Monday, December 30, 2013

The Gravy Doesn't Just Come When You Cook The Meat

In Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, Oscar angers Felix by coming home very late for a double-date dinner that Felix is cooking. By the time Oscar ambles home, beer on his breath, the roast is dried-out. Felix, already angry, asks what he is supposed to do -- the dinner is ruined. Oscar makes the mistake of suggesting that they just pour gravy over it.

FELIX: Where the hell am I going to get gravy at eight o'clock? 
OSCAR: I thought it comes when you cook the meat. 
FELIX: When you cook the meat? You don't know the first thing you're talking about. You have to make gravy. It doesn't just come!

This popped into my head today as I was thinking about the sort of laissez-faire attitude people seem to have toward their own lives. They expect the gravy just to magically make itself, when it comes to life, in general -- especially in terms of marriage and kids.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug: My Two Cents

Anyone who reads my drivel on a regular basis will have gleaned by now that I am a Tolkien guy. I credit his work with awakening my interest in literature; I still love to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I also like the Peter Jackson films -- I think he did as good a job as he could with most of them. Sure, I disagree with some of his choices, but I am open to the idea of interpretation: he sees it the way he sees it and he makes choices not only in the interest of the source material, but in the interest of making a good movie. That is the nature of the beast.

Tolkien's own illustration of Smaug
I just saw The Desolation of Smaug -- the second film in the trilogy based on The Hobbit. The first film in the trilogy, An Unexpected Journey was actually my favorite of all of Jackson's adaptations, so far.

While I enjoyed this second film, I think that (so far) it is the weakest of his adaptations. Smaug, the dragon himself, was awesome in the truest sense of the word. In the end, though, I don't think the movie captured the charm of the original book the way the first one did.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

If You Buy A Kid an XBox

(I never posted on Christmas -- here is an older post that I still get a bit of a kick out of...)
(A children's story in the tradition of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.)
If you buy a kid an Xbox (360), the guy at the store will tell you that the old XBox games will work on it.

If you bring the Xbox (360) home, you will find the old games only work if you buy a one-hundred and thirty dollar external hard drive.

If you are a high school teacher who doesn't want to spend one-hundred-thirty more dollars (after the $375 you already spent on the game system), you will decide to hook up the old Xbox along with the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii. (This will require a degree in engineering or a lifetime of experience with cords and plugs, the latter of which you fortunately have.)

After you do this, you will find out that your TV room is too small for the "Kinect" that allows game play without remote controls. For a moment you will consider whether you really need the garage that lies beyond the confining wall. You will also wonder whether you could make a small doorway into the garage, so the kids will be able to back up far enough. Your kids will suggest standing on the couch to play. You'll consider this, as well, and then get a hold of yourself.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sexual Desperation

If had a daughter, she would be beautiful. (I would think that automatically, I mean -- that was not meant to be a reference my genetic mojo.) It is impossible to imagine it would be otherwise, even as a fictional father of a girl, so I have to extrapolate that she would, eventually, upon her blossoming into womanhood, be attractive to men.

And when this fictional daughter of mine finally became, physically, a woman, I would want her to feel comfortable in joining in all the reindeer games of flirtation. I would want her to be proud of her body. As much as I would instinctually want to dress her in a burlap sack and hide her from the prying, seedy eyes of her hormone-possessed male contemporaries, I would teach her that she has two rights, when it comes to her body:
1) It is okay for her to look sexually appealing.
2) It is okay for her to deny access to her sexually appealing self, at any time. 
I would want her to feel the joy of being appreciated for her aesthetic charms. We all find it gratifying to be "looked at" (in a polite way, at least) by the opposite sex. It's good for the old ego and it is nice to feel attractive. It spawns some wonderful poems, too.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How Music Spins Up My Soul

It took quite awhile to realize that people who also love music don't also love music for the same reasons I do. This is probably because music's effect on me is so immediate and so fundamentally related to what is going on in side me that it feels as if it couldn't be any other way for anyone else. Maybe it is genetic. Maybe it is programming, but it is "musical direction" that my dad always pointed out to me -- the way the harmonies and the melodies walk through the span of a piece and carry the listener's heart along. For me, the presence of that direction has always been a necessary ingredient in truly good music.

To put it another way, to guys like us, it is the horizontal progress of a piece that makes the magic, not the a rows of verticals stacked up next to one another like books on a shelf, that makes the magic happen. Rock music (and pop) are often based on verticals: one chord follows another and the melody note is just something laid over the top. To my dad (and to me) that was generally ineffective. But when harmonies melodies and chord move gracefully in a profound arabesque on their horizontal journey; when they "go where they need to go" it affects me (and it affected him) in the most profound way.

When music does this to me, I feel an actual physical "high." If there is a door that holds back the endorphin flood, for me, particular harmonic clusters and progressions are the key to the lock. Emily Dickinson said she "knew" poetry this way:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Filial Ingratitude...or Not?

Would you die for your parents?

It is a syntactically simple question: Would you sacrifice your life for your parents?

Don't ask me why this question popped into my head, today. I think I was going be hyperbolic to make a point in a text to my mom; something along the lines of, "Of course I will stop and pick up milk for you; I would take a bullet for you. I think I can pick up dairy products once in awhile..." I never did write it and the texts were about something completely different, but you get the point...

Anyway, after thinking about it, I realized it is a lie.

Well, let me back peddle a little bit. Instinctually, God knows what I would do if someone tried to shoot my mom. Filial programming might amount to my jumping in front of the shot without thinking. I think it probably would.

But, given time to think about No, I would not. If it came down to me and her, I would opt for me.

Do you think this is horrible? If you do, you must not be a parent. It comes down to this: I wouldn't do that to her.

Dark, I suppose, but a nice little mental mire to waddle through on a rainy day, if you are lucky enough to be in the middle of one.

Cordelia and Lear

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Message to Future Historians

One thing that makes it fun to be a historian or an archaeologist is the lack of information left behind from past generations. Right? It's the searching that is the fun part; the following of trails of clues...

An archaeologist uncovers an object with a pointy end and another end that appears to have been wrapped in long-decayed-away leather, apparently for grip comfort, and he concludes: "Ah! A Weapon. A jabbing weapon, too..."

A historian finds some pictures from the dawn of photography, all taken in New York City, and he draws conclusions about the manners of the day: men tended to walk on one particular side of the street; women held their parasols in the left hand; hansom cab drivers didn't just touch their hat brims, they lifted their bowlers completely off of their heads when greeting a lady... Or, he reads newspaper articles from the highly opinionated writers of the late nineteenth century about, say, the World's Fair in Chicago and compares the author's opinions to the letters of the fair's primary organizer, Burnham, in order to get closer to the truth...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Being Rich

My youngest son and I have been, almost nightly, going upstairs about an hour before bed time, and reading together.

He is nine. He can and does read by himself. But he likes when I read to him and, sometimes, I like when he reads to me.

We have a hard time sticking to books. We tried Redwall, but he wasn't into it, despite my best English mouse accent. We did get through all of The Hobbit, over the course of a few years. Sometimes, he likes to read comics about Mario and Luigi from a book we found online; it was published some time in the 1980's and still bears the writing of a small boy who is probably my age now: "Please return, if found, to this address...please, please, please, please..."

Sometimes, we read choose-your-own-adventure books, also found online; also about Mario and Luigi. He always asks me which choice I want to make at the end of a chapter, but he always corrects me if I pick the wrong one, so we don't get a "game over" (he has been through them several times, each).

Henry Lerolle
For the past few nights, he has wanted to delve back into his old Curious George books, which is fine by me. We'll read three or four a night, changing the boilerplate opening to: "George was a good little monkey and always very curious, blah, blah, blah, blah..." (He cracks up every time.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Rebellion of the Angry and Dumb

Stanislav Chlebowski
My dad always said dangerous things to me as I was growing up. One of those was: "If you're going to rebel, do it over something big and important and make a real statement."

He knew what he was doing, of course. He trusted me to reason it out.

I used a similar tactic in the school in which I teach and serve as vice principal. The kids wear uniforms. Every year, there is conflict over untucked shirts. To my former Principal's shock, when we had class meetings about this, I did a bit of a stand-up comedy routine, satirizing a fictitious student who "was going to stick it to the man" by leaving his shirt tails untucked. He was a rebel. He was a hell raiser...etc. (Things improved after that.)

My dad was right, of course. But besides picking good things to rebel against, we should be careful about the conformity of non-conformity.

Last night, I was driving with  the radio on and the song "Fat Lip" by SUM 41 came on, and I caught this puerile, impotent little jab at conformist society:

I don't want to waste my time
Become another casualty of society.
I'll never fall in line
Become another victim of your conformity
And back down.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Grandpop's Snowstorm

This will be the last of the sad-sack posts. I promise.

We grope for meaning, don't we? Maybe that's okay. Maybe that is necessary. And maybe it is better than logic.

Sometimes we consciously delude ourselves. Sometimes we truly believe in things that have no explanation. Sometimes we lie to our children, because they need it. Sometimes, these things intersect and science and fact and circumstance give us help in turning delusion into belief.

As of some time on Friday, the local scuttlebutt was that, on Sunday, there was going to be snow coming. Nothing significant. In fact, it was most likely going to miss us altogether.

We said our last goodbyes to my father on Saturday.

On Sunday morning, the snow began to fall -- small flakes that reminded me instantly of my dad having told me, as a child, that if the flakes were small, the snow was going to fall for a long time; when the flakes get big, he always asserted, it was about to stop.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Joe Matt

The boy emerged from an Italian neighborhood in a Philadelphia world that still smelled like burning coal, burning wood and big pots of gravy (that's right: "gravy") bubbling on the stoves. From a world in which the milkman made his slow zig-zag way through the city's streets, an old horse pulling, then waiting; pulling, then waiting, old head dropped low, as his master set the bottles on one side, then another. And when the last clip-clop faded into the distance, the boy would sneak through the grey light of dawn, from stoop to stoop, drinking the cream off of the tops of people's bottles.

Wide-eyed, he'd watched as Dorothy's world went from sepia tones to glorious color, on the screen, for the first time, along with the other children of his generation, as her door opened onto Oz. He ran home on summer nights, dashing especially quickly past dark alleyways, after having spent all afternoon ("for ten cents," he would tell me) with a bag of his grandmother's sandwiches while watching Frankenstein and Dracula creep and stomp through the flickering, silver screen shadows.

He sat on the floor in his father's business, "Joe's Market", on 19th and McKean, playing Mario Lanza on a record player, annoying everyone by lifting and dropping the needle in the same place, over and over and over, just to hear one of Puccini's musical swells...just to nourish his little heart that needed harmonic direction the way a plant needs light.

He heard what Hitler was up to; saw newsreels before movies; laughed at the silly little moustache, but was too young to really understand, so he sat on a stone lion and posed with a comb over his upper lip: the Great Little Dictator.

He perspired in the congestion-free, South Philly avenues of the forties and early fifties playing summer halfball and football until the street lights came on...

He saw Kirk Douglas in Young Man With a Horn, and knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to be, so his grandmother bought him a silver trumpet and he played, first, like Harry James, but, soon, like Joe Matt. But that wasn't enough, so he walked (as he told it to his less than musically studious son) uphill, both ways, barefoot over broken glass to sit sat at the piano at his aunt's house and to discover chords and the soul-spinning effects of harmony, and he wrote and orchestrated, and approximated the power of God's voice for years to come.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Death and Arrogance

Writers have been writing about death for centuries.

That's adorable, isn't it?

When it comes down to the event, in whatever form, we might as well be three-year-olds trying to write about quantum physics. Even if we are Shakespeare.

So I won't write about it. Maybe I'll feel deluded enough about my own abilities to give it a shot later; maybe later, I will join the halls of the wildly conceited. Today, though, I'm feeling pretty realistic.

Monday, December 2, 2013


One thing I am thankful for is that my friends on Facebook didn't go overboard saying what they were thankful for on Thanksgiving. I don't know why is rankles me so, but I can't stand holiday sentiments on Facebook. Drives me batty. Bah, humbug, I suppose.

Maybe it is because it seems "preachy" to me -- like, people telling me on Veteran's day that I should thank a vet for my freedom. It's probably irrational to react this way, but, I am admittedly weird. Sentiments that are punctuated by holidays just anger me. Valentine's day, for instance. Yuck.

(That kid had better get out of the goal
if he wants a save...)
But I would be a liar if I didn't admit that the holiday season does get me into a kind of "taking stock" mode. It's a result of certain circumstances in my life around the holidays. I don't want to boil it down to a Facebook post, but it is worth mentioning, here. I am very grateful for the kind of friends I have. Let me sum up:

I am not good at returning calls. I try to steal every free minute, after professional obligations and family obligations, to write, compose or to "recharge" by seeking silence and solitude. Because of this, I could be seen as a bad friend. I once got wind that, in frustration, a friend once told another: "Chris is all about Chris."

Friday, November 29, 2013


We deep-fried our turkeys yesterday.

No, I am not going turn this into a cooking blog (but you simply must try it).

Anyway, we bought this fryer that needed to be assembled, so I did that in the morning. (Only one piece was left over, which is good, for me.)

Ansel Adams: Old Faithful
The best part about this is that you can prepare your turkey for consumption in less than an hour. I cooked two birds. The thing is, though -- you have to stay with it. I know from working in restaurants, during my school years, that you can't trust hot grease. In short, I had to sit outside, in the cold, for two hours, watching turkeys do their danse macabre in the in the roiling liquid.

Once I dropped the first one in (after the initial violent bubbling and the spew of liquid death) I thought about calling one of my sons to get the book I'm reading. Instead, I sat close enough to the fryer for warmth but far enough to avoid blindness, and I watched: pot, sky, trees, clouds and all of sunshine's creation .

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On Controlling Teacher Ego

Teaching is a profession that puts one in danger of developing a big, fat ego.

Every time a student comes back to visit, after a semester at college or after a few years, it is a great confidence boost. You think: Well, if this student stopped to see me, I must have mattered. Of course, it could be the student was on his or her way to see another teacher and made eye contact with you and didn't want to be rude. See? There are variables.

The other day, however, a student came to visit and she said, "If it wasn't for you and Mr. K (another English teacher in the school) I would have never have..." I had to disagree. This girl had immense talent and a passion for the written word when she entered our classrooms. The other guy is probably the finest teacher I have ever known, but I think he would agree with me. (He retired, so I didn't get a chance to discuss.) I had to tell her: "No, not really. You were good to begin with. Don't give us the credit for your achievements."

And it is always true. None of my students who have gone on to success in letters or in education or, specifically, in the field of English, owe that success to me. At best, I played a small part. All of those really successful students would have reached great heights with or without me.

If I ever make any remotely profound impact on a kid, it is in making him or her aware of his or her talent. That part is important, and I take it seriously. And it is not easy, because it requires earning the student's respect; if the student does not respect me, he or she won't really care about my perception. That, in itself, is a tall order. Somebody has to be able to see it, after all. Beyond that, sure, I can help, but...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Shirts, Hearts and Facebook Profanity

My wife used a bad word on Facebook. I'll explain why in a minute.

But, here's the thing:

If you are going to publicly chastise a woman on Facebook (as one of her "friends" did), you should probably not do it to the wife of a guy who has a blog with a fairly decent-sized global audience.

Nah -- don't worry. I'm not a sour grapes kind of writer. I am not going to name this guy. In fact, I probably would have chosen not to write about this at all if he hadn't insisted, when I contacted him in defense of my wife, that he has "every right to speak out about things I c on Facebook." (I would have used brackets to better incorporate that quotation, but his use of "c" was just too precious to fiddle with. Uh, with which to fiddle...) And, in the end, this post is, as you might expect, not so much about him as about a concept...

By his logic, if he is offended by something in a public forum, even one like Facebook that is focused on friends and family, he can say what he wishes. He has a RIGHT. He can dispense with consideration of the pond-ripple effects of audience simply so that he can get things off of his chest. (That, to me, is always an exceedingly egocentric statement: "I need to get things off of my chest." It always has an "it is all about me" vibe; it always feels so much like a cutting off of everyone else in the interest of self-catharsis.) Here's what he said... (Hey -- he made it public... ):
How r u going to like ur kids using the trash mouth words u use? I always thought u were a classie lady not a F---ING trash mouth

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Stranger in an Ever-Stranger Land

It annoys me when artists wallow blissfully in their weirdness. It doesn't bother me when they are weird; it bothers me when they wallow in it and wear it as a badge -- and especially when they feign it to seem more artistic.

Maybe I should go to a priest and confess: "Father, forgive me. I fall asleep with no problem every night. I have no drug addiction and I don't drink absinthe. I don't wear scarves or knit caps when it is hot out. I come from a close-knit family, with a mom and a dad and a sister and a dog. I don't focus on pain in my writing. I have a whole bunch of what some might label "traditional" beliefs. I even think there is a God up there. Father, forgive me -- I have sinned against the artistic archetype."

That said, every stereotype has its origins in some fleck of reality, I suppose. We creative types can be a strange lot.

For instance, I am wrapping up composition of pieces for my next CD (a CD of piano music; no vocals) I need to decide when I have enough "stuff" to wrap it up. A few days ago, I finished writing a cycle of pieces called "American Sketches." So, last night, I was clicking around on my computer, wondering if I had any unfinished things that might merit completion...and I found something I had completely forgotten about: a symphony.

No, I am not kidding. I had totally forgotten I wrote a complete symphony a few years ago.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Transcendence of Reason

Lao Tzu
The Sage learns to transcend, right?

Lau Tzu thought so. The Bible has that bit about being in the world but not of the world. Emerson and Thoreau picked up the ball and ran with it (ran away with it?). Yogis and stressed housewives move to yoga and meditation to transcend the daily lameness of living. Businessmen stand on lawns in industrial complexes in shirts and ties doing Tai Chi before going back in to be told they are not putting up good enough numbers...

I could go on. In fact, I think I will.

People play video games to leave the world. They read novels. They choose ways to forget about their problems. They find "diversions" from "reality." (I put "reality" in quotation marks because I think it is very debatable term. But that is another post.)

Are "diversions" the same thing as "transcendence," though? To me, the two are not the same. Transcendence, as I understand it, is a breaking away from the bonds of "the world" -- the world being everyday life, in all of its manifestations, from work to beddy-bye.

Monday, November 18, 2013


Gall dern me and it is that makes me like this.

Every once in awhle, maybe once per week -- sometimes once every few weeks -- I will stop at a Dunkin' Donuts on the way to work. Each time, I pull up to the speaker and order the same thing: a ham, egg and cheese bagel and a medium coffee with cream and sugar.

To my surprise/horror/delight, the guy behind the speaker eventually started recognizing me (I guess they have a camera) and saying, in what I am pretty sure is a slight Lebanese accent:

"Hey, bahddy. Hameggandcheesemediumcoffeeonev'rythingbagel?"

(Don't worry. He never actually puts the coffee on the bagel.)

To which I reply, "You got it! Thanks." Or some variation, thereof. (I actually do try to remember what I said the previous time, so it doesn't become a scripted dialogue. I find is useful to add a "thank you, sir" to the end. Anything to break the repetition. My counterpart behind the speaker never seems concerned about this: "Hey, bahddy. Hameggandcheesemediumcoffeeonev'rythingbagel?" Every time.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Justified Punch in the Beazer

I saw this video last night. It's not new news, but it was the first I had seen it:

I have written about violence before. I hate it. I have not gotten into a fight since the playground in boyhood, and, even then, I remember being reluctant to hit back the kid who was hitting me, for fear I might hurt him. Even then, I realized that it just is not worth blinding someone over a dirty play in a pick-up football game.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Orwell Was Wrong: It's Worse

Orwell was off with one major thing.

His Big Brother wielded an openly phony type of warmth to rule the people; it was warm, placid water with the shadows of sharks visible below; it was a slogan with intentional ambiguity that chilled the blood: "Big Brother is watching." Let's not forget, as well, that "Big Brother" is also a carefully chosen "family member" -- the one who can be your biggest protector or your greatest tormentor.

It's not like that, though -- now that we are all "on the grid" and under the microscope. The ones who want us to think in flocks of thought that dart left and right in neat phalanxes use more insidious techniques. They are chumming up to us. Worse, they are making the things they wish to be so so, simply by acting like they are; eventually, if they keep doing us, those who disagree are bound to shake their heads and realize it was all just a dream.

Owell didn't have a dark enough view of human nature, believe it or not. We don't let our evil intent seep through in shadowy speech and pointed innuendo. We don't put a crooked finger up to our lips and rumble a low laugh. In fact, we don't even think it evil to try to control the thoughts of others. It's "just business"; or government. No need to take it personally, my friends. It's finance; it's security; it's the status quo.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Pocket Full of God

A soldier, WWII
A rare repost, from two years ago, but it is a summation of the way I feel about our veterans, and about one veteran in particular, my great uncle. 

I knew a man from South Jersey. He was the sweetest, most lovable old fellow you would ever want to meet. He'd been a welder who built great ships, but an accident had rendered his leg lame. Still, he could always be seen walking the main road in his town, usually with frequent stops to talk to every one who know him -- which was, really, everyone. He was my Great Uncle Vince.

He had been a soldier in World War II. In fact, he had been in the D-Day landing. Sometimes, he would tell me stories, cautioning me not to tell my mother -- he feared she would be shaken up by the details. But I think he believed that every little boy should know a little of what war was. Maybe he was right.

In short, if you ever saw the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, you got the truth. The stories my Uncle Vince told me matched that opening in such detail, I would have placed a bet that Spielberg had interviewed my uncle, though he had died many years before the film was made.

But the best story I ever heard was this:

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Tale of Three Dogs, Minus Two

Some years ago, in my neighborhood, I began noticing a man who would walk his three dogs. They were all small, white, West Highland Terriers. Anyone who knows Westies knows they are small, but sturdy and fearless. Cute little dudes.

The man is somewhere around his late fifties, I would guess. He is sort of heavy, with a balding pate and, usually, when I picture him, I imagine a winter jacket with the collar turned up.

When I first noticed him, several years ago, he would walk his three dogs but he would only hold the leash of two of them -- the younger ones. As the "pack" made their way down the pavement, they would be followed by their elder, his leash dragging behind him on the concrete. I imagined this was just precaution; just in case the venerable old chap got a whiff of his youth in the scent of a passing squirrel and decided to make a dash for it.

I would see these four, day after day, and it always made me smile.

Then, maybe two years ago, he walked by, but with only two dogs. The most-honored, white-furred fellow was no longer with his family and, I imagined, no longer with the world at all. (I was struck by how much I missed the delicate sound of the dragging leash.) I let out a sigh and smiled a sad, warm concession to the cycle of life and death.

This morning, (maybe two years later) I saw the man again. This time, there was only one dog and he was slowly walking by his master's side, the leash dragging behind him, as the two took their leisurely stroll under the clouds and through the fallen leaves. The man's hair was a little whiter.

At one point, the little dog stopped to "do his business" and the man crouched down, cleaned it up, and, smiling, scratched his canine companion under the chin.

They walked off together, the man with his hands comfortably clasped behind his back, the dog dragging his leash over the beautiful, orange eventuality of the season that was littered around their six feet.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Spilling Boulders in the Sun

I know everyone thinks passing along values is a good thing. Tradition and all that. But what if the passing on of those values is just a formula for a future without evaluation; without thought?

I used to believe everything that my father and mother did. You have to start there. Then, you  need to think it over. It seems simple, yes? But the number of people who never get to step two is probably higher than we think. 

Do we vote how our daddy told us to? Do we judge others on the same criteria he did? Are we the proud wavers of mom's flag of prejudice; of father's banner of sexism; of Uncle Fred's angry religion?

It's nothing new, what I'm saying, but it came back to me as I was teaching Frost's "Mending Wall," recently. And, then, as I was considering people's motives for political views in an environment of indecipherable information. In the poem, the speaker is walking the property line with his neighbor, fixing the wall by picking up stones. The speaker questions the need to have the wall, at all, but the neighbor... 
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Then, the speaker feels like shaking things up:
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why  do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence .
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could  say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself.  I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed .
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying ,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."
The brightest image? The contrast to this fellow who "moves in darkness"? It opens the whole poem:
Something  there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun...
I think we are there, as a society. The brightest future might be in allowing some of the more useless stones of our parents' wisdom to topple down and lie, undisturbed, in the sun.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fence-Sitting, Then and Now

I don't get political, really. Sometimes, I will pick up a political topic, but it is usually something I approach with a more personal edge. (Once, for instance, I wrote a thing about Obamacare and its impingement on religious institutions. So, it happens...) Usually, I stay away from this whole subject.

This doesn't stop me, however, from causing the occasional Facebook brawl by posing politically-based questions. When the discussions begin, I tend to stay out. The only reason I ever ask is to gather opinions from my more politically-conscious friends, in order to help with my own understanding.

Last time, a friend asked me how the "view from the fence" was. I replied that I am not on the fence; I am in a helicopter. There is a difference.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Key to a Longer Life

What good is a long life if it feels short.

We all operate under the assumption that good diet and exercise are going help us live a long life. This is wrong. I mean, it is right, but it is wrong.

The reason for good diet and exercise is for quality of life, primarily. The length of time doesn't matter if it feels like a blink.

And what makes life feel like a blink? Constant motion.

Kwai Chang Caine walking on rice paper. 
It is no mystery to me, anymore, as to why time seems to go faster as we get older: we don't ever sit around and do nothing, after the age of, say, fifteen. In fact, if we do, we are perceived as lazy. Kids, on the other hand, spend a lot of time just "being."

Fill up your time with action, thought and tasks, and it will "fly." Think of the slow day at work with no customers. It is truly a slow day.

Today, I had off from school. I came downstairs and it was just me and the dog. I left the TV off and I didn't put on any music. I sat and had a nice breakfast with a good cup of coffee and I listened to the October rain.

After this, I sat on the couch with the dog, by the opened window. At one point, I looked at the clock: 10:45. Quite a while later, I looked back and it was 10:48. It went slowly, but pleasantly.

If we can string days together days with just this kind of solitude and stillness in them, maybe our life will be a little longer, whether we die at 55 or 95.

Seeking solitude and silence is not new advice, but it is still necessary advice, I think.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why I Am the Greatest Composer in the History of Mankind

I have decided that I am the greatest composer who ever lived. Why? By what standards, you ask? Because you can have your Beethovens; your Mozarts; your Stravinskys; your Ravels; your Phillip Glasses (or your Phillip Shotglasses, for that matter). Short of Glass's stint driving NYC cabs, these guys did it for a living. Big deal! Me? I write around corners.

I am in a relatively unenviable position when it comes to my art. See, I really do take composition as
Sure -- all the time inthe world. 
seriously as the chaps mentioned above. I spend most of my waking hours, at least on some level, thinking about music. I'm, like, the artistic equivalent of a really, really spiritual guy who chose not to become a priest because he wanted to have a family.

This means I have to try to be Gershwin in my spare time. But he got to be Gershwin full-time. Any chump can do that.

Me? I compose amidst dog barks, kids arguing and taking baths across the hall and people knocking on the door. I have to compose like this. I have to design and record complex harmonic structures and tonal resolutions with a wet-bearded dog head in my lap.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Searching for Ballast

The ship of society needs ballast, don't you think? I'm not saying that everyone needs to think exactly the same. In fact, the possibility of such a condition is horrifying to me. But, a ship without ballast lists and it can eventually founder. Maybe the ballast of society's ship is some kind of consensus of the way things should be in certain areas.

I know many accuse traditional values of being foolish and anachronistic (or even damaging [and some are]) but some of these values have served as "ballast" for quite a long time. Some of them are not only, in my opinion, good, but, they are necessary for smooth sailing. For societal harmony.

I was listening to a morning radio show today and they were discussing the conditions of revealing important life information to family members: pregnancies, engagements, etc. What they were batting around was people's reactions to such stuff -- anger at not being told "first," etc.

Two callers had me chewing on my steering wheel.

Now, many of my more astute readers have warned me against listening to morning talk shows, but, where else would I go to get a grip of the mind of the average dolt?

One caller told a story regarding her four-year engagement to her current husband. The host of the show asked, "Why did it take so long for you to get married?" Her response? "Well, a year into our engagement, I got pregnant, so..."

Friday, October 25, 2013

Satan's Pants

I came home pretty happy. Not too tired. Comfortable.

It was a sweater day. I go without a tie on sweater days -- so I make every day a sweater day as soon as it gets cold enough, because I think ties are cruel and unusual.

Normally, I come home and change clothes immediately -- lose the dress pants and shirt and tie and whatever formalish annoyances I need to wear to work and put on jeans or sweats...

But on this particular day, I was plenty comfy. I needed to go and pick up the boys from an after school activity in, like, a half-hour, so, since I was comfy, I figured I would skip changing and make myself a nice cup of tea. Plenty of time for a bloke to enjoy it and still get there in time...

...that is, unless a bloke spills it (which I did) on his nice pants for work which, on this particular day -- the only day, in...well..ever -- on which he had decided not to change. On this particular day, in fact -- this anomalous day -- on which he had chosen to wear his lightest-colored pants; a pair of pants so pale on the tan scale as to be nearly off-white.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Bible in the Stampede

I teach and I am the vice principal of academics at a small Catholic high school. I know a lot of people are reacting to Catholicism these days with a great deal of negativity, for every reason from the pedophile scandals to a complete dismissal of the possibility of God or of an afterlife. I understand. (I think dismissal of belief because of unprovability is foolish, but I have said things about that elsewhere.)

Lately, though, a lot of people (including Catholics) have been pointing to Pope Francis and saying, "Finally! -- a pope who is x, y and z." He is tolerant. He is an eschewer of wealth. He even went to far as to say he is not in a position to judge homosexuals who earnestly seek to find God. People see him as a breath of fresh air.

(Most people, anyway. Recently, I saw someone trying to prove he is the Antichrist.)

Funny -- I hear what the pope says and I think...well, yeah. That's the stuff I thought Catholicism, at its core, was about in the first place. Love. Sincerity. Concern for the poor. Et cetera. To me, Pope Francis is just saying all of the things I have understood were represented in the Gospel -- stuff that, perhaps, has gotten lost in bureaucracy and in human weaknesses since the start of things.

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Father's Melody

My father has been in something of a haze. He's is experiencing dementia, as I mentioned before. He is often confused. Sometimes, he can't tell TV from reality.

Yesterday, as I do every few days, I visited him. When I got there, his roommate -- he's in a "home" now -- was trying to help my dad put a T-shirt on over his coat. I was informed that my father was complaining about being cold. I thanked the roommate (a nice fellow who is pretty mobile but who is obviously slipping mentally, too) and helped my dad to settle under the covers (coat and all). He warmed up fast.

Frederic Edwin Church
We sat for a few minutes and watched the Eagles game. I watched him more than I did the game. My father's eyes were not focused. He turned to me and started to complain, as he usually does, about the place; I would if I were in his shoes.

I tried, yet again, to move onto pleasant topics; told him what his grandsons were up to -- that sort of thing. After a few minutes of watching the game, I asked if he wanted to go outside for a little bit. He resisted, but finally caved-in.

Friday, October 18, 2013

What's Marriage For, Anyway?

I was wondering, yesterday, what, for the most part, makes a couple decide to divorce. I mean, ruling out beatings, infidelities, late-discovered homosexuality and things like huffing addictions...

For your average couple that has been married for a long time, what is the trigger?

I know this sounds like a simplistic question, but nothing is simple.

If a couple have never been in love, I get that they might eventually "call it quits" -- when their life together gives them no comfort; no sense of union; no romance or sensual fire... A time comes, I suppose, when they have seen what some couples have between them, emotionally, and they don't and they decide to go looking for fulfillment.

One wonders, of course, why they got married in the first place if this feeling didn't exist, but I'm in no position to speculate about specifics. Could have been a lack of experience; not knowing when things were lame because of a lack of comparison. Could have been the result of falling into a routine with someone and then going the next step, to marriage, because it was expected. (My dad did always warn me about falling into a comfort zone and becoming blind to what was wrong in a relationship.)

Some "hang in there" until the kids are in college and then they drop the hatchet.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cuppa Conundrum

I used to pride myself on not being a coffee drinker. Why? Because most other people drink it and I tend to take pride in going against the tide. Then, at some point (I blame my wife) I started drinking coffee.

I think I took  this. Might have been my wife, though. 
So, okay, I like it -- and my personal philosophy about "following" is that one is not an individual if he doesn't do what he wants, just because everyone else does it. Avoidance of trends can be another kind of following. But when I started drinking coffee, it was just because I liked it. And I never became the type to walk around chirping hackneyed mantras about needing my morning coffee or posting memes about not talking to me until cup three... I just like it. The taste and the warmth and the aroma are delightful. That's my coffee modus operendus. (I have no idea. I know virtually no Latin, but it just makes you sound so smart, even if your Latin is bad.)

Today, however, I went to the coffee machine at school and found that only decaffeinated "pods" were left. I felt (and I have been noticing this a lot recently) disappointed. I sighed and considered not having coffee at all, then finally brewed myself a cup.

Why? Am I, too, driven by the prevailing sense of entitlement I often rail against? Do I feel as if I deserve to have all of the possible elements of coffee? Do I feel cheated that someone stole the caffeine from me without asking? I see no difference in taste, as I do with tea. (Decaffeinated tea is poop, if you ask me.) So why should I care?

Bottom line is: I shouldn't.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Everyday Absurdity

A woman is walking through her living room. She picks up a discarded T-shirt, rumples her kid's hair and steps into the kitchen to sit next to her husband who is reading the paper and drinking coffee in the morning sunshine. All the while, she is talking to us, through the TV screen, about her health insurance. We have just followed her through her house, even though we were never really there.

A commercial, of course.

Is this not one of the most ridiculous premises in the history of mankind? -- this common format for television commercials? This woman makes no reaction, whatsoever, to...what? The fact that there is a TV crew in her house, in the middle of the morning routine? Or, is there some sci-fi concept at work -- a portal for talking to the world's population; a population she just happens to know is interested in hearing about her health insurance issues and triumphs?

Completely comfortable, the husband grins wryly at his wife and goes back to his newspaper. He is unperturbed. Nothing strange about universal communication portals and/or film crews in his kitchen and/or following his wife around.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Grey Music

Why does rain, which depresses some people, make me feel like my soul is being watered? Why does rain make me feel as I'm being renewed?

Maybe I'm a ficus, in some botanical Matrix, dreaming of being a human. Probably not, though.

Sometimes, I think it is just that I like changes of pace. I never understood how people could complain about a rainy day after a string of sunny days. Don't they get tired of the sun?

I'm very sensitive to change, too. It's one reason I think I am not very good at picking out musical instruments. I react to so favorably, sometimes, to any change in sound that I forget to evaluate the quality of the change...maybe it is the general change in the sound of the day.

I don't think those are the only things, though; it can't just be a change of pace or sound that makes me feel so "right" when it rains.

It might be the same as with snow -- a kind of relief for an overactive brain, when the colors become minimized in the world. It helps my mind to become more quiet...the way music does. Speaking of music, the white noise tremolo of the rainfall serves the same purpose. It quiets me inside.

Time to open the windows and take in the grey music.

Childe Hassam

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Road to Hell (on a Hot Day)

The worst place to be is the land of half-philosophy.

Spend your time trying to figure out life and attaining the knowledge and reasoning skills to handle the most difficult questions with some degree of control, and you will be fine.

Spend your life in a natural state of zen, just living and loving and existing with a guilt-free ability to just work hard and then to relax completely, and you will be fine. around on the half-constructed chassis of a machine that is based on the really big ideas you haven't totally worked out or supported with education (self-education or otherwise) and you are on the road to Hell on a hot day.

Gustave Doré

Monday, October 7, 2013

Praising Bare Minimum Parenting

I suppose it would be bad form to stand up at a funeral, in the middle of a bereft's eulogy for his or her deceased parent, and to yawp, over the heads of the congregation, "Big deal! Is that ALL?"

Nevertheless, I have been tempted. (Arguably, that makes me a relatively horrible human being. But, hey -- I did resist the urge...)

I understand the depth of love a child feels for his or her parents. I, too, was spawned and nurtured by two wonderful people whom I love deeply. But should that love cloud my evaluation of them as parents; should it expunge their shortcomings; should it cause me to praise them effusively for having done the bare minimum? If it does, what hope do I have of being an even better parent than they were?

And shouldn't that be our goal as parents: to build upon the good things our parents did and to become even better? Isn't that what our parents would want? (I know that's what my parents did.) How high can we build, though, if the pinnacle of our standards of parenting is having kept the gas tank full for taxi service to the movies?

Friday, October 4, 2013

The God of Creativity

Alright -- enough of this happy music nonsense. Let's go deep, here.

After having read a cool post about Lundy Island, in which the writer alludes to the Celtic belief that the island was one of the "Isles of the Dead", I journeyed, in my own head, back to the years in which I was fascinated by ancient myth and legend and a familiar question popped up:

How did these people, with no empirical proof, no apologetics, no theological logic -- not even a written account of, say, a god having visited Earth, as in the New Testament -- remain committed to their beliefs? How did they perform rituals and commune with their gods with any degree of certainty? -- not even a gigantic, overarching church telling them that there are deep historical roots, as with, say Catholicism?

I mean, it's cool to say: "The sun sustains us. It gives us light. It seems to affect the growth of wheat. Therefore, it is a god. We will call it Lugh and we will worship it." That, I get.

But, then, one day, a priest of Lugh is out in a coracle and he sees a mysterious little island and says: "Ah, that's where we go when we die!" What makes him think this is true? (The very first guy to think it, I mean -- because, after that, all bets are off. People tend to believe what someone tells them.)

Wrong mythology, but you get the point. 
There are two possibilities: 1) He doesn't think it is true but thinks it would be fun to fool everyone and start his own religion or, 2) he thinks the idea is a divine revelation.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Smashing The Myth of "THE" Creative Process: "My Everyday"

Well, I had promised some posts related to the progress of my next CD for anyone who was interested, but, well, things happen. Pigasus fell behind schedule -- I had hoped to get the drum tracks done by end of summer, but I didn't and, since the band I am in starts playing again each autumn, I had to pack up the drum kit. It's just not practical for me to record drums while the band is working...

So, it will happen, but it will wait a little. In the meantime, the music never stops...

I started working on a collection of things that I will release before Pigasus -- a CD of my instrumental music: piano pieces and more orchestrally-oriented things (no drums)...but even that was delightfully delayed by a call from my friend Mark, a guitarist and singer, who wanted to record a song and had a deadline.

This was my project for the past month and (here comes that you-don't-have-to-be-a-musician-to-appreciate-this part) it was testament to a statement that I often make: to call it "THE" creative process is foolish -- it is not a mappable process by any stretch of the imagination. Creativity is, at best, riding a runaway mine car while clutching a wrinkled map.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Steven Wilson's "Drive Home"

I don't want to over-saturate this blog with my interest trends, but I can't avoid this one. It's just too stinking good.

I have been chirping a bit about my interest in the music of Steven Wilson, of late. A while ago, I posted a fan-made video for his song "Heartattack in a Layby." It got some pretty good reactions from readers, both on the site and on other media. I like that -- it is still cool, in this info-crazy world, to feel like one is spreading the word about someone.

Wilson is a rare success story -- a guy who does music for art's sake and who has managed to be successful enough to keep going with it. Even his videos demand something from the viewer. He is the real thing, artistically.

His latest album, The Raven the Refused to Sing...and Other Stories is evidence of this. I don't do full-on reviews (they are stupid, when it comes to music, I think) but it is my favorite thing he has done, by far. I especially like the homage to some of the older progressive rock. And, on top of it all, Alan Parsons produced and engineered it with Wilson.

(I'm still waiting for the call from Steven for a collaboration. I know it is only a matter of time. Surely when he hears my Hats and Rabbits CD...)

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Tale of Ned and Honey (A Parable)

Once upon a time (okay, it was last Friday) a guy named Ned was clicking around on the Internet and he saw a picture of a tattoo: it was a snake (a cobra, to be precise) and the cobra was wearing a cap emblazoned with the logo of his favorite football team.

I deeply desire that tattoo, thought Ned. Alas, he thought, further -- my wife dislikes tattoos deeply.

"Honey," he said, flipping around his iPad. "Look at this. Isn't it cool?"

Honey (seriously, that was her name) dropped her reading glasses down low on her nose and glanced over from her chair. "Eeeewuh. Gross. And, besides, you know I dislike tattoos deeply."

Ned was vexed. He'd always loved tattoos. His cousin, Ted, had had a great one: an image of Curly, from the Three Stooges, smoking a marijuana cigarette. Ned had always coveted it.

He was further vexed because marriage had taken away his freedom. His freedom, do you hear? Who was she to tell him what to do?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Todd Rose: The Myth of Average

Not a usual move for me, but...

As I said in a Facebook post recently:
Anyone who teaches or who has kids should watch this. This is for everyone who thinks individualizing education is "lowering the bar." I'm all for tradition, but not when it tortures exceptional kids.
There are a lot of people out there who think that the only way to teach kids to meet challenges is to force them to fit a mold. It simply isn't so. And, besides -- and I have said this to many fellow teachers -- is our job more about teaching kids to "rise to challenges" or to help them understand and to think for themselves, creatively and analytically?

Obstinate dinosaurs, please go back to washing your chalkboards and disregard this. Also, technology worshippers who think just plopping a kid in front of an iPad is education -- you can sod off, too. We need to think, people.

Monday, September 23, 2013

'Til Hair Do Us Part

The other night, I was in the emergency room of a hospital. (Not for me -- for someone else; and everyone is doing okay...)

As I sat there, I watched two teams of ambulance people roll patients in. They unbuckled and lifted and bellowed (one of the patients was hard of hearing) and finally finished delivering their befuddled-looking charges.

At one point, both teams were standing in the same area, writing on clipboards and punching things into iPads. A corpulent ambulance man in his fifties -- with grey, woolly hair and a grey, woolly moustache -- looked up at his ambulance counterpart from the other team; she was younger, a little "thick" in the body, but attractive.

The older man looked up: "Hey. You got a hair cut."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thank Outer Space for Small (Yet Beneficial) Random Eventualities!

Let me write this out to get it straight. I just want to get it clear in my own head so I don't make an ass of myself...again...

In our enlightened modern era, people think the idea of God and an afterlife is ridiculous. Science is the thing; I've even called it the new religion, somewhere else...

This being what it is, many of these devotees to science, with a complete dismissal of any theological beliefs, follow a Facebook page with the boringly irreverant name of "I F*#@ing Love Science" -- a site that looks, to me, often, like it f*#@ing loves Photoshop. (But that's neither here nor there.) A site that posts its revelations in memes. As if that is not enough, though the devotees to the surface layer of modern science don't believe that we can move, in spirit, to another place after death -- because this is just plain silly -- they are willing to accept the fact that there are parallel universes full of copies of all of us. After all, "IT IS WRITTEN" -- by the scientists... Black holes? Quantum mechanics? As long as the priests wear lab coats instead of collars, members of the Church of Science are cool with believing in things without explanations. Oh, and many are perfectly willing to accept, at the click of a mouse, that a picture of Bill Nye the Science Guy, superimposed with a quotation, is enough proof that he actually said it. Remember what John F. Kennedy said: "Just because you see it on the Internet, it doesn't mean it is true."

(This, of course, despite the facts that actual scientists, like David Eagleman, are far less dismissive.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Where the Ripples End, Nobody Knows...

We all know that change send ripples out over the pond of society. Any shift in paradigms; any newly adopted popular perspective will have unpredicted effects. That said, the increasing acceptance of homosexuality among the populace raises many questions beyond the obvious ones associated with individual systems of morality.

Before I discuss this, let me guard against any weaknesses in my own writing skills. This is not meant to be a judgement on people's sexual orientation. (For the love of God [literally], the Pope even said, recently, that he is not one to judge another for being gay.)  It is simply an observation of how acceptance of homosexuality changes things...

For instance, one day, as I am sadly wont to do, I was watching an episode of the TV show "Cops." (Heck, I'm a writer, okay? How can I resist seeing these people? -- people I would never otherwise have seen in my life? -- like, dudes who do crack and run naked around their neighborhoods claiming that God told them to steal food off of everyone's barbecue grill?) In this particular episode, a woman was going to be searched, so they called a female officer in to do it. It occurred to me that, in a world with changing attitudes toward sexuality, if I were a doer of evil deeds (or a beater-up of my wife because she got in the way of the TV during the Eagles game) I would probably start using the violation card, no matter who they got to search me. I guess anyone could have used this in the past -- sort of accused someone of being "deviant." But now that "deviant" is no longer the way many see alternate sexual orientations, what will happen when criminals refuse to be searched? What is to stop men from saying, "I'm gay. I want to be searched by a woman" or, "I'm bisexual - I refuse to be searched." What's to stop them from claiming violation and harassment when they are patted down by a male officer. (And, of course, vice-versa with female n'er-do-wells.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Love and Dementia

This is one of those things I am going to write about regardless of being sure that someone, somewhere, must have said it before; sure that a hole in my education makes me an unwitting philosophical parrot. But, hey -- they say Newton and another guy simultaneously discovered the principles of gravity and motion; that Darwin and another cat came up with the theory of evolution in, like, the same year. One just published first. I'm probably about a thousand years behind with this...

Whatever the case, I was wondering what it is about a person that makes us love him or her. What is that thing -- or what is the combination of things -- that causes us to love? (I mean this in both the romantic and familial sense...)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Scholars From Two Millenia

The scholar, 1900: 

He studied for one primary purpose: to learn. He was embarrassed not to know at least a little bit about various important things beyond his scholarly scope. His clothing and his hair were not a priority (which also means he didn't purposefully attain a disheveled look). He was well-spoken, whatever his specialty; his grammar and diction reflected a rounded education. He met with colleagues for lunch and they talked about concepts across their disciplines. (The archaeologist; the historian; the physicist; the economist; the lawyer and the English professor would debate about, say, the place of religious icons in the past civilizations.) His house was filled with books -- on shelves; next to the coffee pot; under the tea cup; by the bedside. He was fascinated by his field. He studied it to do it. Still, he knew Bach and Shakespeare and Bruegel. At home -- cutting the grass; painting fences; walking the dog; on bike rides -- he thought about what he had been discussing in class that week; he lived with what he studied. In his spare time, he met with groups of fellow enthusiasts; he may even has started a "society" or two. Beyond all things, he pursued original thought. He was on a quest for his own place in the pantheon of the intellectuals before. He wanted to leave his mark on the world...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why I Am Not An "Audiophile"

I usually preface these seemingly music-centered posts with this disclaimer (or something like it): Stick with me. It is about music, sort of, but there is a universal punch-line. There's a point made for all of us at the end....

When I was a teenager and had just started picking up the drum sticks and making noise on a little kit in my bedroom, I would often get very frustrated. I'd listen to recordings of other drummers (I specifically remember one being Steve Smith, of Journey) and then I would play my own drums. Constantly, I'd find myself disappointed in my sound (compared to his) and wonder why I couldn't get my drums to sound as "big".

Of course, at the time (at fourteen), I had no idea as to the electronic processing those drums went through in the studio: reverbs, compression, sound "exciters"  name it. This was the 80s. The recording studio had become the extra member in the band. The digital age was coming about, taking the hand-off from the recently perfected analog age...

Some years later, I got a "four track" cassette recorder. Same results. I was meticulous in getting the right levels. I was obsessive with microphone positioning. I tried sound patch after sound patch on the synthesizer... It never really sounded "right."

"Right," as you may imagine, was an equivalent to the results that could only be obtained from a multi-million dollar sound studio in New York or LA. By then, I knew this was the case. All I could do was shrug and listen to my work, lowering my sound standards, half-heartedly convinced I had done my best.

Now, every musician can have a digital studio in his bedroom. The results all depend on what you know. You can get "big studio" quality if you have good mic's, good instruments and a solid  knowledge of the recording process. But the range is huge -- in terms of the kinds of recordings you get -- from lousy to phenomenal. The fact remains, your average post-simian mug can get a hiss-free, reasonably good-sounding recording with a laptop and a hundred-dollar SM57.

But, this morning, I heard a feature on NPR about MP3s vs. high-def audio and one engineer's crusade to make better sound available to the masses...blah, blah...

Here we go again. Hyper analysis. Like we do for everything else in the modern world.

I have a discerning ear, but it is tuned to the blend of a horn and cello. It's connected to textures and tones and harmonies, not to whether a recording is sampled at a 456 shmigglewatt bit rate as opposed to a 550 shmigglewatt bit rate. Can I hear the difference? Sometimes. I admit it: my own CD (having been professionally mastered outside my little studio) sounds better than the MP3 version you can download from iTunes...

...but what happens is that my ear adjusts past the sound and its limitations and focuses on the music after
awhile. In a lot of ways "audiophiles" are the worst music appreciators. Many care more about the paint job than about what's under the hood, as it were. (There are always exceptions, of course, but I find this to be true about those I have known.) Analysis of the sound takes one's ear off of the music, itself.

I see people all around me trying to analyze everything. If a kid misbehaves, there are scientists out there studying the effects of breakfast cereals on behavior. You can take that data and throw it in the bin with the 550 shmigigglewatt bit rates.What we need back are dads and moms who learn to run the show with common sense, interpersonal intelligence and a firm, loving hand. I'll put that up against the chemical breakdown of Cap'n Crunch any day.

Wordsworth talked about those times during which we can "see into the life of things."  These were moments of feeling, not of analysis; it was the result of immersing one's self in the world (in his case in "Nature") and opening one's self up to the lessons it had to teach. If we spend all of our time looking under rocks, we can't see the mountainous clouds towering over the mountains.

Do I want good quality sound? Of course. But I would rather hear a second-rate recording of good music than a first-rate recording of bad music. I'll take harmonically interesting chords over the absolute perfect sparkle gained after a +9dB treble boost.

In listening to music, one should forget the mechanics and keep the direct line to the soul uncluttered; in life, we should, more often, be part of the flow (okay, I'll say it: Tao). We shouldn't research ourselves into being eternal diggers and sorters.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Brotherhood of Rivals?

"Group mentality" and my distaste for it has been a recurring theme on this blog. I sometimes fear that regular readers might be sick of hearing it...

But, I don't hate groups, as a rule. For instance, I think it is cool when those with common interests get together to enjoy those interests. I'm even considering going to see Gavin Harrison give a drum clinic this fall. It's just that I won't be wearing a Zildjian T-shirt or a baseball cap with "Pearl" emblazoned on it. I don't like externalizing interests for the sake of others. Never have.

In short, it is cool to talk (or, even, to write about) drums, but I'm not a fan of broadcasting my interests superficially.

The drummer-cam; pre-first set.
This weekend, the band I am in played a group gathering in Wildwood, NJ. It was a biker weekend. The streets were glutted with Harleys, Ducatis, Hondas, custom bikes and even a few classic Indians. You'd think it would have been an environment of joviality; mass celebration -- a jamboree of jolly proportions.

Not really.

There wasn't a lot of smiling going on. If you watched the unending parade of motorcycles passing behind our stage, you saw expressions that looked more like a challenge than a metaphorical high-five among two-wheeled brothers. The atmosphere was one of subdued, communal anger; or, at least, challenge.

And the trappings! The vests and the bandannas and the leather pants and the other various shmagiggies...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Safety Beyond the Interwebs?

In some ways, I guess I am a rube.

This morning, I heard a report on the radio about a big company (I forget which one) that is "asking the question" as to whether there is "any way in the world" to protect its data from hacking. The fact that they have to ask this question seems spooky to me. It seems like the mass-thought has settled into total acceptance of the status quo. 

For the modest price of, say, ten million dollars, I would like to offer this company advice -- a way to prevent data from being hacked. I'll trust them to send a check the moment they see this. Here it is:

Take it off-line. Eschew the Internet.

You are most welcome, big company with a hacking problem.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Genius of Brian Wilson

In general, when the name Brian Wilson is mentioned among (talented) musicians, you get a respectful, gentle, slightly sorrowful shaking of heads. Even musicians who didn't really like The Beach Boys are forced to admit that Wilson is something special. I fit this category: I have never liked the Beach Boys' sound, in general, but could always hear Wilson's genius through it all; like a Robert Frost quietly reading "Mending Wall" aloud in a crowded bar.

"Genius," as we know, is thrown around quite a bit, these days, but I think Brian Wilson is one guy who deserves the label. In fact, in terms of his harmonic and melodic concept, I think he ought to be recognized as one of America's greatest composers. I'd love to hear him write specifically for orchestra. I imagine the resulting sounds would rival the achingly atmospheric textures of Ravel.

Despite not being much of a fan of the Beach Boys' sound, I heard this again the other day and was reminded of what a treasure Wilson is, as a composer; and, also, of how sad he must have been -- a sadness that lead him down a now-famous path of self abuse from which he has, thankfully, recovered.

Here is a young man, writing the lyrics of a young man -- not terribly refined; sort of stilted in their poetic intentions; endearingly simple in their symbolism; wide-eyed with  honesty -- over the music of a harmonic genius, way ahead of his time, as he was (and is) always destined to be. Wilson's words:

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Ye Olden Blacksmith Shop"

Are you sometimes a real ass? I am sometimes a real ass. As parents, I think we are all asses at least forty percent of the time.

Cutting the grass, today, I was in a foul mood (as I usually am when cutting the grass) which was compounded by the fact that my sons and their friends had turned the back yard into a medieval military outpost. Yard chairs were woven with vines and covered with leaves; loose bricks were arranged into spots for "camp fires" and there were "weapons" (sticks) everywhere: lying in the grass; leaning up against fences -- you name it.

Stuff was in my way. The kids were going to get a stern talking-to when I went back in. "My work is hard enough," I would say to them, as they sat, hands folded, eyes wide and shameful. "The last thing I need is your junk in my way... Do I throw things in front of you when you are cleaning your room? Et cetera? Et cetera? Hmm? Et cetera?"

They'd hear about it, boy, those inconsiderate little snits. But, then, it happened. It always happens, you know? -- just when I get up a good head of fatherly steam. I saw this:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Kelli vs. Miley or "Yuck" vs. "Enchanted!"

The collective social concept of sexuality is "devolving," no?

Uh, no. 
To borrow a phrase once used by someone I know: I knew I was heterosexual at a very early age. From as early as I can remember, I was powerfully attracted to the opposite sex. It was silly, really. (Isn't it, always?) 

Ask any man, and he will agree: sometimes, you felt like Curly from The Three Stooges in the episode in which he was conditioned to a Pavlovian response to a bell: ding, and he started boxing. Except, for us, a pretty girl was the bell and you couldn't just start...uh...boxing. So, then, you were the cowboy from the old movies jumping out onto the team of horses to the stagecoach to stop the whole thing before it fell off of the cliff.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Tasteless Joke of Fate

Once, a young student stifled my instinctual and unshakable belief in the afterlife -- when I had mentioned my inability to grasp the idea of oblivion -- by pointing out the feeling of being under anesthesia; the complete absence of the perception of the passage of time that one experiences before and after an operation. It was an eye-opener, even if I wound up still believing, in the end, after some real intellectual trials.

Now, I'm given very solid reasons to question the idea of the state of existence, itself.

Dementia. Many of our elder parents and grandparents fall victim. They lose themselves. They can't think; they can't express themselves. People we know to have been brilliant, creative and sharp-witted, often take their last bows on life's stage not to applause while juggling knives and playing concertos, but in a state not knowing how to accomplish such simple tasks as buttering their own bread. Sometimes, their personalities change, altogether. A mother we know to have been patient and kind might accuse a son or daughter of vile transgressions; she might throw a sandwich across the room -- a sandwich that was lovingly made. A father who was a guide on every difficult front becomes one who needs guidance, himself -- maybe even to get from the bathroom to a chair.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Distant Ones (A Parable)

When the Traveler returned from his journey to the future, he staggered into the room, unshaven, exhausted. His clothing was rumpled and his skin was pale. My first instinct was to somehow discern, by the twitching in the corners of his mouth or from the removed look in his eyes or from the slight quivering of his hand as he filled his glass with port wine, what it might have been that he had endured.

His expression was not one of frantic horror, but of a frozen kind of terror; better still, it was one born of a draining fear that had depleted him of the ability to scream out. He was an emptied vessel. He was a ship under shredded sails.

I let him sit back in his chair and drain his glass and then another. It wouldn't do to force him to talk. He would need to come to it on his own. What idea could I have as to the trials he had endured on his journey into the distant future? What monsters had he seen? What horrors of human evolution had he witnessed? Maniacal genocides? Rampant oppression?

We sat, without speaking, amidst the clicking din of the numerous clocks in his parlour. As he sat, his forehead balanced on his right hand, a third glass of port dangled from his left, tilted to the brink of spilling. I tried to let my gaze fall on anything other than him, so as not to pressure him into speech. I surveyed the handsomely bound books that lined the room; the guttering oil lamps that sent delicate ribbons of black smoke into the shadows on the ceiling and set the red wood of the desk aglow; the clutter of notes, drawings and papers thereon; the arabesque Indian patterns in the carpet below my shoes; the fine Havana between my fingers...