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

Monday, May 26, 2008

At the afternoon party a week ago Sunday, where I played harmonica and guitar for a couple of hours with friends and brand new acquaintances, among the circle was a semi-pro singer-guitarist-songwriter whom I’d hooted with before, a super nice guy named Larry Murante. Friday late afternoon I caught his set at Folklife (the annual Memorial Day week-end folk music festival at Seattle Center), and he was terrific. Lovely, strong voice with nuanced tone & phrasing; solid rhythm guitar playing with tasty thick mod folky chords accessed from alternate guitar tunings. Covers: a beautiful “Time After Time” (Cyndi Lauper’s, not the pre-rock standard), which he sang at the party; “Kiss,” by Prince, a great tune that made me think again how I wished that Prince had followed the Grateful Dead’s lead in this one respect and hired a lyricist; and an unannounced Nanci Griffith song that I didn’t know but a friend ID’ed. He played some good originals too; one, in particular, “Point of Entry,” was terrific -- inspired, wise, passionate, beautiful. Bumped into a bunch of old friends and new acquaintances at Larry’s set, and had that enjoyable experience of connection -- “How do you know him too?”

Saturday I worked on the roof of our 2-story house, tied to our chimney, trimming branches that have been scraping the roof. Saturday night I picked up my college pal Professor Logie, in town for a rhetoric conference, his field. His last visit I gave him a copy of my band’s CD (at the party where the above picture of Robert, Mac, and me was taken, almost two years ago). When he read the credits he realized that Bob, Ruby Thicket’s drummer, had been a good friend of his in high school. “How do you know him too?” I know him through Robert, Ruby Thicket’s bassist, who was having one of his famous music parties Saturday night; Bob would be there; it would be fine to bring Logie too.

I played Robert’s upright bass for 45 minutes or so as a pick-up band played old fiddle tunes; lovely trance-inspiring music; fine, fine fiddle and banjo players; at one point there were 3 fiddles, two banjos, rhythm guitar, and me -- how I love plucking that big string bass. Logie and Bob had a reunion, not having seen each other in over 20 years. A gaggle of kids -- including mine -- ran around nonstop. At one point Robert had one on his back and two in his arms, so I scooped up three in my arms and we crushed the five airborne ones together, to much merriment. Won’t be able to do that next year! They’ll be too big! Maybe I should lift weights.

(One of the most memorable musical events so far of 2008: Robert’s New Year’s Day music party, an impromptu group playing fiddle tunes and jazz standards in the dining room -- guitars, fiddle, accordian, bass -- an 80-something-looking fiddler calling most of the tunes. He calls a 1920s-sounding obscure novelty number, about the singer’s wedding night, when he was surprised to find his lovely bride taking out her glass eye and putting away her wooden leg, all these prosthetic body parts he hadn’t known about, and how sad he is that when he hugs her, there isn’t anybody there! The 80-ish man sings the lead, and a 30-something man sings perfect harmony; knows the song cold; I don’t know if they know each other. A round of solos from everybody, and then they sing it again, only this time instead of the lyrics, they sing the song’s solfege, the do-re-mi language of the western musical scale, the lead singer naming his notes, the harmony singer naming his, which are, obviously different. They nail it -- it’s a traditional part of the arrangement, clearly. Marvelous, a real mind-bending ear-bender. End of the song, everybody laughs and claps in delight and astonishment.)

Saturday night, late night for the kid after the party; he wakes up with a bad dream, crying, terrified, not fully awake, not able to articulate; the only thing he can tell me is that someone is making him go on the roof (where I had worked all afternoon); I ask if I can sing him a song, he says Yes; I ask what one, he requests “Take Me out to the Ball Game,” I sing, he falls asleep. A minute later there’s more crying and fear, I offer to sing, he says Sure but doesn’t have a request, I sing “Octopus’s Garden,” he falls asleep and sleeps the rest of the night. In the morning he wakes up happy and remembers none of this.

Later that day, Sunday, at Folklife again; we see one of the musicians from the night before, she’s in a terrific old-timey duo, Squirrel Butter; she plays solid rhythm guitar, sings well, and tap dances during the instrumental breaks, keeping the rhythm guitar going. I say hello after the set, “Sounded great! Weren’t you at the party on Beacon Hill last night?” She was; very friendly; complimented my bass playing, which is pushing credulity, but I don’t mind too much. The kid and I pass an hour playing catch with a little nerf football that a health club is giving away, on the grass as a dozen people hula-hoop around us and people nap in the sun, listening to the music.

My beloved spouse had to leave Folklife before the kid and I did, so it was one-on-one time. We quarreled some on the bus home; I was annoying him without meaning to, he got grumpy, and no matter what I did I continued to annoy him, so I went with it and teased him a little, which didn’t help. While putting him to bed we talked about it. I said that parents often tease their children. He asked why and answered the question himself, “Because parents like to be mean to their children.” I conceded that there may be an element of that, but that it is also an expression of love. With his acute understanding he said, “But that’s not the way that kids like to have their parents express their love. When I’m a parent I’m not going to tease my children.” I promised that I would remind him of that; that he probably wouldn’t remember a pledge made at age five, and that he would probably find it interesting. He asked how I would remember, and I said I would put it on my blog. He fell asleep quickly and had a good night’s sleep.

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Speaking of trancy-music experiences: A few weeks ago, driving the kid to his pre-school, I ask if he wants to sing a song. He says No, he wants me to sing one. What song? “A Hundred Bottle of Beer on the Wall.” I start out, what the heck, skeptical that I’ll make it to the end, but after about 30 bottles of beer, I get giddy, swept up in it, it’s like religious trance music, except ridiculous and therefore funny, and I make it to the end for the first time in my life, making him join me in singing the last bottle of beer down from the wall, and at the end, realize, I don’t know how it ends! Disappointed that there’s no coda, no denouement. But an enjoyable song to sing; a memorable and gratifying musical experience. Brief fantasy of soliciting ten bands to record ten bottles of beer each, in their own style. Nah. Has anybody ever recorded it? No idea.

Ah! Wikipedia has answers! This formula is elegant:

<number> bottles of beer on the wall
<number> bottles of beer!
You take one down, and pass it around
<number - 1> bottles of beer on the wall!

Many continuations past “no more bottles of beer on the wall” listed in the article. The only one that appeals to me, especially the intervention that the article cites: “a recent variation concludes ‘negative-one bottles of beer on the wall’, which is usually interrupted with much yelling before it can be continued.”

Take one down! Pass it around! How communal! How convivial!

And -- they’re on the wall! How decorative!

Great song.

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