Saturday, December 28, 2013
Earlier this year, I submitted the following - in written form - to a few places. It was greeted with extreme indifference. So, I decided that perhaps it would make a better performance piece. I recorded it. Then I found that, for the life of me, I couldn't think of anyplace to send it. Therefore, I am giving it to you as a late Christmas gift. I know! My generosity is legend, but this goes above and beyond.
Enjoy (or not, if you're one of the editors I sent it to originally.)
It is called... Stinky Stuff
See you in 2014!
[photo courtesy http://blog.frenchbull.com/2010/10/]
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Close to one year ago, I lost my full-time position of 20+ years. Since that day - December 28th, 2012 - I've done no paid work in my old field of voice-overs, production and editing. I had no confidence remaining concerning my skills. I had not only been let go, but all vestiges of my existence were utterly wiped from the company website (which I still resent and find inexplicable, since others with far less time at the company had QUIT and still been featured on the website for possible freelance work. Even if I had never received a single call to do such work, it would have soothed some of my inner turmoil if they hadn't immediately jettisoned me from the freelance roster as though I was unskilled garbage. I am, so far as I know, the only person to leave the company to whom that happened.) Anyway, I felt a need to travel a new career path. I decided to become a professional writer.
This past year, I've been published 17 times, in five different print venues (with a sixth now pending), and I am proud of that. As time goes on - and my writing appears in more places - it becomes easier to sell myself. My hope is to at least double my sales rate in this coming year.
Today - Christmas - I have another piece published in the Boston Herald. I certainly know folks have more important things to do today than read me. My piece is in the spirit of the day, however, and if you'd like to read a nice little tale about something that happened quite a few holidays back, please go HERE.
As always, if you have time to leave a comment, I am in your debt. You need only ask a return of the favor and I will be at your service immediately.
(I also have a full page in Discover magazine's Year In Science issue, now on newsstands! You can go to their website and see what it was I wrote about - my by-line is on #40 of the Top 100 stories of the year - but you'll have to buy the print issue to actually read the article. Go ahead; you know you want to!)
I realize I haven't been able to accomplish any of this without help, nor will I continue doing well without more. First and foremost, no matter what perilous situation I find myself in, God somehow lands me on my feet. This Christmas finds me more aware of my blessings than I may have been at any previous time in my life. Beyond thanks to God, I wish to extend my sincerest thanks to my friends and family for giving me support and encouragement. Believe me, I appreciate it all.
And then there is MY WIFE. You are a blessing I have in mind all day, every day. Thank you for being my solid ground.
May God bless your celebrations and make His many blessings abundantly clear to you. No matter what the situation, and even if you don't see the blessing immediately, it is there somewhere. Consider it a spiritual treasure hunt you're undertaking. You'll always find it, sooner or later.
I often close with these words to you. The reason is because God says much the same to me...
Soon, with more better stuff.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
I think I've found a new job. I'm stoked! It isn't in a field I had previously considered, but the idea came to me with such sudden force I believe it may have been the hand of God. Either that or the seven gin and tonics.
This new field of endeavor is entirely underpopulated with entrepreneurs. So far as I can tell, only ONE person has tried to make a living doing what I propose to do.
I am going to deliver presents to children on Christmas. The name of my new enterprise will be NOTCLAUS. It's an acronym. It stands for "National On-Time Christmas Livery Above United States".
(I was going to ask for some legal advice concerning my new business enterprise and these folks seemed as good as any to ask, but I want to get my operation up-and-running for the current season. I don't have the time to wait for so-called 'expert' opinions. If I run into any legal snags, I'll just utilize the services of these other folks.)
It seems to me the major snags involved are mostly legal. The other guy providing this service seems to be contravening a number of state and local statutes, to whit:
1 - He ignores speeding laws.
2 - His method of delivery involves trespass.
3 - He regularly transports livestock across borders.
4 - He is apparently involved in NSA-level spying operations. He is often cited as knowing, with certainty, who has been 'naughty' or 'nice'.
5 - He is suspected of employing slave labor.
In addition, there are nagging questions concerning possible breaking & entering, illegal immigration, lack of a passport, flying an aircraft unregistered with the F.A.A., and false advertising.
You're probably asking yourself how anyone could be in the business of delivering packages on Christmas and not be in danger of breaking all those laws. That's where my particular genius comes into play! I have devised an alternate method for delivery. It does not rely on any of the possible illegalities detailed above.
NOTCLAUS will deliver children's Christmas presents via guided missile.
At precisely one minute past midnight on December 25th, NOTCLAUS will launch a dedicated guided missile toward every home that signs up for our services. The missiles - with payload of x-boxes, i-phones, Betsy Wetsies and other cherished gifts - will speed down the chimney of our customers within fifteen minutes of launch. No need to leave bribes of milk and cookies for the delivery driver; there won't be one!
Aside from the paperwork, there's a teensy-weensy-teeny-tiny cost associated with start-up. That's why I'm telling you about this. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor of a business that is sure to take off (pun intended) and make all of the initial investors fabulously wealthy. So, what do you say? I figure if I can get 1000 of you to kick in $10,000,000 each, we can probably make this a reality (and have enough left over for a post-launch party at Denny's.)
There are only 6 days left before Christmas, though, so if we want to make this happen, we have to start NOW. Please leave your banking information in the comments section and I'll take care of the rest.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Not satisfied to have received fruitcake from relatives (my Uncle Jim & John) and friends (Thimbelle and family), I have taken to begging in the pages of a major metropolitan daily for total strangers to send me baked goods.
The Boston Herald has published my plea for further fruitcakey goodness. I thank them for this, from the bottom of my stomach, and if you would go there and tell them that you appreciate their interest in my continued welfare and good health, I'm sure they'd appreciate it.
Soon, with more weight.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Once upon a time, there was a poinsettia named Pointy.
(His given name was Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody called him Pointy for short.)
Pointy liked living in the large greenhouse with his poinsettia family and other plant friends. The world was a wonderful place full of bright sunshine, all the water he wanted to drink, and dark, rich soil for his roots. He thought that he couldn’t possibly be happier.
Then, one day in November, some of Pointy’s friends weren’t around anymore. Pointy wondered where they had gone. He also wondered how they got wherever they went. They were plants, after all, and thus only able to walk extremely short distances.
Pointy asked his uncle, Pedro Poinsettia, where his friends had gone.
"Oh, it’s a joyous time of year, Pointy!" said Uncle Pedro.
"What do you mean?" asked Pointy.
Uncle Pedro leaned close to Pointy and whispered in his ear (or, at least, what passed for an ear on Pointy.) He said:
"In November, all the poinsettias who have grown big red leaves are taken from the greenhouse and sent all over the world to give joy to the people who celebrate Christmas. The people are very happy to have a poinsettia in their home or school or office. They smile and say things like, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’"
Pointy was very excited to hear this news. He had never before considered the possibility of travel, but now he hoped that he might be able to go far away, to see many interesting people and things. He enjoyed the thought of bringing great joy to people celebrating Christmas. He packed his bags and waited to be shipped.
(Well, OK, he didn’t actually have any bags. As a matter of fact, even if he did have bags, he wouldn’t have known what to pack in them. But, you get the idea. He was excited and ready to go.)
Finally, the day came when Pointy was planted into a big pot, all trimmed with pretty gold foil. He felt extra-special now! He was then loaded into a truck, along with about thirty other plants. As the truck was driving away, he waved good-bye to his Uncle Pedro.
(No, he didn’t, really. No hands, you know? He did what he could, though. Uncle Pedro understood.)
As they were bumping down the road, Pointy looked around. He appeared to be the only poinsettia plant in the truck. He struck up a conversation with the flower next to him, a girl. He knew she was a girl because... well, he just did, that’s all.
"Hi, I’m Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody calls me Pointy. What’s your name?"
"You're really pretty, Rose."
"Thank you. You have nice big red leaves."
(To be truthful, he didn’t actually blush; his leaves were already red. But he WAS a bit embarrassed. Rose really was pretty, and it was nice to get a compliment from her.)
Pointy asked, "Do you know where we’re going, Rose?"
"Yes, I think so, Pointy. My Aunt Petunia said we’re all going to office buildings in Newton."
"Newton? Where’s that?"
"I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it’s east of Worcester."
"Oh! Is that a good thing?"
"It’s better than being in Worcester," said Rose.
Pointy looked out the window of the truck. Having never been out of the greenhouse before, he was amazed at how many plants there were everywhere. He saw great huge trees, and big green hedges, and large bunches of scary weeds, and gigantic expanses of grass, and even a few pretty flowers, like his new friend, Rose. However, he didn’t see a single poinsettia anywhere. This worried him a bit.
He asked Rose, "Am I going to be the only poinsettia in Newton?"
Rose shrugged her shoulders.
(Nah, not really. She didn’t have shoulders. She did indicate that she didn’t know the answer to Pointy’s question, but shoulders never entered into it.)
The truck turned off of the road and into a parking lot. After it stopped, the back door of the truck opened and a man reached in and grabbed Rose.
Pointy said, "Good luck, Rose! I hope you bring much joy to the people in this building!"
Rose blew a kiss to Pointy, and then she was gone. The man carried her inside of the building where they had stopped.
The man had left the door of the truck open. Pointy was able to see, through a window in the building, Rose being carried by the man. The man stopped and handed Rose to a woman who was sitting behind a desk. The woman immediately became very happy, a big smile appearing on her face. As the man who delivered Rose was leaving the building, Pointy saw the happy woman carrying Rose all around her office, showing Rose to all of her friends. Everybody smiled as soon as they saw Rose, and Rose was very happy in her new home. Pointy was also very happy, for now he was extra excited about how happy he was going to make the people in the building where he was going.
The man closed the door to the truck. Soon, the truck was moving again. Pointy imagined being carried into an office where all the people would smile and say, "What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!"
While Pointy was imagining this, the truck stopped in front of another building. The back door to the truck was opened, and suddenly Pointy was in the man’s hands, being carried outside.
"This is it," thought Pointy, "I’m about to make many people happy! I can’t wait to see their smiles, and hear them say ‘Merry Christmas!’"
The man brought Pointy up some stairs and then through a glass door. There was a woman at a desk just inside the door. Pointy tried to make his big, red leaves stand up as straight and proud as possible. As he did so, he heard the woman say:
"What the hell is that?"
The man said, "Gift from your landlord. It’s a poinsettia."
"Duh! I can see it’s a poinsettia. What are we supposed to do with it?"
"I don’t know, lady. I just deliver ‘em. Merry Christmas."
Pointy didn’t understand. The woman didn’t seem happy at all. Had he done something wrong?
The woman yelled to someone, "Hey, come see what we got."
A man came out of an office, saw Pointy, and rolled his eyes. He said, "Ugh! Another poinsettia? Every year we get a friggin' poinsettia, and every year we have no place to put it. What in the hell are we going to do with it?"
"Don’t look at me," said the woman at the desk, "I don’t have any room here for it."
Other people came out of their offices to see what the noise was about. As each one saw Pointy, they laughed and made faces and said mean things.
Pointy wanted very much to be back in his friendly greenhouse. This wasn’t at all as he had imagined it, or as Uncle Pedro had told him it would be. He wanted to just shrivel up and make himself as small as possible.
Finally, the woman at the desk took him and placed him on a wobbly table, near some stacks of old yellowed paper and bent paperclips and dried up pens that nobody ever used. Every so often, someone who hadn’t seen him before would walk by. At first, Pointy tried standing up proud and showing off his pretty red leaves. However, it was always the same story. Either the person just walked by without noticing him, or laughed and said something mean about him.
After a while, Pointy just gave up. He stopped caring what the people said. He started losing his big red leaves that he had been so proud of. As he did so, the people in the office started saying even worse things about him. They kicked at his fallen leaves and, when they picked them up, they threw them in the garbage, cursing. He could feel his roots drying out. Nobody gave him any water. Nobody cared about him. There was no sun; just a cold bit of light from some fluorescent tubes. As much as a poinsettia had a heart, Pointy’s was broken.
Pointy lost many more of his leaves. He was dying. He wanted to die. Life was a miserable thing. Christmas? It was just a cruel joke. He had imagined much love, and had received none.
One day, about a week after he had been delivered, a new person came into the office. Pointy hadn’t seen this person before, but he expected that he would hear more of the same insults and derisive laughter. He didn’t care. What could this person say that would hurt him more than what he had already heard, already lived through?
The new person said, "Hey, who gave us the poinsettia?"
The woman at the desk answered, "Oh, the landlord gave us the damn thing. It’s been shedding leaves ever since it got here."
Pointy listened disinterestedly.
The new person said, "Well, heck, maybe he needs a little water. Has anybody given him a drink?"
Pointy’s ears perked up (or, at least, what passed for ears on Pointy.)
"Let’s give him a drink," said the new person.
"Knock yourself out," said the woman at the desk.
The new person went into the kitchen, and Pointy could hear water running. As much as he thought he was beyond caring, he felt himself thirsting for a drink. The new person came back out carrying a cup full of water. He poured it into Pointy’s dirt.
Pointy was shocked by how good it felt.
The new person said, "There you go, guy. How’s that?"
Pointy fairly yearned to jump out of his pot and give the person a hug.
The new person said, to the lady at the desk, "Hey, do you mind if I take him into my office? Maybe I can bring him back to life."
The woman at the desk said, "Give it your best shot, Jim, but I think it’s a lost cause."
Jim! That was the friendly man’s name! Pointy tried to make what leaves he had left stand up a bit for Jim, but he was too weak to do very much. He noticed with gratitude that it didn’t seem to matter to Jim. He was picking him up and taking him into his office, anyway.
Every day, Pointy waited for Jim to arrive. Every day, Jim did something nice for Pointy. He gave Pointy a drink of water, or he put him where he could get a bit of sunshine. When one of Pointy’s leaves was withered and painful, Jim gently removed it, giving Pointy space to grow a new, stronger leaf.
Finally, it came to the day before Christmas. For all of the love Pointy was receiving from Jim, there was still the pain of knowing that what he had heard about Christmas was untrue. Nobody had seen him and said, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’
Pointy had grown back some big, green leaves. The few red ones he had left were strong and bright now. He wished that someone would get to see them for Christmas. He wished that he could bring someone some joy. Of course, Jim liked him, but he still wanted to believe in what his Uncle Pedro had told him during that time which seemed so long ago now. He wanted to be a plant that made someone smile at Christmas.
Pointy saw lights being turned off in the office, and he heard people saying cheery good-byes, and wishing each other happy holidays. Well, he had been lucky to find one new friend, he supposed. Maybe that would get him through the holiday. Jim would be back in a couple of days, and that wouldn’t be so bad. At least he made Jim happy.
He heard the door lock. It was dark and cold now. His leaves drooped a bit. Even though he had known what was going to happen, he had still hoped that Jim might...
Pointy heard the door to the office open and he noticed one light come on. "Probably the cleaning people", thought Pointy. But then, there was Jim! Jim bent down to pick him up, then carried him out of the office, down the stairs, and out into the... SNOW! Jim put Pointy down into the cold white stuff.
Oh, no! Was Jim tired of him, too? Was he leaving him to die in the snow? What a cruel world it truly was!
Pointy only had a few seconds to entertain such morbid thoughts. Jim picked him up again, put him into the front seat of his car, put a seat belt around Pointy's container, and turned on the heat. Then Jim started driving. Jim was taking him home! For Christmas!
And so Jim DID bring Pointy home for Christmas, and Pointy saw Christmas lights and Christmas trees, and he had sunshine and warmth and as much water as he wanted to drink. And love. Pointy had love. And Jim (and JIM'S WIFE) said to him, on Christmas morning...
"What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty you are, with your big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!"
Pointy was the happiest poinsettia in the whole entire world!
Remember, if you get a happy poinsettia for Christmas, it doesn't have to be thrown out with the old tree and discarded wrapping paper. With a bit of love, it can keep growing for years. It probably won't have big red leaves all that time, but green is a nice Christmas color, too!
Soon, with more better stuff.
Sunday, December 08, 2013
I was having what passes for a conversation with Mariann Eperjesi-Simms. She informed me that she had written the first line of her novel. She did not divulge what that first line was, however, and I made a guess. She refused to tell me if I was right or wrong (which I suppose, given my penchant for plagiarism, was a prudent course of action.) She did, however, provide me with the impetus to write this post, so blame her for the three minutes you're about to waste.
I have come up with a few good (I would say "great", but I'll leave that up to you) opening lines for a novel. I absolutely guarantee that any one of these will get people to read your second line (which is, after all, what the first line is supposed to accomplish.)
(If you steal any of these, and your novel becomes a bestseller, this post will be my evidence when I sue the pants off you. You can save yourself the trouble if you send me your pants now.)
1 - The horses of my puberty had not yet reached the starting gate, but post time was near.
2 - I was sad that I had no hat, until I met a man who had no head.
3 - It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, we were manic-depressive.
4 - If it took ten bucks to get to Paris, I couldn't make it to Buzzards Bay.
5 - Gregor Samsor awoke to find he had been turned into a giant bug by some guy named Franz Kafka.
6 - His violin was strung with catgut and there was no appreciable difference in sound from when the cat was still alive.
7 - Breakfast was as breakfast always is - not quite lunch, but better than a kick in the balls.
8 - Something about the way she wore her hair made him want to blow up the post office.
9 - It was a bright sunshiny day, with birds singing happy tunes, and that made George want to fart.
10 - "Artichokes," he said, knowing full well she wouldn't believe him.
11 - Just because I threw my grandmother down two flights of stairs does that make me a bad person?
12 - In the grand scheme of things, Alex amounted to the dust in the cracks between the floorboards.
13 - I've never understood why spitting in the stuffing upsets so many people.
14 - The parade began and Stephanie could think of only one thing: this damn glockenspiel is irritating my left nipple.
15 - As the monkeys flew out of his butt, he couldn't help wondering how they got in there to begin with.
So, with this ammunition at hand, I am now going to write 15 novels. Or maybe just bum around on Facebook for a while and get absolutely nothing accomplished. Six of one...
Soon, with less spit in the stuffing.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
You won't find a more truthful headline today, no matter where you look, so at least you have that for which to be thankful.
I detailed my problems with commenting on other blogs. I have since found that I can comment on those blogs that have a pop-up window for commenting. I have no idea why only this set-up works, but that's the way it is. Bottom line: I am still unable to comment at most blogs I visit. I am still visiting them, though, and if I absolutely feel an overwhelming need to comment, I'll drop you an e-mail. If you are receiving my comments, ignore all of this twaddle.
(Hell, even if you ARE receiving my comments, feel free to ignore it.)
Now, the re-run.
Last year, I ran something I called a last-minute gift-giving guide. What it was, really, was an excuse for me to recycle a whole bunch of pompous reviews I wrote, mostly over at Amazon. For some damn reason, a few of you commented that I ran it too late in the season for it to do you any good and would I please run it next year a bit earlier? So here it is and remember that you (well, one or two of you) asked for it.
LAST-MINUTE GIFT GIVING IDEAS
This is just a gentle reminder to be aware that there may be cameras at your next office party.
OK, not all of what follows is new. You vagrants who have been hanging out here for years will probably recognize this stuff. Or maybe you've forgotten it entirely. Maybe you wanted to forget it entirely. If so, my apologies for dredging up pain from your past.
What I've done, in a misguided effort at providing you with a favor for the holidays, is compile a few reviews that have appeared on this blog during it's amazingly overrated life.
(I realize the apostrophe in "it's" is generally incorrect when referring to an inanimate object, but this blog sure smells as though it were alive at one time.)
Of course, I automatically assumed that whatever opinion I held concerning a book or recording is something you can't live without. That's just the sort of ego-driven bastard I am. And, in order to make this at least a bit more worth your while, each review comes with a suggestion concerning who might enjoy these things among your friends, relatives, lovers, and other assorted riff-raff. That's because I'm so condescending I assumed you wouldn't be able to figure it out just by the context alone.
And here we go!
For the lover of comic novels...
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The author, unfortunately, committed suicide after failing to sell this book. Once I read it, I understood why he did so. If I had written this grand work and been unable to sell it, I might have offed myself, too.
After Toole's death, the book was sold, by his mother, to a somewhat small university press. It ended up becoming a bestseller and then won a Pulitzer. Since that time, a couple of Toole's shorter works have been unearthed and published, but that's all there is. No more will be forthcoming because of his death. That's sad stuff.
The book, however, isn't sad at all. It's riotously funny. It is populated with characters and situations that had me laughing aloud, many times over. The main character, Ignatius, at turns amazes, delights, and disgusts. He is one of the great original characters of modern literature - a combination of Falstaff, a degenerate Oliver Hardy, and a volcanic eruption.
(If you're one of those people, like me, who sometimes reads a bit of a book they buy for someone else, don't do it in this instance. Instead, get a copy for yourself when you buy theirs. This is because you'll regret having to give it to someone else before you've finished it, and by the time it arrives it'll be too close to Christmas for you to do so.)
For the classical music lover...
Prokofiev, Symphonies - Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Seiji Ozawa
If Prokofiev had been born in 1956 in Detroit, instead of 1891 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and he had dropped some acid, he would have been the white Jimi Hendrix.
(That's the type of statement nobody can easily dispute. It contains no facts and supposes something that was utterly impossible during the person's actual life. I don't really believe it, but what the hell. I felt like saying something totally ridiculous and that works as well as anything else.)
These recordings contain Prokofiev's seven symphonies and The Lieutenant Kiji Suite.
Prokofiev's Second Symphony is my favorite piece of classical music. It is tremendously forceful, a bit dissonant, and generally beats a couple of recurring themes into the ground - not unlike heavy metal, my first love. You'll rarely find it on any classical aficionado "favorites" list. They'll mention his First Symphony, which is more classically structured, as well as his piano concertos and, of course, Peter And The Wolf. Fine music, all, but I prefer his more experimental stuff.
If someone you know likes Prokofiev, they'll love these discs.
For the progressive rock fan (or yodeling fan, or fan of Dutch musicians)...
Moving Waves (and/or) Focus 3 - Focus
Vastly underrated progressive rock quartet from Holland. They had a Top 40 hit in the 70's with a quirky instrumental called Hocus Pocus, which contained a whole bunch of yodeling and a couple of searing guitar solos over a hard rock rhythm track. That came from the album Moving Waves. The follow-up to that album was a two-record set named Focus 3.
Thisj Van Leer is the vocalist, keyboardist and flute player. He has a marvelous voice, although he usually uses it only for oddities such as the aforementioned yodeling. Most of Focus' output was instrumental. His flute vibrato was magnificent and he went on to play as a sideman in various jazz ensembles after this group broke up. Jan Akkerman played guitar and other stringed instruments - lute among them - and threw vicious heavy metal guitar licks into baroque-inspired jazz pieces. They were the two members involved in every incarnation of the group. Drummer for both of these sessions was Pierre Van Der Linden. For the Moving Waves recording, the bassist was Cyril Havermans. On Focus 3, it was Bert Ruiter. Both he and Van Der Linden get extended solos on Focus 3, so if you like that sort of thing, then you'll dig that one more. If not...
(Being a bass player, I love extended bass solos. However, some people consider them the musical equivalent of waiting for your number to be called at the registry of motor vehicles. Being a bass player, I hope those people's eyes rot out.)
For the fan of big bands, great guitar playing, and weird arrangements...
WOLFGANG’S BIG NIGHT OUT
The Brian Setzer Orchestra gives classical music a re-working in various jazzy settings, mostly big band swing. I haven’t removed it from my car’s CD player since I got it.
(That’s because the eject button isn’t working! Ba-Rump-Bump!)
This is a near-perfect CD. The only flaw is that I scraped it with a fork while trying to pry open the packaging, but that’s OK because it's my copy, not the one you'll be giving to someone else.
Really, honestly, truly – the one major flaw on this album concerns some of the endings to the songs. I don’t know whether a conscious effort was made to try to appear not totally serious, or if the arrangement is just incompetent, but four or five of the endings are either unflinchingly corny or just jarringly off-key.
(I know. Believe me, I know. Of all the people who might complain about something being corny or off-key, for me to do so is beyond the pale, and I’m one of the palest folks around. It’s just that while I’m certainly the type who appreciates a quote from the opening riff of Smoke On The Water following some Offenbach, someone else might not be, so I figured I’d warn you.)
Setzer’s guitar playing is magnificent throughout. He easily transitions from straight renditions of the original lines, to purist jazz, to his beloved rockabilly licks, to paeans to such diverse stylists as Django Reinhardt and Terry Kath. It’s a tour-de-force of epic proportion. The rest of the band is hot, but this is Setzer’s showcase. Aside from some clarinet reminiscent of that heard during Goodman’s small combo days, and some stunning drum breaks from Bernie Dresel, there are few other solos from the ensemble. I might have found one or two improvisations by members of the brass section enjoyable, but there aren’t any. Small quibble, really, since Setzer is fairly mesmerizing the whole way through.
The opener is an adaptation of Beethoven’s SYMPHONY #5; I suppose chosen for that spot because it contains the most recognizable opening in classical music. It’s fun, but nowhere near the strongest cut. I’d say that honor might come down to a choice between the hot jazz rendition of FUR ELISE, which contains the aforementioned allusions to Reinhardt and Goodman (as well as Reinhardt’s partner, violinist Stephane Grappelli) or the album-closing GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN, featuring a Duane Eddy-like reverb in the opening, and an acid-tinged wah-wah workout (Kath) in the close.
Other interesting interpretations abound. THE WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE (otherwise known as the theme from The Lone Ranger, to the uncultured of my generation and older) is given a mid-tempo swing chart that reminds, in spots, of 1950’s-era Dorsey (excluding the electric guitar, of course, which Dorsey abhorred.) Mussorgsky’s IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING features hip lyrics and female backing harmonies. And then there’s Setzer’s frantic workout on FLIGHT OF THE BUMBLEBEE (which includes the female vocal chorus chanting “Faster! Faster!” and then going into mock orgasmic cries.)
Overall, this is just plain fun, and it will delight the person in your life who enjoys both electric guitar and swing music, as well as those classical enthusiasts who don’t mind a mild send-up.
For the boomer...
Another wonderful choice for gift giving is Bill Bryson’s THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID.
I’m a huge Bryson fan. He holds a spot in my literary heart similar to that of his spiritual predecessor, Mark Twain. In his body of work to date, he has easily shifted from linguistic archaeologist to travel diarist to writer of memoirs. This offering is from the latter category, with a sprinkling of historian thrown in for good measure.
The best praise I can give this book, I suppose, is that I laughed out loud again and again. I used to do that fairly often when I was a teen and discovering some folks worthy of guffaws, i.e., S. J. Perelman or Allan Sherman or Twain, but Bryson is one of the few to do it to me in these latter years. And I’m not talking just a choked and short exclamation of "Ha!" I’m telling you that I had actual tears running down my face from laughing. It’s that good.
This is the book that MY WIFE has, in her loving over-estimation of my skills, been trying to get me to write for the past four or five years. It is about growing up as a boomer, with all of the ridiculous-yet-endearing trappings of what was probably the last great innocent epoch of American childhood. Now she’ll have to get on my back to write something else entirely since there is no way in hell I could come within ten miles of doing as good a job of it as Bryson has done. I wouldn't subject myself to the ridicule and scorn that would inevitably result from an attempt to match this book.
Seriously – there will never be a better book written concerning growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. It is absolutely pitch perfect. If you know someone between the ages of 45 and 65, buy that person this book. Or buy it for yourself, if you qualify. I’d stake my life on the fact that you won’t be disappointed. I’ll commit suicide if any of you don’t have enough sense of humor to enjoy it.
(OK, I know damn well that there are plenty of people without enough sense of humor to enjoy this book, but none of them would have toughed out my writing to get this far, so I’m in no danger of having to fulfill that promise.)
So, buy these things for someone you love. If you don't love anyone, buy them for yourself. However, you won't enjoy them, because if you don't love anyone, you're the type who won't enjoy them, so there.
Let’s see. What’s a good closer? How about something for anyone who loved Fred Rogers?
Mister Rogers Swings!
That’s the name of a CD by Holly Yarbrough, and it’s also the truth. Yarbrough has taken sixteen songs from the Fred Rogers songbook and done them proud. And they all swing.
Now, "swing" is a term that needs definition in this case, since the word sometimes carries a connotation of up-tempo rhythms and blaring horn charts. You won’t find much of that here. But, swing it does. It’s a very gentle sort of swing, and, like Fred Rogers himself, non-threatening and full of love. This CD won’t make you hop off the couch and start jitterbugging, but it will definitely make you want to hug someone special to you. That can be fun, too.
The session opens, as seems obligatory in any reading of Rogers’ work, with a version of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? In a similar nod to conformity, it closes with It’s Such A Good Feeling. I don't really have a problem with that. It's comfortable, and they’re both swell tunes wherever they might have shown up. In between, we get material that will be familiar to long-time viewers of Fred’s show, many done up in a cool lounge vibe. Over top of the solidly mellow bass and drums, there are healthy doses of bright and to-the-point jazz guitar soloing, extremely tasty piano work, occasional loosening of the horn section’s leash (to especially good effect on You’ve Got To Do It, which features Roy Agee, George Tidwell, and the late Boots Randolph, trading short solos on trombone, trumpet, and saxophone, respectively), a few country-tinged pieces dominated by cello and fiddle, and - most inviting - Yarbrough’s wonderful vocals.
Yarbrough has a truly great set of pipes, and she uses them well. Her singing is smooth and melodic throughout. She sometimes doesn’t take a chance I would have preferred – there was one spot in Many Ways To Say I Love You where I thought for sure she’d go for the higher note, instead settling for the mid-range – but it's a matter of my taste, not her ability, and there’s really very little to quibble about in her choices. Throughout the CD, you ride along on the light golden honey of her singing, nary a bump in the road anywhere, and it’s an enjoyable journey.
One of my all-time favorite Fred Rogers compositions is the love song, When The Day Turns Into Night, and I’m happy to report it’s included here and done exceedingly well. The lyric is simple, yet as achingly beautiful as anything written by more-well-known purveyors of melancholy than Rogers – if the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Fred is puppets, this one may surprise you – and Yarbrough invests the words with just the right amount of tension, neither going over the top or leaving them bereft of the necessary emotion.
My favorite cut is probably Everybody’s Fancy, which opens with a bit of light scatting before the main lyric (I would assume the least favorite of Fred’s writings among some of those in the GLBT community, since Fred asserts that "boys are boys from the beginning, girls are girls right from the start", although the overall message about everybody’s body being just swell certainly must resonate.) The mid section features a very direct Lori Mechem piano solo.
And then, there's I Like To Be Told. Originally written to address the insecurity felt by children when parents go off on a trip or otherwise leave them temporarily alone, it is here delivered as a bluesy torch song, and one can't help hearing a subtle S&M component. It works.
I could continue with a detailed description of every selection, but I think I’d be doing you a disservice if I did so. You’ll be more delighted if you buy the CD (or download the songs) and discover the good bits for yourself. This is a collection of Fred Rogers’ songs that will, if you listen to it in the company of a significant other, likely make your evening all warm and tingly.
Mister Rogers Swings, indeed. Who knew?
Hear some samples at Holly Yarbrough's My Space page.
Buy it at Amazon.
Finally, it should always be remembered that fruitcake is considered the ultimate gift by some. And since that obviates the need for any more jokes, I'm outta here.
Soon, with more better stocking stuffers (which closer I will no doubt use again this holiday season, but I'm re-gifting in reverse, whatever the hell that means.)