It’s Christmas – Time to Kill a few Orcs!

December 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, Fun for Your Family, Musings | Leave a comment
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Hi Everyone, it has been – well – awhile since I posted on this blog.  OK, it’s been 5 years.  Weirdly enough, my kids have grown up as well.  They are now 8, 10 and 12…still very interesting ages, but not the ages when they want to be listening to their dad sing “Piggy” one more time.  No, what they want to be doing (at least the 10 year old), is going to see The Hobbit part deux with their dad at the local theater.  I mean, let’s face it, going to see your dad sing is not a guarantee of Snowcaps, Popcorn and a large, refillable drink – but watching a few (or shall I say 1000 (000000000000) ) orcs get killed definitely primes a (young) man’s appetite – and MAN was I hungry when I watched the latest Hobbit flick with my son…and I mean hungry to see a few nasty, smelly,  snarly, scarly, orcs meet their maker (Peter Jackson?)…and they did at the hands of two VERY ninja-esque elves.  (Yes, Harry Potter, Dobby was free, but pretty lame compared to these Bad A** elves – just think what would have happened to Bellatrix LeStrange if Tauriel had been on the job…)

As for the rest of the movie – it’s alright. OK, maybe more than alright, but other than the awesome Peter Jackson-esque vistas and the lovely soundtrack, it’s pretty standard fare. It’s the old story of a quest to recover the dwarves homeland, restore Thorin to his rightful place as King Under the Mountain and rid the world of the terrible scourge of Smaug (who should have been named ‘Smug’ with his know-it all attitude and British accent.  Seriously, how is it that a dragon can speak better English than the orcs when he lives alone and never talks to anyone?)   Then there is the mysterious Necromancer – threatening impending doom to all the world.

With that same-old heroes questy thing going on in the background, Jackson needed to jazz it up with some pretty exciting fight scenes – and he did.  A good example is the one when the dwarves are floating down a river in barrels beating off attacking orcs aided by the elves Tauriel and Legolas. Legolas leaps back and forth on the dwarves heads (I just can’t get over how far elves have come since Herbie wanted to be a dentist!) This fight scene, like every other one, involves impaling, shooting, beheading, tripping, teasing, and generally ridiculing orcs.  Not that they don’t deserve it, they are ugly and bad mannered, and their noses are all scrunched up so undoubtedly they snore.

On a literary note – orcs weren’t in the Hobbit.  The dwarves were bothered by goblins and some wolf-like things called, if memory serves, wargs.   No, Jackson created these pesky creatures himself.  And, they fit what seems to be Jackson’s pattern: the tougher and meaner you look, the more ridiculous a fighter you are – the big spiders fit this pattern and ***SPOILER ALERT*** so does Smaug who will end up being killed by a single arrow (in the next film, assuming Jackson follows the text).

My ten year old loved every minute of it.  As I watched him watch it, I was reminded of my 9 year old self watching the first Star Wars way back when.  In that movie it was the tough looking Storm Troopers who literally fell like flies.  I watched, wide-eyed and open mouthed with awe back then in the same way he watched today .  All in all, it was definitely worth the $20 it cost us to get through the door and then the additional $20 we spent on snowcaps, drinks and popcorn.  And, with it’s white bearded magic dude, elves who make miracles, snowy landscapes,  and desire to make the world a better place (albeit by killing orcs), it may just become the next great holiday classic.


The Barnyard Tapes – The Basement Tapes and Bob Dylan’s Mandolin

November 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Posted in kids music, Musings, News and other stuff... | Leave a comment

As we were finishing our newly released CD, we were casting around for a title.   I happened to put Bob Dylan and the Band’s “The Basement Tapes” into the car CD player.  I hadn’t listened to it for a few years, but over the next few days, I listened again and again.

Everything about it, from the live recording (as opposed to polished studio tracking) to the sheer joy that these guys took in the music was  appealing.  I thought about the fact that we did the first recordings for our CD a couple of years ago and those tapes had sat our in the barn for a couple of years.  I thought about the fact that we were working to play the songs as live as possible, only creating tracks when one of us played more than one instrument on a song.  That requires a different studio set-up – lots of mics and lots of potential for background noise that you can’t get out of the mix – in other words, it might not end up as the type of clean (and sterile) recording that we’re so used to hearing, but it’s exactly what Bob did.   I thought about songs that appear on our CD, “Cluck Old Hen,” “Liza Jane” and others that feature barnyard animals.   Finally,  I thought about the fact that, like Bob and the Band, we love hanging out and recording – and our title was obvious.  The Barnyard Tapes was born.

Barnyard Tapes - Basement Tapes

The Barnyard Tapes – The Basement Tapes…Thanks Bob!

Now, about the Mandolin…I bought the mandolin on our back cover at a pawn shop in Virginia, Minnesota, a town about 10 miles from Bob’s home town, Hibbing, Minnesota.  (And no, the house where Bob grew up is not on the National Registry of Historic Places – it’s just a house where people live.)

Anyway, the mandolin is a cheap, homemade, heavily lacquered mandolin that just so happens to look an awfully lot like the one that Bob is holding on the Basement Tapes cover.  Look closely – it does!  So, the possibilities:

  1. It’s the same mandolin.   Bob pawned it on a trip home and it sat in that shop for 20 something years until I came along and bought it.
  2. It’s a mandolin made by the same person who made Bob’s.
  3. I just randomly found a mandolin that has nothing to do with Bob Dylan in the pawn shop close to where he grew up that looks exactly like one he is holding in a cover photo from early in his career.

Which sounds most likely?  I’ll tell you my vote, I have the mandolin stored in a secure, moisture and temperature monitored storage facility…Smithsonian, if you’re out there, drop me a line.

The Upside Down World of Parenting – Daylight Savings and the Elusive “Extra Hour”

November 2, 2008 at 7:10 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings | Leave a comment

I won’t hazard a guess on percentages, but I think it’s safe to say that most people celebrate the fall back in Fall thing. Here we are, about to turn our clocks back, which means an extra hour of sleep on the morning…ENTER THREE YEAR OLD…

Here’s the thing, when you’re three, like my son, you don’t really pay attention to clocks. What’s more, you’re not really interested in an extra hour of sleep. You are, in fact, interested in an hour LESS of sleep…”I NOT go to bed,” he says every night as we walk up the steps. Which brings me to tonight. This is the night that MOST people look forward to because they get an extra hour. For my wife or me (depending on who loses the coin toss), we look forward to (psychologically, at least) an hour less of sleep…he’ll wake up at HIS 6:00am, which will be 5:00am for us (having turned the clock back and all…).

I will say that this upside down/backward thing goes both ways. On the downside, you lose an occasional hour of sleep (ok, you lose ALOT of sleep), but you also do a whole lot of other things you’d never have imagined. You hang REALLY bad art on your office wall, for example. (Or should I say, MOST people do… I ACTUALLY believe that my 5 and 7 year olds are budding artists – my 7 year old is drawing in perspective!) You start to feel affection for astoundingly irritating characters like Elmo and Barney simply because they are reliably harmless. And everything you consider unthinkable before having kids – changing a poop filled diaper, caring for a sick child all night, changing a peed on sheet at 2am, cleaning up vomit, wiping a kid’s nose for the 10th time in an hour- all of it becomes do-able – your hesitation swallowed up by your concern for the kid.

In short, you plumb the depths of your emotions – all of them. You have never felt more in love, proud, amused, confused, bemused, defensive, frustrated or happy. You are, in effect, more alive (for more hours) than you ever were before.

Enjoy your extra hour tonight, if you’re one of the majority who gets it…but think of me. I’ll be up at 5:00am making the kids’ breakfast and looking at their amazing drawings…

In honor of the time change, here’s a link worth checking out: THE CORRECT TIME. I guess cell phones have have made trying to find out the correct time obsolete, but, if you need it, it’s there.

p.s. I do know that I haven’t written for awhile. I have a lot of updates to write about – my niece’s song, Disney and moms, twinkle-twinkle, reggae, my epiphone guitar and so much more….stay tuned updates in a day or two.

A Review of the EJ200CE, Musician’s Friend and the Gibson/Epiphone Experience

May 18, 2008 at 6:22 am | Posted in Musings, Reviews | 5 Comments

Gibson mailed me a EJ200CE two weeks ago. For the uninitiated, the EJ200CE is billed as “the guitar you’ve seen in the hands of everyone from Elvis to Emmylo.” (This isn’t quite true, you actually saw the Gibson J200 in their hands – and in the hands of Clint Black, Motley Crue, The Eagles, Vince Gill and Jimmy Page – the EJ200CE is a cheap copy made by Gibson subsidiary, Epiphone.)

Elvis and his J200

In any event, Gibson kindly included a note explaining how to adjust the truss rod. It’s a good thing too, because this particular EJ200CE had some nasty fret buzz when I played a C. So, after reading Gibson’s note and getting moral support from this web site: Frets.Com and this one: Athens Music Network, I busted out the allen wrench and went to work. My diagnosis? The truss rod nut needed to be tightened (I can’t exactly remember how I reached that conclusion, but I was forging ahead…). I tightened; things got a little better. I tightened more, they got a bit better…15 minutes later…I pulled the wrench one last 1/8th of a turn and BINGO, the guitar sounded GREAT.

I mean that, it sounds really good, and it makes me happy every time I play it, but it was a LONG road getting here – here’s a condensed version of the story…

I ordered my first EJ200CE about 7 months ago from Musician’s Friend – black. It was my first new acoustic guitar in a lot of years, so I was going for a different look. I thought I was getting a good deal at $399.00 (especially considering the fact that the real thing – the J200 – goes for about $3500…) They sent it within a couple of weeks and I was pumped when I pulled it from the box. It looked good, it sounded good…until I plugged it in. The built in pickup didn’t work. I did all the obvious things like change the battery and curse, but it didn’t work no matter how many times I swore at it.

In the meantime, I’d also ordered a hard case for $90. That arrived the next day and, OOOOPS, it was the wrong case. The guitar didn’t fit. Amazingly, when I called for the second day in a row, the operator at Musician’s Friend felt like debating this fact with me, suggesting that I wasn’t putting it in right. I’m not sure when you last put a guitar into a case, but there really is only one way it can go. (Musician’s Friend’s moto? “We’re cheap, and our service shows it!”) I assured the nice saleswoman than I wasn’t attempting to put the body of the guitar into the neck of the case, and she agreed to send me a label to send the case back along with the guitar.

The second shipment arrived some weeks later, and this time, the case was right, the pickup seemed to work, but there was some serious fret buzz. I resolved to take it to a guitar shop to have the set-up adjusted, then the holidays hit, ski season, 10 feet of snow, all that, and before I knew it, it was March before I pulled up to The Guitar Gallery . The good people there informed me (free of charge, I might add…which will inform the eventual moral of this story), that the truss rod was already adjusted as far as it could go…in other words, the buzz was here to stay.

So, I called my good friends at MUSICIAN’S FRIEND and guess what? Somehow, unbeknownst to me, we’d had a falling out. Apparently we weren’t friends anymore (“But will you still sign my yearbook, Musiscan’s Friend…?”) See, at three months, I was well outside their 45 day return (no questions asked) policy.

I may be old fashioned, but I cut my teeth on LL Bean’s Gurantee (God, I love those people…), so this 45 day thing seemed a bit cold, I mean the guitar WAS substandard. But, me and my friends were really on the outs; my arguments fell on deaf ears. So it was goodbye Musicians (not my) Friend…and hello GIBSON!

To cut this short, Gibson/Epiphone agreed to take my reject guitar back. I sent it in and waited, and waited, and waited. About two weeks in I contacted them. A day later, I was informed by a very nice e-mail agent (named Jon Sutherland – maybe even a real person) that they would figure it out soon…blah, blah, blah, so on and so forth…many e-mails later we (Jon and me) figured out that no black guitars were available, but they did have a ‘natural.’

I took it….and waited. Finally, OVER A MONTH LATER, I got the guitar. It’s not ‘natural,’ it’s YELLOW. My wife’s first comment? “That guitar looks like a banana.” So much for being cool like Johnny Cash. On the other hand, I can see myself accompanying Jimmy Buffet with this thing.


You know the ending – almost. I adjusted the guitar and it does sound great. But, BUT…Gibson broke my case. No joke, when I pulled it out of the box, the hinge was broken off. So, the saga continues. FED EX just picked the broken case up last Thursday. According to tracking data, it’s recently been picked up by a Fed Ex truck in Willington, CT. Eventually, I may get a new one.

The moral of this too long tale? Buy local. Go to your ‘Guitar Gallery” equivalent. You’ll spend $100 or so more, but, I promise you, I have spent much more than that in both time and money. Learn from my mistakes – and fight the online corporate music bastards – they’re not your friends. Do me a favor and read Guitar Gallery’s web page. Notice how hesitant they are to send you a guitar? That’s because they know that picking a guitar is like picking a friend – it’s not something you want to do at a distance. Apparently even a well known company like Gibson lacks in the quality control department these days. Let the guys at the retail store deal with the lemons (or bananas…) Let them send them back so you don’t have to.

Look at the guitar you’re buying, feel it, play it. I bought my last acoustic at a little guitar store in Burlington, VT. It’s a Yamaha FG-420E-C. I played it for two hours before I bought it and I’ve played it for 20 years since. My new banana sounds good, and I’ll use it at shows, but somehow, I know I’ll go back to the old Yamaha because it, and instruments like it, are the only ones who have really earned the title of musician’s friend.

Girls Have Power…

February 29, 2008 at 6:46 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings, News and other stuff... | Leave a comment
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My niece is in 3rd grade – and she’s a real zinger. I remember playing songs for her pre-school when she was three or four (the kids were rocking out to “Five Little Speckled Frogs”…so that’s my age reference) – and Celia walked out in front of the entire class, like a sergeant leading her troops through a basic training drill. I mentioned it to her teacher, and she responded, “She is an organizer – ” That’s the kind of appropriately vague, non-evaluative statement that makes me wonder. At the time, I decided to take it as a compliment to Celia.

About a week ago, I was watching the brood (my 3 plus my sister’s 5, and, yes that does equal 8 kids…), when Celia asked, “Uncle Steve, will you write me a song for the talent show we’re having at school?” I said (of course), “Yes, honey, what do you want it to be about?” She said, “I’m not sure, I’ll think about it…”

Celia called tonight and said, “Uncle Steve, can you write my song about how girls have power?” PAUSE – this is my 9 year old niece talking – allow me to review that quote, “Uncle Steve, can you write my song about how girls have power?” WOW! I hope, when my daughter is 9, 12, 15, 18…and so on, she wants me to write her songs about how girls have power, about how she has power – I’ll start writing those songs now and (hopefully) continue for a long time.

Girls have power? Indeed they do!

I did have to ask Celia what it means to have power as a third grader (mainly because I don’t want to invest all MY hopes, dreams and political opinions in this song). It may well be, in her perception, that having power means having parents who have the best car – but I really hope (and believe) that it goes deeper than that. She’s writing me a list of the things that make her feel powerful – so it remains to be seen – but I actually think that Celia is tapped into something that’s pretty profound as far as our society goes. She is a girl who knows she has power – she’s not second guessing herself at all.

My experience as a teacher suggests a similar dynamic – girls know they have power. I have asked my eighteen year old students how many would call themselves feminists, and felt like a dinosaur because none of them would- the term itself feels obsolete (don’t get me wrong here, I do call myself a feminist and I argue the cause), but girls today seem to look at you like an alien when you even suggest that the idea of feminism is needed. “Of course we are equal – why wouldn’t we be?” (Could this be why Hillary’s campaign has found traction among middle-aged women, but not in the younger crowd – for them, is it just a detail that we haven’t had a woman as a president?)

So Celia is writing her list, and I’ll be writing her a song…I just hope I can do the sentiment justice – stay tuned!

Hamlet, Hillary and Obama…Words vs. Action – 400 years later

February 26, 2008 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Musings | 2 Comments

Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder’d,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A scullion!

-Hamlet II.ii

Whoa!!! Stay on this blog! As shocking as it is to see the words ‘ass,’ ‘hell’ and ‘whore’ on a blog committed to kids’ music, let me explain (by the way, all those words were written by stuffy old Shakespeare, so they should be ok…right?) …It may come as a surprise to the three of you who read this blog regularly that I am more than my kid’s music credentials. I actually have another life, as an English teacher. It is not uncommon (and actually it’s desirous) for the world and the classroom to intersect. But this campaign season, as I’ve watched the primaries unfold, it just so happens that I have been teaching Hamlet; the intersection between real world and classroom has witnessed a crash (apparently no one heeded the stop signs).

I know what I said I’d write about on this blog, but, this has been so monumental that I need to at least acknowledge it – here we are, 400 plus years after Shakespeare penned Hamlet, and Barak and Hillary are slugging out the same debate that Hamlet held in his own head (that’s why he was a hero – he could hold two presidential candidates in his psyche and still have intellectual room to spare…). Hillary (and Bill) accuse  Barack of using his rhetoric to weave false hopes and fairy tales while asserting that she (they) can get things done. They are, they seem to suggest, the Fortinbras to Barack’s Hamlet.

Hamlet – Words vs. Action?

Just to review, Hamlet is about a young man who is visited by the ghost of his dead father, Hamlet (ok, so they weren’t awfully creative in the name department in the 12th century…). Hamlet Senior tells Hamlet Junior that he was murdered by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle – STAY WITH ME HERE! The rest of the play is Hamlet Junior debating between words and action…most of the words are in his own head – BUT (and this is important for Hillary to understand) some of his words ARE action (apparently, the two aren’t mutually exclusive) – Hamlet uses a play to “Catch the conscience of a king…” – In other words, he uses words to achieve a really important end.

Hamlet is a poet – he talks a lot – he uses more than any other Shakespearian character. He uses words to catch the king, to free his mother from her self-imposed moral corruption and to set Denmark on the right path after his death. Unlike every other character in the play, Hamlet does not simply act – he thinks and talks before he acts. By creating such a talkative character, Shakespeare sets Hamlet apart from every other character in the play. They are lost in the Middle Age mentality of responding without thinking. Often, when Hamlet does act, it’s an indication of his decline – he shuns Ophelia, he accidentally kills Polonius, he has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed.

It’s not that Shakespeare (or Hamlet) completely trust words. One of the central metaphors of the play is pouring poison into someone’s ears. The wonder of words is that they can bring redemption – the danger is that they can be used to manipulate and corrupt.

A close reading of Hamlet would be instructive for both Hillary and Obama. She would be reminded that words are not always bad… I suspect she may be figuring that out with the recent polls. They allow us to define our world – and our experience. Unfortunately, for the the Clintons, words have been used over the years to defiine them unfairly and inaccurately. Obama might learn that his considerable gift to use words as poetry is not enough. When (and if) he moves into the general election, he has to use his words to explain how he will act.

In a recent article for “The New York Times,” Frank Rich compares Obama’s poetic language to JFK’s (you can find it here ) – it’s a frequent comparison, and it reminds us how a very young and oratorically gifted president can reshape the reality of our national experience – and can use words to great effect.

The great irony of all of this is that Hillary is using words to discredit Barack’s words. She should be careful, however, because at times, her acerbic rhetoric feels a little like poison in the ears.

If this post was too wordy for you – stay tuned – I’ll get back on the kids’ music and post an MP3 of “Twinkle,Twinkle Little Star,” as promised, tomorrow.

I love my Mom, I love my Wife…why doesn’t Disney?

February 13, 2008 at 6:10 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings, Reviews | 3 Comments
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Read the second part of this post here!

The opening lines of the Disney-Pixar film “Finding Nemo” relate a (somewhat) touching exchange between a husband and wife as they settle into their new home and contemplate their soon-to-be family…They are in essence ‘ pregnant’ (the fertilized eggs are outside the fish…cuts down on labor pain), and are setting up the new nursery (we’ve all been there) – here are the lines:
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Mmm.
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Mm-hmm.
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Yes, Marlin. I… No, I see it. It’s beautiful.
Marlin: So, Coral, when you said you wanted an ocean view, you didn’t think you were going to get the whole ocean, did you? Huh?
[deep breath]
Marlin: Oh, yeah. A fish can breathe out here. Did your man deliver, or did he deliver?

In the ensuing scene, Coral (aka MOM/WIFE) and all but one of the eggs are devoured by some ravenous sea creature (an eel?). True to Disney’s longstanding tradition, mom and wife are killed off and taken out of the picture before she has any impact at all. Hmmmmm….

“Mom? Mom…where are you!?”

I’m going to take a little break from the music scene to contemplate this Disney curiosity (pathology?). First a list of films (that I can recollect) that belong to the Disney Dead Mom’s Club (These are in no particular order):

  • Bambi
  • Dumbo (OK,not dead, but caged and considered insane)
  • Snow White
  • Cinderella
  • Pinocchio (Maybe this is unfair, Gepetto is a pretty irresponsible Dad, though, getting pregnant with no mom to support him…)
  • Jungle Book (OK, Walt was an equal opportunity killer there, knocking Mom and Dad off…Speaking of equal opportunity, how about that “Lion King?” Just Dad was killed…)
  • The Little Mermaid (Actually, this may have been a divorce situation…in any event, mom/wife is no where to be seen.)
  • Pocahantas
  • Aladin (neither the hero or the heroine have a Mom)
  • The Fox and the Hound (another orphan situation with Tod, the fox)
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Max and Goofy…(again, it’s hard to say here, who would marry Goofy after all? Some quasi-dog lady probably just went home with him one night after one-too-many at the local pub, then left him with the kid…)
  • Cars (Just kidding, Cars don’t really talk or have relationships – they are made on production lines which, if I remember my high school biology correctly, might also be referred to as asexual reproduction.)

So, as this large body of work demonstrates, Walt Disney, and the whole Disney family, it would seem, has an issue with parents generally, and specifically with moms…why? An internet search of Walt’s family history doesn’t offer a lot of insight (granted, I didn’t look too hard)…Wikipedia states, “Walt and his sister Ruth attended the Benton Grammar School where he met Walter Pfeiffer. The Pfeiffers were theatre aficionados, and introduced Walt to the world of vaudeville and motion pictures. Soon, Walt was spending more time at the Pfeiffers’ than at home… [6]“(Read the whole bio here: Walt Disney at Wikipedia). Does the fact that Walt effectively left home at the age of 9 indicate some deep divisions in the Disney home? Could he have left home because of a domineering Mom who emasculated him and ensured that generations thereafter would suffer through scores of animated features which are, in essence, Walt’s working out his childhood demons based on his fear of his mother? Probably, but without some major research, we can only speculate.

The other option, of course, is that Walt and company needed a quick dramatic jolt to jettison their early films deep into the public consciousness. What better than the death of a mom? What, after all, is more sacred than motherhood? The concept is shocking, and it doesn’t take a cynic to imagine Walt and the boys sitting around trying to figure out how to move their little children’s film from average to blockbuster. The room, of course, was full of cigar smoke, and one of the guys said, “Let’s off the mom…that’ll get some attention…” It’s cheap, easy emotion, and, in a two hour film, it leaves lots of room for musical numbers and some comedy. After that first time, when Bambi hit the big numbers, the boys were hooked, and they’ve never looked back. It keeps paying, as “Nemo” showed us in 2003, sixty-one years after Bambi’s 1942 release.

So why doesn’t Disney love Moms? Simple, it doesn’t pay, and, in spite of what Mickey and the rest would have you believe, this is all about the money…they can’t let a few moms get in the way…

So, in tribute to Bambi’s and all the other Disney moms and wives out there – here’s an Evanescence song…we’re with you Bambi and Bambi’s Mom, Nemo and Coral, Dumbo and Dumbo’s Mom, etc….you live on, no matter what Walt put you through!

Easy Reader, that’s my name, uh, uh, uh…

February 7, 2008 at 6:08 am | Posted in kids music, Musings, Reviews | 2 Comments
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For some reason the other day, I thought of Easy Reader…come on now, you remember him that super cool, funky, far-out guy on “The Electric Company.” I just had to pay Youtube a visit and take a walk, or should I say a ‘trip,’ down memory lane. Just to get you in the groove, here’s a little Easy Reader to help you remember…

Yes, my friends, that is Morgan Freeman, otherwise known in Hollywood these days as ‘God’ (“Bruce Almighty,” “Evan Almighty” and of course the ominous voice from above in “March of the Penguins…”). So before he was God, he was Easy Reader…”Top to bottom left to right reading stuff is out of sight…”

Like my parents and millions of other parents did in the ’70’s I’m going to ignore the obvious and somewhat problematic fact that Morgan Freeman, as much as portraying a reader in these skits, was portraying a reading junkie – he needs his reading ‘fix’ – then his man (or etch-a-sketch) on the street, Stanley, always cuts him off, ‘just as he’s getting into the groove.’ Then he starts looking around desparately for his reading fix – a match-book, a dollar bill, you name it. I’ll ignore all that, and focus instead on the message…See, I agree with Easy’s message, ‘reading IS out of sight…’ OH, and then there’s the music…

In addition to Easy Reader, I got a few other Electric Company Skits for the kids, and, like everything else in the show, the music is a constant of stream of either funkadelic 70’s or “Free To Be You and Me.” One particularly psychedelic musical moment prompted Isabel to ask, “Why is the music so weird…?” You would have thought we were listening to Pink Floyd – “The Wall.” Here’s one example…

How about that soundtrack? 

Then there’s the opening credits…”Moving out in a new way, moving out in a new way…we’re gonna turn it on, we’re gonna give you the power…” You get the idea.

OK, so I have to say, in spite of the fact that the Electric Company overdid it on the psychedelia at times, I love this stuff. It has it all, great music, and unbelievable cast (Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers, Mr. Freeman, etc.) and it’s hilarious. I’m pretty certain Saturday Night Live owes a lot to The Electric Company…at the very least Lorne Michaels and the early SNL cast were big fans, I just know it…so, I’ll leave you with the lyrics to the first “Sign Song” from the Electric Company…out of sight!

I like fish food. You do, too.
Don’t look now; your hair is blue.
Walk right in and see the zoo.
Up is down, and I love you.Stop and go and dance a dance,
All the way from here to France.
Day and night, all bright and new.
Left is right, and I love you.

A tribute to old friends…

February 4, 2008 at 8:43 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Music for You, Musings | Leave a comment

About six months ago, Abe’s buddy Cayden moved out of town. It was tough for Abe’s four year old psyche to handle, and we ended up having a number of conversations about the transient nature of friendship (ok, I’ll admit I never used the word ‘transient’ in those discussions…also, the conversations usually were more transient than any friendship I know of, because Abe would get distracted by a matchbox dump truck or something after about 90 seconds of deep conversation, but it was still touching…). Anyway, Cayden came back to town this week for a visit, and he and Abe hit every note (sizing each other up, playing beautifully together, arguing about sharing, parallel playing, and even a hug) within about four minutes. It got me thinking about my old friends, and then (and this couldn’t have been better timed unless it was in some bad movie), my long time buddy Chris sent me an e-mail.

I met Chris my first day in high school; you remember that day, don’t you? You wander around, looking for anyone who looks vaguely approachable…Chris was in a bunch of my classes and somehow, in our first conversation, we ended up talking about Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” Chris knew about Springsteen, I had heard Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s remake…who do you think was cooler? Anyway, one thing led to another, and Chris and I formed a band. After looking at a bunch of book spines at a local bookstore, we named our band “Onyx,” after the famous book by Jacqueline Briskin (you know it, don’t you?) You can find it here if you’re interested. Here we are in an undated promo photo (I’m thinking it was sometime in the late eighties…twenty or so years ago (ouch):

Onyx – circa ?

We recorded a few CD’s on a Tascam 4 track – here’s a sample, to give you an idea… Letter.mp3 .

Chris emailed to let me know that he had been checking out my blog and enjoying it – then, like any good old friend, he told me how great he thought the whole thing was…It’s not surprising that Chris, being the cooler of the two friends, started his blog long ago; he’s an old hand at it, so I took his compliments as words from a seasoned professional. He’s at , if you’re interested in reading some of of his sharp and very funny observations about the world. As you’re reading , remember that those little people who are fighting over dump trucks today in your living room, will eventually be teenagers making (very loud) music in that same living room, BUT THEN will eventually become old friends who, twenty or so years later, laugh about it all.

A piano played by a president…or “You’re not my Daddy anymore!”

January 31, 2008 at 7:17 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings | Leave a comment
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We have a piano in the front room of our house that used to belong to the Francestown Academy. The Academy has been out of business for awhile now, but in its day, it was pretty impressive. It’s alumnae included a couple of US Senators, state Supreme Court Justices, a US Supreme Court Justice and Secretary of the Navy (Levi Woodbury), Eben Locke, “whose father fired the first gun of the Revolution,” and perhaps most famous, Franklin Pierce, US Senator and PRESIDENT of the United States.

We bought this piano at The Francestown Labor Day Festival for $50 (truth is, the $50 was more of a donation. I’m guessing the Francestown Historical Society would have paid us to get the thing off the stage – which I did, with three of my strongest friends, a piano jack, a couple of 2×8’s and a lot of luck). After it’s tenure with the Academy, our piano had played for many, many years, the second Saturday of each month in the Francestown Contra Dance – but, it had fallen out of tune, and they couldn’t seem to get it back in. We lucked onto the scene, and for a mere $50, and a few months of visits to the chiropractor, it was ours.


Franklin Pierce Played Here…

Actually, though, when I was driving home from work that Tuesday, I wasn’t thinking about the piano, the academy, or even US presidents. I was thinking about the fact that it was about 30 degrees in January, the sun was shining and it would be a perfect day to polish up our sled track in the back yard – we might finally get the luge track I’d been hoping for. Abe was at a friend’s house, Gus would probably be napping, and Isabel loves to sled. I walked in the door as Tonya was walking out, “I have to go get Abe, make sure you practice piano with Isabel…”

Suddenly that piano loomed large, blocking out sun and fun and sledding…”let’s go Isabel, let’s get this done, I want to get outside.” There were three songs – 48 notes, total (when you’re practicing with a beginning pianist, you have time to count). The first two went beautifully…the first half of the third song, “Legato Skips,” was great, but then…but then…the last eight notes, Isabel stalled. Lot’s of, “Come on, honey, you can do it…” “I can’t, I can’t…” ensued. Finally, I said, let’s just stop, and go outside, but then she wanted to finish – but still ‘couldn’t.’ We were frozen at the piano. I envisioned Levi Woodbury, Secretary of the Navy, having a tantrum at this piano. I imagined Franklin Pierce trying to make his way through the 19th century’s equivalent of “Legato Skips” (which may well have been “Legato Skips…”)

As Isabel began crying at full tilt – stuck between wanting to please me and those 8 notes, my mind raced between trying to be patient, wondering if I was being too patient, and the sledding hill. Then, suddenly, she said it…”You’re not my daddy anymore!” (actually, she sort of cried/screamed it.) I should pause here. I’m assuming that, if you are reading this, you are a parent. If you’re not, you may not understand how my daughter could have uttered such a profound statement, which seems so out of proportion to the situation. Welcome to the twilight zone of parenthood where sometimes things happen that are so strange and out of context that you learn to accept the fact that there simply is no explanation (a little like what comets must have been to stone-age people).

Anyway, I wish I could say that I wept and embraced my daughter, and she cried and realized the error of her ways, like the end of an Eight is Enough episode. That’s not what happened, though. I got up and said, “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.” About five minutes later she came into the kitchen and said, “Daddy, do you still want to go sledding?”   I said, “Sure, let’s go.”  On our second run, as we reached speeds that neared those of a luge, and all was forgotten, I began to wonder if Franklin Pierce had ever slid down this hill.



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