near Presque Isle, Vilas County, WI
Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.
               ― Ray Bradbury
One of my Dad's summer projects has been painting the deck at his house again this year, and after a period of careful deliberation and reflection, sifting and winnowing, the most respectable shade he has selected for the job is "Decent Green."  (It's #64244 in the catalog if you're keeping score, a few wavelengths darker than #64243, Catnip Grass.)  
I guess it might make you more than a bit uncomfortable to contemplate what the chromatic manifestation of an "indecent" green (#64245??) could possibly entail, since everything these days it seems--by de rigueur if not by design--is green. 

And green has pretty much been the dominant color of that particular house, blending into the surrounding woods, since as long as I can remember.  When we first got aluminum siding on our former house, the hue my Dad ended up settling on was "Southern Moss" (I think my mother hated it). But green as it happens has always been my favorite color.  It always seemed a sensible compromise midway on the spectrum between an aggressive hot fire engine red and coolly cerulean blue.  Indeed a very decent, yet certainly earthy color--perhaps in the same way that pianist Glenn Gould thought of 
f minor (his favorite key) as a point of equilibrium "halfway between complex and stable, between upright and lascivious."
Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals.
                                                                                            Aldo Leopold,
                     A Sand County Almanac
I've always pretty much been a sucker for anything related to the intrigue of submarines, and this has has been one of my favorite old submarine movies since I first saw it on TV as a kid--The Enemy Below, with Curt Jurgens, Robert Mitchum, and Theodore Bikel.
I knew I liked the music to this film, without ever being fully cognizant of the man who had actually written it--as it turns out, an Academy Award winning composer named Leigh Harline.  Maybe not a household name like John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, or Elmer Bernstein--but not exactly unsung either, because his most famous song has indeed been sung many times (as Disney's de facto theme song): "When You Wish Upon A Star," from Harline's Academy Award winning 1940 score to Pinocchio.  There have been a lot of great sub films with music to match, among them Franz Waxman's darkly atmospheric 1958 score for Run Silent, Run Deep and Klaus Doldinger's haunting music for perhaps the greatest submarine film, the 1981 German epic Das Boot.
The opening of Harline's relatively uncomplicated but stirring score for The Enemy Below, with martial brass flourishes and smoothly ascending triplet patterns is an integral part of propelling the film's action.  The ominous syncopations that hit just as the American ship comes into view on the German U-boat's periscope (over the film's title sequence), although brief and passing like the literal blip the sub creates on the ship's radar screen, manage to encapsulate and foreshadow the conflict to come--just as the ascending triplets while the shot cuts to the destroyer gracefully cutting through the waters of the South Atlantic suggest the resolution achieved at the film's end, where Harline incorporates the German military hymn of remembrance Ich hatt' einen Kameraden during the burial at sea of Jurgens' friend and colleague Heinie Schwaffer (Bikel), and dovetails it beautifully back into the closing bars of his original score.
Harline's other film scores include some pretty diverse material: Pride of the Yankees (1942), Man of the West (1958), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947),  Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), and The Boy With Green Hair (1948).  
Mitchum is given one of the film's memorably throwaway lines (before dropping a round of depth charges on the U-boat as Jurgens tries to rally his crew with a German drinking song loud enough to be heard on the destroyer's sonar): "Maybe we can rip him open in the middle of a waltz."
[Jurgens played a pianist later in his film career (who tries to transfer his talents via some questionable satanic rituals to Alan Alda)--in Paul Wendkos' artfully entertaining bit of 1971 occultist hokum, The Mephisto Waltz  (with score by Jerry Goldsmith, and title track by Franz Liszt).]
When you wish upon a torpedo (or inverted star)...
be careful what you wish for. 
Pretty hard to fault an organization for dishonesty...
...when you can feel their sheer magnanimity in the gross decency they take in the effort to identify themselves properly. 
Yes, I'm afraid it's pothole season yet again.
And the other day out driving I saw what was quite possibly the mother of all of them (to rival anything I ever ran across on the avenues in certain parts of New Orleans, or the Cross Bronx Expressway)--a monstrously deep crevice, Frankenstein-like fissure in the pavement over the Earth's crust.  Such that in fact if you had hit it just right, you might very well have a body by fissure.  
I suppose that's the type of esoteric dessicated nearly non-joke that only someone that an old gearhead like my Dad could fully appreciate enough to scoff at--"that's a real knee-slapper..." he might say in his vein of typically unbridled sarcasm.  

One of the most iconic emblems on many of the older GM cars that came out of Detroit up until the 90s (even the first vehicle I ever drove, my grandparents' old '71 Chevy Impala) was the Fisher carriage logo emblazoned usually on the bottom of the door sill.  I still remember it climbing into the back seat of one of the vintage cars my Dad owned when I was a kid, a black '39 LaSalle opera coupe. (We had fun riding around in some parades, but never went to any operas.) 
Beautiful body, nice lines.  Reeled my Dad right in the very first time he saw it...if a car can be a
fisher of men.

The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of matter and that of the stars, but that within this prison we can draw, from our own selves, images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.  
                             André Malraux,
                                La Condition Humaine
It's pretty much impossible to find something that hasn't already been said about the late great Dave Brubeck, one of the most unique composer-pianists of the 20th century.  I was fortunate to have heard Brubeck and his group twice, once in Brighton, UK and once here in the States--and both occasions were equally memorable to actually bear witness to him working his magic in the flesh, even well into his 80s and 90s.  The fact that he studied with someone like French composer Darius Milhaud certainly may have had something to do with how Brubeck's career evolved, and how his work expanded the musical genres.
Strange Meadow Lark is the one Brubeck piece that my ears always seemed to hone in on somehow--that lyricism unfolding with an utterly relaxed but subtle invetability.  Olivier Messiaen did some fascinating things with bird songs, but would have never come up with something like this--an extended riff on six notes that Brubeck heard in the fields and Sierra Nevada foothills of Amador County, California where he grew up.   Aaron Copland in a famous New York Times article once defended "music that falls strangely on the ear," but not much about Strange Meadow Lark is truly foreign to Western or any other ears.  Brubeck's free metered piano opening is perhaps the only indirect link to Francis Bacon's "there is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." But all of music has this strange beauty--"strange" because it defies adequate comprehension, goes beyond what we can comfortably measure with our heads, or trap with all our scientific and technological accoutrements.  Music is as free as a bird--whether Strange Meadow Lark or Purple Martian Martin--and will always refuse to be trapped, singing its songs where barbed wire is only a perch, never an encirclement.  What a truly godawful boring place the world would be if nothing were strange...wondrous strange.
  Music was born free,
          and to win freedom is its destiny.
                                  Ferruccio Busoni,
Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music (1907)
 Don't play what's there,
     play what's not there.
                  Miles Davis 
I found a great old photo recently that I had never seen before of my uncle Capt. Walt Draeger Jr. in front of a restaurant--I was unsure of the exact location but I knew my uncle lived in different places including Germany, San Francisco, Tampa, Virginia Beach, and Seattle in the early 1960s during his time in the Air Force Reserve, prior to volunteering to go to Vietnam as a fighter pilot and military advisor.
I'm not sure if the blue '58 Buick directly behind him might have been his car, but it seems likely.  "Charcoal Broiler" sounded fairly generic for a restaurant name that probably disappeared from the scene years ago, but I took a look on the web and managed to discover the following:

Charcoal Broiler, Seattle, route 99
It's actually a well known Seattle landmark that served up steaks and martinis for almost 50 years as Andy's Diner (which is what it used to say on the reverse of the revolving neon sign).  About 5 years ago it changed hands and for a time was threatened with dislocation/demolition--but was fortunately saved intact--and is now a Chinese/Thai place called Orient Express (the diner consists of several old decommissioned rail cars, including one that was used by FDR during his 1944 presidential campaign).  I happened to be on old route 99 (4th Avenue South) a couple weeks ago so I stopped in on a rainy Seattle afternoon and found that probably 50 years later, that same sign was amazingly in essence indeed still there:
Maybe I sat at about the same barstool or in the same booth that my uncle did all those years ago, I'll never know for sure of course (he probably had a New York Strip and a martini, I just had a beer and the hot and sour seafood soup--which was good, but for something truly extraordinary try the Northwest Cioppino at the Harbour Public House on Bainbridge Island, just a ferry ride across the Sound).  My uncle worked for a year at Boeing (on the Bomarc Missile program) to the immediate south, so it's not surprising that he came here, probably on multiple occasions.  But I guess it wasn't the food but a search for a sense of continuity that led me there in the first place.  Somewhat ironic that it was in the Orient, on the opposite end of the Pacific Rim, that the uncle I never knew ended up giving his life for his country--on a mission over the Thanh Hóa bridge in North Vietnam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanh_Hoa_Bridge) in 1965, apparently while attempting to save the life of a South Vietnamese pilot colleague.  
He is one of only 190 members (to date) of the United States military ever to have been awarded the Air Force Cross.  A Vietnamese colleague sent him a card earlier that year with the inscription 'Cung Chuc Tan Xuan,' conveying good wishes for the Tet New Year.  A USAF colleague, the late Lt. Col. Charles McClusky of Austin, TX, wrote a letter to my mother almost 40 years later in 2004 recounting some personal memories of my uncle:  
"In all these years I've tried so many times to describe Walt, and usually start out with saying that he was just too nice a guy to be a fighter pilot [...] that involves a long war story, but lasting impression was that Walt did with an airplane what musicians do with instruments."
That was my mother's favorite line in the letter.
                                      My mother with my uncle, c. 1964
It is one of the greatest regrets of my life that I never knew my uncle.  But yet over the years I have come to know some measure of his essence and hold the utmost respect for what he achieved and represented through listening to the testimony of others, being curious about and learning what his concerns were in life, and realizing that even as some men and women pass from the scene there are parts of them, often the very best parts, that will never perish from this earth.  And maybe we have ultimately learned that it is in our foremost interest to preserve, and build bridges between cultures and generations, rather than bombing them to hell or tearing them down.
                                  Rebecca Horn, Concert for Anarchy, 1990 
                                        Rebecca Horn, Concert for Anarchy (1990), Tate Modern, London
As the unity of the modern world becomes increasingly a technological rather than a social affair, the techniques of the arts provide the most valuable means of insight into the real direction of our own collective purposes. 
                             Marshall McLuhan,
                    The Mechanical Bride (1951)  
            Joseph Beuys, Infiltration homogen für Konzertflügel (1966), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
I believe it's probably the only Burve Road in the world.  
I used to round this corner in rural Dane County, WI a few times out driving with my mother, and I would always subconsciously take note of and then audibly announce the arrival of Burve Road.  'Burve' pronounced like curve, always taking particular delight in the way the word seemed to fall on the ear--with an implacable, leaden thud.
But my mother would correct me every time (and I'm sure after the first time she knew I was just pronouncing it that way to good-naturedly annoy her): "It's BURVEEEEE Road."  Long e...like curvy, or scurvy.  She grew up here, so she knew.  She went to grade school in a one room country schoolhouse just down from the end of this road, about a half a mile away--a walk across the field from my grandparents' farm on Oak Park Road.
I remember how crushed I was when I found out in about the 6th grade that Nike (the popularity of that company's shoes at the time was such that everyone was required by law to own a pair) did not in fact rhyme with bike, but instead was pronounced with that emasculated long e (like crikey or pikey). And maybe it is a masculine/feminine thing that you subconsciously dial into, somewhere deep within those winding neural pathways.  But I got over it, like most other things that came and went during those formative years.

I have just learned there is actually another Burve Road--in Mumbai, India.  I haven't the slightest idea how they pronounce it there--but I'd like to think that maybe it rhymes with curve.  But curvy (or even curry) actually wouldn't be half bad either.  
I have always seemed to have an inordinate predilection for searching out and traversing the curvy roads...the more long and winding, the better.
                                                                        (...Hommage à Rue BURVE) 
"But far more numerous was the herd of such,
Who think too little and who talk too much."
                                     ― John Dryden,
               Absalom and Achitophel (1681)
Ran across something unexpectedly the other night, through the usual channels (the totally random ones), on YouTube--a song I hadn't heard in maybe 15 or more years.  "The Sun Always Shines on TV" by the Norwegian pop group A-Ha:  
As I remember growing up in the 80s, it seemed that this was regarded as so much synth-driven pop twaddle at the time, such that no one respectable could be caught dead consciously listening to it.  If you let slip somehow that A-Ha was your favorite band, you would likely be laughed heartily out of the room.  Just as an uncloseted allegiance to Black Flag, Grateful Dead, Talking Heads, or Violent Femmes could prove as unproblematic.  But daring to reveal a taste in pop music can be one of those aesthetic flashpoints that marks an avenue, an opportunity to be mined, to render judgement just as surely and swiftly as wading into the hot-button minefields of politics or religion.  Maybe that says more about the ultimate and often overwhelming power of music measured as a sheer art form and its capacity, unlike almost anything else on this Earth, to grab hold of and shape our individual consciousness than it does as a commodified badge of honor/vilification in the service of some personal "I-dug-them-before-they-were-cool" popularity contest. 
But in fact I owned the actual chunk of vinyl (which I believe I picked up at minimal investment through one of those RCA record club "12 albums for 1 cent" offers), and I somehow always liked this song.  The songwriting craft is impressive--something you can really sink your musical teeth into--and some vintage 80s material like this has not only survived the test of the succeeding decades but like so many things these days has tapped into the marketplace of retro, the happy hipster's rediscovered plat/ringtone du jour.  But it's not totally unexpected with a song this well done--a piece however passing at the time gradually morphs and reifies with the years into something enduring if not timeless.  To deny that the keyboard riff in their most famous song "Take On Me" (with its noodling, grinding chromatic homage to Mendelssohn's Spinning Song in some of the bridges) is one of the catchiest things ever written would pretty much be like saying the Pope ain't Catholic.
Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution,
reality ever newborn; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further and further in our pursuit of the truth.
                 ― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,
                     Hymn of the Universe 
Olympic Table Tennis.
I don't think I've ever seen anything like it.
It doesn't get the attention that swimming, gymnastics, or track and field seem to merit, rightly or wrongly--but just because the sport will probably never have a Phelps or a Bolt, and being relegated to a few minutes of late night coverage doesn't deny that at its highest level it can actually be quite engaging to watch.  The dexterity and coordination that professional level table tennis demands is not unlike the level of microathleticism that a musician puts into practice with every performance.  When a long rally commences, sometimes with both players aggressively trading smashes from 10 or more feet back of the actual table, it is really something to behold.  On television, the table looks impossibly Lilliputian for the amount of force that the players sometimes bring to bear on it. And how interesting to see that artful bit of clandestine theater which constitutes the serve (as practiced by the Chinese, who currently dominate the sport in the Olympic arena).  The men's singles gold medal match has had the same runner up for the past 3 Olympics (the amazingly talented but luckless guy pictured above, Wang Hao of China).  Zhang Jike was the gold medalist this year.  A sport originating in Victorian England, played in 2012 London, with a few choice twists of body English...best by the Chinese.
I do not like London 2012's logo.
I do not like it with a mouse.
I do not like it in a house.
I do not like it on a blouse.
I do not like it at 2500 gauss.
I do not like it on a train.
I do not like it in the rain.
I do not like it down the drain. 
I do not like it on the brain.
One of Fred Astaire's finest hours (in ~3 minutes) on film, this "Firecracker Dance" comes from the 1942 Paramount musical Holiday Inn, featuring a score by Irving Berlin.  With wartime patriotism in full swing, the writers didn't have too much trouble working in a few musical homages to gunpowder and glory.  Astaire's remarkably inventive, pyrotechnically punctuated performance has held up pretty well over almost 70 years as pure entertainment and superlative artistry.
While Astaire's raw yet graceful, wiry athleticism and hands-in-pockets nonchalance perfectly convey the spontaneity called for by the script's off the cuff 'improv' situation, Astaire apparently took many takes (over the span of 2 days, and 3 days of rehearsal) to get the sequence filmed to the high standards of his legendary perfectionism.  Astaire had an amazing rhythmic sense--watching how he fluidly reacts to the music's meter change at 2'30" is magical.
Purists and not-so-purists alike often despise colorization of vintage B/W material for good reason--but in taking a look at this particular scene I think it definitely enhances the patriotic nature of the performance, and the visuals have sharper resolution to boot. 
Astaire was on fire here, and he truly burned up the stage.  In fact he left one hell of a mess for someone to clean up.  But no one has ever quite been able to pick up where he left off. 
A&E's Longmire is an interesting new series, currently all of two episodes old, with a thoroughly old school archetypal Western hero, ostensibly set in Wyoming (even though apparently filmed in various locations in northern New Mexico).  Sheriff Walt Longmire is a connoisseur of Rainier beer. And that certainly can't be all bad.  Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski (in Gran Torino) was partial to Pabst Blue Ribbon.  But no one's going to get off of Longmire's lawn in Absaroka County, it's too big. And Longmire's too even-tempered a man to ask in the first place.  Like Gregory House MD, the lead actor Robert Taylor could easily fool you into thinking he is purebred American Westerner--when in fact he is an Aussie.
“It’s a similar kind of deal, the outback of Australia and the American West,” says Taylor in a recent interview, who thoroughly inhabits the primacy of the open-spaces-between-the-words world view of Walt Longmire.  "People’s similarities are more striking than the differences.  They are very much the same.  Open spaces affect the way people treat each other, the pace of life."  Kernels of wisdom, in all their direct and unsparing spareness.


All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.


All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.

                                   —Albert Einstein


When I was in high school, my Dad owned a service station in the Vilas County, Wisconsin town of Conover, just south of the Michigan border (he had hoped ultimately to start a business restoring vintage cars using the service bays, but it didn't quite work out the way he had planned).  He took to calling it the Forest Wonder Garage (after an old place in nearby Ashland County where he remembered staying on some deer hunting excursions with his uncle in the 1960s--Forest Wonder Lodge).  Among many memories of going up there on weekends and extended trips was one occasion where my brother and I gave an impromptu performance one evening at a place called the Albino Bar, east of Eagle River on Wisconsin Highway 70.  It was a very curious looking establishment (in a vintage black/white horror film type of way) with a taxidermical menagerie of white mounted along the walls: albino squirrels, owls, rabbits, a deer and bear head or two. Maybe the closest thing to the Great White Way that the Northwoods of Wisconsin could offer.  They had an old upright player piano up in the front of the bar and since it was a relatively slow night, my parents put my brother and me up to playing a bit. As we played stuff like some Chopin waltzes, and "Dizzy Fingers" of Zez Confrey, I remember a few of the mildly intoxicated bar patrons lobbed handfuls of quarters at us (some physically hitting us, the rest landing on the floor near the piano), and we scattered like wild animals to pick them up.  We were quite white, of course--so I couldn't help but feel somehow that we fit right in... 






I think the very first time I ever heard the name of Sviatoslav Richter was in the course of watching an old Monty Python sketch where a voiceover announcer (Eric Idle) comments as some hapless human form wrapped in a burlap potato sack and assorted other entanglements is shown rolling onto the stage and then flailing away at the opening chords of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto (over a recording of presumably Richter actually playing the concerto with orchestra):

It's very hard not to be fascinated by the late Russian pianist (who has long been one of my favorite pianists) but I never knew he played this particular piece, one of my favorite piano works of Brahms--the Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No. 1:

This live performance is from the final period of Richter's performing career, in 1988.  The sound (as in many of Richter's recordings) is not quite up to audiophile snuff, sticklers can find a few stray notes here and there, and the chordal sections in the middle are admittedly not as granitic as they probably would have been in earlier years, but such a beautiful and carefully considered interpretation overall that captures the work's inwardness and lyricism--taking us on a journey along Richterian byways through the craggy, thorny depths of Brahms' astonishing imagination. 
     Brahms in c. 1860, the year before he wrote his
       Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No. 1 
Well, it's kite flying season again.
But I never had much luck flying kites.  As a boy I went with my grandmother to the drug store to get a rudimentary and inexpensive contraption containing some colorful plastic, wooden dowels, and a few windings of string on a cardboard key. There was plenty of room to run in the unplanted fields during spring on my grandparents' farm. Sometimes my grandfather would supply me with some baler twine if the string broke.  I remember some mild success running to gain a few degrees of altitude on a few windy days, but more often than not the kite would always seem to make a beeline for the ground like a dive bomber.  And then I would be reeling it in like a fish, dragging it along the ground nose first, to try yet again.  But I can't say it wasn't fun.
According to something I saw on the History channel a few weeks ago, Ben Franklin apparently didn't fly that famous kite in a thunderstorm--despite the story we have been collectively sold through the years.  There are conflicting accounts (including claims that the experiment itself never happened) but it seems (according to the History channel's David Eisenbach) that Franklin's illegitimate son William was the one who actually flew the kite.  There are pretty strong suspicions that Franklin would have been aware of the great potential danger inherent in such an experiment, and maybe it did remain in his head on a strictly theoretical level.  About the only conclusion we can logically draw is that maybe we'll never conclusively know what really happened or didn't happen in c. 1752 Philadelphia.  But the myth and mystery has pervasively seeped into the lore of what has helped to make this country the unique place that it is--and that is neither entirely good nor bad. 
There used to be a lot of "dime" stores in small towns around America called Ben Franklin.  There are only a handful left now in their original form (having been long ago supplanted by Wal-Mart, Dollar General, et al)--but there was one in the town where I grew up, and my grandmother loved going to that store (to get dishrags and towels, Christmas items, etc).  I believe I wandered in there once and bought a kite, strangely enough...
The open society, the unrestricted access to knowledge, the unplanned and uninhibited association of men for its furtherance--these are what may make a vast, complex, ever growing, ever changing, ever more specialized and expert technological world, nevertheless a world of human community.
                      J. Robert Oppenheimer 
(...intractable brutality of the risible)
Now I've heard of a poison pen, but this goes a little too far...

When I looked up at the screen after a few seconds of doing something else, this is what presented itself.  I had to laugh of course, since it was such an utter and brutal surprise.
I receive emails from Denmark from time to time, but I don't remember giving Google Translate permission to usurp its way into the general equation.  Yes, Google Translate is pretty wonderful--but be forewarned, they are not yet able to translate from Esperanto into Haitian Creole (that's what it said a few months ago...they probably can now).  Apparently there are curious things that can occur when Google Translate is allowed to go fully amok and fitfully attempt to convert from non-existent Danish [i.e., English] into...English.
HELPS--remarkably curiously, in all caps--does help to drive the point home...of what levels of obfuscation there are to be plumbed and gained in (unnecessary) translation. 

(the unadorned version...)
The Danish word 'gift' actually can also mean to marry--you may make of that what you will.  But tax-deductible poisons do indeed help to present the finest artists that the root of all evil can buy.

It's been one of those winters...that never happened. You know something is really screwed up when Denver has 4 times as much current seasonal snowfall as White Bear Lake, MN (which can only muster 5"-10" more than places like Seattle and Albuquerque).  Being greeted by balmy air in the 30s and 40s every single winter day to a Midwesterner seems oddly like wintering in Los Angeles or Miami.  It seems that in these parts we are known for the fierce and normally uncompromising mettle of our winters--a badge of honor true natives have always worn proudly.  Maybe only in a place like Wisconsin could you find musicians so inspired to name themselves Bon Iver (bon hiver, good winter).
                                    bon iver 
Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel. A facet of that jewel. And in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal. We are intimately related. May we never pretend that we are not. 

                                          --Fred Rogers
Growing up, I'll have to admit I was always a fan
of Mr. Rogers.  He never quite managed to step out of his soft-spoken sneakers to be cool enough to escape Saturday Night Live parody (in some ways the ultimate act of homage), but thanks in part to the brilliant jazz pianist Johnny Costa, his show did have some of the coolest music around (which is one of the primary reasons I think I enjoyed the show so much).  And my respect for him increased exponentially when I found out Rogers was a composer and pianist himself--and had in fact written most of the songs played on his show.  His songs provided the show with a natural, broad sense of continuity--and he always ended his show by saying (in song) that he would have more ideas next time.  In that welcoming psychic space he continued to create anew each week, it was always "A Snappy New Day."  The ideas, and ideals, he espoused in his show and in his life will remain far out from and unassailed by the orbits of fad and fashion--truly beyond time, and space.
Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, with its modest genesis as envisioned in his mind's eye, has always been larger than we have sometimes allowed ourselves to believe--or perchance, to dream... 
I actually listened to the radio for a few minutes the other day.
Now I'll have to admit that I haven't done any serious listening in quite some time--but ever since I got my first clock radio one Christmas as a kid I listened to a lot of radio.   So naturally it took me back a few years, to my own abbreviated broadcast career.  Back when I was in college I had a radio show (called "Six Pints of Bitter")--lasting all of about 2 weeks, on WOBC, 91.5 FM, in Oberlin, Ohio. It was a weekly show in the coveted 3-6AM graveyard slot, and when I failed to get up as my alarm clock (the same trusty one I had gotten that Christmas) went off at 2:45 on the 3rd week, I was obligatorily and summarily canned.  Actually it was pretty much a standing gentlemen's agreement that if anyone didn't show up for their slot, they would lose their show.  I was able to return to the airwaves the next year, however, when I had another show during January term (7-9pm, during prime time)--a tribute program to the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.
Yeah, that guy.
People have seemed to tell me for many years that I have a good voice for radio, that I should be doing voiceovers etc.  So I went to the radio station, met with some people, and applied for an FCC license.  It arrived a few weeks later in the mail [Picasa-created mockup above necessitated by inability to locate original after all these years...] and stated "VALID FOR THE LIFETIME OF THE HOLDER UNLESS SUSPENDED BY THE FCC."  I would really like to eventually get back in the radio arena, I found it very enjoyable and fulfilling--in the way that musical performing, writing, and broadcasting all share at the basest level the same communicative instinct.  During that first brief tenure broadcasting high atop Oberlin's Wilder Hall, I didn't really know if anyone was actually out there on the other end of those nocturnal transmissions--
and was genuinely shocked when the studio phone abruptly rang around 4am, as someone made a surprise request for Octandre, by the seminal French-American composer Edgard Varèse.  It was ostensibly supposed to be a classical genre show, but one week I did manage to play Leonard Nimoy singing 'Nature Boy' [from the 1969 album The Touch of Leonard Nimoy, surely one of his most memorable productions--along with 'Highly Illogical' from the Varèse Sarabande CD release of his debut album, Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space, of course]--when I threatened listeners (if there in fact were any) that if they didn't call in any requests I would play anything that I happened to find on the floor of the studio (that may have been what provoked that request, come to think of it...)

I am so thankful that 2011 is finally one for the history books--such that anything that 2012 might offer, short of fulfillment of the ancient Mayan prophecy, would undoubtedly represent a distinct and not unwelcome improvement... 
Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.
          --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 
Metal lunchboxes would seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird, the film camera, and the iPhone 4. But the retro/nostalgia factor also seems to make them, like many similar items, highly collectible today.  I remember the first one I had when I was a kid was a 'U.S. Mail' box--I think I got a lot of compliments on it initially (I must have been in about the 3rd or 4th grade).  I literally hadn't thought of that lunchbox in years until I saw one just like it a few years ago in an antique store near Nashville, TN.  My brother had a Kung Fu lunchbox with thermos (which was infinitely cooler, of course--I did somehow always tend to veer towards the practical/didactic side of the spectrum). 
All we can seem to summon from the cultural landscape of today are "Kung Fu Panda" boxes made of plastic (apparently concerned parents ended the era of metal lunchbox in the mid-80s when they thought students would use them to attack each other in lunchroom brawls).  I think the last box I had was "The Exciting World of Metrics" (proudly ranked No. 3 on "The 10 Worst Lunch Boxes Ever--And What They Say About The Kids Who Carried Them:"  http://blogs.westword.com/cafesociety /2009/08/the_10_worst_lunch_boxes_ever.php)--which in later years was somewhat ironically used to store socket sets (mostly standard--but yes, even a few metrics...) in my Dad's garage. 
                       exciting world of metrics
My Dad really did always hate metric tools...
1 JAZZ for 8 dollars, Canadian.  
Can music really be that brutally quantified? Concretized and served up like so much bouillabaisse (or a burger and a couple pints)?  
It was a cover charge, naturally--a couple weeks ago I heard a friend of mine that I amazingly hadn't seen for about 14 years play at a jazz club in Montreal.  
I'll gladly put in the requisite plug for him:

Of course you can't put a price on real art.  My mother used to sometimes tell me that she thought I played the slow pieces better than the fast ones--and over time I have come to appreciate the significance of that opinion.  My friend's technical stockholdings (chops, as we say in the business) are perhaps somewhere on the Art Tatum level.  He has earned plaudits from the diverse likes of Dave Brubeck and Barry Manilow.  Yet he has always had his feet firmly planted and remains one of the most genuinely decent guys I have ever known.  
He played his own far-out arrangement of Days of Wine and Roses that sounded like The Who's Baba O'Riley (if you can believe that).  But his slow ballads (like his own deceptively simple tune A Waltz in Moscow) communicate something piercingly--something barely tangible, but certainly unquantifiable--that causes couples in the audience to hold hands.  And that, in the end, is really all you can ask for from an artist.
Well, I always knew I'd make it to Carnegie Hall someday.
To the stage, that is--almost 20 years to the day after I made it there as a spectator, lodged somewhere up in the comfortable anonymity of the nosebleed section in the 2nd tier balcony.  It was a couple weeks ago: (http://www.futurestarsconcert.com 

And it wasn't even--as the old adage would seem to promise--by practice (not that much, anyway)...
It was a gig landed on Facebook, of all places.  Now it's a long and impossibly convoluted story of how I entered upon the soul sucking orbit of the Facebook universe, but let's just say it involved a singer--and so it was somehow appropriately in the context of Chinese singers that I chanced upon the opportunity to appear on Carnegie's legendary stage (the "Future Stars" concert of the Chinese International Vocal Competition sponsored by New Tang Dynasty Television, a Chinese language network based in New York).

They left me well stocked with about $780 in comp tickets, a handsome severance package, and the barest smattering of something loosely resembling street cred.

So after renting a tux about 3 times previously, I finally gave in and bought one.

Perhaps it would only be too easy to lapse deeply enough into the epicdom of full scale delusions-of-grandeur mode to be tempted to paraphrase Joe Biden--and pronounce the whole thing a pretty big freakin' deal.  (But I was really only playing 
third banana in the Nairobi Trio--story of my life...)


The 1891 Music Hall built by Andrew Carnegie (and renamed in his honor a few years later) in New York City is probably the most famous performance hall in the US, if not the world.  Perhaps it has its rivals as far as acoustics and sheer beauty--Symphony Hall in Boston, Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Music Hall in Cincinnati, etc.--but the uniqueness and history of the space can hardly be denied.

My only previous stage appearance at Carnegie Hall was as a lowly page turner for a New York Recital Associates presentation in the small Weill Recital Hall next door in about 1995.  Any starry-eyed idealist can dream about someday playing on the big stage, but I never really have--I just didn't expect it to happen, in any context.

I remember the first concert I attended there when I came to New York in October 1991--Russian pianist Alexander Toradze with the Warsaw Philharmonic playing the Prokofiev Second Concerto.  It wasn't yet called Stern Auditorium (in honor of the late violinist Isaac Stern, who basically saved the hall from destruction with a group of concerned citizens in the early 1960s)--it was just known as the main hall...the "big hall."

When you think about the great artists who have graced that stage--from Horowitz, Hofmann, Paderewski, and Rachmaninoff, Heifetz and Caruso, Tchaikovsky and Mahler, Casals and Stern, Duke Ellington, Gershwin, Dave Brubeck, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Sinatra, Judy Garland, Groucho Marx, Einstein, Churchill...the list is of course pretty much endless. 

Anyone with about $15K burning a hole in their pocket can rent out the hall for an evening, of course.  But even that really can't cheapen the experience of actually performing on that fabled stage--when you finish your performance, see a sea of perhaps a thousand faces, bow and hear actual applause emanating from the boxes instead of boos and catcalls, it dawns on you that maybe this really is a special experience. 

(...and then, alas, your 15 minutes are up.)
It is not difficult to compose, but it is wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table.
                                                                                        --Johannes Brahms
One of the oldest maladies with cure still unknown to medical science (writer's block) always seems to strike at the least opportune times...
It's funny...how a blank slate, an empty page, a new beginning--will make us pointedly aware of how little we ultimately know about the world.  We ponder all, yet know nothing.  In the absence of information, we will also sometimes assume the best or the worst about people--and give them credit where no credit is due, or make them into monsters when they may in fact be mice.  Of mice...and men.
I don't think we could ever hope to competently judge people before we fully know them. (Of books...and covers.)  And yet this is what many people do--simply because it presents itself as the most convenient option, the path of least resistance, the least investment of personal effort.  But it is also how the present day soundbite culture--relentlessly driven by all its attendant technology--has inevitably evolved.  Because frankly we haven't the time.  To get to know actual people.  We seemingly only have the considered moment to render a tendentious shake of the head, a dismissive roll of the eyes, before we get on to the far more important business of...the next soundbite.  We much prefer our faith instilled in the promise of the great ersatz society--the electronic frontier we have hitched our collective wagons to.  Sometimes the consequences of tracing this path can manifest themselves as a seemingly unbridgeable gulf of misunderstanding and mistrust.  Yet when people sit down at a table and actually talk face to face, miracles--of human interaction--can, and do, occur.  Whatever the form one's personal faith may take, ultimate faith in humanity might be considered as ecumenical as it is inexhaustible.
(It doesn't always have to be a last supper.) 
In every bit of honest writing in the world...there is a base theme.  Try to understand men--if you understand each other you will be kind to each other.  Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.  There are shorter means, many of them.  There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.  
--John Steinbeck, 1938 journal entry
I've always liked these vintage Colt 45 Malt Liquor commercials, perhaps the epitome of late 1960s cool. The images are iconic and dreamlike:  surfboarding waiter emerging from the water, skydiving waiter (apparently with aid of super glue), being served right after an unexpected bull attack, and pull tab opened by Robin Hood.  The unflappable guy in the suit is the late Billy Van (1934-2003), a Canadian actor and comedian.  Redd Foxx ("Sanford and Son") appears going off a ski jump with his car in a later ad, still with Billy Van, probably from the mid-70s.


I recently went by a cafe a couple blocks away from here which had a curious hand lettered sign out front that said: "FREE SOUP, HOMEMADE WI-FI." So I of course came for the free soup (which was quite good, actually) but didn't stay for the...well, who really needs that jury-rigged wi-fi these days?  It was a simple error of transposition, of course.  In actuality I had to pay for the soup (which was still pretty good)--but I was naturally pissed that I didn't get it for free.  But what are you 
going to do...sue for false advertising? 
Life in the internet age has made so many things simpler and more accessible--while this undoubtedly could be said to have its good and bad points, never has it been easier to check what other peoples opinions might be of, say, a restaurant that you are thinking of going to.  If there are enough reviews to provide a critical mass of data (after you try and filter out the cheap shots, rants, nitpicking food critics, and the totally clueless), a general tenor might hopefully emerge that could sway you one way or the other as far as giving a place that you've never been to a chance. (If a review contains the words "violently ill"--or some variation thereof--it's a pretty safe bet not to try and be a gambling man.) 

Recent review of a bar in St. Louis Park, MN:


By DJNFebruary 16, 2011

Overall rating:

The chili is the best I've ever had. They sell it by the cup or bowel. 
I am a chili lover. I will be back.

Now I'm all for restaurants where you get your money's worth, that serve large portions and try to fill you up--but if they try and sell you chili by the "bowel," something tells me that perhaps you might want to reconsider your dining options...
Horace Greeley had it right when he said long ago:  
Go West, young man.  
Go West and grow up with the country.

This country has of course grown up (although still a young nation in the vast scheme of things), but the West has somehow always managed to hold onto its perennially youthful character and independent minded outlook.  It is in driving through the American West where you can hear yourself think--crossing those vast distances which sometimes divide us, considering those great ideas which sometimes unite us. 
I once asked my Dad what his favorite bar in the entire world was.  He thought a while, but couldn't seem to narrow it down to less than two places: Tomack's Bar on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, and a bar in Medicine Bow, WY that he remembered stopping at once on a trip out West.  There are actually 2 bars in Medicine Bow--pretty amazing when you consider the size of the town--which doesn't consist of much more than the 2 bars (one in a hotel), a post office, an old train depot (converted into a museum), a few storefronts and 274 souls.  But I believe my Dad must have been thinking about the Shiloh Saloon in the Virginian Hotel--which threw a huge party just this past summer to celebrate its centenary, having been finished and first opened for business in 1911.   

The Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow, Wyoming is a special place.  For sure it appears somewhat rough-and-tumble around the edges, as permanently sepia-toned as an old photograph--but maybe this helps to lend it an authenticity that other places don't have. In the days of the old Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30), Medicine Bow was on the main road, but when I-80 was built to the south it became off the proverbial beaten path.  My mother always seemed to dislike these 'historic' hotels, much as I still find them fascinating.  History is something we should never lose sight of...and if we are doomed to repeat this type of history, so be it.  I had stayed at the Virginian several years ago with a friend and took quite a few pictures, but then proceeded to somehow lose my SD card before I actually had the pictures downloaded.  So I had occasion to be passing through the area a few weeks ago, dropped in for a Fat Tire at the saloon, and stayed the night...
Here's a piece that I haven't listened to in a few years, but ran across a very excellent performance of on YouTube--by the Hungarian pianists Dezsö Ránki (soloist) and Zoltán Kocsis (conducting):

Béla Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 2--bristling with imitative polyphony and intellectual challenge, fistfuls of octaves and double notes, an enthralling tour de force--modern and thoroughly of its century, but truly accessible.  This is music of big ideas--virile with brass and percussion in the outer movements and haunting in the second.  In the bracing opening of the concerto's first movement the pianist throws down the gauntlet, and catches your attention right off the bat.  I remember this was one of the pieces I used to play in my apartment in New York (a recording by Maurizio Pollini and the Chicago Symphony) occasionally during a Saturday or Sunday morning at full volume--absolutely as loud as the speakers would go.  It's just one of those pieces that lends itself to that kind of treatment--to fill up a room with 14 foot ceilings. (Occasionally I would get a noise complaint, but surprisingly seldom...)

Bartók was by all accounts a wonderful man who met a very sad and unfortunate end--he died in New York in difficult financial straits, of leukemia.
It was reported that only 10 people attended his funeral--one of the giants of 20th century music, but shockingly underappreciated at that time in America (where he had reluctantly come to escape the Nazis).  You can see another clip on YouTube (a rare piece of silent color footage filmed in Bartók's apartment around 1942) which shows him disarmingly as a man--playing his piano, and smiling warmly.  He does not always seem to be smiling in either his photos or his music--but if one keeps this image in mind it does affect how we ultimately view the circumstances of his life, and his music.  Through his art, Bartók will live on forever, glowingly.
All the years I lived in New York, I never once entered the World Trade Center.  I walked past and around it more than a few times, but somehow never went into the actual buildings--never up to the 'Windows on the World' restaurant at the top, or the observation deck, never even into the lobby. And I will always regret that.  
I left New York in 1997, four years before 9/11/01.  I have been in the Empire State Building plenty of times, and actually used to work just a few blocks from there.  But I never managed to actually have occasion to visit the interior of the WTC.  In the musical world (and to pianists in particular), "WTC" most often seems to correlate to the Well-Tempered Clavier of J.S. Bach (in books 1 and 2)--a towering achievement in keyboard music--built not of concrete and steel, but of the winding contrapuntal sinew of a great musical architect.  While driving to New York that fall, I stopped at my alma mater, Oberlin College.  It was while I was in a building that I had spent many hours in as an undergrad (the Conservatory of Music, designed by American architect Minoru Yamasaki--whose most famous work remains the World Trade Center complex), looking out the narrow windows from the 3rd floor at the dark streets below, that I got the eerie sense of being in the World Trade Center...for the first time.   I will never forget coming back to lower Manhattan in October 2001 and seeing the smoke, unbelievably, still rising from the ruins of the World Trade Center.
A sobering reminder of a terrible day.
In the church where I work, I have slowly come to the inevitable conclusion that what we really need is more money in the coffers not for church musicians' salaries--but rather, for toad abatement...
Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.

--Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa) 
I just returned from a long trip traversing close to 5000 miles of driving and one of my first thoughts was to call my mother and let her know I had gotten back home OK.  My mother always worried about me, perpetually.  And I felt bad about it, since I certainly didn't want to cause her worry and concern--but it seemed built into her nature.
It's perfectly normal for mothers to worry about their children, of course--some more than others. It's when the worry turns into irrationality and seems to supplant common sense that tends to make you yourself (the worriee) worry.  But at no time did I believe my mother was going crazy.  My mother was the most remarkable woman I have ever known.  Her legacy is one of kindness to and concern for others--and one which I will never forget.
vBulletin tracker
My mother in an antique family chair, c. 1973. 
 (...is that a piano in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?) 
The first time I saw Leonard "Chico" Marx play was in the Marx Brothers' first film, The Cocoanuts, from 1929--I remember watching it on TV when I was about 10 or 11.  He was a born entertainer, like his brothers.  He used to chase the chicks--hence his nickname.  Pure keyboard chicanery coupled with an awesome talent--nobody (not even Prokofiev) ever used the index finger to such devastating impact.  He got his start playing in beer halls and nickelodeons on Long Island, and eventually in vaudeville.  Incredibly, Chico was once the replacement for a young chap by the name of George Gershwin--who had been fired as a pianist in an Upper East Side nickelodeon because the patrons complained that his playing was too loud for their ears.  Chico is introduced by his brother (Groucho) here as "Señor  Pastrami, the Lithuanian pianist." 

The score of The Cocoanuts (which was a Broadway musical hit for the Marxes before it was made into a film) is by the great Irving Berlin, and I even liked the opening credits of the film--which featured a catchy syncopated tune "caught" on a repeated note sequence tracing a static 7th chord, with a flapper era dance sequence--an up-in-the-air quality, it's like the whole film is suspended in time somehow. And it definitely is a period piece, in all its Art Deco glory.  I believe the tune actually has lyrics and is called "Monkey-Doodle-Doo" later in the film.
(All you really need to watch is the first minute, since after the opening credits, it becomes a bit stilted and plodding--until Groucho livens it up when he first enters the picture at 3:09.)
It's an early sound film and has a lot of material which looks somewhat dated and hokey now--rumor has it the Marxes wanted to buy up all prints of the film and burn them after they saw it.
I think perhaps Chico always remained the nice (but mischievous) Jewish boy from New York--you can see it every time he breaks into that roguish smile.
Another great Chico Marx performance (from Animal Crackers, 1930):
Ever wonder how Elton John's 1972 album  
(which includes his first US #1 hit, Crocodile Rock) got its name?  Well I'm glad you asked--because you might be surprised...Groucho (a few years before he passed on in 1977) and Sir Elton had become friends in California, and at one point when they were hanging out at a party in Los Angeles, Groucho playfully stuck his hands up in mock six shooters (like Chico) towards Elton--provoking Elton to say "Don't shoot me, I'm only the piano player." And according to writer Philip Norman, that's how the album got its name.
Don't shoot the piano player...shoot the keys.
What is the quintessential American song?  
It would be mighty difficult to achieve any kind of consensus on such a question, but aside from the obvious ones that might normally leap to mind (Irving Berlin's God Bless America, Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land, Springsteen's Born in the USA, Bernstein's America, O Little Town of Hackensack by P.D.Q. Bach etc.), I would think high on the list might be Johnny Cash's Country Trash, originally written in 1972, but revisited again on his 2000 album Solitary Man.
The song hearkens back to the agrarian origins of American society, and Cash's own early years growing up in Depression-era rural Arkansas.  
Cash's careworn but still calmly measured voice (ravaged in part by diabetic related illness toward the end of his life) is so moving in Country Trash, it really suits the song ideally.  Cash has the Jeffersonian answer for warfare of class:
"We'll all be equal under the grass."  Rarely has such a lifetime's worth of truth been distilled and expressed through the notes of one song, sung by one individual. 
I got a crib full of corn and a turnin' plow,
But the ground's too wet for the hopper now.
Got a cultivator and a doubletree,
A leather line for the haw and gee.
Let the thunder roll and the lightnin' flash,
I'm doin' all right for country trash.

I'm saving up dimes for a rainy day,
I got about a dollar laid away.
The wind's from the south and the fishing's good,
Got a potbelly stove and a cord of wood.
Mama turns the left-overs into hash,
I'm doin' all right for country trash.

I got a mackinaw and a huntin' dog.
A cap that I ordered from the catalog.
A big tall tree that shades the yard,
A big fat sow for the winter's lard.
Let the thunder roll and the lightnin' flash,
I'm doin' all right for country trash.

Well there's not much new ground left to plow,
And crops need fertilizin' now.
My hands don't earn me too much gold,
For security when I grow old.
But we'll all be equal under the grass,
And God's got a heaven for country trash.
God's got a heaven for country trash.
I'll be doin' all right for country trash. 
If you ever get to Paris, stay at the Grand Hotel du Progres on rue Gay Lussac in the 5th arrondisement. It's in a slightly run down section of the Latin Quarter but very reasonable and safe (it's not really "Grand" in any way, but it will do just fine).  I took a chance and made a reservation there because I found the address and telephone number of the hotel written on a slip of paper in a phone booth on a street when I was walking near the Danube in Budapest. I said to myself--what the heck?
It must be fate.
But it worked out OK and the location was convenient for where I needed to be (giving a concert near the Cité Universitaire). The owner (if he's still the same chap that was there several years ago) will serve you good croissants and coffee in the morning.  I took exception to the mouse (which darted back and forth several times in and out of the floorboards while I was dining on what for Paris was distinctly middlebrow cuisine) in the restaurant across the street, however.

Today marks 20 years since Danish-American pianist and composer Gunnar Johansen passed on in his 85th year in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin in 1991.
I got to know Johansen towards the end of his life and thought I knew him as a person, but it was only after his passing that I realized the full incredible scope of the man--that I had only just scratched the surface of what he was about.  Just as someone who never spent time with Gunnar can either fully know his true measure--his humanity, his grace, his modesty and concern for his fellow man.  Gunnar's view was that we go through life never stopping learning--we learn about others, we learn about ourselves.  Perhaps you cannot truly know someone unless you take the time to know them from both ends--spending personal time with them, and time reflecting on their life.  If they are willing to talk to you, as Gunnar was always unfailingly kind to do so to me, I would always consider it a great and precious gift.
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

The English theologian John Wesley's credo could have found no truer exemplar than in Gunnar Johansen's radiant and generous life. 
Ils donnent ces bleues "Sortie" cartes à l'entracte au Théâtre des Champs-Élysées à Paris (le fameux théâtre où la 1913 première du Sacre du Printemps de Stravinsky a provoqué une émeute)--donc si vous partez, vous pouvez obtenir en arrière et prouver que vous avez payé votre admission pour le premier semestre. Plutôt cool, non?  Au moins, je pensais que c'était à l'époque.  Je croient que l'événement, j'ai assisté il y avait un gratuit (mon être un radin invétéré, bien sûr)--donc peut-être la carte n'ai pas vraiment répondre à son but à tous... 

I wrote some pretty bad poetry back when I was in high school--if you know Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxyit is on the level of Vogon poetry...only slightly worse.  Perhaps truly fit to be displayed at the bottom of that locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory, with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard."  The following one I actually managed to get published (I've forgotten where...it was that memorable)--it may have been in a college literary newsletter when I was an undergrad. 


                       I enter into it, self-imposed--
               I emerge from the fray, more reposed.

                        Decimated by life's rigors--
                   I come here to restore my vigors.

           In copious frenzy I mount creation's mast
      To synthesize the future by exhuming the past.
                      Here, in this, the humblest of abodes,
       I conquer the inexorability of life's crossroads.
Minnesota Twins great Harmon Killebrew lost a battle with cancer in Arizona earlier this week. Killebrew's Hall of Fame career was before my time watching baseball but I remember my brother had his several of his Topps baseball cards from different years.  Killebrew was a class act and will be sorely missed not only in Minnesota where he was very popular but all throughout major league baseball. Perhaps it was no accident that he bore a certain resemblance to the late Pope John Paul II.  We indulge ourselves in beatification and hagiography but sometimes overlook what it means to be genuinely human, above all else.  Belying his nickname, "The Killer" would have never harmed any living soul, except maybe a baseball.

All the tributes to Killebrew have seemed to center on the kind of man he was--over and beyond his obvious incredible level of talent and determination as a player.  A gracious, humble, abidingly decent man.  It says a lot about our society that these values still stir in peoples hearts these kind of tributes--a wonderful and moving thing to be able to observe. 

A few interesting tidbits from a 2006 interview by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, when Killebrew was 70:

I like most every music. I'm not big on rap.

I sing to myself. I like to sing. It's one thing I wish I could do: be a piano player and a singer. If Simon Cowell heard me sing, he'd say, "That's enough. See you later."

I'd want my friends to say that I was helpful. A lot of people helped me along the way, and I was very thankful of that. My mother told me when I was a young kid that the No. 1 reason we're here on Earth is to help people. She's right. What else is there?

I want my epitaph to say, "Here lies Harmon Killebrew, who was a good friend and tried to help others."

A couple weeks back I was at one of those interior border checkpoints that they have down in the Southwest north of the actual crossings--this one was near Tombstone, AZ.  An agent that was a dead ringer both in voice and appearance for Tommy Lee Jones (in No Country for Old Men) asked the guy ahead of me (with Saskatchewan plates, I think) a few questions but then waved me through with a smile, saying: "Go right on through, young man."  I'm not sure why exactly, but that really made my day.


I took a memorable trip to France when I was in high school for 2 weeks--attracted of course in part by the lack of a drinking age, my friends and I had a real blast (and it was highly educational as well...). It was the first time I had ever been abroad, and the trip cost some money (as I recall it was in excess of $1000)--but I had a savings account since I was a little kid that I had been adding to gradually throughout the years with birthday money etc. and I decided to blow it all on this trip--as I put it, the savings of a lifetime wiped out in the twinkling of an eye.  We went to chateaus in the Loire Valley (and also toured the Cointreau factory in Angers where we were all given little bottles of the liqueur), Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery in Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel, Brittany, and then back to Paris, where we all had initially stayed for a week with a French family working on our language skills.  I remember being incredibly jet lagged as my family picked me up in this old Citroën with a sputtering engine.  They were very nice people and lived south of Paris in the suburbs.  The mother was an artist and I still have several paintings she did for me.  She called this one "Printemps." 

When we got to their house, I recall the daughter asking me, "Are you tired?"--that was the last thing I remember before being out like a light for most of the rest of the day.  A few days later I was about to cross a street in Paris and my French brother Julien probably saved my life--I didn't see a car which had come out of nowhere, and he managed to hold me back just in the nick of time.  I will always remember that, of course.  He had another brother too--they were both heavy into New Wave music (which they called by the English name)--"Pas Nouvelle Vague?" I asked, and they both just laughed.
I remember towards the end of the trip we were at this disco somewhere in Brittany and I was drinking the first rum and coke of my life and sort of standing on the sidelines--when this girl came up to me and suddenly blurted out:  "But Solon...this is your last chance...to dance--in France!!"  (A Last Tango à Bretagne?   So I did--buoyed mostly by the drink
...and it wasn't pretty.)
cool hit