Friday, November 30, 2012

Many Thanks

My Intertunnel friends sure are swell.

We're grateful to everyone that reads, and comments, and corresponds, and to everyone that's purchased a copy of my book, and purchased my Maine-made cottage furniture, and thrown my minstrel boys some coins, and people that have used the Amazon links on this page. Your friendship and support have meant the world to me and my family.

Our friends at 32 Degrees North sent our boys two beautiful Advent calendars. The little feller especially is a calendar freak, and they both enjoy the old-fashioned thrill of turning over the flaps on the way to Christmas. Thanks for being kind to my boys! Everyone should go over to their Intershop and grab everything before they run out of Christmas. Nice people should buy things from other nice people. And it wouldn't kill you to read her blog, either: Daughter of the Golden West.

It snowed last night, and when I made a fire this morning it was 10 degrees outside, so we're thinking of visiting Santa at his place because it might be warmer there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who's Gonna Let It Roll? Unorganized Hancock, Of Course

My boys are making their way through their list of requests. Here's one for my friend Bird Dog over at the aptly named Maggie's Farm: Bob Dylan's Minstrel Boy. Got good taste in everything but friends, that guy does.

If you'd like to throw our minstrel boys a coin, there's a PayPal button at the top of the right column. Any amount over a buck will work. Many thanks to everyone that gave already; we've purchased a PA system for the boys that will arrive later this week. No more singing through a bass amp!

[Update: Thanks, Karen M.(via mail!) and Lorraine! Thanks, Kathleen! Thanks Cynthia!] Up-update: Thanks, Michael, for your coins and your kind words]

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Have A Friend

I work with my hands all day but I rarely injure them. A long time ago I wearied of hurting myself in minor ways and began to keep a lookout for things that might bite me on the way through my palms. I thought it was a sign of foolishness to willingly submit to the abrasion of the hands while working until they felt like curbstones. One does not have to work dumb to work hard. But who of us is perfect?

It was nothing, really. My hands are cold and so made ten percent clumsy and I have a headache and it's only in the forties in here and the board passes along your hand as you feed it and it leaves its tiny child in the meat of your thumb. It's too small to pluck back out -- small enough to be entirely subsumed in the flesh. I won't dig it out. It will throb a bit for a week or so, and then be forgotten. It is my friend.

It doesn't want anything of me. It only gives. It reminds you constantly, just a gentle sussurus of discomfort whispered lovingly into my ear via my thumb: Look out! Remember. 

It's the only advice worth a damn. Everyone's full of advice. Advice generally should be taken by the giver. It's information that suits them, after all. The board didn't have any advice beforehand. It showed me something. It is equally mute now. The splinter sticks by me.

I got lots of advice when I caught the poverty. I got it from people that I figure would lay down and die if they were in my place. They are clarks and tollbooth operators and sleep at work whether their eyes are open or not, and wonder aloud why I didn't just find a featherbed like they did. What's wrong with you? Why don't you find one now?

They shun us, now. It's not in the front of their head, it's way in the reptile back, but the decision is the same: They might catch the poverty from us. Best find a way to forget our phone number. You knew it well enough when you needed things from us. But now we must be lonely because it is the only way others can deal with it.

The splinter isn't just a companion. He is a good friend. He talks to me about important matters. Life, death, pain, resolution, patience, risk -- even kindness, because the same machine that delivered a sliver can take a finger; a limb; a life. But it can deliver a living, too, if you learn to get along with it.

I'd be all alone more than I'd like without this little bit of pinus strobus. I know he'll stay with me until I don't need him anymore, and then he'll go. He won't make a big deal of leaving, either; one day I'll just notice that my thumb used to hurt, and now it doesn't.

I always remember kindnesses paid to me. I'll remember every splinter.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tuesday's Just As Bad

Albert King, "The Velvet Bulldozer," along with Gary Moore. Just a couple of years before Albert died.

It's easy to get confused about the relative importance of musicians if you're a regular ol' consumer of music. Gary Moore could play Albert King better than Albert could. Lots of people could. Hendrix could. SRV and his brother could. So what? A minimum-wage worker can sit in a factory and make a light bulb better than Edison, or Swan, ever could.

Someone has to invent this stuff.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Man Dreams About Having This Much Number 2 In His Chosen Walk Of Life

(There's a little swearing in there near the end)

Back when I made glass eyes for Merry-Go-Round horses, I used to dream of being able to quit and start an artisanal pencil sharpening business.

Hey; maybe that means I can sue this guy.

Good Night, Colonel Pitts

Larry Hagman passes away. Read more at The Rumford Meteor

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hope Street

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 damp policemen, sir. They are only mortared loosely with good intentions.

You have the gun, so I defer to your judgment. 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?

What I would like is 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.

Are those your lawyers, sir?

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

Go! I'll cover you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ancient Essays People Are Reading For Some Reason: Life Is Accumulated Error

[Editor's Note: From 2007]
[Author's Note: There is no editor]

Our Intertunnel friend Patrick down south in the Red Stick State is making a table. He's asked a question, and it was bound to bring on that ol' Sippican logorrhea, mostly off-topic. Here's the question:
Now, since you've offered advice upon the seeking of it, how does one make all the legs on a little table come out the same size? I clamped mine together in sawing and making the dadoes and everything so they'd all be the same height and have the shelves at the same spot and everything, and one leg still came out shorter than the rest (I suspect warpage). Do I just keep sanding the others until they're evened out?
This is interesting as all get-out. We have encountered the confounding and somewhat counterintuitive "Accumulated Error."

There is a long and boring explanation of accumulated error regarding mathematics, science, and especially lately, economics and climate prediction. We need not trouble ourselves with that here, as we begin with our eyes glazed over from hunching over the tablesaw. No need to keep basting them.

What we are referring to is well known to the man who must measure over and over again. If I measure a foot with a ruler, and make a mark, and then measure again from that mark, and then again for a while, certain dreadful things can begin to happen. First, after about 36 tries, I'll be outside, and it's snowing, and I don't want to go there. But more to the point, if I am making an error -- say, the ruler is a little off --and then I continue remaking that error, while using my last erroneous point to start making my next mistake, things can get really bad, really quick. I said "can" get bad, but that's just an expression. They "do" get bad, and you get fired or not paid, and so forth. And the table you made lists to port. What's happening?

Eisenhower might be the most able executive we ever had as chief magistrate. He said: "A plan is nothing; planning is everything." He understood accumulated error. You have to take into account the vagaries of constant changes.

Now, back to our table. It wobbles. Patrick is downcast. We must help.

First, Patrick, you're very cheeky to just make four legs and expect them to turn out alright. A professional wouldn't figure he'd have any sort of success doing that, and make fourteen or so, hoping to get three good ones and one that don't look that bad in firelight. The firelight is generally cast from a lovely blaze in your wintertime fireplace, made from the other ten legs. But you are brave, and do the crossword in pen, and we must help you.

They are all a little different. You tried, but wood is not steel, and you are not a machinist. Your pencil marks waxed and waned in thickness, and the angle of your head when reading the markings on tools and measuring instruments went back and forth like a bent metronome -- hell, the humidity changed and your wood decided it wanted to be closer to the size it was when the birds were chirping in it last week. You are accumulating errors, and you don't know how many ways that material and those tools and your own efforts will betray you yet. Wood only really expands or contracts across its grain, so table legs and so forth don't really get longer and shorter. A dry pine board 11 inches wide might gain or lose 1/8" in width in a week, but a 12 foot long board won't gain 1/8" in length. Tabletops move all around. Legs don't do it much.

Don't fret. Make the table as best you can. Make the pieces as accurately as you can. Align your joints. Center the baulks of wood in the clamps so that the center of the screw is in the center of the board you're clamping, not offset and yanking it one way or the other. Measure assembled rectangles from corner to corner diagonally, and then the opposite diagonal, and when they are the same, the thing is "square." Do your best to not let the errors accumulate; make only one mistake at a time.

It will still wobble. Mine do.

Then take the table, if it's small enough, and place it on the only thing you own that's flat, which is your tablesaw tabletop, and wobble it. Two table legs, diagonal from one another, will not lift off the tablesaw. Leave those alone for now. Wobble the table until the other two legs are both off the saw, and equalize the amount each is off the table. Use something to measure that distance between the bottom of the leg and the sawtable top. Mark that measurement on those two legs I told you to leave alone, those that WILL NOT wobble. I use a scribe, which is like a compass, to make such measurements and markings. Sand or cut to the line. Now the table will not wobble. It's much harder when the table is bigger to find a flat surface to accommodate the four legs. Kitchen counters are generally very flat, especially if they are stone, as many are these days.

If you make a mistake cutting and measuring for the wobble, over and over, eventually you will get to the top the legs, and you'll have a nifty cutting board.

By the way, accumulated error is why climate scientists tell you it's going to be 500 degrees centigrade next summer, or there will be sheets of ice stretching over the Florida panhandle -- depending on who gives them their grant money and whether their ruler has 11-1/2" or 12-1/2" inches to the foot.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Buxtehude Dude's Guitar Goes To Eleven

Reader Arkadiy wants my boys to adapt some Buxtehude for guitar and drums. Nice music. Prehistoric Bach. It's not a bad idea, but I refuse to carry a harpsichord up the stairs.

But, whoah; how much loot for that lute? That bad boy goes to eleven. You could moonlight on the weekend harpooning minke whales with that. I could change car tires using that for a lever. Joust. Our second floor windows could become secondary means of egress if we leaned that against the side of the house. I could pick apples on that thing. I could beat an elephant senseless with it in a pinch. It's awesome. I want one.

No, I want two, so I could strap them to my legs and join the circus. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Homeschool Graduate

If you just tuned in, my boys have been playing Stump The Band, kinda sorta, with my audience. They've received lots of fine suggestions, some demands, and a coupla threats. They're working on a handful of them right now. But the beast must be fed. Here's some fresh Unorganization for Saturday. Enjoy!

If you'd like to support the boys' efforts, hit the tip jar at the top of the right column. Many thanks.
[ Update: Thanks, Len! Thanks, Kathleen! Thanks again, David ! Thanks, Nigel from Merry Old! Thanks, Fred! Thanks, Gareth!]
[Uppa-update: Ha! My old friend and high school classmate Jay! Thanks! Thanks, Anh and Thud!]

It's Not Ordinary

There's a moment just before the dawn in western Maine. It's not ordinary.

You have to have a view of it. The valley tumbles in the gulley where the river slinks by, and we're bedded on the slope. There's enough height to the windows to see something.

The mountains are massed on the right. They're a kind of feminine. They don't have the brutish angularity of the Rockies or the asexual simple dun dirt waves of the desert southwest. They have the curve of a lover's hip under a blanket. The highway's there, hard by the river it replaced, but you can't see it. The moon's gone home and the stars haven't got the horsepower so the road is an anonymous pancaked ribbon mixed in with the hayfields. It's an unnatural shape here -- flat -- so you can find it in the dark.

The semis cruise on by, their wheels invisible at this distance, looking like phosphorescent caterpillars crawling along the treeline. Though we've been here near three years, my wife and I still mordantly say, "Logs" every time a truck laden with boles cruises past. They go day and night to the mill that nobody in their right mind would want stinking of sulfur in the middle of their town, but everyone knows in their hearts that it's the only reason the town is here. It makes paper that no one much needs except the people that make it and the politicians that keep the place open for them. If the town doesn't need the mill, it doesn't need anyone. 

They used to float the logs down the river in a big wooden scrum, and collect them at the big falls just downriver. I think of it now and again as I pause at the window in the kitchen in the starlight. The hollow thunk of the boles jostling for position in their languid race down the river must have been something. Mainers thought it was too hard on the river to have trees floating down it, so we travel half a world and get oil to make gasoline to feed a chrome horse and buggy and drag the trees on a ribbon of nasty congealed tar from Venezuela next to the river no one uses any more. It's a kind of progress.

It was too hard on the men, too, they say. Walking on hobnailed boots on the big cylinders of wood and poling the jams apart was tough work. They are all kept safe now. They wash down their oxycodone with whiskey and nod on their couch until their cigarette sets them alight and the house burns down around their ears while the firemen stand outside and tell the neighbors you can't go in there. But they weren't in any danger.

I'm all alone with the peach and powder blue of the southern sky. No one need be awake but me. There will be no heat that I do not make today, and I can't stay long to watch the color spread across the sky and rob it of its stars. The sun is working now, and I can see the entire world is silver with frost. The sky is Maxfield Parrish over a world of Albrecht Durer.

You rake out the coals and put in each junk of silver maple and oak like an offering. The smoke comes that signals the fire in the offing and you sit a minute and stare at the twinkling embers brought alive with air and attention and wonder if the world will ever be warm again.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Still Dead Not Fat Elvis

[Editor's Note: From 2007. My friend Gerard is currently maundering on about the wonder of Fat Elvis. I wonder about the wonder]

You see them at every Tennessee Titans game. Every Vegas shindig. Every Halloween and costume Karaoke. Fat Elvis.

He's iconic in that iteration. You could draw it from memory unless you've been under a rock for thirty years -- the white spangled jumpsuit, the prop guitar, the greasy piled-up pompadour and the sideburns. Glasses that could stop gamma rays with frames that could stop a sequin bullet--and have. It's been odd to see that version of Elvis become the default, because I was alive back then, a little kid watching him on TV in the late sixties and early seventies, sweating gravy and mumbling a handful of lounge numbers while doughy matrons with bad teeth and beehive hairdos in some Vegas audience threw their granny panties at him. He was a joke. A bad joke. And when he finally died, his heart hopping out of his chest after only forty-two years, bloated and drugged in his bathroom, I figured he'd go away and stay there. Wrong.

The Fat Elvis costume has become as recognizable as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Hell, Uncle Sam. It screams: AMERICA. And not fussy America, or political America, or The New York Times Book Review America, either. He's strip mall/chrome fin/corn dog/hayseed/ghetto blaster/swimming hole/fried chicken/AM radio/concrete block church/Vegas whore America. He's the whole ball of earwax in Jesusland.

But I knew Elvis because I knew rockabilly. Elvis Presley arguably invented it; at the very least he personified it before he went Hollywood. He was the sun around which Sun records revolved in the fifties. Long before Elvis become the guy that showed up in adjustable waistbands and spangles, and was Elvis, he was great. Not just great. Important.

I knew those records, right from That's All Right. Scotty Moore's clean and nimble guitar, Bill Black's percussive upright bass -- it was the most maddening and infectious beat I ever heard. Real rockabilly beats send everyone to the dance floor, where they look at each other and wonder what the hell happens now. Country bumpkins knew because it was cooked up in the hidden still of their culture. Elvis was great, and a good singer, and an important synthesizer of a new style. But he was much more than that, long before he became a caricature of himself. He didn't start out a caricature, but a comic book super hero, simultaneously absurd and wonderful. He was vital then.

I got Image/SOFA Entertainment's 3 DVD set of Elvis' appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, and it's wonderful. I began watching it thinking it would be a kind of dumb fun -- the best kind-- but I realized I was watching something else too; something that I never would have seen because I wasn't alive yet. I saw America's, and the world's odometer turn over.

The DVDs are the whole shows. Three of them, from late 1956 into 1957. It's fascinating stuff, even the dreck, because it's the context. It's the whole America-centered world as it sat-- confident, salubrious, muscular, on the go, the engine of the world with the Marshall Plan and Soviet containment carried lightly on its back. At first Ed Sullivan assembles it willy-nilly and points a camera at it. Then Ed rolls an Elvis grenade into the middle of it.

There's a long succession of artists and performers you can point to that encapsulate the zeitgeist of their times. Their replacements show up long before they're ready to leave the spotlight, generally, and they hang around long after they're hip. They become... well, Fat Elvis. I remember distinctly watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was a child, and I imagine Elvis knew that he was good for broads and booze and pills and Vegas shows and B movies until the day he died, but he wasn't the lead dog anymore. He knew it because he had done it to others himself.

You watch the luminous black and white TV dubs of the shows, and you're struck by the encyclopedic nature of the proffered fare. Ed is a newspaperman still, jarring in itself -- TV is second fiddle! -- and like some bizarre librarian in the school of uncool. He's the Noah of TV, rounding up a couple of everything, and floating it on the public.

It's all there, all the things that faced Elvis like a wall to get over: vaudeville acts; European music hall ginks; Broadway singers and ballet dancers; dogs and ponies, lounge singers and clowns; eccentric actors; semi-exotic performers from anyplace that didn't have the big red boot on their face. If it wasn't hackneyed enough, there was half a dozen assorted acts straight from the circus, and the circus is entertainment straight from the middle ages.

The artist of the age that superseded the middle ages carved his David, to tell the Doges the world belonged to man. In 1956, our own hillbilly David climbed down off the pedestal and sent his ration of squares to oblivion. You've heard so much about Elvis and the frenzy he engendered, but when you see him there, in front of a phalanx of Jordanaires in checked coats, Elvis seems like everything and nothing. You can't tell if he's so self assured he's bulletproof, or so self-conscious he can't get through the song without laughing at himself. He tosses that impossible shock of a shock of hair, the girls scream, and he laughs -- at himself, at them, at the whole damn thing -- but he's as serious as a heart attack about the thing too. He seems to be all glass, like a windowpane, but he's a deep pool somehow, instead. You don't know why he's all that. You wonder if he does.

I pictured the Conn and Mack tap-dancing duo watching Elvis from the wings for a while, and then going out in the alley to find a pay phone and see if their brother-in-law still had a job opening or two at his dry cleaning store.

Get Elvis - The Ed Sullivan Shows, and watch empires crumble into the sea when Elvis twitches.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Folksinger. Humdinger

Townes Van Zandt.
If I needed you would you come to me,
Would you come to me, and ease my pain?
If you needed me I would come to you
I'd swim the seas for to ease your pain

In the night forlorn the morning's born
And the morning shines with the lights of love
You will miss sunrise if you close your eyes
That would break my heart in two

The lady's with me now since I showed her how
To lay her lily hand in mine
Loop and Lil agree she's a sight to see
And a treasure for the poor to find

Writing a folk song's easy. You just have to shoehorn Romeo and Juliet into a nursery rhyme. Or, in Townes Van Zandt's case, he said it was Robert Frost and Lightnin' Hopkins.

Loop and Lil were his parakeets, by the way.
When asked for a quote to plug Townes' record, Steve [ Earle] said: "Townes Van Zandt's the best songwriter in the world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." After the record came out, Townes said that was nice but that he'd met Bob Dylan's bodyguards and he didn't think that was a very good idea. (link)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Last Night As I Lay On My Pillow

The man never notices anything because that's his business -- not noticing. He gave me the key like a bribe. The yellow bulb was gone out at the door that was my ration. I held a lighter up to the knob and there were ten thousand stab wounds all around the lock. Thirty years and more of lemme in lemme in lemme in. You could almost feel the weight of the heavy paper sack in all their other hands.

The clock is banging on the seconds like a railroad spike. I begin to wonder if a man doesn't really die, just dissolves slowly in the rain. You try alcohol but it's not a preservative.

There isn't a floor crooked enough in the whole wide world to make that chair sit flat. You lean at the jalousies and watch the nobodies go nowhere, and smoke. A jalousie apparently only has two sides: dusty and dirty.

There's people next door going at each other like strangers. They'll wish they were strangers again soon enough. The other side is teevee teevee teevee.

The neon across the street flashes out of time with the clock and you'd like to meet that man, that neon man. You'd like to meet him like a train meets a cow out on the prairie.

There's an odd number of pulls on the dresser. There's an even number of tiles on the ceiling. There's a smell like the laundry in a funeral home in the bedspread. You know why people smoke now. There's nothing and nobody in this world but the faint orange spark at the end of your nose. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Armistice Day, The Philharmonic Will Play, But The Songs That We Sing Will Be Sad

For the grandfather I never knew.

I KNOW that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

William Butler Yeats -- An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Best Find Your Tribe And Stick To Them, Boyo. The Vikings Are Abroad In The Land

That's a fairly close approximation of my former music career -- on a good day. Except the part where the musicians are talented.

The drunken men could never figure out why there were pretty girls all over the stage, but when they tried to get up there, unbidden, they were dragged off and thrown out. Drunken men aren't too bright. Even when they're sober. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Fellow; Traveler

Derek Wilburn is my kind of guy: He's a bit loopy. I figure people see me as a bit loopy, and I embrace their assessment. If you don't seem a bit loopy to the average person, I think you must be loopy, because the average person is entirely out of their ever-loving gourd.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Almost Forgot To Write About Furniture

True to the quote on the masthead, we're all over the map here at Sippican Cottage. But every once in a while I suffer a blow to the head, or some other pleasant diversion, and it reminds me to talk about what I'm doing all day when I should be answering my email. I make furniture.

I've made a lot of furniture over the last eight years. Hundreds and hundreds of pieces. The business is like a bicycle, and you keep pedaling while looking at your feet, and lose track of the landscape a little. I should know, but I don't know how many states I've sent the stuff to at this point. There's a little hole in the middle of the country that are strangers to me, still. I've never seen a Yeti, or a customer from North or South Dakota. They must live indoors there now; don't they need furniture? I don't know. I wish them well all the same, and lurk in the Intertunnel's bushes, waiting to pounce on them if they pass by.

I've made some furniture that's ended up in England and Canada, too, but I don't sell furniture there. People bought it here in the states and took it with them and told me about it. Really nice people in Canada (are there another kind of people in Canada?) have offered to buy things from me fairly often if I could figure out all the paperwork. I couldn't, so I haven't. I know you can't tell by reading what I write, but I'm not a dullard. It just requires more time than I have to figure it out properly, and is fraught with peril for a very small business like mine. One has to be conservative in your behavior to stay alive in the world of commerce these days. Many things are worth doing but there is no time. Maybe later.

I am ashamed to admit that I don't even have pictures of all the stuff I make. I've put a lot of stuff into boxes with the muttered oath: I wish I'd taken a picture of that. If the camera battery is dead or the FedEx man's arrival  is nigh or it's pitch dark or something, it goes out, and many times, out of my memory.

But lovely reader and commenter Leslie purchased a pair of tables last month -- or was it the month before; what day is it? -- and I managed to take a picture of them before they went the way of all lignin and cellulose and corrugated cardboard. I thought they were awful pretty. I made them for her special in all tiger maple with Pumpkin stain. Tiger maple is endlessly interesting stuff. No two pieces of it are quite the same, and so, they're endlessly interesting to look at and challenging to work with. Leslie even found time to send me a snapshot of the little four-legged buggers in her home way out west where they don't shovel. Lovely!

My business is sometimes anonymous, but less so than it used to be because I socialize with many customers here on my Intertunnel Logos Stand. It's always piquant to see the things I make in their natural habitat, because a workshop is not the natural habitat of such things. Your house is.

I'm grateful to everyone that reads, and those that leave comments, and link here, and purchase things from Amazon through my portal which throws me a few bucks which we sorely need and appreciate, and everyone that's kind to my children, and everyone that buys the furniture. I love you all more than my folks.

Monday, November 05, 2012

And Suddenly It Occurred To Us To Put A Microphone In Front Of The Nine-Year-Old. Oh, Boy!

Look, I'm warning you now: Don't have anything in your mouth that you can't afford to lose when you watch this. Ladies and Germs, I give you: Unorganized Hancock!

If you just tuned in, some of my readers, prompted by a suggestion by Dave, have been playing a kind of Stump The Band with my two sons. The older is barely seventeen, the younger is nine.

Reader and commenter Gordon asked the boys to play Oh, Boy! by Buddy Holly. That's an interesting choice, and very much in keeping with what my wife and I are trying to accomplish with the education of our boys. Buddy Holly songs are a tidbit of American cultural literacy. I explained to my older son, who is pretty astute about such things anyway, that Buddy Holly mattered a great deal in the great scheme of popular music. If you held a gun to my head (you know you want to) and asked who was the most influential person ever in the history of rock music, I might just answer Buddy Holly. The Beatles were the Beatles because they wanted to be a variation on The Crickets, after all.When Bob Dylan won a Grammy for best album in 1998, he said,
"And I just want to say that when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him...and he LOOKED at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was — I don't know how or why — but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way." (Wikipedia)
Certain things become almost universal, and so seem trite or obvious after the fact, which obscures their cultural relevancy. They become invisible because they are present everywhere. The term "Rock" music has been bent and folded and pulled like taffy until it's possible to call almost any pop music by the term, but the idea that an electric guitar, bass, and drum could bang out songs that they wrote, produced and sang themselves was unheard of until Buddy Holly. Hell, a performer wearing glasses was unheard of. People still refer to them as Buddy Holly glasses almost sixty years later. Although when my son emailed the finished video to me, the email was titled: "Juan Esquivel and Dave Brubeck play Buddy Holly." Snert.

The boys are homeschooled. My wife does 99 percent of it. For anybody that sees the little feller play competently and figure I'm Maine's version of Joe Jackson, beating him with a belt until he plays the backbeat properly, you're all wrong. I have next to nothing to do with what you see there until the very end. The Heir learns the song by dint of effort on YouTube and so forth, and works it out with his little brother. Then they come and get me from my workshop and I sometimes play the bass along with them if they ask me to. The only true mistake you might make out on the video is made by me.

My older son deserves a great deal of credit, because he works very hard at his craft. Concentrated effort over a long period without flagging is much more commendable than raw talent. The little one is haunted. He listened to the song once, then sat down and played it just like that, and when we put a microphone in front of him on a lark, he immediately sang the Crickets part without hesitation. The video is not only more or less the first take of the song, but it's the first time he ever sang anything. And he can sing and play at the same time, effortlessly. Some people never get the hang of that. I always found it deuced difficult. Like so many fleeting artifacts of my kids' youth, I know I'm going to be kind of heartbroken when he starts singing in tune.

The really sad part for people like me is that he's thinking of playing Minecraft the whole time.

If you'd like to help my wife and I purchase proper music and video equipment for the boys, please hit the PayPal or Google Wallet button in the right-hand column. Many thanks!

[ Update: Thanks, Cynthia! Thanks, Gareth! Thanks, Jon! Thanks Malcolm! Thanks Gerard! Whoah; many thanks Melissa! Thanks, Charles F. ! And Daphne! Thanks! And Bill E - Thanks! Hi Kathleen, many, many thanks! And Bob in Manassas! Thanks! Thanks again, Philip! Thanks Dinah! My friend Rob, thanks! Thanks John D. !]

[Up-update: Holy cow, thanks Matthew from Australia! My boys can now claim supporters from at least four countries on three continents. My gosh, people are nice all over.]

[Uppity-update: Hello Maggie's Farm readers. Thanks, Bird Dog! Thanks, Robert from Chicago!]

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Your Saturday Dose Of Unorganized Hancock

Thanks to everyone that listened and watched and put quarters in the kids' PayPal jukebox slot. Thanks, Lorraine! Thanks, Gordon! The boys are working on Gordon's fine suggestion, too. Don't touch that dial. But first...


Dave "de Medici" (LOL -- I keep giving money to those Michelangelo boys, but my chapel's never finished) dared the boys to play another song. I thought the Otis Spann suggestion was piquant, but I'm not carrying a piano up those stairs. So Sugar Ray it is. Another Someday song.

I've noticed that Dave suggests things that are just slightly out of the kids' ranges, but not impossible. That's what a good educator does. The Heir had to work diligently to reach the upper registers of the Neon Trees song, but now he and his brother can play and sing it almost effortlessly.

The original, somewhat inferior version of the song can be heard here. One can hear the autotune on the high notes. Cheaters.

Friday, November 02, 2012

I Wanted To Go Waterskiing, But I Couldn't Find A Lake On A Hill

Before I was born, but I recognize the general outlines of the thing.

Only wealthy people went skiing when I was a kid. They played tennis and soccer, too. I'm not sure if everyone got wealthy in the eighties and started doing all those things, or poor people started going, but it all got awfully popular all of a sudden.

Like so many things, it was sweeter when it wasn't so popular. There is a trajectory for such pursuits. They are born in odd circumstances among a hardy few. Then they become more common. Eventually they are seen as trendy. Being trendy brings along the throngs who don't care about anything except making sure they're doing everything the cool kids are doing. Of course, the actual cool kids have long since moved on before the suburbanites ever show up, but perception is reality in such matters.

Real popularity merits an enormous expansion of the infrastructure needed to enjoy it. The activity begins to be larded down with all sorts of extraneous methods of parting the customers from their money. You used to pay a few dollars to sit on a metal bench and drink a sudsy beer and wave a pennant at a football game. The pennant costs more than the tickets used to now. There are 2.5 million dollars-worth of replica jerseys worn by the fans at one pro football game now. You could have purchased the league with that much money back when I was in grammar school.

Eventually everyone turns into Yogi Berra, and no one goes there because it's too crowded. People used to put up with privation to find fun. But the very ease that's brought to the problem of sliding down a hill becomes its own form of privation. It becomes too elaborate, and so, not fun. The whole thing collapses in a heap. In the fifties, when this charming video was made, the most popular spectator sports in America were probably horse racing and boxing. How are they doing fifty years later? They still exist, but they don't matter much.

Our relatives showed us pictures of their mass trip to Disneyworld. Though we did not say so, it looked like a trial by ordeal to my wife and me. Doesn't anyone remember how to have fun anymore?