Monday, July 28, 2008

Open Mike Family Affair

I haven't stopped going to open mics at the Folk Center. I've just stopped reviewing them. But last night was a real event. The entire Canary Family (those that perform and are in town, anyway) performed.

The night was a pretty good one. Many talented performers. Uke Forever performed an evangelistical atheist tune he had written. Seriously, he could have had an altar call at the end to ask people who felt so moved to come up and publicly renounce the Lord. Very good song.

Bill ( a regular) followed this with a couple of Gospel tunes, both of which he played very fast as if to make sure he gave Jesus better than equal time. Bill is an odd fellow. He always starts with a joke. You know that he has opened with a joke because he always makes this face that looks like the kind of face a character might make early on in a cheap horror movie when he or she first discovers the horror that will propel the plot of said movie forward.

Soon UF's buddy Terrance got up and sang a song he wrote that had a more liberal spiritual point of view. He either followed or was followed by another guy named Terrance--an older guy with a few missing teeth and bald head with a curtain of long white hair around the sides. This Terrance is a multi-instrumentalist who brought a dobro on this night. He did a couple of very sang an anti-war folk song, "Mrs. McGrath," which you can find on Springsteen's Seeger Sessions CD and a medley of Jesse James tunes.

This one lady got up and sang a rousing gospel tune a capella and it just killed.

A great night for the first amendment.

As for the Canary line-up, I was first with my original tune "A Man without Arms"-- a song I am working on from the Peter Case workshop. I don't think it got the laughs that I had hoped, but did ok.

Billy C followed with his song about an old fictitious dog, based on an actual dog, but changed up enough so that it really is a fictitious dog. He got a great response. Princess Canary actually came with us and sang "I Will" by the Beatles as Dad Billy C accompanied her on uke and Do played bongos. I have played on this song also, but we realized too late that our ukes were tuned differently and there was no time to fix that. Just as well. While watching Princess Canary sing, I had one of those sentimental realizations that none of my nieces or nephews are children anymore. Princess is the youngest and will be a senior next year. Time passes.

Blowhard C got up and sang a tune. Most of us accompanied him. Do on conga, Billy C on huevos, me on stomping and clapping. It was a song that he had found on Myspace. We weren't sure when the song was over, so Billy C and I continued playing our instruments until Blowhard turned around and gave us "the look."

Do also played percussion for a couple of other folk. For someone who had not planned on playing at all, she was pretty busy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Game Show

My theory regarding audience participation-type game shows is that, while the producers want the audience to be rowdy and have a good time, people who show up to be members of said audience and/or participants are basically meat to be used to fill up the seats in the studio--happy, clapping meat.

Yesterday, the Sis and her family (Reverend Canary, Diva Canary, Sluggo--Diva's boyfriend--all visiting from PA) and myself went to a taping of The Price Is Right. We had e-tickets, which we found out were not as good as studio tickets--neither of which guarantees that you will get in. They overbook to ensure a full audience as well as a broad selection of possible contestants.

So, we all get there at 8 AM for the 4 O'clock taping. I won't go into detail, but three out of five of us were in nuclear pissy mode--largely because they didn't share the enthusiasm for going to a game show that my sister and I had.

About 900 people showed up for the 1 O'clock taping (there were 300 seats available--there were also around 900 people for the 4PM show). These folk were sorted by the pages, whose basic goal was to get the seats filled--not to be fair or compassionate. Each ticket holder would be assigned a priority number, which took a couple of hours--and these seemed to be assigned not in the order each person arrived, but depending on where each person was told to sit. For example, I ended up with a higher priority number than Pammy C, even though she had been seated in the row ahead of me because my page was quicker than her page.

If you asked a page a question--any question--you got "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do about it." Some would go to the trouble of smiling, but most were brusk and dismissive.

It was funny to watch ticket-holders who would get into arguments with pages because they felt they had been treated unfairly or because they had a better idea of how to run things. Some pages were friendlier than others, but every time, the complainer would end up being told that they could always leave if they didn't like it. On more than one occasion, the page offered to call security to take a complainer away. So we figured out right away that, whether or not we got on the show would be helped by going to a page and complaining.

There was one lady who would not leave no matter how many times or how many ways she was told that she would not get a priority number because she did not have a ticket. She stayed up until we began filing into the studio and somehow managed to get into the taping.

The five of us got separated early in the process. Dave and I ended up in one row, while Pammmmmmmy C, Diva, and Sluggo ended up in another. Once you were seated, you sat--for a long time, until someone gave you a priority number. People got antsy and cranky and openly defiant while sitting--but nothing could be done about it. By around 10 AM, we were given priority numbers and told to come back at 1:30 to begin casting for the 4 PM show.

The five us strolled over to the Farmer's Market and moped around for awhile. Diva and Sluggo and I munched on savory crepes from the crepe booth--theirs were sweet, mine savory. Very tasty. I also got a fruit salad at a fruit stand which, although skimpy on the mango and papaya, was pretty good. They don't have fruit in PA, so Diva and Sluggo were amazed and delighted.

We than strolled in the midday heat to the new shopping mall across from the studio. Mind you, it was Tuesday, not a big shopping day. All around the mall were people we had seen at the studio, who were given priority numbers and told to come back. Huge groups of them, many wearing identical outfits so as to identify themselves as a group on camera, wandered around shopping, dining, strategize....

Rev C and theorized that, with the economy being bad it being a Tuesday, one reason the show was so overbooked was because even the people who left the studio angry and frustrated would probably stop at the mall and look around and probably even buy stuff. It was good for the local economy for them to overbook.

Anyway, we got back to the studio at 1:30 and they had already started the selection process. The Rev C realized that Pammmmmmmy C wanted to be on the show more than he did, so he traded his spot to her. Pammmmmmmmy C and I got on and the Rev, Diva, and Sluggo left us in our glory to go play in LA.

Pammmmmmmy C and probably sat there for another couple of hours as the standby's got moved in groups from bench to bench-each bench putting them closer to the studio.

Pages walked around taking pictures of everybody, checking our ID's and had us all fill out cards with our personal info. This was interspersed with long bouts of waiting, which, again, got people cranky.

My sister diagnosed a guy in line as having Assburger's, a condition in the autism family. He was alone, and you could see that the process was setting him off. He would lecture people about the television business and pace around into the comfort zones of others. From time to time, he did did this wiggly thing with his fingers that looked like he was casting a spell on his own head. Pammmmmmy C works with autistic kids and knows a lot about the habits and behaviors.

The final step of selection was the interview. We had heard all day about the interview. The interview would give the producers ideas about who they wanted as contestants. We had wondered how they could interview 300 people without keeping us there all night.

This was the interview. They lined us up in tens and stood us in front of a peppy guy who would go down the line and ask each person what they did for a living and then make a joke to see how that person reacted. Behind the peppy guy, this woman sat and made notes on a pad. From her notes, the contestants were selected. Each interview lasted 10 seconds. Maybe 20.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bird Watching

One thing that I have learned from the Peter Case Song Writing workshop is that you have to go out and not write sometimes. You've got to do something to take your mind off of what ever you are working on--or even take your mind off of what ever you aren't working on even. Ray Bradbury calls this feeding your sub-conscience. You must allow good things into your head in order for good stuff to come out. Hemingway used to spend hours in art museums looking at paintings and sculptures--really studying them.

So I have been trying to do something like this about once a week--just going out and looking at stuff. One place I have gone to a couple of times is this local bird farm where they have lots of parrots, finches, parakeets and canaries. I used to be a bird-owner and have been surprised as to how many varieties are available now. And I guess there have been great strides made in breeding some difficult-to-breed birds. One reason I never got a new bird after my last one died was because many were captured in the wild and shipped to this country in horrific conditions which left many of them sick or dead. Not good.

So I visited this week and walked around for about an hour and looked at the birds.

Many of the larger birds are in this area where people can look at them up close. Some are in cages, some are out on perches. And you can walk right up and pet them or talk to them and sometimes they will crawl right up your arm. I'm talkin' big birds like cockatoos, macaws, african greys--birds with serious plumage and serious beaks. If a bird this size bites you, they can break your finger, so it's important to read the sign next to each bird before reaching out to touch them, but many of them are very friendly.

Out in the aviaries, there was a cockatiel section. I hadn't realized the variety of cockatiel mutations. Most parrot type birds live in flocks and have the usual alpha male thing going on. When they want to show their dominance and/or warn off any intruders, they raise their crest and spread there wings as far as they can and screech at you. A couple of them were doing this to me--sitting right on the front perch and representing. One grey whiteface in particular was letting me know that I'd better not try anything.

In another cage, there was this lone blue and gold macaw in with a flock of ring neck parakeets. Parrots are social birds and travel in flocks in the wild, so this macaw wanted to be in a flock and, since this was the only flock available, he seemed to want to join the ringnecks. He sat on a perch towards the back of the aviary, several ringnecks on either side of him, keeping their distance, since he was about four times their size. Every once in awhile, the macaw would sidle over to one end of the perch to visit the ringnecks and the ring necks would scrunch up against the wall. Then, the macaw would sidle over to the parakeets one the other end and they too would scrunch up against the wall, clearly wanting nothing to do with this monster. Then, dejected, the macaw would return to the center of the perch, squawk sadly, and stand there alone--the ringnecks on either side remaining huddled together on the extreme ends of the perch.

I had other birdventures as well. All-in-all, a relaxing afternoon.

The Dark Knight

When I mentioned the old "Dark Night Returns" Graphic Novel, Nephew Canary was impressed because--well--I am an old guy with no past beyond his 19 years. Before then, I didn't exist.

I explained that, as a teacher, I pride myself on keeping up a passing awareness of pop culture and that, back in the late 80's, I had a gaggle of students who loved that stuff and gave me copies of the graphic novels they had read. In fact, in the '90 yearbook of one particular yearbook, my faculty pic shows me at my desk reading "The Dark Knight Returns," proving to the world that I was a hip young English teacher.

So Nephew Canary allowed me to go see "The Dark Night" with he and his friends. Everything good that has been said about it is true. There were several predictable twists that I was glad to see happen, as sappy as they were. There were also several surprise twists--one of which I was unhappy to see happen. That Heath Ledger re-defined the Joker. Every other portrayal that I know of basically built off the same concept. This one is DIFFERENT. If this character ever returns, it will never be the same.

I'd say more, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I'm funny that way.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Song Writing Workshop with Peter Case II

So I took that first songwriting workshop with Peter Case--he formerly of the Plimsouls. The guy knows his stuff. I liked the workshop, but many participants were reluctant to share any songs they had written. I myself am used to writing workshops in prose and poetry, but they are different animules. When the leader asks if anyone wants to read what they have written, there usually is a sort of breathing period before anyone volunteers. In this workshop, you had to be ready to throw down. Billy Canary says that it's a punk thing--or maybe just a musician thing.

So I shared my song at the final meeting. These are a reasonable facsimile of the lyrics:

I went to see my doctor

He said boy I know what makes you ill

And like with almost everything

There remedy is in a pill

There’s a pill that makes you jittery

There’s a pill that holds you still

There’s a pill that helps you sleep at night

And there’s a pill for that pill.

So take your medication.

Take it every day.

Take your medication,

And your troubles will melt away

There’s a pill that makes you happy

There’s a pill that makes you sad

There’s a pill that I can give you

For the best sex you ever had

I’ve got a pill that makes you tired

So you can take a little nap

There’s a pill to take once after meals

To help you take a crap

So take your medication.

Take it every day.

Take your medication,

And your troubles will melt away.

Both Billy C and Do took the workshop as well. Billy C wrote a song about the dinosaur's contribution to modern civilization and Do wrote a song called "40-Year-Old Woman with a Teenagers Mind."

Good workshop.

Billy C and I are enrolled in the follow-up workshop. This one meets at night and Case seems to be more in his element, biorhythm-wise. I brought 2/3rd's of a song and played it. Here are the lyrics:

A Man without Arms

Verse 1

G Dm

Sometimes I feel like a man without arms

Am G

Pettin’ a dog without any head

G Dm

I can’t feel the fur. He can’t feel my fingers.

Am G

So we both stand there reaching instead.

G Am C G

So take me as I am, I’ve nothing to offer to you.


Just come when I whistle


Or when you get this epistle

Am G

I’ll likely be waiting for you.


G Dm

Sometimes I feel like a conductor

Am G

For a band in a land without song

G Dm

I stand in the gazebo, wave my arms and the players just sit there

Am G

In silence in front of the throng.

G Am C G

So take me as I am, I’ve nothing to offer to you.


Just listen right there


As I conduct the air

Am G

I dedicate this silence to you.

Note that it has a title and chords. It's in 3/4 and I envision it as a country western song.

The assignment this week is to write a teen hit and a B-side. My hit project is called "In the Bleachers at Midnight." I post it when it's ready.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I Did Not Know George Carlin...

... but I saw him once. It was back in 1976 or 77--just after "The Seven Words." He had already started his journey into edgy humor and I believe this was before his hosting of the first episode of Saturday Night Live.

This was back when I was working at the Howard Johnson's Motorlodge on University Avenue. I think he had a concert at UC Rio de Nada up the street and wonder if it may have even been in the famous but now defunct barn.

He was in the restaurant having dinner before the show. I recall he had two hot dogs. I didn't talk to him because, at the time, it was not unusual for celebrities to stop at this Hojos due to the centrality of the location. Rio de Nada, while dumpish, does have several institutions of higher learning and a couple of concert venues--and back then, it had the Rio de Nada Raceway, which was a popular race track, boasting several giant annual races, including the Rio de Nada 500, complete with grand parade and all. As a rule, when celebs stayed at Hojos, I left them alone.

So, George was there enjoying his hot dogs in peace. Given his heart problems, I probably should have warned him.

On the other hand, he lived to be 71 and continued performing about as close to the end as possible.

Other people I saw and/or met while working at Hojo's:

Persis Cambata (the bald-headed woman in Star Trek: the Motion Picture)
George Will
John Shuck
Kyle Petty (lousy tipper)
Ben Kingsley and Patrick Stewart (on the same weekend)
John McCuen
Charlie Deerkopf (of Policewoman, an actor whose face looked like it had been flattened by a mallet)
Gorden Jump
William Christopher (Father Mulcahey on MASH--my sister baby sat for him one night. He has an autistic son. My sister now works with autistic children, as does her two daughters. How about that?
The guy who originally played Lionel Jefferson on All in the Family and The Jeffersons
Esther Rolle (Good Times)
Joe Don Baker
Bo Svenson
The St. Louis Cardinals

There was a host of others. The only time I went berserk was when Kingsley and Stewart stayed there. They had not yet become famous and were touring the UC campuses for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Two actresses were with them, and I had a crush on one of them. I don't remember who she was. I was a college student, majoring in English at the time and just thought it was cool that the Royal Shakespeare Company was there. They used to stand out by the pool and do vocal warm-ups together.