your pick.

I've known my share of people equipped with plenty of raw intellectual horsepower. It mostly manifests itself on one side of the ledger, of course: words or numbers. Tremendous intellectual capacity at one thing is almost always accompanied by a loopy worldview and disastrous omissions in other parts of the intellect or personality. It's always amusing to see people with an IQ of 110 point out that since they have the same personality failings as Einstein or Feynman, they must be geniuses. Sure. Just take drugs and throw up on yourself. That will make you Hendrix, too.

Napoleon described it as: de fixer les objets longtemps sans etre fatigue. The ability to concentrate on objectives for long periods without tiring. Of course, many people think that because they hit Refresh four hundred times on an Elvis figurine auction on E-bay that that must apply to them. Sorry, no.

There is a kind of stubborness in any genius, of course, but any fool can be stubborn. You can't win fights solely by taking a beating. To couple insight with intelligence to see around a corner and identify things that are obscure to others -- that is genius. It's exceedingly rare, it seems, though many claim to see it everywhere, including while shaving. Any genius in a public school would be drugged to a stupor now, anyway. Perhaps it's a waste of time to talk of them any more.

Churchill was described as having "a zigzag streak of lightning in the brain." There, that's it. Trust me; you don't have it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

(Long Day's Journey Into) Big Night


[Editor's Note: Originally run two years ago. Seems timely still, which means he must still be a miserable failure at business.]
{Author's Note: No, I'm a prescient writer, not a bad businessman! See, people? That's why there is no editor. The guy has no clue}

It's exceedingly hard to run a business.

I really don't care what kind of business it is, either. They vary widely, of course, but they'll all kick your ass. Digging ditches or personal shopper, makes no never-mind. If you've ever made out a Schedule C you know exactly what I'm talking about.

It's hard to tell a story properly, too. Most entertainments are only modestly entertaining, -- if that -- and ephemeral. It's a rare thing that endures for a good long time in the world of movies and music and art. The producers generally just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Most of what they throw at the wall actually should be hitting a fan, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor.

People are making their own fun with entertainment at this point. The reason people yell at the screen now instead of sitting in rapt attention are manifold, but the number one reason is the stuff on the screen isn't very good; and like a buffet of tidbits, the audience is trying to fashion a plate of fun for themselves. The cook can't seem to do it, so you do it yourself.

I watched a movie I've owned for a long time: Big Night. It's on VHS, so I know I've had it a while. It's a story about two Italian immigrant brothers trying to make a go of it in a restaurant in New Jersey in the 1950s. They are failing, and try to pull their business up from oblivion by hosting a celebrity for one "big night." It's both good entertainment and a good look at business. I don't talk while it's playing. It's doing all the work for me.

Like the best kinds of distillations of the human condition, Big Night uses the plot device of splitting one person's personality between two people, and having them rub up against one another. It's a useful dichotomy for the examination of the business ethic. One brother, Segundo, is running a restaurant and concerned with the mercenary aspects of running a business; his older brother Primo is the brilliant cook, concerned with being an artist with his food. Neither is a complete person without the other. The back and forth between them, as they search for the balance between being true to themselves and earning a living is as fascinating a portrayal of what it means to be creative and make it pay as I've ever seen.

The movie works on many other levels, and I wonder if the authors of the play -- as this movie is surely just a play with a camera pointed at it-- would even acknowledge my appraisal of the one person split into two plot device. I think artists always have this rolling around in their minds without admitting it. They wish to deny their self promotion, as it seems to smack of commerce. But watch the credits roll by sometime. Even a little movie is a serious business. Let the artists indulge themselves with their imaginary aversion to filthy lucre. Like good manners, I don't care why they say the right thing.

If you want to know what it is to be a brother, and an Italian, and an artist, and a businessman, and an immigrant, watch this movie. If you want to see why I never recovered from meeting my wife the very first time, look for the woman in the red dress at the final meal. Don't get me wrong; that's not her. My wife is prettier. Whether I am Primo or Segundo has yet to be determined.

Sometimes, when the Schedule C looks up at me from the desk, I wonder if I might try being Pascal, the brothers' venal but engaging and successful competitor from down the street: "I am a businessman. I am whatever I have to be at any given time. Tell me what, exactly, are you?"

(Some salty language)


Watch it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ah, L'Amour, Indeed.



Sippican Cottage can neither confirm nor deny the appropriateness or veracity of these sentiments. Handle these sentiments with care. The behavior exhibited is not recommended by Sippican Cottage -- nor any of his heirs, assigns, or proxies -- for children under the age of seventy-four. No, those pants do not make you look fat. Contents might be hot. Do not try this at home. No rights reserved.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

(I Wish I Was Playing) Bog Hockey

[Editor's Note: Originally run a year ago. We've reduced our carbon footprint by not drinking an additional cup of coffee and thinking real hard and writing something new.]
{Author's Note: I'm really just busy making furniture. I had his coffee. There is no editor.}

This picture is a lot older than I am. Probably thirty years older. But it is an exact rendering of my winter life in our little suburb -- check that-- exurb --- check that -- that word didn't exist then-- out in the sticks where we lived in the sixties.

I was born in Boston. When I was but small, we moved into the country. And my life was amazingly different from my cousins who remained in the city.

We didn't have any money, really, but not so's you'd notice. We lived in a little house on a little plot in a little neighborhood, and had little, salubrious lives. Our mother would turn us out of doors, no matter the season, and we'd take our battered belongings, pool them, and play self -organized sports. We'd sort out the teams, and the rules, and the size and shape of the playing surface, and rarely quarrelled, unless it seemed like more fun than playing any more. And we could have sorted out the Mideast thing, if they'd let us. Maybe their quarrelling is more fun than they let on.

In the summer, we'd play baseball, and have to mow the field before playing. Right field's an out! In the winter, we'd play basketball in the elementary school gym. Shirts and skins. Onlookers were no doubt sorely tempted to play xylophone on many of the skins team's ribs. Weight training was still far in the future. In the fall, we'd play tackle football in a cow pasture with no equipment. There were no hash marks or goal lines demarcated, of course, but in a field recently used by ruminant animals, those weren't the things on the ground you would have been keeping an eye out for anyway. And in the winter, we'd dress in wool, gather our rusting hand-me-down skates that lacked steel toes, grab the sticks that were generally broken and discarded and then repaired with electrical tape, and we'd shamble on down to LaFleur's Pond, and get up a game. The idea of actually owning and wearing a replica of the sweater worn by our local professional hockey team was as remote and mystical as a strawberry on the kitchen table in the winter.

We were always half frozen with the cold. We had no protective gear of any kind. Hell, at the time, there was only one professional hockey player who wore a helmet -- Terrible Teddy Green-- and he only wore it because he'd already had his head staved in from a stick fight, and needed to protect the steel plate in his head from any further persuasion. When we first started going to Boston Garden to see Bobby Orr's mighty Bruins play, some of the goalies weren't wearing masks yet.

The ice was never really frozen properly, one way or the other. If it was thick enough to be safe, it was so corrugated it would rattle your teeth out of your head. If it was fresh enough to offer a smooth surface, it was thin enough to drown you. We always skated anyway. If you got checked, you'd occasionally slide to the margins of the pond, get caught in the brambles reaching up through the ice, get tangled up, and fall in up to your waist, and you'd spend the rest of the day skating with your pants frozen to your legs. You wouldn't stop.

"NO LIFTING!" you'd shout every time the more adept stickhandlers would get the puck up off the ice and crack your shins. We'd all readily and solemnly agree that there'd be no lifting, before we began each game, of course; some of us because we knew we were incapable of lifting it, and the others because they were incapable of not lifting it, so no one was much put out by the bargain.

We'd put two sticks five feet apart on the ice to mark out the goal, and get to it. Guys who never passed at basketball never passed at hockey either, we noticed. And they'd forever be taking shots from fifty yards from the goal, missing by fifty yards, and requiring a ticklish trip to the brambles to fetch the errant puck without swimming amongst the prickers.

When we got older, we'd fashion real nets out of scavenged lumber and chicken wire, and without fail we'd forget to fetch them off the ice in time for spring thaw, and we'd see them, on the bottom like scuttled privateers, winking at us beneath the new year's ice.

I wanted to be a goalie, but had no equipment. My father drove an old Rambler Station Wagon. Underneath the carpet in the back, there was -- check that -- there originally was a layer of foam rubber.
My brother and I spent many a miserable car ride rolling around in the back of the car with only the thin carpet between us and the rivets and bolt heads because I cut the pad up into rectangles, wove olive drab straps from army surplus utility belts through slits in the foam, tied them to my legs, and played the net like that.

At the time, the Bruins had a goalie named Gerry Cheevers. He was cool. He wore a white plastic mask, and he'd draw the stitches he would have received had he not worn the mask right on it, in magic marker, adding one every time he got hit in the face. He looked fierce like that. Young boys like fierce. So I tried to fashion one for myself out of the plastic scavenged from a Clorox bottle, held on my head with an elastic band, and burned my face with the residue of the bleach. The plastic was as thin as a negligee, and wouldn't protect me in any case; I didn't care, I wore it anyway.

And some of the kids were real good. A few played college hockey. One played on the Olympic Team and the Bruins and is now an NHL coach. But by the time he had started coming around, there was a real rink next to the high school to play in. Real equipment started to show up. Right handed goalies didn't use their brother's left handed hand-me-down baseball glove and bleach bottle mask and Rambler foam as equipment. Time marched on, and the younger kid's parents started getting up at 3:00 AM to make it to the rink for their allotted ice time, supplanting the older kid's ritual: mothers sticking their heads out the back door when the light got weak and the sun skimmed the horizon, painting at the last only the very tops of the dormant oaks that ringed the pond with the winter dusk's fire, shouting your name to call you to dinner.

My son played hockey on the Playstation once. Didn't care for it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hydraulic License Rock (Slight Return)

[Editor's Note: This originally ran 18 months ago. I'm shocked the YouTube video is still available. I imagined it would have been pulled and resulted in 45 lawsuits by now.]
{Author's Note: There is no editor, and he's really starting to bug me.}

The quality of this YouTube feed is better than most. The quality of the music is too:



That's Cream re-united and performing "White Room," probably their best known song. I've watched it many times. It occurs to me that it explains a lot about rock music.

Those are old men. Eric Clapton, playing the black stratocaster, has his hair mussed just so as a sop to youth, but they're old farts. Old farts playing rock music are lame. Cream is not. Here's why:

The term rock music has been twisted and stretched to cover just about any set of noises organized to sell discs. It's as if forty or fifty years ago a religion was founded, and you had to get the A and R rabbis at the record companies and radio stations to announce you were kosher, ie: rock and roll, to be consumed.

If there's anything lamer than old, bald men in spandex still yelping about the discontents of teenagers as if they were still in junior high, I haven't seen it. "Hope I die before I get old" only stirs the blood if the blood doesn't require Geritol. You're not allowed to pick that gauntlet back up and complain about your backache while doing so, too.

Performers used to acknowledge that their shelf life as young rebels "fighting the man" was short, and if they wanted to keep performing afer it expired, they'd have to become part of the nostalgia industry. Listening to Peter Frampton in 1976 is excusable. Listening to Peter Frampton to remind you of 1976 is excusable. Listening to Peter Frampton as anything else is kinda silly.

Cream is a part of a tradition of adult music. they listened to music from America's black musical tradition, where it is was plenty acceptable to be an adult, and consider adult themes. When they were young, they were striving to be old. Now they are old, and need not strive.

I watched them, and knew that I had seen their like before; but not where you'd think. They were operating their machinery, and I had seen men operate familiar machinery before. I've known many men, skilled in the rough arts: masonry and concrete finishing and excavation and demolition and blasting--men past their physical prime, but still tough as nails, and wise; and able to leave any three youngsters in their dust.

They sit in the chair in the excavator, and their knobby hands move the levers just so, and they move the bucket with the delicacy of the teaspoon. They wake up tired, and yet they never tire while working, because they husband their energies where the young and strong and dumb flail away and drop out.

They stand in the shade whenever possible, and rest when it is offered, but do not flag.

They smile at one another at the end of the day's work, exactly the same smile exchanged at the end of this song; a knowing smile among those who have earned the respect of a fellow adult man.

And the young men watch them and learn.

Monday, January 07, 2008

I Looked Down, And There It Was (Again)

[Editor's note: This was originally offered a year ago. I'm pleased that these things make a certain amount of sense even though they are not new. Authors who are famously wrong need new material all the time, I guess.]
{Author's note: Being lazy, I tell the truth. Saves effort. Also, there is no editor.}

It's a hoary old joke my friend tells. The man of few words, in a restaurant slightly more elegant than he's used to. The waiter asks: "How did you find your meal?" He answers: "I looked down, and there it was."

Everything appears now, through a process so complex that no one can fully understand even a small portion of it. Persons that say they understand the machinations necessary to place the most mundane thing in front of a great many people well enough to regulate the whole affair, with an eye towards improving everything, are spouting nonsense. If a man walked up to you and confessed he didn't know your name, but claimed he could list all the atoms in your body, would you hand him your wallet? How about your skin? All day long, I hear the groundskeepers telling me they should be the quarterback. And I can't help noticing the grass has gone to seed, and the hash marks are crooked.

You look down, and there it is, all day long. There is a large chance that if you're reading this, you have never participated in the actual making of anything in any meaningful way. And as the world gets more complex, we all get further and further removed from the ultimate source of all of our prosperity. How far removed? To the point where it gets obscure enough that it can be blithely strangled in its crib, on the supposition that it can be improved by infantile wishing, followed by fiat.

See the man on the sleigh, bringing the sap back to the shed to boil? He knows the tree like a brother. He knows the woods like a mother. He knows fire like a caveman. He knows commerce like a loanshark. He knows cold like a gravedigger. He knows sap like you know the alphabet. And he doesn't have the slightest idea what you're about, because you labor in a vineyard far removed from his -- where the meaning of your efforts is likely always obscure, as all intellectual pursuits must be.

Remember always what you don't know about him, lest one day, you look down, and there it ain't.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Intemperate

I'm feeling extremely intemperate today. I thought about indulging my anger and frustration here in pixels... but I'm not going to. I'm also filled with love for my fellow man today. It's overcome everything else. People visit me here every day, from all over the world, and what use am I to them? To inform a little, perhaps to amuse. I take that seriously.

If you live in Massachusetts you might have some idea of what's bugging me. Maybe not. Guys like me are always invisible. That is, until you decide maybe I'd be handy to have around, to make your stuff and pay your taxes and give other people jobs and so forth. Then you discover I've gone from invisible to... elsewhere.