Monday, April 29, 2013

The Boys Are Back In Town -- Yesterdays

Unorganized Hancock are back! They've got a cool new logo, and a new video, Yesterdays by Wes Montgomery:

It was -- get this -- over sixty degrees, so the boys recorded outside. No, really; it was over sixty degrees, all at the same time, instead of broken into pieces and spread over several days. Farenheit!

Wes Montgomery was such a wonderful and original player. I don't know why my kids have such good taste. I think they're supposed to be playing death metal at flight-deck volume or they'll be thrown out of the garage band union, but they don't show any inclination to annoy us or the neighbors yet.

Speaking of annoying the neighbors, Unorganized Hancock has a gig. There's a converted church in town that has a real stage in it, along with function rooms and so forth, and my boys are appearing there next Friday night: It's called 49 Franklin. (Scroll down to see their promo picture). They're headlining, but they're playing first. The drummer is a pro, but he's got to be in bed by nine, so they're going to blast away for an hour at 7:00 PM. Good luck to the band that has to follow them. How do you follow that?

Many thanks to everyone that's hit the tip jar for the boys, and linked to their videos, and hit the like buttons on YouTube and Facebook. The Heir and The Spare had a difficult couple of weeks, and the love and support they receive from my Intertunnel mob means the world to them. And me. (Special thanks to Malcolm from America's hat) We now have a computer that will play 1080p video (thanks, Cliff E !), and we were able to purchase a big hard drive to put the videos on. The boys have a keyboard now, too, and can both play it some. Look for that soon. The boys are improving by leaps and bounds these days. Me, I don't even know which end of the piano you blow in.

(Update: Many thanks to Phil B. from Yucca Vall-E!)
(More Up To Date: Many thanks to Kathleen M. from CT for her friendship and support)
(Way Update: Thanks a ton to Stephen L. in Ohio for helping the boys out!)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Eclectic Life Orchestra

Leon Russell, soup to nuts.

Leon Russell was a member of a loose agglomeration of musicians in Los Angeles in the sixties and seventies dubbed The Wrecking Crew. They played on an enormous number of hit pop songs, usually anonymously. More about The Wrecking Crew here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pure Pop For Then People

If you busted the seventies open like a big pinata -- a pinata wearing flared pants and aviator sunglasses -- I imagine the bizarre spectacle of Van Morrison with Elvin Bishop's band backing him would about sum the decade up. Will they have Marvin Gaye fronting Black Oak Arkansas next? Rod Argent singing in front of the Isleys? Dobie Gray and Vickie Lawrence singing a duet with Redbone?

Obviously, I shoulda been a promoter.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

There Is Too Much Butter... On... Those... Trays

I've often remarked that the most productive use of a blogger's time would be to simply to point a camera out the window wherever they were.

I don't think newscasts should have hosts. They should have a camera and point it toward things. I don't think newspapers should quote anyone. They should print the text of proposed legislation, not talk about it.

I found the video fascinating, and well-done. I didn't know much about Barcelona, at least not up-to-date knowledge of it. I recognized lots of buildings in it because I'm not illiterate, but I've never been there. It's vanishingly unlikely I'll ever go there. Still, it's useful to know what it's like there, even superficially. You can find out all sorts of things by paying attention. There was a street sign pointing out the way to Karl Marx Place, for instance. That was interesting to me, and told me things. I didn't notice a sign for Hitler Circle, or the Stalin Memorial Abattoir, or the Mengele Park Towers, or Vlad the Impaler Children's Hospital, or the Idi Amin Culinary Academy, but they might have been there, and I missed it. I'll have to watch it again.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Wood. Working

I worked in an old-fashioned factory when I was younger. Timeclock. Bricks. Union. Job descriptions with labor grades that decided your hourly wage. I was eventually a labor grade eleven. There was only one labor grade higher than that: Toolmaker. That used to be a common pecking order. A person that can make things with tools is valuable. A person that can make tools is invaluable.

The tool handle he's making at the end is for something usually called a "slick," a big chisel common in post-and-beam construction.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What Al Capone Understood That You Don't (from 2009)

(Editor's Note: From 2009. Still attracts readers fairly regularly. People are curious about Al Capone) 

Gangster movies and the general media have a tendency to portray criminals as more interesting and sophisticated than they really are. They portray politicians, who are sometimes the same thing, in the same way. But few politicians are really all that shrewd. They're just shameless. That's different.

Hollywood likes to show gangsters being Machiavellian, but they're usually just willing to use force to get what they want, and are willing to take chances. Fearless and arrogant will get you a long way in a world full of the meek. Gangsters are in a state of nature, red in tooth and claw, while John Q. Public thinks meat comes in little packages from a deli.

Al Capone was not a sophisticated man. He was a Camorra gangster, a Naples thing, which is not the same thing as the Mafia, which is a (the) Sicilian thing. Camorra gangsters don't have a lot of redeeming family values to add spice to your Pacino movie. Just violent and grabby.

That picture is Capone's cell in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. He spent eight months there for carrying a concealed weapon.

It would appear that the cell testifies that prison authorities could be easily bribed. Not exactly. I imagine that it was fear of Capone that got him his goodies, and the warders accepted his money as gravy. If they weren't afraid of him, they would have just taken his money, or not taken his money, but he wouldn't have got his goodies either way.

Al Capone was literally a barbarian. And yet he could assemble truly salubrious surroundings for himself in any circumstances. Tradition based in wholesomeness trumps intellect searching for thrills, every time, for comfort.

A Queen Anne wing chair is very comfortable to sit in. It affords motility --the ability to slightly shift your position without thinking -- to avoid discomfort. The wings and sides shield the occupant from drafts. The open shape of the arms invites the sitter visually. The patterned fabric has a certain light friction that keeps the occupant from slipping forward.

The floor lamp gives a pool of light. The shade is angled downward, because the purpose of the lamp is not general illumination. It is to make a well-lighted spot at a sitting area without producing any harsh glare. The other, table lamp does so even more, and softens the downward directed light with a tasseled fringe to avoid severity.

The carpet on a hard floor is a no-brainer. Living on hard floors so your Swiffer or Roomba is comfortable instead of you is not smart. And nailing the carpet down is like wearing the same underwear too long.

The Chippendale drop-front desk is elegant and useful. Books are precious, or should be, and you can keep them best where they can be seen, but are not open to dust. You can write and then close up the clutter writing brings.

There is a chair and a mirror at the entrance/exit. You need to look at yourself before you leave your abode, and you often need to put things down, including yourself, for a moment when you enter. Capone understood that even though his door was a modern porticullis.

There is a piece of art hung to contemplate while seated or standing. The radio for entertainment is not treated as solely an appliance; it needed to be as elegant as furniture, because when you put it in a room, it is furniture. And Al wanted to listen to opera in the evenings, because he knew it's crazy to wallow in misery voluntarily, even for your entertainment. There is something green next to it, to amuse the occupant with its tending, and to suggest the outdoors indoors.

Picture a contemporary person, not even a criminal, put in this place. They'd put in Pergo floors and have an X-Box or a crummy computer on a shabby rickety IKEA monstrosity instead of a writing desk. They'd have a glorified office chair with lumbar support on the wrong lumbar. There's be a nasty flatscreen instead of a radio and a picture, about as elegant as a water heater when considered dispassionately, playing porno and gangster movies all the time.

As I said, Al Capone was a barbarian. I'd rather live in his prison cell than your house.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

It Was The Best Of Badfinger Covers, It Was The Worst Of Badfinger Covers, It Was The Age Of Wisdom, It Was The Age Of Bad Backs

(Editor's Note: First offered in 2006. I've added a video of my son, playing for the first time with a disreputable bunch of old men)

You're really not supposed to take pop music too seriously. That goes for the audience, too. It's just supposed to be fun, and ephemeral, and that's it. You're not going to save the world with your two minutes and forty eight seconds of foot-tapping goodness. And generally, introducing much more than foot-tapping to the proceedings brings the whole edifice down on your heads. You can't make bubbles out of iron.

The Beatles killed pop music, though it was not their intention. They could write very high quality pop, with just the right balance between sophistication and raucousness; and if you set up two boom mikes and their instruments, they could entertain you.

But they went searching for the holy grail of seriousness, and they began to put together pop confections by using the entire array of studio technology available at the time, and so made music that was not possible any other way --the studio album.

The records they made were almost uniformly wonderful, so where's the problem, you're asking? Well, everybody else is busy Not Being As Talented As The Beatles, but they're using the same techniques plus all the other aural spackle and visual wallpaper to make studio silk purses out of the sow's ear of their meager talents, and then compounding their errors by taking themselves seriously. And we have to listen to it.

There's a lot of potential to make interesting cultural artifacts with the studio system. But its been taken too far, and simply made it possible -- if not required -- for the most avaricious and outrageous among the already mildly inspired to elbow their way to the front of the pop music line. It's killed the thing that spawned them, for all intents and purposes.

A few friends got together in Wales forty years ago, and played in some bands together. They didn't take themselves seriously; their very name was an offhand joke -- The Iveys, after a street in their town, and a play on words referring to the pop group The Hollies.

They learned how to play their instruments and sing a little, and made friends with the Beatles. They changed their name to Badfinger, apparently a snippet from a working title of a Beatles song. And when you've got the Beatles helping you out -- at least the ones not named John Lennon, who thought you too, well, unserious -- you're likely to do OK. It doesn't hurt to have Paul McCartney singing back-up on your songs, like this one, (knock down the old grey wall) and George Harrison and his friends playing on your others.

Thirty-five years ago, simple, lyrical, happy, glittering pop used to come out of the radio every few minutes, like No Matter What. It didn't save the world, or grant any inner peace or enlightenment, it didn't rage against the... well, let's just say, there was no rage in it at all. It was fun and vibrant, harmless and marvelous.

Those Welsh fellers with the little knack it took to write tuneful nursery rhymes fell in with gangsters and lawyers, or the other way around; in the music business you need dental records to tell them apart anyway. They made all kinds of money and got all kinds of girls despite their golden retriever haircuts, bad teeth, and sunken chests. They managed to get their own sort of Yoko Ono. They took themselves very seriously, and two of them eventually hanged themselves over the idea that it all mattered a great deal more than it does, or should.

My friend Steve calls suicide "The permanent solution to your temporary problems." It was better, for everybody involved, when they were supplying us with the temporary solution to our permanent problems, at least for two minutes and forty eight seconds.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Me And George Clooney Are In Woman's World This Week (From 2009)

(Editor's Note: from 2009. Lotta water under the bridge since then)

What a fascinating publication.

I know I'm supposed to sneer at it because it's in the check-out line at the supermarket. I suppose a cover that simultaneously exhibits a Turbo Juice Diet and cupcakes is a target rich environment for making sport. It says "God Bless America" right in the title block, which would propel the average hipster intellectual directly from derision to rage. Me, I'm kind of in awe of the thing.

I never looked in one until I was in it. That's not that unusual for me. I've been on TV and in a handful of newspapers and so forth. I've been on some radio stations. Way back when, I was sunbathing at the beach, and a biplane droned by dragging a banner with an advertisement inviting me to go and see the band I was in that evening. It had to be pointed out to me. "Isn't that, you know, you?" I had never paid even cursory attention to any of those outlets or venues before I was featured in them. I'm in the Noel Coward camp on that issue.

But that has no meaning, at least from my point of view. I heartily disdain the common attitude that everything that I don't like, or simply isn't entirely geared towards my world view, is bad and should be banned. I'm not interested in cupcakes or dieting. So what?

The really interesting thing about Woman's World is that like most things that are "square," it's useful to a lot of people and it makes money. Think about that in the publishing world. That's an exclusive club they've joined.

I'd point you to their website, but it doesn't exist. Think of the nerve of that. All the whiners in the newspaper business say the Internet is killing them because they can't charge for their content. Man up, shut it off, and charge for your content. It's very simple.

Pinch Sulzberger would rather give Bill O'Reilly a loufah rubdown than deign to pay attention to Woman's World. But Woman's World charges 62 bucks a year for 52 issues. They have 1.4 million subscribers. The New York Times is a daily, of course, but they barely crawl over the million subscriber line, and likely won't be able to keep their head above the million paying customer line much longer. And since they're hemorrhaging money like a print version of an abbatoir, they're basically paying people to read them, and borrowing money to do so. My wife had to pay $1.79 to purchase a Woman's World today to see if I was in it. If you want to read it - pay, is such a wonderful bet to make, and win at, for a publisher these days.

I certainly have learned more about what the average person wants, needs, and is interested in by reading Woman's World than I would by reading a week's worth of The New York Times. I've known lots of women, and many are interested in dieting and cupcakes - simultaneously or alternatingly, take your pick, - no matter how strenuously they try to convince you they've removed themselves from the hoi polloi.

People will pay to read Woman's World, and wouldn't cross the street to read 100 pages of editorials masquerading as news if it was free. Which one is useful and interesting? Come on, it's science; don't be a denier.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Requiescat In Pace

Little children deal with things as best they can using whatever is at hand, and whatever they have in their head and in their heart.

And we are all little children until the day we die.

(Sippican Cottage will return next week. Reruns until then. Thank you, to all my Interfriends)

Monday, April 15, 2013

This Slacker Doesn't Even Work Weekends

You can't always extrapolate from the example of genial and useful people like Frank Catalfumo. Many other people once worked at the same job as he has all these years, and were wiped out in their turn. His continuing existence is not proof that others could have made it, and should have kept trying.

People who operate businesses that have their name on it act differently than those that don't, though. It's personal. There's the potential of starvation and ruin, of course. That's pretty personal. But that's not the end of it. People are amazingly stubborn about businesses that they feel a personal connection to. Many hang in there long after any outside person would counsel them to quit. If you're a hired hand, you are generally much more ambivalent about the continued existence of a trade or business as long as you get a job at whatever replaces it. The owner feels a sense of pride if he's hanging in there, and a kind of shame if it goes down the crapper.

Business is predicated on a kind of faith. If I'm useful, someone will use me. But as Nietzsche said, “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” A man's dream must become a stranger's reality, or it's just daydreaming.

We should be in awe of Frank Catalfumo's dream.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I've Been Kissed By Aunt Rose On The Grapes

I never could figure out what the fellow with smallpox and the hot wife was singing about when the original version of this song used to dribble out of the Muzak speakers back in the day. It was like an earworm Rorschach Blotch. And this karaoke version making the rounds of the So Bad It's Good Interverse isn't helping in the forensic lyric investigation department, either.

I've been kicked in the groin and the taint

Believable, but I don't think so.

I've been flicked on my nose in Green Bay

Prolly not.

I've been licked like a pole in a tent


I've been pissed since a quarter to eight

Sounds closer.

I play whist with Tebow and crochet

Getting colder, I think.

I coexist with a goy in Bombay

It shows a spirit of diversity, but I don't think it's accurate.

I have a cyst on my hip, Beyonce

That one right there. I don't care if it's right. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

(Don't miss Pavarotti at 1:26. HORK!)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

So I'm Eating My Lunch

So I'm eating my lunch.

It's 42 degrees out. The sky is like passing a battleship in a skiff. We got a couple of inches of snow yesterday. The plow came by a couple times, yesterday afternoon and evening, which flummoxed me. I checked to see if the seal on the door of the truck had been altered to read:  The Department of Public Works and Mordant Humor. It hadn't.

So I'm eating my lunch. I hear this sound. My wife staggered up next to me, and we looked out the window together. "It can't be," we said in unison.

Oh, it be, as Elaine Benes used to say. There is an ice cream truck driving around our neighborhood.

So, I'm eating my lunch. When I'm done, I'm going down into the basement, and assembling all the components and pieces and parts and appurtenances and tools I own, I'm going to spend what may very well be the bulk of the remainder of my natural life trying to assemble  a machine that can possibly measure how utterly and irrevocably insane you'd have to be to drive an ice cream truck through the slush in forty-degree weather around a moribund mill town populated exclusively by elderly women and their dogs.

If I'm successful -- in a decade or three -- and have any time left, I'll turn my attention to inventing a second machine capable of measuring the insanity of any customers.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Don't Know Much About History

I don't know why the town I live in has a statue of Billy Mays with an ax standing guard over it. I don't know a lot of things.

I don't know when spring's supposed to begin. I ran out of firewood about a month ago. But I didn't run out of winter.  It's thirty-three degrees right now, at 3:30 in the afternoon. It's snowing. Earlier it was sleeting. I don't have a Bible handy to figure out what might happen next.  I didn't move to western Maine expecting palm trees or anything, but I expected the bears to be brown around here, at least.

There's a disreputable heap of snow in my front yard. It's about 18" deep. It's the distillation of all the snow that was heaped there all winter. I don't know if it has tuberculosis, or leprosy, but it certainly doesn't look well. It's waiting to be euthanized by the spring. I want to drive to Punxsutawney and insert a few fistfuls of it into Phil.

I don't know why the cat's angry with me. I open the door to let him out, and he glares at me. Perhaps he figures this is all my fault. He occasionally comes into my workroom downstairs, and wants to be let out the door I have there, which leads to a ramp to the ground. I think he figures that since it's still winter out the front door, he'll go out the side door instead, because it's most likely summer if you go out there.

I don't know why the cat is the only creature in my house that knows how to enter my workshop properly. He simply walks noiselessly way out in front of me and looks at me until I see him. Everyone else in the house sneaks up on me inadvertently and startles me. I'll lose a finger someday over it. I've lost my temper over it already, but a temper is never as effective as amputations for fixing things in people's minds. I don't know why the cat is so solicitous about his comings and goings. I know in my heart that he'd eat my amputated finger off the floor if he thought he could get away with it.

I don't know exactly why, but I pretended I didn't know something, to get along with somebody else. I haven't done that in a long time. When I was young, I did it a lot. I went to school, and then worked with people that distrusted intellect, so I hid mine. It's not manners; I didn't refrain from telling someone with a big nose that they had a big nose. I acted dumb to get along. The world is becoming a place where that's about all you can do. Dumb people seem happier anyway. I don't know; maybe I should hit myself in the head with a shovel until I'm ebullient.

I don't know why, but my little son once memorized all the Presidents, and did a little mathematical trick with the order of them. It was quite sweet and precocious of him, and the charm in it was multiplied by the accent his missing teeth offered to the proceedings.  He was asked to repeat it -- endlessly. Eventually he got tired of it, and lied like a Turk in a bazaar and said, "I don't know," when someone asked him about it for the umpteenth time. It's boring being a human filing cabinet, and he rebelled against it. That's my boy.

Jeezum Crow, the plow just went by. I don't know why.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Take The Sippican Cottage Parenting Test (from 2006)

I'm an OK parent. I've seen really good parents. I'm not them.

I am A Parent, though. There is a pass/fail aspect to it, and I defy any person to say I don't pass. I think that many parents fail because they are not satisfied with passing; they are determined to be THE BEST PARENT EVAR. And they mess up their kids trying.

There is only one way to demonstrate that you are THE BEST PARENT EVAR - your kid must be Bruce Lee/ Buzz Aldrin/ Tom Brady/ Albert Einstein/ Steve Jobs. Unless of course you've got a female of the species, you know, the ballerina/astronaut/CEO/oarswoman/scholar/runway model. There will be no finger painting. You will learn Mandarin Chinese while listening to Bach fugues and eating free range organic watercress sandwiches and drinking only water collected from terne metal gutters from French cathedrals, while waiting for your violin lessons to start.

While wearing a helmet.

I'm not THE BEST PARENT EVAR. My children get three squares a day, and can read and write after a fashion, and their peers don't point and giggle after they walk by, and other parents ask their children: "Why don't you invite that Sullivan boy over, he's nice and polite." They sleep all night in their beds untroubled by adult cares. We don't watch slasher movies together. They go outdoors occasionally. They won't get mumps or whooping cough because they have THE BEST PARENT EVAR who won't let them be immunized because immunization leads to being average! Like everybody else!


Sorry, I was channeling a bit. My kids are not extraordinary. You know, like Michael Jackson or The Olsen Wraiths...oops I meant Twins, or Paris Hilton or River Phoenix or Screech or Danny Bonaduce or Gary Coleman or ... well, you get the picture.

Anyway, I'd like to set your mind at ease. Take the Sippican Cottage Parenting test. Don't worry, it's Pass/Fail. Watch the following video. If it doesn't look like you and your children, then you're probably fine.

How'd you do? I thought so.

I wonder how many kids that woman had before she started the act.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dutch Treat

Wes Montgomery plays in Holland sometime in the sixties by the look of it.

The smile was genuine. Wes Montgomery had a perfection in demeanor for his job. Serious and genial in equal measure.

I think it came for his background. He was a real person. Too many entertainers are born to the ermine of prodigy treatment almost from birth. Hothouse flowers. Wes Montgomery was more of a florist delivery van driver than a hothouse flower.

Wes played with his thumb instead of a plectrum or his fingertips. I've heard that he started playing like that because he worked as a machinist all day to support his family, and had to practice in the middle of the night, and strumming with his thumb was quieter and allowed his wife to sleep. One's eye pauses over such minutiae when considering a man's life, and wonders if you've discovered something sublime abroad in this world of pain and heartache.

To be successful after toiling in obscurity for a long time is a remarkable thing. It makes people smile to be popular among strangers instead of sneering at their publicist and audience alike while demanding your M&Ms get sorted. You are a fully-formed human person before the world gets its chance to deform you with celebrity.

It's almost a half-hour of good music, with the end the best of all. Wes goes over what he's playing with a bunch of strangers who are game and capable but not hip. This is often what the highest levels of music instruction look like: the chance to play with someone like Wes Montgomery, and talk to him. Wes already offered the highest level of instruction on being a proper male human being with his machinist thumb.

Interview with Wes Montgomery in Guitar Player Magazine. He passed away in 1968.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Did You Bring Me A Monkey?

Unorganized Hancock is back, larger than life, and twice as loud. Amazing to me what the kids have been able to do with a little bit of hardware and software thrown in. I had nothing to do with this, except pressing the big PHD button on the camera. PHD stands for "Push Here, Dummy."

The Spare Heir is trying to get the hang of playing with his sticks held in the traditional grip, instead of the matched grip like a rock drummer. He likes videos of Jo Jones and Joe Morello, so he wanted to give it a try. He's using sticks that resemble a bundle of chopsticks, which make a nifty stand-in for brushes.

The Heir fished out my ancient trombone, which I tried to explain to him before -- that's plumbing, not music, son.  He doesn't listen. He's gotten weary of looking for bass players and learned to play bass pretty passably himself in the last couple months. He's playing my old bass, the one I told you about in this essay -- er, sentence. 

If you've been living under a pop rock for fifty years, and don't recognize the song they're playing, it's So What by Miles Davis. It's one of the most important recordings of any kind ever made. We try to teach our children cultural literacy. Pop music is fine, and it can be sophisticated now and again, or more along the lines of I'm Henry The Eighth I Am, but very little pop music is important musically, lyrically, or culturally. People need peanut butter sandwiches as well as pate, so there's no harm in it, really. But pop musicians that think they're saving the world are absurd, and need to be told so, regularly.

In 1959, Miles Davis, who had been bopping hard up until that time, decided to try something new. He thought that jazz had become too dense, chordally complicated, too filigreed. He switched it up completely, and made a modal jazz record, called Kind of Blue. I'm hard pressed to come up another example groundbreaking  and earthshaking as it was in its time, and after.  Maybe Paul Whiteman playing George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in New York in the twenties. It's rare that someone is able to turn the musical world on its head.

The Heir painstakingly learned to play the trumpet solo on his guitar. It was the hardest part of this for him to play, though it sounds sort of rudimentary. It's a great education for a player. Guitar players have a tendency to play things that fall under their fingers on their instruments easily. It's human nature. But if you learn music originally played on other instruments, you're playing pure music. Miles was just wandering up and down a scale, followed by another scale, and those scales are superimposed over two chords. That's what modal music is. The bass playing on that record is very fine, and it was a great education for him, too.

The Heir is named Miles, by the way.

[Many thanks to everyone that's supported the boys' efforts over the last year. Your support is paying off, though perhaps that's not for me to say. You decide. There's a tip jar in the right hand column for them if you're so inclined. Links to their video are much appreciated as well]

[Update: Many thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Thud from Old Blighty for supporting the boys!]

[Up-Update: Many thanks to the lovely Julie from Florida for sending the boys some green courage]

Up-Up-Update: Many thanks to Barbara M. from scenic California for helping the boys out. She suggests a mandolin. I'll go along with anything that isn't the bagpipes]

[Updates, the Continuing Saga: Many thanks go to Leslie G. from A Z for supporting the boys!]

[Updates, We Haz Them: Our thanks go out to Kathleen M. from CT for her constant support and encouragement]

[Updates, We Got Updates:David R. from Cal-if-forn-I-A is generous with his wallet and his advice. Many thanks. He wants The Heir to buy a 5-string bass, though, but I think he has too many stings already, and have been thinking of removing the G string. Maybe we should compromise, and have him play a 4-string bass.]

[Updates Roll On: Many thanks to Paul H. from the Lone Star State for helping the boys out, and saying pleasant things, too]

[Right Up-To-Date Update: Melissa K. From Tejas is very generous. Many Thanks! There appear to be a lot of nice people in Texas]

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Marvelous Mockba

Russia is a gangster state.

In the 1920s and 30s, lots of countries descended into gangsterism. Enormous forces, seen and unseen, pushed and pulled at people like taffy. Like horses in a burning barn, they thrashed around looking for an alternative to the rude discomforts all around them. The world is descending into gangsterism again.

Of course there's never a shortage of Savonarolas abroad in the land. Rasputins. Caudillos and ministers and seers and strongmen. When people are suitably tenderized with the hammer of bipartisan rage followed by ennui, the gangsters take over, and add "Democratic" to the country's name, usually, while extracting democracy like a molar with a rusty pliers. One tug, once, and it's gone.

So Mockba sends shady people trained in the arts of war without governors to administer polonium enemas to anyone that gets in the way of looting the treasury, and the country settles down into a low boil of avoiding the wrong people with the right connections, and getting on with your life. And to someone like me that remembers the ultimate gangster state that preceded it, it's wonderful to see.

Watching the pandemonium depicted on Mockba's ubiquitous dashcams, and the wild melees in the street over rights of way, it's easy to forget that none of that was necessary before, because the average person had nothing but fear or smugness in their interactions before. If you were a nobody, you'd have to immediately gauge if your tormenter was important in a pecking order hidden behind an unsmiling Berian mask. If you had a place in the ruling class, you'd only have to determine if your fender bender was caused by someone with a single-digit party card. You could treat anyone else any way you wanted. And there were no fender benders to fight over anyway, because no one had a car. You'd simply have to apologize to any driver that ran you over in a crosswalk because you knew they were important enough to have a vehicle.

So now the average person can fight with his fists in the street over slights with another average person, and a kind of rumble of vibrancy is demonstrated. It's not a fair fight top to bottom, of course, but the crooks that run the place are more discerning gangsters than before, and don't trifle themselves with the affairs of little people so much. And the little people make everything  go, if you will but let them. That's why the lights are on, and the cars buzz here and there, and the boats full of people that don't look like beaten dogs when the newspaper boy makes his delivery go to and fro.

Looks like life.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

It's Portlandish

That's Portland. Portland, Maine that is. Portland isn't the capitol of Maine. Ogguster is. Portland is the largest city, though. About 65,000 people, I think, but I refuse to look it up. You can walk all over Portland in a day. There's a nebulous "Greater Portland" that has half a million people in it. That's a third of the state living in one place. Portland looks fairly coherent, as cities go, because the whole place burned down a couple times, and they replaced all the buildings at the same time with brick replacements.

I'm surprised Mainers haven't discovered how to set the bricks on fire. Yet. Everything burns to the ground in Maine, and burns again while the ashes are still warm, too. People here seem to be capable of setting anything afire, except firewood. They can't figure out how trees are operated, I think. Everyone buys a Bean coat and a woodstove and attempts to light it with gasoline or kerosene or lighter fluid or oily rags or dead cats soaked in acetone or whatever they have handy. There are 1.3 million people in Maine, and they have 1.4 million strategies for cutting, splitting, stacking, drying, and burning wood. Every one of these strategies is ill-advised or counter-productive, except for the patently insane ones.

After you've set everything you own except your firewood on fire, including yourself, generally, the fire department comes and mills around in your yard admiring  your newfangled approach to burning your joint down, if you've got one, or perhaps remarking that the old ways are best if you've burned the place down in some mundane fashion. Then they sprinkle the smoking cellar hole with enough water to baptize an underweight baby, while regaling the local newspaper reporter with rundowns of how many dogs or goldfish or iguanas they rescued from the building before it got going good.

Maine's huge, at least in New England terms. It's about the same size as Ireland. Ireland's essentially empty, and it has four times the population Maine does, so Maine is beyond empty. Maine is larger than all the other New England States combined. Everyone here is worried that we're going to run out of trees sometime soon. They keep buying tracts of nothing and preserving them. It's not possible to preserve anything for someone, because there are precious few someones here, so they preserve them from something. Mainers are always on the lookout for something that might happen. You wouldn't want that.

A pine tree's a form of crabgrass here, but they pay that no mind. If the potato farmers up north in Aroostook lose interest, and the pine cones get busy, you're going to need nuclear weapons to drive to Canada. I don't think they allow you to cross the border into Canada if you have nuclear weapons in your Kia anymore, so be sure to use them all on the forest. You can get back into the US with any old thing, so load up in Montreal for the trip back.

I live as far west from Portland as you can get without ending up in New Hampshire. We call Cumberland County, where Portland is, "Northern Massachusetts." It doesn't look much like Maine to my eye. I know all about Portland, though, because my wife grew up near there. I've been there many times over the years.

I do believe I could manage being the town drunk in Portland. It's bigger than a job for a hobbyist, but not so big a job you'd need to hire help if you were a pro.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Take Five, Take Two

The boys are working on things.

We're immensely grateful for the support the boys receive from my readers. They're good kids, and level-headed, so they don't make the usual mistake aspiring musicians make: Going to the music store and buying expensive and superfluous things instead of practicing. But some problems are amenable to an application of money. An expensive guitar doesn't make you a good player. But you can buy more pixels and ram them into your videos for a few bucks.

What a lot of progress they can show since the first grainy and dark Flip-cam performance they made in our attic. The video above is remix of Take Five from two weeks ago. The Heir was able to get some software that could handle Hi-Def video. No computers in our house can handle the hi-def files, but the new software allows you to work on them in lo-def and then upload them to YouTube in up to 1080p goodness. We have a Roku box, and our TV only goes up to 720p, but it's as clear as a DVD on the screen now, and in widescreen, too, which they weren't able to do before using only Windows Movie Maker. The sound quality is higher, too. The two cameras we purchased a little while back were capable of recording in hi-def, and now they can make use of it. The Heir also has new monitor speakers on his computers that reproduce more of the full range of sound the two of them make. He told me that he used to mix the songs on his recorder by fiddling with them, then putting them on a thumb drive, bringing them downstairs, and then listening to them on my ancient XP computer because I had a subwoofer and it was the only way he could hear if the bass was recorded audibly enough. Then he'd go back upstairs and fiddle with it some more and try again. He did it like that for months without me knowing about it. He'd only go in my office when I wasn't there. Kids are inventive like that sometimes. It's the reason they're the only persons in your house that can work the child safety locks on all the cabinets when they're toddlers.

Dave, who dared the kids to play a Neon Trees song months ago and demanded I put up a tip jar for them, wrote in the comments the other day:
Sometimes when I feel sad I go to the Unorganized Hancock youtube channel and all my troubles seem to melt away
What a lovely sentiment. My wife and I do the same thing. The boys feel the enthusiasm for their efforts coming right through the Intertunnel, and it buoys their efforts. The Heir has also started taking music lessons over Skype from the best music teacher I've ever heard of, never mind met. He's my brother. He also taught me to play years ago, but we shouldn't hold that against him. It wasn't his fault I never applied myself. I learned just enough music to make my wife pay five bucks to meet me, and that was plenty for me. If the boys apply themselves, they might be able to charge their prospective mates twenty bucks to meet them some day.

The Roku box lets you watch YouTube videos on your TV if you know how to set it up, and we had fun watching related videos after watching our boys. There were many that were middle and high schoolers playing songs for captive audiences of parents, with songs obviously chosen by their teachers or by someone that doesn't like them very much. They all looked like beat dogs the whole time. I think our boys know already that music is not supposed to be entertaining for yourself, it's supposed to entertain the audience. It's fun and gratifying if you can pull it off, but you are not there to be amused by the audience. But it's not supposed to make you sad, for crissakes. In my past life, I termed it "Facing the Other Way." If you face the other way from the audience, you have certain duties and obligations, and occasionally, privileges. The boys seem clear on the concept already, which will hold them in good stead in the real world in the future.

The hi-def video files are huge. We're purchasing a stand-alone hard drive to hold them. The boys are almost done with their next numbah, and it'll put Take Five in the shade, I'm tellin' ya. They owe it all to you, my Interfriends.

[Update: Kathleen M. in CT's continuing support is a wonder. Many thanks!]

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Beautiful Things. Beautiful People

(Lakeshore - Isaac Levitan)

Mizz E visits and comments here regularly. She's an educator. She's a generous contributor to the boys' music fund for which I am grateful. She has a very sunny avatar picture. Brightens my day to see it.

She's got a Tumblr page going. I've added it to my moribund and mostly obsolete blogroll. Look for it under Tail Feathers.

It's ottist stuff, mostly. It's from people I'm not familiar with much. Lends an air of discovery to it. I like looking at John Singer Sargent pitchas as much as the next guy -- more, is more likely -- but I'd like to see something different from time to time. But not bad. Some people just have a knack for curating Intertunnel collections. They're coherent and interesting. I'm generally only one or the other of those things at a time, so I like to see them melded once in a while.

Tail Feathers

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I'm Part Of The World's Oldest Profession

With apologies to prostitutes and politicians, until there was currency to bamboozle people out of, and rounds of drinks to be ordered but not paid for, their job descriptions were very, very, nebulous for a very long time. But I'm a turner. It's the world's oldest profession. The fellow in the video is a drechsler -- which is German for turner. He's shown at his craft in 1926, making Hitler's fruitbowl or something, back when Hitler was still rubbing his eyes. I could immediately and without hesitation recognize and use everything in the video, although I don't turn bowls. He has better gouges than I do, is all.

Well, it might be the oldest profession. Who knows? But the oldest mechanical apparatus more complicated than the jawbone of an ass known to be used regularly by humans is something called a fiddle drill. Old-school farmers recognized the term. A stick with ropes looped from both ends is pushed and pulled back and forth, turning an axle or wheel, and  the resultant spinning made useful for all sorts of things, like broadcasting seeds, for one. It's one of the oldest ways to make a fire, too-- right after waiting to be struck by lightning and throwing yourself on some sticks:

Cavemen didn't have security deposits, but they probably didn't use a fire bow in their living rooms while wearing socks based solely on principle, unlike Joe College here.

Anyway, it was just a matter of turning the apparatus on its side, and then carving the spinning axle with handheld tools to make the jump from fiddle drill to William and Mary turned legs. That, and thirty-four centuries. There's evidence that artisans were turning bowls like you see in the first video, and many other things, in the seventh century BC. We know more about Etruscan bowls than we do about Etruscans.

Many people turn wooden ware, which can also be called treen, nowadays. Sixty Grit, who reads and comments here, is known to do it. I'm sure others do, too. It's considered a gentlemanly way to work with your hands, and it's more practical than the formerly popular pastime of making boats in the basement that don't fit through the bulkhead when they're done. Me, I'm going to go make a fire with a zippo and table leg with my lathe, and try to get my hands on some money. I try not to give any of the money to politicians, so that leaves... (What's that, dear? Oh, nothing.)

Ahem. As I was saying; since I refuse to willingly give my lathe turning money to politicians, that only leaves, er, well, hmm... well, I can always buy more lathe tools with it.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

And Then, When It Was All Done, He Made A Spice Rack, And Then Moved

Neat video. Neat project. Pleasant people. Lots to like about it. But.

This video is bound to get people who don't know any better oohing and aahing over it. It's an iShop. It has the kind of vibe a Genius Bar denizen might like, with some Incredibles style points. There's only one problem I noticed with it: It cost a lot to make the same sort of workspace that people usually just put up with. It's like when funky people started living in abandoned loft spaces in moribund manufacturing buildings in cities, and after a while, people started building them that way from scratch.  It only made sense when it was better than nothing. Paying top dollar for faux repurposed industrial space is nutty.

I don't know where this shop is located. Its location might have overriding factors I don't know about, but there appear to be many things wrong with the approach they used. It's foolish to work below ground if you don't have to. Vapor barrier or not, it's damp and cool below ground. Furniture work doesn't like damp and cool. Dehumidification costs more than heat. And a concrete floor is dreadful to work on. Bad for your bones. Casting dust collection into a slab is ill-advised. You'll want to change the arrangement of tools someday (trust me) and you're stuck. They should have skipped the slab, put grade beams down, framed a wood floor in there, and run ducts and power in the floor joist bays. You could move them around in the future if you had to, and the floor would have a bit of spring in it for your joints. You could easily affix things to a wood floor, too.

Why does the clerestory face west? If it faced south, you'd get early sun, and heat up the place when it was cool, and it would be cooler in the late afternoon. An egregious error only an architect could make. An average person that had been dropped on their head frequently as a child wouldn't be that dumb. Six years of architecture school is necessary to be that confused. Why so few windows? All that available natural light, and you build a semi-subterranean bunker. Is Albert Speer your architect? Expecting the Russians?

I spent many years making things on a concrete slab in a dark, damp hole in the ground. Only an undertaker will get me in one again.

Monday, April 01, 2013

From 2009: The Angel Investors Have Horns

(First offered in 2009. I think I was cranky because I had been pawed over without effect by a bunch of VCs a year or so before that. Venture Capitalists, not Viet Cong. Hard to tell the difference sometimes) 

Interesting discussion about making money over at 37 signals.

People alternate between revulsion for and adoration of people who make money. There is currently an enormous reliance on style points in choosing between execration and exaltation. A large swath of the public believes that only money that you appear to get by accident, like gambling winnings; salaries for activities others do for free -- like sports; passive income like many Internet websites provide without really doing anything; and the wages of idiot celebrity, including, of course, selling autobiographies even though you've never done anything, are the only approved methods of getting rich. No matter what, you have to seem like you're not interested in making money. Persons think that Steve Jobs is less avaricious than Bill Gates, for instance. Sure he is.

The exploitation of quirks in a system in which you do not fully or willingly participate in is another fave. Enough illegality to seem exciting but not exactly criminal is considered THE piquant style point, of course. See Office Space or Trading Places for amusing examples of the genre.

Our weird ideas about whether or not you're doing it in the approved hipster fashion mask an underlying problem. Making money as an entrepreneur is hard. But somewhat counterintuitively, the hardest way to make money might be to have it handed to you.

This is one of the reasons I encourage entrepreneurs to bootstrap instead of taking outside money. On day one, a bootstrapped company sets out to make money. They have no choice, really. On day one a funded company sets out to spend money. They hire, they buy, they invest, they spend. Making money isn’t important yet. They practice spending, not making.

Bootstrapping puts you in the right mindset as an entrepreneur. You think of money more as something you make than something you spend. That’s the right lesson, that’s the right habit, the right imprint on your business brain. You’re better off as an entrepreneur if you have more practice making money than spending money. Bootstrapping gives you a head start.

The world is rather a harsh place for true entrepreneurs just now, much more so than for people that are gaming some system for money, which has become the Holy Grail of angel investors. I've learned everything in this life the hard way, and the hardest lesson to learn is to only borrow money -- which includes accepting capital for a piece of the action -- to expand on something that already makes money.

Don't get me wrong; if your business plan is to fleece investors, by all means, take the money. Billy Ray Valentine would.