Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Singers Who Can't Sing Goes Broadway

Now that I think of it, how many actors who have won acclaim and/or awards for their performances in musical theater did so without being able to sing? I can think of a few people who created their roles in original Broadway productions, yet their singing ability was not technically good. They depended more on their ability to sell the song as a part of the characters they portrayed.

1. Carol Channing comes to mind. She played Dolly in "Hello Dolly, as did

2. Pearl Bailey. Those of you who remember her might disagree, but, while she could project, I'm not sure her voice was all that good. But she had the ability to infuse her energy into a song.

3. Zero Mostel in Fiddler and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

4. Yul Brynner in the King and I.

5. Richard Burton in Camelot.

6. Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.

7. Mel Ferrer in Man of La Mancha.

8. Peter O'Toole in the film version of Man of La Mancha. I know they dubbed another singer into that one, but he couldn't sing either.

10. Sophia Loren in the same film. She wasn't dubbed, but who cares?

Maybe those last three don't really count. But I needed at least ten to feel complete.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Singers Who Can't Sing

A recent post on Howlin' Hobbit's
blog made me think about all of the singers that I like who can't really sing. I have gotten into heated arguments with friends and family over some of these. People in their fan base love their music so much that they just can't hear the fact that their actual singing isn't very good, but it somehow makes the music work. Still, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, their voices are not "good" singing voices. If you were a teacher in a music class and one of these guys enrolled incognito and then sang for you, you would probably choke.

That does not mean that they shouldn't sing. In fact, many of these performers have a genuine drama in their voices that recreates the song anew.

When I was in musical theater, there were always people in the cast who, when they got a solo, would go "pretty" with it every time, instead of going "character." As a result, their solo would just sound horribly wrong.

Even guys like Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, after their voices have long lost the youthful timbre that made them stars, still manage to carry the song with the shear drama of their voices coupled with their ability to interpret.

Here is my top ten list of singers who can't sing but should nonetheless keep singing. If you disagree, just try to imagine each of them singing "Some Enchanted Evening" and tell me it would sound as good as Enzio Pinza. Or, on the other hand, try to imagine Enzio Pinza singing "Walk on the Wild Side" or "Vertigo."

1. Louis Armstrong (of course he can't keep singing because he's dead
2. Moms Mabley (see Louis)
3. Sonny Bono (see Moms)
4. Bono (Okay, I admit I included Sonny Bono just so I could follow him with Bono)
5. Lou Reed
6. Neal Young
7. Marianne Faithful (the older version)
8. Bob Dylan
9. Mick Jagger (Okay, maybe he should stop now)
10. Tom Waits
11. Muddy Waters
12. Carol Channing
13. Johnny Rotten
14. As long as I mention Johnny, why not Joe Strummer?
15. Van Morrison
16. Johnny Cash
17. Leon Russel

Okay, so that's seventeen.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Folk Fest haiku

When I arrived at the Folk Fest and finally got my tent up. I folded out my lounge chair and watched the sun set. As background music, all coming from different directions and distances, I had various camp jam sessions, the band at the contra dance, and a group of fiddlers at the outdoor concert stage playing at the same time. The music was both cacaphonous and melodic, kind of like a piece by Charles Ives.

The next morning, I sat watching the horizon again as the sun rose higher from behind me.

But the first haiku was inspired by this bird who kept attacking my window at school.

junkyard landscape:
oriole perches on fence
then flies into window

red sun sinks behind mountain
owl’s silhouette glides across horizon
at dusk

a thousand frogs croaking at night
I lean over the bridge silence

vulture’s circle
an airplane cuts a straight line
across the sky

Mt Rub Haiku

When I walk the Rub with Do, or anyone else, we usually talk. But when I walk alone, I try to be open to noticing something new. These haiku are products of the alone walks. You may have read the images elsewhere in this blog.

red-tailed hawk
perches atop dying tree
studies hikers below

hummingbird grasps branch
nape and throat shimmer ruby and green
no escape

the mountain top:
we watched the rain
spray the valley

wind blows my hat off
sunset colors the clouds
trapped by the mountain range

hiker reaches the peak
chats on his cellphone
spectacular view

rain fills river bottom
the water’s shimmering v’s
birds fly in formation

dabs of cloud
drift across cobalt sky
hide, then reveal random stars

2/3's of the Canaries

Open Mike again. A small crowd, due in part to the heat and maybe in part to the earlier start and maybe in part because people are on vacation.

A lot of new folk there. A lot of youngsters, a lot of whom either knew each other or were just very entertained by many of the performers.

UF sang a song with the word "Motherfucker" in it. I think it rhymed with something. Both of his songs excelled.

This one guy who will remain nameless at one point began beating the time on his guitar case when other people sang. That annoyed me. I kept thinking of something the teacher of my bones workshop said yesterday. Just because you can find the beat doesn't mean you should invite yourself to play along. Percussion is supposed to decorate the song. This guy has also taken to making comments to the performers that aren't especially funny.

A lot of talent once again. This guy named Spiro (like the Agnew) especially wowed the audience. I know he had some fans there because some ladies behind me knew his songs.

Billy C got there late and had to be coerced by me to go ahead and play the two songs he had brought with him.

I sang Quinn the Eskimo and America, Here's My Boy. I used a cheat sheet. Neither were songs I had originally planned on performing. I decided at the last minute to perform them because I wasn't secure about the two I had originally wanted to do. Next time. I kind of knew these two songs, but never really commited them to memory, hence the cheat sheet.

A young man and his daughter performed a song with her singing and him playing the mandolin. She was very young and very nervous. The audience began clapping along, which I think both made her more nervous and also made it difficult for her to establish her own pace. Anyway, she was cute and the audience loved her.

Special Ed--who usually gets there early, sets his guitar at the door before it opens, and then leaves until the just before the door does open and claims first place in line--got there late because he didn't get the memo about the earlier start time. He usually plays and then leaves. Tonight, he had to play towards the end, which meant that he had to wait for others to perform.

I have a problem with people who play and leave all of the time, unless they are really really good. It disrupts the community feeling.

Billy C sang two really good songs: I Go to Pieces and No One Cares for Me.

It was a good night.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Jammin' with the Big Boys

Just got back from the Folk Fest. Due to plans to cancel it, followed by a last-minute influx of funding, followed by a rushed scheduling of acts and workshops, attendance was lighter than last year. Last year, I got there late and almost didn't find a place to camp. This year, I got there close to the same time and practically had my choice of sites. Fewer vendors showed up this year, which only matters kinda. I like to browse, but don't like the temptation.

A lot of good workshops. A beginners' marimba workshop looked like the surprise hit. 10 minutes after it began, music from these multi-sized marimbas ensued with abandon. They played bass marimbas, soprano marimbas, tenor marimbas, all kinds. Whomever ran the workshop provided them. And let me tell you, the participants had a wild time. A few of these workshops tend to be pedantic, like the one I started the hour with. I left and followed the music. I would have joined in, but the line was too long and the marimbas were too few. Sad that they only gave one workshop.

When I say that some workshops are pedantic, that doesn't mean that I don't learn anything. Almost every workshop leader had me making music before the workshop ended. But each leader spent a little too much time on history or personal anecdotes.

The big news is that I took my Fluke and sat in on a blues jam. At one corner of the fest, they schedule different styles of jams. I decided that I would go to this one and sit and listen and maybe join in.

I sat in the outside circle, where the less experienced usually sit while the pros in the inner circle take turns soloing.

I was the only ukulele. For the most part, when the leader shouted out the song and the key, I worked it out. Most of the songs had only three or four chords and I didn't solo and they didn't ask me to leave. Yahoo!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Your Baggage Has Been Delayed

I swear that my training as a world traveler--that which has always begun with the mantra "pack light, pack light, pack light"--should have kicked in before I left for Pennsylvania. But, like so many accidents and mishaps in life, I instead listened to the little voice that said "Don't worry about it." I took three bags: my fluke in its case, my laptop, and a bag with clothes and stuff.

I could have just bee-lined for a music store or pawn shop and bought either a cheap uke or a really nice one and played that during my visit. I could have left it there for my nephew and whomever to mess with. Or, if it had been a collectible, I could have figured out a way to carry it with me on the return flight. Either way, someone would have ended up with a ukulele.

I could have gone a week without my own computer. But the reason I bought the laptop was so I could take it with me and write, which would have been difficult on the one computer at my sister's house, since everyone uses that all of the time.

I could have just packed bare necessities and combined uke with regular travel stuff.

Anyway, the marginally positive thing about it is that, if I had bought one of those vintage ukes at Buck's County Music, I would have probably had to pack either that or my fluke and checked it in with my other bag, which got lost. I don't know how they lost it. It was a non-stop flight. All they had to do was put it on my plane and there it would be--no stop-overs where they could transfer it to the wrong plane.

Next time, I won't pack anything I can't carry on.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Hiker and the Bass Player

I spent a week in Downingtown, PA visiting my sister and her family for the occasion of my eldest niece's high school graduation-that, and the fact that it might be the last time I could count on everyone being together for any length of time in the future. Of course, since all of the kids are teenagers with jobs and active social lives, we rarely were all together at the same time anyway. But I did get valuable face time with each of them.

Downingtown is a small town and there isn't much to do. But it also has some beautiful scenery, so I used that as an excuse to walk for about an hour almost every day. My sense of discipline was in high gear and it paid off--at least as far as my blood pressure goes, as it was way down. Today, for example, it was 107/71 which is a significant drop.

Mt. Rub is nice, but nothing compared to walking the Strubel Trail that runs parallel to the Brandywine River. Lots of green. Lots of shade. One day, while walking with my sister, my younger niece, and their dog, we actually saw a deer wander out on the trail.

On Saturday morning, I awoke especially early. It was the day of my return flight and I slept little. So, around 7 AM, I figured that I may as well get one last walk in before I left. I could sleep on the plane that afternoon if I needed to.

I discovered a variation on my standard route and followed it, not sure if I would get lost--but it's pretty hard to get lost in Downingtown. Keep your eye on a couple of prominent landmarks and you can find your way.

As I finished my walk and returned to my sister's house, I passed some apartments in the area--old apartments that could use some refurbishing. Outside of one, a man carried a large case with a stand-up bass in it that it looked like he was going to try to fit into a car that looked to small. He set it down to bring out some sound equipment.

As I passed, he greeted me and asked "Are you a hiker?"

I said "No, I'm a walker. Are you a bass player?"

"Yeah," he said. "Do you play?"

"Not bass. My axe is the ukulele."

"Alright," he replied. "Do you play around here?"

"No, I just play around the house."

"Well, that's cool too."

"Yeah, my brother and I sometimes play at open mikes back home along with my nephew."

"Hmmmm, I oughta look into getting me one of those."

The Canaries at the Backstreet

For a Mom's-eye review, check out Vivage.

The three of us arrived at the Backstreet, a local one-of-kind sandwich shop, where our friend Luigi Canario plays ambient guitar music on Wednesday nights. Luigi is a classical guitarist who used to play in a band called Sterno and the Flames when we was kids. A lot of local folk of legend were involved with that band.

So, aside from listening to Luigi's musical stylings, we knew that he would let us do something during one of his breaks. We each did a song. Billy C sang I Go to Pieces. I sang I Wanna Be Like You. Blowhard Canary sang Don't Think Twice. Then, we sang I Shall Be Released. The crowd ate it up.

Princess Canary then came up and wanted to sing Amazing Grace with us. We had sung this a capella at one of our rehearsal's at Mom's apartment. We tried playing our instruments this time, but we were not tuned and we couldn't agree who the culprit was. I tuned my uke to Billy's (my uke was losing its tuning because the pegs need to be adjusted), but things were still not happening. Blowhard sounded out of tune to me. But what we really need to do is rehearse these things. Also, Princess needs to join us more because she has a really sweet voice.

My childhood friend Curt (not a Canary) came in with his lovely wife Joanie and an older couple after we had finished the songs we sang well. During Amazing Grace, the older gentleman walked up to the stage and began clapping either with us or for us, I'm not sure.

Later, when I joined their table, he began talking to me and I learned that he was from Denmark. I couldn't figure out much of what he was talking about beyond that. It wasn't a language barrier. Rather, he had trouble putting his thoughts together. At one point, he had me touch the side of his head, where, under his hair, I felt a pronounce dent. It became clear that he had had a severe head trauma of some sort and that he had been explaining to me how it happened and how the doctors had treated it. At that point, his wife asked whether I understood that her husband was a stroke survivor and his head injury took place when he fell from said stroke and that he had to re-learn how to speak and do almost everything else.

I then learned that he had been the most prominent architect in town and had signed the plans of almost every major building project in town, including the cross at the top of Mt. Rub, most of the schools in town, the refurbishing of Mission Inn, the Museum of the Desert, and many many more.

I sat and talked (actually listened) to him for at least an hour--having to really work my deciphering antennae extra hard. In addition to talking in numbers (he had been an excellent mathematician), he also had a problem with gender referents. When Curt had left to go talk to Luigi and the other Canaries, he asked Joanie, "Where is your wife going?"

There were times when I don't know what he was saying at all. But he was a nice man--very cheerful. His wife even said that, although he sometimes made her crazy, he was always so sweet to her, both before and after his stroke, that she felt lucky. Sometimes stroke victims' change of personality can bring out the worst in them.

I capped off the night by taking a look at Curt's electric car. It's a Ford Think, which has been discontinued for a long time now. He bought it from a car dealer in San Diego. It looked like a golf cart. Good for surface streets, but not allowed on the freeway--but, these days, getting on the freeways doesn't get you anywhere very quickly anyway.

Friday, June 16, 2006

An Autistic Classroom

My sister invited me to her classroom recently. She is an instructional aide working with autistic kids. The regular teacher has been out for quite awhile, due to a medical emergency that became more complicated when they tried to treat it, so they have had a couple of long-term substitutes. So, in reality, the instructional aides have been running things and my sister is the senior-most instructional aide.

The deal was that I could come to her class on their last day of school and play my ukulele for them. Each student's program is highly individualized, so their aren't many times during the day that all of the students gather as one class. Instead, each student usually does their own thing. As opposed to the usual room filled with desks in rows, this class room is set up with activity centers, with lots of cubicles to help the students concentrate. I noticed that, even when they are all gathered in the play area, each student seems disengaged from the other students, unless one ventures into another's space.

So, most of the time, I provided ambient music. I practiced mostly the more difficult songs that I have been learning.

There are seven elementary school-aged boys in this class and almost as many adults to see to their needs and intervene if any of them act out inappropriately. Trust me, each instructional aide and teacher that enters this classroom has their work cut out for them.

Eric was the first student in the door. He was to receive an award for being promoted to the middle school next year, as well as one for art. I offered my hand to shake. He took it and shook it for a while. Sis had to cue him to stop. Eric was a pretty calm kid otherwise. My sister says his artwork is pretty wonderful.

Joey reminded me a little of Eeyore. He spoke with a slow, forlorn cadence of one for whom life had been a struggle. When my sister introduced me, she mentioned that I had diabetes (type 2). I asked him if he had diabetes, to which he replied, "unfortunately yes." Joey blood sugar needs to be monitored pretty carefully by the staff.

My sister later told me a Joey story, where the class had gone to a place called Rita's to get some Italian Ice stuff, what ever it's called. She told Joey that he cold have some, but he'd have to get two "mosquito bites" (insulin shots). Joey thought for awhile and finally said that he'd take both the mosquito bites and the ice. Later, my sister asked him if it was worth it, to which Joey replied "You bet."

Joey has to get his blood tested before he gets on the bus for home because, if it's too high or too low, he could have a serious problem. The day I visited, Joey tested low. The nurse at the office gave him a couple of sugar tablets and tested him again and his blood sugar was even lower. It took awhile to get it right.

A student named King was one of the most interesting students. He was a cute kid, skinny with buck teeth. He had one man, Mr. Tom, who spent the whole day monitoring just him. King sometimes would invade other people's space and had a problem with biting people at one time. King also had very poor communication skills and severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My sister told me that there would be times that King would just get locked into an OCD cycle that he could not get through and would just roll around on the floor until it passed.

Mr. Tom brought King over to me and said "King really likes music." King's toothy smile told me as much. I then noticed his two dinosaurs that he had with him. The whole time we were in the classroom, King would alternate between dinosaurs, clicking one against his teeth three times, putting it in his pack, then taking the other out, clicking that with his teeth, walk around the room, then go back to his pack and repeat the process. At one point, King approached me, holding the dinosaur close to his face and, just inches from my face, whispered "Grrrr," clicked the dinosaur against his teeth, and scrambled back to exchange it with the one in his pack.

At the awards assembly, King suddenly jumped up and got really close to a random man in the audience. Mr. Tom quickly followed King and gently guided him back to his seat.

Like most people, Most of what I knew about autism I got from "Rainman." I had also read the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a novel told from the point of view of an autistic kid.

But I had never seen autism in real time before. The day left me feeling proud of my sister and the work she does.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dream #5

I was leaving the Riverside Brewery. I had parked my car under a bridge on a busy street. As I walked out, I saw this guy climbing into a burgendy colored van. He had to squeeze between my car and his because our cars were right next to each other. There was no room for him to be getting in between the two cars, so I was amazed that he could do it. Once he got in his car, he purposely slammed his door into the side of my car and he and these other two guys laughed and began to drive off.

I ran to my car and somehow, even though the car had sped off, the guy in the back, who looked like a former student of mine, a big football player, was able to stick his head out and get in my face, telling me "You better check your car. These guys ripped you off. If I was you, I'd stop the traffic."

Sure enough, they had broken into my car. Nothing was gone. But the dashboard was torn up and lots of junk was scattered around. As I closed the car door, I noticed that, while not scratched or dented, the door was smeared with burgundy paint.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Flat Tire Principle

Once they had started boarding the flight, Nick allowed a nervous looking woman to go ahead of him, which he immediately regretted when he noticed her dragging a huge carry-on with wheels. As he followed her through the tunnel to the plane, he noticed her unsteady shuffle, as if perhaps she had been drinking before the flight. As he followed. She weaved a bit and, just as she was about to enter the plane, took an unexpected turn, tipping her carry-on over on its side. She apologized and righted her bad with his help. Yeah, she had been drinking alright.

He found that they were to be aisle-mates at the bulkhead as she stopped in front of him.

The flight attendant took one look in her bag and said, "That's too big, honey. We have a full flight and won't be able to stow that in the overheads. You'll have to check it in."

"I'm NOT going to check it in," she replied.

"Well, I don't we're going to have enough room."

A nice man took a bag out of the overhead and stowed it under his seat so she'd have more room.

"Excuse me, sir," she said, "but would you mind helping me with my bag? It's too heavy for me to lift."

Nick knew that she was talking to him. But he had already decided that he didn't want anything to do with her. She had already proven that she was going to be a pain in the ass to anyone who dealt with her. So why should he get involved. Besides, he thought, if you can't lift it, you shouldn't carry it on the plane. That's why they call them carry-ons.

Nick pretended he didn't hear her. Five times.

Someone finally helped her and she sat down.

Nick inventoried his flight-gear-not because he could do anything to change it if he had forgotten something, but because he needed the reassurance that he had remembered everything. He had worn his all-cotten longsleeved shirt and pants, for when the plane went down. Cotten, because it would burn before your skin, giving you a better chance for survival, long sleeves and pants for full body protection. Boots instead of shoes or sandals, because you never knew what you might step on or trip over in a falling airplane. His lucky hat, for luck. A long work of classic fiction because he knew the plane would never go down if hadn't yet finished the book he was reading.

The lady across the aisle swiped her credit card to access the television service. placed the headphones over her ears and began nervously working a crossword puzzle. Multitasking to take her mind off her fear.

Nick could sense her madness.

She sat alone in her row. Nick had one other rowmate, with a seat between them.

"I guess we really lucked out," she said, clutching her armrests. "I never get to sit alone. We'll probably crash."

Nick couldn't believe his ears. Why did she have to go and jinx the flight like that? Didn't she know about the "Flat Tire Principle?"

Nick thought back to when he first learned of the Flat Tire Principle as a young boy. He and his family were going to Disneyland. They had happily been playing the alphabet game, when his mother said, "This has really been a fun drive so far."

"Yeah," Nick said, "I sure hope we don't get a flat tire."

Just then, a small explosion took place right behind where Nick was sitting. The car swerved a little to the right of the road and several other drivers honked their horns in agitation. Nick could hear the flip-flopping of the rear tire.

"Now why did you have to go and say that?" Nick's Dad asked him. "You know that's how people get flat tires. You never even think of flat tires when you're driving, boy. Ain't you got sense?"

Nick locked his seatbelt and the plane began to approach the runway. As it picked up speed, the cabin shook and Nick thought about how primitive airflight was. As the engines whistled and the plane took off, he turned to the woman and said "You know, if we all die tonight, it's your fault."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dream # 4

I'm not sure how much I'll remember except that there was some kind of science fair going on in the school gym and several of my students were involved. But the science wasn't really science. It was more like the students had each perfected some sort of magic trick.

I found my self in my classroom, except it was angular and dreamlike, not at all practical for desks or students. Not many students were there. I eventually figured out that most of them were at the science fair.

My friend Bob appeared from out of nowhere, his beard trimmed down to the stubble, his waistline down to what it was probably 10 years ago (he's a big guy). He had a worried look on his face, like he had just witnessed something horrible. When he told me what was wrong, it didn't seem like a big deal to me.

The only reason I remember any of this is because Bob looked so deathly afraid of something.