Saturday, July 01, 2006

It's Not That Weird Once I Explain It

A couple of the family members of the funeral that I am playing tomorrow stopped by this morning. What they saw when they came in was me, with my harp, in front of the T.V. playing and watching the World Cup match between Portugal and England. It's something that I've done since I was a kid. Da always had me practice with a game on or some other distraction happening. He knew that I would end up playing in situations where I would have to be able to divide my attention. He knew that I would be playing somewhere and people would talk to me or try to get my attention any time they felt like it. The way the exercise worked was I would be playing scales, the game would be on, and, out of nowhere, Da would ask me questions about the game. What inning, what's the count, what quarter, what down, who's got the ball? I was supposed to be able to keep track of all that stuff while I payed enough attention to the music I was trying to play. At first, it was impossible. I couldn't pay attention to the game or the music. Then, slowly, it got better. I found that as the playing part of the situation got more and more wired into my muscle memory, my mind was able to free up a section to pay attention to my surroundings. Once I started being able to do that better though, Da turned it up the pressure on me. Now, along with questions about the game he would ask things like “What are you doing next? What's for dinner? Do you know “Cry Me a River?” This was new territory, now rather than just being aware I had to be able to actually absorb, interpret, and respond to outside intrusions. Again, anytime the music suffered during this, I had to start over. Anyone who has ever played in more informal venues knows that the waitresses work hard for their money too, and they can't hang around the bandstand to wait for you to finish a song or what ever if they have say, drinks from table three, or they need to get an order straight, or they have a message from the boss. Life doesn't stop just because I have an instrument in my hand. Also, if the crowd is bored enough that they are talking to me or each other, maybe it's time to start thinking about changing up the set. Bottom line, if the crowd's attention is wandering, I need to find a way to take that attention. Once I get ahold of it, then it's on me to keep it. It's not the audience's job to pay attention to me, they paid to be there. Sometimes I forget that the night I'm looking on as just another day at the office can be the biggest night of somebody else's year, or more. I must also never forget that music is a craft, it is learned and perfected. Talent is a given at the professional level, what separates the wheat from the chaff, the top players from the rest of the pack is consistency; hitting it at a high level night after night, being aware of what's happening; being able to change on the run if it's called for. Also, with all that talk of work, I have an abstract painting that a friend did for me. It shows balls in motion, musical instruments moving by themselves, and, down in the corner in bright red paint it says “Play with your ax like a toy.” The guy that painted it told me I said that to him one night at a party and he thought it was pretty profound.

I am, along with preparing for the funeral, getting ready for an intensive week in L.A. I have some gigs coming up this summer with a singer that I admire and respect. This is how I prepare for something like that. I practice my fucking ass off. For this set of shows I am playing (no order of importance here just as I think of them) harp (I'm bringing two, brass strings and nylon), guitar (two electrics so I have one for slide work, two standard acoustics, one National Steel Body for slide, 5 string banjo, and a mandolin just in case). I have to be ready to kick ass on every single one of them. Most folks don't understand the big differences in the instruments. Other than the physical way the sound is produced there is little similarity in the guitar and the banjo. Harp? Well, that's truly its ownself. I'm not as good a harper as I could be because of the demands of the other instruments. I have also seen my versalitiy translate into readily available work. Most of the people I work for would rather see me schlepping through the airport with two carts of instruments and my luggage than have to keep track of another musician. It also gives a lot of flexibility to the performance.

I have hours of tape from live shows that I'm listening too almost every waking hour. I'm listening not only for how the song works and what the singer likes to do, I'm listening for what works in performance and what doesn't. I play along with the tapes/videos so and figure out what I need to do. I'm not only looking for what will sound good with this guy, I'm looking for weaknesses. Does he oversing here, does he suddenly speed up, will he need some help finishing this phrase, where can I fit in? Lots of things happen onstage. It can go straight into the shitter in less than a heartbeat. There are also, small, little touches that can turn something good into something great, turn something great into something magical. It's about being aware of the performance as a whole, living entity. If I see another player who can run scales while he's on the speakerphone, or watch a game while he's practicing, I know I've found a kindred spirit. I know that this is somebody that will not withdraw into their own little world when we're up there together. This is somebody that will pay attention to all of it. These are the kind of players I look forward to going onstage with.

Next week we are going to be doing two hour sessions (I hate, absolutely loathe rehearsals so we are calling this week a tune-up session, a beach party, it's a cognitive dissonance thing, transparent but it works) twice a day. Morning and late afternoon. In between times, I have about the same amount of practicing to do. I figure it this way; hard practice makes easy shows..

If my posting next week is a little light, you can hopefully understand why now...
I'll try and do little updates when I am in a hot spot for wireless.

Friday, June 30, 2006

An Uncomfortable Moment In Philosophy 101

Back when I was fresh out of the military I decided to cash in on the G.I. Bill, this was in the late 70's when, if you were in a State or other reasonably priced institution you could get a decent education in return for your years of service. Having spent the last eight years in the Navy, three of those years in Viet Nam, with two more years in other, smaller conflicts in Africa and Central America I was wrapped a wee bit tighter than the usual undergraduate student.

Philosophy 101 was its usual bullshit self. The Professor was a notorious Pinko who had helped to organise various student demonstrations against Viet Nam. He had a hard on for veterans. He would single us out for little sarcasms and petty insults, he would blue pencil the living shit out of any paper we had the audacity to turn in.

I had no problem with anyone that was a anti-war protester. Still don't. A very close friend of mine who is a brilliant singer/songwriter chose to go to Canada rather than submit to the draft and I respected his choice then as I do now. I really have little problem with a person that chooses to follow the dictates of their conscience. What you have to remember though, is that I had spent the last five years in extreme circumstances, getting shot at and hit three times. What I had a problem with was not the man's politics but his pettiness. Usually his asides and snubs were done publicly for the entertainment of the young women who flocked around him and hung out in the hallways waiting for “office hours” and the like.

One afternoon we were in the lecture hall and Professor S. was up at the front grandstanding for the women again and he reached a point in the lecture where he rhetorically asked, “And what is the value of a human life?”

Without thinking I blurted “Eighty five bucks.”

He said “Who said that?”

I rose and said “I did Professor S.”

“How did you arrive at that figure?”

I replied, “That's what they charge you extra in Bangkok if you kill the girl.”

There was nothing but silence. I sat down and opened my notebook. When I looked up he was still standing there, his face blank and pale. I said:

“Please, do continue, I'm sorry I interrupted.”

Inside I was laughing my ass off.

Polaroids From the Underground

This whole thing started as a comment post over at
  • ShakeSpeare's Sister
  • . Then the internet went down and I was left with nothing but a hot, humid afternoon and a blank screen. So I decided to turn this into a post for my little blog

    you can read the comment thread that gave rise to this flight of fancy
  • HERE
  • .

    opening shot, interior
    The scene is a normal house in rural Arizona. The living room has 3 harps, 8 guitars, 2 banjos, a string bass, fender jazz fretless, alvarez/yari acoustic bass guitar, grand piano with an American Flag motif silver and crystal candelabra burning brightly (for when somebody who knows how to play is over, otherwise, it's just for show), two mandolins and two violins hang on the wall by the piano. Underneath the piano there is a suspicious looking accordian case, but mercifully, it's closed so we're all safe for now. The Beautiful and Incredibly Intelligent RENEE is curled up on the couch reading Al Gore's new book AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH while swooning over the chocolate truffles she's eating.

    enter MINSTREL BOY (places Wiccan broomstick by the hall coat tree)

    Boy, I just loves me some Quidditch. Especially when we have that new feminist seeker. She's fast. And you know the best part? There wasn't one fundamentalist asshole in the whole stadium. They were all out trying to track down Harry Potter books to burn, organizing gay cure cuddle parties, making excuses for Rush's addictions, sexual and substance, that hopeless clusterfuck in Iraq that they have no idea how to get out of , the economy about to tank big time behind run away inflation, more congressmen getting arrested, Halliburton mercenaries building concentration camps on the border, thinking up new ways to spin the latest idiotic drivel the preznit spouted, wondering what fucking law to ignore or break next, letting the voting rights act expire, watching Afghanistan fall apart into chaos once again, alienating the rest of Europe, ignoring the AID's epidemic, waiting for the “science” to come in on evolution and global warming, harrasing the families of fallen soldiers and marines at their funerals, bombing abortion clinics, refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and emergency contraception, setting up bogus 12 step progams to “cure” feminism, making sure that Paris Hilton's inheritence package remains obscene, finding some more journalists to imprison, detaining and torturing people for years without charges in defiance of the constitution they swore to uphold and defend, using government computers to find underage girls to screw, propositioning undercover cops in Oklahoma, organizing the next “Purity Ball”, trying to pick another third world country to invade so dubya can be a “wartime preznit” for two and a half more fucking years, using the power of prayer to keep the hurricanes off the gulf coast, trying to decide when or if ever they are going to clean up the mess from last year's hurricanes, checking out Ann Coulter's page on really gives us some free time to have fun while they're busy with all that shit...Got the voter registration lists ready? Great! Let's get to work. We got us some serious door knocking to do before November.

    (The Beautiful and incredibly intelligent RENEE brings the lists and registration forms they link arms)

    and exit
    Stage Left
  • Friday's Random Ten

    Sorry for light posting lately, getting ready for a business trip to L.A. (although when your business travel entails taking a motor home to the beach at Malibu, well, business isgood. I'll try to get Nana's peppermint stick ice cream recipe up before I go. Now, on to the music...

    99 Luftballoons (german version) ---- Nena
    Oro Se Do Baetha Bhaile --- Sinead O'Connor
    Alligator Eatin' Dawg --- Gatemouth Brown
    Hard Times -- Emmylou Harris (live at The Ryman)
    Death Letter -- Son House
    Star of the County Down -- Patrick Ball
    Pasties & A G-string -- Tom Waits
    Candy Man -- Dave Van Ronk
    Eres Tu -- Mocedades
    Black Cat Moan -- Jeff Beck (live bootleg)

    bonus track (hit random twice take the top)

    If You Had Lived --Sweet Honey in the Rock

    What ya'll listening too?

    Wednesday, June 28, 2006

    Public Service Announcement

    Listen up Rush

    This is your brain

    Originally uploaded by RedBocephus.
    This is your brain on drugs.

    Kipling Nailed It

    After reading more articles and blogs about the shameful treatment of our soldiers and knowing that veterans are instantly suspect because "all you viet nam guys were junkies/hippies/frag happy killers..." well you understand. I also have enough baggage that attacks like that on me would be sorta like kicking a ball. Too damned easy to be compelling.

    I, instead, offer Rudyard Kipling. Victorian, conservative, Masonic Brother, Imperialist, Racist, heck he's everything a neo-con would love. Except when it comes to poems like this. Offered without further comment

    Rudyard Kipling


    I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o'beer,
    The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
    The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:

    O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
    But it's ``Thank you, Mister Atkins,'' when the band begins to play,
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    O it's ``Thank you, Mr. Atkins,'' when the band begins to play.

    I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
    They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
    They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
    But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!

    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
    But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
    The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
    O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

    Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
    An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

    Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy how's yer soul?"
    But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

    We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
    But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
    An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints:
    Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

    While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind,"
    But it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind,
    There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
    O it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind.

    You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires an' all:
    We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
    But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
    An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

    You want to support our troops? There are many ways. Take the money you were going to spend on some more yellow ribbon decals and head on over to John Rogers
  • Kung Fu Monkey
  • he's got a button you can click to donate to The Fisher House which provides lodging for families who are visiting their wounded relatives in V.A. hospitals around the country. He's so cool that he will even match your donations.

    Tuesday, June 27, 2006

    why i'm still up at this time of night

    Nights like this are something that comes and goes. I used to do the medication trip, but learned through bitter experience that when medicated if the dreams or memories are especially disturbing I was unable to escape by awakening. I reached a place where I just say, "Oh well, one of those nights again. " If I'm tired tomorrow, so be it. It works better this way. I try to get the thoughts and words on paper (or screen) and when it's done I usually throw it away. Since I have this blog now, I figured what the hell? This isn't about actual combat, this is about afterward.

    coming to the battleground far too late
    i saw bodies flung down to death
    broken toys of some child god

    the enemy had taken their own
    we began to gather ours
    moving in the silence of the place

    trying to match the parts and shreds
    which was not an easy thing
    when they were small

    the carnage was both modern and complete
    and close fought like the ancients
    it only takes a little while

    and war becomes primative again
    the smell was something i smell tonight
    it remains without words to explain

    slow moves were taken
    gently lifting and laying down again
    the burned lads especially needed that

    the time they had lain was harsh
    sun and heat were at work
    in the tropics rot starts now

    i remember thinking
    this jungle drinks our blood
    and grows

    that horrid day amid all that brutal death
    one thing alone made me cry
    a butterfly

    once bright and fragile
    had landed upon the ruined
    face of some shot up kid

    wings touched in blood
    unable to fly away
    it died there

    time to turn this off, settle in, drink some peppermint tea, insomniacs know the drill

    I loves me some Rude Pundit

    Sunday, June 25, 2006

    My Favorite Musician's Joke

    A jazz trumpet player dies in a subway mishap and instantly finds himself in what must be heaven. He starts walking around, taking in the sights. He notices that everything is light, fluffy, soft colors and such he says to himself, “Like wow, it's so pastel...” He sees people sitting around, plucking harps, lyres and dulcimers and muses “Whoa, it's like, so, modal.” He continues wandering, becoming more and more bored. Tries flying with the wings he seems to have sprouted with little success and thinks “Must take pixie dust or some shit like that.” He wonders why there hasn't been any explanation or introductions made. He wants a cigarette but has none.

    Out of nowhere comes a very different looking angel. This one has long, shoulder length curly hair, a brightly colored set of robes that look like the caftans Miles Davis used to design. As he comes closer the musician sees that he's wearing black frame RayBans, and is carrying a gorgeous full on Harry James circus trumpet in one hand. The weird angel walks up to him and offers out his hand for some skin saying, “Hey baby, I just got hipped that you were here, welcome to heaven. That's where you are, all musician's go straight through, no line, no grouchy saints at the gates, right on in. I'm archangel Gabriel, but the cats all just call me Gabe. I'm going to get you all slick with the scene up here. Did you bring your ax?”

    The trumpet man starts feeling about his robes and, like magic, finds his favorite trumpet, except now it's gold with silver filigree highlights and a solid gold Rubicon mouthpiece. He think about a Horning mute and it just appears in his other hand. He starts to smile.

    Gabe continues, “The scene here is mind blowing kid, we have an eternal jam session, everybody, playing everything all the time. No matter what you want to blow, it's happening right here. You want to blow classics? They all here baby. Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Chopin, all them, all the time playing. Want to blow Mozart? That child sets records baby, never quits, he asked once about playing some pool but we don't have money up here and he got bored real fast. You want jazz? Harry's here, Ella, Satch, Miles, Train, Dexter, Krupa, Goodman, both Dorseys, you want in? Just tune up and sit. They been asking about you. Want blues? We got Bessie, Billy, Son House, Robert Johnson (there was no deal baby, you can dance with the devil but he don't let nobody else play), Blind Lemon, all them, all here, always playing. Rock? Hah! Those kids are dropping like flies baby, we got them all too. Anything you want, anytime you want it. How's that for Heaven?”

    The jazz baby is starting to dance a bit, warming his mouthpiece in his hands, working his lips in and out, trying to decide where to sit in first. He says “Yeah, this is heaven, this really is heaven, where's Miles? Ain't had much work since he been gone, I want to see Miles again. This is HEAVEN.”

    Gabriel says, “Yeah, heaven it is, Miles is right over there, see? But before you go, I got to tell you one more thing. OK? See, God's got this girlfriend, and, well, she, likes to sing. Dig?”