Many Too Many

I have a whiteboard on the wall of my home office, next to my computer, where I write down ideas for articles, stories, poems or projects, many of which end up here at Indie Moines. Some things, of course, are posted on the blog without ever passing through the whiteboard, dumped straight from frontal lobe to keyboard in fit of inspiration. But some things go on the board and never quite ripen to full fruition, so they often get consolidated into omnibus blog posts involving several short pieces, in lieu of one long one. As I look at the whiteboard tonight, it looks like it’s time to do a little slate cleaning, as I’m running out of space to write new things. So tonight’s omnibus post clears everything off the board, so I can wash it clean, and start afresh. You’ve been forewarned . . .

1. Before there were blogs, there were journals and diaries, and Robert Fripp has been keeping one of the latter since his youth. Fortunately, he’s chosen to share it online with interested readers, including me. I admire him immensely for his guitar-playing skills, of course, but I also admire him immensely as a man: he loves his wife and his pet rabbit, he stands up for what he believes in (even when it is unpopular to do so), he offers sage counsel and wisdom in fields where he is expert, and he appreciates the little things that make life lovely. I especially liked this quote from his August 23, 2012 entry: “How wonderful life can be, in its small details, when your home is where you live.” Amen.

2. Speaking of Robert Fripp, The 40th Anniversary Editions of the King Crimson catalog that he is producing with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree are revelatory and masterful. They have moved Starless and Bible Black and Lizard up into my all-time favorite album list, and I am really looking forward to hearing Lark’s Tongue in Aspic later this year, since I’ve listened to live versions of songs from that album more than the studio originals in recent years, and hope that the 40th Anniversary treatment lets those studio recordings soar the way they ought to.

3. The vocalist-bassist on Lark’s Tongue in Aspic was John Wetton, later of Asia fame. Before he joined King Crimson, he played with a group called Family, and the two albums he released with them, Fearless (1971) and Bandstand (1972) are also among my all-time favorites, and have also been relatively recently released in strong, well-mixed digital editions. Worth seeking out, if you’ve never heard them. They are sort of cross between a classic progressive rock group and a rowdy English blooze band. Here’s a great live cut from 1971 with Wetton strongly featured: “Spanish Tide.” He’s the one playing the twin-necked guitar and singing.

4. I don’t watch a lot of television, but I’ll generally have at least one show at any given time that captures my attention enough to watch live or make a point of recordings. My current favorite television show, that I tape and watch religiously? Adventure Time. It’s mathematical!

5. The locations of the nine greatest restaurant meals that I have ever eaten, and who I ate them with:

Channel Bass Inn, Chincoteague, Virginia (long closed, me and Marcia)

Cafe Marquesa, Key West, Florida (me, Marcia and Katelin)

Zuzu, Napa, California (me and Marcia)

River Street Cafe, Troy, New York (no official website, many meals with many people)

Driftwood, Oranjestad, Aruba (me, Marcia and Katelin)

Barbes, New York, New York (me, Marcia, Katelin and our friend Pat, two meals)

Hótel Búðir Snæfellsnesi, Búðir, Iceland (me, Marcia and Katelin)

V Mertz, Omaha, Nebraska (me and Marcia)

Unknown parilla (steak house) in La Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina (me, Marcia, Katelin and Katelin’s friend, Kenna. I can’t find the name because apparently it has closed; I know where it was, but it does not show up on maps anymore).

6. The greatest story songs of all time (I’m not doing all the links this time . . . you can find them if you want the proof):

“Ode to Billie Joe” and “Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry

“1952 Vincent Black Lightning” by Richard Thompson

“One Tin Soldier (Ballad of Billy Jack)” by Coven

“Buenos Tardes Amigos” by Ween

“Lady Waters and the Hooded One” by Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians

“Common People” and “Sorted for E’s and Whiz” by Pulp

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot

“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by The Band

“Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” by Meatloaf

“El Paso” by Marty Robbins

“Maddy Groves” by Fairport Convention

7. Gay Tastee’s “Beautiful Brand New” is one of me and Marcia’s all-time favorite songs, a hands-down desert island disc for us both. There’s a video for it on Youtube that somehow makes it even more poignant and haunting than it already is. You need to see it.

8. XKCD’s Click and Drag is the coolest interactive web experience I’ve had since, oh, I dunno, maybe the day I discovered snarg in 1995 or so.  Go explore it, and don’t miss the underground civilization, nor all of the things up in the sky.

9. Vacations are the time to do things that you don’t normally do when you’re at home. When we were in Wyoming, this included going to see the idiotic final Batman movie. The experience made me even more firm in my resolve to never again pay to see a movie based on a comic book superhero. Of course, given the total lack of imagination evident in Hollywood in recent years, this pretty much means I’m just staying home and watching “Adventure Time” most nights.

Carl and Edith Weeks: Book Smugglers?

The Library at Salisbury House contains an undeniably important collection of early 20th Century, English-language literature and manuscripts, providing yet another enduring testament to the high levels of critical foresight and refinement that Carl and Edith Weeks applied when making their various cultural acquisitions. Interestingly enough, the act of purchasing some of the most important books in the Library also likely involved Carl and Edith skirting the laws of the day, as the works of James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and many others were banned regionally, nationally or even internationally at the time of their publication.

Consider James Joyce’s Ulysses. There are three copies in the Salisbury House Library: one from the 1,000-copy first edition from 1922, one signed and illustrated by Henri Matisse for the Limited Editions Club in 1935, and one “ordinary edition, 2 vols., in worn box” (per our inventory notes) published in Hamburg in 1932. Now consider the legal and literary environment within which Carl and Edith acquired these books (with thanks to Anne Lyon Haight’s Banned Books: 387 B.C. to 1978 A.D. for reference):

1918: Early installments of Ulysses published in The Little Review were burned by the U.S. Post Office.

1922: Imported copies of Ulysses were burned by the U.S Post Office.

1923: 499 Copies of Ulysses were burned by English customs authorities, 500 copies were burned by the U.S. Post Office, and U.S. federal courts ruled against its legal publication; as a result of this latter action, no copyright existed in the United States and Joyce received no royalties from thousands of pirated editions in the years ahead.

1929: Ulysses is banned in England.

1930: A copy of Ulysses sent to Random House is seized by the Collector of Customs as obscene.

Contraband from Carl and Edith’s Library.

It was not until 1933, in fact, that courts in the United States finally ruled that Ulysses was legal for importation, publication and distribution to the Nation’s citizens, following a series of cases and appeals spawned by another copy of the book being captured by Customs upon import. Did Carl and Edith own one of their first two copies before then? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that they did, since there’s clear evidence of their wanting (and getting) things hot of the presses during their peak collecting years. Did they break the letter or spirit of the law, or violate the social mores of their era, to get it? You be the judge.

The Salisbury House Library also contains a massive collection of signed, first-edition works by D.H. Lawrence, along with many pieces of correspondence with and about him. His works were perhaps even more controversial (and illegal) in the United States, with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Women in Love and Paintings being banned for import by Customs in 1929. Amazingly enough, it was not until 1959 that an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in the United States — and it was immediately seized by the Post Office and impounded, resulting in a year-long legal battle that finally removed the book’s stigma as a piece of literary contraband.

By the time a reader could legally purchase a complete, domestic edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, its author had been dead for 30 years, Edith Weeks had been dead for five years, and Carl Weeks had but one year left in his long life. I think it’s a testament to Carl’s tenacity in pursuit of great literature that he apparently purchased a copy of that 1959 edition, making it one of the dozen or so final additions to the Library in his lifetime. That (legal) 1959 edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover still shares shelf-space with a signed original (illegal) 1928 edition, as well as two (illegal) pirated American editions published in the late 1920s.

So bravo for our wise book smugglers at Salisbury House, who knew and recognized great art when they saw it. We’re all the better for their efforts.

Note: September 30 to October 6 is the 30th Annual Observance of Banned Book Week. We will be featuring famously banned books from the Salisbury House Library throughout the week on our Facebook page, so be sure to follow us there. We will also be placing a selection of banned works in Lafe’s Bedroom for public viewing, so come and see us . . . the leaves are turning, it’s a joy to see.

Seven Stones

1. I’ve written here before about how I often like things, musically, that conventional wisdom says I’m not really supposed to like. (See bullet number two here for a recent example). Tonight, I’m here to express my enthusiasm for three other musical things that I shouldn’t, all related to the band Genesis, who I believe I have listened to more than any other band over the course of my life, excepting Jethro Tull. First statement of musical heresy: I think Mike Rutherford is a really fantastic and distinctive bass guitarist, despite that fact that he may be the least funky human being on Planet Earth. He’s not in the least bit flashy most of the time, but so many of my favorite Genesis songs are anchored and uplifted by Rutherford’s distinctive pulsing, driving bass parts. Think “Back in N.Y.C.” or “Apocalypse in 9/8” or “Squonk” or “Turn It On Again” or dozens of others to which I could link. He often appears onstage with a mutant multi-neck guitar, one neck strung as a four-string bass, one neck strung a twelve-string acoustic. It’s so wrong, it’s right. Just like a lot of his playing and songwriting.

2. Another thing that serious music geeks aren’t supposed to admit in public is liking Phil Collins-era Genesis more than Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. But I’m here today to say out loud and proud that (some) Phil-era albums get much more ear and heart time in my house than (some) Pete-era albums do. Most of my Genesis listening these days comes from the run of Phil-fronted studio albums starting with A Trick of the Tail (1976) and ending with Abacab (1981), supplemented with a healthy dose of songs from Trespass (1970), which predates the “classic Genesis” lineup of Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford, Tony Banks and Steve Hackett. I certainly like all of those classic era albums, mind you, but I just don’t listen to them very often anymore. I should note as I state this heresy out loud that my love for Phil-era Genesis ends with Abacab, as things go horribly and irrevocably wrong with the first song of the next (self-titled, 1983) album: “Mama.” Ugh, do I not like that song, and ugh, do I not like the overly-slick post-MIDI sound that mars that and all later Genesis albums. But when they were great, they were really great. Duke (1980), in particular, has really risen in my estimation over the years, and it’s clearly the Genesis album that I listen to the most these days. So sue me.

3. Fan surveys routinely and consistently cite the same title when asked to identify the worst Genesis song of all time: “Whodunnit?” from Abacab. But I actually quite like this song, and think it was a far more successful attempt at harnessing post-punk and New Wave edginess than “Mama” was a few years later. Plus, the live version of the song actually featured Mike Rutherford playing drums while Phil Collins sang. It has to be seen to be believed.

4. Okay, while I’m on a roll, here’s another musical heresy, unrelated to Genesis: I adored Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians once upon a time, and I consider their 1986 album Element of Light to easily be one of my all-time favorite records. Robyn made another four albums with the Egyptians (bassist-keyboardist Andy Metcalfe and drummer-vocalist Morris Windsor, who had also played with Hitchcock earlier in cult darling band The Soft Boys) after that one before jettisoning the rhythm section and striking out on a solo career, working with a variety of other musicians in a variety of other configurations over the intervening years. Right around the time he made this switch, I interviewed Hitchcock for a newspaper piece, and asked him why he broke the band up. He chalked it up to growing up and getting older and not needing to have a band of mates who did everything together, sort of writing off the whole idea of being in a fixed/stable band as a musical whimsy of youth. But here’s the rub: I’ve never really liked any of the albums that Hitchcock’s done since then, since I think that the Egyptians rhythm section was as important to the albums I love as Robyn himself was. No one has ever made Hitchcock’s songs sound so good, before or since, so there was a chemistry there that was more than just a bunch of mates hanging out. Happily (for me), in 2012, Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor are working together again in  a new band called Three Minute Tease with singer-guitarist Anton Barbeau and guest performances by members of Stornoway and The Bevis Frond. Here’s the lead single of their eponymous debut album: “Love is Onion.” I highly recommend the record, and consider it superior to anything that the better-known Hitchcock has issued since parting ways with his incredibly talented former musical mates.

5. Is that enough musical heresy? It probably is. Let’s talk books for a second. I don’t read a lot of fiction, and I once categorized my reading habits in an earlier post on another blog thusly:

10% Fiction: Usually I will read new books by the the dozen or so authors I know I already really like. Breaking in new authors is so risky and hard. Why bother, neh?

40% Natural History: Ideally books about bugs, trilobites, fish, or birds, or parasites that live(d) on bugs, trilobites, fish and birds, or things that eat/ate bugs, trilobites, fish or birds, or interesting theories about the ways that bugs, trilobites, fish and birds interact with or influence people. I’m a bugs, trilobites, fish and birds kinda guy, y’know?

40% Music Biography: I have read at least half a dozen full-length books about Genesis, to cite but one example of my vast contemporary rock biography collection. And if someone comes out with a credible new book about Genesis next year, I will read that one too. Because someone has to, right? And it might as well be me.

10% Tales of Human Suffering: People falling off of Mount Everest, going insane in the Arctic because of the toxins in their tinned food, or trying to walk across the Sahara Desert alone will always be welcome in my book collection.

That being said, I did read a work of fiction recently that really moved me: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. He’s one of the few contemporary novelists whose work gets under my skin, and I think this is one of his best books. Go get it and read it, and then lets talk about the ending (with lots of “SPOILER WARNING” alerts for those who haven’t done so yet), okay?

6. Back to music: Public Image Ltd.’s new album, This Is PiL, is absolutely fantastic. John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) is in the best voice I’ve ever heard him, and the band (guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith) just nails a collection of fabulous dubby grooves, carrying the promise of the group’s hugely influential Metal Box (1978) into the 21st Century and beyond. Highly recommended, and a likely fixture on any year-end “Best of 2012” list posted here.

7. There isn’t really a seventh item here. But “Seven Stones” by Genesis is a great song, anyway.

Giant Ball in Sac City

The World’s Largest Popcorn Ball, in its shed in Sac City, Iowa. And Marcia, who is about 5’9″ in shoes, for perspective. And also the Casey’s where we got gas (with ethanol) reflected in the window. So very Iowa!!!

Marcia and I went to Sioux City in Northwest Iowa last night so she could attend a board meeting there this morning, and I could visit some fellow Iowa Museum Association (IMA) museums in Sioux City and in a variety of other towns between here and there. (Salisbury House, where I work, is a member of IMA). One of my favorite things about Iowa is basking in the amazing ways that civic pride manifests itself around the state. It can come in the form of fantastic neighborhood events. Or it can come in the form of absolutely spectacular civic or religious architecture, like the beautiful Adel City Hall in nearby Dallas County, or the incredible effort to restore the magnificent All Saints Church in Stuart, which was destroyed by arson in 1995. Iowa civic pride also produces delightful regional museums like the ones IMA represents (including the Sanford Museum in Cherokee, which we visited today), and a variety of historical societies dedicated to creating and preserving a permanent record of life in the state’s many municipalities. And sometimes Iowa Pride is about earning — and keeping — a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. This is Sac City’s claim to fame. God bless these industrious Sac Citizens, every one, and woe betide other towns in Illinois (or similarly mediocre corn states) that dare to rob Sac City of the honor properly due to its Giant Ball. I’m glad we got to see it. Here’s a closeup in closing, if you’re curious about what a 5,000 pound ball of popcorn and syrup looks like at a granular level:

The horror . . . . the horror . . . .

Evidence of Autumn

1. Marcia and I went to see President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter speak at Drake University’s Knapp Center last night, some five minutes from our house. The last time we were there, we watched the Drake Bulldogs Men’s Basketball Team beat nationally ranked Wichita State in triple overtime.  I like the building, a lot. The Carters were incredibly spry for a couple marking their 66th year of wedded life in 2012, and they spent the evening talking about the great work they’ve done over the past three decades with the Carter Center, working on issues of social justice and equity around the globe. They were tremendously impressive, and I certainly hope that I am as sharp as they are when I am eye-balling my 90th birthday, as they both are.

Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter speak at Drake University last night. Lousy photo, but tremendous presentation.

2. Last Friday, Salisbury House hosted the annual Gatsby Gala, a major fundraising benefit that’s built around a 1920s/Prohibition-era theme. Folks dress to the nines for the party, and I felt like I had to go along, as much as I dislike grown-up dress-up fun on principle. But work is work, so I went with a 1920s G-man look, figuring that the Executive Director of the House should be on the side of the law, not the bootleggers. The event was very successful from both a fundraising and media standpoint, so I am grateful for that on both fronts.

3. Tonight and tomorrow, our neighborhood celebrates the annual Beaverdale Fall Festival. We walked about tonight and then watched fireworks from our back yard. Tomorrow, Marcia is running in the neighborhood 5K Race. I will root her on from the finish line.

Band playing in the middle of Beaver Avenue during Beaverdale Fall Festival 2012.

When I snapped this shot in front of our neighborhood Catholic church, the band was playing The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” Explication on this interesting fact is left to the reader’s discretion.

Dusk over Urbandale Avenue, two blocks from our house.

Big neighborhood fireworks display snapped from our back yard.

Ten Years

Ten years ago today, I traveled to Beaufort, South Carolina to see My Dad for the last time, after he had been critically injured by an elderly driver who had no business being behind the wheel of a car. My Dad was in the same hospital where I had been born almost 40 years earlier. He was not conscious when I arrived, and he never regained consciousness, though I was there with him when he left the troubles of this world behind and flew away, which is important.

He passed away a couple of days after his beloved North Carolina State Wolfpack stomped my alma mater Navy’s football team by a score of 65 to 19. That was okay, though. I like the Wolfpack, too. He watched the game from his hospital bed. The last time that we spoke, by phone, we talked about the game, through his morphine fog. I’m glad he got to see it.

It was important to me that the last words he heard from me on that phone call were “I love you.” We’re one of those families that ends pretty much every conversation with those words, because you never know what tomorrow might bring. In this case, tomorrow brought something awful, so having said that made a big difference.

The image above is a memorial that my Mom placed in The Beaufort Gazette, since My Dad’s buried in the National Cemetery there, and he had so many friends in the area who we know will like to see it. The top image on the Wikipedia page for Beaufort National Cemetery is one that I took just after My Dad’s funeral. His grave is the fresh one right below and to the left of the big live oak in the middle of the photo.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since I took that photo. Some days, it seems like a lifetime ago, since so much has changed since then — but other times, it feels like yesterday, since I remember it all so vividly, down to the tiniest details that usually fade with time.

I miss him terribly, and think about him daily. And, thus, the public service announcement that I make pretty much anytime I mention him online: if you know an elderly or infirm driver who is no longer capable of safely operating a motor vehicle, you really need to help him or her transition to a non-driving state. Now. The man who killed My Dad walked away with a sprained wrist, while our lives were irrevocably changed, forever, for the worse. You don’t want to be responsible for doing that to somebody else’s family.

Take the keys when it’s time to do so. Please.