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Thursday, April 30, 2020

#57: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Which four songs written as tributes to others would you enshrine on your Mt. Rushmore? Mine are listed chronologically; put your four in whatever order you like.

1.) Goodbye Porkpie Hat: The first recording I ever heard of Charles Mingus's moving blues tribute to the great alto saxophonist Lester Young was a solo guitar rendition by John McLaughlin. Not long after, Jeff Beck blew me away with his version. Then Joni Mitchell collaborated with Mingus just before he died - adding her lyrics to his tune - prompting me to seek out the Mingus prototype. Don't ask which version is my favorite; listen to all four to understand how a well written song - in hands these talented - simply can't miss.

2.) Shine On, You Crazy Diamond: With that stunning title, Roger Waters, Rick Wright, and David Gilmour aptly immortalized the short, sad musical career of Pink Floyd's first guitarist, Syd Barrett.

3.) Here Today: Although I could do without the strings, Paul McCartney's homage to John Lennon - when stripped to its essence - is a moving, necessary, and painful reminder of what the world lost in December, 1980. RIP, John; I miss you.

4.) Angel: Sarah McLachlan's vocal on this song - an epitaph for Jonathan Melvoin, keyboardist in the band Smashing Pumpkins - moves me to tears every time I hear it.

A new friend inspired this iteration of my Mt. Rushmore series. In her words, she was my "muse de jour." Without the consistent energy I derive from readers like her and many of you, some reflections from the bell curve would never coalesce. So, thanks to all my muses out there. And, be sure to tell me which tributes would make your Mt. Rushmore; you know how much I love finding good music.               

Monday, April 27, 2020

Surprise Me, Please

Of the dilemmas that bedevil me, the tension between the reliability of predictive behaviors in people and the perils of stereotyping is one that creates the most consistent cognitive dissonance. In other words, how do I best avoid stereotyping - and its uglier cousin, demonizing - when people frequently are so damn predictable? Although I'm confident not many people will admit they struggle with this as I do, I'm even more confident I'm not alone here on the bell curve.   

As for that vapid piece of conventional wisdom - "the exception proves the rule" - I don't know where to begin. What the hell does that even mean? Predictive behavior, ipso facto, is not an absolute; there are always exceptions. That's not the source of my cognitive dissonance. Let's use me as an example to help minimize defensiveness. Ready?

I'm a vegetarian. OK, respond to the following using that one piece of information: 
* Characterize my second amendment views. Be as inflammatory as you like, promise I won't object.
* If I have a religious affiliation, what is it?
* Predict one brand of car I'm likely to pick and one I'm unlikely to pick.

Since mass marketers have always made money using predictive behaviors - and now search engines are engineered to reinforce those same predictive tendencies - I know this genie is never going back where it belongs. But as someone who fights stereotyping, this is crazy making. If nothing else, I'd welcome surprising myself with my own behaviors more frequently than I do. At least then I'd be more receptive to being surprised by others. 
 

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Hermit (And Her Hismit)

What have you uncovered over these past several weeks of social distancing?
 
* When a musical gets developed about the unabomber, I'll be auditioning for the lead. My reflexive distrust of technology (I know being a blogger is a contradiction but hey, I contain multitudes) and my more-robust-by-the-day beard - along with all this isolation - make me an ideal candidate for the role. And, given my current mood, I could tweak a few of my tunes to make them fit a quaint misanthropic score. 

* I've learned how to best enjoy board games from now on: When feasible, be a moderator instead of a participant. Great way to keep my testosterone-fueled competitive monkey in its cage.

* No matter how long the crisis lasts, both the hermit (and her hismit) will be OK, mustard-wise.

If I sound a bit off, mea culpa. I'm seriously missing my daily WAWA coffee.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Conventional Wisdom & Covid-19

"Opposites attract."

Yeah, not so much, at least not here on my part of the bell curve. And I'm talking about right from the get-go over forty two years ago. What has experience shown you about the validity of that piece of conventional wisdom?

During these trying days of social distancing, I'm especially grateful for the commonalities my wife and I have always shared. Of course we're not alike in some ways, most significantly, our respective temperaments; I'm sure the same could be said of other long term partnerships. But the two of us are - and have been from the start - fully aligned on important fundamentals like our values and the way we see the world. At present, our long-shared passion for literature has not only helped keep our conversations fresh, it has also helped us maintain comfortable distance from the 24/7 news cycle and the nasty by-products that habit can engender. It also doesn't hurt that our politics are similar, though not identical. Speaking of which, anyone heard how James Carville and Mary Matalin are doing these days?

I'm more extroverted than her; she's more diligent than I about keeping us safe. She loves period pieces, especially English ones, and can't abide graphic violence in films; I'm drawn to movies with contemporary themes and depictions of the messiness of life. Background music is an oxymoron to me; excessive volume - unless it's Candy's Room - is anathema to her. All those and other piddling differences? Not hard to mitigate. But opposite, attracting or otherwise? I'll pass.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

For Bookworm Cinephiles

If you had to guess, which scenario has happened to you more often?

1.) After the film adaptation of a book you loved is announced, you anxiously anticipate seeing that film. Or ...

2.) The language and/or screenplay of a film moves you so much, you pay close attention to the credits and, if the film was based on a book, you make sure to read that book. 

For this bookworm cinephile, scenario #2 is more likely. Although many books I've loved have been successfully adapted to film, I've also been disappointed quite a bit. But films - even some of the just OK ones - have frequently been my gateway to great literature. Next question, bookworm cinephiles:

Regardless of which scenario has been more consistent in your reading vs. viewing, what has been the most recent book/film gateway that worked for you in a big way in both directions?  In other words, a great film you saw adapted from a book you loved first or ... a great book you later read (and loved) after first loving the film on which the book was based?

You answer to that question could be helpful to me right now. After all, indulging my indiscriminate film jones is a guilt-free proposition these days and I've also got a lot of time to read. My most recent two-for-the-price-of-one suggestion is Robert Redford's adaptation of Norman McClean's novella A River Runs Through It. See the film then read the book or vice versa. Either way, you're the winner.   

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Communal Laughter

I suspect those of us who live in NYC and much of New Jersey - as well as other hot spots around the world - won't ever forget the impact of social distancing after this crisis passes. Aside from obvious stuff like your family & friends and confidence you'll find toilet paper, what have you missed most over the last several weeks?

I've missed the sound of communal laughter. The funny bits passed along via e-mail, a good friend who thinks to forward hysterical routines she uncovers on Tik-Tok, and some TV comedy have all been indispensably therapeutic. But, none of those are adequate substitutes for the in-person laughter of a group.

Like some of you, my wife and I have used online and phone apps to maintain virtual contact with others. I relish those moments and know I'm fortunate both to have a thriving social network and the means to use technology. But whenever that contact has involved groups - and spontaneous laughter erupts - I realize how much I've missed that sound. And as good as the technology is, it can't convey the warmth of communal laughter physically i.e. the way my skin tingles when I'm in a movie theater and people roar or the rush I get when a group - no matter the size - cracks up.

For now, I remind myself to be grateful for my wife's infectious laughter, one of my favorite sounds in the world. Many people these days don't have something like that to comfort them. I long now for the time when communal laughter can once again engulf me.           

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Geeky Reading Magic

Not only am I on a great streak novel-wise - it's been several months since I've been disappointed - my recent reading also contains a tiny trace of magic. Though you'd have to admit to being geeky as me to have noticed something like this, I am curious to know if anything similar has ever happened to you.

The last seven worthwhile novels I've finished - starting with the one most recently raved about here, Three Junes by Julia Glass - have all been the second book I've read by each of the seven authors. Until novel number three - White Houses (Amy Bloom) - I didn't even notice the coincidence and at that point had already decided on the next two novels I'd read (Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin and Jane Hamilton's The Book Of Ruth), solely based on what was on hand during our enforced isolation. Also: Until finishing The Book Of Ruth I didn't realize yet another element of odd magic - all five novelists were women.

OK, I admit it. Now the geek looked around his book-cluttered house, deciding to extend the streak on purpose, even though he had to be happy with a man for novel #6 - The Sportswriter (Richard Ford). And the first book I'd read by Ford was his memoir, not a novel, making the streak even more  suspect. Temporarily.

Because then, my book club of two - our monthly meeting in March, virtual BTW, discussed Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, (novel #2 in the initial streak for anyone keeping score) - decided our April book would be The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. When my reading partner and I settled on this, the streak of five (or six if you count Ford's book) never crossed my mind. But as McBride's book arrived via Amazon sorcery on my doorstep, it dawned on me: the streak had now moved to lucky seven! And guess what else? Give up? The first book I read by McBride - yes, a man like Ford - was also his 1997 memoir, The Color of Water. I'm not clever enough to make this up, I swear.

Before leaving you to marvel at my geeky reading magic and search for your own be warned: I will be back to evangelize on behalf of The Good Lord Bird. If I hadn't finished The Overstory (Richard Powers) in the quaint pre-social distancing past, McBride's 2013 novel would stand as the best novel I've read in 2020. Considering the way this year has started, that's saying something.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Help Wanted: Evangelical Data Analyst

Any reader who knows an aspiring guitarist, please direct them to me, via this blog or my e-mail. I'm officially in the market for a bartering of services. In exchange for guitar lessons - online to start, then moving to face-to-face once we are released to freely interact with others again - I'd like help from a certified computer geek to unravel a mystery. The ideal applicant would be skilled analyzing the data provided to bloggers by host sites.

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2017/01/walk-on-water-do-you-skip-this-post.html

The above post from January 3, 2017 has been viewed four times more than its closest competitor among the top ten of 1900 I've published to date. One attentive reader recently asked me why this particular entry keeps re-appearing in the top right of my screen in the grouping called "popular posts". It doesn't matter how I re-scramble that grouping - top ten for the month, the past year, all time - it's always there. Just since my yearly check-in of analytics on New Year's Day, that post has been viewed almost 400 times. For a reason completely unfathomable to me - especially given the dearth of comments it has - someone or something keeps viewing this outlier. And why - you reasonably ask - does Pat care about this enough to barter away his estimable guitar teaching skills? (I'm not so dense - all self-referential evidence to the contrary - to think any of you care.)

Simple. If I had a plausible explanation why this specific post was so much more worthy of being read than all my others, I would work assiduously to re-create the magic that could help move my blog into viral territory, although not the corona iteration. Not that I'd revert to being formulaic, mind you; I'm not that desperate. Actually, maybe I am. So, if any reader has a theory, please share it. My wife posits evangelicals are continually uncovering this post while otherwise searching for salvation. Her solid deduction is based on the words "walk on water" being part of the subject line. Her conjecture is unfailingly logical and explains today's shameless subject line. God bless.       

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Over Fifty Years Ago Or ... Yesterday?

Some moments in life are vividly alive, aren't they? For today's reflection, I'm requesting you put aside some of the more obvious ones like your first kiss, the birth of a child, a noteworthy news event. I'd like to hear about something unique that transformed you in a granular way.

In November 1969, I'd just begun my junior year at Kean University, nee Newark State College. I was playing drums in my rock n' roll band - as I did throughout high school - to make money. My hair was really long and my rudimentary guitar skills included just the few basic chords I needed to accompany myself singing simple tunes by Dylan or the Beatles, provided the song was in a key easy to play on guitar. My exposure to jazz guitar was nil.
Between classes one afternoon, I drifted into a room called the Little Gallery in the Student Center. On the tiny stage sat a guitarist who looked around my Dad's age with hair around the same length. I almost walked out. Then Bucky Pizzarelli began playing. I don't remember what songs he played. But even if I could remember, I'm sure on that day I wouldn't have recognized any of the tunes anyway. I do know this - my life changed that day. Almost ten years would pass before I began studying solo jazz guitar but the seed was planted that day in 1969 listening to Bucky.

The last time I heard him play was in a church on first night in Morristown on December 31 2011, joined by Frank Vignola and another young guitarist. Though Bucky was eighty five years old at the time, he was still kicking ass. I waited until his performance was done and told him how he'd inspired me forty two years prior. I'm sure many guitarists said things like that to him over his long life. Still, I'm glad I shared with him a moment in 1969 that remains vividly alive for me. What moment from your life is like that for you?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Holiday Questions For The Socially Distanced

How would you answer these three questions today?

1.) Visiting the supermarket these days, most of us are trying to be considerate to avoid having a food feud. What two four letter words are the perfect aural and part of speech equivalent to describe someone who drives a Hummer, especially today?

2.) What Beatles composition is an ideal and elevating theme song for today?  (Using Google is cheating.)

3.) What - besides social distancing - makes today optimum for sly, rapid, aloof people to play with words? 

(Aside: If neither an attempt nor comment for question #3 is forthcoming from either my crossword puzzle fanatic sister or my Scrabble genius sister-in-law on this post, I'm going to assume social distancing has been harder on both of them than the rest of us.)