Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Times blog post is up

Here's the fourth installment:

Measure for Measure: How to Write a Song and Other Mysteries (New York Times Online)

Enjoy it.

Early Voting Day concert, November 1, 2008

For those of you in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area, please be apprised of an upcoming concert this Saturday morning November 1, 2008. In honor of Early Voting Day, The dB's will be headlining an amazing show at UNC-CH's Graham Terrace, adjacent to the Morehead Planetarium. The lineup is nothing short of stellar:

Regina Hexaphone
Greg Humphreys (of Dillon Fence and Hobex)
I Was Totally Destroying It
Ivan Rosebud
Superchunk (acoustic)
Billy Bragg
The dB's (guest bassist Mitch Easter)

Music starts at 9am (don't worry, there's coffee and doughnuts available) and goes 'til it's over.

A musical reminder to get out and vote. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lost in song

Continental Drifters at the Warehouse Cafe, New Orleans LA 1992 (with Dave Catching and Pat McLaughlin)

(Honestly, I don't remember who took this picture, but if you do, let 'em know. I'll take it down or give credit where it's due.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Car stereos I have loved

Driving to the Harris-Teeter, lost again. I'm in Smart Wife's little economical Honda Civic with Bob Dylan crooning "You Left Me Standing in the Doorway" from Time Out of Mind.

Time has necessarily gone out of my mind on this ever-lengthening ride, since I can't remember what street the Harris-Teeter was located on. I've lived in Durham for two and a half years now and there are some landmarks that I could not tell you how to find. My regular grocery is a Kroger by I-85, but any other supermarkets are consigned to a messy mental void that encompasses the diverse byways of University Highway, Hillsborough Street and Guess Road. We're not talking about a massive city when we speak of Durham; it's under three hundred square miles in area. I'm just slow on the uptake of learning anything other than the simple routes I use to get to a couple regular destinations. My wife will not be able to tell when I start having senior moments, as it won't be much different from the way I am now.

At least there's a stereo in the car. I've had so many cars over the years, and the few that didn't have at least a push button radio were the ones I transferred a giant requisite dislike to. It was hard to be among all that silence, combined with the clattery of my own mind.

I mentioned the Olds Delmont 88 convertible a couple posts ago, and it had the standard Delco AM radio with a big old boomy speaker in the middle of the back seat; now it would probably seem inaudible next to one of today's subwoofin' jeepin' SUVs and king cabs at the intersection.

My dad's Volkswagen was violated with a cheap 8-track player in 1973. One of my co-workers at Reznick's installed it beneath the ashtray, and he hooked up the speakers in the little luggage boot behind the back seat. I had so many 8-tracks. You could find the weird shit, like the first NRBQ or the alternate version of Runt by Todd Rundgren (different songs) for next to nothing. Nice, seamless records like Ummagumma and A Wizard, A True Star were broken into noisy chunks, punctuated by the ca-chunga of switching tracks. Double-tracking was another little annoyance, when the heads would play two channels at a time making an unholy medley. "They" said you could fix it with a head cleaning cartridge and adjusting of the heads with the dial under the tape slot, but it was never for long.

The first car I ever had that had FM radio was a 1977 Datsun 200SX that my Chapel Hill friends may remember. Over the years, the shape of the 200SX modified itself right out of distinction, but the debut year was pretty groovy. Bought new (which was part of a bigger and more horrible story, perhaps for a later time) the yellow Buck-Rogers-ray-gun shaped car was wonderful! Everything worked, at least when I got it; considering the 1972 Toyota Corona that I'd had to back through town in the dead of night to get it to a transmission repairman, functionality was a big bonus. And in Chapel Hill in 1977, you needed FM radio, to get WXYC and WQDR (back when it was the rock station), as opposed to stodgy old WCHL.

The 1968 Pontiac station wagon that took me to Memphis when I quit school had the same Delco operation that the Olds had had, so I was not without tunes on that long run with a loaded-down car, fortunately. AM was still marginally acceptible, but not for much longer.

The years in New York? Who owned a car in New York at that point? The single day I did was the day I left for Los Angeles. Finding a simple place to park near my 14th Street apartment was breakdown material for a guy who just wanted to pack his stuff and go.

The unparkable car was, in this case, a 1963 Rambler American coupe with a pushbutton overdrive that jolted me past Corvettes like I was the guy in "Beep Beep" by the Playmates. It also had its original AM radio that I augmented with a boombox covered in dog stickers, named Lassie which I did to all my boomboxes at that point in my life. On my cross-country trek, I was given a tape made from the new-technology CD of the first two Big Star records. Even on Lassie, the difference was apparent. The future was at hand. I was going to be stuck with as many cassettes as I had been 8-tracks.

My mid-life crisis auto was a bright red '65 Plymouth Barracuda. There was a cassette player in the car, but the engine was often louder than I could get the stereo. One day, as I pulled up to a Continental Drifters' acoustic rehearsal, the clutch spring shot out and clipped my collarbone and fortunately not my eyeball. Otherwise, a pretty cool ride.

Fast forward past the Ford F-150 pickup and a few Volvo 240's. I drove a Chevy van that had only one side of the tape deck working. That was actually sort of fantastic, especially with the hard-panned Beatle stereo mixes and various Booker T. and the singular MG tracks I played. "Talk Talk" by the Music Machine was a big favorite, vocals and really loud tambourine on the one side, everyone else on the other. In a car, I think that kind of mixing makes sense, but it's probably less listenable in the home stereo stiuation.

The Subaru Legacy wagon we bought in a rush in Pennsylvania after Katrina drove us northward had a CD player in it, but it never worked so we listened only to the radio; one of the things we never got around to doing was going back and having a word with the guy who sold us the car. Smart Wife's VW Diesel Rabbit had cassette and radio, however we didn't own any cassettes anymore so we never were able to be sure if that part worked.

Now we have the Eurovan, into which we had installed a new-fangled CD/radio which also allows us to play our iPods through a short cord. That's pretty great, I must say, although the price of gas and the Euro's fuelhoggishness has made driving the VW more of a liability (not to mention that it needs a few tweaks mechanically and a current inspection sticker).

Which also brings us back to the Civic. The cord that connects the radio is broken, so we're just listening to CDs. In this time of economic uncertainty, malevolance on the campaign trail and general bad news, maybe being backed into the single, non-updatable sound source is a handy form of enforced mental relaxation on the part of the anxious driver.

Then again, maybe that's why I'm lost, searching for Harris-Teeter.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Two weeks shy of the third anniversary of my first blog entry there and closing in on forty thousand views, I'm shutting down my MySpace page and blog. My Facebook page is already gone. This lovely little landing strip will stay put, and more energy will go into keeping it current, in our mutual interest.

The decision had been building for a while, but it came to a head today. My head, actually. My fifteen-year-old asked if I had to be a friend with her on Facebook. In my dad-like way, I was enjoying this new avenue of communication with my kid, but failed to recognize the obvious cringe factor involved in having your own parentals somewhere in the virtual room with all your cool friends. So I said no, I did not, and I removed her profile from my friend list with maybe a little pause, then a bigger pause.

It struck me how much time I was spending every day on these two sites, deleting messages and event invitations to gigs in Scotland and Mississippi. And now deleting someone near and dear to me when I had complete strangers chatting to me daily about whatever was on their minds.

The morning ritual, along with coffee, had become to check for messages overnight on Facebook and MySpace. And there always were. And many needed replies, and business was starting to be conducted there, and it was consuming great hunks of my time, transfixed by what is happening in the Live Feed. Links to follow, videos to watch, mp3's to listen to. Books to find. 'Gifts' sent, left unopened and deleted. Someone sent you an obsidian paperweight, what would you like to send back? Flair? For a short while at the beginning, I gave people crummy old synthesizers. Lucky them. If it actually was that room full of your cool friends, no one would hear each other think.

Mornings turn into afternoons and...

Who has that kind of time?

I don't, unless there would be a way to do this and have them pay me, which is highly unlikely. I barely get done what I need to do online presently.

It's my fifteen-year-old and her cool friends who actually have the time. They have school and homework and Facebook, and they negotiate it a lot faster, downloading photos and changing layouts. I think it's great that some people can do this actively, especially some of the non-teenage ones who I suspect might be at work, too.

Me? I'm getting shitloads of NOTHING done with those two pages in my life, so I'm taking a man-sized action and killing them off before they suck down any more of my time.

I'm supposed to be using my time wisely, writing here anyway, right?

Plain White T's, I have not become there, and the spread of my influence through MySpace page's music player is probably negligible. It got down to putting up the Monkees' tribute tune and nothing else; I wasn't recording anything new, and the ancient catalog of near-hits is overmined elsewhere. I guess I'll miss that promotional tool that I used so well.

I had a wall. I don't like walls all that much, even virtual ones. Send a letter, don't scrawl on a wall.

So I had over two thousand friends on MySpace. Crowded room, there.

I heard from people I thought didn't exist anymore, people I'd watched from a distance but was able now to confess a crush from three decades before, people whose bands I'd worked with, roommates from school, classmates out the wazoo, people who needed you to write back and people who just wanted you to. People who heard my songs when they were getting together with their girlfriends or breaking up with their boyfriends. People who were there at the beginning, people who weren't born then til after the end. Some who sought me, others whom I unearthed. Not all two thou, but many letters in three years from all over Creation. I thank them all for writing.

I found people whose work I admired, too, and with whom I was able to cultivate a couple of superb conversations, very gratifying.

And it's not that I don't want to hear from old and new friends. I just can't be the kind of attentive friend I'd really try to be if we were in the same room. There are lunches to be packed, limbs to be pruned and dB's records to finish in my living world, and I can't spend near enough time with any one in my computer to make it worth their while.

I do owe the facility of the system at MySpace credit for making me into a blogger in the first place. Ease of use is a great there for a tenderfoot, and although I got the same error message (Blog advanced editor can't run on your current browser/OS) for three years, I could give a tinker's damn if I type in something like TextEdit.

It was never in my mind to become so beholden to my little MacBook and its path to the Internet, but it happened. The social networking sites' precedence has made it an all-or-nothing proposition for me, because I have never been able to practice much moderation in anything I do, like my fabulous drinking career. It's imperative that I remain connected on my computer for writing and recording, but there's no way I can do that if I'm constantly checking a message board. Hell, Craigslist is bad enough, and I can't stop shopping even if I'm not buying.

So I've made a choice that makes good sense for where my life is presently.

What I'm trying to say is, stay tuned here. This is where the action is now. Concentrated into this blog form, replete with images and links and the general morose pithiness you've come to expect from me (except not in this post). I still don't think I'm going to do mp3's here, with the ever-so-slight chance of having the RIAA descend on me with a giant leech, but maybe someone can talk me into it. The communication will be a little more one-sided, but replies will happen best as I can manage.

See you shortly, and thanks for keeping on here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jungle gym

Day before yesterday, after school, I got to watch the five-year-old put hand after hand on the overhead ladder and get himself from one side to the other.

It seemed like only days ago that he'd been struggling, worried about how to get from one rung to the next, how far down he would fall and how badly he'd be hurt if he did fall. Now he boldly traversed the ladder with me ten feet away, hearing "watch this, Daddy" and looking on, gapemouthed and amazed.

I remember having that feeling about ten years ago, out at the lakefront park in New Orleans, watching my daughter struggling the same way for weeks of her trying and dropping to the sand, sadly defeated for all her effort. Until one day, she swung herself to the next rung, stayed attached then did it again with a look of intense exhiliration in her face. She was incredibly proud of her victory, as was I, and she has excelled at gymnastics and physical education ever since.

There's one more child that I get to watch go through this in a handful of years. I love sharing their pride and excitement to cross the jungle gym.