Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Platters That Matter

I love it when the topic of some rock hack comes up, and their mastery of hot licks, and their undisputed place in the Pantheon of gods of the MOR radio is discussed. It's my sad duty to mention that they all suck pond water through a septic drain hose compared to legions of guys playing for tips in the corner of a coffee shop. What makes you famous can't make you good, and if you get famous first, you never learn. Why would you bother?

The Days of Wine and Roses is written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. It's also my sad duty to mention, when Pink Floyd or some such songs are mentioned, that Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer walked the same globe, so you folks are lost in a very wrong neighborhood on that planet if you're looking for songwriters.

It's my sad duty, but I shirk it, because people should like what they like, and get enjoyment out of liking it. I like watching Rocky Gresset and Ninine Garcia playing in the corner, for instance. They're not all that good, I suppose, so my scheme of finding out exactly where this video is recorded, selling all my belongings to get plane fare -- including at least one of my kids for medical experiments if necessary -- in order to move there and live in a cardboard box and sit outside the window of this place listening intently in the hope they'll show up again, might sound a tad extreme. To a Pink Floyd fan, maybe.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sultans Of Minor Swing

Some inside baseball: The boys have been sick since their last video. Nothing serious, but out of action for a week or two. Since our children don't go to the petri dish, er, the public school, that doesn't happen all that often. It's very disruptive to have children sick if they're learning.

About three weeks ago, the little one had recovered from his illness, but his older brother was still out of action, so I decided to teach him swing drumming. I cannot play the drums properly, but that doesn't matter. I'm his music teacher. On Monday, I told him what each of his limbs was supposed to do. It's more complicated than rock drumming, and subtler. We watched a video of a fellow wearing a ski hat and a short sleeve shirt indoors to hear the beat and see it demonstrated. Then my boy sat down and tried it.

He's impatient, and wants to do it all at once, and it tested him. It wasn't natural or easy for him, so we put it together, one limb at a time, until he could play it haltingly. All this took about a half an hour, which is all I have to give him. His mother teaches him all the rest of his subjects the rest of the day. The next day he played it competently. The third day he played it and kept good time. After that, he began to play syncopation on the snare, and fills on the toms. After a week or so, his brother could play again, and they started playing it together. This is recorded 20 days after that first lesson.

We purchased an input-output device with tip jar money last year. It digitizes analog signals from microphones so they can be put into digital recording devices. It broke. The kids can't record multitrack without it in a practical manner. It was still on warranty, but only for parts. We had to pay labor, and it was a good bit of change, and then ship it to California and wait while they fixed it. By some form of astral projection a kind reader sent me a tip jar donation just then, out of the blue. J and M, you know who you are. You're peaches.  It allowed us to get the thing repaired. Many thanks.

One of the their flip cameras died, too, so there's only one camera, and no overdubs. I told them to set up the camera they did have, hang two microphones, and let it rip. It's been a while since they did that. What possessed the big one to try Django Reinhardt in the first place is beyond me. I think he got tired of people asking him if he could play Sultans of Swing. I think this is his way of offering proof that yes, he could; and no, he won't.

Friend Andy gave the kids the mic on the right, and we bought the one on the left with tip jar money last year, so thanks, everyone for that and a lot of other things, too.

It takes a lot of effort to set all this up, and they have to drag everything down to the dining room to do it. They did it all themselves, and asked my wife and me for nothing except to press the button to record, and...

It's two microphones, a flip camera, and that's it. We flubbed it. They played this song three times before they realized their parents hadn't recorded anything. This take, which wasn't as good as any of the ones we missed, will have to do.

[Update: Many thanks to Nicholas K. in OK for his generous hit on the tip jar.]
[UpUpdate: Many thanks to Cynthia R in CA for her generous hit on the tip jar]
[Continuing Update: It's a mystery to me how Kathleen M, who is our boys' most constant supporter, manages to walk around Connecticut all day with that big, heavy halo around her head.]
[Yet Another Update: Many thanks to longtime supporter Dinah in MO for her generous contribution for the boys]

RIP, 2nd Lt Wallace F. Kaufman, Navigator

Wallace F. Kaufman was a friend of mine.

I've seen that little snippet of footage of the bomber wing exploding before, but it was always fleeting, in a montage, and grainy. It was often commented upon as an example of friendly fire, a defamation of the other airmen in the squadron. Cleaned up like this, you can clearly see that it was hit from below by AA fire. But some people's desire to find the ignoble in everyone but themselves trumps everything. They wish Catch 22 was true, so it must be. The Internet is full of these armchair historians today, Memorial Day, reminding us what bad people we were to drop atomic weapons on the Japanese. I wonder what Wallace F. Kaufman would say about that.

My father was a crewman in a B-24J Liberator. He hung below his, named Les Miserables, in a little plastic ball, like a hamster. There were ten or eleven crewmen on board during a mission. The very last one to survive anything would be the ball gunner. Once you climb down into it, they close the hatch behind you, swivel it, then lower it, and you can't get back out without reversing the operation. My father was tall for his time, and they always put the short guy in the ball, so that makes me wonder if some short straw was chosen by, or for, my father. More likely no one else wanted to do it, and he said sure with his Irish chuckle and thought the view would be nice.

That video, right there, is the view.

My father told me a little about his tours of duty in a B-24 before he died. He didn't talk about it at all when I was younger. I didn't realize the significance of it to him until he had one foot in the grave. I looked up all the names he told me, as best as I could remember them, and then of course he was gone, and I couldn't ask again.  

That plane in the video is B-24M-15-CO "Brief", serial number 44-42058. The plane was in the 7th Air Force, 494th Bombardment Group, in the 867th Squadron. The were flying from Angaur to bomb Koror in the Palau island group.

My father flew in B-24-J-175-CO "Les Miserables" Serial number 44-40666. The plane was in the 7th Air Force, 494th Bombardment Group, in the 866th Squadron. Dad told me that he flew from Angaur, and bombed Koror, and Kwajalein, and the Phillipines, and a bunch of other places.

These two bomber groups flew together, and my father may very well have known some or all the men on that plane in the video. Their squadron records are online, and their missions are nearly identical. For all I know my father is in that video somewhere off on the horizon, though I cannot make out any markings on the planes that are from his squadron. They had two vertical stripes on the tail, and the 867th had those checkerboard squares.

Who was Wallace F. Kaufman? He was the navigator in that plane you see, sheared in half in front of your eyes, fluttering into the sea. Among the eleven men on that plane, he was the only one that survived the crash.

It's almost inconceivable that anyone could survive that. My dad told me that it was just as likely as not you would end up dead because you ran out of gas, or the weather was bad, or the flying bulldozer that a B-24J resembles wouldn't cooperate all of a sudden. That view of his in the ball was all empty ocean and sharks. The Japanese were just the last in a string of bad luck you might find.

Dad didn't die in a crash, but the Les Miserables crashed into the ocean in bad weather shortly after the war was over, filled with American fliers [Update:That's mistaken. They were from Great Britain, apparently] that had been in an internment camp for much of  the war. All aboard were lost.

So it's a sort of miracle that my friend, Wallace F. Kaufman, survived that explosion and crash. Of course he wasn't my friend exactly; but he was probably my father's friend, and that's close enough for me.

We know Wallace F. Kaufman survived that crash. After the war, an interesting man named Pat Scannon went to Japan, and found and interviewed a Japanese soldier that had been on Koror that day, who told him that he had immediately captured Wallace F. Kaufman.

Along with three other airmen and ten missionaries, they beheaded Wallace F. Kaufman with a sword.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Kind Of Knack, Backed Up By Prodigious Practice

Erroll Garner was short. He used to sit on phone books to perform. He could play the piano when he was three years old. Somehow or another the high school he attended in Pittsburgh managed to disgorge Garner as well as Billy Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal. I think I would be worthwhile to drink from the water fountain there, as there must be some sort of Lourdes thing going on.

The music union wouldn't let him in because he couldn't read music. They made him an honorary member after he got famous anyway. Unions are like that. He composed Misty, which is so famous and popular that no one likes it.

He had a beatific face, like a Buddha. He mumbled and grunted without thinking while he played. I recognize the effect. If you've ever watched a juggler, they can't look at any one ball or all of them drop. The juggler must look straight ahead and see all of them at the same time. It is a kind of knack, backed up by prodigious practice. He is looking at a place in the distance he needs to reach and cannot pay attention to what happens any nearer.

He was dead before he was old. He was alive the whole time, though. How many men can claim that?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I Guarantee Thud Knows Who Connie Lush Is

Thud's a born lever puller. He makes mighty men-children and princesses by the bushel. He can raise a bothy from the dead and make its vergeboards dance. He drives a Reliant Robin covered with human skulls. He could take hostages at martial arts competitions, but he doesn't because they want too much to eat.  He's my friend if he'll have it.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reggler People Play In Casco Bay

NOWHERE fairer, sweeter, rarer,   
Does the golden-looked fruit-bearer   
  Through his painted woodlands stray,   
Than where hillside oaks and beeches   
Overlook the long, blue reaches,           
Silver coves and pebbled beaches,   
  And green isles of Casco Bay;   
  Nowhere day, for delay,   
With a tenderer look beseeches,   
  “Let me with my charmed earth stay.”           

On the grainlands of the mainlands   
Stands the serried corn like train-bands,   
  Plume and pennon rustling gay;   
Out at sea, the islands wooded,   
Silver birches, golden-hooded,           
Set with maples, crimson-blooded,   
  White sea-foam and sand-hills gray,   
  Stretch away, far away.   
Dim and dreamy, over-brooded   
  By the hazy autumn day.           

Gayly chattering to the clattering   
Of the brown nuts downward pattering,   
  Leap the squirrels, red and gray.   
On the grass-land, on the fallow,   
Drop the apples, red and yellow;           
Drop the russet pears and mellow,   
  Drop the red leaves all the day,   
  And away, swift away,   
Sun and cloud, o’er hill and hollow   
  Chasing, weave their web of play. 

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)   

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Did I Listen? No. Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Don't forget to send a remembrance to you dear old mom. It will remind her of all the years she spent trying to turn you into a halfway competent adult, and fill her with joy and gratitude that you've finally moved out and become someone else's problem now. And would it kill you to wear a tie?

Friday, May 09, 2014

I've Been Reviewing My Curriculum Vitalis. Might Need A Little Punching Up

I have a long and illustrious pedigree. Interestingly, furniture and mixed metaphors are woven throughout the warp and woof of my family tree like a tunnel left by a powder post beetle.

The earliest recollection of family goes back to 1736, when the local lord, a certain A. A. A. D'Artagnan Umslopagaas Dynamite Macaulay, took a decided interest in my Irish ancestor Brutus Sippican's bodger business. He was egged on, no doubt, by Brutus' wife, Fanny, who was described by the local constabulary as "comely of visage, and a real goer." It is said that she would tout Brutus' abilities in the making of his innovative "Two Legged Stoole," and was unstinting in her efforts to attract potential buyers from far and wide, especially when Brutus was out gathering wood.

Not much is known of Brutus himself; but according to court documents he was called on urgent business to a British town called Newgate, and liked it so much he decided to take up permanent residence there. Mr. Macaulay kindly offered to look after Fanny, and it is said that Brutus' youngest bairn, raised in the lap of luxury at the Macaulay estate, was so happy with his new accommodations that he began to favor his step-father even in his physical appearance.

After a time, old A.A.A. seemed captivated by the young lad's proclivity for daubing interesting things on the walls, and legally had the boy's name changed to Mene Mene Tekel Upharson Sippican, and turned him out of doors and bade him to make his fortune in the manual arts, though the boy was only three. We Sippicans are a doughty lot, and often make our way in the world early in life.

Mene Mene made his way to London, where he was a great hit. He was trained in the classical manner in an alley, and found many deep-pocketed patrons for his talents, especially on race day when people were crowded very closely together at the rail. Mene is said to have grown forlorn after a time, and was so stricken with longing for his long lost father that he followed him to Newgate and decided to "hang" there as well, to use the amusing vernacular of the time.

But before Mene left, he too had a son to carry on the line. Little Belvoir Sippican was born into straitened circumstances, but like all our line, soon learned to look after himself. He is the first of our line to make his way to the Americas, although his name did not appear on the register of any ship for some reason. Like many of our clan, he liked to keep an unostentatious profile. He was a gifted storyteller, and is said to have regaled many of his former British Isle compatriots with uproarious and detailed yarns about a certain G. Washington.

Various locals took umbrage at the silver-tongued devil's ability to entertain his audiences, and Belvoir was chased from the burgs of New York due to such jealousies. He decided to make his way to Canada to make his fortune, which he no doubt would have done had he not succumbed to injuries suffered in an unfortunate mumblety-peg incident in Boston.

But the Sippicans are nothing if not lucky, and Belvoir was able to find a woman willing to carry on the line, who in an astonishing coincidence was married to the fellow old Belvoir was playing that exuberant game of mumblety-peg with. Cassandra seemed put off by her husband's behavior and left him to raise little Cyrus Sippican on her own. Cassandra was a proud woman, and considered a style setter in each of the numerous towns she inhabited. She seems to have started the craze of wearing letters on your outerclothes as a fashion statement, a practice still in vogue among American footballers to this very day.

Cyrus grew up and was said to be a giant among men. He made his way out in the landscape as a wrassler, sometimes against other humans. His signature move, the eye-gouge, is still popular in modern wrestling circles as well as daycare centers.

Here the trail goes cold a bit, although you can espy Cyrus painted into the bottom left corner of a Thomas Cole landscape painting, bothering a bear for the amusement of a gathering of Mohican Indians who were Cyrus' trading partners. The painting, though one of the finest of the Hudson River School, is too indistinct to determine what business Cyrus had with the Indians. He is reported to have purchased large quantities of corks in New York, so he may have been teaching the tribe how to fish using a bobber. We can only conjecture.

Cyrus lived to a ripe old age, and after his death, his son Archie Sippican made his way east once more. He is rumored to have been employed mowing the lawn at Thoreau's Walden Pond cabin allowing Hank, as Archie called him, more time to write. Various items that formerly belonged to Mr. Thoreau have been handed down in our family for generations; we are planning to read the book some time in the future as well.

The trail goes cold for a bit again, but Archie's peripatations led him to Chicago, where he was reported to be talking excitedly to the fellow that shot William McKinley just moments before the dreadful deed; but apparently the Sippican silver tongue was not enough to dissuade the gentlemen.

Archie's bairn Cuthbert was said to have what sounds like some sort of door to door cutlery sales business, and traveled widely and quickly around the midwest. The exact nature of the business is unknown; but there are many references to families throughout the great midsection of our land counting their spoons after a successful visit by old Cuthbert.

Cuthbert had a brother, who was apparently both some sort of doctor and a convert to evanglicalism. He is said to have been very handsome and popular, and traveled widely throughout the south, and went by the unusual moniker of Positive Wasserman Sippican.

The Sippican line's Irish-Catholic roots asserted themselves again later in the twentieth century, when my own father, Cuthbert's grandson Zoltan Sippican, was testifying in court about some matter or another. When asked, "Occupation of Father?", young Zoltan answered, "I think he's taken the Holy Orders, your honor." "Why is that, son?", asked the judge. Zoltan replied that he was told that every time Archie was brought before a magistrate and asked his occupation, he was famous for answering: "Nun."

Sunday, May 04, 2014

What If Everything In The World Were A Misunderstanding, What If Laughter Were Really Tears?

Pop knew everybody. Didn't have a dime but took me everywhere. We'd pull up to the Garden parking lot in our old beater. No hope. It was full when I was born, and now I'm in grammar school. I cringed until the face leans out of the booth and it's his nephew in there. Right over there, Uncle Buddy. Where the players park.

You couldn't buy a ticket with money. The Garden would thrum with excitement and no one would miss it for filthy lucre. Pop had four. Conjured them like a wizard at work because the boss was already wearing white shoes for the season and wouldn't sweat in a seat in that hellhole when he could be on the Vineyard. Pop says he'll sit behind the pole and stare at the big rusty rivets but I'd always end up there because I fit.

Uncle Smokey would come and puff his tiparillos and jape with Dad and I was in the company of men and stood in awe like at the foot of marble Lincolns.

There was weather inside there. Cumulus clouds of smoke would meet the smog from the drunken exhalations and clash with the cold front coming up from Bobby Orr's ice under the rickety parquet wood floor.

Then we'd stand and the floor was lost to me, nothing but the boles of men in an endless forest swaying in the breeze of excitement.

I'd kill ten innocent men to go back there for ten minutes. 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

If You Make Things, You Are My Brother: Sabian Cymbals

Cymbal making is one of those weird processes that straddles the line between art and science. You're trying to make something that will live in the world of being musical, a nebulous world indeed, but it's born in the gritty world of an old school factory. The process still looks vaguely medieval, even if there is a punch clock around there somewhere.

The lathe process caught my eye in the video. Buncha Morlocks and Orcs shovel the cymbal blanks around the cavern for a while, then a guy starts spinning it like he's making a salad bowl, and he becomes this sort of audio Cellini, shearing the alloy blank to make it lighter and brighter. You can still see the grooves the lathe dude leaves in the cymbal when you examine one on a bandstand. They're a human artifact on a mass-produced item; that's very rare in this world. The only human artifact on a mass-produced item I've purchased recently is a fingerprint on the inside of the lens of my snapshot camera, which has been blurring a spot on my photos for half a decade at this point. 

My eleven-year-old son strikes Sabian cymbals,the same ones that his father struck before him, so this video is like a postcard from an old friend. Here the boy when he was only nine, whacking on the things, along with his brother. He's hitting just the cymbals, not the cymbals and the brother, I mean. They only hit each other when the camera's off.