Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's resolution

Teach Peace.

"The Office" (workstation series) 83 (homeward-bound edition)

And it's home, boys, home--and it's home I'd like to be
Home once again in me own country
Where the oak and the ash and the bonny rowan tree
Are all growing greener in the north Amerikee

Now playing: Levon Helm - Poor Old Dirt Farmer

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My guy

They only call it "class war" when we fight back:

"[Wealthy lobbies] will never give up power voluntarily," Edwards told a cheering crowd Saturday. "The only way they will ever give up power is when it is taken away from them."
This is democracy. Right Here. Right Now.
We have it in our power to begin the world over again. Thomas Paine.

Fuzzy people 25

Elsie the Island Dog.

Puerto Rico, like a lot of other poor places around the world, has a terrible stray - and - abandoned-animals problem (kind of like their "stray - and - abandoned - kids" problems: it's one thing when your economy sucks, and you can't take care of your kids and animals--what's our North American excuse?). Old friends had recently lost their beloved Phoebe and realized that they were probably never going to "feel ready" for another pet, so they did exactly what you should do with such grief--turn it into positive karma.

Elsie's mostly labrador retriever (they think), though there might be some beagle there (they think), though there may be some pit bull or hound (they think) get the picture. One thing that happens to canines in undifferentiated and scavenging situations is that they do tend, genetically, back toward a kind of archetypal "small, lean, fast, smart" Ur-Dog. She's a little timid yet but smart as hell (heard the beep of my digital watch, recognized that it's very like the beep of the electrified collar that keeps her within the electric fence, and sneaked away out of range), and very affectionate.

More below the jump (and one of Punkin, Dharmonia's mom's kitty).

Home tomorrow. Thanks to the Rev for the "fuzzy people" appellation.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

11:01 ET 12/29/07: Un-fuckin'-defeated

5:45 to play; Maroney just romped in. Pats came back, in about 14:00 minutes, from 12-23, to 38-28.

This is the best offensive football team in my lifetime.

The view from the bridge...

...inside looking out at old music- buddy Larry's pub session in Salem, Mass.

More below the jump.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"State of Maine" weather

My mother's people summered in Maine in the 1930s and '40s, and my folks briefly owned a (principle) residence near Deer Island. When I was growing up in my own home town, my mom would refer to these kinds of conditions as "State of Maine weather." For a New Englander, it feels familiar and not at all unpleasant--'specially if you can hear the gulls.

More below the jump.

Now playing: Jack Reedy & His Walker Mountain String Band - Chinese Breakdown

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On the road today...

...which means blogging light. In the meantime, you can visit this guy's website (old comrade from Guitar Workshop days): "The David Letterman of the Hopelessly Damned".

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"100 Greats in 100 Days" #067: Martin Simpson, Prodigal Son

This record will break your heart.

Of course, that is part of what traditional music has always done: it helps people mourn, just as it helps them celebrate, give birth, be born, and die. Martin Simpson has made a lot of great records—or great single tracks—in his career, not only on his own discs but also as a hired-gun/accompanist on others’ records (his work with June Tabor is a complete benchmark both in her career and in the Revival’s generation of English traditional singers). His is a particularly rich and particularly idiosyncratic artistic lineage: the line of descent from the insights of Nic Jones and Martin Carthy; their inheritances from Roscoe Holcomb and Jinky Wells and Bob Roberts, and the influence of A.L. Lloyd’s looping, asymmetrical, odd-meter realizations of traditional song; the astonishing free-spinning accompaniments and floating vocal phrasing of Nic Jones; the spooky, stark, wandering accompaniments and wispy singing of Skip James and the slide ruminations of Blind Willie Johnson. Simpson’s a fine frailing banjo player and that instrument’s uniquely West-African approach to picking (downstrokes on the downbeat with the index fingernail, thumb trailing on the short drone string on the offbeats) informs his approach to the guitar as well—he finds the polyrhythmic vocabularies, the modal bends and slurs, that link across barriers of time, space, and ethnicity, between traditional English song and African-American blues. He was a schoolboy-prodigy banjo- and guitar-player in the ‘70s English folksong revival, but has continued to develop ever since, particularly in company with other like-minded “avant-traditionalists”—in this respect, his time living in the Finger Lakes region of New York (an old, old part of North American cultural history, reaching back to Washington Irving and Fenimore Cooper, to the Iroquois Nation and Uncas and Chingachcook) was probably particularly important. It’s a beautiful part of the country, full of forests and hills and waterfalls, and the folds and wrinkles in the landscape would seem to mirror the twists and turns in Simpson’s own playing.

I grew up in the suburbs of Massachusetts, in a beautiful old colonial town with a long and honorable lineage of working-class, blue-collar, farming-and-fishing culture, which was (although we didn’t know the term at the time) rapidly being gentrified into a Boston bedroom community. There were still families running their own personal lobster traps, people still cleaned fish on the wharves down the street from my house, kids like me still worked the fishing and lobster boats, but the harbor was rapidly being taken over by ugly fiberglass weekend toys, and the high-school by guys whose sum total in life was to be a yacht broker and have a winter skiing condo at Mt Sunapee.

It wasn’t a lifestyle or culture I cared for, but I was lucky enough to hear Mississippi Delta blues and Irish traditional music, played live in a room, the summer I was 14, first at the me & thee Coffeehouse and then at Bob Franke’s Saturday Night in Marblehead (more probably at the latter, which had a much hipper and more discerning booking policy). When you’re that age, and bright, and bored snotless by the culture you‘re growing up in, and you hear real traditional music, played and sung by someone sitting eight away from you in a small room, it does something—it can rearrange the organs inside your body, move around the molecules and synapses inside your brain, and you’re not the same thereafter.

I sure wasn’t. The summer of 1974 changed who I was, and who I wanted to be. It took me years, and many twists and turns and peaks and valleys and folds and wrinkles, but the early imprint stayed with me. I heard the links between the two great musics I loved: black blues and white trad music—the voices of poor people who fought to retain a sense of themselves.

Prodigal Son features a cast of graying old friends, a modal chamber ensemble of strings and winds, and a few famous types lending voice here and there, who understand that the very greatest virtuosity is the virtue of knowing what to leave out. And it’s full of the eloquent guitar fireworks that have always distinguished Simpson’s recordings.

One of the unexpected pleasures of Simpson’s later career, however, has been the way he has gradually discovered a distinctive and expressive voice as a singer. He was always a fantastic guitar-slinger, able to adopt others’ versions of songs and adapt to others’ singing, and make his playing part of the bigger picture. But it would almost seem as if it took him the 30 years from his first recordings (1976, for the legendary and omniscient Bill Leader’s Topic label) to find his approach as a vocalist. When he sings, you can certainly hear Bert Lloyd, and Carthy, and Tabor—but you can also hear Skip and Willie and Nick Dow and Nic Jones. Maybe all those years as an accompanist to genius vocalists meant that, when he finally stepped forward as a singer on his own, that voice would emerge fully fledged.

Taking off from Tabor’s earlier model in her award-winning 2004 An Echo of Hooves, Simpson on this record goes back to the marrow of his own tradition, the “big ballads” of the English and Scottish borders. In these performances, of the songs he probably heard as a Lincolnshire schoolboy and a guitar-picker-for-hire in the early ‘70s folk clubs of London, you hear all the older elements, all the other influences, all the source voices, coming through in his own.

That voice is there throughout this record: absolutely distinctive, completely masterful, utterly ageless:

In his beautifully understated version of “Batchelor’s Hall,” a rueful American song from Appalachia, based in a Thomas Moore text from the mid-19th century. Moore’s Merrie Melodies was one of the most popular printed music collections in America, one of the first to collect traditional Irish song melodies (albeit with new texts by Moore) in commercial form, and it found its way into an awful lot of middle-class parlors and Appalachian hollers;

In “Pretty Crowing Chicken,” a triumphal return to his frailing banjo days, an Appalachian tune related to the standard “Greasy Coat”, and which comes to Simpson through the North Carolina singer Hattie Presnell and the great Frank Profitt, where he’s accompanied by a magnificent trans-Atlantic chamber ensemble of Barrie Phillips’s cello, Danny Thompson’s arco bass, and Andy Cutting’s melodeon;

“The Lakes of Champlain,” a North American version of a song that comes from Scan Tester, originally, but versions of which by Jones and Carthy both seem to inform Simpson’s. His version is swifter, and more dance-like, and more driven by his percussive frailing guitar, but equally powerful and wistful;

“The Granemore Hare,” which begins with a stunning taksim­-style free-time improvisation, that evokes Simpson’s collaboration on Water Lily with David Hidalgo, Viji Krishnan, and Srinivasan. This version, which owes a debt to versions by Steeleye Span (poor) and Dervish (magnificent), is sung much more freely, with the voice driving the phrasing and expression, and it captures, better than any of those other versions, the mournful sadness that lurks under the most fervent propounding of blood sports—and which lurks there because they are, ultimately, about suffering;

It’s there equally in Simpson’s “Little Musgrave,” which is based in Nic Jones’s earlier guitar/vocal version, but which has the balls to take on Christy Moore’s much-better-known version with Planxty—and win. And in his “Louisiana 1927,” Randy Newman’s bitter elegy to the greed and negligence that gave us the 1927 Levee Break ignored by Silent Cal Coolidge, and the 2005 ethnic cleansing of Katrina engineered by the sociopathic Karl Rove (the Goebbels of the Bush Administration) and George W Bush (the homophobic towel-snapping pledge-branding cheerleader for fraternities and war crimes). Simpson’s version of "Louisiana" takes off from Aaron Neville’s--easily the gutsiest programming decision on the disc--and, like Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of Voodoo Child, fails to match that archetype (whose could? it's Aaron fucking Neville, for Christ's sake!)—but succeeds nevertheless as an honorable and courageous homage.

That grainy, expressive voice is even there in the instrumentals—the Renaissance dance piece “La Rivolte”, driven by Cutting’s melodeon and Phillips’s cello, and Simpson's own “Kit’s Tune,” which opens his version of Jan Struther’s great alternative lullaby, “When a Knight Won His Spurs”, set to the Baptist hymn tune STOWEY.

It’s there in the mournful resignation and gratitude of “She Slips Away,” an instrumental on the death of his mother, where the slow, sad keening of the slide says things no words could, and puts Simpson within hollering distance of the Heroes’ Hall where sit Blind Willie Johnson and Duane Allman, drinking whiskey, jamming on “Little Martha,” and telling stories about their mamas.

It’s there, most particularly and most heart-breakingly, in the disc’s centerpiece, the nine-minute Andrew Lammie, in which, like his mentor June Tabor, Simpson himself finally trusts his own expressive vocal skills to tell the stark tragedy of “Miller Tifty’s Annie,” who in the Beckettian brevity of the big ballads dies (is killed) simply for loving and being loved by the wrong man. There are no frills in the narrative and the accompaniment reflects that, building with sad inevitability over the bed of Cutting’s melodeon, only gradually adding Simpson’s slide and the balance of the consort.

Lord Fyvie had a trumpeter
By the name o’ Andrew Lammie
He had the art tae win the heart
O’ Mill o’ Tifty’s Annie

It’s not “like” a Greek tragedy, building from a single tragic error to an inevitable denouement. It is tragedy, of the particularly rooted and hard-eyed sort known to country people, who understand that suffering is eternal and ubiquitous, that not only gods or nobles, but poor people too, experience the pain of love that cannot win through. It has the darkness of Skip’s “Devil Got My Woman,” the measured, inured loneliness of Roscoe Holcomb’s “Wayfaring Stranger;” the tight-lipped cold rage against privilege and power of Tabor’s “Duke of Athole’s Nurse,” and Carthy’s “Famous Flower of Serving Men”;

“The first time me and my love met
“Twas in the woods o’ Fyvie
He ca’d me ‘Mistress’, I said ‘No
I was Tifty’s Bonnie Annie’”

One of the biggest misconceptions about traditional music—hell, about traditional culture—amongst those who don’t really know about it, is to presume that “tradition” and “experiment” are mutually exclusive phenomena. “Traditional” is not the same thing as “conservative” and “conservative” does not mean—at least, outside the psychotic delusions of the American political Right—an opposition to experiment, or to revolution. You can seek a revolution in order to overturn hateful new ways, to try to recover wiser old ways.

The best traditional music, as with dance, folk theater, and story-telling, is both abstract and concrete, both ancient and modern, at the same time. This is because no-one who lives close to the earth, the seasons, and the natural world can escape both the concrete details—the muck, blood, discomfort, damp, hunger, and cold—that the world contains. But neither can you avoid the mystery, beauty, visceral emotion, and sense of cosmic connection that living so close to that natural world creates. As Henry Glassie puts it, in his great Passing the Time in Ballymenone, a book like Ulysses or a play like Godot are both experimental and “traditional”: the mysteries and rituals of the natural world and of the human experience within each can be deeply symbolic and archetypal, and at the same time gritty with the human stink and physical textures of birth, sex, and death. Hence, Ulysses or Godot, or Gary Snyder's Axe Handles or Ginsberg's bardic Kaddish or Moby Dick or any/every other "modernist" work rooted in tradition, need not be "greater than" or "opposed to" tradition--it can be be a continuation, a new manifestation, of that tradition.

“Tradition” is a process—not an object: the process by which people over forty millennia of human culture (less the last 250 years of widespread literacy and the Industrial Revolution) have passed along knowledge, insight, and history down through the human generations. The difference between traditional culture and contemporary post-industrial culture is that traditional culture is grounded in the world as it is and has been, and post-industrial culture in the world as it is represented and fantasized. We are taught—we are programmed—to the fantasy: to believe that the only lives worth noting are those of the packaged media personalities whose foibles—personal, political, financial, and reproductive—are “real”, and that all other lives are somehow less real, less valuable. How else explain the Paris Hilton’s of the world, who have no talent beyond the (very real, but demagogic) talent of being noticeable?

The lessons of traditional culture, of the traditional process, are those of the “long memory”—of the human capacity that remembers when to plant, when to reap, when to marry, how to birth a child, how to choose a leader, how to read the sky and the ground and the behavior of the myriad other sentient beings who share Gaia with us and will still teach us how to live, if we will just shut the fuck up. And listen.

The great poet Gary Snyder managed to find the watersheds, flora, and fauna in Manhattan and San Francisco, just as present and just as eternal in those riverine cities as on the San Juan Ridge in the Yuba River bioregion, under the streets of Kyoto and on the volcanic ridges of Suwano-Se Island. The point is that the natural world is not absent from our post-industrial media-saturated existence—it is only obscured under the avalanche of shit designed to separate us from nature, the cycle of the seasons and the planets, and from our own bodies’ experiences—of birth and death, sex and death, and the mysterious visceral processes of being human. We are all—still—traditional beings.

This is what Martin Simpson finds on this record: the eternalities of traditional song: the way that—regardless of time period or language—the modality of the melodies, the grain of the traditional voice, and the eternal archetypes of the stories told, are both ancient and post-modern, both “conservative” and deeply radical. These stories were as true, their telling as stark, in the Scottish Borders, as they later were in the high hills of Southern Appalachia; in the Mississippi Delta as they were in the rich paddies of Okinawa. And these stories and songs speak to intuitions and visceral human knowings that, no matter how deeply buried under media, materialism, and the endless chattering noise of a culture that says “Forget! Don’t think! Buy shit! Sit down! Shut off! Be afraid! Do what you’re told!”, are still there. Joe Cooley said “this music can bring us to our senses”; Bob Dylan said “you can learn everything you need to know from traditional music.”

These knowings are still there, to be found in embedded in the genetic code of these ancient, and eternal, and traditional, and deeply contemporary songs: beneath the avalanche of information, past the calluses we grow upon our skin, deep in the marrow of the human consciousness.

This record speaks—and sings—to that marrow.

Now playing: Martin Simpson - Andrew Lammie

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Traveling airline blues

Yes, this is a good idea:

Get on an airtight bacteria-laden aluminum tube crammed into too-small seats (but they'll give you another 4 inches of leg-room if you pay another 116 bucks at the gate) with all the harried and shell-shocked young parents with snivelly kids going to see the grandparents, inhale all their germs for 8 hours and 3 legs, arrive Ground Zero in Western Mass and collapse with some kind of explosive stomach flu. The last 36 hours have been a hazy lost-weekend.

Blogging will be on hiatus at least until I can sit up. Martin Simpson and Charles Ives "100 Greats" posts coming.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Josh Marshall is my hero

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo is one of the best of the investigative reporting (as opposed to analysis and commentary) blogs. He's carefully developed a staff and infrastructure that let him not only acquire data early but analyze it--not only comment upon stories but also develop and track them. Along with LowerManhattanite, Josh has made Hizzoner a principal (and deserving) target. Like those folks, I lived in Rudy Giuliani's New York and I know how much of a fascist crook he is, and I know that, beyond his hateful personality, he's also a real menace in a position of power--so I won't be sorry to see him fall.

And today's analysis of Rudy's tanking numbers nails it:

When Rudy Giuliani's soft lead in the national polls evaporates, suddenly he'll be just another GOP hopeful lining up to get his head sliced off in the first big primary and caucus contests.
Couldn't happen to a more deserving fascist.

Tancredo falls today as well. They've both been apostles of hatred (Tancredo of Brown People, Rudy of Anybody Who Argues) and they deserve whatever bad shit happens to them.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The soldiers of the King feared his name..."

In 1964 the Disney Channel (back in the day before their social fascism had really settled iun and been ratified) released a TV miniseries called The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, which was based on Russell Thorndike's series of films about the night-riding anti-press-gang activist Dr Christopher Syn, of Dymchurch-under-the-Wall, in the Fens of East Kent. Based on the environments and events of Georgian England, the miniseries told the story of Dr Syn, the vicar of Dymchurch, played by Patrick McGoohan, who in response to the ruinous tariffs, poverty, and impressment imposed upon the poor people of the Fens, organizes a crew of disguised ex-smugglers and escaped soldiers. He dresses in a ragged black costume, hatted and masked as a scarecrow, and, with his henchmen Hellspite (the church sexton) and Curlew (a Batman-and-Robin-style sidekick), he fights in Robin Hood fashion against the press-gangs and factors of the King.

The series was not wildly popular, but it played on US TV around 1969--probably in the wake of McGoohan's cult status as The Prisoner. I was ten, and it boggled me. I didn't know anything about radical history, beyond what I had imbibed growing up in a leftist-liberal household, but I responded very powerfully to the Scarecrow; so much so that that year, and the year after, I went out on Hallowe'en in full McGoohan garb. The staging and shooting of the program, its setting in the Kentish Fens (they even used some of Syn's historical settings, including his Anglican church), the marvelously spooky costuming, the way the Scarecrow used both propaganda and direct action to resist injustice, and--I suspect--the immediate resonances of the Scarecrow's anti-press-gang activities and the Vietnam-Era draft, another draft instituted to fund a colonial war of repression using the bodies of poor boys without other choices, made it incredibly powerful. And the exploitative partnership between institutions--Church and King--to take advantage of the poor.

And, going back even further, the power of that image--the archetype of the masking trickster, not entirely of this world, that reached back to the Wren Boys and Whiteboys--resonated with me as well. It was maybe my first lesson in the ancient traditions of ritual and rural revolt--I don't know if that was Disney's intent, but it's damned sure the lesson I took away.

That's who I wanted to be when I was ten. I wanted to use history, and legend, and the power of words and ritual gesture, to resist the oligarchy and help the poor.

Still do.

Fuzzy people 24

More evidence that animals are superior to humans. From my buddy Coop:

This guy lives in Canada in a very remote area. The guy in the picture raised this moose from a newborn to this day and the moose will not leave.

A train had hit the pregnant mother moose and the baby Moose shot out. He took it home and nursed it. The baby moose stayed around with his horses and slept in the barn. When the moose was of size he started harnessing it with his work horses. When the horses finally died of old age the moose still would not leave, so he used the moose as a work animal.The moose will not even leave during the rut season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


On the road one more time, fighting the citizen traffic. Blogging-lite as a result--wish us luck!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Three victories

Chris Dodd reminds us that being a leader is supposed to be about protecting the people, in this case against the rapacity and complicity of the telecom corporations who rolled over to the Bush Regime's demands to invade our privacy;

Jon Corzine reminds us that the State has no business in revenge killing;

Judge Royce Lamberth reminds us that the Constitution requires a separation of Church and State, and that even the Bush White House is not above the law.

All three are victories for integrity, compassion, and democracy, and they show up as such against the murky background of most politicians' greed and cowardice.

A good day.

They rocked the house

Celtic Ensemble rocked the house.

Here's Kelli's great film for their performance of the Fermanagh Mummers Play found in Henry Glassie's magnificent All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Last duties 2007

Finished last duties of 2007 last night: Celtic Christmas went off without a hitch. After 6 years, most of the participants have multiple iterations under their belts, and know what's expected of them, and goes about the business of getting it done with a minimum of fuss or high-maintainence. Celtic Ensemble played like champs, guest artists gave their best, all the various dancers were great, we took in bunches of donations, sold 500 tickets and around 30 CD's, and got everybody out of the hall and safe home in the aftermath. A bunch of the kids came to our place for the after-party, and ate like locusts (fortunately, I know that about them and had prepared a ton of food in advance).

After we shooed them off home, old buddy Roger and I sat, talking through the minstrelsy project, and killing most of a bottle of Bushmills, until just before dawn. Hence the late start and the slow day.

Ringing out the old year, 'round here. If you're traveling be safe.

And be kind.

Friday, December 14, 2007

See it deh!

A-yi-hah, jamdung
See it deh, proposal done!

[paraphrasing the final lines of Michael Thelwell's great Jamaican novel The Harder They Come]

Color it gone: proposal for Ethnomusicology in Oils: William Sidney Mount and American Music's Creole Synthesis is out the door, one day in advance. On May 1 I targeted December 15 as a self-imposed deadline--the technical last day of my Fall 2007 sabbatical--for doing the reading, research, archival work, and writing necessary to complete a proposal to my target university publisher, whose Music in American Life series is the ideal home for the manuscript.

Package went out the door a little before 12noon MDT today.

DONE, baby!

I think I'll go have a couple of fingers of whiskey. And a nap.

"The Office" (workstation series) 82 (VMC/CCC edition)

View from the "Papa Bear" chair (great Morris chair in Mission style which is the most comfortable one in the house, for me). 500-gig external hard drive w/ music library on it. Posting early because there won't be much time later.

"Vernacular Music Center/Caprock Celtic Christmas" weekend, that is. Fundraiser for this.

Dress rehearsal tonight, live radio this AM, concert tomorrow night. Blogging-lite in response. If you're curious, have a listen (all broadcast times GMT + 6):

Friday 12.14 9-~9:30am

Friday 12.14 9-10pm

Saturday 12.15 11am-12noon

Saturday 12.15 8-10:30pm

Proposal drops tomorrow. It's ready.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's it called? Oh, yeah, I remember

It's called leadership, bitches.

NE Patriots versus NY Jets, Sunday 12.16, at Foxboro. Mike Greenberg, one of the smartest of the sports-talk guys and a Jets fan, predicts 63-13, Patriots over Jets.

Eric Mangini, the Jets coach who narc'ed out Bill Belichek for the kind of video-recording of signals which every other coach in the NFL also employs--hell, which Mangini learned from Belichek--is going to get beaten by a gong.

Don't be fooled by Brady's matinee-idol looks (which the sportswriters, a singularly unphotogenic and un-athletic bunch, hate him for, on top of hating him for being able to do things on a football field they could never even dream of accomplishing), or by Belichek's impassive contempt for most of the ex-jock Big Dumb Lummoxes who get paid sycophantic salaries to say stupid shit during boring telecasts (which is the reason the sportswriters, who know that they're not as smart or as tough as he is, hate him): pay attention to those merciless veterans in the defensive line: to the Junior Seau's, who came back with steel pins in his arms after two weeks on the DL, in order to pound Ben Roethlisberger into the turf; to the Tedy Bruschi's. who come back from a fucking stroke and go out into the next season with no legal guarantee asked or needed between himself and Bob Kraft; to Asante Samuel, the ex-quarterback who can read offensive pass plays as if he has X-ray vision, and pick off interceptions like an assassin; to Mike Vrabel, the broken-nosed beast who'll hurt you on D and then, even if you see him come in on 1st-and-goal, and know that he's going to turn around and catch a little bloop pass, is still unstoppable; to Laurence Maroney, who's picked up the mantle of the great Corey Dillon and will gut out ground gains against defensive lines twice as big as he is; and to the offensive receivers Randy Moss, whose game is finally fired by his visible relief at finally playing for a QB who understands what it means to be a finely-honed machine that nobody in Oakland (fallen far from the great days of the '60s) could figure out how to use; and to Wes Welker, the toughest, fastest little White Boy I've seen as a receiver in several NFL seasons; and to all the rest of those rough, tough bastards.

I've long had a bias toward what I'll call "cold-weather" football teams: as a child of the '60s and the first Superbowls, I assume football players should be able to function in rain, snow, cold, and especially mud. Teams that were founded or still play in cold-weather towns and open-air stadia (Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, New England, etc) are, all other things being equal, both physically and mentally tougher than teams playing on Astroturf in domes. All other things being equal, I'm going to root for a cold-weather team, because I come from an era that says football is supposed to be an outside sport, and that great football players should be able to fight through bad conditions.

And I'll root for the sheer guts, ferocious attention, and flat fucking refusal to panic, of the Patsies, over anybody.

I look forward to Jets-Pats at Foxboro. Wunderground predicts 36 degrees and a 70% chance of precipitation on Sunday. Mangini was trained by Belichek, and he narc'ed out Belichek's video guy because he knew that he never, ever was going to equal Belichek as a leader--hell, as an intellect. Abandoning any pretext toward Buddhist equanimity right now, I hope the Patsies stomp the living shit out of New York--by at least the 26 points the bookies are predicting, but preferably by the 50 Greenie is calling--because Eric Mangini has most definitely got it coming to him.



Really hearing the words of Brian McNeill's "No Gods and Precious Few Heroes" as sung by Dick Gaughan:

Farewell to the heather in the glen
They cleared us off once and they'd do it all again
For they still prefer sheep to thinking men
Ah, but men who think like sheep are even better
There's nothing much to choose between the old laird and the new
They still don't give a damn for the likes of me and you
Just mind you pay your rent to the factor when it's due
And mind your bloody manners when you pay!
We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
And the side that holds the shotgun sings the song

That’s the thing I find the most important about the sermon Dr. King delivered here that day. He did not direct his demands to the government of the United States, which was escalating the war. He issued a direct appeal to the people of the United States, calling on us to break our own silence, and to take responsibility for bringing about what he called a revolution of values.

A revolution whose starting point is personal responsibility, of course, but whose animating force is the belief that we cannot stand idly by and wait for others to right the wrongs of the world.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

The Bosses only call it "Class War" when we fight back.

3 days to proposal drop.
Now playing: Dick Gaughan - No Gods And Precious Few Heroes

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 81 (T-minus-4 edition)

Winding down the semester now. Set Dharmonia up for her 7:30am final exam; met with Super TA's for Fall semester post mortem: great ideas coming out of that which we hope to implement in Spring 08 semester; met with other assistants to winnow and select proposals for national conference; finish writing Literature.

Book proposal drops in 4 days. I'm in the place I more-or-less expected to be at this point; e.g., not as far along as I could be, but with a 4-day cushion for the target date and materials I set: I'm done now with the stuff I want to send Saturday.

One of the most valuable composition lessons I ever learned, from my revered teacher David Baker, was that, if you're involved in a creative process and have to take a pause, you should not "finish at a logical spot." In other words, don't keep working until you've run out of stuff to think of or do--but rather, work in a given session until you can see clearly the next two or three steps, and then don't complete them. Put the project down knowing that you can return in the next session already seeing the next two or three steps you had intended: this makes it relatively straightforward to get back into the creative process that was flowing so well last time.

So the Introduction, Literature Review, and Chapter Six ("Instruments' Commanding Power: Recovering the African-American Roots of Minstrelsy") are done, along with a detailed (down to the level of the sub-headings) Table of Contents--but I'm not going to send them all. There are multiple stages to the writing process of any extended work, and some of those stages of writing will never appear in the final product. You write them so you know what you would say if the opportunity or need arose. Hemingway used to preach the wisdom of writing--but not printing--the back-story of various secondary or tertiary characters, because he believed that the author simply knowing the backstory would enrich her/his ability to sketch the character in a few lines of dialogue.

So with scholarly writing. There is so much reading, and thinking, and note-taking, and skimming, and talking, and writing, and re-writing, and re-re-writing, that at the end of a given day you cannot know whether what you've written will wind up in the finished product. And, that material winding up in the finished product is not the point--the point is to work through the intellectual process of articulating the ideas. Thus, with this Literature Review (included as part of a 90-page "Introduction"), I'm not at all sure it will all end up in the final product. The Literature Review is one of the sections most rigorously demanded by a dissertation committee and it's usually the first chunk of the manuscript that an academic publisher yanks out again in considering whether the dissertation is publishable as a book.

The point is that you write the Literature Review, and the thousands of pages of notes, and the detailed exegesis of the gaps and absences and lacunae in everybody else's prior scholarship, primarily in order to complete the intellectual focusing-task of figuring out what the hell you yourself are contributing. And that writing, even if it gets yanked out of the dissertation in transition to the book, or is never even read by a dissertation committee, or by anyone but the author, can still be an essential part of the process.

A while back, in these notes, I described this composition method, of writing everything I could think of and then thinking of the "through-line" to the narrative, as being like planting an entire field of succulents and only subsequently mowing down everything that wasn't a tomato. It's a cumbersome method, but it's how I learned to write from a position of authority--of feeling sufficiently confident that I knew what was and wasn't there that, like Hemingway, I could sketch an argument with a few sentences or a single metaphor, knowing that the backstory (read, written, but excised from the final text) is sufficiently under control that my Hemingwayesque brevity is accurate and defensible.

So, the Lit Review is done, but won't go in--and also, not least, because it's always possible that the Outside Readers selected to pass judgment on the manuscript might be some of the same scholars whose work I've critiqued in it.

But at least I know what's there and what isn't.

Celtic Christmas drops same day as the book proposal. Sixth iteration, and it starts now to feel like tradition. One of the great benefits of growing old--and preferably, concurrently, growing at least a little bit of self-awareness and -reflection, is that you realize the link between "Now" and "The Future" lies in the present moment's choices. I didn't know, six years ago when we started the Celtic Christmas, that it would grow to be a family and community tradition, here where the only model for "Celtic" culture was giant Scottish Games aimed at selling shit.

But what I did know was that, if there was ever to be a chance that people in this, or any, North American materialistic oligarchic consumer-shit-oriented community were ever going to experience the basic sanity of traditional values ("work hard, pay attention to the seasons, keep your temper, cooperate with your neighbors, get up early, enjoy happiness because it's fleeting and leave sorrow for its own inevitable timetable"), we were going to have to start building somewhere. I didn't know if we'd ever be able to build the tradition which now, after six years and even if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, is starting to take root.

What I did know was that, if we didn't get started, in the wake of 9/11's insanity, we were just putting off the payoff and worsening the odds.

So we built something. Payoff comes all along the way.
Now playing: Dick Gaughan - Stand Up For Judas

Monday, December 10, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 80 (morning-after edition)

Morning after the CD release weekend; back in the Office office-after Dharmonia's and Co.'s remarkable cleanup, it's a clean well-lighted place to work (and grad students coming in for consultations are still gob-smacked at the transformation). And, the satellite office is crazy-busy with kids studying in groups. The 21st-century's first high-school generation is used to studying in large groups with complete distraction: cell, text-messaging, web, music on the store sound-system, books and notebooks open (and my lazy non-music colleagues' "course outlines", which are really nothing but printouts of their PowerPoint slides), and talking six ways to Sunday. It seems like an impossibly distracting environment to me, but, on the same principle that "if you practice stoned, you should play stoned," these youngsters seem to take the attitude "if you spend all your leisure time with 6 different media inputs, you should study that way too." I think it's probably why they can't sit still if only one thing is going on, and why they can't even walk (or drive) across campus without hauling out the umbilical cell, snapping it open to the first available "favorites" number, and saying "hey, whaddya doin'?"

I feel sorry for them. But they also distract the shit out of me, so I've bailed on the satellite office and come up to the Office office.

Good Celtic Ensemble rehearsal last night: they've learned all their Galician music for Celtic Christmas and January concert, but they've also learned two Bampton Morris dances from the Cotswolds, a Breton an-dro (for the finale), and some miscellaneous village harmony (Steeleye Span's great version of the wren song "Please to See the King"). Plus the great South Fermanagh version of the mummers' play from Henry Glassie's All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming, one of my very most admired books on folklore. We've done a mummers' play for 5 years as part of the Celtic Christmas but have never had the chance to do the traditional Fermanagh version--looking forward to that.

Book proposal drops in 5 days. I'm ready to roll it: two sample chapters, cover letter, bibliography, literature review, table of contents, all ready to go.

Followup to the CD launch weekend: last of the 3 shows went great, but there was a sad event in the aftermath of the Friday night pub session. We had lunch with bodhran player J the next day, and he told us that a friend of a friend, both of whom had been in the bar while we were playing, had gone home--on the night of his birthday,

and committed suicide.

I saw that kid: J described him and I remembered seeing him in the pub with a young woman I assumed was his girlfriend. He seemed perfectly engaged, having fun with his friends, and happy to be part of the event.

There is nothing to be done in the aftermath of a situation like that, and it would be egocentric to think otherwise.

But in the aftermath, you think back to seeing that kid and you think, "Jesus, did I miss something? Should I have seen what was going on with him?" It's disturbing to think that, at an event that was so joyful for most present, somebody could be so unhappy, and so unhelped by the music and the community around the music, that he would take his own life.

The music is supposed to help people, in both joy and sorrow: it's how, for over 300 years, the Irish coped with the shit--famine and war, sectarian violence and the brutality of the Catholic church--that history laid on them. It helped them recreate some kind of joyful community, even in exile.

One of my students, who's thinking about various graduate school choices, asked me the other day why I play the music, and I think I surprised her (but not myself) by the vehemence of my response. I said:

"I want people when they hear the music to feel what I feel when I play the music. I want them to feel the joy, and the sorrow, and the rage, and the redemption. Because this music saved my life. At a time in my life when my personal situation was full of rage and loss, I found this music and it gave me something to believe in at the other side of the misery I was mired in. If I hadn't found this music, I would have turned out to be a very angry and very abusive and probably a very bad person."
I am convinced of this. The music gave me a vision of how to be a different person, and an awareness that even out of much greater sorrow than my own, beauty could come. The music and the experience of the music and the communities of the music are the reasons I'm not crazy or evil.

Let me be clear about this. I don't think the music is the only reason I'm not a sociopath--12 years of therapy and the great Buddhas I have been privileged to know and learn from are at least as responsible.

But the music absolutely did give me a vision of a kind of life to live, a life that could seek to find and create connection and community. A life that could help others.

Because that is what art does: It acknowledges the pain of living and, through effort, dedication, and sacrifice, it creates beauty. If you believe that the heartbreaking beauty of Lone Shanakyle can come out of Black '47, or the ferocious joy of Tim Britton's The Humours of Ballyloughlin out of the sorrow of the Irish Diaspora, or the dark beauty of Blind Willie Johnson's Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground out of Willie's own suffering and sanctity, then you believe that art, in turn, can save lives.

I don't know of any exile sadder than that young man's. I wish the music had been able to help save him.

That's all I have to say.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

CD launch is done

CD launch is done.

4 days, 3 radio shows, three gigs, incredible volunteer catering from good friends, other old friends in the house, lotta discs sold. Dharmonia signs for a young fan.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 79 (VMC weekend edition)

Another quick hit: weather's turned cold (shift to the Great Plains Blue Northers), old friends in town to play for the CD release parties--gigs Thursday and last nights, another tomorrow afternoon, final rehearsals for Celtic Ensemble at Celtic Xmas, finalizing turning in grades (or, to be honest, mostly helping colleagues not on sabbatical get their grading done), toting PA systems, slow session to teach today.

I've ramped the political commentary 'way down on this blog, because it's too easy (and too depressing) to just run drive-by commentary on the insanity and criminality of the Bush administration. But that don't mean they're off my radar.

I am coming to believe that the magnitude of their crimes, including war crimes, torture, murder, trillion-dollar graft and corruption, and the intentional subversion of both the Constitution and the rule of law, will not be forgotten when--as I'm convinced--they lose another 25-35 seats in the House, 6-8 in the Senate, and the White House. I believe that, given for example Sheldon Whitehouse's recent revelations about the breadth and intentionality of the crimes, there will be criminal indictments. I believe that there is that much anger and that the crimes of sufficiently gross magnitude.

Celtic Xmas drops a week from today.

7 days to proposal deadline.

Friday, December 07, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 78 (Dead Day edition)

Quick hit: "Dead Day" is the splendidly apposite local name for the no-classes day between end of semester and first day of Finals. For students, it's a chance to sleep until noon and then pull the first of the all-nighters they'll try to use to get them through and pass their final exams. For faculty, it's a chance to sleep until 7am and then spend the day working on one's own research--and so shall I.

Old friends in town for CD release weekend gigs, radio shows, and parties. Gotta work on final materials for Celtic Xmas, coming up next weekend.

Meantime: check out the new CD feature (airs and online tonight from 9pm).

8 days until proposal deadline.

Now playing: Brass Monkey - Dr Fausters Tumblers - The Night Of Trafalgar - Prince William

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 77 (dusk-and-dawn edition)

Not a lot of time today, so a quick photo hit of back-to-back dusk and dawn photos. PhD candidate had his topic proposal review meeting with SOM Graduate Studies Committee, and he did a good job (Cal Tjader, Latin music, and the black-white historiography of 1950s jazz).

Dusk and dawn on the South Plains.



More at Flickr
Now playing: Zappa - Advance Romance (including Inna-Gadda-Da-Poodle)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 76 (One Big Note edition)

Quick hit this morning, which I'll return to edit and expand later: have to run off in a few minutes and lead the traditional end-of-semester in-class freshman performance of Terry Riley's 1964 masterpiece IN C. Riley, along with Lamonte Young and, a little later, Steve Reich (my favorite) and Phillip Glass, was one of the early architects of the Euro-American concert music revolution misleadingly labeled "minimalism"--which label, at the time, was assigned because the music allegedly made use of "minimal" musical materials. It was music of seemingly lengthy repetition, in which musical change (and musical material) was presented very slowly. It tended, like the African and East & South Asian musics which were its inspiration, to provoke very strong critical reactions, either for or against: the critics, who were still stoking the fires of serialism's "music is a research science and it doesn't matter if people like to listen to it" 1950s academic paradigm (most notoriously exemplified in the title assigned to a Scientific American article by Milton Babbitt: "Who Cares If You Listen?"--which was not Babbitt's selection) mostly hated minimalism, because it subverted most of the last 150 years of musical aesthetics: "density is good", "only complicated music is 'serious' music", "harmony is the most important experimental parameter", "if it's popular it can't be art" and so forth. Serialism, which had begun as a remarkably prescient and courageous experiment by Arnold Schoenberg attempting to invent a new mode of organizing large-scale compositions in the early '20s, by the mid '60s had a stranglehold on academic composers: if you didn't compose using the serial technique (compose a "row" of the 12 chromatic pitches which must then be compositionally employed in strict "serial" order, without repetition), you couldn't get tenure, couldn't get accepted into a composition studio, and didn't get the government grants.

"Minimalism" (I like Reich's term "process" music--e.g., "music about processes", not objects--better) defied that. Mostly coming from non-East Coast, non-European-trained, non-tenured or -academic composers, minimalism looked at the entire rest of the world of music, and at the changing social contexts for music in 1960s America, and asked itself whether all those presumptions cited above were necessary. Minimalism was interested in giving control--or at least choice--back to performers, at breaking down barriers between performers and audiences, at subverting the cult of the virtuoso and of the Promethean composer, and at re-connecting to music as a processual experience instead of a contemplative object. The people who liked minimalist music--in contrast to the critics cited above--tended to be the same people who were responding positively to the 1960s social and cultural revolutions.

IN C is a series of 53 short melodic fragments between 2 and around 9 beats long, each with a distinctive rhythmic shape, sketched across a single large sheet of manuscript paper and number 1-53 (the whole score is that one page). Riley instructs that, to the accompaniment of an unchanging eighth-note high C played on piano or mallets, all players--in any number or combination of instruments--will begin with fragment 1 and play each subsequent fragment in succession. The performer's input comes not in the melodic material or in the sequencing, but rather in the number of repetitions each player gives to each fragment: all begin on #1, and must repeat the fragment at least twice. But thereafter, player A may choose to move immediately to #2, while player B remains on #1 for some additional number of repetitions. All players play all fragments in strict sequence, but each player may choose individually the number of repetitions.

So what happens is that, within a fairly constant 8th-note rhythmic pulse, the parts begin together, but then rapidly move "out of phase" with one another (another early term for the idiom was "phase" music, though the early John Cage title Music of Changes, attached to a period composition not in this idiom, is an equally accurate and far more lovely and evocative descriptor). So the relationship between parts, the "polyphony", is constantly changing, is shaped by the individual players, and is unique to each individual performance.

It's a masterful balance of pre-composition and moment-by-moment player choice, and the experience of playing it, like the experience of playing Shona panpipes dances, or akadinda xylphone, or Ghanian percussion music, or Javanese gamelan, is marvelously immediate and engrossing for the players. It's music that seeks, not to "begin at measure 1 and play through in strict regimented perfection to measure Infinity", but rather to set up an experiential field, within which parts, players, and audience all interact with one another.

The kids love it. They hear a description and then a good recorded performance early in the Freshman semester (as the free jazz players say, "It was when I learned I could make a mistake that I knew I was on to a viable approach"), and then the last day of the semester, when they're hammered with data, woefully short of sleep (due to all-nighters resulting from bad time management), and scared about looming finals, we cut them loose in the classroom--all players and singers, all instruments--on a performance of IN C. It's good for them physically, and also emotionally: as close to meditation as you can get and still be playing a piece of ensemble music.

Tends to send them out the door feeling better. Or at least more like musicians.

10 days to proposal deadline.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 75 (Wheel of the Year edition)

The year closes down: moving toward the academic Solstice, which predates the solar one, being the last day of classes--Finals week is definitely "winter." Campus gets eerily quiet in these last few days of the semester, as 60% of the kids quit going to classes so they can unsuccessfully try to cram 13 weeks of neglected work into 5 days of all-nighters and massive cribbing "study" groups.

On the other hand, the eerie quiet is matched with some remarkably intimate concentration--because the kids who are still bothering to come to class, and the professors who are still engaging with them (professors are just as prone to "early check-out" as are undergraduates), are all still in the classroom because they care about what goes on there. So all of a sudden the quality, range, and engagement of interaction go 'way up. It's one of the reasons that I actually enjoy teaching in these last few days, because it comes closest to feeling like a voluntary and constructive intellectual exchange (y'know: "learning").

One of the rather unremarked but "we're-going-to-be-paying-the-cost-for-generations" impacts of the Bush Administration's "No Child Left Behind" standardized testing (a typical Rovian/Orwellian bit of Newspeak, where you take the literal opposite of what you intend, put it into a fancy powerpoint, or a video news release with generic-emotion music, and claim that up is down, black is white) is that it has completed the "education as commodity" model that was begun all the way back in the '80s. The vast majority of students now believe that their education is not earned--not a set of skills one works to acquire--but rather purchased--a set of commodities to which, once payment is made, one is entitled, no matter how negligible one's own effort. E.g., "my Dad paid for this education, now gimme my A!"

So the kids who have been brainwashed to think that this commodity model buys them an actual "education" (and to see how well that's working, look at the model of certain East Asian trading nations, where students come out of college so unequipped that the companies which hire them have to teach them how to read, write, and speak critically) don't even bother to show up.

The ones who are left are the ones who will write the stories, design the software, teach the children, build the houses, and argue the policies which will shape whatever is left of this nation after the Bush administration's scorched-earth wholesale destruction of infrastructure, and of its population after environmental degradation, greed, and gluttony have decimated our health, initiative, and spirit.

That's why I'm still here in the last 2 days of the semester: because the kids who are still coming to class constitute our last best hope.


  • Two chapters
  • Preface
  • Cover letter for proposal
11 days to proposal deadline.

Below the jump: photos of the campus library. I call it "The Edsel" because it looks a little like the front radiator of a '58 Custom. But, it's actually logical design: when the architects first started laying out the buildings for this campus in the '30s (and really, ever since--there's a remarkable consistency of design conception, even up to the current construction), they modeled the designs on the Spanish Renaissance. Which actually makes sense: the plains and hills of Andalusia are damned near as hot and dry as it gets here in the summer. The tubular ceramic grille shades the building's windows effectively, provided efficient insulation from the direct hit of the sun.

And, as in Andalusia, in certain early-morning light (and skies) it's quite beautiful.
Now playing: Martin Carthy - King Henry

Monday, December 03, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 74 (Monday dawn edition)

Monday morning, Monday morning,
Closin' in on me;
I'm packin' up and I'm a-runnin' away
To where nobody thinks of me.

[from Richard Thompson's great early song When I Get to the Border]

Not much time to comment today; still slogging away on book proposal. One nice thing: I found out last night that my old friend Rich Remsberg, author of the masterpiece photo-essay book Riders for God, is placing his new manuscripts, on music in the FSA photo archive from the '30s, with the same editor I'm working with. So we might get to be label-mates.

Tonight's is the last of the Madrigal Dinners, for which my guys are playing great. Celtic Christmas looming, old friends coming in to town to guest, lots of logistical planning and some costume making.

Over the years the Celtic Xmas has evolved a lot. It began as a pilot project designed to provide a focus for the growing community of players, dancers, and fans, but also as a focus for the Vernacular Music Center and the scholarship we eventually hoped to offer. It took five years to build the audience, the players' community, and the financial base sufficient to endow the scholarship as is required by this university, but that's now done: Mac Tire is the first recipient of the VMC Scholarship in Traditional Music.

This is also the first year the show can use the Celtic Ensemble (founded in 2006) extensively as featured ensemble, and the first in which my own band has a CD (and a new name). Celtic Ensemble has an explicit mission to explore the musics of all seven Celtic Nations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, Galicia, and the Isle of Man) and the one "satellite" we allow ourselves: for purposes of this band, we regard England as a colony of Ireland and Scotland, rather than vice-versa. After last year's shakedown cruise, and with the very wise advice of senior students now serving as assistants during my Fall 2007 sabbatical, we evolved a calendar that was conceived by academic year, rather than by semester: Celtic Ensemble accepts auditionees only in the Fall semester, with the expectation that players are making a commitment for the full year, and that they will spend that first Fall semester in the "Skills" as opposed to the "Stage" section. "Skills" includes: learning and playing by ear, improvising, developing one's own parts and group arrangements, and so forth. They're not hard skills, but they are specific, and they take some learning. So the "Skills" section people have a semester in which to get up to speed, without the time pressure of having to prepare a concert program at the same time. After that initial semester, Skills-section people can move into the "Stage" section, who are involved in various concert and service performances.

Linked to this is the annual performance calendar. Because the Fall semester is the intake semester, when we typically have a bunch of new recruits in the Skills section, we limit the amount of music to be learned and the environments in which it is to be played. Typically, those environments are mostly a bunch of service obligations, principle among them the Madrigal Dinners and the Celtic Xmas. In the Spring semester, with everyone more up to speed and everyone carried in the "Stage" section, we plan for a much heavier schedule of full performances.

Finally, also linked to this is the balancing act of the repertoire. Because the Spring semester brings performances, we need to have a full program of music that is reasonably effective, utilizes the full ensembles, and reasonably accessible to an audience; whereas in the Fall, without the pressure of performances, we can take the time to learn new repertoires or ones that are unfamiliar (even to me). So the Fall semester, in addition to providing intake for new players, is also the semester in which we grapple with unfamiliar repertoire, particularly that from less-commonly-played Celtic traditions; whereas the Spring repertoire is typically bigger, longer, and more familiar.

Last year's repertoire schedule including Breton music and dance in the Fall, and English/Irish music and dance in the Spring. This year, it's Galician repertoire in the Fall and English/Scottish in the Spring. We also maintain some "warhorses" in the band's mental book: free-standing pieces which can be played as part of short features, or for service performances, or as finales and encores. To date, those include a Breton an-dro (line dance song) which is a great set-closer and can involve audience participation, and the standing repertoire of the Morris side (Cotswold Morris dances, including a very common Bampton stick dance and a processional--used for dancing from house to house on May Day--put together by the side and their dance captain).

But we don't want to "waste" the Fall semester material--that is, having beaten our brains out learning how to play a relatively unfamiliar repertoire and getting it up to speed, it would be a shame not to play any of it for an audience, even if we don't have a full evening's concert program. So we play it at the Madrigal Dinners, and use it in the Celtic Christmas, and then in January, with an additional month during which to build in additional repertoire, we play it in a full concert program. By mid-January, with 4 1/2 months to learn it (instead of the 8 weeks that a November concert would mandate), we have a good handle on the repertoire and can knock it out of the park. Then, as soon as the January concert (this year, Galician) is done, we'll get to work on the Spring semester material (this year, Scottish ballads and English country band dance music) for an April show--also very nice to have some "outdoor" music for that program, as April is late Spring here in Lubbock and we like to have at least one or two things we can play outdoors.

I am incredibly proud of my guys: they work hard, many of them with Celtic Ensemble as their fourth or fifth ensemble requirement, and with a great spirit of respect and commitment to the music and its (very different) musical processes.

I am proud of their music and I am humbled by their dedication, and I'll put 'em up against anybody.

12 days to proposal deadline.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gary Snyder is my hero

This interview, "Poetry and Action" (published May 30 2007 in the great radical Manchester Guardian; no mainstream US paper would have the guts to print it) explains why.

Here's Gary's Smokey the Bear Sutra. Gary wrote it in the '50s and gave permission for it to be "reproduced for free forever."

Don't ever believe poems (or poets) can't also create revolutions. This one did.

Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite Void gave a discourse to all the assembled elements and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings, the flying beings, and the sitting beings--even the grasses, to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

"In some future time, there will be a continent called America. It will have great centers of power called such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur, Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon. The human race in that era will get into troubles all over its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature."

"The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth. My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger: and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it."

And he showed himself in his true form of

A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and watchful.

Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless attachments, and flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;

His left paw in the mudra of Comradely Display--indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow in the realm of the Dharma;

Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save but often destroys;

Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the west, symbolic of the forces that guard the wilderness, which is the Natural State of the Dharma and the true path of man on Earth:

all true paths lead through mountains--

With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of those who think things can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;

Round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her;

Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs, smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism;

Indicating the task: his followers, becoming free of cars, houses, canned foods, universities, and shoes, master the Three Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind; and fearlessly chop down the rotten trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country America and then burn the leftover trash.

Wrathful but calm. Austere but Comic. Smokey the Bear will Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would hinder or slander him...

Thus his great Mantra:

Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana Sphataya hum traka ham mam


And he will protect those who love the woods and rivers, Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children:

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television, or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR'S WAR SPELL:

And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy out with his vajra-shovel.

Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands of Arizona and Nevada.

Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick.
Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature.
Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and beasts.
Will always have ripened blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.


...thus we have heard...

(may be reproduced free forever)

Now playing: Lester Bowie - Don`t worry be happy


"The Office" (workstation series) 73 (knockin' 'em down edition)

As in, "settin' 'em up and knockin' 'em down."

Another chapter (on "Instruments' commanding power") complete in draft. This means that it still lacks illustrations and almost all citations from the secondary literature, and that this is the most preliminary of preliminary drafts.

Nevertheless, it starts as Word One and continues through to Word Final. Hence, it's a complete draft of what I want to say; everything else is support material.

Two chapters done. 15 days to proposal deadline.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Why he matters

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

I don't care if he was an anti-abolitionist; I don't care if he hated Lincoln; I don't care if he was a wimpy, retiring, asexual (or closeted) hypochondriac obsessive-compulsive.

I don't care. I am absolutely convinced--the evidence is incontrovertible--that he loved, admired, and respected the black musicians he painted. I don't care what he said--I care what he revealed.

And what he revealed was the absolute bedrock conviction that this was great music, great art, commanding and heroic in its personality, conception, and execution, and a priceless and essential part of the art that could make America great. Some day.

I believe that too.

Now playing: Dervish - The Hills Of GreanMore, Intro - The Hills Of GreanMore

By their acts shall ye know them.

Can we just agree that fundamentalists of any denomination are very far from God?

Calls in Sudan for Execution of British Teacher

Protesters reacted angrily today after the sentencing of a Briton whose class named a teddy bear Muhammad.

Now playing: Dervish - Packie Duignan's

Character counts

I have now taught at two different institutions where this egomaniac has coached, and in both cases have watched while over years upper administration worsened the situation, by enabling his behavior, until his departure cost millions. He's a great coach--unless you think character actually matters:

The controversial [coach] mixed expletives with anecdotes Thursday evening at a reception held in his honor.

During the two-hour reception held to recognize the thousands of dollars he's given to [University] Libraries, he talked about his love for books and joked about a recent hunting altercation that's made national headlines.

"If any of you come from farms and ranches where your father allows you to hunt, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know, just as long as your dad isn't a lyin' son of a (expletive)," he said to a crowd of mostly students after signing scores of autographs.

Students gathered in the [] library Thursday for the opening reception of "A Legacy of Giving: The [Coach] Exhibit." Students . . . brought basketballs for [Coach] to sign. They said they plan to give the autographed basketballs to their fathers for Christmas.

Two people have said the basketball coach or his hunting companion hit them with birdshot on two occasions last month.
He did the same kind of thing at my former institution (choking and slapping students--some not even his players, throwing chairs onto the court and lamps at secretaries, abusing anyone who disagreed with him but utterly unwilling to accept criticism himself), and was enabled to do so, for so many years that when the inevitable came and he was fired, it was six times more catastrophic than necessary, or than it would have been were he any other employee of the university.

Some things matter more than winning. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle on John Kennedy:

"I've known great leaders; I've served with great leaders. Coach, you're no leader."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 73 (jamming at the margins deadlines edition)

Jammed with work at the closing margins of the semester, that is: student advising, Madrigal Dinners start tonight followed by coffeehouse session, pub session tomorrow, teaching session Saturday, writing recommendations, counseling students who've had progress setbacks, nailing down TA assignments for next semester, still planning/writing curricula and concert programs, transcribing and re-arranging brass parts, writing/recording weekly radio program, planning events (radio, live, electronic and print promotions) for CD release parties, reading & ranking dossiers for candidate search, advising student teachers, reading and ranking conference proposals, organizing TMEA workshops and round-table on world music pedagogy, and...oh yeah, by the way, writing this fucking book.

On the other hand, I had the following conversation with my much-admired boss 2 days ago, just after he returned from the national accreditation organization's executive-committee meetings. He had asked several colleagues to put thoughts in a memo regarding mission, future, cultural-diversity obligations, and teaching to shifting student profiles in advance of that meeting, so as to have a sense of his own faculty's perspective. I responded with typical excessive prolixity. Following up on that meeting weekend, the boss and I conversed thus:

Boss: It occurred to me, as we were talking about our obligation to broaden our teaching, that that needs to happen throughout the curriculum.
Dr Coyote: Yes! It's not enough to diversify our faculty--though of course that's important. If we really want to act upon the lip-service mandates for "diversity," then we have an obligation to realize that diversity in our curriculum. Not only the personnel but the topics of our teaching need to reflect a globally-diverse world.
B: Yep. It also occurred to me that, just as European culture tended to take over minority cultures, maybe we've been guilty of that in the world of music teaching too.
DC: You mean, university music teaching has been guilty of a kind of colonial imperialism?
B: Yeah.
DC (gobsmacked): !
Understand, this is a very bright, very imaginative, yet very practical guy (former trumpet player, middle-school and college band director, already with a successful track record as Dean elsewhere in the Big 12), who is an absolutely masterful and very courageous yet even-keeled administrator (I continue to learn huge amounts about management and patience from him), with almost none of the "fog and pomposity" (thanks, Quantzalcoatl) which upper-administration suits tend toward. I admire both his skills and his intellect a great deal.

But I never thought I would live to see the day when the director of a 500-student university music program in North America would cop to the reality that, yes goddammit, we fucking well have been guilty of the same cultural imperialism that has tainted every aspect of European global communications ever since the Age of Exploration. Until we tear out those attitudes of dismissal, exploitation, and destruction which have shaped our arts and education policies every bit as much as our trade and foreign policies, until we begin to act in a more egalitarian and just fashion as teachers, we are still culpable.

15 years ago this guy tried to get me thrown out of the Indiana University musicology program, and when he was unable to do that, tried to require that I do twice as much musicology coursework as the catalog called for; that's how much he despised (and now, i believe, feared) these same musics: the ones I wanted to study and for which I wanted to claim equivalent value and beauty.

That my current boss "got there"--that I have the privilege of finally, after 30 years, working in an environment in which my boss is expressing the political insights and resulting pedagogical obligations which almost got me thrown out of graduate school 15 years ago--is the reason I'm still here, rather than in any of the half-dozen other jobs in sexier places for which I've been head-hunted.

Dharmonia and I are incredibly fortunate.

Now playing: Zappa - 03 03 03. Honey Dont You Want A Man