Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Christmas to Remember

Part Four- A Meteorological Casualty

What you see is a composite of snaps I took of my 1989 Guild GF-55 "mini-jumbo"-- a fairly rare acoustic guitar that was designed and manufactured under the tutelage of George Gruhn, when he headed up product development at Guild. I bought the guitar at Voltage in Hollywood in 1998. I've had this guitar longer than any of my others. It, along with its older,bigger, and fairer brother (a 1974 F50) have been on the no-sell list since acquiring them. Oh, I got close with both of them at various moments. And now, the GF-55 shares another trait with the F50--finish crazing. I got the F50 already crazed. The GF-55 got crazed during the power outage. I hesitate calling it damage-- it is superficial, and occurs on guitars with certain lacquer finishes during extreme temperature changes. The sound and tone is not affected. In fact, some guitar people like the crazing-- kind of a vintage thing. All things being equal, I would have preferred not having such marking, but there they are. Thankfully, only the Guild got it-- the others were spared.

Ah, the Christmas gift that keeps on giving... and giving and giving.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas to Remember

Part Three- Flashback

Christmas Eve, 2005-- Todos Santos

Chocolat and Luna-- los perros de Alegria Inn, Todos Santos. Their farewell.

Not so much as a footprint...

Sunset Todos Santos, December 22, 2005

Less than a year ago-- it must have been January-- in the depth of winter, I admitted to Bea I had visited the real estate website of a realtor in Todos Santos, on the Baja. We spent Christmas there in 2005. Bea heard my confession as giving up on our life in the great Northwest. She told me I better tell her if I was ready to pack it in. It was a month or so before we got our goats and committed to a life on the farm... Wonky Farm, to be exact. I brushed my ambivalence aside. It was just an errant thought. Of course, I want to stay here, where there are seasons and at least half of them involve precipitation. I left New England 28 years ago because I had had it with winter. I am solar powered. I am also driven by my word, and by love. And now, I live in Silverton. Still, Todos Santos, with its gentle breezes, constant weather and pristine beach, teases my memory and now, in the dead of winter, tempts my senses.

To Christmas past and Christmas future... and today, to Christmas present. Merry Christmas, and to all a goodnight. ("Everybody's Talkin'" sung by Harry Nilsson quietly plays in the background)

A Christmas to Remember

Part Two- A Foot of Snow

The ice was covered with a foot of snow on the second day of the power outage. We thought our first winter in Silverton was brutally long, dark and inclement. I could only wish for a repeat. At this point we have gotten more snow ion one storm than we did all of last year. On the third day, I loaded up charcoal bricquets and got the Weber barbecue going. We cooked up some onions and garlic in a slotted pan and grilled some meat. After we ate, we put pots filled with snow on the grille. We needed water to, among other things, pour into the toilet tank to flush it. Because we live in a rural area, everyone gets their water from wells. You need electricity to get the water from the well into the house and down the drain. There is no oil heat in this area. We lost all our heat, our water and everything electric-- lights, refrigerator, stove, phone etc. We don't even have a fireplace. We have a pellet stove that... yep, you guessed it-- needs electricity to power the fan to disperse the heat.

We slept in our clothes-- two or three layers on top, sweatpants and socks. Still, my hands were very cold, my nose icy and I could see my breath. In the morning, the temperature in the house hovered in the low 40's. Our garage doors were electrically shut and my car was on the other side of them. So was the music room on the far end of the garage, up the stairs and at the moment as accessible as the Golden Chalice. I feared cracking, crazing and general divine destruction. The car was useless anyway. Where would I go? The roads were not plowed and unusable for anything less than a 4X4 with chains.

I still had the use of my "hotline"-- a red push button phone on my desk that was plugged directly into the wall and has never rung at 3:00 am. I called PGE (Portland General Electric) incessantly. The recorded message said they were unable to give us an estimate for repair crews to get to us and for service to be restored. Once, when I called, I hit one too many digits and was prompted to hold for the next available person. A real person! Alas, even a human could not, or would not, divulge an estimated time for service restoration. "We understand your frustration and just ask that you be patient."

Frustration? You cannot imagine my frustration. I am standing here freezing, like Ratso Rizzo, in a condemned building in New York wanting only to get to Florida.

Patience? I looked out from our windows to the hill, looking for a PGE truck. There was none. There was no traffic to be seen. My patience had turned to passive frustration to an overwhelming sense of helplessness, abated only by the incredible kindness and consideration of our neighbors. Dick and Nancy met us in their Subaru and drove us into town to have a hot meal and pick up some staples. Bill and Maria, who live just up the hill from us lent us their generator for a few hours on the third day and for the afternoon of the fourth. We used it to power our pellet stove. The temperature in the house rose to close to 51º.

I got the truth on the morning of the fourth day. I spoke to Kevin at PGE, who told me that we were at the end of the line. There were nearly 60,000 homes between Salem and Portland that were without power. Restoration was being done on a per-capita basis. Areas with 10,000 or so homes affected would be tended to before an area with 100 homes. To be succinct, we were fucked. He was admittedly reluctant to tell me that it may be two days or so before we would have power restored. The helplessness grew. I was starting to identify with victims of Katrina, stopping just short of having borrowed recall of someone alone and vulnerable to rape or worse as they camped out on the 50 yard line of the Superdome.

Around 3 'o clock in the afternoon of the fourth day, we were looking out the window together. We stared out at the road and conjured Cormac McCarthy. So, the apocalypse was weather. Global warming had taken an about-face and the ice age was being reprised. We would be found dead in our home, open-eyed frozen. Then something happened. We saw a PGE truck, seeming to race up our hill and past our house. "No!" I wanted to scream. "Come back!" It clanged up, rolling on chained tires, away.

Tom and Penelope had told us that the transformer by their house and the corner of our road had arced and sparked. It was what had shut down the area. Where was the truck going?

A moment later, it came back down the hill. We watched as it descended, hoping it wouldn't make the turn and head up Evans Valley Road. We didn't see it. It stopped! Less than five minutes later, we had power! We were in the living room and the Christmas tree lit up. Then we looked and the microwave was blinking. We looked at each other the way castaways must when the helicopter is lowering, the rescue boat is approaching or a car is coming to save them. We kept the buckets of melted snow water by the pellet stove overnight... just in case.

We found out afterward that it was Carson, one of our neighbors who was in town, driving with a friend, when he saw the PGE truck. The linesman was doing some repair work on a private home. Carson stopped and asked if he could bribe the guy to help restore power to about two dozen or so homes in the valley. The linesman knew nothing of the problem, but followed Carson out of town and into the valley. That was all it took. It gives me no satisfaction, though, to know that we had been overlooked and we got our power back by sheer chance. We had fallen through the cracks. We had been forgotten. I am only thankful FEMA wasn't on the job.

The whole ordeal made me think of the Christmas we spent three years ago. When I could turn my computer back on and hook up to the net, I went to that real estate site in Mexico...

A Christmas to Remember

Part One- The Ice Storm

The power went out at around a half past midnight, Saturday night/Sunday morning (12/21-22) and kicked back on about twelve hours later. In the meantime, the temperature in the valley plummeted and what began as snow and warmed to rain the day before had turned to ice. Most of the photographs above show the beauty. What I couldn't capture was the treacherousness of the iced covering and the fairly horrific sound of tree limbs cracking both here and in the distance that sounded like nothing so much as cannon fire or violent thunder. We lost power again about 4 1/2 hours after it came on and didn't regain it for over three days...

Monday, December 15, 2008

First Snow of the Season

House Across the Road. First Snow of the Season.

And I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky and gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down winter's closing in

And I had a girl in summertime with summer colored skin
And not another man in town my darling's heart could win
But when the leaves fell trembling down
And bully winds did rub their face down in the snow
She got the urge for going I had to let her go
She got the urge for going when the meadow grass was turning brown
And summertime was falling down and winters closing in
Now the warriors of winter they give a cold triumphant shout
All that stays is dying all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and a-racin on before the snow
Got the urge for going they've got the wings to go
And they get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter's closing in

I'll ply the fire with kindling, I'll pull the blankets to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out I'll bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime
And have her stay for just another month or so
But she's got the urge for going I guess she'll have to go
And she's gets the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning
All her empire's are falling down winter's closing in
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And summertime is falling down

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Blues: one more thing, for now...

I saw B.B. play at his own club in Universal City years ago. Had seats right up close. Toward the end of the show, B.B. extended his meaty paw and I took it. We shook. I thought about not washing ever again. I have since, but the impression remains. Unfortunately, it hasn't helped me play the guitar any better.

... and while I'm on the subject--

A word or two on Buddy Guy... the last of the best.

The term "Chicago Blues" is an odd one. It has little meaning outside of the studio that used to be located at 2120 South Michigan Avenue. The term has been bleached white and co-opted by the departed-- the likes of Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield. But they picked up damned near everything they played by listening to Little Walter, Muddy and the Wolf, Herbert Sumlin and Otis Spann. And the boss, Willie Dixon. The listeners and "borrowers" are long gone. And so are the originators. They didn't start off in the Windy City but man, they put it on the map. The Southside became legendary, not just for nasty ass bars and dangerously dark streets, but for the place where the real blues were played, loud and sweaty, mean and honest. One of the seminal recordings of the day was Muddy Waters' Folk Singer album. It was put out on Chess to cash in on the folk craze, but it transcended the exploitation to become one of the true classics. Listen to it today. It is as fresh and urgent as it was when it came out. Maybe urgent isn't the right word, because it takes its time with getting the message out. My Home is on the Delta. Damned right. There are only two musicians backing up Muddy-- Willie Dixon on bass and a very young Buddy Guy on acoustic guitar. A lot has happened between then and now. Buddy is the last man standing. I've seen him play when he has taunted the audience as he played his signature Strat, tethered on a fifty foot cord. "You wanna hear a little Hendrix?" He asks and then throws off Voodoo Chile like it was his. And maybe it was. "What about Eric? Eric Clapton?" Bam! Strange Brew, like that. "Stevie Ray?" And he hits the toggle and dials in the unmistakable SRV. And the kick is, it's all him. The riffs haven't slowed down any. He plays like greased lightening on steroids. His hair is gone and his face is lined. His age shows... until he turns up the volume knob and blows the place away. Like Muddy had Chivas, Buddy refueled on Hennesey onstage. Maybe he still does. It must as well be lighter fluid. He catches it and channels it into the polka dot solid body he caresses like a lover. Hell, it's more faithful than most. If he is playing within a 50 mile radius of where you live, go see him. His time ain't long and if you miss him, what are you gonna tell your kids? You heard about the blues? Hell, no. I'm talking about the end of not just a generation but a true and honest musical genre. It's going to be buried with Buddy. He's the last of the best.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Back Pages.1

I ruminate. Most nights, the darkness is the signal for thoughts to go crazy in my head and play on the black walls, sometimes in no meaningful order. The other night the indignities befalling McKinley Morganfield danced in front of my eyes. The thoughts kept me awake like a curse.

The album cover you see above is as close as I could find on Google of the way I remember Muddy Waters. His dark moon face. That parted mustache and heavily lidded eyes. The processed pompadour. The man looked like he carried the weight of the world on his broad shoulders and maybe he did. In my mind, then as now, he was closer to any deity I could have imagined seeing. A God of evil and temptation, of weakness and vulnerability... of mojo. I used to lie to my mother and tell her I was going to the Boston Public Library then head to Harvard Square... to Club 47 where Muddy and his band were playing. Peter Wolf, the great raconteur, deejay and voice of the J. Geils Band, tells of how Muddy was the highest paid act to ever play the club, which was mostly a place for folkies and beatniks.He was the only performer to have Chivas Regal on the rider of his contract. Muddy and his band, featuring the likes of Jimmy Cotton on harmonica (Mr. 5X5, Muddy would introduce him as) and Otis Spann on piano. Luther Georgia Boy Snake Johnson on guitar. Man, what a band. They all wore matching sharkskin suits and narrow dark ties to play a little room a few steps down from the street. To borrow a phrase from Chester Burnett, "the men don't know what the little girls understand." Muddy was mesmerizing. Almost frightening in his delivery. He would sing out the side of his mouth, in a voice that came from someplace dark and primitive. A place that grew from that cabin in Mississippi. "I got my mojo woikin'" so he would sing, for all he was worth... a shake to his leg a look in his eyes that was both beatific and riveting. I swear I saw God those nights.

And I know it is hypocritical of me to cast asparagus toward a movie that hasn't come out yet. Jeffrey Wright is a fine actor. Syriana. The Constant Gardener, all that. He is playing the part of Muddy in Cadillac Records. We live in an age of disillusionment and dreary reality and yet Hollywood hasn't caught up. They perpetuate and manufacture myths and legends--anecdotal tales created from the vacuum of the pitch room and run them through the filter of what will look good, and the truth be damned. Marshall Chess has said his dad did not have an affair--torrid or otherwise--with Etta James. He also has debunked Keef's pickled memory of meeting Muddy as he stood on a ladder painting the ceiling of the studio at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Marshall says that Muddy was too proud to ever do such a thing. He was also meticulous as hell, always taking pride in his appearance. He was, after all, a ladies' man. Memories and history are user-defined. Go see the movie. I may very well do so myself. But I won't see a document. I will see a fabrication-- a tale, as it were. Pay your eleven or whatever it is bucks and suspend your belief. We've gone down this road too many times. Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis? Diana Ross as Lady Day? Even the love and admiration that Clint has for Bird didn't pull Forrest Whitaker over the wall to believability. Sorry. Cate Blanchett nearly pulled it off, bless her heart... but what fiction can compare to the documentary truth of seeing a snarling, teasing, stoned-out and tempestuous Bob in Don't Look Back?

Like Beatle John implored, "Just Gimme Some Truth."

The memories I have of Muddy are as precious as any I harbor. To say they were life changing just doesn't do them justice. He, and the genre of the blues is so profoundly comforting and inspirational to me. I could wax on about the power of the blues. Many have. It is a genre that is both uniquely American and a fabric in the tapestry of world music, from the purity of Mali to the idolatry of London... to the genealogy encapsulated by that wonderful blued song title, "The Blues had a Baby and They Called it Rock 'n Roll."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dateline: Oregon

This is one of those stories that is invariably narrated by NBC's Keith Morrison, he of the dramatic, clipped delivery. Sometimes the stories are even about someone who has fallen (or been pushed) to a watery grave, invariably in the Northwest. This story started with a coincidence--something I don't hold much credence in. Seldom are there such things as coincidences. In Yiddish, there is a word, bashert, which loosely translate to fate or, "it was meant to be."

Ralph Joseph Reynolds, aka Jody, passed away on November 7. He was, in the vernacular, a one-hit wonder. But what a hit he had! He co-wrote and recorded a song called "Endless Sleep." It is a haunting, twangy dirge about a boy and his girlfriend. They have a fight and she walks to and into the sea. It pretty much began a trend of death songs, like "Last Kiss" by J. Frank Wilson, "Tell Laura a Love Her" and "Leader of the Pack." Endless Sleep" has been recorded 65 times, including a great (if sped up) version by Robert Gordon with Link Wray. Jody Reynolds never had another hit. He died in Palm Springs, where he lived and ran a music store as well as sold real estate. He was inducted in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

This past week, something compelled me to download the tablature for the song and try to play it on the guitar. Real easy, 3 chord tune. And this is where the coincidental part kicks in...

This week, The Oregonian reported the tragic death of a young Filipina who came to Oregon to marry the love of her virtual world. Leafil Alforque had been dating Scott Napper, of Silverton, since they met in 2005. She arrived in Oregon on a visa from the Philippines, and days later was swept out to sea.

(Imagine Keith Morrison's voice), Scott had taken Leafil to Proposal Rock, on the Oregon Coast to... propose.

"Napper said the tide had receded around Proposal Rock on Saturday when the couple began to walk to it. He planned to propose and give her the ring he carried in his pocket. About 10 feet from the rock, a wave about 3 feet high suddenly came toward them.

'I turned into it to keep from getting pulled under it,' Napper said.

By the time he turned to find Alforque, only 4-foot-11 and 93 pounds, she had been caught by the receding waters.

'She was about 30 feet away, getting swept away,' Napper said.

The 45-year-old Silverton man tore off his jacket to get rid of any extra weight, and when he looked up again she was gone.

'That's the last I saw of her,' he said in an interview Wednesday, breaking into tears."

The night was black, rain fallin' down
Looked for my baby, she's nowhere around
Traced her footsteps down to the shore
‘fraid she's gone forever more
I looked at the sea and it seemed to say
“I took your baby from you away.
I heard a voice cryin' in the deep
“Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.

Why did we quarrel, why did we fight?
Why did I leave her alone tonight?
That's why her footsteps ran into the sea
That's why my baby has gone from me.
I looked at the sea and it seemed to say
“I took your baby from you away.
I heard a voice cryin' in the deep
“Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.

Ah, but that is not the end of the story. The end of the story is the reaction to this tragic mishap on at least one internet site. It pretty much amazed me, sickened me and ultimately saddened me. I'm not sure where we, as a civilization, went wrong, but, boy, we are way off course. The following are excerpts from the CBS website.

"I yelled for her," he said. "I was praying to God."

LOL foolish peasant, prayers dont work- this same god is the one who created the wave to begin with, so praying to it isnt going to help, as you found out amigo!

Posted by newster1 at 03:26 PM : Dec 05, 2008

- - -

This is a sign from God for people to
1. Avoid marriage;

2. Stay away from foreign brides;

3. Get out of the water.

Posted by rushlimpdrug at 09:03 PM : Dec 05, 2008

- - -

She must have been a sinner or God would not have drowned her.

Posted by mrs_premise at 02:06 PM : Dec 05, 2008

- - -

Instead of calling it Proposal Rock, they need to call it Disposal Rock.

Posted by shanev137 at 03:06 PM : Dec 05, 2008

- - -

I always knew little philippino women made the best mermaids.

Posted by notmudrose1 at 01:22 PM : Dec 05, 2008

- - -

say hello to Charlie the Tuna for me down there.

Posted by notmudrose1 at 12:05 PM : Dec 05, 2008

- - -

she''s swimming back to the philippines... in the stomach of a shark.

Posted by notmudrose1 at 12:04 PM : Dec 05, 2008

- - -

I wonder if they will use this one on the E-Harmony commercials.

Posted by shanev137 at 11:42 AM : Dec 05, 2008

- - -

God has saved this man from an eternal hell.....

Posted by easeup at 11:07 AM : Dec 05, 2008

. . . are you still with me? Evidently notmusdrose1 fancies him/herself as a net comic. As for the rest, they merely scratch the surface of callous, ignorant and mean-spirited bottom feeders. I am reluctant to call them human... even the alleged Christians are bereft of consciences. Foolish peasant? And how long can you tread water?

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Controversy... and beyond

Doing a little research on the poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoller, I uncovered confusion, an oral history and more than a little controversy. For some time, the poem itself, when translated into Spanish was credited to Bertolt Brecht. Neimoller is the one most often credited with it, but the exact wording remains a bit of a mystery.

The words, as inscribed on the New England Holocaust Memorial at Faneuil Hall in Boston are:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

In Milton Mayer's book, "They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45" (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1955, 1966), p. 168f quotes a German professor in "Kronenburg" (probably Frankfurt/Main) whom Mayer interviewed between 1950 and 1954, as follows:

"Pastor Niemöller spoke for thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something--but then it was too late."

Niemöller was a commander of a German U-boat in World War I. A seminal incident in his moral outlook, as he related in many public speeches later in his life, occurred when he commanded his submarine crew not to rescue the sailors of a boat he torpedoed, but let them drown instead. Niemöller began studying theology in Münster in the 1920s. At this time, and at least until the mid-1930s, Niemöller was a typical Christian antisemite who openly professed his belief that the Jews had been punished through the ages because they had "brought the Christ of God to the cross." In 1931 Niemöller became a pastor in a wealthy Berlin suburb. As a German nationalist he initially supported Hitler, but as the Nazis began to interfere in church affairs, he moved into opposition. In 1934 Niemöller founded first the Pfarrernotbund (Pastors' Emergency League), then the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church), a branch of the German Protestant (Lutheran) Church. In 1937 he was arrested because of his outspoken sermons, and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In 1941 he was moved to Dachau, where he stayed until the end of the war.

I bring this tidbit of history up both because of what occurred last week here in Silverton and because of a piece in our local monthly, Our Town.The latter boils down to a quote by Tom Smith, the pastor of the Silverton First Baptist Church, who responded to the events of last week by calling them, "a case of two wrongs don't make a right." He went on to say that "Mayor Rasmussen's personal and public promotion of transgenderism (sic) is contrary to what the Bible teaches. However, the Westboro group's promotion of hatred in God's name is similarly wrong."

In an open letter to Pastor Smith via the editor of Our Town, I wrote--

You may believe that the Bible doesn’t teach transgenderism—although, I would love to see the scripture that explicates that—but Mr. Rasmussen does not promote transgenderism, either personally or publicly. He has made a personal choice. He does not advocate others following his personal choice. Further, Mr. Rasmussen is protected by the laws of the land against unreasonable attacks on his personal freedoms, whether you or Fred Phelps may disagree with them. These are the same laws, by the way, that protect Phelps and his family to demonstrate at funerals for soldiers who died in the service of our country, stand on our flag and spew their hatred in public.

Personally, Pastor, if I were a leader of a Baptist congregation, I would do everything I could to distance myself from Fred Phelps and his family. They give the church a bad name. In fact, many people do not even consider them a congregation, but a hate group. I have to agree with current mayor, Ken Hector, who was quoted in the same article as you, saying, “This group is not a church; it’s a cult that preaches hate. They don’t discriminate – they hate everybody.” Their congregation of 60 spend all their time traveling around the country promoting their hatred and intolerance, taunting people and hoping for a confrontation in order to file a lawsuit. Not very Christian of them, wouldn’t you say?

The people of Silverton voted for Stu not because he is “transgender,” but because he is best suited for the job. Thankfully, they showed vision that you, and the Phelps family lack. I am proud of our community, its diversity and its active show of support for the rights and the dignity of an individual who has chosen, not to hate, but merely to be different.

It wasn’t that long ago that a woman could not vote in this country. Blacks were forbidden to cast a ballot… and now, an African-American is about to be sworn in as our country’s president. We have come a long, long way. Unfortunately Mr. Phelps and his family have not. Let us leave them where hate and ignorance live… in the dark—in the past.

God blesses America, so the song goes. He (or She) doesn’t hate it.

In the spirit of the holiday season I wish you Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All.

p.s. You will note I do not--and will not--refer to Fred Phelps as a pastor, reverend or anything else.

Collage created with credit to Google Images