Saturday, June 24, 2006

Big Boss Man

Let me just say that I am a huge Springsteen fan. I am also a big fan of a lot of the things he does with his bully pulpit. I loved Rock The Boat, and the way he backed the Dixie Chicks when the NASS(HOLE)CAR beer swilling thugs were after them for merely having the gall to speak their minds in America. Friday morning Springsteen, who is promoting a new, brilliant album, We Shall Overcome, The Seeger Sessions, goes on CNN to be interviewed. Soledad O'Brian starts capping on him about being politically active instead of being nice and playing requests for Massa in da big house.

  • Crooks & Liars


    Friday, June 23, 2006

    My Daughter Can Sing...

    My 20 year old daughter, Renee, who it turns out is not only beautiful and brilliant (3rd year Pre-Med at University of Arizona), but talented too, is visiting between school sessions. She heard me on the phone trying to track down a singer that can handle Gaelic. With indigence, wholly feigned, confronted me saying “I can sing that, Mike was my friend too, I can sing that.” I was non-plussed. I mean, I've heard her sing, and yes, she holds a tune well, she has pitch and emotion, chalk it up to a DNA thing, but, I've never heard of her singing in, well, public. I mention this to her. She replies “Just 'cause I haven't doesn't mean I can't.” I ask her about the Gaelic part and she starts to sing an old tune that's a favorite of mine “Gort Na Sailean” (The Salley Gardens) which I used to sing to her at night.
    She nailed it. She does stuff like this to me all the time. She's always been a very reserved and quiet kid. Quietly getting straight A's since she hit school, quietly developing depths of personality that she doesn't let me, or most people see. Even though things like this have happened over and over it still floors me. I ask her if she's familiar with “Mo Ghile Mear.” She gives me that look, which coming from a 20ish young woman means “are you really THAT lame?” But, as it goes with her, says nothing until she says
  • Sting did it.
  • She leaves it at that. So do I.
    I print out the lyrics, and a phonetic cheat sheet and we start to practice. She's good. Real good. I ask her about why she didn't ever go in for choir and stuff in school and she says “I didn't want to be in music because it kept you away from us all the time. I would listen to it and enjoy it, but even when you were home you were off by yourself practicing, then you'd pack and go away for months at a time. I knew if I was any good at it that it would take over my life too. Autumn (her sister who's studying harp in Ireland) got good, and she's gone. Besides, I want to be a Doctor, and I don't think I can do both.” I said, “You could just do it for fun, you know, to relax. That's how most people do music.” She said “You don't. I've seen you work hard all my life. Even when you quit touring to stay home with us you were working or practicing all the time. You've always been pretty distant. It's not a bad thing, it's just who you are, it's something all us kids have to work around.” I sat there like a dummy, behind the harp. I'm looking at this beautiful, self assured young woman and what I see is the little girl that I used to leave behind. I finally say “I'm here for now, let's make the most of it.” I hit a chord and begin to play. She begins to sing. While she's singing she comes over to sit down next to me. When the song is finished she says “It's alright, I know you do the best you can. You gave up a lot to stay home with us. You quit drinking and all that stuff. You never pushed me, I pushed myself into college. You work hard to pay for it and I'll always be grateful. I'm glad you're my dad. I can say anything I want to you and not be afraid. Let's practice some more, I think we're sounding pretty good. Don't worry, it will be fine.”
    I'm not worried. Not about doing the song, not about her. She's fine already. I don't care if she's this great because of or in spite of me. That doesn't matter. Not today.

    Friday Random Ten

    This is fun, it allows those of us with eclectic taste to feel extra eclectic. I took the pod hit random and here's the ten that pop up first....

    Calling My Children Home -- Emmylou Harris Live at the Ryman
    Pressure Drop -- Toots and the Maytalls
    Spoonfull -- John Hammond
    All I Know -- Art Garfunkel
    Leave Your Hat On -- Randy Newman
    Turn Your Radio On -- John Hartford
    Walking Blues -- Robert Johnson
    In My Hour of Darkness --Rolling Creekdippers
    Born at the Right Time --Paul Simon
    Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down -- Martin Simpson

    Bonus Track (hit next twice and take the top)
    Jolie Blon --Doug Kershaw

    What are ya'll listening too?

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    Singing in Another Language

    This was inspired by a comment maurinsky left on "Sometimes They Say Go Ahead..." below. She expressed a desire (nay, a duty) to learn to sing in Gaelic. I replied that Gaelic is a wonderfully musical language. That I have seen audiences that didn't understand a word of what was being sung moved to tears by the songs. There are many ways to learn. These are my thoughts on how to go about learning. First off, find somebody that speaks or understands the language you're trying to sing. That's cruicial because you don't want to do a JFK gonna tell everybody I'm a Jelly Doughnut incident. Small changes in sounds can have big consequences and you need to be able to vet your performance. Luckily for maurinsky you can't throw a rock at a baby carraige in a New England public park without coming close to someone familiar with the sounds of the Irish. Boston and New York both contain vast stores of Irish speakers. Did you know that the Boston Police force has a band called "The Gaelic Column?" Unless these speakers are friends you don't have to impose them on your learning curve. Find yourself several recorded versions of the song you want to learn, start listening over, and over. This part of the process will get more streamlined as you add songs to your war chest. Then, using a tape recorder (or your computer if you have the sound card) record yourself singing the song. The first time you attempt to record it you might want to be headphoning the song you're trying to cover, just to keep your ears engaged with what you're trying to produce rather than what's actually getting produced. Keep narrowing the gap between what's being sung by the recording and what's coming out of you. If you can learn a few songs in any language, you'd be amazed how much that facilitates your learning the new language. Of course, musicians are famous for being multilingual adepts. It's those ears baby. A song you already know, that was originally translated from Gaelic would be a good shot. I'm not sure if that's the case with "Be Thou My Vision, Lord" was originally Gaelic, but if you love it enough, it shouldn't matter.
    Best of luck on your endeavors maurinsky. I stand, as ever, ready to assist with encouragement, advice and general support. Here's another valuable link for Irish music
  • Ireland First!
  • So I'm talking to my Mom

    on the phone during the basketball game last night and she says "I was talking with Patricia last night, and she asked about you. I told her you were still single and said that you just hadn't found the right woman yet."

    I told her "Mom, you have it backwards. I'm always finding the right woman. That's the problem. It's the problem now, and was the biggest problem when I was married. Let's just watch the game, OK?"

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    Fare Thee Well Jurassic Pork

    One of my favorite bloggers and a big inspiration to me has decided to pack it in. Jurassic Pork has gone dark. His weekly Assclowns feature was a highlight of my week. There were times where the swoop and crackle of his prose, his wicked invective and his moral indignation approached that of the Good Doctor Thompson. I posted comments when you talked of quitting before about how you didn't owe us, the readers, anything and that you should follow your heart and your own best judgment. Now that heart and judgment has lead you away from us. Hold your head high. Show your scars proudly. You fought long and well. Rest soldier, rest.

    Sometimes They Say, Go Ahead

    since you're the one who's made a living playing music. Play something Mike would enjoy. I remembered playing this with Liam Clancey many long years ago. It's called "Mo Ghile Mear" which in Gaelic means "My Hero" or "My Dashing Darling." It's a Jacobite lament for Bonny Prince Charlie. Heartbreaking sad, like most Irish love songs (only the Irish songs about war are jolly). If I can't find a singer up to singing in Gaelic I'll have to do it myself. I'm nobody's best singer. My voice has had too many nights in smoky bars, too much booze, and a lot of general wear and tear. It's not pretty, but with phrasing and emotion I can make my not very good voice an effective instrument.

  • paying attention litbrit?

  • Here are the lyrics, in Gaelic with a phonetic assist. There's a fairly literal translation also, but I don't intend to do any of the English lyric. It just doesn't scan well with the tune. Nothing political about it. (confession: if i sing in gaelic in a rural town in Arizona and blow the words no one there will know)

    The others songs I've been asked to play are "Amazing Grace" (you can't miss with that one)
    "True Colors" (Mike was a HUGE Lauper fan and I think it will be lovely on the harp)
    "The Navy Hymn" (also known as "Eternal Father, Strong to Save")

    Sé mo laoch mo Ghile Mear‘
    Sé mo Chaesar, Ghile Mear,
    Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin
    Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear.

    Seal da rabhas im’ mhaighdean shéimh,
    ‘S anois im’ bhaintreach chaite thréith,
    Mo chéile ag treabhadh na dtonn go tréan
    De bharr na gcnoc is imigéin.


    Bímse buan ar buairt gach ló,
    Ag caoi go cruaidh ‘s ag tuar na ndeór
    Mar scaoileadh uaim an buachaill beó
    ‘S ná ríomhtar tuairisc uaidh, mo bhrón.


    Ní labhrann cuach go suairc ar nóin
    Is níl guth gadhair i gcoillte cnó,
    Ná maidin shamhraidh i gcleanntaibh ceoigh
    Ó d’imthigh sé uaim an buachaill beó.

    * Níl curfa anseo...

    Ghile Mear ‘sa seal faoi chumha,
    ‘S Eire go léir faoi chlócaibh dubha;
    Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin
    Ó cuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear.

    [1 and Chorus]
    Shay muh lay moe Gil-ah Mar
    Shay moe Hay-suh, Gil-ah Mar,
    Soon nawh shayn nee voor-ahs hayn
    Oh coo-ig EE-gayne moe Gil-ah Mar.

    Shall dah ross im wy-gem hay-v,
    Sa-nEEsh im vahn-trock caw-cha tray,
    Moe kayl egg trav-ah nah gun guh train
    Deh var nah ng-ic iss im-ee-gayn.

    Beem-sha boo-in air boo-urch gawk low,
    Egg key guh crew-eh seg toor nah nyoar
    Mar squeal-ah oo-im aun boo-cull b-yo
    Snah riv-tar toorisk oo-ig, muh v-roan.
    Nee lauw-ron cooirk guh sooirk air no-n
    Iss neel guh gah-air ee key-olteh kno,
    Nah mah-jen how-ree ee glan-tehv keo
    Oh dimmy shay whim aun boo-cul byo.

    * No Chorus Here...
    Gil-ah Mar sah shall fwee coov(a),
    Iss Air guh lair fwee cloak-ev doov(a);
    Soon nah shayne nee voor-ahs hayne
    Oh coo-ig e gayne muh Gil-ah Mar.

    My gentle Darling
    He's my champion my Gallant Darling,
    he's my Caesar, a Gallant Darling,
    I've found neither rest nor fortune
    since my Gallant Darling went far away.

    Once i was gentle maiden,
    but now I'm a spent, worn-out widow,
    my consort strongly plowing the waves,
    over the hills and far away.


    Every day I'm constantly enduring grief,
    weeping bitterly and shedding tears,
    because my lively lad has left me
    and no news is told of him - alas.


    The cuckoo doesn't sing cheerfully after noon,
    And the sound of hounds isn't heard in the nut-tree woods,
    Nor a summer morning in a misty glen
    Since my my lively boy went away from me.


    Gallant Darling for a while under sorrow,
    And Ireland completely under black cloaks;
    I have found neither rest nor fortune
    Since my Gallant Darling went far away.

    I've tried to upload the melody line but without success. It's a stately, mournful ballad. You can listen to it here: just click on the speaker.

    Monday, June 19, 2006

    Harps are called for...

    I think it's because we respond so automatically to the sound of the harp that when events are significant enough to formalize in ceremony that the suggestion of having a harp there usually elicits a “my how perfect” response. Weddings are the most common but funerals are right up there.

    Given my state of non participation in any religion it sometimes strikes me as odd that I end up as part of the show for many religious ceremonies. I blame the harp. My banjo only gets me roped into 2 or 3 services a year. The guitars, well, there are lots of guitar players out there that believe in what's going on so I am more than content to allow them free reign over that arena. Sometimes a singer who knows me will insist by appealing to my skills as an accompanist and prevail upon me to perform with them, but, mostly, church gigs for guitarists go to the believers.
    Then, there's the harp. First off, we have that primal response thing to the harp. So when you're talking about something fundamental like a wedding (harps are romantic), a christening or baptism (harps and babies are angelic), or, as is the case today, a funeral (more of the angel stuff) harps are called for.

    I try not to do weddings if I can help it. That's a whole other post. I do funerals for friends. Yesterday, an old friend, who two weeks ago became a new neighbor died in a private plane crash. This is a small town. My sister knows the family even better than I do and called me over to stay with her kids while she and her husband went to be with the family. She came home late, after telling me how the family was doing she told me “I told them you'd play.” Normally that gets an automatic, hair on the back of the neck standing up “How fucking dare you” moment, but not this time. Harps are called for.

    I can only hope that some of the more bizarre requests for funeral music won't happen. I don't anticipate much along those lines. These are country people. The worst that can happen is to be asked for some Garth Brooks (and I've played enough country and know enough solid old folk hymns to make a counter proposal that has a good chance of being picked up). They, even though they lived fairly sophisticated lives, will gravitate toward the familiar sounds of faith for comfort at this time. Sometimes I've been asked to play “our song” when a spouse dies, or a song that has nothing to do with faith or religion but meant a lot to either the deceased or the surviving family. Since my perception of the ceremony is that it is more for the surviving community than the deceased anyway, it's usually no problem. Because I have no personal core belief in the supernatural or emotional investment in dogma I can be pretty flexible. But, here's the deal, the reason “Amazing Grace” is the most popular hymn around, even though it was written in 1779, is that it speaks a simple story of human truth. Some of the worst crap out there is “contemporary gospel.” They take bad religion and package it with bad music and the crowd goes wild. Give me a track record of 200 years any day. I also try to go with cultural traditions too. For the Europeans there is a huge body of folk music to draw upon, and it's all work that can speak directly to the people that will be there. But you can't beat something that rings true. Spirituals from the days of slavery resonate at times like this. “Jacob's Ladder, Swing Low, All My Trials” all speak truths to us.

    Even a casual study of anthropology will show that one the main criteria for being classified as humanoid is ritual burial. When planes fall out of the sky, when the storms or the seas rise up to remind us how very small we are some kind of ceremony or ritual helps to ease the fears and blur the clear indications that, in the grand scheme of the universe, we don't matter much at all.
    One of the things that keeps me out of church except as a professional player is the vision of Aztec priests ripping out hearts to appease a sun that didn't even know they were there.

    I'm going to close for now. I need to go and be with my friends. We have things to plan. And yes, I'm taking the harp with me. It's called for.

    Sunday, June 18, 2006

    Stuff from Da

    My upbringing wasn't any kind of Beaver Cleaver stuff. Me Da was an Irish jazz musician. Most of the lessons I learned from him were about how to survive in the music industry. Yeah, he loved his kids, but he was also a drunk who got mean. So I mostly wiped that stuff off the slate, give him his props for who he was and moved on myself. My own kids have told me that my biggest strength as a parent is that I don't think I'm very good at it so I check with them (they usually have the best take on situations involving them, go figure) and other people. I rarely trust my best instincts. But, this isn't about me.

    Da wasn't a wild man on the bass. He was steady. He was an anchor or foundation that other musicians could build upon. Harry the Hipster told me that something he loved about the way Da played was that he could get as out there as he wanted to on solos and improvisations, take a breath, listen to the bass for a few beats and know exactly where in the phrase he was. That counts for a lot. One of the things I inherited from Da was a solid sense of rythym and phrase. You can't teach that, it's a DNA thing. I stop that! this isn't about you asshole Da kept it simple. He boiled music down to the essentials, concentrating the flavors like a beautiful reduction sauce. Something he taught me that I still hold close:

    There's only two songs in the whole world;
    The blues, and "Zippity Doo Dah."
    He's right. That's even true in classical music. Mozart's sublime Requiem is blues. Sad and beautiful. "Eine Kliene Nachtmusic" is zippity. Like blues and zippity all music has a structure and a style. Most songs break down into one or the other. At least, they do in my experience.
    One of the hardest lessons from Da came because he started taking me with him on gigs early. He figured since I was an early sprout, being able to play, first the cello (which we tuned like a bass and I stood next to Da), and could sing on pitch, I might as well be the novelty part of the show and bring a few extra bucks for the family bank. Thing was I was a kid and wanted to do kid stuff at times when there was grown up money to be made. So Da had to explain the situation to me. He said:
    Those people paid good money for those seats and
    they don't give a tinker's damn what you want.
    That ticket they're holding means that this night
    is about what they want.
    Any performer at any level would do well to remember that at all time. We as musicians (or any performing artist) exist only because there's an audience that approves of our performance. If we fail the audience we've failed our art. It was a harsh lesson for a kid to learn, but it was necessary, and a fundamental concept. Ever since then, I have always remembered that the show isn't about me, it's about the audience. Retribution for forgetting that one is swift and merciless.
    The best, and therefore the one in the coveted blowoff position, is this:
    Jazz, when you do it right comes from
    The top of your head and
    The bottom of your heart
    At the same time.
    If you need words of explaination for that one, you'd never understand anyway.
    For those lessons, Thanks Da.
    For everything else, well the good stuff was great, the other stuff didn't really matter in the end.
    I wish my kids had been given a chance to know me Da. I miss him most of the time.