Monday, March 28, 2005

Uke Wars III; A Trip to Ukeland

As far as the Uke Wars go, I would like to repeat what Sean Connery said to Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indiana Jones was reaching for the Holy Grail, which had just caused the early demise of the hot Nazi babe who had seduced both father and son in the movies. Just as both Indiana and the Grail were about to get swallowed up by a chasm in the Earth, his Dad said simply "Indiana, let it go."

So that's my advice to Uke Forever and others who care about this: Let it go. Most of you will probably never meet in person. So, really, who cares if you agree or disagree? They're just strings, resonator ukes, and smiley-face emoticons. Don't take the fun out of it.

Friday, took a fine trip with UF to Carlsbad and environs to check out some uke stores: Giacoletti's, Buffalo Brothers, and this Hawaiian shop that I forget the name of. At the last shop, I got to play a Tahitian Ukulele, which was fine. I don't know anything about Tahitian ukuleles, nor do I know where this Tahitian ukulele ranked in quality. It sounded cool, but was not much for projection.

Played around with some other ukes at Buff Bros, which has mainly higher end ukes and collectables. Played a banjo uke, which sounded fine, but was quite heavy. Played a couple of resonator ukes, also heavy. They sounded fine too.

I guess I wanted to prove for myself whether reso-ukes were better or worse than other ukes I have played. But the fact is, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, to every uke, there is a season. I think the Reso-ukes, the banjo ukes, the Flukes, etc, all have a time where their sound is appropriate. Right now, my favorites are my Oscar Schmidt and my two Belfiorre's. I realize that many others will prefer the Jenny or the Lanakai. There are times when I get real joy from plunking on the cardboard uke I got for a penny at Ukeworld.

As my English teacher, William Bell III used to say, "De ukebus non disputandum est." Concerning ukes, there is no argument. If the Latin is wrong, blame me, not Mr. Bell.

At Giacolletti's, I played around on a few ukes, mostly the six-string Lanakai. I like the sound. UF said implied that a six-string uke is not a real uke. I say talk to Mr. Bell.

I heeded Howlin' Hobbit's advice and decided not to buy another uke until I could afford a really good one. I like the ones I have for now. So I'll wait.

I did buy a tenor case for my Belfiorre Blonde.

UF and I went to a nearby brew pub and had pizza and beer. Once I had a buzz going, I decided to go back to Giacolleti's and get another Jumpin' Jim uke songbook. It looks good, but I'm not sure it's wise to buy anything when your drunk.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Uke Wars II: My Dream for a Peaceful Future

My friend Ukeforever posted a link to my brief commentary on the Uke Wars on the Fleamarket Music BB. I feel bad because I associated Jim Beloff and his Flukes an Fleas with sweetness and light. I hate for this controversy to spill over to that website, although I understand that there have been a few other unpleasantries oozing onto that board.

When I go to ukulele festivals in the area, I am impressed with the overall positive energy that flows freely from one uke collector to another. Everyone there, be they Christian, Jew, Buddhist, or Agnophobic, is ready to put aside their differences for the greater cosmic good of developing one another's ukulelic skills. It is a truly beautiful experience. Even at one uke fest where I thought things weren't so well-run, this positivity still reigned.

But now, there is a disturbance in the Uke Force. Fortunately for them and us, neither Ukeforever nor Uke Jackson are likely to meet. They live on opposite Coasts.

But I have a dream, kind of like the one shared by Haley Mills and her sister, Hailey Mills, in that timeless film "The Parent Trap." I see us all at an international ukulele festival-perhaps in Iceland. Hoards of ukulelists strumming the tune "Little Brown Jug," voices lifted in harmony. At the songs end, individuals in the crowd exchange pleasantries. Zoom in on a gentleman with a ponytail and resonator ukulele. Standing next to him is another gentleman with a pineapple Jenny. They exchange compliments, discover that they both use Nylgut strings, and share techniques for bending notes. They both call themselves "Uke." A friendship ensues that will last a lifetime. One will become godfather to the other's first-born son. The other will donate half of his pancreas for the other's emergency transplant.

It could happen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

To My Legion of Fans

The good news coming out of the Uke Wars, at least for me, is that I am discovering that I face a public hungry for Uke Millennium updates. I have counted 5, count 'em, 5 different respodents to my posts. God alone knows how many of you there are who read my reflections, perhaps in search of some kernel of wisdom that might somehow give you comfort. Perhaps you are too shy to repond.

Of course, of those five, one is a friend from my high school years, one is my sister-in-law, one I think is my brother, and one is a guy with whom I teach. One, is a uke-world celebrity, which I think is pretty cool.

To all of you I say, pluck that uke like a chicken!

I am on Spring Break. Most of this time has been spent on family-type business. However, I have made a tentative plan with Uke Forever to drive to Carlsbad and the surrounding area to check out some music stores that stock ukes. One of them is Giacolleti's, where my two Bellefiore ukes were purchased. These are made by some retired guy in Temecula. If you find yourself in the area (Carlsbad, that is), and you play uke, you should check them out. The other store is Buffalo Brothers, where they specialize in high-end ukes. I don't know the name of the third store.

I need the break from family matters, so I plan on making the trip. Problem is, I have about ten ukuleles as of this writing. Unlike some, I find it difficult to part with any of them, except for two or three cheap ones that I got for next to nothing. They are OK for beginners, but I don't play them very much anymore. So, getting back to my problem, I have a little disposable cash this month and I am afraid that I will be tempted to make another purchase.

My collection, while not great, is pretty good in that I have three instruments that I consider quality: my two Bellefiore and my Oscar Scmidt OU5 (yeah, I know that some folk don't like the Schmidt's that much, but I like it for the softer, gentler songs). Most of my cheaper ukes are pretty good for the price: My Triumph and my Estrella, specifically. My Estrella is my sentimental favorite because it was a gift and it is my first. My Johnson soprano is not my best uke, but it was presented to me by my Advanced Placement English class, all of whom signed it. I play that all of the time at school.

The last time I went to Giacolletti's, there was a six-string Lanikai tenor with a pick-up that I had my eye on. Not to mention that I am a little smitten with the fluke. But my long-term goal is to save my money for a really nice, possibly custom, ukulele for when I become a virtuoso.

My other option has been to go spend a couple of days in Vegas playing Blackjack. Either way, I am out some money. But, with the trip to Carlsbad, I will at least have a nifty ukulele when I come home.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Uke Wars

I think it was Plato who admonished us to never discuss religion, politics, or ukuleles at a party. My friend Uke Forever and Uke Jackson, whom I don't know personally, are a case in point. Over the last 8 months, since I first introduced Uke Forever to the pleasures of Uke, There has been a slowly bubbling fued that recently came to another head, just when we all thought they had made peace and had become friends. This all took place at 4th Peg, a ukulele website.

Their first row came during a discussion about the Iraqui War. Understandable. The argument got a little hot and, well, I don't want to take sides because I would like to keep peace in the ukulele community.

Uke Forever remedied the situation by writing a song called "Uke Jackson hates Me," which got everybody laughing, even Uke Jackson. Pax Ukulelea ensued.

Then they got into a difference of opinion concerning, first, note-bending on the ukulele. Then, their argument spilled over into a Nylgut discussion. Ironically, they both are Nylgut fans. Some name-calling, a few winky-faced smiley icons, and soon the felt picks were flying.

Some day, I hope to meet Uke Jackson. Some day, I hope to make Uke Forever learn that winky-faced smiley icons shouldn't be used carelessly.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Folk Music Concert in Claremont, Part II: The Significant Detail

By the way, I had a Quesadilla, the kind with just cheese, the way God and Mexico intended it. It was pretty good. The White Zin I had with it was a bit soda poppy. I think White Zin is really for people who don't really know what kind of wine they want. I'm trying to cut down on beer, because it's bad for my gout. I think wine is better for a person than beer, anyway.

So, at around 6:45 PM, after we paid the bill, we start to walk to the concert venue, which is at the Claremont Forum. PJ has an address, but doesn't know exactly where it is. He gives me the address and I figure out where we have to go.

OK. If I had figured out where to go, the rest of this post would never have been written. So, I guess, by holding the paper with the address on it, I felt an unjustified sense of my own superiority. In reality, I was as lost as PJ.

Here is an example of how a techno-phobe could easily improve his life if he'd just learn to love his computer. A visit to Mapquest would have solved our problem.

We go to the street (College Blvd?) and walk in the direction we think it will be in. It is one of those North/South addresses. It is night and we are walking down this dark street when we come to Claremont College (or one of them). It is on the corner of this street and another familiar street, but we see no forum. We continue walking until we realize the addresses are going in the wrong direction, mathematically-wise. So we turn back and head up the street. About where we think the Claremont Forum should be, we find a parking lot facing the back of a strip mall kind of affair. There is a poorly made and poorly displayed-not to mention poorly lit-sign that we see, standing up close to it, tells us that the concert is here.

We follow the leftist bumper stickers lined up in the dark parking lot to a tiny building that, sure enough, is the Claremont Forum. It seems that this is not the kind of forum where you would go to see Basketball games and rock concerts. It is the kind of forum where a small group of intellectuals would go to discuss important ideas. The concert hall is a little room, where about 40 people are sitting, listening to M, a local lawyer and office-seeker make a speech. We are almost a half-hour late, but, seeing as how this is a gathering of liberals, time is not of the essence.

I pay my suggested donation and leave PJ, who negotiates a free entrance (because he is a local activist).

The music starts withDavid Rovics, who sings earnest songs of protest in a nasal, thin voice with a bumble bee vibrato. Many of his songs are good, but limited solely to protest the war in Iraq or extole the virtues of revolution. His songs are heartfelt, I am sure, but are limited in theme.

Robb Johnson is the better of the two performers. He also sang about leftist causes, but had a broader range, thematically. He actually had a couple of nice songs about love, fatherhood, his grandparents. I wasn't surprised when I checked out his website and saw that he had translated several Jaques Brel songs. His songs had a Brelian quality to them: witty, sensual, comapssionate.

Each did to sets with an intermission that went on longer than the any of the sets, or so it seemed. Since this was a political gathering, time was made for local political activists to make announcements. One guy, a candidate for the Claremont City Council, spoke for too long about some of the causes he was interested in. He was bearded with long hair and wore the motley street activist threads so popular amongst the aging Woodstock 1 generation. The 2nd guy was pretty much the same, except I guess he had done jail time for his activism. Neither understood the "brief" part of the invitation for them to make brief comments, so M had to interrupt each of them to remind them that we had all come to hear music. Then, as we were about to start, PJ cleared his throat audibly so M would ask him to come up to speak. I'll admit I cringed a little, because the speech part of the evening had already gone on too long. But PJ was wisely short-winded, crisply announcing three events that were coming up without commentary. He understood that it was about the music.

I got a CD by both performers. I haven't yet listened to Rovics. But I have thoroughly enjoyed Johnson's CD. Most of the songs he played were songs from the CD, so I got a 2nd listen. I like "Everythings Alright" and "You in this City" the best. I would recommend you go buy it.

The odd thing about the concert was that the two of them shared one guitar. I think this was because they were on a cheap tour and shared a small car for their travels. Anyway, when the guitar's strings kept busting, it seemed impractical, especially with the Claremont Folk Music Center just up the street.

The first string break came just as Johnson was going into the final song of his 2nd set. I will always wonder about the song he didn't play.

I will report back on the Rovics CD. In fact, look for a CD review blog entry soon. I will review Bright Eyes, Green Day and others.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Folk Music in Claremont at an Undisclosed Location, Part I

I went with PJ to a concert Friday. A folk music concert. I like folk music, as a rule, but feel that it is often dangerous, unpredictable territory. There are folk, and then there are folk.

We were late getting to Claremont, mainly because I fell asleep before I left. We got there in plenty of time and got something to eat at a restaurant that seemed uncertain as to whether it was a Mexican restaurant or burger joint.

It's 11:30. I'm tired. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II

Thursday, March 03, 2005

How Little Our Parents Tells Us; My First Naked Breast

I took the day off and went with my mother to a memorial service for her friend Ruth, who died suddenly a couple of weeks ago. She was one of "the trio."

Now I always assumed that, by "trio," they meant that they were three inseparable friends.

It was only today that I found out that Mom, Ruth, and the other woman had sung as a trio.

And this is the type of stuff that our parents should tell us: How they, their friends, their family, are all connected beyond this generation. I probably know more about my best friend from High School-or even my best adult friend-than I do about my own mother and father. It seems that we are at best strangers. Connected, but strangers.

I always asked my father to write down some of his stories from WWII and he never did. I guess he didn't want to think about it much. He did tell us about getting drunk and then having to sneak back into camp. But that was it.

After the service, it was about dinner time and Mom suggested that we go to a local Mexican fast food place and get some tacos. I then suggested that I take her home and then get takeout from El Serape (Spanish for "the serape"), a restaurant that has been in this city for decades and has always been a favorite among local folk. I'm sure that I first ate there when I was around 5. And, through the years, it has changed little. Same subdued lighting. Same red booths. Same paintings of conquistadors, Aztec Princes with half-naked women draped across their arms, as well as various potteries and plants.

It was the Aztec and half-naked women that I remember most. Whenever we went there as a family, I tried very hard to sit where I could talk to my mother and father while checking out those paintings without having to turn from them. What can I say? I was very young and in love.

When I arrived to pick up our order, I looked around. Almost everything was exactly the same. What was different was the paintings. Someone had painted clothes on most of the women in the pictures. One picture had been partially spared. The woman, in a passionate embrace with her Aztec lover, still had her one perfect breast exposed.

But the nipple had been painted over with a flesh tone. What has this country come to?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Ukulele Nuff in Concert, part 2; My Latest Uke; A Very Merry Un-Birthday

So, I chickened out halfway with my performance today. But, given the tone of the assembly, I think I made the right choice. It might have been too much, had I gone with plan A. Instead of the Rainbow/Neverland medley, I performed U2's "Wild Honey," which I have been working on for awhile. I just couldn't get the other tune to the point where I felt comfortable performing it. I say that I chickened halfway because I DID play a new tune in public at least.

The parents of the young man who was killed in the hit-and-run were there to receive a special award, their son's class ring and graduation picture, which the young man had ordered before he was killed. This was followed by a moment of silence. I felt that this was tribute enough from the hearts of his friends and classmates. "Wild Honey" is a bouncy tune and was a good choice to set a fun tone for the assembly. I think that I have found a good rhythm and am getting to where I am owning it more in performance.

But I still am working on that Rainbow/Neverland thing.

I just bought a Belfiore Tenor ukulele from my friend Ukeforever, who says he now regards himself a soprano guy exclusively now. It is a beautiful blond instrument. I have strung it with a low G Nylgut and really like it. Belfiore is a uke made in Temecula, CA by this guy who also makes guitars. They are light and have a bold bell-like tone. I have another, soprano, Belfiore that I got two years ago at Giacolletti's in Carlsbad, where they are sold exclusively. This guy is getting better. My soprano is nice, but the action is a little high. This new one has a lower action and is easier to play. What also appeals to me is that it is unique (I think he only makes a couple in each style and then tries something new) and made in the US.

My birthday last Sunday. A pleasant, understated evening at Mother's. In attendance were Bro Bill, Sis-In-Law Vivage, and their two delightful offspring, L and Z. Got a brief case to carry my uke tunes in and a new multi-functional pocket tool thing to replace the one I gave Cuz-in-law Jim to hold for me during my Day in Court awhile back. As I handed it to him, I thought to myself: this is the kind of thing that, once you put it in someone else's possession, you will never see again, because you will forget to get it back until after you and the person to whom you have given it have parted ways and which the both of you will only remember only after arriving at the family get-together where you next see one another. Also, I got two Bright Eyes CD's. I like them so far. One song in particular, "The Arc of Time," is catchy and, I think, ukeable.