Archive for March, 2007

Strip mall music

Last Wednesday, I went to Natural Fact Deli. A couple of friends I know through the Folk School run the …Pick, Vamp and Roll Bluegrass Jam Session there. After it was over, a few of us stayed to talk and play a little more. One had a Guild F30. I mentioned the guitar recently as the model Mississippi John Hurt played after seeing what I think was another one last weekend. I asked, and this one definitely was an F30, from 1973, which would make it about a decade younger that Hurt’s, if I remember right. I asked to play it and got my wish. It was great. It rang, a characteristic its owner did not appreciate, but one that served the hammer sounds of “Spike Driver Blues” wonderfully. It was not too bassy. I picked out a few Hurt tunes before passing it on. People took turns playing tunes on it and a big archtop Epiphone.

One guy played a nice little love song called “My Eyes Rest Easy.” When asked, he told us that he had written it. His friend, who played and sang a beautiful “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” herself, requested a couple more, “Laduesier” and “Strip Mall.” We all laughed through “Strip Mall,” a satire in the talking blues style of occasionally blogged Woody Guthrie. He told us his name, Jesse Irwin, and said that he runs the Chippewa Chapel, a local open mic night on Thursdays that has been traveling from bar to bar since Frederick’s Music Lounge closed. When I got home, I figured that he must be on MySpace. I found his page and his website. All three of the songs he played are available for listening on MySpace, and his site includes a lyrics page. I recommend having a listen, and I hope to catch some of his local shows.

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Michael M. on March 31st 2007 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Hometown Visions

I record Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, a television show about outsider and visionary art, and watch it from time to time. Earlier this week, KETC aired Bumbling through the Bayou, the episode featuring my hometown and other Mississippi sites. It was included on the Southern Flavor DVD.

The show began in Ocean Springs where they visited the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. It is an impressive place I should revisit. I read his Horn Island Logs in college. NPR‘s Weekend Edition Sunday featured him several years ago when his work was exhibited at the Smithsonian as Everything I See Is New and Strange. Walter Inglis Anderson was not a folk artist, however, but a trained artist from a family of artists. He was, however, certainly a visionary.

In McComb, they visited the Gingerbread House of Bette Mott. I do not know her or the house although I have been past it many times. The same street passes by Dub Brock’s house, and I have mentioned it. Her house is full of pillows and plush decorations. Included was a shot of the hospital where I, Britney Spears and Brandy Norwood were born because Mott was there at the time and had to conduct her tour via telephone.

They also mentioned the Rhinestone Cowboy, Loy Allen Bowlin, to be featured in another episode. The Takin’ It to the Lakes DVD has that show, but I have not seen it yet. Raw Vision has this overview of the Rhinestone Cowboy. His house was moved from a small street between the old highway and the railroad tracks on the southern edge of town to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The museum has this feature on its site. The Kohler Foundation has this page. This post from just over a year ago at the Athanasius Kircher Society. The photograph of him was taken by Harrod Blank. I corresponded with him not too long ago and blogged about it and his documentary Wild Wheels that included Bowlin’s Cadillac decorated with rhinestones.

Everybody around town knew the Rhinestone Cowboy, and as a child, I was happy when we happened to see him. Most children liked him, and we talked about him favorably. He was hard to miss because he hung around outside stores hoping that people would pay attention to him. Tired of his marginal place in life and troubled by mental illness, he reinvented himself as a character. I think most adults just tolerated him as a harmless eccentric. I remember seeing him often at Sunshine Square and on the bench in the small lobby of Rose’s discount store in a strip mall. Sunshine Square was a failed downtown revival attempt that had replaced a block of Main Street with pebbled concrete for pedestrians. I loved the fountain with boulders in it, and I would beg my mother to let me see whether it was running when she would take me downtown. I never was allowed to tarry long enough to catch his full act. He carried a plastic cassette player to accompany his dancing and singing, and he would try to sell photographs of himself to anyone who stopped. I certainly was not allowed to waste my parents’ good money on one of his pictures, and I never wasted my own. He was a fun part of the local life, though. I hope to catch the episode with him in it.

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Michael M. on March 31st 2007 in General

Ransom Myers

I was listening to NPR‘s All Things Considered this afternoon when one story caught my ear. It was a remembrance of Ransom A. Myers, a marine biologist. According to the story, he started life in rural Mississippi before majoring in physics at Rice. That path is more than familiar to me. He died recently of glioblastoma multiforme, an especially bad brain cancer. In his scientific career, he conducted highly successful research into the large effects of industrial fishing on the oceans’ ecology. The New York Times published his obituary, one of many in major newspapers, that he was from Lula, Mississippi. I looked, and it is a very small Delta town. His premature death appears to be a loss for all of us.

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Michael M. on March 31st 2007 in General

Satire and rhythm

I had a good Saturday catching two bands with a friend Saturday night. The Prince Myshkins at Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center were first. The guitarist, Andy, played an old Guild that looked a lot like Mississippi John Hurt‘s F30, but he did not know what model it was. Lemp Arts is one of those great neighborhood rehabilitation projects that happen around here. An arts group took what appears to be an old corner shop and turned it into a small concert venue. The Prince Myshkins songs are political satire. The harmonies are good, and the structures seemed complex. I think they would be a little much to hear for very long. They seem a little proud, and political satire is too narrow a topic for consistently interesting music. I got just about the right dose.

From there, it was off to the KDHX benefit at Yemanja Brasil with folks from Alma Latina and Radio Rio, home of the blogged annual Brazilian Beatles show. I had wanted to visit the restaurant for a while, especially after riding my bicycle past it. Having now been, I hope to revisit Yemanja Brasil again before too long. Although it was late for dining, I liked the environment. It is a colorful and stylish place. Samba Bom played. I had wanted to hear them for a while. They were great. They played some classics, including “Aquarela do Brasil.” I found this entertaining animated music video of the song on YouTube. The best number of the night featured little more instrumentally than drums and what appeared to be two cowbells connected together. The rhythm was fantastic. Althgouh the instruments were simple and few, they got everything out of them.

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Michael M. on March 25th 2007 in General, Live, Music


I saw this movie 300 on opening weekend at the Chase. They stuck us in one of the little theaters, but it was still good. I had somehow missed all the previews, but I had noticed that Battle of Thermopylae shot up the list of popular Wikipedia entries.

I did not like the magical Persian monsters. The story is based on historical events, and there were no fantastic beasts. The movie was based on a graphic novel. Maybe it is true to it. The constant talk of freedom and free men got old. The movie looks cool, though. The special effects are great. The fighting is, too. The story keeps moving. 300 is a good way to spend 117 minutes.

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Michael M. on March 23rd 2007 in General, Movies

TAL TV poor start

I blogged about This American Life, the television show, as I was watching the first episode. It is much weaker than the radio show usually is.

The prologue comes from the prologue of Episode 250: The Annoying Gap Between Theory … and Practice. I believe that in the television lingo, the television segment is a dramatic recreation. When a friend relates an anecdote, I expect mostly narration and perhaps a few parts acted out with voices and gestures. Except for the gestures and lack of eye contact, the format transfers well to radio, and TAL is a great vessel for such stories. The short linkers between scenes are fun, but this thing otherwise bears more resemblance to a made-for-television movie than to anything else.

Ira Glass is shown at a desk situated on a sidewalk at an intersection of two roads with petroleum tanks in the background between segments. Why? TAL is not necessarily wacky. Before now, it had been a radio show with stories centered around a theme. The connecting segments with Glass are not zany or wild and crazy. The absurdity, when it does happen on the radio show, comes from the strange turns life can take, not from staged stunts.

The episode lacks original narratives. All the segments of the first television show come from previous radio shows, and I have heard them all before. One of them is not even a good story. The first act is from Act Two: If By Chance We Meet Again of Episode 291: Reunited (and It Feels So Good). The second act comes from Act Two: The Spy Who Loved Everyone of Episode 286: Mind Games.

I started enjoying The Spy Who Loved Everyone when listening to the radio program the first time only to end disliking it. Improv Everywhere stages public pranks. Having enjoyed and even participated in a flash mob, I thought it would be funny. The television show features Best Gig Ever, to which the band responded. The group showed up at a Sunday night Ghosts of Pascha concert at the Mercury Lounge. The Mercury Lounge is an established New York venue that has shows frequently with occasionally big acts. Vic Thrill, featured in Act One: That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish of TAL Episode 268: My Experimental Phase, played there earlier this month. Ghosts of Pascha was playing a Sunday night show on its first tour. Ted’s Birthday, featured on the radio, but not on television, left its victim more distraught.

That Improv Everywhere turns hurtful is no surprise based on my flash mob experience. Someone created a mailing list that I found after reading about the first one or two here. In the one I attended, people gathered at the Grind in Maryland Plaza. On signal, we walked to the intersection of Euclid and Maryland where we simultaneously opened umbrellas and waited for rain on a sunny summer day. Then someone said a code word, and we dispersed. The mailing list discussion for future flash mobs quickly turned destructive and stupid. Some people wanted to throw things at innocent bystanders. Others wanted to yell at them. Fortunately, none of these ideas went far. The signal-to-noise ratio on the list approached zero, and the administrator deleted it. Improv Everywhere demonstrates what happens when no leader cares much whether others are bothered or even harmed.

What is the point of the television show? It is a pale immitation of the radio show. Its stories, at least in the first episode, are weak rehashes of the original. The answer, probably, is cash money. The radio show is successful. It has been on the air long enough that it must provide comfortable livings to its staff. I cannot imagine that public radio provides wealth, however. Showtime provides the allure of money although whether the producers get real paid is a separate question.

Will TAL’s move to New York be like The Onion‘s move from Madison to New York? I started reading The Onion back in the mid 90s. It was hilarious and frequently bizarre. It kept losing its staff, however, to bigger comedy operations in Los Angeles and New York. Then it decided to become a big comedy operation. I think it succeeded. I still see people linking to it. I visit the site when I see a link, but I no longer seek it every week the way I used to. I would guess that its humor is more consistent now and that it appeals more broadly. When I first started reading, it was hit-or-miss material. When it was good, though, it was great. It must be good nearly all the time now, yet I no longer care. The true winners have become to rare to care. Will TAL fall into the same pattern of greater popularity and better consistency at the cost of losing the wonderful smash hits?

Searching around, I came across this BoingBoing post on a TAL parody. The group is Kasper Hauser, a comedy troupe with a podcast. (I came to the very interesting Kaspar Hauser story through “Wooden Horse (Caspar Hauser’s Song)” from thrice previously blogged Suzanne Vega.) It made me laugh out loud.

TAL has a MySpace page. As MySpace pages go, it is excellent. Right now, the comments are all praise. I cannot agree although I am not ready to leave the first negative comment.

I suggest making your own show. Get the episodes. Use Audacity or another tool to splice them as you like. Put them on your iPod or other audio player. You could even burn them to CD. Instead of watching television or a computer monitor, go for a walk or just sit outside while listening. Play it on your stereo while you fix supper.

Update March 25, 2007: Improv Everywhere anticipated the first show and then provided a guide to visitors when the episode was shown.

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Michael M. on March 23rd 2007 in General

Music, Compton and Long

A week ago Thursday I played as planned at the Folk School Showcase. It was a terrific experience. I kicked off “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” with a few fiddle pickup notes and then sang tenor on the choruses. The rest of the group backed up our banjoist and dobroist on “Reuben.” Then we played “Handsome Molly” before closing with a thunderous “Going Down to Cairo.” I sang one verse, “Rough old road and a sorry team / Goodbye, goodbye / Rough old road and a sorry team / Goodbye, Liza Jane,” on “Cairo.” I picked up that verse from the preview of Stace England‘s album Greetings from Cairo, Illinois when fishing around iTunes Store one day. Rumor is that video of the entire evening exists.

While hanging around listening to other classes, I talked to a couple of other Folk Schoolers who were discussing the upcoming house concert with Mike Compton and David Long, two top mandolinists. I had nothing better to do Saturday, so I went. Evening through early morning, it was great fun. Both mandolinists are extrememly talented. Compton won a Grammy for his playing on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. They played a variety of music from traditional bluegrass to bluesier tunes to originals, many from their album Stomp. When the show was over, I did not want to go home. I milled around with others who must have felt the same way. I listened to the opening act who were playing in the kitchen. I talked to Compton a little about Mississippi.

Then the local musicians took over. I wish I had brought an instrument. I did get to play two great guitars, one fiddle and even one mandolin, an instrument I have touched only maybe a dozen times. At first, I only chopped rhythm on the Is and IVs. I did not know where a V was. Then I found one and chopped along on all three. I kept my playing brief because I did not want to hog others’ instruments and because I often found myself outclassed and unable to keep up. I did not have to go home until the wee hours.

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Michael M. on March 23rd 2007 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

This American TV Life

Occasionally mentioned This American Life is going to have a television show. The New York Times has coverage. This preview with excellent animation came to me through Waxy Links and then through this post on YouTube has clips of Ira Glass on storytelling in parts 1, 2 and 3 that I enjoyed a while back.

The show is debuting tonight, maybe right now. Unfortunately, it is on Showtime. I had hoped for PBS. I do not get Showtime, nor will I anytime soon. It appears, however, that the first episode is available through the TAL Showtime site. I am watching it now.

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Michael M. on March 22nd 2007 in General

Hey, Bo Diddley

NPR‘s Morning Edition featured twice blogged Bo Diddley earlier today in the series about musicians in their own words. I enjoy mentioning the hometowners when the opportunities arise, and Bo Diddley is first among them. It was a good story, and the story behind “Who Do You Love?” is the bonus of the web version.

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Michael M. on March 20th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Black Snake Moan

On a friend’s recomendation, I went to see Black Snake Moan two weekends ago and then again Saturday. Before the going, I enjoyed all the music on the movie’s web site and its MySpace page. While I enjoyed many aspects of it, the music is definitely the best part.

The blues connections are many and wonderful. The production company is Southern Cross the Dog Productions. W. C. Handy heard his first blues in 1903 at the train station in Tutwiler by someone singing about where the Southern crosses the Dog, the intersection of two railroad lines in Moorehead. “Black Snake Moan” is an old song recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson. The movie is dedicated to R. L. Burnside, and R. L. is the name of a character. Lazarus’ appearance might be patterned after Burnside, but he looks more like Rufus Thomas to me.

Filmmaker Craig Brewer demonstrates a significant understanding of the blues in one distinction he makes. Many people think of Delta blues, but this movie recognizes a different strain, Mississippi Hill Country music. The movies itself is set in and around a small town in west Tennessee, the part of the state bordering the Mississippi Hills. The music is less crystalized in form compared to the Delta, and more different musical traditions, such as fife and drum bands, continued to survive in the Hills through the 20th century.

The accents were good, too. The cast drew heavily from regional talent. Justin Timberlake is from Memphis. David Banner is from Jackson, Mississippi. Samuel L. Jackson is from east Tennessee. Neimus K. Williams is a high school student in Memphis. Clare Grant and Amy LaVere are Memphians. John Cothran, Jr. is a Saint Louisan. Isaac Hayes is a Memphis legend.

This review by previously blogged John Beifuss of the Memphis Commerical-Appeal addresses the movie well. The story itself demanded suspending my belief at several points, but I did not mind so much. The ending is bad, but probably purposefully so. The bluesman and the church has been overused. The movie is full of hints that it is about to become an exploitation movie or a parody without ever totally jumping into that pot. I never could decide.

The racial content of the movie is a clearly ripe for discussion. The lower class white girl is held captive by the black bluesman. I noticed something else. When there is not something bizarre happening, the characters interact like normal people. Black people and white people are not automatically scared of each other. They do not necessarily hate each other, yet there are clear distinctions that reflect the current state pretty well. Some places are segregated, such as the church, the barber shop and, mostly, the bar. Others, such as the farmers’ market and stores, are not. Lazarus talks about prejudice he has faced. Good and bad aspects of current race relations were portrayed believably. There are differences. There are problems. For the most part, however, people manage to get along.

Black Snake Moan is Southern Gothic created by someone intimately familiar with the geography. It is weird to the point of being a little silly. If you are a Southerner, you ought to see this movie. Weird to the point of silliness is familiar to you. The same goes if you love the blues, especially if your are deep enough into it to care about the Hills. For others, it still might be a fun outing.

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Michael M. on March 14th 2007 in General, Movies, Music

Exotic symphony

Years ago, I got one of those inexpensive classical music compilation CDs titled The Very Best of Mozart. It seems to have gone out of circulation. The CD currently sold as The Very Best of Mozart is markedly different. Mine has a recording of the last movement of the Violin Concerto Number 5 recorded by Sidney Harth and the Radio and Television Orchestra of Krakow. I do not know much about them, but I instantly latched onto the piece and the recording as one of the best things on the CD.

Late last week, I heard on KWMU that the piece would be featured in the weekend’s Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra concert. I have had season tickets in the past, but I had not been yet this year. I looked up the program for Exotica and bought tickets through Sound Check St. Louis, an opportunity for students to buy inexpensive tickets. This post the symphony blog has some scoop about the performance.

The soloist was Alison Harney, principal second violin of the orchestra. I attended one of these concerts in which an orchestra member acts as the soloist several years ago. It must have been this one with Susan Slaughter, principal trumpet. I had no big expectations, and it was wonderful. As with this weekend’s concert, Nicholas McGegan conducted.

This time I had big expectations, and they were not quite fulfilled. I certainly enjoyed it, and the performance was good. It was not the transporting experience that music can be, though. I have been wondering why. Was is the anticipation? Was it the attachment to the recording I have? The different cadenzas might be part of the reason. Become too tied to particular performances is a danger of recorded music.

Since I last attended a symphony concert, I have played plenty of fiddle and improved considerably. It made the concert much more interesting. My fiddling is almost exclusively in first position, a big difference from classical music. The bowing differences were more striking. The longer I play, the more attention I pay to bow work. Intonation and speed can pose difficulties for the left hand, but bowing is generally more challenging. The hardest part is finding the right way to meet both the melodic and rhythmic demands. While rhythm is not such a driving force in much of classical music, good phrasing probably poses similar obstacles, and the rests, frequent in classical music and almost absent in basic fiddling, must be difficult to handle, too. I should return to my old pattern of more frequent symphony attendance now that I have some mechanical, if not stylistic, familiarity with the feature instrument of art music.

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Michael M. on March 14th 2007 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Folk School Showcase Thursday 7 PM

The Folk School Showcase will happen this Thursday, March 15 from 7 to 10 PM. Sauce Magazine has coverage, and friend and Folk School board member John Colbert wrote about it on his blog. The venue is the Club Room of the Schlafly Tap Room at 2100 Locust Saint, St Louis, MO 63103. We made the Schlafly news and March E-Growler along with the STLToday calendar and the Riverfront Times calendar. The suggested cover is $5.

Come out for a great night of amateur and professional old-time, bluegrass and roots music. I will fiddle and sing a little with my Ensemble I class at about 8 PM. I have several friends in the Grass Pack, a local band who met through the school. Other professionals include the Mound City Slickers, Ranger Dave Montgomery and an all-star band with excellent clawhammerer Dave Landreth, Andrew Gribble, Jim Nelson and Steve Hall.

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Michael M. on March 14th 2007 in Live, Music

Gilberto Gil New York Times profile

Larry Rohter, South American correspondent for The New York Times, covered the recently blogged box set and put me on the track of finding out how to buy it. His profile of occasionally blogged Gilberto Gil in  is another winner. The article includes sound clips. It references Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and it quotes fellow leaders John Perry Barlow and Larry Lessig. The article also mentions Gil’s controversial music performance I blogged not too long ago. The piece is an introduction to current innovations in cultural distribution.

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Michael M. on March 11th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

WordPress 2.1.2

I upgraded to WordPress 2.1.2 quickly after seeing this /. story about an exploit. Here is the story directly from WordPress. Someone inserted malicious code into the distribution. I probably upgraded to 2.1.1 before the exploit was inserted, but I decided to go ahead and upgrade anyway. From my logs, it looks like nobody lauched an attack against this site. Maybe it is the advantage of residing on a tiny dead end tube. Please let me know if you notice any problems or strangeness here.


Michael M. on March 4th 2007 in General

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.