Monday, April 28, 2014

The State Of The Art In 1959: The Ahmad Jamal Trio

Ahmad Jamal isn't as famous as he might be. He's not obscure, exactly; he's just not universal. Maybe he made the mistake of being too accessible. You didn't have to attend night school while smoking Gauloises and wearing a beret for a decade to listen to what he's doing. It's hardly unsophisticated, but it's not as challenging to listen to as Village Voice writers might like. Many of his contemporaries decided that being deliberately too obtuse and atonal for the general public was the way to make their name in jazz. But honestly, you're only displaying those Ornette Coleman lp's from the seventies next to your mid-century modern hi-fi to impress people, aren't you? There's no way you're listening to them.

He's still young enough in the video to be considered a phenom. Twenty-nine. Started playing the piano when he was just three. It seems fairly common for minds like his to exhibit themselves early. He's still working now, at age 83, and looks twenty years younger than he is. Clean living. The music business has flipped 180 degrees in his lifetime, and he led the charge a bit. It used to be that the bandstand was filled with disreputable drunks and drug addicts, womanizers, and plain bums, and the audience was filled with staid drones, dressed for Easter, who instructed their teenage daughters to stay away from musicians and marry a nice accountant, maybe. Nowadays it's more likely for the audiences to be filled with disreputable cave people, higher than a kite and all dressed like a roadie for Metallica, while the stage is filled with the hardworking, sober people. And the only work for an accountant these days is counting a musician's money. No one in the audience knows where their next meal is coming from.

Lots of cool cats in attendance in the video. Music used to be more intimate like that. The world would be a better place if you could get dressed up like you're going to be buried, take the chariot down to a supper club, slide into the banquette, and listen to jazz made fresh daily over the sound of your glasses clinking. It sure beat today's version of a concert: getting groped by amateur TSA diddlers, then standing three hundred yards from a stage, looking at the TFT side of ten thousand crummy phones pointed at the replacements for the bandmembers that died in bizarre gardening accidents.

Ahmad even smiles from time to time. I don't think that's even allowed anymore. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Desperate Endstage Monomaniac Spanish Shaker Goodness

Well, now. Dude's hardcore.

I make furniture, of course, but I never have any sort of competitive feeling when I watch videos by other makers. I either find them interesting or infuriating, but the only way to infuriate me is to do worse work than mine, not better, and so waste my time. I can make furniture faster than anyone that can make it better, and I can make it better than anyone that can make it faster. Those are the damp, moldy laurels I rest on.

This video is plenty fascinating to me though. Guy's working in Spain, I guess, since the video and website is in Spanish, but if my Spanish still works, he's either from Austria, Holland, South African or Nigeria, or all of them. He's making a very American, Shaker design, usually referred to as a "harvest table." It's cherry. I understand everything he's doing, and I could be a docent for the whole thing, but that would ruin the aspect of this video that struck me as borderline sublime. No one talks. There's no goddamn music. The light in that room is remarkable. I have seen a kajillion videos of people making things at this point, and this one has to be the ne plus ultra. No one else has the nerve to shut the hell up and make something with a camera pointed at them.

Un Trabajo Feliz, indeed. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's Cold Again, And That's That

My bed is a canvas. I come to on it every morning like a boxer hearing eight.

He told me while he was dying that he remembered going down three flights of stairs to shovel coal into a furnace if they wanted heat. He laughed in his way and asked no one, "Who doesn't want heat?" Later they moved to a ticky tacky box in the boonies where the train finally gave up, and there was this magic dial on the wall and the house got warm if you simply turned it. He never got over it, the marvel of it. He almost died with it, that wonder, on his lips.

It's gone, all that. I don't know whether I lost it or it was taken from me, but what difference would that make? It's cold again, and that's that. Unnumbered years ago our little faces barely poked up above the plateau of the battered kitchen table while our milk turned our ration of flakes to paste, mom resolutely ironing his breastplate before he went Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. There was no way we could know that to the man at the end of the table, born into a landscape so bleak I can hardly understand it, we were his offering, a sign of hope; and now you can't help but chew the bitter cud of doubt that his hope was misplaced. You've done so little with it. Barely managed to produce a batch of hope for yourself. You pray that hope, by its very nature, cannot be misplaced.

I don't care about the dimming of my eyes and the ringing in my ears; the stabbing pain like a rebuke, the residue of blows unseen and unprovoked; the passing of the seasons like palings in a picket fence as you drive down the street. I just don't want the referee to count ten before I prove he wasn't a fool to hope after all.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I've Never Had Any Rustic Overtones

If Portland, Maine is local enough from my perch here in Rumford, then Rustic Overtones is a local band.

They didn't want to be a local band, of course. Hardly anyone wants to be that. All musicians dream of demigod paygrades and sorted M&Ms. I swear I performed in the only band, ever, that explicitly had no ambitions beyond where we could get to from Cape Cod in a Ford F-250, and we still ended up playing in Cincinnati and Denver.

The Overtones had their cup of coffee in the bigs, and made some records and wandered the landscape in search of applause, but they seem to be back to being big men on the small campus of Portland again, from what I can glean reading about them. Musicians like to be famous among strangers, but there's nothing wrong with applause from familiars, either. Someone has to get you to leave Three Dollar Dewey's early and pay a cover. Might as well be them. 

I've never heard of Rustic Overtones before. That's OK, they've probably never heard of me, either, so we're square. I liked their video -- enough to look up the videographers -- and I've heard much, much worse come out of the radio lately. I wish them well. But I have a warning for them, too. If you think you're going to make your way in Maine by dressing in suits, filming in black and white, and mixing in incongruous stock footage, you better be looking over your shoulder. There isn't room in this State for two sets of people doing it, and the set that sleeps at my house doesn't get tired that easy; they're young.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Paris, Texas, The Movie. Sorta (2011)

[Editor's Note: We live in the butt end of nowhere, so we have to buy everything "mail order" as they used to call it. We have an Amazon Prime account. Prime gives you free two-day shipping, and allows you to watch a crummy selection of movies and TV for nada. We almost never use the TV function. Out of curiosity, I turned it on yesterday after a long interregnum, and under "Most Watched Movies," there was Flyboys. I guess I can safely ignore Amazon Prime movies for another three years.]

My son and I watched a movie last night. I hardly ever watch movies, so I thought I'd multi-task and review this one: Flyboys.

It features a guy that looks vaguely like that other guy that was The Joker in the Batman movie --no, not that Batman movie, the other one. No, not that the other one. The other, other one. Anyway, he died --no, not this guy, he didn't die, the other, other Joker guy died.  At any rate, our hero was a jolly rancher for a while in Texas, but for some reason the Depression showed up early, like twenty years early, and he lost the farm and took to hanging around in a movie theater like Lee Harvey Oswald, until the sheriff comes in and tells him he better join the French air force or go to jail for punching Mr. Potter at the bank for foreclosing on his ranch.

So he goes to France to smoke Newports and fly Nieuports, and I suppose World War One isn't interesting enough, so the scriptwriter gives him a new best pilot friend, who he doesn't like much but is still his best friend, and the guy has a pet lion instead of a dog, and they are, like, pilots and guys and depressed together about stuff, because eighth-grade girls and movie producers think being self-absorbed makes you interesting.

Then someone decided the movie needed Jack Johnson, the boxer, in it, only his name is different, I think -- I don't know; I was too busy wondering if guys like the guy that looks vaguely like the actor that played the Joker would have highlights dyed into his hair in 1917 in the Lafayette Escadrille, so I didn't have time to get up to speed and wonder why this movie needed a poor man's Jack Johnson in the Lafayette Escadrille. I guess French people and guys that keep lions aren't exotic enough.

Anyway, the Jack Johnson-ish dude shoots a German dude right straight down in the top of his head using only an airplane and CGI, and that's hard, and thereby saves a rich, overweight dude with Daddy Warbucks issues who previously didn't care for the black dude because he's black and all, but now he does you betcha. So the fat guy buys the black guy a drink, only he doesn't buy it, he offers him some ritzy booze he stole from his father like Ferris Bueller would, and the fat guy says to Jack Johnson, my rich father is rich, how about yours?  And even though the black guy is noble enough for five movies already if you ask me, the movie doubles down and makes his father a slave, even though it's 1917 and slavery was outlawed in 1865, and that seems like a long time between jobs if you ask me, but who's counting in this movie.

Then the Hindenburg was bombing the Eiffel Tower for some reason, and the guy with the lion gets all shot up and whatnot while defending the spire, and decides he's turning Japanese (I really think so) and becomes a kamikaze pilot and crashes into and blows up the Hindenburg. So instead of dropping bombs on Paris, the flaming Hindenburg falls on top of Paris full of flaming bombs, which doesn't really sound like an improvement if you're a Parisian, but that happens out of the frame so he's still a hero if you ask me.

Then yet another guy who is a brave guy acts like a coward a lot, because we all know brave guys are all cowardly in real life, and that guy hangs out a bit with still another guy, a guy that reads the Bible all the time, so you know he's a weirdo and not a regular person in 1917 in America. We all know everyone normal was reading Chomsky not the Bible back then no matter what Ted Nugent says.

Still another guy, who is wanted in Wisconsin for armed robbery with a toy pistol (to pay the bookie in The Sting, I think) lands his plane in the No-Mans Land between the trenches, which is hard to do indeed, but his hand is caught and he can't run away, which normally would seem easier than landing a plane in No-Man's Land. Just his hand is caught, mind you, nothing else, and he looks like OJ trying on a glove when he's trying to pull his hand out, not like a normal person would look under shelling and machine gun fire. So the brave guy -- not the guy with the lion, he's dead; and not the brave guy that's a coward all over the place -- so the brave guy with the highlights and the ranch near Dealey Plaza who doesn't have it anymore, manages to land his plane in No-Man's Land like it was a Home Depot parking lot and not No Man's Land, and he parks it next to the guy trying on OJ's glove, and immediately chops the guy's hand off with a shovel he borrows from a dead French dude who was lying around handy equipped with a shovel, even though the airplane wing is just made of canvas and a little pine. I guess it's just easier to chop the guy's hand off, don't ask me. So now this guy can only be a one-armed armed robber, not a regular armed robber, and he gets a hook instead of a hand, like in Peter Pan, and the hook improves his flying I guess, because he sucked before but thereafter he's swell at it.

Later the guy with the hook and the cowardly brave guy get together and save the regular brave guy, for a while, anyway -- at least until the regular brave guy can meet up with the villain, who is contractually required to be a German guy who sneers a lot and waves like a crossing guard while he kills all sorts of guys and leaves orphan lions all over the landscape willy-nilly like a really bad guy would. The brave guy would no doubt have triumphed over Snidely von Richtofen, but at the moment of truth his machine guns don't work because a bullet hits them and they bust open like a pinata and spill the wrong kind of bullets for that kind of gun all over the place like Jolly Ranchers, and then the brave guy...

No, not the brave guy with the lion; he's dead, I told you! I was referring to the guy with the highlights in his hair, who's now stepdad to a fatherless lion. Anyhoo, he's been stealing planes to go see a French woman from time to time, even though at first he thinks the French woman is a prostitute -- which I gather is normal for any American sizing up French women for the first time -- but she's just the cleaning lady at the cathouse (which strikes me as a much less desirable job than being a prostitute, but maybe that's just me) where the first guy that originally owned the lion liked to hang around and act like Vince Vaughn would at a French cathouse, but Vince isn't even in this movie, which is a shame because he couldn't have done any worse, really.

Anyway, the brave guy that steals airplanes goes to save this one French girl that isn't a prostitute, because she's hiding from the Germans in her attic quietly like Helen Keller...

... now they've got me doing it. Like Anne Frank, not Helen Keller. Anyway, at first he flies the stolen plane at night for a while, then he flies it at night with the motor turned off for another good long while, and then he lands it like a ninja next door to Anne Frank's house. The Germans don't notice, even though they're in her living room drinkin' wine spo-dee-o-dee; but after a while they decide to notice, and the dastards shoot Anne Frank in the shoulder. But just so you know, I'm swapping back to calling her Helen Keller right now because she gets a Mauser bullet through the chest and doesn't utter a peep, I shit you not.

Anyway, our hero with the frosted hair saves her and gets a medal for stealing the plane, which seems a bit odd, and later he steals a motorcycle instead of the plane for a change of pace, and he goes to another place all bombed out and full of Germans, which is a habitual thing with him at this point, and he finds her again and they decide to meet in Paris, but later -- or at least the part of Paris that survived having a flaming Hindenburg dropped on it --  because she's going to England with some kids that aren't his, or even hers, now that I think about it, and he can't go right away because he's got a lion to take care of.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The brave guy with the highlights and the second-hand lion is saved for a while by the cowardly lion and Captain Hook...

(Dammit, I mean the cowardly brave guy, not the cowardly lion; the lion seems legit, if strung out on barbiturates a little bit; and I don't think Captain Hook is a captain, really, prolly just a corporal or a lieutenant or something, or whatever the French word for lieutenant is, I don't know)

.. but the brave guy gets all shot up by the Red Baron, who inexplicably seems to be the only German not flying a red Fokker triplane in this movie, but that's got to be him, as he's so evil. But anywho, this German guy shoots more bullets into our hero than a carnival attraction with ducks for some reason, and then stops shooting him for some other reason, shits and giggles I expect, and then Rolf or Heinz or Manfred or whatever his name is just pulls up next to our beauty parlor hero like a guy at a red light in American Graffiti, just to wave and smirk. Then the shot-up brave guy -- the guy with the used lion and the only French girl that's more interested in housecleaning than prostitution --  why, he pulls out a revolver of all things and shoots that German Snidely Whiplash right through the eye, which is pretty good shooting indeed, considering he's all shot to pieces and flying a biplane that's all shot to pieces that was made by French people in the first place.

Then the producers evidently ran out of money or unexposed film or something, and they hastily explained over the closing credits that the Jack Johnson guy gets a job at the Post Office, and the rancher with the highlights never meets the girl in Paris, but he gets his ranch in Texas back, only it's another ranch, not the one I told you about already, but the new one is way better so never fear.

I guess it's not his fault the stupid French chick, the one that's not a prostitute, didn't know he meant Paris, Texas.

The End.

Monday, April 14, 2014

There's Only Three Things That's For Sure

Marvin Gaye's greatest work, I think. He's playing all sorts of instruments on it, too.

Trouble Man was one of those mostly forgettable black private eye movies popular in the seventies, like Superfly and Shaft, both of which yielded big hits on the AM radio charts. Trouble Man's music really was a step above the others, though. The words to Shaft have become perennial fodder for parodies, easy pickins because of their comic book toughness; Superfly by Curtis Mayfield, along with Freddie's Dead, had way more grit. But Trouble Man's orchestral musical framework immediately shouts: serious business, and when Marvin Gaye opens up with, "I come up hard, babe", it sounds heavier, more like real life.

Trouble Man was directed by an interesting fellow named Ivan Dixon. If you're of a certain age, you might remember him instantly as "Kinch" on Hogan's Heroes. He's one of those fellows you see from time to time in Hollywood -- he worked. His IMDB for acting has fifty credits, the usual fare for someone that's gotten past just standing around, but not a leading man by any stretch. He was even once a stunt double for Sidney Poitier. He had an almost equal amount of directing entries, some movies, mostly TV, lots of familiar titles like Magnum, PIThe Waltons  Room 222, and The Rockford Files.  I remember one of his roles, in Car Wash, fondly. The movie wasn't good, exactly; but it encapsulated the era pretty well. I imagine archaeologists will someday find a video of Car Wash, and attempt to discover the engineering secrets behind Franklyn Ajaye's righteous fro.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Girl From Ipanema By The Boys From Maine

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, are back with fresh material. It's bossa.

Bossa is one of those words that doesn't translate well. It's Portuguese, via Brazil, and means something's done with panache, or in a stylish, effortless way. The hippie word "cool" isn't a bad approximate. If you look up Bossa Nova, it's generally translated as "new wave," but that hardly does justice to the expression.

Bossa Nova was definitely a new, cool thing right around the Eisenhower/Kennedy divide. Back when I still played music, we referred to this song, cheekishly, as "The Girl From Iwo Jima." I had a whole set of bent lyrics for it that I could place right here and ruin the song for you forevermore, but I won't. No matter how trite the song got to be, you always new it was trite because it was wonderful and universal. It still matters. It might be the second-most popular song recorded in my lifetime.

Well, after Unorganized Hancock performed it, it became the first-most popular song at our house. Hope it is at your house, too.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

A Royal Standard Ten (from 2010)

It was just a tent by the side of the road.

The road meanders from noplace special to nowhere anyone wants to go. The semis rattle by going both directions filled with the boles of trees, showing their butt ends to the only place they've ever known, going somewhere else to be useful. Like all the children born here do, as soon as they're big enough.

The car's a bit worn now, and a muddy chuckhole reaches out for the tire as we bound into the hardpan lot, pitching and yawing like astronauts on the way home. His grandfather would have called it a chuckhole, anyway. His grandfather, the man with the twinkle in his eye and a laugh on his lips and the same name on his certificate of birth. He winked out like a star in a distant galaxy last year, but the light from it is still reaching us here. It's in the back seat, bright; and driving, too -- a little faded.

The words aren't up to the task anymore. People grope for the name to call it. Antiques? A flea market? Junk or junque. It's stuff for sale that no one wants so it costs a little money. If anyone would want it, it would be by the side of the road with a "Free" sign on it. But then, commerce is not arithmetic.

I know too many things and examine everything like a doctor looking at the third person in a row with a cold in the last ten minutes of office hours. He knows nothing so everything is wonderful.

You can never tell with him. He never uttered a sound until he was four. Just looked at you with eyes like saucers half-filled with motor oil and you wondered if he was sent to make you nervous forevermore. Then he never stopped talking until his eyes banged shut each evening in a bed laden with bears and talking sponges. To bring him anywhere is to bring Ken Coleman along to murmur about the mundane in a continuous stream, and pass the time contented.

What would it be this time, you wonder. A broken Happy Meal toy or a dented sousaphone or a three-and-a-half legged-table covered with lead paint? He ranged around the tent like a bedouin holding up a caravan mid-desert and  pawing around for some honorable plunder. Then he disappeared.

We found him there, sitting alone and tapping away. No paper. A Royal Standard Ten with beveled glass windows on the sides. He wouldn't go anywhere else. He wouldn't look at anything else. Tap tap tap ding.

"I'm going to find the man and make him a bargain."

It was twenty bucks we didn't have. It was twenty bucks that wouldn't show up on our plates. It was twenty bucks I would have sold a quart of blood to get for that boy. All the way home, he sat in the back and craned his neck to look at it on the floor behind the seat. Some things are worth more than money.

"This is the machine you write books with, dad."

Yes, my boy. The machine comes with the stories in it. You just have to let them out. They put in windows so you can get a look at them first.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Frantic And Angry And Late Is No Way To Go Through Life, Son

I remember the dark days before Nuvi.

Being lost in a car was a fairly regular occurrence for me. I built and repaired things out in the landscape, and I had to find my way to them first. More often than not, I was supposed to meet a homeowner or some other interested person at these prospective jobs at an appointed hour, so time was of the essence. In my experience, a person that can direct you to their location with any sort of accuracy is a very rare person indeed. Most people simply say things like, "Do you know where the... "

Listen, if I knew the local landmarks, I wouldn't need directions. People rely on what's familiar to them by and large, and what's familiar to them encompasses a very short list. Precision in directions is almost unheard of. But I eventually accumulated a substantial supply of gigantic streetmap books in my car, took the "take a left at the rock that looks like a bear" directions with a grain of salt, and carried on, until Nuvi saved me entirely with her curt, clipped directions. She even reads street signs at night for me.

I noticed something about my behavior, and the behavior of many other people, when I got lost. You speed up. The lost-er you get, the faster you go, and the more frantic you become. There is almost no better time to slow down and think things through than when you're lost, but people don't do it. People behave just the opposite, almost to a man. It's the same reason an inveterate gambler lays his last, borrowed dollar on the green baize. He's trying to win back everything he ever lost, all at once, all the time.

If anyone is in the car with you when you're lost, they will get an avalanche of fury directed at them if they find the temerity to mention that they told you to go left a mile back, but you didn't listen. They'll get the same treatment if they say absolutely nothing, because their silence is an accusation, after all. There is no way to be in a car with a person that is lost and like it.

People's judgment gets compromised fast when they're lost. They back up on superhighways when they miss an exit. They take left turns from the far right lane. They tailgate. They drive without looking out of the windshield. They cut through gas stations on streetcorners if the light is red. If they are involved in any sort of fender bender as a result of their situation, there could very well be bloodshed one way or the other by the side of the road. Frantic and angry and late is no way to go through life, son.

But that's exactly how the general public acts about everything all the time now. They're lost. Almost everyone is traveling to a location they cannot name, but they seem hell bent to get to. Every milepost, sign, and touchstone that formerly directed their travel through life has been defaced or destroyed by vandals. They have map books that consist solely of dead ends on other planets. They started off edgy but by now they're entirely unglued. They will turn on anyone that comes into their line of sight; even a Good Samaritan better watch out, as no amount of help is ever enough to turn back a clock. Anything resembling advice is seen as vilification, and even the mildest sort of criticism is an imperative to immediately drop the gloves. Everybody is stretched to their absolute limit, and further, and in every which way -- mortgaged and indebted into the hereafter, but still somehow with an enormous budget for dissolution and sloth; overworked and still somehow lazy; fifteen minutes late for being a dollar short; angry, sullen, wound up tight and drugged insensate at the same time. The laziest person in the country is very, very busy being lazy. I see people that look like hobos walking by the side of the road, texting furiously while they walk, as if they were a captain of industry who needs to keep in constant touch with lots of important persons over serious affairs. There's no rest for the wicked, and everyone's wicked.

If you interrupt, in any way, anyone's frantic attempt to get nowhere for no particular reason in order that they might achieve an equanimity they'd reject as boredom, and by doing so become conspicuous in their mind at the wrong time, which is all the time, you can expect the full fury of their frustrations will immediately be heaped upon you -- some real, most imagined, overlaid with the dull image of violence and degradation that is their daily entertainment,  and cozened to the top of their to-do list by the buzzing saw of the cocktail of drugs, illegal and prescribed, that they take to keep going, faster and faster, and basted in the inchoate fear that they're missing out on something.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

If You Make Things, You Are My Brother: Wooden Breeze Buckets

A sailboat is a hole in the ocean into which you pour money.

I built a wooden boat once, from scratch. The design was called a "Flapjack." It's a 14 footer or so, designed for rowing or sailing. It's made almost entirely from mahogany of one sort or another. I began it -- well, I don't remember when I began it. I recall there was no Internet then. I bought the plans mail-order, long before I began working on it. I read a book or two about boatbuilding, and daydreamed about building it from time to time. I also recall having the desire to build a wooden boat as far back as the 1970s.

I began building it, oh, I don't know, maybe fifteen or twenty years ago. It was just some forms for the planking, a bow, and a transom for a long while. It was in my basement. I used to joke that I worked as steady as taxation on that boat. Forty-five minutes a year, without fail. Eventually I needed my basement much, much more than I needed a half-built boat, so I finished it in a couple weeks of furious activity, and put it outside under a tarpaulin, and eventually, in someone else's garage.

When I say I "finished" it, I meant it was a launchable boat. It didn't have a mast for a sail, but you could row a boat like that if you'd rather. Then again, it didn't have rowlocks for oars either, because they cost money and I never had any money that didn't have a use more useful than oarlocks. I could have put a gusset on the transom in order to mount a small outboard motor I own, and forget about oarlocks and mast and sail entirely, but I never got around to it. I guess the siren song of the sea can't be heard clearly over a running table saw.

I have finished, to a fare-the-well, so many things since I started that boat that I'd be unable to calculate their number or value -- big things, little things, expensive things, enormous things, all sorts of things. It's strange that I would associate this almost-made boat with leisure, because there has never been even a hint of leisure in it so far, and I know there wouldn't be any leisure in it if I did turn the last screws in it, either. Perhaps I know without thinking that I have not had anything resembling leisure for almost the entirety of my life, so the boat is better unfinished. If it was entirely finished, perhaps it would weigh on my mind that it went unused. In its current condition, it doesn't bother me like that. Almost done isn't done. I am very careful that I'm never past almost done, myself.

It's outside my house, its third home now, upside-down under three feet of snow. I know in my heart that if I finished it, I would die, or have to take a day off, which is much the same thing. Some things, like marriage, or raising children, or building a boat, are best done continuously, but never finished.