Basses Rule!

I’ve been playing the fiddle here in Bisbee for a couple of years. As the music which my friends and I play has become better known, other fiddlers and violinists have stepped out of their private shadows and joined in. Some just for a while or occasionally, while others have become frequent jam session partners. But there can be too many fiddles, hard as that may be to believe!

After playing in several sessions with as many as six or seven fiddles forming a soprano/alto wall of sound, I began to think about taking up the upright bass. There just aren’t enough bass players in Bisbee, and I’m sure I could pick it up without straining my powers of learning, a case of an old dog learning not a new trick, but a variation of a trick I already know pretty well. I just have to learn the larger scale of the bass. The musical intervals involved are analogous. Does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself?

So, I thought, how am I going to go about this project without going into debt, a state which I generally try to avoid. I figured it all out in one morning of many internet communications and transactions. The net to me is like water to a fish.

First, I had to sell a Hohner button accordion. I’ve realized recently that I will never get very good on that instrument. Strings are my musical medium. That accordion will soon be en route to the dealer in Massachusetts from whom I bought it. They are charging a small commission to sell it for me. Okay, now how to get hold of an upright bass for a good price?

Well, the current fiddle I play is a nice one made in a small factory near Shanghai. I’m familiar with several Chinese Ebay vendors who sell instruments made in a closely-knit group of of factories in the Shanghai area. Their instruments, in my opinion, are the best value in violin-family instruments today, especially if you don’t get hung up in the desire for that “old European mojo”.

So I did some searches on Ebay for new upright basses. I know what beat-up used ones go for in the US, and they are generally all-plywood student models. I don’t mind plywood for the back and sides, as the wide pieces of wood for solid-wood backs and sides are becoming rare and expensive. As a species we use the good stuff, wood-wise, faster than it is being grown. But the top is another matter entirely, and I prefer solid spruce for the tops of stringed instruments. That’s the part which vibrates, and plywood is a liability, in my opinion.

I found what looked to be a very good deal, especially for me, as I can do instrument assembly and set-up. It’s an “in-the-white” 3/4 size upright bass with the neck not yet glued to the body. The top is solid spruce, while the back and sides are rather plain-looking plywood. The neck is shipped unattached so that the shipping container wouldn’t be huge, and thus expensive to ship. What I will have to do is glue the neck into its socket with hot hide glue, apply finish (varnish over shellac sealer, maybe some decorative painting on the the back), install the tuners, bridge, end-pin, tailpiece, and maybe set a soundpost if that hasn’t already been done. This sort of fiddly work is one of my ideas of fun.

Because of this coming speculative musical transition I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with the best bass players on the planet. Being a person with non-specific and non-organized religious ideas, I have to say that included in my personal pantheon, along with various plant and fungal spirits, are those inspired musicians who stride among us as gods, capable of inimitable feats of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic magic. Here’s a long video of three bass players who have taken Leo Fender’s early and crude electric basses and exploited the successors to Leo’s instruments to the max. Stanley Clark is about my age, and I used to listen to his playing when we were both young. He’s still going strong! Marcus Miller is just one cool player, a masterful bassist who has played on a slew of pop, R&B, and jazz recordings. He’s the player in the porkpie hat. Victor Wooten is simply amazing, a younger player who has tapped into some divine veins of music. A few highlights of the video: Victor Wooten really struts his stuff starting at 11:50. Stanley Clark really wails on an upright bass starting at around 19:00. All three play wonderfully towards the end of the video in a funky instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s classic song “Beat It”. This is ultra-funky, groove-laden, and sexy music, and be warned that it might not be suitable for strait-laced and inhibited folks!


Helicopter Tour

[the scene: a muddy airstrip in rural England. A pilot dressed in ragged khakis shepherds a group of assorted tourists to his waiting helicopter. Some of the tourists seem reluctant.]

[pilot] Step right up, folks, this this is the best chance you will ever have to get a bird’s-eye view of the magnificent rolling hills of Yorkshire! Just twenty bucks, a price that can’t be beat!

[tourist, a querulous elderly man] How do we know this machine of yours is safe?

[pilot, smarmily ingratiating] Never had a mishap, and I’ve had ‘er up hundreds of times!

[A portly German man wearing a curled white wig approaches the pilot, huffing and puffing]

My good man, I understand that you have a pianoforte on board your craft. Can that be true?

[pilot] Why as a matter fact, I do! It’s just a spinet, but I’m sure it will agree with you. I do keep it well-tuned and tempered!

[The German man pays his fare and the passengers are escorted into the helicopter by the pilot. Once the aircraft has gained elevation the pilot banks the ‘copter over the rough terrain]

Not as green as it usually is down there, but we’ve been enduring an oven-like drought!



The Night Of The Hunter

Bisbee, Arizona has a population of just six thousand people, but this summer I have learned that the local public library is an invaluable resource. The Copper Queen Library, along with a good book collection, also has an extensive library of classic films on DVD.

Last night, as I ate freshly-made pesto with home-made bread, I watched a movie which impressed me deeply, the 1955 film The Night Of The Hunter. Charles Laughton directed this dark film, and the amazing cinematography of Stanley Cortez has the feel of German Expressionist movies of the 1920s.

Robert Mitchum’s performance as the evil and psychotic preacher is the role of a lifetime. Shelley Winters shines as a widow who falls under the preacher’s spell.

This review of the film effectively explains its power, even fifty-seven years later:

Noir of the Week article

You can watch the movie in seven parts on Youtube; here’s the first fourteen minutes.



An Amazing MRI Video

A French woman named Xea Baudoin posted this video on Google+. She introduced it with this description:

Ancient Asian statue of Buddha was processed through MRI and a hidden treasure was found inside: pearls…


I’d love to see how this was done!


B&W Ice Cream

I love this film produced by Louis C.K. It incorporates all sorts of tropes and ideas from old B&W movies, and the music is so appropriate. Swirl it all together, add a potent dose of surrealism, and the result is a very good short film:


Louis C.K. plays the flower vendor, and the other actors are first-rate.

Another one, a rather weird parody of old Western movies:




How many times have you seen an auroral display? I’ve seen just three good ones in my life.

The first one I saw was when I was a boy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I recall the whole family out in the yard gazing up at the night sky. The next one was on a drive back from St. Louis, after a rock concert my friend John H. and I attended. I think it was a Frank Zappa performance — we were quite lucky to see the man play with his band before he died.

The third was a display I saw during my years in Knox County, Missouri.

Here’s a time-lapse video from the latitude of seventy degrees north:

[vimeo w=400&h=225]

The Aurora from TSO Photography on Vimeo.


Musical Comedy

I loved this, a joint effort of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, a musical encounter between a Christian and a Jew:


Thanks go to my old friend Mark Nemoyten for posting this on FB!


Musical Androgyny

Way back in the early 1970s I was living in a commune in Quincy, Illinois. The commune was about half gay. One day Kevin, who died several years ago, brought home a vinyl LP of David Bowie music. I was suspicious of a lot of the gay-favored music, which tended towards flamboyant show-tunes and such, but the album, Hunky Dory, just blew me away. I thought, “Man! What’s with those Brits and their interpretations of American pop? So the Beatles weren’t a one-off thing?”

This tune was and still is one of my favorites:


This one from a couple of years later recently resurfaced after being lost for decades:


Thanks go to Crystal Rehula for this link!



Here’s a memory for my readers:

It was the late spring of 1972. I was on the verge of quitting high school without graduating. I was dozing off in a civics class. The teacher, Joyce, was trying to keep the students interested, not an easy job! She had brought a tape cassette to class, and she played us a song I’d not heard before.

It was Imagine, by John Lennon. Well, that woke me up!

Here’s a nice version from Mark Knopfler and his musical buddy Chet Atkins; it’s the second song in the medley:


Musical affection and interplay galore!


Christmas Eve

I’m sitting here thinking about the many Christmases I’ve seen come and go. It’s really kind of weird, when you think about the two parallel mythologies which seem to co-exist here. The pop-culture Christmas, full of tales about Santa Claus and his reindeer, and all of the songs of the past sixty years — like Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, and that eternally played song Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Alongside all of that are the biblical tales of Christ’s birth, the Three Wise Men, and such. We don’t need creches in courthouse lawns; Quincy must have hundreds in residential front lawns!

I like to recall how our son Tyler just loved to string up Christmas lights. Not many people ever saw them, but there they were every year! Putting up lights had never entered my mind.

Betsy and I would bundle up Tyler and Adrian and drive the forty miles to Quincy, where four grandparents awaited our visits. There’s nothing like having young kids to cement family relations!

I’m tired of hearing Christmas music, to tell you the truth. Even NPR has been playing it relentlessly.

Here’s something a bit different, a production of some young folks with nifty software:


Modern psychedelia! Another tradition… here’s one more:


You might be wondering what kind of music is this, anyway? Wikipedia to the rescue:

English psychedelic downtempo/psybient

Okay, another musical genre to hear and learn about! I had to look up the word “psybient“, a new one to add to my hoard.

My oldest sister Linda complains that I haven’t been posting enough to please her. Hey, sis, you start a blog and start posting! (That is what is called, technically speaking, fishing for a comment. You break off a piece of worm, as my grandmother Lillian taught me, embed it on a hook, and cast it out into the water. If nothing else, a bluegill will bite! My sister is more like a Northern Pike…)