Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Mark Twain–Mark McGwire–A case of the fantods

May 14, 2010

This post has nothing to do with food or music, but I think it’s worth mentioning because I love Mark Twain and I love baseball, and I love funny things like this:

Mo. General Assembly votes to rename Mark McGwire Highway

Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio (2010-05-14)

Finely/AP // <![CDATA[//
JEFFERSON CITY, MO. (St. Louis Public Radio) – The Missouri House has passed legislation that would remove Mark McGwire’s name from I-70 in St. Louis.

“The stretch of interstate was named for the retired Cardinals slugger in 1999, one year after he hit a then-major league record 70 home runs in a season.

But his reputation took a hit in 2005 when he refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing into steroid use in baseball. He admitted to steroid use earlier this year.

State Representative Rachel Storch (D, St. Louis) was one of many lawmakers who voted in favor of dropping the name “Mark McGwire Highway.”

“Personally I think he should be given a second chance, he’s apologized and we need to move forward, but the reality is he admitted that he cheated, and people just didn’t feel comfortable with having a highway named after him anymore,” Storch said.

House Member Cynthia Davis (R, O’Fallon) also voted for the name change.

“I am one of those who believes you shouldn’t name anything after people till after they’re deceased…people need to have heroes, but this is just yet still one reason why it is better to wait till they’re really dead instead of trying to fabricate this while they’re alive,” Davis said.

The bill would restore I-70’s original name in St. Louis, the Mark Twain Highway.”

I think it’s priceless.  I know Mark Twain is enjoying a big laugh at this one.

The Field

April 15, 2010

I have been in a rut, lately.  With the help of some wise advisers, I have shaken the rut, to a degree.  I am noticing more by looking and walking.  Being aware.  I still have a way to go, but I am on the path.

My family and I have a group of friends that gets together in a big field on Sunday afternoons to garden and eat together.  One family rents the field to grow vegetables for our local food hub and a modest CSA, plus they sell at our small-but-mighty farmer’s market.  We show up, plant, weed (well, I show up and eat, mostly), build a fire, eat food (that’s what I do best), and catch up on the week’s events, share information (like kudzu jelly recipes and the latest art) and (like this: from Robert Burns’ “To a Mouse:”

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!)

People bring casseroles, salads they made from their gardens, chips, home-made salsas, hummus, pastas, cheeses, fruit…it’s a smorgasbord.  We are artists, musicians, teachers, foresters, farmers, designers, contractors, home-schoolers, mothers, fathers, kids…and we are all creating something out of life.  It may not be a big thing, but it is a great thing.  Sunday afternoons have become my sanctuary.

Last week, I brought a guitar and ended up playing some songs by the fire…the first time I have played music outside of my children’s bedroom in a long time.  I did not know how it was going to go, and it went…well.  This group has met through various channels–I have met some of them just by going to the Field.  Food and music.  Music and food.  Outside.  Walking.  Singing.  Eating.  Family and friends gathering together outside inspires me to create.  We are creating something…separately and together.  Sharing.  Community.  It’s good stuff.  When people say they generally don’t like Steve Miller, but they could sit and listen to me (of all people) sing “The Joker” for the rest of the evening, we’re onto something.  The Field is worth cultivating, on many levels.

More thoughts on Indie

March 16, 2010

One of those teenagers I mentioned in the independent post interviewed Sohrab from Obits, a Sub Pop band.  Their conversation appears on the Sub Pop web-site.  BJM is none other than Bayard Morse, one of my journalism students.  Needless to say, I am proud of him.

Obits on “Indie” – L Swain

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Sohrab from Obits has been chatting, on the wall of the Obits’ Facebook page, with this 16 year-old kid about Sub Pop being 49% owned by Warner, what “indie” means, etc. And, though that summary sounds incredibly tired, it’s a pretty good conversation. Here it goes:

Obits, what do you think about the fact that Sub Pop is 49% owned by Warner?

Wow. Is this part of a Seger-Saget-Sub Pop conspiracy?
It’s a complicated question. Short answer is we signed on the dotted line. Longer answer involves breaking down the myths of independent labels and how bands actually get treated in many of those relationships.
It’s a slippery slope in both directions but, in our specific case, we are very happy to work with Sub Pop. They are honest people who truly care about music and are wonderfully realistic about their expectations in an industry that is rarely so….
I suppose I might feel differently if it were Monsanto or Pfizer, but the Warner affiliation is what it is and doesn’t seem to effect us.
How do you feel about it? Does it color your opinion of the label or our band? Do you think it makes a difference? I’m asking sincerely, by the way.

I mean, it slightly taints the idea of Sub Pop being a true “Indie” label like they used to be, but in the long run, as long as they are still coming out with such amazing music, like you guys / No Age / Fleet Foxes, I’m not about to condemn them. So I guess I would say that it doesn’t really matter too much. Also, it would be my dream to be on Sub Pop. What do you guys think of the term “Indie” in general/how it’s used these days?

B, this is Sohrab, just so you know I’m only speaking for myself in terms of whatever it is I’m about to write.
Having grown up in the Dischord / Touch and Go / SST era, the word “indie” wasn’t part of my vocabulary. There were records that I bought from Smash! or Yesterday & Today or one of the many other mom-and-pop shops in the DC area at that time, there were other things I mail-ordered and eagerly awaited from Systematic in San Francisco, there were cassettes I got by writing to bands I read about in MRR, and then there was whatever else was outside of that world, which I had no interest in and, therefore, might as well not have existed.
“Indie” wasn’t something I came across until the ‘90s, when some bands used the term to try to distinguish themselves from other bands that weren’t that, I guess. It seems a little silly to me now. It’s such a broad and vague way to define anything. It probably would’ve been more effective to just say, “We don’t sound like Blind Melon.
The language for describing sensory experience is relative and bound by context. To a fan of Merzbow, Obits probably sounds like Three Dog Night. To a fan of Three Dog Night, Obits probably sounds like the guy in Merzbow tampered with his “Mama Told Me Not to Come” single.
That said, I guess people hang onto the word “indie” because it’s become shorthand for saying that something is not part of mainstream culture or that it’s quirky or some other absurd notion folks have about the need to compartmentalize music into little digestible demographic terms. So, to me, the word is now just part of the lexicon of lifestyle marketing.
If you want to get into the economics of what “indie” means or what people think it means, I think it merits a whole new thread. It’s definitely worth exploring, but would require a more experienced and sophisticated voice than mine.
I will say that the interest in only supporting things that are “indie” probably comes from a good place, but reminds me of when people are so concerned with eating organic that they overlook what it means when they buy fresh food that’s out of season.

That’s pretty fascinating. My friends and I always discuss what it means/how the word has changed. Being 16, I come from a completely different era where “indie” means everything from Neutral Milk Hotel to things not even remotely related to music:  like drinking PBR outside of an Urban Outfitters while taking artsy photographs. The thing that saddens me is when kids say they listen to “Indie Rock,” but wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing about Mike Watt, or Greg Ginn, or any sort of independent label.
Have you read “Our Band Could Be Your Life?”

Hey B,
The fact that you are 16 and interested in our band is heartening for more reasons than I have time to go into.
But don’t get too bummed about those kids. Everybody has a chance to hear the Minutemen for the first time once. And, with the right personality and the right timing, it just might change their life.
That is incredibly exciting to me. And far more powerful in terms of making a permanent dent in popular culture than any snarky ad exec trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator of whatever fits between two quotation marks.
Or, for that matter, the legions of embittered naysayers skulking around anonymously in the comment sections of music blogs.
They’ve got nothing on you and your pals snapping buzzed Polaroids in the parking lot, barking out the chorus to “Nervous Breakdown.” Seriously.
Okay, gotta run, but let us know when we get to a town near you because you are officially on our permanent guest list.
Until soon …

So, that’s cool.  More later.

Some interesting insights by other folks…

March 15, 2010


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Why We Fight

Why We Fight #1

Why We Fight #1

Indie Will Eat Itself

by Nitsuh Abebe, posted March 12, 2010

Welcome to “Why We Fight”, Pitchfork’s latest column. The ongoing goal of this column is to look seriously into our conversations about music: how they work, how they locate what’s at stake when we make allegiances to different artists or genres, and the different issues– like social class, race, novelty, and transgression– we bring to bear when we talk about music. These conversations might be “about” music, but they say even more about how we see ourselves and the world. More importantly, they might even change the music itself– both how it’s made and what it winds up meaning to us.

Of all the ways technology’s changed how people relate to music– how we make it, listen to it, hear about it, pay for it (or don’t)– the one that’s always amazed me is the way we talk about it. For most people, that conversation hasn’t changed: we still get word-of-mouth recommendations, share circles of taste with our friends, and don’t waste time obsessively tracking what’s going on beyond our interests. For many music geeks, though, all that’s been joined by an online world where “everyone” hears about “everything” at the same time– every development tracked like breaking news and hashed out in reviews and comments boxes, on blogs and message boards.

And in the small and geek-heavy world of indie fans– where people pride themselves on being shrewd, unique, opinionated, and sensitive to bullshit– this is a pretty meaningful development. Now, instead of just figuring out how we feel about music in relation to our friends, enemies, scenes, or schools, we’re also figuring it out in relation to a whole far-flung network of people who share our taste. (Suddenly, amazingly, we live in a world where a high-school kid in Montana can talk about how sick she is of minor trends in Williamsburg.) It means a whole lot of what’s happening revolves around our conversations and our different postures toward music– and toward our fellow fans.

As an experiment, think on this question. Over the past few years, who have you seen fiercer, more divisive debates about: Joanna Newsom or Lady Gaga? I’d guess that for a lot of you reading this, the answer is Newsom. Which is interesting, especially if you think about ways these artists are mirror images of each other.

As far as Newsom goes, it’s pretty easy to identify her unique qualities: An odd, expressive voice with a creak like an old door; a vision of her work so elaborately detailed that it can seem stilted and overwhelming; and a love of words and attention to poetic effects so deep that it actually doesn’t sound silly when she lists Vladimir Nabokov as a songwriting influence. So we’ve seen healthy debate about what, if anything, those gifts have to offer us. People argued about whether there was something precious or fussy about her manner, or even something childlike about her imagination. (Press material that painted her as some kind of unicorn-riding medieval fantasy didn’t help.) People argued about whether her obsessively crafted suites and allegories were really what pop music was for— whether maybe all those elaborate, writerly constructions were just highbrow feats of imagination in a medium that should prize real-world actions and gestures. You know: too pretentious, too many words, too many big words, too pretty, too satisfied, too comfortable, too much artifice.

And now, oddly enough, she’s released a triple LP that defuses some of those arguments. Vocal-cord problems keep her from exploiting that old divisive croak. Most straightforward lyrics reassure us that she’s speaking to our unmagical world, even if those lines remain packed with tricky poetic effects. Her recent photos look like fashion shoots. Simple things like piano and pop drumming allow us, for the first time, to say aha: we can finally identify her as fitting in with something concrete– Joni Mitchell, Laurel Canyon folkies, 1970s California, something. So the question of what the hell to make of her talents travels its way further up into the mainstream, where every critic dutifully offers a list of the kinds of words you’re going to encounter on her records (“palanquin!” “gormless!”), and Vanity Fair runs a tongue-near-cheek article explaining– no kidding– why it’s not emasculating to listen to her. “It’s just a straighter path,” she tells London’s Times, “to the same truth.”

Pop star Gaga, meanwhile, seems to work in the opposite direction, despite being every bit as steeped in artifice and pretense as Newsom. Her latest product is eight songs and 34 minutes long, compared to Newsom’s two-hour set; its most upscale English word is, by my reckoning, “saline,” versus much-noted Newsom vocabulary like “etiolated” (which also gets called out in the annotated edition of Nabokov’s Lolita). This is the big difference, of course, and the thing that some people find lacking in Newsom: Gaga’s big bundle of affectations may not be carefully constructed around a specific point– it’s not writerly in that Nabokovian way– but it’s rich and visceral enough that just about anyone can draw something thrilling or unsettling from it. Newsom gets pegged as some woodsy creature whose art is highly constructed; Gaga gets pegged as some artificial construct whose art feels intuitive. Newsom’s music feels private, a strange artifact waiting for you to come engage with it. Gaga’s is entirely public, to the point where most of it is located in image and gesture and persona. Sometimes it’s as if she’s still figuring out how to reliably pack more of that meaning into the songs themselves.

That’s surely why we don’t write Gaga off as “pretentious,” a word loaded with all kinds of social-class connotations: Her music doesn’t scan as highbrow or aimed at any elite. Besides, we want pop stars to be oversized and perverse– often we want them to think they’re more special than us. My question, though, is this: Don’t we want the same level of imagination and confidence from indie acts? And if so, why do a lot of us seem slightly wary about the possibility? Why celebrate pretense and bold gestures in pop music, but get weirdly skeptical of them in the indie world? It’s as if we’ve reached the point where one long-running indie value– the idea that the performers are a lot like the audience– has started eating up a much more interesting one: that indie can be a realm that embraces oddity and strangeness. This is the funny predicament of a lot of talk about modern indie. It’s as if the audience doesn’t think of itself as very interesting, and is skeptical of any band that comes out of its midst thinking it’s any better. (Especially if people, somewhere outside of the indie world, seem to agree.) Successful, self-conscious strangeness in the mainstream is a triumph; the same thing in this fringe genre is, for some reason, sometimes considered pretentious, self-satisfied, laughable, overstepping one’s station.

Not that this keeps ambitious or oddball indie acts from being popular and successful. But still, there’s a high level of self-consciousness around it all, and a lot of it traces back to our conversations. Look at this amazing quote from Newsom, in a recent feature: “I was bummed at everyone saying my songs were innocent and nursery rhyme-like. When people would put me and Devendra Banhart in the same sentence, they were coding his eccentricities as world-weary and ‘witchy’ and coding my eccentricities as childlike and naive. I felt like it minimized my intelligence. But I think in my defensiveness I disavowed some realities I should not have disavowed.”

This is revealing, isn’t it? Newsom’s clearly smart enough to know that a good artist can’t afford to deform her vision simply because not everyone in the world treats it kindly; besides, it’s not as if a trained harpist with an odd voice and devoted following is going to turn into someone else. But forget Newsom for a minute and just look at the self-consciousness involved. If we’re surrounded by conversation, what happens if the things the conversation sets upon turn out to be flip, superficial, or full of odd standards? What does it do, not to the artist, but to us, or music as a whole, or the music that hasn’t been made yet?

Because on the web, there’s no such thing as silent dismissal, the invisible shrug of this-is-not-for-me: everything’s verbalized. Casual dismissal– “this bugs me,” “I can’t stand that voice”– starts to look more like active criticism. People snipe or worry about whatever seems to be at issue, even if what’s at issue has more to do with our arguments than what’s happening in the music. The basic dynamics of numbers and taste, in fact, dictate that there will usually be more people who dislike something than enjoy it– valid opinions that’ll all be registered, some snidely. At times, this can turn a discussion into simply locating what’s different or notable about a given act and then chipping away at it, finding the most efficient way of mocking it, ferreting out the exact interpretation of what’s happening that best allows us to critique it.

This gets particularly weird when it comes to indie, a genre in which people are used to thinking of their taste as interesting and different. Because once the web brings everyone in a niche like this into constant contact, well: Where does the discussion go? Instead of figuring out your taste in relation to the world, you start figuring it out in relation to your immediate peers– which sometimes means distinguishing yourself from them over smaller and smaller differences. You can wind up with a conversation in which everyone’s edgy, wary, and near-religiously on guard for certain errors: being “pretentious,” thinking you’re clever, trying to be highbrow, seeming smug, or, at some point, doing anything that you seem to think makes you cool, interesting, or worth listening to.

This doesn’t mean people should just be “nice.” People who dislike things should say so, and any artist who puts out a record should be prepared for the fact that not everyone will love it. This is just life, and there’s no good alternative to it: Scenes in which every artist is uncritically considered a special, fragile snowflake tend to get really cruddy really quickly. But when you get to the point where you’re wary of any band that seems to think it’s actually doing something cool– even when that act’s only gotten as far as selling a couple of hundred singles– you’re halfway to kneecapping any opportunity for bands to actually be cool.

So whenever I hear complaints about new indie acts being predictable, bland, overly tasteful, or unambitious, I can’t help thinking this might be part of the reason: That this scene may have started producing music the way some adolescents get dressed, corrosively self-conscious about any sign of unfashionable difference that opens them up to be mocked. At worst, you can wind up with a whole genre where the acts and the audience are both armoring themselves against standing out or embracing risks. You wind up reaching that weird provincial point where you’re always cutting down the plant that grows higher than the others– where the way you call for the music to be more interesting (or try to express what makes you more interesting) actually has the effect of making it tamer, less interesting.

If all that sounds like needless handwringing, well, maybe it is: There’s always enough great stuff to listen to that the healthiness of this dynamic feels like a footnote. (“Indie will eat itself.”) It’s strange to me, though, that when I sat down to try and think of an act that fits somewhere between those mirror images of Newsom and Gaga, the first to come to mind was one that still floats beneath the radar. Give a listen to Parenthetical Girls’ 2008 “Song for Ellie Greenwich”, a song whose arrangements and melodies might skew in a Newsom-like direction, but whose pretentions– including the vocals of Zac Pennington, who actually vaguely looks and moves like Lady Gaga– share the pop star’s visceral, unsettling shudder and edge. Or try their cover of the Smiths’ “Handsome Devil”, which– over a quarter century later– they manage to keep sinister and sordid. And then consider: whether you’ve enjoyed it or not, what do our opinions about stuff like this wind up doing?

And here: by Ben Coe Check out his music posts, as well…hell, most of his posts are pretty insightful.  They’re making me think…

In the deepest sense money isn’t real.  It’s true.  Intrinsically it has no real value.  It’s just a fancy piece of paper.  If you were to take our money to an alien world what could you use it for?  Money is simply a mutually agreed upon token we use to exchange for things that provide REAL VALUE to us like food, community, comfort and shelter.  It is the thing we buy with money or the thing people buy from us that has actual value.

Why then do we stress  over money?  You stress about money because you have mistakenly identified money, the actual money, as the thing of value.  You feel stress because you are “fighting” to get something that doesn’t exist- the closer you get the more elusive it becomes.  There is another way.

Look at the thing of value as what’s underneath the money.  If you want to generate more income, then think of how you can generate more value, not more money.  Also recognize that both value and wealth come in more forms than just money.  You can be financially wealthy but be bankrupt in true friendships, peer respect or health.

This observation is universal; applicable to anyone, anywhere in any business or organization.   It applies to the artist business, the management company and the United States Government.

In equation form it looks like this:

Wealth = Value Provided by Y *  Number of Entities that Directly Value Y

(Where Y is the product, employee or subject generating wealth).

Think about this on a higher plane.  We are all connected in a giant ecosystem and the flow of money is merely a manifestation of the exchange of our energy.  Next time you are stressed out about money be self-reflective.  Rather than stressing about how you can get more money for money’s sake, focus instead on how you can provide more value to more people.  All sorts of wealth will flow from this mindset.

Where the Magic Happens

January 21, 2010

Brining a Turkey, Basting a Song

January 12, 2010

Goofy title, okay, sure.  What else am I supposed to do here?  I’m trying to connect cooking and music…and even though there are many, many correlations, sometimes I have to stretch it.  We brined our Christmas turkey for the first time, and man–that’s the way to go.  (The little red line came up under the word “brined,” so I right-clicked it to see what word it suggested I use instead, and one possibility for a change was “brained.”  No, that’s what happened to the turkey before we brined it).

It was the best Christmas turkey ever for the best Christmas dinner ever to accompany the best Christmas ever.  From that one turkey we made turkey stock, turkey soup, turkey hash, turkey chili (not great–cooked too long), turkey salad (quite good), and turkey brownies.  Just kidding about the brownies.  That was a lot of turkey, though.  I’ll post the recipes soon.

Let’s talk about brining, which kind of goes hand in hand with the idea that you can always add more salt, but it’s hard to take it out once it’s in.  The brine consisted of 2 gallons of water and apple juice, a cup of brown sugar, almost two cups of salt, some torn up bay leaves, a whole head of garlic, thyme, and peppercorns.  I put all of that, plus the turkey, in a five gallon bucket to sit overnight–recommended time was between 12 and 24 hours–we split the difference with 18, and it turned out perfectly.  As Mary Catherine said, “It was the juiciest turkey we ever cooked.”  Well, she ever cooked.  I just brined it…she did all the basting and monitoring while I was slinging out cd’s and records at Sidetracks.  But I tell you what…it was a great turkey.

How do I relate this to music?  Well.  I’m getting to that.  More later.  And remind me to tell you about throwing the opossum.

Scraping Their Way to the Top, 100,000 Miles of Honky-Tonk Heaven

December 10, 2009
The Hackensaw Boys, that lean unit of hillbilly noisemakers loosely based in Charlottesville, VA, are nothing if not boisterous and fired up for their pre-Thanksgiving show at the State Theater in Falls Church.  After eighteen months of touring behind their album “Look Out!” the Hacks have knocked down 100,000 miles throughout the U.S. and Europe, they’ve played shows with a striptease act from Nashville in Bergen, Norway as John Paul Jones and Robyn Hitchcock looked on, and they’ve pondered the implications of having George Bush in the band, dubbed LD Hackensaw—lame duck or learning disabled…you make the call.  I prefer the thought of Kermit the Frog (TLC [tastes like chicken] Hackensaw)’s high lonesome tenor burning up the likes of their blistering cover of “Gospel Plow.”  Long on stories and short on space, Spits Hackensaw expressed their love for their loyal fans, talked about recording demos for their new album in living rooms and closed-on-Sunday restaurants, and their appreciation for what they do.  This rowdy troupe of carpenters and copy editors bring the noise.
Original e-mail from Ward…

howdy stuart.  we have yet to record the cd, though many of us have done rough and not so rough demos of the songs, and have been playing many of them out trying to tweak them here and there.  the end result will be a product of several sessions in several different studios (our living rooms, empty restaurants on sundays, etc) if we do any recording or mixing in a studio, it will be with bryan hoffa at sound of music in richmond VA.  i used to work there, we did the last record there, and it’s just a wonderful, comfortable facility owned and run by wonderful folks.

this record, therefore, will be more of a live record than the last couple.  on lookout, which was engineered by bryan hoffa, we recorded all the instruments live, then overdubbed the vocals, mostly gang style, all around one mic.  listening to it now, it sounds a little studio boxy to me, although i can’t speak for anyone else.  this time around we’re gonna set up the mics and start hacken’ and sawin’ and hollerin’ and see what sticks.  at least that’s the plan.  for the most part we’re a democratic band; however, we try to let whoever wrote the song lead the arrangement.
dream members?  without too much thought, how bout:
george bush – LD (lame duck, or learning disabled) hackensaw – for laughs
bob stinson (replacements)  – shakes hackensaw- also for laughs
kermit the frog – TLC (tastes like chicken) hackensaw – for, you get the idea
songwriting.  well, still kinda all over the map.  i’ve got a few heart-on-my-sleeve numbers this time.  but at least they’re honest.  ferd’s still got the rippin’ fiddle numbers like nobody else.  rob’s inimitable songs are intricate and quirky.  we’ve got a few old time covers that may show up. we’ll know what it is when we can step back and look at it as a whole.  hard to say now.
weirdest show this year?  too many to name, but certainly playing in bergen, norway in between a stripper burlesque troupe from nashville, tennessee 3 nights in a row with robyn hitchcock and john paul jones in the audience.  that was a singular experience.
dirty bird is in retirement.  we’ve put close to 100,000 road miles behind us this year, in our van, rental rvs, and “the lion” in europe (our goto rental in the netherlands)
for fun when we’re not playing music?  we all have jobs ranging from carpentry to restaurant work to copy editing.  see if you can match the monkey with the joe job.  most of us, when we’re not on tour, and not working, are playing in other musical outfits.  too numerous to count.
one thing i have to say on behalf of the band is this.  in an era when entertainment options have increased exponentially, and the economy seems to tanking in the other direction, we all know how lucky we are to be doing this. the folks that come to see us are awesome, fun, loyal folks.  we don’t make enough money to survive solely on the hackensaw boys, but it’s too much goddamn fun to quit now, ya know? {This was my favorite part of the whole e-mail. –SG}
how’d i do?  any thing else you can think of, lemme know.  i wasn’t being lazy in my brevity.  most pieces of this kind have a tendency to be a little fatty and grisly, and the hackensaw boys are nothing if not lean.
Originally printed in Playlist magazine, November 2008

“Be a chef.”

November 24, 2009

More on bacon, drumming, and patience.   So Clyde Stubblefield, when I asked him to hip me to some cool drumming ideas, thought a while before replying, “Be a chef.”

“You might have to sizzle-fry something over here.  Then you might have to stir something over there.  And slow cook this thing here.  Yeah, be a chef.”  This was some of the most profound advice about drumming I had ever heard.  Be a chef.  A chef commands his kitchen.  A drummer commands his instrument, and, in turn, the band.  Where does patience fit in?

Some of my favorite drummers are drummers who drum with patience.  They let the song build.  I will catch a rash of hell for this, but think about Neil Peart on “Tom Sawyer” or “YYZ”.  The first fills in the songs are cool, but as the song progresses, the fills get a little loftier, a little more complex.  Think about Simon Phillips on Pete Townshend’s “Give Blood.”  He builds it over the whole song and finally gives us the ultimate tension breaker with that 2:3 catch at the end.  Amazing stuff.  The inimitable Steve Gadd.  Understated.  Understood.  And I think of Dave King of The Bad Plus.  A guy who can drum circles around most of us, but he just lays it down on “1972 Bronze Medal Winner,” a song he wrote, and as his bandmates keep time, he stretches the time wherever he wants it to go and meets them back on the one, when he feels like it.  Patience.
You can’t rush bacon.  You can’t rush drumming.  Patience.  Writing this stuff makes me think of a thousand other things I want to write about…


The Throne.

Just fine vs. perfection.

More later.

Bacon, drumming, and patience

November 23, 2009

Cooking bacon takes patience.  The other night I cooked the perfect batch of bacon…crispy, brown, and delicious.  I like to fry my bacon.  I’ve tried baking it and it just doesn’t do it for me.  For me, there is a meditative quality standing at the stove and nursing strips of raw pork into delectable strips of love.  And I discovered something I always suspected: frying bacon takes patience.  I have burned so many strips of pork in my life due to impatience and high heat.  Not to mention leaving the stove to check on a phone call, look at the mail, or any number of unnecessary distractions.  The bacon needs all of my attention.  The whole time.  And the other night, with my daughter looking on, I cooked 15 pieces of perfectly fried bacon.  And our BLT burritos were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Simple–bacon, lettuce from our garden, and roma tomatoes, mayonnaise, and pepper, wrapped up in a flower tortilla.

So, I use a #10 iron skillet (bought for me by my buddy’s wife at a flea market).  I make sure to have a non-plastic container to pour the grease into (yes, the fact the it’s non-plastic was a learning experience from a while ago), glass or metal container that I keep in the freezer to use later with green beans.  When that container is full, I use a coffee mug and then mix the grease (once it cools) with water–the dog loves it on his food.   I let the skillet heat up on medium.  I place 4 strips at a time, using tongs (or the “clapping spatula” as my son calls them) to flip them every couple of minutes.  I may dance to a rhumba while standing there, much to the delight (or dismay) of innocent bystanders.  But my focus remains on the bacon.  Once the bacon is browned, I move it to a cloth-covered plate next to the skillet.  Repeat until all bacon is cooked.

What does this have to do with drumming?  Not sure.  I once had the privilege of hanging out with Clyde Stubblefield when he was in town with Michael Feldman’s “Whad’Ya Know.”  He needed some drum hardware, and I was lucky enough to get the call to supply him with said hardware.  (Thanks, A.W.).  We ate barbecue and talked about jazz, drumming, and life.  He was the consummate gentleman.  Later that evening, the “Whad’Ya Know” trio played at the old Prism coffeehouse.  He was blistering.  As we drove around Charlottesville, I thought to myself, “I am with Clyde STUBBLEFIELD!  I need to capitalize on this opportunity.”  So I asked him, “Clyde, if you could tell me one thing about playing the drums, what would it be?”  He thought about this for a few minutes and then said,

“Be a chef.”

More later.

The Staunton Grocery

November 5, 2009

Timing and Taste

Since 2007, my wife Mary Catherine and I have wanted to eat at the Staunton Grocery.  We decided that our tenth anniversary was as good a time as any to try this esteemed eatery, located on Beverly Street in downtown Staunton.  A good date:  the four o’clock showing of “Julie and Julia” at the Dixie whetted our appetite for a great meal, followed by a trip to Kline’s Dairy Bar.

We showed up a little after our six-fifteen reservation, greeted with a kind “hello” from Kyle Boatwright, the general manager.  He looked like he was expecting us, recognizing our name, which was nice.  Our table was small and intimate, right in the middle of the room, but it still seemed like we had our own little corner.  The brick walls, wooden wine racks, tin ceiling, and antique armoires created a fine dining atmosphere.  Mary Catherine faced the huge picture window into the kitchen, which gave the illusion of being able to see all the action, but in reality, she couldn’t see much.  It’s still cool.

Our server, Steve, was unobtrusive, but carried on just enough conversation to show that he cared.  I mentioned it was our anniversary and minutes later he brought us two complimentary glasses of an Argentinean sparkling wine.  We split an aperitif, a Doubonnet Rouge, and my ignorance of fine wine showed its ugly head when I popped my eyes at the red wine in a highball glass with ice and a lemon rind…but it sure did taste good, complementing our appetizers perfectly.  And, hey, if it’s good enough for the Queen of England, it certainly worked for us.

And what a meal we ate.  The taste.  The food was sublime.  All the talk about local is boiled down to its essence at the Staunton Grocery.  From the amuse-bouche to the last cup of coffee, I have two words for you: AMA-ZING.  The ingredients to our root vegetable salad found their way to the plate from that morning’s farmer’s market.  The rib-eye I devoured used to eat grass in a field in the valley.  The sous-chefs made Mary Catherine’s fettuccini that afternoon, as well as the Japanese pumpkin tortellini. Chef  Ian Boden creates lasting tastes with few ingredients.  The glass of Cinon 2006 from the Loire Valley we shared was perfect.  Their wine list includes these descriptors: vibrant, expressive, supple, bold, sumptuous, and includes wines as far-flung as Virginia, Austria, Australia, France, California, Italy, Argentina, and New Zealand.  And they make in-house sodas, too—key lime, ginger, lemon, orange, and vanilla.  Crazy.

The chocolate soup with orange zest and cinnamon doughnuts tasted like heaven in a teacup.  Mary Catherine’s peanut and quince crème brulee (the PB & J) was not to our tastes, but that’s our shortcoming, not the dessert’s.  All the other desserts looked great, and Steve even served me a taste of the green apple sorbet that usually accompanies the pecan tart.  We would have tried them all, but we had to save room for our trip to Kline’s Dairy Bar.

Let’s talk about timing, as the tastes blossomed under the timing’s tutelage (Wow. That’s terrible).  The servers at the Grocery work effortlessly, which means they work hard, because we know that if something looks easy, it’s not.  We never had to wait for anything too long.  Courses came out in perfect concert with each other.  If another server walked by and saw that we needed bread or water, they would take care of it.  Same with clearing dishes.  No fuss.  Steve talked with us amiably and casually, but maintained an air of respect for our privacy.  If we needed something, he brought it quickly (even when Mary Catherine asked for salt, of all things—he brought us black sea salt, reassuring her that it was okay to ask.  And when I left for the bathroom, he folded my napkin on the table for me in a neat triangle).  Classy.

Check the restaurant’s website and notice how they resonate with Nelson County, donating to causes from Habitat for Humanity to Wintergreen Performing Arts.  Take a ride over the mountain and enjoy a wonderful afternoon in Staunton, capping it off with a fine dining experience.  The Staunton Grocery lives in my top five meals of all time.  I can’t wait to go back.