Sunday, July 31, 2005

Performance Tips

1. Strum like your hand is on fire.
2. Shuck and Jive like you know what you're doing.
3. If you get lost, keep on shucking, but hold back on jiving.
4. If you are playing with someone else and you get lost, hold back on shucking, but increase jiving.
5. If another musician asks you to play with him/her, don't make crude jokes about the phrase "play with," unless you are pretty sure it will get you somewhere.
6. If you are playing with a superior musician and get lost, stop and look at him or her as if it's his or her problem.
7. If everything seems to be going very well, bob and weave.
8. Always carry another instrument. Learn to play it later.
9. Keep introductions short and stage patter brief, unless the audience is laughing for the right reasons.
10. Be sure to compliment all attractive members of the opposite sex on their performance, but don't stand and wait for a return compliment longer than 15 seconds.
11. If, after said compliment, the receiver of said compliment turns his or her back to you, don't continue standing and waiting for a compliment and don't follow him or her.
12. Only certain heavy metal tunes sound really good on the ukulele.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Still More about Open Mike

J and Do were pretty brilliant Sunday Night. I'm not just saying that because I was threatened with bodily harm. They really were.

They actually added more to the energy of the night than most performers in that, in addition to providing a keyboard for my brilliant niece (all of my nieces and nephews are brilliant by the way), but they performed a wonderful ditty about a woman who wears a tinfoil hat to protect her brain from all of the little voices. She actually created and wore a hat made of tinfoil.

This guy who followed them made the comment that he could use a tinfoil hat to help ward off his voices and Do gave him her hat, which he wore through his song. Looked good on him.

I think they have become sensitive to the fact that they bring an electric keyboard to the show. I don't know why. Yes, there seems to be one person every month who asks if its folkmusically kosher. But, hey, it's supposed to be about community-people creating music for people. Also, every act that shows up has to depend on technology to perform their "acoustic" music. That is, everyone either plugs in to an amp or steps up to a microphone. A few people even bring full-on electric guitars with whammy bars. Both of them are good performers-better than most.

Anyway, J and Do, I hope you keep doing what you do.

Going to the Dave Alvin concert at the Folk Center this Sunday. Yahoo!

Dave Alvin is the former guitarist/song-writer for the Blasters, as well as a member of the Knitters, that X/Blasters hybrid from the 80's that is currently on tour again.

Monday, July 25, 2005

There's No Biz Like Show Biz

Went to Open Mike Night at the Folk Center with most of the family last night. It was a pretty wild night.

Most nights, I end up being number 45 or around there. So, by the time I perform, everyone has left with their groupies. I am left with an audience of hairy men in worn t-shirts.

So, I made it a point to get in line early. I was there at about 5:45. UF was there, as well as Mac and a couple of other regulars, so we sat in our lawn chairs and chatted and practiced. UF had a new Uke Brand uke that was sweet in tone and light in lift. It was pleasant sitting in line, but part of me is not sure that it is worth it to sit in line for an hour and fifteen minutes just to be among the first to sign up for an open mike night.

Whomever signed up to go first was a no-show. So Number 2 got up, a duo that I think the last time I saw them was a trio. In fact, one of the duo may not have been in the trio. One played guitar and one, the guy who had been in the trio, played a conga/dumbek/drum/thingy. He also sang. Well, words came out, but the notes didn't exactly.

UF (Uke Forever) became GF (Guitar For now), and performed a song about how his father looked like Moe of the three stooges. I had planned on doing a more serious song, but UG's song brought down the house and I thought that I would just ride the crest of that wave, so I sang "I Wanna Be Like You," one of my standards, and I nailed it pretty well.

Most of the songs in the first half were either funny or upbeat. Mac a song that he has done before, but it wasn't the usual electric moment. He is probably the best there, but this wasn't his best night. It got laughs though.

The highlight of the night was my niece from PA, who sang a song she wrote. She had to be coaxed and bribed. Do and Jim brought a keyboard, so she played that and sang her song. There were a couple of tech gliches, but she performed beautifully. I come from a pretty talented family. My niece's performance made reminded me that this generation (of my family) could certainly exceed our expectations. They are all very talented. As she performed, I looked over at her mother and my SiL and could see that they were very moved.

This one woman, whose father had performed just ahead of her, got up and sang a song that seemed at first to be about a woman who got tired of being shut away at home while her man went carousing about. I thought it was a song about her eventual liberation. But, at the very end, it seemed like she ended up back with her man. Don't have the lyrics in front of me, but I would swear that was the outcome. Made me want to sit down and have a talk with her about the cyclical nature of dysfunctional relationships.

The evening became political at the end. A couple of anti-war songs-not especially good. But, so far the evening had been balanced, what with a guy singing about Jesus earlier. The Jesus guy would have been good if he had sung a blues tune. He played pretty well and his voice was kind of snarly-the kind that isn't lyrical, but can growl about some baby done leaving him.

The final act was a guy named Theo, who sang a song about Republicans, Democrats, God, and Satan. Self-indulgence never sounded so annoying. It was actually funny at first. But it just kept going. His voice sounded like a chipmunk on speed.

I wanted to stop him, as well as the two protest singers, and give them an impromptu lecture about subtlety and irony.

But hey, part of the nature of folk music is that it be written and shared by folk. Most of me likes the fact that someone somewhere feels the need to express something, even if they don't always do it so well.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I Didn't Know I Had It in Me

So I finally went to have my blood pressure checked for the third and last time and give my doctor the blood he needed to monitor blood sugar, cholesterol, uric acid, and whatever else he needed to do.

The blood pressure lady had to take my BP three times. First time it was 131/95. She told me to relax (that word again). I think her manner stressed me out-that and the fact that they didn't let me wait for 15 minutes before they called me in. For that matter, I had just been to my mother's house and, these, days, it is always stressful to visit her. They are supposed to let you sit in the waiting room for 15 minutes to give you a chance to settle down, cardiovascular-wise. The third go-round was much better. I closed my eyes and did some deep breathing while imagining things to personal to mention here. Let's just say there was a desert island and a tribe of beautiful young women whose men-folk had perished in a very selective typhoon.

That got my blood pressure down.

Then, of to the blood-letting department. The guy at the counter took my paperwork and handed me a container, saying, "We'll also need a urine sample before you leave."

I had not prepared for this. I did not feel any urge to go. I had a moderate amount of water in the morning, but not that much. And I couldn't remember if I had whizzed that morning or not.

So, I went to the blood-letter first. She was short, pudgy lady who had all of her tools ready for me. Her somber face and dark, cavernous eyes watched me as a lioness watches her prey as it saunters innocently across the veldt. "How are you," she said very slowly, as if it took effort.

"Fine, thank-you," I replied.

I held out my arm and she drained five vials of blood from my arm. I always expect pain when they stick the needle in my vein, but am always surprised when it doesn't hurt much at all.

Then, it was off to the urinals with my uncertain bladder.

In the booth, I opened the container and my gave it a go, so to speak.


So, I imagined myself back on that desert island....

Jammin' in the Gene Pool

Took BiL and Nieces and Nephews (w/out Liam) and friends of Nieces and Nephews to the beach this afternoon. I was initially a little perturbed that we got such a late start, but I think there might have been some drama at home regarding our mother, who is 81 and has Parkinson's, for those of you who don't know this. My sis, her hub and their kids live in PA and are visiting and helping with some mom decisions we have to make.

Anyway, so we went to the beach. I used to love the beach. Used to love all it had to offer. These days, I avoid the sun, being fair skinned and trying to make up for my past sun abuse. Spent most of the time under an umbrella, greased with sun screen. Never went into the water.

When we got home, we all improvised dinner. Those who stayed behind weren't sure that we were coming back, so they didn't prepare anything for us. I'm not bitter.

No, really.

Billy Canary, Nephs Liam and Michael, and I all broke out the ukes and began jamming. First song: If I Had a Hammer. Catchy little tune. Both Nephs are becoming pretty good musicians. Liam is a pretty good singer too. Has a nice baritone. I bet Michael would be a pretty good singer too, but he didn't sing. I think he likes playing, especially if he can show off his skills. But he might be shy about singing. Or maybe he just doesn't like to. We began making up a few verses like "If I had a fish," "If I had a sponge," "If I had a waffle iron." Eventually the song died a well-deserved death.

We did a couple of Led Belly tunes, I forget the titles. I just played as Liam sang and Billy played the guitar, which I think he has been practicing on the sly. Maybe I need to get one.

The, we tried "Jimmy Jazz" by the Clash. Once again, the barred chord came in handy. I had a hard time getting the same rhythm that the others were playing. But I got the chords. It's a pretty good song for uke.

We then practice the Who's "Happy Jack," which also sounds good on the uke. It's pretty simple, with only three chords. The guitar riff sounds comical when you try to play it on uke. But I think it fits just the same.

I don't remember the Beatle's tune we played. I just tried harmonizing on that one. I think that we might play as an ensemble on Open Mike Night this Sunday. Not sure which song. I favor "Happy Jack" right now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Back in the Saddle Again, Metaphorically Speaking

Just got back this afternoon from the Taos Writers' Conference. I will probably review it later. I might even post something I wrote up there. But I want to re-read it tomorrow and see if it weathers the post-conference glow.

It was a good conference, in part because I was able to almost completely retreat from the cares and responsibilities of my life and focus on reading and writing. Taos is a pretty nice corner of the world. I don't think that I would want to live there in particular. Maybe Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Taos might be a little too isolated for me on a long-term basis. What I like about it is, while hot, it is dry. Very comfortable for a sweater like me.

I attended a weekend workshop on the Poetics of Place. Wrote a poem that I didn't think much about. But I got a pretty good reaction from the others in my workshop. The facilitator made our work from Saturday the assignment for Sunday. Each assignment was tailor-made for each student. His suggestion for my piece interested me, so I tried out his suggestions. I still have to work on it. It involves some street performers at the square it downtown Taos. If I like it, I will post it here.

My week-long workshop involved using landscape to develop characters in short fiction. I haven't written much short fiction. We each submitted in advance a short story of about 12 pages. The instructor sent these around to each of the participants. We each read one another's work and then re-read it and discussed each piece during class. Mine got laughs, and some good suggestions. It was a fictional account of Open Mike Night at the Folk center. I am proud of it, but it still needs work.

I probably won't post it. It clocks in at about 2000 words. Most of you have read it. Those of you who haven't, just let me know and I'll send it your way.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hey, Baby, It's the Fourth of July!

By the way, Dave Alvin formerly of the Blasters, is playing at the Folk Center. I've got a ticket. Saw him several years ago, just after he left the Blasters. One of the best concerts I ever attended.

I spent my 4th of July at My friend Curt's hill-top home. Curt is a friend of mine, going back to before kindergarten. We've known each other for almost fifty years. Fell out of touch for awhile and have lately been re-connecting.

I used to spend my 4th's at the church where I grew up. My mother has been a member there since she was a teenager. Maybe longer.

Around here, the big fireworks display comes from atop Mt. Rube, a local landmark. Across a small valley, on another hill, sits the church, its parking lot and playground facing the Mountain. It's probably not a distance of even two miles. So the congregation gathers around and has a big potluck, culminating in the fireworks display. The fireworks are only one of the attractions-the other being the suspense of when one of the sparklers explodes too close to the ground and sets the side of the mountain ablaze. Last Monday, there were two fires-one of which spread pretty quickly before the fire department got to it.

The fire department is always on the ready, by the way. They have got it down to a science, allowing for just enough inferno to entertain without putting anyone in danger.

My friend's house sits at the top of another hill across the wider valley of Riverside. The fireworks aren't nearly as close as they are to the church. But, what you get in addition is almost an even trade-off. Sitting high atop the hill, gazing across the valley at the mountain, you can see all of the individual, illegal, fireworks displays going on in people's backyards. As time for the big display approaches, these smaller displays begin. Each sparkler jumps into the sky like a trout leaping out and diving back into a lake. When the big display gets going, the experience takes on a three-dimensional affect, with the smaller fireworks exploding a few yards in front of you, a half-mile away, a mile, and on, in all directions. From all angles, bursts of color that glow and dissipate into the dark.

Not a bad evening.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Coming Together, Parting Ways

The sis and family arrived today from PA. It is good to see them. Unfortunately, I leave on Thursday morning for Taos, NM. I will try to abbreviate my trip as much as possible, but I find more and more that driving that kind of distance needs to be paced out over a couple of days. I have the stamina, but not the will to drive that distance in one day.

So, tonight, I took three of my ukuleles to Mom's house, where sis and fam are staying, I brought two in and, when I had turned my back, they were in use. I brought a third in later for myself.

Billy Canary and Nephew Mike the Bassist were both noodling away. I had brought a few song books and left them there. When I leave for Taos, I will leave a couple of ukes there. The plan being that Nephews and/or nieces pick them up and learn to play them. I have about five non-relative converts to my credit and am aiming for at least two more from my family. Nephew Mike, as I have said, is a bassist. Nephew Liam is a percussionist, primarily, but plays several instruments. He actually purchased a baritone ukulele awhile back and has learned some songs. I guess my strategy here is to make my presence felt even when I'm not there.

I am torn about leaving just when they arrived. But this Taos Writers' Conference is something that I have been planning since attending in 2004. It is a great get-away. And this year, more than most, I need a get-away. I have learned that one essential element for a successful retreat is knowing what you are retreating from. I need time away from my mother and her illness. She has Parkinson's. And it has been difficult for all of us. If you have ever seen what Parkinson's can do to a person, then you know why I support stem cell research.

So, Thursday Morn, I will pack up all my cares and woes, and a couple of travel-worthy ukes, and head for Taos. There, I will attend a weekend poetry workshop and week-long fiction workshop. And, when not workshopping, I will be writing, reading, reflecting, and playing my ukes. That, and wining and dining at some of the fine restaurants there.

I got a new laptop and, assuming that I get connected to the internet, will report any progress I make. If I don't, you can bet that it will be because I am having too much fun.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Reflections after Having Seen Revenge of the Sith

To take my mind off the fasting I had to do before my butt-oscopy (see Journey to the Center of My Colon), I decided to take in a movie-one that I wouldn't have to think too much about. I hadn't seen the Revenge of the Sith, and am a Star Wars fan (note: not obsessed, just a fan-otherwise, I wouldn't have waited so long to see it).

I liked it much more than the two previous ones. Jar-jar, luckily, made only a brief, silent appearance. Padame, or whatever her name was, had a pretty thankless waiting-at-home kind of part. Her death, as well as Anakin's conversion, was hard to believe. I actually felt like they could have left out the first episode and most of the second and just fleshed out this episode more. It would have made a better trilogy. That, and I wouldn't have to keep thinking about how Anakin and Padame met when she was queen and he was a small boy. Something about that is just creepy.

The action was good, but, anytime the characters started talking, I got kind of bored.

Anyway, it reminded me of my old friend Larry.

Larry was the kind of guy who gave in easily to his most compulsive behaviors. He smoked too much weed, made huge purchases on impulse, using credit cards, and let his imagination rule when common sense would have served him better. He would go through economic binge and purge cycles. He would buy lots of toys on credit, lose his job, and have to give the stuff back or sell it for cash. The cars and motorcycles useless enough and he didn't need them. But Larry was an aspiring photographer. He would buy elaborate camera get-ups, just begin to be productive, and then lose it all at the end of each cycle so he couldn't ever take pictures, even when people were offering jobs.

The funny thing is, he knew when he was doing something stupid. What's more, I could always tell when he knew. He had this look in his eye, this expression on his face, and this tone in his voice. His favorite expression just before he did something really stupid and self-destructive was "I know what I'm doing." If Larry said that, you knew that what he really was thinking was "I know what I'm doing and it is a big mistake."

I went and saw the very first Star Wars movie with Larry, who was a big Sci Fi TV and movie buff. He loved Star Trek and Star Wars.

Never any books though. Larry didn't read.

Another favorite expression of his was to say that his teachers always told him that he was much smarter than everyone thought he was. One favorite anecdote of his was when our 7th grade English teacher told him "You have the potential for genius-just not the personality for it." I'm not sure if she really said that, or what she might have meant by it, or what it could possibly mean. I just know that Larry had more imagination than brains.

Back to the Star Wars connection. I may have seen the first one twice. I think I may have seen all three of the early films twice each. I liked them. Thought the special effects were cool. But I always felt like George Lucas had trouble coming up with satisfying endings. In fact, this last episode had the strongest ending of all the films, but even this one had a rushed quality about it, story-wise.
For the first three films, I'm pretty sure that each time I saw them, it was with Larry-who saw each of them so many times that he had the dialog memorized.

Larry took the films much too seriously. He felt that they were some kind of quasi-religious experience. He would often say things like "I think that George Lucas has communicated with beings from another galaxy."

What was even more odd was that Larry was a fundamentalist Christian. I don't know how he ever reconciled these two extreme concepts of his.

As I said, Larry had a hard time controlling his impulses. He dropped out of college before the end of his first semester. He held commissioned sales jobs at a couple of department store chains. He eventually worked his way up to department manager. He stole some prints from a wedding he had photographed. He had no money, as usual, and the customers wanted to see the prints and make their order. Got fired. Had to return his car and motorcycle to the dealerships from which he had purchased them.

And, of course, he had to sell his camera equipment.

This sort of thing happened several times before he turned thirty.

The last binge and purge cycle, he had been working at a motorcycle shop. Of course, after a couple of weeks, he had purchased the most expensive motorcycle in the shop. One day, he took a customer out for a test drive. He skipped the usual procedure of taking the guy's driver's license and. The customer hopped on the bike and took off. Larry followed on his own bike. When Larry signaled the customer to head back, the guy kept going and was never seen again.

Larry lost his job, etc.

This was about the third or fourth time this sort of thing happened to Larry. The boss insisted that he had to pay for the stolen bike. Plus, when he tried to return his own bike, the boss found a major ding on it and insisted that he pay for that too.

Larry was rescued by his father, who drove in with Larry's mother from Texas. Larry, Sr. had inherited a ranch in Texas and was doing pretty well. Most of the family followed him there and worked and lived on the ranch.

Larry, Sr. went with Larry to each of his creditors and offered to help make up the debt if they would cut Larry some sort of break. They all turned him down. The last creditor was Larry's ex-boss at the cycle shop.

"God-Dammit!" he said, pounding his desk. "That kid of yours is lucky I don't have him arrested."

The next day, Larry was spirited away to Texas. None of the creditors ever collected another dime.

I was in college as this all took place. I was usually the guy that went with Larry to return his various repossessed goods. Whenever we discussed my life, Larry would always tell me, "You know, I've already been to school-the school of hard knocks."

As I look back, Larry was kind of like an Anakin Skywalker, without the light saber or the Force stuff. That, and he wasn't put on this earth to bring balance back to it.

But, oh, the things he could have accomplished if he had stayed away from all of the crap he brought on himself.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Journey to the Center of My Colon

Why is it that whenever people know that you are going through one of the more stressful moments of your life, other people involved tell you to relax? Without getting too graphic, that's what the nurse kept telling me-that I needed to relax. When the procedure started, I tried to relax. But there is no better way to make sure that someone doesn't relax by telling him or her to relax. She would have been smarter just to give me drugs.

Anyway, my yoga and karate training, while not necessarily training me in yoga or karate, did train me to breath properly. So, I breathed my best yoga/karate breathing. That, and I followed the nurse's advice to rub my belly to minimize the discomfort. It all seemed to work.

The procedure I got was the halfway up procedure. It has a long medical name. But it's where they go through your lower colon to see what's there.

I was watching the screen when they turned on the camera that was about to go up my rectum and journey to where no man has ever gone before. The first thing I saw were lighting fixtures. My first thought was that I didn't know that I had lighting fixtures up there. But, or course, they hadn't gone there yet. The lighting fixtures were the ones that hung in the room.

Then, as the camera was directed towards the massive, white mound that I affectionately refer to as "my ass," I couldn't help but think of some of the older rides at Disneyland-especially the Peter Pan ride. As the doors that I affectionately refer to as "my buttocks" opened and the camera sailed in, I could almost here the voice of Peter Pan himself shouting "Okay, kids, here we go!"

The next impression I had was, as I watched the journey begin, how seemingly endless our assholes are.

The camera went round each bend smoothly. As in a Disney ride, I thought about how, around each bend, some villain would appear suddenly causing shrieks among the children. I remembered, during the Snow White ride, how the Evil queen, now transformed into a witch, would suddenly appear, holding that poisoned apple. Of course, no witch appeared with her poisoned apple.

But there was a polyp.

In fact, just after the doctor had reached the end of his journey, just after the nurse had said, "Okay, we're almost done," a little bump in my lower colon appeared onscreen. It looked as pink and healthy as the rest of my lower colon. But the doctor said, "Hmmm, let's get a sample of that polyp."

He then asked me, and I had been asked that earlier by the nurse, "Do you have a family history of colon cancer?"

I told him "No."

"Good," he said.

He took a sample of the polyp. Then another, which pretty much eliminated the polyp from my lower colon.

And, as he finished the procedure, he told me that they would examine the sample and that I would know in about a week-and-a-half whether or not they needed to perform a full colonoscopy.

I have since been told that finding polyps is not that uncommon. That, if it had been an actual cancerous tumor, they would have scheduled surgery immediately. So, that is a little reassuring.

I was also told by my SiL that this news meant that my next half-assed exploration would be in three years instead of five. Also reassuring.

So, I guess I'll hear soon about what the next step will be.

But let me use this experience to remind my eight-or-so faithful readers: colon cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. When it is caught early, it is highly curable. Yes, it's one of the yucky-most forms of cancer to get tested for, but getting tested early is better than some of the alternatives.