Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's Stop Mucking Around And Show You Someone That Knows What He's Doing. Graham Rust



Most decorative painting is dreadful. Bad ideas, inexpertly done. I'd say amateurishly done, but of course the word "amateur" is derived from the Latin word for love. To do something for love is supposed to transcend the motive of filthy lucre. Everyone just loves making a mess to my eye. I stand by my assertion that there are few things in this world more dangerous than a gallon of metallic paint in the hands of a housewife. Only a professional could do worse, because they can do as bad a job faster. 

"Real"artists try their hand at murals and so forth to keep themselves in absinthe and Gauloises between "real" commissions. They hate the customers and their houses and their lives and their own lives and paint really small things all over a really big area. It's not portrait painting, only bigger, so they fail miserably and expensively. Even if it was portrait painting, most "real" artists are totally flummoxed by any request to paint anything that's a recognizable representation of life. They were absent that one day at college when that one teacher mentioned it, derisively, before returning to women with their nose to the left of their three eyes.

But every once in a while, someone knows what they are doing, and finds someone that knows how to pay them, and you get extraordinary results. Graham Rust is like that. Of course it took him fifteen years or so to finish Ragley Hall, pictured in the video. I had no idea England has a union for wall artists. Don't kill the job! is on their coat of arms, I imagine.

Graham Rust books on Amazon.



Remember: Go big or go home. Graham Rust's website.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

More Fauxderol


I found another view, into the painted bathroom shown yesterday.

For the full effect, you have to understand that a toilet would be plopped down along the left-hand wall, as far in as it would fit. That's a seven-foot-plus-high door, IIRC, and there's three or four more feet of wall above it. It was a ridiculously proportioned room. The architect should have been maimed.

You can see the sandstone block walls effect. They had quite a lot of textural color variation when you got right up to them. The baseboard and doorframes are faux siena marble. I'd been doing work like that since the late seventies. I was fairly good, and quick, at that genre. It was a fairly common motif back in the day. Not sure if anyone's doing it much now.

The effect is not that hard to achieve. The trouble with almost all of it, as executed, it the people doing it have no idea what a real rock looks like. They learn it from a style book, which has a little patch of it pictured, and then paint a mile of it somewhere. Veins that are supposed to look like lightning bolts look like vermicelli.

As I got better at stone techniques, I used fewer and fewer tools. After a while, I discovered you could use crumpled up newspaper, pressed into a glaze, to make the primary pattern. The owners of the houses generally don't like to see you making six figures painting their houses using a newspaper that looked like a bum's comforter, so you'd have to keep a box of expensive French badger hair brushes around for show. Back when I was single, I'd tickle their nannies with them to keep them limber. Keep the brushes limber, I mean.

There's some competent instruction for stone and wood in The Art of Faux: The Complete Sourcebook of Decorative Painted Finishes (Crafts Highlights). It's out of print, I think, but a used one will be fine. Yours will look plenty used plenty quick if you leave it open while you work anyway.

I have almost no pictures of my work from back then. I tell my children that you used to have to buy a reel of plastic film covered with metallic goo and keep it hermetically sealed in an expensive camera, and when you were done with 24 pictures or so, you'd take them out and drive to a store and leave them with a clerk and then go back a week later after they were done drizzling them with strange chemicals and printing them on shiny pieces of paper. They were all completely white or completely black, generally, when you finally got a look at them.

I tell them, but they figure I'm pulling their leg.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Before The Fall When They Wrote It On The Wall, When There Wasn't Even Any Hollywood


Sorry about the scans; don't have a good scanner available. At least you can clicky-pop it and look at it larger. It's not that "bright" in real life. I think I referred to Decorating Magic by John Sutcliffefor the sandstone wall motif. The book's out of print but you can get a used one for cheap. It's not really a how-to book as much as an overview of possibilities. It's 20 years old, but not much looks stupid in it. 20-month-old design magazines usually look insane. Good work doesn't get painted over every couple years. Fads come and go. I told you to stay away from cocoa brown and powder blue, but did you listen?

I wrote about painting this room many years ago:

House Painter

I've had lots of interesting jobs in my life. I've had lots of very uninteresting jobs, too, but they always seemed to turn interesting somehow. There's a lesson in there somewhere, but I'm unlikely to figure it out now.

I used to paint. I've painted lots of things. Plain things. Ornate things. Big things. Little things. Important things. A long, long time ago when I was a young man I was offered a job by a man I hardly knew for a project that was just beginning. He said he was painting the White House. There was something about the offer that told me that all the "interesting" was on the cover of the book, as it were, but all the pages were blank. It sounded exciting but turns out boring. I am not generally wise, but I turned it down, and had a glint of recognition a few years ago, when I read an obscure notice in some publication that the job was completed. "My mind is kind," my older brother says often, meaning we often forget that which is unimportant, but I think 6 presidential terms had gone by in the interim. I'd had 4 or 5 careers in the interim.

There is a reaction, somewhat common at the Post Office, which is featured on the news from time to time, that inflicts people who seek a sinecure and then are faced with endless quotidian diet of the same damn thing. Be careful what you wish for.

Anyway, I used to paint on the walls. There's a long and proud tradition of painting on the walls, and I was allowed to be included in that tradition, even if it had a little less Michaelangelo to it than maybe it should have.

Trompe l'Oeil. Fool the eye, it's called. There's a fellow named Graham Rust who's published a few books about it recently, and is very good at it. If I had dedicated my entire life to it, or at least as much of my life as the average White House painting job lasts, I'd probably be about half as good at it as he. I dabbled. It was fun.

It's hard to explain fool the eye. It's like a joke; if the audience doesn't laugh, it's pointless to explain it. It's not a mural exactly, it's more like an illusion of depth or space or material. The lines between all these various kinds of painting on the wall are fuzzy. It falls in and out of favor, but goes all the way back to a cave in Spain. Any Steely Dan fan knows that. Out of favor or not, it's not going away any time soon. Upon reflection, it's not the only thing I have in common with stone age men.

The picture above is a powder room in a fairly elaborate sort of Gothic revival house. The owners of the house were the nicest people I've ever had as customers. Everyone who knows them would give them a kidney, but they don't need any. They wanted interesting things to look at in their home, and I hope they're still interested in it after all these years.

I jabber all the time. But like many who talk too much, I don't reveal much, really. The words are for you; my thoughts are my own. But I'm going to explain why I did what I did in that room for the first time, ever, although it's been over ten years since I did it.

People would rely on me for advice, guidance towards what was possible as much as what was desirable. And when I was smart, sometimes I'd offer advice that was pointed towards the ultimate benefit of the end user, without them really understanding it. That's risky -- if you fail, you can't go back and explain why you did what you did.

There was this magnificent house. You'd walk in the front doors, which were massive mahogany items, and enter an big hexagonal foyer, with a marble parquet disc in the center of the floor copied from a portion of the floor at St. Mark's in Venice. Two and a half stories up there was a mural of the sky. But the architect was trying too hard to impress, and forgot his real job. The very first thing you noticed in that house, the thing that caught your eye first and foremost -- was a toilet in the powder room off this foyer.

Trailer park meets mansion. The powder room was very small, too, but the ceiling was high, as the first floor rooms had high ceilings. It was like an elevator shaft with a crapper in it. As the picture demonstrates, it's hard to get far enough away from anything in that room to even get a picture of it.

I painted all that stuff on the walls and ceilings with the help of my brothers, and the owner of the house later told me that she couldn't keep anyone out of that room. Her children were instructed to use one of the other numerous bathrooms in the house, but they'd sneak in there to look at the stuff on the walls, sometimes even when they didn't need to use the toilet.

The owner was pleasant enough to tell me that the little powder room was the most memorable thing in the house to a visitor. I was pleasant enought to refrain from telling her that it was even more memorable, in a different way, before I started.

Graham Rust books at Amazon

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Anybody Know How To Get Disemboweled Economy Stains Out Of Your Smock?

More daubing at the walls here from a almost a decade ago. It's a sort-of proof of concept for an entirely painted foyer, and a business plan. The background color was a vaguely ocher color, and the motif was to be based on a series of Chinese tapestries:
It took much longer to prepare and paint the walls than to do the mural. I was very loose with this one. I put the paint (acrylic) on the wall fast and very roughly. It's no great shakes, but it looked painterly, anyway. The foyer was "close" and vertical, and putting a heavy band of color low would have spread it out visually pretty well. I'd done lots of faux bois and faux marble, and other textural stuff before. Some trompe l'oeil, but mostly architectural things, not things from nature.

I wasn't in the furniture business yet when I did these. I wrote eight, two-page rough draft business plans when I stopped working in the commercial construction management field. Decorative painting was one of them, along with furniture. Several of them involved moving to Maine in search of ramshackle houses. I was surprised to read them after almost a decade. They're prescient and insane in equal measure, like all good business plans are.

I did notice that none of the business plans had an entry for the entire world losing its collective mind and the economy disemboweling itself and throwing its entrails at me after a few years in business. A fever of 105 on and off for several months was also overlooked. Other than that, they all would have worked, I imagine.

Painting on the walls is not art, really. It's like architecture, which isn't really one thing. Architecture is a melding of structural, aesthetic, and psychological concerns.

The book I got this out of is entirely useful for finding themes for decorative art: Racinet's Full-Color Picture Sourcebook of Historic Ornament: All 120 Plates from "L'Ornement Polychrome," Series II

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Third Or The Fifth Of July Or Whatever


I can't remember where I found the image this is taken from. It was some sort of instruction book for painting...

*** rummage, rummage, rummage***

Ah, yes; How to Draw and Paint What You See , by Ray Smith.

I painted this on the wall a long time ago for my first son, who dearly loved to go to the 4th of July fireworks. For such a small town, they were quite elaborate. Then the town began getting strange about them. They tried to hold the fireworks on any day except July 4th, because they cared nothing for the meaning of the holiday, only their fireworks display. They deliberately timed it one year to avoid having anyone from outside of town see them. We stopped going. Stopped living there, too.

Anyway, his bed faced the fireworks, and in the wan light of the nightlight, they seemed to glow a little. I'd never painted anything with a monochrome underpainting with colored glaze before. If you're unfamiliar with painting, you paint a more or less black and white painting first, and then layer washes of transparent color over it. It's all acrylic, so the work goes fast. I think I did it over a weekend.

It's just a workmanlike thing. I had sketches to banish the rest of the walls with autumn trees with rope swings, and a sailboat heeling in the breeze, and other assorted tripe. The band of wall above a high wainscot makes a nice, manageable frieze for such things. I never got around to it.

I find I gain a lot of information from mundane sources. Don't get me wrong; there isn't much useful information in almost any instructional material anymore. They either are bluffing their way through topics they know little about, or they mete it out with an eyedropper to make the most money. Don't kill the job, as a man leaning on a shovel looking at someone else in a hole might say. But if you have a hundred bad How-To books, you can figure out how to do anything, if you can deduce which one percent of what you're reading isn't worthless.

Michelangelo said sculpting was easy. You just cut away the parts of the block that don't look like David. I just left the colors on the palette that didn't look like a bonfire and fireworks.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brothers From Other Mothers


Arch Davis makes boats, teaches boatbuilding, and sells boat plans in Belfast, Maine.

I've built a fourteen foot skiff using methods nearly identical to those shown in the video. I never launched it.

I'd never met or heard of Arch Davis before, but I knew he was my brother from another mother when I saw his sawhorses there in the background in the video. I have waxed poetic about sawhorses before:

(From 2008: An Invitation Into A Disorderly Mind)


I'm not a blogger.

I hate the word. It's inelegant. The Internet is disorderly and inelegant, so it fits, but I more or less have never gotten the urge to be "a blogger." This might seem counterintuitive to those who read the URL for this page and see dot blogspot right in my name. Google named it, I didn't. Google couldn't even name themselves properly. Who should expect them to name others wisely? I tire of gibberish in great things.

Bloggers are other people. I am not casting aspersions. I'm just telling ya, is all. I confused a few people yesterday, because I put the raw feed from my head on the page. If you look at the picture I supplied, and read what I wrote, it's entirely coherent. But old friend AJ Lynch's observation:

Say that again but slower this time.

and new friend anonymous':

You want to share whatever you've been smokin'?

are entirely fair. They are cruising the Internet looking for people expressing themselves forthrightly. There's nothing more forthright than the Internet. I can't ever recall being told to Die In A Fire in real life, after all.

So I'm a little too obscurantist for the Intertunnel. I can't help it. I write essays here. It's different. I apologize unreservedly, in advance, for everything I'm ever going to say in the future.

Those were my wedding vows, by the way.

Perhaps I owe it to my audience to explain the idiosyncratic workings of my mind. Here goes.

See the picture at the top of the page? I saw it on our beloved Intertunnel yesterday. What's the first thing that comes into your mind when you see it? Wanna know what mine is? This:

Marilyn Monroe is sitting on a very old school sawhorse, one that I've made myself. I have never encountered another person still making them this way. I learned it from men, all dead now, for whom Marilyn Monroe was more than a Elton John retreaded song reference. My modern carpenter friends would never make sawhorses this way, as it is complicated and labor intensive compared to their designs. But I've used mine for 25 years and kept them outside for much of it. They don't even wiggle in the joints yet. I do, and I generally am kept indoors at night. There is no shame in the carpentry trade in buying pre-made sawhorses now, either, although the people I first learned carpentry from would have never spoken to you for the rest of your life if you brought one to work.

Oh, and Marilyn Monroe? She'd be camped out on my doorstep waiting for me to come home, if she was still alive. Girls like that are a dime a dozen. I'd have to send my wife out to shoo her away. But man, look at those legs.

They're 1x6 utility grade pine. Set the framing square at 24" on the blade and 4" on the tongue to get the angle right.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Gas Tank Of Damocles

Let me wax philosophical about my wife's gas tank.

We drive old vehicles. I don't like driving old vehicles. The reliability of your transportation is paramount. Old cars break down. Buying a new car is a form of insurance against risk. But real insurance against risk is unavailable, or illegal, for such as us, with one exception -- personal avoidance of risk at all costs.

My wife saw a piece of metal hanging below the car that looked as out of place as an honest man in Congress. One of the two straps that held the gas tank from dragging on the road had rusted clean through and broken. The other strap looked as reliable as cell phone service in a tunnel. Something must be done, and immediately.

My family never goes anywhere much now. We cannot hope to weather much bad luck with our own meager resources, and we cannot rely on others, so we keep our heads down. We were lucky that we discovered the problem in our driveway, instead of on the highway. You might think us daft for being grateful for a broken gas tank strap in our driveway, but we were. We were doubly grateful that it wasn't February, as well. So we offered our hosannahs. Now what to do?

In a fiscal landscape that made any sense, I'd pay a mechanic to repair the car. There's a fellow down the street --walking distance, what a luxury for us ---and he's honest and could use the money. He's my neighbor. But I poked around and found out that the repair would cost maybe $750 at a dealer. The mechanic down the street might only command half that, but it's still too much. I'd have to fix it myself.

I do not enjoy fixing my car. I've done it, back when I was young and Gerry Ford and Jimmy Carter were desolating the landscape, but I have no natural ability or affinity for it. But I went to Amazon, and found the correct parts, and ordered them, and crawled under the car and fixed it. My older son is old enough to help now, thank goodness. I am somewhat infirm in certain ways, and to lay vaguely upside-down under a car yanking on rusty bolts nearly overcame me. But after two days of effort interspersed with trips to the fainting couch, we had replaced the parts. The repair will outlast the car.

I did not earn money by fixing my own car, of course --just the opposite. The mechanic did not earn money. The people who rely on the mechanic to earn money will not earn money, and so forth. Ultimately, through a process which must be deduced, because it cannot be observed, this lack of commerce will ultimately filter its way through the entire economy to the point where someone will not buy what I make because I didn't hire the mechanic. It's the circle of life, except it's the circle of the death of commerce.


I am barraged daily with references to Helicopter Ben running the Treasury printing presses day and night, and thereby causing inflation. It's an insane idea. When the velocity of money sniffs zero, there is no inflation. The Fed makes money and gives it to the government, who lends it to itself, and none of it ever makes it into the wild where a car mechanic and his downstream brethren might get ahold of it. For productive people in today's American economy, the money might as well not exist. The bill for it will exist plenty in the future, of course. But when the velocity of money is zero, the future must be entirely discounted. It's a meaningless concept, like watching an unplugged clock.

The term velocity referring to the passage of money through the alimentary canal of commerce is very descriptive, and apt to my circumstances. The economy is in exactly the same shape as my wife's gas tank -- filled with fuel which only makes it sag on its rusty underpinnings further, making it more difficult to fix, and dangerous to be underneath, but you must bang around under there anyway because there's no other choice.  Nervous Nellies endlessly warn me that if it was all released at once, it would explode, but that eventuality is remote compared to going hungry because we can't drive to the supermarket until it's fixed. And above all, the fuel isn't taking you anywhere because the whole apparatus is busted, and the process to fix it is busted, and if you want it fixed you better do it yourself because nobody outside a building with a seal on it has any money.

It's hard to work under the gas tank of Damocles.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Forrest Demps Plays For The Patriots Now. LULZ


Jeff Demps is immediately the fastest running back in the history of the NFL.

Little known fact: I once signed a high six-figure contract at the Patriots' stadium.

Other little known fact: A friend of mine bought the crummy astro-turf endzones from the old Foxboro stadium, and used them for carpeting. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

I'm The Real Cottage Furniture Maker In Maine

I live in a cottage in Maine and make furniture. That's more than most that sell Maine cottage furniture can say. I'm busy, busy making made-to-order furniture for lovely people from hither and yon and to and fro and so forth and so on and here and there, (here and there is in Arizona, I think) but I've also got a selection of items ready-to-ship over at Sippican Cottage Furniture. I call these ready-to-ship items "Ready to Ship," to confuse my competitors and astound my enemies by telling the truth. My competitors can't compete, and my enemies need an enema...

That didn't come out like I'd planned...

No, that won't do, either. Mentioning "enemas" and "things not coming out as planned" isn't going to sell any tables. I could sell a couple billion shares of facebook stock with that approach, but my customers demand more.

How about 1/3 off and free shipping on seven five  three (better hurry on over) beautiful, handmade, solid wood, handmade-in-Maine items?

Sippican Cottage Furniture's Ready To Ship page


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hatchet Man


If I made something like that log home the fellow's demonstrating at the end, with those tools, you'd never hear the end of it. I'd be insufferable. I'd turn into a highwayman, kidnapping passersby to bring them home and tell them how I did it. I'd take the gag out of their mouths from time to time to see if they had any questions.

The bespoke axe factory was fascinating, too. I wonder if that's a husband and wife team. Their wordless pas de deux suggests so to me. My wife and I work together like that from time to time, when we're boxing tables I make for my cottage furniture business here in Maine. We consider it a kind of date. Of course it's more of a hot glue gun/cardboard sort of affair. But the working together without thinking part is the same. I don't have a mancave and my wife doesn't have a scrapbooking room. We live together in a house with our children and do things together.

"Traditional," the title says about the axe making and the log house building. I like that word. I'd accept that word if you flung it at me. But there is no tradition in my family for anything I'm doing. My wife's either. Perhaps we're doing the most exotic thing there is, tradition-wise: starting one. Or maybe it's ad hoc, and will pass from the scene with us. Not up to us to decide.

We does it that way because we always done it that way doesn't cut any ice with us. That's not tradition. Traditional doesn't mean reactionary, at least not to us. It means honoring what came before you and not praying solely to the god of fads. Baseball should be played with wooden bats, but I don't mind it being shown on TV. I might make a Hepplewhite table, but sell it on the Intertunnel.

Reactionaries are people with ideas that don't work that are a few years old that they'd like to declare unassailable. Money can't buy class, they used to say. Ideas alone can't buy tradition. People have to want to do things voluntarily long after you've lost the ability to force them to do things.

It's not difficult to find a certain amount of contempt for traditional things abroad in the land. OK, you cutting edge beautiful people. Go ahead, start a tradition. It ain't easy. I know. The traditional heating up of the hot glue gun before the FedEx man arrives still hasn't caught on with the general public, but we like it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Are You Ready Kids? I Can't Hear You...


Benny Greb plays on SpongeBob drums in a toy shop in Italy. Good players can play anything.

(Thanks to my friend Andy S. for sending that along. I bet he wishes he had SpongeBob drums. I know I do.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Do You Know How To Do?




I mean, actually do? Not lord over. Not feast on. Not interpolate. Not pontificate about. Not sit astraddle until you're given a piece. What can you do, and do productively enough to make it worth your while to do it, with at least something left over for others when you're done?

My brethren the Celts were the first in Europe to figure out iron. Bronze folks couldn't compete with iron when push came to shove (and stab). But societies can quickly become more sophisticated than a bellows, some mud, and a hammer -- and what one man can do, another can learn. To achieve true sophistication is to swim forward, like a shark. If you stand still, you can't breathe, never mind go backwards. Backwards is death.

Well, you can lard rather a lot of supervision on top of the iron age. The division of labor yields economies of scale that produce much greater wealth with less effort. The iron age version of fellows with green eyeshades can add value. Management and innovation increase yields. You can mass-produce pointy things to poke your neighbors if they invade and still have enough to eat. Pretty soon Bessemer is converting while Carnegie counts the beans.

But there's a limit to it. Eventually people who aren't adding anything to the finished products insinuate themselves between the goodies and the people that produce the goodies. They are parasitical. The parasitical are generally good at only one thing: Blame. It's someone else's fault that there are fewer pointy metal things than before they cashed their first paycheck, and why there's less to eat, too, though they look like a dirigible while everyone else looks like broomsticks.

Sophisticated economies have a lot of places to hide in and around them. Not contributing, but not missing any meals because of it. The process from the genesis to the dissemination of wealth is obscured by the complexity that is required to avoid having everyone approximately as skilled at everything as everyone else -- no more, no less.

Lots of people desire economies to be returned at least partway to a state of nature, so that they can understand them again. Gold bugs and communists have more in common than you might think. But I ask them, and you, once again, what exactly do you know how to do? That man in the video can make a pointy iron thing out of mud and sticks. If civilization goes pear-shaped, as so many seem to be fervently praying for, what use are you to him? Gisele Bundchen will be camped outside this guy's door instead of Tom Brady's if we go neolithic again. His only question to her might be, "How are you going to stomp straw into my mud with those stilettos on?" The rest is conversation.

The dogs have died, or run away. The fleas are abroad in the land. What do you know how to do?

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Good News Is: Unorganized Hancock Has Located A Bass Player


Of course, there's a problem.

We recorded the same song as the last time, Mardy Bum by the Arctic Monkeys, so you can compare and contrast more easily. Should the boys hire him? We'll have to buy him an instrument strung the right way, so there's one black mark against him already. And he lives near Los Angeles, and his bicycle has a flat tire, so he's likely to be late to practice a lot.

I'd take the gig myself, but I'm more of an impresario at this point. That means I still get paid but don't carry anything heavy, I think.

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Simple Qwirkle Of Fate


I don't know how my children ended up in an attic in a ramshackle house at the edge of the map.

A man likes to fancy himself in control of his world. An actor, not being acted upon solely. It's mostly illusory, that feeling of wisdom you get when you set down your family's roots in a familiar and salubrious place and settle in for the long haul. Other fellows might have had the same idea you did, only they lived in northern France in 1939. Hey, what could go wrong? 

Lots could go wrong, and often does. But many more things will go right if you let them, no matter what's going on around you. You have to let it be. You cast your bread upon the waters and hope.

My older brother is coming to visit us. A visitor from away is a rare and exciting thing here. I live in a fairly remote place. Thirty-plus years ago, my older brother taught me to play music. He did it in an afternoon in his rundown flat in Providence. He was very poor, and I remember it was very cold in his apartment that day. I'd shovel my walk in shorts and a wife-beater in that temperature now. In that one, long afternoon, he explained my instrument to me, and the entire essential framework of the music I might play. He then made a phone call and got me a job, for money, playing in a blues band at the Metropolitan Cafe in Providence, Rhode Island a week or two later. I was no worse than anyone else in the band. I didn't do that. My brother did that.

When my older son was very young, my brother sent him a Spanish guitar, and an instruction book for wee children. My son studiously ignored it. But it was in his room, and after a while, he wanted me to play it for him. It got so he wouldn't go to sleep until I played him a lullaby of my own devising on it. I didn't do that. My brother did that.

After a while, I used to take my older son to my music jobs, when they were salubrious enough for a child. I remember being dragged on a flatbed truck through downtown Provincetown in a July 4th parade. He was a kindergartener, and got to ride on the float in a big mob of people, and throw candy, a little too hard, I thought, at the onlookers. I played a bunch of hoary pop and rock anthems with my mates, and the float won the first-place trophy for the parade. I had a moment of near-panic towards the end when the crush of people on the float obscured my vision of him overlong, and I went wading like a bouncer through men, women, and children alike to the back of the truck, and there he was, my boy, hugged tight on the lap of the float's sponsor --who made Marilyn Monroe look scrawny -- with one huge breast on either side of his head, holding the enormous trophy.He looked as if he might like to have something to do with music.

The littler fellow never spoke. I'd take him everywhere and talk to him and wonder. One time I sat him on my lap at my drum set, and moved his hands in mine to play a back beat. He'd wince every time the sticks would hit a drum head, but he loved it. He tried to do it himself, but his feet didn't reach the floor when he sat on the drum throne. He'd resolutely hit the high-hat, then then snare, and then climb down from the chair, step on the bass drum pedal, and then climb back up and do it again. It lent itself to a languid tempo. We attempted not to laugh.

When we moved to Here Be Monsters, Maine, we set the drums up in an empty bedroom, one formerly reserved for squirrels and rainwater. I never play anything anymore, but I figured the older one might find some friends, and owning the drums means you practice at your house. The little fellow sat down and played a perfect backbeat, exactly as he had been shown, even though four years or so had passed and he'd never touched the drums since. You never know about these things.

Because I am ostensibly their teacher, I am given a lot of credit for their playing, but I don't deserve it. I just showed them in the same fashion as what I can remember from the way my brother showed me. My wife and I allow it to happen. We encourage. We help if we can. But whatever they're doing they're doing for themselves, and I hope and imagine they will continue to do so.

But I really do want my brother to hear them. Because he did it.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Imperial Preference



What a fascinating piece of kit.

Color anything in 1927 was a treat. The big cinematic extravaganzas in '27 were France's Napoleon, Germany's Metropolis, and America's The Jazz Singer. They're all black and white, but the Jazz Singer at least made its own noise. They're all considered seminal by movie buffs, but I wouldn't cross the street to look at them for free. I'd watch Friese-Greene documentaries, like that tour of London, all day.

London was the center of a real, live empire in 1927. It was a boxer that had just gotten a hammer blow and was staggering around the canvas at that point, built on too tough a frame to fall down right away, but not going anywhere but down. It still had far-flung Dominions that looked to it for guidance or succor or a handy enemy to overthrow, and they would all have sat in rapt attention in their garden spots and pest holes alike to get a sense of The Hum of Lunnon, the center of their universe.

I like telling stories, and having them told to me, as much or more than the next guy, but almost all artist's storytelling is mawkish -- if they can get the story to cohere enough to even achieve mawkishness.

Of course even a person making travelogues is an editor, and can show you only Potemkins all day if he chooses. But entertainment "portraying" real life is 100 percent Potemkin. This tour of London is not some other guy's idea of the world. It's my idea of the world, which I derive on the fly by looking at it. It's worth a thousand David Copperfields.

Cinematographers will watch this and grab as many details about the surroundings as they can remember, and then use them to camouflage the gigantic fibs they wish to tell about the way people act. That's Entertainment!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Reverse, Auntie; What You Waiting For?



This guy is my new hero. He can compose an entire Gilbert and Sullivan opera on the fly while waiting for his neighbor to back into a parking space.

Gamelan-a-rama-lama-ding-dong!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Impure Pop For Then People



When I was in my forties, I still played music for money. My bandmates and I had a sotto voce name for ourselves: Four Old Men Having Fun.

There's an awful lot of Four Old Men Having Fun in there. I recognize it when I see it. Just sayin'.