Sunday, June 30, 2013

I Rode A Bicycle Today

I rode a bicycle today.

My wife and sons bought me a bicycle for my birthday. It's a Schwinn. Looks like a tank, rides like a sofa. I haven't ridden a bicycle in twenty-five years. That is to say, I think I haven't ridden a bicycle in twenty-five years. Who the hell knows what I've been up to for twenty-five years? I sure don't.

We live on what's called a city lot. It's only sixty feet wide, and fronts the street with only twenty feet or so of setback. The street I live on used to be the main road into town from west of here, but they built a highway behind our house, along the river, and our road became the one less traveled by. People still drive way too fast on it. Many of the houses are empty in this town, and people think "rural" and drive like it everywhere here. I don't let my younger son ride his bike on our road alone.

I mentioned "people" earlier; but for all intents and purposes, there are no people here. Western Maine is emptying out; some collect in the southeast appendix of Maine -- Portland -- and the rest plain leave. There are few people and no children. Fewer people and no children has been a dream of many in my lifetime. It was never mine. If you saw what it looked like, it might change even the most hardened heart about the concept.

I wanted my son to ride his bicycle. I wanted to ride a bicycle with him. My wish was granted. A wish granted is wonderful thing, truly. I put the bicycle together in the basement a while ago, and waited for the 21-day bout of torrential rain to let up. Today is in the low eighties, and sunny. It's Sunday. Let's go, dad.

The entire town of Rumford is on a hill of some sort. Steep ones. The front of my house is two storeys tall, the back is four. It's daunting to ride most of these hills. We dashed down our street over a couple of humps and valleys, and found a lane that's tilted like a bockety table instead of a rollercoaster, and pedaled back and forth on it for a pleasant 45 minutes or so. The road is being repaved, so only the scratch pavement is on it, but it's the smoothest patch of pavement in town. The underground structures wear orange cones for party hats here and there, and make it jolly to dodge around them. The pines have shed their needles for the season on the street, and mix their perfume with the smell of fresh rain and flowers in the air. The road goes from noplace to nowhere, and there are only a half-dozen houses on the whole length of it, and you can ride as you like without risking a flattening.

I'd forgotten the idiot joy of being on a bicycle. I rode a half-length behind and to the left of my little son, and the look on his face reminded me of it immediately. It's gently, gently uphill one way, and then minutes of long, languid cruise downhill the other way.

Slow down, dad, and let me win!

I'm sorry, but there is no way you can win, son. I've won already.

(Many thanks to Kathleen M. for her constant support of this website)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Battle Of The Nineties Pop Bands

In this corner, The Bluetones, from Lunnon in Merry Olde. Made it to number two on the British pop chart in '96. I remember a disc jockey in Newport, Rhode Island that liked to play this song on our breaks when I was still playing out in bars. Jolly and jangly.

And in this corner, friends of the Sippican Cottage, Jellyfish, hailing from Sam Clam's Disco. Pure power pop for now people. Stand-up drumming is way underrated. If you sing, they have to put you out front. Case closed. I played for years with a stand-up drummer. Hi, Paul! I apologize, but I've made my own drummer now and you're fired.

 OK, you can vote, but remember: No Wagering.

*Sniff* I was still young and mighty in the '90s. Now I'm just mighty. *sniff*

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

He's Got A Face Like An Unthrown Pot

His hair is a potted plant. His voice is on loan from a bullfrog, and he's three payments behind. He lists to port a bit. His guitar is still full of air from another state. He's never worked a day in his life, but his hands are knobby and calloused just the same. He smiles from time to time. I think that's what that thing his face does is, anyway.

Play guitar. Get girls.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bear Won't Be Down For Breakfast

It's a crabby little world I inhabit.

James Gandolfini was Bear, the semi-kindhearted semi-mobbed-up stuntman in Get Shorty. I never saw him in anything else, except that submarine movie with Gene Hackman.

Get Shorty is the best movie about the movie business I ever saw. It's the most "Los Angeles" movie ever made. It's the only Elmore Leonard book I ever read. I read it because I liked the movie, and wondered if the book was any good. It was alright. Get Shorty has one of the best soundtracks of any movie I've ever heard. Get Shorty has one of the best soundtracks of any movie I've ever heard. It was the last fresh sale date for about 75 percent of the cast, too.

My brother Garrett told me yesterday that he has a friend that plays saxophone, and has played with everybody. He laughed and told me his friend can claim to have played with Garrett, and with Elvis. I said I knew who Garrett was, but which Elvis was he referring to? That's how crabby my worldview is.

 James Gandofini was Bear, and he was someone because I watched Get Shorty and liked it. You could run over the rest of the cast of The Sopranos with a bus and I'd never notice. RIP big fellow.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Great Moments In Gravity-Defying Pompadours: Santo And Johnny

Santo and Johnny, two nice Italian boys from Brooklyn.

I'd be hard pressed to come up with a more unlikely word salad than: Italian kid in New York City playing steel guitar. But America's always been like that. Everybody feels like they should be able to glom onto any tradition extant in the land and have a go at it. There are no permanent classes, but there are always pedal steel classes.The radio, TV, and the movies were the great uniters then. Everyone listened and saw all the same things, more or less. It's more fractured now. You can blissfully hang out in one little, crabby corner of the intellectual world, and never hear of anything that might upset you. You can concentrate fully on only upsetting other people.

The Billboard Top 10 Singles list for 1959 is glorious, and pretty variegated. Catholic. It's goes from Lloyd Price to Conway Twitty and back again. It spans the gap between Ray Charles and Alvin and the Chipmunks, with plenty of stops in between, too. There's plenty of dreck on there, but it seems harmless. There's a lot more really good singers on there than you'll find Auto-tuning their way across the landscape now. When all you had was a plate reverb to tart up your singing, you were more likely to learn how to sing before you got a gold record, I guess. And I bet every single name on the list could sing the National Anthem better than I've heard it in 25 years, and knew the words by heart, too. Including Santo and Johnny, who didn't sing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Amplitude Modulation (2007)

The naugahyde was cool against your cheek. I remember that.

Driving back from Roxbury. Rambling along the Charles on Storrow. The car pitched and yawed on its butt-sprung suspension and the spidered pavement. You could reach down and lift the floor mat to see the asphalt roll by through the rusty pinholes in the floor, where the road salt had done its work, and worked overtime, too.

Pop was operatin'. He was like a sub commander. Steering through shoals with vision obscured. Our moist breath fuddled the windshield. The defroster exhaled on the glass like the dying animal it was. Pop wiped the fog away with his hanky, and pressed on.

Little brother was already asleep on the seat next to you. Mom packed blankets and pillows around him to hold him on the seat. I bivouacked on the rest, and tried to align my face on the part where the cushion wasn't split from a thousand butts. The edge of the rip would cut your face and the foam would tickle you.

The scene was framed, imperfectly, through the lens of the side window. Left to right, the world ran past. The drops of condensation coalesced on the movie screen of the fogged window, ran down, and revealed the Cambridge shore through the mist. Low-watt Christmas everywhere. The enormous billboards were shrunk by distance and time and poverty to faraway smears of luminous color with winking neon and the stink of death on their topics. FULLER OLDS. NECCO. KASANOF'S. The window made them into a kaleidoscope.

The useless wipers went scrreee-BAP, scrreee-BAP over and over, and Pop would fiddle with everything to no effect and keep going. Mom would look out the window and over her shoulder and her thoughts were her own. The Christmas presents from doting Aunts who asked over and over, "Which one are you?" shifted and tumbled over in the trunk an inch behind my head when we got to the huge sign that said REVERSE CURVE -- the one that caught Pop by surprise, every time, even though he was born a brisk walk from it.

There was sometimes a hand free to twist the huge, mostly useless dial on the radio. Snap, Crackle, Pop, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, came out of that thing. At night the big stations like BeeZee would bleed all over the place, and bizarre incursions of French from Canada would appear, unwonted, fight for primacy like radio chimeras, then disappear as Pop searched again for whatever you could catch and hold.

Papa Was A Rollin' Stone...

We rolled on into the night.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father's Day At The Sippican Cottage

My friend Gerard sent along this obviously mislabeled video he found on YouTube. It says it's from Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide, but it's obviously footage from last year's Father's Day celebration at Sippican Cottage. I've a good mind to call YouTube and straighten them out. Anybody got YouTube's phone number?

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them

Shakespeare can be tough sledding for the average person. It doesn't scan like contemporary text; sound like contemporary speech.  It's acted badly, mostly, by Americans I have seen. This same speech delivered by Charlton Heston is a hash. But he really wasn't much of an actor. Just popular.

But Brando can do it. The words, and the force behind them are instantly understood tripping out of his mouth. I think it's a kind of respect for the audience. He wants to make himself understood, both words and subtext.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest -
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men -
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

They used to call it Grammar School. It's the only school Shakespeare ever attended. It's the only school the greatest writer who ever lived needed. I'm told they used to teach grammar there.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Try To Get Through Ten Bars Before The Andalusian Buddha Says NO!

They try to block YouTube on the computers they hand out at school, because they wouldn't want you to ruin your education by having Andres Segovia give you guitar lessons.

Last night I taught my ten-year-old how to play Brown Eyed Girl on the piano. It took about ten minutes. He doesn't know how to play the piano. Come to think of it, I don't know how to play the piano, either. But it happened. If you know how to learn things, it's all just lying on the virtual ground. 

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Remarks Offered At The High School Graduation Ceremony Of A Home-Schooled Son

I can remember, distinctly, the last time my son held my hand when we crossed a busy street. It seems a very long time ago now. I remember it well, because at the time, it struck me as just that: The last time.

We caution our children to look both ways when they cross a street, in order that they can cross alone when the time comes. It’s just one of a million things we teach our children -- by word, a little, mostly by deed -- in the hope that it will be of some use to them when they’re older. It’s a terrible thing parents undertake, to teach your children to go away on their own, but we must do it if we are to be worthy to be called a parent.

My wife and I wanted our son to be an honest, productive, kind, intelligent, well-educated  and friendly person before we sent him out into the world. We thought we could do that best by educating him at home. His mother worked very diligently at it for him, and his brother too, and I resolutely stood by her side, ready to accept any credit for anything that turned out all right.

By his intelligence and effort my son has made himself all those things I mentioned earlier, and more. He’s worked hard on his studies, and will continue to do so, of course. He didn’t just learn things – he learned how to learn things, which is better. In the process, my wife and I have watched those childish things we treasure disappear one after another: The charmingly mispronounced word; the unsteady walk; the impolitic question about that lady with the tattoos in the grocery store; the little hand in yours when you cross the street.

We’ve entirely ruined him for ourselves, and made him useful only for strangers. I hope you’re all happy. We’re miserable about the whole thing. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Pure Pop For Then People: Brother Louie

Brother Louie was a Billboard number one hit in 1973 for Stories. It's hard to have a number one hit. It's usually an equal mixture of luck and talent.

The keyboard player in Stories was also in The Left Banke, which had another big hit with Walk Away Renee. Some people are like that. They cultivate the right friends, and drift from one success to another. But I find it interesting that Stories originally left Brother Louie off their album, because they didn't like how it sounded. Or more to the point, they thought it sounded like someone else, and they didn't think they wanted to -- or could-- sound like that all the time. Of course someone at the record company with more sense and cupidity re-released the album with the hit single on there. And we never heard from Stories -- sounding the way they wanted to, or the way the record company wanted them to sound --again.

Monday, June 03, 2013

So, That Just Happened

A few minutes ago, I was sitting at the desk in my office. It's a spectacular day here in western Maine. High seventies, sun and clouds, flowers starting to bloom in earnest, modest breeze. My office is faceted. It has four big windows facing four different directions. All of them are open wide.

The street is only steps away from our front door. This used to be the main road into town, but they built a state highway out back by the river decades back, and our road got sleepy.

A car just cruised past with all its windows down. It was playing music loud enough for me to hear it. Summer music dopplering past out of a  moving car can be a jolly sound.  Depends on what it is. Thrash metal and rap, not so much. When it's a recording of your sons playing Yesterdays, your life achieves a kind of perfection, I tell you what.

Drum Lessons With Levon Helm: Sangin' Is Youseyulie A Full-Tahm Jahb, 'n Drummin' Is Youseyulie A Full-Tahm Jahb

Levon's battle is over. You can still get drum lessons from him, though.

My children get all sorts of information from YouTube. They teach themselves, mostly. It's an astonishingly effective teaching resource if you learn to wade through the dross and pick out the gems. I'm not surprised that public schools hand out laptops, but then try various schemes to block YouTube. Careful. you might learn something. Why not just update your Facebook page all day, kids?

All social media and communication devices are double-edged swords. They're just enormous time-wasters for the majority of the population, and the rest see their possibilities and use them to add activity to their days by subtracting the friction that used to be endemic in finding information and getting a hold of people and purchasing things. If you're as old as I am, you've seen an enormous transformation of what's possible. You're reading this, ain'tchoo? Maybe on a phone.

If you're like me, you've also scratched your head as the gains in what's possible are squandered by many, if not most, people. But the medium has no opinion. YouTube probably wouldn't care if everyone watched Levon Helm instructional videos instead of Kardashian shimmy updates. You've got to save yourself, brothers and sisters. Can I get an #Amen?
I defy you to find anyone that can sing along with their own drumming, with no other accompaniment, and sound like that. Life is a carnival, and Levon Helm was a one-man circus. And you can join the circus if you can get YouTube.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Unorganized Onions

Unorganized Hancock is back, with their rendition of Green Onions.

Green Onions could lay claim to be the greatest single ever released.  You might disagree, but few would laugh at the suggestion. It's sort of universal and ubiquitous. How many times, in how many places have you heard that song?

The Heir got it in his head to play the keyboard a few weeks ago, and Green Onions naturally suggests itself as the first thing you might learn how to play. That's universality. It beats the hell out of Frère Jacques or Chop Sticks, that's fer sure.

Booker T. and the MGs did the original, of course. They were essentially the house band for Stax and Volt records.

I always preferred Stax records to Motown. I like the roadhouse better than the supper club. Besides Booker T, Stax featured Rufus and Carla Thomas, Albert King, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd,  Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, The Bar-Kays, The Staple Singers, and many others.

Our neighbor helped host a classic car show over in Mexico, Maine the other night. We attended and I took a bunch of pictures of cars you see in the slideshow. You're officially old when classic car shows start featuring models that you drove to high school. Or, more specifically, you drove to wherever it was you went to when you were supposed to be in high school.

If you'd like to help us buy equipment and instruction for our two boys, there's a PayPal tip jar in the right hand column. Many thanks!

[Update: Kathleen M. is the nicest person in Connecticut. Many thanks!]