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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Recently my wife ran into a man she'd met several times. In a conversation soon after, she berated herself because his name escaped her. Instead of his real name - Peter - she found Joseph was lodged in her head. Sound familiar? Many people lament their inability to recall names and conflating one common name for another seems pretty widespread to me. Following some reflecting, I have a theory on this conflating thing.   

Caveat first: My theory is not aimed at giving any reader an excuse for making a sincere effort to recall names. But while trying to re-assure my wife about her Peter vs. Joseph dilemma, offering first the old standby that perhaps this Peter looked like a Joseph she once knew, followed quickly by the logical but boring explanation that both are classic men's names from the Bible, I realized neither of those could reasonably explain my own trifecta of perpetually conflated women's names: Janet vs. Karen, Kathy vs. Nancy, Laura vs. Sarah. 

If any reader shares my pain, i.e., has already mistaken a Janet for a Karen, or a Kathy for a Nancy, or a Laura for a Sarah - as I have many times - my apologies for re-hashing your past embarrassment. But please note: Each name in these devilish pairs has five letters, two syllables, and at least two shared letters. Come on, you have to admit there is ample room for confusion. OK sweetheart - scrutinize Peter vs. Joseph one last time. Two out of three ain't bad.  

The next time any of you conflate, take note of what your two names share and report back to me. Unless what you note does not support my theory. In that case, keep it to yourself and develop your own theory.


Saturday, October 1, 2022

One Hundred Years

"One hundred years from now - all new people."

A trusted friend claims author Annie Dillard is the source of the observation above. Though I've been unable to verify that claim, ever since the words were unleashed on me, they have lingered. What was the last instance you recall when something so self-evident landed as hard with you as those words have with me? 

Although I've resisted ever actually tallying how many books that I've read were published during my lifetime, I'm also reasonably sure any guesstimate I make wouldn't be real far off. How about you? Are you more inclined - as I clearly am - to read mostly contemporary literature, or at minimum, mostly books that have been published during your lifetime? If you consider reading a passion - as I do - and yet you read mostly contemporary literature - as I do - what is your educated guess about people who read fewer books than us? Isn't it highly probable those folks also favor contemporary literature vs. the "classics"? I suspect it is.

Which brings me back to a likely reason why Dillard's words have lingered. It's no accident that the word temporary makes up 80% of the word contemporary, a percentage that closely mirrors my now-vs.-then diet in books, tally or not. And one hundred years from now - all new people. This sobering reflection on how ephemeral popular literature can be is likely not consoling news for contemporary authors with an eye on posterity. Apologies, folks. But before licking your wounds, try walking in this unknown blogger's moccasins for just a minute. Ouch.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Exactly When Does a Classic Enter the Canon?


Thursday, September 29, 2022

A State of Grace

Although there's no way to know for sure - unless I were rude enough to intrude on a stranger's privacy by asking - when I notice someone around my age acting in a service role in either a fast-food restaurant or a convenience store, on occasion I wonder if the person works there out of some kind of necessity. Though I am familiar with how assumptions are often reductive (you know that bit, right? i.e., assumptions make an "ass out of u and me", etc.), that cliche is beside the point here. First off, I'm not assuming I'm right about any stranger. I've noticed something and now I'm wondering about it. Second, soon after, my wondering morphs to curiosity about what - if anything - has ever crossed your mind, given a similar circumstance?  

In my case, the wondering has recently led quickly to gratitude. Because if that person behind the counter is working just to feel useful and/or engaged - something I'll never know - I'm still grateful for my life because working to get paid is no longer a necessity of any kind for me. I'm not rich, nor will I ever be. But I am able to live comfortably in the State I grew up in and still love, close to most of my immediate family. I have adequate food, clothing, and good health. My health insurance is excellent. I have a terrific network of friends, hobbies/passions that fully engage me, and I feel useful without going to work every day. And yet, my background and skills are still such that I can make a few extra dollars either teaching, playing guitar, or doing social justice work. But only if I choose to do so.

In about two months, I'll be seventy-three. This has been my life since 2010. Like all of you, my life has had its share of bumps, including a few big ones over the last twelve + years. I guess those bumps have shaped me, for better or worse. Although I don't wish the necessity of work on anyone my age, I do hope I keep noticing people in those roles. Perhaps doing so will assist me in maintaining today's state of grace about all my life has given me. If that happens, I suspect my next bump could be easier to endure.  

Monday, September 26, 2022

ISS Hit Parade

After almost two years steadily listening to Sirius, I've become an unapologetic evangelist for satellite radio. My favorite stations for popular music are Little Steven's Underground Garage and Deep Tracks. If you listen to satellite radio, what are some of your favorites, popular music or otherwise?

Despite my evangelism, I've recently started to succumb to what I now term ISS - instant station switching. This syndrome is triggered primarily by three bands. I've tried, honest, to give each of these bands their musical due over the past two years. Now, before losing patience with my musical rant, consider which bands can induce ISS in you. Come on, be honest. I'll start this crabby riff with the band that triggers me most quickly and then work my way "up" to the bottom. 

* The Ramones: For two years I've searched for any of the following in any Ramones song: 1.) An infectious or mildly captivating rhythmic flourish, an interesting chord change, a memorable melody. So far = no, not one, less than zero; 2.) A wise, clever, even a worthwhile lyric? No luck. Truth be told, I'd settle for a useful rhyme or two. OK boys, if you can't give me any of that how about ... 3.) a charismatic lead vocalist, a decent harmony, a solo that indicates you practiced your instrument? I defy any reader to point me to a Ramones song containing any of those let alone any elements from #1 or #2. What exactly is supposed to dissuade me from ISS? The late 70s punk-rock energy, you say? Give me the Police, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson from that era. Each of them delivers that jolt as well as enough elements from #1, 2, and 3 to make it worth my time as a listener.   

* Rush:  Three exceptional musicians who write rhythmically complex and musically challenging tunes, despite the groan-inducing, Yes-inspired, Yoda meets the Spaceman in Hobbit-land lyrics. But their musical and rhythmic virtuosity simply does not provide enough ballast for their only singer whose voice prompts involuntary teeth-grinding in me. If I happen to stumble onto a Rush tune during a startling instrumental passage - maybe after Ramones-driven ISS - I continue listening; these guys are astonishing players. But as soon as the vocal resumes, ISS. BTW, this is the only band of these three who are NOT darlings of the musical press, meaning this is one instance when I agree with the critics. 

* The Grateful Dead:  Over the almost sixty years I've been performing, I've known only one worthy musician who is a fan of these 60s stalwarts - my beloved brother, an innately talented guitarist and singer. As a consequence, I must admit there must be something to their music, all those stoned non-musician Deadheads aside. But after two years of giving them many opportunities to persuade me otherwise, I submit their best songs - they've written several - would be better served if someone less chemically impaired were playing them, especially on any one of their many interminable live records. And the less said about the out-of-tune ISS-guaranteed attempts the Grateful Dead make at harmonizing the better. Not one of the three lead vocalists in this beloved band is great but at least when they don't try to harmonize, ISS can sometimes be temporarily avoided. 

Your turn. I simply don't buy it if you tell me there is not at least one recording artist who drives you to ISS. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

TBC: Celebrating the Third Act

OK, I begrudgingly acknowledge my life's accomplishments are not worthy of Kennedy Center Honors. And my meager baseball skills mean no one will ever cheer for me at Old Timer's Day. Chances are if you're reading this blog, you too don't see yourself being celebrated at Lincoln Center or any baseball stadium.

But if you are a grandparent, you get a day each year - I've even seen situations where celebrations for those folks last a week - to be feted. Does this mean that the rest of us on the bell curve in our third act - however we define that - i.e., those who are not grandparents, are destined to be uncelebrated as we move inexorably toward codger-hood? Isn't it enough we have hips and knees with a limited warranty, libidos with a lower flame, and new liver spots appearing in unexpected and always visible places? Call me a whiner, but this seems cosmically unfair. To hell with that "with age comes wisdom" crap. I've reconciled myself to going unrecognized by the President and baseball fans but this is a bridge too far.

Regular readers who are not grandparents, take note: When I publish my annual August 1 holiday post in 2023, I plan to remedy this injustice and will be enlisting your help. We, the uncelebrated, need a new national holiday and I'll be asking all of you to ensure my 2023 harebrained proposal gets some traction. If I forget before August 1 - oh yeah, there's another thing to add to the hips/knees, libidos, and liver spots older age trifecta, the memory slippage - please remind me. Not you, grandparents; I can hear you gloating from here. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Allure of Completism

Although my reaction to his work has changed some since I first encountered him as a young adult, my admiration for J.D. Salinger's talent as an author remains undiminished. Recently, after finishing his final full-length book - Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction - it dawned on me that Salinger had entered an exclusive club other book nerds may relate to because I've now completed reading the famous recluse's entire catalog. This places Salinger alongside Truman Capote, the only other author of note who holds that dubious distinction. Given neither was terribly prolific, this is not a particularly noteworthy achievement, unless being a completist holds any allure for you. I suspect regular readers will not be surprised to learn it does hold some allure for me. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Completism Run Amok

To fully appreciate Salinger's gifts, Raise High ... is best read alongside two of his other books - Nine Stories & Franny and Zooey. Four of the short stories in the former feature the fictional Glass family to varying degrees, and the two eponymous characters in the latter book are the two youngest members of that same family. Buddy Glass narrates both novellas included in Raise High ... and each involves Seymour, the eldest of the seven Glass children. The way Salinger weaves in the Glass family's exploits throughout the three books - toggling back and forth from the parent's years as vaudeville performers right up through the mid 1950s - is a literary marvel. And I can say with 100% certainty that the final paragraph of the first story in Nine Stories - A Perfect Day for Bananafish - will linger with you long after you've finished it. 

J.D. Salinger is arguably best known for his first book - and his only novel - Catcher in the Rye. But every story contained in his three other books mentioned above is worth any discerning reader's time. 

(BTW, before you make fun of me for being a completist with authors, be sure to check yourself out. Do you have to own every recording made by a specific musician or a performance of every piece written by a specific composer? Same thing. Seen every movie starring a specific actor or directed by so-and-so? Uh-huh, that's being a completist. Stamps, coins, Hummel figurines, commemorative anything? See what I mean about the allure of completism?)

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Coen Brothers Completism (Insecurities Included)


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Sustenance Through Encouragement

Of the pursuits that have energized me over the last decade, my guitar playing and this blog are at the top of the list. Even though both have provided plenty of frustrating moments, it's difficult for me to describe how each has enriched my post full-time work life. That enrichment is enhanced every day by the woman I married thirty-nine years ago yesterday. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: On This Day In 1983

A few weeks before our anniversary, I was reflecting on my evolution as a guitarist. Without my wife's unwavering support and encouragement, I'm not sure how I would have navigated the musical low points I've encountered since we met in 1978. She has never failed me in this regard. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Reminiscing Re Routines, Rituals & Riffs  

For a long time after the maiden voyage of this blog, my wife and daughter were the only people who pushed me to persist. Eleven and a half years later, it's hard for me to imagine what my days would feel like without this creative outlet that energizes me. It's even harder for me to imagine a life without a best friend whose encouragement sustains me daily.