Sunday, August 31, 2008

Something For The Mantelpiece



Hey, it's Glenn Tilbrook's Birthday.

Man, I know he's old, because he's older than me. Once I started playing music for money I lost the desire to go see live music as a an audience member. But my good friend Steve dragged me to a Squeeze show. He knew it would be the one pop act that would get me in the Melody Tent.

Squeeze had lost all their money and atomized -- quite a common thing in the music world. We were expecting a rock band like you see in the video, and instead we got Tilbrook and Chris Difford (the weird, croaking-voiced guy that sings Cool For Cats) singing and playing guitars like a couple of buskers. I liked it better, I think.

I'm hard pressed to come up with a name of a pop musician who can simultaneously write such strong material, sing it well, and play the guitar as inventively as Tilbrook. The list is fairly short for any one of those three things, now that I think of it.

Pop music is supposed to be lively, fun, unserious, jolly, and cheap and accessible. Pop music is supposed to be: Squeeze. Happy Birthday, Glenn!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Heartbreak

People think their heart is broken only when something bad happens. Not enough reading of the ancient Greeks, anymore, I guess.

It's all in the thinking. You're sad now and again. You think it's not normal to be sad. You ask the doctor or the bartender or the politician to make you whole. They cure nothing. Feeling happy isn't being happy. Ballroom dancing on the Titanic helps pass the time, but that's about it. Better to check your rivets and your course than go to Arthur Murray.

To be heartbroken is to be separated from the scene of your happiness. Happiness is a situation, not a condition. The situation must be assembled from the tatty bits of this world over and over. It is the cook, not the philosopher, that we must look to. One must not starve to death waiting for the food.

One of the ingredients is now missing in the mornings. The first course disappears all day, already. The cooking is more difficult with the larder bare. I was happy, of course, the whole time my heart was breaking.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ramshackle Is (Still) My Middle Name


(First offered two years ago)

I've been in the construction business, in one form or fashion, for most of my life. Tectonic plates have shifted; continents meandered across the mercator projections; empires have risen and fallen. Pluto's not a planet again. I keep going.

When I was a schoolchild, they told us Pluto might not be a planet, by the way. What's happened in the interim that gave everyone the impression it absolutely was a planet, and now absolutely isn't? Is it the same thing that makes people argue about it on the internet as if they owned real estate on Pluto and stood to lose money, all the while spelling argument "arguement" and sprinkling apostrophes all over the place except where they belong? I expect so.

People have all sorts of information available to them now, and not much of it is very good. And some of it is good, but not useful. To paraphrase Mark Twain: stay away from the internet and television, and you're uninformed; go there, and you're misinformed.

I'm an odd person. I've been lots of places and seen lots of things that most people that can read, write, and spell never do. The real world callouses make me inscrutable to a cubicle dweller; the "Three R's" make me suspicious to the day laborer. When I left my last job, the CEO and the COO begged me to reconsider. They had promoted me from the lowest rung to senior to one of the owners. What did I want? Why would I leave? They called me, a day before my notice was up, the notice they had strung out over three months, and told me: Eureka! we got the bright idea of digging up your old resume and now we finally understand you.

I think not.

Ever live in a house like the ones pictured above? I have. I used to work on them all the time, too. By gad how I loved them.

When I was wandering through a portion of the education required to become an architect, a friend of mine took me to see one of his other friends who was renovating a bombed out looking victorian in Roxbury, Mass. I was born right down the street, but hadn't been there much recently. It was very dangerous to be there after dark.

The fellow had bought the place for next to nothing, lived in it like the wooden cave it had become, and was repairing it by himself.

He had taught himself carpentry, and electricity, and plumbing, and plastering and painting, and all the other aspects of home construction usually foreign to architects. You heard me right, architects generally have nothing but the most vague ideas of how things get done in construction. Surgeons don't empty bedpans. I didn't want to be an architect anymore. I wanted to be that guy whose name I don't remember. And this was five or ten years, easy, before Norm Abram and Bob Vila stood on a scaffold right down the street from the place I was describing, and did the same thing with a camera pointed at them.

I've done everything you can do to a house, old or new, from digging the hole to putting a vane on the cupola. I've bathed in lead paint. I've discovered beehives the size of mattresses inside the walls. I've found whisky bottles left by the workmen who built the places in the 1800s in the walls. I've seen wooden plumbing pipes and dirt floors and secret closets where people hid during King Philip's War. I've worked 16 hours straight, laid down on the wood floor when it got dark, and got up and started again. And now I make furniture.

I've got to get my hands on it. I can't help myself. And I'm just like Pluto. I dip into the solar system, occasionally, in my erratic orbit, and the other planets wonder: Is he like us, or isn't he?

It gets cold out here from time to time, but you get a wonderful view of the universe.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The New Churchill

Oh yeah. Just.

Accommodated. Beautifully put. The place is full of men never cracked a spine except in a fight, and the proprietor says: accommodated. How about: put up, and put up with? Farmed? Stacked like cordwood? Buried like a Pharoah's handlers -- still alive but not going anywheres?

I climb the steps like the Aztec fellows must have on the way to the top to have the heart ripped out. It's the same. The world is more of a theoretical place now; that just means you can have it tugged out every day and it grows back for the next. Like Sisyphus in the school book. No, that's the guy with the stone. No matter; it's the same, anyhow.

There's no stone to push and the hill goes straight down anyways, not up. The stone rolled away, and a person gets winded real fast chasing it and thinks he might stop to rest a spell, then try again later. By the time he's picked himself up, it's rolled all the way out of sight. Even a man prone to fooling himself can't help but notice that the place he chose to stop and rest has a row of bottles behind the counter.

The house is like a woman gotten old, maybe missing a few teeth, gone thick and manly. But you can tell the ruin used to be something. The old frame shows something of the heretofores. I heard tell a captain of industry built it to prove to others -- he said, but to himself -- I bet, that he had made it in this old world. The bank took it and showed him that the world has no opinion. Find somewhere else that'll accommodate yourself. We're accommodating the men who heard about the fishing or the potatoes or the blueberry farms or the logging. Trouble is, they heard about two decades ago.

The inside shows nothing of the past except the ghostly outlines on the plaster where things were removed. If it was worth a damn, they pulled it out and reassembled it in a big house in Washington, D.C., they said. Fitting.

The bank stuck a guy behind the counter that they put in the front hall that don't care if you pull a razor or a roscoe or a long face or whatever. He collects the money if you got it, our your scalp if you don't. I like him, though, because he treats me the same as the rest. We do our business and he pushes the key across the pockmarked counter and there's no accusation in it. No kindness. Nothing.

It's the nothing you crave.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Momo Goes Out

Every night I hear the coyotes ranging around the swamp. They make a dreadful sound. There's nothing of the quaint forlorn Hollywood howl to it. They sound like landgoing sharks ripping things to pieces and exulting in the spray of foam on their muzzle. And every night Momo the cat looks at me, and begs to be let out.

Momo was feral. he came out of those same woods, years ago, and it took my wife a year of patient coaxing to get him to set foot in the house. He is as gentle as any kitten despite his wildness, and has allowed two children to tug on his tail without protest now. He has that rarest of attributes for a cat- gratitude.

But he goes out. The other cat sleeps on the cushions all night, and Momo goes into the night. Every night I figure he won't come back. Every morning he's at the door.

We smoke. We ride motorcycles without helmets. We skydive. We drive and eat sandwiches simutaneously. We swim in oceans filled with sharks. We climb mountains. We minister to the dreadfully ill and infectious. We climb trees. We ingest things we bought on a streetcorner. We drink from a still. We join armies, sometimes out of patriotism, sometimes on a lark, and kill and risk being killed in turn. We put on helmets and collide for amusement. We reach under the mower. We pump gasoline into our car with the bald tires with a cigarette dangling lit from the corner of our mouths. We pick fights with strangers in bars. We fight with strangers when they pick fights with us. The gutters need cleaning. We travel to the moon.

Momo goes out.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tradition That Captures The Imagination


That's the wall in Winston Churchill's schoolroom at Harrow.

There are public figures that capture the imagination. Many people inhabit the dreary world where politicians are the only people they consider important. Yecch. I suppose back when politicians were generally private citizens that dropped what they were doing to sort out the affairs of their nation, until they could do their Cincinnatus act and go back to their plow, that made some sense. Even if it's an act, like Eisenhower's protestations of indifference to the charms of importance, I prefer it to the modern version -- never done anything their whole lives that doesn't involve a government sinecure. George Washington wasn't exactly a shrinking-violet man-of-the-people, but I really do get the impression that he held his nose for eight straight years and put up with being President. I can't picture George Washington as a lifer in politics tapping his foot funny in a Men's Room.

There's a brace of men that captivate almost everybody. Teddy Roosevelt. Mark Twain. Lawrence of Arabia. Albert Einstein. Maybe the king of them all is Winston Churchill. The guy was endlessly interesting.

Oh, yes -- the picture I offered of the wainscot wall in Churchill's schoolroom at Harrow. Harrow is a "public school," which means it's a private school. Welcome to England, and English.

I like tradition. I'm not a reactionary. It's not the same thing.

The word "harrow" no doubt refers to the ancient farm implement for tilling the soil. Children were a crop to be cultivated; the perfect metaphor for school. Allowed to grow, yes, but pruned as well as nurtured. Sometimes, even in very straitlaced circumstances, that growth is allowed to run its tendrils outside the pot it's in. Carving your name on the wall would come under that heading. Perhaps not encouraged. Overlooked with a wink, more likely.

The very word "wainscot" is ancient beyond reckoning. A wain is a type of wagon with splayed sides used on a farm. Wooden wheels would have to be angled in at the bottom to work properly without any bearings on the axle. The wain's sides would be splayed out to make the most use of the space between the wheels and carry as much as possible. Medieval woodworking used split, not sawn wood, especially oak, so a wain was a board wide enough for a farm cart's side, and eventually gave it its name. And in its turn, wide boards to line the lower half of the walls of a room took their name from the side of the cart they resembled: wainscot. Tradition.

When I was young, I haunted a very old-school library. It still looked just like this photo:

The tables were made of white oak, hard as a banker's heart and dark as a politician's soul. And ever square inch of them had someone's name carved in it. Most of the work was done by digging at the surface with the tip of a ballpoint pen. It took forever to make any impression in the unyielding surface. But so many people had done it, overlapping each other and eventually working on a layer of existing names, that the tops began to look like a kind of inkstained black coral. It was impossible to write on a piece of paper placed on the surface. You had to place a pad of some sort under your work. It was magnificent.

I returned to the library 25 years after I had practically lived in there. The tables were gone, replaced with nondescript rectangles and inelegant chairs that looked like they belonged in an officepark lunchroom. No one has defaced them with infinitely interesting whorling cicatrices. The tables themselves are a defacement, and so no one bothers to ruin them with their runes.

The beloved temple of words of my youth can no longer produce a Churchill; but you could take out Ishtar on VHS in there now. Which is nice.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Obsessed About The Sandwich Situation

Oh, hai.

Who wants more pictures of the Sandwich Heritage Museum? I don't care, I have them and I'm going to post them anyway.

The place has lots of interest in what they term "Colonial Gardening." That's a sketchy term, sort of like a "Colonial Bathroom" motif. Real colonists grew stuff and ate it for the most part. It was the Victorians that went crazy for cultivars to gape at. There are no parterres at SHM, and nothing is grown to eat, but the plantings are in keeping with the structures for most part. The gatehouse/gift shop has what used to be a ubiquitous New England house: weathered shingles, bow roof, heavy frames at openings, divided windows with real muntins and panes of glass, vertical board sheathed addition, garden bench, attic room hot as hell.
The best part of good landscaping is moving in and out of shadow and light, and looking from one into another. Dappled sunlight is good for the soul.

That's a windmill that was dragged from way out on Cape Cod to be displayed here. It was padlocked, but we've been inside before. It's amazing how little of anything inside is made from any sort of metal. All the gears and wheels are made from white oak. Hard as Calculus, but more useful over time.

Here's the front. I painted the sky that color to make it more interesting for you, the viewer. Of course the sky is never that beautiful in actual nature.


A carousel is an entirely underrated piece of amusement. Eventhe old folks can sit on the benches in the chariots and go round and round if they're too big for the horses.


I know the lion roaring is supposed to come first. Sorry. There's a collection of venerable animals from carousels on display. They're much more whimsical and interesting than the horse we're all used to. There was the rabbit at the top of the page, this lion, a frog, a zebra, an ostrich, a pig, a stag, and a few others. Of course, I inspected their glass eyes most carefully to see if they were up to my old, exacting glass eye standards.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Let's Have Some More Sandwich


Sandwich, Massachusetts, of course. Founded in 1639. When I was a lad, much was made of the Bicentennial of the Founding of our Great Country. Jimmy Carter was President, as I recall, and was busy telling us to put on a sweater and drive real slow, so I remember it as the sort of interlude you have when a cranky, loony, old aunt comes to visit. It's interesting to consider that Sandwich was hanging around Cape Cod for 137 years before those 200 years rolled by, which is 32 years ago on top of that. Sandwich is old.

The Sandwich Heritage Museum is like a loopy rich person's stamp collection writ large. A series of loopy rich people, actually, as one lieutenant of industry bought another sargeant of industry's weirdo assortments of whatever caught their eye, and put labels under it. I actually liked the disordered theme of the place, made very orderly; it's the essence of collecting things.

The original loon was a blanket manufacturer who commuted to New Bedford and grew exotic rhododendrons. When you stand in the Orange Place and see row after row of fist-sized rhodies and azaleas for $5.99 each, it's easy to forget that they were exotic and asian in the not too distant past.


At any rate, that guy died, and another crank that collected old guns and weird cars and assorted other curiosities bought it. Carpetbagger from Indiana.

That reminds me of a story. People from Cape Cod, and especially the two big islands offshore, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, used to be very insular. There were very few names -- a dead giveaway. Snow. Crowell. Starbuck. Dexter. Higgins. Anyway, it got to be a running joke about how long you had to live amongst the locals before they would accept you:

A woman was born on a ship moored in the harbor in Nantucket. It was a beastly crossing from Old Blighty, and the doctor didn't want to risk the poor mother delivering in the little launch with the oarsmen watching.

The baby -- a winsome girl-- was brought ashore upon her birth,and until the day she died, she never once set foot on a patch of dirt that wasn't Nantucket. She became a kind of fixture around the island, raising a big family, starting charities for the less fortunate -- in short she exhibited every manner of civic virtue you could name. She was prominent; so prominent that the whole town turned out for her funeral when she died, rich in years and accomplishments.


The old vicar mounted the pulpit. He paused for a long moment, removed his pince-nez, and polished them a little with his handkerchief. It was a method he used to gain absolute silence before he spoke. The crowd, already quiet, assumed a stony silence. Every eye was riveted on the preacher. He began:


"She wasn't from around here...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Old-School Steampunk


We visited the Sandwich Heritage Museum on Sunday. It's a great place to do nothing.

There's no fun there. We had fun, but that's a different matter. We were not subjected to the trials of fun. We brought some along with us and had it. That's different. We very much subscribe to Yogi Berra's dictum that places can be so crowded that no one goes there anymore.

They had an exhibit of pirate stuff. It was there last year too. It's about as populated with things to look at as the Arctic Circle is with four-star restaurants. Like I said though, they just have to make an effort, and give us a little stuff to work with. My little boy dressed himself in a frock coat and a tricorne hat they had in a little chest and put himself in the jail there, and generally enjoyed himself. Little boys used to be captivated by pirates, and Indians, and gold rush adventurers, and Jules Verne explorations. That urge to live outside the mundane world seems to be generally supplanted by clubbing a hooker to get your money back, using your right thumb on the X button, now. The pirates were better, I think.

As I said before, I like the Steampunk kids for their flights of fancy and their visual panache. Real elegance. But Steampunk isn't old school enough for me; let's have Old School Steampunk. How about the lock on the inside of the pirate chest. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about:


Click to embiggen the photo. My audience knows me, so they can sleep easy tonight knowing that, of course, I touched it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Part 2: More Capital M Modern, Not Lower Case m modern




Nothing like six guys in suits to yell at the guy in the smock, who's sculpting a clay Chevy: MORE CHROME!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Modern? Snicker




As you're picking your furniture out of an IKEA catalog, sitting in your "Modern" home, pecking away at your Apple whatever, planning on painting every room in your house cocoa brown and powder blue, I'd like to point out to you that I've seen all your design motifs already, and that Delmer Wilson, our favorite Shaker brother, was alive and working in Sabbathday Maine when this industrial film was made in 1958. Which means my Shaker reproductions are more modern than your "Modern" style stuff.

Sippican Cottage Furniture. More modern than your MacBook Air. Just less "Modern."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pfotograffy

Takin' pitchas is hard.

I have friends that are photographers. My friend Steve LaBadessa is an excellent photographer, for instance:

I've seen him work before. It's a complicated thing to get a casual photograph.

Rick Lee is in my Blogroll. He's terrific too. He has the ability to frame the mundane in an interesting way. Nothing is boring to look at if he looks at it. Our blogfriend Ruth Anne's brother Paul Gero is a good photographer too.

When I got married, my wife and I were broke, and had to think outside the box a bit about everything. We hired a newspaper photographer, a friend of Steve's, I think, to take our wedding pictures. He worked for a day's pay and turned all the negatives over to us, unlike wedding photographers' usual M.O. of charging you every time you want a print. The pictures were better, and more candid without being amateurish.

Candid without being amateurish is what all people strive for in modern photography. You don't pose, exactly. You do, but without the appearance of posing. Jay Leno wasn't just strolling through that garden, after all.

I need to take pictures that are like really old pictures now. People used to pose like they were fruit in a still life. People had to stand stock-still because of the long shutter times, and got in the habit of arranging themselves and staring right into the camera. I love photos like that. People almost never look at the camera like that now.

I used to take what are the equivalent of faux-candid pictures of my furniture. I'd just place them in my house and take a picture. I'm told that my photographs are OK for what they are. My equipment is old and not very useful, and I am not trained.

I'm working towards having the furniture stare out of the picture now, like the newlyweds. No context. Nothing deflected. Plain. It's really hard to photograph the furniture properly and I've got to master it.

Funny thing about the sepia people gazing out of the photograph. They're still looking right at us. No candid shot, real or a set-up, ever does that. The squares always win.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Holding It Back

It's a solitary thing, to write. I hole myself up in a place that's illegal to put a murderer in --too small. But you have to get away from the wrong kind of noise. Cicadas are OK. The wheezing of the refrigerator cycling on and off is not. A lawnmower four blocks away is delightful. Next door makes you dream of slitting throats.

My wife looks after the workmen. All their noises are foul. They get up too early and still smell of last night's revelry sometimes. They swear loudly as their feet crunch noisily in the gravel of the driveway, thinking that by some magical transubstantiation of time and space they're not brutes if they only swear outside where the woman ain't. They remind me of a pack of dogs, only not as clean.

All save one. I watch him. I can't write while they're knocking around the place, so I started to watch out of boredom and frustration. There is one guy...

I don't know how to explain it, though explaining it is my business. No, that's not right. I obfuscate to fill the pages. I do describe, though. How to describe him?

He's not like the others. It's the best I can do. I made a serious error once, and they noticed me looking and started talking to me. The fetid gravy of my money being wasted was basted on the banal essence of their interests. I retreated. I watched from afar.

You didn't need to be close to see he was different. He never spoke but to make himself understood. He pointed to things with his index finger, but never pointed to a person that way. I wonder if anyone but me ever noticed that. The beasts that were his brethren never noticed anything.

He seemed to be in charge in a way I've never seen. Maybe in the military it's that way, when the Lieutenant is getting everyone killed, including himself, and the Sargent starts to point the way infererentially. The ideas must not seem to come from you, just appear in the ether.

He was not in charge in name. He was just one of them. The fellow in charge was never there except to apply verbal emollients to my wife and extract a payment from me. But when he left, they all looked to the quiet man.

How did he do it? I couldn't look straight at them. But even if I could, I don't think I would be able to get it. People yammer in team-building exercises in conference rooms about leading by example, but they are like teenage boys talking about grown women. It's academic what you'd do.

I became obsessed with the idea. Why did this fellow command others' respect? Not fear, or affection, not even interest --respect. Why did they defer to his judgment without even knowing it? Who taught this man? Is it on a shelf somewhere, a plebeian Eliot's five foot shelf of books?

The others always left five minutes early. He'd poke around their work, dropped where it stood, and move it here a bit so it wouldn't fall over. He'd turn their plane irons on their side. Sweep the little blocks away from underfoot for the next day. It was like watching a calloused Jeeves tidying a Wooster's room without seeming to expend any effort. Extraordinary.

"Good afternoon."
"Yes, it's certainly that."
"I've been watching you."
"You have paid the band. It's your tune."
"You have a way about, you; it's interesting."
"Everyone..."

There was a certain kind of a pause. I'd picked up on it. An insuck of breath, almost inaudible. A kind of weariness? I don't know.

"Everyone has a way about them, sir."
"My name is David. Call me David, please."
"Yes, sir."
"I wanted to ask you how..."
"Yes?"
"How it is you do it."
"Do what, sir?"
"What you do; I'm not sure how to encompass the whole question in one question. The others, they look to you for what to do. They watch you all the time and you bend them to your will."
"I do nothing of the sort, sir."
"I've watched you. You might not know it, but you do."

There was another slight insuck of breath. I didn't know what to expect. I shouldn't have confronted him, perhaps, but I had to get this on paper or the whole month was a loss. My wife would have her house and I'd have blank foolscap pile. I could get something out of this, easy.

"Have you ever seen Lawrence of Arabia, sir, when Lawrence is shot at the train?"
"You mean the movie? No, we don't go to movies. I read the Seven Pillars of Wisdom in school.

There was another insuck of breath.

"Do you know Elvin Jones, sir?"
"The drummer?"
"Yes, that's him."
"What's he got to do with Lawrence of Arabia?"
"Nothing, sir, I expect. But it's like him."
"I don't follow you. You're a musician, too?"
"I am not. But you see, when Elvin Jones is playing the ride cymbal. Do you know it?"
"I must admit I don't follow you."
"You see, it just sizzles. It sizzles with a kind of power. "
"But it's quiet. He just touches it."
"No. Don't you understand, he's bringing his arm down, every time, as hard as he can -- and at the same time, he's holding it back, holding it back, but not quite as hard as he's hitting it, and the leftover hits the cymbal."

And then he took his hammer out of the holster, and plunged it into the wall next to my head.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Fallow (Coming Around Again)

The autumn is coming, or is here. There is no way to know. The farmer rushes, for he knows in his bones what is to come, as do we all. His daily efforts -- never mighty, always steady -- will yield their dividends if the cold dead hand of fortune does not intervene. One doesn't dwell on such things, except on the Sabbath, when you are not among them.

The fall is bittersweet for any man. The year is old enough to provide, but the reminder of the fresh strong exertions of spring, gone forever into the ground, are arrayed all around. The exhortation: "You will never see its like again" is the beginning of something, too.

What can you look upon, exactly, from a pinnacle?

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Never Really Cared For Isaac Hayes (R.I.P.)

Isaac Hayes passed away. I never really cared for Isaac Hayes. But I loved Isaac Hayes, too. Just not the guy you're thinking of. This is Isaac Hayes, for instance. Hint: he's not on the screen.



That's The Astors. I don't imagine they're related to John Jacob. They look shell-shocked to be popular, but they shouldn't have worried -- it wouldn't last long enough to present a problem for them. The songwriter was never going away. Hayes. The media goes overboard when a celebrity dies now. Everybody gets their Princess Di moment, the special guest star at the funeral, who can't defend themselves anymore and so serves as a big broad brush for critics to talk about themselves.

That's why they're talking about Southpark and Hot Buttered Soul and Shaft. Isaac Hayes as the prototypical Mr.T clown, outrageous in dress and baritone of voice. I looked at Southpark once. Children swearing is funny -- for around twenty seconds. I'm informed that the show ran for more than twenty seconds -- thus, a failure.

Shaft was a bad movie and a lame soundtrack, mistaken for a bad movie and a good soundtrack. Trouble Man was a lame movie with a great soundtrack. Superfly was a bad movie with a great soundtrack. Across 110th Street was a bad movie with a great soundtrack. Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack did a lot more with their opportunity than mumble over another guy stomping on a wah-wah pedal while scratching his guitar, all the while fighting with a lounge-act horn arrangement for attention while wearing a towtruck chain. Shaft was a joke, and when you break out laughing watching Bart and Lisa Simpson sing it at karaoke, it's funny because it's lame and lovable and incongruous,not because it was any good in the first place.

But I told you I loved Isaac Hayes, and it's true. He was my favorite kind of artist: He was talented, cultivated that talent, and he worked all the time. When I was a young man, and I wanted to play music, I started mining old music to play. I discovered the glittering mine that is Stax/Volt records, and I've never seen its like since.

Stax/Volt was like the Warner Brothers cartoons to Motown's Disney. It was hipper and edgier and funkier and sounded more like a few guys banging on instruments and singing than the posh Motown sound. Isaac Hayes was fixture at Stax, one of those guys that the public would never hear about until he shaved his head and put on a chain and acted the clown to get attention. Can't blame him; setting yourself on fire and standing out front pays better. Diana Ross is still cashing checks, after all, and James Jamerson sleeps in a pauper's grave.

The Blues Brothers discovered Stax, and made a good-natured mess of liking it. It said Hayes on tons of those 45s under the title of the songs. Sam and Dave. Carla Thomas. People like that. The house band for Stax was Booker T. and the MGs, and I always think of Steve Cropper, the MGs guitarist, in the same way as Isaac Hayes. That's Steve's name on Dock of the Bay, for instance.

If you don't like Green Onions, you're not an American in your heart and should leave now.

That's Stax, and Isaac Hayes was one of a hearty handful of interesting people that made it go. Isaac Hayes was talented, he worked hard, he had a hard time of it here and there, got up off the floor when his circumstances put him there, acted the clown when it was required of him --his version of the clown was to be very serious-looking, of course--and practiced his craft. He's gone now, but his little reverberations will echo pleasantly around the place for a good, long while.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What You Need Is...



If you have any deficiencies, deformities, or infirimities, lay the offending limb on the electrographic machinery and the Soul Power will cure it. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Hey Steampunk Kids! I've Found Your New God



I love the Steampunk kids. There is an implicit understanding in their brass and iron fetishes that Victorians integrated all sorts of technological breakthroughs immediately into their lives with an enormous amount of panache -- much more so than we've been managing it since. It's easy to think we live in fast-moving times, but we've got nothing on the Victorians.

Many people always point to Apple as the modern version of sleek design, but I can't help thinking it's all just regurgitated West German appliance design from the 1960s. The Victorians made everything interesting to look at, right away, and kept on riffing.



Of course Jules Verne is the Steampunk Kids deity, but Hector Guimard needs to go in the Pantheon somewhere as a sort of latter day saint. Art Nouveau is more-or-less post-Victorian, but I really think it's more like Victorian on steroids, acid, and speed. Wait a minute. That's not elegant --"steroids, acid, and speed." In keeping with the Victorian vibe, let's change it to: laudanum, absinthe, coca, and roast beef.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Watching Michelangelo Grind Pigments (Is Still Fun)



[Another one written two years ago. It's funny to think that no one now cares about what the Dixie Chicks think about anything, same as me. Today Paris Hilton is the intelligentsia's go-to... um... guy for...er... her penetrating insights on the political scene. Intellectuals are not serious people.]

I don't care what the Dixie Chicks think about George Bush. But then again, I don't care what the Dixie Chicks think about much of anything, now that you mention it. Let's take it to the limit, and mention I don't care what the Dixie Chicks think about the Dixie Chicks themselves, or music in general.

My only point is: people like them are no more likely to have a useful opinion than anybody you find in the phonebook; and if my experience with musicians is anything to go by, their opinion is much more likely to be worthless than that held by your average stevedore. People who have their M&Ms sorted aren't living in anything like the real world. They think they were made wealthy because they are wonderful -- not odd, or weird, or unusual, or simply pushier than most -- and think that wonderfulness seeps into all matters.

I've singled out the Dixie Chicks for calumny only because they're most prominent in my mind right now for shooting their mouths off over things they know little about. You could insert almost any celebrity in there and say the same thing. But if you wade past their wild ideas about politics and how the average person should order their affairs, the part that really makes you laugh is how little they know about their own craft. I swear the reason they talk about genocide in Darfur at the drop of a hat--it's really bad, you know, and they're really against small children being chopped up with machetes willy-nilly-- is that they really have little to offer on the walk of life they inhabit, and try to play sleight of hand with opinions to throw you off the scent.

Steely Dan is a favorite around the Cottage, and has been for thirty years or more. And I'm very interested in hearing about how they assemble the music they make. So this video finds me fascinated.

I'm a half-assed musician. I have no pretensions. I was as successful as I cared to be, and never aspired to be interviewed in Rolling Stone about how crummy Darfur is. I don't wish that I was the guys in the video playing in Steely Dan. I wish to be the guy watching this video. [My brother is as good as any of them, BTW; their kind is not strange and remote to me]

Those fellows are professional musicians, like a sort of hired assassin, and have devoted their lives to learning their craft and cultivating relationships with influential musical people. They have talent, and they have cultivated that talent in a very organized and doggedly persistent way. They deserve a certain amount of respect that some that are more famous for more trivial reasons do not. These are not a collection of haircuts. They do not appear on magazine covers naked to gain notoriety. They are musicians and scholars, not solely attention mongers.

Steely Dan is essentially Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the two fellows you see sitting at the mixing board, and a revolving bunch of studio musicians. I'd be hard pressed to point to two other people that did whatever the hell they felt like in popular music, as they did, and were successful over the long haul. Most pop artists minutely gauge the public's taste and pander to it. It apparently dawned on Becker and Fagen that they could never pander to anybody's taste anyway; might as well be strange -- and wonderful.

I have a feeling that in a few decades, no one will remember people like the Dixie Chicks or anyone else you could name in pop music much, or their opinions, but combos in lounges will still open up whatever wonderful version of music books they have in the future, and play Josie, or Green Earrings, or Peg, or Aja, or any one of a number of sublime and interesting songs that Steely Dan wrote.

For a change, people who know what they are talking about, talk about what they know, with a camera pointed at them.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On The Internet, It's Still The Depression



[Editor's Note: Truer now than two years ago when it was first offered. Bloggers laugh at the New York Times for losing marketshare, while they cash Blogads checks for $45 for the month, and Pinch Sulzberger orders another yacht. The Internet ain't there, yet.]

{Author's Note: I didn't make $45 on advertising last month. Where can I get that gig? Alas, there is no editor to tell me -- I can't afford one. Heh.}

[Additional Update: As if to underscore my point, Blogger absolutely refuses to display the picture I appended to this essay. I found the original, reuploaded it, entered the old version's location because it does display on Blogger, but nothing works. Tried a different browser too. Last Saturday, the crummy Sitemeter widget many blogs use made participating blogs crash on Internet Explorer, which of course made everybody blame Microsoft, even though Sitemeter was 100% to blame. The Internet, which I of course adore and rely on for my daily bread, is a stone cold joke. You can look at the picture here. I think.]

[Uppidy Update: The picture magically appears after I load it the 82nd time. Nothing is forgiven.]

[Updiddly Update: The picture disappeared again when I posted the Uppidy Update. This is fun now, like when you're being caned and your bum goes numb and you can't feel it any more and smile wryly to yourself at all the effort being expended to annoy you going for naught.]

Advertising ebbs and flows. It's a rough science, little understood by even its practitioners. And how about us? The folks it's aimed at?

I know you, dear reader. You think that you're immune to advertising. All intelligent people think advertising is aimed at other, less discerning people. I used to think that. But advertising is a fire hose. That information is coming out of it under a lot of pressure. Now some people drink from that hose, some people bathe in that hose, and some people wash their clothes in that hose, and some stand clear, bemused, but they get caught in the overspray whether they like it or not. I'll use myself as exhibit A.

I wasn't joshing a couple of days ago when I told you I don't watch television. I know you were suspicious of my claim, as you think I'm sorta normal and normal people watch television. Normal people say they don't watch television - just those PBS shows. And the History Channel. Oh yes, the Oscars. And figure skating if it's on. Of course you have to watch the news to stay informed, but that's not watching television, of course, really; oh, and Desperate Housewives because I know it's all nonsense but how will I know what people are wearing if ...

You get the picture. But I'm that rarest of things, it's true: I don't watch and I don't care I don't watch, so I don't lecture. People should enjoy themselves. But I get a perspective you don't, that generally only kidnap victims... scratch that - they're tied up, but I imagine they watch all day; I dunno- let's say I get the perspective that millenarian cultists or Seventh Day Adventists or something get.

Anyhow, I know that "Will and Grace" exists. How can that be? Somebody told me somewhere. Now he/she might be the best or the worst advertiser in the history of the world, it depends on your perspective. Either they're the best in the world because they've managed to alert people as far removed from the scene as me that "Will and Grace" exists, or they're the worst, because busying yourself notifying persons like me that "Will and Grace" is on the TV I'm not watching is kind of a waste of time. I think. I imagine no matter what we think, the advertiser is drawing a fat six figures due to the fire hose method of getting your message out.

Look at the picture I offered. Back when people fought like tigers if two of them simultaneously found a smokable cigar butt in the street, advertising was a riot. Every available surface was covered with it. Barn roofs, sandwich boards and everything in between. And there was so much of it because it was cheap to get it out there- anybody would do anything to make a buck; and the need was there because everybody had to fight tooth and nail for economic survival. After a while, when economic conditions got less ferocious, advertising got more sophisticated and started going for certain segments of the population to maximize return, and people could be just as easily peeved by being assaulted by advertising as enticed to respond kindly.

That wall up there is the internet right now. It won't last. You go to the average blog, and there's a riot going on. There are 35 little ads for every durn thing, and little virtual tschotchke stands, and after you've surfed past the vast panorama of cajoling, and the tiny portion of stolen opinions, there's generally a real depression touch: out and out begging. They call it a tip jar, but a tin cup is more like it. It's 1931 on the Internet, and we're all Bill Murray waking up to the sounds of "I've Got You Babe" one more time.

I've seen the vestigal remains of hundreds of depression-era "bright ideas" designed to make a couple of bucks. I drive past Christmas tree farms gone to seed. Chicken coops rotting on their punky sills, producing only spider's eggs now. I can still see the ghostly remnants of whiskey ads clinging tenaciously to battered brick walls. Kudzu, anyone? When the leaves fall, I can spy a "Red Coach Grille" billboard falling to pieces out in the woods near a highway, disintegrating like a cadaver, its painted raiments falling in tatters and its offer of hospitality in a place that hasn't existed in thirty-five years ringing hollow. It calls to me, but not in the way they first envisioned. No matter; that ad-man cashed his last check long ago. The billboard was pointed at a different highway anyway; the one I'm on is newer than the sign.

There are mighty places on the internet where many congregate. Their wake alone would swamp such as my little rowboat.

If they charged $15.00 a year to read them, they'd all be mowing my lawn.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sometimes You Get The Urge For Something From An Island South Of Rhode Island



Don't let the full-on blast of Shirley Bassey put you off. It gets the lilt going pretty quick after she's done eating the scenery and spitting it out at flight-deck volume.

I Can See Clearly Now got its resurrection in the soundtrack for Grosse Pointe Blank -- which come to think of it is getting old enough for a resurrection itself. There's been four hundred "Hitman with a heart of gold" movies made since, none so amusing.

Johnny Nash was a wonderful singer. Enjoy. It is a wonderful world, after all.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

L7, Man



When I was a teenager nothing could have been squarer than this. I hated everything about this crap. I got a rash just hearing Nelson Riddle-sounding things. I hated the cultural references they used, and the whole Rat Pack Vegas ethos. I hated that they consorted with gangsters for the frisson of the company of powerful men. I hated their clothes and mocked their toupees. I wouldn't drink amber liquor because they did.

It's awesome, isn't it?