Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Music

Here are a couple of cool things I found floating around YouTube.

This is Squeeze doing John Lennon's Cold Turkey. I've been a Squeeze fan since the 80s and I never knew they covered this song.



This one is Radiohead doing Paranoid Android from their O.K. Computer album. The arrangement is pretty elaborate and they make it seem effortless.


The other day, I watched the Martin Scorsese movie called Shine a Light which was a Rolling Stones concert film. I like the Stones right up until about Tattoo You. After that, they seemed to be doing a passable Rolling Stones impression. Still, I wanted to see this film. It was well made, but my biggest beef is that Mick just doesn't sing anymore. He yells. He used to have a silky, smooth voice and he threw the yelling in for good effect. Now he yells all the time.

However there were three highlights in the concert. One was when Buddy Guy came out to perform Muddy Waters' Champagne and Reefer:




The next was when Jack White (of the White Stripes) came out and joined the band for Loving Cup:


For the final highlight, Cristina Aguilera came out for the song, Live With Me:


Finally, last year VH1 did an honors special featuring Elvis Costello. In addition to his own material, he did a Fiona Apple song and she in turn did one of his. It is perhaps his most twisted and insane love song and there is no one more suited to perform it than the twisted and insane Fiona Apple:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

I admit I haven't been feeling very Christmasy this year. I don't know if it's because my kids are older or if I just have lost the capacity for that much excitement, but I just don't feel it.

Even listening to Christmas music or Christmas shopping hasn't helped. Maybe it's all the major negative economic news we keep getting. It's hard to lose oneself in a holiday when the news is all bad. Nevertheless, we are ready.

Every Christmas, I tend to reflect back on past Christmases. When I was a kid, I had this advent calendar. It was really a long strip of felt with yarn ties. On each tie was a Hershey kiss. You took one off each morning until Christmas.

My mom used to make home-made hard candy which my dad would take to work for his secretary and anyone else to whom he felt he had to give gifts. One morning, as he walked outside with a jar of candy, he slipped on the ice and it broke into a million pieces. Dad always had a bad back so it didn't do much good for that either.

I would be home from school for vacations, of course, and I always liked to watch Captain Kangaroo. Keep in mind that by this time, I was way too old to watch Captain Kangaroo, but there was something about his voice that was soothing. It was particularly so when he read books for us. At Christmastime, he read holiday-themed books so it really put me in the mood.

One tradition we had was that in the week or so leading up to Christmas, we would get out one of our toys from a previous Christmas. It was particularly fun to get out something we didn't play with much. It helped build the excitement leading up to the day.

Another tradition was that we were allowed to open one of our presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. That helped take the edge off the mania. You had to be careful though. If you didn't pay close attention, you might accidentally open up a sweater or some Avon gift my grandmother would get for us. No, the ideal Christmas Eve present was a toy. The success of that tradition varied from year to year, but I remember one year I opened up a GI Joe footlocker. This was a wooden box which could house GI Joe's various uniforms and weapons. You could also fit Joe in the bottom of it, so it was very cool.

When our family lived in Virginia (1971-1978), my grandmother, Nan, used to come stay with us for Christmas. I don't know why she didn't stay with my grandfather, but he only came with her once. The year he came, we lived in Lovettsville on a farm. My grandfather took me and my brother hunting. We were trying to get a pheasant for Christmas dinner. I wasn't really old enough to have a real gun, so they let me take a BB gun. I nearly got my head blown off when we flushed the pheasant and I inadvertently stepped in front of it. If my grandfather had worse reflexes, I wouldn't be writing this now. Fortunately, he didn't shoot me in the head and I lived to tell the tale. Instead, we bagged a rabbit, which my mother dutifully cleaned and served for Christmas Eve dinner. My great aunt Sue (Nan's sister) and her husband Daris were also there. Right as we sat down to bless the food, it started to snow. This would be a better story if the snow had stuck, but it just snowed for a while. Still it was a perfect moment.

My grandfather made a big noise before bed that my brother and I better not wake him up first thing in the morning because he needed his sleep. Of course, he was awake at about 5:30 a.m. screaming, "JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE ALL THE WAY!" at the top of his lungs. He was a big kid at heart.

Of course the most memorable Christmas eve was in 1989: the year John was born. I was still in college and we had only the barest insurance coverage It covered the birth and a 12 hour hospital stay. We were all sick that year. Shauna and Trevor had pneumonia and I had mono. John was born early Christmas Eve morning.

We took him home at about 9 that night. Trevor was two and a half so he was really super excited for Christmas. He was so excited and we were so determined not to traumatize him, what with the new brother and all. He woke up at about 3:30 in the morning and wanted to open presents. He was the first and only grandchild at the time (besides the recently born John) so he had a mountain of presents. He could only open so many before he was exhausted and we went back to bed.

At about 6:30 in the morning there was a hammering at our door. It was our pediatrician. He didn't explain or apologize, he only said "Where's the baby! I need to see him." I was dazed and led him in to where we had the basinet. He mumbled something to himself about his color and pulse and then said, "Get his coat on and come with me." He then explained that John had tested positive for Beta Strep. I'm still not exactly sure what it is, but it's very dangerous to babies. We took John to the hospital where he spent a week in intensive care. Shauna stayed there with him and I stayed home with Trevor, who needed a nebulizer about every two hours for his asthma complications and pneumonia. Luckily, Shauna's dad came up from California (we lived in Utah at the time) to help us out. It was pretty overwhelming for a while, but he pulled through.

He turned 19 today.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sleepy Jeffers

I was born and lived the first six years of my life in Charleston, W.Va. When I was small, WCHS TV still had local programming which I suppose many stations across the country did as well. One of the programs I watched was a kid's show called Uncle Willie. He was a goofy cartoony kind of guy, not unlike Captain Kangaroo, who told jokes, sang songs and introduced cartoons. He had a daughter on the show who looked to be about my age at the time. Her name was Little Linda. He could make his tie jump up and down with his Adam's Apple. That may not sound like much now, but it killed in my circle of five year olds.

Uncle Willie was played by a guy called Sleepy Jeffers. He was a big time, local radio guy who also had another show called, what else, The Sleepy Jeffers Show. This was a variety program which consisted primarily of down home country music. Not my favorite, but my parents watched it.

Years later when we moved back to W.Va., I got a job at WCHS Radio and who was the over night guy during the week? None other than Sleepy Jeffers himself! I was a part-timer so I never had to attend staff meetings, but I heard that when the meetings would get boring, Sleepy would get your attention and start wiggling his tie with his Adam's Apple.

I worked overnight Saturdays and late evening Sunday. When I worked Sunday nights, Sleepy was the guy who came in after me. He was pretty much always late. I would inevitably get a call from him at about five minutes before midnight.

"Hi Craig, this is Sleepy."

"Hi, Sleepy. What's going on?"

"I'll be there pretty soon, but I'm gonna stop by Shoney's and get something to eat. You wanna sammich?"

"That's o.k., thanks. I'll see you when you get here."

He would never be more than 10-20 minutes late and I always signed out at my regular time. I didn't want him to get in trouble. He was a local legend after all. I admit that despite the years, I was a bit starstruck. It was a pain to stay late when I had school the next day, but I'd always do it for Sleepy.

And sometimes he brought me a sandwich anyway.\

Here's some highlights from Uncle Willie's last show:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bleach

When Nirvana's album Nevermind was released it was like a revelation. It had been years since I had heard music that sounded like it was sincere, like it meant something. We had endured the 80s with its hair metal and Euro trash keyboard pop. Here was music that was urgent, loud and unexpectedly melodic. One thing I noticed about Nirvana was that if you changed the arrangement and rerecorded it, you would have some pretty snappy pop music. They were the Gen. X Beatles. They came and everything changed.

At the time I lived in southern California, working in LA. There was a youngish girl of the indie persuasion working there too. I mentioned to her that I really like Nirvana and was curious about her opinion. With a touch of disdain she said, "Well, I liked Bleach ..." Bleach was Nirvana's first release on Sub Pop and almost no one had heard it at the time because they were just a Seattle band. Now there's nothing wrong with Bleach, but it's that phenomenon where people want to prove they were early fans so they reference some obscure work and act all shocked when no one knows what they are talking about. I bet you anything that there were Liverpudlians in 1963 who said, "Well, Please Please Me is all right, but I really liked My Bonnie ..."

I read an article about Barack Obama's campaign and how people who support him think it's cooler to have old, tattered Obama stickers because they showed they got into supporting him early. What is it about humans that they need to feel like they were the first into something?

In our family we now call it the Bleach Syndrome. Whenever anyone references liking something first or some obscure work, we all shout, "Bleach!"

Yes, we're dorks.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

July 3

In Lovettsville, we have an annual 3rd of July Parade and Fireworks. I'm not sure, but I think the idea is to allow people to go to celebrations for the Fourth of July in DC and some of the bigger cities. Anyway, it's something we do every year and it's quintessential small town America. There's nothing spectacular about it, but darned if I don't haul myself over to it every year, no matter how hot it is, and stand and watch the whole thing. It's kind of similar to our Oktoberfest celebration which I mentioned previously. It's just fun to get together as a community and celebrate something together. You get to see everyone and it's just fun.

In the evening, they do fireworks which we are able to see from our backyard. I took some pictures, but they didn't come out too well.

In a way, it's appropriate to have a celebration on the 3rd of July anyway. The Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 2 and signed on the 4th. So really, we should have a multi-day celebration anyway.



Monday, May 5, 2008

Crowdie Concert Karma

I finally got to see Crowded House in concert on Friday night. I've been trying to see Neil Finn in one of his many iterations for several years, but each time I've had something happen to prevent it. The first time I had tickets to see Neil Finn on his own (also at the 9:30 Club which is where Crowded House was on Friday). That day, I came down with a massive migraine and simply couldn't face the idea of driving all the way down there and sitting through a concert while undergoing such pain.

Fast forward a few years and I had tickets to see the Finn Brothers at the Birchmere. This time, we planned to go with some friends. Instead, there was a huge snowstorm, which was not enough to cancel the show, but was enough to make our roads impassable. So I was foiled again.

On Friday, I waited all day for something horrible to happen to prevent our attendance. Yet, nothing did. We drove up and got to the club with no hassles at all. We walked in and Shauna wanted to walk up pretty close to the stage. This surprised me because she hates crowds and it would only get worse when the band came out. So up we went. A few minutes later Crowded House came out and started playing. They looked and sounded great. About the fourth song into the set, Shauna turned around and gave me a funny look and slowly sunk to her knees. It seems that, though it wasn't packed like sardines or anything, the heat in the enclosed space was enough to cause her to pass out.

People in the crowd helped me catch her and walk her off to the side. By this time she had recovered her senses enough to walk on her own. So we ended up going to a little alcove in the back with couches. I got her some ice water and she seemed to be all right, but the moment was kind of spoiled. I couldn't really concentrate on the music because I was stressed out and wondering if she was going to take another nose dive.

The band played a long time and it was good, it's just that I was too distracted to pay complete attention.

Oh well, below is a clip someone shot from the audience:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Meadowblasters


So I was going through some old photos the other day and I ran into this picture. It was taken in 1983. This is the band I was in at the time, The Meadowblasters. We stole the name from a Bloom County comic, but thought it was particularly apt because we practiced (and I lived) in a community called Laurel Meadows. Anyway, the Charleston Daily Mail had supplement sections for the various communities and this one ran in ours with a story about our band playing at Herbert Hoover High which was where our bass player, my cousin Steve, attended. The rest of the band went to Sissonville High. So that was me, Mike Derrick (drums) and Dave Hart (guitar). They didn't run this picture in the paper, opting instead for a shot taken during the performance. The reporter was kind enough to send us an 8x10 of this one though.

We did two performances that day, playing for half of the school each time. The crowd was insane. We felt like the Beatles. I swear to you, it's the only time in my life that I had girls shoving phone numbers into my pocket. It was awesome. We thought we had made it at last!

It all came crashing down when Dave and I listened to the tape of the performance afterwards. It turned out that the bass was slightly out of tune. It was just enough that everything else sounded sour. And it seemed to get worse each time we listened to it. Oh well, you would never have been able to tell from the crowd.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Last Day as a Missionary

I woke up early that Monday. Well let's be honest, we always got up early, but if I'm not mistaken, that day it was earlier than usual. It was the last day I was going to be a missionary and I wanted to catch the first bus out of town. I was serving in Gutierrez Zamora, Veracruz in Mexico. The Mission Office was located in the city of Veracruz. That was about two and half maybe three hours south, straight down the coast. I was hoping to catch the earliest bus so I would have the whole day in the city.

My mission took place at a time when missions were 18 months long. That would have been great except for the fact that right as I hit the halfway point, the church said, "My bad!" and decided to make them two years again. The good thing about it was we were given a choice on how long we wanted to serve. I could keep my original call or extend one to six more months if I wanted. Some missionaries didn't seem to think about it at all. They just immediately extended. More is always better right?

It wasn't that easy for me. Personally, I wanted to do what was "right" but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what that was. I prayed and prayed and prayed for an answer as to what God wanted me to do, but I got nothing for the longest time. After about a month of agony, I finally got my answer: stick with your original calling. This was great for me because I figured that if I changed my mind, I could always extend. However, I was pretty sure that if I extended then and decided I wanted to shorten it, I might get some grief. Would it surprise you to know that a lot of missionaries didn't believe me when I told them I had prayed to know what to do and was told to stick to 18 months? Yeah, I didn't think so.

But it was all over now and I was looking for a bus to take to the mission HQ. If I had really planned it, I would have taken the good bus line called ADO. When I say 'good' what I mean is you got an assigned seat. The other buses were more like school buses. We called them 'guajoloteros' which referred to the fact that they often included turkeys, chickens and other animals along with the people. A guajolote is the word most Mexicans use for Turkey. The Spanish word is 'pavo' but guajolote is Náhautl in origin. Its literal translation is big monster. I don't know how it evolved to mean turkey.

Besides the livestock, they liked to cram as many people as humanly possible onto these kind of buses. That meant you could end up standing for part or all of the journey. This was not a big deal if it was a short distance, but if you were traveling for a few hours, it was a major pain.

By the time I tried to get an ADO ticket, they were already sold out for that day. There was only one that went to Veracruz, so I knew I'd end up on a guajolotero. That was o.k. I had ridden on them before and it was going to be the last time. We lived about a mile from the bus station. I had two suitcases, plus a carry on so our landlord offered to drive us there. He was a good guy. He wasn't Mormon and we never once tried to teach him about the church. They had rented to the missionaries for years and I always assumed that if he wanted to hear anything, he would ask. I probably wasn't the world's greatest missionary.

As we got to the station, our landlord ejected the tape playing in the truck's stereo and gave it to me. A couple of months before, he had driven us to a zone conference in Poza Rica so we didn't have to spend money on the bus. On that trip, he had played the same tape during the drive. It was a Mexican band called El Grupo Audaz and I had mentioned how much I liked the music. He handed me the cassette and said, "So you don't forget your family here in Mexico." I was touched. He then hugged me goodbye and wished me a good journey.

My companion, my replacement and I all hopped out of the truck and took my stuff into the station waiting area. A couple of minutes later, two ward members came by to see me off. I was surprised because it was pretty early in the morning and they were both home on a break from school. I figured they would want to sleep. The church owned a private high school in Mexico City called Benemérito de las Américas. At one time, the church owned a lot of private schools down there, but they were beginning to divest themselves of those and this was one of the last. It was definitely the biggest.

The bus finally came and to my horror, I couldn't get on. It was so packed full of people that I had to wait for the next one. I was pissed. I really wanted to get to Veracruz. My main mission was to purchase something for my grandmother. What I wanted to get her was a doll from Mexico. She was a collector and I happened to know that there was a store that specialized in dolls clothed in traditional Mexican dress right in the town of Veracruz. I knew because the mission president's wife, who was also a collector, told me about it.

So I waited. The next bus came about 30 minutes later. When I went to get on, the conductor informed us all that this bus would be traveling the long way to Veracruz: through the sierra region. This was going to take eight hours instead of three. Combine that with the fact that I was probably going to have to stand the whole way, I passed again. I had already loaded my bags on so I had to get them back off the bus.

Now I was very upset and totally stressed. I was looking at another hour to wait for the next bus. I was worried. What if I couldn't get to Veracruz today? Would I still be able to go home or would I have wait another month?

The bus finally came and the crowd to get on seemed just as big as last time. Someone decided to open the back door of the bus so I climbed in that way. My companion and friends handed me my bags which I had to place in the cargo area in the back. It made me nervous to be so far away from them. I wanted them in the luggage rack next to where I was, but there was simply no room. Of course I had to stand, but at least I was on the bus. I was only about two hours behind schedule. I looked down at my feet and there were two chickens in a little cage right up against my legs. I finally lightened up enough to laugh. This wasn't the first time I had a chicken with me on a bus, but it would probably be the last.

Riding on a bus standing up in Mexico is a very intimate experience but not in a good way. As we traveled down the coast, more people were getting off than on which meant that I might get to sit after all. As the crowd thinned, I noticed two cute 20-something women smiling at me. I nodded hello to them and they grinned even wider.

"Would you like to sit down?" one of them cooed.

"Thanks, but then you'd have to stand" I said.

"You could sit on our laps."

I knew then that Satan was making a last ditch effort to make me crash and burn before I was honorably released. The wily devil!

"No thanks" I said, smiling, but inwardly I was terrified. Luckily, it didn't take much longer before another seat opened up. Unluckily, it was in the aisle across from the ladies. Satan was having his way today! They started talking to me again. As it turned out, they were in fact just being nice and weren't trying to take my chastity. They just felt sorry for me having to stand all the way there. I must have looked pathetic. I was about 30 or so pounds underweight. Between all the walking and pretty much constant diarrhea, my 5'11" frame had gone from 165 pounds to probably around 130 pounds over the course of the mission. When I realized they weren't Jezebels sent
by the dark lord himself to seduce me, I relaxed. I even gave them a mini lesson about the church right there on the bus.

Soon we arrived in Veracruz and I was able to get a cab to the mission office. The mission president had chosen this week to host a special conference so all the zone leaders from the entire mission were present for meetings. In those days, our mission encompassed four states: Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala. There were quite a few of my good friends already in Veracruz. The mission president allowed me and Elder Goar - one of my closest missionary buddies - 
to spend the whole day together as the meetings hadn't officially started yet. We had been in the MTC together and served most of our missions in the same zones. It was Monday, our P-day, and that was a travel day for the visiting zone leaders.

My mission president was a really good guy. Very down to earth and not at all like some of the horror stories I have heard about other MPs. He had a very friendly smile and looked almost exactly like the British comedian, Benny Hill. It was sometimes hard not to imagine Benny Hill when he was standing in front of us all and talking. He was great, but that didn't mean he was a pushover either. He just trusted us to behave like adults.

He called me into his office and handed me the address of the store with the collectible dolls. Even though he was a busy guy, he remembered my request for a local shop that sold such things from about two months before. He gave me exact directions on how to get there and which bus would be the best to take.

Elder Goar and I went out and made the purchase and then had a leisurely lunch at an outdoor cafe across from the Gulf of Mexico. He was also near the end of his mission, but he had another month to go. We made plans to go out to BYU together, but mostly we just reminisced about the times we had spent together in the mission field. It was a great day.

That night, we were all assigned to the different companionships who regularly worked in Veracruz. Most of them were office elders who worked in the headquarters during the day, but still did missionary work in the evening. I don't remember much except that I was more than done with it all. I tried to rally my missionary spirit and just get into it, but I'm not sure I did very well. Finally, we went back to the mission home and called it a night.

The mission office was located in what used to be one of the private schools I mentioned before. The church still owned the building so they converted it over. They even had dorms attached which was were I and the other visiting missionaries stayed for the night. It was a lot like the MTC again, but in a good way. I spent most of my mission in small towns away from other missionaries so I rarely got to have the camaraderie that missionaries in larger areas have. I was usually at least an hour away from any other missionaries. So it was fun for me to hang with other guys and joke around. There were five of us heading home the next day and we were all invited to eat dinner with the mission president and his wife.

I had my final interview with the mission president that night. I don't remember much about it except that he didn't pressure me to get married. He did mention that marriage was my next 'mission' but he urged me to get some education and take my time to make a good choice. I wasn't particularly close to him, but I did like him. I've only seen him a couple of times since my return home. I always sort of hoped he would be made a general authority, but I think he's too normal for that. It's too bad. The church could use more normal.

I was up and out really early the very next morning. I jokingly said there would probably be chickens on the airplane. Of course there weren't.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday, February 3, 2008

One of the wildest things I ever saw

When I was in school, the grades between 7-9 were called Junior High instead of Middle or Intermediate School. At least that's what they called it where I lived. There can be a big difference maturity wise between a 7th and 9th grader.

I attended in Sissonville Jr. High when I was in 8th grade, so I was in the middle. If you've ever seen a prison movie, you have an idea of what it felt like to to go there. It was a rough and tumble place where disagreements were often settled with fists.

One day, this big 9th grader named Wayne beat the holy crap out of a little, skinny 7th grader called Howard. I don't remember what it was about, but Howard was hurt pretty badly. Not crippled or anything, but he was pretty beat up. What happened as a result of this fight was truly extraordinary. I've never seen anything like it outside of a movie. I'm not sure I'd believe it if I hadn't seen it myself.

A group of 7th graders became angry about this fight so they decided to get revenge on Wayne. An emissary was dispatched to let him know that he would need to be out on the football field before school started the next day in order to explain himself. He smirked and said he'd be there.

I heard about this "meeting" and though I figured nothing would come of it, I went anyway. I was always game to see a good fight.

Wayne showed up and wasn't too worried. He was at least 6'2" and weighed about 200 pounds. He was a football player and though I always got along with him, I had heard he had a mean side. Before anyone knew what was happening, Wayne was soon surrounded by what seemed like a million 7th grade boys. They wanted to know why he beat up Howard.

Wayne was a bit taken aback by being confronted this way, but instead of being cautious he was cocky about it. "What are you gonna do about it? I'll fight you all now!" he screamed.

Rather than tell him what they would do, they showed him. The entire group swarmed him, beginning with a hit to the back of the knees from another football player who weighed in at about 250, and though only in 7th grade, was on the varsity team. Wayne then proceeded to get the beating that he so richly deserved. I saw one kid walk by, walk over, grab Wayne by the hair and punch him three times quickly in the face and then walk off to class.

Soon, the principal came to his rescue. Together with the football team's quarterback, he began pulling kids off of Wayne. When he got to his feet, bloody, bruised and dirty, he started screaming, "I meant one at a time! One at a time!" As far as I know, none of the 7th graders were disciplined for the fight. And Wayne never bothered any of them again.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I lIke this video ...

Elvis Costello, Glenn Tilbrook, Chris Difford, Gilson Lavis & Nick Lowe.