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My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Monday, June 29, 2020

Missing Those Big Dark Rooms

These are unusual times for us movie geeks.

It's possible the last few months represent the longest period of my adult life in which I haven't sat in a theater seat. Recall the last film you saw in a theater? Though I suspect most people would not, in this respect, I'm not like most people. In early March I was mesmerized watching The Invisible Man starring the always-reliable Elisabeth Moss, even if the ending felt a little too neat. Had I known that day what was coming a week or so later, I would have talked my wife and our two friends into seeing another film following our late lunch. A missed opportunity, for sure.

Watching films on TV can be an OK substitute. This is especially true when I know how pissed I'd be if I'd squandered $20+ on junk like The Lovebirds. But I miss those deafening Dolby sound systems, the cleansing sound of communal laughter and, maybe most of all, group gasping. How about you? What part of the movie experience are you missing?

In the meanwhile, my recommendation for best recent sleeper is Leave No Trace. For my money, this is a film that works as well on the small screen as it likely would on a large screen in one of those big dark rooms filled with strangers.      

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Book Behind Door #3

Imagine my delight and surprise as my wife and I walked the boardwalk. Several of the young folks who check for beach badges were reading books while seated at their stations. Not a cell phone in sight!

Before presenting today's mystery I'll disabuse anyone with the notion that I live somewhere that has managed to avoid succumbing to cell phone mania. No such luck. After observing books in their hands - and recovering my dropped jaw - but, before I asked some of these young people what they were reading, my wife conjectured that cell phones were probably prohibited in these jobs. Learning she was right - i.e. I don't live in a Nirvana where books take precedence over phones -  did not discourage me from my mission. Now I had to know what interested these young readers.

And when I learned of the book behind door #3, I considered spending two more hours strolling that boardwalk just to see what other mystifying discoveries were ahead. Intrigued yet? Any early guesses about the book behind door #3? Hint #1: Make it a really wild guess. Hint #2: The author of the book being read by beach badge checker #3 was not a contemporary of the authors being read by beach badge checkers #1 or #2 - Stephanie Meyers, Stephen King. Those two bestselling authors, as well as all the other authors I uncovered while doing my boardwalk survey, were predictive. The author and book behind door #3? Did I say not a contemporary of Meyers, King, et al? How about not even in the same century (21st or 20th) contemporary? Come on, don't tell me this wouldn't surprise you just a little.

I'm so confident the well known book absorbing the full attention of young beach badge checker #3 would never cross the mind of readers of this blog that a cash bonus will be paid to anyone whose guess is even close to right. Payment in English pounds, of course.     

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Stowing Away The Time Machine

Beginning in March, 2014 - as my blog moved into its fourth year - I requested some of you join me from time to time on a journey to your past via re-visiting something you'd captured in your journal or diary from that same date three or more years back. I made this request because British playwright David Hare's words - "Writing is the act of self-discovery" - had been proven to me many times over. By joining me on this journey, I hoped at least a few of you might discover something about yourself and - best case - share that discovery here. Most of my discoveries in the infrequent journeys I've made - using a blog post from the same date anywhere from 2011-2017 - have been encouraging or neutral, i.e. I've detected growth or, at least, no backsliding.


Judging by the monkey that has been chattering in my brain non-stop since 7:00 a.m., stepping into the time machine for a visit to Pat on June 23, 2016 was probably not an optimum way to begin this day. Many hours later, today's uncomfortable discovery - catalyzed by that four year old blog post - has finally been revealed to me: Whatever writing aptitude I have has probably always been best served by short forms - songs, essays, blog posts. And that sobering discovery was accompanied by a resolve to postpone these journeys to the past indefinitely. I'm not suggesting  you follow my lead; I still think there is value to be had doing this. Adults learn best by spaced repetition and reflecting back often leads to a useful and affirming confirmation of personal growth . Sometimes, those backward glances can also remind of us of our best traits.

Still, the further I move into Act Three, the less time there is to re-visit earlier acts. Pretty obvious, right? But, better late than never, no? Begin again. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

From Father To Daughter And Back

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying certain days predictably deepen my mourning for people I've lost.

On Father's Day, the most reliable way to lift my sprits is having contact with my daughter. Our ever-deepening relationship reminds me - in the best possible way - of the bond I had with my Dad. I'm not sure if I was as attentive to him while he was alive as my daughter is to me but I hope I was. And if I was, I hope my love for him gave him a similar level of solace as my daughter's love gives me.

Over the seventy-nine years I had my Dad, I'm proud to say that early on we meshed in our passion for both reading - I can't recall a time when there wasn't a book by his side - and music. He played the ukulele and I still recall the times he'd accompany my mother, who had a nice singing voice. It warms me beyond words to have that same shared passion for music with my daughter and our mutual love of film is another domain that cemented our bond, early on.

Which brings me to the conversation she and I had early today, discussing...books. Even the most casual reader of my blog knows of my passion for music, literature, and film. The joy I discovered via reading and playing music was first immeasurably enhanced because my beloved Father loved the same things. To now have those passions further enhanced by my relationship with my daughter - and then amplified by our shared passion for film - fills me with gratitude. What makes you thankful for your Dad on Father's Day? If you're lucky enough to still have him with you, I hope one or more of your shared passions have helped sustain your relationship. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

An Old Sharp Saw

Oral History (1983) by Lee Smith has been in my personal library for almost twenty-five years. Back in 1997, when her Dad gifted this novel to my wife - dated inscription he'd written to her on the front inside cover - I recall her talking about how much she enjoyed it. And under normal circumstances, my wife's endorsement of a book would have spurred me to read it immediately. What happened this time?

I strongly suspect that the back cover - which mentions an Appalachian setting - had a lot to do with me bypassing this book until recently. Shame on me. Thanks to Smith's formidable gifts, I'm sure I will never again question the wisdom of that old saw about not judging a book by its cover. Because even though the milieu of Oral History is far removed from my life experience, Smith's delivery of her timeless story - especially her deft juxtaposing of first and third person narration - is as masterful as it is moving.

Another element that makes Oral History worth any discerning reader's time is Smith's pitch-perfect ear for the way people from this part of the country speak. The more involved I got in the author's multi-generational tale, the more I recognized some of the patterns I'd detected in my late father-in-law's speech, especially when he was relaxed or interacting with some of his Southern family. Even more noticeable to me was the way Smith expertly captured colloquialisms I'd often heard my late mother-in-law's family use. Just like the dialogue from the great John Sayles movie entitled Matewan - a town referenced several times in Oral History - the language in Smith's book brought me close to the lives of these mountain people, folks this Northern urban/suburban boy never encountered until I fell in love with a West Virginia girl in April of 1978. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Where This Crab Draws The Line

This old fart is frequently the first to chastise other old farts when they begin ranting about the flaws of younger people. My go-to strategy is reminding coots my age that the old have been criticizing the young for one thing or the other as far back as Socrates.

Still, I'm aligned with codgers who are a bit nervous watching kids texting, viewing videos, or updating their social media profiles while riding their bicycles. Invariably, my inner fuddy-duddy shudders picturing these future drivers. Yes, I know not all of them will be distracted by their devices when they get behind the wheel. But, given how hypnotized people in my own cohort are by their phones - often when they are driving - I'm concerned about a coming generation of drivers who have never not had Siri at their fingertips.

In the town where I live - about one mile from the Atlantic Ocean - bicycles are everywhere. Young people ride on the sidewalks and, often as not, not with the traffic. When I'm walking and a young cyclist forces me off the sidewalk, or, when driving I'm caught off guard while making a right turn by a cyclist on the wrong side of the road, I shrug it off. I don't want to be a curmudgeon. But I'll own my crabbiness when that sidewalk or wrong-side-of-the-road cyclist is tweeting on a phone. Isn't it bad enough that the leader of the free world can't control himself?       

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Jamming With Book Lovers

As this health crisis grinds on, I'm doing what I'm sure many of you are doing, i.e. regularly relying on ZOOM and other meeting apps to help stay connected with others. And though I knew before the crisis began that my reading community was vital to me, the book jam I hosted on Tuesday brought into sharp relief what fellow readers routinely bring to my life.

Of the twelve people online, two just listened as the other ten of us described what had specifically moved us in a book we'd recently read or, one that was still fresh in the memory. After giving a brief synopsis of our respective books, most of us also read a passage to help give others the flavor of the prose. Of the nine novels spoken of at the book jam, two went immediately onto my "to read" list, as did the only non-fiction book described, a .300 batting average - Ted Williams territory. I'm confident others will seek out at least one of the ten, based on the passionate endorsement of the readers who spoke.

But even if none of the books described make someone's list, I suspect our closing discussion of other worthwhile books from the catalog of the ten authors gave many of the twelve of us some good ideas. That's how I ended up with the fourth addition to my list. When attending your first book jam, what book will you choose to endorse?

(Attentive readers of my blog will not be surprised to know The Overstory (2018) by Richard Powers was my choice for this jam.)


Monday, June 8, 2020

Thinking About My Thinking

Of all the personal work I've done over the years since stopping full time work, it's likely I've put the most effort into trying to arrive at my own opinions about stuff. How important is this to you? What strategies have you found to be most effective in doing so?

Despite my efforts, careful examination of my opinions frequently leaves me with a strong sense that many of them continue to be heavily influenced by what I read or hear. This sobering realization is true across several domains but it's most troubling when I recognize the influence writers or other public figures have on my opinions of current events. The undeniable fact is, arriving at one's own opinion about nearly anything is time consuming, hard work. But with current events, that work is made more difficult by the 24/7 news cycle and TVs in every public space, each brimming with the endless chatter of pundits. So far, some things that help me - however marginally - are limiting my media intake, staying mindful about the human tendency to confirm our biases when we screen out information that doesn't support our views, and being honest with myself when I know I'm avoiding doing the time consuming, hard work. That unsparing honesty also helps me feel like I'm retaining a shred of intellectual integrity.

When I'm not motivated to do the work needed to arrive at my own political position or opinion about a current event? I forgive myself. Then I continue attempting to arrive at a reasonably pure opinion of books I read, music I listen to, films I watch. My strategies for those domains include ignoring blurbs and gushing book jackets, tuning out the self-congratulatory buzz surrounding awards and their glitzy sideshows (Grammys, Oscars, etc.), avoiding the Internet. These are baby steps, for sure. But it's possible taking these steps with my passions will lead me to getting better at thinking about my own thinking when it comes to the weightier stuff.       

Friday, June 5, 2020

Once Upon A Time, A Release Valve Appeared

2020 looks to be the first year since 2013 when I won't get an opportunity to teach a music class at a local college. My challenge: Between now and my still-to-be-scheduled next class, what do I do with the musical ephemera steadily accumulating in my junk drawer of a brain waiting to be unleashed on students?

Until recently it didn't occur to me how these classes have acted as a release valve over these last few years. Watching students get juiced about the geeky musical stuff that has occupied precious space in my head for over fifty years has been semi-therapeutic. But the flip side - i.e. how much attention I give to every musical morsel that lands even close to my plate since I began doing these classes - has me struggling as I anticipate a year without a single class. How can you help? So glad you asked.

Until my classes resume, how about if I devote more space here to music than is my norm? If this blog - and you, faithful reader - could act as a release valve, at least until Covid-19 is under control, I would be most grateful. Shall we get started? Good.

My next offer was going to be "Three Albums That Shaped Rock N' Roll History". What band do you suppose I was going to use as the lynchpin for that class? Need a hint? Their three albums - a grand total of thirty four original songs - is only the beginning of the story. My class - complete with as much ephemera as any geek could safely ingest - was also going to include the subsequent, extensive song catalog that came from the main songwriters of this seminal band, four huge talents who briefly shared a stage once upon a time. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020


I waited for a few days because I knew if I wrote about George Floyd too soon I'd later regret what I'd published.

Enough. Please.

"It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in the Constitution to everyone in America." - Mollie Ivins