Tuesday, October 14, 2014

From Hornets To Ladybugs

These are my two boys, also known as Unorganized Hancock, playing the Talking Heads song This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody ).

It's another selection from their performance at the Fryeburg Fair a week ago. This is the very last song I got on video. We recharged the battery in the camera between sets, but the kids outlasted it anyway. They played three shows, at one, two, and three o'clock. There was a particularly enthusiastic crowd for the third show, and the boys played a half-dozen encore songs, so the third set lasted for a full hour and ten minutes. All in all, they performed for 150 minutes, easy, not including two breaks. When I was a professional musician, a full day's work was three, forty-five minute sets. My boys were paid as adults, and earned it.

As far as I noticed, the Spare Heir never made a mistake. Not one. He's eleven. My wife told me he dropped a stick when I wasn't looking, but he just picks up another and never hesitates, so I didn't catch it. The Heir faltered here and there. Forgot a word. Fumbled over more than one Wes Montgomery lick. Then again, he had to play and sing for nearly three hours with only an eleven-year-old to help him. His might be the greater feat.

We fill the Spare Heir's bass drum with stuffed animals to be amusing, because he's been doing this since he was eight, but that's not the only reason. He plays too loud for the room they practice in. He plays too loud for everywhere if I don't stuff his drums. Playing loud is stupid, so I don't allow it. But he plays hard. Halfway through one of the songs, he looked at his brother, never missing a beat, and informed him over the microphone that the bass drum beater, which looks like a short tympani stick, and is operated by a foot pedal, had come flying off. He never stopped playing. I could have played those drums until Kingdom Come and still not loosened that clamp. It was fixed between songs, and off they went.

We have an abandoned bedroom in the attic that they practice in. It doesn't have any heat, or even any electricity for that matter. If the boys want to practice, they have to drag an extension cord all the way down the hall. The plaster is coming off the walls in big chunks. Until my Heir and I jacked up the house, the floor sloped like the Titanic two hours after they stopped for ice. It's still kinda roly-poly, but a dropped pencil doesn't make it all the way to the back wall anymore. The room used to be filled with hornets all the time. I'm allergic to hornets, and one sting will kill me in an instant, so I kept the drum lessons short. The roof over this room was open to the air when we moved here, and while we got rid of the squirrels when I climbed up there and fixed it, the hornets stayed. The windows in the dormer were in such bad shape that the hornets passed in and out through the defunct weight pockets and the window frames. My Heir and I got some old, salvaged windows from a neighbor's remodel, and some boards from another neighbor who was cleaning out his garage, and we installed the windows in place of the old ones, and trimmed it out with the free boards. Now the room is filled with ladybugs.

I hope my boys' lives will go from hornets to ladybugs in the same way -- with patient, unyielding effort. I am filled with doubts. How much better do they need to be before anyone notices that they're extraordinary?

[Update: Many thanks to Kathleen M. from Connecticut for her constant support of my boys. It is greatly appreciated]

Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy Colon Day 2014

I remember Columbus Day because I used to play music in a hundred and one bands anyone that would have me and try to make money to eat and get cigarettes and I don't smoke and there still was never enough money and I played at a tee-totaling biker association party for two members' wedding not gay a man and a woman that arrived on a motorcycle with the woman I think wearing a white Wedding Dress and no helmet and we played for one hundred sober bikers and ninety-nine of them were like accountants and one was like a serial murderer but they all looked exactly the same so you had to assume they all would kill you if they got the chance instead of the more likely thing that they'd do your taxes if you asked nice and I never played Born To Be Wild for a Wedding Song before and the bride's father was in jail I think so she had to dance with the groom twice and the whole thing was held at the Italian-American Club on Gano Street in Providence but everybody calls it Guano Street for a joke haha and it's a real long time ago but it might have been the Portuguese-American Club I don't remember but I do remember it was Columbus Day and I went into the bar to get away from the sober biker accountants and that one serial murderer that were in the function room and it didn't matter if it was the Italian-American Club or the Portuguese-American Club or the Knights Of Columbus Hall haha that would be funny but I don't really remember but I distinctly remember a guy with a knife a real knife not a just a knife a dagger that came to a perfect point and didn't fold or look like you could do anything wholesome with it it just looked one hundred percent like it was designed and made to gut a bass player and that guy held that knife right under my chin and explained to me in Portuguese that Cristobal Colon was Portuguese and don't you forget it and my Spanish was very sketchy and Portuguese sounds like Russian to me not Spanish anyway but believe me I understood every damn word he said and I advise you all to answer the question did you know Cristobal Colon was Portuguese in the affirmative at all times.

The end.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Notes From The 2014 Fryeburg Fair

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, performed at the Fryeburg Fair on Sunday.

The Fryeburg Fair is the last big agricultural fair of the season in Maine. It's the biggest one in Maine, and it's considered a plum to get a job there as a performer. The boys played in a little bandstand called Draft Horse Park.

There were nice crowds for all three of the shows. I especially liked seeing all the little children. There were a lot of strollers, and toddlers toddling around. The bandstand is at a crossroads betwixt a congerie of footpaths, and most of the crowd simply pauses on their way by. There were many excellent double-takes when people looked to see who was playing like that, and saw my two midgets instead of the four adults they were expecting.

There was a monsoon on Saturday, so it was a blessing they had three Sunday shows. It's very iffy to have outdoor performances in Maine in October. Last year when the boys performed, it was in the low fifties, completely overcast, and it rained like crazy five minutes after they were done. I commented to my wife that they should schedule the fair a week earlier, and thereby avoid a lot of weather-related problems. The fair responded by sending out a notice that next year's fair will be held a week later than this year's. Every day is opposite-doppelganger-upside-down day in my life, and on every topic. 

There's every kind of entertainment at the fair. Whether you like Country and Western, or Country, or Western, or Country Rock, or Rockin' Country, or Contemporary Country, or Country Blues, or bagpipes, they have it all.

I'm kidding, of course -- it's worse. Ninety-nine percent of it is the playlist from any FM rock station in 1978. When we rolled into the parking lot, I rolled down the window to talk to the attendant at the gate, and the first thing we heard was a wan version of Margaritaville, which was plenty wan enough when it was first released if you ask me. I played that song for money a hundred thousand times, and twenty years ago I couldn't figure out why anyone would ever want to hear it ever again. Why they'd still want to hear it baffles me even further now, of course.

I ruminated on the topic a little bit. The big shows at the Fryeburg Fair are held at night, and the biggest act they had was a Billy Joel tribute band. I realize that an agricultural fair is unlikely to host much in the way of entertainment that I'd be interested in, but that one staggered me. I can't understand why anyone would want to see Billy Joel. Why they would want to see a wan imitation ...

There I go again. As I said, I got to thinking about it. The other night shows included a tedious-looking ensemble that played covers of Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Who, ELO, Fleetwood Mac, and several other bands I'd try to hurt if I ever encountered them. I thought we were thirty years past yelling FREEBIRD! as a joke, never mind a serious request. I guess not.

I think I'm beginning to understand it a little. It's garbage. All of it. It's garbage, and in their heart of hearts everyone knows it. That's why they get really angry if you mention it's garbage. The fanatic is so fanatical because in their heart they harbor a secret doubt. It's dangerous to spoil their artistic version of comfort food. They'll lash out like a rattlesnake that's been trod upon. If you tell me Mozart is garbage, I'll shrug and think to myself you're not very bright. If you tell a Metallica fan they aren't very good, they'll come at you with weapons.

A long time ago, I was in an upscale independent bookstore in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. They managed to have very little of interest for me in there, which is a pretty difficult thing to accomplish, as I have very far-ranging interests indeed -- I'm the intellectual equivalent of a garbage can; you can toss in most anything. There was woman in line in front of me at the register. When it was her turn, she immediately became very agitated at the soi-disant  hipster intellectual behind the counter. She demanded to know where all the feng shui books were. The poor fellow behind the counter, who had the physical frame and fashion sense of a concentration camp parolee that had just gone to the piercing parlor and then raided a Goodwill box, looked visibly afraid of this woman. He pointed out that there was a whole section of feng shui books. A whole aisle of them, actually, which in a little store represented a significant portion of the whole floorplan, perhaps larger than any other topic. He asked her if there was a particular book that she was looking for that she couldn't find, and offered to order it for her if they didn't have it. She snapped at him. "I don't want a feng shui book! I just want to make sure you don't take them off the shelves and put something else there!" And then she stomped out, empty handed.

No one wants to hear Margaritaville. They just don't want to hear what might replace it.

[Note to my readers: A lot of the equipment being loaded into that van, and the back seat and the seat belts in the van, for that matter, were paid for by the generous contributions to our little PayPal tipjar in the right-hand column of this blog, and for which we are very, very grateful. If you'd like to support Unorganized Hancock, hit the tip jar, or link to their videos, hit the like buttons on their Facebook page, or tell a friend. Many thanks.]

[Update: Many thanks to Kathleen M. for her continuous generous support of my boy's efforts via the PayPal tip jar. Also, thanks to the Execupundit, The Adaptive Curmudgeon, and Maggies Farm for linking to my sons' videos. It's greatly appreciated]

[BTW, my Interfriend from Cow Hampshire, Amy Kane, has much better pictures of the Fryeburg Fair than I can offer.]

[Yet More Up-To-Date: Many thanks to David G. from Missouri for his very generous blast on the tipjar horn. It's greatly appreciated]

Monday, September 08, 2014

I Knew It All Along

"Charlie I been thinking. I shouldn't but I do. I get to brooding on a thing and then it gets hold of me and worries me to no end until I think it all the way through. We put one foot in front of the other but we never arrive noplace. How can that be? The train, he runs from point A to point B and that's that, unless the boiler gives out. There's a bill on the wall in the depot, and it stakes its reputation about the comings and goings of the world and generally turns yellow before it misses. But we never arrive where we're going even if we hop the train. It doesn't seem possible but there it is.

"When we walk along the ties we fall into an easy rhythm, don't we Charlie? There's nothing else a man can do. You know I'm right in this, Charlie, it's plain. You remember when you was just an angelina the ties would break your step and confound you and you'd try every kind of thing to beat them at their own game. You'd walk along the edges of the railbed and get poison ivy real good, or find a bramble, or step in a chuckhole, and pruddy soon you'd find yourself back on the ties and counting the anchor plates for amusement, now wouldn't you? If we had minders we couldn't be herded any closer. They cut the railbed through the wilderness and it's the only way from here to there and a man knows it for a fact if he's not a fool. But we never arrive at anywhere we need to go, do we, Charlie? The rail is laid for another man's trip but that's all there is.

"When I was little they took me to the church, Charlie. It was the plain church with no Romans, but I can't remember the name. The only sign that it was a church, besides how hard the seat felt, was the cross marked on the wall as plainly as the chalk on the curb outside a kind lady's house, the kind that talks religion and gives food. But they never gave me nothing. Then a feller that looked like reform school got up and took out his watch and set it on a little desk next to a book he never looked at once and started thundering about this and that. He looked me straight in the face and said in our occupations we spread our nets but God brings the fish. I don't know why he looked at me like that when he said it but he did. He put that sentence on my mind like a mark on cattle and I never forgot it. I didn't know what it means but it stayed with me.

"I think he meant to tell me that if you got fish in your net then God almighty himself put them there. And I guess that means if you haven't got no fish that you don't deserve any. I know upon reflection that was a hard thing to say to the face of boy that hadn't seen breakfast. Having fish God gave you with his own hand seems to come mighty easy to those with nothing but ink from a bill of sale for the net on their bony fingers, don't it?

"I've been turning it over and over in my mind, Charlie, and I think I had it all backwards. We live in a world where you never arrive no matter how many steps you take. Your destination is never posted in the depot and if you say you'll go along to another then you find you're in the wrong place every time, and have to start over again and again.

"I been looking at the nets and the fisherman and I've seen the fish on the plate through the window when I'm standing on the sidewalk, Charlie. I don't know anything except that the fish is never on my plate, Charlie. And I'm beginning to think that the loud feller with the stern face was telling me the opposite of the truth, and doing it on purpose. That's why he made it hurt. That's why he left a mark. To keep me rubbing it over and over like a tender spot but not looking at it for fear of it. Like when your tooth is gone you put your tongue in the spot it where it belongs over and over but you never want to see it in the mirror because no man wants to know he's ugly.

"I'm beginning to see that we're walking in a world where fish on your plate is a sign that the Devil himself knitted your net. No one has nothing they deserve, Charlie. If you got it, you got it in some underhanded way. Money is the mark of the Devil in this world. What do you think of that, Charlie?"

"I never went to church so I knew it all along."

Sunday, September 07, 2014

You Got A Face With A View

Back in the day it was my job to figure out if a song "had legs." A song with legs had a durable framework that would lend its familiarity to a cover version without requiring the authenticity of the artifact of the original. There's a reason why there's a DJ at weddings now. People don't want an imitation of the thing they like. It's fairly easy to make an improved version of most pop songs live, but most people don't think improving things is an improvement. They have invested the original artifact with meaning and it's hard to wean them off it. Otherwise someone that looked vaguely like Tom Hanks would be playing at every cinema in the world.

This is one of the oddest songs I ever encountered that has legs. David Byrne is a very odd person to be producing pop songs. That's what made them wonderful, I guess. They're bent in an interesting way. Still, here we are, with the backwards chicken plucking getting over one more time.

My bandmates thought Psycho Killer had legs but it didn't. It's instantly recognizable so it gets played during a third down timeout, but people want the actual thing. There's no there, there.

This song? It's got a face with a view.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Notes From The Oud Factory Outlet

I received an email invitation from the Guitar Planet or the Music Galaxy or the Trombone Shack or the Oud Factory Outlet or maybe it was the Accordion Diaphragm Superstore or some other purveyor of only the finest noises. They're having a drumming contest. I'm sure it was a very exclusive offer. They no doubt sent it to me because I purchased an A string from them back in Clinton's first term or some similar big outlay, and they've kept me in mind since then. It's an honor I don't deserve but I will accept, like a Nobel Peace Prize or something.

A drumming contest, you say? I know a drummer. He's currently the best eleven-year-old drummer on Earth. He used to be the best ten-year-old drummer on Earth, but he can't seem to stick to anything for very long. I counseled him to continue being ten years old for as long as possible, but he doesn't listen. Now all his business cards will need re-printing.

He's not eligible for the drumming contest, of course, and for two different reasons:
  1. He would have to be five years older than he is to enter. Five!
  2. He knows how to play the drums properly. That's not allowed.
I have no idea why they wouldn't be interested in letting him enter because he's eleven. They're supposedly looking for a "man bites dog" headline for their contest. If he won it, they'd have something unusual to tout, I'd say. But of course, they want everyone to be unusual in exactly the same way. That is to say, everyone is required to look reliably dissolute and buy one more cymbal instead of practicing, forevermore. Their music store is almost useless for a real musician. Their stock in trade is selling instruments to people who will never learn to play, but develop exquisite taste in choosing the perfect black T-shirt with the finest Big Daddy Roth typefaces announcing tours of geriatric thrash-metalers from days gone by. 

So he's too young. Got it. But what about problem number 2?

To enter the contest, you're supposed to, and I'm not kidding here, drive to their musical Lubyanka satellite store at the appointed hour, take five minutes to adjust the drums they have already set up, and then play for three minutes. Play what? With whom? What they mean is you're assumed to be a musically incompetent show-off, and you're supposed to make as much noise as you can, and the loudest noise wins.

A three-minute drum solo is a penance. It's a plague. It appeals to the basest instincts of humans. It's noise. My son has been taught to play music with others. He can, and does, accompany his much older brother perfectly, and he never plays a note out of place, or misses, or steps all over the vocals, or plays drum fills that go three quarters of the way to the bridge, then get frightened by how fast they're going and turn around and try to go back home to the verse in the wrong spot. He has never played a drum solo, and he never will. He plays music. Playing music is apparently not allowed in a drumming contest.

I don't really care about the drum contest. I wouldn't enter him in it even if it was allowed. It doesn't have anything to do with music. And besides, he gets paid to play, so if you want him to perform in The Bouzouki Vivisectionist's Warehouse or the Dulcimer Grotto or whatever you call your stripmall slice of bedlam, then write him a check, upfront, or buzz off.

(My two sons, of whom I'm inordinately fond, call themselves Unorganized Hancock, and will be appearing at the Fryeburg Fair in about a month. Be there and/or be square. There will be no drum solo)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Wonder Boys

You can't spend what you ain't got; you can't lose some little girl that you ain't never had

I don't read books like other people do.

I didn't listen to music like other people did, either. When I was a little kid, I did, I guess. But pretty soon I was casting a longing eye at things that came out of the radio instead of simply listening to them. When you play music for money, songs are just oxen pulling your plough, or in my case, ground beef on the plate. Farmers don't fall in love with pigs.

Had money in the bank; I got busted, people, ain't that bad?

I read all the time when I was little. All. The. Time. A whisker came out of my chin and I entered the world of men. I no longer read books for entertainment. I didn't read books for amusement. I read books looking for fellow travelers.

Had a sweet little home, it got burned down; people, ain't that bad? My own fault, people: ain't that bad?

There is dynamism in life always. It's not generally where you think it might be. I believe that most forms of culture and commerce have a trajectory. They are born, mature, and die. I have been subjected to the death throes of so many modes of commerce and art forms that I've become jaded. I don't know why everything that has ever presented itself to me as an avenue from poverty and obscurity has been croaking its death rattle by the time it got around to me, or why it has always chosen me from among all the other fools to hug while it pitched itself headlong into the grave, but I'm not dumb enough not to notice the pattern.
"Wonder Boy." "That man," he said, "has offered me unsolicited advice every day for six years, all of it bad."
Oh, what battalions and legions of Wonder Boys, what phlanxes of Wonder Boys I've encountered over the years. The schiltrons of Wonder Boys with the pointy ends of their ideas always facing out. Listen to me: I won't charge at the machine guns anymore while you cower in the trench lobbing only advice that wanly hits the ground around me.

Well you know you can't spend what you ain't got: you can't lose some blues you ain't never had

Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ? Why don't you just... ?

I don't know. Why don't I just... ?  Because I'm Spengler's little brother, that's why.