Monday, September 26, 2005

Speaking of Musicians

I was at a local, non-Starbucks franchise, embibing in a tasty coffee beverage with my friend Al (Fresco, that is) taking advantage of their free wireless internet, finishing my grades, when this shaved-head white guy sits down at the table behind me, lights up a smoke and dials someone on his cell phone. He says to his party "Hey, niggah, wassup?" Then he cracks up, saying, "I bet you thought I was some rapper or some shit, dintcha?" And he laughs some more.

Then he goes into some dialog about this heavy metal band he is in and about some song he wrote the night before and about how at practice the night before he was just screaming into the mike when the bass player who had quit this band before but had come back just to play one gig and help them out with their new lead vocalist (this guy behind me) and he(the guy behind me) is just absorbed in the music when the bass player just stops playing and turns to him (the guy behind me) and says"Dude, you just WAIL. I want back in the band."

So the guy (behind me) is just all pleased with himself and is asking his call whether or not eight songs is a good number for a set and how lots of people are going to be their from his work whatever that is and especially this one chick is smokin' and she'll be there and he hopes she likes that kind of music because she's smokin'.

And I'm thinking wouldn't it be great if everybody was in a band and could find a way to express their innermost feelings in such a way so as to be scary but not dangerous?

Because I think this guy could be dangerous.

And I'm thinking about this former student named Kat whose name really isn't Kat you see but she's bipolar allegedly and allegedly doesn't take her medication. During her senior year, her parents took her out of school and put her in a convent, which didn't work out especially well. So she contacts me and tells me that she has started a band called You Told Me We Were Going to Disneyland and that there is a ukulele solo in one of her songs.

But I didn't know she could play an instrument and I don't know if she's kidding.

I just hope she's doing ok.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Three Guys Wasting Time

So, yesterday, I remember why I went back to school and got my MA. I was tired of wasting time with people who have nothing better to do than argue over trivial matters.

Reverse to the end of my 43rd year. It was a pleasant Saturday, and I thought I'd join my friends at a local independent coffee place and chat. God only knows why, given the history.

Sure enough, I walked up and found my three friends-J, G, and S-arguing.

Now, as everyone knows, the two things you're not supposed to bring up unless you want to start an argument are Religion and Politics-right? Well, how about grammar?

The four of us are English teachers. The subject of debate was grammar. S warned me as I approached to keep going before I got sucked in and, like a fool, I sat down anyway. J and G were silent, but both were fuming. It was as if they were two cats locked in mortal combat. You know, bodies, claws, tails all entwined, occasionally a growl would seep out from one of them.

From my perspective, G would get passionate about something and J would bait him and G would bite and tempers would flare. G would usually become visibly angry. J would pull back and egg him on.

It was usually about school stuff. Like grammar.

For the life of me, I could never figure out why these guys wanted to spend so much time talking about their jobs. We all spent enough time on our jobs.

So, anyway, it was on a day like that that I decided I could spend my time doing something productive. I invited all three to join me. G declined. J showed up one time to check out a class, but never enrolled. S enrolled, but didn't finish. I began to spend my Saturdays and Sundays at Starbucks studying. Got a lot done.

So, I decided to join S and G at Starbucks yesterday, another beautiful day. G and I somehow got on the topic of country music. One interest I share with G is an interest in music. Whenever we used to do this, J (who has since moved to Connecticut to be with a lovely woman he met at a Yeats Seminar) would get bored and change the subject.

G made the comment that Country Music, as we know it, was pretty much invented by the Carter family. Now, it could be that "invented" is an inaccurate word-but, at that moment when the energies of several musical sensibilities converged and generated a new kind of popular music, the Carter family were standing pretty close by. There may have been others, but I don't know their names. And I'm pretty sure that most Country performers would give the Carter family a great deal of credit.

Yes, there were twangs and lilts floating around in the air for centuries, beginning in the British Isles and wafting their way to the Appalachians in this country. But the Carters were among the first to snatch them and record them.

S began saying that it wasn't true and that there were probably many others as responsible. But S didn't know that. He was just being contrary. He couldn't name anyone and he started insisting that, whenever G made a statement like that, he should be prepared to prove it.

Echoes of J.

The point being that, if I wanted to be in a Socratic seminar, I'd go back to school. If I show up on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, I'd like to keep things pretty informal.

S baited. G bit. G's face turned red, he shouted obscenities at S. S went into passive-aggressive mode, saying things that he knew would make G even angrier. The lovely afternoon was ruined. I took G's side for awhile. Pretty soon, we all just left-with me following G trying to calm him down-the guy has enough health problems and doesn't need that kind of crap. As we left, S came running after to basically make the same point he had made pretty feebly before. We all got in our cars and got out of there.

I can't understand why anyone would want to spend that much time so unproductively.

You know, last year, I had the idea to start that Ukulele Sunday thing and I got caught up in other things-visiting family, mom's illness and subsequent move to assisted living, the writers' conference, etc. Maybe now the time is ripe. I could feel my blood pressure rise yesterday. I left pissed.

All I know is that, anytime I play my ukulele, it is the best meditation and blood pressure medicine I can take. And, when I'm done, I'm a better ukulele player.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Trip to Del Mar III: The Journey Home

Before the concert started, I sauntered over to the merchandise booth to get my Knitters T-shirt. I had only brought the shirt I was wearing because it was just an overnight trip and I thought that, worst case scenario, I would have to wear the same shirt an extra half-day for the trip home or, best case scenario, I would have a brand new Knitters T-shirt to wear at every rest stop on the way home. Complete strangers would look at me and think about how cool I was for a middle-aged man. I even told this to Billy C, who by the way had brought a whole freaking wardrobe.

When I came back to our table, I showed him my shirt. He got up, saying that he wanted to get shirts for his whole family. When he got back, he asked me if I wanted him to take my shirt to the car and leave it with his. Knowing that when I drink I forget things, I said yes.

After the concert, we drove back to the hotel room and put our stuff in our room and then walked up to a pub whose name I forget for a last beer of the evening. We drank and discussed the concert, which we both agreed may have been the best concert ever in the universe, except for maybe the premiere of Beethoven's 9th or any Snake Suspenderz show.

Our motel was practically on the beach, so, on both the walk to the pub and our walk back, we could hear the crashing of the waves. We saw a lot of bunnies around the landscaped nature trail. We saw a drunken couple, he sitting on a bicycle and she trying to climb on the back in her mini-skirt. Once she got on, they coasted down the dark street, hopefully not to their doom, but it could have happened-their doom, that is.

Once back inside our hotel room, I decided to try on my T-shirt before I went to bed. I looked through the bundle of shirts and found that BC had gotten one exactly like mine.

That didn't bother me, but the next morning, after he had showered and went for his dailey walk, I also showered and got dressed, putting on my brand-new Knitters T-shirt.

Moments later, BC walked in and he was wearing the duplicate shirt.

How tacky.

So, pretty much everywhere we go, people look at us. We look enough alike in our matching shirts that people thought we were a couple of cute, aging twins. We were also both wearing straw hats that were different enough, but given the T's, made us look even more twinish.

It got to the point that, wherever we went, one of us just said "We're not twins, okay?" to whomever stared at us.

Our plan for the trip back was to stop at this Japanese restaurant for lunch, but we found, since it was labor day, the place was closed-as were most of the places we had planned on stopping. Even Giacoletti's in Carlsbad, where they have a variety of ukuleles in stock, was closed.

So we stopped at a roadside Mexican fast food place-not a chain, but a one-of-a-kind place- and had breakfast burriti, which were very tasty.

The trip home after that was pretty uneventful. I may have fallen asleep. BC snored the night before. Actually, we both snore, but he fell asleep first. So I was more tired than he.

Where Were You?

On the night of Sept. 10th, I was having trouble sleeping. I don't remember why, I just was.

Sometime around 3 AM, I decided that I wasn't going to be able to sleep, so I decided to get up, get ready for school, and go to Denny's to commandeer a large booth at which I would correct a massive stack of papers and eat a massive breakfast.

It was very quiet when I got there, and still dark out. As the sun struggled up, and I had begun to make a dent in both my stack of papers and my stack of pancakes, the restaurant gradually filled with a variety of people who had just begun their day. A man of about my age sat down in the booth facing me. I hunched over my papers so as not to get caught in any small talk, seeing as how that would take focus away from the task at hand. Besides, I am not at all a morning person. I hate talking at that hour.

I noticed the man checking and re-checking his cell phone impatiently, as if he had been stood up.

Then, I guess around 6 AM, a group of students from UCR came in, leading a line of new fraternity pledges who had apparently been kidnapped for breakfast. They were dressed in bathrobes and slippers and all were having a good, loud time.

Shortly after they were seated, a guy rushed in and sat down with the man across from me. "You'll never believe why I was late," he said, and began telling his friend about the attack.

I listened for a bit and then, paying my bill, got in my car and turned on the radio and heard Rick Dees sharing the news as he got it, punctuating it with comments like "Moments like this are what I have trained my whole life for."

I drove home, which wasn't far, to turn on the news and see what was happening. I got there just as the second tower had started to fall. Like many, I couldn't turn the TV off and was almost late to work.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Trip to Del Mar, Part II: The Knitters Concert

So, upon checking in to the Del Mar Motel, we hopped back into the car and wended our way to the Belly Up. We got there at about 6:45 or thereabouts and saw that a modest line had already formed, so we decided to stand there until the doors opened at 7, because we wanted a table. We would eat after we claimed our territory.

Billy Canary struck up a conversation with this tattooed, curly-haired kid in front of us. He had peddled his bike from Carlsbad and planned on peddling at back up to Carlsbad after the concert. That's a two-hour pedal. One way. I silently wondered why he didn't find another means of transpo. Billy did most of the talking.

The kid followed us in and sat down next to us at this common bench-type table, leaving the corner chair between him and Billy, because it looked like it would get crowded once the pub got full. He drank an awful lot, which perhaps explained the bicycling instead of driving part of his story.

Our waitress was this charming young lady named Magaly (a Mayan name, by the way), who was smart enough to laugh at our jokes. We found that we could order food from the eatery next door and had a sumptuous feast: Billy, some kind of spring roll-burrito hybrid, and me a turkey burger-both with wine, followed by beer during the concert.

There were two opening acts-a band whose name I forgot and Phranc, a jewish lesbian folksinger. Phranc has been around for awhile. She opened for the Knitters 20 years ago. She dressed like a man and passed for one during her first couple of numbers. When she mentioned that she was a jewish lesbian folksinger, a few in the crowd became uncomfortable. One idiot in particular made it his mission to heckle her from time to time. Billy says there were more, but it looked to me like it was the same guy, but he just moved around a lot. Phranc either didn't hear him or just chose to ignore him. At any rate, most of the crowd was with her. Towards the end of her show, she had the audience doing the Hokey-Pokey.

Phranc also throws tupperware parties. If you want to check out her website, here it is:

The Knitters, for those of you who are too young to know, are members of X-Exene Cervenka, John Doe, and DJ Bonebrake-and former Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin, as well as a stand-up bass player, Johnny Ray Bartel. They play a combination of traditional songs from folk such as Hank Williams, as well as songs from the X, Blasters, and Dave Alvin catalog.

The show started with John Doe and Dave Alvin coming out alone and performing Merle Haggards "Silver Wings," followed by another sad song that I recognized at the time but don't remember now. Too much beer, ya know?

The rest of the band came out and performed "Poor Little Critter in the Road" off of their first album. When I first heard it 22 years ago, this sounded like a novelty song. On this night, it sounded like an allegory for the plight of the common man, who, though he work hard for a little pleasure in the life, cannot avoid being run down by the automobile that I call "the Man." Think about it, OK?

By the way, The Knitters first formed those 22 years ago and only put out the one album. Now, they have released their 2nd and are touring with it. I think that tour is over now. If you want more information, here's their website:

This was an evening where things just got better and better. One song in particular, "The New World," just kicked ass. Dave Alvin took the old Billy Zoom guitar solo and turned it upside down and inside out. This guy is the best hardly-known guitarist I have ever heard and probably better than your favorite guitar god. As Billy Canary puts it, he enters a zone. And anything can happen. After the first few Billy Zoom licks, he eased into this "Battle Hymn of the Republic" riff and, just as it began to stir up the blood, eased back into this lyrical replay of the Zoom riff that could make a boy cry.

His further solos alternately blazed, thrashed, and swooned with the music. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, it did.

I have seen this guy three different times in three different venues in three different band formations, and he never ceases to amaze. He writes some great songs too. If you want more information, here's his website:

Former X drummer D J Bonebrake had a couple of chances to shine too. His drum kit was simply a snare and cymbals played with brushes. But he was the rhythm master.

John and Exene were great as a front duo. They put the punk back in spunk. John's persona is the warmer of the two, whereas Exene gave the evening an edgey quality. Together, they bantered back and forth like to divorcee's who could laugh at their differences now.

I just hope this band doesn't make us wait another 22 years before they put out another album.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I Don't Meet Cheech

For all of you people I stood up tonight: I spent the evening NOT meeting Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong. I thought I was, but I didn't.

Cheech Marin has backed an art an art show featuring paintings from East LA artists-actually prints from originals in his private collection. 26 of these prints (each from a different artist) are now hanging in the Riverside Municipal Museum, or what ever it's called. I got in on a special VIP reception, featuring a documentary on the exhibit. The film included interviews with Cheech and the artists.

But the significant detail that no one followed up on was whether or not Cheech would actually be there.

We discovered that he would not. He was in New York directing a play called The Chicanologues. First, Chong has his Marijuanalogues, and now this.

But, the evening was festive, once you got past the speeches from all of the dignitaries.

The show was good enough, considering I don't know squat about art. My main criticism was that, rather than one painting each by 26 artists, I would have liked to see a broader representation of each artist so that I could develop an opinion about their work. I ran to in an art teacher I knew who is also a working artist and he said that the reason for the narrow selection was that the show was more about selling these prints than introducing art lovers to these artists. Cheech stood to make serious cabbage off of this deal.

My friend Hlav and I spent about ten minutes analyzing one painting that didn't really merit that much analysis. But I learned that I could apply my knowledge of literary analysis to art. So maybe I don't need to know anything about art. My BS potential is as broad as it is deep.

There were a couple of the prints that I really liked: one depicting the Zoot Suit Riots, another showing a vato looking dreamily at the night's sky.

Outside, there were dancers from the Riverside Ballet de Folklorico. The choreographer explained the dances, so I expanded my knowledge of traditional mexican dance.

I know a couple of my students dance in this style, so now I have something new to talk to them about.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Trip to Del Mar, Part I: A Day at the Races

My bro Billy Canary and I took a trip down to Del Mar to see The Knitters, a band made up of Dave Alvin and former members of X at a place called the Belly Up on Sunday, Sep 6. We decided to make an over-nighter out of it and spend Sunday afternoon at the racetrack. We figured that the concert wouldn't get out until late and that we'd be too tired to drive the 90+ minute return trip.

We left Riverside at about noon-ish and stopped mid-way at Larryland (the Lawrence Welk Village Resort and Dinner Theater, where BC worked as an actor in several productions). Our aging bladers needed relief.

There was some remodeling going on and most of the public restrooms were closed, so we had to use a luxury Port-O-San facility. After, we entered the Lawrence Welk Museum and Dinner Theater to see if BC knew any of the performers in the current production of GYPSEY. It's been about 10 years, maybe more, since BC worked there.

He found two names that he recognized and left a note for one of them. This particular actor appeared in ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, among other things.

The other actor was one with whom I had also worked in a production of KISMET. In fact, BC and I both appeared in separate productions of KISMET with this guy. He has appeared in several TV commercials, one of the a "Got Milk?" commercial. If I remember correctly, he played a father who gives his baby a bottle of milk and then fixes himself a bowl of cereal, only to discover that there is no more milk. It ends in a stand-off between father and baby.

We didn't like him much.

But you know actors.

We just missed the first race, which sadly, had a horse-crash at the starting gate. I think everyone survived, but the race was nullified.

I won only one bet to win which paid a whopping 10-to-1.

Otherwise, it was a nice beginning to a great day.

Tomorrow: A Night at the Belly Up, Part 1