Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Reflections on Mortality

I don't think this will be particularly interesting to anyone, but I am going in on Friday morning to undergo the ass-cam examination. As my faithful readers know, a colleague of mine had this procedure done, being five years younger than doctors recommend, and discovered that he had a tiny tiny tumor growing in his colon. He had it removed, of course. The doctors say that if he had waited those five recommended years, it would have been too late.

So I have to go on a regimen of fasting and flushing starting tomorrow.

I'm supposed to get some bloodwork done also, so I figure I'll do that too. Make one fast work for the whole shebang.

So, wish me luck and keep your sphincters crossed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Review of the California Traditional Music Society's 23rd Annual Folk Festival

Let me begin with my two main points about this festival: It was one of the most relaxed weekends I have ever spent; the uke community needs to represent next year.

Let me also qualify comments by saying that this undertaking is a massive one. I guess it's one of the largest of its type in the country. I'm sure there are larger festivals that emphasize performers in a concert setting. But as far as festivals where the focus is on teaching and building community, this is pretty huge.

And the setting, Soka University in Calabasas, is a beautiful one. It is secluded, pastoral, and spacious. It's hard to believe that you are in the middle of Los Angeles County. The campground was very informal. People in huge campers parked next to people sleeping out under the stars. If I were going to do anything different next year, I would get there much earlier so as to secure one of the more shaded parts of the campground.

The campground itself is set up as a community. There is a central picnic area where the morning pancake breakfasts and the evening potlucks occur. The people are friendly and the food was good enough. If you didn't want to participate in the communal dining, it is a short drive to town, where there are a few places to eat.

The workshops and programs were diverse enough to suit anyone's tastes. In addition to the variety of musical instrument workshops, there were a variety of dance, storytelling, craftmaking, and childrens' workshops going on.

The only workshop that I attended that was a letdown was the pennywhistle workshop. But that's largely because I had never played before and was a fish out of water. Those who had a little more musical expertise than me seemed to do ok. But I was lost.

I attended a bodrahn bootcamp and a couple of other bodrahn workshops and was playing in no time at all. Granted, my skill level is at the beginner level, but I know how to hold the tapper and can drum out a jig or reel.

I missed one of the two uke workshops. But it was a Jumpin' Jim workshop and I had taken the first one several times now. The intermediate workshop was fun and I was surprised at the number of ukesters there. One of the organizers told me that there had been a couple of other uke workshops scheduled, but the teachers had to cancel at the last minute. Beloff's workshops are always fun, so I can't complain.

On both Friday and Saturday evening, there were concerts and dance parties. Both nights offered contra dancing for $10. I did not participate in that, but those who did were having a grand time.

Friday night offered a storytelling concert. I was not there, but informal reviews from other participants made it sound wonderful.

I attended Saturday night's concert, which featured Club Carrefour and the duo of Liz Carrol and John Doyle. An exciting concert.

next year, to save some money, I plan on being a volunteer. Participants pay up to $25 per day, but volunteers work a four hour shift and get entrance to the festival for both days for free. Camping is $35 per car for the whole weekend.

I should add that you do not have to camp out if you don't want to to. There are hotels nearby. For that matter, if you live close enough, you could always drive in from home and park on the premises. Parking passe are $5.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Autobiography? I Ain't Got No Stinkin' Autobiography!

Just got back from the Summer Solstice Folk Festival. Had a great time. More on that later. But, for those of you who can't wait, in a nutshell: I now can call myself a multi-instrumentalist because I learned how to play the bodrahn at least as well as the five-year-old girl sitting next to me at the workshop; they need to have more uke workshops; I camped out an slept amazingly well, considering; it is really hard to learn to play pennywhistle first thing in the morning when you haven't even showered; french guys could avoid a lot of arguments if they would learn English with an Irish accent.

I got an e-mail from the leader of my weekend workshop in the upcoming Taos writer's workshop. He wants us to send a sample of our poetry and a brief statement about ourselves and our writing influences.

I am going to send these two poems:


Dusk: the dim lamp, a halo.
Your head, bowed in dizzy reflection.

We pick at a plate of cookies.
You sweep away pills that will not save you.

I feel the edge of my tongue
and bite into the isolated sweetness.


Some saints believe they can walk across
a sea of blood and still enter Heaven.
No Christ stands on the horizon,
No hand waves for them to follow, no voice
calls them. But, they insist it’s true. Asked why
they don’t just try it if they’re so sure, they
say “We wait for the Lord. He’ll go first, to
set the example.” Then, one by one, they’ll
join him.
For now, they wait for a sign,
huddled in their yachts, gazing as waves swell,
as clouds gather. Some notice fingers–
for waves have become hands, poised to
grab the ankles of the first, the second–
to drown each in these waters they have built.

Also, I will probably send the poem from my first post. Let me know what you think.

The hard part is the part about me and my influences. When someone asks me to do that sort of thing, I freeze. There isn't that much to say about me and I'm not sure that there are any influences. When I finally do respond to this sort of prompt, I always write something that I regret, because it seems so stodgy and dull.

There are writers that I like a lot. Hemingway is at the top of that list. Walt Whitman and Kenneth Patchen are both poets that I like, but I don't know that I could trace any influence.

Of course, I love Don Quixote and almost anything by Shakespeare. But their influence on anyone goes without saying, even for those who have never read them.

The artists who have influenced my thinking more than anyone would be the great slapstick comedians of the early sound era: The Marx Brothers, WC Fields, and Laurel and Hardy. I think more than anyone, these people influenced my sense of humor, my sense of language, and my sense of humanity. I think that it's possible to learn everything you need to know about life from these guys.

I'd probably have to add the Wizard of Oz and Mary Martin's TV broadcast of Peter Pan also. What more could anyone teach you about the frustration of humanity-about never wanting to grow up and always yearning for something better than what you have?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Adventures in Polyrhythm

Broke out my old copy of Jumpin' Jim's 60's Uke-in and went over some songs that I tried when I was brand new. I may be easily amazed, but I am always amazed at how songs that once seemed really difficult are suddenly easy after the passage of time.

One song that I tried early one was Dock of the Bay. That's a song of my generation that I have always liked, but it had the dreaded E Major, a chord that, in it's first form, is train-wreck for my fingers.

Since learning the magic of the barred chord, I found Dock of the Bay much easier today. If you bar the chords, the whole song becomes much easier. I'm all about what's easy.

One thing that still throws me is when I try a song where the rhythm of the strumming and the rhythm of the melody are at odds. Like in reggae. If can strum a vanilla rhythm and it sounds ok to me. But I have trouble when I try to do anything else. Under the Boardwalk is a good example. The chords are pretty easy. But the rhythm screws me up.

There are a few songs that, if I just figure it out instinctively, I'm OK. It's when it's on paper and I try to learn it that way that I have trouble.

Anyway, the whole point of the ukulele first is to amuse myself. If I ever actually get good, that's just a plus.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Dog of Satan

When I returned from my walk up Mt. Rube this evening, I found my neighbor in her car, the motor running. She clearly could not get out of the driveway. As she rolled down her window to talk to me, this mid-sized, reddish brown dog-a mixed breed, came out from behind the car and started woofing at me. Not an actual bark, just a woof. Kind of that mock-protection woof that dogs will make when they really aren't being aggressive, but are afraid to approach you.

Neighbor asked me "Have you seen this dog before?"

I said no.

She told me that the owners of the house next door, who no longer live there, found the dog in a park near their new home, adopted it for about three days, then, when the dog began fighting with their other dogs, dropped it off in the back yard of the house next door for their tenants to take care of.

I don't know the details, but I think the tenants are relatives.

This was a day or two ago. Apparently, the dog is good at jumping fences and has planted itself in her front yard. When she is inside, it will go to her door and scratch on it and whine. When she is outside, it will follow her around. When she gets in her car, it will circle around it until she tries to pull out, at which point it will plant itself in front of the wheels so she can't leave.

She demonstrated this to me this evening. When she rolled up her window, the dog began circling. When she tried to pull forward, it stopped in front of the car.

She rolled her window back down and said "See?"

I asked if the dog had been threatening in any way and she assured me that it hadn't. I got down on my haunches and called it over. It came about halfway towards me, woofing, and my neighbor pulled out of her driveway and down the street, the dog following.

Right now, her car is back in the driveway and the dog is on her front lawn. It has just started woofing again. Of course, my dog and a few others have started barking at it. Not woofing. Barking.

It's going to be a long night.

Summer Solstice Folk Festival

After a pretty stressful school year and an especially stressful final two weeks of class, I am really looking forward to my first big trip this weekend to the Summer Solstice Folk Festival. There will be only two uke workshops given by Jim Beloff, and I imagine the first one is the same one that he usually gives to beginners, but it gives me a chance to get away and purge the bad energy that has been bringing me down as of late. There will be a lot of music there, so I can just spend time listening to it. There will also be informal jam sessions, so maybe I'll see if I can jam.

I'm wondering why there aren't more uke workshops, though. There are a lot of uke players in the area that show up and teach at local uke fests. For most other stringed instruments, they have a variety of workshops that cover several musical genres. Maybe Jumpin' Jim has a corner on this market. Anyway, when I come back, I'll report on it and share info with the local uke community.

I'll also take my bodrahn, as they have several bodrahn workshops. In fact, they have a bodrahn boot camp Saturday Morning. It would be nice to learn how to play this thing.

The main thing is to get away for awhile.

Still Here

I haven't posted anything here for awhile, but I have been writing a lot. Mostly, I have been working on pieces to take to the upcoming Taos Summer Writers' Conference. Participants in my workshop are supposed to submit a sample of their writing to the workshop leader. I just e-mailed mine.

I have written drafts of three short stories since checking out of school last week. One was about a drum circle, the other was about a memorial service I took my mother to, and the last-the one I sent to the workshop leader-is about an open mike at a nearby folk music store and museum.

I had planned to post it here, but it is 8 1/2 pages long (or 2400 words) and 7/9's of you have already read it. I might post the final draft when I feel like it is actually a final draft.

I haven't written much fiction, so I am exploring new territory here.

I have already been writing most of the morning, so I think I'll take a break. But you'll hear from me later.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Shameless Plug

I think that I have at least five people interested in being a part of a Ukulele Sunday Uke Circle. I would appreciate any helpful suggestions from my audience as to how to make it a success. Howlin' Hobbit suggested that funny hats and beer were crucial. Donita Curioso said that she could bring her dumbek and a few funny hats. I think the Howlin Hobbit meant fun hats, as in fedoras, porkpies, and bowlers-the kind I wear to cover my bald spot. I think that Donita Curioso meant party hats-the kind with mouse ear, pointy tops, or propellers. Let me know if I'm wrong, folk.

Oh, yeah. Feel free to read the post below.

I've Got Blisters on My Fingers

I went with Dugard and Dugard, Jr. to a drum circle at a local beach Sunday evening. I have only been once before, but enjoyed it enough to go again, after about four or five months.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, I am not some new age geezer looking for a spiritual connection through drumming, nor am I a drummer going to practice my craft. I went because it's fun and I needed to hit something.

A drum circle is like a microorganism, only larger and louder. Each one has many parts that function within this organism, its actions creating reactions that result in a movement or activity that causes change to the structure.

Each drum circle seem to have a nerve center, where the rhythm originates. The rhythm changes every ten to fifteen minutes, at the whim of whomever is at the nerve center. Sometimes, it can be one drummer, usually with a big set of drums from which he dictates the tempo. Other times, it can be a group of drummers who are attuned to the same rhythm and work together, perhaps taking turns changing the rhythm.

Some drum circles have more than one nerve center, which fight for control. Sunday was one such night. A tall Asian man with bleached hair and goggle-eyed glasses beat an African-type rhythm his three drums at one end, while a group of Latin drummers challenged his leadership. They shifted back and forth all night.

There are other drummers who dance around the circle as they drum, usually following one of the ladies in the circle, trying to keep the beat.

The dancers are like the circulatory system of our microorganism. Usually the dancing is lead by the ladies in the group, who flow from drummer to drummer, or pair up with a male dancer who actually dances. Most male dancers act as woman repellent, however. They invite women to dance, or horn in on a couple, easing their loins up against some lady's ass as she dances with her friends, causing her to move away. These are disturbing individuals, but they keep the ladies circulating.

People who have drums, but not much rhythm usually line the outskirts of the drum circle. They beat away simple rhythm, but do not distract from the real drummers. These are the folk who also give the drum circle its distinct aroma, usually a blend of pungent smokes that rise to thinly above the circle. They act as a membrane of sorts. Anyone who wants in the drum circle has to push through them.

Often, people with other instruments show up, often joining the membrane group. Last night, there was a guy with an electric guitar, playing something gawd-awful. There was also a saxophone. And one ukulele.

I took my street ukulele (one that is cheap, that I would not miss so much if it got smashed). I played my bodrahn for a short time, then gave that to Dugard, Jr., who had not brought a drum. I whipped out my uke and started shredding away, heard by no one. None of the rhythms was an easy match for the songs a know, so I adapted each to a new beat. Sometimes it may have worked. I don't know for sure, because I couldn't hear a thing that I was playing.

But I played for hours. At the end of the night, my strumming fingers were black.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Top Five Songs I Wish I Didn't Almost Like

1. MMMMMBop: Hanson. Whenever I'm in a bar with a jukebox, I can't help myself. It beckons me. I'm so ashamed.

2. Mandy: Barry Manilow. I need your help, Barry Manilow, because I feel so yucky.

3. Turn the Beat Around: Vickie Sue Something-or-other. Gloria Estefan did a cover-a double whammy.

4. Walk Like an Egyptian. I don't want to talk about it.

5. Sugar Sugar: The Archies. It's not completely my fault. There was this top ten musical TV series produced by Tommy Smothers after CBS fired him and Dickey. Part of the show involved a performance of the number one hit. Every week, until this show was mercifully cancelled, this was the number one hit. They would have a different singer or group perform this song. One week, they had a group of black gospel singers sing in a chain-gang setting. I have never been able to get that out of my mind.