Month: December 2010

Rehearsals for Retirement

The days grow longer for smaller prizes
I feel a stranger to all surprises
You can have them I don't want them
I wear a different kind of garment
In my rehearsals for retirement
                        Phil Ochs

I am on vacation for the next seven weeks.  I’ve decided to take all that I’ve accrued and try to get back on track.  Last year was a tough year filled with a lot of personal problems.  All of that is behind me.  2011 is going to be a year of renewal.

I plan to spend my time over this vacation working on fitness, music, writing and relaxation.  Then I will go back to work, work six months and retire.

I’ve only been off a few days and I already feel better.  I’ve been playing my guitar, banjo and ukulele and I’ve written a few stories.  Last night I played poker and felt more relaxed than I have in months.

I’m looking forward to the future.

Christmas and Ukuleles

Christmas has come and gone and this year it was wonderful.  Saw the family and just relaxed.  I’ve needed this.

I bought the wife a drum machine, drum sticks and a beat box.  Now that she is s percussionist it’s only appropriate.  She now carries the drum sticks around with her and beats on everything.   The steel drum band has really opened her up to the musical world.

I’m very lucky in the gift thing. The family must be reading my blog because I got Bryan Ferry cds that fill a hole in my library (including the new one).   Also some electronic toys but the exciting thing is I got a Lanikai Concert Ukulele.    It is made from koa wood and is a beauty.

I’ve been playing the ukulele on and off but have been frustrated by the poor quality of the tuners.  They go out of tune so easily.  Plus the soprano is so small.  I really needed a concert size.

I already have three ukuleles but they are all tenors and two of them are on the cheap side.  A couple years ago I acquired a 1920 Martin Tenor Ukulele that needs a little bit of work.  Three of the tuners are gone and I need to get it to a luthier.  I just haven’t had the time.  I think I will do that soon.


The Wife and Steel Drum

Oberlin College is just ten miles from my house and they offer some fantastic free experimental courses.  They are open to everyone and I’ve taken my share; everything from bicycle repair to a course on Frank Zappa.  This year the wife and daughter are taking a bunch.

The wife signed up for a pottery class, a jewelry making class and a steel (pan) drum class.   Most of these classes fill up fast and to make it fair they use a lottery system.  The wife expected to get one or two but surprisingly got into all three.

I used to sing in a Chorale Spectrum, a fantastic community choir, until my work schedule prohibited it.  One of the best things about the choir was how they would bring it outside players (harpists, classical guitarists, etc.) to play with us.  One year Oberlin Steel was brought in.  The sound was incredible and it was exciting to watch them play.  My wife told me afterwards that she wanted to learn the steel drum.  Now the opportunity had arrived.

The main problem is my wife didn’t know how to read music so she had to learn how to read music and then where the notes are on the drum.

It was incredibly frustrating for her.  Here she was around a bunch of young music majors at an ivy league college.  To be honest, I thought she would drop out of the class.

Luckily friends came through, especially my friend Susan.  Being a pianist she would record the music and email it to the wife.  Being able to hear the music made things a lot easier.

The day of the concert came and the performance was to be held at The Cat in the Cream Coffeehouse in Oberlin. The theme was SuperPan so many of the students wore superhero costumes and the wife made her own.  I got there just in time to watch the kids setting up all of the drums.  It was quite a site seeing superheros assembling steel drums.

The wife announced the song Dock on the Bay and played right out front.  She did great.  I’m so impressed with her for sticking it out.  Here is an edited version of the show, just Dock of the Bay.

The video isn’t that great as I recorded it with my Ipod Touch.  But the sound isn’t bad.

Here is the full show running at about twenty minutes.

After the show we went to The Feve and mistakenly ordered garlic fries instead of their stinky fries.  The garlic was so bad that it burned, but I was too tired and happy to worry about it.  Fantastic  night with friends and some great music.  I hope she continues with this.  She will find that it gets easier and the more you know the more you are able to know.

A Long December

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

The Counting Crows

December has always been the best month of the year for me.  As a child all of the family would come together and things were busy and happy.

As I aged things started to change.  Family and friends drifted and when I was in my early twenties a good friend killed himself during the holiday season.  It was a tragedy and a waste.   I’ve thought of him often.

In nineteen ninety-seven my sister was dying of a brain tumor and it was December when it really went downhill.  I remember driving home in the darkness after seeing her and crying like a child.  Her death in February of the next year was a blessing.

Ten months later my older brother would die in the beginning of December.  He was the closest thing to a father that I’ve ever had.  After that, December only brought melancholy and profound sadness.

A few years ago my good friend Rod Veverka died right after Christmas.  I only knew Rod a short time but he couldn’t have affected me more if I had known him my entire life.

December has changed for me.  I don’t know if it is maturation or emotional exhaustion, but it is now a time for reflection.  Working in the darkness I think of all the people I have known over the years and all that have passed.  How lucky I have been to have known them.

This is my last long December working in the dark.  Upon retirement I will have to force myself to take long walks on dark winter nights.  It’s important to allow the mind to wander and reflect on those who are no longer with us.

The 8th Man and Facebook

When I was a kid there were a couple manga cartoons on T.V. on Saturday mornings.  The first was Astroboy.  It was alright but didn’t really do it for me. The second was Tobor The 8th Man.  He was the coolest cartoon superhero I had ever seen.   The storyline was about a detective who was dying and his life force was transferred over to a robot body.  It was the eighth attempt so that is why he was called Tobor (Robot backwards) The Eighth Man.

He was super fast, had armor skin and for energy smoked plutonium cigarettes.  This was one tough son of toaster.  My favorite episode was where he was hit in the chest with a missile and was so damaged  he was leaking energy.  The only way he could survive was to chain smoke his plutonium cigarettes until he could be repaired.  I was shocked when it went off the air.

This month there is a Facebook theme where you replace your picture with a cartoon picture from your childhood.   Supposedly it is a way to stop child abuse.  I have no idea how it does that but here is the post on a bunch of walls.

Change your Default FB pic to a cartoon from your childhood. The goal? To not see a human face on FB until Monday the 6th of Dec. Join the fight against child abuse and invite your friends to do the same!

It’s been said that Tobor the 8th Man was the inspiration for RoboCop.  That makes sense but I think Tobor was a lot tougher and had one heck of a sports car.

Musical Accessories and Security

A few years back one of my many brothers got in trouble with the law.  When his court date came up he asked if I would accompany him.  I said sure and showed up at the appointed time.  I had never been to court and when I arrived I was asked to step through a metal detector.   It beeped and when I emptied my pockets out came my banjo capo.  A capo is a small tool that fits on the  neck of a stringed instrument to raise the tone of the instrument.

The woman looked at it and asked what it was and after I told her said  that I couldn’t bring it into the courtroom.  When I asked why she said it could be used as a weapon.  I looked at her, then the weapon and then back at her.   I took it back to the car and when I returned she told me her grandfather played the banjo.  She wished she had learned.

A couple years later I was leaving work and when I went through the metal detector it buzzed and I pulled out a banjo mute.  It is essentially a heavy piece of metal that attaches to the bridge to deaden the vibration and quiet the sound.  The guard wanted to know what it was and why I would carry it.   He finally called his supervisor over to make sure I wasn’t leaving with something that I shouldn’t.

Recently I had to go to court to pay a traffic ticket and when I had to empty mypockets before I could go through the metal detector.   The woman looked at my glass slide and asked if it was a drug device.  Only after I placed it on my finger and played some air guitar did she understand what it was really for.

With all of the recent trouble with the TSA I can only imagine how hard it must be for a travelling musician.