Thursday, April 28, 2005
Before class starts, I usually stand outside. playing one of my ukes as I greet the students. I re-entered strumming as the students settled down. She has seen me play my ukulele before and at first called it a guitar. Her father asked her what it was and she said "ukulele," or an approximation thereof. The kid's learning.
Later, during a break in testing, she asked me to play her a song. I asked her what song, she asked for U2's "Vertigo," because her father, a big u2 fan, has taught her to be a u2 fan. That's his favorite song right now, so it's hers too.
So I said, "I don't know that song, but I do know a song that I think you know." I then whipped into "Wild Honey." It was Jon's idea that "Wild Honey" would be a good uke song. He and his daughter sing it together sometimes at home.
Her eyes opened up wide and she said "We're IN this song!"
I said "You are? Where?"
"We're the monkeys!" she said.
So I played her the first verse and she sang along. When I got into the second verse, something else caught her attention and she ran off.
I try not be hurt. She has a 2-year-old's attention span. Also, the second verse is where Bono stops singing about monkeys and starts talking about the weather and time and that sort of thing.
But it does seem like everybody's a critic.
Later on, when her dad was talking to the students, she was running around. She's much cuter than her dad, so the students were more interested in her.
I tried to help by taking her over to my compact fridge, which, in my homey style, I have decorated with pictures of my nieces and nephews when they were younger.
She started pointing at each face and asking "'s that?
"That's Emily," I'd say.
And so on. When we'd get to the end, she'd start over. Pretty soon, the whole class was watching me teach her my nieces' and nephews' names.
I am sure that, if nothing else, everyone in our class now has those names memorized.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother/Sister Atom Bomb of Reflection. What's yours?
Many cultures, Native American nations come to mind, allow people to change their names as they grow. Sitting Bull's childhood name was "Slow," because of his slow, deliberate nature. Later, his father, named Sitting Bull, gave his name to Slow and took another name for himself.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
But college students, even community college students, should have some dedication. Hell, they're PAYING for their education.
This kid walks into my college class tonight. I had him as a student when he was in the ninth grade. His work ethic hasn't changed much. During the first quarter, on four separate occasions, he showed up for the first hour of class and then left. I assumed that, on the fourth offense, he would just decide to drop and I'd never see him again. The following week, he was a no-show. Spring Break came and went. The first meeting after break, he was a no-show. Then, tonight, he walks in. Now, mind you, on top of this, he hasn't turned in a single assignment.
So I told him to get his belongings and come outside and talk to me. I told him that he was welcome to stay, but he had no chance of passing the class at this point. He had no response. He just left.
Geez, this was so high school.
Happened last week with another student. Missed four classes. No contact. No assignments. Showed up after four weeks. Didn't bring his textbook. Didn't bring a notebook. Did bring a pencil. I took him outside to explain that he had no chance of passing. Same scenario, except he wanted to know if there was any way I would accept late work. I said no. He then asked if I minded if he went back into the class and got his pencil.
It must have been an important pencil.
Tonight, while I was lecturing, this one student got up and walked out for something or other. As he did so, the woman sitting next to him gasped, turned, and started laughing uncontrollably. So much so, she had to leave. Some other students started giggling as well. I noticed this rotten stench that seemed to come from nowhere. It stunk!
I thought, did someone pull a fart-for-laughs joke? That's what it smelled like.
I couldn't believe that would happen, even at a community college. I figured that it must be an unfortunate series of unrelated events.
Both students came back after awhile.
After class, the woman and her boyfriend, also a student in the class, asked me if they could move. Apparently, the phantom stench was a trail of body stink that trailed behind the guy who got up and left. No fart, just nuclear BO.
This couple told me that this guy's stink had been a problem all semester, but had become lethal tonight. Or, as the boyfriend put it, his boys were visiting the rest of us.
I'm not sure how you tell an adult that he needs to bathe before class.
Monday, April 25, 2005
UF got there plenty early and even he was performer number nine. I was fifteen. I think that I have always ended up being fifteen.
There were a lot of people there to perform. I think over thirty signed up, causing the management to cut each performer down to one song. The only exception was Trailer Park Mac and his band, whatever their name was. Mac and the boys are pretty good, and Mac is a well-known regular, so they got to play two songs. I was a little afraid that Open Shirt Guy would have insisted on playing two songs, because he has a pretty inflated idea about his talent. But he didn't.
Speaking of Open Shirt Guy, he was pretty friendly over all and joked with some of us and complimented each player as they stepped down from the stage. He also stayed until the end, which he doesn't often do. He's one of those performers who makes you sit through his set, and then leaves. When his turn came up, he tried to set up a sing along to a song that was pretty nice, but complicated lyrically. I t went something like this: "Oh, hie thee faire maid/for thine ample young bosom/Doth heave and sigh for I./Aye, I doth know./ For it's I'm goin' fro to yonder/to a maid who is much blonder/And I would'na spare protection far below."
Or something like that.
It made me long for the simplicity of "Wimoweh."
But it was an entertaining moment. Many of us "oohed" along. Some chuckled.
UF sang his Walmart song. It got a pretty good response. But, this being my second or third listen, I think it needs more ambiguity. I find it very Randy Newmanesque. I just wish I didn't know what he meant by it. I love that sort of thing.
A young woman sitting in front of me was wearing low-hung jeans and a thong. That was a bonus.
The guy who played second that night sang this great song he had written about surviving volcanoes and other disasters which prepared him for surviving some unnamed woman's love.
There was one guy who sang one original song and still managed to clock in at over ten minutes. It wasn't a bad song, but the intro, mid-waytro, and outro was a little self-indulgent and could have been edited. As soon as he finished, he left.
There should be a law. This particular open mic has a communal sense about it. If you don't want to be a part of the community, go play at Starbucks.
There was a trio that reminded me a little bit of the three stooges. I kept expecting them to be funny, but they weren't. They were good and their harmonies were unique.
Donita and John performed a blues song, "Make Love Like a Man," that simply smoldered. Her voice and his guitar played very well together.
Billy Canary was in the audience, but did not perform.
I performed U2's "Wild Honey." I don't know why this crowd made me nervous. I sang the same song in front of 1500 screaming teenagers at an assembly last month and that didn't phase me. But I was nervous last night. I think the only way it really manifested itself was that my voice was a little wavery and I repeated part of the second verse twice.
Next month is the Claremont Folk Music festival. So there won't be an open myque until June.
I need to practice more. It is hard to find time. I am hoping that I can find someone to practice regularly with.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
of the green-eyed dragon with the thirteen tails!
He'll feed with greed
on little boys, puppy dogs and big, fat snails...
Just got an e-mail from Billy Canary telling me that Les has died. He was 89. He had dropped so far out of orbit from many in the old Mish Dinner Theater group that most of us assumed that he had died.
Les was the guy who played the older character in most of our productions. He played the Rabbi in Fiddler. He played the Buster Keaton role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, he played the old Indian Chief in Little Mary Sunshine. He was a real hoot.
My experience at the Mish was mostly as the newbie who had no training in show business. I started acting there when a guy in the cast of Fiddler 2, who was a lawyer by trade, was told by his wife that he needed to spend more time building his practice and less time in show biz. I got called in as his alternate.
Les was one of those people who was very encouraging to me backstage. He always had a kind word.
One night, as part of the pre-show, I sang a song called "The Green-Eyed Dragon," an old chestnut I had gotten from a minister friend of mine. It is a quasi-classical novelty tune with this wonderful piano bit, kind of like "Pink Elephants on Parade." I wish I had an arrangement for ukulele because it is one of the few songs that is permanently embedded in my brain.
Anyway, when I came off stage, Les was there, asking me "Where did you find that song?" He had heard it when he was young. In fact, he had a recording of John Charles Thomas, a popular tenor in the 30's and 40's, singing that song. I sang that song almost every show night during the pre-show.
One night, just before the show, Les presented me with a tape he had made from some of his old 78's. Among the songs was John Charles Thomas singing "The Green-Eyed Dragon."
Others included a very young Frank Sinatra singing "Old Man River," Bing Crosby on "I Hear America Singing," and some popular baritone singing "Glory Road."
When the dinner theater closed back in '83 (I think), that was the last time I saw Les. What a fine man.
I should probably try to work out a uke arrangement for that song.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
As far as I'm concerned, any accomplishment of the Catholic Church, even those I agree with, is negated by their refusal to openly address the problem of child molestation and those who would cover for those who molest children. "Suffer the little children..." ya know?
And it seems that this papal election just demonstrates how the major religions of the world, at least the judeo-islamic-christian ones, are intent on dragging us backwards into the dark ages.
History has shown that enlightenment trumps fundamentalism every time. Eventually, anyway.
My faith is simply that God manifests hinself in random acts of human kindness. Everything else is just ego.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Of my many recent uke CD purchases, two stand out as solid home-brewed uke-o-tainment. Funny, they couldn't be more different.
The first is a work of classic stare-at-your-own-shoes street performer pop. The first, I think, is entitled Ya-Ya by David Herman and Ivar Dune (or maybe David Ivar and Herman Dune, I'm not sure of anything except that there are two of them). I picked this up at the Rhino Records in Clairmont for about $10. It is locally produced in Upland, CA.
The cover resembles a yellow rendition of the poster from Mel Gibson's "The Passion," if the Jesus were wearing a baseball cap and playing a ukulele.
Recorded in mono, this CD has the sound of being recorded in some guy's studio apartment just before the electricity was about to be shut off. This is a good thing. The singing and playing is Jonathan Richman-esque. I am comforted that I sing better than the vocalist, but discomfited that someone plays ukulele better. The lyrics have a nice nerd-punk confessional sensibility about loves lost, adventures in NYC, and guys who don't make much money but are at least trying to make their way. My favorite song is Time of Glory/NYC, but the original material is all fun and the cover of Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" takes on a new pathos when sung by some nasal white guy.
The next CD is Preliminary Slither by Snake Suspenderz, street minstrels from Seattle whose spellcheck has broken. I have never heard Snake Suspenderz live, which I imagine might take place on a street corner or in a bar, but I imagine that it would be fun. Where many Jazz and Blues recordings sound too rehearsed, this CD captures the spontaneity of a live street performance. The Gravely yawp of Howlin' Hobbit provides a nice contrast to the lazy croon of Thaddeus Spae. Both possess fine scat skills as well.
Their voices also blend well, as do their various instrumental combinations-Thad primarily on Trombone, Howlin' Hobbit on ukulele. The two are multi-instrumentalists, playing a variety of combonationsincluding guitar, tub bass, harmonica, and pocket saxophone.
Songs that stand out are "Slow Boat to China,""Keepin' Up with My Jones," "Peoria." Nuff-Bob says check it out.
Monday, April 18, 2005
The guy says that it's for novelists and short fiction writers and that we are supposed to send a sample short story to be copied and distributed to my co-workshoppers for critique.
I say that because I am a beginner when it comes to fiction. I thought this would be a pleasant workshop with harmless writing exercises, that teacherly types like myself could feel good about. Now, I find out that I need to write something GOOD? What the Hell?
I should have stuck with the poetry.
I have been noticing the last couple of years a change in whom I see at the gym. Now, I have been going up and down in weight during most of my adult life, so I don't mean to be judgmental. But it seems like people I see at the gym are getting heavier.
Back when I first joined a gym, the clientele was much buffer than I was. In fact, it was a kind of meat market, where the most beautiful, muscular people would go to show off their tight bods.
Now-of-days, it seems like people built like me are the norm. In fact, I would be tempted to say that I am among the middle weights of gym-goers. And I am definitely overweight.
Nuff, you say, this is what happens as people grow older. And I would say that you are right. Anyone my age should be changing, buffatude-wise.
But I'm talking about the younger people as well. Young men and women who go to work out are pudgier than they should be. Oh, you can go back to the free-weight room and find the exceptions to the rule. However, even they are shrinking in numbers.
This may be the era of the neo-rubenesque.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
One song I think I'll do is "Take a Giant Step"-a song that Taj Mahal does, but I think it's written by someone else. Sounds pretty good on Ukulele. Has kind of a calypso feel to it. I'm not sure about the other song. It might be "Little Red Riding Hood," by Sam the Sham. Or, it might be "America, I Gave My Boy to You"-a song that I found on Betty Lou's guitar site. It's a WWI recruiting song. I played it for my classes once during our WWI unit. It's of the same theme and tempo as "Over There." It's all about American's being willing to sacrifice for their country. Slow it down a bit and it takes on an irony that the authors probably didn't intend. At least, I think it does. I guess I'll find out if I perform it for the folk music center crowd, as they are pretty anti-war.
Here's Betty Lou's site: http://betty.hypermax.net.au/index.html
Here's where you can find the song: http://betty.hypermax.net.au/americaheresmyboy1.htm
I find the Betty Lou site a little confusing. It's got a lot of songs, but the organization is sometimes hard to follow. It's best just to browse and see what you come up with.
Back to the open mike, I'm not sure what uke to take. I like my new tenor, but am re-thinking the whole lower g-string thing. It was ok, back when I was sewing my wild-uke oats, but I find myself drawn back to the traditional soprano tuning. Also, I'm not sure that the nylguts' sound is so much better so as to make up for the relative stiffness of the strings. Then there's the aesthetic question: the white strings blend in with the blond wood of the uke, giving the appearance a monochromatic look. Black strings would provide a better contrast.
I am opening up my playing through the beauty of the barred chord. It makes some chord progressions easier and makes most chords sound more interesting. If only there were more time to practice.
I think I need to either take lessons or play with someone else regularly. When I do play with someone else, I seem to make more progress. The band my brother and I keep talking about putting together, the Mighty Procrastinators, never materializes. He did say that he cleaned out his barn. I've got an old can of paint and my Mom can make the costumes, so maybe we can put on a show.
Just got Snake Suspenders' CD in the mail. So far, my favorite song is "Peoria." Reminds me of the old folk song, "Marching to Pretoria," except it expresses a more carnal intent.
I also like the scat-singing. I think someone should teach a scat-singing workshop at the next uke fest I go to. Except, I think scat singing is something you can't teach.
I have purchased more uke-o-centric CD's in the past year or so than I have in my entire half-century. What has become of me?
Thursday, April 14, 2005
So, yesterday, before class started, we discussed what follow-up assignment we should give after showing the film. He didn't want to just have them write another essay, I thought about having them write some sort of poem. But everything we brought up with one another fell flat.
Then, when we started the DVD, the star appeared onscreen with a PSA about Amnesty International. The lightbulb went off in my head and I whipped together an assignment in which the students would pick from various international organizations that feed, heal, protect, and/or defend victims of events like that depicted in Hotel Rwanda. My co-teacher and I agreed that it was perfect.
I should say that neither of us got around to seeing this movie before showing it-a risky approach for a teacher. You never know when some parent will find a reason to object to what is going on in your classroom.
It was good to see a good film for the first time with your students. Your response is more real and they can see that.
I was supposed to present the assignment when the film had finished, but this film. If you don't remember what happened in Rwanda, or if, like me, you only had a detached awareness at the time, you should see this film. When you think that our government was among those who did nothing-just as we did nothing in El Salvador-or do nothing now in Darfur-you feel helpless.
I don't often weep in class. But, I had to stop several times to do so.
The hope is that one person, like Paul in the film, can rise up and do what is right. It isn't the success, it's the doing.
Most of the organizations on my list were started by individuals, by the way, who saw something wrong and tried to fix it.
I provide, here, the list. Check a few of them out, if you want. Join one and get involved, if you want. Then, go strum your ukulele.
Heifer International: http://www.heifer.org/
Food for the Hungry: http://www.fh.org/
Voices of Youth: http://www.unicef.org/voy/speakout/speakout_564.html
Catholic Relief Services: http://www.catholicrelief.org/
Lutheran World Relief: http://www.lwr.org/
Mercy Corps: http://www.mercycorps.org/home/
Water Aid: http://www.wateraid.org/
The Hunger Site: http://www.thehungersite.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/CTDSites
America’s Second Harvest: http://www.americassecondharvest.org/
Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/
Control Arms: http://www.controlarms.org/
UN Commission on Human Rights: http://web.amnesty.org/pages/unchr-intro-eng
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers: http://www.child-soldiers.org/
Human Rights and Displacement Consultancy: http://www.codhes.org.co/
International Rescue Committee: http://www.theirc.org/
International Committee of the Red Cross: http://www.icrc.org/
International Crisis Group: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?
Iraq Body Count: http://www.iraqbodycount.net/
International Association of Solidarity: http://www.andas.org.co/
Permanent Committee for Human Rights Defense: http://cpdh.free.fr/
Aegis Trust: http://www.aegistrust.org/
Doctors without Borders: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
I don't remember what many of those changes were, because I really don't know what I am doing techno-wise anyway.
Also, I just joined Amnesty International. My co-teacher and I were showing Hotel Rwanda to our classes today. The DVD starts with Don Cheadle talking about the Rwandan Genocide and how a similar massacre is occurring in Darfur and that viewers like me could help by joining AI. So if you're a concerned citizen like me, go to the link: http://www.amnesty.org/. And, while I'm at it, check this out:http://www.heifer.org/.
I also joined the ACLU. I know that some of you probably buy into that bunk about them being anti-Boy Scout, anti-Christian, and pro-child pornography-but that simply isn't true. Check out their website and decide for yourself:http://www.aclu-sc.org/
I think that I have been a little shy about rekindling our friendship. He's a good guy and was my best friend during a shaky adolescence. But, while we both gravitated around the same area during the 30-plus years since High School, we moved out of one another's orbit. I could get into all of the issues, but it all boils down to me not being receptive when he would reach out and him not being receptive when I did. None of this was hostile. It just was what two young, then semi-young, than middle-aged men went through separately.
There may have been a little pride involved.
I'm not sure, because we have never talked about it. Maybe that's a good topic for our next getting together.
We tried this about a month before, when I ran into him at Trader Joe's, where his wife works. I even took a phone number, which I lost.
I thought I knew where he lived, but got lost. Couldn't call. I stopped at a house that I thought was probably a neighbor's. An older man answered the door and, when I asked if he knew my friend, he said that his memory wasn't as good as it used to be.
I felt like a chump.
Then, I ran into his wife on her first day back at work since injuring herself a year or so ago. My first impulse was to turn away before she saw me, because I figured that I might be a scoundrel as far as she was concerned.
I did this, but finished my shopping, trying to compose my explanation in case she started throwing things at me, and went to my car to load my groceries and get a pen. I re-entered the store and went and found her and made arrangements to try again, writing the phone number again.
It worked out this time and we had a great reunion. We talked politics and religion and found that we both had traveled to similar Liberal Democrat, non-sectarian beliefs. We still had similar tastes in music. We were both going bald.
Actually, I am going bald. He has been there for quite awhile.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
I need to learn more upbeat tunes. I tend to be attracted to the melancholy in life and music and have noticed that this tendency finds its way into my song choices. One thing that I like about the ukulele is that it lends an irony to sad tunes. You have this cheery little instrument, thought of as a toy or an instrument worthy of only Tiny Tim on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In." It is perfect for Disney and Muppets tunes. But, when you play a song like "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" on it, it gives the song a poignancy that it doesn't have on the guitar or banjo. It adds to the idea that this guy, the American working man, has helped build the great industrial monuments of this nation, but has to stand on the sidelines, watching others enjoy the fruits of his labors as he himself is forgotten. Not even a memory.
And the idea that he's sings the song while playing the ukulele-a cheap, tiny instrument associated with fun-creates a tension in the song-a yinyang where singer and instrument pull against one another for control.
I may have been an English major for too long. But the other thing I have noticed is that the lyrics progress from "brother" to "buddy." Like maybe this guy's family has even forgotten him and he has to turn to people who may have once been his friends. In fact, through the first two verses, the narrator in the song is an anonymous American worker/WWI vet and doesn't become a person ("Hey, don't you remember, you called me Al?") until the end, when he's talking to his "buddy."
I wish I had known how to play the ukulele when I was in Grad School. This is not a major regret of mine, but a minor one.
Since learning the uke, I have learned how to play "Wayfaring Stranger," a song that is frequently alluded to in Cold Mountain. I wrote and presented a paper on that novel to a class taught by a favorite professor and thought about opening by singing the song. This professor was a folk musician and had actually spent time traveling to farflung regions collecting songs from isolated communities.
I chickened out because I thought it might detract from the content of my presentation. I was also a little shy about singing a capella. But, if I would have had a uke, I think it would have ben sweet.
The uke being my first musical instrument that I have stuck with, I have learned something about the construction of songs that I didn't get before. I can see how a songwriter has to shape both words and music into a piece of art, much like a painter has to shape color and subject matter.
Friday, April 08, 2005
I am a night person. At night, I do my best thinking. Since it gets dark so much later, I await the night and am afraid that I won't get enough of it. The night is a meditation. The day, a revelation. I guess I just prefer the meditation.
More to come later this weekend. I will try to make up for the lack of posts this week. I hope to tell of my meeting with an old, old friend and my walk up Mt. Rubidioux. And, of course, those CD reviews.
Until then, get out your ukuleles and amuse yourselves.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
The friend that told me that is someone whom I haven't seen for about two years who, one day at a bar on my birthday when everyone was buying me drinks, someone gave me a page out of a book called, I think, The Birthday Book. On that page was every horoscopular item I would ever want to know about myself, both Greek AND Chinese, I read it and passed it around and my friend, upon reading it, didn't actually say "You're a true Pisces," but said something like, "Yeah, that sounds about right."
Another friend recently told me that, in China, I am a wood horse. Good for me.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
CAPRICORN is the other one with the fish tail. It's a goat/Sea serpent kind of thing.
Friday, April 01, 2005
But, to make sure that I had my facts right, I did a Google search on water signs and found out that I was wrong.
I thought that Pisces, Cancer, Sagittarius, Aquarius, and Scorpio were all water signs. Since there are only twelve signs, I guess I should have figured.
But imagine my shock that Sagittarius and Aquarius were not water signs. I mean, they both have fish tails, for God's sake. And the Aquarius guy is even depicted as pouring water out of a jug. And he's called the Water Bearer. And his name begins with AQUA.
So, it's just Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. Water signs do not hold a majority in the ukulele world, as far as I can tell.
A website I went to in my research mentioned that Cancer was liquid, Scorpio was solid (presumably ice), and Pisces was gas.
Which would explain some digestive problems I've been having of late.
One thing I learned is that my two fishes swim in different directions simultaneously: towards enlightenment and towards carnality, or the sacred and the profane, depending on which reading you look at.
Many friends who know about this stuff tell me that I am a true Pisces. I don't know. I admit I tend to swell with pride about the things that I like about Pisces-that I think fit. But, ironically, my interest in Astrology is pretty shallow.
Now, in China, I'd be a Horse. Which explains why I Tivo'ed all of those Mr. Ed re-runs on Nick at Nite.