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Music To Invade Poland By

That’s Marika Rökk. She was a big deal back in ’39 in Germany. That’s got to be one of the greatest death metal names, ever, but alas, all their death metal was riveted into stukas and welded into panzers and whatnot back then.

The video is colorized, which always looks garish and washed out at the same time. But I’m not sure you could get too garish for a big production number like that one. Everyone favored over the top numbers at the time. None other than Goebbels decided that Germany needed the same kind of Busby Berkeley numbers that America enjoyed. Marika fit the bill. The Depression was more or less worldwide, and Germany had been limping along longer than most, so people wanted a dash of swanky stuff as a diversion.

I like to listen to old pieces of music, and to video like this one, and try to put myself in the time and place it was presented. Adapt the mindset of the time to better understand how you’d react to it. Good movies are able to do that, but good movies are a very rare thing. Most movies just have modern people wielding modern mindsets tossed catch-as-catch-can into hoop dresses and drawing rooms. If you watch Amadeus, for instance, you can see a Mozart that acts more like Jimi Hendrix than a court composer of the time. It didn’t have to turn out that way. In the original play, they had real actors who captured the mindset of the times better:

Amadeus won the Best Picture Oscar, if I recall correctly. It was pretty good. I apologize unreservedly for describing anything with a heaping helping of Mozart’s music as “pretty good” in any respect. And I’m not trying to bag on F. Murray Abraham by beating him over the head with Paul Scofield. F. Murray did OK, but Scofield is one of the best actors I’ve ever seen in anything.

But I’ve seen two versions of Amadeus. There was the original version, and a later “Director’s Cut” or some such thing, and it’s a bit of a mess. They nominated the film editors of Amadeus for Oscars, but they didn’t win. After seeing what they took out, and how they made Animal House in Vienna into Amadeus with skillful cutting, I think they should give them some kind of medal or prize or something more substantial than a gold statue. What the first one accomplished, that the longer one didn’t, was an easier way to suspend your disbelief and sit in the audience and listen to Mozart fresh off the quill pen.

So I’d like to put myself in Germany in 1939 and get the same vibe they got from Marika in real time. On second thought, no I don’t.

No Makeup No Lip Rouge


Woody Guthrie wrote around about 1,000 song lyrics that never got published or set to music in his lifetime. Woody couldn’t read or write music so there were no notations indicating how he would want them to sound. Bob Dylan said Woody told Bob to go to New York and look up his wife Margie and get the boxes of song lyrics and set them to music, but Dylan said that when he got to the house, only Woody’s son Arlo and the babysitter were home, so he went away empty-handed.

Much later on, Woody’s daughter gave them to Billy Bragg and he set some to music and recorded them with the band Wilco. The album is named after the address on Coney Island where Woody used to live.

If you have any questions about why a guy would write a song titled: Ingrid Bergman, watch the screen test again.

If you’ll walk across my camera
I will flash the world your story
I will pay you more than money, Ingrid Bergman

Not by pennies dimes nor quarters
But with happy sons and daughters
And they’ll sing around Stromboli, Ingrid Bergman

Guitar Hero Sandwich

We had a light-hearted look at heavy metal guitarists the other day. It got me to wondering. Where did the guitar hero idea come from? I decided to answer my own question. Who else can I trust?

For purposes of this exercise, I should warn you that I’m not going to do any research. It sounds too much like work. Like a true guitar hero, I’ll be blasting away with little concern for anyone else’s input or what the audience wants to hear. Shooting from the hip, as it were.

I guess we should define “guitar hero” before we start. I’ll take a stab at it. A guitar hero plays the guitar to impress people with his guitar playing. That sounds like a bit of a tautology, but it’s really not. Many guitarists are more interested in being musical than being impressive. Jimmy Vaughn is a more musical guitar player than his little brother, who’s in the running for exhibit A in the guitar hero pantheon. Guitar heroism is usually the musical equivalent of weightlifting, not ballet.

So, how did we arrive at this state of affairs? Tell us, oh Sippican! Lay some more of your ill-considered opinions on us!

OK, I’ll bite. I think it started with Django Reinhardt.

Django made his guitar heroism all the more intriguing by the fact he only had two functional fingers on his left hand. It got burned, and his ring finger and pinky were formed into a kind of claw. But man, he could fly. In the video you can see the kind of guitar army he often fronted. Those old Selmer acoustic guitars were made for cabaret music, and they didn’t have the punch needed to get over in a loud world. When he started out, amplification was kind of non-existent, but small orchestras make plenty of noise acoustically. Django used a heavy plectrum to get maximum sound out of the box, and to elbow his way to the front of the pack. Let’s see what the Wikiup says about Django:

It wasn’t until 1938, and the Quintet’s first tour of England, that guitarists [in the U.K.] were able to witness Django’s amazing abilities. His hugely innovative technique included, on a grand scale, such unheard of devices as melodies played in octaves, tremolo chords with shifting notes that sounded like whole horn sections, a complete array of natural and artificial harmonics, highly charged dissonances, super-fast chromatic runs from the open bass strings to the highest notes on the 1st string, an unbelievably flexible and driving right-hand, two and three octave arpeggios, advanced and unconventional chords and a use of the flattened fifth that predated be-bop by a decade. Add to all this Django’s staggering harmonic and melodic concept, huge sound, pulsating swing, sense of humour and sheer speed of execution, and it is little wonder that guitar players were knocked sideways upon their first encounter with this full-blown genius.

Bang! There it is. It’s little wonder that other guitar players were knocked sideways. That’s a music critic talking. He kind of elides the fact that Django was endlessly musical, despite blowing all the other guitarists’ doors off. He gets right down to the meat of the matter, at least for guys like him. Django was impressive.

By the way, when your kids want to undertake something hard to prove their chops, Django beats Knopfler any day:

So where do we go from here? We’re drunk on cheap wine in pre-war Paris, and the greasy cigarette smoke is making us nauseated. What’s next?

The USof A, and Charlie Christian, of course.

That ladies and germs, it the electric guitar, blazing away, a true soloing instrument at last. He played in Benny Goodman’s band, and they featured him right out front. If you’ve never had the treat of standing in front of a Swing band before, you… you… you probably still have some of your hearing. Those bands were loud. I played in the back row of a few of them, and I still have a slight headache.

Pop a transducer in the sound hole of a guitar, plug it into a suitcase with a speaker and some tubes, and all of a sudden even the drummer can’t keep up. Charlie’s playing jazz, of course, but the whole idea of electric guitar soloing over background chord changes popped out of Charlie Christian’s very short stint on the stage. Died young and tubercular. So young there isn’t any video of him anywhere. Jazz musicians, and all sorts of other musicians, talk about Christian in hushed tones. Miles Davis said he wanted to play the trumpet like Christian played the guitar. Even rock musicians mention him, sometimes. They might have no taste, but they recognize a volume knob when they see it.

Now, the next step if fraught with peril. The 1950s has rolled around, and guitarists are thick on the ground at this point. Less well-informed observers might jump in here with any number of really good players who inspired lots of kids to take up the instrument, like Scotty Moore, or Eldon Shamblin, or  T-Bone Walker, or even Chuck Berry, but wowing people with blazing licks wasn’t their top priority. Besides, in a way, we’re assigning blame for how guitar hero ethos turned out, not credit. If we’re going to find the pedigree of  it goes to eleven malefactors, we’re going to have to go through Les Paul:


If the solid body electric guitar has a true father, he’s it. There may be twenty-zillion brands and models of guitars, but honestly, there are really only two kinds that matter for the purposes of our discussion. Les Pauls and Fender Stratocasters. Gibson made Les Pauls, but he invented them, and lots of other stuff to do with amplification and recording, including multi-track recording, so guitar showoffs could solo over themselves to increase the solipsism. Lots of guitarists went to an intermediate way-station on the road to shredding, using a semi-hollowbody guitar like the Gibson ES 330 or 335, but Les changed the whole scene for everything

Fender Strats are like boat oars compared to a Les Paul. They’re born from a country tradition, like the Telecasters that predated them. Blues heroes love’m. But a Les Paul guitar is a Lambo compared to the Fender musical delivery van. The neck is really thin, but the fretboard is a little flatter than a Strat. It’s got multiple pickups and volume and tone knobs. It’s made for showing off, and at flight-deck volume if you get a big enough amplifier.

So now it’s beginning to really look like the arms race we’re trying to define. Everyone was going to need bigger amplifiers and more necks on their guitars and maybe even some music lessons to keep up with the times. We’re going to get the musical cuisinart humming and dump in blues and country and swing and Broadway and torch songs and whatever else is hanging around.

Oh boy. Now we’ve run smack dab into the side of the 1960s. You’re going to demand I mention Hendrix or something. But we have to stick to the topic. We’re not just identifying showoffs. We’re talking about enablers and prototypes here. Lots of Millenials and Zoomers don’t understand Boomer affection for bands like the Beatles. They hear things like George Harrison’s lugubrious guitar solos and compare them to Eddie Van Halen or somebody. They’ve been taught that Rock Music is a thing, so the Beatles and Van Halen and Sade and Roxy Music and Weird Al Yankovic should all be compared to each other, and on the same merits.

Like I said, it’s the ’60s. The Stones and the Beatles and the Beach Boys et. al. gotta make a mint with pop music and some pedestrian guitar solos. Until we get to here:

It sounds woolly because they’re standing in front of walls of very crappy amplifiers to make all that noise. Real sound reinforcement got invented to replace the ad hoc arrangement you see here, and to keep up with the size of the venues and amount of decibels they demanded. The average wedding band in 2000 had a bigger PA system than the Beatles had to play Shea Stadium. This is why.

If you want to hear clearly what’s going in in that last video, let’s drop in on Tim Pierce and hear it done with all the equipment you could possibly want. It helps if you can play like crazy, too. Tim invited our son over to his house once, so he’s aces with us:

That Cream video was from 1968.  It led directly to the end of our search, the go to Guitar Center, go directly to Guitar Center, do not pass out of the garage, do not collect a $200 advance from the record company, the true adumbration of the guitar hero ethos:

Everyone heard Crossroads, and thought to themselves, if I could play like that, maybe I could make time with George Harrison’s wife, too.

Sorry kids, like Marty DiBergi said in Spinal Tap, “Let’s talk about your music today…uh…one thing that puzzles me …um…is the make up of your audience seems to be …uh… predominately young boys.

Glimmers of Light in the Darkness

I had to leave the house today. I don’t do that very much. I’m forced to hunt around for all the accouterments that are necessary to pilot a big, empty refrigerator masquerading as a Ford Econoline van. Keys. Yes, need those. Wallet, yeah, sure, let’s take the moths for a ride.

Eyeglasses. Where the hell are they? I only use them for driving, but stubbornly refuse to leave them in the car, knowing I’ll forget they’re there, and I’ll go back in the house where they aren’t and look for them twice as much. Pants. I think I have to wear pants. It’s like a rule or a guideline or zoning law or something.

I went to the Aubuchon Hardware store. I do believe I have paid the mortgage on that place by fixing this or that in my house continuously for five years. There is a lumber yard five miles away from my house, a Home Depot about an hour’s drive, and the Aubuchon. I go to the lumber yard for large oblong things. I go to Aubuchon for doyouhaves and willthisfits and goddamnedthings and owmyhands. If you had a bayonet in my back I wouldn’t go all the way to Home Depot for anything. You really have to wear pants to go to the orange place in the big city of Auburn. They check, or notice, or something.

The Aubuchon has everything you need, in the wrong size. I had a girlfriend like that, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, the Aubuchon is an old-school hardware store. Because the population of the surrounding area doesn’t merit a big box store, they can survive on their wits and their widgets. Everything they have on the pegboard looks like 1970 to my eye, but honestly, no one in Rumford cares whether their light switches are ivory or white. If you need an outside light, they’ve got the jelly jar kind, and another kind which is, well, it’s the jelly jar kind, too. What’s wrong with the jelly jar kind, Ludwig Mies van der Hovel? Light comes out of it if you bought a bulb before prohibition.

“Prohibition” once referred to a period of time when you couldn’t afford to buy light bulbs and weren’t allowed to buy alcohol, which reminds me vaguely of seventh grade, not the 1930s. Now it refers to a time you can’t afford to buy alcohol and you’re not allowed to buy light bulbs. I could use a 100-watt gin and tonic right now, but I don’t have the ingredients for it. They don’t have limes at the Aubuchon.

Did you know you can buy regular light bulbs at the dollar store? My wife swears the dollar store has an actual name, but I can never remember it. Is it the Buck General? The Ducat Extender? The Tenth-of-a-Sawbuck Helper? Whatever it is called, they have regular incandescent light bulbs on the shelf.

They’re made in Mexico, I think. They supposedly run on 130 volts, but if you screw them into a 110-volt fixture, a transmogrification takes place, and they “save” energy by only giving you about 50 watts instead of the 60 on the label. We put them in all the lamps and wander the house saying, “Who said that,” every time anyone says anything, but anything’s better than the curlicue kind. It’s like living in an Edward Hopper painting.

I didn’t hoard light bulbs. I just had a bunch of them, and incandescent bulbs last for years. I still have like four or five dozen 100-watt bulbs in the cabinet. My grandchildren will use them, I imagine. We ran out of 60 watters, and I unwisely took a flyer on some CFLs, which I detest. There was one CFL in my house when I moved in. It was in my basement. In January, that lightbulb doesn’t come on, period, so I find it amusing to picture it outside, where it is occasionally 20 below zero. Not coming on does save energy, one must admit.

So, as I was saying, we were finally out of 60s, and we bought curlicues this summer. The first CFL I tried, the very first, I dropped, it shattered, and I freebased mercury for five minutes. How eco. The second one we put in my older son’s table lamp, and the base of the bulb caught fire, real fire with flames and smoke and whatnot. He calmly unplugged the lamp, came down the stairs with the thing still smouldering, and we freebased burning plastic together for five minutes. How eco. We’re all done with CFLs now. My light fixtures now emit Mexican light, which is like American light, except that it’s here surreptitiously and it’s slightly darker. (Insert Donald Trump joke here)

I didn’t go to the Aubuchon to buy lightbulbs. I don’t know why I started talking about lightbulbs in the first place. The Aubuchon is located at the town line where Rumford becomes Mexico, Maine, but I don’t know why I started talking about the actual Mexico, either. All I know is I’ve been going into that Aubuchon for nearly six years, and a couple of years ago, they placed a giant TV high on a pillar facing the cashier’s desk. They had installed the TV in order to make the job slightly more attractive to clerks, and earthshakingly, dumbfoundingly less attractive to me, I guess. It was an abomination, and annoyed me to no end while I was in there, and I saw it as another sign of the coming apocalypse.

And I saw when that Marconi opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it
were the noise of Bobby Goldsboro, one of the four beasts saying, Come and

And I saw, and behold a roaring lion: and that which was projected on it
was a sequel of a movie not yet made; and a statuette was given unto them: and they went forth shooting Greedo first, and then not shooting Greedo first.

And I looked, and behold a white plastic device: and his name that lorded over it was Steve, and a Hell app followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with Angry Birds, and with texting, and with responsive sites, and with the Tweets of the earth.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was flatscreen, and Good Morning America followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the Aubuchon, to kill with chyrons, and with breaking news, and with NASCAR, and with the all the Bartiromos of the earth.

At any rate, I went into the Aubuchon to buy four foam paint brushes, and to my surprise, the television was banished, and a short, syphilitic-looking Christmas tree was in its place. The world seemed brighter somehow. I couldn’t remember the last time something happened that seemed like it was a step, no matter how small, in the right direction. It was like an omen for me.

I went home to foamy-paint my whathaveyous, and wondered if people would ever come around to my way of thinking on any other subject. Would the gas pumps stop playing Sweet Home Alabama? Would hit men become the bad guys in the movies again? Anything’s possible, I guess.

I have my doubts. I also noticed that both the clerks at the Aubuchon were brand spanking new, because all the others had quit.

[Update: Many thanks to Stephen B. from Anaheim for his generous contribution to our PayPal tipjar. It is very much appreciated]

How To Play The Bass. Lesson One: Don’t Play The Bass, You Idiot, Play Something Else

[Editor’s Note: Written in December of 2008 and never used, then recycled twice. Not sure why]
Author’s Note: Don’t ask me; I just write the stuff. There is no editor]


Play That Fonkee Music, White Boy

I (used to) play the electric bass. It’s not a bass guitar, although everyone calls it that. There actually is an instrument called a “bass guitar.” It has six strings and is tuned lower than a regular guitar, but it’s not a bass. A bass is that doghouse with the four strings. The electric kind hangs on your neck and gives you a bad back (left side), deafness, and a couple hundred bucks a night for as many nights as you’ll show up, because every other person in the world is an unemployed guitar player. Own a bass and you’ll always work.

That’s what my brother told me all those years ago. He actually knows how to play the thing properly. Everything I learned about it he taught me in one afternoon in his freezing cold, decidedly downscale apartment in Providence RI. I never had to learn anything other than what he taught me that day, and I’ve forgot half of that, and I could still work every night if I wanted to. I don’t. No one owns one, shows up, and plays bass — instead of monkeying around like the guitar player they wish they were on the wrong part of the neck.

But you need bass lessons, and I’m busy and don’t know how to play, and my brother’s busy and in lives in LA, so we’re stuck with YouTube. I’ll teach you everything you need to know, right now.

The Blues Is A Chair. Sit On It First

You have to play the blues first. It’s easy. Just shut the hell up and never venture past the fifth fret. There are only three chords, and if you play with John Lee Hooker he’s not even interested in all three of those; I did, and he wasn’t. Muddy Waters will show you how:

That’s the first song I played for money three days after my lesson. I stunk, but everybody else did too, but they practiced so they had no excuse. The audience was drunk, what difference did it make?


Movin’ On Up To Interstellar Blues

You can actually practice, and you can hang all sorts of musical drapes on that framework. Like Miles Davis’ friend Paul Chambers.

This song is a mere bagatelle; hell, two or three cloned kids can play it.


Next Up: Gigging At Bob’s Country Bunker

But you’re a hack whitebread dude. You gotta eat too. Duck Dunn will show you the way to play in barbands where the all the fights are merry and the dancing is violent:

This Is Where Those Tuba Lessons In Fourth Grade Really Pay Off

Nuffin’ to it. But what if you want to play pop music? Well, it’s really just tuba parts from the music hall. Macca gets it.

He sings OK, too. Remember, no matter how bad you sing, make sure there’s a microphone in front of you or you’ll make less money than the other guys. Even Ringo figured that out eventually.

Now It’s Time To Join The Chest Hair Club For Men

But you need rock music, too. The thudding kind, not the Beatles kind. You only need to learn one song –any song– by any one of a dozen bands with guys that go to Chest Hair Club for Men. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd; makes no nevermind. This is as good as any:

At The Session, They Said Play Like James Jamerson. So I Left

If you want to play like a real bass player, you’ll have to devote your life to figuring out what the hell got into James Jamerson to make him play like that on all those Motown records. Good luck. How Einstein came up with the special theory of relativity is an easier poser.

Got all that? Me neither. I used to try to play like 10 percent of that and had to sing over it, too. The seizures are getting better, now.

Reggae: The Audience Is Blitzed, They’ll Never Notice If You Don’t Play On The One

Reggae bass playing is easy. Just play like James Jamerson, only backwards.

I Know What Boys Like. I Know What Guys Want. And I Don’t Care

But you’ve got to learn one lesson, and learn it fast: Girls don’t want any of that. They want to dance, and they don’t want it too sophisticated. This was the National Anthem of girls in a tube top right up to the present day: Easy, too. The song, I mean:

See, even Helen Reddy will have an extra sloe gin fizz and get jiggy when that’s going on.

Now You’re Ready To Enter The Leo Fender Memorial Couch Surfing Pageant

There you have it. You’re qualified to make a crummy living from 8 PM to 3 AM three nights a week and two weddings a month. Hope your girlfriend has a comfortable couch.

What’s that? Country music? Which country? Our country? Don’t bother. There’s only two notes, and neither is all that compelling.

What Al Capone Understood That You Don’t (from 2009)

(Editor’s Note: From 2009. Still attracts readers fairly regularly. People are curious about Al Capone)

Gangster movies and the general media have a tendency to portray criminals as more interesting and sophisticated than they really are. They portray politicians, who are sometimes the same thing, in the same way. But few politicians are really all that shrewd. They’re just shameless. That’s different.

Hollywood likes to show gangsters being Machiavellian, but they’re usually just willing to use force to get what they want, and are willing to take chances. Fearless and arrogant will get you a long way in a world full of the meek. Gangsters are in a state of nature, red in tooth and claw, while John Q. Public thinks meat comes in little packages from a deli.

Al Capone was not a sophisticated man. He was a Camorra gangster, a Naples thing, which is not the same thing as the Mafia, which is a (the) Sicilian thing. Camorra gangsters don’t have a lot of redeeming family values to add spice to your Pacino movie. Just violent and grabby.

That picture is Capone’s cell in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. He spent eight months there for carrying a concealed weapon.

It would appear that the cell testifies that prison authorities could be easily bribed. Not exactly. I imagine that it was fear of Capone that got him his goodies, and the warders accepted his money as gravy. If they weren’t afraid of him, they would have just taken his money, or not taken his money, but he wouldn’t have got his goodies either way.

Al Capone was literally a barbarian. And yet he could assemble truly salubrious surroundings for himself in any circumstances. Tradition based in wholesomeness trumps intellect searching for thrills, every time, for comfort.

A Queen Anne wing chair is very comfortable to sit in. It affords motility –the ability to slightly shift your position without thinking — to avoid discomfort. The wings and sides shield the occupant from drafts. The open shape of the arms invites the sitter visually. The patterned fabric has a certain light friction that keeps the occupant from slipping forward.

The floor lamp gives a pool of light. The shade is angled downward, because the purpose of the lamp is not general illumination. It is to make a well-lighted spot at a sitting area without producing any harsh glare. The other, table lamp does so even more, and softens the downward directed light with a tasseled fringe to avoid severity.

The carpet on a hard floor is a no-brainer. Living on hard floors so your Swiffer or Roomba is comfortable instead of you is not smart. And nailing the carpet down is like wearing the same underwear too long.

The Chippendale drop-front desk is elegant and useful. Books are precious, or should be, and you can keep them best where they can be seen, but are not open to dust. You can write and then close up the clutter writing brings.

There is a chair and a mirror at the entrance/exit. You need to look at yourself before you leave your abode, and you often need to put things down, including yourself, for a moment when you enter. Capone understood that even though his door was a modern porticullis.

There is a piece of art hung to contemplate while seated or standing. The radio for entertainment is not treated as solely an appliance; it needed to be as elegant as furniture, because when you put it in a room, it is furniture. And Al wanted to listen to opera in the evenings, because he knew it’s crazy to wallow in misery voluntarily, even for your entertainment. There is something green next to it, to amuse the occupant with its tending, and to suggest the outdoors indoors.

Picture a contemporary person, not even a criminal, put in this place. They’d put in Pergo floors and have an X-Box or a crummy computer on a shabby rickety IKEA monstrosity instead of a writing desk. They’d have a glorified office chair with lumbar support on the wrong lumbar. There’s be a nasty flatscreen instead of a radio and a picture, about as elegant as a water heater when considered dispassionately, playing porno and gangster movies all the time.

As I said, Al Capone was a barbarian. I’d rather live in his prison cell than your house.

We Took To The Ramshackle Victorian Near The Woods

“There is nothing that I so greatly admire as purposefulness. I have an
enormous respect for people who know exactly what they are doing and
where they are going. Such people are compact and integrated. They have
clear edges. They give an impression of invulnerability and balance, and
I wish I were one of them.” –Louise Dickinson Rich

I do not have any money, and suddenly I want some.

I’ve made rather a lot of money — for other people– at one time or another. Upon reflection I realize I didn’t like any of these people, and I made the most money for the people I liked the least.

If I made money for my own use, I’d have something to lavish it on today. I’d reach out the hand of the man with resources and make something happen for no reason other than that it should, and I could. I’d buy Louise Dickinson Rich’s Maine cottage. 

Oh, they want 1.3 million for it, but that’s not enough. I’ll need much more than that. There are two houses, a “winter” house and a “summer” house, and I want them both. They’re only selling the summer one. I want to offer the owner whatever it takes to stop monkeying around with it, and acting like a real estate vivisectionist by parceling out hams to fools. I want the whole pig.

Louise Dickinson Rich wrote We Took To The Woods in those houses. Hell, the chair she sat in and the typewriter she banged on is still in there.

The whole place is just as she left it, and it will be pulled to bits, or perhaps brined and immured in an aspic she never would have tolerated. One way or the other, the wrong people will get hold of this place, and do the wrong thing in it, and to it. Her Wikipedia entry mentions: “…a Thoreau-like existence…” Yeah, sure, if you don’t know anything about Thoreau, and never read her book.

We belong to no cult. We are not Nature Lovers. We don’t love nature
any more than we love breathing. Nature is simply something
indispensable, like air and light and water, that we accept as necessary
to living, and the nearer we can get to it the happier we are.

Don’t forget: Henry David Thoreau was a knucklehead.

When we first moved to Maine, our neighbor, a sterling fellow, gave us a copy of We Took To The Woods as a gift. It’s considered rather quotidian to an educator in Maine, I’m sure, but it was news to us and immediately gained a pride of place on the shelf with Twain and Bierce and Wodehouse and a few others. Everyone’s always trying to get me to read things. It’s a rare person that hits the mark on the first shot.

I love that book. It matters. My older child reads her history of Maine, called State O’ Maine, for his history lesson. He’s homeschooled. The local schools don’t require students to learn about the state they live in any longer as part of the curriculum. The book’s out of print, which tells you a lot about what Mainers worship these days. There’s always money for a homely mural about work where all the workers are on strike, but a Maine author writing the best history of Maine, who should rank with Longfellow and White, Millay and Stowe, goes out of print. The schoolchildren play with iPads instead of reading.

I felt a bit of wry amusement to read about her trips in from the wilderness to the big city of Rumford, and know that she had to pass right through the shadow of my house on the only road into town back then. She was my familiar all of a sudden. A neighbor, dead and buried, but not forgotten.

Someone cranky and pleasant and standoffish and friendly and outgoing and solitary should live there and write books about living in Maine. Ain’t gonna happen. We live in a weird world, where you have to write the book first, so you can afford the house later.

We Took To The Woods, at Amazon

I’m Ashamed Of My Shoulders And My Large, Awkward Hands

Edward Hopper And The House By The Railroad 

Out here in the exact middle of the day,
This strange, gawky house has the expression
Of someone being stared at, someone holding
His breath underwater, hushed and expectant;

This house is ashamed of itself, ashamed
Of its fantastic mansard rooftop
And its pseudo-Gothic porch, ashamed
of its shoulders and large, awkward hands.

But the man behind the easel is relentless.
He is as brutal as sunlight, and believes
The house must have done something horrible
To the people who once lived here

Because now it is so desperately empty,
It must have done something to the sky
Because the sky, too, is utterly vacant
And devoid of meaning. There are no

Trees or shrubs anywhere–the house
Must have done something against the earth.
All that is present is a single pair of tracks
Straightening into the distance. No trains pass.

Now the stranger returns to this place daily
Until the house begins to suspect
That the man, too, is desolate, desolate
And even ashamed. Soon the house starts

To stare frankly at the man. And somehow
The empty white canvas slowly takes on
The expression of someone who is unnerved,
Someone holding his breath underwater.

And then one day the man simply disappears.
He is a last afternoon shadow moving
Across the tracks, making its way
Through the vast, darkening fields.

This man will paint other abandoned mansions,
And faded cafeteria windows, and poorly lettered
Storefronts on the edges of small towns.
Always they will have this same expression,

The utterly naked look of someone
Being stared at, someone American and gawky.
Someone who is about to be left alone
Again, and can no longer stand it.

-Edward Hirsch 


Now Is Der Time On Schprockets When Ve Dahnce

“Mechanical Principles,” from 1930, by Ralph Steiner.

It’s another world. A mechanical world. A machinist’s world. Newtonian. Euclidian.

A few years ago I took my father to see a B-24J Liberator bomber like the one he flew in. It wasn’t an elegant machine. There was a B-25 and a B-17 at the airfield, too, and they both looked kinda sleek compared to the B-24. Dad’s plane was a sort-of flying dump truck.

We went inside the thing, and I found it jarring that I understood everything I was looking at, just by looking at it. There were wires and cables and tubes running hither and yon and they were all about as complicated as a hammer and nail. The ammo boxes were wood, and the machine guns just shot out of a open window on the side, like a well-armed barn would have.

Lots of things seem complicated to the modern eye because they’re unfamiliar, not because they’re sophisticated; just the opposite, mostly. Simplicity stuns people now. I can walk into a 150 year-old house and nothing in it surprises me. Most of it is simple, if not barbaric, compared to a lot of stuff in a brand new house. The old stuff is vastly superior in many ways, too. Sprockets go round and round when you turn the crank if the power goes out, unlike a 486.

It’s not just mechanisms that amaze many if they’re too simple to recognize nowadays. My wife sits next to my son, before a window and a calendar and a little flag, and slides sheets of work under his nose, one after another, as he sits at an antique school desk that cost five dollars at a flea market. People ask her, “Yes, but how do you educate him?”

Sprockets work.

Berlin, Infinite Recursion

Max Raabe singing Irving Berlin In Berlin. For a German, he’s a borderline wildman. I like the part where he raised his eyebrow that one time. Skating at the edge of the volcano of his inner torment, no doubt.

Tag: 1930s

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