Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Something for Thursday

"This is the weirdest three...combination of guys I've ever seen. One looks like a mechanic, the other one looks like he gets ALL the girls, and the other one looks like he's book-smart. They just decided to get together, like, 'Fuck it! We could all sing, let's do it!"

 Here are four videos, all featuring the same song. But wait! There's a reason for this.

Earlier this year (or maybe it was last year!), Sheila O'Malley started linking what are called "reaction videos". In these, YouTubers record themselves in real time listening to something, usually a song, and they react in real time as they hear it for the first time. And it's not just new music, new hits: these reaction videos often feature young people digging back into the archives, to listen to old music, older music from their parents' or even their grandparents' generations.

And they are wonderful.

These people are encountering this music with an open-mindedness that is stunningly refreshing; they are coming to each song as if it's a new thing, and they aren't judging or being harsh in their summations. They smile and they laugh and they groove along with the music that they are choosing themselves. They are exercising their curiosity in a way that quite honestly gives me just a little hope in this point in history where, quite honestly, hope is a wee bit hard to come by.

So here are four reaction videos, in which four different young people react to the Bee Gees and "How Deep Is Your Love". They do occasionally pause the music to talk, they do swear, and the first guy is--gasp!--smoking.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

 A native of Buffalo who later moved to San Francisco to pursue her music career, Pamela Z is a composer and performer who works extensively with electronic sounds, vocal sampling, and other sonic augmentations to create works with an intriguing meditative quality. This particular piece puts her techniques on full display, as she augments a string quartet with electronica and recorded effects (much of which the listener will recognize) to create a piece that is at once meditative and disjointed, as the piece is continually interrupting itself.

Here is Attention by Pamela Z.

Monday, September 21, 2020

In which a daily newspaper comic strip delivers the greatest single sentence in the history of the English language

 I thought I had blogged about the current incarnation of the venerable comic strip Nancy at some point, but apparently I haven't! Or if I have, I can't find the post in the archives. Anyway, today's installment contains one sentence that almost made me literally squeal with delight when I read it. See if you can guess which sentence it was!

(I'll still write about Nancy sometime, but for right now, suffice it to say that its current incarnation is one of my favorite things. It has a very gonzo and off-kilter sense of humor right now that really does feel like Ernie Bushmiller's unique brand of zany, updated for 2020.)

Friday, September 18, 2020


RICHARD: He's here. He'll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn't going to see me beg.

GEOFFREY: My you chivalric fool... as if the way one fell down mattered.

RICHARD: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

(From The Lion In Winter)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Something for Thursday (Diana Rigg edition)

 Actress Diana Rigg has died. She lived a long life (82 years) and did a lot of amazing work, but for me, she will always be Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, also known as Tracy...who would, very briefly, be Mrs. James Bond. Rigg was the greatest Bond Woman in the long history of Bond Women, and she is a huge reason why On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the greatest Bond movie ever made.

Thank you for the wonderful work, Diana Rigg! Here's Louis Armstrong with his signature ballad from OHMSS.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

 I haven't posted any Beethoven in a while, which is strange since it's supposed to be a focus, given that 2020 is Beethoven's 250th birth year. But here's an interesting tidbit: even though it's Beethoven, we're not completely taking a break from my recent delving into the history of Black figures in classical music history.

This is not a tone poem by any definition, so I shouldn't even be using it here, but my house, my rules. It's a sonata for solo violin and piano. Beethoven wrote ten violin sonatas, which are among the greatest works ever written for the instrument. Beethoven's compositional mastery of the violin is astounding (as I'll discuss more when I finally get around to writing about his Concerto for violin and orchestra), and it shines forth here, in the Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major. This piece is often called the "Kreutzer Sonata", after violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, to whom Beethoven dedicated the work.

But that's where things get a little interesting, because Kreutzer took one look at the score, decided the piece was unplayable, and rejected it. But the dedication stood, which seems weird, doesn't it? If I dedicated a piece to a specific musician who then insulted it, I'm not sure I'd let the dedication stand. And Beethoven was no stranger to removing dedications from his works, as we know from the Eroica symphony and...this very violin sonata.

For Rodolphe Kreutzer was not Beethoven's first choice of dedication. That honor went to violinist George Bridgetower, a Black violin virtuoso who had already disproved Kreutzer's notion that the sonata was "unplayable" by not only playing it, but by sightreading it. Bridgetower was one of the greatest violinists of his day, and he lived a long life mostly in England. He also did some composing of his own, but it's as the original honoree of Beethoven's Ninth Violin Sonata that he caught my attention.

Bridgetower's falling out with Beethoven is also a rather odd story. Apparently Bridgetower was out on the town with the great composer, when he made some insulting comments toward a woman, without knowing that the woman was a personal friend of Beethoven's. This was the impetus for Beethoven to rip off his original dedication and instead gift the work to a musician who didn't even like it and refused to play it. Isn't it weird how often the world of great art is as subject to human pettiness as everything else?

The sonata itself is a spellbinding listen as the mood shifts from moody darkness to the kind of joyful light that so often turns up in Beethoven's music. Is it a tone poem? Of course not...but it was first played by a Black man, and had that same man not made some inopportune comments one night, this piece would be carrying that Black man's name into history instead of some other guy who didn't even play it.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Something for Thursday (Wakanda Forever edition)

 It's strange about comets. Except for a few notable exceptions, the vast majority of comets come quickly, brighten our sky, and then disappear forever (or for so long it's functionally forever). For the brief time they are in the sky, they are a wonder...and then they are gone, leaving us with only the memory of this wonderful thing that blazed amongst the stars for a short time.

That is how I keep thinking of Chadwick Boseman, a man of incandescent talent who blazed across movies and teevee for a few years...and now is gone.

Here is the End Credits suite from Black Panther, written by Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson.

Farewell, Mr. Boseman. You won't be forgotten. How could you be? You shone too bright in the sky to be forgotten.

(image credit)

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The Unsuspecting

 There was a game going around Twitter the other day in which you post a photo of yourself from January of this year, when you were blissfully unaware of the jaw-dropping frightfest of a shitshow that 2020 had in store for us all. Here's the one I chose:

It's #LibraryShelfieDay! I don't get these books into many shots here in my own home library, so here they are! #libraryshelfie #books #bookstagram #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #dickiesworkwear #hickorystripe #denimoveralls #overallsarelife

This was taken on January 22. How optimistic that guy looks! How hopeful!

Here's hoping that I can capture a similar mood on this coming January 22....

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

 Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1924, Julia Perry was a Black composer who studied widely, attending the Berkshire Music Centre and working with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris and then relocating to Florence for further study before returning home to the United States. She eventually settled into a life as a teacher and as a composer, working hard to integrate her African musical heritage with the Western musical language she had grown up with. She was apparently quite prolific, writing a dozen symphonies and a couple of operas in addition to her other works, until a series of strokes incapacitated her on the right side of her body. Undeterred, Perry taught herself to use her left hand to write, thus furthering her compositional career until she died in 1979, when she was only 55.

All that, and until last week I had never heard of her or her music [oops: this, it turns out, isn't entirely correct! I need to search my own archives before saying things like this]. I think that's the most sobering thing about this project I've been on in this space these past few months: realizing how all of these composers, who all wrote interesting pieces that should be heard, have never been on my radar before. There are a lot of reasons for that, of course. I, like many, tend to more easily gravitate to what I know than what I don't. But there's another, deeper, more insidious reason why these Black musical voices have been largely drowned out, and it's pretty obvious what that reason is.

Here is a sacred work by Julia Perry, her setting of the Stabat mater. Many composers have written the Stabat mater over the centuries, adapting the hymn and text to new musical language each time out. Perry's is a contemplative and modernist setting for string orchestra and contralto. The sound strikes me as somewhere between Black spiritual and Catholic chant, with the hypnotic qualities of each. Fascinating piece.

Monday, August 31, 2020

"Let's go to The Roxy"

I may not remember the first place I ate a lot of my favorite foods, but I remember a lot of early favorites. Pizza? The ones I remember are Pizza Caboose in Hillsboro, OR and Rocky Rococo's in La Crosse, WI. I have no clue at all when or where I tried my first cheeseburger, but it was probably McDonald's or a chain in the northwest called Burgerville USA. I do, however, recall my first chicken wing (other than as part of a KFC bucket). It was this place:

That's The Roxy, an old dive bar in Olean, NY.

The other day I was scrolling through a Facebook group I had found dedicated to old photos and memories of one of my hometowns, Olean, NY. It's fascinating to look at the town's history, even if I haven't lived there in almost twenty years. Olean is a city in New York State's "Southern Tier", although it really isn't much of a city anymore, as decades of population drain have taken their toll. While I grew up as a child in the town of Allegany, a smaller town just west of Olean, I eventually lived and worked in Olean when The Wife and I got married, and Olean was my home from 1997 to the end of 2000.

By the time my family and I moved to the Olean area in 1981, the region's decline had begun, though maybe at that time it wasn't quite obvious yet. Olean still had several factories and lots of shops and even its own shopping mall, though it was on the smallish side. There were three supermarkets and a well-regarded university, and there were a lot of bars. Lots of bars. I remember that a lot of those bars were not "possessively" named, meaning, a bunch weren't named as a person's name in the possessive. There was a place called Sullivan's, and another dive bar called Buzzy's, but mostly the bars in Olean as I recall were "The Something". The Burton. The Village Inn. The Other Place. The Royal Ednor (not to be confused with The Royal). The Edgewood. The Birdcage. And, The Roxy.

As I scrolled through that Facebook group, suddenly I stopped dead because I saw that photo. The Roxy.

When I say that I ate my first chicken wing at The Roxy, it was my first chicken wing in the "split-wing" way, with the wings cut at the joints and the wing tips discarded, so what you end up with are a little drumstick and a "flat" (which is basically the forearm of the wing). I knew none of this wing-prep lore when we were preparing to move from Oregon to Western New York in 1981; all I knew was that my father said cryptic things about how we'd be eating chicken wings soon. My father actually lived in Olean on his own for one full semester in spring 1981, while my mother, sister, and I finished out the school year in Hillsboro, OR. So by the time we came along, my father already knew Olean pretty well, and he'd found this bar where I'd have my first chicken wings.

Now, I don't really know how or why that first wing experience ended up happening at The Roxy. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, really; we lived in Allegany, west of Olean, where The Roxy was on Olean's East side. Now, in 1981, wings weren't quite as ubiquitous as they are now, but still, lots of places had decent wings. Why that bar, all the way on Olean's east side? No idea, then or now. But that place was pretty cool, and in all honesty, I do kind of miss it.

The Roxy had two rooms: a dining room to the right when you went in, and the bar on the left. It was a blue-collar type of joint, which makes sense since it was right across the street from one of the local factories (a tile factory, if I remember right). Sometimes we'd sit in the dining area, other times in the bar, and I think they had other food there--maybe they even had a menu!--but for me, The Roxy was all about the wings.

And yet...I would soon discover, when I tried wings at other places, that what The Roxy served weren't actual "Buffalo" wings at all.

There are a great many ways to prepare chicken wings, but only one way to prepare Buffalo wings: They are fried unbreaded and then tossed in a sauce that is made of hot sauce and melted butter. To serve them, you dump them into a bowl or bucket or basket lined with wax paper. The Roxy's wings were breaded, though, and they came with the sauce on the side, not smothered on the wings themselves. And they were arranged nicely on a plate, like wheel spokes, around the little paper ramekin that had the sauce in it. You dipped the wings in the sauce to taste as you went. I want to say that a regular order of wings had fifteen in it, but I might be misremembering on that point.

When I discovered actual Buffalo wings later that same summer, I actually didn't like them as much as The Roxy's. At some point we stopped going out all that far for wings; maybe the place changed ownership or even closed. The bartender was a crusty old woman with a three-packs-a-day voice who had a wicked sense of humor, as I recall. Good times!

I looked at Google Earth the other day to see if the building still existed. I knew that it stopped being The Roxy at some point in the 1980s, and as of the last time the Google Mobile rolled through there, at least the building itself was still standing. It's a Hibernian Lodge now, though. I have no idea what the Hibernians are or what their thing is.

If anyone affiliated with The Roxy ever reads this, thanks for the wings! Oh, and for the pinball machine that gave out free games like candy. That was fun, too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Something's afoot, aye!

 Apparently they made a movie about Sherlock Holmes's younger sister Enola, featuring Mille Bobbie Brown in the title role. The movie drops on Netflix just a few days before my birthday.

If it's good, this might be one of 2020's stopped-clock moments (even a stopped clock is right twice a day)!

Tone Poem Tuesday

 I had a piece picked out for this week, but it's a pretty complex work that I want to hear a couple more times before I actually feature it, so this week I'll take an "easy" route. This is a short track called "Anthem" by composer Michael Abels, featured in the score he wrote for the Jordan Peele film Us. I haven't seen any of Peele's movies yet (and yes, I know this is a big gap in my media consumption), but I like what I've heard of Abels's music (previously featured in this space).

Here is "Anthem". It's atmospherically creepy, and reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's "Ave Satani" from The Omen.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Testing the new gizmo!

I'm writing this on my new tablet, because my backordered keyboard folio finally came in. Huzzah! Now to begin my plan for World Domination...or, on a smaller scale, using this tablet as a content-creation device (blog posts, essays, maybe short fiction here and there). In terms of long form writing, I will almost certainly be a laptop guy until they literally stop making laptops, but I hope this little keyboard and tablet will yield dividends as well.

However...I am just now discovering that the Blogger app for Android devices doesn't reorient to landscape format when the tablet is rotated, so as I type this post, the words are appearing vertically on my screen. I have a pretty good ability to get used to change, but even this might--just might!--be a bridge too far. We'll see.

Anyway, Excelsior!

The Moment

 Obviously there is zero chance that I will vote for anybody other than Joe Biden this November (or October, really--early voting, here I come!), but I do want to highlight this segment of his acceptance speech last night. How strange a time it is, that we have to celebrate the very notion of electing a President of the United States who can feel genuine human emotions.

Let's go, Joe. I'm ready.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Something for Thursday

 It's funny about "one-hit wonders": sometimes the hit is a genuinely enduring song, but other times the hit somehow endures despite being a very clear time-capsule piece that could only have come at a certain point in time. "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners is clearly an 80s song, but there's nothing about it other than its general sound that ties it to the 80s. But is there any other time than 1974 when "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas could have come out? I very much doubt it.

Here's "Kung Fu Fighting". Such a catchy tune that you couldn't begin to get past the culturally-aware producers of today!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

On Car Repair and Duct Tape

 It's always struck me as strange that a lot of folks will, when they learn that my day job involves fixing stuff, make some remark about how I must use a lot of duct tape. I also get a particular Internet meme shared with me: It's a guide to fixes of all kinds, consisting of two questions:

1. Does it GO and it's supposed to stay put? (Answer: Use duct tape!)

2. Does it STAY PUT and it needs to go? (Answer: Use WD-40!)

Now, I do use WD-40 and other penetrating greases on occasion, but I have to admit: I hate using duct tape for general repairs, and I generally refuse to use it at work for any purpose other than taping thick rugs down over spots where our tile floor breaks. As a means of fastening things together, I personally feel that if I resort to duct tape, I've failed as a professional. Yeah, it's one of those weird "honor" things. We've all got an honor thing about something, and duct tape is one of mine. (Another? Papermate and Bic pens. Yuck!)

But there is one repair for which I used duct tape without regret. It was a repair--you know what, let's put quotes on that, because even I can't call this a genuine repair--there's one "repair" I made using duct tape. One time my car door wasn't closing all the way. It would feel closed, but it wouldn't be registering as closed. The "Door Ajar" warning light would come on, and even more annoyingly, the dome light would come on as well. I find the dome light enormously distracting when I'm driving in darkness, so this was a frustration. This went on for a few days until I realized what the problem was. It was related to...the seatbelt.

There's this weird thing that tends to happen to me in cars: the seat belt doesn't retract all the way, like it's supposed to. This happens to me a lot. I don't know if it's something about the shape of my body or something, if the belt twists in such a way when I use it that it doesn't snap all the way back, or if it's a thing that happens to everybody. But once in a while, the seat belt will stop retracting and just kind of hang loose. More often than not, then, the belt hangs into the damned door frame, so when I go to shut the door I close it on the seat belt itself, sometimes catching the entire buckle between the door and the frame. This in turn results in the door not closing properly, but latching enough that I have to unlock the door to fix things.

So: I turn the car off, unlatch the seatbelt and flick it to my left, from where its spring-loaded mechanism is supposed to retract it. Then I pay no attention as I grab whatever I need and get out of the car. Most times I shut the door and go about things normally...but once in a while, I hear an obnoxious metallic CRUNCH sound and notice that the door is not closed. The damned seatbelt has caught in the door frame again! I swear a few times, take care of business by opening the door and untwisting the belt so it can do its thing correctly, and then close the door again.


One time, the buckle managed to get in between the door and the frame at the exact spot where the door's shape is supposed to depress the door switch that tells the car that the door ain't open. And of course the damned buckle dented the door at that exact spot. It's a tiny dent, so tiny you can't even see it unless you're poring over the door itself trying to figure out why the door-close switch isn't working. The switch itself is working just fine, see! With the car turned on and the door open, you can press it with your finger and make the car think the door is shut!

Yup. That tiny dent, barely a fingernail's thickness in depth? That was sufficient to make the door not click the switch. I couldn't see any feasible way of repairing the door to make the switch work myself, and I sure as hell wasn't taking the car to the shop for this dumb repair, which I could see resulting in a whole new door. Screw that.

So...enter the duct tape.

A disposable wipe cloth, folded up and taped to the door at that spot? That worked wonders.

Stupid duct tape.

Damnable Duct Tape!

I hope this doesn't come up too much when I'm sitting around the fires in the halls of Repair Valhalla.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

 While doing a bit of research for this post, I learned something that is actually a correction of something I've believed for years. Remember in the 70s when the ragtime piece "The Entertainer" was all the rage, because of its use in the popular movie The Sting? I don't know why, but for pretty much all the time I've been aware of that piece's existence, I thought that it was an original piece of ragtime music written by Marvin Hamlisch as a pastiche of the kind of thing that Scott Joplin wrote back in the late 1800s.

Well, as the kids say these days, "I was today years old" when I learned that no, what's heard in The Sting is an arrangement composed by Hamlisch, and Mr. Joplin actually did write "The Entertainer" in 1902. Joplin (1868-1917) himself was known as "the King of Ragtime", and ragtime music comprises almost all of his compositional output. He was trying to move beyond his ragtime reputation in his later years, but syphilis and dementia cut his voice short.

I know virtually nothing about ragtime, to be honest. My main impression of it is likely the same as many people: it's mainly kept alive not through active performance but by being the kind of music used by piano teachers to help young students develop rhythm skills. "Here's a piece that's fun to play!" is the likely selling point when a teacher is helping a kid choose the next thing they work on, and...well, in a lot of cases, ragtime actually is fun to play, especially if you've been spending months struggling with the chaste classicism of, say, a sonatina by Muzio Clementi.

Obviously, though, ragtime--a musical form that springs from Black culture and artistry--deserves better than to be reduced to a common teaching tool for young piano students, especially when the music's cultural context is virtually never discussed. "This is a piece by Scott Joplin, who wrote more than a hundred of these!" is about all you learn. At least, that's about all I learned when it came time to try my hand at a ragtime piece. Which one was it? Almost certainly "The Maple Leaf Rag", of course. Joplin wrote over a hundred rags, didn't he? And yet, every year at piano recital time, someone played "Maple Leaf Rag" and no other.

I don't mean to sound irritated at my piano teacher or at piano teachers nationwide, who can't always be true to the music at the same time they're trying to get little Billy interested in actually practicing for once. They can't teach the basics and try to keep some kid motivated enough to put in their half-hour a day of boring Czerny exercises while also doing anything more than the bare minimum in terms of music appreciation, but...well, anyway. Ragtime, an adaptation of the popular march form of the day coupled with the syncopated rhythms of African music, would help pave the way for the rise of jazz, so its place in music history is secure. But ragtime shouldn't be seen as merely a popular form for just a few decades that's important for blazing a trail for the extremely important work that came afterward. Ragtime is a musical moment that somehow captures a certain air of sadness at the same time that it's doing its "bouncy happy" thing, and while maybe it has its limitations, it should still be seen as more than just a thing to be viewed through a sepia veil.

Here is not "The Entertainer", or "The Maple Leaf Rag". This is "Solace: A Mexican Serenade", in which Joplin takes a slower tempo and incorporates tango rhythms into his normal ragtime language.

Joplin eventually wrote a ballet and two operas to go along with his ragtime work. As with many composers, I wonder what he might have accomplished if not for his illnesses and early death. The idea of Scott Joplin writing at the same time as George Gershwin is enticing, to say the least.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Memories of Maliboo

 My mother's cat, a beautiful red Persian named "Maliboo", died today at the fine age of 17. He had a fantastic life, truly winning the Cat Lottery. Oddly, Maliboo hated me until several years ago when he had no choice but to warm up to me while Mom took a 17-day trip to Wales. After that, he was fine with me.

Farewell, Maliboo. You were a good cat.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Vice President Harris

 I like the sound of that.

Let's go, Joe!

Tone Poem Tuesday

 William Grant Still is not new to this series, but the goal is to highlight music as well as composers, and to just hear one work by a composer and then move on forever seems...well, weird, doesn't it? So let's get back to Still, one of the most notable Black composers in the repertoire. Still (1895-1978) had a lush, Romantic style that nevertheless displays a lot of influences, among them the Negro spirituals of his ancestors.

This piece is a string quartet (although I have discovered that it can also be performed by a quartet of clarinets or saxiphones), called the Lyric Quartette. In this work, which in my ears summons up hints of Copland and Debussy, Still depicts three of his friends in descriptive terms: the first movement is "The Sentimental One", the second is "The Quiet One", and the concluding third movement is "The Jovial One". All those descriptors do apply to the music, which is introspective and at times meditative. This is a beautiful work. Enjoy!

Here is the Lyric Quartette by William Grant Still.

An Addendum... yesterday's post about my new tablet!

Given that I want to use that device primarily as a secondary writing device for longer-form work, I will not be keeping any social networking apps on it at all, with the exceptions of the photo-based Instagram and Flickr. This seems to me a healthier way of going about things, moving forward.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Tablet Fun!

So one thing I've been saving money for is a new tablet. My old one is pushing five years old (and may be over that already, as I'm not entirely sure when I bought it in 2015), so it's getting up there. Battery life isn't awesome anymore and apps don't always update, and in fact eventually a lot of apps become unwinnable. I've been squirreling away money so I could buy the new tablet outright, and now it's mine! In fact, I am writing this very post on the new tablet.

It's a Samsung Galaxy Tab A, in the 10-in size. This is the biggest tablet I've owned yet, which makes sense for reading comics and since I want to use this tablet as a secondary writing device. Of course, that particular bit of functionality will have to wait until the keyboard folio I also ordered comes; apparently it was backordered, which is a shame. (It was also included free, so I can't whine too much yet.) My plan is to use the tablet for writing in Google Docs, for things like blog posts and reviews for The Geekiverse, and maybe even short-form fiction if the whim allows. Google Docs doesn't handle very large files very well, and since brevity does not seem to be a thing I do as a novelist, that work will remain on the laptop and Scrivener. 

Aside from that, who knows? I just have a nifty new gadget!

And the camera is decent on this tablet, too. Here is a selfie I took last night with this very device. Not bad, I must say.

And oh yeah, those are also new overalls...but more on those in another post. Cheerio, mates!

Friday, August 07, 2020

Notes of an Overall Collector: Washington Dee Cee

There are a number of favorite subjects of mine that I haven't used this blog to geek out about in a long time, so let's go ahead and do some of that right now, OK? Time to talk about bib overalls!

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

I think it's long past time to admit that my acquisition of overalls has come to a point where there's really only one way to describe it without making myself seem like a weirdo (or, maybe at least a little less of a weirdo), and that's to assert that I am a collector of overalls. That doesn't seem weird at all, right? When you're an avowed collector of a thing, owning lots of it and being willing to go to odd lengths to procure it aren't nearly as weird as if you're just some goof who owns a whole lot of a particular thing.

Well, that's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

Which brings me to one recent acquisition for my overalls collection: a pair of Hickory-striped overalls by the Washington Dee Cee company. I haven't been able to find much information out there about the Dee Cee company, but they were based in Nashville and they made a lot of denim Western-wear and workwear back in the day.

What makes their overalls distinctive is the styling of the large pocket on the bib. Instead of a dual-compartment pocket with two snap enclosures, which tends to be the norm (see Dickies or, my eternal favorite, Lee overalls for examples), the pocket is mainly one large enclosure with a snap in the middle over which a narrow flap fastens. It's a neat look that's a nice change from the usual style. Washington Dee Cee overalls were notably modeled by actress Michelle Meyrink in the wonderful 80s nerd-comedy Real Genius...

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

...and by Mr. T on The A-Team!

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

I've kept an eye out on eBay and other places for a pair of Dee Cee overalls, but usually they were either not in my size, or not in my price range. I did occasionally see this interesting variation, though--and never in my price range. It seems that the Washington Dee Cee people made versions of their overalls but to be branded for another great Tennessee institution:

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Well, anyway, luck finally turned my way and I got my hands on a pair of Hickory-striped Washington Dee Cee overalls! I've really taken a keen liking to Hickory stripes over the years (commonly thought of as "engineer stripes", because they're commonly seen on railroad worker clothing). Here are my new ones!

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Some neat bib details here: While the Hickory-stripe pattern is always vertical on overalls, the Washington Dee Cee ones break with this in one place: the flap enclosure on the bib pocket. That makes for a neat visual contrast. At the far left of the bib pocket (the wearer's left, on the right as you look at them), there is a pencil-slot, and though it can't really be seen here, there is the traditional pocket-watch pocket that tucks into the seam just above the center tag. (For years I didn't know that this is what the "button hole" present on most pairs of "traditional" overalls, somewhere across the top of the bib, is for: the fob of a watch chain. It's one of those details that has held on for tradition's sake, even though most people who wear overalls aren't also carrying pocket watches.)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Close-up of the center snap. Back in the day, manufacturers engraved their names on the snaps and buckles.

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Center tag. I love tags on overalls. Some people cut them off their overalls! I don't understand that. But, whatever. [shrugs]

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

I like them a lot, even if they are just ever so slightly too small, but they're definitely wearable and I like the way they look. So, huzzah!

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

More new arrivals to the collection to come!

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Something for Thursday (Farewell, Leon Fleischer)

Pianist Leon Fleischer has died, at the age of 92.

Fleischer was one of the greatest American musicians of the twentieth century (and a chunk of the 21st!), and his story is one of consummate musicianship along with triumph to overcome and live with disability. Fleischer was already a pianist and teacher of great renown by 1964, when a neurological condition made playing with his right hand impossible. Fleischer didn't lose a step, though: because one-armed pianists are hardly unheard of, there is a substantial amount of repertoire for them, including today's feature piece.

Maurice Ravel, the great French Impressionist composer, was commissioned by an Austrian pianist named Paul Wittgenstein to write a concerto for him. Wittgenstein had lost his right arm in World War I, however, so Ravel wrote his Concerto in D for Left Hand. It's an amazing, bravura work, with such impressive piano writing that it is never obvious that only one hand is playing.

Wittgenstein appears to have been a rather prickly individual; he clashed with Ravel about the Concerto, revising it himself before playing it, to Ravel's displeasure. Later he commissioned another Concerto for Left Hand from composer Paul Hindemith, but Wittgenstein decided he didn't like the piece, so he refused to play it--but he also owned the rights to it, so he never let anyone else play it, either...until long after his death, when Hindemith's score was found in Wittgenstein's papers. The work was finally premiered in 2004, more than 40 years after Hindemith's death. The pianist who premiered it?

Leon Fleischer.

In the 2000s, even though he had a long career of left-hand piano playing, conducting, and teaching, Fleischer began undergoing experimental treatments in hopes of regaining control of his right hand. These treatments proved somewhat successful, enough for him to resume two-handed piano performance. In 2007 Fleischer was a Kennedy Center Honoree, inducted by President George W. Bush.

Here is Leon Fleischer performing Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand in D Major.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

The Doggos, practicing for the Synchronized Pouting at the 2021 Olympics

Look at these two. I can't remember what yummy thing I had in my possession--I think it was bacon, on BLT night, but I may be wrong--but wow, they wanted it.

Practicing their Synchronized Pouting for Tokyo 2021. #Cane #dogsofinstagram #greyhound #greyhoundsofinstagram #Carla #pitbullsofinstagram #pitbullmix #pittie #staffordshirebullterrier #staffiesofinstagram

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

There are two possibilities with regard to this amazing piece of music, which I've just heard for the first time ever the day before yesterday: Either this amazing work has been studiously ignored for decades since its composition, when it should be heard every year around Passover time, much as The Ten Commandments is screened each year; or, it is heard every year around that time, and White Musical America is just that good at ignoring the amazing work of Black composers.

Sadly, I can see it breaking either way.

Robert Nathaniel Dett was a Black composer, native to Canada but who eventually spent most of his life and career in America after his family moved there when he was eleven. Dett was born in 1882 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and would die in 1943 at the age of sixty, from a heart attack while touring with the USO as a choral director. In between he wrote a good amount of music, apparently making heavy use of Black folk songs and spirituals in a typically Romantic style.

Dett's oratorio The Ordering of Moses was premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1937. That performance was to be broadcast live by NBC, but the broadcast was cut short due to "technical difficulties" that apparently left many wondering if the issue had been technical at all, or due to large volume of complaints lodged with NBC for broadcasting a Black man's music. That doesn't matter now, because we can hear Dett's amazing work now.

Here is The Ordering of Moses by Robert Nathaniel Dett.

(The entire work isn't available in one video, so the above is an embedded playlist. As this doesn't always work well for me, here's the link to hear the work directly on YouTube.)

Monday, August 03, 2020

Happy Birthday, Martin Sheen!

Today is Martin Sheen's birthday! He turns 80 years old, which I can hardly believe. In his honor, I'd like to note just one scene from his amazing life of work. This is from The West Wing's Season Two opener, called "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen". The previous season had ended with an assassination attempt on President Bartlet (Sheen), and as the finale ended we didn't know who had been shot or even killed.

When Season Two began with this two-part episode, we learned that President Bartlet and his Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), had both been shot. Bartlet's injuries weren't life-threatening, but Josh's were critical, and the episode unfolds as doctors work to save Josh and the White House and the nation react to the attack. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we learn how the cast came together in a quixotic campaign to elect a long-shot candidate President.

Throughout all of the flashbacks, much is made of Bartlet's prickly nature, the fact that he's not especially nice to those in his inner circle, and that he simply isn't ready to be President. Aaron Sorkin's script even has a description: "There's something about Bartlet that seems smaller somehow." I don't know how Sheen managed to suggest "being somehow smaller", but at the end of the episode comes this scene.

It's one of the flashbacks. On the very night that Governor Josiah Bartlet wins the Illinois primary, thus becoming the almost-certain Democratic nominee, Josh receives the phone call that his father has suddenly died of cancer. As the campaign celebrates and gets ready for the trip to California, Josh instead has to go to the airport to fly home for his father's funeral. He's sitting at the gate when he notices Secret Service agents forming a perimeter around him...and then there's Bartlet, the last person he expected to see.

In this scene Bartlet finally shows some warmth to the people who have given up other careers to try and elect this guy, and it really is quite a wonderful scene between Sheen and Whitford. But the real amazing thing comes at the end of the scene, when Josh is heading off to catch his flight. Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Bartlet's oldest friend and campaign manager and eventual White House Chief of Staff, comes up from behind and asks Bartlet if Josh will be OK; Bartlet replies, "He's gonna be fine," and then...Bartlet turns around to face Leo.

And in that simple act of turning around and straightening up just a bit, we see that indeed Bartlet had been "somehow smaller", but now...he's not. He turns to face Leo, and he straightens just a bit, and he says: "Leo, I'm ready." I love when actors can create a completely different tone in their characters just by altering their posture in the tiniest bit.

Here is the scene, and Happy Birthday, Martin Sheen!

Wise Words from Samira Ahmed

Author Samira Ahmed, writer of the amazing YA novel Love, Hate, and Other Filters as well as others, recently appeared on one of my favorite podcasts, 88 Cups of Tea. Her main takeaway that she pushed hard was the need for creative people to "say yes to themselves", because we live in a world that puts up an awful lot of roadblocks in front of creatives. We don't need to add to the roadblocks ourselves; self-obstruction is not healthy. It was a wonderful conversation (this podcast is always full of them), but there was one particular quote from Ms. Ahmed that knocked my breath away. Seriously, I almost had to pull my car over, so amazed was I to hear this.

She specifically referred to the habit a lot of writers have of describing their first drafts in extremely non-complimentary terms. There's even a quote that gets shared on the online writing communities a lot that goes along the lines of, "The first draft of everything is crap!" I've  been pushing back on this notion for a long time (here's an old essay of mine about it, over on, but to hear a published professional author echo my thoughts was unimaginably refreshing. And Ms. Ahmed frames the problem in a way that I had never considered. Here is what she said:

SAMIRA AHMED: One piece of that kindness to myself--and I say that this is just for me, but I hope maybe it can speak to just one of the other storytellers out there--which is, I am gentle with the language that I use about my writing. So what that means is, I never say to myself that my first draft is 'trash'. This is something for me; maybe this is OK with everybody else, your mileage may vary, but for me, when I was little one of those racist experiences that I had was a grown-ass man telling me, a kid, that I was 'trash that America needed to take out.' Words can be weapons, and I'm not going to use weaponized language against myself. So I don't say that my first draft is 'trash.' I don't say it's 'garbage'. I say it needs improvement. I say it needs work. I say I could make it better...but I don't say that it's trash.

I could not possibly agree more. Be kind to your own work, folks. It's yours, after all!

(I featured the Samira Ahmed quote in a new post over on, just in case you're wondering how writing is progressing of late!)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

You may remember a hilarious sketch comedy show from the 2000s called Key and Peele; and if you do, then you likely know that Jordan Peele, one half of the comedy duo from that show, has gone on to an impressive career in filmmaking, mostly in the horror genre. He even won an Oscar for one of his screenplays a couple of years ago.

Peele, like many directors, seems to have established a partnership with a particular composer for his filmscores: a man named Michael Abels, who in addition to his film work has composed a number of meaningful works for the concert hall and who has worked hard to increase the visibility of composers of color. This particular piece dates back to 1990, and its title--"Global Warming"--refers not to the ecological challenge of our time, but the specific feeling of international goodwill that was emergent in the handful of years immediately following the end of the Cold War.

The piece opens with a coldly stark sound that gives way to exuberant dance which blends a number of elements from national music all over the world. One might expect that character of music, given this theme...but at the end it returns to that coldly stark sound, as if to express skepticism and a return to wariness even as old enmities were seemingly falling by the wayside. In this Abels may well have been prescient.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Not even a pandemic can stop summer!

True, the pandemic has put the kibosh on a lot of things we normally do this time of year: no trip to the Sterlink Renaissance Festival for us, nor will there be an Erie County Fair. But we still eat like it's summer, though! Every year when the ripe tomatoes start showing up at the Farmers Market, it's BLT time.

Since work I have: walked doggos, listened to 1/3 of #folklore, eaten this BLT, and quaffed this beer. #ahhhhh #yum #blt #beer

Sweet corn can't be far behind!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Something for Thursday (Friday edition)

Yeah, the usual disclaimer: a busy week full of activity has led to a day's delay. I don't have a great deal to say about this song, so just listen to it. This is one of those songs that takes you places, which is fitting given its title and lyrics. Here is "Midnight Train to Georgia", by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

RIP, Pizza Hut

Every Pizza Hut restaurant in Western New York has permanently closed.

I'm not going to pretend that this is a loss, except in the sense that this is a few hundred jobs down the drain. I worked for Pizza Hut back in the 1990s, when we lived in Olean, NY, and I posted years ago what that was like. It wasn't a horrible place to work back then, but it sure wasn't great, either; pay was a joke, and for all the lip service paid to the idea that Pizza Hut was supposed to be a step above fast food, it was clear that even then the higher-ups had no idea what they were doing with respect to the shifting restaurant scene.

I have no idea how long it's been since I've even eaten at a Pizza Hut, and it's something of a long-running joke in this region that the number of buildings that used to be Pizza Huts far outnumbers those that house actual Pizza Huts.

Oh well. Support your local pizza joint, folks. Let the chains figure it out on their own.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

Ulysses Kay was a Black composer who lived from 1917 to 1995. Born in Tucson to parents who encouraged music-making in the home, Kay went on to study music at the University of Arizona and the Eastman School of Music, working with such musical luminaries as William Grant Still and Howard Hanson. Kay's music is (so I've read, having not heard much of it at all!) mostly written in the neoclassical style, which makes sense from my hearing of today's piece. I don't hear a great deal of jazz or African influence here. This work has an almost academic kind of feel to it, which may be simply because the piece is called "Fantasy Variations" and does not seem to have any programmatic content at all, which puts it in a different category, more of an "absolute music" kind of piece, than a lot of what I've been featuring over the last few weeks.

This work rewards several listens, I have found. It opens with a lyrical passage that quickly gives way to stark modernism, and then the mood alternates several times before arriving on an almost hymnlike conclusion. The piece stands in much the same kind of musical tradition as a great deal of American 20th century music, and I am entirely unsurprised to read that Kay studied with Still and Hanson.

Here is Fantasy Variations by Ulysses Simpson Kay.

Monday, July 20, 2020


This has turned into a hot, dry summer in Buffalo Niagara. Even the streams at Chestnut Ridge, up in the wooded hills, are beginning to dry up.

Very hot day makes a pretty short hike. I'm better with heat than I used to be, but I am still not made for 90 degrees. #ChestnutRidge #wny #orchardpark #summer #nature #hiking #trees #TooDarnHot

I'm not nearly as bad about hot weather as I once was, ten or fifteen years ago, but even so, too much time north of ninety degrees still makes me grumpy and/or lethargic. The week before last, we endured something like eight consecutive days above the ninety degree mark. That is highly unusual for this region.

I'm hoping that this doesn't become the norm for summers around here. While we do have our share of hot-and-humid, one selling point of summer in Buffalo is that it doesn't get as sultry as the summers in Philadelphia, New York City, or Boston. Every year we hear anew the fact that since authorities started recording temperatures, Buffalo has never hit one hundred degrees. I suspect that this streak is likely to end one of these years.

I'm ready for August, though!

Tinkering, complete! (Mostly)

I spent a bit of time this past weekend making a few changes to Byzantium's Shores, which you may notice if you're particularly eagle-eyed and you're familiar with the old lay of the land here. Some of these changes were long overdue, and given that Blogger has recently updated its interface, I figured I should make some of the obvious (and less-than-obvious) changes.

By way of itemizing the alterations, here's what's up:

::  New masthead image, obviously. I think I did a pretty good job at creating a masthead that reflects my personal branding!

::  I updated the blog tagline, to run beneath the masthead.

::  I moved the menu of Blog Pages up, so now it's the first thing you see on the sidebar. You may notice that the Comments Policy is not there anymore; the page still exists but I want to tweak it a bit. That link will reappear when that's done.

I have also created an information page for my books! As of this writing, the page contains nothing at all, but getting that page done is a priority for the next week or two. It seems weird that this particular blog, which is in many ways my main outpost online, never had direct information about my books and their availability. That changes...well, soon. Stay tuned!

Also note that I have removed the blogroll. This is, sadly, permanent, at least as far as I can foresee. Blogging is more and more of a niche thing, and as I clicked around my blogroll's links a few days ago I discovered a distressing number of links that go to blogs that are, sadly, no more. An on-site blogroll is just not an important resource anymore.

::  I tightened up the wordage in the "Informational" section of the sidebar, which is now titled "Greetings, Programs!" (This is a geek reference to the movie TRON, if you must know.) This includes a link to, as well as a link to my LinkTree. LinkTree is a service that manages links, so links to all of my various social media and other web hangouts are there, instead of taking up lots of sidebar space.

::  There was a section for old blog aggregation services; I've removed this entirely.

::  All that remains is the shifting about of the photo sections and my sidebar quotes.

Does all this mean that I'll be posting more frequently? Ummm...look, over there! [runs away while you're distracted]

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Tinkering under the hood....

I'm giving this blog a much-needed refreshing this weekend, so if things look slightly different, that's why. Bear with, folks!

--Still tinkering....

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Something for Thursday

I have to admit something: it took me years to warm back up to this song, after a college professor ruined it for me. She used a cover of it as the background song to a video she had put together showing photographs of homeless people. I cannot for the life of me remember the point of that video or what she was trying to convey to us, but it was a class about politics or society or...something. The class was called "Person and Society", and I really couldn't tell you what the point of the class was at all, these many years later. It was one of three classes Wartburg College had at the time that were required of every student, summed up under the label "Foundational Studies". This class might have been about political expression...or...hell, I don't know. All I really recall from this class is this godawful video, and the fact that one of our textbooks was a ranty volume by a guy named Dinesh D'Souza. (Yeah...I know.)

So yeah, it took me quite a long time to warm up to this song again, and when I did, it was to the original, by Bill Withers. It really is quite a good song, after all -- too good to be ruined by a weird A/V presentation in a college class.

Here's "Lean On Me" by Bill Withers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Occasional Hazards of Breakfast-for-Dinner Night

We had waffles the other night. I took my waffles outside and ate them on our patio table, because it was a lovely evening.

Waffle nite! #yum #waffles

But one of my family members didn't want me to be lonely, so....

I see you have a waffle.... #Carla #dogsofinstagram #pitbullsofinstagram #pitbullmix #pittie #staffordshirebullterrier #staffiesofinstagram #yum #waffles #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #vintage #dickiesworkwear #denim #bluedenim #denimoveralls #overall

Oh well.

Yes, I shared. I'm not a monster!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

This may be something of a cheat, since Tone Poem Tuesday has always featured orchestral music, and this week all we have is a solo piano work. But what a work it is, juxtaposing traditional melodies with interesting sound effects, some produced by the piano and some not.

But first, let's meet our composer: Blind Tom Wiggins.

He was born a slave in 1850, but--as one might expect from his name--he was blind. A blind slave might have expected to simply be killed by their owners, since they offer little by way of economic benefit, but for whatever reason, Tom's owners let him live, and he seems to have been allowed to simply wander about the plantation and entertain himself as best he could, which ultimately led to his finding his way to a piano. He played songs from memory upon first hearing, and he had other strange gifts of recall as well: he was able to recite speeches he had heard years before, even aping the speakers' intonations, and he could repeat entire conversations verbatim. But he couldn't communicate his own thoughts or needs beyond grunting.

It is now thought that Blind Tom Wiggins was an autistic savant, in a time when such individuals were unheard of. He traveled extensively, performing concerts where he would entertain "audience challenges": someone would play for him a new, unheard composition, challenging him to reproduce it by ear, and he would. Wiggins also composed a lot of music of his own, little of which has been heard since his day.

One of his best-known pieces is this week's feature. It is called The Battle of Manassas, and it begins with rolling piano chords possibly signifying the drums of an army on the march. Then comes a series of familiar tunes from the Civil War era, some of which come as a surprise. As the piece goes on, the drumming in the bass gives way to pounded dissonant chords, possibly signifying gun and cannon fire. At one point the performer is to whistle a single note over the entire proceedings, while in another the performer makes a "Ch-ch-ch" sound.

It's a bizarre and fascinatingly modern piece, written by a man who was enslaved, misunderstood, and exploited. Here is The Battle of Manassas, by Blind Tom Wiggins.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

On Masks


So, among everything else, 2020 has become The Year We All Wear Masks.

Or it should be that, but an awful lot of people are proving wildly resistant to the idea, on various bases. There are the always-entertaining libertarian types who are loath to follow any governmental guideline, no matter how wise or just or sensible, because it's from the government. There are the fact-challenged skeptics who refuse to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is real, or they accept that it's real but overblown, or they simply believe themselves to be relatively bullet-proof and take a "Let's just roll the dice!" attitude, without considering that with a disease like this, you're not just rolling your dice but the dice of people around you, some of whom are likely loved-ones.

As for me? Well, I've largely been fine with wearing the mask, though I honestly can't say I would have adopted the mask as quickly and readily as I did had my job at The Store not made them a requirement (which they did, in turn, based on an executive order by Governor Cuomo). I like to think that I would have heeded the strong recommendations from the CDC and other officials, but I have my pig-headed moments too, so maybe I wouldn't have been as wise on this as I would like to imagine. Luckily for me, I'm not going to find out.

I never liked Halloween costumes that involved masks when I was a kid, and the first day I had to wear one at work, I had similar difficulty. It took a couple of days for me to figure out the ins-and-outs of the masks, which started out as the disposable paper ones. My glasses were a problem, of course! I realized that if I kept moving, the force air circulation would keep my glasses from fogging up. As soon as I stopped, though, then I'd fog up instantly. This also happened with the washable and reusable masks my company soon provided. I started carrying my glasses case with me, because I could just take the glasses off when I was working on something close, like doing a repair on a piece of equipment or...writing.

The bigger problem I had with those masks was that the elastic cords and bands that went around my ears made them ache something awful. I could wear the mask for about an hour before I had to take it off to give my poor ears a break. There are workarounds for this, of course, but right about this time an online friend named Zace Myers, who is an artisanal clothing maker in Ohio who makes, among other things, really amazing bib overalls (and I am years overdue in blogging about his overalls!), decided to apply his skills to mask design. After a couple trials and refinements, he settled on the design I'm wearing in the photo above.

The elastic bands go around the head, and not the ears, which is the main thing! And the brass nose-piece is great because you can easily bend it to properly shape your particular nose. The upshot is that now my glasses never fog up! There is a small tradeoff here: the mask does push my glasses up on my face just slightly, so they're a tiny bit north of where I usually position them. In most cases that wouldn't be a problem, but my glasses are transition lenses, so the mask pushing them up results in the glasses not quite lining up with where I best look through them. This is not a big deal, just a tiny, minor thing. My poor ear cartilage not feeling like it's on fire is the major thing. (Here's where to buy them, if you're so inclined!)

As for breathing, I find that after wearing masks for most of the day, every day I'm at work, I'm actually getting used to them. The extra heat inside them doesn't faze me much (and I might even like that aspect come winter, if we're still masking as I assume we will be), and I have zero difficulty breathing in them. The act of breathing feels slightly different, obviously, and I think that a lot of people are so used to completely unencumbered breathing that they assume difficulty where there is none. I know that my pulse-oxygen levels have not suffered one bit from wearing the mask, and in truth I am at the point where I even forget I have it on.

I see some snarking online here and there about masks, and one that especially irritates me is "You don't have to wear one when you're driving by yourself, Sheeple!" I've responded several times, with varying degrees of politeness (I was, I'll admit, not at all polite in responding to some MAGA-Republican running for Congress someplace), that if I'm making multiple stops I don't want to be putting on the mask, taking it off again, putting it on again, taking it off again, lather rinse repeat, everywhere I go. What I don't get is people who rip the mask off the second they exit a place, whether it's a store or whatever, and make this show of gasping for air. Come on, folks. Let's get a grip.

Well, this has gone on long enough, I guess. Mainly my take on masks boils down to: I wasn't thrilled to have to do it, but now that I do, well...could be worse. It's an easy thing to do, it's not at all a major imposition on my life, and it's a perfectly valid means of helping to protect others. This last point is what gets me about all this: The resistance to mask-wearing has really provided a fascinatingly specific case study--not that we needed yet another one, but here we are--in the ever-depressingly American resistance to thinking in terms of collective benefit. Our centuries of mythology about "rugged individualism" is either going to be set aside and soon, or it's going to lead us to erasing ourselves from the march of human history. I've believed this for years. I just never thought that something like "Wear masks for a while, or millions will die" would be the thing that would prove it.

Wear your masks, people.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

I've featured the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) before, and with good reason: he was a fine composer whose work deserves to be better known. Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer of mixed race (a white mother and a Creole father). As a British composer living when he did, Coleridge-Taylor composed in the style of late Romanticism, and his work--full of dense orchestrations and dramatic mood-shifts--anticipates greater English masters like Edward Elgar and Arthur Bax. Coleridge-Taylor unfortunately died of pneumonia when he was only 37, yet another voice whose works of comparative youth tantalize at the depths that might have been plumbed in later years if not for illness.

This work, the Ballade in A minor for orchestra, was commissioned for a choral festival at the urging of none other than Elgar himself, who saw the young composer's talent. The Ballade is an energetic and lyrical work of late Romantic warmth.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Maestro Morricone

Ennio Morricone, one of the greatest of all film composers, has died. He was 91. His music was often expansive and melodic, evocative and emotional. I often find his work hard to characterize, to be honest, but his finest work is often meditative and introspective. He often took a non-intuitive approach to scoring certain films, like his famous work on the "Spaghetti Westerns" of Sergio Leone. He wasn't about to strive for the Americana-west sound of an Elmer Bernstein or a Dmitri Tiomkin

One of the finest albums of film music I know is a collaboration album he did years ago with Yo Yo Ma, performing selections from his film scores. I cannot recommend this album highly enough, especially if you're new to Morricone and you have no idea where to start. That can happen with composers as prolific as Morricone was.

Farewell, Maestro. Your music will linger!

Saturday, July 04, 2020

4 July 2020

Of all Independence Days, this one is something else, isn't it? I personally find it hard to celebrate this year, for oh so many reasons. About the most positive feeling I can muster this year is a grim resolve, the vow that no, this ain't over, not by a damn longshot. I'm not giving up on my country forever, but it's hard right now to see it ever becoming the land to which it aspires (and, for a certain population, believes it always was until something went awry, hint hint wink wink nudge nudge as to what that might be).

Anyway. Happy birthday, America. 
America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

--The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin

Friday, July 03, 2020

Something for Thursday (Friday edition)

Yesterday was a pretty busy day in my world, as I was getting ready for a nice long weekend. Ahhhhhh!!!

It's Independence Day Weekend, when we're supposed to be celebrating America. In 2020 that's...well, frankly, it's a pretty tall order. The American brand is not having one of its best years, but it can at least be hoped that perhaps this year is something of an acceleration year as the country starts to again pivot toward the country it should be.

Anyway, here's something purely American: Wynton Marsalis playing some jazz. It's a piece called "Perdido". Written by trombonist Juan Tizol, it's a jazz standard that goes all the way back to Duke Ellington. I'm not always the best jazz listener, but the big band stuff from that era usually makes me happy, and Wynton Marsalis is, of course, a genius.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

David Baker (1931-2016) was a Black composer who was a deeply skilled jazz musician and teacher whose career spanned decades, first as a jazz musician playing the trombone. An automobile accident left him unable to play the trombone, so he switched to the cello and ended up at Indiana University. His first teaching job, in the mid-1950s in Missouri, ended with his resignation when he married a white opera singer. Missouri still banned inter-racial marriage at that time. Baker would not return to the classroom for more than ten years, when he finally arrived at Indiana University. There he started the university's Jazz Studies program, which he chaired for more than 40 years. All through this he composed influential works in jazz and in the interstitial area between jazz and classical music.

This work, his Fantasy on Themes from the Masque of the Red Death, is a short and interesting work of modernism. It opens with a long roll in the snare drums, and it is full of interesting sonic effects, including the use at one point of a wind machine. Several melodies are present, most recognizably the famous chant of the Dies Irae, a theme used to enormous effect previously by composers like Berlioz and Rachmaninov. I enjoyed this piece a great deal, but I'm also interested in listening to more of Baker's music because there's not a lot of jazz here, and jazz was apparently his guiding star, musically-speaking.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

You say tomato, I say....

Tastes change as we get older, don't they? There are many foods I loved as a kid that I find myself kind of grossed-out by when I sample them as I get older (most of it mass-produced sweet shit, so this isn't a bad thing). On the flip side, there are quite a few foods that I disliked in my younger years that I find myself coming to like a great deal. Many of these are vegetables, which is a good thing! I don't see myself ever turning the corner on broccoli--that one will always be a bridge too far for me--but over the last ten to fifteen years I've taken more and more a liking to olives, mushrooms, and even asparagus! Preparation helps a lot: I'm not likely to ever like steamed asparagus much, but grilled asparagus, brushed with olive oil and dusted with kosher salt prior to grilling? That's good stuff.

But today, I'm talking about the tomato.


Like most people in this country, tomato-based stuff has always loomed large in my diet: pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and yes, ketchup. (I use ketchup less now than I once did, but I still like it on a burger and it's my dip of choice for fried potatoes of all kinds.) But raw tomatoes? I was always a hard "Nope" on those. I remember getting frustrated with my parents when they'd take my sister and I out for pizza and then order raw tomato slices as one of the toppings. Whenever I went to Subway or Burger King, I always ordered my sub or Whopper with no tomatoes.

I'm not sure really when I started reversing course on this stuff, to be honest. It's not a new development. At some point...I dunno, maybe I got a Whopper with the tomatoes left on and I didn't feel like complaining and I just went with it. Or I tried the tomato-and-onion vinaigrette thing that comes as a side dish with the Chiavetta's Barbecue Chicken dinner at the Erie County Fair and liked it. Or...well, I don't know. Most likely The Wife, observing one of her family's food traditions, decided on August to make BLTs for dinner, and I decided to just go ahead and try the tomato on the thing instead of just going with a BL, and discovered that it was actually good.

On reflection, it's interesting to note how many of my food-opinion reversals have arisen because I didn't want to be a pain in the ass to The Wife, who was being nice enough to make dinner. So, long story short, I've enjoyed raw tomatoes for a while now. (Although I haven't tried raw slices on my pizza. Maybe I should!)

One thing I never tried before, because I didn't know it was a thing, was the Tomato Sandwich. I'd never heard of such a thing until a week ago when I read this article on Food 52:

The tomato sandwich is, in my opinion, both under and over-appreciated, depending on the camp you fall into. Some just don't appreciate the magic of a perfect tomato sandwich, while others, like me, think about it more often than is technically healthy. (I figure if fantasizing about tomato sandwiches is among the worst of my vices, I’m probably okay.) When tomato season is in full swing I tend to have a tomato sandwich for lunch at least three days a week. 
It’s nothing fancy, but over the years I tweaked until I came up with the tomato sandwich that best suits my taste: two pieces of whole grain toast spread with mayo and stuffed as generously as possible with slices of ripe tomato, plus some salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

I saw that linked on social media, read the article, and immediately thought, "I gotta try that." As luck had it, I read that article last Saturday morning, before our first trip of the season to the Hamburg Farmers Market (opened a month later than usual due to the damnable COVID-19), and when I saw a vendor selling tomatoes, I bought a couple because I just had to try that sandwich. How simple a concept, how elegant a recipe! Toasted bread, mayo, tomato slices, salt, and pepper. Even though the tomatoes aren't in season yet--I assume that Market vendor grew them in a greenhouse--I went full-speed ahead. I got the tomatoes home, sliced one on my mandoline, and assembled the sandwich.

Then I ate it so quickly I didn't even think to get a picture of it until I was done and basking in the heavenly flavor.

So here is yesterday's tomato sandwich. I had to make another one as soon as we got home again from the Farmers Market, this time having bought a quart of tomatoes.

Yet more food of recent days! I have discovered tomato sandwiches. Thick tomato slices, mayo, kosher salt, pepper, all on toasted wheat bread. I am now wondering if my favorite part of the BLT for all these years has actually NOT been the bacon. #yum #san

This sandwich is utter heaven. The salt and the pepper and the mayo combine with the juices of the tomato to make the most wonderful sauce for the toasted bread, and of course there's the delightful coolness of the tomato slices themselves. After eating my second one of these in a week, I find myself wondering if in all the years of having BLTs each August during tomato season, my favorite part of the sandwich has actually not been the bacon after all.

All hail the mighty tomato!