I’ve compiled my favorite photos from January in a YouTube video.
Tag Archives: Music
A common bit of dialogue in the English-speaking world:
Hey, Joe, how are you?
I’m fine, thanks, What about you?
I’m fine too.
Now that the two have gotten the preliminaries out of the way, they can proceed to having a good talk.
I’ve lately been trying to find another way to answer the question “How are you?”; some version of which is heard in just about every meeting of two people. If I took the time to answer the question truthfully it would take twenty minutes and be boring and depressing. Does anyone actually want to know the truth? My niece says she does.
My most recent ploy is to use phrases borrowed from song lyrics. Here are the two phrases I’ve tried thus far.
The first is from Drunk As a Skunk ¹ off the album Griot Blues by Mighty Mo Rogers and Baba Sissoko. The song starts with a one-sided conversation between Baba and Mo, then poses an eternal question, “I’m in love and what can I do?” Another good line spoken by Mo just before the end of the song: “She’s breakin’ my heart, but it’s a good break.” The line I’ve tried to use when asked how I am is:
If it gets any worse, I’ll be in a hearse.
This hasn’t worked so well. It just invites more questions, and I quickly have to admit that I’m not serious, and that I just wanted to use the lyric in a conversation.
The second line is from Ghost Woman Blues ² from the album Smart Flesh by The Low Anthem.
I ain’t no lamp, but my wick is burning low.
This also doesn’t work so well. It just causes worry on the part of the other person and a desire to know more about why I’m so down; not to mention tons of advice on what I should do to fight off my black dogs of depression and insomnia.
I think I need to look for some lyrics that are more upbeat. Maybe something from The Sound Of Music. Someone asks me how I am and I reply
The hills are alive with the sound of music.
I can try it but somehow I don’t think it will work.
¹ Listen to the song here: Drunk As a Skunk
² Listen to the song here: Ghost Woman Blues
Some of the lyrics from the song “Give God the Blues” by Shawn Mullins off the album Mercyland: Hymns For the Rest Of Us.
God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that
Bigger than religion
He’s got a better plan
The sign says, “God’s gone fishing
For the soul of every man”
God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
And God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
The entire Mercyland album is well worth checking out. It’s a compilation with various artists: Emmy Lou Harris, The Civil Wars, The North Mississippi Allstars, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and others, all providing hymns a bit different from those you hear in church.
Yes, I envy Beethoven; not his creative genius or ability to write beautiful, awe-inspiring music. I envy his ability to sleep. Beethoven actually complained about sleeping too much:
Tell me nothing of rest. I know none but sleep, and woe is me that I must give up more to it than usual. *
For those of us to whom a good night of sleep is no more than an elusive hope, it is impossible not to envy Beethoven. Looking at Beethoven’s lifestyle gives some ideas about achieving such sound sleep:
He sustains this strength of his by means of vigorous ablutions with cold water, a scrupulous regard for personal cleanliness, and daily walks immediately after the midday meal, walks that lasted the entire afternoon and often extended into the night; then a sleep so sound and long that he thanklessly complained against it! His way of living is substantial but simple. Nothing to excess; he is no glutton, no drinker (in the evil sense of the word) as some have wrongfully described him. **
I think I’ll try walking all afternoon and see if that helps my sleep. Ha! I’m lucky these days to walk for a couple hours. I bet Beethoven didn’t have to pursue an endless search for a mattress that didn’t cause nightly agony in one’s back and hips. I feel more like the princess who encountered the pea than I do Beethoven. The doctors tell me that exercise will not worsen any of my nagging afflictions and is more likely to improve my life. I’ll keep Beethoven in mind when I walk today and keep trying to be more active. Hopefully, as I become more active I’ll sleep better. In the meantime, I’ll continue to envy the great Beethoven and just keep trying to be myself.
* From Brainpickings
** Romain Rolland, Beethoven’s biographer, as quoted in Brainpickings
I’ve never been interested in poetry, so I surprised myself recently by registering for a workshop for beginning poets. Imagine me writing a poem. As things turned out, I dropped out after the first day. I am however, still thinking about poetry. I’m not giving up on it just yet for a number of reasons.
My good friend Nick whose judgement and taste I respect values poetry and recently loaned me books by three of his favorite poets. One of the three is Charles Bukowski. I like some of his poems.
Chapter 3 in The Immortal Irishman, a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher, is titled Poetry In Action. It begins with reference to a poem that set Ireland afire during the potato famine in the 1840s. This was for me a demonstration of the power of poetry.
It was poetry, the bend of words to frame a cause, that lifted Ireland from its gloom in the last good months before catastrophe [the potato famine]. Thomas Davis, educated at Trinity; the Protestant son of a British army surgeon, came forth with a burst of verse that roused a generation. . . . In a country where most peasants were illiterate, the poetry of Tom Davis spread by word of mouth – stanzas repeated on a sheep path or a loading dock.
. . . Meagher grew infatuated with this rarest kind of subversive: a poet with power.
Yesterday’s Brain Pickings Newsletter had a post about fear of poetry for which there is actually a term:
Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings. [definition from Verywell.com]
The post say this:
But meditation is somewhat like poetry — a lamentable number of many people hold a stubborn resistance to it, a resistance that “has the qualities of fear,” borne out of a certain impatience with learning a new mode of being that doesn’t come easily but, when it comes, brings tremendous and transcendent satisfaction.”
I am skeptical that poetry will ever bring me such satisfaction, maybe some, but I’ve never encountered anything that is tremendous and transcendent, and I doubt that I ever will. In the same way that I’ve never had epiphanies or road-to-Damascus moments. Again, I doubt that I ever will. Whatever changes or improvements or insights I’ve had have come slowly over years or decades as a result of experience, perseverance, stumbling and getting up again and moving forward and getting hopefully a bit further down the road before stumbling again which I certainly will do. On the brighter side, I know that I will always get up from my stumbles until that final big one. I’ll always get up to appreciate the moment, the day, the summer, a thunder-storm, a little taste of the summer, music (I’m listening to Greg Brown singing about his Grandma canning a bit of the summer). Being able to write this entry. Being able to listen to great music right now (Zambesi, a great instrumental from the 1950s done by Lou Bush who I had never heard of until I stumbled on this song, a cheery song.) Being able to look forward to today, tomorrow, next week, my trip to Madeline Island in a month. (Another instrumental, Skookian, Perez Prado, another fine, cheery song from the 1950s) This can of La Croix sparkling water that I just popped – Blackberry Cucumber.
So I guess I’ll at least continue to read Bukowski although it’s hard for me to read even his poems for much more than ten minutes at a time; probably better than nothing. Before I started this entry, I watched a short video on meditation that stated that the research shows that its benefits come with only five to ten minutes of meditation a day. Five to ten minutes of poetry will at least keep me in the poet’s game. (Stranger On the Shore, Acker Bilk, the song that got me going down this road of searching for 1950s instrumentals. I heard the song as part of a sound track, recognized it as a song I love, and then promptly forgot its name and the name “Acker Bilk”. I succeeded in finding the name through research which led me to a half-dozen other 1950s instrumentals worth a listen.)
I started to look at Billboard Top-100 lists from around 1958. There didn’t seem to be any earlier than that on the Billboard website. I see now why rock-and-roll arrived with such force and was able to take over the popular music world and shove the old music aside. The hits of the fifties, the best sellers, are a soup of unbroken insipidity, cute sometimes likable music that stirs nothing in the soul. It’s easy to see why my generation preferred listening to rock over songs about doggies in the window and the like.
Michael Hann at The Guardian recently wrote about what he has learned after 16 years as The Guardian’s music editor.
Of course, there are spivs and money grubbers, as there are in any industry that has historically promised large and fast returns. But pretty much everyone I’ve met who works in music does so because they love it, and they don’t make fortunes from it. Music is a remarkably uncorrupt world: there’s an awful lot of trust and good faith involved. And it ignites the passions, still. The surest way to get an interview with one of the old lags of rock off to a good start is to ask them about the music they loved when they were 17. You can see their eyes light up as they recall how they fell in love with music.
His point that music still ignites the passions started me thinking about what I loved when I was 17, and 27, and 37, and, God forbid, 67. I remembered many highlights. Here are some in a tediously long list.
Church music, always, from my earliest memories onward. Listening to my Dad in the Senior Choir at church.
Going with Mom to hear the Minnesota Symphony at the junior high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Early 1960s.
A band from the Twin Cities playing at the Telemark Ski Resort near Hayward, Wisconsin, circa 1965. The band featured an organ – definitely cool. Great music mixed with skiing and my fellow teenage skiing buddies.
Rural beer bars in north-west Wisconsin, 1960s. In those days, there were rural areas where those under 21 years of age could drink in taverns that served only beer. Some of them had live music. We had some fine times at the beer bars (they always had dirt parking lots) and are lucky we never crashed our cars on the country roads after a night out.
The Beatles, Bloomington, Minnesota, August 21, 1965, at Met Stadium, the old ballpark where the Minnesota Twins played in the 60s and 70s. The stage was set up on second base. I don’t remember much about the concert except that we almost left the tickets at home. I, my girlfriend, and two other couples.
A country tavern on Long Lake in Chippewa County, Wisconsin owned by an old German with a heavy accent. I think his name was Maxie and the tavern was Maxie’s; I don’t remember. On request, he would get out his accordion (or was it a violin) and play for us. Late 1960s.
Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, late 1960s, Madison, Wisconsin. This was straight out of the movie Animal House although we didn’t realise it at the time. We just thought we were cool. On two or three Saturdays a month we would have beer parties with bands from Milwaukee or Chicago – black soul bands; the frat was all white. We drank and danced up a storm; my frat brothers and my girlfriend.
Music festivals in the Woodstock era. I went with a girlfriend to Sound Storm, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival in 1970 outside Poynette in Columbia County a bit north of Madison. Here’s what a Wisconsin Historical Society essay says about Sound Storm:
About 30,000 people attended Sound Storm, the majority sneaking in through the woods without paying. [I think we paid, but I remember climbing over a barbed-wired fence. Perhaps my memory is shaky.] The Columbia County sheriff, seeing his officers exponentially outnumbered by hippies and bikers, wisely decided to ignore misdemeanors such as nudity and drug use. LSD and other psychedelic drugs were everywhere, along with marijuana and cheap, screw-top wine. Medical students staffed first aid and “bad trips” tents [that I had to visit after ripping my thigh open on the barbed-wire fence], volunteers from the Hog Farm commune in New Mexico helped as stage announcers, and Madison’s Mifflin Street Co-op provided free food. Throughout the weekend, ecstatic dancers whirled before the stage. When undercover officers infiltrated the crowd, Pete [the event organizer] dropped 10,000 fliers from a helicopter urging the audience not to harm them. Fans frolicked in nearby Rowan Creek, even crowning their own “Mud King.” Two members of the band Northern Comfort got married on stage. At night, the York farm sparkled with hundreds of campfires. Only a handful of injuries or arrests were reported.
A block party in Madison, WI, early 1970s. A band called Virginia Rose (or was that the name of the female lead singer?). This was when I was discovering country music under the influence of early country-rock bands like Poco. Virginia Rose was great.
Johnny Cash, Champagne -Urbana, IL, early 70s. I and my girlfriend drove down from Madison to visit friends from high school and see the man in black. Johnny only got better and better in the succeeding years.
Nights at the Birchmere in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. , mid-to-late 1970s, The Red Clay Ramblers, great stage show; the original Seldom Scene with Ben Eldridge, John Starling, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, and John Duffey. More beer drinking with my latest girlfriend, my best buddy Bruce, and a few other cronies from work. The best bluegrass ever!
The Annual Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering in Battle Ground just outside of Lafayette, IN, summer of ’79. At the time, a small bluegrass festival, today in its 45th year. The first time I saw people bring pieces of flat, thin, smooth wood to a festival that they would put on the ground as a surface for flat dancing or clog dancing (not sure what is the correct name for this style of dancing.)
Stumbled on a free, outdoor show by The Whites (Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl) in Georgetown, Washington, DC. I think they were then called Buck White and the Downhome Folks. Sharon later married Ricky Skaggs. They are now in the country hall of fame.
A Holiday Inn in Lafayette, Indiana, 1978. A bluegrass band. I’ve tried to find the name of the band only to come up with a number of possibilities. I think the band included Rickie Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and J.D. Crowe, but would such hotshots of bluegrass and country be playing in a Holiday Inn in Indiana? Can I trust my memory? They were wonderful musicians and well-known in bluegrass. Keith would die too soon. Rickie would be swamped in the Nashville scene but later escaped to return to something closer to his roots.
National Folk Festival, at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, an outdoor music venue near Washington, DC. Many stages set up throughout the rolling countryside of is Vienna, Virginia. Great music, non-commercial music.
Springfield, IL, 1998, driving home from Atlanta, my wife and I stumbled on an old, brick, two-story Italian restaurant in the university neighbourhood. We ate upstairs where there was a wandering fiddler. We listened for a long time and, because we were almost the only ones there, we had the fiddler to ourselves for a long time. He played everything we requested. A similar experience with my wife at the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (circa 2000) in Stillwater, Minnesota where we were entertained by the house accordionist.
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN: late 80’s, early to mid 90’s. It’s still there and going strong, but I, unfortunately, haven’t been back in too long a time:
- A group of Hawaiian slack-key guitarists and singers. They didn’t know quite what to make of the winter.
- Robin and Linda Williamson, tremendous in person.
- Pat Donohue, the long-time Prairie Home Companion’s guitarist
- John Hammond, blues man
I shouldn’t have started this list. I now realise how little live music I’ve heard in the last two decades. I have partially made up for this by spending lots of time and money on building a home library of music. It’s now all digital, but in the past, for financial reasons, I’ve sold a large collection of LPs and two large collections of CDs. How I wish I still had them, some of which were a bit obscure and might be hard to find these days. For example, in the late 70’s in a record store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, I bought an LP – a very fine LP – by Country Ham, a group I had never heard of when I bought the record. I can find no records on iTunes by a band called Country Ham.
A German beer and dance hall in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC with my Czechoslovak girlfriend Vera, 1978. My first experience waltzing.
Connecticut Ave, NW in Washington, DC, near the zoo in what was then a block or two of small retail, bars, and restaurants, circa 1976 – 77. I think one of the first metro stations was built in this block
- Donovan’s. One night a week a band called Sheepshead Bay played. I sat at the bar (once again drinking beer) thoroughly enjoying their mix of folk and political and cultural satire (Reston Isn’t Resting Anymore).
- Right across the street, Ireland’s Four Provinces where I first tasted the pleasures of Harp Lager and listened to the best Irish music I’ve ever heard.
- Also across the street was the movie theater where I saw the very first Star Wars in 1977.
Madrid 1973 in a tapas bar. I and an acquaintance I met on the overnight train from Paris. A three or four man combo strolls in off the street and blow our socks off with Spanish songs.
Mykonos, Greece, 1973: listening to Greek music and watching the locals do their Greek circle dances. Seemingly impromptu, but probably staged for the tourists, maybe a bit of both.
Blues Saloon in Frog Town in St. Paul. The stage was on the second floor of an old, wood frame building. One got upstairs using a seedy-looking staircase. No frills in the concert room. Just loud, raucous blues. It reminded me of the movie Devil In a Blue Dress based on the first of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books. The movie was my introduction to West Coast Blues, Jump Jazz, and other music of the black neighbourhoods in southern California in the years after World War II. The movie didn’t get much attention and still doesn’t but is one of my favorites in part because of the music and a good performance by Denzel Washington.
Small Italian Restaurant on the far outskirts of N. VA suburbs of DC. Bluegrass on weekends. An old time, family group, I think a wife and husband singing. As usual, I am at the bar drinking beer, eating pasta, and soaking in the music and vibes. On the rural fringe of the urban area. An out of the way spot that I stumbled on by accident.
And still, above all, listening to music, dancing to music, working out to music, being brought to tears by music, fighting the blues (bad, bad blues) with music, smiling with music.
Let’s play on!
I’d like the share more from Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. Yesterday I shared some of Levitin’s thoughts on the chasm between performers and listeners. What I quote today shares that theme.
. . . in every society of which we’re aware, music and dance are inseparable.
But it is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species. And it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. . . . The polite listening response, in which music has become an entirely cerebral experience . . . is counter to our evolutionary history. Children often show the reaction that is true to our nature: Even at classical music concerts they sway and shout and generally participate when they feel like it. We have to train them to behave “civilized.”
In jazz, “Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians aimed to counter the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new, non-danceable music that was more of a “musician’s music” that demanded close listening.” ∗
And as Levitin describes,
Classical music as most of us think of it . . . has diverged into two streams. Some of the best music in that tradition is being written for films . . . and is only infrequently the object of directed listening, as in a concert hall. The second stream is twentieth-century art music, much of it challenging and difficult for the average listener . . . . Contemporary “classical” music is practiced mostly in universities; it is regrettable listened to by almost no one compared to popular music; much of it deconstructs harmony, melody, and rhythm, rendering them all but unrecognizable; in its least accessible form it is a purely intellectual exercise, and save the rare avant-garde ballet company, no one dances to it either.
∗ Wikipedia entry on “Bebop”.
Daniel Levitin, in This Is Your Brain On Music, asks “why is it that of the millions of people who take music lessons as children, relatively few continue to play music as adults?” He answers the question by describing the many people who say to him that
their music lessons “didn’t take.” I think they’re being too hard on themselves. The chasm between musical experts and everyday musicians that has grown so wide in our culture makes people feel discouraged, and for some reason this is uniquely so with music. Even though most of us can’t play basketball like Shaquille O’Neal, or cook like Julia Child, we can still enjoy a friendly backyard game of hoops, or cooking a holiday meal for our friends and family. This performance chasm does seem to be cultural, specific to contemporary Western society. And although many people say that music lessons didn’t take, cognitive neuroscientists have found otherwise in their laboratories. Even just a small exposure to music lessons as a child creates neural circuits for music processing that are enhanced and more efficient than for those who lack training. Music lessons teach us to listen better, and they accelerate our ability to discern structure and form in music, making it easier to us to tell what music we like and what we don’t like.
I’m glad to know that the many years of piano and cello lessons I had, and the excruciating (for me) experiences of annual piano recitals were not wasted. And I have come to realize that I can sing, just not very well, but good enough to benefit from the emotional value of music. Levitin writes that “music increases the production of dopamine . . . [and] is clearly a means for improving people’s moods.”
The last time I wrote about drinking and listening to music, I was drinking beer, probably a good IPA. Tonight I’m listening to music and drinking herbal tea. It is great herbal tea (Honest Ginger Oasis), but, honestly, it’s not beer. I’m trying to limit myself to drinking beer only one day a week. That’s Mondays when my good friend Nick tends bar in the tavern I used to frequent. Since I can only drink once a week, I no longer can say I frequent the place. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Anyway, the music is great. It makes up for the absence of beer. William Eliot Whitmore, who I just discovered a few months ago. He’s a guitarist, banjo picker, singer, blues man, and songwriter from Iowa. I’m listening to the album Field Songs from 2011. Field Songs is a spare and simple album with just Whitmore accompanying himself on guitar and banjo. The notes about the album in iTunes calls his voice a thundering instrument. I don’t know about that, but it sure is nice to listen to. I especially like the banjo songs.
I have one of the songs, Can’t Go Back, from his most recent album, Radium Death from 2015. On this album, he plays with a band. This is one of those songs that I’ve listened to over and over until I’ve figuratively wore out the grooves on the record.
Now that it’s June, here’s what we’ll do
We’ll howl at the moon and patch the old canoe
Put it down in the water, let it take us where it may
Head downstream and (just) float away
He has some stuff on YouTube.
The other day I told a friend that I was going to start singing. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to sing on pitch unless I was sitting right next to a good singer.
A few days later, I decided I was going to try the guitar again. Unfortunately, all the many years I tried to play the guitar, I was always practicing. I never reached the point where I was just playing. Also unfortunately, tendonitis in my hands and thumbs forced me to quit guitar.
I’ve decided I’m going to ignore all the “unfortunately”s and proceed with singing and guitar picking. I’ve gone so far as to buy a new guitar. I’ve also found a protocol for dealing with guitarist’s’ tendonitis (it involves lots of ice baths). Wish me luck.
I should perhaps get over the notion that I have to always be on pitch or play like Doc Watson. I can sing for my own enjoyment. So what if I hit a few bad notes. I’ve already learned Zip a Dee Doo Dah. (I find a lot of Disney songs from my misspent youth popping into memory) Granted, it’s a very simple song but a fun one that can make for a better day. When your down and out, sing Zip a Dee Doo Dah – better than a pill.
I think I’ve been sent some kind of mystical message. I found a book at the Guitar Center. It seemed out of place – misfiled – among the instructional books. The clerk who checked me out had never seen it before and didn’t know that they sold books of that nature (trade paperback format; all text). It was as if the book was waiting for me. The book has reminded me that I need to learn to play. I use “play” to mean both making music and having fun. Over all the years I played guitar, I never played. All I ever did was practice. Maybe the book will help me learn to play and have fun.
Any advice will be appreciated.