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To Do A Simple Thing Well

It’s hard to do a simple thing well.

Perhaps the hardest part of it is to understand and accept that you should be doing some simple thing. We all have conceits, and many of us have talent that eggs our conceits on even further, so we start to orchestrate cross-media platforms to repurpose web-enabled technologies and thereby incubate impactful functionalities while synthesizing interactive metrics. You know, instead of doing something.

So it takes an admixture of humility and egotism to begin. A: It’s not beneath me to do this simple thing. B: I’ll take it seriously, because my efforts are important, no matter what they’re aimed at.

It’s a lonely and brave thing at first — always. Attempting simple things often sounds insane to most people. In business, for instance, you have to have a vision of the whole thing, all at once, right away. The world might change your mind partway through, of course, like an ax can change a tree’s mind, but you’ll just come up with another vision of the whole thing, not an alternative to having a vision at all. The market will only tell you what it doesn’t like. It can’t tell you if it would like something that isn’t there. The market says all sorts of things to you in advance, of course, but it lies a lot. The rest of the time it’s mistaken.

Movie stars work as waitresses for a while and tell their customers they’re going to be big stars some day. You have to say it the same way knowing you might still be waiting tables at fifty. Maybe you’ll find it was being a waitress that you liked all along. They’re both simple things that are hard to do well.

I read the Intertunnel a lot. There are so few people whose opinions on any topic are of any use to me that it’s pointless to talk of them. I have opinions. I can make opinions at home, even if there’s a power outage. I can make opinions even if the cupcake pans are dirty. I really don’t need any more one-person amateur McGlaughlin Groups opining on the day’s events after they’re filtered through Brian Williams’ hair.

Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you point a camera, and your attention, to what’s going on right outside your window. A little contextual text appended to it might be nice. It’s a simple thing, hard to do well. Good luck.

Hurray For Capitana Spalding

My Intertunnel friend Gagdad Bob at One Cosmos, who’s the love child of St. Thomas Aquinas and Norm Crosby, sent me this video. It’s cool for a lot of reasons.

There’s a man-bites-dog aspect to the proceedings, of course. Wispy girl plays upright bass. It’s unusual. The bass is a great big thing, and many men’s hands and most women’s are too small to comfortably play them. A regular bass neck is 34 inches long. A guitar is around 25 inches with the same number of frets, and the bass doesn’t have frets all the time. The strings on a bass are very thick compared to a guitar. It’s kind of athletic to fret a bass. Bass manufacturers started offering short-scale basses to accommodate people with smaller hands, but they didn’t catch on much. They’re still pretty big.

It’s hard as hell to sing while you’re playing the bass. Playing the guitar and singing is easy compared to the bass. Guitar playing as accompaniment to singing usually boils down to brain-stem-level motions — chord shapes long committed to memory and rhythmic strumming that’s no more complicated than tapping your foot. Bass playing’s different. You’re usually playing a kind of melody, and a kind of rhythmic counterpoint, too. I have to think about what I’m doing all the time to play anything but the most rudimentary thing on the bass while singing. There was a reason James Jamerson didn’t sing.

I’m not alone in that. Listen to Paul McCartney play the bass while he’s singing. He often resorts to playing a tuba part, more or less, so he can concentrate on what he’s singing. Fhum, fhoom, fhum, fhoom, umpa, oompa. Not very many people can play one melody while singing another. People get very impressed when they hear George Benson sing the same notes he’s playing on the guitar during a solo, but it’s the easiest thing to do other than keeping your mouth shut entirely. What Esperanza Spalding is doing is hard to do.

Really good musicians can let it rip at two things at the same time. It’s a higher form of mathematical thinking than the average person can even understand. It’s a gift to begin with, and then that gift must be cultivated to the nth degree on top of it to stand out.

In a way, Esperanza Spalding is playing trite things. There’s no cutting edge in there exactly. She is working at a very high level covering ground that’s already been broken by others. But sometimes the only way to be unusual is to be worse than what came before you. Isn’t it enough to stand on the shoulders of giants, and belong there? She does.

I Hate To Admit It, But This Is A Close Approximation Of Me While I’m Reading The Newspaper

I stole this from my son’s Tumblr page, which is much funnier than anything I’m doing.

Thanks to everyone that reads, and comments, and links, and all you nice people who have used the Amazon links and search box on the page here. And of course, everyone that’s purchased furniture from my little bidness. You’re all swell and I love you more than my folks.

I’m making a pile of furniture right now, and getting ready to release it into the wild shortly, heavily discounted, natch, with a What’s New email blast. If you’re interested, but not signed up yet, go here and enter your email address in the box atop the page. I don’t send them out very often, so your inbox won’t get clogged with soapy textual Sippican hairballs or anything. I like to keep the Intertunnel drain free-flowing.

I have a question for my audience: I’m considering changing the payment method on my Sippican Cottage Furniture page from Google Checkout to Amazon Payments. I have no complaints with Google Checkout; it’s been terrific, but next to no one has an account, so I figure that since an Amazon Account is almost universal at this point, it would be more convenient for my customers. So:

What say you, Intertunnel friends? Google or Amazon? 

Additional input in the comments would be most welcome, of course, but I warn you: anyone that mentions PayPal will be snickered at behind their back.


I like to see regular people working.

Regular people don’t work much any more. You don’t know that because you don’t know any regular people. They’re the guys with meth teeth and neck tattoos glaring at you on the subway, sitting next to some other regular guy’s illegitimate kid and her mother. Their new job is being a professional mess. It pays OK, but it doesn’t “beat working,” as we used to say when we cadged a job with no heavy lifting.

If you think regular people not working is a problem now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. There are elaborate schemes in play right now to hide all sorts of people from being counted as not working. They’re tucked away in endless educational gulags where no one learns anything or goes on to do anything worth doing. They’re stashed in cubicles where people don’t do the things they were hired to do, that shouldn’t be done anyway, and won’t be for much longer. You’ll find them nibbling around the edges of commerce in various hamstringing poses, an army of love children of Ralph Nader and Howard Zinn. They are never going to make anything, and will keep others from doing so if they can. Beats working. For now.

Working in a factory like the one shown in the video can be dreary work. I’ve done it. But it doesn’t destroy your soul. You can destroy your soul on the weekends if you like, but the work lends meaning to life.

Time marches on. If you want to get your knickers in a twist over the loss of jobs in a Hammond factory, you should probably at least consider that the Hammond organ, which is a wonderful thing, was designed and made to put big pipe organ manufacturers out of business. Churches and other public buildings needed cheap organs after WW II. It’s nicer to see people making musical instruments than munitions in that factory, isn’t it? Tell it to the pipe organ makers.

A Hammond organ cost a fortune and weighed a ton. I’ve moved a “chopped” Hammond organ many times, along with its evil brother, the Leslie cabinet, and I didn’t sing opera under my breath while doing it, except maybe the parts of an opera where someone gets stabbed. It’s weird to think of it as a cheesy, cheap substitute for what it replaced, but you have to understand what’s going on in an economy that becomes technologically more advanced and allows for creative destruction.

The people in the video were useful and valuable, and made useful and valuable contributions to public life. They had dignity. A good machine makes people more valuable. The world is full of bad machines.

You’re My Humber Estuary Lady

I’m trying to picture what delta a Welshman and Yorkshireman are on about. I guess,”You’re my Ffrwd Cerriguniawn Lady” doesn’t trip off the tongue, and “You’re My Humber Estuary Lady” has too many syllables, so they went with the Mississippi.

Well, at any rate, when was the last time you witnessed that kind of concentrated awesomeness? I mean, that would give every woman in the world the vapors, one way or the other, wouldn’t it? The beauty parlor set gets Tom Jones, Joe Cocker covers the women that fall between the barstools. The overlap is immense.

One caveat: There’s a misalignment in the video between the images and the sound. I wouldn’t want you to get the impression that Joe was weird or anything.

(Thanks to reader Charles for sending that along. I can die now)

Kiss Someone By The Light Of The Cash Machine Tonight

Something approaching perfection in a pop combo. Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers.

I heard a little while back that Glenn was in the market for a skinny bass player, but he never called. Look what he had to settle for. I mean, she plays OK, but I’m much prettier.

What If Lynyrd Skynyrd And Parliament Had A Love Child? M.F.

Regular reader and commenter and loverly person Harriett Gillham put this in the comments after Summertime Music:

Wing window wake? Nice alliteration. Perfect imagery. and Sly and the Family Stone? make me smile, every time. Do you know of Mother’s Finest? The band? They could be local down here in the South. You just know so much about music that I thought I would ask. I loved them.

Well, what’s not to love? Mother’s Finest!

Well, I used to be a DJ on a college radio station back in the day, even though I didn’t attend the college, (what’s the statute of limitations on these things, anyway?) and I remember Another Mother Further, vaguely. I liked  their cover of Mickey’s Monkey. I’m fairly certain the broadcast strength of that station required the listener to be close enough to the transmitter to hit it with a snowball to pick up its emanations, and I’m almost sure you had to open the window, too, so I doubt Mother’s Finest owes me a thank you note and a small remuneration for introducing Framingham, Mass. to their awesomeness.

It’s crappy to say kids these days, and all that other nursing home remembrance, but the radio sure could use a dose of plain fun right now. People like Lady Gaga all take themselves seriously. That’s pop entertainment death as far as I’m concerned. It’s supposed to be trivial, and so, fun. If I want serious, everyone’s going to be wearing a tux or an evening dress and sawing away at something hollow and wooden, thanks.

And it wouldn’t kill you to go read about Harriet’s desk, would it? 

So High, You Can’t Get Over It

I like to see my neighbors doing well.

I don’t know anyone in this video, or anyone in Hancock, Maine, either, as far as I know; but there are only 1.3 million people in Maine, so they’re all my neighbors, I guess.

I of course especially like to see people making stuff that other people can make other stuff out of. I could make all sorts of things out of the pine boards you see exiting the mill, and have, and likely will again. House-y sort of stuff. I’m fairly certain I could build a whole house and all the furniture in it out of nothing but 1×12 common pine boards, and it would still be better than whatever you’re living in, no matter how elaborate. It’s an infinitely useful material, and since a pine tree is a weed here, it’s infinitely infinitely useful stuff — the best kind.

The new owners are taking a chance, I’ll bet, by re-opening this mill. They’re betting on demand that is not currently in evidence. Maybe they think they’ll prevail in a game of economic musical chairs instead of expanding capacity in preparation for an uptick in business. I hope not. People need jobs here, badly.

They took a $200,000 government giveaway to restart the shuttered lumber mill. The aroma of Gerry Ford and the redolent smell of Jimmy Carter is on the money; I’m old enough to remember when the Community Development Block Grant was introduced. Like everything to do with the government, everything but the government might go away, but I’ll bet the CDBG never will.

The last owners “went away.” The Crobb Box Company went out of business just last year. They’d been in business at that location since the 1940s. Think of all the economic tumult they’d endured since then, and what sort of economic Armageddon it would take to finally kill them off. Fans of ascribing everything bad that happens to a business solely to mismanagement or simple creative destruction should pause for a moment and consider that in 2008, the Small Business Administration gave Crobb Box the “Jeffrey H. Butland Family-Owned Small Business of the Year award.” If Crobb Box was a disaster, why’d they get a government award ten minutes before they drove to the economic tollbooth with Sonny Corleone? It’s the same government that gave Pleasant River money to re-open the place on top of the barely-room-temperature corpse of Crobb. Were they wrong then, or are they wrong now?

I’m pretty sure that’s a rhetorical question. The answer is probably “yes.” They have no idea what’s going on, except to wreck it, blame someone for its demise, or take credit for it, depending on what week it is.

If Pleasant River makes a go of it (I hope they do), then they didn’t need the money. If they’re going to go the way of Crobb, then the grant money wouldn’t save them. What would be useful is a return to some sort of transparency in the basic workings of the market. There’s no transparency in much of anything anymore. It’s surrounded by impenetrable walls; sometimes the walls are made of block grants.

Month: June 2012

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