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Give America Gumption Again

[This video is dedicated to Kathleen Murphy, whose support of our boys is as constant as the sun]

If you’re new in these parts, Unorganized Hancock is an Intergalactabilly Band from Maine. If you’re a regular reader, well, Unorganized Hancock is still an Intergalactabilly Band from Maine. The band consists entirely of my two sons, a plywood bass player named Laverne, and a whole lot of gumption. I call them The Heir and The Spare. Sunshine and Ravioli. Garlic and Gaelic.

This video is fresh off the assembly line, but they recorded Go, Go, Go! sometime in 2015, I think, when The Heir was hey nineteen, and the The Spare was eleven years old. The Heir sings and plays the guitar, bass, and keyboards, and The Spare plays the drums and tells jokes.

It’s a song about gumption, as I said.

[guhmp-shuh n]
noun, Informal.
initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness:
With his gumption he’ll make a success of himself.
courage; spunk; guts:
It takes gumption to quit a high-paying job.
common sense; shrewdness.

My kids have gumption, and recognize it when they see it, hence the video, but that dictionary definition is way off. It takes gumption to quit a high-paying job? That’s like telling me it takes gumption to rope and brand a Sasquatch. Let’s stick to the possibles, as the cowboys used to say. It takes gumption to keep working for peanuts. It takes gumption to keep going when it’s hard, not to quit when it’s easy.

The Heir and the Spare know all about that. They recorded this song in an attic room without heat or electricity. They dutifully dragged an extension cord down the hall whenever they wanted to play. That’s gumption.

What’s Unorganized Hancock Up To Now?

Stay with me, and I’ll explain. In 2015, the boys entered a contest to write and perform the fight song for the local minor-league hockey team, the Lewiston-Auburn Fighting Spirit. The couple who own and operate the team are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s hard to run a semi-pro hockey team in an out of the way place. It takes gumption.

The contest was promoted by the local radio station, Z-105.  They’re in Auburn, Maine. They have an affiliated station called WOXO, too, which broadcasts from Mexico, Maine, just over the river from where we live. They also have a studio in Norway. Norway? Mexico? Maine’s funky, isn’t it? It takes gumption to live here.

The children were interviewed on the radio station as part of the promotion. I was amazed by the people that own and operate that company. It’s nearly impossible to make a go of it in the radio business in this day and age. They manage it while being pleasant to everyone. That’s impossible, I know, but they do it all the same. They have gumption.

The universe still rewards gumption from time to time. My kids won the contest with another song they wrote called Spirit Score!. The hockey team loved it. They were all 19 years old or so, and wonderful young men. They treated The Spare Heir like a little brother, and made him feel ten feet tall. One of the greatest moments in my life was standing in the concrete runway between the rows of seats in the Lewiston Colisee and hearing Spirit Score! blaring over the PA system when the team skated out onto the ice, and again every time they scored. They scored a lot. That team has gumption.

Unorganized Hancock signed a contract to have the song played for one year at the rink, to make it all legal. The following year, the team had another band write another fight song. The hockey team refused to play unless the old fight song was restored. It was. That took gumption.

Which Leads Us To

My boys were interviewed on Z-105 a few more times after that. The station noticed that The Heir had a sonorous voice, and he had the kind of aplomb that radio hosts need. They hired him. He’s now on the air six hours a night, five nights a week. He sometimes hosts call-in shows on the weekends, too. That takes gumption.

The radio job was too far away from our home for him to drive back and forth, so we lost him to the world. It’s a hard thing to raise your children to leave you. It takes gumption, and breaks your heart a bit.

The Unorganized Hancock YouTube page recently passed 100,000 views, a notable milestone for them, I thought. Their performance of Minor Swing has over 25,000 views, although their live version of the song is, er, livelier. But Go, Go, Go! is their own thing. It encapsulates their approach to life. They have gumption. I hope the Go, Go, Go! video helps to Give America Gumption Again.

Say, that’s a cool slogan. We should make hats.

You can download an MP3 of Go Go Go! at their Bandcamp page for 99 cents if you like:

Of course you’re welcome to listen to it for free by hitting play on the YouTube video, too. Unorganized Hancock just wants to get a little more gumption out in the world, and doesn’t care how it happens.

[Update: Many thanks to Michael K. for leaving a big fat tip on the boys’ Bandcamp page. It is very much appreciated]
[Update: Many thanks to Kevin S. for leaving a tip on the boys’ Bandcamp page. It is much appreciated]
[Additional Update: Many thanks to longtime friend Dinah H. for her generous contribution to the PayPal tipjar. It is very much appreciated]

Life, The Universe, Errol Flynn, and Erryting

So, the universe presents us with this.

That’s a performance at the Sydney Fest from 2012. Sydney’s in Australia. It’s the antipodes. Or as they say around here, you can’t get there from heah. The band’s name is the Jolly Boys. They’re from Jamaica.

They’re playing a Steely Dan song. Steely Dan was a Horace Silver cover band from New Jersey. Close enough. The original version of the song features a solo by a computer programmer playing an electric sitar, because of course it would. The computer programmer is famous, if that’s the word I’m looking for, for helping to produce a compiler for ms-dos programs. This may not turn out to be a growth industry if Microsoft Windows becomes popular. You never know, Windows might catch on.

Why are the Jolly Boys playing in Sydney? Because Errol Flynn. Errol Flynn was a Tasmanian devil, until Hollywood made him famous and he became American, which is a sideways move, I think. He got rich playing English people in American movies, because Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson weren’t available. In 1946, Errol Flynn took his Captain Blood money, bought an island off the coast of Jamaica, and threw a party that only lasted for ten years or so, with a couple of bathroom breaks. He liked some of the local musicians who played mento music, which is the zygote of reggae. He hired them to play at his party, and named them The Jolly Boys. The name stuck.

I was going to say that Errol Flynn eventually died from cirrhosis, a bad back, drug abuse, hepatitis, alcoholism, tuberculosis, malaria, several venereal diseases, none minor, and the lingering shock of seeing Dolores del Rio naked, but I figure it will save time if I just say Errol Flynn died of a severe case of Errol Flynn.

So a Jamaican guy wearing Richard Nixon’s bowling pants and Tony Manero’s Qiana shirt is singing a New York song at least figuratively about Las Vegas in Australia, while a guy in Maine watches it. He is a brand of awesome. He survived Errol Flynn. Even Errol Flynn couldn’t manage that.

How To Play Sunny on the Drums

As you may recall, I have determined — announced, really — that Sunny by Bobby Hebb is the official song of the twenty-teens. I will brook no contradiction on this point. I don’t know what trout have to do with anything, but stay with me here.

This is the procedure for playing Sunny on the drums. The fellow in the video gets it. Follow his method and you’ll be famous on unread blogs the world over in no time:

  • First, learn how to play the drums real good
  • Second, steal some drums
  • OK, that second thing maybe should be the first thing
  • Now kill your Shop teacher and take his eyeglasses
  • Then go to Himmler’s barber and ask for the men’s regular
  • Get a brick wall to play in front of
  • Get a Kia Sephia with a trunk big enough to haul your drums and your brick wall
  • Don’t worry about bringing your OSB wall, the bass player will bring his
  • Remember, the guitar player is really just the hood ornament on your bass drum
  • Lift an eyebrow about two minutes in
  • All the chicks. All of them

The Official Song of the Twenty-Teens

A Real, Live, Time Machine

When I was little, I wanted a Raleigh bicycle.

A Raleigh bicycle was exotic. It came from England. My neighborhood was full of Schwinns and Columbias, as elegant and useful as tanks. They were the transportation version of a three-legged stool. I wanted a fauteuil.

Raleigh bicycles were only owned by WASPs. WASPs were exotic, in their way. Not many of them passed through the world I lived in. The few I encountered seemed to own everything by some kind of subtle transubstantiation that turned one person’s wealth into another’s. They had money without working, a kind of magic show to a little kid. They went to school to learn things that weren’t practical, another astounding thing to a drudge like me. They rode Raleigh bicycles and thought nothing of it.

Well, there’s the Raleigh factory. I don’t see anyone who looks like a toff working in there. They all look just like I did, when I went to work in a big factory at the age of eighteen. The movie (that’s what it is) was a Signet production. In America, that would have been a Coronet film. They were shown in schools, generally when the teacher was hung over and wanted to sleep for a solid half hour, instead of fitfully like they did during a regular school day.

Everyone dreams of a time machine. They want to go back in time to rule it, or forward in time because they assume, incorrectly, that they’re more wonderful than their contemporaries, and would fit in better on Star Trek than they do on the subway.

Well, there’s your time machine, boys. Time machines lie thick on the ground, but you’re not interested. Look at it and weep. I testify to you, right now, that I could climb in that time machine, and perform any job in that Raleigh factory, including drafting by hand. Could you?

Instructing the troglodytes you meet after you step out of your time machine that if they would simply listen to reason, and get an autocad set up, put guards on the machines, let you stop every fifteen minutes to take pills for your imaginary ailments, let you hold a binky bottle full of sugar water in one hand the whole time, allow you to stop every 30 seconds or so to use a telephone, and that they’d have to ban gluten from the cafeteria that doesn’t exist, so they better set one up, would be of doubtful utility.

They’d hire me, because I’d tell them that I thought I could be vaguely useful to them, I had always loved Raleigh bicycles, and I wanted to earn enough money to buy one.

Chef, Or The Greater Creep Theory of Internet Success

My wife and I watched Chef last night. We enjoyed it. Movies, TV shows, and websites about cooking as serious bidness are thick on the ground these days. We are studiously unaware of them. The milieu was brought to its perfect form by Big Night, and hasn’t required any care and feeding from me since then.

I have seen the TV show with the screaming Scot, however, and enjoyed it. Not the execrable American thing. Before he was Intertunnel famous, there was a British version where that wasn’t a total fake. There were failing food businesses, he went in and told them how they had screwed the pooch, and showed them how to fix themselves. They rarely did. The reason they all failed, no matter what the hectoring pict did to help them, was that it’s easy to know what to do, but hard to do it. The not very lovable losers all secretly liked their lack of success, because it put no pressure on them. Customers are a pain in the arse, after all. They all wanted to have a restaurant to lord over, with no pesky customers or creditors to bother them while they did it.

The American version of the show was more like looking for the restaurant version of a homeless person who was begging on a street corner for a crust of bread, but instead of giving them a tenner for a square meal, you bought them a brothel with a food court in the lobby. No thanks.

Chef isn’t about cooking porn, although there’s plenty of that in there. Favreau knows he has to put Iron Man in Iron Man movies, and Iron Chef in Iron Chef movies, and he does his duty. The movie is about honest work, which I appreciated, and the movie properly portrayed the mystification of a boy, not yet grown, presented with parents living in separate places.

The movie is trite in the right ways to suit us. Its stereotypes are gentle, and the people in it long for the right sorts of things, and get them in the end by exertions that seem mildly daring but mostly rely on a shoulder to the wheel approach to your circumstances. It’s more Aesop than Shakespeare, but a lack of swordplay and mutual suicides never hurt anyone.

For all its cartoonish qualities, there are many accurate details in the movie. The movie gets one thing absolutely right. The tweenish son understands social media, but the father does not. The father participates in it in an off-hand way, but is quickly made to understand what a sewer it is. The child is wary of social media accounts like Jitter and Friendface. He knows about them, but doesn’t care about them. He likes Vines.

If you’re not familiar with Vines, they were the next big thing in social media for about ten minutes, and then disappeared without a trace. The service archived five-second videos. I suspect they weren’t able to prove their value to an insane investor class by hemorrhaging billions every quarter fast enough to look important. They probably didn’t have a ball crawl in the boardroom, or a ten-ton chrome panda in the lobby or anything. I bet their CEO didn’t even want to go into space.

I can testify that my little son has no interest whatsoever in Jitter and Friendface, but he loved Vines. He watched very wholesome people making quick little jokes that suggested flash fiction written by the Three Stooges. It was all very amusing and harmless. When Vine disappeared, my son was so distraught that he made his own on his desktop. He wrote and recorded hundreds of them on his own. In the Chef movie, Favreau got one detail wrong. When his character watches the Vine compilation his son made from their Crosby/Hope/Leguizamo road trip, he doesn’t cry. No man is that strong. Believe me, I know.

The accuracy of that detail highlights a rule about the internet. If you want to know how successful something will be on the internet, judge it solely on how creepy it is. The creepier and more degenerate it is, the more likely it is to prosper.

Twitter is really, really creepy. Uber was creepy long before you found out exactly how it was creepy. The only human thing about anyone who worked there was their hamhanded attempts to grope the help, now that I think of it. When that’s the top of your interpersonal heap, Dante Alighieri should write your yearly reports. Facebook, and the avaricious little twerp that runs it, is the creepiest thing I’ve ever encountered on this world, and I’ve renovated apartments that had a dead body in them. Google is creepy turtles, all the way down.

Snapchat prospers, if you define success as the ability to use up borrowed money for a longer period of time than your creep competitors before the laws of supply, demand, and plain old addition and subtraction start to apply. Snapchat gives their users the impression they can get away with being a creep on their service. Being creepy is the appeal. Google Glass failed because they lied, and said it wasn’t supposed to be creepy. Snapchat makes the same thing, and touts creepiness as a feature, not a bug. That’s how you do it fellows. You’ll be able to borrow another half-a-tril with that approach.

Virtual Reality goggles can’t work. Because of the way your brain and eyes work, they will invariably make you physically ill, or deranged, or both. So what? They are immensely creepy, so they will be a success. People will drug themselves, or vomit and go back to them, for another suckle on the creep tit.

You can tart it up any way you like, all you Singularitarians with a dream of a WestWorld honey, but you’re just humping a knothole in a dress dummy, and always will be. It’s a supremely creepy concept, so you can’t go wrong dumping your 401K into it. Your broker will just dump it into another Creep Unicorn if you don’t.

The Sippican Cottage Musical Test dell’Acidità

Everyone likes what they like. They don’t know why they like it. They assemble reasons to explain their affection after the fact. It’s a weird form of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Because things happened in sequence, the first caused the second. With pop music, it’s a sequence of one thing. I like it. Fire up the confirmation bias furnace. Unroll your cart-building plans after the horse steps on your foot. He couldn’t do that if he had a cart in front of him.

I mentioned pop music, but music is no different than any other topic in this regard. Everyone works backwards. It goes something like this:

  • I like it
  • If I like it, it’s good. No way I could like something bad
  • If I like it, there must be a good reason
  • I am wise, so the entity that produced the thing I like must be important
  • Liking important things makes me more important
  • If you do not like what I like, it’s because you’re a philistine

I have never successfully convinced another human that it’s perfectly OK to like dreck. I have pointed out many things that are dreck to persons who liked them, but did not think they were dreck. This always led to one of two reactions, either of which resulted in enmity towards me, not the thing itself:

  •  You’re right, it is dreck. I can’t like dreck, so I can’t like it any more. I hate you for ruining my fun
  • It’s not dreck. [Insert name of person with no talent here] is a genius, and [insert name of magazine here] says so.

The whole mindset leads to 50 year old men telling you that Motorhead is Mozart, and Camille Paglia telling you that Madonna is Moliere.

So, to make things easier, I’ve invented the Sippican Cottage Musical Acid Test:

If you’re from Liverpool, and your composition is played Santuario-di-Madonna-di-San-Luca-skiffle style by five Bolognese men a half a century after you wrote it, you’re on to something with your approach to songwriting. That’s as far as I’ll go.

Getting Fresh and Familiar

There’s a concept in design called something along the lines of, “Fresh, But Familiar.” It means in order to be the Next Big Thing, you’ve got to organize familiar things in a fresh way. Or more likely, you add a single novelty, while the remaining 99% is the usual stuff and junk. People will go crazy for a small excursion from a well-beaten path, but they’re wary of truly new stuff. I used to explain the concept as, “Pioneers are the fellows you see lying by the side of the trail with arrows sticking out of them.” That has too many words, so we’ll stick to FBF. Alton Ellis covering A Whiter Shade of Pale is FBF to the max, ain’t it?

FBF is a very important concept for people who attempt cover versions of very familiar songs. Being an essential concept doesn’t mean anyone who wants to cover A Whiter Shade of Pale is going to listen to me. People dutifully try to copy what they like, usually with their tongue in the corner of their mouth the whole time. It never occurs to them to bring anything new to the table, because their table of talent wobbles too much to keep anything on it anyway.


Chuck Berry Has No Particular Place To Go

Chuck Berry’s dead. He was 90. Bonne chance at Saint Peter’s gate, Chuck, you’re going to need it. You were a magnificent mean weird wonderful hack genius AMERICAN.

He was all those things, surely. He wasn’t American. He was AMERICAN. Only America could possibly produce him. The rest of the world loved him, as you can see by watching this video from France in 1965. Europe loved him, but they could never cobble a guy like that together. The important part of his career was already over when this video was made, though few knew it at the time, including Chuck. Europe was already an off Broadway production.

Europeans sent us a bronze broad to stand in the granite harbor outside Ellis Island. It was allegedly a gift, but I suspect they sent it so they’d have something familiar to look at after they bolted the doors on their dusty museum of cultures and fled. We sent them Chuck Berry records in return as a way to show them This is how we roll.

To Europe, America has always been a bad man. The pecksniff attitude their governments have always heaped on us has a dash of cowardice in it. Chuck was a bad man. It made him all the more American to a toff, I imagine. I don’t mean he was a bad man in just the figurative sense, though. Chuck was a real live criminal. If you read Chuck’s bios, you’re bound to find fans desperately trying to pooh-pooh his criminal background. The gun he used in a carjacking was broken, so it doesn’t matter…

Don’t buy it. Chuck was what he was, and he never really made any bones about it. He really was kinda mean, edgy, hypersexual, pushy, grasping and grabby. Who cares? He went to jail occasionally, and that was that. Chuck had a chip on his shoulder after he got out of jail, but then again, he had one before he went in.

Chuck Berry was important in the context of the 1950s. He was a big star for half of the 1960s, too, but after Nadine, he mostly traded on the fact that a whole lot of British Invasion bands adored him. He made a little money in the seventies by making a damn fool of himself with songs like My Ding-A-Ling. It was simply dreadful, and not very fun for a novelty tune. After a while, Chuck just showed up to his gigs in varying states of sobriety with an untuned guitar. He plugged it in and started blasting away without first bothering to count four with an endless procession of ad hoc bands he didn’t have to pay or acknowledge. Occasionally it was a few Beatles or Stones, most often a bar band. He didn’t seem to acknowledge the difference. The checks only had one name on them.

But the fifties, man; he defined America in the 1950s. Forget Elvis. Elvis went up the front stairs and asked your big sister to go to the movies. He really wasn’t all that subversive. It was Chuck Berry that came up the back stairs, round about midnight, and asked your mother if your father was home. He went up the back stairs of the whole damn world before he was through. I offered that video with the underwater sound and the band that doesn’t know the arrangement to show you what the fuss was about. Look at Chuck. The stage is too small for him, even though the world is his stage.

America was the most important thing in the world at the turn of the twentieth century, but no one knew it yet. It took World War I to demonstrate what paper tigers the European empires had become. America flipped the 19th century script and went to Belleau Wood with all the fury of a father turning the car around. When it was over, we shirked the big mantle and went back to our cornfields. We avoided the responsibilities of a great power until the hakenkreuz and the rising sun were waved right in our faces. We shrugged and rolled up our sleeves and pounded the world flat again, because that’s the way we liked it. It’s easier to drive on.

Then came the fifties. The Soviets stood there, leering over half the globe, and said they would bury us.

We yawned. We had the sobriety of Eisenhower on our side. We had the muscle of finned cars rolling off assembly lines uncounted with a sunburned arm out the window on day one. We minted legions ready for the next version of America from public schools with the mortar still setting. Jonas Salk and a thousand others like him beat not only microbes, but fear of sickness itself. Hollywood gilded the country in pictures, and then gilded itself. Something raucous or fun or serious or thoughtful came bubbling out of our radios, projectors, and TVs in an endless stream. Broadway shone like a thousand Folies Bergere.

And then came Chuck Berry, from Saint Louis, the center of our universe. He stood up like a man and looked you straight in the eye. He was full of the optimism of a card sharp and his own unsavory brand of charm. I’ll strut, thank you, like the peacock I am. He didn’t wink or pinch. He winked and pinched, and he meant every one. There were no idle threats, no meaningless boasts. Chuck don’t flirt. Chuck asked for what he wanted, flat out, with a twinkle in his eye and an angel on his shoulder and the devil in his heart. He’d put up his fists if you wanted it, and laugh with you afterwards, too — when you’ve said you’ve had enough.

Chuck Berry outlasted the Soviet Union by a quarter of a century. Bury us? We Berryed you.

The Amway of the Mind

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. –Marcus Aurelius

Kind of amusing to see an argument over who’s to blame for a snowstorm that didn’t happen. The idea that you were promised bad weather, and it didn’t arrive, so you have been put upon, is comic when considered dispassionately. Then again, I’ve seen the internet. No one on the internet is dispassionate. Some start out pretty fair, but eventually out pops the cloven hoof.

It’s especially piquant to see arguments about a snowstorm that didn’t happen when you know for a dead cert it did happen. The wind blew 50 MPH, which made it hard to measure what fell. It was somewhere between sixteen inches and two feet at my house in western Maine. When sixteen inches of densely packed snow is delivered at Jimmy-Carter-era highway speeds, you notice.

For the first time since I’ve lived here in Maine, I had to begin shoveling snow while I was still standing inside my foyer. I opened the front door, and there was six inches of snow against it, even though the door lives beneath an eight foot overhang. It took a little while to simply shovel my way to a place where the crystal blue sky was above me. That was unusual.

Blizzards are funny. Like city dwellers, blizzards just put snow anywhere they like, without a care for the neighbors. There was no snow on my roof to speak of, because the wind blew so hard that it couldn’t linger in the open. On one side of the car, you could walk up to it and open the door. On the leeward side, the snow was level with the roof. The blizzard had a sense of humor, and it filled in all the slit trenches I’d dug in the snow that came before. Snow likes equanimity.

Where my driveway met the road, the snow was up to my chest. It was compact stuff, too, and it required you to stand in one place for a long time and throw the snow some distance to make headway. It was honest work, and I didn’t mind it. One chews a mental cud during such exertions. I wondered what frame of mind would make people angry about a storm that didn’t come. I wondered more about anger about a storm that did come, but you denied its existence.

My countrymen live in an interesting world. This world is not real. They did not say that the storm did not come to them in their concrete dovecotes. They said that the storm did not exist because it did not happen to them, and meant it. More to the fact, they said the storm did not happen because it did not happen in the imaginary world they inhabit, composed solely of the media they consume.

I am not real to those people, because I am not on television. They have joined an Amway of the mind. They sell their worthless factual surfactants only to each other. Eventually, when that doesn’t work, they end up selling their intellectual soap to themselves, but still think they’re going to get rich on selfie commissions.

Every once in a while, they’ll invite someone who looks impressionable to join their little covens, but for the most part, it’s a closed shop. You do not exist because you do not buy their soap, and sell it back to them in return.

Month: March 2017

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