Touched

I received an e-mail from an online friend letting me know that Alan Edwards passed away on January 23. Among many other things, Alan maintained a wonderful blog called This Moment, which offered a magnificent, eclectic collection of photography, poetry and anecdotes. I had This Moment linked to this and prior websites for several years, but de-linked it a few months ago when it went static for reasons unexplained. I hadn’t realized that illness had caused him to stop posting. I would have left it up had I known.

Why does Alan’s passing touch me? Because in 2004, when I was doing my online “Poem A Day” project, I began corresponding with rb at Such Stuff (the aforementioned friend), who was also working on a regular poetry writing project. Through his connections with rb (noted at the link above), Alan began reading my poetry and linked to my blog. One day, I received an e-mail from him. I quote the post I wrote about it in 2004 below:

I got an e-mail this morning from Scotland’s Alan Edwards, proprietor of the This Moment blog, in which he wrote (in part):

“A few months ago I read your poem ‘Happiness’, which I thought was really amusing and sharply written. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty recently of setting it to music and thought you might like to hear a (rough) version of what I and another musician friend here in Edinburgh [Gordon McLean] did with it, using a couple of guitars and an old TEAC 4-track tape recorder.”

I’m tickled not only that Alan took the time to do so, but that he also perfectly captured the rural flavor of it in the process. Wanna hear it? Here ’tis: Happiness.

I continue to be bemused and awed at the weird ways the internet makes things happen. Here’s a poem written in Upstate New York about a farm in the Carolinas, with the name of a town in Vermont grafted in because it sounded better, recorded by a musician in Scotland for your listening pleasure, wherever you might be.

How wonderful an internet gift was that? How cool is it for a writer to know that your words could move someone enough to take the time and energy to create something special that way? And how moving is it, now, to be able to listen to those words being sung by someone no longer with us?

I never met Alan Edwards, though I’m proud of our moment of trans-Atlantic collaboration. He touched me uniquely, and I’m grateful for that. My condolences and well wishes go out to his friends and loved ones.

Listen: Happiness. And sing along . . .

Well, there’s a lantern in the window
and a wild boar in the wood
as I’m standin’ in the plantin’ field
and feelin’ pretty good
’bout my farmin’ situation
an’ my plans for wintertime,
’bout that woman from Winooski,
‘an how glad I am she’s mine.

Got a bottle in the bureau,
and a smokin’ ham out back,
as I look about my holdin’s,
there ain’t nothin’ that I lack,
‘cept that boar . . . he keeps escapin’
every time we hunt him down:
like a ghost he disappears and
leaves us shootin’ at the ground.

I got ‘coons and I got turkey,
I got squirrels and I got deer,
shoot ’em, skin ’em, cook ’em, eat ’em,
that’s the way we do it here.

But that boar, he keeps eludin’ us,
he’s smart as twenty men.
I b’lieve I’ll know true happiness
when I make a ham of him.
Yes, I b’lieve I’ll know true happiness
when I make a ham of him.

(Lyrics Copyright 2004 J. Eric Smith, Music Copyright 2004 Alan Edwards).

First Day of School Blues

I dropped off my co-pilot after work today and headed into Albany for the first night of my last semester in my Masters program. Feeling pretty good about being able to divine the light at the end of the tunnel, when all of a sudden a bunch of other lights, blue and red ones, appeared in my rear-view mirror.

Yarrgh! Despite the fact that the road I was driving on was five lanes wide (no lie), and I was the only car on it, evidently that 30 mph speed limit wasn’t a mistake, and I was tagged for doing 49 mph by the man with the radar gun. Quite the buzzkill.

And then it got worse when I got to school, because my professor had been called away unexpectedly, so we just got our syllabi and left ten minutes later. Kind of wrong-feeling to get a ticket rushing to something that doesn’t happen. Oh well. Worse things happen at sea, I suppose. Moving right along.

On the upside, we made reservations and purchased tickets this weekend for a trip to Argentina in March, splitting time between Buenos Aires and Mendoza. The three of us will be going, along with my daughter’s room-mate and two friends from school. It’s got “big adventure” written all over it, so I’m stoked to have that to look forward to. After I look forward to traffic court, I mean.

More news on that at a later date. Now I have to go do online shopping to find books for the class that didn’t happen. No rest for the wicked.

More Moore/More

Way back in the ’70s, all those years before we had the Internet to tell us everything we needed to know about everything hadn’t yet encountered, I used to go to libraries and pore through books like The Rolling Stone Record Guide and Christgau’s Record Guide to identify bands or artists whose records I might want to acquire. Unless you had a very permissive record store around, you really had no way to sample music before you popped for the vinyl, took it home, and hoped for the best. With finite resources, good scouting was essential to maximizing the satisfaction associated with musical purchases. So I would read and read, and keep lists of records that sounded good in print, hoping that when I bought them, they would sound audibly good as well.

I distinctly remember reading about Anthony More in The Rolling Stone Record Guide, and thinking that his two (at the time) albums Out (1976) and Flying Doesn’t Help (1978) sounded exactly like the sorts of things I’d love. They gave Out three and a half stars, and Flying four. I looked for those records soon thereafter, but didn’t find them. Then I realized that Anthony More was a solo nom de vinyl of Anthony Moore, avant-guard composer and member of eclectic cabaret trio Slapp Happy, who recorded some wonderful records with Faust and Henry Cow in the ’70s. I bought all the Slapp Happy records I could find, and kept looking for Anthony Moore/More’s solo records, but didn’t find them. The other two members of Slapp Happy, Peter Blegvad and Dagmar Krause, both had extensive solo and band careers after they parted ways with Moore, and I acquired many, many records by them in a variety of configurations over the year, while still looking for their colleague Anthony’s solo records, but still not finding them. Moore later popped up as principal lyricist for Pink Floyd after Roger Waters left. Don’t hold it against him; in a vacuum, his lyrics would be considered great, but when compared to Waters, well, most mortals will fall shy of the mark. Still, no sight or sign of his solo albums.

The search for Out and Flying Doesn’t Help has gone on for the better part of 30 years, completely unfulfilled, until I logged onto eMusic for my monthly download spree last week, and was flabbergasted to see, in the new releases column, Flying Doesn’t Help, by Anthony More. Lo and behold, when I clicked on the artist’s name, Out was also available. A quick flip over to iTunes revealed that his next solo album, World Service (1981), was there for the downloading as well. Needless to say, I snapped the trio of albums up, burned them to disc, and have been listening to them incessantly since then.

I sometimes worry that I’m going to be disappointed when I find something that I’ve been searching for for a long time (and I can’t think of anything I’ve searched for musically longer than these albums), but in this case, I am tickled pink by how good these records are. Moore is a great composer and arranger, and he’s aided and abetted by an interesting assortment of sidemen, including Blegvad, a pre-Police Andy Summers, Alex Paterson (The Orb), cult guitarist Kevin Ayers, Manfred Mann and AC/DC drummer Chris Slade and composer David Bedford. His music evokes a cross between John Cale, Peter Gabriel and Peter Hammill, as they were at the time these records were recorded: challenging, abrasive, experimental and engaging.

Patience isn’t one of my strong suits, but in this case, I’m very, very pleased with the rewards it brought me. To learn more about Anthony Moore, click here, and then go score his records. They are wonderful. You can hear sounds samples of the records I mention in this post by clicking these links:

Out (Credited to Anthony Moore)

Flying Doesn’t Help (Credited to Anthony More, and the best of the three)

World Service (Credited to Anthony More)

Note that there is a contemporary DJ from Europe who also goes by the name of Anthony More. He’s not the same guy. Don’t get confused and make a tragic mistake.

I’ll See You On the Dark Side . . .

. . . of Mercury. NASA’s MESSENGER probe photographed Mercury’s hidden hemisphere yesterday as it paid the first visit to the innermost, smallest (now that Pluto’s been demoted) planet. Here’s a whole new view of a nearby neighbor, cosmically speaking. Yeah, it kind of looks like the part of Mercury we’d already seen, but that’s not the point. MESSENGER has a couple of more loops around the inner solar system to make before it is placed in orbit around Mercury, so we’ll be getting plenty more pictures when that comes to pass. Nice to have a new planet to ponder as the Mars Rovers go into hibernation for the winter. Meanwhile, somewhere near Saturn, Cassini also mapped Titan’s South Pole for the first time. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but these are glory days for planetary exploration! Nerd out!

Empire State Troopers

I didn’t mention it here, but for a couple of months I was actually back being active in the paid local music criticism profession with the Capital Region edition of Chronogram. Two reviews of albums by Che Guevara T-Shirt and Grainbelt saw print, and a third about Upstate Again by the Empire State Troopers was submitted shortly before the paper went belly-up. The album was officially released last week, so here’s what I wrote about it . . .

Empire State Troopers
Upstate Again (One Cell Productions)

Empire State Troopers’ members have been delivering the rock from Brooklyn to Buffalo to Ballston Lake (their current home) since the early ’90s with such critically respected bands as Small Axe, The Wasted, The Sixfifteens, Squid, Kate Mosstika and Glitter of Cohoes. EST’s new six-song EP, Upstate Again, finds the four formidable musical talents playing in perhaps their most visceral configuration yet, with Nathan Pallace on drums, Thom Hall on guitar, Jeff Fox on bass and Kelly Murphy front and center, armed only with her powerful contralto, a voice perfectly pitched for the smart, hard rock that EST deliver. The band’s grinding, gristle-chewing riff-work blends the classic churn of ’90s indie darlings The Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid with the primal punch of such underground metal acts as Budgie, Iron Maiden and Witchfinder General. Lest that sound too dense and intense for repeated plays, the Troopers leaven the proceedings with a better melodic sense than any of those bands ever mustered and a crisp sonic presentation courtesy engineer Jason Loewenstein (ex-Sebadoh, Fiery Furnaces). EP closer “Phantom Limb” is Upstate Again’s pinnacle, working both as a killer ensemble piece and as a showcase for the unique strengths that each band member brings to the table: the parts are masterful, the whole is positively titanic. This is what rock is supposed to sound like. Listen.

Instant Milwaukee

I had to make a business trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Monday. Normally, I’d try to go out a night early, or stay a night late, or otherwise spend more time on the ground in my destination city than I spend in the air getting to and from there. But this time, I decided to just make it happen in a single frenzied day, which began when my alarm went off a little before 4:00 AM, and ended when I rolled back into my garage at about 9:00 that night, having spent time in the airports of Albany, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Milwaukee in between, as well as two Canadair Regional Jets (yay!) and two Embraer Regional Jets (not quite so yay). When I made the reservation, I had been a bit concerned about the winter weather in Milwaukee at this time of year and how it might effect my travels, but I actually ended up encountering something worse than snow: inbound fog that caused us to have to bore holes in the sky over Lake Michigan for 40 minutes before being cleared to land, and outbound thunderstorms and ferocious winds that did quite a vigorous number on our little Embraer airplane as it worked to get off the ground, and then stay aloft and intact. One of the most unpleasant flights I’ve ever made, easily. The meeting itself in Milwaukee was productive and useful, but I don’t recommend four take-offs and landings in a single day if you can avoid them. Next time, I sleep over.