Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Greatest Thing In The History Of Ever

I must admit, I detest the entire format of almost everything that's vaguely factual on television. Apparently it's the same format everywhere on our orb. There's all this filler and all these strange dullard people that have nothing to do with what's being discussed interjecting themselves into the frame. The only time I see TV newscasts is in a two-minute blast on YouTube, and it looks so bizarre to my eye now that I feel like I'm a Martian.

Scene: Two hair farmers seated at an elaborate but shabby desk that looks like it's designed to attract the attention of a four-year-old with a learning disability. The man with a shrine to Rock Hudson in his dressing room speaks to his partner across the desk in a Phil Hartman voice without the humor:

Well, Katie or Bev or Shanile or whatever your name is, in a minute we're going to show you something interesting. It will be interesting to see the interesting thing that's just behind our man on the scene, Biff or Tavon or Mikayla or whoever it is that's really angling for our jobs so they can sit down and be vapid and make six figures instead of being sent out with only a microphone and a yellow slicker to ask a hurricane how it's feeling.

Yes, Ted, or Bill, or Stone, or DeMario, or whatever the hell your name is, it sure will be interesting to wonder exactly what interesting thing is directly behind Biff or Jenna or whoever's sleeping with the program director this week because his wife doesn't understand him. And we'll show you the interesting thing in an interesting way right after these interesting messages from our sponsor about fixing your leaky gutters or vaginal discharges or yellow toenails or whisky dick  or whatever.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Winter In America

Winters aren't hard in Maine where I live. They're not harsh. They're not long. Adjectives like hard, harsh, and long don't help describe the thing. What winter is here is A Fact.

Before we moved here, winter was not A Fact in my life. I lived in various places in Massachusetts, but you could basically pretend winter was just a few nasty weeks left over from fall, or a ghastly beginning to spring, but you didn't really have to pay attention to it in any meaningful way. I went years without owning an ice scraper, or having a proper winter coat. You could just sort of clap your hands over your ears and sing la la la for about two weeks in January and pretend it didn't matter.

They'll find you in the spring in western Maine if you pretend winter doesn't exist. You're not going anywhere, and you're not doing anything without paying attention to it when it shows up. And you're not staying home, either, without paying winter's attention vigorish. If the power went out in Massachusetts, we'd have a jolly fire in the ornamental fireplace, made entirely from cardboard and bits of cut-off wood left over from building the house, and wait for the television to be restored. If the power goes off overnight in Maine in January, you've got about four hours to do something about it before the water in the toilet bowl turns to slush. I have a back-up plan for heat, and a back-up plan for that plan, too, and I'm probably considered woefully unprepared by my wiser neighbors. But I do get the concept, so elegantly put by my dead neighbor, E. B. White: just to  live in winter is a full time job.

Of course he lived on the coast, where's it's warm and doesn't snow much. I live over by Mount Washington. It's west of here, about an hour and a half's drive --and a bit southerly.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wanna Know Why Movies Look So Damn Good?

They do, you know. Look good, I mean. Sound good, too.

They're terrible, mostly. They're just puerile, pointless Batman movies, the stale, made fresh monthly, I know. But they do tend to look and sound amazing. That's because everyone but the actors and the people who write the scripts are very talented. The average set dresser, scene painter, soundtrack music writer --hell I bet the catering's amazing -- is so talented, and that talent is so cultivated by education and experience that any dreck you throw at the screen has a thick veneer of wonder on it.

Ever watch those one of those "How They Made This Wonderful Movie" movies? I find the back end of entertainment interesting, so I've seen many. Speaking of back ends, you learn that the back end of a horse is in charge of making the movies, generally. They all would be more accurately named if they were called "How This Wonderful Movie Was Made By Idiots By Accident."

There's an insanely detailed homage to the making of Raiders of The Lost Ark available on Vimeo. We watched it. If you watch it, and see who the makers of the movie wanted to cast in the movie, but weren't allowed to, and the ideas they had to make it more interesting, like a robot arm for Indy, who would be played by Tom Selleck, natch, you'd know it's all the little people that made that movie great entertainment. They eventually wear down the people in charge with their common sense, I think.

I think movies look so good because the people that are charged with making a movie look and sound like a specific period in time and populating it with accurately depicted persons -- well, at least the way they're dressed -- have access to reams and volumes of source material. Like that look into a glass factory in Holland in the fifties.

Me? I just watch the glassblowing videos. It's blissfully free of Batmen, and the leading men look like they could actually grow a beard if they wanted to.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

She Thinks I Steal Kale

I tried to explain something to my musician son the other day. I had a hard time. The concept is nebulous. You have to ken it peripherally. If you try to look right at it, it can't come into focus. It's as much art as science. Hunch-y, really. I tried to describe to him what makes a song have "legs" -- a term we used to use to indicate that a song is potentially useful to a performer by its very nature.

OK, so the Clutch Cargo of Country™, George Jones, had a big hit with this one back when Minutemen still rode dinosaurs to the Post Office to use the only telephone in town. That fact alone isn't going to cut any ice at the disco, brother. Besides, he didn't write it. He had to spot the legs in the song in the first place. If you want to glom onto the esssence of the song, and milk it to go along with your own performance cookies, the song needs to have legs. It's got to be the framework for entertainment. It has to allow others to produce their own artifact, not just trade on the previous artifact.

The wrong people have to be able to "get over" with a song with legs. The sum of the component parts have to add up to more than the parts themselves. So you become a kind of vivisectionist, taking songs apart to see what makes them go. But just like taking that frog apart in science class, the frog doesn't work anymore if you take it apart. The animation comes from somewhere else. To choose a song that's going to have legs, you have to understand the frog well enough to replicate it, but you can't kill it while taking it apart. That's why it's so hard to know what's going to work.

You had a disc jockey at your shabby, expensive wedding because you didn't want music; you wanted a list of cultural artifacts, laden with the context of your memories of what you were doing when they first came out of the radio. You wanted to eat at Musical McDonalds ™ because you wanted to know exactly what was on the menu before you entered the building. You didn't want to rely on a chef, even a world renowned chef, because improvisation is fraught with peril. Something might happen, and your wedding would be on YouTube for all the wrong reasons -- the only reason anything is on YouTube. To perform a song that has legs, you have to make the audience forget there's another version of it they prefer for a little bit.

You're on to something in your selection if a wave of nervous laughter passes through the audience at first, finding, perhaps, a delicious irony in the resurrection of a hoary old thing, and then the dead silence of rapt attention has to follow it.

So you search without looking directly at anything, the way a man searches for a mate in a bar. Sometimes you find exactly what you're looking for, and the audience thinks to themselves: What a cute couple they make.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I'm currently beezy making twenty tables for a sale at Sippican Cottage Furniture. I've never made that many things at one time. If you want to be notified when they go on sale, (heavily discounted, natch) sign up for an email notification at the top of our home page there. We don't flood your inbox if you do. It's a once-in-a-while thing.

In the interim, I've still got one lovely Kipling Table left over from the last batch of stuff. It's deuced handsome:

It's solid Tiger Maple. It's our Cinnamon color. Marked down to $199, which includes free shipping to anywhere in the lower 48. It's 15" square, about 28" tall.

Did you know that Rudyard Kipling lived in Vermont for a while, amongst the sugar maples and Calvin Coolidge's laconic relatives? Wrote the Jungle Book while he was there, if memory serves.  Ah, yes, Wikipedia's on it:

A little maple began it, flaming blood-red of a sudden where he stood against the dark green of a pine-belt. Next morning there was an answering signal from the swamp where the sumacs grow. Three days later, the hill-sides as fast as the eye could range were afire, and the roads paved, with crimson and gold. Then a wet wind blew, and ruined all the uniforms of that gorgeous army; and the oaks, who had held themselves in reserve, buckled on their dull and bronzed cuirasses and stood it out stiffly to the last blown leaf, till nothing remained but pencil-shadings of bare boughs, and one could see into the most private heart of the woods.
That's purty good writing. He might add up to something someday if he keeps it up.

Me? I'm angling to have: HE HAS POTENTIAL written on my gravestone.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Last Thursday, I Lied

[Editor's Note: Welcome Instapundit readers. Since you're new here, I should explain that our little boy in the video is three years older now, and not all that interested in Presidents anymore, but he is the Greatest Ten-Year-Old Drummer In The World.]
[Author's Note: There is no editor]

Er, I misspoke. I was wrong. Flat wrong. The wrongness, it burns. I messed up. Brain fart. Don't be mizzled, brother; I misled you. I disseminated misinformation to the point of dissimulation. I bore false witness, even if it was against myself, mostly.

Here's the whopper I told, almost without thinking:
Our children are homeschooled.
That's not quite correct. Mi dispiace. I best get to expiating my guilt by explaining myself to you fine people, before I end up asking a ghoul with a hot trident for a glass of icewater for all eternity.

Words mean things. At least they used to. They're currently debased and euphemized until nobody knows nothin' about nuthin' by reading the newspaper. "Homeschooling" has been freighted with meaning, and it's not the meaning I want it to have, but I used it anyway, because newspapers that call someone's boyfriend their "partner" have worn me out. I tried using the lingua franca to save time. It was a mistake. Let's fix it.

It would have been much more accurate for me to tell you that my children are receiving a public school education at home. They are. They simply don't attend the public school; they're getting this education from my wife, inside my house.

Hmm. But that's bound to give you the wrong idea, too; you'll assume that means we're giving the kids the same sort of education that's being offered in those buildings they still call public schools. You see, there are no public schools in America that I know of. They're reeducation camps for people that weren't educated in the first place, maybe, or little prisons, or pleasure domes for creepy teachers, or places where tubby women work out their neuroses about eating on helpless children at lunchtime -- but there's not much schooling going on in school. A public school is a really expensive, but shabby and ineffectual, private school that collects their tuition with the threat of eviction from your house.

I grew up in the same town as Horace Mann. I know all about public schools. The concept is as dead as a Pharaoh. The idea that universal literacy and a coherent public attitude toward citizenship would result in a better life for the country as a whole was a sweet one, and it worked for a while, until they "fixed" it. They've been fixing the hell out of it for over half a century now. They fixed it the way a veterinarian fixes dogs, to my eye.

Here's Wikipedia's list of Horace Mann's reasons for public schooling:
(1) the public should no longer remain ignorant
(2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public
(3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds
(4) that this education must be non-sectarian
(5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society
(6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers. Mann worked for more and better equipped school houses, longer school years (until 16 years old), higher pay for teachers, and a wider curriculum.

Let's take them in turn, and see how Old Howlin' Horace's ideas have turned out in what's called the public schools, but aren't anymore.

1) Is that cursive? I don't read cursive.
2) The public seems completely uninterested in what happens in public school, or they wouldn't send their kids there. Anyone really interested in public schools is horrified by what they find out. Talk to a teacher about what they're required to do in there -- after they've had a few drinks. I have. One I spoke to referred to themselves as a "tard farmer." Do you want to sent your children to a "tard farm"? We don't.
3) My children are from a variety of backgrounds, all by themselves. We didn't turn either of them away. Tell my Irish grandmother and wife's Calabrian grandfather that all white people are the same. Bring a weapon to defend yourself. A "back-up piece" is probably a good idea if you're talking to my grandmother, by the way.
4) Public Schools aren't non-sectarian. They teach their own religion, and persecute any vestige of any other, except for momentary alliances with subcultures that will help them persecute what they feel is the dominant culture outside the school.
5) Parents are not allowed to enter a public school, even to walk their children to the door. Children are routinely persecuted for any behavior that deviates one iota from the what a militant vegan on a recumbent bicycle prefers. That's not the spirit, method, or discipline of a free society.
6) Teachers are well-trained and professional -- just not in delivering an education to children. They are trained to be vestal virgins in a weird temple that forgot where they put the statue of the deity of mammon they worship. If public school worked, everyone who graduated from it would be capable of teaching in one.

The teachers in public school are as much at the mercy of this weird situation as the students. A teacher recently told us she has to keep a dossier on every child in the class, every day. That's the Stasi, not Goodbye, Mr. Chips. They said that it's not possible, really, so they have to make stuff up to finish it. All that time is subtracted from what little time they have for the kids in the first place. The teachers don't know where all these weird directives come from any more than you do. They just don't want to get fired for forgetting to rat out little Timmy if he chews his Pop-Tart in to a recognizable weapon-like shape. They go along to get along.

We like our kids too much to go along to get along, so my wife and I set up our own public school. The desks are in a row. There's only one row, with one desk, but still, it's a row. There's a flag on the wall, unironically hung, because we're not ingrates. The public --our children -- have not remained ignorant. My wife and I would appear to an alien as the most "interested public" on the face of this earth, since we're doing it ourselves, with no help and no money, and a lot of opposition, while the rock-and-roll moms abandon their children at the public school so they can go get their infected tattoos looked at. Oh, and by the way, 100 percent of our students are immunized against childhood diseases, because Jenny McCarthy isn't regarded as an adequate peer reviewer for Jonas Salk at our school. She is at the public school.

Our children are taught moral rectitude, by word and deed, just like Horace Mann intended. His term, "non-sectarian," had nothing to do with being irreligious. He explicitly said one kind of Christianity shouldn't trump another kind in school. That's it. A very strict Know-Nothing religion, consisting of little more than a fetish for recycling and ancient imaginary score-settling, is all that is allowed in public schools. That's not non-sectarian. That's one sect. Hell, we allow our children to know that there's more than one kind of light bulb. That's blasphemy in public school.

As I said, I grew up in the same town as Horace Mann. So I know for a dead cert that they tore down Horace Mann's house and put up a shitty stripmall in its place in the 1960s. It's the absolute perfect metaphor for what happened to his idea, too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

There's A Spot In Me Heart Which No Colleen May Own

I always dreamed of meeting a girl with long, silky brown hair, really long legs, and a nice rack. Pained me to learn only the males had antlers.

On another front, it's nice to see the animal kingdom is fully on board with the Unorganized Hancock school of accessorizing:

Reader Rob informs us that Unorganized Hancock's sweet style is big in the "my pants are full" demographic as well:

If I dressed like that, people would probably assume my pants were full, too.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

In Furtherance Of My Evil Plan To Resurrect Wichita Lineman And Make It The Official Cover Song Of The Twenty-Teens: Glenn Tilbrook

(Earlier on Sippican Cottage: Another In The Long List Of Songs I Don't Like That I Like  )

There appears to be a magical barroom somewhere in Great Britain where you can stumble in on an odd night and find Glenn Tilbrook, along with a motley assortment of other musicians -- and some people just dragged out of the audience at random -- in the corner, banging away at whatever song comes to mind. Glenn Tilbrook was the driving force behind Squeeze, if the name doesn't sound familiar.

When I started playing music for money, I more or less stopped going to musical performances. I really couldn't derive any enjoyment from them, and simply fidgeted until I could bug out early. The only exceptions were performances that were so unlike what I was doing that they didn't even seem like the same thing. I went to La Boheme with my wife, for instance. That's another galaxy removed from pop covers in the corner of the pub, so it didn't count. There's no way my lizard brain could transmogrify my presence just behind the orchestra pit while How Cold Your Little Hand Is soared overhead into the urge to be facing the other direction and helping out.

Another exception to attending other musicians' performances was Glenn Tilbrook, although it didn't start out that way. A fellow musician and friend dragged me to a geriatric music tent in Cape Cod to see Squeeze, and it turned out they'd gone bust and were touring as two buskers instead of a power pop band. It was there that I came to the realization that Glenn Tilbrook is the most talented busker in existence. Every venue on this planet with a liquor license should have entertainment like this in the corner all the time, and never does any more.

I was the worst of the bad musicians I generally played with. But the last bunch I ended up with did entertain people, without exception. Whoever showed up got a show from us. Four people or four thousand, we DID THE SHOW. Glen Tilbrook DOES THE SHOW. It's nice to see.

That YouTube video is the first time in a long time I've seen THE SHOW being performed anywhere. It's almost exactly the format for what we used to do. None of us were a shadow of the singer or player that Glenn Tilbrook is, but the bones of the thing are there. We'd drag people from the audience, and make them play a note or sing a word, or pretend to sing along, or just dance around with us and have fun. We talked to them, and they to us, and if a pretty girl and her tubby friend said they like Brown-Eyed Girl A LOT, we'd play it two times in a row to make them happy, because what's the harm?

This is sort of uncanny for me to see:

Twenty years ago, my friend Paul, the stand-up drummer, would halt our show, and mockingly threaten our audience: "If you don't start dancing, (Sippican) is going to sing Tom Jones!" He'd repeat the threat mordantly from time to time, like reeling in a fish, and then we'd trot it out if things got quiet. Stevie would throw me a wig, and the two guitars and drums would start vamping It's Not Unusual. There was an ubiquitous TV commercial back then, featuring a bald guy with a muskrat glued to his head, selling weaves or wigs or something, called the Hair Club for Men, with the tag line: "I'm not only the Hair Club president; I'm also a client."

So then I'd stuff the wig partway down the front of my shirt, and Paul would say that I was not only the President of The Chest Hair Club For Men, I was also a client, and then I'd sing an amusing version of It's Not Unusual -- amusing being the only kind of version of it I could sing, because I never could sing, really -- and when we'd come to a hard pause at the end of each line, I'd bow my head like some exhausted Fat Elvis while running my fingers suggestively through my nylon chest hair,  and wordlessly lever my wrist to point the microphone I was holding towards the audience, and without exception, no matter whether the audience looked like a nursing home or a biker bar, guys and girls, young and old, deaf and dumb, mean or jolly, drunk or sober, labor or management, barfly or barkeep, every manjack of them would roar in unison: BA DA DA DA DA DAHHHHHHH.

It was glorious. I think I improved our approach to the thing when I started stuffing a second wig down the front of my pants for the full Tom Jones effect, but then again, I'm not sure it was possible to improve the effect of the original.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cooking With Gas In The Kitchen

[Editor's note: first offered in 2007. Look at anyone else's blog from 2007. It all sounds like insane drivel five years on. We're proud to only offer sane drivel here, year in, year out]

[Author's note: There is no editor]

Could you take this picture in your kitchen?

I don't mean are you baking your own bread, that's unlikely now. But is there any place with a hint of the picturesque in your kitchen?

You cannot worship the god of hard surfaces and become the priest and priestess of the picturesque. The kitchen has become the altar of sacrificed comfort. Reject it. It needs to return to being a pleasant room with a kitchen in it, not a hole in your house into which to ram appliances and particleboard boxes. Formaldehyde! It's what's for dinner!

I will say before we begin that even poor people are generally well housed in the United States, and the reliability of utilities into every home like water, sewer, electricity, and so forth would be a source of envy for great portions of the world. We are not complaining here. We have been given the luxury of worrying about small things instead of where our next meal is coming from, so we can turn our attention to... well, where our next meal is coming from.

Let's make a list of generalities.
  1. The room has to be pretty big. We're going to eat in there.
  2. No low ceilings. No vaulted ceilings.
  3. If you yanked out all appliances, fixtures, and cabinetry, would the kitchen be a pleasant room? If not, start over.
  4. Forget row after row of cabinets. Add a walk-in pantry next to the kitchen and get rid of the majority of your wall cabinets. Add windows. The pantry can have all open shelves. Put a door on the room to hide clutter. Putting casework into niches in the walls, so the face of it is flush with those walls is dynamite. Look at the china closet in the second picture.
  5. You need light coming in from at least two adjacent sides.
  6. Make the sink and drainboards huge. Doesn't matter what they're made from Just plain huge.
  7. Gang at least two windows over this huge sink, with a broad sill. Three's better.
  8. Never cook with electricity. Fire, baby.
  9. Maximize the horizontal space at waist level with nothing on it.
  10. Put dishes and glasses on open shelves, or shelves with glass doors. They naturally stack and display well. Keep things you use all the time close at hand. Don't hide them in the endless cabinets.
  11. Never ever show the side of a refrigerator. Any cabinet over a frig should be flush with the face of frig, and extend right down to the floor. Refrigerators used to be sleek and rounded and looked good standing alone in the landscape. They're not any more.
  12. Almost all kitchen cabinets are bland and ugly. Frameless cabinets particularly so.
  13. Lower cabinets with doors are almost all useless. Use drawers below waist level wherever possible. Drawers behind doors are four car collision designs. Just have drawers.
  14. All corner cabinets are useless. For all the money and trouble you go through to get your stuff diving off a lazy susan in there, or worse still, the floppy door with all the hinges that bangs around and pinches your fingers, they're not worth doing. Have the corners boxed in and forget them. Use the money you saved to help build the pantry.
  15. Never put the microwave above the stove or in the upper cabinets. Pulling occasionally superheated stuff out at eye level is madness. And you always want to defrost things while you are cooking something else. Don't work over a hot stove. Put it in a lower cabinet and then your kids can make their own popcorn.
  16. A cooktop with a separate wall oven is great. It was standard issue in tract houses in the fifties. Now it's seeing a resurgence. Great. Gets the oven up where you can see it, too. But never NEVER put a cooktop in an island counter that humans have anything to do with the other side of, especially if people sit and eat there. Are you insane?
  17. A real table that can be moved around and has fold up leaves that people can eat at in a kitchen is five hundred times more convivial than a counter. Make sure there's room for the chairs to be pulled away from the table on all sides.
  18. A door to the outside if there's any way it can be done. A real door. No sliders.
  19. Frameless cabinets look industrial. If you must go industrial, do it with some exuberance and get yourself a quilted chrome/formica/enameled steel/neon/Cadillac finned 1950s thing going on. Or an elegant 1930s Bauhaus modern if you can't stand hominess. But eschew the brutalist concrete/honed stone/nuclear power plant plumbing/ expiatory chair look please.
  20. Overlay cabinet doors are...are... Never mind. Face frames with inset doors, period. Nothing that looks like it was yanked out of a box and screwed to the wall. Make sure all upper cabinetry has some sort of cap or head on it. The particleboard stuff wrapped in woodgrain wall paper with bland overlay hardwood doors always looks bad. Your cabinetry should look like casework or furniture. And it should look good, or ideally better, after you use it and wear it out a little. You're going to live in there, you know. If it relies on the look of pristine sterility, that makes you a bacillus in the body kitchen.
The day couples put a television in the bedroom, it signifies a fundamental change in outlook. Placing one in the kitchen is the same. I'm not saying it's bad. It just represents the failure of the cook, the food, or the company to hold your interest. Just sayin'. But you need music. Plan for it early.

Well there you go. Go to the kitchen designer with this list. Bring defibrillator paddles. You're going to need them.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

It Appears To My Eye That My Wife And I Own The Greatest Ten-Year-Old Drummer In The World

Well, we don't "own" him exactly. We feed him most every day, and he sleeps in our house. He's sorta like the cat. But you never really own a cat, or a ten-year-old drummer.

My two sons, otherwise known as Unorganized Hancock, performed at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. It's a lovely place, hard by a scenic lake in the mountains in Madison, Maine. It's a summer retreat for artists of many kinds. They're from all over the world, but they're mostly living in New York City. They were young to old farts like us, but they're all young adults. They were the most energetic, pleasant, and interesting crowd of people I've seen in a decade or two. There were two most excellent videographers there, and look at how wonderful the kids look when they're not stuck with their idiot father pointing a flip camera at them. The soundtrack of the video is just the ambient mic on one of the cameras, but it sounds pretty good. The Heir edited it himself from the wonderful raw material.

It was the boys' third job in a week. When I say that the Spare Heir is the best ten-year-old drummer in the world, that's what I'm talking about. Scour YouTube for "ten-year-old drummers." There's lots of them. There's a numbing sameness to all the videos. Some father that never had a cup of coffee in the real music business, with a very elaborate and expensive drum set and recording equipment that's never left the house, has been living vicariously through the poor kids, and forces them to play along with the worst possible music selections from their wasted youth. The kids aren't really playing music, and mostly look bored while they do what they've been taught robotically. It's data entry, not music. They're just playing Guitar Hero on dad's instruments instead of the TV.

Our children are homeschooled. I'm ostensibly their music teacher. People assume that means I have unlimited time and resources, and the children are made to practice music every waking hour of their day while I beat their knuckles for missing a note. How else could they get so competent, so fast? It's the exact opposite of that. The public school has, compared to us, unlimited money and equipment and time to teach music. They just don't do it. They squander all they don't plain waste. The children that attend public school can't play music after they're finished with their education. They often have been demoralized to the point they'll never try on their own, after, either.

I have an approach to teaching the kids music. It works. It doesn't work because we have unlimited time and money. My children are poorer than every other kid in town, although they don't know that. I work all the time -- all the time, I'm not joking -- trying to extricate us from our straitened circumstances. So the kids get a little encouragement and very little practical advice in a short blast from me, and that's about it. But we let them. WE LET THEM. To let to do. Laissez faire. The bontemps will rouler if you'll just let kids do things.

My two boys practiced together for two years in a room with no heat or electricity, with the plaster falling on their heads in chunks the whole time. They do not play along with recordings to attempt to impress people on YouTube. They play music, intended to entertain an audience, with other humans. It's not their fault there are no other little humans that can keep up with them, so they have to do it together, alone. And if you put them in front of almost any audience, including the one in the video, who are about as sophisticated as you can find in this world, they get over -- big.

As I said, we own the greatest ten-year-old drummer in the world. Prove me wrong; show me a better one. Ours can, and has, performed for two hours straight, three days in a week, for money, for strangers. He can play so competently --nothing flashy, mind you, I don't allow flashy, a drummer has a job to do -- that you completely overlook the fact that his seventeen year old brother can sing and play with real muscle for hours at a time with only a ten-year-old drummer to help him.

(Nota Bene: If you're one of the legion of my readers that have contributed money and/or offered encouragement to my boys over the last year or so, look what you've accomplished with your generosity. They boys have enough equipment to play out, and even have a seat in the back of my truck, because of you. My wife and I are immensely grateful to everyone that reads, watches, comments, and contributes to our PayPal fund for the boy's musical stuff. We love you all)

[Update: Dr. Dave has absolutely pegged the generosity meter at our PayPal button this morning. Many thanks!]
[Up-Update: Kathleen M. in the Nutmeg State is unfailingly generous and pleasant and we love her for it. Many thanks!]
[Upper-Date: Many thanks to Drake from N.D. for his generous support!]
[Most-Uppestdate: Many thanks to Julie from FL for her generous support and friendship!]
[Yet More Up-To-Date: Loads of thanks to Norm S. in beautiful San Jose for his generous support!]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

People do get good at things.

It's more than interesting to get a peek at someone at the top of their game -- no matter what their game is -- it's fun. We watch men in pajamas fight over a leather bag with a bladder in it on a striped lawn. Enjoying watching a man fillet some fish isn't that strange.

The best kind of reality shows simply point a camera at the unseen parts of quotidian life. How It's Made isn't the best show on television. It's the best show that's ever been on television. Whenever I hear a politician or pundit talk about a modern economy like they understand it well enough to run it, I want to burst out laughing, or cry, or both. If you can't even keep pictures of your dick off the Intertunnel during an election cycle, I imagine being Emperor of the Economic and Social Universe is probably well above your abilities. Politicians have to take tours of factories because to them, everything and everybody in a factory might as well be alchemy performed by men from Jupiter.

There's a disconnect between love of work and the workplace right now. Most employees don't like where they work, or what they do all day, or where they live, but the enormous weight of regulatory, legal and financial inertia that employment and daily life is freighted with keeps them in settings they detest, working with and for people they resent. Most of even the best drag their feet to get a feeling of control over their situation. Many actively sabotage their workplace to achieve a feeling of self-possession.

The employers react to the ambivalence or malice of the workers by attempting to micromanage their activities, and by occasionally changing out the workforce like a dirty diaper instead of a group of fellow humans. One set of politicians says that management is evil; the other set says the employees are lazy and stupid, and each makes their appeals to one tribe by promising to hurt the other. Every once in a while they both decide that the American population would be more useful to them if they were all foreigners, who will do what they're told and say thank you for a slap in the face for at least one generation before they get uppity.

The dirty secret is that there is no difference between labor and management. People are people. The general tenor of life is not dictated by the eloi or the morlocks. The general view of other humans by individuals is expressed by everyone, and the manifestation of that general view winnows people into recognizable roles that can be demagogued, but we're all fish from the same fry, and swim in the same tepid, dirty water. Most humans just don't have a high regard for their fellow humans any more, and they don't really care what they're doing at work, and don't take much pride in themselves. And people in management have the same attitude about their employees, not because they're unlike them, but because they're exactly like them. Everyone thinks everyone else can go to hell, and tries to get away with everything they can that won't result in prison or the cable TV being shut off. It's not a recipe for workplace harmony, or excellence.

When I was young I was taught by a dead society that dignity was internal; that a man that filleted salmon for a living could be noble by dint of his effort, comportment, and his value to his fellow man; that all men were created equal, but that their worth could (and should) be judged by how they behaved in this world, especially when they thought no one was looking. I was not taught that goldbricking and featherbedding and tossing a sabot in the gears was a road to dignity. I was not taught that lording over disposable underlings was a path to greatness.

But I'm talking to a wall. And there's nothing but writing on it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

So You Want To Start A Metal Band...

Back when I played music, the various bands I was in all developed shorthand for explaining in a thumbnail what was going on in any particular song.

My older brother was, and is, really good at this. I've only performed with him once for money. He got me a job playing in a bad blues band (is there another kind?), and the guitar player and the bandleader (they were brothers) had a fight over who busted mom's lamp or some shite, and the resultant falling out left us guitarless. I'd been playing the bass for two weeks at that point. My brother, who was a bass player, swallowed his pride and agreed to be seen in public with us making musical noise. He played the guitar and sang half the tunes. I still remember him standing in front of me, singing, playing an ES330 that would feed back if he turned his shoulder, and at every chord milepost he'd hold up the fingers on one hand in sort-of gang sign shapes to let the rest of us know what chord was coming next. Index and middle finger pointing down in an inverted "V", with your thumb poking through like a winkie, is an "A" chord. Try it, it's fun. My brother didn't have to worry about whether the chord was major or minor just then, because the keyboard player didn't know what the black keys were for, and I wouldn't play the third note of any scale if you put a pistol to my head at that point.

Coincidentally, I have had a pistol put to my head in a barroom, but whether the third note of the scale was flatted or not didn't enter into it. But I digress.

Lots of people know which note of a scale the coming chords are based on, and hold up fingers to let you know. In the key of C, C's one, F is four, G is five, and so forth. You're playing with fire here, of course, since you're adding arithmetic to a drunken, drug-addled carpet installer-cum-guitar hero's creative process. He's got Chemistry down, it's true; but Math can be a bear. Besides, most guitar players don't even try to ascertain what key the rest of the band is playing in until the second eight bars of their solo.

My favorite thumbnail-producing bandmate, Stevie, could explain any song by telling you another song you knew that was just like it. He was always right; I always knew the song he referred to, and it was always close enough to what you were doing to play it. He always learned songs by rote, and understood nothing of music theory -- and didn't want to either. But what difference does it make why someone's correct about something?  "Show your work" is for academics. "Give me the answer, right now," is for the real world where beer bottles are thrown for not knowing requests. 

My only contribution to the world of musical shorthand was, interestingly enough, concerning metal music similar to the appended video. I was able to sum up the entire musical genre, with myriad sub-genres, with one sentence: It's one of those,"This is how I go, when I go like this," songs.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Regular Folks Aren't Regular Any More

The Quoddy footwear factory in Lewiston, Maine.

Lewiston's about forty-five minutes southeast of here. Maybe an hour. There's no "hammer lane," so if you get caught behind a log truck, you're stuck.

Lewiston and Auburn are on opposite sides of the Androscoggin. People in Maine refer to them as "L.A." If I want to go to a Home Depot, I have to drive to L. A. I rarely do. Auburn's considered a very little tonier than Lewiston, for reasons that escape me.

Lewiston's kinda ugly. What's old is run down and what's new is crummy. But everything's relative, I guess. People are generally friendly and easy-going in Maine, wherever you go. Crime's essentially non-existent in Maine. There's mischief, if you're interested.

People used to live in Lewiston because they worked in mills along the river. The mills closed down, and without work, people lose hope. Their job becomes to simply exist, and pull a lever for whoever promises to throw a few bucks their way. They fill up the schools with their fatherless children and the courts with their quotidian disputes. There's no dignity in being a regular person anymore.

I like regular people. Or more to the point, I've always found regular people interesting. Not to talk to as much as to observe. The fellow in the video has a great sense of self-possession, and obvious pride in his work. He is skilled. A man who is skilled is respected -- by his peers, at least. To a regular person, the respect of your peers is more important than the attention of the general public.

People develop a mordant sense of self-parody when things get bleak. Lewiston, without work, is just The Dirty Lew: (some foul language)

"She's got more diseases than a New York pigeon."  Awesome. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

No Pressure Is The Worst Kind

I remember soft June evenings.

The moon was still trying to get up the nerve to outshine the bully sun. The stars marched slowly toward your eye, coming into view over some horizon unseen. I had an idiot teacher in eighth grade who made a watercolor once with a sponge, smearing gaudy stripes of the wrong colors in shabby gradients across the swamp of a ruined rag of paper, and I'll be damned if it didn't appear in the sky just then. The last gasp of the sun tickles the tops of the tall pines while the purple of the evening rises from the ground around your feet like an incoming tide.

We'd coalesce on the dusty hillock where a house was meant to be built but never was. Take our bikes over the little hump and feel the thrill of being airborne over and over again. Later the real evening appeared unnoticed until the streetlights slanted across our faces. We shied away from the attention of even the dumb pole with its mute light, seeking refuge in the gloaming further back from the battered sidewalk, and the bad kids would bring cigarettes to illuminate our expressions like a flashlight with the batteries left too long in it. We were all the bad kids when the sun was full down.

Dad was murdered three decades in advance, and mom joined the seraglio that is kept but no one visits. We were abandoned to the world. It took us in and asked and offered nothing. The feeling that the world is a blank stare is a wonderful and terrible thing. A boy with whiskers just showing wants no pressure. No pressure is the worst kind.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Round Midnight

A kind of perfection, I think. Right time, right people, right material -- firing on all cylinders.

It's eminently accessible. Overlooked a bit for that. Jazz aficionados occasionally veer into audio habanera territory. Eventually you end up pretending to like some atonal pigpile because it seems more complex than something with a recognizable string running through it.

The smile at the end out of favor, too. It's not cool to be happy, is it? 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

When I Was A Child, I Spake As A Child, I Understood As A Child, I Thought As A Child: But When I Became A Man, I Put Away Childish Things

I was my sons' roadie on Saturday. I stood in the back with my lovely wife and watched.

Everyone approached us after doing the mental arithmetic that we didn't quite belong there, and said those boys must belong to you. Up to a point, they do. But they are beginning to belong to themselves, and are fixing to belong to the whole world as well. It breaks your heart in a wonderful way to picture your children grown up and elsewhere.

I do not get the urge to play music with my children. Then again, I do not get the urge to make music with anyone. I did it for a long time, and made some money, and had some laughs, but it's over for me. I had my turn on the line, and now it's time for other things. I am happy to see my children get their turn. I'm gratified to see them making the most of it.

I’ve an educated taste in whiskey and women and waistcoats and bill o’fares — though I’ve had few chances to exercise it lately.  I don't miss the roadhouse, on the stage or off it.  It was fun while it lasted but life is a career and one must move on, or life does, and passes you by. Music is a serious thing for many people, and deserving of respect, but for me it was a lark. The lark goes out of it if you hang on too long, on either side of the bar.

But I'll admit it; for a little while, it was glorious.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I Get These Interesting Notions

The candle's wearing a fishnet stocking and there's this weird notched dish next to it smoking three cigarettes at a time and I'm drunk.

I get these interesting notions. I'm wondering if the bartender is rinsing out the really dirty glasses by pouring liquor in them and letting drunks slosh it around until they're clean enough for a sober person. I wonder if naugahyde comes sticky from the factory, or do they install it aftermarket. I wonder why a deaf man loads the jukebox. Is there a floor on the planet -- wood, wall-to-wall carpet, packed earth, whatever --where any table in this joint won't wobble? Two more pony glasses and I'll be wondering what the gum under there tastes like. I wonder if anyone else is getting the Morse Code S.O.S. in the flickering neon sign.  I wonder if the singer doesn't like me. No, I know he doesn't like me because I yelled at him and he yelled back.

There's a girl at the next table and she's Juliet just now. But she's like me, and isn't about to wait until the third act to start drinking poison. The trouble is, I've had five glasses of amber Cyrano de Bergerac and my tongue's depressed and I'm in the wrong play. What difference does it make, really? I could reel on over and reel her in to empty my wallet and fill my ear, and where does it go? Back to her place to watch her wash off the warpaint and see her go from Juliet to Lady Macbeth quicker than a coffee break in a factory. 

They hate it when you tell them, just there, when you've figured out your mistake, that you forgot something in the car, and she points out you took the subway.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Let Them Hear Cake

The Beaverly Brothers, AKA Unorganized Hancock, are appearing this afternoon at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in scenic Madison, Maine.

That's Lake Wesserans... Wessarans...Westerinsett...

At any rate, that's the lake at the school. A lovely spot to rusticate and pester a canvas, don't you think? I find it fascinating that the school still teaches fresco painting. Fresco painting is what Michelangelo did to the Sistine Chapel. You apply pigments to fresh (fresco) plaster, and it's absorbed into the material as it hardens. I used to dabble in painting on the walls and ceilings in a barbarous way, and had no idea anyone was still trying it Old Skool. Good on them.

Holy cow, is that a table saw?

Ah, I won't be totally lost there. I can't afford that nifty overarm dust collection, though. They better keep an eye on it. And count all the plastic sporks after we Rumford heathens leave.

It's a party for the end of their session. Will there be Cake? Oh, trust me; one way or another there will be Cake:

By the way, did anyone else notice that YouTube, ie: Google stole Unorganized Hancock's logo for their homepage this week? Here's YouTube:

And here's Unorganized Hancock's:
Anyone know any good lawyers? We should sue. On second thought, never mind; I doubt Google has any money.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Live From The Skowtown Jail, It's Unorganized Hancock

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, played two days straight in Skowhegan, Maine. You can see them show the Beatles a thing or two here, if you missed it. The next morning they were engaged to play "Jazz Brunch" at the Pickup Cafe.

The Pickup Cafe is really neat. Until a year ago or so, the building it's in was a jail. You can still see bars inside the windows on the streetside facade. It's been turned into a variegated compound of interesting businesses. There's a mill in there grinding flour, which they sell in big bags next to the coffee urns in the cafe. There's retail this and that, too. There's some sort of wholesale food business that's supposed to function on goodwill instead of cupidity. You can decide if greed is good on your own. I can testify that the coffee and the lunch we ate was really first-rate.

The cafe has three roll-up doors that allow al fresco dining during the 37-1/2 hours of good weather Maine enjoys every two years. Mainers are famously laconic, and don't like to brag about such good fortune. They're afraid you might be "from away," which is what they call everyone that was born more than two hours drive from a Mardens, and they wouldn't want to make you feel bad if you're from some benighted burg that doesn't enjoy that sort of sybaritic clime.

The landscaping outside the cafe was really well done. By the look of it, some of it is comestible, too. Flowers and sun with a little shade when you need it. What else could one need? Oh yes; some music.

Here's Unorganized Hancock in their natural environment. Well, except for the lack of plaster falling off the walls in their practice room, it's the same as their natural environment. The blue awning sheds a greater percentage of rainwater than the roof of my house does, of course; and the extension cord they require to electrify their amplifiers (and the audience) is shorter at the cafe than it is at the end of the hall upstairs, but other than that, it's pretty much just another day at the office for our lads.

My boys play under control at all times. They can play quietly, if need be. They're using their monitor speakers as their PA speakers with this small rig. The drums are muted with stuffed toys, and the Spare Heir plays jazz songs with a kind of brushes that look like a bundle of chopsticks. The Heir is the only guitar player, so there's no volume arms race. Two guitars is four guitars, I always say. The audience loved them. They do a little show along with the music, and call up audience members to join them in some fun, and give them little prizes for doing so. People will climb over the prostrate bodies of their loved ones to get a free pair of sunglasses if you make them. My boys didn't make them.

Who wants to hear them open their show with their own jazz vamp composition called Hip Gyrations? You do? I knew you would.

There's a really pretty woman somewhere in the video. She went home with the bass player.

[Update: Dave R. has been continually generous with his donations and his support and encouragement for my boys and we're grateful for it. If you'd like to help us buy musical equipment and instruction for our boys there's a PayPal button in the right hand column. Many thanks!]

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The So Very Much Organized Unorganized Hancock Performs At The Skowhegan Riverfest

It was a big, big tent. Big stage. There was very, very real sound reinforcement. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon.

They don't know what to think when they see the little drummer shuffle in. The soundmen ask where the rest of them might be. They dutifully go through their soundcheck, no doubt wondering what could possibly come out of the speakers when the bell rings. 

That's what comes out.

Unorganized Hancock 

(Update: Many thanks to longtime friend and supporter Kathleen M. for hitting our donation buttons. All the best from your friends in Maine!)

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Das Is Culch

(For my friend Bird Dog)

"What? What did you say?"

I felt like someone a few minutes after a punch in the face. The sting's gone out of it, but you're dizzy or something. Everything's blurry around the periphery; you're looking through a kind of tunnel at one thing or another, but each standing in a line, a sequence. It doesn't knit itself into a whole for you. Was this fellow speaking German to me? I speak German. That doesn't mean anything.

Dad's dead, in some strange place among strange men. He wasn't even here when he died. The timber and the blueberries and every other damn thing they do to keep body and soul together around here played out and dad breathed his last on a rusty boat dragging what-all to god-knows-where. They sewed him in his canvas bag with the needle through his nose and slipped him in the ocean like a card trick.

I never understood that whole wake thing until now. Your loved one made up by some insane hairdresser and laid out like a buffet of sorrows in the parlor. People who hated the stiff, dropping by to make sure he's dead and to say what a lovely specimen he always was, the words turning to ashes in their mouths to save your ears the trouble. You just stand there bewildered. A month later you'd take your own life or join the circus or weep while watching What's My Line. You're just numb when it's fresh in your memory. Human nature comes with its own novocaine, but those teeth are coming out. Hard. It's an odd and disturbing tug at the point of attack; the ache comes later. But at least now I see why you want to see the husk a last time. I'm not sure if you pinch the corpse or yourself to gauge who's alive and who's not.

Well I was at the point where you can't help yourself; you probe the hole over and over with your tongue where the molar came out, each time only half-believing it's gone, wondering if you'd have taken better care of it maybe it'd still be there. It doesn't hurt, really; it's tender and offers a sort of mute reproach when you touch it. So here I am, up from Boston, the closest civilization, but not close at all, and I have questions no man alive can answer for me.

"I say dat's 'is culch."

I could hear the French in it now. Not like France French. I've met Algerians and Vietnamese and people from the Caribbean and when they speak French it sounds like Paris. This fellow is Canadian French. His accent sounds like a wild animal passing a poorly-digested hiker out in the woods. He is, like everything here in northern Maine, barbarous.

"He says that's his culch. Your father's culch."

The French fellow slunk back into the bowels of the rude sort-of dormitory we were in, and this other voice presented himself. He was tall and rangy and a little dirty; compared to the little bearded homonculus prone to the German-sounding French grunting, he looked and spoke like a Roman senator. He was as self-possessed as the other fellow was chary. No one introduces themselves here, I notice. They seem to know what everyone's about, without asking, and speak to you as necessary and no more. If they don't know you, you don't belong here, and it's but a moment's work for them to figure out what your story is. Who else would hover at a dead man's empty bed in a lumber camp?

"What language is that? What does that mean?"

There was that languid pose all these men have around here. There's a blank look you can't make out any emotion in. You start to imagine all sorts of thoughts that it might signify, because it's so blank, and lasts for so much longer than polite society would allow, it might mean anything. He might think you a fool or a king. Or maybe's he's not thinking about you at all. Dad was like that, what little I knew of him. Impenetrable.

"It's not any sort of language a man would know unless he needed to know it. It's his stuff. Stuff a man keeps 'cause he can't bear to part with it, but knowing in his heart it's worthless. He can't leave it out and about or it would be thrown away in the trash by anybody else. So he puts it in a little spot near the midden he sleeps in, and no one touches it, and pretends not to notice it, neither."

And there was a fly tied for a fish that would never see it; a compass without a needle; a few dog-eared books too tired for the library -- not much really, a few bits of broken this with a missing that. And a wedding ring with no finger in it, and a picture of me.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Pretty-Much Organized Hancock Update

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, are feverishly preparing for their two, really big performances at the Skowhegan, Maine River Fest. Well, they're not feverish, exactly. They are a little sweaty from time to time, though. Saturday, August 3rd at noon at the big beer garden tent, and Sunday the 4th at 10:00 for brunch at the pickup cafe. Come on by, and don't throw anything at them that they can't pawn.