Category Archives: Music

The Lard Is Good to Me

Today I chopped up an apple and tried to log into my “nutrition” app on my iPhone. It is quite difficult to determine exactly how large an apple a person has. (worst pickup line ever… :Hey baby… how big is that apple of yours?”) I weighed mine in grams. 262 grams, and that was after the core was sliced out. I know this much… I weigh as much as a bag of 560 sliced apples. The Lard is good to me. Johnny Appleseed would be so proud of that pun.

I was just thinking of the Disney film the other day. It was called Melody Time, and featured 6 or 7 stories. There was a video featuring “Little Toot,” sung by the Andrews Sisters. He was a tugboat with pluck. People thought he was too little, but he had courage. It’s a classic tale. “In a world where tugboats are scared by giant barges…” And Melody time had “Bumble Boogie,” based on a boogie version of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” An animated bee ran away from scary musical notes and violent trumpet flowers. But mostly I remember Melody Time for the stories of Pecos Bill, and of Johnny Appleseed.  “The Lord is good to me,” He sang. “And so I thank the Lord For giving me the things I need, the sun and rain and the appleseed.” It is an old hymn (Swedenborgian, if you know your early nineteenth century cults). I never knew that; I always thought Disney made up the tune. The singer pronounced the it Lard. Maybe it’s a midwest thing. They do tend to use lots of grease in their cooking…

Today promises to be a good day. I got up early and made my coffee. I fed the cat. Sliced up the apple, of course, and now I am sitting quietly, typing on the computer. Here is a little secret. Are you ready?  Well, the secret is this:  eating lots of fruit and vegetables will make you fart. OMIGOD I was a machine yesterday. They were, thankfully, the opposite of silent-but-deadly.  Noisy but unproductive? Maybe the opposite.  Anyway, think “Congress” and you will get a sure picture of how I, and my gas, were exceedingly obnoxious yesterday. I was lucky that nobody knew I was so, uh, productive in my un-productivity.

I work at 11 o clock today.

I was thinking of music that is so firmly planted in my head that I need only two or three words to get the song stuck in my head. I am sure you have that moment.
I often (and by often, I mean several times a day) hear a name, or a few words, and it will graft a melody into my brain, sometimes for the next hour or so.  Seriously–how hard is it for you to hear the name Jenny without singing 867-5309? Or Cecilia? “You’re breakin’ my heart. You’re shakin’ my confidence daily.”  I know one or two people named Michelle who hate that song. Not to say that I blame them.  Only once or twice, someone has elected to sing the theme song to “Life of Brian” for me. I generally give them an awkward stare, and shout something like “Wolf nipple chips! Get ’em while they’re hot!” Then I will get an awkward stare back, and thereby win the awkward staring contest. I mean, the whole thing was a contest to begin with, right?

My mother and I were chatting about our family and music the other day. it started with reminiscing about my grandpa: “Boy could he whistle!” Followed by nonsense songs. Not nonsense like made-up words, but instead, the nonsense of finding a song for everyday tasks.  My mother would often sing “Doin’ the dishes…” or some other equally mundane task, maybe to the tune of “Doin’ the Pigeon” (know your Sesame Street, people. Seriously…) and I do the same thing.  My wife quirked an eyebrow toward me, a couple years ago, for inventing the lyrics “Beautiful balls, wonderful balls, wonderful balls of meeeeeeat….” It’s hymnic. And relevant. Some people have no taste for art.  We determined that my mom had this habit, and so did I. So did her dad.  Also, it turns out, so did my great grandfather. “Shopping for some shirts,” he would sing. Somehow, he made his day a little more delicious by singing about it. I barely remember my mother’s grandpa. I remember he shook a lot, and his jaw quivered when he wasn’t talking. He probably had Parkinson’s. I was 4 or 5 when he passed away. Neither of my kids do this, and it makes me sad, just a little bit. Even more so now, since I found out that four generations of my family have done the “singing-weird-tunes-about-everyday-events” thing.

Maybe a person just needs a certain kind of personality. Maybe that person needs a voice that is unafraid to sing out loud. Maybe the person need a devil-may-care attitude for the muse to strike.

Kind of like today. I mean seriously, how is writing today’s blog not like making up a song about mopping the kitchen in your underwear? Except for the singing, and the underwear, they’re practically the same mental exercise.

You people are so lucky to know me!

That’s sarcasm, people. Don’t delete me immediately. And on that note (Ha! Note! Get it?) I need to shower and work.


Freewheelin’ It with Bob Dylan

When I run, I have a rock and roll playlist streaming on my iPhone. Today’s selection included “Highway Sixty One Revisited” by Bob Dylan. This piece was one of his first, after the famous folk singer went electric. The song includes this memorable scene:

Well, Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
‘I got forty red, white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don’t ring.
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?’
And Louie the King said, ‘Let me think for a minute, son.’
And he said, ‘Yes, I think this could be easily done:
Just take everything down onto Highway Sixty One.'”

Another fun song he wrote around this same era is “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” I recommend you check it out.

I don’t like Bob Dylan’s voice. He makes me shiver with nausea and indignation. Bob Dylan delivers his music with all the tunefulness of a steroid injected goat. Yet, despite his bleating, his lyrics are filled with vivid characters and imagery. They can be fun, especially if you don’t try not to listen to him and, instead, listen to it. Occasionally the images come a bit too fast and you just drown in his mental thrashing about. I’m thinking of the words from “Like a Rolling Stone”:

You used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.
Ain’t it hard when you discovered that
He really wasn’t where it’s at,
After he took from you everything he could steal.


And of course I’m running with Bob. Yeah. This was a blog about running. At least, that’s where this whole thing began when I started writing this morning. I’m at the end of my second week of actual running. In the early part of the Couch to 5k plan, the online coach calls for you to run for two minutes, and walk for two minutes. I end up running for twelve, and walking for twelve. Then I have a five minute cooling off period. Since I walk around the lake in a big loop, I occasionally spot folks headed the other way. Sometimes I see them twice, which defies some kind of mental logic. How can I see the same old person twice and the same Irish setter twice, and they don’t want something either time? I guess I’ve been working in the service industry too long now.

And the two minute alternations? That’s where I’m at physically. I’m taking it easy, wanting to make a lifestyle of this, sort of like what I’m trying to do with writing. I realize I need to lose a bunch of weight, and working my butt off is the only way I know how to do it.

Oh–believe it or not, I’m still writing, although my schedule has been sketchy. I’m a morning person. I like to wake up, and get things done before my mind or body realize what kind of torture I’m putting them through. I’m not a horrendously evil guy, but on occasion my body thinks so. Still, I’m throwing 750 words, or sometimes just a paragraph or two, onto the computer every day, even if you don’t see anything.

Apparently I have old knees. They’re older than the rest of my body–with the possible exception of my ankles–by about fifteen years. The rest of me ages correctly, but my knees and ankles put up stiff resistance every time I try to move. I guess I could probably do low impact exercise like swimming, but this costs money, and requires squeezing my giant hairy body into swim trunks. Also, I need to face facts: I’m not quite there aerobically. Even my twenty four minute sprint walks tend to heighten my breathing until I’m sometimes not sure I’ll make it home.

Speaking of breathing, did I ever mention I use an inhaler for asthma? It’s not a bad condition like some people, but I do require an inhaler. It can be incredibly tedious to have your lung capacity diminish to the point of each wheeze sounding like Minnie Mouse.

As for diet? I just spent the last forty five minutes chopping up vegetables. I’m trying to make a serious attempt at eating more healthy food. This is going… Well, it could be going better. Most days I do well for breakfast and lunch, then when it gets to be dinnertime, I blow it horribly. For breakfast, banana, cherries and yogurt. For lunch, an assortment of veggies, and a dressing I made from yogurt and some variety of spices. I’m pretty much cutting carbs and fat out of my diet in the form of bread. I guess when it comes to it, I’m trying hard to eat things that improve potassium levels.  Avoiding cramps is a good thing. I ate dried apricots, but they had an awful lot of sugar. The other day I bought some prunes. They remind me of the cabin my grandparents owned in Wright’s Lake, way up in the Sierra Nevadas in California.  Great Grandma always had a big glass jar of dried prunes, and she’d dole them out slowly so we kids wouldn’t poop like seagulls. They were always a delicious snack that I’d really enjoy. Oh, and radishes too. I bought a bunch of radishes.  My Farmer grandparents always seemed to have radishes. They grew them in their huge backyard garden. I bought a few dozen of them today, washed them up and threw them in my veggie tray. I guess that’ll be my healthy dinner.

Then I chased a grumpy Alex away from the computer and began this blog. Nothing is earth-shattering today. I, ran, I shopped, I ate a little, I chopped vegetables, and now I’m writing. Work happens in an hour.

Oh, and Bob Dylan. He ties things together with his free-wheelin’ness. May your days be informed by his advice:

Look out kid!
Don’t matter what you did:
Walk on your tiptoes,
Don’t try “No-Doz”–
Better stay away from those–
That carry around a fire hose,
Keep a clean nose,
Watch the plain clothes.
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows.

Blessings and donuts to all of you.

Coffee, Jiffy Lube, and Old Victrolas

Today is warm and overcast, but I have my coffee and I am willing to get going on life.  I drove Judi into work and had her grab me a large coffee with the online ordering system. Don’t look at me that way–I’m a well-behaved gentleman and get my own coffee most of the time.  She got TWO large coffees and a sandwich so she wouldn’t have to make a second trip from her office (where there is lousy coffee) to the coffee shop (where there is much better coffee and a long line). At 6:30 AM, these are the sacrifices you have to make.

Next, I drove the car to the Jiffy Lube. They don’t open until 8AM, and I got there at 6:45 so it was sort of a mess-up.  I need to get the oil changed (not sure I’m capable of doing this task by myself anymore) and have the tires filled with air.  When we drove to Alexander’s birthday dinner last night, it seemed quite bumpy with 1000+ pounds of “cargo” in the automobile. I think we might have a slow leak in one of the tires anyhow, so this is just a stopgap measure, until I can buy some new ones, maybe later this summer.

It is 8AM and I was listening to Spotify for the last hour. Today’s playlist was from 1940. I assembled it a few months ago, when I was watching that Ken Burns documentary about the Roosevelts, and the second documentary about World War II.  Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” was popular that year. So were “Tuxedo Junction” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,”.  It seems 1940 was full of Glenn Miller. The United states was still a couple years from entering the war, and the Depression was gripping us. I guess we needed something go make us believe in ourselves again.

Next, I listened to old wax cylinder recordings from the turn of the last century.  I’m coming to realize that I have missed loads of music that may have been really important to our history. The music is muddy, of course, with scratches and cracks. I guess when you record on wax, it’s bound to happen.  My Granny and Grandpa Spurgeon had some friends when we were growing up. I remember this place well, because Joe and Esther Moser had two different recording devices that played wax cylinders. One was Edison make, and the other was a Victor. In those days, the music was controlled by the manufacturer of the device it was recorded on.  Edison had its own stable of musicians and recordings, which would *only* be playable on Edison’s machines (not to mention player pianos) It’s not like today, when every song is easily purchasable on any device you’d like to listen to it with.

Anyway, the Mosers had all these machines, and a catalpa tree in his back yard, that grew big long beans. He let me visit his son’s room. The son had died a few years earlier in a car accident. He owned a trumpet that he played in the high school band. Joe kept the room exactly the same as she had left it. Joe showed the trumpet to me, but wouldn’t let me play it. I was perhaps 12 years old so I wasn’t surprised he never allowed me the chance to put my own spit into his memorial tribute. My mother tells me Joe had a couple *really* old cars and would occasionally take them out for a spin. I don’t remember old cars. This was the first place anyone let me touch a typewriter. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever thing. I guess Joe Moser liked his gadgets.

In my listening, I heard an old song that I hadn’t recalled in years.  My grandfather used to bounce me on his knee and sing it to me: “Pony Boy, pony boy… Won’t you be my Pony Boy?” went the chorus.  And he would bounce me harder and harder when the lyrics turned to “Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, whooooooa!” He was a good man, my grandpa, and loved to sing.  That song is over 100 years old now.  When I knew him I don’t think there was a single record in the house. He listened to talk radio. It’s funny how things will change.  If you give a person a Victrola, they’ll be interested in music for awhile. But give them a song to sing, and that song will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Twenty Years Later

Today was full of work and music. I slept poorly last night, waking up every few minutes to stare at the clock, and to be annoyed that only fifteen minutes had passed since the last time I stared at the clock. I woke at 4 AM, with every intention of writing. Alex was still awake, which meant he was downstairs on the computer, so I gave up that plan and slept another hour (with the fifteen minute wakey-wakey intervals spinning my mind like a machine). I showered and made my way downstairs at 5:30, and Alex was still awake. He had not yet bothered to sleep. Apparently YouTube is very interesting to teenage critters of his ilk.

I told him to go immediately to bed. He had an important recital tonight–his last one of his high school years (if he passes English. He said he would, but that is highly debatable).

Fifteen minutes later, I left for work. It was pretty uneventful day. I made drinks, cooked sandwiches, cleaned bits of the store, at a late lunch, cleaned a bit more, and went home.

I took a short nap as soon as I got home. I needed it, too.

Around 3:00 we loaded ourselves into the car for Alex’s recital. He was doing 4 pieces–all artsong. He wore all black, and looked pretty classy, all things said.

In total, the concert lasted 2 hours. Parts were amazing. Some parts were memorable. I have a feeling that Alex now wishes he had slept last night. He did well, but wasn’t at the peak of his game.

Man can that kid sing loudly. When he turns up the volume he can crumble rafters. One guy sang Schumann’s “Ich Grolle Nicht”, which Alex had done a couple years ago. At the moment of the song’s climax “Und sah die Schlang’, die dir am Herzen frißt,”…. (“And I see the serpent that eats at your heart”), well, that guy sang it in perfectly in tune.  Alex’s interpretation goes from hiss to jet engine in the space of ten seconds. Alex was rough, a bit out of tune, but thunderous, and full an ox’s arrogance.

Alex pays little heed to notes he hits right. But when he hits them… wow. Stand back.

There was another guy who was so painfully bad that he slunk out after his two songs and we never saw him again.

There was a girl whose songs made me shiver in their excellence.

I used to be able to do that all the time. When was the last time I had a song make me go all goose-flesh? Electric music. Music that transcended time, and hit the apex of meaning in your heart. Everything just stopped. How long has it been?

I used to want to be that guy: the one who could hit all the notes. I wanted to sing those thundering high As. I wanted my music to be the top of a tower. I settled for a split-level ranch home. The kind with avocado shag carpet a couple beanbag chairs in the corner. I’m not that guy anymore.  I haven’t been that guy for 20 years.  But when, as a group, Alex’s instructor has the young men go through their pre-concert warm-ups, I have to clench my jaw closed against the urge to Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do with them. When some novice sings “Caro Mio Ben,” I want to sing along, not because I love the piece, but because I was that guy, years ago. That song was my toil for a long time.

This entire post is just me saying, “Wow, remember when I was young, and could hit those high notes?” Me too, man. Me too… Now all I can say is “Great job,” even when it wasn’t so great, and fight back envy. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, I guess.

I want to shake these kids by the shoulders and shout “Don’t waste it.” For God’s sake, keep up all the toil. Sing. Practice. Become.. You can hit those notes that I want to sing. I want you to sing them. Make me cry when you sing them. Make them come to life. Be a proxy note-hitter for us one-time musicians so we can make our coffee and write our blogs, and remember those days.

That’s all life really is: grabbing the high notes with one hand, and your testicles by the other, and making it happen while you’re young and you still have both.

Not that I don’t have testicles, mind.

No, I haven’t been drinking.

Now that we’re teetering on the precipice of too much information, I will end this post. Hope you all have a great week, and seize… everything. Seize it while you can. Make it all count.

And happy high school graduation to my son, Alex.

E Papa Waiari (Uncle Waiari)

“Again!” Said Mrs. Biesen.

We all groaned, raised our sticks to ready position and the record player began again.

Maku e kaute Ō hīkoitanga
Māku e kaute Ō hīkoitanga

Our butts were sore from the gym floor and we should have known our stick routine by now. She expected perfection and I couldn’t even begin to coordinate those sticks.

Look at the girls in the video above. That could have been me. Except, I was a skinny fumblehanded third grade boy with the all manual grace of a newborn moose.

My partner was Mark. He wasn’t making this easier. He was a little kid, maybe in second grade, to my immensely powerful third grade. He had long, blonde eyelashes, and gawked at everything around him. He could never remember that Thursday landed between Wednesday and Friday.  “What was that day again?” Mrs. Biesen would drill him, and he’d pound his head “Thurthday! Thurthday! Thurthday!”

He had lost both his front teeth. I bet he could catch a french fry in his mouth if I threw it across the gym, but he couldn’t catch a stick from a scrawny boy sitting crosslegged, 2 feet away.

In his defense, neither could I.

That was the Maori stick game. And we were so. dang. bad. at it.

It started out simple, clacking the ends of the sticks to the floor and then alternating by smacking them together.

We would slowly add other moves.  Slap the partner’s stick with your stick. Throwing the stick in your left hand to your partner’s left hand, while your partner did the same. Our sticks would inevitably collide midair, like two missiles that just happened to occupy the same space at the same time. The other kids did great. Doing feats of stickrobatics like twirling them in the air, tapping both twice to the left of your body, and tapping both to the right of your body.

I’d like to say that this was for GIRLS. Girls were good at this, and knew how to make things fly in the air. All the girls I knew had great handwriting, while my penmanship looked like the giant bulbous tangles of seaweed puked out by the pacific ocean. Girls could play the piano, and do those fantastic clapping games.  Some girls did the cat’s cradle thing, with a long knotted piece of string, making jacob’s ladder and other impressive string shapes. Also, I never knew that it was a game Girl Scouts were told to learn in their Girly, Scouty literature.

I’d like to say it was a girl’s thing, but I would be wrong. I found out decades later that he Maori tribes taught their BOYS to do the stick thing (they called it tītī touretua), so they could practice working with dual spears. Passing, capturing, stamping spears. To instill fear in the hearts of other tribes. Their sticks were 3-feet long, and they played the game standing up. As the tempo of the chant increased, those who dropped their sticks dropped out of the game. Good lord, the Maori sped the game up! I’d also like to point out that in “to-ure-tua” the Maori morpheme “ure” means “penis”. O, yeah, boys game.

I liked the song.Check out the video above. It reminds me of a 1970s evangelical church service almost.

What’s funny is I never GOT that it was in a waltzy, six-eight time. Maybe that’s why I had so much trouble tossing those dreaded sticks. My mind, and apparently the cadence, FORCED me to think the thing was in 4/4 time, and I (and probably Mark) were doing the stick patterns on the wrong BEAT.

Mrs. Biesen wanted us to perform our stick in front of the parents. Yeah, Right.

My partner Mark and I would never be in the Stick-o-lympics. We would never even leave the gym, if Mrs. Biesen had her druthers. I could feel her angry, red breath on my neck every time she walked by me. I could almost feel her wiry hair dripping disdain onto our performance.

I explored all the options. Was it because we were boys? Because he was 8 and I was 9? Maybe because the sticks were too skinny? My hands were too wide? Whatever the reason, I grew more and more frustrated, until I threw sticks at Mark.

Maybe I threw them a little too hard. Mark started crying. Huge tears ran his vacant cheeks.

It wasn’t his fault, you know.

Mrs. Biesen kicked us both out of the gym. We spent the rest of Music period running laps around the field.

Much preferable to the silly stick game.

I never learned to manipulate the dumb sticks correctly. It gives me hives just thinking about it. I’m a lover, not a fighter, man! And definitely not a dancer.

One final thing.

This is a *really* cool version of this song. Makes me love all things Polynesian. Listen to it. I urge you.

Not Richard Rodgers

Back in the days when I was much younger, and quite a bit thinner, and I fancied myself a piano player, I met a guy called John.

Continue reading Not Richard Rodgers

Music History

Just throw your hands onto the keyboard and see what happens. Don’t think, just type. That’s my motto!

Continue reading Music History