Song o' the Month: November 2008

Sometimes it takes a little bit before a song gets to you, particularly when it's on an album with some tracks you focused on nonstop for a few months. Such is the case with November's Song o' the Month, Kathleen Edwards's "Scared At Night" (from the stupendous "Asking for Flowers," which you oughta own). I prefer the album track, with its keening steel guitar, but that aint on YouTube and this is:

And in case you miss the lyrics due to the recording quality, here you go:

As a child I would wake at night
I was scared, but I kept real quiet
Shadows on the walls moving in on me
Underneath my sheets I could barely breathe
Your room was only just across the hall
All it would have taken was a single call
Maybe sometimes you've got to trust yourself
Not to scream out loud and run like hell

Believe me
All the days you're unsure
Believe in me
I don't want to anymore
In the dark
Picture me in your mind
And I'll lay with you
You don't have to be scared at night

As a young man you were shooting rats
By accident you hit the farmyard cat
He ran for the fields and
came back the next day
You had blown out his eye
and you could see his brain
Your dad said "Boy, there are some things in life.
You don't want to do but you know is right.
So take him out back and finish him off."
You got your gun off the shelf
it only took one shot

Believe me
All the days you're unsure
Believe in me
I don't want to anymore
In the dark
Picture me in your mind
And I'll lay with you
So you don't have to be scared at night

I flew to Winnipeg on your final day
They said that you waited until I came
We sang your favorite hymns
and we held your hand
You took your final breath and that was that
But I'd never seen a person die before
I tried so hard not to cry, you know
Maybe sometimes we've got to trust ourselves
That when you die you go someplace else

Believe me
All the days you're unsure
Believe in me
I don't want to anymore
In the dark
Picture me in your mind
And I'll lay with you
So you don't have to be scared at night
You don't have to be scared at night
You don't have to be scared at night


Laughs For Which To Be Thankful

The lack of posting has been due to a lack of fun. But that's behind us now. So here's two YouTube clips that have provided laughs in a week that needed them.

I'm generally the last person to get wind of these things on the Internets, so I imagine the rest of the world knows all about the Tiddy Bear by now. But, just in case...

Tip o' the hat to the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar for that.

And one of my favorite stops on YouTube is the Stupid Famous People site, where you can see and hear annoying people with cameras hound famous people. And occasionally (nay, often), the famous people don't seem like the stupid ones. To wit, two annoying drunks with a camera bother James Franco, who has the audacity to not engage in a conversation with them at two in the morning.


How I Celebrated My Birthday

First, I hauled ass from the train to the Port Authority, bought my ticket from a woman at the Trailways window who helpfully told me, "Oh, I don't think you'll make it," ran to the other side of the terminal, and then made the bus (beeyotch) with a solid 30 seconds to spare.

Then, after the bus pulled in at Kingston and I realized we had enough of a layover, I hightailed it to the pretzel-doorhandled Deising's Bakery, where I quickly purchased one of their unbeatable chocolate crullers and five of the finest pretzel sticks ever created by human hands (only available on Fridays and Saturdays).

Then, after arrival in Windham, I went with my mom and retired journalist Bryan Chambala to Hartmann's Kaffeehaus in Round Top, NY (on the awesomely named Heart's Content Road), for the best French Dip I've ever had and a dessert that was about 98% whipped cream and quite good. An elderly German couple also put me in charge, after a fun game of parking lot pantomime, of alerting "zee handicapped man vith zee chauffeur in zee vite car" that they were blocking said elderly couple from opening their driver's-side door.

Then Mr. Chambala and I were turned away at the bowling alley at the Winter Clove Inn ("the lanes are all broken") before finding success at the Bowlers Club in Saugerties, where the computers were likely among the first ever sold to bowling alleys, pins flew out of the rack twice during the first game, and a 14-year-old was working the bar. In other words, the perfect place for bowling on one's birthday, even in the midst of two larger, louder, and perhaps more age-appropriate birthday parties. The new shoes got their first two games in and produced a solid 167 and 174. And it only cost $4.50 for me to bowl two games.

With time slipping away, we made a dusk visit to Big Pink, which we found again after a few missteps.

Then I got all confused and sent us in the wrong direction twice as we headed to dinner at the Black Bear, where we met up with drummer extraordinaire Johnny Macko and my superstar blogger sister and her gentleman friend.

After shoving some food down (and while my sister and her gentleman friend continued eating and imbibing before making the same journey), Misters Macko and Chambala and I headed to Levon Helm's place on Plochmann Lane, which, it turns out, is harder to find when it's dark and it starts raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock. But we got there, and there was a shorter line than last time, so we were in good shape. We initially took spots in the third row, but after some scouting we settled on seats in the front row, but on the side, right near the piano and organ. Any seat there is fine, but these weren't bad at all, and we didn't stay in them much during the main set anyway.

A trio from Finland (whose names I've forgotten, but they played fiddle, guitar, and Dobro) opened things up and endeared themselves to me almost immediately by singing Richard Thompson's "Keep Your Distance." Then came Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, who, based on the fact that their last album was broken down into movements, I thought I would find just OK. But they were way better than that and even did a Jimmy Martin song ("Ocean of Diamonds"), which almost certainly proves that they are avid Tinsel and Rot readers. I couldn't see her from my seat, but apparently a woman in the front row was nodding off hard during the Punch Brothers' set (and by both their playing and Thile's declarations about how happy and honored they were to be there, the band didn't see it either), and she and a man I'm assuming was her very embarrassed husband bailed after the set and gave their seats to a couple of guys behind us. If they are indeed married, I believe "forcing us to leave front-row seats at Levon's" is solid grounds for immediate divorce.

Then came the main event. I had the thought a few days prior that maybe going back to Levon's was a mistake. Maybe I should have just let the near-perfect first-time experience stand and leave it at that. Surely, it wouldn't be better the second time around, particularly because (a) Little Sammy Davis was still recovering from a stroke (get well, sir) and (b) Phil Lesh's phriggin' ridiculous New York City marathon run assured that Larry Campbell and, presumably, his wife would not be at Levon's this time around.

What a stupid thought that was.

Yes, it was a shorter set than last time, likely owing to the aforementioned absences, but it may have been an even better show. Why? Well, there was "Ophelia," "Slippin' and Slidin'," and "Crash on the Levee" in the 2,3, and 4 holes, respectively. There was Brian Mitchell doing his best Dr. John on "Such A Night." There was "Evangeline" in the acoustic set, followed by Amy Helm singing "All La Glory," nervous at the start then downright joyous when she nailed it.

And then there was that bushy-haired, crazy-bearded dude over in the corner. Amy Helm whispered something to bandleader Jimmy Vivino, and he responded, "Tell him we got gear...just come on and play." But it seemed he didn't want to just play, so gear was set up, and after a bit out walked the Santa-like Garth Hudson with his accordion strapped on and ready to go, as Vivino said, "And it's not even Christmas yet!" After shaking hands with the guys in the band and getting warmed up, Garth joined in on "All on a Mardi Gras Day" and stuck around for the closing trio of tunes, "Tears of Rage," "Shape I'm In," and the standard Ramble finale of "The Weight," with Punch Brother Gabe Witcher belting out the "Crazy Chester" verse and Cassandra Wilson joining in on the choruses.

[EDIT upon sister's request: Plus, Levon made out with my sister. OK, he just kissed her. But she may have been willing to go further. Probably less likely to pursue Garth.]

Seriously, you oughta go. I know money's tight these days, but you'll never be happier spending $125 or $150 than you will after you leave Levon's.

But back to me.

The birthday fun continued the next day at the incomparable Sweet Sue's in Phoenicia, NY, where pumpkin pancakes were devoured and I almost achieved my goal of finishing a "short stack" before my stomach informed me that four more bites would not be a good idea. So I admitted defeat, which never tasted so good.

It was a fine birthday.

(The fun concludes Wednesday night at Maxwell's, with Maybe Pete around 9:30 0r so [Chris Skel beforehand, Adam and Dave's Bloodline after]. Come on out for the fun.)


Jimmy Martin: Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer

Here's another one that somehow slipped through the cracks. Surely, he should have been inducted a long time ago. But, unlike the Country Music Hall of Fame, I am willing to own up to my shortsightedness and correct it by welcoming Jimmy Martin into the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame.

By all accounts, Jimmy Martin was one of the true characters in country music. Evidence of this can readily be found by watching King of Bluegrass: The Life & Times of Jimmy Martin or reading Tom Piazza's undeniably awesome True Adventures with The King of Bluegrass, where I first became enthralled by the man shunned by both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry despite clearly belonging in both. Martin got his first big break playing with Bill Monroe and quickly parlayed that into a solo career that stands among the best in bluegrass.

A lot of bluegrass doesn't quite have the same punch it did when it was originally recorded, but Martin's best ("Sunny Side of the Mountain," "Free Born Man," "Tennessee," "Hold Whatcha Got," "Sophronie," "(I've Got My) Future on Ice". . . I'll stop there, but I could easily go on) hold up well today. They didn't call him the king for nothing (though, knowing Martin, it seems likely he may have bestowed the title on himself). For a good sampling of Martin's genius, try The King of Bluegrass CD or Songs of a Free Born Man, which would be worth the money if all you got was the cover (shown above). It takes a bold man to prepare his own elaborate gravestone and then pose next to it. I've never gotten the whole visiting famous people's gravestones thing, but I'll admit that I wouldn't mind making a trip to see Mr. Martin's. I tried to see him in concert in 2004, but his declining health forced him to cancel his appearance at Ralph Stanley's bluegrass festival in Virginia and I never got the chance to see him again. He died in May 2005. So the gravestone's the best I can do now.

YouTube clips of Mr. Martin don't quite do him justice (though a few do a passable job and are included below), but Piazza's book, originally an article written for the Oxford American, gives you a pretty good idea of Martin's irascibility and its impact on his career. The highlight of the book is Martin and Piazza's backstage visit to the Grand Ole Opry, in which Martin (a) tells a member of Ricky Skaggs's band that his boss's music is "about the sorriest f*&$in' bluegrass you could ever hope to be on with"; (b) upon seeing Skaggs yells out, "Is that the BIGGEST A$$HOLE in Nashville; and (c) lunges at Opry veteran "Whisperin'" Bill Anderson after telling Piazza, "I'm going to knock his a$$ right off him." Even if he hadn't produced all those great songs, I'd think he was brilliant solely based on Piazza's reporting.

Some say his stubborn, frequently caustic ways kept him from greater acclaim, but they won't keep him from the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame, which recognizes Jimmy Martin's spirit, toughness, and musical genius and welcomes him into the Hall.


"Free Born Man"


Hey, Douchebag (Special Political Edition)

I get it. It was a bad night for you. Your guy lost, and you're not thrilled with the guy the democracy has chosen. Fair enough. Everybody can't be happy all the time.

But, c'mon, you can't take a step back and appreciate the moment? You can't realize that President-elect Obama's election to the Oval Office is a beautiful moment in the history of a beautiful country? You can't look past your disdain for the man to see that the country has taken a brave step forward after taking far too many steps backward in its efforts to become a place where all are truly equal and can make a meaningful difference?

No, it seems you cannot. Look, I'm not 100% thrilled with Obama. He's got some flaws and a ton of question marks, but I like him enough to think he deserves a chance--a chance to lead the country, a chance to make America better, a chance to bring us closer together. You, on the other hand, can find nothing good about his election. You have to spend election night updating your Facebook status to indicate your sadness at what the American people have done and how you're "nauseous" and how people who don't think like you are "ignorant," while also tossing off vaguely racist crap that your pals applaud and LOL about it.

Listen up, douchebag. Your guy lost. The people have spoken. You might not like their reasons for voting the way they did and you might not like the guy they put into office, but that doesn't mean you have to be such a raging douche. Losing sucks, but, hey, my guys have lost a few times (and if we're to extend this to the sports spectrum, my guys have lost more than a few times), and I haven't spent the day after tossing off snotty comments like "remember down the road you asked for this" and just generally oozing creepitude.

So, hey, just do me this favor: dig down deep and find that open-hearted, open-minded part of you that you've buried under your cynicism, casual racism, and overall douchebaggery. I know it's there. It's gotta be. Douchebags are made, not born. And with the country in the shape it's in now, it's the perfect time to cut the crap and stop being such a narrow-minded tool. It won't be easy, but after soaking in the events of Tuesday night, I'm thinking you just might have a chance.


Studs Terkel RIP

Back in the days when journalism seemed like a real possibility for the future, I wanted to be like Studs Terkel, and not just because he was in the greatest baseball movie of all time. I wanted to be the reporter who didn't make a living being flashy, but could still be the life of the party if needed. I wanted to be the guy who took an interest in probing the mind of the average person and getting at what was in there. I wanted to be the writer who let other people tell the story while I got out of the way.

I got a little lost along the way, became a little disillusioned with what journalism had become and the seeming impossibility that there would ever be another Studs Terkel. Or maybe I just got lazy. Whatever the case, I never stopped liking Studs Terkel. I was lucky enough to hear him speak a few times at lectures and readings and tell stories about his career in the business. For a guy best known for capturing the words of others, he was pretty deft at telling a story himself, and once he got going, it was hard to get him to stop.

It was nice to listen.

What I Liked About October

*Charlie Louvin, 92YTribeca/Banjo Jim's, NYC
*Chiller Theatre Convention, Parsippany, NJ
*Billy Bragg, State Theatre, Ithaca, NY
*Rosanne Cash and Billy Bragg singing "I Still Miss Someone," Town Hall, NYC

*Meeting Aretha Franklin, NYC
*Friends of the Library Book Sale, Ithaca, NY
*Glenwood Pines, Ithaca, NY
*Gary Busey on Celebrity Rehab 2

*Maryland Renaissance Festival, Crownsville, MD
*Maureen McCormick book signing, Ridgewood, NJ
*Rick Bragg's The Prince of Frogtown
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places