Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, September 29, 2007

e x p e r i e n c e m u s i c

The End of Summer concert last Saturday, the last day of summer, Sept. 22, in our living room.

The kid wanted to have an End of Summer concert, so we invited some neighbors and some of his classmates.

We wailed . . .

. . . to the extent that one of the kids destroyed my toy piano. Hopefully I’ll be able to fix it but it’s a low priority right now.

Some of it was sheer noise, but I led some actual songs, and everybody sang along while making noise on various instruments as I beat the rhythm on the guitar. My son and I led everybody on the song he wrote that my band had covered, and another kid immediately wrote new words for it, which we all liked better, and everyone got whipped into a frenzy, shouting shouting shouting the words and the melody, louder and louder and more joyous, a tremendous crescendo, and then the song ended, and the concert was over, and everybody went home.

And it was the end of summer.

Friday, September 21, 2007

putting the kid to bed the other night, he wanted to hear a story about my childhood, so I told him about living in a house with Kleinstuck Preserve -- a large woods -- running into our backyard from the age of 4 to 10, and going for walks back there, and ice skating on the marsh when it froze over in winter, and how we moved away when I was 10 and when I went back there many years later as an adult the marsh had dried up, and my son got very sad -- he was very tired -- and he started to tear up and ask whether anybody had any pictures of it, and I said that maybe my dad took pictures once but probably not, but I’m sure we could find pictures if he really wanted to, maybe in the archive of Kalamazoo’s newspaper, which has been going for 170 years, and he was mollified, slightly; so after he quickly dropped off to sleep I looked on the web, and according to this (and thanks for the picture!), Kleinstuck Preserve still has its marsh, so perhaps I was mistaken.

I've been studying poetry all of my adult life, and I don't understand it. All I know is, when I'm having an experience of poetry, when a poem is reaching me, my mind is a bowl of Rice Krispies and the poetry is the milk. Snap! Crackle! Pop! says my mind. It's not particularly articulable -- at least not by me, at least not yet. Maybe someday. Sometimes I write verses that give me the "poem experience," but I have no interest in showing them to anybody, because I have no faith that my experience of the stuff is at all transferable.

Been reading -- and loving -- Emily Dickinson and Bob Kaufman lately. As I thought tonight about posting pictures of them, it occurred to me that they're both so paradigmatic, Emily the avatar of poet-as-home-bound-recluse, Kaufman the avatar of poet-as-street-oracle; both disdaining to publish for most of their writing lives, Kaufman to the extent that many of his poems survive only because his friends wrote them down from his public recitations.

I've set two of Dickinson's poems to music. They're among my favorites of my songs.

Too late to say anything about either poet's work, and don't feel the inclination anyway, except that their stuff is the aspirin in my mental Coke. They make me fizz.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I've never seen the movie, but the exploitation song Burt Bacharach wrote with Hal David for The Blob is in the Bacharach box set, and I'm glad of it, with its catchy guitar licks, super tasty high-vibrato sax, shuffling cha-cha in the bass & drums, utterly anonymous bland-TV-theme male baritone vocal (studio band credited as The Five Blobs!), and one of David's most economical lyrics, here in full:

Beware of the Blob
It creeps
And leaps
And glides and slides across the floor
And through
The door
And all along the walls
A blotch
A splotch
Be careful of the Blob

The Bacharach box overflows with quirky great melody & drama & lyric & tone color -- superb arrangements. The song that melted me today, several listens in a row, was the 1970 Dionne W. epic "Check Out Time," Burt in Broadway-meets-Brian-Wilson mode, elegant dramatic melody with the most immense production of his I've ever heard, real luscious Brian-esque cascade of power-sonics. Made the hair on my arm stand up. And a fine, fit David lyric, the pained precise soliloquy of a woman fleeing a loveless marriage.

Bacharach: one of the great melodists.

* * *

This afternoon I bumped into the woman who booked my band's show a couple of weeks ago, part of a monthly first-Friday-night single-cover-charge event that runs in the neighborhood of my workplace. She said that the venue we played is probably going to back out of the events next year. The event draws too many parents with children who don't order enough food or drink enough alcohol, and they make less money than they do when they don't have music. The booker didn't single me out, but what she said applied to me -- the place was packed, and there were a lot of parents and children there for the first 2 sets. Kids got kicked out for the third set, when the kitchen closed and the whole venue became a bar.

I had to smile. The job of a musician is to attract drinkers to bars. My band did not succeed in doing this. This does not surprise me. Made me wonder whether I'll ever have the chance to play 3 sets with a band again. Would love to, but I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't happen. At my advanced age, I'm damned lucky I had the chance to do it at all.

The music business is a foreign country. I enjoy being a tourist. Hope I get to do it again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

musical inventors

Jesse Fuller’s fotdella is a 6-string bass instrument played with hammers that he levered with a foot while he played high hat with the other foot and smokin’ 12-string guitar and tasty harmonica and kazoo.

Benjamin Franklin provided crucial innovations to the glass armonica (which he named) -- that ethereal ringing instrument.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My beloved spouse and I heard Martin Sheen speak at a fundraiser for a housing nonprofit on Friday.

He talked about his commitment to lefty Catholic causes, antiwar and antipoverty especially. He first made the connection to lefty-activist Catholicism when he was working for the avant-garde Living Theater for poverty wages, and its co-director, Julian Beck
, referred him to his friend’s soup kitchen, and his friend turned out to be the radical Catholic activist Dorothy Day -- a connection which surprised me.

In all his rambling stories, I kept noticing his vocal tonal range and nuance -- musicianly, actorly things -- he was good -- and a much more interesting role than I’d ever seen him play -- a self-deprecating egotistical radical wealthy celebrity, full of joy and grief and compassion and goofiness -- very funny, and very moving, and well modulated between the serious and funny. He opened his talk with a prayer by Gandhi’s friend the Nobel-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore and it was to blow one’s hair back -- he rocked it.

(Friendly correspondent Helen Radice’s father William translated the Penguin Selected Tagore, worth checking out.)

* * *

Playing a lot of music right now, which is good. Making up songs left and right, on the spot, instantly forgettable, in the moment, really enjoying it -- and hoping to finish up some polish-able pieces too. Jamming with the 4-year-old opens up the sound-ducts too -- the joyful noise of sound for its own sake -- what noises does this instrument make?

Other stuff going on too, so light blogging for the foreseeable future -- cheers --

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A friend is putting together a collection of pop songs about atonement for a Yom Kippur event, and so he emailed some people asking for suggestions, and I suggested the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” as a kinda sorta but probably not really song about atonement, and another friend chimed in and said, Wow, no way, and we went back and forth about how we heard different attitudes and emotions in the song, we heard the song very differently from each other, and it was very nice, and it ended up changing how I think about the song.

It’s the last verse that makes think of atonement.

the ones that love us best
are the ones we’ll lay to rest
visit their graves on holidays at best
the ones that love us least
are the ones we try to please
if it’s any consolation I don’t begin to understand it

It’s an angry defiant song, we are the sons of no one, bastards of young -- and yet at the end the song self-critically acknowledges that the parents from whom the singer feels bastarded are the ones that love us best. And the back and forth with my friend made me realize that the bastardy is cultural, that the anger toward the parents is legitimate, because we’re brought up into a world in which most of us have no legitimacy, we’re cultural and economic bastards, most of us, stumbling and lucking and struggling our way into any economic belongingness any of us might happen to find. Not everybody feels that way, but I remember my didn’t-feel-entirely-voluntary impoverished 20s.

And so the anger toward the parents is legitimate too, for they have failed to create a world in which their own children belong -- and yet, if we’re lucky, if we had such parents, we realize that they are indeed the ones that love us best. Despite their failings.

And I realized that I will fail my son in exactly the same way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Can anybody articulate whose side we are on in the Iraqi Civil War? My vague impression is that we are on the side of the government, but that nobody else in the country is, particularly. It seems clear that in the religious war between the Shia and Sunni in Iraq, both sides either hate us or the Iraqi government or both.

We seem to be on the side of the Kurds, but they're against the central government too, to the extent that they don't fly the national flag in government buildings or ceremonies.

If we're there to referee a civil war -- well, everybody hates the ref, right? As the crowd said in "Casey at the Bat":

"Kill him! Kill the umpire!"

Which almost sounds like "empire."

Many people often say that nobody can explain why we are there. But when you really look at the particulars of the inexplicability, no satirist could do justice to the grotesquery.

-- The Knight, Death, and the Devil, Albrecht Durer, 1513

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I put Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (Number 6, in F) on the CD player during our drive to Hyas Lake on Saturday.

The 4-year-old piped up from his car seat, "Oh, I like this music! It's pretty. It goes well with the pretty scenery."

As Beethoven titled the first movement: "Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country."

Well done, Ludwig!

Such a great piece.

That night as we were singing songs around the campfire, the kid asked me to sing "that country symphony we listened to in the car." I sang the opening phrases of the second movement but alas couldn't take it very far.

* * *

This morning the kid kept bugging me to spell, "seer sucker sea, wolf bucker B," but I hadn't time as I was fixing our breakfast and his lunch. And he was running around neglecting his chore of feeding the chickens, and so on the 3rd or 4th request to spell, "seer sucker sea, wolf bucker B," I said, "How do you spell, 'Please feed the chickens'?" He laughed and fed the chickens.

But I still hadn't spelled his phrase. As I was dropping him off at pre-school, he asked again that I spell it, but we were running late, and so I said I would leave it on a piece of paper in his lunch bag as he ran off to the first lesson. On the drive to school I had asked him if he wanted the ocean sea or the letter C, and a buzzing bee or the letter B, and he wanted the ocean sea and the letter B.

When I picked him up this afternoon, he hadn’t noticed the scrap in his bag, and so I showed it to him, and he read it, and smiled, and said, “How do you spell, ‘Please feed the chickens’?”

And I laughed and wrote it down.

After dinner the next-door-neighbor 4-year-old and her 2-year-old brother came over for a jam session, and the four of us jammed, and then the neighbors left, and the kid started singing his new song, singing his heart out, playing the toy piano, while I played a Tibetan horn,

seer sucker sea
wolf bucker B
Please feed the chickens.

* * *

Our computer is possessed by a demon of slowness, and some things aren’t working well. The word processing program seems to be working fine, but when I tried to type this post directly onto the blogging web site, the computer set the letters a little faster than one letter per second. As I type 60 or 70 words a minute, I got far ahead, and as I got farther ahead, the computer started losing the thread, and the text started breaking up, and this is what was left, before I went to the word processing program and re-wrote the post.

sp his pr,o Iwrotonasp anpu hischool a d fle.

When I piafternohe hnie saoa -- tatt out andhehn t. Hhao; p.e d, Ho l, 'Pedtheen'?" I laughed eitn

spel, s se, buc ,"I k, Hwysplpefd cns'?"

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bob, Jen, me, Robert, and Mac -- Friday night

Friday night's gig was a blast. 3 sets, 23 of my songs, one by my son, and 5 covers. It's hard to believe, but it was the first time the whole band had played together in public -- our debut! And so we added new members. Eric Stovall played lead guitar for about half the show after joining us for 3 rehearsals. That's his guitar, left hand, and knee on the left side of the picture.

And here he is, with Bob, and Jen, and my elbow.

My son joined us for a few songs, singing back-up on a few and lead on the one he wrote, and hitting a paint can with a stick during the freely improvised section of one song.

As usual, with his striped shirt, cowboy boots, and leopard print pants, he was the only one who really dressed like a rock star. Because of my beloved spouse's work schedule, the kid had been to most of the rehearsals, and he was very serious about his parts.

I think 60 or 70 of our friends came over the course of the evening, plus a few dozen random music-goers. Few people stayed for all 3 sets, but I loved playing three sets -- it was a whole journey. I made my debut on the big string bass on one song, which Bob sang and played ukulele on, while Robert played mandolin. I loved playing the bass -- all five notes! The P.A. and mix were mediocre -- the oven repairman had commandeered the stage when we showed up to set up and so we couldn't sound check -- but for the most part we played well, sometimes very well. Made me want to record the next CD. And play again. And again. Gotta get on it. Rehearsals were mostly a blast, but we need an occasion for which to rehearse. It was great to have one.

The next morning my beloved spouse, our son, and I drove to Hyas Lake in the Cascades and hiked in 2 miles and spent the night camping with friends. Our very serious son loved sinking up to his knees in a mudhole, his "mud and muck factory," over and over again.

And then rinse off in the lake. Over and over again.

The water was cold. I swam in it -- verrrry briefly.

When we woke up Sunday morning, the water was perfectly still. An amazing weekend.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Band practice the last 3 nights -- and I love the listening process by which ensemble comes together -- and my bandmates are a joy -- but I'm tired!

If you're near Seattle Friday night, here's the deal:

Friday, Sept. 7, 7:00 to 10:00 PM -- 3 sets!
Lottie's Lounge, corner of Edmunds & Rainier, Columbia City, SE Seattle
4900 Rainier Avenue South
Tel. 206.725.0519

I confirmed with the owner:
KIDS WELCOME until 9:00 or 9:30, at which point the restaurant turns into a bar.

My band's web site.

The whole BeatWalk schedule. (They call us "Creative and unique"!)

* * *

We'll be doing about 30 songs -- 25 or so originals plus 4 or 5 covers:
a Disney song
an Irving Berlin / Pete Seeger medley
maybe "Besame Mucho"

Looking at the list, it may seem quite kitsch, but, "Besame Mucho" excepted, all the covers have a particular "angle" (I note defensively).

* * *

Last week at practice, Robert put his big string bass in his lap and started playing it like a guitar. My son laughed and laughed and laughed. A little while later we played our song that ends with convulsions of laughter. The kid laughed along with us, and after it was over he said, "I thought of something really silly, so I could laugh more. I thought of Robert playing his bass like a guitar." Is Stanislavski's approach to acting instinctual?

* * *

My erudite friend Tim Harris gently corrected mistakes in my recent post on Len Chandler and Joan Baez singing at the March 1963 March on Washington.

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