Songwriting Some More

As mentioned a week or so ago, I’ve been going through the poetry project, pulling poems that scan like lyrics, and sitting with my acoustic guitar, arranging them for purposes as yet uncertain. While playing through the twelve songs that I have completed thus far, I realized something odd . . . someone dies or is killed in eight of them:

1. Hannelore Cline murders Gaylene Greene and Preacher Mitchel Floyd, then kills herself.

2. An un-named narrator paces a hospice hallway, waiting for someone to die.

3. Tim’s mother dies when he just fourteen.

4. Walker Cotton kills his best friend, Dewey Varney.

5. Jeremy Butcher drinks himself to death, Caroline Hogan offs herself with sleeping pills, Jefferson Slater is strangled by his cellmate (Claude), while Angela Darling dies while undergoing liposuction.

6. Old Peck chokes to death on a cracked chicken bone.

7. An un-named narrator meets Saint Peter and is given something that rhymes with silver (i.e. nothing).

8. The coastal pirates of Isle St. Jacques drown the sailors they find on a beached ship.

Now . . . I didn’t write that much about death last year, so why is it that these poems are the ones that most lend themselves to songwriting, I wonder? I don’t know, really. I can note, however, that the other four have similarly dire themes:

1. A narrator plans to drink until he rots after the City takes his home and liquor store.

2. Someone drives forever in a Diamond Blue Gremlin (this one might actually belong in the first list: it’s possible, based on the lyrics, that the driver might actually be a ghost).

3. A tired farmer and his mule march many miles to market, but never get there.

4. A hermit and his mule go to town and rob the general store. (Why are there two mules in these songs? Another mystery . . . )

If I do decide to record these, they’re going to track like some grim concept album. I wasn’t planning it that way, but, golly, there certainly seems to be some uniting theme to these pieces. Little country tragedies, almost all of them. When did I get rustic?

Not Glicky

My sister decided that her new cat was not defective enough to be a Glicky. Too bad. The cat has, instead, been named Earl Grey Duft. It’s a long story, but the punchline is, I came up with the name. However . . . Early Grey will always be Glicky in my heart. At least until someone in the family gets another pet. Hopefully a defective one, one that can wear the Glicky nametag with pride.

Brrr . . . and Ouch . . .

We turned the heat on the first time this year last night, after an impressive cold front rolled through yesterday afternoon bringing heavy wind and rain with it. So heavy, that when I got home yesterday, a very large branch from my next door neighbors’ tree had fallen in our yard.

Unfortunately . . . our next door neighbors had just moved out last weekend in preparation for selling their house. (Want to be my next door neighbor? $349,000 will get you there. Make them an offer). Not wanting (a) to have a big tree limb in my yard, and (b) to have prospective house buyers deterred by the big tree limb that fell off a tree they would be buying, I decided to deal with removal of the offending limbs and leaves myself. I should note that I don’t have a chainsaw, so I cut it down into about 15 barely manageable pieces with an axe and a handsaw, and then dragged them by hand back behind our property, where I had to heave them over a 48-inch fence into the scruffy rough back there.

About ten minutes after I finished the last piece (my hands and back screaming at me for doing more than I should have myself, with inadequate tools, too quickly), my neighbor rolls up in his pickup to get one more load of stuff from their old house. He’s a retired, reasonably well-known and successful NCAA and NFL football player (I won’t name him to protect his privacy), a big dude who would have been awfully helpful in removing fallen tree material. Oh well. I got good neighbor points anyway, even if my back hurts today. And I rewarded myself with a few extra krab sticks. Mmmm . . . processed pollock . . .

Surrealist Dreamscape

Marcia and I are living in my uncle’s townhouse in Rockville, Maryland. It seems Katelin is away for the evening, so we have the night to ourselves. Decadent plans are made, when I realize that my long-ago ex-girlfriend Barbie has left her baby hanging on the wall of our bedroom, in a little baby sleeping bag, so that only his head is peeking out. He is wearing sunglasses, and has been hanging there all day.

Annoyed at having to change my plans with Marcia, I go downstairs to try to contact Barbie, and discover that Marcia’s parents are down there in the living room watching TV. “Oh great,” I think, “something else I have to deal with now.” Then it occurs to me: Marcia’s parents are actually both dead. I realize that the first floor of the house is a re-run, so I don’t have to deal with it at all. All I have to deal with is the new season, which is going on up on the second floor. I go back upstairs.

There is now an airport terminal upstairs. I walk down the skyway, which leads to an urban green space. Lots of very hippy-esque sorts of people are there, having picnics and doing noodle dances and the like. I know that Barbie is somewhere down at the other end of the greenway, so I head off to find her. But the ground gets squishy and damp, and I notice that all the hippies are now up on a paved trail, above me to my left.

I remember that the head of the trail is back in the airport terminal. I don’t want to backtrack, so I am pleased when I notice a low spot in the trail, on which someone has conveniently stacked up a bunch of wicker chairs to make it possible to climb up to the trail. I begin to climb, but it is longer and harder than it looked from the bottom. The chairs begin to jumble and fall, and I feel myself weakening as everytime I get close to the trail, I fall back half the distance I’ve just climbed and have to do it again.

Eventually, I manage to throw my arms up, get hold of some stones on the trail, and haul myself up. The stack of chairs crumbles behind me, as the hippies glare at me for destroying their shortcut. I don’t care. I walk on. I know where Barbie’s apartment is: at the top of the cylindrical water tower that I see ahead of me on the trail.

I climb up the interior platforms of the water tower, reach the apartment, and find that she is not home. It is afternoon now, and it occurs to me that she is probably at work. That’s why she left her baby hanging in our room. As I go to climb back down out of the water tower, John Lydon is climbing up. We greet each warmly, and I tell him that Barbie’s not home, but if hangs out at her place I will be back soon and we can catch up.

At the bottom of the tower, I find Barbie’s sister, Kris. She has a car, and agrees to take to Barbie’s work. We drive off. She’s looking good. I think maybe I ought to cop a feel. I do. She reminds me that we both are married. Oh yeah. Sorry. Soon after, we arrive at an art gallery in an old ramshackle warehouse. The curator tells us that there are some special, adults only works of art in the room ahead to the right, but that we are probably too smart to appreciate them.

I go off on my own to find them, but can’t. There are lots of little wooden stalls and cubicles, each of which seems to be set up for a different artist, although most of the artists seem to have either sold or removed all their work already. I peek into one stall that is partially obscured and the large wooden door falls off its tracks, nearly hitting me.

There is a shopping mall beyond the stall. I see two employees dressed in Burger King-esque uniforms opening and closing the bathroom doors and sniffing the air. They tell me they are trying to decide if they’ve done a good cleaning job by whether they can smell the bathrooms from the outside. I tell them it all smells good and looks clean. One of them says “No, it’s dirty in here. It’s clean outside.”

There is an archway leading outside to the city nearby. I stand in the threshold of the archway and mock them, stepping outside and saying “clean,” then stepping back inside and saying “dirty,” several times. They are not amused.

Marcia and my house is up ahead. When I get there, she is not there. I look around for her, and find my commercial printing contractor waiting for me in her bathroom. He has a box for me and wants to review my order. He removes two pairs of blue, nearly see-through plastic pants and tells me that he had to order them from England to get what I wanted. He points out that because they are from England, the back pocket is on the left side instead of the right side, and asks if that’s okay.

I tell him, “Sure, that’s fine.” But inside, I am wondering whether see through plastic blue pants were a good idea at all. I wonder why I ordered them.

Glicky

Years ago, when my sister and I were kids and we had lots of cats and dogs around the house, an advertisement for pet name tags caught someone in the family’s attention (I don’t remember who saw it first). In the ad, there were little gold and silver tags shaped like fire hydrants and circles, or little fish or other cute shapes that you could order for your beloved pet.

On each of the tags was a sample name, to show you what they would look like when they were engraved. One sample tag read “Rover” (or some other standard pet name). One read “Rex”. One read “Kitty”. One read “Spot”. And one read . . . “Glicky”. Huh? Glicky? Glicky?!? Who has a pet named Glicky??? What in the world inspired someone to pick Glicky as a sample name?

We never found out, but everytime one of us gets a new pet, the others feel compelled to try to suggest “Glicky” as a the new pet’s name. This week, my sister got a new fluffy little kitten. She sent a picture and I looked at it and, well, I’ll be darned, but that fluffy little kitten sure looks like a “Glicky” to me. I think she has no choice but to name it accordingly.

Glicky’s last name will (like my sister) be Duft, by the way. Glicky Duft. Priceless.

Tragic Mulatto

So there are great obscure bands, and then there are great obscure bands. Tragic Mulatto is one of the latter. They were a scabrous, rough and tumble and powerful San Francisco based band in the latter half of ’80s who put out four or five records on Alternative Tentacles, each of which seems to have gone out of print as soon as it was issued. To the best of my knowledge, the only one that ever came out on CD was Italians Fall Down and Look Up Your Dress, which was a compilation disc containing a single and cuts from two other vinyl releases. Their best and final album, Chartreuse Toulouse, does not appear to have come out on CD, ever.

Every so often, I take Italians Fall Down out and listen to it over and over and just flat out marvel at how good Tragic Mulatto were, and how completely lost they appear to be in contemporary music history’s collective memory. I can’t find a single website dedicated to them, a single picture, a single decent biography beyond the stock stuff that shows up on Allmusic or Trouser Press. (There are, however, tons of websites dedicated to the sociocultural myth from which they took their name).

The core, consistent, indentifiable members of the band were drummer Bambi Nonymous, bassist-vocalist Rev. Elvister Shanksley and singer-tuba player-saxophonist Flatula Lee Roth. A couple of second drummers and guitarists rounded out the lineup, although the lack of real credits on any of their albums make it hard to figure out if different people played on them, or the same people with different fake names. (Guitarist Tim Carroll was a member at one point, for example, apparently under the name Richard Skidmark; he later went on to play with Austin-to-San Francisco legend Gary Floyd).

Rev. Elvister was a gravel-throated gurgler and dominating bass player who went on to play with Polkacide. Bambi Nonymous later played with Frightwig, Mudwimin and Black Manna. Flatula Lee Roth evidently disappeared from music altogether, or at least under that particular name. Which is a pity, because she was a titanic, Grace Slick-styled belter, a great vocalist in the impressive and rousing San Francisco tradition.

If you ever see anything by or about them, (a) grab it and marvel, then (b) let me know and send me a copy, please and thanks. They really are one of my alltime favorite bands, and it’s aggravating to have such a limited ability to track anything about/by them down in this internet era when so much is so readily available online.

And while I’m not generally inclined to give away copyrighted material on my website, since the records no longer seem to be commercially available, I will offer one sample: “Hardcore Bigot Scum Get Stabbed” by Tragic Mullato. Hear it and weep.

Down and Back Again

So last night was the big Hanslick Rebellion reunion show at CBGB. The crew for the road trip swelled to six, necessitating a two-car caravan, that really didn’t end up being much of a caravan at all, since my C-RV (and my driving nerves) couldn’t keep up with Mario Sevayega‘s zippy, radar-detector armed roadster: I lost Mario and Bryan Thomas somewhere just past Exit 23.

In my car, Russell (a friend from our days at a certain little school that shall remain nameless), Chris, Jason (two RPI seniors who work for me at the C+CC) and I made great time until we got into traffic on the Palisades Parkway north of the George Washington Bridge. Russell’s cell phone rang soon thereafter, and we started get sage advice on negotiating the backup from Mario and Bryan. We followed it, and got through the snag, over the Bridge and onto the Henry Hudson Parkway pretty quickly. Thing was . . . we thought Bryan and Mario were in front of us, though in reality they had stopped for Greek Food in New Paltz and were now behind us. Their advice somehow worked fine for us through some miracle of fate, but it didn’t work for them, and they ended up having to do a turnaround and North Jersey road race, eventually hitting Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.

We ended up getting to CBGB about five minutes before the Rebellion took the stage at 9 PM (having left Latham at 4:45 or so), which was also probably around the time that Mario and Bryan emerged from the Holland Tunnel and turned Loisaida-wards. Jed Davis, Mikes Keaney and Kearns and Alex Dubovoy proceeded to rip through a super set of ’90s Hanslick classics, with a couple of choice new cuts tossed in for good measure. It was great to hear some of the songs I’ve been listening to on cassette for years played live and in your face. It was also great to be in CBGB for what’s likely to be one last time, if their current lease situation doesn’t resolve itself in some miraculous satisfactory fashion. And it was great to take a couple of my students to see this musical landmark while they still can, and to see an excellent band making smart, fun music while doing it. They (and Russell) had a great time, as did I.

About three songs into the set, I felt a tap on my arm and looked over to see Lisa of Brown 25 smiling up at me. We’ve swapped electrons and blog links, but never actually breathed the same air in the same room before. It was very nice to meet her in the flesh. Mario and Bryan rolled in soon thereafter, Mario working the room as only Mario can (the cool dance moves, the charm with the ladies), Bryan ably capturing the moments at hand with the Brycam for posterity’s sake. (I look forward to seeing some of his snaps . . . no pressure, though, Bryan . . . ).

Show over, I sent the students to the awe-inspiring and horrific CBGB men’s room, which is almost as legendary as the CBGB stage itself (if that crapper could talk, ai yi yi!), and popped backstage to chat briefly with Jed and congratulate him on a super show. We’d had an blog snark between us a year or so ago, since resolved, but I hadn’t seen him in person since then, so it felt very good to me to shake his hand and say “hi” and “thanks” and “well done” and “nice to see you again.” A similar quick visit with Mister Keaney by the front door, and it was back into the C-RV at 10:45 for the return trip.

One missed exit in North Jersey and one pitstop at a New York Thruway rest area later, and we were back at Chateau Tetragrammaton at 2:15 AM. No calls from Mario and Bryan on the way, so hopefully they didn’t encounter any unexpected traffic disasters either. I was in bed at 2:30, then got up at 6:15 to take Katelin to school, and headed to the office, where I sit now. My brain is active enough to blog, but not quite caffeinated enough to work. It’s time, though . . . the day awaits. I have a concert here tonight, so will be here until 11:15 PM or so. Then back here at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning. Then the weekend . . . ahhh . . .

Classic Southern Gospel Music

My alltime favorite Gospel singer-songwriter-performer is without doubt the Reverend James Cleveland. He may not have been the best singer ever, nor the best pianist, nor the best arranger . . . but he was pretty darn good at all three things, had character to burn, and his music moves me in ways that few other performers do.

About 12 years ago, I was thrilled to visit one of those “overstock” music stores, where they sell tapes and CDs and (once upon a time) vinyl records at ridiculously low prices, and to discover a whole box of Reverend Cleveland’s classic old Savoy Records albums on cassette, I think being sold for 99 cents a piece. I picked up one of everyone they had, and there are some amazing, incredible performances on some of them. My favorite: Rev. James Cleveland Sings Songs of Dedication.

His CD catalog is not quite as broad, alas, although I just found a couple of his records online for download (legally, money exchanged), and have happily dumped them on my machine, glad to hear him doing his thing in all the amazing ways that he did it. Unfortunately, though, most of what seems to be available on CD is the more polished, orchestral sorts of material, and the same cuts appear on a variety of greatest hits compilations, over and over again. But Reverend Cleveland’s best work is his grittier stuff, where it’s just his voice, loads of wheezing church organ (Billy Preston played with him for a while, before he started playing with the Beatles and the Stones), maybe a snare drum, maybe a piano, and a mass choir accenting the choruses.

If you like classic Southern Gospel Music, then Reverend James Cleveland is a must-listen. And if you don’t like it, then Reverend James Cleveland might make you change your mind. Give him a chance. He’s good, good, good.

Space Nerd Are I

Had a great International Space Station viewing tonight, which was surprising because it was kinda cloudy out. I actually got Marcia and Katelin to come out and see it during its pass over us, almost 90 degrees altitude at its highest point (from our viewing perspective), then passing into the southeast and fading out as it moved into the Earth’s shadow and was no longer lit by the Sun, with a waxing moon just beyond its blink-out point. We have another good overhead pass due Saturday night, then a long dry spell here.

40 Pounds for the 40-Something

210 pounds was definitely the first “plateau” point where the weight loss paused for a few days, regardless of what I did or didn’t eat or do. Breakthrough finally occurred: I weighed 208 this afternoon. That’s 19 pounds lost in 24 days, 21 pounds to go in 68 days. One pound to go to the half-way point, weight-wise, and 22 days to go from the mid-point, time-wise. That’s still about five ounces a day to go, just over two pounds a week for almost seven more weeks.

It’s getting harder. My body is definitely shifting gears into an energy conserving mode. It’s easier to sit still and do nothing for longer periods of time, and I find I move slower and with more purpose than I did when I was eating 3000 calories or more a day. Living on one third of that, max, you learn to appreciate every bite of food you take much more. Each taste is to be relished and enjoyed. I find I’m more picky about what I eat, too . . . it has to be exactly the thing I want, because I don’t want to waste calories on something that I don’t really, really have a hankering for.

My mom sent a “fall fun” package for us this week that contained, among other things, two bags of boiled peanuts. Such decadence . . . 660 calories per package, but worth every one of them. That was my main meal of the day. It was a good one.

It’s easier, by the by, to diet that way, where you just set a calorie level and live with it, but eat whatever you want within that calorie level. I’m not eating any dull, same dishes every day diets. Some days I get most of my calories from carbs. Some days from protein. Some days (like today, boiled peanut day) from fats. The bottom line is: if you use more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. Period. No fads required, no foods banned, no boring, repetitive fare. That’s my theory, anyway. And it has always worked for me . . . and hopefully will continue to do so with my forty-something metabolism.

(Manmade) Star Gazing

Marcia and I usually go out and sit in the hot tub at night, and on clear nights watch the stars, the planets, the planes (low and high) and sometimes, manmade satellites. There’s a great page the NASA runs here that allows you to input your local zip code and time, and see which of the larger, more visible man-made satellites are going to be flying over in the near future. (That link currently takes you to a page with my settings pre-selected. You will need to change it for yours). The International Space Station is by far and away the most dramatic and visible thing in the sky after the Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Venus and Sirius. It’s about a -1.0 Magnitude “star” (if that means anything to anybody who’s not an astronomy buff) . . . except that it clips along at an amazing rate. Tonight’s an interesting night in that we get two easily visible passes. I was just out 20 minutes or so ago and had a great, long viewing. There’s another one around 10:20 tonight, and then tomorrow we get the best kind: one of the ones that passes directly across or near the zenith of the sky, the spot directly above us. It’s pretty darn cool to watch it cross the entire sky in 10 minutes or so. I love that space travel stuff.

Online for Sometime

September 7, 2000 . . . five years ago tomorrow, I posted the following paragraph on my website:

“Blog” is a portmanteau word for “web log,” a diary-cum-bulletin board posted online, the place where one’s hubris is hung out for all, some or (usually) none to see. For background, Rebecca Blood has written a most excellent blog history and has posted it on Rebecca’s Pocket, her own fine blog. Which is a beautiful looking website, I might add, in all the ways that jericsmith.com will most likely never be–in part because I don’t have the web design skills to make it so, but also in part because I consciously choose not to have the web design skills to make it so. I’m word oriented, see, as a writer, so I want to make sure that anything containing my words puts the focus squarely upon them–and not on spinning animations and lush backdrops and complex tables and distracting, browser-killing frames and nests and scripts and applets. So all the sites that I’ve designed (and I use that word lightly) have similar, simple, streamlined designs (and I that word lightly) that make each site (hopefully) worth visiting in the first place. It should be clear that what started as technical limitation has now become stubborn ideology. Or maybe just a brilliant rationalization for technical limitation, who can tell? Hopefully not you. More here soon.

So I guess I’ve been a blogger for five years now . . . which probably puts me in the relatively early vanguard of blogging, before it exploded with the advent of free and easy blogging tools (my original blog was all hand-html’ed and coded, and was very annoying to update, which is why it died a couple of times before I revived it with Blogger in 2003).

Come to think of it, 2005 probably marks the tenth anniversary (or maybe even eleventh) of me having my own website too, although there were two other versions of it, on other people’s servers (Oh, the glory days of “We need content providers!”), before I registered jericsmith.com and started doing it myself, probably in 1998 or 1999, I guess. I think that makes me very old in Web Years.

When I started using Blogger to handle my blog, I converted over some of the old blog, but left some other stuff out (including that post quoted above), if I thought they sounded goofy or dated or whatever, and didn’t merit repeating. By 2003, having to explain blogs in your first blog post was definitely a newbie mistake.

Some other lost tidbits from the first month of the blog . . .

It looks like they’re finally going to fire that evil troll Bobby Knight today as “coach” (I can’t call him that with a straight face) of the Indiana University basketball team today. Everything you hate about modern day sports starts with this dude, so here’s wishing him a long, painful, bitter retirement, one where kids periodically stop by his home to throw chairs at, kick or curse him. He’s earned it . . . (Oops . . . he’s still coaching at Texas Tech, although I still don’t like him any more than I did then).

Or . . .

I was all excited when “The Ninth Gate” came out on video, since I like Roman Polanski movies, and Johnny Depp movies, and scary movies. Unfortunately, “The Ninth Gate” was a pretty lame example of all three types of film–redeemed only (and barely) by the fairly interestingly-developed concept of an untranslatable manuscript that was apparently (or allegedly) written by a supernatural being. Even more interesting: the Voynich Manuscript, a real world example of just such a document, maybe, or at least so some say. Creepy, you bet. (This seemed to the low point of Johnny Depp’s career, which has blossomed spectacularly over the past few years, which makes me happy, since he’s a darn fine actor).

Or . . .

When it rains, it pours: my living room CD player died earlier this week and had to be replaced ($135) and my car stereo died yesterday and had to be replaced ($275). It did give me the opportunity to upgrade the car from cassette to CD player . . . although I’ve not yet digested the ramifications of this change, since the car stereo has long been the place where mix tapes are previewed, reviewed and enjoyed. Does this mean the end the mix tape era for me? Or does it just mean that I have to go buy a CD recorder? (Yes, it was the end of the mix tape era, but it took another couple of years before I got a CD burner).

Etc. Etc. Etc. Happy Birthday, Flexible Tetragrammaton. I’m not sick of you yet.