Thursday, January 31, 2008

The $100 Guitar, first in a series

This is a Harmony acoustic guitar I bought in Evansville, Indiana a few years ago. I have tried with very little luck to find the correct model number for those of you who care about such stuff, but it doesn't seem to match up with anything in the online world of Harmony guitar reference.

We were on a stop on the Hootie "Looking for Lucky" tour with a Sunday off. My father had asked me to look around Evansville, as it was where his LST was built and launched from. There weren't a lot of places open, but there was a small music store a couple streets up from the hotel. A couple of us went inside, and once we got past the modern imported Strat and Les Paul knock-offs, we were dazzled: there were dusty old Stellas and Epiphones and weird Univox amps. Mandolins and ukes on pegboard hooks on the wall; ancient drums and accordions on the floor. It was like walking into the back of David Lindley's mind, I imagine.

And none of it was for sale! The man who ran the store told us we should go visit a store around the corner if we wanted to buy something. I'm not exactly sure why he had the place open, and it pained me to have to leave all that high quality junk behind but we followed his advice and went elsewhere.

"Elsewhere" turned out to be Goldman's Pawn Shop. We walked in, and it was Danelectroville Incarnate! I struck up a conversation with Bob Goldman of the namesake family, and he told me that when they'd originally begun reissuing Danelectros, he bought lots of all the different models. And he still had quite a stockroom full of U-2's and Convertibles some years later.

I wasn't sure I wanted to part with as much as a Danelectro would set me back, even the lowliest of the bunch. As I began walking toward the door, I saw the Harmony on a rack of used acoustic guitars. I stopped and looked it over. The pickguard had a terrible warp in it. Very dusty, and very big. Not a pretty guitar. It was priced at a hundred dollars. Food for thought.

I walked back to the hotel (my friends had left me, drooling on the counter at Goldman's), and I kept thinking about the Harmony. I'd played it, and it had a big boom of a sound, even with old and rusty strings. Up to the room where everyone was hanging out, and they asked if I'd bought anything. I said not yet.

Jason, our stage manager, laughed and said, "Oh you just want to buy a guitar because all of ours are on the truck and you can't get to them!" He had a point, and so I hightailed it out to the street again and back to Goldman's.

I found Bob and gave him his hundred dollars and tax for the Harmony. We went into the back of the store, and he found me a chipboard case that would hold it (this guitar has very broad shoulders, less curvy than a Gibson). He threw in an old Ace Hootenanny guitar strap I found in a box while I waited for him to close up the storeroom. Strode back to the hotel, took the guitar out in my room, strummed a giant roaring A chord, and it's been a love story between me and this Harmony ever since.

There's no question when you play it that it's not a top-dollar guitar: nothing fancy about it. I took the pickguard off, which exposed a crack in the top I have yet to get fixed. No amount of polishing has given the neck or the body any kind of appreciable sheen. The action is a little on the high side which makes it ideal for my new-found ring finger-based slide guitar playing. The Harmony's greatest appeal is its enormous volume. The sound can fill a large room without amplification, and it can dwarf this vocalist easily. I've never played a louder acoustic instrument. Great for parties on the porch, and I can mesmerize the baby for over forty-five minutes at a clip with some slide practice in the mornings.

Next to my 1969 Guild D40 which I use for shows, the Harmony is my favorite guitar. I think of slapping a pickup in its soundhole and trying to use it onstage, but I believe that I'd prefer to keep it safe at home where it hangs in the commanding center spot in the Holsapples' Wall of Hundred Dollar Guitars.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


We had a memorial for my dad today at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem. A car from Salem Funerals came for Mom, Webb and me at about 1:30, and we rode down Reynolda Road and up the hill to the church.

As we pulled up, I saw a clutch of my closest friends at the entrance. Another was walking toward us from the parking lot. Neighbors of my parents were crossing Summit Avenue. The weather was unseasonable and balmy, much to my mother's delight.

The church provided ushers who got Mom to the front pew. My wife and kids and I worked our way up there as well, with a few breaks to greet some of my parents' close friends.

Dad's urn was in a carved wooden stand with a candle in front of it; I'm sure the Episcopalian Church has a specific name for this object, but I don't know what it is. The choir lofts where I spent many years as a boy soprano, then alto, were on either side, and the organist could be glimpsed in the mirror above the pipe organ.

The communion candles were lit. When I was an acolyte, they were the hardest to get lit and keep lit since they were on very tall candlesticks for very small boys.

The Reverend Thomas Murray was the officiant, and he performed the Burial of the Dead, Rite One. It's the rite that has more thee's and thou's in it, which I thought my father might've appreciated: he was not very happy when the Episcopal Church changed its liturgy in 1979 to the more modern style of English it adopted. Rite One is also the shorter of the two, which I though my mother might appreciate today.

Tom quoted from my blog in his remarks, having never known my father but wanting to be as empathetic as he could be. I think he did a great job.

He told us that the early cartographers put sea serpents and dragons on maps in places where explorers hadn't ventured because it represented the fear of what was not known. (I'd actually thought to bring one of the serpent-illuminated certificates of my father's, commemorating his crossing the International Date Line on the LST but thought better of it because of the curvaceous mermaids at the bottom.)

Tom reminded us also that death presents a frightening unknown. I don't know if Dad was scared at the end. There certainly must have seemed like there was some relief in the offing for him. His faith, a long relationship with the Episcopal Church, hopefully gave him hope for whatever peaceful afterlife he imagined for himself.

We sang "Amazing Grace" and an Easter hymn. Tom brought communion down to Mom in her pew, then we went up to the altar without her.

This is the church where I got my religious instruction. I knelt now at the altar I knelt at every Sunday growing up, usually next to my father. He'd seen me sing anthems as a soloist, play guitar in 'folk mass', get confirmed and assist in the services there.

It is a beautiful and gothic church, in my opinion, with enormous stained glass windows surrounding the sanctuary and lots of light stone and dark wood. I sat in those pews for many years, listening to the sonorous voice of the Reverend E. Dudley Colhoun, among the sweetest of the new Southern accents surrounding the transplanted Holsapple family. Again I find myself wondering, what was my father thinking and hearing when we both sat listening to Reverend Colhoun?

We sang "Oh God, our help in ages past" and followed the acolyte and Tom Murray to the back of the nave. It felt like a good send-off for Dad, what he'd requested.

After the service, I helped Mom down the ramp and the hall to the new Colhoun Room on the enormous addition St. Paul's built a few years ago. The room is huge, with windows that look out toward R. J. Reynolds High School, where I and my friends in attendance today had been students. Mom sat and received mourners. I went to try to get her lemonade, but it appeared there was only iced tea (there was lemonade but it was disguised to look like a coffee pot, which I discovered when I went to get coffee).

My four-year-old was happy that the room was so huge; he ran around, periodically colliding with me at just the least comfortable junction. He chewed Juicy Fruit and caromed around between his mother, me and whoever I told him to run to.

I proudly introduced my family to my friends and my parents' friends. We ate Krispy Kremes that one of my dearest friends brought. People I hadn't seen in thirty-plus years hugged me and told me they were sorry about my dad. I watched my wife and my high school girlfriend (who has been my parents' friendly loving face when they get admitted to Forsyth Medical Center) chatting with each other. The lady who sold my parents the Colhouns' old house on Knollwood Street when we moved to Winston in 1962 was there. I got to meet one of my father's shipmates from the LST-560 who just happens to live in Durham. We stayed about an hour and change, then I looked over at my mother and thought it best to go.

We said our goodbyes, collected the framed photos of Dad that I'd brought and also the guest register and headed toward the car. People told us how well-behaved our children were at the service, and we smiled and thanked them. Mom rode in the front seat again, and Webb and I rode in the very back, rolling our power windows up and down and laughing.


Thank you to everyone who has expressed their condolences to my family. We sincerely appreciate all the love coming our direction, and you're right, Dad was a wonderful man, the type we're not likely to see again soon.

Monday, January 28, 2008


probably a hundred yellow golf pencils

blank pads, empty notebooks of every size, graph and accounting paper, greeting cards for every occasion and their envelopes, three-by-five cards, lined and unlined, and thousands of return address stickers

faded sepia pictures of my father and his brothers from 1916 when their mother was alive, my little dad in his pudding bowl haircut but looking exactly like my later dad's eyes and face

canceled checks in envelopes by year

a note from the White House to my mom's father, the General, and her mother to a state dinner during the Coolidge administration

unwrapped Hershey Kisses in an old plastic box, alongside M&M's in a prescription bottle

filled notebooks, the smallest ones with wire binding, filled with my dad's henscratch, listing what he did that date in 1995 and 2003

calendars with trains and wolves and dogs, many from 2005

a collection of plastic shopping bags

a box with a ring of beautiful skeleton keys, no idea what they might open

prescription stickers

battery compartment backs of electric clocks, tape recorders and radios

an envelope stuffed with Campbell Soup labels

pennies, pins and nails

a letter from the Town of Greenwich, Connecticut, dated 1957, informing my father of electrical code violations in our house

record albums, 33 1/3 and 78 rpm

service medals and bars from World War II

an ancient New York City subway token with the Y cut into it (when you could ride for fifteen or twenty cents)

color slides from my trip to the 1969 Boy Scout National Jamboree in Farragut State Park, Cour d'Alene, Idaho

old butter tubs full of canceled stamps

a cane tip

ancient strike-on-front match packs from restaurants long closed and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge

a desktop hole puncher

genealogical research for the Holsapple, Livingston, Dearborn, Burdwin, Curtis and Bracewell families and pictures of the Holsapple family plot in Hudson (and yes, there's a space for me)

the last stacks of a once-massive collection of National Geographic magazines

lots of ball-point pens, most dried up and wrapped together with a rubber band

a big old bass-heavy Magnavox console stereo with easy-listening albums unplayed since the 1970's (and my copy of Ray Stevens' "The Streak" on Barnaby Records)

the private log of the commander of the LST-560

an old glass juice bottle labeled "hummingbird nectar" and the tiny beat-up funnel he used to fill his feeders

empty 'loose change' envelopes and some with small bills still inside

a cup full of bread bag ties

an object called an "Owl Grater" (don't ask)

the metal ice cream scoop my family has used since before I was born

thin and empty wallets

a dozen safety razors, a dozen old electric razors, coupons for disposable razors and cat food

Russian tea balls

a box of procedural disposable face masks and three boxes of tissues, one with the top completely cut off

liquor bottles, some decorative and empty, many sample-size and full, many full of sherry, his favorite

a white rotary phone

Chinese tapestries, photographs, furniture, maps, fabrics, chests and objets d'art

a bottle full of golf balls, tees and ball markers

books, ancient sets, recent mysteries, hardbacks, paperbacks, oversize, dictionaries, outdated encyclopedias, yearbooks, glee club songbooks

a pair of Harvard chairs, black with the school seal (Veritas)

audiobooks on tape and cd, and the cd player my father could never get to operate for him and I could never explain

a portable tv with rabbit ear antennas, connected to a reading magnifier he used for his last few years

pages of columns of figures, ciphers and sums with no illumination as to their source or importance

fifteen pairs of sunglasses and a pair of regular glasses with a built-in hearing aid that belonged to the General

ten sweater vests

flower arrangements

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dreams for my father

Today I've been bombarded by memories of my life with my dad, understandably. I've spent a lot of the time padding around my parents' home, looking at pictures.

Pictures of him in his Navy dress whites, leaning over a desk, talking to my beautiful young mother with his shy and knowing smile, or driving away with her after their wedding. Pictures of him standing in the Carolina surf in hat and waders, with his rod and reel but no fish. Pictures of him from a Wachovia annual report, planning someone's estate in the trust department. Pictures of him with his young grandson, sharing some unspoken thought.

Dad was inscrutable. Not in any bad way, just quietly impenetrable. He kept it so for some unspecified personal reason, maybe to savor his own tiny half acre of solitude that he may not have been afforded with a family who didn't always value silence.

It certainly was not in any sort of mean or unloving manner, as I never didn't feel love from my dad. But it also kept me from trying to pry inside of him, because I respected his privacy. Much as I knew things about my father, I didn't know a lot of what made him the way he was. We were never overtly physically affectionate with each other. I kissed my dad and hugged him, and he was there for it but may have been a little uncomfortable with it. Again, I don't know because he never let on.

But he seemed like the perfect father, attentive, patient and confident. I never heard him curse, and I never saw him lose his temper or cry or yell.

For several years after the birth of my first child, I would chastise myself for not being as great a parent to her as he was to me. It was a lofty standard to try to achieve. He was a Harvard-educated lawyer who'd commanded a ship in the Pacific during the Second World War. I was a dumb ass alcoholic rock and roll misfit dropout. Dad took excellent care of his family and his clients at the bank's trust department; I could barely take care of myself, much less my own family. It took me a while to realize that I was not, and would never be, my father and that I was my own man. I could absorb many worthy traits from how Dad raised me, and that was as close as I'd be able to get: I could be a fine parent with my own amalgamation of a great upbringing and common sense, which was the lesson I was supposed to learn. It certainly gave me a new and fresh energy with which to approach raising my children.

I used to think that my father would have made an excellent politician or judge. I never heard anyone say a bad word about the man. His honesty and sense of fair play seemed ideal to counter any of the slimy ethics that often pervade those arenas; but they also would have left him vulnerable to being chewed up and spit out by those less inclined toward honor and justice. Plus, I have to believe he was content with the path he chose as a husband, father and banker.

There were many occasions where I felt that I let my father down. Not making it through a prep school education. Not finishing college. Having no interest in sports whatsoever. Being a rock musician and not something more traditional and self-supporting. My secret (to him) drinking and drug problems. Getting divorced not once but twice. Not serving in the armed forces.

But these are all my own misgivings and not those of my dad's. If I did disappoint him, he never let me know it. His support for my chosen path never wavered, even at my most desperate moments. If he had dreams for me, I never knew what they were; he let me have my own ambitions, unfettered by his own desires. I hope I can give my children a similar fair shake.

In the last few years, especially since I moved back to North Carolina, my father got to see me change into a more responsible and thoughtful person, secure and abstinent. I hope that gave him some solace and pride. I'm sorry he won't be around to see his grandchildren grow up, but I'm grateful that he got to know them and vice versa. It is a relief to think his last perception of me was one that cast me in a better light than I'd shone for all those years, a good son and a good father.

Now my dreams for my father are just that he has safe passage and that he is surrounded by the loved ones he has missed for so long. His mother, who died in the flu epidemic of 1918 when he was six. His father and beloved stepmother. His older brothers. My brother Curtis. Friends, most of whom he managed to outlive.

I dream for him that he is no longer wracked with the pain and intense discomfort that corroded his last weeks. I dream that he is young and vital again, smiling that Buddha-like smile of his.

I dream that, as much as he misses my mother, he rests assured, knowing that she will be well taken care of in her grief, that she will not want for love and attention from her remaining family.

I dream for him that all the dreams that he may have sublimated on Earth so that his family would reap the benefits can finally come true for him, whatever they may be.

Henry Holsapple 1912-2008

My father passed away this morning at the age of ninety-five.

My mother and I, after spending time in his ICU room last night, found ourselves wrestling with removing his breathing tube. Fighting pneumonia, his lungs were being bombarded with oxygen and antibiotics. It would be difficult to say he was conscious throughout his last hours.

Nobody wants to be the one to have to make such a decision. I'd had to be that person for my brother, authorizing his morphine drip several days before he died in 1997. The idea of having to do that again, despite knowing that it would alleviate my father's discomfort, was not anything I wanted to do. Mother wanted to believe that Dad would recuperate and come home, but even she was beginning to accept what seemed inevitable.

But, true to form, my father made the decision for us.

Thank you, Daddy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Krispy Kreme

I drove into Winston-Salem the other afternoon and went straight to the Krispy Kreme on Stratford Road. It had occurred to me that a fresh Krispy Kreme might be just soft enough for my Dad to enjoy.

The consistency of a fresh Krispy Kreme doughnut is probably akin to the taste of an angel's halo, presuming those are edible. It's like biting into fresh, hot nothing covered in sugar. And then it disappears into your tongue and mouth and it's gone and so's the next one. They are hard to eat in the singular when they are young. Oddly, as they age, they fill with a cobwebby breadiness while their outside frosts over and stiffens. If you have a microwave, you can save your Krispy Kremes from this kind of fate.

This is the location of the flagship free-standing Krispy Kreme, and most of the present building is still pretty old. When I was a new lad in town in the 1960's, Thruway Shopping Center hadn't spanned to Knollwood Street yet, but you could get these great doughnuts right across the street. I was thrilled. My dad would bring home a dozen, and we'd make short work of them. When I was an errant teen, I would sneak out at night and wander across the I-40 bridge, sometimes meet my friends and dazedly watch the new doughnuts go through their little roller coaster, up and down on platforms guided by chains, into the hot grease and out of it. You could stand in the parking lot, looking in through a plate glass window; we did this a lot.

A few years ago, they enclosed the old building with a seating area on one side and a drive-through on the other. I went in and stood watching the doughnuts go around for a minute in the dusty afternoon.

A woman in a fancy hat was having a doughnut and a coffee. I'd seen her when I pulled up and parked. She was thin, wore sunglasses, read a paperback and sat alone at a table by the door. She seemed somewhat out of character for the Stratford Road Krispy Kreme in the afternoon. But you take your moments where you find them.

My dad enjoyed his doughnut very much.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Music and Oysters for Wildlife


I was a participant in a great, galloping concert last night in Awendah, South Carolina, just outside of Charleston. It was a benefit concert for Sewee Center. When we played at the Ryman Auditorium in 2007, Eddie White approached me about coming down for the show and playing some songs. So that's exactly what I did.

Mark Bryan, my comrade from the Blowfish, has another band that he co-fronts call the Occasional Milkshake. It's a raucous trio featuring my buddy from the backline Gary Greene on trap drums and the estimable Hank Futch from the Blue Dogs on upright bass. They have been the host band for this show for three years running, providing backing to all comers. They are formidable.

Tonight they're pressed into the services of a number of singers, Southern vets with family ties here, mostly through some involvement with Mark.

Doug Jones, from Cravin Melon, whose new album Doug Jones Everybody Doug Jones features the Milkshake throughout, and Mark produced it.

Danielle Howle, whose album Thank You, Mark was produced by M. Bryan and whose episodic road entourage sometimes features me and Gary too.

Mac Leaphart, whose band Five Way Friday has also recorded with Mark producing for an album called Wrecked.

And me, mostly on slide guitar (!) but a couple of my songs with everybody. Mark hasn't produced me (yet) but we play enough music together on a regular basis that I get a bye on that requirement.

Everybody played on everybody else's songs, except when they wanted to get off the stage for a while. There were two sets. Many songs were played including, coincidentally, "Ooh La La". Danielle and Doug sounded great together. Danielle and Mac sounded great together. They all ganged up and made a fine blend. We played songs by Old Crow Medicine Show and the Drifters ("Saturday Night at the Movies", a beach music staple from 1964) . Hank's dad got up and sang a duck hunter's song. "Sweet Tea" was a big harmony treat, presaging the Cravin reunion shows at hand. Mark roared through Paul Sanchez's "Maggie Don't Two-Step" and his own "Glad to Be Alive". I sang "Amplifier" and a sweet sleepy version of "She Was the One" that was a pleasure to hear go down. I wasn't familiar with Mac and his music, but I dug getting to share a stage with him and his Telecaster and will get better acquainted with it before we meet again.

There was an informal sense of respect and satisfaction on the stage between a lot of talented folks, blustery cold and wet as it was. That was where a lot of the warmth in the tent was coming from, I bet. The audience were so hardy to bear through it all. I wore more layers of clothes that night and still caught a chill through the leaky seams in my Docs. (Tonight, in St. Louis, they were streaked and bleached looking.) I threw away my socks when I got to where we were staying. My family, and my wife especially, deserve special morale-boosting-in-time-of-inclement-weather citations for sticking it out to the end. The four year old danced with his delightful cousin; the baby was allegedly digging the slide guitar, although the elder Mr. Futch blew her circuitry briefly. And my wife's cousin, thus my cousin, played hostess to the Holsapples while her own in-laws were bunking in, just because she wanted to get to hang out with us. The in-laws actually were in attendance for a large part of the show. They liked a lot of it, and they got to eat some oysters, too.

Gary leaned in to Mark and said he had to start driving home soon, and I think there was one or two more songs and everyone was packing or leaving. There was a second set from the Whisperjets, Eddie's son's band that I couldn't stay for, much as I'd enjoyed their opening slot and talking with them before the show.

I called my mom from the CVS parking lot to see how Dad is, and when I hung up with her, I looked at the phone. It was hard to believe it was only quarter to nine, felt like midnight. That's what a good day of music will do for you.

Friday, January 18, 2008


We have four ice cube trays in our freezer.

Actually, I'm lying. We only have one ice cube tray. We have three other trays that create small half columns of ice.

I love the ice cube tray. It was purchased new, or what passes for new, at a thrift store. It's classic. It is called the Magic Touch Spil-Gard. It's Carolina blue (natch) and it incubates eighteen ice cubes. The Spil-Gard is a small lip of plastic that guards spilling the water out of the tray and onto the kitchen floor. It works. You can usually get two 16 ounce glasses' worth of ice from a single tray. Like any ice cube tray, it sometimes won't produce. Half the cubes get stuck; the handle won't pull all the way up. But it's never anything that a short rinse under warm tap water won't alleviate.

The hemicolumnar trays I don't like at all. In the couple of years I have been co-owner of them, I have not found a successful way to manage their payloads. Inevitably two or three pieces of ice skitter out of their docks and shatter on the floor. I have tried to block them from dislodging with my fingers, but they're finger-shaped themselves and slip through my finest defenses. It is so frustrating. You need an entire tray to fill a sixteen ouncer, counting casualties on the floor. Their finest quality, and that's not saying much, is that they freeze faster than the Magic Touch Spil-Gard. Their product is ice, but their delivery method leaves a lot to be desired.

In our freezer, the Magic Touch Spil-Gard sits atop the other three ice trays, as befits its station but also because it sits better that way. The floor of the freezer is a sheet of ice that I irregularly chip through with a flat-head screwdriver. Water gets spilled on the bottom of the freezer: can you guess from which ice tray(s) that water's coming from? Not the Spil-Gard, I tell you.

It might help the situation one day to order some aluminum trays from the Vermont Country Store, fill them up and slip them into the freezer unbeknownst to anyone else in the house. That would be easy, but it wouldn't make the little icy columns go away.

Because my Smart Wife really likes them a lot. Better than my perfect little cubes. Imagine that.

Meanwhile, days come and go and in this house, there is always ice for your drink; love 'em or hate 'em, we always refill 'em. And you have a choice of ice here, so I guess that's an upside, too.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Recently, I've been consumed with numbers, small and large. I guess I'm really no different from anyone else on Earth, except that I've had all this time to think about them when I drive back and forth to Winston-Salem.

I try to let the gas in the car go down as low as I can so I can take advantage of Sheetz's "inexpensive" gasoline. That's a nice oxymoron for our times, since it's $2.88 per gallon. I can remember a time when it was a fraction of that, but barely.

It's 82 miles from Durham to Winston, so the round trip is 164 miles. The odometer on the Subaru has just passed 159,500 miles, most of which we've put on the car.

I just passed 25,000 hits to my myspace blog. That's pretty remarkable, considering what's been written.

In my recent appointment as power-of-attorney for my parents, I'm now looking at their bank statements and such. I will not put their numbers here, as it's not for public consumption, but it's more numbers as well.

I have doctors' phone numbers, bankers and investment counselors, numbers for retirement communities. Senior services from my parents' church. Hospice care. Since I began using my cellular phone, I no longer retain phone numbers in my head very well, except of course for all the numbers of my childhood friends since that's about the last time I've had to remember any.

I play in Charleston on Saturday, but I have to get there early for a strategy session with the other artists. My family has decided to come with me, and they will stay at my wife's cousin's house on Daniel Island. That's another 311 miles. They drive home, I fly to St. Louis for a gig on Sunday, then fly back to Durham. It's on Delta, so I'm checking the number of miles on my Frequent Flyer account as well.

School opened two hours late because of the inclement weather. I have to drive to Chapel Hill to do some studio work this morning with Chris, and I need to be back in time to make supper.

My dad is 95, my mom is 87. I'm 52. Wife is 33. I have kids aged 14, 4 years and 4 months.

Maybe later today I can add up all these numbers and see if it gives me a clue as to why they're all swimming around inside my head. Although I'm not counting on it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Around 5:30am, Baby stirs. Mom tries the pacifier, but Baby's having none of it. We hear the four-year-old scampering to the bathroom. Baby quiets and Mom heads off to rendezvous with Four Year Old, encouraging him to wipe his own butt.

Dad plays sleeping but eventually the sound of the percolating baby draws him over to her in the co-sleeper. He tries to insert the passy but Baby's having none of it. He pats her belly, strokes her face but she is making all sorts of noises from every orifice.

Mom returns with Four Year Old for a half-hour of snuggling (sometimes struggling). She suggests Dad rock Baby. Dad folds feeding pillow in half, wedges it into the side of the rocking chair where Baby's head will lie. He rescues Baby from the co-sleeper, wraps himself and Baby in a soft blanket and begins rocking. Baby is having none of it; Dad looks down and sees the biggest widest pair of awake brown eyes staring up at him.

Four Year Old is trying to initiate conversation with his drowsy Mom. Mom is having none of it. "The clock says six-zero-eight! The clock says six-zero-nine!" While Mom and Dad are understandably proud of Four Year Old's number concepts and reading ability, having the Speaking Clock in the room is not what they need for maximum rest potential.

Dad is shushing Baby rhythmically as she slips down into his lap. Four Year Old decides to help rock Dad and Baby, much to Dad's consternation. Four Year Old's idea of rocking in a rocking chair is decidedly more aggressive and vigorous than Dad's, and Baby and Dad are both having none of it. Baby finally closes eyes, drifts. A large wet spot has developed on Baby's pajamas and is now soaking through Dad's shirt as well.

"The clock says six-three-oh, it's WAKE UP TIME!" Mom seems pleased at the development, as it will take Four Year Old and Dad out of the bedroom mix. Mom offers to let Dad change Baby's wet diaper and jammies before she takes Baby for a feeding. Dad changes Baby in the dark without his glasses on, passes Baby off then searches for his specs. They have skittered under the bed where Dad does some random fishing through dust bunnies and old guitar catalogs until he finds them. Dad changes his own wet shirt.

Four Year Old requests computer time; Dad accedes, wondering if Four Year Old has come to realize that the family no longer has cable tv.

Dad slogs into kitchen where he tries to quietly empty the dishwasher unsuccessfully, breaking a bowl in the process. He can't remember how much coffee he puts into the filter, then can't remember how much water he puts in the reservoir. The coffee is very strong. Mom will be having none of it.

Dad returns to Couch (living) Room and finds Four Year Old engrossed in a computer game he started the night before prior to bed. Dad hands Four Year Old a banana and hopes it will not be forgotten in the folds of a couch this morning.

The sun is rising on Durham. Dad looks out the window and smiles. It's almost 7 am. Another day has begun, and Dad will have all of it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Guild S-200 Thunderbird

In the pantheon of guitars I still wish I had, the Guild Thunderbird ranks at the head. It was the guitar I always wanted, and I got not one but two of them. Then I sold them because I had to at the time.

Now, years later, when I run across a picture of one like this one from someone's collection, I stop short and linger over its design.

I look at the three slider switches, like a Fender Jaguar. The on-off switch, like you'd ever turn it OFF. The big shiny lead pickup knobs (that go to 9, from back in the days when there was still a value placed on reserve) and the two smaller ones for the rhythm. I look at the wanky old Hagstrom tremelo unit--I had a stop tailpiece installed on my sunburst T'bird, much like I'd done to my poor Les Paul Standard years ago, turning from an investment of an instrument into a 'players' guitar'.

I think about the guitar stand in the back. Basically, if you've never seen one, it's a nine inch flat metal bar that is hinged so that it sticks out at about a thirty-five degree angle from the reclining Thunderbird. On the same waved edge as the rear strap button, there are two tiny rubber feet that work with the guitar stand to give it stability and grip. Only they don't, really. Yes, the guitar will stand up but it will also tump over easily and its head will snap right off, like many of the repaired Polaras and Thunderbirds you see nowadays. There is a reason why there's a sticker affixed to the Guild guitar stand that says "Patent pending." The 'kickstand' patent may well be pending still, forty years later.

The Thunderbird is one heavy-ass guitar. That's a lot of wood right there; yet it's not a badly balanced guitar, though it seems like it should be.

I admit I favored Jet Stars for years which are considerably smaller 'junior' models. That's the guitar I'm playing on the cover of The Sound of Music, and there's another one laying around on the floor. There was a point that I had four of them, some with the six-inline headstock, some with the Hagstrom vibrato, all very cool guitars. One bit the dust when it fell out of a truck in Brussels, Belgium. The dB's' guitar tech, Jimmy Descant who now, understandably, builds rocketships, tried to keep me from learning this prior to the show, because I did react badly and stomped around for hours, pissed at myself for having shitty cases.

I knew when I had a Jet Star that it was only a matter of time before I had to have a Thunderbird. I found a red one at Chelsea Guitars in New York and next thing I knew, I owned it. It was a superb guitar, lighter than the Sunburst I acquired later. It was my main guitar on the Green Tour with R.E.M.; you can still see it in action on an NRBQ DVD that I am on. When money got tight, I sold it to Charlotte Caffey from the Go-Gos who bought it for her husband Jeff McDonald. You can see the guitar on the inner sleeve one of Redd Kross' CD's. I bet he still has it today.

By now, people are understanding the worth of Guild Thunderbirds. There was a point where Guild was an excellent bargain for collectors in that they didn't command the kind of kings' ransom that you'd fork out for a Les Paul or a vintage Stratocaster. Plus they were weird-looking, and maybe of a time. Mine were bargains, but that's not what I miss about them.

Playing the T'bird was very commanding. It had the softness to the touch of a good Gibson, but the pickups were quieter than Gibson humbuckers; maybe that was more of the aforementioned reserve. Notes that came from that instrument weren't coaxed but rather agreed upon by guitarist and guitar somehow.

When I was a kid starting out, I would see Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin' Spoonful
and his amazing Thunderbird on TV and marvel at the tone that I assumed had to be the guitar's (I have read since then that Zal did indeed use his Guild for recording.) I was given Electric Mud by Muddy Waters for Christmas the year it came out. It had a gigantic photo in the sleeve of Muddy, in a white robe, processed 'do and a Guild Thunderbird. Did I need any more confirmation than those two guys?

I hope I can own one of these great unsung guitars again one day before I go; it was a singular experience being a Thunderbird owner, fielding the questions and the quizzical looks when I'd pull it out of its case. And the questions turned to understanding nods once the guitar was plugged in and being played.

Raking the leaves

Today I spent a large part of the day outside, raking leaves and bagging them. I had help from my four-year-old for a couple hours until the lure of inside and warm and cozy drew him from my side. It's okay, because he was only so much help anyway and it was more about the company.

While I was alone, I realized that raking was a very good way to put my mind into a better place.

This has been a week of commuting back and forth to my parents' condominium in Winston-Salem. They are elderly (95 and 86), somewhat infirmed and still living on their own. My father has now fallen a number of times, and it's cause for great concern.

I'm the only living child of my parents; they now have to depend on me for direction on their welfare, something no one would have expected any more than Brian being the sole surviving Wilson sibling.

Parenting one's parents is not an ideal job, especially with my folks. My dad has tightly clung to the reins of the family's finances. He was a banker and has always paid all the bills except for the time when he was in the Pacific during World War II. That has not presented my mother or myself much opportunity to school ourselves on the matters of home finances, something I'm going to have to learn right away. Bills have now fallen by the wayside with my father's impaired vision, so there's much to do to get things up to date. I'm fortunate in having a wife who already understands how to make ends meet; she knows what's ahead and has been lovely about helping me with this.

I'm going to try to figure out what the best options for my folks are. Part of me wants to have them continue on in their home until it's untenable, either for medical reasons or for financial ones. That seems to be what my mother would want, to be surrounded by her tchochkes. Part of me wants to get them into a retirement community, either in Winston-Salem or in Durham, so that my dad can get the kind of care he needs and will soon need more of. He said to me once "You know, not everybody wants to go to a nursing home. I do, but..." Part of me just doesn't know what to do. Both parents are very stubborn about what they will and will not accept.

So I raked today and thought about all the possibilities and the inevitabilities ahead. I bagged about six giant paper monoliths full of wet and dry leaves from the base of the retaining wall and the little part of lawn near the street. I filled the rolling yard waste can to the brim. I greeted passing neighbors and strangers alike. I got out the ladder, moved the cars and sawed down big dead limbs that hung over our driveway. I reorganized our shed so that we can now get to everything inside it. I breathed the cool wet air. I did this for several hours and still I have no idea what to do for my parents.

My arms and legs are tired. My brain is tired. I should be able to sleep like a log tonight and face another trek to Winston-Salem tomorrow morning, possibly having had the answer delivered to me in my sleep by a man on a flaming pie, although I'm not counting on it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Kent and a Kalamazoo

My parents and my grandparents got together for Christmas of 1966 and bought me a Kent two-pickup electric guitar and a Kalamazoo amp. It had become pretty obvious that I was serious about playing guitar, and the grown-ups wouldn't have known a Kent from a Gretsch White Falcon. So this is what I got.

I must say that my anticipation that Christmas got the better of me. In my father's night table, I located the key to his closet where I found the guitar. Despite my best efforts at subterfuge, my parents caught on that I'd sneaked the guitar out for a few hot licks. My mother, in particular, was incensed that I'd lied about sneaking in the closet; she was probably the angriest class mother at my fifth grade Christmas party. I carry this guilt with me today, for some reason.

My across-the-street neighbor, Charles Vance, got the identical guitar in red, and he got a Kay amp (I think). We were playing music together, much of the same repertoire that Dana and the Blue Jays had. Charles' brother Burton played a pancake snare drum with us, and his big sister Lucy deigned to humor the little guys by singing with us sometimes. We were probably not very good, but it was a lot of fun. We were called the PeChes, pronounced "peaches" as a clever combination of our first names (Burton was too young to care, and Lucy was not a real band member).

I grew restless with the Kent. It was sort of difficult to play, since this was before the onset of Ernie Ball Super Slinky Strings. There didn't appear to be much in the way of tone, although who could tell through the tiny Kalamazoo. I did learn about 'turning it up ten' as that was the best I could get out of the amp.

Eventually, I traded up for a 1965 Gibson Melody Maker, then to a Les Paul Special and then the guitars started coming and going. A 335 with a Bigsby. A Dan Armstrong plexiglass. A sweet SG Les Paul Standard with the pull-up vibrato, which I, stupidly, had removed along with the pickup covers.

I've owned a bunch of guitars over the years. I've loved a lot of them, despised a few and destroyed a couple in fits of teenage empowerment. But this is the smokin' little combo that was waiting under the tree for me in 1966 which started the ball rolling.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Tomorrow is my brother Curtis' birthday. Were he alive, he would turn 63 years old. He died in 1997.

Looking at his Dinky Toys recently, I was impressed by the condition of most of them. In the argot of their collectors, they are somewhat 'played with' but not to the point of needing restoration. Their original paint is largely unchipped. Their primitive plastic windscreens are still attached. Their tires are original ('flat' in some cases). If they came with drivers, the drivers are still there. I even found the box for the Austin Healey. It is, overall, remarkable to see an assortment of fifty-year-old miniature cars and army vehicles in such pristine order.

If you were to find my own Corgi Toys, which were similar size to Dinkys but had operating doors and bonnets and other features more attuned to the Sixties Child like me, they'd be tireless, driverless hulks of scarred, scraped and dechromed miniature automobilia, ready for the tiny car crusher. Curtis' cars were played with, where mine were tested for their utmost durability at the hands of a small boy.

Was Curtis that fastidious about his stuff?

Each of his cars, on their shiny embossed black bellies, had a small rectangle of white adhesive tape on them, to identify their ownership. So that leads me to believe that he had to have played with other boys and their Dinkys, such that some might get absorbed into the other's collection accidentally. I think that the tape i.d. may have been my mother's doing; she did an awful lot of sewing of name labels into shirts and sweaters during my brother's and my childhoods, from what evidence remains.

I wish that I had known my brother when he was a small child, but obviously time doesn't allow for such things. By the time I was able to remember much about him in our upbringings, Curtis was already off to prep school for most of the year, then to college when we moved to North Carolina. That's what happens when you're eleven years apart in age. We referred to ourselves as "two only children", having had our parents largely to ourselves for most of the time. We also referred to "your father" or "my mother", and as I look through this post, I see that I still do that.

My mother has told me that she was much stricter with Curtis than with me, that he got spankings and reprimands from her as his behavior demanded it. She did a lot of the initial raising of him as he was born in 1945 when my father was still serving in the Pacific. She has told me about his friends; Ricky and Alden and little Craigie Craig, whose parents kept sheep in their yard to keep their lawn mowed but with much less successful results than they'd hoped. Their whole existence, Mom, Dad and Curt (as he was called then), ten-plus years before I was born, seems like another family. My memories begin with a whole different house in a whole different town, my father having begun a new career as a banker, post WWII and an absent older brother.

I try to picture my brother sometimes: not the arch, caustic New Yorker who lived blocks from me for a decade in the 1980's whom I never saw much of, but the six-year-old child, on the floor in the Connecticut living room, playing with his cars. They didn't have a television set in the house until after I was born. Curt played with his toys and read what must have amounted to a thousand books, most of which are still in the basement of my parents' place. He had musical instruments in the house, and he eventually acquired a small accordion, though it was the upright piano and the pump organ that got the most of his attention. He sang in choirs in his churches and in glee clubs in his schools. He painted pictures and did linoleum woodcuts.

Curtis did most of the things kids in the early 1950's did, the things we now see in old illustrations or outdated textbooks and catalogs, stuff that seems so primitive and low-tech that we find it arcane and funny. But that's just how it was then, that's what was there for Curtis and his buddies to do.

I miss my brother, even though you could never say we were very close. When I see my parents these days, I know that he is never very far from their thoughts, the injustice and unrelenting cruelty of one's child predeceasing them close to the surface at all times. I wish Curtis was around to talk with about Mother and Dad, but I'm on my own with them now. He was a particularly good and dutiful son to his parents, and that's something he's left for me to try to achieve as well. Sometimes I imagine what he might suggest when I'm at a loss for ideas myself.

But were he around, I could never ask him what he was like as a kid. Curtis would draw himself up, snort and sneer and say "waaallllll...." and then snicker and change the subject, like there was some big secret about it that I was not ever to be a party to as the younger brother.

And a secret it has become, like the smiling faces in an old unidentified photo in someone else's family's album.

Happy Birthday, Curtis. I love you.

your little brother Peter

Monday, January 7, 2008

Things I wish they made in grown-up size

I'm a man. Spell M. A. N. Man. Not no boy-child. A man.

But sometimes I wish I was a boy-child again, especially being father to a four-year-old lad. Responsibility is all very fine and good, but nothing beats the kind of directed leisure that children get to experience.

All that Dinky Toy stuff made me long for toys, even though theoretically I'm too old and, ahem, mature to play with childish things I put aside long ago.

When I see some of the stuff that kids have today, I get all excited then pouty that we didn't have some of that when I was a child back in the mid-20th century.

Oh sure, I had an Aurora H O raceway set with the crossover tracks and banked curves. I had the game of Trouble which I still enjoy from time to time. I can't remember much more than those, having been a books-and-underwear kind of kid at the time.

And for all the cheap and crappy import toys that proliferate the market, there are still some things that, were they made in adult size (no, not Depends diapers, thankyouverymuch), I'd covet:

1. The "Johnny Jump Up"

Ah, to be suspended in a doorway, bouncing myself into bliss. Both my daughters have had these, but my son didn't get to play in one, having lived at that age in homes that didn't have copacetic door sills.

2. The grocery cart

A modern design marvel, in my opinion. Sometimes, I'd like someone to push me through the grocery. As big as they get are the giant ones at Costco, but still not big enough for me to fit in.

3. The Sit and Spin

Around and around we go. I bet work productivity would go up substantially if there were adult Sit and Spins located in office buildings around the country. Who doesn't love making themselves dizzy?

4. The sandbox backhoe

Okay, well, maybe a Bobcat would suffice, but then it'd be about work and not play, wouldn't it?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Chasing the piano

Tift Merritt bestowed upon the Holsapples a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano several weeks ago. "It gets to stay in the family!" effused Ms. Merritt, herself a talented ivory-tickler. We, too, were thrilled, since my job is basically one that involves keyboard instruments most of the time; the last piano I had was Smart Wife's childhood spinet which bit the dust in Katrina, unfortunately. Our little kids will be subject to piano lessons, and now they have one for the hours of practice they will undoubtedly be putting in.

I arranged with a company, who shall remain nameless, to move the piano from Tift's place out in the boonies to our urban hideaway in the Bull City for a flat rate. It was substantially less than what is known in the business as a "professional" piano mover would charge, and perhaps my radar should have registered that but it didn't. I felt like I'd found a bargain. We arranged that the movers would call an hour before they were ready to meet me, between three and four pm.

Today, while shopping with the family at a chain bookstore (who shall also remain nameless), I got a call from the movers' dispatcher around 2:00pm, alerting me that they'd gotten finished early with their other deliveries and that they'd be at the pick-up location in about a half an hour. I shoved the family through checkout, into their seats and back home in a hurry, then printed directions to Tift's abode and shot back out the door.

It takes about a half hour to get there from our house. There are directions that say that street names change along the way, and there's a section of the route where the pavement ends and you can kick up a lot of dust. I scuttled along and pulled in to the driveway, eagerly anticipating the movers' imminent arrival.

I waited about a half an hour then called the dispatcher. "Oh, they had one of the engine lights go on, and they've stopped at Penske." Any idea when they'll be here? "We'll call you when they're on their way."


Time to kill, something I don't usually find myself with much of. I sat in the car and did the Independent crossword from two weeks ago, Christmas themed. Almost got it all completed, too.

Still no one.

An hour passed. I called the dispatcher again. "They just left Raleigh, and they should be there in half an hour to forty-five minutes." Sigh.

More waiting. I made a couple phone calls, then got outside and enjoyed the silence of rural North Carolina for a few moments until I got cold again and got back in the car.

VRRROOOOM. There they are! There they go! Right past the driveway! I leaned on the horn, and they backed the truck up to the drive, then began backing down the driveway.

I explained to the driver where the piano was. There was something of a language barrier between us, but I understood "credit card" and "sign here and here and here and here and here." While I was negotiating the ten pages of paperwork, the driver and his two helpers were busy swinging the ramp into place.

They used no straps on the piano dolly but they kept it steady and off the ground. Some of the angles they had the ramp today were beyond the laws of geometry as far as I could tell. They strapped it to the wall of the truck with a moving blanket on, stowed the ramp, shut the door and they were off.

Like a rocket, they were off.

Our first turn was onto the unpaved road, and they were a cloud of dust before I could make the turn. I may be from North Carolina, but my moonshine-runnin' driving skills leave a lot to be desired, especially in our little Subaru wagon. It was a hard fight, but I wanted to keep them in my line of sight, since they had my new piano on board.

We made it back to pavement about seven miles later, and I still couldn't keep up. These guys were fast.

I got past them eventually on I-85 near our exit by doing about 75 mph. I wanted to get in the driveway before they tried to back in.

When we got to our house, they sized up the situation and decided it'd be easier to mount all the steps in front to get the Baldwin in. So that's what they did, and at the same alarming rate of speed that they'd driven at. I was sure it was not going to make the corner in the entrance hall, but the movers knew it would and it did. I bet they wanted to be done for the day.

But man, we got a piano now! I got to play on it for about fifteen minutes of sheer bliss before the family came home and I had to get geared up for the show tonight. More to come.

Friday, January 4, 2008

More Dinkys

Broad Street Cafe, Durham, NC January 5

My Smart Wife suggested that I put this info up on my blog, so here goes:

I'm playing the middle set on Saturday at the Broad Street Cafe in Durham.

The opening act is Sweet By and Bye, an all-woman bluegrass band who I got to see a few months ago. They are so very appealing. At the show where I caught them, they did a swell version of "Ooh La La"
, a song that naturally works in that setting.

The headliner is Peter Lang, a self-described "American primitive" guitarist. I knew his music from the days when he was on John Fahey's Takoma Records. Peter is also doing a guitar workshop the next day at one in the afternoon at Broad Street Cafe.

I look greatly forward to this gig, my fellow performers and my friends in the audience. It's a benefit show for First in Families in NC, a worthy cause. The tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door. Please make your way down to the BSC and help this group while hearing some good music.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Here, inspired by Terry Anderson's Christmas morning drumkit shot, is a picture of my first band, Dana and the Blue Jays. I was a Blue Jay, the one to the right with my mom's discarded Silvertone. My bandmates were Tommy Winfree on the other guitar and Dana Olive on drum and cymbal.

I met Dana at the dreaded Wake Forest Physical Fitness camp that my parents sent me to two consecutive summers (for all the good that did, basically putting me off all things physical- or sports-oriented for life). His dad was a WFU professor, I believe, because they lived in a campus apartment. I can't remember if Tommy went to camp too, but he lived kitty-cornered from Reynolds High School. They both were in the next grade up from me.

Most of our repertoire came from the Golden Beatles songbook (the original sculpture on the cover which I saw under glass at the first Tokyo show I played with R.E.M. years later--what a gas) and WTOB radio's playlist. It was about then that I started trying to figure out the chords by retuning my guitar there to whatever I was hearing on the radio.

But the Beatles songbook drove me crazy. There were pictures of George, doing some wacky C-major-shaped-lookin' barre chord that I couldn't begin to approximate at nine; plus, the little chord symbols throughout the song put stuff in keys like D flat, preventing the use of first-position faves like E and A. So I began throwing out key signatures and leisurely learning the pattern in whatever key used the simplest chords, a practice I still use today. My Hamilton capo was yet to become a formidable weapon in my assault against music.

As with many of my bands, we practiced more than we played out. In fact, I don't think we DID play out. But we got my dad to take a picture of us on the Holsapple family's little-used patio. And what a picture, with the date on the border too!

It's a neat reminder of what got me started in this endeavor I've been in for such a long time. Cheers, Dana and Tommy, wherever you are.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Life flashing before eyes, pt. 2

When I wasn't taking pictures of toy trucks last night, I watched some television with my wife, including a retrospective of Saturday Night Live from the '90's.

I watched the show fairly religiously when it was the original cast, but I have been an infrequent watcher since then, partially due to my chosen vocation's tendency to have gigs about airtime and partially because when I'm not gigging at that time, I'm probably trying to sleep.

There are people who I know that can quote entire skits from SNL word-for-word at the drop of a hat. (Not until about three weeks ago had I ever seen the Christopher Walken 'more cowbell' episode, but I felt I had, having had it replayed for me dozens of times by lots of different people.)

I forget jokes or worse, punchlines, even as funny as I may think something is. My mind is a humor sieve.

I also am not very good at recognizing popular cultural icons of today, or even, apparently, of the Nineties. There were cast members on SNL that I cannot say I have any recollection of having seen ever.

So this retrospective is not a program that I'd probably watch, were it not for the fact that I can only watch so much CSI of an evening, and that there's a writers' strike going on. This show must have seemed nothing short of a small miracle to its network, as it involved no script, just interviews cobbled together. The only writing going on was done years before, and God knows if those writers get paid again in this context (one would hope they would).

After a parade of cast members singing along with Steve Martin, perennial guest host, they began talking about the early Nineties, those halcyon days of funniness.

Suddenly, there was R.E.M., or more specifically, me with R.E.M., performing "Shiny Happy People" with Kate Pierson from the B-52's. I was in the dead middle of the shot, playing Hammond.

What I remember about that show was that I'd never played that song before. I didn't even know it, really. I sure as hell didn't know it on organ.

But I was on my own tv for about fifteen seconds, another little meteorite come to life again.

(My wife said, "You were cute.")

Dinky world

I spent a good part of New Year's Eve photographing Dinky Toys . These are metal cars, trucks, farm implements and army vehicles made by Meccano Ltd. in England from the 1940's and 1950's. I'm probably going to put them up for auction at some point in the future, but for now, instead of finding out what I'm thinking about today, I'm putting them on the blog to see a tiny lead-painted world that we're long gone from....