Wednesday, March 31, 2010


We went to the Martinsville race this past weekend. March weather is what it is. Friday I was working in a teeshirt, and Saturday was lovely. Sunday we got to a paperclip swathed in cloud, and in the track, the fly-over was merely a rumble of jet engines somewhere above the ceiling. we watched the drying trucks circle the track for a couple of hours, and I was kinda hoping they'd try racing, but although a different one would be in the lead from time to time, all the racing was happening on pit row where they'd go to refuel or something--take a pee maybe. After the track was just about dry, it started raining pretty hard, and they were rolling the racers back into the bowels of the arena before the announcer said the thang was called and they'd try again Monday at noon. We sat in the car and ate bargain hotdogs and waited for the same traffic that would have been there after the race, and finally got back to Rocky Mount, up the road thirty miles. The kitty was glad to see us, and got into her carrier right away in the hopes that we'd actually go home, where she owns the world and not just our guest room.

No luck. We went back to the track Monday and the race was run. A good un. The sky was blue and full of cotton candy clouds, as perfect a day as you could find. At the end, after a restart, Denny Hamlin won again, as he's done at all three Martinsville's we've attended--which is almost verging on weird. Our hostess is a big Jeff Gordon fan, and Gordon was in the lead and almost assured of winning until the last lap, when somehow Hamlin managed to squeeze through a little space on the 4th turn and take the lead. We're thinking that he should buy our ducats in October.

We got home about 9 pm, and I managed to get back to work Tuesday. My ears are still ringing a little. It'll be funny if the world does give up the internal combustion engine and they try humming around these tracks. I noticed the pace car was a Toyota hybrid. Guess someday it could happen, although they do still have horse races.

The picture, by the way, is really about the future. Danica Patrick isn't racing in the primary Nascar series this year, and in fact is back running Indy cars at present, after a few races early in this season in the "Nationwise" series, a kind of triple A series of stock car races using less powerful cars. Nonetheless, her pictures and presence were abundant at Martinsville, and her gear was more expensive than that of some of the fading stars such as Bill Elliott. Such is the way of the world. My wife wonders if, when Danica does start running, the whole macho thing with racing will be damaged for some of the guys. Who knows. Race drivers are kinda like jockeys anyways. That is, they look like normal people. Some of 'em, like Tony Stewart, are bit chunky. Nobody looks like Kareem Abdul Jabar, or Lyle Alzado. Now thems Men.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

False Equivalence

I could write a whole piece on this concept, and maybe I will at some point. It's a spring day, and hard to resist. But I was looking at James Wolcott this morning and he referenced the following post on this equivalence stuff, most recently exemplified by Mr. Cantor's phantom near-martyrdom by stray bullet, but more generally and largely, by this idea that "we" all need to tone it down because "we" all are guilty of more or less the same stuff. So, e.g., "but you guys called Mr. Bush a fascist, what's the difference?" And thus, a fine response to David Brooks:

I'm not familiar with driftglass, but I'll definitely go back and check him out some more. If I continue to be impressed, he'll make my links section over on the left. You two keep a lookout.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Riding the Muse, or Gangbanging Her... Your Call

My friend Laird alerted me to this wonderful video of Townes Van Zant singing and then talking about a song of his called "Mr. Mud and Mr. Gold."

It's a song about a poker game, told as though it was a Greek mythic tale, or maybe that story about the sun and the wind betting on who can get the Jonah to take off his coat. The images are so fast and furious it should be listened to several times. I love the way Townes brings the perspective back to gritty reality at the very last moment. I've had a few moments when songs wrote themselves like he describes. It hasn't happened in a good while, and there's no "making" it happen. I think you have to be in some kind of open state of mind that isn't easily called up. There was a period of time in my life when I was writing almost a song a day. It came and went. I made a CD out of some of them, and there's at least another very solid CD I should make. For a few years I went out and played solo gigs, performing a whole bunch of my songs. It wore me out, so these days I do one or two when Libby and I play, and one or two with the boys (Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry Band). There's so many other songs I'd like to be doing, but it's a thankless job as far as I can see, at the moment. All my extra energy goes into picking up rocks right now, but we did get through the winter and there's not much need for more firewood till October, so maybe I'll find some time.

Anyways, aside from just the fact that it's a great song, I like the fact that Townes just trusted the magic and laid it out for us. That's what we all should do more of. I'll get to writing about some movies that do that one of these days, because they're so damn hard to find. At the moment I want to say a little something about a TV show on FX that takes the other, dark road. "Justified" started last week. It's set in Harlan County, KY, more or less in the present but with elements of fantasy rather like how "Firefly" manages to be a Western and a spaceship story at the same time. Tim Oliphant is repising (more or less) his character in "Deadwood" (one of the greatest series of all time--topped only by "The Wire"), but set in a present which somehow allows him to practice the old-west code of the fast draw, i.e., "He drew first so I shot him dead." Oliphant is exiled to a place so wild that such a code is still acceptable, namely, Harlan County, KY.

When Oliphant arrives there--and it turns out he's actually from there and knows most of the principals in the first episode from childhood, having "dug coal" with one of them and probably spent some intimate moments with another, the pretty blonde, hard-drinking self-widowing woman who greets him with a long tongue-kiss when he walks up to her door--he's right back home. His "opponent", played by Walter Goggins from "The Shield," is a racist, neo-nazi skinhead stone-cold killer. But he has great teeth--apparently he doesn't do meth. We meet him when he shoots a missle at a black church conveniently run by a dope-dealing rastah, then shoots his companion in the back of the head afterwards well, just because. While this is going on, the widow lady is trying to get Oliphant upstairs, after describing how she killed her abusive hubby with a shotgun while he was eating his favorite meal at their dining room table. There's quite the bloodstain on the rug, another reminder of "Deadwood," where they were always mopping up the blood.

So the confrontation ensues in the time allowed, and the quick-draw is accomplished, but the bad guy doesn't die, so maybe there will be a rematch. I doubt I'll watch. It's not that there aren't some good things about "Justified." There certainly are nazi skinheads around, and they are rarely admitted to the culture-mirror that is television. This one gets to actually say the stuff they believe--mud people, Jewish conspiracy theories, pretty much the whole nine yards, then conveniently rebutted by Marshall Oliphant in a minute or two, so's to get on with the shooting. But all this shit is being filmed in Harlan County, KY, or at least some place that looks a lot like it. That is, this show is using the real locations. But it's suggesting that all you'll find in Bloody Harlan is federal marshalls and nazi skinheads. And if you think that's true, you should watch a real documentary about the place, called "Harlan County, USA."

"Justified" reminds me of two things. One is the Cohen brothers' travesty, in "Oh Brother," of putting Ralph Stanley's voice under a klan hood, singing "Oh Death." I'm sorry. That's a turd in a punch bowl. The other thing is the old Mitchum movie, "Thunder Road." That's another Appalachian cliche of a story, with nothing but moonshiners and marshalls and fast car rides. I'm not saying there isn't violence in Appalachia. Hell, Ralph Stanley's wonderful lead singer Roy Lee Centers was murdered back in the '70s, and I went to a fiddler's convention in Independence, Va., one time where there were competing circles of entertainment after the actual contest was over: in the middle of one circle was a jam session; in the other there was a knife fight going on. But I've spent more than enough time in Appalachia to know that the skinheads are still few and far between, that mostly it's good people living in a beautiful if rugged place. "Justified" is way way too easy. How convenient that the bombed church is "really" a phony church. How convenient that no one is in the least emotionally touched by the swirl of violence--that a pretty widow who just blasted her husband with a shotgun can still swill bourbon with the Marshall in the middle of the afternoon, and suggest a roll in the hay.

Go watch "Harlan County, USA." Consider the scene when the striker who's been shot in the head is lying in the hospital on the ventilating machine, or the moment when the camera finds bits of his brains on the asphalt. Understand the context of that moment when the wife of a striker pulls a pistol out of her bra and brandishes it in front of the strike meeting. "Justified" suggests that its arch villain started out a coal miner, and became embittered to the point of embracing the swastika. I realize, of course, that the writers just want to give us some semi-realistic context for the gunplay that is the raison d'etre. But really, what an insult to Appalachia generally, and Harlan County in particular. If they'd wanted to make a better start with this idea, maybe they should have used Steve Earle's "Copper Head Road" as the theme song, and taken it seriously. Instead, it's just cheap thrills and a bid to draw in the "Deadwood" crowd with Oliphant.

In my book, you gotta know when to hold 'em. Now there's a popular poker song, huh? Townes is dead, Kenny Rogers is alive and living in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Bout Them Heels

This isn't a sports blog, but I've been pulling for the Heels since they beat Wilt Chamberlain in 1957, an unbeaten season capped with David triumphing over Goliath, the guy who went on to be the greatest NBA player of all time until Michael Jordan came along--Michael Jordan, a Tar Heel! Last year as everyone knows, UNC won yet another National Champeenship, and all their seniors graduated plus a couple of juniors went pro, so Roy Williams started this year with a fresh new squad full of highly touted but very young kids, a great soph big man named Ed Davis, and two hold-over seniors, Deon Thompson and the aging defensive specialist Marcus Ginyard, who hailed from the 17th Century and started out playing when Daugherty was coaching in Chapel Hill.

The first few games looked pretty good, and the Heels were ranked high, but when they beat Valpo in Chapel Hill after nearly letting them come back at the end, Roy was not a happy camper, and said in his presser something about how the kids were going to be surprised when they went up to New Yawk if they played like "that." A week later, Syracuse put a whomping on them in the second half, after a tight first half where the Heels were only behind by five or so when they went to the dressing room.

It's been down hill ever since, Carolina losing many ACC games, Carolina getting beaten by Duke by 32 points (but let it be recalled that we still beat Duke by 50 in football back in 1960-something). Carolina then lost in the first round of the ACC Tourney, and personally, I would have been very happy to just move along to Women's College Softball, which I got into last year when we got ESPN, hoping in the back of my mind that maybe next year Roy would have found us a better point guard. Instead, he Heels got invited to the NIT, and accepted.

So I watched last night. What I saw was a very happy team, particularly in the second half. I think it was the first time I saw smiles on Thompson's and Henson's faces all season. Granted, they beat a short, all-white team dressed in green and coached by a leprechaun, which hit more 3s than any team has in in the history of the Universe. William and Mary looked a whole lot like the US Marine Corps Team that I watched Montrose and Co. demolish back in '92 or something--the only game I've ever been to in the Dean Dome. But the smiles were genuine, and I was happy for the guys. I'm hoping maybe they'll win a few more NIT games. Just so's they feel reasonably ok about this horrible season they've been through.

But I have to wonder just what Roy's problem is? Because yesterday, before this little obscure game in the meaningless consolation tourney, he once again trashed his team! Roy said something along the lines of, "I can't get this team up to play."
That's a left-handed criticism, and I don't understand why a head coach would say that of his team. To the team, sure. But putting this out to the press? And he's been doing this all year, starting with the Valpo comments (and that was after a win!). Anyone can see that the UNC point guard situation has been difficult. But, how does it help for the head coach to bad-mouth his own team. I have to say, WTF, Roy? Coach 'em, and if they lose, coach harder. But whining to the press, that sucks. And I'd guess it would be a good reason for some of the guys to at least subconsciously think, "well, if we're not good, we'll just play not good." You even have to wonder about all the injuries. Bad vibes can cause injuries sometimes.
I still have confidence in Roy. But I hope he'll bring a better attitude to the job next year. Strickland is coming along too.

Meanwhile, way to go Pack! The Wolfpack is a team which has known years of adversity, not just one season. The State alums got rid of their last coach, Sendek, because he wasn't tall enough, even though he'd gotten the team into the NCAAs every year. Now they have a great State basketball alum, the guy Valvano called the greatest guard to ever play in the ACC, for their coach. And last night they battled to a win over a strong Big East team with the top scorer in the whole US of A. I hope they go far. It looks like State and Carolina might meet soon in the NIT. I don't know who to pull for. Maybe I'll stay neutral for the teams, but pull a little for Sidney Lowe.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mr. Jabbour's Fiddle Tune Book

I wrote this last year for the Old Time Herald. I think it's worth reposting here.

Fiddle Tunes Illuminated: 45 Tunes Transcribed and Annotated for Stylistic Study, As Played by Alan Jabbour on Two CDs, A Henry Reed Reunion and Southern Summits

Transcribed by Liberty Ruker and Alan Jabbour

Introduction and Commentary by Alan Jabbour

Published by Alan Jabbour © 2009

Lee Triplett, the great fiddler from Clay County, WV, once said—to the late Hedy West of all people—“I wouldn’t sit down if Jesus appeared.” What he might have said to Dr. Jabbour, if “accused” of practicing “scordatura” upon his Pretty Little Dog, could certainly not be imagined in the pages of this august journal. Mr. Triplett was a straight-forward man. He wore his gun outside his pants for all the honest world to feel. Yet Dr. Jabbour would have been correct. Lee Triplett was an unrepentant scordaturist, a life-long practitioner of this dark and obscure art.

Obviously, then, it is entirely possible to be a fine fiddler and at the same time have no conscious or unconscious awareness of scordatura, hemiola, the heptatonic mode, or the Scotch Snap Pattern. It might even be, in a few psychological examples, that becoming aware of these and other features of music, when viewed through the lens of the inquiring mind could be a ruinous thing: the famous example of Satie leaps to mind. The poor soul (and genius melodist) is said to have sent himself to the Academe after finding initial success in the world of high musical art, whereupon he was convinced by the scholars that he knew nothing and, gaining this self-knowledge, retreated Paris for his small home-town to ply the banking trade for the rest of his life.

With this small surgeon-general’s warning, let me then say that almost anyone interested in the art of fiddling will find Alan Jabbour’s wonderful book of great and enduring value, to be placed in the bookshelf beside Chief O’Neill’s collections and memoirs, Breathnach’s Ceol Rince na hEireann, R.P. Christeson’s The Old-Time Fiddler’s Repertory, and more recently the work of Lisa Ornstein. Jabbour has been so kind as to tie his transcriptions and analysis to actual CDs, a link sorely lacking in much of the previous published fiddling work. The fact is and always has been that music is its own universe—learning to read musical notation, or to discuss its characteristics, is not the same thing as learning to play a good tune or even a good symphony. But this isn’t to say that learning to think analytically about a tune’s character isn’t a joy in its own right. I have always found Alan Jabbour to be a joyful man.

The joy, if you’ve heard Alan playing tunes live or on recordings, is obvious. It was said about the extraordinary Irish fiddler Tommy Potts (his LP, The Liffey Banks, is now in CD format), that he could go into a room to play an air, and would be found at the end of the tune to be sitting in a pool of tears—Seamus Innis being a man to call on for liner notes given that Joyce was in Trieste. Alan’s joy in tunes is no less. As a fiddler lucky enough to have played in sessions with Alan, and to have been influenced by his approach to fiddling ever since I began my own journey down the fiddle path, I have never seen him play without passion and verve. It is thus another, expected, joy, to hear Alan “talk” at length about his work and interest in this collection. And if you should want to learn one of “his” tunes via notation, or by mixing reading the notes with one of the cuts on either of the two CDs which accompany the book, success should follow industry. Alan’s precision makes for fine learning, even when the effort is entirely by ear, and here his precision serves to tie the notes on the page tightly to the notes played.

There isn’t room to quote the annotations in enough length to give you a full appreciation of this work. If you would like to think systematically about fiddle tunes, and learn many features of this body of music when observed by a scholar-player of Mr. Jabbour’s caliber, this is the book for you, without any doubt. And if you simply want to learn some of Alan’s fine repertoire, this book would be like several week long master classes with Mr. Jabbour. But I have to quote at least a little, to give you the flavor:

“The first and second strains [of Magpie] begin with the same pickup. Was this tune perhaps originally a song, from which an additional strain was eked? If so, it seems likely that the song strain was the second, because the first strain consists of arpeggiated phrases. I invented the progression from the IV-chord to the V-chord at the midcadence of the second strain (I-2) and taught it to our band [the original Hollow Rock String Band]. Occasionally an accompanying musician, not hearing it the same way, goes back to the I-chord (G). To suggest my own preferred chord, I began playing the tune with a D-F# double-stop instead of the simple D. To my surprise, some musicians began hearing the melody as progressing to an F#, and to this day I occasionally hear musicians playing an F# who must have learned it, remotely and indirectly, from me. But I have returned, chastened, to the simple D at the midcadence. And in truth the I-chord is a perfectly reasonable choice, despite my early preference for a V-chord.” (p. 67)

There is a great deal to think about in this little paragraph. Alan’s book is full of this kind of depth of analysis, including in many cases his reflective self-analysis of his own playing, and how it has changed and evolved over a life-time of sawing the strings. As with his playing, Alan possesses a mind which sees great detail and resolution. If he were a sportscaster, Alan could tell you what just happened better than you could see it yourself. And he’s willing to share. Tunes Illuminated, then is a triple “threat” at the very least. In the actual tunes, written in notation, a fiddle student can find a leg up on a terrific repertoire of fiddle melodies. With the accompanying CDs (also available separately, and each reviewed in past issues of the Old Time Herald), any listener can enter the musical realm directly. And with Alan’s accompanying text, the tunes are, indeed and most assuredly, illuminated, with the result that the reader should leave the book with a broader understanding of the musical context of the melodies, and of what a fiddler actually does when playing them.

I have one tiny quibble that I’ll just make known. When I went to Scotland long ago I was told in no uncertain terms that “Scotch” only referred to the elixir, and Scots was the preferred locution when an adjective was required. I have followed this maxim faithfully, incorporating it into all my writing, and so I was slightly disturbed to see the phrase “Scotch Snap.” Surely, if a reprint is required (and I hope this review will force the issue in short order!), we can change it to “Scots Snap.” This is how progress is made in the ever upward path towards human perfection.

Friday, March 12, 2010

While the Band Played Dixie

More Dylan. Here's a link to the Band doing "When I Paint My Masterpiece," a great song by Bob Dylan, written in the early '70s. Dylan did it in "Renaldo and Clara," with a mask on. The Grateful Dead did it. I was surfing around the world of Dead videos and found them doing it, then there were a bunch of comments saying the Band's version was the best. Probably the comments were about an early one, when the Band was big. I know I went out to San Francisco in the fall of '69 with about three records, one of them the Band, and listened to those songs, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Up on Cripple Creek," over and over, up on the 6th floor at Guerrero and 25th, a big white washed apartment building, me and Dave Cheek living in an apartment with no furniture, a mattress for each of us picked up off the street, a dufflebag, and for some reason Dave had his phonograph and this handful of records.

I was always of a mind that the Band, the Dead, Dylan himself, were connected to roots in just the perfect way, not reviving anything, but mixing the real stuff with now, so to speak. Because if you're not here, you're nowhere, ain't that right?

So here's the link:

Look at Rick Danko--he's gotten chunky, but still loving music, loving singing. Levon is just like my friends in the Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry Band--particularly reminds me of Watson, his voice cutting through. The age on these guys--it's pretty much my age too--I swear it makes this even better than when they were young stars, or when Scorsese filmed them in the "Last Waltz." And why did they think they were going to quit, anyway? Look at the Stones in Scorsese's "Shine a Light." They're having more fun than ever. My favorite part in "Light" is probably Keith helping Charlie off the drum riser. Or maybe Mick's delivery of "I only slept with her once" in "Some Girls." You have to be grown up to play like these guys are now.

I had a chance to go catch the Stones at Altamont that fall in San Francisco. They were going to play a free concert in Golden Gate Park, but they couldn't get permitted and all, so they got this old race track out across the bay, past Oakland somewhere. I didn't have any wheels and didn't go. I took pictures out my window of the sun shining on windows, of the amazing San Francisco light. I lay down on the rug in that empty apartment and listened to the night they drove old Dixie down, while the night came on. I thought about the life I'd left in NC, and at that moment I didn't have any idea what might be coming next. I'd gotten a very high draft number. I knew I wasn't going to Vietnam.

Update. Then there's this:

On stage is where one part of a person lives, sometimes only on stage, sometimes it's more integrated, and now and very then, nothing changes when a performer walks through the 4th wall into the parallel universe. Just depends on all sorts of stuff that no one is even aware of when they discover one day that performing is fun, and that they're good at it. So those geezers are kinda remarking on themselves when they talk about what a long hard ride it's been, and how they can't stand to look at the Kings of the Jungle. You can either appreciate the joy of the moment, or you can look through that into the other stuff, which being life, will surely be there, good and ill. And actually, you can even do both things--as a member of the audience I mean.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Gentle Cycle Christ" Yes!

I've obviously already revealed my hand by putting a link to Doghouse over in the toobs section. I hope my readers will check in with him frequently, as there's no better place to get some focus on the general murk. However, the following post--from a different quarter--is the prize-winner of at least the windy month of 2010. Right on!!

By the way, one of the reasons why Bob Dylan was so breathtaking back in the day was the fact that, in song after song, he cut to the chase. There's not a better anti-war attitude than "Masters of War," then, now, forever. "I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes... then you'd see what a drag it is to be you." Damn.

Monday, March 8, 2010

We Don't Need No Stenking Democracy

I argue with this guy down at the gas station about the dangers of government. He's of the view that government is always at risk of becoming too powerful, that we should be perpetually vigilant about that tendency, and nip it in the bud (to quote Barney) frequently, by nearbouts any means necessary--certainly voting among other things. I keep saying the problem we all have isn't government, but just power, and how people with power, in government or out, wield it frequently for their own self-interest, or institutional interest.

An example of this (examples abound, like mushrooms after a rain--hell, like mud after a rain in Chatham County) is surely why Mr. Greenspan shook his head sadly before Congress and admitted, after 40 years, "I was wrong." Another example--in government this time--would be the whitewashing of the John Yoo legal underpinnings of the Bush Administration's torture and generally extra legal approach to 9/11 by the current Justice Department. The institution does not want to be looking too closely at its former constituents, and Mr. Yoo was just doing his job.

My point with this gas station character--all I know about him is he's a fan of #88--is that this endless right wing radio propaganda assault on "government" is a red herring aimed at keeping a lot of folks stirred up and reacting against policies which are often in their own best interests, economic and otherwise. So I was saying the other day, democratic government is our own lever to power, dude. It might be a rotten two by four levering an oak stump, but it's all we've got. The people with real power always have better tools. But in non-democratic systems, we the people don't really have any tools at all.

And we had always better keep in mind that democracy is at best a fairly fragile reed. We're always talking about how Pakistan is a democracy--at least when the generals haven't explicitly taken over. But look how quick a democratic alternative, Ms Bhuto, was slapped down permanently. Or, to take another example--look how hard it has been for our supposedly monstrously powerful government to actually get any sort of health care reform enacted, even when everyone knows that there's a big big problem with the system we now live with.

I gotta go pick up some rocks now.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How Changes Get Made

Remember how the big deal with Nixon was, "he went to China." The background for that historic visit was twenty years of Republican gnashing about "who lost China," following Mao's seizing power, which laid the political groundwork in the United States for our Vietnam War. That is, the most liberal President we had since FDR was unable to resist the flow of events towards all out war in Vietnam primarily because he was afraid of "losing" Vietnam. This was the "domino theory," and the basis for much of our Cold War foreign policy. Nixon could turn this domestic context on it's head because Nixon possessed (at the time) unassailable right wing cred, including his pursuit of the continuing Vietnam War. He could finally break the silence between the U.S. and China.

The same situation more or less pertains with regard to Social Security. Democrats, in this case, have maintained a defense of Social Security against all Republican attacks, and Republicans have gotten no where with their various schemes to undermine the system and the safety net it provides to many millions of Americans at the lower end of the financial ladder. Following the "he went to China" principle, then, it would follow that a Democrat would have the most chance of actually changing Social Security in a significant way. In this context, consider the following analysis and discussion.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Did you hear, the Greeks have renewed in-the-street protests against the government about something or other?"
"They were just saying on the radio that the Greeks have renewed protests. What's the matter with folks anyways? It's like Martin Luther King always said. 'Can't we all just get along?' Really!"
"I'd like to watch some of that. What channel is it on?"
"I think it was on the radio."
"Well, that's no fun. They ought to have that on the teevee."
"Maybe it'll be on at 6, if you didn't have to watch the damn Ed Show every night. He's too angry for me, night after night."
"Well turn on Fox then, who's stopping you?"
"I hate Fox. I'm just saying."
"Saying what?"
"Nude protests. That'd be fun, doncha think?"