Thursday, December 27, 2012

Technology

In my view, technology — particularly as it applies to “progress" — has waged war for almost a hundred years on how we think, how we understand, how we learn, and in the biggest picture, our ability to comprehend and converse on the linear plane. But it’s nothing new.


The first radio broadcast happened on Aug. 31, 1920. And with that new medium, live entertainment went from being restricted to theater stages to an entity that could be performed in network studios and transmitted to vast numbers of listeners during the broadcast. I say listeners, but in truth, consumer is the better word. Radio was a big moment, much bigger in my view than the first silent films, which had been around since the turn of the 20th century.


The first “talkie” — THE JAZZ SINGER — came along in 1927, and again, all forms of live entertainment, even radio, had a new kid on the block with which to contend.


It’s not a coincidence that the 1930s gave American culture its golden age in the realm of literature and art, as well as the embryonic stages of the newest and most accessible creative form — the motion picture. But the process to make a film hinged on the well-established arena of the novel. First, someone wrote a story; then someone else wrote that same story for the screen, and sometimes, both stories resembled each other. Often not, however.


My belief is that the better films were always made from the novels that were written as novels, without the author thinking ahead as to how the story in print would translate to the action on the screen.


Meanwhile, countless motion pictures were being made using well-known classic plots, and Shakespeare was no exception. Silent Shakespeare films, for instance, are beyond illogical, and yet, eerily compelling. It’s like taking the Cliff Notes version and then tweeting the action.


The novel, the classic play, and the occasional original idea could live in harmony as they waited in movie green light limbo in the 1940s. Meanwhile, radio provided entertainment of shorter duration with a broader appeal. Imagine the oft-repeated scene of the family gathered around the radio to listen to the next episode of GUNSMOKE or THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM — foreshadowing now when families gather to watch, for instance, HOMELAND or BREAKING BAD.


The film and radio industries, hampered but never extinguished “live” entertainment on stage — an art form that has survived virtually every technological assault since the 16th century. Can’t say the same for lute players or ventriloquists.
TV, however, changed many things. Although invented in the late 1920s, it wasn’t until 1948 that the first network television began in the United States. And radio — particularly in terms of dramatic presentations — became the most obvious victim of TV. And with radio came another casualty: the average reading level.


Each technological “advance” helped diminish reading as the first choice in the manner in which to obtain one of our basic needs — the story. We need stories perhaps as much as we need our dreams; in fact, they are often the same. But our subconscious doesn’t really care how or from where we “get” the story, just that we get it. TV was far easier than reading, and quicker, and even better, new.


But the biggest game changer of all — ever — in the realm of focus has been the internet.


Long before the internet, the average reading level had dipped each year since TV came along, but when the web arrived, linear thinking changed forever. It wasn't long, for instance, before GPS and Smart Phones grabbed civilization by its collective thumb. Amazing how powerful technology has become. Sure, it's fast and efficient. We can video conference someone in Fiji as if they were next door. Instant Karma, indeed. And that's all terrific.


But in the midst of the "ease" of technology, plenty of traps lurk like highwaymen waiting their moment, and in my opinion, the most sinister of those gambits involves attention span. When people are used to interacting with a maximum of 140 characters — by necessity a new acronymic language evolves. Nothing at all "wrong" with that, but eventually, haiku communicating takes its toll. 


Reading actual sentences, for example, becomes a task. Reading an entire magazine article turns into an uphill Everest undertaking, while actually sitting still to read a book — with the understanding that it will be a process of some undertaking — seems as possible and as likely as a cow jumping over the moon.


And yet, words continue and will always continue. As does our shared need to listen and to actually hear how those words, used by masters, shape our view of reality, and just as importantly, ourselves.
Live theatre is more than a performance; it’s a tribute to resilience. You can’t tweet JULIUS CAESAR any more effectively than you can watch LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on an iPhone.


Sure, you can do that, but like homemade bread, it’s better to go old school.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fair, with heart


The Republicans act as if a 3 percent increase for the vastly wealthy will ruin the economy. But we know that is merely the talking point.

They are protecting the big donors, and by big, I mean at the level of Sheldon Addleson or those true American patriots, David and Charles Koch. We also know where Grover Norquist gets his funding, and reasonable people must be left with the reality that these

 people are willing to hold the entire economy hostage to get their way. John Boehner, for instance, is going all in on this.

Obviously, the only way compromise will happen will be IF some of the more moderate House Republicans risk their political futures for the sake of the country. That's a lot to ask, particularly as elected officials — on both sides of the aisle — constantly prove that they are more about self-service, than public service.

One of the key elements of the debate on raising taxes which sometimes get dusted off the floor too soon is simply this:

How much does $2,000 mean to a middle class family, as opposed to the 3 percent increase for the vastly rich? What is the actual percentage of spendable income that is involved?

Finally, trickle down does not work, and yet, the Republicans keep insisting that the slight increase to the upper 2 percent will do horrid things to the economy. In truth, we know that if those taxes aren't raised, horrid things will CONTINUE to happen in regard to revenue not raised. Yes, we need to curb spending but starting with medicare and social security is as vapid as it is heartless.

Fair is all that reasonable people are asking. It's past time for Republicans to reclaim their party from the extremists such as Norquist and the Tea Partiers, and actually do the right thing.

Wouldn't that be inspiring?

Like ·  · Pro

Monday, November 26, 2012

Many Thanks


My wife and I visited Staunton, Va., last summer to attend a performance of the American Shakespeare Center's production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. We felt at home in the quaint, surprisingly vibrant centerpiece in the Shenandoah Valley and enjoyed our experience at the theater so much we decided to return for Thanksgiving weekend.

During that first visit to Staunton, we learned that Frederick Ho

use serves as one of the American Shakespeare Center sponsors. We figured anyone who cared enough about a theater company to help ensure its longevity would — most likely — run an "inn" with aplomb. Happily, but not surprisingly, that's what we encountered during our stay at the impressive 25-room, multi-location bed and breakfast owned and run by Joe and Evy Harman.

We chose to arrive on Thanksgiving day, and I'd called earlier in the week and was told it would be fine to check in early. We arrived in Staunton at 12:45 p.m. and had our first meeting with the Harmans, who are gracious, witty, extremely articulate, and, as we soon discovered, quite kind.

Joe noticed that I limp because of bad knees and upgraded our room to a first floor suite at Patrick House. It's difficult to express just how much pleasure my wife and I felt when we strolled into that wondrous first floor space with hardwood flooring, high ceiling, tons of perfect light, and a four-poster king bed that provided a sublime sleeping experience.

We actually booked that very same room for NEXT Thanksgiving within 15 minutes of our arrival, but we're already looking ahead to returning earlier to Staunton and Frederick House— in addition to our Thanksgiving trip — to take advantage of the many enticing diversions that Staunton has to offer.

The American Shakespeare Center is reason enough to visit, but if theater is not your cup of mocha, allow me to suggest touring the region, visiting the wide range of art galleries, or simply putting the food bag on.

There are numerous dining options in Staunton. We chose Aioli (Saturday) and Zynodoa (Friday), and the Thanksgiving buffet at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. I recommend all three. How does a Mediterranean Paella sound? Or a spicy gumbo with a twist? Or perhaps a mountain of jumbo shrimp surrounded by smoked salmon? Yes, we enjoyed our dinners.

Breakfast at Frederick House, however, proved to be our favorite food experience. Everything that Evy Harmon serves, Evy Harman has made. It's up to the guest to decide how healthy a breakfast he/she wants. From oatmeal to multigrain waffles, carnivores and vegetarians will have access to a powerful combination of high quality ingredients, flavor, and wise dining options. Fresh juice and coffee to start, and then, a guest is on his own. Do you have the quiche? Cold cereal? Granola? Or perhaps a sausage and egg combo? I recommend the waffle. Outstanding.

So there you have it — some thought for food, as well as food for thought.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Breathing Blue (in a red state)


I live in Wake County in North Carolina, which went 55 percent for Obama. Sadly, my state did not match its 2008 dramatic break from the rest of the "obstinate south."

I am pleased, however, that NC did not "automatically" come up red as did the usual prime suspects. Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Montana, Wyoming, and Texas come to mind.

Thrilled that Colorado and Virginia chose reality over spin. Both states are too "beautiful" to paint themselves red. Even more thrilled that voter suppression tactics failed in Florida and Ohio. Proud that so many stood so long to make their vote count. Of all the malarkey that taints our election process, the partisan manner in which our country stages elections looms at the top of my LET'S FIX THIS SHIT list.

Second on the Fix List is Citizens United, and the role vast sums of money tried to play. Karl Rove, for instance, can screw himself as he learns (again) that you can't purchase happiness. Karl Can't Get No ... Satisfaction.

Thrilled that the war against women, as well as the war against truth, spun off the tracks. Hats off to Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly, who deprived self-appointed rape experts and obvious lunatics Todd Akin and Richard E. Mourdock a chance to spread their venom.

Thrilled that an intelligent, vibrant activist — Elizabeth Warren — will get her chance to make a difference in DC. Smart is always good, and Warren is plenty smart.

Thrilled that Tammie Baldwin defeated hypocrite Tommy Thompson, and equally thrilled that she will be the first openly gay candidate elected to the US Senate. Talk about leaning forward.

Thrilled that marriage equality laws passed in Maryland & Maine.

Meanwhile, the Woodstock Child that lurks in my heart and brain is grinning that pot is "okay" in the states of Colorado and Washington. John Prine can alter his lyrics when visiting those regions. "Ah, but fortunately, I can buy the key ... legally."

Thrilled that Alan Grayson is returning to the House.

Thrilled for all the down ballot state and local victories that will — hopefully — force the tea party to find a new beverage. I suggest hemlock.

Thrilled for Bernie Sanders.

Thrilled that Obama will — most likely — have an opportunity to put folks on the Supreme Court who have left eyeballs and know how to use them. I'm talking to you Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Isn't it time to relax and enjoy the good life. You've had your run. Now, get the heck out of the way.

A great night. 

Obviously, I wish North Carolina as a state had better sense. Same holds true for Minnesota, which elected Michelle Bachmann. Again.

I have empathy for all of those living in regions who are outnumbered by their "friends" across the aisle.

Sigh.

But overall this morning, you might say that I'm fired up. And yes, I'm ready to go.

The task ahead is daunting. But the country dodged a big one last night. And what should make most reasonable people smile — we won't have to find out how big.

Signed,

Breathing Blue (in a red state).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The 100 Percent


In regard to the extreme commercials Obama and Romney have used, there's a stark contrast to Romney's Jeep Ad and Obama's use of Romesia — it reveals the difference between a negative ad that is based on lies, and a negative ad that points out a critical truth.
 

Despite all of the bluster and dissembling from both sides,  several critical issues lurk in the balance with this election.



1. The economy. I understand the passion of those who fault Obama for the sluggish economy, just as I understand their weariness at the mention of the mess that led to the crash. Perhaps we can agree it was a bad situation that Obama did not make worse. Of course it could be better. Obama has admitted that, and in my opinion, it is not strictly Obama's fault that it is not better.


2. Women's rights, including abortion, contraception, and equal pay. I see some have discounted the Lilly Ledbetter act, but I happen to think that legislation is a big issue, and not just for women, but for households, where there's only one person working, and that worker is female. Equal pay should have happened in the last century, imo.



3. Foreign policy. Personally, I'm not in favor of drones, and both candidates have endorsed the use of that weapon. I wish Gitmo were closed, and I'm pleased we got Bin Laden.

4. Character. This actually evolved into an issue late in the campaign because one of the candidates veered sharply away from previous extreme positions. I've seen the word pivot used, as well as changing one's mind, and, of course, the old favorite, flipping and flopping. It's perfectly reasonable to change one's mind; sheite happens. But when one candidate seems to flip back and forth from positions, that's when doubt comes in as to what the heck he really is up to. In my humble view, it takes a strong amount of faith that the Mitt you want or expect is the Mitt you will get.

We are going to believe one candidate or the other. I wonder if we can agree that this election is particularly volatile because of so much uncertainty, mostly that either Obama or Romney is not going to have an easy time if the GOP retains the House, and the Democrats keep control of the Senate.

Our bigger problem is not who we elect president, but how we manage to reinvent the art of compromise. Some might say, for certain Mitt will boast, that as Governor, Romney had 87 percent Democrats, and that he worked across the aisle. His record tells us that he vetoed more than 800 bills, and 780 of those bills were eventually passed via override. Obama, as has been pointed out many times, has not been too successful working with John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and the rest of that adamant bunch. And Harry Reid has promised Romney that if the Dems keep control the Senate, they will not work with him if he is elected.  We — the people — are screwed either way.


This is where the system is gouging us. The last two Congresses have passed the least amount of legislation in the history of the country. That's disgraceful. It's easy to see why many people are cynical about the process.

We can be passionate about one candidate or the other, but until we — the people that do the hiring and firing of these alleged public servants — demand more of our elected officials, rather than feeling smug that our side — whichever one we're on — won a political campaign.

In my view with what has transpired in the past 12 years and the growing rancor and discord that dominates our discussion and how congress operates, the country has lost the last three presidential elections. We — the 100 percent — need that to change.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Who are you?

I see that, after his second debate disaster at Hofstra, the emergence of Binders Full of Women, and then Friday’s amusing diagnosis of Romnesia, Multiple Choice Mitt strikes back, accusing the Obama campaign of having become "petty" — that Obama keeps "talking about smaller and smaller things."

Mitt is desperate to deflect the focus on his cretin, 1950s stance on women's issues, particularly their right to choose how to handle their own bodies, as well as equal pay for equal work. Perhaps women's rights are "petty" to Romney, and that would certainly not be surprising.

Romnesia, of course, is satire, but as with all good satire, it is fueled by truth. It's a clever expression that defines Mitt's serial mendacity. I suppose it is "petty" not to have a solid stance on any issue, other than Romney wants to win the election. Romnesia suggests that Romney will say anything to get elected. He already has. He's the definitive 180-degree candidate — like weather in the tropics, his positions are always changing.

Mitt could actually debate himself Monday night. So, which one is he really? Moderate Mitt? Tea Party Mitt?

Monday, October 8, 2012

MTV and the election

Imagine if some of the legendary songwriters of the past five decades decided to get involved.


The Bells of Romney — Bob Dylan

Sweet Home Obama — Lynard Skynard

There Goes Rhyming Romney — Paul Simon

Lies — J.J. Cale

A Bain Pirate Looks at 60 — Jimmy Buffett

Let Him Fly, Rain & Chief  Mashup— Patty Griffin

Crazy Little Thing Called Voter Suppression — John Hiatt, with special guest Bonnie Raitt

You Turn Me On, I'm an iPhone — Joni Mitchell

Your Body Is A National Park — John Mayer, from the album ROMNEY FOR SQUARES

Taxmen — The Beatles

Blue States Crying In the Rain — Willie Nelson

Where The Center Leans To The Right — As read by Joe Scarborough, Andrea Mitchell on tambourine

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


EVERYONE

Everyone smiles clichés
Everyone believes the hype
Everyone requires praise
Everyone’s a stereotype

All the guys in Carolina
Love NASCAR and beer
All the girls in Carolina
Speak in a slower gear

Everyone’s a thumper
Moonlight beamer
Crash car humper
Big time screamer

Everyone loves the Klan
Wears Rebel flags
Does what he can
To keep torching fags

Everyone craves KFC
Finger-licking thighs
Everyone loves Jesus
Eternity’s the ultimate prize

Everyone smiles clichés
Everyone believes the hype
Everyone requires praise
Everyone’s a stereotype

Every New Yorker
Jumps ahead in line
No time for strangers
Even less for the blind

No one cares in the
Biggest of big cities
Unless you’re young
Foolish, and sporting big titties

Everyone loves the casual prank,
Hitting numbers, planning heists,
Armored trucks, brand-new banks.
Who cares if someone gets iced?

All New Yorkers
Have joined the mob
Eat Italian at midnight
Act like fucking slobs

Everyone smiles clichés
Everyone believes the hype
Everyone requires praise
Everyone’s a stereotype

Every liberal is a commie
Wants to live in Paris
Says redistribution
Is the fairest of the fairest

Rednecks and the rich
Why, they’re all the same
Some sit near the fire
While others fan the flame

Every killer has a reason
A priest is forced to say
Every banker commits treason
Cause that’s the game he plays

Everyone’s a shooter
No one likes to pass
Only hos work at Hooter’s
Cause they have a nice ass

Everyone smiles clichés
Everyone believes the hype
Everyone requires praise
Everyone’s a stereotype

Hope you’re smiling
Cause none of this is true
Well, maybe some of it
What are you going to do?

Everyone has skin
Everyone has a heart
Everyone belongs
Everyone has a part

Everyone has skin
When push comes to shove
Everyone needs and bleeds
Everyone loves to love

Everyone loves to love

Everyone

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Second Hand Fox

Paradise Hotel
Dining for two
TV in the bar
Spewing its spew

Ask the bartender
Please turn the dial
He says with a grin,
“That ain’t my style.”

Turns up the sound
Stubborn as an ox
Stuck in limbo
Second Hand Fox

Unfiltered intrusion
Permeating the air
Obstinate inclusion
Get me out of there

Psychic invasion
Too much to bear
Can’t see a thing
Too much glare

Wrinkle your toes
Flatten your socks
Assault your nose
Second Hand Fox

I’m a traveling man
Prepared to handle
Smog and cancer sticks
Portent of vandals

Lumpy pillows
Worn out scandals
Rooms with no view
Even wickless candles

But please spare me the
Noise of tampered clocks
Metronome diffusion
Second Hand Fox

Wrinkle your toes
Stain your smocks
A lethal dose of
Second Hand Fox

And then I dreamed
Of what might be:

Paradise Hotel
What’s that I see?
A new bartender
And MSNBC

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Positive

THANK YOU, JOHNNY MERCER!!!



Gather 'round me, everybody
Gather 'round me while I'm preachin'
Feel a sermon comin' on me
The topic will be sin and that's what I'm ag'in'
If you wanna hear my story
The settle back and just sit tight
While I start reviewin'
The attitude of doin' right



You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene

To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do just when everything looked so dark?

(Man, they said "We'd better accentuate the positive")
("Eliminate the negative")
("And latch on to the affirmative")
Don't mess with Mister In-Between (No!)
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

(Ya got to spread joy up to the maximum) 

(Bring gloom down to the minimum) 

(Have faith or pandemonium's)
(Liable to walk upon the scene)

You got to ac (yes, yes) -cent-tchu-ate the positive
Eliminate (yes, yes) the negative
And latch (yes, yes) on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
No, don't mess with Mister In-Between

Monday, May 21, 2012

What's in a name?

Does it appear that Jason Dufner chews tobacco or has a serious wad of gum?

Obviously, it doesn't matter, but I'm hoping now that Dufner has climbed the ladder of fan awareness, as well as perhaps his own confidence stairway (to heaven), maybe he will share a bit more about himself. Still, compared to Ben Hogan, Dufner is Steve Martin. Who isn't?

It was said many times that Hogan kept everything close to his vest. Actually, that wasn't true. Hogan didn't even have a vest, and as the tour meanders into his neck of the woods this week, i wonder what The Hawk would make of the current state of the game.

I doubt Hogan would care that his name is not associated with the event this week. But I do. It's simply appalling that Crowne Plaza didn't demand/suggest that one word be added to the name. CROWNE PLAZA HOGAN INVITATIONAL AT COLONIAL.

That's not exactly rocket science. And if those in charge feel the name is too long, drop AT COLONIAL. What's more important? The name of an outdated and far too easy golf club, or the name of the game's most notable ball striker EVER.

This is not a tough choice from a pure golf perspective. Obviously, from a marketing stance, it's different. At least that's what those folks would say. I couldn't agree less. You want to "sell" an event on the PGA Tour? Use the right ammunition. A hotel or a golf course can be found everywhere. But there was only one Ben Hogan. Besides, HP seems to realize how valuable the Nelson legacy is to the event we just witnessed. Is Hogan not on the same level? Of course, he is.

Hogan taught everyone how to practice. Or at least how to try and practice. And he didn't do it with mirrors, or video, or a golf swing guru. Nope, he did it with work. Those of us lucky enough to see a video of Hogan hitting balls at The Masters late in his career were mesmerized. Hogan is unique, and his name should, at the very least, be on the marquee.

Perhaps the best evidence of this absurd state of affairs is that Justin Timberlake has his NAME associated with a Tour event, and Ben Hogan name does not.  eek1

Some will say Bobby Jones does not have his name on The Masters, but isn't that a different issue? Jones built a golf course and created the tournament. Hogan played  (and belonged) at Colonial, and I know some will say that the name Hogan is synonymous with Colonial. I agree that to a certain extent it is .

But not enough – in my opinion.

OCCUPY HOGAN!  biggrin

Sunday, May 20, 2012

This could be the last time (but I doubt it)

The first time I saw The Rolling Stones happened to be on The Mike Douglas Show back in the early 1960s. Douglas had no clue what the band was about, but with the first few seconds of "Not Fade Away,"  I knew I did.

Music changed for me in that moment. It became vastly important, and I'm thrilled to say – despite the fact that I no longer drink alcohol, take drugs, or smoke, and that I'm not a youngster, music remains just as vital, just as necessary. I interviewed Jimmie Dale Gilmore back in my newspaper phase, and he said, that for him, "music was air." I feel the same.

My iPod has tons of artists and bands as my tastes have broadened since I attended high school. But my heart and soul will always first belong to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and, of course, The Stones. My view is that the 15-year period from 1965 to 1980 provided the absolute best commercial offerings in the history of music. For instance, imagine driving a Mustang convertible in 1970 and listening to the new single, "Layla."

These days if I even turn on the radio it's because I'm tuning into a UNC football or basketball game. Now, I drive a Genesis coupe with terrific speakers and an iPod with 10,000 songs. This is similar to riding around in a vehicle the size of an aircraft carrier that's crammed with juke boxes instead of planes. Technology is our salvation as much as it is our curse.

I happened to be browsing online a few moments ago and came across a link to Saturday Night Live, and the video for the show that aired with Mick Jagger as host on May 19. I was surprised at the ease with which Jagger lampooned his various personas, and it was pleasing to see that he's got a sense of humor. Of course, he's been famous for almost 50 years.

So for now, let's skip the age and Jagger jokes. The guy is 68 and still moves on stage like a much, much younger man. He can still sing, too. Jagger performed with Foo Fighters and Arcade Fire, as well as with Jeff Beck,  and it was all good as far as I'm concerned.

Sure, it's only rock and roll, but I've always liked it. Loved it, actually. Yes, I do.

I doubt Mick will be performing regularly on TV, and I suppose it could even have been the last time.

But I doubt it.



Sunday, April 29, 2012

Concerts: big and small

A friend in New Orleans said 500,000 attended the recent jazz festival, and that number is dazzling if not daunting. I wonder how many stages and in how many days. Personally, any concert on any stage with more than 300 people is too big. Give me a small stage and a chair close to the band.


MerleFest now has 81,000 or so attending the four-day series – a dwarf compared to the creeping monster in New Orleans – that nevertheless is overwhelming in terms of infrastructure and the effort to main focus during a set. Somebody, usually a lot of somebodies, walks or stumbles in front of you, steps on your toes during a ballad, starts yakking on their phone during a fiddle break, or if it’s one of the stages that doesn’t have folding chairs, someone invariably dumps gear at your feet as if you were not even there.

Ah, human nature.

MerleFest now has 13 stages in operation, and it’s my conclusion one can still have the “profound” musical experience on the more isolated and smaller venues. Or very early in the day. The main stage has devolved in my view, and yes, you can still see the BIG NAMES – Alison Krauss, for instances, closes MerleFest today, and it will be an acoustic zoo with tapping feet, swaying old folks in tie-dyed shirts, and plenty of harmony. It will be great, but it will also be one of the few bands we will have seen on the main stage. For us, the “real” MerleFest exists in the satellite stages.

Saturday morning, for instance, we eschewed our breakfast and coffee ritual in nearby Blowing Rock and simply tumbled down to the car and arrived on the festival grounds by 8:45. We set up our folding chairs in a perfect spot in front of the Americana stage, and knocked back a couple of mochas from BlueMoose Coffee – clearly not a rival of Cafe Envie in NOLA (the BEST mocha I’ve had so far in my quest), but rather a distant (as in very distant) soulmate. But the caffeine did help us gradually get in tune while watching a low-key blues set by Michael Roach, who wore a grayish lightweight suit with a snazzy tie and perfect fedora as he performed on acoustic guitar. Roach, one of 13 children from Washington, D.C., was vastly entertaining, which i attribute partly to the coffee, but more so to the sublime coincidence of not many people in attendance and unseasonably cool – if not cold – temperatures.

Red June followed Roach, and this band is our BIG DISCOVERY for 2012 MerleFest: Natalia, a fiddler who trained as a classical violinist, her husband John on mandolin and guitar, and Will on dobro and guitar, have just released their second album, which we listened to in the car on the way back to Boone (and our hotel). They are traditional and yet current. Very compelling. I particularly enjoyed the songs Will wrote and told him so after a stunning set in the Traditional tent later in the day. Red June will be coming to our area on May 12 – a day marked by my scheduled audition for a number of area theatre companies. Maybe somebody will need a pudgy gray-haired guy with the tendency to keep talking in spite of the cues to shut the fuck up. 

At any rate, Red June will be giving a free concert that night, and we will be going. The band will be having its album release party on June 15 in Asheville, and we don’t need much of an excuse to go to the mountains so we will be headed up to see them then. I’d guess they are in their mid 20s, possibly leaning toward their 30s. Natalie and John are married, and their relationship certainly adds a noticeable off-stage element. I do know they met in Asheville six years ago and that Red June is in the third year of its existence. And to have played MerleFest in that short span of time bodes well for them.

After Red June, a very young traditional band from Florida – Jubal’s Kin – played the Americana stage. Fiddler/banjo player/guitarist Gailanne Amundsen is 17, wears ankle bracelets and plays in her barefeet. Her brother, Roger, might be on the darker side of 20, sports a beard and a red CONOCO hat, and plays acoustic and electric guitars, while their brother Jeffrey, might be 14 and plays standup bass. They are as eclectic as they are mesmerizing. In the set we saw, Jubal’s Kin was joined on stage by a scraggly, hirsute banjo player/fiddler who I dubbed Itchy Brother. He didn’t add much, except for the moment when Gailanne had a string break on the guitar that she and Roger shared during the set. Itchy Brother tried to yank the string off the guitar, which, of course, didn’t work, and to complete the song they were performing, Gailanne picked up a banjo. She has enormous dark eyes that reflect whimsy and surprise, as well genuine joy in the music that she already knows how to make. To cover Roger’s string replacing activity, Gailanne and Itchy did a fiddle duet which resulted in a friend from the audience joining them on stage to dance, which prompted Jeffrey to start dancing as well. A terrific sequence, totally evolving on the fly – one of those rare moments when everyone involved on stage and off is aware of the problem being solved ... it was sublime.

Roger fixed the guitar in time for the next number, and the band resumed with what I guess they had planned. Hard to say, other than that it was clear they had as good a time as I did. For me, a concert works best when I’m close enough to the stage that it is also theatre – that I’m able to see the performer blush when applause follows an inspired break, or the darting, snake-quick glance that warns a fellow player that the song is about to end. You can’t run from reality on stage; it’s far better to embrace it.

And as always, as has been widely known for centuries: The play’s the thing.

As i used to say about retail, and it certainly holds true for live music, if it weren’t for the people, it would be great.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Right Place

Have extremely mixed emotions when i see the words New Orleans.

As I've mentioned, I love that city, its people, food, music, history, ambience. I was eager with light blue expectations that the Final Four was held in the Superdome there this year until WristGate. Then, I didn't give a sheite. Just wanted UK to lose.

It's been said (many times) that you can't always get what you want. Heck, we (UNC) didn't even get what we needed, which was – at the very least – to advance past the round of 8.

But UNC's demise can't be blamed on NOLA. Bad luck is bad luck, and Carolina had it last season with knees and wrists. LMac. Dex, Henson, and KM. I feel terrible for the players. So much effort and anticipation for a colossal confrontation with destiny ... that was not to be. Had Carolina not suffered the wrist injuries, I believe it would have advanced to the final of the NCAA Tournament and squared off against those crooks from Lexington. Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. Who wins? Probably the bad guys, but that's why you play the game.

Mojo, though, has a way of taking new shapes, perhaps because like rust, it never sleeps; it keeps looking for its next arena – the next big drama for which it might (or might not) influence. Maybe Mojo caught The Masters and knows that Bubba Watson will be back in Avondale, LA, to defend his victory from 2011. It will be Bubba's first event since his stunning playoff triumph, and as always with Bubba, it's impossible to predict what he will do. Sure, he might shoot 60. But was it for 9 holes or 18?

What about those five foot putts that seem to trouble Watson from time to time. One can't go Sherlock and advise, short putts for par are elementary, because they are most certainly not. And this issue – the nervy putts that define a champion's path, makes the triumph at Augusta even more profound. I truly believe it was fortuitous (for Watson) that the final shot of the tournament was from less than six inches to the hole. A greater distance than that, and the playoff might have marched on to 11.

Will the Masters victory nudge Bubba to the next level? Genuine confidence is tricky, isn't it? One might think that winning a major would eliminate self doubt for a lifetime. But there are a number of players who win a major and spend the rest of their careers wondering if it had been a fluke. It's a long list. A major – as has often been said – is a very, very difficult event to win. It's hard enough to prevail at the John Deere or the Mayakoba.

A decent field and – for me – a stunning locale add some spice to this "gumbo" we're about to taste. Some Creole this, some Cajun that. As Dr. John might say, must be the right place at the right time.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Been awhile

Since January, I have watched the Heels find, lose, find, and lose their collective mojo, and eventually get banged up enough to end the season with a disappointing result against Kansas.

I've seen Bubba Watson hook one around a forest and claim a green jacket.

And i've finished the rough draft of SHATTERED, the second Trent Jones novel.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How I Learned To Write A Russian Novel

1. First of all, one has to experience the kind of dread that seems endless. The Russian winter, for instance, is a terrific source for this feeling and the ideal metaphor as well. Imagine a bleak, gray existence of sub zero weather that lasts for months and months and months. Imagine also that you run out of vodka the first week.

2. So the basic requirement to slip into Chekov Mode is a profound sense of the futility of it all, that the reasons for living have vanished, and that as Jimi Hendrix once mused, "There ain't no life anywhere." Or as Talking Heads once observed, "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco." 

3. As luck might have it, Saturday, January 14, 2012 gave me my breakthrough. In fact, I believe I might even be good for a series of Russian stories with sad, pathetic characters enduring their sad, pathetic lives, watching sad, pathetic TV, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, and having cabbage soup for all meals.

Wow, you might be thinking. What happened to cause this angst?

1. Tar Heels.
2. Tar Heels
3. Tar Heels
4. Tar Heels
5. Tar Heels
6. Tar Heels
7. Sick cat who puked on our bed
8, Clogged toilet that actually began the day
9. I'm a Redskin fan who has fallen in love with New Orleans, and I adopted The Saints as my second team.  
10. I played poker online and lost.
11. I could name five or six other endeavors where things didn't go my way, but I believe you get the gist.

If Dante were alive, perhaps he'd consider a film that merges the plot of GROUNDHOG DAY with THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE – a series of self-imposed disasters, seemingly without reason or hope of conclusion. And if Dante were alive and contemplating such a project, I know just how he feels.