Friday, March 30, 2007

2006, 2007 and maybe the 2008 Folk Music Review

Being an amateur reviewer of music I am usually not privy to music before it is released to the general public. Consequently, I review songs, which were released in the 70s, or earlier if the mood suits me. Recently this all changed when I received the latest album from CST (Central Standard Time, a contemporary acoustic folk duo). The last review I read said something about “puckish insouciance”. I figure they locked up the English teacher audience with that review, so now I thought I would write a review of their latest album for the layman, or at least the non-English experts.

To get the straight scoop here is their website. I don’t have time to read it myself so I’m going to work from memory here, since I have followed this band from its infancy back in the waning days of the previous millennium. Other aficionados of CST’s work may read this and say, “You left a lot out, and what you didn’t leave out was often wrong!” To which I write, “Get your own blog.” I don’t have time to write out the whole history of CST here so I’m just going to say they have released three albums when those who have been keeping track know they have “released” at least five. Their first album was “Second Whisper”, a remake with different cover art and a couple extra songs, of their debut album, released on a limited basis. The producer of this album was surely a dolt. This is not a reflection of the music by any means just my feelings about the executive producer. Then they turned around nine months later and released a double platinum album “Folk Singing”. Then, today, nearly a decade later, their latest album (which I have been listening to for a couple weeks now) is available and currently being sold at a concert at Luther College (currently as I write but not likely as you read).

When I pirated the music I didn’t get the album name or any of the song names for this latest work. So for the purposes of this review I will have to make them all up. Having spoken at length to the members of CST I have some ideas about what they may have been planning to call this CD and they have been playing some of these songs for years so I think I know the names. I once suggested that they release an album called “All Hail Mark”. I can only assume they chose this album to do that with. The cover art was supposed to be me, standing in front of a field of hundreds of people, bowing to me and my arms are stretched to the sky. I have not posed for any such picture so I assume they photo-shopped it together.

To wrap up the history of CST this is how I view their body of work: With “Second Whisper” they met. In “Folk Singing” they found their sound. Now with “All Hail Mark” they are just showing off. Typically, these days an album is just a single or an LP with somewhere between eight to a dozen throw away songs. The last decade CST spent in the studio has been well spent, because this album has no discard songs. The only possible exception is the song “Back at this Farm”. It’s a good song but it makes me really sad and I don’t know why. It’s powerfully emotional without specifically ever saying what is so so so so sad.

“Happier Without Me” is a farewell to an old lover song. The guitar has a deep driving beat. The rhythm is moving on its own and then to add the lyrics it’s indescribable without actually listening to it. The line, “There’s no blame to assign, and if there is its all mine…” is awesome, and is only a harbinger of things to come from this group (in my opinion). Listening, I’m reminded of Simon and Garfunkel… back when they were still together. “Time and Again” of AHM was especially reminiscent of “Homeward Bound” of S&G fame, while at the same time being almost completely different.

“To Be Alone” is another song evoking powerful emotion more specifically in this case about a relationship gone bad. Eminently relatable is “Long Way Home Tonight” expressing the desire to slow down and enjoy life for what it is. I would like to think I was standing next to Charlie when he conceived of “Standing On Top of the World” but that sort of wishful thinking should be reserved for something both plausible and relevant. If for no other reason, I give it points because I have been waiting a long time for a song referencing Yurtle. Certainly Theodor Geisel has created the definitive work on turtle stacking with Yurtle the Turtle and it’s about time someone regaled it in song.

I could go on and on about each individual song, but I’m tired. So I’ll just say run out and buy this gem. It’s reminiscent of the Beatles first good album, which I believe was “Rubber Soul” in the way it weaves back and forth from the serious to the light hearted, from slow to up-tempo. So, go out and buy “All Hail Mark” or “Rubber Soul”. You will not be sorry, unless of course, you only like hip hop.

I am willing to accept bribes from Paul, Ringo, Matt or Charlie to delete one of the albums from the previous purchase suggestion.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Aliens Among Us

I recently got the chance to spend some time with a new comer to America. His name is Ricardo Gonzalez Sanchez the Third (not his real name (not the same Ricardo Gonzalez Sanchez the Third as the one in this post)). Ricardo's "American Dream" is just like ours. At least I assume it is because Ricardo doesn't speak any of the languages I am fluent in. FYI, I will list the languages I speak fluently, in alphabetical order: English. It doesn't matter how loudly I speak or how many times I repeat myself Ricardo just doesn't understand. He also shows little interest in learning English. I'm not one to pass judgmentdgement, but if he plans on living in America, from now on, he needs to learn English.

After spending some time around Ricardo, I would say that he has no marketable job skills. "Unskilled laborer" would be a kind description of him. Ricardo has no green card, no work visa, no drivers license, no ID of any kind. Ricardo has never paid taxes and yet I found out that he is entitled to healthcare at the local hospital. If there is an emergency and he needs care, the hospital is obligated to provide it. I read this. It's posted on the wall right inside the front door. Luckily Ricardo can't read English either, so he doesn't know he can use the hospital. It is likely, however, that some do-gooder would call 911 for him if there was an emergency, so the fact that he can't read English is not certain to keep him out of the local community health center.

There is no end to the veritable parade of social services Ricardo will find himself "entitled" to... once he learns English. I hate to come across too negative about Ricardo. It is true that he is not adding any positive economic value, and as far as I can tell, he does not have a five or ten year plan. He does seem to be a fast learner though, and has come a long way in a very short time. With help, from someone with connections, Ricardo was able to get a social security number. One thing that bothers me about Ricardo is that since he seems bright and is catching on quickly, he will probably learn English. His mother probably lies awake at night hoping that Ricardo will get the best education the American taxpayers can provide. Educated or not, he will drive wages down by taking a job away from someone who has lived in this country a lot longer (probably someone like me, I've lived here all my life). Not that Ricardo would want my job. I sit in a cubicle all day.

Sadly, after seeing where Ricardo lives, and spending time with him, I feel like I want to help him. I thought it would be a good lesson in economics and good-old-fashioned American values to pay him a few dollars to mow my lawn. My wife felt this was a bad idea. She said she was concerned for the safety of our young son. I told her that we can't judge people just because they look different and they don't speak English. She said she wasn't passing judgment, and Ricardo was not mowing our lawn. I told her that he has a social security number, and everything we pay him could be a tax write off.

So... I'm mowing my own lawn this summer, and I can't help but think that I'm part of the problem in this country. Ricardo Gonzalez Sanchez the Third's real name is Charles. He is my two month old son. He was born here in Iowa. It will likely be a decade and a half, maybe two, before he gets a real job. Before he goes to work full time I plan to send him to at least twelve years of public education. He will probably eat school lunch subsudized by the state and federal government. I think it would be great if he went to college and it would be awesome if he got someone else to pay for that too. After 22 years of living off the kindness of others and the public dole he could join the work force and become an econonmically productive member of society.

Instead of having a child of my own I could have helped a young guy sneak across the border and he could start picking fruit right away. It's unlikely he would ever attain a level of education necessary to take my job and I would be insuring that I could afford oranges for years to come.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A few more, for the impatient among us.

Charles John
Born 03/04/06 4:02am
8lb 7oz
20 in

Horizontal stripes make me look fat.

The frog stole my outfit.

I can't roll over without someone sticking a camera in my face.

Monday, March 06, 2006


4:07 am

Still trying to decide if this place is better than where he came from. The verdict is still out on that one.

One minute later someone finally found a blanket.

That afternoon... Baby sleeping... Mom doing well... Dad... Trying to figure out where he can take a seven hour nap.

The doctor shows up to see how mom and baby are doing. Dad becomes a photographer, a role which is more becoming than photographee.

Monday, baby learns how to sleep well, and head is almost back to normal.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My Cat Doesn’t Even Know Its Own Name!

To be precise, none of my wife’s three cats know their own name. My guess is that they don’t know each other’s names or mine either. Yesterday I was yelling at George (the cat). Try as I might to inspire George to come to me, he would have none of it. His ears would not even perk up at the sound of his name. This would naturally lead me to believe that George is deaf, but he does come running if I pour food in his bowl. Therefore, George is not deaf, but rather he is egg like.

Egg like can be good. Have you ever talked to a carton of eggs? I have. It’s rather refreshing sometimes. No matter what I say they don’t frown, express shock, or get angry. They just sit there blankly and refuse to interrupt.

Just the other day I had a carton of eggs out and I was lamenting the impending birth of my first child. I relayed the story about how my wife was telling me to clean out my closet so she could fill it with baby stuff. From now on my wife and I will share a closet. So I said, “It’s not fair that the baby gets a whole closet while I have to share a closet.”

My wife, in an effort to console me I am sure, said, “Well, it’s not like you have your own room either.”

The whole process of getting ready for the baby is a humbling one. Wherever I was in the pecking order, I have been taken down a peg… A WHOLE PEG!

The eggs were unresponsive, so I fried one up. The others were still not talking. Like I said, the eggs betray no emotion. They didn’t scowl or frown. It’s like talking to a dog without the drool. Wal-Mart patrons are a different breed all together, completely unlike eggs. Recently we were at Wal-Mart (buying baby stuff). My wife told me to get the Vaseline, (babies need Vaseline) while she looked for something else. Not wanting to forget my task, as I pushed my cart across the store I made up a song to remind me what I was doing. It went something like, “Vaseline, Vaseline, Vaseline, Vaseline…” I was moving to the beat of the song as I pushed my cart up and down the pharmacy isles.

As I came around a corner I met a woman who gave me a weird look. She proceeded to put eight bottles of antacid in her basket and walked off. She glanced back at me one more time when she reached the end of the isle. I looked at the shelf and said rather loudly, “Generic petroleum jelly, how can I go wrong?” She looked at the end cap display and grabbed a jumbo bottle of Gold Bond Medicated Powder, and briskly exited the isle. I noticed that generic petroleum jelly is about half the price of Vaseline. Babies love jelly.

I pushed my cart toward the checkout. I met my wife and we stood in line. As I considered my experience it occurred to me why so many people see Wal-Mart in such a negative light. I stared at my petroleum jelly and realized that Wal-Mart was my enabler. The president has told us we are addicted to oil. There I was, buying oil (in jelly form) for a child who is not even born yet. The president was right. I am addicted to oil. I threw away the petroleum jelly as soon as we got home. I didn’t want to pass my faults to the next generation. No petroleum jelly for my child. Our president has picked up the mantle of his hero Jimmy Carter. I too will stand with him and fight the evildoers, one jar of petroleum jelly at a time.

The cat apparently smelled that sweet smell of petroleum jelly because he was clawing at the wastebasket. I told him to get away and was reminded that he doesn’t know his own name. Rather than naming our cats George, Ringo and Lennon, we could have just named them after their colors, Black, Orange, and Cow (because he is white with black spots like a dairy cow). We could have saved a lot of time with that strategy. Instead we spent countless hours coming up with the perfect name for each cat. That way we would know which one was ignoring us.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I like to use paint with a low lead content.

When I paint I find it’s best to do it in a room with little or no ventilation. I do my best thinking when it’s just me and a fuming can of paint. Case in point, this post is being written in a room I am painting, as I take a short break. This is a unique opportunity to capture my thoughts. Usually I don’t remember exactly what I thought, when I am done painting. I only remember that the thoughts were truly profound.

It occurs to me that some people use their blogs as a tool to promote the public good. For this reason I have chosen to use this post as a public service message. Here it is. When painting, especially if you are think painting, like me, it is important to understand the dangers of lead based paint.

Lead is toxic and known to cause many health problems most notably in small children. You may ask, “What health problems,” and, “Why small children in particular?” To which I answer, “Look it up.” This is a “warning message” about lead not a detailed informational piece. Before I go any further I should say this, DON’T USE LEAD BASED PAINT! At most lead should be a minor ingredient added for color or taste. The same goes for gasoline. It’s not necessary to buy premium, but for your children, for the world, buy unleaded gas.

I went to the store to see how easy it is to buy the silent killer that is lead based paint. I knew full well the dangers that potentially lurked around each corner. After visiting the hardware store, two lumberyards and a paint store, I reviewed my findings. In four stores I could have unknowingly bought lead based paint zero times. Undaunted, I went to the local gas station and found that they don’t sell any gasoline with lead in it.

It turns out that lead hasn’t been added to residential paint since 1978 and leaded gasoline has been illegal to sell for on-road vehicles since 1995. With this knowledge my thoughts drifted where the thoughts of most people would. Where did all of this lead come from during the heyday of lead paint and leaded gasoline? And where does the lead go now? To answer these burning questions I set out to visit a lead mine in Park Hills, Missouri. The mine is located within the Ozarks in an area known as the Old Lead Belt. My wife packed me a lunch. It contained neither Ranchragious Pringles nor Cheezums Pringles. I stopped at a Quick Stop for some gas and some Cheezums Pringles, unleaded gas premium chips.

When I arrived at the mine, I noticed right away that the lead industry has been devastated by our overzealous legislative branch, which does all it can to stifle one industry after another in its prime. I spoke to the mine foreman, Ricardo Gonzalez Sanchez the Third (not his real name). I remarked to him that I was curious about why his family gave three generations of Sanchez that same name. He reminded me that Ricardo Gonzalez Sanchez the Third was not his real name. I let it drop. He told me how lead is mined and a bit about the history and tradition of this respected industry. There are more than 1,000 miles of abandoned tunnels in this Missouri mine. Which doesn’t seem like a lot until I considered that I didn’t plan to drive 1,000 miles in my whole round trip, and that’s above ground.

Going through the mine I was surprised to find that lead is dug out of the ground and extracted from wooden tubes, which resemble the large oversized novelty pencils sold at tourist traps. I asked Ricardo about this. He told me that the “novelty pencils” are dug out of the ground and hauled up to the surface where the wood is burned off and the miners are left with pure lead. It was a great system but now there isn’t enough volume in the business to make lead mining profitable. No one will buy oversized novelty pencils with real led in them and the wood is of such poor quality that there is no market for it either, even if you could get the lead out without destroying it.

I said, “Hey Blinkin, let me ask you this…”

He said, “Did you say ‘Abe Lincoln’?”

I said, “No. I said ‘Hey Blinkin’!”

He said, “Who’s Blinkin?”

I said, “That’s my nick name for you, because you have a bit of an eye twitch.”

He said, “I would prefer you called me Ricardo.” (not his real name) I relented. This Blinkin (Ricardo) was a shrewd man.

I asked Ricardo who buys lead these days. He told me that most lead is sold to bullet makers and alchemists these days. He explained that they don’t buy much right now, but as soon as they perfect their ability to turn lead into gold demand will go through the roof. I looked at him with the sort of patronizing nod and smile that you give a child who has just accomplished something which adults do every day without a second thought.

As I was leaving I watched Ricardo slowly lumber back to the bunkhouse. I yelled, “Hey Ricardo, get the lead out!” He didn’t respond. I drove away chuckling to myself.

About 50 miles down the road I realized someone had stolen my wallet. Suspecting it was Ricardo I headed back to the mine. When I got to the mine I asked around for Ricardo, but no one had heard of anyone with that name. I had been duped. With no money I ran out of gas just south of Iowa City on the way home. I had to hitch hike the rest of the way home. Luckily, on Mulberry Street in North Liberty I was able to get a ride from an old man with a three-foot beard riding in a carriage that resembled an outhouse.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

So This is Christmas, What Have You Sung?

Tonight while we are all nestled and snug in our beds we might as well take a brief look at some of the wonderful Christmas music that has been around for ages. Tonight, let us look at the beautiful caroling song “Here We Come A-Wassailing”. I have also seen this song referred to as “The Wassail Song”. I don’t like that title though. I like to have the title be the first line of the song. That way, I know how to start the song if I know the title or I can remember the title if I can sing the first line of the song. It just makes things easier. I like easier things.

The first verse of this old favorite of caroling songs is:

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wand'ring,
So fair to be seen.

The first line is a proclamation of sorts. “Here we come!” The singers of this song want people to know they are on their way. And what are these people doing as they make their way toward you? They are “a-wassailing!” I always wondered what it meant to be “a-wassailing”. Well, this Christmas I looked it up. I found out that “wassail” is a verb. It means to indulge in wassail, or carouse. That wasn’t so helpful until I looked up “carouse”. It means, “a drunken revel.” The alternate definition of “wassail” is to sing carols from house to house at Christmas. I don’t see how that applies in this case. People, who were wandering around after they had too much to drink apparently originally, sang this song. My guess is that this song started out as a polite warning which wandering bands of intoxicated people would sing so that other people would know to steer clear if they so desired. What I don’t know is why Christians would adopt such a song as a staple when celebrating the birth of their Lord and Savior.

The second line of the song is odder yet, “Among the leaves so green.” Everyone knows the leaves are not green at Christmas time. There aren’t really any leaves around at all. The only green would be pine needles. Now the song starts to come together. The first two lines are essentially saying, “We’re here. We’re drunk. Now we will prove it by saying something stupid.”

Lines three and four indicate that these intoxicated folks are aware that they are merely wandering around and that they think quite highly of themselves. Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins. Once again I am troubled by the fact that this song has become synonymous with the birth of Christ.

The chorus:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you a wassail too,
And God bless you
And send you a happy new year,
And God send you a happy new year.

The chorus grants the listener a great many things, not the least of which is a wassail, which is a big keg of beer. Along with God’s blessings, we should also receive happiness, love, joy and beer. Just when I thought the Christmas Holiday lacked a good drinking song, one presents itself. Let’s all drink a pint for Jesus.

The next verse is a bit disturbing.

We are not daily beggars
Who beg from door to door,
But we are neighbour's children
Whom you have seen before.

It’s Christmas. You meet a group of wandering drunken people. They are singing. Part of their song informs you these people are not beggars. It seems to me that Christmas time is when you wouldn’t care if you met some beggars. Christmas is when many people are most free with their giving. Nonetheless, it is important that this group inform you that they are in fact your neighbors intoxicated children. It paints a lovely picture doesn’t it?

Here is another delightful verse:

We have a little purse
Made of ratching leather skin;
We want some of your small change
To line it well within.

People are sitting in their homes. They hear a ruckus outside. They think it is possibly the local beggars who would like something to eat. They open the door. Bam! They are attacked by a drunken band of singers who tell you they are your neighbor’s children. Then they ask you for money. Christmas is about unrestrained consumerism, not excessive imbibing. Who do these people think they are?

I would have to buy an unabridged dictionary to know what “ratching” means. I don’t think it’s important for the continuity of the song.

The final verse:

God bless the Master of this house,
Likewise the Mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go.

Now these intoxicated kids, who are trying to panhandle for some beer money, decide that since no one is forking over the dough they are going to break up the family by accusing a man of having a mistress. Also the phrase about “all the little children” is a bit of an allusion to one or more possible illegitimate children, perhaps with the aforementioned mistress. The man of the house likely then would pull out some sort of a weapon and fight back.

This is not a Christmas song so much as it is a “How To” manual for starting a bar brawl. My vote is, take this out of the Christmas repertoire. It’s too controversial!