Thursday, July 26, 2007

That Old Canada Rag

Lunch time at work usually means escaping to one of the 6-7 eateries in the area. Our lunch room is relatively puny in comparison with the amount of people who work here, so if you’re in need of quiet or escape, you must drive to another menu venue. Most days I cart along the NYT, WSJ, or some magazine or printouts from the daily postings of Michael Blowhard, Whisky Prajer, or Mr. Sgazzetti. God forbid I’m dining alone with no reading matter! Wasted time!

Today was a most confusing day in the morning so I drove to an eatery sans paper. Luckily my vehicle, specifically the trunk area, is well-stocked with the important stuff, namely quarts of oil, liters of water, metric and inch socket sets, 2 complete changes of clothes, including shoes, a collapsible chair, 3 umbrellas, a blanket, enough maps to launch an expedition, and books. Paperbacks, really, which were duplicates of hardcover versions stored in the house. Please, don’t ask. It’s a long story; well, actually, it's a series of long stories.

So, as I was troving through the different bags in the trunk, I came upon Thin Ice, an engaging autobiography by Bruce McCall. I’d read this book about 8 years ago and I’ve picked it up on quite a few other occasions to re-read certain passages or chapters I’d "post-it"ed on my first run through. The first ¾ of the book is outstanding. My interest wavered through the last 60 or so pages as both the author and I lost our wind. But the first 120 pages or so? Absolutely devine. Bruce McCall of the Norfolk County, Ontario McCalls is quite funny and insightful as he illustrates his youthful days in Simcoe, Ontario, just over the border from the US of A., before he becomes a grown-up and ventures south to eventually wind up as a writer and illustrator for the New Yorker magazine.

If you’ll excuse me, here’s a lengthy excerpt from the book (all painstakingly typed by yours truly so throw me a bone by reading it through. Or, why don't you just print this out and go to lunch. Go on. You need the break.

"I grew up in a world where the average Canadian would rather be trampled by the R.C.M.P. Musical Ride than be found publicly admitting anything American to be superior, or even much good. Nobody, not even the most rabidly anti-American Canadian nationalist, could or would deny the economic and cultural facts of life that all but swamped our nation in Americana. But that didn’t mean Canadians had to like it. That would mean accepting and even liking Americans, and wait just a minute, eh? If the general attitude of Canadians toward their mighty neighbor to the south could be distilled into a single phrase, that phrase would probably be "Oh, shut up." The Americans talked too much, mainly about themselves. Their torrid love affair with their own history and legend exceeded-painfully the quasi-British Canadian idea of modesty and self-restraint. They were jammed permanently in extroverted high gear, confident to the brink of, if not over the edge of, arrogance; strident, take-charge, can-do----fatiguing. There was about the American style something, indeed plenty, that jarred the Canadian love of calm. Americans spent far too much of their vaunted energy out at the extremes of feeling. They were forever bursting in spasms of insufferable yahoo pride or all too publicly agonizing over their crises.
The patriotic Canadian should keep his distance, then. Snuggle in the warmth and safety of British institutions and customs and attitudes that have always underpinned Canadian life, lending it dignity and order, helping shield it from the obnoxious blowhards forever yelping and banging and partying, way past bedtime.

This was the view of the Americans I had breathed as part of the very air of Simcoe and Canada since infancy. Evidence that ours was a superior civilization was obvious, at least to us: We had the Imperial gallon, two-dollar bills, Mounties, the more scenic part of the Niagara Falls, grade thirteen in high school, a governor-general, Eskimos, three downs in football, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, our Deanna Durbin in Hollywood and our Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, in London, and permanent private pipeline to Buckingham Palace.

And yet,
even by age eleven I was beginning to secretly backslide. I had begun to find myself privately questioning my faith and putting it to the test. I was beginning to wonder if, despite all the evidence, Canada was really so inherently superior and the way of the USA really so inherently intolerable. I was feeling the first pangs of envy arising from a strong and growing suspicion that not all that far away, over the border, the average eleven-year-old American kid was having lots more fun. From all appearances, indeed, being first in fun was part of the American boy’s birthright.
Reminders were as plentiful as the comparisons that inevitably followed. American kids got whistles, rings, glittering prizes in their cereal boxes; all we got was cereal. They could goggle at page after page of color comics---"Prince Valiant", "The Katzenjammer Kids", "Smokey Stover"---in their Sunday papers; we didn’t even get Sunday papers. The comic book, that archetypal American expressive form---splashy, loud, rowdy, and manic, boiling with superheroes and super-villains, a TNT charge to the boyish imagination---had only a pallid, pathetic Canadian counterpart. The few Canadian comic books were black-and-white, vapid, and hopelessly wholesome. American kids, as I vicariously feasted along with them via the comic-book ads, guzzled Royal Crown Cola, rode balloon-tired Schwinn bikes with sirens and headlights or deluxe coaster wagons or futuristic scooters. They shot pearl-handled ca guns drawn from tooled-leather holsters or Daisy (It'll shoot your eye out) air rifles, wore aviator goggles, flew gasoline-powered model airplanes. American kids even had their own exclusive boys' mail-order department store in the form of the Johnson & Smith catalog. Rushed to your front door C.O.D. from Racine, Wisconsin—-ventriloquism kits, genuine onyx signet rings, whoopee cushions, treasures Made in the USA.

But not for me; not for Canadians. In the fine-print legalese, in the radio announcer’s dream-smashing disclaimer, four words would serve to keep every son of the Maple Leaf empty-handed and brokenhearted, with his nose pressed enviously to the glass that separated him from the delirious ongoing American carnival of plenty and fun: "Not Available in Canada." "
(from Thin Ice, pp 7-8)

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stoney & Durrell


This excellent piece in The American Scholar regards Lawrence Durrell. The article's author, Charles Truehart, writes that he "first encountered Durrell, in my early adolescence, drawn by the clothbound pastel editions on my parents’ shelves, by the idea of a quartet of novels, and by the aroma of decay and sexuality they managed to exude."

My first encounter with Mr. Durrell and subsequently his Alexandria Quartet, was in the parking lot of an A & P Warehouse distribution center in central Jersey. I was just out of college and rather than slipping right into the work equated with my degree, I opted to become a Teamster so that I could work the late night shift at a grocery supply warehouse, loading semi's. The pay was about twice what I would have been getting if I'd worn a suit and tie, even when you consider the considerable union dues taken out each month. Worked out well for me. Late night work negated the amount of money I could spend (luckily Amazon didn't exist back then) and I was able to sock away quite a bit of cash so that the goal of backpacking in Europe with my girlfriend of the time was easily funded.
One particularly hot 'n humid evening, a bunch of us were sprawled around a co-worker's Mustang, car doors splayed open. Like 80% of the night crew, he was a dreamer as well. One fellow was saving his money to buy a truckload of pinball machines that he was going to drive out to Oregon where he had all intentions of becoming the bar game king. This guy, with the music blaring from his Mustang, was a musician and we all know what kind of dreams these folks have. His musical tastes were broad but his preferences were for Wainwright, Parsons, and Jerry Jeff. That night we were treated to Jerry Jeff's "Stoney". Jerry Jeff's seductive voice, so similar to Guy Clark's (especially noticeable if you've seen one of Michael B's favorite DVDs, Heartworn Highways), eased through the song. One line, "He had a gray pillowcase full of books by Durrell" stuck out.
I asked my fellow parking lot listeners if they had any idea who this Durrell character was.
"Maybe one of those Westerns writers", I suppose said one especially well-tuned guy.
"You know, like Zane Gray or Louis L'Amour?"
Hmmm. Well, back in early adolescence while spending some time in the Old Country, I'd gotten hooked like quite a lot of my cousins on Zane Gray. Only, his name was pronounced Tzan Ay GRRRRay.

I picked up a well-thumbed copy of Justine at the local library and was smitten. The balance of my year at the warehouse was taken with completing the Quartet. It was a short year. I ended up buying paperbacks of each book and scribbled throughout, with the last two blank pages completely filled with new words fished out of the book and their definitions. The trip that I was working toward, unfortunately, took on more importance than it should have. Whether it was my own hellbound train of thought or the propulsion set off by Durrell's books, I'm still pondering. There were some very memorable moments as we went through Iceland, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia but our constant movement dotted only by stays of 2-3 weeks in any one place prevented the full effect of any one place from setting in.
Unlike the Alexandria of Durrell's quartet, the cities and towns we stayed in never became one of the main characters. It was, in the end, a rush to a relationship breakup without the pleasure of the fall.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another Slow Posting Day in Lit Land

Find out your Harry Potter personality at LiquidGeneration!

Well, he does approximate my age better than the majority of the cast of characters, although I was hoping to be pegged as Hagrid's double. I just love what he does with his hair!


Friday, July 20, 2007

Crumbs from the Past

The different photo-sharing & viewing sites just keep getting better every day. It's hard to keep up with the ingenuity of some folks. Take, for instance, Mr. Bleak Mouse, who used to post on his blog on a regular weekly basis. Even though his entries were always funny, frequently beyond the horizon, and always expertly put together, the writing portion of his blog seems to have bored him. Sad for us, really. Immerse yourself into this piece or this one. Crumbs from the past. He's been beyond words for a while; it's images that now totally intrigue him. He's well beyond the cutting edge. While we're here waiting for the bus, he's long since boarded his intergalactic space pod. The blog-posting has stopped to be replaced by posting on his Flickr site.

Links from there led me to this site, where this picture was posted. That picture, in turn, was jolted to come up with this picture. Simply gorgeous!

("Image from ImageShifter from the Flickr site, borrowed for linking purposes ONLY")

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Kruno, of the Fleet- Fingered Krunos

After seeing Mr. Krunoslav Spisic perform a month ago in Philly, I was desirous of possessing his sole CD issued to date. Ordering through Mr. Spisic's site was a bit unwieldy and, as he mentioned during his performance on June 9th, he'd run out of CD's to sell and it would be a while. So, for the same price and free shipping, I simply Amazoned it and twiddled the fingers waiting for the brown-suited guy to stop by.
Well, it took a while to seemingly individually manufacture this self-titled CD, but the month-long wait has been worth the calloused fingers.

There are 14 songs on the album, with Kruno singing just a bit on two selections, "Delem, Delem", an old Roma song usually spelled as "Djelem, Djelem" and "Svaku Zenu Volim Ja", which translates as I Love All Women. The latter song is written by Zvonko Bogdan, who was born in Vojvodina, which is a part of Serbia that has a fairly high percentage of folks with Hungarian roots. I mention these facts about the songs because when I played this CD for my ever-understanding and diplomatic mother, mentioning that Kruno is a Canadian with Croatian parents, she gave me the mal occhia and then the traditional head-shake, snaking of the arms, and the pursing of the lips ultimately culminating in the longish "Pfffffffft" consonantal emanation all translatable as the Croatian expression of "What an idiot!?!?" (also can be construed as, "What a donkey?!??!").
Her point?
"A Croatian would never sing a song by a Serb or by a Roma (Gypsy)."
And you may wonder how wars start, stop, and start anew in the Balkans? 'Nuff said about that.

Kruno, the CD, is fabulously recorded. Crystal clear, with a fine balance drawn between the lead guitar of Mr. Spisic and those of his madly strumming mates, Strabo & Scott Churchman. On a few selections Alexander Fedoriouk joins in on cimbalon Kalman Magyar bows in with his Grappelli-ish violin, completing the semblance of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli's Quintette of the Hot Club of France. The songs on the CD range from Mr. Spisic's interpretations of Reinhardt's "Swing 42" and "Swing 49" to the "Spider Man" theme, to "Puttin' on the Ritz", and some of his own original compositions. It goes without saying (but I will) that if you're not a fan of Reinhardt and Grappelli, this CD would not be for you. Brilliant guitar runs, notes speeding by, musical jokes and references tucked in are all evident on this acoustic instrument recording. No layers of strings, turntable antics, or New Style/Merde Style are in evidence.

And you can crank this CD up with minimal worries of distortion. Although your neighbors may wonder about those odd words heard when Kruno starts belting two of the songs.

I would recommend this CD highly. Fresh versions of old classics. Amazing musicianship. Fine sound production.

Just as a comparison, here's Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli performing J'Attenndrai and here's Kruno performing Reinhardt's Swing 49. Notice Kruno's guitar and its similarity to Reinhardt's.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Bidding Adieu (Unfortunately, not My Own)

(Towels held down by rather large rocks on the beach of Razanac so that they're not tempted to fling themselves into the waters of the Adriatic by the famous Sirens of Hrvatska. Click on photo for larger view.)

This past weekend, we journeyed up I-295 in Jersey to see my mother off for her annual trip back to the old country. She usually leaves in mid-summer and then returns in late September so as to maximize her stay on the Adriatic Coast. She stays with the slew of relatives that all own beach houses and continually display proof that life seems much more enjoyable over there in a country still affected by the 1990's Balkan War than in this country which is constantly told to be aware of terror. While we'll be cringing behind our rose bushes searching for people intending us ill will, she'll be floating in the slightly salty waters off the coastal towns of Baska Voda, Makaraska, and Crikvenica. I am openly jealous and deliriously hopeful that our retirement down the road allows us just a bit of this easy pleasure. Days of sipping liquids on the rocks as mists of seawater brush our faces. Nights of laughter, roasting,imbibing of local cheap wine, and forgetting each night's festivities as they're replaced by the following soire. No inspection of the cork, no sniffing of the glass. Merely, the pouring of Plavac or Zinfindel into glasses of various previously intended usage. And, always, the onrush of words in various Croatian dialects, curse words delicately entwined into conversations so that emphasis of importance can be easily discerned, even through the haze of another wine bottle's opening.
I always ask my mom to take pictures. Not of monuments or statues, simply of folks and their houses and their open tables of food and drink. She rarely complies, correctly saying she "can't take pictures of continuning memories, only foggy snapshots of moments out of ocntext. So, why bother? Just come. Next year, maybe?"

To which I agree as we wave her off on her very excellent of adventures. "Next Year?"

Možda. Možda.


The Perils of Having a Big Set

When a Limo driver has a touch of hubris, things can go embarrasingly wrong. This is what culd be called your basic see-saw limo ride. Hope no champagne was spilled and the onlookers/helpers were appropriately tipped.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Le footing and now le running

From Arts & Letters Daily comes this link to a Time Online article regarding French opinion on their newly installed leader, President Sarkozy.

Some nasty bits:
"(Some) intellectuals and critics see his passion for jogging as un-French, right-wing and even a ploy to brainwash his citizens.

"Alain Finkelkraut, a celebrated philosopher, begged Mr Sarkozy on France 2, the main state television channel, to abandon his "undignified" pursuit. He should take up walking, like Socrates, Arthur Rimbaud, the poet, and other great men."

"Le running du Président, often clad in his favourite NYPD T-shirt, has become a ritual, like King Louis XIV’s rides at Versailles."

"Mr Sarkozy has rekindled a French suspicion that the habit is for self-centred individualists such as the Americans who popularised it. "Jogging is of course about performance and individualism, values that are traditionally ascribed to the Right," Odile Baudrier, editor of V02 magazine, a sports publication, told Libération"

I could keep on clipping, so I suggest to just read the entire article. It must be a slow news day in Paris.

Note Bene: Click on the cartoon for the full blown effect of Gallic Wit.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Elsewhere Blogs

By the signs of this photo, Dr. T. Burke of Easily Distracted has a career at Sign-Making he can lean on if the academic gig wears him out. Dr. Burke always has some interesting posts. I'm eagerly awaiting his thought-out view on the whole Antioch mess.

Searchie is Baaaacccccck! Her first posts since April are here and here. I'd given up any hope of her posting due to, what I'd presumed, a self-imposed sabbatical to concentrate on writing. Good to see her quips and snorts again.

Communicatrix is up to her usual self-improvement lists. Does she ever rest her brain? Hasn't she improved enough? Isn't there a wall one hits as far as species progression is concerned?

Darrell Reimer of Whisky Prajer has not let a summer flu of megalithic proportions slow down his reviews. In fact, he's been putting them out at a heated rate, the flu having seemingly turned up the temperature on his evaluative skills.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Not Ruling the Radio World

Apologies to anyone out there ("Anyone?", he asks) who may have tuned in via radio or Internet to the non-show not being broadcast yesterday. Seems our station's radio transmitter was on summer vacation as was our engineer. We were basically off the airwaves for the entire day; definitely not part of a working master plan to rule the radio world.

Which, was a shame. Had some new CD's that I'd planned on playing including a few selections from Bad Plus' late April release, Prog, including their enoyably distrubing version of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Mr. Ethan Iverson playing a minimally tinkled and sardonic piano while Mr. David King furiously pounds our foreheads, I mean drums, with the Ohrwurm melody. I'll confess that this song is still very listenable in its orginal version, even after all of the attempts by FM radio and MTV to kill it. Look! Even Patti Smith recently (April, 2007) did a very nice version of this song.

In addition to the Tears for Fears song, Bad Plus (especially drummer David King) do quite a listenable job with Rush's Tom Sawyer, not to mention (but I will) a superb version of Burt Bacharach's "This Guy's in Love with You".

For me at least, Bad Plus are a hit 'n miss band. I've listened to the majority of their CD's multiple times but I own only their most recent one, Prog, as, after repeated listening, all of the songs on this CD hold up quite well. The musicians, Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass, and drummer David King are all ludicrously talented and the collective known as Bad Plus is one of the tightest bands you'll hear these days. I'd strongly encourage anyone to search out their stuff; their renditions of tried and true compositions and their performance of their own stuff is aggressive, referential, funny, and, just sometimes, a bit too loud. I would strongly recommend Prog as the starting off point, even though it's their newest piece of work. If a jazz group (a huge pigeon-holing if ever there was one) can secrete a suggestion of Heavy Metal, Bad Plus would be such a band.

More illuminating reviews of Prog can be found at:
Stylus Magazine,
All About Jazz,
and the indispensable Meta Critic.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

That Special Sunday's Come Around Again..

...meaning that I'll be d.j.-ing on July 8th from around 10:00 until 12:00 EST from here. The show, as always, is Morning After. Playlist will be posted right here, hopefully by July 9th. Planning to play some Jimmy Bruno, a Philly guy, Michael Carvin, Jimmy Rowles & Ray Brown, Mr. Bill Charlap (Live at the Village Vanguard), Hendrik Meurkens, Joshua Redman, then another Philly guy, Christian McBride (Live at Tonic), some , and selections from Glen Hansard and The Frames and The Swell Season. Some Wax.on, perhaps some Skerik and Ozomatli somewhere in the mix as well. Do join me if you can. Always nice to know there's a ready ear out there.

Speaking of which, namely, being out there, a favorite story about Canada (WP, if you've heard this, like way too many times, shoot me).

The family was on its meandering way one summer to a vacation with friends from Edmonton to be spent at Lake of the Woods, a mythical sounding location of beauty, serenity, and unbelievable skies, not to mention Fish of Incredible Size.
Along the way, we motelled in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a large town on Lake Superior dotted with necessary coffee ports of Tim Horton's. Recovering from 500 miles of driving, we were draped on the beds in said motel and watching TV, the Canada version. As is usual and, I believe, required by CBC laws and regulations, we were watching a Canadian content show seemingly aimed at the Canadian viewer to convince them (yet once again!!) why it is much different (and better) to be Canadian than American. This specific show was a book review show with several Canadian authors discussing the importance of the Canadian land and specifically the Canadian Shield in Canadian literature. Now, for me, these Canadian content shows are always a hoot because, frankly, I don't need to be convinced that being a Canadian is one of the better things to be in life, right next to being a Peter DeVries fan. The earnestness that oozes out of the screen in these shows is, after a while, quite hilarious. What usually starts with polite pleading as to the justification of being Canadian usually ends up at least one of the talking heads going off the deep end with demands for allegiance to the Maple Leaf. The latter state of affairs strikes me as so un-Canadian that one suspects there's an American producer running the show.
But I (badly) digress.
So the authors are kibbitzing about this and that, until one of them (and I apologize profusely for not remembering her name) states that the main difference between an American and a Canadian is this.
When in the deep woods, an American will peer out into the darkness and wonder if something is out there while a Canadian, on the other hand, will stare into the same woods lined void and wonder if there is nothing out there at all in the vastness.

So, this Sunday, the radio waves will be going out to you, in search of human contact. You can do the Internet thing here.


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