Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Weekend in the Country

One day, some folks near Lawrenceville, Pa, saw fit to build a lodge above a lake, stock it with good grub, and decorate it with enough dead animals to score the 2004-2005 Taxidermy Professionals of America Appreciation Award (Pennsy Chapter).

As it turns out, if you stuff them, they will come--and play keen tunes. This weekend, many lucky 80's-era graduates of my high school convened, amongst the fur and horns, and were entertained by more musical talent than Tioga County might have reasonably expected to beget in the mid-late 60s. Two of these fellas have graced these pages before, and you can find an accounting of their musical stylings under Songwriter Buds The Second and The Third., respectively.

photo, Jill Sumner Ellison

Their sets were rousing and wonderful and inspiring in their own right, but for this blogsploitation, I'm focussing on the fairer musicians... the wimminfolk.

Obscenely gifted wimminfolk. photo, Ken Harris

Secret weapon Lori Barrett coordinated the homefront, played a set of her own hard-driving, yet funny tunes, accompanied another songster on bass, organised the sound-and-lights package, held a rehearsal in her garage and even "produced" a back-up singer in the form of her own daughter--gotta be a first amongst Mansfieldians in my extended peer group. When I was emerging from tweenhood, Lori was the star ingenue, "Following the Fold" as Sister Sarah, and putting jam on the cat, in The Fantasticks. Last weekend's show blossomed around her infectious enthusiasm, and the beaming pleasure she takes in music of any kind, and it was pretty clear that if you randomly sat her down with two strings to stretch, saw, strum or otherwise experiment with, she'd ignite into a small sun.

photo, Lonny Frost

Esther Friedman played the fiddle.

photo, Frost/Barrett

Someone ought to write a short story with that as the first line. She also said Yes to the fortunate Chris LaVancher and his proposal of marriage, and now they, well, make beautiful music together. And separately. She put an album out that's available on CD Baby, as well as Napster and you can find her stuff on Amazon, as well.

photo, Tom Willner

 I've already used the word "artisinal" to describe this kind of intricate song-making, so I won't do it again, but I will say this: If you were to trek out, on a high spring day, into the Massachussetts hardwood forest, and a tree fell in front of you at about the three-mile mark, not only would you hear it, but if you were to cut it open to count its rings, you'd find a teeny tiny little dryad with a hand-whittled lyre, posessed by the ghost of Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, plucking out an Esther Friedman tune. Swear to God.

And finally, guest vocalist Gwen Walker, who tore the shingles off the place with "Down on my Knees." photo, Ken Harris
Gwen Walker, den mother of us all; Gwen Walker, operatic mezzo who not only put the "belt" in the Belt Parkway, but also put the "fist" in sophisticate; Gwen Walker, who will still have the porcelain skin of an early-thirty-something when the rest of us are clipping coupons for Pollident. Whatever deal with the devil Gwen Walker made, I want in. Gwen was always one of the older kids whom you wanted to be like. Sometime around 1985, she put together a pick-up group at Mansfield University and they did a "coffeehouse." I didn't know what a "coffeehouse" was, nor why one would hold it at the student union building, but I took notice, given that Gwen always projected the air of someone who knew what the hell she was doing. This was especially driven home when I sat in on a rehearsal and watched her bear down on a trombone player until he got the solo right in their cover of Chicago's "Hard Habit to Break." She also referred to a Billy Joel tune as "the Joel," as in, "Awright everyone, we're going through the Joel, now." Years later, I heard Twyla Tharp do the same kind of thing in rehearsal. "Andy!" she'd bark -- "Cue up the Meyer!" (Edgar Meyer, bassist/composer). So, there you go: Twyla, meet Gwen. Gwen, Twyla.

A couple of luminaries in the audience ought to be mentioned--our childhood teachers. Bill Berresford was a major presence in the musical lives of many, many Mansfieldians (and Blossburgundians, too, and others, through a multi-school wind ensemble), and he was beaming all night long. Our beloved choral and theatre muse, Christine Wunderlich, conferenced in on someone's cell phone, and sent pleased-as-punch vibes from Pittsburgh. And there was another gent who took great relish at the evening's festivities--particularly Tom's rollicking, funny song about the ironies of modern conception--Jack Novak, our elementary school principal, who was as sharp as ever and remember us all, down to our bus routes. I always thought he was a terrific principal and it was a lovely surprise to see him.
photo, Lonny Frost

Everyone joined in a finale of Tom Willner's reggae chillax anthem "All Fruits Ripe," with lush harmonies and sweet syncopations. By that time, I had found the Zen of building the lavender hi-side light during a crescendo in the bridge. The controller I commandeered was a gutsy little 8-channel trouper, and faded the lighting to a blue mist at the end of each song.

photo, Ken Harris

And that's exactly what had happened at gig's end, when we walked out the door, tired and happy---a blue mist bathed the Tioga Hammond basin. Lycanthrope jug bands prowled the dirt roads in search of cheap whisky and a good time. The young shoots of corn dreamt of a time when they might tassle, and what that might feel like. And so we all made our way gingerly back to our parents' houses...

Going home as adults brings an inevitable regression to the old times, but in a good way, when we sang three-part harmonies in the school cafeterias, drove past endless pastures to catch the latest movies, and spent Thursday afternoons at the bowling alley. That's smalltown life for you. Many of us stayed in the area and are raising families, many moved away. Some have died... The thickets of Tioga County can still call back its own, and we delight in going back. So much the better, in this case, to gather around the musical fire, and tell each other a few stories.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

America's Newest Source of Plentiful, Clean Energy? George Michael...

For the rest of the month, Blaiser will attempt to live his life in accordance to the wisdom of the ancients, as revealed in the lyrics of Careless Whisper by WHAM, (UK!), and as channeled by an Intehnet search engine.

For this digital tea-reading experiment, I'll identify the most psychically profound turn of phrase found in each stanza (identified in boldface, for your pleasure), punch it into the tricorder, and choose an image from the first page of results. The synergy produced by unleashing two central elements of my life into the ether (Boolean searches and 8th-grade angst...) will either lead us to cold fusion, or will cause the British Music Rights building on Berners Street in London to implode into a TARDIS, just like people thought would happen to our entire planet when they fired up the 17-mile-long Hadron Particle Motor Speedway. If it's the TARDIS, the Brits will be ethically compelled to turn it over to the Audubon Society to make up for the boneheads at BP. Either way, our energy problems are solved.

In order to join the psychically-aware array of BlaiserBlog readers, and to harness the maximum milliamps available from your feeble minds desktop PCs*, please hit Play on the accompanying audio-visual aid while you scroll through the word-defying lyrics below. I think you'll like the results.

I feel so unsure

As I take your hand and lead you to the dance floor

As the music dies, something in your eyes

Calls to mind a silver screen and all those sad goodbyes

I'm never gonna dance again

Cause guilty feet have got no rhythm

Though it's easy to pretend

I know you're not a fool

I should have known better than to cheat a friend

And waste the chance that I'd been given

So I'm never gonna dance again

The way I danced with you

Time can never mend

The careless whispers of a good friend

To the heart and mind

Ignorance is kind

And there's no comfort in the truth

Pain is all you'll find

I'm never gonna dance again

Cause guilty feet have got no rhythm

Though it's easy to pretend

I know you're not a fool

I should have known better than to cheat a friend

And waste the chance that I'd been given

So I'm never gonna dance again

The way I danced with you

Tonight the music seems so loud

I wish that we could lose the crowd

Maybe it's better this way

We'd hurt each other with the things we want to say

We could have been so good together

We could have lived this dance forever

But now who's gonna dance with me?

Please stay

I'm never gonna dance again

Cause guilty feet have got no rhythm

Though it's easy to pretend

I know you're not a fool

I should have known better than to cheat a friend

And waste the chance that I'd been given

So I'm never gonna dance again

The way I danced with you

 Now, if my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour....

Thanks for reading, and please remember that your oil executives aren't allowed near open water unless they can do 15 lengths in an oil-filled Olympic-sized pool, in business attire, but without their WaterWings. Train Accordingly....

* BlaiserBlog does not support Apple products...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Angels on the Airfield

In which a cyclist is reborn, and Blaiser enjoys a left turn at Albuquerque.

Last year, over Memorial Day Weekend, I broke my first bone in an ironic attempt to demonstrate a speedy hill descent, on a mountain bike, to my son...

It was 39 years old, this bone, and I discovered the hard way it would no longer absorb the force of bodyslamming macadam like it did in its younger days. And so, the brand-y new road bike I had purchased the month before did not, in fact, aid me in reducing my waistsize. Rather, it sulked in the bedroom and tried to maintain dignity as a silver-and-black clothesrack.

When one is no longer a kid, injuries take longer to really heal. So....One year later, and I'm fully back in the saddle as a bike lover, having made peace with the shift from cross bars to road bars, attacking hills, exploring twice or three times a week (via semi-serious rides) the best North Jersey has to offer in the way of scenic pavement. The effort has taken me comfortably south of 200 lbs. Pants are starting to fit well, again. It's nice.

Good thing, too, because I attended a wedding in Los Angeles over the weekend. Now, I have to say, I'm an Easterner, as my grandma would say, and as such, I don't really recognize LA's right to exist, what with what I perceive to be a mostly nonsensical lifestyle: Botox available on the beach, executives who have the gall to "develop" reality shows, and a dearth of decent public transportation, encouraging everyone to enmausolate* themselves in gas-guzzling cars that smogify the planet more and more each day. Oh, and the earthquakes, and the just, plain weirdness of Southern California (note irresistible marketing banner).

The nuptials, however, were fab, and pulled off as a bit of matrimonial performance art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

They don't really "allow" weddings there, but my buddy, a minor deity of American public radio who shall remain unnamed, had the audacity to act on a good thing when he saw it, and I don't just mean securing the hand of his elegant bride. The guests convened around dusk...

The lamps were lit...

a bride and groom emerged from the smog, became man and wife in a swift, yet moving ceremony--at arguably LA's most romantic locale--and then processed into the modernist concrete courtyard.

Delicious foods were served at the reception and a vinyl-spinning DJ brought the noise. Again, I don't mean to pull back the Venetian blinds that shield the secret and wild nightlives of public-radio personalities, but Holy Crap can that Krista Tippett dance a mean Limbo...

A beautiful wedding aside, bad things tend to happen when I visit California. Once, I went to San Francisco for a gig and awoke to a medium-sized earthquake, which seemed to say, "If you've wondered what it would feel like if you won the slots in Vegas, and then fed all 200 quarters into the vibrating, heart-shaped bed at the same time, ponder no further."

This time, I went to Venice Beach for the first time, and somewhere nearby, Dennis Hopper expired; Gary Coleman had turned up his toes the day before. Now, the narcissism of blog-writing aside, I'm not implying my movements have any effect on anyone, really, but could there be some link? An MD Super-80 extends its flaps at Dallas/Ft. Worth, and a dimuntive actor in Utah suffers a brain hemorrhage?

I don't mind admitting that it got me thinking, though, and so I did some research into my whereabouts when the world lost Hervé Villechaize on September 4, 1993. And you know what? I have absolutely no idea what I was doing. Probably sweeping the dance floor at the Joyce.

Alors, I'll impart the following bit of wisdom: If you're a middle-aged celebrity under 4'-8", you better make sure your affairs are in order if I either reach for a broom, or board a jetliner.

Writing of which, I am a huge fan of periodic jet travel, even though you now have to pay for checked bags, blankets and bad food, and despite the fact that we were never intended to be up there in the first place-- otherwise we'd have spray feathers available to us in random office buildings in LA instead of spray tans.

The flight back was direct, but due to bad weather somewhere in the middle of the country, we hung a Louie in New Mexico and hauled ass for the Great Lakes.

Then around the stretch we came, and BAM! We were over Manhattan and swung wide over the Atlantic before sliding into the Rockaways, and the airfield formerly known as Idlewild. Given the freakin' traffic on the Van Wyck on the way outta there, I wish they had left the damn golf course alone.

* Good word, huh?