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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 revered 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. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Better Late Than Never (Redux)

Although there's no chance of me becoming a musical household name in my community, 2022 has become the best year in many for the number of live performances I've had. And despite my long-held resistance to being called "background music" - an oxymoronic expression because music is always in the foreground for me - the years have softened the edges of my ego enough that my resistance to that expression no longer gets in the way of my enjoyment when I play for others. Usually. As I've often mused here, better late than never. 

My next live performance will be at the centennial celebration of my hometown library on September 22. This first-of-its-kind advance announcement of a gig marks another musical - and personal - breakthrough for me. My reticence about publicly announcing where others could hear me play solo guitar is directly connected to the aforementioned nasty ego and its evil twin, insecurity. I'll spare you the self-talk that blocked me from making an announcement like this over these past eleven years. Better late than never, right? 

Now the big challenge looms. On September 22, can I let go of the nonsense about "background music", at least for the two hours when I'm serving that purpose? If yes, can I relax enough into my playing to find a few moments of magic? If yes, will my self-talk about my limitations as a player allow me to recognize those magical moments and bathe in that light? If yes, then indeed it will be better late than never.        

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Did I or Didn't I?

Even with the habit of recording the titles of my posts in one of my journals and the robust search engine provided by the site that hosts this blog, with 2150 posts, it's become increasingly difficult to locate a specific one about a subject I'm sure I've covered. That is, I think I'm sure I covered it. Because to further complicate things, before pressing "publish" over the last eleven+ years, I've aborted dozens of posts I'd started. And then there are those I'd thought about writing but never started, although, until using the not-yet-perfect search engine, I'm also uncertain about that whole starting/not starting thing as often as not.

Did I or didn't I? If I did - and there were no proper nouns in my text - how to find a specific post without scrolling through 2150 titles or scouring years of journal entries? I realize how little concern this is to you, dear reader. Indulge me for a moment more. 

Try imagining you are as self-centered as me. Now extend that egotistic fantasy to include being as desperate as me to have others read your reflections. Complete the solipsistic dream via deluding yourself that a reader - any reader - will notice if you've ever repeated yourself. If doing the above has allowed you to wear my pathetic slippers momentarily, you've approached today's dilemma. Did I or didn't I? Readers - especially "newer" regulars and those of you who have frequently hung out on the bell curve since March 2011 - I'm depending on you to help me stay fresh. Please tell me. Did I or didn't I?          

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Time Machine Words & Expressions

What was the most recent instance when someone used a word or phrase you hadn't heard in a long time and the hearing of it sent you racing back as reliably as any time machine could take you?

I challenge anyone over sixty-five to hear va-va-voom, and avoid thinking of Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren, or Jayne Mansfield. What picture would your mind immediately conjure if someone called something or someone groovy? I'm guessing an elegant website, a hedge fund manager, or a dish of sushi wouldn't be among the first things your mind's eye would see.  

Thirty or forty-year-olds - if any of you read this post - which frequently used words or expressions from your formative years sound to you like quaint etymological relics in 2022? Will awesome end up next to va-va-voom and groovy someday, becoming what I've started calling time machine words? Or is it there already? If so, what haircut goes best with it? I'm confident saying most people could answer the haircut question for groovy. 

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Life Behind the Name

Although I enjoyed the Talking Heads at the height of their popularity, I wouldn't call myself a fan of their music. Consequently, even though many people recommended David Byrne's American Utopia to me upon its release, I didn't rush to watch it.

It's now been several months and I still haven't shaken the effect that the sobering conclusion of that show had on me. On several occasions since hearing that long list of names intoned one after the other, some questions have returned to me unbidden. 

* How did it escape me that every victim of police brutality across the U.S. had a life story? 

* What can help the grieving families of those victims ever feel whole again?

* When did I first become so de-sensitized to this sad but undeniable modern-day reality that a reading of names was needed to return my humanity to me? 

Much as it pains me to say it, I cannot envision what it will take for this carnage to end.    


Friday, September 2, 2022

Exactly When Does a Classic Enter the Canon?

canon: any officially recognized set of sacred books.

classic: a work that is considered definitive in its field.

Book nerd that I am, one of my first thoughts upon finishing Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) was - How old must a book be before it is deemed a classic? Is there perhaps an agreed-upon number of re-printings required before a book earns that distinction? If no such quantifiable criteria are used, then who decides a book is "...considered definitive in its field" and how much time must elapse after the book is published before some august group of deciders makes such a proclamation? And what happens when someone in that group dies? How does the deceased's replacement get chosen? Once a book is deemed classic, how long does it keep that sobriquet, i.e., is there an expiration date? If a book wins a major literary prize - Pulitzer, National Book Award, Booker, - is it automatically classic? Does it stay so even if it is no longer in print?  

The book nerd's reflection deepened. Putting classic aside, he wondered: Is Willa Cather's ninety-five-year-old novel part of the canon? Consulting his usually reliable source - the dictionary - didn't help, much. First: Who are the officials doing that recognizing? Are they connected to the august body that deem a book classic? If yes, some concerns from the last paragraph require further examination. But before that, this book nerd - and hopefully, a few of you - need to tease apart what to make of that tricky word sacred. After allit is included as a modifier for "books" in the definition of canon

Can you feel my pain? As slippery as the word classic is, I respectfully submit the word canon is the most criminally overused word we book nerds routinely encounter. Its only real competition is the breathy "unforgettable" that is used on countless book jackets to describe many forgettable books.

I'll leave you now to grapple with my titular question. You know how to find me.