This is a photo of my great-great-uncle, Richard Hutson Colcock, known to family as Dickie. He and his sister, Hetty, raised my grandmother, whose own mother (their sister) died while giving birth to my grandmother. The photo was taken during Dickie’s time of active service to his (and our) Nation during World War II, so I share it with you on Memorial Day, as but a small reminder of all the men and women who serve and served, especially those who are no longer with us today.

Marcia and Katelin and I spent the Memorial Day weekend in Asheville, North Carolina visiting with family, which was lovely. The trip back today, however, wasn’t quite so good, as weather forced us into flight delays, then missed connections, then a flight into Newark, then a rental car drive home to Albany. Long day. I brought back some great, new Wayback Machine photos to share (this time including the Cherokee branch of the family), but I’m too fried to do anything right now except doff my cap in honor and memory of those who flew away before us, post a link to an article I wrote a couple of years ago that my friend Gman reminded me hits close to the spirit of the day today, and then go sit in the hot tub and be thankful for my own and my family’s good health and fortune. God bless us, every one.

Meeting An Old Friend (For the First Time)

I’ve written here before about being an early adopter/adherent of the wonderful web world online and its attendant technologies, with my own website circa 1993 and a blog since 2000. This makes me a dinosaur in web years, a fact reinforced by my continued active involvement with a small, long-in-the-tooth e-mail list community administered by the host of my website, Wilson S of Xnet2. (If I’m a web dinosaur, then Wilson is actually a web trilobite, since he goes back to online communication systems even more primordial than the first ones in which I dabbled). Do most of you even know how an e-mail list works? I’m guessing not . . .

A lot of blog discourse here and elsewhere relates to the sense of community that’s built among those who comment on and those who post on various websites today. These communities can become very close, in a virtual sense, and sometimes actually manage to get together in the real world to turn electronic relationships into flesh and blood ones. (In olden dinosaur and trilobite days, these sorts of meetings were called “RLCOs,” which was sort of an acronym for “Real Life Conferences.”) If you’re a member of such a community, then you’ll appreciate how well you can get to know your fellow members over a relatively short period of time.

Now: imagine that your community has fewer than a dozen members, but has been together for more than a dozen years. That’s the Xnet2 Liste, where some of us have been communicating via group e-mails or (earlier) message boards on a daily-to-weekly basis about lots of stuff for as long as 17 years. There’s a really profound degree of connection there, despite the fact that most of us rarely, if ever, co-exist in the same space. (Two of our members were from Australia, to cite but one complicating factor; one of them is still with us, and one, sadly, passed away before her time, out there in the real world).

Tonight, however, my Xnet2 friend from Ohio, Robert B (a.k.a. Reverend Goat, hot noisemaker with XterminalX, who once covered my song “Belaboring the Necroequine”), found himself passing through Albany on his way to Maine with his lovely wife, so we met for dinner, occupying the same physical space for the first time in the 12 or 13 years that we’ve been online colleagues and compatriots. It’s a neat experience to lay eyes and bestow a hug upon someone who I feel I know incredibly well, but have never actually touched, in the real world, before.

So as you putter about here in the blogosphere, consider the fact that the connections you make may actually be incredibly durable and long-lasting. Don’t screw ’em up, y’hear?

Don’t Forget to Remember

1. The televisions at the gym are often turned to the local Time Warner/YNN channel, and it seems like every other time I look up at them, they are showing choppy live footage of cars creeping or racing along on a variety of regional roadways. And I always wonder: Why?!? The only people for whom this is particularly relevant (i.e. drivers in the traffic) can’t, by definition, be watching this action-packed news on television. Is this kind of thing sexy for some sort of traffic trainspotter community of which I’m blissfully unaware?

2. As a long-suffering Washington Capitals fan, I’m used to post-season disappointments, as my favorite hockey team is now in its 36th season without a Stanley Cup. First round upset? Losing with a 3-1 edge? Ho-hum, just another day in the life of a Caps fan. That being said, I am shocked and dismayed to find us all on the cusp of one of the most unimaginable and unforgivable evils in the universe of hockey: the Stanley Cup going home with the Philadelphia Flyers, easily my most loathed professional hockey team. So if you aren’t rooting for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Flyers for the Cup this week, then I’m going to have to assume that you also hate freedom, apple pie, moms, justice, bacon, puppies, Nelson Mandela, fair play, democracy, Lost and America. And you also probably like The Dave Matthews Band and put sugar in your grits. How, sirs and madams, do you sleep?!?

3. Five Songs You Need to Hear (Part the Fourth):

Summer Is Almost Here” by PAS/CAL (One of many brilliantly frothy, elaborately arranged songs from the Detroit group’s 2008 debut album, I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke and Laura, a delicious and delightful disc, soup to nuts).

The Praying Slave Lady” by Shirley Caesar (An unbelievably tense and dramatic gospel performance, this piece is all build and virtually no resolution. The first 1:45 serves as a sort of invocation before the First Lady of Gospel gets into the story of titular old slave woman and her cruel master, her voice carrying more drama and emotion than I would have imagined it was possible to capture in a recording. A true gospel masterpiece).

Breaking Into Heaven” by Heaven and Hell (The last song on the last album recorded by the late, great Ronnie James Dio, who was eaten by a dragon last week. Marvel at the fact that Dio was 65 years old when he recorded this track with Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice, but still sang with all the power and majesty he’d always offered).

II B.S.” by Charles Mingus (An extraordinary ensemble performance from the great bassist’s monstrously talented 11-member band of the period, including Eric Dolphy at the peak of powers, before his untimely early death; this is one the best jazz arrangements I’ve ever heard).

Poodle Rockin’” by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci (A gifted and creative young band from Wales who played bizarre pop music way beyond their years and experience, before flaming out well before they delivered on the crazy promise of their early recordings, alas).

“Hocus Pocus”

A new Nike marketing campaign features the studio single version of “Hocus Pocus” by Dutch masters Focus as backing music. It’s great to hear this song getting a new lease on life in this capacity, but most folks who have only heard the clean single version don’t really what a rip-snorting rock number this thing was. I have a tattered, well-played vinyl version of Live at the Rainbow by Focus, which was recorded in 1973 by what I consider to be the definitive version of the band: singer-keyboardist-flautist Thijs Van Leer, guitarist Jan Akkerman, drummer Pierre Van Der Linden and bassist Bert Ruiter. I accidentally (ahem) borrowed my copy of this album from the Nassau Community College media center circa 1975 and somehow never managed to return it. Accidentally. Ahem. It’s a monumental, though now forgotten, epic concert album, with Jan Akkerman demonstrating why he’s one of the great under-appreciated guitar heroes of the decade.

So here’s a link to a real live, not lip-synched, version of “Hocus Pocus” from that 1973 version of the band that can give you a sense of how powerful Focus were in their heyday. They played with punk energy, but only with flutes and yodeling instead of safety pins and spitting. Not a bad trade off, to my ears and eyes.

Parker’s Ed

Have you ever pondered how antiquated and inadequate New York’s requirements for getting a driver’s license are today?

The amount of time and energy devoted in Driver’s Ed and the testing process to parallel parking and three point turns is excessive and absurd, given that (a) the lion’s share of young drivers could manage to get themselves around New York perfectly well without ever parallel parking or making a three point turn, (b) if you make a mistake while parallel parking, you might bump a fender or have to start over and try it again, neither of which seems like much of a jeopardy in the grand scheme of things, and (c) it’s a whole lot easier (and safer) to go into a parking lot or drive around the block when you miss a turn, rather than doing a three point maneuver in the middle of the road, so why not teach that instead?

So, with parallel parking and three point turns mastered, kids can get their licenses without ever demonstrating that they know how to merge into high speed traffic on an interstate, navigate a traffic circle, or make a defensive maneuver to avoid an accident. And because they aren’t required to learn those things, they often don’t, and the jeopardy of their lack of training and inexperience is far more lethal and consequential than a dented bumper. I drive through the automotive meat-grinder intersection of I-87 and I-90 between Exit 24 and Fuller Road twice a day during the week, with its many complicated merges and lane shifts, and it’s disturbing how often traffic chaos erupts because a young person (most likely from the nearby University at Albany) just drives straight from an exit ramp into traffic without actually timing their merge or being aware of the the traffic coming at them from behind their left quarter panel.

There’s a lot of speculation in the media about why kids are lousy drivers, and people cite drugs and alcohol, cellphone or texting distractions, or even their not-yet-completely-developed brains, all of which are issues, sure, but the fundamental bottom line is: they often can’t drive well because the standards we set for them are so low, and they learn and master only the bare minimum of what they need to get their licenses. Which is essentially just enough to allow them to turn a ton-plus of plastic and metal and glass into a lethal weapon.

It’s not an entitlement to be able to drive, and I’d love to see the requirements tightened dramatically, and built around demonstrating that a young person can really drive a car, not just park it.

If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else

1. I ran out of usable song titles by The Who to caption miscellaneous posts, so having over-used “Spicks and Specks” (a Bee Gees song) almost as much as I once over-used Odds and Sods (a Who album) for such writing, I feel it only fair to forage through the Bee Gees catalog now. “If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else” was the opening track of Cucumber Castle, the odd duck in their early catalog recorded by Barry and Maurice Gibb while brother Robin was off having a star fit. Worth a spin, for sure.

2. In my usual “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing” mode, having gotten sick for the first time in a long, long time, my body decided that it should just go ahead and get really sick, with some kind of oxygen-eating crud in my chest that caused even simple, pleasurable tasks to bring on paroxysms of hacking and wheezing, which is no good! I think it’s finally passing, but I’m not rushing back to the gym, since I did that last weekend and, I think, gave it a new lease on life for another seven days. I did make a visit to the doctor, finally, and he prescribed something that slightly improved one minor symptom I already had, while giving me six other worse side symptoms, and almost immediately creating withdrawal reactions when I stopped taking it after two days. This is the second time prescribed medication has done to this me in the past several months. It’s “First Do No Harm,” Big Pharmacy, y’know?  Not “First Get Your Patients Addicted.” Sheesh.

3. During the middle of all this, I drove out to Geneseo to move Katelin home after successfully completing her first year of college. It’s great to have her home for the summer. This weekend is commencement weekend at the University at Albany, so both she and I were there on campus yesterday working our various events, she in catering, me in management by walking around. We both should be there this morning as well, but, sadly, instead I’m about to drive her down to Westchester County for the funeral of a close friend’s college-aged sibling. It’s a sobering reminder to always be thankful through these transitional times with our young adults, and to remember what a blessing it is to watch them graduate, and to bring them home.